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Celeritas' Birthday Bash 2010  by Celeritas

First of all, a big thank you to everyone who has ever read anything I've written, especially in the past year.  Bonus points if you've put up with my whining and/or decreased productivity from the previous year.  We will see if things get easier next year, but I have my doubts.


One month ago I placed an announcement requesting prompts for my birthday. I received fifteen, which, added to the final "for everyone" prompt, meant a total of sixteen.  Once again I am pleased to announce that I got them all done before my birthday ended.

Below are the prompts:

Marta: what I'd *really* like to see is some fic (or ficlet, or whatever) where
the characters deal with the question of, what is canon. 

Kaylee Arafinwiel: I was pondering what sort of welcome Sauron and Saruman would receive from Eru Iluvatar once they were defeated for good...even being cast into the Void does not mean Atar could not find His wayward Children! 


Dreamflower: I'd like to challenge you a little.  I know your usual hangout is the Fourth Age Shire.  I'd like to take you backwards in time a bit. 

I'll give you a couple of prompts from the ToY, and you may choose which you would like!

2340: Isumbras I becomes the thirteenth Thain, and first of the Took line. The Oldbucks occupy the Buckland.

2683: Isemgrim II becomes tenth Thain and begins the excavation of the Great Smials.

(Or if you would prefer, you could deal with the apparent mathematical discrepency *wink*)


Cathleen: Will you write a fic surrounding the events when the troll fell on Pippin?


Linaewen: I am a big fan of Boromir, and I would like a wee tale on what Galadriel might have been offering him when she tested him and other members of the Fellowship upon their arrival in Lorien.


Nautika:  I'd like a *happy* story if you please, about the Fellowship including Boromir or - if you prefer - any of the characters and Boromir. Doesn't have to be funny, but no melancholy, please!


Armariel: Something about Eomer would be nice.


Larner: A ficlet in which two who usually hate one another find themselves having to cooperate.

Pearl: Are you able to just write something for me?   Just Hobbits doing Hobbity things will be fine. :-)


Rosie: Something about hobbits, hopefully with Strider and Gandalf after Strider has become King.  In the Shire for some reason.


Raksha: Faramir interacting with any (or all) of the Fellowship hobbits in Minas Tirith would be great, either Ring War, post-Ring War, Fourth Age; or even meeting hobbits in the North (I'm certain that the Steward of Gondor might make a diplomatic visit or two to the north-kingdom). 


Linda Hoyland: I would love something featuring Aragorn,please.



GamgeeFest: How about something with Sam, Rose and their children. Doesn't have to be all their children, and it doesn't matter what they're doing.


SkuldNevermore: http://skuldnevermore.deviantart.com/#/d2t4z0x


Rhyselle: I'd love to see a ficlet about Merry's courtship of Estella Bolger.  I've toyed with that period of his and her life a bit, but I'd love to see your take on it.

“You had best get your hands on it,” Pippin said, “before the scholars do,” to which Faramir had laughed and respectfully pointed out that all three of them could lay claim to that appellation.

“No, no, not that kind of scholar.  I mean the loremongering types, the ones who in their rush to uncover the ‘truth’ lay waste to a thing of utter beauty.  They’re going to have a holiday with this”—he gestured to the book that lay before him—“and you know it.”

“There’s nothing wrong in a search for objectivity and accuracy,” said Merry.

“Yes, and you can’t get too much more accurate than eyewitness testimony!”

Merry snorted at that.  “You’ve had more than your fair share trying cases where two eyewitnesses swear on their grandmothers that the exact opposite thing happened.”

“Well, yes, but—”  Pippin stopped.  He had been about to pour himself another cup of tea, and simply froze with the teapot—a small, worn thing made for hobbit hands—tilted and steam coming out of the spout.  “It’s different when it’s Frodo.”  He poured the cup of tea.  “He actually did his research, and he knew when to step out and let other voices take over.”

“There is still room for error,” said Faramir.  “I know that Frodo did not part with my brother on the best of terms, and although even when I met him in the wilds of Ithilien he spoke favourably of his courage and nobility I could tell.  I remember speaking with him, afterwards, about the entire matter.”

“Yes,” said Pippin, “and you were closeted away with him, telling him stories of when the two of you were younger, so that he could try to get a better impression of Boromir.”

“He did not ask me to stop, that is for certain,” said Faramir.  “From what I recall of him, Frodo son of Drogo was nothing if not just.”

“So,” said Pippin, turning on his cousin, “what makes you think all these scholars of Gondor, generations after the fact, will do a better job of it than our cousin?”

“I never said that!” said Merry.  “You know everybody here loves Boromir, and they’ll probably rip into Frodo for not being kind enough to him, actually.  I was only defending their intentions.  I don’t think anyone should hold a historical text—much less a private memoir—so sacred that they’re willing to put history itself on a shelf to defend it.  Frodo was, after all, only a hobbit.”

Is.”

“Is,” repeated Merry, and Faramir had to remind himself that Frodo may very well still be alive, among the Elves.  Still, he did not think that Merry had implied that Frodo was dead—only that he had ceased to have a say in what people did with his writing.  Merry, however, did not push the point, so neither did Faramir.

“Well,” said Pippin, “it’s our memories that these scholars are mucking around in—us and our friends—and I’ll be obliged if they leave them alone, just a little bit longer.  I’d much rather have an imperfect memory than a dry old history that’s so true it’s lost all meaning.”

“Do you mind if I look at the book now?” said Faramir.

“Not at all,” said Pippin.

“Yes,” added Merry, “and you must forgive us for being so old and crotchety.  We’re much too used to being in stories, and not out of them.”

