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An Unexpected Adventure  by KathyG

Summary: In the spring of 2012, four American children find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar fantasy world and part of an unexpected adventure.  This story is AU, and blends Lord of the Rings book-verse and movie-verse.  This story also contains a lot of spiritual and religious content as a part of the AU elements.

Disclaimer: The world of Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the three films of The Lord of the Rings belong to New Line Cinema and to Peter Jackson.  This story is not for profit, but is a gift for the enjoyment of those who read it.

Citations: In most chapters, there will be some quotations directly from both the books and/or the movies.  Quotations from Tolkien's books are in italics, and quotations from the movies are underlined.  Occasional quotations from other sources as well as silent dialogue, words spoken in emphasis, and passages from the Bible will also be in italics, and those citations will be footnoted at the end of each chapter in which they occur.  We will also footnote research sources and credit the ideas of other people.

Thanks: We would also like to acknowledge the invaluable help of our beta, Linda Hoyland, another well-known and prolific LotR fanwriter, whose many wonderful stories also grace this site.

Chapter 39: Good Company

Joey sat in front of Boromir, the wind blowing in his face. He had never been on a horse this fast before. Up ahead, Shadowfax was carrying Gandalf and Pippin even faster. It was all that Hrimfax could do to keep up with his sire, Joey thought.

Now, they were finally heading to Minas Tirith, the city where Boromir had been born and raised. He wondered what it would be like. He knew it was bigger than Edoras, but it wouldn't be anything like Portland. "Boromir?" he asked. "What's your city like?"

He could not see the expression on the Gondorian's face. But his voice sounded happy when he answered Joey. "It is quite beautiful. In the night, it gleams like the Moon, and in the day, it glitters beneath the Sun. You see, it is built almost entirely of white marble, and right into Mount Mindolluin, where the snow-caps gleam above. That is why they call it the White City. But Minas Tirith means the Tower of the Guard, and so it is. The Citadel, which is where the Steward dwells, is by far the tallest tower in the West of Middle-earth, and it is there that we keep watch over Gondor. Long have we been at war, ever seeing to it that the Enemy is pushed back. It is getting harder and harder to do, I fear."

"What's your family like? I know you have a father and a brother." He suspected Boromir's mother was dead, but no one had ever come right out and said it to him, so he didn't want to put his foot in his mouth.

"I do. My mother died when I was only ten and Faramir was only five."

Well, thought Joey, I was right.

Boromir continued, "But I also have aunts and uncles and cousins, most of whom live away to the South in Dol Amroth, by the Sea. Faramir and I used to visit them when we were young."

"That's nice," Joey said politely. Visiting cousins was always fun, and so was the beach. He was glad to know his friend had that experience as a boy.

"Alas," Boromir said, "it has been many years since I have had the chance to visit there. My brother and I are both warriors now, and so are my Uncle Imrahil and his three sons. We have little time to spend in visits."

Joey smiled broadly. "Sometimes, Mom and Daddy take us to the beach. Portland's only sixty miles from the coast, so sometimes, in the summer, we go there and spend the day. That's where the Pacific Ocean is, you see. It's the biggest ocean in the world." He smiled again. "It's fun! We get to play in the sand and wade in the ocean, and we have picnics and stuff."

Boromir chuckled. "It is fun, is it not? Faramir and I used to have fun on the beach, too."

Joey nodded. "And sometimes, during summer vacation, Mom and Daddy take us to Mount Hood. They take us hiking on the Timberline Trail. It goes clear around the mountain; did you know that?"

Boromir chuckled. "Since I have never heard of Mount Hood, no, I did not, Joey."

"Well, it does. Our parents are real careful about where they take us hiking, so we won't get hurt." He paused. "They were gonna take us to Disneyland this summer, and camping, too, but I don't know if we'll ever get to do that stuff now," he said wistfully.

Boromir patted his shoulder. "Perhaps your family's plans will yet work out, Joey. Do not lose hope."

Joey was hoping Boromir would keep talking, but he fell silent. Now Joey kept remembering the Stone and how stupid he had been to look at it. He hoped Kevin and Jennifer weren't still mad at him. He looked ahead; Shadowfax was still maybe a quarter of a mile ahead, but Hrimfax still kept up. He wondered when they would stop. He was so tired, but he was way too wound up to sleep on horseback.

Then Boromir began to sing. At first, he sang something in Sindarin. It was a pretty song, and though Boromir's voice wasn't nearly as beautiful as that of an Elf, it was pleasant, low, and deep. Then he began another song, this time in Westron:

"Let ancient prophecies relate
Concerning King's or Kingdom's fate. 
I think myself to be as wise
As he that gazeth on the skies.
My sight goes beyond
The depth of a pond
Or rivers in the greatest rain.
Whereby I can tell
That all will be well
When the King enjoys his own again!
Yes, this I can tell
That all will be well
When the King enjoys his own again!

"When at last he shall return,
None his rightful claim shall spurn;
Nor refuse for any cause
Justice of those ancient laws.
Deny who would
Elendil's blood,
Naught shall halt the rightful reign.
For all's to no end,
The times will not mend
Till the King enjoys his own again!
Yes, this I can tell
That all will be well
When the King enjoys his own again!

"A thousand years the royal crown
Hath awaited the fair brow;
For is there anyone but he
That of the same should sharer be?
Who better may
The scepter sway,
Than he that hath such right to reign?
Then shall there be peace,
And the wars they will cease,
When the King enjoys his own again!
Yes, this I can tell
That all will be well
When the King enjoys his own again!

"Though for a time that fair White Tree
Leaf and branch doth withered be,
Bereft beneath a shadowed sky
While seasons long hath passed it by--
Once more shall it bloom
With rare perfume
That falls like sweet rain.
The old renewed shall be..."*

The song soothed Joey, along with the smooth motion of Hrimfax's gait, and soon he drifted into slumber.

-oo000oo-

Boromir gently lifted Joey down from Hrimfax, and noticed Gandalf was doing the same for Pippin. The hobbit woke up slightly, just enough to stumble to the bedroll Gandalf took out and laid upon the ground. But Joey did not stir at all. Boromir gestured at his young burden with his chin.

Gandalf shook his head and chuckled, taking down Joey's bedroll and unrolling it next to Pippin's so that Boromir could put the sleeping child down. Boromir fondly stroked the hair off Joey's forehead, and then stood and stretched. His back popped.

"'Twas a longer time spent in the saddle than I have been used to of late," he said.

Gandalf nodded. "My bones, too, are complaining. We need no fire tonight, but we should eat, and I would not mind a smoke."

Boromir laughed lightly. "I enjoy watching you and the others make your rings of smoke, but I simply cannot understand the idea of breathing in smoke on purpose."

"I often wish I had never tried it, but it can be relaxing."

The two of them watered the horses, unsaddled them, and set them free to graze. They were Mearas, after all, and would not abandon the riders they had chosen. Then they sat down near their slumbering charges. They ate a little lembas and downed some water, and Gandalf did bring out his pipe and lit it.

Boromir watched the wizard, who decided to show off by turning the smoke rings different colours and set them to swirling above his head.

