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The Decoy Hobbit  by storyfish

Disclaimer:  Pip and Beregond and hill-trolls and Aragorn and Gandalf and eagles and Merry and Frodo and etc are sooo not mine.

Author's Notes: This is my first ever LOTR fanfic! Written for Marigold's Challenge #19, to include these 4 elements in a hobbity story: S. Pippin fighting, T. A broken leg, O. Cormallen, R. Denethor. Many thanks to Marigold, for giving me incentive to leap into the wide world of hobbity-authordom and then kindly beta-ing the results. :-)

-----

I.

Through the greasy black of torch-smoke and clouds of dust, I see the Black Gate. And beyond that's Mordor, and army upon army of orcs, and the fire-rimmed peak of Mt. Doom, and Frodo and Sam, if their bodies still have breath.

Our guard uniforms are sweat-stained now, and battered by blows. But Beregond and I've worked out a system, and woe to any orc who's brave or daft enough to try us.

I dart in first, below swords held up man-height, jabbing at legs and gut. Then while the orc's all tied up trying to squash yours truly (The Decoy Hobbit Extraordinaire!), Beregond swoops in and lops his ugly head off.

It's a fine system. Hasn't failed us yet. And truly, it's not the awfullest thing, being a decoy hobbit. I've had loads of practice, after all.

That's since I'm always hanging about those bigger than I. Tagging after Merry and Frodo, my feet learning all on their own that little hop-skip forward at the end of every few steps that'd catch me up to them. Running through tall Shire grasses, calling, "Merry, Frodo! Wait for me!" before tackling one of them--Merry, usually--to the ground.

That's all a decoy is, after all. A distraction. And I was always grand at that. All I ever had to do was show my wee jammy face round a corner and Frodo and Merry wouldn't be in such a hurry to leap into books and dull conversations and their foothair greying before their
times.

So it's not all that different, keeping up with these big Men and warriors, wizards and the like. Only now my game is to distract all evil and sundry before they sniff out our bravest (my own cousin!) and all of Middle-earth falls into blackness and despair. And not to brag, I'm especially good at this game. I mean I should be--I've got all sorts of practice. There in the shadow of Amon Hen, Merry and I going, "Hoy, you! Ugly orcish fellows! Over here!" and leading them on a merry (Ha!--Merry) chase away from Frodo. And then there was also that time I let on I had the Ring, with Grishnįkh. Oh, and that other time, when I had a little chat with the Dark Lord himself and Gandalf had to whisk me off to Minas Tirith.

So, if I do say so myself, my times as The Decoy Hobbit Extraordinaire! have included some of my finer moments of strategy and wit. Though it does have its downsides. Namely, in drawing all things grimy and gruesome away from the real heroes, I draw them to me first. And speaking of--

"Peregrin!" Beregond shouts, and I whirl so I'm not skewered by an ugly, warty brute wielding a great iron pike.

Up goes my sword as I duck another blow, one that scrapes along my shoulder, rending the sleeve of my uniform and tearing a deep red gash into my arm.

"Pip--!" goes Beregond again, as I stagger. But I've got it under control, up on my feet, one-two, and I'm too close for the orc to use the pike again as my blade slashes the ropy tendons near his heels. It's the brute's turn to stagger, and up goes my blade, into his gut,
just as good old Boromir taught me.

I step back as Warty falls, trying not to look at the warm red spreading down my sleeve or the black on my sword. That was close. A little warning to keep my mind on the battle, unpleasant as it is, everything smelling of iron and blood, and under that, a rotting whiff of sulphur from the fires of Mt. Doom.

I run a dry tongue cross cracked lips, standing back-to-back with Beregond as we parry the blows of the Mordor crew. Dust and heat and despair. That's all there is in Mordor; that's all there is before these gates. Ah, Frodo! I'd spend the rest of my life having tea with the whole lot of Sackville-Bagginses just to wet my lips on a tall mug of ale now, if only to remind this gauze in my mouth it was once a tongue. And you, do you have water where you are now? I hope so, though I'm not so foolish as to believe there's ale or tea in Mordor. After all, it's not all cheers and glory being a hero, is it, Frodo? No, I'm not so young as to believe that anymore.

Seven more orcs lie dead around us; a brief respite. A strong hand rests on my shoulder.

"Are you well, Peregrin?" Beregond asks, as his eyes cut to mine, once. Just long enough for me to see his concern at the blood still a-running away, down my arm. Then he turns back to the oncoming orcs, sword ready.

