Paladin Took sat by the fire in the Great Smials and smoked his pipe in silence. But it was not a comfortable silence. His wife Eglantine had seen him in this mood often. He was thinking about the boy again.
The Thain blew a smoke ring and stared into the fire deep in thought. His memory brought him back to that sunny late summer afternoon of a year ago, when he and Peregrin had a fight.
He had just heard of yet some other sort of mischief his only son and the young Mr. Brandybuck had been up to. Pippin, with filthy hands and face, had stood in the middle of this very room, eyes cast to the floor, and listened to his father’s reprimand in silence, at least up until a certain point.
“When will you start taking some responsibility?” the Thain had shouted. “You are to be the next Thain, don’t you ever forget that!”
“How could I?” Pippin had suddenly burst out. “With you reminding me every day? It’s always don’t do this, don’t do that, responsibility, rules, future Thain! I know all too well what I am going to have to be. I’m not even an adult yet! At least let me be myself until I have to become you!”
Paladin had lost his temper at this. Peregrin had never shouted at him before, and his words pierced his father-heart. His Thain-sense however, was furious. He had slapped the insolent boy in the face.
Pippin had given his father a glare he would never forget, and with his hand pressed against his reddening cheek, had ran to his room, so that his father would not see his tears.
Paladin had been very upset, and hardly slept that night. When the next morning he knocked on the door of Peregrin’s room to talk it over, he found out that the lad was not there.
When he asked Pervinca, who had been up early, she told him he had gone to Hobbiton to help cousin Frodo with the move and would be away for a few days, he had said. When Paladin asked if his son had left him a message, Pervinca just shook her head. “You just have to talk it over when he gets home.”
But Pippin did not return home. Nor did cousin Merry, or cousin Frodo, or the young gardener Gamgee. Paladin had sent all of his men around the Shire, even into the Old Forest, to look for a sign of his only son. But it had all been in vain. Pippin was gone, and it was unlikely that he would ever return.
Things had gone only darker for the Thain since Pippin had left. Personally of course, but politically also. That Lotho creature, claiming to be a Baggins and the ‘Chief’, and messing up the entire Shire and all. The Tooks had stood against him from the beginning, but the situation was starting to get out of control.
Suddenly the bright sound of a horn, and not one ever heard before in the Shire, pierced the air, and Paladin felt strangely moved in his heart when he heard it.
“What was that, love?”
“I don’t know,” answered Eglantine, “but I get a feeling of hope for better days, all of the sudden. Maybe it is a sign. Shall we go out and look?”
“No,” Paladin replied thoughtfully. “It might be a trick of that Lotho maggot.”
“Paladin, surely not a sound so clear and beautiful could come from anything foul?”
“Maybe not. But we must be cautious in these days.”
And so they waited in the Great Smials, and heard the clear sound a few times more, and some other sounds that also seemed encouraging.
Then Pearl came dashing into the room, her face white as snow. “Father,” she said in a trembling voice. “You might want to come out and see this.”
The Thain followed his daughter outside onto the lawn, where he saw a host of Hobbits coming down the road riding ponies, and a tall, strong-looking stranger in front, all clad in strange battle garments.
By the time the company reached the Great Smials, most of the Tooks, ignoring the Thain’s warning, had come out of their holes to see what was going on.
The tall stranger halted his pony and jumped off. Slowly he walked towards the amazed Tooks. Suddenly Eglantine let out a cry and jumped forward. She had recognized him.
“My boy, my little Pippin!” She threw herself into his arms, crying uncontrollably. And now the tall traveller cast off the hood of his cloak, and revealed the delighted face of a young man, laughing and crying at the same time. “It is me all right, Mum, but not so little any more, eh?” He wiped the tears off her cheeks and looked down on her. She let go of him and laughed. “Now look at you! My great, wonderful, strong tall son!”
Pip laughed again, but then was toppled over by a sudden blow to the chest. All three of his sisters had leaped into his arms at the same time.
“Mercy! Go easy on me, I have been squashed more often than I’d like lately!”
After he had hugged and kissed all three of them, he got up and stood before his father, towering over him. “Now then, father, what did you say again about me growing up last time we spoke?”
But the Thain could speak no more, for he was pulled into a rib-crashing hug by his tall son. And although it was all but comfortable with the mail-shirt and all, he wished he could stand there forever. When Pippin let him go, his grimy face was all wet with tears.
“Well son,” Paladin said with efford as he looked up at him, “it looks like you have gathered more experience in one year than I have in my entire lifetime. I guess preaching to you about responsibility is no longer needed.”
Pippin wiped his tears away with a handkerchief his mother had handed him. “Speaking of which, I’ve come here with more purpose than seeing you all again, and we will not have time to speak of my adventures now. I’ve come to ask for your help, father. Merry, Frodo, Sam and I are planning on giving the Shire back to its own people. Will you help us?”
“Will I?” the Thain roared, “At last! I thought no one would stand up against those maggots! For so long we have been wishing for help. And look what we’ve got...” He looked at his son with plain pride. “The greatest help we could ever wish for. Gather all the men you need, Captain Peregrin.” He smiled at his son, and it was a smile of fatherly pride.
Pippin swallowed hard and started gathering men, silently watched by the Thain.
A little while later, a hundred young Tooks were gathered before the Great Smials. Pippin drew his family close. “Goodbye for a little while longer,” he said. “I just have to fight this last battle, and then we will not be parted again.”
Then he got on his pony and rode away, followed by the Tooks. Paladin kept his eyes on him until he disappeared in the distance. A single tear rolled down his face. And there he would stand, until he would greet his son once again.