7. Questions and Answers
Pippin gave his father a funny half smile and, with his head on one side said, "I learned about who I am."
"Well done!" Paladin said equally mysteriously and ruffled his son's curls.
Pippin had snuggled up to his big sister as soon as they arrived home and shown her, with some pride this time, the gap in his teeth where Jeb had knocked his last milk tooth out. "But I won Pearl. I beat him! Can you just think? And… and… it was all Merry really, him and Sam. Merry taught me to fight and Sam had taught him and… and they made sure it was a fair fight and everything."
"That's wonderful my darling." Pearl lifted up Pippin's hands and kissed his bruised knuckles. "Better to have the bruises there than on your face. But weren't you terribly afraid?"
"No, Pearl," Pippin shook his head emphatically, "not even a little bit, and I never will be again – not now I can fight."
The tea was, much to Sam's relief, provided in the kitchen for the younger hobbits at that time of day. Grown-ups took theirs in the library or the parlour and liked a little peace and quiet. There was quite a rumpus and Pearl, being between age groups, presided over the children's tea with resigned patience.
"Children quiet!" Pearl demanded once they were all seated around the long scrubbed kitchen table. "Today, in honour of our special guests…" she stood and curtsied to Sam and Merry. A grinning Merry and a red-faced Sam stood and bowed in return. "…we have a special tea." All the hobbit children applauded. "There will be hot buttered crumpets; bread and butter with honey or gooseberry jam; grown up cup-of-tea for anyone over seven; jelly with peaches in; scones with cream and strawberry preserve and two kinds of cake."
There was much cheering as this splendid repast was laid out on the table, followed by comparative silence as the young hobbits set to. No one needed to mention "the fight" as it was becoming known – news spreads fast in a hobbit hole, even one as grand and rambling as Great Smials – and everyone soon understood the significance of the day for Pippin.
"So Pip, how do you feel now you've won a fight?" Merry poked him in the side when he did not get an immediate response, Pippin's mouth being full of cake. "I don't think they'll pick on you again."
"It feels good, Merry," Pippin swallowed his cake and dabbed his mouth daintily with a napkin, he might be a tough fighter now, but he still knew his manners. "But especially that you made him make friends with me. That was the best."
"Of course," Merry said, "You have to do that; you can't keep on fighting all the time."
"But Merry," Pippin paused before putting more cake in his mouth. "What about those things they said, you know the horrid lies they made about me – I know I made him say it wasn't true – but what if it is?"
"Pippin!" Merry was shocked that he should think such a thing. "Of course it isn't true. Your Mamma and Papa love you very much."
"But there is some sense in what they said," Pippin put the cake down on his plate, suddenly it tasted like old pipeweed. "What if they did just buy me so as Papa could be Thain?"
"Why don't you just ask him Master Pip?" Sam sitting the other side of Pippin had been listening carefully to the young one's dilemma. He had heard the rumours too and knew how upset Pip must be. "My gaffer always says there's nothing like asking questions for getting the truth."
"Do you know Sam," Merry smiled at him over Pippin's head. "Your gaffer is a very wise hobbit. That's exactly the thing to do Pip. I'm sure there's no reason to doubt who you are, but it can't hurt to ask the truth of it, to put your mind at ease."
"Papa?" Pippin knew to knock on the door of his father's study before entering. "It's me."
"Yes Pippin, what is it." Paladin put down his quill and looked up sternly. "Have you been up to something and sent to confess?"
"No Papa." Pippin knew that was why he usually had to knock on his father's study. "I just wanted to ask you something."
Rube had driven Sam home in the pony and trap that morning, happily carrying a jar of strawberry preserve and a large walnut and cherry cake wrapped in a napkin for his gaffer. Merry had gone along to resume his visit with Bilbo and Frodo and Pippin had finally summoned up the courage to talk to his father about the things the lads at school had said.
