...Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

Frodo's Song
"The Grey Havens"
Return of the King

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can...

he library at Great Smials was an uncommonly fine room. In all the Shire, it was said, there was nothing like it, nor ever had been, and this was attributed to Thain Peregrin I, who now and again had some very uncommon ideas—due in part to being a Took, but also to his traveling abroad as a youngster when, as everyone knew, one was susceptible to all manner of questionable schemes and should not be allowed to go down the lane, let alone to foreign places. Still, it had been something of an accident that he had wandered so far away, and folk were inclined to overlook it after awhile, particularly as the Thain was such a pleasant fellow and didn’t seem any the worse for his peregrinations (a word association which should have told the Tooks something about high-sounding names).

His adventures had served well in terms of the library, however, which was assumed to be a reflection of actual places he had seen in the Wide World, as it certainly had no precedent in the Shire. Delved into a hillock on the eastern flank of Great Smials, the room was round, two stories high and paneled in lustrous oak, lined about with arching casement windows draped in mossy green velvet, and filled with all manner of finely bound books and papers and artifacts that were said to contain the history of the Shire and also the Second and Third Ages of Middle Earth—an exotic history of Time and Strangers that the Shire was yet only slowly coming to know, and then not so much from the Thain’s books as from the stirring tales he told over the ale at festivals.

The high dome of the ceiling in the library was held in place with thick wooden columns, turned and planed to glossy perfection and fitting up into a woody tangle of ancient roots that had long ago entwined the earth there and now had the look of polished burls. Beneath the dome was a circle of small arched windows that served the second-story loft, reached by a simple oak stairway near the door, and lined all the way around with burnished wooden shelves, most of them filled with ledgers and genealogies and mysterious rolled parchments—and some quite empty, as though waiting for history to happen.

Down below, a long window seat curved beneath the lower set of casements, starting on the left side of the room just past an arched and paneled door that lead to the Thain’s apartments, and ending on the right at the hearth, where several soft, deep chairs were set about the fire with a tea table along beside and the Thain’s most valued possessions placed close about. In every way, it was a gentlehobbit’s room, those who knew said sagely, and meant to reflect the Thain’s ties to both the Shire and the foreign lands he had visited. The folk of the Green Hills were proud to have it in their trust, and they often boasted of it if they were abroad in the Shire, though they had, as yet, found no practical use for it at home. The Thain was exceeding fond of it, though, and whenever he could not be found in the fields or the paddocks or the pubs, he would surely be found in the library, curled up before the fire.

Thus it was that in the deep hours of a restless night on the cusp of spring in the year 62 of the Fourth Age (by Shire Reckoning), the Thain of the Tooks, in his dressing gown, stole quietly into his sanctuary through the sturdy connecting door from his private rooms. He had waked in the night and could not sleep again, and so he crept out to resettle himself comfortably at the fireside until first light. He reflected somewhat somberly that this was becoming a habit.

The fire had been earlier banked and burned now low in the grate, its small, warm light spilling barely onto the hearth. The velvet curtains pulled over the long windows wrapped the dark chamber in a soft hush, and above, through the windows that circled the second story loft, the white stars glimmered in a silver net flung against the night sky, their pale light drifting like whispers over the sleeping Shire.

The Thain stood for a moment looking up at the spangled net and smiling a little in his sweet way. He knew something of starlight; always it stirred in him memories of the Elves, mostly vanished now, who had sung to the stars beneath which they had first waked in Middle Earth. Elves did not sleep, but rested their minds in waking dreams, and he thought he understood something of that curious business now, for he did not sleep so much himself these days. “They are a comfort,” he thought, looking up at the stars, “though I can’t say I feel like singing at such an hour as this!”

He moved from the starlight through the shadows to the hearth, where he lit the lamp on the table beside his chair and stirred up the coals in the grate, adding a little tinder and a small log, and setting his little kettle on to boil.

“It’s really very odd,” he said to himself as he spooned tea into the teapot and looked about for the toasting fork. “I should have thought one would sleep more as one got older. It would make perfect sense, as there is so much less for me to do now, and so many hands to help with what there is. I seem to remember that Bilbo slept a great deal when he was at Rivendell…oh, but then, I am forgetting more than I’m remembering! He must have been a hundred and thirty years old!”

