2. Destiny Calls
Which left King Aragorn to his own judicial devices in the court. He sighed as courtiers left the room for the mid-day meal. The heat of the day was beginning to encroach and the Man of the West wished it were closer to evening.
He glanced around him to see what Guards remained, his eyes resting on Pippin, as still as stone in his position at the dais, the muscles of his face betraying a weariness and strain uncharacteristic of this most optimistic of the hobbits. Indeed, the energy that usually radiated from him had been rather muted these last few days, replaced by a pensive restlessness he tried to hide behind the flash of Gondorian armor.
Aragorn pulled off the circlet around his head and laid it on the chair behind him, leaning forward to query conspiratorily,
"I understand the larder in the Guard room has excess amounts of fare for even the heartiest appetite. Do you not think a hobbit could show them how it should be dealt with?"
This elicited a quick grin from Pippin, not so engrossed with his own thoughts that the prospect of a hearty meal did not register. The stiff reserve he was learning so quickly to uphold in the Court of the King disappeared.
As they made their way through the streets to said larder, Aragorn watched how others greeted Pippin. The hobbit had a certain air that pulled all eyes towards him, and the women laughed with delight over his courtesies. Children could not refrain from touching him, and he accepted their embraces and tackles with warmth and pleasure. They were soon making the tiered streets ring with merriment. Peregrin Took had found a niche in which he could flex his full personality without penalty.
Perhaps it was the shadows of the hall that had made him seem so glum, Aragorn thought, as they finally settled on a bench in the kitchen of what was to be his home.
"Do you know, it does my heart good to know that the fellowship we had remains in the city," Aragorn ventured, speaking around a mouthful of fresh baked bread. "If I had seen an elf take gardening advice from a hobbit anywhere else, I would have thought I had crossed the seas into a different world."
Pippin forsook table manners as well, leaning back in the large chair to prop his feet upon the seat of another, gaining full advantage of the moment of leisure.
"What surprises me," the hobbit rejoined, "is that we are together at all. I feel as a small pebble that had bounced just the right way into the right path, knocking just the right boulder into motion."
And setting off an avalance, Aragorn finished, to himself.
"Well, you must remember what Galadriel spoke to us, how perilously close we were to falling to the wayside," Aragorn replied, not at all taken aback by the directness with which Pippin faced the conversation.
Pippin’s gaze turned sharp, almost rueful.
"Do you think it was mere circumstance then?"
Aragorn took a deep breath. What was bothering this otherwise unquenchable hobbit?
"I mean," the hobbit stammered, taking the puzzled look on the King’s face for amusement at his expense. Poor Peregrin...reflex. "I mean, all of this. That you became king, that we defended Gondor, that Frodo made it to the Crack of Doom, that Gollum, that horrid creature, actually fell in…"
"Was it prophecy? Or was it chance? Only the Valar know," Aragorn cast out the most obvious reply, mind racing to discover which way the hobbit’s thoughts were flowing.
"What about him?"
Peregrin shifted uneasily.
"I shouldn’t speak without him present to defend himself," he began. They sat in silence for a few moments, chewing up the remains of the meal, quaffing the last of the mead. Collecting thoughts.
"Gandalf had much to do with what has gone before us," Aragorn said, breaking the silence. "For as long as I can remember, he has always marveled how a chance meeting set him on the path of this the final days of the Third Age, where the Dark One is ultimately defeated. Finding Thorin just as he did on his way to gather up a final effort against Smaug the Destructor was truly an auspicious meeting, but was that a meeting made by the stars?" Aragorn shrugged, a knowing smile flitting across his face. "I do not know. Personally, I do not think you were the first pebble cast, if that is what is bothering you."
Pippin grinned at Aragorn’s turn of phrase.
"Dear Strider! I think you, as well as Gandalf, know more than you are willing to say."
"I think I know hobbits," the king replied. Now it was time to aim for the heart. "Four of them in particular, well enough to see when something is troubling them. And coming from one who has watched hobbits for a long time, one in a state of despondency is a trouble to my own heart. I know that you, Frodo, and the others care to return to the Shire. I myself am curious to know what has transpired there."
"What do you mean?"
Aragorn almost wished he had not said anything. Apparently, the Shire was still untouched in Pippin’s mind.
"Reports of fighting in Lorien and distant Erebor leave me to think that not even the Shire could have been missed," he explained, as gently as he could think to phrase it.