"Gandalf?" The Gondorian looked down at the ground. "There is something I must tell you: I betrayed Frodo, and very nearly took the Ring from him. I regretted it quickly, but there it is: still, I was a traitor."

Gandalf looked at Boromir. "It was a sore trial for you, Boromir: a warrior, and a lord of men. Galadriel told me you were in peril. But you escaped in the end, and with your life. I am glad."

Nodding, Boromir smiled ruefully.  "I am glad that I did escape with my life, though my honour was forfeit. Nevertheless, I am glad I do live to come home to my father and brother. It was through young Joey's doing that I live."

Gandalf nodded. "It was not in vain that the hobbits and the McCloud children came with us, if only for your sake. But that was not the only part they had to play. If things had not gone as they did, the Ents might never have been roused, to the ruin of Saruman. As for your honour, honourable you remain. For you acknowledged and repented of your folly, and you did your best to defend Merry and Pippin. Do not chastise yourself any longer over your mistake, Boromir. The Ring has ensnared many, and I know of few who could have cast off its snare so quickly as you did."

Boromir thought about that for a moment, and then gave the wizard a grateful smile. "Thank you, Gandalf. You give me hope that I am not wholly without honour. But if I do not get the chance to see Frodo again, to ask his pardon, I will not be able to completely forgive myself."

"Frodo is a forgiving soul, and he knows more than any the entrapments the Ring can set for the unwary. I, too, hope you will get the opportunity to ask his pardon." Gandalf took his pipe and snuffed it out. "I suggest that you imitate our small friends now, and sleep while you can. I shall keep watch tonight."

-oo000oo-

They woke before the Sun was fully above the horizon, and with a small bite of lembas and a few swallows of water, they were on the way again. Today, Boromir was not very talkative, and truthfully, Joey was too tired to listen. He kept drifting off to sleep, only to be awakened by cramps in his legs or the pain in his back. "This hurts," he moaned at one point.

They did pull up then, about halfway to noon. Gandalf helped Pippin down, and Joey could see that the hobbit was having the same trouble. Pippin and Joey wobbled around until they could walk properly, but both of them were aching from all the riding. That afternoon, after a lunch as brief as their breakfast, they switched riders until late that evening.

Joey was feeling somewhat better after he'd had some more lembas, and he decided to talk to Gandalf.

"Uh, Gandalf? What was that round thing—I mean I know you said it was a—a palantír, but I don't understand what that is?"

He was surprised when the wizard threw back his head and laughed. "You and Pippin! He asked me that same question." Then he explained about the Seven Stones. "Sadly, the remaining Stones, save one, have been corrupted, and are easily brought under Sauron's sway. The other one is far away, and looks only to the West."

"Oh. Gandalf, if I had looked in it on purpose like I started to do, what would have happened to me?" Joey shivered.

"Ah, Joey! That is something we can never know—what might have happened; we can only guess. But Pippin did not fare as ill as he might have done, so I hope that it would have been the same for you. However, we shall never know for certain.  Hobbits have an amazing power of recovery which Men do not share. Comfort yourself that you did not completely look into the Seeing Stone, and that the Enemy caught but a fleeting glimpse of you." The wizard paused.

"Let us speak now of more pleasant things," Gandalf added. "What else would you know?"

So, Joey thought up all the questions about Middle-earth that he had been curious about, and that had not already been answered by his experiences. As Gandalf answered his questions, the child learned of the First Age, and the Second, and of Númenor.

"You mean there really used to be a huge island in the ocean that's been swallowed up?" Joey shivered again. "That would be scary!"

Gandalf laughed. "It would be, indeed, and for the people who lived on Númenor, it was more than scary—it was terrifying! They knew that death was coming for them when that huge wave came toward them."

Joey shook his head. "That's just like the Flood in the Bible," he said, after a moment. "Noah's ark. Everyone in that Flood died, too, except Noah and his family. Because they were in that ark they built. God told them to build it so they'd survive, and all the animals, too." He bit his lower lip. "And Melkor was worse than Sauron?"

Gandalf nodded. "Much worse," he said sombrely. "But he is imprisoned in the Void now, so he can inflict no more harm on Middle-earth."

Joey scowled. "I wish Satan and his demons were in that Void with him." He fidgeted. "Uh, Gandalf, are there really giant spiders here? And talking eagles? Huge talking eagles that can eat boys?"

"The Eagles would never eat a boy!" Gandalf laughed again. "They are messengers of the Valar, especially Manwë, who is Eru's deputy in Arda. And yes, there are giant spiders, the spawn of Ungoliant, who poisoned the Two Trees, as I told you. But we are safe from them, Joey."

That gave Joey a lot to think about, and his questions ceased for a while. For a while, he thought about what he had learned about the beginnings of the earth and the early history of man, as told in the Book of Genesis. What Gandalf had told him was so different from what the Bible taught!

Could it be that we're in a whole 'nother world? he wondered. The way our world got started and the way theirs got started is so different! How can that be, if we're in the same world? God made our world Himself; He didn't need His angels to help him. They just watched. The way Gandalf talked, Eru's angels helped him create Ar—Arda. And our God didn't create elves or hobbits! Only humans. And none of God's angels created any dwarves, either. And trees that walk and talk don't exist in our world, either. In our world, trees can't even think!

Joey looked up at the sky. And yet the same constellations in our sky at home are here, too; I've seen them. We all have! The Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, the North Star, and those others. And the moon; it shines in this world's sky, too. And Venus! Surely another world wouldn't have the same moon, and the same stars and planets and stuff, would it?

He shook his head. Please, God, I need your help, he prayed silently. This doesn't make sense.

-oo000oo-

This was the second night since Pippin had looked in the Stone and Joey had come close to doing so. A light kindled in the sky, a blaze of yellow fire behind dark barriers. Joey wondered what was going on. He rubbed his eyes, and then he saw that it was the moon rising above the eastern shadows, now almost at the full. So the night was not yet old and for hours the dark journey would go on. He stirred and spoke.

"Boromir, where are we?"

His voice was triumphant as he answered: "We have entered the realm of Gondor! We are riding through the land of Anorien! Tomorrow, we will come to Minas Tirith." He urged Hrimfax to put on a burst of speed, so that they caught up to Gandalf and Pippin.

Gandalf paused for a moment as they rode up beside them, and there was a brief silence as they looked at the land before them.

"What is that?" cried Pippin suddenly, clutching at Gandalf's cloak. "Look! Fire, red fire! Are there dragons in this land? Look, there is another!"

"A fire?!" Joey cried out, straightening his back and looking from side to side. "Where? We'll need firemen if there's a fire!"

"The beacons!" shouted Boromir, as he shot forward, for once pulling Hrimfax ahead of his sire.

Behind them, Joey could hear as Gandalf cried aloud to his horse. "On, Shadowfax! We must hasten. Time is short. See! The beacons of Gondor are alight, calling for aid. War is kindled. See, there is the fire on Amon Dîn, and flame on Eilenach; and there they go speeding west: Nardol, Erelas, Min-Rimmon, Calenhad, and the Halifirien on the borders of Rohan."

