Merry had counted all the cracks in the ceiling. He had lain on his right side, then his left, and now his back. He was about to try his stomach when the door opened and there was Pippin. Merry sat up and smiled.
"I'm bored," he said, by way of greeting.
"That's good." Pippin leaned against the bed.
"It means you're still alive. Though maybe the dead are very bored. What do you think?" Pippin wore his black and silver uniform and while Merry thought he looked very fine, it also made him seem further away, a little high and mighty perhaps.
"I think that I'm not dead, if that's what you're asking me. And that I'm bored. They won't let me out of bed."
"Just for the forenoon," Pippin said. "Be patient."
Merry laughed. "To think that I should lie quiet and be taught patience by Peregrin Took! Who burns his tongue each time because he cannot wait for a pie to cool. Who ruined his plot of carrots because he kept pulling them up to see how they were coming along. Who got his best party clothes covered in grass stains because he couldn't wait to get inside and take them off.
"Merry!" Pippin grinned. "As I recall, you were the one who couldn't wait to go inside. Anyway, I'm a changed hobbit. I can stand for hours at my duties and never complain."
"And never get bored?"
"That would be too much to ask from me," Pippin said. "I daresay I'm as bored as you are and I have to stand on a hard stone floor besides."
"I suppose you'd rather be lying in a nice soft bed."
"It's as good a place to be bored as any. But yours looks softer than mine."
"You'd best come up and compare," Merry said. He ran his hand through Pippin's curls. "If I'm forced to lie abed, I must also take my pleasures there."
Pippin caught Merry's hand and held it between his own. "Are you sure you have the strength?" His eyes sparkled. "You might suffer a setback."
"I have all the strength I need and more!" Merry rolled to the side of the bed and leaned close to Pippin. "Try me and see." He stroked Pippin's cheek and moved to kiss him.
The door banged open and the hobbits sprang apart. A man, tall and masterful, stood in the doorway. Pippin bowed, then stood straight and still, as Merry had never seen him before. This must be a man of rank, then. Merry inclined his head as the man drew near.
"I am Imrahil of Dol Amroth," he said. "For a little while, I am lord of this city." His voice filled the room, though he did not seem to speak loudly. He had an ancient air about him and his features were fine. "You have done us a great service, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and we are in your debt."
Merry bowed his head again and felt the blood spring to his face. "I have done what I could, nothing more."
"You have done what no other could -- save the one you aided. For that we thank you." Imrahil smiled. "And we would give you this, as a gift, since no payment could be enough for our debt." He held out a sword, just the size for a hobbit, in a richly wrought sheath.
Merry took it and drew it. It was light and well-balanced, but his arm was still weak and so he laid it in his lap. "I thank you, my lord. Please forgive me for not bowing, but the healers have forbidden me to leave my bed."
Imrahil laughed. "A healer can overrule the mightiest; they are tyrants and despots. But do you heed their commands. We would have you well and strong again." He laid his hand on Merry's brow for a moment. "And now I must take my leave, for there is much to be seen to."
When the door had closed behind him, Pippin came close again. "What a gift!" he said. "You really are a war hero."
"I feel a bit silly," Merry said. "I didn't set out to be a hero, you know. Will you take the sword for me?"
Pippin sheathed the sword and set it on a table. "Perhaps you'll parade the city in triumph once you've healed up. The women will throw flowers and the men will cheer."
"I suppose they already do that when you walk by." Merry took Pippin's hand. "Come on, up with you. A war hero needs his reward."
Pippin squeezed Merry's hand. "I don't know -- your head might swell up and burst from too much attention." He leaned over until their noses almost touched. "Maybe I should go."
Merry touched Pippin's cheek. "You should--"
The door opened again. Merry muttered something un-hero-like under his breath and looked up as Eomer strode into the room.
"Meriadoc son of Saradoc," he said, and bowed to Merry. Pippin snorted softly and Merry wished he could kick him. "I owe you a great debt," Eomer continued, "for the aid you showed to my sister and to my king. You are a valiant warrior and a true friend."
Merry's face grew hot again. "I did no more than any other would," he said. "When the low move with the high, it is no surprise they should find themselves striving to be worthy of their betters."
"Nay," Eomer said. "There is no low or high between us. But for you, Eowyn would be dead, and maybe all our hopes with her. Later, when you are healed, I will make you a knight of the Riddermark. For now, I have but a small gift." He brought out a helmet, small and well-made, crested with a horse's tail.
Pippin took the helmet and brought it to Merry, mouth twitching as he set it on Merry's head. The horsehair fell over Merry's face and he had to part it before he could see again. "This is a lordly gift," he said. "I thank you. But all I have done, I did for love of Theoden King. For that, I need no reward."
"Your words do you credit," Eomer said. "And it is that love which honours you. I must go to my sister. Take your ease and grow well."
