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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 Ringsbelongs 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 42: Hellfire, Part 1

As Joey lay fidgeting on his bed, memories of his sister’s discussion with the hobbits, when he and his brother and sisters had first met them, met suddenly flashed into his head.  Jennifer said a man wrote about all this stuff, he thought, but I forget his name!  She said it was fantasy.  I’ll have to ask her what his name was when we get back together.

He lay thinking about it.  I wonder how much of the stuff that’s happened to us so far happened in that fantasy book.  I’m sure he didn’t include four modern-day kids!  An amused grin crept across his face at the thought.  Maybe I can read it when we get back home.  And The Hobbit, too.

At some point, Joey must have drifted off to sleep, because during the night, a noise and a light woke him up.  Gandalf had come and was pacing to and fro in the room beyond the curtain of the alcove.  He heard the wizard sigh, and mutter: “When will Faramir return?”

Pippin stirred, and then got out of bed, followed by Joey; together, the two of them approached the curtain.  “Hullo!” said Pippin, poking his head around the curtain; Joey peered at Gandalf from behind the hobbit’s shoulder.  Pippin continued, “Joey and I thought you had forgotten all about us.  We are glad to see you back.  It has been a long day.  Gandalf coughed, and without being asked, Pippin went to the bedside pitcher, poured a cup of water, and took it to Gandalf, who nodded his thanks.  Joey leaned against the table and watched them both.

“But the night will be too short,” said Gandalf.  “I have come back here, for I must have a little peace, alone.  You two should sleep, in a bed while you still may.  At the sunrise, I shall take you to Boromir.  No, when the summons comes, not at sunrise.  The Darkness has begun.  There will be no dawn.”

-oo000oo-

The next morning, both of them woke at what they thought was an early time—the sky to the East was barely light.  But Gandalf had already left.  The two rose and made their morning ablutions in the wash basin—the water was cold, and Joey shuddered; even after months in Middle-earth, he still did not like washing in cold water.  Pippin didn't seem bothered, though.

Gandalf returned as they dressed hurriedly, and then he took them towards the Citadel, even though Pippin was grumbling about missing first breakfast.  They needed to see Boromir and find out just what he wanted them to do.

Luckily, as they approached the Seventh Circle, they were accosted by a Guardsman they did not know.

"Are you Peregrin the Pherian and Joey, son of Steven?" he asked.  "I am Adrahil, and the Lord Captain-General asked me to take you to him."

"Yes, we are," answered Pippin.  "We were just wondering how we were going to find Bo—er, Lord Boromir."

The man smiled.  "Follow me," he said, and set off at a brisk pace, accompanied by Gandalf.  The two of them had to trot to keep up, and Adrahil did not seem to notice at first, until he got back to the Citadel steps and realized the boys were lagging behind.  "Your pardon," he said, "I did not think to abate my pace."

He and Gandalf went more slowly once they were within, leading them down corridors they had not yet seen.  They went up some stairs that were nearly too large for Joey and Pippin’s short legs, and then down another shorter passageway that had a set of large double doors at the end.  Another Guardsman stood in front of them.

"The Captain-General sent for them," said Adrahil.

The other Guardsman turned and knocked upon the door.  It was opened slightly by a manservant.  "The Lord Boromir sent for Peregrin the Pherian and Joey, son of Steven."  

The manservant looked at them, and then opened the door more widely.  "Enter," he said, looking at Pippin and Joey.  "He is expecting you."

Gandalf nodded.  “I have an appointment with the Lord Denethor,” he said.  “I will see you later.”  He left, and Pippin and Joey entered the room.

Boromir sat at a table in the centre of the room.  "Welcome, my friends!" he said.  The table was laid with a fine linen cloth, and the hungry hobbit and boy could see food upon it; it was set with plates for three people.  There was bread, some fruit, a plate of cheese, and a steaming pot of something that smelled like coffee.  Joey’s stomach rumbled as the scent of that food reached his nose.  Boromir gestured at the table and the food.  "Come join me in breaking fast."

Pippin grinned with delight and hurried to the table, with Joey only a few steps behind him.  There were chairs to either side of their friend, and they each took one.  Boromir grinned at them and then to the manservant, who came over and took up the pot, pouring some into Boromir's cup first, and then into Pippin's.  Joey looked suspiciously at it as the servant poured some into his cup—but Pippin said, "That's enough," when Joey's cup was halfway full.  Pippin took a pair of tongs and put about three lumps in, and then took up a pitcher of milk and finished up the cup with that.  Joey took a sip carefully, but with the milk and sugar in it, he barely noticed the bitterness.

I wish I could have hot chocolate, he thought.   He did not say anything out loud, as it would have been rude.  He thought of the horrible stuff the orcs had made them drink when they had been prisoners.  I should be grateful for what I've got.  At least with milk and sugar, it doesn’t taste bad.  Out loud, he told Pippin, “Thanks.”  Pippin nodded.

They tucked into the food, for they really were quite hungry, and Boromir was not far behind them.  There was very little conversation, and the three of them cleared the table except for a few orange rinds and a couple of crusts of bread.

Pippin sat back with an air of contentment, rolling the last little bit of cheese into a ball between his fingers before he popped it into his mouth.  "Thank you, Boromir!  That really hit the spot!"  Then he leaned forward.  "What is next?  What are we to do while we are here?  I don't really know much about being a squire, and I am sure Joey would like to know what a page is supposed to do."

