Each Journey Begins

Pippin sat near the fireplace playing with some rocks. He'd been picking up neat pebbles all day, and had had a pocketful by the time they'd reached Bilbo's house. Merry and Frodo had immediately sat Pippin down in the dining room, where Bilbo was sitting at a table with one of his dusty books. Pippin didn't mind -- Merry and Frodo were doing something boring, anyway, and had been all the time lately.

Pippin was only eight, but he already knew enough that sometimes older kids were no fun to be around. They said things they thought he didn't understand, then acted like he was wrong when he guessed what they meant. He rather wished he could have stayed and played with the other kids his own age, down the hill, but Merry said something about it not being his place.

Well, of course it wasn't his place! Pippin lived in Smials, not Bag End. Merry made no sense when he said stuff like that, and all year long he'd been doing it more and more often. He wished Merry would stop it, and go back to being his favorite cousin. Not that he wasn't, still, but he was starting to be... well, boring. Last month he'd even started talking about girls, and he and Frodo had spent an entire afternoon talking about them, and laughing like it was funny.

Pippin sorted his pebbles into piles, forming them into armies. He'd been playing out the battle of five armies all week, and he had almost got around to the final fight. So far the wargs and goblins had been winning, because they'd accidentally got the largest pebbles. But the hobbits and elves and dwarves and men were going to win today, Pippin knew. He'd gathered up pebbles carefully, making sure to put the best ones in his left-hand pocket, for their army. The small and ugly ones went into his right-hand pocket, for the wargs and goblins. Merry had teased him all the way up to Bag End for collecting the pebbles, but Pippin had ignored him. A couple years ago, Merry would have helped him.

Pippin frowned and looked at his five pebble armies. They were almost all into position to begin their fight. A noise from the table drew his attention away for a moment, and he looked up to see Bilbo still working at his book, not even aware of Pippin. Pippin knew not to disturb him; Frodo had explained how important his books were to Bilbo. Pippin didn't understand the attraction of books; whenever his mum mentioned teaching him his letters, he managed to escape outside.

But Bilbo's books were different, Merry had told him. Bilbo's books were full of histories and account and important things. Pippin still didn't see why anyone would bother -- it was more fun to actually live an adventure, than read about one.

For a minute, Pippin thought about disturbing him -- he needed something to be the uneven landscape and he couldn't remember exactly the way the battlefield had looked. Bilbo could tell him exactly, but Pippin wasn't sure interrupting him was a good idea.

It seemed, lately, that any time Pippin asked Merry or Frodo or even his father or any other grown-up to help him with something, he got told to go away or to find someone else to play with. When he tried to find someone else to play with, all he found were either girls, or boys that he wasn't supposed to play with, or boys he didn't *want* to play with.

He frowned at Bilbo, who was still staring at his books, and turned back to his pebble army. He'd just do without anything, then, and pretend that the floor tiles were hills and creeks. Pippin lay down on his stomach, and got the pebbles ready for the fight. Some of the wargs were rolling, though, and he had to push them back time and again into position. Finally, he set them in the cracks between the tiles, and told them to stay still until the fight began.

Then everything looked ready. He checked each army from all sides, and they looked good. As best as he could remember, anyway since he couldn't bother Bilbo. He might have asked Merry or Frodo if they'd played with him, and they would have known. With a scowl, Pippin thought that they probably wouldn't want to play the battle of five armies, anyhow.

He scooted over a bit, and sounded the charge. The wargs and goblins surged forward with one huge push of Pippin's hand. Some of the goblins rolled away -- hit by arrows, Pippin realized. He hurriedly began pushing the elves and hobbits and men and dwarves forward, having to stop and use both hands to get them all moving.

The elves were faster than anyone else, and Pippin had to make them wait for the others to catch up. The dwarves were the slowest, since they had short legs. Pippin got them all right up to the goblins and wargs, though, and with a deep breath he pushed them all together.

The armies clashed, and rolled around each other, pebbles striking each other fiercely. Pippin ignored the armies as a whole, for a moment, as he made a single goblin smash into a man, and an elf smash into a goblin. As each soldier pebble died, Pippin flicked it over, and the surviving pebble hurried to the next bad guy to fight.

There were dozens and dozens and hundreds of pebble fights, with some rather dramatic death scenes, and some rather heroic elves and men and dwarves leaping in front of a warg or a goblin, to save their fellow pebbles. The hobbits -- Bilbo -- was fighting like anything, in the back of the others but still fighting magnificently whenever one of the goblins broke through.

Finally, the number of dead goblins and wargs was larger than the number of live ones, and Pippin thought they might ought to sound a retreat. He didn't know if they had anything to use, though, or if they could hear each other over the noise of everyone shouting. With no retreat possible, the other pebbles swarmed over them, leaving nothing but dead pebbles in their wake.

Pippin sat up and surveyed the battlefield. There were bodies everywhere. Pebbles lay scattered, some in clumps, piled over each other, and some lay alone. The surviving pebbles he made to gather together at the far end of the battlefield, where they could find out which among them had died, and which had survived.

