Change One Thing, See What Happens

Lie Down in the Darkness, Rise up from the Ash

42. Accounting for East and West

"The Black Gate?" Pippin repeated, a bit blankly as the import (and the horror) sank in.

Meanwhile, Legolas was saying: "How many will march?"

"Not many. This is a diversion, not a serious challenge, as well you know, and we must hope that the Dark Lord takes the bait we offer him," Aragorn replied. "From among the men brought north from the southern fiefs, Denethor's City Guard, and the Rohirrim, we ought to be able to raise six thousand. I will not take more, for there are other tasks we may set them to."

"Such as?" Legolas demanded.

"Holding the city, should Sauron send his armies across the river to try Minas Tirith again, for one. And for the other, we want as many who may be able to fight another day, if given the time, to have that day. The wounded for whom there is hope and any remaining men we can spare must therefore depart, and go either south or west, for Minas Tirith will not withstand a second siege, and there will be no one to break it."

"And should the City fall?"

"Then command passes south—that has long been known in Gondor. The Council is headed by the Prince and his heirs in the absence of the Steward. Legolas," Aragorn said, his voice hardening a bit, "I do not believe there is much more to concern you, but I will ask you one question: will you come?"

The Elf smiled faintly, the fey gleam lighting his green eyes. "I will," he replied. Then: "I have brought Pippin. I shall take my leave." And with that, he turned and walked out. Pippin shivered as he passed, reaching without thought to hug himself against this news that raised gooseflesh upon his arms. The Black Gate... and Legolas glad to go to it! Of a sudden, it was as if he were standing once more upon the Paths of the Dead.

"Pippin," Aragorn's voice pierced his unhappy reverie, and it was much softer now, as the Ranger sank down to kneel before him. Grey eyes looked him up and down for hurt, and then he said: "How do you feel this morn?"

"Sort of cold all over, inside and out," Pippin replied, truthfully.

"I am sorry about Merry. If it helps, I doubt he felt much."

Pippin shivered again. "I'm not sure... um, maybe we could not talk about what happened too closely, Strider? He's gone. That's all that matters."

Aragorn gave him one of his intent stares, but then nodded. "As you wish. Do you want for anything?"

"No, thank you, I've been seen to. The Rohirrim fed me breakfast, and a couple of us kept each other company. That boy who rode with Merry—Greta—we talked a bit. Seems a nice lad. I told him stories since his head was hurting him," Pippin replied. He was babbling now, and he knew it, but in the face of Aragorn's concern and the recent announcement of their new destination, it helped steady him.

"That was kind of you. I fear he suffers from the knowledge of what he could not prevent."

"He was feeling rather guilty. But I think he'll be all right. W-will he be one of the ones going home, Strider?" Pippin asked.

"Aye. Now that the Morgul-spell and Black Breath have no more hold on him, he is in little danger. He will not shoot a bow again, most likely, but he could, if needed, swing a sword," Aragorn replied.

"That's good news, then. Are we really going to the Black Gate?"

"Yes, we are," Aragorn said steadily.

"And we're leaving the day after tomorrow?" This time, the other simply nodded. "I... see."

Aragorn grunted. "Pippin," he said, "I sent a Ranger to the ships this morning, to see how Halbarad was faring and hear the news from the healers on our numbers. He came back with a story from Halbarad about trolls that matches very nearly with what I saw on the field yesterday. I tell you this because I wish it to be clear: I do not doubt your courage, or that you have done what many a grown and well-trained warrior could not have in that moment. Very few can claim to have slain a troll alone." Aragorn paused a moment to let that sink in. "And make no mistake: I am grateful beyond words that you saved Halbarad, and I fear I can never repay the debt."

At this, Pippin shifted uncomfortably, feeling his cheeks blaze with embarrassment. "There's no call to be talking of debts," he began, but trailed off into silence before the other's look.

"You may not feel so, but I am in your debt. But," he said, "that debt is not what earns you the question I will ask. 'Tis the same as I asked of Legolas, and you have earned it, in word and deed. Will you go east with us?"

Will I go? Pippin asked himself, turning it over in his mind. And he wondered at himself a bit, for he thought he likely ought to say 'yes' immediately. Isn't this what I wanted? he demanded of himself. Didn't I want to go with Frodo, even to the very end? And isn't this as close as I'm likely to get? And I fought not to be left behind! So why was 'yes' not coming?