"Aye," I fairly whisper. Don't mind the blood, truly, long as I can still swing my sword. It's the speaking that's a sore trial, my throat thick with worry for Frodo and Sam. And Merry, left behind, with the chill creeping through his bones and no hobbits' laughter to warm it away....

Mind the battle, Pip, I tell myself.

So up goes my sword to scrape the middle of another snarling grub faced minion. He grunts, rears back, and takes a swipe at me with his claws--only to become well-acquainted with the point of Beregond's blade.

Ah, but sometimes it's a hard thing, a dark thing, knowing I'm just a decoy hobbit. Because what good can I do them, Frodo and Merry and Sam, here at the end of all things?

All is dark. For a moment, the field is still. Then the next wave of orcs breaks around us.

And maybe now, blood on hand and hand on sword and sword on sword, maybe I'm growing up. Because it's just struck me that some questions might have no answers. And perhaps other times the answers hurt so deep it's better not to ask the questions at all.

But seeing as I've already asked the question, I answer the only way I can.

I am what I am, so here I stand. A decoy hobbit in a decoy army, all of us thumbing our noses at the Dark Lord to distract him from my cousin (if he still lives, please let him live) and that horrible Ring.

...


Hill-trolls.

Bigger than Bilbo's trolls, the stones we saw with Strider, carpeted with moss and wreathed in vines. Bigger than the cave-troll of Moria, whose heavy spear nearly got Frodo. Aye, and they're uglier too, baked by the hot rivers of fire that flow from Mt. Doom, thick grey hides hanging loosely over muscles and sinews.

We are weary; my hand's numb on the hilt of my sword and Beregond's breath is heavy in my ear. Still, our remnant regroups the best we can, forming a rather flimsy wall of black and silver trees. Then we wait.

The trolls rush from the gate, through the hordes of orcs that brandish hooked swords high. Above them, the Eye sweeps the field and the trolls' broad backs are illuminated blood-red by His gaze, a fell light that moves closer, almost upon us now--

Then, blistering heat. As if the sun's broken the grey of clouds and smoke above us, burning with malice towards all that's living and good. But I know this, I've felt this before, the scorching fire, blinding pain. Oh, Merry!

The flames swallow me up just like they swallowed Denethor, and all, all is lost, Merry, I'm lost--

And I know. So you have come back?

The Eye is upon us. I will send for it at once.

There is no escape. Do you understand? Say just that!

"Peregrin!" Beregond says, and I open my eyes. The Eye has moved on, down the field.

"Peregrin! Pippin! Don't you ever say anything else? I'm fine, I tell you," I say, with what I hope's a devil-may-care Tookish grin. But sometime, perhaps ages ago, I'd fallen to my knees, and now he jerks me to my feet. The field and gate and dead and sky swim in my sight.

"Steady now," Beregond says, his hand reassuring on my back. The trolls are coming still; I can see them barrelling willy-nilly up the field, crushing orcs in their haste, jaws lathered.

I shake my head and my sight clears. Bitter sweat slides into a shallow cut on my cheekbone. They are upon us.

The first troll bowls our front rank down; the man next to me shrieks and is silent. My sword might as well be a knitting needle, for all the good it does. I thrust toward the sensitive flesh at the back of the troll's knee, but a hand the size of a waggon wheel strikes my head.

Creatures of evil sometimes have all sorts of dumb luck.

Dizzying blackness, dirt and a hard scrabble of stones beneath me. There's a tang of blood in my mouth. I push up on the ground, blinking to clear my head.

The trolls have scattered the Guard. Yards in front of me, Beregond stumbles to his feet, blood from a cut on his temple flowing into his beard. The largest troll-chief lurches away from him, striking men down left and right with his spiked club. Then the troll raises his head and he sniffs, little glittering eyes squinting in the midday gloom. He turns, fixed on his next victim--

"Beregond!" I yell, on my feet (I don't know how), and flying forward. Beregond looks to me, startled, but it's too late, the troll's upon him, seized him with a claw, gaping mouth open and ready to rip off Beregond's head. And I know I'm the only one who can save him, and I know it's hopeless, but I run anyway, hearing someone yell, "No!," and realising it's me and then I'm swallowed by the shadow of the troll, Beregond above me struggling weakly in his fist, but I've got my sword still in hand, so up I thrust, blindly. Once! Again!--and the troll staggers, drops Beregond to the ground, and I stagger too, blood-soaked dirt tilting up to meet me, and then there's nothing but dark--

...


All is blackness and stench and crushing pain. My leg's broken, I think, my ribs snapped, my lungs afire like Denethor at the end.

