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The Ever-Present Past  by Grey Wonderer

Originally posted to PippinHealers Yahoo Group and inspired by a Challenge from Dreamflower (see Prologue)

Beta by the very talented Llinos

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† The Ever-Present Past

"Run!" Sterlyn shouted, tugging Pippin by the arm.

Not one to be left behind, Pippin broke into a run passing Sterlyn. The two youngsters were darting in and out of passageways and corridors with ease, narrowly missing furniture as they passed. Residents of and visitors to the Great Smials leapt back out of the way as the pair tore through the ancestral home of the Tooks. The two made their apologies to folks who were forced to jump out of the way and those that didn't quite make it by shouting `sorry!', `excuse me!' and `look out!' but neither lad stopped.

"Your parents are going to hear from me, young Masters!" Rosamonda Bolger shouted as they passed her, forcing her against the wall and making her drop her favourite shawl. "I know both of you! Scoundrels! Wait until your Father hears of this, Peregrin Took!"

Why do they always shout my name? Pippin wondered briefly as he turned a sharp corner and charged down a narrow, unfamiliar, hall. Too many folks know me for my own good, he decided. I need to be less-well known if I'm to get away with anything.

"Can we stop yet?" Sterlyn panted, still running but with less speed than before.

"Merry won't stop!" Pippin shouted. "He never stops until he catches me."

"I told you not to put those worms in his pudding!" Sterlyn called out. "You had to know he'd suspect you first thing!"

"Everyone suspects me!" Pippin yelled. "I don't know why, but everyone always accuses me!"

"You did it!" Sterlyn reminded his younger cousin. Unable to continue on, Sterlyn stopped and sank to the floor clutching his side. "Where are we?"

Pippin stopped and turned to look around. "I don't know. I'm not here as much as you. You live here. You should know where we are."

"Well," panted Sterlyn seeming very happy to be lost. "I don't where we are, so Merry will never find us. He's here even less than you are."

Pippin cocked his head and listened to see if he could hear anyone approaching and when he was satisfied that no one was coming, he leaned against the wall and looked down at Sterlyn. "It was funny though."

"What was?" Sterlyn said, confused by Pippin's sudden change of topic.

"The look on Merry's face," Pippin laughed mugging and trying to impersonate Merry. "When he lifted his spoon to his mouth and saw that worm wriggling about in his pudding!" Both lads burst into laughter that left Sterlyn even more breathless than before.

"Merry jumped up out of his chair and he turned beetroot red in the face," Pippin sniggered.

"He threw pudding everywhere when he tossed his spoon and bowl onto the table. I saw some of the pudding go in your sister`s hair," Sterlyn howled.

"Which sister?" Pippin asked. He had three after all.

"Pimpernel," Sterlyn said.

"She won't stay angry long. If it had been Pearl then I'd be looking at serious trouble and Pervinca would have killed me right there and saved Merry the trouble of hunting me down," Pippin said and then he grinned broadly. "But did you see the look on creepy old Estella Bolger's face?" Pippin laughed. "You'd think she'd never seen a worm before!"

Sterlyn went white suddenly and that is when Pippin felt a hand clamp down hard on his shoulder. "I'm seeing two worms right now," Merry Brandybuck said tightly.

Pippin wriggled out of Merry's grasp in a rather good impersonation of a worm and jumped over Sterlyn, leaving him to face Merry's wrath. Quick as a wink, Pippin darted down another hallway and into the first door that he found, shutting it behind him and leaning his back against it to hold it closed. He knew that if Merry wanted to come in, he'd not be able to hold the door closed against him but he had to try.

"It's no use running, you miserable little pain in the arse," Merry called out calmly. His voice was muffled by the closed door and the distance but Pippin could still hear him well enough to be slightly nervous. "I'll find you. I always do. You might just as well come out and face your death now as to put it off until later."

Behind the door, Pippin grimaced. This time, Merry might really kill him. He'd threatened to do so many times, but this time Merry was angry enough to go through with it and after Rosamond Bolger put in her two penníorth on the subject, Merry would probably be given an award of some sort for doing so.

