Disclaimer: All characters belong to J. R. R. Tolkein, his various remaining family members and the J. R. R. Tolkein Estate, LTD. There is no intent to plagiarize, and I receive no profit from this fiction. Just basking in the glow of a wonderful and talented author whose accomplishments are far beyond my own humble scribblings.

Spoilers: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Fellowship of the Rings, the movie.

A/N: If you've only seen the movie and haven't read the trilogy, DON'T READ THIS FIC!!!!!! Serious spoilers for the remainder of the saga. Couldn't find 'Long Cleeve' on any of the maps I found, so I took the liberty of placing it in the North Farthing, since the 'north-Tooks' of Long Cleeve seem to have settled north rather than south. Any mistakes in years, ages, locations are purely the laziness of the author, and corrections are welcome. Many of the references to prior conversations are taken from 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord of the Rings' (disclaimed above). Thanks for reading.

The Courtship of Peregrin Took

S.R. 1421 October 5

The three weary travelers reigned in their ponies. They had been traveling in near silence for some time now. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence, but a companionable quiet. Each had many thoughts to think and they were content in just having the company of the other. Being near the East Road north of Waymoot, they could have made it home if they wanted to push a bit. Or they could have simply continued to Waymoot and stayed at an inn, for that matter. But they seemed reluctant to separate just yet. One more night on the road would be no great burden.

They had left the Grey Havens on the twenty-ninth of September, after seeing their dear friends, Bilbo, Frodo and Gandalf off on the Elven vessel that would take them away into the west. The journey back to the Shire had been slow and quiet, with an air of melancholy hanging over the three hobbits. And now, on this cool October evening, the end of the journey was in sight. Tomorrow they would go their separate ways again.

"This looks like as good a place as any," said the shortest of the three travelers, gratefully dismounting his pony and massaging his thighs. He gave his stout pony an affectionate rub on the nose, telling him, "Good job, Bill. You've earned your rest!"

The other two, taller and less serious looking than their fellow, also dismounted, although they didn't seem as fatigued as their friend.

As they removed supplies and sleeping rolls from their ponies' backs, the youngest of the group mused, "I can't believe they're really gone! It seems like the end of an era!"

Meriadoc Brandybuck, who was settling the ponies in for the night, looked at his friend and shook his head.

"Of course it is, my dear, idiotic Took! When the Elves boarded the ship at the Grey Havens, the Third Age officially ended! Didn't you listen when Gandalf talked? Or Frodo, for that matter?"

"My dear Merry," Peregrin Took, Pippin to his friends, retorted. "Of course I was listening. Yes, it's all well and good that the Third Age came to an end, but that wasn't what I meant!"

The last of the travelers had remained silent throughout this exchange. Now he stepped forward a bit diffidently. He clasped his hands behind his back and cleared his throat.

"I sees what you mean, Mister Pippin," he said quietly.

"Here, now, Sam!" Pippin chided. "Imagine! After all we've been through together, calling me 'Mister'!"

"The very idea!" Merry added in a tone of disgust. "One of the ring- bearers, who carried the One Ring! Standing on ceremony with simple messengers like us! Honestly, Sam, we're going to have to speak with Mistress Rose!"

Samwise Gamgee, who had 'done for' the Baggins family his entire life, but had great events thrust, all-unwillingly on his humble self, blushed to the roots of his curly brown hair.

"And what would Lady Galadriel, who's presents to you made the entire Shire bloom again, say to such nonsense?"

Sam had the grace to look sheepish, but replied with great dignity. "That wonderful Lady would tell a simple gardener like myself to remember where I come from."

Merry snorted derisively, but Pippin chimed in.

"And the Gaffer?" Pippin teased.

"He'd tell me to remember that I'm no better than I ought to be, begging your pardon, Master Peregrin!"

The three friends laughed. It was an old joke among them, and little by little they were getting Sam to leave off the formalities. In the reckoning of the Great, they constantly reminded him, his achievements were of heroic proportions while theirs barely rated a mention.

They had been setting up camp while they teased Sam and were ready now to start a fire and prepare a humble (for a hobbit) supper. All hobbits could cook; they learned as youngsters. In a race where food was the cornerstone of the culture, a basic knowledge of cooking was imperative and most hobbits were rather good at it. Samwise, however, was an artist compared to the other two, and the duties of food preparation fell to him. In a surprisingly short time, he had a savory stew bubbling in the pot from his weskit and even surprised them with sweet oat loaves from deep in his supply packets. With the bit of butter he had left, and a sweet plum jelly his wife Rose had sent along, they would do nicely for a 'camp meal'. The chores of cleaning, searching for firewood and the fetching of water were left to the two younger hobbits. When they smelled the aroma of the rich stew, however, they decided not to complain. With the chores done and supper well on the way, Pippin and Merry reclined on their bedrolls and pulled out pipes and tobacco while Sam stood and stretched his muscles. The ponies munched contentedly on the rich, green grass growing along the path, and Pippin picked up his conversation.

