Title: Of Shape and Hue and Home, Pt 2
Theme: 2010 Yule Fic Exchange
Elements: Request: What would it be like to abandon your identity and slip into another, to become someone else? How long could you keep up the illusion? Today, show one of your characters as they assume an alias. I want Gandalf and Pippin to get switched. Or, if you feel that's a bit much to have someone handle (both changing) just Gandalf becoming Pippin.
Recipient: Pearl Took
Summary: Take a master of shape and hue. Stir in a troubled wizard and four hobbits. Add a dash of surprising Ranger. Mix thoroughly until shape and hue begin to blend…
“Maybe the Gaffer was right, Mr. Frodo,” Sam murmured. “Maybe living with the elves isn’t for the likes of hobbits.”
“I think this rates as unusual even by elven standards,” Frodo said.
“How are you making out, Pippin?” Merry asked.
Pippin didn’t answer, too occupied with the simple act of walking. Until recently, it had just been something one did. A foot went forward, the other followed, and so on. Even after several inebriating hours in the Golden Perch at Stock, walking came more or less naturally to Pippin. But walking atop these long, spindly legs… He could not fathom how Big Folk balanced a form so tall upon feet so small. Surely there was some trick or art to this! And just how had Gandalf adjusted so quickly?
“Take your time,” Strider soothed quietly as they labored forward. “It requires practice for a frame of your size to find its balance.”
Pippin scowled. “How much practice?” he asked, struggling to control his wobbling knees.
“If fortune is kind, more practice than you will be afforded,” the Ranger answered. “Fear not! Determined wizards, especially the one of hobbit-size, will not rest until an answer is found.”
That sounded hopeful, and Pippin tried to take comfort in Strider’s words. But at the moment, all he could see were the retreating backs of Frodo, Sam, Merry, and…himself? …Gandalf? …his form? Pippin shook his head. The point was that the other hobbits were moving much faster than he and Strider. It usually worked the other way around.
Passing through open archways near the Hall of Fire, Pippin glanced outside and spied a tree-lined path winding around the Hall. The cool air, the brisk wind, and the distant sound of rivers called to him, and Pippin felt a strange longing settle in his mind. A faint tremor of music caught his ear, and he stopped, drawn to it. He looked at the others, who had moved ahead since they were not in the habit of slowing down for long-legged companions. They now waited patiently, watching with anxious eyes, but Pippin’s heart wasn’t in it. Enough was enough. “Strider, would you mind leaving me here?”
Concern flashed across Strider’s face. “Are you well? Do you feel—”
“Yes, I’m alright,” Pippin said quickly. “But I’m not hungry, and I’m tired of trying to get my legs to move the way I want them to. There’s a bench just over there underneath the trees. Would you walk me over to it and then pick me up on your way back when everyone’s done in the kitchens? I need a moment to sit.”
Sharp eyes studied Pippin closely. “I am not hungry, either,” Strider said at length. “And I trust Gandalf to look after himself. He has adjusted very quickly to moving about in a smaller form. If you wish for company—”
“Not really,” Pippin interrupted. Something inside him begged for solitude. For separation from others. It was an unusual feeling, but it was insistent.
“As you wish it, then,” Strider said, though he sounded reluctant. “Once I have seen the others to the kitchens, I will linger nearby should you have need of me.”
Together they hobbled out to the stone bench that stood just outside the entrance to the Hall of Fire. After settling himself down and after Strider warned him sternly that he was not to move from his chosen bench, the Ranger retreated back inside. Only moments later, Merry, Frodo, Sam, and Gandalf were outside, wondering what was wrong.
“I’m alright,” Pippin insisted. “But I don’t have an appetite, it’s taking too much energy to walk to the kitchens, and I just want to sit quietly for a spell!”
“I’ll stay with you if you like,” Merry volunteered.
“I can stay, too,” Frodo added.
“And once we’ve seen to Gandalf’s stomach, we’ll come straight back,” Sam finished.
