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Fate and the High King's Falcon  by Baylor

(NOTE: Marigold deserves additional credit for this and several other upcoming chapters, in particular “The hands of the king,” and “Are the hands of a healer.” She was pivotal not only in advancing the plot, but in generously adding many wonderful passages to the story. She truly is the unsung hero of this story and of my other works, unflaggingly making sure I am on the right course, freeing me from any nasty entanglements that come along, and giving me a hearty shove when I seem to be stuck. So if you enjoy what you’re reading, please remember her in your feedback.)

Both hobbits' newly made dress uniforms were delivered to the tent all four friends now shared that evening, and Pippin made a grand fuss over them, insisting both he and Merry try them on at once and see what they looked like.  

First he insisted that much be made of his cousin, who did indeed look very distinguished arrayed in the livery of Rohan, especially (if one listened to Pip’s intimations) after he had taken it upon himself to make several rather unnecessary tugs and adjustments to the impressive garments. Wisely though, judging by the glare Meriadoc had finally fixed upon the tween-ager, Pippin had stopped fussing just short of an actual attempt at “having a go” at smoothing down Merry’s already tidy curls with “a lick and a spit,” a procedure that Legolas had observed more times than he could count during his acquaintance with this pair, but always administered the other way around.  

Pippin, who looked no less noble adorned in the silver and black garments of the City, was now preening and trying to see as much of his own reflection as was possible in a silver plate. Pippin was quite outspokenly finding it woefully inadequate to his requirements, much to the amusement of Legolas and Merry, whose irritation had passed as swiftly as it ever did, when Gimli approached him, looking oddly bashful. The dwarf had retrieved something from his belongings that he now held behind his back. 

"Ahem," Gimli said, just as Pippin noticed him and turned to ask, "What do you have there, Gimli?"

Gimli shifted a bit, uncomfortable. "You were holding it when I found you, but somehow it fell from your grasp before you reached the healers. I was in a fine state the next morning when I realized it was gone, but fortunately, I managed to find it before we left the battlefield. I don't think a soldier of the White Tower should be without one on such a grand occasion." And here Gimli moved his hands from behind his back to present Pippin with the Westernesse blade that had served as his sword for all these months and miles.

Pippin's face sobered as he tentatively reached his left hand out for the hilt. His fingers closed about it and he took the sword, studying it intently.

"Thank you, Gimli, that was incredibly thoughtful of you to go and find it," Merry answered for his cousin, moving closer to Pippin to place a hand on his cousin's shoulder. "Pip," he whispered in Pippin's ear when the younger hobbit still did not respond to Gimli.

"I never let go of it, Mer," Pippin whispered back, eyes fixed on the blade. "Just like Boromir told us -- never, ever let go of your sword, or you may never get it back. But then it was gone, so I thought I must have let go of it after all."

"Indeed, no," Gimli said solemnly. "You grasped it firmly still when I rolled that beast off of you. You did not let go until the battle was over and won, just as he taught you."

Now Pippin looked up, his eyes shimmering with unshed tears. "Thank you, Gimli," he said sincerely. "I -- thank you."

Gimli ducked his head and made a series of harrumphing, grunting noises, then managed to say, "Well, I could not have you serving the High King in that grand outfit and no sword at your side. Hardly seemed fitting."

Pippin smiled, and to Merry he suddenly looked grown-up and wise. It occurred to Merry that it was not so much that Pippin had changed as that he had become more Pippin, more of that he was meant to be. "Now if only I can keep clean throughout the whole day," Pippin said, and Merry saw his cousin was indeed still there, young hobbit and soldier all at once.

"And please don't forget to comb that hair," Aragorn said from the door flap, making the four friends turn toward him. Pippin grinned cheekily, all tween-ager again.

"It is asking a lot, Strider, but I will do my best for you," he said, bowing low, and Aragorn laughed as he entered the tent, followed by Éomer . Merry pulled himself up straighter at Éomer 's entrance.

"And do not forget, I am 'Strider' only amongst friends," Aragorn said, placing a hand on the unruly curls in question.

"Yes, sir," Pippin said seriously, but his face was still shining when he turned it up to look at his king.

Éomer  turned to Merry, his face amused. "I hope Éowyn has not taught you to address me by any of the names she had for me in our childhood," he said to the hobbit, who laughed.

