Chance Encounter by Dreamflower

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Story Notes:

This was originally posted at my Live Journal, but has now undergone extensive beta-ing and rewriting, courtesy of the incomparable Marigold.  Rated PG for some very mild violence in one chapter.


CHAPTER 1


It was only two days after the coronation, and the streets of Minas Tirith were still filled with the joyous sounds of celebration. On almost any corner could be found a small crowd, listening to minstrels, bards, troubadours and street buskers. This was not including the jugglers, dancers, sleight-of-hand artists, jesters, tumblers, and mimes. All those folk whose livelihood was in making people smile and offering up a bit of joy who had for many years been unwelcome as a distraction, were now pouring into the White City of the returned King.

This made taking a walk with Pippin frustrating, thought Merry, as his cousin constantly was lingering behind every time they passed a group of musicians.

"Pippin! Come on!" Merry tugged at his elbow. "We're going to lose Faramir and Éowyn!"

Pippin came away reluctantly at first, head turned, ears straining to catch the sounds of the music, but then both hobbits had to trot to catch up to their friends.

Faramir and Éowyn had paused when they realized the hobbits were not at their heels. Again. The Steward had an errand with some merchants on the third level. Rather than summon them up to him at the Citadel, he had used it as an excuse to go out into the lovely spring weather, and invite Éowyn to come with him. Since he had found Merry and Pippin in her company, it had seemed only polite to ask them to come along as well. It was a good thing the errand was not an urgent one, he thought with some amusement. The young Knight of Gondor could not be hurried whenever he heard music.

Pippin caught up to his big friend's side, and immediately began to bombard him with questions. "Faramir, did you hear them? What was that instrument, do you know? Do you suppose it's hard to play? It's not at all like a fiddle, for all it's played with a bow--"

"Peace, Pippin!" Faramir laughed. "One question at a time--" and he began to answer Pippin's questions as best he could. He had a certain interest in music himself, but he was not nearly so knowledgeable as the hobbit would have liked.

Éowyn looked down at Merry. "Holdwine, is your cousin always so easily distracted?"

Merry rolled his eyes. "My lady, you've no idea!" He glanced at the street into which they had just turned, and breathed a sigh of relief. No musicians in sight. Maybe they could go more than twenty feet without stopping.

The four friends walked companionably enough, the larger couple strolling, the smaller ones walking briskly to keep up. Faramir and Éowyn mostly listened. They were amused to listen to Pippin's chatter, punctuated by Merry's wry asides. Suddenly Pippin fell silent, ears twitching. "Merry did you hear that?"

Merry's hand shot out as soon as Pippin had tensed, but he was foiled by the fact that Pippin was in livery and had no convenient collar. His hand closed on empty air, as Pippin was off like one of Gandalf's rockets down a side street.

With an apologetic glance at his two remaining companions, Merry darted after his cousin.

Faramir and Éowyn exchanged a wry look, and trotted off in the same direction.
_______________________________________

"She hardly believed her fiery eyes
For though it was day to her surprise,
They all went back to bed!"*

As the last notes died away the minstrel took a bow to laughter and applause. He placed his small harp upon the ground next to his hat, where already a few listeners had tossed coins. But he had hardly raised his head when he was propelled backwards by a small body slamming into him, his name called out in joy.

"Menelcar!"

"Pippin?"

The young hobbit suddenly found himself lifted up and whirled around madly.
"Pippin!"

The crowd murmured excitedly at this, as Merry, Faramir and Éowyn arrived.

But suddenly the minstrel set him down and knelt before him. "I beg your pardon, Sir Peregrin, for being so familiar."

Pippin's face fell, and a look of distress came into his green eyes.
"Menelcar, please don't do that to me. You are supposed to be my friend!"

The minstrel smiled, though he did not rise. "Very well--Pippin."

Pippin glanced over his friend's shoulder. "Menelcar, you remember my cousin Merry? And this is--"

Menelcar rose with practiced grace, turned and bowed. "My Lord Steward, my Lady of Rohan, it is an honor. Sir Meriadoc, it is good to see you again."

Merry grinned. "If he's Pippin, I'm Merry, and you know it!" He reached over to give the man his own hug.

