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The Gifts in Small Packages (NC-17) Print

Written by December

06 February 2021 | 50244 words | Work in Progress

Title: The Gifts in Small Packages
Author: December
Rating: NC-17
With: Pippin, Aragorn, Unknown
Summary: Pippin will never speak of it. And then he does.
Warnings: angst, erotica, faintly AU.
Disclaimer: I own none of this, only enjoy it.

Archivist’s Note: Raven22372 has illustrated this story:

Chapter 1.

At first, he had not known why he has returned. Or, to be more accurate, he prefers to think that he had not: it feels less silly this way. Although indeed he had never imagined it would go this far.

He had only felt a strange discomfort, a vague sensation of something lacking – like his stomach being empty, only he could not quite place the feeling. He had so yearned to finally come home after a whole year of absence, to see the beloved green hills and meadows, and familiar Hobbit-faces – to be back where he belonged. Only he did not belong there any longer.

It took him nearly a year to realise the restlessness and longing would not go away. He was not accustomed to having to figure himself out, and initially he had blamed it all on the state they had found the Shire in, had thought his heart ached for their defiled land. Time passed, and reparations were quickly made by many a dedicated pair of hard-working Hobbit hands, and the signs of the gone war were soon outshadowed by the fresh and crispy signs of a new – and safer – life. But Pippin’s dissatisfaction only gathered strength, and when one day in the first spring after the War he caught himself growing languid and morose at the sight of a young cherry tree in bloom, he knew something was wrong.

Then followed the endless inward monologues where he reprimanded himself for being weak, and selfish, and hard to please, for having unreasonable expectations from life. He had already had his Big Adventure, now was the time to settle down and enjoy the normal existence of a young and healthy hobbit that he was. And he had earnestly tried to do just that, to enjoy it – but no amount of supposedly satisfying physical work he piled upon himself and no amount of the cheeriest entertainments he tried to drown himself in proved to fill the odd void in his chest.

None of the things that had once brought him contentment and happiness held any meaning. It was wrong, it was simply all wrong. Everything had as though become shallow, devoid of substance, lacking a dimension…

Whatever Gandalf may have called him, he was no fool. He looked at Sam, bursting with affection and pride for his new family, for his new wife who consisted as though solely of smiles, dimples and cosyness; he saw Sam overflow with energy, so busy getting everything ready for when the little ones would start arriving – one could light a splinter off him. And he looked at Frodo, who seemed to be getting more and more lost in his own world, turning more and more towards the past and some strange lacuna of time between yesterday and forever; he saw Frodo’s increasing propensity for solitude, saw his seemingly unmotivated sadness. He was no fool, so he made comparisons – and conclusions.

Solitude is not healthy for a fellow.

Sam was always working blisters on his feet doing things for someone, and look how robust and happy Sam was, how firmly rooted, how content. Whereas solitude provided too much time to dwell on one’s own… On one’s own what? Problems? But he did not have any problems. Fears? But what was there for him to fear, now of all times? On one’s own – dreams…?

Not that this made too much sense either, although…

What he knew for certain was that when Peregrin Took is left overlong one on one with his own self, he is bound to eventually go and get this self involved in some highly imprudent typically Tookish endeavour. Just as it had later gone to show.

Slowly the decision ripened in him, and was made long before he knew it. When finally he acknowledged it, immense relief poured over him, and he felt clean and light, as though filled with air, with a cool fresh wind.

Maybe his Adventure was not over just yet.

Chapter 2.

He is coming unannounced, and as he approaches the City on his pony – the renewed City of the Sun – and it looms ahead in its might and majesty, he is beginning to worry, to doubt.

His concerns are swiftly dispelled when finally he enters the new gate and begins his ascent up the spiralling main street. Everyone is so happy to see him, everyone has questions, and he is stopped so many times he wonders if he will make it to the seventh circle before midnight. Not that he truly minds, only he would really like to see –

But the news of his arrival must have travelled faster than he himself, for suddenly Aragorn – no, the King of the Reunited Kingdom – is by his side, surprised but laughing, urging him along, ruffling his hair and voicing assumptions that Pippin must be looking forward to wolfing down half the dining table that is just being set up in the Hall of Feasts. No, to him, it is Aragorn after all. The Man’s presence and gladness are reassuring, but when he asks why Pippin had sent no word and why the others have not come for a visit too, he only shrugs vaguely and smiles. He cannot quite bring himself to say that, actually, he has not come for a visit – he has come to stay.

And so when Aragorn goes on, saying a message should be sent at once to Emyn Arnen to notify the Steward and his wife, Pippin does not tell him there is no need to hurry, that he is not going anywhere. He only grows quiet, suddenly realising just how tired from his travels he really is, and the prospect of the long hearty meal ahead of them does not look so magical anymore.

Somehow he had assumed Faramir would be there when he comes…

It is almost as though the moment is ruined, and for a second he feels small, and laughable, and out of place – and wants to tell Aragorn it is all a mistake, that he really should be turning around and going home.

But instead he only takes a slow breath and calls on his hobbit practicality. No one knew he was coming, so somebody not being there to meet him does not in any way go to say he is unwanted – not to mention that important people like Faramir and Aragorn have more pressing matters on their agenda than throwing welcome parades for the folk like himself. Besides, he tells himself – and at this thought actually begins to smile – he is creased and smelly from the road, even the hair on his feet so dusted it looks grey instead of brown. To put it shortly, he is not at his best, not particularly presentable. Aragorn had seen him in states worse than this, Aragorn had spent the better part of his own life being creased and dusty, with Aragorn it is perfectly all right, but… Somehow at this point he fails to remember Faramir had done quite a bit of rangering too. No, for Faramir he wants to look good, starched and shiny, and decked out appropriately. Indeed, it is better the reunion wait a little more.

Nevertheless the evening finds him struggling to maintain the cheer expected of one like him, and soon his tongue wearies of talking and his lips of smiling. The numerous delights generously set before him have an untypical effect, too. It all feels overdone, too festive, too lavish. As one versed in the arts of both cooking and eating he can certainly appreciate all the work and thought put into the dishes, some artfully complex, others elegantly simple – not to mention the fact over here in Gondor they somehow manage to serve so many things that it is clearly not the season for. Were there just one more man present at the long table, Pippin would have surely savoured the juicy honey-glazed chicken stuffed with green grapes and sprigs of thyme, the roasted game with a refreshingly sour gravy of wild berries, the salt-sprinkled rye-bread toasts slippery with the headily fragrant sunflower-seed oil, the goose-liver parfait served with liquor-soaked prunes; the creamy pumpkin soup with slices of fried lard, the liberally peppered tomato soup with basil, the fresh and zesty sorrel soup; the delicacies from down South: the cured roe, buttery olives and nectar-laden velvety peaches; the countless varieties of cheeses from all over Gondor, accompanied by marmalades, figs, grapes and thin bread crisps, the desserts, the drinks… On a normal day such an abundant selection would have him recklessly testing the capacity of his belly – but tonight, he realises, he would by far have preferred a plate of plain vegetable broth, perfectly lean and without a single circle of fat floating on the surface, and a slice of unassuming white bread.

When the evening grows old and the tables are cleared, it seems to him Aragorn is in the mood for taking out their pipes and enjoying some idle conversation well into the night. Indeed, as their company dwindles, the men of court and guests bidding their lord good night and departing one by one, the Lady Arwen giving her husband a quiet nod with a shadow of a smile and leaving too, followed by her maidens, the King leisurely leans back in his chair, stretches out his long legs, and regards Pippin with a smile. But the hobbit’s disposition must not be as unnoticeable as he would like to think, for the man grins thoughtfully and kindly suggests they call it a day and Pippin be shown to the room prepared for him, and they can continue tomorrow – especially seeing as Faramir will be there, and no doubt Pippin will have to repeat for him everything he might now tell Aragorn.

The place, snug and homey by a Man’s standards, to him feels like a loose oversized shirt, and, staring wary-eyed into the darkness, Pippin wraps the blankets tighter around himself. The bed is too big, the pillow is too big, the quilt is broad enough for three hobbits to fit comfortably under. This is nothing new, really, for ever since he entered the lands of the Big People on his journey, everything was as though fashioned with the purpose of reminding him he was trying to bite off more than he could swallow. But only here, in Minas Anor, does it truly begin to bother him – somehow it feels that at his final destination, where he wants to settle for good as one who has found his one and only rightful place, things should fit and welcome him.

Here he is, come to find a remedy for the burdensome solitude, alone and without a plan. What could have been a more obvious solution than to marry and start a family, like everyone else – back in the Shire, where he saw half a dozen prospective matches any time he chanced to glance out the window? But no, he does not regret his decision, for, in fact, neither of the other passes beckon to him in the slightest, even now, amid his current uncertainty.

Quietly, as though not wishing to admit his fears even to himself, he climbs out of bed and comes to the window, standing on tip-toe to better see the night city below. It is late, but there are many a homely orange light in the windows, each a promise of togetherness and care, of safety and kinship. Further down, across the Pelennor, there twinkle, although placed less densely, tiny warm specks as well – and over the Great River, for his room faces East, he thinks that amid the inky blackness of the night hills and groves he can make out a collection of glowing dots. He watches for a long while, unaware of gently chewing on his lip, and the sight brings quiet, soothing reassurance.

Chapter 3.

“Well, where is he then?” a strong clear voice calls merrily across the crowded hall – and Pippin’s insides do a complex acrobatic stunt, something between a somersault and tying themselves into a knot.

He is so nervous he is seriously afraid he might be sick, all over his neat festive attire.

It feels so good just to see him that Pippin goes breathless, beaming, he is sure, quite like the bucolic simpleton he is. But no one is given much time to observe his excessive reaction, for Faramir bows to embrace him, and the Hobbit’s burning face is hidden from everyone, including the Steward himself. His cheek pressed to the Man’s strong shoulder, Pippin wonders if Faramir has lifted him off the ground, for he can no longer feel the floor beneath his feet. He can, in fact, no longer feel any part of himself – he feels only Faramir, how big he is, and powerful, and lithe, and warm. He dares embrace back, desperately grappling for every feel of the other, for the subtle movement of the smooth hard muscles in Faramir’s back beneath his palms, for the masculine scent in the crease of Faramir’s neck so close to his nose – and lips; for the firmness of Faramir’s hold on his frame, one hand on his upper arm, the other on his side, barely an inch above his waist… He even catches the steady beat of the Man’s heart, although seemingly the pounding of his own should have muted out all other sounds.

It lasts but a little, no longer than such a hug should last – and then Faramir pulls back to look into his face and say all those things people say on such occasions, how he is so this-and-that to see Pippin, and how Pippin is so this-and-that, and how this-and-that of Pippin to not have informed anyone ahead of time, and so on. Pippin is assuming according expressions, and nodding, and laughing, and even giving appropriate replies – but the only thought in his head is, he is not going to do it again, that’s it, I only get to be held by him once.

It is then that he should have, cutting off any further inner discussion, understood why he has come back.

But no, he only looks into Faramir’s smiling eyes, these clever grey eyes, and asks, “Would you take me?”

Still grinning broadly, Faramir cocks his head to the side and curves his brow, showing he is not following.

“I…” Pippin swallows. “I’m meaning to stay for… for a while, you know, and… So… I’m thinking, would you take me on to serve for you…? I thought, for a lord such as yourself, there’s always room for… I, well…” he trails off, painfully embarrassed. He feels so very foolish, thinking how strange this suggestion must seem to Faramir. He reckons he ought to explain himself, why he wants to do this, and why Faramir should be interested. But there really is not much to say, except that he had briefly served for the previous Steward – not something that would be very tactful to bring up given how that service had ended. He fears Faramir will mistake his desire for courtesy and tell him there is no need for him to earn his feed, that Pippin can stay as guest indefinitely – and how will he argue with that?

But Faramir spares him the awkwardness. “If this is your wish, I would gladly have you,” he says.

And so it is sealed.

The great happiness of a small heart, unnoticed by anyone, comes into being.

This deal is a package, however. Later that evening, when Pippin leaves the packed hall to come out into the twilit garden for a breath, Faramir finds him. In these more private settings the Steward asks the question that has apparently been on the Man’s mind since his earlier talk with the hobbit.

He is careful and says he does not mean to pry – but is something wrong at home? He has not changed his mind, no, not at all, he will gladly take Pippin into service, he only wishes to know if perhaps he can help somehow if something is troubling Pippin. It is all right, he is not just asking out of politeness, Pippin can really tell him.

Only then does Pippin realise his earlier request, coming so suddenly, was bound to evoke worry in a man like Faramir, modest and ever sensitive to others’ sentiments. Of course Faramir thought something might be wrong, thought Pippin has perhaps left the Shire out of necessity rather than by will. This is not too far from the truth, in fact, and it frightens Pippin to think how easily his new master can read him.

He decides to be as honest as he can afford to, and does not put on a bright face, does not object that everything is fine, just fine. Instead he shrugs thoughtfully.

“I don’t know,” he says frankly. “Everything seems to be going well, but somehow it just doesn’t… Everyone else is so happy, but I… I don’t know,” he says again. “It doesn’t feel quite as before, if you know what I mean.” He is blushing and looks up at Faramir warily.

Faramir’s brow is furrowed, but as soon as he catches Pippin’s gaze, he smiles. “I think I might,” he says softly.

“And I missed… Minas Tirith… and everybody,” Pippin adds quietly, daring to be a little more honest still.

“Is that so?” Faramir is smiling broader now, his concerns clearly appeased.

“Yes,” Pippin confirms quickly. “But now that I am here, I am very happy. You need not worry for me… my lord.” The last bit he says tentatively, trying out this new form of address he will use as Faramir’s servant.

Faramir is amused, and laughs warmly.

“Very well, Master Peregrin, I shan’t,” he replies in like manner, giving a short official nod as indeed he would talking to a servant. But then he suddenly reaches and gently ruffles Pippin’s curly hair. “But if something should come up, you be sure to tell me, all right? Don’t forget, lord or not, I am still a friend.”

Yes, Pippin is very happy – but very guilty too, for having made Faramir worry needlessly – fundamentally, for not being truthful with Faramir.

In time he will learn this is going to be his predominant state – this savoury mixture of bliss and guilt. For he will never be able to be fully honest with his new lord.

Chapter 4.

Step by step Pippin gains unrivalled dominion over this private little realm.

Faramir has no shortage of staff – and no actual need of this many hands to do the help, at least in Pippin’s unspoken opinion. If the Hobbit were to be consulted, he would have stated with full conviction that, with all due respect to the immense importance of the Steward’s esteemed person, one servant-assistant-esquire would be just about enough…

Only the chore of laundry still has to be outsourced, and solely the washing itself at that – Pippin collects the linens and the clothes into the basket himself and brings it outside for the ladies, and then receives the fresh things in like manner and singlehandedly irons them to perfection. He finds this particular work quite meditative, the sweat-inducing steam, the hissing and sighing of the hefty metal erasing the creases, the smell of hot damp fabric all congruent to his yearning to absorb his new life with his very pores, to physically experience Gondor. His back, shoulders and all the sinews in his arms ache by the time he is done, his neck is stiff, his face flushed and his curls have all but disintegrated into a messy frizz, but Pippin is only happy for it. A famous veteran of the War, he could have arranged a very different life for himself, could have rested on his laurels in leisure and luxury in the gold-and-green court of Edoras, or sung with the Elves in the magical Rivendell, or enjoyed all the blessings of country life in the fair Ithilien – and even here, in Minas Anor, he could have lived without a care. But he is ironing shirts and could never ask for more.

This is work for the patient, though, but he needs to train his patience – and vigilance, for he is handling things at once delicate and dangerous and knows his own susceptibility to letting his mind wander off when he ought to watch himself. It soothes him to see he is capable of standing at the board for hours without missing one wrinkle, without allowing the tiniest of burns to blacken the cloth or earning himself a single blister, without letting a single drop of his sweat fall from his brow and stain the fragrant flawless smoothness of his lord’s things. Each piece he then carefully, almost tenderly folds up, as though handling an airy soufflé that would collapse if he as much as breathed on it too hard – all to preserve the soft comfortable feel he has put into the material, to make certain its touch to Faramir’s skin will be mindful and untroubling.

Mindfulness is his weapon, and his little territorial conquest Pippin makes in much the same way that his lord prefers to win his own battles – by quiet, perseverant gentleness rather than force. Pippin fights and deceives no one, weaves no intrigues, does not try to parade his dedication and irreplaceability before his master – he simply makes everyone else redundant.

He does not, however, strive to make himself into an extension of his lord. He is very insistent on using only the official form of address with the Steward: what prudence he has managed to retain tells him it be best some appropriate distance be put between them, to ward off illusions – to keep him from forgetting himself. And not only that. He remembers how little it takes to arouse worry and questions in his new master, and on top of dreading becoming a source of distress to Faramir, he instinctively feels that as a servant he will be allowed more seclusion of emotion than a close friend. Thus he earnestly directs all his focus at precisely what he has been hired for: taking care of Faramir – regardless of whether or not Faramir himself is aware of such definition of Pippin’s duty.

Pippin makes small, unimportant changes. Faramir’s house slippers always get lost under the bed, so he puts a thick fluffy rug on the floor where Faramir gets up, so that first thing in the morning the man would not have to put his bare feet, warm and sleepy from under the blankets, right on the hard cool stone. He gets a different candlestick, one shaped such that the dripping wax would not fall on Faramir’s hand. He replaces the old ink in the well with a more expensive and harder to find variety, for Faramir writes with his left and often ends up smudging, both ruining the paper and staining his hand – and this new kind sets straight away, no leaks or smears.

He notices that when reading, Faramir often leans back in his chair, holding the sheet up in his hand and away from his face, his eyes narrowed in the way that for some reason pinches right at Pippin’s heart. Perhaps for a Ranger being a little farsighted is no problem, but for a man laden with plenty of official correspondence (not to mention all the literature Faramir goes through in his free time) it certainly is a bother. Pippin spends an afternoon digging through the local curiosity shop recently set up by a Haradrim merchant. When at last he finds a hand-held magnifying lens of polished amber set in a light latten frame, he gladly pays the outrageous price, for although Pippin knows the men of Harad are ruthless bargainers, he will not stoop to asking for a discount on a gift for his lord. But – although Faramir himself might not – he judges the matter too sensitive to actually proffer it as a gift, so instead he introduces it as a toy bought for himself, and pesters Faramir for nearly half an hour demonstrating how splendidly it makes his hands look bigger, and the pattern on the curtain look bigger, and the hairs on the quill look bigger, to then absentmindedly ‘forget’ it on Faramir’s desk. It seems to him he catches his lord grin at the manoeuvre, and he blushes sheepishly, but the man says nothing. Instead, the next time Pippin brings him correspondence, Faramir politely asks if Pippin would mind kindly lending him the ‘toy’ for a little while.

Chapter 5.

Pippin is not much surprised the first time it occurs to him to dream of being more than an esquire and a friend to his lord. It is a perfectly ordinary day and he is in the middle of yet another much-repeated errand, when without a warning it tumbles over him, and his gaze goes vacant as he forgets about the existence of his task, and it all rushes through his inner vision, the undoing of clasps, the arrangements of limbs, the look in Faramir’s eyes, the feel of his fingers on Pippin’s cheek. There is no longer room for self-deception, but strangely he is not surprised by that either. It is all so clear and precise, and he feels so breathless, overwhelmed and happy that it takes Pippin a bit of effort to convince himself none of this has ever happened, that it is not a memory but a fantasy. Truly, with a man like Faramir, could it be possible to not yearn for such memories?

Perhaps he ought to have been alarmed by how obvious and self-justified his own desire seemed to him, from the very start. Naturally, he laughs at himself for being so presumptuous as to imagine reciprocity, as to even allow the possibility – he laughs at himself but not at the feeling, for the feeling itself seems to him only rightful and appropriate when harboured for someone like Faramir, and it is but the fact of it coming upon someone so comically unsuitable for Faramir’s love that makes Pippin grin and shake his head.

Shake his head he may, and call himself a fool of a Took under his breath, but he does not try to resist, to be reasonable, to talk himself out of it. This is, without doubt, the most beautiful thing that has happened to him, by far more beautiful even than anything he had encountered in the enchantment-filled woods of Lady Galadriel – and he welcomes and accepts it with something almost like gladness. It feels true and good to devote himself to this man – and, after all, is this not what he has come here in search of, what had for so long eluded him, this firm certitude in the rightness of his place in life?

Of course he understands he could never, even in theory, be Faramir’s soulmate, much as Faramir could not find one among the girls who wash the floors: the incongruity of such a union would be simply preposterous. Naturally, Pippin’s standing is not exactly equivalent to that of a cleaning maid, and he has, in fact, seen quite a bit more of the world than Faramir himself, and is regarded as a hero around here, or at least many affectionately call him so, and he has fought in the name of Gondor alongside her men, and many had taken him for a prince of his land when first he came to Minas Tirith. Yet the point is not where on the social grid the guidelines of the Gondorian hierarchy place him – the point is that he himself, without anyone having to spell it out for him, knows only too well he is no match.

Thus he makes an earnest attempt at being modest – a quality he knows stands high with Faramir – and settles for dreaming of something relatively more fitting for someone like himself. He dreams of being allowed to provide comfort and diversion should his lord need it, of being graced with the chance to express his loyalty and reverence in full measure, dreams of taking their friendship as far as a friendship only can be taken, for love is out of the question.

Nevertheless he ardently strives to make himself, if only in his own eyes, less unworthy of Faramir’s love. It pains him to think it would be seen as embarrassing to Faramir were it to be discovered his esquire burns for him, and thus he tries to make himself as close as he can to a person whose affection would not taint his lord’s dignity.

He never takes days off when his master is in the City – but Faramir goes away on duty and for leisure quite frequently, and Pippin has more than enough time on his hands to try and ‘culturalise’ himself. He knows Faramir enjoys the Hobbit-lore legends and anecdotes Pippin shares with him – but he does not want to be solely a source of exotic tales, he desires to make a versatile and agreeable conversation partner after the manner of the folk like Aragorn, who can discuss literature, history and philosophy as easily as medicine, diplomacy and harvesting methods, effortlessly navigating between subjects and regularly throwing in delightful witty remarks and a speck of the latest gossip for the joy of gratuitous naughtiness. He knows he will never be remotely as versed or as clever as Aragorn, but he does not have to, for he is only a hobbit, and if he could evoke in his lord but a quarter of the excitement and curiosity that talking with the King apparently does, he would burst trying to contain his pride.

And much as the guards from his former company often stop him in the street, teasingly reproaching him for ‘abandoning old friends’, which basically means not coming along when they get together for a night of ale-accompanied revelry at an inn – indeed he always finds a polite way to decline. For Pippin knows Hobbits, just like many among Men, are not particularly good at drinking just a little, and he could really get by without Faramir coming to hear that his lagered esquire crashed off a table at a tavern or, worse still, fell asleep with his face between someone’s tits.

Instead of this and similar carefree entertainments he searches for ways to make himself useful when his services are not needed by the Steward. It seems to him that Faramir himself does much more than his duty actually requires, and it feels shameful to be dallying around while his lord works so hard. It seems most proper to dedicate himself to something self-effacing, something he would not do were it only for the sake of fun, and so he ends up at the Wards, where a spare pair of hands is always welcome. No healing-related skills lie in his possession, so he is usually entrusted with carrying pots, changing sheets and soothing tantrum-throwing children and hysterical adults. This is not an uplifting work for him, for the sight of pain and fear wearies him, as do all the unpleasant bodily things he sees, hears and, worst of all, smells along the way. He had thought the notion of having lent a hand in alleviating, if only a little, someone else’s suffering would be greatly rewarding and carry him through like on wings, but in reality he only feels drained and testy after each such visit. The perpetualty of it gets to him, the notion that no matter how many people are made healthy again, the cots are always swiftly occupied anew, that each cured malady always has a fresh one to come in its stead.

Then late one evening as he is busy carrying off an amputated leg, he bumps into the King, who, as it becomes apparent, comes here regularly as well – to help with the severest cases.

“My! Hello there!” Aragorn says, lifting his brows. He swiftly takes in Pippin’s soiled apron and the limb in his hold, and surprised appreciation clearly shows in the man’s face. “I’ve sure heard out dear Steward voicing a fascination with the healing arts, but was not aware you shared the passion,” he says quite conversationally, casually wiping his own bloodied hands on a cotton napkin.

“Er, I don’t… really,” Pippin replies with a vague it’s-hard-to-explain shrug, trying to disengage himself from the thought that the leg he is holding is still warm. Then, suddenly mortified, he hurriedly adds, “Actually, Lord Faramir doesn’t know I… that I do this.”

“All right,” Aragorn says slowly, sounding slightly amused and studying him a little more keenly than Pippin feels comfortable with. But then the man apparently decides to not give it much thought and smiles, “Well then, why don’t you come join me in the third ward and give a hand – seeing as you’re already here?”

Chapter 6.

At some point after a few months it suddenly hits Pippin that he can hardly recognise his life, his own self. Perhaps, as a foreigner, he would not appear that changed to a potential onlooker, but on the inside it feels he has lived a good decade in the past half-year – and he is the happiest he has ever been.

This is not the unthinking, unquestioning bliss of his early youth, when all he needed from life was a long sunny day and good friends to be boys with, to do foolish things together. Nor is this the surreal, ecstatic bliss of the Victory, when everything around him shone with wonders and his heart sang all day long. This, he feels, is some grown-up form of happiness, steady and self-aware, grateful and very private. His days pass in a purposeful organised manner – and, as opposed to when he was a mischievous hobbit tween, this is to him a source not of misery but of satisfaction and pride. He loves the predictability, for this predictability means he will see Faramir, and Faramir will speak with him, and he will be able to serve Faramir and make Faramir smile upon him and say thank you, Master Peregrin.

It makes him grin to remember how his father, upon hearing of Pippin’s upcoming departure, was exasperated and rueful, sighing and making theatrical gestures with his hands. “You are off to somewhere – again? What’s with you? How can we count on you to be the next Thain when we don’t even know where you are half the time? Pippin, when are you finally going to get a droplet of responsibility in you…?”

Back then Pippin had been very tempted to make some unoriginal rebellious retort along the lines of ‘Never!’, but now he finds it amusing that his ‘adventure’ is turning him into quite the opposite of what his family are used to seeing him as. Too bad they shall never rejoice in the fact, for he is, of course, not returning.

In fact, so far away from the Shire it is becoming an effort to believe in the realness of his old existence. Curiously, it is Faramir himself who helps him to not lose connection completely.

Shortly after the beginning of his service it occurred to him how disrespectful it was to trample the fine rugs in his lord’s quarters with his bare feet, and so Pippin took measures.

As he was serving Faramir his afternoon refreshments, the man cast a look at Pippin’s new leather ankle-shoes the likes of which most common Gondorians wore, took a sip of his tea and, without looking at Pippin, asked conversationally, “What’s with the footwear, Master Peregrin?”

“I reckoned t’would be only appropriate, my lord,” Pippin said, trying to sound both courtly and casual, as though the matter was of no import at all and certainly indicative of nothing.

“Hm,” Faramir replied with a little nod, and took another sip. “I cannot imagine it being very comfortable, though – for someone who’s walked unshod all their life,” he observed, raising his brow a little but still not looking at the hobbit.

“Well… it isn’t,” Pippin admitted, thinking that the shoes, if anything, made him feel akin to a sheep that had suddenly found a saddle strapped to its back. In all Shire, only the folk in the Eastfarthing used boots, and seldom at that, only in the poorest weather. To see them attired so had always made him shudder, and now he knew it was even worse than the look of it would suggest.

Faramir nodded again. “I certainly appreciate your concern for the local ways, but there is no need to place yourself at an inconvenience over such a matter. Or is it perhaps you kindly catering to the preferences you have ascribed to me?” Pippin pursed his lips, and Faramir smiled. “Then take them off – and pray rest fully assured that had it mattered to me to have my esquire wear shoes, I would have hired one who already does.” After a minute, he added, “Oh, and by the way – if you wish, you may smoke in my presence too.”

“You don’t mind the pipe?” Pippin asked hopefully.

Faramir, or so it seemed to him, laughed a little oddly at this. “Not at all. In fact, I quite enjoy the…” the man waved his hand, “the particular atmosphere it creates.”

“You do?” Pippin asked brightly and instantly bit his tongue. He had particular trouble getting rid of his habit of prodding people to say the same thing several times over, especially Faramir, who always patiently elaborated.

Faramir inclined his head, frowning slightly – or was it just a trick of the light in Pippin’s eyes? “Oh yes…” he said slowly, “to me, do you know, it smells like the woods, like… freedom.”

Pippin bowed his head politely, thinking that he, for one, had never noticed his pipe smelled like freedom – but if Faramir likes it that way…

Chapter 7.

Were it to become known, to many, Pippin supposes, he would appear not so much revolting as rather utterly ridiculous with his Big Serious Passion, with his True Love. He understands to the others he is funny – not seductive-funny of course, just boyish-funny, even cute-funny. That somebody such as him should suffer from a grand romantic affliction of the heart, and for one so much above and beyond him…

But he knows Faramir would not laugh.

He is quite strongly convinced that Faramir, should he find out, would not be angry or disgusted either, nor would he come to despise Pippin. Instead he will likely be sad and feel sorry for Pippin – and, worst of all, Pippin believes he would be disappointed. Disappointed to think that in wishing to become his friend, to understand him and learn him better Pippin is simply following an agenda, trying to get closer to an object of lust.

And even though in fact he respects Faramir too much to even secretly trespass on the man’s honour, to bury his face in Faramir’s undergarments when arranging the Steward’s things, to ‘accidentally’ let his fingers brush against what they shouldn’t when assisting the lord in the bath – Pippin watches over his secret’s safety with a zealousness second only to that of his watching over Faramir himself. For he knows that if it gets out, he will lose the blessing granted to him, the right to be by his lord’s side.

But he need not worry, and this he knows, too – for Faramir does not take him seriously. Well, at least not in that sense. Nomenclature-wise Pippin may be made like everyone else, the same parts in the same order, but of course it can hardly occur to the Steward to even consider him for attractiveness. He may be tall by Hobbit reckoning, but he is still barely at eye-level with Faramir’s navel. Somebody, perhaps, could think up at least one erotic application for such measurements, but it is obvious Faramir does not.

Pippin is not offended, he has never truly counted on anything else – dreamt of, sure, but not actually expected. Besides, Faramir is not alone in that. People are very warm and friendly with him, and he feels welcome in the City, but he knows that he is just too different to be welcome in some ways. It does not help that his appearance is such that the Big Folk associate him with a child, with a young adolescent at best. He has met many a ten-year-old who was taller and broader than he, and his beardless face and youthful features only exacerbate the impression. Add to it the bizarre detail of his feet – something, he does not doubt, most of the locals find rather… unpleasant.

Therefore he is greatly surprised the first time interest is shown in him – alas, not by Faramir… But he knows this interest goes no deeper that curiosity with a pinch of boredom thrown in.

In the years after the War the City has suddenly found itself receiving all sorts of folk. The handsome, noble-faced blue-clad men of Dol Amroth; the svelte fair Elves with their clear voices; the sturdy full-bearded dwarves with their deep throaty laughs; the green-eyed men from the far South, with skin like coffee-with-milk and frizzy brown hair; the tall slender men from still further South, their eyes liquid and soft, so dark their pupils and irises have no border, their skin a cool matte shade of black; the ragged Rangers from the North, all wrapped in mystery and the nose-tickling aroma of tobacco; the open-faced blond riders of Rohan, all white smiles and jokes that make the ladies blush and shriek with a mixture of outrage and delight – and, of course, the lone Hobbit in the black-and-silver livery and no shoes.

He knows he is only getting his little share of attention, for all this diverse abundance of maleness suddenly flooding the streets is bound to disturb the peace and quiet in the inner world of a certain make of the city women. They are merely curious, he understands, about what it would be like. There are all sorts of rumours abroad, spawn practically out of nowhere. That the dark men of Harad are wondrously endowed, twice that of a fair-skinned man. That the seed of Elves, if put on the face, smoothes out all signs of age. That the Northerners with their knowledge in bodily energies can control their arousal by force of will – truly, he ought to share this one with Aragorn. That the Rohirrim like to take a woman in such a way as though he is a stallion and she his rider. That the Hobbits…

Now, he does not know what is being said about the Hobbits – and, no offense to the ladies, he is in no hurry to fill in the gap. Not that he is afraid of being a disappointment or, worse, an embarrassment: he is not physically incompatible, especially with the more petite of the daughters of Men, who top him in height by little more than a foot. No doubt he would be seen as modestly made by a man of Gondor, but he is not so ignorant as to believe said modesty would stop him from making a woman happy.

More importantly, he feels squeamish. He understands his passion would be deemed strange, if not altogether ridiculous, by most – but to him his feelings are pure and beautiful, like Elven cut-glass. Loving Faramir has made him a better and cleaner person, and he does not want to stain himself and insult his love by engaging in some mindless red-faced copulation with a lady who is only attracted by his otherness and unusualness.

His body, however, would beg to differ. It had not signed up for a life of love-sick celibacy, and seeing the object of his fantasies from dawn till dusk – and in the spare time handling his lord’s personal things that still as though bear the warmth of Faramir’s touch – oft leads to Pippin wallowing through visions of unbridled self-indulgence pretty much all day long.

He is not much worried Faramir would catch on. Again, Faramir does not see him in that sense. Moreover, Faramir’s own goodness is the Hobbit’s best protection – how could a man such as he ever suspect such a twisted desire on the good Master Peregrin’s – on anyone’s – behalf? For these things, one male desiring another, are unheard of around here. Or, rather, they are deemed so vile it is judged the better to keep up the collective pretence they do not exist to begin with.

Not so in the Shire. A hobbit’s youth is long, more than thirty years to horse around and enjoy oneself. No one expects remarkable maturity – or prudence, at that – from a green hobbit-lad, especially when he has belted down a few. On the short, things happen. And folk – well, hobbit-folk are sensible and do not like to worry overmuch (everyone knows stress is bad for digestion), so generally no one is interested in making a fuss.

Now, Pippin would be the first to punch anyone who dared question the moral health of his homeland. The girls are always treated with respect and courted well, and the proper girls always know better. It is simply that people prefer not to take too seriously the things that need not be taken too seriously. Meaning is not ascribed to and ‘conclusions’ are not derived from things that are really quite inconsequential…

But in Gondor – oh, in Gondor, for some reason, all sorts of heavy-weight adornments are attached to a man’s private life, as though he is to bear it as a standard before himself. Honour. Self-worth. Maleness – or perhaps this one ought to be the first in the list. Decency. General virtue of character. Temperance. Reliability. Responsibility. Respectability. Honour.

Chapter 8.

The state of things at home is far from jolly, that much is clear beyond speculation even though Pippin has not once been to Emyn Arnen in person. It is not part of his routine to accompany Faramir to the Ithilien estate, for there the Steward still relies on the services of a former esquire – an arrangement the ridiculousness of which never ceases to amaze Pippin. Truth be told, the hobbit is also not a little jealous on account of Beregond – although he understands it is but a product of his own inflamed imagination, he cannot shrug away the thought that Beregond, unlike his own unfortunate self, would perfectly match his lord’s dimensions were it to come to that. Beregond’s devotion knows no limit, of which the Steward himself is living breathing proof, and Pippin is sure that if Faramir – theoretically speaking, of course – were to as much as give the man an according look… Thus, although Pippin does in part miss his former comrade in arms, he is not too eager to actually be called to Emyn Arnen and have that potential compatibility rubbed in his face.

Besides, he does not need to witness it with his own eyes to know that whatever passes in Faramir’s official home does not bring joy to the Man’s heart, or if it does, aught else well outweighs it. The visits are never long, as often as not Faramir would leave early on the morn and already be back in Minas Tirith by nightfall. Worse still, upon returning it always takes him a couple of days to relax and become his normal self. He appears strangely homeless after these trips, as though he goes to be an uninvited guest in his own house.

Pippin always takes care to make him extra-comfortable on such days – for who else would? Indeed, Pippin knows that neither is there a special and dear someone waiting for his lord in the City. All his nights Faramir spends by himself in his chamber, and Pippin’s little bedroom being within the Steward’s own quarters lets him be absolutely certain of his master entertaining no company whatsoever – and as for the daytime, almost all of it moves according to schedule, and Faramir is never out of public or his servant’s sight for considerable amounts of time. Yet the knowledge comes to Pippin not through these rational paths. Pippin knows because something about his lord speaks solitude, so plainly as if Faramir had it embroidered in silver-thread on the chest of his tunic.

Only solitude at first, and that brings Pippin a guilty selfish consolation, for it leaves Faramir free for him to belong to in his dreams. But as the season draws to an end, slowly yet inexorably beside the solitude grows and blossoms its ever-present twin, loneliness – and Pippin begins to ache for his master, and wishes he were rather happy than free. Yes, there is nothing, it seems to him, that he would wish more than his lord’s happiness.

Perhaps it is Faramir’s own composition of character that has rubbed off onto his esquire, but on certain quiet, drizzly days Pippin, much to his own initial surprise, finds a particular fragile beauty in this ironic arrangement. Most other men in his lord’s stead would seem miserable, or else embittered – but Faramir not so. To Pippin, Faramir in his patient, undemonstrative sadness is beautiful. It as though lends him something special, something clear, something… Pippin can never coherently explain it even to himself. Something poetic, in soft rainy shades of blue and lilac, in gentle minor tones. Something that could be laid onto music and turned into a song. The loneliness as though emanates from him, the way certain flowers fill up a room with fragrance, a fragrance that goes not to the nose but straight to the heart.

Although Pippin usually calls on his sense and shoos all this maudlin nonsense away, and does everything to make his lord’s quarters cosy and inviting, he cannot quite dust the sentiment out of the dimmer corners.