Why didn't Merry spend a bit of time killing Sterlyn first? After all, Sterlyn was in on the trick It was true that Pippin had been the one to put the worms in the pudding. In fact it was Pippin who had served Merry the bowl of the worm-laced concoction but Sterlyn had helped him dig up the worms. Sterlyn had stood watch while Pippin had put them into the pudding. Sterlyn had been in on the whole thing so why wasn't Merry out there killing Sterlyn? Why did Merry insist on hunting him down rather than taking his anger out on the cousin he could find? Hadn't Merry ever heard that saying about the birds? What was it again? A bird in the hand is worth more than two birds that aren't in your hand or something like that. Birds would have liked what he'd done to the pudding, Pippin thought amused. Birds just loved worms!

It was quiet out in the hall. Pippin couldn't hear anyone at all. Maybe Merry had killed Sterlyn. No, Sterlyn would have screamed like a lass. Pippin would know if Merry had taken his revenge on Sterlyn. Everyone in the Tooklands would know. Sterlyn really did scream like a lass. Sterlyn would not die quietly.

Pippin looked across the dark room at the small amount of light that was filtering through a very heavy pair of curtains. What was this room used for anyway? Pippin didn't recall ever having been in here before now. It was true that the Great Smials was nearly endless and so Pippin supposed he shouldn't really be surprised that he'd not seen this room before. His family didn't live here. They had a farm and only visited now and then.

He wrinkled up his nose and sniffed. The room smelled funny. It was all musty and hot as if it hadn't been opened in ages. Pippin sneezed. Dust! This room was full of dust and maybe spiders and other interesting things that liked to hide in the dark. Pippin wondered if it might be safe to sneak out into the hall again but as soon as the thought came to him he knew the answer. No, Merry would be out there roaming about looking for him and as creepy as this old room was, it was better than death at the hands of an angry Brandybuck.

Maybe if he pulled back the curtains a little it would make the room less creepy. Risking another surprise attack from Merry by leaving the door unguarded, Pippin inched his way over to the long velvet hangings.† He reached up and tugged at them parting them with a cloud of dust and found a† wonderful view of a tiny garden just beyond the dirty windowpane.† In an effort to see the garden better, Pippin wrote his name on the dirty glass and peered into the clean spaces that the letters formed. Peregrin Took, Pippin, he continued to write on the glass as he studied the garden.

It was a tiny little garden but it was filled with lovely flowers of all sorts. Pippin made a print of his left hand on the glass and then started writing some of the rude words that he had learned from listening to the old farm hands that helped out during harvest time on his Father's farm. He'd begun to forget all about Merry. His mind was on his writing now and on the sunlight that was streaming in from the garden. Why if it weren't for the heavy curtains and the dirty windows, this room might be cheery. Didn't anyone ever clean this part of the Smials?

Pippin pulled the curtains open further and then looked back into the room. The light shone in and Pippin could see the dust from his handiwork floating in the air about him. He could see his footprints on the dust-coated floor leading from the door to the window. Pippin looked about the room and noticed that it was larger than he had first suspected. It was long and there was another door at the rear of the room. He'd try that door in a while after he'd explored this part of the room. The large desk at the far end caught his ever restless attention next. Maybe this was an office of some sort or a study or a room in which children learned their lessons from a tutor.

The desk would tell the tale, Pippin decided. He walked over to it, his curiosity building with each step. If it was one thing Pippin liked, it was exploring places, or as his older sisters called it, rooting about in other folksí things. They were constantly accusing him of what they considered to be pilfering but what Pippin knew was just satisfying his own curiosity. He didn't mean any harm and besides, how could he harm anything in here? The place was a complete mess.

If his Mum could see this room she'd faint. Mum hated dust and fought against it with great zeal. Some of Pippin's clearest images of his Mum were of her with a dust cloth in her hand scurrying about their home polishing tables and wiping down bookshelves. Dust did not last long in Pippin's home. His Mum was ever on the watch for it. Pippin fancied that she could hear a particle of dust land on a surface a mile away. He grinned and placed both of his grimy hands on the massive desk top.

