4. Healing Hands
Pippin’s mind never ceased its debate over the images of his dreams, try as he might to shove them aside while in the tavern. Even as the heat of the crowd and the lull of music and the cheerful faces of friends distracted him, the thoughts replayed as background noise, almost to the point of frustration.
Still, it felt good to see Merry up to his old antics, and hear the elves sing. He had been right: there had been a plan to roust him from the fit. Frodo confessed as much when he and Merry walked in and Pippin hugged him for it. Frodo, to the last.
But now, as he made his way through the darkness of the Tower Hall towards the post he was to keep for the night, the echoes murmured the noisiness of his thoughts . He almost missed sighting the lanky form of Aragorn sprawled on the dais, puffing at his pipe. Pippin found his way to the rear quarters blocked, not by the new King of Gondor, but by Strider, of Bree, who lounged, wrapped in the darkness, watching for the slightest misapprehension.
Pippin stopped in a beam of moonlight pouring in from an open transom to stare at the man expectantly.
He could talk to Strider.
"Gandalf has not lost all his familiar ways, I see," said the former Ranger, smiling at the hobbit. "You look as if the Wraith King himself had arisen."
Pippin did not trust himself to answer. He instead chose to sit on the steps next to Aragorn, pulling his cloak around his feet to keep them warm. His sidelong glance told the king everything he should know.
"I shall not keep you in a night watch, Peregrin," Aragorn said. "There is still much to prepare for your journey homeward. I would not want your last days in Minas Tirith to be that of toil."
Pippin could not stop the look of disappointment from reaching his face.
"If it is your wish, my lord," Pippin said, with a deferential nod of his head.
Aragorn leaned forward, pipe in hand.
"What is it you fear, Pippin?"
Pippin opened his mouth to protest, but in the vague light of the room, he saw Strider, the same as he had been in their room in Bree, unmoving in his purpose. Strider had something to say and Strider would not be denied.
"I don’t …" he began, but Aragorn shook his head as if to say Pippin’s attempt to brush away the subject would not work. "I have had some fearsome dreams,"he confessed, with some relief. "But they are not important," he added, trying to sound nonchalant in the shadow-laden Hall.
"Is that why you requested night watch?"
"In part. Also, to fill in where Beregond left off. You did send him off to Ithilien, taking a generous companion away from a very grateful hobbit," was Pippin's half-hearted jest of Beregond’s new station in Ithilien. "I felt it only right to do so when the men brought me so kindly under their wing."
Smiling, Aragorn produced a reserve pipe and pouch for Pippin and puffed on his own in silence.
Might as well have this out, Pippin thought, suddenly weary of the gloom.
"Gandalf told me you had looked…." His voice trailed off, a certain horror of that thought choking him off.
"Yes." Aragorn did not need for him to finish.
"Strider, were you…frightened?"
Aragorn let out a breath, sensible of joy at the use of his Bree name. Used by any other person, it would have been a slur. From the hobbits, however, the name was indication of their absolute trust.
"Terribly. It was almost more than I could bear. Had it not been for the knowledge that others were at stake, I do not think I would have succeeded in confronting his will."
Pippin flinched, the memory of that will bringing a metallic taste to his mouth.
"I cannot forget it. I try, but my dreams…there is no escape."
"Even now, when Sauron is defeated?"
"It is only what I remember, what I saw…that night. He laid me bare."
Aragorn nodded, not wishing to recall those images himself. Pippin, however, needed reassurance.
"What did you see?" the hobbit asked, finally.
Aragorn sat back, wondering if he could verbalize the actual struggle. He had explained indirectly to Gimli and Legolas the intensity and the dismay. Not even Gandalf had an idea just what presenting oneself to the Eye was like. Words did not suffice.
Pippin knew, though.
