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Home Thoughts, from Abroad by Celeritas

Author:  Celeritas
Title:  Home Thoughts, from Abroad
Rating:  G
Theme:  Birds
Elements:  The Chaffinch
Author's Notes:  This tale is based on imagery in Robert Browning's poem of the same name.  Since it was through this poem that I first even heard of the chaffinch, it immediately came to mind when I received my element.  The suitability of the poem is almost uncanny: it's set in April, looking forward to May, and it was written while Browning was living in Italy on account of the delicate health of his wife.  If the Shire is around the latitude of England, then Gondor is around the latitude of Italy.  The reader is highly encouraged to read the poem in order to trace the imagery as it appears in the fic.
Summary:  Springtime in Gondor makes Pippin--and Sam--realize what they miss most.
Word Count:  925


“I’ve discovered,” said Pippin, swinging his legs idly from the stone bench, “what’s wrong with the flowers here.”


“Oh, have you?” said Sam mildly from his work below.


“Yes.  They’re entirely too bright.”


“Hum,” said Sam.  They were still only a few days in the White City, Frodo and Merry had managed practically to lock themselves in the Archives in a fit of scholastic frenzy, and Sam had finally prevailed upon the Warden (with the help of the King’s clout) to let him putter around in the gardens at the Houses of Healing—to, as Strider put it, help him get used to everyday life once more.  Sam was grateful.  The garden was about the only thing that came close to everyday in this grand place, with all the bowing and scraping and praising with great praise; and while he didn’t mind “grand” terribly, especially if it was an elvish sort of “grand,” the stuff that came with it he could do without.  And Pippin was with him, because sworn to Gondor or no, hobbits were not meant to live in a city of stone.


“They are!  They’re too bright, and they’re too big!  Makes your eyes almost hurt looking at them!  Why, I’ll bet the folk here can’t tell the difference between half a dozen shades of yellow waistcoats, if they’re used to stuff so—so gaudy!”


I think the flowers here are just fine,” said Sam.  “I’m glad enough they’ve still got what’s good for growing—fresh soil, water, and sun.”


“Sun,” repeated Pippin.  For the briefest moment a shadow flitted across his face.  “Yes, I’m glad they’ve got plenty of that here.”


“Did you notice,” said Sam, “all the trees looking west in Ithilien?”


“Looking west?  I didn’t think trees—barring Ents, of course—looked anywhere!”


It took Sam a moment to recall exactly what Ents were; sometimes all that had happened to them looked fit to make his head burst with confusion.  “Well—maybe ‘looking’s’ not the right word.  But a plant’s leaves try to get all the sun they can shining down on them.  They’ll grow tilted if they think there’s more to be found that way.  There weren’t no Sun to the east in that land—only shadow.  I’d have noticed it sooner if I hadn’t been looking after Mr. Frodo all the time.”


“You don’t say!” said Pippin.


“Only—” and here Sam looked up with a deft, secretive smile—“I saw, just before we crossed the River, a couple of trees putting out new branches to the east.”


“They could tell already?”


Sam gave him a sagacious look.  “Plants are mighty intelligent, Mr. Pippin.”


Now you’re tugging my toehair.”  Pippin stuck out his tongue; the infantile gesture looked almost out of sorts on his face, so much older than it had been a year before.  “If these plants were smart, they’d try to look more like the ones back home.”




“Well, because we’re here, obviously!  D’you know, there’s this marvellous spot at home—in Tookland, that is—right at the edge of the orchard, by the hedge, where there’s the sweetest pear-tree, and its blossoms get so heavy that its branches dip down to lay them on the ground.  Well, that’s what I always thought, at least, though it really leans over all year—and then all the birds that’d nest nearby: the thrush, and the whitethroat, and all the swallows…”  He sighed.  “The birds aren’t right here, either.”


“Look, Mr. Pippin,” said Sam, setting down his trowel and wiping the dirt from his hands.  “What’s this all about?  If you wanted to get homesick on me you could’ve given me some sort of warning.”


