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Chance Encounter  by Dreamflower


As the morning sun slanted in through the wide windowed doors to the
courtyard, it glinted off the four curly heads peeking out from the
coverlet. The wizard sat by the large bed, thinking how some things never
changed, and yet that some changes were inevitable.

In the way hobbits had, they slept huddled together. Although at home in the Shire they would have beds to themselves, Gandalf knew that for hobbits, sleeping alone was a relatively recent development, and in any time of stress hobbits naturally reverted to the older behavior.

They slept with the most vulnerable on the inside, the protectors on the
outside. But whereas in the early days of their journeying, that had meant
Frodo and Pippin on the inside, with Merry on the outside next to Pippin,
and Sam on the other side of Frodo, now Sam was on the inside, and young
Pippin was one of the protectors.

Gandalf smiled, thinking of how very well his little "fool of a Took" had
grown. It was the nature of Tooks ever to be inquisitive, impulsive and
impatient, and that was unlikely to change, but those qualities in Pippin
had now been calmed to a certain extent by experience, wisdom and
understanding. And Gandalf was pleased and relieved to see that in spite of
all the darkness the lad had encountered, his heart remained as generous and compassionate as it had always been. But now his tender-heartedness was tempered by the realization that he could protect the helpless, and a fierce righteous anger would make itself felt with bullies and villains. It was a quality that would stand him in good stead today, as he played out his part
in Aragorn's plan.

That last was a quality Merry had always had. From the first time he had met the young Brandybuck, a sturdy seven-year-old, and Frodo's devoted shadow, he had seen that in him. Merry's love was deep and fierce, with the
tenaciousness that was a part of his Brandybuck heritage. Pippin needed to
have anger awakened in him--his temper was slow to rise; Merry was quick to
anger, but his anger was always aimed at any who would try to hurt or harm
those he loved. Yet Merry had also had a brightness to him; he lived up to
his name, with a sunny, easy nature. He rarely cried or had tantrums as a
child, and he loved to laugh. He had been so good for Frodo, who had needed
some sunshine in his life.

But this quest had been hard on Merry. Gandalf could see that the Shadow had not been wholly dissipated by Aragorn's skill. It lurked about him still,
especially at night. In fact, last night it was Merry whose dreams had been
disturbed, and only Gandalf's presence had managed to overcome them. But
last night it was understandable. Merry was feeling a bit sad, with the
duties that would call him away this morning: saying a private farewell to
Éomer and Éowyn, who would be departing for Edoras to set in motion the
plans for Théoden's funeral. He then would accompany them as far as the edge of the Pelennor, and return with a few others of the Rohirrim to be a part of the honor guard standing over the fallen king's bier. Not a pleasant task at all, yet he would face it without stinting, for he had loved Théoden dearly. Still it was no wonder he would have been plagued with nightmares the night before, had Gandalf not been there.

Sam stirred briefly, and then subsided. The wizard looked at him fondly.
This was one hobbit who, in spite of all the pain and hardship he had
endured, had truly benefited from their journey. He had finally acknowledged to himself that he was friend and equal to these other three, though he would stubbornly refuse to admit it out loud, and he had gained a confidence and boldness that he never would have found had he not gone with his master from the Shire. Of these four hobbits, Sam was the most typically hobbity, with a narrow view of the world, and even now that he had seen more of the world than most hobbits would ever imagine even existed, his opinions were still grounded in what he called "hobbit-sense"--and rightfully so.

Frodo. The wizard looked at him sadly. That hint of transparency, first
discernable to him in Rivendell, as Frodo recovered from the Morgul-wound,
was not only still there, but it had increased greatly. There was a brilliance to Frodo's being that rivaled that of Elves now, and yet woven within that light was more than a hint of darkness, clinging to the Ringbearer like a parasite. His dreams too, had seemed headed for trouble last night--but that was nearly a nightly occurrence until they had moved in here, and Legolas had begun his clandestine vigil. Gandalf was beginning to understand where Frodo's fate was leading him; yet still, it was his nature to hope that he might be wrong.

The brief stirrings as the four reached towards wakefulness increased. He
knew who would waken first. Merry opened his eyes, and seeing Gandalf, felt
alarmed. Before he could say anything, Gandalf winked to reassure him, and
put a finger to his mouth to enjoin silence. Almost at the same moment Sam
awakened, followed immediately by Pippin and then Frodo.

Frodo sat up apprehensively. "Gandalf? Is something wrong?"

"No, Frodo, nothing is wrong. But I do not believe you can attribute your
pleasant sleep recently to the new surroundings. We need to talk."

"Whatever do you mean, Gandalf?" Frodo asked, irritation and perplexity on
his face.

Merry sat up. "Yes, please do explain, Gandalf. I have a lot to do today,
and my liege is expecting me right after first breakfast." There was a sharp
edge to Merry's voice. He was clearly dreading the day.

The wizard sighed. "I know that the four of you thought that your pleasant
dreams recently were because of the change in your surroundings. Yet it is
not so. Legolas has been secretly entering your room each night to watch
over you. When he saw signs that a nightmare threatened, he sang it away."