“Indeed,” said Faramir, and he picked up the volume.  “Listen, when we finally deposit this at the Archives, you may be interested in meeting my grandson…”

The Void is not simply nothing.  True silence, silence beyond self, would drive one mad—am I mad?  Was I mad?  Mad-is-not-madness-is-it-manic-is-it-mine…

 

No.  There is something other there, something not-me, not-mine-no-no-noise, and it does not speak though it is not silent.

The merest suggestion is pain, like jamming a square post into a round post-hole, so different it jars the mind (what-is-mind-is-it-mine) and it takes time (what-is-time) to not-jar it and think into the not-silence and the not-nothing.

(Am I mad?)

Then, after, one can probe at the memory, like jamming a finger into a wound, and it stings and it makes one ill but thought is possible.

Other not-speaks a name which burns with the memory, no, no memory, memory is mad-memory-is-mum, and to know the wound one must know the name…

But there are other words, as well…

Verb second person singular imperative.  Familiar?  Familiar, not formal, and pain at the thought!

Noun, singular, allative, signifying motion towards…

Home.  Come home.

No, the Void is not nothing, and since it is not nothing it is possible to fly, to float from Other, to banish the thought, the memory, into an area that is not here, not me.

The Void is not simply nothing.

Mad-I-am-not-mad-am-I-not-mad-not-mad-no-dam-damn-damned-am-I.



Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often I wanted to bring your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you didn’t want to!  Matthew 23:37 AAT

It was that confounded scribe’s fault.  Well, perhaps it was his fault as well, just a little bit, for he hadn’t bothered telling the scribe and he didn’t think anyone would care.  He didn’t know that one of the Brandybucks would actually bother cross the river into the real Shire to attend his accession party.  There the Yellowskin was, lying in the open, and the Brandybuck actually jabbed a grubby finger at it and demanded to know why the Yellowskin seemed to be ignoring the fact that the Brandybucks had held the title of Thain first, for a very long time, thank you very much, and pretending that it originated with the Tooks was a slap in the face.

To which Isengrim had replied (he should have noted, in retrospect, that this was after a few Southfarthing reds) that if the Brandybucks cared that much, maybe they shouldn’t have given up the title.

“We didn’t give it up,” the Brandybuck replied.  “You took it from us.”

“Because the Brandybucks—sorry, Oldbucks—were embroiled in scandal and someone had to take charge in case we ever needed a muster.”

“We haven’t needed one since the days of the King.”

“In which case, why should you care if the Tooks hold it?”

“I don’t care if the Tooks hold it, they just ought to know that the Brandybucks held it first!”

The Brandybuck must also have been having a bit too much Southfarthing red.  Isengrim’s wife walked over, laid her hand on his arm, and begged him not to start his Thainship with such animosity.  Isengrim reluctantly turned away, but not before he heard the Brandybuck’s parting shot:  “You know, if you’re going to try and deserve your title, the least you could do is have a slightly grander home.”

Isengrim knew exactly what he was talking about—Gorhendad, after surrendering (though the Brandybucks always said ‘bestowing’) the title of Thain on Isumbras, deliberately moved to Buckland so that he wouldn’t be exiled there, claiming that he preferred the wilds of Buckland to the stiff-neckedness of the Shire proper.  (Not, Isengrim thought, that he would have been—but the threat was real enough and his neck was stiff enough that he moved nonetheless.)  Consequently, he set out to build the biggest smial that had ever existed, as an eyesore to mock any Took unfortunate enough to leave the Shire by way of Bree.  And things had rather stayed the same from that point forwards.

Isengrim hated to admit that he was rising to the bait, but he had always had a bit of an architectural mind and, provided the rock was stable, he had just the hill in mind.  Stairs indoors?  Yes, they’d have stairs.  A ballroom, too, with a high-vaulted ceiling, and he knew the Brandybucks didn’t have that.  By the time the night was over he had the entire thing, down to the privies (he had a few inventive cousins who had been itching to try out a better plumbing system).  Now, he just had to try and persuade the wife…



A/N: A careful examination of Appendix C explains the chronological inconsistency that Dreamflower drew my attention to.  I'm betting that those particular trees were copied from Brandybuck records.

Stairs in the Great Smials are documented--otherwise Lalia the Great would never have had anything to fall down.  Elanor Winterflowers has argued cogently for the existence of stairs inside Brandy Hall as well.  The ballroom is entirely Dreamflower's invention, and I can only hope that its inclusion here tickles her fancy.

His vision swam, when he tried to open his eyes, so for a long time they remained shut.  It was very hot, and there was something over him, but it did not appear to be too heavy.  He had no recollection of how he had gotten here, or even where ‘here’ was, but his head hurt enormously.

Here was very warm, so eventually he forced his eyes open, and pushed his covering off of him.  He tried to focus on it—it was too large to be a blanket, and very foul-smelling—but the effort was too much for him.  It was fortunate that he was lying down.

After a few minutes he was ready again.  This time, he stood up, and after an initial spurt of dizziness, found that he liked standing up very much.  He surveyed the area—he was on a hill, and there were a good many bodies lying around, and some of them were moving among the bodies…

Quite suddenly he found an arm on his shoulder and a face peering into his.  “Are you well, soldier?”

He shook his head numbly.  “The healers’ tents are that way,” and the hand pointed in a direction that was vaguely up.  He started to stumble off in a direction.

“No, not that way—here, let me lead you to them.”  He followed the man, stumbled up the hill, and suddenly found himself in a very large tent filled with groans and a smell he did not care to think about.  “Sirs,” said the man, “this is—”

“Beregond, son of Barahir,” he supplied, and he was pleased that he knew that and was lucid enough to respond.  How his head swam!

