"Are you hungry, Peregrin?" I ask, seeking to lighten the mood. He perks up immediately at the mention of food and leans forward eagerly. Then, as if realizing something, he takes a step back and gives a quick shake of his head. Staring down, he begins to study the floor intently, shuffling his feet. He is still uneasy in my presence. Does he fear reprisal if he requests for more food?
"Do not be shy, Peregrin," I say to him. "You have not had adequate time to adjust to these times of hardship, I deem."
"No, no! That's all right!" he protests. "Really! I'm being taken care of quite well here, and your city is wonderful!"
I turn away from the halfling's bright, cheerful eyes. He is merely being polite, perhaps, but he has only served to remind me of what this city used to be. Wonderful? Nay, 'tis no longer so! The shadow has marred its beauty forever. I stare out at the bleak skies and sigh wistfully. My city, that was once so fair...
"My lord?" The halfling speaks, cautiously breaking the awkward silence.
"Oh. Do not mind my silence, Peregrin. I had been thinking of other matters. It is only too easy to want to drift elsewhere when there is only this cheerless gloom in the air."
"I can understand that, sir," he says, looking more comforted. "I often think of the Shire myself, and of my fellow hobbits, as well."
"The Shire..." I turn to observe the halfling thoughtfully. I have been under the threat of Mordor for so long, it is difficult to imagine what the halfling is now going through. What must it be like to have left behind a peaceful home only to be thrust into the midst of a desperate war? Noticing the halfling's curious glance, I shake off my thoughts and motion for him to sit. "You must have many pleasant memories of your home. Will you tell me of this place? I grow weary of hearing naught but ill tidings."
The halfling obliges happily and begins to recount tales of the Shire, some touching, some highly comical. Along the way, he also explains the customs and traditions of his land, often stopping to recall his favourite foods. What peculiar people these halflings are -- or rather, hobbits, as they like to call themselves. Eating six meals in one single day? It is no wonder this halfling has been bemoaning the lack of food here in Minas Tirith!
Then, in the middle of one of his tales, his voice suddenly falters. He lets out a sigh and a great sadness washes over his eyes. I look over at him in concern, but he only smiles in a strained manner and tries to continue. I shake my head slowly and gesture for him to stop speaking.
"You must miss your companions..."
"Yes, terribly," he replies. "And I worry!"
"Be comforted, Peregrin." I give him a look of sympathy. "The Lord of Imladris would not have sent them away had he thought them unsuited for such a journey."
"I-I guess not," he reluctantly agrees, his voice wavering with doubt.
"Nonetheless I understand how you feel. It is a difficult time, and you desire the companionship of your friends." I know well how terrible it is to stand alone under the darkness, and I am sorry that you must suffer the same fate.
He nods in response to my words, still looking forlorn. Gauging his reactions closely, I ponder my next question carefully.
"If you do not mind telling me this, Peregrin - why did Mithrandir take you away from the others? What possible reasons must he have had?"
Upon hearing the question, his shoulders tense up and he blinks rapidly, almost uncomprehending. Then, recovering almost instantly, he relaxes and grins. "Well, you know Gandalf --" He trails off and turns abruptly to face me, lips pursed in a grim expression. He shakes his finger in a scolding manner and continues in a stern voice, "To keep you out of mischief, you fool of a Took!"
So alike to Mithrandir was his imitation that I laugh out loud. Ah, it has been too long since I have been so thoroughly amused! Not wanting to destroy the jovial atmosphere just yet, I decide to keep the light-hearted tone of the conversation for now. "So I take it that you are prone to mischief, then, little one?"
"Certainly not!" he exclaims indignantly, still retaining a serious expression. "I am an honourable hobbit."
"Is that so?" I ask, raising an eyebrow. Assuming a proper standing position, he makes a deliberate show of dignity. Watching him, I note with interest the unusual appearance of the halfling in his full uniform. Despite his exaggerated posture, he truly does seem to have an air of formality and poise about him. How easy it is now to see why he is regarded as a prince of his people!
Unsure of the sudden silence, the halfling sits down and inspects his surroundings, casting occasional glances at me. As the gloom settles back into the room, I proceed further with my questions.
"An honourable hobbit you are, indeed, and brave. But why it is that Mithrandir does not treated you as such?"
"I b-beg your pardon?" he stammers, clearly caught off-guard. "I am not being mistreated, sir!"
"So you mean to say that you do not object to being torn away from your companions, and then left entirely to your own devices in a land unknown?" I ask harshly, a feeling of impatience suddenly rising from within. Why does he still defend Mithrandir?
The halfling cringes at my accusations and sinks down into his seat. I sigh in resignation. Of course he would not think critically of Mithrandir; it is unlikely that he would be aware of the true extent of Mithrandir's designs. I rise from my seat and walk closer to the halfling, giving him a hard look.
"You never thought of Mithrandir's treatment of you as... unjust? What crimes could you have committed to merit a punishment so cruel?"
The halfling immediately starts to protest, but I hold up a hand to silence him.
"He has taken you from your friends, then proceeded to ignore you, only speaking to chastise you on perceived ill-doings. Why should you tolerate this treatment?"
"No!" He raises his voice to meet mine. "Do not blame Gandalf! I did make a mistake! I should not have looked--"
He stops in mid-sentence, aghast at what he has just revealed.