He began sorting the survivors into groups again, letting the elves and men and dwarves all look together, with their own kind. Elf pebbles would be able to identify the dead elves, as would the men and dwarves recognise their own kind. That was good, since in looking over the fallen soldiers Pippin couldn't tell them apart, himself.

The pebbles moved through their fallen comrades, pulling their own dead aside. Once or twice they had to argue about whether a dead pebble was an elf or a goblin, and sometimes Pippin had to just declare it to be one or another, so they could continue their searching.

They had separated almost all the pebbles according to species, when Pippin discovered, among the dead, the hobbit pebble, and he screamed. He'd killed Bilbo! He made the elves run over as fast as they could, thinking maybe they could tell if he was really dead or not. They could do magic, couldn't they? He couldn't remember if elves did any magic that would tell them if someone was dead.

They looked at the hobbit pebble, but they couldn't tell if it was dead or not. It wasn't moving, and none of the elf pebbles could decide if they could do magic. If the hobbit pebble *was* still alive, Pippin knew he would die soon if someone didn't do *something*. He looked around for something lying nearby -- a friendly giant bird, or maybe Gandalf, or maybe he'd even see the pebble that was the real hobbit and the other pebble would turn out to be just a goblin that had got its legs cut off. But he couldn't find anything that would work.

He heard someone say his name sharply and loud like his mother did sometimes when she'd had to call him three or four times. Pippin jumped up, and found Bilbo looking at him, curiously.

"I didn't mean to!" Pippin shouted, and he leapt for Bilbo. He hadn't meant to get him killed! "I didn't mean to!" he said again, hoping Bilbo wouldn't be mad.

"Didn't mean to do what?" Bilbo asked, and he moved closer to the battlefield. Pippin tried to push him back, not wanting Bilbo to see. What a terrible shock, to see himself lying dead. Bilbo just frowned a little and moved closer. He looked at the pebbles, then shook his head.

"I can't see what it is you've done," he said calmly. "Did something break?"

Pippin sniffled, and pointed. "I killed you. Honest, I didn't mean to. I think the goblins snuck up behind the dwarves and got you. I meant to make you live, honest!" Pippin buried his face against Bilbo's leg and cried.

He heard Bilbo laugh, but didn't understand why. He felt Bilbo push him away slightly, and wondered if he was going to make Pippin wash dishes for a *year* to make up for what he'd done. But Bilbo just knelt down and held him.

"There, there, Peregrin. Nothing to get so worked up about. That's the lovely thing about pebble armies, didn't you know? You can kill them all off, and right after the battle they all come to life again!"

Pippin blinked. "They do?" He looked fearfully towards his dead pebble soldiers. They didn't look like they were coming back to life. He looked harder.

They still looked dead. He said so, to Bilbo.

"Oh, well -- perhaps they're waiting for someone to say a few words. Perhaps we should do so, and lay them to rest. Then they'll jump up again."

"Really?"

"Why don't you try it?" Bilbo urged. Pippin nodded and took a step towards the pebble armies. He told the live ones to hush up, and listen, as they were about to have a very moving death speech. They quieted down quickly and waited.

Pippin thought hard for a second, then began. "To all the soldiers who are dead. We miss you. We're glad you were here, because if you weren't, more of us would be dead, maybe all of us, except the bad guys. Except the bad guys are dead, too, and their fellows probably miss 'em, too. Except I think all the bad guys are dead, so they get to be all together in pebbleland. So they're happy. But the rest of us have dead friends to bury, and it makes us real sad. So we're gonna put you someplace really nice, like the flower bed because Sam and his dad keep it really pretty, and it'd be a nice place to live forever and ever. Thanks a lot, love, Pippin."

Pippin looked at the pebbles, satisfied. He could tell they'd liked it, and the live pebbles were all sniffling the way grownups did at burials. He decided that such brave pebbles deserved better than lying on the cold dining room floor, and carefully gathered them up.

With all the dead pebble soldiers in his hands, he carried them outside to the flower garden. Without dropping a single soldier, Pippin knelt down beside the flowers. He held his hands over the dirt and dropped the pebbles gently into the flower bed. Then he smoothed some dirt over them and patted them down so the rain wouldn't wash them away.

When he stood up, he found Bilbo, Merry, and Frodo all watching. Pippin grinned, jumped up, and ran to Merry. "Did you see? We won! We had a battle and then a burial and everything!"

Merry laughed and shook his head. "Silly Pip. Are you ready for afternoon tea, then?"

Pippin nodded eagerly, holding Merry's hand tightly. "I am! I'm hungry! Wanna hear about the battle?" The he frowned, remembering what he'd done. "Only I did it wrong, because I killed Bilbo by mistake."

He saw as the three older hobbits exchanged looks -- and recognized them as more of those that he was "too young" to understand. He frowned, then decided he didn't care. He was hungry, and he wanted his tea. But then Merry nodded, and was smiling at him, and Pippin knew it didn't matter. "Tell you what," Merry said. "After tea, we can play it again. We'll make sure Bilbo survives this time."

Bilbo and Frodo laughed, but Pippin didn't mind. Merry was going to play with him! He held Merry's hand tightly, as they went inside. He didn't even mind if Bilbo did die, again, if Merry played with him.