37. The Steward of Buckland
Saradoc stared in surprise. 'I can't think of the last day you've taken off.' he said.
'Then I suppose I'm overdue,' Cardoc smiled.
'Certainly, certainly!' Saradoc answered. 'How much time do you need?'
'A week, perhaps. The young master ought to have little enough trouble keeping Hall and Land together whilst I'm gone. I hardly feel needed these days.'
'We ought to leave all the trouble to him and just go fishing,' Saradoc said.
'Might not be such a bad idea,' his steward chuckled. 'Well, then, I won't see you tomorrow.' He did not volunteer where he would be going, and Saradoc respected his privacy.
Farmer Took looked up from the harness he was mending under cover of the overhang on the barn. He expected the lone traveller to pass by on the road that ran through the farm, and wondered what would send someone out in this drizzle. It was perfect for the crops, of course, but miserable to ride in. To his surprise, the pony stopped before him, the rider getting down stiffly from the saddle. The Farmer recognized the stiff gait then, it was the Steward of Buckland. But what was he doing here?
He rose to meet the old hobbit, extending a hand. 'Welcome,' he said, 'What brings you back so soon?'
The other smiled. 'You did say, as we were leaving, that we were welcome back at any time. I find I simply did not get enough of your wife's excellent seedcake a fortnight ago.' Farmer Took nodded, indicating that they should walk together to the house. If the steward chose to keep his business to himself, Farmer Took was wise enough not to pry.
'Well, you're in luck, she just baked another batch today. It seems to be quite popular around these parts.'
Walking into the house, the steward spotted young master Took in the chair by the fire, feet propped up, a blanket over him, asleep. He nodded in that direction. 'How's he doing?'
'Getting better. It's slow, but sure.'
'When d'you suppose he'll be on his feet again?' Cardoc asked.
The farmer glanced sharply at the steward, sensing more than casual interest in the question. 'We're taking it slow,' he said. 'He nearly died, you know. It'll take him some time to come back. No use rushing these things, it only leads to trouble.'
'Are you going to put him to work, then?' the steward's eyes were shrewd.
The farmer shook his head. 'I'd like to have another son around, to help out...' His doubt was clear in his eyes.
'And your daughter could be a widow not long after the wedding,' Cardoc said bluntly, then abruptly changed the subject. 'This fine drizzle came at just the right time, don't you think...?' They talked of planting and harvest until the table was laid for tea.
Diamond gently took Pippin by the shoulder, 'Wake up, love, it is time to eat.'
Pippin stretched in the chair, then complained, 'Seems as if it's always time to eat around here!'
'Ah, but there's a treat for tea,' Diamond coaxed. 'Mum has made some of her seedcake.'
'Now, that's worth getting up for,' Pippin said, as he allowed Diamond to help him up from the chair. He stopped in surprise at seeing Cardoc, and his face changed. 'Something's happened at the Hall?' he asked sharply.
The steward smiled reassuringly, 'All was well when I left, lad. Now sit yourself down.'
'Yes, you're holding the rest of us up,' Pearl Took said, smiling. 'Come sit down, everyone.' She indicated the place where Cardoc was to sit, and he bowed to his host and took his seat. The steward listened in silence to the chatter that went around the table, speaking only to answer a question directed at himself, but he smiled much, and enjoyed several helpings of cake.
'Miserable weather for travelling,' the farmer remarked. 'Where are you on your way to? Surprised the Master would send you out on such a day, were it not urgent business.'
'No, no urgent business,' Cardoc replied. 'I just saddled my pony and let him take me where he would.'
The farmer and his wife exchanged glances, then the farmer said, 'Well, the weather's too miserable for travelling any further tonight. Why don't you stay over, and go back in the morning.'
'Why, thank you,' the steward said, smiling. 'I will take you up on your kind offer.'
'If the weather continues drizzly, perhaps you'd like to stay a few days,' Mistress Took put in. 'I'm sure young master Peregrin would enjoy having someone to chat with about the Hall.'
The steward nodded and smiled. 'I have no pressing matters of business at the moment,' he replied. He rose from the table. 'Thank you kindly for the meal,' he said, 'and for the rest of your hospitality.'
