The mess turned out to be a big room in the
undercroft of the Hall with three long wooden tables
standing on a stone flagged floor and whitewashed
walls hung with weapons and tattered banners of
strange design. It was empty except for the two of
them and look chilly and lonely.
Beregond knocked on a shuttered hatch, "Greetings,
Targon," he said to the Man who opened it, "I have the
Lord's new esquire here, he has just been released
from attendance and is hungry, give us what you can
The food proved reassuringly plain and homely;
cold, sliced meats, bread with butter and honey to go
on it, apples and nuts and yellow cheese, and a flagon
of ale. Pippin felt his appetite return with a rush.
Beregond, sipping a tankard to keep him company,
watched the the dishes empty with something like awe.
And Pippin, feeling much more like himself now the
hollow place inside was being filled, blurted
suddenly: "Why do you guard a dead tree?" and wanted
to bit his tongue the minute the words were out.
Luckily Beregond didn't seem offended, though he
looked rather sad - like Strider had when he told them
about Weathertop once being a great watchtower. "The
White Tree is the heart of Gondor, our banner and our
device." he explained.
"Yes, I see that." Pippin said carefully, and
indeed he did - trees were everywhere in the Citadel,
carved in stone or embroidered on banners and
surcoats. "But why not cut down the dead tree and
plant a new one?"
Beregond smiled ruefully at that. "We would like
nothing better, Master Peregrin, but we cannot find a
seedling to replace our Tree. The Line of Nimloth,
like the Line of the Kings, is extinct."
It was on the tip of his tongue to ask 'what about
Aragorn Isildur's Heir?' but this time he did bite it.
Old Strider was clearly sensitive subject here in
Gondor. Beregond might get just as angry as Denethor
had and Pippin didn't want that. "What and where is
Osgiliath, please. And why is it so important?" he
"Osgiliath was, long ago, the chief city of Gondor,
of which this was just a fortress." the Man answered
readily. "You can see its ruins on the banks of the
Great River if you look north and east from the walls.
It was deserted, then taken and burned by the Enemy.
But we retook it in the time of the last Steward to
hold as an outpost and a foothold on the eastern
bank." Beregond shook his head. "While we held it we
also held Mordor's power at bay. But I fear Faramir's
return means we have lost Osgiliath."
Pippin swallowed. "We have. But the Lord Denethor
is sending Faramir to get it back."
Beregond looked dismayed. "Surely not! How could
such an attempt succeed? And it would cost us Men we
cannot afford to lose - Faramir chief among them! And
yet -" he frowned in thought, "you say Faramir has
accepted this command?"
The Man took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "He
is bold, more bold than many deem, for Men these days
find it hard to believe that a captain may be wise in
ancient lore and yet a Man of hardihood and quick
judgment in the field." suddenly he smiled
depreciatingly. "And who am I to question the wisdom
of the Steward? Just a plain Man-at-arms of Gondor. No
doubt the Lord Denethor knows very well what he is
about, and Faramir too."
Pippin wished he could agree. "And where and what
exactly is Minas Morgul?" he asked next.
Beregond looked sad again. "Once it was Minas
Ithil, sister fortress to our own city, and the seat
of Isildur when he ruled as King in Gondor."
"But - I thought Isildur was *our* King, the King
of the North I mean." Pippin blurted, confused.
"So he was, after the death of his father Elendil."
Beregond explained kindly. "But before that her
governed Gondor with his brother Anarion from whom
descended the later Kings of Gondor, while Isildur's
line continued to rule in the North."
"I see." Pippin said, and he did. *Gracious me!
Aragorn really is King of Gondor just as Gandalf said,
but Denethor won't give up the throne to him. I wonder
The Man was still talking about Minas Ithil. "-
Like Osgiliath it fell to our Foe and so its name was
changed to Minas Morgul, Tower of Black Sorcery, and
it is become a place of evil and the stronghold of the
Enemy's chief lieutenant, the Lord of the Nazgul." he
saw Pippin's eyes widen and darken at the name and
said: "You know of them."
"We were hunted by them, my kinsmen and I."
