The inn of the Prancing Pony had not changed much over the years.
It was still the favorite watering hole of many Breelanders even though to the hobbits that were presently drinking there, it retained its sordid and somewhat sinister atmosphere. Long shadows seemed to fill every corner of the seedy establishment, with faces peering through the gaps of light that could easily perceived as ominous if one did not know better. Patrons sat in their corners, nursing drinks, staring furtively about the place, stealing glances at other drinkers, trying to guess one another’s agendas, whether was they were here merely for the drink, the lodgings or simply because there was nowhere else to go. It was a place that felt like a haven for lost souls or the last port of call for restless travelers during a storm.
It was another typical night at the inn.
The hobbits came here every year and every year Barliman would put them up at the same table, present them all with pints of draught and prepare rooms for their eventual retirement in the small hours of the morning. They would drink and eat, then return to their rooms before setting out for the Shire once again, never to return together unless some specific business brought them to Bree, until the next year. To Barliman, it was like the changing of the season to see the small gentlemen appeared in his establishment and after the second year, he no longer waited until they arrived to prepare their room in readiness for their eventual appearance.
For many years, there were four hobbits that made the annual pilgrimage to Bree. The one that Barliman knew as Frodo Baggins often appeared too frail to make the journey and gave the innkeeper concern by the shadowy look in his eyes. Then six years ago, Baggins stopped making the journey and though Barliman would have liked to inquire as to the fate of the missing hobbit, he had a feeling his posed question would not be answered and so thus he did not bother to ask. He merely furnished the remaining hobbits with their pints and the best meal his cook could offer along with the best hobbit sized rooms in the house and accepted that his role in the play of their lives was to involve no more than that.
If Barliman had asked the hobbits what they were celebrating with this annual ritual, it was quite possible he might have received an answer in some form. It was Frodo who had begun the practice of making this annual pilgrimage, possibly out of some need to always have those who were closest to his heart know what it meant to him when they accompanied him on the perilous quest to destroy the One Ring. Thus every year, on the anniversary of their arrival in Bree as well as their historic meeting with their much loved friend Strider, the hobbits gathered here to share a drink and each others company as they recounted old times.
Now that Frodo was gone across the sea, it felt all the more important to continue the ritual because it was good to face each other as they were when they had first embarked upon the quest, three young hobbits swept away by dark times to a great adventure. These days, they had a kind of celebrity in the Shire and their lives seemed very far removed from the young hobbits they had been when they first came to Bree. Sam had become Mayor in Frodo’s stead, a rather elevated place for so simple a hobbit, he often thought. Of course, Rosie had told him often enough that he was the only one who considered himself simple, though she had doubts about herself since he could be so obtuse about the obvious.
Meanwhile, Merry and Pippin often found themselves recounting their adventures abroad, from the battle of Bywater to their earlier adventures with the Fellowship. Their part in the Battle of Bywater had won them the labels of Captains and heroes. However, they received the honor with amusement at the realization that it had been bestowed upon them without the Shire even being remotely interested in the fact that one of them had once killed a troll and the other had helped with the defeat of the Witch King. Despite this, the duo enjoyed their fame immensely, throwing great parties and wearing their mail and for all to see as they traveled about the Shire, telling their tales of the outside world.
“So did you hear?” Sam remarked after they had toasted their latest excursion to the Bree and settled down into more friendly chatter.
“Hear what?” Pippin asked before taking a long sip of his pint.
“Diamond of Long Cleeves is taking over the library,”
Pippin started coughing loudly as he choked on the draught that seemed to have taken the wrong way to his stomach at that announcement.
Merry and Sam exchanged knowing glances before Merry turned to his best friend, “so I take it you didn’t hear then?” A spark of mischief gleamed in his eyes as he regarded his friend who always had a little crush on the lovely hobbit maiden with the golden colored hair.
“No,” Pippin said once he had collected himself, wiping his lips with a handkerchief. “I didn’t hear. I lost touch with her after we set off on the quest and never got around to seeing her again.”
“Well she hasn’t been very sociable after what happened,” Sam remarked, feeling for the poor woman since he was aware of her tragic situation.
“That’s right, she was engaged to Drogo Hedgeworth from Woodhall,” Merry declared upon realizing why he remembered Diamond’s history so well. “He was killed during Bywater wasn’t he?”
