Xena: Thanks. I knew Reginard and Everard had lots of potential when I first started writing them in Jewels, after the flash flood. Loved how they dealt with Pippin at the time, and just kept thinking about them.

Dana: great reviews, as usual, and thanks for previewing for me.

Pansy: well, pippin cannot be brilliant about everything, no. He might sound like a... fictional character, and we cannot have that! And you're right, he ought to have known better. Guess he was more worried about his people than his lungs.

I regret to inform you all that this is the last chapter of this particular story. On the bright side, you can read more about Pippin's reign as Thain in "Down and Out" and "At the End of His Rope" (70 some chapters and still growing... know where we're going but have yet to get there) and several more as yet untitled stories, one of which is set concurrent with "FireStorm" and tells about Regi's courtship. However, will not be posting story of Regi's courtship, however wonderful it may be (IMHO), until I can come up with a decent title, other than the pathetic working title it has at the moment. Suggestions welcome. Want a contest? The one who comes up with the best name will get the story by email, perhaps, ahead of everyone else? Can you tell I'm desperate? (The only titles I've come up with sound like the Harlequin romances I avert my eyes from at the grocery store... do they still make those?)

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Chapter 17. Epilogue

Pippin became aware that a weight was resting on his leg, whilst a hand loosely clasped his. Breathing was taking most of his concentration, as it seemed his lungs were too small and cramped to take in even a pittance of the air he craved. He forced his eyes open, to find himself propped up in bed, Diamond in a chair beside him, apparently asleep, head down upon the coverlet. He pulled his hand free of hers, bringing it to rest on her silky hair. 'How...' the word came out little more than a croak, and he closed his eyes, spent already by his small efforts.

'Pippin,' he heard Reginard say, quite close by, and he felt Diamond's head stir beneath his fingers.

He managed to blink his eyes open once again, searching for Regi, finding him finally. He swallowed, ran a dry tongue over parched lips, strove to speak again. This time he managed a cracked whisper. 'How... long?'

Reginard actually smiled at him. 'We stopped the fire three days ago,' he said softly.

There was a clink of pitcher against cup, and then the sound of water being poured. Ferdibrand swam into sight, holding a cup of water. 'Here, Pip,' he said. 'Sip some of this.' He held the cup to Pippin's lips, and the water blessed his lips and tongue. 'Small sips,' Ferdi warned. Pippin obeyed, enjoying the feel of the water in his mouth, trickling down his throat.

'That's better,' he whispered when Ferdi took the cup away.

Reginard placed a gentle hand on Diamond's shoulder. 'Diamond,' he said. She stirred again under Pippin's hand, and his fingers moved in her tangled curls. She raised her head, to stare unbelieving into his face, and then the tears came and she nestled her head gently against his labouring chest, carefully circling him with her arms. He continued to stroke her hair with what little energy he could divert from the work of breathing, the only comfort he could offer, as speech seemed too great an effort at the moment.

Reginard spoke again. 'You had us a bit worried.'

Pippin managed to nod. I was that worried, myself, he wanted to say, but it didn't seem important enough to make the attempt.

Ferdibrand bent down to say, 'The fire's out; we managed to stop it with the fire breaks. We still have hobbits out watching for flare-ups and hot spots, but the rains started this morning, so our troubles ought to be finished soon.' He held up the cup. 'Would you like more?'

Pippin managed to shake his head, but the incredible weakness that held him captive was discouraging.

He felt an overwhelming sense of defeat. He had been making progress, he'd thought, chipping away at the attitudes around him, proving his merit to his skeptical relatives, so close, he thought, to gaining their acceptance. Now the weakness of his body had betrayed him, as his detractors had warned; his treacherous lungs had nearly failed him again. Too weak to be Thain, they would say. Too unwell. A real pity, that... the lad had such potential. Ah, well, we always knew old Paladin had the right of it. His son was never fit to be Thain after him.

Diamond had pulled her head back, was gazing searchingly into his face, reading his expression. 'What is it, love?' she asked softly.

'Not fit,' he answered. He managed to smile. 'When...?'

'It's all right,' Diamond said. 'You need to rest, get your strength back.'

He shook his head, still smiling. 'When will they come?' he said. 'Twas a poor enough joke, no one was smiling but himself.

'When will who come, cousin?' Reginard asked.

'Bind, and blind, and o'er th' border,' he whispered. The joke was sounding poorer every minute.

Reginard threw back his head and laughed, Diamond and Ferdibrand staring at him in astonishment. 'You have it all wrong, Pippin,' he said. 'You cannot leave Tookland now; should you try, the Tooks would come after you. They'd bind you, all right, and put the blindfold on, and toss you on the back of a pony, and bring you over the border, for true, bring you back to Tuckborough, you daft fool of a Took, you...' he ran out of words.

Ferdibrand put a hand on Pippin's arm and said, 'You cannot get out of being Thain that easily, cousin. You swore an oath, and we mean to hold you to it.'

'You see?' Reginard said, with a meaningful nod. 'I told you so.'

Pippin laughed as best he could, though it cost him in pain and in energy, and then he closed his eyes, and went back to sleep.

***

Author's Note: As noted above, the story of Thain Peregrin I is continued in "Down and Out" and "At the End of His Rope", and in several more stories to come, I hope, including the story of Regi's courtship, which does not yet have a name. (any suggestions?)