"'Gandalf has been saying many cheerful things like that,' said Pippin. 'He thinks I need keeping in order.'"
-- The Fellowship of the Ring, Many Meetings
"Gandalf laughed. 'A most unquenchable hobbit! All wizards should have a hobbit or two in their care
-- to teach them the meaning of the word, and to correct them.'"
-- The Two Towers, The Palantír
I am surrounded on all sides by snarling faces, and the foul stench of the Uruk-hai is gagging me. Everywhere I look there are yellow fangs and squinting eyes. Their harsh speech hurts my ears, and the welts on my body from the whips burn and burn and burn. Where in all this madness is Merry?
I twirl around, but orc legs are all I can see. "Merry!" I cry out desperately, but the only answer I get is mocking echoes from the orcs. "Merry! Merry!" they squeal at me. I catch a glimpse of my cousin, pale and still with caked blood smeared across his forehead, and, frantic to reach him, I begin to try to push my way through their legs. But it is like trying to pass through a stone wall. They are too thick and too closely packed together. I cannot get away. In frustration, I hurl myself against a barrier of legs and fall onto the ground.
I can see nothing for a moment, and I think I must be facing the ground, but it is still dark when I lift my head. And then I can feel HIM there. I do not know where, but he is here and I am paralyzed with fear. He speaks.
"Why did you not wait for me? This pretty is all for me, you know, all for me."
"No!" I cry out, terror freezing my blood. "NO!" I must get away, I must not tell him anything, though he presses me and it hurts it hurts it hurts. I am falling to pieces all over again because I know I will never escape him and I have brought this folly upon myself, upon us all, and I cannot get away I cannot get away I cannot --
"Begone, and leave this one!" A brilliant white light pierces the blackness around me, and a booming voice reverberates in my head. "You are but a shadow, formless and meaningless, and you have no power here!"
An evil snarl answers the voice, but the white light is spreading and as it reaches me the teeth-clenching pain recedes. The light grows and grows, it is brighter and brighter, and I can see a form inside it, too beautiful to look at, too filled with life and love and wisdom for me to understand, and then there is a bone-rattling jolt and with a rush of clean air into my lungs the white figure is gone, and so is the snarling blackness, and it is only me, feeling the chill and shaking of my body.
"There, there, my Pippin. It's all right. I have you now." The gentle voice seems to wrap itself around me, easing my shivers and slowing my racing heart. "Shh, my brave lad, you are safe. I am with you and I will not let any harm come to you. There, there, I am here. Shh."
I am suddenly aware that I am being held in large arms swathed in a warm cloak, pressed against a soft beard that smells of smoke and spices. A hand strokes my back gently as the voice continues to soothe me.
"It's all right, it's safe to come back now, Pippin. There is nothing to fear while you are with me. Yes, I know, my lad, I know, it will be all right. Hush, Pippin, I have you."
I am crying, I realize, and making a pathetic noise that is half squeak and half yelp. I did not even know I could make such a sound, and I manage to quell it to hiccuping sobs. My arms are loosely about the body holding me and I tighten them.
"There, that's it, try to wake up for me. A little better, yes?"
My voice croaks a name in response, something in me instinctively recognizing the owner of this kindly voice. "Gandalf," I gasp.
"Yes, yes, it is I. You know you are safe with me, lad." The arms shift me somehow and I am pulled away from the beard so my head rests on an upper arm. "Can you open your eyes? Just a bit now."
I slowly open my eyes, which feel as if they have been mortared together. Gandalf's familiar face is peering into mine with concern, and when I look at him, he smiles kindly at me.
"Well, there you are," he says, stroking my hair gently. "How is this, now? Better?"
I nod at him, trying to convey that I am awake and better, but I do not feel I am yet able to speak. Gandalf takes a small cloth and wipes my face with it and then holds a canteen to my mouth. "Drink a little," he orders, and I obey.
My crying has stopped and I shift my weight so I am sitting upright in Gandalf's lap. I look around, trying to place myself back in the waking world by remembering where I am and what is happening. Gandalf's pack is on the ground beside us, the only sign marking our encampment, and the land is flat and empty. Something stirs behind us and I twist my head to see Shadowfax seeming almost to stand guard close by. When he sees me move, he makes a funny, low noise that is not quite a snort or a neigh and that I recognize as a sound of affection. He bumps the top of my head gently with his nose.
"It's all right," I say, my voice shaking just a bit. "I'm all right now." I turn back to Gandalf, who is looking closely into my face. "I'm better now," I say.
Gandalf smiles at me, and then his hand guides my head down to his shoulder. I sigh and press against the wizard as he tucks my blanket tighter around me. "Good. You should not have such wretched dreams, Peregrin."
I bury my hands into Gandalf's cloak, fingers gripping the material, and take one more large, cleansing breath. I am still in awe of the shining white presence I had seen in my dream, but know it could have been no one but he. "You made him go away," I say in wonderment.
"Yes, yes, but of course it was not truly him, just a dark memory of him intruding on your sleep," he answers, patting my back. "Would that I could dispel such evil so easily in the waking world."
