West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive

 

 

Up From The Ashes
Pippin takes Frodo on a revealing stroll through Minas Tirith.
Author: Elanor Gardner
Rating: PG
Category: Canon-General

 

Dedicated to the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina,
and to the great city of New Orleans


Everything ached. He was, in fact, one big ache, with a few twinges, and a definite pain in his shoulder -- right where he could not, for the life of him, reach to massage it away. And anyone else who could do it apparently had picked this particular moment to be off somewhere or another. He shrugged in defeat and winced when the pain flared up again. It must be the weather. It did seem a bit grey and dreary out, with a definite trace of moisture in the air. Lovely weather for fish and ducks, but Pippin Took wanted to bake his bones beneath a bit of bright, warm sunlight.

As if in response to his thoughts, a beam of light slipped through the shutters and brightened the dim room, dancing across his hauberk, draped over the table, and highlighting the cake crumbs on the tiles beneath his chair. Pippin grinned. It had been an excellent cake -- full of pieces of some kind of exotic fruit from the South. Just another of the gifts that kept showing up at the door for the beloved Pheriannath -- as soon as Minas Tirith had discovered the way to any hobbit's heart was through his stomach. The sunlight struck his foot and the warmth stirred him to move. He slid off the chair, groaning as his body protested briefly, then gritted his teeth -- a battle-hardened Guard of the Citadel could manage a walk to the back of the garden at least. That wide, sun-baked stone wall that overlooked the next level was always warm and toasty at midday. Bolstered by the fine cake and a bit of sun, he might just manage to ignore the aches and pains and finish polishing his armour.

The air that greeted him as he stepped out the kitchen door and into the garden was moist but thankfully warm, and he shut his eyes, turning toward the sun like a flower, basking in the heat for a moment before he set out on the familiar flag stone path. Sam had been here recently. The beds showed the signs of careful tending and watering -- blooming with vibrant colour and scent. Likely the gardener was off with Merry again, investigating some strange and unlikely herb that another Gondorian goodwife had brought to their attention. Pippin was still a bit taken aback at the sudden interest that Merry had taken in herb lore since his stay in the Houses of Healing. The ladies in the households around their temporary abode had quickly learned that they could lure at least two of the famous Pheriannath into their homes by mentioning some unusual plant or another languishing in their kitchen garden and then, invariably, trotting out some prized recipe and a bottle of precious old wine once they had Merry and Sam in their clutches. Grinning, Pippin had to admit that the unlikely pair always came home with their arms full of provender, in addition to the precious cutting or twist of seeds or potted plant that one or the other of them carried.

The muted sound of construction in the streets below and above their little house reached his ears -- the men of Gondor working to repair the damage done during the siege. Hammering and shouting, and sometimes the rattling of carts that hauled away the debris, provided a constant background of noise during the daylight hours. That noise, and the fact that even Pippin, given the right circumstances, could be quiet when he wanted to be, kept Frodo from hearing the sound of his cousin's approach. And that was something Pippin had been hoping for since the Coronation -- an opportunity to observe his elder cousin unawares.

"He's much improved, Mister Pippin. Every day that passes, he's more like to his old self and less--" Sam had hesitated, struggling for the right word.

"Less what, Sam?" Pippin had whispered back anxiously, watching as Frodo laughed gamely in response to one of Gimli's atrocious stories. "He's less something, that's certain. I know that every healer in the city has looked in on him, but--" Then Frodo had turned and gazed at them, and Pippin hadn't needed to voice the rest. Perhaps Frodo had everyone else fooled, but he knew that Sam, at least, could see right through that brittle smile.


Frodo wasn't smiling now as he reclined in the sun on the wide wall at the back of the garden, bracing his arms on the raised edge and resting his chin there to gaze at the street below. Pippin felt a frisson of fear when he saw the expression on Frodo's face. It was one thing to suspect that a goodly part of the smiles and laughter were a bright deception on the part of his cousin, but to see the evidence was another thing altogether. The bland expression that Frodo had been wearing for weeks was gone and there was such a look of pain there that Pippin had to bite his lip to stifle a sound of dismay.

