Title: It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
Theme: Two sides to everything
Elements: My topic for the story's debate: Was the Edict prohibiting Men from entering the Shire a good idea?
Author's Notes: The Edict is canon; according to the Tale of Years in Appendix B, in S.R. 1427, King Elessar issues an edict that Men are not to enter the Shire... The details of the edict and the mechanisms by which it is carried out are not specified, although we do know that Elessar held himself bound by it and refused to enter the Shire in S.R. 1436, when he made his Northern Progress to Arnor. I have made my own provisions for the “Ban”: it was in partial force as a trial period prior to S.R. 1427, at which time it was made permanent. Also, exceptions could be made for Men to enter if the Thain, the Master of Buckland, and the Mayor all agreed. Also, hobbits were allowed to set the penalties for any violations of said Edict.
Summary: Merry and Pippin take Strider to task for a long-ago decision.
Word Count: 1,751
Aragorn leaned back in his chair and stretched his long legs out, crossing his hands behind his head. With these two friends, all formality was gone, and only a long history of affection remained. With them as with very few others, he could just be Strider again.
“I am glad you are here,” he said, looking at the two elderly hobbits. “I wish we could have had more time to speak in Rohan.”
“Éomer's funeral was a busy time for you,” said Merry sadly. “I was glad to see you there, but I knew there would be little chance for conversation.” Merry leaned back himself. It was cosy in the King’s drawing room. The Queen had retired, and now it was just the three old friends. Merry and Pippin had arrived in Minas Tirith earlier in the day, and after the public feast to honour them, had joined Aragorn in the Royal apartments, for, as Pippin had put it, “a proper chin-wag among friends”.
“I hope you are not too weary from your journey.” Aragorn looked at them closely. Merry had passed his century mark, and Pippin was only a few years shy of his. Not so old for hobbits, but still quite elderly, even for hobbits of Took blood.
Merry snorted. “My backside’s well padded, but I confess it is good to get here, and to be able to stay put for a while.”
“And my backside’s quite bony, and very tired of riding. But we’re just a couple of gaffers now—pay no mind to us, Strider!”
Aragorn laughed. The two hobbits were as droll as ever. “Well, I am a gaffer as well, you know!”
“Ah yes!” Pippin exclaimed. “Do tell us of Eldarion’s newest!”
For a while, the conversation turned to children and grandchildren. Pippin’s children had proved remarkably prolific, and he thought that between them Faramir and Goldilocks were going to try to outdo old Mayor Sam in the matter of progeny, while Pippin’s daughters had fourteen among the three of them! Merry had only four grandchildren, but they had kept Brandy Hall lively.
“You should have seen them hanging onto Mellor for tales the last time he stayed at Brandy Hall!” Merry exclaimed.
Aragorn frowned. “I know that you made an exemption for Mellor years ago,” he said, “yet it makes me uncomfortable to know he so often comes into the Shire. It makes it seem as though a King’s Man is taking the Edict lightly.”
Merry snorted. “First of all, Buckland is not exactly the Shire proper. And second of all, you allowed us to make the exemptions for those that the Thain, the Master and the Mayor agreed upon. And third, Mellor has had that permission for a very long time.”
“That was meant to be temporary, not permanent,” said Aragorn.
“I’d like to have seen someone tell Aunt Esme that!” laughed Pippin. “She was very fond of Mellor, and took every chance she could get to feed him up!”
Aragorn smiled, remembering the chance he’d had to meet Merry’s remarkable mother Esmeralda when he had gone to the Bridge to make his three hobbit friends Counsellors of the Northern Kingdom. She had indeed been a formidable matron, and he would not have cared to gainsay her. Still…
“The Edict was put into place for a purpose. It is meant to protect the Shire from those who’d take advantage of the hobbits who live there. I thought that the two of you agreed with that.”
Pippin fixed a gimlet eye on his liege lord. “Absolutely not! Merry and I always thought the Edict was rot!”
“Well, not completely rot, Pippin,” said Merry in a mild tone. “It did serve a useful purpose to begin with.”
“Yes, but we thought it was going to be temporary! Just until the Shire had a chance to train up more Bounders and the Rangers had a chance to build up their strength again after the War! We never liked the idea of it being permanent!”
“I did leave the final decision up to the leaders of the Shire, after all.”
“Who were still our fathers at the time,” Merry pointed out. “And you had made your own wishes clear.”
Aragorn shook his head, surprised somewhat at his friends’ vehemence. It had never once occurred to him to doubt the wisdom of that Edict.
“But you saw how there were some Men already laying plans to take advantage of the hobbits of the Shire as soon as the trial period ended. If the Ban had not remained in place, they would have been able to do so.”
