Notes: Many thanks to Teasel and Singe for giving good beta.
Pippin led the lads from Bywater across the fields to Tuckborough, and never had he felt more like a hero. Rousing the Shire to throw off the tyranny of Chief Lotho Sackville-Baggins and his Men was a needful task, and though Pippin would never wish anyone cursed with such wicked deeds as they had inflicted on the entire Shire, he found his heart beating fast with anticipation for the confrontation. After all he had seen and done in the war, Pippin felt up to the challenge of a few score rowdy Men, without reservation.
Nick Cotton rode alongside him much of the way, and he filled Pippin's ears with an unending list of crimes and indignities brought on by the Chief and enforced by his Men. Nick's tales fanned Pippin's determination with each act of theft, violence, and imprisonment he recounted.
"They can't withstand us when we draw together," Pippin said, sure that once he returned with an army of Tooks, the hobbits of Bywater and Hobbiton would find out that they were strong. Hobbits, Pippin learned, had the power to change Middle-earth. "Father will help me gather our best archers and hunters to bring to Bywater, and if they don't leave, we'll show them just what a rout is."
"He's got nerve, that one," said Nick.
"Who? My father? Oh, indeed," said Pippin, and he laughed. "He'll probably want to come along. He'd hate to miss the excitement."
"Oh, yes. From what your father says, I'd wager he's got the Bullroarer's sword oiled for battle all ready."
"Tomorrow'll be a fair eye-popper either way, no doubt."
"Look, that's Widow Chubb's place!" cried Pippin, and he pointed to a house under a great oak tree. The lone house stood close by Stock Road and served as a distinctive landmark with its red door, the oak tree, and the less visual but more interesting reputation of the pretty widow who lived there. "We've reached the Stock Road."
"In fair good time, too," said Nick.
They had ridden fast as they dared to push the ponies, chasing sunset, and now only the hem of the sun's skirt glimmered in the southwest, a drape of fading colors obscured by the wood that thickened round them the further south they rode. Warm, yellow light glowed from two round windows.
"Keep sharp, lads," said Pippin. "Those Men might not be watching the fields, but it's a good bet they're watching the road. I'm willing to chance it though; we've only a short way to go from here. It's either risk the road or fight the wood, and we still have to beat that gang of Men from Waymeet back to Bywater."
As they drew near the house, Pippin saw the widow Violet Chubb as she took clean laundry from the line. The trees surrounding the road crowded less densely than in the forest, and with the glow from the windows the last bit of light in the sky illuminated her as she reached and bent. He saw Amaryllis, her daughter, helping her; they both worked quickly.
Pippin was so buoyed by the sight of the familiar tree and house and fair lasses he knew that despite the risk, he slowed his pace as he and the others passed by, and he waved. Violet started with a jerk and stared at him, her mouth a perfect dark O in her pale face, and then she dropped her basket of clean laundry and shrieked to her daughter as she ran for the door. "Get to the house!"
Dismayed, Pippin reined in and signaled the others to stay back. He rode forward slowly, stopping his pony by the fence, and called, "Wait. Wait! Don't go -- it's me, Pippin Took!" He hoped Violet would not scream again.
Violet opened the door, and bright light streamed out. Amaryllis stopped in the open doorway and turned. Her mother pushed her, vainly urging her to go in, but she was a sturdy young tweenager and could not be moved. Unable to move her, Violet stood between her daughter and Pippin, snatched up a rake that leaned by the door and brandished it in front of her. Amaryllis clutched her arm and said, "Mother, wait, look. It's Master Pippin!"
Violet lowered the rake. "Master - Master Pippin?"
"Good evening!" said Pippin, relieved that she recognized him at last, for her fearful scream had filled him with disquiet. He smiled as reassuringly as he could even as he was saddened at her obvious terror. For the first time he wondered about the hardships she and all the people he knew and loved suffered throughout the long year.
She squinted at him, rake still gripped in one hand, and stepped closer cautiously as she pushed her daughter behind her with the other. "You're fair tall on that horse and wearing that get-up. In the dark, I - I thought you was one of them Men," she said, and took another small step closer. Her daughter squirmed to look over her shoulder. "They said you were dead."
"Dead?" said Pippin. He removed his helm. "Said who? The Men?"
"No." Violet came closer and allowed her daughter to stand next to her. "That was from the Thain himself."
