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The Choice of Healing
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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10
Seeking Answers

Seeking Answers

A few days later Narcissa saw Pippin in Hobbiton, and finally caught up with him, a far more difficult feat than it had once been, as he was now half a head taller than all other Hobbits in the Shire save for Merry. “Pippin, I wanted to ask you something.”

He looked at her warily. “About Frodo?”

“Well, in part. He was telling the children about the King--” she noted he straightened to attention automatically “--and said that Peregrin son of Paladin of the Periannath fought before the Black Gates.”

“Yes, I did.”

“He said it was a feint, that the assault was only to draw the attention of Sauron out of Mordor.”

“Yes.”

“That’s all you are going to say--‘Yes’?”

“What more is needed?”

She had no answer for that question. Finally she asked, “Where was Merry?”

“In Minas Tirith, in the Houses of Healing. He was--hurt--as the Riders of Rohan tried to break the siege.”

“Where were Frodo and Sam?”

“Doing what they had to do.” His face was closed.

“Did you realize Frodo has a hard time eating?”

“Yes.”

He was maddening. Finally she asked, “What happened to him, Pippin?”

He shook his head, his face full of sadness. “He was hurt, very, very badly hurt, Narcissa.”

“Why won’t any of you tell what happened?”

“We’ve tried to, but those we’ve tried to tell either don't want to know or don’t know how to listen. You have to understand, Narcissa--some things it hurts to speak of--hurts more terribly than we can express.”

Narcissa had known Pippin since he was a tiny thing, and never in his entire life had she seen him so terribly--stern, so serious, his face filled with a quiet but obviously deep pain. Finally she asked, “Can you tell me of the King?”

Now he smiled freely, as Frodo had done. “Oh, of course--Aragorn is a great Man--would be great if he were only a Hobbit like us, I think.”

“Is he the kind of king you would follow anywhere?”

His face grew solemn again, and he gave a soft, gentle yet sad smile. “I’ve already done that once, and, yes, I’d do it again.”

“Why did you go, Pippin? You aren’t a soldier.”

“I wasn’t a soldier before, Narcissa. I am now.” His hand touched his sword. He looked at her closely. “Understand this, Narcissa--I’ve fought now. I had to learn to fight just to survive. I’ve fought orcs, trolls, and Men. And I’ve had to kill. It’s not a comfortable thing to do, but sometimes it has to be done. I am a soldier, a soldier of Gondor--and Arnor.” He looked down, then back into her face. “Aragorn and Boromir and Legolas taught us how to fight, Merry and me. Mostly Boromir. Frodo was no good at it, and Sam didn’t try, although he did kill an orc once. Maybe it was by accident.” He smiled briefly, then it faded. “They’ve all had to fight to survive, all of them, and too many of them have died. Boromir died defending Merry and me. The Enemy took a long time to become aware of the Shire and to touch it with his evil, Narcissa. Elsewhere throughout Middle Earth they’ve had to fight his evil, just to remain alive, for thousands of years, for he’s threatened the rest all along. Now we’ve fought it here, too.”

“But you said Frodo didn’t fight....”

“You don’t just fight evil with a sword, Narcissa. Frodo fought, too, but a different way. And he won, but he still feels like he lost.”

“Frodo said they had to destroy Sauron’s Ring to destroy Sauron himself.”

“Yes.”

“He said it went into the fire, but not how.”

“No, he wouldn’t be able to say.”

“How?”

“How what?”

She gritted her teeth. “How did the Ring go into the fire?”

He looked at her for a long time, and remained silent. Well, if he was going to play that game, she could play it, too. She would not look away. Finally he said softly, looking away from her, “The exact thing that happened is that the creature holding it at the edge of the volcano’s chasm fell while he held the Ring, and both were destroyed.”

“What kind of creature was it?”

He shook his head, but answered anyway: “One that used to be a Hobbit--or at least a relative of us Hobbits.”

Both were quiet for quite some time. Finally she looked away and asked the question that had been plaguing her for years. “At Bilbo’s party it was obvious that Frodo was finally--finally getting over Pearl Took. He danced almost the whole time, and danced with me several times. Why didn’t he--why couldn’t he----”

“See that you loved him?” She nodded but still wouldn’t look at him. He sighed. “He received something that night, something from Bilbo. After he got it, he couldn’t love--not that way, no more than Bilbo had been able to love that way since he got it.”

