6. Division within the Ranks
Hurray! Here is our noble cousin. Make way for Frodo, Lord of the Ring!
Hush. Evil things do not come into this valley; but all the same, we should not name them. The Lord of the Ring is not Frodo, but the master of the Dark Tower, whose power is again stretching out all over the world! We are sitting in a fortress. Outside it is getting dark.
Gandalf has been saying many cheerful things like that. He thinks I need keeping in order.
Pippin and Gandalf—The Fellowship of the Ring (Many Meetings)
Elrohir was impressed.
He was also frustrated.
He was far more frustrated than he was impressed.
Elrohir considered himself rather skilled as a hunter, and rightfully so. He had been taught by some of the finest elves in Middle-earth, and he was a good student. Whether it was following a trail, choosing a location for an ambush, or actually making the kill, Elrohir was known as one of the most adept hunters in all of Imladris. And considering the competition, that said quite a bit. Of course, Elladan was sometimes given more of the glory. And in all fairness, Elrohir would concede that his brother was usually better at finding the trail. Occasionally, Elladan’s uncanny intuition would also cause him to nock his arrows before everyone else, sometimes giving him the first shot and consequently the kill. Those were the things that other hunters remembered, and thus it was understandable why some might view Elladan as more skilled than his twin. But as talented as his brother was, no one could match Elrohir for strategy and accuracy. He had a gift for guessing the minds of others and anticipating their movements. His ambush tactics alone would have won him limitless renown among the greatest mortal hunters. And when he loosed an arrow, it almost never failed to hit the mark. His skills formed the backbone to any hunting party, for while Elladan might endlessly trail an animal, Elrohir could bring it within range. After all, what good was the world’s best tracker if his quarry simply stayed one step ahead of him?
But at the moment, Elrohir, renowned warrior of Rivendell and arguably one of Middle-earth’s greatest hunters, found himself completely baffled. The talents he had developed, honed, and perfected over centuries of training did him no good, and he was struggling to control a rising surge of exasperation and anger. Had he been looking for anyone else, Elrohir might not have felt so upset. But when his target was a four-year-old boy…
This is Estel’s doing, he decided grimly. He has started teaching Eldarion already, and this is the result. The boy has learned to disappear within his own home, and I am not familiar enough with these halls to know where his favorite hiding places might be. My apologies, Arwen, but I fear that your husband is no longer safe. Training Eldarion shows anticipation of this day as well as a malicious desire to thwart our fun.
The thought did occur to Elrohir that perhaps Aragorn had not specifically trained Eldarion to hide from his uncles but rather had trained him in the art of stealth as would any father who had once roamed with the Rangers. It was possible that Eldarion was now simply putting that training to use in a game against Legolas and Gimli and was not deliberately involved in the New Year’s Eve festivities. In fact, the more he considered it, the more likely this scenario seemed.
Still, Elrohir groused, whatever his intentions were, it cannot be denied that Estel’s teachings now stand in my way, and for that, Estel must suffer. Training Eldarion was a vile move that I would expect only of Orcs and Mirkwood elves.
A slight smile crept over Elrohir’s face when he envisioned what Legolas might say about that last thought. Having fought a losing battle against the power of Dol Guldur for so many years, the elves beneath Thranduil’s command had become rather sensitive about comments that compared them to creatures of the Dark Lord. Suggestions that the elves of Mirkwood were in any way connected to the Orcs that roamed their forests would cause even their most tolerant warriors to fly into a homicidal rage. Naturally, this prompted the younger elves of Imladris to devote entire afternoons to the crafting of inventive insults for their Silvan counterparts, ranging from basic biological comparisons to sophisticated wordplays that made reference to genealogy and mating preference. Elladan and Elrohir had introduced Legolas to some of the more creative insults in the years following the destruction of the Ring, and the results had been exhilarating. The twins had learned just how quickly and accurately Legolas could throw his favorite hunting knife in addition to just how far this blade could sink into supposedly hard wood. The twins were now careful to voice their insults only when they had a clear opportunity for escape.