"To the point, as always, Peregrin Took!" the big Gondorian replied, smiling.  "Before you begin your duties, first you will need your livery.  It took a bit of searching, but I have found some things you might find useful."  He stood up and went over to a large chest by the wall beneath a window, and lifted up the lid.  He reached in, and out came a pile of black and white clothing.  "I sent Labadal to find these things last evening.”  He set the pile down, and took from the top of it a set of black trews, a white long-sleeved shirt that laced up at the neck, and a black surcoat.  The surcoat had the emblem of the White Tree within a circle, embroidered up on the left side.  There were also some white stockings, and a pair of soft black shoes with slightly pointed toes.  Joey took them in his arms as Boromir held them out to him.  "That is page's livery from years ago.  We have not had pages in the Citadel since my grandfather's time, but these were put by."

With a nod, Joey stared down at the clothes Boromir had given him.  Good thing my friends back home can’t see me now!  I’ll look so weird wearing this stuff.  Heck, I already look weird!  He looked down at the clothes he was already wearing.  

Boromir looked at Pippin, and then took out another, heavier pile.  It clinked as he took it out.  He held up a black silk shirt, in style similar to the one which Joey had, though with shorter sleeves, and a black fur coat embroidered with the White Tree in the middle, and gave it to Pippin.  Then he held up a shirt of black chainmail.

Pippin placed the shirt aside on a nearby chair, and took up the mail, looking at it in dismay when he did.  "This is heavy!"

"It is less heavy to wear than to hold, Pippin," Boromir answered.  "It belonged to my brother Faramir when he was young; I also had one, though since I was the eldest and the heir, mine was gold-washed.  But even at such an age, I was too stocky and wide in the shoulders for the one belonging to me to fit you.  We wore them on ceremonial occasions, when we had to accompany our father in processions.”  He held up a black surcoat, this one having a large White Tree embroidered in the centre.  "This went with the mail.  I am afraid that you will have to make do with the trews you wear now, for even at that age, Faramir was too tall and slender for you to wear those that went with the rest of the livery.  And I know better than to ask a hobbit to wear stockings and boots—which would not fit you, anyway."  Pippin agreed.

Then Boromir reached further in and took out another item: a small, high-brimmed helmet modelled after those the Guardsmen wore as they guarded the White Tree.  "This will, however!  And I expect you to wear it, to protect that hard head of yours.  My own that I used to have was lost, but by the time I lost it, I had nearly outgrown it and needed a new one anyway."

Pippin draped the mail over his arm, and took the helm, turning it about in his hands.  It was shiny, but it looked uncomfortable.  "Why would you and your brother need armour and helmets when you were only children?"

“Yeah!”  Joey grimaced, exchanging a look with Pippin.

"As I said, they were for us to wear when we accompanied the Steward on special occasions—but it was also to protect us from those who might think to harm our father by harming us."  Joey winced at the thought.

Pippin looked completely shocked, but Joey thought about the news and movies and TV shows back home—some people didn't care if they hurt kids.  He hated it that some people were so bad as to want to harm, kill, or kidnap children.

"Hurt children?" Pippin asked, outraged.  "That's not something anyone would even think of doing in the Shire!"

"Your Shire is a most blessed and fortunate land," said Boromir.  "I wish all lands could be so at peace.  But alas, in the lands of Men, such a thing happens all too often.  And should Sauron defeat us, such things might even spread to your Shire!"

"Lawks!" said Pippin.  "Let's hope Frodo can do what he needs to do!"  Even as upset as he was, Pippin knew better than to mention the Ring openly.  Joey vigorously nodded.

"I agree," said Boromir.  "But it is up to us to do our own part.  Even if Frodo succeeds, he will find it hard to get home if Orcs and evil Men have overrun the West!"  He rose from his kneeling position by the chest and closed the lid.  "Now..."  He gestured through a door on his left.  "...go and change into your new gear.  Joey, Pippin may need a little help getting his mail shirt on."  Joey nodded and followed Pippin through the door.

On the other side, the two found themselves in a small chamber that was clearly a dressing room.  Joey dressed quickly, and Pippin put on the black shirt.  Then Joey helped him wriggle into the mail shirt.  Pippin shook himself to help it settle over his body.  "Boromir was right," he said.  "It is lighter to wear than to carry!"  He pulled on his own surcoat over the mail, and Joey helped him straighten it.

"Well, we are all geared up," Pippin said.  "Shall we see what else our Lord Boromir has for us to do?"

Boromir awaited them in the larger room and gave a solemn nod when he saw them emerge. "The livery of the White Tree suits you both," he said.  "You must wear it when you are on duty; I have also given special permission for the two of you to wear the cloaks and brooches of Lothlórien, and for you, Pippin, to not wear boots.  Today, I would like for both of you to accompany me as I go about my business; if there is a time when I do not wish your presence, I will let you know.  I will have other duties for you starting tomorrow.  But first, I need to go over those oaths with you, and then we will go down to the Hall, and there you will swear your homage to me as my squire and my page."

First, he explained Pippin's oath.  "You will not have time to memorize it, but you will repeat after me."

Next, Boromir did the same for Joey.  Hearing the words that he would be promising made him feel serious and just a little scared.  What if he couldn't live up got it?

Boromir must have noticed his expression, and his own softened.  "Do not worry.  You will do well.”

“Yes, sir,” Joey said.  Turning to Pippin, he said, “Wait till my mom and dad hear about this!”  Pippin smiled.