Beregond looked at him with new respect. "We in the
City have seen them only from a distance, riding their
fell beasts of the air, yet that little was enough to
chill the blood of the bravest. To elude such hunters
was no small feat!"
Pippin shook his head. "We can't take much credit
for it, I'm afraid. It was old Strider who saved us."
Beregond's eyebrows raised in question and he hastily
explained: "A Ranger of the North who was our guide
and travelled with us. I think he's in Rohan now."
"We have heard of the happenings in Rohan."
Beregond said grimly, suddenly looking astonishly like
Aragorn in one of his darker moods. "The doings at
Isengard warn we are caught in a great net of
strategy. This war has been long planned and we are
but a piece in it, whatever pride may say.
"Great Armies of Men are moving in the far east,
beyond the inland sea, and south in Harad. And other
things stir in the Mirkwood and Misty Mountains. All
realms shall be put to the test - to stand or fall
beneath the Shadow. And how shall we stand? I fear
Minas Tirith will fall, and with her the world of
Pippin swallowed. Beregond made it sound so
hopeless and yet - "Gandalf fell but has returned and
is with us." he said with stubborn, Hobbitlike faith.
"We may stand, if only on one leg, or at least be left
still upon our knees."
Beregond's grim face broke suddenly into a smile.
"Well said, Peregrin! All things must come to an end
in their due time but Gondor shall not perish yet. If
Minas Tirith falls there are other fastnesses, and
secret ways of escape into the mountains. Hope will
live on in hidden valleys where the grass is green."
When they climbed out of the cellar dining room
into the open air of the Fountain court they found the
sun had set, leaving a sky still fiery in the west and
pale grey-blue everywhere the overcast of Mordor
"I hope to see you again, Beregond." Pippin said
sincerely. He could use a friend in this strange city.
The Man smiled. "You can scarcely avoid it,
Peregrin, but don't try to speak to me when I am on
duty as I am forbidden to reply or to take notice of
anything save my charge."
Pippin looked at the four guards standing still and
statuesque around the dead Tree, and nodded. "I
Gandalf was not at their lodging, nor did he come.
A pair of serving Men were let in by the guard just
after nightfall bearing a hot supper on trays which
they laid out on a table in the sitting room. Then lit
the fire and lamps before bowing themselves out.
Pippin did not enjoy his lonely meal. And as the
evening wore on his spirits fell. Where *was* Gandalf
and why didn't he come home? Didn't he need to eat and
sleep any more?
He was lying on his bed when he heard the door
below open. "Gandalf at last!" and tumbled down the
stairs to come to an abrupt halt on the landing.
Not Gandalf but the Lord Faramir stood, tall and
somber, in the sitting room below. He bowed slightly.
"Good evening, Master Peregrin. I have come hoping to
trade my tidings of your kin for news of my brother's
last days and of his death, if you are not too weary?"
"No." Pippin said hastily. "Not at all." Even
talking about Parth Galen was better than lying on his
bed thinking dark thoughts.
And so he told his story again, sitting with the
Man before the fire, each with a goblet of wine left
over from the supper in his hand.
Unshed tears sparkled in Faramir's eyes when it was
finished. "A valiant end, and one worthy of him. You
ease my heart, Peregrin."
"Lord Hurin said you saw Boromir in his boat on the
River." Pippin ventured.
The Man nodded. "Lapped in light as in clear
water." he said softly. Then: "All his life my brother
has been at war, now at last he has won peace and
through a victory the like of which few Men have
Pippin bowed his head, struggling against his own
tears. He couldn't help feeling that Boromir would
have much rather have stayed alive and come home to
his City. And though he knew in his head it was
nonsense his heart still insisted that somehow, some
way, he and Merry were to blame for Boromir being
"How did you meet Frodo?" he asked when he could
trust his voice.
"My Rangers ran across his trail as we laid an
ambush for Southron troops mustering to the Enemy."
Faramir answered. Smiled faintly. "I had never seen
Halflings before, though I had heard of them as
dwellers in the Northern lands, but Frodo refused to
tell me what errand had brought him and his gardener
to the marches of Mordor. And so I was distrustful and
detained them. Then I captured the creature Gollum -"
"Gollum!" Pippin burst out.