"The Thain...?" He lifted one leg over the saddle horn and slithered off his pony, letting the reins drop as he approached the split rail fence and gripped the top rung, stricken dumb. Cotton and the others drew closer but remained mounted.
Violet set the head of the rake onto the ground. "The family set a stone in remembrance on Midyear's Day," she said, her voice pitying. Amaryllis stepped past her mother, up to the fence opposite Pippin, and said, "Aye, and the Master refused to come. 'Tis said he accused The Took for being a fool if he thought their boys were dead, and he'd not be party to --"
Violet hurried forward and shushed her, glancing worriedly at Pippin. "There's no denying that things have been hard on Master Paladin. No father wants to give up hope for his son. Has Master Merry returned as well?"
Pippin looked from daughter to mother and said slowly, "Yes. We've all come back."
The pity left Violet's expression. "Oh, your coming is like good weather after bad, Master Pippin. Maybe we can hope, now."
"Hope," echoed Pippin, and his voice gained strength as he recalled his errand. "Yes, hope. We've come from Hobbiton to bring the news -- we're ridding the country of ruffian Men."
"We're here to raise the Shire!" said Nick. "We're going to oust those thieves for good!"
"Aye!" One of the Bywater lads spoke up eagerly. "We're going to show them the border -- and the business end of a pitchfork if they don't go willin'!"
"Oh, oh!" cried Amaryllis. "Did you hear that, Ma?" She turned to Pippin. "You show them; you show them good!" She took the rake from her mother's hand and jabbed it into the air. "I'll lend you a hand!"
"You guard your mother," he said, smiling. "I pity the Man foolish enough to try to attack this farm." He bowed low to the widow and her daughter before he donned his helm once more and mounted his pony. "Now I must go to my father to set things straight."
"And then what?" Amaryllis looked up at him, her cheeks pink with excitement in the light of the open door.
"And then we take back the Shire!" He guided his pony to the road, and the others followed.
Pippin met few hobbits on the road, hurrying to or from a snug supper, and though he recognized each, all stared at him fearfully, as though he were a stranger, or a ghost. He frowned at that thought, and then a soft, bitter chuckle escaped him. He was a ghost: a ghost returned to haunt the land of his birth. The strange fancy left him quickly, though, and he urged his companions to greater speed until the sound of the horses was muted thunder on the road.
He led them at a gallop down the lane that ended at the principal entrance to the Great Smials, and they drew up abruptly by the main gate with its twin lanterns glowing in welcome, the ponies' hooves cutting holes into the autumn-brown turf. Pippin leapt down, opened the gate and let them through before leading them past glowing windows to the private entry of his family's rooms. He paused at the door, oddly stirred by hesitation. He glanced at Nick before he stared at the smial, and then said, "I should go in first. Alone."
"Aye," said Nick and nodded knowingly. "If he's like my dad, he'll beat you sound a'fore he hugs you silly, and either one's best done in private."
Pippin grinned wryly at Nick. "Ah, so you've met him." Nick smiled back briefly before both sobered. "The stable is round back; go see to the ponies. We need to ride back soon as may be. I'll see about getting something for us to eat."
He watched them disappear around the side of the hill, leading horse-shaped shadows that faintly steamed in the dark, and then he removed his helm, holding it under one arm. He laid his hand on the knob of the door but did not turn it. The door looked weathered in the lamplight, gray wood showing through the worn blue paint. It had been Pippin's task to paint all the wooden fixtures of the smial last year, a chore he had left unfinished. Suddenly, the knob jerked out of his grasp as the door opened. Pervinca stood in the doorway and gaped at him, her face white, and then, like Violet, shrieked. Pippin winced.
"Pippin!" Unlike Violet, Pervinca knew him immediately. She threw her arms around his neck and wept into his chest, knocking his helm to the ground. As he patted her back her hair ticked the underside of his chin, and he was amazed how she disappeared into his embrace. She spoke as she cried, chastising him for staying away so long and causing such grief; declaring how overjoyed she was to see him and that she had missed him; and all of her speech was barely intelligible between gasps and sobs. He shushed her and kissed the top of her head.
"Where's Father?" he asked. "I must see him."
"Father? You've got to see everyone!" Pervinca drew away, pushing impatiently at the tears on her face with the heel of her palm, and then tugged on his sleeve. "Mother is in her workroom. Oh, she's been so worried! It's been awful!"
Pippin stood his ground. "Did - did Father really set a remembrance stone for me?"
