Believe Me by Pearl Took

[Reviews - 0]
Table of Contents
Printer Friendly: Printer
- Text Size +

Jump to

 

Concerning Merry’s Gifts

It was the autumn of the year 1408 SR, far from a usual year in Buckland. Rorimac “Goldfather” Brandybuck had passed away earlier in the year and his son, Saradoc, now held the title Master of Buckland. Changing Masters never made for a calm year in Buckland. There were always adjustments to make in how the country would be run and in how Brandy Hall would be run, all while mourning the former Master then celebrating the new Master. Saradoc had not yet acquired his moniker of “Scattergold” but it was well know in Buckland that Saradoc was a generous hobbit. It was also well known that it was “Like the Father, Like the Son” with Merry Brandybuck being known as liberal with his brass without being a spendthrift. So far the breaking in of the new Master and the breaking in of the hobbits of Buckland had proceeded smoothly.

“Wait till you see the birthday presents I’m giving this year, Pippin! They’re quite grand.” Merry was nearly popping the buttons off his waistcoat as he spoke. “I bought many of them in Bree, some of which are from distant lands we heard about in old Cousin Bilbo’s tales. I even made a few really special ones myself. I don’t want anyone to be thinking I’m a stingy Brandybuck.” Merry paused and his eyes held a warm glow. “I want to be like my Father.” Merry had been looking forward to this birthday, even though he sorely missed his Grandfather. With his Father’s new position in Buckland, Merry had been allowed to purchase gifts that were a bit nicer than usual.

“No one could possibly think you are stingy, Merry. Not if they ever spend time at The Wood and River, or The Green Dragon.” Pippin narrowed his eyes in concentration at the chess pieces on the board. Merry was one game up on him and Pippin couldn’t let it become two as that would be too large a gap to make up. His left hand wandered up to the open neck of his shirt, fingers wiggling as though looking for something to grab onto, while his right hand hovered over his various chessmen. “Quit trying to distract me with all this talk about gifts, Merry. ‘Tis completely unfair since you know I’m nearly dying of curiosity about mine.” Pippin finally nudged a pawn forward.

The Tooks had arrived the day before. Eighteen year old Pippin and the nearly 26 year old Merry had started playing chess to keep their minds off of Merry’s party, though it hadn’t worked all that well. Today, Merry’s birthday, there had been a lull in the festivities as many of the younger hobbits, and many of the older hobbits as well, had taken naps. The two first cousins had once more sought out the chessboard.

“Merry,” Saradoc called out as he entered the parlor. Both lads looked up in reply. “I had the feeling this is where you were hiding.” The Master of Buckland had a grin on his face as he looked over the pieces on the board. “He has you in two moves, Merry. Just as well for you I’m pulling you away. It’s nearly time for the gift giving, you need to fetch them out.”

“Drat it!” Pippin exclaimed. “Wouldn’t you know, I’m about to bring us even again and you get to leave before we finish.”

“The game goes to you, Pip,” Merry chuckled as he ruffled Pippin’s hair. “I’ll see you in about fifteen minutes in the ballroom.”

“More like thirty,” Pippin replied, grinning as he patted his hair back down. “I know you Merry. You are always short on figuring the time you take to do things.” Pippin looked around the room. “Hoy, Fredegar! Are you in the mood to be trounced at chess?”

Fredegar and Pippin had barely started their game when the parlor doors banged back against the walls. The chess players jumped and looked up to see Saradoc, Pippin’s father, Paladin and Merry striding rapidly toward the table.

“Peregin Took, how could you do such a thing!”

Pippin shrank back against the wall, cowering at the look and sound of his favorite uncle.

“If this is one of your pranks, Peregrin, it is not funny.” His father’s voice was low and menacing. The two adults loomed over the seated Pippin. Merry stood just a bit back from his father and uncle, not saying a word but wearing a dreadful scowl.

“I . . . I haven’t . . .” Pippin swallowed and tried again as his eyes flicked from one furious adult to the other. “I’ve not pulled any pranks.”

“Then what is the meaning of this!” Saradoc demanded and thrust Pippin’s scarf under the lad’s nose.

“It was on the floor in the cupboard,” Merry said quietly as he struggled to hold his emotions in check. “And you, you’re the only one besides Mum and Da who know that’s where I always hide gifts. You’re the only one besides them who knows where I hide the key. And now they’re all gone.”

Pippin’s eyes had grown huge. He started to sweat, yet felt cold inside. “I haven’t seen my scarf since yesterday,” he whispered.

“Yes,” Saradoc growled. “When you lost it whilst making off with all of Merry’s gifts. Where are they? Admit what you’ve done, return them now and things won’t go quite so badly for you.”

“I took it off . . .” Pippin swallowed hard again. He was pale and trembling. “I took it off to go take my . . . my bath last evening before supper. I . . .“ he took a gasping breath, gulped down air from his dry mouth and went on. “It wasn’t there when I got back to Merry’s and my room. I looked all over for it. I didn’t take the gifts. I . . .”

“You didn’t tell anyone?” Paladin interrupted. “You lose something as special to you as your scarf and you don’t say a word about it to any of us? I don’t believe you, Peregrin Took, not one word. Where did you put Merry’s gifts?”

“You were all happy, talking about the party and all, enjoying a good supper. I’m not a . . . a faunt or something . . . I can go without it for a bit . I, well, I thought if . . . if it didn’t turn up today that, well . . . that it could wait till after. Until after today . . . after all the fun and such.” Pippin finally drew a breath. His accusers could barely hear him now. “I didn’t take them. I didn’t take your gifts, Merry.”

Saradoc and Paladin looked at each other. “He is your son,” Saradoc finally said. “You decide what to do with him. Come, Merry.” Saradoc pushed Pippin’s scarf into Paladin’s hands then he and his son strode from the room.

Paladin glared down at his son. “To your room. Now. I will deal with you later when I’m able to think properly. I’m too angry just yet. Go!” Pippin, confused and dispirited, slunk away to Merry’s room, where he always stayed when he came to visit.

Pippin sat cross legged on his bed, muttering to himself. He had been informed that he was not to leave his room, except to use the privy and then he would be escorted. His Mother brought him a small, though excellent, dinner, but he had eaten it alone. Pippin’s head popped up as the door to the bedroom opened.

“Merry!” The grin on Pip’s face faded fast as Merry went straight to his wardrobe without replying.

“Merry?”

Merry kept his back to his cousin as he took his nightshirt, dressing gown, and a set of fresh clothes from the wardrobe.

“Merry, don’t do this. Don’t not talk to me.” Pippin’s voice sounded small and sad, younger than his eighteen years. Merry sighed and his shoulders relaxed a bit as he turned around.

“I’ve nothing to say to you, Pippin. I know I’ve taught you most of what you know about pulling off a prank, but this . . .”

“You don’t believe me either!” Pippin’s sad expression turned to one of shock. “You don’t believe me. I didn’t take them Merry, I didn’t. You have to believe me.”

Merry closed his eyes. “I don’t know what to believe, Pip. Everything points to you, yet . . .” Merry paused and sighed. He opened his eyes to look intently at his best friend. “And yet you usually admit to everything when you get caught.” With another sigh Merry lowered his gaze and shook his head. “I ended up looking the fool, Pippin. The little ones were so disappointed and it was just awful.”

“I’m sorry Merry, I’m really sorry. But I really, truly didn’t take the gifts. I didn’t.”

Merry turned and walked to the door. He stopped and spoke without turning around. “I want to believe you, Pip, but I just don’t know. You knew, Pippin, you knew where everything was hidden and your scarf . . . as Uncle Paladin pointed out it seems very odd that you didn’t even tell me you had lost it. For right now I’m hurt, embarrassed and confused and I don’t want to be around you just yet so I’m sleeping in a guest room. Good night, Pippin.” Tears ran down Pippin’s face as Merry went out the door, shutting it softly behind him.

Pippin had not quite finished crying when his father came into the room. Paladin looked tired, but his eyes held a steely resolve.

“Hullo, Father,” the lad sniffed. “I didn’t do it.”

“You are holding to that?”

Pippin used the blanket to wipe his face then nodded. “Yes.”

Paladin crossed his arms and began pacing. He had managed to calm down, but he could tell he could easily become too angry again. Perhaps, he thought, if he didn’t look at his son he could stay calm. “You are making this most difficult, Pippin. Your Mother, sisters and your Aunt have all agreed that there appears to be no other explanation,” the elder Took said after a few silent moments. “Do you deny that you knew where Merry hides his gifts each year?”

“No. He showed me the cupboard when I was ten.”

“Do you deny knowing where he kept the key?”

“No. I knew where he kept the key as well, but Father . . .”

“Do you,” Paladin said a bit louder to interrupt his son’s protests, “Do you mean to insinuate falsehoods on the part of your Uncle, Cousin and myself in regards to finding your scarf in the cupboard?” At this, Paladin held out the scarf for Pippin to see.

“No, no. But Father . . . “ something in Pippin suddenly rose up in anger. He could feel it burning his chest, tightening his throat. “I don’t lie to you!” Pippin yelled. “You should know that. You should know I always admit I’ve done wrong when I’m caught. You should know that. You should believe me. I didn’t do this!”

“Peregrin Took, I will not have you yelling at me in this manner!”

