~*~The Drop of a Hat~*~ - Part I
Something was amiss with Gandalf.
I'd thought it for some time now, but couldn't quite put my finger on what it was. I noticed it especially now that he was in council with the Lord Steward and the other men in the Hall of Kings. He looked perfectly splendid in his gleaming white robes, to be sure, and I was proud of how wise he sounded as he reasoned out this thing and that with the others, and I saw how most of them listened to what he had to say with honor and respect.
Still, something was missing. And I couldn't think what it was.
After a while I got up, turned and left the council room. I was not on duty, and might go and amuse myself as I liked. The men were talking of war, as usual, and it began to frighten and depress me. And I was missing Merry something terrible.
So I collected Bergil and off we went to wander about the streets and look at the different market stalls. My twenty-ninth birthday was coming up soon, and I'd begun to think of buying gifts, even though they didn't observe that custom here.
Just as we were leaving the Hall, a young kitchen-maid came along with a little plate and presented it to us. A nice girl, this one. She'd heard I was used to having elevenses, and missed them, so often about elevenish she'd bring me a jelly roll, or something like a scone, usually hot out of the oven, and drop me a curtsey as she presented it. First time she did that, my jaw nearly hit the floor. No kitchen-wench had ever curtsied to me before! To my father, yes, but to me? The kitchen-wenches back home considered me just a little squirt, and a bit of a nuisance, I'm sure. Although they did spoil me quite a bit, and slip treats to me sometimes when I'd been punished for some mischief I'd gotten up to.
Bergil informed me that it was got about that I was a prince. Prince of the Halflings! Wait until my father heard that one. And my mother. And my sisters!
"She's the cook's daughter," Bergil had told me concerning the kitchen-girl. "Her name is Mikala."
"She's a nice lass," I said looking back at her. Pretty eyes she had, big and brown...but considerably higher up than my own.
"If you like lasses," Bergil pinked slightly as he too looked her way.
I think he liked her.
He was only eleven, to be sure, and she was two or three years older, but no taller. And he was big and smart and mature for his age, and I really think he liked her.
I filed that away in my mind to tease him with, should the need ever come up.
We took our jelly rolls, thanked her, and went on our way. Bergil had taken quite a shine to me since he'd heard I had a plenty of stories to tell, and I'd be lying if I said it hadn't gone to my head a bit. I think of myself when I was a little tyke, sitting on my Cousin Frodo's lap pestering him for stories, or better yet Bilbo, and now here was a young 'un pestering me for stories. Yes, it went to my head quite a bit. Even though much of what had happened to me were things I'd rather not think too much about.
And if sometimes he suspected a leg pull, he was right to do so, because when I started telling him about being captured by the Barrow-wight and all, I made out like it was me that freed us, instead of Frodo. And I showed him the sword Tom Bombadill had found for me, by way of proof.
He was mightily impressed.
We went to this stall and that, looking at the wares. I could feel the stares that came my way. Well, of course I knew I stood out, seeing as how I was the shortest person in the City now that most of the children had been--what was the word--eviscerated? No, evacuated, that was it--on account of the threat of war. And I knew the kitchen-wenches laughed about my feet. I found this out when Mikala told me she had a pair of shoes she thought might fit me, they being too small for her anymore. I thanked her and declined. If folks laughed about my feet now, just imagine how they'd laugh about me in lasses' shoes!
But I told her she didn't have to curtsey to me anymore, because I really wasn't a prince. She laughed and said she knew that now, but she liked me because I didn't put on fancy airs. Once, she said, there was an ambassador from the East come to the city, and he'd brought his son with him. The son was just a year younger than herself, but you'd have thought he was a thousand to see the airs he gave himself! He'd thought it hilarious, for instance, that he could speak her language but she couldn't speak his. It was torture to have to wait on him all week and do everything he said and put up with all his big talk and snide remarks. Insufferable little git! Bergil imitated him for us: "Do this, do that, fasten my shoe, scratch my nose, oh, do me a HUGE favor and kiss my backside, darling?" It must have been quite convincing because she laughed fit to die, and it was good to hear, and I laughed too, for the first time in I don't remember when.
Little did we realize that the time was coming soon when we'd all have precious little to laugh about.
