The Return of the King (Page 10)
Gandalf was not in the lodging and had sent no message; so Pippin went with Beregond and was made known to the men of the Third Company. And it seemed that Beregond got as much honour from it as his guest, for Pippin was very welcome. There had already been much talk in the citadel about Mithrandir’s companion and his long closeting with the Lord; and rumour declared that a Prince of the Halflings had come out of the North to offer allegiance to Gondor and five thousand swords. And some said that when the Riders came from Rohan each would bring behind him a halfling warrior, small maybe, but doughty.
Though Pippin had regretfully to destroy this hopeful tale, he could not be rid of his new rank, only fitting, men thought, to one befriended by Boromir and honoured by the Lord Denethor; and they thanked him for coming among them, and hung on his words and stories of the outlands, and gave him as much food and ale as he could wish. Indeed his only trouble was to be ‘wary’ according to the counsel of Gandalf, and not to let his tongue wag freely after the manner of a hobbit among friends.
At length Beregond rose. ‘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.’
He went out, and soon after all the others followed. The day was still fine, though it was growing hazy, and it was hot for March, even so far southwards. Pippin felt sleepy, but the lodging seemed cheerless, and he decided to go down and explore the City. He took a few morsels that he had saved to Shadowfax, and they were graciously accepted, though the horse seemed to have no lack. Then he walked on down many winding ways.
People stared much as he passed. To his face men were gravely courteous, saluting him after the manner of Gondor with bowed head and hands upon the breast; but behind him he heard many calls, as those out of doors cried to others within to come and see the Prince of the Halflings, the companion of Mithrandir. Many used some other tongue than the Common Speech, but it was not long before he learned at least what was meant by Ernil i Pheriannath and knew that his title had gone down before him into the City.
He came at last by arched streets and many fair alleys and pavements to the lowest and widest circle, and there he was directed to the Lampwrights’ Street, a broad way running towards the Great Gate. In it he 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 on to the grass. Boys were playing among the pillars, the only children that Pippin had seen in Minas Tirith, and he stopped to look at them. Presently one of them caught sight of him, 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, looking him up and down.
‘Greetings!’ said the lad. ‘Where do you come from? You are a stranger in the City.’
‘I was,’ said Pippin; ‘but they say I have become a man of Gondor.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘Maybe you could, if I let you,’ said Pippin 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.
‘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. I know him and he sent me 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 me on my head, you might show me round the City for a while and cheer my loneliness. 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.’
Bergil proved a good comrade, the best company Pippin had had since he parted from Merry, and soon they were laughing and talking gaily as they went about the streets, heedless of the many glances that men gave them. Before long they found themselves in a throng going towards the Great Gate. There Pippin went up much in the esteem of Bergil, for when he spoke his name and the pass-word the guard saluted him and let him pass through; and what was more, he allowed him to take his companion with him.
‘That is good!’ said Bergil. ‘We boys are no longer allowed to pass the Gate without an elder. Now we shall see better.’