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Chance Encounter  by Dreamflower


Aragorn had seen Frodo, Sam and Pippin return safely to the guesthouse, still somewhat amazed at the turn of events. He had been certain that Pippin could handle the task, but it had been quite a sight to see him take down an armed foe twice his size. And Frodo's anger afterwards had distressed him--that he had not expected at all. But he knew that soon the hobbits would need to return to their home. Today's events had shown him that only too clearly. Men were still far too ready to take advantage of those who were smaller than they, and the hobbits clearly presented a tempting target to scoundrels who little understood their great deeds. Yet there was still much to happen before he could allow them to leave. He stood on one of the Citadel's parapets, overlooking the City, and the Courtyard of the White Tree below. He straightened as he felt Gandalf join him.

"Somehow, I suppose that I thought that overcoming the Shadow, defeating the Enemy, would bring it back to life. Foolish of me, I see now." Aragorn shook his head. "Yet I must see the White Tree in flower ere I can be certain that all I have worked for will come to pass."

"You have foreseen it." Gandalf spoke calmly and with certainty.

"Aye, I *have* foreseen it, but I have not foreseen when or how. It could be *years* ere the Tree is once more in bloom. I wish to have done with waiting, Gandalf. Is that so wrong of me?"

"There is nothing wrong about it. It is the way of mortals to grow impatient when the goal begins to come in sight. It is part of being of the Secondborn, after all."

"I thought the goal *was* in sight. I am King now, of both kingdoms, the Ring is destroyed, the Enemy is defeated. Why is the sign yet denied me?" Unspoken, the name of Arwen hung in the air between them. Gandalf knew only too well what this mood was borne of.

"Be patient, my friend, yet a little longer. I cannot say more than that."

Aragorn sighed, and his posture drooped. "I have been guided by you in all this task; I will continue to wait."

Gandalf placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Let us hope that your wait will not be so long as you fear."

Menelcar rapped lightly on the door to the Steward's room.


Faramir sat in the window, looking out over the City. "May I help you, Menelcar?"

The minstrel nodded. "I take it that young Pippin's task was accomplished, but I've not been told what happened. Is it permitted to ask?"

"Of course it is! Menelcar, he was superb! I am constantly amazed at the talents the hobbits continue to display. I am afraid that the swindler sadly deceived himself when he began to think of hobbits as innocent marks." Faramir moved from the window to a chair, and gestured to another chair nearby. Menelcar sat down, and the Steward began to relate the tale.

"--And then the silly wretch had the gall to grab me and pull a knife. I was forced to bite him and then kick him in a most indelicate yet delicate place. I am afraid he may never father children." Pippin chortled and shook his head.

"Pippin! He pulled a *knife* on you?"

"I took care of it, I told you. Remember what Boromir always said?"

Merry shook his head angrily. "What are they going to do with the scoundrel?"

Pippin flicked his gaze away, and his light tone grew serious. "Strider said his life was forfeit because he laid hands on me. But I made him promise not--not to--do *that*" He broke off. "Well, the King did promise. So the villain will probably end up doing hard labor for years and years."

Merry sighed. "Well, I am glad they are not going to execute the rogue. But I am also glad that they thought he deserved it for trying to hurt you."

Pippin gaped at his cousin. "Merry, sometimes you say the strangest things!"

Merry shook his head. "I daresay he learned, though, that hobbits are tougher prey than he expected. So, you said Boromir was right about that particular move, hmm?"

Frodo was enjoying the sunshine in the small courtyard of the guesthouse, as he watched Sam gently tending some of the young flowers he and Legolas had planted.

"So, Mr. Frodo, you're not still angry at Strider, are you?"

Frodo shook his head. "No, he was doing as he thought best to catch those people as quickly as possible, and Pippin was able to help him. It just is so hard for me to realize that Pippin is all grown up now."

"Well, begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo, but he's not quite yet. Once we get home, he won't be of age for a few years to come."

Frodo chuckled. "You know what I mean. For all practical purposes, he *is* all grown up." He stopped and sighed. "Once we are home. Doesn’t that sound wonderful, Sam? It seems like we have been away forever. I sometimes can't believe that we will be able to go home. For so long I had thought never to see the Shire again."

"Well, we've done what we set out to do, Mr. Frodo. And I think it's high time we headed back. I've not been easy in my mind about things ever since I looked in the Lady's mirror."
"You're right, Sam. We *have* done what we set out to do. I will speak to Aragorn the first chance I get. It is time to go home."

