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From Wilderness to Cities White  by Larner

For Linda Hoyland and Dawn Felagund for their birthdays.  And thanks so to RiverOtter for the beta.

Shared Intelligence

            He cracked the door to Faramir’s office and peered within.  Here his newly accepted Steward and Frodo Baggins both worked, Frodo doing research on how historically those crippled or slain in the defense of the realm had been treated while Faramir looked into the records of his father’s purchases of grain and other staples intended to support the city of Minas Tirith during any siege by Mordor.  There was, after all, a need for foodstuffs within the city, considering the desolation of the fields and farms that had supported the White City’s needs, there upon what had become the battlefield of the Pelennor.  As for Frodo’s research—well, it would be far easier to convince the Council of the need to offer aid to those disabled in the final battles with Mordor and the families of the slain if precedents could be found, the more the better.

            Usually when he looked within the room, Aragorn saw two dark heads each bowed closely over bound volumes of statutes or stacks of documents, one high up with dark hair long and straight, leaning over the surface of the Steward’s massive desk; the other with curly dark locks with glints of silver, particularly near the temples, obscuring in part the delicate leaf-like tips of the ears, intent on whatever lay upon the top of the low table he’d been given to work upon.  Today, however, Faramir held a document upright and between himself and his fellow, whose head rose but slightly above the height of the desk.  Frodo was leaning forward, indicating with an ink-stained, outstretched finger some point he felt was important; Faramir’s face was shining with pleasure at the shared knowledge.  It was plain that whatever Frodo was indicating gave the Man a good deal of satisfaction as well.

            “They will come to me soon to share this with me,” the King murmured to himself.  “Let them know this moment of fellowship uninterrupted.”

            And with a feeling of anticipation, he retreated to his own office, and thought how he would mimic surprise when the two of them surged together into his presence to share whatever it was they had found.

 

Written for the A_L_E_C "Change of Season" challenge.  For the birthdays of Aurenollaurelote, Lady Branwyn, and Tiggersk8.  Beta by RiverOtter.

The Reluctant Spring

            Carefully looking both ways to see that none of Lotho’s Big Men were about, Robin Smallburrow turned off the Road and slipped across the south pasture toward the low house lying at the center of his family’s farm, staying close to the hedge that bounded the lane.  Not, he knew, that anyone would easily see him, as lowering as the brown clouds were.  The days were dull and sullen and the nights miserably dark, and had been for the past month or so.  It might be nearing midday, but it might as well be twilight.

            Reaching the door, he gave the agreed upon signal to let his old mum know that it was him—two quick raps and three slow ones, followed by a scratch of a horny fingernail across the wood.  He heard the chair his mum kept under the battered knob scrape as she pulled it away, and the door slowly opened.  It was dark inside the place, and he could see his mother only as a slightly darker shadow against the already dark entryway.  “That you, lad?” she whispered.  “Thought as you’d be here afore dawn.”

            He slipped past her and closed the door behind her, then pushed the chair back under the knob once more, making certain it was firmly wedged.  “Couldn’t make it—got called to Bag End along with my mates.”

            “Bag End?  And what new mischief does Pimple plan for us now?” she demanded, drawing him down the passage to the kitchen.  A single candle sat on a saucer on the table—for some reason the last time the Gatherers and Sharers had been through they’d taken all the lamps and lamp oil, as well as the three brass candlesticks his family had owned.

            He shook his head as he dropped his pack onto a chair, then doffed the now hated feathered cap he had to wear to identify himself as a Shiriff and tossed it onto the table.  “He’s got a bunch of new lads—says as we need more Shiriffs, so’s we can make sure as folks don’t break the new Rules.  We’re to be put into troops----”

            “Troops?”  Her voice rose in outrage.  “Since when does the Shire need troops of Shiriffs?  Just how many do we need to find a strayed lamb or walk a drunk Hobbit home from the inn?”

            “What inn?” he asked bitterly.  “Ain’t no inns open nowhere about here in the Westfarthing no more.  Mr. Lotho, him don’t hold with inns, or so he says.”

            She gave a sniff.  “I member well enough when his old dad was a regular at the Ivy Bush when I worked there, back afore your dad’n me was married.  And Pimple himself certainly spent a good deal of time there, up till a year or so ago.  Was drinkin’ there the day his daddy was buried, if’n I member rightly.  Showed up to the funeral drunk, if’n Sam Gamgee’s to be believed.”

            Sam had accompanied Frodo Baggins to Otho Sackville-Baggins’s funeral, and had helped fill in the grave while Mr. Baggins, as the Baggins family head and almost the only mourner besides that awful Mistress Lobelia, had ended up directing matters in the absence of Lotho.  It had been rather a scandal, in spite of the fact that Lotho was known to spend hardly any time at all at home with his mother or taking care of family business.  Robin remembered Sam sitting here at their table, telling of it that night.

            “They got you goin’ around counting logs in woodpiles now?” she asked.

            “Not yet, but I expect as it’s comin’.  We’re to make certain as there’s but one bucket for each well, and no more than one boiler for laundry for each house.  And we’re to inspect washin’ lines and make certain there’s not extra sheets bein’ washed, since no one’s to be visitin’ from other parts of the Shire no more.”

            His mother was shocked.  “What?  And what about folks like the Delvers?  You know how it is with old Blotho, all stuck in bed since that brainstorm a year ago.  They have to change his beddin’ at least once a day.  It’s not like he can help it, after all!”  She shook her head in dismay.  “And with Will Whitfoot gone, all locked up in those old storage tunnels Michel Delving way, there’s not a soul as can put a stop to it all!  I’ll tell you what—that Frodo Baggins comes back and I’ll have a word to put in his ear!  Sellin’ Bag End to those uppity Sackville-Bagginses and lettin’ Pimple’s head swell up like that!  Much less draggin’ that Sam off into the wild the way he did!”  She turned angrily toward their larder and began to pull out enough to fix him some elevenses, and he started unpacking what he’d brought in the pack.  It wasn’t a great deal, but it was about enough to help offset what she’d not been able to get for herself due to the Gatherers and Sharers depleting the stores of the merchants she used to buy from in the village.  ’Twasn’t the best of quality, perhaps, but it was filling, at least.  As he worked, he pondered what he needed to tell her.  At last he felt he’d waited long enough.

            “Mum,” he began slowly, “I don’t know as I’ll be able to come by as often as I do now, come next month.”

            She stopped in the process of slicing the half loaf of bread she’d brought from the larder, gripping the bread knife more tightly so as to whiten her knuckles.  “Why not?”

            He took a deep breath before explaining, “Like I said, Pimple’s organizing us into troops, and I’m to be part of the troop workin’ out of Frogmorton.”

            She stared at him, disbelieving.  “Frogmorton?  But why?  Why, that’s a day’s walk away from here!”

            “I know.  But he wants Shiriffs in force along the Road.”

            She set down the knife rather deliberately on the worktable, and just looked at him, her arms akimbo, her balled fists against her ample hips.  She was shaking her head.  “This ain’t right—not right at all!  You know what, son—it’s time you gave over bein’ a Shiriff, when you are sent a day’s journey from your home, and when you’re made to spy on decent folk who never did wrong to anyone.”

            “I can’t quit.”

            “But why not?”

            “Member Chico Bottomly, there from Overhill?”

            “The one who got away with my prize turnips back when you was teens?”

            “Yes.  You know as he went for a Shiriff same time as me.”

            “Yes, I know.”

            “Well, last week he went up to Bag End to tell Pimple as he was quitting being a Shiriff as it just wasn’t right what we was expected to do, and we’ve not seen him since.”

            Her face went white.  “They drug him off to the Lockholes, you think?” she whispered.

            “We don’t know for certain, but I expect as that’s what happened.”

            “If’n they didn’t kill him,” she murmured, looking down at the bread and knife lying before her on the worktable.

            “Lotho wouldn’t let them kill nobody—or at least I don’t think as he would.”  But even Robin heard the uncertainty in his own voice.

            “Who’s to say as what Pimple would do?” she muttered, picking up her knife and savagely finishing her slicing.  “Always was a lout, and he’s just gettin’ worse the older he gets.”

            He nodded.

            Elevenses were rather sparse, but at least he wouldn’t faint with hunger as he returned to his rounds.  He hitched his now lighter pack up on his shoulders, gave a careful look about to make certain no one was watching his mum’s house, and headed back toward the Road.  The day was no lighter—in fact it seemed even more bitterly dark than it had been, and there was a distinct feeling of anger and malice in the air.  “You’d never figger as today’s the twenty-fifth of March already,” he muttered as he reached the Road and looked carefully each way to make certain no one else was in sight.  “Will spring never come?”

            Usually by now the crocuses would be in full bloom and the daffodils would just be beginning to show their golden crowns.  But there were no spiked leaves from bulbs to be seen, and no blossoms of any kind.  The willow shrubs hadn’t yet produced their catkins, nor had the aspens begun to bud.  Trees were still bare, and even the plants of the hedges were still sporting leaves spotted with last fall’s signs rather than showing any indications they were still wick.  There’d not even been any snowdrops, and those were always the first plants to waken with the brightening of the year.

            He felt clammy, in spite of the closeness of the atmosphere, and he drew his cloak tighter about himself.  He felt reluctant to leave the concealment of the hedge, as if were he to step out upon the Road he’d make himself conspicuous to the eye of some fell enemy.  He wiped his forehead with his jacket’s sleeve while peering left and right.  Somewhere, he suddenly realized, something was decidedly wrong!  What it was he could not say and would not guess; but there was a decided feeling of impending doom hovering over him, and he knew somehow it was best he remain still and draw no attention to himself!

            The day suddenly went completely still.  There’d been no smaller birds to be seen throughout the Shire for all the weeks of the darkness that had come from the south and east, although there were plenty of crows of scruffy appearance to be found.  Even they, however, had seemed either unnaturally subdued for their kind, or would be particularly raucous in their calls, as if in defiance of the unnatural silence to be found throughout the Shire.  Now, however, even they were quiet!  The wind had died, and all seemed to wait for some great, killing stroke to fall upon the land!  Robin Smallburrow felt as if he were stifling, and clawed at the top button to his shirt!

            And then, when he felt he must go mad from the tension of the moment, at last he felt some great balance shift!  A wind sprang up, bending the hedge eastward, and suddenly he could breathe again, even if it was labored in the face of the gale!  He turned west and watched as the great pall of brown murk began to tear apart, as the blue of the sky at last could be seen and as light began tearing away at the remnants of the reek!  The crows rose from where they’d huddled in the tallest of the trees, crying aloud to herald the end of the darkness, seeming just as glad as Robin himself to see the end of the shadow that had hung for so long over the whole world, or so it had seemed to the Hobbit!

            Far to the west clouds were beginning to gather, but they were natural clouds, clouds from proper weather rather than darkness, and he knew that soon rain would begin to fall, washing away the brown ash that he could see darkened the leaves and stifled the very earth.

            “Yes!” he said in a soft exclamation as he saw a great flock of small birds at last soaring over the Westfarthing, each chirping loudly.

            Honk, honk!  Honk, honk, honk!  Honk!  From the south came a great V of geese, followed by a second flank, all crying aloud the gladsome news—somehow, in some strange way, the land itself was awakening, and all hurried to see to it that spring caught up with the calendar.  The true clouds of the west swept eastward, dropping their burden of moisture upon the land, and Robin stood there in awe, watching them roil overhead in rolls of white, purple, indigo, silver and darkest grey, lit here and there with rosy pink and even crimson.  A silver curtain of rain arced toward him, and he let it come, rejoiced to feel the honest touch of it upon his face, saw it scouring away the darkness.

            A flock of ducks struggled to keep together as they flew by toward Bywater and the Pool there.  A hawk suddenly appeared, tilting first this way and then that as the wind buffeted its wings, glad apparently merely to be aloft no matter how heavy the winds might be!

            Then the clouds were past, chasing the brown gloom further eastward and south, and sunlight followed the rain, showing sparkling jewels here and there across the land as it glinted from drops that clung to the bare stems and stubborn, brittle leaves of the hedge by which Robin stood and as they stood upon grass that at last seemed tinged with green.

            Cheer up!  Cheer up!  He turned to find a tiny goldcrest had lit on the hedge near his hand, and was clinging onto a sturdy stalk determinedly as it turned its head to examine him.  Cheer up!  Cheer up! it advised him before suddenly letting go and allowing the wind to carry it away.

            Robin Smallburrow stood there for some time, his cloak now steaming, and the feather in his cap shedding its burden of dampness and taking again its proper shape.  He suddenly shivered, and then laughed aloud.

            “Don’t know as what’s just happened,” he said aloud to himself, “but it does appear as spring’s finally come.  And about time it is!”

            He now stepped boldly upon the Road and turned east.  He might be forced to stay in Frogmorton and he might remain for a time at the beck and call of the likes of Lotho Pimple, but he knew now he could bear with it, and would survive the storm.  The sun had come again past all hope when it seemed the brown must overshadow the world forever; and he knew now there would come an end to the tyranny of Lotho and his Big Men.  He’d be like the goldcrests, and would cling on until the winds of the heavens at last washed them away!

            “Cheer up!  Cheer up!” he sang aloud, mimicking the call of the birds as he turned toward the future—and through it to the good he knew was headed their way at last!  And he whistled one of the songs old Mad Baggins had used to sing as he headed toward Frogmorton.

           

Written for the LOTR Community "Pairs" challenge.  For AnnMarwalk for her birthday.  Beta by RiverOtter.  A true drabble.

Before their Eyes

            The Hobbits of the Shire stared in fascination.  Long had they said “When the King returns” and meant Never!  But today King and Queen stood upon the Brandywine Bridge and gave honor to the Mayor, the Master, and the Thain and their Ladies, and laughed at Pippin Took’s sallies, nodded at Sam Gamgee’s aphorisms, and spoke of future plans with Merry Brandybuck.  When the King lifted a glass of wine in honor of Frodo Baggins, though, all were surprised to see tears in his eyes, and grief on the Queen’s face.

            But Baggins cared not for the Shire, they thought.

 

Written for the A_L_E_C "Things that go bump in the night" challenge.  For Illereyn and Nieriel Raina's birthdays.  Beta by RiverOtter.

The Mystery of the Brown Ghost

            “There!  Do you hear it?” Eldarion asked his friend Elboron.

            The son of the Prince of Ithilien peered out of the shallow cupboard in which the two of them crouched and shook his head.  They were in one of the suites of rooms in the upper level above the offices at the front of the citadel, a suite that by tradition had been inhabited by the heirs to the lordship of Gondor, first by the King’s Heir and later by that of the Ruling Steward in the millennia after the disappearance of Eärnur, before the Return of the King.  “I hear nothing!” he whispered to his companion.

            But then both went still, for definitely something had gone “Bump!” quite near their hiding place, a bump that was followed quickly by another sound that neither could identify.  There was a whirring noise, a whirring noise that was accompanied by a series of lesser bumps! in quick succession.  That was followed by a decided whine of some sort that caused the hair of both boys to rise on the backs of their respective necks.  Both were frozen to immobility until at last all again went still.

            At last Elboron stirred.  “I like it not!” he murmured in the ear of his friend.

            Eldarion almost nodded his agreement, but stopped himself.  “But we should learn what causes it,” he breathed softly.

            Elboron shrugged as if he weren’t anywhere as certain of that plan as was the King’s son, but his shoulders straightened as he put his hand on the hilt of the long knife he wore at his waist, a gift to him last Mettarë.  He took a long breath and held it, and at last, the two of them in accord, they pushed open the cupboard and slipped out into the room.

            But although they went through the seven rooms within the suite most thoroughly, they found nothing but some feathers upon the floor under the clerestory window that lit the room ordinarily used as a bedroom or office or private study by whoever inhabited the set of chambers.

            “A great owl’s feathers,” Elboron noted as they examined this find.  “Whoever lived here last must have spent some time within Ithilien.”

            Disappointed to find nothing else out of the ordinary, the two of them slipped out of the suite and closed the door behind them, just in time to hear the bells summoning those residing within the Citadel to their dinners.

 *******

            “And where have the two of you been all afternoon?” inquired Prince Faramir as the two boys arrived to join their families at the high table in the greater dining hall.  “Your tutors have reported you have been nowhere to be found much of the day.”

            The two boys exchanged looks that were cut short when the King and his wife entered together.  The Lord Elessar and Lady Arwen said nothing as they took their place at the center of the high table, although their looks at the boys still managed to repeat the question wordlessly.  But it was not until after the Standing Silence was complete that either of them could answer.

            “There has been a strange apparition in the upper levels of the Citadel,” Eldarion explained, nodding to the page who came forward to proffer a basin of water in which to lave his hands.  “Thank you,” he said, accepting the towel offered and then returning it to the youth’s arm.  “We went to investigate it.  One of the younger maids who cleans was unnerved by the noises, and told me of them the other day.  I went to the room and found nothing, and today Elboron went with me.”

            “And again you found nothing?” the King asked.

            “Naught but some owl feathers,” Elboron answered.

            King and Steward exchanged glances, and the two boys could see that Elboron’s father had a mysterious smile on his face.  “Do you know what could have caused the noise, my lord?” asked Eldarion.

            “Ah, but it appears that the Brown Ghost may have returned to the Prince’s Chambers,” Faramir said.  The Queen and the Princess of Ithilien exchanged inquiring looks before returning their attention to their menfolk.

            “A Brown Ghost dwells at times in the Prince’s Chambers?” asked the Lord Elessar.

            Faramir nodded.  “Such was true when my brother and I were young.  Many of the maids would refuse to go into those rooms for fear of it, uncertain as they were of the apparent moans and thumps and other odd sounds such as were often heard there.  Although there were those who would take those rooms at times and who swore they heard no such things.  It appears that the Brown Ghost is not a constant inhabitant there.”

            He paused as the servers arrived with the first course of the meal.  Once all had served themselves and he had himself eaten some of his soup and bread, he continued.  “Boromir was certain that there was some great mystery here, so he determined to spend the night within the bedchamber, and I, not being willing to be denied a night in his company, declared myself his companion, and nothing would turn me from my decision.  Our father merely smiled indulgently and ordered Boromir’s governor and my nurse to allow us our way.”  He swallowed several more spoons of soup before continuing.

            “The bed used by the last one to inhabit those chambers was still there, and all disapproving, Boromir’s governor accompanied us there with proper linens and blankets, and saw the bed made up for our use, once Boromir had pulled the white dust sheet from it with his own hands.  Then my brother sent him away most imperiously—and, I fear, quite cheekily for a youth of a mere twelve summers, and we went to the bathing chamber and prepared ourselves for our night of watching.

            “I had brought several books with me, for we were quite determined to remain awake throughout the whole night.  At first I read aloud to Boromir, although I doubt he enjoyed the story I read half as much as he did simply listening to my voice. 

            “But I was but a small boy of seven, and soon tired.  In the end, Boromir took the last of the pile of books I’d brought and began reading it to me.  I refused to lie down, but sat up, leaning more and more against his side as the evening progressed, and at last I fell asleep.  He told me later I had my thumb in my mouth when I did so, a detail I denied but must admit might well have been true at the time.  He laid me down more comfortably, and set himself to watch.  But he, too, was beginning to nod when he felt a shadow fall upon him, briefly obscuring the light from the clerestory window in the room; but when he looked upwards the light of the moon shone down upon us once more.  He heard nothing more for quite a while, and at last he drowsed for a time, until he heard shrill cries over us as the light again was darkened.  Something dropped upon the bed between us, and he was so terrified he grabbed me and dragged me from it, fleeing the room as swiftly as he could induce me to go with him.  Afterwards he berated himself for a craven coward, but our father merely shook his head and told him a wise captain knows when to retreat until he has more knowledge.”

            “And did you never find out the true history of the Brown Ghost?” the King asked him.

            “In time we did.  We were much older when we did so, my brother and I.  But we learned by watching from outside the Citadel.  The Brown Ghost remained in residence for the rest of the summer after we slept in the room, but did not return for several years.  Then when I was fourteen summers the maids again spoke of fearful noises within the Prince’s Chambers, and Boromir and I again slipped into the rooms to search for clues—but in the daylight this time.  What I found gave me an idea as to the nature of the apparition, and I suggested to my brother that we could most likely confirm my theory by watching the clerestory window that allowed the moonlight to fall upon the bed below from the outside of the Citadel on the night of the next full moon.  Boromir thought at first I was as afraid as he’d been at twelve, but agreed afterwards with me that we saw far better from our vantage point below the branches of the White Tree than we would have seen from inside the room.  Father was most impressed at the time.”

            “And what is the truth of the Brown Ghost?” demanded Eldarion.

            But the Prince of Ithilien and Steward of Gondor merely smiled mysteriously.  “And where is the challenge in telling you what you will best learn on your own?” he asked.  “You and my son are wise and brave beyond your years.  Let you find your own way to understanding the nature and aims of the Brown Ghost much as my father allowed us to do when Boromir and I were young.”

 *******

            The moon was full the night that Elboron and Eldarion chose to spend the night keeping watch on the windows of the Prince’s Chambers from the Court of Gathering before the Citadel.  The King and his Steward gave orders that no further guard needed to be kept on the two youths beyond those who kept the watch on the White Tree and those who stood guard before the doors of the Citadel itself, but as the hour of midnight neared the two Men and a single bodyguard slipped out to take cover under the White Tree where they could keep an eye on their two sons, who had unrolled bedrolls under the light of the moon itself.

            “You have not told me the true nature of the Brown Ghost,” breathed Lord Aragorn Elessar in his friend’s ear.

            Faramir again smiled mysteriously as he replied softly, “And shall I deny you the right to learn as do your son and mine, as did Boromir and I?”

            The King shrugged, and settled down. Pulling his grey-green cloak about himself, he willed himself to stillness.  So the two former Rangers kept watch on the two boys as the two boys watched the window.

            There was a soft murmur between the two youths that at last went quiet.  It appeared the two of them would fall asleep and leave the mystery unsolved, when suddenly there was a dark winged shape that threw a shadow upon the two bedrolls.  No, they were not asleep after all, as both boys immediately rose to their feet and peered toward the dark gap that marked where the clerestory window to the Prince’s Chambers stood open to allow air to move freely into the upper levels of the Citadel.

            “What is it?” demanded Elboron.

            But Eldarion was smiling broadly.  “I saw it!” he said.  “If we go in now, we can perhaps see more clearly!”  He leaned down to scoop up the blankets and rug he’d rested upon and headed swiftly toward the Citadel, and Elboron was left to hurry after him, wrapping the loose ends of fabric from his own bedroll about his arms to keep them from dragging the ground to trip him up as he did his best to follow his friend as swiftly as he might.  And without making any noise, the three men followed after the boys.