The Man shot him a quick, keen look. "You know
"I know *of* him. Uncle Bilbo got the -" he stopped
himself in some confusion, just in time. "That is to
Faramir smiled, a little grimly. "Your kinsman
Bilbo Baggins, the fame of whose deeds has reached us
even here in Gondor, got the Enemy's Ring from this
Gollum who had fished it up from the bottom of the
Great River where it had lain for many centuries."
Pippin stared, unsure whether or not to be alarmed.
"Yes, Peregrin, I know of the Ring." Faramir
continued quietly. "It was Gollum who told me. Only
then did Frodo confess his mission."
The Man sighed. "I was reluctant to let him go. It
seemed madness to send the Ring into the Enemy's own
country in the hands of two little Halflings. But in
the end Frodo and Sam made me see this is a case where
wisdom and prudence fail and only in folly is there
any hope at all."
"That's what Gandalf said," Pippin agreed as
somberly, "'just a fool's hope' but all we have. But
what was Gollum doing with Frodo?"
"He had taken the creature for his guide." the Man
answered. "I do not trust it, and told Frodo so, but
he said it had been faithful to its word and he
believed it would remain so."
"Frodo must know what he's doing." Pippin answered,
trying hard to believe it. "And Sam will take care of
"I hope so." said Faramir.
There was silence between them for a time, then
Pippin, fishing for information, asked: "Why is it
Gondor has no King?"
Faramir smiled wryly. "You mean why won't we give
our allegiance to your friend Aragorn?" Then laughed
out loud at the look on Pippin's face. "Yes, Peregrin,
I know about him too. Aragorn son of Arathorn,
Isildur's Heir. I hear he is in Rohan. Does he mean to
come to Gondor?"
"I don't know. I don't think he wants to, but
Boromir thought he should. I heard them arguing about
"So Frodo said as well." Faramir shook his head. "I
cannot see any good coming of a confrontation between
my father and this Aragorn - for all Boromir thought
Pippin couldn't help agreeing. Denethor had
practically foamed at the mouth at the very mention of
poor Strider's name. Who knew what he might do faced
with him in person. "But why are you so set against
Aragorn?" he asked plaintively.
"Because the Kingdoms in Exile were divided between
the sons of Elendil and Gondor is the patrimony of the
younger son, Anarion." the Man explained. "Though his
line has failed the Northern line still has no right
to the crown of Gondor - or so I was taught, and
"Boromir changed his mind. Maybe you will too after
you meet Aragorn." Pippin suggested hopefully.
"Maybe." Faramir said, but doubtfully.
"What happened to your Kings that there are none at
all left?" Pippin asked curiously. It certainly did
seem strange that Aragorn's line had managed to keep
going for generations, living as Rangers in the Wild,
while the rulers of this great city had vanished
"The last King died without begetting an heir." the
Man explained. "And in those days the descendants of
the Kings had become few. For since the Kin-strife,
when the Princes of the Blood challenged the true
heir's right to rule, our Kings had become jealous and
watchful even of their closest kin.
"To escape suspicion and persecution some Princes
fled into exile. But others chose to renounce their
lineage, for themselves and their heirs, by taking
wives not of Numenorean blood.
"Thus it was that no claimant to the crown could be
found who was of the pure blood of Westerness, or
whose claim all would allow. And so it is that Gondor
has no King but is ruled by Stewards."
"I see." said Pippin, though he didn't really.
Hobbits were no strangers to family strife but what
Faramir described went far beyond any such feud. "It
seems very sad."
"It is indeed." the Man agreed heavily and got with
some effort to his feet. "The hour grows late and we
both have duties on the morrow." offered his hand.
"Thank you, Peregrin, our talk has comforted me."
The clasp of the big, warm hand and the kindly
voice along with the gleam of firelight on fair hair
brought Boromir back to Pippin so vividly he had to
blink back tears. "You're welcome. I feel better too -
After seeing his guest to the door Pippin climbed
back up the stairs to lie again on his bed. He had a
great deal to think about - but instead he fell right