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Falcon, The: The Adventures of Peregrin Took: 17. The Endless Road
He rode into the west until the sands swallowed all trace of him, but he knew his way now, and he felt no fear.
He rode west a hundred leagues, following a path through the desert that was written in his memory, thinking of Leah and the way to Geber bet-Eria they had taken, on the run from Seti’s soldiers. He came to the Mountain of Er and the springs of Bet Pallan shortly after sunrise on the second day.
The tent city was much dwindled, and the flocks of goats and sheep had moved on. Only the Prophet’s tribe remained there, these being the lands of their patrimony from ages past, when Pallando had welcomed the Prophet of Er to the monolith mountain. His coming was marked by the cry of a falcon, and he looked up and whistled, crying, “Serak! Serak! Serak!”
Serak, Obed’s falcon, swept down from its sentinel height to alight upon Pippin’s arm. “Nice to see you again,” said the hobbit. The bird screed in reply, and then took off again, doubtless proceeding to its master to tell him Pippin had arrived.
Pippin went directly to the tent of the Prophet, where the Medzhaim guards bid him enter. He did not slough off his traveling gear, but proceeded through the vestibule to the central room, where he found Obed seated on a cushion by the Prophet’s empty chair.
The young general rose and went to him, clasping his hands in greeting. “My sister stays behind,” Obed said.
Pippin nodded. “For a while. She and my friend Brogar are getting better acquainted.”
“I see.” Obed looked kindly and knowingly at Pippin. “How lies your heart regarding this?”
“It beats lightly,” Pippin replied, “which is a most pleasant surprise.”
He sat down and over water and fruit told of the events of the past five weeks, much of which Obed already apparently knew. The Erites kept spies upon the Valley, Pippin guessed, knowing how old the rivalry was between the two; he had been told Obed had ridden away so quickly after the battle to avoid encouraging the anger of the common people against an occupying army, no matter how well-intentioned. And some Erites were far from well-intentioned.
He also mentioned something of Leah’s words to him and Brogar, which Obed did not know about. The young man listened attentively, stroking his short, neat beard.
“I have often wondered how and when my sister would find her peace,” Obed mused to Pippin. “I hope this time she has done it.”
“I think they understand each other, as she understood me,” Pippin said soberly, and told Obed of Brogar’s story. Obed looked moved, and at the end said, “I feel I understand him, as well. So let it be. May Er’s will be done.”
They emerged into the heat of the day. “I’d rather not stay long,” Pippin said. “I’d like to get back on the road by nightfall. As soon as you point it out to me, of course.”
“Of course,” said Obed. “I shall have a copy of the map and the path to Umbar made for you. Until nightfall, rest and take your ease. Visit the springs, perhaps.”
“Perhaps I will,” said Pippin.
Pippin did go to the springs after a noontime nap; and was surprised for a moment to see a bearded man in a deep indigo robe sitting on a rock nearby, a weathered staff in his hands. But it was no wizard from across the sea; only Zedek.
“Well met again, traveler,” said the Prophet of Er.
“Good afternoon, Your Holiness,” Pippin acknowledged. “May I ask what you’re doing?”
Zedek gestured lightly. “Sitting. Watching the water. Listening to the wind. Praying. Dost thou know how to pray, traveler?”
“I have not been taught formally, sir,” said Pippin, “but I believe I’ve learned from experience.”
Zedek smiled. “Then sit with me, if thou wish; let us pray together.”
Pippin nodded and hopped up onto a rock next to the Prophet. “What shall we pray for?”
“I pray that my people always find water, that our oases never run dry, that our palms bear good fruit in season, and that we have peace.”
“But doesn’t Er give you these things anyway?”
“Many of them. Yet I find it is polite to ask.”
They sat together for a while, watching the quiet world in the soft murmurings of the breeze. Pippin held very still, all but vanishing from notice, which Zedek himself also seemed capable of doing. They held so still that shy creatures of the oasis began to appear, poking snouts and whiskers and tails and small bright eyes out of the cracks and crevices of the rocks. Here a jumping desert mouse. There a bat-eared fox. A lizard, licking its eyes. Up and beyond, a caracal. Pippin watched quietly, and the fox became so brave it went past Pippin to the bubbling spring and drank. Pippin smiled.
He asked the Prophet, “I am afraid of facing my father should I return to my home.”
Zedek nodded. “Why is this so?”
“I fear I’ve been far from what he’s wanted as a son.”
