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Disclaimer: The Lord of the Rings and all its characters and settings are the property of the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien, New Line Cinemas, and their licensees. These works were produced with admiration and respect, as fan fiction for entertainment purposes only, not for sale or profit. This story and all my others may be found on my website, http://budgielover.com. My thanks to my dear Marigold for the beta.
What Should Not Be Forgotten
The smell of pickled egg was overwhelmingly strong in the sleeping hobbit’s nostrils. Frodo rolled over and pulled the covers up over his head, but the stench followed him to the other side of the bed. Traces of kippered herring, too. Onions and …and garlic. Lots of garlic. His eyes watering, the Ring-bearer risked lowering the blankets for a peek and traced the malodorous reek to a young hobbit that was leaning over his bed and breathing gustily into his face.
Seeing his cousin’s eyes open, Pippin greeted him with a cheerful smile and popped another foul-smelling egg into his mouth. He chewed enthusiastically, swallowed, and then heaved a contented sigh in Frodo’s direction. The Ring-bearer groaned as more sulfurous fumes wafted over him. "Pippin, you know the Rules about waking me up."
"No shaking, scaring, or screaming," the young hobbit recited dutifully. "No tickling, tugging off covers, or nose-tapping. No poking, pouncing, or prying open eyelids. No throwing heavy objects at you from across the room." He leaned forward and peered into Frodo’s face, bringing with him an overpowering odor of battling scents. Frodo’s stomach churned. "There isn’t any rule about stinking," Pippin continued. "Perhaps you will have to make an Amendment." He paused to grin cheekily. "Good morning, Cousin. Are you going to lay in bed all day?"
"Sounds like a good plan to me," Frodo grumbled. He noted that Pippin wore his shining silver and black livery, clean and crisp, which was a wonder in itself. "Go away, Pippin. It’s too early to get up."
"It is past second breakfast," Pippin returned, undaunted. "Come on, Frodo. You sleep too much."
Frodo yawned and looked reluctantly out of the small window of his bedroom. All of the windows were small in Minas Tirith, carved out of the solid rock of the citadel. It was indeed late in the morning, the day outside cloudless and bright. He weighed his chances of returning to sleep against the hopeful young face before him, then surrendered. "How did you get past Sam? I told him I was not be annoyed by younger cousins."
Pippin grinned. "Merry lured him away with the rumor of fresh mushrooms at the market. You know how hard it is to get anything green or fresh here. Aragorn‘s staff are still straightening out the delivery routes and organizing farmers to bring what produce there is into the City."
"Speaking of duties," Frodo gave one last gasp, clutching the blankets tightly, "aren’t you to wait on the King today?"
Pippin shook his head, freshly-washed curls bouncing. "No, I’ve been released until tomorrow. Merry and I are both free, to escort our renowned cousin on a tour of the White City." Gently, he pried the coverings out of his cousin’s grasp, careful of applying pressure on Frodo’s four-fingered hand. His cousin’s right hand was still heavily bandaged, unable to grasp and hold as well as it once could. Pippin did not look at the maimed hand, knowing how Frodo hated that.
Frodo winced as he shifted over, swinging his legs to the floor and dropping the last few inches. Aragorn had offered to have the legs of the huge bed cut down, but Frodo had refused, awed by the beauty of the grandiose furniture of the suite assigned him. On his feet, Frodo swayed, assailed by a sudden tide of dizziness.
Instantly Pippin was by his side, catching his elder cousin about the waist until Frodo could steady himself. "Easy there, Cousin. Stand still a moment." Pippin kept the sorrow from his voice; under Frodo’s nightshirt, he could still feel every rib. It was partly to encourage his cousin’s appetite to return that this little expedition had been approved.
Frodo leaned against him, breathing heavily for a few moments. When the weakness passed, he straightened with a grimace. "I can’t get used to you being taller than I am. You and Merry both. I shudder to think of what your mothers are going to say to me."
Pippin grinned, delight shining in his green-gold eyes. "I don’t see how Mum can blame you for us drinking Ent-draughts, Frodo." He took a step back to make room for his cousin and a flash of pain crossed his face as his damaged leg took his weight.
"She will be too busy blaming me for other things," Frodo said softly, his pale face tightening as shadows filled his eyes.
"Let’s get some food inside you, Cousin," Pippin whispered. "You’ll feel better with a meal in you." He rooted about in the wardrobe and handed Frodo a set of fresh clothing. A bowl of candied fruit bits kept him pleasantly occupied while Frodo dressed. Alert to a stumble, Pippin followed his cousin from the room, masking his worry under a bright smile. You’ve got to feel better, Frodo. I couldn’t bear to lose you now, after everything that’s happened. I couldn’t bear it.
