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4
Reading the Will

4: The Reading of the Will

Brendi had taken rooms for Master, Thain, Merry and Pippin, Mac, Merimas, and Beri and their wives at the Green Dragon in Bywater, it being larger than the Ivy Bush. Many of the other Brandybucks who would wish to be present accompanied the party. Merry and Pippin drowsed through most of the trip, finding they couldn’t seem to keep awake. They ate as they traveled, and stopped infrequently to allow for relief to those in the party. When they arrived in Bywater it was quite late, and Rubo had all in readiness for them. No one had said much as they traveled, and now they just went to their rooms and collapsed into bed, all feeling quite muzzy.

Brendi and the Goodbodies, father and son, stayed at the Ivy Bush, and were up early to prepare things for the reading of Frodo’s will. Timmins and Mags indicated they had all well in hand for the meal to be delivered to Bag End near noon; Ordo picked up the last of the garments to be delivered to Sam appropriate to his new station as Master of Bag End; the last large case of personal bequests to be given today was wrestled into the trap to be taken up the Hill; and not long after nine o’clock Brendi and Oridon presented themselves at the door and indicated they had precise directions as to what they needed to do.

Sam had eaten the meal Rosie had ready for him soon after his arrival home, then had gone to the bathing room and all but fallen asleep in the tub, and finally had gone to his room and fallen into his bed. Once Elanor was settled in the crib in the adjacent nursery Rosie had joined him, holding him close most of the night. He’d awakened early, sat up, and smiled to look down on her sleeping form in the pre-dawn light, then looked about the room. Some things were different now. The boxes of ink bottles, drying sand, and blotting paper were now on the desk here instead of on the desk in the study, along with the other items Bilbo had long ago bought for Frodo’s use, about a year after Frodo came to Bag End--all save the stationery box. Where that might be Sam had no idea. And hanging over the back of the chair for the desk was the Lord’s mantle Aragorn had presented to Frodo just before they left Minas Tirith. Sam looked at it thoughtfully. Frodo had himself placed it there--of that he was certain. “And just how far have you gone in makin’ me your heir, Frodo Baggins?” he asked that now far-away presence.

The seventh he spent quietly, doing some work in the garden, examining things about the smial. He held Rosie and Elanor as he could. He made a short visit to see his father, but didn’t stay long. He didn’t eat a good deal, but sat for a time on the short sofa by the fire with his arms about Rosie and her head on his shoulder, then went to bed and slept without any dreams he could later remember.

When he awoke the morning of the eighth he found Rosie had laid out his clothes for him, and stopped to look at them carefully. At the Free Fair at Midsummer Frodo had bought a valet stand from a woodworker’s stall; it had been delivered a week later and brought into Sam’s room. Sam had protested, but Frodo had just shaken his head. “I have my own, Sam. I want you to have one fitting for Lord Samwise.”

On it now was draped a suit of clothing Sam had never seen--new drawers and undervest of fine linen; a finely made shirt of a rich cream color embroidered with silver stars and golden sunbursts; a vest of a royal blue brocade worthy of Aragorn himself; a rich green waistcoat; dark trousers and matching braces. He went forward and examined them, touching them gently, feeling the richness of the fabrics.

“Hullo, love,” Rosie said as she sat up.

“You had this made for me?” he asked.

“No. From what as I can tell Master Frodo had it made for you, Sam. Ordo Goodbody brought it the other day, said as you ought to wear it today.”

“Why today of all days?”

“His will’s goin’ to be read today, Sam. He ordered it done that way.”

Sam gave a deep sigh, went to the privy, returned and carefully began to dress. He remembered how odd he felt in Minas Tirith having to dress up in fine clothes, and how Aragorn and Frodo had both laughed and told him that he’d best accustom himself to it, for it was expected of Lord Samwise son of Hamfast. Well, now he was Master of Bag End it appeared the same was expected of him.

He was solemn as he ate his breakfast, and at last carried his daughter and a letter from his brother Hal into the parlor to have a time of sheer comfort when the first knock came at the door and he admitted Ordo Goodbody.

