Title: Folly in the Woods
Title, author and link to original story: Like Father, Like Son... by Cathleen
Author's Notes: I used the following elements from the original story: a frantic Pippin, a missing Faramir, an unordinary cat and the great outdoors. This story mentions events in “The Quest for the Hairless Cat” and “Distractions” but it is not necessary to have read those.
Summary: Pippin takes Faramir on his first hunting expedition.
Word Count: 3,101
Folly in the Woods
Astron 1442 SR
Faramir is 12
The Whitwell farm grew smaller on the horizon as Pippin and Faramir headed down the lane. Pippin led his pony, Muffin, who was loaded with supplies for their two-day adventure. Faramir hugged the targets his father had constructed. Fam would eventually grow tired of carrying them and relinquish them to his father, but for now he was too eager to let them go.
They were headed for a glade just a few leagues from the farm. In this glade, Pippin and his sisters had learned archery, and Pippin wanted his children to have their first lessons there as well. He would also show Fam how to lay traps for small game and tomorrow morning would take him fishing. While some among the gentry scoffed at the idea of learning such things, Pippin remembered too well when he had needed those skills in a pinch, and he wanted all his children to be able to utilize them.
To pass the time, Pippin pointed out the various fauna as they passed. Thanks to his long friendships with Sam and Merry, he knew most of their names as well as some of their more common medicinal uses. He didn’t know how to prepare the plants for use as medicine, an important fact about which he sternly warned his son. When in doubt, seek a healer.
“Is Mayor Samwise really going to see the King?” Faramir said after Pippin told him about the athelas that Sam grew in the Bag End gardens.
Pippin nodded. “He, Mistress Rose and Elanor left just a couple of weeks ago. They’ll be approaching Rohan soon, if they haven’t arrived already, and in another month they’ll be in Minas Tirith.”
He sighed wistfully, wishing he had been able to go. He may not have as many obstacles as Sam and Rose had faced, but with Diamond expecting so soon a journey at this point was simply unthinkable. Merry had been tempted to join the Gamgees, as his children were old enough for the journey, but he’d had sympathy for his cousin and decided to wait until Pippin could go as well. Perhaps he could go in another year or two, when Diamond could spare him.
One thing was certain: whenever he went to Minas Tirith, he’d need to ensure that both Faramir and young Bergil would be old enough to accompany him. Otherwise, he’d return to find his youngest son bound and gagged in the cellar for the better part of a year, his punishment for tormenting Diamond with his whining. Pippin grinned, imagining the scene that must be taking place at the farm right now. If Bergil were smart, and he was, he wouldn’t hound his mother now: Diamond could be short-tempered in her pregnancies.
“Tell me about Minas Tirith again, Da,” Fam said. He loved his father’s stories of the Quest, the White City and the King returned.
Pippin thought for but a moment. Perhaps it was the fact they were going camping that brought it to mind. Perhaps it was knowing that Sam would soon be in Rohan and meeting some of their friends, perhaps even one Rohirrim soldier and his Haradrim wife.
“Did I ever tell you about the hairless cats?” Pippin asked. Fam shook his head, immediately interested. “They are believed among the Haradrim to have been spies for the Enemy, and there are some who believe them to be descendants of the cats of Queen Beruthiel and to have the ability to understand the speech of Men.”
“How can a cat understand that?” Fam asked, skeptical but intrigued.
Pippin shrugged. “I wouldn’t know that, but there was really nothing odd about that cat, other than it’s lack of fur. It was a dreadfully ugly thing, all wrinkles and big eyes, but it was as graceful in movement as any other cat and just as proud. When I first saw it, I was astonished! Not that it was hairless but because when I was a lad your Uncle Merry and I had gone searching for one in Buckland. We even camped near the Hedge for a night in hopes of spying one, or at least I had hoped. Merry’d thought he was just making it up at the time, so you can imagine how amazed I was to discover they were real and in Minas Tirith. I immediately took Merry, Frodo and Sam to see it. Sam was suspicious of it, called it an orc cat even and didn’t much care for a cat that needed a sweater in winter to keep it warm.
“A week or so later, an embassy from Harad arrived in the city to breach peace with the King. It was from one of their women that we learned of the cats’ history in the Sunlands. They believed these cats to be agents of the Enemy, for the kings and queens of the Enemy kept these cats for just the purpose of spying. Some even said they could cast spells on you if you looked into their eyes. She couldn’t believe that such a cat could be found in Gondor and was little appeased when she learned that one of our captains had rescued it as a wee kitten from the Sunlands for his wife. She thought surely the captain must be mad or under some spell, and refused to go near the cat, as did the rest of the embassy when they learned of its presence.
