Written for a Marigold Tale Challenge. Theme: A third anniversary.
"A Million Little Stars to Light Their Way”
Three years. Impossible to fathom…almost. By the same token it sometimes felt like three days, three hours even. At other times it seemed that if three hundred years had passed ‘twould not be long enough to keep the grief at bay. These thoughts and more whirled in his mind. Another long night loomed ahead of him. Pippin clutched at the covers stubbornly resisting the myriad of memories that descended upon him. Sighing, he gave in at last. Lighting the candle on his bedside table he stood, his bleary eyes squinting into the star filled night beyond his window. He leaned on the sill for just a moment searching the heavens as if seeking an answer there. The young hobbit felt old beyond his thirty-one years. Pippin made his way quietly to the door of the little house, careful to avoid waking his cousin who slept in the next room.
Ever since he and Merry had moved into the little house at Crickhollow Pippin had spent many nights perfecting his ability to creep silently about their new home. He would not wake his cousin for anything if he could help it. Merry deserved whatever rest he got these days. It was difficult enough for either one of them to sleep peacefully anymore. Pippin wondered if that would ever get better. In the time that had passed thus far there had not been much improvement. He reflected on that thought for a moment. Well, perhaps he did not startle awake instantly reaching for his weapon quite as often now. But he still had his moments. He recalled a night in Foreyule in which he had awakened to find he was being gently led back to the safety of the house and his bed by a grave-faced Merry.
How his cousin had known he was sleepwalking he was not certain. They both seemed to have developed a sixth sense about such things. The bond they had always shared had but grown all the stronger for their trials. Pippin had fallen into his bed and cried while Merry sat with him, stroking his hair and murmuring soft words of comfort until he slept once again. It was not until many days later that Merry told him just how close to danger’s way Pippin had come, frightening his older cousin nearly out of his mind. Merry had found him shivering with cold, teetering on a sheer edge at the top of the hill near their home, poised as if he was about to try flying away over the treacherous rocks that lay far below. Merry had steered him away from the edge, careful not to startle him awake suddenly, lest he fall.
And so it was with both of them, nurturing one another through this extended recovery period, trying to summon a sense of peace that proved to be elusive at best.
The air was cool on his face as he stepped outside. Pippin sat on the bench by the door and stared up into the night sky. How quickly the memory of lying beneath the stars on that journey returned to him. More often than not they had walked by moonlight, stealing through the darkness in order to better conceal their presence from unfriendly eyes. But early on they had spent some rather peaceful nights lying beneath the dark sky, counting stars and pointing out the constellations much as one might gaze at the clouds in the daytime and pick out animal shapes among them. The big man had made a game of it with them and Pippin smiled sadly at the memory.
Three years to the very day had passed since that terrible time when Boromir’s life had been stolen away. Pippin shuddered as his mind’s eye focused almost against his will on that horrific moment when the Uruk-hai had overwhelmed them. The unbelievable sight of his dear friend staggering under the agony of the arrows piercing his chest and shoulder, yet still fighting valiantly, attempting to protect him and his cousin right up until the bitter end. But all to no avail. The Uruks had swept them off their feet and spirited them away to face indescribable fear and hardship. And Boromir had died. Pippin did not try to stay the flow of tears on his cheeks. He recalled the blaring of the Horn of Gondor as the man had called repeatedly for aid. But Aragorn had not reached them in time.
How long he sat staring upwards he did not know. The grey light of dawn was heralded by the first call of the morning birds that gathered in the trees around him. Pippin was certain he had never heard a more lonely and mournful sound. Almost without conscious thought he rose and wandered back to his room, collapsing onto the bed. Numb, he lay still and waited to see if sleep would take him once more.
Merry stood at his cousin’s bedroom door watching him sleep. He knew what the date was, how difficult and close the memories would be today. In his mind he too heard the echoes of the Horn, the frantic call for help, remembered what had come next. The blood and the pain, the gash upon his own brow. Watching as they realized the swords they wielded would do little against the great mass of Uruk-hai that quickly overwhelmed them. His nose twitched with recall of their scent. Stinking, filthy, vile creatures. He saw Boromir, his body pierced with arrows yet continuing to fight, felt his own body being lifted roughly into the air, heard his cousin’s frantic screams as he too was captured. He shivered recalling the big Uruk who had approached the warrior, bow raised and arrow pointed at his victim’s head, Boromir crouched upon his knees unable to escape, they unable to help him as the horrible sight faded into the distance…
Pippin sniffed appreciatively as he entered the kitchen. Padding to the stove he lifted the lid of the big pot and found vegetable soup simmering away, its hearty aroma wafting into the air. Apparently Merry had been up early. Pippin looked around the house but didn’t see any evidence of his cousin’s whereabouts. Shrugging, he came back to the pot and picked up a spoon to stir the contents, already lost in his memories once more.
