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Falcon, The: The Adventures of Peregrin Took: 16. Look Homeward, Hobbit
So it was. He had come to this place the long way about, and before he knew it, had become part of a legend.
When the rift in the sky closed, the shaking and tremors stopped, sparing the city of Sakhara from catastrophe. The Stairway, however, was not so fortunate. Pippin led his companions up through the rockslide that had been the south face of the structure, Brogar carrying Leah, past the wide-eyed stares of the onlookers who had there been gathered. Pippin heard the soft cries of the Sakharans: Horus, Horus, the Falcon of Heaven is come, and Seth is defeated.
“What are they talking about?” he asked under his breath to Leah. But Leah was still weak, and shook her head.
“I’m sorry!” said Pippin. “What do you need?”
“I think she is only tired,” Brogar said. “Don’t worry. I have her.”
Pippin could see that. He was surprised and happy to see Brogar alive, and little worse for wear, which was more than could be said of the moving statues he had fought. He smiled and nodded at his old shipmate, and was not aware that he had clenched his jaw until it began to hurt.
They went out into a sandy courtyard south of the Stairway a safe distance from the main structure. The groaning of stone and cracking of brick had accompanied them out of the Star Chamber, and now they stood and beheld the collapse of the structure, its walls too steep and too damaged by the rift to continue to support itself. Whatever other mysteries Alatar had kept within his mechanism was now buried along with the dust of his physical form, the body of the cursed and redeemed Zosir, and the serpent Apep.
“All’s well that ends well,” Pippin said quietly, though he was certain not everything had ended yet. Horus, Horus, he could hear around him. The Sakharans certainly could fix their attention on a person when they wanted to.
It was there that Mery and Poclis, riding up from the city with Iset upon the Queen’s chariot, found them, along with Obed and a guard of Medzhaim, and it was there that once again Pippin was reunited with his most trusted friend in Far Harad.
“Razàr,” Poclis said warmly.
“You were right,” Pippin replied. “We would see each other again.”
“And so we have.” Poclis examined him. “You are glowing faintly.”
“Am I?” Pippin asked. He hadn’t realized it. The touch of a Silmaril was not easily doffed, it seemed. “Well,” he said to Poclis, “you should have seen me earlier. I was shining,” he added cheekily.
Pippin told him what happened. Maglor and then Leah, who had recovered some strength, expounded on the events. As they listened, Iset and Mery grew pale and then flushed and their eyes grew wide as orbs.
“So the Dawnstar is … gone?” Iset asked.
“It was assumed into the heavens,” Maglor said with a tone of finality. “If it will be found again, it will not be here.”
Iset nodded. “So we have come to the end of Sakhara as it has always been,” she said sadly. “Woe unto me to lose both husband and home all in one day …”
Mery came to support her. Poclis said, “Have no fear that we intend to remain. I came here not to conquer.” Obed said nothing.
Pippin, moved by the sorrow of the beautiful queen in her warrior’s garb, went to her and knelt on one knee. “My lady,” he said as a knight of Gondor should, “I pledge all my strength and ability to help you rebuild your city and your land anew. Every end is also the start of a new beginning.” He added impulsively, “I’ll stay as long as it takes.”
Iset approached him, tall and stately despite the stains of war upon her white dress. She bent down and touched Pippin’s shoulder. “You have already done more than I could have asked, Peregrin son of Paladin. Your deeds against Seti and Seth himself have become a tale growing into legend swift as the River’s flood. It is we who should thank you for your part in the deeds of this day.”
“I only did what I thought I had to do,” Pippin protested.
Iset smiled. Then she rose, and held out her right hand to Mery. Mery approached with a small golden rod, bent at one end, and tipped there with a small feather. Iset took it and crossed her bent arm across her chest, and then extended her arm and held the tip of the rod with the feather above Pippin’s tousled curls of chestnut and gold.
“This is Peregrin, the Falcon of the West,” she said solemnly, in a great voice. “Vanquisher of Seth, foe of Al-Atar, who touched the Star and shone with the light of the Sun and the Moon. May he ever be recalled by all who dwell in the Valley in the midst of the Desert, through all the ages as long as the gods are honored. In the name of Horus the Hawk of Heaven, I say this, Iset, Queen of the Valley of the Star.”