“Why not! You don’t believe me! And, and . . . and you’ve not been spending much time with me lately. And you’ve been acting oddly and . . .” Pippin drew in a sharp breath, his rage and his fears at full force, “you obviously don’t want me anymore. None of you want me and none of you love me; so why don’t you just say so instead of calling me a liar!”

“That is more than enough, young hobbit!” Paladin yelled in return, then catching hold of his anger and hurt, he finished in terse but more normal tone. “It is increasingly obvious to me that you are hiding the truth. This outburst leaves me in no doubt but that you either stole the gifts yourself or were somehow involved in their theft. You will stay in this room the remainder of our visit, which I refuse to cut short just because of you.” Paladin threw Pippin’s scarf to the floor before walking stiffly out of the room, shutting the door firmly behind him. Out in the tunnel he slouched against the door, his face in his hands. His thoughts and feelings were flying about in his head like a foreboding flock of crows. What was happening with his dear son? What was happening to himself?

Pippin sat on the bed shaking with rage. He picked up the pillow and punched it, punching until the seam split and its feathers spilled out. His anger spilled out with the white down. Pippin felt empty and more alone than he ever had in his short life. What was wrong? Why had everyone he loved turned against him? A short, sharp shiver ran through him as he raised his head and his gaze fell upon the bedroom’s lone window.

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

The World Out of the Window

The stars shown bright in a blue-black velvet sky, the grass was cool, the earth damp, its fragrance conjuring thoughts of great mysteries. Mysteries of the ages that Middle-earth had seen. Mysteries just waiting to be discovered. A lone figure scurried across an open field heading for the tall grass and brush of a hedgerow. Pippin ducked beneath the low branches of lilacs and hazel . He breathed a sigh of relief. He was well away from Brandy Hall but he still feared being seen.

This, Pippin decided, was what he was meant for. Adventure. Travel. Perhaps even daring deeds. He was heading south, mostly because he rarely went that direction in his rambles with Merry. Merry always said the land became too soggy and too full of bugs to the south. When they looked for him, Pippin figured they would head north and west. A burst of emotion caught in his throat. If they looked for him at all. Would they start looking when morning came and he wasn’t there? Would Merry even miss him? The moment, with its thoughts, passed. He tossed his head, he held his chin high. “Ha!” Pippin said aloud. “Good for him if he does. It’s his loss. It’s all of their loss. I’m an adventurer now and I shall be too busy to bother about the lot of them.” His cheeks were flushed from the chill of the night and the rushing of his blood within him. This was what being a Took was all about! He walked in the tall autumn-dried reeds edging the Brandywine. His plan was to follow the river, keeping it on his right so as to keep him on his southward course.

Eventually, in the dark hours of the morning, Pippin stopped at a tree with a hollow trunk. He had not eaten his supper when the maid brought it to his room, but had wrapped it in Merry’s handkerchiefs and packed it all in his knapsack along with a few changes of clothes. He ate some of the cold roast beef, cold cooked carrots, bread and cold custard tart (which hadn’t packed well and was rather a mess). He ate as little as he could. He didn’t know when or where he would find more food. Pippin wrapped himself in his cloak and blanket then lay down to sleep in the shelter of the hollow tree. As he started to drift off, his hand dug about in his knapsack pulling out his scarf, which he then wadded up under his head.

At first breakfast the private quarters of the Master of the Hall rang with the wailing of Eglantine Took; Pippin was gone. His mother was put to bed and given something to quiet her. His Aunt Esme, Uncle Saradoc, his Father, his sisters and Merry decided to first do a thorough search of Brandy Hall. The few servants they enlisted to help were sworn to secrecy. Since Pippin had been confined to his room anyway, it made it easy to not alert the entire household to his having gone missing. They didn’t want panic to interfere with the search. But Merry wondered, would they find Pippin? It wouldn’t be hard for his cousin to move about the huge smial and avoid the searchers as Pippin knew the dwelling well. And there was another possibility. Merry went to his room, he forced his eyes to not linger on Pippin’s empty bed but set his worried gaze on the window.

Pippin was feeling as bright as the morning. He had not been able to stop himself from eating the rest of the food he had brought with him from the Hall, but he wasn’t worried. “I’m a Took,” he said aloud to a squirrel in a tree, “and Tooks are adventurers and adventurers can take care of themselves. I’ll just do as you and the deer and such do. I’ll eat berries and nuts, I’ll drink water from clear streams and I shall be fine.” Pippin whistled as he went on his way.

A town soon appeared a short way away to the east. Pip’s stomach rumbled. He looked at the sun, remembered to work in that it was autumn, then decided that surely he had missed second breakfast and it was getting onto elevenses. He turned east, heading into the village.

Pippin wandered from shop to shop, trying his best to look as though he belonged there. At least he knew where he was: Standelf.. He had seen the Standelf Apothecary (not much of interest in there) and the Standelf Bakery (a great deal to interest him in their window). He had brought no money with him. There was no need for it at the Hall so his parents gave him funds only when he and Merry were headed off for Bucklebury. Pippin swallowed the saliva that flooded his mouth at the sight and smell of the bakery. His stomach was actually starting to ache from hunger. By now it was time for luncheon, he needed to eat. He wandered about a bit more then found a secluded spot between two buildings to sit and think.

“This isn’t a place I know well,” he thought to himself. “I don’t know where the good cooks live, nor the lay of the land. Not the best for trying to lift things.” Pippin sighed as his stomach grumbled once more. He sat for a bit with his head resting on his knees until an idea came to him. With a grin on his face and a sparkle in his eyes, Pippin headed off to find Standelf’s tavern or inn.

The Misty Night Inn was a homey place with patrons at its tables most any time of the day and evening. They served a good ale and a fine board of solid hobbit fare. This particular day, the Misty Night also had an entertainer. No one had really noticed when the small lad with the golden brown hair had come in, but they all noticed when he started to sing. Quietly at first, as though to himself, but as the fair voice caught the patron’s ears he was soon asked to sing louder. He had an odd manner of speech that added a lilt to his comic songs as well as a deeper touch of melancholy to the ballads he sang. As it is hard work to sing so long a time, it was only right for those who requested and enjoyed the songs to buy the lad some food and ginger beer. By the end of the day Pippin was as well provided for as he ever would have been at the Hall.

Mat Buckthorne, proprietor of the Misty Night, looked down at the lad who had introduced himself as Falco Banks. “Well, it’s easy tellin’ you aren’t from here abouts. Have ye a place to be sleeping, lad?”

“No sir,” Pippin, alias Falco, replied.

“That be a bit odd, lad. You’ve no folks here abouts?”

“No.”

“No kin at all, Falco?”

Pippin swallowed hard. This was a true test of his determination to make it as an adventurer, to survive on his own. “No, sir. I’ve no one, Mr. Buckthorne. I’ve been sleeping in hollow trees and small caves and such.”

Tears came to old Mat’s eyes as he patted the lad on his shoulder. “Now that is a right shame and pity, Falco. A right shame and pity. Every soul aught have someone to call their own.” Mat sighed and rubbed at his eyes. “I can’t be givin ye a room, but I’ll make ye up a bit of a bed in yonder corner by the big hearth. Ye’ll be warm and snug there.”

“Thank you, sir! I’m most grateful to you.”

The innkeeper walked away to get the bedding, thinking that he now understood the sad quality the lad brought to the ballads he sang. Pippin stood there feeling relieved that his lie had been believed. Pippin stood there feeling guilty that he had lied.

Paladin Took sat down with a weary sigh beside his wife on the small sofa in the guestrooms they used whenever they stayed at Brandy Hall. Lanti was still rather pale but she had eaten a good dinner. The fast clicking of her knitting needles showed the anxiousness she was feeling.

“We’ve barely made a dent in the amount of searching we need to do, m’dear.” Paladin put an arm about her shoulders but her needles kept their rythym. “As best we can, without attracting too much attention, we are setting watchers on halls and tunnels leading to kitchens or pantries. Pippin should be spotted if he tries to get any food.”

“I don’t understand this concern over, ‘attracting too much attention,’ Paladin.” Lanti spoke without looking up from her work. “Our son is gone and you care about attention and gossip?”

“No! Rather I fear everyone running about in confusion and Pippin being able to stay hidden longer because of everyone moving about so much. He’s a clever lad and he’ll use every advantage he can.”

“But . . .” Eglantine at last put down her knitting and looked at her husband. “What if he went elsewhere? What if he went outside? What are you doing if he has run away instead of hiding?”

Her husband ran his hand through his dusty hair. Paladin had wondered this himself while searching through abandoned rooms, rarely used storerooms and dank musty smelling tunnels. “We can only hope he didn’t. He knows it is autumn, he knows the nights are cold, he knows there won’t be berries and such to find. No, I think he is just wanting to test us; just wanting to see if we love him enough to look for him.”

“I hope you are right,” Lanti said as Paladin drew her into a hug.

For the next few days the Misty Night Inn had slightly more patrons than usual as word spread that there was a young hobbit with a fair voice and a large number of songs he knew who was singing there. The patrons were generous, it wasn’t often that they got to hear someone new. Soon they were slipping coins into Falco’s pockets as well as buying his food and drink.