Aragorn, at least, did not seem displeased by this hesitation. "If you need time to think on it, take it. 'Tis not a decision that should come too lightly, for if you will go, you must know: there is little hope that we shall return, and that being so, we may not count upon it. It is as I told the lords of Gondor and Rohan: if we do this, it is because we must try to keep the Dark Lord's eye upon us, and not upon what moves in his own land. We must at least try to present him with a puzzle, one that will speak to his desires and his fear, if he has any. We are offering ourselves as bait, and we do not expect to live to see deliverance, should Frodo succeed."

"And you're taking how many men with you?" Pippin asked, trying to fathom the enormity of this gamble.

"Six thousand. Very few, if you think of how many were arrayed against us even here at Minas Tirith. We will march against the very gates of Mordor, where you may be assured there are many more guarding them." Aragorn paused, then said, "Quite frankly, I would rather you rode west with the Rohirrim and the Grey Company's wounded. They would take you through the Gap and back to the Shire, where you could ready your own people, should Sauron conquer all the south and move to take Eriador as well. For you know now that hobbits are much in his mind, and would bear a great weight of wrath should he move North. Already, Rivendell and my people are under attack by Orcs who have taken the High Pass, and by trolls; the Dark Lord may not need to wait until Gondor and Rohan fall to strike out against the Shire."

Which ominous pronouncement was news to Pippin, who swallowed hard. "How do you know this?" he asked.

"Halbarad brought the news south with him. You should know it, for it concerns you, and if you do march east, you should know the larger state of affairs. And should you choose to accompany us, rest assured, I will send the Rangers to warn the Shire, though I know not how effective they would be, given the distrust in which we are held in the Bree-land and beyond. But," Aragorn said, "I will not command you to come. This is no ordinary battle. So take the time and think on what you would do. Tell me your decision by tomorrow night, that is all I ask."

"All right. I can do that," Pippin managed. Then, thinking of concerns conceived in the night: "Can I ask you a question, Strider?"

"Please," Aragorn replied.

"Is Merry going to be," he drew a deep breath, and forced the word out, "burned?"

"If it is your wish, then that can be done," Aragorn replied. "But Théoden King told me this morning that for those of Éomer's company who fell to the Nazgûl, he intends to have them buried together in a mound before the city gates, even if not with their horses. The Rohirrim prefer it thus. Denethor is willing that this be done, and Théoden has said already he would gladly lay Merry to rest with his people, in recognition of his deed." He paused, then said: "I told him that that seemed fitting, but if you would rather not—"

"No, no, that is... that is good news. Very good," Pippin said hastily. "Is it... would it happen soon? Before anyone left the City?"

"There are already a number of men working to dig the grave," Aragorn replied.

"I should like to be there, that is all."

"Then you shall be. And if you have no more questions, I must meet with the captains and their lieutenants to determine who will go east. And I think perhaps you could do with some rest, Pippin." It was a gentle enough suggestion, but it was as if the very word 'rest' had brought a weariness down upon him. Pippin felt Aragorn reach and steady him as he swayed a bit. His hand warm upon his shoulder, the Ranger guided him to a corner of the tent and sat him down.

"I'm sorry," Pippin murmured around a sudden yawn. "You should go and speak with those captains. I can see to myself."

"It's a matter of moments," came the response, and then the sound of blankets being shaken out. "Here, come lie down."

Pippin obeyed, crawling onto the covers, and another blanket was laid over him. "Someone will wake you when the Rohirrim are ready. Until then, sleep if you can," Aragorn murmured.

"Mmph," was Pippin's response, as his eyes drifted shut.

Aragorn stood in the tent, watching him a little while longer, and then, with a soft sigh, departed.

****


Several hours later, Pippin was awakened by a familiar voice calling his name and a hand upon his arm.

"Mm... Legolas?" Pippin squinted up through sleep-bleary eyes at the Elf, who was squatting on his haunches before him. "What time is it?"

"Time you rose, if you wish to join Théoden and his men for the barrowing," Legolas replied. Pippin felt his heart speed a bit at that, and he hastily stood, tugging at his clothes and running a frantic hand through his unruly hair.

"I wish you had come earlier, then! Going to a funeral like this—!" He hastily redid the buttons on his vest.

"You have some little time yet. And there is water," Legolas said, rising smoothly to go and fetch the basin and ewer.

"Are you coming, too, then?" Pippin asked, as he availed himself of it.

"Aye. Aragorn shall be there as well, and the Lord Denethor, and many Riders, as I understand it. 'Tis to honor many, after all, that this is done, and Aragorn mentioned something about a belief that the honored dead guard crossways and thresholds in Rohan. I had not heard of that, but it seems there may be some rite," the Elf said, watching as Pippin dug about in Aragorn's pack and came up eventually with a comb, which he applied with ruthless speed to try to tame the curls.

