Title: Through Shadow
Theme: The Ides of March
Elements: Starter Sentence
_____had thought (he/she) would never see____again, yet here (he, she, it) was.
Author's Notes: Hithfaer means “Mist- Spirit”. The soothsaying cat of Gondorian legend first appeared in my story “A Cat of a Different Colour” and then in “Perchance to Dream”. Beta by Dreamflower. Dizzy is a character created by Shireling, and she has graciously allowed me to include him in my stories.
Summary: With Merry safe in the Houses of Healing, Pippin takes some rest at last, and receives a visit from a mysterious cat
Word Count: 2,575
March 15, T. A. 3019
Pippin had thought he would never see sunrise again, yet here it was. He sighed, leaning back against the wall where he waited for word in the Houses of Healing, and allowed himself the luxury of closing his eyes. Just for a few minutes, he assured himself. The sounds of caring for the sick and wounded carried on around him, finally settling into muted background.
Other, more capable hands, had taken over and now he could afford to let his guard down. Just a short rest, that’s what he needed. Merry was being cared for and the battle was over at last. Everything would be sorted out soon. A little rest would be lovely.
I’ll just close my eyes for a few minutes. I shan’t take long, he thought, and moved from the waking world to his dreams before the idea was complete…
The sun peeked over the hills to the east of the farm, illuminating the pasture with the first fiery ribbon of light. It was going to be a beautiful day. Strawberry blossoms beckoned as he hastened across the dew-kissed meadow, and he quickly picked up his pace. Pippin threw his arms wide in his joy to greet the dawn. It was wonderful to be home at last.
A series of sharp barks and yips drew his attention away from the sky and he spied Dizzy making a beeline for him. Pippin fell on one knee and gathered the hound to him. A part of him wondered how Dizzy could still be a puppy when he had been an old dog when Pippin had left on his journey. The thought quickly flitted away, replaced by his eagerness to enjoy Dizzy, the farm, and the scent of the new mown hay drifting to him on the morning breeze.
It was perfect; it was the moment he had yearned for over the many months he’d been away. The only thing missing now was the sound of his family. Where was everyone? They should have been here to greet him!
Pippin mused over their absence as he set his dog on his feet and rose, frowning in the direction of the farmhouse.
“Come, Dizzy! We’ll go find them since they didn’t come find me. Perhaps they weren’t aware I was coming home today.” Pippin trotted off with the pup yipping at his heels.
There was still no sign of anyone when he reached the barn. How odd, he thought, and started to pull open the door. His hand hesitated over the latch and a wave of faintness overcame him. An overpowering sense of having done this before settled on him and he trembled, but he wasn’t sure why.
With a shake of his curls he scolded himself and then opened the door and peeked inside, fully expecting to see his father and some of the farmhands hard at work. He wasn’t prepared for the deafening silence that greeted him instead. There were no cows, no ponies, and no goats. Not even Pansy, his mother’s huge insufferable goose. What was going on?
Pippin let the door bang shut behind him as he wandered down the path between the stalls. Where were Orangeblossom, Pimpernel’s favourite cow, and her calf that they’d named Bluebelle? Where was Tomias Hornblower, the youngest of the hired help, who always had a jest and a smile for him? And Great Uncle Theobald Took? This time of day he should be headed outside to light up his pipe after the family’s first breakfast, before he got busy with his morning tasks.
“Da?” Pippin’s voice sounded small to him and yet it seemed to echo throughout the cavernous barn. This place was never this quiet, not even at night. There were always the soft snorts of the resting livestock, the rustle of straw, the cooing of the doves that nested high in the rafters above.
He suppressed a shiver of dread as he turned the corner and gazed up into the dark depths of the hayloft. It had been one of his favourite places to play with Lily, his cat, and Tulip, his stuffed piggy, when he was a young lad. Pippin smiled to himself at the memory, in spite of the situation. He wondered if his knitted toy was still stowed away safely on the top shelf of his closet where he’d left her.
Taking another careful step he peered at the ladder that rested against the back of one of the stalls. Strange. He was certain that particular ladder had been torn down while he was still very young, due to its rickety state. With a shrug he started to scale it. Dizzy barked in anticipation.