"Why did the orcs take you and Merry?" Bergil asked me as we lingered at a stall where they were selling some fair wood carvings. I wanted a smoke, but had to limit myself to one pipe in the evening, since I knew the leaf wouldn't hold out much longer. I was wondering what I was going to do when it was all gone. Then I wondered what to get for Lord Faramir. I wanted to get him something because he'd been awfully nice to me, and had brought us word of Frodo and Sam. His father, Lord Steward Denethor, he was a prickly one, and had hardly a kind word to say to me, or to Lord Faramir either. It made me feel badly, because Lord Faramir had just lost his brother, and you'd have thought it was his fault the way Lord Denethor carried on, and he said some awfully mean things. I wished I hadn't pledged my service to him, the more he went at his son. And I really hated having to sing to him anymore.
Treebeard had been absolutely right when he said I was too hasty.
I was just about to ask Bergil what he thought Lord Faramir would like, when he put his question to me.
This was one of the things about my adventures that I didn't like to think about. Seeing Boromir killed right before our eyes, then me and Merry being captured by all those nasty, ugly, smelly creatures and tied up and driven along like cattle, only worse, and hearing what all they were going to do to us once they got us to Isengard.... If I hadn't been so silly, I could have just told Bergil I didn't like to talk about it, and I think he would have let it go, but do you think that's what I did? Ah, no.
I told him about Boromir being shot down. And about our escape from the orcs, and meeting Treebeard and the Ents, and so forth. But then he had to go and ask why Frodo left the Company. I said because Boromir had tried to take the Ring from him, which I'd heard about from Lord Faramir--oh, I wished with all my heart that he hadn't told me that, at first, for I was right fond and admiring of Boromir, and hated to think he'd ever do such a thing. But I was resigned to it now, for I knew it was the Ring that had driven him to madness, he hadn't been in control, and he'd more than paid for it. After all, It was evil, which was why It had to be destroyed in the first place, right?
And then Bergil said "Ring? What Ring?" and I clamped both hands over my mouth as though to shove the words back in.
Pippin, you numbskull!! You've done it again!!!
I wasn't supposed to mention the Ring!!!! AAAAGGGGHHHHH!!!!! Gandalf would kill me!!!
"What's the matter?" he said looking at me wide eyed, and I suddenly pointed ahead of me. I'd really gone and done it now, and all I could think to do was divert his attention away from It.
"LOOK!" I said, pointing at a shop just in front of us like it was the gate to all the splendors of the world. And he looked, and he really must have thought I'd suddenly gone off my noodle.
It was a hat shop.
"What?" He looked as though to make sure we were both looking at the same thing. "What about it? It's just a hat shop."
"I want to go in," I babbled. "Come on!"
Bergil trotted along after me, no doubt still wondering why I was so keen on hats all of a sudden, and maybe thinking I wanted one to keep what was left of my brains from flying out my ears.
And that's when it suddenly occurred to me what had been bothering me about Gandalf.
He had no hat!
I could clearly remember his old, pointy blue hat, which he'd lost in the Mines, I couldn't recall just when and where exactly, but lost it he had, and now he'd come back with a shiny new white robe, and it was just splendid, but something was missing, and now I knew.
I had to get him a new hat.
I told Bergil all this. I'd forgotten all about the Ring now. Hopefully, so had he. I seriously doubted he'd believe me if I told him Gandalf had come back from the dead and all. So when he asked me what happened to his old hat, I thought a moment and said, "I think a balrog ate it." Then I quickly turned away so I wouldn't have to see what kind of look he gave me.
There were hats aplenty in the shop, mostly ladies' hats. What men's hats there were, wouldn't have suited Gandalf at all. I was about to turn away in disappointment when a lady came through a back door saying, "What can I do for you lads?" She was old, though not old old, if you know what I mean. Old enough to have been my grandma when I was a little 'un, but not old enough to be my great grandma. She had a lady's hat in her hands that she was obviously working on, and she lit up when she saw me, no doubt taken aback at having met the much-debated Prince of the Halflings right there in her shop, of all places.
I remembered the courtesy I was noted for, and cleared my throat, and said, "Pardon me, madam, but I...I need a hat. I mean...not for myself, but f-for a friend. Do you, uh...happen to have any...uh...wizard hats?"