The other man in the tent looked at him.  “Concussion.”  Beregond was taken somewhere else in the tent, where he waited…

By the time a healer came to see him, his head was a good deal clearer.  He could recall the battle, now, but he did not remember the blow that must have stunned him.  He remembered Angrod, and Peregrin and others… where were they?  Suddenly Beregond was gripped with the fear that they all had perished.  “Where are they?” he asked.

“Where are who?”

“The—the members of my company.”

“Which company did you march in?”

“I—I was of the Third Company… but no, we were in front of Prince Imrahil’s men, the Swan Knights…  Where are they?”

The healer continued to peer at his face.

“Where are Angrod, and Peregrin—”

“I am sorry, Beregond, but there were many in this battle, and it is but recently won—Peregrin the Halfling?”

“Yes.  Do you know where he is?”

“No word has been brought of him yet.  I am sorry.”

Beregond remembered the Halfling’s buoyant spirit, the way he tried to make light of things that would have scarred doughtier men.  If he had not managed to make himself heard of, he must have been slain.  Beregond bowed his head in despair.

 

*  *  *

Angrod found him, later, perhaps a day, and told him what had happened—how Beregond had been struck down, and Peregrin bravely stabbed into the troll that would have slain him, and thus was crushed himself.  Beregond wept at this, but Angrod clasped his arm.

“Be of good cheer,” he said.  “For they have found him, beneath the troll, and though his life is in danger, he is not yet dead.  The King is tending to him, as he has been to the other two Halflings who were found in the enemy’s land.

For the first time, a number of disparate things slid together in Beregond’s mind—the other two Halflings that Peregrin had told him about, the fact that Peregrin had lived, the fact that any of them were still alive…  “We won?”

“We won indeed,” said Angrod, with a wide smile on his face.  “Though if the tales be true, the Halflings won it for us, for theirs was the darkest road of all.”

“I must see them,” said Beregond, and he tried to rise, but Angrod made him stay seated.

“You are not well, and half the camp wants to see them—especially those that fought beside Peregrin.  The best you can do now is recover.”

But it was still two full days before the healers told him he could leave (though they added that at the first sign of pain, or nausea, or anything of the sort, he was to return to them, for head wounds could turn ill).  He wondered how well equipped the healers’ tents were to hold so many wounded.  They had moved camp by now, to a fairer place, and he began to ask where Peregrin was located.

“He is still sleeping,” said one of the healers, “from what I have heard, and orders are that he is not to be disturbed.”  But Beregond still enquired, until at last he found the tent.

He only got a peep in before the attendant shooed him out, but it was enough to see that Peregrin was alive.  His sword was hardly serviceable, now, but he remained outside the tent for the rest of the day, to stand guard.  Angrod came by at night, to make him rest, but Beregond would not lie down until Angrod promised he would find someone else to guard the tent.

The next day, two more of their company—one with a fresh stump for a hand—had found the tent, and stood guard.  That night, two more came.

And by the time that Peregrin awoke, the only tent more looked-after was the King’s.

He remembered the first time he saw the sun rise.  He must have seen it before his memory, for he had been to Dol Amroth as a babe, but at the time he had hardly any idea what sun-rise and sun-set were.

 

This time, though, he was four, and he did not understand when the sun came from the horizon and not from behind the clouds.  It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

 

Now, at last, his father at his left and his brother at his right, they could see the sun rise again.  The power that had done, at last, what Gondor had been trying to do all its millennia of struggle, lay hidden, in the root of the mountain.  He had spoken again with Mithrandir, and at last agreed what the Council had agreed to long ago—that this thing should be destroyed.  But not yet, he argued—not while there was so much it could still do!

 

He had offered it to Aragorn first—after all, he was his King—but the man had refused, saying he did not possess the strength to deal with such a mighty object.

 

Which left it to Boromir—if the King would not take up what was rightfully his, then perforce it must go to the Stewards.  He did not understand why they parted ways shortly after that, after all the help that Isildur’s heir had promised him.  But perhaps it was better this way—better not to deal with a claim to the throne while his father was Steward.

 

The sun shone brightly, the women and children heaped praise after praise upon him, but Boromir suddenly had to retire.  In his mind’s eye, he saw a small form slumped to the ground and a sword stained in red.  Anger surged within him, and he looked away—

And there he was, in the fay forest, and the Lady had moved on.  How dare she! he thought.  How dare she offer what I can never have?  He looked keenly at the Halfling Frodo—how heavy a test she must have offered himNo, he told himself.  He would never—could never—possess the Ring if it meant bringing the one he had sworn to protect to harm.  You are cruel and harsh, Lady, he thought, but I will thank you at least for this—that you have shown me what I must fight if I am to remain true to the Company.  I pass the test.

“This is all upside-down,” said Pippin.  “Are we supposed to sing morning songs at the start of the march, or at the end?”

“Maybe,” said Merry, “we shouldn’t sing at all.”

“Ohhh, did someone sleep on the bumpy ground last night?”

“Day,” said Merry.

Boromir sighed as the two Halflings continued with their bickering.  He was unsure of whether this was better or worse than being lost for over one hundred days in the wild alone.  He admired the Halflings’ heart, and how they actually did not complain about the things that mattered—long marches, short rations, and mountains that refused to get closer—but instead trivialities like music and song.

“Well,” said Merry, “I do like a good walking song as much as any other hobbit, but really, that doesn’t feel… well, grand enough for this sort of expedition.  You can hardly imagine anyone in those great tales of Uncle Bilbo’s just stopping for a bit and singing the praises of ale and a good meal, eh?”

“Actually,” put in Frodo, “Finrod and the Enemy had a sing-off at one point.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” said Boromir, pleased to remember some of his history lessons and to be able to jump in on the discussion.  “And if the eldest tales are true, the world itself was sung into being.”

