Pippin nodded, passing a loaf of bread to Frodo, who handed him a small piece of bacon in return. Pippin popped it into his mouth without a second thought and chewed with a slow deliberation, trying to savor the moment as much as the bacon. Without warning, Merry threw a half-full water skin at him, jolting him out of his contentment. Merry even had the nerve to laugh at the solid hit, and the fact that the water soaked through his tunic. Scowling, Pippin bent down to pick up the skin and took a sip, washing the food down. Looking down, a smile crept across his face. He still had one sausage - three quarters of it to be exact - to look forward to.
Not half-bad, when one stops to think about it.
Seated - rather comfortably, he might add - his belly full for a change, and about to settle a curiosity that gnawed at him ever since he'd first met Boromir of Gondor. Not bad at all.
"He means the Southrons, Boromir." Aragorn rose with the words, no doubt searching for a more accommodating rock to sit on. The Mines of Moria offered little in terms of comfort; to Men or Hobbits. "The Haradrim," Aragorn continued.
Again, Pippin nodded, with more energy this time, only to be met with a frown and a shake of the head.
"And how do you know of Gondor's foes, Master Hobbit?" Boromir's hand lingered, for a moment, on his shield, lightly tracing the spiraling letters that ran across its surface. "What tales have reached the ears of you Shire-folk?"
Foes? "Not tales, as such," Pippin admitted. "Bits and pieces of stories, old and new. Rumors of savage, dark-skinned Men who inhabit a far-off land."
As Boromir gave a small nod of his own, Pippin's excitement grew. "Have you seen them?" He leaned in close, hands resting on his knees.
"Seen them?" Boromir hesitated, and his fingers stopped tracing the letters. "Aye, I have seen the Southrons, Pippin."
"Wonderful!" Pippin let a huge smile spread across his face. "What do they look like? What clothes do they wear? Is their skin really so dark? Do they…"
A sharp elbow dug into his side. "Pippin!" Frodo said. "How do you think to have your answer, if you do not let him get a word in?"
There is that.
After rolling his shoulders in a sheepish shrug, he gave the Man a disarming smile. Or, rather, what he hoped was one. "Pardon me, Boromir, I get ahead of myself at times."
Boromir leaned back, the corner of his mouth twitching. "I am well-aware of it."
Was that a beginning of a smile? Encouraged, Pippin pressed on. "I'd still like an answer to my question, if you'll give it." He grimaced and corrected himself. "An answer to one of my questions, at least."
He waited for a moment, polite and respectful, but met with silence. Unable to contain his curiosity any longer, he continued, "Did you ever speak with them? If so, in what language? Does Gondor trade with the South?"
Aragorn gave a soft, quiet laugh. Such an oddly humorless sound… Puzzled by Boromir's continued silence, Pippin turned to face the Ranger. Reaching into his pack, Aragorn took out a carved wooden pipe, along with a pinch of pipe weed leaves. "Yet more questions, Master Peregrin? Which one would you like an answer to?"
He grinned. "All of them." Well, you did ask.
"I doubt it not," Aragorn lit the pipe and leaned against the rock wall. "Both Boromir and I could tell you much about these Men. I more than most, for I journeyed among them for a time."
Pippin felt his insides heat up at the thought. When he met Strider's eyes again, he feared that his were as round as saucers. "You must have seen many wondrous things! Will you tell us of them?" he asked. Even Frodo drew nearer, now, his face animated, lit by an inner light that had long been missing. Good. Pippin disliked seeing his cousin so drawn and weary. Perhaps the conversation could serve to distract him from... Better not to think of it, now.
"Wondrous?" Boromir spat the word, as if it left a foul taste in his mouth. But why? "What wondrous things could the Southrons craft? I doubt they have time for such. The raids on our borders take up much of their time." A bitterness that took Pippin by surprise laced the last words.
He frowned, just now realizing what the man had said. Foes. "They raid your borders?" A cautious question. "Why?"
Aragorn answered in Boromir's stead, "For spoils of war, for land, but, most of all, because Sauron commands it done." The tone darkened. "It pleases him to pit Men against other Men, I think. And the Southrons fear the Enemy – too much so to disobey him."
Pippin frowned. "They serve Sauron?" He glanced around, suddenly worried that invoking the name of the master would cause the servants to appear. Orcs, not Men. With some difficulty, he shook off the fear. "Men?"
The smell of burning leaves tickled at his nostrils. A stray thought, I would not say no to some pipe-weed myself. The bowl of Aragorn's long-stemmed pipe glowed heat, and smoke drifted upwards.
"Yes. Hobbits may stand as one, but we stand divided," Aragorn answered. "Do not be so surprised, Pippin. The hearts of Men can be swayed, either by promises of power, or by the threat of whip and blade."
Pippin could not help his surprise. Never to his knowledge had a hobbit harmed another hobbit. Well… unless wounding another with strong language counted? Honestly, that old, meddling fool of a Proudfoot had deserved that bit of a tongue-lashing. He started another question, "But…"
Aragorn interrupted. "They have little love for Sauron." He paused and corrected himself. "No. There are some, corrupted beyond repair, who honor him as king and god, but those are the exceptions, rather than the rule. Most of the Haradrim are driven by fear – the fear of Gondor on the one hand, and fear of their master on the other. "
Boromir's proud features molded into a grimace. "They fight along side of orcs, and raise the Eye as their standard." His hands balled into fists. "I will make no excuses for them."
"The poison of the Enemy runs deep, Boromir," Aragorn said, dropping into a crouch. "He ever seeks to turn us against one another, and, with the Haradrim, he has succeeded. Who knows what lies Sauron whispered into their ears? Do not judge all of them so harshly."
A long silence followed.
"Long have Gondor and Harad been at each other's throats," Boromir said. "Old, dusty tomes say that things were not always such, and some say that ancient bonds may yet be reforged, alliances of old rekindled. But I, for one, would not wish it." He rose, movements stiff and slow, palms wiping at the dust that settled on his leggings. Aragorn rose with him. "Too much blood has been spilled during the years, in my lifetime and before, and too many good men lie dead… but not forgotten."
He and Aragorn held each other's gaze, both unflinching. "I would not dishonor their memories by making peace with those who slaughtered them."
"Boromir…" Aragorn said, but the Man shook his head and walked to where Legolas stood watch, beneath a high arch.
"I am sorry, Strider." Pippin said, uncomfortable with the turn the conversation had taken. Curse his flapping tongue! Would he never learn?
Aragorn lowered himself to the ground again, his long legs stretched out before him. "Do not blame yourself, Pippin. This would weigh on Boromir's mind whether you mentioned it now or not." He wrapped his cloak around him, tighter. "Killing Orcs is not hard, once the arm has skill enough with the blade, and the memory of it does not linger in a man's mind." The Ranger released an audible breath, looking away. "In a man's dreams," he whispered.
Pippin tensed, reluctant to pose his next question. He asked it regardless, "And… killing Men?" Aragorn met his eyes, and the depth of memory in them made Pippin cringe.
"Harder, yes," Aragorn answered, swallowing. "And it has left a foul taste in my mouth that I have yet to wash down."
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.