Pippin snorted. “I think we could have handled it ourselves. We did handle it ourselves. Hobbits have enough sense to deal with such things as they arise. It's Men who think there have to be 'Rules' for everything.” His snort showed what he thought of that, remembering the “Rules” that had greeted them when they returned to the Shire after the War.
“Be fair, Pip,” said Merry. “Lotho thought up a good many of those ‘Rules’.”
“Yes, well, Lotho wasn’t much of a hobbit,” said Pippin. “At any rate, we could have handled what those Men had in mind. The Families would certainly not have allowed Men to buy up all that property in the Southfarthing.”
“And I do think if it had not been for that incident, we could have persuaded our fathers to allow the Edict to expire,” he added. Pippin drew in a deep breath; his father had not been quite as likely as his Uncle to agree, but he had been making progress in persuading him. And of course, Sam was becoming the Mayor at the time—he had wished to allow the Edict to expire as well.
“Frodo thought it a good idea.” Aragorn knew that this was an unfair and emotional argument to use on Frodo’s cousins, who even after all these years, still missed their older cousin fiercely. But it had weighed a good deal in his own decision—he had a great deal of respect for Frodo’s wisdom and judgment.
To his surprise, Merry shook his head. “Frodo wasn’t thinking straight before he left. His heartfelt wish was for the Shire to be just as innocent as it had been before he left. He blamed his absence for a good deal of what happened in the Troubles.”
Pippin nodded. “He wanted everyone to acknowledge you as King, and to know that we were part of the Northern Kingdom, and yet at the same time, he wanted to keep out the bad influences. And you have to remember, Strider, that he left when the trial period had only just begun. I do think he’d have changed his mind if he’d still been around at the end of it.”
“I’m sure he would have,” said Merry. “The problem is the Ban causes as many problems as it solves. True, you allowed us to set the terms for any exceptions, but requiring the Thain, the Master and the Mayor to agree on any such can cause difficulties in emergencies. At least you allowed us to set the penalties. I hate to think of what Men’s justice would have come up with as a punishment for entering without that permission.”
“And it makes trade difficult. All trade has to be carried out through Dwarves, or through the few Men who do have permission to cross the Shire,” said Pippin.
“But it does keep out the Ruffians,” said the King.
“And it kept you out,” said Pippin crossly. “I would very much have enjoyed the opportunity to show you the hospitality of the Shire! But you have to be so noble that you will not even allow us to grant you an exception—one that we have extended from time to time to your Messengers or Rangers!”
“Those exceptions were emergencies,” said Aragorn reasonably. A glance at Merry’s troubled face, though, made him drop that topic. The Buckland flood of 1433 was still a very painful subject for Master Meriadoc. Pippin looked abashed as well, and for a moment, the argument ceased.
“What would you have me do, my friends?” the King asked after a few moments of silence.
“Do?” asked Pippin.
“If you ask me, I will rescind the Edict even now, trusting that you know best what will serve your people.”
Merry and Pippin looked at one another, and then both silently shook their heads.
“No, Strider,” said Pippin. “That’s no longer our decision to make. Faramir and Peridoc are the Thain and the Master now, and it looks as though Robin Gamgee will be Mayor after his Uncle Nibs finishes his term. The Shire belongs to another generation now. We couldn’t do that to them.”
Merry nodded. “The responsibility has passed on. Besides,” he added, “it’s too late for that. Hobbits are used to the way things are now, and a change after all this time would not be taken well at all.”
For a while the three friends smoked their pipes in silence, and then Merry spoke again. “The Shire is safe and prosperous again, thanks in no small part to the Edict and to the Rangers. But I fear another more insidious danger, one that no amount of guarding from the Outside can prevent. If things go on as they are, the Shire will grow once more soft and complacent, and forget what hobbits can do when necessary. There are very few alive now who can still remember our Frodo, and the tales about him, even among our own grandchildren are little more than fireside entertainment.”
Pippin nodded sadly. “They laugh in the wrong places,” he said, “and they ask the wrong questions. They do not understand what was risked or what the cost was.” His eyes glittered for a moment, and he blinked away the suspicious moisture. Merry too, blinked, and reached over to pat Pippin on the arm.
“And yet,” Aragorn said quietly, “you know that is the way Frodo would have had it.”
Suddenly, Pippin chuckled. “Stubborn Baggins! He always got his way in the end!’
Merry looked at Pippin in astonishment, and then began to laugh as well. “Cheeky Took!”
Now both hobbits were laughing, and Aragorn, after an instant of astonishment, joined in.
They could never stay solemn for long—and somehow, Aragorn thought, that was their true strength. Perhaps the Edict had not been such a good idea after all. But one could not turn back time.