Pervinca released his arm. "He did," she said grimly, "even though it nearly broke Mother's heart. He and Uncle Saradoc had a horrible fight, and they haven't spoken to each other since Midsummer." Her eyes filled with tears again as her voice fogged with anguish. "Pippin, where did you go? Why did you stay away so long?"
"I'm sorry; I never meant to cause anyone to worry," he replied, wiping at his own eyes. He sniffed hard. "It's a very long story, really, and there's no time to tell you now. Ask Frodo someday; he's writing it all down."
"Frodo's back? Oh, thank goodness! But Merry -- tell me; is Merry back, too?"
Pippin nodded, and his sudden smile felt strong and bright on his face. There was so much good to tell: Frodo's success, the downfall of the Dark Lord, the return of the King, all of Pippin's adventures, and Merry's, and Sam's, and Frodo's. He had good news for everyone -- and he also had archers to fetch to Bywater. "Everyone has returned, and things are going to be better, Pervinca: better than you ever imagined. You'll see. But for now, let's find Father. There's still a battle to fight."
He stooped to fetch his helm, stepped over the threshold, and passed the worn door into his childhood home. Pervinca reflected Pippin's excitement and called down connecting halls and open doors as they wound further into the smial to The Took's study. "Pippin's back! Pippin's back!"
Various young cousins popped their heads out of rooms like curious squirrels, and when they saw who it was, they scurried out to thump and hug Pippin even as he tried to hurry down the hall. Others were drawn by the noise; soon everyone was exclaiming in surprise and asking questions, and though he tried to answer them as best as he could, there was no way he could give them an accounting of all his adventures since he'd left for Hobbiton to help Frodo move to Crickhollow over a year ago.
"Yes, yes, that is a real sword, and I have grown, and it's been a really long time, but we've all come back," he repeated. "Now we're raising the Shire, and we're going to get rid of those no-good Men, but first I must speak with Father!"
The whole noisy knot of family paused their embraces enough to let him pass through the hall to the door of his father's study. With vigorous irritation that cut through both thick door and hubbub, they heard Paladin's angry shout, "Go away or come in, but stop that confounded racket! I'm trying to work in here!"
"He's reckoning the harvest accounting, isn't it?" Pippin asked Pervinca quietly, and she nodded. "Nice to know some things haven't changed while I was gone."
Just then, Tanto Hornblower pushed through, a squalling infant in his arms. "What's all the ruckus? You reprobates woke the baby." Pippin took note of Tanto's presence, because the young Hornblower was far from his home in the North Farthing, but figured the Men had prevented his departure. His mild notice became bemusement when Pervinca rushed to him and took the child, making soothing noises as she swayed back and forth. With practiced ease, her fingers unfastened small buttons down the side of her bodice and she cradled the baby to her breast. The wailing abruptly ceased.
"Pervinca!" Pippin exclaimed, looking in turns at his sister and Tanto's paternal hand on the babe's dark head and back again.
"A few things have changed," she said, smiling, and her cheeks bloomed pink. "You're not the only one with tales to tell. But you'd best go in before Father has a fit. You can meet little Largo later."
Still discussing his return, the small crowd dispersed and left Pippin standing in front of the closed door to his father's study. Pippin had been called into that room by his father's angry voice many times as a child and had left with a red-striped backside as often as he'd left with a fancy toffee from his father's secret stash in the pocket of his cheek. The door looked shabbier than he remembered, the light in the hall dimmer somehow, and he wondered if the lamps were dusty. He wondered if the study door was one of those he was supposed to have painted a year ago.
Pippin entered. He closed the door quietly behind him and found his father, The Took, sitting at his wide, cherry wood desk, a quill in hand and head bowed over the accounting books spread open in front of him. Everyone knew Paladin hated working with numbers and columns, but Pippin knew he hated worse the thought of hiring out the task where someone other than family might see details of their private business. Without looking up, Paladin said, "Well, what it is it now. I didn't hear the alarm, so I'll assume it's not Pimple's Men invading, but all that noise means it must be something important."
"It's me, Father. I've come back," he said, "and we're going to take back the Shire from Lotho Pimple and his Men."
Paladin looked up sharply and said accusingly, "You." Pippin saw a storm of emotion flicker briefly on his father's face before he closed his eyes and mastered himself. He opened his eyes and after a long moment said gruffly, "You've grown." He set the quill down and examined Pippin with great deliberation. A smile pulled at the corners of Pippin's mouth, but he held still, reining in the joy he felt at being home while he waited for his father's frown to break and his arms to open in welcome, just as he always did when Pippin vexed him.