The two of them accompanied Boromir back to the Hall, where Denethor sat on the Steward’s chair at the foot of the throne.  “Hi,” Joey said cheerfully, waving at him as they approached him, and then blushed for forgetting to bow and be proper.

But the Steward only gave his son a wry look, and thankfully did not appear to take offense.  “Hello, Joey,” Denethor said.  “I see you are wearing the White Tree livery.  It suits you.  You, too, Peregrin.”

Boromir turned to his father.  "My Lord Steward, may I have your permission to take these two unto me, as my squire and my page?"

Denethor furrowed his brow as he looked at his son.  "I have one reservation, Lord Boromir.  From what you have told me, both Peregrin son of Paladin and Joseph son of Steven are not of age, according to the customs of their people.  In the event the War ends, and they are reunited with their families, will you continue to hold them to their oaths?  Or will you release them?"

"It is in my mind that if all goes well, I will release young Joey, who may at some time be taken back to his far home.  However, Peregrin is only four years short of being of age, and in fact, according to the reckoning of his own people, older than the youths who become squires here among our people.  Therefore, I would release him with a leave of absence from his duties, but would give him the chance to remain under oath to Gondor as well."  He sighed.  "However, this is assuming all ends well.  Who knows what will come of us all if the War goes ill?"

Joey bit his lower lip at the prospect, exchanging an uneasy glance with Pippin.  Please, God, let the good guys win! he silently prayed.  Please help Frodo destroy the Ring!  Amen.

Denethor looked thoughtful for a moment, and then nodded.  "Very well, let the oaths take place."

Pippin came forward and knelt.  Boromir stood in front of him and held out his hands.  "Put your two hands between mine, and speak your oath."

Pippin swallowed, and began to repeat each phrase after Boromir:

I, Peregrin son of Paladin, do swear

Fealty and service unto Lord Boromir, son of Denethor—

To speak and to be silent, to do and to let be,

To come and to go, in need and in plenty,

In peace and in war, in living and in dying, in all things that honour the Realm of Gondor

From this hour henceforth, until my Lord release me,

Death take me, or the world end."

Boromir nodded.  "And I, Boromir son of Denethor, do hear and shall not forget, nor fail to reward, that which is freely given:

Fealty with love,

Valour with honour,

and oath-breaking with justice.

Now rise and await your duty."

Pippin stood up and moved back, so that Joey could come forward and also kneel.

Joey knelt down and also put his hands between those of Boromir, and he, too, repeated the phrases of the oath.

"I, Joseph son of Steven, do swear fealty and service unto Lord Boromir of Gondor, to obey him and honour him as I would a father, to do all duties given unto me to the best of my ability, and in all matters conduct my behaviour in a manner which will reflect his honour.  This will I do, in all things, until my Lord release me, death take me, or the world end."

He thought about the words—they were kind of scary, but he knew that Boromir would always take care of him and never ask him to do anything that would be wrong.

He looked up as Boromir answered:

"And I, Boromir son of Denethor, do hear and shall not forget, nor fail to reward, that which is freely given:

Fealty with love,

Valour with honour,

and oath-breaking with justice, and to, in all ways, protect you and be as a father to you until you are reunited with your own.

Now rise and await your duty."

Joey stood up in relief.  He hadn't known Boromir would add the part about acting like a father, but he was glad he had put in the part about being reunited with his own dad.  He hoped that would be soon.  He missed his folks dreadfully.  I can't wait to tell Dad and Mom about this!

Denethor rose from his stone seat.  “Mithrandir left just before you came, but he will be back this afternoon.  I have called a council for the seventh hour, after the daymeal.  You will be there, my son, and I would like to have Mithrandir in attendance as well."

"Very well, Father.  I will be there."  Boromir stood and watched his father leave the Hall, and turned to his new squire and page.  "Peregrin, do you recall the way to the guesthouse where you and Joseph and Mithrandir stayed last night?"

Pippin nodded.

"Good.  I would like you to go there and give Mithrandir the message about the Steward's council meeting.  You do not need to rush, as I am sure he will need to have a meal before coming back here."  He winked at the hobbit, and Pippin gave him a cheeky grin before he darted off.

Boromir turned to Joey.  "Can you find your way back to my rooms?"

"I think so," he said.

"If you are uncertain, you can ask one of the servants.  I would like you to go fetch my cloak and your own, Joey, and my gloves.  You and I are going to call upon my Uncle Imrahil, the Prince of Dol Amroth, and afterward, my Uncle Hurin of the Keys."

Joey said, "Yes, sir," as he turned to go back the way he had come.

After Joey had returned to the Hall with their cloaks and Boromir’s gloves, he followed his new boss (he smiled to himself at thinking of Boromir as his boss) as they left the grounds of the Citadel and turned onto a wide street that ran along the outer wall of the Citadel on one side, while on the other side were many large and fancy houses of white stone.  Most of them also had walls, though not so high as those of the Citadel, and the houses could only be glimpsed through the wide iron gates in the walls.  The gates all seemed to have some kind of guard sitting next to them.

Whoa!  Rich people must live in these houses, Joey thought, as he gaped up at the row of houses that they passed.

They hadn't gone far before Boromir stopped in front of one such gate.  The guard stood up at once.  "My Lord Boromir!" he exclaimed.

Boromir nodded.  “Manthor, I am here to see my uncle."