“He was,” Pippin nodded somberly, still feeling as badly for Diamond as when he had first learnt that one of the nineteen hobbits killed during the Battle of Bywater had been Drogo Hedgeworth. Pippin had always harbored a secret crush on Diamond but could never summon the nerve to speak to the beautiful, young hobbit lass. He had always admired her straight golden hair, worn loose like a glittering cascade over her shoulders and could never produce a single intelligible word whenever she smiled at him. Pippin supposed that in the wake of her loss, that smile would have been a long time in coming again.
“Anyway,” Sam remarked, pretending to feign nonchalance at Pippin’s obvious lingering affections for Diamond. “She’s come to stay with her aunt Willow whose getting on in years and not up to looking after the old library anymore. I mean it took its turn on Willow seeing to it that none of Sharkey’s men razed it to the ground during those dark times.”
Willow of Long Cleeves had been the guardian of the local Shire library for the past fifty years and had protected her charge most fiercely during the time when Saruman had invaded the Shire. It was said that she was even more determined and feisty than Lobelia Sackville Baggins but fortunately, not as shrewish which was why she had not ended up in Lobelia’s company during the lady’s imprisonment. Since she was content to remain quiet as long as her beloved library was not interfered with, Saruman’s men were of the belief that it was best to leave her be and not invite the grief of trying to dislodge her.
In truth, Diamond was actually her grand niece and Pippin supposed that if Diamond was ready to leave her grief for Drogo behind, taking her aunt’s place at the library was the place to start.
“Well that’s nice,” Pippin said taking another sip. “I suppose we’ll see her around then.”
“See her around?” Merry stared at his friend in astonishment. “You’ve been carrying a torch for that lass since before Bywater! I would think you would be doing more than that.”
“Like what?” Pippin retorted annoyed because he had no wish to discuss Diamond so publicly.
“Like calling on her!” Merry snorted as if Pippin had suddenly striped naked and was dancing on the table. “Honestly Pip, you can be rather thick at times.”
“I can’t just call on her!” Pippin burst out so loudly that he drew the attention of a few Breelanders who glanced their way with curiosity.
“Why not?” Sam asked pointedly. “You’re not as young as you were when we left the Shire. You’re a grown hobbit now, well in theory anyway. I don’t see why you aren’t settling down with a nice girl.”
“Well not all of us had someone like Rosie waiting for us when we got back,” the youngest of the Fellowship said snippily.
“What do you want to do?” Merry added. “Wait until you’re Legolas’ age before you get married?”
“No,” Pippin replied darkly, wishing they would just let the matter drop. “I mean what reason would I have to just bump in on her?”
“Well she does work at a library,” Sam suggested, “perhaps you might try borrowing a book.”
“What do I want with a book?” Pippin blurted out.
Merry dropped his face in his hands and shook his head in resignation, “this is going to be a lot harder then we thought.”
Pippin had thought he was terrified when he had faced the troll, however it was nothing in compared to how he felt as he was being ushered through the doors of the library by Merry and Estella Bolger.
This had not seemed like such a terrible idea when Sam, Merry and he had been discussing it that night at Bree but Pippin supposed after many pints of draught, invading Mordor would sound like a good a idea. However, now that it was time to put the plan into action, Pippin found his resolve fading. He wondered whether or not he was being foolish. After all, he had faced far more terrifying things in his time and emerged unscathed. Why should calling into the library to say hello to Diamond frighten him so much?
Because he really liked her.
Until now, he had considered her a chapter unwritten in his life and most likely to remain that way even if he never forgot how she made him feel and still did. Even now, the memory of her smile could make his heart beat faster and inspire dreams of things he usually never concerned himself with like marriage and children. Well he was not young any more and adventure was something he had experienced, just like its uglier aspects, danger and death. He knew of late that he had been searching for something that not even his friendship with Merry or the parties they threw could satisfy. Perhaps Sam was right, it was time to find a nice girl and settled down. However, he was still unconvinced that Diamond would be agreeable to play that part in his life.
“Are we going to do this or not?” Estella Bolger asked impatiently.
Estella, unlike her brother Fredegar, was never cursed with the weightiness that seemed to plague all Bolgers and was very pleasant to look at. She had dark hair and soft brown eyes that framed her lovely features and would have been a good match for any gentlemen if not for her somewhat acidic manner. She spent most of her days working in the markets but had set aside some spare time to help her brother’s childhood friends with desire to see Diamond. She knew for a fact that Pippin, though like Merry was rather immature for a hobbit who had traveled the world and fought in battle, was generally of good character pr else she would not have bothered to inflict either of them upon Diamond.
