When The Evening Comes by Pearl Took

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When The Evening Comes

It had been a thoughtful ride on a clear autumn day, heading back to Hobbiton from setting loose the prisoners in the Lockholes at Michel Delving. None of the hobbits in the entourage had spoken much as morning had turned to afternoon.

"What happens now, Your Honor Mister Deputy Mayor?" Merry had tapped his pony into a brief trot to pull even with Frodo.

Frodo looked at his cousin with a rueful grin. "Don’t you start in with me, Sir Meriadoc Brandybuck, Knight of Rohan, close friend and cousin of the High King’s Messenger and someday Master of Buckland or I shall give as good as I get . . . and then some."

"Oh my! I’d best watch myself then."

"Yes, you had best do so, or face my terrible wrath!" Frodo glared at Merry before quickly smiling. "Actually, I feel I’ve quite run out of ‘terrible wrath’. You may have to suffice with facing my great annoyance. Or perhaps my being rather put out with you. What do you think Sam?"

"I was thinkin’, just thinkin’ mind, that you ought be sendin’ him home to his mum and dad with a note sayin’ how they should send him straight to his room for all the trouble he’s been the cause of." Sam looked smug and Merry’s mouth dropped open. "Didn’t know I knew about them notes, did you, Merry?"

Merry recovered himself and chuckled. "Nothing at all about you should surprise me any longer, Sam."

"Well," said Pippin, "It really was a fair question, our good cousin. You did accept the office, albeit temporarily, but it does put you in charge, Frodo."

Frodo sighed. He didn’t know what he had expected they would find when they returned to the Shire, but it most assuredly had not been anything like the fear and destruction that was all about them. They had just released hobbits who had been imprisoned by invaders and behind them rode those who remained of the small army of Tooks Pippin brought to fight at the Battle of Bywater. They passed the occasional burned out field, demolished hobbit-holes, torn-down houses and farm buildings. There were closed-down boarded-up businesses along with the ugly huts and housing the Ruffians had built marring the towns and defacing the countryside. Frodo really hadn’t been ready for this.

"Yes. Yes it does put me in charge, Pip. But I’ve learned well through all we’ve seen and done that hurried decisions often are poor decisions." He gazed ahead along the Great East Road for a few moments. "We’ll stay at the Great Road Tavern as we did on our way here. We won’t be back to Hobbiton, well, to the Cotton’s farm, until evening tomorrow. If it is alright with you . . . actually even if it isn’t, I will have things sorted out in my head and a decision made to be presented to all concerned the morning following our return to the Cotton’s."

"Well said, Frodo, well said! Didn’t he say that all very Mayorally, Merry?" Pippin turned a bright, cheery face to his first cousin.

"Indeed! Very Mayorally indeed. What do you think, Sam?"

Sam grinned at Merry. "Most Mayorally! One might think he’d experience with such things."

"Alright, alright," Frodo grinned as he shook his head. "Enough, the lot of you. If you expect reasonably thought out plans you will need to let me think in peace."

"As you wish, your Deputy Mayorship!"

"You speak, Your Honor, and we obey!"

The Knight of Rohan and the Knight of Gondor laughed as they both avoided the Deputy Mayor of the Shire’s attempts at smacking their heads before riding back to join the band of Tooks. The Mayor and his dear friend rode on at the head of the group, chatting quietly together.

*************************************************

The Thain of the Shire, Paladin Took, was given the task of clearing the remaining Ruffians out of the South Farthing. They knew the Tooks had defended their lands when the Occupation had begun. They knew the Tooks had fought at the Battle of Bywater. They did not really care to find out what the Thain and his Tooks would do to them now. Most of the Ruffians in the South Farthing fled the Shire having few encounters with the angry, capable Tooks.

Merry and Pippin headed west, organizing troops of hobbits in every town of the West Farthing. Strict instructions were given to the bands:

Do not shoot, stone, or bring weapons to bear unless you are threatened; Do not hurt any Ruffian who lays down his weapons;

Do not take any prisoners (We want them out of the Shire.) but escort all Ruffians firmly to our borders.

The two knights had little trouble raising troops, they inspired all the hobbits they spoke to. With their stature, their uniforms as well as their hearty personalities, they gave hope and confidence where it had all been stripped away. Merry, Pippin and Company would bring a few barrels of ale into town, (They had found a sizeable hoard at the Great Road Tavern.) re-open the taverns and inns (if they hadn’t been already) then have a celebration with the townsfolk. They would tell a few tales of their journey, tell the story of the Battle of Bywater, jest, dance, sing . . . and recruit a troop of hobbits. The next day, the two soldiers would lead the new troop out on their first few forays before the Company would take their leave to move onto the next town. In this fashion they quickly had several armed, orderly bands of hobbits hunting down Ruffians in each Farthing of the Shire. Before the New Year had come, the Shire and Buckland had been cleansed of outsiders.

Merry and Pippin had planned the trip through the Sire and Buckland so they ended up in Buckland, riding back northward from Haysend to Crickhollow. Before they had left the Cotton’s farm, Frodo had drawn the two of them aside.

