NOTE:  This chapter completes the circle begun at the beginning of Chapter 1.  I've been trying to find new perspectives on things, so thank you for taking this journey with me!  I have tried to weave Gandalf's memory and influence throughout the chapters, as I believe they must have been woven through the characters' thoughts.

DISCLAIMER:  Of course. The characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.

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Chapter 8

Merry

The nightmare is finally fading.  I hope everyone's been too preoccupied this morning to have noticed how shaken I was.  I've been reassuring Frodo and Pip, everything will be all right.  Don't worry.  But it's not them I'm telling, it's me.

The nightmare…… We were back in the Old Forest…… I was being suffocated by that willow, that evil tree.  Being here among the trees must have brought it all back to me.  The Old Forest, that's where it all changed.  Does anyone know why I spent all my time in Rivendell memorizing maps, the mountains and rivers?  Because of the Old Forest.  Frodo trusted me, I was so confident and arrogant in my knowledge and directions……… and I got us lost, almost to our deaths.  If Tom Bombadil hadn't found us we would be there still, smothered and lost.  My fault.

In Rivendell, Frodo looked at the maps a bit too, but he trusted that Gandalf and Aragorn could guide him anywhere.  Well, Gandalf is gone, and who knows what may happen next.  I have the southern lands clear in my head.  I don't know what else I can possibly offer Frodo in the way of aid, but if it comes to that, I won't lose us again.

I probably led those Black Riders straight to the Prancing Pony, when I took that silly walk outside the Inn.  What was I thinking?

I shouldn't have let Pip anywhere near that well in Moria.

I knew Frodo and Sam were hurt, yet Pip and I ran off and let them be left behind after Moria.  We were just so happy to be out of that dark place, that evil place.  Legolas had to tell us they needed help, that they couldn't walk any farther.

I have so much to make up for.

I guess growing up knowing I would be Master of Buckland, I never really had to think too hard about things.  Until I decided there was no way Frodo was leaving the Shire alone, alone with the Enemy's ring.  I tried to think of everything he'd need, and pretty much did.  He was so happy we were with him, that we cared, that he wouldn't be alone.

Well I'm not the heir to Buckland out here.  I'm a Halfling with a sword that's too good for me, trying to protect my cousin from a darkness we never knew about.  The Old Forest was nothing.  There are nightmares ahead, real ones.

Pip was so hurt when Gandalf was cross with him in Moria.  But I was hurt too.  At the doors, outside.  "Merry, of all people, was on the right track," he said.  Merry, of all people.  How little he must have thought of me.  And indeed, what use have I been so far?  Just baggage brought along.  I'm capable of so much more.  I'm trying to do my best.

Don't worry, Gandalf.  I'm going to make you proud of me.