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A/N: The incident with the leash (lead) reflects a real-life incident where a very strong, determined puppy pulled an eleven-year-old child into the middle of a street, with a car bearing down on them. Thankfully, tragedy was averted by two very alert neighbours who jumped into the street, waving their arms and shouting, and a driver who was quick to apply the brakes. (Lesson learned: Don't wrap a leash around your wrist!)
Chapter 6. Ashes, Ashes, All Fall Down
Pippin heard the pup bark excitedly, and then Bergil yelled behind him, and he turned in surprise, but Bergil and the pup were no longer at the edge of the grass, well away from the ruined part of the building. No, but they were close, and rapidly closing – not for any lack of effort on Bergil’s part. The boy was a hapless victim, being dragged across the grass by the leather lead he’d wound so securely around his wrist.
‘Mittens!’ Pippin shouted, and leaped to intercept the careening pair, but the pup lunged in a sudden change of direction, so that the hobbit missed his grab. ‘Bergil! Stop him!’
‘I can’t!’ Bergil yelled. ‘I’m trying!’ And indeed, the boy’s heels were leaving grooves in the grass as he was dragged along, pulling back with all his might. ‘Mittens! Heel!’
And then he tripped as the pup dragged him through a patch of rubble, and he fell face first, his shouts cut short, and the pup moved faster now, dragging his unresisting weight.
‘Mittens!’ Pip shouted, in hot pursuit. In horror, he saw the pup dive into the shadow of the ruin, pulling the helpless boy after him. ‘No! Come!’ He might as well have saved his breath to cool a bowl of porridge.
With an apprehensive look at the ceiling above (not that there was any question of following the pup and the boy), he ducked to avoid a splintered, hanging beam and was pelted by a shower of falling debris – pebbles, he thought, or pieces of plaster. The pup, yelping and digging in the rubble, was worrying at a wide crack in the crumbling inner wall. Pippin dodged to avoid treading on Bergil’s prone form, lying in the rubble at the end of the lead, and grasped at the lead to pull the pup away.
How he’d get the three of them out of there, he wasn’t certain, considering that Bergil was easily as tall as he was, and nearly as heavy. Though the thought of abandoning the pup to such a dangerous situation wrung his heart within him, he decided that he’d have to get the lad to safety first, detach him from the pup and drag him into the clear, and then, if the building didn’t come down, he’d go back for Mittens.
He grabbed at the lead and gave a last despairing tug. ‘Mittens!’ The pup might as well be an Ent, for all the effect Pippin had. The hobbit sighed and then coughed – the dust being stirred up by the pup’s digging was making it hard to breathe – and bent to pull Bergil loose, but the lead was wound tightly around the boy’s wrist and the pup was pulling it tighter. ‘Mittens!’ he shouted again, though it was more of a gasping choke than a shout, as he worked his way down the lead towards the pup’s collar. He’d have to try to release it there, and then pull Bergil free, and then…
But “then” moved irretrievably beyond his reach, in another instant of time, as the pup’s digging began to have an effect. A hole opened wider in the wall where he scrabbled; there was a subtle shifting, an ominous rumbling. Some instinct prompted Pippin to throw himself down over Bergil, sheltering the boy with his own body, as heavier debris showered down, becoming a deluge, a heavy fall – followed by a rising cloud of dust… and silence.
Beregond did miss his bread at breakfast that day, along with his son, but as he’d heard from another guardsman out and about in the early morning, that his son had been seen in the company of one of the Pheriannath, the Ernil himself, as a matter of fact, he merely shook his head. He’d chide Pippin later, for distracting young Bergil from his duty. He knew the hobbit took his own duties very seriously, but he’d also often heard Pippin encouraging youngsters in the City to play – not just encouraging, but organising, teaching, and leading games for groups, as well as individual amusements.
He’d have to have a talk with the fellow, remind him that while the hobbity adage All work and no play takes the joy from the day was true enough, it was also true that All play, neglecting work, grows a shameful, shabby Shirk! The older hobbits were quick enough to point out if they thought Pippin had sought enough diversion and ought to pursue some sort of productive activity for a change. While he had no fear that Pippin would deliberately lead Bergil astray, he certainly did not want his son spoilt by accident, either.
Just as Bergil was missed at home, though without worry or alarm (for what ill could happen in Minas Tirith in these days of peace?), Pippin’s absence at the guesthouse was remarked by the other hobbits, with some passing curiosity, but little concern. The four Shirefolk and the Wizard had fallen into a pleasant routine in the month since they’d arrived to take up residence, and it was not unusual for them to be found separately, as well as all together.