Merry and Pippin had joined Sam and Frodo in the courtyard, and it was there that Bergil found them.

"Hullo, Bergil!" said Pippin in cheery greeting. "Are you here to visit, or do you have an errand?"

The lad gave a polite little half bow. The hobbits got upset if he *really* bowed to them. "I have a message from King Elessar for all of you." He held out the little sealed note.

Frodo took it, favoring Bergil with a sweet smile, and causing the child to blush furiously. He was comfortable in the company of Pippin and Merry, and Sam did not discomfit him much, but the Ringbearer he still held very much in awe. Even seeing the familiar way he was treated by his cousins did not do much towards dispelling that for the boy.

"We are all invited to dine in the Citadel with the King tonight! It seems he would like to celebrate your valorous role in catching those swindlers, Pip."

Now it was Pippin who was blushing. And he wondered how Frodo would take learning the whole story of what had happened. Frodo still did not know that Minastir had been violent or drawn a knife. It had been bad enough telling Merry.

Frodo was nodding. "This is good. I was hoping to get a chance to speak to Aragorn soon." He looked at his cousins; "I was just telling Sam that it's time we go home, and I think this will be a good chance to ask the King about it."

Home? Merry and Pippin gave whoops of joy, and enfolded Frodo in a fierce embrace. To go home, home to the Shire, and their families; home where things were their proper size; home where they could root themselves in good Shire soil instead of being surrounded by cold white stone--home at last!

They feasted once more in the King's private apartments, with only Faramir in attendance besides the Fellowship, and with Menelcar there in his role as court bard. Menelcar strummed his harp gently in the background while they ate; after the main courses had been finished, and they were served with the sweet course--a lavish concoction of chilled fruit and cream, the bard stepped forth, and began to proclaim in a droll voice the Adventure of Sir Peregrin and the Foolish Fraud. The King had advised him that if he did not wish to embarrass the subject of the story completely, or distress his subject's kin unduly, that it would be best if he treated the tale humorously.

This had delighted Menelcar, who loved to tell comical stories and jokes, but rarely had the chance, as most people seemed to prefer the tragic or the dramatic. But, as he recalled from his days in the Shire, hobbits were always eager for a story that would make them laugh.

He took full advantage of the chance, as he exaggerated in whiny tones the pitiful story the swindler had concocted, alternating with dry asides of Pippin's probable thoughts as he listened to it, and he soon had his audience laughing so hard they were wiping their eyes. By the time he got to the part where the villain grabbed the hero, Frodo scarcely had time to be alarmed as he concluded:

"…and then, our valiant Sir Peregrin, seeing that the wretch had no honor in taking advantage of such a small adversary, decided to fight dirty as well. He let fly his formidable and furry foot right into that most precious and most vulnerable bit of anatomy that all of us cherish so well. With a screech like a girl, Minastir let go and cried mercy, and so, like a good Guardsman Sir Peregrin turned him over to the mercy of the King's justice!"

He finished up with an extravagant gesture and an exaggerated bow.

Frodo gave Pippin a mild glare. "Is that actually how it happened?"

Pippin was still chortling, and barely noted the look. "More or less. Actually it sounds much better the way Menelcar tells it." He wiped his eyes, and giggled. "It really was very funny. I was never in any real danger, and the poor fellow never truly stood a chance with me surrounded by Guards and watched over by Strider."


Pippin interrupted what might turn into a reproach by looking at the King, and asking, "By the way, what *did* you do with him?"

Aragorn smiled at Pippin's obvious effort to distract Frodo, and said, "Tonight all of them are guests in the finest cell in the deepest part of the Citadel.” He gave a brief chuckle. “I have already heard their case--not much in question when I myself witnessed the whole thing--and they are sentenced to begin work tomorrow in the task of restoring the Rammas Echor. I also made it crystal clear to Minastir that the *only* reason he was not decorating the end of a rope was due to your mercy alone, Pippin. He will spend the rest of his life at hard labor, however, which will do him some good, I think--at least he will be serving a useful purpose. He has made a long habit of using the good natures of others to enrich himself, and you are not the first person on whom he used such tales of woe. You are, however, the first one to turn the tables on him." And he favored his small knight with such a look of pride that Frodo could not help but feel his annoyance fade and he felt a glow of pride in his cousin himself.