There had been a period of days just after they had come to Minas Tirith when Sam had seemed reluctant to let Frodo get close to any high walls or window ledges -- when Frodo had seemed even more fragile, more detached. Not too long ago that had seemed to change and Pippin had rejoiced when Sam had stopped dogging Frodo's every step and Frodo had appeared to be just a bit more anchored in his skin. But still, Frodo tended to laugh at jokes just a little late and remain dry-eyed in situations when even the stoic Gimli was moved to tears. Pippin thought that his elder cousin seemed brittle and broken -- and balanced on the edge of something.

Pippin was pleased when he managed to scale the steps to the top of the garden wall and sink cross-legged beside Frodo with only the slightest grunt of pain. He was gratified that Frodo didn't turn away from him, or, in fact, even flinch. Perhaps Frodo had known he was there all along -- which shouldn't really surprise Pippin at all.

Frodo remained completely still as Pippin slid his arm around the too thin shoulders and leaned forward to see what Frodo was watching so intently below. The street beneath them was a bustle of activity. A shop selling bread was just down to the right, almost hidden by a dusty tree that shaded the entrance. Pippin could see that the shopkeeper still had the door closed to keep out the powdery dust and ash that filled the air -- unusual in Minas Tirith where doors were normally replaced with decorative bead curtains during the day. It must be stifling in there, what with the heat from the huge ovens in the back, Pippin thought. But at least there was now enough flour and enough bread -- for a while there everything had been horribly scarce.

Pippin could hear the sound of water from the fountains that he knew were just below them and to the left. If you leaned forward just enough, you could see the columns surrounding the washing pools, now hung haphazardly with old blankets to keep down the dust. The absence of chatter and laughter told him the women had finished their morning washing and likely departed carrying baskets mounded with clean linens and towels -- after exchanging every bit of gossip available to them as they walked their laundry up and around the cascading water. Pippin had actually gone down there, after Gimli had remarked on the design, just to watch as the ladies used the lowest pool, just above the drain, for washing, then gradually worked their way up to the fresh, clean water flowing in from the spring for the final rinse. The pools even had corrugated washboards cut into the edging stone. He smiled remembering how long it had taken the giggling women to get past the fact that the famous Ernil i Pheriannath was just sitting there watching them do laundry.

But across the road from the fountain, the siege had done its worst. A fiery missile launched by some ugly war machine on the plains below had obliterated half of a row of shops and the homes above them. That was where the workmen were busy carting off debris, setting aside stone for reuse, and chopping up partially burnt timbers and furniture -- likely for firewood. The stench of charred wood and burnt paper and singed leather was very strong in the air today. And Pippin realized what had drawn Frodo's gaze, and shaken his cousin's fragile composure.

Two figures knelt beside a wooden pallet that had been placed in front of the shop -- or what was left of the shop. One was a woman dressed head to toe in dusty black. The other was a young girl -- barely a teen he thought, but he still wasn't as good with human ages as he could be -- also in black garb, but with nothing covering her frizzy, braided hair. As he watched, one of the men, covered in soot and dust, emerged from the shop carrying something heavy in his arms. He placed his burden on the pallet, glanced at the women, and then went over to a hook on the wall to retrieve a ladle. Wiping his eyes and pulling down the kerchief that covered the rest of his face, he crossed the street below them and went out of view. Likely to get a good drink of fresh water from the fountain below, and pour some over his head as well.

The pallet was already stacked high with books and parchment -- black with soot and singed by flames -- some irretrievably ruined. The woman and her daughter -- Pippin assumed -- were going through the stacks, piece by piece, and carefully examining each item to determine if it could be saved. Some were set back on the pallet, pages crumbling to ash. Some were handled with reverence, dusted cautiously, and placed in a wooden crate.

A bookshop. Pippin saw the singed sign now, propped against the wall, a corner broken off and fresh wood showing through where it had likely hit the cobbles or bounced off the wall below when the shop was struck. It was barely legible, but, with a cold thrill of recognition, he saw the name: Amon Dîn -- in letters that had once been flame red -- Books and Prints. Amon Dîn.

It was obvious to him now, knowing what to look for in the dusty depths of the building, that the shop had been quite well stocked with shelves and cases full of leather-bound books and art prints and empty journals -- and likely ink and quill pens and paper. There was a nice shop like that in Tuckborough, and in Bywater as well, if he recollected correctly. He squinted to peer through the dusty shafts of sunlight piercing through the remains of the top floor to the first floor. Far back in the shop, likely where the best stock had been kept behind the counter, there was a splash of colour, vivid against the oily grey soot.

