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This is my very first fanfic. It was inspired by Lulleny's story "The Prodigal Took" and is rather a sequel to it. She was kind enough to beta it for me and give permission to use her character Tanto Hornblower.
Disclaimer: Middle Earth and all its peoples belong to the Tolkien Estate. I do not own any of them. Some of them, however, seem to own me.
WHEN THE KING COMES BACK ( THE GREAT SMIALS )
Pippin waited by the fence in front of the Cotton’s front garden for Merry to bring up their ponies. It had been three days since the prisoners had been released from the Lockholes. Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry had been staying with the Cottons, since Bag End was in such sad disarray. But it was time for Pippin and Merry to return to their families. Pippin had promised his sister he’d return as soon as may be; he was uncertain of the welcome he’d have at this point from his father, but he knew that he’d not be forbidden the door.
Merry was lucky, his father had never given up on him.
Sam and Frodo came out to bid them farewell, just as Merry came up.
“ Well, cousin,” said Merry to Frodo, “ are you sure that you don’t want to come over to Crickhollow and stay while they are working on Bag End?”
“No. It wouldn’t be practical. I need to be close by to oversee the repairs; also *thanks to your meddling* I have to be available to act as ‘Deputy Mayor’. I cannot believe I let you get me into this.”
Merry and Pippin laughed, and even Sam grinned. The fact was the three of them had maneuvered Frodo into the job; they were determined to see that he received some honor and respect in the Shire, whether he wanted it or not.
“By the way” said Pippin, fishing in his saddlebag, “since you are the acting mayor, I guess I give this to you.” He pulled out three thin leather pouches, sealed with the official seal of the King of Gondor. He handed a second one to Merry. “and I know you’ll see this gets to the Master. “ He looked at the third one, placed it back in the saddlebag, and sighed; “This one’s for the Thain.”
Frodo took the diplomatic pouch and casually tucked it beneath his arm, and leaned against the fence with a bland expression and a glint in his eyes. Merry looked at him with narrowed eyes.“ You already know what’s in there, don’t you?”
Frodo grinned. “Of course I do. I helped Aragorn to draft the documents.”
“And…” said Pippin.
“And nothing. If your liege lord and sovereign did not see fit to tell you what his sealed documents say, King’s Messenger, then far be from me to tell you. You’ll just have to wait and find out.”
“Frodo, that’s cruel!”
“No crueler than landing me with the job of Deputy Mayor.”
Merry shook his head. “He’s got the better of us this time, Pip. We might as well give it up. Besides, I don’t suppose even *he* knows what the one *I’m * carrying to my father from King Eómer says.”
Frodo grinned again. “Wrong. I was consulted on that one, too.”
Pippin and Merry looked at one another and laughed, then mounted their ponies. “Goodbye, Frodo, Goodbye, Sam,” said Pippin as they rode off. “I’ll see you again in a few days.”
The trip back to Tuckborough was longer this time. Not only was he riding by the road, but he was often stopped by other travelers, or by those he passed. All of them wished to greet him, congratulate him on his return, discuss the rout of the ruffians, or just tell him how much he had grown. Though he kept his responses as brief as possible, common politeness held him up more often than he would have liked. It was late afternoon by the time he finally arrived at the Great Smials.
He stabled his pony himself, and brushed the dust from his jacket briefly before going to present himself to the family. He wasn’t wearing his livery today. He wore some hobbit-style garments that the four had made in Minas Tirith. It was the only set of clothing he had that was not “foreign”, and even it seemed a little different. Perhaps it was because the tailors of the Big People simply could not understand what they had wanted. But at least it was not one of his uniforms, which for some reason had irritated his father. No reason to upset him today, at least any more than he already was. He’d have to wear it again soon, but not today.
“Hullo, Peregrin” said a voice behind him. “I saw you ride up.”
Pippin turned to see his new brother-in-law, Tanto Hornblower standing there. “Hullo yourself. How is everything? Did everything go all right here the other night?”
“Well, the Thain set a guard, and we did have several ruffians pass through, but most of them were in too much of a hurry to leave the Shire to stop and give any trouble. I think that there may still be some of them holed up in the Southfarthing; Lotho had a lot of property down there where they could hide. Can I give you a hand with your gear?”
The two walked back up toward the smial, gaining an accompaniment of several more friends and relatives along the way. Pippin was beginning to feel distinctly like a novelty instead of a person; he normally liked being the center of attention, but this was a little too much.
Fortunately, his mother was waiting in the front hall with his sisters Pervinca and Pimpernel, and Pimmie’s husband Milo Goodbody. Eglantine quickly dispersed the peripheral relatives.
“Mother.” Pippin enfolded his mother in a hug. It felt strange to be so much larger than she. “Where’s Pearl? I would have thought she’d be here.” He looked about for his oldest sister.
“She is. But she’s resting right now. Did you know she was a widow now, son?”
“No! Falco?” Pippin was shocked. “was--was it the ruffians?”
“No, thank goodness. It was last spring. He simply dropped dead very suddenly. It’s been very hard on her, but at least it was natural causes.”
Eglantine led her son back into the smials towards his old room. “I’ve had it cleaned and aired for you. We hadn’t done anything to it yet.” She saw his stricken expression. “Son, *I* never gave up on you. Your father, well, it was harder for him; he could not deal with the uncertainty, with the wondering.”
“So he just arbitrarily *decided* I was already dead.” Pippin’s tone was bitter. “Then he wouldn’t have to wonder anymore. I guess I should not have expected him to have any faith in me!”
Eglantine wisely refrained from replying. She had not agreed with the Thain’s decision, but she also knew that any lack of faith in his son was more or less justified, considering the kinds of scrapes the lad had got himself into over the years. The mischief that he was often in as a lad had only become worse as he entered his tweens, and Paladin’s insistence that he “start to act his age” after having spoiled him so when he was younger, had not helped. Instead she stopped at the door to his room, tiptoed up to bestow a kiss on his cheek. “I’ll see you at supper, son.”
Pippin looked around his room, at once both familiar and strange. It seemed smaller somehow, and it had seldom been this neat when he was living in it. He tossed his gear on the bed, and reached his hand for the diplomatic pouch. This could be a problem. Timing was going to be important. Perhaps tomorrow. It was Highday, and his father would be conducting the Thain’s business for the week. He could bring it to him just like any other petitioner. Still, he wasn’t looking forward to it. If only he knew what it said. Thirteen months ago, that seal would have been no bar to his curiosity, but not now. Aragorn was not only his king but also his friend, and he could no more betray that trust than fly to the moon. He took another bundle from the other side of his pack. Now *this* will be more fun…
There was a sharp rap on the door, and then his father entered the room without waiting for a reply. “Well, I see you are back. I want you to know that things are not going to be made easy for you. And the first thing you are going to do is to explain yourself and your actions to us. After that, we will find enough duties for you here to keep you busy and out of trouble.”
Pippin’s face went hard. But he kept back the angry retorts that sprang to his mind. It would do no good, and only hurt his mother, if he said anything to widen this rift between him and his father.
“Very well, Father. I will be glad to make a full explanation of all that happened. It will be time consuming; perhaps after supper tonight.” But his heart sank. Having, up till now, been among those who *knew* most of the story this would be his first time to tell it *all*. It was daunting.
After supper the Thain summoned the adults of the immediate family to their private sitting room.
Only his eldest sister Pearl was there before Pippin. Pimpernel and Pervinca and their husbands had children to tuck in , and of course Paladin and Eglantine would wait until all their children were assembled before they entered.