"Well come in and sit on the Wizard's Chair then." Paladin very occasionally had visits from the wizard Gandalf, he seemed to like to potter about the Shire and keep an eye on things, and Paladin, being full of courtesy and the Thain, had had a special 'big person' chair brought all the way from Bree for him to sit in. It was a very great honour for a hobbit child to be allowed to sit in the Wizard's Chair. "What did you want to ask?"
Pippin hoisted himself up into the chair and sat with his feet dangling. "It's about how you got me Papa?"
"You mean where baby hobbits come from?" Paladin blenched a little, he hadn't really wanted to have this conversation yet with his son.
"No," Pippin giggled. "I know that, it's from their Mammas' tummies."
"Yes," Paladin breathed a sigh of relief, "that's right."
"No, Papa," Pippin's face turned sad again as he thought about what the lads had said, he looked down at his hands in his lap. "Did I come from Mamma's tummy or did you buy me?"
"Pippin!" Paladin left his desk and came and lifted Pippin's chin up and took his son's hands in his. "You know very well that we didn't buy you. You are our own child. But even if we had – which we didn't – we would still love you."
"I believe you Papa." Pippin looked down at his bruised hands again. "But how can I make the lads at school and other people believe it. They even made a bad rhyme about it."
"Pippin I think you proved beyond all shadow of doubt that you are the son of the Thain." Paladin smiled knowingly and lifted up the bruised knuckles and kissed them lightly. "I saw it you know."
"What!" Pippin's eyes opened wide. "Me fighting?"
"Yes," Paladin smoothed Pippin's curls off his face. "You acquitted yourself so well, I was very, very proud of you. Not just for winning, but for knowing when to stop and how to shake hands and make all the others accept you."
"Merry taught me that." Pippin said proudly. "…and Frodo and Sam taught him."
"Well it was a good lesson." Paladin reached in his pocket and drew out a large silver penny. "This is for you, Pippin. You've learnt well at school. Those lads, and the rest of the Shire when they hear about it, will know that you are deserving of being the Thain one day. It's not necessarily who your parents are – it's whether you are worthy of the title and yesterday my lad you proved that you are more than worthy."
"Really Papa?" Pippin took the silver penny with delight. "But there's something else the lads said… they said you and Mamma only had me so as you could be Thain. Is that true?"
"Pippin that would have been a frivolous and irresponsible thing to do." Paladin walked over to his fireplace and found his pipe. "We would not have tried to have another child just for that reason, especially as the healers said your Mamma probably shouldn't have any more babies."
"So you didn't want to have me?" Pippin found this all very confusing.
"Of course we wanted you Pippin we always wanted you." Paladin filled his pipe with weed.
"But if Cousin Ferumbras hadn't said you could be Thain you wouldn't have had any more children." Pippin persisted.
"Why would you think that?" Paladin lit the pipe and puffed a cloud of blue smoke.
"Well you already had three children and the healers said Mamma could be ill if she had any more," Pippin could not see any way round this. "So it must have been because you wanted to be Thain."
"It wasn't that simple son." Paladin put the pipe down after a couple of puffs and walked back over to take Pippin's hands again. "I would never have tried having another baby if your Mamma hadn't wanted to. Ferumbras made the suggestion and I told your Mamma what he had said. I thought it was a bad idea, but she insisted."
But what about what the healers said?" Pippin asked in awe "Wasn't she frightened?
"No dear," Pippin's mother had been listening quietly, standing behind Pippin just inside the door. "I wasn't frightened. I knew you were waiting for me."
"How did you know that?" Pippin spun round to see his mother come into the room. "Could you see me? Where was I?"
"In my mind I could see you." Eglantine said, "and I knew you were mine and that I had to have you for my own. So when your father told me what Ferumbras had said, I told him you were waiting and then your Papa knew too."
"What did you say?" The youngster asked, his eyes wide, "Did you tell him Pippin's waiting for us?"
"No," Eglantine laughed. "We didn’t know your name then, I just knew that the sweetest, handsomest, cleverest, bravest most adorable little hobbit lad in the whole world was waiting to be my son – and you were – weren't you my darling!"
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