22. The White City
Pippin sat on a stone bench in the dim hallway, gnawing the inside of his lower lip. A tall guard, dressed in a magnificent black tunic, embroidered in silver with the image of a White Tree, and wearing full mail and helm, stood at attention across from him. The man's eyes stared forward, and he rested his right hand on the hilt of a very long sword. He seemed to give no notice to the lonely hobbit whose feet swung ten inches above the floor. But when Pippin flinched again at the muffled, angry shouts coming from within the nearby chamber, he noted that the guard did the same. Their eyes strayed to the closed door, then to one another.
"Poor Boromir…" The whispered comment escaped from the hobbit's lips. Pippin thought he saw the guard frown beneath his helm, and nod slightly. Then the man's eyes snapped forward again.
The chamber door flew open, and Boromir appeared, his fair face scarlet. The Captain-General rushed by, returning the guard's salute absently as he charged down the hallway.
"Come along, Pippin," he called out over his shoulder, his voice filled with suppressed anger. "Nothing more to say here, not today. Follow me."
Pippin hopped off the bench and sprinted after his friend, trying to do so with as much dignity as he could muster. I doubt anyone's run in these halls for hundreds of years—much too serious a place for running… He'd caught a glimpse into the room Boromir had left, and saw a tall, grey-haired man, somberly dressed, standing rigidly straight with his back turned. The man had his clenched fists held out at his sides.
The hobbit sped up to catch his companion. "What's going on?" he whispered. "I gather things didn't go too well…"
Boromir snorted out a bitter bark of laughter. "No, my friend, not well at all. Things began easily enough, for of course I was jubilant to see my father after so many months, as he was to see me safely returned. But the good will unraveled all too quickly, as soon as our talk turned to the riddling verse that had caused me to leave home in the first place, the meaning of those fateful words, 'Isildur's Bane'--and the current location of that small object. Just now, my dear wise father told me that if Gondor were not at war, and my skills were not vitally needed, he would consider tossing me in prison and having me tried for treason." He threw his hands up. "Treason!" he shouted. He looked down at Pippin, and the hobbit saw hurt and confusion written there, beneath his anger. "He does not understand! He cannot understand, I fear. He says I have failed him and Gondor… though it would have required that I become a thief, or worse… He calls me traitor for not committing a hideous crime, a crime that would have ultimately destroyed both of us, and the entire realm! For all his masterful intellect and his formidable will, he refuses to even try to understand!"
Boromir flung open the Citadel doors, continued down the many steps carved of shining white stone and on into the growing twilight. Guards were stationed on either side of the entrance, and they snapped to attention as their Captain-General swept by. Pippin hurried behind him as he strode swiftly across the green lawn toward the encircling wall.
The hobbit glanced up, as he had when they had come through the Seventh Gate into this high circle earlier this very evening, at the mournful dead Tree standing near the softly murmuring fountain. Boromir had briefly explained about the Tree and its significance, but the young hobbit shivered again at the sight of it. Like a monument to a dead idea, a reminder every day that this country's best years are past, and her future is one of long decline… or maybe not… He paused for a moment and stared at the bare, broken branches, dripping sadly into the waters of the shallow pool. If Strider comes here—no, when Strider comes here, will the Tree come back to life? Is that possible?
With all that he'd seen since September last, anything seemed possible. If an old Willow Tree can try to eat me, then why can't a dead White Tree be awakened? he thought. He glanced toward the Wall, and sped to catch up with Boromir.
Pippin climbed on a bench and joined the man as he leaned on the parapet and gazed East. The Sun had set behind the purple and white-crested mountains at their backs. The plains below were in deep shadow. But here and there were lights, twinkling through the windows of sturdy cottages, or the cooking fires of men encamped, or torches borne aloft by riders galloping to and fro. The longer he looked, the more Pippin saw that despite the fall of darkness, the Pelennor Fields were all a chaos of frantic activity. It was a crowded, jumbled mess: people rushing north or south in a long line of wagons and carts, frightened animals being herded, soldiers riding in groups of a dozen or more. It was the scene of a country on the brink of war, and war did not halt for the coming of night.
"Fari is out there, across the River," Boromir murmured. "In the thick of it, no doubt."
