2. Chapter Two
“Pad! Pad, he’s gone!” Eglantine cried as she ran back to their bedroom. She was up with the sun and Pippin’s room was her first stop. She’d only wanted to stand there for a moment and enjoy the sight of him in peaceful sleep. But his bed was empty and obviously hadn’t been slept in.
Paladin cursed and finished pulling on his braces before hurrying to the kitchen. He paused to grab a cloak from the hook by the door before flinging it open wide.
“Pad, where do you think he went?” Eglantine’s voice was higher than normal, her skin grown pale.
Paladin hurried out the door waving a hand for her to stay put. “I don’t know,” he spat, “but I’m going to have a few words with him when I find him.”
“Pad----” Eglantine followed closely on his heels.
Paladin whirled. “Stay here and try not to worry.” His voice softened at the trepidation in her expression and he took a moment to caress her cheek. “I’m sure he’s fine, Tina. Still your fears now, my lass, all right?”
She nodded reluctantly, clasping his hand to her lips and bestowing a kiss there before releasing him. “Aye. Go find him, then.” Eglantine watched until her husband rounded the corner of the shed by the pony enclosure and then stepped out into the dawn. She gazed off into the distance, her eyes searching the skyline, heart pounding, barely noticing the beauty of the sun as it rose high above the tree line that surrounded the bottom of the meadow. A thought occurred to her that Pippin was watching the same sunrise, somewhere, all alone. She allowed her tears to fall.
He came within view of his former home not many hours after sending his pony galloping across the far expanses that comprised the Great Smials of Tookland. Entering Tuckborough, he slowed to allow himself the enjoyment of taking in the familiar scenery, soon making his way into the little village of Whitwell near his family’s farm. He halted his pony and sat for a time, drinking in the sight.
Pippin was glad it was nighttime. The world felt like it belonged only to him and he eagerly absorbed the precious hum of the active nightlife, the sounds of the childhood that now seemed so far from his grasp. Sounds he had despaired of ever hearing again throughout his long journey. Lost in reflection he drifted back to when the echoes of shouting, the din of sword fighting, and finally the silence of death had drowned the night’s music out.
He remembered the strange hush at the end of battle best of all. The silence following the storm was, in a way, as jarringly trying as the battle itself. For after the great cacophony came at last the utter stillness when those left on the battlefield no longer breathed. Both friends and enemies lay scattered and broken, eerily united in death.
Unable to move and barely breathing Pippin saw himself again wandering across the immense fields of Pelennor, pausing to lift an arm or a leg of the fallen, some still draped across their dead mounts, to see if he could find one small hobbit, his cousin. The scene before him was uncannily genuine; he was there, and yet he was not. He witnessed himself using his foot to roll away a dead Uruk, certain he’d seen a hobbit’s foot protruding from beneath its large form. Instead, he’d leaped back in horror at the sight of a pair of staring, sightless eyes that gawked from the severed head of the Orc. He had fallen to his knees and vomited helplessly. He heard the cries of anguish without realizing they came from his own throat.
The sudden flash of recall tore through his body with physical force and he doubled over in pain. He visualized the scene in every burning detail, relived his horror moment by moment as he’d continued struggling through the tangled mess of lifeless and dying mounds of flesh. Appalled, gagging on the odors, slipping in the blood and gore he’d struggled on for hours until at last he’d found him. Pippin released a ragged sob as he relived the final joy - Merry was alive. Badly injured, yes. But he would live.
Dazed, Pippin dismounted and continued shakily on foot, leading his pony behind him. He found the rhythmic movement of walking soothing and his thumping heart stilled at last to a more reasonable beat, still too fast, but one he’d grown quite accustomed to lately. He breathed the damp air appreciatively. The pounding of his heart slowed further, and he took another shaky gulp of air before picking up his pace, suddenly eager to make it to the farm.
Before the morning light had kissed the dewy grass he found it. Peering through the bushes the sight beckoned him with an almost intimate allure, like a lost love that awaited his fond embrace. Nothing had changed. The little farmhouse sat where it always had on the flatlands surrounded by a line of grand oak trees, both young and old.
Pippin smiled, remembering the many times he’d climbed those trees, entering a different world altogether. Settling into some of the higher branches and peeping through to spy on the world far below he had lived all manner of adventures in his head.
And frightened poor Mum half out of her wits, he reminded himself with a little grin. His mother would soon locate him in his hideaway perch and having had her fill of the adventurous young Took for that particular day she would call his father from the barn to haul him down. Then she would scold him soundly for his daring escapade.
“A wee hobbit lad has no business up a giant tree,” Pippin whispered to himself with a wry grin echoing his mother’s words from so long ago.
