32. A Different Path
I walked away from him and into the Houses. Hearing strange sobs coming from Merry's room, I stopped. Looking in, I saw Pippin holding his cousin. I tried to back away, not embarrass the poor lad, when Pip saw me and gestured me inside.
"I can wield a sword," Merry said through his tears. "I know I can. And I can still ride. Did I not ride the whole way from Roh...?" He hiccupped. "Rohan? I can't be left behind, Pippin. I can't, not again."
"I'm sorry, Merry. I want you with us, too. But we have to obey Strider. It wouldn't look good. And you've already disobeyed Théoden. You can't do it again."
At the name of his beloved liege-lord, Merry's tears fell faster. "Great lot of good I was to him! That's why Strider's not taking me with him. I let Théoden die." The Hobbit sobbed quietly; I jumped upon his lap, trying to comfort him the best I could.
"Oh blessed Meriadoc," Pippin held Merry tighter.
'You didn't fail,' I told him. 'You helped kill the Witch-king and saved Éowyn! None have ever done that, I can tell you!'
"Poor silly old Hobbit," Pippin murmured. "Strider's only worried for you. Honestly, would you look at your arm? I'm sorry, Merry, but you couldn't wield a sword if you tried. Even Éowyn would say you couldn't stay astride a horse for as long as it's going to take to get to Mordor."
There was no consoling the Hobbit. I finally had an idea. 'Have either of you seen Faramir this afternoon?' I interrupted.
Pippin blushed. "I'm sorry. I haven't."
"It's my fault," Merry sighed. "I've been taking all Pippin's time and him a soldier of Gondor and all. I'm sorry."
'Nay. Would you please come with me though? I am afraid he might be cross with me. If you stand with me, he dare not shout.'
Pippin looked at me in surprise. I quickly thought my plan to him and sighed when he smiled. "You're right, Alqua," he intoned seriously, "Faramir might shout at you. He'll watch himself with us around."
Never would Faramir ever shout at me, but it was a good enough excuse to get poor Merry to forget himself and come with me. For I knew Faramir would not be going either and the two of them could comfort each other. Merry dragged his heals as we walked to Faramir's room. Pippin kept his tongue.
Distraught is the only word that comes to mind. The two of them sat on Faramir's bed and they looked as if they had lost their best friends. I shuddered at the thought and wondered if either of them knew that Elessar and Pippin and Gandalf would probably not return.
'If the Dark Lord wins,' I spoke quietly, 'then there will be much work to do here. The people must be evacuated. Those whose wounds are not too grave must be aided. I think you both will be quite busy, helping King Elessar care for his people whilst he is away.'
All three looked at me as if I had two heads. 'Plans are already set for an evacuation. If the King fails, you must leave Minas Tirith. Did you not consider that?'
Faramir bent his head in grief. "Right you are to chide us both. We have been most selfish, thinking of our own needs. Who will be in charge of the evacuation?"
'Húrin, the Warden of the Keys.'
"Good. He is a doughty man and wise. My father trusted him. He knows a way out? I cannot see us leaving by the front door." Faramir's wan smile touched my heart.
'There are tunnels to Mindolluin. He knows of them.'
"Tunnels?" Faramir's shouts were beginning to disconcert me. "I know naught of tunnels."
'When you became Steward, your father would have shown you, along with many other things.' I did not mention the Palantír, but I knew Faramir knew of what I spoke. 'It is gone now. Useless. It cannot be used, Faramir, no matter how much you would wish to see what is happening on the Morannon.'
Faramir nodded. "I would not even think of looking."
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