* * * * *
"What ‘step thing’?" Pippin asked, his mouth full.
"Where he looks at where he wants to go, and counts how many steps it will take," Merry whispered back, brows drawing together as he thought. "Like he’s trying to figure out if he has enough strength to make it." He refrained from mentioning that Pippin sometimes still did the same thing.
Pippin followed his cousin’s gaze to where Frodo stood leaning against the buffet table, his hands in his pockets. He was protesting to Sam, who was ignoring him, continuing to load his master’s plate. Sam added a little mound of fried potatoes and topped it with a scoop of diced mushrooms. Frodo groaned dramatically, then laughed.
"Maybe a tour of the City isn’t such a good idea today," Merry said slowly. "He still isn’t very strong, and for all Sam’s bluster, I don’t think he’s much better." Merry automatically ate a forkful of eggs, his eyes on his cousin and their friend. "Put that sausage back on my plate, Pip. I saw you. If you want another, you get up and get it."
Ignoring the last part of Merry’s remark, Pippin replied, "What say we just sit in the Steward’s Courtyard and talk, Merry? All of the Big Folk are so busy, no one else will be there - they won’t even notice us. And while we’re talking, we’ll see how much food we can get down Frodo."
"And down you?" Merry asked with a wry grin.
"Shhhhh!" Pippin hissed in a blatant attempt to avoid answering his cousin’s question. The younger hobbits fell silent as the Ring-bearers approached, Frodo keeping a hand on Sam’s arm.
* * * * *
"Mr. Merry? Are you certain that we are allowed ‘ta be in here?" Sam asked, pausing in the entryway. He looked at the imposing statues and white marble benches apprehensively.
"No one ever said to stay out," Merry responded reasonably as Pippin edged past them both.
"They said stay out of the kitchens," Pippin repeated, plopping himself down on a bench and ticking off on his fingers. "Stay away from the bakery and butteries, and no rummaging in the pantries. And the sweets vendors are to paid immediately," he added mournfully, "not promised credit. I think Aragorn is being unfair on that one. I would have paid as soon as I had any coin. After all, it isn’t as though I was accepting their offers to give me anything I wanted without having to pay at all."
"Aragorn is going to be a wise king," Frodo said firmly, putting an end to that discussion.
The spring sun had pleasantly warmed the carven stone benches, and the three hobbits joined Pippin with sighs of relief. The smooth marble that comprised most of Minas Tirith’s flooring was soothing to the hobbits’ feet, but prolonged contact with the cold stone was uncomfortable for the cuts and burns still painful on the Ring-bearers’ damaged soles. Sam sat back and wiggled his toes with a grimace – the cuts on his feet were deeper than Frodo’s, silent testimony to the price of carrying his master’s weight in addition to his own that last dreadful distance.
Pippin had excused himself from their meandering route out to the courtyard and rejoined them carrying an enormous basket he had begged from the kitchens. "Just in case anyone gets hungry," he commented, ("Meaning himself," Merry had whispered to Sam. Sam nodded sagely) and the cooks had been more than pleased to supply one. They had scarcely got settled when Pippin lifted the lid to investigate its contents.
"Two roast chickens," he reported, sharp nose sniffing as he poked about in the basket. "A loaf of bread – butter and jam … carrots and celery…" Pippin dug deeper. "Pickled onions, salted potatoes, a round of cheese, pickles, apples … and a whole blackberry pie! Very good!" he added approvingly.
"Pippin," laughed Frodo, "how did you get the kitchens to supply all that?"
Pippin grinned and munched down on a chicken leg. "They were honored to provide a little snack to the Ernil i Pheriannath, Frodo. They said so."
"Pher - Pheriannath?" Sam asked, stumbling a little over the unfamiliar word.
Pippin shrugged. "They just started calling me that soon after I arrived here. I didn’t tell them I was ‘the Prince of the Halflings’."
Merry fished an arm into the basket and handed Frodo and Sam both an apple. Taking one for himself, he leaned back against the wall and tucked one knee against his chest while swinging the other leg idly. "This is a feast. Remember, Pip, when we were so hungry in Isengard, before we found the storeroom?" Merry took a bite of the fruit, his gaze abstracted. "If Treebeard hadn’t torn down that wall, I would soon have considered eating my cousin."
Pippin snorted. "At least I’d have tasted better than those foul chunks of maggoty bread the orcs threw at us. I’m glad the Rohirrim gave them what they deserved," he added darkly after a moment, scowling at the roasted leg of chicken in his hand. "And I’m happy the huorns finished the others off."
"I just wish the Forest had come for the battle on the Pelennor," Merry commented. "We could have used its help against all those orcs and Southrons and wicked things."
