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Chance Encounter  by Dreamflower


Faramir sat back after hearing Menelcar's and Pippin's account of how the young hobbit had very nearly run off with Menelcar to become his apprentice.

"If it hadn't been for good old Frodo, I would have made a dreadful mistake, and got poor Menelcar into all sorts of troubles."

"Yes," said Menelcar, "I was very grateful to Master Frodo for sparing me the Thain's wrath. My lord, this devious lad led me to believe he was of age. Of course a good deal of it was my own ignorance of hobbits. I did not realize that they do not come of age until thirty-three."

Merry looked at Pippin. "You know, Pip, you never did tell me how Uncle Paladin reacted after you got home. I expected you to be confined to your room for months."

Pippin shook his head. "By the time I got home from Buckland, his anger had cooled a bit. And I have no idea what Frodo told him, but all he did was have a long talk with me, and explain a few things that I hadn't known before. He did caution me about being so quick to take up with strangers, but that was about all."

Merry looked at him skeptically. "Are we talking about the same Paladin Took--your father, my uncle, my mother's brother? The one with the legendary temper?"

Pippin nodded. "That's so. If you recall, we'd been getting on a good deal better after that than we had since I turned twenty." His face clouded. "I hate to think, though, what he thought of my leaving the Shire the way I did. I'm afraid you and Frodo will get the rough edge of his tongue when we return."

Merry sighed, and the two of them looked a bit wistful. Faramir thought that they might very well be glad of a tongue-lashing, if they could only go home. The Steward looked at the minstrel, who had been listening to the exchange with a good deal of interest.

"Master Menelcar, you said you had been away from the White City for more than twenty years. What brought you to return?"

Menelcar drew out his pipe, and looked a question at his companions. Faramir and Éowyn nodded, and Merry and Pippin grinned and took their own out. They lit up, watched with resignation by the Steward, and fascination by Éowyn. She was intrigued by this smoking business. And there was something about the minstrel that tugged at her memory...

Pipes lit, the bard sent up a puff of smoke as he began to speak. "In a way, I have you to thank, Pippin, for my homecoming. My time with you in the Shire made me think of my own family as I had not in many years. I found myself wishing to see them once more. I had been barely older in Men's reckoning of age than you were by hobbits' when I left them. I was sure they had been glad to be rid of someone so useless as I thought I was then. But after meeting you I began to realize that perhaps my ideas at that age were not so true as I had believed then." He stopped a moment to look at the perfect smoke rings his small companions made. Now *that* was something he'd not yet mastered.

"So, anyway, I slowly made my way South, and glad I am that I did. I arrived not long after the Enemy had retaken Osgiliath, and found that my older brother, a soldier, had perished there. My sister had wed some years before, and removed to Belfalas, and my parents were alone, my father, ill. I was able to take my parents to my sister's home, and I stayed with them there to the end of my father's days." Menelcar's eyes had grown misty. "Excuse me," he said, taking out a handkerchief and blowing his nose. Pippin put a sympathetic hand on his friend's arm.

"They had thought me dead, you see," he continued. "lo, these many years. I was glad to have made them happy by my return. My mother has remained with my sister and her family." He smiled. "I have a bonny niece and a sturdy nephew, who was named after me."

Merry and Pippin exchanged a rueful look. It was quite possible their own families thought them dead. And Pippin missed his little nieces fiercely.

"After the Enemy was overthrown, and I began to hear the tales circulating about the four halflings who had come to Gondor's aid, I knew who they must be. Hearing a friend of mine, another bard, sing to me of 'Frodo of the Nine-Fingers' only confirmed what I suspected, so I came back to the White City in hopes of perhaps encountering you."


"I agree that it is not the kind of quality one would like to see in an instrument, Legolas," said the Dwarf as they exited the shop. "But it was the only child-sized fiddle to be found in his stock."

Legolas shrugged, and shifted the package he carried. "I realize that. I just wish that I'd the time to find something better."

"Why did you not tell the merchant who it was for? Or better yet, why did Pippin not make the purchase himself? The shop owner would have bent himself over backwards to find something better."

"Pippin had two reasons: first of all, he wanted to pay for it. You know that if he had come himself the merchant would have tried to give it to him. And secondly, he does not wish for Sam to find out."

Gimli nodded. "Ah, yes." He grinned.

"And *I* had a reason, most especially, for not saying anything. I am heartily tired of the way these Men take advantage of our small friends' renown under the guise of gratitude." The Elf made a disgusted sound. "Last evening I passed by an eating house on the third level. There were actually people standing in a line to get in, and I overheard some of them talking. Seems word had got out that the Ernil i Pheriannath and his cousin, the Knight of Rohan, had taken their luncheon there."