Flowers. A bouquet placed reverently on the floor in an area that had been cleared long before -- likely in those dark days following the siege when there had been desperate excavations to find the living and to retrieve the dead. Undoubtedly the shop owner had barricaded himself in the shop and sent his family up into the higher levels of the city, or they had somehow otherwise miraculously escaped the horrors of that night. As he watched the widow and her daughter sorting through what was left of their life, Pippin remembered the fire raining from the sky and the screams he had heard in the city streets around him that night. He hoped it had been the initial impact that took husband and father from them in one blow.

"Pippin?"

He realized that Frodo had felt him shiver and looked over to see those hollow eyes turned to his questioningly.

"I-- I was remembering that night. The night--" Pippin began, then looked back down at the shop. "The night so many died in Minas Tirith."

"They are left with only ashes." Frodo's voice was flat and defeated.

Pippin swallowed, remembering the taste of oily smoke -- and fear.

"I saw the sign and for just a moment I could smell The Dusty Tome in Bywater -- that scent of old leather and new ink and paper and book dust," Frodo went on. "Then I realized, even if they do rebuild, it will always smell of ash and soot -- charred and oily. It gets up your nose and you can't be rid of it -- you are never really rid of it."

Pippin looked back down at the sign, recalling the horrid smell in the tombs that awful night. He would never forget that stench and how, for days afterward, he had snorted water up into his nose trying to rid himself of the stink and the memory. Then he looked at Frodo and thought of the Mountain that stood to the east -- smouldering and cooling slowly -- no longer belching sulphurous fumes.

"It will take them so very long to rebuild," Frodo went on. "There cannot be enough men or raw materials to repair so much damage. And some things are just-- You cannot replace some things. They are gone -- forever." Frodo lowered his chin back to his arms once more, gazing at the sad scene below them.

Pippin thought about the ash and soot in the shop and in the street and the black-garbed figures below and that accursed Mountain, then grimaced and steeled himself. "You know, Frodo, you promised me that -- when you felt up to it -- you would take a stroll to see the bits of Minas Tirith you haven't seen yet. Remember? You seem rather fit to me today, so let's go for an amble about."

"What?" Frodo lifted his head, blinking owlishly up at him.

"I said," he grasped Frodo's arm. "There is this vendor up on the top level that sells these flaky sweets -- layers of pastry with nuts and sweet syrup and spice and I am mad for one, but I don't want to hike up there all by myself."

"Pippin, I--"

"Need to get out and about a bit. You know that Ara-- I mean, the King said that you needed to get out and move about a bit more and that he would have all our hides if we didn't see to it that you did, and I, for one, prefer to keep my hide, scarred up and stretched out though it may be, so you are going with me on a walk."

"I really don't--"

"Want to. I know. But will you please anyway? I really am desperate to get out of this place and there is a view that you really must see." He tugged anxiously on Frodo's arm. "And now that I have thought of them, I may expire very soon if I don't have one of those pastries."

"Pippin, really--"

"Please, Frodo? I never get you to myself any more. Sam is always about. Or Merry." He put on his best 'poor neglected tweener cousin' face. "We never have any time together, like we used to before--" Pippin frowned, "I just want my favourite old cousin back for a bit, that's all."

Pippin winced as a pained look crossed Frodo's face. "I-- I suppose it is a--" Frodo seemed to make up his mind and smiled resignedly. "All right then. We will walk for a bit." The brittle smile was back, but at least Pippin knew his cousin was in there -- somewhere.

***


Pippin took a big bite out of his pastry as they stood on the landing of one of the terraced staircases that wound from one lane up through the walls of houses and shops to the next above. This particular set of stairs was well tended by the surrounding householders -- the pavestones were immaculate and the landing held huge clay pots full of blooms. In addition, there was a lovely view of the city below from here -- a part of Minas Tirith that had been repaired early on because of its proximity to the Citadel. And there was a gaggle of children running about in a side yard below them, playing some game that didn't appear to have any rules at all except tag and run and laugh and tag again.

