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“If You Could See What I Hear…”
"The Song of the Morning Birds"
Hold Fast to Dreams
For if Dreams Die
Life is a Broken-winged Bird
That cannot Fly.
Eglantine and Esmeralda flew through the kitchen where the lamps burned low. Saradoc and Frodo had continued their conversation after the others had gone to bed, but now they were nowhere to be seen and the back door stood wide open. Eglantine stumbled towards her husband as he trotted up the yard, a small wriggling bundle on his shoulder. With a shriek of delight, Eglantine descended on them. The bundle protested noisily as she pulled Pippin into a smothering embrace.
“Oh! Oh, oh, oh – Pad! Wherever did you find him? Oh, my dear Pippin,” Eglantine sobbed into his tousled hair as she hugged him tightly against her.
“Mum! I can’t breath!” he complained, freeing an arm and flailing it above his head until his mother loosened her grip at last.
“He’s all right, Tina,” Paladin soothed as he ruffled Pippin’s hair. Eglantine continued weeping, hanging on to her child as if she feared he might suddenly disappear. “Hardly any worse for the wear, either!” he jested, “save for some streaks of dirt and dampish clothing, not to mention poor Tulip here.” Paladin held up the knitted piglet that had tumbled out of Pippin’s shirt as he was fussed over by his mother.
“Yes indeed, he looks fine to me,” Esmeralda said as she gathered both Eglantine and her nephew into a hug.
“I’m hungry!” Pippin shouted amidst all the excitement. “And I’m as hungry as three hobbits,” he declared as his father handed him Tulip. He held his toy to his ear and then giggled. “And Tulip says she is too!”
“Well, he certainly sounds like himself,” Frodo commented with a chuckle as he leaned over to pat his little cousin’s shoulder.
Paladin scooped him back into his arms and headed into the farmhouse with a laugh. “Well, I’m certain there’s something we can do about that!”
“Rhoswen was going to give me something to eat, but then Alfie said she couldn’t, even though Tulip and I were ever so hungry, but she said if we ate their food we couldn’t ever leave again so we didn’t.” Pippin shrugged and placed his toy on the table as Paladin lowered him into a chair. “But that was all right because we heard such splendid stories and saw some frightfully queer things and, oh, the music was jolly good, and the wee creatures, especially Ealhdun, were so…” he paused to take a huge bite of the buttered bread that his aunt had set in front of him, chewed quickly and then continued without missing a beat, “splendid, and I loved listening to him talk! He had the oddest voice and funny long ears, sort of like a rabbit but not exactly, and when he laughed it was like--”
“Pippin, lad, don’t talk with your mouth full,” Esmeralda told him, laying her hand on his shoulder. “You’re going to make your food go down the wrong way.”
Pippin obediently stopped talking while he chewed and swallowed, then took a deep breath and continued rambling while he buttered some more of the bread. “Everyone was so nice to us!” Pippin paused to place the bread in front of Tulip’s mouth. “But it wasn’t easy after seeing all that food Rhoswen had set out, and not being allowed to eat any! Was it m’lass?” he queried the knitted piglet before digging eagerly into the bowl of stew his mother was putting in front of him.
“Pad, whatever is he going on about?” Eglantine whispered, raising a brow in consternation.
Paladin shrugged. “You know how he is, Tina. He probably entertained himself by making up stories while he was lost. We can talk to him about his adventure tomorrow. Including his wandering off! Meanwhile, let him eat and then he can have a wash and get into bed. I don’t see how he could have had much sleep in the woods.”
“I want him into a hot bath before bed. I’m sure he’ll have a chill from being outside so long.” Eglantine gave her son another hug before leaving the room to prepare the hot water for the tub.
“Pip! You’re back!” Merry rushed into the kitchen with Pippin’s sisters close behind him.
“Merry!” Pippin reached out with both arms and a cry of delight as his cousin gathered him close, pressing the youngster hard against his chest. Pippin’s yelp of alarm came out muffled, “Oww, Merry, not so hard!”
“Sorry! I’m just happy to see that you’re all right. We were all so upset when we couldn’t find you.” Merry let him go, still grinning.
“Well, I won’t be all right if everyone doesn’t stop squeezing the stuffing out of me!” Pippin grumbled, rubbing his arms where Merry had gripped him a little too firmly.
