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On Being the Youngest
‘I had no idea that your race was so good at climbing, master hobbit.’ Legolas’s fair head appeared around the trunk of the tree.
‘In general, they’re not.’ Pippin drew up his knees to allow the elf to take his place on the branch. ‘But I’ve always found trees to be an excellent place to hide when I want to be on my own. How did you know I was here?’
‘I am a Wood Elf,’ Legolas pointed out. ‘Although I must admit that the beech was unwilling to reveal your secret. I did not know that hobbits got on so well with trees.’
‘Well it’s only some of us,’ Pippin told him. ‘I am a Took. And Brandybucks and trees get on quite well in a wary sort of way. But you wouldn’t generally get a Bolger or a Boffin to climb one – not unless there were apples or nuts to gather.’
‘What are you doing here then, Peregrin?’
‘I just wanted to get away for a bit,’ Pippin shrugged. ‘There’s always so much going on here in Rivendell and none of it seems to involve me.’
‘Would you want it to?’ Legolas enquired.
‘I don’t know,’ Pippin considered. ‘They all think I’m too young to have anything worth saying – but I just know that I won’t have Frodo go off without me. I think he needs us, Merry and me.’
‘Why does he need you more than anyone else?’
‘He’s a hobbit,’ Pippin answered in surprise. ‘Hobbits need other hobbits. It’s bad enough finding yourself in a world that’s too big, without being cut off from your family. Frodo needs Merry and me because we make him laugh and because we give him someone to look after – and he needs Sam to look after him.’
‘And that is important to hobbits?’
‘Oh yes! Especially to Frodo.’ He glanced at the elf. ‘That’s why he likes to have me and Merry around. We’re like brothers to him.’
‘Yet you cannot stay up here indefinitely. You would not want to start missing meals!’ The elf’s eyes sparkled. ‘If there is one thing I have noticed about hobbits, it is that they are very rarely late when the dining-bell rings.’
‘Well, that would be just plain silly.’ Pippin grinned. ‘And very rude, too. All those elves in the kitchens busy preparing us delicious things to eat. It would upset them if we didn’t turn up and show our appreciation of their work!’
‘You are right, of course,’ the elf told him, straight-faced. ‘And it would never do to be rude.’
Pippin grinned. ‘Just what my mother would say,’ he said. ‘In fact, I’m beginning to feel a bit peckish now,’ he said. He rummaged in his apparently bottomless pockets and brought out two apples. ‘Would you like one? I am rather fond of apples.’
‘I am fond of them myself,’ Legolas conceded.
‘It is a good time of year for apples and they seem to have them in plenty in Rivendell.’ The hobbit smiled wistfully. ‘They will be pressing the last of the cider apples at home.’
‘The orchards of Imladris are famous.’ Legolas’s eyes settled on the young hobbit. ‘Their cider, too, I believe.’ He allowed one long leg to swing from the branch. ‘We do not make it in Mirkwood. What apples we grow are stored carefully or dried to last us through the winter – but even so we delight in the ripening of each year’s crop.’
Pippin tilted his head. ‘I hadn’t thought of it being different from here,’ he remarked. ‘I know what Bilbo said about spiders and enchanted rivers and dark trees – but I suppose I thought that where you actually lived would be . . .’ He spread his hands as if to indicate the elven haven around them.
‘Did you?’ Legolas sounded surprised. ‘No! It is – it is so different that you would scarcely recognise it.’ He rounded his back to drop his chin onto his raised knee. ‘It used to be more like this, I think – more open and free – but that was centuries ago. Long before I was born.’ As Pippin turned round eyes on him, the elf smiled wryly. ‘I am remarkably young for an elf, master hobbit. If you listen, you will hear me being reminded of it constantly.’
The look they exchanged contained a significant amount of fellow feeling. ‘Do they say ‘when you’re as old as I am’?’ Pippin asked. ‘And ‘of course, you’re too young to remember’ and ‘when you’ve had a bit of experience, then you’ll be able to talk’?’
‘Pretty much,’ the elf admitted. ‘And when you are talking to elves who remember the War of Wrath, you know you will never have a hope of being considered truly adult.’
‘Being the youngest does have advantages,’ Pippin offered. ‘Or so I’ve found.’
‘And what might they be?’ Legolas sounded rather jaded.
‘Well,’ Pippin bit into his apple, ‘if nobody expects you to have any sense, why bother? I’m quite happy to let somebody else take the responsibility – and get the blame.’
Legolas gazed at him somewhat cynically. ‘Excuse me if I am being rude,’ he said, ‘but are you not heir to the Shire’s ruler? I have always found that I have to take responsibility regardless of whether or not anyone listens to me.’
‘I might get away with that because I’m not yet of age,’ the hobbit conceded. ‘It is the sort of thing that would be too good to last.’ He grinned. ‘And you’d better not say in front of Merry that the Thain rules the Shire. He wouldn’t be impressed – and I don’t think Frodo would be too thrilled either.’
The elf frowned. ‘But I daresay your father would be less than happy if you were to be chosen to be among those who go with Frodo – and it is likely that Lord Elrond and your kin will bear that in mind when selecting the group.’
‘You think you stand little chance of being chosen?’ Light began to dawn on Pippin’s face.
Legolas shrugged. ‘I am one of the youngest elves,’ he said, counting off his fingers. ‘My own father would be most displeased were I not to return home promptly. I have little experience of the world outside Mirkwood. Who would choose me when a great warrior like Glorfindel is willing? Or Elrond’s sons, who know paths across most of Middle Earth? What have I to offer?’
‘Lord Elrond is very far-sighted,’ the hobbit said slowly. ‘Perhaps he will see that this will take more than skill – more than wisdom. After all, it is not in the hands of a great elf or a powerful king. I don’t see that you have any less chance of going than the rest of us. I mean – there’s Frodo – and then there are Sam and Strider and Gandalf. But apart from them, who else is going to be mad enough to want to go?’
‘You think it is madness to want to save Arda?’ Legolas sounded disapproving.
‘Oh no!’ Pippin tossed his apple core away. ‘But this doesn’t seem the most sensible way to do it, now does it? Shoving a small group out of the gates into the teeth of those wraith creatures, with who knows what chasing us – in the hope that we can sneak past them.’ He leaned back. ‘It smacks of desperation.’
‘But you would still choose to go?’ A reluctant respect tinged the elf’s voice.
‘Well – I’m young enough to be optimistic.’ Pippin’s sharp eyes assessed the fair prince. ‘And so are you. If we’re going to sneak, we need to be people who can get by without being noticed. You can’t not notice Glorfindel.’
Legolas untangled the hobbit’s words. ‘True,’ he agreed.
‘But we can have three hobbits and a ranger walk past this tree and not spot us – so perhaps we stand a better chance than most.’
The elf glanced down. ‘I doubt they were looking for us.’
‘Merry will’ve been,’ Pippin told him with certainty. ‘He hasn’t seen me since breakfast – he’ll be wanting to know what I’m up to. And he’ll have badgered the rest of them into scouting around.’ He grinned knowingly. ‘Including you.’
‘You are young indeed, master hobbit,’ the elf observed, ‘but you are not a fool. Perhaps Lord Elrond would do well to take that into account.’
‘Age isn’t everything,’ Pippin agreed. ‘I think we might surprise them in the end.’
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