So far his hip hadn't twinged at all, and even Frodo seemed to be holding up well to their little trek. Still far too pale and hollow-eyed, Frodo did seem to be getting his old wind back as the days passed -- and he had actually conceded that the exotic pastries were delicious, just as Pippin had promised. Frodo stood on the landing in the sunshine nibbling on his second.

Pippin watched his cousin thoughtfully. Frodo had even gone so far as to promise the shopkeeper that they would stop back by on their way home and take a bag of the pastries 'to the other brave Pheriannath'. Yes, this trip would definitely be worth any aches or pains that resulted.

Pippin looked back up the stairs and grimaced, rubbing at a sudden kink in his back. If he recalled correctly, it was one turn north, then back west again then two more turns to their goal. He thought about the streets and back alleys that he had learned far too well in the days before and after the siege. At least they had only been required to go through one of the tunnels, the way he had worked out their little 'stroll'. Frodo and Sam both seemed averse to going near tunnels in general and equally reluctant to explain why, but the tunnels through the great rock were well lit in both daylight and dark and Frodo seemed to have become accustomed to them.

They turned at the head of the stairs, Frodo following Pippin without saying a word, fascinated by the sights around him: an old woman sitting in a doorway doing embroidery, a youngster sprawled on a step attempting to whittle some animal-like shape, a young woman carefully planting seeds in a window box, and a hen squawking wildly away down the cobbles followed by a red-faced girl.

Pippin heard the whispers and saw the faces appearing at windows as they passed, but was relieved that no one tried to stop them or offer them gifts. There had only been a few faint shouts of "praise to the Halflings!" and "long live the Ringbearer" on their trek thus far -- and thankfully no one had bowed deeply or touched their foreheads in reverence, which invariably disturbed Frodo.

Pippin led them left into a wide alley and looked up in surprise. Colourful apparel was strung from window to window above them, crisscrossing the street like so many flags. Flowers spilled from every possible nook and cranny and trailed from the windows above as well. He tilted his head at what sounded like the faint ring of chimes in the breeze. Hearing Frodo make some noise, Pippin turned expecting to see his cousin enjoying the wild display of clothing, but instead Frodo was looking up the alley.

Pippin followed his gaze and they both watched as a brightly coloured ball that jingled and chimed as it rolled came to a stop in the middle of the alley. It was followed closely by a giggling blur of colour that seemed to be jingling as well, and turned into a wiry, dark-haired toddler of indeterminate age wearing a vest trimmed with coins. The youngster caught sight of the two unusual creatures standing nearly on his front porch and snorted in surprise, startling himself so much that he almost fell down, his eyes turning into great round saucers and his lower lip trembling dangerously. Frodo made an odd noise that Pippin realized was a strangled laugh and then smiled a smile that startled both the boy and Pippin with its brilliance. The youngster relaxed and smiled tentatively back, then stooped to retrieve his ball, never taking his eyes off them both as he ran back into the doorway. Frodo looked up then, almost laughing as he spied the laundry that they were walking beneath. Pippin smiled broadly as a small dark face peeked out of the decorative beading in the doorway as they passed. A firm whisper in a language that Pippin had only heard in court came from the room beyond, but Pippin did recognize the word for Halfling and watched as the boy's dark eyes grew wide.

"So, how much further?" Frodo asked after a moment.

"Are you tiring then, old cousin?"

"No, not really. I-- I didn't realize there were so many children in Minas Tirith," Frodo responded. "It is-- I enjoy seeing them."

"Well, you attend only official functions and feasts and then you stay in the house all the day. What do you expect? The city is full of children," Pippin responded matter-of-factly, knowing that Frodo hadn't really seen any children for months.

Frodo seemed to remember that he was holding a half finished pastry in his hand and bit into it with some enthusiasm. As they turned into the street above, Frodo finished his pastry and licked at his fingers, then dusted them off.

"You see, I was right -- you need to get out and about more. It definitely improves your appetite and I know that A-- that the King will take to force feeding you soon if you don't start gaining back some weight." Pippin said, ignoring Frodo's grimace. "I know some other wonderful vendors in other parts of the city -- and not just sweets."