Four pairs of astonished eyes locked onto the wizard's face.

More or less simultaneously, Frodo said, "I should have known it was too
good to be true." Merry said, "But you're here *now*," and Pippin asked,
"Why?" Sam was just shaking his head in amazement.

"As to that, Frodo, I am afraid you are right. And Meriadoc, you are also
correct--I turned Legolas away last night, and came in his stead. But I feel
that you have the right to know what he has been doing for you. Peregrin, I
am sure you know the answer to your question, do you not?"

Pippin nodded. "I suppose he meant well."

"He did, and he does. He has told me that the offer stands to continue doing
this for you."

Merry gave a snort of laughter. "What--indefinitely?"

Gandalf smiled. "No, but for the rest of your lives if you will so have it."

Now any lingering hint of anger the hobbits might have had over Legolas'
secret watch was erased by laughter.

"Any future wives we might have might have something to say about that,"
chuckled Merry. Sam blushed, and Pippin elbowed him. Sam was the only one with a sweetheart at home.

Frodo shook his head, amused. "It does paint an odd picture in the mind. Did he propose to come live with us in the Shire?"

Gandalf smiled. He had not been certain whether amusement or anger would be the reaction. He was glad for Legolas' sake that amusement had won out. "He really does mean it, you know. He would have gladly watched over the four of you for the next sixty or seventy years of your lives, and thought it time well spent--it's a brief enough while for an Elf anyway. He is very fond of you, and it tears his heart to see you suffer."

Frodo sobered. "I understand, and his intentions were good. It's actually
quite heartwarming that he made the effort. But we can hardly get on with
our lives that way. Shall you tell him that we are grateful for the offer,
but 'no, thank you,' or shall we?"

"I think perhaps, that it might do well to come from you directly, that he
might see that you hold no grudge for his invasion of your privacy."

"Well, that's settled, then," said Pippin briskly. "Gandalf, I hope you don't
think us rude, but Merry and I both must get dressed and ready to go to our
duties this morning." He flung aside the coverlet, and swung his
legs over the side of the bed.

The wizard rose, and gave them a fond nod. "Very well, then. I shall take my leave, my friends. A good morning to you." And he left the room chuckling into his beard. Hobbits really were irrepressible.

After the door shut behind him, the four scrambled from the bed and began to get dressed for the day. They were still chuckling, until Merry said, "Well, I suppose tonight we will go back to having those lovely nightmares again."

"We've had a nice respite," said Frodo, "and perhaps we shall be lucky, and
they won't come back so soon. Do you really want to spend the rest of your
life with an Elf staring at you all night long?"

Merry shook his head ruefully. "No, but I'm almost sorry Gandalf told us."

"Well, I'm not. It would have been very embarrassing to wake up and catch
him at it some night," said Pippin firmly.

Sam shook his head. "I can't get over he'd offer to watch us the rest of our

Frodo smiled. "Well, he's very fond of us, to be sure, but we can't allow
something like that."

"Of course not!" Sam exclaimed.

Merry gave a yawn and began to collect his armor. "I don't have time to discuss this now. I must meet my King at the stables right after first breakfast." The others looked at one another. They knew only too well the reasons for his brusqueness.

Pippin looked at Merry's shadowed face. "I'm sorry I cannot come with you,
Merry. I have my own duty to attend to." Pippin was eager to carry on with
the plans for teaching a lesson to those scoundrels who thought to take
advantage of hobbits' good nature, but he did wish that he could stay at
Merry's side today.

"Would you like Sam and I to come along, Merry?" asked Frodo, concerned. He knew that this particular duty was going to be a very sad one for his

Merry shook his head. "No, this is my duty as a Knight of Rohan, and as
Théoden's esquire." He spoke matter-of-factly enough, but the pain in the
grey eyes was there to see.

 There were no ponies in Minas Tirith. Merry would ride with Éomer as they left the City. On his return he would walk back with the Riders who were remaining as part of the honor guard. Éowyn smiled at him from her seat on Windfola, riding alongside her brother.

"Very different from your ride here with 'Dernhelm', is it not, Merry?"

"Very different indeed, my lady." Merry blushed. He still found it embarrassing that he had not realized who "Dernhelm" was, though apparently most of the other Riders in their vicinity *had* guessed.

Soon they were all in formation and ready to ride out. The sons of Lord Elrond, who were leaving with them, rode at the front, just behind the banner bearer.

Only the members of Éomer's personal éored had been staying with him in the City. Between the losses on the Pelennor and the Morannon due to injury and death, those who had been reassigned to replace lost commanders among the other Riders, and those who had already been sent back to Rohan, that number had dwindled to four-score and eight, plus one hobbit. There had also been a great loss of horses, and Merry was not the only one riding pillion to the place where they would meet the remaining Riders outside the Gate. He and five other Riders would be returning on foot to the Citadel The six of them would be taking it in turns, along with six Citadel Guards, two at a time, standing each day around the clock as a guard of honor by Théoden's bier.