“Stay there,” Pippin told him, and Dizzy sat obediently.
He reached the top and clambered into the sweet smelling straw. He gathered up an armful and inhaled deeply, hugging it to him in delight. Ah, now that was the smell of home! He’d spent many happy hours here daydreaming and napping, and he settled back to reminisce, drawing in another deep breath of the familiar atmosphere.
He sat up and sniffed the air, for now there was another pleasant aroma. What? The scent of freshly baked bread wafted under his nose and he grinned. Mum must be in the kitchen! Yes, surely that was where everyone was hiding. After all, who could resist his mother’s bread, hot from the oven, the thick slices drizzled with melted butter fresh from the churn? As if in response to his thoughts of food, Dizzy whined.
Pippin hurried across the loft to the ladder and started down. “I’m coming, boy,” he soothed. Skipping the last three steps, he leaped, landing nimbly on his feet. The action called to mind another fond recollection – that of his father’s frown whenever he caught Pippin leaping from high on the ladder.
He was just pulling open the barn door when the sound of a light step came from behind him. Slowly, he turned and looked across his shoulder. There was no one. Wrinkling his brow, he turned around in a circle. All was quiet.
“Hullo? Who’s there? Da? Nell? Vinca?”
He took a step forward and waited. Still, there was nothing. At last, he pulled the door open and stepped out into the new morning sunlight. Roosters should have been crowing. And whatever had happened to the chickens? And the pigs? The thoughts came to him unbidden, and he was once again reminded of the peculiarity of it all.
Thoughts of his family’s home at Great Smials drifted through his mind. Perhaps that was the answer? When his father had become Thain they had divided their time between the farm and the ancestral home. But surely they knew he would come here, where his heart would always remain?
A soft rustle caught his attention and he turned. He could see long stalks of grass in the pasture waving and separating, but he knew it wasn’t due to the light breeze. Something was coming his way. Pippin shaded his eyes, squinting into the bright light. A large, tortoiseshell cat finally emerged from the shadows, picking its way delicately through the shorter grasses of the meadow. He didn’t know how it was possible, but he could already hear its deep purr. And again he was struck with a feeling of insight, for he was certain he had encountered this particular feline before. But. . .hadn’t it been a dream? He’d never been entirely sure.
Yes, it was at the beginning of the long journey, during their time at the Pass of Caradhras, when he was beginning to truly despair at having joined the Company. He’d begun to feel like so much baggage, useless and in the way. And then, huddled beneath Boromir’s fur-lined cloak, sheltered from the blowing snow, he’d fallen asleep at last, utterly spent. And in his dreams she had paid him a visit, promising to share with him her gift of foresight.
The cat paused in its trek and Pippin studied her curiously, recalling the man of Gondor’s tale of childhood lore.
“Hithfaer,” he said softly, and when he spoke, the cat bowed its head as if acknowledging the salutation.
“Little one. It has been a long and wearisome journey, yes?”
Pippin slowly nodded, eyes wide.
“But you have come far.” The cat tilted her head towards him. “Yet, you have still farther to go.”
Hithfaer sat, regarding him kindly with her soft golden eyes. “I trust my gift has served you well, thus far?”
Pippin’s mind was awhirl with thoughts of his journey. He recalled being whisked away by the Uruk-hai along with Merry, and how he had not allowed himself to give in to the despair that threatened to swallow them whole. In his mind’s eye he had seen Aragorn and the others pursuing them, running, ever running, across the vast plains. So he had risked much to leave the Elven brooch behind, somehow knowing it would be found. More memories surfaced and he thought of all the times of late he’d felt truly inspired, known what to say, which way to turn.
“Beware, young one. For I see a shadow looming. Be mindful of my words.”
“Do not interrupt me, child.” Hithfaer gave a slight shake of her head. “Behold!” The tortoiseshell cat blinked leisurely and the air shimmered before them.
Pippin watched as a great battle waged before his eyes. He saw his friends – Aragorn, Gimli, Gandalf. The elf. Legolas’s expression was grim and Pippin frowned as he watched Legolas running towards something, his sword held high.
