61. A Surprise
“Stop pulling at your bandage, Pippin,” ordered Merry from somewhere in the room. “You can take it off when Lord Elrond says you can take it off and not one minute before.” Pippin sighed deeply and folded his arms in front of him to lessen the temptation of pulling on the linen.
“It is all right, Pippin,” said Legolas gently, gathering up the pieces of bark strewn about the coverlet. The Elf had been playing a game with the blindfolded tweenager, handing him various items and seeing if Pippin could identify them. Elrond had been concerned that the torn and battered fingers might result in diminished sensation in Pippin's fingertips, but already the fingernails were mending and sensitivity was returning to his nimble, quick hands. The other hobbits had laughed at the game until Legolas made them close their eyes and try. To Pippin’s glee, his cousins and Sam had been unable to identify the bit of abandoned wasps’ nest, the dried broad bean pods, and the interlocking metallic puzzle pieces that Gimli had designed for the younger hobbits during their bout with head colds. Now the game had graduated to more difficult items, and the tweenager’s rather short attention span had wavered. “I think perhaps only an Elf would care about telling different types of trees apart by touch,” Legolas continued. “When did Lord Elrond say you may remove the blindfold?”
“He said Pip may take it off for very short intervals beginning later this afternoon,” replied Merry before Pippin could respond, “but it is to stay on at least until tomorrow. Longer, if Pip strains his eyes.” This earned him an indignant grumble from Pippin and a restless bounce of the bedsprings. “And don’t you mutter at me under your breath, Peregrin Took.” Legolas laughed softly and Pippin’s bandaged head swiveled at him resentfully.
The Elf had been much in evidence for the two days that Pippin had been confined to bed, talking with him, singing to him, telling him stories. Pippin had evidently decided that Legolas was his own personal provider of entertainment and relentlessly demanded tales and songs in such numbers that the Elf’s long memory was actually strained. In desperation, Legolas had appealed to the other members of the Fellowship and now all of them took turns at amusing the bedridden young hobbit. The youngster was, Legolas reflected, quite probably the only halfling in their short history who had heard ancient Elvish ballads, Dwarvish sagas, Gondorian tales, Númorean lays and every story on every subject of every race that the old wizard could come up with. In the slightly less than two months that the hobbits had dwelt in Imladris, the halfling-child had been able to coax more tales out of its various inhabitants than had old Master Bilbo in his seventeen years of scholarly research.
There were few, Legolas reflected, that could resist this young one’s doleful sighs or sad face. Pippin took shameless advantage of having so many so willing to entertain him, his pointed ears quivering as he soaked up every word and melody. The Elf noticed that as many hobbits as possible, if they were not otherwise occupied, were always present when a tale or song was in the offing. In a very short amount of time Pippin had woven them all about his little finger, until he had only to squeak and Legolas or Boromir or his cousins and, to the surprise of many, Gandalf, would rush to obtain him the least little thing he desired.
When Pippin wanted a song, Arwen herself happily obliged him. Many passing by the open door smiled to see the Evenstar seated next to the little halfling’s bed, his hand cradled in hers, bandaged head turned adoringly towards her sweet voice. When Bilbo heard that the Evenstar was singing for his youngest cousin, the old hobbit showed up, red-faced and puffing, paper and quills and colored chalks spilling from his eager hands. It was difficult to tell who was the most pleased; Pippin with the songs and the attention she paid to him, Arwen for her appreciative audience and the opportunity to fulfill a long-delayed wish of Bilbo’s, or Bilbo for finally achieving his heart’s desire.
When their sister’s voice gave out, Elladan and Elrohir volunteered to take a turn and a new round of tales and poems and lays began. A delighted Bilbo was kept busy, scribbling frantically. The hobbits were fascinated; the twins’ blended voices opened new vistas of wonder for them. Glorfindel visited often, as did many of their elven friends. Pippin was kept occupied and amused, and if he became bored with resting in his room, it was not difficult to find a pair of strong arms to carry him about. Pippin basked in the attention like a sunflower responding to the light, his own sweet and affectionate nature making those who cared for him feel fortunate and privileged.
