1. Learning to Walk
Eglantine paused, panting, at the junction of the hallways. She put one hand to her back, which was aching again – her youngest was getting heavy – and watched with a fond smile as her husband swooped determinedly on the toddling hobbit-lad, already half-way to the open front door. My, he has a turn of speed on him, Eglantine thought, admiringly. He never seems to slow down. She thought back to just a few weeks ago. It seemed like one minute he was lying as peaceful as you like in his cradle, and the next he was running about the place like there was no tomorrow. Such energy! She had never seen the like.
Pal had scooped up their son now, and a most displeased wail split the air. Oh yes, thought Eglantine, he also has a excellent pair of lungs. How could I forget that? She moved over to them both, reached out for the baby and got a fine kick for her pains. Pal laughed, and she glared at him.
“He escaped from the nursery again. Nanny Fern doesn’t know what to do with him – her hands are full with Pimmie’s tantrums, and Pearl seems to be sickening for something. Honestly! Pal? Are you even listening to me?”
Pal was tossing the baby through the air, and making him squeal.
“Yes, dear,” he said absently.
Eglantine pursed her lips and then smiled a little. After all it wasn’t often Pal relaxed. As Thain’s heir, and not direct line at that, he took his duties all too seriously. Far too seriously, she sometimes thought. It was good that there was someone at least who could distract him and make him laugh. Even if it was just a wayward babe with escape on his mind.
“Wait for me, Merry, wait for me!”
The shrill voice of the child shattered the peace of early morning. Merry closed his eyes, wincing at the piercing tone, and then turned and apologetically shrugged at Berilac, who was looking murderous.
In a rapid undertone he whispered, “It’s not my fault.”
Berry glared and then whispered back, “Merry, you promised he wasn’t coming this time.”
“He just can’t keep still – he’ll scare away all the fish.”
“And it’s the competition next week – I want to win.”
The two lads stopped short then and Merry put his hands on his hips and returned his friend’s glare.
“I didn’t tell him, Berry. He always seems to know, that’s all. And he hates being left out of anything, you know that.”
“I don’t care. He’s your cousin. You look after him, if you like. I’m off.”
Taking the rod and stool out of Merry’s hands, Berilac stomped off down the hill, pausing only to throw over his shoulder a parting shot. “And don’t let him follow me.”
Merry turned back then and watched the small figure come running across the meadow, his tracks dark and clear in the dew-laden grass, following their own. He sighed a little but found a smile tugging at him, as he waited for the rapid little figure to catch up. It was true. Pippin was Berilac’s cousin too, but somehow, always and most especially, he was Merry’s.
Closer now, and he could see that Pip hadn’t even buttoned his coat – Nanny Fern would have his guts for garters if she saw that, but then Pippin wasn’t really big enough to button his own coat yet. It was a miracle he’d remembered the coat at all really.
As the toiling lad reached the top of the hill, Merry held out his arms. Still running, Pip barrelled into them, the momentum of his small body throwing them both down onto the grass. Hoisting him above his head, Merry laughed, and tickled him until his childish giggle echoed far across the hill.
Heart in his mouth, Paladin watched his son sprint for the corner of the field. It didn’t matter now that he’d expressly forbidden Pippin to come with him today. That he was angry with him for a whole series of accidents and scrapes, the latest of which involved his tutor, Master Sandheaver, and a frog. That Pal should have realised when Pippin was expressly forbidden to do something – like come on the latest stock inspection – it was inevitable that he should look up and see his curly head crossing the worst of all fields, the one containing the new prize bull from Buckland. That…
None of that mattered now. All that mattered was the splintered wood of the gate digging into his palms as he hung on, unable to move, knuckles turning white; and the suddenly nauseous smell of the newly mown hay in the field next door; and the sight of his son’s white face as he saw the bull and started running. But the bull had begun its charge before Pip even realised his danger, he wouldn’t make it, he wouldn’t make it…
The wool of Pip’s coat tore a little as Pal pulled him over the gate and they collapsed on to the grass. He would be angry with him again soon enough, Pal knew that, but now there would be time for that, and time for Pip to explain how he had only wanted to take an interest in the work, like Papa had said he wanted, and time for Pal to make him apologise to Master Sandheaver, and time to take him back and carefully not explain to Eglantine how close they’d come to losing him today.