“One of the Haradrim men in the embassy was actually a former soldier of Gondor, who had been forced to seek refuge in Harad during the war. Not everyone in Harad was under the Dark Lord’s sway, you see, and he found some that were friendly to us. When he learned about the hairless cats, he wondered if they had any connection with the cats of Queen Beruthiel. She was a dark queen of ancient Gondor who had these ten magical cats, nine black and one white. The white one would remain in the Citadel with her, while the black ones would go out into the City and spy on the people. The white one could see and hear all that the black ones did and reported this to the queen. The people of the City feared those cats and never went near them. Eventually, the queen and her cats were expelled, set sail upon the Sea. He reasoned she and her cats could have landed in the Sunlands and befriended the Black Númenóreans.
“In any case, this particular hairless cat was really a very sweet and lazy cat. If he did spy, it was only for the fishermen so he could snag a fresh catch without having to go and catch it himself.” Pippin chuckled ruefully. “I have to admit, the first time I heard the legends, I was quite pleased to get away from it myself, and every time after that when I saw it, I wondered if it could understand me. Thankfully though, no one in the City could understand him!”
“Do you think it’s true, Da?” Fam asked.
Pippin shrugged. “The Enemy used many creatures for spies. Why not a cat? But that particular cat was good, of that I have no doubt. Even King Elessar liked him.”
He went on to tell Faramir about some of their other adventures while living in the White City and the many people they had met. By the time they reached the woods, the sun was high overhead and Pippin had just finished recounting the marriage of Arwen and Aragorn on the Great Lawn of the Citadel.
Pippin took them directly to the glade to set up their camp. The rest of the afternoon was spent setting the traps, readying the practice field, lecturing Faramir on safety and lastly showing him the fundamentals of using his crossbow. Faramir watched attentively and though he was eager to put the targets into use, he didn’t complain when he wasn’t handed an arrow for this first lesson.
The sun was going down by the time Pippin called an end to the lesson. Tomorrow, Faramir would practice firing the bow, first with flat-ended shafts. If he did well with those, Pippin would graduate him to arrows.
They ate dinner from their stores, and Pippin told Faramir about his own adventures learning to hunt.
“You’re lucky, being the eldest,” Pippin told him. “I was the youngest, and while lasses don’t typically learn to hunt, both Pimmie and Vinca did. Pimmie never did much with her skills, but Vinca had become quite adept by the time I was to learn. She never held it over me, but as we were ever competing with each other I felt I had to prove myself at least equal to her. It took a few years, but eventually, we were nearly matched for accuracy, though she was still the quicker draw. There was never a target she couldn’t hit.”
Fam looked at his father closely. He had only heard his father’s tone become strained on a few occasions and always when he was talking about the War and the Troubles. “Isn’t that a good thing?” Fam asked, for surely the point of learning archery was to be able to hit your target.
“It depends what you’re aiming at,” Pippin said. He put more wood on the fire, his shoulders set.
“Did Mum tell you what Dottie did the other day?” Fam asked after the silence stretched too long. Pippin shook his head so Fam launched into a tale about his sister Peridot, who was just out her faunthood. “She got into the larder and started climbing the shelves to get to the apple preserves! Then she got there, looked down and was too afraid to move. She started crying and fussing to bring the house down, and when Mum rushed in to grab her down, she brought the jar of preserves with her! Then when Mum tried to take it away, she ran and hid beneath the bed.” Fam giggled. “And you know what else?”
“What?” Pippin asked, a hint of a grin taking over his face.
“Mum said a bad word when she couldn’t reach under the bed to get Dottie out,” Fam said. “I’d tell you which one, except she made Berg and me promise never to repeat it. I don’t remember Mum being this grumpy when she had Berg and Dottie.”
“Trust me, she was, with all of you,” Pippin said. “I can’t imagine it’s a very comfortable thing to go through. Your mum is amazed that Mistress Rose has done it twelve times!”
Fam yawned. “When will we visit the Gamgees again, Da? Surely we don’t have to wait until Mayor Samwise returns. I want to see Merry and Hammie.”
“We’ll invite them to the farm, how’s that? They can come back to the Smials with us for a time if they want,” Pippin said. “Now, it’s time that someone be in bed.” He saw Faramir to his sleeping roll before getting into his own. They were both asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow.
Faramir didn’t know what woke him, but he figured since he was awake he would relieve himself behind a nearby tree. He slipped out of his bedroll and took up the torch his father had made earlier. He managed to get a small flame burning from the embers, enough to light a path for his feet. He walked along the edge of the clearing until he reached the trees where the targets still hung.
The night was dark. The quarter moon was already low in the west, and the stars peeked from behind the early spring gloom. When Faramir went behind the tree, he was plunged into near blackness, and his small torch lit only the ground around him. He had expected this though and wasn’t alarmed. Neither was he concerned about the rustling of small game in the brush or the owls hooting quietly in the branches above. What did startle him was the sudden hiss, so near his ear he actually squeaked.
“Get ahold of yourself, lad,” he chided himself. Still, he quickly did up his laces and turned, squinting, into the dark woods. What could have made that noise? It almost sounded like a... “hairless cat,” he finished his thought aloud. Could it really be?
