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Chapter 5. Best Laid Plans
While passing through the Third Circle, Pippin was hailed once more. ‘But Master Perian!’ came a hearty voice. ‘Stop! Please!’ Pippin realised that he had missed the summons – but there was a Man hailing him – a Man wearing a leather apron, and holding an awl in his hand. ‘Master…’ he answered, wracking his brains for the Man’s name. Had they been introduced?
The pup, however, seemed to know the Man – he pulled the rope right out of Pippin’s hand and ran to greet the fellow, jumping up with enough force to drive him back a step or two. Pippin hurried up to him, apologising profusely, but the Man only laughed, catching the rope and bringing the pup quickly under control. ‘Ah!’ he said. ‘That is exactly why I called to you!’
‘I beg your pardon, sir,’ Pippin said. ‘Your name seems to be evading…’
‘No matter!’ the Man said, his voice slightly muffled as he had bent down to fondle the shaggy ears of the pup, and ended having to fend off the hairy face. ‘I don’t believe we’ve been introduced, but of course I know you! I’m –‘ and his name was muffled once more by the pup, so that it came out as some sort of Er-Mmph!
Pippin was about to politely beg his pardon, and ask the name again, but the Man forestalled him, pulling a coiled lead of finely worked leather from his capacious apron pocket, attached to a collar, which he proceeded to fasten around the neck of the wriggling pup. In the end, Pippin and Bergil had to help to hold the pup, but at last the collar was on, and the Man stood up again, well pleased, holding the loop of the lead. ‘There!’ he said. ‘I saw you walking the beast up the hill just yesterday, and I told myself, “That rope won’t do – he’ll slip out of it, and be jumping up on people at the Market, or worse, stealing meat at the butcher’s stall…” or perhaps something worse,’ and belying these dire predictions, or perhaps because of them (as he was holding the solution, in a manner of speaking), he grinned widely and presented the loop to Pippin. ‘There!’ he said. ‘Now you can take firm hold, and you can buckle the collar larger as the little fellow grows…’
Pippin fumbled at his pocket. ‘What do I owe you, sir?’ he said.
The Man laughed again. ‘Why, naught!’ he said. ‘I’d hate for the little fellow to run under the wheels of a cart, and be crushed, for want of a proper restraint! Just don’t tie him up by it, or he’ll chew it to pieces. It’s good leather!’
‘I see that,’ Pippin said, and tried again. ‘But surely, it must be worth a great deal of…’
The leathercrafter held up a commanding hand. ‘The life of my good friend Beregond is worth a great deal more than a scrap of leather,’ he said, ‘and more than one of the Men of the City, who marched to the Black Gate in his Company, has told me the story of how you saved him, at great danger to yourself! You take it, and use it well!’
Pippin stammered his thanks, and then he and Bergil said their farewells and walked on. Bergil begged to hold the end of the lead, and since it meant a more secure hold than the rope had offered, Pippin obliged.
At least he hadn’t had the trial of having to ask the Man’s name again. He said to Bergil. ‘He’s a good friend of your father? What is his name? I didn’t quite hear…’
Bergil said, ‘Surely you’ve heard of Master Eradan! He does the finest leatherwork of any in the City!’
‘No,’ Pippin said. ‘I hadn’t heard of him, but I will be sure to remember his name. Perhaps later I can give you some coins, and you can go and purchase a finely-tooled belt of him, of the right size for a hobbit.’ He lowered his voice and whispered behind his hand, ‘I don’t dare try to purchase it myself! He’ll simply give it to me, and then Frodo will make me try and give it back, and I really do need a new belt!’
Bergil laughed heartily, and Pippin joined in. The people they passed smiled at the merry sound. Many called greetings to the hobbit, and to his companion, and quite a few stopped to greet the puppy and rub the soft head or furry ears.
Eradan was right, Pippin had to admit. The pup was much easier to control with a proper collar and lead, even for a lad of Bergil’s age (or a hobbit of Pippin’s size, for that matter). They made good use of the journey to work on teaching the pup to walk nicely, without pulling or jerking, and because the pup was a fine specimen of an intelligent breed, he quickly seemed to understand what was required of him. By the time they reached the gate to the Second Circle, he was walking quite steadily at Bergil’s side, and only occasionally pulling and whining or sniffing.
There were few people about when they reached the ruined inn, a fair-sized structure, two wings that ran from the street to the City wall, joined by a wide colonnade that ran the length of the street front, deceptively graceful columns supporting a roof, providing a covered passageway between the wings. Beyond, bordered by the wings, the wall, and the porch, a greensward sparkled in the morning sun, still fresh with dew. One wing was heavily damaged, obviously struck by one or more of the missiles cast by the Enemy’s war engines during the Battle of the Pelennor.
‘Wonderful!’ Pippin said. ‘Mittens can run on the grass, and we can even find a piece of wood for him to fetch, in the rubble there – do you see the splintered railing from the balcony?’
‘My father told me to stay away from the damaged buildings,’ Bergil said dubiously. The pup pulled at the leash suddenly, nearly unbalancing the lad, but he braced himself and called the beast back to order. He managed to coax the pup to sit, though it took some patience.
‘Oh, I’m going to stay away from the damage,’ Pippin said. ‘You can see where the wall fell outward – I’m simply going to retrieve a piece of that railing, there on the edge. Just hold Mittens, if you don’t mind, for I wouldn’t want him to follow me there.’
Bergil looked even more dubious at this, but Pippin laughed and held up his hand. ‘Really! he said. ‘There’s no danger! We will stay on the undamaged side of the yard, of course, and not go near the damaged wing…’
‘Except to retrieve the stick,’ Bergil said with a quizzical look.
‘Yes, and as I will be the one to retrieve the stick, everything will be fine.’
‘If you say so,’ Bergil said.
Pippin only laughed. ‘It is the work of a few seconds,’ he said. ‘Step in, and step out again! I learnt my lesson with that hill troll, I did…’ He looked sternly to the sitting puppy. ‘Now you stay,’ he said. ‘Stay there.’
The pup wagged his tail and whined.
‘Stay!’ Pippin insisted, and turned and walked towards the broken piece of wooden railing he’d spotted.
The pup whined and lunged.
‘Be careful!’ Bergil called, calling the animal back to order, putting the loop of the lead around his wrist, and wrapping it a turn or two around his arm for good measure. The hobbit waved in reply.
Pippin stopped short of the ruins and cautiously surveyed the damaged building. It looked stable enough, even with a gaping hole in the roof and part of the wall missing, and part of the building blackened from fire. He scrutinised the broken railing from the balcony – broken, not burnt. It had evidently been built in sections, for the piece he was after was not splintered, but seemed to be whole. He nodded. It would make a fine, sturdy, solid stick for the pup to fetch and chew, a good thing, for he doubted he’d find any fallen tree limbs lying about the City just waiting for him to pick them up.
He took a deep breath, nodded to himself, and stepped into the shadow of the ruin, stooping to seize the prize, and a bare second later, stepping out again. ‘As smooth as a sword drill!’ he laughed. ‘How pleased Boromir would be!’
He waved the stick in triumph, and Bergil cheered while the pup barked excitedly.
Everything seemed so right in that moment. Unfortunately, that was also the moment when everything went quite wrong.
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