3. Left Hanging
"I must have your attention," he said, ignoring Pippin. Expression neutral, Aragorn gave a slight nod and instructed Pippin to close the front doors.
Adjusting his own features to resume Court demeanor, the hobbit dutifully marched to the huge oak doors and began shoving them closed.
As the doors swung to the locks, Merry sprang through them, slightly out of breath, and, oddly, out of uniform. Pippin’s expression must have reflected his bemusement, for his cousin and fellow wayfarer grinned and flung his arm around his shoulders with familiar camaraderie.
"I hear you’ve been skulking too much around the Courts," he announced, a little too loudly for Pippin’s comfort. Some in the Gondorian guard turned with interest toward the two hobbits, as Merry led…no, dragged Pippin through the doorway and into the open yard. Gandalf and Aragorn watched them leave, and did not signal for Pippin to remain, despite the pleading look he gave them as they departed.
Someone else closed the door for him.
Inexplicably annoyed, Pippin yanked himself out from under Merry’s grasp and straightened his skewed tabard.
"Unlike some hobbits, I take my duties seriously," Pippin charged, thumping the Brandybuck on the shoulder. Merry laughed. "Are you released from yours today? Or did you pull your old trick of disappearing when they looked for unwary victims to clean the stables?"
"No! I would never do that!" Merry protested. "I told them you were eager for it, since you know Shadowfax so well." He grinned at his cousin, mischievously.
"Thanks!" Pippin grumbled, then smiled in spite of himself over the jab at his infamous ride. Merry had a way of making him feel better. "But Gandalf relieved me of that duty long ago."
"What a pity. I think that beast rather liked you. Besides, I’ve missed my drinking partner!" Merry said, marching his cousin towards the tunnel that led into the next tier of the City.
"Oh? Where are we off to, then?"
"The tavern in the lower ring. Gimli and I were on our second pint, but then I thought, how could I quaff another brew and tease the tavern girls without my Pip nearby, eh?"
"And so you immediately fell out of your chair and staggered all the way up here, riddled with guilt, just for me?"
"Rather generous of me, isn’t it?"
Pippin smelled a ruse.
"Who put you up to this?"
Merry feigned shock, not a very convincing shock at that, by opening and closing his mouth a few times and then, with an air of offense, made for the pipe and tobacco pouch in his weskit.
"Aside from the fact that you were never handy with the tavern girls without my presence, you don’t need me around to drain Gondor of its finest beer!" Pippin added.
Merry ignored him.
"Frodo will be there, and Sam," he informed, as if Pippin had asked an altogether different question. "At least, I hope Sam is there. He’s quite taken with the city. I could swear he sees it as his own personal garden. Frodo may not be able to lure him away and have to hire Lotho to take his place!"
Pippin made a face at the mention of their old hobbit nemesis. Merry broke into laughter as a thought struck him.
"Can you imagine? Lotho Pimple shoveling manure!"
Pippin laughed again, thankful that Merry knew how to cheer him up.
"Let’s go, Master Sluggard," he rallied. "But first to my quarters. I am not about to venture into an evening without my own pipe!"
Gandalf found all four hobbits wedged into a corner of the tavern, Frodo rosy-cheeked and placid with ale, Sam snoring as he rested propped against the wall and Merry and Pippin intent on a game with pebbles and sticks on the table among a forest of tankards. Gimli sat chatting and nodding with some elves who lounged nearby. Despite its reputation for raucous patrons, the tavern itself was half empty and possessed of the kind of buzz that settled after midnight.
It was only supper-time.
One of the elves rose to greet him, but Gandalf waved him down. No one looked as if they were of the condition to perform the usual greetings. Frodo grinned at him, then slumped against Sam and began to join in the snoring. Merry and Pippin did not even pause.
"Gandalf, we saved a place for you," Gimli moved to show the wizard where he could sit. Gandalf nodded his thanks but deferred.
"I came to retrieve the Prince of Halflings to his post," the wizard said. Pippin looked up, startled, and began to extricate himself from his seat.