"She has not yet had the opportunity," Merry said, "but perhaps she and I will soon be able to have that conversation."

Éomer chuckled, and Aragorn smiled in amusement. "Perhaps I shall join you for that conversation, Merry," he said, and Éomer mock-scowled at him. Then the High King looked down at Pippin, his hand still on the hobbit's head. "Well, Master Took, you look very handsome in that uniform, I must say." 

“Thank you, sir. But just look at Merry, too! Doesn’t he look . . . doesn’t he look . . .” Pippin seemed to having trouble finding just the right word, and Merry started to blush. “Pip,” he began in a low voice, but too late, as Pippin said, “. . . elegant! No, courtly! Courtly is better!” Merry turned a bright shade of red and gave him a look that said he was going to pay for that remark later, but Pippin didn’t care, and just beamed at him, as did the others. Both hobbits looked elegant and courtly in their attire, though each was obviously prouder of the other than of himself.

Aragorn looked Merry over carefully, with as much approval as he had looked over Pippin, and nodded his agreement. “Courtly, indeed, Master Brandybuck, and well I know your brave heart that beats unwavering whether it be beneath bare rags after miles on a lonely road or beneath the grand livery of Rohan that you now wear, and well deserve. Were it not that Rohan looks to Gondor I would be most jealous that Éomer King is your liege lord and not myself. But in serving him, you serve me as well, and I know that he values your great worth and appreciates his good fortune, so I will be content. Besides, I must not be greedy and claim that all of the bravest warriors of Middle-earth serve at my side. For do I not already have Master Took sworn to my service, with a heart that matches yours? Peregrin, you look nearly ready to serve the High King. I see Gimli finally returned your sword." 

Both hobbits were somewhat overwhelmed by Aragorn’s words, but Pippin managed to pull himself up straighter and Aragorn obligingly moved his hand so that Pip could preen a bit. "I am ready," he said. "I don't believe Frodo will even know who I am at first." 

Aragorn smiled softly. "You are not quite ready, though," he said. "I do not think the High King should be served by anyone less than a knight, do you, Pippin?"

Pippin's face fell in disappointment. "Oh," he said in a tiny voice. "Are you supposed to be served by a knight?"

"Well, I will be the High King," Aragorn said solemnly. "Do you not think I deserve to be served by a knight?"

Pippin struggled to get his face composed. "Yes, of course," he said. "But, I mean, well -- maybe there is some other way I could help you tomorrow. I should like to do something, that is, if you will let me."

Aragorn's lips twitched. "To be a knight, Peregrin," he said in a voice that was both gentle and commanding, "a soldier must prove his faithfulness to his sovereign, as well as demonstrate generosity, self-denial, bravery, and skill at arms. You, in true Took fashion, managed to accomplish all five in one act." The king extended his hand. "Your sword, soldier of Gondor."

Pippin's expression rapidly changed from disappointed to bewildered to bashfully proud. The tips of his pointed ears flushed red, but after a moment's hesitation, he handed the hilt of his blade to Aragorn and looked up at him uncertainly. He suddenly found Legolas at his elbow. "Kneel on one knee, Pippin," the elf whispered in his ear, then gave him a supporting arm when the injured leg didn't quite want to comply. Properly situated, Pippin looked up at his king.

"Peregrin, son of Paladin, of the Shire, I proclaim you Knight of Gondor," Aragorn said, lightly touching the blade of Pippin's sword to the hobbit's right shoulder. "May you ever defend her lands and her king with the faithfulness and bravery that have earned you this title."

Pippin's ears were scarlet now, but his face was beaming. Beside him, it was hard to tell who was most likely to burst from pride -- Merry, Legolas or Gimli. When Pippin went to stand and the bad leg wobbled again, three hands reached to steady him, but he waved them away and gained his feet unaided. Aragorn handed him back the hilt of his sword and Pippin fastened it to his side.

"Thank you, sir," he said in a near-whisper, uncharacteristically shy over the unexpected honor.

"No, Pippin, it is I who must thank you, and all of your fellow soldiers, for making this day possible," Aragorn answered, then knelt himself on one knee to draw Pippin into an embrace. Pippin went willingly, and if both king and knight's eyes were shimmering with tears when they pulled away, the onlookers were too busy surreptitiously wiping the corners of their own eyes to take note.