Faramir smiled. "Master Menelcar, I see we witness the meeting of old friends here. But it seems you have the advantage of us." He glanced at Éowyn's amused face.

Pippin said nothing. There was a speculative look in his eyes.

Merry said, "This is Menelcar the minstrel. Pippin was once almost his apprentice." Merry grinned in anticipation of telling the story.

But Pippin was looking at the musician with an expression of betrayal.
"Menelcar--" he said quietly, "--you've known we were here in the City all along, haven't you?"

Menelcar looked puzzled at the change in Pippin's demeanor, but before he could respond, Faramir said "One moment," and cast a glance at the minstrel's audience, who were staring rather avidly at them.

Putting a bit of steel into his voice, he said, "Good people, the minstrel's fine show has ended. I suggest you all go on about your own business now." He accompanied this with a small smile on his lips and a stony glare in his eyes.

There were folk in the crowd who were quickly minded that this was Denethor's son, and however the King might rule, this was still the Steward. Fairly quickly the watchers were dispersed.

Éowyn was surprised. Faramir was constantly showing her new aspects to his personality. He was so gentle most of the time that she found herself forgetting he was a soldier and a captain, and used to command. She was pleased to see this side of him.

Faramir glanced down at Merry and Pippin. Merry was looking somewhat speculative himself now.

"Perhaps we can find somewhere to sit, have a bit to eat and drink, and talk together." One thing he had soon learned of his small friends was that any suggestion of food and drink would not be taken amiss. His errand could wait another day. King Elessar had made it clear that anything to do with the pheriannath had priority over everything else.

Merry nodded. "There's a place called The Golden Cockerel just a street over from here."

"Yes," said Pippin shaken from his reverie. "Yes, there is. I hear they make a lovely chicken pie."

Faramir chuckled. "So there is. And so they do. How do you know this?"

Pippin grinned. "We asked some of the Men in the Third Company about the best eating places, of course, now that they are once more open! Targon recommended this place highly."

"I should have realized," said the Steward. "Master Menelcar, would you care to accompany us to The Golden Cockerel?"

It was not really a question, and the minstrel knew it. "I should be glad to do so, my lord," he answered. Menelcar gathered up his hat and his harp to follow after the Steward, Pippin and Merry trotting by his side.

The Golden Cockerel had tables outside in the courtyard, and the small party seated themselves at one. It was early for regular custom, but it was about the right time of day for what the hobbits called elevenses. Merry went in and placed their order, and came back to sit next to Éowyn.

"The innkeeper will bring the food and drink out to us in a few moments." He blushed. "He says it is on the house."

Pippin rolled his eyes. "We'll never spend a copper of that nice money we've been gifted by our kings--" he grinned at Faramir “and so forth..” Faramir chuckled at his cheek, for he too had given Pippin a gift of coin for his knighting.

The two hobbits noticed the amusement on the faces of their companions.
"It's embarrassing," said Merry. "No one wants us to pay for anything."

"It started even before we left Ithilien," grumbled Pippin. "Remember that ale tent someone had set up as a sort of tavern? We wanted to buy a round of drinks, and no one would let us."

"And there was that, er, cobbler," Merry hesitated slightly at the unfamiliar term, "who had his stall near the barber, who wanted to give all of us shoes, silly Man. He really offended Sam, though Frodo thought it funny." Merry shook his head. "You'd think they would *want* to make a little money."

Faramir laughed. "They are well recompensed even so, Merry. Do you not know that the innkeeper will be boasting that he had the custom of the two of you? It will bring him far more business than what he loses on one meal."

"I suppose," said Pippin glumly. He looked up at Menelcar. "You knew we were here, obviously. And you've been here long enough to know all about our knightings and everything. So why have you not come to see me?" He looked at the minstrel with hurt in his eyes.

Menelcar shook his head. "It's not that simple, Pippin. You are among the great of the kingdom, of all the Western lands, now, and high in favor with the new King. I could not simply walk up to the Citadel and demand to see you on the strength of our old acquaintance. I would have been laughed out of the City, and never come near you."

Pippin and Merry looked astounded.