Aye, something's definitely crushed me. I think it was a troll.

That's fitting, I suppose. I'm always getting underfoot, though now it's rather underbelly, undertroll, Underhill? Oh, but this will be a pickle to explain to those at home.

Dearest Mum,

Sorry about running out with no word and all. Twas a grand adventure, for the most part. Met elves and wizards and giant talking trees. Unfortunately, met a troll as well, and am now squashed flatter than a pancake. Give Da and the lasses my regards, both the sisters and the bonny ones who are crying their eyes out now that they won't be able to dance with this fine figure of a hobbit at his coming-of-age party.

Any further correspondence should be directed to:
Peregrin Took
Undertroll, Morannon
Really Far Away from the Shire

Love and Hugs,
Your Pip

I laugh a little at that. (On the inside, of course, not enough breath outside.) Won't have to bury me, will they, with me already under this mountain? Trust a Took to come up with that! Only we have such style, which is a shame, really.

For I wager the end of Frodo's tale will be quite sad, and Sam's as well, and poor Merry waiting alone in Minas Tirith for the end to come to him last, now that's the saddest of all. But I suppose that's all right, because the end of a hero's tale is always a bit sad, especially for all the wee lads and lasses, who want those sorts of stories to go on forever.

Ah, but isn't this the strangest thing?

I could've sworn I was under a mountain, moments ago, but it feels all of a sudden that if I just...hold a breath or two, I'll up and float away....

Now that'd be funny, don't you think? I'd be the tallest, flattest...flyingest decoy hobbit to ever leave the Shire!

Oh, do say that's funny. Because I don't want anyone to be sad at the end of my tale, even if it was a rather short one, with...entirely too few second breakfasts...among recent company....

II.


I fly with the eagles for ages upon ages of Men and hobbits, my fingers brushing rain-curtains, the endless sea shimmering clear as glass beneath me. Sometimes I feel, like a ghost of breath upon a cold windowpane, a fading memory of pain and darkness. And once I catch a glimpse of hobbits, blackened and limp, in the claws of two eagles beneath me. When I look again, they're gone, gone and away.

Here, all that stays is the warmth of sunlight on my back, the breeze playing with the curls on my toes, the rush of eagles' wings all around me.

Now here's the tickle of Gimli's rough beard brushing my cheek. "Hold on, young hobbit," he says gruffly, "don't you leave me just as I've found you again," and one lone raindrop falls out of the clear sky to land like a tear on my cheek.

Oh Gimli, don't be silly! Why would I leave this wonderful place, this place where I can at last cast off all doubt and care and fear?

Sea salt on the breeze. The wind whispers against my face.

"Peregrin!"

Strider?

"Peregrin Took!"

Oh, why are Men so fond of repeating my name again and again? There's nothing wrong with my ears, you know!

My forehead's warm, soothed, as if someone's holding his palm there, though it's a much larger palm than my Da's.

"Come back to us, Pippin!"

Back where? But I suppose Strider's being silly now, too--surprising, since he's destined to be king and all. Aren't kings supposed to be wise and stern?

"Little one, where do you wander?" he says, voice weary, but he's still not making much sense. I'm not wandering, I'm flying, thank you very much.

"Let me sit with him, Aragorn."

Ah, Gandalf! How glad I am to hear your voice again, especially since you don't seem inclined to call me a Fool of a Took just this moment.

"See to Frodo and Sam, then get some rest," Gandalf says. "I'll watch over him for a while." Wispy white clouds are reflected in the blue of the sea beneath me, and I think maybe they're Gandalf's marvellous white beard, floating with me here on the breeze.

"Very well," Aragorn says, "but call me if he begins to slip away again."

Gandalf sighs, or is that the wind in my ears? "Fool of a Took," he says, though he doesn't sound angry. He sounds like a very tired, very sad, old man. "Whatever possessed you to take on a hill-troll?"

Hill-troll?

Odd, now what's that about? It's just me and the eagles here, Gandalf--you must have the wrong Took!

I soar higher.

From far, far below, Gandalf cries, "Aragorn, Aragorn!" But for ages after, all I hear is the quiet rush of the sea upon white shores.

...

Merry's crying. The way Frodo did, sometimes, after the nightmares he'd have about his parents' deaths, the ones he was supposed to grow out of. The way you cry when you think no one can hear you.

I'm frightened. Merry doesn't cry. When he's sad or disappointed, he goes all silent and grim. No, he's mourning. Someone's died.

Frodo.