“That’s right! Stir it well now young sir and keep an eye on things whilst I go and fetch the others. 'Tis almost done.”
Pippin obediently stirred the pot of soup and grinned at Boromir’s back as he departed. Thus far the journey had not been too awfully filled with excitement. Mostly they had walked and walked…and walked some more. Pippin glanced about quickly. Perhaps he might even sneak a spoonful or two before the others returned. He lifted the spoon to his mouth immediately burning his lip in his haste.
He dropped the spoon into the pot and swore under his breath as it disappeared beneath the bubbling broth. He was attempting to fish it out when the others streamed into their campsite. Sam looked him up and down knowingly and, shaking his head, assisted him in scooping the spoon out with the aid of his long cooking fork. Pippin grinned sheepishly and shrugged.
“Ah, couldn’t wait, eh? That’s because you know what a good cook I am,” the big man proclaimed shamelessly.
Pippin shook his head, chuckling. “No! It’s because I am as hungry as two hobbits sir!”
Boromir roared with laughter and draped an arm around his shoulders, leaning down to whisper in his ear. “Then I should have prepared three pots of soup my lad! One for each of you, and one for the rest of the Company!”
Pippin’s face brightened mischievously. “Aye, that would have been a good idea then!”
Boromir’s laughter continued as he squatted to help Sam serve the meal. “Well, it will be your turn to help cook tomorrow young hobbit, and I intend to be as hungry as two Gondorians!” He winked at Sam. “So, what do you intend to do about that?”
“Well…I expect I shall be as busy as two hobbits and a big Gondorian, attempting to cook enough food to feed all of you and more besides,” Pippin shot back good-naturedly.
“Ah, we shall see. And are you as good a cook as I am?”
Pippin grinned up at him, his head tilted to one side, green eyes sparkling. “We shall see Boromir…”
Merry gathered up an armload of wood from the shed, not being overly careful to watch what he was doing.
“Yeowch!” The wood tumbled from his hands and he stuck his finger in his mouth trying to quell the throbbing caused by the big splinter. Merry held his hand up to the light, inspecting it grimly. A few drops of blood trickled down his palm. Not just a splinter then but a cut. He reached into his pocket for a handkerchief and wound it tightly around the wound. The sound of a flock of geese rising nearby caught his attention and set his mind adrift to another time.
“The cut is not serious but we do not want it to get infected.” Boromir told him as he wrinkled up his brow and looked at him askance. “What did you say you were doing?” The warrior reached into his belongings, retrieving a soft cloth and wrapping it firmly around the hobbit’s hand.
Merry hesitated, his face flushing. Finally he held up a small figure he’d been carving from the bit of hardwood he’d secured earlier along the path. “It’s not finished.”
Boromir took it curiously and turned it about in his fingers. He smiled and nodded at the hobbit. “It is quite good! I did not realize you were skilled at wood carving.”
Merry grinned, his pleasure at the praise unmistakable. He reached out for the figure and turned it about in his own hand for a moment. “It is your horse, the one you rode into Rivendell.”
Boromir nodded and clasped the young hobbit’s shoulder. “Indeed.”
“I know it’s your birthday tomorrow. We are accustomed to giving gifts to others on our own birthdays. Gandalf told me it is customary in your culture to receive a gift on your birthday. I was making this for you.”
Boromir smiled gently and squatted down next to him. “I would be honoured if you would finish it for me then.”
Merry nodded and looked up into the big man’s eyes. “And I in turn would be honoured to do so, sir.”
“Just be more careful, eh? No more lacerations, all right? ‘Twould not do at all to be losing a finger in honour of the day I was born!” The warrior chuckled and returned the knife to Merry, who grinned up at him eagerly and nodded.
“Yes sir! I promise to carve only the wood from now on!”
“Excellent!” Boromir was still chuckling as he turned away.