            The door guards kept the doors open for the fathers and their guard, and soon the men were climbing the stairs to the upper story at the front of the Citadel.  Elboron and Eldarion had left the door to the Prince’s Chambers open, and Faramir grabbed up an oil lamp that stood in a niche to take with them.  Within they could hear a series of shrill cries, and they found their way to the door to the main bedchamber.

            Not far inside the room stood the two boys, peering upwards intently.  Above them, over the place where the bedstead should lie, they could see the light falling upon the floor from the clerestory window, and opposite it in the dormer in which it had been placed was a ledge.  The boys did not appear surprised to be joined by their fathers.  Now the four of them crowded to a vantage point where they could see the ledge clearly.  And looking down at them round yellow eyes----

            “An owl!” whispered Elboron.

            “A family of owls!” amended Eldarion as the parent turned its head to regard the shrilly crying young who were demanding their share of whatever delicacy it had brought.  A second shadow followed the first, and a second large owl landed beside its mate, clearly bearing a mouse in its beak, the mouse’s tail trembling as the parent shook its head.

            “Had Boromir considered the sheet that covered the bed on the night we slept here,” Faramir commented as they peered upwards together, “he would have realized that birds nested up there.”

            “And that is the source of the owl feathers we found,” Elboron said softly.  “How wonderful!  We have peregrine falcons that nest on window ledges outside, and owls who nest here, in the Prince’s own chambers!”

            Eldarion’s wide smile continued.  “And I’ll be glad enough to share with them, when these rooms are my own,” he declared.

            His father placed his arm about his son’s shoulders as one of the young owlets clattered its beak and shook its wings, thumping softly against the wall as it took the mouse from its parent.  With a soft hoot the two parents turned and ghosted out the window once more….

Written for the Tolkien Weekly "Perfect Gifts" gold, silver, and gems challenge.  For Baranduin for her birthday.

For Legolas

            Gimli stood for some time at his forge, considering what gold, silver, or gems he might work into a proper gift for Legolas for the Elf’s begetting day celebration.  He would be the Lord of those Elves who removed from Eryn Lasgalen to the new community being formed within Ithilien, after all.

            He looked down on the golden beech leaf that lay on his workbench, and knew what he would do.  “A circlet of leaves,” he said aloud.  “Much as his father wears, but with the beeches of Ithilien rather than the oak leaves of Eryn Lasgalen predominating.  With emeralds….”

~0~

Yes, I've been reminded that the beeches were the favorite trees of the Elves of Mirkwood, but please imagine they preferred oak leaves for the King's circlet!  Heh!

For the Tolkien Weekly Gifts: Loving Companionship challenge.  For Chibi Amber for her birthday.  Beta by RiverOtter.

In a room set aside within Meduseld.

Wishing Bliss

            Faramir and Aragorn stood together in the chamber where they had been making ready for the ceremony to come, the Steward looking up into the eyes of his new King, whom he already had found to be worshipful.  “I can wish nothing better for you than this,” the Lord Elessar was saying, “that you might find your bliss even as have I, and that from this day forward you, too, might know the comfort of loving companionship with one fully worthy of your affections, and who finds in you the same.  For you both have proved yourselves beyond all expectations….”

Written for the A_L_E_C "Remembrance" challenge.  For Azalais for her birthday.  And thanks to RiverOtter for the beta.

A Moment of Connection

            “Where are you going, you daft Elf?” demanded Gimli.

            Legolas gave a quick glance over his shoulder at the Dwarf seated behind him on Arod’s back, but gave no more answer than an enigmatic shake of his head.  Aragorn, who was checking the girth of Roheryn’s saddle, glanced over at his companions curiously, then nodded as if he appreciated the Elf’s purpose as Legolas turned his horse back toward the site of their recent victory.  Gimli noted that Gandalf gave them no attention at all, his own concerns apparently focused on the still forms of Frodo and Sam on their litters.

            Arod snorted a slight protest as the Elf guided him around the root of the mountains toward the battlefield.  Still, the horse proved obedient in spite of its obvious disapproval of its rider’s goal.  Carefully it picked its way amidst the rubble.  A few hardy soldiers, cloths tied over their faces, worked amidst the remaining evidence of carnage, still separating bodies of those who’d fought among the forces of the Army of the West from those of its foes, gathering weapons and armor, piling the bodies of trolls and orcs here, laying those of Easterlings there, those of Southrons there, those of Men of other lands elsewhere, now and then finding one who yet lived and calling for a wagon to bear the wounded Man off of the field. 

            Legolas appeared to be ignoring them all.  He rode on until they reached a point where he could look through the gap where the Black Gate had stood.  In the distance they could see the smokes that marked the ruins of Mount Doom, and the nearer pile of rubble that was all that was left of the Black Tower of Barad-dûr.  Here Arod finally halted.  Gimli could tell that the horse was uncomfortable by the tension he felt in the muscles of Arod’s back, but at a soothing word and touch from Legolas the horse calmed, although its ears still swiveled as if listening for the approach of an enemy.

            They sat so for some minutes, the Elf looking thoughtfully into the former land of Mordor.  At last he sat straighter, and at a slight shift in his body coaxed Arod to turn slowly.  Now he looked behind the site where the battle had raged, toward the distant shimmer of reflected light that indicated where the Dead Marshes lay.  Absently he rubbed the horse’s neck as he considered the area.  At last he spoke, his melodious voice soft.  “That is where the bodies of the dead were buried before, when my father and grandfather fought here.  Elves, Men, Orcs—I think perhaps even a few Dwarves fought at times here as well, mostly those who’d come as messengers from the upper vales of the Anduin who’d stayed to slake the thirst of their axes with the black blood of the Enemy’s forces, or who had nothing to which they might return.  Ten years of frustration and loss, constant siege, separation from families and loved ones, repeated assaults by the Enemy’s orcs and allies.  So many who marched forth from the Greenwood failed to return home again, and if any of my people ever see them again it will not be here, within Middle Earth.”

            He went quiet once more, his eyes still fixed on the place where so many lay.  Aragorn had spoken of his own sojourn there last evening when he’d come away from his labours amongst the wounded to take a brief rest, describing the appearance of ghostly bodies seeming to lie in the fetid pools.  At last Legolas sighed.  “It is over at last,” he murmured, “all the watch we have kept so long on the Black Land.  Yea, it is over, and at least, this time, no Elves or Dwarves died here, within or in sight of Mordor.  We may have died elsewhere in defense of our own lands, but we did not die here as happened before.”

            Arod, sensing that they would be leaving this dread place soon, pranced impatiently as again his rider straightened.  “Sleep well, Oropher, Ereinion Gil-galad, and so many, many others,” the Elf called out.  “Your sacrifice was not in vain, you will find.  And when the time is right, I look to behold you again within Aman, and to greet you with the word that your enemy is indeed cast down, and this time will not rise again.”  He gave a surprisingly deep bow toward the marshes, and Arod, his head raised proudly, again began picking his way through the rubble toward the way south toward the camp, the muscles under Gimli rippling as the horse and its riders put the battlefield and the dead behind them.

 

Written for CuriousWombat and Surgical Steel for their birthdays.  Thanks to RiverOtter for the beta!

Anticipation

            Fabric had been brought to the camp in Ithilien, including some work from Belestor’s own tailor shop in the First Circle.  As he remembered and had instructed the messengers, all that was found in his second workroom had been brought to him, and that included the clothing he had been working on for his own son and his two nephews, shirts and trews, small clothes and surcoats, intended for the three youths to take with them when they left the city in the following fall to visit for a year with their grandsire in Dol Amroth.

            His brother had laughed when told that Belestor had already begun sewing garments for that time.  “As fast as they grow, they will be beyond such clothing ere they leave Minas Tirith!” he’d exclaimed.

            Belestor had snorted in reply.  “Do not think I take no care for that,” he’d answered.  “I know the ways of growing boys well enough!”

            But then had come the word that the Enemy was on the march, and the boys were sent off even as winter gave over to spring, with sufficient fabric and money that hopefully their grandfather could see them properly clothed as needed when the time came.  There had been no time to finish aught he’d been working upon.

            But now it was no longer work for naught, he reflected as he lifted two completed sleeves and considered as to whether or not they would be long enough.  He brought out his knotted string and the measurements he’d made, and compared them to the notes, his brow furrowed in thought.  Then his frown smoothed and he smiled.  They would do!

            He found his thread and three steel needles in their bone case, needles long treasured by his own grandfather, from whom he’d learned his trade.  “’Tis said that they came from the Elves who lived betimes in Edhellond,” the old Man had told him.  “They are said to have come perhaps from the Blessed Realm itself, the work of a Noldor smith.  Surely my own father and his before him treasured them, for they told me that all that was sewn with them proved true and comely, becoming well those who wore them.  They will be yours one day, if you truly intend to follow our family craft.”

            And his they were, brought by him when he followed the Lady Finduilas to the White City.  Long had he sewn garments for the use of her sons and husband from the comfort of his workrooms in the First Circle.  And her shroud, he thought, sobering once more as he began piecing together the tunic to which the sleeves belonged.  He had grieved so when she’d left the Bounds of Arda, and prayed she watched over her still living son, there in the Houses of Healing.

            Her sons were far too tall for such garments as these, he knew, but now they would serve a nobler purpose than had been intended.  Carefully he sewed, keeping his stitches properly fine and even for the needs of the ones for whom they were now intended.  Others from the camp of the Men of the City began to gather, watching with interest and pride as Belestor carefully prepared these for the use of the Ringbearers, for the day on which they would, hopefully, awaken again to receive the honor of the Army of the West.

Written for the Tolkien Weekly Community Gifts: A Bright Future challenge.  Beta by RiverOtter.

Farewell to Family and Friends

            Aragorn looked about the table in the Royal Quarters where he sat one final time at dinner with his personal household, at his son and daughters and their spouses, his grandchildren, at Legolas and Gimli, and at Faramir Took, who like his father had chosen to live out his final years in the King’s household in Minas Tirith.  “I cannot look to spend much longer in any case.  Instead I would have you all remember me as I was, and so I wish all a bright future under the rule of my so capable son.”

            Eldarion’s eyes held bright tears.

For Aruthir for his birthday.  Thanks to RiverOtter for the beta.

The Cat

            “Please, Dad, can’t we keep him?”

            The Gaffer sighed, and looked none too kindly on the animal Marigold held in her arms.  This was no kitten, but a rangy and ragged tom, his ear battered and with a large lump on the inside of his right foreleg that told of battles with other toms and that was undoubtedly filled with infection.  By rights he ought to tell the children no….

            But it wasn’t that long since their mum died, and he knew full well that there was no way he could say no to that look in his daughter’s eyes!

Written for the LOTR Community "Two Sides" challenge.  For Garnet Took for her birthday.  Beta by RiverOtter.

A Matter of Duty

            Gilmaros, Captain of the Guard of the Citadel, looked at the two men brought before him, his eyes bright with concern.  Halargil had served more than a score of years as one of Lord Denethor’s personal guards, while Beregond had ever been faithful as a member of the Third Company. 

            Halargil was a seasoned warrior, having served under their Lord Steward Denethor during his days as the Captain-General of the forces of Gondor and Commander of the garrison in Osgiliath.  He and his wife had a house near the bottom of the ramp from the level of the Citadel to the Sixth Circle, on the near end of Isil Lane.  He was due to retire soon, and had planned to perhaps purchase a farm upon the Pelennor where he might raise poultry.  He and his wife had ever kept a small coop behind their house, and ever had fresh eggs to share with others.

            Beregond was but in his late thirties, a widower whose son stayed in the home of his brother Iorlas under the care of Iorlas’s wife, when the boy was not up in the Sixth Circle helping to clean the barracks or assisting in the buttery for his father’s company.  Indeed, it was known that in spite of his low birth Bergil was being considered for a position as a page within the Citadel; there was no question that he intended to join the Guard of the Citadel himself when he came of an age to do so.

            And now both Men were before him, both with faces grey with shock at what they had done.  Beregond stood tall and still, his eyes wary and yet with still a hint of challenge to them.  If what Gilmaros had been told was true, there was a good chance that he would be forced to kneel to the headsman’s sword all too soon.  Leaving one’s post without permission from either the Steward or himself was, after all, a capital offense.

            As for Halargil….

            The older Guardsman was shaking, and his forehead heavily beaded with sweat.  Suddenly concerned that Halargil might collapse, Gilmaros signaled to his aide to bring a chair that the man might sit.  Fortunately it arrived in good time, and instead of falling to the ground, Halargil managed to sit down heavily, his lip trembling as he wiped a shaking hand across his face.

            “Tell me, Halargil—what is it that happened while you were on watch over our Lord Steward Denethor?”

            A muscle in Halargil’s right cheek was twitching irregularly as he sought for words.  “I was outside the chamber where Lord Denethor sat by the cot on which his son lay.  Lord Denethor—he was—he was not there when I—when I came on duty.  They tell me he had been in the topmost chamber of the Tower of Ecthelion, wrestling with the Enemy in thought.  I had been outside the hall for a good hour or better when—when he returned.  He was pale, his eyes deep-sunk beneath his brows.  He did not appear to notice as I opened the door to allow him to enter the room where his son lay, and he left the door open after him.  He—he sat—heavily—by the cot, taking his son’s hand in his own.

            “The night was waning when he stooped over Lord Faramir, feeling his face.  He stated that his son was dying, and that—that it was time to take him to the Silent Street.  He sent his body servants out to bring more blankets and—and torches.”

            Through all this time he had not looked at Gilmaros more than fleetingly, his attention apparently fixed on the memory of what had happened.  Now at last he looked into the Captain’s eyes, and he reached out his hand to grasp desperately at that of Gilmaros.  “You must understand—he said that Faramir was dying, and we were certain he was right—everyone except for the Pherian Guardsman, young Peregrin son of Paladin.  I do not believe that Peregrin understood what the Steward purposed to do.  The Lord Steward indicated that Artamir and I were to each take a torch, and that Faramir’s personal guards were to take two more and follow behind.

            “He had the servants lay Faramir upon the embalmer’s table, and himself beside his son.  Then he sent us to fetch wood and oil, and Artamir alone remained to guard the two of them.  Guardsman Peregrin had followed after, and was aghast that our lord would think to burn himself and his son, and he begged us to go slowly, and to remember that Faramir was yet alive.  When I demanded to know who was Lord of the city, he told me----”  He swallowed heavily; now his eyes were repeatedly pulling to the right, even as had been the muscle in his cheek.  At last he resumed, “He told me that our Master had clearly gone mad, and so if anyone was now in charge of the city it must be Mithrandir, and that he was gone to fetch the Wizard.  So saying, he ran off, and far swifter than I had ever thought to see one as small as he to run.

            “I swear—I swear, the same madness that had taken our Lord Denethor had taken us as well.  We went out of the Silent Street and back up to the level of the Citadel, but found that the stores of oil had been depleted—that earlier in the week supplies had been sent to each of the guesthouses on the Sixth Circle that no house should be without oil there.  We had to come back down to the Sixth Circle and to the storehouses beyond the Guards’ barracks to find either wood or oil in sufficient quantities to meet Lord Denethor’s requirements.  It took several trips before we had enough wood to please him, and then he sent us to fetch more oil. 

            “We returned to find—this one----”  He shot a poisonous look at Beregond.  “This one had come to the gate of the Silent Street and demanded that the porter should open the way.  But the porter would not do so, saying that he could not do so other than to those he knew to be serving personally upon Lord Denethor without the Lord Steward’s direct permission.  This one had not been able to convince the porter, and in the end he’d slain him and taken his keys to open the gate.  Now he stood before the door and sought to deny us entry to the House of the Stewards.  Artamir came out and demanded that he return to his proper duty on the gate to the Sixth Circle and let the Steward be.  But he would not!  Artamir drew his sword and threatened him, and in the end this one raised his own weapon anew to protect himself!”

            Halargil’s voice had become a harsh whisper.  “He slew Artamir!  He slew one of the servants as well!  And when our lord would have come out, he held the door closed with one hand and threatened us with the other!  We could hear Lord Denethor calling out for him to give way, hear him seeking to throw open the door, hear him beating upon the wood—but this one would not allow him to come forth—the Lord Steward!  He denied the Lord Steward himself!  How dare he?”

            Beregond licked his lips, and stepped forward to lean with his hands braced against the desk.  “I could not,” he whispered, his face bloodless.  “I could not allow them to enter in with more oil—when I got there already the smell of it was strong within the chamber!  The servant who held the torch within the House of the Stewards came out to remonstrate with me, and I managed to drive him down the steps, and pulled the door closed.  Then Artamir came forth, pulled the door from my hands, and I had no choice but to defend myself!  I had no choice!  And I could hear the groans of Lord Faramir—there was no question but that he was yet alive!  Am I to allow them to slay a wounded man out of hand on the word of one clearly taken by madness?  Who would be Lord of Gondor should, in his own madness, Lord Denethor manage to slay himself and his son?  Already is our land bereft of the proper heir to the Steward, Lord Boromir having died upon the northern borders!  Are we to lose Lord Faramir also, and before his time?”

            “It is not yours to question the orders of the Ruling Steward of Gondor!” hissed Halargil.

            “It is my responsibility, as a Guard of the Citadel, to protect the ruler of Gondor and his heirs from all harm!” insisted Beregond.  “I could not protect the Steward from his own madness, but I could and did protect his remaining heir!”

            “He was dying!”

            “We do not know that—he was yet alive, and where there is life there is yet hope!”

            “And what hope have we, with the Enemy at the gate, and in such numbers?”

            “But the Enemy is no longer at the gate, or have you failed to notice that?” demanded Beregond.

            Halargil went still, and his pale face went even greyer, his lips nearly blue, his eyes caught by those of Beregond.  “What do you mean?”

            “The battle still rages, but no longer is the Enemy at the Gates to the City.  For even as we bore Faramir from the Silent Street we could hear the horns of the Rohirrim as they bore down upon the foe!  And Berestor came but a short time ago to tell the Captain here that the black ships seen upon the river carry not more enemies but instead men from the south, from the vale of the Morthond and from Dol Amroth and Pelargir!  Angbor has come with reinforcements—and others!  Strangers dressed in grey and green as if they were themselves Rangers of the borderlands, who fight from horseback with unsurpassed skill!  Hope returned to Gondor with the rising of the Sun, and even now are the veils of Mordor being wrought asunder by a south wind I am certain the Nameless One never intended to blow this day!”

            The two men now looked at one another, Halargil’s eyes frantically searching those of the younger Guardsman, trying to assure himself that his words were a lie.

            “He speaks truly,” Gilmaros said heavily, and Halargil turned to face him, his eyes still wide with shock, and the tic even more pronounced.  “The emblems of Elendil the Tall were unfurled upon the deck of the largest ship, and one bearing what must be the Elendilmir led those who came off of it, riding a great brown war horse, his standard bearer at his side.  It appears that the Heir to Isildur has come to raise the siege of Minas Tirith, even as of old Eärnur went to Arnor to succor the army of Arvedui against the assault by the Witch-king of Angmar.  The day grows late now, and the Enemy’s forces are in retreat—those who are not already dead.”

            Halargil’s mouth moved wordlessly for some moments.  At last Beregond said, “We have not been defeated, Halargil.  And had our Lord Steward’s will been followed, Gondor would be even now without a proper Lord.”

            “But we must obey the orders of the Steward!” whispered Halargil, collapsing forward upon the surface of the desk, the side of his face pressed heavily against the wood.      

            “Indeed, that is our vow,” returned Beregond.  “But what of those times when doing so endangers the realm?  Yea, our fealty is to the Steward—but is it not equally to the entire land of Gondor?”

            “What happened within the tomb of the Stewards?” asked Gilmaros at length.  “How came it that Lord Denethor destroyed himself?”

            Halargil rolled his head wordlessly against the desk, and with a sigh Beregond explained, “It was at the coming of Mithrandir with Guardsman Peregrin before him.  He demanded that we stay this madness, at which time I let go the door to the tomb, and Lord Denethor came forth, his own sword unsheathed, intent on slaying me where I stood.  And I would have allowed it, had the Wizard not intervened and forced the Steward back into the chamber, following him closely.  The rest of us came after, and we could hear Faramir calling out in his fever, calling for his father.  Denethor forgot all else and dropped his sword upon the floor, hurrying to the table where already oil had been poured over the wood, reaching out to touch his son’s forehead. 

            “But Mithrandir took up Lord Faramir’s body and brought it out of the tomb and set it again upon the bed that lay before the doors, bidding Lord Denethor not to deny his son aid when he was not yet dead and indeed might not die after all.  He insisted that Denethor return to the Citadel and lead the defense of the White City, and once more did Faramir thrash about and call for his father.  Only Denethor grew distant and grim, and swore that although the Wizard denied him his son, he could not deny his right to rule his own end.  And he brought out—I am not certain what it was he held, but must guess that it was the Seeing Stone of which legends speak.  He held it up and insisted it showed a dark threat already approaching the city that could not be denied, and would not listen when Mithrandir sought to speak out against whatever it was he had seen within.  Instead he demanded obedience from us, and that one give him a torch!”

            “And whose hand gave him that torch?” demanded Gilmaros.

            Beregond’s eyes squeezed closed in grief, and he would not speak.  And so it was that the dead voice of Halargil answered the Captain’s question:  “It was from my hand he took it.  I pressed forward, and he took the torch from me.”

            Gilmaros stood and turned away from both of them.  His aide stood behind him, his face filled with grief and horror.  “What will you do?” the aide asked him.

            “What can I do?” Gilmaros returned.  “I could order Beregond slain outright.  The law is clear—he left his post without order or permission.  He spilled blood in the Hallows, killing the porter, a fellow Guard of the Citadel, and one of Lord Denethor’s own body servants.  But in doing so he may well have allowed our land to continue in proper order, for Lord Faramir is yet alive, if barely, and I must suppose that until he draws his last breath he is now the Ruling Steward of Gondor.  What disorder might have befallen our nation had Lord Denethor been allowed to do as he intended in slaying not only himself but his son as well I cannot say.  I doubt that the Council would have easily accepted Lord Húrin as Steward, seeing that he is grandson to Ecthelion by way of his older daughter rather than through a second son, not to mention the fact he is maimed.”