Soon he was retreating to the study to stay out of the way of those who were going in and out and reordering the house for the day. Shortly after nine the Brandybuck lawyer arrived with Oridon Goodbody, Frodo’s primary banker of discretion, to oversee the last of it. Today he was all business, but Sam realized that Brendilac Brandybuck was hiding his own grief and concern behind that professional demeanor. Several times he’d stop with one item or another in his hands, stop and look at it, and would surreptitiously wipe at his eyes.

Frodo had decided on quite a different form of dispersal of his bequests than had Bilbo. No selection of items in hall and parlor with tags on them this time; things were neatly sorted into a variety of boxes and cases instead. The parlor was cleared of furniture and a table set at one side; chairs, couches, settles, and benches were carefully arranged throughout the rest of the room facing that table. On the table were set a stack of documents sufficient to impress almost anyone, and Brendi even came into the study to ask Sam for the book of the Bagginses and the copies of the will and the deed to Bag End and all other papers Frodo had already gone through with him and Rosie, and these were added to the stack.

At ten Will Whitfoot arrived with Mina and Gordolac; then others began arriving--Iris Baggins and her brother-in-law Milo Burrows; Folco Boffin; Freddy and Estella Bolger accompanied by Budgie Smallfoot; Daisy and Griffo Boffin; the Proudfoots from the Row; Widow Rumble; Moro and Daisy Burrows; the Thain and Mistress Paladin and other assorted Tooks; Master Saradoc and Mistress Esmeralda and the folk from Buckland; the Cottons; the Gaffer with Marigold and young Tom; then other relatives and neighbors.

Merry and Pippin had risen early, and indicated they needed to go out on their own for a time and walk; they arrived separately from their parents and families and sat together, Merry beside Estella Bolger. Shortly after them Mags and Timmins arrived from the Ivy Bush and began carrying food into the dining room where they carefully began arranging it.

Sam looked in to watch this in amazement. “What’s all this?” he asked.

Mags smiled at him. “Mr. Frodo--he arranged for us to bring all this today, so as you wouldn’t need to cook none. I hope as he’ll enjoy it, for it’s much as he used to love to eat at the Ivy Bush.”

She was amazed when the gardener began to weep and withdrew down the passage. “What did I say, Tim?” she asked. “What’s he a-cryin’ about?”

Then Ordo Goodbody looked in, his face very pale. “This the luncheon Mr. Frodo asked for?” he queried.

“Yes,” Timmins said, looking up from where he was arranging cakes on a platter. “Is Mr. Baggins available? I’d like to give him his change, you see. Didn’t cost us nearly as much as we’d thought as it would.”

Ordo blinked several times rapidly. “I don’t think,” he said carefully, “that he desired any overage returned to him. But he’s not here today.”

“Why not?” asked Mags. “I made one special pheasant pastie just for him, just as he used to like them.”

Ordo looked away, then back again. “Mr. Baggins isn’t here,” he said softly. “We’re reading his will today.”

Both Mags and Timmins looked on him with shock. “He dead?” asked Timmins at last.

“We don’t think so, but he’s left the Shire. If he hadn’t it’s very likely he would be so.”

“And he’s not comin’ back, like old Mr. Bilbo?” Mags asked.

Ordo gave her a slow, reluctant nod. “That’s right. He’s gone and can’t return. Master Gamgee went with him and saw him on his way.”

Mags sat heavily in a chair. “It’s not right,” she muttered. “It’s not right as he ought to of gone.”

“Then who’s Master of Bag End now?” Timmins asked.

“Mr. Samwise and Missus Rosie are Master and Mistress of Bag End now,” Ordo explained.

“Mr. Frodo go back to them foreign parts to be with that King o’ his?” Timmins pressed.

“No. He’s gone further than that. The King shall not see him again, either.” Timmins and Mags exchanged blank looks. Ordo finally told them, “He was very ill, you must understand. He needed special healing. He’ll not be able to return. He loved your cooking, Mags, and has been most upset he’s not been able to eat properly for so long.”

