Title: Explain the night

Author: eretria

Rating: PG

Archive: If you liked it, just ask, and please keep the header.

Time line: Return of the King –"The field of Cormallen"

Disclaimer: Middle Earth and all its inhabitants, the Sundering seas and Over-heaven belong to the incredible genius that was J.R.R. Tolkien. No copyright infringement is intended, I am not making money from this at all, and will always stay in deep and humble adoration of the wonderful world he has created and in which I have lived since I was 4 years old. Thank you. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or so they say. I hope this is at least a little flattering and enough to make the great man smile from up there.

Summary: Hope has died. Or hasn't it? Sequel to "Candles"

Feedback: This was a labour of love. Do leave comment, please.

Send them to: tiny_eretria@yahoo.com or post a review right here. :o)

Author's Note: Extremely, enormously, uncommonly dark for a Hobbit fic. Dark. And I mean it.

Italicised paragraphs denote flashbacks or dreams.

Dedication: This really was only written because of those wonderful Ladies: Franziska – my favourite King of Gondor fancier, lovely friend. Kati-Wan. I love you, sweets. Leslie – the most incredible, most Tolkien-knowledgeable beta-reader I have ever had the pleasure to find. This woman does wonders with a single, well-placed question. Can't thank all of them enough. They rock my world.

S1ncer1ty: For some of the most beautiful stories I have ever read. Angsty, beautiful, wonderful. Thank you.

NON-slash, lads and lassies. Don't look for it. You won't find it in my writing. Sorry.

Angels, answer me,

are you near if rain should fall?

Am I to believe

you will rise to calm the storm?

For so great a treasure words will never do.

(Roma Ryan)

***

The room hadn't changed. It was still clean, sparsely furnished, but welcoming, small, yet not stifling. It hadn't changed. The hangings on the window were still light in colour, the alcoves still covered with white linens. It still had the smell of burned down candles wafting through the air.

It hadn't changed.

But everything else had. . .

***

With trembling fingers, Merry bent down to the candle. The smell of its smoke mingled with the smell of burnt structures inside the city, surging in from outside. It couldn't be. How could it possibly be that the candle had died? It had been a very broad candle, meant to burn for days and days. He had been observant all the time, had always kept an eye on it, had watched it grow smaller and smaller, yet he had nurtured it and had taken precautions that the light would survive – then one brief moment of being inattentive, and the light had died. It mustn't be. Trying to control the tremors, he balled his hands into fists and pressed them to his eyes. No. This was all wrong. It couldn't be. It mustn't be. He had to do something.

Then finally it hit him. All he had to do was to light the candle again. There was still a chance to correct his mistake. He just had to touch the flame of his candle to the other one. Everything would be fine, then. Nothing would make him shift his attention away from it ever again. Nothing.

Taking the fists from his eyes and slowly easing the fingers one by one, he reached for the other candle – his candle – that still burned strongly and stared into the flame. A bright yellow top. A bluish base. A perfect shape – dancing, living. Careful not to let the wax drown the second flame as well, he moved over to the candle that wasn't burning anymore. The flame touched the black wick, sunken into the once liquid wax. For endless moments, nothing happened. The flame caressed the other candle, softly, gently, as though coaxing the other light to come back to life. Merry whispered under his breath, things he wasn't aware of, encouraging words, pleas, hopes his soul voiced but was afraid to let his mind know. Molten wax ran over his fingers. He didn't even feel the pain. Tears of despair gathered in his eyes. Still nothing happened. The flame flickered.

The barest patter of slippered feet sounded outside his window, but he was hardly aware of it. The only sound truly known to his heart was the sputtering of the candle. It had to work. The light had to live again. It was unthinkable that it wouldn't work out. His plan was perfect. It couldn't possibly fail. Nevertheless he sent a plea for help to whatever good powers there were in the world.

"Merry."

Like the screeching of a breaking harp-string, the calling of his name brought Merry out of his trance. His hands trembled from the sudden break out of concentration, his heart thumped wildly.

"No draft. Please, no draft. Don't touch the door." The thoughts were racing behind his forehead. He had to stop the intruder from entering the room. He had to keep the door shut. But how could he do that without leaving the candles? There was no way he could . . .

The door opened with a swish. Warm air rushed in the room and found its way out the window again, carrying with it a light, floral scent.

"No." Merry stared at the candles, horrified, engulfed by utter darkness. "Please, no." Where only seconds ago there had been a flame, trying to coax the other candle back to life, there was a smoking wick now.

"Merry? I bring tidings that you must hear."

In the darkness, the messenger stepped forward and knelt next to Merry, the fine garments rustling. Eowyn. If she came all the way down to this room, even though she was far from being completely healed, it could only mean one thing. Terror shot through his soul. Even though his heart knew why she had come, he wasn't ready to hear what Eowyn had to say. He never would be. He never could be.

There was a last, weak glowing in the wick.

"The eagles brought word from the battle-field. The enemy is defeated! The Dark Lord Sauron is no more!" The enthusiasm in her low, beautiful voice was obvious. "The war is over, Meriadoc of the Shire."

Eowyn paused and put a gentle hand on Merry's arm. "But I have more . . ." Her voice trailed off, swallowed by darkness. There was a tinge of deep sadness in the warmth of her timbre. "The joy of victory . . ." The Lady of Rohan, the powerful and fearless White Lady of Rohan halted, and a light tremor passed from her hand to Merry's arm. "It is tainted by a bitter aftertaste. The valient armies of the Captains of The West were vastly outnumbered and our losses were grievous. Many were slain, and even more are missing upon the field of battle. Your friend . . ." Her voice faded into the background of Merry's heartbeat, suddenly deafeningly loud. There was nothing he could hear anymore. Nothing but the blood rushing through his veins, slowly, so very slowly. Each heartbeat lasted a small eternity.

The wick stopped gleaming.

Both candles had died.

Even if he had heard them, there would have been no need for any more words.

Merry knew.

***

TBC