"I am surprised. There was such a shortage of food when we first arrived here," Frodo responded solemnly. "People were lined up for flour and there was foul water in some places. I remember that there was very little milk for a while. It felt wrong to have cream in our tea or even a proper bath, when babies--"

"That was just temporary, Frodo." Pippin frowned. "Foodstuffs have been pouring in. The port is open and ships are coming from all over. Oh, there are some things still in short supply, but--" He looked at the bewildered expression on Frodo's face. "People from everywhere have been sending gifts of grain, milk cows, fruit, game. And everyone has sent workers and supplies to help rebuild."

Pippin took Frodo's arm, ignoring the look on his face as they walked on. "Why, I have heard Fara-- I mean the Steward -- speak of rebuilding Osgiliath. You should hear him talk about the grand festivals they had there once -- music and dancing, feasting and even fireworks, like Gandalf's! And shows with jugglers and acrobats and magicians and all manner of strange and exotic beasts as well."

Some of the stately houses and buildings they were passing now showed signs of having been empty for quite a while. But there were small ornamental trees in carefully tended pots lining the walkway in front of one newly painted building and boxes of flowers hung from the windows of another. Muted sounds of conversation and laughter came from behind the partially opened shutters, and the smells of something spicy and delicious wafted out an open door, blending with the sweet scent of a garden in bloom.

The vastness of the great rock rose back to their left, rising up to the final level of the Citadel, with the White Tower just barely visible above it and the great cliffs of Mindolluin rising ahead of them. If Pippin had his bearings, it was just one more lane over.

"The view from somewhere near here must be quite breathtaking." Frodo was looking up.

"It is," Pippin replied. "Through here." They cut down a lane between two of the empty houses, past gated-walls enclosing plots of freshly tilled earth and carefully tended rows of green plants. Wild vines spilled into the roadway and crawled up the walls, heavy with red trumpet-shaped blooms and humming with bees.

The lane split, one path leading downward and the other up a series of rough stone steps cut just slightly too tall for a hobbit's legs. Frodo turned and looked at Pippin questioningly.

"It's not far up there, really! Merry actually found it on one of his garden expeditions. The view is quite worth the climb." Pippin suddenly remembered with a shudder the stories of the horrible crawl up near-vertical stairs and the trek over razor-sharp rocks that Sam had shared and hoped that he hadn't made a terrible mistake bringing Frodo this way. Perhaps he should have led them up to one of the Citadel's more manicured viewing spots on the rock above.

"Well -- if Merry climbed it, then I certainly can." Frodo said matter-of-factly, turning to go on, and Pippin breathed a sigh of relief.

Taking their time, they managed to scramble up the steps to emerge onto what appeared to be an outcropping between the great wall of rock and the lane below. It wound upward along the rock and turned into a narrow balcony of flagstone, arching above the houses and gardens beneath. The flowering vine covered everything, and seemed to have been carefully trained to do so. There was a bench cut into the stone and a carefully tended container of flowers as well. Clearly the balcony was designed just for what they were there to do -- and the view was, as Frodo had guessed, breathtaking. It afforded a view of the cliffs of Mindolluin above, the city below, and the plains beyond without any obstruction.

Pippin stood leaning on the wall, breathing harder than he should be after just that small ascent. It had been from a lane just below them that Gandalf had sent him off to climb to the beacon, Pippin remembered with a pang. How very terrified he had been that day, and how determined to prove himself -- to rid himself of the feeling that he had done nothing to help and much to hinder the quest, that he had endangered his own kin and all of Middle-earth with his blunders. Perhaps this was yet another mistake, bringing Frodo here.

"Oh," Frodo said simply, turning to take in the view behind the city that they had rarely seen in daylight, and never unobstructed -- until now.

They were quiet for long minutes as Frodo gazed at the ornate stone buildings in The Hallows. Muted sounds rose to them from the streets below: the laughter of children at play, the sounds of construction, a woman singing as she worked, some kind of fowl muttering in a yard, and, from somewhere, a penny whistle.

Pippin closed his eyes and just listened. The tune wasn't familiar, but just the sound reminded him of his own penny whistle, tucked away long ago in a carved wooden box of treasures somewhere in his room at home. Treasures -- precious things and memories and -- loved ones. The forlorn figures in front of the destroyed bookshop had made him, for just a panicked moment, envision Great Smials in ruins -- smoking and gutted. It was a vision that had dogged him since Fangorn. He sent a fervent hope heavenward once again that the Shadow had never reached the Shire, that no oily ashes drifted across his homeland. Opening his eyes, he caught his breath at the look on Frodo's face as a flock of birds rose up from somewhere below them and circled up toward the mountain. Pippin watched as Frodo's eyes followed them up and up.