Still, when the blindfold was put away three days later, Sam had had enough. “Master Pippin,” he said severely, after the young hobbit had sent his cousins off on yet another errand to obtain him sweets from the kitchens, “You've got to stop taking advantage o’ your cousins. And everybody else. You can see fine now - no need to make them all dance like puppets for you.”
The tweenager was perhaps understandably reluctant to let go of being waited on hand and foot. Pippin stuck out his lower lip, a tactic he had found most effective with his besotted caregivers. The ploy would have been more effective had he been able to conceal his lurking smile. “But Sam,” he wheedled, holding up his bandage wrapped hands, “I can’t pick anything up, you know. And –“
“And nothing. There’s nowt wrong with your legs, nor your tongue, Master Pippin. If you’ve a fancy for one o’ them pretty cream-puff swans or some other such thing, you can ask the cook yourself instead of sending Mr. Frodo or Mr. Merry to beg for you.” Sam folded his arms firmly and stared levelly at the young hobbit.
Finding the pout ineffective, Pippin tried tearing up. Sam regarded him stoically, refusing to let the youngster see how very nearly successful those brimming eyes were. “Oh, all right!” the young hobbit giggled after some moments. He leaned back against the bedpost and wrapped his arms around his legs, tucking his sharp chin on his knees. “I won’t make them fetch and carry for me, or ask people to tell me tales,” he conceded regretfully. Pippin sighed in exaggerated disappointment. “Though Boromir never did tell me his ‘unsuitable stories,’ you know, and he said he would,” he added mournfully, his eyes sparkling wickedly.
“That’s all we need,” growled Sam to himself, unaware that Pippin was shaking with mirth. “What Mr. Frodo would say to that I don’t care to think. Mr. Merry, neither.” He ground his teeth together. “Master Pippin, you are not ‘ta -”
Pippin had been watching Sam covertly, delighted with his mischief. “Sam, you know I wouldn’t do anything to upset Frodo.” Sam grimaced. “Well, not much, anyway. I won’t ask Boromir for those stories … yet,” he added in a whisper, well aware that Sam could hear him. When Sam looked like he was going to press the point, Pippin grinned deprecatingly and waved his hands in surrender. “I won’t ask for any more stories, Sam. Truly. Though it was fun while it lasted.”
“Aye, and it’s over now,” Sam reminded him.
“All right, all right…” Further discourse was prevented by the triumphant return of Frodo and Merry, staggering under the weight of a tray laden with sugared pastries and savories and boiled sweets made from fruit, gifts from the head cook and kitchen staff.
* * * * *
“Any luck?” asked Merry.
“No,” replied Frodo shortly. Then seeing his fellow hobbits’ disappointed faces, he relented and elaborated, “But something is going on. I know that twinkle in Gandalf’s eye. And Bilbo is about fit to burst.”
“Can’t you get him to talk?” asked Pippin. “Ask Gimli to give you more of that brown stuff from his flask. Cousin Bilbo was quite the chatterbox after a few shots of that, as I recall.”
Frodo scowled at him and Pippin ducked his head and hid a smile. The hobbits were gathered in Frodo’s room, draped over various chairs and divans with Pippin stretched out on the great bed, all of them relaxed and recuperating from a most satisfying tea. The late afternoon sun streamed in the balcony windows, and Frodo reflected that right now, at this moment, he was as happy and as comfortable as he had ever been.
In the days that had passed since the return of the walking party, all four of the hobbits had made a commendable effort to put back the weight lost in walking and worry. They usually requested trays for breakfast and second breakfast, then Frodo and Sam would join Bilbo in his room for elevenses and luncheon while Merry and Pippin were out exploring Rivendell, turning up promptly to join them at the first chime of the dinner bell. Bilbo would read parts of his book to them or take notes of their adventures, but more often they simply talked and smoked, enjoying each other’s company in quiet contentment. Tea might be in Frodo’s room or Bilbo’s or the Great Hall, depending on naps and whether the hobbits thought they would be needing seconds and thirds of what was being prepared. Dinner was served in the Great Hall and afterwards they would sit in the Hall of Fire and listen to many old tales and songs. When they retired to their rooms after, there was always a platter or two of dainties and a bottle of wine set out for them should they wish to fill up the corners before going to bed. It was altogether a comfortable routine, and the hobbits reveled in it, well aware that their carefree time in Rivendell was drawing to a close.
