1. There and Back
One! Two! Five! Good! Very good.
Move your feet! --that from Aragorn.
You look good, Pippin.
Owwww! Sorry... Get him, Merry!
For the Shire!
Hold him! Hold him down, Merry!
You've got my arm! You've got my arm!
Get off my chest! I've got to catch my breath!
Very well. Let's try again. Strike and step away, don't just stand there! If you ever do manage to hit your foe, do you want him to bleed all over you?
No, Boromir, I'm sorry. Can we try it again?
'What did he say?'
'I don't know. Something about Boromir. He wanders in dreams.'
How many times do I have to tell you, you're swinging a sword, not a hatchet! Would you hack at a tree and then stand under it as it falls?
The battlefield in the aftermath was strangely silent, save the keening of the wind. The moans of the wounded had, for the most part, ceased. The occasional rhythmic clink as a shovel hit rock, or the crunch of a searching foot on gravel, seemed magnified. Figures moved across the landscape, singly or in pairs, seeking life among the mounds of dead, and small parties of prisoners, only lightly guarded, dug graves for men, or dragged the bodies of orc and troll aside to be piled and burned.
The battle had ended quickly enough after all. When the Dark Lord's attention was wrenched from the battle, all the hosts of Mordor had wavered, bereft of guidance. As the Captains of the West drove against them with new strength, the ground rocked beneath them, the Black Gate and its towers were hurled down, and all Sauron's strongholds crumbled to ruin and smoke. Most of the foes fighting for Mordor fled, or slew themselves or one another in madness. The small remnant who made a last desperate stand against the forces of the West were swiftly brought down. Those who dropped their weapons, crying for mercy, were given what they asked and set to labour.
Though the struggle was over, there was no rest. Many lay wounded, victor and vanquished alike, and the able bodied set about the business of ordering the battlefield. There remained orcs, lying near death, to be slain, and men still living to be picked up, wounds dressed, given what comfort could be given in that terrible place. There were tents to pitch, a meal to cook, all the details of an encampment to see to. And plans must be made now that uncertainty was over and victory behind them.
In the midst of this, three great eagles set down upon one of the hills near the banner of the Tree and Stars, and a voice cried loudly for Aragorn. A soldier of Gondor, seeing Gandalf, bowed and answered, 'He is tending the wounded, Mithrandir. I will bring him.'
Gandalf answered, 'Be swift! His hands of healing are urgently needed here!'
The soldier set off at a stumbling run, and soon returned with Aragorn on his heels, followed by the sons of Elrond and several of the Dunedain.
'I have brought the Ring-bearer and his Companion out of the very fires of Mount Doom, but I fear it may be too late,' Gandalf called as they approached.
The eagles that gently had set Frodo and Sam down leapt again into the air. Only Gwaihir the Windlord remained, folding his wings to his back in a remarkably compact manner and listening with his head to one side and an unfathomable look in his obsidian eyes.
Aragorn reached them and bent immediately to the small forms on the ground. He called over his shoulder, 'Athelas! Quickly! I think it is not too late, but we must hasten; their time is short!' Two of the Rangers turned and ran back to the tents where the wounded were being tended.
Gentlemen, we do not stop till nightfall.
What about breakfast?
We’ve already had it.
We've had one, yes. What about second breakfast?
Don't think he knows about second breakfast, Pip.
What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn’t he?
I wouldn't count on it... Pippin!
'Pippin! Pippin! Peregrin Took!' Gimli stopped mid-stride and cupped his hands about his mouth to shout again, then dropped them as he spied Legolas not far away. Weary as he was, he forced his legs into a heavy jog to reach the elf. 'Legolas!'
The elf turned at his call and smiled. 'Gimli! It is good to see you. I'm afraid I lost count in the middle of things...'
'Never mind that! Have you seen the young hobbit? I cannot find that anyone has seen him since battle's end!'
'He was standing at the last in the front rank of Gondor with Imrahil's men, I think. I lost sight of him after the first assault. Have you sought him in the tents of healing? All the wounded were already brought from that part of the field; only the dead are left there.'
The dwarf's shoulders sagged. 'He is not among the wounded,' Gimli answered heavily.