“So I can’t feed him up....” Mags looked up at him, begging him with her gaze to say it wasn’t so.

“No, you won’t be able to feed him up.” He straightened. “I’m sorry. I know he didn’t wish for things to happen this way. However, as they have----” He gave a wan smile and withdrew, leaving them to slowly finish setting out their offerings.

When at last the will was read all listened quietly. Although some were surprised to learn that Frodo had adopted Samwise Gamgee as his heir none seemed to find this amiss, unlike when Bilbo had done the same with Frodo when the Sackville-Bagginses were insistent there had to be irregularities about the will. All watched with approval when Sam opened the small box presented to him at that and took out the pocket watch Frodo had left for him. The same approval was given when, in memory of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, a set of dinnerware made of silver by the Dwarves of Erebor was presented to Hyacinth Bracegirdle, with whom Lobelia had spent the last few months of her life.

At one point Brendi looked at Daisy and Griffo Boffin. “Fosco and Forsythia weren’t able to come?” he asked.

“Lilac and Emro refused to let them come early,” Daisy said, making a face.

“Fosco Baggins is named next family head for the Bagginses, although as he’s not of age as yet he’ll have to do all family business under Will’s supervision,” Brendi explained.

Iris looked at Daisy with a shrug. “Ponto certainly couldn’t serve as such, and Porto’s been gone for five years after all. Guess there’s not a great deal of choice now.”

“Fosco will do well, Iris,” Daisy promised her. “You can reassure Ponto of that. We’ll be bringing him to see you two when they come next time.” Iris gave a studied nod in response.

Many of the others looked at one another in question, for most had no idea who this Fosco Baggins was; but those who apparently knew let the matter rest.

When he reached the bequests intended for Narcissa Boffin, Brendi looked a question at Folco. “She wouldn’t come,” Folco reported sadly. “The letter he sent her threw her completely. I’ve never seen her so heartbroken.”

“Would you agree to take her bequests to her? Frodo was himself heartbroken not to be able to offer her more than he did.”

Folco nodded solemnly, then accepted his own bequests.

At one point Brendi looked at Sam. “I think you should know that Frodo’s interests outside the Shire have been granted to the next head of the Baggins family.”

“That’s right and proper,” Sam grunted. “I’ve more’n I can properly deal with now in that line, I think.” The rest looked with curiosity at Sam, except for Merry and Pippin who gave small chuckles.

It was the final bequests to the Shire itself that took almost all by surprise. That Frodo had bought a library as a gift for the children of the Shire and had arranged for more books to be added to it from Gondor, the Golden Wood, Rivendell, and elsewhere seemed an extravagant gesture to many there. But both the Thain and Master were pleased to learn Frodo had set up an endowment for free schools for the children of the Shire, beginning here in the region of the Hill itself. And the idea of a healers’ herb garden and library certainly found approval by all.

At last Brendi read the final portion of the will: Now, a word to the Conspirators, Fredegar, Sam, Pippin, and Merry--to you I leave my frustration and fury, that every time I sought to protect you you refused to allow it. You would not let me keep my secrets, nor allow me my journey alone to Death. Each and every time I sought to spare you, your obstinacy put you in harm’s way in spite of all I could think to do. And now, at last, I find myself able to let loose on you the rage of the wronged Cousin!

Yet, the fact remains that you were right, and I was wrong. In my pride I thought I could bear the burden alone, make my way alone, save the Shire alone. I humbly beg your forgiveness for the unspoken curses I formulated as I foresaw every disaster you would face that you refused to allow me to bear for you. For what did I in the paucity of my imagination know of what Terror is? You proved stronger than I, all of you, even you, Freddy, who feared to leave the safety of the Shire but who proved yourself, to your own amazement, as brave and as dedicated as any. Each of you went through trials I still cannot imagine, and all have earned every honor ever bestowed upon you. I bend my knee in respect to each and all of you, and beg you forgive me for this, my last betrayal, for not telling you I am leaving. I remain a coward, and weak. I am, I know, physically weak now, and I could not bear seeing your final grief. Please, please forgive me.