The Thain was not nearly so old as that, but there was no denying he was far-gone in years—ninety-four, if anybody was asking. His hair was very white and his sunny green eyes looked out from a small, bright face that reflected not only incalculable depths of joy and sorrow but also gentle acquiescence to the changes wrought of time. Yet he was tough and full of spirit still, and while he rather enjoyed being fussed over of an evening in the common room among his folk—when Goldilocks brought him sweet biscuits and wine and made sure he had all he could desire close at hand—he had in no way retired from the work of daily life as most hobbits of his age did, content to while away the hours in games and smoking and sleepy conversation by the fire. He was up and about every day—though being up and about nearly every night was something altogether new.

It had been a month ago when first he had waked in the dispassionate darkness of his empty bed to a sudden painful rush of longing and an awful, empty sense of being torn from everything he knew. Diamond had been but five months beneath the grass but he had forgotten in the breathlessness of the moment and reached for her before he remembered; sadly he had gathered her pillow—cool and faintly scented still with violets—into his arms and lay down on his back, holding it close against his racing heart. A dream, he thought, aware that he could still hear the lingering echo of the far-distant cry that had accompanied that thundering rush of longing…surely only a dream.

But in the succeeding weeks he had come to the conclusion that it must be something else. Some nights he wondered vaguely if he might be ill. He had begun to notice that every bout of wakefulness he experienced was accompanied by growing sensations of turmoil, escalating turbulence that had begun to leave him—sometimes for as long as an hour afterwards—unaccountably shaken and confused. He wondered what it was that could grip his heart so, or make it ache so, or make him feel as though the earth slipped beneath his feet in these lonely nights he passed wakeful and perplexed beneath the casements filled with stars. Sometimes he thought there was something vaguely familiar about it all, but he couldn’t think what it was; in any case, as often as they came, the strange moments passed again, and being a reasonably easygoing fellow and not wishing to alarm his young folk, he let the moments slip away and got on with things as best he could.

The kettle boiled and he filled the teapot, setting it to the side to steep while he toasted several slices of bread and spread them with butter and honey. He poured out a mug of steaming tea, set everything on the side table with the lamp and took from a finely carved wooden box on the table a large book bound in soft leather. He settled into his chair with his feet up on the hearth and opened the book on his lap.

“’Tisn’t dreams or old age,” he thought, sipping his tea and looking for a moment over the top of the book at the flames that leapt up merrily in the grate. “I think I’m just out of fettle. I’m not the same now that Di is gone, and in the night—even sleeping, I suppose—I must surely remember how much I miss her.” He sighed, thinking of the small grassy resting place tucked away in the hills. He went every day to sit beside the little barrow and talk to her. He had not told her about the nights, but somehow he thought she knew anyway. She had always known when he was troubled, and what would sooth him, too.

“I wish you were here, Di,” he said, gazing into the fire. “We did so well together. I miss you. It seems I am meant to go on for a while without you, though. I can’t think why—unless it is to keep Merry company, and a good trick that will be, for he looks to be going on forever! Well, I don’t mind if I can be useful yet, though I’m sure I can’t see how that might be in the middle of the night!”

He turned to the heavy leather volume on his knees, a book that had proved to be a considerable source of consolation and distraction to him since he had been waking in the night. The book was a copy of The Red Book of Westmarch that Sam Gamgee had given into his hands twenty years before at the wedding of their children.

“You’ve a need for this in that beautiful library, Mr. Pippin,” Sam had said. “I want the Shire to remember Mr. Frodo and all of what happened away there in the East. In time, I shall ask Elanor to keep safe the book that Mr. Bilbo and Frodo wrote out in their own hands, but this copy we’ll call The Thain’s Book, and it will be entrusted to the Tooks—why, bless me, to our grandchildren, Mr. Pippin, think of that!—to remember the story for all the Shire.”

The Thain laughed aloud to remember the moment when Sam had first realized that the Gamgee Gardners were about to align with Tooks. Propriety and social graces and love for Goldilocks and Faramir eventually won the struggle, but Sam’s face had reflected every horrified possibility that came to him on the way to making his peace with this turn of events. “Well,” the reluctant Mayor had confided at last to the sympathetic Thain, “at least I haven’t any Brandybucks knocking at the door!”

