The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

Volume II
Through Shadows to the Edge of Night
By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 8, Part 38
Minas Tirith by Night
(December 10, 1451)

"The king has long watched over you by palantir," Bergil said as they descended to the Pelennor Field and Minas Tirith came into view ahead of them, far below the snowline but cold enough. "He sent me to ward you before you yourself knew the trouble awaiting you."

Frodo stared dully at the spiral of high, white walls and the great prow of stone thrust out from the mountain behind, cleaving the city in two. In all the west no other city existed on the scale of Minas Tirith. Thousands of candles, torches and hearth-fires flickered from uncountable windows and streets, tier upon tier, so that the city shimmered with a golden light, made all the brighter for the shadows deep within each arch and alley, nook and secret gate, appearing in the distance like the most intricate of carvings. A haze of radiance made a halo around the city, bright against the starless winter sky. Frodo had never seen anything like it, having arrived the last time by daylight. He wondered if a pony would like such sights, or if she would only have been interested in finding the next stable at the end of a hard day. He found tears spilling down his face all over again, quite against his will.
"What troubles you, Master Frodo?"
"Billie-Lass. My pony. I rode her too hard. She hated that icy road. She...I..." As Frodo swallowed back a sob, the blonde man made a contemptuous noise and Bergil turned to him.
"When you face judgment, brigand, I shall be called upon to bear witness to your demeanor along with all else. I suggest that you at least pretend to respect hearts more subtle than your own." To Frodo he said, more gently, "No one ever loses a loved one without thinking of a host of things he might have done differently, or better. But I could see that your mare was a sleek and well-loved animal. You have nothing to regret."
"It's a funny thing," Frodo said, wiping his eyes, "But when I set out from Edoras I thought I was finally, completely on my own. I was never on my own. I never made a step of the journey without the help of my friend--why didn't I appreciate her?"
"You have learned something. Now you are wiser."
"Now I have no one of the Shire left to me." The plain around him seemed darker and colder next to the luminous city ahead--flat and inhospitable to hobbit-holes or anything else familiar to a halfling far from home.
Bergil sighed. "It is often thus, I fear--you leave loved ones behind in order to do the deeds that make you worthy of their love. But they are never farther away than your own heart, Frodo. At least that is what we must believe--we who travel in the King's service." He laid a hand on the hobbit's shoulder. "And you will make new friends along the way--open yourself to that."
Frodo's spirits lifted a little as they entered the first gate and began to climb the long spiral upward to the Citadel, if only for the distraction and the promise of comforts ahead. He suddenly realized just how hungry he felt, and cold, and tired not just in heart but in body, too. He even felt a little glad that Billie-Lass at least did not have to carry him up and up such winding paths after all she'd been through already.
Bergil instructed his men to escort their prisoners to the gaol, and rode on alone with Frodo, up stone-paved streets where the echo of their hoofbeats skipped up the walls and overlaid the murmur of family after family finishing their dinners or cleaning up afterwards--all the layers of people leading stacked lives behind their glowing windows in the apartments of the White City. The sounds made Frodo homesick and yet comforted him, too, just to feel the nearness of so much domesticity after months of travel.
They rode by an inn. A door opened to let out a couple guests, and a fine tenor voice spilled out with the light, finishing up a song that Frodo recognized as one that Uncle Pippin often hummed. The song ended in a burst of laughter and applause, and Frodo smiled; some things never changed. But he'd had enough of inns to last him for awhile. Only locals ever really found companionship within, anyway. They rode on to quieter streets.
A cloying scent clung to a broader thoroughfare, where workers labored late to sweep up husks and leaves and the occasional spoiled fruit. The city-folk must have held a market here today. One farmer's family still remained, pulling down their booth and piling it onto a cart, while a child whined that her little brother was being an orc again. Frodo smiled, remembering how Elanor'd said the same thing of him a time or two--especially when he'd call her a dragon and rummage her room for treasure in between poking at her with a stick. Then the little human girl pointed up at him as they passed and asked loudly, "What's that? Is it a grown-up or a child?" and Frodo dropped his smile. Never mistake them for hobbits, he reminded himself, as they rode away down a different street.
Bergil, though, chuckled as though it took all of his strength not to laugh fit to set the stone walls ringing. "Take no offense, please, Master Frodo! I do not laugh at you, but only at my memories of my selfsame lack of wit when I met my first Perian, at about the same age as she--if you can believe it, I made the mistake of threatening to stand him on his head (for even then I stood taller than your kind) and his response nearly scared the life from me! He was nice enough afterwards, though--better than I deserved. That was the last time I ever tried to bully anyone." He grinned down at the hobbit. "I think the company of halflings has been good for me."