Replete for the moment, Pippin lolled languidly amongst the pillows, toying with his fairy-stone. He had forgotten about the little stone until boredom had prompted him to dig it out of his breeches, and he was idly amusing himself by peering through the little hole at his cousins and Sam. Frodo was sitting in a chair in the sunlight near the balcony, engaged in a friendly argument with Merry, and if that shining light that Pippin had seen earlier about his cousin was present, he could not differentiate it from the sun’s glow.
A soft knock at the door and Aragorn admitted himself before Sam could answer it. Answering the chorus of “hullo’s”, the Ranger settled himself comfortably on a divan. “Elrond wishes you to join him in his quarters this evening after the Hall of Fire,” the Ranger said. “Gandalf and Bilbo and I will be there. May I tell my lord that you will come?”
Frodo glanced at the others in surprise, then answered for all of them. “We would be delighted, of course. May I ask why Lord Elrond is honoring us with this invitation?”
“Oh, no reason,” said the Man so nonchalantly that the hobbits were immediately suspicious.
While his elders talked, Pippin rolled idly over onto his stomach and held the fairy-stone up to his eye again, looking at the Ranger. Then he stiffened into complete immobility. Unused to stillness from Pippin for any length of time, Merry glanced over at him. Pippin sat up cross-legged on the bed, looking from the stone to Aragorn in confusion.
Merry held out his hand in silent demand and Pippin leaned sideways and passed him the stone. Merry took it with a quirked eyebrow. Pippin mimed putting it to his eye, and pointed at Aragorn. Humoring his cousin, Merry obeyed. So? There sat Aragorn, talking with Frodo. Then suddenly as the Man threw back his head and laughed, sunlight winked on the tips of the golden crown that adorned his noble head. He was garbed not in wool and leather but the finest silks and velvets, and picked out in silk thread on his tunic was a White Tree inset with jewels, and splendid and regal was his bearing and mien.
Merry lowered the fairy-stone slowly, struggling to understand what he had seen. Pippin was looking at him with wide eyes, and Merry nodded to show that he had indeed witnessed the vision. Pippin sighed and rubbed at his eyes with his fists, reassured that his recent injury was not causing him hallucinations.
“Merry?” Both young hobbits jerked guiltily and attended to their older cousin. “I said,” Frodo repeated pointedly, “that…” He trailed off, dark brows quirking as he noted their sudden respectful attention. Sitting silent beside him, Sam leaned forward, those sharp grey eyes narrowing with suspicion. “ What are you two so involved in?”
“Nothing, Cousin Frodo,” both young hobbits chorused with identical guileless expressions. Merry discovered that he was hiding the fairy-stone behind him and flushed. Frodo’s brows rose then drew together. He frowned and his bright blue gaze focused on Merry intently. Aragorn watched this byplay with amusement, then chose to distract Frodo.
“I will inform my lord of your acceptance,” said the Ranger, rising. Frodo hurriedly slid off the chair to escort their guest to the door, his face tightening in a grimace. Aragorn watched him, a smile lingering in his eyes. “Still a bit stiff, I see.”
“Only a little, Aragorn,” Frodo replied with an embarrassed grin. “That ointment of Lord Elrond’s works wonders. Would you please thank Lord Elrond for the invitation, and tell him that we are looking forward to it?” Aragorn smiled at them all again, his stern face softening, and departed.
“I wish there were some way ‘ta thank Lord Elrond for his hospitality,” murmured Sam wistfully. “He’s done so much for us.”
Merry and Pippin looked at each other in silent accord. Pippin arched his eyebrows and tilted his head, and Merry nodded, one side of his mouth turning up. “Wait here,” said Merry and disappeared, managing to unobtrusively drop the stone into his cousin’s waiting hand as he passed the bed. Pippin stretched out again, kicking his heels while they waited. Merry returned after a few minutes and with a grand gesture, deposited a ragged bundle of cloth in Frodo’s lap.
“You want to give Lord Elrond … a pair of Pippin’s worn-out and rather dirty breeches?”
“Frodo,” said Merry in exasperation, and unwrapped the dragon’s tooth.
* * * * *
The hobbits took special care that afternoon in preparing for their evening with their host. Upon awakening from their naps, Frodo had declared that they would visit the baths instead of making use of the copper tubs. The three cousins were relaxing in the steamy warmth of the deep water, standing on the seats, while Sam clung white-knuckled to the side and tried to ignore the fact that water was all about him.