“Poor Sam,” he thought now, chuckling into his mug, “And here’s young Tom about to deal him that very blow! Better you find peace in the West, my old friend! Tooks and Brandybucks on the doorstep—who would have thought such calamities could befall the Gaffer’s hardworking folk? ”

He sat thinking of Sam, smiling slightly as he contemplated the fire; at length he raised his eyes to the wall above the chimney shelf, where hung the silver and sable standard of the White Tree that he had brought home from Gondor with his livery after the War. Next to it hung the handsome proclamation issued fifteen years later that had made the Thain and the Mayor and the Master of the Hall Counselors of the North Kingdom and advisors to the King, who had never wavered in his friendship in all these many years. Aragorn’s face flickered through his mind as he had seen it last thirty years ago when they had traveled to the capital to accept the gift of the Westmarch on behalf of the Shire. He looked on the Tree of Gondor and the seven stars, and his blood stirred and surged eagerly in measure with his memories. The long-ago adventure and the lands and peoples of the Reunited Kingdom that lay beyond the Shire Bounds came back to him as if he had left them only yesterday.

Under his aged fingertips the pages of The Thain’s Book were smooth and creamy, the story written out with a finely cut quill in Pippin Gamgee Gardner’s small, expert hand. “’Twas the most important assignment I ever had, Uncle Peregrin,” his namesake had declared earnestly, flushed with pleasure at the Thain’s admiration, which had been expressed with considerable enthusiasm over the bridal ale. “I did hope you would approve, sir!” And approve it he had, he thought, running his hands gently now over the edges of the beautiful book: a gift most certainly worthy of kings!

In the margins of the chapter pages were facsimiles of Elvish design, illuminated in inks that sparkled like jewels in the lamplight. There had never been such tinctures in the Shire; Estella had brought them home from a journey made to Annúminas, a gift from Queen Arwen to an artist of enchanting skill. Save us, how Merry’s good wife could render the world, and such beautiful pictures she had made!

He turned the pages of The Thain’s Book carefully, finding his way through script and memory to the place where the story became his for a little while: Minas Tirith. The White City rose up in his mind: not the powerful, resplendent capital that stood proudly now at the foot of the White Mountains, but the beleaguered garrison of long ago, under siege in smoke and shadow, where he had come brutally of age in all but years. Still, it was with real longing that his thoughts recalled the panoramas of Middle Earth, and his eyes warmed with memory: the wide sweep of the Pelennor, the forests of Ithilien, Anorien on the Entwash, the astonishing prairies of Rohan and the high Golden Hall of Meduseld. The East Road, the West Road, Fangorn, the Misty Mountains, high and low…Rivendell….

He had barely an instant to register that it was happening again: the sudden, shocking shift of awareness, the swooning vertigo that pitched him hard enough to take his breath away. Hurriedly he set aside his tea, for it seemed to him that he trembled violently, and he feared for the book. But his empty hand was steady and he sat for a long moment staring at it in confusion and silent tumult, wondering blankly how it was that he could feel so shaken and be so still.

But now the moment accelerated: far stronger than any of the others had been, and out of time, too. His blood sang in powerful counterpoint to the normal rhythms of his heart, as though it answered at last the wordless ache he could not fathom and would not own. It caught him up and held him, and the song choked his heart. “Please!” he whispered. “I don’t understand!” He put his head down and closed his eyes.

But just as before, as quickly as it had come, it was gone again; his heart seemed to skip ahead, and he felt the soft, familiar tremor as his mind shifted with it to settle once again into the ordinary pattern of his life. He leaned back in the chair, letting his breath out in a long sigh, and in an expanding silence, felt the moment pass away. He sat with his eyes closed, still and shocked, long after it was gone.

When he opened his eyes again, they came to rest on Diamond, whose small likeness, deftly captured by Estella, was framed on the table beside him. He reached out and took the portrait into a hand that trembled now.

Diamond’s eyes had been elemental, a deep, wild, periwinkle-blue fringed with sooty black lashes and infused with an expression that could be as exquisitely playful as it was solemn, seemingly, in the knowledge of the Wise. Her delicate face, framed in a glorious wealth of dark hair and starrily lit from within, was animated with passion, affection and laughter, and the Thain gazed on her now with inexpressible tenderness and need.

“Di,” he said softly, gently brushing the pale outline of her face, as lamp and firelight coalesced to paint her fairy features with shadowed radiance. “What’s happening to me?” He brought the picture to his lips. “I can’t think what to do….”