“Don’t let me ruin the afternoon meal,” Pippin scoffed. He was inwardly cheered by all the concern, but he still felt the need to be alone. “I’m still getting my bearings, and a bit of quiet will do me good.”
Gandalf gave him a shrewd look. “You wish to listen.”
“Well…yes. Listen and think and—”
“But listening is what most fascinates you,” Gandalf guessed. “Hobbit ears are keen, but the ears you have now can hear things that might otherwise go unnoticed.” He nodded and stepped back a pace. “Listen, then. Listen for what you have not heard before.” He turned toward the hobbits. “Come. He is perfectly safe here so long as he does not try anything with my form.” He glowered at Pippin from beneath a lowered brow. Pippin was quite certain that even if he practiced for several hours in front of a mirror, he could never get his face to do that. “You will stay here, yes?”
“Where else would I go?” Pippin asked. “And how would I get there? I can barely walk with Strider’s assistance!”
Gandalf looked satisfied. Merry, Frodo, and Sam looked skeptical. “Will you call us if you need us?” Merry asked, though his tone suggested it was more command than question.
“Go,” Pippin said, waving an absurdly long arm toward the hallways. “If I need you, you’ll be the first to know. Oh, and Gandalf? I’m partial to those strawberry tarts they sometimes make for dessert.”
Seeming to hear Pippin, Gandalf’s stomach growled, prompting a half-hearted laugh from Merry and Sam. Frodo and Gandalf gestured them back inside, and Pippin found himself alone outside the Hall of Fire. With no other distractions, the tension in his shoulders eased, and he felt as though a great weight lifted from his back. There had simply been too much noise with everyone else around. And there had been too many kinds of noise. As if everyone sounded…well, different. Pippin shook his head. Of course everyone sounded different! But there was more to it than that. Even when they weren’t talking, there was still…something. Something…musical.
He closed his eyes and leaned back. On the edge of his hearing, so faint that he wondered if he wasn’t imagining it, he heard a song. It was difficult to make out, and he couldn’t have described it even if he had been able to hear it clearly. But it carried his thoughts away, and as he let himself drift, he wondered how Gandalf coped with so many sounds and so many different parts of the same song all competing for his attention. At a distance like this, it was peaceful. Soothing, even. But if Gandalf was constantly beset by all the sounds that others made—
Near at hand, Pippin heard some of the music change and shift. Unsure what to make of this, he held still and waited. This was not Pippin’s accustomed way of doing things, but it suited his current form. There was great strength in Gandalf’s bones, to be sure. Yet there was weariness, too, and for its sake, Pippin chose patience.
It also helped that he was more or less stuck on his bench.
Letting the cold breeze tickle his chin as it played with his outlandish beard, he listened carefully to the changing music. It drifted closer, and he realized he was not listening to music. He was listening to voices. But the voices reflected the music. Blended with it in near perfect harmony. There was song in the timbre of words and tones. Wondering what creature could do this, Pippin opened his eyes and found himself staring up at—
“Mithrandir!” an elf greeted with a cheerful smile.
Cleary this elf knew Gandalf. Unfortunately, the current occupant of Gandalf’s form did not know this elf. He seemed vaguely familiar, but Pippin was hard-pressed to put a name to the face. The situation became a bit more complicated when the elf suddenly erupted into a flurry of speech that Pippin had no hope of understanding. He knew a bit of elvish thanks to Frodo and Bilbo, but at the elf’s speed, Pippin couldn’t tell where one word ended and another began.
His translations skills might not have been up to the challenge, but Pippin possessed other skills in abundance. Skills that had made it possible for Tookish relatives to run off on unforeseen adventures and live to tell the tales. Greatly daring, Pippin took a page from their history and made use of the Took family’s greatest assets: bold wits. “Your pardon, Master Elf,” he interrupted in what he hoped was a wizardly voice. “I am waiting for some hobbits to come by, and I wonder if we might speak in the Common Tongue. That way, they will understand us as they approach and feel more welcome.”