"I saw the Dark Lord," he began, the images still something of a trial for him as well, "an unbearable presence, a malice that pulled like a great tide. I, too, was laid bare, but that alone did not threaten me. I revealed to him my true self, my true purpose for using the palantir, and thus struck weakness within him." Aragorn let out a breath he had been holding. "But it was a drain, a disheartening drain. The Eye never relented. And so, too, I recieved some impression of his power through the Ring."
"My poor cousin…" Pippin whispered, lost in thought. How much more bare was Frodo while he carried the One?
Aragorn turned to him with a sudden thought.
"Did you not tell Gandalf everything that night?" the king queried. Pippin reacted as if stung.
"Yes! It was as I said…he looked and I understood."
"Everything. All his will, all his desire. And he …pulled something out of me…how… I despaired of ever returning. He gloated over that, along with the fact that he thought he would have the Ring at last. Aragorn, I should never have left the Shire!"
"Should you not have? Could you have forseen what was going that way and defended against it if you had done as Elrond desired?"
"No…perhaps I…I don’t know," Pippin fumbled.
"Yet here you are, after all that you have done, wondering if you were any part of my kingship! Do you know, Gandalf reminded Elrond of your future as the Thain of the Shire, and how that may assist the return of the king. That alone should indicate how important you are to the destiny of the Fellowship."
"I didn’t know that," Pippin said. "But…how could I have anything at all to do with your becoming king? My family has no bearing upon royalty! If anyone fulfilled a destiny, it was Frodo. As I said before, all I am is the random pebble."
"There you are wrong, but even random pebbles have a way of falling into the right chink. And your heritage was closer to helping the kingship than you think. I must confess, I did not see it myself until you looked into the palantir."
Pippin's expression must have been incredulous because Strider nodded his assurance.
"I am the rightful heir to the palantir," the Ranger from Bree continued. "By the Kings of old, and their Stewards, the line of Numenor gives strength to use the palantir for what they were wrought: to share knowledge from afar, to converse in the mind that which needed to be conveyed. But it was not for kings alone. Very often, they would appoint one to use it in their place, when the mundane vagaries of life and circumstance prevented more direct communication."
Pippin stared at him in confusion. What was Aragorn trying to tell him?
Strider opened his mouth to continue, then changed his mind, choosing instead to tamp the contents of his pipe into a nearby crockery, grinding the smouldering ashes into dust. He stood up and indicated Pippin to follow.
Not so eager to relinquish the fragrance of the pipeweed, Pippin tucked the pipe’s mouth into the corner of his mouth and followed Aragorn out of the Hall and into a dark corner of the dais. There Aragorn opened a door to a spiraling stairwell. They climbed, with Aragorn taking up a small torch to light their way. Halfway up, the pipeweed ran out. Pippin felt he could climb no more, and would have made a joking reference to their trip through Moria, when they turned the last curve, and came upon the landing at the top.
Well, less of a landing, the hobbit thought. A round room with square windows opened up to the cold night, where the blackberry mountains of Mordor glittered in the moonlight. Aragorn tripped a hidden lock and a second, but more brief, stairwell appeared. At the top, a great iron hatch barred their way to a secret room above.
The jest faded from his thoughts, and he placed the cooling pipe on the floor.
Aragorn turned to him, the lamplight throwing the hardened planes of his face into a contortion of light and shadow.
"Will you trust me?"
"What’s behind that door?" Pippin asked warily.
"Nothing more than old mysteries. Nothing to hurt you," the king reassured, kindly.
Pippin nodded and his friend pulled the latch. The thick wooden door creaked as it opened, as if to protest their invasion, and they climbed inside.
Pippin stumbled backward as a rush of cold air hit his face. The familiar shadows of his dreams rose up in his chest as a sudden fear, and his sight focused on a carven pedestal in the center of the room. Nothing sat there, although a deep depression was scooped in the center of its flat top.
Red lights, searching…despair and desperation…will…terrible will…
The hobbit shuddered out of the reverie, taken as he was by the ghosts of his dreams. Aragorn steadied him with a strong hand on his shoulder.
