A warning--sexual innuendos included herein.
Angrapain looked out the window of the study, watching the two Hobbits walking toward the Houses of Healing, his eyes following them with an interest Wasnior could only characterize as predatory. They’d been here in the house in the Sixth Circle for three days so far, and for three days they’d learned but little.
There’d been a death at one of the other houses not far North of the ramp to the level of the Citadel, and yesterday apparently the funeral had been held. A bier had been borne by their house carrying the body of one dressed in the black and silver of the Guard of the Citadel, borne South apparently to the gate to the Fifth Circle, to one of the common cemeteries out on the Pelennor, or so was likely. The Lord Steward Faramir had walked by what appeared to be the widow, and had later accompanied her back to her house. The Perian Guardsmen had been one of those who took part in the guard of honor for the Man.
A routine appeared to be emerging for those who lived in this Circle of the city. Each morning shortly after dawn the King himself came down the ramp accompanied by at least one guard to visit the Houses of Healing, although what he did there they couldn’t tell. He was usually there for an hour or two, then would return back up the ramp to the Citadel. Usually while he was there the one called Frodo Baggins would take his walk that way, and would remain inside for a time, returning finally past the lane Northward. Not long after noon the dark-haired Perian would do the same walk again, and then a third time in the evening. Sometimes he walked alone, and sometimes others would walk with him.
They’d learned the Prince of the Periannath was a Guardsman, complete with uniform and sword. His service appeared to be in the morning hours, and around the hour of dawn he’d be heading up the ramp to the Citadel, and was among those who regularly accompanied the King back down it for his visits to the Houses of Healing.
The one with the warm brown hair, dressed in a leather hauberk of greens, golds, and browns over mail, would go up the ramp with the Prince of the Periannath, and was often seen attending on young Eomer of Rohan throughout much of the day. He and the Prince would usually walk together back down the ramp in the afternoon headed back North; and yesterday it had been learned that these two went to the weapons practice in the practice yards near the guards barracks at the North end of the Sixth Circle. Belladon had gone out of boredom and had brought back the word that not only did they attend the practice, they appeared to be competent with weapons. This was a surprise to all, and added to the certainty that these odd Periannath were likely to be formidable adversaries.
The broader one had Beslor intrigued. He did not wear a weapon, although they’d learned he owned one. “I promise,” the one called Merry had said the preceding day as the two of them had stood near the ramp before Merry went to the weapons practice, “I’ll take care of it, Sam. But until I can afford a new one of my own----”
“Don’t you worry about it, Mr. Merry,” Sam had answered. “And I know as you’ll most like take better care of it than I would myself. Go on with you.” He’d watched after, smiling, as the taller Perian had hung the sword he’d been carrying from his silver belt. Then Sam had turned back to the boy in the outfit of a page of the Citadel who stood with him. “Now, we’ll see as to gettin’ more of the different fruits as is available here in Gondor. Anythin’ to tempt his appetite.” None of them questioned as to which one he was. Together Perian and boy had headed for the gate to the Fifth Circle.
The blond Elf had attended on the Perian Frodo the preceding day. The night of the feast he’d worn long silken robes and a carefully wrought circlet indicating his rank among his people, which was apparently high. During the day he wore leggings, soft boots, and silver and green shirt and finely worked leather jerkin, a white knife at his belt and a bow and quiver on his back. His blue eyes were clear and highly alert. The Dwarf had walked with them, talking familiarly with the other two, until he gently laid his hand on Frodo Baggins’s shoulder and said something which made both Perian and Elf laugh before he headed down through the city himself. No one had seen the Wizard the last two days--where he was and what he was doing they had no idea; but the idea that Mithrandir had supplanted Curunír as the White and as head to the White Council made them all wary of him.