No, for now Pal just held him close, smelling vanilla and apples in the scent of his lad’s hair, feeling his own heartbeat slowing down, and watching his knuckles whiten for a better reason, clasped tight around the shivering shoulders of his son.
“Pip! Where are you, Pip?”
Frodo couldn’t hide the exasperation in his voice, a tone he knew was not likely to endear him to young Master Peregrin, but somehow, as always, he couldn’t help it with Pippin. At his side, Merry was suppressing laughter, but when Frodo turned a jaundiced eye on him, his cousin was the picture of smiling innocence. Irritably, Frodo slashed at some of the weeds next to their path with his walking stick, and tried not to imagine Pippin’s face among the deadheads.
“Honestly Merry, we’d have had camp set up by now, and a nice fire burning, and perhaps a bite of supper on the go, if only Pip would stay on the path instead of always gallivanting off as the mood takes him. If I ran around as much as he does I’d be worn to a complete frazzle! I don’t understand him.”
“Oh, not all of us are as ancient and staid as you are, Frodo.” Merry was smirking, Frodo thought, actually smirking!
“Ancient and staid, am I? I’ll give you ancient and staid.” He bent a glowering look on his young cousin, which seemed to have the opposite effect to the one intended, as Merry went off into great peals of laughter. He laughed until he had to stop and hold his sides, tears running from his eyes.
“Oh Frodo, I’m sorry. But you looked exactly like Bilbo used to just then – you know, when someone moved the teapot or the ink well dried out. All grumpy and bachelorish.”
“Oh, for goodness sake, you ridiculous Brandybuck, leave your elderly cousin alone.” But he found a reluctant smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. A sudden unpleasant thought struck him. “Is that why Pip is always running off when we’re on one of our little trips? Because I’m too boring for him?”
“Don’t be silly.” Merry looked alarmed now. “He loves tramping about with you, we both do. It’s just…”
“Oh, Pip’s never learnt to keep still, that’s all. He will one day.”
Frodo opened his mouth to make a very scathing remark on the likelihood of young Tooks to ever learn anything at all, when there was a crashing in the bushes, and the said young Took finally appeared, breathing hard but grinning from ear to ear.
“Look what I found, Frodo. On the side of a fallen tree. Aren’t there such a lot of them?”
Frodo leaned over to peer suspiciously into a large and faintly grubby handkerchief, and then sighed in satisfaction, all irritation forgotten.
“Mushrooms,” he said happily, and smiled.
“Pip, sit down!”
Samwise looked at the two gentry, cousins no less, and thought how unlikely that particular command was to be fulfilled. He’d never seen a more twitchy, scatter-brained and down-right flitterty-gibbert young hobbit than that there Pippin Took. Master Peregrin, he quickly corrected himself, all but feeling his Gaffer’s clout round the ear, fair payment for his disrespectful thoughts. Familiarity did not mean vulgarity, as he very well knew, for all that Sam had run about after Mr Pippin since the lad was knee high to a grasshopper.
Sam waited patiently as Mr Merry tried to frown Mr Pip down, but to no avail, as Sam could have told him, if any had asked. In the end Merry shrugged and sat back on the bench, watching as the energetic tween immediately bounced up and disappeared like an eel into the late afternoon crowd of drinkers, thronging the snug at the Green Dragon.
