The End!  If you're interested in my look at the hobbits' arrival in Rivendell and their two-week stay there, my story "Return to Rivendell" covers that part of the Tale.  (And the fate of Saruman and Wormtongue is told in 'The Scouring of the Shire' in The Return of the King.)

Thank you so much, everyone, for taking this rather unusual journey with me.  I have ideas for several new stories, but I'm not sure which will take shape first.

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Responses to reviews are located at the end of the chapter.

Chapter NoteErnil i Pheriannath ["prince of the halflings"] was a title given to Pippin by the citizens of Gondor.

DISCLAIMER:  Of course. The characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.

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The Took family … was liable to produce in every generation strong characters of peculiar habits and even adventurous temperament.  The Fellowship of the Ring, 'Prologue'

MIND TO MIND

Chapter 11 -- Looking Ahead

September 10

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Pippin had been prepared for the worst, but he was surprised at how little pain there really was.  Until the last few stitches, that is.  As Celeborn tugged gently at the last thread, Pippin gritted his teeth and clutched Merry's shirt even tighter than he had been.

"Here now," Celeborn said softly, "enough of that.  Let go, that's it."

To the hobbits' surprise, the Elf Lord wasn't addressing Pippin -- but the thread.  As if in response to his cajoling, the thread slid free of Pippin's arm.

"Finished," Celeborn announced.  "Forgive me, Pippin, that there was any discomfort."  Although the majority of the sutures in Pippin's arm would remain in place for some days, Celeborn had deemed it safe to remove a number of threads between which an area of skin -- the more shallow part of the cut -- was already healing nicely.

"It really wasn't bad," Pippin said, surprised.  He looked with interest at his arm, and the long red line, running from his wrist nearly to his elbow, where the heavy Dwarvish glass had sliced into him in the cave.  Merry pried Pippin's fingers loose from his shirt with a chuckle, but inside, he was shaking.  It was obvious that the cut had been deep and very serious; if that glass had cut Pippin's wrist just half an inch lower, his young cousin would never have lived long enough to make it out of the cave, let alone back to camp.

"I knew it," Sam murmured.  He picked up a few of the cut threads of hithlain and studied them.

"Knew what?" Frodo asked.

"That rope in the Black Lands did come when I called it, Mr. Frodo," Sam said triumphantly.  "It was made of the same stuff as this, wasn't it?" He asked Celeborn, who nodded.  "It came when I called, the same way this came loose when Lord Celeborn asked it to."

"How about that?" Frodo said with a grin.  "Do you still have some of that rope, Sam?  It might come in handy someday."

"I surely do," Sam said firmly.  "I'm never going anywhere again without a bit of rope."

Celeborn re-bandaged Pippin's arm, loosely, and got to his feet.  "Everything looks fine," he said.  "Elrond will remove the remainder of the sutures when they are no longer required."

Pippin's face fell.  "You'll have left us by then, won't you?"

"Yes," Celeborn replied.  "In two days' time, our people return to the Golden Wood, and you will continue toward Rivendell."

"I wish you would stay longer," Pippin sighed.

"Thank you, my friend," the Elf Lord smiled.  "I have enjoyed getting to know all of you better during this time."  He started to leave the tent, then turned and looked at Frodo.  "Elrond will be in to see you soon."

Two days earlier, Frodo and Pippin awoke from their outdoor nap to find Saruman gone -- and that they had been carried back to their own beds, in the tent shared by the hobbits.  Pippin had been delighted to be out from under the close watch of the healers, only to discover that Merry -- his very own cousin -- was an even sterner taskmaster than even Lord Elrond.  However, a steady stream of visitors, offering quiet talk, songs, and stories, helped the impatient youngster through two more days of minimal activity.  With the enforced bed rest, regular and wonderfully large meals, and continued doses of the Elves' tonic, Pippin had improved so steadily that he was now free to come and go as he pleased.

