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Chapter 2. A Fruitless Search
‘But Beregond,’ Frodo said in his most reasonable tone. ‘Surely you can tell me who gave the pup to Pip?’
‘Gave the pup to Pip,’ Merry said. He could see that Frodo was tiring, having talked to nearly a dozen guardsmen without result. ‘That’s got a kind of ring to it, Frodo. P’rhaps you ought to write that one down.’
Frodo gave his younger cousin a pained look. ‘Merry,’ he began.
‘As I said, two guardsmen ago, I think we ought to put our inquiries off until the morrow,’ Merry said. ‘I’ve about walked my toes off, going from place to place in search of all the guardsmen in Pippin’s Company, and…’
‘And half of them are on leave,’ Beregond put in helpfully.
‘We wouldn’t be concerned with those in any event,’ Frodo said, relieved at eliminating so many possible leads at once. ‘Pippin was only given the pup this morning.’
‘And the half that are on leave, took their leave just after nuncheon,’ Beregond said. ‘A number of them would be miles away by now, but I'm sorry on your account to say that they were all here this morning.’
‘Miles away?’ Frodo said faintly, in wonder. ‘Don’t they live in the City?’
Beregond smiled. ‘My own father lives in Lossarnoch,’ he said, ‘and if I were allowed to leave the City, I would take my son there to see his grandfather, and I…’ he hesitated, and swallowed hard before ploughing on bravely, in a wistful tone, ‘I should like to see him again, once more.’
Merry blinked at this reminder that Beregond was a Man marked for death. By tradition, leaving his post during battle carried the penalty of death, as well as his other actions in his desperate fight to save his Captain, Faramir. He waited only to stand before the King, to hear his doom pronounced and to have it carried out. But Elessar was busy with many matters, and so Beregond lived on, at least for a time.
‘I understand,’ Frodo said gently, placing a hand on the guardsman’s arm. Beregond stood a little straighter, as if taking strength from the contact.
‘I thank you,’ he said with a bow. ‘I wish I could be of more aid, but…’
‘It is of no matter,’ Frodo said firmly. ‘We hobbits are in want of a little exercise, as it is…’
Merry refrained from rolling his eyes at this, though he really wanted to. Hadn’t he just said his toes were wearing out? Well, they might not be, but he did worry that Frodo might be overextending himself in this search, just a bit.
‘They keep putting more and more food before us,’ Frodo went on, ‘why, it’s more than even Pippin can eat.’
‘I don’t know about that,’ Merry said under his breath. ‘He can eat quite a lot!’
Beregond heard this, however, and laughed. ‘That he can!’ he said. ‘Enough for any four Men of my acquaintance, or more!’
‘He is a growing tween, after all,’ Frodo said in his young cousin’s defence. ‘And he’s been healing of his injuries since the battle before the Black Gate! Though he seems completely healed – it has been a month – it takes time for a body to replenish its energies after being laid so low as he was.’
You might speak for yourself, cousin, Merry thought, but he knew it would distress Frodo for him to say so aloud, especially in front of another.
‘Don’t I know it?’ Beregond said, gesturing to the sling that still cradled his arm. ‘I wish that my healing could proceed as quickly as a hobbit’s, even should I have to take in extra food for it to work that way.’
Merry was suddenly curious. ‘Have you tried?’ he said frankly, looking the guardsman up and down.
Beregond laughed again. ‘Hah!’ he said. ‘I assure you, Master Hobbit, that if I were to eat as much as your cousin, I should certainly grow – only it wouldn’t be new bone, blood, and muscle to replace what was damaged! No, but I should outgrow my mail, for certain!’
The hobbits laughed with him, but then Frodo was all business once more. ‘Can you suggest others we might talk with?’ he said. ‘I do need to find out where this pup came from.’
Beregond scratched his head. ‘I beg your pardon,’ he said, considering his words carefully, lest he seem to insult the Ringbearer by stating the obvious. ‘But doesn’t Peregrin know where the pup came from? Was the giver a stranger to him?’
