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He Came to Meet Me

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"You came without warning," she would say later, and Pippin frowned when first he heard it, said she shouldn't have been surprised to see him, or distressed, or frightened. She hadn't been any of those things though, not really. She'd dreamt that day enough times, by the time he arrived on her doorstep one July morning, she knew everything that was coming next. Still, the look of him, the sound of his voice, the realization that it was this day, and it was real, hit her like a blow, left her speechless but still standing. "I was glad you came, don't think I wasn't!" she would explain. "But you might have sent word."

It would have been easy enough by then. Diamond remembered the months when it was nearly impossible to get news to or from Tuckborough, or anywhere else outside of the Valley, for that matter. Long Cleeve and Tookland had both stayed sovereign and free, but almost no one dared travel in between them.

"They're not just going to go away, you know," her brother said to her father. "These men, they've taken over the Shire and they mean to stay. Are we to wait out the rest of our lives here in the Tunnels?"

"It won't last," said her mother without conviction.

"No, it won't last. Long Cleeve can't hold out forever. They'll come here too if we sit and wait for them, but if we go out and fight them..."

The foreigners didn't know this land. When they'd tried to approach the Valley they'd been surprised by heavy rocks tumbling down on them from above. Sometimes it was the locals hiding out in an unseen hollow, setting the land in motion against the invaders. Other times it was the earth itself, disturbed and rebelling. The locals knew how to walk the moors and the steep slopes of the ravine without falling in its traps. But Lotho's boys were clumsy and the men were ten times worse. It hadn't been terribly hard keeping them out so far. But Diamond thought Tolly was right. The men would get stronger. And the earth could only crumble so much in its own defense before everything fell apart.

When her brother Tolagrand took up with Heather Clowes the shepherd's daughter, there were some raised eyebrows and clicking tongues, but there was no real scandal. Most members of the clan traveled south at some point to become acquainted with other gentlehobbits who weren't close cousins, but since that wasn't an option these days, and since Heather was as fine and noble as any hobbit could be, there was very little for anybody to complain about.

The Tooks said at first that Heather should move in with them at North Tunnels, that it was more proper at any time for the wife to go to her husband's home, and it was safer in these troubled times for them to settle deeper in the shelter of the earth. But Heather said her parents needed her, and so did the sheep. So Tolly went off to stay in her family's little stone hut at the north end and the high edge of the Valley, and then the two of them came to spend more nights out on the pathways and the moor than with any shelter at all.

Diamond liked Heather, liked that she didn't make herself small or meek around the Tooks, the way so many of the folk of the moors and the valleys did. She had strong arms and legs, strong lungs for climbing over the rocks and for calling out to the animals. But she was gentle when she tended to them, and gentle and generous in Tolly's arms, and Diamond was happy for them both.

Tolly chided her when she first started coming to visit them at the Clowes' home, then later going out with them to sit or to sleep under the sky. Shouldn't she find her own shepherd, he said, if she was so interested in spending her day with the sheep?

"The two of you wouldn't get to spend near as much time kissing if you didn't have me to keep an eye on the animals for you," said Diamond.

It was good-natured and friendly, brotherly; he meant no harm by it and she took no great offense, since she wasn't terribly concerned about finding her own "shepherd." Soon enough the teasing stopped, and Diamond didn't know whether Heather had told Tolly he was being rude, or whether he'd simply grown accustomed to having her there, to having the three of them together.

Diamond liked Tolly and she liked Heather, but she wasn't jealous of either one. She knew some tweens (and even teens) who couldn't wait to pair off, and others (especially those she'd met on her visit to Tuckborough) who seemed to want to taste as many flavors as they could while they were young and foolish and free. But Diamond was in no hurry.

Two months after Tolly had moved up to Heather's family's home, Diamond realized that she too was spending more time here than at Long Cleeve. And she realized Heather was her best friend. She thought of her often, wished her happiness, and loved her well, but she was not in love with her or with any other hobbit she knew.

Sometimes at night, sleeping or waking, she'd dream of another, a hero who came to meet her where she stood looking down over the Valley. Tall and strong and handsome, she thought, though there was no image of a face in her mind, nor the rest of him either. He was a blank form, a promise, an unknown. And at the same time so very solid and familiar that she felt perfectly safe in the mystery. Her fingers would make their way between her legs without her conscious knowledge, and she'd touch herself absently, aimlessly. Spreading the wetness around and smoothing out the ache, Diamond drifted between fear and ease, in and out of sleep.

When Tolly and Heather disappeared and all anyone could think was that they'd left the Valley to join the rebels, Diamond's parents said that now she really must come home. But the Clowes needed her more than ever now, she said, she couldn't leave them here alone. Besides, she didn't think she could take too much company, too much familiarity. The solitude of the moors and even the bitter cry of the wind at night suited her better than her mother's quiet weeping.

Peregrin Took came to meet her on a July morning, with the sun so bright it was hard to believe the chill, stepping out of the little tent where she'd spent the night. But the wind was harsh and cold at this end of the valley, even at midsummer.