And from the Sakharans gathered came the acclamation, ringing in the clearing air of a coming evening: “The Falcon of the West!”
“O Sihorunebi m’Hobengo!” Poclis shouted, and the Bani nearby took up the shout.
Obed and Leah and the Erites said nothing, but bowed to Pippin.
Brogar winked and did so too.
Pippin realized he was shaking. Me? All for me? He began to smile, filled with pride.
“I shall make a song about this,” Maglor said.
Suddenly Pippin found himself thinking of the Field of Cormallen. Hail the Ringbearer, he thought, seeing Frodo’s pale, pensive face amid all the adulation. The haunted old-wise eyes like tumbled bits of sky. His pulse quickened, his temples throbbed, and he began to sweat from every pore of his skin.
He whistled for Tempest, who came like a black bolt from wherever she had waited. With a smile and a stuttered “Excuse me, thank you all, I need to … see to … something,” he climbed up onto the mare’s back and was off like a thief in the night.
“Where is he going?” Mery wondered aloud.
Poclis sighed shortly. So did Leah.
“You cannot hide from them forever,” Poclis advised him.
They were in the chambers provided for Pippin by Iset in the Queen’s House. Pippin has asked for a small room in the smaller House rather than in the grand King’s House that now stood empty. The Queen’s House was more familiar, and much more like a home than a court. The room was similar to the one he had first woken up in, when he had been taken to Sakhara: painted walls, high carven bed, simple table with vessels, and a pair of long, narrow windows at one of which he now stood, peering out.
“They’re still there,” he sighed to Poclis, speaking about the small crowd of Sakharans and Bani who daily gathered in the court by his window, hoping for a glimpse of him. Sometimes one of the priests of Sakhara would lead them in chants to Horus.
“It’s just like what happened with my cousin Frodo after the War of the Ring,” Pippin said. “Everywhere he went, it was Hail Ringbearer this, Our Savior that; he ended up shutting himself in his room writing his book.”
“I would like to read your cousin’s book.”
“I’ll have a copy made,” Pippin offered offhandedly. He looked back out the window and winced. “I hear Maglor, that Elf? He’s going about the city singing about what happened. All too flattering of me too. He’s just making it worse.” He sighed. “They don’t really think I’m a … what, demigod? Do they?”
Poclis shrugged. “They saw their city come to the brink of destruction under the rule of a dark and evil force. They saw you defeat him. They already have a story of how this boy-god Horus battled his uncle Seth for rule over the world. It has only been confirmed by what they saw with their own eyes.”
“They did not see it with their own eyes,” Pippin averred. “They heard it from someone, who heard it from someone, who heard it in turn from someone standing on the rubble of the Stairway not knowing what they were seeing.” He shook his head. “I don’t mind adulation, not at all,” he said, stepping away from the window, “but adoration is another thing entirely.”
He went and joined Poclis at the table, where the remains of a small breakfast lay unconsumed. Pippin hopped up onto the table, picked up a crust of bread, and chewed it, swinging his legs absentmindedly as he used to do as a lad.
“Do you think the Queen and Mery are in love?” he asked.
“Love may have little to do with it,” Poclis answered. Pippin offered him a piece of bread and he took it and chewed it carefully and swallowed before continuing. “Iset is now alone, and although she is a great woman, ruling queens seem rare in the history of the Valley as they are anywhere else in Far Harad. Mery is the captain who remained loyal to her. If she wishes to reward him for that, so be it.”
“I hear she plans on making him vizier,” Pippin shared. “I hear the King’s Guard isn’t too happy about that.”
“The battle between the two regiments was hard,” Poclis said, “and wasteful. Good blood was spilled, and bad blood kept.”
“What if she marries him? And makes him Pharu?”
“It has been known to happen. There will be some strife yet in the Valley, I think. I hope not to have anything to do with it. Once the city is rebuilt, I shall lead my people hence, all who wish to return to the Plains.”
Poclis’ face was firm, even stern, and commanding. Pippin looking at him thought of the grave and intimidating pirate’s mate he had met many months ago, and was filled with affection and admiration for his friend. He was always pleasantly surprised at the hidden greatness that could be revealed in the unlikeliest of individuals.