            He turned back to look upon the two men on the other side of his desk.  “It is not up to me to mete out justice here, I deem,” he said.  “Yet until Faramir—or another—takes over rule of Gondor and the City, I must make shift to do what I can to see to it that both justice and what is right are equally served.  I am sorry, Beregond, but I must require you to put off the emblems of the Guard of the Citadel.  The Quartermaster has plain black shirts proper to those who are no longer in full service to the Guard, and that you must wear until your case is heard by whoever it is that takes up the rule of Gondor.  However, Lord Mithrandir has made a request—that as you offered up your position and possibly your very life in service to Lord Faramir, whom you clearly love, that you should be sent to the Houses of Healing to share the guard before his door until he is either returned to health or until he dies.

            “As for you, Halargil….”

            But it appeared that Halargil had lost consciousness.  His hand had slid from the surface of the desk, and his body twitched uncontrollably.

            Both Beregond and the aide moved forward to the older Guardsman’s side.  The aide looked up to catch the eyes of his Captain.  “A brain storm!” he said.  “He suffers a brain storm!”

            Gilmaros sighed.  “Then he must go to the Houses of Healing—not that they will be able to do a great deal for him, I deem, with so many wounded being brought into their precincts.”  He shook his head in grief.  “Alas that in spite of the triumphs of this day so much evil should manage to invade the White City itself!  Now go!”

            The aide went to the door and called for assistance, and soon Halargil was borne out of the office to receive what aid might come to him, and Beregond made to follow them.  Gilmaros stayed him briefly with a hand upon the young Guard’s arm.  “I am sorry, Beregond.  You have been a good man to have amongst our number.”

            “I am not sorry for what I have done, even if I must die for it.  At least our beloved Lord Faramir has a chance to live, as slim as it might be, and none will question his claim to the Black Chair.  But my son—I fear that there will be no place for him now within the Citadel as a page.”

            “Probably not,” agreed Gilmaros.

            “Please, I beg of you—do not let him see me die.”

            “I promise—if it should come to that, my friend.  For, after all, we have no idea as to what tomorrow might bring.  If indeed the Heir of Isildur fights before the City upon the Pelennor….”

            And in his heart Gilmaros felt a lightening of the grief he’d known but moments before.  The day outside might be now ending, but who could tell now what tomorrow might bring?  He felt himself smiling reassuringly at Beregond as the younger man gave his final salute and went out to find the Quartermaster.

 

For Jay of Lasgalen, who loves the twins, and Cairistiona, who loves Aragorn, for their birthdays.  Beta by RiverOtter.

The Begetting Day Gift

            Elrohir’s mouth fell open as he looked down at his brother, sitting upon the ground, rubbing at his suddenly stinging wrist and staring at his sword, which was slowly turning its final twist upon the ground.

            Estel took a deep breath, slid his own weapon back into its sheath, and lifted a hand to brush sweat-soaked hair out of his eyes.  His voice was almost steady as he said, “You told me that I could ride out with the warriors once I’d bested one of you with my sword.  For your begetting day, you have another fighter in your company.”

Written in honor of the Henneth-Annun list's ninth birthday, as well as honoring the birthdays of Agape and Rhyselle.  Joy to all of you!

Set during Aragorn's first visit to Harad as described in "Lesser Ring."

The Gift

            The northern trader watched with awe as the smith before him worked the white-hot metal bar on his anvil into a blade.  As often as he had seen this done, it was still a marvel to see the transformation.

            “He will fold the metal two more times at least,” said Bhatfiri, the captain of his caravan guards, from his place at the trader’s elbow.  “It will be a fine blade once it is finished.  Now, come, Horubi’ninarin, and see what swords and knives he has ready to sell.”

            Reluctantly the northerner turned away from the smith to follow his guide away from the forge and into the shelter of the awning set to provide shade from the blazing Sun of Far Harad.  “And you say that those who work metal in the region of Ephir are even better smiths than this?” he asked.  “I have watched many smiths throughout the northern lands, and he is the equal of most.”

            The Southron made a dismissive noise.  “He is nothing!” Bhatfiri pronounced in low tones.  “Oh, he is most competent.  But those who work in the forges of Ephir are true artisans, and their weapons are not only serviceable but are works of art as well.  Only the few Elven swords I have seen have been their equal—or better, perhaps.”

            “Then you’ve not seen the products of Dwarven forges,” the trader assured him.  “Their swords and knives tend to be broader and perhaps somewhat heavier than the work of Elven smiths, but still are filled with a beauty that must be seen to be fully appreciated.”

            “Then you have such works in your stores?” asked the guardsman.

            “I have four at home, one given me by a Dwarf I saved from an orc attack.  This was not made for trade, but by himself for his own use.  My brothers were most impressed, for such tokens of appreciation are not lightly given, and they say they have not seen better.”

            The smith’s wife came out of the houseplace carrying a tray of copper, on which sat stoneware cups of the herbal drink favored in the region.  She was a small woman, gone to roundness, her skin rather leathery, her hair thinned with age, her eyes bright and watchful.  “You sit,” she directed in the traders’ tongue.  “You sit, drink lûochi.  I bring out—samples.  Samples of husband’s work.”

            The trader bowed his head respectfully.  “And we thank you for the lûochi, mistress.”  He folded himself with remarkable grace onto the rug provided for guests, and she set the tray upon the low carved table between them, obviously pleased by his courtesy.

            She left the two men to serve themselves from the tray, and soon returned with a heavy box, which she set down heavily by the side of the northerner.  “Here,” she said proudly.  “My husband make these.”

            Each weapon was carefully wrapped in heavy cotton cloth.  Most were daggers or belt knives, but there were three short swords, two of which were protected by finely tooled leather scabbards.  The trader carefully lifted one of these from the box, turning it to examine the workmanship of the sheath and the grip.  The leather was embossed with what appeared to be poppy blossoms, through which a serpent slithered.  The grip was of an ebon wood, finely polished, with a copper serpent wound about it to bind the two sides together, the serpent’s head with its lapis eyes extending beyond the grip over the outside of the scabbard.

            “Beautiful work,” he known here as Horubi’ninarin murmured, drawing the blade from its sheath.  “Yes,” he said, definitely pleased, as he turned the short sword to examine the smith’s workmanship.

            The woman beamed.  “My husband—him good smith.  None better!”

            In the end the trader took this short sword, a dagger, and two belt knives, haggling skillfully with the woman, who appreciated the value of her husband’s work well.  If she commanded a better price from the northerner than she normally did, he was not upset, and when done awarded her with a shawl of fine wool carefully decorated in shades of blue with a beautiful butterfly motif.  “For you, mother,” he said.  “To keep you warm in the cool of the evening.  It is from the Shire, the source of perhaps the finest woolens in all of Middle Earth!”

            Her expression had softened, and she stroked the soft wool with eyes filled with wonder.  “The nemir!” she whispered.  “So beautiful!”

            As they secured their purchases onto their pack camel and made to lead it from the village, Bhatfiri commented, “You have just raised her status high within the region.  No other will have such a beautiful shawl.”

            “And she deserves it,” the trader said.  “She has a good husband, and does him proud.  Such respect between husband and wife deserves recognition.”

            Behind him the wife of the smith draped the shawl about her shoulders, relishing the softness and beauty of the work of a woman far away who belonged to a race she’d never heard of, recognizing skill equal to that of her husband in bringing beauty to something intended to be serviceable.

For RiverOtter, my beloved beta reader, for her birthday.  She wanted something sparkly.  Beta by RiverOtter. 

Announcing One’s Love

            Having left his pony at the Green Dragon, Pippin paused in his walk up the lane to Bag End to take a moment beneath the mallorn tree in the Party Field.  He set his hand to the silver bark and murmured, “I hope your birthday is joyful, Frodo.  I wanted to let you know—I’m in love!  In love with Diamond of the North-Tooks, there in Long Cleeve.  Do you remember her at all?  She was always such a mischievous little thing, with no time at all for lads.  Although she always hung on your stories.  But then we all did!

            “Anyway, although I fear she didn’t take to me at all at first, by the time I was finished with my visit to Long Cleeve on Lord Strider’s business I knew she was the one for me, and she was actually smiling at me.  She gave me this flute for her birthday!  Listen!”

            He brought out the worn flute from the bag on his shoulder.  He warmed it between his hands, and began playing one of Bilbo’s songs on it.

 *******

            Far away, on the Lonely Isle, Frodo raised his head as if listening.  “What is it?” asked Gandalf.

            “Pippin—it’s Pippin.  Oh, Gandalf, isn’t it wonderful?  He’s in love!  Our little Pippin—he’s truly in love at last!”

            And Frodo turned back to the picture he was drawing, singing along to Pippin’s tune played on Diamond’s flute, while sparkles of light filtered through the foliage of the White Tree across the parchment on which he sketched the nearly forgotten face of Diamond North-Took.

Written for the A_L_E_C "Seeds" prompt.  For Julchen and Sivan for their birthdays.  Beta by RiverOtter.

A Frodo Returns to Bag End

            They’d intended to name their firstborn Frodo, of course.  Who better than his friend, patron, and brother-of-the-heart to name a child after, after all?  But then the child had been born a lass instead, and had been named by Frodo as Elanor, after the golden starflowers of Lothlórien.  As Sam Gamgee hurried home from his overnight trip to Michel Delving on business, he wondered if this one would be that longed-for son.  Another two weeks, and it should be born.  He’d not leave Rosie’s side again until the babe was come, that he vowed to himself.

            One of the Twofoot clan was at the stable as he approached The Green Dragon, and smiled brilliantly at him as he dashed off in the direction of Hobbiton.  Had his Rose set a neighbor to alert her that he was on his way home?

            The hostler accepted Bill’s reins.  “You’d best be getting’ home as fast as you can get there,” Sam was advised.  “Big things happenin’ there in Bag End!”

            And as he approached the hole, it was Marigold who opened the green door for him.  He was a bit surprised to see the Gaffer here, sitting in the Master’s chair, dandling little Elanorellë on his knee.  “Took yer sweet time a-comin’ home, didn’t you, lad?  Almost too late!”

            Alarmed, Samwise tore off his cloak and threw it in the direction of the pegs on the wall, and hurried off down the passageway toward the master bedroom.

            He heard the shrill cry as he approached the door.  “Oh, now if this isn’t the most cunning little fellow!” murmured the midwife.  “As beautiful a child as one could hope for!  Here, Rose Gamgee—your son!”

            He burst into the room, his face flushed, his eyes alight with surprise and hope.  “A son?  It’s a lad this time?”

            The bundle Rosie was accepting was as red a child as was ever born in the whole of the Shire, and protesting his rude awakening to the outside world with all the considerable strength of his nature, apparently.  And there was no question, as she turned it to lay it in the blanket held out by her mother, that this was indeed a fine lad.  He looked into her exhausted eyes, and saw that pride he’d seen there a few years earlier when it was Elanor she’d presented to the world.  “Well, and there you are!” she whispered.  “About time as you got here, don’t you think?  Come and meet your son!”

            The midwife was carrying out the pan with the afterbirth as Sam settled his hip carefully on the edge of the bed, reaching to eagerly take the babe into his own arms.  He barely noted anything else as he opened the blanket and looked at his son’s sturdy little body, saw that there were five fingers on each tiny hand, five toes on each little foot, that he had a good tongue in the small mouth, and a soft down of dark-colored fuzz on his head.  “He’ll be as fair as his namefather,” Rosie said softly, reaching out a finger to stroke the child’s outstretched palm.

            Lily looked up from her work of removing the thick toweling from beneath her daughter’s hips.  “His hair will lighten up, though, just as yours did, lass.  He’ll not be anywhere as dark haired as Mr. Frodo was.”

            “Doesn’t matter,” Sam said, pulling his son closer to his breast, feeling the infant’s breath on his own throat as the child’s cries settled and as it turned its head to seek for sustenance.  “Doesn’t matter a whit.  It's only right and proper that a Frodo dwell here in Bag End, what was his home for so long and where he loved it so.”

            And later in the evening, after the bairn had been bathed and had suckled, after Rosie was bathed also and settled down to rest after her labor, and the Gaffer had been helped back down to Number Three by Marigold, and Lily was singing Elanor to sleep in the nursery, Sam settled down in the Master’s chair in the parlor, his sleepy son in his arms.  He was singing softly under his breath the old song about the Moon coming down to the merry old inn to partake of the brown ale, and he watched as his tiny son stretched and turned his head, seeking a more comfortable position.  He went still at last, and Sam smiled down at the little lad.  “Welcome, Frodo,” he whispered.  “Welcome to life and to your proper place here in Bag End.”  He looked up and caught amused eyes meeting his own.  “Isn’t he a fine one, Mr. Frodo?” he asked.

            “That he is,” his Master said, and smiled as he returned to his new life so far away.

            And Sam settled into a doze, glad that a Frodo was living once more in Bag End.

Send Sam?

            Eglantine Took eyed the platter that lay on the table before her, empty now save for a few crumbs, with distaste.  Intent on filling that one last corner, she’d intended to have that one last walnut pastry.  However, that had been snatched up by Odo Proudfoot as he walked by, and even now he was biting into it with gusto.

            She turned to her left, where Pippin was still sitting turned away from her, listening to the talk between Will Whitfoot, Saradoc Brandybuck, her Paladin, and Samwise Gamgee.  Where Frodo was she couldn’t begin to guess, for he’d disappeared earlier immediately after the speeches given by those running for Mayor, and he hadn’t bothered to come to the tea offered the Family Heads and their immediate families.  She tapped her son on the arm—really, his shoulder was absurdly high since he’d returned from his travels, and he immediately turned to her attentively.  “Yes, Mum?”

            “I was wondering if there were any more of the walnut pastries left on any of the other tables,” she said. 

            He half rose as he looked around, and smiled.  “Oh, yes—over at the table where the Smallfoots were seated.  Would you like one?”

            “Oh, yes, dearling!”

            “I’ll go fetch the platter over,” he said, straightening to his (rather alarming) full height. 

            She, however, grabbed his wrist and indicated he should sit again.  “You don’t have to go fetch it yourself.  You are the Thain’s son, after all.  Just send Sam to bring it.”

            Pippin, however, was shaking his head.  “Send Sam?  Oh, I don’t dare do any such thing—he’s busy talking with the Thain, the Master, and the Mayor.  Frodo would have my head.  He didn’t even allow me to order Sam about before we left the Shire, you know.”

            “And why would he do any such thing?  Sam is Frodo’s gardener, after all, and you are, as I pointed out, the Thain’s son.”

            Pippin gave a snort.  “The Thain’s son, am I?  Well, perhaps I am, as well as being a Captain of the Guard of the Citadel and a Knight of Gondor.  But Sam is now the Lord Perhael of all of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth, and that outranks me by a long shot.  In fact,” he added as he again rose to his feet, “considering who named him that, I suspect he may well outrank the King himself.  If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be right back with those pastries….”

For Maeglin for her birthday.

End Game Strategies

            “Do you believe that he will send his forces our way?  For word is that the orcs and trolls of the northern Misty Mountains mass about the Ford of the Bruinen, ready to fall upon Elrond’s borders should he regain his Ring and so the wards about Imladris fail; and it has ever been thus about the boundaries of the Golden Wood and Thranduil’s realm!”

            “It is not just Elves he threatens, as you well know, Galdor.  Nay—Sauron wishes sway over all—all or nothing.”

            “So you believe we, too, will be besieged.”

            Círdan gave his famous smile, the smile of one who had lived through too many assaults and sieges in his long life, from the shadowed Hunter of the days before Days to Melkor’s vast armies of twisted Maiar, Eldar, and Edain; from assaults by the Kinslayers to Sauron’s goblins and wolfriders.  “We have ever known little but siege, my friend.  There is nothing new in that.  But we will continue preparing our ships even as we sharpen our blades, and we shall twist as many bowstrings as lines.  I fear we shall need to set both arrows and sails free to be borne by the winds of Manwë Súlimo ere the current conflict is decided.”

For Celeritas for her birthday.  Sorry it's so late, but I promised myself I wouldn't write anything else until I had the last chapter of my Big Bang story finished!

Tribute

            The Queen’s recognized unofficial handmaiden hurried up through the various levels of the city, easily making her way through the bustle of those who worked as servants who were heading for the homes where they worked, smiled after by Guardsmen who recognized her easily enough, eager to bring her newest acquisition to her Lady.  How lucky she’d been to find it!  She’d just turned that one last corner, and there it had been, obviously fresh off one of the ships lying out on the Harlond, quite the largest and most inviting of its kind she’d ever seen.  And she’d just managed to get it—the perfect thing for her Lady, who after all was kindling.

            How large it was—how fresh—how filled with nutrition!  How pleased her Lady should be!  A scramble through a shortcut, and an evasion of some child who’d even imagine that she would surrender her prize.  No, only her beloved Lady would receive this!

            At last—the ramp up to the highest level of the White City.  Nearly there!  How pleased her Lady would be!  A swift whisk through the Court of Gathering and past the Memorial to those precious little ones her Lady honored so, under the boughs of the White Tree, and around the Citadel toward the back.  Not for her the trouble of convincing the Guards at the front to open the doors for her this early in the morning.  No, they’d only pretend not to see her, after all, or would tease her.

            “Oh, look!  Did you see?”

            “My, what a huge one!  She must have spent hours searching for it!”

            “Oh, no—I know we’ll hear about this one!”

            “You’d think of taking that to her, would you?”

            She ignored them all.  Around through the gardens—that was the ticket!  And down this way—best ignore the guards at this door, too.  Annoying, they were.

            “Oh, dear—I’m not certain that’s the best thing this early in the morning.  I don’t believe she’s even up yet.”

            Well, of course her Lady wouldn’t be up yet.  She didn’t want for her Lady to be up when she brought this one.  She wanted it to be such a surprise!

            Ah—at last—her entrance!  Not for her such foolishness as doors and Guards.  Up on the sill and over.  Her acquisition wriggled in her grip, hoping she’d lose hold of it and allow it away.  Oh, no, it wouldn’t!  It was for her Lady, and that was that!  It had best realize just how fortunate it was to find itself laid—just there—right where her Lady would see it, as soon as she opened her eyes.  One last shake, and it was ready, ready for her Lady to see.  And she settled, so pleased, just waiting….

 *******

            The King was at his toilet when he heard----

            “Yawp!”

            He was so startled he dropped his comb with a clatter and rushed to see what was the matter with his beloved.  She was half-risen, leaning on one arm, her head over the side of the bed, scrabbling for the chamber pot in apparent desperation.  He hurried to her side and removed the lid for her, held it for her with one hand while holding her beautiful hair out of the way with the other while she found herself seeking to empty an already largely empty stomach.

            When she was done, he sat by her and held her to him.  “I’ve not seen you become so ill in the morning before, vanimelda,” he murmured as he stroked her forehead.  “Is the child making you uncomfortable this morning?”

            She pulled herself from him, shaking her head.  “Don’t blame this on the child,” she said.  “Blame her!”  And she turned to cast a regal glare at Kitling, supposedly his cat, who now lay on his abandoned pillow, a most satisfied expression on her face as she purred loudly and kneaded at the fabric of the pillow slip as if she were most pleased with herself.  Arwen brushed a strand of hair from her eyes.  “Ever since we conceived this child she has barely left me alone, almost as if she feels responsible for me and the baby within.  But I don’t know how much more of this I can take!”

            She moved slightly, and suddenly he could see.  Lying between the pillows, its head on that his wife slept upon in such a manner she must have awakened nose to nose with it, lay the largest, fattest, healthiest looking, and sleekest ship’s rat he’d ever seen, obviously just killed only moments before.  He swallowed.  “Sweet Valar!” he whispered in awe.  “It’s as big as she is, if not bigger!  And she brought it to you?”

            She nodded, obviously trying to keep from retching anew.  “I am so glad she is pleased that I am with child,” she said, “but why does she insist on trying to bring me breakfast in bed?”

            He dissolved into laughter as he rose, and taking the poor creature by the tail between his fingertips he bore it out of the room.

For SpeedyHobbit and Dawn Felagund for their birthdays, as well as three Hobbits I know!

Birthday Gifts

              Little Tolman Gamgee-Gardner brought his mother a beautiful bouquet for his first gift as a faunt, far lovelier and less crushed than such offerings usually were.  Frodo smiled approvingly at his little brother’s present to their mum.  “I guess there is no question that he’s the son of the most famous gardener in the entire Shire,” he murmured into his older sister’s ear.  Elanor nodded, her heart twisting slightly.

            For his father, Tolman produced a fine linen bag that Elanor had sewed for him, one that he’d filled with as many seeds of all kinds as he could find.  Samwise laughed and picked him up to hold him in his arms.  “How did you know the perfect thing for me?” he asked.

            “But you likes pantin’ things,” the youngest of Sam and Rosie’s children told him.  “Seeds is t’pant, right?”

            Sam examined the contents of the bag and saw that it contained its fair share of thistle fluff as well as celery seed and the small black peppering of poppy seeds taken from the rattling pods on the Hill.  “I know the perfect place to plant these,” he assured his son, and smiled as little Tolman’s face glowed with pride and pleasure.

            The child had been allowed to pick a single apple for each of his brothers and sisters, although he also gave each one either a flower or a leaf; and for their special guests who’d come all of the way from the King’s own court he had equally special gifts—a green stone with an interesting shape that he presented to Legolas, and a small seedling ash tree for Gimli.  When Elf and Dwarf looked questioningly at the child’s father, Sam merely shrugged—who could foretell how so small a child’s gifts might end up being bestowed, after all?

            The luncheon was sumptuous, and as all were engaged in filling up the corners Gimli passed out the small gifts sent by King and Queen intended for the family as well as the byrthing, for in Gondor this day was celebrated as Ring-day, a special day to honor two other Hobbits who shared the same birthday as did Tolman.  And for the byrthing himself there was a picture book prepared for him by the King’s own daughter Melian.

            “Ooh!” he said.  He held it out to the Dwarf, asking him, “Wead it, peese!”

            So it was that Gimli found himself sitting on the bench where Frodo Baggins had once sat reading aloud to his friend Sam, little Tolman on his lap, starting with, “It did happen, one day safely long ago, that the esteemed Burglar Bilbo Baggins decided it was time for him to retire far away from the Shire, and left all his possessions (except for some things intended as gifts to his friends and relatives) to his beloved younger cousin Frodo, whom he’d adopted as his heir.”

            The page held colorful paintings of Hobbits of all sizes smiling as they examined their gifts—except for three who were frowning as they each held up a pair of spoons.  Uncle Merry, who was looking over Gimli’s shoulder as he read, laughed aloud at that one.  But the one Hobbit in the picture whose hair was as dark as the King’s own held up a small gold ring, and although he had a smile, somehow he also looked somewhat worried.  And watching over them all was the tall grey shape of the Wizard Gandalf.