“Ahem, my turn now,” Pearl said, moving in between her cousin and her little brother. She placed her hands on her hips and gave him an exaggerated scowl. “You scamp! Wherever have you been all this time? I was worried half to death.” She pulled Pippin to her for another fierce hug. “You’re not getting out of my sight ever again, m’lad!”
“Pearl!” Pippin let out a wail of protest at her declaration, while she laughed and rubbed his back.
“Well, at least for a few days, then.” Pearl knelt next to him and took both hands in her own. “Don’t ever wander off like that again and scare us so! Do you promise?”
Pippin nodded. “I promise.”
“Good, I’m glad you agree with me.” Pearl moved away, shaking her head and allowing room for her sisters to greet Pippin.
Pimpernel, and finally Pervinca, took their turns giving him even more warm hugs and warnings not to wander off again.
“I said I wouldn’t!” Pippin rolled his eyes at Pimpernel, and then stuck his tongue out at Pervinca for being so bossy.
Merry couldn’t resist giving his cousin another hug after Pippin’s sisters stood back at last, before looking him over from head to foot to reassure himself that the youngster truly was all right. “Where were you?” Merry finally settled into the chair next to him and listened to Pippin babble on about his adventure, while the little Took continued to stuff himself, occasionally offering a bite to Tulip.
“In the woods, of course! But I wasn’t alone the whole time.”
“You weren’t?” Merry turned his puzzled look to his uncle.
Paladin cleared his throat. “Yes, well. Your cousin has a wonderful imagination, Merry. You know that.”
Before Pippin could protest, Bilbo trotted into the kitchen at last. “My stars, it did take a great deal to wake an old hobbit, but I’m glad I heard the commotion at last. Peregrin Took!” Bilbo hurried over to give his young cousin a hug and a kiss. “How are you, my lad? And just where have you been hiding yourself all this time, hmm?”
“I wasn’t hiding, Cousin Bilbo. Tulip and I were having an adventure with Rhoswen!”
“Ah, and who is Rhoswen?”
“She’s my friend, and so is Alfie. I met them in the woods. Oh! And I met so many others there, too! They played music for us, and sang and danced! And I did too, Bilbo, and we had ever so much fun!”
“He was having the time of his life while we were worried to death about him?” Bilbo raised his brow in surprise as he gazed at the family.
Frodo patted him soothingly on the back. “I think he was simply entertaining himself, Uncle. Our Pip has quite the imagination, you know.”
“Hmm, yes, I do indeed. Ah, well! All that matters is that he’s home safe and sound, and no worse for all his adventures, eh?” Bilbo winked at Frodo.
“That’s right. And Pippin is not going to wander off like that again and cause his family such dreadful worry.” Frodo gave his young cousin a mock glare. “Are you, Pip?”
The youngster shook his head slowly from side to side as he peered up at him from beneath his long lashes. Frodo knelt next to his chair and smoothed the disheveled hair from Pippin’s forehead. He leaned in close and whispered so only Pippin could hear him, “Don’t you ever go off on another adventure like that without me and Merry! Do you hear me?”
Pippin’s face split into a wide grin and he nodded enthusiastically before throwing his arms around Frodo and hugging his neck fiercely. “I promise!” He crooked a small finger at his older cousin and Frodo obligingly leaned near again. “And don’t you evergo on an adventure without me and Merry, either, all right?”
Frodo nodded solemnly, gazing into the earnest green eyes. “I promise,” he whispered back.
Esmeralda watched the scene with satisfaction, giving her brother a smile and a wink as she threw her arms around him. “I knew you would find him and bring him home safe, Pad.”
“You did, eh?” Paladin laughed and hugged her back.
Esmeralda nodded, her eyes twinkling.
“Where’d you find him?” Saradoc asked as he joined them. “We had quite a search of the farm ourselves, while you were gone. By the way, Pad, did you know there was a cave opening over at the end of the north pasture?”
Paladin grinned at the mention of the cave. “Ah…yes, I did, but I thought it was still well hidden. I’ll have to take a look at it--” he made a puzzled face as he reached into his pocket and retrieved a good-sized acorn from its depths. He held it up to the lamp, somewhat taken aback. Saradoc looked over his shoulder, equally mystified.
