3. A Grain of Truth
Pearl explained to their parents about Pippin's black eye and swollen nose. She breathed a silent sigh of relief when they agreed it was just a bad accident that he had taken a tumble from the pony trap and that he wasn't to blame for fooling around. They sent for the healer, just in case. The healer decreed that he be excused school for a week at least, certainly until the swelling had gone down and his eye opened up again.
"He's going to get very fretful all alone and missing school and his new playmates," Pearl told her mother, "It's a pity there's no one that could come and keep him company, someone that would cheer him up."
"Pearl, if you want me to ask Meriadoc over to keep Pippin company," Eglantine smiled, "just say so. "
"Well it will keep him out of other mischief," Pearl pointed out, "You know how Pippin gets when he's bored."
"Oh and you think that would be improved by having Meriadoc around!" Eglantine exclaimed. "Together they're more trouble than pack of winter wolves."
"Or a pair of cave trolls." Pearl added.
"Or a brace of fire dragons." Eglantine agreed, laughing. "I believe he is actually staying in Hobbiton at the moment, with Bilbo. I suppose we could send Rube over with a letter today. It's early enough, he can probably ride back with him tomorrow, if he's not busy." Eglantine looked back down at the letter she was writing. "Why don't you go and tell him."
"Yes Mamma," Pearl agreed, but she did not move. "Mamma," she began, not too sure how to broach the subject. "You know those stories about Papa and how he inherited the title of Thain?"
"Which stories are these exactly?" Eglantine put the pen back down and looked up again. "The rubbish about us only having Pippin so Papa could be Thain?"
"Well yes… and…" Pearl was embarrassed at having mentioned it.
"And that nonsense about us buying Pippin from a poor hobbit lass in the Far Downs?" Eglantine sighed deeply. "Pearl you know that what they say in the ale houses and in the markets is just spurious gossip."
"I thought so Mamma," Pearl wondered if she should push any further. "But why do people talk like that?"
"I know we've never discussed it in the family, but… well…" Eglantine laid down her pen and sighed, searching for the right words, "… there is a grain of truth in the rumours."
Shire Reckoning 1389
"Come in Paladin, I'm glad you could come, I need to talk to you about something." Ferumbras III was always a good host and kept a wonderful table. Paladin Took also enjoyed, for a short while anyway, the rather strange phenomenon of a household with no females.
"It's a pleasure cousin, always an honour to be entertained by The Thain." Paladin knew that Ferumbras found the title more of an intrusion into his life than something to be proud of, but manners dictate his status be acknowledged.
Although Ferumbras had said it was on an important matter that Paladin had been summoned, dinner was taken with no mention of the business. For that Paladin imagined it was, some venture or trade to do with his farm. Maybe a suggestion that he try to grow pipeweed again.
There were ten people at the evening meal, all male, they were various business associates and friends of the Thain and the company was witty and lively. Ferumbras kept an excellent table and enjoyed the bachelor life.
In spite of hobbit clans' propensity to live in close proximity, when his father, Fortinbras II, had passed on and his widow, Ferumbras's mother, Laila Clayhanger inherited the title of The Took, Ferumbras had moved into his own Smial. He had found his position as the new Thain of the Shire at odds with his mother's place at the head of the Took clan.
But that was not all, Ferumbras had no time for females. He never sought their company and, at best, tolerated the society of his aunts and own mother. Parties and functions were a nightmare for him. As Thain, he was pursued relentlessly by eligible lasses from every part of the Shire and, whilst manners decreed he could not be openly impolite, he found the conversation laboured and their company less than satisfactory.
Once the sweet ruby wine was passed to the left and moved clockwise round the table, stopping once more in front of Ferumbras, the host poured Paladin another large glass and saluted his health.
"Now to business," Ferumbras stood from the table, excused himself temporarily from his other guests and bade the servants take good care of them. Then he beckoned Paladin to follow him. They sat in the study and lit their pipes and smoked for a while in silence.
"It is a delicate matter," Ferumbras began at length. "But I wish to beg a boon of you and your wife Paladin. It is a thing I do not ask lightly and I understand if you refuse."
"Well you can do no harm in the asking, Thain." Paladin blew a smoke ring to the ceiling. "How can I be of service?"
"Ah yes, 'Thain'," Ferumbras swigged a mouthful of Port, "That is my problem." He paused to see if Paladin would try to guess his problem, but when he did not, continued. "You know me, Paladin, I'm not one for lasses. Although the female side of the family are not sympathetic to my feelings in that respect, they think I should marry."
"Well you should." Paladin agreed with the females on this occasion, "You need an heir. Who will be Thain after you? Have you decided?" In Shire tradition, if there was no direct heir, the incumbent Thain had a certain amount of discretion in planning the dynasty.
"As a matter of fact I have." Ferumbras drew a paper from his waistcoat pocket. "Here it's all set out. In the first instance, of course, Paladin it's you."
"Yes but there's no good in that." Paladin protested, "I have no sons, nor am likely to have now. You should find yourself a healthy young lass, one that'll make you some bairns and not complain about whatever else you get up to."
"I thought at one time I could do that," Ferumbras agreed, "but not any more. You see I enjoy my life the way it is. I do not wish to take a wife now, I'm sure of that. I would make her miserable and she in her turn would do the same to me. Oh they say at first they wouldn't mind, but they are all the same. She'll want more and more and there'll be fights and malcontent. I don't want such aggravation in my life."
