The door knocker sounded, echoing through the stairwell to the upstairs rooms of the house.
Beregond, startled, looked up from the letter he was writing to his father and sister in Lossarnach. Apart from his neighbour, a young woman who came over for cleaning the house and washing regularly and cooked for them from time to time, they had not had any visitors for the last three days; it seemed word had got out about the King’s instruction that they both take a few days’ time to come to terms with events in peace. Even Diegan had left them, finally seeking his own home and family, which had sent greetings and promised a visit at a later date.
While he heard Bergil hurrying out of his chamber down the stairs to open the door, Beregond finished his last sentence, before putting the quill away and sealing the ink well, slowly, wondering who this visitor could be.
He was not sure if he wanted any visitors, yet.
On the one hand, he had appreciated this time alone with his son enormously. The mere chance to calm both their strained nerves had been an invaluable help, he thought. And to be with Bergil without interruptions for any length of time was a precious gift in itself, which he seldom, too seldom, could enjoy at other times. He was somewhat reluctant to see it pass now.
But on the other hand it would be good, especially for Bergil, to have someone else to talk to for a while. He had been cooped up at home for long enough now, apart from some necessary purchases of provisions, and daily visits to Iorlas.
They had not even gone to The Ship and Bough, after all, on the day of the King’s ruling. Beregond had felt uncomfortable about being seen in public as if he were celebrating blithely, as if the loss of life he had been responsible for did not mean anything to him. And although he had regretted missing out on a good meal and perhaps a chance for a pleasant talk with Mistress Almarian, he had been quite adamant in this decision despite Bergil’s protests. The issues entangled in the King’s decision were too serious for that. In the end, Bergil had grumblingly yielded to his father’s request that they stay at home to recuperate in solitude.
Beregond suspected that Bergil had been as overwrought and mentally tired as he was, but had not wanted to admit it. Staying at home so long must seem as a punishment for such an active lad as he was, especially after all that running around on errands which had so suddenly stopped after his father’s suspension from duty.
And surely, a change from the mostly serious discussions they had had of late would be good for both of them.
It had been difficult, sometimes gruelling, to talk about their experiences: Of what Bergil had gone through during the siege. Of Bergil’s fears for his father, of his anger at him for putting himself in such a situation. Of his fear of being left all alone, an orphan like all too many other children in the city. Of his nightmares.
Beregond doubted that Bergil had spoken about this to Diegan, at least to any great extent. As much as his son liked Diegan, Beregond suspected that it would have seemed disloyal to the lad to speak about his father to someone else, especially when some of those feelings had been negative ones. It had taken him some time and many assurances before he had managed to persuade Bergil to admit them in the first place, and then to reassure him that those feelings were very understandable and nothing to be ashamed of, and that he was not in the least angry with him for having them.
It had been difficult for Beregond, too, to keep his promise and talk about his own experiences. To relive the events of that day in Rath Dínen, of the march towards Mordor and the battle at the Black Gate.
He was not certain, even now, if he had done the right thing by Bergil in talking so freely of his own fears and doubts during that time. Perhaps it would have been better to omit some things from his narrative, as he had done in glossing over the more violent and gruesome details of the actual fighting. He had always been honest when talking to his son, and Bergil had seemed to appreciate his frankness in this case, as well, but all the same...
Following his son downstairs while rolling his sleeves back down to his wrists, Beregond heard a familiar voice answering a surprised exclamation from Bergil.
“Hullo to you, too, Bergil. I hope I am not intruding?”
The last was addressed to Beregond, who, upon identifying his visitor, had rushed to his son’s side. A wide smile spreading over his face, he shook his head firmly, going on one knee to clap their visitor on the shoulder.
“On the contrary! What a pleasant surprise, Master Perian!”
The long-suffering sigh of the Hobbit at this address only made Beregond grin wider. “Pippin, you are very welcome. Please, come in, come in!” The Hobbit let himself be ushered into the main room and onto the comfortably cushioned bench, while Bergil found him a stool to put his feet on.
“Bergil, do not stand there bouncing like a grasshopper,” Beregond then chided indulgently, shaking his head at his son, who was indeed skipping from one foot to the other in his excitement. “Ask our visitor if you might offer him some refreshments!” Winking at him, he added in an overdone aside, “You will not receive ‘no’ for an answer, I am fairly sure.”
All three broke into laughter, and Pippin admitted with demurely lowered eyes as how “a little something” would suit him just fine. ”My stomach tells me it is going on to teatime,” he added mock-defensively.
Beregond excused himself to go into the kitchen at the rear of the house to prepare the promised snacks. He was rather surprised when Pippin immediately offered to help. But the matter-of-factness of the offer suggested that it was by no means unusual in the Shire for a guest to join the host in preparing a meal. Perhaps such a custom was to be expected, considering how often Hobbits seemed to eat: If they did not pop into each other’s kitchens, they would probably never find the time for extended chats, another favourite pastime of theirs, or so he had gathered in conversations with Pippin.