Poclis said, “I truly think there is affection between them.”
“Iset and Mery.”
“Oh, yes. You do?”
“It isn’t difficult to see, Razàr. The captain is devoted to his mistress, that is clear as the sun. The Queen, for her part, responds to this devotion. It has been my experience …”
Pippin leaned back onto the table and clasped his hands together behind his head and looked up at Poclis. “What has been your experience, Poclis?” he asked in mock seriousness, earning a smile from his friend.
“My experience,” said Poclis, swatting at Pippin as if he were a pest (Pippin said “Ow!” and curled up with a mirthful expression) “is that women value one thing over a length of time: the constant devotion and loyalty of a man. The man who gives his heart completely often wins a woman’s heart in return.”
He allowed Pippin to consider that for a moment. In a while they heard chanting begin under the window from the people gathered outside. Pippin groaned, covered his face, and turned away.
“Hiding yourself away only makes them more convinced that they are correct about you,” Poclis advised. “Before long you’ll find you have become a legend attached to this old myth.”
From his position Pippin uttered another groan.
“And who knows,” Poclis added further; “perhaps in a way they are right.”
Pippin bolted upright. “Don’t you start,” he threatened.
“It seems you were led here from before you began your journey,” Poclis pointed out. “And in your company I have seen many wonders, great and small. If the people of the Valley say that the Falcon of Heaven came to deliver them from the darkness of Seth; if my people say that the Rainmaker came to deliver them from the Eye; and you, in your own way, did these things in fact; would we not have cause to think there is some fate that led you here, to accomplish these things? You have lived up to your name, Ràzanur, traveler in distant lands. Perhaps you were led here. Perhaps none of this could have come to pass without your presence.”
“Perhaps the sun’s gotten to you,” Pippin added.
Irritably Pippin nodded. “Yes, yes; when you put it that way, I suppose it looks like I was doomed to come here.” He wriggled his furry toes. “And doomed to go whence…?” he added under his breath.
Then he darted a sly glance at Poclis. “I thought you didn’t believe in any of this stuff. Divine intervention. Impossible occurrences.”
Poclis gazed back at him for a while. Then he said, “Impossible things happen sometimes. I’ve seen it.”
Recognizing his own words, Pippin blushed, and fell silent, and listened again to the hymns to Horus.
Leah walked down the corridor in the Queen’s House leading to Pippin’s room, her left arm and shoulder bandaged and bound tightly to her side, her face showing her irritation with being injured. In her other hand she held a bowl of figs.
She glanced at Brogar, who had appeared from a side alcove. “Good morning,” she replied. “Were you waiting in ambush for me?”
“Only a fool would try to put one over on you,” the Easterling replied.
“Put one over?”
Leah smiled. “Only one would dare try,” she said, and increased her pace.
Brogar kept up. “Is that breakfast?”
“That is a lot of fruit for such a slim young woman.”
Leah stopped and turned, her lips curled up at the corners. “Corsair, is there something you seek from me?”
Brogar’s face flushed. “… I’m sorry,” he said. “I shall not bother you anymore.” He bowed and left.
Leah bit her lip. She exhaled shortly, and resumed her course.
She ran into Pippin.
“Pippin,” she said, flustered.
“Hello, Leah,” Pippin greeted her. He looked at the food. “What’s this?”
Pippin beamed. “Lovely! Actually I’ve already had breakfast, but it’s very kind of you to send me second breakfast.”
“Have I never explained about second breakfast? I’m on my way to see the Queen. Why don’t you come with me?” Pippin took the bowl in one hand and Leah’s arm in another and gently steered her back the way she came.
Leah begged off seeing the queen, saying she had a headache. Pippin, concerned, asked her if she wanted to go back and lie down. “Do not mind me,” she answered. “I shall come to you later.”
“You will?” Pippin asked in hopeful surprise.
Leah gave him a look. “To visit.”
“Oh,” said Pippin meekly. “Yes, please do.” He frowned as he watched her go, and put it out of his mind and went back about his business.