“Of course,” the elf said, immediately switching languages. Pippin breathed a sigh of relief, for he had discovered a few visiting elves who did not speak Westron at all. “I am glad you told me, for I had intended to search you out and ask questions of you concerning hobbits.”
Pippin blinked. “Concerning hobbits?”
“Yes. We wish to know more about them,” the elf said. “If a hobbit is to carry our fate into the East, it would be wise to become better acquainted with this hope we have embraced.”
Pippin looked around. “We?” he echoed.
“The others I spoke of,” the elf answered. Pippin assumed he must have mentioned them during the flurry of incomprehensible speech. “We heard your voice outside, and I came to see if you would join us in the Hall.”
Knowing he would topple over the moment he tried to stand, Pippin shifted uncomfortably. “Your pardon again, but I fear I am not quite myself today. I thought a bit of fresh air might—”
“A wonderful idea!” the elf exclaimed. “Wait here and I will fetch the others.”
The elf turned and hastened away, disappearing into the Hall of Fire. Baffled, Pippin wondered if Aragorn was still nearby and if he would be able to head off this encounter. But as a small group of elves began filing out of the Hall, Pippin decided he would have to continue the charade. “Hobbits,” he murmured to himself. “Well, why not? After all, who better to inform them?” His lips began curving up in a smile as a wealth of possibilities occurred to him. “Who better indeed?”
Being unable to see the top of a table was more disconcerting than Gandalf had anticipated. It was also disconcerting to be both welcomed and dismissed all in a single glance. The hobbits seemed to have a working relationship of sorts with the cooks in the kitchens, for the moment they appeared in the doorway, a place was made for them at a side table and supplies set forth. After a word of thanks, Frodo and Sam promptly disappeared, leaving Gandalf with Merry.
“You do this often,” Gandalf surmised, watching the elves return to their tasks.
“Often enough that they don’t mind when we get underfoot,” Merry said. He eyed Gandalf’s stomach, which was growling again. “Pippin isn’t normally so hungry. Are you certain you haven’t done anything to his form?”
Gandalf arched his eyebrows, deciding that height made more of a difference than it should. Merry did not usually challenge him, and elves did not usually ignore him.
“Here we are,” Sam announced, interrupting Gandalf’s glare. He was pulling two tall stools toward the table the elves had cleared. Frodo was behind him, pulling another pair of stools. Merry went to help them, and the three quickly arranged the seats to their liking before scrambling atop them. Gandalf moved over, driven by his stomach to find something to eat but leery of climbing. He did not have the balance problems that Pippin did. His large hobbit feet provided enough support for his smaller frame that walking had come easily. But climbing…
“Elves like to make things tall,” said a voice at his elbow. He looked over to find that Frodo had come down from his perch. With an apologetic look, the hobbit shrugged. “These stools are the only thing that let us sit at the table. But if you want, we can find you a chair and you can stand on it. That might be easier.”
“I believe that would be best,” Gandalf agreed, giving the table a wary glance. He had never before been uneasy around heights, but the thought of teetering atop such a high seat made his stomach roll in a way that had nothing to do with hunger.
“Half a moment, then,” Sam said, jumping down.
“I’ve also got an idea,” Merry added, joining Frodo and Gandalf on solid ground. “Back in a moment,” he said as he disappeared behind a table. Gandalf frowned, considering just how much extra effort the hobbits put forth in coping with a taller world.
“This is nothing,” Frodo murmured, seeming to guess Gandalf’s thoughts. “Merry and I have a cousin in Buckland who raises cows. You should see what he goes through every day.”
“Here.” From around the table, Merry reappeared with a smell that made Gandalf’s mouth water. “These are some of Pippin’s favorites. You look as though you might need them. They always seem to help Pippin, so they might help you, too.”