“Well,” said Pippin, “we don’t know any songs like those.”

“I might add,” said Boromir, “that many of the songs among the soldiers of Gondor consist of nothing but ale and a good meal.  It is only when we go without that we realise how important are the things we now lack.”

He saw, up ahead, Peregrin nod to himself as if he had really only discovered this truth for the first time.  And, Boromir realised, he probably had.

“Why don’t you sing some of those songs for us, then?”

“Actually,” said Boromir, “I believe I am of Meriadoc’s mind in this case.”

“But a Gondor song must be more suited than a Shire one!”

“Perhaps you should ask Legolas, or Gimli, then, for their songs are even older and even grander.”

“Or perhaps Boromir simply doesn’t want to sing,” said Merry.

“It is not that!  I merely… only sing in certain circumstances.”  Such as when the entire company is too drunk to remember the next morning.

Frodo craned his neck up at Boromir, peering straight at him.  “You can’t sing, can you, Boromir?”

“Not… not particularly well.”

“Oh, that’s all right.  Neither can Pippin.”

“But I have heard Peregrin sing,” said Boromir.

Merry trotted up next to Boromir to take a confidential tone.  “No, you see, he can sing, but we maintain that he can’t, because when he was little he was entirely too spoilt and everyone told him he had the voice of a nightingale.  We’re merely trying to undo years and years of damage.”

“And it hasn’t worked a farthing,” said Pippin, winking, and he broke out into one of the merry little airs of his people.

And Boromir was left to reflect on two things: firstly, that if this was what the music of Halflings sounded like, they must be a blessed people indeed; and secondly, that he owed it to Pippin for taking his side and not making him sing in front of the Company.

Éomer was not home very much, anymore, but he could follow an eye as well as anyone else, and he knew where Gríma’s rested.

Éowyn, Béma be praised, was no milksop.  She had a strong arm (he knew from experience in their youth) and could wield a blade as well as most riders.  He did not fear for her safety the way many brothers would, but seeing that snaketongued man lusting after her was still enough to make his blood boil.

Treachery he suspected, for Théoden King, no matter how far his mind was gone, would not force his sister-daughter into a marriage unwilling.  If Gríma had wanted to make his move, he would have done so already.

No, the worm was waiting for the right time to strike, and when the House of Eorl fell, only then would he claim his prize.   But he doubted that Éowyn would go willing.

There was little Éomer could do without being accused of treachery himself.  But he would do it, and he would do it gladly.

He and his men were set to ride out this morning, but Éomer had left another to give the orders—ride out, then wait for him.  He stood in the stables, and waited.

During the noontide meal, he crept into one of the hallways that Gríma was wont to use, and stood carefully to the side where few would notice him.  When at last the worm walked past, he beckoned him, his face menacing.

“My lord Éomer,” said Gríma, quietly, though Éomer could hear the nervousness in his voice, “I thought you were out riding with your men.”

“I am,” said Éomer.  “I merely wished to remind you that a gelding can serve his master as well as a stallion.”

Mr. Lightfoot had been a solicitor for many years, but he had never seen a hobbit with so much spite as Lobelia Sackville-Baggins.  What was more, he knew the root cause of it all—he had been the one that had looked into wills and precedent and drafted up the means by which Frodo Baggins had cheated her out of her inheritance (so, he imagined, she would put it).

Mr. Lightfoot wished that he had only been acting in the interest of his client, but the fact was that no one really wanted to see a Sackville-Baggins in Bag End.  When Frodo had regretfully informed him of his decision to sell his house (as well as asked him to draft up a very mysterious will), Mr. Lightfoot could see all his years of effort going to naught.

And ever since then, the Sackville-Bagginses had had it in for him.  When the Troubles started, the first folks that got locked up were his clients, and when he tried to speak out in defense of them, they actually got Shirriffs to break into his office at night and bar the way for him in the morning.  He had been without income ever since, and it was a mercy that others were willing to take him in—before that was against the rules.  Seeing as he didn’t want to be locked up himself, Mr. Lightfoot just took what was dealt him.  The only joy in that time was when Lobelia herself was locked up—but by then it was too late for it to make any difference.

Now that the Travellers were back, though, and the Lockholes unlocked, Lobelia was back to bother him.  He wouldn’t even have seen her into his office if he weren’t desperate for the money.

“I would like,” she said, “to draft a deed gifting Bag End to Frodo Baggins, and to make a new will.”

Mr. Lightfoot stared at her as if a toad had just crawled out of her mouth.  “And why should I do that, pray tell?”

“Because,” she said, a fiery glint in her eye, “I am trying to make amends here, and hardly anyone wants to let me, and—well, my own solicitor’s been barred from practice for a time.”

“Very well—and if I were to draft a will for you, what should it say?”

“That in the event of my death I’m giving all to Frodo Baggins, for him to use at his discretion to help those who lost their homes during the troubles.”

Mr. Lightfoot sat down at his desk, and thought a moment.  “That’s not terribly characteristic of you, if you don’t mind my being so bold, Mrs. Sackville-Baggins.”

“Perhaps not—but I hope that I have grown some character in the past year.”

“I’m afraid I can’t help you, Lobelia.  Folk may think I coerced or forged the change—they know we have a history.  But I know a hobbit or three that knows a thing about the law, and if you can give them my recommendation, they just may change their minds…”

“Now what?” said Handy.

“What do you mean, now what?”

“Jolly, we just killed a buffalo—”

“—a bison—”

“Whatever—and we’re supposed to haul it back home?”

“No, no—now’s where we get the others to help out.”

“And how do we keep the Rangers from finding out?  We’ll have to dump the bones somewhere…”

“Look one bison’s not going to make much of a difference.  That’s part of why we don’t hunt too often.  And if they do find it—what are they going to report—death by child-sized arrow and several rocks to the face?  They’ll get laughed at!”

