A sequel to Trials and Tribulation
Pippin had been to the Tooklands to spend three weeks with his family in the Great Smial and to help celebrate his mother’s birthday. He’d enjoyed himself, he’d found; but there had been moments of grief, for Frodo hadn’t been there beside them to share in the celebrations, to sing with them, to dance with them--not that he’d danced since the wedding of Aragorn and Arwen, so long ago now in Minas Tirith.
Pippin and Merry had both found they still needed time away from their families, needed moments with but the two of them, times the nightmares were more likely to hit, times the strange memories needed to be faced and relived a bit so more of them could be let go. One of the images that had resurfaced in his own mind in the last few months was one he’d not truly thought of often since the moment of shock when it had occurred as he’d run down the streets of the city through the fighting and the chaos of the night of the siege. The upper levels of the city were eerily quiet, for the defenders of Minas Tirith were on the walls of the lowest three circles with their trebuchets and bows and swords and spears.
The stones sent over the wall hit mostly the first and second levels, as did the balls of stuff designed to burst into flame when they hit a hard surface. But the smaller, lighter shot often appeared to arc higher, and a few of the missiles had landed in the Third Circle. Maybe the east wind had helped carry this shot, the shot used by the Enemy to dishearten and horrify those who defied him, and who had defied him for so very, very long.
In the Third Circle, Pippin had veered off the main street toward the walls, trying to find out if Gandalf was here, on this level. The defenders here were mostly Men of the City who’d stayed behind to offer defense for the capital of the realm, in many cases armed with swords and spears once carried by members of their houses many generations dead, swords and spears nonetheless maintained and kept sharp and oiled for centuries, or perhaps even millennia. Those Guardsmen who remained in this level either defended the gates or manned the trebuchets, assisted by Men of the City and the least trained of those from the southlands who’d come to face the Enemy here, those who’d volunteered from the fishing fleets or left their farms or their forestry work or their watch upon the dams built for flood control to come to the aid of Minas Tirith.
A number of the small, roughly rounded missiles were let loose by one of the Enemy’s catapults that had been dragged close to the wall to the First Circle, and they’d cleared the wall of the Third Circle and had fallen among the defenders. One had fallen between Pippin and the Man closest to him, a tall, slender fellow dressed in clothing that had once been fine, but was now torn and stained with sweat and smoke. Both the Man and Pippin had looked on it first with curiosity and then with shock and horror as they recognized what it was--a head, branded with the Eye, eyes still open in blind horror, mouth wide in an interrupted cry of agony.
The hair was dark and curly, and extraordinarily familiar, and Pippin had a moment of despair, for he was convinced it was Frodo’s head. But the Man was crying out with dismay, lifting it, turning it to look at the left earlobe. "Belterion!" he whispered. "Belterion is dead!" And weeping, he cradled the head to him.
Pippin had felt both unaccountably relieved and guilty at the same time, to know that this wasn’t Frodo, yet had been dear to this unknown Man. A swift glance at the walls showed him Gandalf wasn’t present at this position, so he turned back toward the gates to the second level, knowing he’d most likely find Gandalf at the bottom, just inside the great gates of the city if he was to be found anywhere.
A few days later he’d seen the Man again, visiting the Houses of Healing, that rather drained, empty look on his face that was already becoming familiar to the Hobbit. Pippin had just left the room in which Merry was housed, Merry having finally agreed to take a nap. The Man was seated on a bench in the hallway, his knees slightly apart, his elbows akimbo and his hands loosely folded together between his legs. He looked up from his blank stare at the ground to recognize the Hobbit standing before him.
"Do you have someone here?" Pippin asked.
There was a slow, exhausted nod in answer. "My friend Belvamor. He grew up here in the city, down the street from us. He was fighting in the First Circle, not far inside the gates."
"Is it serious?"
A pause, then a shake of the head. "The healers tell me it’s not, and that within a month he should be able to go out of the city to help rebuild his farm upon the Pelennor, if the land can be sufficiently cleansed by then." For a moment he was quiet, then continued, "And I’ll have to tell him his son Belterion is dead."