But Shadowfax paused in his stride, slowing to a walk, and then he lifted up his head and neighed. And out of the darkness the answering neigh of other horses came; and presently the thudding of hoofs was heard, and three riders swept up and passed like flying ghosts in the moon and vanished into the West. Then Shadowfax gathered himself together and sprang away, and the night flowed over him like a roaring wind, soon passing Boromir and Joey once more.

"What are those places and those fires? Who were those riders?" Joey asked.

"The beacons are a message to Rohan! And so were the riders. Gondor must be in dire trouble, for my father to send for help!" Boromir said no more, but once again urged Hrimfax on, until they were neck and neck with Shadowfax.

The riding was far too swift for conversation, and Joey was tired. Soon he drifted into half-slumber. He was aware of the wind in his face and the sound of the horses' hooves, but he was far too tired for thought.

They didn't stop until moonrise, and Joey was so exhausted, he fell asleep almost as soon as he lay down.

"This will be the day we come to the end of our journey," Gandalf said, as they prepared to leave the next morning. "We will soon be within sight of our destination."

At that point, Shadowfax amended his pace so that Hrimfax could gallop alongside his father. Now Joey and Pippin could hear whatever was being said by the other. Even so, they did not talk a lot. For one thing, it was obvious that Boromir was worried about what was happening in his homeland, and for another, Gandalf seemed to have his mind on other things.

They rode through the day with few and short stops, only when absolutely necessary. Even Pippin was too tired to talk at this point, though in late afternoon, the two younger members of the party perked up when they had some lembas, and even better, a few drops of miruvor Gandalf had hidden in his robes. "There is only a small amount given to me by the Lady Galadriel. There was not much, so I saved it for the last push."

-oo000oo-

Joey and Pippin had drifted off again, when they woke to voices. It was cold and misty, and almost dawn again. Joey felt a little confused as he heard the voices of other men than Gandalf and Boromir. He blinked and looked around. Shadowfax and Hrimfax were standing next to a stone wall—it looked like it had been falling down, but even at night was being repaired. He could hear the sound of hammers and other tools, and the creak of a wagon. There were torches all around, their light blurred by the fog. Gandalf was speaking to the men that barred his way, and as Joey listened, he and Pippin, who exchanged glances, became aware that they themselves, as well as Boromir, were being discussed.

"My Lord Boromir!" the leader of the men exclaimed. There were murmurs of astonishment behind him. "We had word that you were dead! Your father proclaimed a day of mourning some days since!"

Boromir shook his head. "As you can see, I am very much alive, though I had a close call. I headed home as soon as it was practical, but there was no way to send a message ahead of me. As you can see, I have brought companions with me, one of them Mithrandir."

"Yea truly, we know Mithrandir," said the leader of the men, "and he knows the passwords of the Seven Gates and is free to go forward. But we do not know your companions. Who are they? A child and a dwarf out of the mountains in the North? We wish for no strangers in the land at this time, unless they be mighty men of arms in whose faith and help we can trust."

"I will vouch for them before the seat of Denethor," said Boromir.

Gandalf nodded agreement. "And so will I. And as for valour," added the wizard, "that cannot be computed by stature. The one before me has passed through more battles and perils than you have, Ingold, though you be twice his height; and he comes now from the storming of Isengard, of which we bear tidings, and great weariness is on him, or I would wake him. His name is Peregrin, a very valiant man."

"Man?" said Ingold dubiously; and the others laughed.

"Man!" cried Pippin, now thoroughly roused. "Man! Indeed not! I am a hobbit and no more valiant than I am a man, save perhaps now and again by necessity. Do not let Gandalf deceive you!"

"Many a doer of great deeds might say no more," said Ingold. "But what is a hobbit?"

"A Halfling," answered Gandalf. "Nay, not the one that was spoken of," he added seeing the wonder in the men's faces. "Not he, yet one of his kindred."

"Yes, and one who journeyed with him," said Pippin.

"And," said Boromir, "this one is Joey, son of Steven, and though his years are few, he yet saved my life when I was attacked by the Uruk-hai!"

"And glad we are to hear of it," replied Ingold, staring at Joey, who was blushing fiercely. "For the Lord of Minas Tirith will be eager to see any that bear the latest tidings of his son, be he man or child or—"

"Hobbit," said Pippin. "Little service can I offer to your lord, but what I can do, I would do, for Boromir is our friend, and we have travelled long together. He saved us from the snows in the North, and he was nearly slain defending me and my cousin from many foes."

Joey nodded. "Yeah, from the Uruk-hai, and they tried to kill Boromir."

"And failed, thanks to Joey." Boromir patted the boy's shoulder. "We must be off!" he told Ingold. "I would not have my father grieve a moment longer than he must."

"Fare you well!" said Ingold; and the men made way for the two horses, and they passed through a narrow gate in the wall. "May you bring good counsel to Denethor in his need, and to us all, Mithrandir!" Ingold cried. "But you come with tidings of danger, as is your wont, as well as joy, I daresay." Joey shivered at the prospect of danger and exchanged a glance with Pippin.

"Indeed, because I come seldom but when my help is needed," answered Gandalf. "And if I may give you counsel, make haste in repairing the wall of the Pelennor. Courage will now be your best defence against the storm that is at hand—that and such hope as I bring. For not all the tidings that I bring are evil. But leave your trowels as soon as you can, and sharpen your swords!"

"The work will be finished ere evening," said Ingold. "This is the last portion of the wall to be put in defence: the least open to attack, for it looks towards our friends of Rohan. Do you know aught of them? Will they answer the summons, think you?"

"Yes, they will come. But they have fought many battles at your back. This road and no road looks towards safety any longer. Be vigilant! But for Gandalf Stormcrow you would have seen a host of foes coming out of Anórien and no Riders of Rohan. And you may yet. Fare you well, and sleep not!"

The four of them rode off in a flash, to the startled gaze of the guards, and rode rapidly across the Pelennor, a land of rich and fertile farmlands and orchards, with many homesteads, small cottages, and large manors. But riding at such a pace, Joey and Pippin had little chance to take in details.

The Sun was coming up behind the bleak mountains to their left, but ahead of them in the growing light was the huge mass of Mount Mindolluin, the purple shadows of early dawn giving way so that they caught sight of the brilliant white snow as it sparkled above the City, and as the Sun grew even higher, the seven stone walls went from grey to white. Joey could not help but gasp; he had seen big cities before back home, but none of them were beautiful in the way that this one was, or as steep.

"Wow!" Joey said, awed. At the same time, Pippin gave out a wordless gasp of astonishment. They could now see the Tower of Ecthelion, standing high within the topmost walls, shininglike pearls and silver, and the Tower like diamonds. Joey saw white flags flying from the high walls, and then they heard the sound of trumpets.

Above Joey, Boromir said, "'Wow!' indeed, my young friend. This is my home!" He urged Hrimfax on, and for only a brief moment, the great horse passed his sire. But soon they were neck and neck again.

Joey shook his head, awestruck. "I never saw a city right on the side of a mountain before!" But soon he could not speak. The pace at which they rode took his breath away.

Now they were no longer riding cross-country, but were galloping along a road, towards the gates. Seeing who was coming, the guards parted and made way, and the iron doors rolled back before them.

