Note to my Faithful Readers:

This is what you've been anticipating, or if you're like me, possibly dreading. I have grown to love this story and hate to see it end! However, Pip's had quite enough angst for the time being, thank you very much, so while I'm busy picking on Ferdi over in "Flames" (daily updates continue... so far the story is writing itself smoothly), I am also starting a new "Thain" story, set about 6 years after "Rope" ends, called "Where the Merlin Cries". Chapter 1 is already up on, the outline is nearly finished, so updates ought to be regular. I hope. If the crick don't rise, as my s-i-l is fond of saying.

In case you didn't know, the reason I write on two stories at a time is not because I'm stuck on myself or some such, but because it keeps me from getting a massive case of writer's block. Works for me. (Besides, I'm seriously addicted to fanfic. Sad, ain't it?)

Yes, this is THE END. But I did not put the words at the end of the story, 'cause it spoils the mood. But it's not really "the end" you know, 'cause there are lots of other "Pippin" stories on my story page available for your reading pleasure. Comments are always welcome.

96. Epilogue

It was a fine spring day, and several waggons from Bree had set up outside the Gate of Buckland, the first of many that would come throughout the warmer months. Once the first crops started ripening in the fields, it would become a bustling marketplace, where Men and Hobbits met to trade gossip and goods under the watchful eyes of the King's Guard and a Shirriff or two.

One of the merchants had set up his stand and was awaiting customers. It was early, yet, so he left the waggon in charge of his son and wandered over to the Bridge, where a grizzled old sergeant of the King's Guard was smoking a pipe, trading stories with a Shirriff.

A hobbit waggon came through the Gate out of Buckland. A lieutenant of the Guard was just emerging from the Shirriff's house, ducking to clear the doorway, and he hailed the driver. 'Are you going to the market at Bywater?'

'Sure thing, Bergil,' the driver called back. 'Did ye want a ride there?' He pulled his ponies to a stop to let the guardsman step up into the waggon.

The merchant's eyes nearly popped out of his head as the waggon drove by him and onto the Bridge. The grizzled sergeant saluted, saying, 'Have a pleasant leave, Sir, and give my regards to the Mayor. Will you be seeing the Thain this trip?'

'I believe I will,' the guardsman in the waggon answered, returning the salute. 'I've learned a few new moves at Kings I'd like to try on him.'

'He probably invented them,' the sergeant laughed, and the others joined in the laughter, then the hobbit driver slapped the reins on the ponies' backs and the waggon started across the Bridge.

Open-mouthed, the merchant began to follow, only to be stopped by a sword that suddenly appeared in the sergeant's hand to bar his way.

'No Men allowed in the Shire, by edict of the King,' the sergeant said pleasantly.

'But he's--' the merchant protested, gesturing at the retreating waggon.

'He's a hobbit,' the Shirriff said.

'A hobbit!' the merchant snorted.

'That's right,' the guardsman said agreeably, but his sword did not waver. 'The Mayor's eldest son.'

'And the tallest, as I recollect,' the Shirriff said. There might have been a twinkle in his eye.

'You can say that for sure,' the merchant said fervently.

'The King arranged for him to be part of the garrison here, to keep him close to his family.'

'Hobbits are great ones for family,' the merchant agreed, staring after the waggon. 'A hobbit, you say--?' He shook his head.

As it didn't appear that the merchant had any more to say, the Shirriff went on, continuing his interrupted conversation with the sergeant. 'So the King will be returning to the North-kingdom this summer?' he said.

'Yes, it has been nearly a year since they left for Gondor. It's a bit awkward, having a North-kingdom and a South-kingdom,' the sergeant answered. 'But he will summer at the Lake, pass the winter in Fornost, and then go back and spend the next year in Gondor.'

'Every other year here in the North-land?' the Shirriff said. 'The Thain will be pleased to hear that, I think. He and the King are great friends, I hear.'

'What was all the hullabaloo last night?' the merchant broke in. 'Looked a bit like a thunderstorm... flashes in the sky, and great booms and such?'

'That was the New Year's Celebration,' the Shirriff said. 'Fireworks, you know, just like they have in Gondor.'

'New Year's?' the merchant said, scratching his head. 'In Bree we celebrate New Year's on the First of January. What're Shirefolk doing, celebrating this late?'

'O we have our Last Day and First Day at Yule, the same's you,' the Shirriff said. 'But we also celebrate the New Year, now that we know the story.'

'The story?' the merchant said.

'You know, how the Ring went into the Fire on that day, and the Dark Lord was defeated.'

'O, that story!' the merchant said, light dawning. 'Seems as if I heard something about that recently, brought back by some of the Little Folk who'd been on a visit to Buckland.' He nodded. 'Something about a hobbit who saved the Shire.'

'He didn't just save the Shire.' The sergeant fixed the merchant with a stern glare, and the other backed away a step, wondering what he'd done wrong.

'I... I beg your pardon...' he said in confusion.

Very deliberately, the sergeant sheathed his sword and stepped forward to confront the merchant. 'I'll have you understand, Man, he didn't just save the Shire,' he repeated, softly. The merchant was all ears, nodding eagerly, ready to hear what the other had to say.

The sergeant measured him with a glance, then nodded slowly, solemnly, before making his final pronouncement.

'He saved us all.'