“Many sons feel so. My own has confessed as much to me, as he is a warrior, though he be destined to put down the sword and take up the staff of prophecy.” Zedek smoothed his robe upon his knees with his dry and ropy hands. “Perhaps I should let him seek his way by his sword, for his gifts are great and true; and pass my office to my daughter. Would that not cause a wondrous stir?” The Prophet smiled, and turned his eyes calmly upon Pippin. “I can not say to thee, fear not, for your father Paladin has not minded thy absence,” he said. “For he has. It will take a father hard beyond care, to care not for any son of his heart. But, my friend, know this. If thy father ever hath loved thee, he will remember it, upon the first sight of the shadow of thy return, upon a horizon in his sight.”
“I hope you’re right,” Pippin sighed. “Maybe I should pray about that?”
“May be,” said the Prophet.
Come nightfall Tempest was saddled, fed, and refreshed, with fresh packs of supplies for the journey. She was fidgety again, eager to be gone, to run through the desert as she loved. Pippin laughed and stroked her mane and told her just a moment.
Obed and Zedek came to him together. They bowed, and Pippin bowed too.
“Here is the map of the road to Umbar from the Mountain of Er,” said Obed, handing a folded parchment to Pippin. “It is a journey that can be made easily in twelve days, or in six at haste. The oases are few but faithful. You have been given additional skins and bottles to conserve.
“The east wind is harsh. We have given you a headscarf and face-covering for your use. Make sure you use it.
“Most importantly, when you are within sight of Umbar’s minarets, burn the map. We do not wish many more strangers to find their way to our sacred lands, unless they be led there by chance, that is the mercy of Er.”
Pippin accepted the map and the advice and tucked it into the bag he wore slung over his shoulder. “I will remember. Thank you, Obed.”
They embraced. “Godspeed, my friend,” said Obed ben Zedek. “If we are never to meet again, may all your paths be clean before you and behind; may the wind be gentle, the water fresh, and the sunlight gentle upon you all your journeys.”
“Goodbye, Obed,” said Pippin. “It has been an honor, and a privilege.”
Zedek spoke. “I have little else to say but this,” he said, and raised his hands and staff over Pippin.
“May the Lord bless thee and keep thee. May he maketh his face to shine upon thee, and give thee peace. Should thou travel through dry valleys veiled by death, fear no evil; for he is with thee; his robe and his staff thy comfort.”
Though he did not fully grasp the words, Pippin nevertheless felt deeply touched by them, and he bowed again, going so far as to touch his knee to the ground before rising.
“And also with you,” he said impulsively.
They watched smiling as he mounted and walked Tempest around. Then he smiled, waved, and rode on. His course was marked by the seven stars curving over the north: the Sickle of the Valar, promise of the overthrow of the dark.
Umbar. The oldest and largest city upon the face of the earth held nearly a million souls within its city walls. Temples to gods and demons vied with guildhouses and palaces of the wealthy in attempting to attain the sky, while upon the streets, beggars in the thousands of every age and one struggled stubbornly for life. Above them all were the seven Towers, the minarets high and cruel, red, gray, white, rose, silver and gold, yet all crowned with a pointed black dome. Red pennants flew over the city, emblazoned with the sigil of the city: a new moon curving over an seven-pointed star.
Pippin was awed by the size of the great city, but did not show it, and covered his face and pulled his cloak and hood low about him. He stopped outside the city to destroy the map to the Mountain. It took a moment for him to realize he was standing by the ruins of the great Beacon of Umbar, raised by the Númenóreans to commemorate the defeat of Sauron thousands of years in the past. Now it lay broken in ruins, half-buried by the ground, and words and symbols upon the hundreds were carved into its stones. Seized by an impulse, Pippin pulled out his Sakharin dagger and carved his own message into the stone. It read:
P.T. SR 1432
It was not long before Pippin was waylaid by robbers, a gang of six ruffians. Pippin killed three quickly, but the others got away with a sack full of the rich gifts given him by Iset and Obed. Cursing, he spurred Tempest forward around the city towards the docks. At least Poclis’ gift for Sam was still with him, in his vest pocket.
The port of Umbar was a bay as large as the city itself, with a hundred numbered piers reaching into the waters thickly-strewn with watercraft of every size and purpose. Rising over them like the Towers above the houses of the city were the Corsair ships, far fewer than in their heyday, reduced in power and scope by the returning might of Gondor, but still sleek and beautiful and deadly, their lateen-rigged sails spiked into the cloudy blue sky.