"There," he said at length, returning the borrowed item to its proper place. "I suppose I'm as presentable as can be. Shall we go?"


Although Legolas had warned that there might be a crowd, Pippin was not quite prepared for the press of men that had gathered by the ruined gates. The circle of Riders, shields and spears and swords quite in evidence, must have been six men deep, and it was a sizable circle. Had he known, he was looking at the better part of an éored—the survivors of Éomer's regular command along with Riders representing other Eastfold levies—, a respectable honor guard drawn from Théoden's Riders and the Westfold levies, and a contingent of Gondorians from the Steward's household. There were a few grey cloaks standing with Aragorn—Grey Company Rangers, and as Legolas escorted him through the ranks, Pippin felt very small indeed.

Théoden, however, noticed him, and inclined his head slightly. Pippin bobbed a short, awkward bow in response as he went to stand beside Aragorn. At the center of the circle was a pit, and peering into it, Pippin could see a number of bodies, all of them now with their cloaks drawn over their faces. At the center lay one whose gold-bordered green cloak marked him for one of greater rank than the others, and beside him was a small, grey-shrouded figure.

Merry! Pippin swallowed past the lump in his throat, just as King Théoden stepped forward and began to speak, and for a time, Pippin listened, lost, to the Rohirric. But then the king paused, and began again, this time in Westron:

"When Béma breathed life into the world, he created the winds that flow ever over the earth. Freely they blow and bless the plains, the mountains, and all peoples, quickening the breath within us. But they remind us, too, that life is swift and cannot be long bound to mere matter.

"This day we come to honor those borne away from us to the King of Winds, to the arms of our fathers, who watch over us who remain. Let them look kindly upon this earth that they fell defending, and upon those who tend it with honor. We name them now, and commit to their guardianship the ground hallowed by their blood."

Walking then to one end of the pit, he drew his sword and stood with it hovering over one body, and declared: "Harding Halbanessunu."

"Fer thu hál!!
" the Riders cried, and struck sword to shield, or else spear to earth. Théoden moved to the next man.

"Ébor Ethingessunu."

"Fer thu hál!"

"Léofric Léodessunu.
"

And so it went on, call and response, until the king came to the man laid at center.

"Sweostor-sunu mín, thridda láttéowa Éomer Éomundessunu."

"Fer thu hál!
"

And then at last, he turned to the small grey form, and looked directly at Pippin. "I must beg leave to speak more of this last one," he said, shifting suddenly once more to the Common Tongue. "For he rode unheralded among us, and perhaps to look at him, one might imagine that small stature meant less strength. But though he came among us a stranger, he stood with us as a brother, and has acquitted himself with such honor as a king could hardly hope to claim." Théoden paused a moment, then continued:

"He stood by my son, and now he shall lie by my son, for they faced the Dark Captain, and would not bend. Meriadoc Saradocessunu thære Shiremearce."

"Fer thu hál!"

"Hier ús, Béma,
" Théoden intoned, and then commenced, not to speak, but to sing, and within moments, all the Riders had joined him, voices rising in a swell of sound. Pippin understood not one word of it, but that scarcely mattered. It pierced the heart, and the tears came before ever they reached the refrain or the first earth was cast upon the grave, and Pippin reached blindly for the well-used handkerchief stuffed into his pocket.

He felt Aragorn and Legolas close, felt their hands upon his shoulders, and wondered whether they wept, too, but he spared them no glance. He had eyes only for the grave being steadily filled in, for there were no lack of shovels, nor of willing hands, and it went far faster than he would have imagined for so many. Though they finished in silence, the afternoon was not yet spent when at last the gravediggers stood back, and seventeen spears, one of them borne by a grim-faced Captain Éothain, were planted about the mound, one for each of those laid to rest. Then Théoden stood forth once more.

"Thes is gedón. It is finished," he said. "Ferien ge hál. Ferien eall úre déathas hál."

"Géalágé!"


With that, at last, the Riders began to disperse. Pippin blotted at his eyes, aware of quiet commands being given over his head, of men milling about and speaking quietly with each other, of condolences, some in Westron, some in Rohirric or very haltingly in the Common Speech. He tried to nod or make some sign to the Riders, and even Rangers, filing past. Even the Steward of Gondor offered polite consolation.

"My condolences for your loss, Master Took, my lords," he said, including Aragorn and Legolas with a look and a word.