Frodo, when he was feeling quite well (and often when he wasn’t) found himself fascinated by the hoarded scrolls and books to be perused in the Hall of Records. In Denethor’s later years, this place had worn an air of dust and neglect, but it was a place well beloved of the new Steward, Faramir, and enjoyed new life, new light and air and a fresh infusion of workers to dust and sweep and set the rooms and their contents in order. Scribes were assigned there as well, including any who could write in a fair hand, whether it be a man or a woman, to copy out the older, more fragile records.
Gandalf, too, was often to be found there, reading slowly through some incomprehensible scroll, translating aloud as he went, that the words might be written down for modern minds to ponder. Sam, of course, followed his Master everywhere, and when Frodo went to the Hall of Records, his companion might be found contemplating an ancient drawing of a walled garden, or dozing in a corner; or going back and forth, fetching something for his Master (usually foodstuffs, but perhaps a cloak to ward off the chill of the stone walls as the day drew towards evening, if they had originally walked to the Hall under the warm, bright Sun).
When Frodo was not feeling so well, and it was a fine day (and there were many fine days, that Spring), he spent hours in one of the gardens of the City, enjoying the warm Sun and cool breezes, and watching Sam dig in the dirt, caring for established plants and coaxing new growth. This was partly on Sam’s behalf – Frodo didn’t think it was good for the gardener to spend so many hours shut up indoors while he pored over old books, maps, and scrolls – and partly because Sam thought the sunshine would do Frodo some good as well.
Merry took his turn standing watch over Théoden with other Knights of Rohan, the King’s honour guard, and was often called to attend Éomer, or sometimes Éowyn, whose appreciation of his company had grown as they’d waited for the end of all things whether for ill or for good. He spent most of his free hours with either Frodo or Pippin (or, best of all, the both of his cousins, and Sam, of course).
Pippin was in and out of the house, attending to his duties as a Knight of Gondor (including acting as escort to the Ringbearers, quite a handy arrangement on all accounts), or often visiting with Bergil and the other young inhabitants of the City – for he found them much too serious for his liking. They need livening up, he was fond of saying to his cousins, in soliciting ideas for new games to teach, or pastimes to encourage, or jokes to recount. And now with the puppy, he had a new excuse for being out and about. Thus the others did not worry overmuch at not seeing him – they simply assumed that they were “just missing” each other in passing, coming and going on a day that was more than usually busy, considering that they must complete all their personal business early this day. There would be a banquet this evening in the Citadel, and all of them were to attend.
Pippin, in point of fact, was on the duty roster to attend the King, starting just before teatime, and until the banquet’s close. The pup might pose a problem, being too young to trust alone in the house – but as Pippin and the puppy had been absent since the early morning, the others thought perhaps he’d gone in search of someone to take on the responsibility of keeping watch over the young creature, if not permanently, then at least for the duration of this important banquet, when the ambassadors from Near, Middle, and Far Harad would be feasting with their new King.
In any event, if the hobbits gave their missing companion any thought at all, it was fleeting, and not at all tinged with worry. As a matter of fact, Merry was rather grateful that his young cousin had got the puppy out of the way for the day. He recovered from his rude awakening, waited a while over breakfast for Pippin’s return (which didn’t come), and took himself off for a walk, whistling. On his own return, just in time for second breakfast (for Sam saw to it that the hobbits kept to the custom of six meals a day, now that they could get them), he informed the others that he’d found out that Pippin and the pup had gone off with Bergil, no doubt to introduce the two younglings to the delights of throwing and fetching sticks. He’d likely accompany the boy home again, to enjoy some of Gilwyn’s fine cooking, and as neither of his cousins had assigned him a task yet that day, and he did not have official duty until the afternoon, they were unlikely to see him again until that evening at the banquet.
Merry and Frodo laughed together over their young cousin’s cleverness. ‘Out of the house early enough, to avoid any and all taskmasters,’ Merry said, adding, ‘Why didn’t I ever think of that?’
Frodo chuckled and shook his head. ‘Well, you didn’t,’ he said. ‘And so, dear cousin, you may take his place this morning, and accompany me to the Hall of Lore, and fetch and carry for me when my faithful Sam is away, arranging sustenance.’
‘Your least wish is my greatest desire,’ Merry said with a bow. ‘And besides, I heard a rumour of some very old scrolls there, concerning herb-lore…’
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