Gimli chuckled. "You cannot blame a merchant for trying to make a profit. It would be like blaming a fish for swimming or a bird for flying, Master Elf."

Legolas sniffed. "I find it offensive. Our friends have been through enough. They do not need to be used that way. Merry and Pippin seem somewhat oblivious to it--they do not seem to understand the motives behind all the so-called generosity. But I can tell that it truly distresses Frodo and Sam."

Gimli's expression sobered. "A good deal distresses Frodo, especially gestures of gratitude. I am afraid his pain over what occurred at the Mountain is deeper than he would let anyone know."

Legolas just nodded. So far, only the Fellowship *truly* knew all that had happened. And only the King and Gandalf ever spoke to the Ringbearer of it.

King Elessar dismissed the waiting courtiers and councilors. He had spent a good many hours that morning listening to them say as close to nothing as they could, while trying to guess his own mind on the various matters, so that they could agree with him. They had spent decades under Denethor, who brooked no opposition, and had no idea of how to simply speak their minds. He strode from the throne room, giving a dismissive wave to the Guardsmen who waited, and headed for the small room he had outfitted as an informal study. With a sigh, he closed the door and doffed the crown and mantle, placing them on a nearby table, and collapsed into the chair that stood behind the large oak worktable he used as a desk.

"Aragorn? Are you all right?"

Aragorn started. He had not seen Frodo sitting in one of the other chairs near the bookshelves. The hobbit had been completely hidden by its back.

"I must already be losing my abilities as a Ranger," he said ruefully. "I had no idea you were in here, Frodo."

"I'm sorry. You are tired and wish to be alone. I'll leave now." Frodo stood and began to place the book he had been reading carefully back onto the shelf.

"No. No, I am never too tired to visit with my friends, Frodo. It's having to deal with those who are *not* my friends, but would have me think them so, that is so wearying. The Dúnadain of the North are not afraid to speak their minds to their Chief, but these men of the City--they have spent too many years fearing to say what they really believe."

"I have heard stories of the Steward. Pippin had much to say of Denethor, and none of it flattering."

"He was once a wise and noble man," said Aragorn.

"That's what Gandalf said as well. And I am certainly no one to judge anyone else for falling prey to the Enemy's powers."

Aragorn gave him a sharp look. "If not you, then no one," he said flatly.

Frodo flushed, but he did not wish to argue his own shortcomings with his friend, so he merely said mildly, "Then it is no one." He sighed. "I did wish to talk to you, but it seems so trivial now--"

"Nothing you have to say to me is trivial, Frodo."

"The plans for Sam are coming along nicely. I wondered if you were still of a mind to help us with it?"

"Are you certain this is something Samwise will like?"

Frodo grinned. "What he'd like is for no one to take any notice at all. But once he's seen what we've done, he'll enjoy himself."

Aragorn smiled and nodded. This was going to be fun for a change, a break from war and grim duty and boring courtiers.

"Menelcar, you've *got* to come back to the Citadel with us," Pippin said earnestly. "I know Frodo and Sam would love to see you again! And you can meet Gandalf and Strider--I mean, King Elessar--and--" Pippin's enthusiasm scarcely left him time to take a breath.

Merry put his hand on his cousin's arm. "Oi, Pip, slow down. Menelcar might have other plans for the day. Let him get a word in edgewise."

Faramir was watching with a neutral expression on his face that was not lost on the minstrel. Menelcar knew the Steward would be protective of the hobbits, and worried about them being taken advantage of. He was less able to read the expression on Lady Éowyn's face. Still, he was not going to lose his chance to spend some time with his old friends. "That is quite all right, Merry. I had no plans beyond singing on the street corners, and I had made very nearly enough coin to finish for the day."

"Where have you been staying, Master Menelcar?" Faramir asked, leaning forward.

"My parent's old home on the second level is more or less still standing. That is to say, only half of it was destroyed in the siege, and the part that is left has a roof. It is better accommodation than I have had on the road from time to time."

Pippin laughed. "I believe you, Menelcar! But do you know, when we first met, and I asked you about travelling with you, and you told me 'the road is long and the way is hard', I thought you were simply being poetical. I know now what you meant. When I think back on it, I realize I would have made a dreadful apprentice!"

Menelcar grinned at him fondly, and laughed. Oh, how that Took lad had charmed him. "You may have made a dreadful apprentice, but I am still of a mind that you would have made a mighty bard!"

Faramir stood. "If we are to return to the Citadel, perhaps we should do so now. If we stay here much longer, the custom for luncheon will begin to come in, and we may find ourselves the center of attention again."