"Certainly, my lord!"  He opened the gate at once, and led them to the house.

Joey gazed about curiously around.  They were in another paved courtyard like many others he had seen in this city.  It had a sort of garden—none of the plants and trees were in the ground, but were planted in big stone pots, even two big evergreen trees planted on either side of the huge door to the house.

The guard knocked on the door, and was answered by a very imposing-looking servant.

They entered into a huge hall, and the servant led them into a kind of sitting room on the left.  The three people sitting there all stood up suddenly.  There were two men and a woman.  The youngest—Joey would call him a grown-up, but just barely, like if he was college age or something—rushed over and grabbed Boromir in a bear hug, and started pounding him on the back.

"Boromir!  Uncle sent word that you were alive, but we did not think to see you so soon!"

Boromir returned the hug and the pounding briefly, and then pushed the younger man back.  "Amrothos!  I am glad to see you as well, cousin."

Amrothos stood back and let Boromir greet the others.  Boromir gave the older gentleman a nod.  "Uncle, it is good to see you once more."  He stepped over to the Lady and took her hand and kissed the back of it.  "Aunt Lindiriel, it is good to see you as well."

She smiled at him and pulled him into a more restrained hug.  "It is more than good, child; it is a miracle.  Never have I been so glad to see the Steward in the wrong!"

Boromir reached over and took Joey by the shoulders.  "Here is my miracle.  May I present Joseph son of Steven, of Ore Gon?  It is only due to his quick wit and sure aim that I did not fall to an Orc arrow.  Armed with only a sling and a stone, he took down one of the huge Uruk-hai.  He is now my page."

Joey felt his face grow warm with both embarrassment and pride.

"Joey, this is my uncle, Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, his Lady wife, Lindiriel, and their youngest son, my cousin Amrothos."

Joey bowed.  He felt like he was in a historical movie or something.  “Hi,” he said, raising his hand in greeting.  "At your service," he added, remembering what the hobbits had taught him.

"Where are Elphir, Ercherion, and Lothiriel, Uncle?"

"Elphir and Ercherion are staying with the Swan Knights.  Lothiriel has gone to see one of her friends whom she has not seen since last we were here.  She will be sorry to have missed you."

The family sat down again, and Boromir took a chair.  Joey stood just behind him—it was his duty, after all.  He tried to look alert and attentive, but it was hard to do, as Boromir began telling about what had happened since he’d left Gondor and gone on his quest to find answers.  When he began to tell about what had happened since then, it was boring, and Joey tried not to fidget.  He looked over at his hosts, and Lady Lindiriel caught his eye.  She smiled at him and interrupted her nephew.

Reaching over to a table at her side, she rang a small bell.  A moment later, a serving maid came into the room and curtsied.  "My Lady, did you ring for me?"

"Yes, I did, Hiril.  I believe Master Joey might be in need of refreshment.  Would you take him to the kitchen and get him something to drink and to eat?"

The servant, a nice-looking older woman with grey in her hair, wearing a large apron over her brown dress, led him to a large kitchen.  It was like the kitchens he was starting to get used to, with a big fireplace to cook on and a large wooden table in the middle to work on.  Joey sat on a stool, and the woman brought him a small plate with some sort of wonderful-smelling bun, and gave him a mug.  He was pleased but startled to see it was milk.  He had not had any milk to drink since he had left Rivendell, and he had not had it very often there.  He sniffed it; it smelled different than the milk he was used to, and he bet it was probably goat's milk.  He'd had that once when visiting his grandparents’ farm, and he liked cow's milk better.  But this was good, even if it did taste different and wasn't as cold as at home.

"Thank you, Mistress Hiril," he said politely.  The bun turned out to be a honey-bun, and it was delicious.

"Such a polite boy!" she said.  "The Lady said your name was 'Jo-ee'?"

He quickly took a sip of the milk to wash down his bite of honey-bun.  "Really, it's Joseph, but everyone calls me Joey."

"Very well, Master Joey," she said, getting the name right this time.

Joey looked around the kitchen and smiled.  “You sure have a nice place.  Uh, Boromir’s uncle has a nice place.”

She chuckled.  "His Grace does indeed have a nice 'place' here.  But yes, the kitchen is my place, too, so long as I continue to please with my cooking.  I am glad you like my honey-buns; they were a favourite amongst the young ones long ago.  I must say, they are still a favourite for Lord Boromir and his brother whenever they visit still."

Joey tilted his head.  “Do Boromir and his brother come here a lot?”

"They used to come often when the Prince and his family came to Minas Tirith.  This is their house in the White City, but they live in Dol Amroth, by the sea far to the South.  Of course, the Steward's sons would visit in the palace there, for their mother was our Prince's sister.  They came often after she first died, but less so as they grew older, for they have many duties."

Joey smiled broadly.  “The Prince lives by the ocean?  Cool!”

Hiril looked puzzled.  "The water can be cool sometimes, but Dol Amroth is mostly warm.  It is far to the South."

Joey shrugged.  “I mean, that’s nice.  Really nice.  It’s real fun to play on the beach and go swimming and stuff.  It’s great that the Prince and his family get to do all that.”

The two talked for a while, with Joey trying to tell her some things about home that didn't sound too modern.  When she learned he had spent the previous night at a guesthouse near the Citadel along with Gandalf and Pippin, she wrapped up a few of the honey-buns and put them in a basket to take and share with them, and with Boromir.

