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37
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What happened to you out there, my son, my cousin, my nephew, the friend to them all? What called you away from the Shire, and what brought you back?

When we heard that the four of you had returned, all began to sing and dance, and Esme and I--we danced for joy and heart’s ease and sheer relief. The Time of Troubles was over! At last it was past, and we thought only to see our son, our beloved lad, our dearest boy, come back to us again, just as he’d been when he left us. We thought that our nephew would stand straighter and taller, be more mature, but still be the thoughtful wit we’d ever known. We thought to see our cousin and former ward returning full of the pleasure of whatever adventure had called him and with word of Bilbo--being Frodo, he would have had to have found where his beloved cousin had gone and sought out that place; and perhaps he, too, would return with chests of silver and gold. We thought to see Samwise Gamgee come back filled with quiet wonder at having seen Elves and Dwarves and perhaps a troll or two, and settle back into his care for Frodo’s gardens and Frodo himself with a smile for the memories he carried, shyly returning to his Rosie and perhaps now taking her to wife to raise another generation of responsible and capable Gamgees.

But to see you and Pippin so unaccountably tall--Merry, what happened? Whence came this mail you wear as if it’s only natural to go about with armor intended to turn blades and arrows? How came you by this leather garment you wear over it with its greens and golds and white horse heads, the shield decorated with a white horse running across a green field, the sword you wear at your hip so casually, this helmet of steel and brass, these trousers of strange design? Yes, your heart is high and your face glad; but there are boundaries there you will not cross nor allow others to trespass upon. Five ponies you left with; you return with but one, and it was never purchased from the pony fair at Kingsbridge; and when you look at it your expression is mixed pride and grief. Something has hurt you--hurt you terribly. And the gear upon it! No Hobbit nor Dwarf wrought those horsehead bosses or inlaid the silver into that rich saddle!

We weren’t surprised you should go with Frodo first to Hobbiton to set things right there--to confront Lotho and this Sharkey, whoever and whatever he might be. I’m not certain what we expected then--perhaps for you to simply return immediately to tell us all about it, I suppose. But instead you remained away, coming only for one night to greet us some days after Nilo Bridgemaster brought us word of your return across the Brandywine Bridge, you and Pippin sharing dinner with us and Paladin and Eglantine and spending the night before riding off the next day on the trail of rumors of brigands and ruffians hiding out near Sarn Ford.

You told me quietly before you left, Merry-my-dear-lad, that Frodo faced a terrible threat he must take away ere it brought ruin to the Shire he loved so fiercely. Yet before you’d even left the Shire the word had come to us already of these Black Riders--riders who attacked the Crickhollow house and left its bar shivered to splinters along with the door jamb, who left the lock to the door twisted and mangled, who left poor Fredegar Bolger a quivering mass of terror. It’s true they withdrew out of the Shire, apparently still pursuing the four of you; but before the Shire had exhausted itself with speculation as to where the four of you went and why it found itself realizing that the rumor of Black Riders was one thing, but nothing to the reality of Lotho’s army of Big Men and the predations of Gatherers and Sharers. Paladin and those by him managed to do well by the Tooklands while we did our best to protect our own here in Buckland; but by the time we understood the threat it was far too late to protect the greater part of the Shire; and it appears the wagons of the looters and terror of the Men reached every least village and farmstead beyond our immediate protection.

How is it that you four managed to do in two days what we, in nearly a year of occupation, could not? What was it that roused the Shire--the martial bearing of yourself and Peregrin Took, the grieving determination of Frodo’s quiet authority, the competence of Samwise Gamgee as he looked this time not to the needs of Frodo alone but those of the entire Shire? Did this new King of yours teach you not only to use those swords you wear but how to give orders in a manner that others will follow immediately? Pippin isn’t even of age yet, and still he walked into the Great Smial and commanded his own father when the need was there. How else could he walk out of there within two hours with a troupe of Took archers without Paladin quite understanding what had happened?

And then there are the scars of wounds--your forehead and that of Sam Gamgee, your wrists and ankles as well as Pippin’s; the hint that Frodo, too, was at one point bound cruelly; and--and the missing finger, the one no one wishes to speak of. And there are the wounds we can’t see--the ones you flinch from when questions come too close, the ones that have you crying out in the night, particularly when the weather is unsettled or you’ve come close to quarreling with someone. I don’t understand how it is that you, a Hobbit of the Shire, came to be in a battle, but apparently you did; and you saw one you came to honor greatly die in it, or so it would seem. Or maybe you saw more than one die. I’m not certain, for the moment I come to soothe you, you will awaken and insist there is nothing wrong even when it would be obvious to the stone column before the Hall that there most certainly is. You worry for Pippin when you are separated; a hawk flies overhead and you look up in fear and defiance. And you are so concerned for Frodo--you are all concerned for Frodo, you, Pippin, Sam Gamgee.

