26. The Show
"Your Royal Highness, My Lords, Ladies, Knights of Rohan, Elven folk, Dwarven kind, Wizards of the Istari and especially Halflings of the Shire, welcome to Grand Spectac – the Greatest Show in Middle Earth." Spandif stood upon a stage clad in a costume of white britches and red spangled tailcoat, topped off with a shiny black stovepipe hat.
The curtains behind him swished open to reveal hastily but gaudily painted scenery, but there was scarcely a moment to take that in as the stage was quickly filled with brightly costumed performers. Lasses were dancing in a row with big high kicks. Two clowns were juggling, while a troupe all dressed in the same tight and sparkly costumes were tumbling and acrobatically lifting each other off the ground. A trapeze strung high above the stage was being used as a swing by a pretty lass dressed all in flowers. In the front of the stage was a small band and they were playing lively music.
Merry sat between King Théoden and Éowyn, who both took turns in describing what was happening on the stage to the blind hobbit. Just beyond them, Pippin was perched on several cushions next to Legolas, as the elf had promised to tell him anything funny that was said, as well as the words of the songs.
The whole hall was crowded with people, all excited and delighted to be entertained in such style and for no charge.
After Spandif's sentence had been passed, it had become clear why Théoden had only given the showman two days. The King had finally agreed that the day after the show the Rohirrim would ride to battle and every available rider would be in the vanguard with the King at its head. The Fellowship would accompany them, although they planned to leave Merry and Pippin in the keeping of Éowyn.
Grima Wormtongue was still arguing against the plan, but Théoden's mind was made up, Gondor must be assisted in its battle with the forces of Mordor.
The show raced along at a lively pace. Pippin thought the clowns were very funny but kept glancing anxiously at Merry to see if he understood what was going on. He had the benefit of Legolas repeating the jokes for him, but some of the funny things, Pippin thought, needed to be seen.
Merry loved the songs, he was especially fond of poetry and one of the reasons he spent so much time with Bilbo and Frodo was their love of words which he shared. He was sad that Pippin could not hear the tunes, which were often unfamiliar to him and either very lively or very haunting and melodious.
The show was, as had been demanded, excellent although there was nothing too out of the ordinary as yet. But Spandif was, like all good showmen, saving the best until last. The curtains pulled shut and he walked in front of the drapes to introduce the next act. "And now, for your delight and pleasure, I present to you the only Show Within a Show ever seen in Middle Earth. The one and only, spectacular Marionette Playhouse!"
The curtains opened again to reveal a smaller stage inside the big stage. This stage had curtains pulled across the front that looked exactly the same as the main stage drapes. There was a fanfare and a string puppet, dressed identically to Spandif, pranced in front of the curtains. Pippin's eyes nearly popped out of his head. He turned excitedly to Legolas, pulling the elf's hands down to touch his face, his way of saying I need to talk.
'legolas! legolas! what it is? – that!'
'It's a puppet, watch carefully, there will be more.' Legolas smiled at Pippin's enthusiasm, puppet shows had obviously never made it as far as the Shire.
The small curtains pulled apart to reveal a scaled down marionette version of the show they had just seen. The wooden puppets danced and juggled and mimicked everything that had happened on the big stage, even the scenery was the same. Pippin jumped up in excitement scattering his cushions – he thought it was the funniest, cleverest thing he had ever seen. Then a sudden pang shot through him. He turned to look at Merry, his own animation in such stark contrast to his cousin's quiet demeanour.
'legolas! merry not go see!'
'I know, Pip, but the King and Éowyn are telling him about it.'
'no! he got go see it!'
Pippin was so frustrated. He loved the puppets but he could not bear the thought that Merry could not see them too. There had to be something he could do. Then he remembered something Strider had done to Merry, when his fever was so bad and he was upset. He got an idea.
Merry was listening very carefully to Théoden's description of the marionettes but he found the concept too hard to grasp and impossible to visualise. Small wooden people moving on strings. How could that be?
The audience was roaring in appreciation and Merry knew there was something special that he did not understand because he could not see. A feeling of sadness for his lost vision suddenly overwhelmed him, he thought of the fields and the flowers and the trees, of all his friends but mostly he thought of his dearest Pip. At that moment he would have given all those other things just to see his cousin's sweet innocent face again. Then he thought about how he could not even hear Pip laugh any more and how sad it was for him not to be able to hear him or anyone else. Two large tears sprang from his blue eyes. 'That's all they are good for now' he thought 'eyes that can do nothing but cry. I might as well pluck them out.'
Suddenly Merry felt his hand grasped, he knew at once it was Pippin and brushed his tears with his sleeve. He was about to ask Théoden if the show was finishing, when he was pulled off his chair and was suddenly trotting after Pippin's lead.
Legolas called to Pippin. 'Where are you going, little one? Come back it is not finished yet!'
Pippin heard the cry and called back 'i got go get show my mer!'
As the words had automatically left his mind and the answer had come back, the elf suddenly realised with amazement that he had reached Pippin without being in physical contact with the hobbit – something he had never accomplished before with anyone else.
But Pippin was too excited and intent upon what he was doing to pay any heed to the phenomenon. He pulled Merry behind him, making doggedly for the platform. Aragorn and Gandalf noticed simultaneously what was happening. The ranger made to go after the impudent hobbit and haul him back before he could climb up onto the stage, but Gandalf put his hand on his arm. "It doesn't matter, this show is really for Merry, let him enjoy it."