The farmer rose as well. 'Come, let's have a smoke,' he said. 'Nothing like a good pipe after an excellent meal... I have some of Southfarthing's best here if you'd like.' The farmer and the steward walked off companionably together.
Pippin stared after them, until he was interrupted by young Tad. 'How about a game of Kings, Pippin? I've figured out how you beat me last time.'
He smiled at the lad. 'So you're ready for a rematch? You're on!'
The Steward of Buckland stayed on through another two drizzly days. He and the farmer had many long, satisfying conversations about business while puttering about the barn, making what small repairs could be made in the wet weather.
The third day dawned fair, and the family scattered about to outdoor tasks that had been waiting for a dry day. Diamond settled Pippin by the fire, saying, 'I'll be back soon, I must help Mum with the washing.'
'I'll make sure the house doesn't creep away,' Pippin answered. 'They can be sneaky that way, if you don't keep a sharp eye on them.'
She laughed and kissed the top of his head. 'Keep your feet up,' she warned.
'Oh, aye, I must keep this stool from floating away on the breeze,' he answered. 'Heavy are the responsibilities I must bear.' He squeezed her hand and let her go.
'Mind if I join you?' Cardoc said, putting a hand on the back of the chair on the other side of the kitchen hearth.
'Go right ahead,' Pippin said with an expansive gesture. 'I can't mind all the furniture by myself, as it is. We lost a bed just the other day...'
They sat in companionable silence for awhile, until Pippin stirred and asked abruptly, 'Why are you here?'
Cardoc chuckled. 'I suppose the whole family's asking that.'
Pippin shook his head, 'No, they're much too polite.' He met Cardoc's eyes. 'Did they send you to persuade me to go back to Tuckborough?'
Cardoc was startled, but on second thought he could see where the lad might get that idea. 'No, of course not.'
Pippin nodded, and silence stretched between them again.
Finally, the steward spoke. 'What kind of plans to you have?'
The younger hobbit sighed. 'I'm not sure,' he admitted. 'It's hard for someone in my position to make plans.' He raised his eyes to meet the steward's. 'Don't misunderstand me,' he said, 'The north-Tooks are wonderful people. I just don't intend to be kept as a pet for the rest of my days. As soon as I'm back on my feet I mean to find some kind of work.'
'What kind of work can you do?' Cardoc asked.
Pippin was quiet again, then said, 'I suppose there's not much call for knights of Gondor in these parts.'
'Not the last time I looked, no,' the steward answered, '...but there might be an opening for a new steward.' As Pippin stared at him, stunned, he said, 'It would take lots of work on your part, there's much to learn.'
Pippin sat up straight in his chair. 'Did Merry put you up to this?' Cardoc shook his head. 'The Master?' Pippin demanded.
'No, lad,' Cardoc said. 'This is no sinecure. It's my own idea, I haven't even talked to the Brandybucks yet. Sit back, don't stir yourself up so. You worry me, lad.' Pippin obeyed, and as he relaxed, Cardoc continued. 'I have watched you, lad, over all these years.'
'I know,' the younger hobbit admitted ruefully, and the steward laughed.
'Not just to catch you in mischief, lad,' the steward said, smiling. 'Though I had to watch sharp enough for that...' Pippin laughed. 'Yes, you've been a handful, all right. Would you like a drink? No? Then wait a bit, I need to wet my tongue.'
Cardoc got up and poured himself some cool water from the pitcher on the shelf, then brought his glass back to the hearth and sat down. 'I learned long ago, with my own lads, that so much mischief is just a lively mind without enough to do,' he continued quietly. 'I've been watching you for years, lad,' he repeated. 'And I think you've a good head on your shoulders.'
He took a sip of his water. 'The Brandybuck lad I was training to take my place, well, the Old Gaffer's Friend took him a year ago,' he said quietly. 'I've been looking about ever since.' He fixed his gaze on his glass. 'I understand you're free of your previous obligations.'
'Oh, aye,' Pippin answered softly.
'I want you to consider coming to work under me,' Cardoc concluded. 'The Master will approve it, if I recommend it. He trusts my judgment.'
The crackle of the fire was the only sound in the room.
Cardoc looked up to meet Pippin's eyes. 'How much time do you need to come to your decision?'
Pippin smiled, then sobered. 'When can I start?'
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.