"I suppose the huorns wouldn’t have been much good during the attack, though," Pippin said consideringly. "What with the Citadel being built on solid rock, and all those fireballs blasting out the stone. And the battle-rams and siege towers and – "
"Are you all right, Mr. Frodo?" Sam interrupted, glancing at Frodo, alert as ever to his master’s moods. The apple lay in Frodo’s good hand, untouched, as he stared at the two younger hobbits.
"I just … I just hadn’t realized," Frodo murmured softly, his expression dazed. "You two have done so much, been through so much … because of me."
Pippin glanced at Merry, sudden alarm in his green-gold eyes. "You didn’t drag us into anything," Merry said firmly. "We came of our own free will. They would have had to tie us up in a sack to stop us from following you." Merry stopped to study his cousin’s pale face. "Don’t you dare take the credit for yourself."
"Credit?" sputtered Frodo. "Credit? Pippin is still limping and you will bear that scar on your forehead for the rest of your life. I hear you scream at night sometimes, both of you, your nightmares still so real you awake sobbing. You fuss and hover over Sam and I, and yet you two are scarcely in better shape."
"Frodo, do you think Pip and I care about a few hurts and scars?" Merry paused to make certain that he had Frodo’s full attention. "We have traveled to places no hobbit has ever gone, and seen things no hobbit has lain eyes on before. Pip is a Knight of Gondor, and I…" Merry sat straighter and his chest swelled with pride. "I am a Knight of Rohan." Merry smiled, his eyes focused on some distant horizon. "And maybe," he continued softly, "we have won a small place in the lays and ballads that will be sung from these days forward, when the minstrels write them."
"Peregrin the Peerless," said Pippin dreamily. "And Meriadoc the Magnificent, of course," he added hastily when Merry rolled his eyes at him. "I hope the minstrels remember how clever I was to drop my Lórien brooch to let Aragorn know we were still alive, and how we led Grishnákh into Fangorn Forest so Treebeard could get him, and call an Ent-moot, and decide to help us."
"We were running for our lives, Pip," Merry reminded his cousin dryly. "And we more or less tricked Treebeard into turning around so he could see the devastation caused by Isengard."
"Well, yes," Pippin admitted with a dismissive wave of the polished chicken bone. "But if we hadn’t done that, the two towers would have remained in league, and Frodo and Sam wouldn’t have had a chance of making it to Mt. Doom."
"And if they hadn’t," Merry added softly, his eyes roving around the quiet enclosure then lifting to the clear blue sky above, "everything would have gone to ashes and dust." He lifted a hand and touched his own still-tender scar reflectively. "It was worth it, I think."
Tears suddenly crowded the Ring-bearer’s eyes. That these two young lads, loved beyond measure, had bravely led the orcs away from him at Parth Galen so that he could escape with the Ring, that they had roused the Ents and so caused Isengard to be destroyed, and Saruman to be toppled. Because of them the huorns had decimated what remained of Saruman’s legions of orcs at Helms’ Deep, allowing Theoden to come to the aid of Gondor and turn the tide of the battle. That Merry was one of the two who fulfilled Glorfindel's ancient prophecy and dared to strike down the Witch-king. Frodo had tried to do that on Weathertop and he knew the courage it took to dare lift a blade to that terrible foe. That Pippin's mind was held and tortured by the Dark Lord himself and yet Pippin did not reveal his knowledge of the Ring and Frodo’s quest. That Pippin left his beloved Merry to march to the Black Gate and represent the Shire, and that Merry had let him go. That Beregond was playing with his son Bergil today because of Pippin. That Pippin had the good judgment to know that Denethor must be defied, and so saved Faramir. That his two little cousins had fought darkness and evil and terror and played their parts and … emerged triumphant. Suddenly unable to bear the reality of all he had suddenly understood, the Ring-bearer dropped his head into his hands and began to sob.
Instantly, Merry was off the bench and kneeling before his cousin, prying Frodo’s trembling hands away from his face. His cousin’s hands were cold, so cold. Merry rubbed them, then held them against his own breast. "Frodo," he said tenderly. "Pippin and I are adults." He glanced sideways at his little cousin, no longer so little. Pippin now stood scarcely less tall than he. "Well, one of us is." Celery in one hand and a hunk of cheese in the other, Pippin could not pinch, so he kicked at Merry’s knee. But it was a half-hearted kick, for his eyes were all on Frodo.
"We are our own hobbits," Merry continued, shifting his leg out of the reach of impertinent cousins. "Whatever we have accomplished, it is because we have had, all of our lives, the shining example of our Cousin Frodo." Merry paused, the teasing smile fading from his face, deadly serious now. "That cousin, whom we love and respect, has always set us a good example in the very worst of times and in the best. If we have achieved any greatness, it is because of what he taught us and the expectations he holds for us."