“Pearl, I’m sorry. I heard about Falco.”
“It was very sudden and unexpected. The healer said he must have had a hidden problem with his heart from the time he was a babe.” She looked up at her brother and put one hand up to his hair. “Pip, I’m so glad you are back.”
Just then Vinca and Tanto, and Pimmie and Milo came in. Conversation became general as Pippin and Pearl asked after their little nieces and nephews. Tanto noticed the small cloth-wrapped bundle Pippin had under one arm.
Pippin grinned. “Sorry, brother, that will have to wait until Mother and Father arrive.”
It wasn’t a long wait. Their parents came in only moments later. The Thain closed the door sharply behind them and greeted his children. Then he and Eglantine took their seats in the two large chairs by the fires. This was the signal for the rest of the family to be seated. Pearl sat on an ottoman next to her mother’s chair, Pimpernel and Milo claimed the settee, and newlyweds Pervinca and Tanto elected to share a large chair. Though there were two more large and comfortable chairs in the room, Pippin did not sit down in one. Instead he opened the bundle he held.
His face began to turn red. “Before we do anything else, I--I did a bit of shopping in Minas Tirith.” There were several little carved wooden boxes. He handed the three smallest to his sisters, and two slightly larger to his brothers-in-law. He felt a bit odd doing that, as one of them had been originally intended for Falco, but he felt he must give Tanto something, and he thought that Pearl would not mind. There were two boxes remaining. He leaned over and deposited one in his mother’s lap, along with a kiss on her cheek, and turned to give the other to his father. When Paladin did not move to take it, he gently laid it on the arm of the chair.
“Umm--there!” said Pippin, turning red to the tips of his ears. He sat abruptly on the floor and hid his face on his knees.
This alarming performance was greeted by gentle feminine laughter and Paladin felt his heart give a lurch. For the first time since Peregrin’s return, he felt like this grim-faced stranger might actually be his own son.
For ever since Pippin was a small lad, all major gifting occasions had been greeted by such behavior. He was so torn between fear the gifts would not suit, a sincere wish to delight the recipient and a profound embarrassment at being thanked that he could not stand to face it. A chorus of gratitude caused him excruciating mortification. He would not look up at anyone until he was sure it was over.
The gifts for his brothers-in-law had not taken a lot of thought: nice silver pocket fobs and chains suitable for a watch, a knife or a purse, or just to hang upon one’s weskit. For his sisters he had brought earrings : the two younger had their namesake flowers, wrought in gold and bright enamel, while the oldest had a pair of perfectly matched pearls in an exquisite silver setting. They oohed and ahhed.
Paladin became aware of his wife’s glare. So, she wanted to go last, eh? He picked up his box and lifted the lid.
There lay a gold pocket watch, the case engraved with the Tookish monogram, and inlaid with tiny vines and leaves of silver. He gasped in spite of himself, and was hit by a wave of conflicting emotions. He felt like hurling the gift, box and all, at his son, and asking him did he think he had to *bribe* his way back into the family? He felt sheer amazement that his son could have chosen for him something so profoundly perfect. And a third part of his mind was coldly wondering how much it had cost. Surely the lad had left the Shire with no more than a pocketful of coppers. What *had* he been doing?
Eglantine removed the lid from her box. Slowly she lifted out a bracelet. The links were gold and silver entwined, the clasp a golden leaf with silver veins. Dangling from the bracelet were four charms. Three of them matched his sister’s earrings, save that the flowers were set with colored jewels rather than enamel. The fourth charm was an exquisitely fashioned little peregrine falcon of silver, wings spread, talons outstretched.
“Oh. Oh my!” Her eyes were bright with unshed tears.
Pippin cautiously raised anxious eyes. “Do you like it?” he asked fearfully.
“Oh, my dear, it’s more than magnificent. But you know, son, you did not *need* to do all this…”
“I’m sorry, Mother, you’re wrong, I did need to, badly. We were so *horribly* homesick those last few weeks in Minas Tirith. Getting gifts for the family made us feel as though we really were coming home.”
There was a brief silence, broken by Paladin clearing his throat. “Well, that’s all well and good, but it’s not why we’re here tonight. You promised us an explanation--you *owe* us an explanation for all the grief you’ve put us through.”
“ You’re right, Father, and I’m prepared for that now. But I hope you’ll bear with me, because I don’t know any other way than to tell it all, and there are some things I still don’t understand myself. It’s a very *long* story.”
Paladin nodded. He’d expected nothing less.
Pippin shifted a bit, but remained seated on the floor. “It all started way back when Old Bilbo went on his journey. It seems he found a ring…”
Pippin went on to tell how the ring had come to Frodo, and what Gandalf had discovered. “The Ring was *evil* Father, and it was going to draw more evil here to the Shire. Frodo *had* to leave, to take it away. He wasn’t planning for anyone to go with him into danger--I don’t think he would have taken even Sam, but Sam and Gandalf insisted.”
“There was one thing that neither Frodo nor Gandalf knew, though. Merry’d already twigged that Frodo was planning to leave. He, Fatty and Sam had been spying on Frodo for months. Then Sam got caught and wouldn’t spy any more; so Merry started spying twice as hard. That’s what clued *me* in; I knew something was up with Merry. So I started to spy on *him*. Several months before we left, I managed to overhear Merry and Fatty; I heard enough to give me the picture. It was simple, really. Frodo was leaving, and Merry wasn’t going to let him leave without him. And I *certainly* wasn’t going to let Merry go anywhere without *me*”
Paladin gave a sigh. This much was true, whatever *else* had happened afterward, it really was *that* simple. Merry had always been Frodo’s shadow, and Pippin had always been Merry’s. It was as though the three were connected by some invisible cord.
“I kept my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open. About two days before the move to Crickhollow, I told Merry I knew what was up. I was coming, too. He didn’t much like it, I knew he wouldn’t, because he would have worried about me getting into danger, but that’s why I waited so long. I knew if I didn’t give him any time to come up with something, he’d have to agree to let me go with them. By that time, anything he could have thought of to keep me from going would just keep him from going, too. Of course it worked. He used the same tactic on Frodo--just telling him at the last minute, so he couldn’t keep us from going. Anyway…”
Pippin’s eyes looked off into the distance, and he went on the describe the trip to Buckland, the meeting with elves, the disastrous shortcut, and their pursuit by the Black Riders. “Of course they were the reason we had to risk going through the Old Forest instead of going by the road…”
Paladin listened with increasing concern to the description of the dangers of the Old Forest and the barrow-wights, with their rescues by Tom Bombadil. What bothered him was the matter of fact tone Peregrin was using, as though these were old and minor matters. As though hobbit-eating trees were nothing.
“Then we got to Bree. What happened there was my fault, actually; I let my tongue flap a bit too freely…” he described how Frodo had tried to distract attention, and ended up with the Ring on his finger, however briefly. “Then we met Strider. He was a Big Person, and not much liked by the Bree-landers, but it turned out he was a friend of Gandalf’s. He saved our lives that night…”
Pippin told of Strider’s ruse, that kept the hobbits safe from the Black Rider’s murderous attack, and how he then led them into the wild, on the way to Rivendell.
“Then we came to Weathertop.” Pippin stopped for a moment and took a deep breath. “Strider left us for a while to scout around, and while he was gone, the Black Riders attacked. There were five of them, including their leader; of course Frodo was the one they were after. He was stabbed, in the left shoulder, and not too far from his heart. Strider came back, and we managed to drive them off, but Strider said they left because they thought their work was done. That knife was poison, and if Frodo didn’t die outright, he would turn into a wraith like them.”
