As Good As You
1. As Good As You
The bedchamber was lit by the fire burning in the large fireplace and a small lamp on a table by the bed, the subtle light giving a rich glow to the red curtains and covering on the bed. In the bed lay a grey haired elderly hobbit. He reclined upon a good many feather pillows because laying flat on the bed was no longer tolerated by his lungs or his heart. It was not his last day on Middle-Earth, no, not his last, but he knew there would not be many more. It was as it should be, he mused as he began to awaken. His dear wife, dearest of his heart, had gone on before him a year ago. Yes, he thought, as it should be. He had already been too long without her.
He became aware of a weight upon his right hand and slowly opened his slightly clouded eyes to see who was at his bedside this time. A smile gently curved his lips as he looked at the head of golden brown curls that lay on the bed near his arm. A young hobbit sat in the chair beside the bed with his torso stretched out on the bed in slumber. The lad’s hand rested atop the elder’s hand; smooth skinned young fingers curled around dry wrinkled fingers. He couldn’t see the lad’s face, but he didn’t need to. His own dear boy, his Peregrin. No, that face was in his mind, forever clear, whenever he needed to see it.
His lad, his boy. Paladin chuckled lightly to himself. No, a boy no longer. Pippin, despite his still boyish looks, was now a hobbit full grown with a little lad of his own. But then, Paladin thought, why shouldn’t his son look boyish still, ‘He is only forty-four years old!” he thought to himself. Forty-four; the thought lingered.
Pippin’s head lifted up a bit as he turned it to the other side and he startled as he suddenly found himself looking into his Father’s eyes. Pippin sat up and stretched without releasing his hold on Paladin’s hand.
“How long have you been staring at me?” Pippin asked and then covered his mouth while he yawned.
“Less time than you’ve been lying there asleep.”
Pippin smiled. “Always good at stating the obvious, Father.”
“Then I’ll say this as well.” Paladin’s smile faded. “It’s been awhile since you’ve been in to see me, or at least been here when I have been awake. Pearl tells me that you ask if I’m asleep and come only if I am.”
Pippin let go of his Father’s hand and lowered his gaze to avoid Paladin’s eyes.
“Have I wronged you in some way, Pippin? Have I said or done something amiss that has made you fear to be near me when I’m awake?”
“No, sir” came Pippin’s muffled reply.
Pippin lifted his head a little and spoke a bit louder. “No, sir”
“Then what, son?” Paladin reached over and placed his hand on Pippin’s shoulder. “I’ve missed seeing you, I’ve missed hearing your voice.”
Paladin drew in a sharp raspy breath and then started to cough. Pippin quickly looked up and he reached to steady his Father. He turned to the bedside table and poured a bit of water into the glass that sat there, then he held the glass to his Father’s lips.
“Here, Father. Little sips, now. Just little sips.”
The fit of coughing passed and Paladin lay back against the pillows. He smiled a wry smile. “And which one of us is parent to which?” He said and turned his head to look at his son. “How many times, Pippin? How many times have I held the glass? Have I been the one reminding you to drink in little sips?” Paladin looked off into the distance and sighed. “And now you say those same words to me.” He closed his eyes. “Why haven’t you come when I’m awake?”
Pippin returned the glass to the table. He rested his elbows on the table top and rested his forehead on his upturned palms. Finally, speaking loud enough for the elderly hobbit to hear him, he answered. “I fear what you will say to me. I don’t wish to hear it.”
His Father nodded slowly and took a few long deep breaths. “It’s as I thought then.” Paladin said quietly. “Not quite ready to talk about my death and your future.”
Pippin’s shoulders started to shake as his tears fell freely down his cheeks to drip onto the polished wood of the table. “I’m not ready.” He said as well as he could with the shortness of breath the crying brought. He cried for awhile, remembering his Mother’s passing and dreading his Father’s passing that was soon to come. “I’m not ready for either. I still need you and . . .” Pippin paused to draw a deeper breath to calm himself. “I’m too young to be Thain.”
