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Chapter 1: One

by PearlTook

Use what talents you possess;
the woods would be very silent
if no birds sang there
except those that sang the best.
Henry Van Dyke

Another visit to the Smials for The Lithedays and it was happening to Pippin again. “Well, little Pippin! And how old are you now, fourteen is it?”

“Fourteen is it?” Pippin said aloud to no one, mimicking well the sing-song voice of a condescending adult. From his perch swaying in the breeze-blown branches high in an oak tree, he drew a stone from his pocket and whipped it at the pine cones hanging high on a pine tree across the glade from him. A pine cone rattled through the branches on its way to the ground.

“Fourteen is it?” His voice was now sharp with indignation. Another pine cone fell with a soft thud.

“Eighteen!” His hurt feelings raged and his voice grew louder. “ ‘Little Pippin,’ indeed! I’m eighteen, not fourteen! Well past fourteen, thank you.” Another rock. Another pine cone. Pippin drew his arm back to throw again but stopped. He let his arm drop loosely to his side. “Eighteen,” he sighed.

Once again, as had happened over and over for the past few years, he had been treated as though he was younger than he was. Just like before, he knew why. He was small. He had always been a bit smaller than other lads his age but as he and his cousins had gotten older, the differences in their heights had gradually gotten worse. He was two years from his tweens and he looked . . . well, he looked fourteen. Pippin sagged against the trunk of his maple tree, defeated. He knew they were right. He looked fourteen, with his boyish features, maybe even a bit younger. He was last to get picked for teams, even by cousins who knew his right age. The adults who didn’t know him as well as they knew the lads who lived at the Smials were always expecting him to go play with the younger children or sit with them at meals.

The worst blow had come today when Wilibold Took, Wilibold who was fourteen, had gotten to ride the new pony the Thain had just purchased. Pippin sighed. Even his own father had agreed with old Grigory, the head of the stables. He had looked sympathetic but still, “It is a rather large pony, and, well . . . you are a bit small yet, Pippin,” had been what he said. A few tears trickled down Pippin’s face. It had hurt when it happened, it still hurt now.

He just sat in his maple tree and sulked. “At least I’m tall up here,” he thought, then snorting softly shrugged his own comment off. He really knew it didn’t matter, he was just as short up in the tree as he was on the ground. Small. He hated being so small.

Clear and bubbling, like the dancing song of a small brook, the melody of a bird’s singing came to Pippin’s ears. At first it was just there, just a part of the sunshine and the trees and the pond that made up this glade where he like to hide when the world hurt him. But gradually, its short happy bursts filtered into his thoughts, pestering him with their volume until he paid it heed. Pippin’s head came up, his eyes narrowed.

“Alright,” the word whispered out of him. “Where are you?” His gaze focused on the far side of the glade, but he could not see the singer. He knew the song. He heard it often at home in Whitwell. Pearl had told him, when he was younger, that it was a House Wren. She had tried to point the bird out to him only to give up after ten minutes of gazing into the thick clump of lilac bushes by the barn from which the song issued. “I’ll show you some other time, Pip. We have to go in for tea now,” she had said, but they had never gotten back to trying to find the wren. For some reason, Pippin had not bothered about it again.

The song continued on.

Pippin started to slowly, silently, work his way down the maple tree to the soft grassy floor of the glade. On the north side, where it caught the sun most of the day, the glade was edged with a thick growth of bushes; the singer was hiding in those bushes. Pippin moved silently, stealthily towards the thicket. The bird was moving, its strong voice coming first from the right part of the brush, then high in the center, low on the left, over to the right again. Pippin eased forward.

“Surely I should be able to see you by now,” he thought. “Such a loud song you sing, bird, you shouldn’t be that hard to see.”

At ten feet away, Pippin stopped. He looked at the outer edges of the bushes. He looked deep into the shadows at the heart of the hedge. He saw something flit through the branches.

The song burst out again: loud, clear, strong, trilling and bubbling. Pippin tracked the sound. A wee, drab brown bird, with its tail cocked up at an odd angle, sat upon a branch nearly centered in an opening in the bushes. Its long slender beak opened. Its throat shook and the music poured from it to dance on the breeze. Then it stopped. Pippin gasped softly, his eyes growing wide as the little bird quickly sang its song again. The bird was so tiny, smaller than a sparrow. It hopped to another branch and then its joyous notes bubbled forth once more.

Pippin looked across the glade to his maple tree. He looked back at the tiny brown bird. He had heard its song, clear as the dinner bell at the Smials, from across the glade and up the tree with the breeze blowing from the south so as to blow the sound away. He looked back at the wren. It blinked an eye at Pippin then filled the glade with its song.

Small. So very small. Yet the song was so strong. Thoughts began to form in Pippin’s mind. Did this master singer need to be big? Didn’t it out-sing many other birds?

A shadow moved across the glade as a harsh cry clashed with the jolly song of the little bird in the bushes. Pippin looked up to see a hawk soaring just above the tree tops. Movement in the branches pulled his eyes back to the wren, who paused in his flitting to sing again. The hawk circled, rasped out its cry, then went gliding away.

Was the bigger the better? Pippin felt his heart drawn to the wee brown bird. The wren was certainly the better singer. Size made no difference there. The hawk’s cry was certainly no louder than the tiny bird’s song, perhaps even quieter. Yet Pippin knew the hawk dwarfed the wren.

Pippin slowly sank to sit on the grass, his eyes never leaving the wren. “Am I something less than my cousins just because I’m smaller than they are?” he asked the dainty little bird as it hopped about the branches. “Are you less than the hawk? You sing better.” The little bird blinked at the young hobbit. “You sing louder too.” The wren tipped its head from side to side, blinked, then hopped to a branch a bit nearer to Pippin. “I sing as well, you know. Well,” Pippin chuckled, “I suppose you don’t know, but I do. I get asked to sing rather often, so I guess I sing well.” The small hobbit and the small bird looked at each other. “Shall I sing for you? You have after all been singing quite a concert for me.” The wren blinked its black-bead eye at Pippin. Pippin drew a deep breath and began to sing.

He sang softly at first, but his song grew bolder and stronger. It rose to the tree tops where the wind carried it toward Great Smials. It was faintly heard by the children playing on the lawns. It was heard by the adult hobbits and hobbitesses taking an afternoon stroll about the gardens. They stopped to listen, wondering whose fair voice it was they were hearing. It was an old song. A song about the land the hobbits love. A song about trees and fields, flowers and streams . . . and the joyous songs of birds.