In a low, strained voice Pippin described the nightmare of traveling with the injured Frodo: fearing every moment for his cousin’s life, trying to evade the Ringwraiths, the meeting with Glorfindel, and the final desperate flight to Rivendell.
“We had some really bad days. It was awhile before we knew whether Frodo would live or die. Lord Elrond had to cut into him to get out a piece of the poison knife; I was never clear on how it worked, but if he had not been able to get it out it would have done worse than kill Frodo.” Pippin shuddered, remembering those bleak days huddled miserably with Merry outside Frodo’s door.
“Anyway, Frodo did get better. And Gandalf was there. He’d been prevented from joining us because he had been a prisoner of Saruman. But he’d escaped and come to Rivendell. Bilbo was there, too. That was the only good thing about those first few days, seeing Bilbo.”
Paladin shook his head. As far as he could tell so far, all this trouble could be laid at the door of Bilbo and that old wizard Gandalf. He’d been blaming Frodo for his son’s leaving, but now he could see that Frodo himself had been forced to leave; this was so much worse than anything he had imagined.
“Once Frodo was awake and getting well, Merry, Sam and I thought we’d probably be coming home soon. We figured Frodo could leave the Ring there with the Elves to deal with. Then Lord Elrond called a Council. I don’t know what all was discussed there; Bilbo and Frodo were invited, but refused to talk about it, Sam had slipped in, but he didn’t really remember most of what had been said. The decision was made that the Ring had to be destroyed, and the only way to do that was to take it to Mordor and drop it into Mount Doom where it was made. And it seemed that the only person who could do that was Frodo. It was also decided that some people would be chosen to go with him.”
Pippin looked up at Paladin. “I won’t try to hide it from you, Father. Merry and I could have come home then and there. Lord Elrond did *not* want us to go; Frodo did not want us to be in danger; we told them we *were* going, or we would follow.” There was not even a hint of humor in Pippin’s next words. “I told them if they wanted me to go home they would have to tie me up and send me home in a sack, and I meant it. Finally, I think Gandalf persuaded Lord Elrond that we should be allowed to go.”
Paladin’s face tightened. That was *exactly* the kind of stubborn thing Peregrin would say. And of course he had his way. He always did.
“There were nine of us: Frodo, Sam, Merry and me, Gandalf, and Strider, only his real name we found out, was Aragorn. Then there was another Man, Boromir of Gondor, an Elf from Mirkwood named Legolas, and a Dwarf, Gimli. His father was Gloin, one of Bilbo’s Dwarves.”
“Just before Yule, we left Rivendell.”
Pippin put his head back down on his knees. A distant look came into his eyes, as though he were watching what had happened. He described the journey through Eriador, talking fondly of all his strange companions. It was obvious that he had formed an attachment to them, especially the Men, Aragorn and Boromir. He even had a twitch of a smile as he described the lessons in swordsmanship that Boromir had given to the Hobbits, though Frodo had not really tried more than once, and Sam gave up pretty soon, too. Then there was the abortive journey up the mountain Caradhras and the attack by wolves. “It was decided that we would have to go through Moria to get to the other side of the mountains. Moria was an underground kingdom that used to belong to the Dwarves.”
Paladin nodded. He was liking this less and less. He’d heard stories of this Moria, and they were not good ones.
Pippin took a deep breath, and once more plunged into his tale, how the Watcher in the Water had nearly had Frodo, the oppressive journey in the dark, his own foolish dropping of the stone down the well.
“Gimli kept thinking we’d find his kin. And so we did, but they were all dead. Then we were attacked by Orcs, and a troll. It was horrible, but I tried to keep my wits and do as Boromir had taught me. Merry seemed to be doing all right. Sam caught a blow to the head, and then the troll speared Frodo.”
“Father, do you remember that silver shirt of Bilbo’s, that once hung in the mathom house?”
Paladin was startled to hear Peregrin address him. He’d been so shocked to hear of another serious injury to Frodo. How the lad had suffered. He thought for a second, “Yes. Bilbo took it with him when he left.”
“Well, he’d given it to Frodo in Rivendell, though none of us knew about it. It saved Frodo’s life. Dear old Bilbo. Gandalf said that shirt was worth more than the price of the whole Shire.”
He put his head back down, and the distant look returned, as he described the wild flight through Khazad Dûm, pursued by Orcs and something worse, something so awful he could not describe it; the Balrog.
Then Gandalf’s stand upon the bridge, and the sudden plunge into the abyss.
He stopped talking for a moment. He was pale, his eyes large and filled with unspilled tears, his breathing shallow.
Eglantine made as if to move to her son, but Paladin waved her back.
Pippin shook his head and swallowed. “Sorry. I don’t really remember how we got down the mountain. I think at one point Boromir was carrying me. We were all rather shocked, as you can imagine.”
“Aragorn led us into Lothlórien. In some ways it's like Rivendell: it’s a place of the Elves, but in other ways, it’s very different. It’s a wood; the trees are huge and old, but it’s not dark , it’s filled with light. Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel rule there. Lord Celeborn is very wise; but Lady Galadriel-- well, in all my travels I never saw anything or anyone more beautiful. She was so beautiful it almost hurt, but she was also full of light and power. I can’t describe her any better than that. We stayed awhile in Lorien. The Elves were kind to us, and gave us gifts before we left. They also gave us boats so we could travel down the River Anduin.”
“We went down the river for several days until we came to a place called Parth Galen. We--we had to stop there for a while, to decide what to do next. Boromir was all for going on to Minas Tirith first. Aragorn just wanted to cross the river and head for the Black Land. Of course, the--the one it was really up to was Frodo.”
Paladin could tell from the hesitancy in his voice that his son was coming to another bit of unpleasantness; he tried to steel himself for whatever was coming next.
Pippin closed his eyes for a second. “Frodo asked for a little time alone to think it over. He wandered away from the camp. After a few moments, Boromir followed him. Then after a bit he came back. He told us that Frodo had become angry and put the Ring on and disappeared. ”
“I guess Merry and I just panicked. We took off running, calling Frodo; Aragorn told Boromir to follow us and protect us, and then he and Sam took off to look for Frodo in the other direction. I guess Legolas and Gimli, too, I don‘t remember.”
Pippin’s face grew haunted, his voice dropped, his words slowed.
“In just a few minutes, Merry and I ran into Orcs. Dozens and dozens of them. We drew our swords, and tried to defend ourselves, but it was hopeless, really. Just then, there was Boromir. He--he came between us and the enemies, blowing his great horn. Then he drew his sword and lit into them. He was fighting them off, all alone, and they kept coming and coming and coming, but he was keeping them off us, he was trying to save us.”
“There was -- an arrow,” Pippin touched himself lightly on the left shoulder. “It struck him. I could hear it strike. He staggered. But he kept on fighting.”
“Then,” and his hand went to his abdomen, “there was another arrow; he went down to his knees. He turned and looked at us. His lips moved. I think--he said--‘I’m sorry, little ones’ but no sound came out. He got back up to his feet and started fighting again, but there was-- another arrow.” Pippin’s hand moved near his heart. “ He went down again. We were so angry, Merry and I charged, but the Orcs just grabbed us. They carried us off. I could still see Boromir, they just left him, they just left him…” Pippin’s voice trailed off into a whisper. His eyes were wide and unfocused, tears ran down his face unchecked. He was so white, it was as though there were no blood in him.