It is the dark season, and it is only natural that Faramir should cover his legs with a blanket when sitting in his armchair before the hearth, and wear his woollen stockings to bed. Still, Pippin wishes he could wrap himself around the Man to ward off the cold, for he knows it is not of the sort that duvets and scarves can chase away. He wishes he could climb into the steaming bath together with his lord – there certainly would be enough space. He wishes he could slip under the bed covers while Faramir is getting ready for sleep, so that when he gets in it will be already warm and mellow, and no need to put the hot-stone in between the sheets. He wishes he could kiss a blush to Faramir’s lips, and breathe heat against the man’s neck, and offer him all the warmth and intimacy that his hobbit body can hold.

Instead he only checks the third time over that there are no draught-inviting cracks in the window frames, and the water in the tub is only a degree short of scalding, and the towels are not over-starched, and there is a steaming cup of tea for his lord to welcome the arrival of yet another morning.

But Faramir indeed is lonely, and a lonely man cannot help but be drawn to what warmth is within reach – and thus, step by step, touching him becomes part of Pippin’s daily duty. Faramir had never been of the lazy luxuriant disposition, a man who would rather send a servant than lift a finger. Nevertheless, Pippin finds himself regularly undressing his lord – nothing intimate, of course, only the boots and outer garments, including ceremonial armour after official occasions. But oh, the very fact of unbuckling straps, undoing lacings, opening collars and pulling things off submerges Pippin in a shimmering, swirling semi-dream state, for in his mind he does not stop at this but slips his hands beneath the rim of Faramir’s undershirt, brushes against hipbone, feels the taut powerful warmth of the man’s thigh… And then he catches his breath and blinks himself back to reality, praying to the Western deities of Gondor that Faramir not notice his burning cheeks. And Faramir does not, for his gaze is absent, elsewhere.

The first time Faramir asks that Pippin shave him, Pippin thinks he is joking. But no, it is a request as earnest as it is unsuspecting. The very thought makes Pippin’s throat go dry, a gracious gift far too good to be true, but he bravely tells his master he has never done this, for obvious reasons, and perhaps Faramir would be safer to entrust such a delicate matter to someone with more skill. Nonsense, Faramir says, highly amused. There’s naught difficult to it, I’ll be happy to teach you. And indeed he has to, literally, for Pippin’s hand is shaking so much as the hobbit tries to scrape off the hint of a stubble from his lord’s jaw that Faramir is placed under some serious risk of having his throat slit. Of course the Man does not know that the better part of the shaking is caused by something other than nervousness, and Pippin has assumed such a grimly grave expression when embarking on this dangerous task, that glancing back at him Faramir chuckles, a vibration that Pippin can feel with his fingers and the side of his hand.

All is well and good, Master Peregrin, there’s no need to fret so. Here, he says with affection, taking a confident hold of Pippin’s hands, and Pippin must shut his eyes for a moment…

This is happening during his morning bath, a good way to use the time, the Steward said, and the skin is relaxed, easier to shave. As if it was not bad enough that standing behind and to the side of him Pippin can see everything down in the hot water, now he has this very same water that has caressed and lapped at his lord’s fair skin trickling from Faramir’s moist hold on him down his forearms and into his rolled-up sleeves. Pippin bites his lip hard and tries to look concentrated. Hold my face steady – don’t be afraid, hold firmly, your fingers shan’t bruise me. Now, with the other hand – angle it like so, and there we go. See, naught difficult to it, is there? Pippin mutely shakes his head: no, of course not, ’tis easy as I don’t know what, if only you knew what an acute, painful pleasure you are giving me right now…

Pippin is at best half-conscious by the time they are through, but Faramir is content and praises him – and surely tomorrow he will do even better.

And then, very gently at first, it begins to change, the texture of Faramir’s loneliness.

Note: We now have an illustration!

The sweetest Raven22372 has made a generous and wonderful surprise and depicted a scene from the previous chapter. Go check it out! :)

Chapter 9.

The season has changed.

In terms of emotional weather, too, it feels to Pippin not unlike when the stuffy rooms kept shut throughout the long winter at last let in a breath of moist and promising spring air. By some intuitional attunement to his master he senses that what is happening to Faramir is a good thing, a healthy and natural thing – although at first Faramir appears to be growing even sadder than before.

Yet there is something hopeful to his sadness, there is energy, there is an enduring vibrant yearning. More and more often Pippin finds him sitting at the desk vacantly staring out the tall ornate window, his letters and scrolls forgotten – but this vacancy is what only a stranger would see, for Pippin who has learnt to read him like a map sees deep burning intensity in the man’s steely eyes.

Faramir has taken to pacing the room back and forth to eventually come to that same tall window, lean sideways against the frame, hug himself on the middle and gaze out, long and unmoving. Eventually he sighs, and frowns, and shifts the weight of his body to another side – and carries on gazing.

Pippin can tell his master does not quite notice this in himself, does not see the change in his own habits, not just yet – but Pippin does.

Faramir is restless – then before long he develops a tendency for moodiness, as a hale stallion kept overlong in his stall. Some days his bearing may radiate cheerfulness and contentment, and he would have the panes opened wide, so that freshness fills the room and, much to Pippin’s dismay, papers are intermittently blown off the tabletop. Faramir only laughs, crosses his arms behind his head and leans back in his chair. He spends the mornings riding or shooting away in the archery range, and more than once Pippin catches him humming under his breath. Then suddenly he as though revises his opinion on something, and at once becomes dejected, even strangely awkward. He is irritable as far as to snap at Pippin a little, although of course a sincere apology is swift to follow. He frowns too often, and his fingers tap a slow troubled rhythm on the polished wood of his desk – a habit he has not displayed before, just like the humming.

At this point, it is apparent Faramir has caught on to what is taking place – for he is careful to let none of this volatility of humour show in public. It gladdens Pippin to know that Faramir does not restrain himself in his company because the hobbit sees in this a testimony of his lord’s trust in him. But on the other hand, when he accompanies the Steward on matters of duty and watches him as though turn into a different man – nothing outside the definition of the perfect officer, a faultless advisor to the King, ever calm, collected and modestly amiable, endlessly patient and always politely pleasant – Pippin cannot help but feel strangely grieved. The Hobbit has grown well accustomed to watching his own every move whenever there is an audience, but certainly his lord deserves a better lot.

He knows Faramir is worried, worried very much – and every night asks the Valar the man would confide in him, if only a little. Pippin is not hungry for any specific details, only wishing Faramir would know that he can unburden himself to him, that he would listen and understand – because Faramir is evidently haunted, and aside from his old battle horse there just as evidently is not a single creature in this city or anywhere beyond he could tell about it – and Pippin knows how it is to have no one to turn to.

There is no talk of sweet surrender: vain as it may seem, the man is putting up a brave however desperate act of resistance against the winds of change lashing in his face. For one thing, he has not abandoned his practice of regularly sending personal letters and gifts to Emyn Arnen. And these are not some generic lazy-husband gifts, like pretty trinkets or cuts of fashionably coloured silks and velvets for a new dress, that one turns to for compensating a lack in the warmth of heart. Every one of them is truly meant to bring her joy and has thought and care put into it, as Pippin knows well enough seeing as the making and delivery of these packages never passes without his involvement at one point or another. But he has also noticed that there is never anything in any sense intimate about the choice of present, never anything beyond a certain line – each is something one would be unashamed to bring to a beloved sister or a dear friend.

And nothing, ever, comes for Faramir in return. Pippin does not know if custom has it that wives of Gondor – or Rohan, for that matter – be only on the receiving end, but he has a feeling that had she wanted to…

In fact, there is not a single object in the Steward’s rooms to betray the fact the man is even married. None of her things, nothing made by her for him, nothing he himself would bring here to remind himself of her. Moreover, what ceremonial traditionally decorated gifts King Éomer has bestowed upon the Steward are all kept in the hall or the reception room, neatly and with respect, but well out of the living part of the quarters.

To think of it, in all his time in the Kingdom Pippin has not laid eyes upon the White Lady. For all he knows, not once has she sat by his lord’s side on all those occasions where the noblemen come with their noblewomen; not once has she strolled with him, hand in hand, through the streets; not once has the vast bed in the Steward’s chamber known the weight of her body.

Speaking of bed, the man does not sleep so well either. Pippin often hears the springs creak well into the night, the mattress sighing each time he tosses around, onto the left side – no, onto the right, on the belly, no, on the left again. Eventually Pippin gets up and heads to the kitchens, whence he brings his master a mug of warm milk with honey or raspberry jam. Faramir always smiles at him with something almost like guilt when the Hobbit enters the bedroom with the drink in one hand and a burning candle in the other.

The way he sits up in bed, hunched up a little, the way the white fabric of his night-shirt strangely makes him look more undressed than if he were actually naked, the way he says nothing at all to his esquire, every detail makes Pippin want to linger, maybe even dare perch himself on the corner of the man’s bed, say something casual to strike off a sincere talk. He would work it into the conversation somehow. Tell me about her. Such simple words.

But he never does. This, he senses, may be a losing battle, but it is a private battle nonetheless.

Pippin notices Faramir has become more attentive towards his looks. Getting ready for the court in the mornings, he is often displeased with the way his hair lies, and sometimes will take off the things he has already put on in favour of something else. Much as Pippin loves him, the Hobbit finds this quite ridiculous. The man is gorgeous beyond reason, gorgeous when wearing his stewardly robes, gorgeous when coming flush-faced and dusty for a quick shower after a ride, when sitting on the edge of his bed in a linen under-shirt pulling on his boots, or stretching out in the bath with eyes closed and wet locks plastered to his scalp and neck.

How strongly infatuated Faramir must be to become self-conscious like so…

Pippin grins to himself when thinking thus. He knows exactly how strongly: his master is not a man of half-measures, Steward Faramir is not one to be just a little in love.

And Pippin, although it guts him that his lord’s feelings are without hope, for of course he cannot and would not leave his wife, and moreover would not taint Lady Éowyn’s honour by taking another woman into his bed, and naturally would not endanger the good name of whichever maiden or dame it is he desires – despite this Pippin is glad for him. For, basing on how it is for his own self, he believes it is better by far to love than not to, no matter the fortune of the love. He adores Faramir too much to judge the man, and hardly would have he been able to disapprove or respect him any less had his lord indeed taken a mistress – and as he daily picks up the signs of Faramir’s inner torment, Pippin comes to find himself wishing that this union would indeed come into being.

Chapter 10.

To make matters worse, much to Pippin’s pained disbelief, a strain must have crept into the friendship between the Steward and the King.

Their previously frequent riding trips into the woods and fields nearby have become noticeably sporadic – one or the other more often than not finding some strange last-minute excuse to cancel – and upon returning Faramir always looks ill at ease and more spent than the physical exertion could explain.

Where are the unhurried talks by the hearth, where are the long convoluted tales of past adventures told with no purpose but that to sit together and watch the evening pass? Where are the brotherly embraces, the pats on the shoulder, the jocular competitions in strength and agility, where is the hearty loud laughter at silly boyish jokes well past the men’s age?

And even when duty brings the two together, there is less mutual joy in their exchange than there once was. The sensation of inherent affinity has seeped away, there are more official figures of speech and fewer smiles, there is as though a touch of affectation to everything – and at some point Pippin realises that being in Lord Elessar’s presence at the side of the Steward makes him want to stand at attention. More often than ever before he sees that unpenetrable, remote majesty the High King had at times displayed during the War, and the remoteness is cold and unwelcoming, smooth and slippery like wet ice.

Also, and this is even more alarming, a couple of times Pippin thinks he catches the generally sweet and peaceful Queen glancing over at Faramir rather unkindly. They are fleeting, these glances, the askance flight of her inky eyelashes in the young man’s direction alike to a swift batting of a butterfly’s nervous wings – so fleeting Pippin would have entirely written them off, as fruit of his confused, searching imagination, were it not for the fact that from under the lashes, it cuts and it burns, the gem-like brightness of her grey eyes.

Pippin prides himself on never standing around yawning when he is with his lord, and as he watches with his hobbit discretion, a kindly little half-friend half-jester who never puts anyone on guard, he begins to see a pattern. A blush ever imprints on her white cheeks when the Steward comes into her sight, but while that could be attributed to any number of perfect coincidences, a more reliable sign to Pippin’s mind is that the Elf-lady’s fingers suddenly come alive upon the man’s entrance. Her serene elegant hands continue to lie in seeming idleness, but the slender fingers start tapping, and picking, and pinching, and twisting, these tiny, inconspicuous motions to fix an intricate detail on the cuff of her narrow sleeve, to smooth out a crease in the freshly ironed tablecloth, to adjust a piece of cutlery just so, to exact and ultimate symmetry. Yet most telling of all, she has taken to carrying on as though Faramir is altogether not there, apparently having developed a strange migrating deafness that always seems to reside in that side of her head to which the Steward is. More than once this results in public awkwardness, Faramir’s words addressed to the Lady Evenstar left hanging in the air as she nonchalantly turns to engage company elsewhere. She has enough pedigree and graceful poise for it to appear entirely accidental, but Pippin has observed that these accidents never befall anyone but his lord. The King may be always swift to pick up the line, but does so with such animatedness that it takes Pippin considerable self-restraint not to wince.

People like to talk, and being as Faramir is a popular figure, it has not escaped Pippin’s notice that there is a measure of speculation abroad regarding the state of the Steward’s marriage. Is this some form of female solidarity speaking in the Queen then, a dislike based on the assumption Faramir has somehow wronged his wife who has already suffered enough? Is it by chance one of the Lady Arwen’s many Elven maidens, some of them with hair like strands of the finest gold-thread and cool grey eyes, who has disturbed the peace of the man’s heart?

But somehow this does not quite seem to strike the mark, and eventually the hobbit has to wonder if there is some other truth to it – if perhaps the Queen has taken it into her conviction that Faramir is having disloyal thoughts about her. The Steward is certainly most reverential to the royal lady, and just as certainly he is a man sensitive to beauty – but this?! And suddenly she is not so very wondrous to Pippin anymore – suddenly she is but a conceited regal doll with an inflated sense of self-importance. Come to think of it, aside from the remarkable appearance and exalted lineage – what is there to make her so ruddy special?
These are foul, likely unjustified thoughts, but – how dare she, how dare anyone ever even come up with the notion his lord would disgrace himself by hungering for his sire’s woman? At least, he tries to hope, Aragorn is cleverer than that, and the forced cheer on the King’s behalf is his way of making an unspoken apology for his wife’s uninviting conduct.

This is rather new to Pippin, harbouring in his bosom ill-feelings towards those around – and not entirely in line with his nature, come to that. But he cannot suppress the mounting frustration with the King. The Faerie Queen, fine, who can decipher their lot, but Aragorn, the good old Strider who seems to never have quite learnt how to shave his jaw, who always knows how to come out smelling like a rose, who always has such a sound grasp on things and a secret herb stashed in his pocket to make everything just right – why would he not rein the absurdity?

Does he not know there is not that much in Faramir’s life that does not in one way or another revolve around him, around anticipating his every need and fancy? The Steward serves the state, one might say, but Pippin knows that in his master’s eyes the state and the King are one, and furthermore, if by some twist of fate Faramir were forced to choose one at the expense of the other, Pippin believes the decision would be firm and unhesitant. The White Tree and the Silver Crown – glorified symbols of their noble heritage, they may preserve a sacred legend in the people’s hearts, but what can they actually do? Whereas Aragorn would rebuild Gondor afresh should the need arise, and a new Tree would blossom at the touch of his gifted hand.

Yet all this is apparently absent from the King’s own trail of reasoning, and after one particularly tense dinner, as Faramir sits atop the embroidered bedcover back in their rooms, slumped forward and rubbing the back of his neck, Pippin cannot help but finally wonder aloud, cautiously as he can, if something, maybe, perhaps, is amiss at court?

The man jolts and stares at him. “Why should you ask?” he quietly utters in what, inconceivably, appears to Pippin like sheer panic.

“No! No, I… oh, just… a random question,” Pippin assures him hastily, mortified to have further upset his master in his clumsy nosiness.

Well, to a certain extent this does answer his question, for one thing.

Chapter 11.

It has been very much a hectic week. The Queen with her maidens had ridden to abide for a while at the Elven settlement across the River, and have been gone for several days now, but the King has been unable neither to accompany her party as had been initially agreed nor even to join it later, all for the overflow of the matters in need of attending to.

Naturally, Pippin, too, has been running this way and that earning blisters for his poor feet, fetch this, arrange that, cancel, reschedule, present apologies, etc. And naturally as well, he is in exceptionally high spirits, for it is in times like these he can revel in secret pride that Faramir relies on him, needs him. Moreover, all the official business seems to have his lord’s attention safely occupied, with little time to spare for the more unpleasant bethinking, which to the hobbit is a great and blessed relief.

Yet another hot day without a breather is finally approaching a twilit end, and Pippin has returned to their quarters half an hour ahead of his master to set up a quiet meal and draw a warm mind-relaxing bath. He is in the middle of aligning on the tub’s rim a selection of various aromatic essences his lord might wish to add to the water, when the door in the hallway is loudly closed and the man’s energetic footsteps proceed to the bedchamber.

Pippin peeks out of the bathroom.

Faramir is standing in front of the tall mirror, gilded so artfully by many a broad Dwarven hand, and scrutinises himself critically.

“Your lordship…?” Pippin calls, for something is apparently afoot.

Faramir chews on his bottom lip, displeased. “This robe is all creased,” he observes. And so it is sure enough, for a summer garment of pure linen can hardly live through an active day and by some miracle manage to remain presentable.

Pippin rushes to the closet and produces a near identical cream-coloured piece, equally modest, hardly adorned, comfortably loose around the body – a perfect choice for one who seeks to work unencumbered or enjoy a well-earned rest.

But Faramir frowns.

“Nay,” he says, and Pippin notices his fingers curl. “I am thinking something more…” he waves his hand, as though searching for the proper word to explain his mood. But suddenly he folds his fingers back into the palm and brings it to his chest, and there is doubt in his face – as though this decision is very important, somehow largely significant, a turning point.

Pippin feels a mixture of excitement and unease come over himself at once, but he swallows and does not bat an eyelid. He only puts the tunic back in its place and takes out another one – black with that satiny finish that accentuates the lustre in Faramir’s raven hair. A thin elegant design in silver-thread runs around its collar – truly the only little touch it takes to bring out that clear-water spark of Faramir’s gaze. It is shorter, too, reaching only to the middle of the thigh, with cuts to the hip at the sides – surely purely practical, but nevertheless this make has something youthful about it, something light-hearted, something almost playful. Besides, Pippin cannot help thinking, these purely practical cuts would call the eye to the lean muscled curves of the man’s legs that the snugly fitting breeches would be hardly helping to conceal.

He sees satisfaction warm up his lord’s eyes as Faramir takes in the look of the shirt.

“Yes,” he says with a shadow of a smile upon is lips. “You are verily a reader of minds, my good friend.”

Pippin sighs inwardly. You could go there – wherever it is that you are obviously going – draped in a tattered old sack with your hair tied into a knot atop your head, my lord, he thinks. What difference would it make? If there is someone you wish to impress, how could you – you – possibly fail?

But, as has become the custom with him, he says nothing at all. Instead, while his master heads to the bathroom to wash the day’s dust from his face, he returns to the closet – and takes out an as of yet unworn gift from one visiting aristocrat or another: a fine cloak of Elven silk, light and weightless, long enough to almost sweep the floor and white as the morning snow.

“A cape?” Faramir raises his brows as he appears in the doorway, his long fingers adjusting the dark collar around his neck.

“The night is nigh at hand,” the Hobbit says with a straight face, “it may get chilly.” And more importantly, you would look stunning in it, he does not add.

“Fair enough…” Faramir agrees slowly as he receives the cloak from him. Pippin sees something in the man’s face change when the fabric falls into his hands, for it is as though woven of rose-petals gathered at dawn, and just calls to be touched.

In one lithe gesture Faramir throws it around his shoulders. He sighs, content, for the contrast is magnificent, and a modest a man as he is, even he surely cannot entirely fail to see that.

“Not too much though?” he muses in a last wave of doubt.

Quickly, Pippin makes a face dismissive of all concerns.

“No, no, no,” he murmurs in the way he has seen the elderly and slightly authoritative servants use so successfully on their masters.

Faramir grins at him through the mirror.

“Ah, don’t I know you well, Master Peregrin,” he says. “Were you to have your way, you’d have me decked out as a hero every day of the week.”

“Oh, do we have any plumed helmets then?” Pippin offers brightly, catching in his lord’s tone a change for the positive, a change for the hopeful.

“Plumed helmets?” Faramir laughs. “No indeed! But you are right, that would be too much – but this,” he pats the smooth material on his shoulder, “this is good.”

He leans closer to the looking-glass, tucks his hair behind his ears, pauses for a moment, then pulls it back out.

Speaking as though to his own reflection, “Something has come up,” he says, as though it is not already beyond obvious, “I shall be going.”

“Would your lordship be needing anything?”

“Nay, ’tis but a private little supper, my professional things would be of no service,” Faramir replies, heading off already.

Pippin bows acceptance, but on the inside, he feels the heat of outrage lick at his ribcage. Some nerve, asking the lord of his master’s calibre to a private supper on such short notice, for only two hours ago there had been no such event in Faramir’s plans, this Pippin is certain of. And Faramir, too, jumping at the invitation like a smitten boy.

Suppressing the disrespectful notion, “I have never seen you look so fair, my lord,” he says to the departing man’s back, and the words come easily to his lips for it is the holy truth.

Faramir glances over at him, and his grey gaze is troubled.

“Thank you, Peregrin,” he replies quietly.

At the door he hesitates, only to tell Pippin what the Hobbit already knows. It is bound to last well into the night, this casual little occasion he is off to, no need for Pippin to wait up.

Pippin can go for the day, he says, get some rest.

As if, Pippin thinks – but he nods in compliance, and to himself he smiles, for it has quite escaped his lord’s notice that even when Faramir gives him leave, Pippin does not retire to his own room in the servants’ quarters. He ever by far prefers to stay in his little chamber within those of the Steward: presumably, to be nearby should something be required of him, but in truth just because he wants to be around, because it feels more like home.

Chapter 12.

He sits on his little bed in his little room – and he has no desire for sleep.

It is dark out, stars twinkling peacefully in the inky heavens as though the whole sky is but a piece of Gondor’s standard. And he is as wide awake as if it were six in the morning and the sun had only just popped over the horizon.

He understands it is utterly unimportant how he spends this time, for tonight more than ever the import lies with his lord, where and with whom Faramir is, what he is saying and what… he is doing.

Pippin sighs. He recalls how uncle Saradoc would come to their house whenever aunt Esmeralda went into childbirth. He would pace around with glassy eyes, to eventually slump into the rocking chair in the dining hall where he would rock with hysterical determination, puffing on his pipe like an overstoked chimney, until Pippin’s mother would take pity on the fellow and assign to him some menial task around the house, ‘so that he’d stop driving us all to madness’.

Pippin also remembers being fascinated by the potatoes uncle Saradoc was told to peel, how in several chops of the knife they all lost half their size to turn into perfect cubes, which invariably led to some rueful albeit silent head-shaking on behalf of Mistress Took. ‘So much fuss,’ she would comment afterwards, when the swaddled newborn Brandybuck lay safe and asleep in Brandyhall and the overjoyed father was off celebrating, ‘you’d think no one’s ever had a babe in this life’.

And exactly alike, this, too, is no once-in-history miracle, nothing new to it. It is silly to fret. A man going off to follow the demands of his heart, it has all happened before.

Or maybe, maybe nothing will happen at all, maybe Faramir will have that supper and come back, and forget about it – and the lady, she will… well, she will all of a sudden – for some very plausible reason, of course – take off to some place far, far away, where she will probably end up lost in a sea-storm, or eaten by a bear, or anything, really – and no one will ever come to know of it.

Pippin sighs again.

He has some old clothes in need of mending, but he does not trust himself with a needle, not right now. For want of anything else to do, he takes out the broom and the mop, and goes through every room, poking into every corner, crawling on his knees to get under closets and cabinets. When it occurs to him it might be a splendid idea to wash all the curtains as well, he decides it is time to stuff himself into bed lest he embark on something he might regret in the morning.

He leaves a taper burning in the hall in case his master should return before dawn, although Faramir has been gone for so long that such an outcome is beginning to seem rather improbable.

In Gondor, ‘private suppers’ do not stretch into the intimate hours of the night.

He does not close the door to his room – again, should his lord return and… well, require his esquire’s undelayed service.

The pillow is soft beneath his cheek, but the rectangle of unsteady yellow light keeps Pippin’s eyes fixed on itself as though he were a hypnotised moth. He bites down on his lip, frowns and, calling on all of his will, forces himself to turn onto his other side, to stop watching, to stop waiting.

He pulls his knees towards his chest and wonders if she is like the Lady Éowyn, if his Faramir is searching for her image in other women. He calls forth a vision, slender, tall, upright as a lance, white of face and serious of gaze. Hair long and fair, of course. It would drape in loops and folds over Faramir’s bare shoulders and chest as he lies back and pulls her down with him, to him, kissing her snow-white throat.

Pippin frowns harder. Or maybe, she is the opposite of the Steward’s wife. Maybe she has olive skin and dimples at the corners of her mouth, and a mane of coarse dark locks, and she is jovial and light of spirit. She is kissable, and loveable, and earthy.

Or maybe she is not in any way relatable to the princess of Ithilien, maybe she is altogether different, a new and separate person, another chapter, a new leaf, a clean slate.

What is absolutely without dispute, however, is that she would have a taut, sensuous fullness threatening to burst her cleavage open. She has to, just to underscore Pippin’s own inability to fulfil this particular masculine desire. If Faramir were so desperate for melon-like breasts, perhaps he would not have ended up marrying the Lady Éowyn in the first place, but Pippin prefers to ignore that rationale for now. There is, after all, a kind of satisfaction to twisting the knife.

So, yes, she would have enough for Faramir to make love to her this way, to put himself between them. But Pippin does not quite believe his lord would take this course of action, at least not just yet. He is, no doubt, a very generous lover, he would only give, give, give, cater to her pleasures all night through. Although to think logically, the man that Faramir is, he would likely altogether not touch her on their first occasion in private, but Pippin cannot stand to force-feed himself any more naive hopes.

He stares ahead of himself, unseeing, and imagines how Faramir gently pulls open, maybe at this very moment, the front of her dress (it has to be heather-green for some reason), massages, so tenderly and slowly, the springy slopes, bows down to suck the coloured tips into his mouth.

And no, Pippin decides. She would have no mass of curls – her sleek plaits would be long enough to weave into a basket atop her head, and he would unbraid them, and run his fingers through the tresses, smoothly and easily. And he would kiss her, sweetly, endlessly.

The hobbit lies all hot and bothered, but there is little arousal to it. His visions are filled with a strange light, golden, glowing, like mist, the man and the woman suspended in some timeless bliss, ambient and shimmering. No star or man-made fire could produce it, and he thinks maybe it is what the Trees in the deathless realm had been like, back in the ages past. But inside him there is no glow, no animosity either, not towards her, not towards his master – only sharp, jaw-twisting bitterness, like chewing on an old onion.

And what if this is serious? But of course it is, Faramir would not be doing this if it were not serious. What if he loves this new love enough to put her above his reason? What if the Lady learns of it? What if everyone learns of it? What if he wants to stay by her at all stakes, to take her to wife? What if she already is someone else’s wife? What if this is serious, what if
Faramir has to leave Gondor?

What if Faramir has to leave Gondor?

This is ridiculous, Pippin tells himself.

He has by far exceeded all plausible capacity for ungrounded agonising that a young Hobbit of his wont could ever hold – but in the solitude of night, there is no such concept as ridiculous, there is no such thing as ruling out the possibility of disaster, however remote it may seem by light of day.

What if Faramir has to leave Gondor?

Where will Pippin be then?

Were events to indeed develop thus, it would, of course, be entirely irrelevant to absolutely everyone where Pippin would be then. After all, when a village burns down, who will rue the loss of a teaspoon?

But how can he not think of his own place in the situation? He cannot imagine any spot in the known or yet uncharted parts of Middle-earth where he would not follow his lord, but this is little consolation. Because what if Faramir will no longer have need of him? What if Faramir will be unable to take him along wherever he would be going?

What if Faramir will no longer want him?

He may be the man’s personal attendant, but he had been sworn into service as the Steward’s esquire, and if Faramir goes to where he will no longer be Steward, what use will Pippin be to him? If he chooses to live in modest exile alone with his love, how will his quaint little accessory fit into the picture?

Pippin does not at once realise that it is not his own sight that has gone black with anguish, but the little flame outside sputtering off, overrun, perhaps, by dripping wax.

Pippin huddles the covers closer around himself. What does it matter, he is not coming back.

Have some fortitude, old chap, from the onset it was clear as a thing written down that no treasure was awaiting you here. You had agreed to this – nay, you had volunteered. Have you not always known that your dreams would ever be only just that? There are good bits, and there are difficult bits, shut your eyes and sleep for the night to end.

But then it hits him that without the light, he is bound to keep lying there straining his ear for the door to creak open, for the soft fall of a ranger’s steps to signal his master’s return.

He puffs his cheeks and hauls himself into an upright position.

And just as he is about to tread into the hall and set that darned candle aright, his sensitive Hobbit-ear does indeed detect, through the thick masonry of the walls, sounds of someone approaching, and voices – outside in the corridor. He pauses, puzzled, for at this hour no one is supposed to wander into the nobility’s parts of the palace.

“Oh, better watch our step,” Faramir warns his unseen companion as he walks into the darkness the very next second, mere feet away from where Pippin has stopped.

A tall shadow of a shape appears behind the young man, contoured by what sparse illumination there is in the main passageway.

“’Tis alright, we’ve been through worse,” it says with a chuckle, before pulling the door shut behind them.

And Pippin is faint, week in the knees with selfish relief.

For it is the King. Only the King.

Chapter 13.

Faramir walks further into the unlit room, Aragorn leans against the doorframe, and Pippin’s relief is swift to give way to mortal embarrassment. His master will not be expecting him to all of a sudden pop up out of nowhere with offers of assistance – he should not be here at all, for has he not been dismissed for the evening? It does not matter, of course, for the only thing of import is that, by what the hobbit can judge from the short exchange he has witnessed, is the long hoped-for return of a genuinely affectionate tone between the two men. Nevertheless he does not want to attract attention to himself, to make his presence known lest he should somehow disturb this possibly fragile balance.

The safety of his little chamber beckons only a handful of steps away, but he feels certain that being the rangers they are they would notice him if he moves – and then he will have every reason to be embarrassed, having to explain why he is lurking around in the darkness at the small hours.

And so he remains, frozen, on the threshold, hoping against all reason that they will not touch the dratted taper.

“If you would give me but a minute, my lord,” Faramir calls from the bookcases at the far end of the hall, searching for something amid the thick volumes. “Ah, ’tis such a curious little thing… I had it here somewhere, I am sure… what a shame…”

Only now Pippin realises that Faramir’s voice rings strange, unfamiliar – realises that his lord is, in fact, tipsy. No, he thinks, scratch that: tonight Steward Faramir is drunk all right.

“In need of a helping hand, are we?” Aragorn suggests, amused, when Faramir swears under his breath.

“Nay, sire, pray do not wade in, I store such abundance of assorted loot in here, you might trip, and we would not want that.”

Aragorn chuckles, “How thoughtful, but I assure you, have no fright, I might–” but he cuts himself off, and snorts as though visited by a witty idea. He then picks up again, bending and stretching the words out to form a jolly, lopsided tune:

I assure you, have no fright
For your king, my friend uptight:
He can see you shining bright
Draped in Elven cloak so white –
You shall be his guiding light
In the darkness of the night.

With this, Aragorn follows the man to the shelves, and as he passes their little companion in his unintentional hiding place, a sour, spicy warmth wafts in Pippin’s face. The hobbit knows the smell, has never liked it: it is that thick Elven wine that would have a troll unconscious before the second bottle is gone; and judging by how Aragorn exudes the aroma with his own person, he must have at least doubled the Steward’s share. Worse still, Pippin catches the unmistakable notes of cinnamon, clove and that Elven spice he can never remember the name of, trailing in a plume after the King’s ditty – and he knows they have drunk the wine warmed and sugared, for it is indeed a cool night. Which would be no trouble, except that when heated, it goes to the head faster than a kick to the arse.

“Oh, sire, that was bad, truly bad,” Faramir observes with a return chuckle. “Also – ‘uptight’? Why, thank you kindly.”

“Don’t be strict, I improvised. I would’ve also worked something like ‘his heart’s delight’ or ‘at first sight’ in there somewhere, only couldn’t quite see how. ’Tis tricky business, this poetry writing of yours, and my wit is not at its best in such fine company.”

Pippin feels his eyes growing rounder and rounder by the minute.

“How about, ‘find the damned thing – and bid good night’?” Faramir counters softly, although it is clear by the sound of his voice that he is struggling not to laugh.

“See? See!” Aragorn cries, exceptionally pleased with himself. “Uptight – I was right!”

Faramir does not argue. Instead, “Uh, no use,” he says with a sigh, “not without some candle-light.”

But before he can turn around to search for some, the King steps up to him from behind.

Placing a hand on the shelf each side of his steward’s shoulders, “I insist: maybe I can help?” he offers, in a voice deep, and mellow, and both scratchy and velvety like the overgrown stubble on his jaw must feel. There is something lulling, hypnotic in the texture of this voice, but Pippin is completely overcome with foreboding, for the King of Gondor does not speak like so, not in court, and surely neither in private, because such tone, it…

“Nay, your lordship,” Faramir says, genuinely puzzled by the sound of it, “with all due respect, you are blocking out the light altogether.”

“Let that not worry you,” Aragorn replies, and Pippin can hear him grinning, “for lo, I have just found all I’d sought, my flawless, fearless knight.”

“You compliment me overmuch, majesty – for which I dare blame the heady drink.”

“I’ll humour you, let’s shame the drink…”

Faramir’s breathing audibly hitches as the King’s palm comes to rest upon the man’s black-clad flank.

I’ve long sat tight, I’ve bid my time,

Aragorn recites in a whisper, it seems, right into the man’s hair.

To watch another chance take flight
I’m altogether disinclined.

Pray overlook my artless rhyme:
Try as I might
Find mortal words that would do right

By one like you, so full of light,
This quest is surely doomed to blight,
And hence – why try?

I’d rather spend my strength elsewise:
I would this dream hold fast and tight,
If only even for one night –
Although who knows what could betide?

And speaking of the dark outside,
I would indeed a flame ignite,
But I care not for candle-light.

He nuzzles into the nape of Faramir’s neck, and Faramir gasps as one shaken out of a trance.

“I… I may no longer know…” and Pippin can hear the blurred thoughts spin in the younger man’s head, fighting to swim through the wine, “how to respond… lest I should prove to assign fallacious meaning to your words, sire.”

“Ah, do me a favour, my ever cautious Faramir, and drop the ‘sire’ already: it gets tiring, don’t you know,” Aragorn murmurs – too, far too inebriated. “And let us waste no more breath on these games, for playing does not become you and no longer amuses me.”

“G… games…?” Faramir echoes in what is more a cough than a whisper.

“Don’t. You misunderstand me so persistently I shall no longer grant belief to this charade of unsuspecting ignorance. Modesty may befit you in the loveliest of ways, Faramir, and long has it gnawed at my imagination, but time has come when it will befit you even more to cast it off.”

Faramir bows his head and takes in a drawn-out, hissing breath through his teeth.

“No,” he says, with effortful firmness. He makes to detach his lord’s palm from his waist. “No… Call it what you will, sire: if ‘pretence’ is your choice of word, then so be it. If it has come to rude pretence being my only remaining defence, I shall gladly make use of it: my passions have brought about ruin before, so I would rather be a liar than a fool… And I… refuse… to read any meanings…” He tugs at the hand again, in vain, for it seems to have become glued directly to his skin through the fabric of his attire.

“Rather a liar than a fool? ’Tis not the Faramir that I know,” Aragorn hums with a smile. “You are by all means confusing yourself. Now,” the lord of Gondor makes a small, nearly imperceptible movement against the other’s fiddling hand, and in the next instant has the younger man’s wrist in a close twisted grip.

Pippin sees his master’s pale fingers curl into a fist, clench, then slowly go slack.

“Now,” Aragorn murmurs again, “pray turn around, let me set you straight.”

Pippin can only stare, transfixed as this strangest of fantasies unfolds before his very eyes. Surely this cannot be happening, but Aragorn flips Faramir about face, easily, as though in a dance, and Faramir is unresisting – nor does he make as much as a single sound of protest when the King heaves him into the bookcase with a savage kiss. A tome or two flutter forth and thud on the floor, splayed out like broken birds, and something heavy and fragile is knocked from its place and shatters with a ring, but only a muffled, startled noise escapes the Steward’s throat that if anything, speaks great willingness.

Chapter 14.

In the sparse moonlight falling on the King’s back, Pippin sees his lord’s white hands grasping awkwardly at the fabric of Aragorn’s tunic, too hungry to muster patience for a proper embrace. Aragorn is already pulling him somewhere, with a sense of great exigency, but Faramir is stalling, stumbling in his step, holding Aragorn on the face with both hands, kissing him like he wants to drain the man dry.

They collide with a table, trip over a chair’s leg, there is sound of ripping cloth as Faramir’s fine cloak catches on a protruding element of a floor sculpture, that golden rearing horse from Rohan that Pippin has always secretly found vulgar and loathed.

He wonders if, as the only sober person present, he has it as his duty to cut in – as if he actually could – to say, are you quite sure indeed, my much esteemed lords, that you shan’t hate yourselves for this come morning? Laugh it off before ’tis too late, and call it a night, shall we?

Of course, he does not.

Not so much because this is none of his business – which indeed it is not, although of course it is.

Mostly because he is perceptive enough – and has known them both long enough – to see that their questionable state is not what has brought this about. Sweet wine may have enabled it, this much is quite beyond dispute, for such men as the two of them so direly require the all-dismissing excuse of intoxication to let what must run its course, run its course. This sudden intimacy is fruit of nothing other than the long-harboured desire of his lord’s heart, which, as it turns out, is not so unrequited after all.

He understands that this explains everything.