Pippin clambered up onto the stage dragging Merry behind him. As the pair climbed into the marionette theatre the puppeteers were momentarily surprised and the audience laughed with glee. The two hobbits were just the same size as the marionettes and Pippin danced up to the clown puppet and bowed low.
Spandif waved frantically to the puppeteers to play along and the clown bowed back. Pippin did a little dance with the puppet, performing a step then waiting as it mimicked his moves.
The audience hooted with laughter, slapping their legs and applauding. Pippin bowed once more.
Merry had been waiting where Pippin left him at the side of the stage, not too sure what was going on. His cousin now pulled him forward and placed his hands on the clown's wooden face. Merry felt the grain of the wood, but also traced the outline of the features and found the opening and shutting eyes. The clown suddenly put its arms around the hobbit and Merry jumped with surprise, then reached out to feel the arms and the joints that allowed them to move.
The audience had laughed at Pippin's antics but the whole hall seemed to hold its collective breath as Merry felt his way around the puppet, learning for the first time what it was that made everyone else so excited and pleased. He found the strings and as he ran his fingers along the taut lines, the puppeteer brought the attached knee joint, up to meet the hobbit's curious touch. Merry then went back to exploring the puppet's face, which was level with his own. He held it cupped in both hands and ran his fingers over the ears and the cheeks and the lips.
Finally, he smiled and in a voice filled with wonder said, "it's a doll as big as me that walks and dances." He pulled the wooden face forward and planted a kiss on the painted lips.
There was a gust of laughter and applause, breaking the silence from the audience.
Pippin then caught hold of Merry's hands and swung him round in a dance that they had done many times before, sometimes with the local lasses at hobbit celebrations, sometimes with assorted relatives at family gatherings and sometimes with each other at the local pub, balanced precariously on the table, whilst full of ale. Pippin knew Merry could do this blind drunk, so he could easily do it blind as well.
The band struck up to the right rhythm and, as the hobbits performed the lively foot stomping dance, the marionettes joined in, as the puppeteers quickly learned to mimic the steps. The audience applauded and laughed until their hands and throats hurt.
When the dance was over Pippin bowed graciously to the puppets and solemnly shook hands with the Spandif marionette. Then held Merry's hand and this time they both bowed to the puppets and to the crowd.
Spandif himself then came onto the stage and lifted the hobbits out of the marionette theatre and made them take another bow on the big stage. The impresario clapped his hands and as if by magic the two clowns suddenly appeared on the stage.
"Meriadok Brandibuk, on behalf of the Grand Spectac we would like to present you with a small token of our esteem." Spandif bowed to the clown, who presented Merry with a little silver flute. It was not a complete guess as the showman had made enquiries and Gandalf knew that Merry could play a flute quite well.
The next gift, however was a guess, "and for your noble companion," Spandif had not learned Pippin's name, "we hope he will enjoy this." The other clown gave Pippin a small drum that would hang round his neck and two drumsticks. Aragorn gasped in horror.
"So Master Merri," Spandif squatted down to be on a level with the hobbit, "am I forgiven?"
Merry mischievously played a pretty little catch on the flute, a light fluffy sound full of fun. "That's a song about a circus," Merry whispered. "That's the tune. My cousin Bilbo taught it to me and I helped with some of the words."
"You know a circus song?" Spandif's exclamation carried to the whole audience. "Then we must hear it!"
"It's only silly really," Merry was embarrassed now. "I don't know if it's good enough to be sung on a stage though."
"Of course we all want to hear it." Spandif encouraged the audience. "Sing the song! Sing the song!"
"Sing the song! We want the song!" The audience chanted back.
Pippin could see that everyone wanted Merry to do something so he joined in by rat-tat-tatting on his new drum, until Merry caught his hands and then he sat down cross-legged and watched and waited. Merry played the little air on his flute again and the band picked the tune up quickly. It was a simple melody and, like Frodo's song about the cat and fiddle that he had sung in The Prancing Pony, not many of the words are remembered these days, but the song grew famous in its time.
Bilbo's Circus Song
The circus band, travelled the land,
Living from day to day,
They danced and sang, and the woodlands rang,
As they went along their way.
Never alone, carrying their home,
Dwelling beneath the clouds,
They sang and played, and the people paid,
'twas pleasing for the crowds.
Hark, hark, the dogs do bark,
The beggars are come to town,
They give you cause, to lock your doors,
And roll your shutters down.
Peace, peace, tell the geese,
They're just the travelling folk,
From strange lands, they'll read your hands,
Or make a funny joke.
Alarm, alarm, beware of harm,
The gypsies are here today,
They'll empty your purse, or even worse,
Steal your soul away.
Come, come, everyone,
Come and see the show!
They'll juggle and dance, tumble and prance,
You'll love them before they go.
So the folk played, wherever they stayed,
In many a distant land,
But always were fated, to be hated,
By people who don't understand.
Because they roam, so far from home,
Their ways seem odd and strange,
Still they dance and sing, till the woodlands ring,
Pray Valar that they never change.
As the song finished Spandif led the riotous applause as Pippin led Merry in another deep bow. The showman suddenly realised what a great opportunity he had missed by putting Meriadoc in a cage, rather than on the stage.