“You make it sound like a disease.”

“It wasn’t a disease, but it changed him and all who came close to him.”

“Does he still have it?”

“No, but it left him terribly scarred. I don’t know if he can ever love again, that way. I rather doubt it.” Then, after a pause he said, very quietly, “He wouldn’t wish to inflict the legacy of It on anyone else, even though It’s gone now. Nor would he wish to marry, thinking he’s not likely to live that long.”

She looked up, alarmed. “Is he dying?”

“I don’t know, not for certain. But he’s not well. He’s not been well since he woke in Ithilien--not really well.”

“I see.” Finally she asked the last question. “How did he lose his finger?”

He looked at her steadily. “Much the same way Sauron lost his.”

Neither said anything more for quite a time. Then Narcissa’s cousin Folco Boffin came out of the Ivy Bush and called out, “Pippin! Just the Hobbit I need to see!”

Pippin excused himself and left her, and she looked after. She knew the entire story was there, somewhere, between what Frodo had said and what Pippin had said--somewhere in what they didn’t say--didn’t quite say. And she found herself not wishing to put it together, realizing it was devastating.

*******

Pippin was dining with his parents in the Great Smial. He’d stopped at Michel Delving and then at the Great Smial, and was hoping no one would question him further that day. The conversation with Narcissa Boffin had been emotionally exhausting. But, it was not to be.

“When are you coming home, Pippin?” his father asked.

He decided to be as straightforward as possible. “When you realize I’m not a child.”

“We don’t treat you like a child!” protested his mother.

“You don’t treat me as an adult, either. You have to realize, I had to grow up out there, or I’d never have survived. I’ve learned how to take responsibility. I’ve followed my King to battle and back. I’ve watched my comrades die and thought I might have to die to save others.”

Paladin paled. “There is to be no talk of killing and dying at this table.”

Pippin stood up, towering over his father, his hand on his sword hilt. “I am a soldier, Father.”

“Did you have to wear that to the table?”

“I learned to wear it--I had to. Don’t you understand? It’s a part of me now!”

“Pippin--sit down!”

“Why? So you can tell me who is to come to my birthday party, what clothes I am to wear that don’t even fit any more, not to carry my sword?” He was so glad his sisters and their families were all gone from the Smial--he’d have hated to say all this in front of them.

“Peregrin,” his mother begged, “Please sit down.”

Finally he did, throwing his napkin on his plate. He couldn’t eat any more. He shoved the plate away, laid his forearms on the table and his head over them, looking down at the table top.

Finally his father sighed. “We are trying to understand, Pippin.”

Without looking up, he replied, “Then ask, but I can’t answer everything.”

“Why not? Have you been sworn to secrecy or something?”

Pippin snorted.

“Please answer that question.”

Finally Pippin straightened with a deep sigh, his face resigned. “No, I’ve not been sworn to secrecy. But you have to understand----”

“Understand what?”

“How can I tell you anything when you both keep interrupting?” Pippin’s face was full of frustration. “You have to learn to listen!”

“What an accusation to hurl at your father!” Eglantine sputtered.

“It’s true!”

After several minutes silence, Paladan asked through clenched teeth, “Why did you leave without permission?”

Pippin shook his head and answered in a dead tone, “I had to. Frodo was going to go alone, and he’d have died if he had.”

“Why did he have to leave?”

“He had to get It out of the Shire--thought the Shire would remain safe if he left and took It with him.”

“What is It?” This was the question they couldn’t get him to answer other than the rubbish about rings, and it was no different this time. He shook his head. “Did that old grey conjurer give him this thing?”

Pippin looked furious. “Don’t you dare call Gandalf an old grey conjurer. You have no idea what and who he is, or why he is here.”

“And you do?”

“I have a good idea.”

“Then what is he?”

“It’s not mine to tell. We know him as a wizard, and that’s all I can say about it.”

“I thought you weren’t sworn to secrecy.”

“I’m not. But this is not something mortals should discuss, not before he’s revealed himself.”

“Who was Sharkey?”

“Merry told you this--he, too, was a wizard. He was the head of their order, but fell to temptation. And I know Frodo tried to tell you, too.”

“How do you know Frodo told us this?”

“He and I have discussed it.”

“Discussed how hard your mother and I are to talk to?”

“Among other things.”

Paladin Took felt deeply hurt. Finally he asked, “How did Frodo lose his finger?”

