13. A Disturbing Visit
The fire in the Thain's private dining room burned warm and bright. Although it was past supper, the cooks still had plenty of the thick, rich beef stew that had been served to the residents of the Smials that evening. It was soon heated up for the Mistress of the Hall and her escorts, the latter taking their meal in the kitchen. Esme found she was hungrier than she expected. It was awhile before she finished her meal and proper hobbit etiquette allowed her, Paladin and Eglantine to engage in anything other than light conversation.
"It surprises me that Saradoc allowed this trip, Esme," Paladin said as his sister set down her spoon after licking it clean of the last bits of custard. "His sending you with a driver and three armed escorts tells me he was uncomfortable about it."
"And with this odd weather we are having," Lanti put in. "I can't begin to tell you how many of the old folks I care for have been complaining about their joints and bunions aching."
"He wasn't comfortable. You are right about that, Paladin, but I really don't see the reasoning behind it." Esme gave her hair an indignant toss, but her eyes belied her attempted show of confidence. There was reason to fear, and she knew it. "A few unsupported rumors about more Men in the Shire, and suddenly I'm not supposed to go anywhere. Oh! That reminds me. I've a letter for you, Paladin, from Saradoc." Esme patted the pockets of her pinafore before turning to her brother with a grin. "I remember," she said, pushing back from the table and rising to her feet. "I put it in my little bag that is out with my cloak. Let me fetch it for you." She walked quickly out of the dining room returning a few moments later with a large envelope in her hand. "He was going to send it by the Quick Post. But since I was coming, he just sent it with me." She handed the envelope to her brother and gave him a kiss on his cheek. "And with that done, I wish you both a good night. The cold day and the good, hot supper you provided have combined to make me rather sleepy." Esmeralda hugged Eglantine. As she did, she shoved a piece of paper into the pocket of Lanti's pinafore, making sure Lanti noticed. With a smile to her brother and sister-in-law, Esme headed off to her bedroom.
Paladin sighed as he watched his younger sister close the dining room door behind her. "Well," he sighed again as he tapped Saradoc's letter against his left hand. "I think I shall go find out what The Master of Brandy Hall has to say." He grinned at his wife as he got up from the table and came to stand beside her. "I hate to say, my dear one, but I may be awhile. Best not wait up for me."
He bent to kiss Eglantine's cheek, but she put her hand up to stop him. "If you will be so kind as to pull out my chair for me," she said with a grin, "I'll let you kiss my mouth."
Paladin gave an exaggerated bow, pulled out Lanti's chair and then swept her into his arms for a long, loving kiss.
"Oh, my!" Lanti was out of breath with a lovely glow to her cheeks. "Suddenly it seems a pity that you have that letter to read and I have some of my patients to visit. Before you spoke up I was going to tell you the same thing, not to wait up for me." She sighed and laid her hand to his cheek in a gesture of love and comfort familiar to her husband and her children. "The price to be paid for being The Took and Thain and his wife the healer."
Paladin nodded. He turned his head to kiss Lanti's hand then, with the weight of responsibility lending a stiffness to his back and shoulders, left her to go to his study. As soon as he was gone, Eglantine was reading Esmeralda's note.
Barely over an hour later Lanti gently knocked on Esme's bedroom door. Eglantine had not been able to give her full attention to her patients at Great Smials, the words of the little note wouldn't leave her alone. "Come to my room. Urgent," was all it had said. She tipped her hand back to knock again when the door opened a crack to reveal one of Esme's green eyes. A hand reached out to pull Lanti in, and she was immediately wrapped in a strong embrace.
"Lanti," Esme breathed into her sister-in-law's ear. "I came here to talk to you, dear. I had to talk to you. If I turn right around and go back home tomorrow morning, it will have been worth it. I had to talk to you."
Lanti stiffened and tried to push back from Esme's hug. "Pippin. It . . . it's about Pippin, isn't it." The words were a statement, not a question.
"Not what you think! No! He lives. He and my Merry, our dear Frodo and his Sam are all alive, Lanti."
Esme released Eglantine but took her hand. She peered out around the slightly opened door then shut it and led her sister-in-law to two chairs that had been placed facing each other. They sat with their knees nearly touching, clasping one another's hands.