Merry was proud of being chosen for the honor, but the part of him that was most hobbity dreaded the duty. Standing by a body from dawn to dusk every third day was bound to engender gloomy thoughts. Thank goodness that Gandalf, in a rare display of magic, had placed an enchantment of preservation upon Théoden's remains, that he not suffer the indignities of decay until he was well and truly buried at his home.

Merry sighed and tried to sit straighter, and fight the urge to lean into Éomer. He was very conscious of his dignity riding with his liege, but a glance across to Éowyn's pale and sad face made him wish he were riding with his sword-sister. They could have been of some comfort to one another.

Comfort. He shook his head at the thought of Gandalf's revelation that morning. Legolas had been trying to comfort them. Part of him was furious at the invasion of their privacy, part of him loved Legolas even more for the effort, and a good large part of him was greatly disappointed that their respite had been temporary. It was simply one more reminder that however dearly they loved them--Legolas, Gimli, Strider, even Gandalf--were not hobbits. But they *were* family.

He glanced over again at Éowyn, and she gave him a sad smile. She and Éomer were his family too, now, by oath and by the shared experience of battle. Théoden, too; he wished that the old King could have met his da. They would have got on well. The thought really made him tear up, and he blinked angrily. He was *not* going to cry and disgrace his King. He gave a mighty sniff.

"Holdwine?" Éomer's concerned voice was soft.

Merry looked up to see the young King gazing back at him, tears flowing freely.

"Oh!" he exclaimed softly. He leaned forward to lend what comfort he could. Something he sometimes forgot: his King was very young, younger even, than his Pippin.

Even as he gently patted the large back in front of him, he wondered briefly at the mysterious last minute business which prevented King Elessar and the Steward from riding with them to say farewell as had been planned, and kept his cousin by their side.

Pippin had gone directly to the room King Elessar used as an office. The Guardsman at the door admitted him at once, as he was expected. Faramir was there, and Menelcar, and Legolas and Gimli, and two Men whom Pippin thought looked vaguely familiar. Gandalf sat in a corner, an unreadable glitter in his dark eyes. In the seat behind the table, however, was no sign of the majestic King Elessar; instead, there sat a Ranger, looking as disreputable as ever he had at the Inn in Bree.

"Strider!" Pippin grinned cheekily.

"Mr. Took." Strider grinned back just as cheekily. He then sobered. "Pippin,
are you sure you want to do this?"

Pippin sobered as well. "I do. It's not right for someone to be taking
advantage of people like that."

Aragorn nodded. "Very well. Peregrin, I'd like you to meet Eldacar and Tarondor. They are the two Guardsmen who have been keeping watch over the miscreants for us."

The two men stepped forward, and bowed slightly to Pippin. He blushed. He just could not get used to that.

"Please, gentlemen, tell us what you have overheard and observed over the past day or so.

The one called Eldacar spoke first. "The three rascals are called 'Arv,' 'Tel' and 'Min'. Min appears to be their leader. He seems somewhat more intelligent than the other two. I have overheard them speaking of some of their past 'scams' as they call them, boasting of the way in which they have cozened people of their money. They have heard about the four of you, and how high you are in the favor of the King, moreover, the way in which you and Sir Meriadoc distributed alms the day of the coronation caught their attention. It made them think of you pheriannath as very soft-hearted. They have been observing all of you as much as they could, ever since."

Then the one called Tarondor spoke. "Yesterday I was able to overhear them talking in a tavern. They are hoping to be able to accost either you, Sir Peregrin, or Lord Samwise. They seem to be a bit afraid of Sir Meriadoc--his feat of taking on the Lord of the Ringwraiths is well-attested, and they are also a bit in awe of the Ringbearer--they do not seem to think he will be deceived by them. They do not really believe that you slew a troll, and they know that you are the youngest of the four, and think your position in the Guard simply ceremonial; Lord Samwise they believe to be merely a servant. They feel that the two of you will be the easiest to deceive."

Pippin flushed, but all he said was, "Well, they are right about Frodo, anyway--he's never been an easy one to tell a falsehood to, and they are also right to be afraid of Merry. He's nobody's fool, and would be fairly angry with anyone trying to make him out one. But I hope to convince them in the end that Sam and I would not be such easy prey, either."

"Their plan," said Eldacar, "is to accost either you or Lord Samwise as soon as you are found alone, with a tale of woe so pitiful that you will freely offer coin. They are hoping to get a goodly sum from you, and perhaps also to get you to ask the King for more."

Now Aragorn spoke up. "In order to draw them into acting upon you, Legolas and Gimli are going to take Sam and Frodo out into the City with them. You will then return to the guesthouse, as if you are off duty, and change out of your livery. Go back out, as if you are planning to spend the day sightseeing on your own. They will be watching you; and several of us will be watching them." He held out a pouch, a rather heavy one. "Use this coin today. When the villains have taken it in hand, we will take them."

Pippin nodded solemnly.

"Now go to the buttery, and have your luncheon early. Return to the house from there."

"I will." He had a very determined look on his face.

The others began to file out of the small room.

As Pippin turned to leave, he felt Gandalf's hand on his shoulder. He turned and looked up.

Gandalf looked down at him, and smiled. "You will do. And be careful, my lad."

"Thank you, Gandalf. I will."

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