5. Letting Go
More than disconcerting, Pippin found himself attached to that light, unable to dismiss its pull, and he braced for the inevitable panic and desperation. Shadows shifted, as if disturbed by his confusion.
A low groan of regret escaped him, and his fingers jerked to pull away. I’ve learned my lesson, Gandalf! I shall not touch one, even if a thousand were laid before me…
Aragorn looked up, the fragrance of the kingsfoil wafting like vapor in the static air.
"There’s no other way?" Pippin squeaked, wondering if Aragorn would forgive him a lapse (or two) of trust.
Aragorn’s grey eyes were unreadable. The hard-planed face and long straight nose in the low light reminded Pippin keenly of their meeting in Bree.
"There are always options, Pippin. You knew that from the start."
"And what are those, please? For conversations’ sake, of course," Pippin stammered.
"It is possible," Aragorn said, breathing in patience, "that you could go to your room and resolve never to return to Gondor, in full knowledge that where I am, the palantir is also, for each time you remember it, the memory will be one of despair.
"Or, you may stay and banish that which has plagued you for the last few days."
Pippin stared back at him, doubt playing over his own elfin features.
Aragorn’s fingers tightened over his. "Do not fear," he added. "There is no Eye here, no power to disarm you. There is much more to this than your dreams and I will not let you be taken."
The king’s grey eyes widened. Pippin followed his gaze to their hands.
"See! The palantir answers our call."
The movements were less swirling shapes than acute perceptions beneath the glossy surface of the palantir, flashing as momentary transfers of ideas, images, and discourse as they curled in upon themselves. The very shape of it appeared in danger of spilling what lay beneath.
Pippin hunched over it, transfixed. Within the cold bounds of the orb, memory upon memory shifted rapidly, layering, sprouting in many directions, each thought trailing, pulling, tugging the mind in amplified directions, each thread so strong, so strong! The leads of his own thoughts were sinking, ebbing towards the maelstrom, fragmenting, spinning as his mind sought to absorb as much as it released, and the hobbit began to realize this was nothing like staring down the intense focus of Sauron.
It was worse!
Aragorn’s hands gripped his fingers with a sharp tension and Pippin felt the tug upon his mind break like a taut string.
Athelas drifted into the blood pounding in Pippin’s ears.
The strain of the flickering intensified until Pippin was certain that the ball quivered like a living thing. Now he only saw images as they eddied into a controlled flow and Pippin noticed Aragorn muttering in Elvish, almost sing-song, his eyes glazed over in concentration.
Then, not unlike the moment fixed forever in his soul, clarity. I looked and I understood….
…through the gaze of one who, hearing it, gave letter to it, and passed it on, a scene, vague and hazy, on the borders of fine sight, telescoping backwards to the thoughts of one who sought it out…
Denethor, in the library of Minas Tirith, shuffling manuscripts that had known a thousand hands, reading, scouring, scowling…
To my Lord and Captain, 1978
I am counseled to write to you on behalf of the Dunedain of the North Kingdom who, having hardship in the battle against Angmar, thank you for your assistance once more. The Witch King is vanquished, but disappeared into the Ettenmoors. We guard against a resurgence of his minions, but these three years past has revealed no sign of his movement. My suspicions argue against that, but for now, life is returning.
Arvedui, as you know, was lost to the fell waters of Forochel, taking with him the palantiri of Annuminas and Amon Sul, His son, Aranarth, has submitted to the decision of Gondor to deny Arvedui the claim to Isildur’s crown, declaring himself, instead, Chieftain of the Dunedain. I do not think your Lord would find that disagreeable, as it is an arrangement best for the lands here, for the Witch-king and all the shadow that accompanied him has devastated the land beyond any ability of stronger enforcement. That includes lack of forces from Gondor to reinstall what once was a strong kingdom. Rumors suggest this perhaps is the way it shall be for some time, as Angmar’s dread may be recollecting elsewhere and closer to Gondor’s feet. Prepare your men, for much is going on that would not be seen in the light!
But I write to you of that people you so fondly remarked upon in your travels here, the Halflings of the Shire. Their losses in the war were deeply felt as well, for those people had volunteered archers, valiant archers who perished, no one knows where. They have not returned. It was because of this Aranarth sought them out for parlay, for their allegiance to the king in the North was as stout as their hearts, and the Chieftain of the Dunedain meant to assure them of their protection. I believe your interest was inspired by their ties with Amon Sul...