'Then let us look for him upon the hill,' Legolas said softly.
'Yes,' Gimli nodded, straightening. 'We must make sure. The old hobbit who waits in Rivendell, and Meriadoc waiting in Gondor, and Frodo, if he survives, will want to know his end.'
They worked their way among the bodies and detritus of war to the place where the men of Dol Amroth and picked men of the Tower of Guard had made their stand. A great heap of bodies, men and orcs and hill-trolls, was all there was to be seen. Gimli drew a great breath and bellowed again, 'Pippin!'
Legolas regarded him in amazement, 'Do you expect the dead to answer?'
Gimli returned his look with a grim one of his own. 'I expect nothing. But I refuse to believe he has fallen until I see the body myself. After coming through all he did, to fall at the last, just as the battle turned...' He moved to a pile of bodies where livery of black and silver was mingled with others and began to search. 'Well? What do your elven eyes see in all this wrack?'
Legolas stood surveying the carnage, then moved to another pile and bent to the unwholesome task, only to be interrupted by a shout from the dwarf.
'His foot! Look, it must be... it is... a hobbit's foot! Pippin!' Legolas leapt to Gimli's side and began to pull bodies off the pile. They came at last to the great hill-troll, immovable rock of stiffened flesh. They struggled together a moment but could not move it. 'Another try,' Gimli panted and bent once more, fixed his hands in the creature's close-fitting mesh of horny scales, took a great breath, and heaved. The body moved slightly. Encouraged, Gimli found another grip and with a mighty cry, heaved again. The troll's carcase slid from the heap, revealing the bodies of Beregond and another guardsman... and between them Pippin, sword black with troll-blood still gripped tightly in his hand.
Kneeling down beside him, Gimli gathered him gently in his arms. 'Ah, lad. After all the pains you have cost me... to see you come to this,' he groaned.
Legolas stood a moment in silent grief, then spoke. 'He made a good end, it seems.'
Beregond stirred, opened his eyes, and strove to speak. Legolas knelt by his side and helped him to sit up. 'Easy, now. We will get you some help.'
'Not... end,' Beregond murmured, 'not yet, I think... he spoke but a few moments ago as we lay together beneath the troll.'
Gimli looked more closely, then gave a shout, 'Yes! He lives! The spark is faint, but it smoulders still!' He placed his mouth upon the hobbit's and breathed. 'Come lad, your heart beats. Breathe!' The hobbit's chest fell, and Gimli blew again. 'Take in air!' he shouted. The chest fell again... and rose slightly of its own accord.
Hope rekindled in Legolas' eyes. 'Quickly!' he ordered Gimli. 'Take him to Aragorn! I will remain with these until the stretcher bearers come.'
Weariness forgotten, Gimli struggled out of the heap of bodies and bore his precious burden as swiftly as he could to the tents of healing. The westering sun cast a long shadow before him as he ran.
Quickly! No, no, the big one! Big one! Hurry, he'll see us! ...this way! In here! Where shall we light it?
But you're supposed to stick it in the ground!
It is in the ground!
It was your idea! Aaaaaaaaaah!
Oooooooo... look at it, look at it, look... at... that...! That was good...
Let's get another one!
Meriadoc Brandybuck and...
Gasping, Gimli staggered to a stop before the tents of healing. 'Where's the Lord Aragorn?'
One of the sons of Elrond barred his way. 'He's resting. He has spent himself in healing and I would not disturb his slumber.'
'But this is one of his companions! One of the Nine! He must come!'
The other looked sadly at Gimli's burden. 'There will be time enough to mourn over the dead. The Dunadan is asleep. He will have grief enough when he wakes.'
'You will have grief enough now, if you do not fetch him! The halfling is not dead, but neither can he wait!'
'Not dead?' the other peered more closely, then straightened as Aragorn's voice was heard from one of the tents.
'What is it?' He emerged and stopped at the sight of Gimli and the burden he carried. 'Gimli?'
'I found the young hobbit. He was still breathing as I carried him here.'
'Bring him in, Gimli. Set him down on the bed there. Elrohir, I will need more athelas." Shaking his head, the son of Elrond turned back from the entrance of the tent. Just as the flap fell, it was raised again, and Legolas entered. 'Hold him up; help me get this hauberk off.' As gently as he could, Aragorn eased the mail shirt over Pippin's head.
