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Paladin had not been happy with Pippin’s attitude towards his mother earlier that evening. When the lad failed to reappear after sulking off to his room, Paladin decided a little talk with his son was in order.
Knocking on Pippin’s door got no answer. “Peregrin? Peregrin!” He waited another moment, and then, irritated, he opened the door and entered--to an unoccupied room and an open window. Setting his mouth in a grim line he drew in a deep breath through his nose and let it out in an annoyed sigh.
His first thought was that Pippin had run off to Brandy Hall or Bag End again. He had taken to doing that from time to time in recent years, when he thought his parents were being unreasonable by not giving in to some whim of his. He supposed he should not be surprised if this was another such occasion.
Generally, Esmeralda gave the lad a thorough tongue-lashing, and then he spent a week or so of Merry commiserating with him, until someone from Brandy Hall could be spared to return him, or until Paladin could send someone to fetch him. When he came back from Buckland he was cheerful and unrepentant, but easier to get along with for a good long while.
On the other hand, when Pippin headed for Bag End, Frodo spent two or three days spoiling him rotten, and then would have a long and serious talk with him, before escorting him home personally. When he came back from Bag End, he was apologetic and thoughtful and solemn, though it seldom lasted as long as a week.
But a glimpse at Pippin’s desk showed Paladin there was no note. Pippin *always* left a note saying which cousin he had decided to inflict himself on. And a casual glance about the room seemed to show that he had not taken anything with him. Paladin looked under the bed. Pippin’s pack was still there. His fiddle case was not.
It only took Paladin a second or two to figure out what his son had done. He’d gone down to The Bunny anyway, after his mother had told him ‘no’. Now the Thain was angry. This was outright defiance. He was half tempted to go into town and haul him home in disgrace, but word would be all over Tuckborough before morning that the Thain could not even control his own son.
With a face like thunder waiting to happen, he sat down in the chair by the bed to await Peregrin’s return.
Menelcar and Pippin sat companionably at the table, Pippin on a chair, the Man on the floor, taking a brief break. Menelcar thought he would sing again very shortly.
Pippin’s green eyes were sparked with the fire of enthusiasm. “Oh, that was splendid!” he exclaimed laughing.
“So, you enjoyed performing with me?” asked the Man in amusement.
“Oh, yes! But you could have knocked me over with a feather when you started to sing one of old Bilbo’s songs!”
Menelcar leaned forward intently, suddenly very still. “Bilbo?” he asked. Could it be?
“Bilbo Baggins! He’s quite a famous hobbit, you know! He left the Shire and had all kinds of adventures, and then came back and told wonderful stories and made the most marvelous songs!” Pippin grinned reminiscently. He’d only been eleven when Bilbo left, but he still could recall many happy hours spent at the old hobbit’s feet, drinking in the songs and stories. He’d never had enough of them.
“Did he?” asked Menelcar. Was his quest to find the source of so many of those fine songs at last coming to an end? “I had hoped to find out about some of those songs when I came here to the Shire.”
“Well, he left again about fourteen years ago, and that’s a story in itself! But you could do worse than to talk to his heir, Frodo Baggins. He lives at Bag End in Hobbiton, and likes nothing better than to have a good chin-wag about old Bilbo!”
Menelcar nodded thoughtfully. He had taken care on entering the Shire to learn as quickly as possible the names and locations of the principal towns, and of as many inns as possible. He’d planned on going to Hobbiton the next day anyway, and Bywater the day after. To talk to one who had known this redoubtable Bilbo Baggins…
His thoughts were interrupted.
“Do you always travel alone?” Pippin looked down at the table, where he was making little circles with his finger.
Menelcar smiled. He had seen this coming. “No, not always. But I’ve not had an apprentice for ten years, nor a partner for eight.”
“Oh.” Pippin was very quiet for a moment. “Do you suppose you would mind it very much if *I* traveled with you for a while?” he finally asked, a bit afraid to hear the answer either way.
“Are you certain it’s what you want? It can be more than a little uncomfortable to live this way at times. It’s not always as jolly as this. After all, ‘the road is long and the way is hard’.” Menelcar pursed his lips, he owed it to the lad to be honest.
“I suppose I *should* think about it a little bit more.” Merry was always telling him he was too impulsive--he’d prove him wrong this time. He’d think it through.
The Man nodded. “In two nights’ time, I plan to be at an inn in Bywater. I’ve been told it’s called The Green Dragon. If you are still of a mind to try the life of a bard, I will meet you there.”
Pippin’s face was radiant. Menelcar found himself hoping the hobbit would not change his mind. With the way this one could charm an audience, the future would look very rosy indeed. And he had to admit, he thought Pippin would be good company. It did get lonesome on the road at times. The Man quirked a smile in Pippin’s direction. “Shall we sing again?”
“What else would we both know?” Pippin asked thoughtfully.
“Do you know the one about the Man in the Moon?” That had been a favorite of several of the Dwarves he met, and one of those attributed to the elusive halfling.
“*Which* one? Old Bilbo wrote a few on that subject.” There were at least two long ones that probably everyone in the Shire had heard by now, as well as a few shorter ones that were only known by family.
Menelcar’s eyes popped. Which *one*? “Er--the one about the inn?”
“Ah, everyone’s favorite! I’ll be the cat, shall I?” said Pippin with a wicked smirk. He tucked his fiddle beneath his chin.
A little over an hour later, Pippin made his way back to the Smials beneath a warm and starry early summer night. He was flown with pleasure, almost as if he’d been drinking wine. Music was heady stuff!
He thought of the idea of going off with Menelcar. Just wait until he told Merry.
Suddenly, his thoughts skidded to a halt. If he did this, how long would it be until he saw his Merry again? And what would Merry say about him going off and leaving the Shire and having an adventure without him? He knew better than to think Merry would want to be a bard too. His cousin could sing as well as any, and had a pleasant voice, but he did not care as much about music as Pippin did. Aunt Esme had been so pleased to teach Pip to play the fiddle, mainly because she had never been able to interest her son in doing so.
And his parents would never understand.
He stood there for a moment, and it seemed he could literally see his lovely dream flying away.
Could he possibly interest Menelcar in staying in the Shire? He hated the thought of his new-found friend going on his way alone. But somehow, he knew that, too, was impossible. The minstrel truly was a free spirit, and could never be constrained that way. The most he could hope was that the Man might come back one day.
Now with a leaden heart he trudged on up to the Smials, to his open window. He carefully laid his fiddle case over the sill, and then backed himself in.
The familiar voice coming out of the dark gave him a start. With a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, he turned to face the stony glare of his father, whose eyes glittered with anger in the moonlight.
Oh, Thunder! he thought, I’m in real trouble now.
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