Pippin rode to the first of the piers, which was numbered 100. He traveled on, through longshoremen hauling goods, laborers bearing packages, travelers securing transportation, merchants hawking tawdry keepsakes, red-garbed Haradrim soldiers keeping watch—though it seemed thievery and murder were as well-regulated as any other trade. Pippin kept one hand on the reins and another on his swordhilt. More than a few times he cast aside his cloak and flashed Trollsbane’s silvery steel.
He came to Pier 16 and stopped. At the end of the long pier he saw it, long and low and sleek as ever, the Black Sword of the Ocean, the Mormegil.
At the other end of the pier he saw what looked like a tavern with horses tethered nearby. Men went into and out of the sooty door, emerging apparently quite drunk. A waft of tobacco smoke came from the open windows, and Pippin could smell frying fish and taters.
Ship or food? Pippin’s choice was easy. Soon he was seated at his own table in the Banquet of the Garden Of a Thousand Seabirds, having a passable though spiced and peppered version of fish-and-chips, and rather fine ale, which indeed came in pints.
He asked the barkeep, a surly, swarthy gentleman with a tiny cylindrical cap on his large head, if the captain of the Black Sword was a customer.
“What is it to you, halfling?”
“He’s an old friend,” Pippin responded.
The barkeep glanced at Trollsbane’s tell-tale pommel and worn black leather grip.
“I’ll let him know when he comes in. Usually at the ninth hour,” which meant sundown.
Pippin passed along a single gold coin. “I’ll be much obliged if I could have this table till then. And I hope no one bothers me. Or my horse.” He smiled. “Not that I’m worried about her, mind you; but she can be awfully mean to strangers.”
Shortly thereafter there came a sharp, offended snort and the wail of a man whose foot had been stomped by a sharp hoof. Pippin smiled and had another pint.
That evening sure enough a shadow darkened the door of the tavern and, wearing a black coat and a jaunty black hat over his long black hair, in stepped the man Pippin had been waiting for.
Instead of rising, Pippin assumed a waiting, watchful position, leaning back against the back of the bench with his legs stretched out in front of him, cloaked, hooded, and smoking his pipe, his face in shadow. He watched as Morelin sat down at the bar, ordered a drink, and was told of his presence by the barkeep.
Morelin turned. He looked right at Pippin. Pippin’s face was hidden, but Morelin quickly sized him up. And after all his feet gave him away with their oversized leathery soles and curly brown fur.
Morelin’s eyes came up to Pippin’s face. Pippin threw back his hood dramatically and grinned around his pipestem. “Hello, Captain!”
Morelin’s lean, handsome face was frozen for a moment between fear and joy. Then swiftly it shifted into its customary sardonic set.
“Ah,” said Morelin. “It’s you, Peregrin.” He leaned back against the bar. “Where have you been.”
They toasted Poclis. They toasted Brogar. Morelin toasted Pippin when he heard about Leah, though Pippin somehow managed to maintain a modicum of discretion. The ale was replaced by sweet, heady wine, that flowed until even Pippin felt quite drunk.
Morelin seemed not to be affected. When Pippin peevishly remarked on that, Morelin replied, “It takes more than wine to inebriate me these days, Pippin.”
“What does ineb—inebite—get you soused these days?” Pippin questioned.
“Ah,” said Morelin. “I am glad you asked.”
He pulled out from his surcoat a folded map and laid it out on the table before them. “Oh,” Pippin breathed, gazing down at it. “What’s this supposed to be?”
“Read it,” Morelin said encouragingly.
Pippin was disoriented, but then he found the compass drawn on the map, and once he knew where West was he could find his way. “Here’s the Shire,” he said, “and the Blue Mountains, and the Firth of Lune—doesn’t this part of Eriador look like a big jolly giant laughing at the sea?”
“Certainly. What is across the sea?”
Pippin looked. “Steady on,” he said, squinting. “This isn’t the Blessed Land.”
Morelin laid his hand flat on the map with a sharp knock. His grey eyes gleamed. “These are the new lands, my friend. The new lands beyond the bent seas. I have obtained this map from a passenger on a ship we recently … hosted.”
“You didn’t kill them all again, did you?”
“No, no, no,” said Morelin dismissively, “I am getting out of that line of work. This is my new course.”
Pippin stared at the map again. “You’re going to … New Found Land?” He looked at the picture under the island. “Oh, look, salmon.”