Iset was in the Temple grounds, he was told, supervising the repairs of the old building scorched by fire during the battle. Pippin pulled his cloak close about him and did his best to remain unnoticed and unseen as he crossed the empty courtyards and pillared lanes that led from the Queen’s House to the Temple grounds. Even so, he was spotted briefly by some of the worshippers of Horus, who immediately called out “It is the Falcon!” and chased him. Pippin had to hide himself behind a carved stone and wait for the crowd to rush by before being able to continue on his way to the Temple. All the while he was shaking his head. This had gone too far and he was quite fed up with it.
The Temple site was noisy with building work. Pippin found Iset with Mery, architects and priests under a feathered canopy at one corner of the Temple Court. The Queen looked up as he jogged over and smiled and reached out for him.
“Peregrin,” said Iset. “I am glad you are here. Come and see the great things we are creating.”
Pippin allowed her to lead him to the canopy. A model for a larger, more complex Temple stood on the table, next to reed scrolls containing diagrams and images. He smiled at Mery and more uncertainly nodded at the architect and the priests, who were peering at him with probing eyes.
“Ma’am,” he said, “I was hoping to speak with you.”
“Let me show you what we are doing,” Iset said. “Then we shall talk. You see, with the help of the Plainsmen and the fresh start we were given, we shall build a Temple to surpass the old one that burned. It shall be of brick and sheathed all in white limestone, shining in the sun like a new Star. A four-sided column tapering to a point shall stand there, where the old Altar was, and upon it shall be written the great events of recent days, especially yours. How does that suit you?”
“That’s actually, ah, what I wanted to speak with you about,” Pippin said. He glanced at the others, and then asked, “May I speak with you in private, ma’am? For just a moment? I promise it won’t take long.”
Iset looked nonplussed, but nodded. “Certainly, Pippin. Captain, supervise,” she added to Mery. “Come, walk with me.”
“What may I do for you, Pippin?”
Pippin took a deep breath and said, “It’s the people, milady, to be perfectly honest. The way they look at me.”
“Has anyone been discourteous?” Iset demanded.
“No, no, not at all,” Pippin quickly denied. “It’s not that. Quite the opposite, in fact.” He paused, and then said, “The things you said about me, on the day of the battle, back at the Stairway. I don’t mean to be a bother, and I am exceedingly grateful and gratified for all the favors you’ve showered on me—no hobbit would say no to comforts!” He laughed nervously. “But a hobbit would say ‘wait a moment’ when it comes to the kind of attention I’ve been getting.”
“But Razàr, they wish to honor you. You are a hero to three nations for defeating Seti, and, from what I am told, the incarnate power of Seth himself.”
Pippin shook his head. “No, it was just an enchanted statue, not a, a god or whatever you think it was. And I didn’t defeat Alatar. I gave him what he wanted.” He shrugged. “He just wasn’t prepared for it the way he thought he was.”
He stopped, and looked the Queen straight up in the eye. “I don’t want to be treated as anything other than what I am: a hobbit and traveler, who did what he felt he had to do, and managed to make it out of that mess alive. I’m not a messenger or … a magical creature or a Power or anything like that. I’m not this Horus fellow at all. I’m a hobbit. An unusual one, I grant you, but a hobbit in the end.”
Iset listened and then shook her head fondly. “It both warms my heart, and perplexes my mind, that one so honored would be so uncomfortable with the praise that the people feel is his due. But let it be as you say. I shall decree that you shall no longer be addressed, admired, emulated, venerated or adored, in the bounds of the Valley of the Star. Will that be agreeable to you?”
Pippin smiled, embarrassed by her humor. “Yes,” he said. “I am happy to be of service, milady. I don’t mean to say not. I still hope to help you in whatever you need to do here, before I go.”
“Ah,” said Iset. “Yes. Do you plan to leave soon?”
“Soon enough,” Pippin replied. “I expect Leah will be wanting to go back to her people now she’s almost well, and Brogar will ride with me to Umbar and then east. I plan to take the long route back to the lands of the West, around the bay to the north of here.”
“I have no knowledge of lands to the north, and the city of Umbar is but a rumor to me,” said Iset. “But if that is your road then may it be a swift and safe one.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Pippin said, bowing, thinking he was dismissed.