Frodo's recuperation, however, had been much slower, and he hadn't needed anyone to keep him abed -- although he enjoyed the visitors as much as Pippin.  His satisfaction at having his clothing restored to him had been somewhat lessened by the fact that he had spent more time over the past two days asleep than awake.  His periods of sleep had been long and deep, until at last his body began to recover from the weakness caused by fever, injury, and resistance to the relentless, still-potent voice of Saruman.

"Don't fret sir," Sam said reassuringly.  "You're nearly all well again.  You're not sleepin' nearly as much as you were, and that's a fact."

"True," Frodo said with a smile.  "At least that dreadful dizziness is gone."

"Elrond will give you a clean bill of health," Merry said.

"I hope so," Frodo sighed.  "I no longer wish to be carried about everywhere, like a babe."  He looked up hopefully as the tent flap lifted, but it wasn't Elrond -- it was Elladan.

"Sam, Merry, Pippin," Elladan said, "might I speak with Frodo alone?"

The three hobbits scurried off -- Sam to ensure that some of his master's favorite foods were being prepared for luncheon, and Merry staying close to Pippin, who still tired easily.  Elladan sat next to Frodo's bed.

"How are you feeling?" Frodo asked.  He grinned and motioned to the Elf's tunic.  "I see that your clothing was returned to you, as well."

"At last," Elladan smiled.  "However, in my case, becoming properly attired was hampered by pain.  It is only today that I am able to raise my arms easily enough to be able to once again wear my tunic."

"We were all very lucky," Frodo said quietly.

"In your case, Frodo, it was much more than luck," Elladan replied.  "May we talk about what happened, between Saruman and yourself?"  Frodo nodded.  "Elrohir tells me that you were able to resist Saruman's voice."

"Yes."

"Because the Ring spoke in such a way, and you recognized it."

"The Ring didn't exactly speak," Frodo said thoughtfully, "but I found that it influenced my thoughts and actions in subtle ways -- and more strongly, as it was brought closer to its place of origin.  When Saruman attempted to replace my thoughts with his own, and sway me to his reasoning, it was very similar."

Elladan nodded.  "That is how his voice affected me, as well, although I was less able to resist it."  He frowned in thought.  "Bilbo described the voice of Smaug in similar terms.  He said that a dragon takes truth and twists it so that you doubt your own thoughts."

"Yes."  Frodo looked at the Elf curiously.  "What troubles you, Elladan?"

"Nothing, now," Elladan said with a smile.  "It is just that my admiration and respect for both you and Bilbo, while not inconsiderable before, has risen to new heights recently.  To resist the Ring for so long, if it was anything like the heavy weight of Saruman's words, is a feat of which you should be very proud."

"Elladan," Frodo murmured, "I only---"

"I will not say more if you would rather not hear it.  But I have learned, from this experience, the answer to something I have pondered since the day of the Council in Rivendell."

"What is it?"

"I have not understood why my father did not take it upon himself to carry the Ring to the Fire," the Elf said quietly.  "He bears a ring of power, as you know, and has used it only for healing and preservation.  I did not believe he could be corrupted by the One Ring, or would listen to its call.  I know now that I was mistaken.  If he had taken the Ring, Frodo, I do not think he would have returned.  Or if he had returned…" Elladan looked grim.  "We might not have recognized him.  Middle-earth might not now be at peace if other choices had been made, or had you and Sam been less strong."

"Elladan," Frodo asked softly, "will you stay in Middle-earth?"

"I will stay, at least for now," Elladan replied.  "You have shown me more than you know, Frodo.  I have much to learn, still, about mercy and strength, healing and forgiveness."  He rose to leave, then turned back.  "When I have learned fully what you and Bilbo already know, when I have found true peace within myself… perhaps then I will turn my eyes to the West."

"And Elrohir?"

"We will not be parted from the other," Elladan said with a smile.  "We are of one heart and one mind."  He bowed deeply, then left.

Frodo did not have much time to ponder his conversation with Elladan before Elrond came to check on his remaining patient.  To Frodo's surprise, the Elf Lord did not approach his bed, but remained at the entrance to the tent.  With a smile, he motioned for Frodo to come to him.

Frodo slid carefully to his feet, then stood for a moment, gauging his strength and balance.  Slowly, but with no difficulty, he walked to where Elrond was standing, and looked up at the Elf Lord.

