23. Duty, Honor and Friendship
Boromir did not send a man to fetch Pippin the next day, or the next. The hobbit sighed as he struggled to carry a tray of crockery from the common room back to the steaming washbasins for cleansing. Targon made no accommodation for his stature. He was expected to carry the same heavy trays, use the same tall mops, and he had to climb up on the benches to reach the tables for scrubbing, He tried not to feel suspicious, but he had the distinct feeling he was given more work than the others. He diligently worked through every brief break to finish, even skipping luncheon to catch up; but he could not seem to avoid the kitchen-master's snarls.
"Come on, come on, hurry up!" Targon scolded. "You're a lazy one. I'm doing you a favor, you know, giving you work here when there's no use for you elsewhere…"
Pippin did his best to be friendly to the other cleaning boys, but he felt quite out of place. They were all lads no older than eleven or twelve, and most were unschooled orphans pressed into work. A few had a kinsman in service: in the Tower Guard, the City Regiment, away at the garrison in Osgiliath or upon the outer defensive walls of the Rammas Ecchor. They spoke Westron, at least—for Sindarin was the tongue of Gondor's nobility and educated folk—but their talk was of nothing else but the coming war, and they seemed to view it as some grand adventure and not for the deadly struggle it would be.
"The Black army'll break on the Rammas like a wave on the shore," said a tough, sullen boy named Damir. "My Uncle's on the Wall, and he won't even have a chance to loose the missiles his company's been readying. Them Orcs won't even get close…"
"Yeah, we'll rout 'em before they can get near enough to aim at 'em!"
Pippin frowned, then quickly hid his worried expression. "I've traveled near and far, and from what I've seen, the men of Gondor appear to be fine soldiers…"
"Pah, what d'you know about soldierin'," Damir sneered.
"Shut up, you!" A thin, tall lad whose name seemed to simply be Mab spoke up, his voice squeaking. "He's older'n us, and he knows the Captain-General... Besides, he's right about Gondor…"
"Aye, Gondor's the finest!"
"Hey, Pippin," Mab said, "Tell us about when the Captain-General taught you how to steer a boat …"
"Or how Lord Boromir carried you through the snow in the pass…"
"Pah," Damir muttered. "What a pack of lies…"
The hobbit ignored Damir and spoke of the Fellowship's long journey, highlighting Boromir's role in their adventure. The younger boys never questioned the reason for the journey, nor did they wonder what had brought together such a strange collection of travelers. But he saw Targon listening in the background, a sneering frown on his face. What does that look mean? he wondered. I doubt he believes a word of it… Pippin carefully avoided any hint of the Fellowship's true quest. Reluctantly, he also made certain to hardly mention the wizard, not knowing which of his words might find their way to the ears of the Steward Denethor, of whom he had yet to catch more than a glimpse.
On the evening of his arrival, Rosdolog found him an unused berth in the Citadel barracks. As Pippin readied his small sack of belongings to stow beneath his cot, he sorted through it and sighed. Frodo's winter waistcoat, and here's a extra pair of Sam's woolen breeches… He fingered his friends' clothing as a vise of longing and fear gripped his heart. But he felt the waiting man's impatient eyes on him, and he shoved the items deep into his bag and tucked it away.
Just after noon on his third day in Minas Tirith, and on his second full day as a kitchen-worker, the lieutenant came calling to see that the Perian had what he needed.
"Oh, yes, thank you very much, Lieutenant Rosdolog," Pippin said as he wiped a sleeve across his sweating brow. "I am entirely satisfied with my situation, and I am glad to be busy. It was kind of you to check on me, sir."
Rosdolog stared at him for a moment before his eyes dropped. "No trouble, Master," he said. He went on quietly. "Targon can be… well, rather rough-mannered, and most of these kitchen boys are little better than street urchins. It occurred to me, Master Peregrin, that such a lowly assignment as this might not be to the liking of one such as yourself… an Ernil…"
A smile broke out on Pippin's flushed face. "Oh, that!" he laughed. "Dear me, don't believe what Boromir…Captain-General Boromir says about all that! I am but a farmer's son in my homeland, Lieutenant Rosdolog, and as I've said before, I am glad to do whatever I can to help prepare Minas Tirith for the conflict she must soon face."
The lieutenant gazed at him solemnly and nodded curtly. "Very well, Master Peregrin." He straightened. "If you need anything, I've duty in rotation every twelve hours, with four hours off between and eight off every third shift. Ask any guard… The watch officer must move about, but anyone will know where to find me." The soldier bowed and turned quickly, eager, it seemed to Pippin, to take his leave of the steamy kitchen.