“Look, Sam,” Pippin caroled as he paddled by. “If I’m not afraid of a little water, you shouldn’t be. It’s not even going anywhere.” The youngster took a deep breath and ducked his head under the water, sending up a small fountain of soapy waves. Sam gulped and clung all the tighter to the slippery wall.
The hobbits were not impatient to meet Lord Elrond after the Hall of Fire; the time spent in that magical place was too special to wish to hurry by. It had become their custom to lounge on cushions set for them near the great fire, where they listened to the tales and songs with their hands folded under their chins, eyes dreamy and unfocused. It was here that they had first heard in full the lay of Beren and Lúthien that Aragorn had told them in abbreviated form on the summit of Weathertop, and other songs and tales beyond count. Sam stored as many of these in his memory as he could, reciting them to himself, safeguarding them in his heart.
Elves customarily stayed in the Hall long after the hobbits had departed for bed, but on this eve Elrond left after only a few hours, sending word for the hobbits to join him in his rooms a short time later. Slightly apprehensive (“Pippin, are you certain you didn’t break something recently? Merry, is there anything I should know?”), Frodo knocked on the door and to his surprise, was admitted by Gandalf.
The old wizard swung the door wide and stepped back, motioning the four hobbits into the room. Frodo looked up into Gandalf’s face for a clue as he led the way but Gandalf just waggled his bristling eyebrows at them, deep eyes sparkling. In they came … and stopped dead in wide-eyed wonder.
In the center of Elrond’s spacious chambers arose a great living fir tree, set into an enormous half-barrel of earth, bedecked with garlands of bright paper and foil, tiny twinkling candles, miniature crackers, and small glittering ornaments and crowned with a great star of blown glass into which a candle had been set, so that the star cast its golden glow throughout the room. Boughs of holly and green ivy adorned the mantel and sills of the windows, and mistletoe hung from the high ceiling. Red satin and velvet ribbons were tied on them, draped across the great mantle and hung in other places. In the great stone fireplace a Yule log burned and the scents of mulled wine and cider and cinnamon filled the air. Placed throughout the room were small tables bearing crackers and gifts, goblets and plates and trays piled high with delicacies and sweet things, and prominently displayed was an enormous cake stuffed with fruit and frosted with sugar icing. On yet another table stood a Yule pudding nearly large enough to feed the entire Great Smials. The hobbits halted in amazement and stared about them, wordless.
“Oh,” laughed the wizard. “That hobbits are struck dumb is worth any amount of work!” Gandalf knelt and placed his hands on Frodo’s shoulders, looking into his eyes and the eyes of the others. “Happy Yule, my friends.”
“Oh, Gandalf,” murmured Frodo, high color rising in his pale face. “You … you did all this for us?”
“I had help from Bilbo and Aragorn and Elrond,” said the old wizard softly. “And many other people besides. Now, come. Let us feast and drink and enjoy ourselves.”
Bilbo moved from where he had been standing with Elrond, joy shining from his wrinkled old face. He reached up to pull Frodo’s head down and kissed his nephew’s forehead, repeating the gesture slowly with each of the others. “I had almost forgotten Yule, my lads. Elves don’t celebrate it, you know. But when Elrond asked what he could do to see you all off, I remembered that were you back in the Shire, you’d be holding Yule now.” The old hobbit turned stiffly to face the magnificent tree and they heard tears in his soft voice. He cleared his throat then continued, “Elrond asked me about the star on top of the tree, and I told him it represents the star of Eärendil. He liked that, though I think the idea rather startled him. Odd to think of one’s father being remembered by another race in such a way, I suppose...” Bilbo trailed off and stood quietly for a few moments, an odd combination of wistfulness and sadness in his expression. “It’s been a long time… Did I remember everything?”
“Everything,” breathed Sam, his eyes round with wonder. “It’s beautiful, sir.”
Merry dragged his eyes from the festive splendor about him and focused on Elrond. “See us off, my lord?”
A shadow of sorrow crossed the Elf-lord’s ageless eyes. “Yes, Meriadoc. In a few days, you must leave Imladris.”
* TBC *
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.