1. Chapter One
Pimmie shook out the banner so everyone could see it entire. Pervinca reached out and stretched it to its full width. Pearl leaned forward, studying the stitching of some of the roses; she had fussed endlessly over them. Eglantine picked up a fringed edge, rubbing it between her fingers as tears welled up in her eyes.
"Oh, my dears, it really is beautiful,” she said. “Don’t you think so, Paladin?”
The Thain of the Shire nodded slowly, his face full of pride. “Yes, it is, Tina. All of you have done a wonderful job.” His jaw tightened. “And now those ruffians will get a fine reminder of what it means to challenge the Tooks. This makes a splendid device for Peregrin to carry as he rides forth—a lucky thing it was almost finished already.”
The Took ladies had begun to sew and embroider the banner nearly six weeks ago, soon after Sharkey and his men had arrived and started their destruction in late September. Paladin had sent the messenger from Lotho Sackville-Baggins on his way with a warning that anyone who presumed to enter the Tookland without the Thain’s permission would be shot on sight. The Big Folk had laughed at that, they heard later, certain no hobbits would dare to kill them. But they stopped laughing after the first round of skirmishes, when they crawled back to their holes with many dead or wounded by the Took archers’ arrows.
It was Pimpernel who suggested one night at dinner that the Tooks ought to have a banner of some sort to fly over Great Smials, as both a gesture of defiance and a reminder of independence. All, particularly her sisters and mother, greeted her idea with great enthusiasm. The next morning, Eglantine rummaged through the storeroom where she kept the spare cloth, and found a good-sized square of forest green velvet.
“The color is just right since we live in the Green Hills, isn’t it?” she asked.
Pearl in turn contrived the design of a golden bow and arrows intertwined with and surrounded by red and white roses that honored their mother’s name. All the hobbit women in Great Smials formed a sewing circle and set to work with a will. They stitched and embroidered as though their lives depended on it, but none worked harder than Pearl.
She had been consumed by anxiety from the day the Tooks learned that Pippin, Merry and Frodo had ridden off together into the wild. Now she sewed until her eyes watered and her fingers bled, as though making the banner would somehow bring her kin back to the Shire safe and sound. She even set her two little girls, Amethyst and Lilac, to tatting fringe for the edges. Pimmie sewed on it as well, between the patrols she insisted on riding with her male cousins; she was one of the best archers in the family and was determined to make the ruffians pay in blood for what they were doing to the Shire.
By early November, it was almost finished, with only one strip of fringe left to attach. And then that very night, Pippin rode up to Great Smials, tall and proud in his sable and silver livery. His stunned family welcomed him with endless tears, kisses, and embraces, amazed at both his sudden return and his long journeys. When he declared he would be riding out again in the morning with a squadron of Took archers to help end Sharkey’s rule, his mother and sisters sat up half the night in flickering candlelight to complete the banner, so Pippin could carry it with him.
Paladin slipped the banner onto the staff in his hands and looked at the others. “Come,” he said, “it’s time.”
They walked in silence to the Great Door and stepped out. There, Pippin sat on his pony, a hundred archers mounted behind him, awaiting his command. Paladin marched down the flight of stairs and thrust the banner up to his son.
“Your battle standard, Peregrin,” he said in a choked voice. “I know you will ride under it with courage—you have shown so much already. I am so very proud of you.” He grasped Pippin’s hand firmly.
Pippin looked down at Paladin, and then turned his gaze to his mother and sisters standing on the stoop. “I will, Father, you needn’t worry about that.” He smiled. “And I will be back sooner than you can imagine.” He lifted his arm and brought it down sharply. “We ride!”
Everyone spurred their ponies into a gallop as they headed north to Hobbiton. Pippin raised the banner into the wind as he rode, letting it wave, the green and gold and red blazing in the autumn sunshine. His family watched as they held hands. Pearl turned to Pimmie, her face filled with concern.
“Will he be fine, do you think?”
Pimmie smiled. “Oh yes, Pippin will be just fine.” She put her arm around Pearl’s waist. “He’s all grown up now, and not afraid of anything.”
“And neither are you, Pimpernel,” said Paladin affectionately. “Shall you ride with me and the others to the south? There’s plenty of scum who have fled that way now that the countryside is roused even more, and I have no intention of letting any escape. Your arrows would be useful, my girl.”
Pimmie laughed, her eyes shining. “Give me just one moment, Father!” She darted back into the entryway and emerged with a quiver and bow slung across her shoulder. She hurried down to her pony, brought up by the larger troop of Tooks, some two hundred strong, that were gathering before the Great Door. Paladin took his pony’s reins from Reginard and mounted as Pimmie swung up onto her saddle as well beside an eager Everard.
“I wish we were doing more,” grumbled Pervinca. “Can’t we ride with you too, Daddy?”
“Only if you can become as good a shot as Pimmie in about five minutes and not mind breeches,” said Eglantine tartly. She walked to Paladin’s pony, her face softening. “You both will be careful, Pal? Do promise me that.”
Paladin leaned down and kissed her. “I promise, Tina dear.” He looked at Pearl and Pervinca. “Pearl, you must help your mother while we are gone—will you do that for me?”
“And Vinca, you could organize the younger lasses and pack up some carts with medicines and bandages—they might need them in Hobbiton or Bywater if the battle is rough. You can send a messenger in a few hours to check.”
“Yes, Daddy,” said Pervinca, her face brightening at the thought of doing something beyond sewing and cooking.
Pearl’s brow furrowed. “We should have made another banner for you to carry, Father,” she said anxiously.
Paladin shook his head. “No, Pearl, it’s with the Took that’s earned it. Pippin has done more for all of us than we could have dreamed. I’m glad we held off the Ruffians, but he and the others are the ones who will rid us of them for good.” He turned to his second daughter and her cousins. “Ready, Pimpernel, Reginard, Everard?”
“Ready!” they chorused together. Paladin signaled, and everyone set off behind him. As they rode, Pimmie untied her curls and let them fly loose. She tossed the green ribbon into the air, her heart soaring up to meet it.
“There’s our banner!” she shouted exultantly. “And may every ruffian in the Shire see it!”
All the Tooks cheered, and then bent over their ponies as they gained speed, faces set in determination.