"And to you as well, my lord steward," Aragorn replied, as Pippin and Legolas each bowed courteously. Denethor inclined his head fractionally in acknowledgment, then swept away to speak with Théoden, no doubt to say much the same. Above him, Aragorn sighed softly, but then asked: "How are you faring, Pippin?"

"I'm all right, I'll be all right," he said quickly, and blew his nose. "It was just... the singing got to me."

"As it should, for it is made for such sorrow," said a new voice, and Pippin glanced up to see Théoden standing above him. The old king gave him a sad smile, then said, apologetically, "I am sorry that I did not ask you whether there was aught to be done for your... cousin, I believe I was told. Is there anything we may do to assist you now?"

"I do not think so, sire," Pippin said, and shook his head. "But I do thank you for what you said about Merry, and for giving him a place with Lord Éomer and your Riders."

"It was my honor," Théoden said simply. Then: "I do not wish to deprive you of company, but I would speak with Aragorn and Lord Denethor about a matter. We have the tally of hale Riders from Elfhelm's éored at last, and the news is better there than we had hoped when the messenger arrived this morn," he said, and Aragorn nodded.

"Then let us think how we should use them. Excuse us, please," Aragorn said to his companions, and signaled quickly to the Rangers standing a little ways away. Immediately, they began making their way back to camp. "Legolas?"

"I shall see Pippin whither he would go," the Elf said smoothly, and got what sounded like 'thank you' in Sindarin ere Aragorn and Théoden went to join Denethor, who was standing off to one side, waiting for them.

Which left Pippin alone with the prince, who said nothing, but only gazed questioningly down at him. After a moment spent contemplating the bustle and crowd awaiting him back in the camp, the hobbit asked, "Is there somewhere quiet you could take me, Legolas? And maybe without too many... bodies?"

"I cannot take you into the City, and it would in any event be a long walk to such places as I know there," Legolas told him, but he stood silent a moment, thinking. Then, seeming to hit upon an idea, he beckoned, "But I believe I may know a quiet corner. Come!"

Some little while later, having followed the city wall northeast a ways, then turned out into the field, Pippin found himself sitting on the stoop of a burned out cottage. The Orcs had torched it once the defenders had been driven back into the City, but though the roof was gone, and the stone walls were blackened with soot, the frame remained, and the yard, though littered with the debris of battle and broken tools or furniture, had been cleared of the dead at least. Pippin could imagine it might have been a pleasant place once. And it was blessedly quiet, a balm to frayed nerves.

For a time, Pippin simply sat there, staring down at the brown grass between his toes, soaking up the silence and such sun as a winter's late afternoon afforded, while in his head, he heard still the song of the Rohirrim. At one point, he found he was even humming snatches of the tune to himself. It seemed different with only one to sing it—bittersweet, but nothing a child might not sing to himself as he played or did his chores. 'Tis strange, he thought.

And he thought also of the choice laid before him—whether to ride out with the Rohirrim or march east with Aragorn and Legolas. Covertly, he glanced sideways at the Elf's shadow—Legolas had gone within the house, and but a little while later, had found his way to a seat upon the top of one of the remaining walls. He had not moved since then, nor spoken, seeming content to keep the silence. He was often silent lately, and though that might not mark a great change from the days before Parth Galen, there was that worrisome quality to his silence.

To say nothing of his words! Pippin reminded himself, recalling the recently overheard argument. For though he had not understood the words, he had not needed to to understand their significance. And there was the unsettling fact that he had heard his name spoken once or twice before he had slipped away. And Strider and Legolas are not easy about each other any more, he thought.

Yet quarrel or no, they would both march east to the Black Gate. And what of himself? He still could not quite come to a decision. Or at least, he could not quite bring himself to say 'yes' to Aragorn's question, and he sought a reason for that failure. Certainly he missed the Shire, missed Tuckborough and his parents, his sisters, and cousins, and all of his friends, and he worried about them. For they don't know what's coming, what might be coming. Someone should warn them, he knew. And Strider was right that folk at home would listen to him more than they would pay heed to a rather grim and frightening and certainly disreputable stranger.

Fatty would help me. He believed me and Merry when we told him about Frodo, after all, Pippin mused. And old Maggot—he would help. He's seen the Black Riders, knows right well they're not wholesome, that they mean the worst sort of business. He'd believe me. He'd bring the Marish with him, help talk sense to Merry's dad, and that would give us Buckland. He'd see the need as soon as he learned what happened to Merry, surely. Soon as he did, he'd help me explain it to my Dad, and that would be Tookland. I don't know about Hobbiton, but with Frodo gone and two of the three largest townsteads in agreement...