Elrohir sighed and shook his head. As entertaining as it was to torment Ithilien’s lord, there would be no torment today if he did not find Eldarion. It was ridiculous. Surely it could not be that difficult to locate one small boy! Yet here he was, Rivendell’s finest captain, with no inkling of where Gondor’s young crown-prince might be. The entire situation was so absurd that had he not been in the thick of it, he might have laughed. It was New Year’s Eve and the honor of his house had been challenged by Thranduil’s youngest whelp, but was he allowed to meet the challenge and carry out holiday duties as was his right and responsibility? Nay! Instead, he was blindly searching the mansions of Gondor’s king for a four-year-old child who had apparently received a Ranger’s training in the art of disappearing. It was enough to drive any self-respecting hunter to the ragged edge of sanity! "Orc scion," he muttered darkly.
"I beg your pardon?" an icy voice demanded.
Elrohir froze and blinked, abruptly realizing that his mind had wandered one direction while his feet had wandered another. He was not quite certain how it had happened, for he had believed his senses to be focused on his surroundings. He should have been able to detect another’s presence long before being seen himself, but it seemed that his frustrations had occupied more of his mind than he'd thought. He now stood at one end of a short, richly decorated corridor, and assuming a warrior’s stance at the other end was none other than Legolas.
"Elladan," Elrohir said quickly, watching Legolas’s right hand carefully as it edged toward the knife on his belt. "I was speaking of Elladan."
A skeptically arching brow revealed just how convincing his words were, but at least Legolas did not draw his blade. "Indeed?"
Elrohir nodded in what he hoped was a genuine manner. He could not reveal that the subject of his muttered comments was Eldarion—and also Estel, to a lesser extent—for that would give away his mission. Legolas would be stupid not to have already guessed his mission, but the game still had to be played and his twin would have to bear the brunt of his insult, which only seemed fair since Elladan had taunted him earlier with his vague suggestions of adaptation. "Yes, Elladan," he confirmed. "He and I had a difference of opinion. I fear that I am still harboring some resentment."
"And the fact that you were looking directly at me when you spoke means nothing," Legolas said caustically.
"My mind was wandering," Elrohir protested. "I did not even see you."
"The vaunted son of Elrond, renowned throughout the elven kingdoms as one of the most accomplished warriors known to Middle-earth, did not see me standing little more than a sword thrust away?"
"Anger can blind even the best of us."
Legolas stared at Elrohir for a long minute, his eyes narrowed as though contemplating a spider that he was about to disembowel. But after a moment, the intensity left his gaze and he seemed to accept the explanation, though it did not appear that he believed it. "I do not suppose that you have seen Gimli wandering about," he said, changing topics abruptly.
"Gimli?" Elrohir questioned. He had actually encountered the dwarf a short time ago, and after casually inquiring as to the whereabouts of Legolas and Eldarion, Gimli had informed Elrohir that the two were together but that he was not certain of their location. The lie was so obvious that it was difficult to keep a straight face after that, and Elrohir had ended the conversation quickly, almost fleeing the opposite direction so that his laughter would not be heard. If Legolas intended to keep Gimli as a partner in this game, he would have to instruct the dwarf in the art of deception. "Yes, I have seen Gimli," Elrohir continued, his mind suddenly twisting itself around a new idea. "I met him on the level below this one." He paused as though in reflection and then made a show of looking about. "I found it odd that he did not have Eldarion in his presence, for the crown-prince seems most fond of him. He told me that all was well because you had taken charge of him for the moment, yet he does not seem to be here."
To his credit, Legolas kept his face completely impassive. Only a slight bunching of muscles along the line of his jaw revealed his unease. "Eldarion is now with Gimli again," he answered.