Pippin sighed. "And that's where Frodo and Sam are…and Gandalf, somewhere over there, so close to…to…"
Boromir nodded. "Yes. We in Gondor do not name the Black Land that borders us to the East, nor do we name the Master of that Desolation. We need but raise our eyes to see the encroaching Shadow. Ever it grows, the darkness that gathers about yonder mountain range. Since I was a boy, and understood what my country faces, I have watched it shrink and grow, shrink and grow… Save for these last few decades, when the Shadow has grown unrelentingly."
Pippin shivered and pulled his cloak about his shoulders. "Do you think they are safe still?"
The man paused, and frowned into the smoky haze that obscured the range of peaks to the east of the Great River. He turned and looked at the hobbit. "Yes. I am certain of it. For if they were not safe…if the worst had already happened, do you not think that we would know it, if by nothing else but the dread in our hearts? If the Black Lord had regained his treasure, surely we would feel such an evil, in the very marrow of our bones!"
But Pippin only felt sicker at heart by Boromir's words. Oh Frodo, be safe! Sam, watch out for him, and for yourself. What I wouldn't give for a sight of them again… Far to the East, two hobbits and a wizard had begun to creep through the woods of Ithilien for their nighttime journey, while from the opposite direction a company of Gondorian Rangers, nearly as silent as Elves, moved inexorably toward them.
"They are safe yet, Pippin. Do not fear," Boromir said firmly. "We would know if they were not. For one thing, whatever else the Steward of Gondor might be, he is a man with far sight, and his eyes are trained to the East. If the Enemy had regained what he lost and his strength had suddenly increased, Denethor would know it." He smiled at last. "My father gave me one priceless bit of good news. Faramir is expected home in a few days, at most." He closed his eyes. "I can hardly wait to see him, to speak to him! I have so much to tell him! Not the least is that I finally understand how he has suffered for all these years." His face twisted as conflicting emotions tumbled through him. "I thought I knew how he must feel, and I suffered my own sort of anguish at watching the harsh manner our father has used with him, the contempt and twisted grief he poured out upon his younger son… But I did not truly know, not until tonight."
Boromir bowed his head for a moment; then he seemed to shake himself, as if to rid himself of all his dreary thoughts. A grim smile appeared on his face. "Alas for Denethor, Lord Steward of Gondor! For now both his loving and loyal sons—upon whom he desperately depends in these dire times—stand to the one side, and he stands upon the other. It remains to be seen whose will shall be the stronger: the Steward's, or his heirs'!"
He turned from the parapet, clasped Pippin beneath his arms, and lifted him off the bench, placing him solidly upon the ground. "You and I have ridden far today, and if I have learned anything from my travels, it is that Peregrin Took of the Shire is undoubtedly hungry. What would you say to a meal, my friend?"
Pippin grinned. "I would say yes, and yes again!"
Boromir laughed. "Well, I do hope your cousin's prediction will not come true, and you eat our larders bare—for I suspect the stores of the City are thinner than they might be in better times. But we will find something edible in the Citadel barracks' mess hall. I will take you there, and introduce you to the officer of the watch. Then I must leave you, Pippin, for now. For I am the Captain-General of Gondor, answerable only to the Steward, and my country is at war. I must hear all the news that I can, and inspect the City's defenses, and ride yet tonight to the Rammas…" He smiled wryly. "There is far too much to do, and not the least is the Council that the Steward has called for tomorrow at dawn. Come! Let us strengthen ourselves for the many tasks ahead!"
With that, Pippin found himself once more jogging along in Boromir's wake, trying and failing to catch up to him. I do believe I have memorized every detail of the back of his cloak, the heels of his well-worn boots, and every strand of dark hair from the crown of his head to his broad shoulders… I would recognize this Big Person's backside in the darkest alleyway…
Boromir led quickly to a winding stair on the inward side of the Citadel, and began to descend. Pippin scampered after him, dodging armed men who saluted and cheered their Commander as they sped up the stairs, and running as fast as he dared on the darkened stone steps, built for longer legs than his. At intervals, guards stood at attention beneath torches set in iron brackets; each man broke into a wide grin as Boromir passed.
"Hail, Lord Boromir!"
"Welcome home, my Lord!"
"Captain-General, you bring hope with you in our darkest hour!"
Boromir shook hands and clapped the men on their shoulders as he rushed onward, pausing briefly for one tall man in the livery of the Tower—the same as the guard outside the Steward's private chamber--who made his way up the steps.
"My Lord!" the man cried as he reached out to Boromir. "I heard word of your return, and I rejoice to see with my own eyes that I heard true!"
"Hail, Beregond," Boromir said as he pressed the man's hand. "When is your duty?"