Then Frodo went suddenly pale. Pippin knew what he had spied in the distance.

"You-- You climbed up there, Pip?" Frodo choked out, staring up at the distant stone parapet.

Pippin turned to face him. "Yes," Pippin replied simply, gesturing upward. "Back when I told you about it, you asked me to bring you to see it. So, here we are."

Frodo suddenly backed up and sat down hard on the bench, gazing down at his hands.

Pippin followed anxiously, kneeling down and grasping Frodo's arms. "Frodo?"

Oh dear. He had done it again.

"Promise me something, Pippin," Frodo said in a strained, thin voice.

"What?" Pippin knew his voice sounded tight and tense.

Frodo lifted his eyes to Pippin's and cupped Pippin's face with his fingers -- his very cold fingers. Pippin quickly lifted his own hands to cover Frodo's.

"Do not ever do anything like that again. Ever." Frodo recited flatly.

Pippin smiled with relief. This he could handle. About the only way to deal with Frodo's guilt was to smile inanely and keep smiling. It seemed to dissolve all the arguments and discussion points that followed, invariably leading to the fact that Frodo caused Merry's injuries (not the Witch King), Frodo nearly killed Pippin (not the troll), and Frodo almost led Sam to his death (Sam had nothing to say about the matter). Pippin was fairly certain that Frodo only conceded those arguments to avoid the more important one -- the one about Frodo saving Middle-earth by accident. However, Pippin was aching again and really didn't want to kneel on the blasted cold rock while they went through it all one more time.

He leaned forward, pulling Frodo's hands down to his lap and covering them with his own.

"I will promise. But only if you promise me something, cousin."

Frodo frowned at him.

"Promise me that you will not climb up any more mountains belching fire and ash -- oh yes -- and spouting lava -- or dress up as an orc in the middle of Mordor -- or ride about on a giant eagle with all these flaming rocks flying through the air --"

Frodo blinked.

"Or consort with masked men in the forest -- armed masked men -- or decide to have a picnic right in the path of stampeding oliphaunts -- or--"

Frodo's lip quirked.

"Get yourself thoroughly skewered by a cave troll -- or--" Pippin leaned forward. "Hide in Pearl's clothespress to see if she really does have a mole on her--"

Frodo snorted in spite of himself and his eyebrows went up. "Pippin!"

Pippin grinned. "Well, that is a dangerous thing to do." He poked at Frodo's chest with his finger. "Old cousin."

Pippin was pulled up onto the bench and quite thoroughly crushed in a surprisingly strong embrace before he could respond. Then he was kissed -- quite chastely -- on the nose; Frodo couldn't quite reach his forehead since he had grown so.

Pippin frowned, resisting the urge to scrub at his nose.

"Oh Pippin. If you fell from the top of the White Tower all the way down to the Great Gates you would likely bounce up and laugh to tell of it later."

Pippin was startled to see tears in Frodo's eyes, but Frodo was smiling -- rather broadly in fact. That was a relief.

"Well, I do not plan to try that any time soon," Pippin responded and grinned. "At least not before tea."

Frodo ran a gentle finger down Pippin's cheek. "I do love you, Peregrin Took. Have I told you that lately?"

Pippin covered the cool fingers with his own. "Not enough, but perhaps I shall have to work at hearing it more." He smirked and kissed Frodo firmly on the lips.

"You are what Uncle Bilbo would call an incorrigible scamp," Frodo said quickly when Pippin pulled away.

"And proud of it."

"Now, what did you really bring me here for, besides extracting all manner of promises from me--"

"That you undoubtedly will not keep."

Frodo snorted and shook his head, leaning back.

Pippin looked up at the distant parapet and saw tiny figures moving about, as promised.