But he had not gotten far when Iset called him back. “Before you leave,” she said, “I would ask you to do something for me.”
“What is your bidding, my lady?” Pippin asked formally.
Leah coughed as a mound of dust rose from the volumes she had taken, removing them from their shelves blackened with age and bringing them down to the table where, surrounded by scrolls, ink, books and scribes, Pippin sat reading aloud.
“Here are the last of the records,” she said.
“Stop!” Pippin said in Sakharan, one of the words he’d learned, and the scribes ceased their work, or went on to filling in some of their notes into fuller pictures and diagrams. Making sure they truly had all ceased, Pippin said to Leah, “I can’t believe I’m nearly done.”
Leah gazed at the piles of writings upon the long, low table. “You have been more dedicated to this task than I could ever have given you credit for, Pippin,” she admitted in admiration. “I could not have found the patience to read aloud all the writings left behind by the old sea-kings who founded the Valley kingdom. You are quite a scholar.”
Pippin shook his head. “I’m no scholar, unless scholarship is being able to read something aloud. Iset asked me if I could help transcribe the Númenórean records in Tengwar and Cirth into spoken Adunaic, so the scribes could translate it into Sakharan. I, of course, said yes immediately, because I always leap before I look.”
“I had noticed that.”
“Haven’t you. So here I’ve been. Reading harvest records, battle records, construction texts, chronologies, births and deaths, wars and treaties …” He groaned and rubbed his eyes. “Three weeks. Can you believe it? And we can’t do this outside because the sunlight would destroy the old texts.” He looked around the dim hall of records. “But it’s important work, I know. And there are some wonderful stories, true stories real and imagined, in here … someone has to make sure they’re retold and remembered.” He sighed. “What time is it?”
“Afternoon tea,” Leah answered lightly.
“Is it?” Pippin cried. “That tears it. You all—I’m going to have some tea,” he said to the scribes.
The scribes frowned at him.
“I shall go hence and take a morsel to strengthen myself,” Pippin said in Adunaic. “Do you also the same.”
Pleased, the scribes praised his name, folded their tablets and rolled their scrolls, and filed out of the room.
“You are a kind and generous demigod,” Leah observed.
“Aren’t I, though.” Pippin let out a clean breath and hopped off his stool. He stretched, yawned, and rubbed his belly. “Mm,” he said. “Have tea with me?”
“It is coffee and cakes in the terrace,” Leah informed him. “I would be happy to join you … if you do not mind that Brogar joins us.”
“Brogar?” Pippin repeated, following Leah to the door and into the courtyard of the King’s House. “Why is he joining us?”
“Because he is your friend, he is the Queen’s guest,” said Leah, “and I asked him to.” She became serious. “There is something I want to say to both of you.”
Pippin stopped. He looked at Leah with new understanding. “You want him with you,” he said.
Leah also stopped, and turned, and nodded. “I do, Pippin.”
“I know he likes you,” Pippin went on, feeling himself flush. “I didn’t know you returned his feelings.”
Leah paused before replying. When she did, her eyes were fierce and her tone brittle. “I am not certain yet, but I think that may be. He is … kind, and does not try to stifle me. I like that. That is why I wished to spend some more time with him. To see what lies between us, if anything.”
Leah looked around. They were in a brightly lit path in the middle of the King’s House courtyard. “This is not the place to speak about this. Come. Let us talk over a meal.” She firmly squeezed Pippin’s hand and without another word he followed her.
A small cloth was laid upon a terrace near the chambers Pippin kept in the Queen’s house. Upon it were plates of small cakes, some fruit, and flagons of water, as well as a pot of fragrant coffee brewed from beans Leah herself had undoubtedly brought with her. Brogar was there, waiting for them. He smiled and poured them cups, but quickly noticed their expressions.
“Should I go?” he asked them, glancing from Leah to Pippin.
It was Pippin who answered. “No,” he said. “She wants to say something.”
Brogar sat back on a cushion, and then looked hopefully at Leah.
Leah sat down gracefully, and then began to unwind her veil and headscarf. Length after length of sheer black cloth folded into her hands until her hair, neatly bound back behind her, was clearly visible. Deftly she flung the folds back over her head and let them settle there, her face open to them both.