"Just ending, sire," he said. "I have four hours, and then another watch."
"Your family? Are they well?"
The young man's face twisted with a bittersweet smile. "My wife Riniel, young Borlas and our new babe left the City in one of the wains last week, for Lossarnach, where we have people. Alas, Bergil, my eldest, would not leave. The boy stays at the Old Guesthouse in Rath Celerdain, and there I am headed, to sit with him while he sups, before my next call."
"A new babe!" Boromir grinned. "My congratulations! Another boy?"
Beregond beamed. "The most beautiful girl-child a man could ask for, sire—the image of her mother."
Boromir waited until Pippin caught up, and spoke in the Common Speech. "Beregond of the Citadel Guard, meet Peregrin Took, a Perian from a far northern country. Master Peregrin has been one of my traveling companions for over three months. Let not his stature fool you, Beregond: he is a doughty fellow, and a fierce campaigner!"
Beregond looked solemn as he bowed to the hobbit. "My greetings, and welcome to the White City, Master Took!"
Pippin blushed. "Sire, let not Boromir's teasing tongue fool you! I am about as fierce as I appear, that is, not very," he chuckled. "But I am most pleased to meet you, Lord Beregond."
"Lord!" Beregond laughed. "Ah, no! I am merely a lowly guard. Yet I am proud to serve in the Citadel; it is a position of great honor."
"Off with you now, Beregond," Boromir said as he clasped his shoulder. "You have more important tasks than to stand and chatter with us! My best to your son. Remind him that when he is of age, I am expecting him to follow in his father's footsteps, as he promised me, at Loëndë last—nay, it was two summers ago now!"
"He has not forgotten, my Lord," Beregond said with a grin as he continued up the stair. "Indeed, Bergil speaks of little else! Welcome home, Captain-General!"
Boromir watched the young guard leave for a moment before he continued down the stairway. "A good man," he said quietly. "They are all good men. Yet, too few… far too few, for what is to come," he muttered under his breath. "Tomorrow's council will certainly bring news of the fiefdoms, and what men are promised to our defenses." He frowned. "There is so much to do, Pippin! We have but a short space, I fear, before the storm breaks. Will Gondor be ready?"
Moments later, Pippin followed the Captain-General into the barracks' mess hall, near the kitchens, where the men of the Tower Guard took their meals together. He nearly ran into the back of Boromir's legs as the returning Steward's Heir halted a few feet beyond the threshold. The large room erupted with deafening noise as a hundred men jumped to their feet and began to cheer.
"Boromir! Boromir!" they shouted in unison, in time with thuds of stamping boots on the resonant wooden floor. Boromir beamed as Pippin crept forward to stand at the man's side. The hobbit looked out in amazement at the sight of all those tall men in the livery of Gondor, sable and silver, their faces so full of welcome and hope, their arms raised in enthusiastic applause. Even the cooks joined in, banging on iron pots and blowing across empty wine bottles and producing a variety of hooting, flute-like tones.
Finally, Boromir raised his hands, and the room fell quiet.
"I thank you for your most generous welcome, my friends," he said. "For that is what I call every one of you: friend, and comrade-at-arms!"
The cheers began again. Pippin looked up; Boromir's eyes were shining, and from so near at hand, the hobbit could see how the man's emotions fought to overwhelm him. Quite a contrast to the welcome his father gave him…
Boromir brought his hands up a second time, and pulled himself to his full height. He looked around proudly and sternly, and the men came to attention.
"Men of Gondor, I have returned at last. I have traveled far, learned a great deal, and seen wondrous things. Many realms I have visited: some surpassingly fair, others desolate and wild. But one thing I know—none are as noble as Gondor, and no city is as beautiful as the White City of Minas Tirith!"
The men could not resist cheering at such words, and the Captain-General allowed it for a few moments before continuing solemnly. "I return to a country on the brink of outright war. If I had the choice of any in all of Arda to stand beside me to face what is to come, I would choose you, my friends. But let me also say this: we do not stand alone! Allies we have, both known and heretofore unknown to us. And together, if all stand, shoulder to shoulder, on the side of the Light, we shall prevail against the Darkness!"
Men now poured from their places. Shouts of Gondor! and Boromir! echoed as a swarm of soldiers surrounded their returning Captain-General, hoping to press his hand or clasp his shoulder. Pippin was swept back toward the wall. He climbed up onto a bench, to get a better view and to avoid being crushed underfoot.