"As I told you at Yule, I'd had no real feelings much of any kind about them for quite awhile. No strange dreams by night or day, mostly a feeling of watchfulness. However, since Yule those feelings have grown, Lanti, until I have found myself looking over my shoulder as though I expected someone to be sneaking up behind me. Then odd little things began to upset me. Once a noisy flock of birds had me cowering in fear, yet I've had no more . . ." Esme paused, closed her eyes and took a few slow breaths. "I have had no more times when I seemed to be with Pippin, like the ones I told you of."
Lanti nodded, and Esme continued with growing excitement.
"Two nights ago, the night of the twelve of Afteryule, I had the most wondrous dream. I met her, Eglantine. I met her in my dream, but it was like those times I've seen through your dear Pippin's eyes. It was real, as real as here and now, Lanti. I met her."
"Met who, sister?"
Esmeralda moved her hand to grasp her dear friend's shoulder. She gripped it tightly, nearly pinching Lanti. "The Fairy. I . . . I met her. She who married a Took hobbit long ages ago."
"Oh, really, Esmeralda! I really don't . . ." Lanti took in a sudden quick breath while shutting her eyes in an effort to calm her thinking. Her first thought was to doubt her sister-in-law. She had lately been fighting a battle with doubting all that Esmeralda had told her that night last autumn. She opened her eyes and let out the breath she had been holding. For a fleeting moment, she saw Pippin's face before her, then it was gone, replaced by the older, more feminine face of his aunt who he so strongly resembled. "Like those times, you say, it was like those times you have been with Pippin?"
"It has been so long since we have talked or you have written, I fear I've begun to have doubts about all of this, Esme." Lanti looked sad and frightened. "Forgive me. I . . . I'm not one to easily believe in such things and with no word from you . . ."
"I'm sorry, dear sister, " Esmeralda said softly as she reached over and drew Lanti into a hug. "I did not think of that, that I should have written more often. Like Pippin, I can often be thoughtless, even to those I love." She pushed back and looked into Eglantine's teary eyes. "Shall I not go on?" Esme asked but then quickly bit her lower lip and shook her head. "No! I have to tell you this. I have to, Lanti! I've no choice. Believe me or no, there is a message for you, and I'll have no peace if I leave it unsaid."
"Then say what you must, dear one. I'll believe it as much as I am able."
"She was slightly shorter than I, Lanti, and slender. Ageless and wise, yet wild and free as though she was beyond the inner rules that guide most beings. It was so like the curiosity and urge to wander that I have often felt in my own heart. I was afraid at first. But there was tenderness in her too and . . . and I felt I could trust her."
So strong were Esme's words that Lanti could see and feel the strange slender being in her mind. Esme had paused, her eyes alight with her memories, and Lanti did nothing to disturb her.
"She knew I doubted what was happening." Esme grinned and caressed Lanti's cheek before letting her hand drop to her lap. "Just as you are doubting me. She told me dreams are a realm of their own, and what cannot be real here, in the waking realm, can be real there. 'Child of my child' she called me and Pippin her 'young Tookling.' She knows us, Eglantine. She knows us all. She knows that you are not of her blood and that my Merry is not either, but she cares for you both."
Esmeralda's gaze was far away. Eglantine could see the sparkling of stars in her bright green eyes.
"She knows the lads are gone, Lanti. She also knows how strong the cords of love are that bind us all together." Esme's gaze shifted to her and Lanti's hands that now lay clasped together on their knees. "She knows that Merry watches over Pippin." Esme laughed softly at her next thought and brought her eyes up to sister-in-law's, the far away look less pronounced. "She called Pip her 'young Tookling falcon' and said that Merry will help him be brave, that he will keep him from flying too high. She knows my Merry worries overly much, that he needs Pippin to keep his heart light. She told me this and more to give us comfort, Lanti."
The faraway look returned to Esme's eyes. She appeared to be seeing deeper and even further off. Lanti gasped. Esme's eyes no longer seemed her own, like her own yet brighter, bolder, filled with dancing sparks. The green eyes held Eglantine until they filled her mind, till she was capering amongst the stars. A voice filled her thoughts. Esme's voice yet more musical, like a flute or delicate chimes. It stirred feelings within her of clear blue skies on an autumn day, the breeze filled with the scent of fallen leaves blown about in a dance that she should chase and follow wherever they would take her. Lanti felt wild and free and filled with the joy of living, yet caressed by the sorrows of the ages.
