29. To the Shire
The Hobbit woke with a little start, yawned and stretched. "'Morning, Strider."
"What are you doing here?"
"I came in last night," Merry admitted a little shamefacedly. "I wanted to talk to you - but I couldn't bring myself to wake you up."
"Thank you." Aragorn shook his head mentally. He must have been more weary than he had thought to sleep through even a soft footed Hobbit's intrusion into his chamber. But then Merry's was a familiar and trusted presence. "Draugoth cannot travel by day." he reminded him gently. "We will get there first, Merry."
"I know." the Hobbit sighed. "I guess I'm just feeling guilty. I should have gone back to Buckland like you wanted me to. If I'd known this was going to happen -"
"I'd have made you go back!" Aragorn finished for him, smiling. "But we didn't know and there were good reasons, at the time, for the choices we made."
"Boromir." Merry agreed dejectedly, then brightened. "If we get there before Draugoth we can still save him!" **********************************************
They rode out of Fornost in the cool grey dawn, the white rim of the sun just showing above the eastern mountains. The five companions, Faramir, and fifteen of the twenty knights from Amon Sul. Two were dead, fallen in defense of their King at Caur Amrun, and three more too sorely wounded to travel.
They got news of Boromir, and Arandil, at the first post house. "I let them take horses from the stable." the keeper admitted. "I hope that was not wrong, Dunadan?"
"No it is well." Aragorn reassured him, reflecting that in his current mood Boromir would likely have stolen the horses had they not been offered.
"And my son was with him?" Faramir asked urgently.
"He was accompanied by a young Man, enough like to be close kin." the keeper answered.
Faramir and the Hobbits all sighed in relief. "Well at least Boromir's got somebody responsible to look after him." said Pippin.
Arandil had shown considerable ingenuity and a determination to match his uncle's but Aragorn didn't believe for a moment the boy would be able to turn Boromir from his purpose. He doubted any of them could - and was uncertain if they should even try. Much as it went against the grain to let him go unhindered to probable death.
They travelled at post riders' speed with only brief stops to change horses, but this time the Hobbits made no complaint even jokingly. Both grew more and more tense as they neared the Shire, fearful of what they might find.
The company reached Bree by mid-afternoon to find it ringed by burning heaps of old bones and white rags, Barrow Wight remains, tended by weary looking Men and Hobbits.
"It was bad night, Strider." Beomann Butterbur confided over a hurried meal at the Pony. "The worst we've seen since the war. But the wall kept them out."
"Not just the wall I think." Aragorn smiled.
The Sheriff grinned wearily in return. "The wall *and* the stout hearted Breefolk behind it." he agreed. "Herself arrived just before dawn and scattered them. She's out on the Downs now digging out any who got away."
"I remember how Lightfoot* feels about Barrow Wights." Pippin said between gulps of good Bree beer. "She'll get rid of them for good if she can."
"Any news of the Shire?" Merry asked anxiously.
Beomann looked troubled. "I'm sorry, Master Merry, no. We saw the smoke yesterday morning but we've been too busy with our own troubles to find out what's happening on the other side of the Old Forest." tried to smile encouragingly at the Hobbits. "Judging by our Little Folk here though I'd guess the Shire's giving a good account of itself." ************************************************
They rode into Buckland at sundown. The Hay Gate was gone of course, along with the High Hay itself, but the Hobbits stationed at that end of Sam's ditch gave their Master and his companions a warm welcome.
The company rode slowly down the line of the fortification until they encountered Sam confering with Estella and Diamond. The former promptly threw herself into her husband's arms with a glad cry of "Merry!" gave him a resounding kiss, then pulled away to demand: "What took you so long?"
"Blame me, Mistress Brandybuck, I would not let him come before." Aragorn told her while Merry was still gulping for excuses. "We needed his help at Fornost." turned to Sam. "Have you seen Boromir?"
"Yes." was the quiet answer. "He rode in this afternoon. He went into the Forest an hour or so ago."
"What! Sam, why did you let him?" Pippin cried.
Samwise Gamgee didn't explode often but when he did it was enough to take away the breath, and the nerve, of the hardiest Hobbit. "Why did I let Mr. Frodo walk into Mordor in spite of spiders and Orcs and what all?" he shouted. "Because that was what he had to do!" his companions stared and he continued more calmly. "It's the same for Boromir. I didn't want him to go but he's got to, so I let him. Just like with Mr. Frodo."
"I fear Sam is right." Aragorn said heavily after a moment of silence. "We must let Boromir go - as we let Frodo go all those years ago."
'But not alone.' Pippin said to himself. And turning, walked away from the argument.
"Where do you think you're going, Peregrine Took?" his wife demanded, trotting to catch up.
"Into the Old Forest after Boromir."
"All right." Diamond unslung her bow and checked her quiver to see it was full of arrows. "Let's go."
"No." he stopped blocking her path. "Sorry, sweetheart, not both of us."
She stamped her foot. "Peregrine Took! you've already gone off without me once, if you think I'm going to let you do it again -"
"Who's to look after our Tooklanders if we both disappear?" her husband interupted.
That stopped her. "Nothing happened last night, who says anything will happen tonight." she argued weakly.
"Me." Pippin answered with certainty. "I can guarentee you something's going to happen, and we can't leave our people to face it without the Took or his Lady to lead them."
She hesitated. "Boromir is my friend so I'm the one who's got to go," Pippin told her gently. "which means you've got to be the one to stay."
Diamond swallowed. "There'd just better be trouble tonight, or you'll be sorry Peregrine Took!" she warned, a little huskily.
"There will be. Keep your eyes open and your bow handy." he leaned forward to kiss her. "Good luck, sweetheart."
"You too, Pip dear." ********************************************** * 'Lightfoot' is the Lady Aranel's Ranger name.
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.