It could work, he thought. It could be done, and it might not even take so long to rouse the Shire, especially if the tale of the attack on the Prancing Pony had gone west. He could go home, get folks ready for the storm, if it came. He might even be able to stir up Bree.

Yet he could not quite settle upon doing it. For what about my friends here? The war is here, after all. Frodo needs us. Shouldn't I stay? he wondered, and wrestled with himself. He could go home, which in truth he wished to do, and rouse the Shire. Or he could stay here, and take up arms, even as Boromir had told him once he would do. And I know I can now. It's a lot of scrapes I've been through now, he told himself. Pelennor wasn't even the worst, in a way. Or at least, he had felt a little safer standing with the archers, watching the others charge the lines of their enemies than he had felt standing in that huddled circle on Parth Galen. Or in Moria. Or on Weathertop.

What's one more circle, then? he asked himself. It's nothing I haven't done before, and everyone will be better armed than the last couple of times...

And yet it was different. Would be different. He had done what he had had to do the other times, and things had happened so swiftly, there had hardly been time to think about matters. There wasn't much to think of, after all, when Orcs came swarming. But now... He had said he would go with Frodo, and he remembered his pert words to Master Elrond in Rivendell. And he remembered, too, the Elf-lord's reply to his dismay over the prospect of being left out of the Company:

That is because you do not understand and cannot imagine what lies ahead.

And he hadn't. Not even after Weathertop. He had perhaps begun to understand after Moria and Parth Galen; but Pelennor had still been an awakening. He thought he had not done badly—even Aragorn was willing to admit that—but having once walked straight into the fire, knowing it awaited, could he do it again? For now Aragorn's words joined Elrond's: There is little hope that we shall return, and that being so, we may not count upon it. Aragorn had not said that before Pelennor, or the Paths of the Dead. He had never said such a thing before. Too good a captain? Pippin wondered, recalling Halbarad's words.

Now, though... now was the hour when imagination had its revenge, the worse because he thought he might possibly understand now.

We're going to our deaths. This will not be a battle, it will be a slaughter! His friends were going to walk right onto that killing field... and he was being asked if he wished to join them. A great honor—the greatest; the sort of honor one only fully won by dying... A hideous feeling washed over him then, as if he could feel every bone in his body, every organ, every inch of skin shrink before the blows of too many, many weapons, and vivid, vicious imagination showed the wounds blooming already upon quivering flesh...

"Pippin?" There came a soft thud! and then Legolas was beside him, an arm about him against the shivers. "What is it? You changed suddenly."

"Do you ever think about what could happen to you, Legolas?" he asked, swallowing against an upset stomach.

There was a silence, but then: "Sometimes," he admitted.

"Then how do you bear it?" he demanded, gazing up distressedly at the Elf. "And you're immortal! You're not supposed to die!"

"No, Elves are not supposed to die. But we can be killed, and we can be wounded. One simply learns not to think too much of it. Think of other things—lying in the sun, perhaps," Legolas suggested, chafing Pippin's arms.

"But what about when you can't help but think it? What then?"

"Then usually, you feel sick and you shake and sometimes, you weep. And there is no shame in that. With time, you learn to bear with it until it passes, as it always does."

"Because you think of other things." Pippin squeezed his eyes shut. "Just like Bilbo said," he murmured, remembering, suddenly, the old hobbit's oft-given advice. "Think of pleasant things." He breathed in deeply, striving to make his mind go blank, to make room for other memories...

"I can't do it," he said after a little while. "I just keep seeing Merry, and the battle, and then—"

For answer, Legolas pulled him suddenly close against him, and began singing softly. And as Pippin listened, the strange melody seemed to steal through him like the scent of Tuckborough's kitchens through the warren of old smials; he felt his breath begin to come easier, and his stomach ceased its roiling, and he sighed with relief.

"What did you do?" he asked, marveling, when Legolas trailed off, still huddled comfortably against the Elf.

"I found the right song," Legolas replied.

Pippin blinked at this. "Can all Elves do that?"

"We each have our own art, that is all."

"Oh." Pippin let his eyes close again, wishing he could linger in the strange calm that had descended. But I only have until tomorrow night to decide, conscience nagged gently. Barely a full day! And he thought again of what Aragorn had told him: If you do march east, you should know the larger state of affairs. Which was why he stirred himself to say, "Legolas?"