"Aragorn--" he shook his head, "I mean the King told me that they were renovating the beacons and that he would be recruiting and training Wardens once more for all of them. The whole structure -- the way it worked and the tending of the beacons -- had fallen into disrepair. It was amazing that it worked at all." Pippin did not want to think about that too closely. He gazed up at the distant figures, busy at work. "He thought I would want to know. You know, he was the one who saw the beacon in Rohan." He smiled, remembering Aragorn's enthusiastic response at hearing that Pippin had been the one to scale the cliffs and light the beacon above Minas Tirith in defiance of the Steward. The King had knelt down and grasped Pippin's arms firmly in his big hands, squeezing a bit too hard -- 'I am not in the least surprised, my foolhardy hobbit. Not surprised at all.'

"Renovating them? But--" Frodo stood once more and went over to lean on the wall, peering up at the distant outthrust rock. "Why? Does he anticipate needing them again?"

Pippin followed, standing behind Frodo and leaning over to wrap his arms around him from behind, resting his chin gently on Frodo's shoulder.

Looking up at the distant workmen, Pippin tried to remember the exact words that Aragorn had used when he spoke of the beacons. "He said that he hopes that he never has to use them and that many generations of Wardens come and go before any King has a need to light them ever again, except perhaps in celebration and remembrance. But many of his people -- even the Rohirrim -- live within view of a beacon and will never travel to Minas Tirith or Osgiliath -- will never see the beauty of the Tower of the Setting Sun restored once more. So the King is not just training the Wardens or replacing the fuel, but refurbishing the great buildings that house the beacons as well, to ensure that each of them will shine forth even in the daylight to remind everyone of the need to stand together and come to each other's aid in time of need."

Frodo stood quietly in the circle of Pippin's arms for a long moment as they watched the bustle of work in the distance.

"That was well said, Pippin," Frodo whispered.

Pippin smiled proudly, "I know."

"They are carting away the ashes very carefully, aren't they," Frodo said after a while.

"Yes. Merry tells me even the ashes are useful. Something about the soil here needing something in the ashes. And once they are done with mixing it in and letting it sit for a while, you can't even smell it to realize that it was once ashes and soot." Pippin grinned. "It's beyond me, but Sam says that it is the reason the flowers are so plentiful and healthy--" he looked around them at the evidence clambering over the rocks. "And beautiful."

"They are that," Frodo said softly.

"If you look there, you can almost see them working on Amon Dîn as well." Pippin pointed off in the distance.

Frodo's gaze followed Pippin's finger and he leaned forward, squinting in the sun. "Yes. I can see it. The glint of the sun there," he said quickly. "Amon Dîn."

Pippin waited, expectantly.

"Amon Dîn," Frodo repeated quietly. "The bookshop was named for the beacon."

"Is," Pippin said firmly, hugging Frodo closer. "Is named for the beacon."

Frodo stood quietly for a moment in his arms and Pippin gazed at the distant flicker and movement that marked Amon Dîn. But he could just as easily picture, if he closed his eyes, a sad and broken bookshop full of soot -- an ugly blackened hulk of cinders that stood smouldering and sullen to the east -- and the hollow look in his cousin's blue eyes. He took a deep breath.

"I imagine that flowers will one day grow even on the slopes of Mount Doom." Pippin was quite proud that his voice only shook a bit. "Beautiful things can rise up from the ashes, you know."

There was the slightest sigh from the slender form he held in his arms and after a moment Frodo's head sank back onto Pippin's shoulder. His eyes were closed. "Rise up from the ashes," he whispered.

Pippin smiled. "Or bounce up."

Frodo laughed.

***


From somewhere in the depths of the building, a voice was chanting something about 'dust and grime' and 'broom and rhyme', but there was such a clamour of bells and chimes and all manner of noise-making instruments around them that Pippin really couldn't make out the words as the singer swept fiercely at the interior of her shop. As he understood the ritual, she was sweeping the floor with a mixture of salt and herbs, while she chanted -- all purported to banish evil and ensure a beautiful smell as well; no hint of smoke or soot would remain here.

Pippin looked up. A brand new sign swung from the metal fittings on the second story of the building, proudly proclaiming that this was "Amon Dîn - Books and Prints" and decorated with a beautiful painting of the beacon tower itself.

His arms were full of foodstuffs and bottles of wine, so he could only whistle loudly to assist in the banishing of spirits, but he did so with great enthusiasm from his perch on the fountain steps. He glanced over at Frodo, who stood beside him, equally burdened with housewarming gifts, smiling broadly at all the commotion around him -- his eyes bright and his cheeks pink with excitement.

