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Chance Encounter  by Dreamflower


Hands in his pockets, Pippin strolled through the streets. He was in the third circle, where there were many merchants of the slightly less prosperous sort. It felt very strange. This was the first time that he had been abroad like this in the City: alone, without anyone, and apparently with no errand, not dressed in his livery. He had, of course, several times had errands to run in the course of his duties, but then he was dressed in livery and hurried from the Citadel to wherever he was needed to go and back again straightaway. The only occasions he had been in regular clothing, he had been with others--his cousins, his friends, and they also had most often some specific destination in mind. But today he had been told to simply amble along as though he had no particular reason for being out. He felt himself wishing it could be true, though of course it would be nicer with Merry along.

He was keeping his eyes open though, with the description of the scoundrels clear in his mind. Just as he turned a corner, he thought he saw Strider out of the corner of his eye. They must be near, he thought, and he felt his heart race a bit. This was a slightly different sort of excitement and fear than that engendered by battle. It reminded him a little of the pleasurable thrill he and Merry would get when embarked on a particularly hazardous prank, or intent on a raid on Maggot's mushrooms--yet there was a thread of
serious purpose beneath it as well.

The street was fairly deserted. A shabby and disreputable looking figure leaned against a wall, seemingly lost in thought. Across the street and not too far away, two Men were talking. As Pippin approached their voices rose so that he could not help but hear.

"I am very sorry," said the shorter of the two figures, in a whiny sort of voice. "But if you wish to have the employment, you must start right away. I need workers I can depend on--not someone who will take off at the drop of a hat."

"But it is just for a brief while, sir. My poor children need to be brought home." The other person, slightly taller, sounded pitiful.

"You will be there, or I'll find someone else to do the job." The first figure walked away.

Pippin stopped briefly, wondering. They fit the description, but there had only been two of them. As he pondered, pretending to look in the window of a shop selling cloth, another Man, this one rather a large fellow, approached the Man who remained.

"Well, Minastir, have you the money?" he asked roughly.

"Not all of it, I am afraid. And I am not certain if I can accompany you to Lossarnach. My new employer is reluctant to give me leave."

The new Man sneered. "Well," he said loudly, "you need all the money I asked for, and then some, if you want me to bring your family back without you along. I have told you I am no nursemaid, and I'll have to hire one if I do this for you." This he declaimed in a rather wooden voice, and Pippin was no longer the least bit uncertain. The first two had been rather good actors, but not this one.

"I am leaving in two days time. You will let me know before then if you have the coin." He walked off with a swagger. He came in Pippin's direction, and as he passed the hobbit, he glanced at him briefly. There was an unpleasant smile on his face, and then he was gone.

Now the taller Man was standing alone, the very picture of dejection. He brought his hands up to his face and began to weep. He staggered along, and also came in Pippin's direction, bumping into him.

Pippin had been prepared for something like this and carefully schooled his expression before turning around.

"I'm sorry, child!" he exclaimed, "I didn't see you."

"That's all right, sir," Pippin replied politely, putting out a hand as if to steady him.

The Man looked at him and feigned amazement. "Why, you are no young boy! You are one of the pheriannath!"

Pippin nodded. "Peregrin Took at your service and your family's", he replied.

"Sir Peregrin? The Ernil i Pheriannath?"

"The very same. And you are?"

"Minastir, son of Castamir," he replied sadly, "the unhappiest of Men."

"Why, whatever is the matter?" Pippin asked curiously. He really was curious
to see what sort of story this Man had concocted.

"Alas, it is a long and sad tale," was the woebegone reply.

"Please tell me. Perhaps I can help." Pippin found himself feeling as though he really did want to help this unhappy person. This Minastir was a very good actor indeed. He was going to have to brush up his toes, and remember that this really was a scoundrel he was speaking with.

"I am a carpenter, not a warrior, but when the City was threatened, I thought I should remain to be of what help I could. I sent my four little children, and my wife, who was expecting our fifth, in the wains of refugees to Lossarnach, where they could stay with my widowed sister and her own little ones. I miss them very much, but was expecting word any day now that they were returning. My former employer was slain in the siege, and so I
sought a new place, and was just two days ago engaged. I am to start tomorrow.