“Thank you.”  Joey smiled at her.

Just then he heard Boromir calling him.  He got down.  "It was nice to talk to you, Mistress Hiril."

“I hope you will come back and visit again.”  She smiled at him and patted his shoulder, and Joey smiled back.

After that, he and Boromir took their leave, with Joey showing Boromir the contents of his basket.  Boromir grinned as he smelled the honey-buns.  “Hold onto them, and we will take them to Pippin and Gandalf,” he told the little boy, who nodded.

They went a few houses down on the same street, where there was another big house.  Just like before, the guard let them in, and they took themselves to the big front door.  "My Uncle Hurin is living here alone right now.  When the enemy began to grow bolder last year, just before I left Gondor, he sent his family away to the countryside.  My aunt and my cousin, their daughter and her children, are dwelling in Lossernach right now."

"Oh, okay," said Joey, with a shrug.

This visit was much shorter, for Hurin had been at the Citadel at the time of Boromir's arrival, and they had greeted one another the night before.  Boromir delivered the message about the Council meeting, and then they took their leave.

They then returned to the Citadel, for the time for the meeting was drawing near.  Boromir took the basket.  “I will hold it for you until it’s time to return to my rooms,” he told Joey, who nodded.  They arrived back just in time to see Pippin arriving as well.

The hobbit sniffed appreciatively.  "You have honey-buns," he said confidently.

Joey stared at him.  The hobbit grinned at him and touched his nose; Joey rolled his eyes.

Boromir laughed.  "I think we will have just enough time to return to my chambers and share these before the meeting."

“We’d better leave one for Gandalf,” Joey told them.

"Good idea," said Pippin.  "I'll be glad to take it to him, later."  

-oo000oo-

Boromir marched up the corridor, both hobbit and boy trotting along behind him.  On one side of the corridor were wide arched windows, flanked by marble columns.  There was a series of doors on the other side, but Boromir stopped before a set of double doors wider and larger than any of the others.  A guard stood in front of them; on one side of the door was a stone bench.  Boromir ordered Pippin and Joey to sit there and wait for him.  "Stay where you are until I come out, or unless you are summoned.  Wait for me."

Boromir looked down at Joey, who was wrinkling his nose and chewing on his lower lip, and his face softened as he examined the child’s expression.  “This is going to be your first real test as a page, Joey,” he said.  “Being a page sometimes means boredom, as you found out this morning at my uncle’s home.  And sometimes it requires performing duties that are not fun.  Believe it or not, I was once a page, and I have not forgotten how easy it is for one to become bored when one has to remain in one place for a long while, with nothing to do.  But that is what you and Pippin will have to do now.”  He laid a hand on Joey’s shoulder and gazed intently into the boy’s eyes.  “Do I have your promise, Joey, that you will remain here on this bench, and not go wandering off?”

Joey bit his lower lip and swallowed hard.  “Y—yes, sir.”  He sat down on the stone bench, and Pippin followed suit.

“Good boy.”  Boromir patted his shoulder.  “I will come back out when the council is over.”

The guard stood aside, and Boromir entered.  The two sat there and made conversation as they waited.  Gandalf smiled and greeted them before he entered the room, and Prince Imrahil nodded at Joey as he went by.  The other councillors who came by paid no attention to them.

After a while, no more people came by.  The guard did not speak to the two, nor even look at them, but stood at his post motionless and silent.

Pippin and Joey played a game of riddles, as they had sometimes done on the journey from Rivendell, and then Joey taught Pippin to play "I Spy", but there were not many things to spy in the narrow hallway, except for the carvings on some of the pillars.

Pippin flapped his hand in front of his face.  "I spy, with my little eye, something that buzzes."

Joey chuckled.  "That's easy.  A fly."  A fly had been buzzing around them annoyingly for the past several minutes.  It had even made the stoic guard wrinkle his nose and shake his head slightly.

Then he said, "I spy, with my little eye, something shiny."

"The guard's armour," said Pippin.

Just then the door opened, and someone spoke to the guard.  He turned to them and said, "The Steward would like to speak with you, Master Pheriannath."

"Me?" said Pippin, surprised.  He stood up and looked apologetically at Joey.

"What about me?" Joey asked, somewhat indignantly.

"You are to wait," said the guard, as he allowed Pippin to enter through the doors.  Then he turned back into a statue and refused to look at Joey anymore.

Sighing, Joey leaned against the wall.  “Hope he gets out soon,” he muttered.  Maybe he won’t be in there long, he thought.

Long minutes passed.  To Joey’s dismay, no one came or went, and the guard remained as silent and motionless as before.  Joey gazed up at him off and on, standing at his post.  I don’t see how he can stay so still.  I sure couldn’t!  He shook his head.  

Sighing again, he fidgeted, and he stretched out his fingers, one by one.  He held two of them together; in his imagination, they looked just like two logs lying on top of each other.  Then he pressed the tips of both of his index fingers and thumbs together.  Following that, Joey pressed the thumb and index finger on each hand together, forming two circles, and held them up in front of his eyes, imagining that he was looking through a pair of glasses.  Afterward, he dropped his hands in his lap and stared down at the floor.

A moment later, he raised his head and looked up and down the hall.  A door, halfway open, stood several feet down the hall from where he sat.  Wonder what that room is.

Biting his lower lip, Joey fidgeted again.  I don’t want to just sit here!  I want to explore.  He looked at that other door again.  I’d like to see what’s in that room.  He scowled and dropped his head, looking down at his lap and sighing heavily.