It was at the end of Pippin’s fourth evening at the inn that he decided it was time to move on. He wasn’t that far from Brandy Hall so it wouldn’t be long before news of the lad who was singing at the inn at Standelf reached the ears of the residents there. Waiting till Mr. Buckthorne and his family were asleep, Pippin wrote a note thanking them for their generosity, packed some bread left from that day (he knew fresh bread would be baked for the next day’s customers), cheese, some apples and pears into his pack then headed out the door. But word of the singer at the Misty Night came to ears other than those of prospective patrons. Pippin hadn’t gone far when he found himself surrounded by a group of hobbit lads.

“What,” said the largest of the lot as he took a solid stance a mere foot in front of Pippin, “leavin’ so soon? Have ye picked our dad’s pockets clean enough that ye are takin’ yer leave of us?”

“Aye,” a lad behind Pip spoke up, “and sneakin’ off at night. How much ye be stealin’ from old Mat that ye be sneakin’ off at night?”

The lads weren’t really a bad sort but several of them were from poor families, they had grown jealous of this lad, their own age or maybe even younger, who was getting fed and paid for something as simple as singing some songs.

At first Pippin was rather frightened but the accusation that he was stealing touched a tender spot. He hadn’t stolen Merry’s gifts and he hadn’t stolen from Mr. Buckthorne. “I’ve done nothing wrong. I just need to move on. Mr. Buckthorne told me I could help myself to anything in the kitchen if I woke up hungry during the night. I don’t think it makes any difference if I eat it there or take it with me.” Pippin was shaking. Though there was some fire in his eyes, he feared what these lads might do to him.

“Well listen to him!” The largest boy moved in a few inches closer to the small stranger. “All well spoke he be, an’ with some funny soundin’ way of sayin’ his words. ‘I’ve done nothing wrong.’” The tall lad did a fair, though obviously mocking, imitation of Pippin’s Tookish lilt. “Why don’t ye be going back to whereever it be ye came from?”

With that Pippin was knocked to the ground. Some of the local lads held him face down in the dirt while others rummaged through his knapsack. When they left, Pippin had lost his food, his money and his dignity. He lay there until he knew they were gone then slunk off down the road. He came to a small stream where he had a long drink of cold water before washing the dirt off his face. A bit further on Pip found a tree with a hollow under its roots. The lads of Standelf had left him his clothes, his blanket and one more thing . . . Pippin fell asleep with his scarf clutched tightly in his hands.

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

Home . . . Away From Home

The next day and the day after were ones Pippin would long remember. He woke the first day to clear skies of a cold blue color. There was nothing to eat. His stomach was not at all happy with its owner, protesting its condition more loudly and more frequently as the day progressed. He had tried approaching some farms with the intent of borrowing some vegetables from root cellars, but snarling, yapping dogs chased him off each time. Pippin did not get much sleep that night.

It rained the second day. Foggy, drizzly, misty, soggy rain. And no food. And more dogs at the farms. And an annoying persistently complaining stomach. In the gloom of late afternoon Pippin spied yet another farm off to the south-east. He came to a swaying stop, eyes fixed on the small holding. He was soaked through, he was hungry, he was tired; thoughts of running from yet more dogs held no appeal. But he was hungry. Hungry. He thought he had been hungry before in his short life but never, ever had it been this sort of hungry. He cautiously made his way closer to the farm.

Pippin was in amongst the tall, wet, dead grass along one of the farm’s fences when the dog showed up. One rather small young-looking dog. Pippin held his ground, the dog wasn’t barking and Pip was a very hungry hobbit. Closer, closer the wet dog came to the wet trespasser until they were nearly nose to nose. The pup quickly licked Pippin’s nose as its entire body started to wag.

“Oh! You’re a nice doggy then?” Pippin exhaled with relief as he patted and stroked the friendly animal. “You don’t mind me paying your master’s root cellar a visit? I’m awfully, awfully hungry, you see. I won’t take much. Just what I need. There’s a good lad, being quiet.” Pippin looked over the farmyard. “Now, if I can figure out where the root cellar is, I’ll be set.”

A few moments later, just as Pippin had decided he was going to have to risk creeping about the open areas of the farm, a hobbit lady, carrying a basket, came out of the low roofed house, heading for the far side of the barn. “Your mistress, eh?” Pip asked the dog as he silently made his way around the back of the barn until he could peer around the corner. “Root cellar!” the words came out loud in his excitement but the farmers wife was already in the cellar and couldn’t hear him. Pippin could hardly believe his good fortune; there was a large lilac bush, bare of leaves but thick of branches, blocking the view of the root cellar doors from the house’s single rear window. He would wait until after dark to make his move.

“A week, Esme! It’s been week, and not a sign of Pippin anywhere in this whole smial.” Eglantine Took was pacing rapidly back and forth in the guest quarter’s sittingroom.

“I know. It appears that Merry may have been right after all.”

Lanti stopped pacing to stare at her sister-in-law. “Merry? What has Merry said?”

“He told me yesterday . . . no, the day before, that he had a feeling Pippin had left the smial. That he had run away.” Esmeralda signed as she bowed her head. “He said he wondered about it from the start but that there was nothing to show he had. The day before yesterday, Merry discovered one of his old, torn cloaks was gone.”

“And the lad merely whispers it in passing to only his Mother?” Lanti’s temper was rising.

Esme stood and went to her sister. “Lanti, no. No it’s not that. Merry wore the cloak a few weeks ago when Pip was visiting. They went fishing and he wore the old cloak when they left in the morning. But the day turned warm and he can no longer remember if he wore it home. He didn’t want to raise false concerns.” Esme wrapped her arms around her only brother’s wife, hugging her tightly. “We knew they were near to finishing searching Brandy Hall. Merry is telling his Father and Paladin as we speak.”

“It’s gone colder and it’s wet out, Esme,” Eglantine said through her tears. “What if . . .” she sobbed a bit before speaking again. “What if he gets sick, Esme?”

“We will hope for the best, Lanti. We will hope for the best.”

“Mum! Auntie!” Merry burst into the room, a bit out of breath and red-cheeked from running. “You must come at once to Da’s office. Hurry!” He called out the last as he ran back out of the room.

An interesting tableau greeted the hobbitesses when they entered the Master of Buckland’s office. Saradoc sat behind his desk glaring at a lad who stood alone before him. Merry stood beside his Father. In the corner to the right of the desk, Saradoc’s secretary sat with paper on the desk before him and a quill in his hand. On the left of the room were Seredic Brandybuck, his wife Hilda with two of their three children, Doderic and Celandine. Seredic looked furious, Hilda looked haughty. The only movement in the room was Paladin who, as was usual with him whenever he was upset, paced vigorously before the large fireplace. It was he who broke the silence. He stopped pacing long enough to turn haunted eyes to his wife. With his voice raspy from his churning emotions he simply said, “Pippin was telling the truth.”

Seredic and his family sat down stiffly upon the sofa, Paladin resumed his pacing, Saradoc spoke to the lad before the desk. “We will hear your confession again, Ilberic Brandybuck, now that your parents, Peregrin’s parents, and my wife and son are present.” Saradoc nodded to his secretary who dipped his pen before placing it over the paper ready to write down all that was said from this point onwards.

Seredic’s middle child turned to look at his parents. Hilda smiled a leering smile as she gave her head a subtle approving nod. His father looked near to wanting to murder his son. “You’ll do as you are told, Ilberic,” Seredic snarled.

Ilberic turned back to Saradoc with his nose in the air. “I took your pathetic son’s pathetic gifts, I stole stupid Pippin’s stupid scarf. My Father should be Master and Doderic the heir, then me when Doddy dies. Mother has always said so and my Mother is the smartest person in this whole smial full of ignorant hobbits. She knows she’s been robbed, just like her Aunt Lobelia was robbed for so long by old Mad Baggins. But she won in the end and we will too. Mother says so.”

Merry started to move around the desk but his Father grabbed his arm. Merry jerked his arm free, turned his back on Ilberic and stared into the gloom outside the office window.

Saradoc looked at each adult hobbit in the room. “This was brought to my attention by Doderic Brandybuck. Doderic, stand before me and tell everyone present what you previously told me.”

Doderic stood and walked up to the desk, pointedly ignoring his younger brother. “Just awhile ago, in our quarters, I overheard my brother talking to our little sister. He was . . .”

“State your sister’s name, please,” Saradoc interrupted his young cousin.

With a glance at the secretary Doderic replied, “Celandine Brandybuck, sir. I heard my brother, Ilberic Brandybuck talking to her. What caught my ear was his saying Merry’s, ah, Meriadoc Brandybuck’s, name. With all that had happened on Merry’s birthday, I . . . well . . . I thought I might better listen, sir, though I know it isn’t really a good thing to eavesdrop, Master Saradoc.”

“And what did you hear Ilberic say, Doderic?”

“He was talking about the party and laughing about . . .” he paused and looked uncomfortable about going on.

“Say what you need to, lad,” Saradoc said in a gentle tone.