“I am a woman unsworn to any man, except the Prophet of Er, my father,” she began. “For many years, since I was forsworn by my husband, I have chosen my own companions, and I have made my own path in the world. I have been happy so. Happy enough.”
Brogar made to rise. “Perhaps I should go.”
“Please, do not go,” Leah asked him, looking up at him. The Easterling flushed so deeply Pippin almost smiled, and did as he was bid.
“Thank you,” said Leah. She took her cup and sipped. “As I said, I thought I was a happy woman, and free. And I looked with scorn upon those girls of my acquaintance who were kept by husbands, and worn by children, and thought their world circumscribed by the pegs that held their husbands’ pavilions were full and fulfilling. I was not them. I had a horse, and wide spaces, and I rode them all as they came to me.”
She sighed, and seemed older than her twenty-some years. “Yet I rode them alone.”
Leah’s glance fell on Pippin. “I thought I could go through life without needing to stop for more than a moment; fall for a passing traveler, and then move on.
“But you cannot do that all your life. There are distances that cannot be surmounted on a steed, and challenges that do not fall to swords. I dreamed of a man who would be worthy of me. A man who would not chain me, but bind himself to me, and be my mate in all things. A man who would stay.”
Leah rose, and looked long and openly at Brogar, who had turned both white and hopeful, as if he had come upon a ship laden to overflowing with pearls. But she went to Pippin, whose red-gold head was bowed, and who was struggling to contain the most unhobbitlike tears.
“Do you see, dear one?” she said to him, cupping a cheek and an ear in her palm. “This is what I learned from our time together. And we are much alike. Do you not think I have found wisdom, in what I have now said?”
Pippin looked into her face, and her beautiful eyes, and her resemblance to his wife, though unreal in anything physical, came strongly to him.
He hugged her. She held him, feeling him cry. To her surprise, the hobbit began to laugh instead. Pippin pulled away and looked up at her, and his face was one bright shining smile.
He swiveled around and said to Brogar, “So I guess you’re not leaving with me?”
Brogar could only stare at them, befuddled but not displeased.
When Pippin finished with the transcriptions and translations, after nearly five weeks of work, he presented the completed works to Iset and her court with all the scribes. “May this be a credit to the library of the City of the Sky,” he said formally, “that the lore and learning of the past be preserved into the age to come.”
Afterward he joined Iset and Mery at a meal of celebration. “I have seen some of the papers,” said Mery. “It is great work you have done for us, Peregrin. I dare say it is almost as great as what you did against Seti.”
“I was pleased to do it,” Pippin said good-naturedly, then grew almost serious.
“I admit at first I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into,” he told them, remembering. “I was never good with books or scholarship of any kind until more recent years, when I started to comb through the libraries of the Shire for lore about Númenór and Far Harad. There’s precious little of it, and a lot of it like the old texts you showed me: brittle, or water-stained, or moldering, all sorts like that. I never knew what sort of treasures of knowledge and wisdom could be found in old books like that, until the Queen gave me the task. Even the dullest list of records had meaning, if I looked for it hard enough.”
“Perhaps when you return to your home, you can do for your land what you have done for us,” said Iset warmly. “Save old books and old scrolls, old wisdom, for the age to come.”
“A library, I think is the word,” said Mery.
Pippin smiled, not the ingenuous smile of his youth, but a deeper, wiser one, filled with the hope of satisfaction in a task that asked to be done well.
“I think that’s a good idea,” he said thoughtfully. “It seems right to me. After all, what else did I come all this way for?
“I went into the world to discover all I could; to find out, as far as I had it in me, the names of all things that came to me, on the earth and in the sky and across the sea. I’m no author, no chronicler like my great kin. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that there are stories out there that need preserving, that need to be kept and tended, and passed on; like the flowers and trees my friend Samwise grows. If—no; when. When I return to my home, I shall do all I can to preserve these stories, and pass them on; into this Age as long as it lasts, and into Ages to come.”
So it came to pass, that the rebuilding of the Temple of Sakhara was completed by the rising of the last moon of the year that in the West was called the 12th of the Fourth Age of the world, or 1431, Shire Reckoning. And the Temple was of brick sheathed in white limestone, and it shone like a trove of silver and pearl in the sunlight, bright as the Star that had gone.