Five minutes later he was dressed, shrugging into his warm winter cloak against the cold of pre-dawn and taking up his walking stick from the box beside the garden door. The stick had been a gift from his children, an exquisite length of polished oak banded in hammered silver and set with small, carved medallions of carnelian to match his badge of office, a silver brooch with deep red stone that had been handed down from one Thain to the next over all the generations of Tooks. He kept the brooch for ceremonial occasions only now, for his fingers were not so nimble as once they had been and he had difficulty with the clasp, but the stick he took everywhere, and very fond of it he was.

The door into the private garden was hidden behind one of the sweeps of velvet in the library. He tied it back now and drew the bolt, lifting the latch and quietly letting himself out into the dark. Looking up he saw the stars were beginning to fade. He closed the door behind him and took a deep breath before he made for the little gate set into the encircling hedge, pulling his cloak close about him with a little shiver. Past the gate he stepped into the main drive. He turned north toward the purple shadow of the hills, his stick thumping softly on the ground. The air was cold and sweet with the scent of the coming dawn, and he breathed evenly and with relief and felt all his senses quicken.

“Here! Who’s that?” A sturdy figure came out of the gloom behind the stables, lantern held high, a dazzling blind between them.

“Willy?” He held his free hand up to block the light. “It’s Pippin, old lad. Put that thing down; I can’t see!”

The Thain had watched over Tuckborough for most of fifty years with Will Took—a third cousin twice removed on his father’s side, steady now as then and always close at hand. “Oh, your pardon, Peregrin!” The lantern descended and Will flashed a Took’s quicksilver smile, affable but curious. “I couldn’t make you out there in the dark. Sure it is you—but frightful early, sir! There’s no trouble?” He brandished the lantern as if it were a cudgel.

“No, indeed, Willy.” The Thain smiled ruefully. “I’m sorry, I’m just up early and can’t sleep, so I thought I’d take a walk.”

The old fellow nodded sympathetically. “Aye, ’tis a problem, that, when you come to a certain age, isn’t it? Won’t you take the light, sir? It’ll be a while yet before the sun’s up proper.”

“I thank you, but no, Willy. I know my way in the dark by now. I’ve a notion to watch the sun come up across the Shire this morning, so I’ll be taking the path up the hill.”

“Ah,” the old hobbit’s voice softened. “You’ll tell her we all miss her?”

The Thain nodded gratefully, blinking against an unexpected mist of tears. “I will that, and thank you. And you’ll tell Faramir if he comes looking for me, that I’ll be down in time for breakfast?”

They laughed together in the dark. “I will that, sir,” said the stableman. “They do look after you careful, don’t they, the young master and mistress? ’Tis very fond of you they are, Peregrin—Mistress Goldilocks in especial, since she’s lost her own mum and dad now, and she the nurturing little creature that she is and her little ones growing like weeds. I expect she’ll be carrying your breakfast up the hill herself if she hears of this.”

“If she hears of this, you’ll tell her I’ve a pocketful of biscuits and a flask of tea and I’ll be down directly,” the Thain laughed. “I’ve got to go, Willy. Look out for my own, won’t you?” Will stepped back and waved him on. “Aye, be off with you then, and I wish you a good and proper sunrise! Certain there’s no mist lying on the hills yet this morning in this cold—may you see to the Bounds, cousin!”

he barrowfields of the Greater Tooks were tucked away in the Green Hills not far from the Smials, approached through a private, gated lane that branched off the main road. The lane dipped away beneath the oaks and then rose steadily among the grassy hillocks and hedgerows until it opened onto a treeless meadow beneath a high plateau from where, on a fair day, a hobbit could see clear to the horizon in every direction. Here a quiet hillside garden sheltered the burial mounds of the Thains and their loved ones. Diamond was cradled in a small green hollow beneath the shelf of the knoll, on a shallow slope that looked away to the north and east. Beside her, cut into the shaded, fern-covered bank, a winding stone stairway mounted westward to the highland.

The Thain came to the meadow as the last star winked out, the deep purple shadows of the night thinning and warming before the dawning day. He crossed the turf to Diamond, leaning heavily on his stick, smiling a little to see that the grass that covered the little mound seemed to have leapt up and thickened since the day before, and that a trailing morning glory had wandered by, leaving in its wake a tangle of folded blue blossoms that quivered in the half-light against the coming of the sun. A small, surprising patch of sleeping violets that he had not marked before crept round the edge of the little mound, a faint promise of scent rising with the light.