He held out a plate of freshly baked strawberry tarts. Gandalf could not fathom how Merry had managed to persuade the cooks to part with them, nor did he care. Almost of its own accord, his hand seized one of the smaller tarts. His stomach voiced an appreciative rumble, and the taste of strawberries filled his mouth. He closed his eyes, lost in the sweet richness of taste. He had enjoyed strawberry tarts before, but never had the flavor been so full. So vibrant. So—
“Is Gandalf alright, Mr. Frodo?”
Gandalf opened his eyes at Sam’s concerned voice, but Frodo answered first. “He’s enjoying some strawberry tarts.
“Ah.” Sam’s expression cleared. “Well, that explains it. Here. I’ve found a chair with a broad seat. It should be perfect for standing on if you can’t sit down to enjoy the meal properly.”
With a bit of help, Gandalf made his way to the top of the chair and was glad he was not required to climb any higher. His balance was not steady enough for anything more adventurous. Licking his lips and enjoying the last of his strawberry tart, he looked over at the elves in the kitchen. “I trust you have some ready excuse as to why you call me Gandalf,” he said.
“Merry does,” Frodo answered. “He’s good at things like that.
“But I doubt we’ll have to use it,” Merry added. “They don’t pay much attention to us once we’re set for the afternoon meal.”
Not accustomed to being overlooked, Gandalf continued to watch the elves, but none of them gave him so much as a passing glance.
“You ought to have something else, Mr. Gandalf,” Sam advised. “Strawberry tart alone won’t hold you until supper.”
“My hope is to resolve this before then,” Gandalf said, but he turned back toward the table.
The elves had provided them with an assortment of meats, cheeses, breads, and fruits. Though somewhat sated by the tart, Gandalf’s stomach urged him on, and the plate before him was soon full. He made short work of the bread and meats and was working through the fruit when he caught sight of the strawberry tarts again. Unable to resist, he took another and once again lost himself in a flood of sudden flavor. His eyes closed. His shoulders slumped. His knees wobbled.
And something deep within shifted…
He looked around, not quite trusting hobbit senses, but no one else seemed to have noticed. Turning his focus inward, he probed and tested until finally deciding that he had …settled. He was deeper and more comfortable in Pippin’s form. The thought made him frown.
“I see you found the strawberry tarts.”
Even from Gandalf’s position atop a chair, Aragorn was much taller than he had any right to be. “Have one, Strider,” Merry said. “They’re almost identical to the ones Aunt Eglantine makes.”
“I trust that to be high praise,” Aragorn said, helping himself to a tart.
“She’s Pippin’s mother,” Frodo said. “And she makes some of the best strawberry tarts I’ve ever eaten.”
“Or stolen,” Merry added with a wry smile.
“That, too,” Frodo laughed.
“Pippin’s mother makes these?” Gandalf said slowly, a thought occurring to him.
“They’re a hallmark of summer,” Merry answered. “Pippin and his sisters will strip the strawberry patches bare as soon as possible so Aunt Eglantine can start making them. And once word—or smell—gets out that strawberry tarts are available, Pippin finds himself with a lot more friends than he knew he had.”
“No word against my own mum’s cooking,” Sam added, “but I don’t think I’ve tasted anything quite so fine as those strawberry tarts.”
“I’d always bring a plate of them back to Bag End,” Frodo explained. “Of course, if Pippin came with me, I had to count them every morning and night to make sure I still had them all. They’re more valuable than gold to him. Do you think he’d like one, Strider?”
“We should take him one when we go back,” Merry decided.
“We should do so now,” Gandalf declared, his mind wrapped around an idea. This form was reacting to something familiar and cherished, hence the settling. But if he could unsettle himself…
“Pippin usually eats a bit more,” Merry cautioned, hastily swinging down from his stool so as to help Gandalf off the chair.
“Then he can fill his own stomach when I return it to him,” Gandalf said. “Bring the tarts. And send someone to find Radagast. I have a few questions for him before we begin.”