"Well?" Frodo demanded.

"I see no reason to keep you abed any longer, Frodo," Elrond decided.  "You and your cousins have made quite remarkable recoveries."  He sat down on Sam's bed, and Frodo sat beside him.

"Everyone did wonders keeping Pippin quiet and resting," Elrond remarked.  "You must be quite practiced."

"We are," Frodo grinned, "but it wasn't that difficult.  It's hard for Pip to stay still for long, but he's nobody's fool.  Deep down, he knew that he wasn't ready to go running about -- until today, that is."

"We will be encamped here for several more days," Elrond said.  "I hope you and Pippin will take every opportunity to rest."

"We will.  And thank you, Lord Elrond.  I am certain you have had more cooperative patients."

"Not many!" the Elf Lord laughed.  "My own sons can be as stubborn as any hobbit."  A shadow of sorrow crossed his face.  "My tasks in Middle-earth are ending; it may be a long time before I see my sons again."

"Are you leaving soon?" Frodo asked quietly.

Elrond nodded.  "In a few short years, Frodo, I will travel to the Havens and take ship to the West.  I know that this choice is still before you.  When the time approaches, I will send you a message, so that you may decide what to do."

"A message?" Frodo asked curiously.  "How will you send it?"

"It will not be a message of parchment, but from mind to mind."  Elrond smiled gently at the hobbit.  "You will know when we are on our way, my friend.  Of that I have no doubt."

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Gentle evening darkened to night, and the camp grew quiet.  In one small tent three hobbits lay in their beds, longing for sleep, but Pippin was pacing restlessly about.

"We leave in a few days," Pippin mused.

"What of it?" Merry asked.

"I was just thinking…"

"Uh oh," Frodo sighed.  "Out with it, Pip."

Pippin turned to them, his eyes sparkling.  "There are three other caves up there.  Aren't you curious about them?  Why did the dwarves dig four openings in the same place?  Why not just one?  Maybe they're all different.  Maybe---"

Merry pulled Pippin down beside him, and calmly pressed a practiced hand over his cousin's mouth.  "Just what is it about Tooks, anyway?" he asked Frodo.  "Hasn't this hobbit had enough adventure already to last him ten lifetimes?"

"Have you?" Frodo asked.  "You're half Took, in case you've forgotten."

"And you're---"

"Enough Took to be curious about those caves, as well," Frodo admitted.

"I can't believe I'm hearin' this," Sam said with a groan.  "Have you lost your mind?  That is, have you lost your mind, sir?" he amended.

"Don't worry, Sam," Frodo grinned.  "I'm not enough Took to want to go back there."

"Just add it to your list, Pip," Merry sighed.

Frodo looked from Merry to Pippin.  "Do I want to know about this list?"

"Your daft cousin…" Merry began.

"My cousin?"

"…has a list of things he wants to do someday.  It's very long, Frodo."

"It's not that long," Pippin huffed, pushing Merry's hand away.  "Admit it, Frodo, you've always wanted to go see Smaug's body too, haven't you?"

"I have?"

"And the Balrog!  Don't you wonder what's left of it?"

"Peregrin, the peak of that mountain has to be at least a mile above us."

"It can't be that high," Pippin declared.

"What else is on your list, Mr. Pippin?" Sam asked, fascinated.

Frodo groaned and pulled the blanket over his head, but Pippin jumped to his feet and yanked it back down.

"And what about the eagles?" Pippin persisted, staring into his cousin's blue eyes.

"What about them?"

"You may have ridden on one, but I haven't."

"I wouldn't exactly call what we did riding, Mr. Pippin," Sam frowned, "especially since neither of us remembers it."

"Frodo," Pippin said quietly, suddenly serious, "once we get home, I'll just be a tween again.  It'll be years before there'll be another chance for adventure.  Out here…" he sighed, and Frodo sat up and smiled at him.

"Out here," Frodo said, "you're the Ernil i Pheriannath, is that it?"

"Well…"

"Pippin, tween or not, you are still a Knight of Gondor and Messenger of the King," Frodo declared proudly.

