West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
Help Unlooked For
On a walking trip with his cousins, young Pippin is injured and a mysterious stranger comes to his aid.
Author: Slightly Tookish
Notes: Written for Pipwise's birthday. Thank you so much to Dreamflower for a super-speedy and very helpful beta, suggesting the perfect title, and for reminding me of your age converter, which I used to figure out the lads' ages in "human" years. Frodo is 36, Merry is 22, and Pippin is 14 which makes them about 23, 14 and 9 in "human" years.
Pippin decided that he had never been happier than he was right now, walking with his two favorite cousins on an autumn afternoon. He felt very grown up to be taking his first walking trip across the Shire, and was even more cheered to see that the sun cast his own shadow almost as long as Frodo's and Merry's - if he walked well ahead of his cousins, of course.
"What is this place called?" he asked, craning his neck to look at the tall, towering old trees awash with red and orange and gold.
"Find it on the map," Merry replied, handing his young cousin the well-worn bit of parchment that he often consulted during their journey.
"I don't like maps, Merry," Pippin said, regarding it with a frown.
"But you still need to learn how to read one," Merry said. "It's for your own good."
"All right," Pippin said, pouting only a little as he scanned the map. They had set out from Bag End the day after Frodo's birthday and gone to Whitwell for a couple of days. Now they were on their way to Buckland and Pippin knew that meant they were travelling eastward.
After a few more moments studying the map Pippin finally ventured an answer. "Woodhall?" He immediately glanced up at Merry, seeking his approval.
"Very good!" Merry said, grinning and ruffling Pippin's curls. "I should give you a map for my next birthday."
"I'd rather have a toy," Pippin replied. His stomach rumbled loudly. "And supper," he added with an impish grin.
"Supper it is!" Frodo said with a laugh. "Let's set up our camp for the night."
The hobbits left the path and made their way through the trees. They climbed up a hill and soon found a suitable place for their camp: a small clearing, with a brook not far away.
Merry left to gather wood for the fire, and Frodo began unpacking their provisions as Pippin hovered at his elbow, watching.
"We're almost out of water," Frodo said, peering in the waterskins with a frown. "I had better go and fill these up. I'll be right back, Pippin."
"Let me do it, Frodo," Pippin said eager to prove himself useful. "I know where the stream is. I won't get lost, I promise. Besides, if I go, you can start cooking our supper," he added, his words punctuated by another loud growl from his stomach.
"All right," Frodo said, handing Pippin the waterskins. There were four of them, one for each hobbit and a spare. "Just be sure that you come right back. Don't wander off."
"I won't!" Pippin promised as he skipped off and disappeared down the hill. He soon came to the water, a brook that flowed from the Brandywine. Its banks were composed of wet, slippery stones, and Pippin had to walk very carefully across them to reach the water.
Once filled, the waterskins were too heavy for Pippin to carry at once, so he left two by the stream, intending to come back for them. The burden he carried forced Pippin to walk more slowly, and by the time he reached the camp he discovered that Merry had already returned with the wood and a small fire was burning cheerfully as Frodo prepared supper.
"No bacon?" Pippin exclaimed in dismay as he inspected the contents of the pan.
"Someone ate the last of it this morning," Merry reminded his young cousin.
Frodo had to stifle a laugh at the enormous frown pinching Pippin's face. "Where is the rest of the water?"
"It was too heavy to carry everything so I left the other two by the stream," Pippin replied. "I'll just run and get them now."
"Come back quickly," Frodo said with a teasing grin. "Or else I'm eating your supper."
Pippin good-naturedly stuck his tongue out at his cousin, but nonetheless ran down the hill. Not that he really believed that Frodo would eat his supper, of course, but he was starting to feel very hungry.
The waterskins were at the banks of the brook just where he had left them. As he bent to reach them, one of Pippin's feet slipped out from under him. Flapping his arms in an effort to stay balanced, Pippin tried to curl his toes around the wet stone but it was no use; he plunged to the ground, hitting his head on the rocks below and slipping into darkness.
A tall man clad in green and brown darted out of the woods. By chance he had been passing through the area, and had watched curiously from the shelter of the trees as the small hobbit raced down the hill. It was not often that he saw children wandering alone in this part of the Shire.
Though he always took pains to remain hidden to the Shire-folk, the moment the child slipped and fell facedown on the rocks the man raced over to his side, anxious to help. With dismay he discovered that the young hobbit was unconscious and bleeding extensively from his head.