Pippin felt a trembling touch and looked to see Paladin leaning toward him just far enough to rest his hand on Pippin’s shoulder.
“Not ready?!” His Father said and smiled. “Not ready; what then, Pippin, did you expect. That I would live forever like one of your Elven friends?”
Pippin looked from the hand on his shoulder to his Father’s eyes and then he looked away and again rested his forehead in his hands. “No.” He said loud enough for Paladin to hear, yet quietly still. “No, I know you are not one of my Elven friends. I knew this time would come. And yet I had hoped it would be farther off.” Pippin looked up and stared into the flame that burned steadily inside the lamp on the table. “I should have been here. I should have been at Great Smials, not living at Crickhollow with Merry. At least we should have moved here after he became Master of Buckland. I should have been here learning about my future duties, instead I stayed away.”
“I wondered about that myself, Pippin. Why have you stayed away?”
Pippin continued to stare at the flame as he searched for his answer. Many different reasons passed through his mind before it fixed on the one he felt was the base on which the others rested. “I feared losing myself.”
He turned to face his Father. “I discovered a different Peregrin Took while I was gone away on the Quest. One who could think for himself and think about the needs of others. I found there were times when my foolishness and jests were good and helpful, cheering people whose hearts were failing them, and I learned when to hold my humor in check. I found that I could make decisions, important decisions, and make them quickly and well. I feared I would lose it all if I came back home. Here I would be ‘little Pippin’, everyone’s pampered favorite.”
Pippin dropped his gaze. “Here you were in control and I would be a child not a mature hobbit. Here you are Thain and that is how it should be.” He brought his eyes back to his Father’s. “But now, well . . . what do I do now? I can handle my life and my own little family, but now I’m to be the Took. I’m supposed to be the head of the whole extended family of Tooks. And now I am to be Thain of the Shire, a possition that is increasingly important because a King, whose knight I am, sits again on the throne. My opinion will be sought on matters that affect not only the Tookland but the whole of the Shire!”
Pippin reached out and clasped his Father’s thin hand. He looked beseechingly into the tired old eyes. “I am not ready, Father! I’ve no idea of our holdings. I’ve no idea of what needs doing. And I’m too young! There’s never been a Took and Thain younger than fifty-six, and I’m a full twelve years short of that. I should have talked to you, I should have been with you.” Pippin leaned forward, closer to the current Took and Thain, “I’ll never be as good as you.” he said and let his upper body slump dejectedly onto the bed.
‘Too slender still, for a proper hobbit.’ thought Paladin as he gently rubbed his son’s back and shoulders.
“When I was declared Took and Thain,” Paladin said quietly, “Old Ferumbras III had told me nothing. Not a single word. I knew nothing of what had gone on before me.”
“Nothing?” Said an insecure sounding voice from the younger hobbit.
“Nothing, Pippin. Then I found that nothing was indeed what Ferumbras had done. Everything had been neglected. It seemed that all of those long years of bitterness toward his mother, Lalia; you remember her Pippin? Lalia the Fat we all called her. Well, Lalia held forth that, as she had survived her husband, the duties of the Took should be hers. And though she let her son bear the title of Thain, it was well known that she allowed him to do nothing at all. Well, he was so bitter that when she had her accident and died, he continued to do nothing.”
Paladin sighed and sadly shook his head at the memories of his first few years as the Took and Thain. “No one had cared for Lalia’s running things, Ferumbras had done nothing and the Tooks had lost all confidence in the Took and the office of the Thain. Records had been kept poorly or not at all. Old disputes remained unsettled. The Great Smials and it’s holdings were in disrepair.” He moved his hand to tousle his son’s hair. “And the opposite of you, Pippin, I felt too old for the task.”
Pippin reached up to take his Father’s hand. He brought it to his lips and gently kissed it, than sat up to look at Paladin. “I’d never thought of you as being too old, Father, though now that you say that I recall that there were only two others who were older than you when the titles came to them.”