A ruddy-faced, copper haired soldier who was shorter in stature than most of the men in the room stood nearby. He watched the mass of men swarming around Boromir with a smile, then he turned and regarded the hobbit.
"And who would you be, lad?" the man asked, speaking in the Common Speech.
Pippin bowed. "Peregrin Took of The Shire, at your service, sire. I was one of the companions of your Captain-General in the last months of his travels, from Rivendell—Imladris—in the north."
The man nodded and bowed his head in return. "I'd heard an Ernil i Pheriannath had accompanied Lord Boromir. Welcome! My name is Rosdolog, and I am this evening's lieutenant of the watch." The officer eyed him curiously. "One of his companions, you say? Where might the others be? How many were you? The word among the men is that an army of Pheriannath would soon follow on the Captain-General's heels, and that you are a fierce race of small but deadly warriors!"
His hazel eyes sparkled with keen interest, and a friendly, teasing smile broke out on his rugged face. Pippin had to remind himself not to speak too freely.
"I am afraid to disappoint, Lieutenant Rosdolog, but I am the only Perian who has followed on your Captain-General's heels. And to call any Hobbit—that is our word for ourselves—a warrior would be stretching the truth rather far. Especially for me! I am more of a farmer than a soldier. There were nine of us travelers, all told, at the beginning," he said carefully. "We were quite a mixed bag of folk: an Elf, a Dwarf, a few other men... The others parted with us a while back, some going one direction, some others. We stayed together as long as we could…"
Rosdolog stared in amazement. "Elves and Dwarves, traveling together! That alone would make an interesting tale, I suspect." The man eyed him eagerly. "And is there any truth to the other part of the rumor? Were there others like yourself among those travelers—any other...er, Hobbits?"
The rhyme, Pippin thought. He knows about the rhyme. Take care; you can't really know who to trust. The less said, the better. "Yes, several of my own kin were with us, for a time. But the others have gone elsewhere. I do miss them terribly, and worry about them, of course, for all about us the lands seem poised on the edge of the precipice." He sighed. Ah! Merry, I can't even picture where you might be tonight, and Frodo and Sam, please, please let Boromir be right. I hope you are safe somewhere.
Rosdolog grunted. "Aye, true enough. War is coming, and not only to Gondor. But the worst blow shall fall here, in Minas Tirith, and soon," The officer frowned. "May not have been the best time for a visit, Master 'Not-A-Warrior' Peregrin. What d'you plan on doing with yourself, if I might ask?"
Pippin felt the officer's hard assessment—of his hobbit softness, his small stature, and of his youth. He heard a challenge beneath the words: what good can one such as you do here in this great City of Men? Pippin held himself stiffly and threw his shoulders back.
"As I said to Boromir… to your Captain-General… I am willing to be of whatever service I can, Lieutenant Rosdolog. I said I would wash dishes in the kitchens, if that was all the work I could do," he said firmly. "And I meant it. I do not intend to simply be an idle guest in your City, sir. I may not be a soldier, but I will do whatever I can to do my part in the…the war."
The man gazed at him for a moment; then the hint of a smile returned. "Good, good. Each to his part. And as we say in Gondor, every duty, well discharged, has honor." Rosdolog turned away and took a few steps toward the large open doorway that led to the kitchen. "Targon! Come out here a moment, man! I've someone I'd like you to meet!"
A minute later, a black haired man with blue eyes and a round face emerged from a cloud of steam, wiping his hands on a towel he had tied about his generous middle.
"Yes, Lieutenant?" he said. "What can I do for you, sire? Another serving of soup? 'M afraid we're having to make it stretch, but though it is thick with greens and roots and less hearty with meat these days, my soup'll still keep a man upright for a good day's work on the wall, sire…"
"So it will, Targon," Rosdolog grinned. "But no, I've had my fill. Here is a young stranger come to stay in the White City." He gestured to Pippin. The hobbit climbed down from the bench and bowed low.
"This is Master Peregrin, a real live Perian, as you can see for yourself, and he came here at the side of Lord Boromir. He needs a task, Targon, to keep himself occupied and away from the front, for as he himself has said, he isn't destined to be a fighting man. Can you use him?"
Pippin swallowed hard. He hadn't counted on his word being taken so literally, and so quickly! Targon frowned down at him with the same gaze of questioning judgment that Rosdolog had given him.
"There's always work in the kitchens, when hungry men are about. I'm sure we can find something for 'im to do."