"Yes, Pippin?"

"What were you and Strider arguing about this morning?" Pippin asked, straightening up so he could see the Elf. And when Legolas said nothing, only stared at him as if in puzzlement, he said patiently, "I came back at one point to try to get some sleep, but I heard you arguing. I didn't understand it, of course—you were speaking Sindarin. But I heard my name, and I just want to know: did I do something wrong?"

Legolas' expression seemed to clear a little, as he replied quickly, "No, of course not. Our argument does not concern anything you have done."

"Then why did you talk about me? What's the matter?" Pippin persisted.

And though Pippin would never have thought to see Legolas blush, he thought the other must be as close to it as ever an Elf came. But: "I apologize—I never intended that you should hear that, and it was likely an uncharitable retort to make. I fear we are somewhat at odds of late, Aragorn and I, but rest assured, it is no fault of yours."

"Well, I suppose that is good to know! But is there nothing I can do to help, then?" he asked. "We've been worried since Edoras, Merry and I. Or rather, Merry has been; but I've been wondering since we talked in Dunharrow. You've seemed..." He paused. 'Frightening' was probably not the thing to say, however true it might be, but he couldn't seem to find the proper word. "You've not seemed yourself for awhile," he finally said.

"I think all of us might seem strangers to ourselves at the moment," Legolas said smoothly.

"Yes, but—oh, all right, I suppose that that is so," Pippin conceded, brow furrowing. "I just don't like to think that if I stay here, you'll be by yourselves at the Black Gate when you have such a quarrel."

However, this confession did not elicit the response Pippin had expected. "If you stay?" Legolas repeated, and the hobbit found himself the object of an intense green gaze.

"I haven't decided yet," he said quickly, which did nothing to lessen the other's discomfiting attention.

"Pippin," Legolas said urgently, "there is no need for you to go to the Black Gate!"

"Well, there's a need for six thousand men to go. I expect one hobbit and one Elf wouldn't go amiss," he replied, aiming for a touch of levity, despite the queasy flutter the topic inspired.

"What would you even do there?"

"Stand in a circle and fight like the rest, I suppose," Pippin answered. Then, trying to forestall these objections: "Legolas, Strider explained it all to me before he asked if—"

"Did he indeed?" came the soft, sharp reply, as Legolas rose and moved a little ways away to stand staring back at the camp. And Pippin, seeing this, put two and two together at last.

"Were you angry with him for letting me come along? Is that why you were talking about me?" he demanded, rising himself now. For a long moment, Legolas did not answer. But then he spoke again, eyes still fixed upon the camp, and his voice was flat:

"There was no need for you to come to Gondor. It was a needless risk. Aragorn knows this."

"But I was the one who insisted on it," Pippin protested. "And I would have found a way anyhow. Merry and I had it all worked out with Éowyn, because we never thought for a moment Strider would agree to take us with him."

"And yet he did."

"Because I fought with him!" Pippin said emphatically. "I argued with him—I had to, to make him see I had to come! He did not want me and Merry anywhere near the war at first, but we didn't come on this quest just to stay safe while you taller ones went off to maybe get yourselves killed! We should at least be there with you, doing what we can. And I think we did right well this time, Merry and me, for not being much use."

"There is a difference between bravery and foolhardy courage, Pippin, and Aragorn ought to know it," Legolas began, and Pippin sighed loudly.

"Well I know it, too. And I'm the fool of a Took! I'm not likely ever to be wise, especially if I go with you to the Black Gate. Good thing that I wasn't allowed on this quest on account of needing wisdom," he said, feeling rather vexed by these responses. As if I had nothing to do with my being here!

"Pippin—"

"No, you listen!" Pippin lifted his chin. "I'll tell you why we were brought along, and you will have to listen, because Gandalf said it, and he was wise. It was not for strength and not for wisdom that we were chosen, but for friendship. So there's no use saying we're not strong enough or wise enough or brave enough to be warriors—that's not why we're here. We're here because we are part of the Fellowship, and that is what we do. We stick together through it all. That's what hobbits can do in a war like this.

"Otherwise, it's as I told Strider: I'm not one of the ones who needs protecting. Not anymore. So you don't need to argue over me. Nor over Merry, and he is my cousin, after all, not yours. And I'm not angry about it. I just miss him." He stopped then, hanging his head as once again, he felt tears begin to well up. He wiped at his eyes with the back of his sleeve, and then suddenly, he laughed a little, breaking the charged silence.