"But what of your errand, Faramir?" asked Pippin, belatedly realizing that his reunion with his old friend had interrupted the Steward's business.

"It can wait until the morrow." He gave his hand to Éowyn, who gracefully rose. She gave another puzzled glance at the minstrel. Soon she would remember.

The five of them left, after Faramir firmly pressed payment on the reluctant innkeeper. He did not ask him to forego speaking of their presence. It would have been in vain anyway.

He had spoken to the King about the notoriety surrounding the hobbits. Aragorn, however, seemed to see the people of Gondor's reactions as simple gratitude for what the four of them had accomplished, and for the most part that was true. But there were more than a handful who had baser motives. Still, it did not look as though Menelcar were one of those. Pippin and Merry did, indeed, know him from before the hobbits had left the Shire.

He and Éowyn were walking side by side, the backs of their hands barely touching. Glancing at her thoughtful face, he said, "My lady, you are very quiet."

She sent a smile in his direction. "The minstrel. He seems a bit familiar to me."

Faramir's eyebrows arched. That was the last thing he had expected her to say. At his curious look, she shook her head. "No, I do not recall, but I will."

More intrigued than before, he glanced ahead at the minstrel and the two hobbits walking in front of them and talking animatedly. Pippin was limping noticeably. His knee must be bothering him; it was the one injury that seemed to still plague him from time to time when he was tired. Faramir noticed that not only did Merry move a bit closer to his cousin, but that Menelcar gave the young hobbit a distressed look. It was truly the notice of a good friend, and it made Faramir thaw a bit more towards the minstrel.

Merry and Pippin, meanwhile, were filling Menelcar in on the Quest from a hobbit's point of view. Menelcar had laughed at their account of the storming of Isengard. "I find your account easier to believe than what I had previously heard. You realize that one of the songs says that two small wizards cast a spell, causing a huge forest to grow up overnight and overwhelm Saruman's tower, and then they cast another spell that turned him into a tree himself?"

Pippin burst out with a guffaw, and Merry rolled his eyes.

"And then there are a number of songs going around about the Ernil I Pheriannath. Did you hear the one about how the Prince of Halflings lit the beacon?"

Now it was Merry's turn to guffaw at the expression on his cousin's face.

"Thunder!" Pippin swore, and then clapped a hand on his mouth and cast a guilty glance behind them. "People don't really *believe* that, do they? I mean, the beacons were lit long before Gandalf and I even entered the City!"

Menelcar laughed and shrugged. "People will believe whatever makes a good story, Pippin! You know as well as I do that the most entertaining songs are not always the most truthful ones."

Merry nodded. "Even old Cousin Bilbo admitted that he dressed up his stories so they were funnier, and not so scary to tell the children."

Pippin stopped and stared at Merry. "Cousin Bilbo? But--" he shook his head in denial, yet he had to admit to himself that he had already realized his oldest cousin's adventure must not have been so tame as he had always made it sound. He must remember to ask Bilbo about that when he saw him again.

"Well, Samwise Gamgee, what do you think of it?" Gandalf gestured with his head at the courtyard about him.

"This is *your* house, sir?" Sam looked around with interest.

"No, it does not belong to me. But it was set aside for my use during the days of Ecthelion. It is a guesthouse belonging to the King."

Sam looked at the empty planters and the dry fountain. There were a couple of trees, looked like they could use a pruning. His hands itched to get at this small excuse for a garden. He glanced dubiously at the house. It was a good three storeys, of that cold white marble that everything around here seemed to be made of. It was most definitely a house of the Big Folk, and not meant for hobbits.

Gandalf smiled as he saw the thoughts flitting across Sam's broad face. "Do not worry, Sam; neither you nor the other hobbits would be asked to stay in an upstairs chamber. I know that is one of the things that frets you in the Citadel. Here we have set aside a chamber at ground level, and the King and the Steward have ordered the legs on the furniture cut down."

"What's Mr. Frodo have to say about this idea?" Sam asked.

"I showed him the place yesterday evening. He thinks that it is a splendid idea. I do not think he is any happier in the Citadel than you are."

Gandalf led the way across the courtyard to a set of wide double doors set with large windows, and threw them open to show a large chamber. In it were a couple of chests, four chairs with the legs shortened, and a perfectly huge bed, with the legs also cut down.

"Faramir originally ordered four small beds to replace this one, but Aragorn felt that with the difficulties you all are having sleeping, that this might be more comfortable. You can be there to comfort one another without crowding."

