48. A Visit from the Thain
'There's a party from Tookland just arrived at the Hall,' the lad said, gasping.
Pippin frowned at the pony's lathered flanks and heaving sides. 'I do not think the news deserves such hard riding,' he said.
The lad's eyes widened. 'But the Thain himself is come!'
Pippin paused, then looked up at the rider again. 'Even that news does not warrant riding a pony so hard on such a hot day,' he repeated. 'You will walk Wingfoot all the way back to the Hall.'
'But I was to take back your reply!' the boy gasped.
'You may tell them, when you get there on a nicely cooled out pony, that I will come when my task here is done. Walk him, mind.'
'Yes, Sir,' the boy gulped, and turning the pony back towards the Hall, he obediently proceeded at a sedate pace.
Pippin shook his head and turned back to the discussion. 'Excuse the interruption, Mereloc,' he said to the foreman. 'You were saying..."
When his business was concluded, Pippin turned Socks back towards the Hall, at a slow jog. He passed a field where a three-pony plow was breaking the soil for the winter barley planting, sending clouds of dust into the air; he automatically pulled his scarf over his mouth so as not to breathe the dust. The River beyond sparkled golden in the afternoon sunlight of autumn, and he wondered how they could more easily bring the River to the fields in years of drought like this one. Merry had told him how he had read in the great library in Minas Tirith, about digging canals. They'd have to look into it, if the drought continued into the winter months.
Diamond was waiting with wee Faramir at the door to the Hall when he and Socks rode into the yard. He rode up to her with a grin. 'Been waiting long?' he asked.
'No, I knew you'd be finished in time to play with your son before he seeks his bed.'
Tiny Faramir waved his arms excitedly, calling, 'Bah!'
At Pippin's grin, Diamond brought the toddler closer, lifting him into his father's grasp. 'Bah, yourself!' he replied. 'Come, lad, help me put this pony away.' He placed his son on the saddle before him, and they ambled over to the water trough by the stable doors. Holding his son steady, Pippin dismounted, handing the reins to Faramir.
'Here, lad, hold Socks for me. Don't let him run away, now!' The little one chortled in glee, grasping the reins and kicking his heels against the saddle. Socks turned his head to see what all the commotion was about, blew a long sigh, shook his head and turned back to the trough.
Pippin held the reins near the pony's chin while Socks drank, then moved to slip his son off the saddle and into the crook of his elbow. 'Bah!' said Faramir proudly, pounding on Pippin's shoulder with his little fists. Chattering merrily, the two led the pony into the stables. Diamond chuckled and shook her head, turning back into the cool darkness of the Hall to announce her husband's imminent arrival.
Pippin put his head in at the parlour door, nodding in greeting to the visitors. 'I'm not fit to be seen,' he said, 'Give me a moment to change and I'll join you.' He put Faramir down and gave him a push towards Diamond. 'Go see your mother, lad,' he urged. 'I'm sure she can find you a treat.'
He returned soon. Esmeralda had his tea poured out and fixed the way he wanted, and Diamond had loaded a plate for him.
'Come, husband, you must be hungry.'
'Not particularly,' Pippin chuckled, just to see her reaction.
'Well, then, *I* am hungry, and so *you* must eat!' she commanded.
Pippin gave a mock sigh and shook his head. 'It's the story of my life,' he said ruefully, then turned to greet his father.
'I've come to ask you to reconsider,' the Thain said abruptly. He was not much for social chit-chat, preferring to get straight to the point. Saved time that way, no need to waste breath on a lot of unnecessary words.
His son gazed at him clear-eyed. 'They cannot spare me from Buckland. It seems they are in need of a steward here.'
Paladin swore. 'You would settle for Steward -- when you could be Thain?'
'You cannot dictate your terms to me any longer,' Pippin said mildly. 'You cannot buy or sell me as if I were one of your possessions, and you cannot direct how I choose to live my life.'
Paladin sputtered incoherently.
Pippin continued, 'You're going to have to get yourself someone else to be Thain after you.'
The Thain exploded. 'You've been a fool all your life, Peregrin, and now you would ruin your son as well!'
Saradoc started to speak, but Merry placed a hand on his shoulder to stay him and broke in quietly. 'Uncle,' he said.
Paladin turned to him. 'Can't you talk some sense into this fool's head?' he demanded.
'Uncle,' Merry said, more quietly, but the steel in his tone subdued Paladin to silence. 'The word "fool" falls all too easily from your lips. I'd advise you to put it away. Your son is a knight of Gondor, honoured by the King for his noble deeds.'
Paladin snorted. 'Noble deeds! What did he do, relieve the King of his troubles by acting as court jester? He excels at that! Bright mail and fancy sword do not a warrior make.'
Unmoved, Merry went on, 'Your son accompanied the Ring-bearer South on his journey to deliver Middle Earth from the evil of the Dark Lord.'
Paladin snorted again, but was obviously uneasy. 'A tale to frighten hobbit lads and lasses sitting by the Yuletide fire.'
Saradoc protested, but Merry continued as if his uncle had not spoken. 'While on that journey, we were waylaid by an orc host and forced to travel in their company from the Falls of Rauros nearly to Isengard. He endured whip and slash, he was driven forty leagues and five in three days, most of that on his own legs, carried only when his strength gave out and they decided carrying was faster than dragging him.'