...

I beg all of you to accept my apologies for the pain and grief that I have given you, wittingly or unwittingly, as I have fought my own long defeat. And I ask you remember gently your cousin and neighbor and one-time friend,



Frodo Baggins, son of Drogo and Primula

Dated this eighteenth day of September, 1421 S.R.

In Bag End, the Hill, Hobbiton, Westfarthing, The Shire

in Eriador in the Kingdom of Arnor under the rule of the King Elessar

Middle Earth

Post Script: Please, on our Birthday of September 22, may you always raise a toast to Bilbo and myself, and if I remain within the bounds of Arda, I will do so to you. F.B.


Most were weeping now. At last Brendi wiped his own eyes. “There are some more personal bequests, but Frodo asked they be personally delivered to the recipients that Sam and Rosie not be importuned as happened after Bilbo left.”

“That was thoughtful of him,” Iris commented. “It was certainly undignified the way Bilbo arranged it.”

Sam turned to look at Sancho Proudfoot. “And I’ll tell you now--there’s no treasure behind the walls here.”

Sancho, who at the age of eleven had been among those who’d convinced themselves there was such at Bag End, flushed and laughed. “I’ll be remembering that, Sam,” he said. “And you can be certain as Pando won’t be following in my footsteps there.”

Brendi now addressed Sam again. “Oridon and Ordo will be wanting to spend some time to go over the farm shares and partnerships you now control as well, and I’ll have some more to go over with you regarding the same.”

“We can maybe begin going through that in say, a fortnight’s time or so?” Sam asked, looking between the lawyer and the bankers.

“Yes,” Oridon said. “Give us all a chance to settle to the new situation.” Sam looked relieved.

Finally all rose and repaired to the dining room to take part in the meal Frodo had arranged. Sam found himself returning to the parlor with his plate of food, and Estella, Merry, Folco, and Freddy sat near him with theirs. His eyes were sad and thoughtful. “What is it that’s bothering you, Sam?” Merry finally asked.

Sam shrugged. “Was just thinkin’,” he said. “Strider, he dipped into his account with the bankers in the Fourth Circle to pay for his weddin’, and then I did the same. But for my Master--he dipped into it to pay for his bequests and his wake.” He looked off toward the window near the front door. “Don’t seem fair.” He sighed heavily. “Wish as he’d done some courtin’ of Miss Narcissa, you know. He deserved some happiness here afore he went--although if he had, I don’t know as he’d of gone. He was still likely to of died, I suppose; but maybe just havin’ the chance to be happy that way he’d of lasted longer, not have known as much grief in his decision.”

“He would have hated for her to see him on the sixth, though,” Freddy said, shaking his head. “He was appalled Budgie, Viola, and I saw him that way last year. Did he ever tell you how it hit him?”

Sam shook his head. “No--he was talkin’ that mornin’ of how it would never really heal and all, but then he left for your place and seemed right cheerful. When he come back it was obvious he’d had a bad time; but what it was like I have no idea. Wasn’t acceptin’ his tea and his digestion was awful again; and was right afraid as he’d die or somethin’ on the twenty-third. But he didn’t. All upset about what might of been, you know. Was a one at times to dig his own grave afore he was even dead.”

“You speaking of Frodo?” asked Will Whitfoot as he entered and took a nearby seat. At Sam’s nod the Mayor sighed. “Wish he’d agreed to run for Mayor.”

“And not last a whole term? Not likely, Will,” Sam said. “He was thinkin’ on it a good deal afore the Free Fair. But that mornin’ his neck was infected again, and I think then he knew as he was just likely to grow worse and not better.”

Will shrugged as Mina joined them. “Well, it was a sad day for the Shire when he decided that. Even if he couldn’t fill a whole term, the Shire still did best under him, you know. Brilliant, caring soul he was.”

All indicated their agreement.

Pippin had intended to sit near Merry and Sam, but his parents asked him to sit with them instead in the second parlor. This room had been used very rarely since the death of Belladonna Baggins; even Lobelia, once she moved into Bag End, had found it horribly stiff and uncomfortable.

