Cross-posted from my journal -- In answer to a query about challenges, [ profile] seleneheart said

"What [ profile] shebit and I were thinking is that instead of posting a formal challenge from the mods, that a character could walk into the inn and issue the challenge to the patrons."

So here's a shot at it. This tale has a couple of functions. It is, if they will accept it, a belated birthday present for [ profile] aprilkat and an extremely belated birthday present for [ profile] ithiliana. Second, it contains, at the end, a challenge to the denizens of the Five Armies.

author: undonne

title: Tell Me a Winter's Tale
rating: G
warnings: none
disclaimer: the world and the characters are Tolkien's. I borrow them with love.

Pippin stood outside The Five Armies, pushing on the massive wooden door. It was large, and he was small. It didn’t budge. Clearly designed for large, hulking Men, he thought in disgust. Snow fell in enormous, wet flakes onto his bare head. A particularly large flake fell on his nose and began to melt. He shivered and pushed harder on the door. Suddenly it opened inward. He fell across the threshold, temporarily blinded when he became tangled in the long scarf that he wore against the December chill.

He heard a voice above his head. “It’s Pip!”

Another, deeper voice, joined the first. “Ah, laddie, you’re not supposed to start falling down until after you’ve had your drink.” A roar of laughter followed.

He was hauled up by one strong arm, while another seemed to be attempting to beat him into submission or to dust the snow from his jacket. Pippin wasn’t sure which.

“Here, Gimli, quit hitting him,” the first voice said.

Pippin reached up and managed to pull the snow-laden scarf away from his face, dodging any more attempts by the dwarf to assist him.

“That’ll do, Gimli, thank you,” Pippin said, grinning. “What are you and Merry doing here?”

“We got tired of waiting for the King to finish doing whatever kings do,” said Merry. “Since we were all meeting here for dinner tonight, we thought we’d come early.”

“To check out security,” Gimli interjected.

“To check out the ale, you mean. That’s more likely,” Pippin laughed. “So why were you leaving?”

“Well, security seemed fine here,” Gimli said, assuming a look of disinterested dedication and sticking to his story, “so we thought we’d check out the situation at the Golden Cup down the way before dinner.”

“No you don’t,” said Pippin. “I just got here, I want company, and I’m not going out into the cold again.”

“Come on, Gimli,” Merry said, “our table’s still empty, and I’d just as soon stay inside myself.”

So they turned back toward a table by the fireplace, a table that still sported ample evidence of at least a couple of hours of dedicated drinking.

“How can you drink ale when it’s so cold outside?” Pippin said, shivering in spite of the fire. “I need something warm. This is the coldest I’ve been since...,” his voice faltered. A serving-boy came up just then and asked what he could bring them.

Silence had fallen on them, and they sat looking into the fire until the boy came back with more ale for Gimli, who seemed well insulated against the cold, and hot, mulled wine for Merry and Pippin.

“You were thinking about Boromir, weren’t you, Pip?” Merry asked softly.

Pippin nodded and started to speak. A sudden roughness in his throat prevented him. He took a long drink of the spicy wine. “I was,” he said. “It has been so cold these last few days, you see, and so snowy. I was walking here with the white flakes swirling down and the drifts up to my knees. I couldn’t help thinking about Caradhras. I couldn’t help wishing he was still here.”

“I know,” said Merry. “I still wonder whether Gandalf would have let us freeze to death. I suppose not, but you know what I mean.”

Pippin smiled. “I was afraid of Boromir before that. He seemed so grim most of the time.”

“And so big,” Merry added.

“After he carried me through the snow, though, he seemed willing to talk to me. When we stopped that night, it was so cold. Do you remember? We started talking about winters. Sam told the story of the Fell Winter that the Gaffer had told him, about the Brandywine freezing over and the white wolves coming into the Shire. Boromir said that the same thing had happened in Gondor.”

“I remember that night,” said Gimli. “That’s when we decided to go into the Mines.”

Pippin nodded and took another drink of his wine. “Later, though, I asked Boromir to tell me the story of what happened in Gondor.”

“Did he?” Merry asked, surprised. Much as he had later come to value Boromir, Merry had not found him an easy or a talkative companion.

“Better than that,” Pippin said, “He taught me a song about it.”

“Did he, now?” Gimli smiled. “Sing it then, Master Hobbit, and we’ll toast Boromir’s memory.”

“It’s a sad song, mostly, and I haven’t sung it since, since...” Pippin's voice trailed off.

“I’d like to hear something that Boromir sang. Besides, remembering dark times with friends makes them lighter,” Merry said.

Pippin nodded and sat up straighter. “I’ll try to remember it.” Then he began to sing, very softly,

Dark the wind blows from the East,
black clouds hide the sun....

All the conversations around their table suddenly died. A burly man in the uniform of the Tower Guard stood up and turned to them. Pippin stopped singing.

“I did not mean to interrupt your song,” he said, smiling, “only to ask you if you would sing it for all the company. I remember my mother’s mother singing it years ago. It is about the Great Winter in Telemnar’s reign, is it not?”

“Yes, but....” Pippin began.

Murmers grew around him, urging him to sing it for all of them. Pippin took a deep breath and climbed up on his chair so that he could be heard. He started again in a clear, sweet voice.

Dark the wind blows from the East,
Black clouds hide the sun.
Death before him finds a feast.
Hold me close, dear one.

Death himself flies on the air,
The streets are full of ghosts.
Wolves come slinking from their lair.
Dear one, hold me close.

From the East, the wind blows cold.
snow falls from above.
My heart is in its icy hold.
Stay with me, my love.

In that wind, the death of Kings,
the blight of the White Tree;
I hear the beat of evil wings.
Stay, my love, with me.

As the last note of Pippin’s song died in the air, a hush remained over the company, and memories of the evil times so lately passed filled the minds of those in the room. Pippin stood very still in the chair, his eyes bright with tears.

Suddenly, Merry climbed on his own chair. He directed a tiny smile of understanding to Pippin alone, then lifted his mug of wine and said, in a loud voice, “Come, we need more tales of winter!” He swept his mug in a wide arc. Some of the wine slopped over the rim and hit the floor. “I challenge the company. Tell us a winter’s tale. From now or then, from near or far, a song or a story. Makes no difference, as long as it has to do with winter.” He looked out into the room. “Come, who’ll be first?”


Author’s note: Having just watched the ROTK extended DVD last night (finally... yay!), the lovely scene of Pippin singing to Denethor was in my mind, of course. Here I based Pippin’s song partly on the story of Telemnar’s death and the withering of the White Tree from Appendix A of The Returnof the King.
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The Five Armies

May 2006

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