In fact, how could have he not understood earlier? A certain someone would have probably tapped him on the head with a long wooden staff, saying that Pippin had been living under a rock – with eyes shut and wool stuffed into his ears – for the past only Valar know how many months. Maybe – years?

They do not look lewd, ungraceful, or laughable as they cling to each other, caressing and groping in abandon, chuckling and uttering some incoherent words of passion in between their messy kisses. They look, above all, happy.

And he lets it go. He only stands and watches – because no one sees him, and because he cannot move, because this is not real, because his heart is not beating.

He watches as they at last manage to traverse the antechamber into the next room, pushing and hauling each other along, continuously crashing into furniture, Faramir laughing and taking Aragorn by the hand, murmuring, “Come. This way…”

They bother not to shut any doors behind themselves, and he hears everything.

Faramir goes into it with the unhesitating alacrity of a first love, tender, burning, dazzlingly open-hearted.

Just like in Pippin’s fantasies – only better, and not for Pippin.

He hears everything.

The whispered pleas for indecent things. The bold confessions smothered midway by desperate kisses. The swish and rustle of discarded garments, and the clink of a belt-buckle hitting the cool floor. The disapproving croak of the mattress, unaccustomed to such treatment, as two well-built men fell each other upon it. The sound of lip meeting lip, and lip meeting skin, and skin meeting skin, all in a frenzy, in unnecessary, irrational haste.

Somewhere amidst it, Aragorn’s anxious, “My dear, there is no need—” and how it ends in a shocked, amazed cry. And how Faramir apparently has no space in his mouth for an articulate reply, how he chokes, unable to master it all, to take everything. And how he does not back down, no doubt convinced in his zeal that he must love his king to the very last inch. He chokes more than once again, and amid his hums of feverish enthusiasm his rhythmless service is accompanied by uncomely, gurgling noises. The Steward of Gondor obviously has no skill in this whatsoever, and how would he, but the other man is far from complaining.

He stands there and listens to Aragorn being blessed by fortune, and soon enough learns how it sounds when the King groans with the full might of his lungs.

It goes on for so excruciatingly long, and he only tries not to imagine the older man’s palms cradling the back of Faramir’s head, long fingers burrowing into his beloved’s gorgeous hair, pushing him down…

“Enough… enough…” pants Aragorn urgently, dazedly, “come here…”

He cannot quite decipher what is happening next, but suddenly, a curt strained cry. Pippin jolts, as though it is he who is hurt, stabbed in his literal gut – and everything in him, every drop of blood in his veins, bids that he rush in and call that clumsy boar of a monarch to answer… But he hears Aragorn’s immediate apology, mumbled and gasping as it is, and it seems to him, reassuringly, that to the King the pain he has just caused is a distress no smaller than to his own throbbing heart.

Pippin breathes out and closes his eyes. His fingers are shaking, violently, but he can hardly register it. He is all there, with them, he can almost see.

He can almost see Aragorn’s hands rummaging, patting about blindly as the man stands on all fours amid the heaped blankets, begging Faramir to wait, wait but a moment, must be something… we can’t… can’t just like that… He can almost see the self-effacing fire in his lord’s face as Faramir wrestles with his liege, grabbing him on the arm, the shoulder, pulling him back to himself, declaring with the resolute heat of a man fey, a man possessed, that he cares not, pain, blood, flesh to shreds, come what may, come to me now.

Aragorn swears at him, and there is both a plea and a despondency in his curse, his voice almost tearful with need.

Just don’t hurt him, please don’t hurt him, Pippin’s lips recite mutely, a heathen incantation to some unspecified, composite deity of universal justice.

He knows the burning and the strain will be no match for his lord’s endurance. He knows Faramir is not daunted, never has been daunted by anything in this mortal plane or any other. But Pippin, Pippin can hardly inhale for the fear. He can no longer recall how it had been once, back, back in his previous life, when the burning and the strain were the greatest if not altogether sole concern, back in the day when such things had only one layer of meaning if any at all.

There are balms and soaps in the bathroom! he wants to shout. Take something, take anything, please!

Please, just don’t hurt him. He, of all people, deserves better than that.

But it is not his place to give advice, and it is not long before Faramir cries out again. It is drawn-out and gritting, this warped victory call of a man who had almost given up hope, and it keeps on slicing through Pippin’s ears until there is no air left in Faramir to carry forth his emotion. The jagged edges of this cry scrape raw the inside of Pippin’s chest, and the Hobbit reels, nauseous with dread, with superstitious horror, for in a way this is as a deafening chorus of trumpets heralding the end of the world, or at least the world as he knows it.

A muscle in his face twitches as the bed begins to creak.

He has never known what a shabby, good-for-nothing bed it is, how loudly it can creak.

Is it for his Hobbit-hearing, or for the acute ache that permeates his whole body, but amid the grunts, and the yelps, and the grinding of teeth, and the curt affirmative exclamations, he can make out every intake of breath, every gasp, both gentle and sharp, every single helpless sigh…

Remotely, as though from a distance, he wonders how it is that his body remains so indifferent to it all. The man he has in his mind sucked dry countless, countless times, the man he has dreamt of being close with in any way possible, this man is being had so masterfully, only steps away – in fact, Pippin could even go watch, they could hardly spot him now of all times. He has no desire to watch. He has no desire to even listen, come to that, only that he feels he ought to – just to make sure… To make sure what?

They are getting restless, rough, for surely nothing feels enough, nothing could feel nearly enough. The rhythm breaks, there is shuffling, then a gruff satisfied grunt, and Faramir’s moans pick up anew, though this time muffled and distant. And Pippin can recognise that very particular robust clapping sound of hips colliding with buttocks.

Dully, he marvels at Aragorn’s endurance. Most men when loaded as he would be hardly capable of anything, and bedding a warrior the like of Faramir, and in such position, must be hard work – but the mighty king, so it seems, has decided to never stop. On and on, without end or even change of pace, like in one of those stories Pippin had heard as a child, where if the wood faeries catch you, they make you dance until you die.

There is only so much a man fucked dry can take, and he can hear Faramir weeping into the pillow, biting his lips, coughing with pain.

Can the King not hear it? Does he have no heart, no pity, no conscience? This may be intimate, and ultimately satisfying for both, but it is merciless, cruel… Cruel with the inherent cruelty of the feral ways of nature, whence what is caught in a whirlpool will spin faster, and faster, and faster until it is sucked under, and what yields will be ravished.

Tears are streaming down his face, but he does not feel it.

His lord is screaming, and the King Elessar is roaring, and by the sound of it the headboard is beating against the wall.

Like unto no passion he has known, this must be how the Big People must love each other. This ride on a raging sea-storm must be how love manifests itself for them, and what would he know of it, coming as he is from a land where there are no seas, let alone any storms.

The silence that eventually ensues is like an explosion wave, and he stands with his eyes squeezed shut and his hands clamped over his mouth. He would not be too surprised at all if the centuries-old walls, and archways, and pillars, and delicate stained-glass window panes of the white palace were to come crumbling, and crashing, and tinkling down around him.

Still, Pippin is planted in the doorway to his room, for he has as though grown roots into the floor. With his soles, he acutely feels the silken homeliness of the wood beneath his heels, the slight elevation of the threshold under the arc of his feet, and the impenetrable hardness of the polished granite against his toes. He belongs with the cosiness of the wood, with safe, warm, familiar things – what is he doing in this place, in this big dark world of high lords and tall towers of stone? There is so much space, but no place for a little hobbit – only for the Big People with their Big Passions.

It is a very long time before he can relax his posture and open his eyes. They sleep now, will sleep for several more hours – enough time for the Steward’s esquire to get himself together.

Pippin forces himself to smile.

His face itches from the tears that had trickled down his cheeks, and his throat is sore and tight, but he feels a little better already.

Certainly, it is no pleasure to learn Faramir is not indifferent towards males in general, only to Pippin in particular. Yet on the other hand, surely it could have been worse. If Faramir had brought a stable hand to his bed, or a city guard in training – that would have hurt, oh that would have hurt. But truly, who would have picked a Peregrin Took over an Aragorn? Who would have even thought to compare…?

Aragorn is a good man, and now he is a lucky man also. And it is rightly so: who, after all, could be more worthy of his master than a king of kings? Is it not only fitting, a proper testimony of his lord’s worth that this man, for whom the noblest and most sublime of women have desired to give their lives, should have chosen Faramir? That for Faramir, he should go against convention, against all laws, explicit and not, of what is the done thing in good society?

It honestly is not so bad, he tells himself, grasping onto his hobbit optimism with white-knuckled determination. And within the next half-hour or so, it even starts to seem to him that he is able to feel genuine gladness, may as it be with a cutting edge. He has always wanted one thing only, at the bottom of all his foolish desires: for his lord to be happy. And now Faramir is – and will be, for Aragorn is not one to—

Just then, when he has almost made peace with himself, he not so much hears as rather senses with his marrow a disquiet in his lord’s chamber. The activity is careful, hushed, and hurried – then out of nowhere Aragorn passes him, so very close. Although Pippin can feel the air disturbed by the King’s movement gently brush him on the face, there is no sound at all. The heir of Elendil has all his gear back on properly, and once again is moving with his usual brisk lightness, barely seen and altogether not heard – he has, apparently, recovered his sobriety. And now that he is no longer under the bad influence of the thick spirits, he is leaving.

Just like that.

He does not notice Pippin. Apparently the King of Gondor is too preoccupied to look around, and it does not require much light for Pippin to see this, for the bewilderment radiates from him almost visibly, like heat from a cindering log.

For a second, before Aragorn discreetly pushes the door open and slips out, into the peaceful darkness of a summer night, Pippin contemplates making his presence known. A polite cough-cough would do, maybe even a Good evening, sire. And then, Just where, Balrogs skin you for belts, do you think you are going?! You get back in there, you stealthy coward, you ungrateful—

He realises something then. As the gilded panel quietly clicks back into place and his solitude is resumed, he knows that whether the older man goes now or later is altogether immaterial, for everything is already decided. He may not be all that versed in the matters of romance, but he knows for a fact that happy endings do not have such beginnings.

Chapter 15.

Pippin spends the rest of the night with his hands folded lifelessly in his lap, perched stiff and straight on the edge of his low bed – the bed made for him by Faramir’s personal order, perfect in height and length. Everything in the room is made to measure, and a grown Man entering this place might think he has stepped into a child’s playroom. But tonight Peregrin Took seems terribly old to himself, too old for the world. He had spent many of the past hours waiting, but now in a sense he is doing the opposite of waiting. He is wishing, with all the power of his little heart, that morning would never come, that Faramir would never have to wake to an empty pillow beside him.

He wishes that time were something tangible, something that he could throw himself at and struggle with so as to stave off its progress. Something that he could beat at with his little fists, something he could kick and bite at. But if that were so, he is sure that time would manifest itself in the form of a giant spider-web, sticky and thick. It would absorb his every strike with springy indifference, and struggling against it would do nothing but drain away his strength, his desire to fight. He has never felt this small, this insignificant, has never known such hopeless, lightless, all-encompassing dread of the daybreak – not during his nights in Orcish captivity, not even on the eve of the siege of Minas Tirith. Great forces have been set in motion, and they tug him along like a piece of debris caught in the current of a mighty river, and he is helpless to change anything at all, in the flow of the river or in his own passage within it.

He wishes he could trade places with Faramir, become Faramir, so that he could live through all the misery that must unfold, so that Faramir would not have to. He wishes, above all, that he could be Aragorn, so that he would return.

For Aragorn will not return, as he is not the kind of man to change his mind.

Pippin does not try to tell himself that he might have misinterpreted what he saw. He is, in fact, so sure of his interpretation, that for a time even his outrage has deflated, as outrage demands that things be changed in the name of justice, and he knows that nothing is going to change. He only keeps on turning what has happened over and over in his mind, like spinning yarn into a ball, with each turn adding on yet another loop of implications.

There is no question here as to why the King has not stayed – he is the King, if he had wished to stay, he would have done so. And this act of not staying, this simple action of walking out of the Steward’s rooms, of physically removing himself from the situation – this in itself speaks clearer than words, and what is funny is that it also hurts more than words.

This is the worst of it – that Aragorn did not actually have to do this. There is nothing that could have immediately deterred him had he wished to remain where he was, even if only to linger, to wait for Faramir to awaken – so they could speak, so they could at least acknowledge what has been done. It lends permanence to his decision, this going without having to, this cutting off, disengaging himself at the earliest possible occasion.

It is this callousness that denies comprehension. That he would allow himself to get drunk out of hand when alone with one he desired, that he would resort to vulgar seduction, that he would think that Faramir was playing, flirting with him, that he would manhandle Faramir in bed, in retrospect all of this Pippin can believe – much less so the unapologetic exit that has followed. How does he not understand, this man who is supposed to be endowed with wisdom above all, that in so going he has not only withheld his love, that he has also withdrawn his respect – that he has taken away Faramir’s dignity?

Tried him on like a pair of shoes that he would cast aside if they did not fit.

Slowly, the dark shapes of furniture begin to acquire definition, and the cool bluish grey of approaching dawn creeps in through the gaps in the curtains, as inexorable as it is gradual – and the hobbit stands up. He has a work to do, the usual preparations for his lord’s awakening, as though this were any normal day.

He had put the water from yesterday’s unused bath back in the big-bellied cauldron, which he now sets to boil again. He checks that there are enough fresh towels, folded neatly, that the large oval mirror is clean, that no black hairs are offending the whiteness of the basins or the creaminess of the floor. He fishes in the cabinet for the jar of soothing salve, brings it to the front of the shelf and leaves the cabinet door a little ajar, so that Faramir’s eyes will be bound to fall upon it without the arrangement looking like it had been made with a purpose. He lays out the choice of clothes, irons the several items that have wrinkled up while in the closet, ponders for a moment what to do about the boots which he polishes every morning, but which were not left for him outside his master’s bedroom as is the custom between them. Well, Faramir will have to make do with yesterday’s polish, for Pippin will not go into that room, will not by so going imply that he has seen the strange disarray of garments and bed-things. He can, in fact, see from here, for Aragorn has not risked to make a creak with the hinges, or has simply not bothered, and the Steward’s chamber stands wide open. In the soft powdery shadow he can make out Faramir’s slumbering shape, resting unencumbered, not exactly on his front, not quite on his side – one arm slung up, hiding his profile from view, hair a mess of dark waves across the pillow. The blanket, which is more on the floor than it is on the bed, covers most of his lower half, leaving out one white foot and part of his left thigh.

He looks so peaceful and rested, and his is not the sleep of a troubled man. Gently, Pippin pulls the door to.

In the hallway he puts in place the things that were dropped and brushes up the things that were broken, sets every book where it should be. When this is done, he heads to the kitchens to oversee the preparation of a heartsome breakfast and have a good argument with the maids.

By the time he brings back the overloaded tray, he can hear Faramir splashing in the washing room. The hobbit knows better than to offer his assistance on a morning like this.

He bows his head, purses his lips and searches with his eyes the starched linen of the tablecloth, as though it can offer him some last-minute solution as to how to set everything aright. He has awoken, he knows. How did it happen so fast, how could have morning come already? Pippin’s hands are trembling faintly as he lays out the silver cutlery and puts down the full plates, and he clenches his teeth and reprimands himself. Nothing, not a single nerve ought to move in his face when his lord emerges – or thereafter. As far as he is concerned, nothing has happened – because his lord had given him leave, and he was not here to witness anything happen.

He is satisfied with the look of the table, hardly any place left on it for all the dishes and cups. He has brought a good selection for Faramir, even though Faramir has never been picky with food and not once has expressed a wish that something different had been served. But this morning Pippin had descended into the kitchens and declared with aplomb that it was high time they smartened up the breakfast routine for his master, and fed him like the noble lord that he was. For this he had had to endure some rather scathing looks from the kitchen ladies: no doubt they disbelieved him and thought he wants the extra for himself. Although any Hobbit worth his salt would know not to antagonise the people who manage his food, today Pippin could not care less, let them think what they would, he is more concerned with offering his liege every comfort he can get his hands on. And in case Faramir should have no appetite and rather be suffering from the aftermath of the overindulgence in alcohol, Pippin has also brought along a variety of remedies. There is a full carafe of cool spring water for starters, there is apple cider and rose wine, although Faramir does not usually take drink with the morning meal – then there is this local fermented-milk beverage that is fabled to be a magical cure. Naturally, there is also strong hot tea with a quartered lemon waiting on a saucer beside the pot – just in case Faramir should chance to be in the mood for some.

Pippin takes a step back, closes his eyes for a moment, and slowly breathes out.

Many, it seems now that very, very many years ago, he had taken part in a village play to celebrate the end of harvest. Nothing fancy, pure amusement, and as a little Hobbit-boy he had been given hardly two lines to say, but in his muscles he still recalls the sudden seizure of blind panic that had gripped him backstage. There had been something almost supernaturally eerie about how the play had taken possession of his body, for although the thought ‘I cannot do this’ kept rushing through his blank mind, at the same time he knew with undoubting certainty that when his moment came he would step out onto the creaky boards from behind the patchwork curtain, and play out his role, step after step, like one of Gandalf’s curious clockwork toys – without any control over his limbs or features. When the last minute before his entrance had begun ticking off, he had even had a sudden last leap of hope for salvation, for being taken out of this situation by some decisive and unforeseeable act of the powers above, for being absolved from performing his duty.

Not that he had been, in all seriousness, afraid to become the centre of attention of a group of already jolly-spirited Hobbits, and not that his mustard-yellow costume of a turnip, with some twigs on top to represent the shaw, had caused him any particular embarrassment or discomfort. Not that he had genuinely wished to withdraw his involvement from the event. It was merely that then, for the first time, he had consciously sensed himself as a tiny gear-wheel element in a complex social machinery, part of a ritual, part of something thought-up, artificial and symbolic yet somehow all the more important for it.

And then, as he had drawn back the heavy fabric and walked forward, showing all of himself to the eager crowd, a strange calm had settled over him, white and cool, like morning mist, like that eternal moment when you go very, very high on the swing, and then leap off, and you are suspended in the air, and you know that you will fall, and likely crash, but you do not care, because for that one moment, you are soaring.

Pippin breathes out again, and surveys his work once more, purses his lips and moves the teapot a little, to make sure it does not get in the way. There is not much he can do, but this much he can do well, and he will do what is in his power to do to keep things going, to keep things proper.

And at last the door to the lord’s private rooms is opened, and the Steward of Gondor steps forth.

Chapter 16.

As Faramir pauses in the doorway, he looks to Pippin exceptionally pale. Pale and self-possessed as one about to traverse a mountain gorge over a flimsy rope bridge – but there is an unconcealable shadow of confusion in his keen eyes. It is as though he heard his name called out in the busy market by a familiar voice, and has turned round, searching the faces with his eyes, but there is no one. For half a second he seems to Pippin as though utterly lost, as though this is not his home and he has no notion of what he is doing here, as though he is a stranger in his own body. And indeed he looks a little out of place, so straight he stands, so focussed and grave – not to mention his getup.

Too late Pippin realises he should have thought of this. Faramir is wearing the only high-collar tunic he owns, a long woollen piece, heavy and dark. Its itchy bulk is far too warm even for some autumn days, let alone a bright summer morning like this, but the man’s neck must be in no state to be exhibited to the eyes of the public.

Only because he is watching so intently the Hobbit notes that Faramir flicks a quick glance around the room, and his gaze dulls when he sees there is no one save for his esquire.

The man lifts his chin a notch and blinks, just once. He had hoped, apparently he had still hoped – and it hurts, but he has long since learned to master his hurts. He greets Pippin and walks to the table as though nothing, absolutely nothing is amiss.

Pippin does not flatter himself thinking it is for his benefit that Faramir does not let his disappointment show. This is an internal battle, the audience is not essential. And he is sure that even when alone with himself, Faramir would not go wallowing in self-pity, cursing his bitter fate or rueing his foolish choices – wherever it is he prefers to ascribe blame in a moment like this.

Pippin had put a cushion on the seat, but a shadow of a wince still jerks over Faramir’s face as he sits down, more abruptly, perhaps, than he should have. And if there had been left any ambiguity as to how precisely the events of last night might have imprinted themselves upon his master’s memory what with the amount of wine he had in his blood, little hope now remains that any degree of detail may have thankfully been lost. Especially so the detail that had ensued from the point where he had dropped all his clothes to the floor. What need is there for memory, when Aragorn’s loving had left a trail like an oliphaunt crashing through the undergrowth.

Pippin busies himself picking an imaginary thread off his black livery: he did not notice his lord flinch, he has paid no mind to the high-collared shirt, and he has nothing to do with a pillow mysteriously finding its way to the Steward’s chair today of all days.

He senses Faramir is in no mood for casual conversation – and tries not to hover around other than to pour the drinks. He would have altogether excused himself, but is afraid doing so would be too unusual and might attract Faramir’s attention. The pillow was already a risky step, he cannot afford any more giveaways.

He, like no one, understands the vital imperativeness of letting the man hold on to this bogus semblance of normality no matter what.

Faramir butters a toast, studies it, puts it down on the plate and does not touch it again.

He drinks some tea though, and eventually does eat a toast, this one plain, without butter.

Suddenly, “You moved the chair away,” the man observes, vacantly.

“My lord?” Pippin says politely, but inside him a thousand wings are fluttering madly. Maybe he should not have moved it? Maybe it is too obvious this way? But he did not want it to be gaping with emptiness flop opposite his lord, pushing the other’s absence in his face.

“The chair,” Faramir repeats, and nods towards the piece in question modestly standing in the corner.

Pippin inclines his head. “I did, yes, I…” he takes a deep breath. He does not know what else to reply to dismiss the matter, he cannot quite think, and he hates himself for saying the only thing that comes to mind. “I did not reckon you’d be expecting company. If you wish, I’ll move it right back.”

Faramir waves his hand. “Nay, I’m not expecting anyone,” he says with indifference.

There is a crease between his brows and a hardness in his eyes – and suddenly Pippin sees how he will age. In this moment more than ever before Pippin recognises in the man traces of his late father and brother, sees where the lines of sternness and sorrow might chart his face, where cold resignation might replace the gentle kindness in the corners of his lips and eyes.

With all his being he desires to prevent this from coming to pass, and if he knew some magical spell that would do the trick, some forbidden sorcery, surely he would have used it were it even to cost him an eye, and a limb, and the eternal damnation of his spirit, for he is certain he would throw himself in the way of such fate unfurling, if only it were up to him. Which it is not. It is not even up to him to fill Faramir in on the circumstances of Aragorn’s departure, to clarify this much for his lord – he cannot rob the man of the relative consolation that leastwise no one else knows.

The breakfast is taking forever, although Faramir is hardly eating. But he will not rise from the table either, and Pippin can sense the alternating waves of tension and restlessness wash over the man. The hobbit can well imagine what Faramir would be thinking being who he is, a man of Gondor, a man of honour, a man of great humility. Two trails of thought, interwoven together by doubt: one rigid and spiky, accusatory, taunting, jeering; the other smooth and supple, and it would twist around the first, and sheathe its biting spikes, and turn them into harmless, soothing question marks. Why jump to conclusions? His love was so earnest, he spoke many wonderful things. The wine may have lent a hand in untying his tongue, but would have he said it had it been absent from his heart? He is a man noble and true, how could he possibly utter a lie? What if he has left before dawn for fear of being seen by the servants? What if he had not at all wished to go? What if he only means to allow you due space and respect?

But the first thought is surely no newcomer to Faramir’s head, and Pippin expects that it must have had quite a few years of rather successful practice – and as his master cradles the teacup in his hands, and frowns over it, Pippin can see the first thought bristle, blowing the questions into exclamation marks. Go ahead, delude yourself a bit longer, haven’t you always been an expert in that department! Do go on, build yourself a castle in the clouds – so well that will serve you! He had put such trust in you, relied on you – and you…! He may not have been himself – but you! You have always wanted this. How can he not be ashamed to look upon you now – one so eager to unman himself, happy to be treated like a whore? Though not even every whore would agree to service a man like you have.

Faramir frowns harder, the tendons in his cheeks pulling taut. His shoulders heave an unreleased sigh, and he leans forth, placing his elbows on the table.

As he looks upon this man, this man who is so tall and strong, whose shoulders bulge with muscle as he hunches over his teacup, all his brawn and agility and staunch will of no use to him at all, Pippin thinks, isn’t it strange, how easy it is for Men to crush one another with what is in essence a consensual act of love. How is it that what can make so much joy in the process, afterwards brings only grief.

When he had lived among his own kind, it had never once occurred to him that certain roles in these sorts of exchanges could be painfully demeaning while others not so much – one just went with whatever one felt most inclined towards, and that was that. But even he is by far not immune, for whenever he had thought of himself in bed with Faramir, it was without question who would be doing what, because… – because Faramir is a lord, his lord, and it is unacceptable, it is simply unthinkable to… And it is obvious to him that if only it had been reversed, had it been Faramir who had topped, put his male strength between the invitingly spread legs, got his manhood kissed and sucked – oh, if only it were so, it would not have been nearly as bad. Or at least, it would not have been as unequivocally degrading personally for Faramir, which is more or less the only thing Pippin cares about at the moment.

When at last Faramir rises, his face is set and stiff, but his gaze direct and devoid of any emotion. He may be vulnerable in his own way, but he will deal with his burden without giving anyone occasion to speculate that he is dealing with anything at all.

Pippin lingers by the table, uninformed about his master’s plans, and thus unsure whether it is expected that he will follow, or if he is given leave to clear the dishes. But in the doorway Faramir stops, and, turning his head halfway back without quite looking at Pippin, says, “Would you fetch my rod for me, Master Peregrin?”

“Your rod, sir?”

“Aye, the Steward’s rod – you know, ivory, with golden knobs.”

“Ah, yes!” Pippin confirms, instantly flustered. They had not taken the dratted thing out of its case for a long, long while, and he is not quite sure he can recall its exact whereabouts. “Right away, sir.”

As he hurries back to the hallway, the milk-coloured warder in his outstretched hands, he finds Faramir before the sculpture of the horse on its hinds. The man is contemplating it with his head tilted to the side, then reaches forth and with his open palm lifts a small sliver of snowy-white fabric hanging from one of the hooves.

Pippin makes to say something, but only shuffles his feet.

“My cloak had caught on this when I was returning from supper,” Faramir explains, still looking into his hand. “You shall get rid of it for me, won’t you?”

“Certainly. I had never quite fancied the beast either, sir.”

“Nay – that is, the cloak.”

“Oh,” a stone drops into Pippin’s stomach. “Of course, yes, if your lordship so wishes – though I could have it mended for you, if you would… ’Tis such a pretty thing, after all.”

Faramir looks at him.

“So it is,” he agrees. “But do you think there truly is much use in that? Not everything lends itself well to mending, Peregrin – pretty though it may be.”

Pippin sighs and hands him the sceptre, and silently treads after him when the man turns on his heel to go. But at the exit from his quarters, Faramir halts once more, and glances over his shoulder.

“Peregrin,” he says, “Wait for me here. I…” he looks away and shakes his head, so tired already at such an early hour. “Just wait here.”

And only when the door closes behind him, and Pippin stares blankly at the wooden pane, his unrested mind makes the connection, and the hobbit gasps aloud.

He knows his master’s plan after all, for to take the rod with him today the Steward can have one reason only – to resign.

Chapter 17.

The next two hours pass in avoidance of the bedroom. Pippin knows he ought to go in and – how to put this? – to see to the bed. But he cannot quite bring himself to enter… that place, to inhale that air which his master’s one-night lover had breathed, to see the dried-up testimony of their passion on the sheets. He well knows he will wash these sheets himself, scrub every inch with bare hands in water so hot his skin will go red and raw, pluck all the dark hairs, one by one, from between the fabric strands with his fingernails, and rinse the load with aromatic essences, over and again. Those loose-tongued laundry maids will not get to enjoy hazarding idle guesses as to how a man whose wife is known not to have been in town for a number of seasons now, could manage to get his linens in such a state.

The matter has acquired a near cosmic, universal import. Their fate, his lord’s fate, his lord’s happiness, the ability of life to return to its regular, non-tragic course – everything depends on the success of The Bed Quest. Incidentally, it has become unimaginably difficult, immovable as a mountain of lead, so that he cannot even begin to do something about it. He understands he should at least strip the mattress and put fresh linens on, and take the used ones someplace else to deal with them later. But here his own logic comes to stand in the way: what if Faramir spots it? Pippin had changed the bedclothes only the day before, and it would not be standard procedure to do it again so soon. He knows his lord is a man gifted with exceptional perspicacity, even in the times of extreme stress, and when he settles for sleep tonight, he may observe that everything is fresh and starched all over again, and see the tie-in, and know that his supposedly unaware esquire is not as fortunately ignorant. Especially that Pippin has already floundered with the chair, and the cushion – no, he cannot risk being discovered to know, being even suspected to know.

Besides, deep down he yet dares hope that his current actions will prove to be immaterial. He hopes that when Faramir finds Aragorn today, Aragorn will smile at him, and no sooner than they are alone, he will take him by the hand and all will be well. And maybe towards nightfall they will return, together.

In such turn of events it would not make too much sense to do anything at all beyond straightening out the covers. The Queen is not due back in the City for another week, and if Aragorn will spend each of those nights here – and surely he would, for how could he keep himself off Faramir – well, they would have to go through a frightful amount of pillow cases and the rest of it if Pippin were to replace everything every time.

All his senses tell him that this is not what is going to happen. But in any case, it is none of his concern. His job is to tidy up and put things in order, not to rationalise whether or not he should be putting things in order.

He well understands this task comes with the territory. He had wanted to be Faramir’s one and only personal attendant, and this is what he is – which means he does not have the luxury to delegate a chore he would rather not do.

He has lived in such long proximity to his lord for such a long time that he harbours no illusions as to Faramir being an incorporeal spirit of pure light and shine. For one thing, now and again – and in the recent weeks quite often, for that matter – when making the bed in the morning, he would come across fresh evidence that his lord had been visited by a rather sweetly indecent dream. But to Pippin, the vision that would immediately follow such a discovery, that of Faramir pressing himself into the mattress, sighing with pleasure in his sleep – that vision is pure delight. And even the less readily romanticisable aspects of a man’s daily life that it falls to a body servant to witness had never lifted the veil of love for him, not for a fraction of a second, for nothing that comes of Faramir could ever repel him. And if Faramir would only wish it of him, there is not a way in which he would not be ecstatic to pleasure the man, not a single favour he would refuse him.

So it throws him, that he should find himself so intensely put off by the prospect of performing such a simple, mundane task.

But then again, this here is not about Faramir, nor about the due privacy that Faramir’s personal goings-on should be allowed. To think of it, had his lord had a wholesome marriage, it would have naturally fallen to Pippin to deal with the aftermath of his and Lady Éowyn’s lovemaking, and sometimes even the markings of her monthly blood – arguably a matter even more private. Pippin turns this idea around in his mind, and can find nothing to wince at. Yet what happened in the bed last night – it makes his skin crawl, for it is dirty, dirty in a way far worse than even the soiled beddings the Hobbit has handled at the Wards. Ugly is what it is, ugly and disgusting, as though instead of sweat and male seed the linen is soaked with literal selfishness and deceit that will rise and spread like fumes of the plague should Pippin dare disturb the mounded blanket or dislodged sheet.

And in Faramir’s own bed, no less! The most intimate, sacred place of all of his household. To go and do this… Truly, the only way to cleanse it is set the whole thing alight and let it burn to cinders. He just cannot get his head around how…

Pippin sighs. He does realise it should not be this unmanageable, just get on with it already, do your job for goodness’ sake – but agonising over it is by far preferable to agonising over Faramir’s upcoming resignation.

O, he will do it, he will get it done – just not quite right away, not until the ware is taken back to the kitchens, the non-existent crumbs from the uneaten meal brushed off the table, and the table-cloth adjusted to perfect symmetry. Not until the garments Faramir has chosen not to wear are folded neatly and put back in the drawers, and the floor in the bathroom wiped dry. Not until the rolled up and sealed documents brought for his lord’s perusal are sorted and neatly stacked on the desk and wood put in the hearth just in case it will be cold tonight. Not until everything looks perfect, as though nothing has been shattered and life goes on. Not until –

Not until Faramir is back – because he is.

The man walks straight to the accursed bedroom, too – and Pippin is so ashamed he can hardly breathe. Lowly craven, now his lord will get his nose rubbed into yet another reminder, that pillaged mess of a battlefield where he had so blindly, so rapturously surrendered all of himself. Where he had wanted to make love and ended up getting completely –

“Master Peregrin, would you come here a minute?” Faramir calls drily.

Pippin rushes in, queasy with guilt. He opens his mouth to mumble apologies, to fully embrace his fault – but then it registers with him that Faramir is not reproaching him for the negligence of his duties. Faramir, in fact, does not seem to care, as he flings his old faded saddle bag right atop the blanket.

“Will you give me a hand packing?” he says briskly, not even glancing at his esquire and already rummaging through a full drawer, instantly undoing an hour’s worth of meticulous folding and stacking that Pippin so prizes himself on. “I… I need to take some things along, I’ll be gone for a time,” Faramir murmurs a little dazedly, as suddenly he forsakes his search and, slowly, straightens up only to look blankly in front of himself. He is clearly quite overwhelmed, and even the rather straightforward undertaking of figuring out what to put in his bag apparently eludes his grasp. He swallows, frowns.

“Will your lordship be heading to Emyn Arnen?” Pippin offers with courtly politeness, standing up nice and tall and folding his hands behind his back.

“Yes,” Faramir agrees absently. Then, after a moment’s hesitation, he adds a little firmer, “yes, I suppose so. That is where I shall go.”

“Well, in that case you can go rather light,” Pippin proposes with the seriousness of an intellectual discussion. Just keep talking. He has learned this at the Wards, just keep talking to them, it hurts less so. “You won’t be needing much for the trip itself, I imagine not, and it does not look likely to rain anytime today – and then I reckon your lordship would have most everything for the daily matters at home, clothes and such?”

Faramir nods, and seems calmer now. “Yes,” he says quietly, “that I do.”

And so they pack, and Pippin chatters and chatters to maintain the distracting background – but it is now that he more than ever burns to open his heart to the man he so desperately loves.

He knows it will be quite useless, now of all times – and yet the urge is so strong he at times has to bite down on the inside of his cheek to keep the words from popping out. May as it be against his nature to quash himself like so, the blaze of his passion has not blinded his reason, and he understands his love cannot replace the absence of Aragorn’s. His confession, such as he could make it, would be yet another burden to Faramir, yet another absurd misfortune to manage. He knows it will be unkind, too, to try and offer such consolation, much as it would be unkind to offer a thirsty man a cupful of oil – in many ways so similar to what he yearns for, but in truth only a joke, a lopsided reflection of his true desire.

And what would Pippin say? You matter to me? I care for you? I think about you without end? You are the best man I’ve ever known and I wish to make you happy? I would do anything for you, treasure every moment with you and never hurt you? He would rather swallow his tongue altogether than give these flat, trite, adolescent lines to his lord. He comes from a world where the things that truly matter are hardly ever spoken of directly, if at all, for such things exist in a context of their own and go far beyond the small everyday words used to refer to small everyday matters. A whole different language should be used to speak of love, he thinks, a language graceful and transparent, pure and unsoiled, a language that is not earthbound – and if he knew the High Tongue, maybe then he would have dared say something. But he does not know it.

Instead, he tries to work up the courage to ask for permission to breach their unspoken tradition and come along. Faramir is so preoccupied now, the hobbit is quite sure he would grant it without stopping to think. What does it matter to him if Pippin goes or not – but to Pippin it matters!

He does not ask, he cannot. And Faramir does not invite him: again, Faramir has a little too much on his mind as is.

And just like that, bag in hand, the Man is gone. Out the door, and out of Minas Tirith. Without a word of explanation. Pippin does not accompany him to the stables, does not even walk him to the main entrance – he can tell his lord can hardly wait to be alone.

The Hobbit stands numb, dumb, as though he has just been whacked across the head with a sack of potatoes. His ears are ringing with silence, with the deserted emptiness of his master’s sunlight-flooded chamber, where so much life had recently happened, and where only the dust is settling now. His tendons and muscles go limp, his eyes go heavy and purposeless, and his unseeing gaze sinks upon his own feet. It is done – whatever it is that happened, it is done and over.

It is then the spot of colour on the floor catches his eye. Half-covered by a fold of the bed-sheet there it is – a small, little more than an ounce, bottle of deep violet glass. The cork must have popped out when it fell, and it has dripped some glistening oily liquid onto the stone.

Instantly, he wakes up. For he knows why it is here and with what purpose it had been brought along, for what purpose it had, almost, been used. Through what is most akin to a hound’s sense of smell he knows it is an alien object in his lord’s quarters, brought here not in his lord’s hands, brought here not by his lord’s design, remaining here without his lord’s knowledge as a conceited little attestation of Faramir’s one moment of weakness.

Pippin feels himself go pale with rage.

The bastard, the son of a trollop had planned this.

Well, perhaps not necessarily ‘planned’, but certainly he had kept the possibility in mind coming prepared to an ‘innocent’ private dinner with his Steward.

Never, he thinks, has he felt such unconditional, white-hot hatred. His hands curl with the desire to pull the fire-poker from the grate and go smash it on Aragorn’s skull – or, better still, between his legs. And then lodge it up his royal arse, so that he would know, what it feels like to be had.

His teeth clenched to the point of desensitisation, the Hobbit bends down and scoops the bottle up into his pocket. There may not be much he can do about this, about anything – but he knows now that he will not forget, and he will not let it go.

Chapter 18.

Later, Pippin will not be able to recall much of the immediate aftermath of Faramir’s abrupt departure.

He goes about as one in the wake of a great blast, disoriented and deafened. His duties, bless them, carry the Hobbit through the rest of the day as a puppet on strings. His mind need not be present, simply go through the motions, how blissfully mechanical. Walk, talk, knock on door, bow, carry, walk, turn. If only every problem could be distilled to a basic action sequence.

Along the way it does register with him – in fact, he cannot help but learn – that the King has been out since before dawn.