Joey could hear the shouts of "Boromir! Boromir! The Captain-General has returned to us!" behind him, as they rode onwards and upwards, hooves clattering on the cobbled streets as they wound upward and ever upward.

But a few of the men were calling out, "Mithrandir! Mithrandir! Now we know that the storm is indeed nigh!"

"It is upon you," said Gandalf, as he flew past. "We have ridden on its wings. Let us pass! We must come to your Lord Denethor, while his stewardship lasts. Whatever betide, you have come to the end of the Gondor that you have known. Let us pass!"

Then men fell back before the command of his voice and questioned him no further, though they gazed in wonder at the hobbit that sat before him and the little boy that sat before Boromir, and at the horses that bore them. They said: "Surely these are two of the great steeds of the King of Rohan? Maybe the Rohirrim will come soon to strengthen us."

They passed through five more gates and then came to a seventh. This last gate also had some guards, and there were also some servants standing about in the livery of the Citadel. Boromir halted Hrimfax, and Gandalf stopped. Boromir gestured and a couple of the servants came forward, astonishment on their faces. Boromir swung down from Hrimfax's back and Gandalf dismounted from Shadowfax.

"Cirion and Angrod!" ordered Boromir. "Take these noble steeds and see that they are properly stabled. Treat them as the princes they are, and give them the finest of grain, for not only have they borne us nobly on a swift and long journey, but this fine mount of Mithrandir's is the Lord of the Mearas from Rohan, and my own steed is his get."

The two grooms looked at the great horses with awe, and then Angrod bowed his head. "As you command, my Lord Boromir, for I can see how noble these fine horses are!"

Gandalf looked impatiently at the others. "Come along, let us hurry now!" He strode off through the gate, leaving Boromir, Pippin, and Joey to catch up as quickly as they could.

As the four of them passed the Fountain of the Tree in the courtyard of the Citadel, Gandalf said to Boromir, "What do you think your father's mood may be?"

"Since he believes me dead, I daresay it is grim and dour, but he should be glad enough to see me to overcome his grief."

"Normally, I would insist on being the one to speak first, but I feel that it might be best on this occasion to let you do so."

"Very well," Boromir said. He cast the hood of his Lorien cloak over his head, which put his face in shadow. "I will announce myself, but I hope I do not shock him overmuch."

Gandalf nodded, and then turned his attention to the two small figures trotting alongside them. "Peregrin and Joey! Heed me, be careful of your words. This is no time for hobbit pertness or childish bluntness. Théoden is a kindly old man. Denethor is of another sort, proud and subtle, a man of far greater lineage and power, though he is not called a king. The Lord Steward is a noble man, ruler of Gondor and the equal of anyone save the true King."

The true King? Joey thought. He must mean Aragorn. But he said nothing, and nodded. Pippin was nodding also.

Gandalf added, "Do not speak until spoken to, and then answer only what you are asked. Leave quiet the matter of Frodo's errand. I will deal with that in due time. And say nothing about Aragorn either, unless you must."

They came to the steps of the huge building. Joey's eyes widened as the door opened, seemingly with no one there to open it. There's no electricity here, so how could they open on their own? he silently wondered. He and Pippin exchanged glances as they entered, walking slightly behind Gandalf and Mithrandir. They walked between tall black pillars, intricately carved, and the high ceiling gleamed with gold and jewel-toned paint. There were no draperies, or even tapestries like the ones Joey had seen in both Rivendell and Meduseld, not even any carpets. There were tall white marble statues between the pillars—Joey thought many of them looked like Aragorn. He was reminded of the vast statues at the Argonath.

They came closer, and Joey saw a white throne at the top of many steps, but it was empty. At the foot of the steps was a chair of black stone. An old man sat there; in one hand was a white rod with a golden knob on top. He was staring at something in his lap, and did not look up at them.

When they came nearer, Boromir said, "Hail, Lord and Steward of Minas Tirith, Denethor son of Ecthelion! I have returned, my father, after a long and perilous journey, with tidings both good and ill. With me is the wizard, Mithrandir, who has wisdom and counsel."

Now the Steward did look up sharply. Denethor shook his head. "You are not my son. Boromir is dead. He perished many days ago near the River Anduin, and I was brought this token of his passing." Denethor held up what he had been holding in his lap, the two halves of Boromir's horn. He turned his head and glared at Gandalf. "Mithrandir, I do not know what game you play, bringing an imposter into my Hall. I should have you all imprisoned for your insolence!"

"My Lord, I assure you…" Gandalf began, but he was interrupted.

Boromir had winced at his father's statements, his brow furrowed in evident distress. "No, I am not dead, Father, and I am not an impostor," he said softly. "I came close to death, yes, but I did not die." He turned toward Joey. "This boy here saved my life when the Orcs and Uruk-hai attacked us."

Joey nodded, stepping forward. "My name's Joey. Joey McCloud. Sam Gamgee—he's a hobbit—he taught me to use a sling," he said, removing his sling out of his pouch and holding it up for Denethor to see. "I was able to stop that Orc from killing Boromir with his arrow."

Boromir walked forward slowly, his eyes trained on his father's face. Denethor peered hard at his son as Boromir approached him. "Look at me, Father," he said softly. "We have not lost so much time that you have forgotten what I look like. Do I not have the appearance you remember?"

Carefully Boromir came right up to the foot of the chair where his father sat. Denethor leaned forward to peer intently at Boromir's face. At last, incredulous, he leaned back. "You are alive," he said. "You are alive!" Leaning forward again, he clasped his son's arms. Boromir beamed, and wrapped his arms around his father's back; the two hugged tightly. Joey and Pippin exchanged overjoyed glances, and Gandalf looked relieved.

"Father, we travelled here in great haste! There are events you need to know of, news from the North."

"And I would hear that news, my son, but first tell me of your companions. Mithrandir, I know, but these two youths are strangers to me."

Boromir looked a little abashed, but said, "Young Joey has spoken his name: he is Joseph, son of Steven, of a distant land called Or Egon. It was his clever thinking and skill with a sling that saved me from certain death. And our other companion is Peregrin, son of Paladin, of the Shire in the North. He is a halfling—no, not the one of the dream, but one of his kin. He, too, has proven himself worthy and valiant many times over." He turned to look at both his smaller companions, and then before he could say anything else, the silence was broken by a small rumble. He smiled.

"Father, as I said, we travelled in haste. There was little time for rest or refreshment."

"My apologies; I fear that with war at our borders, the courtesy of my hall has been lessened of late." Denethor raised a hand and made a gesture, and a servant hurried out.

"Bring wine and food and seats for the guests," said Denethor, "and see that none trouble us for one hour." He looked at Joey and then at Boromir, and then turned back to the servant. "Since one of my guests is a child, you had better bring water as well." Boromir nodded agreement, and the servant hurried back out.

Minutes later, men came bearing chairs and low stools, and one brought a salver with two silver flagons and cups, and white cakes. Boromir saw to it that Joey's cup was mostly water, with a small dash of wine from the other flagon. Pippin grinned as he raised his own cup.