“Or they’ll start looking for us and we’ll be found out.”

Jolly laughed.  “The Rangers,” he said, “have been looking after us for years.  You’ve been on foraging duty long enough to have gotten that into your brain.  Come on, let’s get the others to help.”

Handy remembered, when he’d been practicing at the sling, thinking about how much nicer it would be to have a gun—one of the things the Rangers got to carry.  He didn’t know a lot of things, then—guns were loud, and they drew the attention of the Rangers, who said you couldn’t have any.  That was before Leroy had fired his in front of Handy—it made him start like a rabbit—and before he’d had a run-in with one of the Rangers who wasn’t entirely aware of the settlement of people in the park.

This was his first time far from home after that.

They cut up the buffalo on the spot.  Handy’s father showed him how to leave enough meat on the bones so that animals would do the rest of the work.  With any luck, the Rangers would assume that it was all animal work, and leave them alone.  Then they carried all of their meat back home—it was too dangerous to cook it on the spot.

His mother was cooking their share of the meat down into a stew while Handy was watching his little sister Sara.  He was still worried about the bad Rangers.

“Mom,” he said, “how did we become friends with the Rangers in the first place?”

“One of them let us stay here, and he told enough of the rest that they left us alone.”

“But why haven’t they kicked us off their land yet?”

His mother shrugged.  What if the Rangers changed their mind? Handy thought.

“Mom,” he said, again, after a few minutes.

“What is it this time, dear?”

“What if we invited one of the Rangers over for dinner?”

“I don’t think they’d like that very much, Handy.”

“But it’s Midyear, and they’re nice to us, and—”

“How would you invite them, Handy?”

“I’d make sure it was someone nice, and then I’d ask him nicely.”

Mother shook her head at that.  Handy wondered if he could find Leroy at this hour.

He found him, hunched over a computer in the Ranger’s station.  He did not appear to be doing work, as the screen was filled with an image of a giant gun, pointed at… were those people?

“Excuse me?” he said.

It took a few moments for Leroy to notice him.  “Handy?” he said.  Leroy was very good with names.

“I wanted to invite you to dinner.  It’s Midyear’s Day, and we try to do something nice for it…”  Like kill one of your special buffalo, he thought, but he did not say that.

“Thanks,” said Leroy, “but I’ve already got dinner.”  He held up a greasy-looking paper bag with a characteristic “M” on it.  Handy wrinkled his nose in disgust at the same time that his mouth watered.

“Well,” he said, “we’d like your company, anyway,” and he darted out of the station before he got in any more trouble.

He did not tell Mom where he had been, but he thought she could guess anyway.

Dinner was fifteen minutes away when there was a knock at the door.  It was Leroy.  Mom sighed at that, but let him in.  He looked over at the stew, smelled it, and didn’t say anything.  “I know,” said Leroy, “that sometimes it’s considered rude to be a guest and not bring anything, so I thought—” and he pulled out the bag, and from that, a smaller bag containing French fries.  “A good stew always needs some taters to it.”

That night, they all stayed up till sundown—Handy, Mom, Dad, Sara, and Leroy, talking.  And when he went to bed that night, Handy thought that there was nothing so fine as buffalo-fry stew, though in hindsight such food was sitting in his stomach strangely.  Maybe that was why, that night, he dreamed…



A/N: I was given free reign for this prompt, so I decided to pull out Larner's and my shared character from Back to Middle-earth Month, Handy the Seventh Age hobbit, because Pearl is one of the few authors I know who has also dealt with Seventh Age hobbits (and incidentally is also the only other author I know of who had the eggs to kill the Red Book off).  For this, she deserves eternal glory.

Handy and his family live in an unnamed park in the American West, in an abandoned settler's cot.  There are a few Park Rangers who know of their existence and protect them fiercely.

Fifty years… it was so odd how the second fifty went faster than the first.  The land had changed little—if anything, it had gotten more beautiful, but Frodo thought that that came with perspective more than anything else.

He had insisted on riding ahead of the rest of the train, just for this.  He knew there would be a great party, filled with too many titles and speeches and rather embarrassing compliments—but he knew, deep down, that this was exactly what everyone else wanted and needed, and if honouring him made them happy—well, so be it.

But for now he could slip back in time, just a little.  He dismounted his pony and walked the rest of the way, ignoring the creaks in his bones.

Elanor answered the door.  Somehow, despite her age and the children she had borne, she still possessed the uncanny grace that Sam had sworn was the gift of the elves. 

Then an entire troop of Gamgees spilled out the door, and soon they were all caught up in reunions.  He only greeted Sam briefly; enough had passed between them that few words were needed.

They let him settle into the guest room (Sam did remark at that, but Frodo reminded him that his earliest memories of Bag End were in a guest room).  His cousins arrived later.  They  had bought out all the inns in Bywater, Bag End being filled to the rafters already.  The rest of the retinue camped in the Party Field, and all throughout the day many a hobbit flocked to see the spectacle of a King who had traveled leagues upon leagues to honour the Shire’s most famous son in his old home.

The next day the feasting lasted all day, and there were many, many speeches.  Frodo refused to give any beyond a simple “Thank you,” “I am humbled,” and “You are clearly neglecting to mention the important part Sam (or Gollum, or anyone that he had ever met on his travels) played in this.”

At last, after supper, the King himself arose, and spoke for a goodly time about the importance of the small and the weak in the grand schemes of the world.  He had just finished when Bilbo Gamgee pointed down the road and cried, “Look!”

There, in the distance, walking towards them and pulling a cart, was a very old man in a grey cloak and a blue hat.  “Gandalf?” said Frodo.