Merry shook himself back to the present at the sound of Pippin’s voice calling to him. He remembered he had left the soup simmering on the hot stove and quickly gathered up his burden and went back inside. “I’m here, Pip.” He allowed the small logs to tumble into the wood box and brushed off his hands.
Pippin frowned at the sight of the bandage. “Oh! You’re hurt!”
Merry shook his head. “It’s just a scratch.”
His cousin studied him closely for another moment before deciding to let it go. Pippin turned back to the stove and stirred the pot of soup again. “I was thinking Merry. Today is not overly fraught with pressing business, is it?” His cousin shook his head. “What do you say we pack up for a bit of a hike then? We could head up into the woods, perhaps do some fishing, stay the night. Enjoy a little time to relax around a nice campfire. What do you say?”
Merry could not resist the yearning expression on Pippin’s face. He nodded. “Sounds like a fine idea Pip. I’m certain we both could do with a little time off and relaxing around a campfire sounds lovely.”
Pippin nodded eagerly and immediately set about the preparations for their excursion.
The hike was long but satisfying. The physical exertion seemed to be just what was needed, allowing much of the day’s emotional turmoil to be quelled with the effort of walking up the hills that surrounded their home. Pippin’s thoughts turned to Boromir again as he recalled another exhausting journey.
“My goodness, is it not time yet to stop and take some rest? My feet are aching all the way to the very bones!”
“No, we have some hours to go before we cease for the night Peregrin. Best get your mind on something else other than lounging in your bedroll near a warm fire,” the wizard scolded.
Pippin rolled his eyes at Gandalf’s back and looked at Merry, who simply shrugged. “We’re all tired Pip. Best get accustomed to it.”
“Aye, I suppose you’re right.” Pippin trudged along, resigned to the aching in his feet, and tried to push the weariness from his thoughts. He glanced up to find the big Gondorian now walking at his side. Pippin raised his brow in question. Boromir leaned over and whispered in his ear.
“I would offer you a lift but it seems a bit undignified, young sir! Shall I tell you a story instead? It might help to take your mind off your feet,” Boromir grinned.
Pippin brightened immediately. “Yes! Oh, I do love your stories Boromir! I would be everso grateful if you were to tell me one now. But I hope you’ll have another one for mealtime also. I so look forward to your tales when we stop to rest each day.”
Boromir laughed. “All right then m’lad! Two tales it shall be, one for now to ease your aching feet and one for later to help you go to sleep!”
“Really Boromir, I am not a child,” Pippin huffed.
“No, you are not. But where is the harm at being tucked in at the end of a long march with a tale or two to help one ease the path to pleasant dreams, hmm?”
“Oh, well then I suppose there is no harm in that.” Pippin regarded Boromir thoughtfully. “In fact,” he whispered so only his friend could hear, “I quite look forward to it!”
“That’s the spirit!” Boromir patted him on the back, chuckling. “Let me think then…ah! I have just the story for nine companions on a long hike.” He cleared his throat and began.
“Let’s make camp here Pip. All right?”
“Seems a fine place, Merry.”
They soon had made themselves comfortable and Merry set about building a little campfire while his cousin prepared the meal. Pippin placed their little cook pot over the flames and emptied a flask of the soup Merry had made into it to warm slowly. While the soup simmered he removed bread, cheese, and apples from his pack and shortly they settled back to enjoy their food.
The evening sky was clear promising a star-filled night. Pippin felt a painful twisting in his heart as he settled next to his cousin and handed him a tin cup of the soup. He smiled wanly back in response to the whispered 'thank you'.
Merry cradled his cup as he stared at the fire. It felt so good to be warm and to know there was good food to eat. He shook his head slightly as he recalled a time when they had enjoyed neither.
“No fire again! I am quite certain I shall never know what it is like to be warm, ever again!” Pippin shook his head sadly.
“We will Pip, just not very soon it would seem,” Merry commiserated draping his arm around his little cousin’s shoulders and pulling him close to try to warm him. Merry stared across the top of Pippin’s head and his eyes met Frodo’s. Their older cousin watched them, his expressive blue eyes filled with sympathy for their suffering. Soon all four hobbits were huddling together against the cold wind and snow.