Which would of course explain why Faramir has brought back his Steward’s sceptre, why his resignation had not been accepted.

The King, it turns out, had gone on a hunt.

Pippin can just see Faramir searching for the man high and low in the corridors and courtyards, up and down the marble-paved streets, with an urgency he cannot afford to show, with that hollow determined look on his pale face. But their dear majesty is not even in the city, he is out frolicking in the woods. Pippin is surprised how much it hurts, this cherry on the top, yet another unspoken, unnecessary insult to Faramir.

What a productive day for their monarch, Pippin thinks. Ruin a man’s life by breakfast, slay some wild creature for lunch, probably condemn a petty thief or two to death for afternoon tea. Isn’t Aragorn a lovely chap, aren’t they all so lucky to have him.

The hour is turning towards dusk when Pippin finally marches himself into his master’s quarters. Enough is enough, it is time.

As the water on the hearth is whispering, beginning to simmer, he all but rips the incriminating linens off the Steward’s bed. Blast it, he will boil, bleach with heat, dissolve, deconstruct, pour down the drain all evidence, every horrid memory.

It proves harder than he had thought. Messier, too.

The sheets are like colossal backstage curtains, like enormous battleship sails. They billow with trapped air as he tries to submerge them into the pot-bellied cauldron that now suddenly seems so small. With gurgling, sucking noises, it keeps overflowing into the fire, hitting him full in the face with gusts of angry steam.

With the back of his soot-smeared arm, Pippin wipes his plastered curls out of his eyes, and swears with grim relish.

Supper comes and passes.

It is rude to not show up. When Faramir is away, it is the unwritten tradition that the Hobbit takes his meal in the main hall with the rest of Aragorn’s court. For old times’ sake. It is a bit of a joke really, most of them still see him as part exotic guest, part friend, part paid help, part complimentary jester.

He is in no mind to entertain anyone tonight. Bugger it all. Let him be rude, let them care. They can take their peaches, and their honeyed breads, and their cured meats with their soft cheeses, and shove it all up a place of their own choosing.

Pippin blows his cheeks. This is not working. Even if he does manage the washing part, how will he transport the scalding load to the bathroom to rinse without burning himself to blisters or leaving a flood of dirty water in his wake? How do the laundry maids do it? Maybe he should have thought this through first.

He squares his shoulders. This is his personal battle, what little he can do for his Faramir, and the sheet is the enemy.

With the bent end of the fire-poker, through tugs, and jerks, and stinging splashes, he eventually drags all of it over the rim of the cauldron. In a hot slop, the tangle of fabric spills out and piles at his feet like a half-cooked sea monster. He will tear it up and burn it, just get rid of it. Who cares. Aragorn can afford to dish out on new linens for the palace.

First though, Pippin will have to let it dry out somehow, nothing this wet will take fire in a million Elf-years… Without warning, he is overcome with an all-encompassing sense of defeat. His eyes close as he feels a vague swaying sensation, and remembers it must be his exhaustion, when was the last time he slept…?

A tentative knock on the door, and Pippin blinks groggily back to the reality devoid of comfort.

What now? By the sound he can tell it’s coming low on the door, not a man’s height.

Maybe if he ignores it, it will go away. Not that this strategy often works – nor does it tonight, because the knock returns, nervous but insistent.

A pre-adolescent boy stares in alarm when Pippin opens.

Cropped hair with a thick fringe, short black tunic, those ridiculous soft shoes with the pointy toes. Aragorn’s page. Belerand? Belegor? Whatever.

“Lord Steward is not here,” Pippin says with not so much as a token attempt at hospitality.

The young visitor does not move, clearly unsurprised by this information.

Pippin gives him an unimpressed look. “What?”

“Mas… master Peregrin, you look like a balrog’s apprentice!” the Bele-something page blurts out. “Are you – burning things?”

Pippin shrugs. If only he gives Aragorn’s errand boys enough cheek, maybe some of it will rub off on Aragorn himself.

“I have a lot of burning to do, mind,” he informs the lad, “if you’re struggling to occupy yourself, I’m happy to put your energies to good use.”

The page looks like he thinks Pippin might just mean it, and takes a small step back to be safe.

“Actually… I came… my lord the King Elessar Telcontar has sent me.”

Did he now, who would have thought. Pippin sighs. They only have one king, thank the Valar. Why does everyone need to specify with all this pomp. As if folk would get confused otherwise, wait, which king again?

“And? What?” the Hobbit prompts tiredly.

The boy glances about, confused as to how he has caused Pippin apparent offence.

“My lord asks… I mean, he said for you to come. To see him. He said, now.” He looks at Pippin doubtfully and adds, “You might want to… do something,” he gesticulates around his face in reference to a grooming activity of some sort.

“Balrog’s apprentice, yes, I get it. Give me a minute.”

To put out the flames, Pippin drags the leaking, oozing heap of linen square into the hearth. He knows later he will regret this, it will be a pain to get the fire going again out of the soggy mess – but there is too much satisfaction in the moment.

He stands over the charred pile, the rising steam like unto the spirit leaving a dead body. He shuts his eyes, exhales, makes a conscious effort to uncurl his fists.

On behalf of his lord, he must have pride. On behalf of his lord, he cannot let Aragorn see him – let anyone see him – represent the Steward of Gondor in anything less than a most dignified manner. He exhales once more, slowly, and turns for a quick change of clothes. His tunic is black and does not show the soot all that much – but he will not stand before the King unclean.

Silently, they tread the corridor. It is not very far, and Pippin could have very well found the way himself. He sees no need for such formality, a personal escort, no less!

Only as they enter the dark royal quarters with their high vaulted ceilings and epic tapestries with gold and silver thread, does his feisty defiance retreat to give some way to unease. He refuses to be intimidated, he will not give that ground to Aragorn, but he knows he might have to play a game, and not from a position of advantage.

Worse still, inside him sits the little Pippin from before, from another life, who has such undoubting faith in Aragorn, who is so certain this is all just a ridiculous, silly misunderstanding. They are going to set it straight right away, they will all be laughing before long.

He has a sudden vision then, a product of his over-wrought mind no doubt. The Hall of Feasts filled with the gentry and common folk alike. The light falling through the tall narrow windows with an ethereal glory. And Pippin in the centre of the crowd for some reason, looking up the stairs to the high throne, at the King in all his majesty and beside him the Steward, and Aragorn decrees they had all better rejoice for him and Faramir. There are glimpses, as if another vision showing through, of something far away and very old, but glorious too, even more so, strange, ancient fashions, a hall so much larger still. This too is replaced, as if a page turned, by a fireside scene, Aragorn in a deep armchair, with Faramir perched intimately on his lap. His arms are around the older man’s neck in a playful, still tentative but already familiar embrace. Both lords are looking over at him in deep, unspoken bliss, glowing with silent knowledge of their good fortune.

Surely he can set things right somehow. This feels so proper, so true, so exactly how it should be.

The lingering, unreasonable hope imbues him with utter misery, with a sick feeling in his stomach, and such stark, profound loneliness. Where are the wizards, and the Ents, and tall reliable Men, and trusted childhood companions when you need them. He pushes the hope as far out of his mind as it would go, and braces himself for an uphill battle, whatever form that shall take.

Can he indeed help? He begins to wonder frantically as they see the strip of light from the ajar door to Aragorn’s royal study. Was there ever anything he could have done, and if so, can he do it still? Is there anything yet that he can fix – and is there yet a new way he can fail Faramir?

“Sire,” the page announces in a reverential murmur, “I’ve the Lord Steward’s esquire for you.”

Pippin hears no response, but there must be a nod or some such, for the page bows low and leaves, motioning for Pippin to step through the doorway.

It is not until the main doors in the distance click shut behind the boy that Aragorn will look up and acknowledge Pippin’s presence – and Pippin studies him in this gift of a moment.

Such a familiar, normal setting – how many times has Pippin watched him like this, a masterful lord amid his work. A warrior-king content to put his weary sword to rest. A little tired, not untouched by time but utterly in control, full of the force of life in him, steady and strong. Ever since the final months of the War, he had inspired in Pippin a vague sense of reverence sprinkled with trepidation. A man he adored and could not quite wrap his mind around, a man he loved in an unreflecting, almost default manner. As he would love any hero, any valiant warrior, any clever and kind lord. And beneath all that, somewhere deep down, an old friend.

So he looks upon him now, and Aragorn looks up to meet his gaze, the man’s thought still lingering elsewhere, caught in the moment, a little distracted, a little reluctant, but with a resignation, an acceptance that he must get on with what must be done. And Pippin is taken aback, for as a slap in the face he is awoken, and sees their king anew.

For he looks at him in the knowledge that he is loved, and not like Pippin loves him. Not with that background unreflective devotion of a subject to a good king, but loved as a person, as a man, against all odds. Loved by someone who would see special, sacral meaning in every detail of his make, in the lines at the corners of his mouth, the angular curve of his brow, in the particular way his hair bends at the temples. By someone who would be endeared by this weary distracted look in his eyes, and his reserved aloof ways, his dry humour, the husky note in his strong voice. Someone to whom his very existence is a blessing, a meaning in life. Someone who is helpless before him.

He sees, with such dumb, obvious clarity, how Aragorn can be loved. He sees, even, how Aragorn can be wanted, desired to the point of madness. He does not feel this desire himself, but in a strange way he can relate to it. He can feel at what strings it would pull in a man like Faramir, and knows that there is nothing to deter the mechanics of this attraction. Not for his heroics Faramir loves him, not for his noble ancestry, and not even for what Pippin can now see are of course astounding good looks. Such as only a well-seasoned warrior can possess, not your bland conventional beauty, but a sharp, rough, ruthless handsomeness that would punch straight in the gut. But no matter, he knows Faramir would love him for what is beneath all of this packaging. Something private, something that Pippin may have never even seen, that he has not been chosen to be shown.

Aragorn frowns under his gaze – or is that Pippin imagining, is that the study being too full of shadow at this hour?

“I did not see you at supper,” Aragorn observes, with something in his voice that could be as easily interpreted as concern, displeasure, or nothing at all.

Pippin shrugs, such a casual exchange. “Oh, I had errands to run.”

Plucking your majesty’s loin-hairs out of my master’s linens, for example.

Aragorn looks at him, deeply.

In return, Pippin studies the ceiling, squints one eye and scratches the back of his neck. He knows and feels no more than everyone has come to expect of the likes of him. He has been playing this role longer than he can now accurately count, he can play some more. He will not do Aragorn the favour of being the first to break the pretence.

Aragorn sighs and sets to shuffling things on his desk, as though he is settling to do some more work. Very casual indeed, very natural.

“Well, isn’t that a pity, one doesn’t have roasted boar every day,” he speaks with his eyes on the papers. “Now, would you care tell where the Steward has been off to? It has been relayed to me that he was seen riding off from the City earlier today, of which,” he pauses for a second, rolling his tongue in his cheek, drumming a single tap-tap on the table top with his fingers, “of which I have not been notified.” He looks squarely at Pippin then. “We have much scheduled for tomorrow. Unless you tell me otherwise, I shall be presuming that we are to expect his timely return.”

So this is how it’s going to go.

We all collectively live under a rock and no one knows a bloody thing.

Chapter 19.

Pippin lowers his head, inhales slowly to steady his voice. Here we go.

“My mistake, m’lord, I should have reported sooner.”

He lowers his head further still, to hide his face, for it irks him. All of it, Aragorn’s apparent calmness, his choice of words, the nerve he has to be annoyed with his Steward for going without leave, which in comparison to his own conduct…

And since when must Faramir account for every little…

Feeling his cheeks tingle, Pippin cuts off his thought before it gets out of hand. He cannot quite help though but toss his head and announce so brightly it is almost an open provocation, “Lord Faramir has gone to his homestead, so I wouldn’t be advising to expect his immediate return. Sire.”

Aragorn looks him in the eye for a stiff moment, but then the man’s gaze drops to the surface of his table. He takes an audible breath and leans all the way back in his chair.

“His homestead,” he repeats quietly. “Well, yes. Of course.” His eyes move left and right over the polished expanse of wood in front of him, as though he hopes for words of wise advice to appear through the lacquer by magic. “We must not distract him then, for his family hardly sees him at all.” There is no contentedness in his words, but there is great conviction, for in a way, they are not untrue.

And in that moment even Pippin’s anger abates like the tide pulling back into the sea for a time. For there are sacred territories even men of Aragorn’s station have neither right no power to tread into. And he sees in Aragorn’s face, for a breath only, in a fleeting glimpse but open as day, that he knows the exact limit of his domain and that to even glance beyond the line is shameful to him. It is a strange sight, strangely human, vulnerable, and suddenly Pippin feels embarrassed for him.

He averts his eyes, looks around the room for want of anything else. It strikes him then how little this place is like the Aragorn he had known during the War, how much of it is made up by what most of them had never known during the War. There behind his desk in the place of pride hangs on the wall the black standard of Gondor, a touch battle-worn, the very same standard that was sewn by the Elven-queen’s hand. This is the full picture, and in its grandiose immensity, in its utter immutability Pippin suddenly finds it frightening. And while his mind yet refuses to take it in, in his gut he already knows that whatever explanation he were to give for Faramir’s departure is fundamentally unimportant.

It was all decided beforehand. Aragorn only needs to go through the motions, so that no crack would be left untucked, no end would be left loose.

But there is no denying that with his particular choice of answer Pippin may have pushed things even farther off from the already remote possibility of any happy turn. With his very first move, he has all but checkmated himself, gave Aragorn a convenient little explanation that requires no further action. Yet Pippin believes in Aragorn still, it would be beneath him to take advantage of such an easy way out. So many times this man has saved the day, please, just once more.

Aragorn nods to himself. “Very well then,” he says, quite conclusively, and turns back to his work.

“You will ask no more?” Pippin says, genuinely surprised.

“What is there to ask?”

Pippin studies his toes, chews on his lip. This is very foolish, so very foolish, but he can no longer help himself at all, cannot help but hope against any hope that maybe, just maybe, both he and Faramir have misunderstood, after all.

And even if not, even if the King’s heart is cold and empty – if only he saw Faramir, if only he but laid eyes upon him, surely he would love him. The memory of last night must still be fresh in him, and certainly if only he were to come into Faramir’s presence again, if only he were to see what he is idiotically denying them both…

“He seemed troubled,” Pippin says at last.

Aragorn replies, without lifting his gaze, “I see.”

The pause that ensues is a long one, so long that Pippin is forced to realise that it is no pause at all.

So that’s it? This is all you are going to say?!

Aragorn dips his gold-tipped quill into the ink-well and takes it to the sheet of parchment. Moving on, work to do, don’t you know.

Pippin blinks, frowns.

You had called him “my dear” when he serviced you with his mouth, when he gagged on your greedy cock.

His hand slides into his pocket, encloses the small violet bottle into his fist. The tip of his index finger glides around the rim, feels the slick moisture of the oil. He knows not why he brought it along, surely not to show it to or use it against Aragorn – but it does give him strength, it is tangible proof that the man before him is in the wrong, so deeply in the wrong it would be quite comical if only it were not so bad.

He humoured your distasteful seduction poetry, your stupid rhymes.

“He seemed quite troubled,” the Hobbit says with emphasis.

The King is swift to look him square in the face this time. Pippin does not like his expression. Anyone more sensible, or at least with a marginally stronger inclination to self-preservation, would have washed their hands of it right this very instant. But common sense and self-preservation do not tend to run in his family, and more importantly, how can he back down? He took a pledge to serve his lord, and what more important service could there be than this?

“I regret to hear it,” Aragorn says very neutrally and very quietly.

Pippin’s nostrils widen.

Why are you being so thick, you big man-oaf. This is so easy to fix. Just go after him. Surely, surely this must all be a simple case of Men being daft.

“Luckily regret is not your only option.”

He derives a sort of feverish satisfaction from seeing his words, at last, breach the surface.

Aragorn crosses his arms and leans back in his chair. He looks Pippin over, sizing him up with a gaze not exactly bursting with affection.

“How silly of me, forgot to ask the wise Took for advice.”

Pippin says nothing, eyeing him in return.

“You’re a stubborn lot, aren’t you?” the King observes with a jerk of his eyebrows, and it is not clear to Pippin whether the plural is referring to Faramir and his servant, to Hobbits, or rather to all non-Edain folk collectively.

“I just want what is best for Lord Faramir,” Pippin says very quietly.

“And who doesn’t? There are few in this land who do not love him, and you are much mistaken if you count me among them. Just as both he and I know that your devotion to him is very much beyond reproach – you need not try to prove it now. Leave it be, for there is nothing you – or I – can do in way of assistance.”

“You could go and speak to him,” Pippin says bluntly. “Why won’t you?”

“Maybe I would like to,” Aragorn concedes in a measured tone. “But it is not possible.”

Such bollocks, Pippin cannot help but laugh. “Why ever not?”

Aragorn refolds his arms.

“Small a thing as it may seem to you, I will not do it. And much as you may disagree, I am not obliged to explain myself to you, Master Took, nor to please you with my answer. Should your lord require consolation, he has elsewhere to seek it, which would be precisely where he presently happens to be. Hence rest assured you will commit no disloyalty if you do as I bid you, and leave it be.”

A strange feeling comes over him, as though he is outside of himself, as though he is looking upon the room from behind and above his body, as though he is officially separated from the workings of his limb and tongue.

“Honestly, what’s the point. This is just so you,” Pippin pronounces with utmost disdain. The King seems taken aback, but Pippin only jerks his chin up and squares his shoulders. “You just always do this, don’t you? Let yourself be believed in and then turn away when you are most needed, like you’ve suddenly gone blind, like you don’t give a dead dog. Frodo, Boromir – Merry told me that the Lady Éowyn, too!” his words are spilling out of him like rocks skipping downhill before a landslide.

He feels at once at high speed and in slow motion. He can see the line of the King’s jaw grow harder, but he cannot, does not wish to hold himself off. Check or mate, who cares. He has been awake for over thirty-six hours, he has shed many tears, missed many meals, and he is so sick of waiting, and fearing, and burning bedlinens, and not knowing, and nursing hope, only to have it trod over – over and over again. What self-control he has got left all goes into not flinging the little bottle in his pocket at Aragorn, bonk in the middle of his daft forehead.

“Is this what you’ve learnt from the Elves, to stay out of things, let someone else sort it out while you…! You…! While you… play with trinkets and… and dress fancy!” Pippin is waving his arms windmill-style. “Don’t tell me there is nothing you can do as though I do not know you – when you only want something, you find a way to get it, be it a star out of the sky. And you know better than anyone that he doesn’t find much consolation in his family – he doesn’t have any left! ‘Tis you he had gone looking for, you! And even if you have no pity, is it at least not your duty to take care of those trusting –”

Aragorn’s hefty fist bashes upon the table.

Enough!” bellows the High King of Gondor, gone all of a sudden completely red in the face.

Pippin gapes at him, the unfinished sentence stuck in the hobbit’s throat like a fishbone. The room is suddenly dark with the night air, and he cannot recall seeing such wrath in Aragorn outside of battle.

Actually, he cannot recall seeing such wrath in anyone, ever.

Lord Elessar shoves the chair back, and pulls himself to his full height, and leans with his hands on the table top, and towers over Pippin, and Pippin feels himself grow shorter in the King’s shadow as his feet take a couple involuntary steps back. The fire in Aragorn’s grey eyes is so hot it physically pains him, but he cannot bear to look away.

“How dare you…” the man breathes out, showing his teeth. “How dare you accuse me?! What do you know about duty, Peregrin Took? You’ve valeted for my Steward for what, a year, and you think that gives you right to lord it over his king? You think you are doing your master a service, beating yourself in the chest for him like he’s some distressed damsel in perpetual need of rescuing, dashing around with her skirts hiked up? Show some respect.”

Pippin blinks and brings his hands to his breast.

“You know nothing!” Aragorn barks, as though beating a nail into a plank. “You know nothing of what you speak of, yet here you are to pass judgement on a life beyond your ken, and in a raised voice no less. You stand before me and demand that I do as you see fit – by virtue of what authority, exactly? Though to you, there must be nothing to it. Our code of conduct is some joke for you to play along with when it’s romantic and novel, and rewrite when it does not suit you, isn’t it. How clever you all are, how convenient to come and live under my roof, yet find fault with our ways and my judgement at every turn.”

Pippin tries to say that he has never actually voiced any such fault-finding, but Aragorn takes no notice whatsoever. “Well, I regret that I’m failing to live up to your lofty expectations, but may I remind you, no one was forced to come and share our life. A free choice is something you have to own, I don’t owe anyone a debt of eternal gratitude. Don’t like it here, too high a price? You all are welcome to pack up and go set up your magical fairy-tale land someplace else.”

“I never…” Pippin bleats, beyond bewildered. This conversation had not made much sense from the beginning, but this is something else. “I never… I only… but Faramir… oh, Strider, why do you have to be like this!”

“That’s ‘my lord’ to you!” Aragorn blows him down with a full-bodied shout. “Where do you think you are? This isn’t the Shire for you, where every uncle and his pony can just follow their fancy, and – and make merry, and skip around. You’re falling all over yourself to be useful, very well. But if you want to wear a livery, and play lackey to a high lord – then for goodness’ sake, know your damned place!” He takes a breath and adds, with cold precision, “You are embarrassing your master, Peregrin Took, for the way you speak shows he has taught you nothing.”

Pippin hears nothing more, sees nothing more.

He scrambles, tears his way out of the King’s quarters. He sees not Aragorn sink back into his chair, hide his face in his hands.

Pippin runs, flees, fights his away out, away, bashing doors open with the hurl of his body.

You are embarrassing your master.

His only need is to disappear, implode in on himself, to erase this disgrace he has done to his already dishonoured lord. How has he managed to take a situation that could not get any worse and in a matter of five minutes just completely…

He chases down corridors, flings himself around corners, ends up in the streets, by some miracle avoids getting run over by a late-night trading cart, trips, scrambles up, sprints up another alley. He cannot go home, he has no home in this city anymore. His body cannot keep up, his chest is ablase and every breath threatens to make him hurl his insides. When at last the grating pain in his ribs bends him over in half, he finds himself in the empty gardens of an upper circle, where his lord had once trodden awaiting recovery from his battle wounds.

Under a tall birch tree, the white trunk blue in the night, he collapses into the soft grass and remembers no more.

Chapter 20.

First, he feels a chill.

A breeze is threading its cool fingers through his curls.

Pippin stirs, opens his eyes but sees only darkness.

He turns his face and there is glitter in the distance through a moving black lace.

Stars. Branches in the sky.

It comes back to him, where he is, why.

He shuts his eyes again, bids the cold to leave him alone.

So quiet, as if all sound has been sucked out of the world and breathed back as a whisper.

Eventually, there is nothing left to do but look once more. This time he becomes aware of a warmth flickering on his cheek from behind, a dim orange light. He is too drained to be bothered to look even out of idle curiosity. What does it matter. So he stays still, until the blade-leaves of some herb against his face make him itch and turn.

Leaning back against the tree trunk, one long leg stretched out, the other bent, there sits beside him in the night-black grass, the Dúnadan ranger with his pipe.

Aragorn shields it with his hand as he takes his time puffing, then slowly lifts his face and exhales into the night.

The familiar travelling cape is over his shoulders, and when he looks upon Pippin, his gaze is bright and sharp from under the hood.

“Good night, master Hobbit,” he says grimly.

Pippin sits up with some effort. His shoulder is deeply sore, must be a bruise from where he crashed into something on his run. Absent-mindedly he massages it, watching the man with a sense of glum apprehension.

“I’d offer you some, but I doubt you’d take anything from me right now,” Aragorn muses, tipping the pipe at him.

“I wouldn’t,” Pippin agrees, feeling less satisfaction than he would like to. He looks around, “What…?”

Aragorn shrugs, bends down to cover the smouldering pot again, before recounting in a casual tone that does not quite match his words, “Well. You wanted me to do something and I would not. You’d had enough and gave me a piece of your mind. I was horrid to you beyond the necessary and you ran off, must have knocked yourself out. I found you and waited. Here we are.”

“Hm,” Pippin prods around his cheekbone, which is puffed up and tender to the touch. He looks around again. No lights are on in the wards or in the distant mansions in the nobility’s circle above them. It is so quiet he thinks he can hear the stars in the wind. Such a peaceful setting, but all he can sense in the air is desolation.

The King says nothing more for a while, and Pippin is too tired to mind the incongruity of resorting to small talk.

“What time is it?”

“After three?” Aragorn offers without much interest, as though it is all the same to him.

“And what’s with the costume?”

“This?” the man shrugs. “I didn’t know where you’d gone to, and discreetly looking all over the place for a hobbit who does not wish to be found is much more agreeable in one’s tracking garb.”

“I didn’t realise you still kept all your Strider stuff.”

“I know, I surprise even myself at times,” Aragorn says without a hint at mirth.

He then reaches for something on the other side of him, where Pippin cannot see, and pulls a tall long-necked bottle to his lips. As he takes a hefty swig, the dark glass glints green in the moonlight. He puts it down with no apparent satisfaction.

Somehow Pippin knows this is not the first sip that night, maybe not even the first bottle. It rubs him the wrong way, and before he knows it the words are out of his mouth, “You’re drinking again?”

Aragorn glances at him. Takes another long pull on his pipe. Blows a thin snake of pale smoke.

“So you did see me, then.”

Pippin goes cold, swallows. Like a blow he did not see coming, it punches him right back into the dark enclosure of his lord’s rooms, where he watches unseen as Faramir’s white hands rove over Aragorn, the men’s faces blending together in sweet hunger. The noise of it all. Faramir’s humiliation all over again.

“Uh…” his throat will not obey “I…”

Aragorn does not wait for him to come out with something. “Don’t worry, I thought as much.”

Pippin shifts his weight uncomfortably. “I didn’t see everything,” he offers.

Aragorn sucks his teeth. “Peregrin Took! Remind me not to send you to infiltrate any enemy camps.”


“At this stage, you should not even acknowledge that you know what I’m referring to, let alone offer further detail.”

Pippin sighs and picks at the grass.

“I see you can’t stand the pretence,” Aragorn observes when the hobbit says nothing.

“Can you?”

The man snorts. “Why do you think I drink?” As if to illustrate, he peers into the bottle with one eye and takes another swig. “And you’ll have to get a lot better. Step up your act. You scared my page half to death with your pyromaniac antics. Where were you at supper? And your rant at me – it was hardly subtle.”

Pippin crosses his arms.

“Get stuffed, Aragorn. Too much trouble for your benefit.”

The man turns his face to look at him with both eyes, tilts his head to the side. “Really? Must I break it down? This is not for my benefit, Pippin. Or rather, I am far from the first in line to be protected by…” he curls his lips in.

“By covering it up?” Pippin offers with caustic enthusiasm. “Keeping it secret? Pretending it didn’t happen? Lying?”

Aragorn laughs. “Thank you. Yes, any of these will do. Let us see now. Of the hundred woes that failing to keep it secret would unleash, which shall I present to you first? Oh, even this – how would you like this? What do you think would happen if…” he takes a breath to carefully pronounce the name, “if Faramir knew that you were there?”

Pippin raises his chin, “What makes you think he doesn’t?”

“Good try. What makes me think that? How about, that you are still his esquire?”

Pippin sits back.

“He… No, he wouldn’t…! Why… dismiss me? He has nothing to be ashamed of!”

“That,” Aragorn moves the tip of the pipe from side to side in his mouth, “is highly debatable.” He raises his hand to pre-empt Pippin’s objection. “You speak so because to you, what passed between him and I is not in itself wrong. And I, too, would say that he has no shame in this – not because there is no wrong, but because the shame is all mine. But you told me yourself that he looked distressed when he went – would you say he shares either my view or yours?”

Pippin looks down while his fingers pluck out tufts of grass from the earth. “Maybe he would… if you said it. If you hadn’t left him to wake to an empty bed with no explanation. But you won’t even give him the common courtesy of saying you’re sorry.”

He has to squeeze his eyes tight to hold back the tears. To finally speak openly is a surreal sensation, like being stuck in a recurring naked-in-public dream. But it is also strangely freeing, the words washing his insides clean, and he really wishes he could cry.

“He cannot know that, Pippin. My contrition is my burden alone. Let him go on thinking that I used him – for the beauty of his body and the willingness of his touch. Seduced him for a distraction from routine, and that’s all it’s ever been.”

“What are you, mad?” Pippin laughs through the knot in his throat. “Faramir would never think that of you. He wouldn’t have it in him to be that unkind.”

“Perhaps so, though I hope you are mistaken. The lower his opinion of me, the less pain, on balance, will he have to work through.”

“And then what? Spend the rest of his days serving a king he can neither respect nor trust? How can you be sure you’re not making it worse?”

Aragorn stares ahead for a long moment. “I cannot be sure, Pippin. I’m going to have to take my chances and live with what happens. And so I say, better this than to give him any reason to think that I may love him. Because that is a wound that never heals, and would bring him only greater sorrow.”

“But…” Pippin is not certain he is ready to see Aragorn’s face when he asks this, “but you do love him, don’t you?”

Aragorn heaves a sigh and slides down the birch’s trunk to sprawl in the grass flat on his back, as though to even be asked this drains him of all strength.

“What do you want me to say?” he asks bitterly. He scans the constellations above them, raises his eyebrows at a loss where to even begin. “Of course I should love him. As I love Éomer, and Legolas, and Gandalf.”

Something hard and heavy drops into Pippin’s stomach, and he does not want to hear the rest.

But Aragorn goes on with sudden inspiration. “I should love him so much, Pippin – as you would a dear old friend, whose counsel you treasure, who shares your joy and woe alike, whom you trust your back in battle. And Faramir I can love maybe yet a little more still – for he had sought in me from the start, maybe without knowing it himself, someone to receive what no one else could. The adoration he can no longer give to his brother, the devotion that is his father’s due, and later the companionship that had once been wanted from him at home. All that I took without a second thought, for few things in life have been more delightful to me – and I gave back with both hands. Which is all well and good. But this – not this, Pippin. Not this…” he cringes, visibly struggling as though to force himself to swallow something putrid. “Look, we cannot even call this love.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t! I can’t! What even is this? It does not fit – with anything, anywhere. It is wrong.”

Pippin resists the urge to roll his eyes. “Wrong because you are wed? Or because he is a man?”

Aragorn gapes for words. “But… both! All of it! Pippin, I cannot be bloody… in love with my steward. This is ridiculous. I never asked for it – and neither did he. Look… Time shall pass and he… he will forget – and then so can I.”

“What, you actually believe that?”

Aragorn throws his arms open. “What choice do I have, tell me please? How would you have me go on in the knowledge that this misery knows no end? Do you have any – any – idea what it’s doing to me, how it burns?”

Why don’t you tell me about it, Aragorn.

The man runs his hand up his scalp and gathers a fistful of hair. “Like the fires in the pits of Mordor it burns. Every time I set eyes on him, each time he even just comes to me in thought. I get visions, notions in my head that are not for me to entertain. He would not more than touch my hand by accident, or look upon me with that… you know that look he has, with the kindness in his eyes and that dimple in the corner of his smile, that is only ever on one side but not the other.”

His smile only dimples on the right, Aragorn. Yes, I know the look.

“And ‘tis as though I am crowned king all over again and stabbed through in the same breath. I ache to hold him with a tenderness that is not a man’s due, and I melt, and I crumble, and I know that yet another night without sleep awaits me, and things are ready to spill off my tongue that never should be said, that cannot ever be.” Aragorn swears with great feeling and props himself on his elbow to grab the bottle for another long pull.

He breathes out, shakes his head, takes another drink, falls back down. “I don’t know, Pippin. I don’t know…”

“Well, I’ll be… And you tell me off for lack of discretion?”

Aragorn turns his face to him. “How dearly I would pay to have someone to talk to. I am not asking for sympathy, even understanding, just to not have to carry this madness cooped up inside my head. Which was bad enough in itself, except now I had to go and wreak him this hurt when he came to me with all his trust… Oh Pippin, will you believe me, I did not mean to do it!”

In this moment, seeing his grief, his inebriated candour, Pippin does believe him. But he only fishes in his pocket, half-surprised it is still there, and hands Aragorn back his little bottle of oil.

Aragorn shuts his eyes as his whole face falls.

“Did you not just tell me that it burns you like the pits of Mordor, or whatever,” Pippin says flatly. Earlier this very evening he would have bid any price to get some sign of moral discomfort out of this man, but to now have him utterly mortified stirs nothing.

“How you have changed, Pippin,” Aragorn says quietly. “I see our old fellowship bond is well behind us, and ever your loyalty lies fully with your new master now, and for me you shall have no forgiveness.”

“Looks like it,” Pippin’s voice rings cold and distant even to his own ears.

“Good, he will need one like you.”

Aragorn studies the stars for a long time, before picking up as though in his mind the monologue had never paused. “But of course I had hoped, Pippin, o how terribly I had hoped. And when alone in the twilit hour he stood upon my doorstep in his white cape, and I saw in his face that he too hoped, and had long battled the sweetness of his hope, and yet nonetheless came to me undaunted… But I swear, I did not actually mean to, yearning and intention are not one and the same. And yet…” Aragorn covers his eyes with his hand, “I could not. Couldn’t take it. Not when he burns for me in return, when in his eyes… When I see that he is willing, at any cost, till the last breath… ‘Tis greater than me, I am helpless. He is a better man, his resolve lasted the longer. But I lose my reason altogether.”

Pippin winces, shakes his head. “But aren’t you overthinking a bit, Aragorn? You talk like it be some fey witchcraft thing, but all I see is a man who is in love but will not let himself be.”

“Huh. Of all the peoples of middle-Earth, only yours could say that. It speaks something, doesn’t it, of the nature of my heartache that I can only vent it to a Hobbit.”

To this, there is nothing to counter.

“You drink too much,” Pippin concludes sulkily.

“Aye, you’re probably right.” Without warning, Aragorn flips the bottle up by the neck and hurls it straight ahead at the nearest tree. Even from a supine position, he makes a mighty throw and the bottle explodes in a violent shower of stars.

“Oh, for Valar’s sake, Aragorn!”

Someone will have to clean that up now, not that you would have considered that.

Aragorn settles back down nonchalantly. “Not every desire of a Man’s heart is good, and sometimes even the good desires can be misplaced, misdirected. And look what it has come to, what a horrid, horrid thing I have done.”

“But Faramir would not hold it against you, he would understand. If only you just…”

“Just what?” Now that the wine is gone, Aragorn takes out his pipe again, starts stuffing more pipeweed into the pot. “Be with him?”

“But – yes!”

The man looks up at the sky and laughs.

“Pippin, o Pippin. Sweet gods in Valinor, to be this young again.”


“How in the world do you imagine it would look like in practice?”

“Now you’re thinking of that?”

Aragorn ignores the sarcasm. “Pippin, you might not like this, but I do love my wife. Oh, don’t look at me like that, I do – as best I can, and in no way do I wish to part from her. But… it is not about the circumstances, you must understand. The circumstances make it worse, but it is not what makes it impossible. It cannot be because it can never be, Pippin.”

“I think all love is good,” Pippin says quietly.

“So I had used to think too, but now, oh, I envy your certainty. I really do not know anymore. What good could come of this love? What good generally comes of my love? Do I not wreck people’s lives following the whims of my heart, striving for affection that is not my due?”

“Why are you so humble all of a sudden? Are you not High King? Your hand reaches far and your word is law. There isn’t anything you couldn’t change.”

“Change?” Aragorn repeats, so taken aback that he almost looks about to burst out laughing. “Change! Ha!” He huffs and jerks his head like a horse poked in the nostrils.

Briskly he stands up, and in the next motion gathers up the Hobbit by the scruff of his clothes. Before Pippin knows it, he is hauled along as the man strides out onto the open platform at the edge of the gardens. Pippin’s first thought is he is getting cast off the balcony, thrown out like a dumb sack of rubbish, but Aragorn lets him drop onto his feet before the balustrade.

“See this,” he says with some grim glee, swinging out his arm in a wide arc to encompass the moonlit panorama of the city below and the fields and river beyond. “You think anyone here wants it changed – any of them, any of it, ever? You think because I build fountains and silver gates, and have Elven trees planted along the streets, and put music in the halls instead of gloom, that I orchestrate any actual change? That’s what kings are for, eh, to make everything pretty and give everyone candy, and design laws to please themselves.”

As if he does not trust that words are enough, he drops on his haunches before the Hobbit, takes him by the hand, leans in to him. “Listen to me, Pippin. You are a fiery lad, I know, but you listen to me, you listen to me this once. There are many, very many things, large and small, that I cannot do, even as King – that no one can do. Be careful, Pippin. Our life may seem to you enchanting and fair: we give our children names in the High Tongue, and wear clothes of erstwhile fashion, and drink from goblets of silver and gold, and we speak of valour and duty as your neighbours would speak of the weather. You see our life as full of wonder, and hence also of possibility – but do not think our custom gentle, do not think our ways forgiving. Are you hearing me, Pippin?”

“Yes,” the Hobbit mutters reluctantly, thinking this would all sound a lot more poetic if Aragorn’s breath in his face were not so sour-sweet from the wine.

Aragorn sighs. “You have watched your lord stand beside my throne when I sit in judgement – it may have escaped you, but if you go and count, you will find we have more ways in which a man can bring upon himself to be put to death than your folk have cultivars of potatoes. Looking at Faramir you may not see it, for he applies mercy with rare generosity – for indeed he is rare. Others in his stead would do otherwise. And you go out in the street, and you stop the first man you meet, and you ask him if he wants that changed. And he will tell you nay. And he will further tell you that death is by far a kinder fate than disgrace – they may not all live up to it when a test comes, but they all believe in it.”

“As do I,” Pippin says quietly.

“As you have come to,” Aragorn corrects. “Before you went on the quest with the fellowship, was this a topic you were even aware of as a concept, life versus honour?”

Pippin looks down.