“He’ll be back.” There was a thread of impatience in the normally friendly voice, which Sam thought was mightily unusual in Mr Merry, particularly with reference to Mr Pippin, but he put it down to Mr Merry’s ever-growing responsibilities over in Buckland, what with being the only son of the Master, and being pressured to take a wife ‘n all, from what he’d heard. It didn’t take a genius to work out that Mr Pippin wasn’t so constrained as yet, as any gossiping ostler or tithe-worker could tell you, and would, over a quiet pint or two, and it weren’t perhaps so surprising that Mr Merry might be finding the difference hard.
Sam made a non-committal noise in the face of the suddenly piercing grey eyes turned on him, and felt himself flushing, suddenly vividly conscious of sitting here with the Quality, like an equal, never no mind that it were Mr Merry himself as had asked him to join them.
“Sam. I want to ask you a favour.” The crooked smile that accompanied the request was charmingly direct. Mr Merry didn’t seem to be feeling any of Sam’s own discomfort.
“Happy to be of service, sir,” he said stoutly, wondering what on earth had to be asked for in the snug of the Green Dragon, rather than at home comfortably in Bag End.
“Well, it’s a little delicate, I’m afraid.” Sam felt his mouth open a little in surprise. Was Mr Merry going to ask him to deliver notes to a sweetheart or somethin’? He’d heard tales of such being asked of servants afore but…
“It’s about Frodo.”
Sam shut his mouth with a snap. If it were a favour for Mr Frodo that he didn’t know nothing about, then Sam weren’t at all sure he should be listening to such stuff, Mr Merry being Mr Frodo’s cousin or no, he knew where his loyalties lay…
“I think he’s going to leave the Shire.”
There was a small gasp that Sam was sure he hadn’t made. Both he and Mr Merry turned to see young Mr Pippin facing them across the scarred wood of the table, three tankards held precariously in his hands. Even as Sam watched one mug started to slide and he lunged forward to right it, catching it and the other hobbit both as Mr Pippin stood as though pole-axed. He was panting, he’d obviously hurried back to them after getting in the drinks, and Sam could feel a suppressed intensity shivering in the skin under his hands, almost thrumming with it, he was, tweenage energy and restlessness coming off him in waves, but cold now with shock.
“Merry, you don’t mean it!”
“Are you going to sit down now, Pip? If you hadn’t straight away run off, I would have told you too, before you ask!”
Mr Merry was frowning, and a right heavy brow he had to frown from under, now Sam came to pay it heed. Funny how he’d never noticed that about Mr Merry afore. And now that Sam was looking, he could tell that it were worry that clouded those eyes, and hardened the look that was turned onto his beloved cousin, worry yes, but not over Buckland, or matchmakin’ or any other gentrified concern. No, it were worry for Mr Frodo, and Sam felt his heart thump in his chest. Mr Frodo was going to leave the Shire. Not if Sam could help it, he wasn’t!
“Frodo can’t leave the Shire, Merry!” Mr Pippin voiced Sam’s own thoughts, had he but known it, and was almost vibrating on the spot, his eyes locked to his cousin’s face. Sam found he was holding his breath.
“Well, he is.” Mr Merry took a pull on his mug, and seemed to gain strength from it. He raised his eyes to meet Pippin’s and gave him a long, slow measured look. “He is and we can’t stop him. But neither can he stop us, Pip. We’re not going to let him tramp off into the Wilds all alone.” Suddenly he looked boyish again, as he smiled wickedly, enough to make Sam take a hasty pull at his own half-pint, and to feel his stomach tie itself in knots. “You see, I’ve got a plan…”
“Got to stick close, Pip.”
The sun was westering, limning the gardens of Bag End in shades of rose and umber, and Pippin was nervously pacing around and about, unable to just keep still. Whispering to himself, and rubbing his hands, feeling them twitch, and wiping a faint sheen of cold sweat onto his trouser leg, he repeated Merry’s words to himself like a mantra.
“Got to stick close, Pip.”
It was all up to him. If their plan was going to work there could be no losing Frodo on the road. No wandering off after a fascinating sound, or to catch a glimpse of a dappled hazel thicket in the Autumn sunshine. No running ahead for the sheer joy of the movement. No… Well, could he help it if there were so many fascinating diversions in the world? But in this case, Merry had been very clear.