Sometimes he would receive a smack or two on his backside for his reckless behaviour, depending on her mood and how badly he may have frightened her on that particular occasion. Then, more often than not she would hug him fiercely and take him inside where she would fill him with ginger biscuits and milk while he chattered on about his great adventure. It was strange. He’d never had an appreciation for the amount of fright he’d given her until now. Perhaps it was his father’s earlier words that had set him to thinking. Pippin felt a pang of regret for having caused his mother so much distress.
He headed towards the barn after pumping some water into the trough for his pony and giving her a pat on her shaggy head. “Be a good lass, Stars. All right?”
Cautiously, he opened the wide door and looked about. He half expected to see his father working with the cows or mending a harness, or even talking with one of the farmhands about the dry weather they were having. In a moment he would beckon to Pippin to come in and make himself useful or else he would find something for him to do. Pippin chuckled aloud at the imagined look on his father’s face. He would appear stern at first before allowing a little smile to overtake his features and then he’d crook a finger at him.
Pippin had always loved that part best and he would rush over and fling himself into his arms, reveling in their strength as they closed around him. He had found his own strength there in his father’s loving embrace on many an occasion. How he longed to find that solace once more.
Pippin wandered into the barn and found himself beset with memories from every direction. It was almost as if he had stepped back into that former world of his childhood and abandoned his cares behind. He found himself relaxing more with each careful step. Several birds flitted about in the loft and Pippin placed a foot on the ladder and began to climb. He spied their nest in a high rafter, their gentle cooing a sweet music to his ears. Scrambling up into the hay on his hands and knees he sat back on his heels and looked about the small space.
Many a carefully planned scheme came to mind from when he and Merry had plotted their mischief making from atop these piles of hay. He had spied on his sisters down below and heard their secrets. One time he had even found out the intimate details of his eldest sister’s tryst underneath the moonlight. Pippin blushed with the memory, just as he had the first time. Even though he hadn’t fully understood what the lasses had been talking about he knew it was something he wasn’t meant to hear.
The hay was warm and still smelled sweet. Pippin marveled at that. The straw was several years old now; it had lain inside this loft since the very last day he had spent here bemoaning his family’s move to the Great Smials, leaving his childhood home and his favourite places behind. He allowed the tears to fall as he had before. He’d known that his life would never again be quite the same. Just as he realized it wouldn’t now, and he wept for his loss.
The memories of that day came back to him in grievous waves. His mother’s face was sad, his father’s, firm and impassable. His sisters Pimpernel and Pervinca had quietly piled into the carriage and Pippin recalled how Nell had watched over her shoulder as they pulled away. Pippin himself had knelt on the seat and watched until their land was out of sight. It wasn’t until he’d been forced to turn around and sit that he’d shed any tears.
Weary eyes fluttered shut and then popped open as he struggled to stay awake. Preoccupied with the memories Pippin sank further into the familiar comfort of the straw. He sighed. It felt…right. It felt… like home again. Tired eyes fluttered shut almost without his knowledge, certainly without his permission.
“No, I haven’t seen him sir. Would you like me to help you look?” Tomias Chubb held the pony’s reins as the Thain prepared to mount.
Paladin thought this over, finally shaking his head. “No, lad. If I don’t find him directly I’ll return for help. I’ve an idea of my own just where he might be.” Paladin reached for the reins and nodded to the former farmhand before setting off at a brisk trot across the yard. A moment later he urged the pony ahead, quickly setting off in the direction of the old farm.
He took another deep breath of the luscious straw and sank deeper into its depths, sighing happily. His nose twitched at the scent of his mother’s cooking. She was baking something wonderful and the scent was making it quite impossible to sleep any longer. Pippin crawled out from beneath the hay and made his way down the ladder heading out the door at a vigorous trot. Warm crusty bread slathered with freshly churned butter and apple jelly! He picked up his pace and pursued the enticing food smells eagerly. It was so long since he’d tasted the food flavored with the love of his mother’s hand. Reaching the door of the farmhouse he threw it wide and ran inside - coming to a shocked standstill at the sight before him.
He was once more in the great White City of Minas Tirith. Worse, he was inside the tombs of the forefathers of Gondor and directly ahead Faramir lay as if in sacrifice on a bed of kindling wood. Surrounding him were the Steward’s guards holding aloft their lighted torches. Denethor’s dark eyes met his and the madman smiled, beckoning him closer.
“NO! He is ALIVE! Did you not hear me when I told you so? What are you doing?”
Pippin ran to Faramir and tried to pull his friend from the funeral pyre. The guards yanked him backwards at the Steward’s directive and tossed him hard against the floor. Denethor laughed, a harsh sound that echoed about the stone chambers. Lifting the palantir high above his head he intoned, “We shall all burn together,” before smashing it at his feet. A great flash of light enveloped Pippin like a cloak and he wailed in utter mortification as he felt everything around him flaring up in a wave of searing red flame.