”But only yesterday, I received word that my poor wife died delivering our new little daughter, and my sister cannot keep the children much longer, as she has mouths of her own to feed. I wished to go and fetch them, and a travelling merchant was willing to take me there with him for a fee. But now my new employer says I *must* start work or lose my position. And if I do not go myself, the merchant will increase the fee, as he says he is not a nursemaid. I have only a very little money, and I simply do not know what to do. If I do not take the job I am offered, I will have no way to keep the children when I get them here. Alas, my poor little ones! I do not know what is to become of them."

Pippin shook his head, his face sad and sympathetic. Knowing what he knew, he could tell there were a number of holes in the story. The King had delegated people to see to the return of refugees, for one thing. For another, the timing of the messages did not sound right. Yet, if he had not been warned, he might very well have felt sorry enough for this wretch to be taken in. Out loud, he said, "I am so sorry to hear of this, Minastir. But
perhaps I can be of help, if it is only a matter of coin. How much do you think you might need?"

The Man looked at him, with an expression of dawning hope. "Why, originally, I was to pay fifty silver pennies. But now the merchant has doubled that."

Pippin smiled. "Why, as to that, the King gave me a hundred pence when I was knighted. I have it right here, as no one ever seems to take my money for anything." This was disingenuous, as Aragorn had actually given him more than that; however, this was not his own money but the money that was given him this morning for "bait" as he thought of it. And it was quite true that no one seemed to take the hobbits' money, and so he never carried much of his own anyway. But if there were any doubt at all in Pippin's mind, he would have known by the sheer amount of money the Man was asking for that it could not be right. One hundred silver pennies was an enormous sum. "I would be happy to know that I could help your poor children be with you again. There is nothing worse than children with no family to look after them." He gave a quite genuine shudder at the thought. Among hobbits such a thing was utterly unthinkable, and even now he felt moved to tears at the thought of the many orphans in Gondor, left alone by the War. It hardened his determination to take down this villain, who would *use* that horrific fact to garner money.

"You are certain then," he continued, "that this money will enable you to bring your children home to you?"

"Oh, Sir Peregrin! They will bless your name forever!"

"Because, you know, I could ask the King for more."

The Man's eyes glittered briefly, before he schooled himself to a more somber expression.

"Well," he said slowly, "for the same amount again, I could also send for my widowed sister and her family. Then my poor motherless babes would have someone to care for them as I worked." He looked at Pippin out of the corner of his eye.

Pippin nodded. "That's true," he said sympathetically, while privately marveling at the Man’s cunning. He brightened. "I've an idea!" he said chirpily. "Why don't I just ask the King to send for your family? Then it would not cost you a thing!"

Pippin had the satisfaction of seeing him look briefly alarmed.

"No, no, that's not necessary. I would not wish to trouble him so far. I am sure that the money is adequate. I do not like to think the King himself would be troubled by my little family."

"So then, do you think you might need anything more?"

Minastir gave him a sharp look, and narrowed his eyes.

Pippin schooled his face into its sweetest and most innocent expression, the one that had convinced the cooks that he could not possibly know anything about missing pies. He added an engaging and charming smile, and saw the brief suspicion fade.

"I am sure that will be enough to take care of everything, my lord." The Man sounded humble and sincere.

"Well," Pippin said, holding out the pouch and showing him the silver, "here is this. Give it to the merchant, and tomorrow I will bring the same amount again, for your poor sister. And you can tell me then if there is anything else you might need."

The Man could not resist looking at all that money. He felt uncommonly lucky, for they had not expected the halfling to be carrying that amount around with him, and had thought it would be necessary to wait for it, as well as what the halfling would get from the King.

Perhaps he could think of something else before tomorrow. "My thanks, Sir Peregrin! The reunion with my family will be quite a sight!"

"Yes, it would," said another voice, "especially, Minastir son of Castamir, as you have neither chick nor child, nor even wife nor sister in Lossarnach or anywhere else."

Startled, he turned to see the Steward approaching, and behind him several Guardsmen, Tel and Arv in their midst, bound and gagged. As he stared, the shabby figure leaning against the wall across the street threw back his hood and straightened up.

"I do not wonder that you did not wish to trouble the King. It is a shame you thought to trouble his friends."

In a fury, the Man glanced down to see Pippin grinning up at him. "Not quite such a fool as I look."

Suddenly, with a snarl and a curse, he snatched Pippin off the ground, and holding him up before him as a shield, he drew forth a long, glittering knife.

