28. Father and Son
Paladin sat each day by the side of his son, holding his hand in silence, or wringing out a cloth in cold water to place on the burning brow. Esmeralda had wondered for years if her brother truly loved his son, but in unguarded moments she saw the fear in his eyes while Pippin's life hung in the balance. It was strange to see the tenderness this rough, proud hobbit ruler displayed towards his helpless son, lifting him to ease a coughing spell, feeding Pippin like a babe from a spoon, holding a cup to his son's lips.
The fever rose and fell, burning away all Pippin's reserves, leaving him weak as a kitten and gaunt as a survivor of the Lockholes. Yet he clung to life with a tenacity that surprised even the healer, who had given up hope for him the night he sent for The Took.
Ten days after Pippin's arrival he opened his eyes to meet Merry's. 'How long?' he asked. Merry told him. He furrowed his brow as if trying to calculate, then giving up he asked, 'The date?'
Merry understood. 'Tomorrow,' he said. 'Tomorrow is the day.'
Saradoc and Merry's Uncle Merimac sat with Merry through the next day and into the night, until he was himself again. Pippin was restless in Merry's absence, and had to be restrained from throwing off his covers and attempting to rise from the bed.
Though worry for Pippin had worn him down, Merry still managed to fight off the onset of Darkness for some hours, and roused earlier after it released him from its grip. He was back at Pippin's bedside the day following the Shadow's attack, and Pippin, seeing him, calmed.
The day the healer pronounced him out of danger was a day of celebration in the Hall. Smiling hobbits met each other in the hallways, and songs and laughter were once more raised in the great room that evening.
The healer met with the Master and Mistress, and the Thain and his wife, in the study. 'He has a long, slow recovery ahead of him now.'
'Can we take him to Tuckborough?' the Thain asked abruptly.
The healer shook his head. 'It would be dangerous to move him for some weeks.'
'Then I shall have to require your hospitality awhile longer, it seems,' Paladin said to Saradoc.
'Of course,' Saradoc replied.
Merry entered the Master's study that evening to find his parents and the Tooks laughing over some of Pippin's infamous exploits at Hall and Smial. His uncle suddenly swung around to fix him with a stern eye.
'What happened to old Ferdinand's teeth?'
Merry was taken aback. 'Teeth?' he asked blankly.
'Oh, aye. They disappeared that last day you were in the Great Smials!'
'His teeth disappeared?'
'You know the wooden teeth he had!' the Thain said irritably. 'He had to have a whole new set carved, and he nearly starved to death waiting for them!'
'Must've taken a long time to carve, then,' Esmeralda said dryly. Old Ferdinand was one of the stoutest among her relations.
'I'm sorry, Uncle, I have no idea where his teeth might be.' After staying just long enough for politeness' sake, having drunk his glass of brandy a little faster than he normally would have, he excused himself and went to his cousin's room.
'Pippin,' Merry hissed. His cousin stirred and opened his eyes halfway. 'They haven't found the teeth yet!'
Pippin's eyes opened a little wider. 'Oh, aye?' he breathed. 'I was sure they'd have breached that barrel of flour by now...'
'Perhaps they baked them into a cake or something.'
'But who could have eaten them?'
'Oh, I don't know. Perhaps Reginard. His mouth's big enough.'
'Oh, aye,' Pippin breathed, closing his eyes again. Soon he was asleep.
As Merry put his hand to the knob of the study door the next evening, he heard uproarious laughter burst out within the room. He paused a moment, to hear his Uncle Paladin say, '...baked into a cake! ...should have seen Reginard's face when he bit into...'
Grinning broadly, Merry turned to go tell Pippin.
Only a few days after, Merry and his mother were surprised to hear raised voices coming from Pippin's room. They stopped outside the door to hear Pippin saying bitterly, '...then I want no part of it, or you, or Tuckborough. You can take all your grand plans and find someone else to be Thain after you!'
As Merry opened the door, he heard Paladin say in alarm, 'Peregrin? Pippin! Son!'
They entered to see Pippin lying rigid against his pillows, gasping for breath, hands pressed to his chest as he fought for air. Esmeralda pushed past her brother. 'Peregrin, lad,' she soothed, reaching out to stroke the curls back from his forehead. 'Steady now, it's all right, lad.' Merry ignored his uncle as he moved to Pippin's other side.
'What can I do?' Paladin said urgently.
'Haven't you done enough?' she asked coldly, but relented when she saw his face. 'You can go and fetch the healer.' She thought perhaps her brother would bridle and reply that he was no one's messenger lad, but to her surprise he nodded and left the room.
'What happened, do you think?' Merry asked when they had eased his cousin as best as they could, and he lay back against the pillows, breathing a little less raggedly, but spent and limp.
'I think the son has disinherited the father, for a change,' Esmeralda answered, her eyes on the cool cloth she was using on her nephew's face. She looked up at her son with an unusually grim expression. 'If my brother has done my nephew some mischief, they will indeed have to find someone to be Thain after him because I will strangle him myself!'
She saw the surprise on Merry's face, and shook her head. 'My brother has always been willful,' she said softly. 'No one could ever tell him what to do.'
Merry couldn't help smiling as he glanced down at the bed and back at his mother. 'Sounds a lot like someone else we know.'
His mother did not smile in return. 'Peregrin does not have the strength he needs to fight Paladin right now,' she murmured. 'I do not want to see his father break his spirit.'
Merry shook his head in protest. 'That's not possible! Pippin?'
But his mother's gaze was steady, and he felt the stirrings of unease as the healer entered, saying, 'What mischief is this, then?'
Pippin slept the rest of that day, and through the night. When he awakened in the morning, his aunt was smiling in the chair by his bed.
'Good morning, lad. You're up just in time for breakfast.' She tucked a cloth under his chin and picked up bowl and spoon. 'Now I want you to eat every scrap of this lovely custard.' He grimaced slightly and turned away. 'Come, lad,' she coaxed. 'You must eat. You need all your strength if you're to keep defying your father.'
Instead of smiling at her joke, he looked back to her face and she grieved at the hurt in his eyes. He shook his head. 'He has always clutched so tight,' he whispered, holding out a trembling hand and illustrating his words with a clawlike grasping motion. 'He won't stop until he has squeezed everything out and there is nothing left of me!'
'You won't let him do that, now will you, lad,' Esmeralda soothed. 'Come, now, eat this lovely custard whilst it's still warm.'
He shook his head. 'I'm not hungry.'
Esmeralda put on a firm tone. 'Eat the custard, lad,' she repeated. 'Or would you prefer some lovely porridge instead?'
'I hate porridge,' he protested.
'I know,' she answered.
He sighed and took the spoonful she offered him.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.