"Then it seems you would have seen the dwarf more recently than I, even though I saw him only a few minutes ago," Elrohir said serenely, enjoying the look of consternation that danced across the other’s eyes. "Surely you did not send Eldarion to him alone."
"Of course not," Legolas scoffed. "But then I left their company on an errand of my own and it seems they have moved."
You are quite good at this, my friend, I will not deny it, Elrohir conceded. Had he not known that Eldarion was currently making complete fools of them all with his ability to hide, he might have considered believing Legolas’s story. He spoke with conviction, and his face betrayed almost nothing. The few signs of concern might have easily been attributed to general fear about what should happen if Elrond’s sons found Gimli and Eldarion without Legolas at their side for protection. "Well, they cannot have gone far in so short a space of time," Elrohir mused, one hand coming up to rub his chin. "If you wish it, I will help you look for them."
"Nay, that will not be necessary," Legolas said quickly. "I have no great need to find them now. It was but a passing whim. However, if you wish me to hunt for Elladan with you, then I will be more than happy to assist. It pains me to know that the two of you are grieved with one another."
Curse you, Legolas. You have been taking lessons from Narsigil again, Elrohir growled silently, thinking of Legolas’s older brother who possessed a remarkable gift for turning conversations and challenges back on themselves. It seems I will not be able to bring you and Gimli together and then inquire after Eldarion. A shame, as that would have made for a truly interesting conversation. "Your offer is a generous one," Elrohir said in answer to Legolas. "But I think it would be better if Elladan and I solved this difficulty on our own."
"As you wish," Legolas said, inclining his head slightly. "And now if you will excuse me, there are things I must tend to."
"By all means," Elrohir answered, stepping to the side and gesturing for Legolas to pass him.
"My thanks," Thranduil’s son said, walking by. "You have my best wishes in solving this dispute with your twin," he added. "Perhaps if you resolve your troubles, we might all enjoy a ride this evening ere dinner." And with that, Legolas disappeared down another corridor.
Elrohir frowned, trying to decipher Legolas’s last words. What was this about a ride before dinner? Was it some kind of strange, cryptic warning? Did Legolas mean that evening would be when he and Gimli would choose to strike? But if that was so, why tip his hand by revealing his intentions? It made no sense. Granted that making no sense was not entirely unusual for Legolas—or any Wood-elf, for that matter—but still…
For the second time in almost as many minutes, Elrohir was startled to find that he was no longer alone. But this time, it was a servant who surprised him, and indignation flared to life. It was one thing for Legolas to approach unnoticed, for the elves of Mirkwood were famous for their stealth. But for a mortal to elude his senses… Just how distracted am I?! Eldarion could probably walk by without so much as a blink on my part. It is fortunate that Elladan is not present to witness this or I would never hear the end of it. "Yes?" Elrohir asked, turning a rather piercing gaze on the man.
Backing up and seeming to sense that he had somehow caused offense, the servant bowed deeply and averted his eyes, unable to match Elrohir’s gaze. "My lord, the Lord Elladan has sent for you. He requests that you join him in the Queen’s Gardens and that you do so with all possible haste."
Fires of outrage flared to life in Elrohir’s eyes. It was not possible. It was simply not possible. Elladan would only be in the Queen’s Gardens if he had found Eldarion, as that was their appointed meeting place. But how had Elladan discovered the whereabouts of the boy when Elrohir—who was certainly the better strategist—had not? Muttering a quick word of thanks and dismissal to the poor servant who seemed to be trembling in fright before the incensed lord, Elrohir stormed away, all the while trying to fathom how Elladan had accomplished what he could not. This is his way of further taunting me, Elrohir decided. He has done this to spite me. Well, we cannot let that stand. Perhaps not today, but in the future, Elladan will learn that challenging me is not for the faint of heart. And with that thought tucked away in the back of his mind, Elrohir schooled his expression, calmed his emotions, and hastened to meet his brother.
It was Faramir’s considered opinion that Elfwine might become king of Rohan before the day was up.
Trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, the steward of Gondor waited in the doorway to the quarters that Eomer had been given in the Houses of Healing and watched the room’s occupants like a hawk, ready to interfere should things get out of hand. And in addition to that, he tried to suppress the tickle of laughter that was building in his throat.
It really wasn’t a matter for humor, but the circumstances and the reactions of those involved were just too much for him. True, there was a danger that Eomer might be seriously harmed, perhaps even permanently marred, but Faramir doubted it. The Rohirrim were too hardheaded to let a knock on the skull rattle their minds for any significant length of time. And Faramir supposed he should have been outraged for his cousin’s sake, but Lothíriel had always been a little too sure of herself and the steward couldn’t quite bring himself to side with her. Besides, he also had familial obligations to Eomer, as he was his brother-in-law. No, taking offense one way or another was too complex a matter for Faramir, and so he had decided to sit back and enjoy the situation while it lasted. He was fairly confident that it would all work out in the end.
Or rather, it would if Aragorn would let it. But the king of Gondor did not seem to be in a forgiving mood.
Here was the one reason that Faramir could not relax and enjoy the situation as it was meant to be enjoyed. Hovering above Eomer’s unconscious form like a demon of death come to collect payment, Aragorn’s imposing figure was silent and still. Far too silent and far too still. After moving Rohan’s king here and stripping him of his riding clothes, Aragorn had ordered Arwen and Eowyn to fetch willow bark tea in addition to extract from something called a ginkoto. Faramir was unfamiliar with this second item, but the name suggested it hailed from Rhûn. Regardless of its origins, though, Faramir had determined that he would not allow Aragorn to give any of this ginkoto extract to Eomer without first learning more about its properties. After Arwen’s departure, the king of Gondor had gone completely still and glared at Eomer with a gaze that suggested murder. Nor had he moved since.
Unfortunately, finding an opportune moment to converse with Aragorn concerning the drug was somewhat problematic. The king had an air about him that suggested anyone who questioned his orders might not live to regret it. And while Faramir could understand his anger—he himself would probably gut any man that looked at Eowyn in the way that Eomer had looked at Arwen—the fault did not lie entirely with the king of Rohan. He had lost his memory and then come face to face with the most beautiful woman in all of Middle-earth. And while he could have certainly exercised some restraint in voicing his awe, Eomer had never been one to beat around the bush. Perhaps it was even better this way, for now all things were out in the open and could be dealt with before Eomer decided to act on any of his desires.
Or perhaps I should speak with Eomer about restraint, Faramir sighed when he heard what could only be classified as a low growl coming from Aragorn’s direction.
To be fair, though, Faramir could not be certain that the author of the growl was Aragorn, for standing beside the king of Gondor was Lothíriel. Here was an interesting situation, for in watching her actions, Faramir come to decide that while Lothíriel was quite upset with Eomer, she had more or less forgiven him already. It was a rather bizarre turn of events but not nearly as confusing as the fact that the brunt of Lothíriel’s anger seemed to be directed toward Arwen, who was blameless in Faramir’s eyes. Well, perhaps blameless was not the correct word to use. Like Eomer, she could also use a good lecture on what it meant to exercise restraint. Her reaction to the situation was less than circumspect. But she was certainly not encouraging Eomer in his misguided infatuation. Arwen had not even spoken to him after he was taken from the Pelennor fields. Aragorn did not seem to blame her for what was happening. Why should Lothíriel?
After pondering this question for a moment but arriving at no satisfactory answer, Faramir eventually gave up and turned his thoughts toward his uncle, who stood beside him in the doorway. Imrahil seemed to be mimicking his nephew in attempting to be inconspicuous about his presence. This greatly puzzled Faramir, primarily because he had yet to discern Imrahil’s feelings about what had taken place. The prince of Dol Amroth was as enigmatic as he had ever been, and even Denethor had occasionally been forced to accept the fact that Imrahil was not one to give away his thoughts until he was ready to reveal them. But Faramir could not wait for that. Not now. While he was enjoying this, he was also very aware that severe political complications could arise. If Imrahil chose to take offense with either the king of Rohan or the queen of Gondor on behalf of his daughter, there would be trouble. His vote carried significant weight in the councils of Minas Tirith.