"You’re certain that--that it was Belterion?"
The Man nodded, tears threatening to fall. "He had a birthmark behind his left ear, and a scar on the lobe where he was bitten once by a puppy when he was a small boy." He absently wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "You know someone here?"
Pippin nodded. "Too many, I think," he said. "My cousin’s in that room," and he indicated the door behind him, "and the Lord Faramir and a few from the Third Company--a few others I’ve met."
The Man had taken a deep breath and sighed. "Too many have already died, and more will follow, I fear, if no one can find a way to end the war swiftly."
And then someone had come out of the room nearest the Man’s position on the bench and had beckoned him to enter, and he’d not seen the fellow again until a few weeks after the coronation of Aragorn at a ceremony of memorial for those who’d died within the walls of the city during the siege. The Man had come, richly dressed, accompanied by a tall boy who was obviously his son; afterwards as he’d come forward to be acknowledged by the King Pippin had heard him identified as the Master of the Guild of Merchant Adventurers. There had been a few more meetings after that....
But Pippin had been able to mostly forget that first meeting and its circumstances. After all, there were far worse horrors to think of, from the fall of Gandalf in Moria to the death of Boromir at Amon Hen, the jaunt across Rohan and the destruction of Isengard, and then the siege of Minas Tirith and all that came with it and afterwards. He’d described the rain of heads to Frodo, who’d heard of it also from discussions of the Council and reports made to Aragorn as King. Yet the images left by that incident hadn’t had the emphasis of some of the other memories for quite some time....
Probably what had brought back the memory so vividly now was the fact that he’d recently been reading Frodo’s book. Sam had read it first, then gave it to the Thain to read. Isumbard Took had managed to lay hands on it next, and read parts of it to Ferdibrand and their wives before Paladin Took was demanding its return so it could be given to Saradoc Brandybuck, who in turn surrendered it to Merry and Pippin. Pippin had brought it with him from Crickhollow to return to Sam while on the way to the Tooklands. There were several incidents he’d barely thought of for the last two years that he’d found recorded there, although he’d noted there were a good number of situations Frodo had failed to report that Pippin and Merry remembered all too vividly. Well, perhaps it was for the best that at least some of those incidents hadn’t been written down.
He reached into the pocket of his surcoat where he carried a gift given him by young Piper--a pennywhistle he’d received at last summer’s Free Fair--one given him by Frodo. Frodo had been so thin and frail looking at the time, thin again to nearly the point of emaciation. In fact, it was the worst he’d seen Frodo look since he lay insensible in the enclosure Aragorn had seen raised around the two beds on which Frodo and Sam had been laid in Ithilien. Pippin himself had purchased an apple tart for Frodo, one Frodo had eaten only bites of before that familiar look crossed his features that indicated if he took another bite he’d only lose what he’d eaten already and perhaps a good deal more besides. Merry had purchased a glass of cider for his cousin and a cheese bun--Frodo had eaten perhaps a quarter of the bun, and had drunk from the cider for a time as they’d talked.
It wasn’t quite a year ago that they’d met at the Free Fair, and Frodo had made what was probably one of his last public appearances. He’d been so visibly fading at the time....
He held the pennywhistle and considered it. There was the mark that indicated it had been produced in Dale, and had undoubtedly come to the Shire by way of a Dwarf trader. He lifted it to his lips as he rode and blew on it, remembering the Party, back when he was eleven, when Bilbo at last had left the Shire, not fleeing death so much as fleeing the realization that for some untoward reason old age and death appeared to have shied off from him, and somehow hoping that in leaving the Shire he’d either find out why or set things back right and in balance again.
The party; the impromptu band made up of those who’d found lovely musical instruments with sweet tones in their crackers; Melilot Brandybuck dancing the Springlering.... He was smiling as he began playing the music for it as he rode.
He’d bypassed the Floating Log and was almost to Whitfurrow when he decided to camp for the rest of the night. He’d gone from the music for the Springlering to that of the Husbandmen’s Dance to that of a dance that had been part of the program at every feast and party he’d attended in Minas Tirith, then to a marching song they’d sung as the army of the West had marched from Minas Tirith to the ruins of Osgilliath, to several walking songs Bilbo had either written himself or been fond of.
