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21
A Pipe in the Night

A Pipe in the Night

They were headed back to their rooms when Pippin said suddenly, “I’m sorry, Strider, but I think I need a pipe after that.”

Those who’d served in the Northern Kingdom who smoked looked at one another, and all indicated the feel for the same. The King said quietly, “We will see the ladies to our wing, obtain our pipes, and go out then, gentlemen.”

The guard who opened the door was surprised to see so many going out together, including the two Hobbits and the Dwarf, but allowed them to enter the gardens, where the King, checking the direction of the wind, led them to the Eastern wall where they stood or sat half on and half off the wall and lit their pipes. And here Ankhrabi, accompanied by Rustovrid, found them some time later, their speech quiet, the King with his hand on the Hobbit Peregrin’s shoulder, the Dwarf glaring from under his brows. The ambassador to Gondor explained quietly, “They are smoking pipeweed, my Lord Prince. It is a practice of the far Northern lands, to breathe in the smoke of certain leaves as they smolder through the stem of what they call their pipes; and they find it is soothing. I suspect that Captain Peregrin is still upset and wished to calm himself. I am told almost all men of the people of the Pheriannath do this, and that they have taught the menfolk of surrounding lands to do the same.”

“I see,” the Farozi’s son said, and he came forward to join his father’s guests. They all looked at him somewhat warily, while the King examined him briefly in the dim light, then looked back to the East again. “I apologize, my Lords,” Ankhrabi said quietly in careful Westron, “for the behavior of my wife’s sister’s husband. It was unconscionable.”

The King looked down to meet the uplifted eyes of the Hobbit, who turned then and said with considerable dignity, “I, at least, accept your apology, and recognize that you offered no offense. Please don’t feel embarrassed on my account, my Lord Prince.”

The King said equally quietly to the Haradri prince, “None are angry with you, my Lord; nor do we blame you or your Lord Father. But to believe we would all lie about what Pippin had done--that was a shock to all of us.” He puffed a few more minutes on his pipe, then finally sighed and set it on the wall beside him. He sat looking down at his hand as illuminated in the starlight and at the glint of light reflected from the turn of the pipe’s bowl. Finally he looked again at his host’s son. “When I was here before, Lord Rustovrid’s father told me that he’d divided the forces of your land, setting the most honorable in the troops that provide internal security, and those whose ambitions or appetites would likely lead them to ill actions against others in those troops which were put at the disposal of Mordor.”

Slowly Ankhrabi and Lord Rustovrid looked to one another, then indicated agreement.

“I notice that the Lord Sherfiramun was among those who fought for Mordor.”

“Yes.”

“I see. Then be advised all of us will remain on guard when we must be around him.”

“It is understandable, my Lord An’Elessar.”

The King knocked the contents of his pipe out against the wall, then rose and stretched. “I believe, gentlemen, I will seek out my wife. I wish all of your wives were with us this night.”

There was a general round of agreement as others followed suit.

“We wish you a good night, my Lords,” Captain Peregrin said respectfully as he gave a graceful bow. The party from Gondor and Arnor went quietly back into the palace and to their own quarters.

Ankhrabi and Rustovrid stood looking after them. Rustovrid said very quietly, “It was very badly done by Sherfiramun. He does not know what he has done by forfeiting their respect. None will trust him.”

Ankhrabi sighed and said, equally softly, “And it is well they do not. He is not trustworthy--which is indeed why he was set in those forces that went North to join those of Mordor.”

They, too, went back into the palace.

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