“Pippin, we dream of the glory past. Of a glory noble and strict, of mercy that is wise, not soft, of purity and clarity in everything that we do. I was crowned upon the names of Elendil and Númenor, and so I am a king returned. I reconstruct, not reform. My pledge is to take them back into the good ways of the past that they hearken to so, which are the merit by which everything is measured. A merit that is swiftly slipping beyond reach, for all dams have now been broken and time is streaming downhill, and I have got no Elven Ring wherewith to impound it. Do not put your faith in me, for not every wrong I can set right.”

Pippin studies his smaller hand clasped in Aragon’s long fingers. “And so you are content, you shall never ask… for anything more than that.”

Aragorn grins at him. “Ask for more? Does the heart ever stop wanting, something or other? Isn’t happiness always dancing just around the bend? You are young, you do not understand why someone would not take a leap of faith to snatch it by the tail. But I have lived long, and I have wanted much in my time – and much I have been given. Greed has failed many a good man, and the greed of a king is a very, very dangerous thing indeed.”

“Could we please stop speaking like it is so out of this world… What, you think in all the ages of the world – in all the history of Gordon, you are the first man to… to…” He can no longer bring himself to say, love. “With another,” he manages at last.

“I am not. Which is why we have laws specifically against it.”

Pippin blinks. “Laws? I’ve never heard of any such laws.”

“Have you ever heard anyone say murder is wrong?”

“What? No! But that’s rather…”

“Self-evident? So it is.”

“But! What? How can you even compare? It’s not at all alike.”

Aragorn shrugs. “Maybe not, the punishment is the same though.”

“You can’t… be serious.” Pippin’s insides do not listen to his own denial, and go cold.

“Exile at best,” Aragorn confirms, his tone so level and casual, “but that’s – well, highly unlikely.”

“Is that… what you would have to… To Faramir? If it became… if people…”

“Honestly? I don’t even know what I would have to… what would happen. His position certainly grants some protection, but this is not a power that even I have. And even if I could spare his life – I have no power to spare him the dishonour.”

“Why is it a dishonour only to him?”

“It is not,” Aragorn replies slowly. “I wouldn’t count on many following a king such as myself after this. But… it is not equal… depending on…” He touches his fingers to his brow, frowns as though with pain. “Depending how… who… He is younger and gentler than I, it would be obvious how it went.”

“I get it,” Pippin looks away.

Aragorn covers his eyes with his hand, sighs deeply.

“Pippin, no one can know. After tonight, you may not mention this even with me. Upon fear of death, no one may know.”

“‘Tis not a fear that he knows, then. He would be with you at any cost to himself.”

“So he would, if I know him at all. But it is not a cost that I am prepared to have him pay, nor is the cost only to him. And even if so, how? Where? What, run away, live in a hut in the woods?”

“Beren and Luthien did,” Pippin mutters darkly.

“Oh, for the love of the West! I am sick and tired of hearing about Beren and Luthien! And you know what, I do not wish to go into exile, alone or with anyone. We did not spend half our lives risking every imaginable horror and torture, to now have to flee our own land to find a sliver of peace. It is no life to share with your beloved. And Faramir loves Gondor perhaps even more than I do, she is the only home he has ever known – how can I take her away from him.”

“Does Faramir not get a say?”

But to Aragorn this is no more than a rhetorical question. “Pippin…” he says as though protectively, as one trying to find the words to speak to a boy. “Pippin, I am so sorry. For everything. For what I have done to your master, what I continue to do. For this mess that you are in, that is your mess now too. Take good care of him, Pippin. When he comes back, you take good care of him.” He shakes his head, and looks away, and for a moment it seems he might cry.

“But you… and so you won’t…” Pippin ventures, feeling weak and hot as though after a fever.

“Go after Lord Faramir? No indeed, I won’t,” Aragorn replies very gently, and the gentleness communicates a strange resolute finality to his words. “That I won’t do. Ask no more of what I want. And do not talk to me of change, for true change is as rare as the first rise of a new star, and often much sorrow must precede it.”

He stands up and looks over the City as the promise of dawn begins to show in the East. And Pippin as though hears a door shut, for despite his old garb, the man beside him is no longer a Ranger of the North. He is once again King, as clearly as if the silver crown sat upon his brow. His stance straight and tall, his lean weathered profile is proud and shows no more signs of inner strife.

“Now go,” he says. “Go and write to your master a letter, and tell him I understand he has a private matter to attend to in Emyn Arnen, and he may have my leave to remain there until he is content to return; his work he need not worry about, it will be taken care of. You send that letter so that he will have it early on the morrow.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“And on your way, pop into the kitchens and tell them to get raspberries for breakfast.”

“Raspberries, sire? I’m afraid ’tis hardly late enough in the season…”

“Well, they’ll have to be resourceful then, won’t they? For my lady Queen will be arriving in the morning, and she loves raspberries. It would be a good way to mark her return.”

“Yes, my lord.”

He is about to take his leave, when the King looks at him again.

Aragorn sighs. “Just don’t do anything stupid. Please.”

Chapter 21.

Initially it seems bearable. Dry and tasteless, like dust, but largely bearable.

That first morning, he arranges for the raspberries. He writes to the Steward as per the King’s bidding, to go out with the first morning courier. It is full of omission and disingenuousness as it has to be, but he is unflinching and his hand steady, just get it done and over with. In much the same manner he burns the accursed bedsheet, and there is no symbolism in that, doing away with rubbish and that is all. He attends to his tasks at court with precision and complete absence of feeling.

The day is muggy and stuffy, and as the hour is heading towards sundown his head is beginning to throb. With no more pressing business for the time being, Pippin allows himself the reprieve of a quiet moment tucked away in one of the small secluded gardens Aragorn had had set up throughout the higher circles of the city. The ornate marble bench is, of course, too large for him, but the light is dim and cool, and the hint of a breeze lulls him gently.

This is where the evening courier finds him, with a response from Faramir.

As Pippin holds the neatly sealed scroll, he realises that perhaps it had not been unkind of Aragorn to not write to Faramir himself, to spare him the hope. For this letter – this letter Faramir had hurried to write to Pippin, for Pippin, with Pippin’s name spelled out in Faramir’s elegant, meticulous hand – the very existence of this letter is in itself a great promise. He knows then that he hopes desperately, like a sentenced man hopes for a royal pardon, that the missive holds a summons to join the Steward in Emyn Arnen. What would he not give to find those simple words of magic within.

With disobeying fingers, his heart as a wild animal trapped in his chest, he wrenches the seal off. Why must the scroll take so long to unroll? He skims through, eyes unseeing, wait, start over, go back to the beginning. My dear Peregrin swims out to him off the parchment, but the rest of the words will not string into sentences.

He makes himself breathe out, shut his eyes.

Of course Faramir will tell him to come. Why would he not.

Faramir’s tone is highly courteous yet as ever sincere. He regrets to have left abruptly and without explanation – yet proceeds to offer no fake explanation, simply leaves it to sit there in its full inevitability. He asks that Pippin on his behalf thank the King for granting him leave. Fat chance of that, Pippin thinks with a grim snort.

Then Faramir tells him that the Lady Éowyn has just departed to Rohan for a time, and so Pippin is to redirect her correspondence accordingly. Again, with no pretence at explanation. After all, this is nothing new, and although for his part Pippin cannot help but heave a sigh, Faramir expresses no apparent emotion over it, simply states it as fact.

And then there are instructions, what he needs Pippin to kindly take care of. Pippin jumps over the thorough, detailed lines, the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach gathering weight as he realises these tasks span weeks, months even.

Panicking now, he flips the curled sheet over, scans through yet more directions as to the public duties required of him. He searches for where it will say, and once you are done, fetch a pony and come join me. Or better yet, delegate all of this to the next chap and come now.

It is not there.

Not even the vaguest allusion to a possibility of an invitation at some remote point in future.

Just nothing.

It registers with him, with neither joy nor trepidation, that he has just taken a leap in his service. Many a young lord and lesser nobleman would covet a position of such responsibility as has been just given him. Much of the work assigned to him he is in no position to do himself, yet nevertheless he will be the one coordinating it on behalf of his master, ensuring Faramir’s will is observed. It would have thrilled him to no end, before all this, had Faramir shown such trust and confidence in him, placing him one step towards becoming a little bit closer to himself.

There is no sweetness in it now. It feels dull, grey, heavy.

He lets the unfurled roll of parchment slide down into his lap and lifts his face to the twilit sky.

A hollow, sucking ache spreads through him. He aches to be back home, aches for the before. Before all of this, before everything. For Gandalf with his fireworks, for Merry and their antics, for wearing green-and-brown hobbit clothes with vests and short trousers, for the vibrant summer grass of the low hills, for the round doors. For before any of it, for before he knew Faramir. Just what has he gotten himself into? But the thought of never knowing Faramir is like a serrated dagger on skin. It is like to live a life in which he did not know sunshine, did not know music.

So instead he treads back to their rooms, which by now feel more familiar than his house in the Shire. And there he looks in his master’s wardrobe, and searches amid the plain loose-fitting things that Faramir would sometimes wear around the home after a particularly hardworking day. He finds an old tunic, once richly coloured perhaps, but now a faded earthy hue. It is beginning to fray around the cuffs and will soon become unfit for a lord. Or maybe not so soon, because now it will be a long time before his lord will don it again.

He lies on his Hobbit-bed, and covers himself with the man’s shirt like a funereal blanket, and pulls it to his face, and binge-breathes on Faramir’s scent still lingering in the weave of the fabric. He inhales, and inhales, and inhales, and Faramir is with him so clear in his mind’s eye and yet so out of reach, and he does not notice how the first tears come.

Is his master alone in bed at this very moment too, in an empty room of his empty estate overlooking the dark woods – lying awake, thinking of Aragorn? Is his body still aching from the king’s brutish merry-making, or does it only hurt in places where no healing salves can be applied?

Pippin weeps, and weeps, and weeps, until he does not know himself and the darkness takes mercy on him.

He awakes with a start in the middle of the night. Disoriented and with a parched mouth, he staggers into the hallway and blinks groggily in the unsteady light of his candle. There is one job he had forgotten to do, and the raging urgency does not perturb him.

Pippin fetches Faramir’s white silk cape, ruined beyond repair, sits with it cross-legged on the carpet of his room, and proceeds to violently tear it to shreds, wailing aloud as he does so.

He is awoken again by the white light of late morning, and his very first thought is crashing, gaping disbelief at Aragorn. What had roused him to pity and sympathy under the shadow of night, by day is nothing more than a pack of thinly veiled lies, a lazy attempt at excuses. Too hard, too inconvenient – as if anything Aragorn had ever gone after had come simple and easy.

As he sits up amid the tatters of pristine shimmering fabric, dead and lifeless like last night’s party confetti, the whirlpool of his outrage spins out and settles flat. He is past fury, past the need to understand, past pleading and praying. It is what it is, and it does not require the comprehension or buy-in of a Hobbit. And just as the resignation comes over him and he stops struggling against Aragorn’s decision, so does he at last come fully to terms with his own love for his master. Where it had once seemed not his place to pine, let alone lust, after a man of Faramir’s quality, where there had once lived a doubt in the back of his mind that perhaps there was something wrong with him, to not know where to draw the line in his devotion to his lord – there is now only glaring, blazing clarity. So what if he is obsessed with Faramir – obsession is the only plausible response to Faramir’s existence, so there.

So what if Faramir does not love him in return and probably never will, so what if Pippin’s adoration of him could only be seen as laughable. So what if his Hobbit spirit had not been designed for a passion of this scale. For in this hour of despair, when everything seems lost, a new strength takes root in him, and his love is forged into steel, no, into Dwarven mithril, so lightweight and fascinating to the eye that its supernatural strength is hidden in plain sight. He does not know to be afraid.

He retrieves from among the slices of fabric one that has miraculously escaped his wrath. Torn neatly along the weave lines, it is a rectangle the size of a large kerchief. Pippin carefully folds it up and places it at the bottom of his clothes drawer. He will not throw away anything that had belonged to his lord, so the rest he takes to the Wards, they will make good bandages and dressings.

He then finds himself a quiet place on the city wall and sits staring off into the West, where his homeland lies. The sky is restless with rain clouds, and he sits with a deep frown upon his brow.

He should have stopped them.

The thought is devoid of guilt or shame – it is a pure acknowledgement of the obvious.

Aragorn simply does not love him. Never did. If he had loved him, if only a little – though who could love Faramir only a little? – he would have gone after him, he would not have let him go to begin with. He may think there are insurmountable barriers, impossibilities, higher priorities, but what other priorities can there be.

Pippin thinks of what Faramir had told him of the legendary heroes of the King’s line, Aragorn’s direct forefathers. Earendil who had slain the mightiest winged fire-drake to have ever defiled the sky. The Man Tuor who had been granted eternal life in Valinor. Elendil who had led the good Númenoreans from sure death, and brought down Sauron in hand-to-hand combat. He thinks of Luthien who danced before Morgoth himself, and lulled him to sleep – and then again before Lord Mandos, and moved him to pity. He thinks of the kind of blood they all have poured into Aragorn’s veins, may as he live in a later age.

He thinks of Aragorn himself, this man who had traversed abyss and mountain ridge, and duked it out with orcs without number, and wargs, and trolls, and Nazgûl, and who knows what else, who had mastered the Undead and stared undaunted into the Eye of the Enemy, and won himself a kingdom and an Elf-king’s daughter.

And this man could not take another for his beloved?

Aragorn can be highly persuasive – even Faramir is not immune to that, let alone someone like Pippin. When Aragorn was reciting at him all that poignant, self-recriminating nonsense in the night, it was so easy to believe him. It had almost felt good to believe him. To feel sympathy, and sorrow for him.

Yet in the light of day, the king’s arguments hold little water. So little water, in fact, that it is beneath him to be stirred by them on any level whatsoever. There is no contempt in him for Aragorn, no hatred – for the first time ever, he feels nothing for this man, complete indifference, with maybe a pinch of curiosity sprinkled on top. What sort of a creature are you, to feel the way you do, to act as you do? How can you be like this? He cares little for Aragorn, for Aragorn can be of no use to Lord Faramir now, Aragorn has proven to be good only at mess-making. It is unfortunate and unexpected to be disillusioned like so in one he had once esteemed so highly. But there you have it.

And so in the daytime it seems bearable. Dry and tasteless, like dust, but largely bearable.

It is with the nightfall that comes the grief. He wears his black livery throughout the City with his head high and his voice certain, and not one man thinks to question his authority. Then when the day is done and the sun sinks below the horizon, he locks behind him the door to the outside world, slumps against the heavy wood, breathes out and falls right apart.

It must surely be temporary, only a cloud of smoke passing across the dogged sky of his love, for how could this last forever, but when the tears come they come like the wrath of the Valar to wash Númenor off the face of Arda. Aragorn may not love him, and there is nothing to be done about that, but he need not have abased him like so. He mourns Faramir’s trust, and hope, and dignity, and grieves for his own utter inability to do anything at all to console his master.

What an ungrateful fool he had been, blind to his treasures until after they were gone. When he could joke with Faramir about the silly nonsense they had to deal with in court, and kneel before him to pull off his high boots, and massage the back of his neck in the evening bath when Faramir closed his eyes and relaxed into Pippin’s hands. When Faramir was quiet after another awkward dinner alongside the Queen, and Pippin would tell him frivolous Hobbit-stories and make him choke on his tea with laughter. When Faramir would look upon him, and smile that smile that dimples on one side only and not the other, and thank him for his care. To think this had not been enough, to think he had had the greed to hunger for more.

Chapter 22.

His mourning becomes routine. There is rhyme and reason to it, like the coming and going of the tide, and he learns to structure his day with it.

Dawn till sundown is like holding his breath, waiting to be allowed to exhale, to immerse himself into sadness like sinking into a bathtub of cool water. The summer evenings are long and airy, perfect for this task. He does not wish nor has the actual energy to go anywhere, so he spends them here, in the abandoned quarters of his abandoned lord. The vesper solitude is quiet and pensive, unhurried, and he whiles away time watching the sky change colours. First yellow, then gently lilac, ashy-pink and, finally, fading into a lonely, colourless grey, warmthless, hopeless.

At this point he is so spent that, having nothing else to do, he goes to bed early, while it is still light out. There at times he weeps, bitterly, into his pillow – or rather wishes he could, for it is more like convulsive choking, his tears all acid and no water.

He has never known such prolonged misery, such utter lack of anything to look forward to. All the wonder of Minas Tirith, all its magnificence and its glory – what is it to him without Faramir? The only thing keeping him afloat is the reliability of his love, the knowledge that no matter what else might come, this much will not be taken away from him.

Pippin wishes he were too tired to actively miss him, but in fact he yearns for Faramir so viscerally that it takes on physical form, as a nagging pain that takes residence inside his bones, that even in exhaustion renders him restless. If only he had an image of Faramir with him, anything, even a charcoal sketch – just to see his features again, know that he does exist, that he will come back.

He must carefully measure out his scarce sources of comfort. His master’s old tunic lasts but a week before the magic rubs off and he can no longer catch traces of Faramir in it. There are a few more of Faramir’s garments left behind that could perform the trick, but he does not know over how long a period of time he must ration them. If only he could send Faramir a stack of tunics with a request to return them unwashed after wearing.

There is a gaping hole now where once was the lulling physicality of all his manual jobs for his master’s comfort. He still takes exemplary care of Faramir’s abode, but with no one to benefit from it but himself, the warm glow of pride does not come. Many in his stead would find much greater pleasure in his new responsibilities, which more often than not involve telling other people what to do, but he is not the sort to draw enjoyment out of exercising authority.

His only reward is that this work makes for an easy excuse to write to his lord, although he tries to keep his updates to once a fortnight so as not to bother Faramir overmuch. He pays threefold for his little indulgence, for Faramir’s response, timely and attentive though it is, still, every single time, is a hope dashed. A letter that is perfectly capable of holding an invitation but does not. Nevertheless, Pippin rereads each one many times over for days, his fingertips hovering in reverence over the parchment, for of the things within his reach that had once been in Faramir’s own hands, this one is the freshest, as though still alive with his touch.

For a brief time he finds something to focus on – doing up the bedroom. When his lord returns at last, recovered and renewed, it would not do at all to have him walk into the same old setting and be smacked in the face with a reminder of his last time in this room, of what he let be done to him in this bed.

He has to think this through, for the Steward, though accommodating a degree of splendour where his position calls for it, is no fan of gratuitous spending, and would raise a brow at throwing a bag of gold at redecorating on a whim. So Pippin gets creative, switches things between rooms, uses the curtain from his own bedroom to reupholster the foot-stool by Faramir’s bed. He scrubs the dark varnish off the headboard to expose the silvery wood underneath, and with his trusted old pocket knife cuts an elaborate decorative pattern in Gondorian style all through the frame. It takes just about forever, which is splendid. The hearth screen, the floor rug, the candlesticks and an assortment of other objects he all barters for ones of different design with the local merchants.

And if Faramir asks, he will simply say he was bored and had nothing else to do.

Which would not be too far from the truth, as life in the upper circles is distinctly less upbeat. But why should any of them be granted any particular enjoyment when his lord is not?

First, the two most talented court minstrels put their rivalry aside and go to the King. Both of them Faramir used to frequently have over for supper, not as entertainers, but to talk through their current work, provide a word of encouragement through times of artistic struggle, and to try and steer them towards if not collaboration then at least peaceable coexistence. They request to be granted leave to go play the Steward their new songs, which can absolutely not be perfected without the benefit of his insight – which leave Aragorn grants them, and which they take at once, and do not return.

Naturally, it does not take too long for the best singers to lose patience with the remaining second-best minstrels, and so they too must go. But then what are the nimblest dancers to dance to? Without the inspiration of music and dance, the poets and artists are one by one left no choice but to turn to the natural beauty for inspiration – and where is the beauty of nature in greater abundance than in fair Ithilien?

The scholars too, the keepers of lore and historic records, the alchemists searching for new methods of wielding and shaping the material substance. Even the royal cartographer manages somehow to build a case for needing the input of a steward that had barely left Gondor all his life and with a straight face deliver it to a king who could easily draw a map of all Middle-earth himself.

Not a week seems to go by without another labourer of the arts and science bringing to Aragorn’s throne the now familiar plea that but for the grace of the Steward’s wisdom, their endeavours will not reach completion. Without failure, the king waves them through with a tired hand, apparently resigned to this exodus.

There comes a point when the artisans are joined by the nobility, for when in the absence of all the other creative folk the leading court seamstress runs out of original ideas for the upcoming winter season, a significant portion of the noblewomen will not stand for it. Within a day they have carts packed full of fabric and haberdashery, and set across the River in a glimmering procession of silk and velvet.

Faramir does not hold court as such in Emyn Arnen – and little wonder, for how could he without having to invite the royalty? Nevertheless, Pippin imagines that what with all the illustrious names – more than a few of whom are industrious young widows – now making camp his side of Anduin, it can hardly be dull.

Which is less than what can be said of the state of things in Minas Tirith. Aragorn still regularly hosts all of the nobility for supper in the Hall of Feasts, but the growing number of gaps at the long table cannot be filled without resorting to some awkward seating rearrangements – and so the wine tends to flow better than the conversation. Some of the lords attempt to take advantage of the vacancy and push their political agendas to the King, but Aragorn neither takes nor even feigns much interest. He overall looks rather glum actually – which is of course perfectly understandable given the state of his court.

Pippin is certain these effects of the Steward’s departure are in no way intentional on Faramir’s behalf, but if he is trying to send all these people back, they must be cleaving to him with some measure of determination – and he for one would not blame them.

At times it seems to him that when he looks out across the Great River in the soft darkness of late twilight, that he can see a glimmer of many lights, and he imagines sweet music, Faramir singing amid the trees with lamps hanging from the branches, forgetting his cares. And so Pippin’s own gregarious nature buds with a re-awakening of its own. He is, after all, a Hobbit, and prolonged solitude cannot quite stick to him even where he rolls out the welcome mat for it.

Half-heartedly he considers finally drawing on all those invitations from his former comrades. But there is too much revelry in such companies, too much loud laughter, risqué jokes. Personal questions. The very thought makes him itch as though with a rash.

His visits to the healing wards he has also all but abandoned, for much as it did lend some sort of greater purpose, he is hardly in a position to comfort anyone. Not to mention that more often than not he would run into Aragorn, which he would honestly rather not.

Not that anything would happen. His interactions with Aragorn are ever uneventful to the extreme. He does not look for light of recognition in Aragorn’s eyes, and Aragorn offers him none.

Sometimes, at random and with no warning, he still gets flashes of blinding anger that will not be reasoned with.

How could you. How dare you. How do you live with yourself.

But when next he sees the king, and the king’s face is blank and expressionless like an overcast day that comes without a sunrise, he wonders if he has somehow dreamt it all up. For how could they go on so calmly if it had truly happened.

Except that Faramir is still not here, and each day of his absence makes what has happened at once more impossible and more undeniable.

As with time the burden of his solitude grows, a solution eventually presents itself. When picking up his breakfast from the kitchens, one crisp autumn morning he had simply felt like staying and having it there and then. What is the point of carrying the dishes back and forth, whose benefit is this protocol for?

It turns out to be like a balm to his heart. The smell of burning wood and hot metal, melting butter, frying bacon, fragrant newborn bread, overripe wrinkled apples and freshly peeled potatoes – is this not just like his mother’s kitchen? He finds strange, hypnotic comfort in the firelight dancing on the protruding copper bellies of the polished cauldrons, in the way soot has seeped into the masonry of the walls. Towards the stout unelaborate furniture he feels almost a sense of kinship – sturdy and simple, the wood cracked by time and polished to a shine by the myriads of servant bodies that sat at these tables for scores of years. Nothing sublime about it all, nothing lordly, nothing out-of-reach.

He loves the sensation of quick, quiet, well-organised activity, people going around him, all diligently doing their business without bethinking themselves overmuch. Such a pleasant, proper way to live: make food and share it, every day until you die, and no forbidden passions, no questions without answer.

Except that this comfort, too, proves short-lived.

He cannot recall her name for the life of him. Back when he had only taken up his position she had, of course, been introduced to him, along with all the others – but he remembers only those with whom he talks often, or at least those frequently addressed by others, and she is neither.

She seems good-natured and perfectly lovely, but one thing that has always estranged him is her height, or rather lack thereof. Being as it is a sore spot for him, he takes it as a personal taunt on the universe’s behalf when his sight is presented with one not entirely outside his own size range, as though this is some sort of a suggestion, as though he is expected to leap at the opportunity. She tops him by another five or six inches perhaps, but by the local standards that is still petite, which effectively brings them to the same scale.

Perhaps for that reason he has never tried to make friendly contact – and so is surprised when one day it is she who puts his evening meal before him. As she nods to him with a modest smile, he notices that she has kind, thoughtful eyes. Winter is fast approaching outside, but in the kitchens it is hot and her sleeves are rolled up, and as she puts down his bowl her forearm brushes the back of his hand. Instinctively he looks down – and sees that smallish as she may be, she is made in a homely, rounded way: there is as though a curve to every part of her. No bone is visible in her wrist, and suddenly he thinks that her hipbones would not show either.

He frowns and, murmuring his gratitude, bows over his food – and feels her linger at the table a moment longer than necessary.

The next morning Pippin conveniently has no appetite, but by midday his stomach begins to voice melodious protests. He comes down to the fourth circle, buys some golden pork pie from a street merchant, and eats it on the city wall, not unlike that first time he had come to Minas Tirith many seasons ago, as though in a different lifetime. The chill is nibbling at his toes, hot juice drips over his fingers, and he is working hard to ignore a sense of unease.

The following day, as he is deciding what to do with himself for breakfast, there is a knock on the door. With a sinking heart he opens, but it is a very different kind of woman who has come for him, tall, and slender, and beautiful in a tongue-tying way.

Chapter 23.

He follows the Queen’s maiden through the corridors, and as they pass the other inhabitants of the palace, Pippin can feel the curious gazes. An Elf servant, radiant like buttery sunlight and easily fairer than any mortal noble-woman, and with her a Halfling clad in Gondorian black. He understands they make for an unlikely pair – but it irks him nevertheless that after all this time, people still stare.

Not as much, of course, as they would at the Queen herself.

In all the time of Faramir’s absence – in all the time of Pippin’s being in Minas Tirith, he has had extremely little interaction with her. Whether because Aragorn shields her from the tedium, or because of lack of interest on her own part, she involves herself little in the governance of the realm, and their paths seldom cross.

He knows no sure way to discern what Aragorn may have told her, what she may have perceived herself, and what she may want of him now – so he opts for his well-trodden and only available route, taking everything as it comes.

As the doors to the Queen’s quarters part, Pippin is greeted by the sound of music and water running.

Stepping through, he cannot help but gape about wide-eyed.

This is a very large place, almost a hall – or more or less like one, for on the far end where windows or a balcony should be, there is nothing at all. Not even a safety parapet – it opens straight into the cobalt mountain skies beyond.

Along both walls tall columns wrought in the likeness of trees stretch up to support the vaulted ceiling, marble branches adorned with golden leaves intertwining high above Pippin’s head. Two long pools of water, set right into the floor, run from one wall to the other. They cut the room into three sections: the one at the entrance, another leading to the open drop in the back, and a raised platform in between, from where water is cascading into the two pools. It is there that a desk is set up for the Queen, and Elven songstresses stand gently echoing the melody of the current with their crystal voices.

He is uncertain how he is meant to get there until his guide walks across the water.

Pippin gazes down and sees pillars set in the pool floor. Rising level with the surface, each is crowned with an ornate tile to form a path of sorts. As he carefully walks over, the water at his feet seems bottomless from the black-stone lining of the pool, and he can see many silver-bodied fish swimming swiftly below.

The illusion of depth plays with his balance, and he looks to the side instead – but this does not help at all, for suddenly the space around him explodes and unfolds into endlessness, and he is at once enclosed and out in the wide open. It takes a long, dizzy moment of blinking and tightness in the chest to realise that this, too, is an artful effect made with craft.

Every inch of wall between the stone trees is filled with floor-to-ceiling mirrors, so it is as though he has been carried through space and time and is crossing an enchanted river flowing through an infinity forest. The panes must be set at the slightest of angles, for somehow there is no image of a small Hobbit multiplied countlessly into the distance – only water and trees, as far as the eye can see, as far as the mind can imagine.

He breathes out, looks back down to his feet. Not far left to go, he can get through this with some semblance of poise.

The last few pillars rise up into the air like a disembodied staircase to allow access to the elevated platform, and Pippin’s knees are soft with relief as finally he steps back onto solid ground.

He dares not lift his eyes to his royal host straight away. So much of why Faramir cannot be happy revolves around her, and she is not only Queen of Gondor but so much beyond, yet somehow he is meant to not acknowledge any of it.

As Pippin tries to buy time by stealing a glance around, it becomes clear to him that this lofty place is, in fact, a workshop. Most of the floor is taken up by one enormous length of canvas, on which parts of a complex design are set in coloured inks.

The Queen herself is clad in a cold, dark blue, like deep water. It is, of course, expensively made, and the fabric is luxury incarnate, but if ever he has seen one, this is a working dress. The cut of the hem is wide and without a train – for unrestrained movement; the sleeves and bodice fit snug with no loose bits to get in the way, and the sole adornment is a white pearl at the cuff.

“You are come,” she says.

As he looks up and is caught in her gaze, suddenly he realises that although there is no apparent source of heat, the air is soft and young like the breath of spring, despite winter taking over outside.

He ought to greet the Lady in the appropriate manner, he is vaguely, distantly aware of this. Just as he is only distantly aware of his own self, of his own existence. She is everything, and the only reason his primitive consciousness is even permitted to mar the earth in her wake is that he may gaze upon her with love and wonder. Her eyes are like summer twilight, brimming with all the magic of the world. All the good that has ever been, and that could ever be, is already foretold in her face, and there is nothing else at all, no reason…

Arwen waits expressionlessly for him to weather the blow that is her beauty.

At the exact point when the pause would become a disgrace for him, she turns away to dismiss her maidens.

Pippin wakes up with a start and hears himself draw in a rushed, loud breath.

He throws his body down at the waist, for only a bow of this degree could be suitable. “Your Majesty!”

Bracing himself, he straightens up slowly, delaying as much as he can until he must look at her again. It is not much easier the second time around.

Her beauty radiates such tangible pleasure directly into his heart that he cannot help but stare, drink her in with his eyes. It is rude, but surely it would be even ruder not to give this divine loveliness its due.

Her bosom rises in a stifled sigh, and Arwen stands up, relieving him of the sight of her face.

“I would that you assist me.”

“Of course, my lady. Whatever you may wish.”

She sighs again, and it seems to him that he catches a heaviness, a note of disappointment in the turn of her head. That even someone like him cannot resist the sweet haze that surrounds her.

“I am making a tapestry. You will advise me.”

“Of course, Your Majesty. Though I am afraid I am not that much versed in the arts.”

“That does not matter, it is not style you shall be helping me with.”

She walks over to the canvas, presses some concealed lever with her foot, and the frame upon which the canvas is stretched turns upright, so they see it as though it were hung along a wall. A panoramic view of a landscape unfolds before him, done as a meticulously detailed, heavily stylised map. His eye instinctively goes to where a river cuts close to the perpendicular meeting of two mountain chains, and there sits the City of Kings, in all her fragile glory, across from a brewing pool of dark shadow.

“A remarkable project,” he comments respectfully.

“I have no interest in mediocrity,” she replies. Coming from her, the words strangely lack in arrogance, for she states them without affectation, as simple fact. “This is to show all of Middle-earth as we knew it at the cusp of ages. Five-score feet in length it will be, to give each realm its due. You,” she tips her right hand at him while with her left indicating an empty space towards the far end of the canvas, “will tell me how to best represent your homeland.”

Pippin laughs. “Your Majesty, you honour me beyond my merit to suggest I could grant you any understanding such that you could not gain yourself. Perhaps Frodo, and especially Bilbo, could tell you something new, but of all of us, I have always been the clueless one ambling along and walking into things.”

She gives him an odd, unsettling look. “It is not possible to call on their services.”

“Then I shall be glad to serve you to my best ability, my lady.”

“Do you require time to gather your thoughts, or can we begin now?”

“Whichever Your Majesty would prefer.”

“I have no desire to wait,” she says, picking up what looks like a long stylus, “I no longer have all the time in the world.”

That is hard to believe. She seems not so much young, as altogether untouchable by age. As though she gets brand new skin every day at dawn, as though hers is not so much one woman’s face, but rather the pure concept of a face. The thought of Illuvatar made visible.

Pippin’s heart cramps and hurts him at the thought that she will be lost someday, that her goodness must leave the world. He will do anything he can to make her stay if a little more worthwhile.

Arwen interviews him thoroughly, methodically, with a scholarly detachment – which in her case puts him much more at ease than any forced attempt at friendliness. Watching her at work, it is impossible to ignore how strangely alike they actually are, her and his lord. The same solemn nobility, the effortless grace, the smooth lustre of their raven hair. The measured, thoughtful tone of their voice, the at times unnervingly sharp edge of their minds.

Hours flow one into another, but he remembers neither thirst nor hunger. She listens attentively to his every word, nodding to herself and sketching down her understanding. Her long brows crease if perfection eludes her; she fills a pitcher from the waterfall, and pours it over the canvas, where by some unknown Elven method it dissolves the ink without wetting the fabric.

The light begins to change, it will soon be time to bring in the candles.

This has not been so bad after all. Quite a nice way to spend the day actually.

Until she asks him, with no change in tone, as she taps the Shire area with the butt of her instrument, “And what is missing here – to compel you to go all the way over there?” She nods her head, without looking, towards the layered white cake of Minas Tirith.

Pippins starts, looks at her in alarm.

She is just as before, her inquisitiveness calm and aloof. “I need to understand that which moves the heart. To show the essence of things, not their mere image. Appearance is not always directly proportional to what lies within.”

“It is not, Your Majesty,” he agrees.

“And so?”

“Must… something be missing, my lady?”

“Always – such is the way of the world. Ever since the first marring of Arda, in the time of the Great Music, every single thing has something amiss. And those few that do not, that are the closest to perfection – are not allowed to exist overlong. We are told not to rue the marring, for Arda remade shall be greater than Arda unmarred. I won’t be there to see it, and for now this is how it must be.”

“I am not sure I understand this sort of thing, my lady, I am sorry…”

“What this means in practical terms is, joy always has loss written into it, as love – sorrow. It is why we know fear, but also – hope. Desire holds a key to every heart. My people long for a glimpse of the things that had once been, the Dwarves yearn for cold things that shine and glimmer, and the evil creatures that hobble and crawl – they envy and ache to destroy all things of grace and beauty. And nowhere in the world will you find such hunger as burns in the hearts of Men – for many wild things, beyond reason and comprehension. But you!” she turns to him with such intensity that he nearly jumps. “I was told that of all peoples, yours are the only who can know true contentment, who are freed from the hankering for the innocence of your ways. But if you were free – why are you here?”

He tries to look nonchalant and composed, not like he is working hard to stall and think.

“Well, Your Majesty… It does not seem such a bad place to be.” Pippin spreads his hands to indicate the wonder of the room about them as just one of the many examples of Gondor’s greatness, but she looks about as impressed as if he had tried to offer her a dog’s bowl in the guise of a royal dinner.

“That may be for some, but certainly it would be less so for you. If my memory does not betray me – which it seldom does – you were of a high birth in your land, and would have been the lord of your people one day?”

“Well, we do not call it lord, as such. But yes, I would have, I was meant to.”

“Is it not also true that you had friends, and kin, and a way of life that was blissful and simple?”

“It is true, yes.”

“And you tore up that life, and what did you trade it in for? To toil as a servant, to scour and run errands – for a man not even of royal line, who will never see you as one of his own kind.” She tilts her head, watches him keenly. “Among people who are nobody to you, who neither understand nor care what moves you, who stare at you, at your height, your ears, your feet.”

He blinks, lowers his head.

“I suppose that I did, Your Majesty. When you put it like that, I guess that does make it look like things must have been pretty drab in the Shire, but if you’ll excuse me, I don’t think it had anything to do with that at all. Perhaps it speaks to my foolishness – but then again, I am a Took – it’s just that it was…”

“…it was the only way you could think of to be able to come here.”

He looks up, lets her eyes pierce him as he knows they would.

“You would pay any price,” she says quietly.

“I… I am not sure I am even given a choice, Your Majesty.”

Arwen turns to the empty skies in the distance, which are rapidly losing colour to the impending dusk. He cannot quite tell whether her pale face is stern or sad.

It is a long moment before she speaks again. “Do you…” she frowns, “do you ever wish to not have been woken from the life that you had? To keep your peace undisturbed, to have never known.”

“Your Majesty, I am sorry?”

She shakes her head, waves the question away, and the moment of candour passes.

Dipping the stylus in ink, Arwen returns to her project, and speaks to him as she etches new lines into the hills of his childhood. “So you are enamoured of their ways – few would blame you who walk the earth today. But it does not go the other way, remember that. This is the dominion of Men; the likes of you and I may join them in it, but do not think that it makes it ours. When the day comes that you and I are long gone, what do you think will be left of us in their memory, in their lore? Beyond such aspects of us that they found useful, or entertaining, or such that made them feel more important. You must look out for yourself, if you are to last here. Do not forget the capacity these people hold for greed, and pride, and selfishness. It is to them that we owe it that the great kingdoms of the Elvendom of old, and many of the lands in between, and the forests and beasts that grew and dwelled there – all lie at the bottom of the cold seas where the sun does not reach.”

He is trying to listen with due deference, but can feel his eyes glazing over.

She grins, and on such a fair face it is a disconcerting look.

“So, you think your master is different. I had thought so, too. He is quite… eager to please, isn’t he? Do you know, when first I came to Gondor, it was he who went to the greatest pains to ensure I was glad and had everything to my liking.”

“I had… not known that, my lady. But I cannot say I am exactly surprised.”

“Indeed. He…” her hand pauses over the canvas as her gaze turns inwards, “he can be so genuine about it. As though he actually cares, as though he truly sees the person in you, and not because station or interest dictate it. Take this room – had you heard of it before, or that it was he who designed and had it built for me?”

Pippin feels his mouth hang open. “Faramir? This?” He looks around with newfound awe, the previously intimidating space suddenly full of warm wonder.