Today Frodo and the one called Sam were walking toward the Houses of Healing, Sam apparently keeping up a running commentary as they went. “Anyways, Master, apparently old Strider has a few of them up there all in a tizzy, he does, as more is realizin’ as when they saw him last. And now his brothers and Gimli and Lord Faramir is wagerin’ on when the herb master for the Houses will finally recognize him. Not that Strider hasn’t been givin’ him hints, you know....” The words became harder to understand as they paced further South toward the Houses of Healing, but they could hear again a clear laugh from the dark-haired Frodo.
But when the return came, it was Frodo alone, and Angrapain gave a grunt of satisfaction and slipped out of the house, going quickly Northward himself as if on an errand. Wasnior watched after him with concern, hoping that this planned encounter didn’t lead to problems.
Frodo had left Sam at the gardens to the Houses of Healing. He intended to do his walk back to the barracks area, then return there and sit in the gardens for a time, just enjoying the green life there. He was finding during the last two days he missed such life here in this city of stone.
He seemed to be doing better the last few days, in spite of the death of the former guardsman. Pippin had attended the funeral as one of the guard of honor for the deceased, and Aragorn himself, with Frodo in attendance, had met the funeral party within the Rath Dinen at the large building which housed the remains of the Guards of the Citadel at the beginning of the Silent Street. Mistress Berilien had been eased knowing that her husband was given full honors for his service to Gondor and that no one held his last service to Lord Denethor against him. At the King’s assurance that she was welcome to remain in the house she and her husband had occupied for so long she smiled further. “We had only a daughter, and she has married a younger son to one of the lords of Pinnath Gelin. I’d never feel comfortable leaving my home so far behind.”
Pippin had appeared easy enough about all of it when they were in the Rath Dinen. But Frodo hadn’t been surprised when the cries of fear had come that night from the room Pippin shared with Merry, calling out for Beregond to see to the safety of Lord Faramir; and he’d risen and gone to sit by Pippin and ease him back to sleep. Sam had followed after, then saw him back to bed himself once Pippin was calmed. Again what Aragorn had said about the nightmares all were likely to have had proven true.
Frodo was singing one of Bilbo’s walking songs as he made his way to the North end of the Circle when he began to feel tired. There was a bit of low wall ahead he had found a good place to rest until the tiredness passed, and he made for it now, glad again for its presence as he sat down in the shade of a chestnut tree that grew in the garden of the house on the other side of the wall. This house appeared to be empty, and in looking at it he saw something that set all his Hobbit instincts to the fore--morels growing in a shaded area where runoff from the level of the Citadel apparently had cut a small stream in the soil, a dip which a former householder had apparently lined with shards of white stone to limit the amount of precious topsoil being carried off during times of rain. Well, if the house was empty, would anyone be concerned if Hobbits were to enter the yard and help themselves to the mushrooms growing there? He rather suspected they wouldn’t. Maybe when he was rested a bit, he’d go into that yard and for now forgo the rest of the walk to the barracks. Sam would appreciate having the mushrooms for use in preparing dinner, he knew....
“What is her name?”
Frodo whipped around, surprised to find he wasn’t alone. “I beg your pardon?”
Standing nearby was one of the Men from Umbar--not the older, oily individual he’d spoken with at the feast and the other day, but a younger individual, taller than his fellow, slender, with a sensuous lower lip and slightly hooded eyes. The Umbari gave a slow, suggestive smile. “The look on your face--when I have seen such hunger it has always been when the one with that look is thinking of the woman who stirs his mind. She is a woman of your people?”
Taken aback, Frodo looked at the Man blankly. “A woman of my people?” The moment he said it he wished he’d said nothing, knowing he’d sounded totally foolish. His face became paler.
“Unless--unless your taste runs not to women, but to----” The smile became even more suggestive, to the point of being lecherous. “Perhaps the one who sat by you at the feast? He appears to be most solicitous of you.”
“What?” Frodo didn’t understand what the Man meant at first; and then it hit him. He felt as if he must be flushing completely, although all Angrapain could see was that spots of pink were coloring the Perian’s cheeks. “Sam? You would think that Sam and I would---?”
“Or perhaps the taller one with the auburn curls? He is quite slender, and most endearing....”