"As I was saying before this oaf of a Brandybuck interrupted me, with old Bilbo and Frodo gone, it feels like something has gone out of the Shire."

"I've been feeling it, too, Mis-er, Pippin," Sam agreed. "It feels like we're like a ship without a rudder, so to speak! I was telling Rosie, just last month, that the old Fellowship seems to be drifting apart."

"You know, Sam," Merry said, looking surprised. "You're right! Even though Pippin and I are only over at Crickhollow, its months since last we saw you and Frodo!"

Pippin nodded. "But just knowing Frodo was still up there at Bag End, and dear old Bilbo was away with Elrond was comforting. And now with Frodo and Bilbo gone, and old Gandalf, too, it's only the three of us to remember the Fellowship and the great things we were part of!"

They sat, thoughtful, considering what it meant. Even though Pippin was a messenger of the king of Gondor and Merry served the king of the Mark, without Frodo, Bilbo and Gandalf, what reason would King Elessar (they still thought of him as Strider), have to continue relations with the Shire? Or less so, King Eomer, for that matter. Merry looked sadly down at his bright mail shirt and the uniform of Rohan, which he always wore. What none of them seemed to realize was just what an impact they all had had on the great events that took place in the south. They would find out, though.

Pippin shifted restlessly and relit his pipe, which had gone out. He was about to settle back when he jumped up and cried, "What we want, my dear hobbits, is an adventure!"

Merry and Sam stared at the youngest hobbit for a few amazed moments, but then Sam shook his head.

"No, adventure is for you youngsters. Rose is waiting, and I wouldn't have the time, what, with the harvest and all."

"Come, Sam, you're all of two years older than I am!" Merry teased. "Don't pretend you're in your doddering old age, just yet. We know you, Master Samwise! Adventure for you is crossing the Brandywine once a month to gossip with fat old Barliman down Bree way! So, even though you use Mistress Rose shamefully as an excuse, you will have to do better than that."

He looked at Pippin. "What did you have in mind, my dear Took?"

Pippin grinned and tapped out his pipe. Replacing it in its pouch, he pulled a folded paper from under the mail shirt that he still wore, although he hadn't seen Gondor for over two years. Unfolding the paper, he smoothed it on the ground for Merry to see. Sam stirred the savory concoction that was bubbling over the fire, replaced the lid, and hurried back to see what Pippin was doing. Although he didn't really like adventure, he loved the tales, songs and stories that inevitably accompanied one.

"This is a map of the North Farthing and the country to the north of it!" he said excitedly. "See this stretch of woods here, at Bindbole?"

Pippin tapped the bottom of the map, then traced a line on the map that read 'Oatbarton'.

"I'm familiar with the geography of the Shire, Pippin," Merry said patiently. "What I'd like to know is why you think traveling in the North Farthing would be an adventure?"

Sam remained silent, waiting. If the young rascal Pippin said there was adventure to be had in the North Farthing, there must be something there.

"We-ell," Pippin drawled importantly, "I have a mission to perform for the Took! We have some family, the north Tooks of Long Cleeve, up in the North Farthing. They've been out of touch for some time, and the Took wants me to venture up that way and find out how they're faring. Too far away to be on the normal postal route, you know."

Merry considered while Sam gave a sigh of disgust. That didn't sound much like adventure, after all. He turned back to tend the supper.

"At the risk of being repetitive, just why is traveling north, even as far as Long Cleeve, adventurous?" Merry inquired politely.

"Just this," Pippin said brightly. "As I was saying before being so rudely interrupted, see the Bindbole Wood here?"

Merry nodded.

"Well, remember our promise to Treebeard? To keep an eye out for the Entwives? Well, I was poking around the old histories in the Great Smials a while back and found a thin volume that referred to the 'tree shepherdesses'!"

"No!" Merry said excitedly. "What else did it say?"

Pippin frowned. "Actually, it didn't say much else. It was a history of the North Farthing written by some ancient Took whose writing was atrocious! He was telling about the settling of the North Farthing, almost as far as the Lake Hills. You know, what they called Annuminas on the old maps."

Merry looked slightly vague at this, but Sam jumped up and hurried back to them. He didn't like adventure, but he loved maps.

"Annuminas!?" he cried, surprised out of his usual deferential manner. "You mean up by Lake Evendim? Near the North Downs?"