As soon as the door had shut, Pippin burst into laughter. "You'll be blind if you wear that. Or people will think you've grown your hair long."
Merry frowned. "You shouldn't laugh, Pip."
"No," Pippin said. "You're right. I'm sorry." He took the helmet from Merry's head and laid it on a table, by the sword. "I suppose you want me to make it up to you now?"
"That's a thought, then." Merry moved over to make room for Pippin. "Come here and be sweet to me and then I'll decide whether or not I forgive you."
"You'll decide, will you?" Pippin hoisted himself up onto the bed. "Oh, this is soft. Not much like a soldier's bed. Shouldn't you be sleeping on an assortment of rocks and tree roots?"
"I've had quite enough of rocks and roots, thank you, and quite enough of your chatter." Merry tangled his hand in Pippin's hair and pulled his head down.
"You're very demanding," Pippin said, and bumped their noses together. "A great captain, are you, ordering me about?"
"If I were, would you do what you were told?" Merry rested his arm on Pippin's shoulders.
"I'm a changed hobbit, I said." Pippin smiled at Merry and hugged him about the waist.
And the door opened yet again. Merry flung himself back on his pillow. How did they expect him to recover if people wouldn't stop badgering him?
"See how feebly he lies, we should have come ere now," a gruff voice said.
Merry sat up again. "Gimli! Legolas!" he cried. "You should have come sooner, doubtless, but not on account of my feebleness."
Pippin slid to the floor and embraced their companions. Legolas took Merry's hand. "Your hurt will be well soon, I deem. For such a time, we have brought you a gift." He gave to Merry a small shield, bright and shining.
"More to the purpose," Gimli said, "we've brought you lunch."
Merry laughed. "For both, I thank you. But put the shield by for me, until such time as I have need of it. As to the lunch, I will take it now."
"Is there perhaps enough for more than one?" Pippin said, an anxious frown on his face.
"Think you we have come through fire and death for you that we would stint you now?" Gimli brought out a basket and from it took food enough for them all -- bread and cheese and cakes and wine. They ate and were glad, for the food, but even more for the company.
After they had cleared every plate, Legolas and Gimli took their leave to return to Aragorn. "Farewell, we will come again!" And they were gone.
"At last!" Merry said. "I thought these gifts would never stop. Come to me now before the whole of Minas Tirith walks through the door."
Pippin scrambled onto the bed and rested his head on Merry's shoulder. "But the gifts haven't stopped, you know."
"Who else is expected? Gandalf, with a wizard's staff for me? Strider, with the throne of Gondor?"
"None so exalted as that." From his pocket, Pippin drew a small wooden flute. "For you," he said. "I made it myself." Merry took hold of it, but Pippin didn't let go. "I can't give it to you yet. There's something you must do first."
"What do you think I've been trying to do all morning?" Merry nuzzled the side of Pippin's face.
Pippin chuckled. "Not that. Wish me joy of the day, Merry, and you may have your present."
"Pippin! Your birthday!" Merry felt a pang of guilt. "I'm sorry I didn't remember."
"I nearly didn't remember myself," Pippin said, "only a fellow asked me my age not long after I arrived here and it made me reckon up the days."
"Joy of the day," Merry said and Pippin let go the flute. Merry blew a few notes. It was well in tune, with a light voice. "This is lovely, Pippin. I'll play for you later."
"Not now!" Merry faced Pippin and put his hand under Pippin's chin. Pippin's eyes danced as they looked at each other. Pippin reached up and stroked Merry's cheek. They both leaned in.
The door flew open. Merry started and bumped against Pippin. Pippin overbalanced and fell out of the bed.
"Time for Master Meriadoc to go out the garden." It was Senna, one of the women of the house. Yesterday, she had brought Merry bitter medicines and made him go to sleep early.
Merry almost shrieked with frustration. "I don't want to get up," he said. "I feel weak. I should stay in bed."
"In bed? Not out in the lovely fresh air?" Senna plumped up his pillow and gave him a cup to drink from. It was the medicine again. Merry made a face and Pippin grinned.
"In bed," said Merry firmly. "I will not recover unless I spend the afternoon in bed, undisturbed."
"Very well," she said. "Come now, Master Peregrin, we must leave him now."
"Oh, he can stay," Merry said. "He's very restful."
"I'm quite docile," said Pippin, and he laughed. "It's often remarked on back in the Shire."
"I'm sure you are," she said, "but Master Meriadoc must have his rest, if he's not feeling well." She steered Pippin away and Merry could only look on in dismay.
"I've forgotten something," Pippin said, when they were at the door. "I'll just be a moment." He ran back to the bed, took Merry's face in his hands, and kissed him, hard. "I'll be back tomorrow."
The door closed behind him. Merry punched his pillow, then lay back and played sad songs on his flute.
An hour later, Pippin snuck back in.