"I’ve looked over your plans, Merry. Everything is well conceived and orderly. Are you sure Pippin can handle that?" Frodo winked at Merry as he got the anticipated rise out of his younger cousin.

"And exactly what is that supposed to mean, Frodo? I’ve proven myself competent more than . . ."

". . . once," Frodo laughed as he boxed Pippin in the arm just above his elbow, now the easier place to reach as opposed to the tall lad’s shoulder. "And I still know exactly how to rile you, ‘little’ cousin. With that said, you two be careful and . . . I’ve a small surprise for you both."

Brandybuck and Took both smiled and raised their eyebrows in a questioning manner.

"I’m thinking that you may want to be a bit more your own hobbits. I know, though I missed Bilbo terribly, I rather enjoyed having a home of my own, being my own master. Merry, you’re of age anyway and Pippin, you haven’t grown in height alone. So I am giving the two of you Crickhollow."

There was silence for a moment.

"A house! You’re just giving us a house?" the cousins said in unison.

"Why not?" Frodo smiled broadly. "Bilbo just gave Bag End to me when he left. Sam and I have discussed it, well, more that Sam sat me down and told me in no uncertain terms that Bag End will be completely refurbished. It’s to be done up as nearly like it used to be as is possible, he said, so that I may have my home, in the Shire, in Hobbiton where I belong." Frodo blushed a little. "I couldn’t say no, unless I had wanted to spend the rest of my days with Sam lecturing me. So you see, I’ve no need for the house, therefore I am giving it to my favorite cousins."

There was a great deal of thanking, of hugging and backslapping, of warnings to be careful and of hearty encouragements, then the two knights mounted up to lead their small company off down the Great East Road. What they did not hear, what they did not see was the sudden look of sadness and concern that swept across Frodo’s face as he whispered, "I’ve a feeling, my dearest cousins, that you will be needing a place to find some solitude and solace. May Crickhollow be a balm for you both."

*********************************************

Merry and Pippin quickly settled into their new home. Frodo had sent word to the Hall and Great Smials to have the younger hobbit’s belongings moved to Crickhollow, then he, Sam and Rosie Cotton took a few days away from the bustle of the recovery work in Hobbiton to see to setting up the house for its new occupants. It had instantly felt like home to the cousins when they arrived there at the end of their tour of duty around the Shire.

It was about a week later, maybe a bit more, when Merry noticed Pippin had disappeared sometime after afternoon tea. He searched the house, then he threw on his Elven cloak to head outside and look around the grounds. The sun was getting near to setting on the mid-winter’s day as Merry looked around, repeatedly calling for his cousin. It was when he turned toward the stable that he saw a ladder propped against the large chestnut tree.

"I’ve been hollering after you, Pip. Have you gone deaf?" Merry looked up to see Pippin lounging on a sturdy branch, back against the tree’s trunk, about ten feet off the ground. Pippin didn’t respond. "Pip? You haven’t gone and died up there, have you? If you have, I shall just push your carcass off that branch and let it land as it will."

"Huh? What was that, Merry? You pushed an ass to a ranch and let it have swill? Isn’t swill for pigs, Merry?"

Merry decided not to try correcting Pippin’s gross misunderstanding. "What are you doing up there?"

"Looking."

Merry waited a few moments for any further comments, but none were forthcoming. "Looking at what?"

"Pardon, Merry?" Pippin had yet to look at his cousin. He sounded lost in thought. "Oh! Looking at what, you asked. Eh, I’m . . . I . . . I don’t really . . . don’t think I’m looking at anything. I’m just . . . looking. Looking toward Gondor, which means I’m also somewhat looking at most everywhere we traveled." Pippin paused and finally looked down at Merry. "Well, obviously not looking at everywhere we went as it is all too far away to see. But you know what I mean, in my head I’m seeing it all. Come up and sit with me, Merry. There’s another good thick branch near to the one I’m on."

Merry wasn’t exactly wanting to sit in the large chestnut and have a chat, but he knew that for some reason his cousin needed to be up there just now. He cautiously climbed the ladder and sat himself on the branch Pippin indicated. Nothing was said as Pippin resumed his staring into the distance through a gap in the branches.

"We didn’t understand."

"Didn’t understand what, Pip?"

"We cried with them. We hugged them and worked beside them, then cried some more, but we didn’t really understand."

"Which ‘them’ are you talking about, Pippin? The hobbits we just finished helping to clear out the Ruffians?"

"No." Pippin sighed deeply then looked at Merry. "No the men and women of Gondor and the men and women of Rohan. We didn’t understand. I mean, we thought we did. We thought we understood how it hurt them. But don’t you see, Merry? The whole time we thought our own home was all safe and as we had left it." He turned back to the gap in the branches. "I can only hope we didn’t come off as being smug. ‘Sorry your homes are ruined. Shame you don’t live in the Shire, ‘tis all green and beautiful there.’ " Merry heard his cousin catch a quick little breath and then sniff.

