Steward and the King, The
11. Of Oaths
Pippin stared at Denethor’s legs, uncomfortable at the Steward’s penetrating questions. Gandalf had much to report, Saruman’s treachery and events in Rohan. If Gandalf spoke too long on a topic Denethor would suddenly question Pippin on a different matter, and for some reason the esquire stared at him whenever he spoke.
It had been a long hard ride from Rohan, and he had left Merry behind. No, dolt, he scolded himself harshly, you got taken away for stealing that ... palantir from Gandalf, and you knew you were doing wrong! Merry and he had escaped the orcs, woke up the Ents and watched as they made ruin on Isengard. They were quite at a loss about what they should do next when suddenly Gandalf was there and gone again before they could gather wit enough to compose a question. Gandalf had needed Treebeard’s help for the battle in the south. There was more time to talk a few days later when Gandalf returned bringing Strider with him ... but not Legolas. Gimli will shake his ax and have such words to say to him that he thought a knife was weapon enough to have for close in fighting. No, no. I can’t start crying again. Lord Denethor cares nothing for elves.
Once they had reached Minas Tirith it had been a longer wait than Gandalf thought proper before Denethor granted audience. And now that they were finally here in Denethor’s chamber with an esquire standing ready against the wall to show them out again, Pippin was getting angry. He knew it was foolish and dangerous. These were Big Folk and wizards and he was only a hobbit from a land no one gave mind to, but it seemed to him that Denethor didn’t want to look beyond his own back yard and that was irksome.
Denethor didn’t care they had worrying news about Faramir. “Father did not want me to search for Imladris.” From Denethor’s point of view, his younger son had deserted. He didn’t seem to care that Faramir did not return directly, except so far as Boromir had had to do more work and put himself into more danger.
He has Faramir’s eyes, Pippin thought suddenly. Father doesn’t trust son. Denethor seemed almost to presume Faramir had gained nothing of worth out of his journey north. Pippin wanted to tell him that wasn’t true, but anything he could say was of matters Gandalf had told him not to speak. There were all the strange conversations he’d overheard between Strider and Faramir. They had had arguments, almost, about what Strider needed to do. Faramir didn’t expect Denethor to agree. Strider considered his anger a threat.
Maybe, Pippin thought. What if I could make him less angry? Gandalf told me, “Say nothing of ‘Thorongil’; let Aragorn speak his own case.” If I can show to Denethor the quest is of worth, that I’m on his side, that would help Strider, wouldn’t it?
Having come to his decision, Pippin waited for his opportunity. Faramir had said Gondor, this city, would be in the most danger. Saruman had attacked in Rohan, and Sauron would take advantage of that. “We are here to fight the Enemy,” Pippin said solemnly to the steward, “for it is here he will strike first. Little service, no doubt, will so great a lord of Men think to find in a hobbit, a halfling from the northern Shire; yet such as it is, I will offer it, for the defense of the City of Guard.”
That got Denethor’s notice. He started at him as he laid his small sword at his feet, looking for falsehood.
Pippin stared right back at him, sure of himself. I am not your enemy.
Denethor traded a look with Gandalf Pippin couldn’t understand, as if he had scored a victory, and was in a much better mood. “Show me your sword,” he said.
Pippin lifted it up and he examined it, and then the oaths were said, he to the service of Gondor and its Steward, and Denethor to Pippin. After a few more questions, he dismissed them with a final admonition. “Master Holbytla,” he said.
Denethor’s eyes hardened with the look of impatience for a joke extended over-long. “Esquire. I expect you to show better manners to my guests.”
Pippin stuttered obedience, and almost tripped in his confusion as he left the room.
Once they were out of the building, Pippin expected Gandalf to explain, but his answer was cryptic. “You need to listen with better care, my small friend. Faramir ever spoke the Common Speech as he had in his home. Aragorn changed his speech since coming to the south. Did you not notice?”
Pippin fell into a pout. He had swore an oath until the end of the world, and he meant it, but the Big Folk were making fun of him. “Denethor scolded me,” he whispered sourly, wary of the guide that walked before them, taking them to their quarters. “There was no reason. Why did he say I was rude?”
“You addressed him as an equal. Do you rule all the farthings of the Shire and all her inhabitants that you would style yourself a Prince?”
Gandalf shook his head. “Westron is what the speech of Numenor became in these lands, but hobbits, true to their nature, have turned an important handful of words upside down, and lost other words all together. ‘Thou hast’ does not mean ‘You have’. A servant speaking to his master, a child speaking to his elders, must show proper respect.”
Pippin still looked befuddled, but his anger was being replaced by embarrassment. Gandalf spent the rest of the short walk explaining how the language customs were different, North and South.
Pippin’s spirits were doubly dampened then, as he looked about the sparsely furnished room. He hadn’t had wit enough to notice Faramir’s different speech, but he thought he could help? “Are you angry with me, Gandalf?” he finally asked. “I tried not to speak about Strider - Aragorn. I didn’t say any of his names.”
“You said a great deal else!” Gandalf scolded, not unkindly. “I know not how much of your curiosity Denethor will satisfy. Rather, he will question you. Do not let him use you as a spy upon me!”
“I didn’t like what he said against Faramir, his own son! Faramir’s dream was important, even if he had no way to prove it came from the Powers. It got him to Rivendell and Strider needed to know. But Denethor ... ”
Gandalf silenced him with a warning stare. “ -- Now has your oath. Be wary.”