Pippin bowed and smiled. "Please, call me Pippin, Everyone does, except my oldest sister Pearl, and even she only calls me 'Peregrin' when she's in a pique!"
Pippin listened to Targon describe what tasks the hobbit might expect as a member of the kitchen staff with resignation and a sinking heart. Dishwashing, sweeping, scrubbing the tables, carrying wood for the ovens… Well, you said you'd do anything to help. And really, Pip, what else is there for you to do? You've said it yourself—you're no warrior. At least you'll be warm, and you won't lack for food and company.
Just then, Boromir made his way to the trio as they stood near the wide-open kitchen door.
"Captain-General!" Rosdolog cried as he reached out to pump Boromir's hand.
"My Lord!" Targon gulped as he bowed nervously in obvious awe of the Steward's Heir.
"Rosdolog, I see you've already met my friend," Boromir said as he placed a hand on Pippin's shoulder. Pippin noted how Targon gaped at the gesture. "I'd intended to bring him to you, for safekeeping and to help him find his footings in a strange City."
"Aye, sire, I've found him a position with Targon, here," Rosdolog said proudly. "He wanted to help as he could, and offered his services in the kitchens."
Boromir looked at the hobbit with one raised eyebrow. "Truly? Pippin, is this what you wish?"
Pippin flushed. Don't embarrass yourself before all these men by whining, now, Pip…"I am glad to help in whatever way I can, Borom… I mean, Captain-General." He bowed slightly. "I'm too small to be much good at bearing arms. I'll do my best wherever I'm needed."
The Steward's son gazed at him intently. "Very well, my friend. Honor comes from discharging one's duty, whatever that might be. And who can say that even the kitchen staff of the Citadel might not yet have double duty; for all may be called to fight before the end." He nodded. "Well, Master Peregrin, would you honor me with your company for a meal? I shall have little time for continuing our enjoyable conversations beyond this night."
He held out a hand, and Pippin placed his in the man's palm. As the men of Gondor watched in astonishment, the tall Lord of Men and the Perian not yet quite of age and barely half his height walked together to what both secretly feared might be their final meal together. The serving-men leaped to their task, and soon, bowls of thick soup, a platter of fresh-baked bread, sliced cheese and a large tankard of ale sat on the scrubbed wooden table before them. When Pippin eyed Boromir's beverage with longing, the Captain-General whistled and pointed, and a smaller glass brimming with ale appeared near Pippin's place.
Men leaned in on all sides, eager to ply them with questions about their travels in the mysterious wilds. Boromir answered politely, but Pippin fell strangely silent. He glanced often up at his companion with a look of distress that he hid each time the man looked down.
Boromir's earlier jubilant mood had gone. Finally he caught the hobbit's eye and smiled wistfully, one shoulder shrugging upward as if to apologize for the lack of privacy. Pippin met his smile with one of his own, but his throat was tight, and he doubted he could have spoken if he tried at that moment. I can't get the sight out of my mind, how he looked in the Lady's Mirror… Don't dwell on it, you ninny! There's nothing to be done about it, is there? No point in saying a thing to him… or to anyone…
As the meal was finished and the men began moving on to duty and other tasks, Pippin spoke in a low voice.
"You will let me know, Boromir, if you hear anything… You know, any news, of anyone… Any of our friends, that is. You are much more likely to hear news than I am, down here..."
"Of course. I will come myself when I have a chance, or send word or a note if I cannot." He frowned thoughtfully. "Hard to believe that after all this time, and all we've been through, that our part in the Fellowship is at an end, eh, Pippin?" he whispered.
Pippin sighed. "I'd prefer to think that our part isn't over, but that we've just moved into another chapter."
"Well said," Boromir replied. He squeezed Pippin's shoulder. "You know," he muttered under his breath. "There may be a need for a messenger amongst the Captain-General's staff. You wouldn't happen to know of anyone who might be interested…"
The hobbit looked up with a shimmer in his hazel eyes. "That would be wonderful, Boromir!" he said in a hoarse whisper.
"You might not be fed as well as you would with close access to Targon's butteries…"
"I don't care! Just put me to work, I'll do whatever is needed!"
Boromir smiled broadly. "I'll send a man to fetch you tomorrow." Then he stood. "Alatan! It's time—I'd like to inspect the repair of the Rammas before the night gets older. And Commander Baranor has forbidden me to ride alone… claims I'm too important!" he laughed. "So, come! Find me a horse and a few willing men, and let us be off!"
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.