“I thought,” said Gandalf, when he had finally made his way to the party, “that it would be fitting to assume an old guise.”

And for the first time in seventy-five years, the Shire was treated to a grand display of fireworks.


In order to fulfill the prompt, I borrowed (with permission) Dreamflower's Eucatastrophe AU, in which the Straight Road is opened two ways.  In her take, Frodo is able to sail back after getting some perspective in the West, and subsequently retires to Gondor.

When the two hobbits had retired for the night—somehow their agedness seemed a worse blow even than his wife’s, for he had only seen it happen in fits—Faramir finally had the chance to open the book.

He recognised many the hands from his correspondence.  It was mostly Merry’s handwriting, or Pippin’s, but a few times he thought he saw their wives’ hands, and once, that of Master Samwise.

He dwelt on that a moment; it was still odd to think of Sam as passed—not dead, necessarily, but sailed over to Elvenesse where Faramir hoped he had found healing for old wounds.

Then, there were other hands—friends, probably, that Faramir had never known, or children who had never written to him.

He didn’t even recall what Frodo Baggins’ handwriting looked like.  But he knew it was not there.

The first thing that struck him, aside from the handwriting, was the use of person.  Most of the historical texts that Faramir had read, for lore, pleasure, or both, had made use of the Elven tradition and used an objective point of view, in the third person.  Even when the author had been present at the event, such as a military campaign, even when it was painfully obvious that he was distorting matters to make himself look like a tactical mastermind, there had always been that veneer of objectivity.

Not so with Frodo’s testimony.  There were restrained discussions of personal feelings (though, Faramir was reluctantly grateful that there was almost nothing on the Ring-bearer’s actual burden), and, more obviously, for the parts where Frodo was present and lucid, it was told entirely in the first person.  Even when he was absent there were a few comments here and there, where Faramir could hear the hobbit’s voice as if he were standing just there, behind his shoulder, peering over at the page—if logs can be contented—and so on.

Faramir was not a superstitious man, but it felt as if there were a ghost there, that night, one that he hadn’t seen in years, and he was brought back to conversations on the heights of Minas Tirith and laughter over distant shadows.

It may not have been history, but it was an old friend.

He read it in the time that he could spare, and when he was finished, he invited Merry and Pippin over for tea again.

“Tell me,” he said, “about your cousin.”

He had finally washed the grime and ache from his bones, dressed in clothing that was—thank the stars!—not only clean and fresh-smelling, but also soft, and was sitting on one of the (moderately, but to his muscle it could have been made of pure down) plush chaises that adorned Rivendell’s hallways, a book of poetry in hand, when he heard the near-silent footfalls of an elf beside him.  He looked up, and when he saw who was walking he rose.

“My lady,” he said.

“Sit down,” the lady Arwen said, with a musical laugh.  “I have never known my father as one to stand on ceremony.”

He sat down, but not before offering her a place next to him.  She accepted it.

“I will not ask you,” she said, “to unburden yourself of all the deeds you have accomplished this time, if you need the gentle distraction of this place.  Not yet, at least.”

He laughed at this, took her hand in his.  “I assure you, beloved, one glance at your face is all the balm I need.”  And he proceeded to tell her of the patrols and expeditions of the Dunedain this time, taking care to leave out any battle accounts that might offend feminine sensibilities.  She knew he was making some omissions, but she did not chide him, not even gently, for so doing.

“I heard,” she said when he was finished, “something very interesting about you while you were away this time.  I wanted to see if it was true myself.”

Aragorn lifted an eyebrow at this.

“It is nothing bad.  Would you mind stretching your legs out for me?”

Reluctantly, Aragorn complied, unsure of what his lady love was going on about.  Gentle fingers teased the shoes from his feet.  He looked down to see a hand outstretched—

“Why, beloved, whatever is the matter?”  Aragorn had quickly drawn his feet back and tucked them under the chaise.  He could see the suppressed mirth on Arwen’s face.

“Nothing,” he said, assuming the grim countenance he normally held in the presence of the enemy.

“Really?”  Her arm snaked out, under the chaise, grabbed his calf, and drew it forth.

“Is this truly becoming behaviour for one of your station?”

She said nothing in response, but began to pull the leg of his trousers up, exposing the ankle, and touch—

“My lady, I do not wish to hurt you!”

“My brothers never said anything about flailing like a madman.  Only flinching—”

He flinched.

“And possibly whimpering like a small child.”

Aragorn, fortunately, had become too stoic over the passing years to whimper.  He did, however, let out an undignified grunt.  “Arwen, if you hold no regard for your own safety, perhaps you will hold some for mine.  There are many who would enjoy any sort of leverage over me that they could gain.”

Arwen stopped at this, replaced the shoes on her feet, and resumed her position at Aragorn’s side.  “I would never give away such treasured secrets, my love.  After all,” she added, laying her hand ever so lightly on his neck, “if everyone knows, how will Ihave leverage over you?”

Sam knew there was something up.  After all, he was turning seventy this year, and he had been hearing whispers (his hearing was still quite good, thank you, sir) since October at least.  Then there had been Rose’s increasingly pointed suggestions for fishing trips and winter hikes and other lads-only activities, and while some of that was certainly due to Elanor’s courtship and impending betrothal he knew it couldn’t be that alone.

Sam also knew that the best way to deal with a pleasant (he hoped) surprise was to feign ignorance entirely until the surprise happened.  One disappointed child had taught him that, quickly enough.

So he did not pry into his wife’s or his children’s affairs, and hoped that the surprise would not disappoint.

