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Chapter 5. A Glimmer of Sunlight Diamond steamed and fretted, looking out onto the yard. Armed hobbits stood at all the entrances to Hall and outbuildings. No one yet knew what was going on, only that a forester had been shot full of arrows and Buckland had been called to arms. She figured Pippin would be in the thick of things.
'Sit down, you worry me,' Estella, Merry's wife said. She'd miscarried their first child and her constant attendance on Diamond was touching, but sometimes aggravating as well.
'I'm fine,' Diamond snapped. She softened her voice. 'I'm sorry, Estella. I will sit down soon, I just thought I heard ponies' hoofs in the courtyard.'
'I'm worried about them, too,' Estella said gently. 'Now sit. Let me take a turn by the window; I'll tell you the minute I see something.'
Diamond allowed herself to be eased into a comfortable chair. 'You know I'll never be able to get up from here again without help,' she laughed.
Estella gave an evil grin. 'I know!' she said smugly. 'Here, put your feet up,' she said, pushing a stool into place. 'Now I have you just where I want you!'
She took Diamond's place by the window. The brilliant sunset light was fading, and Estella reported, 'They're lighting torches in the yard.'
'That'll make a fine target for ruffians,' Diamond commented.
'We don't know yet that they are ruffians,' said Estella.
'I hope that they are,' Diamond said.
'What do you mean?' Estella asked, her eyes narrowing.
'Hobbits drove out the ruffians once before, we can drive them out again,' Diamond said equably.
'What if it's something worse than ruffians?' Estella said slowly, with an uncharacteristic show of anxiety.
Diamond looked hard at her. 'You're supposed to be comforting me, remember?' she said sharply.
Estella laughed and came to give her a quick hug. 'I forgot,' she said. 'I'll try to do better. I shall return to the window and report the arrival of our husbands, safe and sound...'
Ponies' feet were heard on the stones and she whirled and ran to the window. Diamond tried her best to get out of the chair but could not. Frustrated, she called, 'What do you see?'
'Riders. Not as many as went out. Wait!' Diamond waited. Estella continued, 'Wagons, now... there are wounded.'
'Help me up!' Diamond insisted. Estella didn't answer. 'Estella, so help me, if you don't get me out of this chair, I'll...' she managed by a great effort to haul herself upright and over to the window. Looking down into the yard, she saw Pippin's Socks being led by another hobbit. The pony's saddle was empty.
Diamond gasped, and at the same moment a stabbing pain assailed her. Estella instantly grabbed her by the arms. 'Diamond, this won't help Pippin! You must think of the child, you have to take care of yourself.'
'I'm all right, it was one of those false pains I've been having,' Diamond said faintly. 'I've got to know, Estella... It's the waiting and not knowing that is tearing me apart...'
Unexpectedly, Estella agreed. 'All, right, we'll go to the entrance,' she said. 'Those husbands of ours are probably too busy to be thinking of us right now.'
In the yard, Merry was overseeing the unloading of the wounded. Most would be able to walk into the Hall on their own legs, a few would need to be carried, even though none was badly wounded, thanks to the unexpected help of the Forest in the fight against the orcs. He guessed the Forest hated orcs more than it hated hobbits, now.
The sounds of argument came to his ears. 'Master Steward, you must let us take you to the great room. The healer's there with his assistants, and he said he didn't want you to walk until he'd had a chance to look you over.'
'I'm fine,' Pippin answered patiently. 'I just have a few scratches. No need to carry me anywhere.'
He looked up as Merry approached and swung down from Jewel. 'Merry, Diamond will be beside herself if she sees me carried into the Hall.'
'It's all right, Benlac,' Merry said to the servant. 'I'll take him from here.' He reached up his arms. 'Come on, Pip, let me at least help you down.' He ignored Pippin's grimace as he climbed out of the wagon, caught him as he staggered, pulled Pippin's arm around his own shoulders, careful not to touch the chafed wrist. 'All right, then,' he said. 'You're not being carried into the Hall. You're walking. Sort of.'
Pippin tried to laugh. As the Hall door swung wide, he said out of the corner of his mouth, 'See?' Both their wives hovered at the entrance.
'You look terrible,' Merry answered him from the corner of his own mouth. 'We ought to have carried you in, covered with a sheet!'
'Ah, well, it was quite a party,' Pippin said. 'You know how those orcs can be, quite wild when they've been at the orc draughts.'
'Did they give you any?' Merry wanted to know.
'No, I think they'd run out by the time I got there,' Pippin answered. 'All they had to offer me was the dregs.'
Merry laughed, and the waiting wives found reassurance in the sound.
Diamond tried to hide her shock as Merry brought Pippin into the light of the Hall. 'Hello, my love, I'm home,' her husband said jauntily. 'What's for supper?'
'Supper's over and done,' she tried to say pertly. 'That's what you get for coming in late.'
'Perhaps you can scare up some of the scraps you'd saved for the cat,' Pippin answered.
Diamond reached to hug him, then, but he gasped and she drew back. 'Sorry, love,' he said, 'you caught me in one of my ticklish spots.'
They had reached the great room by now, and hobbits came forward to take Pippin from either side and lift him to a table.
Merry tried to escort Diamond away, but she pushed at him, saying, 'I have the right to be here.'
'You shouldn't see this,' Merry said, his eyes dark with concern for her.
'I've seen worse,' she said. 'He's alive, and that's what's important.' She turned to the healer, who had come over from another table. 'Ossilan, what can I do to help?'
'You can sit down,' the old healer said gravely, then met Merry's gaze. 'Bring a chair over, she can sit next to her husband.' He walked with Merry a few steps away, and added under his breath, 'She'll be more upset if we keep her away. We must tread carefully.' Merry nodded, brought a comfortable chair, eased Diamond into it, then placed a stool for her feet.