“You mean to say that Elendil consulted hobbits while establishing his reign?”
Pippin leaned forward and nodded, his beard bobbing. “He did. In fact, the wisest of the Northern Kings would visit the Shire often and take counsel with members of the Took family. Why, it is even said that the Thain discovered the secret to athelas, and it was he who—”
“How did hobbits learn to use athelas when it responds best to those of Númenórean descent,” asked another elf, his voice skeptical.
“I understood that athelas grew first on Númenor,” said an elf near the doorway to the Hall of Fire.
“Nay, it grew first in Beleriand,” yet another asserted. “Huan gave it to Lúthien to heal Beren’s arrow wound. But it was lost when the lands sank beneath the Sea. It returned to Middle-earth in the hands of the Númenóreans, and it grows where they camped or settled.”
“That still does not explain why the scrolls of Minas Tirith claim hobbits were the ones to learn its properties.”
All eyes turned to Pippin. Pippin did his best to manipulate Gandalf's face into something dark and forbidding, though without a mirror, he was uncertain of the effect. He did feel his eyebrows bristling and his beard jutting forward, which he felt counted for something. "You do not believe me?" he asked in an offended tone.
“No,” said the skeptical elf, folding his arms.
“Say, rather, that we doubt your lore,” another elf added. “If this is what Gondor’s records recall, the knowledge of men wanes.”
“But why would lore in Minas Tirith make any mention of Halflings?” still another asked.
“Hobbits,” Pippin corrected absently. He was trying to wrap his head around the possibility that someone could ignore Gandalf's bristling eyebrows. He would have never considered doing so himself. Was it because he had not mastered the art of wizardly intimidation? Or was it something else? If possessed of enough confidence, could a hobbit do as these elves did?
Someone beyond the encircling elves cleared his throat. The elves ceased arguing amongst themselves and parted to admit Strider and Merry. The latter wore an expression of supreme exasperation. The former looked stern, but the twinkle in his eye suggested he was secretly amused. “Perhaps I should have remained here,” Strider said. “You have been busy in my absence.” He turned to the elves. “My apologies, friends, for interrupting. But Master Elrond has asked that Gandalf —” he added both emphasis and a weighty glance toward Pippin, “—meet with him in the Hall of Fire. And we would ask not to be disturbed for a time.”
The elves broke up, muttering various acknowledgements and requests that the conversation be continued later. Pippin paid them no mind. The prospect of getting his own form back was far too exciting, and he shot to his feet, forgetting that he had still not mastered balancing atop longer legs. “What did you find?” he hissed as Strider quickly steadied him.
“I found nothing,” the Ranger confessed, “but Gandalf may have. Sam has been sent to fetch a change of clothes as well as Master Elrond and Radagast. Frodo and Gandalf are persuading the cooks to part with a few more strawberry tarts, and they will join us shortly.”
Pippin liked the sound of that, particularly the part about strawberry tarts. But he wondered if he would be able to enjoy them. The very thought should have made his mouth water, but his appetite was strangely dormant.
“So, Pippin,” Merry began as Pippin and Strider tottered toward the Hall of Fire. “Advisors to Elendil?”
“Things might have turned out better if he’d had a few stout hobbits along.”
“Perhaps,” Strider chuckled. “At the very least, the Last Alliance would have enjoyed better and more frequent meals if hobbits had been given charge of provisions. But it was my understanding that hobbits did not settle the Shire until the reign of Argeleb II.”
“Marcho and Blanco were the first,” Merry said, nodding. “They were Fallohidish hobbits from Bree and were probably among the ancestors for both Tooks and Brandybucks.”
“But the Shire isn’t and wasn’t the only place hobbits live,” Pippin added. “The old Kings could have talked to hobbits living east of the Misty Mountains.”
“Then most likely they would have served as advisors to Isildur and Anárion, not Elendil,” Strider said, guiding Pippin through the entrance to the Hall. “Not that it matters, but if you happen upon those elves again, it would make the story more believable.”