Merry still chuckling himself, said, "Give over, Frodo. Our little chick has grown up into a chicken-hawk."

As Pippin aimed the obligatory cousinly swat at Merry, who easily ducked it, Frodo laughed. "I think perhaps he has, at that."

As this little tableau played itself out, Menelcar thought it prudent to begin a song, and in honor of Pippin, he started with the first song he had ever heard Pippin sing, a hobbity ditty called "Nob O' the Lea". This thoroughly delighted all four of the hobbits, who soon were singing along. After a few more light-hearted tunes, he gradually changed to more serious fare. And then he concluded the evening with a composition of his own, which he had completed only that very day:

He played the notes of a melody, soft and haunting, and then began to sing:

"We hearken to the harp and hear
of deeds of Elves and Men;
of Silmarils, Thangorodrim,
and fallen Gondolin;

of Beren and of Lúthien;
of Eärendil the Star;
of Hurin who was sadly cursed,
and Turin Turambar.

We sing of fallen Númenor,
and faithful Elendil,
who of his folk a remnant saved,
to do the Valar's will.

We tell of mighty Gil-galad,
who led against the foe
an army vast of Elves and Men
to lay the Shadow low.

And by such things our hearts are stirred,
to know these tales of yore;
the dire deeds done and victories won
by those who went before.

So we see then in our mind's eye
these heroes brave and tall
with faces fell and mighty arms
who answered to the call.

In such a way we measure them
whose deeds we may admire,
by strength of hand and height from ground,
to such we may aspire.

There is a land so fair and green
far to the north and west,
where dwell a folk but half Men's height,
in peace and plenty blest.

They plow the ground, they till the earth,
a simple folk, we find,
who laugh and weep and live and love;
with open hearts, and kind.

Yet even there did Evil reach
far to the west and north.
Against the Shadow's fearsome clutch
were four who ventured forth.

Although in height but half as high
full twice as large their hearts.
When darkness threatened all they loved,
they sought to do their parts.

Into a world grown grim and cold,
where perils oft await,
they wandered in their innocence
toward an uncertain fate.

And two there were, who carried off
by fell and fearsome foes,
yet by their wits and strength of will
they both struck mighty blows.

And two there were who went alone
into the Shadow's lair;
where nothing good may there be found,
and all is bleak despair.

Betrayed and beaten, whipped and cursed,
they managed to endure.
they struggled on through pain and thirst,
where only death was sure,

and into malice Mercy cast,
and Love and Grace prevailed.
So Power and Pride did tremble then,
And thus the Darkness failed.

Perhaps it was to humble us
when Chance or Purpose called--
and into smallest hands did give
the greatest deed of all."

When he finished, there was silence, as the hobbits blushed furiously, and several of the others found themselves wiping a tear from their eyes. At this point, Menelcar withdrew, to allow the friends a chance to talk privately.

The party broke up into groups, Sam talking to Legolas and Gimli, and Merry
and Pippin having a word with Faramir and Gandalf, as Frodo took the
opportunity to draw the King aside.
As the three other hobbits saw Frodo approaching Aragorn, they looked at one another expectantly, and moved together as one.

"Aragorn, I wondered if I might have a word with you."

"At any time, Frodo, you know that."

"I think," Frodo said, "that we have lingered long enough. Do you not think the time has come for the four of us to go home? We miss the Shire, and our families." He waited confidently for the King's assent. His confidence faded, though, at the long silence and Aragorn's troubled expression. "I know you'll miss us," he went on, "but really, we need to get back. And I am sure there will be visits." His voice trailed off as the King's expression remained grave.

"I would ask, you, Frodo," he finally responded, "to wait just a few weeks longer."

Frodo looked at him incredulously, and then a bit angrily. "And if we don't wish to wait, my Lord King," he said, coldly and formally, "would you command us to?"

Aragorn winced. "Frodo, you know that I would command nothing of you or of Sam. And though I have the right to do so, I would not even lay such a command on Peregrin if he decided to go with you. However, he and Meriadoc yet have duties to discharge. And only Éomer has the right to release Merry from his duties, and he is in Rohan. Would you make them choose between their fealty and their kin?" The words were no sooner out of his mouth than he wished to recall them. It was the worst thing he could have said. But he had not been prepared for Frodo's request, and unfortunately it was the first thing that came to mind.

Frodo stared at him in shock, that he would dare to use Merry and Pippin in that way. "*Why* do you wish us to remain longer?"