“Forget the salmon, Pippin. Exploration. Exploration!” Morelin kicked back in his chair, a gentleness on his smirk. “I shall take my crew and explore the seas of the world. I may even circumnavigate the globe. Imagine the adventure. Imagine the sights to be seen, the lands to be visited, the treasures to be taken…”
Pippin smiled knowingly and raised a teetering glass of wine. “Aha. Treasure. I should have known.”
“Well, a pard does not shirk his spots,” Morelin pointed out. “But this, this is my first venture. To cross the Sea to this western shore and chart it. Then… who knows?”
Morelin leaned back. For a time he gazed at Pippin. Then he said, “It is you who inspired me to do this, Peregrin. I remember the long days you spent at the prow of my vessel, on our flight into the midst of Belegaer, eager to see the horizon that seemed changeless and yet to your eyes were full of mystery and promise. I saw you and thought often to myself, ‘Look at him. A hobbit of the Shire, born with earth between his toes and the simple joys of his kind. If he can dare a voyage beyond his imagination, why can not I?’ This is what I asked myself. And even as we were welcomed home to Umbar—you have heard the story?”
Pippin hiccupped. “Yes,” he said. “You’re under arrest, by the way.”
“You’ll never take me alive, Knight of Gondor,” Morelin replied. “As I was saying, even as we were feasted and honored and the bounties on our heads forgiven—for the most part—I was already looking beyond the pirate life. I did not leave Eriador to grow fat on the leavings of listless lords in their towers. The sea spreads its arms around all this earth, the middle and the edges. I have a fine ship and a fine crew of like-minded sailors.”
“So why not explore,” Pippin finished for him.
“Why not explore,” Morelin agreed. Then he leaned close and asked Pippin, “Why not come with me?”
Pippin spent the night in his old quarters on the Mormegil, Tempest tethered under watchful guard next to the ship. He was very drunk when he finally retired, and Morelin carried him up the gangplank and through the deck into the captain’s cabin and the library-closet. The slow rise and fall of the ship to the movement of the sheltered bay rocked Pippin as he slept and gave rise to a dream.
In the dream he was at Morelin’s side, sailing through a sea that was clear all the way to the bottom, through which myriads of creatures swam. They were far to the west of the sun, sailing through an ocean few had yet crossed, and before them was an island green and golden rising like a vision from the indigo sea. The wind filled their sails, the sky was high and clear, and the tang of the sea was rich in Pippin’s nostrils.
Then he heard the call of an albatross, and he looked up to spy it—and saw a hobbit-lad of ten years, with dark hair and green eyes, wandering lonely through the old, shabby hole of the North-tooks of Long Cleeve, glancing longingly and questioningly at the road, wondering at each solitary traveler who happened to come upon it. The boy would look with hope at the face of the traveler, only to lose hope as yet again they passed him by.
“Faramir, Faramir!” called a voice from the door of the smial.
“Just a little while longer,” the hobbit-lad replied.
His mother appeared. She was changed by the years, aged more than she should have. Cold had seeped into her face and driven the beauty from her cheeks. She was every opportunity lost, every hope squelched, every doubt nourished, a puzzle pieced of a lifetime of missed chances. She stood in her plain white dress upon the moors of the Northfarthing, next to her son.
“I hate him,” said the boy, who could not weep.
“If he should return,” said Diamond, “think better of him, Faramir.”
Morelin looked up from his morning meal as Pippin emerged from the library-closet.
“I have to go,” said Pippin.
“Break fast with me,” Morelin replied.
Pippin shook his head. “No, thank you, I’m not hungry.” He picked up a large slice of bread and dabbed it with flavored oil and ate it in five bites.
“You have considered my offer?” Morelin asked gently.
“Believe me, I considered it,” Pippin told him, “and I’m greatly tempted. But I have to go home. There is a lady to whom I must make a lifetime of amends, Morelin. And there’s a child—my son. My son Faramir. A lad with a name like that deserves better from his father.”
“I know,” said Morelin.
Pippin took note of the tone in the captain’s voice. “You do know, don’t you?” he said.
“I knew of Denethor son of Ecthelion. And I knew of his sons. It was not difficult to see the trouble that lay above that house. Tragedy, it was. I was pleasantly surprised to find Faramir son of Denethor a wise, just, and well-humored man, when he questioned me.”
Pippin thought of that meeting, the two men, so much alike in his mind, Men of the West the both of them. “Did he question you in any particular manner?”
“Oh, yes,” said Morelin. “And I let him have what he wished to know—enough for me to disguise my escape.”
