Dawn at Cormallen

The first pale light of the dawn glinted overhead, filtering through the leaves and falling gently on the four curly heads nestled together amongst the pillows. Two cots had been pushed together and piled high with cushions and blankets, making a bed large and comfortable enough for four hobbits to share.

On the left was Merry, sound asleep, with his right arm slung over Pippin's waist and his hand, still chilled at times, clasped tightly in Frodo's uninjured one. Between his cousins Pippin had fallen into a peaceful slumber, one of the first since he had been injured that was unaided by a sleeping draught. His bandaged hand rested lightly on Merry's arm and his other hand drifted toward the blankets, wanting to pull them up but unable to reach.

Both Gandalf and Gimli, who sat on either side of the bed, moved to assist but even in his sleep Sam sensed help was needed. Without waking he tugged the blanket up and over his sleeping companions and himself. Then he settled his arm around Frodo once more, his hand folding lightly but protectively over Frodo's injured one.

Gandalf laughed and shook his head and Gimli settled back in his chair with a fond harrumph. They gazed at the row of hobbits between them, sleeping in the order that had become a familiar sight during the long weeks upon the road. Gandalf knew it would change when the time came for the hobbits to journey home; by then Merry and Pippin would be fully healed and wanting to look after Frodo and Sam themselves. But for now, while all four hobbits recovered from their hurts, slipping into an old habit was a comfort for them.

In a nearby tree a bird began to sing, announcing the arrival of Aragorn and Legolas. More supply wains had arrived in the night, and packed among the rolls of fresh bandages, stacks of folded linens and crates of food were several items sent specifically for the hobbits. News that the four pheriannath, three newly wounded and one still healing from an older injury, were recovering at Cormallen had spread throughout Minas Tirith, and Faramir had been nearly overwhelmed with gifts and other items meant for the hobbits.

From the dozens of small nightshirts, some embroidered with gold and silver thread, he had chosen the best to send to the hobbits; the rest would be donated to the orphans and poorest children of the City. Legolas carried a stack of those nightshirts now, along with several warm quilts, also gifts from the people of Minas Tirith. Aragorn carried in one hand a small crate of soaps, lotions and ointments that the Healers had sent, knowing these would be gentle enough for the hobbits to use and would not irritate their injuries. In his other hand the king carried a large basket lined with a bright green cloth. Gimli slipped from his chair to peer inside.

"Aragorn, what-" he began but the king shook his head and held a finger to his lips. In the bed Frodo briefly stirred, but did not wake.

"What do you intend to do with those?" Gimli demanded, this time in a whisper.

Aragorn smiled and set the basket on the bed. "They arrived with the wains along with a note from Faramir. These are his gifts for the hobbits. He thinks they will soothe and amuse our friends as they recover, and I agree."

"As do I," Gandalf said, his eyes twinkling merrily. "The hobbits need more healing than bandages and slings can offer, Gimli. I imagine that these will be a great source of comfort for them."

"Hmmph," Gimli grumbled, though he could not help but smile as he peeked inside the basket once more.

Four puppies, golden in color, were frolicking around inside. They stood on their hind legs, and with their front paws they batted the sides of the basket, pushing it to and fro before it finally tipped over.

The puppies tumbled out, landing on the blankets, and immediately stood, glancing around at their new surroundings. They curiously studied the hobbits, walking across the bed and sniffing around their legs until they came to a decision. Then they separated and scampered up the bed, each one settling down beside the hobbit of its choice.

One puppy wedged itself in the crook of Merry's elbow, another stretched out across Pippin's stomach, a third settled into the space between Frodo's arm and his chest, and the last curled up neatly at Sam's back. Soon their eyes slipped shut and they dozed alongside the hobbits.

Gandalf and Gimli crept away to find breakfast and rest after a long night of keeping watch over their friends, and Aragorn and Legolas claimed their seats, settling in to look after the hobbits as the sun rose higher in the sky.