“Of course we are,” Merry retorted, securing his hold around Pippin as he continued towards the library.
“I don’t think this is such a good idea,” Pippin offered ineffectually as he was unwillingly led to the entrance. “I mean what if she doesn’t even remember me?”
“Then she’s be luckier than I,” Estella remarked sourly.
Merry straightened up and looked up at her, “must you be so negative about things? He just needs to work up his courage.”
“Oh wonderful,” she shook her head in sarcasm, “he can fight Sharkey’s men but when it comes to talking to a woman, he has to sum up courage. Very flattering.”
“Well some women are more frightening than Saruman,” Merry muttered under his breath and glared at the tail end of Estella’s flouncing skirt when she turned her back on him and continued through the door, no longer bothering to wait for either of them. “Come on Pippin, I’m not going through all this for nothing.”
“Going through what?” Pippin demanded as they started towards the entrance of the library.
“Putting up with that woman to help you,” Merry hissed, his faced scowling as he followed Estella.
The library of Hobbiton was not very big. The entire history of the Shire was contained within its walls and its size was a testament to how much of it there was by the size allotted for its keeping. In its entirety, the library would have been no larger than Bag End itself if all the internal walls had been knocked down and only the outside ones were left standing. The wooden floor was polished and like all shire buildings, the room was circular with round windows. Most of the walls were covered with heavy wooden shelves laden with leather bound volumes of books that were surprisingly dust free.
It appeared they were the first visitors of the day, even though it was noon outside. Pippin could only stare as saw Diamond seated behind the counter, her long hair draped over her shoulder as she paid deep concentration to the book before her. She had not changed much in all the years he had known her and when she raised her eyes to him at their arrival, he felt his throat go suddenly dry. If not for Merry holding his elbow surreptitiously to ensure he kept moving, he would have most likely remained where he was, gawking at her.
“Hello Diamond,” Estella took the lead and broke the silence first.
“Hello Estella,” Diamond said politely, “finished your book already?”
“Yes,” Estella smiled brightly, “it was very good as you said. I didn’t think we kept such saucy things in here.”
“Well some of the older ladies like it,” Diamond remarked with a little crook of her brow and a slight smirk. “Shall I recommend you another one?”
“If you please,” Estella retorted. “And while you’re at it, you might as well find something for Pippin there as well.”
“Oh?” She turned her eyes upon Pippin. “You want me to recommend you something?”
“Yes,” Pippin managed to say after Merry elbowed him sharply in the back to prompt him into speaking. “I’ve been having trouble a little trouble sleeping lately and thought a good book might help.”
Pippin was rather proud of his response and was even more pleased when she seemed satisfied by his answer.
“Good idea,” she nodded in approval. “Any idea what you want to read?”
Pippin blinked, having never considered his brilliant deception would succeed far enough for him to require this particular detail. “I don’t know…” he stammered uncertainly.
Merry tried not to curse under his breath and wondered if Estella was right, that this was not a disastrous idea to begin with. “Why don’t you suggest something, Diamond? Pippin doesn’t know what he likes.”
“Yes I do,” Pippin suddenly became very animated, deciding he did not need Merry to help him talk to Diamond after all. “I like history books,” he found himself saying.
“History books?” Merry and Estella exclaimed in unison.
Diamond was growing a little suspicious of the strange behavior of the trio but chose to ignore it. After all Merry and Pippin, despite being heroes had been abroad and their conduct could be excused by the influences by the outside world, while Estella was probably trying to keep them from embarrassing her. Besides, Pippin had voiced a request and that was something she could help him with despite the peculiar manner of he and his company.
“Well we have many books on Shire history,” Diamond offered kindly, “all the way back to the Greenfields in 1147. There’s many fascinating volumes on the settlement of the Shire if that’s how your fancy goes.”
“What about outside the Shire?” Pippin found himself asking for no particular reason.
“Outside the Shire?” She stared at him in surprise. “What do you mean?”
“I mean outside the Shire, in the lands beyond the Shire, like Rohan and Gondor. Don’t we have any books about that?” Pippin asked, finding it very disturbing that the scope of historical record in the Shire did not extend beyond its boundaries.