Now that they had some privacy, Paladin and Eglantine Took made shift to reconcile with their son.

“We’ve been wanting to beg your forgiveness, Pippin,” his father told him. “To accept that you’ve been growing up in spite of us, and that you truly did prove yourself a hero in the outer world while you were gone, was pretty hard for us to do. It’s hard, you’ll find, to accept that such horrible things exist in the world. Maybe, when you’re a father yourself, you’ll understand why we--why we reacted the way we did. To think that you and Frodo and Merry and Sam went off on such a terrible quest to accomplish so much was almost more than we could bear. We’re your parents--we’re supposed to protect you from such things, and we couldn’t! And when we began hearing of trolls and these Black Riders and awful rings and so on--it was terrifying. I didn’t want for that to be true, and your mother couldn’t bear the thought you were ever in any real danger. To learn what did happen--oh, Pippin! If we could have spared you we would have.

“But know this, Pippin--we are so proud of you and what you accomplished! I know you and Merry and Frodo have tried to explain; but it took the dinner with Frodo and Sam for us to truly understand and accept. And then there was finding Crickhollow empty and receiving Frodo’s letter to you. Oh, wait....” He reached into his jacket and brought out the letter and set it in Pippin’s hands. “I hope you can forgive me for opening it, but we had to see if this explained why you weren’t there.”

Pippin looked at his father closely, then looked at the address on the envelope. Pain twisted his face momentarily. “He was so weak when he wrote this,” he said. He lifted the flap and brought out the letter and began reading. Again he took a deep breath, only barely keeping himself from weeping again. “Sweet Valar,” he whispered. “Oh, Frodo!” He looked up with stricken eyes to share his grief with his father. “Feeling frayed? I think I can accept that. His eyes, there at the Havens--he didn’t say a word, but his eyes said it all. He couldn’t bear the pain any more. He couldn’t bear not having hope any more.” His fingers trembled as he replaced the letter in the envelope, and finally he set it down on the table beside him, then laid his hands in his lap and looked down on them. “Oh, Frodo,” he said again.

“Pippin, can you forgive me for what I’ve said to you? For doubting you, and calling you--calling you a coward?”

Pippin looked up again into his father’s eyes. “Forgive you, Da? Oh, of course I do! I’ve just wanted you to be--to be like it was before, back when we were on the farm and you weren’t Thain yet. I just wanted you to understand!”

Pippin looked up blankly toward the ceiling. “When I was little you just knew how to be a father. I asked for something foolish, and you didn’t just say no or even try to explain--you’d say, ‘Let’s just try it and see how it works out, shall we?’ and we’d try it. In short order I’d see what you could have tried explaining to me, but knew wouldn’t work--that this was a foolish idea and it would end up getting me something quite different than I’d hoped it would. Only if something was terribly dangerous would you ever just say no or forbid me. As I got older you would ask me to figure out for myself how something would work out, and encourage me to work it through, although it wasn’t something I liked doing or was particularly good at.

“And then when I just did something without thinking it out ahead of time and found myself in trouble because of it, you’d shake your head, but you’d stand by me and help me work it out--like the time I took Aunt Diamente’s pearl necklace and broke the string--you helped me find every one of the beads and taught me how to restring them properly and all and made me apologize to her, and everything was better afterwards than it was before, even the necklace because there were knots for each bead now so if the thread broke again all the beads wouldn’t fall off it.

“But when we had to be there in the Great Smial in the winter you didn’t have time to do that. Lalia and Cousin Ferumbras were always there, resenting you; pushing you to do things you didn’t want to do, didn’t do well; playing games around you. Then there was the accident and folk were blaming Pearl, and the worry was so great, the fear they could blacken her name or cause her to do permanent harm to herself. You couldn’t just help me learn the best way for me any more--instead you had to just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘do it because I said so’ usually without even any explanations. And you didn’t have time to listen to me any more--instead you’d nod and grunt and were really thinking of far different things altogether.