"Well why worry?" Paladin asked. "Just be the Thain until the end of your days and then let fate take it where it will."
"Ah, but that's no good for me and no good for the Shire." Ferumbras pointed out. "I have no peace now that I'm Thain. Female relatives are constantly nagging at me to take a wife. 'I have to think of the good of the Shire' is all I hear and I do. But I tell you Paladin, it's an encumbrance I could well do without."
"Well what else can you do?" Paladin smiled at the thought of busybody female relatives hanging on the Thain's doorbell, presenting their own daughters at every available opportunity, inviting the poor misogynist to every ball and party in the hope of marrying their offspring to the Thain of The Shire.
"I can abdicate," he snorted, "Pass the title on."
"What to me?" Paladin said in surprise, "as I said before, I'm not likely to have any sons now, although I suppose Pearl could become the first female Thain."
"No, no!" Ferumbras said at once, "that won't do at all. That's the favour I wanted to ask you. You and Eglantine have one more try. You make a lad with all the parts in the right place and the title is yours"
"Well, you're right, it is a lot to ask." Paladin was more than a little taken aback. "It's a lot to ask Eglantine. The healers told her after Pervinca she should not have any more. She does not birth easily and the bairns are always very small and sickly."
"But you could ask her," Ferumbras persisted. "It would be a perfect solution, for me and for the Shire. You would make a much better Thain than I, Paladin, and so would your heir. And if you and Eglantine could produce a son, it would be a good reason, in the eyes of the Shirefolk, for me to hand the title on."
Shire Reckoning 1397 – Bag End, Hobbiton
"So what's the news from Pearl?" Frodo enquired as Merry lay on his back in the grass holding the letter up to read with two hands. A little way away Frodo could see the Gaffer clipping the hedge while his youngest son, Samwise collected up the clippings as they fell and tidied them into a barrow.
"Let's see, Pervinca is learning to ride a pony," Merry looked at Frodo with a grin, "she always was a daring lass, that one. Pimpernel is in trouble with Aunt Tinnie for climbing trees in her best gown and ripping it, just when the Bolgers arrived for afternoon tea." Merry chuckled a little. "She came into the parlour with half her petticoats showing and Freddie wolf whistled and Estella shrieked and Aunt Rosa pretended to faint and Pearl says Pimmie had to do mending for a whole week as punishment for being so indiscrete."
"Poor Pimmie!" Frodo sympathised with his cousin, "She hates mending almost as much as she hates having to sit round in polite company drinking tea."
"Apparently Pippin's not enjoying his new school over much." Merry's face lost its grin as he read on. "Oh my! He came home today with a black eye and a bloody nose."
"Who did it?" Frodo too lost his humour and felt the ire rise inside at the thought of dear little Pippin being hurt. "What did Paladin do?"
"Well Pearl says Pippin pleaded with her not to tell and so she said he had fallen out of the pony-trap." Merry sat up now and read quickly down the letter. "But some of the bigger lads are bullying him, calling him names and hitting him."
"I don't see why Pearl would lie." Frodo frowned. "Surely he'll just keep getting hurt, Paladin will have to intervene."
"Pippin is desperate not to let him know." Merry read on, "Seems he feels that his father will be disappointed in him if he can't cope with school on his own." Merry looked up from the letter. "You know how that Took determination can be."
"Hmm, yes." Frodo agreed. Both he and Merry had enough Took blood in them to appreciate their little cousin's tenacity. "But sometimes it needs a little help."
"I think that's why Pearl's writing." Merry smiled now. "Rube is staying at The Ivy Bush tonight and she suggests here I might like to go back to the Smials with him tomorrow for a visit."
"What do you plan to do?" Frodo wondered. "Teach him to fight?"
"Or how not to," Merry suggested. "Like you taught me."
"Sounds as if it's a bit late for that." Frodo took Pearl's letter that Merry was handing him and scanned through it himself. "Maybe we need a quick refresher from the expert. Let's see if he's busy."
Frodo and Merry both stood up and wandered over to where Sam was still helping his father with the hedge trimming. "Excuse me Gaffer," Frodo asked politely, "Could you spare your Sam for a bit?"
Sam grinned at Frodo, he was used to requests of this kind. He and Frodo were good friends but his father tended to keep him busy, meaning that Frodo often had to plead Sam's liberty so that he could enjoy his company. "If that's all right with you Sam." Frodo added quickly.
"Yes Master Frodo, I can manage here well enough, I dare say." Gaffer seldom refused Frodo's requests. The young hobbit was always so polite and proper.
Merry and Frodo slotted an arm companionably through each of Sam's and made their way back to their spot beneath the trees. Sam was a bit surprised at this treatment but decided it had to be something important.
"Now Sam, remember when you taught me to fight?" Merry stood in the time-honoured stance with his feet apart and his fists raised.
"Well I rightly do Mr Merry, but I hope you don't want to practice on me." Sam looked rather worried. Fighting with other lads in the village was one thing, but Merry was a gentlehobbit and Sam did not feel it was his place to brawl with Mr Frodo's friends.
"No, I need to teach young Pippin some attack and defence, something a smaller hobbit could use against someone bigger." Merry explained. "Do you have any suggestions?"
"Is he being bullied?" Sam asked solemnly. The youngster took a dim view of this kind of behaviour, especially against one so small as young Mr Peregrin. Merry and Frodo nodded in unison. "I think I can suggest a few moves." Sam agreed grimly.
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.