Doderic nodded then continued. “He was laughing about what an ass Merry had looked. Those were his words, sir. Then he asked Celandine if she would like to know what happened to Merry’s birthday gifts. I didn’t hear what she said but Ilberic then said, ‘I stole them! I stole every last one of them. A week before I saw him sticking something in this cupboard and locking it closed. I followed him to see where he hid the key.’ I really listened carefully after that, Master Saradoc. He, ah Ilberic that is, he then said that even better, he had managed to make every one think Pippin Took had stolen them. He said, ‘I stole that mangy scarf of his out of his bedroom while he went off to bathe, then I left it where the gifts had been hidden.’ And then, sir, he said, ‘And now that idiot Took has run off.’ He laughed long and hard at that, sir, before he went on with, ‘I made that stuffed shirt Merry looks as stupid and heartless as he really is and made him hate that brainless first cousin of his all in one perfect prank.’ Then he threatened Celandine with cutting all her hair off if she said anything to anyone, and he would do it, sir, as once before he threatened to dunk her head in ink if she told about something, and he did it. She was black clear down to her neck for nearly a week.”

Saradoc nodded. “And then, Doderic, what did you do?”

“Celly started crying, Ilberic laughed at her then stomped out of our quarters, sir. I went and helped Celly quit crying, she washed her face up a bit, then she and I came straight to you, Master Saradoc.”

“Thank you, Doderic. Celandine Brandybuck, step up beside your brother please.” The girl, obviously shaking all over, did as she was bid.

“Has Doderic given an accurate account of what happened awhile ago in your family’s quarters here at Brandy Hall?”

Celly nodded her head so hard that her dark red curls bounced. “Yes, sir. Don’t let Ilberic cut my hair off, sir. And sir, has Pippin really run away?” Celly had always had a crush on Pippin Took.

Saradoc looked to Paladin who came and knelt down beside the youngster. “Yes, Celly. Pippin is gone and we have yet to find him. But we will find him, dear. We will find him very soon.” Paladin brushed back some of the girl’s curls. “Thank you for being so worried about him, Celly.” Paladin got up and resumed his pacing.

Saradoc stood. “As Master of Buckland, also referred to as the Master of the Hall, it is my duty to pass down judgement in this matter.” He looked at the children before his desk. “Doderic Brandybuck, you are commended by the Master of Buckland for doing the right thing in bringing all of the aforementioned information immediately to my attention. This commendation shall be made known to all the inhabitants of Buckland. Please step back with your parents.” Saradoc waited as Doderic bowed, then returned to his Father’s side.

“Celandine Brandybuck.” Saradoc smiled warmly at the still shaking child. “If you are willfully injured or mistreated in anyway, your brother, Ilberic Brandybuck, will be assumed to be the perpetrator and will be appropriately punished. It will, therefore, be in his own best interest to look out for your welfare. You may return to your parents.” Celly now smiled at the Master of the Hall, curtsied, then ran to her father.

“Ilberic Brandybuck. As a member of the Brandybuck family, a resident of Brandy Hall and of Buckland, you come under my authority. You have brazenly admitted to the theft of the birthday gifts of one Meriadoc Brandybuck, and have shown no remorse over your deed. You have as boldly shown pride in your cunning to make it so the blame for your misdeeds would fall on an innocent party, one Peregrin Took. Again, there have been no signs of remorse forth coming. Have you anything more to say to me regarding these matters?”

Ilberic crossed his arms over his chest as he put his nose a bit higher in the air. “No. I’ve had my say. There’s nothing you can do to me, my Mother will raise a riot amongst the hobbits of Buckland and her family in the Shire. I’m not afraid of you.”

Saradoc nodded. “So be it. Ilberic Brandybuck. You are to be put into chambers in the Green Wing of Brandy Hall. They consist of a small sitting room and smaller bed-chamber. Your meals will be brought in and you will eat alone. When your meals are brought or your chambers attended to, there will always be two hobbits present, at least one of which will be a male hobbit who is of age according to our accepted reckoning.” Hilda (Bracegirdle) Brandybuck gasped aloud at this punishment of her child but was silenced by a steely look from Saradoc. “You will remain in these quarters until the return of Peregrin Took, for whose disappearance I hold you solely responsible.”

Hilda began wailing. Ilberic began wilting. Esmeralda escorted Hilda from the room. Ilberic had to remain where he stood. Saradoc continued.

“If Peregrin Took does . . .” Saradoc looked down. He placed his hands on his desk to steady himself. It was a few moments before he could go on. “If Peregrin Took does not return and is gone the legally assigned period of time to be considered dead . . .”

Now it was Eglantine who gasped. Paladin rushed to her side and guided her to a chair where he then put an arm protectively about her shoulders as she reached up to tightly clasp his hand.

“Or,” Saradoc continued, “if his body is found, you, Ilberic Brandybuck will be held guilty of his death and kept in the chambers of the Green Wing of Brandy Hall for the remainder of your life.”

Ilberic slumped to end up sitting on the floor. His Father and siblings had begun to cry.

“If Peregrin Took returns safe and sound, further consideration concerning the length of your isolation or other disciplinary measures will be taken care of at that time.” Saradoc looked sadly at Seredic.

“You may get your son. You will be escorted with him to his new chambers so that you will know where they are in order to deliver his belongings to him.” Saradoc gave a nod to his secretary who rose to help Seredic and his children leave the office. Saradoc tapped Merry on the shoulder. Together they went over to Pippin’s parents, they each fiercely hugged Paladin, kissed and hugged Eglantine, then left the Tooks to comfort each other in private.

Pippin was lounging upon feed sacks in the farm’s work shed. There was a small forge in the rather large shed. Pippin had noticed the smoking chimney and found the inside of the building to be warmer than it was outside. He had stripped off his wet clothes, being glad that he had thought to pack extras, and spread them about on things so they might dry. The clothes from his knapsack were damp but soon dried out as he had stood by the forge earlier. He was chilled and snifflely, but had thought to take the bottle of cold tonic Merry kept in their room. He had downed a dose that afternoon and had another while warming up by the small fire. The tonic usually worked well at keeping sniffles from becoming a nasty cold.

Pippin ate well, and the remains of his feast were resting atop his blanket on the floor beside him. A partially eaten round of cheese, carrot tops, burned skins from potatoes he had roasted over the small fire in the forge and, from a small ham, a few fatty scraps that even the pup hadn’t wanted. The dog was comfortably curled against his new friend’s side. A half eaten apple thudded softly to the floor as Pippin’s hand relaxed in sleep.

The troll was moving closer and closer. Peregrin Took, famous troll slayer, was ready for another day’s work. He thrust his trusty blade at the troll’s belly . . . but felt a sharp pain in his own shoulder!

Pippin stirred a bit and mumbled.

Another blow landed on the same shoulder. “G’wa, Mer,” Pippin muttered into his scarf.

A third blow and Pip’s eyes flew open to see a strange adult hobbit quickly flipping a pitchfork about so there were now three sharp tines pointing at his chest.

“No!” Pippin screamed as he backed away. He only went a few inches before he bumped up against a bag of grain behind him. “No! Don’t hurt me! Please, don’t hurt me.”

The farmer was doing his best to not laugh at the terrified youth whose eyes were huge in a face gone bloodless. He had no intention of using the fork, although he was plenty angry. “An’ why shouldn’ I hurt ya? Ya be nothin’ more’n a thief an’ a trespasser. By rights I can kill ya for it.” The small, rather thin lad was quivering with fear.

“No. No please.” The voice was now a choked whisper. “I . . . I was cold, sir, and hungry, sir, and I . . . meant no harm to you and yours, sir. Truly.”

“No harm? And just what ya be thinkin’ taken the food from our mouths be, lad, helpin’ us? No, ya be a thief, caught right n’ proper. I’ll have ya up afore the Master.”

The results of that comment were more dramatic than the farmer expected. The poor boy seemed near to dissolving in fear. “NO! No!” He was sweating and crying. “No, you can’t. No.” Then a light came into the shaking lads’ eyes. “I’ll work! I’ll work for you, sir. However much you think will equal what I ate. I can work, sir. I’ve done chores before, sir. I’ve mucked out, and milked and I’m rather good at cleaning tack and shining brasses. Let me work it off. Please, just don’t kill me or send me to the Hall.”

Tad Mudfoot stood the pitch fork upright on the floor, tine points down. “This here lad,” he thought, “is a right smart lad, thinkin’ fast like that.” He looked hard at the boy. ‘I think I’ll just be takin’ ya up on yer offer. Can always use a bit o’ help.” The small hobbit, as though he had been stuck with the fork tines, visibly deflated with relief. “What be yer name, lad?”

“Falco Banks, sir. At your service, sir. And your name?”

“Mr. Tad Mudfoot. Where ya be from, Falco? Ya don’t speak like no Bucklander I’ve ever heard.”

“South Farthing, Mr. Mudfoot.”

“An’ yer folks? Ya seem a bit young ta be wanderin’ ‘bout on yer own.”

Pippin/Falco swallowed hard. Here it was again. “You’re an adventurer,” his mind reminded him. “You take care of yourself.” But for a moment he saw his family with his heart’s eye, and they all looked terribly sad. Falco Banks closed his eyes. “I’m eighteen, sir, so I’m nearly a tween. As to my family, they are dead sir. My whole family, Mr. Mudfoot. I was away at a friend’s and the fever took them all. I didn’t much care for my friend’s parent’s ways with their children, and so I ran away. I’ve been taking care of myself.” The tears Pippin was crying were real. They weren’t dead. He actually missed them. He was usually an honest enough lad. He was feeling slightly sick at the stomach.