"That is something that will make itself known in the fullness of time. Please trust me, Frodo." Aragorn gave him a pleading look. It distressed him to upset Frodo, but his own hopes were so fragile right now that he could not bear to speak of them even yet, lest he dash them altogether.

"Since you wish it, my lord, I will treat it as a command." Frodo turned away coldly, his face white except for two red spots on his cheeks.

Aragorn felt as though he had been slapped. He wished with all his heart that Frodo had not brought this up yet, and that he could have thought of some better answer.

Frodo walked over to where the other hobbits stood, and as they saw him coming, they looked at him with expressions of joy that slowly faded as they saw his face.

"He said 'No'." Frodo did not repeat the conversation; it would only hurt Merry and Pippin to realize that Aragorn had held their oaths of fealty over his head.

" 'No'!" Merry exclaimed incredulously. "Why?"

Frodo shrugged, his own implacable expression not fading.

Gandalf had observed the exchange and was distressed. He moved closer to them. He, too, wished that the hobbits had waited just a bit longer to bring this up. And he knew, as well, why Aragorn had not confided in Frodo.

He alone was aware of what the King was waiting for. The Wizard put a calming hand on Frodo's shoulder.

"Come with me, Frodo." He led Frodo out onto the balcony overlooking the City. The others watched them go, and then broke out into angry speculation as to why they weren't to be allowed to leave.

The Wizard leaned over the parapet, and Frodo stood with his back against it.

Gandalf let the silence stretch for a few moments, allowing Frodo time to calm.

Finally, Frodo looked up at him. "What did you wish to say to me? For I can see no excuse for his behavior."

"That does not mean one does not exist. I am not free to tell you of his hopes; but he waits now for a sign, a sign that has been promised him. I do not think that sign will be long in coming, and I ask you to be patient a little longer. He is your friend, you know he is; you have trusted him from the start; do not begin to doubt him now."

Frodo let out a deep breath, and tears sprang to his eyes. "I'm just so tired of everything, Gandalf. I want to go home."

"I know that you do, my friend. And I know how weary your spirit is. But do not cast aside a valuable friendship out of sudden anger, and do not treat your friend coldly. True, he is your King as well, but I think you know in your heart that he is your friend first and foremost."

Frodo stood silently a while longer, the breezes playing through his dark locks, before he finally said, "You are right. I have trusted him, even before I knew I had reason to; now that he has proven himself, I should trust him the more. I'll apologize for my anger. But I hope that this sign he awaits is not too much longer in coming, for now that the Enemy is cast down and the world at peace again, we hobbits begin to wilt away from our Shire."

Gandalf chuckled and patted Frodo's shoulder. "You hobbits did not wilt in adversity, you shall not wilt now that all is well." The Wizard kept any doubts he had on that score out of his voice. He still hoped, despite what he suspected.

"Thank you, I think," said Frodo wryly.

Gandalf chuckled once more, and gave him a tiny little shove in the direction of the room they had just left.

Frodo waved aside the other three hobbits as they clustered around him.

"Gandalf, speak to them. I'll go make my peace with Strider." Gandalf smiled, knowing that Frodo's use of the old familiar nickname was a sign that he truly had forgiven Aragorn.

Aragorn stood alone, with a troubled face, but looked up hopefully as Frodo approached.

"I apologize for my anger," he said.

"And I apologize for my clumsiness in answering you. I would not for the world have you think I would coerce you and the others into staying. I confess I was unprepared for your request to come so soon, and I have grown quite fond of having you all around me."

"Well, we shall wait a little longer. But, mind you, not indefinitely!"

Aragorn chuckled in relief. "It is my fond hope that for which I wait will occur by midsummer at the latest. But I have as yet no assurance of that, so let us keep that part to ourselves. I do not wish to raise false hopes for the others."

Frodo favored him with a smile. "Very well, that doesn't sound so bad. And I will join my fervent hopes to yours." For now that his anger had abated, and he had time to think, he began to have a hunch as to what the sign might be. He wondered how long the journey from Rivendell would take if not interrupted by blizzards, evil wizards, wargs, Balrogs and Orcs, and what the Lady Arwen might think of the White City.

The end of "Chance Encounter". For more of the hobbits' stay in Minas
Tirith, although without the presence of Menelcar, see my earlier story "A Different Kind of Quest", to which this one is a sort of prequel.

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