"Mr. Gandalf, sir, eight hobbits wouldn't be crowded in that big bed!"

The Wizard smiled. "Probably not, Sam."

Sam followed curiously, as Gandalf led him from the bedchamber. "What's the kitchen like, then?"

They went down a short hallway to the other side of the house. The kitchen was huge, and well appointed, and in addition to the large worktable in the center of the room, there was a table and chairs of hobbit-sized proportions. Frodo had instantly guessed that those had once stood in a noble nursery, Boromir's and Faramir's, in fact, but the thought did not occur to Sam.

"A complete set of cooking tools, pots, pans and dishes made to hobbit-size have been ordered, and I am told, will be ready in just a day or two."

Gandalf looked down at Sam, and was surprised to see him dashing away tears with an angry hand.

"I'm sorry," he said, "I was just minded of my old pots and pans--all gone down a crack in the Black Land, and maybe covered up forever by ashes and fiery rocks--" There was a catch in his voice, and he shook his head sadly.

The Wizard lay a sympathetic hand on Sam's head, but answered him lightly and briskly in hobbit-fashion, "Well, Sam, it is a shame, but I daresay it was necessary."

"Aye, it was needful." He gave a little sniff, and said, "Well, listen at me going on like a ninnyhammer. My old gaffer always said, 'the heart don't grieve on what the mind don't think on' and 'least said, soonest mended'."

Gandalf sighed. Like many a rustic, the Gaffer was a font of pithy sayings, most of them wise, but a good many of them utter nonsense. "Well, Samwise, does this dwelling meet with your approval?"

"You say we're all to come here, 'cept for Strider, who has to stay up there and be King, poor Man. Well, what do the others think?"

"Legolas and Gimli have been down here, and are in agreement on it. Meriadoc and Peregrin are quite content to follow Frodo's wishes in the matter."

Sam glanced up shrewdly. "And you know I am that glad to go along with whatever Mr. Frodo wants, too. So why are you showing me about today?"

"Because Frodo expressly asked for your opinion, Samwise Gamgee." He did not also mention that Frodo had asked him to get Sam out of the way, so that Frodo could make some plans.

"Well, if Mr. Frodo likes the idea, so do I." Sam blushed before continuing. "But I like the idea right fine on my own account, too. It's still a fair way up, here, but it don't feel so. That room up there--" he jerked his head in the general direction of the Citadel "--it's like being perched like a bird. No way for a hobbit to live."

Gandalf laughed. "If you say so, Samwise!"

Sam looked at Gandalf in wonder. The Wizard laughed so much more than he used to, and his laughter now reminded Sam of Elves, the way it lifted the heart to hear.

They approached the Citadel not by way of the Court of the White Tree, but on the side where there was a smaller private entrance. This time of day, only one Guard stood there.

Ignoring the pain in his knee, Pippin darted up the steps ahead of his companions. "Hullo, Borondir!"

The Guard's eyes twinkled at the sight of his small comrade-in-arms, but he was on duty, and so contented himself with a nod and a formal address. "Sir Peregrin." He glanced up as the rest of the party approached. "My Lord Steward, my Lady of Rohan, Sir Meriadoc." He cast a quizzical look at the fifth member of the party.

"Borondir, this is my good friend, Master Menelcar the minstrel. You must let everyone know that if he comes to see me, he should be allowed to come in." Pippin's open face was full of excitement.

Borondir's eyes flew briefly to the Steward's face, and at Faramir's slight nod, he said, "Certainly, Sir Peregrin." He looked at the minstrel carefully, imprinting his description in his mind. "Master Menelcar." He gave another nod of greeting.

Merry spoke up. "Have you seen any of our companions today? The other Walkers, I mean?"

"Yes, Sir Meriadoc. Prince Legolas and Lord Gimli left early this morning, and have yet to return. The Wizard Mithrandir and Lord Samwise went out about an hour or so ago, and they have not returned, either. I was told that the Ringbearer was closeted with the King earlier, but I believe he has now returned to your chambers."

Merry looked at Pippin and grinned. "Sam's out!"

Pippin grinned back. "Good!" He looked up at Menelcar. "Let's go and see Frodo! He's going to be so pleased to see you again!"

Faramir and Éowyn exchanged a glance, and then Faramir said, "If you will all excuse me, I need to speak to the King."

Éowyn smiled. "And I am going to find my brother." She bent down and gave Merry a kiss on top of his head, and brushing her hand against Faramir's, she went into the Citadel. The others went in as well. With a brief farewell, Faramir turned off into a corridor, a thoughtful expression on his face. Merry and Pippin led Menelcar up a nearby staircase, chattering all the way.

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