The apple rolled unnoticed from Frodo’s hand. Quietly Sam leaned forward and retrieved it. Tears were flowing down the Ring-bearer’s face, welling up from a bottomless pit of buried pain and misplaced grief. "None of this," he said brokenly, and gestured about them at the white birds soaring high overhead, at the shrill cries of children playing below them, at the spring flowers beginning to blossom in the flower-beds, "would have happened but what for you two endured. You deserve to be called heroes, not I."
"Frodo," Merry murmured earnestly, reseating himself next to Pippin, "Our deeds would be for nothing were it not for what you endured, you and Sam. All that we did was what we could. Please listen to me. You are not to blame for what happened to us, Cousin. I would not change -"
"What’s this?" came a new voice. Gandalf paused in the entryway, his sharp blue eyes on the weeping Ring-bearer. "The time for tears is past, my friends!" The wizard strode into the little courtyard, his staff clicking on the flagstones. The hobbits looked up at him then had to glance down; his white raiment and glowing countenance dazzled their eyes.
Unseen by them, Gandalf’s face softened. The marble benches were too heavy to shift closer, so he nudged Frodo over and crowded himself on the end of the bench they all shared. This scrunched Sam against the opposite arm, but the hobbit did not seem to mind. The wizard looked at them keenly for a moment, deep eyes assessing the grief and regret palpable in the air.
"I do not think I have had the opportunity yet to tell you how very proud I am of all of you," the wizard said slowly, his gazing passing over all of them and lingering on the Ring-bearer. "I know of no Man or Elf or Dwarf that could have accomplished what you did. That you – all of you – survived is a wonder. That you survived and triumphed is both a marvel and a joy."
The hobbits looked at him silently. The wizard looked back. "Think of what you have done, my friends," Gandalf continued gently. "Frodo saved the world. He could not have done that without Sam. And though they were not always by Frodo’s side, it could also not have been achieved without the deeds of Merry and Pippin. "
Gandalf reached over and grasped Frodo’s maimed hand in his, covering it with his other when the hobbit tried to pull it away. "You have not come through unscathed … but would you want to? Would you want all you have seen and experienced to be as clouds in the wind, passing you by without marking you? Each of you will bear the scars you have earned to the end of your days," his wise eyes noting the brown scar on Sam’s forehead, and the one on Merry’s. "Scars you have earned," he repeated, "and honorably won. If even one of you had faltered, had failed, what would have been the consequences for Middle-earth?"
"But we are so different now," Frodo whispered. "So … changed. How will we return to the lives we knew before?"
The wizard smiled then, his eyes lighting. "Yet you remain yourself. All of you. Taller, perhaps," this with an eyebrow cocked at the younger hobbits, who grinned irreverently at him, "and wiser and stronger for what you have endured." Sam looked at him doubtfully and then dropped his eyes. "Can you doubt this?" Gandalf pressed.
Frodo shook his head, sorrow and disbelief still in his eyes. But Pippin was sitting so straight he was near to tipping himself off the bench, and Merry’s bright blue eyes were dancing with delight. Sam too seemed proud, but his gaze would travel to his master, and worry lurked in his grey eyes.
The clanging of a bell interrupted the wizard’s discourse, and the younger hobbits pricked their ears. "Luncheon!" Pippin exclaimed. "We have sat here and missed elevenses! No wonder I am so hungry!" He stuffed the last of the bread into his mouth and hopped off the bench, handing the basket to Sam. "Are you going to sit there all day? I’m ready to eat!"
"You are always ready to eat," Merry replied with a good-natured poke in his cousin’s side, sliding off and dropping to the ground.
Frodo and Sam lowered themselves carefully, more mindful of still-healing injuries. Gandalf reached out to catch Frodo, letting Sam move ahead to join the other two. "Will you be all right, my friend?" he asked softly.
Frodo nodded pensively. "I take it day by day, Gandalf. The clean air and bright sunshine helps."
"And the laughter of kin," the wizard murmured, his eyes on the disappearing hobbits. Merry and Pippin had managed to get their arms under Sam’s elbows and were teasingly lifting him for steps at time "to spare his poor feet." Sam endured this with good grace, though the wizard noted that he used the opportunity to transfer the remaining contents of the basket to his pockets.
"And the love of friends," Frodo added, a hint of his old joyfulness in his shadowed eyes.
Gandalf smiled and rose, resting his hand on the hobbit’s shoulder. "And the love of friends." The Ring-bearer smiled up at the wizard and together they went into the white marble halls.
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