DISCLAIMER: Of course. The characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.
Seven stars and seven stones and one white tree. The Two Towers
A MATTER OF TIME
July 2, S.R. 1419
Merry stood looking at the White Tree, just a sapling really, that bloomed so beautifully next to the fountain. The courtyard in Minas Tirith had become a place to which many came to gaze in wonder, and to listen to the waters of the fountain tinkling into the pool and bathing the young tree in sunlit sparkles. Merry chuckled to himself at the thought that someone must be watering the tree with Entwater, as it seemed to have grown a full foot since its planting just weeks before.
King Elessar had caused new benches to be set about the courtyard, several, Merry had noticed, set lower to the ground to accommodate hobbits or Dwarves. Or children.
The little tree was so lovely. Merry thought it more beautiful even than the Mallorn of Lorien, an opinion with which Sam disagreed altogether. He looked at the deeply green leaves with a hint of silver underneath each, barely to be seen now that the Tree was blossoming so swiftly. He longed to reach out and feel the flowers, but it didn't seem right. Not with Strider sitting just a few yards away with Arwen.
"Go ahead, Merry," said a warm, familiar voice from behind him. "You won't hurt it."
Gandalf had entered the courtyard and came to stand next to the hobbit. He smiled down at him. "Go ahead."
Merry took a deep breath and reached out his right hand. He just brushed his fingers across the nearest cluster of snowy white blossoms. They were soft, and damp from the misting waters of the fountain. Between the moist drops of water and the sunlight falling just so, the blossoms and leaves seemed to give off a light of their own.
"I love this little tree, Gandalf. It just seems so…… so……" Merry sighed, unable to verbalize.
"It is a sign of peace, Merry. Of a new age. Of things preserved that should not be lost, and things yet to be that can now bear fruit. A large burden for such a small tree!" Gandalf chuckled and looked fondly at his friend. "But large burdens fall on many small shoulders, do they not?"
Merry let his hand drop and turned to the wizard. Gandalf led him to a nearby bench, where they sat together in silence for awhile.
"How are you, Merry? Elrond told me he had told you about Pippin. How do you feel about things now?"
Merry thought for awhile, but didn't answer directly.
"Well I know how everyone *else* feels! Sam feels that Frodo doesn't get enough rest. Frodo feels that Sam hasn't been honored nearly enough, although Sam seems dismayed at the thought of more attention!" Merry grinned. "And Pippin…… Pippin has been through so much, Gandalf. That whole long journey south…… Moria…… the Orcs, the Palantir, becoming a soldier of Gondor, losing Denethor, saving Faramir, being so very badly hurt…… and yet—" Merry shook his head in awe and love. "He's still Pippin. After all that, he's still Pippin."
"When you rode off with him to Gondor, and again when he joined the Company riding to the Black Gate, and I felt so alone, I tried to keep my spirits up by remembering what Elrond said. About how important Pip was, and that the least word or action of his might win the whole war." Merry sighed. "I wish I could tell him, Gandalf. I wish he knew that it might all have turned out differently, except for him." Merry paused. "Pip feels…… grown up. But still Pip. I'm glad."
Gandalf waited, but Merry said no more. "And how do *you* feel, my friend?"
Merry looked up at Gandalf, tears threatening to fall that he had held back for so long, so very long.
"I'm proud, Gandalf," he whispered, his eyes shining with joy. "So very proud." He looked back at the Tree, seemingly a symbol for everything they had achieved. "Look what we did."
Gandalf looked around the courtyard. King Elessar and Queen Arwen sat near them, talking quietly to each other. Elsewhere Faramir walked, daydreaming it seemed, with a gentle smile on his face. Leaning against the stone wall at the rear of the courtyard Sam and Frodo and Pippin stood together, deep in conversation. All were at peace.
"Yes, Merry," Gandalf spoke quietly, thinking of many things. "Look what we did."
Many thanks for all the wonderful reviews; they keep me going and helped to shape the story. (I originally only had Chapter One in mind until I got inspired by all of you to continue!)