“Knave,” said Pippin.
Morelin tipped an imaginary cap. “At your service.”
“And your family’s,” Pippin replied.
The light of the morning spread over the Black Cape and lit the waters with flecks of pearl. The squawks of the gulls echoed through the wharves as the morning fishers and ferryboats began to ply the surface of the great haven. On the deck, the first watch was beginning to emerge. Pippin heard the strong, confident orders of the first mate: Davy.
“It would have been a grand adventure,” said Morelin.
“See about me in ten years or so,” Pippin replied. “I’ll be fifty-one … a likely age for another adventure.”
“I do not doubt it,” said Morelin with a laugh. “You, Peregrin Took, shall never be too old for adventure.”
Davy helped get Tempest ready. “I think she actually likes you,” Pippin remarked, astounded at his temperamental steed’s quiet manners around the tall Gondorian youth. Young man, rather; Davy, who had filled out and lost an eye in some recent fight, was youth no longer.
“I wish we could sail you back to Gondor,” said Davy, his missing eye covered by a dashing black band.
“Well, you sunk a ship of the line,” Pippin replied. “I really should arrest you all.”
“Say we overpowered you,” Morelin said, coming down the gangplank to see him off. “It is within the realm of possibility.”
“Just barely,” Pippin noted, with a wink.
“We could sail you right back up the Greyflood to the heart of Eriador,” Morelin suggested gamely. “Or up the Firth of Lune until you are a mere three days’ ride from the Shire.”
“I’m sure you’d like to,” said Pippin. “But I’m taking the long way round.”
“Yes,” said Morelin, nodding. “I don’t suppose there is anything left in the world that can daunt you.”
“There’s my father and my wife,” said Pippin. “And both are waiting for me.”
“Which is why you’re taking the long way around,” Davy guessed.
At Pippin’s blush, Morelin threw back his head and laughed. “Ah, Pippin,” he said. “Here.” He gave Pippin a bound book. “A guide to Near Harad. So you will have an idea of where to stay and what not to do on your way back.”
“Thank you,” said Pippin, already planning to add the volume to his planned library in Great Smials.
“And let me tell you one last thing,” said Morelin. “I spoke of you to Faramir when we … met. He was greatly pleased to hear of your doings and our adventures. I told him you were thrown overboard in the storm; but I also made clear that it did not cross my mind to think that you had perished. I trusted Poclis, and I trusted you. And I was right. Faramir of Ithilien saw this in my mind, I am sure, and by now, perhaps he has told all who love you. Keep this in mind, on your road home.”
He stepped back and grinned at Pippin. “So. Be off with you, then! And you can say you crossed paths with true Corsairs upon the sea—and lived to tell the tale.”
“You can put a wager on it that I will,” Pippin added.
So he rode on, and on, out of Umbar and into the petty kingdoms of the Haradrim, through days of heat and nights of fog, windy winter storms of sheeting rain and blinding white noons with the heat rising off the scrublands, meeting moments of adventure and long moments of repose when he simply sat on Tempest’s saddle and beheld the passing lands. He joined up with a caravan a week out of Umbar, and fought with them against bandits who ambushed them as they crossed a lawless stretch between two enemy states. The brigands were caught unawares by the small halfling with the long sword swung in reckless precision; they fled amidst arrow-shots from the guards of the caravan. They feasted that night and Pippin held the seat of honor.
Pippin parted from the caravan at a place called Herikko, the inhabitants of which were thinking of building a small wall to safeguard their village. He didn’t linger there, but left quickly, his path taking him north, up the old south road that came to the Crossroads of Gondor and continued until it met the dead maw of the Morannon. The road took many days of riding, sometimes with company, oftentimes alone. Pippin would get into more scrapes as was his wont, and managed to get out of them with pluck and luck and a little daring. Morelin was right; nothing could daunt him now.
One afternoon, traveling along a dusty stretch of the road that passed through no place in particular, Pippin looked up at the sky, and saw nothing but its clear, deep, endless blue, that began to fade ineluctably from the trueness of its noon, through violet, and purple, and azure and gentian, into the flame-sparred spokes and orange bankheads of the descending sun. Memories of other instances such as that came to his mind. He recalled a night of feasting and dancing among the Erites, with Leah and the other women dancing with their veils to music called from single-stringed viols. He recalled the blaze of a sunset at sea from the bowsprit of the Mormegil on her journey to Meneltarma. He recalled the sunset on the Plains of the Sun, with the soughing of the lions, and the calls of the trooper monkeys, the trills of the nightjars and flycatchers, and Poclis, singing low and soft, like the songs of the oliphaunts rumbling through the deep dark earth. He recalled the light of the Dawnstar upon the horizon of the kings. The flames of the Secret Fire. He recalled the hills of Evendim seen from the crest of a heathered down above Long Cleeve.