Focus shifted to new words.
He met a Halfling who appeared to be regarded with high esteem among his own…
Image melded once more for Pippin and the sensation of looking through a long lens became stronger. He felt a strange impression, much older than Denethor, a messenger's imprint...
A tall man, a brief figure…hobbit? Both bowing to each other. Green fields, and a river in the background. One man, with proud features and eagle-sharp eyes….
Of your people’s valor we know much, said the man. I am Aranarth, Chieftain of the Dunedain, who shall guard these lands and afford what we may in place of the King that once was.
Bucca, of the Marish, I am known, said the smaller figure.
Bucca Oldbuck, the first Thain!
You summoned us to meet with you because of the loss of the King. That was three years ago and the Shire is returning to prosperity. Yet you say there will be no return of the King? Are we to become friendless should Angmar rise again?
The man, Aranarth, looked abashed.
Do not say ‘no return.’ Rather, I would have you see the Kingdom of the North in fallow, as a field would be for winter. Arvedui once tried to make his claim to the throne, but other decisions ruled against it, and the Dunedain are grateful to have what few we may in this time. We cannot argue with Gondor, and my heart tells me it would be folly to try. Instead, we choose to become cloaked by change and wait for the return of a King. The line of Isildur is not completely lost.
Bucca looked at him, thoughtful. How much like Merry he is! Pippin mused.
This is not good news, Bucca replied, although, I cannot help but observe that we hobbits are more than in your debt, despite what Gondor thinks of your right to the crown. Shall we then see you as our King?
Nay! Aranarth laughed, apparently surprised by Bucca’s candor and insight. Those who dwell in Cardolan, Arthedain, and Rhudaur must now rely upon themselves to ensure their own peace. I name myself Chieftain because my lineage must necessarily keep to that which gave birth to it. And we will not forget your people, even as our hope is to nurture that which is dearest, and there can be no return of the King if we do not.
But the Halflings now must choose their own method of safekeeping, for you will not see much of what we do, and we would feign seek control of your lives when ours is so precious. Did not Arvedui appoint some of your people to hold title in the stead of the King?
Bucca pursed his mouth, nodding.
There are those of us who were liege holders ready at his command, he replied. There are those of us who traveled to Amon Sul as stewards, before the war.
Aranarth looked in askance at Bucca.
I was to be, Bucca replied, shortly.
Then I say to you, Bucca of the Marish, choose one or many among your people to uphold that title, as I hold my claim as leader of the Men of the North. Have them govern as those stewards, awaiting for news of the King’s recall. In this you will keep the promise of that return alive, and in time of need…
The image dropped suddenly, as if the viewer left off reading, perspective swiveling round with nauseating speed.
Pippin found that Aragorn had released his hands and the hobbit rocked back on his heels, trembling.
"Denethor has more to tell you," Aragorn said, simply.
He passed from the musty sensations of the archives into the shadowed hall of the Steward in the base of the Tower, a brooding blackness drifting along. Perceptions then rose upwards to the palantir, causing the inward lights to flash a violent red. Pippin gasped but Aragorn held steady.
Gandalf coming…who is the other with him?…Stormcrow…he knows!…Stormcrows know when the beast is flailing…know when the end is near…who is that?…Isildur’s Bane…and the ruin of this city. NO!…no…a halfling bearing the doom, but not this one. Not this one. But who is he? Why…
Pippin felt Denethor scowl deeper.
He knows I won’t believe him. Knows I must have proof. Is he the proof? That little ...child? A Prince of Halflings? To be what he called a 'thain?!'
Gandalf! A spy you bring, and for what…a Ranger! A ragged vagabond of the North. You bring no proof! You bring lies and deception…and a snippet who meddles in the affairs of wizards as if he were appointed. Ha! No mere halfling is he…but he is not proof enough, Gandalf. Not proof enough…
"STOP!" Pippin yelled, scrambling away from the orb, face heavy with the emotions discharged from the palantir. Aragorn sat back as well, sympathy wringing his features.
"Denethor haunts this room," the king said, merciless in his pursuit of the subject. "He haunts Saruman’s palantir through the one he holds with him, in the Silent Streets."
Pippin blanched. He didn’t want to think of that.
"I want no more of this," the hobbit breathed, pulling his knees up to his chest. "I will return to the Shire. I will have no more dreams."
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.