Merry blinked. “You’re supporting him in this?”
Strider’s lips twitched. “I speak as I probably should not, but among those elves are some who could do with a good ear-jerking.”
To avoid a conflict of interest, Gandalf had Frodo carry the strawberry tarts, uncertain of his own resolve to make it all the way to the Hall of Fire without eating the entire plate. He had always wondered where hobbits managed to pack away all that they ate, but the past few hours spent in Pippin’s form had brought him no closer to an answer. He was almost as hungry now as he had been when they set out for the kitchens.
“It has to do with being a tween,” Frodo explained as they walked. “I don’t know that I can give you a better answer than that. Pippin usually pockets a treat or two to snack on between now and supper. He also has a little something to eat just before bed. The rest of us don’t do that anymore. At least,” he amended, “not usually.”
“And I thought all your fine hobbit feasts were done out of pleasure rather than necessity.”
Frodo shrugged. “We enjoy what we need.”
Just outside the Hall of Fire, the pair met Sam, who had with him a small bundle of hobbit-sized clothes. “I found Mr. Radagast first,” he told them. “He’s likely already in the Hall. Master Elrond and the others went with him. I hope that’s alright, but I didn’t see as I had any say in preventing them.”
Gandalf had expected no differently. “You’ve done well, Master Gamgee.”
“I’m glad you think so, sir,” Sam said. “I’m sure the elves don’t know what to think of me. I’ve now taken shirts and trousers past the same few elves, and I can only imagine what they think, watching me carry a change of clothes around to odd places in the middle of the afternoon.”
“Probably that hobbits are odd folk,” Frodo answered. “But they already thought that.”
“Quaint folk, perhaps,” Gandalf said, feeling the distinction to be important.
“Quaint,” Sam mused. “I like that.”
“It’s a polite way of saying rustic,” Frodo allowed.
From within the Hall of Fire, voices could be heard. As they approached the entrance, the voices became clearer, and Gandalf frowned as he heard Erestor firmly declare that there was a better chance of the Helcaraxë melting than of Pippin and Gandalf surviving outside Imladris in their current forms.
“I still believe we could put this to some use,” Galdor argued as the three entered the Hall. “Perhaps as a lure for Saruman. If he were approached by Mithrandir’s form but not by Mithrandir’s power—”
“We are not sending Peregrin Took to Isengard as bait,” Elrond said flatly. “We have tempted fate enough for one day.”
Gandalf loudly cleared his throat. The effect would have been more immediate had he been able to loom properly, but even though his head barely cleared waist-height, he still managed to gain everyone’s attention. Over on a side bench, Aragorn, Merry, and Pippin all looked relieved. “I must concur with Master Elrond,” Gandalf said. “It would be inadvisable to send either myself or Pippin anywhere. I cannot seem to keep my stomach full, and Pippin does not seem able to stand upright.” He turned toward Radagast. “I would speak with you a moment. I have a few questions before proceeding.”
Drawing Radagast off into a corner, Gandalf glance back and assured himself that Elrond, Erestor, and Galdor had resumed their discussion. Pippin and Merry appeared to be informing Frodo and Sam as to the exact nature of the discussion, and Aragorn looked as though he would rather be tracking orcs. Gandalf could hardly blame him.
“Samwise seemed to think that you had arrived at a solution,” Radagast said, pulling Gandalf’s attention away from the others.
“Perhaps,” Gandalf hedged. “Earlier, when I was eating—” An angry rumble interrupted him, and he paused to glare at his stomach. “When I was eating,” he continued, “I chanced upon a treat that reminds Pippin of the Shire and of his childhood.”
“Strawberry tarts,” Radagast guessed, glancing toward Frodo and his plate of pastries. “Pippin seems interested in them.”
“But he is not eating them,” Gandalf pointed out. “As for myself, I could not resist them. And while eating my second tart, I felt a…shift. As though I settled further into this form.”