He bent down and touched his chin to the black mane of his steed and touched his ankles to her flanks, and from her canter Tempest broke into a gallop she had seldom raced before, and north they went, the Valacirca before them, Elbereth’s true north guiding them back: the horse and the rider, racing the twilight line between daytime and night, upon the endless road. And somewhere along that line Pippin released the reins and threw his arms out and his head back and shut his eyes tight and begged the wind to speed its rush over his skin, letting the horse beneath him run her heart if she wished high into the turning stars.
It was March when he saw the dark mountains of the southern border of Mordor ahead of him. He turned west. He crossed the River Poros a week later, and passed into the realm of Gondor. He rode through Ithilien with its meadows and glades fragrant with herbs and the first shooting flowers; past Emyn Arnen where a new town was being carved into the hills; and crossed the Bridge of Stars into the Pelennor on New Year’s Day. He came to Minas Tirith upon sunrise, with the White City blushing in the morning light over the Ephel Duath.
He rode up to the Great Gate, which lay open though guarded. Banners hung from the parapets of the wall, and a fragrance, of blooming spring and rich foods cooking in a hundred thousand hearths, lay over all the city.
“Happy New Year!” he said, hailing the gate watch. “Is the King in residence?”
“Indeed he is,” was the reply.
That was all he needed to know. Instead of finding a room and preparing himself for a visit the next day, he thought to head directly to the Citadel. Urging Tempest on, he came to the broad boulevard and began to climb.
His passage was accompanied with interest. Citizens peered out of windows, children followed him in the streets, as he rode up each level. “Ernil i Pheriannath!” he heard more than once, letting him know they recognized him, and remembered him still.
He rode up to the sixth level, and past the guards, announcing himself and riding on through despite their protests. He dove into the darkness of the gate into the embrasure; and emerged into the light of a bright morning upon the courtyard of the Citadel.
He dismounted and went past the flowering Tree and its laughing fountain to the Hall of the King where at last soldiers barred his way.
“I am Peregrin Took of the Fellowship of the Ring,” said Pippin. “I wish to see the King.”
“I know you, my lord,” said one of the guards, and Pippin realized it was Bergil. “But we must announce you formally before we let you pass. Swear you that you shall not raise sword nor weapon in the presence of the King?”
“Unless the King himself command it,” Pippin responded correctly. “Hurry up, Bergil, do you know how long I’ve been gone?”
“A year,” said Bergil. “You’ve lost the braces.”
“I was shipwrecked. It’s a long story.”
“You must tell it to me when you can,” said Bergil, who opened the door and announced, “His lordship, Peregrin Took of the Fellowship of the Ring!”
Pippin stepped into the hall and heard the gasp that met him—but it could not be louder than his own.
They were all there. All of them, or as many as he could hope for. Legolas. Gimli. Faramir. Eowyn. The Queen, Arwen shining upon her chair. And upon his winged throne—
“Strider!” Pippin cried, forgetting his place.
But the King Elessar did not stand on protocol for his friends. “Pippin!” Aragorn exclaimed, his strong voice ringing through the Hall. “Welcome back!”
Pippin grinned, and started forward, marching smartly as a traveler returning with many tales. But then another voice rang out, and at once caught his heart.
Hearing that, Pippin came to a stop, and then ran headlong and heedless towards that voice, all the way back into the arms and embrace he had known all his life.
“Merry, Merry, Merry!” he said, coming to rest, his nose pressed against his cousin’s collar.
“Pippin…” said Merry, clutching at him like a long-lost treasure. “You’re back. Oh, bless you, my dear, you’re back.”
“I am back, Merry, and I promise I won’t go away again. At least, not for a good long while,” Pippin added.
He stood back as Merry pushed him into place and regarded him appraisingly.
“You’re thin,” said Merry decisively. “Not a pinch of fat on you. We’ll have to change that. You’re dark, too.”
“It was very sunny where I went,” Pippin replied. “I want to tell you—” But before he could do so, he saw who else stood among the visitors to the court of the King.