"What is taking him so long?" Merry asked as he set out the plates. He gazed longingly at the sausages and mushrooms sizzling in the pan.
"You know Pippin," Frodo said with a grin as he turned over the sausages with a fork. "He's probably found an interesting bird or rock and got distracted. He'll be along soon enough."
"He had better," Merry grumbled hungrily. "Or I'll eat his supper."
When Pippin came awake several long moments later, the first thing he noticed were the warm, gentle arms cradling him.
"Mer?" he mumbled, reaching out an unsteady hand.
"Shh," said a strange voice. An equally unfamiliar, and very large, hand clasped his own.
Pippin's eyes snapped open and he found himself being cradled by a dark-haired and very grim-looking man. Weakly, Pippin struggled to escape but the stranger's arms around him tightened, holding him in place.
"Do not be frightened," he said, his voice quiet and kind. "You slipped on the rocks and were injured. You have a rather nasty cut on your head."
Gingerly, Pippin reached up a hand and touched the large, tender wound before quickly withdrawing his hand, which came away sticky with blood. "Hurts...," he whispered, looking at the blood in fright.
"I do not doubt it," the man replied. He shifted the hobbit in his arms, freeing one hand to rummage through his pack. "Do not be alarmed by the blood; a head injury will often bleed a great deal, even if it is just a superficial wound. Let me clean and bandage the area, and then I may assess your injuries."
Pippin's brow crinkled at the stranger's formal language, and the man caught sight of his face and smiled.
"My apologies, little one," he said, wetting a clean cloth in the stream before wiping away the blood. "I meant only to say that I shall tend your wound."
"Are you a healer?" Pippin asked, no longer afraid but curious. He watched the stranger with interest, trying to get a better look at the man's face, which was kept quite hidden by the hair hanging in his eyes as he bent his head to work.
The man glanced at him in surprise. "I am," he replied, using the cloth soaked with cool water from the brook to keep a firm amount of pressure on the still-bleeding wound. Soon the bleeding tapered off, and he wiped away the last traces of blood.
"I thought so," Pippin said. "Even if you don't look like one."
"And why is that?" the man asked in amusement as he reached into his pack and withdrew a small vial of ointment.
"You're not a hobbit," Pippin said sensibly, and with a grin.
The man chuckled. "You do have a point," he admitted, pouring a bit of the ointment onto another clean strip of cloth. "This may hurt a little," he cautioned before applying it to the wound.
Pippin bravely held still, though he flinched at the medicine's sting. "Do you live here?" he asked once the ointment was safely tucked away. Never before had he seen anyone like this man in the Shire, and his eyes widened as he noticed the stranger's belongings: an enormous bow and a quiver full of arrows, and at his waist the hilt of a sword gleamed brightly in the last rays of the sinking sun that filtered through the leaves above. Pippin wondered suddenly if the man had been in a battle like the ones he remembered from Bilbo's stories. Maybe he even came from Lake-town!
The stranger smiled at Pippin's unchecked inquisitiveness as he wound a length of bandage around the hobbit's head. "No, I do not live here in the Shire. I am merely travelling through your lands." He revealed nothing more about himself as he finished dressing Pippin's wound. "Now I need you to follow my finger without moving your head. Just move your eyes. Can you do that?"
Pippin nodded, and to his surprise his head did not hurt as much as it had just a few moments before. With his eyes he followed the man's finger, watching as it went from side to side and up and down, before finally landing on his nose with a tap, making Pippin giggle.
"It's not like Pippin to take this long to come back," Merry said, peering worriedly in the direction his cousin had gone.
"It isn't," Frodo agreed, frowning. "Especially when he is hungry." He covered the pan containing their supper with a plate and stood. "Come on, let's find him."
"We'll cover more ground if we split up," Merry said anxiously. "If Pippin wandered off he could be anywhere, and it's already almost dark."
"All right," Frodo agreed, reluctant as he was to let Merry out of his sight as well. "You go on to the stream. I'll head the other way and have a look around."
"Well, it seems that you are a very lucky hobbit," the man said, completing his examination of Pippin's vision. "I feared you would have a serious head injury, but aside from your wound you are in perfect health." He studied the hobbit closely. "Are you alone? Where are your parents?" he asked, his grey eyes concerned.
"My parents are home. I'm with my cousins. We're on walking trip," Pippin replied proudly. His eyes grew wide with alarm and with the man's help he sat up. For a long moment his head throbbed anew, before subsiding to a dull ache. "My cousins are probably very worried about me," he said when he recovered. "I promised to go right back to camp."