In no time at all, Pippin seemed at home in the unfamiliar, well-stocked kitchen, and was bustling about as if this were not his first visit. When they withdrew back to the main room with a generously laden tray, Beregond had the feeling that he had discovered an important fact of the nature of the Pheriannath.
Looking over at his guest, who was helping Bergil pour tea into their mugs before selecting various dishes for his plate, Beregond thought the Hobbit looked oddly unfamiliar to his eyes. It actually took a few moments before he identified the reason: All the other times he had seen him except the very first time they had met, Pippin had always been clothed as a guard of the city, whereas now he wore civilian clothes again.
It seemed Bergil’s thought had gone in a similar direction – after they had observed the Standing Silence, Bergil nodded his head towards Pippin and asked, “Why are you not wearing your uniform, Pippin? Did the King release you from his service?”
Pippin’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “No, indeed! Why would Strid... Aragorn do such a thing?”
Beregond asked his son, “Did I not tell you that Pippin was even knighted in Cormallen?” At Bergil’s shake of the head he continued, “I am sorry. With all that has happened, it must have slipped my mind.” He looked at Pippin and said, only half in jest, “I beg your pardon, Pippin, that was a serious oversight on my part.”
Grinning, Pippin waved his apology aside. “It was nice of Strid... Aragorn – oh, I must learn to use his proper name, now! Must I call him Elessar? Or ‘Your Majesty’? He has altogether too many names, he does. Perhaps I shall stick to Strider, after all. Erm, where was I...? Yes, it was a nice gesture, but I guess you Big Folk find those lofty titles more important than we Hobbits do. And to answer your original question, Bergil, I am not on duty now, so I wear my own clothes, so to speak.”
Bergil looked sceptical at the thought of someone so lightly dismissing such an honour as being dubbed a knight by the King himself. “Do you not have any knights in the Shire, Pippin?”
“No, we do not.” Pippin made a droll face. “And I rather think my three sisters are going to laugh themselves silly if I tell them that someone made one of their baby brother, of all people.”
“Oh, girls!” Bergil sniffed derisively.
Beregond and Pippin broke out in loud laughter at that.
Bergil wrinkled his nose but said nothing more, instead filling his plate once more and tucking in.
After some munching, he came back to the previous topic by remarking, “So, do all Hobbits wear clothes such as these?”
“Something similar in style and cut, yes. But we seldom use such fine cloth, except for the most festive of occasions.” Pippin fingered the silk of his emerald green vest. “Not all Hobbits can afford such fine cloth at all. My family does, of course, but even we do not go around wearing silks and satin every day. Although there are a few rather... hm... pretentious relatives... Oh, and naturally, there is Lobelia Sackville-Baggins...” He made a comical grimace, before continuing, “And they would be very unpractical for farming or gardening or such activities in any case. Why, I remember one time Vinca – my sister Pervinca who is five years older than I – getting into much trouble with my mother because she played with her friends in the dusty Mathom-house in Michel Delving, wearing her best velvet skirts. Much hue and cry on all sides! And...”
“Mathom-house?” Bergil interjected, clearly puzzled
”Bergil, it is not very polite to interrupt people,” admonished Beregond, but Pippin made a kindly gesture to show he was not angry.
”A Mathom-house is a place to store mathoms, for example if you have so many that your home gets too crowded with them,“ he explained.
When Bergil still looked uncomprehending, Beregond explained to the Hobbit, “He does not understand the word ‘mathom’, Pippin. And neither do I. I assume it is a word particular to the Shire. Like ‘smial’, and ‘tween’, and ‘elevenses’.”
”Ah!” exclaimed Pippin, grinning. “You really did make a list like you said you planned to do!
At Beregond’s confirming smile, Pippin rubbed his hands, considering. “Well, I did tell both of you that when Hobbits celebrate their birthdays, they give presents, instead of receiving them like it is here in Gondor, did I not? Usually, those are small gifts which are practical, or which the one who gets them needs, or flowers, or food – a very popular choice as you may imagine – or toys for children. But there are some presents that have no immediate use, and can only be put somewhere to look at. And if you have many of those, or do not have much space, they can quickly clutter your home. Some of them keep wandering as gifts to the next owner, but most of those are given to the Mathom-house and can be viewed there by all Hobbits. That day at the Free Fair on Midsummer, some of us children were interested in the mithril-coat you will know Frodo wore during his journey. Bilbo brought it back from his adventures with the Dwarves and put it up in Michel Delving for many years, until he took it with him when he went to the Elves.”
He cleared his throat, grinning half in mischief, half in embarrassment. “We wanted to take a look at the mail-coat because Bilbo had just recently told us the story of Smaug the Dragon...”