            And so the story unfolded of the four friends who’d left the Shire to keep it safe, taking with them the simple gold Ring that Bilbo had given to Frodo, and that Frodo in the end took on to Mordor to destroy It, accompanied ever by his friend and gardener.  The story was far from complete, of course; certainly the grave injuries each of the Hobbits had suffered were rather glossed over.  But there was no question that the younger fry were enthralled by the tale.

            “And so it is that in Gondor and Arnor September the twenty-second is celebrated as Ring-day, and all rejoice to know that this is the birthday shared by the Ring-finder and the Ring-bearer and the youngest child of Samwise Gamgee, the beloved friend and companion of Frodo Baggins, without whose help, love, and support Frodo could not have come to the Sammath Naur to the destruction of Sauron and all of his works,” Gimli finished up, and turned the book so all could see the children of Minas Tirith dancing around the Memorial to the four Hobbits without whose aid the world would surely have fallen into darkness.

            Robin, who sat beside Gimli, reached up and gently touched the painting of the statue of the Ringbearer.  “That’s Uncle Frodo, isn’t it?”

            “Oh, yes,” Gimli said, his voice perhaps a bit rougher than it usually was.  “A fine person he was, too—among the very best anywhere.  And there’s your dad, and there are your Uncle Pippin and Uncle Merry.”

            But Tolman wanted to turn back to the picture of his father and Frodo climbing the sides of Mount Doom.  He looked at it for a time, then asked, “Did Unca Fodo go back there, Da?”

            “Go back?  Oh, little Tom, I don’t think that until he agreed to go over the Sea as he ever really left there.  It cost him a lot, you see.  But him’s free of it now, and happy, and gladder than glad as you share his birthday, his and old Mr. Bilbo’s.”  Sam’s eyes were just a bit too bright, perhaps.  “Well, it’s time to put this away for now and perhaps have some of that cake as your Gammer Lily made you for your birthday.”

            As they were all enjoying the cake, Frodo-lad leaned over his little brother and asked quietly, “Tommy, why did you give the tree to Uncle Gimli and the stone to Uncle Legolas?”

            Tolman looked up at him with that expression Frodo had become familiar with in his younger brothers and sisters, who all seemed to look up the same way when they felt the answer to a question was far too obvious to need answering, but they would answer it at least just this once to have it over with.  “Well, Unca Leg’las is a wood-Elf, right?  So him has lots and lots of trees.  And Unca Gimli don’t need more stones, does he?”

            Frodo had to laugh as he lifted his baby brother into his arms and hugged him close.  “Oh, you are so right!”

            And as he laughed, he seemed to hear another silvery laugh beside him, and saw his Sam-dad turning his head to catch the eyes of his beloved friend.

 

For Claudia and all others whose birthdays I'd not managed to honor.  Please forgive me--it's been a difficult last few months.

Giving Honor Due

            Old Gaffer Gamgee sat in the public room at the Green Dragon, a mug of their finest ale in between his hands as if it were warming them.  Opposite him sat one of his great nephews from Tighfield, sent to Michel Delving to file sales agreements on a good deal of rope from Andy’s ropewalk.  Before he returned to the Northfarthing he’d stopped by the Cotton farm in Bywater ostensibly to visit kin there and to carry greetings, but in reality he’d wanted to hear firsthand what actually had happened back in November when cousin Sam and his Master and Frodo Baggins’s kin returned from wherever it was they’d gone.

            “And they were really gone for over a year?” he asked yet again.

            “Haven’t I told ye so at least four times?” asked the Gaffer.  “Oh, it’s gone they were, and more’n one was thinkin’ them all dead.  Did ye have them Big Men there in Tighfield, too?”

            “We had two as visited the village a fair amount, but they couldn’t do a good deal to us.  It was them Gatherers and Sharers as give us all fits.  They was stealin’ ever’thin’ as they could get their greedy hands on, and the early winter was hard on many.  We did all we could to see as no one starved, ye must understand, until the wagons arrived from Scary with provisions.  I’ll tell ye this, no one was expectin’ Yule to be anywheres near merry until them wagons arrived.”

            Hamfast nodded.  “Them Gatherers and Sharers took almost all as we had.  Me and Marigold, them emptied the hole, and moved us into that awful pile o’ bricks them called a house over the other side o’ the village.  Awful place it was!  And them dug out the old hole and ruined my taters!”  The offense of the act of destroying his garden still stung.  “But the Travellers—them is havin’ the hole redug, them is, and I should be movin’ home in a week or two, them tells me.”  He shook his head.  “No Hobbit should ever find hisself havin’ t’move out of a sound hole into a drafty house as is more drafts than house, ye unnerstand.”

            His great nephew indicated his appreciation for the sentiment.  “So you’s been stayin’ with the Cottons?” he asked.

            “What?” asked the Gaffer.  “Cain’t ye speak up none?  Young folks today just keep mumblin’,” he commented to the world at large.

            The question was asked again, more slowly and distinctly, and the old Hobbit answered, “Yessir, we’s been stayin’ with Cousin Tom and Lily, me’n Marigold and Sam, and his Master, and Mr. Fredegar Bolger’n his sister as well.  Can’t rightly say why, but even though Bag End wasn’t dug out whole as was Bagshot Row, still it’s takin’ far longer t’set it at rights than one’d think necessary.  Them Big Men took mauls t’the stonework and threw knives’n axes at the walls, my Sam tells me.  There was terrible damage inside, them all says.  Mr. Frodo, just mention it t’the gentlehobbit and him goes all quiet’n pale, him does.  Good thing as him’s doin’ ol’ Flour Dumplin’s job or him’d fret hisself to death, I’m thinkin’.”

            “And it’s true as that Lotho Pimple’s dead?  Really dead, murdered by the Big Men?”

            The Gaffer’s face grew grim once he understood the question.  “Oh, that him is.  That Sharkey, curse his ugly face and worse disposition, him had Mr. Lotho killed.  Bragged about it, him did!  Them hasn’t found the body yet, neither.  That Sharkey was hintin’ as his Worm-fellow might of et him.  Oh, yes,” he added with relish at the sight of the younger Hobbit’s fascinated revulsion, “all tells me as him said so right out loud, there on the doorstep t’Bag End!  And then, if’n ye can believe it, that Sharkey tried t’kill Mr. Frodo right then and there, right in front of ever’one!  Ye should hear Mr. Ned Boffin and Mr. Griffo talkin’ of it.  Them was there t’see the whole thing, and them still can’t believe what them saw.  If’n Mr. Frodo’d not been a-wearin’ old Mr.  Bilbo’s mail shirt as him brought back ages ago, him’d of been dead an’ gone, too!”

            “An’ did the Hobbits do in that Sharkey?”

            “No, twasn’t Hobbits as did him in—twas that Worm-fellow, it was.  Sharkey was provokin’ him somethin’ terrible, my Sam tells me, and that Worm-fellow, him just snapped and killed Sharkey.  An’ that’s when Mr. Ned Boffin and two o’ the Tooks as had their bows ready let go!  That poor Worm-fellow fell dead on the steps, him did.  Mr. Frodo, gentle soul as him is, still grieves.  Says as the Worm didn’t need t’die, as him was terrible provoked and didn’t do no harm t’nobody as was there.  Only if’n him did kill Mr. Lotho, I figgers as him had it comin’.”

            “One thing as I just don’t unnerstand,” the nephew said, “was why folks round heres didn’t stand up to ol’ Pimple t’begin with.  It all could have been stopped from the beginnin’ had those Hobbits round these parts just told him No! right aways!”

            “You try tellin’ someone No! when him’s got a passle of Big Men with knives and clubs a-loomin’ over you,” the Gaffer growled.  He took a mouthful of ale, grimaced, and spat to one side.  “You’d be talkin’ out of the other side of yer mouth had you been here with all of the Chief’s Big Men all round you, beatin’ on those as tried sayin’ no an’ threatenin’ yer family,” he muttered, shivering slightly.  “My Daisy an’ my May, them was plum terrified fer me an’ Marigold, an’ begged us not t’ even try sayin’ no.  The Mayor tried sayin’ no, an’ look at where it led him!  An’ I seen Cap’n Freddy Bolger when them brought him out of the Lockholes, member.”

            The door to the Dragon opened, and a cold breeze blew through the common room.  All turned to see who’d come in.  There were a number of Hobbits, including Sam Gamgee, two of the Cotton lads, old Tom and his Lily, and a few Hobbits the nephew didn’t recognize at all.  One was taller than most Hobbits, and was far, far too thin for his build.  There was a feeling to him as if he’d lost a good deal of substance, the Hobbit from Tighfield decided.  By his side was a lass, one whose hair was shamefully short.

            Then he realized that everyone in the common room was rising to his feet, including the Gaffer.  Realizing his great nephew wasn’t rising to the occasion, Hamfast leaned over and cuffed him on the shoulder.  “Stand up!” he hissed.  “That’s Cap’n Freddy hisself, that is.  Him’s a hero—led those as sought to take back what was ours fer months, him did!  Spent months in the Lockholes fer it, too.  We rise to honor him—many’s the hole as would be empty now hadn’t him an’ others not raided the Big Men’s stores to get food fer them whose homes was emptied of ever’thin’ as keeps body and soul together!  Stand up, lad—ye’ll not see many heroes here in the Shire, but yer seein’ one today!”

            And as those who’d accompanied Fredegar Bolger took their seats at a large table in the corner, someone began singing the lay of Captain Freddy, and how he’d popped the Pimple!

Written for the LOTR Community Yule Fic Exchange.  Written for Pearl Took.

Yuletide Truce

            “Yule in the Shire!” Pippin exulted as they turned from the Road toward Tuckborough and the Great Smial.  “I wasn’t certain last winter that we’d ever see this again!”

            Merry nodded his agreement, reaching forward to scratch Stybba’s neck.  “A year ago we were some days’ walk from Rivendell, not certain if we’d even survive the journey we’d undertaken.”

            Pippin’s expression grew more solemn.  “That’s true enough.”  He stretched in the saddle, and Jewel turned her head to consider him briefly before returning her attention to the track ahead.  The younger Hobbit continued, “After seeing Frodo recover from such a terrible wound, I couldn’t ignore the fact that we were all in grave danger.”

            “Didn’t stop you from dropping a stone down that well, or from peering into that seeing stone,” Merry noted dryly.

            Pippin’s mood lightened again.  “Well, it appears that no matter how serious the quest, you can’t take the innate foolishness out of a Took.  I shan’t fuss myself on those now, seeing that all turned out all right in the end.  Better than all right—victorious!”  He drummed his heels on Jewel’s flanks, and she willingly quickened her pace and drew ahead of the other pony and rider.

            “As if you weren’t scared silly at the time,” Merry muttered to himself, although with fondness.  Pippin at least was still capable of being irrepressible, and for that he was very glad.  He rejoiced that Pippin was in such good spirits today, what with the visit to the Great Smial and his family and all.  Tomorrow, for Second Yule, they’d be heading to Bywater to spend most of the day with Frodo and Sam at the Cotton farm.  Not even Uncle Paladin and Aunt Eglantine would deny Pippin that visit, he knew.  Hopefully a single afternoon and evening in the company of his parents and their stubborn refusal to accept Pippin’s stories of what they’d done for the past year would not be enough to cause his cousin undue distress.

            They soon found themselves in the center of Tuckborough, and the denizens of the Leaping Hare crowded to the doors and windows to hail them as they rode by.  Pippin waved back and returned cheerful answers to their questions, not that anyone could really make out what was being said by anyone else, what with all the competing songs from the inn’s common room and all.  And Merry was both relieved and a little sad that Pippin didn’t suggest they stop in for a mug or two.  Apparently the young Took had decided it would be best to get things over with as soon as possible.

            They rode directly into the stable and saw the two ponies settled into their stalls, warming blankets belted over them and their mangers and water buckets full before they grabbed their saddlebags and headed into the Great Smial to face the Thain and Lady.  They were met by servants who insisted on taking their things to their rooms, and were led by Posy to the Thain’s private parlor where Pal and Lanti were awaiting them.

            “You appear to have made good time from the Floating Log,” Paladin said, hugging them both before turning the two younger Hobbits over to the attentions of Pippin’s mother.

            “Actually, we decided to camp out not that far from the Three-farthing Stone,” Merry advised them.  “The Floating Log was quite crowded when we stopped for late supper, and one could not hear oneself think while we were there.  It was quite a relief to get out of the village and seek out a much quieter place to camp for the night.”

            “And why didn’t you stop in and stay the night with some of the Boffins or such along the way?” Lanti demanded.  “We have family ties with Hobbits all along the Road, after all.”

            “And such folks, in spite of the sharing out of what Lotho and Sharkey’s people gathered to the Brockenbores, still would be hard put to deal with unexpected visitors,” Pippin said, shaking his head.  “Since their homes were easily accessible, they tended to be visited regularly by the gatherers and sharers, you know.  And it’s not as if we were unaccustomed to sleeping under the stars, after all.”

            Truly an understatement, Merry recognized.  They’d done little but sleep under the stars for months, both on the journey east and south and on the way back as well.  Really, they’d only spent about two and a half months in Minas Tirith in the guesthouse there, and two months in Rivendell before that, and but a fortnight in Rivendell during their return journey.  He fixed his cousin’s mother with a steady gaze to reinforce what Pippin had said, and gave an unconscious nod as he saw her blink uncomfortably.  “Well,” he said, “we’re here now until first thing tomorrow morning.”

            “And I still can’t think why you won’t stay Second Yule as well,” Lanti began, but stopped at a pointed glance from her husband.  Apparently the two had spoken extensively of this beforehand and had agreed to display as little argument to Merry and Pippin as possible during their visit.  A good thing, or the two of them might decide not to return to the Tooklands in the near future, and both of Pippin’s parents were desperate to reassure themselves that neither Pippin nor Merry should disappear on them again.  In spite of their unwillingness to believe what Pippin sought to tell them of the war, they did love their son deeply and had been worried sick during the time the Travelers had been gone from the Shire.

            Elevenses were served, and they were joined by Pearl, Pimpernel, and Pervinca and their families.  Pimmy and her husband Ferdibrand, who’d been blinded by kicks to the back of his head administered by Lotho’s Big Men, they’d seen but recently, for the two of them had traveled to Buckland to attend Pippin’s birthday party at Crickhollow a week ago.  It had been a sore point for Eglantine that Peregrin had refused to celebrate his twenty-ninth birthday here, but he’d insisted on hosting his own party in Buckland as his mother had been planning his guest list and had intended to invite all of the youngest of his Took and Banks cousins, as if he were still a teen rather than someone who’d been treated as an adult for the past year or better.  It wasn’t that he didn’t love his younger cousins, but he’d wanted to have mostly those who were in their thirties from all sides, not primarily those Tooks who weren’t even twenty-five as yet!  So his parents had not come to his birthday celebration, but his second sister and brother-in-love had. 

            Ferdibrand was asking after the Brandybucks, Oldbucks, Maggots, and Stockbrooks he’d visited with at the party, and described their brief stop at the Cotton farm in Bywater on the way back.  “I must say,” he commented, “that I’ve never seen Frodo so retiring and solemn.  We had to almost pry any word he uttered out of him, it seemed.”

            “It’s that way with him oftentimes since he woke in Ithilien,” Pippin agreed.  “He listens far more than he speaks any more.”

            “I don’t understand just what you mean when you say he awoke in Ithilien,” Pervinca said, and was distracted by young Piper seeking to sneak an extra jam tart off her plate.  “We’ll have none of that, nephew,” she said, to which the child laughed merrily.

            Pippin’s face had lost much of its animation.  “Frodo and Sam had become separated from the rest of us.  Frodo tried to slip off by himself to finish his task, thinking it would keep us safer if he were to go on alone.  Sam managed to keep up with him, but by the time the rest of the Fellowship realized what he’d done we were all rather badly scattered, and there was no way for us to go after him.  Frodo and Sam succeeded in their part of the business, but were cut off from escape.  Gandalf had to search for them, and apparently found them just in time.  The two of them were unconscious when they were found, and Aragorn had to put them into a deep healing sleep for a fortnight.  They were both in rather a bad way when Gandalf and the Eagles rescued them.”

            Pearl looked up sharply.  There had been a time when they were younger when everyone had been certain she and Frodo would marry, and in spite of having thrown him over and married Isumbard instead she apparently still cared for his welfare.  “Was he badly hurt?”

            Merry answered her gently, “We were all rather badly hurt, Pearl.  We’ve all recovered, of course, but Frodo particularly was badly scarred.”

            “I didn’t see any scars on him,” Paladin commented stubbornly, adding rather belatedly, “other than the finger being missing, that is.”

            Pippin’s laugh was anything but merry.  “Do you think, Da, that Frodo Baggins would allow anyone to see his scars?  He even tries to hide the fact his finger is missing from us, and we of course know all about how he lost it.”

            “Then why don’t you tell us?” asked Pervinca’s husband, Maligar Bolger.

            Merry gave his uncle and aunt a sideways look and said privately to Maligar, “It’s not for lack of trying on Pippin’s part, believe me!”

            But Pippin was shaking his head, saying to the room at large, “No, I know the subject disturbs you, Mum and Da, so I’ll not discuss it now, not on First Yule.  Now, what did you get me?”

            This was such a Pippinish question that all suddenly found their humor once more, and the awkward moment passed.

            “The question is rather, what did you get anyone?” Pearl demanded.  “I don’t see any sign indicating you two brought anything intended as gifts.”

            Ferdibrand laughed.  “That’s because their gifts have been here for two weeks, Pearl Took!  They arrived with a wagonload of ale purchased from Bree.”

            Pippin smiled with satisfaction.  “That ale is my gift to the whole of those in residence in the Great Smial.  I’ll have you know that Gandalf himself laid an enchantment of especial excellence on the ale brewed by the people of the Prancing Pony, and I thought everyone should enjoy the bounty of that spell tonight of all nights!”

            “And you knew?” demanded Pearl’s husband Isumbard of Ferdi.

            Ferdi shrugged.  “As I am the keeper of stores for the Thain, and as I can keep a secret, I was advised to be on the watch for the wagon when it arrived and to see to the careful storage of its contents.  Oh, don’t worry, Bard, Maligar—you two will get more than your fair share if I know you!  When we’re done with the meal I’ll take these two off so they can see to the retrieval of the other items that came with it.  I’ll swear that my aide told me that there was a case, or perhaps he said two, from Dale as well!”

            Pearl’s two children and Piper all squealed with delight, and had to be reminded that gifts would be not be distributed until that evening at the earliest, and any complaining would only delay that desired activity.

            Soon enough Pippin and Merry were accompanying Ferdibrand to the locked storage room where he’d had the contents of their wagon placed.  “I was able to convince Strider to send most of what’s there in a shipment of arms intended for the northern Rangers,” Pippin confided.  “I know he was a bit reluctant to take up room for my trifles in the supply wagons, until, that is, I told him that I’d purchased a number of bows and a goodly supply of arrows fit for them to add to the armory here.  Your father should be very pleased with them, I’d think.”  Ferdi’s father Ferdinand had served as the captain of the Tookland’s archers for several decades.  “They begin teaching the lads in Gondor how to use a bow when they’re quite young, so there were a goodly number of bows and arrows suitable for Hobbits available in the marketplaces once the war was over, and they do appear to be quite good ones.  I suspect that more than one boy who lived near the river had managed to kill an orc or two even before the city was laid under siege.”

            “And was being caught in a siege as terrible as the books say?” Ferdi asked as he found the proper key and fitted it into the lock.

            “Worse,” Pippin said grimly.  “We were very lucky that it didn’t last more than a few days, as I was told afterwards that when a city is held in siege for prolonged periods, pestilence, hunger, and thirst tend to become commonplace.  Lord Denethor had prepared for such a possibility, and there were a fair amount of stores of grain, flour, and dried meats and fruits within the city walls.  The problem was that most of the warehouses where it was stored were in the lower city, within the lowest two circles, and that was where the bulk of the damage was from what was thrown over the walls by the Enemy’s catapults.  They had some compound they put on balls of wood and wool that would burst into flame when it landed, and it set fire to a lot of structures.  Putting out fires in such tight quarters is a serious business, I learned, for it can spread so quickly from one building to another, what with the houses and businesses oftentimes sharing walls with one another.  And anyone who was hit by these balls was likely to die from the encounter.”

            Ferdi shuddered with revulsion at the thought of it all as he swung the door wide.  “I’m glad I wasn’t there.  Did the two of you help fight the fires?”

            “Merry wasn’t there yet, for he followed after Gandalf and me, riding with the Rohirrim from Rohan to Minas Tirith.  Gandalf went ahead to warn of an impending attack and took me with him.”

            “And what foolish thing had you done to require you going first?” Ferdi asked, leading the way into the storage room.  “There’s supposed to be a lamp just inside the door.  You’ll need to light it, I suspect.”

            “Ánd just why do you think I was in trouble at the time?” demanded Pippin while Merry got the lamp lit.

            “Because I know you, Peregrin Took,” Ferdi answered.

            As the wick took, Merry grinned up at their cousin.  “He’d just managed to convince the Enemy that he, Peregrin Took, had the weapon the Enemy was most seeking.  He didn’t, of course, but the Enemy didn’t know that.  Gandalf had to get him to relative safety, not that any of the surrounding lands were truly safe.  But it worked to keep the Enemy distracted, trying to get to Minas Tirith to find out if Pippin had carried that weapon there before anyone could figure out how to control It to use It against him.”

            “Do you know where this weapon really was?” Ferdi asked, obviously intrigued.

            “We didn’t at the time, not for certain.  We only knew It was on Its way to Mordor to be destroyed.”

            Ferdi had been feeling the barrels in a near corner of the storeroom, hoping to identify the former contents of Pippin’s wagon, but stopped and straightened, turning to the others in dismay.  “You said that the Enemy was the Lord of Mordor, didn’t you?  Then why send this weapon there?  He could have stumbled across the ones trying to get it into the land and gotten it back, couldn’t he?”

            “Yes, which was why everything was done to draw his attention away from his own land in the end.  But It could only be destroyed where It was made, and that was there in Mordor at the Mountain of Fire.  Pippin’s blunder actually helped the ones who were carrying It into Mordor, as did Aragorn directly challenging Sauron using the same device through which the Enemy had become aware of Pippin.” Merry settled the mantle of the lamp into proper place and turned about.  “Oh, there they are—the other corner to your left, Ferdi.  I see the outline of the pony on the barrels there.  And there’s that large gift you bought for your dad there, too, Pip.”

            Soon Ferdi was helping to drag the actual gifts back toward the door.  “You bought a saddle for your father, Pip?  In Gondor?”