He said he'd missed her at North Tunnels, where he'd arrived the day before. He'd asked after her and gotten lost on his way up to Heather's family's home, then lost again with the directions Mrs. Clowes gave him for finding her.

And if Diamond hadn't seen this whole day in her dreams, she'd not have believed he'd gone through so much trouble just to find her. They'd only met twice before in their lives, once in Tuckborough and once before in Long Cleeve, and they'd been too young then for their friendship to mean much more than both of them liking to walk outdoors.

"I reckon you've had enough of walking today," she said, noticing but not mentioning his slight limp, and knowing that those unused to this country tired quickly on its steep paths. But he said no, he'd be delighted to see the Valley again in her company. And when he said that, that he'd be delighted, Diamond remembered that she'd always loved his voice and the way he talked, that accent that was halfway between what her own people spoke and the plain, broad tones of the South-farthing.

Diamond said she would show him a shorter way back, and she urged him to keep to the paths she knew, but Pippin said he was an adventurer and liked to take whichever path was strangest to him. When they'd been walking and speaking for over an hour, he strode on ahead and onto uncertain ground, and he missed where the land dropped off beneath him and started to fall, but Diamond caught him before he could hit the ground.

"There are reasons why we stick to certain paths," she told him, laughing, and she let him go.

"But the sheep! Surely the sheep are more foolish even than I! They must wander off."

"Yes, and that's how we learn to move quickly. But really, it's better if you're a good little lamb and you do as I say."

And she was a little shocked at her own boldness, but Pippin seemed quite pleased, and he stopped where he stood, still within easy reach should she want to touch him. Diamond stood still as well.

"I do not take orders easily," said Pippin, "but I do like listening to you."

She noticed he was a little short of breath. "Well," she said, "I don't often get to give orders, so while I have you here I might as well tell you to sit down and take some rest. You've walked for half the day already."

"But where can I sit, if I don't even know what rocks I can trust?"

Diamond laughed. "That one three steps behind you is a sturdy one." She pointed. "Mind you don't trip in that hole next to -- "

"Yes, I see that," he said, carefully stepping across the rocks. He held out his hand politely and Diamond took it, and sat down with him on the boulder. "Not the most comfortable sitting place in the wide world," he said, "but I've known worse."

"This one's actually a marker stone," said Diamond. "During the Troubles, I used to leave milk and a bit of food beside this rock, and the rebels could come and take it in the night, then go back to wherever it was they were hiding."

"However did they find a little rock like this in a country littered with them?"

Diamond shrugged. "Hobbits here know the country like we know our own hands and hearts. And there are little spots like this that just... they're nothing so special to look at, maybe, but they stand out in your mind, somehow. You know they're important."

Pippin nodded, although she couldn't tell whether he'd understood it. "Did your brother ever come to take the things you left?"

"No," said Diamond. "He and Heather were much farther away than that, away to the east of here. But I didn't know that then -- we had no word at all. I thought they might come back any day, or they might be dead. Or they might be surviving thanks to me, because someone was coming for the food I left by this rock. I figured if it wasn't them, it was someone else in need, someone else's daughter or brother or lover. So it was worth it, you see."

"Of course it was," he said softly. Serious, Diamond thought, not like the lad she remembered, but then that made sense, as she certainly wasn't the lass she'd been then either.

"Sturdy rocks like this, you know, they're good markers, they don't move, so you can always come back to the same place, you don't forget where you are. But then, the rocks that do come loose have their own uses."

"That was what they told me back at North Tunnels!" Pippin said, grinning again. "They said you had a special talent for it, that you could nudge the stones just so, and the intruders never heard a hobbit step, never knew why it was they were being chased out of the Valley by rolling rocks."

"It doesn't take so much talent, really."

"It takes subtlety, I think."

"It takes... patience, perhaps. Waiting for the right moment to come along."

He looked her in the eye then and went quiet, and she knew he must be waiting for a sign from her, but she couldn't think what she ought to do. She blinked, and did not think she knew how to be subtle or even to be patient anymore.

"Please," she said, and closed her eyes.

It wasn't that she'd never been kissed before. She was a hobbit, after all. Her family loved her well and so did Heather's family, which was also Diamond's family by then. But no one had ever kissed her the way a lover kisses. Pippin's left hand lifted her chin and his right slipped around to the small of her back, and even before their lips touched Diamond felt a suddenness. He's the one, she thought, she knew, he was the only one who would kiss her and who would love her like this, the only one who could make her feel like this. Diamond went still as a stone, and so did the day, as Pippin softly, slowly touched his lips to hers. When Diamond opened her mouth it felt like letting him in, and she was happy, as she'd never known she could be, that they'd both chosen to come here together.

She knew that from then on she'd always count her life in two parts, before he came to meet her and after. And she hadn't minded that the before was as long as it was, but she was happy to know that now she was living in the after.