Notes to Readers:
Thank you for the comments! They are very motivating and give me insights into the stories that make me dig deeper in writing, which I probably wouldn't do were I the only one reading these stories...
Dana! Got the reviews, thanks. And yes, I am admiring your self-control. I love the way you hit the high points, too, as it is kind of a reminder for me of what went before...
Hai, Ferdi is such a character, I am really enjoying writing him. And a sequel to this has popped up, so I get to write more about him, such fun!
Sunhawk, I am honoured that this story has joined your list of favourites.
xena, glad you're not tired of being on your toes. So if you could vote, what would you vote for, to be the next story: "Shire"? or the sequel to this one?
Bookworm, your dad sounds like a good person to know.
Aemilia Rose, you ought to get more consolation in this chapter.
FantasyFan, this will wake up Faramir, but he still has the pressure of being the son of the Thain to deal with, as well as the added onus of the gossip that will result from what has happened. None of his problems has gone away, they are still with him, and multiplied now, by this incident. Your "intermediary" comment has sparked a sequel to this story: take an extra teacake! (I just hope I am not writing Farry "too old" for his ten years in the next story… chalk it up to his precocious mind coupled with experience that grew him up too quickly.)
To all: ffnet continues to act odd. I get some reviews in email that don't show up at the site, I see some on the site that never show up in the mail, and some, I'm told by frustrated reviewers, are not showing up at all. If you sent a review and I have not made reference to it above, I thank you for taking the time to review. Reviews are helpful, and give me a viewpoint of a story that I have difficulty achieving otherwise, since I can "see" the story all the way to the end and don't know quite how it "looks" to someone who doesn't have the outline handy.
Ff.net permitting, expect to see the first chapter of the next story in the shoot two days from this posting. If you cannot access ff.net, try www.storiesofarda.com. You can leave reviews there, as well, and there is a "reply" feature where I can reply to a review right there rather than within the text of the story. I'm also told there is an "author alert" feature. Amazing place, that SoA.
It looks as if the next story to have chapters posted after this one ends will be either "Shire" or "Runaway". Hey, if you review this chapter, and vote for one or the other, it might help me make up my mind. The Muse is plugging along on both stories at the moment, as well as a sequel to "Truth". Who am I to complain? It's a lot better than a postcard from Hawaii.
The next chapter of "Truth" will be added on the morrow, if ffnet agrees.
Enough admin notes. Let's get to the story.
9. In the Land of the Living
In the middle night, Faramir awakened. His eyes were heavy from having cried himself to sleep, and his head ached. He was aware of a weight on the bed, someone sitting with him, holding his hand. He groaned himself upright, only to be enveloped in his father's arms. Clinging tightly to his father, he wept again.
'I'm sorry,' he sobbed. 'I know it's useless, but I am.'
'I know,' Pippin replied.
'How is Auntie Nell?' Faramir asked.
'She is well,' Pippin replied soberly. 'You have a new cousin, Farry. She had a fine boy, and both are sleeping now.'
'Does she know about...?' Faramir couldn't bring himself to finish the question.
'No,' Pippin sighed. 'I don't know quite how to tell her. It seemed kinder to let her sleep, gather strength. She was quite put out with her husband for missing the birth of his first son.'
'O Da!' Faramir sobbed, heartbrokenly, and his father's arms tightened around him again as he buried his face in Pippin's shirt. Pippin held his son until, exhausted from weeping, he slept again.
In the dim early light, the Thain's escort blearily took up the search once more. The waters had receded, and Tolly decided to backtrack somewhat, in case Ferdibrand's body had been pinned underwater. He could not believe that the body had been carried so very far downstream, but they had scouted both banks of the stream for several miles before darkness fell. Now they went back to the start, to cover the same ground again. There was no hurry, after all, but there was need to be thorough. It would be some comfort, not much, but some, for Pimpernel to bury her husband, rather than wondering forever where he had found his end.
