TO PROVE YOUR WORTH
Illuminated by the light by of countless lanterns, Peregrin Took stood atop a platform, dressed in a mail shirt befitting a Knight of Gondor, calling to the crowd of hobbits below. “The people of the Shire have lived in fear of Lotho for far too long! His ruffians are destroying the villages, demanding our food, throwing all those who oppose him into prison. Tooks! Are we going to allow this to continue? How can we look at ourselves in the mirror knowing that we’re too afraid to take up arms and defend our homes? So I ask you now, my fellow Tooks: will you stand beside me in a battle for the Shire?”
For a moment there was silence, broken only by hushed whispers amongst the crowd; but their eyes beheld more anxiety than their lips could ever vocalise. They were terrified, fearing that, at any moment, the Chief would get wind of this secret meeting and send his Men to break it up, using whatever means required. And the hobbits had no doubt as to ‘whatever’ meant.
Finally, a cheer spread like wildfire through the crowd. “Down with the Chief!”
“Well, Pip,” Merry commented, helping his friend down from the platform. “Who knew that you of all people could inspire such patriotism.”
“Being a Knight of Gondor does have advantages,” the other said with a grin, unsheathing his sword from its scabbard, the blade gleaming in the torch light. “For the Shire!”
Merry removed his own weapon, gifted to him by King Eomer of the Mark as a token of his rank. “The Shire!”
Watching his cousin and hearing his inspirational speech filled Robin Took with an anxiety that sank to the pit of his stomach like a boulder. Unlike many of his cousins, Robin was a shy lad, burying his nose in books, ignorant, like so many other hobbits, of what went on beyond the Shire’s borders. Life was infinitely simpler when the only contact one had with the outside world was a sporadic visit from Gandalf or the occasional tale from one of your more adventurous cousins. However, that lifestyle was no longer available. Pippin was right: the hobbits had to fight for their freedom, for there was no-one else in Middle-earth who would defend them.
Merry and Pippin barked orders to the crowd, calling that everyone find a weapon of some sort, anything would do so long as it inflicted considerable damage upon anyone who faced the wrath of its bearer. Kitchen knives, axes, and even swords and bows, kept purely for decorative purposes of course, were passed through the crowd.
Robin gulped as Paladin Took, Pippin’s father, thrust a knife into the young lad’s hands, all the while never taking his eyes off his son.
“That’s my Pippin up there!” He whispered to Robin. “Who’d have ever thought that he had such leadership qualities? He’ll make a great Thain when I pass on.” Paladin sighed. Perhaps his passing would come sooner, rather than later; perhaps it would come tonight.
“Yes, Uncle Paladin,” Robin murmured, staring in disbelief at the weapon he held in his clammy grasp, his hands trembling as he turned the blade in his hands.
Seeing his young cousin’s unease, Pippin pushed his way through the crowd, placing a hand on the young hobbit’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Robin. I remember the first time I held a blade…”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
His muscles screaming in protest from the hard day’s trek, his arm itching from the innumerable bits that he had obtained during his journey through the dreadful Midgewater Marshes, Pippin sank gratefully to the ground beside Merry, Sam and Frodo.
The filthy, dishevelled Ranger who had been their guide since Bree stood with his back to the hobbits, eyes scanning the ground below. Turning back to his charges, Strider dropped a bundle to the ground, unrolling the coarse fabric as it tumbled. “These are for you; keep them close. I’m going to have a look around. Stay here!”
Pippin stared in wonderment at the dagger Strider threw into his grimy hands, cautiously removing the weapon from its scabbard. His face contoured into a wave of disgust as a streak of dried orc blood, blacker than a stormy night, met his eyes. Turning to Merry, the young hobbit asked, “Does he expect us to use these?”
“The real question is,” his cousin replied, watching the Ranger’s retreating back, “Does he expect us to know *how* to use them?”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Pippin sighed, before handing the meat knife back to his young cousin, who looked at the elder with wide green eyes. “This dagger will taste much blood before tomorrow night,” the Knight of Gondor said. Eyes still glazed, Pippin turned, striding through the crowd to inspect more weapons.
Robin could only stare in nothing less than admiration as his cousin demonstrated to a group of bewildered hobbits how to decapitate a Man; showing first how to disarm him, then bring him to eye level, and finally, swipe his head off. Seeing Pippin, hearing his words, had lifted him from the mire of despair he had allowed himself to sink into.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
After a basic lesson in blocking an enemy’s blade, Robin felt his nervousness returning, swopping down on him like a vulture seeking its prey. He swallowed as the ‘army’ began to march towards Brywater Road, where they would meet the inhabitants of Hobbiton who had joined them in taking up arms against the Chief.
Led by Pippin and Merry, silence descended upon the hobbits, worry etched upon their faces. Most knew little of warfare, or fighting. Only determination fuelled them onwards, marching against the rapidly approaching dawn.
With every step, Robin wanted to turn and run back to the Great Smials, back to the safety of his bedroom and his books. But he was no coward! Why could he not fight? Books could only shelter him for the rest of his childhood – what of his adulthood? Was this the kind of life he wanted for his children, his grandchildren? Yet, with every step, he felt his courage diminish like an ice sculpture melting under the intensity of the sun’s searing heat.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The young hobbit-lad felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned, to see Pippin smiling mildly at him. The Knight of Gondor was inspecting his ‘troops’, offering each a few words of encouragement.
“Are all battles you’ve fought like this?” Robin whispered, his throat suddenly dry.
“Not quite,” Pippin replied, “Like the storming of Isengard. Now that was a battle to remember…”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Perched atop Treebeard’s outraged form, Merry and Pippin clung onto his branches for dear life as the Ents began their assault of Isengard, hurling boulders and trampling Uruk-Hai soldiers as they strode furiously onwards.
Knowing there was little they could do, but determined not to stand (or sit) by idly, the two hobbits began throwing stones at the Uruk-Hai, knocking several of them out, allowing the Uruks to be easily crushed by the marching Ents.
“A fine hit, Master Merry!” Treebeard declared. “And you too, Master Pippin! Why, if all Halflings are half as brave as you two, then Sauron would stand no chance if your people were to ally themselves with Men and Elves.”
“Watch out!” Pippin cried, as archers lit their arrows and began firing flames at the attacking Ents.
“The dam!” Treebeard ordered. “Break the dam! Release the river!”
“Pippin, hold on!” Merry yelled, clinging all the more tightly to the branches. Two Ents fired a relentless barrage of boulders at the dam wall. Like blood from a vein, the waters burst forth, flooding the grounds of Isengard.
“Hold on, little hobbits!” Treebeard commanded.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“When all this is over,” Robin said, “I should like to hear all of your tales.”
“And I should like to tell them!” Pippin answered, before moving along the line to a pallid-looking hobbit who looked on the verge of fainting.
Robin closed his eyes for a brief moment, before inhaling a deep breath. He could do this; he would do this.
As the ruffians marched along the road, the young hobbit felt his strength grow. These men had ruined his home, had thrown so many of his friends, innocent of any crime, into the Lockholes at Michel Delving: Fatty Bolger, Mayor Whitfoot, and countless others. Some hobbits had even been murdered. Hatred poured like a poison in Robin’s veins. This Men would terrorize the Shire no more – he would see to it personally.
Unbeknown to the youngster, Pippin was watching, a satisfied smile on his lips. Little Robin would prove his worth this day. Much like a young, naive hobbit had done not so long ago. A young hobbit who had taken charge of his people and led them to a battle for their freedom. A young hobbit who stood with his friends at the head of the army, determination in his eyes.
A young hobbit called Peregrin Took.