Everyone froze, staring in horror, as the Man glared. "You will not stop me-"

But he got no further. The pherian in his grasp gave a mighty wriggle, sinking his teeth into Minastir's arm, while at the same time aiming a furious kick to his groin. With a yell, the Man dropped both halfling and knife. Pippin landed nimbly and snatching up the fallen knife, bent over the writhing Man and held it to his throat. Minastir suddenly went still.

"Sire," said Pippin, without taking his eyes off the fallen Man's, "could you please take charge of this wretch who thought hobbits were simple and helpless?"

Aragorn crossed the street in a few quick strides and hauled the still groaning villain to his feet. As he did so, he spoke softly into his ear, "You are quite lucky that my young knight did not have his sword. Trollsbane is its name, and Sir Peregrin Troll Slayer its wielder." Minastir stared in horror at Pippin, blanching. Faramir signaled the Guardsmen who came forward to take charge of the prisoner.

"Well done, Pippin," said Aragorn. "I am sorry that you had to do that."

"Boromir would have been proud," said Faramir.

Pippin blushed at the praise. "Boromir always said a hard enough kick there could cripple the largest of foes. I am glad to find it worked."

He stood next to the King, as they watched the three swindlers being led off. Then he looked up at Aragorn, troubled. "I'm sorry to say, Strider, but if I'd not been warned, I think I might have believed his sad story. I suppose I am rather a fool."

"Nay, Pippin. A sympathetic and large heart is never foolish. Rather the fool is one who would value gain over all else."

"What will happen to them?"

Aragorn sighed. "His two confederates will probably serve a term of hard labor for the City, but Minastir laid violent hands upon you. His life is forfeit."

Pippin shook his head firmly. "Frodo wouldn't like that. No more do I." There was a brief moment of silence.

"Very well, Pippin, your mercy has purchased his life." And that was not at all surprising either; when it came to forgiveness, Pippin was very much like his Baggins cousin.


Gimli clambered atop the pile of rubble that still marked a portion of the
wall on the second level, and gestured to Frodo and Sam, who stood with
Legolas below.

"We'll soon be rebuilding this section even better than before," he said,
rubbing his hands in anticipation.

"I'm sure you will, Mr. Gimli," said Sam politely. This little trek around
the City was getting tiring. He glanced at Frodo, wondering if he was all
right. Frodo and Legolas were quietly talking.

"I do apologize, Frodo, for intruding on your privacy and that of the
others." He flushed briefly. "I am afraid I did not think of that aspect of
it until Mithrandir pointed it out to me. I simply could not bear to see all
of you suffering night after night."

"I understand your motives, Legolas. And it may be, that from time to time,
one or more of us might like to have your help. But we cannot live our lives
with you hovering over us all night every night. Even if you do not find it
inconvenient to do so, I am afraid that we would."

The Elf gave a rueful chuckle. "I did not think of inconvenience either,
mellon nin."

Frodo smiled at him. "I know that very well. And I know that you were only
moved by friendship. What I wonder now is what is compelling you and Gimli
to keep us wandering about the streets today. I do not believe for a moment
that another surprise party is in the works."

Sam and Gimli rejoined them, just in time to hear Frodo's last remark.

"What are you saying, Mr. Frodo?" asked Sam.

"That I do not think this pointless little tour of the City is really so
very pointless. It's *not* another surprise party, am I right?"

Legolas and Gimli exchanged a dismayed look, obviously at a loss as to how
they should answer.

"Is it an order from Aragorn? What is going on, that he wants Sam and I out
of the way?"

Gimli shrugged. "You are too perceptive, Master Hobbit. Our King had a task for your youngest cousin today, and he did not wish for any interference."

Legolas was appalled. "Gimli!" he exclaimed.

The Dwarf gave the Elf a shake of the head. "I am sure the task is accomplished by now, my friend. And I cannot see lying to a direct question, can you?"

The Elf sighed.

Frodo and Sam were both looking very alarmed, and Frodo more than a touch angry. "What has he put Pippin up to? Is it dangerous?"

No immediate answer forthcoming, he gave them an icy glare. "It *is* dangerous, whatever it is, isn't it?"

This time it was Legolas who answered. "I do not think that it will be, but yes, the possibility of danger does exist, however remotely. And Pippin *did* offer to do it. He will be watched and guarded on every side, by Guardsmen and by Aragorn himself."