“Yes, Pippin, only Isengrim III and Isumbras IV were older than I was. Old and incompetent was how I felt. And so little of my life had I even known that the title would be mine! It wasn’t until Ferumbras turned ninety that we truly accepted the fact that he would leave no heir and that the Thainship would pass to me. I was seventy-three before I even began to think of what it would mean to be Thain.” Paladin smiled at Pippin. “You were sixteen then and I made sure you knew that someday it would all come to you.”
Pippin’s head drooped. His eyes closed and his teeth clenched as a pained look came to his face. “ ‘ . . . it would all come to you.’” he repeated. “It comes to me and I’ve no idea what I shall do with it.” He shook his head. “The time I have had to think on it . . . well, I haven’t. You have been such an excellent Took and Thain, I fear that whatever I do it will disappoint everyone.”
“Look at me Pippin.”
The younger Took raised his head to look his Father in the eye.
“Can you see me clearly, Pippin?”
Pippin wasn’t quite sure what sort of question this was and did not answer.
“Lad, can you see me clearly? Do I look blurry to you, hazy out of focus?”
“No, sir. I can see you clearly Father.” The answer was hesitant and Pippin seemed unsure of his Father’s mental stability.
“Fine, fine.” Paladin then drew in a good breath. “And can you hear me, Peregrin!” He bellowed, causing his son to jump.
“And now?” Paladin whispered.
“Yes. I can hear you just fine. Are you feeling alright Father?”
Paladin leaned back against his pillows with a grin on his lips and one eyebrow raised. “I’m alright, Pippin. Although I have my doubts concerning you.” The old hobbit chuckled . “I feared you had gone blind and deaf while hiding away in Buckland. How else could you think me so excellent a Took and Thain.”
When no answer came from Pippin, Paladin looked over at his son. He nearly broke into a fit of laughter. His son looked nearer to a fish out of water than Paladin had ever seen any hobbit look. Pippin’s mouth hung open and his eyes were huge.
“Close your mouth son,” Paladin said, “before your teeth fall out.”
Pippin closed his mouth with a click of his teeth as they met. “That is better. What makes you think I’ve been such a wonderful Thain?”
“Be . . . because everything is in order, Father. The Tookland thrives and hobbits come from the other farthings to seek your advice. You kept the Tookland safe during the Occupation of the Shire. How can you suggest you are not an excellent Thain?”
Paladin sighed and looked at the portrait of his dear wife that hung upon the wall beside the bed. ‘How do I do this, Eglantine?’ he asked her in his mind, “How do I tell him of my failings and take his pride in me out of his eyes?” He sighed again.
“Apparently, you’ve not seen the shaking of heads nor heard the gossip in the taverns and inns when the talk turns to Tookland and her Thain. Things are in order because that, and that alone, is my gift, my son. I can run a tight and prosperous business. I took the disgraceful mess that Lalia and Ferumbras left behind them and set it to rights. But there is more to being the Took and Thain than business, Pippin.”
Paladin looked away from Eglantine’s portrait to look at his son. “I’ve never been good with other folks, Pippin. Shy and uncomfortable, both your dear Mother and I. That was why I had chosen to be a farmer, lad. The crops and the livestock were where I felt comfortable. I straightened out the business of the Tookland, yes. And word of my good head for business spread as things improved here. But I seemed, to our people, to be hard and cold; I made few friends, Pippin.” He reached for Pippin’s hand and held it tightly. “Unlike a son of mine, who with his Brandybuck cousin, has friends from one end of the Shire to the other.”
“But surely, Father . . .”
“No, Pippin. I might have their respect, but I’ve not their affection. And I nearly lost their respect during the Occupation.”
Pippin was having trouble with all of this. “But you held the Tookland against the ruffians. You stood up to them. You were the only one who did!”
“I condemned us to death, Pippin.”
“Pippin!” Paladin’s voice was tight and his breathing had become ragged from the strain he felt at having to force his son to face the truth. “Think on it, Pippin. Think on it hard, lad! None got in at us after we killed three of the brutes for stealing our crops and supplies. But, Pippin, none of us got out either.”
The room grew quiet as Paladin let his words have their effect. Pippin’s bright green eyes slowly grew wide and round at the thoughts in his head. He saw it clearly now.