“And so much else, too. Things that no one else had thought of, he took care of for me. He knows how to put at ease and gain trust, how to spark a connection that leaves you feeling like you’ve never known something quite like it. And so for a while he had seemed to me more as one of my own kin than a son of Men. Your master was – and is – among the few who look upon me with neither desire nor fear, which I had deemed a good thing. I had rejoiced to think that I would make a great friend in him.”

She gazes into space for a long time, and seems to Pippin surprisingly calm. Self-contained the way the sea can be self-contained, such that even when it overflows it can only overflow back into itself, return to itself, enclosed into its own unfathomable vastness and depths.

When she motions for him, he does not understand at first, until he sees the ewer. He fills it and hands it back to her, which she takes without looking.

She takes a step back to appraise the canvas, and shakes her head. “And you know what, in the end, he is just like everyone else. What is this phrase they use in Gondor? When push comes to shove, isn’t it? He will put himself first.”

Arwen lifts her arm and pours the water over the entire expanse of that day’s work. Not a single nerve moves in her face as the invisible force eats all the pigment away.

Pippin shudders, tries not to stare at the blank gap. “I am sorry it has not worked out as you would have liked,” he says, and for want of anything better to add, offers, “but I am sure Your Majesty has no lack of friends here.”

She laughs.

“I have no lack of loyal vassals and adoring servants, that much is true. But I did not come for friends – I would welcome them gladly, but if it does not happen, then so be it. There are other things I must attend to.” She glances towards the vast draft of her tapestry. “I have my task to continue, and you must be growing tired, for it is late.”

Like from a slap, he wakes up back to his body. To a parched mouth, stomach twisted with hunger, and an ache chewing on his lower back from all the standing.

Pippin bows, and the Queen thanks him for his assistance.

Just as he is about to turn and brave those aerial stairs back into the water, as though on an impulse, she reaches for him. The touch of her cool fingers on his arm is at once the softest and the most steel-like sensation he has known, these young fingers that have held things which are long ago nothing but dust.


She looks upon him, and he sees that despite the divide, despite their respective places in this mess of Aragorn’s making, she is not beyond compassion.

“Go to the Houses of the Kings,” she says. “In the Silent Street. You shall find comfort.”

“Your Majesty…?”

She knows he does not understand, but does not consider it necessary to explain.

“But do not go at night,” she only says.

Chapter 24.

It is neither pleasant nor comfortable to tread this empty street.

As the Steward’s esquire, he most probably does have the authority to come here. If nothing else, the Queen told him to. Still, he cannot help but feel a little like a burglar, and without meaning to goes on stealthy feet.

The last time he was here was brining Gandalf during the siege of Minas Tirith to at the last minute pull the dying Faramir from Denethor’s fiery murder-suicide extravaganza. Even aside from that, being surrounded by all these ancient dead bodies in their crypts is hardly Pippin’s idea of comfort.

At the end of the street is a new structure. This is where the House of the Stewards had long stood, before being ravaged in the throes of Denethor’s madness. He supposes they had to have erected something in its place to give honour and peace to the tombs of all the other Stewards. This is where Faramir too would one day…

He looks away.

Even though it is only mid-afternoon by the hour, it feels closer to nightfall in the dark alley. Pippin draws his cloak closer around himself.

Before the building is another addition.

Lying on its side is the upended dead Tree that had once stood by the white fountain. He ought to be filled with reverence and sorrow looking upon it, but it seems grotesque and chaotic. The gnarly mess of old roots, the bone-dry branches sticking every which way.

Now, where to?

Did she mean for him to go here in the general sense of the word, or into any specific crypt? If so, which one?

He has half a mind to take this as an excuse to call it a day, and forget the whole thing.

But what would he do with himself then?

He woke up thinking of her, seeing her in his mind’s eye. And she would not go.

By midday this preoccupation had begun to unsettle him. Spending all of yesterday being interrogated by her was hard enough work, and he could not be left in peace even afterwards to get on with his chores and think of his master to his heart’s content.

Fragments of her sentences swirled through his mind unbidden, so lifelike he could almost hear them.

Traded it in for what?

…toil as a servant…

…will never see you for own of his own kind.

Is this how Faramir sees him? An eccentric strangeling making bizarre, unrelatable life choices. A spoiled, irresponsible brat who ignores his duties to his family and clan to play pretend in a fancy royal court.

He sighs.

There is no point trying to get any work done today, might as well.

He starts at the last one in line, made for the king who rode off to certain doom and was not seen again, whose body was never found. For some time Pippin studies the distinctly mournful looking structure, made all the more so by all the empty space left next to it for the heirs that never came.

Moving on the crypt before it, he wonders what he is meant to be searching for. Is he going to feel something, will there be a sign?

Nothing, so he moves on again.

This could be quite an interesting exercise in the history of architecture, observing the subtle evolution of style backwards through time. Here they preferred rounded and looping ornaments, whereas three hundred years prior there clearly was a fashion for the more angular patterns. This king’s sculptor apparently had a weakness for slapping statues of fat babies onto everything, while that one was all into mythical beasts. But so what? Should any of this mean anything to him?

One of the Houses has its doors a little ajar.

He comes closer. King Minardil. This tells him next to nothing. Something about a great plague, vaguely – or maybe it was a different king. He really ought to have paid more attention when Faramir told him of the old times.

Pippin leans the weight of his body to open the heavy doors further, and the air that wafts into his face is no colder than that outside, yet nevertheless he shudders.

It is dry, cool and dim inside – but not dark. Set in the ceiling is a line of skylights that keep the place closed to any prying eyes outside but allow the natural light in. This is quite clever, maybe they should do more of this in the palace where people actually live.

With a knowing eye, he can tell that maintenance is being done, for there is very little dust and no sight of the small critters that always set up abode in neglected buildings. It is clean, but the smell is dry and old nonetheless.

He walks through the long twisting corridor leading to the main tomb chamber. Alternating on the left and right are images of Minardil’s forefathers. He comes up to them to gaze in the stone faces of the sleeping kings. It is elaborately set up, with pillars and alcoves, so it takes him a while to wind his way through from one to the next.

He is deep enough that he can no longer see the door he came through. This is all quite curious indeed, but to be perfectly honest, one marble niche looks much like the next, as do the men resting in them. He thinks that perhaps the Elven mind does work too differently after all, when he walks into the vaulted hall and stops dead in his tracks.

Across the stone table upon which lies Minardil’s carven form, there stands on a pedestal a man of snowy marble, and so striking in likeness he is to Faramir that Pippin all but calls out the beloved name.

He dashes forth, reaches with disbelieving fingers to brush a testing caress against his leg – which is as far up as he can reach. Pippin laughs with joyous relief, and simply does not know what to do with himself. He wishes the man stood away from the wall so Pippin could run circles around him.

But how? Why?

Carven at the tips of the white boots is a name, and a pair of dates.

For a moment he thinks it is a mistake, someone mislabelled his lord’s statue, until he realises this is actually a different man.

Húrin of Emyn Arnen, the first of the line of the Stewards of Gondor.

Almost fourteen centuries ago.

Pippin steps back to get a better look at his face. If only Pippin were taller, if only there was a chair around here somewhere…

There is no way he will stand on the king’s tomb, but no matter, he already knows what is before his eyes.

Not just the features have travelled through time, preserved in Númenorean blood. Whoever it was that transferred to immortal stone the living essence of the first Steward clearly was seeing what Pippin sees today.

The thoughtful half-tilt of his head, the almost-promise of a smile written into the very geometry of his lips, the kind sadness in the corners of his eyes. The proud chiselled contours of his face, the sharp line of his nose at once at odds and yet in strange harmony with the calm humility of his expression. The way he stands tall and strong, but somehow unimposing, as though he treads with wonder as much as he does with purpose.

To think that Faramir’s grace had already been on this earth. He wants to find the one who had a millennium and a half ago captured with such love every little detail that Pippin carries in his heart.

He wants to laugh, and cry, and sing. This man had lived, and loved, and fathered children, and stood in counsel to the king. And none of them knew.

Well, except the Queen Undomiel.

His bliss is disturbed by questions.

How would she know, why would she come here?

So alive this man seems to him, that he simply must know. Why is a steward in the hall of a king? The engraving clearly states that he had lived out a full Númenorean life-span, bless him, but while the king is shown at the age he passed, why is his steward kept in the glory of his golden years, neither youth nor an aging man? Who could carve him with such artistry and so true to form, presumably decades after he had actually looked like this?

It does not matter, not right now.

May the Valar grant eternal peace to your memory, o Húrin of Emyn Arnen, for having lived, and passing on your blood so that for a time Faramir may be. And be blessed the sculptor, for thanks to you Peregrin of the Shire can now hope to live through the darkness of his master’s absence.

That first time he spends well over two hours in the tomb, which seems now more of a shrine.

He cannot go too often, though. The place has a forbidding air, and it is a bit of a grey area whether the Queen’s permission extends to multiple visits. If only he had a good drawing hand, he could sketch a portrait to carry with him.

There must be other ways to grasp at this solace.

He needs to learn all he can about this new – or old? – embodiment of Faramir. About this man who cannot be so alike to him in appearance but nothing else. He needs to understand why he is even there.

The Steward Húrin is a historic figure of some significance, surely it should be possible to find out more about him without having to sit among a bunch of dead people.

Those who would know best: the Steward, the King, and the Queen, he cannot ask. Thankfully, in Minas Tirith there are ways to learn things without speaking.

Chapter 25.

The old archivist hums thoughtfully and strokes his chin.

He leads Pippin to the shelves deep within the library, where the tomes on the history of the House of the Stewards are lined in chronological order.

When the Hobbit goes to the beginning of the section, the clerk shifts uneasily. He should have mentioned, these are all very old volumes, very precious – they are under restoration, actually. It is best not to touch them. Unless, of course, Pippin is requesting one on the express orders of the Steward himself. Oh, he is not?

Pippin stifles a snarky retort. It is not like he is looking for a book to use as a door-stop.

Then he spies a bind that stands out with its smooth soft leather, still bright black and lustrous, the metallic ink not yet robbed of its shimmer by the passage of time.

“What about this one?”

The archivist frowns.

“This looks out of place. People are so careless these days, shoving books every which way.” He pulls it out to inspect, turns it over and raises his brows. “Ah, no, it is right. I had forgotten about this one.” He smiles and traces his fingers over the cover. “What a fine lore-keeper he would have made, I always said. Such a shame that war business had to happen.” He looks over at Pippin sternly. “It is in good condition and you may take it, but you must be most careful nonetheless. It is one of a kind.”

Later that evening, Pippin settles at the desk in his room, with a candle and a hot mug of tea. He thinks again and puts the candle inside a glass jar, and the tea out of the way altogether. Better not get in trouble with the librarians.

He takes a deep breath, smiles to himself, and opens the first page.

What in the world is this.

How was this person ever allowed to be a scribe.

A chicken holding the quill with its foot would have better handwriting. Was this scribbled down whilst riding on horseback? The spelling is atrocious, and apparently the author could not quite make up his mind whether to talk in the first or third person – nor in which tense.

The initium letter at the beginning of the first paragraph is glorious though – if somewhat on the gruesome side. A dashing knight and foul beast intertwined in mortal combat. Bright sword piercing through the scales and coming out the other side, teeth gnashing, eyes rolling, spiky tail coiled in agony. Blood and guts everywhere.

Pippin blinks at the page.

He turns back to the preface he had originally skipped, and blinks again.

By Boromir of Gondor. Year T. A. 2994. Completion manuscript in the studies of the chronicles of the High Kingdoms Gondor and Arnor.


Their Boromir.

Had been made to write a book. For history class.

Pippin’s throat makes a strange noise, as though in preparation to burst out laughing – or crying. He is not sure which.

The man would have been a boy of what, fifteen at the time?

Poor, poor Boromir.

He reopens the page more carefully now, looks with affection at the lovingly crafted depiction of battle.

The Steward Hurin, from a very young age, seems to have led a life of near constant bloodshed. There is little plot to this tale of valiant deeds, mostly just hacking at various monsters with an assortment of noble weapons. Pippin sighs. Oh well, this is better than nothing.

Until a handful of pages in, there is a sarcastically titled footnote from the author, relating that since he has angered his lord and father by dragging this critically important assignment out for years, it is only fitting it should be now passed to more eager and capable hands.

After which –

Pippin’s eyes go wide as his breath catches.

He leans closer to be absolutely sure, but there is no mistaking the adored hand that laid out the calligraphic lines that follow. Making no complaint about being unceremoniously saddled with the task of sorting out his brother’s unfinished mess, Faramir gets straight to it.

It turns out that the Steward Húrin did have a life outside of the battle field. Saving children from the plague, for example. Or his king. On more than one occasion, too.

Pippin tries to take his time, not rush through. Let this fairy tale last.

No more than two pages a night will he allow himself. Then it would go a month, a glorious month.

Pippin traces the flawless curves and sweeping lines with his fingertip, imagines the movement of his lord’s hand over the sheet, tries to guess where Faramir paused to refill the quill with ink.

He cannot have been more than a lanky youth at the time, but Valar, how he writes. The unassuming, natural elegance of his style leaves the hobbit forgetting to breathe in mesmerised awe. How does he manage to take regular letters, words that anyone else can speak – and make of them a whole world with a life of its own.

With this blessed discovery, the lonely nights become the sweetest gift.

It had been wet and miserable all week, and the rain hums steadily outside, the chill tangible even indoors. Pippin is looking forward to a cosied up reading session and stokes the fire, curls up in the armchair and tucks a woollen throw over his lap.

What has our handsome protagonist been getting up to lately? Half of this may be speculation, told from too far in the future for accuracy, and from an angle that by design cannot be free of bias, but who cares. He will come along for the ride.

He had especially liked the last episode. The young king Minardil, suspecting himself to have caught the plague, went forth to the mountains alone to protect his kinsmen from the pestilence. Heeding no protest, Húrin soon followed – and brought with him a potion of incredible healing ability, said to be a cure for any wound or poison. He would not disclose what was in it nor how he got it, and the only account is the king’s observation that it smelled like the season’s first peaches and sounded like Elven-bells.

The king trusted his advisor unconditionally, and Húrin gave him the full dose, leaving none for himself. He stayed with his liege for a week, guarding him against the bitter mountain cold, until all fear of illness was behind them.

When they came down together from the snowy slopes, Minardil swore Húrin into stewardship.

Pippin only just settles into the pace, savouring the depiction of the celebratory feast, when in paragraph three he is abruptly thrown out of the vivid, living universe unfolding before his inner eye – back into the cold room, staring at shapes of ink on a page. He squints in the unsteady fire light, rubs at his eyes.

It is not until he tries again, and again without success, that is dawns on him that his sweet storyteller has without warning gone and switched into Elvish. Pippin slides his fingers down the strange passage, so elegant – and so incomprehensible.

All right, this is what you get for falling in love with high lords. No mind, he will skip the paragraph, how much can happen in the space of half a dozen lines anyway?

Except the next passage is equally in Elvish. As is the one after. He stops counting after fifteen pages. What is this, did Faramir’s tutors tell him he needed additional practice?

The disappointment is surprisingly bitter. Here he is, alone on a rainy night, all excited to find an escape from reality in what is most likely a made-up story into which he nothing but projects his own longings. How easily he becomes dependent on these little consolations. If only he were like a normal person, his love life may have actually existed in reality.

Faramir is busy living his own life someplace else, and has not seen Pippin for over half a year now, and is no apparent need to reunite. He has his own hopes and desires, and they have nothing whatsoever to do with Pippin. Even if they still have something to do with Aragorn, Faramir for one would not be spending an evening alone, compulsively reading up on Aragorn’s ancestors.

And so what.

He shoves off the blanket, swings his legs out of the chair, and goes to the tall bookshelves in his master’s study. Dictionaries were created for a reason. He will translate the damned book if it takes him all year.

At first he studies mainly because the concentration of the mind helps put the despair at bay, coax Faramir’s image back to his inner view. Pippin does not even know the order of their alphabet, and his lord is unafraid to use sophisticated expressions and metaphors, which does not make it go any faster.

As the third week begins, Pippin has gathered enough understanding to read that first paragraph. No more than a handful of lines, but it is enough to create a sliver of unbroken comprehension. To be carried by the flow of the language, to feel the pulse of the cadence.

To get the goose bumps.

He lifts his face and stares ahead of himself as the Elven-words ring in the silence of his mind.

A shiver runs over his skin and he must shut his eyes because it is almost too much. He knows he has been touched by great beauty then. By the inner, unseen, inexpressible. The very beauty that is woven into the fabric of the world, through which all good things come.

This tongue does befit his master so much better indeed.

From then on, no day passes without him tearing through the pages, ever ravenous for more.

Chapter 26.

It is not quite time for bed just yet, and having done his daily quota of reading, he is whiling the evening away.

As the last phase of twilight envelops the city of the daystar, Pippin goes about brushing off the imaginary dust, fantasising about what his lord might be doing at this same moment.

A quiet but determined knock calls him back onto this side of the Great River.

With a bad feeling in his belly, Pippin opens – and sees it is her, the kitchen maid from before. The one with the round wrists.

A flush of heat hits him in the face, but not the pleasant kind.

He greets her, arranges his features into a smile. He strains to bring her name to his mind again, and again there is nothing at all, but he knows this is not the source of his unease.

Her cheeks are blushed with agitation, but her gaze is set. “You… have not been coming lately. So, I thought, maybe, something… Here, I brought you supper,” and she offers him the tray in her hold.

It bears some of the things he likes best, and Pippin is touched by the care, yet the ill feeling only deepens.

“Thank you, it was very thoughtful of you,” he says, fully meaning it – and turns to take the plates to his room, hoping this is enough of a hint that she need not stay.

He puts the tray down on the decorative little table in the corner, straightens up, suppresses a sigh, turns around.

“I’ll bring everything back in the morning,” he says, politely.

“Don’t worry about it,” she replies. She has already stepped inside, the door into the main corridor closed behind her.

A great tiredness comes over him. What is the point of all this.

“You know…” she begins, looking around with apparent interest. “I’ve noticed, you’ve been looking very unhappy as of late,” at this her gaze comes to his face, and he sees once more that her eyes are kind. There is no curiosity in them, only attentiveness, and he feels that she wants to actually see him, the person behind the set of folklore features. “And I…” she smoothes out her kitchen apron with her small plump hands. “You’re a good man, and… I reckoned, you must be lonely now that Lord Faramir’s been away this long. Little to do, hm?”

“You shouldn’t be here,” he says, “especially at this hour. If someone sees you, folk might start talking.”
A frown of resolution settles upon her brow.

“Maybe… I wouldn’t mind.”

He must not have noticed her take the steps toward him, for he is surprised to find her standing within arm’s reach.

His lack of enthusiasm cannot escape her, but she has already come this far. She purses her lips, and her eyes darken as she raises her hand and touches him on the face, a cautious, hopeful caress.

Together with the wave of irritation, something inside him stirs, he cannot deny that.

It has been so long.

He has almost forgotten how it feels.

He is so weary of feeling awful and alone, all of the time.

It would be so easy. Humour her, give her what she wants, hardly a favour on his behalf. By far easier than explaining why he cannot.

Except that is not this that she wants, or not just this. If he were to lead her to his bedroom now, which is little doubt more or less what she expects, it would mean to her far more than it could ever begin to mean to him.

What would Faramir think?

“You shouldn’t be here,” he says – a little too sternly perhaps. Indeed, he sees the hurt he has caused, sees it in how she shrinks back and blinks as though there’s something in her eyes. He wants to tell her, to explain. But he cannot go into that, and even if he did, how could she understand?

He is so done with everything. To go through another minute of this, this pointless, redundant scene – is it really necessary?

He says nothing as she nods and turns to go.

The first spoonful lies tasteless in his mouth, like a ball of cotton, and he eats no more.

After her departure he does nothing much, ambling aimlessly through the rooms, rearranging things. He is made uncomfortable by his absence of guilt or sadness for this woman, something he knows he should feel but does not.

It is then that with a sinking feeling, with terror spreading like cold goo through his guts, he realises the image of Faramir in his mind’s eye is blurring. He grasps for it, but even as his despair rises, the image frays further.

He had memorised till death every contour, every line, every inflection of voice, every component of the physical manifestation of Faramir’s entity. And yet, the muscle of his imagination can resist the passage of time only for so long, and he can no more bring it all together into one cohesive vision.

A reminder, he needs a reminder now.

The Queen had said, do not go at night, but how could it hurt? He throws his cloak over his shoulders.

The path in the Silent Street is already familiar, the empty night sky above not as disturbing as he had expected, the darkness of the crypt almost homely in an austere sort of way.

The relief of seeing the beloved face is instant and overwhelming. All is right again. This, right here, is the point of everything. Fatigue washes over him, and he wishes to sit down.

The only suitable place is a small alcove a little to the side, where he still has a reasonably good view of the statue. He does not even need a good view, just to be in the same room, to have it keep vigil over him.

Pippin wraps himself tight in his cloak and pulls up his legs, shifts his body around to settle, sighs contentedly. The Steward stands in the shadow now, his silhouette dimly gleaming in the darkness, a suggestion of the dear features for Pippin more to imagine than see.

He smiles. It is getting chilly but he is too drained to mind.

Perhaps he can stay a while longer.

Perhaps he can even close his eyes.

Just for a moment.

Drifting, with Faramir, somewhere. Safe, and warm, and nothing bad ever did or could happen.

Faramir speaks to him, softly, just outside the range of his hearing.

He sounds troubled, sad, and Pippin grows restless in turn.

He is roused with a start, and for a moment does not realise where he is. His body is sore and cramped from being folded up at the inconvenient angles for evidently quite some time.

As he moves to swing his legs out of the alcove to stretch some life into his muscles, he understands what woke him.


More specifically, someone deep in conversation.

While he slept the moon must have come up, for a pillar of dreamy white radiance now falls through the skylight in the roof, straight down onto the Steward’s still form. It strikes the microscopic glitter in the texture of the marble, and sets the whole figure ashimmer, as though he is made of sugar crystals or sparkling frost.

Across from him, on the edge of the King’s tomb, sits a man hunched under the weight of his sorrow.
Pippin realises what he took for conversation is rather a monologue – or, more accurately, a conversation the other half of which is happening in the man’s head.

Aragorn’s voice is low, and the hobbit cannot make out too much of what the king is saying.

There are lengthy pauses in his speech, where for a long time he sits with his hands in his lap and his face raised to the moonkissed marble.

When Aragorn’s murmured words finally reach him, far from distressed or contrite his tone is intimate and soft.

He is recounting something that happened earlier that day, a small mundane thing he wanted to share. The king grins to himself and shakes his head slowly. What do you think of that, Faramir, how would you like that, hm?

Pippin’s throat contracts. How often does the man come here to go through this little routine, to clearly not even have to reflect anymore on what he is doing?

This is too private and too painful for the hobbit to watch, and on silent feet he tries to sneak away. If only he had known. Perhaps the Queen should be a bit more explicit with her warnings.

He does not make it far when he hears the door to the crypt open and then shut gently again. No footsteps follow that he can hear, but he hides behind the nearest pillar anyway.

She comes slowly, in no hurry to reach her destination. A long grey cloak is over her shoulders, and she hugs it close to herself – much closer than the actual chill calls for. As she walks, she looks around – not in wonder, for she clearly knows this place well, but rather with foreboding.

As she comes level to his hiding spot, Arwen glances straight to him, so that he can see the flash of her Elven-eyes. But her glance is brief and her thought elsewhere, and she passes.

She stops short of walking up to Aragorn, stands close enough to let her presence be felt yet not so close as to enter his space.

He acknowledges her arrival not with a word and not with a look even, but rather by coming out of his frozen stillness and shifting with his entire body. This strangely reminds Pippin of what the night sentinels do when they check in with each other. There is no need for either to say anything because both are in a sort of weary, bleary-eyed limbo, and both know the motions by heart.

The King and the Queen remain for a time like so, both looking up at the white figure above. The smooth surfaces of the stone absorb the light and radiate it back as a soft glow.

At last the moon moves and the light changes, and the statue fades into the surrounding shadow.

She steps closer then, still not facing him directly. Just as sideways, he leans against her, his head to her shoulder, as her hand comes up and rests on the curve of his neck.

It seems to Pippin he sees the king’s shoulders shudder then – but maybe only a trick of the light.

What does it cost her, to stand like so, in this place where he will one day be laid to rest as she is perhaps still young and fair?

He wonders if all the other servants in Gondor are privy to the same amount of mess in their masters’ lives, known to them alone. Maybe, it is normal to live like this.

There had been a time – so long ago, it now seems – when all they had dreamed of, did not even dare to dream of, only hoped for against all hope, was survival.

It had seemed, if only they got peace, there would be eternal bliss for all. He finds himself wishing to go back, to walk in constant peril of inescapable doom. Life had been so simple then. What would he not give now for a taste of that sweet old drink, for a bit of war.

Chapter 27.

Spring is due any day now, but it is not easy to shake the cold and dark that have been steadily spreading their roots through his heart.

Worst of all is his own helplessness, his utter uselessness. He feels, somehow, responsible. He has witnessed so much – and done so little.

And the more he learns, the less he understands.

In the end, Faramir’s notebook has told Pippin nothing – or at least nothing that would explain the statue’s presence in the royal tomb.

Faramir writes of a great friendship between the ancient king and his steward, a friendship loyal and tender. Closer than brothers. All the sources are carefully cited, too, so this is no wishful imagining of a troubled youth yearning for a fatherly connection or some such thing.

The long-dead king had bestowed upon his steward lands, titles, and various inconsequential little gifts that hardly even bear mention: assorted rubies, emeralds, mithril armour and suchlike.

And what of it, one would say. Kings can do what they want. Kings can do nice things for vassals they like.

Kings can do that and much more, and all the archives would say, great friendship.

Pippin is left without any sense of closure, and feels disappointed more than he ought to.

Húrin was probably just a very good steward, and Minardil just a very good king who appreciated him duly and expressed it appropriately. Unlike some other kings Pippin has met.

And that’s the long and short of it. At least he has learnt some Elvish along the way.

So, he goes on reading and translating. No longer in search of clues but simply picking the next book off the shelf. There are a few more things written in his master’s hand, mostly retellings and analysis of old lore, and although none of these other stories feel as personal, it is a habit as any other, and habits hold despair at bay.

When the grip of winter loosens at last, little changes other than Aragorn leaving for Osgiliath. To oversee the resumption of the reconstruction works – or something to that effect, for it is becoming difficult for Pippin to pay full attention to the comings and goings of court.

He tries, half-heartedly, and fails to resurrect the feeling of being in love with it all. When he had first come here with Mithrandir, and when he had first returned here for Faramir, everything in Minas Tirith was filled with raw ancient magic, down to the white marble that paved the streets. Just to be here in the flesh was a dream beyond dreams, all come true.

Now, the symbols that used to stand for something more, something greater, have turned hollow and gaudy. Even his livery of black and silver feels fake and overdone, like a cheap costume for an ale-laden dress-up party in the Shire.

The king being away gives Pippin less to do – and one less thing to worry about. He had been unable to meet Aragorn’s eyes since narrowly avoiding the royal couple in the crypt, and heaved a sigh of relief when his liege and the retinue set forth from the city.

With both the king and the steward now gone from court, the passage of work for Pippin slows down to a trickle. Which really is just as well, because he is finding it more and more difficult to care. What difference does any of it make.

He knows he should stop moping, he really should. All his troubles are entirely self-inflicted anyway.

Easier said than done, but he knows that for one, Faramir would not be pleased to see him like this. So, he tries.

While the air in the mountain heights may still be crisp and snappy, the unstoppable power of the green season is unfolding across the fields below. The Great River’s colours are changing, too, reflecting the thawing skies above. The bright yellow sunlight seems to send the city folk into a flurry of activity, and with a bit of coaxing, the sleeping Took in him stirs.

The morning light creeps through the crack in the curtains and pokes him in the eye in a decidedly provocative manner. Pippin grumbles and rubs at his face, sits up and shoves the blanket off.

Another day in Gondor, and he will take a decent stab at it.

He puts on his uniform, tidies his hair. He sneaks out before the morning courier can arrive with yet another stack of sealed scrolls – administrative nonsense can wait, who will notice.

The cobblestone of the winding alleyways is cool beneath his feet, and he walks with a sense of purpose albeit no definitive destination. He buys some steaming food at a street stall and munches as he walks. Doom and gloom, but he grasps at the sense of possibility that always comes in spring, at the belief in good things yet to come.

As the streets grow ever more crowded towards midday, Pippin slips away to the gardens, to enjoy an early lunch. Then another long stroll, survey the fields from the walls. He can see grey clouds and diagonal rain-mists over the plains. This is quite nice, actually. How long will it take Aragorn to get the next round of work in Osgiliath completed? Hopefully, long enough. Pippin could get used to this.

Because lunch seems so long ago, it must have been an hour if not more, he returns to the baker’s stall for the afternoon batch of goodies. Better be careful lest he will have to get the livery resized to house his expanding belly, but the temptation is just too much. They will not be seeing new season’s berries for many months yet, but blackberry jam does just as well when baked into a golden, flaky pastry, and he takes two.

The parcel is seductively warm under his arm as he carries it back to his master’s rooms.

Faramir believes in eating things off a plate, and this is really naughty, but Pippin revels in the transgression as he stuffs one hot berry pie into his face while with the other hand trying to get the right key on the ring.

The door gives way as he touches it, and he feels momentarily ashamed for having relaxed to the point of forgetting to lock it. Then again, who cares, not that anyone comes this way anymore.

His bundle is leaking dangerously hot purple jam and Pippin hurries to put it down in the antechamber. He trips over a pair of riding boots smeared with fresh mud. On the chair by the table hangs a long dark cloak. There are small blades of young grass stuck to its hem.

Over the hot aroma of baked berries, he picks up the scent of outdoors, of open air, of rain, and wet fields.

He must be dreaming, for a soft fog envelops him and gently lifts him off the floor. Like dandelion fluff on the breeze, he floats through the rooms one after another. The lord’s bedroom stands ajar, and Pippin is sucked through the doorway as though with the pull of a string.

Just then, as though enchanted, the door to the bathing room swings – torturously slowly – open. All air has gone, but it does not matter, because he is breathing on pure joy.

Barefoot, in a bathrobe barely held together by a loose sash, Lord Faramir walks out, ruffling the dark waves of his damp hair.

Devastatingly handsome as ever.

“Peregrin! There you are.”

And the Steward of Gondor smiles at him as if this, all of this, is the most normal thing in the world.

Pippin swallows, finds his manners. “Would your lordship fancy some sweet pie?”

Just like that, life begins again.

To be continued…

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68 Comment(s)

Wow, very promising – and finely written, as always. :) Hope to see more soon!

elektra121    Sunday 10 April 2011, 15:13    #

Love this…can’t wait for more.

— tree    Monday 11 April 2011, 18:12    #

It only becomes the more interesting! Well, there are certain shapes forming, but they stay in the shadow for now. I find you capture Pippin nicely and I’m very much looking forward to the Faramir of this story! ;) (And the reason it’s rated NC-17…)

elektra121    Tuesday 3 May 2011, 22:52    #

Many thanks to everyone for the ‘thanks’ and the kind comments :)
Elektra, Faramir is sure to come on stage shortly! And, well, yes, there’s obviously going to be some stuff that… you know, gives the story its rating ;)

December    Monday 16 May 2011, 8:18    #

Ah yes – there he is! :) And, man, Pippin is really smitten… I wonder what and if Faramir suspects anything. Can’t wait for more!

elektra121    Thursday 19 May 2011, 17:01    #

Nicely done! Looking forward to what develops!

— Kathy    Thursday 19 May 2011, 18:34    #

This is shaping into a very enjoyable story. I hate to be a whiner but… chapter too short. (I’m enjoying quite a lot.)

— Bell Witch    Wednesday 25 May 2011, 6:30    #

Love this line – “What he knew for certain was that when Peregrin Took is left overlong one on one with his own self, he is bound to eventually go and get this self involved in some highly imprudent typically Tookish endeavour” – and what you’ve conveyed so far. Looks like a lovely, though bittersweet, time for our Pippin.

Excellently written, as always!

Alcardilmë    Tuesday 14 June 2011, 21:50    #

Thank you a million, everyone, for the lovely comments!
Bell Witch, indeed, I’m trying a smaller chapter format for this story than I usually do. MAybe it’s got something to do with Pippin having the lead role here, he’s just so different from everybody I’d written before that I had to make a change for him.

December    Wednesday 15 June 2011, 16:46    #

I say, you do an amazing job making this constellation believable! Especially by pointing out all the difficulties, the social obstacles and Pippin´s realistic estimation of how people around must see him.

I think another interesting point is how putting somebody on a pedestal might turn into…well, not the opposite but certainly something to deal with. In Pippin´s opinion Faramir is so pure, so free of human flaws that serving this noble man becomes almost a burden for him – because there is hardly a chance to reach this ideal. I´m really curious how he will get out of this predicament…

And of course the local colour! I love the idea of Minas Tirith becoming a little multi-culural, including the porn version of multi-cultural. ;) Frankly I envy you for the fun you must have had making up each ethnicity´s sexual “speciality”! X)

raven22372    Monday 17 October 2011, 20:48    #

Well, FINALLY we’ve come to the REAL story! ;) After so much british 19.-century-butler-romanticism (which was fine in itself, but you promised an “R”-story!) now the not-so-completely-clean-ironed edge draws near…

elektra121    Monday 17 October 2011, 22:00    #

Thanks, guys, for taking the time! Your kind words mean a lot to me :)

raven, haha, I did indeed have fun. Since this is a Pippin story, it feels there should be more fun spots than otherwise warranted. And, funnily enough, I’d written that particular bit a few months back, and since then I’ve come to New Zealand – and my, the diversity of options here, teehee… I only then realised what my story subjected the ladies to xD

elektra, oh my, Pippin would be appalled at the notion, lol! He does take pride in his ironing you know :D

December    Saturday 22 October 2011, 9:40    #

I must say this ship grows more and more on me with each new chapter! And this time, beside the tender sensual atmosphere and the emotional warmth I can also feel a strange conjunction with the comments you recently wrote me. Especially what you said about Pippin + candles + libraries = very bad idea. Why yes, the Peregrin Took we used to know was if not a fool so at least a safety risk. One could almost see the warning sign placed over his head: “Don´t give the Took any matches nor anything sharper than a fish knife and for the Valars´ sake don´t tell him any secrets” (okay, I agree he carries a sword). Well, this Took obviously has grown-up eventually. Back then there was always somebody to put him out of the frying pan; I think he was just used to have a kind of fool´s license and be liked that way even if not taken serious. But now he has a reason to – well, maybe not impress but to prove he´s worthy. And Faramir must sense he´s gone through a profound change. As kind as he may be, he is certainly able to estimate the risk he takes by giving Pip permission to shave him (which imo is a wonderful image). And it´s fascinating to witness the inner development of this character, always logic, always realistic and yet so enchanting.

And then Faramir´s sadness. You depict it exactly the way I figured it: a profound loneliness that doesn´t make him bitter but gives him an aura of… oh, I think you put it down best as you wrote “To Pippin, Faramir in his patient, undemonstrative sadness is beautiful.”

I´m sorry I spammed you with ramblings again. Actually I just wanted to let you know how dear your story (your writing in general) is to me. Not only that it makes me feel – it also makes me think. There are so many aspects to ponder about – I can´t even put it in words. Thank you so very much for that. :)

— raven22372    Saturday 19 November 2011, 18:53    #

Oooh, Raven, thank you so much for that comment!

I’m very glad you find Pip’s character development all the nice things you say, and that in fact it comes across as development :D To me, personally, he seemed like one of the characters with the greatest potential for it. Take the Hobbits, for instance. Yes, of course, Frodo was never the same after the Ring Quest – yet at the same time, it felt to me the Ring had not altered anything fundamental in him, rather drew on what had been there all along. After all, he’d always been considered deep and strange in the Shire, long before any adventures. And it’s no coincidence he and no one other was chosen by Bilbo to receive the Ring, etc. And somehow the fact he stayed away from marriage also hints to me he was not of a very earthy sort.

Sam, too, had had this whole die-for-my-master thing going all along :)

Pippin, on the other hand, had been this jolly carefree lad who got involved into big epic quests out of sooooo-curious-wait-take-me-along-too and/or simply knowing no better (kind of like Merry, I guess). And then he sees the real other side of War, that people can die because of his foolishness lack of responsibility (Gandalf falling in Moria ultimately because Pippin threw the pebble and all the ancient evils awoke; and Boromir because Pipin was running amock screaming and attracted all the Orcs in the woods). Worse still, he sees that War does not necessarily unite everyone in the face of the common enemy – you know, the whole ‘my second son is an idiot, why o why do the Valar hate me so much’ incident. I must say that the rescue operation he and Beregond mounted for Faramir had secured for the two of them a very special place in my heart. One thing to fight courageously against the Nazgul and Shelob and stuff, entiraly another to perceive the wrong on your own side and have the guts to stand against it.

And I also loved it how Pippin had this moment of truth experience when he saw Faramir for the first time and his heart was touched with new and strange feelings. It had something of a meant-to-be, I always felt, because after all by then Pipin had met all sort of awesome folk, including Aragorn,w ho may have not been Kin yet, but still was pretty awesome :) But no, it was only Faramir who opened up something inside him…

So yeah, that’s why this pairing is so special to me. I don’t even necessarily mean in the sexual/romantic context, although there’s sure plenty room for thought in that department ;) It’s just that it feels like Faramir works as some kind of chemical reagent on Pippin, actually changing the stuff he’s made of. And that’s a theme extremely enjoyable to delve into :)

Because, you know, it seems to me Faramir is generally one of those people who can turn the course of another. Think of his impact on, beside Pippin, Beregond, and his own father, and then Eowyn. I am sure there were many others simply not included in the particular LOTR story-line.