'The other guardsman who was beneath the troll is alive; stretcher bearers are bringing them both to be tended. I do not think they are too badly hurt,' the elf said to Gimli. Then he turned to Aragorn and sucked in his breath as the latter slit the hobbit's tunic with his knife and spread the edges to reveal the ruined chest. 'How is it that he yet lives?' he breathed.
'He has a stout heart,' Aragorn answered. 'I will do my best by him. It is an ill fate that I am already so wearied.' He swayed a little as he knelt by the bed and placed his hand on Pippin's forehead. He bowed his head and closed his eyes, and for a long moment did not speak. Then softly, he began to call, 'Pippin! Peregrin Took!'
...and Peregrin Took. I might have known.
Pippin stirred uneasily, almost imperceptibly. Aragorn called his name again, 'Pippin!' Behind them the tent flap rustled as Elrohir returned with a basin of steaming water and a cloth. Aragorn stretched out his hand for the cloth, and unwrapped two athelas leaves. Breathing upon them, he crumbled them between his palms and cast them into the basin that Elrohir held. Immediately a living fragrance filled the tent. Pippin's battered chest rose slightly; he gave a shallow sigh. Aragorn dipped the cloth in the water and bathed the hobbit's broken ribs and bruised abdomen. Still shallow, but more regularly came the hobbit's breath. 'Bandages,' murmured Aragorn. 'If we bind his ribs gently, he will breathe more easily, and there will be less chance of a rib shifting. We must also place a weight against the side most crushed, to try to stabilize the ribs.'
Gimli supported the hobbit while Aragorn and Elrohir bound strips of cloth around him. When they laid him down again, placing a bag filled with sand on the most terribly crushed side of the chest, the hobbit still breathed. 'We have given him a chance,' Aragorn whispered. 'The rest is up to him. He must rest now, as must I..." he swayed as he rose, and Elrohir caught him and led him from the tent.
'I will keep the first watch,' Legolas whispered. 'Find a place to lie yourself down. I will call you if...' he did not want to finish the thought. Gimli nodded, feeling the weariness close down upon him again, and stumbled from the tent into the gathering night.
It reads, 'The doors of Durin - Lord of Moria. Speak, friend, and enter.'
What do you suppose that means?
Oh, it’s quite simple. If you are a friend you speak the password and the doors will open. Annon Edhellen edro hi ammen! ...lasto beth...
I once knew every spell in the all tongues of Elves, Men and Orcs.
What are you going to do, then?
Knock your head against these doors, Peregrin Took. And if that does not shatter them, and I am allowed a little peace from foolish questions, I will try to find the opening words!
The tent flap was thrust aside to admit Gandalf. The torchlight shone in from outside, casting a giant shadow of the wizard on the wall of the tent, before the flap fell to shut them once again in near-darkness, lit only by a single small flame.
'Beregond? How is he?' The watcher by the bed stirred and tried to ease his arm in the sling.
'He scarcely draws breath. He's a little easier since Lord Aragorn propped him up to near sitting, but every breath is a struggle. I think it's the air here. I find it hard enough to breathe, and all I've had crushed is my shoulder and arm.'
I can't breathe, it seems so stuffy in here, as if the darkness is closing in.
Be quiet, try to sleep!
Are we lost?
I think we are.
Shhh! Gandalf’s thinking.
Aragorn had entered as Beregond spoke. 'Many of the wounded are having the same difficulty, especially the Ring-bearer and his Companion. I fear their lungs were seared by the fumes of Gorgoroth and Orodruin, and the air here does nothing to help them.'
'Then we must get them to better air.'
Aragorn nodded. 'The eagle you sent off with the news of the victory...'
'Yes, before going to the White City, he was to find our forces in Ithilien and have them send wagons as quickly as possible with fresh water and provision. They should be here sometime today, or this evening, if all goes well.'
'We can use those wagons to transport the most critically injured to fresher air. We must get them out of this plain of death. Ithilien is but a day's march, but it will be a slow journey for wagons loaded with wounded.'