Tad had a strange feeling about this news. Somehow, it didn’t ring true yet he felt he’d best take the lad in. “Alright. If ya feel ya can be standin’ up on yer own, best get ta muckin’ out. The barrow be out the back o’ the barn next ta the manure pile. Start at the front end o’ the barn as that’s what the stock be used ta.” Tad drove the pitch fork into a bundle of straw and left the lad to his own devices. He would just see what kind of work the lad could do.

The search beyond the walls of Brandy Hall had begun. Merry went northwards with Berilac. Paladin went west along the river with Merimas. Saradoc went east with his brother Merimac to look along the High Hay and, if need be, inside the Old Forest. Eglantine and Esmeralda and Pippin’s sisters started fanning out from the huge smial going to every shop and home in Bucklebury and every nearby farm. They moved cautiously, telling everyone to not panic nor start running about like fools after Pippin. Merry had warned that such things wouldn’t escape Pippin’s attention for long and he would bolt from wherever he was. Other Brandy Hall residents were helping with the search in the woods and fields surrounding the Hall.

The day at Tad Mudfoot’s farm was drawing to a close. Falco had worked hard all day with nary a word of complaint. Tad fixed up a bit of a bed for the boy out of straw and a pony blanket. A space had been cleared at the workbench and the stool pulled up to it.

Tad walked into his tack room, the scents of saddle soap and neat’s-foot oil adding a warm pleasant smell to the air. Falco sat on the bench hard at work on the harness for the driving pony.

“That be enough for taday, Falco. Just leave it lie and you can get back at it after mornin’ chores on the morrow.”

“Tomorrow, Mr. Mudfoot?”

Tad walked over to the lad to sit beside him on the bench. “Aye. I figure another day to work off yer thievin’.”

“Yes, sir.” Falco had looked surprised but dared not complain.

“That’s a good lad,” Tad said, patting Falco on the shoulder. “I fixed up a bit for ya in the work shed. There be a bit o’ bed for ya and some supper on the work bench. I expect ya on time in the barn come morning.”

“Yes, sir, and good night to you, Mr. Mudfoot,” Falco called out as Tad walked out the tack room door into the barn. Pippin closed the can of saddle soap, put the cork in the bottle of neat’s-foot oil, emptied out the bucket of soapy water before heading off to his new room in the work shed. At least he wouldn’t be out in the damp and cold this night.

“The work shed!” Comfrey Mudfoot sighed a short exasperated sigh. “Ya put the lad in the work shed?”

“Aye. Figured that was where I found him, that be where he can stay.”

“And why not in the house? The lad be a hobbit, Tad, not a dog or cat nor some such thing.”

Tad grinned at his solidly built wife. He had to admit, she was beautiful when she had her blood up. “Speak of which; Rufus likes the lad. Was sleepin’ curled up with him this mornin’. And I built a good fire in the forge, he won’ be gettin’ chilled.”

“Tad Mudfoot, I care naught about Rufus. What of this lad? Why isn’t he . . .”

“Ya know why he’s not in the house,” Tad cut in. “And I’ll say no more on the matter.”

The Mudfoots looked at each other. Comfrey slowly nodded her head and sat down at the kitchen table.

“He be a right nice lad,” Tad continued. “Knows his manners, perhaps a bit to well. His folks raised him good afore they passed on. But, he gave me a good and fair day of work for all his havin’ such high ways ‘bout him. We’ll be seein’ how he does on ta morrow.”

An odd glimmer came to Comfrey’s eyes. “Ya be keepin’ him on then?”

Tad saw the look in his wife’s eyes and hesitated. “I’ll be givin’ it thought.”

Later that night, Comfrey stole quietly out to the work shed. She carried a thick hand-knit woolen blanket and a pillow with a flour-sacking cover on it. It wasn’t cold in the work shed, but it was not all that warm either. Falco lay curled up tight on his bed of blanket-covered straw, wrapped in a cloak and thin blanket. As she drew near, she noticed his hands were laid rather oddly by his face. She gasped softly then, dropping the blanket and pillow, ran back to the house. Comfrey soon returned with a small bucket of warm water, soap, salve and cloth strips.

“Ouch!” Pippin woke to a sharp pain in his right hand. By the light of a lantern, a lady he figured had to be Mrs. Mudfoot was poking and looking at his blisters.

“Sorry ta be wakin’ ya. I was bringin’ ya a warmer blanket and pillow for yer head an’ I caught sight o’ yer hands.” Comfrey looked into the lad’s green eyes. “Thought ya told my husband ya was used ta farm chores?”

“Ah, it’s been awhile since I’ve done much mucking out. Ouch!”

“Well, ya should o’ had the sense ta wear gloves if ya’ve done the job afore.” She smiled at Falco as she washed his hand.

“Well, I have done, when I’ve done the job in the past. I, ouch, I didn’t know where any were, and Mr. Mudfoot didn’t offer me any.”

“Ya ask him on ta morrow. He won’t be bitin’ yer head off for askin’ for gloves,” she said as she finished wrapping his right hand. “There! Better?”

“Yes, Ma’am. Thank you very much.” Falco smiled warmly and Comfrey thought Tad was right. This lad did seem to have a high-sounding way about him, yet he was open and likeable. She saw to his other hand before giving him the pillow and covering him with the woolen blanket. She nearly kissed his head as she tucked the blanket around him, but caught herself before she did.

“A good night ta ya, Falco.”

Soft breathing was the only reply.

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

The Truth

The Took guest quarters at Brandy Hall were filled with an uncomfortable quiet, as though the rooms themselves felt as empty and forlorn as their inhabitants. It had been nearly two weeks now since the night of Merry’s birthday . . . since Pippin had disappeared. There was some small comfort to be had in two matters. Peregrin Took’s body was not found in the Brandywine (part of why Paladin and not Merry had been sent to look along the river), and there really appeared to be no evidence of his going into the Old Forest (part of why Merry was not sent that direction either).

Eglantine sat with her feet and knees primly, tensely, together, looking at her hands in her lap. She was letting her husband speak. She had had her say several times since this horror began. Paladin was pacing as he spoke.

“I should not have let the family elders talk me into it all, Lanti. Whatever will I do when I’m actually, officially, The Took and Thain? I kept having to attend meetings, take care of other hobbit’s business affairs. Sometimes even personal matters, Lanti!” He stopped pacing as his hand went to his forehead to begin rubbing his scalp along the hairline. He sighed a weary sigh. “I know it will be easier when things can be handled openly, and not behind closed doors because the actual Took and Thain is only very ill, but not yet deceased. Easier too when we live at Great Smials instead of on the farm in Whitwell.”

Paladin sat down beside his wife, taking her hands in his. “And they forbad me to tell anyone one other than you. Pippin and Pervinca had no way of understanding why their Father was not spending as much time with them nor why I was often so preoccupied, even when I was at home.” Paladin shook his head. “The children weren’t even aware that I was nearly unable to come for Merry’s party.”

Paladin rested his head on Lanti’s shoulder. For several long minutes he said nothing. “Pippin yelled at me. He said he knew I didn’t want him any more because I had not been spending time with him as I used to and because I was acting oddly. He said that none of us wanted him, that we didn’t love him because we didn’t believe him.” Paladin clenched her hands tighter. “If I had not been so worn down from all the worries and intrigues of this past year, I think I wouldn’t have reacted so rashly. I . . . I might have been able to regain myself quicker and really thought things through. He was right, my dearest, we’ve not known him to be a liar. A prankster yes, but a liar . . . no, and that was a horrible thing to accuse our son of being. And now we know he was telling the truth. I won’t be able to bear it if he has left us for good thinking all the ones he has loved his whole life no longer love him nor want him.” He sighed deeply as he and his wife held each other. “I truly thought we would find him by now.”

Things had progressed nicely at the Mudfoot’s farm. Pippin learned they were near Haysend, which was as far south as one could go and still be in Buckland. As far as he could be from the Hall. Well, far from the Hall but still in Buckland. Pippin didn’t quite know why, but he did not wish to leave Buckland. He worked hard, but found he didn’t really mind it. Much of what he did was around the animals and like his Father, Pippin had a love of animals.

His Father. Now that was another matter all together. He missed his Father, yet he didn’t. He missed his Mother, his pesky sisters, he missed Merry. Yet he didn’t miss them. He liked Mr. and Mrs. Mudfoot a great deal. He liked that he was treated, not like a child, but as an employee, or perhaps a friend. He felt like the hired workers who had worked many years at his Father’s large holding in Whitwell, nearly a part of the family. And yet . . . this was not Whitwell and they weren’t Paladin and Eglantine Took, they weren’t really his.

Tad liked Falco. The lad was fitting in well. He did his work, did it as he was told to, and did it well, singing happily as he went about his tasks. He had pretty much decided that they would keep the boy. He had no home, no family; they had a home but no children. It seemed the right thing to do.

On Highday of the first full week that Falco was with them, Tad felt it would be alright to leave the farm for an evening at the Hay Wain Tavern in Haysend. It had been a while since he had gone, not wanting to leave Comfrey alone. Now, with Falco there, she wouldn’t be.

Comfrey sat in the kitchen by the open hearth. It had been a good evening. Falco had helped her roll up her yarn, singing several songs to her to help the time pass. They had talked. He had been to other parts of Buckland, and, of course, he had been raised in the Shire itself. He told her about the four farthings, about Hobbiton, Michel Delving and Tuckborough. Then he had excused himself, taking the lantern to go to the work shed. Comfrey sighed. At least Tad had built a bit of a box to hold the straw together for Falco’s bed, making it much more like a real bed. She smiled at the thought that it looked as though they were going to keep the lad.