Frodo gave a small, diffident cough. ‘Forgive me, Beregond,’ he said. ‘You have my pardon, though I ought not have put you into a position to ask it, in the first place.’ He cocked his head to one side, looking up at the tall Man. ‘You see, it has to do with Shire custom, and what is thought proper and polite amongst our people.’
The hobbits were not surprised to see a sudden eagerness light the Man’s face; he’d been curious about other lands and peoples since their first acquaintance – indeed, since Pippin’s first meeting – with him. ‘I would greatly desire to hear more,’ he said. Glancing at the angle of the sun, he added, ‘I have an hour more, before I must report to the Houses of Healing, where I am expected.’ And he moved his injured arm, as if to illustrate his words.
‘Come,’ Merry said, ‘let us buy you a mug of something – there’s an inn just up the street…’ And he persuaded Beregond and Frodo to follow him, and in due course the hobbits were perched on cushions on a bench, and Beregond on the facing bench, with mugs of beer in front of them. These had appeared quickly, and the innkeeper had insisted that there was no charge for them.
It was quite convenient to be a Halfling in Minas Tirith in those days.
In any event, they sat and talked contentedly for the next half hour or so. The hobbits told Beregond (and several other fascinated listeners, including the innkeeper, who hovered, and poured more into their mugs whenever the level dropped perceptibly) all about Shire customs regarding the giving of gifts.
At last Beregond understood. ‘And so you wish to find out just who it was who gave the pup to Sir Peregrin,’ he said.
‘Yes, and we want to do it quietly, so that he doesn’t suffer the embarrassment of appearing ungrateful,’ Frodo said. ‘Just a few discreet enquiries, you see, and spirit the pup off…’
‘You’d have to allow Pip to say goodbye,’ Merry said. ‘He’d be quite put out if you didn’t.’
‘The whole idea is to avoid hurt,’ Frodo returned. ‘Of course he’d be able to say goodbye. We wouldn’t tell him where the pup was going (such a disgrace! …to give a gift back to the giver!) but only that we’d found a good home for it.’
‘But why not simply do that?’ Beregond asked, sipping at his beer without much affecting the level. He didn’t want to show up at the Houses of Healing in his cups, after all.
‘Simply do what?’ Merry asked. ‘I don’t follow you.’ It is possible that his head was growing slightly muddled, as he was not being as careful as the Man about certain things.
‘Simply find a good home for the beast,’ Beregond said. ‘Didn’t you say that your people have a habit of… what did you call it? Mathoms? You take a gift and keep it for a while and then give it as a gift to someone else?’
‘Beregond, you are brilliant!’ Merry said enthusiastically. ‘Honestly, cousin, why did we not think of that? And we, the Shirefolk! It took a Man of Gondor to present a solution!’
Frodo smiled and shook his head. ‘I see only one problem,’ he said.
‘And that is…?’ Merry wanted to know. The more of this fine brew he took in, the fewer the problems he could see.
‘Who in his right mind would want a pup the size of a pony who likely eats as much as an Oliphaunt?’
‘At least it’s a cute pup,’ Merry said. ‘Very winsome and sweet.’
‘I think we’ll keep asking the guardsmen,’ Frodo said. ‘At least, until we run out of guardsmen to ask.’ He took a swallow from his own mug. ‘Pip did say that he was with a guardsman when the pup was presented to him... or that a guardsman helped him to bring the pup home, when the "little" fellow grew sleepy... or something to that effect.’
Merry sighed, and set forth to fortify himself further for the endeavour. ‘And then we can go back to the guest house and finish our tea? Or perhaps I ought to say “eventides” for it will be eventides by the time we return, at this rate!’
Frodo considered. ‘Well if half the Company is on leave,’ he said, ‘we don’t have all that many left to question.’ He saw the look on Merry’s face and relented. ‘Very well, cousin, if we’re not finished by eventides, we’ll call off the remainder of the search until tomorrow.’
‘Fruitless?’ Sam said, overjoyed to hear his beloved Mr. Frodo speaking of food – perhaps his Master’s efforts had improved his appetite. ‘No, of course we’re not fruitless! Why, we’ve strawberries, and melon, or had you forgotten?’
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