2. Paladin Took
"They did what?!" Paladin shouted and jerked from his chair almost toppling it over in the process.
Saradoc looked up at Paladin, his face glowing red in the gleam of the setting sun as it cast her last light through the small window in the Thain's study. "They have left the Shire," he repeated sighing deeply, "probably going through the Old Forest. They don't know when they will return." His voice was quiet, calm. He had had enough time to think about his words, to speculate about what had happened and to cast aside his own anger and worries, at least for the moment. Waiting for Paladin to calm and sit down again, he produced a letter from his breast pocket and handed it over to the head of the Took family.
Paladin frowned, looking for a moment more confused than angry, and turned the letter in his hands as if he had never seen one before. His doubtful eyes met Saradoc's. "Read it," the Master of Buckland urged. "It won't ease your mind much and it explains even less, but perhaps it will help you understand. It helped me."
While he was waiting for Paladin to read his son's letter, Saradoc went to the hearth and fed the crackling fire with a fresh log. Not that it was burning low or getting cold in the study, but Saradoc felt the need to busy himself. Paladin should be given the time to digest what was going on as slowly he had learned and Saradoc would certainly give him time for his anger before bursting out all of news he had. As he poked the tongs listlessly in the fire, he realised his hands were trembling and closed his eyes, struggling to stay as calm as he had been when he had entered the Thain's study.
Saradoc had wanted to travel to the Great Smials the very morning after he had read his son's letter the first time, but his plans had been scattered and his mind had been occupied with worries other than the one for Merry and his cousins.
Awake! Fear! Fire! Foes! Awake!
The Horn-call of Buckland rang in Saradoc's ears sending cold shivers down his spine. Behind him he suddenly heard Paladin taking in a deep breath and gritting his teeth. Quietly Saradoc let go of the tongs and slowly rose to his feet, pacing back to the Thain's desk.
"How could he allow that?" Paladin grumbled through gritted teeth. "How could Frodo allow that?!" He almost spat out the name as he hit the desk with his flat hands and jerked up. This time the stool did fall over but Paladin did not care. He was trembling with the effort not to show all his anger. "What is it that fool needs to do? Do you know?" Paladin stared at him, his eyes glistening with restrained wrath.
Saradoc shook his head, knowing that 'that fool' was none other than Frodo. After all he had cast most of his anger on the eldest of the cousins as well, and why should he not? Calmly he replied: "If I knew, I would tell you."
"How can you remain this calm?" Paladin demanded to know. "After all he his taken your son with him as well."
Paladin had never been one to conceal his anger and by the disgusted tone in his voice Saradoc knew that Frodo would have a good deal to listen to once he was back in the Shire - and Paladin would probably save his breath on friendly words. "Allow him his wrath," Saradoc thought. "Once he knows all I know he will be glad if the lads return at all and forget all about the anger he now holds against Frodo."
"You have read the letter," Saradoc answered. "He is not to be blamed. Frodo didn't even know about the plans our sons have made."
"It doesn't matter," Paladin answered fiercely. "He could have stopped them. He should have stopped them! Pippin is not even of age yet!"
A grim smile appeared on Saradoc's face. "I know. I thought the same when I first read the letter. But think about it, my friend, think about your son. You know how pigheaded he is, just like my Merry. The two of them together…" Saradoc shook his head. "Frodo didn't have the slightest chance."
Paladin stared at him in surprised anger. The Thain could not believe that he was on Frodo's side and, in fact, Saradoc could not believe it either. Paladin's hands clenched until his knuckles turned white. His entire body was tense. "He could have tried," Paladin finally muttered.
Saradoc nodded. "Who said he didn't? From all I know from Fredegar he wasn't all that pleased to take our scoundrels with him."
"Fatty Bolger?" Paladin lifted his head to stare at Saradoc in amazement. "So he's behind all that as well?"
Saradoc nodded. "He intended to go with them as well, but was too scared of the Old Forest to enter it, a fact that didn't stop our sons, though I wish it had. Fatty didn't tell me anything about what business forced Frodo to sneak out of the Shire secretly but he told me where they are heading to."
Paladin's face lit up. A faint but eerie red glow was in his right eye, either reflecting the last gleam of sunlight or the embers crackling in the hearth. "Where to?" he wanted to know moving away from his desk and pacing impatiently towards the Master of Buckland.
Saradoc didn't answer at once, unsure if he should tell his friend the whereabouts of their children right now. But then he saw something in his eyes he had felt far too often himself the last week: despair and a sickening worry that could only grasp a parent whose child was missing. "Rivendell," he answered silently and lowered his eyes as if fearing his friend's reaction.
"Rivendell," Paladin repeated in pondering surprise, "'tis an elven-realm from all I know. What in the Shire could Frodo want to do there? Just as crazy about elves he is as old Bilbo was. He certainly put too many stupid ideas into my Pippin's head otherwise he wouldn't have followed him."
Paladin paced uneasily back and forth in the study muttering to himself as if he had forgotten Saradoc was watching him. Saradoc studied him intently for a while, but then got lost in his own thoughts and worries about his son. After all, what could they want to do in Rivendell? He had asked himself just that far too often in the past few days.
"What are we waiting for?" Paladin suddenly exclaimed and stopped short.
Saradoc jumped at the sudden rise of Paladin's voice and looked puzzled at the Thain.
