1. Prologue

A knock at the study door interrupted the conversation at the end of another long, but satisfying day. 'Come,' Merry called.

A servant stuck his head in. 'Sorry to disturb you, Master, but there's a message come from Tuckborough.'

'Another letter?' Pippin asked.

The door was thrust wider open to admit Reginard Took, weary and travel- stained. 'Not a letter, this time, lad.'

Pippin started up in surprise to greet his cousin. 'Reginard! Welcome, come in!'

Merry poured him some brandy and extended the glass. 'Thanks,' the other muttered, and took a sip.

'Have a seat,' Merry urged, but Reginard shook his head.

'What brings you to Buckland?' Pippin asked.

'The Took sent me with a message for you,' he answered.

Pippin smiled grimly. 'No letter this time?'

Reginard dug in his pocket to bring out a heavy ring, seal and signet of the Thain. 'There won't be any more letters,' he said heavily.

Diamond moved to her husband's side, to place a hand on his arm.

Reginard gazed steadily into Pippin's eyes. 'Tookland needs a Thain, cousin. They sent me to ask you to come.'

Pippin looked to Merry, then shook his head. 'Give me some time to think.'

'You can have all the time you want,' Reginard said. He set the ring on the Master's desk and drained his glass. 'Don't you folk ever eat here in Buckland, or do you just stand around sipping brandy all the time?'

Estella moved smoothly to take his arm. 'Late supper is just about to be served,' she said. 'Let me show you to a room where you can change out of your travel clothes.' Smiling and continuing to talk, she and Diamond escorted him from the study.

Pippin took a deep breath and met Merry's eyes. 'Well, cousin?'

Merry shook his head. 'It's up to you.' He took a sip of his brandy. 'I must admit, you'll be sorely missed around here. I'd just got you trained in as Steward...'

Pippin guffawed, and Merry joined him in laughter. 'Good thing I've been training Berilac and Merimas to back me up, just in case I'd break the other leg!'

Merry sobered. 'Or your neck,' he said quietly.

Pippin shrugged. 'Could happen to any of us, any day. I couldn't let that runaway team run down my son, now, could I?'

'No, but you might have been a bit more spry yourself, in getting out of their way.'

'Too true,' Pippin sighed. 'Guess I'm just slowing down in my old age.' Merry snorted. They sipped their brandy in companionable silence.

Pippin sighed again. 'I can't believe he's gone,' he said softly. 'He's always been there... like that itch you cannot scratch, or the clouds of midges that follow you around the marshes...' he shook his head angrily. 'How can I be so disrespectful?'

Merry said quietly, 'He did little enough to deserve your respect.'

'No,' Pippin said strongly. 'He was my father. I loved him, in spite of all his warts. He did the best he could, considering he wasn't even supposed to be Thain. He had to be hard, to prove himself. I might have done the same in his circumstances.'

Merry stayed silent. Perhaps Paladin had to be a strong Thain, but his fathering... Well, Merry didn't want to cause Pippin any further grief by pointing out the flaws his cousin had lived with all his life. There was good reason for the old custom of speaking no ill of the dead. It wasn't for the departed's sake...

Pippin's breathing steadied and he surreptitiously wiped an eye.

Merry thought it time to put in a comment. 'I don't suppose you could put Mayor Samwise on the problem of moving Tookland closer to Buckland, to make visiting more convenient.'

'No, he still hasn't solved the problem of the weather yet, and I put him on that years ago.' Pippin got up to pour himself another half glass. It was an excellent vintage.

'We're going to miss you around here,' Merry said.

Pippin looked up in surprise. 'How did you know I'd decided to go?' Merry just smiled.

'My father was a great one to talk of duty,' Pippin mused, 'but all I learned of duty, I learned here at the Hall.' He met Merry's eyes. 'From your father... and from you.'

Merry smiled. 'I'd say we both learned quite a bit from Frodo and Sam.'

'Oh, aye.'

(from "Jewels", Chapter 51)