            “Yes.  I saw it in the marketplace in the Third Circle and knew it was perfect for him.  And the figure you feel there on the stirrups and the pommel is a falcon!”

            “What color is it?”

            “The leather has been stained a dark green.  And there’s a headstall to match, again with the falcon worked into each cheek piece.  And you should see the bolts of silk I bought for Mum—she’ll look so beautiful in dresses made from them!”

            “And which package is for me?”

            “Merry’s already fetched that out for me.  You won’t handle it until this evening.”

            Pippin and Merry took as much as they could carry to Pippin’s quarters to prepare for the gifting in the early evening, and Ferdi went to get them help in transporting the larger items and to carry the barrels of ale to the dancing ground where the Yule bonfire would be lit.  The two of them ate luncheon while they worked, and did not reappear until almost teatime.

            “Are you avoiding us?” asked Eglantine, her tone slightly acid, as they entered the Thain’s parlor.

            Merry caught the flinch that Pippin couldn’t completely hide.  “We had a good number of presents to finish wrapping,” he said in a voice that was just a touch too hearty.  “I’m sorry, but I did want them to be just right for all of you.”

            “It’s quite a change from the days when you just hastily put brown paper around whatever you were giving people and loosely tied twine about it. hoping it wouldn’t come open before it got into the hands of whoever it was intended for,” Pervinca noted.

            Pippin’s lips thinned.  “I have grown up, in case you didn’t notice,” he said, doing his best to keep his tone even.  “Strider and his people wrapped most of the items well, but I wanted to be certain that none of it was damaged in transit, after all.  I must say that everything came through beautifully, but I’m afraid I’m not quite as handy at rewrapping some items as was whoever prepared them for shipment.”

            “Too bad Frodo wasn’t here to help you.  He always has his presents so beautifully wrapped.”  Pearl sounded a bit wistful.

            “It’s a bit harder for him now,” Merry pointed out.

            Pearl winced.  “Oh, yes—his finger.”

            “Yes, his finger,” Pippin said.  “Although he is able to do most things fairly easily any more.  He worked a good deal on his writing and drawing while we were in Minas Tirith, and purchased a new set of knives that fit his hand particularly well while we were there.  I made certain that those were tucked into the bundle that Strider sent for us—I suspect they were very expensive.”

            “He needed new knives?”

            “Well, remember that he was still just recovering when we were there, and most knives in the outer world are intended for the hands of Big Folk.  And it wasn’t until Master Elrond arrived in Minas Tirith that anyone seemed able to ease his hand.  The muscles would spasm at odd times, and he found it often very painful.  So he went down to the marketplace in the Fourth Circle where many of the best artisans of the City sell their wares in search of a good set that was comfortable for him to use.  He’d intended to leave them behind, and that would have been quite a waste, after all.”

            “I wish we’d been able to convince him to come here for Yule,” Pimpernel commented.

            Merry shook his head.  “He wouldn’t do so right now, not that Sam would countenance him riding cross country in the snow anyway.  With the ride back and forth to Michel Delving each week, Frodo’s getting all the riding he needs, I suspect.  He needs a few days of simple quiet and comfort, and he’s more likely to get that on the Cottons’ farm than he would here or in Buckland.”

            “I agree,” Isumbard commented, surprising them all.  “He’s been so diligent in seeing to it that every document forwarded to the Council Hole is properly reviewed that he is often exhausted once we convince him to leave the Mayor’s office.  If he were to come here he’d have all the faunts hanging on his coat, begging for stories, and would have to try to beg off smoking with the gentlehobbits as gracefully as possible without causing offense, and would be fending off all of the lasses of marriageable age—and their mothers.  No, he deserves his days of rest.”

            Maligar appeared shocked.  “Frodo doesn’t smoke any more?”

            “Says that the healers told him he was not to start again—too harsh for his lungs.” 

Pippin nodded his agreement.  “We had to all smoke downwind of him so it wouldn’t even blow in his face.  Aragorn wouldn’t allow him, Sam, or me to smoke at first while we were recovering, and Frodo’s not to do it at all.  It has to do with all the ash and smoke he and Sam were forced to breathe while they were in Mordor.”

            The others were exchanging glances when the knock came at the door, and Posy entered with the tea things.

            “Thank you so, Posy,” Eglantine said.  “We will serve ourselves.”

            Nodding, the personal maid to the Thain and his Lady set the cart near Eglantine’s chair and left them, softly closing the door behind her.  Soon all were served with tongue and pickle on bread rolls, boiled eggs, and apple tarts along with steaming cups of Eglantine’s favorite blend of tea for winter.

            “You’re not bolting your food!” Pervinca noted, watching her younger brother with surprise.

            “If you’d spent as much time as we did in the King’s court, you wouldn’t be so surprised,” Merry said.  “We all learned a good deal of proper protocol and manners while we were in Gondor, after all.”

            “Not that Frodo needed any lessoning in it,” Pippin added, once his mouth was empty again.  “Bilbo and his Aunt Dora saw that he was properly trained in etiquette.”

            Pearl’s daughter Pansy asked, “Where are your presents now, Uncle Pippin?”

            “Ferdi had some of the servants carry them down to the Great Hall and put them with the rest,” Pippin explained.  “And I certainly hope you like what I bought for you.”

            “And mine are there, too,” Merry said.  “And you are not to go down there and prod at them, trying to guess what’s in them.”

            “I’m too big to do that!” the lass responded primly.

            “I’m not!” her younger brother Isumbrand insisted.

            “And that’s why you’ll be going with the other youngsters and the lessons master once tea is finished,” his mother said.  “I rather wish Frodo had come—his stories would keep the lot of them entranced until the Yule feast is ready.”

            “Perhaps next year,” Pippin said vaguely.  “Please pass the salt cellar, Pimmie.”

            As the evening sky burned increasingly with stars, Pippin gamely worked to remain as civil as possible to his parents and Pervinca, all of whom tended to let slip occasional jibes about those who hadn’t been home last year and how much Pippin must have forgotten during his absence from the Tooklands.  By the time all were gathering in the Great Hall for the Yule feast and the exchange of gifts he was looking decidedly frazzled.  “I’m so glad,” he murmured to Merry, “that we’re off early tomorrow for Bywater.  I love them dearly, but if I hear one more word about how I deprived the family and the Great Smial of the joy of celebrating my birthday with me two years in a row I swear I will scream and run out to the stables to fetch Jewel and head back for the White City!”

            Merry gave a slight nod, eyeing his female Took relatives and his uncle warily.

            Merry and Pippin’s practice of facing west briefly before sitting down to eat was watched with puzzlement by many of the residents of the Great Smial, and with a degree of disapproving forbearance by his parents.  Once the dishes were uncovered, however, all appeared to forget the oddity in the Travelers’ behavior as attention focused on the meal.  Soon all were laughing at Pippin’s sallies as his natural good spirits returned.  “It’s good to have a proper Yule again this year after the Troubles last year,” old Tobibold Took commented expansively over his goblet of wine.  “Not as you two was knowin’ any want,” he added, giving Merry and Pippin a meaningful glance, “what with all your time in Kings’ halls and all.”

            “Actually, last Yule we were far from any halls of any kind,” Pippin answered him.  “We were walking through a particularly cold stretch of moor with not enough trees to offer us much in the way of firewood, if I recall correctly, although finally we came across a small valley with a wide stream at the bottom of it where at last there were enough trees to offer us some cover.  Merry had managed to bring down some hares with stones, and it turned out Master Elrond had actually sent a joint for us to cook for that night.  And Bilbo had given Frodo a supply of dried mushrooms he’d gathered in Rivendell to add to the feast.  And I do believe we also had some boiled sweets and a whole apple for each of us, and three for Sam’s Bill.  That pony doted so on Sam, and on Frodo as well.”

            “It was a good meal, at least,” Merry agreed.  “But we didn’t get to anything like Kings’ halls until late February.”

            “Why didn’t you ride?” asked Hildebrand.

            “We were trying to pass unnoticed,” Merry explained.  “A cavalcade of horses and ponies would have drawn attention from the very ones we didn’t wish to have know we were moving at all.”

            “Where were you heading?” asked Rosamunda Bolger, who was staying in the Great Smial with her husband until their own smial was restored—Lotho’s Big Men had driven the Bolgers out of their hole and had done a good deal of damage, seeking to find any hidden storage holes there might be behind the paneling and plastered walls of Budge Hall.

            “South and east toward the Great River and beyond,” Pippin said.  “We had to do our best to see the Enemy’s greatest weapon destroyed so that the war could be halted.  Had the Enemy found us along the way it would have meant the end of all that is pleasant in this world.”

            “And what do Hobbits know of weapons?” demanded one of the Took healers.

            Merry and Pippin both shuddered as Pippin answered, “We came to know far more about such things than we felt comfortable with, I assure you.  We were fighting a war out there, you know.”

            The talk grew more solemn at that, and Paladin gave his son a look of quiet disapproval.  Pippin sighed and did his best to ignore the resumed tension, but it was a losing proposition.

            Once the meal was over, a Hobbit from each family unit went to the piles of gifts ranged around the room to fetch gifts for their own family, and Pippin went to fetch those gifts intended for the Thain, his wife, children, and their spouses and children.  The younger children were seated on the floor, each surrounded by their gifts, and allowed to open their presents with as little aid as was necessary, and soon wrappings were lying everywhere.

            Pippin kept bringing presents, starting with those offered by Pearl and Isumbard, then those by Pimpernel and Ferdibrand, then those by Pervinca and Maligar, then those by Paladin and Eglantine.  “What’s the problem?” Pervinca finally asked.  “Are you ashamed of those gifts you chose?”

            It was one jibe too many, and Pippin sighed and straightened.  “Merry, will you fill in for me, please?  I need to visit the privy.”

            Merry turned on Vinca with disgust as Pippin quitted the room.  “Can’t you see that he’s wanting for his gifts to be special?  Why do you have to keep prodding at him so?”  So saying, he deliberately chose out those he’d brought, and all had to admit they were particularly nice ones. 

            At last there were only those gifts chosen by Pippin left, and as that individual had not returned to the Great Hall, Merry began with those intended for Isumbrand, Pansy, and Piper.  Pansy’s eyes grew large as she unwrapped a particularly beautiful doll, carefully carved of wood and beautifully painted.  A second parcel for Pansy held clothing for the doll, each garment a work of art in itself.  For Piper there was a set of wooden soldiers dressed in the silver and sable of Gondor.  Isumbrand received a lovely pony crafted of leather, with real horsehair for the mane and tail.  “Oh, look—here’s the saddle and bridle and everything!” the young lad said, pleased beyond measure by his gift.  There were wonderful wooden canisters for Aunt Jade, who loved baking, and a beautiful stein of crystal for her husband.  Cousins Rosamunda and Odovacar received glass candlesticks that would be beautiful on their dining room dresser, once they were able to return to Budge Hall once more; Ferdi received a silver striker set that was exquisitely decorated with raised flowers; and the jewelry intended for Pearl, Pimmy, and Vinca evoked ahs of wonder.

            At last there were but a few presents left, and most of the rest of those who’d attended the feast were watching with interest.  Merry looked at his uncle.  “Your gift is too big to bring to you at the table—you’ll need to go to it.”

            So saying, he took the Thain by the hand and led him to one of the large packages that ranged along the wall.  Paladin unwrapped the blankets with which it was wrapped, and shook his head with wonder.  “Why, these are saddle blankets!”

            “Indeed,” Merry said.  “And wrapped in them is----”

            Pal stopped, his eyes as wide as Pansy’s as he examined the magnificent saddle that lay before him.  He looked in surprise up to meet Merry’s gaze.  “Did he choose this himself?” he asked.

            “Yes, he did.  He especially chose it for the falcons worked into all of the tack.  He hoped you’d always think of him when you rode out.”

            “Who paid for all of this?” Eglantine asked.  “This King of yours?”

            Merry’s fists tightened with frustration.  “Pippin is a member of the King’s own Guard, Aunt Lanti, and he receives an excellent wage for the service he offers.  Plus, all who are known to have killed trolls and the larger creatures that threatened the army both on the Field of the Pelennor and before the Black Gate received a special reward for their courage.  Pippin earned the coin for all of this fairly, and at the risk of his life, I’ll have you know.  We keep telling you—he is a hero out there, beyond the Bounds of the Shire!”

            And when Eglantine found herself the possessor of several bolts of particularly fine cloth of silk and fine-spun cotton, she couldn’t find words to express just how overwhelmed she was by the beauty of the fabrics she’d received. 

            Pippin was found outside, helping to put the final touches on the great stack for the bonfire.  “I’m sorry I didn’t come back,” he said when the family crowded around him.  “They needed some help lifting logs onto the pile, and seeing I’m now taller than anyone else, Beligard insisted I help.  I do hope you like your gifts.”

            Pippin didn’t crowd in as he’d always done before to take one of the first turns at pulling the fire drill, and once the pile was finally alight, he stayed well back from the blaze.  “I don’t understand,” Pervinca said in softer tones to Merry.  “Usually Da is having to hold Peregrin back when he wants to be one of the first to leap over the coals.  What happened?”

            “He saw some horrible things,” Merry said only loudly enough for the immediate family to hear.  “He’s not afraid of fire, but he couldn’t abide even a camp fire for the first part of our return journey.  This bonfire is too large for him to bear right now.  It may take some years before he’ll try leaping over the flames again.  He’s not as careless as he once was.”

            “If he’s afraid of being burned,” began Paladin, but Merry interrupted him.

            “No, he wasn’t burned, but he saw at least one person burn to death, and it was a great shock.  He can’t stand the smell of burned meat, either, you’ll find.”

            It was something to think about.

            All noted that Pippin was far less giddy than he’d been before his journey outside the Shire, and most approved of this change.  But Pimmy sighed.  “It’s not fair that he should have to be so grown up so fast,” she said, watching her brother standing back, listening to the older stable Hobbits talking among themselves.

            “As Frodo has commented often enough, life has never been particularly fair, so there’s no point in complaining about how unfair it is,” Merry said dryly.

            Vinca sighed, and went to her brother’s side.  Merry couldn’t tell what she was saying, but apparently she apologized for her behavior earlier, for Pippin’s face brightened and he pulled her into an embrace.  The others followed her, and now they were thanking him for their gifts, and with each honest word of praise Pippin smiled the more.

            Merry smiled in sheer relief.  At least the magic of Yule was helping thaw them toward Pippin, and that was, after all, as good a beginning toward Pippin feeling at home again as they could hope for.  Now, if only they’d work on appreciating just what wonders Sam and Frodo had accomplished….

           

My Easter Gift to you all!

Renewal and Reawakening

            “How many sheds does that make?” Nick Cotton asked Sancho Proudfoot as they loaded the last detritus of the latest atrocity to be removed from Bag End’s gardens into one of Sancho’s wagons and secured the load.

            “It’s the ninth as we’ve taken down,” Sancho said, rubbing at chilled fingers.  “And I think as there’s at least six more to go.”

            “At the very least,” agreed Nick with a glance over his shoulder and up the steps to Bag End, the bulk of the hill sharp-edged against the chilly blue of a midwinter sky.  “I don’t know as what Sam’s goin’ t’do, the shape as the gardens is in.  Him was so shocked when them come here, lookin’ for ol’ Pimple.”

            Sancho’s expression was uncharacteristically grim.  “They was all upset, and why not?  Atween what Lotho done t’the Row and what that Sharkey and his Big Men done t’Bag End isself, t’wasn’t nigh anythin’ as it was afore they left.”

            “The gardens is a travesty, and that’s a fact,” said Nick.  He gave the load of timber an appraising look.  “Where’s this lot t’go?” he asked.

            “Over t’the old vineyard,” Sancho answered.  “That’s where I’ve been takin’ most of what’s been pulled off’n here, once as it’s been emptied out of what’s been found stored in it, of course.  We found our parlor settle and the kitchen table from our hole in this one, as well as most of the stonework from the parlor fireplace.”

            “Think as there’s enough sound timber t’be found in all this t’help rebuild the winepress there?” Nick asked.

            “They’re hopin’ as it might.  What with all I’ve carted over there so far, they have a fair amount t’choose from.  Although,” he added, indicating those crowded about the fallen oak down in the Party Field at the foot of the Hill, “I suspect as those will provide the wood as is best needed for it.”

            Nick considered the distant Hobbits.  “Don’t recognize any of them.”

            Sancho answered, “Sawyers from over near the Woody End, or so they said when them arrived this mornin’.  Goin’ to deal with the Party Tree and the roof tree from atop the Hill.  Some of the wood’ll most like end up bein’ used to patch up damage inside Bag End, I’m thinkin’, and much will probably be used in rebuildin’ the press as Lotho had burnt t’cinders, and to provide barrels for the vintner.  Old Winyards will be offerin’ excellent wine once more, it seems.  Might take a year or two t’see all put right with it, but it seems Cousin Frodo and Sam Gamgee’s out t’rebuild most of what Lotho and that Sharkey destroyed.  Our place is already almost finished—we should be back in Number Five soon enough, me’n’Geli and the childern.  My da’s right surprised at how the Travelers are thinkin’ first of those as lost homes because of the Troubles.”

            Sancho sighed, and turned to his patient pony, who stood between the traces with a blanket strapped to its back, the steam from its breath forming small, quickly dissipating clouds.  “Well,” he said as he moved to climb up onto the wagon seat, “we’d best be off if’n I expect to return home afore midnight.  Any word on whether old Missus Lobelia will be returnin’ here to Hobbiton?”

            Nick shook his head.  “From what I heard, she’s decided t’give Bag End back to Mr. Frodo—says as she can’t live where her son was murdered.  Can you believe it, that a Hobbit of the Shire would actually end up bein’ killed dead in what was now his own home?”

            Sancho agreed that this seemed beyond imagining, and settled himself onto the bench.  “Hup!” he said to his pony, who shivered slightly before stepping out, apparently glad to be moving again.  “Too cold for this one t’be a-standin’ about all still,” he said over his shoulder, and drove down the Lane, turning to pass through the main part of the village toward the Baggins holding that had once housed the richest vineyard in the Shire.

 *******

            The weather was chill, but the earth began to warm as the Sun’s light fell on it throughout the lengthening days.  Roots that had begun to wither away while a shed loomed over them gathered moisture from dew and the timely rains, and began to reach out, nursing the green shoots that would rise from them.  Bulbs that had begun to shrivel took new heart as the Sun again warmed their resting places, and when at last the time was right, they sent up new leaves and stalks.  Shrubs and bushes that had begun to waste away now began to bud out instead.

            Life began anew in the gardens that had been ravaged by thoughtless Big Men and a maddened Wizard, in spite of the year of blatant neglect and abuse.

            And when on April eighth, a year after two gravely injured Hobbits had awakened in Ithilien to find the world renewed about them due to their wearisome labors, those two now came to walk together in the renewed gardens of Bag End, and at their coming the flowers opened in gladness, welcoming the returned heroes with their own awakening.

            “I swear, Mr. Frodo—I’ve had little enough time t’do more’n stir up the ground a bit, and perhaps pull a few weeds.  I’ve not had time t’plant anythin’ new to replace what was truly gone.  And none of these was bloomin’ yesterday.”  Sam shook his head in the wonder of it all.

            “I suspect they’re only glad to see you back again, knowing that you’ll see to it that they are all properly taken care of once more.  Look there—the forsythia is truly glorious, and I swear the narcissus blooms are especially bright!  And there’s even crocus blooming!  A bit late for them, I fear, but how beautiful they are!  And the daffodils and hyacinth are truly beautiful!”

            “And look there, there under your window, Master---there was an especial ugly shed there.  But the Elven lilies as old Mr. Bilbo planted there—if’n they ain’t growing up, happy as can be!  That Sharkey, or Saruman or whatever his right name was—he couldn’t destroy the gardens after all!”

            And there was some additional proper color to the face of Frodo Baggins, seeing all beginning to come right here, here in the gardens of his own home.

For Dawn Felagund, in thanks for her tireless work on B2MEM.

Summons Offered

            Maglor watched the Perian standing at the aft rail of the retreating ship with a growing sense of outrage.  What right have you, a mere mortal, to bear the Light of a Silmaril?

            Did he see a note of defiance in those weary, wounded eyes?  Certainly he was surprised when he sensed a response offered via osanwëAnd why do I not have the right to carry what was gifted to me by your own cousin?  Did not Lúthien the Fair and Beren One-hand between them win the Silmaril from Morgoth’s own crown and carry it away?  Was it not given by them to Elú Thingol as the bride-price for his daughter, and through him did it not descend to the keeping of Elwing, who in turn surrendered it to her husband to aid him in his quest?  Does its Light not blaze in the heavens as the highest symbol of holy Hope?

            But the Silmaril was the creation of my atar.

            Perhaps that was true of the Silmaril itself, but not the Light that it bears.  Lo, your father’s creation blazes there, in the heavens, where it has dwelt for two ages of the Sun.  I bear not the gem itself, but merely a reflection of the Light that fills it.

            But you are flawed….

            No more so than are you.

            He whose hand was long ago burned by the Silmaril he’d taken into his own keeping but had cast away into the depths of the Sea looked upon the one whose finger had been bitten from his hand, in emulation of the sacrifice of Beren of his hand to Carcaroth, but by one who’d desired the symbol of not Light but instead the destructive Darkness that had bounded it, and bowed his head.

            After a moment of mutual grief, the other sought to comfort him.  Only one Silmaril remains where it might be seen, there in the heavens, above and beyond the reach of us both.  I bear but the Light caught in its reflection in water.  Had I known you would lay claim to it, perhaps I might have surrendered it to you.  But now I can only hold it up to restore hope to those I love past bearing whom I’ve been forced to leave behind.  Let them imagine that it shows that my strength endures, that I will survive and perhaps return in time to full health, spirit and body.  But this I have been assured—that I am as much a Child of Ilúvatar as are you, and I, too, can reach for healing.  For a moment the communication paused, and he found himself straining to resume eye contact with this strange Ring-bearer.  Then one last burst of communion:  I’ve heard the waves calling me for most of the past year and a half, and now at last, perhaps too late, even, I’ve answered them.  Follow after!  For I sense that they have been calling for you to return home, too.  Follow after as you can.  Let go of the Oath and follow after.  They await you, those who love you.

            The darkness fell more deeply as the last remnant of Arien’s chariot passed below the horizon, and within that growing darkness he saw the Light of the Silmaril twice, once above him, and once reflected in the waters gathered into the Firth of Lhûn, marking the passage of another grey ship from Mithlond that had weighed anchor and now sought out the waters of its new home far to the West, there where he still believed he could not come, bound as he was to an oath that apparently could not now be fulfilled, as no Silmaril or reflection of it remained within the Mortal Lands to recover.