The small meadow opposite the Broadloam house was empty, so he decided to stay there for the rest of the late spring night. He turned into it, dismounted, saw Jewel free of her tack and hung it over a stump left by Sharkey’s folk, then carried his blanket roll into the wood the other side of the meadow to find an area springy with shed leaves and needles to lay it out. He soon had a small fire pit prepared a suitable distance from his blankets, filled his water bottle from the small stream that ran from the spring across the road behind the Broadloam place, and settled himself down, sitting up on his blankets to play again.
He found himself now playing Elvish tunes--the hymn to Elbereth Gildor’s folk has been singing when they met near the Woody End while he, Sam, and Frodo had been making their way toward the Bucklebury Ferry; the odd cadences of the invocation for healing Aragorn had sung so often; the hymn to Yavanna that had become so much Sam’s in the past few years; the song of Nimrodel and Amroth and their tragic ending.
He didn’t notice that he wasn’t alone any more, that a small, oddly shaped Hobbit child had heard his music and slipped out of her home to follow the siren call of the strange music, and now stood quietly behind a tree as only a Hobbit (or perhaps an Elf) could, watching Peregrin Took play, letting those exotic tunes bathe her with their beauty.
Tribbals Broadloam had never heard such music before, but it reminded her of "Mer" Frodo, as she always named him--just as beautiful and achingly sad as he’d appeared to her. She realized that Peregrin Took also was missing Mer Frodo, and that these tunes were in part a tribute to the cousin he’d loved but whom he’d let leave the Shire when it was needful. She closed her eyes and drank in the cadences, the trills and gently lingering notes, and without realizing it, she began to sway in time to the music.
Pippin at last exhausted the Lay of Nimrodel, and then found himself playing the Lay of Lúthien, remembering Aragorn sitting beyond the fire there in the hollow below Weathertop, singing that lay to them to distract them from the gathering terror of the coming Nazgul, remembering the look of intense pleasure on Frodo’s face as the music struck a chord in his heart....
Then he noted another spirit had known a similar chord struck in her own heart, as Tribbals Broadloam danced from behind her tree out into the small clearing. She was dressed in a simple white nightgown suitable for a child her size, and he could just see her nearly bare toes beneath its hem. She raised her hands over her head in a remarkably graceful manner, and turned and twisted to the music that he played, her head thrown back in sheer pleasure, her dance surprisingly powerful.
Pippin played on, his attention fixed on a small Hobbit child who at the moment appeared in his imagination as tall and graceful as the Lady Arwen Undómiel herself--no, she was as graceful as Aragorn’s queen! And as he played, she danced in the flickering light of the fire and the mystical light of the Moon sifted through spring leaves, weaving her own magic into the night.
How was it that Elven magic could be sparked by such a one as Tribbals Broadloam? But it was, and although he never quit seeing the moon-touched Hobbitling, Pippin appeared to see Lúthien Tinúviel dancing in another clearing long ago and far away, Beren watching her, as enchanted as Pippin was now, and even more so, for his heart had been unwittingly stolen by that dance.
In the end both dance and tune quieted of their own volition, and both went still. Pippin lowered his pennywhistle, and bowed his head in respect to the child, who still stood remarkably erect for one who barely came to his waist. She inclined her head in response to his tribute, again as gracefully as might the Elven Queen of Gondor and Arnor; and slowly and with majesty the tiny figure turned away, not completely dwindling away to a Hobbit child again until she reached the front door to her smial across the Road, and turned to give a wave of her stubby fingers before she let herself back inside and returned to her bed.
Only one more tune did Pippin play after that, the tune for the poem Bilbo had written of standing stones and secret gates, and ways leading west of the Moon, east of the Sun. Then, at last, he rolled himself into his blankets and placed the whistle under his flattened pillow, and gave himself to dreams of Frodo dancing on white shores in sight of a sparking sea, that smile Pippin had loved so lighting his features ... a dream he unwittingly shared with a child lying nearby on her mattress filled with fresh meadow grass.