"These words are for you," the Voice intoned, "child of my child, and for my young Tookling's sorrowing mother. You will remember them.
In peaceful Shire tending a field,
On the sea foam or where mountain stone does not yield.
Forget not that where ere they roam,
I always, forever, care for my own.
I will care for my own as best as I am able, and those they treasure with them. You, child of my child, and she who is dear to both you and my young Tookling; my young Tookling who tries his wings and the one he loves as a brother; the one who bears the burden and the friend who gives care to them all."
The Voice and its music ended. The stars dancing in Eglantine's mind faded back into Esmeralda's eyes, faded back into the reflection of candles in the candelabra on the writing desk. But the scent of leaves fallen on the forest floor lingered, and suddenly Eglantine Took had an intuition of her own. She grabbed Esme, hugging her as tightly as she could.
"I won't see you again! You will leave here, leave soon, and I won't see you again!" Lanti began shaking and sobbing uncontrollably.
Cold fear surrounded Esmeralda's heart as she tried to soothe her hysterical loved one. She had just had the same thought herself.
In his study, Paladin sat in the chill with one small oil lamp lighting his desk. The fire had burned down to embers, and he had not bothered to place a fresh log on it. He gazed into the bed of glowing coals watching the little spouts of blue flame that licked about as the draft from the chimney tugged air up through the grating. Saradoc had a good reason for posting such an escort on his wife's carriage, Paladin thought as he flicked a corner of the letter back and forth with his right fore finger. Men. Men in the Shire.
The thought jolted him. He searched again through the letter for the words his brother-in-law had used. There they were, ". . . not of the nicer sort, like the ones in Bree with whom we Brandybucks often do business. These are swarthy and squint-eyed with an ill feeling about them." Paladin sighed and looked back into the remains of the fire. Saradoc would know. As the Tooks were to be found in every farthing of the Shire, the multitudinous Brandybuck relations were found in good supply all along the Brandywine. From farms north of Dwaling to those in the south along the edges of the Overbourne Marshes, Brandybucks hugged the river as a young hobbit would his lover. Paladin shook his head. Such an odd lot, those Brandybucks! But it was proving a good thing now as these Men had been observed crossing the river in places away from fords and towns where it had frozen over. And they were crossing the frozen marshes obviously avoiding the Brandywine Bridge.
Paladin turned back to his desk and the pile of letters that lay beneath the glass paperweight. Twenty letters, maybe more, from Tooks throughout the Shire reporting to The Took and Thain that there were Men hiding in stands of trees and in clefts in the rolling hills. Men in the larger towns knocking down buildings or building shacks. Men staying in a few of the oldest inns along the Great East Road where there were rooms to house them.
The Took and Thain of the Shire shook his head a bit to clear it then got a piece of paper from the drawer, pulled his ink stand closer, flipped back the cover on the bottle, drew his favorite quill from the holder and began his response to The Master of Buckland on the matter of Men in the Shire.
The sun had not yet risen at first breakfast, but its glow was trying to pass through the leaden sky by second breakfast. It was no longer snowing, yet clouds still hung heavy over the Shire. Esmeralda had spent the time after the earliest meal in the library looking through some of the older books and journals. She was now seated at the dressing table in her guest room brushing the dust from the old books out of her hair.
Fear swept through her. Her body shivered, and her hand shook losing its hold on the hairbrush. Though she stared into the mirror, it was not her reflection she saw. The mirror opened into a stone chamber. Graven stone behind her, above her, surrounding her. Voices coming through dulled ears.
"Get back! Stay with Gandalf!"
"They have a Cave Troll!"
She could see Merry a bit ahead and on her right. Pippin's right. Pippin. She felt a battle cry tear from their throat.
The battle raged, and he and Merry had stayed as close to Frodo as they could. Pippin had no space in his terrified mind for noticing the presence of another's thoughts or fears in his heart and head. Frodo! Hack at orcs. Stab at orcs. Stay near Frodo. Stay near Merry.