Denethor questioned the two young ones, paying little attention to his son or to Gandalf. Instead, his keen eyes studied both the halfling and the child as they answered his questions. Pippin gladly spoke of his journey to Rivendell with his cousins and Sam, though he said as little as possible of Frodo, and nothing at all of the Ring. He also skirted over the identity of the mysterious Strider, trying his best to give the impression that "Strider" was just another hobbit.

It was harder for Joey. He couldn't really explain where he and his sisters and brother had come from, though he did not lie. But it was difficult to explain a world so different.

The Steward questioned them for nearly an hour, and then told them they were to go, so that he could speak privately with his son and Mithrandir.

The two of them rose, and each gave a polite bow. Pippin said, "Thank you for the refreshment, my Lord." Joey nodded in agreement. They turned, and one of the servants led them out of the Citadel, back through the huge doors from which they had entered.

"What should we do now, Pippin?" asked Joey.

"I think we could try and find the stables, and see how Shadowfax and Hrimfax are doing. Those two horses are used to being pampered and spoiled in Rohan. I don't know how these Gondorian folks would treat them."

Joey nodded in agreement. It seemed like a good plan to him.

-oo00oo-

As the doors closed behind Pippin and Joey, Denethor said, "I have sent word for one of the Tower Guard to find them, and show them the City and see to their needs until we three have had our council." He turned to Gandalf. "Mithrandir, you and the two younger ones may take as your dwelling that guesthouse on the sixth circle, which you occupied during my father's rule. But now, we must speak of that urgent news of which you have hinted."

Gandalf nodded. "A great battle was fought in Rohan with the forces of Saruman, who was corrupted by Sauron. Saruman is dead. The battle was great, and Rohan suffered many losses; nonetheless, even before you sent your message or lit the beacons, Théoden was already calling up the muster of the éoreds."

Boromir added, "There is one who rides with them: he is Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Chieftain of the Dúnadain, and he is descended through many sires from Elendil and Isildur. He bears Narsil, the sword that cut Sauron's Ring off his hand, re-forged and renamed Anduril. It could be that the return of the King is at hand."

"You believe in his claim, my son?" Denethor's expression was doubtful, and somewhat sour.

Boromir nodded. "At first, I was doubtful. But I doubt no longer, my father. I would gladly give him my fealty when the time comes."

Denethor leaned back in his chair and studied both of those before him; he locked eyes with Gandalf, who returned his stare calmly. It was Denethor who looked away first. He returned his gaze to Boromir. "You will pardon me, Boromir, if I withhold my judgment until I meet this would-be King, and judge him for myself. I will not give over my Stewardship to anyone less than the true King returned."

"I would expect no less, Father. Yet I believe you will see the truth in him," Boromir said firmly.

Denethor turned to Gandalf. "I know that you are behind this Aragorn, Mithrandir. But the rule of Gondor has been mine for many long years. And to me, there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor. Pride would be folly that disdained help and counsel at need; but you deal out such gifts according to your own designs. Yet the Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men's purposes, however worthy. I will not allow just anyone to take my place, nor will I surrender it until the true King has come again."

"Until the true king has come again?" said Gandalf. "Well, my lord Steward, it is your task to keep some kingdom still against that event, which few now look to see but us. In that task you shall have all the aid that you are pleased to ask for. But I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?"

Denethor gazed at Gandalf as if he had never truly seen him before, and then gave a nod, as if something had just been made plain to him. Then he turned to his son once more.

"You told me that you brought the halflng and the child with you to keep them safe; if so, you did so at a very inopportune time. There is no safety in Gondor now, neither within the city walls nor without. What do you propose to do with them?"

"They have proven themselves resourceful and brave, yet I would not have them come to harm. I will take Pippin as my esquire and Joey as my page, Father. It will bring them under my protection, and also give them duties so that they may feel useful."

Denethor nodded. "That is a good plan. I have neglected my own duties since I thought you dead, my son! The grief undid me; I was so certain of what I saw."

Boromir looked sharply at his father. "You saw? Father, do not tell me that you made use of the palantír! We saw for ourselves how dangerous that could be when the one in Orthanc fell into our hands!"

Gandalf, who had said little, gazed at Denethor. "That was unwise, if you did so, my Lord. Even an uncorrupted palantír is a poor guide to the truth."

"I confess it. When Boromir went North, and Faramir went into the wilds of Ithilien, I could not help but seek out their fates in the Seeing Stone. As Steward, I felt it was my right."

"That right belongs to the King. Only in the name of the King, and for the good of Gondor, can you, as Steward, use that right. And as you know now, the palantíri can be deceitful, especially since the Ithil-stone fell into Sauron's hands," Gandalf added.

Denethor sighed. "I do realise that now. If you had not come with my son at your side, I would have been wroth with you, and it is likely I would have failed to listen to your counsel, Mithrandir. I see now it would have been a grievous error if that had come to pass."

Boromir stood, and reached a hand out to his father. "I am here now, Father," he said, "and you need not grieve anymore." He paused. "Have you had word of Faramir? Has he been in the City lately?"

"He is still in Ithilien, but I expect him, or at the very least a report from him, any day now. Tell me more of your journey and your mission, my son."

-oo000oo-

Pippin and Joey went out to the steps and looked down them, wondering where to go next. Pippin was keenly aware that he was the older; in comparison to Joey, he was practically an adult. They were hoping to go find the horses, but had no idea of where the stables might be. As the two of them stood pondering, they heard a clear bell ring out three times—it was the third hour of the day since sunrise.

"Nine o'clock we'd call it in the Shire," said Pippin aloud to himself. "Just the time for a nice breakfast by the open window in spring sunshine. And how I should like breakfast! Do these people ever have it, or is it over? And when do they have dinner, and where?"

"I'm kind of hungry, too. Those little cakes tasted good, but they weren't very filling," Joey said. Looking at Pippin, he asked, "How do you know what time it is? You're not wearing a watch, and I left mine back in Rivendell."

Pippin smiled. "We hobbits have ways, Joey." The little boy shrugged.

Just then they noticed a man, clad in black and white, coming along the narrow street from the centre of the citadel towards them. Pippin made up his mind to speak to the Man and see what he could find out, but there was no need. The Man came up to them.

"You are Peregrin the Halfling?" he said. "And you are young Joey, son of Steven? I am told that you are now in the service of the Captain-General, Lord Boromir! Welcome!" He held his right fist over his breast, and then made a slight bow.

Pippin and Joey acknowledged their identities, both nodding their heads, and Pippin adding, "At your service." Joey kept quiet, letting Pippin speak for them both, as he had been taught in Rivendell to keep silent and let the older person do the speaking when in a new situation.

"I am named Beregond son of Baranor. I have no duty this morning, and I have been sent to you to teach you the pass-words, and to tell you some of the many things that no doubt you will wish to know. And for my part, I would learn of you also. For never before have we seen a halfling in this land and though we have heard rumour of them, little is said of them in any tale that we know. And I have also heard that the young one comes from a land far away, that none have ever heard of. Moreover you are friends of Mithrandir. Do you know him well?"