Gandalf turned to look searchingly through the darkness at Aragorn. 'Can they survive such a journey?'
'They will not survive the air in this place.'
'It seems we are decided. Who shall be sent?'
Aragorn considered. 'The most gravely injured. The ones who would die here in any event; we can give them at least a chance at life, even if the journey proves too much for some.'
'And those who cannot work, but are well enough to tend the wounded, as Beregond is doing now. We can send them, and still have a good force here to finish what needs to be done.'
'Very well. I will give the necessary orders.' Did Beregond's eyes deceive him? He thought he saw the wizard bow before lifting the tent flap to go out into the predawn silence.
Hullo, Pippin! So you've come on this little expedition, too? Where do we get bed and breakfast?
Now then! None of that! Hold your tongues. No talk to one another. Any trouble will be reported at the other end, and He'll know how to pay you. You'll get bed and breakfast all right: more than you can stomach!
I think... we might have made a mistake leaving the Shire, Pippin.
The jolting of the wagon over a large stone in the road brought him near waking, and for a moment he thought he was back on the plains of Rohan, being carried without hope on a great orc's back towards Isengard. He cried out, but it was a mere whisper of sound, and the effort brought a stab of pain. A soothing voice spoke out of the darkness, a hand smoothed his hair back from his forehead. He realized he was lying propped against someone, and then a cup was held to his lips.
'Here, fresh water from Ithilien. Take small sips.' It was the voice of a guardsman whose name escaped his memory. He moistened his lips, then his tongue, then managed to swallow a little. The cup was taken away, and soon a cool, moist cloth was held against his forehead. He sighed at the relief--but that only brought another stab of pain.
'Don't try to take a deep breath. The air is already getting better. We're getting close to Ithilien. It'll be easier to breathe there,' Beregond's voice murmured near his ear. The wagon jolted again as he slipped back into dream.
...No hope of escape! But there is a hope that I have left some of my own marks unspoilt on the wet ground...
Got you, you little fool!
There, I dropped the brooch. I suppose it will lie until the end of time. I don't know why I did it. If the others have escaped, they've probably all gone with Frodo.
He was aware that they had stopped. Someone was fumbling with the cloth about his ribs. His thoughts went back to a dark plain, a long hairy arm pawing and feeling, groping for the Ring.
It's no good groping in the dark. We could save you time or trouble. But you must untie our legs first, or we'll do nothing, and say nothing.
My dear tender little fools, everything you have and everything you know, will be got out of you in due time.
You haven't got your prey home, yet. If you want anything for yourself, now's the time to do a deal.
(That's right, Merry! Keep him guessing!) gollum, gollum!
Have you got it, either of you? ...Curse you, you filthy little vermin! I'll cut you both to quivering shreds!
He tried to draw away from the hands, and heard Aragorn's voice, speaking low. 'It's all right, Pippin. I'm just checking the bandages. Beregond tells me you've been having some pain, and I thought they might have come loose.'
Now, if only we had our legs and hands free, we might get away. But I can't touch the knots, and I can't bite them.
No need to try. I've managed to free my hands. These loops are only left for show... But you'd better have a bit of lembas, first.
I think I can manage to stagger on now. Lembas does put heart in you.
Now for it! When we've warmed up a bit, perhaps we shall be able to stand again, and walk. But in any case we had better start by crawling.
The stream! Let's get a drink of water to wash away the thought of that orc-draught!
The cup was held to his lips again. 'Take care that he doesn't choke,' warned Aragorn's voice. 'If he starts to cough...' he didn't finish the thought. He didn't have to. Just breathing was hard enough, Pippin didn't want to think about coughing. After a few more sips, the cup was taken away and he slipped again into sleep.
You seem to have been doing well, Master Took. You will get almost a chapter in old Bilbo's book, if ever I get a chance to report to him. Good work: especially guessing that hairy villain's little game, and playing up to him. But I wonder if anyone will ever pick up your trail and find that brooch. I should hate to lose mine, but I am afraid yours is gone for good. I shall have to brush up my toes, if I am to get level with you...