"I had not expected to go to night duties until tomorrow night," Pippin said, dropping half his bounty on the floor. Merry surreptitiously swept up the remainder into his pile and continued counting as Pippin bent to retrieve his spill.
"A number have been sent home or other post duties. The king does not feel a need to surround himself with a whole legion. Besides, I think Aragorn suspects talk of the Fellowship disbanding and he wants to make sure you don’t escape too soon," the wizard smiled down at Pippin.
"That’s not likely, if the King’s people keep finding new things for us to do," Merry rejoined, grinning at Pippin. "What do you think he will have you do this time?"
"He’ll show me how to skewer thieves like you, Meriadoc!" Pippin retorted, slapping Merry’s hand from the spoils of the game. The elves laughed at the comical surprise on the hobbit’s face. "I counted more than you, scoundrel. I was winning."
"No thanks to Frodo here," Merry, in classic form, turned the jest to the groggy hobbit nearby. "You used to be quite handy at distracting our Pip. You’re getting slack in your old age, Frodo. Why weren’t you keeping an eye out for me?"
"I recall someone saying we had yet to find brighter wits," Gimli put in, causing Pippin to laugh heartily.
"That’s a contest still yet to be decided by these two," Frodo interjected, now awake and stretching out a yawn. "Although wits of any kind in a tavern is something of a rarity."
"You’re one to talk, Mr. Frodo," Sam put in. Frodo looked at him. Merry snickered.
"Dear Merry," Frodo continued as Sam, Pippin, and Gandalf chortled. "You are a man of Rohan now. Who am I to tell a Knight of the Green how to win his pints?"
"If it involves jumping over the moon, Mr. Underhill, no thanks!"
After watching Frodo and the others stumble off into the night, Pippin followed Gandalf until they entered the darkened courtyard of the King’s House, now ghostly blue in the moonlight and silent as the tombs.
Gandalf paused before approaching the large oaken doors of the Hall, turning to gaze thoughtfully at Pippin, who lagged behind, growing ever sleepier in the dim light. Then, as if he thought better of entering, he swept over to the edge of the fountain and sat on its edge, beckoning the hobbit to do the same.
The barren White Tree in its fountain dripped constant tears, mourning the Ages that had been.
"I am sure it has occurred to you why you were dismissed this afternoon," Gandalf began, hesitation in his voice. Pippin’s young face was planed by the moonlight into the ghost of the adult he was becoming, mouth set in a new firmness that told more of his growth than any year could explain. The green eyes widened in curiosity.
"Do you not wonder then, what it was that greeted you when you entered?"
"I do wonder, but as an esquire, I am not in a position to ask questions. Indeed, I am often asked to consider myself deaf and dumb."
"I think perhaps, you will feel differently when I tell you why you should know this," Gandalf hedged, laying his staff across his lap, a staff he now carried out of a sense of duty and position than need.
Pippin’s puzzled expression deepened, the beer-induced haze in his eyes clearing somewhat.
"Tell me, then."
"I have endeavored to give you and the others what information I have gained over the last few weeks concerning the War. Battles at Erebor, Lorien’s defense, the utter chaos that people throughout Middle Earth experienced with the minions of Sauron. In all of this, I hope you do not think Aragorn ignored yours and Frodo’s concern with what was going on back in the Shire?"
"On the contrary, I am aware that he thinks of it almost as much as we do. Indeed, probably more."
"Then what those messengers you saw gathered in Aragorn’s court shared with us should relieve some of your concern," Gandalf said. "Peregrin Took, long have the Dunadan watched the North Kingdom, patrolling it to ward off the evil that crept ever closer. You saw that at Bree and at Weathertop; and you, even you, foolishly ignorant of the finer points of our Quest, had some knowledge of this because of the watch your family keeps on the southern borders of the Shire. And you have been taught how much Aragorn and the others have so treasured the Shire, that the true nature of danger rarely made itself known, not even to the Thain.