"Well, I have known of him all my short life, as you might say; and lately I have travelled far with him…" As Joey listened next to him, Pippin went on to say they'd travelled together, and then suddenly realised he was talking too much when he caught himself mentioning Aragorn—which Gandalf had told him not to do. He changed the subject a little, and spoke of Rohan and of Boromir, which put the man off the track, to Pippin's relief.

Beregond was nodding, but mentioning Boromir was useful, since it seemed to remind him of his own task. "But I am forgetting my errand, which was first to answer what you would ask. What would you know, Master Peregrin, Master Joey?"

He laughed when Pippin mentioned breakfast, especially as both his stomach and Joey's began to rumble about the time that he said it. He was agreeable to showing them where they could get their meal when Joey jabbed Pippin with his elbow, and whispered, "Shadowfax and Hrimfax?"

"Oh!" Pippin exclaimed, blushing. "One moment! Greed, or hunger by your courtesy, put it out of my mind. Before we go to eat, could you show us to the stables? We would wish to see about the horses we came in on. Shadowfax is Gandalf's—Mithrandir, as you call him—steed. He is Lord of the Mearas and the apple of King Théoden's eye. And Boromir's horse Hrimfax is the son of Shadowfax and just as noble. We would be greatly in your debt if you could take us to them, so we can report they were taken care of? This hobbit, for one, would greatly appreciate it, and so would Joey. I think Shadowfax's new master loves the beast better than he loves many men, and if his good will is of any value to this city, you will treat Shadowfax with all honour: with greater kindness than you have treated this hobbit and this boy, if it is possible. Hrimfax, too, if you please."

"Hobbit?" said Beregond.

"That is what we call ourselves," said Pippin.

"I am glad to learn it," said Beregond, "for now I may say that strange accents do not mar fair speech, and hobbits are a fair-spoken folk. But come! You shall make me acquainted with these good horses. I love beasts, and we see them seldom in this stony city; for my people came from the mountain-vales, and before that from Ithilien. But fear not! The visit shall be short, a mere call of courtesy, and we will go thence to the butteries." He led them away, towards the sixth circle.

Pippin and Joey found that Shadowfax and Hrimfax had been well housed and tended. For in the sixth circle, outside the walls of the citadel, there were some fair stables where a few swift horses were kept, hard by the lodgings of the errand-riders of the Lord: messengers always ready to go at the urgent command of Denethor or his chief captains. But now all the horses and the riders were out and away.

The two horses were glad to see their small friends again, and they whinnied in greeting. Pippin apologized for not bringing them treats, but both he and Joey petted the huge horses, and scratched them behind the ears. They talked a little to Beregond about how swiftly the two great animals could run, and some of what things were like in Rohan. Soon enough, Beregond led them away to the mess.

"And now for our manger," said Beregond, and he led Pippin and Joey back to the citadel, and so to a door in the north side of the great Tower. There they went down a long cool stair into a wide alley lit with lamps. There were hatches in the walls at the side, and one of these was open. "This is the storehouse and buttery of my company of the Guard," said Beregond.

Pippin was glad of the smells wafting from what Beregond called the "buttery". The guardsman introduced the two to Targon, the quartermaster, as the new page and new esquire to the Captain-General. Targon seemed a genial sort, and provided Beregond with bread, butter, cheese, and apples, as well as a leather flagon of ale for Pippin and Beregond to share, and a waterskin for Joey. "The water is clean and fresh, for it comes from our own deep well," Targon told Joey, who nodded. He had long since learned that where the water was clean, it actually tasted much better than tap water back home. Furthermore, it didn't have to be filtered with wine to make it safe to drink.

The three of them put their picnic into a wicker basket that Targon had provided, and went out into the sunshine. Pippin and Joey followed Beregond to a great stone wall that jutted out from the City like the prow of a great ship. From their vantage point there, they could see out over the world below.

There they sat and enjoyed their meal; Beregond told the two young ones of Gondor and its customs and history, and Pippin told of the Shire and some of their travels, with occasional comments from Joey. They talked for a long time as the sun climbed higher in the sky, and the morning mists blew away.

"I will not hide from you, Master Peregrin," said Beregond, "that to us you look almost as one of our children, a lad of nine summers or so; and yet you have endured perils and seen marvels that few of our greybeards could boast of. I thought it was the whim of our Lord to take him a noble page, after the manner of the kings of old, they say, as Lord Boromir has done with Joey. But I see that it is not so in your case, and you must pardon my foolishness."

"I do," said Pippin. "Though you are not far wrong. I am still little more than a boy in the reckoning of my own people, and it will be four years yet before I 'come of age', as we say in the Shire. Joey is a lad of nine summers, himself, and yet he has shared my perils and seen many of the same marvels. But do not bother about us. Come and look and tell us what we can see."

Then Pippin looked to the East, and his heart dropped, as he thought of Frodo and Sam and their perilous errand. He needed to know, but had to be careful to give nothing away. He asked about what they saw to the East, and Beregond began to speak of Minas Morgul and the Mountains of Shadow, and the peril that surrounded Gondor from all sides.

Beregond's news made Pippin feel melancholy and very small, as he thought of all the unpleasant things he had encountered over the course of their journey: orcs, and evil birds, and Black Riders. At least, Joey had not been forced to contend with the Black Riders in the Shire, for which Pippin was thankful; he had only come across a Fell Rider during their journey. He looked over and noticed Joey's face was pale and not a little frightened as he heard the Man's words.

Pippin was about to propose that they change the subject to something more pleasant when something cold fell over him. He shuddered and a feeling of hopelessness suddenly welled up in him, and the sun for a second faltered and was obscured, as though a dark wing had passed across it. Almost beyond hearing he thought he caught, high and far up in the heavens, a cry: faint, but heart-quelling, cruel and cold. He blanched and cowered against the wall. Whimpering, Joey scrunched his knees and covered his ears.

"What was that?" asked Beregond. "You also felt something?"

"Yes," muttered Pippin. "It is the sign of our fall, and the shadow of doom, a Fell Rider of the air." He glanced over and laid his hand on Joey, who had turned white, and looked completely terrified. The apples of the boy's hazel eyes were huge and black. His knees were still folded against his chest, and he still had his hands over his ears. Beregond wrapped his arm comfortingly around the child's shoulders and hugged Joey against his side.

"What—what is that?" Joey cried out. "It felt like that thing on the River, the one Legolas shot."

Pippin did not respond, but Beregond said, "The shadow of doom, I fear that Minas Tirith shall fall. Night comes. The very warmth of my blood seems stolen away." Shivering, Joey nestled against the guardsman's chest and squeezed his eyes shut.

For a time they sat together with bowed heads and did not speak. Then suddenly Pippin looked up and saw that the sun was still shining and the banners still streaming in the breeze. He shook himself, and Joey straightened his legs out in front of him and uncovered his ears, but still leaned against Beregond. "It is passed," Pippin said. "No, my heart will not yet despair. Gandalf fell and has returned and is with us. We may stand, if only on one leg, or at least be left still upon our knees."

Joey looked at Pippin, and then said, "'Be not afraid, only believe.'" He closed his mouth then, and didn't say more, but he looked much less afraid than he had only a moment ago. Pippin wondered where these words of Joey's sometimes came from, but the child refused to elaborate, saying that Gandalf would not want him to. Pippin did not even ask, this time.