When he opened his eyes, he was lying nearly prone, head in Beregond's lap. He must have slid down from his propped-up position; the guardsman was asleep despite the pain of his bound arm and shoulder. Pippin looked up to see a sky of ebony velvet, sprinkled with sparkling jewels scattered by a generous hand. He couldn't get enough air to catch his breath in wonder, so he simply stared. Even lying down, which made it harder to get a breath, he could tell the air was fresher, cleaner, more life-giving.
He heard a voice strangely like Sam's muttering hoarsely beyond him, and Aragorn's soothing reply. Sam! He wondered where Sam was, and thought of Frodo, doomed to the torment of the Tower. Tears blurred his vision, and then unconsciousness claimed him once again.
The wind's changing. It's turned east again. It feels cool up here.
Yes. I'm afraid this is only a passing gleam, and it will all go grey again. What a pity! This shaggy old forest looks so different in the sunlight. I almost felt I liked the place.
Almost felt you liked the Forest! ...I almost feel that I dislike you both, but do not let us be hasty.
The tree, Merry, it's talking!
Pippin woke to cool sunlight and green grass, the sun rippling down through the leaves of graceful trees rising in a grove all around him. He was propped up on a soft bed. He drew a careful breath, and found that he could inhale more deeply than before. The air was fresh and a sweet scent was on the breeze. He could hear the sound of dancing water not far away.
'What is the time?' His voice surprised him by coming out in a whisper.
'Just past midday. Welcome back to the world.'
'Yes, Pip. Don't try to sit up, now. That's it. Lie back. Easy, now.'
'We're in the lovely land of Ithilien. They sent word to the White City that there was a dearth of able bodied hobbits, and I was therefore urgently needed. So here I am.' Merry's cheerful voice was like a tonic. 'How about a bit of broth? It's rich and strengthening, and still hot. Amazing, your capacity for waking up just in time for a meal. It would be all the better for a few pieces of meat and some of Farmer Maggot's good vegetables and a mushroom or three, but it will do in a pinch.' Pippin tried to raise a hand for the spoon but found the blanket too heavy to lift. 'It's all right, I've got it.' Merry spooned the rich broth into Pippin's mouth, 'There now, doesn't that hit the spot?'
'It's good... I didn't know I was hungry.'
Merry affected surprise, 'But I thought you were always hungry!'
'No, you're the one with an apple in every pocket,' Pippin retorted, and Merry laughed, but Pippin's chuckle threatened to turn into a cough.
'Easy, now, you're on the mend but let's not undo all the good that's already been done. Here,' and Merry brought another spoonful to his mouth. 'Strider says if you keep improving at this rate you'll be on your feet in a week or just a few days more than that. There's a big celebration coming, and a feast, so we've got to get you well and hale again.'
The breeze made the leaves of the trees rustle and Pippin closed his eyes to listen to their music. It was so good to be in a living land again.
Things have changed, but it is still true in places.
Please, Treebeard, what do you mean? What is true?
Time was when I could walk and sing all day and hear no more than the echo of my own voice in the hollow hills. And the smell of the air! I used to spend a week just breathing.
Just breathing. It didn't seem as if he could ever tire of this air. He opened his eyes again and it was dark, the clearing dimly lit by a few lanterns hung from the trees.
'Good evening!' Merry was still there, but the bowl of broth had somehow disappeared. The breeze blew cooler on Pippin's cheeks, but someone had added another blanket while he slept and he was warm and comfortable. He answered Merry's greeting and his voice had more strength to it.
'It is a good evening. Smell that air! But I'm thirsty. Is there anything to drink?'
'What would you like?'
(Better than rain or rippling brook/ is a mug of beer inside...) The memory made him swallow hard, suddenly; those days seemed so innocent, and far away. He wondered what was going on back in the Shire. 'I don't suppose there's any ale.'
'Oh, but there is. This army is well supplied, I can tell you. Of course, it's nothing to what we used to get at the Green Dragon, but it is a respectable brew. Or I can bring you wine, or even water. You ought to taste the water here.'
'I have,' Pippin replied, remembering sips of pure water, better than any brew he'd ever tasted, in the jolting wagon, in the darkness, under the countless stars.
'So what'll it be?'
'The water sounds inviting.'