And in Pippin in particular it felt to me Faramir had sparked the yearning for the romantic. Not only or necessarily in the love-romantic sense, but all things romantic, like going to battle with joy because you are following your beloved leader whom you trust infinitely, like opposing the system to save the man you think is good and true, etc. I guess what I’m thinking about here is the good old chivalry :)

One more fascinating fact to keep in mind about Pips: all this happened to him before he had even reached adulthood. Imagine a human 17-year-old going through all the same trials without losing it…

So on the whole, it’s always surprised and saddened we that the endless possible facets of the F/P relationship are rather underexplored in fanfiction. Much as I’ll be the first to cheer for a good F/Aragorn or F/Boromir story – where are all the hundreds of tales one could write about Faramir and Pippin…?

And as a final note – I love getting comments from you! It’s amazing, and it makes me happy, and it inspires my writing, and it makes me want to hug you. So yeah, please keep making them whenever you feel like it :)))

December    Sunday 20 November 2011, 0:44    #

May I hug you a little now? In a very careful way that makes sure your laptop won´t suffer any damage? :) Yes? (hugs) Thank you. :)

I´ll try to keep this short because it´s early in the morning and I have to catch a train/up to RL. ;) And besides; what is here left to say? You pointed out everything, from Pips being the Hobbit quivalent of a teenager to the influence Faramir has on this fellow people. All in all things I was aware of rather vaguely yet you have such a wonderful lively and clear-sighted way to put them down it makes all perfect sense. No need to say I could listen to you all day, sitting by the fire, having a nice cup of tea and a cookie or two. :) Considering your skills with words and storytelling I can only assume there was an Elrond or Bombadil among your ancestors. :)

The greatest eye-opener, to speak with Sam Gamgee, is maybe the fact that strictly following the series of action – reaction events Pippin is indeed responsible for the death of at least two people. Plus he acted extremely careless in Bree and we rather cast the veil of charity over the episode with the Palantír. For him, a guileless and benevolent soul this must have been very hard to realize. I could even imagine it was a kind of relief to get into a situation that forces him to well, prove his qualities.

And what you said about the evil next to you… not long ago I was watching the movies together with a friend and afterwards she said: “Somehow Denethor is the creepiest character in the whole story.” She did not say “evil” but “creepy” and I think what she felt about him was exactly what you mentioned. It is a motif Tolkien uses very often: the inner decay in face of an outer threat. The break-up of families, the growing mistrust among people who are supposed to be a safe haven for each other. We can only assume how much of this resulted from his own experiences during the wars (quite a lot I guess) but I´m quite sure the man must have had his share of nightmares.

Oh dear, The Great Wall of China again! What happened to time? Precious has to go now! Bye! (flees)

— raven22372    Tuesday 22 November 2011, 7:07    #

I love the Walls of China! Build me a labyrinth of them :)

Seriously, thanks for taking the time to come back and write a reply.

Indeed, Denethor is the creepiest of all. Personally, I’d always also found Galadriel quite creepy, but in a different way, of course. A classic Faerie Queen, incalculable, perilous, what can you say… But Denethor. I agree, I don’t see him as evil at all. Tricked and used by the evil, certainly, but not an inherent villain. And I try to put myself in his shoes – he’s deen on Skype with Sauron for over 30 years, considering that, he fared not poorly at all. Most other folk, I reckon, would’ve got a balfry full of bats much earlier than that. Let’s not forget that when going into his whole suicidal thing, he was sincerely believing that all was lost, and was only trying to go between he and the remains of his family would be enslaved or tortured and murdered.

Also, much as he’s a fascinating character, and must’ve been quite a shocker for Pippin who no doubt had not ever seen anyone remotely like that, Denethor won’t be making an appearance in this story except that in mention. Because it feels to me that Pippin’s whole experience with him could be termed as ‘unsatisfactory’, and bad things don’t stick in Pippin’s mind. Where I’m from, it’s called “like water of a goose’s back”. It had utterly filled me with awe how after their captivity by the Orcs, him and Merry sat and had themselves a snack in the corner of the raging battle-ground. I mean, honestly, man!

December    Wednesday 23 November 2011, 8:46    #

Great Elephants, you really mentioned my picture! Is… is this for real? What have I… how did I deserve this? Thank you, thank you so much! ♡ Take this bear hug, please! :D (crackle)

The more this story develops the more I want to settle down in it. All the gentleness and the deference people have for each other! It gave me a tiny pang in the heart to figure Faramir feeling a bit guilty because he had robbed somebody else of his night sleep, attendant or not. I think he´s totally the person who would rather get up and walk all the way to the kitchen himself than bundling a servant out of bed whose day was as long and exhausting as his own. In fact you describe his consideration and Pippin´s care so touchingly I find myself wishing for an happy-end… or at least for them having a little joy.

Which seems quite possible at the time… just that for some reason I suspect it is not necessary a lady Faramir´s desire aims to – at least not due to the characters mentioned in the header though of course I might be wrong… ;)

By the way, and just out of Took-ish nosiness: I´m curious whether you already knew where to land your ship when you set sail. I mean… even a short story might undergo some changes during the writing process and how much more a long one would, that comes in parts and is influenced by so much feedback? Oh, and please, feel free to skip this part – I do not intend to disclose your secrets! :)

— raven22372    Friday 30 December 2011, 20:46    #

Just a short comment to say that the more I read about this story, the more I get into it. Not much at first, and now I wouldn’t skip a new chapter! Also love the comments, I never before read such an in-depth analysis about Pippin (which was quite interesting) and I laughed my head off at some of the things you all said. Oh, and I wanted to mention that the last sentence in the 8th chapter: “And then, very gently at first, it begins to change, the texture of Faramir’s loneliness”, it’s beautiful, it’s perfect, it’s intriguing, I love it!
Hugs from here,

— Nerey Camille    Monday 2 January 2012, 16:04    #

Wow, Nerey, for some reason I never got a notification of your comment in the mail, so it was a complete surprise for me now!

Mm, yes, sadly enough, Pippin doesn’t get much spot-light in Faramir-related fiction. There are quite a few stories out there where the various aspects of Pippin-Merry relationship are studied, but not much regarding Pippin-Faramir. And the latter always surprised me, given what a numerous followship Faramir has, and how many of us like Pippin, and how Faramir, both Book- and Movie-wise, had a very profound effect on Pippin. Besides, as discussed above, Pippin undergoes quite a change during his travels with teh Fellowship and afterwards, so surely he would be a fascinatingly inspiring character to address in fanfiction… At least so it is for me, this story allows me a tone I could not use in my other works, and standing behind Pippin’s shoulder I can acquire a very special perspective on things, something none of my beloved Men-characters could provide… Anyway. Thanks so much for joining in on this story! I understand a lot of people have certain reservations when it comes to a Pippin/Faramir, so every additional reader is especially appreciated given the pairing!!

I wonder though, what it was in the preceding discussion that you found especially humorous…

Raven, I’ve said this before elsewhere, and I’ll say it to you now: for me as an author there could hardly be a reader response more gratifying than my fiction/art serving as inspiration for their own creativity. It’s one of the things I so endlessly love about Tolkien’s original works, that they are literally so alive that so many people simply can’t help but at least temporarily inhabit his universe and give birth to some tales of their own. In that respect, your illustration was the highest comppliment to it – and I believe it deserves to be seen and everyone who likes this story deserves to know there’s an artwork to go with it :)

Regarding the possible hint in the list of pairings, you may notice I have changed that (smiles pleasantly). To be frank, this whole pairing system is always a point of self-debate for me. On the one hand, readers should obviously be able to choose about which characters they want to read, and many of us have some pairings we prefer to avoid. But at the same time the listings of pairings might give away more than the author may wish. Of course, in some stories this is not a problem when there is only one pairing and it is already clearly stated in the summary. Similarly, a pairing, even coupled with a high rating, does not yet go to mean there’s going to be romantic or sexual interaction between Faramir and this character. The rating may be due to there featuring a high-violence scene, or one where Faramir sees someone else having sex, or whatever. But still, we do make certain assumptions basing on who is mentioned to feature in the story, and… Well, I don’t want to limit the readers in their musings, and for this particular story, Pippin and Aragorn are not the only people Faramir will be depicted with, so I thought it fair to expand the list a little ;-p

I hope this won’t scare off any potential readers – if they are willing to read an R-rated Pippin story, they ought to be quite tough cookies, heheh. I for one am rather cautious when it comes to the possibility of interspecies relations involving Hobbits… Frodo/Sam, though not something that makes my heart beat faster, is something I can at least understand the origins of, but when it comes to Frodo/Aragorn or Sam/Boromir or such like, I don’t know, I just get creeped out, haha. Not so with Pips though, I can quite well imagine him having a thing for either of the stewardly brothers (though not Aragorn, let alone Denethor, bless me soul).

As for how I write. When puttigna s tory in publication, and this one no exception, I already have the plot-line, including the mainpoints of development both event- and psychology-wise, worked-out. I have many, many-many more tales in the making, but their plots are rather half-baked, and I feel it would be irresponsible of me to put out there something that I might end up not being able to finish because the plot comes to a dead-end. So in the large scheme of things, the answer to your question is no, the comments I receive do not change the direction of this story. Which I think is only fair on the other readers – I mean, if some reader, due to their profound involvement and commentary, ends up changing the course of a story, it wouldn’t be nice to other readers who may have their own opinions but have for whatever reason not expressed them. I mean, if such were the nature of my writing, then I ought to be conducting polls at the end of each chapter, like,
“Dear blokes and chicks, who would you like to see Faramir shagging in the upcoming episode(s):
c)hey, how about Pippin after all?
d)his wife, because yes he does have one
e)Arwen, just because
f)Aragorn, because shagging Aragorn is always a nice touch
g)have we mentioned Pippin already?
h)a ghost of his dead brother, because that would be just so random
i)nobody, because I totally would rather read some more about Pippin doing household chores
j)other, (please specify)”

Do we want a poll like that, for real? :D

But naturally feedback does tremendously inspire me, and small scenes do insert themselves into the story every now and again, scenes that help (so I hope) make better logical connections between events, that make for a smoother psychological development and explain certain aspects of the characters’ behaviour, or simply scenes that would help (again, hopefully), make Pippin’s world more life-like an dinhabitable, that would make it easier to imagine what his days consist of.

Thanks again for the comments, my dears, and while there is no new chapter today, you may if you wish have this reply from me for now ;)

December    Wednesday 4 January 2012, 3:47    #

Uh-oh, this seems to become slightly unpleasant… NOT the story, of course! The situation at court, I mean. The tensed atmosphere during dinners must be a real strain to everybody, the more because those dinners are more or less public, so it´s easy to see who is close to whom and who has fallen from grace. It´s bad enough to have such a subliminal feud among the members of a family but here there´s even the possibility of other people using the situation to push their own political purposes.

I don´t know whether you intended it from the start but Pippin´s POV gives you a great opportunity to take a very refreshing look at things. For example: After getting over the usual “GUH!” reaction most mortals show when meeting their first elf he looks at Arwen from a rather pragmatic angle. Why yes, she´s beautiful. And glamouros. And, err… beautiful, yes. Aaaaaaand… what else? Is she especially intelligent or funny? Does she have the ability to listen to people and counsel them with her wisdom? Not really. Do people feel relaxed in her presence, does she give them the feeling of being alright the way they are? Rather the opposite, though that might not be her intention. Did she fight for her people during war, does she have some special skills, anything that would be useful? Nothing of them. Looking closely she is rather designed as a symbol of immortal beauty than a real person. I remember that when I read the book first I didn´t even notice there was something between her and Aragorn. Okay, that might depend on the fact that at the age of ten your radar for love stories is rather less marked; but I think the main reason was that, given you would take away the Elvish glamour, there wouldn´t be much substance left. It´s different in the movie where the roles of Arwen and Glorfindel are partly melded, but I doubt the book version would be able to peel some taters without a manual. ;) Your Pippin is obviously very clear-sighted when it´s about people and their relationships to each other – even clear-sighted enough to have no illusions regarding his own role. No matter how serious he takes his duty, for the “big” ones around he will always remain a feyness of his master, something in between a jester, a knave and an exotic accessory. I think knowing that and getting along with it – reads: getting along with not being taken too serious – requires a good portion of maturity and a very relaxed ego.

Tsk tsk tsk, now I wonder who it might be Faramir has in mind… could we talk about that poll again? ;)

— raven22372    Friday 27 January 2012, 14:26    #

Hi December!

I just came to leave a comment on your last chapter and I found your answer to my previous comment. How nice!

So: lovely tenth chapter, which at least for me, completely uncovers what is going on (but then I know a bit about how your mind works, I hope). I agree with other readers about Pippin’s point of view being very refreshing, and I am beginning to believe that maybe, maybe, there will be no sexual Pippin/Faramir which for me is perfectly OK. For personal reasons, this loving-without-being-loved story, furthermore between a servant and his master, which forces Pippin to be absolutely selfless and unobstrusive no matter his feelings, has recently acquired a much greater meaning for me. I am even more interested than before to see how it develops under your clever hands :).

As for the funny things: well, the poll :). But in the previous comments: ‘my second son is an idiot, why o why do the Valar hate me so much’, ‘we rather cast the veil of charity over the episode with the Palantír’, ‘the Great Wall of China’, the image of Arwen peeling taters with a manual, and so on. It’s just the way you all write about it, I guess.

Anyway. Last but not least, it has been said before but I repeat it because I couldn’t agree more with it: I love this story because it makes me realize how much there is to that Pippin-Faramir relationship, to Pippin’s personality and the transformation he undergoes and more generally, to Faramir’s transforming effect on people (not least on me, haha). Any story that makes you think about some aspect of the characters you love that you never realized before is… just great.

Hm, just noticed I didn’t say much about why I liked the tenth chapter, which would be what you would be more interested in knowing, perhaps. So: there’s an unbelievable sadness and emotion to it that makes it so deeply moving. Pippin noticing every small detail about Faramir’s relationship with the King and Queen, and that same relationship itself, especially the bit about Faramir’s life revolving around Aragorn, and then Faramir’s reaction to Pippin’s question… it just stirs tenderness and compassion and pain in my heart, the kind I can sense Pippin is feeling. Thanks so much for a great chapter and for the very substance of life that you pour into each of your stories, making us feel and suffer and be happy with the characters, forgetting the noise of the world around and seeing nothing (not even the letters on the screen) but the expression full of concern and pity on Pippin’s face and the flick of torment in Faramir’s eyes behind his serene, kind, beautiful features.

Wow, I’m getting lyrical but that just tells you how moved I am. Maybe I’ll tell you more about it by mail.


— Nerey Camille    Friday 27 January 2012, 18:49    #

Hello, my lovelies! Thank you for the kindest comments, and sorry it has taken me such an uncivilised length of time to reply. But now that a somewhat painstaking chapter of my life seems to be finished, I hope to have more time for writing and reader-conferences, heheh.

Pray forgive my urge to digress a bit before I get to answering your specific points. And when the answers do come, they will be long enough for you to now go get yourselves tea or a poison of choice and settle down for a read if you feel like embarking upon it :) Just have to say that time and again I’m fascinated by how Tolkien’s world never fails to provide an emotional sanctuary, at least for me but I get the feeling that for others too, how it gives such a healthy reprieve from all that sometimes wearies and ails a person a little too much. I wouldn’t call this escapism, although I reckon that many might, but to me it’s more about the – forgive me the pompousness of the word – about the cleansing power of art and beauty on the whole. Because when I interact with the Professor’s world, be it through his books, or discussing them with others, or writing fanfiction – I feel something in me come into proper alignment, if you know what I mean, as Sam would say :) Ah, if I were a doctor I’d porbably prescribe Tolkien-therapy to people xD

So, ahem, more towards the point now – because as you can see, the first row in yet another oriental world-wonder is already firmly in place. Raven, about Arwen. I’d been thinking about her quite a while lately, and came to realise that to me she is one of the most mysterious of the trilogy’s characters. Because it’s either that, or I would have to call her flat and inanimate, and I definitely prefer mysterious by far :D What I mean is that I feel extremely little personality in her, and I hope to think that this is not for the lack thereof but maybe rather for the fact that little of it is revealed to us in the Book. Much as I did not at all appreciate all the tampering with her character in the film, which to my mind had turned her into nothing but a brunette version of Eowyn, what with disobeying her elders and galloping around slashing monsters for her beloved, which in turn to my mind quite undermined Eowyn’s character, since there were two of them now and it made Eowyn seem kind of generic – despite all that, I must admit that at least this move gave her a certain 3D quality in my eyes. At least in the movie she has some spirit, she has passion, she has doubts, she has defiance even. Whereas in the Book…?

She seems to me, too, more of a symbol than a person, this aggregate of princess-ness, this whole wait-in-the-ivory-tower-stitching-tapestries-while-my-beloved-is-away-doing-important-things-to-deserve-my-hand. I reckon an Arwen fan would object here that she had made a courageous decision to part from her people and trade her eternal life for a fleeting human lifetime at the side of her loved one. To which I in turn would object that in the Book it was not shown as much of a choice, as an act of her will and volition – but rather a “Doom”, something that falls upon you and so strong it is that you have nothing else to do but go with it. Not to mention the rather popular point of view that at least in part she was simply copying what Luthien had done, seeing as Arwen had mentioned that whole thing more than once. Yes, she fell in love with Aragorn – but this hardly makes her special in my eyes either, seeing as pretty much everyone in the story had fallen into various degrees of love with Aragorn, including Eomer, Legolas, Faramir, Eowyn, etc etc.

And recently I’ve become quite bothered by this little question – what did Arwen do all those three bloody thousand years of her maiden life? Let us do a little analysis here.

First, let’s see how she compares to other fairy-tale princesses, the ones who also awaited their prince in humble patience. Say, the ill-famous Snowhite (or is it Snow White?) and Cinderella, whom everyone but the utterly lazy blame for setting wrong role-models for little girls. Well, at least those two ladies had something to occupy themselves with. Yes, scrubbing floors and cleaning all day, and taking care of seven men with questionable standards of personal hygiene in one case and catering to the desires of fussy step-sisters in the other – all that is hardly easy work, but it is work nonetheless. And don’t forget the evil step-mothers. One can argue that it is rather idiotic to do all this ‘with a smile and a song’ (or on the other hand we could say that it shows hope and resilience of spirit, but let’s not go too far into this right now). What I’m saying is that those two knew hardship, and danger, and injustice, they were hard-working and they preserved belief in the goodness of life despite all objective evidence to the contrary. Whereas as Raven points out – had Arwen ever peeled a potato? Or mopped a floor? Or anything, really? For all that we know, her domestic duties boiled down to making decorative napkins and tablecloths, seeing as she was good at needlework. I mean no offence to that craft, it’s hard work as I know well enough having observed the women in my family dedicate endless hours to embroidery. But unless one does it for a living, it is still a hobby, a way to spend time, a form of relaxation and meditation. A productive form of relaxation, yes, but relaxation nonetheless. And this is the only thing that we know for sure that she actually did. That – and sing. An Elven woman sings. Wow! Who could’ve seen that coming?

And even at that, her singing apparently doesn’t reach par with Luthien’s. If anything, comparing her with the women in her line will do Arwen no favour. All of them are at least equally as pretty as her, while both Luthien and Galadriel had far more on their record that Arwen. Both were willing to leave the security of their home to follow the desires of their heart, Galadriel dreaming of establishing her own kingdom and Luthien fighting for love. If anything, in Luthien’s story Beren had seemed to me the boring one – whereas for Arwen and Aragorn, Aragorn is madly awesome, and what is Arwen? Arwen is Aragorn’s beloved. Which is probably the only thing that makes her at all interesting to me, that a man of Aragorn’s calibre had loved her all his life from first sight to last breath. And here I truly hope, for his sake at least, that he got more than this hypnotosingly beautiful, infantile maiden who had not even been able to appreciate the full weight of her choice until the payback time came.

She can hardly be blamed for this, I think, given her extremely shaltered existence. Again, what did she ever do? Her human counterparts in our world, the noble-born maidens of the Middle Ages – those had plenty of issues to deal with. I do not know for certain for other countries, but at least in Russia as late as the 19th sentury, one would be officially dubbed a spinster if not married by 18. I’m quite certain the Elves had no such problem – no ageing, no biological-clock business, no worries :) You’ll get married when the time comes, don’t fret about it. Similarly, I get the feeling that since Arwen’s beauty was hereditary and she was an Elf to begin with, she did not have to spend hours keeping herself up to a standard. At most she would need to brush her hair and teeth (although maybe Elven teeth don’t get plaque and cavities and all that human nonsense), and cut her nails every now and again. Don’t think that she had to look after her health either. Not likely to have had much intrigue at court, any plotting to put an end to, etc. I wouldn’t imagine her spending much time on her wardrobe either, seeing as Tolkien had described her raiments as rather simple, and given their Elven quality it likely took them decated to get worn and need replacement.

Did she have many girlfriends with whom she whiled time away? Did she go on hunts or any of those errands Elladan and Elrohir had? Did she assist her father in estate management or healing? Did she compose new melodies and write new songs? Did she make statues like Feanor’s wife? Was she a poet? A philosopher? A cook (again, taters, blast them)? Never seen any mention of that, no.

The European maidens often dedicated a good deal of their time to being pious and following religious rituals – doesn’t look to be the case with Arwen though, given the absence of Church or any suchlike institution.

What did she do?

Actually, the more I think about this, the more depressing it looks. Little wonder she snatched her first chance at something exciting when Aragorn showed up…

And even with him. “She lived in great glory and bliss”. Wow, man. Glory and bliss. To me, that sounds like basking in the light of your own majesty, attending fancy suppers and rolling in bed with your awe-inspiring king. While Eowyn had spent a time with her brother helping him restore the country after the war (and maybe also taking a time-out to think it through re Faramir), and at least she had an intention to learn medicine, although we are not told whether that ever went beyond an intention – with Arwen there is none of that. Yes, she had at least three children – which is great, but not like those children were important enough to her to keep her from withering when Aragorn passed. Maybe we as humans can’t relate to that, maybe it’s an Elven thing. Like Celebrian had sailed, leaving her and Elrond’s three children in ME (along with her husband), and Galadriel leaving Celeborn behind – I mean, this whole ‘I am weary of this world’ business, despite my body being young and strong and there being beloved people who need me. But I don’t know, to me it seemed quite weird that Aragorn was literally the only thing in her life that was worth living for. It is equivalent to saying that she had no life of her own. Which is… scary?

So no, in my stories Arwen doesn’t get an overly romantic or reverential depiction. My apologies to anyone who might prefer otherwise :)

Wow. This is by far my longest post yet. I wonder if either of you or anyone else will ever read it through. But anyway, at least I myself am glad that you have spurred this character anaylisis to come forth. Character analysis is always helpful for writing :)

Now, Nerey, regarding your wondering what Faramir knows of Pippin’s feelings and what he thinks on that. Er… I must say I have a very precise point of view on that. But – I can’t tell you. At least not now XD That would be a SPOILER, wouldn’t it now? :)

And yes, there’s a lot of sadness in this story. I don’t strive for sadness in real-life, not at all. And like I’ve written to you, this whole unrequited-love business seems far less fascinating to me now than it once had. I have somehow become more pragmatic about it with time, when it’s me I try to cut it off and strangle it, and when it’s the other person I feel burdened and bored and it is very difficult to be sympathetic. I feel like I simply don’t have time for useless loves.

You have asked me if I rely on experience to write this – and the answer is yes, to an extent. On past experiences. It is no longer like that for me – but I can still relate to what it can be like. Any in either case, the ‘me’ is not at all important here, it is ‘them’, Pippin, and Faramir, and the others, that live in this story – so I’d say that more than anything it’s imagination and empathy with the character. Because Pippin is not me, he does not feel or think like me, so I can’t simply substitute his name for mine in the story, I have to aim to impersonate him, like an actor grows into their role, becoming that person. It is easier to achive if I had had similar experiences, but it is far from the same. Just like when writing those Faramir/Boromir stories – I don’t even have a brother to begin with. Or a sister. Or a cousin that I’ve ever actually met. So I’ve never, for a second, been in love with my sibling or had any kind of ‘relations’ with them. And yet I have a very precise sensation of what those two would have with each other, and how it could evolve through time.

Not to mention that there is Faramir in this story – I haven’t met Faramir in real life (oh, isn’t that a shame?), so I can only try to imagine what loving Faramir would be like. Beautiful and painful, I should think. Or, we could say, great and terrible. Haha

December    Friday 10 February 2012, 0:26    #

Dear God, this is so sensual! Black satin (or the ME equivalent of satin) and a pristine white cape… my mind tries to push aside the word “virgin”, because it´s laden with so many clichés but it always manages to escape and slips onto the tongue again… Plus a slightly ironical break (“plumed helmets” – ROFL XD) that takes off the “romantic” peak and grounds the scenery – is there anything more perfect?

I´d like to grab this opportunity to express my sincere delight about the fact that you are back in the arena – I wasn´t aware how much I missed you refreshing cascades until their return. :) Congratulations and spiritual support for dealing with severe issues – the way you describe it makes it sound like a personal progressing, which is always a good thing. :) And it´s funny you should mention the healing effects of the Tolkien oeuvre – for I´m currently about to make the same experience. There are various things I´m concerned with; none of it being a threat for my own person, mind you, though nevertheless affecting me. Facing an unpredictable and quickly changing world raises questions – questions the books are mirroring in miraculous ways. How to deal with issues of loss and letting go? How to find my own position when somewhere decisions are made that are obviously against my own moral standards? Will I surrender to bitterness and disappointment? Or will I stand up and fight, with the confined possibilities I was given?
I´m far away from taking Tolkien´s work an all-cure. But as you said: there was no time in my life when delving into the books did not soothe and steady me. It might depend on the personal history of the author. We know he has seen two wars. We know he has seen the industrialisation of the country – and therefore the destruction of many beloved places. We know he has seen his friends dying and lived under the terror of the German air raids – and yet he believed in what he called the Eucatastrophe, the sudden turn to good.
There are many things in Professor Tolkiens works I would question. His perception of women, of course (one that was certainly widely spread back then). His firm belief in blood lines and inherited rights (as Terry Pratchett once wrote: “The ability to penetrate a 100 year old rose thicket doesn´t make one a good king and husband.”). His allocation of people in “noble” and “lesser” ones (again, with the nobility coming by heredity). But I will never doubt his unwavering humanity, his true belief in a universal good and the importance of keeping both of it up to lead a “worthy” life. Amen. Cough Err… yes.

Before I was flushed away by emotional ramblings I actually intended to add that there is one sentence that stands out for me in this chapter, perhaps because it fits what I was recently pondering about.
““No, no, no,” he murmurs in the way he has seen the elderly and slightly authoritative servants use so successfully on their masters.”
The servants. There´s not much written about them, neither in fanfiction nor in the original source. So what are they doing? Carrying things, yes, fetching things, preparing meals, presenting clothes to wear, cleaning the rooms and so on. Mostly they are perceived as a sort of background noise, something that is essential for the working of the clockwork though gets only important once it´s missing. But. They´re also people who are around our protagonists day by day. They see, they hear, they think, they talk to their masters and develop relationships to them. They learn about secrets, they take positions and become confidents. Which means: They take influence. Something I often thought about was this: Even though Denethor might keep rejecting his second son – how is the rest of the court doing? Not the ones in a position that forces them to tell their lord whatever he wants to hear but the other ones, the people who wouldn´t even be asked. Room maids, servants, craftsmen, peasants. What would they think? Due to what we know about the brothers I would say they surely adore and respect Boromir – but they deeply love his brother. Faramir is kind, in a way that doesn´t make people feel like inferiors. Faramir listens to everybody, he is patient, he knows there is nobody he cannot learn from at least something. And seeing how his situation is – wouldn´t those people try to ease his life? It might have been started in his childhood; when no “official” cares for a neglected but friendly and clever child there might have been somebody else. Workers who shared their knowledge with him. Maids who found time to tell him stories. And later, when the severe impacts start to hit, a battle wound perhaps, or, just to relaunch an old topic, a punishment, it might go on in a more subtle way. A quicker handout maybe, to spare him a painful movement, a careful question, whether he needs something, tiny things an outsider would hardly notice. It might sound exaggerated but I think he´s intelligent and socially skilled enough to build a cocoon of love and care around himself, unintentionally yet nonetheless affective.

And another thing you mentioned in a comment before (I´m afraid I selfishly overran it, overwhelmed by my own flashback): what you said about getting so close that sometimes, when the barrier between the dimensions gets thinner, you can almost, almost see his face; that´s incredibly beautiful and – to use the word I started this comment with – sensual. :)))

— raven22372    Monday 13 February 2012, 20:47    #

Hi again!

To December: thanks for your answer! Yes, it works like that for me as well when it comes to imagining the characters’ reactions: I’m not them, it’s not so simple as that, but I try to imagine how I would react in their stead and of course personal experience helps.
Now, I just wanted to comment on two very interesting topics that have been raised. Arwen. What the hell did she do all these 3000 years? I never thought about that, but you raised an interesting question, and though I still don’t think her especially smart or interesting, she might be more mysterious than boring, as you say. You gave me the desire to explore her further in a future story, cause yes, working with a character on which there is so little information allows plenty of room for freedom. Now, regarding what she might do with her days, I don’t have the book here to check the exact references, but from what I remember:

- she can ride (she arrived to Gondor on a horse)

- she likes to walk

- she knows old legends (Lúthien and stuff)

- she can sing (and play an instrument? I don’t remember)

- there is great love between her and Elrond, and he’s quite wise, so I guess she can’t be totally stupid. She had a long conversation with him in the mountains before their parting, and besides Tolkien specifically says she’s wise (“for all her wisdom” she was overborne by her grief at Aragorn’s death)

- she can sow beautiful flags

- maybe she has foresight; she seems quite certain that Aragorn will succeed, though maybe that’s just love at work

- she has met a few other mortals before marrying him

- Aragorn says that he often must put mirth aside (speaking of seeing her), which would suggest she can laugh

- she has done some travelling, if only between Lórien and Rivendell

- she waited for 30 years before making her definite choice (between her first meeting with Aragorn and the second), so perhaps she even thought a bit about it

- Aragorn and her spoke together in Rivendell at the feast, and also spent a season together in Lórien, so they must have something to talk about

- by the way, before she died she learned the history of Númenor

- she can be kind and make people at ease, look at her first meeting with Aragorn (he mentions his lineage and then she says they’re akin from afar)

- she’s called the Evenstar of her people, which may be a tribute to her beauty or perhaps something more meaningful.

OK, that still doesn’t amount to much, but I guess it shows that she had some hobbies and occupations and that she spent quite some time thinking. Doesn’t look like too much, but hey, Galadriel has a bigger record but she’s also way older, and we can always suppose Arwen might have gone to rescue Aragorn if he had needed it. Which would mean, Beren couldn’t look after himself and Arwen chose her mate much better? And if you look at other elves her age, like Legolas – what did Legolas do for 3000 years, besides shooting and maybe riding? No politics, no travelling, no reading that we know of. Yet no one would say he’s got no personality.
Anyway, that’s all I can contribute for the moment, but it sure is a question worth looking into.
The other matter – the servants. Again, great insight. I had never thought about it, but servants have endless ways of making your life easy or difficult, enjoyable or awful, probably without you even noticing there’s something going on. Again, I can relate to some personal experience here, even if I am not a servant nor have one. And I would think Faramir’s servants would be ready to do anything for him, probably even more so than Boromir’s. After all, Boromir is admired for his prowess, but that would be mostly appreciated by soldiers. Faramir treats kindly even the most humble, and he is loved by all; probably his servants would be all as devoted to him as Pippin is.
Wow, another wall of China! Better stop here. Looking forward to seeing how this debate evolves!

— Nerey Camille    Monday 20 February 2012, 14:44    #

Thank you, my lovelies, for your unwavering flow of feedback!

First of, allow me to apologise for misleading you – a lot of new stuff shall be befalling me soon, so maybe I will not be all that regularly present here for a few weeks to come… But I’ll still be working ont he stories when I can and eventually plan to return to more frequent updates.

Now, to the point. You both mention the servants. Now that I think of it, I’m beginning to wonder why it is I’m so drawn to taking this perspective in a story. Just like Nerey, I’ve never been on either end of the servant-master relationship. Moreover, I would imagine myself being quite awkward if I were to have a personal assistant/body-servant suddenly bestowed upon me. It means so much less private time and space. No more lounging around one’s quarters in a tattered bathrobe, picking one’s nose and scratching crotch, eating chips froma bag and watching utube poop for hours on end. There’s always a pair of eyes set on you, always a mind directed at you. Maybe one grows accustomed to it and stops noticing – but to me it still feels that having servants makes one into more of a public figure than a private person.

Now, Faramir, I believe, would be especially conscious of his servants’ human nature, that they are not just a function, but somebody with their own personal dignity, and he should “behave” in their presence (not that he would pick his nose in private either, of course). I believe he would not be very likely to get too personal/sympathetic with them though, or try to rid them of their duties, as that would in a way put their professional ability in question, and of course he would not want to offend anybody like that. But he would never be cold or brash, and he would treat them with the same grace and mindfulness that he would direct at a social equal or superior. Yet at the same time I feel there would be more distance between him and what Gondorian help he may have than there would be between him and Pippin. Foreigners are typically allowed a greater slack in adhering to the rules of conduct, and generally Faramir and Pippin had known each other on a personal level before their professional contract came into force :) So yes, I would imagine that as a boy Faramir received quite a bit of attention and care from the older man-servants and female servants of all age – but as he grew older and rose in status, such interactions would diminish as suppressed by social norms, which is sad but what you gonna do…

Back to Arwen – wow, my monologue was read!! Thanks, Nerey, for speaking in her defence :) While I wouldn’t deny any of the points you mention, I do feel compelled to argue a bit ;) as many of them do however seem to me as not much of an achievement if put in perspective.

Yes, she could ride a horse. But. If we put that in the context of their time – it’s the same as if a woman today knew how to drive a car. Exceptional achievement :) And as a rider myself, I personally don’t think that it’s that evasive a skill, especially if you have a few centuries to master it. I mean, it’s not racing, not jumping, not dressage, not mountain-terrain crossing – it’s just riding on a road, on a well-trained and clever Elven-horse. Even Gimli the Dwarf could do that!

About making people feel at ease and being nice to Aragorn. Well, why wouldn’t she be nice to anyone? I believe it’s actually very easy to be graceful and encouraging if all you’ve known in your life is love, and respect, and cherihing treatment. I don’t believe anyone has, ever, been mean to Arwen, or showed dislike/lack of interest in her, or ever neglected her or chose someone else over her. Has anyone ever told her they wouldn’t be friend with her or wouldn’t let her play with them when she was a child? Has a young gentleman ever proved numb to her charm? I don’t believe so, no… And when all your experience tells you you are special and beloved and full of light and goodness, and you meet this young human man who stares at you all smitten – why wouldn’t you be nice and gentle to him?

As for her wisdom – Tolkien does mention it,but at the same time I never found much action/speech on her behalf that would actually illustrate her wisdom. It’s not enough just to say that someone is wise, as it is a quality that must manifest itself in action, otherwise what good is it? And as both Aragorn and Elrond loved her very much, I think for them it was not so much important how clever/interesting she was, just to be near her and see that all was well with her would be a joy to them. Same thing for when Aragorn lived with her in Lorien, for all we know they may have spoken quite little, and he simply revelled in her companionship and being “allowed” to spend time together with her…

Her beauty, yes. That’s an interesting subject. In many cultures, beauty, especially female, is associated with the supernatural in one form or another, be it devilish or angelic. Extremely beautiful people cannot be entirely ordinary, right? What saddens me though is that this is her foremost quality. Yes, she’s also notable for being an Elven princess and for giving up her immortal future for a present with a beloved Man. But let’s imagine for a moment that there is no beauty, that Arwen is your average frumpy, potato-nosed Elven princess with mild skin problems. You know, like a lot of people out there (not that there’s anything wrong with potato noses, god forbid). She’s still the daughter of the stupendous Elrond, she’s still willing to be a mortal’s wife. But… Would the story be nearly as enchanting?

I think not. And at the same time I think that if this were the case, we would tend to ascribe much more personality to Arwen. If she is not beautiful, not even pretty – then there must be some substance to her, some special inner qualities that drew Aragorn to her. But such as it is… Ah, I don’t want to be mean to her, you know. But even the niceness and kindness some believe her to possess seem to me not so exceptional. I mean, that Faramir despite his circumstances of life managed to remain caring and merciful – that’s quite amazing. That good old Bilbo took pity on the not-so-very-charming Gollum, that’s impressive. But Arwen being nice to Frodo or Aragorn…? I don’t know…

And one point of interest remains. For all we know, no one’s ever crossed her path. She’s always had everything more or less the way she wanted, or else she accepted the authority of her elders or general tradition, which she seems to do quite calmly, like that she needs to wait for Aragorn to become King, etc. We do see that when life hits her, like when Aragorn dies, she doesn’t deal too well with that. And what if there’s an issue that makes her unhappy – like in the story that you, Nerey, are writing? Would we expect her to still be “graceful” and sweet and “wise”?

December    Wednesday 22 February 2012, 7:05    #

Hi December!

No need to argue, I fully agree with you! Apart from her beauty and her lineage (hereditary things so no credit goes to her for that), there’s absolutely nothing special about Arwen. No big achievements, nothing. But you asked what she might actually do with her time and I racked my memories for any evidence about that. So, the answer is: horseriding, singing, sowing, walking, etc. And I think you’ve got a big point with the fact that probably no one ever crossed her before and when life hits her, she doesn’t deal well with it. Still, still… when someone is as adored as she has been, it would be easy to be terribly stupid and conceited: her answer to Aragorn showed that she was not aloof or touchy (personally, I would have been offended by his remark re “why haven’t I seen you before, did Elrond keep you locked in a tower” though perhaps to her the remark wasn’t shocking at all). Anyway, still willing to explore this character further. And I’m also thinking, her mother got waylaid by Orcs when she was travelling on the mountains, and that affected Arwen’s brothers deeply, so we might suppose it also affected her (so I might take back that nothing traumatizing ever happened to her; it did happen at least within her family). The fact that she kept travelling between Lórien and Rivendell would seem to indicate she was brave enough to face that danger, or that she was not willing to stop seeing her relatives because of that… (actually seeing her mother’s family might have been her own way of keeping in touch with her roots, seeing as her mother sailed into the West and that is likely to have affected her as well).

