3. Echoes of the Past
After a long search Pippin finally found Merry in the map room, his head bent over a parchment. Merry looked up, a strange look on his face.
"Come here, Pip. Look at this."
Pippin joined him and looked at the map spread out on the table. Merry pointed his right index finger at a spot on the map, near the Anduin, Pippin noticed, and his left index finger at a spot some distance to the west.
"This is where we were taken, Pip," Merry said, tapping the map with his right finger. "And this," he said, tapping the map with his left, "Is where Treebeard found us, as near as I can figure it."
"Nearly 200 miles, if I'm reading this right. Two hundred miles in three days."
Pippin frowned, tracing the distance with his finger. "How long would it have taken the Orcs to get us to Isengard if the horsemen hadn't attacked and we hadn't escaped?"
Merry was still staring at the map. "One more day." Pippin suddenly realized that Merry was shaking a little. "One more day," Merry repeated, almost inaudibly. Pippin grabbed his cousin's hands and held them in his own.
"Merry," he said softly, "Everything worked out all right. Don't think too much about.... what might have been, all right? My gosh," he continued, "If I thought too much about what I saw in that glass ball or what happened to Denethor, or being nearly crushed by that, that..." He sighed. "I would never sleep another minute ever. It just doesn't bear thinking about, that's all." He looked deeply into his cousin's troubled eyes. "We made it, Mer, everything's all right."
Merry shook his head and smiled. "I don't know what the Shire is going to make of you, Peregrin Took. They may think you're returning as the same tweenager you were before, but we'll know better, won't we?" He gave his cousin a hug. "You're right, it doesn't bear thinking about." He chuckled and got to his feet, letting the parchment roll up. "If Frodo and Sam can live with their memories we can live with ours, that's for sure."
At that moment Frodo poked his head around the door. "Am I actually *reminding* the two of you to come have lunch? I knew you were too tall to still be hobbits!"
Pippin turned to face him. "Cousin Frodo," he said calmly, "If there's any food left by the time you catch up to me, you're welcome to it!" With a whoop he raced past Frodo and down the corridor past several astonished Elves, leaving two laughing hobbits far, far behind him.
That evening the four hobbits sat together on the floor in the Hall of Fire, attempting to invent riddles incorporating some Elvish words. The results were so hysterical and confusing that Frodo's stomach hurt from laughing so much. He was leaning against a pillar listening to the singing when he noticed Pippin staring at him.
"Is everything all right, Pip?"
"You don't look any older yet, you know. I thought you might by now."
Sam gasped and Merry clapped his hand over Pippin's mouth.
Frodo chuckled. "I only just had a birthday, silly hobbit, I'm not going to suddenly look a year older overnight. Fifty-one isn't...." His voice trailed off as he suddenly understood what Pippin meant. "Oh."
"I'm sorry, Frodo," said Merry, trying to haul a contrite Pippin to his feet. "He's had way too much wine. I'm just going to drag him out and drown him in one of the fountains, I won't be long."
"It's all right, Merry," said Frodo.
"I'm sorry, Frodo," whispered Pippin, looking scared. "I shouldn't have said that."
"Don't worry, Pip. To be honest, I thought I might be looking or feeling older by now too. I don't know how long it took, after Bilbo left me the Ring, for him to start aging again. We didn't see him again for 17 years." Frodo smiled. "It probably won't be too noticeable. I doubt that going from 33 to 51 is as drastic as going from 50 to 111." He gave Pippin a light kick. "Will you still laugh at my terrible riddles if I have a few gray hairs?"
Pippin searched Frodo's face anxiously for any sign that his cousin was mad at him. Finally he managed a small smile. "Yes," he said, smiling a little bit more. "And your riddles are terrible, you know."
"Come here," said Frodo, pulling Pippin to him and giving him a hug. He looked up at Merry. "He's too big now to drown, Mer. At least too big for me, anyway." Frodo stroked Pippin's head, now resting against his chest. "You can ask me anything, Pip, and I won't get mad, I promise. Is there anything else you want to know?" He was surprised to feel a slight nod. "What is it?"
Pippin pulled away and looked at Frodo. "Do you miss it?"
"Do you mean the Ring?"
"Yes," Pippin whispered. Merry and Sam looked at each other uneasily.
Frodo held out his arms again and Pippin nestled back into them. He felt Frodo take a deep breath. "Yes, Pip, I miss it terribly. Seems strange, doesn't it?" Pippin nodded again.
"It's hard to explain. It was like it was alive, and somehow we got all wrapped up together. 'Ring-bearer' makes it sound like I was just carrying it around, but it wasn't like that at all. By the end it felt like a part of me, and it feels like it took a part of me with it. I know that doesn't make much sense, I scarcely understand it myself." He felt Pippin's arms tighten around him. "Any other questions?"
"No," said Pippin, sitting up. "Well, not right now, anyway." He looked at Merry indignantly. "And I did *not* have too much wine, Meriadoc, I had just as much as you had."
"That much?" Merry groaned and pulled Pippin to his feet. "I won't drown him completely, Frodo, I promise. But maybe just a little dunking." He and Pippin left the Hall.
Frodo saw Sam looking at him intently.
"Did you feel any of that, Sam? With the Ring?"
"There wasn't hardly time, Mr. Frodo. Carrying that blasted thing around for a day or two is nothing like having it for 17 years, that's for certain." Sam looked thoughtful. "Although when all is said and done, I probably wore it longer than you did the whole time you had it." He sighed. "But you were dragging it through the Black Lands where it was strongest and you were weakest. If only I could have carried it for you."
"Sam," said Frodo quietly, "You did everything you could, and more. More than anyone else ever could have done." He got to his feet and Sam did also. "Do *you* miss it?"
"No," said Sam definitely. He smiled. "That Mr. Pippin is a brave one, isn't he?"
Frodo laughed. "He certainly is." They started to walk out. "Imagine asking an old hobbit like me so many questions, when I should be sleeping in the sun and carried around and spoon-fed and treated with more respect...."
Sam's laughter echoed through the Hall as they left together, both anticipating a peaceful night's sleep. But it was not to be.