Radagast pursed his lips. “The elves put much stock in the power of the fëa over the hröa, but I have observed that the hröa has a power of its own: a power of memory and feeling that can be just as compelling as the will of the fëa.” Radagast’s eyes narrowed. “You are holding tighter to Pippin’s form than you were earlier.”
“That is what must be reversed,” Gandalf said. “We must find a way to unsettle us.”
“It would seem to me that being unsettled is what caused the problem in the first place.” The other wizard frowned. “You say Pippin enjoyed strawberry tarts as a child?”
“So I was told.”
Radagast nodded slowly. “What did you feel as you were eating them?”
Gandalf gave the matter some thought. “Summer,” he said at length. “Laughter. Voices I cannot hear clearly. As though this form holds a memory of…” He trailed off, searching for words.
“Of home,” Radagast supplied. “Of safety and peace. Valar, I was a fool not to see it earlier! It explains all!”
Whatever explanation Radagast had uncovered still escaped Gandalf. “What explains all?” he demanded.
“Home. Safety. Peace. From all you have told me, these things are what hobbits value.” Radagast gave him a shrewd look. “How long has it been since you felt such things?”
Gandalf bristled, wishing he had a beard so that it could do likewise. “The struggle against Sauron has not allowed me to—”
“You mean you have not allowed yourself,” Radagast countered quickly. “As a result, there has been little in which you could trust over these long years of defeat. Then Isengard dealt you a grievous blow: One whom you believed to be stalwart and true turned from us. And has been turning from us for quite some time. Friendship and wisdom are no longer to be trusted. The only thing in which you can now trust is yourself. But hobbits trust in home, and in his form, you had discovered the power of that. You had discovered the strength upon which hobbits rely. We must release your grip on that if we are to release your grip on Pippin’s form.”
“Then I must find something to clutch more fiercely than Pippin’s memory of home,” Gandalf said. He pursed his lips and looked over at their companions. “What most compels our forms?” he murmured.
Radagast shook his head. “For you, it is your stewardship. But that is not what you need. What you need is trust. You need to trust in something other than yourself. Something that can lend strength when you have none. Like Pippin, you need to find something that speaks of home, and when you do, I think you will release your hold on both his home and his form. For I believe them to be one and the same.” Radagast paused, his expression unreadable. “You never made a home in these Hither Lands as the rest of us did. You have ever been the wanderer. But how long has it been since your thoughts turned toward the West? Truly turned? How long has it been since you allowed your mind and your sight to drift along the Straight Path.”
“Too long,” Gandalf admitted. “The war against Sauron was always enough. I found a place in my struggles to rally his enemies against him.”
“A place is not a home.”
“Then find home now. I believe that is the answer for which we are searching.”
Gandalf stared at Radagast. “It cannot be that simple.”
The response was a bitter smile. “Did not Saruman name me Radagast the Simple? But as you have said, I am a master of shape and hue. These things are simple. In this, Saruman was truthful, though I doubt he knew it. And that, at least, you may trust.”
It still seemed too easy, but Radagast was in earnest. And something about the thought of home tugged at Gandalf. Perhaps it was his hobbit form. Perhaps it was the long years he had been away. Perhaps it was the wound still festering from Saruman’s betrayal. But whatever it was, Gandalf decided to try Radagast’s plan immediately. He probably should have informed the others, but this touched upon things too personal to reveal. And should he fail, he did not want to raise their hopes.
Taking a deep breath, Gandalf closed his eyes. It was time to not only look like a hobbit. It was time to think like one. To find his hope and his strength the same way that Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin did. Thus he cast his thoughts away from Imladris, beyond the trees and the water and the protective cliffs. He sent his mind soaring over Eriador, passing above the Great Road and the villages and the Shire. Calling upon the fires of Narya, he followed Arien’s flaming path as it soared into the uttermost West. Music rang out to him, clear and bright. Calling. Waiting. Welcoming.
