15. Invitation to Long Cleeve
'You take after him quite a bit, Peregrin,' he said, smiling into the latter's eyes. To his sorrow he saw his nephew's eyes fill with tears.
Esmeralda rose and enveloped Pippin in a hug. 'We haven't lost him, lad,' she crooned. 'His memory will last as long as our love does.'
'I know,' Pippin mumbled miserably. 'I'm only thinking of myself.' He wiped his eyes and sat up. 'Did I ever tell you of the time...?' They told stories into the wee hours of the night.
When Esmeralda came out of the kitchen next morning, a mug of wildflowers stood by her place at the breakfast table. She blinked back sudden tears and looked up to meet Pippin's smile.
That autumn was unusually beautiful, mild weather continuing into the beginning of November. Pippin and Merry took advantage of the good travelling weather to make a few more visits to see Sam and Rosie at Hobbiton, stopping of course at Long Cleeve both coming and going.
Pippin waxed eloquent about baby Elanor, her golden hair and blue eyes and sunny disposition, and how she preferred him to Merry. 'You ought to have seen it!' he joked. 'Whenever Meriadoc tried to hold her she would cry! And then I would have to soothe her again...'
'I think it must have been the pin you stuck into her whenever you'd hand her to me,' Merry rejoined.
'She is a very discerning lass,' Pippin maintained.
'I would like to hear more about the lasses at Long Cleeve,' Saradoc said meaningfully. 'Is there somewhat we ought to know about the family there?'
'Well, they are relations,' Pippin answered, 'They come of the north-Tooks, you know. Very proper and all.'
'If you are an example of a proper Took...' his uncle began.
'Oh, aye!' Pippin replied, and they all burst out laughing.
'Perhaps we should all take a journey to Long Cleeve and meet the family,' Saradoc pressed. Merry and Pippin exchanged glances, and there was that curious feeling Saradoc had that arose whenever Long Cleeve was discussed. There was something they were not telling him. He caught Esmeralda's eye.
'Yes, Meriadoc,' his wife said, 'Tell us more about the family there.'
'Well,' Merry began uncomfortably. 'The farmer's name is Jotham...'
'Took, I gather,' Saradoc said dryly.
'Yes, Jotham Took. His wife is Pearl, and they have four sons, young Jotham, Tim, Thom, and Tad, he's the youngest, quite a bright lad and very lively.'
'And daughters?' Esmeralda asked casually.
Pippin made a great show at thinking back. 'Let's see, now, there are four, aren't there, Meriadoc?' At his cousin's nod he continued. 'The eldest is Ruby, then there's Diamond, and the twins, Amethyst and Emerald, though they call them Ammy and Emmy.'
'Ah,' said Merry's mother. 'Sweet names, quite unusual.' She fixed her son firmly with her eye. 'And how old are the older girls?'
Merry looked to Pippin for help, and Pippin leaned back in his chair with a grin. 'Oh, I don't know. Meriadoc, do you have an idea?' Merry glared at him and he laughed.
'Meriadoc!' Esmeralda's voice was unusally stern.
He sighed. 'Ruby will come of age next year.'
His mother smiled. 'And is she pretty?' Her son reluctantly raised his eyes to hers, and then couldn't help joining her as she began to laugh.
Saradoc nodded, then said firmly. 'Well, now, it seems as if we ought to invite the north-Tooks to the Hall. It is about time we made their acquaintance.' Again a curious glance passed between his nephew and his son. He would have to get to the bottom of this. An invitation to the family at Long Cleeve seemed a good place to start.
The evening before the north-Tooks were to arrive, Merry and Pippin came to the Master's study, obviously ill at ease. Esmeralda rose to greet them and poured each a glass of brandy.
'There's something we need to tell you,' Merry began, then stared into his glass and subsided into silence.
'Yes, Meriadoc?' his mother smiled brightly.
'Well, it never seemed quite the right time to tell you... but...' He looked over at Pippin, but his cousin stared out the window into the darkness and offered no help at all.
'What is it, lad? It cannot be as bad as all that,' Saradoc said.
Meriadoc raised his eyes again and said miserably, 'Do you remember the lad who got caught up a tree, the day we left to go to Hobbiton to see Frodo?'