“Then Ferumbras died and you were Thain, and you’ve been a good Thain. But you have to focus so on being Thain we’ve not been able just to talk for--for ages, Da. I have an idea and you sort of half-listen, mumble or grunt, and forget about it. I want to try anything and you don’t suggest we try it and see or insist I think it out; instead you just wave your hands at me or tell me outright it’s a fool idea and that’s it.

“If I’d told you Frodo had really inherited Bilbo’s ring of invisibility, would you have believed it?”

The Thain looked at his son, hurt in his heart because he knew what Pippin had said was true. He thought about the question, then answered honestly, “No.”

“I always thought you believed Bilbo made up that part of the story.”

Paladin nodded.

Pippin swallowed, then continued. “So, since you didn’t believe Frodo had such a ring to begin with, realizing that this ring was dangerous and telling you would have been pointless.”

Again his father nodded, feeling somewhat bleak.

“Since you stopped helping me try things or thinking things through, it’s always been Frodo and Merry and even Sam who’ve done that for me. Now Merry and me, we were worried for Frodo and what might happen to him. He’d been getting so anxious, so restless. We knew Frodo would leave to look for Bilbo one day--we knew it; and the closer he got to fifty the more certain we were he’d do it soon.

“Then Gandalf came back and we realized he was worried about this ring of Bilbo’s that Frodo had now. We were spying on Frodo--we’d been doing it for a long time, and Sam had helped us do it, for we knew that when Frodo finally left he’d try to do it alone so no one else would be in danger. And, because he was trying to do it alone we knew it would kill him. He may be one of the smartest Hobbits ever born, but Frodo Baggins is one of the most impractical when it comes to himself and his safety. He could throw stones and use his proper punch, but that was all he could do to protect himself. He wouldn’t have the heart to snare a coney or a bird and kill and gut and skin it for the pot. He’d have been out there in the wild trying to live on whatever foods he could find growing and fish; but you know as well as I do there are some days the fish just won’t bite or be found in the right places to tickle them out.”

Again Paladin Took nodded, realizing that Pippin truly understood his cousin.

“Gandalf asked Frodo to throw the Ring into the parlor fire, right there in the other room, to see if the fire letters could be seen on It if It became hot enough. Frodo couldn’t do it, Da. Even then he couldn’t even appear to toss It away, or do something he thought might endanger It, even though he knew in a practical way the parlor fire couldn’t really hurt It. The Ring was still mostly asleep, Da, yet It had taken him that far already.

“So Gandalf took It from Frodo and threw It in himself, and sure enough, the fire lettering did show up on It. Sam told us afterwards you could hear how Gandalf’s voice changed, how serious he’d become, how worried he was--truly terrified of what he’d learned. I think that was the only time Gandalf ever really touched the Ring, you know. He knew how quickly It could take him, you see. He was already very powerful himself and had been given a strict charge--to teach us here in Middle Earth how to stand up to Sauron, each as we could. If he had the Ring he could probably have been able to control It--for a time. But It would have taken him fairly quickly, because no one could really just control that Ring--no one but Sauron himself. It would have corrupted everything he tried to do with It, and then It would have managed to corrupt him, too.

“Frodo tried to give It to him, you see, and he ordered Frodo not to tempt him, for through him the Ring could do more horrible things than we can imagine.

“The others Frodo tried to give It to said the same. Elrond wouldn’t even look at It more than he had to; Aragorn refused It utterly; and the Lady Galadriel was strongly tempted but said no, that It would rob her of herself if she tried. Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, Aragorn--they were all born and bred and trained all their lives to wield power; yet they were afraid of the Ring and what It could do to them, and what It would do to the rest of the world through them.”

He sighed. “So we couldn’t tell you, Da. You wouldn’t have believed us, for you didn’t even believe Bilbo’s story of a ring that made him invisible was true. And you would have told Uncle Sara and Aunt Esmeralda, and they would have interfered. Frodo wouldn’t have gotten away in time, for he’d have felt honor-bound to try to intervene for us and to get us out of trouble. He’d not have sold Bag End or left Hobbiton; and when the Black Riders came they’d have taken him and the Ring, and It would be back with Its Master now, and the whole of Middle Earth would be under Sauron’s control. And even now the Shire would be beginning to look like Mordor--dead and devastated.”