He stared up at his friend, anger welling in the pit of his stomach.
"What are we doing here?"
"This is where your nightmares will end," Aragorn stated, voice firm and deep in the dark. He assisted the hobbit with completing the entry, and turned, pointing at the pedestal.
"There rested the palantir of Denethor’s watch, one that Gandalf suspected was in use, but had no confirmation, until that night in the Silent Streets. This tower is where Denethor wrestled with Sauron, and became infected with a gloom too great even for him to defeat. What must he have struggled with, what coldness of purpose led him to despair! Yet, we cannot fault him, breaking as he did the tradition of old: to not use the stones without knowing what lay on the other side. With Mordor gathering its shrouds of death to fling upon Gondor, what must Denethor have seen as a choice of lesser hazard, to expend every muscle of resistence against unassailable powers? Or wrestle wits with an evil that gave no quarter? And there is no doubt in my mind that he guessed at Saruman’s work and sought to counteract both."
Aragorn’s hand traced the edge of the depression where the palantir had rested, face drawn in a deep sadness. Pippin edged closer, feeling the fear subside, remembering keenly the old Steward’s face and voice.
"Without a directive to act, and without outside hope of assistance, Denethor did what he must," Aragorn concluded.
"But my dreams are about Sauron, not Denethor," Pippin broke in. "I touched the Orthanc Stone, not the one here."
"You are correct, but I believe this has more to do with what the palantir took into itself. You see, it has the power to retain the thoughts of those who touch it. Even though the Stone of Minas Tirith is forever scalded and ruined, it retains that which Denethor put into it…and because of its connection to Sauron, Saruman as well. You, my dear hobbit, were caught in the middle."
"That’s an understatement," Pippin remarked, with a sigh. "But I still don’t understand. What has my looking into the palantir got to do with becoming Thain?"
In reply, Aragorn withdrew an item from another pouch belted to his side, a small bag that revealed its contents as dried leaves of athelas, and pinched several portions into his palm. Reaching over to a small table in the shadows, he then brought forth a small pitcher of water, and poured it over the crushed herb. Despite the chill of the water and air, a fragrance wafted up into the room, making Pippin blink as if he had just been awakened. Aragorn rubbed the moistened athelas between his palms, intensifying the aroma, until his hands were dry.
"I have plans to apprise you of that soon, my dear hobbit," the king said, pulling at a necklace that lay hidden underneath the elegant folds of his robes. It was the Elf-stone, the Elessar, for which he had been named, artfully mounted within the outspread wings of a silver eagle. The beryl shimmered like a green star in the dark, propitious in the heavy shadows.
"First, the hands that have healed shall remove all that the palantiri have impressed upon you, my friend," Aragorn continued, leaning to bring his face more level with the hobbit’s. "But it will require one more thing of you, something that even Gandalf was hesitant to agree upon, because of what my next action will pose for you and so I ask you once more: do you trust me, Peregrin Took?"
Pippin stared back at his friend, the king, the ranger, the captain, wondering how he could have ever mistrusted him, in Bree or in the wild. There had been so much at stake, and so many choices that could have been made without ever factoring the ‘excess baggage’ that Merry had sardonically named themselves. Could he trust Aragorn, now king that was returned?
"With all my heart," the hobbit answered. He held out his hand to clasp the Ranger’s. "By the Shire, with all my heart."
Smiling, Aragorn disengaged and turned to reach into the darkest corner of the room, hiding his movements until he rose up and turned.
His hands cradled a cloth-covered item, a cloth which fell with familiar dread.
Now inert, the palantir he had taken from Gandalf’s very grasp came to rest in the pedestal, its dark depths forsaken of its infamous charm. Pippin found himself torn between bolting for the door, and reaching out to clasp it to him once again.
Aragorn’s hands interrupted his vision as he motioned for Pippin to bring his hands to the orb. The king took his hands and placed them firmly against the curve.
"Now," Strider said, "the stone must let you go."
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.