Paladin stared at his son, almost as pale as he. The silence was broken by the sobs of his daughters, weeping in their husband’s arms. Eglantine had her arm around Pearl, and tears were running silently down her face.
Tanto patted Pervinca on the shoulder, and then eased himself out of his chair. He walked over to the sideboard and took out a cup and a bottle of fortified wine; he poured some into the cup and took it over to Pippin.
Pippin didn’t even notice. Tanto had to shake him a bit to get him to take it. His lips moved in a ‘thank you’ but no sound came out. He drank the wine down in one swallow, and handed the cup back to Tanto, who poured a bit more. He drank more slowly this time. Gradually the color came back into his face. His eyes came back into focus, and he finally noticed his weeping mother and sisters.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was going to be so hard. Do you want to leave, Mother?”
Eglantine shook her head, and took a handkerchief to her face. “No, son. It’s not pleasant, but we need to know these things.”
“I’ll try not to upset you too much. But there’s still a lot more to tell.”
Pippin leaned back on his elbows for a moment. It was obvious he was still trying to collect himself. Paladin did not want to rush him now. He briefly thought of telling Peregrin that the rest of the tale could wait, but he feared that it might be too difficult for him to start over at another time. He’d no idea when he’d insisted on this that it would be as harrowing to listen to as to tell. He wished Eglantine and the girls were not here, but he couldn’t make them leave now.
Pippin blew out a couple of deep breaths, and sat forward again, and fidgeted a bit. Then he tried for a lighter tone, though it came out a bit brittle.
“All things considered, Merry and I were rather lucky as far as being captured by Orcs goes. The bunch who grabbed us had been sent by Saruman with strict orders to bring any ‘halflings’--that’s what everyone else in the world calls Hobbits--back ‘alive and *unspoiled*.’” Pippin stopped and met his father’s eyes for a moment, as though trying to convey a silent assurance, before continuing.
When the meaning of the phrase suddenly dawned on Paladin, he felt a wave of nausea. Orcs. It could have come to that.
“Merry was unconscious for part of the time. He’d taken blow to the head. We spent about three days or so being alternately carried, flogged and dragged, towards Isengard. I had a couple of lucky chances. I got away long enough to leave a sign for Aragorn, in case he happened to follow. And I took a chance to get my hands free.”
Paladin knew once more that Peregrin was leaving a lot out. Three days in the company of those creatures. He could not begin to imagine.
“About the third night or so, the Orcs made camp near the edge of the Fangorn Forest. They were attacked by some Men--we found out later they were the King of Rohan’s men, and Merry and I were able to get away in all the confusion.”
He went on to describe their time in Fangorn, their meeting with Treebeard the Ent and for the first time showed a glint of humor, as he described how the Ent-draughts were responsible for his and Merry’s unusual growth spurts. He told of their frustration with the slowness of the Entmoot, and their delight when the Ents made the decision to attack Saruman at Isengard. Although his eyes took on once more that distant look, there was a glint of fierce triumph and pride in their green depths that had not been there before. He told of the march of the Ents, and the destruction of Isengard with undisguised glee and the ring of joy in his voice.
“After it was all over with, there was nothing but a sorry mess all around the tower. Merry and I were trying to find ourselves a safe spot to get some rest, when we heard a rider coming up.” Now he openly grinned. “If you can believe it, it was Gandalf! You can imagine our shock! He was on a great silver horse, and he was all in white instead of grey. He consulted with Treebeard, and then had a word with us, before taking off again. I don’t think I’ve ever been more amazed or delighted in my life!”
Paladin was surprised at the sense of relief he felt. The idea that the wizard was dead and gone had shaken him more than he realized.
“The Ents had flooded the entire area around the tower. Merry and I decided to have a look around; we found some food in a storeroom, and also some pipeweed.” Pippin shook his head. “I can’t believe we were so dim, not to figure out what it meant, that Saruman had Longbottom Leaf in his private stores. But I don’t suppose even if we’d known we could have done much about it at that point.”
Paladin pursed his lips and nodded. Somehow it didn’t surprise him to know that Lotho Pimple had been consorting with evil wizards; still, he’d now paid the ultimate price for his greed and stupidity. It was just a shame that he’d had to drag the whole Shire down too. And also a shame that he himself had not caught on sooner to what Sackville-Baggins had been up to.
“The next day, Gandalf came back with the King of Rohan, Théoden, and his party, and Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli were with him. We had a nice little picnic reunion with those three. It seems they had chased after us on *foot* all the way from Parth Galen; they would have caught up to us and rescued us, too, if the Riders had not attacked the Orcs first. It seemed that Frodo and Sam had gone off to Mordor on their own. Anyway, then all the Big Folk went to parley with Saruman, and Merry and I tagged along for the hobbits. Gandalf broke Saruman’s staff, and left him there with Wormtongue, a prisoner in his own tower. He set Treebeard on guard. I wish we’d known what he was going to get up to later, maybe he could have been guarded more carefully.”
Pippin stopped again. He looked in the cup sitting next to him on the floor, and finding a bit of wine still there, picked it up and took a sip. He shook his head and put the cup down. Paladin tensed; what was coming now must be pretty bad if the lad had to take a drink before recounting it.
“This next part, I’m not going to say a lot about. I will just tell you that I did something very foolish and dangerous. It was probably the most foolish thing this ‘Fool of a Took’ has ever done. I--I really can’t say more about it now, I *can’t*.” He shook his head firmly. “I don’t know why Gandalf didn’t just blast me on the spot. Anyway, he decided he needed to go to Minas Tirith, and to keep me out of any more trouble, he decided to take me with him. He slung me up in front of him on his big horse, Shadowfax, and we just took off. We rode for three days, with only a couple of brief stops, before we came to the white city.”
Pippin closed his eyes, and did not open them. When he continued, his voice was flat, and devoid of any emotion whatsoever. His father suddenly realized what an effort that must be for him, for Peregrin always showed his emotions freely. What could be so horrible that he had to keep his feelings so tightly checked?
“Gandalf took me to see the Steward of the City, Lord Denethor. He was Boromir’s father. For Boromir’s sake, I pledged myself to the service of Gondor. We were there in the city as the War began. Hosts of Mordor-- I’d never known there were that many Orcs and wicked people in the world. The whole world was dark, while we were besieged. Our people fought valiantly…”
Paladin gave a start to hear his son use the term “our people”.
“…but we mostly thought it was hopeless. Captain Faramir, Boromir’s brother was hurt and nearly died. Gandalf saved him. Denethor died.” If it were possible, Pippin’s voice went even flatter on those two words. It was as if he had to force them past his lips.
His eyes finally opened. “Just when things seemed at the worst, we heard the sound of horns; it was the armies of King Théoden arriving. They rode in and just *smashed* into the enemy; they’d begun to win, too, when one of the Nazgûl came--the Black Riders, on huge flying monsters. This was their leader, the same one who had stabbed Frodo on Weathertop. He killed King Théoden, but Merry and the king’s niece, Lady Éowyn, were there, and between the two of them they killed the Nazgûl. It was very strange; it seems there had been some sort of prophecy that no *Man* could kill him. So instead, he gets killed by a woman and a Hobbit.” Pippin gave a bitter laugh. “Then Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli showed up in great boats with re-enforcements, and finished what the Riders of Rohan had begun. When the battle was over, I found Merry; he’d been horribly hurt by striking that foul thing; he seemed more dead than alive. But we got him to the Houses of Healing in time, and Aragorn was able to heal him.” Tears shone in his eyes briefly as he remembered how close he had come to losing his Merry.