“Sorry, Sam,” said Pippin.  “It’s just that I was thinking this morning, how it must be April back home—or May, perhaps; those pesky Men had to change the calendar and confuse us—and that means that the pear-tree back home’s in flower and I won’t be there to see it.  Not that I’d rather have stayed behind, but—”


“I know,” said Sam.  For how could he say that thoughts of spring had also taken his heart back home, to the chaffinch that sang sweetly every morning in the orchard and the elm tree just outside the Cottons’ farm where Rosie had kissed him on the cheek?  He swallowed.  “We’ll be back soon enough.  And we’ll be able to watch as many springs as we want then.  And,” he added, “come to think of it, I thought there used to be orchards in these parts.  The Enemy may have got some of them, but he can’t have gotten all of them and things grow back anyhow.  Captain Faramir might be able to find you a nice pear-tree.”


“He might,” said Pippin.  “Wouldn’t be the same as home, but I suppose it wouldn’t hurt, eh?  We’ll drag that cousin of mine on a picnic and force all kinds of food into him.  He may be finally getting his appetite back, but he’s still as thin as a fencepost!”  He leapt off the bench.  “I’ll see what can be arranged!”


“Don’t push it!  You’re forgetting the other fencepost you’ve been talking to!”


“I’ll ask for twice the food, then!” Pippin said airily, and trotted off down to the main House, leaving Sam to finish tidying up.


And at that very moment, leagues upon leagues away in the north of Middle-earth, Rose Cotton heard a chaffinch sing from outside Marigold Gamgee’s bedroom window.  Come home soon, Sam, she thought.  We need you here.


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 21st, 2009 12:49 pm (UTC)
Oh, what a wonderful conversation between Pippin and Sam! That's a combination I always love!

I loved how in Pippin's homesickness, even the colors were not right, and I really adored the idea that the leaves of the trees in Ithilien can now seek the Sun, and the description of the pear tree, and the idea of feeding Frodo--and most especially the end, in which Rosie hears the chaffinch!

Apr. 21st, 2009 04:27 pm (UTC)
I know! The combination worked really well here, I think, because they're both more spring-like than Frodo and Merry. (Poor Merry is getting really short shrift in all of my challenge fics!)

I think Pippin is using the occasion of his homesickness to indulge in a little immaturity (after all, he was not yet full-grown when he left!). The color difference was based on the last line of Browning's poem: he finds buttercups brighter than the gaudy melon-flowers of the Southlands. But in my experience the color palette of England is much softer and more muted, even in the sunlight, than in warmer climes, and in a day where everything seems nice, but not quite right, I think Pip would notice. And the complaint does seem to fit in with him.

The trees came to me as I was writing and they made me really really happy. How would having the east swathed in shadow affect the plant life?

Stuffing post-Quest Frodo with food is a well-known pasttime in fandom, though you'll notice I have his appetite returning (I'm thinking almost back to normal) and that Sam apparently has lost a similar amount of weight. But Pippin's not used to looking after/harrassing him nearly as much as his beloved cousin.

And after all that I had to go back to the Shire, which is itself being renewed. One of the nice things about writing is that you can take the story to the direction of a character's thoughts, even if he doesn't know what's going on!
Apr. 21st, 2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
I forgot to mention: the description of the pear-tree is almost straight from Browning. Gotta give credit where it's due.
Apr. 21st, 2009 01:15 pm (UTC)
That's one of my favourite poems - I remember having to learn it at school! Your fic is a wonderful reworking of it - it captures just the right sense of longing and 'out-of-placeness'. :))
Apr. 21st, 2009 04:31 pm (UTC)
I also ran into the poem at school--in fact, I had to memorize and recite it, which might explain why it stayed in my head so well.

Thanks so much for the feedback; I was trying to match it in tone and I'm glad you, at least, think I succeeded!
Apr. 21st, 2009 01:50 pm (UTC)
“Don’t push it! You’re forgetting the other fencepost you’ve been talking to!”