            Standing on the high place on which he’d stood to watch the sailing of the Ring-bearers, Maglor sang, and wept.

Written for Imhiriel, Jay of Lasgalen, and Aruthir for their birthdays--a bit late, I recognize!

Warmed by the Glow of Stars

            She’d seen many a beautiful sight in her life—snow on the peaks of the mountains beyond Edoras, colts running alongside their dams across the fields of Rohan in the late spring, the greening of trees at the foot of the mountains in the distance.  But now she was seeing new beauties as she looked across the River at the distant blue-green blur of Ithilien, lying as it did before the darkness of the Mountains of Shadow.

            And then he was there beside her, smiling deeply at her with his calm, clear grey eyes.  “Captain Elfhelm tells me it is your birthday, beloved,” he murmurs into her ear.  “I can give you nothing better than my vow of love for you always.  And if you will have me, I tell you this—if my Lord King gives us leave, I shall build a home for us there, in what was known of old as the Garden of Gondor.  Certainly with you beside me it shall become that again, now that the Shadow is departed away forever!”

            So saying, he draws the blue mantle more closely about her, and she feels as if the stars with which it is embroidered are singing within her heart!

For RabidSamFan for her birthday.

Not Just her Little Lad any More

            Rosamunda Bolger looked up as one of the resident Tooks—she found she couldn’t begin to remember all their names!—showed her son into the private parlor accorded to herself and Odovacar during their stay in the Great Smial.  Odi was out with Paladin Took, taking a survey of the farms that most immediately served the needs of the place as all looked toward the first crop since the ending of the Troubles.  She had been wishing he’d not left after all, for she found herself feeling very much odd Hobbit out, surrounded by so very many Tooks.  This in mind, she felt a profound relief to see her son enter the chamber, followed immediately by an equal amount of concern as she considered Freddy’s current physical state.  He looked so—small!  Oh, he’d not lost any height, thank the stars; but he was nowhere as—substantial—as he’d always been.  She could almost imagine that it was his cousin Frodo Baggins standing there before her, save for the slight auburn tinge to the much lighter brown hair.  One thing was apparent—Frodo must have lent Fredegar some clothing, for although the garments appeared familiar, she knew for a certainty none of it had come from his own wardrobe.

            “Here ye be,” the Took assured Freddy with a crinkled smile.

            “And I do thank you, Beligard,” Freddy returned.  “I doubt I could have found it on my own.  I’ve never had the head for direction that Frodo and Merry have always shown within the Great Smial.”

            “I’m not surprised, Mr. Freddy.  Well, there’s yer mother awaitin’ for ye.  And I’ll be seein’ ye again, more likely’n not, afore I must go out on my next round on the borders.  Cousin Pippin, he’s determined as no more Big Folk enter into the Shire to cause no more trouble.”  With that he gave a bow to each of them and withdrew, closing the door after himself.

            “You know him, dear?” asked Rosamunda, setting aside her knitting and rising.

            Freddy smiled.  “Hello, Mother dearest.  Beligard?  Oh, yes, I know him—he’s been a Bounder for some years.  Not from here in the Great Smial itself, actually—lived outside Whitwell back when Paladin was still farming there.  That’s why he tends to sound provincial, I suppose.  And how are you and Father faring, here amidst the Tooks?”

            “They’ve been treating us very well, I must admit.  But I’ll be so relieved to be back in Budge Hall again.  But they tell us again that we must wait, that there’s more damage even than they’d thought the last time.  Oh, Freddy, when will it ever be put properly right?”

            “When will what be put properly right—Budge Hall or the Shire in general?  According to the reports Frodo has passed on to me, it should only be a fortnight more before the final repairs are finished at home.  At least I know the two of you are far more comfortably situated here while the smial is put back in order than you were in that storage hole Lotho had you herded into.”

            Rosamunda shuddered delicately, putting the back of her wrist to her forehead.  “Oh, my dear, dear child, but you cannot imagine how horrible it was!  No pump, no cupboards, having to use an outside privy----”        

            There was something unfathomable in Freddy’s eyes as he looked at her, somehow unbelieving.  “It must have been terrible for you, Mother,” he said.  Was there somehow a trace of irony in his tone, she wondered?

            “Oh, but it was indeed terrible, Dumpling,” she said, invoking his childhood dear-name.  She didn’t quite notice the grimace of distaste he showed.  “But that is enough about me.  You are here at last!  Will you be able to stay?”

            “I will remain overnight, but will be going to Budgeford tomorrow to see to the state of things and to report back to Frodo.  Sam is doing a wonderful job at managing the restoration of the homes, woods, orchards, and gardens; but Frodo trusts me to give him a better idea as to how the village as a whole has come through things, and what kinds of help people might need to see their businesses and livelihoods put back into order.”

            She blinked, not having thought of such things.  “And where is Estella?” she asked.  “She said she would be nursing you, which was why she didn’t stay here when she left that dreary farm.”

            “She and Rosie and Marigold are busy with Rosie’s wedding dress.  Rosie Cotton, that is.  Rosie and Sam are to be married on the first of May, you understand, so there isn’t a good deal of time to make ready.”

            “Will they be marrying at the Cottons’ farm?” she asked.

            “No, they’re to be married in the gardens of Bag End, with Frodo saying the words.”

            She blinked again.  “Frodo?  But why Frodo?  Isn’t Griffo Boffin the village head in Hobbiton?”

            “But Frodo is the deputy Mayor, Mother, and Sam’s friend.  He’s asked Frodo especially to say the words.”

            Again she was taken by surprise.  “Well, it is very gracious for Frodo to say the words for a mere gardener,” she began.

            Freddy’s eyebrows rose.  “A mere gardener?  And how is it that Sam Gamgee is to be characterized as a mere gardener?  Haven’t you heard any details of what the four of them accomplished out there?  Why, Frodo wouldn’t be alive today if he’d not had Sam as his companion, you know.”

            She stared at him in astonishment!  “But that’s what he’s been for years—Frodo’s gardener!”

            “Well, if he should continue to do the work of a gardener, it shall be solely because that is his pleasure, not because he has to do so in order to provide for himself or his family,” Freddy said shortly.  “Sam isn’t forced to work any more.”

            “Why?  Did the four of them find another fabulous treasure outside the Shire?” she asked, her imagination suddenly piqued.

            “A treasure?  Not unless you consider helping the King to return to be finding a treasure.  No, Frodo insists that if Bilbo’s quest was to help regain a treasure, his was to deliberately lose one.”

            Rosamunda had no idea as to what that meant, much less how she ought to respond to such a comment.  “Then if there was no treasure, how is it that Samwise Gamgee is now to be a gentlehobbit of means?”

            Freddy shook his head and laid his hand on her shoulder.  “Listen, Mummy,” he explained.  “The four of them, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, accomplished marvelous things out there to the preservation of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth, although it cost them all dearly.  All of them have recovered from terrible wounds that almost killed them.  And I mean it that Frodo wouldn’t have survived if not for Sam Gamgee.  Neither talks freely about it, you must understand, for that part of their journey wasn’t particularly pleasant.  But they did meet the Man who was intended to become King, and helped him achieve his throne.  He has dealt well with all of them, and indeed they are honored by all of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth.  So, Sam now has achieved the means to purchase land of his own, should he so wish, although Frodo has invited him and Rosie to join him living in Bag End, as if Sam were his brother.”

            “And they shall be doing for him, then?”  She couldn’t think further than that.

            Freddy sighed, allowing his hands to fall to his sides.  “If that is how you choose to name it, I suppose,” he said.

            She was immediately concerned.  “Are you certain you are quite recovered, Dumpling?  You sound so tired.  I cannot wait to take you home and see you fed up once more and looking again a proper Hobbit.”

            “You’d best think otherwise,” he said, falling into a nearby chair.  “I’ve been told quite firmly that most definitely I am not to gain much more weight than I now have, or it would further endanger my health.”

            “Nonsense!  Why, you are so thin that you appear almost sickly!”

            “Then it’s a good thing you didn’t see me when they first brought me out of the Lockholes,” he said, reaching over to pour himself a glass of apple cider from the jug on the table.  “I certainly didn’t recognize myself the first time I saw myself in the looking glass.  I’ve gained a good deal of weight back since then.”

            She could not imagine that.  “But you are so thin!  Why, I’m certain that I could put my arms both all about your waist now and clasp my hands together!”

            “Which is what the healers tell me is to be desired, Mother,” he replied, lifting the glass to drink from it.  After he’d taken a sip, he set the glass back on the table and looked up at her.  “I almost starved to death, Mother, and was quite ill when they brought me to the Cottons’ farm.  Folco couldn’t believe it when he saw me, and Frodo has been very careful of me as well.  He’s learned a good deal about how to care for one who has been deprived of good food for quite a while, and has done his best to see to it that my diet has been carefully managed that it not make things worse rather than better.”

            “And since when has Frodo Baggins studied the ways of healing?” she asked bitterly.  “Never did a day’s worth of useful work in his life, merely busying himself with copying and bookbinding and other silly things of that sort.  Nothing important!”

            Freddy’s face paled, and then flushed.  “Don’t say such things, Mother,” he said.  “Frodo knows the value of work—few better.  He’s helped keep Bag End, has helped with the gardens and orchards, has done his best to see to it that both his family of name and his tenants are well cared for, and has always pitched in to help whoever might need it throughout the region of the Hill.  And if you don’t think that learning things is important, what does that say for you?  But, if Frodo’s learned about healing, it’s because it’s been forced upon him by what he’s been through.  Since he was rescued from the ruins of the Mountain he’s been under the care of the best healers in all of Middle Earth, including the King himself, I understand.  He, Sam, Merry, and Pippin—they’ve all had to learn to take care of themselves and one another in the wake of what they went through.  And the healers insist that the manner in which he told others I was to be fed once I was brought out of the Lockholes was precisely right—many small meals of easily digested food at first throughout the day, with the size of the meals slowly increased as I proved able to keep them down, and the number reduced as slowly.”

            “Small meals?  No wonder you’ve lost so much weight!  You need substantial feeding to return to your rightful size, my lad!”

            “And had they given me large meals from the beginning it could well have killed me, for I could not have kept them down, and my heart could not have stood the strain of losing what I’d just eaten.”  He looked at her with haunted eyes.  “Don’t you understand, Mum—they were deliberately starving all of us, and particularly me.  It was our punishment for trying to keep others from starving!  We had such good harvests no one should have gone without over the winter.  But Lotho and his Big Men, they wanted to starve us all—to reduce the Hobbits of the Shire to begging them for what little food they’d choose to give us!”  He shuddered, and covered his eyes.  “I lost my weight whilst within the Lockholes, not since.  But Lotho intended me especially to starve to death, and apparently that Sharkey encouraged him to it!”

            She ignored him.  “We’ll get you back to Budge Hall and start feeding you properly—you see if we don’t!”

            He shook his head as his hand dropped into his lap.  “I told you—the healers have said that I mustn’t put back on all the weight, that doing so could kill me.”

            She raised her chin defiantly.  “Nonsense!  We’ll talk with Seemor about it.  You know that he will support what I say.”

            “Yes, Cousin Seemor will support what you say, but it’s only because he knows you won’t listen to good sense when he gives it.”

            “What an unkind thing to say, Fredegar Bolger!”

            He snorted.  “Unkind?  Possibly, but true, and you know it.  Cousin Seemor knows where the butter for his bread comes from, and that it does no good at all to seek to contradict you in any manner.  So, he will nod and tell me to listen to my mother, and that will be that, as that’s all he’s said for years.  Or have you forgotten when I was a young lad and having those pains in my chest how he tried suggesting that you stop feeding me rich brown cakes all of the time and encourage me to play at roopie once or twice a week?  You had such an attack of the vapors that he never sought to contradict you again!”

            She sat down slowly, pressing her hands to her breast.  “So unkind!” she repeated.  “You don’t have to be so unkind!”

            “And you don’t have to be so melodramatic!” he snapped.

            “When your father hears about this----”

            “And what’s he going to be able to do, do you think?  I’m of age, after all, and certainly not a child any more!  And I have my own income, as I invested the money Grandmother left me properly, and I have shares in at least six farms.”

            “But as long as you live under our roof----”

            “But I’ve not lived under your roof for how long now?  Since I joined the Rebels at least, and I was barely home before that more than a month at a time for the last few years!”

            The two of them were glaring daggers at one another.  At last he continued, “Perhaps it is indeed time I lived on my own, in my own home.  I will look into it when I return to Budgeford tomorrow.  Perhaps Uncle Alfengard’s place would do.  I certainly spent enough time there when I was a lad, after all, and I’ve always felt comfortable there.”

            “It’s all Frodo’s fault!” she suddenly hissed, her voice now low and shorn of its former quavering tone.  “Encouraging you to question the wisdom of your parents!”

            “Is it wisdom to insist I gain back weight that the healers tell me could put a serious strain upon my heart?”

            She chose to ignore that question, continuing to attack Frodo’s character.  “He’s proved as mad as old Bilbo ever was!  I must suppose that Lobelia was right after all!  Celebrating Bilbo’s birthday all those years, and Bilbo dead and gone….”

            “There’s no question Bilbo’s been gone from the Shire since the Party, but he’s far from dead, apparently.  All of them say he’s quite intent on passing up his grandfather’s age, in fact.”  At her disbelieving look he explained, “He lives in Rivendell, and has ever since he left Hobbiton and the Shire.  The Elves treat Bilbo with respect, and honor his sagacity, even.  So much for Lobelia Sackville-Baggins and her poison, although even she’s had a decided change of heart since she came out of the Lockholes.  Yes, Mother dear, the rumors were true.  The Big Men took her to Michel Delving, too, her and her umbrella, and undoubtedly on Sharkey’s orders, and not long after that Sharkey had Lotho murdered.”

            He picked up his glass and drank more of his cider, leaving her to stew on that news.  As he put the mug back on the table again, now empty, he said, “As for Frodo, he remains the most responsible individual I’ve ever known.  ”

            “But he left the Shire!”

            “And if he hadn’t, there would have been worse than Sharkey here.  Think of it, Mother—the Shire overrun by those Black Riders who attacked Crickhollow!”  He was shivering, and his face went decidedly pale.  “You can’t imagine how terrible they were,” he whispered.  “Even the Lockholes were better than them!”

            Rosamunda’s mouth worked a bit as she examined her son’s face.   At last her own face crumpled.  “I wish none of this had happened,” she said, pulling out her handkerchief and weeping into it.  “Everything’s gone so wrong!”

            He sighed as he looked again into her eyes, and his own again had a haunted expression.  “Yes, everything went wrong, and was going that way before Frodo left Bag End, but none of it was his fault.  None of us had any idea that Lotho was buying up the mills, inns, and leaf plantations as he was.  None of us realized he was stealing loads of provender and sending them off southward, out of the Shire, as he was doing.  None of us realized that the increased number of questionable Big Men passing along the Road weren’t going through the Shire but were beginning to gather into gangs on farms that he owned, readying themselves to become his private army.  None of us knew that Lotho and that cousin Timono of his were so strongly under the influence of a rogue Wizard who so hated and envied Gandalf he’d do anything to trouble the people Gandalf so honored.  And yes, Gandalf honored us Hobbits!  He respected us, perhaps far beyond our deserving, based on his own knowledge of what a few of our people have done for the betterment of all throughout the history of the Third Age.

            “Gandalf chose Bilbo to go along with those Dwarves, and if he’d not done so, things could have gone considerably worse than they did.  Because Bilbo was along, he was the one who found the Ring rather than a goblin, who undoubtedly could have been moved to send it either to the Dark Lord or to this Sharkey down where he was living in the Gap of Rohan, or so they tell me.  And had either one of those got hold of It, that would have been the end of about everything good in the world, much less the Shire. 

            “Bilbo left It to Frodo, and because Frodo was about the best Hobbit ever born, It couldn’t do much at all to harm us Hobbits, much less anything else.  And when it was the right time for it, Gandalf realized just what Ring It was and convinced Frodo to take It away as he did.  I saw those Black Riders and felt how awful they were, and other than that Bounder that was killed near the Brandywine Bridge, I was about the only one to experience the horror they could let loose.  If Frodo hadn’t left the Shire when he did, the Riders would most likely have remained here to take vengeance on every Hobbit living for the Ring having been kept here at all.  You hate what happened?  It’s likely that it would have been far, far worse had Frodo stayed and been captured and the Black Riders were able to take It to their dread Master!  You think that Sauron and Mordor were only things told of in the darker fireside tales?  Well, Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Peregrin Took can—and will—tell you differently, if they can be moved to talk about the worst parts of their adventure.”

            He leaned closer and whispered, “Frodo and Sam went there—went to Mordor, Mother!  They crept through that land, hiding from the Eye and from sight of the Enemy’s creatures.  They, too, almost starved to death.  They, too, almost died of hunger and thirst—and fear!  And because they remained faithful and endured, all of us were saved, and the four of them were able to come home again, and embolden us to drive out the Big Men.  Mordor fell because of Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee!  Merry Brandybuck helped destroy the chieftain of the Black Riders, and Peregrin Took not only faced the will of Sauron and didn’t break down and tell him everything, but he killed a troll, all by himself!  Do you wonder that they weren’t afraid of a few Big Men with clubs and knives?”

            He straightened, and his voice became more distant.  “And now the four of them are seeing to it that the Shire is again put to rights, and you want to blame Frodo for me not wanting to pretend nothing is changed from before they left?  Don’t be absurd!”

            “But we wouldn’t have been driven out of Budge Hall if he’d not sold Bag End to Lotho Sackville-Baggins!”

            “And Frodo advised Father not to accept a loan from Lotho to begin with, didn’t he?  Had Dad listened to Frodo and read that loan agreement more closely, he’d have realized from the beginning that Lotho was already setting things up to give him a legal pretense to take over our home and, indeed, the whole Shire!  And I, too, told Dad not to accept that loan!”

            She shook her head and turned her face aside, wringing her damp handkerchief between her hands.  “But you couldn’t have known,” she said softly.

            “Nor did I—I just opposed anything Lotho suggested on principle, I admit.”

            “But he was doing so well for himself.  Odi was convinced that he could also profit hugely should he follow Lotho’s advice!”

            “And where did it lead?  Estella forced into hiding, you and Father driven into a storage hole to live, and me to the Rebels and eventually the Lockholes.  At least Pal and Sara didn’t fall to Lotho’s tricks, and were able to protect most of their own folks during the Troubles.”

            He sighed.  “I’m told that Father is off about the Tooklands with the Thain, so unless they return soon I won’t be able to see him.  I’ll not be staying the night after all.  Instead, I’ll set off tonight and stay at an inn so as to arrive in Budgeford early in the morning.  And I will be setting up my own home.  I love you and Father more than I can say, but I won’t be browbeaten into eating more than is good for me, just so that things can appear to be as if the Troubles hadn’t happened.  They did, and I won’t pretend otherwise.  I think I’m a better person because they did, you see.  At least I was the opposite of those Gatherers and Sharers!”

            So saying he leaned forward and kissed her cheek before rising to leave the room.

            She looked after him, and felt her heart ache.  He wasn’t her little lad any more.  She wasn’t certain what he’d become, but she had to admit that he was right about that last observation.

For Linda Hoyland and Dawn Felagund for their birthdays.

Arming the King

Faramir looked at his older cousin Húrin, who had returned from the morning briefing of the Captains, as it was formally called, in the tents of the northern Dúnedain down upon the Pelennor. Although the word that ran through the streets of Minas Tirith was that the King had come again, still Aragorn son of Arathorn refused to accept that title as yet, citing the fact that the war against Mordor and its allies was not yet won, and that Sauron was not yet defeated.

“Yet it will be he who will lead our army to the Black Gate,” the Warden of the Keys stated, “and he will need proper armor. He has a mail shirt given him in Rohan that is serviceable enough, I suppose, but otherwise he could be any mercenary from among the Lost who’d ever sold his sword to Gondor’s lords. And few among the lords of Gondor will take note of his authority in those riding leathers he wears, so worn and stained are they. If we would have him taken seriously, he must be armed as befits the King I deem he is.”

“They are in such bad condition?” asked Faramir.

Húrin gave a wry shrug. “I am certain that at one time they were in keeping with his station as the Lord of the northern Dúnedain. But now—he has worn them for so long that they cannot be adequately cleaned any more. The Master of the Guild of Leather Workers shuddered to look at them, and I have seen more than one of those who take part in the morning briefings turn up his nose at the sight of them.” He leaned forward confidingly and murmured in a lower voice, “I am willing to wager that they are the same he had with him when he served our grandfather ere you were born.”

Faramir’s eyebrows rose in interest before he continued, “What of his boots? His clothing? His weapons?”

“All of those are adequate at this time. The Master of Leather Workers took his boots the other day and had them cleaned, the soles checked and the heels replaced, and was highly impressed by their quality. He says they were obviously new when his company began their journey. The sheath for his sword is very new and is a thing of great beauty and worth. His bow, quiver, daggers, boot knife, and sword are in excellent condition, and have all been well maintained. He sports new clothing that he says were mostly gifts received from various of his hosts along the way, and some of which were brought to him by those he speaks of as his Elven brothers.”

“Can he ride? How is he mounted?”

“He rides very well indeed, and he came riding his own horse brought from the northern lands by those who came to join him in Rohan. It is well suited to him, and is obviously of good bloodlines. The tack is excellent, although perhaps plain to our eyes.”

“He will require a standard under which he might fight.”

Húrin shook his head. “You need not worry for that. Did no one tell you that the first sign we had that the ships we saw arriving did not bear the Corsairs of Umbar was when the Standard of Elendil was unfurled upon the flagship of the fleet that the south wind sped up the river to the Harlond? His close kinsman was his standard bearer, I am told, and took his deathblow upon the battlefield from an Easterling intent on bringing it low. And Lord Aragorn wore what must be the Elendilmir upon his brow as he led his men in their charge upon the foe. Elendil’s diadem, sword, and banner—no one doubted that day that it was Elendil’s heir who had come to succor the city.”

“Then he simply needs armor proper to his station,” Faramir summarized.

“Proper to his station and to his stature,” his older cousin agreed. “We will have to search hard for armor that will fit him, for he is the tallest Man I have ever seen—near to seven feet, I am certain.”

“I wonder what became of the armor that must have been made for him when he served Gondor as Thorongil?” Faramir asked.

Húrin shrugged. “I know not. He did not return to Minas Tirith after the victory in Umbar, having become separated from his men save for his aide. We were told he was sorely wounded, so it is likely that the armor was discarded that he might be properly treated.”