Dawn broke over the hazy, eastern horizon, a thin sliver of liquid gold, and a faint, silvery line that might have been the Brandywine appeared away in the East Farthing. The sky turned pink and then gold and the first light of the new day flared west across the Shire. Far to the north, The Water flashed northward, and he followed the line of the stream half-way down to Hobbiton before he lost it in a pale wash of shadow.

He eased down beside her, braced on his stick, not a little stiff from the walk up in the cold morning air, tucking the hem of his thick cloak beneath him on the wet grass. From the shirt pocket next his heart, he brought out her small likeness. “I’ve come to tell you about the strangest thing, Di,” he began, resting his back comfortably against the barrow and gazing at the portrait in his hand. “I can’t think what it means. I thought perhaps if I told you about it…”

Around him, the meadow began to glisten tremulously, myriad tiny beads of dew shimmering with reflected light. The grass rustled awake, the morning glories shivered, and at his back the sleeping violets trembled in anticipation of the day. And suddenly he caught his breath, for all at once as he gazed on Diamond’s small, bright reflection in his hand, he remembered the first time ever he had looked into her eyes—the day and the hour and, most important of all, the circumstances of that moment so long ago.

Away to the east, light was spilling over the horizon, skimming across the sleeping land. The high meadow waited, a breathless instant, and then all around him the Shire was leaping up to meet the day, the currents of earth and air and water fused with light. He marked that his own pulse quickened with it—as it always did when he watched the day break over his lands—but this dawn had woken long-buried memories as well, and he was stricken suddenly with a growing certainty that made his heart tremble.

“Oh!” he breathed, startled upright, his eyes full of dismay. “Oh, save us, Di! Not after all this time…! It couldn’t be…could it?”

By accident (which he quietly knew meant to say Destiny) the Thain had come of age (in experience if not in requisite years) not in the Shire of his birth, but in the powerful, far-flung lands of Middle Earth, in a violent and overwhelming crucible of war. In consequence—though his appealing external show of élan had been enough to convince the rest of the Shire that he had not come to cruel or lasting harm—the truth was that he was not the same as formerly, that in some ways he was forever changed. Merry and Sam had been as well, but neither had been so young as he, nor so innocently unguarded.

Once returned to the Shire, and after several exhilarating seasons at Crickhollow with Merry, he had at last come of age by Shire reckoning and could take up his duties as expected of the Thain’s only son and heir. In considerable relief—for by this time he had not been a youngster in heart and mind for years and had only been meeting Shire expectations in playing out the given time—he had gone home to Tuckborough and there applied himself gladly and with considerable diligence to all that was required of him. The lingering ache of his personal losses—Frodo and Boromir of Gondor, in particular—had served to dampen the more careless impulses of his youth, and the disciplines of war and travel had steadied him as well. Thain Paladin was cautiously delighted to observe this apparent settling, and folk in general all across the borough took their young “hero” to their hearts.

Then, unaccountably, the youngest Traveler had begun to find himself strangely restless and undone, rattled by a profound, nameless longing and soon possessed of a dim and rising fear that something deep within him had gone inexplicably awry. Once or twice a day sometimes, for long, tense moments, he knew himself to be at odds with the Shire, and at variance with the long-familiar currents of his life. Then the soft green hills seemed to lurch beneath his feet, and the trees to tip and the sky to reel overhead; his heart raced and his mind hummed distractingly, and frightened, he crept away to sit alone and apart in the long grass, blinking anxious tears out of his eyes and wondering what had come amiss and what he must do to make it right. He knew he was not ill, but neither was he well, seemingly, and though he strove to bear it all with quiet fortitude—mindful that Frodo and Sam and Merry had suffered far more than he during the War—he was increasingly troubled.

At last he turned to Merry, who was on his way to Rivendell where he proposed to compile a history in the archives Elrond had left behind in the care of his sons. Alarmed at Pippin’s rising anxiety, Merry promised to ask the Elvish princes what this could be, and when he came back—sooner than expected, for he himself was anxious now —he brought the answer: when Pippin was so undone as this, his blood was singing to other, older currents, to rhythms coursing far away and stronger than the Shire’s—the songs of lands and peoples whose roots reached into the deeps of time: the ageless ebb and flow of the Elvish lands and the desperate, passionate tides of Men; the horror of Sauron’s hosts and the magical swiftness of Shadowfax; the timelessness of Fangorn and the slow, strong, steady pulse of the Ent draughts; the power of mountains, of stone, of ages.