"We follow them of course and bring them back home and tell them a good deal about sneaking away from us," Paladin declared determinedly. He was up and about the get everything ready for the journey to come.
Saradoc sighed deeply and let himself drop on a chair. He rubbed his fingers between his eyes to fight the pounding pain there. He had had this headache all day. It had left him as soon as he had entered the Great Smials but now it returned with increasing force. "How do you propose to do that? They are out of our reach by now."
"How can you give up so quickly? Are you not worried about your son?" Paladin yelled and his eyes, glimmering with fury, were looking daggers at Saradoc. He was panting now, not willing to understand the Master's calmness, his fingers still clenched with suppressed anger. But then he took a breath, casting his eyes down for a split second. When he looked at Saradoc again, his voice was more settled. "I, for my case, am worried and I will follow them whether you wish it or not. I don't need your permission."
Saradoc met Paladin's gaze and there was a flash in his eyes. "Of course I am worried! My son may be of age but he is still my only son and he is out there in all weather, without a roof over his head and nothing but a backpack of food and drink and what nature can offer him. Of course I am worried, but I trust him and you should trust your son as well."
Paladin stared at him flabbergasted, obviously unprepared for the change of tone and the increasing volume of Saradoc's voice. He opened his mouth to answer back, but Saradoc stopped him with a single movement of his hand. "Before you say anything could you please sit down again and listen to me a moment longer." His voice sounded as calm as he could manage though it trembled slightly hiding a silent demand.
Their eyes met and though it took a long moment of gazing into each others eyes Paladin finally returned to his desk, lifted up his stool again and sat down. He didn't say anything but Saradoc knew he was all ears.
The sun had set and the faint light was gone. Now only the crackling of the fire remained though its faint light did hardly reach the Thain's desk.
"When I came here I wanted to speak to you alone and that I did for a reason, my friend," Saradoc began. "This part of the story Eglantine should know as well but I leave it to you to tell her. You know your wife better than I do and you know how to calm her. But there is something else; something I don't want Eglantine to know because she would worry too much. Even Esmie knows only as much as I couldn't keep from her ears."
Here Paladin lifted his head, his brow furrowed. In the darkness he looked old and worn and for a moment Saradoc was anxious about burdening him with the other worries that troubled his heart. But then he thought better of it. Paladin was Pippin's father and had a right to know. Besides he was the Thain and Saradoc would need his assistance should anything like this happen again.
Saradoc took a deep breath. "Three nights ago the house at Crickhollow was raided in the early hours. The Horn-call of Buckland sounded from Crickhollow and was heard all over Buckland. Fatty Bolger had raised the alarm. He was in the house Frodo had called home for a night when three black figures attacked it in the hour before dawn. He said a feeling of fear had been growing on him all day so he was unable to find any rest. He told me he was peering out of the door in the early morning when he saw a black shadow move under the trees. The gate seemed to open on its own without any sound and that was when panic seized him. He left the house through the backdoor and raised the alarm. He said that Frodo had spoken of the dark figures as well. To all appearances he, Samwise and Peregrin had been chased by them while they travelled the Shire on their way to Crickhollow. Black riders they had called them and not even an Elf they had met on the road could tell him what they were. I believe the attack of Crickhollow was meant for Frodo. I think he is on the run from those black riders - whatever they are - and has left the Shire because of them. Maybe even to spare us greater harm then what was already been done. Of course he was not eager to take Merry and Pippin with him, but I think he felt that they knew about the trouble he is in and therefore did not stop them. I am almost certain they knew about some kind of danger because Merry mentioned in his letter that Frodo will need good friends sooner or later." Saradoc took a deep breath to keep his voice from shaking. "Perhaps they are in greater peril than we now can imagine."
Even in the growing darkness of the room Saradoc could see that Paladin had gone pale. His fists had unclenched and the long wrinkled fingers trembled. The Thain's dark eyes seemed to gaze into nothingness. A heavy silence filled the room which only the occasional crackling of the fire disturbed. Saradoc quavered as well and needed all his will-power to keep his fears under control. In the silence, he could hear his own heartbeat and far in the back of his mind the Horn-call of Buckland echoed. He didn't mention that the guards at the North-gate had been killed, trampled by the black riders' horses' hooves. No need to worry Paladin even more - not at the moment at least.
"So you think they are in danger?" Paladin whispered at last and Saradoc knew from the tone in his voice that the Thain already knew the answer and was too afraid to voice it.
"I think they are out of our reach and will have to look after themselves as well as they can," Saradoc said as calmly as he could manage, though he could not hide the worry and despair in his own voice. "We cannot help them where they are, but we can see to it that what they wanted to protect will be protected. We shall guard the border of our land as well as we can to avoid another attack like the one on Crickhollow. We will see to it that the Horn-call of Buckland won't sound again in the next hundred years and no hobbit has to fear shadows in the dark," he looked at Paladin gravely. "We will protect the Shire as we would protect our sons and our thoughts will ever be with them knowing they will succeed whatever darkness that lingers out there."
Paladin looked up. His eyes watered and his face looked even older than it had before. But there was a light in his eyes reflecting the one in Saradoc's. He managed a wry smile. "Yes, we shall do that. We will trust in our sons, mind our own business and see to it that their return home will be a safe one."
Saradoc managed to smile back. Paladin looked shaken, but he understood the severity of their situation and Saradoc knew he could count on his assistance.
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.