Pippin gave Sam a big smile. "That's exactly where I mean. The wood is small, but it stretches almost all the way up to the hills and that's where the Tooks settled. I figured once I checked in with my relations, we could explore the wood a bit, see if there was any sign of the Entwives."

Sam was frowning. Now what did that remind him of? A pub, a conversation some time ago with that little grubber Ted Sandyman, he was sure.

"Here! I remember!" he shouted suddenly.

Pippin and Merry stared at Sam. He had jumped forward and was standing over them with a look of intense concentration.

"Sam! What is it?" Merry asked, concerned.

"I remember! I was telling the story to Ted Sandyman afore Mr. Frodo and me left! Now it makes sense!"

Pippin stood and put a hand on Sam's shoulder. "Sit down, my dear hobbit! You look like you've run all the way from Bywater! Now, tell us what you're talking about!"

Sam sat heavily.

"It always bothered me when you and Merry talked about the Ent folk, and now I know why! It must of been almost three years ago, now. My cousin Hal, who works up Overhill way was telling me what he saw on the North Moors when he was off hunting. And I told Ted Sandyman in the Green Dragon. See?"

Pippin and Merry exchanged looks. They had no idea what Sam was talking about.

"Actually, Sam, no, we don't see." Merry gave Sam a grin and added, "But I'm sure we will. What did Hal see that you told Sandyman about?"

"And what does it have to do with Ents?" Pippin asked.

"Didn't I ever tell you? Hal said he saw one of them 'Tree-men' a-walking along. Said it was bigger than the other trees and looked like an elm. Said it paid him no mind, just 'hallooed' with its big hands and walked off. Our Hal was proper upset by it, but he never was one to tell a tall tale. If he says he saw a 'tree-man' that's what he saw!"

Sam gave them a stubborn look, almost as though daring them to contradict him. But Pippin and Merry were the last hobbits to accuse anyone of spinning yarns about 'tree-men'. They knew Ents existed, and were personally acquainted with several. They had even drunk of the special 'Ent-draught' that helped the Ents stay supple and healthy. That accounted for much of their unusual (for hobbits) height.

Pippin smiled happily at Sam. "That's wonderful! I only wish you would have told us sooner! Imagine! Ents, here in the Shire! What will Treebeard say?"

"What will he say, indeed?" mused Merry. "First, Pippin, we must find them! Remember that with the passing of the rings, much that was will fade away. I believe that Treebeard and his kind were nothing related to the Elven powers, but it would be best to look quickly!"

Sam watched the two younger hobbits with a bit of regret. He was not descended from any of the adventurous branches of the hobbit families, but his year spent with the Fellowship had made him more open-minded. Maybe a small quest wouldn't be a bad thing. A vision of Rose and their new daughter, Elanor, flashed in front of his eyes. It was tempting, but he wanted more than anything to be home with his family.

"Well, Pippin," he said regretfully. "It sounds like a fine adventure, but, as I said before, Rose is waiting, along with Elanor."

Merry and Pippin smiled at Sam. They suspected he would find some excuse, and this was as good as any.

"Well, Sam, since you mention Elanor, as well, I suppose we'll have to forgive you for deserting us this time," Merry told him.

"But," Pippin added, "if anything exciting happens, you'll have to make a tale of it for your book."

Pippin was referring to the book that Bilbo had begun years ago when he'd ventured with thirteen dwarves and a magician to the Lonely Mountain, faced a dragon, fought in the Battle of the Five Armies and lived to tell it. Bilbo had given the book to Frodo after adding many tales he'd translated when in Rivendell, as well as beginning the saga of the War of the Rings. They all knew that Frodo had passed the book on to Sam to continue to chronicle the further activities of the remainder of the Fellowship they'd become a part of.

Sam brightened considerably at this.

"You can be sure I will. Just make sure you bring back some local tales and songs, too!"

Merry laughed as Pippin folded up the map again and tucked it away safely.

"I will, but don't be upset if the tales are the same as we hear here," he replied mildly. "It is, after all, still the Shire."

Sam returned to the stew pot and mumbled something about 'those foreigners up north', while Merry leaned to Pippin.

"Seriously, Pippin," he said quietly. "Why this sudden need for adventure? Is there more?"

"No-oo," Pippin said uncertainly. "Its just that I feel a bit, well, restless, you know? As though things are happening without us! Not that I would want to be gone a year, again, but a nice bit of a small adventure might be just what's needed. And with what Sam told us, it won't be a wasted trip!"

Merry nodded and tucked his own pipe away. He had been feeling the same thing; the need to move about, to go somewhere farther than a night's journey from their nice little home in Crickhollow. Coming to see Frodo and Bilbo off had been good, but he also wanted something more. Wandering through the fairly tame forest of Bindbole Wood sounded like just the ticket. Especially if they found Ents!