He was shaking markedly. “I was there, Da, outside Mordor. I saw through the gate when they opened it to let the emissary through what it looked like. It was horrible. And Isengard was the same, for Saruman was already trying to turn himself into Sauron so if he got hold of the Ring he could use It. You saw what Saruman--Sharkey did here in the short time he was here, Da. It would have been immeasurably worse if he’d had more time or more Men, and would have been the destruction of all if he’d actually taken the Ring.”

Eglantine had sat, spellbound, as Pippin spoke. Now at last she licked her lips, swallowed, and tried to speak. “So, Pippin, that’s why you didn’t try telling us.”

He nodded. “Merry insisted we write the letters, and gave them to Brendi, swearing him to secrecy and not to send them until a month after the birthday. Brendi had no idea what the letters were about, or what we planned to do, or anything like that. Merry did talk a bit with Uncle Sara, enough to let him know he’d become aware of a danger facing Frodo that he felt bound to help him through, so Uncle Sara had sort of an idea that Merry had indeed thought it through and wouldn’t do anything foolish. But then Merry’s always been the practical one.”

Pal and Lanti both nodded.

“Merry wasn’t going to allow me to go. He wouldn’t ask Folco because of Folco’s mum; and Freddy was no good, for we knew he’d never leave the Shire--not then, at least. Sam would go, for he’d never let Frodo go into any danger without him. Sam has no problem skinning and gutting coneys, at least.”

All three of them found themselves sharing a grin. Then his mother asked, “How did you get Merry and Frodo and Sam to allow you to go?”

Pippin tossed his head and snorted. “How was Sam going to even try to tell me no? He had no authority over me and he knew it. He’d not have bothered. Merry tried, and I let him know if he tried to leave without me it I’d follow behind them. Told them the same at Rivendell, too, and they were wise enough to realize I meant it--all of them, including Frodo and Merry as well as Gandalf and Elrond.

“Frodo needed me for as long as he stayed with us. He needed me to help him keep from being overwhelmed with the seriousness of it. He needed me to help him remember how to laugh. You two and the folk of the Great Smial--you didn’t need me. Frodo did; and because he was carrying the Ring, all of Middle Earth needed me to be by him while I could be.”

Paladin realized he’d been crying again for some minutes. He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes. “Oh, Pippin--I had no idea. And it does sound as if you’d--thought it out.”

Pippin nodded and then sighed. “Yes, Da, I thought it out. I’m sorry I hurt you as I did. But I’m not sorry I went. Frodo would have laid himself down and died of horror probably before they got through Moria if we hadn’t--Merry, Sam, and me.” Again he snorted. “Actually, he’d very likely not have gotten out of the Shire. He’d have made it to the Bridge and maybe a bit further, but he’d have been taken probably by the ruffians Saruman had already sent to gather around the Shire and the Breelands. I doubt that Aragorn would have found him before they did.”

Paladin found himself remembering the last time Frodo came to the Great Smial, before he and Lanti had driven their poor beleaguered cousin out of their presence by refusing to believe him. He’d commented that Eglantine had already done much to prepare Pippin for courtly ways, and that the Thain had already taught their son much of evaluating situations and thinking things through, preparing him to serve as a counselor to the King. Looking now at Peregrin’s sad expression, he realized that Frodo hadn’t spoken idle words, that Pippin was far wiser than he’d realized--had taken those early lessons to heart, had learned them well, had put them to good use.

Paladin Took reached out to his son, tipped Pippin’s face toward his own, and smiled through his continuing tears. “And you were right, Peregrin Took,” he said, then pulled his son to him in one of the embraces he’d almost forgotten how to give him in the anxious years he’d spent as the Took and Thain of the Shire. “Oh, my beloved, beloved, so wise son.” And the last of the reserve Pippin had managed to hold toward his father melted away, a small bit of ice finally succumbing to the cheeriness of a returned Sun.

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