Peregrin Took, traveler in distant lands, stood with Leah of the Erites, and Brogar of the East, and Poclis at the head of hunt-leaders of the Bani, and Maglor the Elf who sang a song of light; and they came to Iset Queen of Sakhara, to honor Zosir her husband, and send him into the Afterlife, at dawn.
And ere dawn came Iset raised a crooked stick, and held it to the lips of an image of the Pharu wrought in gold; and so the Sakharans believed that the mouth of the body of the king was opened, and his spirit, his ka, flew free, into the deep shadowed waters of the world of the spirits. The woman Leah wept and smiled, for the touch of the enchanted king had healed her, and despite his monstrous form, she had been well-kept in the kindness of his eyes.
Then Iset the Queen declared, “Behold the Temple of Horus!” as the hour of the rising of sun came, and there was light on the horizon.
The light reached across the desert and down a cleft in the eastern cliff, and illuminated the Temple by a pair of windows at both ends of its length; and the great images on its sides were revealed: a Falcon, bearing the golden disk of the Sun upon its head, and the black and silver boat of the Moon in its talons; and a Star shone within its breast.
And Pippin saw it, and shook his head, as his friends teased him; but he applauded, and let out a whistle, and all who saw him feared him not as something divine, but as all he was: only one small, lively, and utterly winsome soul.
Pippin stood upon the black mud of the bank of the River where he had first set foot upon Sakharan soil, and let the warm breeze from the north waft his hair and cloak and clothing.
He was going home. He had done everything he had hoped to do, accomplished everything he had decided—and, considering he had hoped for little and decided nothing, also achieved much, much more.
He had crossed an ocean and set foot on a forbidden isle.
He had crossed plains teeming with animals as numerous as birds in the sky.
He had seen a city built between cliffs, and learned the heart of a desert, and seen the light of the Two Trees. He had learned about what love was, and what it wasn’t; and now hoped he could make something of what he’d learned.
He was ready now to go home. Home, he had found, was not a place on a map but a song in the heart. No matter where he wandered, he would always find it there.
On the way back to the Shire, the hobbits and Gandalf has stopped by Rivendell, to see Bilbo again. Pippin had been fearful of what shape they’d find the old hobbit to be in, and when he saw him, he was saddened by what age had robbed from his cousin. But Bilbo had been happy to see them all again, especially Frodo, and Frodo certainly comforted Bilbo and cared for him while they lingered there.
When after a fortnight Frodo decided it was time to leave, Bilbo gathered them to his chambers to give them parting gifts. Pippin, ever eager for gifts, found himself surprised by melancholy as he watched Bilbo putter around, a gray and wrinkled hobbit as old as the books that surrounded him.
Bilbo had given gifts and advice to Frodo, and a bit of gold to Sam, for his “marriage” which made Pippin wonder and Merry smile. When their turn came Bilbo had nothing to give them but some advice.
Pippin felt a bit nervous, stepping forward, a tall young soldier-lad not yet of age, towering over the aged adventurer, wondering what he would say. But there was a twinkle in Bilbo’s blue eyes, bright and young, as he spoke.
“Peregrin Took,” said Bilbo, as if it were a title and not a name. “You are a journeyer now, with all the Tookishness of our family brimming brightly like quicksilver in your eyes. It could lead you astray! But even if you strayed. Even if you stray. Even if you find yourself out there hunting for your great adventure: do not scorn hobbits, who choose to stay behind. They may not know what you will want to know. What a mountain really means when it’s called high. What a sea really means, when it’s called deep. They won’t know what you will know. So tell them. Tell them! Make them know.”
And instead of a kiss, he placed his weathered hand on Pippin’s forehead, as Merry and Sam and Frodo watched. “Bless you, Peregrin,” said Bilbo Baggins, and Frodo Baggins nodded and approved.
Then Bilbo winked. “Don’t get too big for your hat.”
Now, halfway back from a journey that took him almost a world away, Peregrin Took closed his eyes and thought of Bilbo Baggins. “I’ve done it, cousin Bilbo,” Pippin said secretly to the sky. “I’ve been to the other end of the world. And now I think I’m ready for a new adventure. Finally, I think I’m ready for that.”