'Good. I have some right here.' A cup was raised to his mouth and he swallowed eagerly. A little too eagerly, some went down the wrong way and he choked. Merry watched helplessly as he struggled not to cough. 'Oh, forgive me, Pip, I didn't mean to be so careless.'
'My fault,' breathed Pippin when he had got his breath back. 'But no, I'd rather not have any more right now, thank you.'
'What can I get you? Or do you want to sleep?'
'Nothing right now. I don't feel sleepy, I feel like talking.'
'Well, now, there's quite a lot of talk amongst the guardsmen of your battle exploits, Pippin.'
'Really! Beregond has told everyone how you stopped that hill-troll from ripping out his throat. But Boromir would have been disappointed that you let the creature fall on you. He was everlastingly telling you to get out of the way after a stroke.'
'Yes... that he was...'
'Now you mustn't go all humble on me. I expect to dine out on the stories you and I can tell, once we get back to the Shire!'
Pippin smiled at the thought. 'You should grow quite stout, I'm sure.'
'Stout as any proper hobbit should be, and more; I shall have to have a new wardrobe, don't you think?' Pippin grinned weakly at Merry's nonsense but decided not to chuckle.
'And you, now, you'll have to beat the lasses off with a stick!' continued Merry, pleased with his success. 'Why, your name will be mentioned in the same breath with Frodo and Sam... Pippin? What is it? Pip?' Pippin's eyes had closed in pain. He had seen Gandalf take the mithril coat from the man who called himself the Mouth of Sauron. He had bowed, crushed with horror as he heard Frodo condemned to the torment of the Tower. And then, he knew from whispers he had overheard, the quest had been achieved, he didn't know how, perhaps Sam had taken the Ring on. The Tower had fallen and poor Frodo was probably buried deep in the rubble.
Merry saw Pippin's lips form the name as a tear traced its way down one cheek. 'Pippin, no!' he exclaimed in dismay as he realized the other's thoughts, 'No! Frodo is safe, and Sam with him! Gandalf himself bore them both up out of the fires upon the wings of eagles! They're here, now, not far from us!' Pippin did not open his eyes again, but no more tears came and he faintly smiled as his breathing evened into the steady rhythm of sleep.
But I should like to know--
Mercy! If the giving of information is to be the cure of your inquisitiveness, I shall spend all the rest of my days in answering you. What more do you want to know?
The names of all the stars, and of all living things, and the whole history of Middle-earth and Over-heaven and of the Sundering Seas. Of course! What less? But I am not in a hurry tonight... Tell me, is there any hope? For Frodo, I mean; or at least mostly for Frodo.
There never was much hope. Just a fool's hope, as I have been told... but maybe, maybe even your foolishness helped, my lad. Now, there are evil days ahead. To sleep while we may!
But what? Only one 'but' will I allow tonight... Sleep again, and do not be afraid! In Minas Tirith you will be as safe as you can be anywhere in these days.. If Gondor falls, or the Ring is taken, then the Shire will be no refuge.
You do not comfort me.
There won't be any Shire, Pippin.
'Pippin? Pippin, you're dreaming again. It's just a dream. Rest now. All battle and doubt are past. Rest.' He sighed and slept again, dreamlessly.
The days that followed were days of sleep, and eating, rest, and conversation. And always there was the cool sunlight slanting through the green and gold leaves during the day, and day or night, the marvelous air to breathe, the rustling of the leaves in the scented breeze, the fresh smell of grass and other growing things, the sound of dancing water. There was even a time when he awoke to white canvas stretched over his bed and the pattering sound of rain above him. When the rain was over, the canvas was taken away and he enjoyed seeing the grass and leaves of the surrounding trees sparkle in the renewed sunshine. Whenever he awoke someone was there, Merry, Gimli, or Legolas, Beregond or another of the guard, Aragorn, and even Gandalf came a time or two. He grew steadily stronger, soon able to wield his own spoon, though cup or mug took a few healing days more to manage. Whenever he asked about Frodo and Samwise, he was told that they were sleeping, and he would be able to see them soon.
These are the daggers of the Noldorin. They have already seen service in war.
Do not fear, young Peregrin Took. You will find your courage.
(Her eyes are so sad. Why? No, she smiles. I must have imagined it.)