Paladin remained seated behind his desk. He picked up his quill again. Scornfully, he waved it at Pippin's chest and said, "Where in Middle-earth do people dress like that?"
Pippin's skin prickled first cold then hot as he looked down at himself. The White Tree gleamed against sable upon his chest, and he found it at once familiar, having worn it for months, and utterly odd in his father's study filled with mellow reds and browns and yellows. This wasn't how he had imagined his triumphant return at all, and pride in all that the White Tree on its sable field symbolized came to him along with the notion of urgency that the war was not over, not while Frodo, Merry, and Sam waited for help with the ruffians in Bywater.
Nettled, Pippin drew back his shoulders, raised his eyes to his father's critical gaze and laid his fist on his chest. "I'm a Knight of Gondor, Father, and this is my livery. Merry and I have returned from there with Frodo and Sam, where we've been fighting a great war." He strode to the desk and set his helm on it firmly, causing spots of ink to jump out of the inkwell. "And now, since it seems the war hasn't quite ended, it's time to finish it. I've come to lead the Tooks to help Frodo take back the Shire. We make our stand at Bywater."
"Frodo? So a Baggins returned from the wild, eh?" Paladin rose from his chair, and the studied indifference he'd held broke. "Why him? Why Bywater? The Tooks have been the ones fighting back, no help from Bywater or Hobbiton or any other part of the Shire for that matter."
"We found a group of the Chief's Men there," said Pippin. "Frodo is going to deal with Lotho Pimple, and we're going to deal with those Men."
"What, so he can take that upstart's place?" He threw the quill down, spotting the open ledger. "These Bagginses, they think their money gives them the right to displace the rightful leader of the Shire?"
"No, no. Father," said Pippin, "it's not like that at all. Frodo just wants things to go back to normal -- we all do. But we must get rid of the bad Men, and if the whole Shire rises up, we can do it; in fact, we sent half a dozen of them running before I left, and Merry's arranging a plan for the gang coming up from Waymeet. If they show the same cowardice the first ones did, the others may just turn tail and run off into the Wild." Pippin gripped the hilt of his sword. "And if not, then we'll settle with them."
The door opened, and Pippin turned. His mother entered the room, and then closed the door, leaning against it while she stared at him, her fists tight against her mouth.
"Oh, Pippin," she said finally and went to him, holding him in an embrace that he had yet to get from his father. She felt tight as a drawn bow in his arms, though, and before he could give himself wholly to her comforting hug, she stepped back quickly. He towered over her, and she looked up into his face searchingly. "You've got so tall!" She reached up and her fingers brushed his brow near his temple, and he knew she saw one of his scars there. Their eyes met, and it seemed she read the book of his memory. "You're too thin. You've changed -- you're all grown up."
"Hah, he's not come of age yet," said Father, a complaint Pippin had heard many times; he could recite the rest of it and had in the past, "nor've I seen him acting it."
"He's back, do you see?" said Mother, and her voice was bitter. "He's back, and he's fit, and he's obviously had some hard times." Pippin's heart broke for the anger between them, for it was obvious that he was the cause. "Look at him! He's grown up, and grown up exceedingly well!"
"Mother," he said. He wanted nothing more than to prove her wrong and cry at her breast because her loving presence caused his heart suddenly to fill with the need to express all that had happened to him: the fierce joy and horror of battle; the grief for the deaths he'd witnessed; the terror of enduring evil hurts; the delight of fair things few mortals had ever seen. But the time for that luxury would have to wait until after the Shire was saved. "I've come to lead the Tooks against the Men that Lotho has set to do his dirty work. My lads and I have to ride back to Bywater as soon as may be, for the rebellion has started. We rode light, and we need food for when we march back."
"And leave Tookland undefended?" His father brought his fist onto the top of his desk hard. "These are the first days of peace we've had in a long time, and now you say the gang at Waymeet is on the move. Just what trouble have you and your friends stirred up?"
"We're not stirring up trouble -- we're stirring up the countryside to defend the Shire!"
"Frodo is asking you to do it, you mean." Paladin said the name as if it hurt his throat. "Causing trouble soon as he set foot in the Shire. You say he wants things back to normal, but there's more Southfarthing Took land bought with Baggins money than is right. Just wait and see if he don't join up with that Lotho and serve his own family's ends."