The eastern cliffs across the River were reddening in the westering sun as the heat of the day gave way to the long calm twilight of the stars. Pippin walked Tempest along the sands and looked up to gaze at his friends who had come to see him off.
“You repaid my offense with aid uncounted,” said Mery. “May that dagger you carry always recall to you the City of the Sky.”
Pippin nodded. “Good-bye, Captain.”
“You are a hero we did not think to look for,” said Iset. “Know that the song of the Falcon will always resound in the Valley, until the River flows no more.”
Pippin bowed. “I am honored.”
“Well,” said Brogar. “Good-bye, mate. When you get to Umbar, stop by the 16th pier. The ship will be docked there. Say hello to the captain for me.”
“I will,” Pippin said with a smile. “Live long and happy, mate. You’ve found your treasure and your home.”
“I hope the same goes for you, soon,” was the reply. Brogar smiled, and then gave way to Leah, letting go of her hand.
Leah gazed down upon Pippin for a long time. Pippin looked back at her. Neither of them said anything. What else was there to say? If it had been love, or something like it, then it had been like a well in the desert; the thirsty had to drink.
Then Leah knelt and Pippin embraced her, his cheek pressed against the fabric of her veil.
“I’ll never forget you,” Pippin said to her quietly.
“As I shall not forget you, Pippin,” Leah replied. “Make it right,” she whispered fiercely.
Pippin nodded without hesitation. “I will!”
He came to the black-cloaked form of the Singer. Maglor smiled and held his hand, letting Pippin feel once again the hard, ancient, powerful flesh, and the old and faded scars. “You stepped out of legends,” Pippin told him.
“You have stepped into them,” Maglor replied. “I shall sing of you.”
“And I of you,” Pippin promised. They bowed, and parted.
Finally he stood before the tall, immense, dark form of Poclis, his face impassive as always, looking down on him like a giant would gaze upon a child.
Poclis held out a piece of carved ivory. “For your friend. A piece of oliphaunt’s tooth, engraved with the Two Mothers and the thorn tree of the Plains.”
Pippin gazed at it in happiness. “He’ll love it,” he said, tucking it into his vest pocket. “I wish I had a gift to give you.”
“You have given me more than enough,” Poclis calmly replied. He smiled. “Remember me to the captain should you find him.”
“I certainly will.”
Pippin nodded. “Well.” He looked down, his tears were so close, and then said, “Thank you, Poclis. For everything.”
Poclis nodded. He said: “Razàr.”
Then he seized Pippin and lifted him up so that Pippin could throw his arms around the man’s shoulders and embrace him there. The tears Pippin held back could be held back no longer.
Pressed to the man’s ear, Pippin whispered, “I’m a lucky hobbit, to keep finding such friends in my life.”
“Lucky?” questioned Poclis. “Lucky is not the word. I would say… blessed.” And he laughed, and Pippin laughed with him, as he returned to the ground for a moment.
Farewells complete, Pippin gazed at the people who stood before him. They were not all here; he hoped to see Obed, at least for a moment, before going on the road to Umbar, and then, perhaps, in the City of the Corsairs, find that ship that he’d called home. But this was the most final of goodbyes, for all that it was first. He would likely not see these people all again, and likely not in this place, between the desert and the valley and the city and the sky.
“Well,” he said. “It’s been fun!”
They laughed at that.
The Sun slipped behind a dune and the stars blazed out upon the shield of the heavens. Pippin mounted Tempest and seized her reins. His laughter had ceased, but his deep smile lingered. Tempest was excited, almost skittish, as if she knew a run, a good long run, was ahead of her.
Pippin leaned close to her ear. “Remember those endless roads we’d try, girl?” he asked her softly. “Let’s see how to follow them home!” And he told her to run.
Tempest gave a neigh and a kick and then leapt forward into the west, Pippin holding onto her back, his hair and cloak blown back by the speed. Just as he left Pippin gave only one glance back, at a tall man standing athwart the sky, and a slight young woman whose veils rippled in the wind, both their hands raised in farewell.
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