WRITING FOR A CHANGE 14

Still afflicted with snooziness, and having bloodtests on Monday.

So here’s another old bit of writing, in fact my first ever attempt at an aprés-Tolkien story.

One starry night in Gondor; a tale of Peregrin and Meriadoc

Two guards stood in the Court of the Fountain where the White Tree grew tall. Through the long evening they had been there, watching the passing of the King’s guests through the gate and across the Court as they came to attend the feast in honour of the Periannath. As darkness thickened and the night grew chill, they had not moved or spoken, apart from the steady flicker of their deep grey eyes about the paved and grassed areas, looking at the Tree, the Fountain, the walls, the door into the Tower that led to the Great Hall; always watchful even in this sixty-third year of the King’s peace.

The only reward for their vigilance on this evening of enjoyment had been the emergence from the Hall, some few moments before, of a small figure, no more than half the height of these tall Men of Gondor, and moreover stooped, with age it seemed. Nodding politely to the two Guards, this little figure had crossed the greensward and the paving until he came to the parapet that surrounded the court. Here he stopped, clambered up into an embrasure that gave him a view over the Pelennor and the gleaming Anduin below the stars, and sat down. Soon the two men saw a glimmer of red light and a faint trail of greyness that indicated the Lord Meriadoc of the North Kingdom had ignited his pipe-weed. Solemn as they were, the pair could not refrain from glancing swiftly at each other, faint smiles crossing their faces. Pipe-weed! Surely no King of Gondor before the great Lord Elessar had ever indulged in such strange pastimes – and he had learnt it from these little people.

Then for a long time could be heard nothing but the song of the fountain and the singing of the night-breeze in the branches of the trees. All was still except for the flicker of the torchlight about the court, the answering red gleams in the great mithril helms of the guards, and the drifting smoke from Meriadoc’s pipe. Unnoticed by all save the guards, the small figure remained there even when, with much laughter and merriment, the guests of the King departed. Ever courteous, the King and Queen came forth to the door of the tower to bid farewell to the guests, and by ones and twos and threes the great company set off down the winding ways of the city. Princes and elves, dwarves and noblemen, ladies and damsels all made their obeisances to the royal couple, and departed. Last of all came a second small figure, moving into the circle of lamplight where King Elessar and Queen Undomiel stood. His curly hair flashed silver in the flickering flame, and he spoke familiarly to the King.

“Well, Strider, you’ve done us proud again. If the greatness of your realm were to depend on the quality of the cooking in the Royal kitchen, then it would never be surpassed.”

Again a glance passed between the two guards, and something like a smile. Strider! In all of Middle-Earth, only these two old hobbits addressed the King with such familiarity. And his majesty appeared to enjoy it. Smiling at the speaker, he answered, “Pippin Took, you grow fonder of the pleasures of the table with every year that passes. Now that you are to make your home with us, we shall need to employ a whole army of cooks to ensure your continued satisfaction.”

Before Lord Peregrin could reply, the low sweet voice of the Queen broke in. “Nay, My Lord, it were better that we send at once to the Shire to recruit a dozen or so of Halfling cooks, for none else can hope to meet the fine requirements of our friends.” Then the three laughed together, while answering smiles wreathed the faces of the guards. Who could be solemn on such a night, when the King’s happiness at the coming of his two friends was so deep?

Now Lord Peregrin began to look about him, and spoke to the guards. “Have you seen anything of Merry – Lord Meriadoc, I should say? He left the feast long before any one else but no-one saw where he went.”

“Nay, my Lord, there is no need to fear – he is safe enough. We two have been watching over him; he is yonder on the battlements, enjoying the cool air and the stars of Gondor.”

With a bow to the King and Queen, who withdrew into the tower, and a nod to the guards, Peregrin set off across the court, enjoying the feel of the cool marble slabs and then the softness of the grass upon his bare hobbit toes. Simple pleasures were still the best, he reflected, however old one became. Reaching the battlements, he paused, and looked up at his old friend, who had not moved or shown any sign of noticing Peregrin’s approach. He stared out over the Pelennor, his back turned to the tower and the court, and Peregrin thought he heard a soft sigh escape Meriadoc’s lips.

”Merry old chap,” he said softly, “is there anything I can do?”

Meriadoc turned, and in the silver starlight Peregrin saw the trail of tears on his old friend’s face. “It was hard to say goodbye, Pippin, very hard.”

Peregrin clambered up to sit beside Meriadoc, and put one arm around his shoulders. They sat together for a while in silence. At last Peregrin said, “Sitting here under the stars it seems as if one can feel the world turning, Merry. And it turns on and on and leaves so much behind, all that we have seen, all those we have known, all the stories we have heard. And there will only be a few mores turns for us, old friend.”

“O, Pip! That is just what I was thinking. How can it be sixty years and three since I wept by Theoden’s mound? And now they have started a new line of mounds, and Eomer, Eomer who is in my mind ever young and strong and brave, lies beneath it! Where are all the years, Pippin?”

“The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?”

Meriadoc sadly chanted his reply, and as he sang they both seemed to see before them the host of the Rohirrim, proud and strong in the morning of the King’s return. Across the court the guards heard the lament, and felt their hearts stir within them, remembering the dark years the world had passed through to come to these days of peace.

The two hobbits rose, a little stiffly, from their seats high above the plain, and turning away from the view across the lands, they came down into the court again. Hand in hand like two children they wandered over to the White Tree, where they stood looking up into its fair branches.

“When we were naughty little children, long ago in the quiet of the Shire, I never though there were places like this, or any places different from the Shire itself. I certainly never imagined, Merry, that we would travel the long roads we have travelled or sit among the company we have known. And in our wildest dreams, we would not have imagined we would end our days in the company of Kings.”

At this one of the guards spoke out boldly. “Dear Lords, do not speak words of ill-omen! Many years ye have before ye in the bliss of the King’s company, and in the care of the Queen.”

“Bergil!” both the hobbits cried out at once, and gladness was in their voices. “I did not recognise you there,” added Peregrin. The two crossed to Bergil’s side, and took him by the hand in turn. For a while the old friends spoke together of memories and of lost friends. Then at last Meriadoc and Peregrin turned towards the door into the tower.

“Goodnight, brave Bergil! May you and your comrade have a still watch for the rest of the night,” cried Merry. “We shall sleep the sounder for knowing you are guarding us,” Pippin laughed. “And however long or short our years now may be, we are glad to be passing them in Gondor, for of all the realms of Middle-Earth this is now the fairest to us, and the greater part of our friends and loved ones dwell here or may be found here at whiles. So peace to you both, good guards, and goodnight.”

They walked on together until they passed beyond the sight of the two guards; and still silence returned to the Court of the Fountain, save for the eternal voices of the falling waters, and the whispering leaves.

starry-night

(c) Jeff Bartlett

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