"It's funny," he said softly, "how things get clear all of a sudden, when you least expect it!" He sighed. "I'll take my leave now, if you don't mind. Think I'll go look for lunch if there is any. Don't worry anymore about me, Legolas—I'm all right. Or if you must worry about me, then mend whatever's the matter between you and Strider, and you'll have no more reason to. But for me, I have to think about where I'm headed the day after tomorrow."

So saying, he made the Elf a polite bow, then, hobbit-light, he waved farewell and left Legolas, standing still and silent, to his own thoughts.



In the end, he begged a bit of bread and some soup from the Rohirrim again, who were only too glad to share it with him. Apparently, word had got out quickly after the burial who he was, and the Riders were eager to praise the deeds of 'Meriadoc Sceaduhniter' to him. Which was touching, and he was grateful for the easy, open companionship offered (even if it was a tad too martial for his tastes), but eventually, he found himself back in the healers' camp, visiting Greta again. There he learned that the healers had decided he could try sitting up for a time, and even walking about a bit, so long as he had someone with him.

"I get dizzy sometimes," Greta explained. And then he smiled a bit, and said, "Thank you for coming this morning. All of us liked your stories."

"There's more where they came from, if you want them," Pippin offered, and was not surprised when the offer was accepted. Telling tales kept him through supper, which was brought for him again, this time by Master Æscher himself, who was now off duty, and as interested as the next man for something other than report of war. By the time Pippin bid them all good-night, lanterns and torches and braziers were being set up and lit.

He returned to the tent to find neither Aragorn nor Legolas were present, though he did find a note left for him from Aragorn, telling him to inquire of the Rangers or of Lord Borald's men for supper and anything else he might need, for Aragorn did not know when he might return. I wonder whether they have finished sorting all the men yet, Pippin wondered, and wondered again what he ought to do. He spent some time thinking about it, but eventually, wearied by the grimness of such considerations, he spread his blankets and burrowed beneath them. He was asleep within moments.

The next day dawned to an empty tent, and another message from Aragorn, this one delivered by one of the Rangers who had taken up standing guard for his Chieftain. "He bids you good morrow, and sends his apologies that he cannot remain, but there is much to be done before the march," the man said, and then indicated the Rangers' campfire. "There is still breakfast left, if you wish it."

"Thank you!" Pippin replied, and hastened to avail himself. The Rangers greeted him with their usual courteous spareness, but it was a surprisingly companionable breakfast for all that he probably heard ten words exchanged throughout. But afterwards, he found himself wondering what he ought to do. He did not much fancy running into Legolas again—not for a time, at least. He could visit Greta again, and a part of him was sorely tempted, for at least there he felt useful, and he had not to think always of the decision bearing down upon him.

But for that very reason, he thought he ought to stay away. I have to tell Strider tonight, he reminded himself. And as he stood staring up at the City walls, it occurred to him that he had not yet seen anything of Minas Tirith. And this was Boromir's home, he thought.

"Have any of you gone in?" he asked, nodding at the City.

"A few of us have," one of the Rangers, Melendir, replied.

"Do you think they would let me in?"

"Why would they not?"

"Well, Legolas said something about not being able to go into the City," Pippin replied, and watched a few discreet looks pass among the Rangers.

"That is another affair," said one of the older men. "You would be welcome. Only go to the Second Circle, if you have no business to pursue. The First Circle is filled with rubble."

Thanking them for their advice, Pippin at length departed, making for the gates. He passed by them, by the Riders' mound, and the guards, and thence into the streets beyond. There was, indeed, much rubble, and many a house smoked still. There were guardsmen going about, helping clear the roads or investigating damaged houses, and a number who seemed still to be putting out fires, for there was a line of men passing buckets down into the smoke-murky depths from a well that had somehow escaped damage. Kerchiefs and scarves covered most faces, and as Pippin watched, he saw a pair of men emerge carrying a shrouded form between them—apparently, there were still bodies to be found in the First Circle, and Pippin hastily looked away.

The Second Circle was much quieter, though there were a few tumbled buildings even there to tell of the siege. But not nearly so many, and there was no sign of fire. There were fewer City Guardsmen on the street, though he noticed a number of different colored tunics seemed to be about. All of the men, however, whether of Minas Tirith or some other, outland company, seemed akin in their anxious looks and they spoke in low, hushed voices as they went. Amidst the tall stony arches and imposing houses, Pippin was struck by how small they seemed, and how bright.