I do not answer, but it is blaringly apparent to me now that I know nothing of what Gandalf really is, and of the great power the lies within him. I also wonder if Gandalf can see into my dreams, and if so, how often he eavesdrops on my sleep. Is he making certain my dreams are pleasant, I speculate, or is he making certain I am not contemplating further misdeeds -- he is always saying that I need keeping in order. Then I am suddenly, blindingly struck all over again with remorse for my actions at Dol Baran and for the trouble I have caused my companions.
"I am sorry, Gandalf," I say, and my voice sounds weak and trembly again to my ears.
"Oh, now, I have forgiven you, Pippin. I think you have more than learned your lesson," he answers, stroking my hair. "Do not let it trouble you anymore."
I sniffle a little. "But I am sorry for everything," I say miserably. "I have been nothing but a bother and a hindrance since the start. I do not know why I thought I could be of help to Frodo." I think of the barrowdowns, and of The Prancing Pony, and of Moria, and of Parth Galen, and I wish I had never set out from Crickhollow, nevertheless insisted upon continuing from Rivendell.
Gandalf is shaking a little and it draws me from my self-recrimination, wondering what could possibly be wrong with the wizard. I pry my face away from the security of his shoulder and look up at him. To my amazement, he is shaking with restrained laughter.
"Whatever are you laughing at?" I ask, stunned out of my self-pitying remorse.
"Oh, Peregrin," he chortles, "one of these many years I will finally learn not to let a Took accompany me on any type of serious undertaking."
I bolt upright in astonishment and indignation, releasing my hold on Gandalf. "Hoy!" I cry. "What a dreadful thing to say!"
Gandalf is outright laughing now. "But true, my lad, very true!" he exclaims. "After Gerontius, I promised myself no more Tooks, and I did very well for many years, but there you showed up with Frodo in Rivendell, and I thought, oh, it is one little hobbit. How much mischief could a sole Took possibly cause?"
"You did not think that!" I am dismayed.
"Oh, but I did indeed, my young Master Took. But, here, Pippin, I forgive you your heritage as well," he says, drawing me back to him and laying a hand on my brow. "What a dull and cheerless place would Middle-earth be without the Tooks running about meddling with other people's plans. And bless the whole clan, you always seem to come out on top."
I scowl at him. "That is a very backhanded compliment, Gandalf. You are not much comfort to me."
He laughs again, and I am so in wonder of the depths of mirth inside the old wizard that when he draws me into an embrace, I go unresisting. "You do remind me of old Gerry so, my lad," he says quietly when he has finished laughing.
"Do I?" I am genuinely surprised, for I have never heard Gandalf talk about my great-great-grandfather before. I also have never heard anyone call him "Gerry."
"Oh, yes. He was always spoiling my plans and putting himself in where he was not wanted."
"But I thought you were great friends," I answer, snuggling against his cloak and beginning to feel drowsy again.
"Indeed. He was my dearest friend in the Shire until Bilbo." Gandalf's voice has a touch of sorrow, of loss, in it now, and I wonder if he misses the Old Took. I wonder how many friends he has seen go before him over the years, and if he remembers and misses each of them.
"Tell me about him," I say. Gandalf is generally not so indulgent, but I am counting on his tenderness following the nightmare to last a little longer. I feel warm and safe and content, and think that a nice story would be just perfect right now. "Tell me about how he got into trouble."
"Hmm," Gandalf says thoughtfully, and I hope he is choosing the best story to tell me. But then he pulls me away from his chest and grips my chin with a hand. "Look at me," he says and I obediently tip my face up for scrutiny. He nods in satisfaction and then curtly lifts me off his lap and stands me on the ground.
"Gandalf!" I blurt.
"No, you are all better and we are all awake so we will be going now," he says briskly.
"Oh, but Gandalf," I begin but he cuts me off by whistling to Shadowfax, who has moved away a bit. The great horse comes dashing up to us, neighing to Gandalf and then stooping to bump my head again. I reach up to stroke his nose.
"Yes, I am better, thank you. Gandalf and I were having a very nice talk, but now he is being cross and is going to make us ride all night again," I say.
Gandalf picks me up and sets me on Shadowfax before bounding up behind me. "Did I mention that the Tooks are impertinent as well?" he says, but I can hear amusement underneath the words.
"It is part of our charm," I say, and then hurriedly add, "Will you tell me about the Old Took while we ride?"
Now Gandalf laughs aloud. "And persistent! Quite more trouble than one could imagine! No, but if you will go back to sleep and let me think, I promise that should we ever live in a time of peace again, I will tell you every story I can recall about your grandsires running amuck about Middle-earth."
I am delighted. "Really? That would be splendid, Gandalf!"
"Indeed. Now sleep," the wizard says, drawing me into his cloak and calling for Shadowfax to ride.
As we depart again on this long ride to the great city of Gondor, I grow sleepy thinking of Gandalf and Gerontius, and wonder at the wizard both saying my ancestor was a great deal of trouble but was his dearest friend. I am asleep before I have puzzled it out, and my dreams are filled with images of small, cloaked figures issuing clear laughter and hurrying to keep up with a tall form in a pointed hat.