'All comfy, my love?' Pippin asked lightly.
'Perfectly, my dear,' she answered.
'Good, just tell me if you want anything, I'll hop up and get it for you,' her husband said.
'I'll let you know,' was Diamond's reply. Thoughout their banter Ossilan made his investigation. From where she sat, Diamond could see bruises covering every exposed spot on her husband; there were probably more bruises yet to be revealed. A long, shallow slice decorated one forearm, and his face was cut and bruised as if he'd fallen repeatedly upon it. Then there were the marks on wrist and ankle, and the mark of a rope about his neck.
'Orcs?' she whispered. The healer's low-voiced comments to Merry and his assistant stopped, and they turned to her. From the look on Merry's face she knew her guess was accurate. 'There are orcs in the Shire?'
Merry moved to her side. 'There were orcs in the Forest,' he said. 'They're all dead now. We don't know that there were any more than these.'
'How did they get here?' she gasped.
'We think they were survivors of the battle of Mirkwood, looking for greener pastures. They had set up camp in the Old Forest, were making themselves quite at home,' Pippin said, as if he were recounting that day's weather.
'How do we know they are all gone?' she said.
'We don't,' Merry answered. 'That's why we will continue to mount a guard on Buckland, and messengers are going out in pairs to alert the other communities. The word will spread from there to the rest of the Shire.'
'I think it's just an isolated incident,' Pippin said, his words slurring from exhaustion and pain. 'We'd have heard if other areas were losing livestock.'
'Yes, but we'll have to act as if it's not isolated, until we prove that it is,' Merry answered. 'I want to get word to the Rangers, find out what they think of this invasion.'
'Yes, and be sure to chide them for letting this menace through their defences,' Pippin added. 'I think we ought to dock their wages.'
'We don't pay them any wages,' Merry said.
'O aye, then it should cut them to the quick if we pay them half what they've been getting up until now.' Pippin sucked in his breath as Ossilan began to wash the slice on his arm.
'I'm sorry, Master Steward, but I'm told that this type of wound is often contaminated. We must make sure we get it thoroughly clean.'
'Right, be sure you grind a little harder against it, then; you've hardly scratched the surface,' Pippin answered between his teeth.
'Be assured that I will,' Ossilan said. He shook his head. 'Master Peregrin, we might as well just fill a tub with arnica and dip you in it, you're one great bruise from head to foot.'
'Tell me about it,' Pippin said.
The healer gestured to a helper and soon he had a steaming cup in his hand. 'I want you to drink this, it's tea with plenty of honey,' he said.
Merry helped his cousin sit up, but Pippin insisted on holding the cup himself despite his bandaged wrists and arm. 'You'd think I'd've learned to like honey a bit better by now, the way people keep pouring it into me,' he muttered in between sips.
'Well, if you'd just stop being so clumsy and falling down all over the place, we wouldn't need to pour it into you,' Merry answered.
'Perhaps if I don't drink quite so much brandy, I won't fall down so often,' Pippin said.
'There's a thought,' Merry answered. 'On the other hand, some brandy would be welcome right now.' His wife took the hint, and soon Estella had brought a glass of brandy for Pippin. 'Don't I get any?' Merry asked.
'Ask your cousin if he'll share his; I understand he has plans to cut down,' Estella answered.
The healer had finished his ministrations, and looked sternly at Pippin. 'You walked into the Hall on your own legs,' he said.
'O aye, I thought that's what they were there for,' Pippin replied.
'Your wife has seen that you are fine... well, that you are alive, at least, so there is no more reassuring needed to be done by you.'
'Very kind of you to say so,' Pippin murmured.
'You will let us carry you to your bed,' Ossilan said.
'Will you read me a bedtime story, as well?' Pippin asked.
The healer nearly smiled. 'I think I'll leave that to your wife,' he answered.
Diamond stared down at her husband as they settled him gently on the pillows; the silent hobbits pulled up the covers, nodded to her, and stepped softly from the room.
Pippin opened his eyes just then. 'What is it?' he asked. 'Did I dribble when I drank? Is there tea still on my chin?'
'I am trying to figure out where to kiss you good night,' she returned.
'I think the tip of my right ear is still intact,' he said.
She bent awkwardly to kiss the spot, then slid into her own spot on the bed. 'I'm almost afraid to touch you,' she said.
He chuckled. 'I won't break,' he said. She felt him gently encompassing her and their unborn child in his embrace, and then she felt him sigh. 'It's good to be home,' he said. She lay without moving as his breathing quickly became deep and even.
Sometime after the middle night, she awakened to feel the bed shaking. She no longer lay within her husband's embrace. Reaching out carefully, she found Pippin moved away from her. She rolled over with difficulty and sat up. By the light of the turned-down lamp, she saw that he was curled in a tight ball, hugging his knees, shaking.
'What is it, love?' she said anxiously. He did not answer, and she could see the glisten of tears on his face.
Slowly and gently, she lay back down on the bed and wrapped herself around him, holding him close as she could. 'I'm here,' she soothed. 'You're safe now.' She stroked his hair. 'They're all gone.'
Gradually she felt him begin to relax. As he uncurled, she guided his hand to rest upon her distended abdomen. 'Come, feel our son,' she said. 'He's dancing.' Their hands lay together for a long while, feeling the promise of joy to come.
After awhile, Diamond said gently, 'Sleep now, you need to rest.'
Pippin answered low. 'I cannot. The dreams...' She was shocked to hear him admit to any weakness, her laughing husband who always scoffed at danger.
'Come, love.' She eased his head against her breast. 'Let me help.'
He lay without moving for a long time, and eventually the rhythm of her heartbeat lulled him back to sleep. She held him thus until the morning light stole through the window.
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