“Why does everybody want to know that?”

“We love him, Pippin. We love you, too.”

“We know that, Da.”

“We want to understand.”

“As I told you, to understand you need to be able to--” he sighed “--to fill in the empty spaces. It hurts to talk of it, Da.”

This was the first time the realization of this had truly hit Paladin Took. He looked at his son as he turned his face to look in that of his father. Pippin continued, “We left, we thought, to protect the Shire. Frodo received something from Bilbo when Bilbo left that was very dangerous.”

“The Ring?”

“Yes.” Pippin’s face was quite pale.

“Ferdi said it was the Ring.” He was quiet for some time while Pippin simply stared down at him. “The Enemy’s Ring.”

“Yes, Da, It was the Enemy’s Ring. We’ve tried to tell you It was the Enemy’s Ring.” Color was very slowly returning to the younger Hobbit’s face.

“How did Bilbo get it?”

“He found It on his own journey.”

Paladin found himself getting angry to hide from the fear. “That’s ridiculous. One doesn’t find fell Rings on journeys.”

Pippin’s own anger flared. “Well, one is more likely to find such things in orc tunnels or dragon’s lairs than in mole holes in the Shire.” He pounded his fist on the table. “When are you going to understand, Da--the stories Bilbo told about his journey--they were real. They really happened. I’ve met one of the Dwarves Bilbo traveled with, and I traveled with that Dwarf’s son. Gimli found me on the battlefield, even--saved my life, not that I particularly thanked him for it at first--I was in a lot of pain at the time. I’ve seen It. I’ve seen Frodo put It on and become invisible. I’ve seen what It did to him--and now you are seeing what It did to him.”

Pippin sighed, his anger fleeing as swiftly as it had flared. “Bilbo used to use It to hide from the Sackville-Bagginses. Merry saw him disappear one day as they were approaching, then reappear right in front of him as they left again. He finally sneaked peeks into Bilbo’s book to find out what allowed him to do that.”

“How do you know what was in Bilbo’s book?”

“I read it while we were in Rivendell, waiting for word the Black Riders were gone. That’s where he is, you know--in Rivendell.”

“Why did he go there?”

“He felt things weren’t right--inside himself. He didn’t know why. Got restless, felt things were wrong somehow. And he did want to see the Lonely Mountain again, see the Dwarves in their home. On the way back he stopped in Rivendell and stayed. Not that they would let him back anywhere near the Ring, as long as he’d carried It. He was tempted so by It when we were there, when he wanted Frodo to show It to him again.”

Paladin looked at his son for a long time, then made up his mind. “I can’t believe a word of all this, you know.” He said this quietly and with finality.

“I know, sir, which is part of why we haven’t been able to tell you. I need to leave now.”

“But Peregrin----” his mother began. Pippin stood, bowed, and left, his face sad, his head lifted proudly. Long after the door closed behind him, she finally turned on her husband. “Why did you have to say that, Paladin Took?”

“How can we believe such things, Lanti? How can we believe them?”

“But if they are true....”

*******

Saradoc Brandybuck helped place the final pieces of furniture in the house at Crickhollow. “I knew these would come in handy one day, Son,” he said.

“Thanks again, Dad.”

“When is Pippin coming back?”

“He’s supposed to stay at the Great Smial for a few days, but I rather expect him tomorrow sometime.”

“Why so soon?”

Merry sighed. “You know Uncle Paladin--he will start questioning him again and won’t be able to understand why Pippin can’t answer, and they’ll fight again, and Pippin will leave.”

“You have a hard time answering, too, Merry.”

“Yes, but at least you realize we don’t think it’s all your fault, and that it’s just too hard to talk about.”

“I hope you will be able to talk about it more one day.”

“I will, I’m certain, but not yet.”

“I know.” He sighed. “Have you seen Frodo lately?”

“A week ago. He’d walked into Overhill when I went to talk to Folco about trading our extra grapes for potatoes.”

“Is he looking any better?”

“Yes, he is.”

“That’s good.” Finally he asked, “Why did he refuse to run for Mayor? Will was counting on it.”

“I’m not certain--he wouldn’t tell us, either.”

“Does he have nightmares, too?”

“Yes, and far worse than ours, Dad.”

“That King of yours couldn’t help him?”