“Where did you find that? Why,” he said, taking it from Paladin’s hand and turning it over, “that’s a mature acorn, and a very healthy one, at that. But, it’s the wrong time of year for it. They won’t be ready to fall for months yet!” He gave it back with a grunt of perplexed wonder.
Paladin bounced it lightly in his hand, pondering. “Hmm,” he began, just as more of the relieved well-wishers interrupted his reverie, descending on them with cries of excitement, all of them wanting to know where Pippin had been found.
Eglantine hurried Pippin off the moment he was finished eating, in spite of his protests that he didn’t need a bath. “Yes, you most certainly do, my young sir. And Tulip too.”
“I’ll help you, Mum,” Pearl offered, not ready yet to take her eyes off her little brother.
“I bet Rhoswen isn’t being made to take a bath right now,” he grumbled.
“Oh, I’ll just wager she is, Pip. Especially if she spent as much time in the woods as you have,” Pearl chuckled as she gathered up a fluffy bath towel and the soap.
“She lives in the woods, Pearl! And she looked like she never, ever got dirty, either. Right Tulip?” Tulip murmured that a hot bath sounded delightful to her, and that he should stop giving his mother a hard time. “You would be on her side,” the youngster grumbled, finally giving in as Eglantine shut the door to the bathroom firmly behind them.
“Thank goodness everyone is bedded down once more. Perhaps we can all manage to get a few hours of sleep. I don’t think I can keep my eyes open much longer,” Paladin yawned as he stretched out at last, grateful to feel the cool sheets beneath him. His head ached from the lack of sleep, but that was a small price to pay for the safe return of his youngest child.
“Now,” Eglantine sighed as she settled into bed and snuggled gratefully against her weary husband, “tell me where you found him.”
Paladin was quiet for several moments; he’d known she would ask him this question, and more. He’d been pondering his answer ever since he’d located Pippin and started back along the path towards home. There was so much he didn’t understand about what had happened. It was one thing to hear the tales about the mysterious Took ancestry, and quite another to experience actual visions and converse with an ancient spirit who sought to instruct and guide him. Just how much would his wife be able to understand, and also, how much would she actually believe?
“Pad?” Eglantine rose up on her elbow, smoothing the unruly hair from her husband’s brow and searching his eyes with the hint of an anxious frown.
He smiled back at her and kissed the tip of her sharp nose, chuckling, “I don’t think I’ve ever noticed before that you and Pippin have exactly the same nose.”
“And what precisely does my nose have to do with the question I’ve asked you, hmm?”
“Very little, I suppose, when you put it that way.” Paladin put his arm around her and drew her close, settling her into the crook of his arm where she had always fit just right. “He was sitting on the ground in a little clearing with Tulip on his lap, and they were having quite the conversation. I imagine it had to do with the very long adventure they’d enjoyed amongst the trees, and I wonder if hunger didn’t have a great deal to do with all the fanciful stories he and his piglet friend were sharing. He told me they’d found some berries and a few mushrooms, but hardly enough to keep a growing young hobbit lad satisfied for long.”
“I certainly intend to do something about that! I’m going to work hard at fattening him up and I’m going to make all his favourite foods tomorrow.”
“I don’t think you’re going to have a problem enticing him to eat, Tina,” Paladin snorted. “The lad has to be half-starved.”
“Aye, he certainly did do himself proud eating all he could hold tonight. But he’s so tired he was almost falling asleep in the bath.” Eglantine snuggled closer, enjoying the warmth and the strength of her husband’s nearness. “I have never been so frightened in my entire life, and I hope I never have cause to feel that way ever again!”
Paladin laughed quietly and kissed her. “My love, when has our son ever given us leave to breathe easily where he’s concerned? No, I’ve a feeling it’s only the beginning of his adventures. I think he’s going to try us sorely on many more occasions before he reaches his majority.”
“I have a feeling you’re right about that, Pad,” Eglantine sighed and laid her head on his shoulder. “I’m just glad he’s safe in his own bed now. I hated to leave his room.”
“I know.” Paladin pulled her closer. “He’ll sleep well enough with Merry next to him, and Tulip tucked under his arm.”
“Aye, they looked so dear all tucked in together. Pippin had one arm slung over his cousin, and his piggy pulled up to his chin. It made me feel quite warm inside to watch them.”
“A feeling you’re well deserving of, after what you’ve just been through, dearest.”