I could just see Bergil behind me, clamping both hands over his mouth like I'd done just minutes ago, trying not to laugh out loud.
"Wizard hats?" the lady said. I think maybe she thought I was having a little joke with her, so I hastened to explain about Gandalf. Yes, she'd heard about him. Even seen him from afar. Yes, indeed....I think she was one of those ladies who like to see everything and get in on everything, and spread the word around as quick as possible. Which was maybe a good thing for me, because I thought she'd be much more understanding that way. Although, in that case, I'd have to ask her to keep it, ummm, under her hat. Ha, ha.
"Well," she said squinting her eyes a little, "I'm afraid I have no wizard hats such as you describe, dear. But I can special-make one for you, I'm sure. What size?"
She had me there.
"Ummm...." I thought a moment. "Well...umm, big, I guess." That sounded pretty bad, when I thought about it later. But it was all I could come up with. I heard Bergil snicker. I backed up with the intention of stepping on his foot, but all I backed into was a rack full of hats, which went right over with a loud clatter.
She and Bergil helped me pick up the hats and hang them back on the rack, me apologizing all the while, and then she kindly explained to me about hat sizes: they came in numbers, it seemed. And I hadn't a clue what number Gandalf's head would be.
She said I should measure his head with a bit of string, then bring it back to her. Bergil and I left the shop and I was rather glad I couldn't hear her, because I'm sure she must have been laughing her head off.
You'd think it would be a simple matter to obtain a bit of string. But one thing I've learned is that nothing is ever simple, even when it is. I puzzled and pondered for the longest how I was going to come by some string. I could unravel a bit from my cloak, but I didn't want to do that. I could pull a bit out of the carpet in our room, but maybe that wasn't such a good idea either. Or maybe...there was a spider web just to my right but...no, I was NOT keen on spiders, to say the least. I thought of getting a bit of tall grass and using that, but I couldn't think where any tall grass was to be had. There were nettles in the Steward's herb garden, which you could pinch to make flax, but I'd already pinched a nettle once, and didn't care to do so again, thank you very much. Maybe if I was to take my belt...or, I could just go to a dressmaker's and buy some, well, that made sense, didn't it?
That's when Mikala showed up with the afternoon tea.
Did you ever have one of those days when you thought you were pretty good, had things figured out and were starting to feel a bit pleased with yourself, then BAM! out of nowhere, you did something so jaw-droppingly stupid it fairly knocked you on your backside?
Here I'd been puzzling and pondering and cudgeling my so-called brains for hours about where to get me a bit of string...when all I'd had to do was ask the kitchen-maid!!
She brought me a nice length of yarn, quite pretty, much more than I needed. I'd keep the remainder, for you never knew when a bit of extra string might come in handy.
I'd get her something too. She'd been so nice to me, and being a lass, easy enough to shop for, I reckoned. They had knicks and knacks for young ladies all over the place at the markets. I ended up telling her about the hat. She lit right up and said what a wonderful idea, and then she suggested, a bit shyly, that maybe she could come along with us? If her mother would let her, that is.
I was just about to suggest that very thing. Surely, being a lass, she knew much more about buying hats than I or Bergil. He'd mentioned that she could draw well, so maybe she could make a sketch of what I had in mind for the hat lady, too.
You'd have laughed yourself silly if you could have seen me trying to screw up my nerve to measure Gandalf's head that night. There he was asleep, and there was I with my bit of yarn, twirling it in my fingers so tight they turned purple, sidling up and back again, muttering, "Just do it, Peregrine Took you ninny, what's the worst that could happen? It will only take a second, after all, what's the matter with you?" You'd have thought I meant to strangle him with it. Like I said, nothing is ever simple. But after that business with the palantir, well, I was just really nervous about the matter of slipping up on him while he was sleeping and all. No telling what he was likely to do if he were to catch me this time. Maybe he would think I was trying to strangle him, and besides, it would spoil the surprise.
I think it was the better part of an hour before I finally did it. I pictured how he would look wearing that hat, the wonder in the eyes of the populace, and me sitting beside him proudly in state, in my guard's livery and all. And should the Enemy come charging in, well, they would know right away who they were dealing with!