The kitchen door opened with a gust of wind and was quickly shut behind Tad Mudfoot.

“Yer back sooner than I thought ya would be. Somethin’ wrong at the Wain?” Comfrey hadn’t like the look on her husband’s face when he looked over at her before turning around to remove his cloak and hang it on its hook by the door.

Tad pulled a chair from the table, placed it next to Comfrey’s rocking chair near the hearth, then sat down as though he was weary from a hard day. “Not wrong, Comfrey, but it be news ya need ta be hearin’.” He looked at her anxious face. He knew she had built her fragile hopes up, he hated to shatter them. Taking a deep breath he decided not to dress things up but simply tell her straight out. “It be no orphan lad sleepin’ in my work shed, Comfrey.”

“Is he a troublemaker, Tad? Ya did catch him thievin’, ” she cut in.

“Nay, naught like that. Let me finish, Comfrey.” He took another deep breath as he took her hands. “The lad be nephew ta the Master. He be Paladin Took’s heir and Paladin Took is next to be Took and Thain.”

“No,” Comfrey whispered.

“Aye. It ‘splains his good manners and his odd way of speakin’.” Comfrey’s head slowly lowered as Tad went on. “There were a hobbit, come down from the Hall, at the Wain this evenin’. He told how things be gettin’ bad at the Hall as the Master’s nephew went missin’ two weeks ago. That they searched the smial for a week then started searching the country side, but they were yet ta find a trace o’ the lad. He had come to Haysend after he heard tell o’ a lad, what might be the missin’ one, havin’ sung for his keep at the Misty Night Inn up in Standelf neigh ta a week ago. Then he took to tellin’ what the boy looks like an’ what he be sayin’ was our Falco. Small for his age, bit ta the thin side, gold-brown hair, sings right well an’ would speak odd ta our ears as he speaks with a Tookish way ta his words.” Comfrey’s hands gripped Tad’s tighter but she did not look up. “Then, then he goes an’ adds who the lad’s father be, an’ I tell ya, Comfrey, I near ta passed out! We could be in a right fix were the lad to say we hurt or misused him somehow.”

“What be his right name?” his wife whispered.

“He be Peregrin Took but called by Pippin. But, Comfrey. What matter is it what his name be! Did ya hear me lass? We could be in a right fix.”

Comfrey looked up with tear filled eyes, but Tad was surprised to also see in them a touch of her old strength and fire.

“There won’t be no troubles, Tad. Ya’ve worked with the lad, with Pippin, for a week and ya don’t know he wouldn’t make trouble for us?” She let go of Tad’s hands, rose from her rocker and got a lantern off of the mantle. Her hands were trembling as she lit a taper in the fire, lit the lantern, blew out the taper then started for the kitchen door. “I will see ta him,” she said as she closed the door behind herself. Tad knew better than to stop her.

“Pippin.”

Somewhere in the hazy realm of sleep and subtle dreams, he heard his name.

“Pippin.”

It came again. The voice seemed familiar. “G’way, Mum,” he mumbled, and the eyes that were looking at him grew teary.

“Per’grin Took!”

“Yes, Mum!”

The lad jerked awake, partially sitting up. Green eyes met brown ones for several seconds before Pippin slumped onto his back to stare up at the beams in the roof of the shed.

“So. That does be yer right name.”

“How did you find out?”

“There were a hobbit from the Hall at the Wain this evenin’, askin’ for any word o’ the Master’s missin’ kin. Tad said the hobbit lad they be lookin’ for sounded ta look just like you.” She paused. “Why?”

No answer.

“Are they mean ta ya? Do they hurt ya?”

“No!” Pippin’s reply was quick and sharp. He turned to look at Comfrey with a shocked expression on his face. “No, they are good parents. They don’t hurt me, they . . . “ memories of why he ran away started to surface. “They aren’t mean. Well, usually they aren’t.”

“Usually?”

Pippin quickly warmed to this chance to tell his side of what had happened on his cousin’s birthday. He rolled onto his side, propping himself up on his left elbow. “Yes. You see, ‘twas Merry’s birthday. Merry is my first cousin and my, well, he was my best friend, and he’s the Master of the Hall’s son. His Da just this year became Master when old Rory passed.” Pippin paused only long enough to catch a breath. “Well, Merry’s birthday gifts went missing and I know where he always hides them and where he keeps the key and somehow my scarf,” he pulled his scarf out from under his pillow, “was on the floor of the empty cupboard. Everyone thought I had taken them. Done it as a prank, you see, as I like pulling pranks. But I didn’t. I knew this was a special birthday for Merry, it being his first as son of Buckland’s new Master. I didn’t do it. My scarf had gone missing the day before and I didn’t tell anyone as I didn’t want to interrupt everyone’s good time, and so,” he took another breath, “and so they didn’t believe me. They didn’t believe me! I kept telling them I didn’t do it. I thought the loved me, but they . . . they . . .”

Tears started to well up in Pippin’s eyes before finding their paths down his cheeks. The sad look in his eyes tore at Comfrey. He reached out putting his hand on top of hers. “If you love someone, you believe them, don’t you?”

Pippin flopped back on his bed. “I’m rather surprised they are even bothering to look for me.”

Comfrey sat still a few more moments then stood, grabbing the lantern’s handle. “Ya get up and get yerself dressed. I’ll be waitin’ on ya outside the door.” She said nothing more as she left the shed.

They walked hand in hand a short way to the small family cemetery Pippin had noticed shortly after he had come to the farm. They walked until Comfrey stopped before three graves just to the right of a huge old chestnut tree. She held up the lantern.

“I know ya know yer letters, being as yer Pa is ta be next Thain. I know what each o’ these reads, though it be ‘cause I know it, not from readin’ the letters. Tad and I don’t know our letters. Read the letters aloud, Pippin.”

“Tad Mudfoot, age two years, four months, one week, four days. Taken by the Spotted Fever. Son of Tad and Comfrey Mudfoot.” Pippin paused. He sniffed and swallowed at the lump in his throat.

“Ya read right well,” Comfrey said softly. “Go on, read the next ones.”

“Infant Daughter, still born. Child of Tad and Comfrey Mudfoot.” Pippin was having trouble reading. The words wavered and blurred through his tears. He looked to the last marker. “Rob Mudfoot, age 17 years, seven months, three weeks, two days. Named for his Grandfather. Taken by an infection. Son of Tad and Comfrey Mudfoot.” Pippin sat with a muffled thud in the dried grass at the foot of the three graves. More gracefully, Comfrey sat down beside him.

“Rob,” she paused to control the trembling of her voice, “we lost our Rob lad just this past spring. I’ve been a right mess since.” She lifted her hand to run her fingers through Pippin’s curls. “This be why Tad kept ya out in the shed. He feared me startin’ ta see ya as Rob, though he were a good sized strappin’ lad.” She continued to comb through Pippin’s hair while he stared at her. She sighed. “He somehow got his foot cut by the plow gettin’ the north field ready for plantin’. It went septic. He . . . he faded away from us ten days later.”

Comfrey put her hand in her lap as she turned to look at the newest of the three graves. For a while, neither of them spoke.

“I didn’t always believe him. Most lads tell tall tales. Even ones as don’t normally lie can do so if they’ve the need.” She looked at Pippin who hung his head. “But I never, hear me good, I never quit lovin’ my son.” Comfrey was crying freely now, her voice cracking and halting with her tears. She looked at her son’s grave, not at the living hobbit youth who sat beside her. “Least I . . . least we, got ta tell him that we loved him so. Least we got to say good bye. I can’t near to know what yer Ma be goin’ through. Not knowin’ where ya are, if she’ll see ya again, if ya even be among the livin’.”

All was still. They sat together under the tree under the glittering stars in the endless depths of the heavens. Finally, Comfrey took Pippin’s chin in her hand and brought his head up until their eyes met.

“I didn’t start ta thinkin’ you was my Rob, but I have started to have ya in my heart, Falco Banks.” She smiled at the name, but Pippin looked down in shame. “Look at me, lad. Ya must go back ta yer family. Ya said yer folks be good parents.” Pippin nodded. “Go back, Pippin. Go. Grow up with those as love ya more than any others ever could.”

Pippin leaned into Comfrey’s shoulder and she wrapped her arms around him. “I will,” he sobbed into her shoulder. “I want to go back to my parents. I’m sorry. I’ve hurt you as well as my family. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt everyone. I’m so sorry. ”

They sat a bit longer as Comfrey comforted the boy, then she led him back to the work shed where he lay awake far into the morning, thinking of the pain he had unwittingly caused.

The team of large draft ponies pulled the wagon at an easy pace. It was carrying some large sacks of feed, a few casks and something right behind the farmer driving it that was covered with a hand knit woolen blanket. Tad nodded and waved at those he passed. He was soon to where all he passed were strangers, he had never been farther from the farm than Haysend or the farms right close around it. He had taken elevenses in Standelf, at the Misty Night, asking for a basket of victuals and two skins of water to take along on the rest of his trip. He tucked the basket under the blankets and continued on his way.

Behind him, from under the blanket, he could hear the sounds of someone eating. “Don’t ya go an’ eat all that, lad, or there’ll be none for when we get hungry later on,” Tad said without turning around.