Once Rosdolog was out of sight, Pippin heard Targon and another man, the second cook, muttering in voices that seemed purposefully loud enough for the hobbit's ears.
"An Ernil, they say… but with them perky round cheeks, and those gold-brown curls of his, what sort of pampered thing is he, do you think?"
"Hard to guess, but one thing's certain: he ain't done much real work in his short life, afore this duty…"
The second man laughed. "As soft as he looks, I'll warrant… But the Captain-General seemed right…fond of him, wouldn't you say, Targon?"
Targon sniggered. "Perhaps the high-and-mighty Lord Boromir picked up some new habits on his long, lonely travels in foreign lands…"
The hobbit hid his flaming face and stared at the floor he'd been mopping. Don't let on that you've heard, Pip! They're just gossips of the worst sort. Apparently not every man in Minas Tirith thinks well of the Heir to the Steward. Oh, Boromir, I don't care what these fools think, if only you'd send for me! I'd run errands to Mordor if you needed them… Anything to get me out of here!
Later that afternoon, Pippin had just emerged from crawling beneath one of the long wooden tables to retrieve a scrubbing rag he'd dropped when he found himself looking at a pair of thick legs, their brown breeches tucked into rather scuffed leather boots. Targon peered down at the hobbit with his beefy hands crossed over his middle.
Pippin waved the rag. "Dropped this," he said as he rose. His head came to just above the chief cook's makeshift apron. Targon grunted and gave him a skeptical look.
"Well, er… I'll be heading down to the Gate this afternoon," he said gruffly. "The troops of the fiefdom's of the south are expected to arrive this evening. Want to get there plenty early to get a place to see."
The man hesitated. To Pippin, it seemed that Targon's inner conflict played out on his round face. Is this is some sort of peace offering? Perhaps he's no admirer of Boromir—and he loathes me, clear enough—but Targon's got something on his mind… Ah, I see it...
Pippin gave him a nod. "Very well, Targon. I'll be glad to watch over the boys while you are gone. I can fetch from the butteries and serve the last of this noon's stew to any who come in tardy from the walls, as well."
Targon flushed. "Nay, that's not what I meant… Well, Lieutenant Rosdolog mentioned you might want to see the muster yourself, seeing as you're a foreigner and all..."
Pippin looked up. He's able to act more civilly when commanded to, apparently… "Why, I would be very glad to see such a thing, Targon. When are the troops expected?"
"Hard to say. Me and a few other fellows'll head down an hour afore sundown to try to catch a view. You're free to head down to the First Circle when you like." Clearly, though Targon was granting the hobbit leave to make his way to the Gate, he was not extending an invitation to join him and his friends. Just as well, Pippin thought. I'd rather be on my own… As long as I can find my way down and back…
The last of the afternoon sunlight was slanting through the gaps in the walls of Minas Tirith when Pippin finally finished his tasks and left the Seventh Circle. The crowds grew as he descended through the City, passing through each successively lower Gate. He was keenly aware of curious eyes on him with every step. "…Ernil i Pheriannath…" and "….Perian…" followed him.
I need not have worried about finding my way, he thought. He would have been hard pressed to take a different route than the one the ever-growing mass of folk followed. He looked about with interest to see the variety of faces around him. Nearly all were men, for almost every woman had left the City for the more remote and thus relatively safer countryside of Gondor, mostly into the fiefdoms of the south. Those few women remaining were somberly dressed and walked in pairs and threes. He found himself in step beside a pair of serious-looking young women, one quite short for a Gondorian, with golden curls that had escaped her bright blue scarf, and the other tall, dark-eyed and pale. To his surprise, they were speaking in the Common Tongue.
"…Aye, Mareyn, Master Turin says it is the last breath before the plunge. The outlands are sending what men they can, but they'll need to keep many behind for defence of their own homelands, too. You know about that, I suppose, better than I would…"
"I know it's foolish, but I can't help but wonder if I might see my brother Brand among the Anarion regiment. He'd just be old enough, I think, if Father let him join. He'll be easy to pick out, with his golden hair…"
The first woman smiled. "Of course, I was forgetting that your father was from Rohan..."
"Yes, and try as he might, my father could never quite master Sindarin, nor could Mother learn his Rohirrhic tongue. They settled on Westron for the household, and that's what we all grew up speaking. I was so fortunate to find you, Ivreniril, for so many of our sisters in the Houses do not speak the Common Tongue nearly as well as you."