But Imrahil’s face remained impassive, and he completely ignored his nephew’s scrutiny, leaving Faramir to hope for the best as they hovered quietly in the doorway together. Turning his eyes away from Imrahil, the steward once again looked toward Aragorn and wondered what was going through the king’s mind. Was he even aware of the two men standing behind him? Of course he is aware, Faramir told himself with something of a wry laugh. How could one not be aware? We think to be inconspicuous, but when the prince of Dol Amroth and the steward of Gondor block the room’s only entrance, it is difficult to go unnoticed. He knows very well that we are here, and he probably knows our purpose. Or my purpose, at least. Valar only know what Imrahil is currently thinking. So much for subtle observation. Faramir shook his head and sighed, but what else could he have done? He wished to keep a close watch upon Aragorn, Lothíriel, and Eomer, but he also wished to stay far enough away to avoid being caught in any outbursts of temper. And the doorway was the only place to meet both of these objectives. Which brings me back to Imrahil. Why is he standing in the doorway? If he has not my intentions, then I should claim the right to be here. And he was injured upon the fields, though he shows no sign of it now. By all accounts, he should be resting. But of course he will not listen when any tell him that. And I am not going to invite his ill will by insisting he do something that he will not do anyway.
Faramir grimaced and leaned against the doorframe, wondering how much longer this would go on. It felt as though Eowyn and Arwen had been gone for ages. Aragorn had not moved since they left and Imrahil might have been made of stone. Lothíriel was slightly more interesting to watch as her fists would periodically clench and unclench, but this was not much of a distraction.
Normally, the lack of activity in the room would not have been a problem. Faramir was used to long periods of waiting and watching, for that had been his role as captain of the Rangers in Ithilien. But at least then, he had known what emotions and strategies to embrace. He had known the enemy and he had known what reactions to expect, both from the forces of the Nameless One and from his own men. Yet now, he did not know what mindset to invoke because there were too many unknown factors to consider, namely Aragorn, Lothíriel, and Imrahil. Thus, he kept himself painfully balanced between humor and concern, which was no easy thing for Faramir as he liked to have matters settled and done. Once he made a choice, he would stand by it no matter the consequences, but asking Faramir to delay a decision was like asking the Rohirrim to stand still.
The sound of footsteps in the hall drew Faramir’s attention away from the room, and he loosed a quiet sigh of relief when he caught sight of Arwen and Eowyn. But at the same time, he realized that he still knew absolutely nothing about this ginkoto extract and that if he did not act, Aragorn would doubtless use the substance to treat Eomer. And who knew what that would do! Faramir had no real fears that a political assassination was about to take place, but he was concerned that Eomer was about to suffer needless discomfort. The fact that Aragorn had asked for willow bark when there were other pain relievers that lacked such a foul, acidic taste was foundation enough for that fear.
But Aragorn still looked as though he was ready to throttle anyone who spoke out of turn, and Faramir could see no healers close at hand that might be able to answer his questions. Hoping that Eowyn had come across this plant in her own healing studies, Faramir backed out of the doorway and motioned his wife toward him, assuming a position where he could still see both Aragorn and Lothíriel. Eowyn’s face became grave and she handed the cup of willow bark to Arwen, who nodded encouragingly before hurrying toward Eomer’s chambers.
"How does my brother fare?" Eowyn asked worriedly, her voice hushed as she approached Faramir.
"There is no change insofar, as I can tell," he answered, watching as Imrahil stepped back so that Arwen might enter the room. "He is yet asleep and shows no signs of waking."
"I had hoped there would be some improvement," Eowyn murmured.