A hobbit does not go willingly into water, not even when a shaft, skillfully shot, brings down a fat bird, sadly, with a splash into pond or stream. For this, there are dogs. A good water dog, his instincts honed with training, will swim the swiftest stream or deepest pond to retrieve his quarry, and thus, many a bird ends up in the pot that otherwise would have to be written off as lost to chance.
In the dim mist of the early morning, an eager spaniel was coursing along the bank of the Tuckbourn, not far from his master's farmstead. The water had gone down after the deluge of the previous day, the ducks were out, and his master thought to bag a brace of fat birds to roast for second breakfast. He'd taken early breakfast with him, potatoes, fresh from the coals, warming the pockets on either side of his coat. His bow and quiver hung from his back, and at the moment he was warming his hands in his pockets, prior to getting ready for some serious shooting.
As they tramped along, the dog gave a bark and ran ahead, heedless of his master's whistle. The hunter shook his head. Dog needed more training, like as not. Funny that he should take off like that. He whistled again, grumbling to himself. 'Daft beast.' Antics like these might scare off all the birds before he could line up a good shot. Just in case, he strung his bow and plucked an arrow from the quiver, to be ready should the spaniel flush a bird that he should properly stop and point.
The dog had caught a scent, all right, of something in the water. All his training had taught him to fetch things that didn't belong in the water, birds, mostly, shot by his master, but once he had retrieved a fat coney that had jumped into the water to try to swim away. Now he lifted his nose to the air, to catch the elusive scent of something in the water that did not belong there. His tail quivered with excitement at this self-appointed task. He loved his work.
The dog reached the still form, half out of the water, a hobbit. Hobbits did not belong in the water. Any self-respecting water spaniel knew this fact. The dog barked in excitement, tail gyrating wildly, but the hobbit remained half-submerged in the stream. The dog nudged at the arm in its sopping woollen sleeve with an urgent nose, got a good grip, tried to pull, to no avail. He licked the cold cheek in entreaty, but the hobbit remained stubbornly in the water (where no hobbit belongs, as has already been stated).
Happily, his training informed him what to do in an event like this, where his quarry was too big to bring to his master. He barked twice and sat down in happy anticipation of the praise that was his due.
The grumbling farmer came up, seeing the sitting form loom up before him in the mist that came off the water. 'What'd you find, boy?' he said gruffly. 'What've you got?'
Coming closer, he bit off an exclamation and covered the rest of the distance in a stumbling run. Dropping his bow, he turned the drenched hobbit over, checking for life. 'I don't believe it,' he muttered. He fumbled the battered old horn from his belt and blew a lusty call.
Young Ned Sandybank heard the winding of the horn from where he was fetching the cows for the early morning milking. 'That's Da!' he called to his younger brother, Ted.
'Wonder what he wants?' Ted said. He was a stolid and unimaginative young hobbit, and he was more interested in breakfast than speculation.
'I don't know, but that call means trouble,' Ned said grimly, latching the gate again. 'Sorry, lasses,' he said to the cows. 'Breakfast has been delayed a bit. Don't go away.' The cows bawled their displeasure at this interruption in their morning routine.
'Trouble?' Ted said, slightly more interested as he paid more heed to the horn. 'Ruffians, do you think?'
His brother snorted. 'There've been no ruffians in the Shire for years,' he said disgustedly, 'and none at all in Tookland, ye daft coney, you.' His brother took exception to this epithet, and would have said so, but for the fact that Ned was already trotting in the direction of the horn. Ted put down the buckets of slops he was hauling to the pigsty and trotted after his brother.
When they reached their father, he had pulled the half-drowned hobbit out of the water and wrapped him in his own cloak of good, thick wool from his own sheep. Looking up at Ned, he said, 'Run back t'hole, tell 'em to heat water for a bath, we've got to get this'un warm, we do. And bring a pony back with you, we'll just slip this'un up on its back, easier than carrying 'im.'