She was watching for Merry. There was blood. There was screaming and battle cries. She was watching for Frodo. She was spattered with hot black blood.
They ran up some steps to a walkway that ran around the room, he and Merry and Frodo. They put Frodo between them as they peered out from behind a pillar. A horror. A terror. It was hitting everything and anyone with the spiked hammer it held in its fist. It was hurting more orcs than it was hurting any of the Fellowship.
There was blood everywhere. Esme felt queasy. A Big Person, a golden-haired tall . . . elf! An elf!
"It's after Legolas, Merry!" screamed Pippin's voice.
"I know! Watch for Orcs, Pippin! Head that way Frodo!" Merry, her Merry, his bright eyes looking everywhere, taking charge. "No Frodo, stay between us!"
The horror was upon them. Pippin gazed up at the troll, towering over them even as they stood on the raised walkway. He screamed and jumped back as it swung it's hammer.
Merry! Esme felt Pippin grab at her son as Merry lost his footing trying to get back from the descending weapon. The floor between them and Frodo exploded into shards and dust. She saw nothing as Pippin closed his eyes and turned his head.
"Get up, Merry! It's after Frodo! It's after Frodo."
Pippin and Merry pelted the troll with rocks. They screamed. Time slowed. It nearly stopped.
Frodo was run through!
Nothing but rage. Esme's head hurt with it. Pippin's mind exploded with it. He was senseless with it as he and Merry clung to the troll's back and hacked at it's neck and shoulders.
Merry was grabbed and gone. He was being whipped around by the troll as a weapon before being flung aside.
Pippin's screams tore at his and Esmeralda's throat, though in her room no sound issued from her. No thoughts. Anger. Hatred. Mad sadness. Stab and stab and stab. And the troll slowed. It staggered. It fell dead to the floor, Pippin falling with it and from it. His breath was knocked from him, then she felt him suck in air and struggle to his feet. He turned to stare as a Man ran to Frodo.
A gasp. A rush of joy!
Now there was only the reflection of a pale, grey-haired hobbitess in a dressing table mirror. Esme sat a few moments and caught her breath. She put her head down on her arms and cried. They still lived. But where in Middle-earth were they? What was all of this?
Esmeralda finally looked over at the clock on the mantlepiece. It was past time for second breakfast. She got up slowly and walked to the door of her bedroom, grabbing the back of a chair on her way to steady herself. She poked her head out into the passageway.
"Violet?" she called.
"Yes, Mistress Brandybuck!" Violet hollered in answer from the room across the tunnel. In a few moments the young hobbit maid came to the doorway.
"I'm . . . I'm rather tired still, Violet. I'm going to nap some more. Come fetch me for luncheon, will you dear?"
"Yes, Mistress. And I'm hoping you're alright, ma'am."
"Thank you, dear. I'm sure I'm just tired. Thank you," Esme replied then closed her bedroom door.
Paladin had been concerned when Esmeralda missed both second breakfast and elevenses. It was quite unlike his sister who always had a healthy appetite. And now there she sat at the table for luncheon with two red smudges on her cheeks where she had obviously pinched them trying to put color onto her pale features. He noticed that her hand shook as she tried to eat her soup. 'Whatever is going on with her?' Paladin thought. She had been fine last night. Perhaps he should have Lanti give his sister a good looking over. Esme may be coming down with a cold after her rather foolish trip to see them in this horribly frigid weather.
They all continued to eat their meal, yet Esme remained oddly withdrawn. Dessert was served. Paladin had closed his eyes to give his full concentration to the spoonful of fabulous raspberry tart he had placed in his mouth, when he became aware of the strange silence at the table. Opening his eyes he then followed everyone else's astonished stares. Esmeralda had made no move to eat her dessert. She did not move at all, except a trembling that was making the table shake. His sister's green eyes were wide, filled with terror, staring into the air before her. Paladin quickly rushed to her side. He put an arm around her shaking shoulders and took one of her hands in his. It was cold, as if she had been outside, her fingernails were blueish.
"What . . . is . . . that? Merry?"