So it had been an accident of fate, and unforeseeable. He had gone abroad before he came of age by Shire reckoning, and thus before the Shire—in the natural order of things—would have claimed and sealed him from the older, deeper currents of the Wide World. These powerful, unsettling longings were not then the assault of an enemy, but the clashing rhythms of two very different worlds that made him their own. The two strove within him, each for precedence, but they were of even strength and so it would ever be, so long as he was in the Shire. Beyond the Bounds, it was different, though, for the rhythms of the Shire sang more softly there, and the older ones prevailed.

He discovered by accident that journeying distracted him from the distress this too often caused him. He took long walks into the hills and for a time he felt better. But eventually it was not enough, and so it was that he begged his father’s leave to go for a while. Over and again he was drawn away from the Green Hills Country when he would rather have stayed, to anyplace in the Shire that promised a day’s journey, or a week’s, and then beyond the Bounds, where he was at peace, to Rivendell and Edoras, and once, all the way to Gondor, and always Merry was at his side, steady, loyal and absorbed, and determined he should not endure alone. Distraction did seem to work, but every homecoming was followed within a week or two by another restless interval and there came a time when most of the Shire was of the opinion that the errant heirs to Tuckborough and Buckland traveled far too much and were in danger of never coming home again. He remembered now the day they had set out for the rocky North Farthing, hoping that a long trek would ease him. The battle was by this time wearing him to despair, but in tearful defiance he declared he must go on, for there was no help for it but a choice he firmly rejected; he would not leave the Shire forever. Thus he accepted that a bittersweet duty for his year in the Wide World would have to be paid, and he was unhappily aware that it would not be easily managed. Still, he vowed he had no option: there was nothing he could do but stagger on.

He smiled now—despite his new and growing disquiet—to recall how Merry, reckless with compassion, had contrived to acquire several aleskins full of Buckland’s finest for the trip, which, slung on their saddles, served to fortify a journey that neither of them ever remembered very much about, save the outcome. He knew only that somehow they had driven their little ponies through endless fields of barley to come upon the cliffs overlooking the small green valley of the North-Tooks, and descended from there into the village of Long Cleeve flushed with drink and comedy. Happily, they had arrived in the midst of a festival, and no one thought to suspect that their spirits were accountable to anything other than the general merrymaking and joy of meeting a village full of might-be relations for the first time. The ale did help to gentle things, though it wore off all too soon, and tears of despair pricked his eyes when he considered having to spend the rest of his life in his cups—though, he thought now, time was when such an idea would have been decidedly appealing to him, ridiculous little toff that he was then!

It was in Long Cleeve that destiny found and blessed him, though he never understood how it came to be. Stumbling through the throng with a mug in his hand, Merry at his elbow, and the now-familiar restlessness rising in panicked degrees with his pulse, he had stopped to rest and watch a bevy of pretty girls dancing on the green. Among them, in a filmy white frock, sashed in deep purple and embroidered with violets, was a lissome raven-haired creature with a creamy oval face, and great, wide-spaced blue-violet eyes—quite the most beautiful girl he had ever seen—who danced as it seemed to him that Lúthien the Fair must have danced for Beren, and with the same effect: he forgot himself and gaped like a drunken rustic, and when the dance was done he was horrified to see the girl come gracefully to rest and deliberately turn those remarkable eyes full upon him for a long, searching moment.

His first impulse was to flee, and it became urgent as gently and playfully the girl disengaged from a circle of friends and admirers and turned toward him with a smile so artless and endearing he wanted to weep. Thick-headed with ale and unspeakably disheveled from days of travel, his head and heart clamoring in dizzying counterpoint, he moved hastily to go, but Merry caught his arm. “Are you mad?” he laughed. “Look at her! Stay yourself, Pippin—you can spare a dance!”

“No!” he whispered, struggling. “Merry, let me go!”

But she was there before he could wrestle free, and when his eyes met hers, he did not even mark when Merry eased the cup from out his fingers. The girl studied him intently for a moment, her face softening as she marked his desperate state, and then she took his hands in hers.

