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Chapter the First: Come Early, Come Late
The guardsman stretched, coming from the soldiers' mess into the promise of a fine morning. Perhaps to call him a guardsman would not be entirely accurate, for he'd been relieved of such duties, pending his hearing before the King. But all who knew him still thought of him thus, even if he wore a surcoat of unrelieved black, with no White Tree broidered in silver upon the breast.
His duty at the present time was to attend Captain Faramir, when the Captain needed attending, that was. At the moment the Captain was likely asleep, having been awake until an hour ago as the banquet to celebrate the Coronation of the King ended with a final ceremony at the rising of the sun.
But Beregond was restless, not yet ready to seek his bed, though he was weary and his half-healed shoulder pained him. He wondered, too, about the young hobbit, Pippin, who had attended the King for the early part of the banquet, but had been dismissed after upsetting a plate into Elessar's lap... The King had sent him off to bed, dismissed rather like any other sleepy youngster, and off he'd gone--which did not sit well with Beregond. Of course, one did not argue with a King, and Pippin would not be expected to argue in the midst of such a grand affair, but the lad had gone off all too tamely, without protest, rousing Beregond's fatherly instincts. Well, he had been blushing to the tips of his ears, but...
Had Beregond not been attending Faramir at the time, he would have walked with Pippin, to see him safely to his bed. Just now he'd gone to the mess, expecting to find the young hobbit at breakfast there, to bring him word that he was expected to attend his cousin the Ring-bearer this day, to wait outside Frodo's bedroom and let the staff know when the hobbits began to waken. Boring duty, perhaps, but light and un-strenuous, for one who'd recently recovered from battle wounds, and he'd perform conscientiously and find some rest himself in the doing.
But Pippin was not in the mess... had he overslept? He would have slept this night in the quarters he'd shared with Mithrandir during the siege; though during the banquet the servants would have been preparing the house set aside for the Periannath, Pippin's room would not have been quite ready for him at the relatively early hour of his dismissal.
Mithrandir had been deep in discussion with the King when Captain Faramir dismissed Beregond, telling him to go to his rest. Likely the Wizard would not return to his quarters soon. Beregond decided to waken Pippin himself, inform him of his duties, make sure the lad ate a hearty breakfast, especially after missing the feast last night.
...but Pippin was not at the house. He had come back from the feast, a serving woman told the guardsman, and gone out again shortly after, trudging down the wide carven stair from his fair room as if a great weight were upon his shoulders, and he had not returned. She assumed he'd been sent on an errand, poor weary lad, and forced to return when he should be seeking his pillow, for hard were the hearts of the great lords, and hard did they drive those who served them.
So had been the Lord Denethor, perhaps, for he'd driven himself hard and expected as much from everyone around him. 'But the King is a fine man, and fair master,' Beregond reproved.
'I wouldn't say no ill against the King!' the serving woman gasped, hand at her heart. 'No, never would I!'
Beregond patted her shoulder; once warned, surely she'd be more discrete in her grumblings. He turned and trotted down the stairs, wondering where to search next?
Some instinct drew him to the wall of the citadel upon the north side, not far from the dwelling, and there huddled on a bench, he found his quarry, still in uniform, cloak cast over his head.
He started forward, blessing the fact that he was the one to find Pippin, and wondering how best to remedy the situation. Falling asleep, while wearing the uniform of the Citadel, now, that was a flogging offence! Though he doubted the Captain of the Guard would order a flogging for this particular young guardsman... he would most likely order a lesser punishment, such as bread-and-water. On second thought, Pippin might prefer flogging to a sentence of bread-and-water.
Thinking better of his first impulse, which was to shake the youngster awake, Beregond walked softly back to the corner, turned, and began to stomp his way towards the bench, hoping the noise he made would waken the lad... but no; Pippin did not move.
There was nothing for it, then, but to face the consequences. Upsetting a plate in the lap of the King, and then falling asleep while still in his uniform... Beregond shook his head, steeled himself, and reached out to shake the small shoulder.
Pippin lolled in his grasp, and he was barely in time to keep the hobbit from tumbling to the ground.
'Pippin!' he said in alarm. 'What ails you, lad?'
Uncovered, the hobbit's face was deathly pale. He struggled to open heavy lidded eyes, opened his mouth to answer, took a wheezing breath.
'No air,' the hobbit whispered. 'I thought... to find a breath... of fresh...' and then he went into a paroxysm of coughing, lifting a pocket-handkerchief to his face. Beregond's alarm grew as he saw the snowy linen stained with ominous red...
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