Frodo's face grew white, with two red spots on his cheeks, and his blue eyes were glacial.

"And he chooses a time when Merry is unable to be with Pippin, and then conveniently orders the two of you to get Sam and I out of the way. I think I need to have a word with my King."

He turned and started back towards the upper levels, Sam at his heels.

"You had better tell me what is going on," he said, without even looking to see if Legolas and Gimli were following.

Reluctantly they recounted the tale of the swindlers, and Pippin's proposed role in trapping them. As the story unfolded, Frodo continued to move resolutely forward in stony silence, growing more and more appalled.

So it was that they came upon the scene shortly after it happened, watching from a distance as Guardsmen led away their captives, and Aragorn and Pippin stood talking.

And it was with a sinking feeling that Pippin heard a familiar voice:

"Peregrin Took, just *what* did you think you were doing?"

"Frodo!" he squeaked, more frightened at the tone of his senior cousin's voice than he ever had been in the grip of the criminal.

Frodo marched up to Aragorn. "I cannot believe that you allowed my
young cousin to endanger himself again!"

Taken aback, Aragorn cast a reproachful look at Legolas and Gimli, who merely shook their heads. He looked at Frodo, and started to answer apologetically "Frodo, I--"

Frodo was about to interrupt angrily, when Pippin found his voice.

"Frodo Baggins!" he said sharply.

Surprised at a tone of voice he had never before heard directed towards himself by Pippin, Frodo turned.

"Frodo, you are my oldest cousin here. But I am not *just* your baby cousin anymore! Here in the White City I am a Knight of Gondor, I am a soldier and a Guard of the Citadel. I have *responsibilities*! And I have a King who trusts me to carry them out! Those Men were planning on taking advantage of us just because they thought we were small and innocent. There is no way I was going to allow that!" Pippin drew himself up proudly, and even though he was not in livery, he looked every inch the Knight. "Strider asked me especially if I was *sure* I wanted to do this. He did not order me to. But if he had, I still would have done it gladly. He is my King and liege--and yours too, I might add."

Frodo gaped. He had never in his life been spoken to that way by Pippin, who usually wilted whenever his elder cousin showed him scorn. He stared for a moment at the resolute face of the young hobbit who stood so proudly before him.

"Oh, Pip!" he said finally, "I'm sorry. But I did hope that you and Merry were all through having to be in danger now that the Enemy is gone."

Aragorn finally spoke, having wisely kept out of it as long as it was family business. "The Enemy is gone, but wickedness lives on without him, Frodo, and the wicked cannot be allowed to prey on the good, or soon we will have another Enemy to deal with."

Sam had moved up, and placed an arm around Frodo's shoulders. "Mr. Frodo, Mr. Pippin is right, you know. He's done well by himself, and I have to say, I'm right proud of him."

Frodo looked at Pippin, tears gathering in the blue eyes, and he reached out to give him a hug. "I'm proud of you, too, Pippin Took." He drew back and gave a little laugh. "You know, don't you, that you will get this same lecture from Merry, only worse, when he finds out."

Pippin's green eyes grew wide. "Perish forbid!" he said.

Merry was indeed livid at first, giving voice to his opinion in some rather intemperate language, some of it in Rohirric. But Pippin stood firm. He was used to Merry's protectiveness, and the anger was not directed towards him, but towards Aragorn. When Merry finally paused for breath, Pippin chuckled.

"What's so funny?" Merry glared at him.

"I think this is pretty rich coming from someone who would not stay behind in safety even when he was ordered to."

"That was different!"

"Merry, you know that if Éomer--or Aragorn--asked you to undertake a dangerous task, you'd do it without a second thought. Do you think my knighthood or my duty, means any less than yours just because I'm younger?"

"No! Pippin, that's not what I meant at all!"

Pippin shook his head. "That's true; all you meant was that I'm your little Pip to look after and protect. Don't you think we've gone beyond that now?"

Merry drew a deep breath and let it out. "I doubt me that I will *ever* get beyond looking out for you and trying to protect you, Pip. I'm afraid I can't be sorry for it either. And I came so close to losing you. But I will try not to interfere with what you see as your duty. You are right, we are both knights, and must do what we can. I am so very proud of you."

And Pippin grinned. "So, do you want to hear all the details? I don't think
I ever heard a sadder or more pitiful tale in my life."


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