Closing the Book: 1. Part 1

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1. Part 1

The Shire was well into autumn and the evenings were becoming crisper with each passing day, prompting Pippin to stoke the fire a bit higher than usual before he sat down to take his pipe. Merry, who had already settled back into his chair, drew a particularly long smoke from his pipe and took pains not to look at the empty chair to his right. Over the years they had each chosen a chair for their evening smoke, he and Pippin and Sam, and though it had now been a few months since Rose Gamgee had passed and Sam had left for the Grey Havens, Merry was not yet used to the idea that Sam would not be joining him for a pipe.

Strangely, Merry had found it easier to accept the passing of his own wife than that of Rose; likely because Sam was no longer there, and frequently he wondered how much longer he and Pippin would be taking a pipe together. They were both in excellent health, to be sure, but both of their wives had passed on now, and certainly they were no longer young. Pippin, presumably because he had not yet reached his one hundredth birthday, was far less concerned.

“Finally, a day without grandchildren,” Pippin remarked. “I am not sure if I am disappointed by their absence or relieved that I should not have to tell tales of our adventures for a few hours. Sometimes they surprise me, for I am sure I don’t tell a tale half so well as old Bilbo did, and yet they listen as if I did.”

“I know you don’t tell a tale like Bilbo, and I often wonder that they listen to you at all,” Merry retorted.

“Ah, but if you had grandchildren…” Pippin began with a sly grin.

“…which I haven’t, but I could tell our tale to yours far better than you could,” Merry shot back, punctuating it with a puff of smoke. He and Pippin often teased each other on this matter, as telling stories to the young hobbits seemed to be their primary purpose these days.

“I think they might very much like to hear the tales of Master Holdwine,” Pippin smiled, but he was interrupted by a knock on the door before he could continue. “Perhaps some of the young ones are here even now. Do you think you could properly entertain them, dear cousin?”

Merry now needed more time to get up from his chair than in his younger days, but nevertheless he was still halfway to the door. “Observe, and learn, Pippin!”

But it was not hobbit children at the door; instead, Merry opened his door to find himself face-to-midsection with an unfamiliar man, who was dressed in the very familiar green and white of Rohan. The man quickly dropped to one knee so as to speak directly to Merry. “Your pardon, sir, but I have come from Rohan seeking Master Holdwine?”

“I am he,” Merry replied with surprise. “But I fear I do not know you.”

“I am Halan, grandson of Háma. I believe you may have known of him.”

“I recall him indeed!” Merry answered. “A brave man he was. And I should be glad to be of service to you, if indeed I may be.”

“On nearly any other occasion, I should be honored indeed. But I fear I bring urgent news and a request from my king Éomer, which cannot wait,” Halan replied.

“Éomer!” Pippin exclaimed, greatly startling Merry, who in his interest and curiosity regarding Halan had failed to notice that Pippin had wandered to the doorway to see what the excitement was about. “How splendid! It has been some years since we last had news of Rohan, has it not, Merry?”

“I am afraid this is news you may not wish to hear,” Halan interjected. “King Éomer has asked for an audience with Master Holdwine, as soon as he may be able to attend. I fear my lord feels the weight of his years keenly, and time may be of essence.”

Merry’s heart sank at Halan’s words; for all his contemplation at the passing of his friends amongst the hobbits, he had not given thought that his friends among men were also of advanced age and declining health. “Indeed, I shall make every effort to journey to Rohan at the earliest. However, such a journey may well take a hobbit of my age a great deal of time.”

“We understand, Master, and we have been instructed to bear you to Rohan with us, to speed your journey and ensure your safety,” Halan explained.

Pippin smiled and patted Merry on the back. “See, cousin, Éomer has thought this out quite well for you!” He paused. “Though I must admit I would not mind visiting Rohan again myself.”

“Are you the Thain, Peregrin Took?” inquired Halan. Pippin nodded. “My King instructed us to bring you as well, should you so desire.”

“It seems our plans have been quite made for us,” Merry said in wonderment. “All the same, we shall have some affairs to be settled before we leave, and I should think we may need a few days for this task.”

“As you wish,” Halan bowed slightly. “We shall return for you in three days, if this is acceptable.”

“So it is,” agreed Pippin. “Please, do stay in the Shire until then, for I can assure you that hobbit hospitality is more than pleasant!”

And so Pippin and Merry busied themselves for the next few days settling their affairs and packing their belongings. Without a son or daughter of his own to rely upon, Merry requested the assistance of one of Sam’s sons. Given their ages, and the length of the journey, it was not surprising to anyone in the Shire that they would prepare for the possibility they would not be back. And while he certainly intended to come back, and he was reluctant to believe he might not return to the Shire, Merry had a gnawing fear within him, a small voice constantly whispering to him that he would not see his home again. But he did not speak of this to Pippin.