Now this was a desk that a hobbit could take pride in! It was huge and it was very ornately carved. This could be the desk of a Thain. Pippin discarded that idea almost instantly. No self-respecting Thain would ever leave his desk looking like this. Pippin doubted that you could be Thain if you were this irresponsible enough to allow this much dust to gather in one place.

Pippin let his hands to wander over the desk top, flipping open books, turning over an ink well which was mercifully empty, twirling a quill between nimble fingers, and finally picking up an old tankard. Pippin peered into it and then sniffed. The smell of ale hit him and he smiled. Some day he'd be old enough to drink ale and then that was all he'd ever drink. He'd tasted it several times, without permission of course, but just now he wasn't allowed to drink it.

Pippin sat the empty tankard down and studied the cover of a dusty old book. It looked like a ledger of some sort or perhaps it was a journal. His Father had something like this on his desk. He used his to keep track of the planting and the harvesting. Pippin never enjoyed looking at the ledger because it was full of his Father's own personal short-hand. Only Paladin Took understood what it meant. The remainder of the ledger was columns of numbers. Very dull stuff and not at all something that seemed it might be important to proper farming. If you had seeds and a stout plough pony and the weather was with you then you shouldn't have a need for a ledger full of numbers.

Pippin leaned forward and made the mistake of blowing the dust from the cover of the book. Suddenly the air was thick with dust and Pippin sneezed several times in a row. Pervinca had told him that sneezing could kill you if you did it long enough. She said that was because you weren't taking air in, you were sneezing all of your air out. Pretty soon a hobbit could run completely out of air and die.

Pippin was preoccupied with thoughts of his own death from sneezing when Merry entered the room and came towards him.

"Oi!" Pippin shouted and he hurried behind the desk taking the ledger with him. He had no idea why he was continuing to hold onto it but it might be useful in some way. He could use it as a shield against Merry's attacks perhaps. Besides, he'd found it and if Merry didn't kill him first, he was determined to read it.

Merry was on one side of the desk and Pippin was on the other. Pippin was determined to keep the desk between himself and Merry. He could tell from the look on Merry's face that his older cousin was still extremely put out by the incident with the pudding. It wasn't safe to let Merry get too close just now.

Merry, on the other hand, was determined to keep Pippin away from the door to the room. He stayed on the side of the desk nearest the door and moved back and forth in his efforts to corner his dirty prey. Pippin was coated in dust just like the filthy room in which they found themselves.

"When I get my hands on you, I am taking you out to the garden and I'm feeding you worms until you choke on them," Merry threatened.

"That isn't fair!" Pippin objected bobbing and weaving back and forth on his side of the old desk.

"Oh, yes it is," Merry declared doing his own bobbing and weaving. "You put worms in my pudding."

"Well, you had the pudding to wash your worms down with," Pippin objected. "I should get pudding with my worms if I have to eat any!"

Merry snorted. Pippin was forever saying the strangest things. "Worms are still worms, even when they are swimming about in pudding."

"Did you kill Sterlyn?" Pippin asked.

"Why do you care?" Merry asked. "You left him alone with me out there. You deserted him. I am certain that you don't care what I did to him, just as long as I don't do it to you too."

Pippin winced. "I didn't want you to kill him. I donít want you to kill me either. It was only a little trick, Merry. I was getting you back for some of the things youíve pulled on me."

"Killing is too good for you, Pip Squeak," Merry said with an evil grin. "I just plan to give you a few new bruises."

"I have bruises," Pippin objected. "I have all of the bruises I need. I fall down a lot. Big lads hit me. Pervinca hits me. I don't need any more bruises."

"You should have thought of that before you put worms in my pudding," Merry pointed out.

"What if someone comes in here and catches you thrashing me? Youíre too old to be hitting me. Youíll be in terrible trouble for it if youíre caught."

"Look around, Pip," Merry said. "No one ever comes here. Dust like this takes time to accumulate. We are probably the first folks to come in here in years, maybe even in decades. I'm surprised you got the sunlight to come in here."

"It wasn't easy," Pippin said. "Those windows are filthy. Merry, I think this is an important room of some kind. I don't think you should thrash me in here. I think this was the office of someone important. It might have belonged to a Thain or something."