Would Boromir really mind if I went over there? he thought, raising his head to peer longingly at that door.  I wouldn’t really leave.  I’d just go down there and look in that door.  Then I’d come right back to this bench.

Even as that thought crossed his mind, he sighed again and shook his head.  I can’t, though.  I promised Boromir.  He told me to stay right here, and I’ve got to do that.  I can’t go back on my word.

Grimacing, he slumped against the wall behind him and gazed down at the floor.  Silently, he prayed that God would make the day go faster.

He was very glad for his decision, for no sooner had he finished his prayer than the doors opened.  Boromir came out, talking to Gandalf, and with Pippin by his side.  Joey shuddered.  That was close!  What if I hadn't been sitting here just now?!

Boromir gave Joey an approving smile.  “Well done, Joey.  I know it was hard.”  He turned back to Gandalf.

Gandalf and Boromir walked along, speaking to one another in low voices, while Pippin and Joey trailed behind them.

"What did they want from you, Pippin?" Joey asked.

"The Steward had a lot of questions about the Shire, how it was run and so forth.  He seemed to be under the impression that my father has a lot more authority over other hobbits than he actually does.  He wanted to know a lot about the agreement between the Last King of Arnor, Arvedui, and the hobbits.  He says it's clear that the Thain is actually the Steward of the Shire.  I told him that wouldn't mean as much to hobbits as it does to Men."

"Why not?"  Joey had never heard Pippin talk much about his father's job, except to say that once he used to be a farmer, but now he was Thain.

Pippin shrugged.  "Hobbits don't need much ruling," he said.  "The Thain's in charge of the Shire Muster, but the last time they had to do anything was during the Fell Winter over a hundred years ago.  Ordinarily, hobbits are ruled by their family Heads.  The Mayor sees to the Shirriffs and the Post.  The Thain does take up disputes sometimes if they are between different families, and he does have to see to the upkeep of the East-West Road and the Stonebow Bridge—but that's just getting each family to do their part.  Most of my father's hard work is just being in charge of us Tooks."  He grinned.  "That's probably harder than all the other stuff he does."

"Why?"  What could be so hard about just running one family?

Now Pippin laughed.  "Because Tooks are stubborn, impulsive, and unruly fools.  It's a well-known fact."

Apparently, Gandalf had overheard this last part, because he burst out laughing, too.  "It was you who said it this time, Peregrin Took!"

Pippin chuckled and said cheekily, "That saying, 'Fool of a Took,' has been around for a very long time, Gandalf."

"From the time of Ferumbras II, young hobbit!  And I was the first one to say it, but by no means the last!"  They all laughed, including Boromir.

Pippin muttered to Joey, "We shall have to see if we can get that story out of him!"  Joey grinned.

The four of them returned to Boromir's quarters, and Boromir asked Labadal to give the two younger members of the party a lesson on the parts of his armour.  He was not wearing it at the time, as he was at home, but it was all arranged on an armour stand in the room where the two boys had dressed in their livery.  Labadal patiently went over it all until they had both memorized each piece.  Then he began to instruct them on how to fasten and unfasten the various pieces.  "For one of an esquire's duties is to help his Lord into and out of his armour, and a page should learn such things as well, for one day, he will also become an esquire."

“Do soldiers here also have to polish their shoes?” Joey asked.  “They do, where I come from.”

Labadal chuckled.  "The common men-at-arms must, but knights and lords have pages and squires and servants for such things.  Of course, at one time, they were also pages and then squires, so they do know how to polish their own boots if they have to."  Joey nodded.

The servant kept them busy, although at one point, he heard Pippin complaining under his breath about these strange Men not knowing about teatime.  But just when they were both beginning to hear signals from their stomachs, Boromir returned.  "Have you spent your time wisely?" he asked, but his eye was on Labadal.

"They have been most attentive pupils, my Lord," Labadal responded.  "But I believe that they are hungry now.”

"Indeed?"  Boromir grinned at them.  "Joey, are you certain you are not a hobbit?  Pippin, you are teaching him bad habits—eating all day, if possible."  Their friend did not even attempt to be stern in his teasing, and both of them just rolled their eyes.  Boromir laughed.  "You are to serve at table tonight, when Mithrandir and I dine with my father.  Hie you down to the kitchen, to fill your own bellies ere you have to report to your duties.  It would not do to stand about with growling stomachs as we attempt to eat our own meals."

The two young ones did not need to be told twice.  With curt bows to their new liege, they raced from the room.  They knew exactly where the kitchens were.  Within minutes, they were taking their plates and glasses to the table, the plates piled with food.  The food was simple: flatbread, some cheese, and a sort of thick spicy fish stew with a lot of vegetables on top of rice.

“This is good!”  Joey grinned as he swallowed the food.  “This reminds me of what my best friend Kyle’s mom makes.  Sometimes, I spend the night with him on weekends, and his mom makes something like this.”

“She does, huh?  I think I need to talk to the cook and find out how it's made.  I wonder how it would taste over noodles.  Rice is not easily come by in the Shire.”  Pippin grinned and took another bite of his own food.  “But what do you mean by weekends?”

Joey looked surprised.  Sometimes he forgot how different things were here from home.  "Well, there are seven days in the week.  The last day, most people don't have to go to work.  And the same for the first day.  The first day, a lot of people used to go to church.   My family does."  He tried not to go into much detail, since he didn't want to reveal anything they weren't supposed to.