“Yes, dear one. By my words, by my actions, I made our home a land under siege.” The old Took and Thain stared off into the shadows. “We had stores enough for that first winter, but the ruffians kept encroaching on our lands. They would set the fields aflame and then move their watch closer in. By Lithe things were getting dire, Pippin. Only half of what had been sown had been allowed to grow to ripeness and the stores in Great Smials were nearly exhausted. Parents were going hungry so their young ones could eat.” Paladin stopped to draw a few breaths. He kept his eyes fixed on the shadows in a far corner; he feared what he would see if he looked into Pippin’s eyes.
“Then September was drawing to a close and that Sharkey came. The ruffians grew bolder and closed in even tighter, yet they were content to not attack. They had need to do nothing but keep us cut off from the rest of the Shire.” Paladin shuddered and his chin dropped to his chest. After a few moments he finally looked Pippin in the eye. “We could send no aid to the rest of the Shire and they did not know of our need. We would not have survived the coming winter, dearest son, if the four of you had not returned when you did.”
The cloudy hazel eyes sought to read the feelings showing in the clear green ones. Paladin saw amazement and shock and sorrow. He sighed with relief. He had been afraid of seeing disgust and disappointment in his son’s eyes.
Pippin put his arms around his Father and gently drew him close as the older hobbit began to cry. Once again their roles appeared reversed as the two wept together and the son rubbed his Father’s back, tenderly holding the grey haired head to his shoulder.
“I didn’t realize, Da, I did not see it.” Pippin used the endearment he hadn’t used since he was a little child. “You did what you thought best. You had no idea of strategy. What Hobbit of the Shire had any experience dealing with such treachery? You did what truly seemed best at the time.”
Paladin pulled back a bit to look at his heir. “And that, dearest, dearest Pippin, is my advice to you. Take what comes and give it your best.” He smiled and gently touched his son’s wet cheek. “You fear being unprepared and that you are too young. Yet you tell me of a hobbit named Peregrin Took that you found upon your Journey who sounds as though he would make a grand Took and Thain.” Paladin motioned for a handkerchief, wiped his eyes and blew his nose. “How did you describe this new hobbit to me? Can think for himself. Can make sound decisions. Gives care to the needs of others. Knows when to be light hearted and when to put jesting aside.” He wrapped both of his frail hands around one of Pippin’s hands and stared firmly into Pippin’s eyes. “That hobbit sounds as though he would make a fine Took and Thain of the Shire, does he not?” Paladin patted his son’s hand affectionately and smiled. “I’ve heard as well he’s a popular young hobbit and that he has himself a fine wife who has experience with running a good hobbit home and a business of her own, as well as her family’s holdings. As I see it, as the Thain and his Mistress, they would be a match for anything that might come upon the hobbits of the Tookland or the Shire. Maybe even be of service to that Brandybuck cousin of his who is the Master in Buckland.” Paladin grinned broadly.
Pippin had gradually sat up straighter. With a determined light in his eyes and set to his face, he looked every bit a “prince of the halflings” as the people of Gondor still called him. More to the point, he looked every bit a capable head of the Tooks and Thain of the Shire.
“You are right, Thain Paladin II. That Peregrin Took doesn’t sound too poor a candidate for the task after all.” Pippin proclaimed while looking lovingly at his dear Father. “Just might do justice to his titles after all, if he will spend some time with the current Took and Thain learning what he should have learned long ago.”
“I think that can be arranged.” Paladin said closing his eyes as Pippin stood to better settle him back upon the pillows and tuck the blankets around him. “You will need to make an appointment, of course.”
“Of course.” Pippin replied after he kissed his Father’s forehead. “I’ll see to it first thing in the morning.”
Paladin softly smiled and whispered, “You’re sounding Thain-like already, my dear lad.”
As Paladin II, Took and Thain of the Shire fell into a peaceful slumber, Peregrin Took, heir to those titles, sat back down, held the old hobbit’s hand and, with a new confidence growing inside him, quietly resumed his vigil.
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.