"But as the future Thain of the Shire, you should be aware of this now. Those messengers were among a group of soldiers who encountered Sauron’s orcs approaching the Shire and Bree at rapid pace, orcs accompanied by half-breed men whose purpose was to establish a final blockade against the defense of Rivendell. Should the Ring have fallen into the Dark Lord’s hands, they would have been well ensconced in the country-side to prevent any aide from coming to Elrond as Sauron swept in from the East."
Pippin rose to his feet, his face drained of all color now, even in the vague light of the moon.
Then, his face hardened. "How can you say this will give me comfort?" he cried.
"Because Pippin," Gandalf answered slowly, "those soldiers struck fatal blows to much of that company. There is a large mound now somewhere south of Bree, soaked with orc blood and burning with the fires that they set to their corpses. Some escaped, but not without injury and not without the leadership they needed to set themselves against the elves of Imladris. There is mischief yet to be discovered, but it is my satisfaction that whatever Sauron had planned was put to serious rout."
"Then the Shire is, finally, out of danger."
"Do not assume that to be the case, Pippin! You can be certain, there are more on the way, but only because Saruman has seen to that. As in all else, Saruman began by only following Sauron’s orders. When Saruman began to feel he would not need the Dark Lord, he sent his own contingent, before Treebeard and the Ents came upon Orthanc. Do not think that because he was trapped within the tower he could not access the movements of his troupes."
Pippin’s face was paler than the moonlight.
"So it is Sauron’s deceitful work, anyway? We have to go back soon!"
Gandalf sighed, hoping all of this would make sense at one point or another.
"It is also likely," he continued, "that Wormtongue’s impulse and your handling of the palantir was part of the reason why Sauron forsook any further forays towards the Shire. For that, you should feel very fortunate, despite what Saruman may be doing now. Recall, if you will, Sauron’s almost immediate response. That, and Aragorn, I think, drew his attention away from the Shire at last."
"It doesn’t matter, now, does it? I mean…" Pippin began to argue, but Gandalf cut him off.
"He not only thought you had the Ring," he pressed, "he must have concluded that the son of the Thain was its proper hobbit guardian," Gandalf concluded, meeting Pippin’s eyes with a look of meaning.
"But how would he know…?"
Gandalf shook his head, giving the hobbit his kindest smile.
"Do you really wonder at that, having felt the power of the palantir…and how the Dark Lord corrupted it?"
Pippin sat hard once more on the rim of the fountain.
"I am a fool!" He moaned. "I should never have left the Shire!"
Gandalf thought for a few moments of the words the King had shared with him about Pippin. Of all the others, this hobbit had been the most risky of his projects, a fortuitous bet against the more hidden Shadows that the Dark Lord threatened. His tale had certainly not been without its own twists and turns.
Was it random, or was it destiny, Mr. Took? With your clan, one never knew.
But it was that one stone he, Gandalf, threw into the company of thirteen dwarves so long ago, hedging bets on the Tookish strain to bring Bilbo to his choice; it had been one tumultuous ride since.
Gandalf sighed, wondering how much he would miss the hobbits, tumbling as they had into the histories of Middle Earth. Pebbles, indeed. He wished he had the time to share all the tales he knew, to comfort Pippin with an assurance that he was, for all disparate purposes, a pebble that steadied the cornerstone. But he would have to leave it to Aragorn to explain.
"I have to disagree with you, Peregrin," he said, finally, gently. "It made my heart glad when you volunteered to come along, though Elrond argued against it. A true Thain of the Shire would have done no less."
Pippin did not answer. His head was bowed into his hands, mind reeling with what could have been. Gandalf understood his silence to mean he had said enough.
"Well, well," the wizard murmured, conscious that Aragorn was waiting. He stood up and patted the hobbit’s tousled ginger hair with familiar affection. "Go now. You must speak with the King about this. After all," Gandalf added, before turning away into the darkness of the City. "He looked into the palantir as well."
Pippin did not look up, although the shifting of his shoulders showed that he was listening.
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.