There was a great deal of embracing and shoulder-squeezing and back-slapping that followed, but the congratulations eventually made their round and Éomer had the chance to survey Pippin. "So, the High King's attendant is finally properly knighted, outfitted, and armed, yet my own seems to be without a weapon. It strikes me as an unfair thing," he said.

Merry shifted uneasily. "I lost my blade at Pelennor, sir," he said, thinking that surely Éomer  knew this by now.

Éomer  bowed his head in acknowledgment. "And you could not have lost it to a better end," he said seriously. "But, still, I will not be outdone by our High King, nor will I suffer him to be served by a knight when I am not." Thus saying, he produced a gleaming argent blade from beneath his cloak and solemnly held the hilt out to Merry.

The hobbit took it slowly with both hands, blinking uncertainly. "This is one of your knives, Legolas," he said after a moment, feeling the perfect balance and lightness of the weapon as he admired the intricate elven runes on the blade. He knew the weapon was deceptively ornamental-looking -- its edge was sharp and deadly, and it had served Legolas for more years than the Brandybucks had inhabited Buckland.

The elf was unobtrusively loitering near the back of the tent, but now he moved forward. "And I am honored to know it will be worn by such a valiant soldier of the Riddermark," he said. "When I heard that Éomer  sought an appropriate weapon for you, I was eager to offer it."

Merry blinked, completely overwhelmed. "Say 'thank you,' Merry," Pippin whispered teasingly in his ear, making Merry smile and look up. "Thank you," he said sincerely, looking first at Éomer  and then at Legolas. "Thank you very much."

"Théoden King would have made you a knight of Rohan," Éomer  said, his face grave, "but I hope you will allow me to act in his stead. I will have you properly honored later, after the King has been laid to his final rest, as we do not perform such ceremonies while in mourning. But I would have you sworn to me now, if you will have it thus."

Now it was Merry who looked grown-up to Pippin, tempered by grief into wisdom and strengthened by trial into fortitude, standing tall and proud and noble beside him. This was not the brash young cousin he had left the Shire with, but a different Merry, possessing a quieter, deeper confidence. There was an aura of greatness about his cousin that had been veiled to Pippin until now. The younger hobbit pulled himself up straighter and moved away from Merry's side to join Legolas and Gimli and Aragorn, standing respectfully together to witness the scene.

Merry did not answer Éomer , but simply knelt on one knee and presented his king with the hilt of his sword. Éomer  accepted it and addressed the hobbit solemnly.

"Do you pledge to serve the Riddermark and her King, to protect her lands and her people and her horses, until death or King dismiss you from this charge?" he asked.

"I do," Merry answered, and Éomer  lightly touched him on each shoulder with the knife's blade before handing him the hilt. "Then rise, Meriadoc, son of Saradoc, sword-thain to Éomer  King. I name you knight of Rohan. Take your sword and bear it unto good fortune!"

Merry blinked back sudden, unbidden tears, hearing another voice saying those last words in the noisy dining hall of a battle fortress, but he accepted the hilt and stood tall and straight before his king. He and Éomer  solemnly regarded one another for a long moment, then burst into smiles at the same time. The four onlookers likewise smiled with pride and respect, pleased at the apparent love between soldier and king. Éomer reached down to clasp the hobbit on the shoulder, and Merry reached his hand up to grasp Éomer 's forearm.

Watching them, Pippin suddenly realized that he and Merry were not just knights of Gondor and Rohan in name, token titles to honor their deeds, but that they truly belonged to these lands and these people as surely as they belonged to the Shire. What an adventure we have been on, he thought, and who could have ever seen this end to it?

Pippin felt a soft squeeze on his shoulder and craned his neck to see Aragorn behind him, looking proud and pleased.

"Would you have thought all this, Strider, back at the Prancing Pony?" Pippin asked. "Could you ever have pictured it?"

"It is the best of all my dreams, Pippin," the king answered. "And it will be better yet, and then even more."

Pippin did not think it possible, but it seemed too cheeky even for him to point out to the High King, so instead he just reached his hand up to rest on Aragorn's fingers on his shoulder. Besides, he thought, if I am wrong, what a splendid thing to be wrong about.

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