Bergil perked up at that even more, which did not go unnoticed. “...I can tell the story, if you like, but I suggest you ask Sam: It is one of his favourites, and he tells it much better than I can, almost as well as Bilbo himself... Anyway, Vinca pulled a chest to the place where the mithril-coat hung on its rack, tried to clamber on it, caught and ripped her dress on a few splinters and then fell in a basket full of dusty old tapestries that someone had obviously collected to beat out, but which then had been forgotten beside the rack. And luckily Vinca never told our parents that I had played with them, in my new vest, to boot – but I was much more careful than she anyway!” The Hobbit grinned roguishly in remembrance, then looked himself over once more.
“In fact, I do not think I have ever worn such fine clothes as they have made us here in Minas Tirith, except, perhaps, for some of the things the Elves gave us in Lothlórien.”
This remark led Bergil to demand the story of their stay in the Golden Wood. Pippin obliged readily, although Beregond noticed flashes of sorrow passing over the Hobbit’s face during the narrative whenever Boromir was mentioned. Pippin’s sadness was countered by the eagerness in Bergil’s shining eyes, and his demands for more anecdotes about the late Captain-General during the journey of the Fellowship: Boromir had been Bergil’s hero since he had been a small child waving at him from his father’s arm upon a victorious return of the army to the city.
Beregond was not surprised when the Hobbit was uncharacteristically reticent on the subject and did not volunteer more than a few comical tales about Boromir trying to teach him and his cousin Merry sword-fighting, or about some more or less friendly squabbles between him, Gimli and Legolas.
And it came as no surprise, either, when the Hobbit, after having apparently satisfied Bergil’s curiosity for the moment, was quick to turn the subject to other things by pointing at the bread he was nibbling and remarking, “This herbal bread is delicious – and it smells as if freshly baked.”
“It is,” said Bergil, “Mistress Almarian gave it to me when I brought her some more herbs from the garden an hour ago.”
The name was unknown to the Hobbit, so Bergil proceeded to explain that she was the sister of the landlord of The Ship and Bough where she worked as a cook, and how she also cooked for the errand-boys of the Old Guesthouse, and how good her meals always tasted, and how nice she was.
Pippin grinned at this enthusiastic praise, and shared a surreptitious wink and a smile with Beregond. He solemnly promised Bergil that he would visit the inn as soon as possible to discover for himself the quality of the kitchen. “As a Hobbit I am uniquely qualified to judge the excellence of food!” he declared.
He then turned his attention to another subject matter which Beregond knew was of general interest to all Hobbits.
“When you say you brought herbs to the admirable Mistress Almarian – does that mean that the big garden behind the house is yours?” he asked. “I had already noticed it when I came; it is so rarely that one can see such a relatively large green place in the city. I must tell Sam about it, he was bemoaning the fact that there were too much stone and too little gardens in Minas Tirith for his liking. And according to Gimli, Legolas also remarked upon it when they first entered the city after the siege.”(1)
Beregond said, “Actually, the garden is shared between our house and the two others around it. It is too big a garden for one household alone, especially as there are mostly small families living in this area, so there are some beds set aside for each home for individual planting, and some are shared.”
At the time of its creation, the garden had surely been an immaculate, pristine ornamental garden, but had in the intervening decades and decades deteriorated into an untended, overgrown tangle, where the children of the tenants, among them Bergil, had liked to play. More recently it had been changed yet again, this time into a more practical kitchen garden, growing vegetables, greens and some herbs for the use of the residents, with a few flowerbeds and some fruit trees mingled in between.
“I do not think you have had much chance to visit private homes, have you?” After Pippin’s headshake Beregond continued, “There are gardens in Minas Tirith, but not many, it is true. Most of them are attached to the large houses of the nobles or richer people in the upper levels. In the lower circles, houses are usually smaller and more crowded together, so there is not that much space to put a garden. Or the people to tend it. As you have surely noticed, many houses have been standing unoccupied and empty for a long time. Hopefully, that will change now.”
Pippin said, “Gimli also told me that Legolas promised to help bring more green to the city, and that he would try to convince some of his own folk to come here to help in the rebuilding and to make the city even more beautiful.” (2)
With obvious relish, he then dedicated himself once more to the herbal bread, spreading some of the creamy goat’s cheese from Tarnost on it, and looked curiously around the room.
“Do you know... this is the first time I actually see the interior of a normal, inhabited family home of Men?”
“Really?” asked Bergil, amazed.
“Yes, it is true. Well, not that there was that much opportunity on our journey or after I came here. In Rohan there was just the one night in Meduseld, which is the King’s hall, and here in Minas Tirith it has been our lodging that Lord Denethor...” He faltered at the name, and a haunted, grieving look came into his eyes.
