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3
III. Before the Black Gate (Pippin)



Pippin opened his eyes only to shut them tight again and wish he could go back to sleep. If he were to die today, and indeed it seemed like he would, why did it have to be in so miserable a place as this? The sun rose over gloomy skies and the tall, cruel towers of the Black Gate. Mordor! They had come to the Dark Lord’s dark land, and in not too long a time, they would go up against that Gate and the thousands of orcs and other fiends that lay behind it. Though in happier lands it was springtime, Pippin could see no grass, no trees, not a hint of life. Air and earth were grey, and the reek of Mordor rose from the ground to barren crags.

Pippin’s stomach rumbled. He remembered that he had not eaten a good meal in five days. What he wouldn’t give now for even the scraps that his mother saved for the cats and dogs at home!

The memory of plates heaped with bacon, poached eggs, toast drowning in butter and strawberry jam made Pippin’s heart ache as he slowly sat up, leaning on his hands. His shrunken belly rumbled again. Far to the north of this stinking place, hobbits would soon be rising, feeding their animals and making breakfast. But here, there was little provender left; and most of it was reserved for the horses. The army had traveled light and fast, carrying only what was needed for survival.

A Man’s booted feet appeared. Pippin looked up into the face of his friend Beregond.

“I thought you might like something to eat,” the tall Guardsman declared, hunkering down beside Pippin. From a worn satchel, he pulled out four strips of dried beef, a loaf of bread, and two battered apples. “And the Lord Elfstone sent this for you,” Beregond added, pulling out a small flask embossed with the star emblem of Strider's Rangers. “He said it was an Elvish cordial.”

“Miruvor!” Pippin exclaimed, hastily grasping the flask that Beregond proffered. He opened it and took a deep, lovely draught. He gave the uncapped flask back to the Guardsman, and watched the Man smile at the fresh, heartening tang of the cordial of Imladris.

Silently, they shared out the victuals, carving up the stale bread and jerky with their daggers, and then eating the apples, which were still quite tasty and juicy. Pippin’s belly was far from full when the food was gone, but he did feel much better. He thought wistfully of his pipe; but he had used up the last of his leaf during the chill midnight watches of the last few nights.

“No thank you,” he said, when Beregond passed him back the flask for a final drink. “You keep it; and drink to me when you can.”

“Well spoken, friend Peregrin;” Beregond answered, and returned the flask to his satchel. “I will save the last draught for us to share later.”

Pippin decided against saying that they would probably not live to see anything “later”. He smiled in agreement as he reached for his surcoat. “That was a good breakfast, Beregond; like the meal we shared on the battlements.” It seemed a long time past, that day when he had donned the livery of the Tower Guard for the first time. Only sixteen days, and now I go to die in it, he thought with a queer sort of calmness.

“That it was,” Beregond agreed, his eyes suddenly far away. He finished cleaning his dagger and sheathed it, then rose stiffly to tower above Pippin. “Come then, Master Peregrin. Day breaks and duty calls.”

Pippin pulled the surcoat over the hauberk of ringed mail, and set the winged helm of Gondor upon his head. His small sword was secure in its sheath, awaiting the coming battle. He hopped up briskly, ready as he would ever be for what was to come.

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