Pippin humpfed. “I put him in a better mood, I think.”
Gandalf chuckled. “That you did.”
It had been a tense maneuver to get the two hundred men of the Ithilien company back across the river, leaving only a few volunteers behind to spy. The whole champaign had been chancy, Boromir knew, and the Enemy would take revenge if he could. The last few scouts would stay only a handful of days longer -- else there could be little hope they could win through to deliver their reports. The battle would soon come to the city, and all men needed who could be there. He hoped they would not delay too long, waiting for Faramir’s return. He prayed Faramir had an escape route, or some safe place to hide.
He had been expecting trouble from the men because of his silence regarding his brother, but received none. In the whispering among the men that stilled to silence when he approached there seemed to have been a consensus reached that Boromir had taken risk on Faramir’s behalf, and the men approved of that. If they disapproved that Faramir had not spoken to any of them -- well, that was a matter to be taken up later when Faramir could make an accounting of himself. Boromir was grateful for their support, but it did not lessen his worry.
When he heard word that Mithrandir was in Minas Tirith he went himself to the city to report the conditions of the force guarding the crossing at Osgilath. On a fast horse he arrived in the mid morning of the dawnless day. He went directly to the throne room where Denethor waited, Pippin standing to one side.
He was nearing the end of his report when a figure approached.
“Mithrandir,” Boromir said and by this Denethor knew that his son had asked for the wizard’s presence. “Faramir said you had died.” Pippin stifled a gasp.
Gandalf did not speak until he reached the bottom step. “So he thought. We were separated and I was unable to rejoin him before he crossed over the river. You met him in Ithilien?”
Gandalf remained silent. Denethor asked, “Where is he?”
Boromir shook his head, eyes still locked with Gandalf. “East. He took a map from Hennuth Annon and left. He also took food. I do not know the errand.”
“He was to return here,” Denethor said darkly.
“He was not ready.”
“You knew his orders.”
Boromir looked away. It was clear that Denethor was angered, but he did not want to say more in front of strangers. It was equally clear that Boromir’s purpose was to learn what he could before he had to face his father’s displeasure.
“When did you meet him?” Gandalf asked.
“I found him when I and my men returned from a raid. He had a grim-eyed dwarf with him who did not give his name, and he spoke as if there were others waiting outside. This happened a little less than three days ago. If his party was on foot -- ” Boromir considered his words carefully, then whispered. “The map he took was for Morgul Vale. I do not think he could have reached there before this morning.”
Gandalf was fearful but he knew also, by the ring he wore, that Sauron did not have the One and the darkness had some other cause. Denethor could read the signs of Gandalf’s relief, and so reasoned the risk of the errand, and he questioned again why the company was not brought to the city.
“The Dwarf left as soon as I appeared. He moved -- too fast.” Boromir admitted this with difficulty, knowing how absurd it sounded. “He had his hand on his ax and I knew he would have killed anyone that tried to stop him. I know that is not a reason to let a stranger walk free from a hidden post, but Faramir’s presence surprised me. He said my name and made no move to leave. The other men waited on my order -- they were as puzzled as I, and frightened by the dwarf, truth be told -- and the words came too slow to my lips, and I left them unsaid. I would not believe that Faramir would betray us, so I let the dwarf go and turned to him for explanation.” He turned away, then looked at Gandalf. “He said he had reached Imladris, had words, and was traveling south with you and others, and he had meant to come home, but you were lost in an ambush, a task left undone. He could not tell me yet, but said I would be told. He asked me not to ask questions, but to trust him.”
“He should have been brought to me,” Denethor said.
“He would not have come,” Boromir answered angrily. “Do not tell me I should have put my brother in chains! He is no enemy! I could not have forced him.” Struggling to control his voice, Boromir reached into the pocket that had held his maps and brought out a small package, which he unwrapped as he spoke. “This is his.” Pippin saw it was Galadriel’s book.
“He left it behind for me, and I will put it in his room. He must have felt it too fair a thing to take so far into a land of war.” Finally, Boromir looked unblinking into his father’s eyes, offering the book as a final plea. “I did not wish to part from him in anger: I do not think he saw how he would return from his task, not having Mithrandir’s help.” Denethor made no answer.
“May I?” Gandalf reached for the book. Boromir gave it and Gandalf slowly turned the first few pages. “Take good care of this,” he said, handing it back. “This writing is older than these walls.”
Denethor had watched the exchange coldly. “Leave,” he said, and his look included Pippin as well as Gandalf. Boromir carefully folded the book into its cloth as they left.
Thus it happened that Pippin had as close a witness toward the setting of the final defense of Minas Tirith as any spy of Sauron might have wished for, and he was often uncomfortable and had difficulty sleeping, until exhaustion took [care of that problem].
He had wanted to reconcile Faramir to his father; it soon seemed that the older brother was also in difficulty.
Neither Boromir nor Denethor liked the slow retreat, nor the tension that grew between them. For Boromir, who often traveled forth and back toward the outer defense, and spoke at length with the scouts and did not blame the messenger for the message -- Boromir was often of different opinion than his father about what was best to do.
Boromir, being Boromir, would ever do and order as he willed. And Denethor, as ever, would yield to his son, disappearing for long hours of solitude, and the green light flashed from his tower windows, and his mood was grim.
== end chapter ==
Author note: Pippin’s offer of service to Denethor is a lightly modified quote from RotK, “Minas Tirith”. See Appendix F for an explanation of Pippin’s “strange speech”.
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