Pippin’s comment was simply a statement of fact. He knew there was not much to be done about it, Merry was certain. A moment later he found they were being pulled inside the folds of Boromir’s heavy cloak, his smallest cousin placed on the big man’s lap while he pulled the rest of them as close as possible to his sides. He slipped each of them a small bit of dried meat without a word. Merry looked up gratefully. Boromir simply smiled and drew them closer, his body shielding them from the worst of the weather.
The grim anniversary had nearly passed in its entirety and still they had not spoken aloud of Boromir, yet his presence permeated every thought, every action they had taken this day. They sat in companionable silence for a long time, gazing up at the slowly darkening sky. As the stars emerged one by one and increased in number and brilliance they crept closer together as if in need of the reassurance and warmth of physical contact.
“The stars are very bright tonight, aren’t they Merry?”
‘Yes Pip, I noticed.”
“Perhaps it’s only because we haven’t taken the time lately to really look at them.”
“I suppose we haven’t.”
Pippin drew his legs up and leaned against his cousin’s shoulder in quiet contemplation. Merry draped an arm around him and they sat that way for quite some time appreciating their companionship. Pippin pointed at a far constellation just beginning to take shape. “Look, Merry. It’s the Archer! It reminds me of Legolas.”
“Yes. It does me too. And look at that one,” Merry pointed in the opposite direction. “That one looks like a horse.”
“Aye, perhaps it’s Shadowfax.”
“Could very well be, Pip. And look there, that has to be a dragon. See the fire coming from its mouth?”
Pippin nodded. “And that one’s my old dog, Dizzy! Remember how Pervinca said she named him after me because we acted so much alike?” Pippin chuckled. “It took me the longest time to realise she was having a jest on me!”
“Yes, such a trusting little lad you were.”
“Merry, remember when we played this game on our journey? And how Boromir played along with us and even came up with names for all the creatures we picked out of the stars?”
“Yes, I remember Pip. He was very good at it.”
“He seemed to have names for all the stars in the night sky! And he knew all the constellations. He even outdid Aragorn during our game, remember? He could come up with ideas so very quickly.”
“It was fun to listen to him tell his stories too.”
Pippin huddled closer. “I miss him Merry.”
“I do too, Pip.”
His cousin listened with quiet regard, not speaking.
“Why did he have to die?” Pippin’s voice threatened to break, the raw anguish of his question causing Merry’s heart to ache.
He sighed heavily. “Because everyone has a time Pip. You know that.” His arm tightened around his little cousin’s shoulders.
“Yes,” Pippin admitted sadly. “But it still doesn’t feel quite right. Boromir was still so young. He was trying to…”
Merry’s arm tightened still more. “Yes. He was trying to save us Pip. And we were saved. In the proper time.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“Yes I do. Everything in Middle-earth has a time and a season. Things have a way of working out the way they are meant to be. We can’t always understand the purpose. But Boromir touched our lives in a very special way. And we will always remember him.”
Pippin gazed up once more, considering. He was silent for so long Merry was about to say something when Pippin gave a small cry of surprise and pointed up. “Look! I can see him in that constellation, right there, beside Dizzy!” He nodded knowingly. “It’s just like Boromir used to tell us, Merry. When someone crosses over, the ones he leaves behind have only to seek him out in the night sky. And you see? He was right! It’s taken three years but now I can see him up there bright and clear. Can’t you?”
Merry grinned at his cousin’s enthusiasm and indulged him by seeking out the portion of sky he pointed to. He gasped with sudden recognition. A brand new constellation beamed down at them. The stars took the shape of a warrior engaged in battle, his sword raised high, his smile of triumph shining brightly for all who cared to see. Merry struggled to find words, his mouth gaping in astonishment while Pippin simply gazed at the sky with satisfaction.
“Merry, do you remember that poem Boromir recited for us sometimes as we were star gazing? He said it was very old.”
“Yes,” Merry rubbed his chin thoughtfully, still unable to take his eyes from the constellation. “How did it go again?”
In a soft voice Pippin began to recite:
* “When he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.”
Merry smiled, tears glistening on his cheeks.
“He was right Merry. I shall always be in love with the star-filled night. Its forever been my favourite time and now ‘tis even more dear to me.” Pippin continued gazing reverently at the constellation.
“Yes. He was right Pip. About so many things.” Merry squeezed his cousin’s shoulder. “Perhaps we will even be able to dread the nights no longer?” He too gazed upward. “For we shall never be alone it would seem.”
*From Romeo and Juliet, Act 3 Scene 2, by Shakespeare