"Don't forget the troll you killed," Sam said.

"Or the lives you saved," Merry added.  "Faramir and Beregond would both be dead now, if not for you."

"Maybe Elladan, too," Frodo said softly.

"What do you mean?" Pippin asked, puzzled.

"What possessed you to leave the star-glass with him?"

"It just…" Pippin thought back to the cave, then shook his head.  "I don't know.  It just came to me that it might help him feel better -- less alone, maybe.  Did it?"

"It did more than that," Frodo replied.  "Elrond told me that, without it, Elladan might have been too weak to hold on until help came."

"Really?" Pippin beamed.

"Just keep followin' your instincts, Mr. Pippin," Sam told him.  "You'll be fine, tween or not."

Pippin blushed and looked down, at an uncharacteristic loss for words.

"Pip," Frodo chuckled, "I wouldn't worry too much.  You'll be the tallest, best armed, farthest travelled tween ever to hit the Shire, and your stories and songs already rival Bilbo's.  I doubt anyone will treat you like a child, ever again."

Frodo yawned and lay down again, but was suddenly enveloped in a fierce hug.  He could see Pippin's eyes, just inches from his, shining with joy.

"'Night, Pip," Frodo smiled.

"'Night."

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END

Ainu Laire:  Oh thank you so much.  I knew this story would be darker than my usual, but I did hope that folks would stick around long enough for it to find its way back to the light.

aprilkat:  I'm so happy to find ways to write about Gandalf's pride in 'his' hobbits.  He recognized their potential before anyone else.

Ariel:  And that concludes our meal!  I hope you enjoyed your stay.

Arwen Baggins:  What a relief to have brought this angsty story around to a hobbity conclusion.

Auntiemeesh:  Frodo is so special, isn't he?  What a wonderful character to write (and love).

Birch tree:  I enjoyed uncovering all the little ways the hobbits showed unique 'abilities' throughout the trilogy.  Fanfic authors have only begun to scratch the surface.

Bluegrass Elf:  Ah, our incorrigible Pippin.  We wouldn't want him any other way!

Bodkin:  There is something Elf-like about hobbits.  Even Faramir, in The Two Towers, said that he thought there was an "Elvish air" about Frodo even though he'd never seen an Elf himself.

Bookworm2000:  Thank you for trying so hard to review Chapter 10 -- ff.net was having one of those days, wasn't it?  Ah yes, hobbits are wonderfully stubborn.  A formidable race, altogether.

Camellia Gamgee-Took:  Glad you enjoyed Pippin's little escapade; it's difficult to keep an active tween in bed, hobbit or human!

Carcilwen:  Thank you for all your support and encouragement.

ClaudiaofBree:  You sensed a full-circle ending, and you were right!  Hope it was satisfying.  I really appreciated what you said in your review of Chapter 9.  It's possible that when the threat is more complex and requires in-depth research -- such as Saruman -- the other characters must evolve in complexity to deal with it and stay strong.  If my writing is really reflecting that, I'm so glad to have it pointed out.  (I'm curious to see what will happen when I tackle the Barrow-downs, which I'm planning.)

Connie:  I agree, it's been a hectic spring; hopefully the summer will bring lots of time to write -- for all of us.

cpsings4him:  No matter how far from canon this story may have strayed, I always planned that the fate of Saruman would bring us back to the book -- with him set free, and on his way to the Shire.

Darth Stitch aka Jedi Skysong:  None of us wanted to see Saruman set free!  But it was my way of bringing this story back to 'canon' -- he and Wormtongue are now on their way to the Shire, as per the book.

Elenar:  Ah, poor Elrond!  But I'll bet he was enjoying every minute of it.  What's a healer without patients?

elentariangel:  Hobbitses are all better -- I couldn't bear any more angst, either!

Elven Kitten:  If that elusive and embarrassing courtship story is worth telling, some fanfic writer will tell it!

Elwen:  I tried to make Frodo's reasoning about letting Saruman go as logical as possible -- I'm so glad it worked.