"There will be," Faramir assured her, continuing his vigil. Aragorn had turned to Arwen and was mixing things in the bowl she had brought while Lothíriel moved closer to her husband. Or perhaps she is moving further away from Arwen, Faramir thought with a slight frown. "Eowyn, what can you tell me of ginkoto?"
"It is a tree in the east," she answered, turning with Faramir to watch Aragorn and Arwen. "The settlers around Lake Nûrnen in Mordor use its nuts to clear their mind of shadows from time to time."
Faramir nodded, digesting this information. The drug sounded promising, and some of his fears concerning Aragorn ebbed away. "Think you that it will restore your brother’s memories?"
"Perhaps," the shieldmaiden answered hesitantly. "But I cannot be certain. Its properties are still somewhat unknown."
Someone moved at Faramir’s side and he started slightly as the prince of Dol Amroth stepped into view, unaware that another had been listening to their conversation. "Then it is safe to use?" Imrahil asked.
"Safe?" Eowyn said, her voice taking on a puzzled tone. "Of course it is safe. We would not use otherwise." Her eyes narrowed and she studied Imrahil. "You do not mean to imply that—"
"I am merely concerned for the wellbeing of Rohan’s king," Imrahil said smoothly, stopping her before she could get any further. "Will you be staying with your brother for a time, my lady?"
"Yes, I will be," Eowyn answered, her gaze still suspicious.
"It is well," Imrahil murmured. "My lord steward, would you walk with me a moment?"
"At your leisure, my lord prince," Faramir said, sharing a confused look with Eowyn.
"My leisure would be now," he said. "If you will excuse us, my lady?"
Eowyn nodded, still looking slightly suspicious and moved toward Eomer’s room. "Of course. Join us when you are able," she said before passing through the doorway.
"If you would accompany me," Imrahil said, turning and walking the other way. They traveled to the end of the hallway before stopping, and then Imrahil turned toward his nephew, his eyes shrewd but otherwise unreadable. "It has not escaped my attention that you find the current situation rather humorous," he stated.
Faramir had spent too long in the service of his father to allow surprise or dismay to show upon his features, but he did groan inwardly. Still, he should have expected this. Imrahil had a talent for reading any mortal as easily as one might read a scroll. "I will admit that certain aspects strike me so," the steward answered.
"Know you your wife’s feelings on the matter?"
Faramir's brow creased slightly. "She is concerned for her brother, but more than that, I cannot say. Until a situation is over, she usually displays no reaction whatsoever."
"And we can clearly see the reactions of our king as well as my daughter."
"Queen Arwen, as well," Faramir added, wondering where this was going and deciding to press for information while they were on this topic. "And you, kinsman? What are your feelings?"
Imrahil pressed his lips together and glanced back toward the room, his eyes narrowing for a brief moment before turning back to Faramir. "I do not believe I have enjoyed myself this much in years."
Had Faramir not been raised to hide his emotions, his jaw would have hit the floor. As it was, he blinked and presented a rather good imitation of a landed fish for a split second before he composed himself. "Pardon?"
Imrahil’s lips twitched and his eyes gleamed. "I am concerned for the political situations that might arise from this…incident," he said. "However, I am not blind to just how amusing this is."
"But…Lothíriel…should you not —"
"Lothíriel has always been too confident for her own good," Imrahil answered with a dismissive wave of his hand. "This experience will be instructive for her."
"And the political situation you mentioned earlier?" Faramir asked.
"The actions of the king worry me, but so long as the queen is happy, I doubt that aught will come of this. And Queen Arwen seems to be quite content."
"To put it mildly," Faramir murmured with a shake of his head. "But should word of this leak to the councils, then—"
"I will handle the councils," Imrahil said with something of a derisive snort. "They are no match for me, in any case. You shall have to handle the king, though, for you are closer to him than I."
Faramir grimaced, not relishing the prospect. "If you wish it, I will take the councils instead. They know better than to directly oppose me."