“Don’t you lose him, Pip! If you lose him, he could slip away and then he’ll leave us behind. He’ll go off on his Adventure into who knows what dangers without us to help him. We can’t let him do that!”
“I know, Merry.” Pippin whispered to himself, and took another turn about the garden, finding himself jittery, his teeth almost chattering, although it wasn’t cold. The sun was nearly down now and the stars were coming out. Pip threw his head back and stared up at the endless sparkling bowl above him. The stars seemed very far away. Like we will be, he thought then, and a sudden wave of loneliness washed over him for all that they would be leaving behind.
There was a clinking sound behind him from the smial and Pip whipped his head round so fast he nearly fell over, and then laughed a little at his own nerves. Then he realised that even though it had got so dark he could barely see his own hands in front of his face, he could see no light from any of the windows. Frodo was saying goodbye to Bag End, Pippin knew that, just as he’d been saying goodbye to every old haunt through the whole summer long, but could he really see well enough to say his goodbyes in the dark? Sudden panic gripped him in icy fingers. Maybe he had already left? Maybe he had slipped off with Sam – who had become painfully secretive and uncooperative since his discovery by Gandalf – leaving a simple-minded gullible Took to kick his heels in the dust and try and explain himself to Merry…
Pippin tore into a sudden run, heading for the back door, and catching a hangnail painfully on the wood of the door jamb as he wrenched it open. Inside was silence and stillness. He paused for a moment and struggled to listen over the sound of his own drumming heartbeat, then with increasing speed he began to move from room to room, feeling almost ghostly in the dark, like he was the only living thing left in the huge empty smial. He paused in the echoing hallway, breathing hard, feeling despair clutch at him. It was too late. He’d let Merry down again. He’d let Frodo down. He’d let himself down. Sam and Frodo must have already gone, sneaked off, knowing they were leaving the Shire, and not wanting to explain themselves, while he had been left wool-gathering in the garden. What on earth was he going to do?
There was a clinking sound again and Pippin jumped. It was much closer this time, and came from the direction of the cellar. His heart started again with a rush and he could feel the relief spread like warm ale from his curly head to the furry tips of his toes. Ale… Of course, Sam had said he was going for a last sup from the barrel in the cellar… Wool-gathering again, Peregrin Took, he sternly reminded himself. And then bethought himself of something else that panic had chased from his mind, and hauled open the front door. A warmly welcoming sight met his eyes. There, lying on the step where he’d left them were three – three! – well-filled packs.
With a shaky sigh, Pippin took himself outside, shut the door quietly, and firmly sat down on his pack. His knees were wobbly. The moon was beginning to rise and glimmer on the hedges of the Road, turning all to hard-edged shadow and faint silvery light. With a bit of staring Pip could see the planes and angles of a body stock still in the middle of the path – it was too far away to see clearly but surely it must be Frodo? Saying goodbye to the lane, more than likely. Never had the sight of his dearest cousin been more welcome, and he drank in the sight as Sam was no doubt drinking in the beer.
Once more Pippin rubbed faintly sweaty palms on the cloth of his trousers, and took a deep breath. This time he would definitely stay near, stay quiet, and walk close. He’d stick like a burr, he would. No more running off. No more thoughtlessness. No more wool-gathering. This was a serious mission, and he must be serious too, for Frodo’s sake, and for his own. Don’t run before you can walk, Peregrin Took, the beloved but faint voice of his mother from long ago floated raggedly through his mind, and don’t take on more than you can chew. It’s too late, Mum, he found himself answering her absently in his mind, picking up the straps of his pack and beginning to plait them together, as something to keep his already restless hands busy. I have a feeling this Adventure will be bigger than all of us. But running has never been the problem, Mum, you know that. This time, somehow, I must learn how to walk. I hope I can.
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.