Faramir nodded. "It is the other side of the coin to what I was telling you about the innkeeper--speaking of which here is our meal." His own eyes grew wide at the approach of the hostler and a serving maid, each bearing a laden tray. Merry had apparently ordered a *whole* chicken pie for each member of the party, as well as two pitchers of ale. But since two of the party were hobbits, he did not expect there would be any leftovers in spite of that. He waited until the food and drink had been placed before them and they were once more alone before continuing. "There are many who would be glad to take advantage of your renown. We have turned several scoundrels away, who have presented themselves at the Citadel on the pretext of already knowing you, and hoping to make some gain thereby."

He did not see fit to mention the several young ladies who had also done the same, apparently infatuated with the small warriors, or with the Ringbearers. It seemed a bit perverse to the Steward, and he thought his companions would be appalled if they knew.

Éowyn suppressed a grin. She had also been aware of what her betrothed had failed to mention. But knowing Merry, she did not think the hobbits would have been upset--more likely smug would have been the better word.

Menelcar nodded. "So you see, Pippin, why I did not try to look you up. I hoped our paths might cross, but I did not really expect them to, and certainly not so soon after your return. You and your friends are far beyond my station now."

Pippin had just taken a sip of ale, and very nearly spluttered it out again at that statement. "Menelcar, that's just daft! 'beyond your station'!" He shook his head. "So, how did you know it was us?"

"Oh, I knew who it had to be as soon as I heard of the four pheriannath who had come to save us. I was not a bit surprised when I finally heard your names. After all, who else besides Pippin Took would have ventured so far from the Shire? And of course your cousins were with you. I was a bit puzzled at first about the fourth, when I remembered Sam."

Having just taken a bite of the really rather delicious chicken pie, Éowyn took a sip of ale to wash it down, and asked, "What I would really like to know, Master Menelcar, is how you came to know our holbytlan and why Meriadoc says that Peregrin was nearly your apprentice?"

"Ah, my lady, now that is a story. About four years ago, I found myself in the Shire--"

____________________________________________


On the fourth level of the City there was a quiet bustle of activity. The shops here belonged to the more affluent merchants of luxury goods. They had been emptied of their stock and boarded up months before, as their owners had taken themselves and their goods out of harm's way. There had been very little damage this high up and now that the King had returned, the craftsmen and shopkeepers were returning as well. Hopes were high that there would now be a demand for silks and jewels and other such fripperies since there was a court with courtiers who wished to impress. Speculation as to that could be heard in some of the conversation audible to passers by.

Legolas shook his head, amused. "These folk are in for a surprise if they think that their new King is going to be impressed by fancy clothing and elaborate jewelry."

Gimli chuckled. "They'll soon learn. But there will be even more of a surprise when they open for business and discover that the merchants one level down can demand higher prices for more useful goods than they can for all their fol-de-rol."

The Elf nodded. "There was more damage done there. But the stores of food, practical clothing and medicines are now far more valuable than silks and gems." He glanced about. "Speaking of 'open for business' are you sure that this instrument maker you were telling me of has opened his doors?"

"Aye. I am certain. He, at least is doing a bit of business. Lord Denethor did not encourage the bards in his day, but now there is quite a demand for them."

"And how do you come to know this?" asked Legolas, as curious as a hobbit.

"Ah, we Dwarves have our ways." Gimli hid a smile under his beard. Indeed he'd been quite lucky to run into an old acquaintance, Girion of Dale, a clockmaker who'd apprenticed among the Dwarves at the Lonely Mountain. Gimli had come upon him as he had returned from his refuge in Lossarnach, and a bit of conversation had served to let the Dwarf know which of the merchant’s neighbors had also returned and begun to open their shops.

He stopped. "Here we are."

There was no sign up as yet, and there were laborers still removing boards from some of the windows, but the door did indeed stand open.

The shop owner was giving direction to one of his assistants, but his eyes went wide as he looked up to see who had entered the shop. An Elf. And a Dwarf. He knew instantly that these were two of the Nine Walkers, high in favor with the new King.

"My lords!" He bowed obsequiously. "How may I serve you?"

Legolas cast an expert eye around the room at the various musical instruments. "I have in mind to make a gift. But the instrument will need to be of a size for a child."
______________________________________


Chapter End Notes:

*Taken from The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, Chapter IX, “At the Inn of the Prancing Pony”



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