Grinning happily, Pippin leaned forward to gaze above them where Merry sat on the garden wall beating on a pan with a large ladle and Sam stood tossing flower petals down on the crowd. Merry, spotting Pippin below, waved wildly with his ladle, then went back to noisemaking -- something Merry did quite well, especially with a nice bellyful of ale to encourage him.

Pippin laughed.

The last of the salt was swept vigorously from the doorway with an exclamation of "Be gone, be GONE!" and the broom was flourished threateningly in the air to ensure whatever had been banished wouldn't dare return. The shop owner lowered her brand new broom and stood, breathing hard, in the doorway. She was still dressed in black, although her head was no longer covered -- her dark hair braided in a beautiful design just for this occasion -- and her dress was no longer stained with ash and soot. She smiled at the crowd and, of course, they only responded by making even more noise, ensuring no evil or hint of shadow would remain within those walls.

When the noise finally died away, she curtsied formally to them all, clearing her throat nervously.

"Blessings be on you--" at this she stopped and gestured to her daughter, who stood at the front of the crowd, to join her. Mardina, who Pippin knew quite well by now, ran up and tucked herself under her mother's arm, blushing madly.

"Blessings be on you all. We offer you only our simple thanks for your strong arms and willing hearts, your joyful s-- your joyful music and song, and your savoury food and sweet wine." Melian recited the memorized ritual carefully, only stumbling once, her expression intent and her voice shaking. "Please now enter and fill this abode with strength and laughter and light to forever banish the darkness."

The crowd erupted once more with noise and the air was white with flower petals from above. Pippin grinned at Sam's extravagance, and then watched as Melian seemed to realize that the most difficult part of the celebration was past and smiled broadly in response to all the excitement.

But no one moved forward to enter the shop doorway. The crowd seemed to hesitate, noise making and laughter dying down to a low mutter of sound. Pippin frowned. He was unfamiliar with the ritual, but it seemed to him that they should go in now.

Then the crowd appeared to part when those in front glanced back, as if looking for the first who should enter. Pippin glanced around, wondering who that might be -- then he realized that they were looking at Frodo and at him.

Oh my, this was not good. Frodo's smile had disappeared and Pippin held his breath, sincerely hoping that no one even whispered the words 'Ringbearer' or 'Ernil i Pheriannath'.

"My dear friend -- Frodo Baggins!" Melian's voice rang out joyfully as she caught sight of the two of them through the parting crowd, "Please, do me the honour of being the first to enter my home. And you as well, Peregrin Took! Please?"

Pippin waited tensely.

"No true hobbit will ever turn down the chance of being the first to get at all this savoury food and sweet wine, my dear lady!" Frodo exclaimed, grinning joyfully, and hopped off the fountain steps to scamper through the crowd.

Pippin let out his breath and laughed, following quickly in Frodo's steps. He registered some kind of derisive noise from the wall above them, but did not even attempt to determine what Merry was yelling down at them.

Frodo reached the doorway and executed a perfect deep bow. "Blessings on your home and your business, Mistress Melian. My gift is neither food nor wine nor music nor song," he said in a soft voice, that everyone in the crowd could somehow easily hear. "It is light."

He held forth a stack of books and Melian's face lit up.

"Oh, how very wonderful!" She reached out and took them, fingering the gilt letters on the leather cover of the top volume. "A History of the
Beacons of the North," she recited for the benefit of the crowd, her smile softening. "Oh Frodo, how very perfect a gift. I thank you."

Maridan grinned at Pippin happily as he handed her a wheel of fine Gondorian cheese, a box of fruit from the South, two bottles of wine from the Steward's best cellar, and a carefully wrapped package of nutty, spiced pastries that he planned to find and enjoy later.

As the crowd in the street clapped in appreciation, Melian set the books down and took Frodo's and Pippin's hands, bending down to whisper so that only they and her daughter could hear. "I thank you for all your help in restoring 'Amon Dîn' to what it once was. You are true friends and you bring a special light into my home. Welcome!"

Frodo grinned back at Pippin as he let go of Melian's hand and walked into the bookshop, looking around in delight.

Pippin lingered for a moment at the door, wondering if anyone else in the crowd behind them noticed that, standing in the shadowed depths of the newly restored building, Frodo shone out over them all like a beacon.

******


FINIS

 

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