As I said, before you left, the last time we spoke, you told me how worried all of you were for Frodo. You said he needed your guardianship for he was impractical when it came to his own welfare. In the letter you left for us you said the same, that if it was at all possible those of you who accompanied him would bring him home, alive, safe, whole. Alive he certainly is, and there’s no question he’s being kept safe enough, what with hidden mail under his clothing turning knives; but he’s not whole, no matter what he says.

He was just coming to look a proper Hobbit before you left the Shire; now he’s not slender as he was before, but painfully thin. Both Will and Mina Whitfoot speak of how little he eats at a time, and how it appears at times he is unable to retain what he does eat. There are not only shadows beneath his eyes, but behind them as well. For all that most everyone who deals with him regularly appears to know about the missing finger he still seeks to hide it and won’t speak to it or even acknowledge it is gone if it can be helped. He can smile and even laugh--but most of the time he is solemn and driven, as if it is up to him personally to see all set right.

What stole away his innate joy and delight? What robbed him of the ability and desire to dance? What has damaged his health? Whence came this great engine of responsibility that one finds when seeking our beloved former ward?

You will smile to speak of kings and wizards, Ents and Elves, the single-minded loyalty of Dwarves and the wonders of boating on a river so much greater than the Brandywine our own river seems a mere stream by comparison, and ever stop short of some grief. You tell of the grandeur of these Misty Mountains, and then shudder as if there were something malevolent about them. You describe the glory of this ancient, empty Dwarf kingdom you saw--then stop short as if to forestall describing something unspeakable. You tell of traveling with someone named Boromir and how he would comfort and laugh with you--but why do you never tell what you did with him at the end of the journey? And you tell of traveling with these Ents and later these Riders, but never of how you became separated from Frodo and the others, and in the end apparently even from Pippin, as you speak of thinking of him ahead of you in what became the King’s city.

We wish to understand, and need to understand. Do you think us incapable of it? Is that why none of you will speak fully? Or is there too much pain as yet to consider? When each of you look off into the distance, gone silent in contemplating the memories you bear, what is it you see that you cannot or will not share?

The King is a healer--that is important to you, and important to tell others. But whom did you see him heal? Was it Pippin? Sam? Apparently he offered his healing gift to Frodo himself. If so, then how is it Frodo returned to us so remarkably changed and physically diminished? And why does your own hand grow cold at untoward moments?

Ah, our son, our nephew, our cousin and former ward, their friend who’s never been but a mere servant--if we are to fully appreciate this glorious King you apparently all love so deeply, we must understand the sources of the shadows he has helped each of you face.

Please, Merry-my-so-beloved-lad, please tell us!

*******


We’d so hoped for a lad, but the lad didn’t come. The first child was stillborn, and we never asked if it would have been a lad or a lass. Then there was our Pearl, and then Pimpernel, and Pervinca. Then the second child lost, the one we never told others about--lost far, far too early to be certain what it would have been.

At last there was you, our little one, our wandering one even before you were born! At last a son! Our bright-eyed little lad, the one who watched all birds flying overhead from the time you were born, the one who was staring into Merry’s eyes and charming him from the first time you emerged from the bedroom in which you’d first seen the light of day. And through it all we loved and rejoiced in you!

Perhaps we should have chosen a different name for you, but somehow Peregrin fit you from the beginning. Yes, the name fit you--how difficult it was to keep track of you! Had your mother not thought to sew bells onto your pants cuffs and shirts there were times we would have lost you for certain! Then you figured out how to remove your clothing and the betraying tinkles with them, and we’d spend hours searching for you only to realize you’d gotten into the pantry and closed the door after you, and after eating all the jam you’d fallen asleep in a nearly naked heap upon the floor with the empty jam pot lying next to your sticky face.

Then there was the tumultuous winter after Bilbo’s remarkable disappearance when you seemed in terror of the possibility Merry and Frodo would seek to do the same. We know you hated having to be at the Great Smial that winter, and certainly couldn’t fault you for wishing to be elsewhere; but we never had any idea of which way you’d gone this time! At least three times you made it all the way to Buckland, and countless times more Frodo would send a messenger to let us know you’d come in during the night and either crawled into bed with him or had been found when he got up in the morning in the room that had been your own within Bag End since you were judged beyond faunthood. The Brandybucks even met with you at Waymeet one of those times when you left on your own, unwilling to wait patiently for their arrival!

But that last year--you were so often gone from us. No longer Ferumbras and Lalia to lay the blame on--your mother and I blamed your absences on ourselves, I think. If only we didn’t have to spend so much time and energy in being the Thain and his Lady--maybe then you would have stayed more at home with us. If only we could have gone back to the farm at Whitwell we could have had more of a relationship with you.