And I thought of how kind he'd been, telling me that my foolishness had maybe served a good purpose after all, showing them Sauron's intentions and everything.
And so finally I did it.
It was so easy, I had to laugh at myself too afterward, shaky and sweaty as I was. "Don't be hasty," I reminded myself with a wink, then I cut the length of string with my knife, rolled it up and put it in my pocket with great importance.
The next day we went at noon, and Mikala brought a basket of little meat pies for us to lunch on as we walked along. I ate three of them, and would have eaten four if there had been enough to go around. She explained that she'd brought extra for me because I was a guest in the City and so I was entitled, even if I wasn't a prince. What a girl!
I think she liked me. I really do.
I asked her what she thought Lord Faramir might like. Then I almost wished I hadn't, for she looked sad when I spoke his name. I remembered her father was with his company. And that they'd probably be going back to war soon, the way things were looking.
She didn't have time to think anyway, because there was the hat shop right ahead of us. She'd never been in a hat shop before, and she was quite in a flutter. In we went and I gave the hat lady my bit of string and she took it with a smile. Mikala showed her the sketch we'd made. What it was, first I'd drawn my idea, and then she'd drawn a good picture from my crude little scratching. The lady looked at the drawing and studied it, doing a bit with her finger here and there, turning the paper this way and that, then finally she looked at me and said, "What color?"
"White," I spoke up promptly, feeling pretty pleased with myself that I hadn't had to think this out and make myself look even sillier than I already had.
And then she said, "What shade?"
So much for feeling pleased with myself.
I didn't know there were shades of white.
Now, I knew there was dark blue, and light blue, and in-between blue, and all that. What I hadn't known was, there was also smoke blue, and sky blue, and steel blue, and violet blue, and powder blue, and who knows how many other blues. As for white, well, I hadn't known there was even dark white, or light white, or in-between white, let alone chalk white, or pearl white, or frog-belly white, or this white or that white. I'd thought there was just white, period.
Once more she had me. Seems I couldn't win, one way or the other.
"Well, uh, you know......white," I said. "Like, well...."
"Snowy white," Mikala spoke up brightly, and I felt like giving her a big wet smacker on the cheek. What a girl! Snowy white. That was it, exactly.
"The first time I beheld him riding into the City, I thought he was like a pure white snowy mountain, riding along on a silver cloud pierced with lightning," she said and my jaw fairly hit the floor. Bergil was impressed too. "That's what he needs is a snowy white hat, just like the peak of the mountain, to top him off."
Bless her. I was speechless. My words deserted me like a flock of pigeons at a sudden movement.
We were in high spirits when we left the shop. We amused ourselves by seeing how many shades of white we could come up with. Mikala won easily enough; I'm guessing she came up with upwards of a hundred whites, whereas Bergil and I scared up maybe a dozen or so between us. She named off some I'd never have thought of: eye-white white, fish-flesh white, snail-shell white, fingernail-tip white, ox-horn white, and a whole lot of others. I said sea-foam white, which was cheating because I'd never actually seen sea foam, but she looked pleased. As for Bergil, he came up with "Minas Tirith white."
I liked that. So did she.
Then we started in on brown. She said my hair was the color of oak leaves in the fall, which was nice, so I asked her what color hers was, and she answered right up "Chestnut" without batting an eye. I said, "Bergil's, then?" and she thought a moment, then said, "Honey." You should have seen him blush! I got on a roll then, and started naming off browns too. I said my Cousin Frodo's hair was also a chestnut, though maybe a little darker than hers, and Merry's was tea color--I was proud of myself for that one. As for Sam's, well, it was a stretch to call his brown at all, but seeing as how neither of them had ever seen him, I finally hit on "sandstone." I named off some other browns, some of them pretty disgusting, if you know what I mean, which pleased Bergil. I'm sure Mikala could have come up with a lot more browns than she did. But since she had so soundly bested us with the whites, I think she just didn't want to overdo it.
She was so unlike my sisters!
I found out what kind of sweets she liked best, and bought her a bagful. She gave me a big wet smacker on the cheek for that. I found out much later that she'd divided up the sweets with her two best girl friends...and she told me they'd said I was "adorable". I didn't know what to make of that.
It wasn't until later in the evening that it occurred to me: how was I going to pay for this hat????