Pippin lay at the foot of the ladder; the attempt to scramble down in the throes of his nightmare had resulted in his firm deposit on the barn floor, one foot tangled in the rung of the ladder. He freed himself and leaped to his feet whirling frantically. When the realization of his whereabouts hit him he slithered downward, landing in a heap. Burying his head beneath his arms he drew his knees up to his chin and began to rock. A low keening started in the back of his throat and grew louder until his crying reached a level that frightened the birds nesting above, causing them to abandon their lodging in a flurry of feathers. He wept, great wrenching sobs, until he could weep no more, then laid his cheek on his knee and stared at nothing.
By late morning Paladin had reached the old farm. He couldn’t help allowing himself a smile at the familiar sight. How many years he had toiled here. And his family had been happy. Now, weighted down with the cares and responsibilities of the Thainship life was much different in many ways for all of them. But nothing had changed them quite so quickly as the war.
Paladin paused at the top of the path leading down to the farmhouse. Memories bombarded him. Finally he eased the pony on looking around carefully as he approached his former home. His son had fled to this place. He knew it with as much certainty as he knew his own name.
Pippin had no idea just how close he had remained in his father’s heart and mind while he was away. For Paladin had sensed many of the emotions his son harbored on his long journey, and the knowing had left him raw and wounded inside. There was much he didn’t yet comprehend, but so much more that he did. And he wasn’t sure quite how he was going to share that understanding with his son who was in so much pain.
He halted the pony at the foot of the first giant oak tree in the long line that bordered his property. Looking up into its boughs he couldn’t help smiling in memory. He again heard those voices from long ago. Eglantine, in a bout of fright as she spied her youngest and tiniest child far above her head, waving to her from the boughs of the biggest oak in their yard. He almost cringed with the memory of her shrill cry as she shouted for him to come quickly and get his son out of that tree before he killed his fool self. Small wonder Pippin hadn’t been startled clean out of the tree at the sound of his mother’s screams.
Paladin shook his head recalling how he had stood beneath it wondering just how he was going to get his son down from such a place when he himself was afraid to climb that high! And just how annoyed he’d been when the mischievous lad had waved to him cheerfully from his perch, inviting him to come join him, as if he didn’t know he wasn’t allowed to climb up the big trees. Yes, even then Pippin had insisted on having his own way and pushing the limits of good sense while he was at it.
He shook his head again at the memory of his wife’s reaction once he and a farmhand or two had brought Pippin down. He was certain his son wished for the safety of the high branches again once his mother got her hands on him. He laughed aloud remembering how after chastising him soundly Eglantine would carry him inside their home and feed him sweets while Pippin made her chuckle with stories of his adventure. Paladin sobered recalling his wife’s suffering during their son’s disappearance and the way she was utterly inconsolable those first few weeks. Anger at his son’s inconsiderate actions rose within him once more and he turned away from the happier memories and urged his pony on into the farmyard.
Swinging down he led the animal around the side of the barn to the water trough. Pippin’s beloved pony, Stars, stood quietly nearby. Paladin tethered his own pony to the post then approached her. He patted her nose affectionately. “Now just where is your young master, eh lass?” As if in answer to his question Stars bobbed her head toward the barn.
“Ah,” Paladin nodded. “Now, isn’t that a surprise.”
Entering, he left the door ajar behind him and hesitated, allowing his eyes time to adjust to the dim light. All was utterly silent. Paladin peered about. Again, the recollection of another time rose up to meet him. He took a deep lungful of air and embraced the memories lovingly. Passing by his old tool bench he couldn’t resist pausing long enough to run his hand over the tools that still lay there as if awaiting his return. Those had indeed been simpler times. And they had been so happy here.
Paladin tore himself away and continued his search. His eyes were adjusted to the low light now and he circled back around the stalls coming at last to the foot of the loft. How his children had loved to play up there! He placed a foot on the lowest rung and began to climb. Sticking his head up into the loft he looked around but saw nothing of Pippin. He hurriedly descended and pondered where else he might search.
His eyes widened when he looked at his feet and he stooped to retrieve Pippin’s scarf where it lay tangled in the straw beneath the ladder. Paladin’s eyes clouded with tears. It was the scarf Esmeralda had made for him so many years ago and the same one he’d been wearing when he disappeared. Paladin struggled with the conflicting emotions while running his fingers over it lovingly.
Pippin had been ill so many times as a child. He had come too early and was such a tiny babe they hadn’t been at all certain he would live. But he and Eglantine had kept the faith that time too and Pippin had survived, but not without all the loving care his family bestowed upon him day and night. Caring for their wee infant had exhausted the entire family but the love he gave in return had been so much a reward for their early efforts. “Ah, my lad…” Paladin held the scarf to his cheek and sighed. “How you have tried my patience these many years.” Tucking the scarf inside his shirt he headed for the house.
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.