"Father!" Pippin was aghast, but he calmed. "But then, you couldn't know, could you? Frodo...Frodo saved everything."
"Saved everything? Take a look round, son!" Paladin rounded the desk and stepped close; Pippin could smell brandy on his breath and harsh, local-grown pipeweed smoke in his gray hair. Paladin gestured vigorously, forcing Pippin to take a step back. "Them Men burned down the Stock Road Inn! They dug a pit into the beech grove at Pincup and left the trees to rot -- now they're setting fires in the Woody End! And they killed your cousin Ferdinand! Shot him through the heart!" He glared at Pippin. "How could you know that? You weren't here!"
"I couldn't come back." Despite the pang he felt for Ferdinand Pippin spoke firmly; he had seen comrades fall in battle before. "And if I could have, I wouldn't -- I took a vow with the Fellowship to help Frodo. I had a duty to see it through."
Paladin struck him hard across the face with an open hand. Pippin heard his mother gasp, and his left cheek burned from temple to jaw. The blow turned his head, and he stared at the floor, grateful that his mother said nothing, and did not interfere. He turned slowly and faced his father again.
"Duty?" accused Paladin. "You dare talk about duty? What about duty to your family?"
"I did my duty to my family," Pippin said ardently. "I kept my promise to help Frodo on his errand --"
"He's a Baggins, not a Took," Paladin said sharply. "He's no kin of mine."
"Father, he saved us all because of what he did. I couldn't tell you before because it was too dangerous, but now I can. He saved Middle-earth, and believe me when I say that if Frodo had failed his errand, then it would not be me standing here now, but orcs from Mordor!"
"Mordor! What is Mordor in the face of this?" Paladin said angrily as he turned away and scrabbled at the cabinet behind him, pulled out an ancient, yellow-bound book and threw it on the desk. His mother cried out as it slid across and would have fallen to the floor if Pippin hadn't caught it reflexively, shocked that his father would handle this book with so little regard. "I entered your death in the Yellowskin!" he bellowed, and his words shuddered and strained like a beast overburdened. He leaned his hands upon the desk as if he'd suddenly lost strength, and then in a broken, dull voice he said, "I counted my only son dead."
The memory of Lord Denethor's final grief rose in Pippin, and he was tossed from his proud surety, confused and frightened to witness the same sorrow in his own father that had driven Lord Denethor mad; a grief so profound and bitter that it stirred anger and despair rather than pity and wisdom. His eyes fell to the gleam of lamplight on the tall helm of Gondor where it rested on his father's desk. He thought of Boromir, lost forever, and Faramir, the son that Denethor refused to reach for through his madness.
"But," he said and could think of no better words, "you can stop mourning me now. I'm not dead; I'm here." When his father gave no reply, Pippin continued insistently, "And Frodo didn't fail his quest, and we can save the Shire, right now, and put everything back to rights."
"So simple you make it sound."
"It's only hard if we do nothing."
Paladin's eyes fixed upon the Yellowskin, and he remained bent over the desk for long, quiet moments, breathing heavily. At last, he raised his arm with effort, blindly reaching, and gripped Pippin's shoulder hard. He thumped it clumsily, his face clenched with some powerful effort, and then he pulled Pippin close and held him, and Pippin could feel his father's body shudder, refusing to weep. "My boy," he whispered once, harshly, and then pushed him away.
Pippin's face was wet with the tears Paladin wouldn't spill, tears bittersweet with the sudden knowing that this was all his father could give, for his father's face was dry and old: lined with worries born over the past year, worn with grief, wearied by the evil Men's rape of the Shire, and branded deepest by an old battle between pride and love in his heart that Pippin had always known raged under his father's moods but only now saw fully revealed. Pippin felt he was at once both the boy who never lived up to the expectations his father thrust upon him and the wise veteran of life who, for the first time, saw that his father was merely a hobbit, with both powerful strengths and deep failings, foundering under grief even as he carried on as best he could.
Paladin cleared his throat and said, "So it has to be Bywater, eh?"
"Aye, but we'll chase them all away, wherever we find them."
His mother went to Paladin's side. "You can send the little boys down the smial to fetch some willing lads, and then some of them can run down the road to the Boffins'."