"Aye, I am concerned about that as well. But surely, there would not be much to fear. If fighting did reach the Shire, there are plenty there who would fend them off." Pippin stated, matter-of-factly. "My family has long defended the Shire. They will notice anything amiss, and deal with it accordingly."
Aragorn nodded, more out of a desire to draw the hobbit out than to debate his point of view.
"But I know Frodo has begun to think of starting home," Pippin added, apologetically.
"Our days together have not come near to closing…or it is my hope," Aragorn replied, smiling. "Gandalf has much to do with that as well."
"Yes, it’s Gandalf’s fault," Pippin laughed.
"So, Master Took. What is troubling you, if not the destiny of the Shire?"
Pippin shook his head dismissively, gathering up the crumbs of his meal to discard.
"I’m sure it’s minor in the scheme of things, Strider." He got up from the table but Aragorn caught Pippin’s arm and eye and held them, voice now grave with command.
"Knight of Gondor, you stand beside me in the Court as my guard. This honor does not disregard the state of mind you are in. If there is something you would speak of, say it now."
Pippin blushed and bowed, immediately apologetic.
"Forgive me, my lord. You have demonstrated time and again that friendship trumps duty or position…or even the Seven Stars of the West. If I demur, it is because I fail to find the right words. As Merry said, we hesitate to speak when light comment does not suffice."
"Speak then, O Ernil i Pheriannath!"
It was Peregrin’s turn to take a deep breath.
"I have heard much about the tales since we came to Gondor. I have not a head for details, but I remember what bears repeating. For instance, we knew the origins of the swords of the Barrow-downs, and Elven memory has spelled out its destiny to fall on Merry’s shoulders. Had we known what it would bring us, I doubt we would have entered the Old Forest at all." Pippin’s thoughts tumbled out as he spoke. "And Frodo, well, Gandalf spoke of how it seemed the old stories all led up to the doorstep of Bag End. And Sam, I have no idea if it even occurs to him how he is a part of the story. I don’t think it matters to him. All he has ever known is service, and he finds much freedom in that service. But…" and Pippin’s voice trailed off, unable to put words to his own doubts.
Aragorn nodded in encouragement. "You want to know what your part is in all of this?"
"I realize I sound as if I can only complain of things I did not do, or did at the risk of life and limb to others. I sound ungrateful!" The young hobbit plopped back into his seat, despondent. "But I cannot help feeling…feeling as if I have just barely escaped…I cannot explain." Pippin ended, miserably.
"But we did escape, all of us. Just barely. And you have grown into a hobbit that many in your country will admire and respect."
"That’s not what I am thinking of."
Pippin’s expression regained its earlier moodiness.
"Why did Gandalf bring me? Why was I allowed to come on the quest?"
This time, Aragorn was taken aback.
"Should that matter even now?"
"It matters when I keep dreaming about it!" Pippin said. "I dream I am back in Moria, dropping the stone into the well…and it…turns horrible somehow…and the palantir…"
"Do you still blame yourself for what happened in Moria?" Aragorn asked, sympathy clenching his heart. How could he reassure everyone in the fellowship that no one could claim that for themselves? Was it fate? Or was it chance?
"I don’t think I really started doubting it until….until…"
A thought clicked in Aragorn’s mind, the image of Gandalf cradling the youngest hobbit in the dark of the valley of Isengard, frightened beyond belief that the power of the palantir had ensnared Pippin, locking him into a trance beyond his recall.
"Did you ask him yourself?"
Pippin sighed, as if that was all Aragorn needed to ask.
"I did…at the wrong time. The Blackness was covering us and the need for Faramir dearly felt. I do not think he quite caught what I wanted to know. And things happened so quickly. So I did not ask again."
Aragorn opened his mouth to offer encouragement that Pippin try again, except that a messenger from the Court hurried into the kitchen, breathless and red in the face. Bowing hastily, he waited for the king to acknowledge him.
"My lord, you must return to your council, for there have arrived emissaries you sent forth hence to Hollin…" he stammered. Aragorn stopped him in mid-sentence with a raised hand and motioned for Pippin to follow. The hobbit settled his face back into its neutral expression, although he couldn’t miss the glint of gratitude in his eyes for the interruption.
Perhaps those from Hollin will be able to give him relief, the king thought, but neither he nor the hobbit said anything more as they made their way back to the Court.
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.