“The hobbits of the Shire are not concerned with the affairs of other races Pippin,” Diamond retorted, finding his pointed questions rather flustering. “We don’t have any.”
“At all?” He exclaimed, forgetting quickly what he had come here for in the first place in the light of this disturbing revelation. “We have no books of any kind about the elves, the dwarfs or the big folk?”
“No,” she stared at him, wondering if he was mad. It was a way of life that hobbit had no general interest in the world outside. After all, to the average Shire inhabitant, what point was there to nose around the business of men and elves or even dwarves for that matter, when they had their own concerns to deal with? “We only have books on the Shire,” she repeated.
“That is disgraceful!” Pippin exploded in open horror.
“Pippin,” Merry tried to stay his friend’s excited manner as he saw Diamond stiffening in annoyance. “I don’t think this is the time to discuss it.”
“How can you say that?” Pippin whirled around and faced him. “Look at what we’ve been through. In the last few years, we’ve seen Sauron and Mordor destroyed the reunification of Arnor and Gondor, we saw the Ents march on Isengard and the Riders of Rohan defending their lands against Orcs and other terrible things. Are you going to tell me its right to let all that disappear into nothingness? Don’t you want people to know about Boromir and how he died to protect us, or how Theoden led the Rohirrim to Pelennor? Don’t you want people to know how you and Eowyn fought the Witch King? What about Aragorn and how he became king? Or even Frodo with everything he went through to destroy that dammed ring? How can we just let that all go without even writing it down!”
“Isn’t Sam doing that?” Merry pointed out; uncertain of how to answer his friend because he had not seen Pippin so properly provoked in a long time. It was like seeing Ents on the march.
“I think he is but there’s more than just this age! What about all those other ages and other heroes like Beren and Luthien, or Gilga-lad and Elendill? You can’t let all of that get forgotten.”
“He’s lost his mind,” Estella declared.
“Pippin maybe we should come back,” Merry started towing him out the door. “When you’re a little less excitable.”
“It’s a disgrace that’s what it is!” Pippin was still raving as he was dragged out the door, leaving Estella and Diamond staring after him with astonishment.
“I am sorry Diamond,” Estella apologized after a long pause since neither could think of anything to say after the departure of the two Shire heroes. “I had no idea that he was insane.”
Inwardly, Estella made a note to tell Meriadoc Brandybuck that he was never to ask a favor of her again. If truth were known, she had only consented to this because Fredegar considered them his best friends and she had known them for almost as long as her brother. There was also this unspoken wish that perhaps Diamond might actually show some interest in Pippin since she had been living in something of an emotional vacuum since Drogo’s passing.
“Oh its alright,” Diamond turned away from the entrance where the two men had disappeared, a rather thoughtful expression on her face. “I had no idea he was so passionate about things.”
“Is that what you call it?” Estella’s brow crooked in skepticism.
“I think so,” she said with bemusement. “You know I never thought he had such deep thoughts in his head. Before he went away, he didn’t seem all that grown up to be. I think the last time I remembered seeing him was during Bilbo Baggins’ party. Remember that?”
“I don’t think anyone in the Shire every forgot,” Estella shrugged, starting to realize that Pippin may have done himself a good turn with Diamond after all, despite his ludicrous outburst.
“It was the last time things were ever normal in the Shire,” Diamond said sadly, remembering how she and Drogo had danced at the party and how he had walked her home after the celebration had ended following Bilbo’s sudden disappearance.
“If you ask me, Pippin and Merry are turning out to be just as peculiar as old Bilbo,” Estella pointed out. “Fancy wanting books about the history of other places? What use is to us anyway? We’re Shire folk, we have our own ways of doing things.”
Diamond did not answer her friend but she disagreed with Estella’s perception that it was unnecessary to know what was going on in the outside world. The scourging of the Shire by Sharkey’s men had proved how vital it was for Shire folk to know exactly what was happening in the world around them because too often, they were being caught unawares when danger came upon them.
Diamond resolved herself to tell Pippin the next time she saw him how right he was.
“WHAT IN THE NAME OF GANDALF’S GREAT GREY BEARD WAS THAT ABOUT?” Merry demanded as soon they were a suitable distance away from the library, having held his tongue back until now so that he could vent his disgust at Pippin’s behaviour with the loudness it deserved.