"Oh, I see," Pippin replied.  "The last day of our week is called 'Highday', and most hobbits get at least a half-day off from work, and some get the whole day.  But why do you not have sleepovers during the week?"

Joey shrugged.  “Because, during the week, school’s in session, and Mom and Dad won’t let us have sleepovers on school nights.”  He made a face, then smiled.  “Luckily, that’s not a problem during summer vacation!  Or spring break.  Or Christmas vacation, either.”

Pippin scratched his neck.  "Is school a place?  I think you have a different idea of school than we do."

Joey nodded.  “It sure is.  It’s in a building, where teachers teach.  There’s a different teacher for each classroom.  School’s divided into different grades by ages.  I’m in the third grade with all the other kids my age.”

Pippin chewed and swallowed his own food before he answered.  “I didn’t go to a school.  The Shire doesn’t have schools like that.  We get educated by our families.  One of my relatives is the Tooks’ family tutor, and he taught me before we left.  My father taught me when I was little.  Before Frodo moved in with Bilbo, he was taught by one of his Brandybuck relatives, and so was Merry, by Frodo's uncle Dinodas.  After Bilbo adopted him, he taught Frodo his lessons.  Usually there are only one or two students at the same time, though sometimes Tooks have up to five.  There are a lot of relatives and cousins in the Great Smials.  I don't think most hobbits are taught outside their families, unless they are apprenticed to someone.”

Joey looked thoughtful.  “Uh, if there are no schools, did Sam ever learn to read?”

Pippin nodded, smiling.  “Thanks to Bilbo, he did!  His father doesn’t know how to read, and neither did his mother when she was alive, but Bilbo taught him his letters.  Because Sam and his father worked for Bilbo, Bilbo had the right to teach Sam since his own parents couldn’t.  He learned much from Bilbo.”  He looked thoughtful.  "I don't think I would like your type of school.  I think it would be very uncomfortable to be cooped up with a lot of strange people that are not even kin every day!"

Furrowing his eyebrows, Joey took another bite of his food.  He had never thought of that.  To him, it was just life—kids went to school.  End of story.  He had to go to school until he had grown up, and so did his brother and sisters.  Their parents and grandparents had had to go to school.  Everyone he knew had to, except for a few kids at his church who were homeschooled.  It seemed like all the hobbits were homeschooled.

"Things sure are strange in your homeland, Joey!" Pippin added.  But the conversation was cut short, as the cook came and told them to get ready for their duties.

-oo000oo-

The next morning, the two were awakened from their slumber on their cots at the foot of Boromir's bed by the clanging of bells.  They had both been exhausted after waiting on everyone at the feast the night before.  Joe's feet were really tired by the time it was over.

Joey sat up.  "What?  It's still dark outside!" he protested.

Pippin was also sitting up.  "I don't think it's going to get light, Joey."

Boromir spoke up from across the room.  "Pippin is right.  The Enemy has sent darkness ahead of his armies, that they may fight whether day or night.  I do not think we shall have respite with the Sun until this battle is fought."  Joey thought that Boromir sounded dreadfully grim and sad.

"Well," he said, remembering something he'd heard his pastor say once, "the Sun is still up there; Sauron can hide it, but he can't make it go away."  Joey thought maybe it would cheer them up a little to hear that.  Of course, his pastor had said "devil" instead of Sauron, but the principle was the same, he knew.  

Pippin chuckled.  "You have a point there, Joey."

Boromir smiled, and came over to ruffle Joey's hair.  "I shall try to remember that, Joey, when all is dark today, and the Enemy is knocking at the Gate.  But the two of you shall have much to occupy yourselves with, today.  I have many errands for you.  We shall stop at the buttery to break our fast as soon as you both are dressed.  And as soon as our fast is broken, Peregrin, I shall ask you to fetch Mithrandir for me."   Pippin nodded.

“What about me?” Joey asked.

Boromir smiled.  “Well, Joey, I have other tasks for you while Pippin is performing his own duties.  You and Pippin will be quite busy today, and so will I.”

And so began their busy day.  Once they had broken their fast with no more than bread, cheese, and some water, Pippin hied himself off to fetch Gandalf.  Joey waited impatiently for his own instructions.  Boromir spotted Beregond of the Guard as he and his son appeared to have finished their meal and were going to their duties.  Boromir summoned them over.  "Beregond, I would borrow your son from you today.  I wish him to accompany young Joey through the City on various errands."

“Yes, sir, Captain-General," Beregond said with a bow.  "Save that my son is expected at the Houses of Healing to assist the healers there today.  Can word be sent that you have commanded his service?"

"Of course.  In fact, his first errand with Joey shall be to report there, and give a message to the Head Healer, before both will go to take a message to my uncle, Prince Imrahil."

It was dark and dim all day.  At first, Joey's spirits were bolstered by Bergil's company.  It was so good to be around another kid once more; he had really missed being around other boys his age.  Pippin was not quite grown up by hobbit standards, but he wasn't really a kid.  He was closer to Kevin's age than his own.  Bergil was a little older, but not all that much.  Once or twice, they crossed paths with Pippin, who was busy with his own tasks, but they couldn't stop to talk.  There was a break at mid-day, but it didn't last very long.