"Nay, for who would then calm the king? The queen?" Imrahil laughed quietly. "The queen shall be fortunate if she escapes this unscathed. Her amusement is not aiding King Elessar. Nay, my dear nephew, I fear that the task of restraining our sire’s wrath shall fall to you. I would suggest that you enlist the help of Legolas and Gimli, possibly also Lord Elladan and Lord Elrohir, but they might be otherwise occupied."
"Valar!" Faramir swore, his eyes going wide. "Aragorn assured me that he would see to keeping those four in check today. But if he is occupied with this, then—"
"Peace, I have already considered your fear," Imrahil interrupted. "Indeed, I believe I shall now depart for the Citadel to make certain that our friends have not destroyed it. I trust that you and the Lady Eowyn will be able to manage things in my absence?"
"Yes, that should work well," Faramir answered with a quiet sigh of relief. "My thanks to you for this."
"Do not thank me yet," Imrahil warned. "We know not what might have already been done. But if things are well, I shall return shortly and relieve you. Then it will be your turn to watch our friends."
Faramir smile slightly. "Which of these tasks will prove easiest, do you think?"
"Unfortunately, I believe that both will be troublesome at best," Imrahil said with a shake of his head. "Still, such is our lot for the day. I will now take my leave of you, my lord steward, and return soon if I am able."
"Fortune go with you, then," Faramir said, bowing slightly, "if she has not already deserted us."
"We’re going to do what?!"
With a long-suffering sigh, Pippin looked back at his flustered cousin and wondered if telling Merry the details of his current plans had been a wise thing. "As I said before, we’re going to ally with Legolas and Gimli," he explained slowly, as though speaking to a child. "They agree to help us get into the pantry and we agree to help them in whatever they need to do to get back at Elladan and Elrohir."
"But why? It’s madness!"
"No, it’s desperation," Pippin corrected, wondering if Merry had always been this dense or if this was a new development brought on by hunger. "Allying with any of the elves on New Year’s Eve is an act so stupid that we would only do it if we had tried everything else. Therefore, we’re going to try it first because Arwen won’t have planned for that yet. She’ll never even expect it until it’s too late. It’s not madness, Merry. It’s genius."
"In one thing, at least, you’re right," Merry muttered darkly. "Arwen will never expect genius from you."
Pippin scowled, growing rather tired of his kinsman’s skepticism. "If you don’t like my plan, then say so."
"I have. Several times," Merry snapped. "Pippin, think back on what we’ve both seen and heard today. These elves aren’t playing parlor tricks; they’re staging a war!"
"And what were we doing when the fate of Middle-earth hung in the balance? We weren’t playing parlor tricks either. We were right in the thick of things, and I say that if we can survive that, we can certainly survive one day of mischief."
Merry rubbed his temples and muttered something about the steps up to Cirith Ungol, but what that had to do with anything, Pippin couldn’t imagine. "I don’t think you understand quite what we’re getting into," his cousin eventually said when he stopped mumbling to himself. "I don’t think I understand quite what we’re getting into. But by all accounts, we don’t want to be involved in whatever schemes are being concocted. This plan is not the last thing we’d try. It’s one of the things we wouldn’t try."
"Which makes it all the more unexpected for Arwen," Pippin reasoned. "Merry, do you really think we can’t handle ourselves? We’re hobbits! We’re the ones everybody turned to when that silly Ring needed destroying. Surely we can—"
"There!" Merry shouted, stopping mid-stride and waving his arms. "That right there. That’s what worries me."
"What? Where?" Pippin demanded, looking around.
"Not what or where. Who! You! ‘Silly Ring’? Pippin, the Ring was what nearly brought about the downfall of Middle-earth and you’re calling it silly? You just aren’t taking things very seriously today, and everybody else is!"