“I won’t,” came a whispered reply. “Are we out of town? Can I uncover now?”

“Aye,” Tad chuckled as Pippin threw off the blanket. “But ya best have the end o’ that blanket where ya can grab hold o’ it quick if we meet someone along ta road.”

“Oh! Good idea.” Pippin fumbled about with the blanket until he had it set for a hasty cover-up.

They were taking Pippin back to Brandy Hall. Using the wagon had been Pip’s idea. “I want to go back on my own, so to say. Not hauled back by someone from the Hall who’s been sent out to fetch me. So, we had best hide me, somehow. I don’t want to be spotted and dragged off, nor do I want you to get in any trouble, Mr. Mudfoot.” It would take the whole day this way, but Pippin felt better about it. He and Tad talked most of the way, except when Pippin had to hide beneath the blanket. It was after dark when they were nearing Brandy Hall.

Pippin had been thinking of how he would enter the huge smial. At first, he had planned on climbing back into Merry’s bedroom window, which Merry fixed up so it could be opened from the out side. But the closer they got, the more Pip realized that he didn’t want to face this alone; he wanted Mr. Mudfoot to go with him, and he wouldn’t fit through Merry’s window.

Nor did Pippin wish to go in the main entrance. He wished, if at all possible, to go straight to the Took’s guest quarters. Pippin guided Tad down a couple of farm lanes to approach from a side where Pippin knew there was a small door that wasn’t too far from his family’s rooms.

At Pippin’s orders, Tad stopped the wagon short of coming out into the open area surrounding the Hall. He was now tying the ponies to a tree in such a way that they could graze.

“Mr. Mudfoot?”

“Aye, Pippin.”

“Would you . . . well . . .”

Tad turned for the tightened knot to look at the lad fidgeting beside him. “Will I what?” He kept his voice at an easy tone since it was plain to see Pippin was nervous.

“Would you come in with me?”

Tad suddenly started sweating. He swallowed but the lump he felt didn’t move. “M . . . me?” He tried clearing his throat. “Me go in there? Into the Hall?” Tad motioned with a slightly shaky hand to the many round windows in the hillside.

“Yes. I . . . well, I think what I say will . . . I think they will believe me better if an adult is with me. If you are with me, as it was you I worked for and all.” Pippin reached over and put his hand on Tad’s arm. “Please? I don’t think I could take it if they didn’t believe me again.”

The dim light of the wagon’s lanterns glistened in the youngster’s pleading eyes. Like so many others before him Tad found himself caught up in those entrancing green eyes. He felt there was nothing that would cause him to abandon Pippin to his fate. “I’ll go with ya, Pippin. Long as I have yer word ya won’t be lettin’ yer kin think I took ya from them or such.”

Pippin smiled and hugged Tad. “They already know better than that. They know, but you do have my word, Mr. Mudfoot.”

Tad hugged Pippin hard in return, thoughts of his son, Rob, flitting through his mind. “Then I guess we’d best be at it and have done with, lad.” Pippin nodded against Tad’s chest then turned away, motioning for the farmer to follow him.

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

Being Believed

The door creaked as it opened and shut to admit Pippin and Tad. They were in a short hallway with no other doors, that opened at its end into a main tunnel of Brandy Hall.

“That tunnel ahead,” whispered Pippin, “leads to where the Master’s private quarters are, and where there are two sets of rather large guest quarters. My parents are in the guest quarters on the left as my Mum likes to have windows and that’s the one with the outside wall.”

The two hobbits tiptoed to the end of the short hall and peered around the corner. Right. Left. No one. They slowly moved into the tunnel heading to the left. Tad had trouble keeping his eye on Pippin. He had never seen such a beautiful hobbit hole and wished there was time for gapping. It was a good thing he was watching the lad, as Pippin stopped short beside an ornate round door that had not quite been shut.

“We’ll send walkers out. Long lines of them. And as much as possible, they will keep walking straight, converging on a single location so he can’t slip through.”

“I’m still not convinced, Saradoc. What if he has fled Buckland? We will be wasting time with all of this.”

The voices paused. Saradoc Tad knew to be the new Master of Buckland. From the way Pippin had twitched a bit when the second voice spoke, he figured the other speaker to be Pippin’s father, Paladin Took.

“Doing something is better than doing nothing, Paladin.”

“I’m not saying do nothing, I’m saying now is the time to make use of the Quick Messenger Service and get word to the whole of Buckland and the Shire. This has gone on long enough, this trying to be unobtrusive.” There was a sound like a fist hitting something solid. “No, Saradoc!” Paladin’s voice rose and cracked with emotion. “No. Pippin could be out there hurt, cold and ill, hungry. He . . . he . . .” The voice cracked again and choked on the words. “I need . . . we . . . Lanti and I at least need to find our only son’s body if that is . . . “ Paladin began to sob.

Almost quicker than Tad could see, Pippin was through the doorway and into the room. Tad followed cautiously behind him.

“No, Da! No! I’m alright! I’m here.”

Paladin was on his knees beside the large, heavy, ornate desk just opposite of where the door opened into one side of the large room. His head under his crossed forearms, his shoulders were shaking. Paladin had barely raised his head when his son reached him, nearly knocking him over in an enthusiastic embrace.

“I’m not dead nor sick and cold, nor hungry, Da. I’m fine.” For a long time Paladin and Pippin stayed tightly clasped together. Then suddenly, Pippin worked himself free and stepped back. “Are you . . . really? . . . Did you truly miss me? Or . . . is this . . . well, is this just show. Just so Uncle Saradoc won’t know that you don’t really want me?”

Paladin reached for his son. “Pippin, no . . .”

“No, Da,” Pippin backed away further and looked around until he spotted Tad standing just inside the door. “I didn’t want you thinking me dead. I found out that,” Pippin swallowed hard then went on. “I was told you might think that, and that it might pain you. This farmer, Mr. Mudfoot, I’ve been working for him on his farm. I’ve . . . I’ve done well and he has treated me fairly.” Pippin nodded to Tad.

“It is true yer son has been workin’ for me, Mr. Took, sir. He’s been doin’ right nicely. But I brought him back, sir, ta his kin, so as you could . . .”

“Could say good bye to me and know I’m not dead,” Pippin quickly interrupted. “As I know you wouldn’t want a liar for a son. I have decided to continue to work for Mr. Mudfoot.”

Paladin looked at his son. Pippin was white and shaking but the look in his eyes was strong. Still, there was something about the boy that was saying something very different from his words. Paladin and Saradoc could clearly see Pippin’s struggle between wanting his family but fearing that what he felt, that they no longer wanted him, was the truth.

“A moment, Peregrin.” Saradoc caught his newphew’s attention with the use of his full name. “A moment of your time, before you leave with Mr. Mudfoot.” Saradoc looked at the nervous farmer. “Of the Haysend Mudfoots?” Tad mutely nodded, amazed the Master of Buckland had heard of his family. “A well-respected family.” He turned his attention back to Pippin. “You chose well whom you will be working for, Peregrin. Again I ask a moment of your time.” Saradoc left the office through the door behind Tad Mudfoot. The door leading to his private quarters, and those of the Tooks.

Paladin and Pippin stared at each other. Tad discerned a will like the iron he worked in his forge in both the father and his son. He hoped that whatever the Master had gone after would reforge the bond between the two Tooks.

The private door opened and several hobbitesses and a hobbit lad preceded the Master into his office. The master must have had quick words with them, for there was no calling out to Pippin, nor efforts made to embrace him. Tad had no trouble spotting the lad’s Ma. Her face was blotchy from crying and she held her arms about herself to keep them from reaching for her son. Saradoc returned to his seat behind the desk and held up one hand.

“A moment yet, not everyone is here.”

Another family; mother, father, a lad and a lass came in, followed moments later by another lad who was being escorted by an adult hobbit. This group came in by what Tad saw to be the main doors into the Master’s office. Grand double doors twice the size of the one leading to the private quarters. Finally, through a small door at the side of the office opposite the Master’s private entrance, a hobbit came in to then sit at a writing desk in a corner to the side of the Master of the Hall’s massive desk.

“Peregrin Took.” The Master intoned.

Pippin was obviously at a loss. He looked around the room with his mouth slightly open, then looked back at his Uncle. “Yes?” he replied softly.

“You have been accused of theft and of lying, by myself and my immediate family, and by your own family. Is this correct?”

“Yes, Uncle. But why are you being so formal?”

Saradoc ignored the question. “You, in turn, have accused your Father, Paladin Took, and your immediate family, of not loving you nor wanting you for their son and sibling. Is this not also correct?”

“Well, yes. But . . .”

“This,” Saradoc cut his nephew off, “is the continuation of a legal hearing regarding these matters. Matters regarding the theft of Meriadoc Brandybuck’s birthday gifts, the supposed lies of the accused Peregrin Took, and accusations of neglect and abandonment against said Peregrin Took by his Father, Paladin Took, by his Mother, Eglantine Took, and by his three sisters, Pearl, Pimpernel and Pervinca Took.” Saradoc paused and looked at the group of hobbits in his office then gave a small nod of his head. “All are present who need be present. In the matter of the theft of Meriadoc Brandybuck’s gifts, let it be recorded that the Master of Buckland fully admits to hasty and poor judgement, of which, his only having held his office for a short period of time does not excuse him.”