Again, however, you turned to Merry and Frodo--dear, frustrating Frodo. Usually Frodo was a calming influence on you; but that last year he seemed anything but! You and Merry were constant companions that year, it seemed, whenever the two of you could get together, and always your attention was fixed on Frodo Baggins as if somehow your own happiness depended on his. You left home constantly to be with Frodo from the moment the word came that he was selling Bag End and going back to Buckland. The idea that Frodo had come to the end of all his money was so incongruous--so unlikely--so--so false--how any might be expected to believe it we could not begin to understand. We knew that Bilbo hadn’t brought back near the amount of treasure that rumor would have the entire Shire believe; but neither had he ever been in danger of poverty with the property and rents and farm shares and partnership agreements he held, and Frodo after him.

You knew, didn’t you--you and Merry and Samwise Gamgee? You knew he intended to leave the Shire from the first and were conspiring with him, no matter what you wrote in that letter. And why did you not tell us ahead of time so that we might have helped? Had I known Frodo was in danger, as Thain I could have sent Took archers to protect him! Instead, you three felt you had it all in hand to keep him safe--as if you knew better what he needed than he did himself! Sweet water, Peregrin Took--Frodo was fifty and you still a tween! How were you, a lad yet, to protect someone who’s helped take care of you since you were born?

And now you want to tell us all about this--this adventure you took. You frighten your mother silly with talk of Black Riders and flooded fords and cursed knives and evil rings. Don’t you see how disturbed she becomes when you begin to speak of such things? And you bring your sword to the table as if of course everyone does such a thing? What did we teach you as a child about how inappropriate it is to try to bring your belongings, whether your knitted toy pig or a book or your sword, to the table?

And then you try to say how big a hero Frodo is--Frodo and Sam, actually; and how they were made lords of the realm by this new King of ours. And you say he was a Ranger.

I’ve seen Rangers, my son--scruffy beards, stained clothing, bows and swords and knives. The one clean thing about them is their horses, which are always perfectly groomed. What self-respecting King would go about like that? As for insisting the King was the Ranger called Strider! I’ve seen Strider, years ago in Bree. He was not young then--he must be at least in his sixties now, and Men usually don’t live past seventy. You expect me to believe such a fairy story? Or about the old tales Bilbo used to prattle on about the kings come back from the sea, returned from the Star-Isle to Middle Earth--you think I take them seriously?

I don’t wish to hear about goblins--or orcs, as you call them. I don’t wish to hear about trolls, either. Such things sound--disturbing. And you have named that sword of yours “Troll’s Bane”? This is a joke--am I right? You never had to fight such a creature--you couldn’t!

Please, my own dearly beloved child--don’t ask your mum and me to believe such things! We love you so much, and as your parents we’re supposed to protect you from troubles and difficulties! You’re our lad--our little, sweet lad--you can’t have gone off and become a warrior and all! You can’t! Oh, Pippin--please--all we want is our beloved son back again, our family restored the way it’s supposed to be, the Shire the way it’s supposed to be. We already failed with the Shire--failed to recognize the danger until it was too late, failed to deal with it effectively, failed to protect the land given to our care. We can’t have failed with you, too! Please don’t make us feel helpless and totally without any ability to protect our own! Please?

*******


Strange way o’ watchin’ after your Master, Sam-my-own, tellin’ tales o’ goin’ to Buckland to care for the gardens and house at Crickhollow and then disappearin’ out into the blue like that. I don’t know as what to make o’ tales of Black Men on great horses chasin’ you throughout the Shire nor great mountains of fire. Don’t know what to think on this ironmongery as you come home a’wearin’, neither. May wear well enough, I suppose--but it must be powerful uncomfortable as well as unnatural to those as is born to the Shire.

But I can see, lookin’ into your eyes, as ye’ve seen sights as I won’t understand in a thousand years, no matter as how many times as you tell it. And I see, lookin’ into Mr. Frodo’s eyes, as he’s been hurt--hurt right bad, and it’s not healed and not likely to heal, neither.

And I see as how much him’n the others all honor and respect you--you’re not just a gardener to them, but one as has done somethin’ powerful important and brave, somethin’ as not just anyone could o’ done. And I see as how Mr. Frodo depends on you, not just to do but to let’im know as all’s well in spite o’ how things might feel. And I see the love as the two o’ ye share--not as master’n gardener, but as those as of done somethin’ great’n terrible together and seen one another through it and back again.

He’s not well, my Sam, my own. He’s not well. My eyes might be dimmin’ and my ears a’failin’ me and my joints givin’ me pain; but my heart tells me as he won’t linger long. Just don’t let your heart be so close tied to his as when he fails you do as well. Rosie’ll never forgive’im if’n that was to happen, you know.

But know this, lad--I’m right proud o’ you, more proud’n I could ever say. And I thank whatever Powers as might be every day as you’re my son. And your mam--she’s a’lookin’ on you with right pride, too, I’d wager. Welcome home, my own Samwise.

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