“Perhaps they only spy at night,” Fam mused to himself. He waited and the minutes ticked by. He was starting to think he had imagined the whole thing, his torchlight fell upon two glowing eyes. A thrill ran up his back, tingling the back of his neck, and his breath hitched. He froze, staring back and thinking furiously.
During dinner, his father had gone into more detail about that long ago camping trip with Uncle Merry. The trip had been rather uneventful until that night when Pippin and Merry were sitting up, looking out for the hairless cat. They had seen a pair of glowing eyes in the distance near the High Hay, but the creature, whatever it was, never came any closer. Faramir knew it was silly to think that the eyes he stared at now could belong to the same creature his father and uncle encountered all those years ago. Still, he had heard the regret in his father’s voice that they never discovered what the creature was.
Faramir risked a peek at camp. His father was still sound asleep. Perhaps if Faramir moved slowly enough, the creature would let him approach and not dart away. He had to at least try, and he would be back in his sleeping roll before his father even knew he was gone.
He found the eyes again and took a step forward.
Pippin woke from a wonderful dream about cinnamon rolls, sticky icing and Diamond. He sighed, glad he would be back in his wife’s arms tonight, if she permitted it. She was always so sensitive during her pregnancies, he could never predict what sort of reception he would receive.
“Keeps things interesting,” he murmured to himself. Opening his eyes, blinked at the fog-filled sky and yawned. “Still asleep, Fam?”
Only silence greeted him. He looked at his son’s sleeping roll and sat up when he noticed his son was missing. He looked around the clearing, attempting in vain to pierce through the fog. He felt the sleeping roll - cold. Faramir had been gone for a while then.
“Fam!” he called. “Faramir!”
Pippin scrambled to his feet and tried to remain calm. Faramir knew not to stray too far, and this clearing was near the middle of the woods, so it would be difficult to get lost. Pippin pulled Fam’s sweater from the saddlebag and set out. He proceeded to circle the glade, calling out every ten feet or so and checking for tracks. He finally found some near the targets trees and stepped into the woods, looking for more.
He found a few tracks on the other side of the tree and headed in the direction they pointed, cursing the fog under his breath. “Faramir!” he called again. “Time to wake up, lad!”
Why had he gone into the woods at night? Had he fallen and hurt himself? Had he just fallen asleep? Pippin wasn’t worried about Faramir stumbling upon one of the traps, as the rigged cages and nets were too small to catch a hobbit lad. He was opposed to using claw traps, a fact for which he was extremely grateful now. Still, where could Fam be and why wasn’t he responding?
He took a deep breath and looked around the woods for more tracks. He cupped his hands to his mouth. “Faramir! FAM!” Over and over again he called. The minutes ticked by until the fog eventually burned off to a cool spring morning. Pippin had circled the entire wood and was panic was setting in. He wondered if perhaps he should return to camp in case Fam was there by now and turned in that direction.
As he neared camp, he called again and heard, to his delight, a far-off, faint pleading: “Daddy!”
Heart leaping, Pippin darted off in the direction of the cry, calling Fam every so often and adjusting his direction when his son returned the call. Step by step he came closer and step by step he felt his anger brewing. He wasn’t sure if he would hug Faramir or strangle him when eventually he found him. As it turned out, he did neither.
“Da!” Fam called a last time. Pippin was standing near a tree with twisting arms and scratched bark. Tangled in the roots was the burnt-out torch. At his son’s call, he looked up into its limbs and laughed. Fam pouted. “It’s not funny.”
This only made Pippin laugh harder. High above him in the tree sat his son, weary-eyed from sitting up most of the night. His feet, hands and clothes were covered in dirt and his curly hair stood out in all directions.
“Whatever are you doing up there, lad?” Pippin asked when he was finally able to speak again.
“It was a brock,” Fam said, miserably. “Is it gone?”
Pippin looked around but saw not even a sign of a brock hole. “It’s gone. Did it chase you up there?”
Faramir nodded. “It got tired of me following it. I saw its eyes and thought it might be a hairless cat.”
“Didn’t I tell you there are none to be found up here?” Pippin said. He leaned against the bole and dug in the dirt with his toes. “Don’t break your arse coming down now. Your mother would throttle me if you did, and I’d rather she just throttle you for ruining your new hunting clothes.”
“Ha ha,” Fam said. He sighed heavily and after a few moments began to make his way back down the tree. He dropped the last couple of feet and stood up next to his father. “Do you really think she’ll throttle me?”
“You’d deserve it,” Pippin said. He placed his hands on either of Fam’s shoulders and looked him in the eyes. “Don’t ever do that again.”
“Yes, Da,” Fam said.
“Come back to camp then,” Pippin said, placing Fam’s sweater over his shoulders. “I’ll cook breakfast and then we can go to the stream and try to catch some fish for your Mum. Catch enough and she might reduce your sentence.”
The rest of their trip was uneventful, and Faramir wasn’t too upset when Diamond sentenced him to a week of laundering duty instead of a month.