Paladin glanced at Eglantine, who had gone pale. To lose their nephew would have been very nearly as bad as losing their son. He thought guiltily of his angry words to his brother-in-law. How stupid they seemed to him now.
“You see,“ Pippin said in a tone of bemusement, “Aragorn was the King. Gandalf thought I was really blind not to figure it out sooner myself, but to me he was just ‘Strider’, my friend, you don’t really expect your friends to be kings, do you?”
“Anyway, Aragorn, Gandalf, and all the Captains of the West got together, and decided we had to distract the Enemy, to let Frodo and Sam get a chance to destroy the Ring. Because with all the hosts the Dark Lord had sent against Gondor, he had that many more still in Mordor . Three days later, our small army set out to do battle; we did not stand any kind of chance unless Frodo completed his mission, but we had to give him any help we could. I was lucky enough to stick a great troll, and stupid enough to let him fall on me. I didn’t know until I woke up later, that Frodo and Sam did finish the job, and were back and alive. They were in pretty dreadful shape, all skin and bones and bruises and scars, but they were alive, and so was I.”
“Of course, after that , there were weeks of healing ahead, and there was Aragorn’s coronation, and his wedding, before we could even begin to head for home; we had to go by way of Rivendell, so that we could see old Bilbo. But after that we got home as soon as we could.
It was pretty disheartening to get home to the Shire and find out what had been going on after we left, let me tell you.”
Pippin drew a deep breath. “Well, that’s my explanation, and that’s what’s happened in the wide world; perhaps I should not have gone without a word, but I do not regret what I have done, I only regret the grief and worry I put you all through, and for that I *am* heartily sorry.” His head drooped, and his face looked grey and weary.
Eglantine spoke up. “I think you’re tired, son.” She looked at Paladin, “I think we’ve heard enough tonight.”
Paladin gave a sharp nod, and Pippin drew himself stiffly to his feet, and left the room.
Over the Shire and across the Brandywine River, in Brandy Hall, Merry was making a similar explanation. He sat on the bed in his room, his father in a chair next to it; his mother was not there. Knowing the grimness of what he had to say, he had refused her presence.
Merry’s account was far more detailed than his cousin’s. He’d paid more attention and absorbed more knowledge. He left *nothing* out, including the parts played by others; he included all that he knew of Pippin’s time in the besieged city, and of the travails of Frodo and Sam. Before he had half finished his account, Saradoc had moved to his side, and put his arms around his son. He held him, as Merry wept, and talked himself out, and gently tucked him in as dawn came through the window.
It had been after midnight when Pippin had left the family. No one had felt much like talking, and all had soon made their way to their own quarters.
Once in the privacy of their own room, Paladin turned to Eglantine as they made ready for bed.
“How much of all that did you believe?”
She rounded on him angrily. “Paladin Took! How could you sit there and listen to that voice, and see that face, and not know every word for the awful truth?”
He was abashed. “Oh, I know. I’ve no doubt that he, at least, believed every word. But how do we know that these Elves and Big People and what not were telling *him* the truth. Seems they found all the nastiest jobs to stick our lads with. Even Gandalf, I had always thought him a friend to hobbits, but now I wonder about his motives all these years. We’ve seen enough of Big Folk this year to know how ‘trustworthy’ they are!”
Eglantine snorted. “Oh, my yes. And of course, Lotho Pimple and Ted Sandyman would be bright and shining examples of hobbit-kind, I trust! You, my dear, are simply trying to find a way to save face, after having been so spectacularly *wrong*!”
And what’s so bad about saving face? He thought without saying it aloud, knowing her mood. He turned the subject back to Pippin.
“Well, at any rate, it wasn’t *all* the truth, mind you. He left a lot out there, near the end.”
She nodded. “Oh that was quite clear. I can guess some of it: whatever that ‘foolish mistake’ was, and something dreadful happened in that city with that Denethor person. I’ve *never* heard our lad use that tone of voice about another being in my life. And of course, it’s obvious he was hurt a lot worse by that troll than he admitted. I hope that we’ll have the rest of it out of him in a few days. If we don’t,” she said smugly, “ I’ll have a word with young Merry. He’ll tell his Aunt Tina the truth.”
Not for the first time Paladin marveled at the deviousness of females. Of course, even if it would have occurred to him to question Meriadoc, it would do no good, not when his nephew learned of the state of things between the Tooks and the Brandybucks, and what Paladin had said to his father. He was going to have to eat humble pie there, too. It really stuck in his craw.
The Thain and his lady lay awake for a long time, each trying to pretend for the other’s sake, to be asleep.
Eglantine finally slipped out of the bed, and made her way to Pippin’s room. When she returned a long while later, she saw Paladin was awake.
“It’s ’Father’ he’s calling for, in his troubled sleep.”
She finally slept. Paladin did not.
When Pippin awoke the next morning, it was almost time for elevenses. He got up and looked out the window. He could see his father on the bench in the front garden -- when the weather was fine, the Thain conducted his Highday business outdoors. Pippin saw several other hobbits waiting; good, he thought, I’ve time to eat first.
He got dressed, this time in his livery. He picked up the diplomatic pouch and shook his head. Maybe today was not the best time. No, no, he could not honorably delay any longer. This had to be done. But *what* did Aragorn have to say to his father?
After breaking his fast in the kitchen amid several chattering cousins who asked him question after question but gave him no time to reply, he took the pouch and made his way to the garden. He hung to the back, and since the Thain was busy, he was not at first noticed.
It didn’t last long. Pretty soon, he was the object of all eyes. Paladin looked up, and quirked an eyebrow, irritated to notice his son in that “livery” again.
Pippin took a deep breath, and stepped forward. “May I approach the Thain with business?” he inquired formally.
“You may.” Now Paladin was intrigued.
Pippin stepped forward, holding out the pouch, seal upward.
“King’s Messenger, from His Grace, the Lord Elessar Telcontar, High King of Gondor and Arnor, with a message for the Thain of the Tooks.” He bowed slightly as he presented it, whispering “honestly, Father, I’ve no idea what it says. Please read it.” He reddened. He’d no business adding that last, but his greatest fear was that his father still might be angry enough to simply destroy it unread. He stood up and waited to be dismissed. Paladin gave a nod, and duty done, Pippin strode purposefully off, not allowing himself to be caught and questioned by curious bystanders.
Paladin looked around at those who still waited, their own business forgotten in their curiosity. His own curiosity was piqued. “That’ll be all for today.” He got up and took the pouch with him, as he made his way into the smial, to his study.
Frodo sat in a large comfortable chair in the room the Cottons had set aside for his use, slowly slapping the still unopened pouch against his knee. When Aragorn and Faramir had approached him to ask his advice on the messages they wished to send to the leaders of the Shire, he had agreed mainly as a way to take his mind off himself.
His job had really been to advise as to the proper modes of address, and the way in which to approach the worthies to whom the messages were being sent. He had particularly wanted to avoid alarming them into thinking that Big People were going to come in and take over the Shire.
After what had happened anyway, coming to terms with having a King again was going to be difficult.
Of course, he’d done what he could to get them to leave out several phrases that he found more than a little embarrassing. Faramir, in particular, was fond of several passages full of high flown flattery for the hobbits, especially the Ringbearer . He thought Aragorn was simply amused. For the most part, it was a simple document, but when it was being drafted, he certainly had *not* expected it to come back and haunt him personally. Acting mayor, indeed! And now it looked like he was going to have to *do* something about it.