"I know how to muster m'own people," he said thickly, and cleared his throat again. He looked up at Pippin sharply. "But I'll not leave us undefended. If you've been raising a ruckus, then we'll have Men with crossbows back on our borders by morning."
"Give me a hundred, Father," said Pippin, "and we'll manage."
"A hundred? Why not ask for ponies for them all, and swords, and fancy headgear like yours while you're at it?"
"If you have them to spare, then please!" Pippin said. "And I'd like to put in a request for green surcoats, or maybe blue. Black is so somber, and it shows the dust terribly."
"Now you joke." Paladin scowled at him. "Just what kind of war did you fight in? And how do you think you're going to chase off anyone, primping like a tweenager before an Overlithe dance?"
It had been too soon to jest. Pippin wondered if he and his father could ever go back to feeling at ease with one another again. His face felt like stone as he said, "It was a grim war, Father, a war we won with hard toil and sacrifice."
He saw that his father looked at him finally, as closely as his mother had, and when his gaze touched upon the scars he grimaced but said nothing.
"Give me a hundred hunters," said Pippin. "We need to start marching well before dawn if we're to be of any use in Bywater."
"You can have your hundred," said Paladin coldly, "if you can find those as are willing."
At his mother's orders, the younger cousins packed food for Pippin and his companions while the older boys dashed through the village spreading summons from the Thain to gather in defense of Tuckborough. Pippin made sure that Nick Cotton and his companions were fed well, and then he went through the village himself, trotting from house to house, looking for able lads willing to travel with him to Bywater. Many of his cousins and friends were overjoyed that he was indeed alive, and volunteered on the spot; soon he had a hundred and some, and dispatched a messenger to Bywater to tell Merry. When the stars had wheeled around past midnight, he returned home, and while his small army made ready to march, he made time to meet his new nephew, Largo, as Pervinca nursed him in the kitchen.
"When he eats, I get so hungry," she said. Largo was content in the crook of her arm, and she fed herself bread and cheese and cold meat with the other hand, careful not to drop crumbs.
"He's a handsome one. But," Pippin filled his voice with mock disapproval, "Tanto Hornblower? Really now. I thought for sure you would throw him over for a local lad."
"Ha! Shows what you know," she replied, her eyes flashing.
"Oh, you know I wish you both all happiness," he said as he helped himself to a slice of cheese from her plate. "And Largo really is a charming little lad."
"He's a greedy pig," she replied, and playfully slapped Pippin's hand away from her food. "Reminds me of you."
He nodded and smiled, too tired to retort. The old clock ticked on the mantle, filling the warm silence that lengthened between them, and his sister's loving presence fed his spirit in a way that his parents' had not.
"It hit Father hardest, you know," she said abruptly. "No one else gave up hope, especially not Mother, but he..." She swallowed. "I heard the yelling. You've always been his favorite."
"And will he ever forgive me for that?" The question came without thought or bitterness, but Pervinca looked troubled and made no answer. Soon after, he made ready to leave, checking the gathering of sturdy hobbits by the main gate.
Paladin, his face grim, did not come outside but stood in the hall beyond reach, watching from inside the threshold of the Great Smials. Pippin bowed gravely to him from the other side of the open doorway with fair and formal words of gratitude. He noticed those in earshot looked by turns approving or puzzled; the words were proper for such a solemn occasion as leave-taking for war but less apt for a father losing his returned son so soon. Pervinca knew, it seemed, for her expression was pity-stricken in the light spilling from the hall. Her baby looked around with alert, sober eyes from her arms.
"It's cold," he said at last, keeping his voice light as he could. "Get inside and keep my nephew warm. I'll be back soon to teach him some proper mischief." He dared say no more or tears would threaten him again, and he refused to break so before the unforgiving cliff of his father's face. "Go on now," he repeated, and he nodded and winked at her.
"Come right back," she said.
"I promise," he replied, and he closed the door, shut out both her concern and his father's stern fear.
Pippin's thoughts flew to the morning's hard work ahead as he led a hundred of his kin through the dark. His cousins and uncles and friends were singing and full of excitement as they marched in crooked lines, and Pippin rode astride his pony, alone, at the front. He considered the coming conflict, troubled that some hobbits might be hurt, or even killed, but confident to certainty that they would prevail against the ruffians.
When the singing subsided into the thoughtful silent luster of false dawn, he considered also how he was the son who returned home beyond hope and wondered if he, like Faramir, would never find his father.