And for you, Samwise Gamgee, Elven rope made of hithlain.
Thank you, my lady. Have you run out of those nice, shiny daggers?
Pippin awoke again, to find Beregond by his side this time. 'Whatever happened to the sword?'
Beregond looked puzzled. 'Sword?'
'My sword--you would call it a dagger, I know, but it worked just fine as a sword for a hobbit.' He swung his feet to the side of the bed. Boromir steadied him as he sat up. He took a deep breath, and another for the sheer pleasure of it.
'Ah, the one you set in the hill-troll. I don't know. It was still in your hand when they pulled the troll off us but I don't know what happened to it after that.'
Pippin sighed. It had become an old friend. He was sure he wouldn't feel quite right without it hanging from his belt. Aragorn entered the grove, then, and smiled to see Pippin awake and sitting up without needing pillows to prop him. 'You're looking well, my young friend.'
'I'm getting tired of sitting or lying all day. When can I get up?'
'Oh, are you in a hurry?'
'Well, I heard there's to be a feast and I would hate to miss it!'
Aragorn chuckled, 'I suppose a hobbit seldom misses a meal.'
'They don't, as a rule, unless they happen to be following some grubby Ranger through midge-infested wilderness.'
Aragorn threw back his head and laughed heartily. 'There's nought much wrong with you, Peregrin Took. I do believe you'll be on your feet very soon... perhaps on the morrow.'
'Well, I hope so. I was beginning to wonder if you were planning to build a house up around this bed for me to live out my life in.'
'No danger of that, I'm afraid. It would be too much trouble to dig around underneath that bed, to get you a proper hobbit hole. I think we'll let you get up tomorrow, if you promise to rest well today.'
'And can I see Frodo and Sam tomorrow?'
'They are still in a healing sleep.'
'Well I'm not going to shout at them to wake up! I just want to see them, to know...' he didn't quite know how to finish.
But Aragorn understood. 'I think we can arrange that.' He looked searchingly at the hobbit. 'How are you feeling?'
'I feel fine! I'm back to my old self again... except for the feeling I have just lived through one of Bilbo's stories. 'There and Back': I feel as if I had gone through Moria again... perhaps I should say 'There and Through' instead, though it doesn't quite have the same ring.'
Aragorn nodded. 'Yes, I should say you have come through. You ought to get Bilbo to put it in one of his stories.'
'Oh, no, I'm sure he'll have much more exciting things to write about. Frodo and Sam, for instance.' Aragorn laughed again, and after a few more words he took his leave.
Pippin kept his promise, and spent the day resting and eating and conversing with whomever entered the grove to see him. He thought he noticed an air of suppressed excitement about the place, but when he asked he was told only that preparations were being made for the great feast to celebrate the victory. This was the first day he had stayed wakeful the entire day, and as evening's shadows lengthened and the lamps were lighted he was more than ready to lie down and sleep.
Little service, no doubt, will so great a lord of Men think to find in a hobbit, a halfling from the northern Shire; yet such as it is, I will offer it.
Give me the weapon!
Take the hilt, and speak after the Lord, if you are resolved on this.
I am. Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the Lord and Steward of the Realm, to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go, in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I, Peregrin son of Paladin of the Shire of the Halflings.
'Pippin? Are you awake?' Pippin opened his eyes to see Merry--a very different looking Merry--resplendent in rich Rohan green, helm under one arm, dagger-sword hanging from his belt and swirling cloak thrown over his shoulder.
'Merry! I... I'm ... I don't know what to say!'
'Then don't say anything. It's time to get up, you've barely time to dress before we eat, and I know you wanted to see Frodo and Sam today. No, it's not the feast, that'll be tomorrow, but still we don't want to arrive at the mess after all the food is gone.'
'No, indeed!' Getting out of bed, Pippin noticed a pile of neatly folded sable clothing, with silver gleaming out here and there, next to the bed. 'Ah, my clothes. Good, I was wondering when I'd get them back!'
Merry looked uncomfortable. 'Well, not exactly the clothes you had... but these will do for today.' At Pippin's questioning look, he continued, even more ill at ease, 'your other clothes had to be cut away, you know. I'm afraid they're nothing but rags, now. But there's been a great deal of work done to properly clothe the armies of the West for the great feast tomorrow, so I think you'll find these adequate.'