Just then, a horrible thought occurred to him. Faramir *had* given in rather easily--and he had not seen the document himself since it had been sent down to the Royal Scribes. With a feeling of dread, he picked at the seal.
Paladin sat down at his desk and picked up a letter opener to lift off the seal. It was large, of black wax, bearing an imprint of a tree, beneath seven stars and a crown. As he drew forth the large, official looking document, a second smaller document came out. That one was folded in thirds, and sealed with a bit of green wax, with the imprint of an eight pointed star. Hmm--curious. But official business first.
From His Grace,the Lord Elessar Telcontar, High King of Gondor and Arnor, to Paladin Took, the Thain of the Tooks, in the Shire, are sent Greetings and Good Will.
It being Our intention to restore Our ancient kingdom of the North, of which, in times past, the Shire was a part, it behooves us to consult with those who are the natural and rightful leaders of the Halflings who dwell therein.
For it is unto the race of the Halflings that all of Middle Earth does owe a great debt of gratitude, for the valiancy of those who accompanied the Fellowship of Nine, most especially the Ringbearer Frodo Baggins and his Companion Samwise Gamgee, who courageously and without hope of succor, went into the Black Land of Mordor itself, to accomplish the downfall of the Dark Lord Sauron, and for the bravery of Sir Meriadoc son of Saradoc and Sir Peregrin son of Paladin, who accomplished great and mighty deeds of valor beyond their stature. There is no praise high enough, nor reward great enough to express all that is owed unto them. Yet all that they did was out of love for their own free home.
Be it known therefore, that it is Our intent that the Shire shall forever remain a Free Land, to be protected from any who would mean it harm. It is Our hope to consult with the following worthies: the Thain of the Tooks, the Master of Buckland, and the Mayor of the Shire, on the ways in which We can begin to show Our gratitude.
We therefore request that those three worthies together prepare such recommendations as will be useful and of benefit for the Halflings of the Shire, and to send such unto Us.
Our Knight, Sir Peregrin shall convey your replies to Our Messenger, who shall await the answer in Bree.
By Our Hand
Elessar Telcontar, High King
Well. Paladin found himself amazed. In spite of the fact that he had not actually *doubted* any of Pippin’s story, he had not exactly *believed* it either. The King. Well. He gave a small laugh. So much for the old saying about “when the king comes back” meaning something that would never happen. This was going to take some getting used to.
And it looked like he was going to have to bend his stiff neck and make it up with Saradoc sooner rather than later.
He picked up the smaller missive and broke the seal. It was written in an elegant, but old fashioned, hand, and not by a professional scribe, either.
I hope you will excuse the informality of this enclosure. I write, now, not as a king, but as a friend to the father of a friend.
I traveled for many months as a companion to your son; I came to value his cheerfulness in the face of disaster, his bright curiosity about the world, and even his sense of mischief, which often enlivened the dullness of travel, as well as his courage in physical dangers that he could never have imagined before he left the safety of his home.
But that which I have come to value most in him is the greatness of his young heart, which seems to me to hold an infinite capacity to give and accept love. He has made his way permanently into the hearts of many, mine not the least.
I know that you will at some point come to hear of the horrors and hardships so bravely faced by your son and his companions. Believe me when I say that such things cannot but scar the spirit, and weigh upon the heart from time to time. I hope that at such times, he can rely upon the love and support of his family.
I have, in all my life, known well only five Hobbits. They seem to me, all of them, to be most remarkable. Yours is a fortunate race indeed to have such people. I tell you now that there is no thing that any of them would ask of me that I would not do if it lay in my power to grant.
I have written this to you, Thain Paladin, because I know that by the reckoning of your people, Pippin is yet a youngster; youthful, by the standards of Hobbits, he may be still, he is a child no longer. He is grown into a fine person, of whom you may rightly be proud, as I am proud to call him friend
Aragorn son of Arathorn
(sometimes known as Strider)
If the first and official message had amazed Paladin, this one left him breathless. A Man, a warrior, a king, to say such things about his son.
What was he going to do now?
Some time had passed. After reading and re-reading both letters several times, he had reluctantly picked up his quill to compose a long-overdue letter of apology to his brother-in-law. The fact that he knew Saradoc was likely to graciously forgive him made it more difficult, rather than easier.
He was starting over on his sixth such attempt, when there came a tap on the door. It was Eglantine.
She entered with a loaded tea-tray, which she brought over to a table next to the desk. “You missed luncheon. I thought you might like to take tea with me.”
He nodded. “Indeed. It’s a welcome interruption. I would like you to see something.”
He waited until she had poured the tea, and handed her the official proclamation, watching her face closely as she read it.
She smiled, shaking her head in amazement. “When the king comes back…”
He handed her the second letter.
As she began to read it, her hand started to tremble and her eyes filled with tears. “This is…this is such a tribute. He must be a wise and wonderful Man.”
“Why? Because he’s fond of Peregrin?” he asked wryly.
“No, because he trusts him. Do you have any idea what a sore trial it was for our son to carry that message for weeks without trying to find out what was in it?” She laughed. “He told me that Aragorn reminded him of *me*! When I asked what he meant, he said didn’t I remember how I used to keep him from having fun -- I would look him in the eye and say ‘I trust you, son’ before he’d go somewhere. He thought that was awfully unfair!”
Paladin nodded. “I remember that always worked for you. I could never bring myself to use that tactic.”
“That’s because you were too proud to risk being wrong.”
“So where is Peregrin now? I suppose it would only be fair to assuage his curiosity.”
“After he delivered the message, he decided to make himself scarce. I think he wanted to avoid being questioned by all and sundry until he knew what it said. He packed up a picnic luncheon and went for a ride. He did say he’d be back by teatime.” Eglantine furrowed her brow with a touch of anxiety.
It was closer to supper time when Pippin showed up, on foot leading his pony, both of them limping slightly, his drawn sword in his hand.
A swarm of relatives descended on him as he came up the path. Paladin made his way through the throng to Pippin. “What happened?” Then he noticed blood on his son’s arm and his eyes grew wide with fear and anger. “Somebody fetch the healer!”
“Ruffians.” said Pippin, answering his father’s question. “Two of them in the copse, about seven miles down the road. They threw a rock at Butter to make her shy, and hit her in the flank.” He looked at his sword in distaste. It was blooded. “She didn’t throw me though, and I ran them off. I stuck one of them pretty hard. He probably won’t live until morning. Stop it! I’m all right!” This last snapped irritably as he tried to shrug off numerous solicitous hands.
“All right, that’s enough!” It was the firm voice of the healer, Poppy Burrows, medical pouch slung over her shoulder. She made her way to Pippin. She looked around at the crowd. “Shoo!” They backed away at her command. “Let’s get him inside.”
“I said I’m all right,” he muttered crossly, and then added loudly “Somebody see to my pony!” before allowing himself to be led away.
They escorted Pippin to his room, and then Poppy firmly sent everyone out, including the anxious parents.
“Somebody bring me a kettle of hot water, and then leave us be.”
About thirty minutes later, she allowed Paladin and Eglantine in. Pippin was sitting up in bed, his left forearm bandaged. He looked sleepy but cheerful.
“Hullo, Father, Mother--Listen Father, I was foolish to have gone out alone as I did when we weren’t sure that all of those Men had cleared out--you may want to send an armed party to check that area. I’m fairly certain I did for one of them but the other got clean away.”
