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Chapter 4. Early Morning Excursion
Merry hauled Pippin out of bed extra early. ‘But I was sleeping!’ Pippin protested. ‘I don’t have the duty until just before teatime today… I’m supposed to stand behind Strider at tonight’s banquet with the Haradrim…’
‘So was I,’ Merry said grimly. ‘Sleeping, that is. Until the Babe thought he’d stand on top of me and wash my face for me with a flannel-sized tongue… Now my face smells of dog’s breath!’ Unconsciously, he rubbed at his right shoulder, a little worse for the wear after being stood upon by a large, active puppy, not to mention the tussle of ejecting the pup from his bed. ‘I think he’s wanting to play, and in need of some healthful exercise. Why don’t you take him for a walk!’ It was not a suggestion.
Pippin hauled himself out of bed with a sigh. It was not his place to grumble, as he knew very well the pup was his responsibility more than anyone else’s. He only hoped that he could find someone to watch the pup while he and the others were at tonight’s banquet. Bergil, perhaps? He splashed his face and dressed quickly.
Of course he was hungry, entering the kitchen – what tween wouldn’t be? But one look at Sam’s closed expression and he knew that any inquiry after food would not be a good idea. The pup was happily gnawing away at a meaty knucklebone. Its tail wagged upon Pippin’s entrance, and it jumped up to tender an enthusiastic greeting. Pippin warded off the hairy face with a little difficulty. He could see Merry’s point about puppy breath.
‘Come along, Mittens,’ he said, picking up the rope he’d coiled and left on the bench. The widow had given him the rope to lead the pup homeward, for she hadn’t a leash to spare when she’d presented him to Pippin. It would have to serve. He couldn’t very well tie the pup up anywhere, using the rope – the little fellow would simply gnaw through it, and the thought of the babe loose in the busy streets of Minas Tirith didn’t bear contemplating. He saw the reason for Sam’s unease – one of the legs of the bench bore the marks of dedicated chewing. It must have happened in the night some time, as the pup had been snuggled close to Pippin, sharing his bed, when he’d fallen asleep. ‘We’ll have some breakfast after our morning constitutional, shall we?’
He resisted taking an apple or two from the bowl on the table, though he might rue that decision later. It would only be a short excursion, after all, just enough for the pup to work off some energy, and perhaps take care of some bodily needs. He’d have to find a grassy space. He took some brown paper from a shelf, originally used to wrap a parcel brought home from the marketplace, and folding it, shoved it in his pocket. He’d need to clean up after the pup, and not leave filth in the grass for some unwary person (or heedless child at play) to step in.
It was very early, he saw as they stepped out the door, the pup frolicking happily, absolutely thrilled at the excursion. Thankfully the fellow was small enough that Pippin could control him by main force, pulling on the rope, though it gave his ribs a twinge, and he had to change from his sword arm to his other hand lest the pull prove too strong. ‘This way, Mittens!’ he called, whenever the pup tried to drag him in a different direction.
As the pup was of one of the more intelligent breeds, and eager to please a master, it soon seemed to catch the idea of walking on a rope.
Not many were about in the streets at this hour, though the good smell of baking was in the air, from the various bakeries in the city. Pippin’s nostrils expanded and his stomach gave a rumble. He patted it, looking down. ‘Soon!’ he said. ‘First things first!’
They headed down to the lower levels. Pippin seemed to recall some expanses of grass near inns in the First and Second Circles, where people would be unlikely to be bothered if he let the pup off the rope to run and play for a bit. The First Circle, after all, had been badly damaged in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, by fire and war machine, and part of the Second Circle as well, though not as badly damaged. Walking down to the lowest levels would make for a good, long walk for the pup, and together with the frolic on the grass (the pup already knew how to retrieve a thrown object and delighted in the sport) and the walk back up to the guest house (and Pippin certainly hoped he wouldn’t have to try to carry the pup part of the way!) the little one ought to sleep well and long and allow him some time to himself afterward.
And then, well enough before teatime to allow him to be on time for his duty, they’d walk down to the lower Circles, play, and walk up again, and hopefully the pup would sleep until Pippin returned from the banquet. That was the plan, anyhow. He hoped it would tire the pup as much as it would tire himself!
As they passed through the gate to the Fourth Circle, he was hailed by a cheerful voice. ‘Bergil!’ he said. ‘What are you doing, out and about at this hour?’
The pup greeted the boy with great enthusiasm, and it was only by exerting all his muscles (sword arm included) that Pippin was able to control the effusive welcome. Still, better to teach the pup manners now, than deal with an unmannerly giant some months from now. His right shoulder, arm and wrist ached, however, along with his ribs, when he had the pup sitting nicely so that Bergil could pet him without being knocked down or jumped upon. From recent experience, he knew the ache would last some days. He only hoped none of the others would notice. Most especially, he hoped Strider wouldn't notice, and insist on some dreadful draught or smelly salve to aid in quicker healing.
‘Gilwyn sent me for a loaf from the baker in the Third Circle,’ Bergil said. ‘She says they bake the lightest loaves, and as my father is to come to breakfast with us this morning, instead of eating in the mess, she says we ought to have only the best!’
‘As you ought!’ Pippin said approvingly. ‘Perhaps I’ll breakfast with you as well!’ He thought he might be more welcome in Bergil’s home than at the guest house, the way things had stood this morning; and he could also ask Bergil’s aunt if they’d watch the pup this evening when he was on duty.
‘We’re seeking a grassy place to play,’ Pippin said. ‘Somewhere I can let this lad off his tether and he can really run, without inconveniencing others by greeting them and jumping up on them and that sort of thing. Too many are about in the upper Circles, even this early in the day.’
‘There’s a fine grassy place in the Second Circle, by the sign of the Owl and Barncat,’ Bergil said.
‘Such a hobbity name,’ Pippin said. ‘That’s one of the damaged inns, isn’t that right?’
‘Yes, the inn is empty, except for the workers who are rebuilding the damaged parts, and so there’ll be nobody to disturb by barking or running or jumping-up dog.’
‘There’s a mercy,’ Pippin said. ‘Well then, that’s where we’re bound, young Mittens and I.’
‘And I!’ Bergil said.
Pippin looked at him from under his eyebrows, something he’d learnt from his cousin Reginard Took. ‘And you?’ he said. ‘I thought you were to fetch a loaf or three of fresh-baked bread home! … and ask your aunt if I might come to breakfast?’
‘We’ll ask her together,’ Bergil said. ‘She’ll hardly say “no” if I say that you followed me home.’
‘I, and my little dog, too,’ Pippin said. ‘If he follows you home, should you keep him?’
Bergil seemed to find this a fine joke, chortling heartily, though Pippin was only half-jesting.
‘And what about the bread?’ Pippin said.
‘We’ll fetch it on our way back,’ Bergil said. ‘That way we don’t have to worry about keeping it in one piece while playing with the pup on the green.’
‘Aha,’ Pippin said. ‘I see. This is about you playing with the pup, I think. What about your school? It won’t do to come belated.’ For Elessar had decreed, the previous week, the resumption of education for the young inhabitants of the City, a part of life returning to normal, or what passed for normal – the people still weren’t entirely sure how to live in peace instead of on the verge of war and ruin.
‘School holiday today, or didn’t you know?’ Bergil said. ‘There will be a grand parade of Haradrim, up to the Citadel, and we’ve been released to see the spectacle and cheer for the King. It’ll be grand!’
‘Well then, let’s be about our business,’ Pippin said. ‘I would hate for you to miss your parade, or for your father to miss his bread at breakfast!’
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