Frodo heard the quiet approaching footsteps and recognized them, but didn’t turn away from his fascinated examination of this Man’s face. He could see that the Umbari’s eyes were becoming brighter with each suggestion he made, that his cheeks were becoming flushed.
The Man continued, “I am told he is a prince of your people, after all.”
The impropriety of the Man’s statements was suddenly forgotten as Frodo fastened on this last comment. He found himself wanting so just to laugh out loud. He searched the Man’s eyes, then asked, “You think that I would be attracted to one who is considered a prince?”
The Umbari’s shrug was elegant and deliberately sensuous. “Few things, my friend, are more--interesting--than the idea of knowing one intended to wield power.”
Frodo’s lip twitched. The manner in which the Man had said knowing had left no question as to his meaning, but Frodo found he could no longer feel insulted. “The idea of Peregrin Took wielding power at his time of life I do not find--interesting. Hilarious, yes; interesting, no.”
This was not the response the Umbari had expected, and he automatically straightened, perplexed. “Is he not a prince of your people?”
Frodo gave a contained shake to his head. “Didn’t you listen to what I told your companion at the feast, my lord? We Hobbits don’t have princes. Yes, my cousin Peregrin will be important one day, if his parents don’t skin him alive when we return home for what he’s done in leaving the Shire without permission. He’s not of age as yet, you see. But considering him a prince----” He shook his head. “He is our sweet Pippin, and is definitely endearing as you suggested; but I would no more consider him as a--lover--than I would a fish swimming in the Brandywine. And the Thain does not wield power--he has a good deal of authority, yes; but no power as such. Anyone who doesn’t care to do what the Thain feels ought to be done can and will tell him just where he can take his orders.”
“The Thain is the ruler of your land?”
“The ruler of our land, my lord, is standing behind you.”
Angrapain turned around, looking down, expecting to see the fourth Perian, the one with the warm brown hair, standing there. Instead he found himself looking at a Man’s legs encased in practice garb. He followed the body upwards until he found himself looking into the keen grey eyes of the Lord King Elessar, who had paused on his way to the weapons practice beyond the barracks buildings with his companions to see just what kind of conversation this one from Umbar was having with Frodo Baggins.
“Tell me, Frodo--does Pippin have one with whom he has an understanding in the Shire?” the King asked.
“Pippin? No, not as yet. He’s not yet shown much of an interest in lasses in that fashion. Oh, he’s kissed one or two, I think; but as one was Estella Bolger and that was on a dare and she’s not the least interested in him, I don’t think there’s much chance of anything coming of it, particularly as she is several years older than he. Now, in Sam’s case it’s quite different, for there’s never been any question as to the one he’s been interested in in that way, not in all the years I’ve known him.”
“Young Mistress Cotton, I understand.”
“Young Miss Cotton, my Lord Aragorn.”
“Forgive me--I’d forgotten there was a term to indicate an unmarried lady among the folk of the Shire.”
“You are forgiven, my Lord. Sam has told you of this?”
“No, Merry told me as we entered the city. And is there one for you?”
Frodo gave a long evaluative stare. Finally he said, “Well, I see that the others and Gandalf have at least remained discrete about that part of my affairs.” He rose. “If you will forgive me, my Lady Éowyn, Lord Éomer, Lord Faramir, Lord Hardorn, my Lord Aragorn.” He turned back to Angrapain. “You asked the name of the one of whom I thought with such hunger. The name is morel, sir.” He gave a bow and turned back toward the lane on which stood his house and walked away.
All watched him go. After a moment Aragorn smiled. “Well, that was interesting. And that he should think about morels is a good sign, I think, as it shows he is returning to normal Hobbit interests.”
Éomer shook his head. “This Morel is a woman among the Halflings?”
Aragorn started to chuckle, and Hardorn actually gave a true laugh. “No, a morel is a type of mushroom. Such are greatly favored among the Periannath.”
Angrapain’s face flushed. The two Kings and those accompanying them continued on to the practice grounds, and he was left standing by the low wall, feeling very foolish.