EmeraldFaith:  The hobbits love your hugs!

endymion2:  Yes, the villains leave and everyone lives happily ever after.  This is one of my stories, remember!

esamen:  Two reviews for one chapter!  I agree about Aragorn's strength and importance; I was sorry I couldn't include him in this story, as I've grown very fond of writing about him.  And believe it or not, I think the hobbits would have had plenty of nightshirts, etc. to wear.  Before they left Minas Tirith, Aragorn told Frodo that he would see them "arrayed as princes of the land" -- the hobbits were in Gondor for months, and I suspect that full wardrobes were made for them before they headed for home.

Firnsarnien:  As I planned from the beginning, the decision to release Saruman brought us back to canon -- with him set free, and on his way to the Shire.  Writing such an arrogant character was fascinating, but I'm glad to return to my lighthearted hobbitses!

FrodoFollower:  I'm glad you found this story and have enjoyed it so much!

GamgeeFest:  Cranky patients are the most fun (to write about, anyway!).

Gentle Hobbit:  I'm happy to have given you some ideas to chew on!  We all inspire each other so much.

Hai Took:  I wasn't sure that hobbits and Elves napping together would seem logical, so thank you for saying you liked that part!

hobbitfeet13:  Even though Frodo's reasoning and decision about Saruman may have been uncomfortable, I'm glad to hear that they seemed logical and true to his character.

Hobbit Lily Baggins:  I always thought that the dreams the hobbits had in the house of Tom Bombadil were very interesting, and this story seemed a good place to highlight Merry's.

hyperactive forever:  Elladan has never had so many hugs!  And as you can see, you scared Saruman away completely.  You rock!

illyria-pffyffin:  Thank you.  I may not write about Saruman again, but you can be sure that I'll be writing about something!  And soon.

Iorhael:  You're right -- no matter how far from canon this story may have strayed, I always planned that the fate of Saruman would bring us back to the book -- with him set free, and on his way to the Shire.

Jenni:  My chapters are about three times longer than they were when I started writing two years ago, and I'm so happy to hear that they feel "just right"!

Lady Jaina:  I take every opportunity to write "gentleness and light humor" -- it's one of my favorite ways to tell a story.

Laughing Half Elf:  Pippin would love to help with your homework, as long as there are frequent snack breaks.

Leah Beth:  Your review made perfect sense.  Combining fluff with angst is my favorite way to write.  I like there to be excitement and twists to keep a story interesting, but enough love, lightheartedness, resilience, and gentle strength to weave hope and 'hobbityness' all the way through it.

Leia Wood:  We all want to nurse them back to health, Leia!  I think that's why so many of us write hurt/comfort.

LilyBaggins:  What a relief to know that this strange blend of cuddles and canon is satisfying, Lily.  I really do write certain passages with you in mind!

Lindelea:  I'm greatly complimented by your wishing this story would go "ever on", but… ah well!  There will be other tales to tell, and soon.  Thank you so much for your enthusiasm.

lovethosehobbits:  Yes, Frodo's merciful decision about Saruman bodes ill for the Shire, but what else could he have done?

Lyta Padfoot:  Elrond had to give Frodo back his clothes eventually, but it was a fun battle of wills while it lasted.

melilot hill:  Yes, Elves and hobbits can be equally stubborn -- what fun.

Pippinfan1988:  We do love our hobbits so much!  It's so hard to explain to non-fans, isn't it?

pipwise brandygin:  That's it, exactly -- the hobbits are just too cute, and they don't even know it!  How can anyone resist fussing over them?

rabidsamfan:  I'll let Prof. Tolkien take care of Saruman's "comeuppance" -- dead at the hand of his servant, at the very door of Bag End.

Samwise the Strong:  The answer to why Frodo would want Saruman set free can be found in the quote I use at the top of Chapter 10, which is from the chapter 'The Scouring of the Shire' from ROTK.  Frodo's pity and sense of mercy (like Bilbo's) are quite amazing.

SapphireMeriadocTook:  The healers have really had their hands full with their stubborn patients, haven't they?  As we all know, it's hard to stay in bed when you're used to being active and independent.