“I knew you’d come,” she said softly, smiling up into his distressed and disbelieving eyes. “I’m so glad; I was beginning to think you were only a dream.” Tears glimmered suddenly on her lashes; her fingers brushed his clammy cheek like butterfly wings. “Please, what is your name, after all this time? What do they call you?”

It was if he had waked from a night of fever into a cool, clear dawn. At the touch of her hand and the sound of her voice, the battering counterpoint ceased abruptly. The sudden stillness shocked him. In speechless silence, he looked down at the beautiful little hands that cradled his, and at the startling eyes that met his gaze as openly and intimately as if she had known him all her life, and a flood of relief swept through him and over his heart and mind, so long ravaged and, he had supposed, beyond the reach of hope.

“Pippin,” he whispered in answer, feeling as though he was drowning in her eyes and wishing to, more than anything. He brought her small fingers to his lips and kissed them ardently, then caught himself and dropped her hand in sudden, stricken dismay, hoping desperately and drunkenly that he had not offended her.

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, helplessly, shaking his head with tears of relief and confusion shining in his eyes. “I—I don’t know what to do.”

“I do,” she said, slipping suddenly and with sweet familiarity into his arms. “I do. And you will, Pippin. Just be still for now.”

It was easy to be still, holding this shimmering girl who had blessed him with such tranquility, and easy to think rather more clearly than usual as well. So it came to him right away what he must do, and he did it immediately, to make up for not knowing before. He leaned down and kissed her—in the middle of the village square, while Merry and half the population of Long Cleeve looked on in unqualified astonishment—and she very thoroughly kissed him back.

The memory brought a delighted smile to his face; he bent his white head over Diamond’s ravishing little portrait and laughed softly. “Shocking girl,” he murmured contentedly. “We were such a scandal!” They had been, in truth: they had kissed each other yet twice again before subsiding happily into each other’s arms. Merry’s eyes were as wide as he had ever seen them.

The Thain laughed again lightly, to remember it all, and then quite unexpectedly a hard lump rose in his throat and his eyes pricked with tears. Diamond had given him nearly sixty years of peace. He pressed the little picture close against his heart.

“Save us, Di!” he whispered, shivering in the clear morning light. “What am I going to do now?”

At length the old Thain struggled to his feet and, taking up his stick, made his way up the smooth stone stairs to the highland above the meadow. There he stood in the tall grass, looking out over the Shire at the lands he loved that once again, in tandem with the Wide World, would clamor to claim him outright, now that Diamond, whose claim had been the strongest of all, was gone.

The sun was above the horizon now and all of the East Farthing was bathed in light. He shaded his eyes against the glare of the golden disk; its touch was yet cool and fresh, newly risen as it was. In Buckland, Cousin Merry would be vigorously considering how best to conquer another new day; he smiled at the thought of Merry marshalling Brandy Hall. He must make a visit soon.

So, too, did the light reach into the North Farthing, where far away beyond the horizon was the surprising cut into the uplands that sheltered the village of Long Cleeve, where all unlooked for, he had found refuge and love beyond any expectation of his young and careless life. From out that cut, he remembered now, The Water came; he followed the glimmer of its passage south all the way through Hobbiton and Bywater this time, squinting east into the glare again, where The Water made its rendezvous with the Brandywine at the Bridge of Stonebows.

The west lay brightened, yet pale, in lilac shadows. He looked out across the farmlands to the downs and saw the Great East Road marching dimly in the reach before it vanished into the western haze. Beyond his sight was the Westmarch, where Sam’s fair first child lived in the Tower Hills; and beyond the Hills were the Gray Havens, where Frodo had quietly taken ship so long ago, and where Sam had followed when all his work was done.

At last he took a steadying breath and bracing himself, turned to the south. There beneath him the Green Hills rose and tumbled across the countryside and then leveled out onto the wide southern plains, the land of cherished Longbottom Leaf. Almost he could see the dark smudge of the fields, but a mist was rising there as the sunlight warmed the quickening soil, and beyond that the horizon was indistinct. But he knew what was there: the rest of Middle Earth, the long passage to the world of Men along which hummed the powerful currents that once again would make his blood rush and lay relentless siege upon his heart, and against which the gentle rhythms of the Shire would keen in unremitting dispute. He closed his eyes; he could feel the currents rising. Gripping his stick, he sank to his knees in the grass and, helpless, let them come.