"I had better go with you," the man said, quickly gathering his things before he stood, helping the hobbit to stand as well. "You are in no condition to wander through the woods by yourself. Where is your camp?"
"That way," Pippin said, pointing. Hand in hand, they walked toward the hill Pippin had raced down just a short time ago.
At that moment Merry appeared at the top of the hill. Instantly he caught sight of his cousin and ran down to him, frantic with worry at the sight of Pippin's bandaged head.
"What happened?" Merry asked, hugging Pippin close and glaring at the man almost accusingly. Between the long, lank hair hanging in the man's face and the growing darkness cast by the twilight and the dense canopy of trees overhead, it was difficult for Merry to get a good look at the stranger.
"I slipped by the stream and hit my head on the rocks," Pippin said. He frowned suddenly. "I left the waterskins behind."
"They are right here. They were lying nearby when I found you, so I brought them with me," the man said, unearthing them from his pack and handing them to Merry, who was still regarding him suspiciously. He directed his next words to the older hobbit.
"I was passing through the area and happened to see your cousin fall. He is not seriously injured; he has a wound that, although it bled a great deal, did not require stitches and will heal normally. I tended to his wound, and discovered that there are no severe and lasting head injuries."
Merry looked from the man to Pippin and back again, stunned and worried and grateful all at once. "You have my greatest thanks," he said, clutching his cousin even more tightly.
"Yes," Pippin piped up, remembering his manners. "Thank you."
"We were just about to have supper," Merry continued. "Won't you join us?"
The man shook his head. "I must be going," he said. "Do take care of yourself, little one," he added, smiling at Pippin.
Pippin smiled in return, though he was disappointed to see his new friend leaving so soon. With a nod, the man swiftly strode away as Merry and Pippin watched, waving, as he soon disappeared into the woods.
"It's not normal, is it?" Merry asked anxiously.
"What's not normal?" Pippin asked, curious. No one answered for a long moment as Frodo loosened a little more of the bandages covering his young cousin's head and peered closely at the wound.
"I've never seen anything like it," he said at last, perplexed. There was a scar there, of course, beginning just above Pippin's eyebrow, snaking through his temple and disappearing into his hairline. But the gaping gash Frodo had expected to see when he had heard Pippin describe his injury simply was not there. The wound was already sealed and scabbed over, looking more like an injury that had been sustained a week, and not an hour, before.
"Pippin, tell me again about the medicine that man gave you," Frodo said. He fervently wished that he had had a chance to see this stranger, and to find out exactly how Pippin had been tended to.
"He had a tiny bottle of it in his pack, and it stung a little, but then it made my head stop hurting, and Frodo can we please have supper?" Pippin said. By now he was well past famished, and desperately wanted to fill his belly. "And do I have to wear these bandages?" he added hopefully. "They make my head itch."
"We had better keep you wrapped up for the next day at least, just in case," Frodo said, tucking the bandages back into place and ignoring Pippin's disappointed sigh.
"Even if there isn't any blood," Merry muttered to himself. "It's all very strange. What made that medicine so powerful?"
"I don't suppose we'll ever know what was in it," Frodo said as he began warming up their supper. "It's no doubt some unusual treatment designed by the Big Folk. Perhaps it was made by Elves," he added as an afterthought.
"Elves!" Pippin cried in delight, cheering instantly.
"But he was no Elf. He was a man," Merry said. "A rather grubby looking one, to be honest. It looked like he hadn't had a bath in months."
"That's not very nice, Merry," Pippin said. He frowned a little to himself; already he was finding it difficult to remember the stranger's face. "Frodo, where do you think that man came from? All he said was that he was travelling through the Shire."
"We're not very far from the East Road," Frodo said, dishing out their now-warm supper. "It's likely that he was going to or from Bree. Both hobbits and Big Folk live there, you know."
"I wonder if we'll see him again," Pippin said, eagerly accepting the plate Frodo handed to him and immediately reaching for a fried mushroom.
Neither of his cousins replied, but all three hobbits stared into the trees, chewing thoughtfully.
After the sun sank completely behind the trees, casting the woods into shadow, the hobbits cleaned up the last remnants of their supper and spread out their blankets in a cozy, comfortable pile near the bright fire. They soon dropped off to sleep, and when they woke in the morning they never discovered that in the woods a silent stranger had stood guard, protecting them in the darkness.
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