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Fate and the High King's Falcon  by Baylor

Day 28 of the New Year (April 22 SR)

A new contingent from Minas Tirith had arrived the previous day, and to Merry's delight his Stybba had made it from Dunharrow to Minas Tirith and on to Ithilien at the command of Éomer, who seemed to feel that having his attendant dangle behind someone else on their steed lacked in proper standing. He had fetched Frodo and Sam and brought them to admire the good conformation of the little pony, which they were doing in fine fashion. Sam, especially, seemed enamored of the shaggy grey pony.

"A gift from the King of Rohan himself?" he asked Merry again. "And a good little fellow he is, isn't he?"

"Nearly so good as your Bill, Sam," Merry said gently, touching Sam's elbow. Sam smiled a bit tremulously and presented the grateful Stybba with another piece of fruit while Merry and Frodo exchanged a wistful smile behind his back. Sam gave Stybba a final stroke to his withers and turned to look over some of the other horses tethered nearby.

"Why, whatever is Gandalf's horse doing with Mr. Pippin?" he said a moment later. Frodo and Merry followed Sam's eyes to a strange scene away from the other animals. Pippin was flat on his back looking up into the large eyes of the great horse, who was studying the hobbit intently and snuffling him all over, mussing his uniform in the process.

"Oh, no, he's going to be filthy and grass-stained and wrinkled," Merry groaned, but Frodo and Sam looked somewhat alarmed.

"Is that safe, Merry?" Frodo asked uneasily. Just then, Shadowfax bent his neck and butted Pippin with the side of his head, rolling the hobbit over.

Frodo and Sam both gasped in alarm, but Merry just shook his head. "It's perfectly safe," he assured them in the manner of one familiar with these strange goings-on, "except for his uniform. They're just teasing each other -- Pippin probably is withholding fruit intended for Shadowfax."

Despite Merry's assurances, Frodo and Sam watched with growing trepidation as the horse began to nudge and roll Pippin about on the ground in front of his legs. They could hear Pippin giggling, but it still seemed to them that Pippin's small body was very dangerously close to the massive horse's large hooves and powerful legs.

"Hullo, both of you!" a fair voice suddenly carried from the other direction. The three older hobbits' gazes turned to Legolas approaching from the camp. "Shadowfax, Pippin is still getting better, you know. Perhaps you should find some gentler game. And you," the elf pointed a finger at the errant hobbit, "are getting filthy! Look at that uniform!"

"Oh, Legolas, you sound like Merry," Pippin grumbled good-naturedly. He did not bother to rise, but produced several pieces of fruit from the rumpled, dusty, grass-stained uniform and fed them to Shadowfax. The horse rolled penitent eyes at Legolas as he accepted the offering, and then affectionately nuzzled Pippin's face, nibbling on the hobbit's curls as Pippin stroked his nose.

"Doesn't he sound like Merry?" Pippin addressed the horse. "'You can't serve the king with your hair looking like that!' 'What did you do -- stick your entire face in the custard?' 'Did you somehow manage to discover a swamp on your way across camp?'"

"Or maybe you were just being rolled around on the ground by a horse," Merry said dryly as he neared his younger cousin. Frodo and Sam let out gusts of laughter at the look on Pippin's face as he quickly popped up into a sitting position. Merry scowled at Pippin, who turned to scowl at Legolas.

"Thank you, Legolas, for letting me go on with Merry right here," Pippin said. "You could have told me he was coming."

Legolas merely reached out to stroke Shadowfax's neck. "Why, Merry, where did you come from?" he said mildly, his serene face denying any previous knowledge of Merry's approach.

The horse made a funny noise that was neither a snort nor a neigh, and that Merry identified as Shadowfax's way of addressing Pippin. "Oh, you're not any help either. You might have warned me yourself, you know," Pippin said crossly, then stood up and began trying to put himself to rights. "There!" he proclaimed a moment later, having succeeded in shaking some of the dust off of his clothing and out of his curls. The latter, however, now were twisting out every which way from his head. Frodo and Merry crinkled their noses in distaste, Sam tried very hard not to laugh, and Legolas' mouth drew up in a troubled bow, but Shadowfax apparently approved of the clean-up, a fact he demonstrated by resuming his grazing of Pippin's hair. Pippin absently reached up with his good hand to scratch the horse's lowered head behind the ears, making Shadowfax close his eyes in momentary pleasure.

"You can take a Took out of the Tookland," Frodo murmured beneath his breath, but Pippin heard anyway.

"Now, look here, cousin!" he began indignantly, only to be cut short by Merry.

"You don't really have much standing at the moment to contradict that particular saying," he said reprovingly. "Come on, then, I don't know what we can do about that uniform, but you'd best at least wash your face and brush your hair and then we both have kings to report to. And thank you greatly, cousin, for stopping by to say hello to Stybba."

"Merry, I did so go see Stybba, and I didn't even make him work for his fruit," Pippin said indignantly, giving Shadowfax a farewell stroke to his nose before trailing off after Merry in the direction of camp. Shadowfax made his Pippin-noise again, a bit sorrowfully, and then turned to snuffle Frodo and Sam thoroughly. The two hobbits held very still, unwilling to admit any uneasiness but not accustomed to such treatment.

"You are learning bad manners from that one," Legolas scolded the horse. "These are the most honored heroes you will ever meet, yet here you treat them as though their only function is to produce treats for you. These, Shadowfax, are the Ringbearers, whom I do not believe you have been properly introduced to."

Shadowfax snorted, then lowered his head before the hobbits respectfully. Later, Sam would swear that the great horse nearly bowed to them. Frodo, for his part, did bow, followed a bit uncertainly by Sam.

"It is an honor," Frodo told the chief of the Mearas. "I have heard much of your deeds, and of your kindness to my kin, and your friendship with Gandalf. I thank you, for your part in these great events of late."

The horse lowered his head again in acknowledgment, then tossed his neck to signal his departure. His tail flicked Legolas in the face as he trotted off.

"I do believe that horse is rather put out with you for letting Mr. Pippin get himself into trouble with Mr. Merry," Sam said seriously to a slightly stunned Legolas. Frodo made a noise that may have been a laugh, but when Legolas looked at him, he was merely covering a yawn with his hand.

"Now, don't trouble yourself about Pippin," he advised the elf. "I'm certain he is not put out at all, and you needn't worry that he will seek retribution over the matter."

Legolas' eyes widened a bit. Sam, attentive to the yawn, feigned or no, began to fuss that his master had had enough excitement for one day. Frodo allowed Sam to steer him back toward their tent, a somewhat anxious Legolas in their wake.

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