1. Talking to Strangers
Pippin tossed restlessly in his bedroll, but could not get comfortable. No matter which way he turned, there seemed to be a sharp stone directly beneath him, or his blanket felt too tight, or the pack he used as a pillow was either too hard or too flat. With a sigh, he flopped on his back and stared up into the pitch-black sky.
A light wind blew across the camp, carrying ash from the borders of Mordor. Pippin sneezed as dust tickled his nose, and then grimaced. This breeze had come from the Dead Marshes, judging by the smell of decay. He turned his back to the wind and huddled under his blanket, shivering with a chill that came more from apprehension than from the air.
The Host of the West was camped but a few hours' march from the Black Gate, and Pippin dreaded the coming battle. He feared not for himself, but that he would be nothing but a burden when the critical time came, just useless baggage once again. Next to his battle-hardened comrades in the company of Gondor, he felt woefully inadequate. Why had he even come with the Host? What use could he possibly be in a large-scale battle?
If only Beregond or one of the Fellowship were nearby; maybe he would be able to turn his mind from such depressing thoughts and get to sleep. But no, he had lost sight of his friends hours ago, and the Men around him were all strangers.
Pippin fidgeted again, still uncomfortable. Adjusting his pillow, he found himself wondering, not for the first time, how close Frodo and Sam were to fulfilling their Quest. Had they reached Mount Doom? Were they lost somewhere in the Black Land? Was either of them hurt? Was Gollum proving trustworthy, or had he betrayed them? Had they been captured in Morgul Vale, or in the pass beyond it? Captured by what sort of creatures?
Remembering Gandalf's reaction to the news of Frodo and Sam's intended entrance route into Mordor, Pippin shuddered. What kind of dangers lurked in Cirith Ungol? What would happen if his friend and cousin were caught? Would they be killed? Or worse? What would become of the Ring? What if the Black Riders -
No! Pippin stifled a sob, trying to stop the flood of questions in his mind, and the horrifying possible answers that followed in their wake.
Ah, dear Frodo, he thought, will I ever see you again? And Merry, how I wish you could be here with me.
Tears pricked his eyes as loneliness descended upon his heart, and his normally bright spirit darkened to match the bleak surroundings. He shifted and stretched, trying to relax his taut muscles, only to stiffen again, startled by a voice that drifted suddenly out of the darkness.
"So you cannot sleep either, Master Perian?"
Turning his head toward the voice, Pippin could see nothing but a vague outline of the bedroll next to his, its occupant a mere shadow in the dim light of distant torches. The shadow spoke again. "What troubles you so?"
Pippin's response was devoid of emotion. "This bedroll is uncomfortable. The ground is rocky and there is no fresh air for miles. I'm sure the rest of the Host would be complaining, were they not exhausted from days of marching."
"That is true enough, but I have watched you these past days," the anonymous soldier said. "The long marches, short rations, and uneasy nights have been difficult for you, but you have borne it all without complaint. I suspect it takes more than a stone in your bed to disturb your sleep."
Pippin did not reply.
"It does no one any good to hold their troubles inside, Master Perian," said the soldier.
Pippin thought for a moment before answering. He did not recognise this soldier's voice. Should he talk about his loneliness with a Man he did not know? On second thought, they were all likely to die on the morrow. What did it matter if this soldier knew of his problems?
"I am lonely," he admitted with a sigh. "I hardly know anyone in this company, and those I do know are often busy when I have time to speak to them. My travelling companions are always busy, and haven't said a word to me since we crossed the Great River." He paused before going on to the matters that disturbed him the most. "I haven't seen my homeland or my family in months. Two of my cousins travelled with me at first, but one left our Company to follow another path, and the other was left behind in Minas Tirith. I don't think I'll ever see them again."
Pippin swallowed past a painful lump in his throat. "We had to leave home quietly, without anyone knowing. I couldn't even say goodbye to my parents." A tear rolled down his cheek. "I miss them terribly."
"I can certainly understand how you feel," the soldier said with sympathy. "My friends in the Guard have all been killed, and most of my family as well. My daughter is all I have left. She went away with the wains to find safety, about the same time you arrived in the City."
Pippin felt rather foolish for complaining. At least his cousins were alive, as far as he knew. "I'm so sorry," he said.
"There is no need to pity me," the soldier said calmly. "Such things are inevitable in war. And Gondor would not have become the greatest military strength in the West without engaging in warfare."
Pippin was struck by this great difference between Men and Hobbits. The Shire would never consider the deaths of innocent people to be an acceptable loss. The very idea of striving to be renowned for military prowess at the cost of countless lives was utterly foreign to Hobbits.
"Shouldn't a country's first priority be the welfare of its people?" he asked. "If such deaths are inevitable, why then do you approve of war?"
"I wonder about that myself," the soldier answered.
The soldier sounded troubled. Pippin did not reply, waiting for his companion to speak. After a pause, the Man continued.
"Gondor's past is filled with war. If you were to ask someone for an overview of our history, nearly every event deemed important enough to mention would be a war, or somehow connected to war and battle. In casual discussions concerning some foreign difficulty or other, we are always quick to assume war is the only solution, even when careful thought reveals better alternatives. We have been so steeped in war, we barely know what peace is anymore." He sighed. "Even now we march to certain death and defeat, wasting our forces because we don't know what else to do."
Pippin wished he could tell the soldier the real reason for their march to the Black Gate; however, one never knew where the Enemy might have spies. Before the Host left the City, he had been warned by Gandalf and Strider not to speak of the Ring.