 

*  *  *

 

It had been Merry and Pippin, of course, although he did not want to be overly harsh on them as there was no real harm done, in the long run.  Pippin-lad had, the first time he’d heard old Mr. Bilbo’s tale, immediately asked what happened to the magic ring which had made people turn invisible, not connecting it with the bits of the other tale that he’d overheard.  There were all sorts of plans he had come up with—sneaking in and drinking someone’s beer right in front of his eyes, startling people by sneaking up on them…

Sam had only been too glad to inform him that not only was the Ring gone; it was actually a vile and horrible thing that stole your soul away from you a day at a time.

He had no idea that Pippin still had an interest in being invisible until after it was all over.

He’d dragged Merry-lad into it as well.  On one of the days when being Mayor simply could not be managed from Hobbiton, the two of them slipped into the closet, took the two Lórien cloaks, and headed out to the Road to await—and frighten—travelers who weren’t looking too closely.

Merry had gotten too close to the road, and when a cart had driven past, his cloak got caught in the wheel and started dragging him along.  The driver heard his cries, and probably would have been able to stop the cart before any bones were broken, but Pippin was quick on his feet, drew out his pocket-knife, and cut the cloak from his brother before any more harm could be done.

And that was how Sam’s cloak (thank heavens it was his and not Mr. Frodo’s!) got damaged.  Sam had never held too much truck with museums, not when things were still in working order (as the cloaks certainly were, or his son would never have got caught up in that cart in the first place), but it seemed rather wrong to give the Mathom House damaged goods.

So it sat in storage for quite a few years afterwards.

 

*  *  *

 

He had to wait until his birthday, but he did find it out.  They brought it to him after dinner.  Rose cleared her throat, and all of the lasses, down to little Ruby, filed out and came back in with what had to be the most imaginative quilt he had ever seen.

Patch-work quilts were still a novelty in the Shire, and Sam had always thought them impractical given how much work went into making a bolt of cloth.  They must have been very creative, for there were so many scraps, from so many places, and they were not cut in any conventional shapes.

They were a landscape, a beautiful grove full of trees—south trees, at that.  He looked sharply at his wife and Elanor.  Elanor blushed and smiled.

Then Sam looked closer—in the centre of the grove, in a clearing, were two cloaked figures, a hobbit’s height—one lying down and one sitting over a dull grey pan…

“It was Primmie’s idea,” said Rosie-lass.  “You were telling us about the Elven legends, and the lady Vairë who weaves history into her tapestries.  She wanted to know what yours would look like, and so we asked Mum, and we didn’t think it’d be too hard to manage…”

“So we asked everyone we knew for scraps of cloth, and Mum for help with piecing it together, and Ellie did all the broidery,” said Daisy.

“And then we asked Mum if we could use the cloak for the cloaks, since it was all cut up and it oughtn’t be lying around collecting dust, and we hope you don’t mind,” said Goldilocks.

Sam took the quilt in his arms, and looked at the cloak fabric better, and he could not quite tell what colour it actually was—grey or green.  “Well,” he said, as stoutly as he could manage, “it’s too fine a thing to use, so you had better enter this into the Free Fair this year, for I don’t know if I could ever—”

“You don’t have to use it, Father,” said Elanor.  “We didn’t make it for that.  We made it so that folk would look at it and be proud of you.”

“Well,” said Sam, “you can’t say any fairer than that,” and he hugged and kissed them all, one by one.

“And how,” said Frodo-lad, “in the Shire are we supposed to top that next year?”

 

*  *  *

 

“That must have been a good deal harder to manage than Rosie-lass expected,” Sam told his wife that night.

“It was,” said Rose, “but it was worth the effort if you ask me.  I’ve never done so much piecing and patching in my life—though the work was almost all theirs.”

“Well,” said Sam, “I must be the luckiest hobbit in all the Shire to have a family like ours.”

And he was, at that.

She was one of the worst patients Rían had ever had.  Not the worst case, by far—the burns were many, but none of them were particularly severe—but the worst by way of attitude.  She truly did not understand that she had been in mortal peril and mortal pain—especially now that she was recovering, and she would not even give Rían the satisfaction of a name.

Her colouration suggested she was from the Bree-lands (and very far afield), and the freckles on her face and shoulders and the calluses on her hands meant her family farmed, but that did not explain the trousers, or the rusty sword that she had been found with.  They had found her in an abandoned cabin that had caught fire—Rían had not enquired into the causes, but there had not been a storm that night.

But she was about to find out.  “I am not releasing you from my care,” she said, as she changed the girl’s bandages, “until you tell me your name, your parents’, where you hail from, and what you were doing in that cabin.”

“I’m not telling you my name,” said the girl, “or my parents’, or where I’m from.  You’ll just send me back.”

“And why is going back so bad?  You nearly got yourself killed out here.”

“Yes, but I got these wonderfully hideous scars, and I got rescued, and it was all such a grand adventure…”

Rían had never thought she would hear someone say “wonderfully hideous” and actually mean it.

“Did you run away?”

“Not… not necessarily.  I just decided that now would be a great time for an adventure that didn’t involve getting married.”

Oh.  Hence the hideous scars?”

“But they don’t stop me from being useful around the house—I’ve already figured that out, so you see I must stay away from home.”

“And what are you going to do, out here?”

“Become a Ranger.”

Rían nearly dropped the roll of bandage cloth she was holding.  “Aren’t Rangers horrid and suspicious people?”

“Yes—but that means they get left alone all the time, plus they get to carry around these whacking big swords and glare at people.”

“Where did you get yours?”

“What?”

“The sword.  Where did you get it?”

“From my dad’s mantel.  Our ancestors sent some people out to help the King, long ago.”

“And you truly want to become a Ranger?”

The girl nodded eagerly.  “I know it’s hard work, but it’s got to be a lot more exciting than pulling weeds.”