Beregond kept his face carefully blank and noticed Bergil fidgeting in his seat, biting his lip with a frown on his face.
Pippin visibly gathered himself, and after clearing his throat he resumed, “...that Lord Denethor assigned to Gandalf and me on our arrival. That guesthouse, some of the buildings up in the seventh circle, and the Houses of Healing have been the only buildings I have entered so far. And the nice house we are now living in, of course.”
Beregond noticed Pippin had actually left out one building he had also entered– the House of the Stewards in Rath Dínen. But he certainly could not fault him for this omission.
“Shall I show you around?” asked Bergil, and Beregond looked at his son, rather proud that the lad had not only noticed the awkwardness of the moment, but also stepped so adroitly into the breach now.
“Please do,” seized Pippin the opportunity, undoubtedly relieved as well by the chance to steer clear off the topic. “If it is all right with you, Beregond.”
“Why ever not? I would be curious to know if my humble abode greatly differs from that of the ‘Ernil i Pheriannath’.”
Now laughing, Pippin retorted, “Two differences I have already spotted: The front door is not round, and the knob is on the side rather than in the middle.” He paused, then said, deadpan, “Well, that – and the ceilings are much higher.”
Beregond shook his head in amusement, even more so at Bergil’s giggles. Hearing his son’s uninhibited laughter lifted his spirits as always, conscious as he was of how seldom he had heard it of late.
“Master Pippin, the latter notion never would have occurred to me!” he commented dryly, then teased, “As you already know our kitchen inside-out, we shall omit this room from the tour.”
Pippin, not in the least abashed, said, “I would not mind seeing it again. A nice kitchen is always worth seeing more than once, to a Hobbit’s way of thinking.”
And so Bergil led the way, grinning, into the kitchen once more, where Pippin made a great show of looking around and admiring furniture, kitchenware and utensils, before they went on to the other rooms.
It was a two-storied house on the south-east side of the fourth level, with one long side of the house facing the garden, and the front view looking on a quiet side street. With two others of similar kind it was situated on a plot of land that must once have been the estate of a prosperous merchant or minor noble in bygone days, arranged on three sides around the garden. It consisted of the generous main room, the kitchen, a small tiled chamber used for bathing and washing, and two narrow rooms for storage on the ground floor; and four small upstairs rooms, two the bedrooms of the family and the third used as Beregond’s study. The last room served occasionally as a guestroom – Diegan had slept there when he had come to keep Bergil company – and to deposit some odds and ends.
Beregond wondered, again, for how long he and Bergil would be able to call this “home”, given the King’s ambiguous edict, and how soon he must truly ‘go forth from the City of Minas Tirith’ (4). He hoped that, at least for the time being, they would both be allowed to stay here in their home in the city – if not for his own sake, then at least for Bergil’s. It was one of the most pressing questions he would have to ask tomorrow, particularly in light of the fact that, to his knowledge, there existed no accommodations in Ithilien ready for the use of the new White Company, even less for members of their families.
His late wife had found the location of their present home when they had searched for a place in Minas Tirith to build a home and family together, and they had been very happy here, until she and their daughter had died.
Beregond had wanted to move out at first, not wishing to confront the absence, the emptiness where Faelivrin had been before. But he had abstained, for the sake of his son, whom he had not wanted to be torn away from familiar surroundings on top of the shock of losing his mother and baby sister.
After the first sharp pang of grief had passed, Beregond had learned to be thankful for his decision. Now, a vase she had loved and always had kept filled with flowers, or the chest that had come as part of her dowry, brought him warm, loving memories, instead of leaving him helplessly bewildered with bereavement.
Recently he had, with Bergil’s agreement, even brought back the portrait of Faelivrin that he had stored in his father’s house in Lossarnach after her death because he could not bear having it at home.
Seeing Pippin’s eyes linger on the painting hanging on the wall opposite the bench where he sat again as they ended their little exploration, he explained with as much equanimity as he could muster, “My wife, Faelivrin. I think I mentioned her?”
The Hobbit’s eyes were sombre now and full of compassion. He nodded and said quietly, “She looks beautiful and full of joy.”
Beregond said, with a constricted throat, “She was all that. An artist friend of the family painted the picture just after Bergil was born.”
An awkward pause ensued, broken after some moments by Pippin clearing his throat, and standing up to gently squeeze first Beregond’s and then Bergil’s shoulder. He re-seated himself next to the latter, and patted his hands.
(1), (2) RotK, The Last Debate
(3) RotK, The Pyre of Denethor
(4) RotK, The Steward and the King
Thanks once again to my beta readers Gwídhiel and Lady Masterblott.
(1), (2) RotK, The Last Debate
(3) RotK, The Pyre of Denethor
(4) RotK, The Steward and the King
Thanks once again to my beta readers Gwídhiel and Lady Masterblott.