Chapter 10. "As Long as It Takes"

Pippin was so exhausted he didn't know how he could draw the next breath ... but he did. And then the next ... and then the next. He felt the hand with cool, slim fingers release his own, and a new hand took up his, large, strength in it, powerful, but gentle, too, cradling his fingers as if they were eggs in a robin's nest. He sighed, and then worked on the next breath ... and the next.

Samwise spoke, 'Hullo, Pippin. Do you know me?'

He stirred and opened his eyes. 'Sam? Is it time to get up already?'

'Not quite time,' Sam answered. 'You can sleep a little while yet.'

'Good,' he said. 'I'm tired. Don't know why I'm so tired...' He moved a little fretfully on the pillow. Someone took the cloth from his forehead and replaced it with a cool, damp cloth. After working on a few more breaths, he said, 'Sam? Are you still here?'

The fingers tightened slightly on his. 'I'm still here, Pippin.'

'Don't let Frodo eat up all the breakfast now. Save some for me, will you? I'll be along in a minute.'

'Don't you worry yourself none about it,' Sam said huskily. 'There's plenty for all, and then some.'

'Good,' the Thain said. He let his eyes close the rest of the way and started paying more attention to the breaths, which had threatened to stop the minute he took his mind off them.

Merry spoke behind Sam. 'How long can you stay?'

Samwise considered. Mid-year's Day was past, so he didn't have to worry about the three-day Lithe celebration. Barley harvest was beginning, but they didn't really need the Mayor to open that festival, now did they? He hated to leave Rose alone with all the little ones, but seven year old Frodo-lad was remarkably responsible for his age, and of course young Elanor was her mother's main prop and stay.

When he'd told Rose he was going to Tuckborough, to get to the bottom of things, she'd said, 'Stay as long as you have to. Send word if you can.'

He gently squeezed the limp fingers, was rewarded by a flutter of movement. 'As long as it takes,' he answered. 'Why don't you go off and get yourself some rest, Merry? I'll take the next watch.'


Pippin noted the passage of time in simple ways. Breaths. Cool cloths replacing warm dry ones. Voices. Sips of hot or cold beverages, sweet or gaggingly bitter by turn. And then there were the hands. There was always a hand holding his, which was a great comfort. He didn't like the thought of walking alone in the dark. Sometimes the hand had cool, slim fingers, sometimes the hand was firm and strong, sometimes large and work-worn, but gentle for all its rough exterior. There were other hands too, one much smaller than the rest, a child's hand. There were always voices speaking to him, keeping him anchored as the wind and waves threatened to sweep him away. And then there were the breaths. One... after... another.

One morning he awakened and something was different. He felt as if he'd been pressed flat, absolutely drained, without the energy to lift a finger much less an eyelid. He wondered idly if the next breath would come along. It did.

'Pippin, can you hear me?' Diamond's voice. Where had she been? He'd missed her. He had looked and looked for her but to no avail, and now here she was, under his nose, practically speaking. The cool slim fingers tightened on his. 'Pippin, love? The fever's broken.' He catalogued that information but didn't have the energy to nod. 'Pippin, are you awake?' He managed to move his fingers slightly in answer.

Diamond felt the flutter. 'He's awake,' she said.

'Let's try to get some broth into him, then,' the healer said. Mayor Sam lifted him from the other side, and the healer held the cup to his lips. 'Come on, then, Sir, take a little sip for us.'

'That's right, my love,' Diamond said, seeing him swallow. She kept hold of his hand as they eased him back onto the pillows.

Pippin felt as if he'd been cocooned in softness, pillows beneath him and blankets above. He sighed, then waited for the next breath to come. It did. This was progress.

'Tired,' he whispered with the next breath.

Diamond's voice came, close to his ear. 'Sleep then, love, it's all right. We're keeping watch for you.'

Pippin thought he'd take her up on that.


The next time he woke, Mayor Samwise was on one side of him, Merry on the other. This time he managed to lift his eyelids despite the pony that seemed to be sitting on each one.

'Good morning,' Merry smiled.

'What time is it?' he breathed.

'Nearly time for elevenses,' Samwise answered.

'What're you doing here, Sam? Don't you have a festival to open, or what not?'

Mayor Sam stretched. 'O yes,' he answered. 'There will be a big celebration here, any day now, I'm thinking.'

'O really?' Pippin said, interested in spite of himself. 'Why didn't anybody tell me?'

'You were busy with other things,' Merry said.

Busy with other things. O yes, the diggings. He frowned. 'It all came down, then, didn't it?'

'Yes it did,' Merry answered softly.

'How many... how many did we lose?' They were quiet, and he opened his eyes wider, trying to sit up.

Merry's eyes met Sam's as they eased Pippin back against the pillows. Sam nodded solemnly. 'He'll get no rest until he knows.'

Merry nodded, looking back to Pippin. 'Two,' he said.


'Aldebrand and Samenthal,' he answered.

Pippin closed his eyes, and a tear leaked from the corner of one. 'His son will never see his father,' he whispered. 'My fault. How could I have been so stupid?'

Samwise leaned forward, tightening his grasp on Pippin's hand. 'You were pretty stupid,' he admitted. Merry looked on in shock. Sam continued, 'Stupid, short-sighted, overconfident. You want more?' Pippin made no answer.

Sam said, 'I don't know what you were thinking of, taking all your engineers, even the apprentices, underground with you at the same time. Did you never think to leave one on watch outside, just in case? They had to send all the way to Buckland to get someone to dig you out again.'

'Right,' Pippin breathed. Sam watched him closely. It was best to draw the thorn quickly, let the poison out right away so that the wound could begin its proper healing. 'Guess I bit off more than I could chew.'

'Well, it's not your fault the timber was badly seasoned,' Sam said. 'I'd find a new supplier, though, if I were you.'

Pippin shook his head. 'Don't know how I can even think about another project,' he said. 'I've let my people down so badly. Shouldn't wonder if they trundle me out of the garden with a wheelbarrow.'

Sam said, 'I want to show you something.' He pushed the covers back, took up a blanket and wrapped it around the Thain. Looking up at Merry, he said, 'Take him from the other side.' They lifted him between them, carrying him out of the room, into the corridor, through several turns, and out the front entrance of the Great Smials, hobbits staring hopefully after them as they went.

Samwise and Merry carried the Thain right out the front door and turned. Pippin saw a great drift of flowers laid up on both sides of the entrance. Some hobbit children were laying armfuls of wildflowers atop the pile as they emerged. A little hobbit lass pointed and squeaked, and her brother took off running.

'They add new flowers every day,' Samwise said.

'Whatever for?' Pippin asked. Tooks and Tooklanders were gathering round, faces welcoming, hope replacing dread in their eyes.

Merry smiled. 'For their Thain,' he said. 'They wanted be ready to greet you.'