"If this was ever a Thain's office then that Thain hasn't been back here in years," Merry said lunging at Pippin and nearly catching him by the arm. "Face it, Pip Squeak. No one is coming to rescue you."

"Don't call me Pip Squeak and just so you know, I can hide here behind this desk as long as it takes you to go away," Pippin declared.

"Try it," Merry grinned and quick as a flash, he jumped up and ran across the top of the desk in two strides. His move surprised Pippin and before he could regain his senses, Merry had him.

The two cousins fell to the floor and began to wrestle with Merry effortlessly winning. Merry was eight years older than his fourteen-year-old cousin and so he easily bested him. With a few quick moves, Merry had Pippin face down on the floor and was sitting on top of him.

"Get off of me, you great lump!" Pippin shouted, more bravely than he felt.

"Give up," Merry said and that is when he noticed the book that was lying just out of Pippin's reach. Merry picked it up and opened it.

"That's mine!" Pippin objected struggling to free himself.

"I doubt that very much," Merry said. "The hand writing is too neat to be yours and it's filled with very big words that you probably can't even pronounce much less use in a sentence."

"I know lots of big words," Pippin said defensively. "You don't know that many big words either. You never understand all† that Frodo says when he's talking about important things."

Merry took one hand and swatted Pippin on the top of the head. "I understand everything Frodo says. You're the one that can't figure it out."

Pippin sneezed. "Let me up! The dust will kill me. I'll sneeze until I die." He sneezed again.

"You can't die from sneezing," Merry sighed, flipping through the book absently while sitting comfortably on Pippin.

"You can too. Sneezing uses all your air and it's the closest you get to dying," Pippin said and sneezed again.

"Who told you that?"

"Pervinca," Pippin said sounding less certain now.

"Why do you listen to anything she says?" Merry asked. "She lies to you, Pip."

"Sometimes she does, but not all the time," Pippin said. "That's the evil part of it. If she lied to me all the time then I'd know that she was always lying, but sometimes she says things that are true to throw me off. That makes it hard to tell if she's lying or if she's serious. I can't ignore her because I might miss something that's true and important."

Merry was quiet now. Pippin struggled experimentally. "Oi! Merry, did you hear me? How can I tell if-"

"Pippin, I think this book belonged to Gerontius Took," Merry said in a hushed tone.

"Don't tease," Pippin said. "You're saying that so I'll say that to someone else and they'll laugh at me. It's how you plan to get even with me for the worms isnít it?"

"No, it isn't," Merry said, and he thrust the book in front of Pippin's face, placing it on the floor so that Pippin could look at it. "What does that say?"

Pippin blinked the dust out of his eyes and then began to read aloud.

"The Wizard was here today. He never lets anyone know that he's coming. He just turns up and he always says the same thing as he leaves, `Look for me when you see me.' That isn't at all helpful in planning his visits. I should like to know more about when he plans to come but I suppose that I will never have any warning at all. Wizards are very close and Gandalf is probably the closest of all Wizards."

Pippin's eyes widened. "Gandalf! Bilbo and Frodo's Gandalf! Someone wrote in this book about Gandalf, Merry! I knew this book was important!"

"That isn't all that's in the book," Merry said. "Look at the name at the top of the next page." Merry reached over from his perch on Pippin's back and tapped a finger under the name in question.

"Gerontius Took," Pippin read in a voice filled with awe. "Merry, do you think this was really Gerontius Took's office?"

"It looks that way," Merry said. He glanced around the room as he spoke. There's a door in the rear of the room. That probably goes to his apartment. Maybe ages ago this was considered to be an important part of the Great Smials instead of just an old passageway with rooms where no one ever goes. No one that is except frighten little Pip Squeaks that are on the run from older cousins."

"I wasn't frightened," Pippin frowned.

Merry poked Pippin in the ribs and grinned. "Then why did you run?"

"Because, it's what I do after I've played a good trick," Pippin said.

"Who said it was a good trick?"

"It was a good trick and you know it was," Pippin said earnestly. "You were surprised."