She stepped forward, her pale hair glittering, her pale face glowing, in a white dress of best Shire satin and lace, and a touch of color on her cheeks. She stepped forward, into the light of the morning, and Peregrin felt he would break.
“Diamond?” he breathed in happy disbelief.
She nodded. “Peregrin.”
Pippin was at a loss. He had planned weeks, months yet, before he had to face her. But she was here.
“But—how—” he stammered. “What are you doing here, Di?”
She inclined her head at him, as if he had asked her what time it was when he had a timepiece right in front of him. “Silly hobbit,” said Diamond. “I came to find you.”
As Pippin’s mind spun, grasping what she had said, Diamond went on, almost carelessly, “When Prince Faramir wrote to Merry that he sensed you were alive, Merry wanted to come here right away. I decided to come with him, and brought Farrie-lad as well.”
“Farrie’s here?” Pippin asked in a quiet cry.
Merry quietly eased himself into the conversation. “I got the letter in November, I think; it was posted a month or two before. It didn’t say anything specific, but did say that Faramir received information that you were in Far Harad—information apparently from a trustworthy Ranger.”
Morelin. Pippin couldn’t believe it. He looked at Faramir, watching gladly from a distance. Thank you, he thought, and knew Faramir heard it.
“I decided to come here and find out for myself,” said Merry, glancing at him and then at Diamond. “Diamond insisted on coming with me, when I told her.”
“But …” Pippin didn’t want to guess. “Why?”
“You’re my husband,” Diamond answered. “For some reason, I ended up missing you.” Her smile faded, and he was shocked to see tears in her eyes, warm tears, warm eyes. “You’re an impossible hobbit to forget about, Peregrin Took. I could not. They wanted me to reject you, but I would not. They wanted your father to disown you, but he did not. I spent a lot of afternoons with Merry, talking about you, and … I met the hobbit I married, for the first time I suppose. I … fell in love with you. It was a silly thing, falling in love with the person I didn’t want to care about, the husband I’d let leave. But it must have stuck, for when I heard there was a chance you were alive, I took Farrie and I went."
She faltered, and the ice cracked, and her face flushed with heat. "I came here," she said, "so far..." and Diamond broke, stumbling forward; but Pippin was there, and he caught her and kept her from falling.
“Oh, Peregrin,” she said through her tears, pressing her cool cheek to his neck. “What fools we were.”
“Fools indeed,” Pippin murmured in her ear.
He pulled away and gazed upon her. “We've both come a long way,” he gently quipped.
“Haven't we,” she agreed.
And they kissed, long and deep and gainful, as a husband should kiss his wife; and Peregrin Took didn’t care who watched.
They stayed in Minas Tirith until the end of April. Pippin took Diamond everywhere she was willing to go. She had never gone outside the Shire before, and was still greatly frightened by all the strange sights and peoples; but he was with her, and was patient, and was finally rewarded with the look of delight in her eyes, as he took her around the city and the countryside.
He took her to a lane where men crafted goblets and vessels and sculptures and crystals from hot blown glass. He took her to a show in a large tavern, with Merry and Gimli and Faramir and Eowyn, and joined the musicians on the stage, singing for her, which she enjoyed greatly. He took her with Faramir and Eowyn to Ithilien, where she loved the flowers and the sweet-smelling herbs, saying it was like a lovely foreign version of the Northfarthing moors in summer.
They fell in love; or, rather, they found that they could love each other, be happy with each other’s company; though they never always agreed and often could trade such barbs as to make Merry blush. But Pippin went to Diamond’s room at night, and she welcomed him there.
The first night he told her of Leah, and confessed all he had felt about her. And Diamond had asked simply, “Do you love her still?”
“Yes,” Pippin replied honestly. “But not like you. I want you.”
She nodded, and he left her.
In the night she came to him.
“I like being wanted,” she confessed.
“So do I, my lady,” Pippin replied, risking to touch her. “Do you want me still?”
“I do,” said Diamond.
Wherever they went, if they could, they took Faramir with them, Pippin now begrudging every moment he had spent away from the boy. Faramir was nearly two now and beginning to talk. When Diamond first showed him to Pippin, Farrie had chirped, “Pip! Pip! Pip!” which made Pippin crow with pride.
“He says that all the time,” Merry observed. “It’s apparently his catch-all phrase.”
“He knows his dad,” Pippin retorted, bouncing the boy on his knee. “Don’t you, young master? Yes you do! Yes you do!”
“Pip!” Farrie agreed.