“Not that my father would have sought to see it preserved for him had it been found,” Faramir sighed. “His envy of the respect granted Captain Thorongil was always obvious to me, remembering his expression any time anyone mentioned Thorongil’s name when I was a boy.” He shook his head. “Well, go and search the armories and the mail shed. I suspect that among the armor crafted for past Stewards and Kings you will find at least one set that will fit him.”

*******

It was some hours later that a knock at his door alerted Faramir to the return of his older cousin. The current Steward of Gondor had been able to spend much of the day seated in a chair within his room in the Houses of Healing, and he had only just been helped back into his bed once more, where he’d thought to sleep at least briefly until his supper should be brought to him. “Enter, Húrin,” he called.

The expression on the older Man’s face was uncertain, and Faramir was afraid that it might signal lack of success in his task. However, the Warden of the Keys forestalled Faramir’s disappointment with the comment, “I have managed to find one set of armor that might do, Cousin. However, your father would be most upset should I seek to array his old rival within it.”

“And what Steward was as tall as our new King is?” asked Faramir.

But Húrin was already shaking his head. “Oh, no Steward of Gondor ever wore this set of armor, or at least not in sight of anyone else. No, it was the set of armor said to have been worn by Meneldil when he was crowned sole King of Gondor by his Uncle Isildur.”

Faramir straightened in surprise. “Meneldil’s armor? But it is said in the annals of the city that he wore that set of armor but the one time, and that it has not been worn since that day! Would not the leather be withered by now?”

“I have checked it. Those who care for the armor oil the leather twice a year, but they say that the leather has always been supple and remained whole, save for that of the gauntlet for the right hand. They suggest that rather than the gauntlets a pair of battle gloves be worn instead, along with vambraces to protect the wrists. They do not know by what means the leather used in most of the armor was processed, but that used in the right gauntlet was not done in the same manner, leading them to believe that the right gauntlet was damaged at one point, perhaps exposed to a fire at some time, and thus the leather needed to be replaced, and that utilised at that time was not of the quality of the original leather used. The leather padding inside the helmet also perished, and was replaced some twelve years ago on your father’s orders.”

Faramir thought on this for some minutes. “It is interesting to know that the armor remains usable to this day,” he commented. “You have the right of it, for indeed my father would not have approved of this armor being worn by anyone, and particularly not by the one he always felt had supplanted him in his own father’s heart. However, he is not now Steward of Gondor—I am. And there is a nicety to the thing to think that the first sole King of Gondor’s armor should be worn now by he who will reunite the two realms under one rule. See to it that it is delivered to Lord Aragorn’s tent as soon as possible so that he might see to any adjustments necessary before the army sets off.”

*******

Aragorn, Halbarad’s two brothers, and the sons of Elrond examined the armor that Lord Húrin had caused to be carried down to Aragorn’s tent. “This is what they would have you wear?” asked Halladan. “It is certainly royal enough in appearance!”

“I know,” said Aragorn. “Denethor would be twisting in his grave in distress should he be aware that his nephew and son had chosen to send this to me to wear in the coming campaign.”

“And why?” Elladan asked. “If they have armor at hand that will fit your height and that is appropriate to your rank as the heir to Isildur, then why should he have denied it to you?”

Aragorn sighed. “To see me wearing the armor in which it is said that Meneldil was invested as King of Gondor by his uncle would have been seen as too great an honor by Denethor.” He examined the arm guards. “So, the gauntlets are seen as unusable, are they? I would prefer to wear gloves in any case—they are less restrictive, in my experience.”

“Let us see it upon you,” Hardorn directed. “I would be assured that it even fits you halfway well before we send words of thanks to the Steward.”

Gandalf arrived by the time they were strapping the grieves onto Aragorn’s legs. “And what is this?” he asked.

“Húrin chose this armor for me to wear as I lead the army to Mordor to engage Sauron’s attention,” Aragorn said. “I almost fit it, I find. Although it must have been that Meneldil was taller than his statues had led me to believe, for this was made for someone taller even than I.”

“And why did he not send down the armor made for you to wear when you served here?” demanded Halladan.

Hardorn gave a snort of derision. “I sincerely doubt that said armor survived more than a few days after word came that Captain Thorongil was giving over his commission,” he said wryly from where he knelt behind his cousin. “You left it where? In the small house you kept in the Fourth Circle?”

“I knew that it should get in my way in the campaign on the harbor of Umbar,” Aragorn agreed. “Can you imagine what would have happened had I tried escaping as I did by diving into the water while wearing that? Can that strap be lowered some, Hardorn? And if this one could be let out perhaps a bit….” He fumbled at his left shoulder.

Hardorn adjusted the strap for the grieve as desired. “Better? Good.” As he rose to his feet he continued to his brother, “If you believe that Denethor would have allowed Captain Thorongil’s armor to be kept against a possible return of said worthy to Gondor’s service, you are much mistaken. It would quickly have been reduced to its component pieces and said pieces would have been relegated to the armories as swiftly as possible. He would do nothing to make your possible return any the easier, my Lord Cousin,” he added to Aragorn.

Gandalf blew out a breath of frustration. “Alas that this is true,” he admitted. “But there is nothing to be done at this time that can make things right between Aragorn and Denethor. Perhaps in Mandos Denethor will learn better.”

Aragorn looked down at the image of the White Tree on the breastplate he wore. “It is to be hoped,” he murmured sadly. “I had hoped that this time we might speak civilly and put the memories of rivalry behind us.” He raised his head and straightened. “And how does it look upon me?” he asked as Elrohir stepped away from adjusting the shoulder piece.

Gandalf gave a slow but fully satisfied smile. “You look every inch the King you were born to be, my friend.”

“It reminds me somewhat of Ada’s armor,” Elladan said.

“Not that he has worn it all that often during our lifetime,” Elrohir added.

“It is surprisingly comfortable,” Aragorn said, lifting an arm. He suddenly drew his sword and took a stance, then smiled as he sheathed Andúril once more. “There is no impedance to my movements,” he reported with satisfaction, twisting first to one side and then the other. “Whoever the armorer was who crafted this, he was truly a master.”

Gandalf’s expression was distant for a moment, and then it changed, appearing rather amused. “You will have to tell him that one day,” he said.

“When we meet one another in Námo’s halls?” Aragorn hazarded, checking to see whether he could easily reach his dagger.

“And where are Legolas and Gimli Gloin’s son?” Elladan asked.

“They are with Merry and Pippin in the gardens of the Houses of Healing,” Gandalf told them. “Merry appears to be recovering swiftly enough, but still finds the memory of the Black Breath lingering at times. He will be lonely when we leave the city.”

Elrohir had gone behind the partition screening his mortal brother’s cot, and returned with a formal mantle of dark grey bordered by silver. “Let us see this arrayed about your shoulders, Estel,” he said. Once it was properly fastened and its folds arranged, all smiled. “Yes. With the Elendilmir upon your brow, you will find none will question your lineage or your right to lead the army.”

“I shall wear Boromir’s vambraces,” Aragorn said. “I promised him that I should lead our people to victory, and I would have his own love for Gondor represented before all.”

Gandalf nodded. “Most appropriate, and I am certain that he approves, my friend. But now we must rest, for the morrow will be very busy as all prepare for the march the day after.”

Aragorn nodded, and reached for the clasp that fastened the breastplate over the underlying silvered mail shirt he wore.

*******

Faramir stood before the hurdle set up in the gap where the gates to the White City no longer stood, watching the approach of the procession that brought Aragorn son of Arathorn to claim the Crown of Gondor. How he had dreamed of this moment when he was a child and a youth—the return of the King, the Crown restored to the lineage of Elendil, the rule of the Sea Kings of old renewed within Middle Earth. “Oh, Father,” he whispered, “if you could only have seen this day, and how all rejoice. I suspect even you would have been moved to rejoice also, in spite of all.”

How tall the coming King was as he strode forward, a full head taller than all save for the three Elves who accompanied him. As for his companions----

Even the four Hobbits appeared veritable princes, he thought. Accompanied by the young new King of Rohan, by a Dwarvish lord and an Elven prince, the regal sons of Elrond Peredhel, the proud figures of his kinsmen from the north, and the shining form of Gandalf the White, Aragorn still was the one who caught the attention of all, whose face was marked with experience, wisdom, and authority. The White Tree shone upon his breast, beneath the green fire of the Elessar stone he also wore. The image he wore showed white blossoms, and suddenly Faramir knew that one day the living tree before the Citadel should do so as well.

Then the King lifted one hand briefly, and Faramir found himself looking upon the vambraces that encircled the Man’s wrists, saw them and recognized them. “Boromir!” he murmured. “Those were Boromir’s!” Tears of relief sprang to Faramir’s eyes. “Yes, you knew him—traveled with him—prepared his body for his last journey, even. I rejoice that you bring this much of him back home this day!”

“He’s a fine one, you will find, little brother,” he seemed to hear murmured privately. “Oh, we’ve had our differences from time to time, but he is a sword brother I was proud to fight alongside. You will truly like him, Faramir. And he will guard our people and our land well. I am glad to be able to commend you to his friendship.”

Yes, a guardian worthy of the realm of Gondor, of Gondor and more! Clad in ancient armor, proven to be willing to spend himself for the safety of all, open to worthy counsel, ready to renew more than just this land….

Faramir smiled tremulously and signaled for those who carried the ancient chest of lebethron to step forward. Yes, he was ready to give his loyalty and his worship to the King Returned.

-~0~-

There are references here to my story "Forging for Protection and Defense," in which it is revealed that the armor worn by Meneldil at his coronation was first crafted within Imladris for Meneldil's grandfather as High King of the West.

Written for the LOTR Community The Hobbit 75th Anniversary Celebration.  For SpeedyHobbit for her birthday.  Beta by RiverOtter, with my profound thanks.

"Dark for dark business. There are many hours before dawn."  "An Unexpected Party," The Hobbit.

 

Dark for Dark Business

           Hamfast Gamgee sat at one of the tables near the stack of ale barrels, a large mug recently filled from one of them in his hand, watching the festivities about him with eyes somewhat brightened by the ample food and drink he’d enjoyed.  In all of his seventy-five years he didn’t think he’d seen any party quite like this one!  Ah, but it had been quite the day, he had to admit to himself.  Old Mr. Bilbo was eleventy-one now.  Just imagine—eleventy-one years old, not that he looked a day past sixty in the Gaffer’s eyes.  Hard to imagine that his Master had come of age before Hamfast himself had gotten out of nappies, not even considered a proper faunt yet!

           Somehow the thought of that fact gave the old fellow pause.  Gaffer Gamgee gave a shiver and took an ample swallow from his mug.  Perhaps it would be better to put that observation behind him—well behind him!

           Well, today young Master Frodo came of age himself, and that was a good thing.  Hamfast’s own son would serve a good Master, one who was thoughtful, considerate, and perhaps one of the most responsible of Hobbits the Gaffer had seen in a month of Sundays.  Sam would certainly never have to even consider working for those awful Sackville-Bagginses, thank the stars!  No one should ever have to consider doing that!  And tonight his Sam was sitting in the family pavilion, seeing to the serving of the meal and keeping an eye on things.  The family Steward, old Mr. Bilbo had called him.  Something mighty important, to be the Steward, or so the Gaffer understood it to be.  An honor, a great honor.  And his Sam had it all written down, what to do, when to do it.  He’d be telling other Hobbits what to do and how to do it so that the Masters’ family was all fed and kept happy.  Hamfast shook his head at the thought of it.  If only his Bell could have been there to see their Sam all dressed up almost as fine as the Young Master himself, ordering others in the serving of the family supper.

           And tonight the Gamgees didn’t have to serve nobody themselves—they were honored guests, they were, just as much so as old Flourdumpling himself, or any Brandybuck or Took!  He smiled up at the Boffin lass who came by with a pitcher of ale and topped up his drink, and accepted another pheasant pasty from Mags Broadbelt from the Ivy Bush.  Nobody in the Shire made a better pheasant pasty than Missus Mags, and that was certain!

           He sipped at the ale, and thought of trying some of the wine as well.  He’d never been much for wine, that being considered more proper for them of the gentry, after all.  But tonight he felt almost like one of the gentry himself, and he just might try some on principle.  Certainly both old Mr. Bilbo and young Master Frodo appeared to enjoy it well enough.  Might it make him try something unusual, something like quoting poetry as those two tended to do?  He laughed to himself at the thought of it.  But it would be acceptable to try wine tonight of all nights, on this day when he was the guest rather than the employee.  He took a bite of his pasty and waved a hand at the young fellow who walked about with a pitcher of wine and a tray of goblets.  “Let me try some o’ that,” he said.

           Ah, he wasn’t certain about the taste, although he figured he could, given time, grow accustomed to it.  Still, the wine made him feel particularly warm inside, warm and expansive.  Yes, he could come to appreciate wine as much as a good beer or fine ale!  The warmth offered by the wine reminded him, somehow, of the fireworks he’d seen earlier in the evening.

           Now, those fireworks—they were truly something!  They were something to remember for years, something to tell his grandchildren about.  True, his Hamson’s two children had seen them, too, although they weren’t more than a faunt and a bairn in arms; but so far there were no others, and he was certain Half, Daisy, May, Sam, and Goldy would all have quite the passle of little ones amongst them one day, and he would be able describe those glorious fireworks for them at length.  He imagined just how wide their eyes would be when he described how that dragon firework had burst into sparkles over the Water with such a flash and a bang----

           Flash!  Bang!

           Everyone in the Party Field jumped, their eyes swiveling to the pavilion where Bilbo and Frodo’s chosen relatives had gathered for the family feast, all aware that that final flash and bang had happened there within the tent, apparently right under the boughs of the great oak that grew there.  From within the tent they heard a growing babble of voices in an increasing tide of dismay and shock.  There were cries of fear and of outrage to be heard, and strident demands for explanations.

           The tent flaps at one of the side entrances blew outward, apparently driven by the winds of anger that had begun to blow within the canvas walls.  The Gaffer’s fascinated eyes were fixed upon it with astonishment, wondering just what kind of trick his Master might have played on his kindred.  From the sounds of it, most of them didn’t find it particularly funny, although it must have been eminently diverting.

           “Ah, Hamfast, my good fellow—there you are!”

           Old Mr. Bilbo’s voice could be heard beside him, although how the old Hobbit might have managed to get behind him and creep upon him unseen Hamfast Gamgee couldn’t begin to imagine.

           Bilbo’s voice continued, “Well, that’s given them all something to remember me by if anything could.  Well, as the Dwarves said so long ago, Dark for dark business. There are many hours before dawn.  I must away and quickly, for I intend to be halfway to Buckland before the Sun comes up!”

           The Gaffer looked over, hoping to catch his Master’s eyes, but realized that he could see no one there.  Was this what wine did—make one seem to hear the voices of those who weren’t really there after all?  He seemed to feel a pat on his shoulder such as Mr. Bilbo had been wont to give him from time to time, and then there was nothing there at all, no more feeling of the presence of Bilbo Baggins.

           Almost immediately the main flaps of the family tent parted as the first guests came stomping out led by Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, and Hamfast could see her stowing some of the pewter forks and spoons used at the dinner into her reticule as she complained shrilly to her husband and lout of a son as to the insult given them all by Bilbo Baggins that night.  She was followed closely by some of the more snooty of the Sackvilles and Bracegirdles, and then the Thain and his party.  Probably a good thing that Missus Lalia hadn’t come with her son that evening, the Gaffer thought wryly.  Whatever his Master had done, it had them right upset!  He looked up toward the door of Bag End and could see that Wizard Gandalf opening it and going inside while the wicket gate at the bottom of the stairs to the gardens surrounding Bag End swung shut with a decided bang of its own.

           Hamfast sat, nursing that glass of wine and nibbling at the last of his pasty and some bread and cheese for quite some time until the bulk of the guests from the family feast came out calling for their carriages or ponies.  At last Sam appeared looking tired and annoyed.

           “What happened in there?” the Gaffer asked.

           “You don’t really want to know, Dad,” Sam assured him.  “Old Mr. Bilbo, he’s really gone and done it this time, and I doubt as his family will forgive him ever for it, not that he cares none.  He’s had his joke and is gone now, and they’re still tryin’ t’ demand explanations from my Mister Frodo, who ain’t got none as they want to hear.”  The younger Gamgee looked about the party grounds.  “Dark for dark business, I suppose, as Mr. Bilbo used to say.  I’d say as it’s time t’ put them barrows as was hired into service, considerin’ as how many Hobbits I see here and there under the tables, sleepin’ it off.  Well, I’d best be to it, then.  It’s part of what stewards is supposed to see to, after all.  Night, Dad.”

           Gaffer Gamgee set his glass and plate neatly on the table where he’d been sitting, and stretched the stiffness out of his joints as best he could before making his way across to the base of the Hill and his own yellow door to Number Three.

           There was a cart now at the upper lane near the low place in the hedge at the back of the gardens to Bag End.  It was the cart them Dwarves had come in.  Must be getting ready to leave now—they’d said as they’d not be lingering beyond the Party, after all.  Hamfast hoped that his Master had said goodbye to them.  Apparently Dwarves didn’t mind traveling after dark much more than Mr. Bilbo himself.

           As he closed the gate to his small front garden behind him, Hamfast stopped briefly to rub at his back.  It was time, he decided, to retire and give the gardens of Bag End over completely—or almost completely—to his Sam.  Sam was the true gardener in the family, after all, the one as truly loved flowers as much as the Gaffer himself loved taters and other root vegetables.  Yes, let Sam take over the gardens, with his old dad to oversee things as needed. 

           Eleventy-one years!  And still didn’t look a day past sixty!  If only he, Hamfast Gamgee, felt half as spry as appeared Mr. Bilbo Baggins, Esquire!

For Claudia for her birthday.

New Perspective

            Derunol had lain in the bed for some days, feeling totally useless, not knowing what he could look forward to with but one leg now.  One leg and one ear.  Would his Gilien marry him now, with him unable to walk and looking so—so unnatural?  He was maimed!  He would most likely spend the rest of his life in a bed such as this, needing to be waited upon hand and foot!  What kind of life could that be?  He’d best send a letter to Gilien and let her know that he was freeing her of their betrothal.  After all, if he truly loved her, he should let her go free rather than dooming her to a life of drudgery with someone who could not hope to be able to provide for her….

            Gilien sat beneath the twisted cherry tree in her garden, reading the letter he’d sent and wiping at her eyes.  And then Eldhrim came to comfort her, and she turned to him and wept upon his shoulder, and he held her, stroking her hair and soothing her.  And then she turned her heart where she’d turned her head, as the two of them kissed….

            “No!” he cried out aloud, startling himself awake from this terrible dream!

            “Is there anything I might be able to do for you?” asked a voice.  Derunol turned his head, and saw that a curly-haired youth had paused by his bed, one perhaps no older than Derunol himself, who had known nineteen summers—or, perhaps he should count his years in winters, he thought bleakly.

            “What?” Derunol asked.

            “I was passing and heard you call out in your dreams.  If there is anything I might do to help you, you have only to ask.  I’m gladly at your service,” the stranger said, and so saying, he pulled over a stool and sat upon it by Derunol’s bed,  “There’s a pitcher and a mug here—would you like me to pour you some water?”

            “Yes, please,” Derunol answered.  As the stranger poured out a mugful of water for him he said, “You weren’t hurt, then?”

            The other looked up to meet his eyes.  “Hurt?  Oh, I didn’t fight in the battle before the Black Gate, although I did there before the gates to the White City.  I almost died there, they tell me, although much of what happened after my sword burned away I don’t properly remember.”

            “Your sword burned away?”  Derunol couldn’t help but feel skeptical at this statement.

            “Oh, it did.  Strider told us before that all blades perish that might pierce—pierce him, and that was how he knew that Frodo hadn’t hurt him before, there at Weathertop.  Frodo’s sword was whole, you see—all he’d done was to slash up the thing’s cloak a bit.  I just wish that that was all the vile creature had done to Frodo, really.  I dropped my sword after I stabbed him behind the knee, and then Dernhelm—the Lady, well she lopped off his head as neat as neat, as Sam would say.  Not that anyone could see it, of course—but his crown thing went rolling off across the ground like a wheel.  And her sword burned, too, and she fell down in a swoon as if she were dead.  I was there when the old King died, and he never even knew she was there by him, and had fallen protecting him from the Black Rider and that lizard-thing he had been flying around on.

            “After that I’m afraid I don’t remember very much.  I know I wandered off, and I remember Pippin finding me, and me thinking I was already dead and all, but not much more than that and—and evil dreams until Strider called me back.  When I remember how suspicious we all were, back there in Bree, when Strider suddenly was convincing Frodo to take him on as our guide to Rivendell, I just cringe!”

            Suddenly what this one had said earlier made terrible sense, as Derunol remembered the shrieks from the Nazgûl as they’d swept overhead, and as their ghastly steeds would swoop down and grasp at the soldiers manning the walls and the trebuchets and fling them to their deaths in the lower city.  His mouth worked for a moment before he could manage to get the words out.  “You stabbed one of the Nazgûl?”

            “Yes, not that I even thought much about how impossible it seemed at the time.  Oh, by the way, I’ve not yet introduced myself—Meriadoc Brandybuck, at the service of you and your family.  But you can call me Merry—everyone does, after all.  Did you fight inside the city?”

            Derunol shook his head.  “Oh, I wasn’t fighting there—everyone said that I was too young, so I was helping as I could.  I carried arrows to the archers on the third level.  My brother would only allow me do that.”

            “But he didn’t stop you from coming here to fight.”

            Derunol could feel the bitterness and pain filling him again.  “He can’t.  He died in the fires down in the First Circle.  I couldn’t allow his death to go unavenged.”

            Merry gave a nod of understanding.  “Oh, I know how that goes.  We did much the same when we realized that the orcs were trying to kill Boromir, Pippin and I did.  We suddenly found our courage, not that we could do much against so many.  One of the foul things managed to hit me on the forehead with the hilt of its sword, and when I came to again, Pippin and I were prisoners, and the orcs were crowing about how clever they were to have managed to kill the great warrior.”

            Derunol went still.  “Boromir?  Do you mean Lord Boromir, Lord Denethor’s son?”