"I . . . I don’t think we did that, Pip, but I do see what you are getting at. It is different when it’s your home that is lying in ruins." Merry added his own distant stare to that of his cousin. "I never once thought we would come home to anything like this. I mean we knew the . . ." He stopped as a flood of evil memories washed through him. He took a few deep breaths then went on, his voice a little less steady than before. "We knew the Black Riders had been in the Shire. We knew they had ransacked this very house. But we also figured on them leaving as soon as they knew the Ring was gone. We didn’t think there would be any more trouble."

"Yes."

They sat in silence for a while. Pippin had known a bit of what was happening, but all he had *seen* was in Buckland. Buckland, perched as it was on the edge of the Shire, nearest to Bree where there were Men, had more often seen trouble than the Shire. In Buckland the hobbits routinely locked their doors at night. But even with that, Pippin had not had a glimmer of knowing how thoroughly the Ruffians had overrun both Buckland and the Shire.

"They were afraid of us, Merry. Did you notice? Did you see it?"

"Who was, Pippin?"

"The hobbits, Merry, the hobbits. It was a good thing we had our small Company with us, yet even then, I think most of them thought we were fancy dressed Ruffians. We are so tall now. We didn’t look like hobbits, Merry."

"I don’t think you’re right on this, Pip. They were glad to see us. Everyone welcomed us with open hearts and homes."

"Yes, after we spoke for a bit. After they heard the accents of a Took and a Bucklander. After they saw we were bringing food and beer instead of taking it away. I notice things, Merry, when you think I’m off dreaming. I saw frightened eyes peering at us from behind curtains at the windows. Didn’t you notice that everywhere we went, the mothers hid their little ones behind their skirts? Hobbits, afraid in the very heart of the Shire."

Merry looked at Pippin. In the deepening gloom of evening, though looking only at his profile, Merry could see the shine of tears on Pippin’s cheek. He could feel the warm dampness of tears on his own cheeks. "You do notice things. I’m sorry, I always assumed that you were lost in your own thoughts. I hadn’t noticed at the time, but now that you mention it, yes, you are right. I vaguely remember the peering eyes at the windows and the lads and lasses peeking out from behind skirts."

"I saw a lot of it in Minas Tirith and the little villages of Rohan. Before they would see us, us halflings, before they would know who it was approaching them, I saw that same fear." Pippin wiped a sleeve across his eyes, wasn’t happy with the results and used part of his Elven cloak to wipe his face. "We didn’t understand, Merry, but now, now we do and I feel as though I should go off on my pony at a full run yelling my apologies to everyone I see all the way to Gondor. To jump off and run up to them, throw myself at their feet and beg them to forgive me, because I didn’t know. It is different when it is your home, when it is you own people who have suffered and are filled with fear."

Again the two knights, sworn to the service of far away kings, sat in silence. The sun finished her setting and the moon rose to take her place. They grew chilled but it was not time to break the moment.

"I understand the hatred, Merry," Pippin whispered as though he feared being overheard. "I wanted to hurt those Ruffians, whether they threatened me or not. Sometimes I did find myself day dreaming, thinking about chasing them down and killing them. Killing them from behind as they ran for their lives. One for each frightened pair of hobbit eyes, for each wary mother, for each little one hiding behind their mummy’s skirt. One for each prisoner and each person made to live in those horrid shacks, for the ones that living in those shacks turned to dying in them." Merry felt Pippin shiver knowing it was from much more than the cold night air. Still, they did not move.

"That isn’t right though." Pippin sighed then looked at his cousin by the moon light. "I gave them my anger when they threatened, when they refused to move, when they jeered and mocked us. Face to face as a true soldier should. But . . . "

"You wanted the other." Merry saw Pippin’s hair shine in the moonlight as he nodded his head. "I wanted it too."

"What should we do, Merry?" As he so easily seemed to do, Pippin sounded young and small.

"Well," said Merry after a lengthy pause. "I think we should pack ourselves up and go round to the towns again. We should see how things are coming along, help out where we can. Just me and you, Pip. They know who we are now so they won’t be afraid of us. We’ll laugh and sing in the inns and taverns, we’ll tell jokes as we work beside them. They will come to know our livery as representing good in the world so that someday when Strider, I’m mean King Elessar, comes to his northern realm they will welcome him. They will know that he, as well as those who serve him as High King as King Eomer does, are good and honorable men. We will help to heal all the hurts we can, Pippin."

"I think I’ll write to Strider to tell him what I’ve learned. You know, apologize to him and the people of Gondor for my lack of understanding. Faramir too. I want them to know that now we understand a bit better the long suffering of their people."

They stretched their stiff limbs, climbed off the tree’s limbs then down the ladder. Without a word between them they stopped at the same time and looked at Crickhollow in the moonlight.

"Frodo knew, Pip."

"Aye. We have this place to come when it is our hurts that need healing."

"Aye indeed. Smart hobbit, our cousin," Merry said as they walked into the warmth and light of their home.

 




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