"Of course I was surprised," Merry said with a chuckle. "I didn't know worms could live in pudding."

Pippin grinned. "Well, I didn't either, until I put them in there." Pippin looked back at the ledger and read aloud, "The sheep in the north pasture seem to be disappearing. I suspect we have thieves about. I've decided to put extra dogs with the flocks and hide a few archers about the edge of the place. I don't know if the thieves are from outside of the Shire but if so, they could be some of the big folk."

Pippin's eyes shone. "Merry, did you hear that part? Big folk in the Shire, Merry! I've never seen one of them."

"Not only big folk, but thieves into the bargain," Merry said, climbing off Pippin's back and lying down beside him on the dusty floor.

"If I were the Thain I'd have shot those big folk myself with my bow," Pippin said firmly.

Merry laughed. "If you are ever the Thain, I'm packing up and moving to Bree."

Pippin scowled at him. "And if I am ever Thain, I'll clean that desk up and put it in my office and use it."

"That's even funnier than you being the Thain," Merry said, swatting Pippin on the head.

"What is funnier than me being the Thain?"

"The idea that you might clean something."

"Well, if I were the Thain then I'd have folks to clean things for me. I'd be important and important folk don't clean things themselves," Pippin reasoned.

"Well, you don't have to worry about that, Pip Squeak," Merry said. "You'll never be important."

"Don't call me Pip Squeak in the Thain's office," Pippin warned. "He might hear you."

"He isn't here," Merry said but he shivered slightly.

"What if he's a ghost like the stories say? What if he's right here in this very room listening to you insult me and me a proper Took?" Pippin asked. "He might be angry."

"You're a proper mess but not a proper Took," Merry scoffed. "You've got dust all over you."

"So have you," Pippin said looking at Merry's smudged cheeks. "That's what happens when you roll about on the floor trying to thrash innocent younger cousins."

"You are far from innocent. That's what happens whenever I get mixed up with you. Usually dust is the least of my worries," Merry sighed. "Read the next part so we can find out if they saw any big folk or if they managed to save all of the sheep."

"You don't even like sheep," Pippin said.

"They're great walking, woolly wastes of time but I still would like to know if the Thain managed to keep them safe from thieves," Merry said.

Pippin cleared his throat and began to read and that is how they spent the afternoon. They lay on the dusty floor taking turns reading aloud from the Thain's ledger which was really more like a journal of events. They stayed there until the sun began to set and it became too dark to read.

Pippin stood and put the book back on the desk reverently.

"We could take it and finish reading it later tonight," Merry suggested.

"No, it's his," Pippin said. "We should leave it with his other things."

Merry wanted to point out that Thain Gerontius Took wasn't likely to be returning to read the book but something in the way Pippin said this gave him pause. "We had better see if we can find a way back to our rooms without anyone seeing us. We need to get cleaned up for dinner."

"I won't be having dinner I suspect," Pippin sighed mournfully. "I'm certain someone has told my Father about the worms by now. I can just go back to my room and it wonít matter if Iím seen. I'll have plenty of time to bathe while I'm being punished for putting worms in your pudding."

"The secret to a really good trick is to make it look as if someone else pulled it off," Merry said as they walked to the door. "You have to make it look like you had nothing to do with it. You want your victim to suspect it was you, but you don't want them to be able to prove it was you." Merry patted Pippin on the shoulder. "You have brilliant ideas but you just aren't sneaky enough. You need practice in that area."

Pippin looked up at Merry admiringly. "You can manage that sort of thing. You're very sneaky."

"Between us, we could probably play brilliant tricks on everyone in the whole Shire and get away with it," Merry said as they left the Old Took's office.

"Let's do that!"

"Let's do what?"

"Let's pull at least one trick on everyone in the Shire, Merry. It might take a few years but we could do it!"

"And we'll start with Sterlyn," Merry grinned.

"You didn't thrash him?" Pippin looked surprised.

"I started to but I let him go. You should have seen him run. He couldn't get away fast enough. I decided to go after you first," Merry said. "I knew you were the one that had come up with the idea. Sterlyn was just your flunky."