Paladin’s planned reproach died on his lips. “We’ll see to it, Peregrin.”
Poppy stepped up. “I just let you in to see for yourselves that he’s fine. Have someone bring him a supper tray, and leave him to rest. As for you” she turned to Pippin “I expect you to finish that mixture and get some sleep.”
“Yes ma’am” The words were meek enough, but accompanied by a cheeky grin.
In the hall, a mob waited, including Pippin’s sisters. Eglantine sent her daughters to prepare the supper tray. “Mind you, Pearl, see that he eats it. The rest of you, he’s fine, so find something else to do besides racket around his door!”
As soon as they were alone, Poppy drew herself up. “Now as far as today’s adventure goes, he is, indeed, fine. I dressed the cut on his arm; it was so shallow it did not even need stitches. He’s got a massive bruise on his side where one of the brutes caught him with a cudgel--that could have been truly nasty if not for his armor, and it’s going to be tender and painful for a few days. I’ll have my apprentice bring up some ointment for that, as well as an ointment to take down the swelling in his bad knee; he also got a bit chilled on the walk home, so he may have a low fever tonight. I’ve left a mixture for that…”
“Wait a minute,” said Paladin “What do you mean ‘bad knee’?”
“Yes.” the little healer pursed her lips. “How much do you know about what happened to him while he was away?”
“He told us he’d been injured in a battle .”
“Yes, well then, I won’t be breaking any confidences. So, I’ll start by saying his general health is excellent; he is more robust than ever I have seen him in his entire life. More robust than I would have *ever* expected him to be.” Since Poppy had tended Pippin through his childhood illnesses this was quite a proclamation.
“However, it has not been many months since he was *seriously* injured. He had a broken hand, a broken foot, a dislocated knee, and nearly every rib in his ribcage was broken, among several other serious injuries. It’s a wonder he didn’t die. He must have had an excellent healer, for I doubt that I could have kept him alive with such grievous wounds. No matter how well he has healed, such things leave their traces. Also, his back is scarred with what can only be whip welts, and his wrists are scarred with rope burns.”
Paladin flushed in anger, and Eglantine gave a whimper of distress.
“He told me that was courtesy of some Orcs, and attempted to make light of it all.”
Paladin nodded. “Yes, he rather glossed over that experience when he told us as well.”
Eglantine put her hand on the healer’s arm. “Poppy, what can we do?”
“Not much you can do, except be aware that no one undergoes that much physical distress without it also giving emotional distress, and that also leaves traces. Now I need to get home and send up those ointments. Watch him tonight. He *should* be up and around tomorrow.”
At the Cotton farm, Frodo and Sam sat alone in the kitchen with a late night cup of tea.
“So, Sam, what do you think?”
Sam had just finished reading the royal message meant for the Mayor. Except for the forms of address, it was just like the ones sent to the Thain and the Master.
“Well, I don’t rightly know. It’s very fair spoken, you might say, but it don’t sound much like Strider.”
“No. But it sounds like King Elessar, and even more it sounds like *Faramir*. It could have been much worse. You should have seen all the guff about the ‘Ringbearer’ he *wanted* to put in. “I tried to make him take it *all* out, but…” Frodo gave a bitter laugh.
“Now, Mr. Frodo, we don’t need to be going down that road again. You know I don’t agree, and begging your pardon, but that’s not what’s important about this letter anyway.”
“You’re right Sam. This means a lot to the Shire. All the same, I would love to see the expressions on the faces of the Thain and Uncle Saradoc when they read theirs.”
Sam raised his brows with a grin. “Aye, I reckon they’ll find it a regular eye-opener.”
In the Master’s study at Brandy Hall, Merry sat across from his father as Saradoc handed each document to him.
First was the letter from King Éomer. It was fairly blunt as such things go. A paragraph declaimed in ringing phrases Meriadoc’s courage and skill as a warrior. This made him blush. Then it described his duties as a Knight of the Mark, mostly to come if summoned by his liege at any time, and to provide gifts for any royal weddings and births that might occur. And as a reward for his duties as a retainer, he would receive each year a gift of one hundred silver pennies and two ponies from the Royal Stable, which would be delivered to him at Buckland each spring.
Merry’s jaw dropped. He had known that by the customs of Rohan, the King was supposed to generously reward his retainers, but he had never thought how that would apply to him. Before he’d ever left the Riddermark he’d received his arms and livery, his pony Stybba, and a very generous stipend as a knighting gift, as well as his horn from Eó wyn. He had turned down the offer of more.
Saradoc grinned. “I take it you’re pleased, son?”
Merry could only mutely nod. Although stunned would have been a better word than pleased.
His father handed him the second document, the royal message from Gondor.
Merry nodded as he read. “This makes a lot of sense, Da. If Aragorn is to be our King, then he’ll need help from all of us.”
“Paladin is not going to be happy.”
“Pippin will bring his father round.”
“I hope so, Merry, I hope so.”
He handed his son the third letter, the private enclosure from Aragorn.
Pearl found her parents in their room.
“He finished every bite of his supper, Mother, and has dropped off to sleep. He took some more of that mixture Poppy left, but did not finish it. He‘s really remarkable, you know, and quite grown up. I can‘t believe he‘s still my baby brother.”
Eglantine smiled and hugged her daughter. “I know, dear. Now off with you to get some rest. I’ll check in on him myself in a bit.”
After Pearl left, Paladin said “I think that you should get some rest yourself; *I* will watch him tonight.”
She looked at him sharply. The truth was he needed the rest worse than she, but as she met his eyes, she realized that he needed even more to do this for his son. Good, she thought, he’s finally beginning to come around.
Paladin eased himself quietly into his son’s darkened room, and made his way to the bedside chair. He noticed that Pippin did not seem particularly comfortable. Why, his bed’s too small, now! he thought, we’ll have to do something about that.
Paladin made himself comfortable by his son’s side and dozed off.
“Father!” the cry was sharp, low, and urgent. Paladin woke instantly and looked over to his son. Pippin was still asleep, but he was flushed with fever, and moved restlessly. “Father--please--I’m alive--please--I’m burning--no…” Paladin placed his hand on Pippin’s arm to awaken him from the dark dreams.
With a sharp, strangled cry, Pippin sat bolt upright, gasping. “F-father!”
“Easy. I’m here. Take some deep breaths. Are you awake now?”
Pippin exhaled a long, shuddering breath. “I’m alive--you’re alive. Yes--yes. I’m awake now.”
Paladin raised a hand to Pippin’s brow. “You’re feverish.” He looked around for the mixture the healer had left, and found the cup on the floor near the bed; there was still about a quarter of a cup left. While Pippin with a grimace drank it down, Paladin took his strikers from his pocket and lit the bedside candle.
“Do you often have these evil dreams?”
“At first, almost nightly, but seldom since Midsummer, and not at all after we returned to Rivendell. Until I came home.”
“I see.” Paladin was very much afraid he did see. “Peregrin, I think it’s time for you to tell me the rest of it.”
Pippin tried to evade his father’s searching glance. “The rest of it? Why? You don’t want to hear it anymore than I want to tell it!”
“Perhaps. It can’t be pleasant to hear or tell, but I think I *need* to hear it and you *need* to tell it.”
Pippin sat silently for so long that Paladin thought he was not going to speak after all. Then he looked up at his father.