As Pippin lifted the clothes from the pile, he found that they were woven of much finer stuff than his previous guard uniform. First a black silk undertunic, and over it the black tunic, made of softest wool so finely woven that it was not much heavier than silk.
'All this is much too fine for me.'
'All the soldiers of the West are wearing their finest today.'
Merry helped him lift the black hauberk over his head. As he settled the mail on his shoulders, Pippin turned to find Merry watching him closely. 'I'm fine,' he assured him, 'it's not too heavy.' Then came the black surcoat, also finely woven, broidered on the breast in silver with the token of the Tree. Every piece fit as if someone had taken his measure in his sleep.
For the last touch, Merry fastened the silver clasp of the black woolen cloak, stepped back and surveyed him critically. Pippin picked up the sable and silver helmet and struck a noble pose, like one of the statues they had seen in the White City. 'How do I look?'
'You'll do. You're every inch a guardsman, from head to... well, not quite to toe.' He looked over at the shining boots that had been under the piled clothes and back at Pippin with a quizzical expression.
'Not on your life! I've walked the length of Middle-earth on my two good feet, and I don't intend to do any differently now!' They laughed together.
Merry led him to where Frodo and Sam lay in their healing slumber, a grove much like his own quarters. They didn't look that different from the hobbits who had set out from the Shire all those ages ago, thinner, perhaps, and Frodo's hand on the coverlet was missing a finger. From whispers he had overheard, he knew they had been hardly recognizable when they had been brought out of the Fire. Healing sleep indeed!
Beregond met them on the way to the mess. He, too, was dressed in his finest, even carrying his injured arm in a sling of black silken material. He bowed and smiled. 'You are a credit to the Guard of the Tower, Master Perian. You look ready for battle... But no battle today, only a few matters of business.' Pippin thanked him, and they entered a grove where long tables and benches had been laid out. The meal was simple, bread and cheese and new-drawn ale, but it was eaten with as much merriment as if it had been a feast. The guardsmen made much of Pippin, and included Merry in all they said and did.
Finally all was eaten and Beregond rose, hefting his mug in the air. He toasted the Captains of the West, and then the armies of the West, and then the common soldier, and all roared their agreement as they drank. Then Beregond raised his mug silently, and as the mess quieted, he said, 'And now I ask that we drink to the ones who will not return, the comrades who fought beside us.' The men drank soberly. Beregond turned towards Pippin and said, 'and one more toast. To my friend, and comrade, and one to whom I owe my life.' Pippin grew red as the soldiers rose together to drink a toast in his honor. He rose from the table a little shakily, and lifting his mug in return, he thanked them, and said, 'and now let us drink to the start of a new age, but let us never forget the friendships of the old one.' Toasts over, the men set down their mugs and began to go about their business. Pippin sat down again, feeling the need to catch his breath. Many of the soldiers came to rest a hand on his shoulder or gently slap him on the back and congratulate him on his recovery.
Pippin made move to rise again, and Beregond's uninjured hand steadied him. 'Make haste a little more slowly, Master Perian,' he smiled, then sobered. 'A Man with your injuries would have lain abed for months... or not risen at all.' Trumpets sounded and Beregond was cheerful again. 'They are calling us to muster.'
When they reached the greensward they found many soldiers of Gondor and Rohan already drawn up in ranks, with Aragorn and Eomer standing together at their head.
A trumpet sounded, and a herald cried, 'Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took, Periain of the Shire, stand forth!' Beregond's hand tightened reassuringly on Pippin's shoulder, and then he stepped into the rank.
'Come on, Pippin. Can't be any worse than a cave troll,' Merry whispered as he urged him forward. They walked to the head of the file and were told to kneel, Merry before Eomer and Pippin before Aragorn. Merry presented his sword to Eomer as instructed, and when Pippin looked up he saw his own sword in Aragorn's hand, glittering in the sun. There on the field of Cormallen, Peregrin Took and Meriadoc Brandybuck received their rank as Knights of the White City and of the Mark. And when all was done, a great cheer arose, and the celebration began.
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.