“What do you mean?” Pippin asked innocently, his mind still inflamed over the whole idea that centuries of history beyond the borders of the Shire were blithely ignored by the hobbits simply because it had little do with them. He could not believe that such ignorance existed, especially after what happened with Saruman and his rape of the Shire.
“You were there to say talk to Diamond!” Merry roared angrily. “I had to put up with Estella Bolger all morning trying to convince her to help us so you could go talk to the girl of your dreams and all you ended up doing is getting into a debate with her!”
Like a splash of water, Pippin realised what he had done and the expression on his face went from the crusader of historical records to failed suitor with remarkable speed. He slapped his hand across his forehead as his faced show dismay at what he had done.
“Oh no!” He exclaimed. “What was I thinking?”
“I have no idea!” Merry retorted shaking his head, glad that Pippin had returned to reality once again. “You were practically shouting at the girl!”
“But I was right!” Pippin offered desperately, hoping that he had not behaved as terribly as he did – though in principle he was quite unrepentant.
Merry rolled his eyes in exasperation, “that may be so but you were not there to champion the First and the Second Age! You were there to talk to Diamond!”
“I have to apologise,” Pippin stammered, unable to think of what else to do. “I have to go now.”
“I don’t know whether that’s such a good idea after the fool you just made of yourself in front of her,” Merry pointed out bluntly.
“I’ve got to say something!” Pippin declared marching past him towards the library again. “I don’t, she’ll be mad at me and I won’t get her help.”
“Her help?” Merry’s brow wrinkled in confusion. “Help for what?”
Pippin turned around and stared at him as if he had suddenly transformed into an Ent and retorted impatiently, “to help me with updating the library of course?”
“Updating the library?” Merry’s eyes turned into saucers. “You want to update her to update the library?”
“Of course not!” Pippin shook his head wondering how his best friend could understand him so little. “I can’t expect her to do that, she’s got enough to do as it is.”
Merry’s head was starting to hurt the more he attempted to keep track of what was on Pippin’s mind. He had not seen his best friend so properly inspired since the Battle of Bywater and oddly enough, it was not even about Diamond, but rather books. “Pippin, you’ve lost me,” he finally called out, crying defeat at attempting to unravel Pippin’s so called logic.
“I mean to do it myself,” Pippin said proudly and very pleased with the idea that was taking grand shape in his mind the more he thought about it. “I mean why not. Between you and I we know most of the kings of Middle earth, I don’t see why we can’t go see them and get their help in updating our library or better yet, creating one a whole new one?”
“You’ve gone mad!” Merry finally exclaimed. “You looked into the palantir too many times and gone mad. Gandalf warned you that thing was dangerous and now you’ve just ruined your mind completely.”
“You have no vision Merry,” Pippin let out a sigh and turned back to the library. “Can’t you see a great library with all the history of the world here in Hobbiton? I’ll bet there’d be nothing like it anywhere in the Shire.”
“That’s probably because most hobbits don’t care about the history of the world,” Merry pointed out dutifully, “just the Shire.”
“Well it’s got to change,” he said purposefully, refusing to let go of the idea that was spreading through his mind like a fever. “We can’t be as closed off as we have been. Look at how easy it was for Saruman to just walk in here and take things over? Can you imagine how long it would have lasted if we hadn’t come back and got everyone moving?”
Merry did think about it and it disturbed him just as greatly as it did Pippin. They had always assumed that the Shire would remain untouched by whatever mischief took place in the outside world. It was a foolish hope to think that the Shire and hobbits would be kept safely in isolation while beyond their borders Middle earth had nearly torn itself asunder. However, he was uncertain adding foreign texts to the library would help very much either to change the traditional view of hobbits and the outside world.
“What about Diamond?” Merry reminded Pippin in all his bluster about the Shire and their close mindedness to all things beyond it. “This whole exercise was so you can talk to her? Don’t tell me you forgotten about her?”
“Of course not,” Pippin paused long enough to give Merry a look, “I’m going to talk to her and I’m going to apologise too.”
“Good,” Merry let out a sight of relief, glad that Pippin had returned to some semblance of self. “I don’t know receptive she’s going to be after the way you behaved.”
“I’ll make her understand that I didn’t mean to yell,” Pippin resumed up the steps to the library entrance. “I have to convince her,” he replied.
Merry rolled his eyes and shook his head in resignation as he stared after Pippin, still somewhat stunned by the whole episode.
“I’m glad you got priorities straight,” he muttered before following his insane friend into the building again.