“I’ll ask for twice the food, then!” Pippin said airily[...]

Pippin may be homesick, but he's still his irrepressible self...

And yes, the poem is definitely perfect for the story (and vice versa).
Apr. 21st, 2009 04:35 pm (UTC)
Yes, Pippin is most irrepressible; I think that's what makes him so much fun to write!

Thanks so much!
Apr. 21st, 2009 01:52 pm (UTC)
This was sweet and gentle!
Apr. 21st, 2009 04:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Apr. 21st, 2009 02:09 pm (UTC)
What a delightful conversation!

with all the bowing and scraping and praising with great praise

LOL. And that's a great detail about the trees beginning to tentatively 'look' east once more.
Apr. 21st, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)

Phototropism is a fun concept and it occurred to me that the Shadow might have created some sort of effect like that. *is a geek* And I'd like to think that the trees would be able to sense that something was different.
Apr. 21st, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
Very good! You got their 'voices' just right, and the feeling that homesickness brings too.
Apr. 21st, 2009 06:42 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I do try to get characters' voices right, but I never know if I succeeded until it's published.

For some reason Pippin sounded extraordinarily like his radio self as I was writing this.
Apr. 22nd, 2009 02:54 am (UTC)
An insightful tale, Celeritas. Maybe I'm homesick even though I am home. I do enjoy stories with Sam and Pippin :-)

Apr. 22nd, 2009 06:52 am (UTC)
Homesickness is a funny thing; sometimes I think it's more of a longing for time than place (I think some of Pippin's petulance was actually reflective of that).

I've seen some conversations between Sam and Pippin in fic that I haven't cared for much, but the really well-written ones can yield a lot. I hope this was one of the latter!
Apr. 22nd, 2009 03:57 am (UTC)
I'm so glad yours is now posted as well! Yes, perfect for these two, and just right. Have been in California and found that in spite of being the same longitude the latitude has a great deal of influence that changes things remarkably from here at home to down there. The angle of the sun just doesn't feel right, and the flora are remarkably different as well, even in the northern reaches of the Siskiyous.

And in spring there simply is no place like home, wherever that might be!
Apr. 22nd, 2009 07:01 am (UTC)
Yeah; I was a little late for the first wave of posting, but it's up now! Latitude has a huge effect on the atmosphere of a place, though my own experience has not, I think, been quite so drastic as the difference between the NW and California! (Maybe it's because they're both on the ocean?)

And yes, spring particularly seems to be a season that really varies depending on the region/climate, more obviously than the others. In the Midwest where the actual climate is more or less the same throughout I can usually gauge how far north/south someone is from me by which flowers are in bloom.

Thank you!
Apr. 22nd, 2009 04:50 am (UTC)
You capture the flavour of an English spring perfectly in Pippin's longing.The blossom and the birdsong is so lovely it almost brings tears to my eyes!
I'm not surprised Pippin is homesick.
A very moving story,and I loved the end,so very book Rosie.
Apr. 22nd, 2009 07:07 am (UTC)
Well, I'm afraid all the credit for the flavor of the English spring has to go to Robert Browning, whose imagery I shamelessly plundered! The one time I was in England in the spring was in the middle of March, and as far as I could tell it had not quite yet started (and anyway it's hard to tell seasonal variations in the middle of London). But I'm pleased a native Brit was able to recognize her home country in this tale nonetheless. Despite the divide I think that Americans are exposed to enough literature and/or culture to still find something magical in spring in that country--even though I have very little English ancestry myself it still stirs something older in my veins.

And spring in the idyllic, fertile Shire must have been even more special!
May. 9th, 2009 09:31 pm (UTC)
That was lovely. So natural to the hobbits to be thinking of home and springtime there.
May. 10th, 2009 04:25 am (UTC)
Thank you. I think spring must have been especially beautiful in the Shire--no wonder they got homesick then!
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )


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