2. The Answer
With a slight start, I realized that I was being spoken to and that I hadn't heard a word of it. Chagrined, I turned to look at the speaker and found him much amused. There was a brilliant smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye that promised some sort of mischief.
"I'm sorry, Pippin, what were you saying?" I asked, shaking my head to rid me of the memories that had been troubling me. I hadn't thought about that day in years, but Pippin's question still bothered me greatly.
"You're getting old, but you shouldn't yet be to the age where you start dozing off in the middle of a party," Pippin said, leaning over the table towards me. "Really, Merry, you're acting like some old gaffer."
"I am not acting like an old gaffer, my dear Pippin," I told him somewhat huffily. "And I was not dozing off. I was merely thinking."
"It must have been quite a thought. You quite missed my birthday speech because of your 'thinking.'" Rather than becoming upset, Pippin instead chose to rib me about it. "But I still think you were sleeping, though I don't know how that's possible, with all the noise."
I just shook my head at Pippin's stubbornness and raised my ale mug to my lips to hide my frown. I had no idea why the memory of that day in Ithilien had suddenly come to my mind, unbidden. It had been so vivid, almost as if I was reliving the experience, which was in no way pleasant.
Setting my mug back on the table in front of me, I surveyed the party. Instead of celebrating his birthday in Tuckborough, Pippin had opted to have his party in Hobbiton, under the now-large mallorn tree. Tables were set up all around the Party Field, lamps hung from the lowest branches of the mallorn, and singing and dancing abounded. It reminded me a bit of old Bilbo's last party here, except without the exceptional fireworks.
Across the circle of the "dance floor," I could see Estella, Diamond, and Rosie sitting with some other lasses that I didn't recognize. Young Elanor, Frodo, and Rosie-lass sat at their mother's feet, listening attentively to some tale or another from one of the lasses. Diamond was holding Rosie's youngest, little Merry-lad, in her arms, and was rocking him gently. Estella was holding a sleeping Pippin-lad, absentmindedly rocking him back and forth. Rosie was laughing at some joke, her hands resting lightly on her swollen belly.
Pippin must have noticed my sudden silence. He looked to me, then to the lasses, then back to me, his eyes now devoid of any mischief. The only thing filling his eyes now was his very evident love for his wife. "Diamond will make a wonderful mother someday," he said slightly wistfully.
"Aye, she will," I murmured, studying my cousin. It didn't seem possible that this Hobbit was the same one that questioned me about the future all those years earlier. That Hobbit had been scared to death, uncertain of the future and our happiness. He had grieved for our lost innocence, wondered if we could ever go back to some semblance of normality. This Hobbit, though, was as happy and carefree as he could be. He had a beautiful wife whom he loved dearly and his future laid out before him. He wasn't scared of the future, but impatient for its arrival.
"I'm sure Estella will make a wonderful mother as well," Pippin added hastily, misinterpreting my silence for something it wasn't. After a moment, he said, "You, Sam, and I married the best lasses in the entire Shire, Merry. They're beautiful, smart, and kind. They're everything we aren't." I smiled; Pippin wasn't giving himself enough credit.
We lapsed into a companionable silence, just watching the party go on about us: folks talking and laughing, lads and lasses dancing, children running about in pure delight. This was the Shire at its best and purest: Hobbits just enjoying life and each other's company.
"Pippin, do you remember that day in Ithilien when you snuck from your bed to visit Frodo and Sam?" I asked quietly, not wanting anyone but Pippin to hear my words. No one else would know what it was we were speaking about, but still, I wanted to keep it private.
Pippin turned to look at me and asked, "Which time?" but then realization dawned in his eyes. He must have seen something in my own eyes because he bowed his head and rested it in his hands. "Yes, Merry, I remember that day and every word I said to you."
I waited until he looked up at me before I continued. "I think I've finally come up with an answer to your questions. None of that could ever happen Pippin. We're from good families. People will forgive our oddities and say nothing more of them. Hobbits are, by nature, forgiving and tolerant. They even got used to old 'Mad Baggins' after some time."
I took a deep breath and gathered my thoughts before continuing. "If we hadn't returned, we never would have found this happiness, nor given it to Diamond, Estella, and Rosie. We couldn't have known about it before, but we had to trust that things would work out for the best, and they did. Yes, Frodo left, but he would have still gone had we not come home. At least this way he was able to glimpse our happiness, easing his pain a little. Don't you see, Pippin, that not coming home would have been the worst possible thing to do?"
Breaking eye contact with me, Pippin looked back to where our wives were sitting. Sam had come over to them and taken little Pippin-lad from Estella. Rosie was now holding baby Merry-lad, and she and Sam were herding their almost asleep children towards Bag End. Diamond and Estella looked up and smiled at us. Standing, they started to make their way over towards our table.
"I see it now," Pippin answered me, "but I wasn't able to see it then." He turned to look at me, a smile covering his face. "Thank you for making me come home and not letting me stay in Gondor, Merry."
"It was my pleasure, my dear cousin," I told him, matching his smile with one of my own.
"I trust you lads have been behaving yourselves while we've been gone?" Diamond asked as she sat down beside her husband.
"Now, Diamond dear, what have I told you about holding your expectations too high?" Estella asked, sitting beside me and slipping her arm through mine. "You're supposed to ask if they stayed out of too much trouble."
"Of course, Estella," Diamond said, laughing lightly. "I had forgotten. Thank you for reminding me."
"No problem, my dear." Estella turned to look at me. "So, what were you lads doing all this time?"
"Oh, just remembering old times," Pippin answered cheerfully. "Isn't that right, Merry?"
"Of course," I said, smiling widely. Pip and I had both learned our lesson. There was no need to involve the lasses. "We were just speaking of how good it is to be home."
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.