He sucked in a breath when he realised what the elf saw. A huge mountain troll stormed at the line of warriors. Club swinging, it smashed the heads of all it drew near, and now the path led in the direction of those of the Tower Guard. His comrades. Eyes wide, horrified as the creature bent low and tore away the throat of a fallen man with its sharp teeth; Pippin stared helplessly at the fountain of blood that gushed forth. He twisted away, gagging.
But Hithfaer turned him back to the battlefield with gentle, yet forceful words.
“Nay, do not turn away. The troll will either take you or be taken by you. You must make a choice. If you falter, if you give in to your fear, then your future will be lost, along with that of your comrades. Stand strong, young Peregrin. Your hardest battle is ahead of you still.”
Hithfaer tilted her head at Pippin’s home. “The time for joy and celebration will come soon, but to reach that bridge you must choose carefully. Would you offer your life for that of your brothers in arms?”
“I would gladly lay down my life for those I love,” Pippin whispered.
“Even if that means a great sacrifice?”
“Yes.” Pippin shifted his gaze from the vision to the tortoiseshell cat. “But, I don’t understand. You speak in riddles, Hithfaer. How will I know what it is I must do?”
“You will know.”
“I will know. . .what?”
“You will recognise what you need to do,” Hithfaer insisted.
“Why are you showing me this vision of my future?” Pippin looked once more with reluctance upon the scene of the battle. This time he saw himself and the great troll hovering over him, its shadow long and threatening. Beregond lay at his feet, injured and defenseless, and Pippin knew he was the only barrier between his friend and death. The self in the vision looked at his small blade and back at the troll with obvious trepidation.
Pippin watched his other self raise the sword to strike, to defend the fallen man, sharing the same sense of desperation. . .and then something glittered on the ground just out of his line of sight. A look of determination settled over the face of his shadow self, and Pippin watched as he bent and snatched at some object.
The battleground dissolved and he could once more see the green fields. Pippin sank to the ground with a moan of weariness.
“I don’t understand. Why are you showing me this? I’m tired of riddles. I’m tired of struggle; I’m weary of battles, and the cries of the wounded and the smell of blood. Of the sight of flesh and bone strewn along the paths I walk. I want the war to be over. I want to come home.”
The last ended on a sob and Pippin pulled his knees up to his chin and wrapped his arms around them, rocking back and forth. “I want to come home.”
“Soon, child.” Hithfaer leaned her head against the tween’s legs in order to comfort him. “For now, you must harken to my words and to the feelings in your heart. When the time is right, trust your intuition. It will not fail you.”
“Why are you here?”
“I am here to help you come home.”
Pippin felt suddenly light-headed and closed his eyes. . .
Pippin’s eyes popped open. Someone was calling his name. He scrambled to his feet, heart pounding. Was Merry all right? Had something happened to his cousin while he slept?
He gradually relaxed when he saw Beregond coming towards him, hand raised in greeting. At the same time, a sense of impending dread settled on his heart like a cold shroud. He shivered, but forced a smile. Beregond returned it.
“It seems as if everyone is feeling better. I’ve just visited the houses of healing and your cousin is still resting peacefully. The Healer’s assistant gave me a message for you.” Beregond paused and peered closely at him. “Are you all right, Peregrin? You look pale. Perhaps you should rest. You’ve certainly earned it.”
Pippin shook his head. “What message? What was said?”
“Only that your cousin is sleeping quietly.” Beregond’s expression softened and he placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Peace, my friend. All is well, at least for the time being. You should get some sleep now. Tomorrow will bring our next challenge, without a doubt. Rest while you can and know that Meriadoc is in good hands.”
“Yes. I. . .I suppose that is good advice, Beregond. I will take it.” Pippin gave his friend a hesitant smile.
“Good! I believe I shall do the same.”
Pippin watched his fellow guardsman walk back to the place where camp had been set up. His brow wrinkled in dismay. The brief dream bothered him for some reason, though he couldn’t understand why. Usually he felt wonderful when he dreamed of home, especially of the farm. But a sense of unease shadowed him, clung to him like the chill of winter that even a crackling fire on the hearth could not cure. Why? Pippin shivered again, feeling there was something important he needed to do. If only he could remember it in time.