"On the contrary," Pippin answered, trying to fill his voice with confidence and certainty. "I’m taking this very seriously. I’ve put a lot of thought into this, and it’s the only way we’ll be able to get into that pantry. Arwen clearly has the day set up to keep us away from a proper meal. I don’t intend to let her get away with it. I’m outraged, really, but I’m managing to keep my head."
"If you ever had it to begin with," Merry grumbled.
Pippin sighed, closed his eyes, counted to ten, and then began walking again. "Dear cousin, if I am any judge, what you need is mirth," he announced sagely. "You claim that I am not taking this day seriously enough, but you, my friend, are far too sober for a hobbit’s good. What you need is some light-heartedness. Some cheer."
Merry frowned. "You do remember what happened the last time we started drinking Mirkwood’s wine, don’t you?"
"Not that kind of cheer, you ninny! I mean real cheer. A good laugh. And I’ve got just the thing."
"And what, pray tell, would that be?" Merry asked, his voice practically dripping in derision.
"Do you remember those jests and riddles I started when we were journeying through Moria?" Pippin asked. He was facing away from Merry at the moment, and so he failed to see the sudden look of horror that paled his cousin’s face. "I was thinking about those a few months ago and decided that I ought to improve on them."
"Pippin, I really don’t think that—"
"I’ve expanded these jests and riddles to include all the various groups of hobbits in the Shire, and I think I’ve come up with some good ones. And I also have ones about Gondor, Rohan, Lothlórien, Ithilien—"
"Pippin, this isn’t really necessary," Merry protested, shaking his head wildly as the look of fear increased.
"Nonsense! I’ve been wanting to share these things with someone, but I’ve never found the right moment until now. And I’d be more than honored to share them with you. It will improve your disposition, too."
"Let’s start with one that hits close to home. I think you’ll like this one. How many Brandybucks does it take to light a torch?" Pippin waited patiently for a response, but after a few minutes of silence, he began to grow bored. Sighing, he stopped and turned around. "Really, Merry, it’s not that difficult. Think of…"
Pippin trailed off and blinked, only now realizing that he was completely alone.
"Ten," he murmured to himself. "One to light it and nine to fend off all the trees in the Old Forest while that one tries to burn the place to the ground." Shaking his head in disgust, Pippin started back, all the while looking for places that Merry might have used to hide.
That was when he saw Elrohir storm down a side corridor.
Stopping suddenly, a new idea came to Pippin. He was almost certain that he could enlist the aid of Legolas and Gimli in raiding the pantry, but it would be much easier to do so if he had information with which to buy their assistance. And what better information could they ask for than the latest plans of the lords of Imladris?
For a moment, though, he hesitated. His strangely distraught cousin had wandered off, and Pippin was more than a little concerned. It wasn’t like Merry to abandon a conversation so suddenly. One might expect that from an elf, but not from a hobbit. Perhaps the hunger has become too much and he’s off to the Tower for some food, Pippin thought. It wasn’t an entirely satisfactory explanation, but it was better than nothing. Deciding that Merry would have to fend for himself in the immediate future, Pippin took one last look around, hoping to see his errant friend, and then turned to follow Elrohir.
Author’s Notes: Some of you may have picked up on the fact that ginkoto sounds a bit like ginkgo. The similarity is not accidental. I didn’t want to put ginkgo in this story as that feels too out of place, so I created the tree ginkoto and gave it origins in Rhûn, attempting to go for a more Far Eastern feel. For those of you who don’t know, the ginkgo biloba is a tree that has uses in herbal medicine (as well as religion). Recent scientific studies show that ginkgo might sharpen and clarify the mind. It is now suggested as treatment for Alzheimer patients in the early stages of the disease. Ginkgo use can be traced back as far as 2,000 years ago in China and Japan, where its fruit and nuts were valued. The gingko biloba has survived with very few adaptive changes since the time of the dinosaurs, when it was believed to have grown all over the world. Today it has been transplanted from southeastern China and once again can be found in many areas of the globe. Thought you might enjoy a quick botany lesson.
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.