Pippin told him stories. “Really, Peregrin,” said Diamond, “he’s not that smart yet. He doesn’t understand half the things you’re telling him.” She paused. “I don’t understand half the things you’re telling him.”
“Oh, let me be, Di, he’ll figure it out sooner or later,” Pippin replied.
He told stories of the Stairway and the Star and the Plains and the Two Mothers. He told of the adventures of Morelin and the ways of the Erites. Only two things he kept from them: the location of Geber bet-Eria, and the vision, or visitation, of Frodo.
“You must write this down,” said Arwen, weeping at the story of Maglor, who had been kind to her father when Elrond was a child.
“I’m not Frodo,” Pippin said. “But I’ll think about it.”
“Please do,” said Arwen.
In the middle of April, 1432, a letter came from Estella for Merry. It was bad news: Saradoc had been stricken ill and was now bedridden. It was best if Merry proceed back as quickly as possible.
“I’ll leave at once,” said Merry.
Pippin told him, “We’ll come with you.”
They made their preparations quickly. Peregrin asked if Faramir was up to the journey on horseback. Diamond said, “He’s your son if he’s anyone’s. Barely more than a year old and he was laughing all the way to Gondor. Can you believe it?”
“I can believe it,” said Pippin.
The King and Queen saw them off, as did Legolas and Gimli, and Faramir and Eowyn.
“Stop by Edoras and see my brother,” said Eowyn. “He will want to know about your father.”
Merry nodded. “I will.”
“Ride swift, little brother,” she said to him, hugging him. “Don’t leave him,” she added to Pippin.
“I won’t,” Pippin replied. Later he remembered he forgot to thank her one last time for reforging his sword.
They rode back as quickly as they could, traveling light and swift, unremarked and unmolested through the long leagues of the west road and up the Greenway, coming to the Shire in the first days of summer. They stayed where they could, and camped where they wished. The weather was mostly clear and pleasant, and Faramir thrived.
At Sarn Ford they halted.
“I’m headed right to Buckland,” said Merry.
“Do you want me to come with you?” asked Pippin.
“You go see your own father first,” said Merry. “Did you even write to him from Minas Tirith?”
“I did,” said Pippin. “But—”
“Go to him,” Merry said firmly. Then, in a moment of uncertainty, he added, “Then come visit. With Farrie?”
“I will if Diamond thinks so,” Pippin said.
“We will,” Diamond decided.
“Then I’ll see you soon,” said Merry, and galloped off, leaving Pippin seated with Diamond cradling Faramir upon Tempest at the bridge of Sarn Ford facing north towards the Green Hills.
“I’m scared,” said Pippin.
Diamond kissed him coolly. “I’ll mourn you at your funeral.”
“How devoted of you.” Pippin took a deep breath. “All right, my girl,” he said to Tempest. “Just follow my lead.”
On the way back Pippin ran over many possibilities of explanation in his head, thinking about what he would say to Paladin, or if he would say anything at all. He was wearing a nice shirt and breeches, but his Medzhaim vest and his Elven cloak, with his Sakharin dagger and his Númenórean sword and the lion’s tooth hanging from its cord around his neck. He could imagine what his father would say when he saw him like this.
Well, at least I’ve got his grandchild. And the lad’s mother, which is more than I expected.
He finally decided what he would say. “Father, I’ve been a bad son and and a good-for-nothing heir, and I deserve whatever you decide to do with me. I ask only that my son remain Thain’s Heir, and that I be able to see him from time to time.”
He finished composing this as Tempest rounded the curve of the Tuckborough road and the Great Smials came into view, its windows shining like the facets of a jewel.
“Oh, my,” said Diamond suddenly.
Pippin looked up. A hobbit was hurrying to meet them. Pippin recognized him in a flash. It was Paladin.
Pippin sat on his steed frozen. He hadn't expected this. He didn't know what to do.
“Go on, you fool,” urged Diamond. “Save the old fellow the trouble of running!”
Pippin didn’t need to be told twice. He leapt off his horse and dashed towards the Smials, their windows shining in the sun; running on his longer and younger legs towards the grey-curled hobbit who was coming to him with arms outstretched, who ran to him and met him halfway. Their embrace was breathless.
“Dad,” said Pippin. “Dad…”
“My lad,” said Paladin, pressing his face into Pippin’s chestnut curls. “My wanderer. My Pippin is back.”
“Oh, Dad,” Pippin said through tears and laughter, “I’m home.” He looked around, at all things anew. “I’m home!”
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