Ivreniril, who appeared older to Pippin, frowned. "In all likelihood they will soon have many chances to practice it," she sighed. "The wounded that come to us will be from the far-flung reaches of Gondor, where many tongues and dialects are spoken, and if King Theoden holds to the ancient treaties, many men of Rohan will ride to our defence, and all too many of them will need us. Westron may soon serve as the speech of the Houses of Healing. Can you speak Rohirrhic?"
"Well enough," Mareyn said. "Father wanted me to learn it." She blushed. "He wanted me to marry a man from Rohan, and he was ever inviting his friends who had sons to visit our homestead. He was proud, but disappointed, I think, when I told him that I wished to come to the City to study healing… but Mother prevailed, for she said I had the gift that had come from her mother before her…"
"You do have the gift, Mareyn," Ivreniril said quietly.
They had arrived by then at the First Circle, and crowds lined either side of the main thoroughfare. The women caught sight of a friend, a tall thin fellow with stooped shoulders and a clean-shaven face, who waved them over to his place at the roadside. They veered toward him, and after a moment's hesitation, Pippin followed.
"Meneldil!" Ivreniril said as she clasped the tall man's hand between her own. "Bless you, friend, you've found us a wonderful spot!"
"I've had to fight like a cur to hold enough space for you two," the man said in a gravelly voice. "What took you so long—no, don't bother to explain, I know, I know…" he went on with a smile as the women began protesting. "You're not late, or no, don't tell me again—Ivreniril is never late, is she?" He reached down and tugged at her earlobe as it peeked out from beneath her headscarf.
Ivreniril grinned and pushed his hand away. "Scoundrel! You know very well, Master Meneldil, that if I am late—and I am rarely late—I always have an excellent reason for it…"
Mareyn leaned in from his left side. "She won't tell you, so I will…"
"Mareyn!" Ivreniril hissed; but there was a smile on her blushing face.
"Our friend has been promoted," Mareyn said with a smile. "The herb-master has chosen her as his first assistant! He just informed her today, right before we set out!"
Meneldil's grin was broad. "That's wonderful! And well deserved, for you are the most skilled herbalist I've seen in the Houses since Master Turin himself joined us…"
The three friends continued in a cheerful, animated conversation, discussing Ivreniril's new position and how they planned to celebrate. Pippin stood near Mareyn, glancing up now and then with a look of longing and loneliness.
I miss this the most, he thought. Simply talking to friends, about day to day things, ordinary things… The young hobbit sighed deeply as he wondered where Merry might be, and whether he had a safe place to rest for the coming of night.
Mareyn heard the sad sound and turned toward Pippin. She smiled down at him, but then her brow knotted, for the Steward had recently decreed a curfew, and no child under the age of fourteen was allowed alone on the street after sundown. This boy shall certainly be caught if he doesn't hurry home—or wherever he might be staying—at once, she thought. "Greetings, lad. Are you here alone?"
Pippin smiled and bowed in return. "I am, my lady," he said. "My pardon for listening, for I do not speak Sindarin, and when I heard you and your friend talking in the Common Tongue I'll admit I couldn't help myself…"
The young woman from Anorien gazed at him with sympathy. "You are not from the City, are you?"
The hobbit grinned. "Oh no, I most certainly am not…"
Meneldil and Ivreniril were intrigued by Pippin's accent. The tall man leaned around Mareyn and peered downward.
"Where are you from, my boy?"
The Thain's Heir bowed again, more seriously. Do it right, Pip… Make your Da proud… "Peregrin Took of the Eastfarthing of The Shire, and of old, of the kingdom of Arthedain, at your service and your family's," he said.
"Arthedain!" Ivreniril said. "Ah!" Her face lit up with sudden understanding. "This is no boy, my friends! If I am not mistaken, we are standing beside the Ernil i Pheriannath, who accompanied Lord Boromir when he returned to Minas Tirith!"
Meneldil's eyes widened. "Truly? Are you the Perian we've been hearing about?"
Pippin bowed yet again. "I traveled for months with your Captain-General, and I was on the road with several of my own people for months before that."
Meneldil nodded in greeting to Pippin. "Welcome! I am Meneldil, of Minas Tirith, and I would offer you my services, but I sincerely hope that you never have need of them…"
Mareyn replied to Pippin's look of confusion. "Master Meneldil's singular skill is in the making of devices to aid those who have either lost a limb or can no longer use one to move about with greater ease," she said. "He contrives the most marvelously clever braces, crutches and tools. And what with all the skirmishes of late, he's never had so much call for his inventions…"
"Nothing compared to what is to come, I expect," Meneldil muttered.