In a low intense voice, Pippin described his encounter with the palantír, and its aftermath. “It was horrible, I truly do not have the words to tell you *how* horrible it was to have the Enemy pressing on my mind. It was like drowning in filth; Sauron was gloating over me, I just --anyway Gandalf got it away from me. I realized later that Sauron must have thought *I* was the one with the Ring and that I was Saruman’s prisoner. He told me he was sending for me!”
Paladin felt the blood drain from his face at the thought of his son in the hands of the Dark Lord.
“*That’s* why Gandalf took me with him to Minas Tirith.”
“Although I was frightened--leaving Merry behind was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life--I did want to see Minas Tirith. It was Boromir’s city, and he loved it so much. When Gandalf told me I would meet Boromir’s father, I was pleased. I had no idea what I would be in for. Gandalf told me that Denethor was ‘wise and noble’. Well, so he may have been at one time, but the man I met was cruel and bitter. I could see he clearly blamed me for being alive when his son was not, and he *hated* me because I came with Gandalf. When I offered him my service, it was because I loved Boromir who had given his life for me and Merry, not out of any affection for *him*. I think he took my oath just to spite Gandalf; also he thought to humiliate me with minor duties. But I meant my vow, every word.
The city was gloomy and preparing for war. I did meet a few friends; Beregond of the Guard was one, and his son Bergil, but I was horribly lonesome for Merry.” He sighed.
“When Boromir’s brother, Faramir, came back to the city I was glad to meet him. Boromir had talked so fondly of his younger brother; in looks they were much alike, though Faramir was quieter than his brother. But he had no sooner come back than his *father* sent him out again.” Pippin began to shake his head, as if in denial of his own words.
“He actually *told* Faramir that he wished he had died instead of Boromir, and then he sent him on what was sure to be a suicide mission. Gandalf told Faramir that his father would remember he loved him; I think for once Gandalf was *wrong*. I don’t think Denethor had any love in him; what passed for love in him was just pride. And he was only proud of his sons because they were *his* and would do his bidding, not for who they were, not as people.”
Paladin felt a chill run down his spine at his son’s words.
“Faramir did come back from the mission, but he was badly wounded, almost dead.”
Pippin stopped. He had begun to sweat, and he lay back against his pillow. “I think my fever’s breaking.”
“What happened, Peregrin?” Paladin asked gently.
“Denethor took his son and himself to the tombs of their ancestors, with oil and wood; it was his intention to burn himself alive, and his son with him.
I tried to stop it; Denethor had me thrown out, he ‘released’ me from my oath and told me to go die in my own way.” He shuddered, remembering the cruel words echoing from the cold stone walls of Rath Dínen.
“I ran to find Gandalf; I didn’t know anything else I could do. I asked Beregond to interfere if he could, and then ran on.” As the night before, he had that distant unfocused look. In spite of his fever, he had grown pale. When he continued it was in a whisper, and Paladin had to strain to hear him.
“I finally found Gandalf; we were barely in time. Beregond was trying to keep Denethor’s guards back from lighting the pyre. Gandalf *tried* to reason with Denethor, but he was too far gone in his madness. Gandalf took Faramir, and when he did Denethor tried to *stab* him! When we finally got his son away, he jumped up on the pyre and pulled out a palantír! It was no wonder he had gone mad if he had been using one of those awful things! Then he--he --Father--he set himself on fire. He burned himself alive.”
Pippin began to cry. It was not a gentle silent weeping, but deep heart-wrenching sobs, as he abandoned himself to grief. “Father, when I came home--the Remembrance Stone--I just--I couldn’t--you said I was dead--I keep dreaming that *I‘m* Faramir…”
Paladin felt his whole world turn upside down. What had he done to his son? Because he could not admit to being wrong, he had let this precious child suffer. He moved to the bed and gathered his son in his arms, rocking him back and forth as if he were a babe. “Pippin, my son, I’m here, I’m here,” he wept himself.
After a few moments, Pippin began to calm. “Father?” he sniffed.
“That’s the first time you’ve called me Pippin since I came home.”
“I know, son.” And he dropped a kiss on top of the curly head.
Just after sun-up, Eglantine quietly entered the room. Paladin still sat on the bed, drowsing, with Pippin’s head in his lap. She smiled.
The following Highday dawned clear, bright and cold. Pippin found himself nervously waiting in front of the Great Smials with his father, Merry, Saradoc and Frodo, watching a great crowd of Tuckborough hobbitry assemble on the sward across the road.
A lot had happened over the past week. A search party sent to the spot where Pippin had been ambushed found the body of one ruffian, but no sign of the other. A few days later, Pippin himself had led an expedition into the Southfarthing to deal with a band of five holed up in one of Lotho’s old leaf sheds.
Messages had been exchanged with Hobbiton and Buckland, and last night Saradoc had arrived, accompanied by Merry, Frodo and Esmeralda.
Paladin’s attempt to apologize to his brother-in-law was cut short when Saradoc stepped up and caught him in a hug. “Say no more about it, brother. It’s all in the past and that was a bad time for us all. All our boys are back now and just look at them!” Saradoc’s grin and gesture included all three of the returned travelers, and Frodo blushed. He had only just discovered that he, too, had been missed while he was gone.
Now that the crowd was assembled, the five hobbits stepped up to the small platform that the Thain had had made for the purpose: the Thain of the Tooks, the Master of Buckland, and the Deputy Mayor of the Shire, flanked on either side by a magnificent Knight of Rohan and a splendid Knight of Gondor. Paladin stood forward.
“My dear hobbits, I have summoned you all here today to hear an important message, one that will change the Shire forever!” He gestured at Pippin.
In a ringing voice, that *seemed* bold and confident (probably only Merry knew just how nervous he really was) Pippin read aloud the message from the King. He got through it quite well, blushing only twice: at “Sir Peregrin son of Paladin” and at the end, when the crowd erupted into loud cheers.
In two weeks, they would repeat this scene: in Buckland and in Hobbiton; in the meantime, Frodo had re-instated the Postal Service, and was having copies made of the message, to be distributed throughout the Shire. Soon all would know that the King had, indeed, “come back”.
The five headed into the Smials. Paladin, Saradoc and Frodo went to Paladin’s study to work on the reply to Aragorn.
Merry and Pippin retreated to Pippin’s room for a smoke and a visit. Merry laughed when he entered the room. “Well, that’s *one* solution!”
Pippin had removed the headboard and footboard to his bed. He grinned as they sprawled upon it. “It does help. But Father’s having a new one built for me.”
“Me, too. But this seems like a good idea in the meantime.”
“Frodo’s seeming much more like his old self,” said Pippin.
“Well, he does *seem* to be a little bit better right *now*,” Merry replied cautiously. He was much less optimistic about Frodo’s full recovery than Sam or Pippin. Even on his best days his cousin’s blue eyes held a hunted look.
Pippin took a puff on his pipe. “So I hear you are a wealthy hobbit.”
“S’true, s’true,” murmured Merry smugly. “Of course I seem to remember Aragorn making a rather generous gift to *you*.”
“One hundred fifty silver pennies, and another fifty from Faramir. But that was just for my knighting.”
Merry grinned wickedly. “Pip, he did *not* release you from his service; can you *possibly* imagine Aragorn being less generous than Eomer?”
With a whoop, Pippin accidentally inhaled. Merry pounded him good naturedly on the back as he coughed. “Good grief! Wait’ll Father finds out! You really do think?”
Merry laughed. “Yes, Pip, unlike you, *I* really do think.”
Pippin rolled his eyes, and they smoked in silence for a few moments.
“Do you want to come with me when I take the message to Bree?”
“Cousin, I thought you’d never ask!”
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