"This battle is not a pointless waste," he said, "however much it seems so to us. I don't think I should say everything I know, but I can tell you that we do this for a purpose. There is still hope."
There was a long silence, finally broken by the soldier.
"Speaking of what lies ahead will not aid sleep, Master Perian. Tell me, what kind of songs do your people sing?"
Pippin was quite startled by this sudden change of subject, but soon recovered his tongue. "Mostly cheerful, sometimes inane songs about anything we can think of. Usually they're about simple things, like snoozing under a tree on a warm spring day, or the pleasures of toasting mushrooms while gazing at the stars." He glanced up toward the sky, where not a star could be seen. "Things that don't seem important until we can't have them anymore," he added wistfully.
"Most of ours are about battles and heroic deeds," the soldier said. "It's been years since I heard one that didn't have some moral lesson to teach, that was sung just for fun." There was another pause as the two of them stared into the surrounding blackness; then the soldier spoke softly, sounding almost hesitant. "Would you sing one of your songs for me, Master Perian?"
"I'd be delighted to." Pippin cleared his throat and began to sing - quietly, with respect for the soldiers sleeping nearby. The tune that came to his lips was an amusing ditty of old Bilbo's, making fun of the things one had to put up with when one was rich. No names were mentioned in the song, but anyone who knew Bilbo could tell it had been written with the Sackville-Bagginses in mind.
The soldier chuckled as Pippin sang the last line, and Pippin felt a smile touch his face for the first time since leaving Minas Tirith. He had thought the song might increase his homesickness, but having someone to enjoy it with made the Shire seem less far away. In fact, unable to see anything in the darkness, not knowing his companion's name, he could almost pretend he was back home, singing with a friend outside The Golden Perch.
"Very clever," said the soldier. "That song could rival anything Gondor's jesters come up with."
"It was written by a distant cousin of mine," Pippin explained. "He would be quite pleased to hear you say that. He once complained to me that none of the Big People he sang it to ever understood the jokes."
"Humour is important to your people?" the soldier enquired.
"Not exactly," said Pippin, "but it is the way of our people to make light of things, even if a situation seems dire. Of course, we are a peaceful race, and avoid warfare, so situations like this don't often occur. I can see why Men might not understand a Hobbit song. Your people are far too grim and reserved, not at all like Hobbits."
"I wish we could meet more of your people," said the soldier. "You are right to call us too grim; Hobbits would bring a welcome relief." He chuckled again. "Imagine what the Enemy would think if we all converged upon the Black Gate, singing your cousin's song at the top of our lungs. Might give His minions a pause."
The mention of the Black Gate wiped the smile from Pippin's face. He sighed. "I might have better luck trying to defeat them in that manner than in actual battle," he admitted. "I know nothing about warfare, and I've had little battle experience. Really, what can I do besides get in the way?"
Previously, Pippin had been unable to speak of this to any of his friends, from the Fellowship or from his company. Here, however, discussing his fear was suddenly easy. There was a peculiar comfort in confessing to a stranger.
The soldier was silent for a moment, and then spoke, his voice low and serious. "Some wars are pointless, but not this one, Master Perian. This war must be fought. The Enemy intends to steal our lands and our freedom, and our only option is to fight Him, fight with everything we've got. If we give up, we allow Him to win." He paused. "You don't want your people enslaved, do you? You would not have your home overrun by the Dark Lord's foul Orcs?"
"Of course not," Pippin answered sharply.
"When the battle begins, do not think about what you are fighting. Think of what you defend. Remember your home and family, and your love for them will strengthen your courage. Many of the world's greatest deeds were done not for personal gain, but out of love for another. 'Tis amazing what love can enable one to do."
The soldier paused again, and Pippin thought he detected a smile in his next words. "At the very least, you can get in the way of a few Orcs."
The soldier got to his feet and retrieved his sword and helm from beside his bedroll. Sheathing the sword, he said, "I must report for watch duty at the edge of the camp. I thank you for your companionship, Master Perian. It lightens my heart to know there are people out there who still live in peace. I wish you the best of luck, and hope you may yet return to your family. Farewell, mellon nin."
Before Pippin could reply the soldier, whose name Pippin still did not know, turned and melted away into the darkness.
Pippin lay on his back, considering the soldier's advice: "Think of what you defend." He was reminded of Boromir, who had spoken at length about the glory of Gondor and his men's efforts to defend her. Had this been his method of coping with being constantly surrounded by warfare and death?
"Think of what you defend."
His thoughts turned to Frodo and Sam, who had left the Fellowship with no more hope of returning than the Host which now camped scant miles from the Black Gate, and on whom the fate of Middle-Earth lay.
He said to think of my home and family, Pippin thought. The Shire will only survive if Sam and Frodo succeed. I must do whatever I can to see that they do, no matter what the cost.
Pippin curled up inside his bedroll, a look of determination on his face.
Boromir gave his life to save Merry and I. I will pay back my debt on the morrow. Even if I fall after slaying but one Orc, 'twill be one less Orc in Frodo's way, one less dark minion to assail the innocent. Frodo, Merry, all the Hobbits of the Shire; I go to this battle for them. I risk death so that they might live.
Pippin's hand sought the scarf around his neck, his sole reminder of home.
"Think of what you defend."
I will not fail them.
His eyes drifted shut as sleep overcame him, but the determined expression never left his face.
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.