Doomed to torment in the tower. We were too late. Our bold decoy army in silver and black, all of us rushing headlong into hopeless deaths, for we were too late. I'd tried to be brave all the same, I'd tried not to think of it, but we were too late, and now he's dead, or Merry
wouldn't cry so.

A sob builds in my throat, the same one that's been lodged there ever since the Mouth of Sauron held up the limp, empty shine of Frodo's mithril shirt.

One shuddering breath and pain knifes through my ribs, so sharp that I feel myself drifting back towards eagles and forgetfulness. A whimper escapes my lips.

"Pip--?" Merry's voice is hoarse. Has he been sick? He just got over the Black Breath, you know, and if he doesn't take care--

I open my mouth to reprimand him, but nothing comes out but a short, pained noise I hardly recognise as my own. Everything's hazy; I can hear the roar of the sea in my ears. Perhaps I'm only half-alive, after all, for I think I feel sunlight warm upon my face. Where's the troll? Where's the mountain, my grave?

I swallow, try a shallower breath. This time, the pain is only a dull ache that spreads like fingers across my torso and into my right hand and leg.

"Hullo Merry," I whisper, feeling his hand tighten round mine.

A choked sound. Oh, dear Merry. He must be so disappointed in me. I go off to battle to save Frodo, but all I manage to do is kill myself (and it seems I rather botched that as well).

But this waking up is tiring. I can almost feel the sea-breezes on me again; it would be so easy to slip away, except...I wish I could see Merry again, just once, before I go.

Ah! So that's what's wrong--Fool of a Took, complaining of the dark when your eyes are still closed!

It takes a moment for my lids to remember how to open, then another few for a hazy Merry face to come into view, and behind him a billowing tent-top, shining bright and golden with sun.

Merry's shoulders are shaking like he's laughing, but his face shines wet. "Pippin, Pippin," he says, reaching a hand over to brush a curl from my forehead.

Goodness, not him too. Nobody ever tells me anything useful. Not, There's an orc behind you, duck!, nor You're unconscious and it's quite worrying, so please won't you wake up? It's always Peregrin this, Pippin that, as if I already know what's on their minds.

Enough of this.

"Merry," I say.

"Don't try to talk," Merry says, wiping his eyes on his sleeve and smiling in a mixed-up way that might fool his Riders of Rohan, but definitely not his own cousin. "Save your strength."

What strength? I almost laugh, then I remember my ribs. No, but I won't be quiet till I find out--till I know for sure--

"Frodo?" I say.

Merry smoothes the sheet draped across me, sadness and pride all mashed together in set of his jaw, the bright in his eyes. "He did it, Pip. It's all over. The Ring's gone."

Over? What does that mean? That everything bad is undone? But I think my body's broken, and Merry--Merry was crying.

Oh.

My poor dear Frodo and Sam. All over means just this--they made it there, but never, ever back again.

I turn my face away, close my eyes. T'would be a mercy now to slip away, back to the eagles. To lose Frodo after all--it's too much for me to bear.

"Pippin?" His hand on my forehead. Oh, go away Merry. It's all over. We failed him, don't you see?

"Pip, no!" Merry says, with a soft laugh that's more of a sigh. "Silly hobbit, open your eyes. They're alive, alive and asleep in the tent next to yours."

Alive! I turn back and open my eyes to the bright, bright of the tent, the swirling of fresh and green on the breeze, the scent of pipe-weed and sun-warmed grass that's Merry.

"Truly?" I breathe.

"Aye," he says, "truly."

I meet his eyes and smile, never minding how my dry lips split, nor the ache in my head. It's as if something dark's scattered from inside me, something I didn't know was there till now. I feel lighter than eagles, as if I could twirl apart into song, but I don't. I don't have to.

To find I remember how to smile, really smile, the kind of smile I thought was only possible when I was young and carefree and running cross long Shire grasses--that's better than anything, except perhaps the word alive.

Now Merry's returning smile stretches all through the tent, warmer than sunshine, his silhouette and tent-fabric and light all misting together, all aglow, all fading. I'm fading....

But there's one more thing I need to know before I can rest. With an effort, I raise my left hand and trace one finger down the damp still on Merry's cheek.

"Then why?" I ask.

Merry leans in and grips my raised hand with both of his. "Oh Pip," he says, "do you even have to ask?"

Is that all it was, then? Silly Merry.

I take one brave, deep breath. "I missed you too, Mer," I say, and squeeze his hands back.

And now I slip back into dreams of green forests and spongy red logs stuffed full of mushrooms, but only for a visit. For even the lowliest decoy hobbit can be more than that when you've got someone who loves you awaiting your return.





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