He had the attention of all in the room now. 'He kept his head. He suffered the whips of our captors to leave markers for those who followed us. He managed to free his hands, and by his wits he seized the chance to escape when it presented itself.'
Merry pulled back his sleeves to show the scars on his wrists. 'Have you never seen such marks on your son?' he demanded. 'Were it not for his wit and courage I would not stand before you now.'
Paladin muttered something, but Merry was not finished. 'He saw the Dark Lord, eye to eye, and yet was not destroyed or corrupted. He endured the siege of Gondor, surely some of the tales have reached the Shire? ...and he slew a troll to defend a friend.'
'Slew a troll!' Paladin broke in. 'But a story to amuse the lasses at Mid-year's Day.'
Merry lowered his voice. 'He slew a troll, gutted the creature indeed, to save a friend while Men twice his height fell back in dismay. He was buried beneath its body and nearly died.' He measured the Thain with his glance. 'Did he never tell you that?'
The Took drawing himself up to his full stature, of course could not match Merry's height. 'He spoke only in jest, as is his way. And who are you, Nephew, to try to tell me about my son?'
Saradoc stepped forward to stand beside Merry, placing a hand on his shoulder. His voice filled with pride, he said, 'This is the Rider of Rohan who followed his King into battle, and thrust his sword into the Witch King of Angmar, Dark Captain of the Nazgul, to defend his Lord.' He met the Thain's eye steadily. 'Which of your warriors may say the same?' he asked, then continued, 'This is the Captain who rallied the Shire to throw out the ruffians, while all of Tuckborough hid in deep caves and only attacked from ambush. Certainly, you defended Tookland. But my son, and yours, and their companions, freed the Shire.'
Paladin stood breathing hard, shaking his head in frustration. He turned again to Pippin, voice almost pleading. 'Son,' he said. 'I have always tried to do what I thought was best by you.'
Pippin nodded. 'I know,' he said.
Encouraged, the Thain pressed on. 'I wanted you to become the finest Thain in the history of the Shire, one whose name would live on beyond him, like Isumbras the First, or Gerontius.'
Merry chuckled, and when Saradoc turned to him in surprise he said softly, 'I think he's managed that without becoming Thain.'
'All I have built up, I built for you,' Paladin appealed. 'When the ruffians came, I held Tookland -- for you and for your sons after you. I held out hope that you could not be dead, that you would return to be Thain after me.'
Pippin shook his head. His father tried again. 'What will the hobbits of Tookland do without a Thain?'
'There wasn't a Thain before Bucca of the Marish. They found one then. They can go and find another now.'
'You can make the choice for yourself, but what about Faramir? You want your son to turn out as you have?'
'I hope so. It is not my place to choose his destiny for him. I will not return to Tuckborough. It's not my place anymore, to become Thain. Not mine, and not my son's.'
Desperate, Paladin tried one last time. 'There's been a Thain and Took in the family in unbroken line all the way down from Isumbras himself. You would destroy that succession? You'd throw it all away?'
Pippin smiled. 'I would rather see my son working at honest labour, married to a farmer's daughter, than groomed for power and married to his advantage,' he said softly.
Pippin held his father's gaze until the other looked away, defeated, then drained his teacup and set it down. 'Come here, Son,' he crooned to the tiny toddler clinging to Diamond's skirts. 'Let us see if the cooks in the kitchen need a fine strong lad to help knead the bread for supper.' Wee Faramir crowed and toddled to his father, who swung him up to his shoulder, nodded to all in the parlour, and walked out.
The hobbits of Brandy Hall stood silently in the courtyard to see the Thain and his party off.
The Master reached out a hand, and the Thain, looking older, somehow, shrunken from the imperious figure that had ridden into the yard a week earlier, took it. 'You know that you and your wife are welcome at the Hall at any time,' Saradoc said.
'Oh, aye,' said the Thain. 'And you are always welcome at Great Smials. We'll roll out the red carpet for you.'
'Tooks are famous for their hospitality,' Esmeralda smiled.
The Thain turned to her, dropping Saradoc's hand to abruptly embrace his sister. 'You ought to know,' he muttered. 'Brandy Hall's fortunate indeed to have two such fine Tooks in residence.' She returned the hug and he stepped back.
'Bah!' shouted Faramir from Diamond's arms.
A rare smile crossed The Took's face. He held out a finger to his grandson, who curled his wee fist around it, beaming. ' "Bah" yourself, laddie,' he said gently. He looked up at Diamond. 'Take care of these lads of yours,' he said. 'You've a fine boy, and his father's not too bad, either.'
Pippin, at Diamond's side, reached out a hand. 'Safe journey,' he said.
His father took the hand, held it wordlessly, suddenly pulled his son into a long hug, which Pippin returned fiercely. 'I have always loved you, Son,' the Thain muttered against his cheek.
'And I, you, Father,' Pippin returned. Paladin's grip tightened, then he released his son and stepped back, turning to mount his pony. His entourage followed suit.
'Safe journey, and return soon!' Saradoc called the customary farewell. The Thain lifted his hand in reply, and the riders turned their ponies to the road and started the long journey back to Tuckborough.
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.