"Oh, look," Ivreniril said, as she pointed down the street. "They're coming!"
Down the street toward the Gate, men had begun waving and cheering, and in the middle of the pavement a huge, grey-bearded and heavy-limbed man rode astride a massive horse. Black-haired and bearded men marched behind him, carrying shields and spears and each with a long dagger at his belt.
"Who is he?" Mareyn cried over the raucous din.
"Forlong, Lord of Lossarnach," Meneldil shouted back. Two lines of men stamped on the paving stones a few feet away from where the friends stood watching. "So few!" Meneldil muttered, as two hundred men passed by. "Lossarnach should have sent far more…"
"Would it be the rumors of the Corsairs?" Ivreniril said with a worried frown.
"I suppose," Meneldil replied. "Ever the Nameless One's tactics are the same—divide us and drain our strength…"
"We can but hope that our Enemy will not resort to another of his old tactics this time, and send another plague to Gondor," Ivreniril murmured.
"He has no need for plague," Meneldil said grimly. "He has more than enough Orcs…"
They watched as one company after another marched through the First Circle on their way to barracks prepared for the men and stables for the horses. Pippin strained to listen to Meneldil over the sound of cheering and the shouts of the crowd as the man named the many outlands of Gondor and their leaders who had come to war. Ringló Vale… Morthond… Langstrand… Lamedon… Pinnath Galen… So many proud strong warriors, he thought. How many of these shall live to see the summer? Will any of us live to see it? His heart ached for the young, grim-faced men. None of them know that their strength and their blood will be spent for naught, if Frodo and Sam don't get through…
The last and largest company approached to roaring cheers.
"Dol Amroth for Gondor!"
"What are they saying now?" Pippin asked Mareyn.
She inclined her head toward him as she clapped her hands. "They greet the men of Dol Amroth, Gondor's other great city in the south. The House of the Swan, 'tis said, is as royal as the House of the Stewards. Dol Amroth sits on a deep bay of the Great Sea…"
"And her Prince is Imrahil, the brother-in-law of the Steward Denethor," Meneldil added. "See? Even now he comes, and beside him is our Boromir, his sister's son!"
Indeed, at that moment the cheers grew louder as the people of Minas Tirith began shouting the name of their Captain-General and the Heir of the Steward. Pippin joined his voice to the throng as he stood on tiptoes.
"Boromir! Boromir! Prince Imrahil! Gondor!"
The two men had dismounted and had turned the reins of their sweating horses to nearby soldiers so that they could press hands and greet the citizens of Minas Tirith, to the delight of their many admirers. Imrahil was even taller than his nephew, and his face was high-browed and fair. His hair and beard were completely grey, though his features were smooth, and his eyes were keen and inquisitive. The noblemen's heads were tipped toward one another as they walked. Not even the noise of the crowd could stop Boromir from speaking fervently to his uncle, who was frowning and nodding sternly.
Pippin's heart caught in his throat at the sight of the Prince's standard: a beautiful white swan on a bright field of rippling blue. The form of the swan was the same as the swan-ship that had carried the Lord and Lady of Lothlorien, and the image brought the hobbit back to that day when he had last seen his kinsman. Oh Merry, how I wish you were with me! But Merry was far away, and the only person for a hundred leagues in any direction who Pippin could claim to know was just now passing by.
"Boromir! Boromir!" he cried as he clapped vigorously.
The piping sound of the hobbit's voice carried over the din of cheering. Boromir's head swung toward him, and a broad grin broke over the Captain-General's face. Boromir caught the Prince's arm and pulled him toward the roadside, and the two tall men leaned down.
"I thought I recognized that voice—the voice that kept up my spirits when I lay trapped in a healer's tent in the Golden Wood! Uncle, allow me to present my friend Pippin, of the Nine Walkers, and an Ernil i Pherrianath—though he will deny it, if you allow him to…"
Pippin bowed as formally as he knew how. "Peregrin Took of The Shire, and of old, of the kingdom of Arthedain, at your service, my Lord…"
The Prince smiled warmly as he greeted the hobbit in the way of the men of Gondor, with his hand pressed to his breast and a nod of his head. "Imrahil of Dol Amroth, at yours… And I know how you feel, Master Took; I, too, at times, would just as soon decline the title of Ernil and spend my hours in some more enjoyable pursuit…" His smile faded. "But the times do not allow such indulgences, do they, my Lord Peregrin?"