"Where should you not have looked, Peregrin?" Grasping his shoulders tightly, I lean forward and look into his eyes. A brief flash of recollection hits me.
"What do you know of the Seeing-Stones?" I ask on a sudden impulse. His eyes widen and he begins to struggle fiercely against my grip, his breath coming in shallow gasps. The panic evident in the halfling confirms my instincts, and I let go of him abruptly. He falls back on his chair with a thump. Small, and huddled against the back of his chair, he nearly resembles a frightened child, looking suddenly out-of-place in the attire of the Tower. A pang of regret surges through me, and I look away from his fearful expression.
"Forgive me," I say quietly. "I sought to speak of happier things with you."
"That is all right," he replies with a shaky voice. He wraps his arms around himself and shivers. I step further away from him, allowing him more space.
"Do you regret now your oath to me, Peregrin?"
"No, I do not, my lord," he replies resolutely. He still does not look up at me, but he appears to be calmer.
"Why did you come here?" I ask sadly. Did you know that you would be walking to your doom? No one should endure the trials you have undergone, and I am sorry to have added to it. If circumstances were not so dire, I would not have put you under such duress; but I must find out all that I can, before Mithrandir leads us all to our deaths!
The halfling clears his throat uneasily. "Well, Gandalf brought me here, sir."
"But why did you leave the Shire? Did he have something to do with that, as well?"
For a moment, he does not reply, unsure of his response. "Maybe... I mean... Frodo was the one meeting with Gandalf, for some adventure, I would assume. I suppose I just went along because I was one of his friends." He lets out a nervous laugh. "After all these years, Bilbo's sense of adventure must have rubbed off on Frodo somewhat. And-and I'm quite sure that Sam's been wanting to see the elves for quite awhile now!"
I look at him with mild skepticism. If Mithrandir had anything to do with the departure of these halflings, there must be more than mere restlessness behind their reasons. Why put the halflings through such a perilous journey?
Doom is near at hand, for Isildur's Bane shall waken, and the halfling forth shall stand.*
The Riddle mentions the halflings in its last line. Is this journey of theirs a portend of our doom? Frodo... He is the one that Mithrandir wanted to meet...
"Your friend Frodo - of what importance is he to the quest?"
The halfling refuses to make a sound, his hands clutching the arms of his chair tightly, his knuckles turning white.
"Please do not think me troublesome for being so persistent." I soften my tone. "Many questions have plagued me since Boromir left on that unfortunate errand to Imladris. I have learned much through tidings from afar, and the scrolls from this city, but not enough to put my mind at ease. Can you understand?"
"Yes," he says in a small voice, hesitating briefly before continuing. "But Gandalf says that I should not say too much!"
"But what is there to fear if you should tell me?" I restrain the anger that threatens to overtake me, remembering the halfling's earlier reactions. So it was Mithrandir who told the halfling to keep quiet!
"The air is heavy with the presence of the shadow, and it has tarnished much with its darkness, but its reach is not so far that it can reside within this very chamber!" I pause momentarily, gathering my composure again. "I only ask you this - Isildur's Bane, the Ring of Isildur - is Frodo the one that is carrying it?"
The halfling lets out a startled gasp. "Y-you know of the Ring?"
"Yes, though I should have known sooner, when Mithrandir came in search for the ancient scrolls. Alas that they proved so difficult to decipher! Only small portions of information could I glean from them. And even that knowledge has come too late. Too late for Boromir. Too late for us all, it seems, if Frodo does indeed have possession of the Ring."
"Please, my lord, do not despair!" he pleads. "There is hope yet!"
"Only fools have hope now," I say bitterly. "Think over the knowledge you have before you, Peregrin. What hope is there to be found?"
The halfling gulps and wrings his hands nervously.
"Has what I said displeased you, my lord?" he asks anxiously, his voice ridden with guilt. My anger dissipates as I look upon the earnest face of the halfling.
"Do not worry about what you should or should not have left unsaid, Peregrin! All would have been made known to me in time." I place my hand on his shoulder gently, attempting to comfort him. "It is true that what you have told me is not to my liking, but I would like being ignorant of everything even less."
He smiles thinly, still visibly distressed. Did I push him too hard today? I will speak to him no more, and let him be.
"The prince Imrahil and several others will be here shortly. You may retire to your post now, if you wish."
The halfling bows, clearly relieved, and rushes towards the door. As he reaches to open it, I call out to him again. He stands stiffly in his place for a moment, and then he turns back to face me.
"Despite what you may think, Peregrin, you have done well. Do not hearken too much to the criticisms of Mithrandir; he is not the lord of this city, and he has not the authority to control what is revealed or kept hidden! Though you have gone against his suggestions, you have not committed any wrongs. I am ever grateful for your company, and your help."
"Thank you, my lord." He bows again and exits the room, closing the door quietly behind him.
Left alone in the dark, I sink into a deep state of contemplation. Why do I persist in this futile quest for more knowledge? It has long ceased to be useful or comforting. Now I know more of what is to come, yet what can I do but watch it happen? How I despise being so helpless! Can anything still be salvaged at all...?
Next Chapter: Accusations
* JRR Tolkien, "The Council of Elrond", Fellowship of the Ring.