"You are wise beyond your years, young Joey," said Beregond. "We should believe that we can prevail. We have many brave warriors, and our Captain-General has returned alive to us after so long abroad, we thought him dead, and we have his brother Captain Faramir as well." After a moment, he added, "Though all things must come utterly to an end in time, Gondor shall not perish yet. Not though the walls be taken by a reckless foe that will build a hill of carrion before them. There are still other fastnesses, and secret ways of escape into the mountains. Hope and memory shall live still in some hidden valley where the grass is green."

-oo000oo-

After a long while, Beregond released Joey. "Farewell for this time!" he said. "I have duty now till sundown, as have all the others here, I think. But if you are lonely, as you say, maybe you would like a merry guide about the City. My son would go with you gladly. A good lad, I may say. If that pleases you, go down to the lowest circle and ask for the Old Guesthouse in the Rath Celerdain, the Lampwrights' Street. You will find him there with other lads that are remaining in the City. There may be things worth seeing down at the Great Gate ere the closing."

A delighted grin spread across Joey's face. "There's other boys here?" he asked hopefully.

Chuckling, Beregond ruffled the child's hair. "There certainly are, Master Joey, and I know that my son will welcome you when he meets you. You, too, Master Pippin."

He went out, and soon after the others followed. The day was still fine, though it was growing hazy, and it was hot for March, even so far southwards. "Are you sleepy?" Joey asked Pippin, who was making an evident attempt to stifle a yawn.

Pippin nodded. "I am, but it's too early for bed yet, and our lodgings would be cheerless without Gandalf. So, what say you and I go down and explore this City?" Smiling, Joey nodded. That would be fun.

Pippin and Joey took a few morsels that they had saved to Shadowfax and Hrimfax, and the morsels were graciously accepted, though the horses seemed to have no lack. Then the two of them walked on down many winding ways.

People stared much as they passed. To Pippin's and Joey's faces, in particular, men were gravely courteous, saluting them after the manner of Gondor with bowed head and hands upon the breast; but behind them Pippin and Joey heard many calls, as those out of doors cried to others within to come and see the Ernil i Pheriannath and the young lord from a faraway land, the companions of Mithrandir.

They came at last by arched streets and many fair alleys and pavements to the lowest and widest circle, and there they were directed to the Lampwrights' Street, a broad way running towards the Great Gate. In it Pippin and Joey found the Old Guesthouse, a large building of grey weathered stone with two wings running back from the street, and between them a narrow greensward, behind which was the many-windowed house, fronted along its whole width by a pillared porch and a flight of steps down onto the grass. Boys were playing among the pillars, the only children that Pippin and Joey had seen in Minas Tirith, and they stopped to look at them. An expression of longing etched Joey's face. "I wish I could play, too," he muttered, and Pippin patted his arm.

Presently one of the boys caught sight of Joey and Pippin, and with a shout he sprang across the grass and came into the street, followed by several others. There he stood in front of Pippin and Joey, looking them up and down.

"Greetings!" said the lad. "Where do you come from? You are strangers in the City."

"We were," said Pippin; "but they say we have become men of Gondor."

Joey giggled quietly, but let Pippin do the talking. After all, they had not even been introduced yet.

"Oh come!" said the lad. "Then we are all men here. But how old are you, and what is your name? I am ten years already, and shall soon be five feet. I am taller than you. But then my father is a Guard, one of the tallest. What is your father?"

"Which question shall I answer first?" said Pippin. "My father farms the lands round Whitwell near Tuckborough in the Shire. I am nearly twenty-nine, so I pass you there; though I am but four feet, and not likely to grow any more, save sideways. My friend Joey here is only nine, though as I can see, he is nearly as tall as you are."

"Twenty-nine!" said the lad and whistled. "Why, you are quite old! As old as my uncle Iorlas. Still," he added hopefully, "I wager I could stand you on your head or lay you on your back." He looked at Joey. "I am sure that I could land you on your back, tall as you are, since you are only nine."

Pippin winked at Joey and nodded, giving him leave to speak. He wanted to see how Joey handled this situation. He hoped he would not have to break up a fight.

Joey drew himself up, and thought of how Strider and Boromir acted. He cast a glance at Pippin and then, rolling his eyes, he said, "I have no idea. I've never tried to put anyone on their back, but I might if I wanted to. Which I don't. Why should I fight with you? We haven't even been introduced."

Pippin laughed. "Well said, Joey. I am proud of your forbearance." He put a wicked grin on his own face. "As for me, well, maybe you could, if I let you," he said, with a laugh. "And maybe I could do the same to you: we know some wrestling tricks in my little country. Where, let me tell you, I am considered uncommonly large and strong; and I have never allowed anyone to stand me on my head. So if it came to a trial and nothing else would serve, I might have to kill you. For when you are older, you will learn that folk are not always what they seem; and though you may have taken me for a soft stranger-lad and easy prey, let me warn you: I am not, I am a halfling, hard, bold, and wicked!" Pippin pulled such a grim face that the boy stepped back a pace, but at once he returned with clenched fists and the light of battle in his eye. Behind him, he heard Joey giggle again.

"No!" Pippin laughed. "Don't believe what strangers say of themselves either! I am not a fighter. But it would be politer in any case for the challenger to say who he is."

The boy drew himself up proudly. "I am Bergil son of Beregond of the Guards," he said.

"So I thought," said Pippin, "for you look like your father. We know him and he sent us to find you."

"Then why did you not say so at once?" said Bergil, and suddenly a look of dismay came over his face. "Do not tell me that he has changed his mind, and will send me away with the maidens! But no, the last wains have gone."

"His message is less bad than that, if not good," said Pippin. "He says that if you would prefer it to standing us on our heads, you might show us round the City for a while and cheer our loneliness. Joey and I can tell you some tales of far countries in return."

Bergil clapped his hands, and laughed with relief. "All is well," he cried. "Come then! We were soon going to the Gate to look on. We will go now."

"What is happening there?"

"The Captains of the Outlands are expected up the South Road ere sundown. Come with us and you will see."

Pippin and Joey found that Bergil was a good comrade. The three of them laughed and talked gaily as Bergil showed them around the streets of Minas Tirith, heedless of the many glances that men gave them. Joey looked on in wonder. The city was very large, larger than some cities back home. But it was different in so many ways. Not just the lack of modern things like cars and traffic lights and honking horns and neon lights and skyscrapers—although the Citadel at the top was nearly as big as some older skyscrapers he had seen. But it was different in other ways as well: it was so much steeper than the cities he knew at home, there were not so many people bustling about, and it was quieter. The people appeared more serious here, but not in so much of a hurry, and not so distracted as people were back home.

But as they drew nearer the Gates, the crowds were heavier, and there was a whole throng of people headed in the same direction. It reminded him of people gathering to see a parade or something.

"We cannot go any closer," said Bergil. "We boys are not allowed outside the Gates without an adult who knows the password."

"Well, you are lucky to have me, then," said Pippin, with a mischievous grin. "Your father gave Joey and me the passwords, as we are in Lord Boromir's service. And while I am not quite an adult at home, at twenty-nine, I am an adult here!"