For the first time in millennia, the wandering pilgrim dreamed himself home.
And as he did so, he felt a shift…
Given the fuss that the change of forms had created, the restoration of forms proved oddly anticlimactic. The most dramatic happening was the initial surprise as Pippin found himself suddenly dwarfed by Gandalf’s robes and Gandalf felt himself explode out of hobbit clothes. A quick change of apparel ensured that there would be no need for creative explanations should anyone enter the Hall of Fire.
“That was good thinking, bringing the plate,” Pippin said through a mouthful of strawberry tart.
“I think it was meant to have another purpose,” Frodo said. “But maybe it wasn’t needed after all.
“Wasn’t needed?” Pippin exclaimed. “It doesn’t feel as if Gandalf ate anything when he was in the kitchens!”
“Not as much as you usually eat. And don’t talk with your mouth full,” Merry admonished.
“Is there a danger of this happening again?” Aragorn wondered.
“No,” Gandalf said, feeling more certain of himself than he had since Orthanc. A warmth had settled in his heart, and he felt the confidence of those who had sent him so many years ago. “There is not.”
“Then I believe it is time for the strong Dorwinion,” Elrond declared. “Erestor? Will you see to the arrangements?”
“I will,” Erestor said, moving toward the door. “And over drinks, perhaps Mithrandir and Radagast might share with us what solution they devised.”
Gandalf and Radagast traded looks. “Perhaps,” Gandalf said, having no intention of fulfilling Erestor’s request.
“I must beg off, for I feel the need to find a place of peace after all this,” Radagast said. “Some of us have also been away from home for too long.” He winked at Gandalf, smiled at the hobbits, and took his leave. Erestor followed.
“More for the rest of us,” Galdor said. “Shall we?”
But they had not even reached the doorway before Lindir appeared, calling for Mithrandir. “Radagast and Erestor said you had concluded your business,” he explained. “If that is the case, then I wonder if Mithrandir and I might continue our conversation. I wish to know the origin of the claim that hobbits served as advisors to Elendil.”
Gandalf blinked. Elrond stared. After a moment of stunned silence, there was a suspicious coughing fit behind Erestor after which Aragorn hastily excused himself and hastened out the door. From the corner of his eye, Gandalf noted that Merry and Pippin seemed to be edging after him.
“Advisors to Elendil?” Elrond echoed slowly. “Whence came this idea?”
“That was my question,” Lindir said. “Mithrandir was most earnest that—”
“When did you hold this discussion?” Galdor interrupted.
“Just before you met here in the Hall.”
Gandalf arched one bristling eyebrow and slowly turned to glare at Pippin. The hobbit swallowed and shrugged his shoulders as if to feign innocence, but Gandalf was having none of it. Face darkening, brow furrowing, and eyes glaring, he directed his most baleful glare at the erring Took.
“Mr. Frodo, didn’t you say that—”
“Yes, Sam, it’s just about time for—”
“I’ve got some of Uncle Merimac’s cream if you want to—”
And all four hobbits followed Aragorn’s example, slipping neatly behind Lindir and disappearing out the door.
But not before Pippin startled everyone by responding to the bristling wizard eyebrows with a mischievous grin.
Despite himself, Gandalf felt his own lips twitch in response. Carefully composing his face, he turned to Lindir and stroked his beard thoughtfully, relishing the feel of facial hair. “You do not think Elendil could have used a few hobbit advisors?” he asked.
“Do you?” Lindir challenged.
Considering what he might say in return, Gandalf took out his pipe and tapped a few crushed leaves into it. Ignoring a chorus of protests as well as Elrond’s stern declaration that all smoking was to be done outside, Gandalf lit the leaves and took a few puffs. “Hobbits are full of enough surprise that I will not venture a guess as to how they may have helped Elendil,” he said at length. “But I will say this: There is much to be gained by walking a mile in a hobbit’s shape and hue.”