When Halan and his men returned, both hobbits were prepared to leave and Pippin even seemed eager to depart, but Merry could not yet leave the Shire behind in his mind. As they began their journey, he gazed longingly at each landmark, each field and hill and tree, while wondering to himself if he should ever look upon it again.

In time they reached the hills on the eastern bounds of the Shire, and here Pippin requested a brief stop and then disappeared into the forest, presumably to answer nature. But when Pippin did not immediately return, Merry went into the woods seeking him, and after a brief search found his cousin standing atop a small knoll from which much of the Shire could be seen. Pippin was staring out upon the vista thoughtfully, chewing upon the stem of his unlit pipe.

“Pippin? Is something the matter?” asked Merry.

“No, no, nothing’s the matter,” Pippin answered slowly. “In fact, the Shire is really quite lovely from here, don’t you think? I can nearly imagine every last hillock and hollow, and what is happening on or in them, just by looking out from here.” Pippin snorted. “Somewhere out there in the Shire there’s a pair of young hobbit lads looking for trouble, I’m certain, just as we were doing at that age. Might even be in the fields that used to be Farmer Maggot’s, they might be.”

Merry couldn’t help a chuckle at that idea. “If those fields are producing half the mushrooms now that they did then, there’s probably a dozen lads at them by this time of the day.” He sighed. “It worries me now though, it does, that I don’t expect I should hear about any of their adventures, like they have heard about ours, and I’m not quite sure we ought to be leaving them to their own devices just yet. There’s something to be said for experience, and I’m certain I could still be of use here.”

Pippin did not turn, but spoke surely in response. “Certainly, we both could be of use here. But we are old now, Merry, perhaps not so much as dear old Bilbo, but we have nearly two hundred years between us now, and that is quite a number. Our time is well past, and it would be best for us to leave the Shire to those whose time is present.”

Merry simply stared at Pippin in wonderment for several moments. In due time Pippin realized Merry had not spoken, and turned to Merry with a look of amusement. “Indeed, is something off, my dear Merry? You look as though you never saw me before this instant.”

“I’m not sure that I have!” Merry remarked. “Tell me, Pippin, when was it that you became the wisest hobbit in the Shire? For it seems to me scarcely yesterday you nearly drowned yourself in the Brandywine chasing after a frog.”

“Does time seem that short to you? For it hasn’t to me, not for some while now,” Pippin sighed. “You know, I do recollect you promised me a frog that night, and I can’t say you ever did give me one.”

Merry frowned. “Truthfully, I cannot recall that I did either. But it’s too late for that now, for surely my old bones will not let me catch any frog worth its breakfast.”

“Neither will my bones permit me, but my heart would gladden of the pursuit all the same,” Pippin finally turned away from the view and patted Merry upon his shoulder. “I’ve seen all that I will ever see of the Shire now, and it will be enough. We really ought to continue on our way, before our escorts set to fidgeting.”

Merry lingered a moment longer, trying his best to memorize each and every detail of the Shire that he could see, and even those that he could not see. Then he closed his eyes, surely the only way he could ever turn away from his home, and stepped back to join Pippin. “You are perfectly right, of course. This world has quite passed us by, and it is no longer ours. We can hope only that the Shire will remain always as it was today.”

And so the two hobbits continued on to Rohan, arriving at Edoras nearly a month after they had set out, and quite exhausted by their journey. They were warmly welcomed by Éomer and his court, and indeed Éomer was not quite so frail as Merry and Pippin had come to believe, though his time was certainly limited. They stayed in Edoras for several months, visiting frequently with Éomer until his passing late in the summer after the hobbits had arrived in Rohan. Merry and Pippin remained in Edoras a while longer, but Merry found staying in Rohan increasingly painful now that none of those he knew from his younger days remained, and Pippin had expressed interest in traveling to Gondor and seeing Elessar once more. And so they set out upon one more journey, once again accompanied by a guard from Rohan, and hoping to arrive in Gondor before winter should set in and make their travels difficult.

After several days’ journey, they stopped for the night along the banks of the river Anduin, and following their dinner the two hobbits took brief leave of their escorts to share a pipe. Or at least that had been their intent, Pippin noted to himself after Merry had dozed off, barely halfway through his smoke. Merry was rather wont to sleep at odd times these days, Pippin had noticed, and he imagined it would not be long before he himself would doze off at some inopportune time. ‘And like as not, I’d fall into my own dinner and drown,’ he thought, ‘if Merry doesn’t do so first.’

Pippin carefully removed Merry’s pipe from his hand and set it aside, lest Merry burn himself upon it, then finished his own pipe while he watched Merry sleep. While he looked forward to seeing the White City once more, and certainly would be glad to see Elessar again, Pippin was nevertheless somewhat dreading their arrival in Gondor. He was certain this would be the last time he arrived anywhere, and accordingly he had no wish to hurry their travel, in spite of the incipient winter. The thought had crept into his mind, almost as soon as he had agreed to accompany Merry to Rohan, that this would be their final journey, and by now he believed Merry also suspected as much.