“Oh, how I wish sometimes that he would stay small forever. Then I could just keep him right here by my side at all times, and safe.”
Paladin laughed heartily at his wife’s words and shook his head in disbelief. “My love, we’ve just spent nearly two days worried to death about him. How would keeping him young and small help with that, hmm? No, we just have to do the best we can, and know we’ve taught him well.”
“Aye, you’re right, Pad. ‘Twas a nice thought though, wasn’t it?”
“It was indeed!” Paladin yawned and stretched. “Get some rest now, Tina. Stop fretting, now. He’s home and he’s well.”
Eglantine snuggled in to her husband’s warmth and was soon asleep.
Several days had passed since Pippin’s adventure and Paladin was pleased to find that the lad hardly seemed to remember much of what had happened. At least, it appeared to be so. Perhaps there would be little he would need to explain, and even less he’d have to give details about to his family. He still puzzled over the acorn. He knew in his heart where it had come from, of course, but the whole experience still unnerved him. The coin Pippin had been given was indeed extremely old, and he couldn’t help wondering if its past was linked to the hobbit lad from so long ago, and the day he too, had wandered into the forest as Pippin had, although his adventure had come to a very different conclusion. Luckily, everyone thought Pippin had simply found it on the woodland floor during his journey, and the lad hadn’t said otherwise.
The so-called ‘Faerie Stone’ was a fascinating bit of rock with an odd sparkle and Paladin had threaded a thin leather strip through the hole so Pippin could wear it around his neck. The spirit had said it was important, and Paladin had no reason to question it. Pippin didn’t seem to want to put it down, either, and so far he had worn it every day. He couldn’t help being curious when Pippin had said very little about the whole experience and then appeared to be forgetting it altogether. He couldn’t say that made him unhappy. All the fears he’d had about what to say to his son, and about what questions he might ask, had been for naught. Paladin remembered what the oak spirit had said about Pippin holding the information in his heart and not being troubled by it. He too, would hold it in his heart, as well as the mysterious tale of the Took ancestor and Eolande. He had not discussed what had happened that night with anyone, and he likely never would.
Paladin strode out into the pasture to enjoy the late evening breeze and watch the setting sun after his long workday. He rested one foot on the lower rung of the split rail fence and leaned on it while he contemplated the nighttime sounds. He’d always loved the sweet call of the birds at both dawn and dusk, but for some reason their cries had always seemed the most haunting at sunrise. But whatever the time of day when he stopped to listen, it always felt as though the captivating, ethereal music drifted to him from another world entirely. Now, the evening birdsong reached into the very core of his being and caused him to shiver with delight as the chorus rose in one voice to hail the coming night. Perhaps this was the reason he had named his only son after a winged creature?
Paladin drew the acorn out of his pocket and examined it in the fading light. He had taken to carrying it with him for some reason beyond his ken, except it seemed to bring him an odd sense of comfort. He sighed, but it was not in sadness. Instead, he felt invigorated and at peace, and ready for whatever was to come in the future. The Sight had never failed him. Whether he’d wanted to see or sense the things he did, had always been irrelevant. But he felt he had indeed learned an important lesson while in the company of the oak spirit.
Paladin stared across the meadow where Pippin had disappeared that day and recalled the alarm and the fear that had gripped his heart. Yet, deep inside he’d known he would find his son whole and sound. That had never really been the issue, and Paladin reflected on that memory now. He felt he would always know in his heart if Pippin was well, or if danger threatened him. What had the oak spirit meant regarding the future, and his need for determination? Why did his son need to hear the tale the Elf had shared with him? And, just who was the wee lass, Rhoswen, who had seemed so fascinated with Peregrin? Paladin considered the child’s lovely red-gold curls, and wondered.
There was one last thing he yearned to know above all the rest. What had Alfie whispered in Pippin’s ear before sending him on his way and into his father’s waiting arms?
Paladin sighed in frustration this time, feeling much like he did when his father had refused to answer his questions about his granda’s stories. But, even though it had taken all these years, he had finally received his answers. He supposed he would know the rest when the time came. The spirit of the oak had said it was so, and he had no reason not to believe in those words. What task of such grave importance did his son have to meet in his future? Paladin looked searchingly at the sky as if the answers might be found in the deepening darkness, before turning around and heading towards the light spilling from the kitchen window of his family’s home. He would know, when the time came.
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