Paladin could barely understand the whispered words. Esme's other hand groped about as though seeking a hand to hold. Lanti came to her side, took the flailing hand and held it fast between her own.
Esme jerked. She was taught as a bow string.
The name burst from her and echoed in the huge main diningroom of Great Smials.
Less loudly. And she began to tremble again.
A whisper. Tears poured from her glazed green eyes.
Paladin and Pearl's husband picked up his stricken sister to carry her to her room as Pearl and Eglantine ran ahead of them to open the door and turn down the covers.
The room was cozy and warm and lit only by the fire on the hearth when Esme finally opened her eyes.
"Welcome back, dear sister."
She turned her head to stare open-mouthed at her brother.
"I'm not who you expected, am I?" Paladin sighed.
"No," Esme quietly answered.
"She told me some of it, Esme. Lanti said you had sworn her to secrecy, and I know I should not have . . . well . . . pushed her into breaking her promise to you. But we feared for your welfare."
"And do you believe what she told you, Paladin?"
He got up and began to pace up and down at the foot of the bed. Eventually he stopped and faced his sister. "She showed me the portraits and told me of the strange events years ago when our son was little. But it is much to ask me to believe, Esme." Paladin returned to his pacing. "That I'm to believe something I've been told all my life is a foolish rumor kept alive by hobbits who are jealous of our wealth and position." He paced a bit more and then turned to look at her again with a wry smile. "I've even been told they are jealous because at least Tooks have the courage to sometimes leave the Shire and have a look around at the wide world. Though I can hardly imagine the hobbits I know being jealous of that! And now I am supposed to believe it is true and that it possesses my dear youngest sister and . . . " his breath caught in his throat a moment, "and my precious little Pippin."
Paladin sat back down beside his sister and took her hand in his. An odd look, a look of yearning, came to his face. "Yet, there is no denying that there is something different about many of us Tooks. You, Esme, and Pippin. I was under your spell almost from the time you were born, and I'm under his as well." He smiled and caressed Esme's cheek. "And your happy spirits, dear sister, the two of you lift the hearts of all around you and because of it, there are few things as difficult to bear as seeing either of you downhearted. If you tell me this is true, tell me yourself whilst looking me straight in the eye, I will believe you."
Esmeralda sat up in bed and took Paladin's face in her hands. She held him so they looked steadily into each others eyes. "I am not mad nor am I teasing you, dearest, dearest, brother. There is a difference in some of us Tooks. The oddness is real. I have studied their old letters and journals and diaries. I've gazed into their eyes in their portraits. They are born early. They are small and seem sickly but rarely die young for they are stronger than they seem. Their minds are curious and rarely satisfied with the obvious answers to their questions. They must see around the corner, around the next bend in the road, over the river and over the hills. It is always said they have a way of getting others to do what they want, that the unsuspecting hobbit should beware." She paused, and the pause gave more weight to the words that followed. "Never look a Fairy in the eyes, Paladin Took."
Paladin stared into Esmeralda's eyes and felt himself being pulled into their depths. He had a sense of timelessness and freedom. That he could chase the wind . . . and catch it. The smell of autumn filled his nostrils, and he heard the swish of leaves being walked through. Then his sister closed her eyes and turned her head. He was back in a guest bedroom at Great Smials, sitting at her bedside as she held his face in her hands.
"It makes me tired," she said softly.
He reached over and turned her face back to his. Their eyes met, but the magic was gone. His voice was soft and sad. "I believe you, Esme. I believe. I wish I could help you bear this gift." He let his hand fall from her face and bowed his head. "He lives? You are sure my dear Pippin lives?"
"And Merry as well? Your lad is a wonderful young hobbit. He has been such a close friend to Pippin. He is precious to Lanti and I as well."
"Yes. Merry and Pippin, Frodo and Sam are all alive, Paladin." She had let go of his face and now looked at her hands in her lap. "I will know," she paused to keep herself from crying. "I will know if any of them . . . if . . ."
Paladin pulled her close and held her tightly. He rocked her for a while, both of them lost in their own thoughts.
"You will go home tomorrow, Esme." He said at last, then he kissed her forehead. "I've had a feeling of my own, and it is not a good one. I fear trouble is coming, and you shouldn't be here. You will leave in the morning."
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.