Pippin's eyes were drawn to Boromir's face, and the vision he had seen in Galadriel's Mirror wavered in front of him like a dark specter. He wrenched his gaze toward the Prince and swallowed hard. "No, my Lord. They do not. We each must do our duty, as honorably as we can, and for as long as we can, until these dark days pass…. And even if they do not…" he ended in a whisper.
Imrahil met his eye and nodded sternly. "Well said, my friend…" he murmured.
His new acquaintances from the Houses of Healing had stepped back and were watching the Prince and his nephew in awe. Only Ivreniril gazed at Pippin, with a look that seemed to be one of admiration. Boromir glanced at the healers and recognized Meneldil, for too many of his soldiers had been recipients of the man's skills.
"Hail, Meneldil! Are you a friend of Pippin's?"
"Nay, my Lord, we met just now, here on the street, thrown together by chance to view the parade of defenders coming to the City…"
"Do not neglect to introduce us to your other companions," Boromir said as he smiled at Mareyn. "All too few of the fairer half of our race remain to grace the City in this dire hour…" She blushed deeply and curtseyed.
Meneldil placed a protective hand on each woman's shoulder. "This is Lady Ivreniril, of Minas Tirith; she is Master Turin's first assistant herbalist…" Ivreniril bowed her head. "And this is Mareyn, of west Anorien; she is an apprentice healer, having come to the City just six months ago." The young woman bowed again, and blushed more deeply as she gazed up at the handsome Boromir through her thick golden lashes. The Captain-General smiled again, and her hand came up to hide the returning smile she could not contain.
But the Prince frowned at his nephew, and cleared his throat. "We thank you for your dedication and skill. It is a difficult duty, to be a healer in a time of war. May the Valar watch over your Houses." He turned to Boromir, who had not ceased smiling at the young lady from Anorien. "Captain-General, we should continue. The Steward awaits us…"
Boromir's head snapped up. "Yes, of course… " His eyes met Pippin's. "A moment, Uncle…" Boromir stepped close to the hobbit and placed his hand on his shoulder. "Pippin, I'm sorry that I haven't sent for you," he said quietly. "With one thing, then another, any time I had to make arrangements for you has vanished. How fare you, in Targon's kitchens?"
Pippin flushed and forced a smile. "I'm all right, Boromir. Don't worry about me, you've got more than enough to think about…" He was acutely aware of the eyes of Ivreniril on him. Well, any delusions these pleasant folk had about this ridiculous 'prince' business have been dashed to pieces… "Just don't forget, you know… to send word, if you hear anything, anything at all…"
Boromir nodded with a pained look on his face. "I promise, my friend. I won't forget." He squeezed the hobbit's shoulder, and he and the Prince nodded to the four of them as they took a step away. But Ivreniril spoke up.
"My pardon, Lord," she said, as she reached out toward the Captain-General.
Boromir paused. "Yes, Lady?"
She flushed at the directness of his gaze, but held her head high and met his eyes. "If I understand correctly, my Lord, this young… Perian is employed in the barracks' kitchens, under the supervision of Targon?"
"Yes, that is true," Boromir said. Imrahil looked up the street impatiently, for his cavalrymen had gone forward, and more than half of his troops had already marched by.
"If I may be so bold, sire, it seems to me even in the short time we have been acquainted with Master Peregrin that he might serve Gondor better in a position more suitable to his obvious intellect and serious nature … such as in the Houses of Healing."
Pippin stared at her with a look of shocked joy. But Boromir grinned at her wryly. "'Serious nature?' You don't know my young friend very well…"
"…Lady Ivreniril, I would be honored," Pippin interrupted in a choked voice. "I'll do anything, I could even wash dishes and mop floors, as I do in the barracks mess… Anything…"
Boromir turned to him with raised brows. "I see. Some day you'll have to tell me what I don't know about Targon, Pippin…"
"Other than that he is a mean-spirited scandalmongerer, what else is there to know?" Meneldil muttered. "Lord Boromir, I agree with Lady Ivreniril, and if she cannot find suitable duties for him in the apothecary, I would be more than glad to take him on as an apprenctice in my workshop. What do you say, my friend?" He smiled at the hobbit.
"Just give me time to get my things and speak to Targon, sir, and I'll be at your side… Well, as long as one of you gives me directions to the Houses of Healing, that is!" Pippin grinned.
Ivreniril smiled. "Walk with us, Master Peregrin, and we will be happy to show the Houses to you. You can tell us tales of your travels while we return to the Sixth Circle."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.