Joey winced. He had forgotten about those passwords. He had not paid close attention when Beregond had recited the passwords to him and Pippin; at that moment, he wished he had. He was glad Pippin had remembered them; he would have to ask Pippin to recite them to him at the earliest opportunity, so he'd be able to remember them this time. The three went to the guard, who apparently had been sent word already of the "Ernil i Pheriannath" and the young Outlander accompanying him, who was said to be a young lord from a far land. Since Bergil was with them, he was also allowed to exit the Gates.

There he saw a huge crowd of people, and now it really did seem like a parade, for they were lining the sides of the road. Pippin confidently edged their way through to the front, with Joey and Bergil in his wake. Joey could hear them whispering and pointing at them.

"What does Ernil i Pheriannath mean?" Joey asked Bergil.

"It means 'Prince of Halflings'," was Bergil's answer.

Pippin let out with a choked laugh. "You are joking, aren't you?" he said.

Bergil shook his head. "That is what it means. Are you not a prince?"

Pippin shook his head as Joey gazed at him. "My sisters would laugh themselves silly to hear such a thing! We don't have a king or princes in the Shire. My father is the Thain, which is to say he is the closest thing to a leader we have, but that scarcely makes me a prince."

"Oh," said Bergil doubtfully.

"Your daddy lives on a farm in Whitwell?" Joey asked, remembering what Pippin had said earlier.

Pippin shook his head. "Not anymore, Joey. I should have said that we used to live on the farm at Whitwell, and my father used to farm it himself, but since he has become the Thain, we live at the Great Smials now. He still owns the Whitwell farm, but relatives of ours live on it and farm it nowadays."

Joey nodded, and then looked at the expression on Bergil's face. Obviously, Bergil did not believe Pippin wasn't a prince, and he didn't think they'd be able to convince the other boy any different. But then his attention was caught by the crowd: they had seen a cloud of dust approaching.

"They are coming!" many in the crowd exclaimed.

Horns sounded at some distance, and the noise of cheering rolled towards them like a gathering wind. Then there was a loud trumpet-blast, and all about them people were shouting.

"Forlong!" Joey heard men calling. "What do they say?" he asked.

"Forlong has come," Bergil answered; "old Forlong the Fat, the Lord of Lossarnach. That is where my grandsire lives. Hurrah! Here he is. Good old Forlong!"

Leading the line there came walking a big thick-limbed horse, and on it sat a man of wide shoulders and huge girth, but old and grey-bearded, yet mail-clad and black-helmed and bearing a long heavy spear. Behind him marched proudly a dusty line of men, well-armed and bearing great battle-axes; grim-faced they were, and shorter and somewhat swarthier than any men that Pippin and Joey had yet seen in Gondor.

"Forlong!" men shouted. "True heart, true friend! Forlong!" But when the men of Lossarnach had passed they muttered: "So few! Two hundreds, what are they? We hoped for ten times the number. That will be the new tidings of the black fleet. They are sparing only a tithe of their strength. Still every little is a gain."

For what seemed like hours, Joey stood with Pippin and Bergil amidst the cheering throng, watching a bunch of men march or ride into Minas Tirith. Bergil was eagerly talking to Pippin, telling the names of every leader and what lands each group of people came from. But all the strange names went right over Joey's head. He could barely recall any of them. Still, it seemed to him not many people. He could recall seeing soldiers marching in some of the ceremonies and parades that his daddy, as a veteran, had taken part in, and there didn't seem to be even as many as that—much less as many soldiers as it would probably take to fight a war! He wondered what his dad was doing, whether he was still looking for his missing children, and what he would think of the groups Joey saw marching into the city. He really missed his daddy right now. Pippin probably misses his daddy, too, he thought, glancing at the hobbit.

Finally, the last group came through, to much more cheering and excitement from the crowd than before. They were all mounted, and clad in blue and silver, and a banner of a white swan on a blue background was carried before them. He was some sort of prince, Bergil had told them, from a place called Dol Amroth. And he was a relative of Boromir and his brother, and the Steward. Then it was all over, and the crowd began to drift apart and head back into the city.

Pippin looked up, and Joey followed suit. The sky now looked grey to Joey; it looked as if a considerable amount of smoke and dust was drifting in the air. Whoa! Where'd all that smog come from? he wondered. The light looked dimmer now, coming through it, than it had before. In the West, where the sun was setting, it looked as if the smog was on fire. Is there a volcano erupting somewhere? Joey silently asked himself. There's no forest here, so it can't be a forest fire!

"So ends a fair day in wrath!" Pippin said forgetful of the lads at his side.

"So it will, if I have not returned before the sundown-bells," said Bergil. "Come! There goes the trumpet for the closing of the Gate."

Together the three of them went back into the City. They were all the way to where Bergil called the Street of the Lampwrights, when the bells began to toll the hour.

"Farewell for this time," said Bergil. "Take my greetings to my father, and thank him for the company that he sent. Come again soon, I beg. Almost I wish now that there was no war, for we might have had some merry times. We might have journeyed to Lossarnach, to my grandsire's house; it is good to be there in Spring, the woods and fields are full of flowers. But maybe we will go thither together yet. They will never overcome our Lord, and my father is very valiant. Farewell and return!"

Joey and Pippin said their own farewells to him, and waved as he rushed off to his duties in the Houses of Healing. Then the two of them made their way wearily back up to the Citadel. It wasn't hard to find, since it was the tallest thing in Minas Tirith and was at the city's top level. They were hungry, and made their way to the mess hall, where the daymeal was already underway. But Beregond was there to greet them; he had already begun his own meal, but he paused and waited for the two of them to get their plates and sit by him. They told him of Bergil's message, and thanked him for sending them to such good company. After the meal Pippin and Joey stayed a while, and then took their leave, for a strange gloom was on them both, and now Joey desired very much to see Gandalf again. He suspected that Pippin did, too.

"Can you find your way?" said Beregond at the door of the small hall, on the north side of the citadel, where they had sat. "It is a black night, and all the blacker since orders came that lights are to be dimmed within the City, and none are to shine out from the walls. And I can give you news of another order: Boromir will wish to see both of you early tomorrow. He has assignments for you both. We may hope to meet again. Farewell and sleep in peace!"

"Good night, Beregond!" Joey waved good-bye and went with Pippin to the lodgings in the Sixth Circle that they were going to share with Gandalf. To his dismay, the lodging was dark, save for a little lantern set on the table. Gandalf was not there. "I hope Gandalf gets back soon!" Joey said, with a groan.

"Me, too." Pippin sighed as he climbed on the bench and tried to peer out of a window. "I can't see a thing out there," he said, after a moment. "It's like looking into a pool of ink! We may as well go to bed, Joey." He got down and closed the shutter, and then he and Joey went to bed.

-oo000oo-

*A/N: This song is an adaptation of a 17th-century folksong, changed to fit Middle-earth, and first appeared in Dreamflower's story, "Chance Encounter", which may be found here on the Stories of Arda archive (http://storiesofarda.com/chapterlistview.asp?SID=4305) and on Fanfiction.net (https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8986610/1/Chance-Encounter).





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