Saradoc had Pippin’s full attention now. The lad looked to be in shock at what he was hearing.

“It recently came to the attention of all parties closely concerned with this matter, that the formerly accused Peregirn Took had been telling the truth in his steadfast insistence of his innocence. This being due to information supplied by the siblings Doderic Brandybuck and Celandine Brandybuck, which was then confirmed by the confession of their brother, Ilberic Brandybuck. This being, that Ilberic Brandybuck did, on the evening of Meriadoc Brandybucks birthday, steal the key to the cupboard in which Meriadoc had hidden his birthday gifts and then used the key to gain entrance to the cupboard and steal the gifts.”

Pippin’s mouth fell completely open, then he spun on his heels to glare at Ilberic, who stuck out his tongue and stuck his nose, once again, in the air. Saradoc continued.

“Ilberic Brandybuck then confirmed that he had, on the preceding evening, entered the bedroom used by Meriadoc Brandybuck and his first cousin, Peregin Took. That he at this time stole a scarf belonging to Peregrin Took with the sole intention of using it to cast the blame for his thievery on Peregrin.”

Pippin was now red in the face. He started toward Ilberic. “You horrid . . !”

“Peregrin!” Saradoc thundered. His nephew froze. “This will be handled properly, young hobbit. Return to stand where you were.” Pip moved back the few steps to where he had been standing but continued to glare at Ilberic..

“For these terrible misdeeds, Ilberic Brandybuck has been put into seclusion in the Green Wing of Brandy Hall. The decision has already been passed down that had Peregrin Took not returned within the prescribed amount of time, or his corpse been found . . .”

Eglantine could not stifle her gasp of pain. Once again she was led to a sofa to sit down. The thought was still too much for her, even with her dear son standing alive before her.

“That had either of these occurred,” continued Saradoc, “Ilberic Brandybuck would have been so confined for his remaining life. However, Peregrin Took now stands before us alive and well. It is now my task to decide if Ilberic’s confinement to this point is punishment enough for his crimes.”

Saradoc stared first at Ilberic, then at his Mother, before continuing. “Ilberic Brandybuck, you are now merely seventeen years of age, is this correct?”

Ilberic barely nodded.

“My judgement is this: You will work for your keep doing farm labor, until you reach your majority at thirty-three years of age.”

Ilberic slowly lowered his nose. His mouth hung open and he blinked several times. “Farm work?” he squeaked.

“If you try to run away, you will be hunted down and put into confinement until you reach thirty three years of age. At which time you will be given the choice of being a good and honest citizen of Buckland or the Shire, or of leaving our lands. You are now dismissed to your rooms in the Green Wing pending our finding you a farm on which to work. Seredic Brandybuck, you and the rest of your family are excused.”

To Saradoc’s amazement, Hilda went passively with her husband and remaining children. He did not know that Seredic had threatened her with being confined to their quarters in the Hall if she said a word.

“Peregrin Took.” Saradoc brought everyone’s attention back to the proceedings. “I owe you, and now tender to you, an official apology as the Master of Buckland, for falsely accusing you of theft and lying. Do you accept this official apology?”

Pippin’s coloring was returning to normal. He looked a bit overwhelmed by all that had just happened. “Ah . . . ah . . . yes! I do, yes. I accept your apology, Master of Buckland.”

Saradoc stood and came around to the front of the desk. He went down on one knee to be more at his nephew’s eye level. “Pippin,” he said, using his nephew’s usual name for the first time. “As, your Uncle, speaking to my nephew. I apologize to you for accusing you and for not believing you. Can you forgive me?”

Pippin couldn’t speak. He nodded his head and embraced his favorite Uncle. Merry came forward.

“Can you forgive me, Pip? I knew, I really knew in my heart that you didn’t do it. I let my anger and hurt feelings get in the way. I’m so sorry, Pip.” The two best friends hugged and cried on each other’s shoulders. Esmeralda came over and also apologized to Pippin and all three Brandybucks held him close. After a bit, Saradoc stood then nodded to his secretary, who put the papers in a drawer and left the room.

“The other matters here, others who sided against you and have need of your pardon, and those same hobbits that you accused of no longer loving you nor wanting you as their son and brother; these are not matters for me to handle. Neither as the Master of Buckland nor as brother-in-law and uncle. This rests between you and your own immediate family.” With that, he offered one hand to Esme, put his other arm around Merry’s shoulders, and they left Pippin with his family. Forgotten at the edge of the room, Tad Mudfoot kept silent.

Pippin looked at his Father who still stood beside Saradoc’s desk. “Why, Da? What did I do that you don’t want to be with me anymore? And . . . you . . . you don’t talk to me as much and don’t seem to listen when I talk to you. And Vinca too. You’ve been the same to her. Why?”

Paladin knelt on one knee before his son as Saradoc had done. “Pippin, you knew that cousin Ferumbras was ill this past year?”

“Yes.”

“Did you know he was quite seriously ill, near to death in fact?”

Pippin looked surprised. “No. Was he?”

“Yes, Pippin, he was. The family elders, for some reason, decided not to let the Tooks know how ill Ferumbras was. They had me doing the work of the Took and Thain but saying the decisions were Ferumbras’. They forbad me to say anything to anyone other than your Mother. When I wasn’t at home, I was gone to Great Smials for meetings. I would come home tired and with matters of great importance to think over, needing to decide our course of action.” He put his hands, somewhat awkwardly, on his son’s shoulders. “I had no idea it was troubling you and Vinca so badly. I knew my being gone with no explanation would seem odd to you both, but I didn’t see how distracted I had become.” His grip on Pippin had slowly grown firmer, more sure of the lad’s reception of his touch. “I am so very sorry, my dear, dear son. My Pippin. I’m sorry I did what they told me to. Not telling you about all of this, left you and Vinca unable to understand what was happening. I will never do such a thing again.” Paladin brushed his finger tips through Pippin’s always errant curls. “Forgive me. Had I been myself, if I had taken the time to truly think things through, I would have remembered that you have never lied to cover up a prank. That your Mum and sisters disbelieved you was also my fault. I would not listen to any other conclusion to the matter. I love you, Pippin. I love you and want you and need you as my son and my friend. All of this was my fault, Pip. Can you forgive me?”

The tears and hugs that followed left no doubt of Pippin’s answer. Finally, Pippin settled down enough to speak.

“Da. Forgive me. I scared all of you. I didn’t think of what you might think. I just thought about my hurt feelings. I just thought about you not believing me.” Finally, Tad’s presence was remembered as Pippin looked around for him. The boy waved him out of the shadows. “Mr. Mudfoot, he . . . well, I . . . I lied to him, Da. He took me in because I told him . . .” Pippin sniffed hard as he reached for his Mum’s hand. “I told him a horrible lie. I said you were all dead and that I was an orphan.” Paladin swallowed hard and Lanti started to cry again. “When he found out the truth, he right away wanted to bring me back. His wife, she’s really nice, Mum, like you. Well, Mrs. Mudfoot, she took me to her children’s graves. They had three, but now they don’t have any. She told me . . .” Pippin sniffed back his tears, “that she didn’t always believe her son, Rob. He was only a year younger than me, Mum, Da, and he died just this past spring.” Pippin wiped his eyes with his sleeve. “She told me she didn’t always believe him because all boys can tell tales and lies sometimes. But she said she always loved him. She said I should go back to the ones who love me best. So, Mr. Mudfoot brought me back to the Hall because I love you best too.”

Another round of hugs and tears followed, Tad Mudfoot included. Eventually, Tad said he wished to speak to the Master, if someone would show him where his rooms were. Vinca led the way. Once there, Tad offered to take young Ilberic back to his farm to have him do his punishment there. After a lengthy talk about how spoiled Ilberic was and how poorly he had been raised, hands were shaken on the deal and Tad was shown to a room for the night. Word was sent to the head of the stables to fetch and care for Tad’s draft ponies and wagon.

Pippin eventually stumbled off to Merry’s room, tired from a long, emotional day. Merry, tucked in his own bed, was waiting up for him.

“You alright now, Pip?”

“Yes. I had started to think things would never be right again, but they are.”

“I’m really sorry, Pippin. I will try my best to never doubt you again.”

Pippin grinned at that. “That might be hard to do, Merry. Although you did only say that you would try.”

Merry laughed lightly. “I know us. ‘Try’ is all I feel I’d better promise. But I will try very hard.”

Pippin yawned then said, “And I will try my very best to give you no reason to doubt me. Deal?”

“Deal!” Merry said firmly as the cousins shook hands to make it binding. “Done.”

“And done,” finished Pippin.

Pippin blew out the large lamp and turned toward his bed. It was then he noticed that Mrs. Mudfoots’ knitted blanket was on his bed. He went over to it and gently, thoughtfully, ran his hand along it.

“Mr. Mudfoot, he came to the door with it,” Merry softly explained. “He said his wife sent it with you on the trip back here so that you could keep it. To remember her by, he said. I thought you might want it on your bed. I hope that was alright.”

Pippin pulled the blanket off his bed and grabbed his pillow.

“Move over Merry,” he said as he dragged the blanket across to his older cousin’s bed. He flopped down his pillow next to Merry’s, lay down next to Merry’s pulled over blankets, then drew Comfrey’s blanket over both of them. Without another word they both fell asleep.

 




[Report This]
You must login (register) to review.