And as the day went on and the gloom never ended, Joey found his mood flagging as well.  Even Bible verses and church songs in his head did not really cheer him up much.  But it wasn't like everybody else wasn't feeling all glum as well.  Far above a great cloud streamed slowly westward from the Black Land, devouring light as it came.  But more and more, everything felt like the very air was being sucked away, and it was hard to breathe.  It was like waiting for a disaster, like a tornado or something.  As Joey and Bergil trod glumly, with a message to the Citadel for the Master of the Keys, Lord Hurin, he wondered if Pippin was faring any better.

About the eleventh hour, released at last for a while from service, Pippin came out and went in search of food and drink to cheer his heavy heart and make his task of waiting more supportable.  He met Beregond in the mess hall, and they took their food out to the walls; for Pippin felt imprisoned indoors, and stifled even in the lofty citadel.  Now they sat side by side again in the embrasure looking eastward, where they had eaten and talked the day before.

It was nearly the time for sunset, but under the dark sky, they had hardly seen the Sun at all, and only since it began to seem darker still and the bell tolled, that they could know she had finally set in the West.  Pippin wondered what Joey was doing.

Already it seemed years to Pippin since he had sat there before, in some half-forgotten time when he had still been a hobbit.  Now he was one small soldier in a city preparing for a great assault, clad in the proud but sombre manner of the Tower of Guard.aöa

In some other time and place Pippin might have been pleased with his new array, but he knew now that he was taking part in no play; he was in deadly earnest the servant of a grim master in the greatest peril.  The hauberk was burdensome, and the helm weighed upon his head. His cloak he had cast aside upon the seat.  He turned his tired gaze away from the darkling fields below and yawned, and then he sighed.

“You are weary of this day?” said Beregond.

“Yes,” said Pippin, “very: tired out with idleness and waiting.  I've been running errands for Boro—I mean the Captain-General, and then sitting around waiting to run more errands.  And I'm not used, Master Beregond, to waiting hungry on others while they eat.  It is a sore trial for a hobbit, that.  No doubt you will think I should feel the honour more deeply.  But what is the good of such honour?  Indeed what is the good even of food and drink under this creeping shadow?  What does it mean?  The very air seems thick and brown!  Do you often have such glooms when the wind is in the East?'”

They heard someone come up behind them, and there was an answer.  "Nay, Pippin, this is a device of the Enemy, fumes of Mountain fire or worse, that he is sending to weaken Gondor and delay the City's preparations."

"Captain-General!" Beregond exclaimed, scrambling to his feet.  "I did not know you were here!"

Pippin, too, had jumped to attention at the sound of his liege's voice.

"Be at ease," Boromir said.  "I came up to see the lay of the land below, between the City and the River.  I was hoping to espy some sign of my brother returning out of the East.  But I did not intend to disturb your meal."  He stood behind them, with Hrimfax at his side.

Pippin glanced down at the crumbs left on their dishes.  "I fear we have finished all our food already, sir," he said with a regretful look to Boromir.  "I am sorry we do not have anything to share."

Boromir chuckled.  "I doubt me not that you would also wish for more for yourself as well.  But worry not, I have already had a bite, and that will suffice…"  What more he would have said, Pippin never knew, for suddenly as they talked they were stricken dumb, frozen as it were to listening stones. Pippin cowered down with his hands pressed to his ears; but Beregond, who had been looking out from the battlement when Boromir spoke of Faramir, remained there, stiffened, staring out with starting eyes.  Pippin knew the shuddering cry that he had heard: it was the same that he had heard long ago in the Marish of the Shire, but now it was grown in power and hatred, piercing the heart with a poisonous despair.

At last Beregond spoke with an effort.  “They have come!” he said.  “Take courage and look!  There are fell things below.”

Pippin climbed up to see, and Boromir moved forward to watch.  The warrior put an arm around Pippin to steady him.

The Pelennor lay dim beneath him, fading away to the scarce guessed line of the Great River.  But now wheeling swiftly across it, like shadows of untimely night, he saw in the air below him five birdlike forms, horrible as carrion-fowl yet greater than eagles, cruel as death. Now they swooped near, venturing almost within bowshot of the walls, now they circled away.

“Black Riders!” muttered Pippin.  “Black Riders of the air!  But see, Beregond!” he cried.  “They are looking for something, surely?  See how they wheel and swoop, always down to that point over there!  And can you see something moving on the ground?  Dark little things.  Yes, men on horses: four or five.  Ah!  I cannot stand it!  Gandalf!  Gandalf save us!”

Another long screech rose and fell, and he threw himself back again from the wall, panting like a hunted animal.  Faint and seemingly remote through that shuddering cry he heard winding up from below the sound of a trumpet ending on a long high note.

“Faramir!  The Lord Faramir!  It is his call!” cried Beregond.  “Brave heart!  But how can he win to the Gate, if these foul hell-hawks have other weapons than fear?  But look!  They hold on.  They will make the Gate.  No!  the horses are running mad.  Look!  the men are thrown; they are running on foot.  No, one is still up, but he rides back to the others.  That will be the Captain: he can master both beasts and men.  Ah!  there one of the foul things is stooping on him.  Help!  help!  Will no one go out to him?  Faramir!”

But the instant that Beregond spoke Faramir's name, Boromir snatched Pippin up and flung him upon Hrimfax's back, and swiftly mounted up behind him.  He wheeled the great stallion around and began to gallop down the winding City streets towards the Gate below.

With that Beregond sprang away and ran off into the gloom.






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