He sighed and leaned back, intending to stretch himself but instead finding his joints were reluctant to move in any cooperative manner. ‘Elbereth,’ he muttered to himself, as he struggled to his feet amid a cacophony of crackling bones and popping joints. Once he was upright, he felt somewhat better and decided to take a short walk until Merry finally awoke. The sound of the Anduin’s rushing waters was tempting – his childhood experience in the Brandywine had never once deterred him from water – and he strolled down the bank to the water’s edge.

The last light of the sun struck the water in just the right manner, Pippin thought, casting colorful sparkles and ripples across the river’s surface in a most pleasing manner. He was quite fascinated by the light dancing across the water and utterly enchanted with its bubbling sound, a very soothing sound made all the better by the twinkles of light, and Pippin failed to notice he was falling asleep until his body began to tip forward towards the river. He sprang back to wakefulness with a yelp and tried to scramble backwards, but one foot caught upon a damp root, and he slipped and fell into the river just as surely as if he had not tried to avoid just such a result.

Under Merry’s determined tutelage nearly ninety years past, Pippin had become quite a good swimmer; but his limbs no longer cared for the exercise as a whole, and certainly not in such deceptively icy waters. It was all he could do to stay afloat and try not to be swept downstream. ‘Drat it,’ he realized. He and Merry had taken their pipes downstream of the camp, and the men would not hear his struggles in the river. So, then, it must have been determined long ago that he was doomed to drown, and simply a happy accident he had not done so as a child. Such an undignified end for a Thain, this was.

“Heigh-ho, Pippin!” Pippin was startled out of his self-pity by the more than welcome shout from Merry, who had suddenly appeared along the river’s bank. “Pippin! You fool of a Took! Can you swim back?” Merry called again.

“I don’t believe so,” he shouted back. “I’m a bit old for this now, and I can’t seem to get far.”

Merry paused, his face consumed by thought. Surely he would come to a solution to this situation, Pippin knew, but would he think of one in the next moment? Suddenly Merry broke from his thoughts and scurried to a tree along the bank, and climbed part way up its trunk. It was a young tree, slender and easily bent, and under Merry’s weight the top of the tree brushed the water an arm’s length or two from Pippin. “Here then, can you grab on?” Merry called.

Pippin was quite frozen by now, and he could scarcely feel his limbs as he struggled against the water, but he was just barely able to swim slightly, and after a minute or two he was able to grab hold of a branch. “Hang on, Pip,” Merry blurted as he backed off the tree and onto the ground. Unfortunately Pippin’s weight now replaced Merry’s, and Pippin found himself dangling from the tree limb, half in and half out of the river. “Confound it all,” Merry muttered. “Hold on, Pippin, I’ll fetch help.”

“Easy enough for you to say!” Pippin spluttered. “Do hurry, my arms will come off any moment now.” And he was not certain that they would not, for the chill of the river had sunk into him now further than he had ever felt cold before, and he already wondered if he should recover from this chill even if Merry succeeded.

Fortunately Merry was quick to return with the men, one of whom waded into the river while grasping the tree and plucked Pippin from the river, then deposited the very chilled and rather embarrassed hobbit on the riverbank.

“Sweet Elbereth, Pip! What were you about this time, that you decided to take a swim?” Merry complained as the men carried Pippin back to the camp. “You’ve frightened another five years off of me, you have.”

‘And more than five off myself,’ Pippin thought to himself, but did not voice that unpleasant thought. “In all truth, cousin, I was simply watching the sun’s last moments, and I slipped down the bank. Now, I would not have gone to the river to begin with, were you able to stay awake long enough to smoke.”

This had the effect on Merry that Pippin had intended; Merry flushed red and protested immediately. “Fall asleep with a pipe? Not I, dear cousin, I would never…”

“And where is your pipe?” Pippin parried. Merry turned a deeper shade of red as he realized he had no answer. “It should be where I left it, after I took it from you lest you burn yourself.” He sighed. “My dear Merry, I am sorry, but I don’t think either of us mean to do half the things we do these days.”

When they returned to the camp the men assisted Merry in getting Pippin into dry clothes and wrapped in a number of blankets before setting him by the fire. Pippin was too cold and tired to protest their assistance, nor to refuse the hot soup offered him; but he did not accept the fresh pipe Merry suggested, for his lungs already burned as if full of the strongest smoke. Indeed, he already felt as though he burned with fire from head to toe, and worse yet, he felt frozen in those places as well. He was truly one miserable hobbit, but all the same he suspected much worse was to come to him, and while he wished he could console his quite worried cousin, he could not tell Merry what he feared.

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.

Story Information

Author: Gonzai

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 07/31/03

Original Post: 08/11/02

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