As for servants… I think a good servant knows how to be invisible and be only there when required, so that wouldn’t interfere with the master’s freedom. What would be really horrible is this tradition in some societies that important people always have to have attendants, for status reasons. That really would make it impossible to have privacy. But that needn’t be the case with Faramir, at least as long as he’s only the Steward’s second son, and I don’t think even Denethor would tolerate servants at his side all the time if he didn’t want to, no matter what traditions said about it.

I also guess there are all kind of different relationships between master and servants, depending on the kind of servant: I mean, the people who serve your meals in public are not as close to you as those who put you in bed or help you bathe and see you when you are really tired and unguarded, are they?

Wow, wow, the more one thinks about it, the more nuances there are…

— Nerey Camille    Wednesday 22 February 2012, 13:06    #

Oh, Nerey, thank you for that!

I feel compelled to answer straight away – and thanks for letting me know via email by the way, because for some reason I’ve stopped receiving comment notifications from this site…

Anyway, you raise here a point I haven’t given much thought to before. Compliments in middle-Earth.

You know, trying to imagine Arwen’s perception, I don’t feel she would have reason to be much pissed by what he said. Of course, in today’s world, many a woman, especially a Western woman, would not take kindly to the whole ‘hey sweet mama, where you bin kept locked away all this time?’ pick-up line. But in Arwen’s case – for one thing, it’s something that had happened to her g-g-gran, being locked away that is, so maybe for her the phrase has a different meaning. Besides, she can see he means well, and maybe she would believe that from a thunderstruck young human one could hardly expect something more elegant. Besides, it really is not the worst thing a man could say to a woman in an attempt to express his appreciation of her intellect looks.

What my point here is, they do make cheesy compliments, don’t they? Faramir’s to Eowyn about how no Elven words could describe etc. I mean, come on, man! She’s probably heard the likes of that 20 times already, anyway. But maybe such is the tradition in their culture that for a man to say ‘you are beautiful’ is just a way to say ‘I would want you to be my woman’, as in an expression of serious intentions, the way it is/used to be in some of our world’s cultures as well. In our modern society such compliments often mean more like ‘I get a bit of free sexual enjoyment straing at your boobs/arse’ or ‘I’d like to take you to bed and never see you after that’ – but in middle-Earth it was likely more innocent than that, so I’d expect the women would be more lenient to these somewhat clumsy expressions of awe :)

Yet at the same time, this subject makes me think of this story – maybe Pippin is worried overmuch that his ability to express his feelings is below par? This whole question is something that will come up in the course of the story, the speaking of love/other things, and our little discussion makes me more comfortable with the way I’ve written out that upcoming scene, so thanks for that!

And returning back to the innocence of their culture (what Tolkien has mentioned), it would seem that similar compliments coming from someone who is not traditionally expected to have romantic intentions, such as a loyal servant to his master, I think they would altogether be seen as platonic and uninsinuating. You see what I mean? That back to the point where you said, how can it not be completely obvious to Faramir?

Furthermore, like you say, there are nuances to the servant-master relationship. I would fully concur that Denethor would be much more pragmatic and bossy with his servants, although I’m not a believer in him being generally abusive to staff, at least in the physical sense and at least without some form of justification, like an actual fault on the servant’s behalf. Anyway, I do believe that Faramir’s servants would be let closer to his heart than either his brother’s or his father’s had been to theirs’ – while at the same time maybe indeed he did not have that many of them before becoming Steward. In the scene where he welcomes Frodo in the cave, we see he quite naturally receives service from his men, and has signs of distinction like his silver goblet, so I’d expect that overall as a man of high breeding he would be accustomed to the idea of having someone in his position be attended to, and receive it all with natural grace. Yet on the whole he would likely see this as something that comes with the status and not give it too much thought so long as he knows he is treating his staff well. So in that sense Pippin’s position to him is quite unique, as I don’t quite believe that any of the servants Faramir had had before the commencement of Pippin’s employment, would be nearly as… well what’s the word here? From the case with Beregond we see that in Gondor there is more formality in the hierarchical cases, obey your lord and that’s it – Pippin seems to have a more flexible perspective, so likely his standing with Faramir would be more all-encompassing as well – if that makes sense :) And that in turn would mean that on average Faramir would give more slack in the interpretation of Pippin’s behaviour than that of a fellow Gondorian…

Bah, you need a torchlight to read that?

December    Wednesday 22 February 2012, 20:08    #

How come I’ve only now discovered this wonderful story? Words fail me for how much I’m enjoying it.

What strikes me most is how the narrative embodies the title: the attention to small details, the building of a larger mosaic picture through focus on the small tiles. Your writing is so vivid and evocative.

I find myself joining the crowds who hunger for new episodes. In your own free time, of course. :-)

Thanks for sharing your talent and creativity!


— Tal    Sunday 4 March 2012, 2:16    #

Hi December!

No, I don’t need a torchlight because I am sitting in a sunlit street outside a bar (guess where?) but I’m having some trouble following the thread of your thoughts. Maybe my brains have been addled in the past few days, that could easily have happened. Anyway. Compliments? I always thought Faramir’s compliment was brilliant. He only speaks of her beauty after praising her courage and heroism, which is exactly what she wants to be valued for; and he says that he would love her even if she were married to Aragorn. How romantic is that? Only Gimli with Galadriel does better than that; I always thought he was the most romantic of them all. But well, I’ve always liked compliments about beauty when they are well-phrased, so maybe that’s why these don’t appear banal to me. And besides, Arwen and Éowyn and Galadriel are indeed strikingly beautiful, so why not pay homage to that? Their looks are the first thing that strikes those who see them (along with her sorrow in Éowyn’s case, which further shows Faramir doesn’t only care about looks). What I mean is, it’s not a cheap trick to flatter them (like in our societies most women get compliments about their looks, even though they’re just average), the women we are talking about are really outstanding beauty-wise. So, OK, Aragorn and Faramir and Gimli remark upon the obvious – what else can they be expected to remark upon, when they have just met them?

As for Pippin, I didn’t get what you were trying to point out – but I think you have a point in that his relationship to Faramir would be different, because he’s the only voluntary servant that Faramir has. I mean the others are surely more than willing to serve him, but they didn’t leave their own home of their own free will for that sole purpose. Which is also why Faramir must surely know that there is more to Pippin’s feelings than just devotion to him.
Anyway, I’m happy to know that you felt compelled to answer right away… now I’ll try to answer your email, LOL.

— Nerey Camille    Friday 9 March 2012, 18:13    #

Man, why did I do checking my mail today? Such busy life, can’t remember the last time I slept as long as I wanted to – but how can I not reply? lol

Tal, thank you so much! Always a pleasure to welcome a new reader. Episodes may not be that fast to come, I’m afraid, but oh well, heh.

Nerey, about servants and voluntarily going to places – Faramir knew Sam had come with his master Frodo through hell and to hell, without being forced… Was Faramir likely to think Sam loved Frodo…?

Compliments and such, you know, this is a strange subject. My standing on it has changed dramatically since moving countries. Even though even before I did not appreciate the stress so many cultures put on female beauty – now I appreciate it even less xD Coming from a place where a self-respecting woman simply must do everything in and outside her power to be hollywood-celebrity groomed and generally beautiful, I was quite strongly influenced by this attitude. It seemed unfair, but that’s how it was.

But here, here I see so many many couples where he is actually more attractive and often even more put-together than she, and still he obviously finds her hot and loveable and all. And looking at all this I come to reevaluate some things. Previously it had fascinated me that pretty much all the female characters in LOTR who matter are very beautiful (have difficulty finding any un-beautiful ones, except Ioreth perhaps, but she’s old – must’ve been a hottie in her youth) – in my eyes it added them something special, made them mysterious, meaningful. Even Sam’s Rosie – maybe not beautiful like an Elf, but Hobbits on the whole are not Elves, so for her kind she still seems above the par.

Back in Russia I wanted so hard to be beautiful and never felt remotely good enough. It’s difficult to relate to unless you’ve been there. So many women have as though stepped directly from a fantasy painting, these mesmerising sirens with bewitching eyes, slender, graceful and tall, perfect beyond what is normal for humankind.

But here, where the quality of life is different, and people’s benchmarks are different, I am seen as beautiful by so many. My beauty is spoken of as a thing understood. And now that I finally have it, I realise I don’t enjoy it remotely as much as I had imagined. It puts pressure on me, it tires me, it fills me with doubt re my actual intrinsic worth to people beyond what they see.

So now I find myself gravitating more towards literature descriptions of women’s appearance that pick out something else. Because beauty is such an overused term anyway.

Take, for example. “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realised it.” My god, how much power there is in that sentence. Try and beat a woman like that.

Or take “War and Peace”. I don’t remember the exact quote, and it would be in Russian anyway, but Princess Mary was described as overall mousy and unpretty, but she had eyes that shone with all the light and kindness in the world. Was she beautiful? Absolutely not. But nevertheless people were drawn to her by what they saw in her…

And in that line, I’m beginning to feel that describing a character as very beautiful in some way takes away from their personal merits. I’m not saying make them ugly and repulsive – just, you know, when they’re blindingly beautiful, it does steal your focus a bit. I feel now that if Eowyn were just a normal woman, just generally pleasing to the eye but within reason, her story would have touched me so much more. And Faramir’s love for her would have meant more to me as well. Yes, you say he praises her courage, that is true, but still – there is a doubt inside me that keeps saying, if she was average, he would not have noticed her… You see what I mean? It’s a doubt, it’s not something we could prove or disprove, because Eowyn is written beautiful, and who’s to say what would have been otherwise. But I reckon I would have liked it if in the book, it were not only the exceptionally beautiful women who got to be loved.

December    Friday 9 March 2012, 21:19    #

Only the king. Ah, how I adore your talent for understatement. X) Which is only beaten by your sense for suspense curves. I only hope you will never start to write mystery thrillers. Your readers will surely drop dead with anticipation.

My favourite part is Pippin tormenting himself with his lines of gloomy thoughts (including that little sidestep to uncle Saradoc and his poor potatoe peeling – oh, hello taters!). When he raves about being abandoned and left behind all alone I had to think of a story psychologists like to tell their patients. (Just in case you are interested: It´s about a man who considers to go over to his neighbour and borrow his hammer. But he´s still hesitating: Maybe his neighbour will say no? Maybe he will remember our man hasn´t given back his power drill yet and refuse to help him out? Without the hammer he is not able to finish his work so he will have to drive to the property store. And what if he will have an accident or the police stops him and finds out his driving license has expired? Without a driving license he cannot drive, if he cannot drive he will loose his work, if he looses his work he will sink into poverty… at the end he sees himself dying in a poor house, all because of this hammer.) Poor Pip, his current mental state would be a cupcake with a cherry on top for every headshrinker. X) Which doesn´t mean it would be different from everybody else´s. On the contrary, you perfectly caught the way our minds sometimes work, there, in the hours “between dog and wolf”.

By the way, the story ends with the man knocking at his neighbour´s door and when he opens the door he yells at him: “Why don´t you just keep your bloody hammer, you f***ing bastard?” Thank heavens hobbits are less impulsive…

— raven22372    Saturday 17 March 2012, 19:25    #

Oooh! Exciting!

— Laivindur    Wednesday 21 March 2012, 17:56    #

Only the king??! Well, you wicked wicked creature – what do you do with poor Pippin?! Making him suffer like this?
You better have something really really good in store for him in the end! ;)
Best wishes and happy Easter!

— elektra121    Saturday 7 April 2012, 21:25    #

Ooph (surfaces from work), time for some cosy with the readers!

Thank you, my dears! Every kind word is sweet music to me, and every kind word gives me hope this story will, step by step, reach completeness. Because, bah, so little time, hehe. New and unexpected turns in life, so rewarding – but nope, no time for rest.


Raven, you know, this is one of the thing I enjoy about working “with” Pippin so much. He lets me wallow in the “human” aspects of life. Meaning we can be donw-to-earth with him, exploring the sillier, less epic and less picture-perfect sides of our nature. As you probably know, I strive in my writing for a measure of some every-day realism, so to say. It is more difficult to get into stories that deal solely with the “Big folk”, seeing as we have to adhere to a certain measure of idealisation and romantism when it comes to painting the darling Aragorn, Faramir, and the lot. But with Pippin, even though we know he’s as much a hero as them and generally a wonderful chap – still, it doesn’t take from his charm (at least imho) to show him like this, fretting and unreasonable :)

Laivindur, thank you!

Elektra, and a very happy Easter to you too!
Couldn’t not answer what you said in your mail about the beauty discussion, because you just hit the spot! What you said about the rules of heroic epos requiring that the ones who are good inside look good on the outside – this is exactly what gets me! I mean, I do understand the rules and where they come from, and probably understand the reasoning behind Tolkien choosing to adhere to them, especially in the case of Rohan. Although not just Rohan, we can see it throughout LoTR and Sil. Morgoth and Sauron were no longer fair to look upon once they had gone all bad-ass. Even Boromir and Maeglin, though depicted as good-looking to say the least, had their looks described in such a way that conveyed a flaw int he character, a foresight of a hamartia to come. Even Frodo, though hobbits are not generally pretty, was said to be fairer than usual. Possibly it is only Sam, who is neither of noble blood nor much of a looker, who goes against the prevailing trend of the main heroes being dashing princes in billowing cloaks.

All that said, it annoys me that Eowyn as though had to be beautiful to qualify for the ‘goody’ league. I understand that the book is big on the whole higher-race-lower-race thing, the details and possible implications of which (say in another couple thousand years in ME history) I would rather not think about – but somewhere deep I have this feeling that it is as though her exceptional looks and her exceptional deeds took her from being a princess of Lesser Men to a woman who deserves to be loved and taken to wife by a man of higher origin (seeing as Faramir was a Numenorean plus with some Elven blood). If she were just Eowyn, just a regularly attractive woman with a good heart – would have she been good enough for him to love her? I cannot get rid of this question. Maybe it is silly and not really justified by the canon itself, but this doubt is there. So in that line, I never had too much belief in the whole Faramir+Eowyn happily ever after. Even though given what kind of man he is, I believe he would love her and (try to) be faithful to her, I always felt he might not actually find his true ‘other half’ in her if you know what I mean. Yes, yes, I know he had spent some weeks getting to know her before they had settled everything – but at the same time he had fallen for her from the very start, and… I don’t know, I guess maybe it also has to do with gender roles here. You know I always snigger a little at these popular yin-yan stories where the male from one culture is all rash and vain and hotheaded, and the woman from another is all full of wisdom and nurturance, and she “awakens him” and opens his eyes on what life is really about: take “Avatar”, “Pocahontas”, “Fern Gully”, “Beauty and the beast” – the theme is to some extent present even in “Shrek”. For Faramir and Eowyn it is exactly the other way around – he has the “yin” and she the “yan”, and maybe it is him loving a strong and man-minded woman that has led to him being portrayed from a somewhat wimpy perspective int he film. I’m probably getting the amazons throwing rotten vegetables at me right now, but I guess you can see what I’m trying to say.

This whole beauty thing, coupled with all the rest, just unsettles me, bah. And similarly with Aragorn and Arwen, although in a different way. So I guess that’s one reason I gravitate to all this slash writing, as with men beauty as such is not so strongly correlated with the inner goodness, at least in our popular culture…

December    Tuesday 10 April 2012, 0:30    #

Dear me, what a fantastic writer of dialogues you are! More, what a fantastic writer of poetry! And I must say; I love the idea of them both being – at least slightly – drunk very attractive. It wouldn´t be half as interesting with, for example, Boromir, because he´s somebody one espects to kick over the traces now and then. But watching two characters who are used to be rather stern towards their own personal urges, granting themselves a loop hole – that´s way more intriguing!

Ah, poor dear Pips – I wonder how he´ll manage to get out of this – or if. Either way, that´s going to be a night to remember! X)

— raven22372    Tuesday 26 June 2012, 21:13    #

Dear Raven, why, you compliment me overmuch!
Ah, thank you dear for your lovely comment, and for always being a faithful reader :) It feels like such a long time since we’ve had one of these converations…
This whole scene, starting with Faramir getting ready for the evening, pretty much wrote itself, cloaks, wine, poetry and all. I’ll fess up, I always have reservations when it comes to writing people drunk. I mean, of course it’s very easy to write someone as being unconscious-under-the-table-drooling drunk – but when it ocmes to people still talking and doing things, only not in the exact same way as they would have if they were sober. Staying true to character is one thing – staying true to character while portraying that character in a state of altered consciousness is a completely new kettle of fish, and I’m so pleased you are pleased with how it came out.
And as for poetry, while I wouldn’t dare write anything full-blown and serious, I have always felt that going into Tolkien’s world and not doing anything in rhyme is… well, not fully proper. I’ve read a story once, “The Song of the Steward and the King” it was called or something very much like that, and the people there spoke in rhyme and verse about, well, maybe not half the time, but a lot. And I remember thinking, well, this is very true to the genre and to the original, it is! So yeah, here’s my little jocular nod in that direction – fear, fear, there might just be more to come!!

December    Wednesday 27 June 2012, 5:20    #

Hi December!

Wow, long time no see! And here’s a chapter where things evolve. Poor Pippin! And what a cliff-hanger at the end! How much shall he have to witness? How will he cope with it? Will he be caught? So many questions!
He sure must be quite thunderstruck at the moment, and at the same time, I guess the idea is not completely alien to him. And then what will he think of his own chances with the Steward? Learning that Faramir can feel attracted to a man, but then that man being Aragorn… At least, he should be happy that Faramir won’t have to leave Gondor… Actually, the more I think about it, the worse the cliff-hanger becomes! Gnnng!
Anyway, I hope real life is great and that we’ll soon see other chapters, both here and on your other wips.


— Nerey Camille    Thursday 28 June 2012, 19:27    #

Hi again!

Great chapter: it was not easy to make a good job of Pippin’s feelings in this predicament. Very powerful final phrase, too, though I’m not sure what he means by “such beginnings” (but it sounds impressive all right). And why on earth should Aragorn be leaving? Is there an innocent explanation (like going for salve to heal Faramir or to get him breakfast in bed), or is he truly horrified at what he has done? Another cliffhanger!

— Nerey Camille    Sunday 22 July 2012, 16:51    #

Wow, yes. It’s a lovely story! Great work. Looking forward to the next chapters!

— Laivindur    Monday 7 January 2013, 20:07    #

Aaaw, poor little Pippin! All alone among those strange big men with their strange behaviour he cannot really estimate. Of course, after such a long time he must have settled in his role and know how to deal with other people, but when it comes to the minefield of sexual intercourse, he´s not quite well-versed – and there is nobody he could ask about.

Again, love all the small details that upholster the story and make the base solid. Also, it gets palpable how much life in the citadel is based on duty – breakfast has to be made and laundry has to be done, no matter what. The show must go on and the fact that you feel confused and bewildered does not mean you can take a day off. What a difference from laid-back life in the Shire!

Welcome back, моя милая! It´s good to have you around again – have a very happy 2013!

— raven22372    Saturday 12 January 2013, 14:27    #

Thank you for guys for the kind words and interest in the story! I’ve been a bit slow in replying, haven’t I…

Anyway, Raven, I’m glad to hear this is your perception of the chapter. You know, I had first intended to unite it with the following scene, i.e. what happens once Faramir gets out of his bedroom. But then I felt the effect is better when they are separate. After all, even if Pippin’s life more or less revolves around Faramir, this story is about Pippin more so than it is about Faramir, at least to the extent that we are following Pippin’s experiences, and we see only as much as Pippin sees. And since the previous two chapters, being off-duty, he has been pretty much an observer/bystander, I didn’t want Faramir to steal the show from him again, lol. Well, to be serious, I don’t want this to digress into another story of Faramir/Aragorn and their amorous adventures/struggles – I’ve written enough stories about that already, hehe. And little details, and mundane duties, and the larger duty that is made of these smaller ones – this IS what Pippin’s life is largely made of at the moment. As it is of anticipating things, and of constantly waiting for something else to happen. Which can sometimes lead to a chapter not being particularly “eventful” in the strict sense of the word – but otherwise I’m afraid the whole tone of the story might be damaged. So I felt this chapter in its own way is a very important one, despite its seeming quietness, and I’m glad you took a moment to say a nice thing :)

And a very happy new year to you too! Danke!!

December    Saturday 12 January 2013, 22:43    #

Oh my! This is good original work. So fascinating. I loved the description of Faramir first meeting Pippin the next day.
Good explanation of the Hobbit as well.
I am thrilled to read more.

— Laivindur    Friday 25 January 2013, 22:32    #

Oh, how mean you are leaving your readers with a first-class cliffhanger..! If only you would just extend the story without end, then one could at least blame you! But you do such an excellent job, filling the gaps between the ´action´with small and smallest details, so the reader can´t help but devour them one after another, knowing only too good they drag him deeper and deeper into the story. I hope you feel at least the tiniest spark of shame! ;)

But now to serious business.: This is certainly the saddest thing ever and right now it makes me feel a certain urge of hitting Aragorn with a big shovel. To speak the truth I must even say it badgers me to a degree close to uncomfortableness – which of course doesn´t change the fact that you´re a wonderful writer :) Of course I would love to see any kind of happy end but at the moment I can´t spot any hint there will be one… Anyway: I´m far away from trying to push you into any direction (am I not noble?), so I will spend my days biting nails until your next update (royally noble). No, seriously. (sob) I can (sob sob) manage that (whine)…

— raven22372    Sunday 27 January 2013, 22:45    #

Thank you, guys! You are the best (sprinkles shimmering love over you).

Oh, Raven, how noble of you indeed, to speak such kind words when it seems this update has given you little direct joy. And well, no, I can’t apologise for the cliff-hangers, I enjoy them immensely. You see, I am well aware of them showing up with dogged persistence, but somehow they feel appropriate in a Pippin-POV story. It always amused me in the Book and made me relate to Pippin very strongly that often he ended up left out of stuff, or at the very least not kept up-to-date with stuff, and that more often than not he would get himself involved by sheer accident (in turn often arising from a feat of curiosity/carelessness on his behalf), and when he did get involved, he would seldom get to see the full picture until much later on. So reading him always left me with a feeling of not quite knowing what in the world is happening, and things occuring with a certain startling suddenness – and therefore only further igniting his curiosity and wide-open-eyedness. So in a way to end in a cliff-hanged feels almost like paying homage to the character, like this is his element.

Not to mention that, well, I like to try and align the reader’s internal state with that of the POV character. So when the character is tense and uncertain, it feels a natural parallel to end an installment in this way. These cliffhangers are, so to say, in-the-story. Whereas when the character is experiencing no apparent tension/crossroads moment, and the cliff-hanger is put there in the form of stopping short of revealing to the reader something the character already knows, or sees as absolutely certain to happen in the nearest future – those cliffhangers do seem to me a bit effortful, yeah, and I try to be conscious of them.

Hehehe, your words about Aragorn made me grin from ear to ear. I can’t say why as that would be a spoiler, but you made me happy there, dear. And I must mention that while being extremely interesting to write in and of himself, being written from Pippin’s perspective, Aragorn becomes just a pure delight to work on as an artistic challenge. And I must mention here, while many analyses of the Book describe Aragorn as a perfect man, an absolute unattainable ideal of behaviour, I personally never quite saw him this way. Indeed he clearly has very powerful motivations and a strict internal code that guide his actions – but precisely for this reason… Oh well, wait, I probably shouldn’t be talking about this, or I might as well tell you how the story ends (insert big-grin trollface here).

Thank you again for sharing your impressions. And please do stick around, it despirits me immensely when I see someone leave. You’re always such an inspiration!

December    Sunday 27 January 2013, 23:22    #

Dearest trollface,

IT WAS TELEPATHY. Definitely. Err… have you ever done this with lottery numbers? (gets pencil and paper) I´m all ears!

I feel like I should mention that in no way I was going to say that I didn´t enjoy it! It´s just that you give my all kind of feelings for your characters (which says a lot about your skills as a writer) and seeing their suffering I cannot help suffer a little myself.
All you said about Aragorn I could subscribe without hesitation. Apart from my craving desire for revenge I never felt a real fondness for him. Of course he is admirable – but not a person I would like to spend a Saturday night out with. Yes, there´s `FATE`written over his whole exístence, yes, he has to manage the pressure of a huge responsibilty – but that also counts for Gandalf, who is still able to communicate with ´normal´people anyway. On the contrary, unlike the future king Gandalf is well aware that it´s very often the ´small´people that pull the right strings at the right time – even though they have no knowledge of the full picture (probably because people like Mr. Aragorn take them for too unimportant to brief them). The funny thing is (apologies in case I´ve mentioned that a thousand times before) that it wasn´t before the movies that I realized Aragorn was in love with Arwen. Of course there was the marriage but to me it rather seemed like something that had to be done to keep things going. Fact is that (book) Aragorn never seems to be in love with anybody – or have any personal feelings, preferences or fondnesses. Not even a little whim, like Gandalf and his pipeweed, Faramir´s love for books or Boromir´s annoying but at least human attitude. I agree, the man IS perfect – so perfect you wouldn´t even know what to talk to him.

A spoiler? Hear hear! No worries, my dear, there´s no chance I will disappear into my box, especially not now! I will continue lurking on your doorstep, waiting with anticipation for the shovel to turn up! >:)

— raven22372    Monday 28 January 2013, 23:38    #

Hehe, I wish I did. I had tried my luck at the races not far back, and well, it was sooooo close, and yet so far (beh-heh-heh). So I wouldn’t go to me for lottery numbers if I were you. However I’ve always been good at coming across ownerless money and lost jewellery in the oddest of places, so maybe we could go on a treasure hunt one day, ey? ;)

Well, I meant that the chapter didn’t do much in the way of giving you positive emotions. I personally do derive a great deal of enjoyment through sad art and fiction, and I always remember the most the stories that had made me cry — but sometimes I do wonder if people come here for a smile and a pick-me-up – and I’m often not giving them that. Cause I lurve to see you cry (insert high-pitched witch-laugh here)!

You know, I do actually very much love Aragorn, but… he’s a little, well, not “weird” exactly, but sometimes he’s just way over my head. Which is probably the way it is supposed to be. I remember reading him as a kid, I totally didn’t get him, kind of like Pippin – didn’t preceive that he wpuld be King, or the whole Arwen thing. Thinking of him, I recall Shrek telling Donkey about Ogres, specifically that they are “like onions – multilayered”. And I see Aragorn exactly this way, he’s got this dry outer husk, and he can be quite the Deadpan Snarker, so it takes quite a lot of thinking and observation to get into him. Or, as Pippin saw it in the Book, he was “incalculable and remote” in his nobility. Which does not mean he does not feel – Tolkien does speak of how much it meant for him to be leaving Rivendel (i.e. Arwen), and how he dreamt of her in Lorien, and how it pained him to reject Eowyn, and how he was worried that Arwen would not come after all when all was done and won. It’s just that he really is very reserved in terms of feeheelings, and even the text description of them is so sprase and subtle that it is very easy to not notice them at all. And I can concur with your view of him as cold in regards to the scene of his passing, where Arwen pretty much goes hysterical and clings to him — and he’s like, da man gotta go when da man gotta go, that’s the way the cookie crumbles, honey (dies).

In saying that, I still much prefer him to the emotional doubting ladies’ man of the movie, but still… If I met him in real life, I’m pretty sure I’d be intimidated and feel very awkward. Maybe that’s in great part the reason why I want to write him, to see him put in such circumstances where he’d have to get out of the “husk”. It would be interesting to see, for example, how he would have fared if he had the setting of Faramir’s life, such as being the second son of Arathorn, and therefore knowing he would not be King, but still loving Arwen and doing stuff in her name, and then his older brother is slain and at once everything is turned round, and he can both have so much more impact, but at the same time suddenly so many more demands to shoulder, and things looking completely desperate – would he still handle all of that with a stiff upper lip and a pipe stuck out of the corner of his mouth? Not to mention if Arwen had initially loved, say, his older borther, and then after he was killed, would not be interested in Aragorn’s “pity” love. (I think a challenge had just been born)

December    Tuesday 29 January 2013, 0:53    #

Hi, hi, hi! Cliffhangers are becoming a permanent feature of this story. And I loved this chapter. I must admit I much preferred it to the previous one. Perhaps because Faramir’s in it :). I also loved the difficulty of Pippin’s role: making his lord’s life easier while pretending not to know about his problems. And the decision to resign is so much in character for Faramir. La suite!
Interesting challenge, by the way :).

— Nerey Camille    Friday 15 February 2013, 17:58    #

Hi there!

Just wanted to let you know that I’ve been following this fanfiction since around the release of chapter 14, and that it is by far my favorite Tolkien fanfiction. It is of the highest quality of both depth in research into the subject of characters and setting, and in very intrusive thought on the main character, which is something that not only is rarely seen in this fandom’s works but in writing overall. This is truly a jewel that I’d love to see continued since I hold it so dear to my heart. It would mean the world to me, and I’m sure the others who have stumbled upon this work and also found themselves captured by it, if it could be continued! Your cliffhangers, though excellent, are completely unbearable when adding such a teasing wait of time after it. Also, I’d like to mention how impeccable your characterization of Faramir is; I love how you did it. And, the added background conflicts that present in Arwen and Eowyn; of course, Aragorn and Faramir’s surprising predicament as well! Now, /that/ was a shocker.

Thank you so much for already having gone so far and putting on the web such a wonderful piece of art for the rest of us to read and enjoy.

— Fionn    Tuesday 27 August 2013, 9:44    #

Oh my goodness, thank you Fionn!

Funnily enough, I’ve been thinking on this story just today. It is by all means not dead, just – well, I’m going to be really original now and talk about how life took over and I’ve not had much time/energy/inspiration to do much writing. But hopefully things are looking up now, we are finally settling for good in New Zealand, some of my professional commitments are getting done and dusted – and I’m virtually rolling up my sleeves to get some writing time in my schedule again, hehe.

Not promising any specific dates, but definitely have every intention of pushing this story (and the others of mine) along. Goodness knows I’ve missed it.

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, you’ve utterly made my day :)))))

— December    Saturday 31 August 2013, 6:58    #

Let’s hope I pressed the right thing to post this as a response, welp. I’ve never reviewed on any of the other fanfics on this website except this one, haha.

I’m so glad to hear that! And gosh, no, I really do understand what you mean; I write as well and sometimes incentive drains away no matter how much you actually do want to keep the updates going. But – you’ve moved to New Zealand? I’m jealous! For years I’ve been wanting to move there, so hopefully when I’m in a solid place I can start trying to actually make that happen.

Anyways, yeah! You really have no idea how happy that makes me to hear that it’ll continue. I’ll definitely be dropping in more than usual to look for any surprise updates, then. And really, it’s both no problem and my pleasure to have commented. Take care!

— Fionn    Monday 2 September 2013, 7:56    #

Hi December! I came here to see if there were any news about the swap and had the good surprise to discover your new chapter. Good to see that you haved taken this story up again! Aaaaand… surprising chapter to be sure, but it’s interesting and even startling to see Pippin in such a rage towards Aragorn. How are you, honey?

— Nerey Camille    Monday 4 November 2013, 14:09    #

Oooh an update! Even though it’s been a while I remember this story so clearly (though I think I’m going to re-read it now!) – and the latest chapter is as good as the rest. Thank you! :)

— jewel    Saturday 7 December 2013, 23:47    #

All I ask from Santa this holiday season was for this fic to update. :’)

Archivist's note: Please remember not to nag authors for updates.(Or at least, not just nag without saying something nice first...) Click the Rules & Help button under the comment form for more details.
— Fionn    Wednesday 25 December 2013, 9:37    #

Oh gosh guys, thanks for the comments! I’m sorry I’d been silent: my writing email account got blocked and I didn’t get any notifications or ANYTHING for 2 months… Thanks so much for following and wanting to see more :) I’ll definitely be working on that, though to be honest I’m currently 8 months pregs, so who knows what the update schedule’s going to look like… But anyway, your support means the world to me!

— December    Friday 31 January 2014, 18:55    #

I just wanted to tell you that this is one of my top favorite LoTR fics of all time; I feel as though it captures the characters and insightfulness of Tolkien in the cultures of Middle-earth flawlessly, and that I can almost see everything happen in my mind’s eye while I read, which I thoroughly enjoy. I’ve recommended the Gifts in Small Packages to a countless number of friends who in some way, shape, or form have always found at least one aspect that fully captivates them, and for the few days onward it’s all I’ll hear about! Even if this story isn’t going to end up being continued soon, or ever for that matter, thank you so much for putting the time and effort into this work that has given me much pleasure and entertainment through a countless amount of reads. It is truly a treasured work of fiction that I often think about. I hope that everything with the baby is well! Take care and stay well & healthy. :-)

— Buttercup    Wednesday 7 May 2014, 6:35    #

Dear Buttercup,

Thank you for taking the time to write this lovely review! It’s really so very heart-warming and inspiring to see that a work of mine touches other people like that.
Thank you, life is well – and very busy! What else is new? :)

— December    Monday 19 May 2014, 2:22    #

I just discovered this and wowie, of all the LotR fanfic I’ve read in my time, this has got to the very cream of the crop. The amount of background fills it entirely with life, even though we only see it through the eyes of a hobbit who mainly stays inside tending to one other person, and it is just so full of intrusive character exploration of so many more, and enticing drama that I want more than anything to read more of. But, with that said, what’s already done here is so much more than I’ve ever seen, so thank you for writing such a beautiful work… it is definitely an amazing experience to read.

— hals_hallow    Thursday 10 July 2014, 7:20    #

Just finished reading the entire thing, and I am in love with this story and anticipatory of when you write more, which I hope will be soon. You have me quite on the edge of desperately yearning to know what takes place, and if Aragorn does anything, if Faramir does return, or if Pippin searches him out. Just write more soon, please.

— AvidReader    Monday 22 September 2014, 18:44    #

I read this front to back last night, and can I just that that this is my favorite LoTR fic of all time. It’s beautifully done, your characterization is amazing, and if you ever decide to write more, I’ll basically scream with joy. Stay wonderful!

— DiaGloGlo    Wednesday 12 November 2014, 23:00    #

Had to re-read some to catch up to Chapter 18. Not sure if I’ve seen 17 either… Poor Pippin. I don’t even know what else to say. We know his heart so much more than Faramir’s in this story—we’re seeing Faramir through Pippin. Hoping things get better for both of them.

— Bell Witch    Saturday 16 September 2017, 6:18    #

I was so happy to see an update from you to this story, as I had given up hope that it would be added on to!

That said, I feel so sorry for Faramir and Pippin, and a bit frustrated at Aragorn. I love the part where Pippin missed supper and his attitude as he goes to meet Aragorn.

I do so hope for an update soon! You have me on the edge of my seat!

— AvidReader    Monday 2 October 2017, 6:41    #

I can’t even write in words how happy this made me, reading an update for this fic! I hadn’t expected to see one but just came along to reread for sentiment’s sake, and here it is! Thank you for continuing on in your work and sharing with us. You’ve always our audience with this wonderful work.

— Fionn    Monday 4 December 2017, 0:32    #

Oh how I am so thrilled to see an update. Your voice for Pippin is just perfect..it makes me smile and hope for happiness for them all..grin.. perhaps a little much to hope. rolls around in angst like catnip

— sian22    Friday 15 December 2017, 16:00    #

Screams. How did l miss all these lovely comments? Wasn’t seeing the notification somehow? This treasure was sitting here waiting for me all this time! Anyway.
hals_hallow wow thank you so much, that some very generous praise! Yes, it’s definitely an interesting challenge, given Pippin’s position provides a rather limited view. l’m so glad you find it life-like!
AvidReader thank you so much for your kind words, and coming back to check on the story! l hope you’ve seen the latest updates as well.
Bell Witch, yeah, it’s tricky to keep track with updates spaced out like that. l wonder if l can make the reading experience more cohesive somehow? Poor Pippin indeed, l (almost) feel bad for everything he’s getting put through.
Fionn, thank you so much! To think that people actually come back just to re-read. Squee! l definitely have every intention of continuing through to the finish line, just takes time sometimes…
sian22 thank you so much! Pippin is so fun to write. Oh, l hear you, angst is my catnip too. Obviously ;)

— December    Friday 6 April 2018, 8:53    #

Incredible as always, thank you for the update!

— Fionn (millionthline)    Saturday 12 January 2019, 7:02    #

Thanks so much Fionn!!

— December    Saturday 12 January 2019, 7:15    #

I love the quality of your writing. It is emotionally deep and there are plenty of places in this story that simply shine beautifully! That being said, I would be lying if I said I liked your version of Pippen here. I don’t. His obsession with Faramir has him acting like a spoiled child having a tantrum. I could break it down to explain why but I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s onky my reaction to the character.

Romanse    Sunday 6 October 2019, 4:10    #

I am thanlful because of your return! Your stories are the drogs of my heart!

— Eve    Sunday 7 February 2021, 16:01    #

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About the Author


Greetings, fellow fan, and welcome!

What to expect to find here: All the stories are based on Book-verse for looks and personalities, although you will often find the canon bent (hehe) in terms of events. Please prepare for an unhurried, often bitter-sweet read with lots of sexual tension.

A bit about me for those interested: feisty redhead headquartered in New Zealand. Living in a wooden house in the old forest not far from the sea – probably goes some way to explain why I write what I do. Other than reading and writing, my passions are music, visual arts, travel, gardening, dance, horses, acrobatics, medieval martial arts, jewellery making, banter, and above all chocolate.

Was introduced to Tolkien at the tender age of six, was never the same since.

Always keen to collaborate with all ye good folke in the fandom. Feel free to get in touch if you’re looking for a beta reader, too. Please, also, if you’re one of the dudes in the fandom, I would really really appreciate if you could please take a moment to share a bit of your perspective on how authentically my stories portray relationships between men.

Also, if you’re looking to visit New Zealand, happy to offer a bed and breakfast (second breakfast negotiable).