“There are limits to what can be done in Middle Earth, Dad. He could help, but not clear it all out. Frodo has some horrible memories.” He sighed and stretched, then sat on the arm of an overstuffed chair. “There was one night when his dreams were so bad, and his shoulder and his hand were both aching so--Sam finally went in to sit with him, sat up on his bed and pillowed Frodo’s head in his lap, comforting him and all. Frodo wouldn’t let us send for Aragorn--as King he’d been up for two days straight, dealing with embassies and petitions and then someone who was brought to the Houses of Healing out of his mind from his own memories, then more work the following day--Frodo had slept when he came back from the Houses, then that night had this spell. Gandalf had been out dealing with Elves or something--don’t remember exactly what. He came in and found Pippin and me still sitting in the dining room nursing cold cups of tea, went in and checked on Frodo, then sent for Aragorn anyway. He eased it and was able to get Frodo into healing sleep for a time. He was much better for a week or so, then it started creeping back again. It always does.”

“How about the eating?”

“That’s been going on since he was in Mordor. He and Sam finally ran out of food, even the lembas. His stomach hasn’t been able to handle a full meal since then. It drove him crazy at feasts.”

“I can imagine.”

“Mistress Loren, who helped keep our house, would sometimes cook the mornings after she’d slept over, the nights Lasgon stayed with his parents.”

“Who was Lasgon?”

“A page. Aragorn assigned him to us to run errands or to call him if he was needed, not that Frodo would allow that as often as should have happened.”

“I think I understand.” Father and son shared a sad smile.

“Anyway, Mistress Loren would make a type of battercake that you would die for, Dad. It was so good, and so rich. She filled it with rich cream and rich cheeses and fruit, and then she’d pour a thick syrup over it. Frodo loved it, and every time he ate it--up it would come again an hour or two later. Before the feasts Aragorn would take Frodo into the kitchens to have tastes of what the rest of us would be having, and then he’d be served a plate of rice and meat and thinly sliced vegetables while the rest of us ate all these marvelous foods. He used to look daggers at Pippin.”

“Rice?!”

“The Lady Arwen made a sauce for it that allowed him to handle it. Otherwise he’d just pick out the meat and vegetables and leave the rice on the plate. He’d come back from a feast in a foul mood and ravenously hungry.”

Remembering Frodo’s childhood and his distaste for rice, Saradoc began to laugh. “I can well imagine.” He thought for a time, and asked, “What kinds of nightmares do you have, Merry?”

His son shook his head. “Just nightmares--orcs, and----” He shook his head again. “I saw King Théoden die, Dad. He reminded me of you a lot.”

“Do you dream of that?”

“Of what happened before that, I do.”

“What was it that happened?”

Merry stayed silent, shook his head again. “Remember, Dad, it was part of a battle, a terrible battle being fought against--against the Enemy’s creatures.”

“I understand.”

“Thank you, Dad.”

“How about Frodo’s dreams? What are they about?”

“Lots of things--thinking Sam’s been killed by the spider--”

“What spider?”

“There was a great spider they met, going into Mordor. Seems to be the same sort as lived in Mirkwood that Bilbo and the Dwarves faced.” He thought for a few minutes. “He dreams of orcs, too--I think we all do. Saw too many of them. And they are all different kinds, too--big ones, little ones we saw in Moria, the Uruk-hai, who are enormously strong--bald ones and hairy ones. I’m not certain all the other ones he has, but they are pretty bad.”

“Does Sam have them?”

Merry nodded. “Searching for Frodo, fighting the spider, going through rooms and up endless stairs hearing folk, usually Frodo, screaming with pain.”

“And Pippin’s?”

“Orcs again, and--and looking into the Palantir.”

“What’s a palantir?”

“They are from Númenor. They were special stones given to Elendil’s people to communicate across distances. Pippin found one.”

“That doesn’t sound frightening.”

“Depends on who has the one you are communicating with, Dad.”

“Oh.”

“His most common one is searching for people who are in danger, usually me or Faramir. Sometimes Frodo or Sam--or both--or all four of us if the nightmare is being generous.”

“Sounds as if you are well versed.”

“Dad, I’ve taken care of Pippin since he was born, and he lives here with me. Believe me, I have heard his nightmares, and he’s heard mine.”

“I see. I’m glad the two of you aren’t alone then.”

“I am, too.”

“When you feel you can tell more, please--your mother and I want to know--we need to know, really.”

“Thanks Dad. When we are ready.”

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