"Then I thank you for the compliment." Maybe they don't need to be hobbits, he reflected. Maybe they're just fine as human beings. What child ever dealt fairly with anyone different from those he knew? After all, didn't he and his siblings pester every poor elf they could find, trying to catch one asleep to see whether his eyes stayed open? And what community didn't have its share of adults who never outgrew this? But that didn't mean the community as a whole had no sense of what was right and proper. And speaking of fairness, it finally sunk in to Frodo just how great a debt he owed to the ranger already.
"Bergil, I want to thank you for saving my life. I mean, I should have thanked you before--how horrible of me! But..."
"You had much on your mind. I understand. Or rather, much on your heart."
"Well, I want to thank you properly now." He thought a moment. "In the Shire, had you fished me out of a river or saved me from a charging bull, I would have invited you to my home, where my family and I would have honored you with the finest meal we could."
"You may yet get your chance, Master Frodo, though I fear you will have to cook the feast without your family's help, and have little to choose in the way of food--but I shan't mind, if it be but served with hospitality."
Frodo looked up at him. "What do you mean? And don't call me 'Master'."
"I mean that the King has assigned me to accompany you to Mordor, and guard you for the duration of your stay. And why should I not call you Master, when I have been assigned to your service?"
"How splendid!" Frodo exclaimed. "That is the best news I've heard in a long time!"
"Easy, easy!" Bergil laughed. "You do not even know me. Are all of the Periannath so trusting?"
"I may be less trusting than most--or have become so on my journey, I fear. But I learned all I need to know of you when you honored my pony's grave."
Bergil looked solemnly down on him for a moment, and nodded his acknowledgement. Then suddenly he grinned again, saying, "Not all--for instance, they tell me that I snore. I have not decided whether I believe this or not, for I have never heard myself. But people do tend to throw boots at my tent in the middle of the night, so there might be some truth to the rumor."
In his weariness Frodo felt a giddy fit come upon him and he chuckled despite his care. "You've got nothing to fear there, at least," he said, "for I have no boots." Then, cracking up at his own humor, he exclaimed, "So you can see why it is bootless to call me 'Master'!"
"I suppose I should defer to your example and go barefoot myself," Bergil laughed, "for it does not seem meet that the servant should go shod when the master does not."
"In this cold? Only when your feet grow fur!"
"Ah, but rumor says that the Son of Samwise Gardner can grow anything anywhere. Have you any fur-seeds, Master Frodo, that could help me out?"
"Stop calling me 'Master'!" Frodo said, grinning, with a punch at Bergil's knee. "We are both servants alike, it seems, on a mission for the King. And I cannot tell you what a relief it is to me to know that, Bergil."
"Are you ordering me to be insolent?" Bergil said in mock-horror. "Take care, my friend, for I follow orders very well--especially when they please me."
"Then I 'order' you, Friend Bergil, to tell me whatsoever tales you please about yourself, or anything else that interests you, so that I may be your friend indeed--for apparently you know much more about me than I do about you."
Bergil complied right willingly, beginning with an absurd story of his parents' very first attempt to force him to go shod and what he did with the shoes, and that led to other topics, mostly having to do with the avenues they rode, as each turn brought new accounts to mind. Bergil had a good head for legends, not to mention a knack for somehow seeing both the heroic and the humorous in every situation, so Frodo let the man go on, glad to keep his mind off of his loss, and because the stories helped him stay awake. Bergil shared tales of his boyhood adventures on these streets before his family moved to Ithilien, his memories of the Siege of Gondor, and tales of the histories that had played out in ancient mansions along the way--old tragedies or triumphs that the stones remembered like the centuries of weather streaking their sides, soaked deep into their very pores.
But after awhile Bergil fell silent, too weary himself to continue. And Frodo's eyes tired of sculptures looming from the shadows and carvings half-glimpsed by torchlight. So much rock around him began to weigh upon him; he nodded in the saddle so that on several occasions Bergil had to catch him from falling off altogether. Frodo wished he could just lay his head down and let everything slip away.
At last, though, they passed through a tunnel, and when they came out again Frodo saw the Palace of the Kings of Gondor shining pale before him, and the White Tree thriving like a living sculpture of moonlight, winter-bared but shapely, reflected in a pool of stars as the clouds parted overhead. Servants came to his aid as Bergil lifted him down from the saddle and gave orders that Frodo felt too tired to listen to. He found himself led to a pleasant little room with a bed the right height for him; someone, he noticed, had sawn the legs down to hobbit-level, so that he could topple right onto it and not have to climb like he'd been doing for weeks now. Never mind dinner or any other consideration--a sleep of exhaustion pulled him down into welcome oblivion far, far away from great stone cities or dying ponies, far from care, far from fear, far from mourning or regret. He did not see the servant blow out every lamp but one, nor feel the blanket settle softly over him.

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