“It is very dangerous as well, much worse than accidentally setting your own camp on fire.  And there are other traditional requirements—those of blood.”

The girl held out her burned arm.

“I meant ancestry—Rangers come from a high and noble lineage.”

“But they’re all suspicious-like!”

“Rough bark can hide a fine core.”

The girl suddenly looked at Rían appraisingly.  “Where am I, anyhow?”

“In the healer’s cot in Taurdal.  I already told you that.”

“But who lives in Taurdal?”

Rían returned to her work.

“Are they Rangers?  Can you let me see them?”

Rían sighed.  This was definitely a case for the Chieftain.


The prompt for this fic was a picture, given here.  The name "Taurdal" as a Ranger village was borrowed, in tribute, from the fan film Born of Hope.  If this Taurdal is in the same location as the film's, the nameless female is indeed far afield.

The party was not Merry’s idea—oh, no.  Well, maybe he had been somewhat involved in its planning last year.  He’d vaguely had it in mind as a yearly sort of thing, then, but he had never expected this year.  Most days he was able to go through being normal and actually quite happy (which felt at least a little wrong inside, until he reminded himself that Frodo would not want him to go moping about), but whenever anyone did anything commemorative he always had to think back to a year ago, and remember who had been with him then.

Pippin said the horn almost sounded mournful—no, he added, scratch that, elegiac.  To which Merry had replied, “He’s not dead, you know,” and if he was a little snappish, well, he had not been looking forward to being lauded as a captain and a hero when the real savior of the Shire was off in Elvenhome, never to return again.

But the Master’s heir was not allowed to skulk, and if Merry was trying to, he was failing pretty horribly.

In fact, it went from ‘failure’ to ‘catastrophe’ when Fredegar Bolger had handed his sister off to him and he’d been too distracted to notice until it was too late.

“Dance with her,” Fatty said, with a look of or else, and Merry, stiff as a board, had to take her hand and lead her into the clearing.  For the briefest of moments his eyes flicked over to hers.  They were troubled.

As the music started, he faced her and bowed.  He was better able to get a look at her when she got up from her curtsey—she looked almost as nervous as he felt.

The first few turns were passed in an awkward silence.  Finally, when he could not bear it any longer, he blurted out—“Does he know?”

She laughed, a little—one of those small short laughs that left him unsure whether she was amused or not.  “You’re still alive, aren’t you?”

“Point taken,” said Merry, with a rueful chuckle.  “I hope he’s not trying to make a match!” he added, hastily.

“No,” said Estella, “although I’m sure he wishes you had a wife to bring you as much joy as his.  He does know, however, that we’re not on the best of terms right now, and he’d like to see us reconciled, and—I wanted to speak with you.”

“What about?” said Merry, trying to keep his voice casual.

“Cousin Frodo.”

“Ah.”

“I’m so sorry, Merry.  I knew you’d been close to him, but—”  Estella faltered, and it was not until they had circled around each other once that she spoke again.

“I read your letter.  I wanted to offer my condolences in person.”

Merry said nothing in response for some time, although his jaw did tighten.

Finally, he said, “Well, it wasn’t just my loss.”

“I know.  We were all so shocked—and sad—when we found out.  But you took it very hard, didn’t you, Merry?”

“Well, I was hardly in the best of moods when I wrote that letter.  If I’d known you’d actually read it—”

“You most likely would have written it quite differently.  I’m glad you didn’t; I never could stand it when people are less than forthcoming about themselves or their intentions.  I am slightly closer to understanding you now, Merry.”

“I told you my intentions when I said I’d write to you.”

“Yes, but I didn’t believe you—not until I realised the date of that last one.  I confess it didn’t occur to me, until then, that you might have been writing for you as much as you were for me.”

“I was, that day.  I just—”

They stepped apart to let another couple pass through.

“I wrote to him, every week, from the day that he left Brandy Hall up until we left the Shire.  And it was very helpful, whenever there was anything that was too much for me, to write it down and know he’d be reading it, and in a few days there’d be the response, and I could think about it, and—I can’t write to him anymore.”

“The Post doesn’t reach the Elvish Havens?”

Merry paused.  “He can’t write back.”

“I’m sorry.”

They passed the few minutes that remained to the dance in silence.

“You know,” said Estella, during the last few steps, “you can keep writing to me.  I know it won’t be the same, but I will read them.”

“That’s considerable progress from a year ago.”

Estella fixed Merry with such a look that he stumbled over the final step and had to settle for an ungainly bow.  He decided to press on.  “Will you write back?”

“I’ll see if I can.”


This follows on from an earlier challenge fic, "Daughters of Jerusalem," which explains the incident that created so much bad blood between Merry and Estella.  People who desire the context may read the original fic here.

She had had the dream many, many times—always the sound of waves beating the shore, calling her to a home she would never see again.

In the dream she was on a boat, sailing West.  The ship slipped onto the Straight Road, and the bent world fell away from her like a waterfall.  Sailing grew easier, then, as the current took over and bore her westward.

But overhead, the sky lowered, and ahead she saw, barring the way, a dark curtain of rain brightened only by flashes of lightning.  The ship sailed into the curtain—

—and always, every time, she awoke.

But not this time.

This time, as she slipped into an easy slumber and found herself once more on the path of dreams, wearied from loss and grief and joy, she found herself on the ship again.  Again the curtain of rain barred her path, and once more she resigned herself to her exile.

But she did not wake, and the curtain lightened, until it was no more than a mist.  The ship sailed into the mist—

—and she could feel it on her face, the way it tasted of home, and it mingled with the tears she did not know she was setting.

The curtain parted, and she saw beyond…

…and heard, in the tongue of her longfathers, “Come home, child.”

And Galadriel woke.





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