'Who is it, Dad?' Ted asked, crouching down.
'Dunno,' his father answered shortly. 'One of them Great Smials Tooks, it looks to be, from the cut of the clothing.' He fingered fine wool of the soaking cloak he'd stripped off the figure.
'Is he dead?' Ted asked.
His father looked at him in exasperation. 'Are there any brains in that there head o' yourn?' he asked. 'Would I be popping a dead'un into a bath?'
'No, sir,' Ted answered, unabashed. He was used to being asked about the state of his brains.
Mid-morning, two farmers pulled up in front of the Great Smials. One helped the other down from the waggon as they eyed the windows of the sprawling dwelling, hung with the colours of mourning.
'That for you?' the one asked the other, who shook his head.
'There was a lad swept away as well,' came the answer.
The Took standing guard at the entrance to the Smials walked over. 'May I help you?' he said politely, then his jaw dropped in shock as he recognised one of the figures in farmer's togs. 'Ferdi?' he gasped.
'The same,' Ferdibrand said.
'But you're -- you're drowned!' the guard said.
'So I'm told,' Ferdi answered. 'Woke up in the stream, as a matter of fact.'
'Woke up in...' the guard said, then grabbed his arm. 'Come on, you've got to see the Thain! He thinks you're dead!'
Ferdi resisted long enough to tell the farmer, 'Put up your ponies and come in, we'll find you some elevenses. I'll change and get these clothes back to you.'
'No hurry,' the farmer said genially. 'Think I might stick around for the celebration, once they find you're not dead. Might even get some of that fine ale the Thain's so famous for, in the bargain.'
'I think we can arrange something to that effect,' Ferdibrand said, and then allowed the guard to drag him into the Smials.
The guard tapped at the study door and entered without waiting for a summons. Pippin and Reginard were talking quietly, and looked up at the interruption. The annoyance on the Thain's face faded when he realised who stood before him; the farmer's clothes had misled him at first.
'Ferdi!' he gasped, even as Reginard rose from his chair, to cross the study in a few great strides, to thump him soundly on the back.
'Did you tell my Nell already?' was the only question in Ferdibrand's mind.
'No,' Pippin answered, crossing the gap between them to take Ferdi's hand and wring it heartily. 'No, we were waiting for your body to be recovered.'
'Here it is,' Ferdi said, holding out his arms in an expressive gesture. 'All recovered.'
'Congratulations,' Pippin said with a broad grin.
'What, for surviving? No congratulations are in order, but I do feel I owe you some thanks for insisting I learn to swim in the first place. 'Twas the only thing that saved me, and at that it was a close call.'
'Not for surviving,' Pippin replied. 'For the birth of your son. You are a father, now, Ferdi, not just a "Da" any longer.'
'My son... born last night?' Ferdi said. He shook his head in wonder. 'You had better throw me back in the stream, cousin. I think I'm better off drowned.'
'What?' Pippin said, dumbfounded, as Reginard began to laugh.
'He means...' Regi said, but could not complete the thought for laughing.
'I missed the birth of my first son,' Ferdi said, 'Nell's and my own first child, together. What is she going to do to me?'
Pippin joined in the laughter, throwing an arm around Ferdibrand's shoulders, howling in joy and relief.
'I'm serious!' Ferdi said indignantly. 'You don't know what she'll say to me!'
'It's all right, Ferdibrand,' Pippin gasped, wiping a tear from his eye. 'We'll fortify you with a glass of the Thain's private stock, and then I will personally escort you to your wife's side and shield you from any darts she might toss.'
'Very kind of you, I'm sure,' Ferdibrand said with dignity.
Reginard quickly poured out three glasses of Tookland's finest ale. Raising his, he said, 'Here's to Nell and the new babe!'
'To new life,' Pippin agreed, raising his own glass.
'To life,' Ferdi said simply.