20. The Gift of a Knife
Pippin seemed to disagree. No sooner did he sit down than he sprang up again, frowning. "I have a present for you," he announced.
Merry regarded him skeptically for a long while. The last time Pippin had looked so uncomfortable when offering a present, the gift in question had been a pipe box with a dead grass snake coiled inside. Fatty Bolger had put him up to it, but Pippin nearly backed out of the plot several times. By the time he finally gave Merry the box, the snake had been pretty ripe. Merry stuck his hands deep in his pockets and said, "It's nothing that we're both going to regret, I hope?"
If anything, Pippin looked even more miserable. "You know I'm leaving tomorrow and I thought...well, since your sword burned up when...oh, I'm making such a botch of this!" He pulled a long, cloth- wrapped bundle from under the bench. "Here. I know it's nothing like as good as the one you lost, but you may need a new one if..."
If no one came back from the Black Gate, if Frodo and Sam didn't make it to Mt. Doom, if he had to fight again when everything was lost. Merry nodded, trying to summon up a reassuring smile, but he didn`t dare say anything for a moment. When he was sure he could control his voice, he said, "That was a good idea, Pip. I certainly don't want to be outshone by that livery of yours when we get back to the Shire. Let's have a look at it then."
Pippin held out the bundle to him. Just as he was about to touch it, Pippin snatched it away. "No! No, wait!"
"Pippin, this isn't another snake, is it?" said Merry, as Pippin set the present on the ground and frantically searched his pockets.
"No, Merry, I swear it really is a knife." By this time, he was turning his pockets inside out, and still finding nothing.
"What is it you need? Maybe I could lend it to you."
Pippin shook his head. "I think that would be cheating. Besides, I know I have one here somewhere. Aha!" He pulled out a penny from his shirt pocket and laid it on the bundle. "There, now you can have it."
Merry put the penny in his own pocket, untied the strings that held the bundle together and drew out the long knife. It wasn't as ancient or as beautiful as the one that was destroyed, but it was a good knife nonetheless. "Thank you, Pippin. But what was all that fuss about the penny?"
Turning just a little red, Pippin said, "It's just something Nurse told me. `If you give a knife as a gift, you must always give a penny with it.' She'd roast me in the coals and serve me with horseradish sauce if I forgot to do it."
Merry laughed. "We can't have that. Everybody knows that Tooks should be served with mushroom gravy, not horseradish. But apart from being cooked with the wrong sauce, what sort of calamity is the penny supposed to ward off?"
The merriment died out of his cousin's eyes. "The penny is to make sure the knife doesn't cut our friendship apart. That was why I remembered it, because I didn't want to take any chances. Not now."
"Gandalf was right; you are a fool of a Took," said Merry, setting aside the knife. "There aren't enough knives in all of Middle Earth to cut the bond between us." He hesitated before continuing. Perhaps he was tempting fate by speaking of such things to someone who was marching off to battle, but he thought Pippin needed to hear it anyway. "I will always be your friend, Peregrin Took, and all the superstitions in Middle Earth can't change that. Even if the worst happens, we'll still be friends."
Pippin gave him a weak smile and said, "I know that, but it never hurts to make sure."
"I suppose not," said Merry, returning the smile. He pulled out the penny again and held it up for a closer look. "But what I don't understand is how a penny is supposed to prevent all this. Surely it's a little small to be any use as a shield."
"And I can't quite see the Valar taking it as a bribe, can you?"
"Pippin! Watch your tongue!" said Merry, struggling not to laugh at that bit of irreverence. Pip was still Pip, even with the world teetering on the edge of destruction. "Come on; let's go get those apples you hid in my pack before you think up anything worse to say.
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