'Oh, aye, that story brought back many old memories,' Saradoc replied.
'Well, after I got him down, Peregrin and I decided to race our ponies. There was a convenient field, it was a beautiful day, the ponies were aching for a run...'
Saradoc and Esmeralda waited. Usually Pippin could not help jumping into a conversation, but he stared into his own glass in silence.
'We raced and... Bright Nose was in fine form, he'd never run so fast...' Merry blinked, took a gulp of his brandy, swallowed wrong and began to cough. He waved away Pippin's attempts to slap his back, got his coughing under control, took a few deep breaths.
Saradoc had the feeling that he was not going to like what he would be hearing next.
'He stepped in a hole,' Merry began, then tears filled his eyes and he finished in a whisper, '...and he broke his leg. He had to be put down.'
'Meriadoc!' his mother gasped.
Saradoc looked at his son, puzzled. 'But how...? That pony...?'
Merry understood his father's confusion. 'The pony I ride now is not Bright Nose. It must be his twin, he is so exactly like... he was saved from the mines and sold at the pony market in Bywater.'
'I'd wondered why you changed his name to Jewel,' his father said slowly.
'Were you hurt?' his mother asked.
Merry didn't answer, and Pippin finally looked up from his brandy. 'Oh, aye,' he breathed. Reluctantly he looked from his aunt to his uncle. 'He nearly died.'
Merry's parents sat frozen in shock. Finally his father said softly, 'Why was there no message? Why were we not told?'
Pippin met his uncle's eye steadily. 'I don't have a good explanation,' he admitted. 'The healer said there was no reason for him to be as ill as he was. No reason...'
Merry stirred and his parents turned back to him. 'Do you remember the story about the charge of the Rohirrim?' he asked. His father nodded. 'The... the Dark Captain?' he forced himself to say.
'I... I fell under Shadow that day, the fifteenth of March, it was, and only the King could call me back,' Merry said.
'You left home for Hobbiton on the fourteenth of March,' his father said suddenly. 'I remember, it was Merimac's birthday.'
'Yes. And the Shadow came back to claim me the next day. Frodo said...' he met his father's gaze again, 'Frodo said that anniversaries are dangerous, that I will always need to take care on that date. He said that the accident weakened me so that I could not fight the Shadow.'
Pippin's face was bleak, and he stiffened as if expecting a blow. 'I did not want to send word to you. I did not want you to come and have to sit helpless and watch your son die under the Shadow...'
Saradoc looked his nephew directly in the eye, saying, 'That was not your choice to make.'
The reproof went straight to Pippin's heart. The pain on his face grieved his uncle, but he did not turn his eyes away from Saradoc. 'I was wrong,' he admitted. 'But I would not change what I did.'
His aunt caught her breath, and Saradoc turned to see the dawning realization on her face. 'You had seen this before...' she breathed.
Pippin gazed straight before him. 'I watched two guardsmen, friends of mine, just... slip away into silence, cold, finally... death. Then Merry...' He swallowed. 'The hands of the King are the hands of a Healer,' he mused.
Saradoc remembered the story the lads had told the summer before last, the healing Meriadoc had found in the telling. He wondered how long the Shadow would continue to haunt Pippin, and how long it would stalk his son, lying in wait to waylay him. 'But the King is in Gondor,' he said gently.
'When the healer said there was no hope, I nearly sent for you. We had Socks saddled, young Tim was ready to mount, when I thought of Frodo. He had survived a Morgul wound himself. Perhaps he would know what to do. I told Tim to ride instead to Hobbiton.'
'And Frodo came,' Esmeralda prompted. 'And he knew what to do...?'
Merry stirred. 'I was trapped in Darkness. I could not find a way out. He... he brought light with him, and showed me the way out of the Shadow,' Merry answered. He straightened his shoulders. 'I know how to fight it now.'
Saradoc knew he must pursue this to the end. 'You were not ill this past March,' he stated.
To his amazement Meriadoc smiled. 'Oh, I was ill,' he said softly. 'Indeed.' Fear for his son seized Saradoc's heart. Must he send Merry to live in Gondor, to be near the healing hands of the King? Must he give up his son to keep him safe? Merry seemed to read his father's thought, for smiling, he shook his head. He repeated, 'But now, I know how to fight.'
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.