Indeed, all color seemed strikingly bright in this white city. There was a little lawn before a house that sat upon a corner, a patch of pale, startling green, shading to brown at the edges. A little further on, there was a small planter hanging beneath a window, with brilliant Yule roses poking their heads above the rim. Another home had gay yellow shutters, seeming like strange, square daisy eyes.

Who would imagine such a place at home? he wondered, as he wandered the streets, staring up at the elegant masonry. The Shire, with its broad, green verges and soft, spreading color, its low, friendly roofs, seemed very far away indeed.

And it may not be here much longer, if Frodo doesn't reach Mount Doom. None of this—Minas Tirith or the Shire—may be here much longer. And even if the Shire endured, Minas Tirith might not, if Aragorn were right. I think perhaps I understand poor Boromir a little better now, he thought, feeling a stab of kindred dread.

Frodo would find a way through the worst wasteland, of that Pippin was certain, if only because Sam would never stand for anything to hamper his beloved master. But armies were a different story. If the soldiers of Gondor and Rohan did not succeed, if they could not keep the Red Eye upon them, even at cost of their lives, there might be no home for anyone to go home to. Six thousand men...

The day wore away, and Pippin, tiring eventually of his wanderings, settled onto a great, squat stone planter at the center of a carrefour. There he settled, fingers digging into the cold earth, and watched as men flowed all about him, absorbed in their own tasks and heedless of him, heedless too perhaps of the numbers set down by each name on the rosters the lords and captains were even now drawing up. Six thousand names going east. Am I one of them?

The sun was low in the sky by the time Pippin abandoned his seat and made his way down to the First Circle, and to the gates, and he joined the traffic towards the camps. He ate supper with the Rangers, feeling a need to fortify himself somewhat against the evening's interview, then walked the short distance to their tent and peered inside. For a wonder, Aragorn was there, poring over a map. The Ranger must have caught sight of him from the corner of his eye, for he looked up as he entered, then straightened, seeing Pippin's expression.

"Pippin," he greeted him. "What news?"

"Well, I've decided," Pippin replied, drawing a breath and squaring his shoulders a bit. "I've thought about all you said, and... I can't do it. I'm going home."




Translation notes

All the OE vocabulary is from either: The OEME site, the Modern English to Old English Vocabulary page, or Catherine Ball's Instant Old English page. All grammar that is correct comes from the grammar pages of the University of Calgary's Old English site. All the incorrect grammar, conjugation, and possibly embarrassing vocabulary problems come from me. See below for what I was trying to have Théoden say.

"Sweostor-sunu mín, thridda láttéowa Éomer Éomundessunu."—My sister-son, Third Marshal Éomer, son of Éomund.

"Fer thu hál!"—Fare you well!

"Meriadoc Saradocessunu thære Shiremearce."—Meriadoc, son of Saradoc of the Shire-kingdom.

"Hier ús, Béma... Ferien ge hál. Ferien eall úre déathas hál." "Géalágé!"—"Hear us, Béma... Fare (all of) you well. Fare all of our dead well." "So be it!"

The burial rite of the Rohirrim has exactly two things drawn directly from the books: the joining of the recently dead with ancestral spirits ("The Battle of Pelennor Field," RoTK) and the burial of fallen Riders in a mound ringed with spears ("The Riders of Rohan," TTT). The idea that the dead might guard the places they died defending is drawn from Théodred's last command ("Let me lie here to guard the Fords until Éomer comes", UT) and the note in Appendix A, the account of the Stewards, where it is said that when Folcwine's twin sons died defending Gondor, they were buried in the same mound near the crossings of Poros, and that this seemed to deter Gondor's enemies from crossing the river.

Other notes:

I don't have access to books currently, save electronically, which doesn't give me any page numbers. Page numbers will be added later, when I have the chance to look these up in the more traditional manner.

The title for this chapter is drawn from Butterbur's Bree proverb: "There's no accounting for east and west...", "At the Sign of the Prancing Pony," FoTR.

Think of pleasant things.—line taken from the Rankin-Bass version of The Hobbit. (Thank you, Marta, for the assist!)

And I'm the fool of a Took! —See "A Journey in the Dark," FotR.

It was not for strength and not for wisdom that we were chosen, but for friendship.—"I think, Elrond, that in this matter it would be well to trust rather to their friendship than to great wisdom. Even if you chose for us an elf-lord, such as Glorfindel, he could not storm the Dark Tower, nor open the road to the Fire by the power that is in him. " See "The Ring Goes South," FoTR.

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.

In Challenges

Story Information

Author: Dwimordene

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 09/01/10

Original Post: 06/06/02

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