"Now, I don't need him," Pippin grinned. "Now, you can be my flunky."

"In your dreams, Thain Peregrin," Merry said picking Pippin up and putting him over his shoulder.

"Put me down!" Pippin yelled hitting Merry's back with his fists.

"Not until I've dunked you face first into a bowl of worm pudding," Merry said. "Or maybe the worms have eaten all of the pudding and I will just be dunking you into a bowl of fat pudding-filled worms."


"Well, you said you'd do it and so you have," Merry said smiling. He ran a hand over the highly polished surface of the ornate desk and then sat down in one of the arm chairs in front of it.

"And as I recall, you threatened to leave the Shire when I became Thain," Pippin grinned. "What happened to *that* notion?"

"The Master of Buckland can't just pack up and leave. There are certain responsibilities to be dealt with," Merry smiled. "Besides, if I leave the Shire now, who'll see to it that you don't do something unbefitting a proper Thain?" Merry gave a nod to the desk. "Now that's something fit for a proper Thain. You've made a fine choice there. It's also proof that you do what you say you will."

Thain Peregrin leaned against the desk and nodded. "When I said it, I didn't think that there was even the slightest chance that I'd ever be Thain of the Shire. My Father was still a farmer."

"When you said it, I didn't think so either. You were a skinny little mite all coated with dust at the time. Yet, here you are looking like a proper Thain," Merry said. "Did you give any thought to cleaning up the Old Took's rooms and using them as your own? Thatís a lovely little garden just outside of the office. Make a fine view and you wouldnít have had to move this desk."

Pippin shook his head. "No, I don't think it would be right to take his office. He was the most important Thain the Tooks have ever had. I'll be lucky if I can measure up to his desk. Iíd never manage to be grand enough for the entire office."

Merry grinned. "You'll do better than you think you will. I believe that Thain Gerontius would be pleased that you're using his desk."

Pippin smiled. "Before I moved it here, I asked him and he didn't seem to object."

Merry shook his head and rolled his eyes. "You went into the office and talked to him as if he were sitting right there, didn't you, you daft Took?"

Pippin grinned feeling only slightly foolish. He really believed in his heart that some part of the Old Took still lingered among the musty books and dust in that old office. He didn't care if Merry did think that was silly. He shrugged and said, "It didn't feel right to just take the desk without asking."

"What did he say when you asked him about it?" Merry teased, arching an eyebrow.

"He didn't *say* anything exactly," Pippin scowled. "I wasn't really expecting an out right answer like you get when you speak to someone alive."

"Then how do you know that he approves?" Merry asked.

"I just have a feeling," Pippin shrugged. "Like I just do about things now and again."

"I do hope you aren't telling this story to everyone," Merry said. "It might not sit so well with some of the Tooks if they know that their new Thain is consulting the Old Took about office furniture."

Pippin grinned. "You are the only one I've told, well, except Thain Gerontius and I trust both of you not to reveal my secret." Pippin walked around the massive desk and sat in his new leather chair. He'd told Merry about asking permission for the desk but he wasn't about to tell his cousin the entire story. He wasn't saying a word about the way that the ledger had skidded to the edge of the desk where he'd been standing and fallen open. Merry would never believe that Gerontius had been that clear about his approval.

"I'm going to put the desk against the far wall so that I can see the garden while I work. The desk is quite splendid but it doesn't compare to my garden. I think being able to look out at that small patch of flowers will cheer me on trying days. I can watch the birds. What is that saying about birds that my darling wife is always using? Ah, yes. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush!" When Pippin had read those words in the ledger, he knew that it was all right to take the desk but that he shouldn't use the office. The Old Took enjoyed the view too much to part with it.

"What are you thinking about?" Merry asked. "You look so far away."

Pippin smiled. "I was thinking that you and I should have a drink of that Buckland Brandy that you brought. We can toast my new desk." And with that, Thain Peregrin Took got up to fetch the glasses while Master Meriadoc Brandybuck uncorked a bottle of Bucklandís finest brandy. It was a very promising beginning to a very successful Thainship.

The End

GW 04/15/2009

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