            Merry nodded.  “Yes, he came south with us from Rivendell to the hill above the waterfall, and that was where Saruman’s orcs attacked us.  They managed to kill Boromir, and Pippin and I were afraid that they might have killed everyone else, too.  We were sure we must be the only ones left, only everyone else managed to escape, apparently.  Certainly old Strider, Gimli, and Legolas came out of it all right, and now they’ve found Frodo and Sam as well, although those two are definitely anything but all right.  They’re so thin!  I don’t know how anyone could be so thin and still be alive, although Gandalf says it’s probably the lembas that did it.  But they had a terrible time of it from the looks of them.  They are so thin!  I know that my mum thought that Frodo was far too thin when he was a lad, but if she were to see him now she’d not believe it!  She’d be devastated!”

            Derunol looked more closely at his guest, and realized something important.  “But—but you aren’t a Man?”

            Merry gave a brief laugh, but one that had no humor behind it.  “No, I’m not.  Although they tell me that I’m a man of Rohan now in spite of me being a Hobbit.  And Pippin they call a man of Gondor!  A man of Gondor and a Guard of the Citadel!  Can you believe it—my little Cousin Peregrin Took, a Guard of the Citadel?  If that won’t strain his father’s credulity!”

            Derunol felt a circle of his scalp contracting.  “The Ernil i Pheriannath is your cousin?”

            “Oh, yes, he did tell me they call him that while we were in the gardens of the Houses of Healing.  Prince of the Halflings?  I ask you!  I hope nobody calls him that back home in the Shire—Aunt Eglantine will laugh them to scorn!  Not little scapegrace Pippin Took!”

            The Gondorian lay back, trying to take this all in.  This was another of the Pheriannath who was talking so with him!  Wait until Mardon heard about this—and then the memory of his brother’s death swept over him yet again.  No, he’d not be able to tell Mardon about this after all.  And he realized that he was beginning to weep again.

            Merry bent over him.  “Are you in pain?  I can summon Strider if you’d like, or perhaps one of his Elven brothers.  Odd to think he has always thought of them as his brothers, but then I’m told he did grow up, there in Rivendell, as if he were Elrond’s son, too, in spite of him being a Man rather than an Elf.  Elladan tells me that this is why he’s such a good healer, having learned from Elrond himself and his sons, them being the greatest Healers in all of Middle Earth.  But, then, when you’re an Elf you have all the time in the world to become the best at whatever you choose, I suppose.”

            At this Merry shook his head as if to clear it.  “Listen to me, blathering on as if I were Pippin himself,” he said.  “Must be being relieved to know Pippin, Frodo, and Sam are still alive, although we don’t know yet how much any of them might recover.  All three of them are in rather a bad way, you understand.  None of them is awake, even.  They have Pippin in one of the smaller tents where the critically wounded are kept, and Frodo and Sam have a tent of sorts all to themselves.  Actually, it’s more of an enclosure than a tent, really, as they don’t have a top to it.  Gandalf says Frodo and Sam both react badly to feeling closed in, and they seem to need to be able to have the stars shining upon them at night.  When they do have to put a top on it when it rains, Frodo especially takes it badly.”  He took a shuddering breath.  “Poor Frodo—he’s had such a time of it.  First the Nazgûl stabbed him with a Morgul blade at Weathertop, and he almost became a wraith himself, if he’d not been fighting it so hard until we finally got him to Rivendell where Elrond could use Elvish medicine to save him, and then a troll tried to skewer him in Moria, and finally he goes to Mordor himself with just Sam beside him, and from what I can tell not only was the Ring torturing him the whole way, but the two of them almost starved to death!  Strider says that they both were at the point of death when they were found and brought out of Mordor by the Eagles and Gandalf.”

            “Who is Gandalf?” Derunol found himself asking.

            “I understand most people here call him Mithrandir,” Merry explained.  “Back home in the Shire we’ve always called him Gandalf, although I understand he has several other names as well, from what Faramir told me in Minas Tirith before they sent for me to come be here for Pippin, Frodo, and Sam.  We Hobbits, we need one another, you see.  What can mere Men know about truly caring for a Hobbit, after all?”  Derunol could see the concern and fear in the eyes of Meriadoc Brandybuck as he spoke of his fellows, and he could understand it, knowing the depths of his grief for Mardon.  And he realized that this Merry was no callow youth as he’d been himself, and that he was indeed only now recovering from his own wounds.  No, he was a man of his own people who merely seemed younger than he was due to the differences between the two races. 

            Merry had been clutching at the mug of water he’d poured, and now he looked down at it stupidly, as if he’d only now realized he’d never given it to Derunol.  “Oh, dear, I’ve been shaking so that I’ve spilled most of what I poured for you, and you’ve not gotten a drop to drink yet!” he murmured.  “Mum would be on me for my lack of manners, should she have been able to see me, that is.”  He refilled the cup and held it for Derunol to drink from.  Only when the young Man indicated he’d had enough did he set it down on the rough bench beside the bed on which Derunol lay.  “At least you are awake, and you seem to be doing pretty well,” Merry noted.  “Maybe they can make a wheeled chair for you to get around in, or a pegged leg such as Uncle Isengar wrote of in his memoirs.  He went to sail upon the Sea, long ago, before even Bilbo was born.  He’s the only Hobbit I ever heard tell of who went to Sea and returned again to let others know.  I doubt many of the Tooks know as much about him as I do—Pippin and I found his book in the Old Took’s rooms and read it, you see.  At least your mind is working rightly, from what I can see, that is.  Whether or not Pippin, Frodo, and Sam will be able to think aright we don’t even know yet, and probably won’t know for days to come!  Frodo seems to draw back if I brush his face!  What horrors would make him do that, do you think?  I’m his cousin, after all, and he’s always been like my big brother!”

            This one, Derunol realized, also knew grief, grief for this Frodo of his who might never wake up again.  There were a few who’d been in this tent who’d been quiet and withdrawn, who had slipped out of their bodies during the night, unable to bear what had happened to them and what they’d seen done in the battle.  Would it prove so for this Merry’s cousin, who apparently was so badly off?  He reached up and brushed the tears of anguish from Merry’s cheeks, glad to be able to return the comforting that the Hobbit had shown him.  “If Lord Mithrandir is by him, I suspect that your Frodo will be as well as can be.  He is, after all, a powerful Wizard.”

            Merry gave him a watery smile.  “Yes, he is that.  Thank you so.  I need the reassurance, I find.  After all we’ve been through, I suspect all of us in this camp need the reassurance.  But no matter how whole we might seem on the outside, we’re all changed from what we were, and we’ll never be the same again.  It will be easier for you in many ways, I suspect, for since you’ve lost a leg and will always be scarred, people will be kind and accept that inside there will always be pain from what you’ve been through.  But for Frodo, Sam, and me, and probably Pippin as well,” he gave another shuddery breath, “how will anyone else truly understand?  I know I look the same, although I do have some scars now, not that they are anywhere as showy as yours will be.  They’ll expect us to be the same as we were before we left home, and we can’t be, and especially not Frodo.  Oh, they’ll never understand Frodo at all, those who have no idea what he’s been through.  He looks so normal, except for being so thin and weak at the moment, that is.  But he’s never pulled away from me in my life, and now he does.  And Aragorn says he’ll likely never be able to eat properly, not after nearly starving to death and all the ash and fumes he swallowed while he was in Mordor.  And what the Ring did to him—no one, not even Gandalf, can appreciate that!”

            After a time Merry left, called out of the tent by one of the Rohirrim to attend on their new young King, and Derunol understood now who it was the Hobbit had said he’d seen die, and who the Lady was he’d mentioned.  The Lady Éowyn, the late King’s niece and the sister to the new King of Rohan.  He’d ridden into battle with the sister to King Éomer!  And he’d truly helped slay the Lord of the Nazgûl!

            But for Derunol himself, he had a new perspective on his future.  He might be crippled now, but at least, as Merry had pointed out, he could think clearly.  And he didn’t have to remain bed-bound for the rest of his life—he could indeed look to possibly having a pegged leg made for him so that he could walk once more.  And just perhaps he might give Eldhrim some strong competition for Gilien’s love—after all, she’d turned Eldhrim down before and had chosen him!  No, he’d not let Gilien go without a fight, not now after surviving the Battle of the Black Gate!  He wasn’t the same as he’d been before, but he wasn’t without hope, at least.  If this Meriadoc Brandybuck could come back from the shadows as he had, then so could Derunol!  The victory against Mordor had been won beyond all hope, and Derunol had played a part in guaranteeing that victory.  He wasn’t going to give up on everything else now, not and let Eldhrim, who’d not even fought in the war, win his Gilien from him!

For Lindelea with love as her birthday approaches and for NancyLea.  Joy to both of you!

The Third Ceremony

          Estella looked up from the drawer she’d been arranging as her husband entered their new room.  His face was still drawn with grief from the recent death of his father, perhaps enhanced as a result of having just been going through the Master’s Desk in the Master’s study, that room having just become Merry’s own.  He held in his hands a largish carved box that had long been a part of that room, standing as it did on the dresser in which many of Brandy Hall’s records were kept.  She supposed she must have seen it at least once a week since she and Merry had taken up residence in the apartment given over to the Son of the Hall and his family.

          “What is it, Merry?” she asked.

          “I just opened this and learned what it is, and what it contains.”

          “It was carved by Frodo’s father, wasn’t it?”

          He nodded.  “Yes, and apparently as a gift to my great grandfather on the occasion of Drogo’s marriage to Aunt Primula.  Everything within the box has to do with the two of them and their children.”

          Her eyes widened with astonishment.  “But they only had the one child!” she said.

          He was shaking his head.  “No, they actually had five, only one of whom survived more than a few hours after birth.  My mum lost two before I was born, and after that she and Dad never deliberately tried for another, not being willing to risk another miscarriage.  Even Aunt Eglantine lost one baby, there between Pervinca and Pippin.  But Aunt Primula and Uncle Drogo—they lost four, two before Frodo was born and two after, the last one when he was about eight, according to the documents in this.  Great Grandda Gorbadoc died not all that long after the loss of the first child, apparently, so all of the documents having to do with the other four children were filled out by Old Rory and Gamma Gilda.  I’d seen the notations in the family Book, but they just didn’t strike me as much as seeing the documents here, I’m afraid.  Only the last one was a daughter, and they’d planned to name her Pansy.  She appears to be the only one that Frodo was aware of as a child—he was too young, just barely a faunt, when they lost the lad that came after him.”

          He opened the box as he spoke, and drew out the relevant documents, each of which, as custom dictated, had attached portions of the umbilical cord for the child whose birth it documented.  Suddenly the grief embodied in each of those documents hit Estella.  She’d had such an easy pregnancy with her Periadoc.  How it would have hurt her to have lost a single child, much less four of them!  “Aunt Primula must have been devastated,” she murmured.

          “Gamma Gilda’s journal is in here, and yes, she was.  I’m afraid I spent more time going through what’s in here and reading the journal than I did in sorting much else out of the desk.  And I found the original copies of their marriage contract and their death certificates, too.  Grandda’s hand shows just how upset he was when he had to write those.”  He pulled out two more documents and laid them on the end of their bed near where he’d set those that represented Frodo and the four other children born to Drogo and Primula Baggins.

          Estella rose to her feet and came where she might look down on them.  She touched one letter that was rather blurry.  “Tears—he was crying when he wrote this.”

          “Yes,” he responded simply, his voice rather hushed.  Then it became somewhat brighter as he continued, “But not everything here is sad, of course.  Here’s the contract for when they bought River Place, and the one for the smial that was being dug just north of Brandy Hall where they’d planned to move.  And there are a number of prizes won by Drogo and Primula at the Free Fair, and some won by Frodo as well.  Here’s the one for when he entered his roast chicken into the contest for cookery by tweens.  And one for paintings he’d done of the Brandywine.  Did you realize he painted that view of where the Withywindle enters the Brandywine that hangs in the dining hall?  I didn’t realize that until today!”

          “Really, Frodo painted that?”

          “And he did this set of miniatures of his parents, Bilbo, Grandda and Gamma, and all of Grandda’s other brothers and sisters and their husbands and wives.  And I suspect that this is of his Uncle Dudo.  That one was definitely of his Auntie Dora—I remember her well.  She died just a year or two after the Party.  Bilbo’s leaving hurt her so.  I don’t think she ever quite recovered from that.  And look, here’s Uncle Mac and Aunt Mantha.  And here’s Beri as a faunt.”

          “And you!  Oh, you were so darling, Meriadoc Brandybuck!”

          “Yes, I was, wasn’t I?  And look at this—would you mind if I put this up in here, in what will be our bedroom?”

          This one was of Frodo himself, done when he must have been a tween, perhaps about the time he left Brandy Hall to go live with Bilbo in Hobbiton.  “He looks so determined,” she said, stroking the frame.

          “It’s the same type of frame as the ones of Mum and Dad that they always had on the mantel in the parlor.  He did those, too, you know.”

          “Your mum took those with her to her new rooms.”

          He nodded.  “And the rooms she chose—they were the ones that were always Primula and Drogo’s when they visited here.  The last time he came, Frodo left the key under Mum’s pillow.”

          There were all of the letters that Frodo had sent to Old Rory and Menegilda Brandybuck from Bag End.  It made quite a stack.  And near the bottom of the box was what appeared to be another wedding contract.  She pulled it out, smiling, and then stopped, amazed, as she looked at the names of bride and groom.  “This has our names!” she said.

          “And look at the signature for the one performing the ceremony,” Merry said, smiling as he pointed.

          She was smiling tremulously also as she read the familiar script.  “Frodo!  Wait—this is from that time we were playing at weddings, back when I was just a young teen.  Do you remember?  Oh, stars and Moon—I’d almost forgotten!  And Merilinde helped me with the dress, in spite of not being well at all.  And your cousin Brendilac wrote out the contract.  I remember you telling him it was good practice for when he’d be writing them for real!  And then, after the ceremony we realized that your dad and Bilbo had both watched the whole thing and your dad was asking us if we were going to live here in Brandy Hall or back with my parents in Budgeford, acting as if it were indeed a binding marriage!”

          “I know that Grandda Rory afterwards told me that I’d done the details so right I’d best make certain that when I really did get married I would have to marry you or I could be sued for bigamy,” Merry confessed.  “I never dreamed he and Dad had kept this contract!  I know Dad told me more than once as we were preparing for our real wedding that it was knocking about the Hall somewhere!  And it was in here the whole time!”

          “He could have married us, once he was the Baggins and had been the deputy Mayor,” Estella said.

          He nodded.  “I’d hoped that perhaps I might persuade him to do just that, back when I was still just imagining asking you for real, before I knew he was already planning to leave the Shire and Middle Earth both.  Although I don’t think he’d have wished to do more than stand up beside me.  I’d have had three to do that—him, Pippin, and Sam.”  He sighed.  “I now wish that he had done it for real, Frodo.  Dad would have understood.  And I wish Strider could have been here to see….”

          “We’ll have to show this to him when we go south to Gondor this spring.  Lord Strider will smile to see it, I think.”

          He began to nod, and then stopped, his face struck with a thought.  “I wonder,” he whispered.  “I wonder if Strider just might be convinced to perform a ceremony himself?”  He looked at her, his eyes bright with the idea of it.  “What if we have Strider formalize our wedding, and have him countersign this contract?  Then it would be as if he, Frodo, Dad, and Uncle Paladin had all married us!  You know how he sent the wedding cord that was used at Sam and Rosie’s wedding, and how Frodo wove in some of the Dúnedain ceremony into ours so that their marriage would be recognized as valid no matter where in the two realms they might travel.  And both Dad and Uncle Pal took part in the ceremony with him when Brendi married Narcissa, there in Rivendell that summer he came north for the trade conference not long after Frodo left.”

          She was smiling, her eyes bright with pride.  “Oh, Merry, that would indeed be perfect!  Do you think he would?  We’re going to Gondor ourselves this spring, after all.”

 *******

          The King and Queen listened to the request made them by Meriadoc Brandybuck and his wife Estella, formerly of the house of Bolger, the King carefully schooling his expression to remain dispassionate, although his eyes sparkled with amusement.

          “You’d wish to be married again by the standards of the Dúnedain, would you?”

          “If you wouldn’t mind, Strider.  Perhaps a day or two after the New Year is celebrated so as not to take away from that.  My mother came with us as well as my Cousin Berilac just so they could be here to see, and Freddy came to be the witness for the Bolgers.  Rosamunda is all up in arms, of course, thinking anyone might not recognize a proper Shire marriage.  But she just doesn’t understand.”

          “But Shire wedding contracts are already recognized as valid by the standards of both the North and the South kingdoms.”

          “We know that, Aragorn.  But we want to think that everyone we love and honor had a definite part to play in our marriage, even if it was before or after the fact of it.”

          “Before?”

          But Merry and Estella would not explain.  “We have the contract here—I know it was written out and witnessed years ago and it’s the Shire form for it.  We just want for you and Lady Arwen to bless our marriage, too, and to countersign the original contract.  It would mean so very much to us.  Please!”

          There was something that the King was not being told as yet, and he could see the secrets dancing behind the eyes of the Master and Mistress of Buckland as well as being guarded by the Thain of the Shire.  He didn’t think that Mistress Diamond understood just what was going forward, and the idea that the Thain’s Lady had no idea as to what intrigue was being presented by her husband’s cousin and his wife piqued at the Man’s curiosity.  At last he and the Queen agreed to hold a private ceremony three days after the New Year affirming the marriage between the Master of Buckland and his bride of so many years.

          The ceremonies of memorial held on the day of the New Year as known now in Gondor and Arnor were celebrated with joy, and many of the citizens of the Southern Realm came to the White City so as to see the two of the King’s Companions who had come all of the way from the Shire to take part in them.  Many comments were shared regarding the Pheriannath who stood by their King in the Court of Gathering, including Peregrin Took garbed as a Captain of the Guard of the Citadel and Meriadoc Brandybuck.  Little Periadoc Brandybuck drew much attention, as did Faramir Took, the infant heir to the Thain of the Shire.

Three days later a second, far quieter ceremony was held in the Court of the Tree in which the King of Gondor and Arnor reaffirmed the marriage of his friend Merry to his wife Estella.  King Éomer of Rohan was one of the attendants on the groom, while Queens Lothiriel and Arwen stood by the bride.

          There were two copies of the contract, the King noted, set out on the small table holding the Presence Candle and the bottle of ink and pen with which he would countersign the agreements already made.  He noted that Merry’s kinsman Brendilac, who was Merry’s personal lawyer, stood by Master Alvaric, now Master of the Guild of Lawyers for the Southern Kingdom, both of them with smug looks upon their faces. Apparently they, too, were parties to whatever secret lay behind the ceremony being held this day.

          There was nothing false to the ceremony itself, however.  Bride and groom responded to the ritual with solemn joy, and there was no question that they saw this indeed as a true reaffirmation of the vows they’d already given one another.  Throughout much of the ceremony Estella’s hand rested on her swelling abdomen, for she was even now well gone with her second child.  The King Elessar wondered if he should perhaps suggest they remain in Minas Anor until after the birth so as not to hazard a possible miscarriage while they were on their way back home again.

          At last he released the colorful woven marriage cord from their hands, bidding all to rejoice at this rededication of a marriage already well made, and all clapped and cheered as the Master and Mistress of Brandy Hall kissed passionately.  The King laughed quietly as he turned to the table to countersign the copies of the marriage contract set there already, and then he stopped as the signature of the one who’d signed the first as officiant registered upon him.

          “Frodo!” he whispered, his eyes meeting those of Brendilac Brandybuck.

          “Yes, Frodo signed this one.  You might note the date, though.  Merry was only fifteen, and Frodo still a tween.  I was only an apprentice at the time, for it was still a few years before I was recognized as a lawyer for the Shire.  And you will note a couple of additions to the witnesses—Bilbo and Saradoc both insisted on adding their signatures.”

          “And Sam’s signature is here as well.”

          “Yes, he signed it just before we left the Shire to come south.  Pippin was part of the original ceremony, although his job then was to carry the wedding flowers.  He was but a faunt at the time, you see.  But he intends to set his signature here beside that of Freddy’s.”

          The second contract was the one prepared for the proper, legal wedding of Meriadoc Brandybuck and Estella Bolger, and he saw that it had been officiated over by both Paladin Took and Saradoc Brandybuck.  He knew that Sam and Pippin had both attended upon Merry at that wedding, and he knew now why both contracts were here before him.  Smiling, he took up the pen, dipped it into the bottle of red ink, and signed the two contracts.  It was the one signed by Frodo, however, that he rolled and bound with the marriage cord, having bride and groom grasp it in the approved manner, his hand on one side of the cord and hers on the other while he gave them his private words and benediction, and they still grasped it between them as Merry and Estella approached the White Tree in hopes of sharing their joy with one whom they had reason to believe might just be beneath his own White Tree on Tol Eressëa that day.

~0~

Author's notes:  The trade conference at Rivendell and the wedding there of Brendilac Brandybuck to Narcissa Boffin appear in "The Ties of Family," while the play wedding of Merry and Estella is described in "Merry's Wedding" which may be found in the "Moments in Time" collection.

For Cairistiona's birthday.

A Time to Grieve

          “And where are Master Frodo and Prince Faramir?” the new King asked the page Sephardion.

          “They have not come forth from the lesser audience chamber where they met earlier in the day with the errand rider come from Lossarnach, my liege,” the youth answered.

          “Is the errand rider yet with them?”

          “No, he did not stay long, and has gone on to the barracks in the Sixth Circle where he has been granted a place to rest for the night before he returns again homeward.”

          The Lord King Elessar nodded his understanding and dismissed the young Man.  Why it was that his new Steward and the Ringbearer lingered yet within the lesser audience chamber he could not yet know, but something in the errand rider’s message must have been sufficiently important to need discussion between the two of them.  Perhaps he should join them and learn what matter so captured their attention….

 *******

          It was Frodo Baggins who answered the King’s knock at the door, and Aragorn was surprised at the expression of relief to be seen on the Hobbit’s face.  “Oh, bless you, Aragorn—I am not certain how the current situation should be met.”

          He could hear Faramir’s pleasant tenor voice raised in a dirge he remembered from his days as Ecthelion’s favorite Captain and was surprised.  He looked over Frodo’s head and saw Faramir standing on the opposite side of the room looking at a painting done of the dead White Tree, a wine cup in his hand that he waved gently as he sang the doleful tune.  “What has brought this on?” he asked the Hobbit in low tones.

          “You heard that an errand rider came from Lossarnach to bring greetings to Faramir?”

          “Yes, I was told this.”

          “Apparently Lord Forlong’s heir thought to dispatch to Faramir a gift of wine to mark his new estate as Prince of Ithilien, a tun of which is to be delivered to the Steward’s own wine stores in the lower city.  But the messenger brought with him three wineskins full of the drink to give to Faramir directly as samples of what will soon arrive.  He would not accept a drink of the wine himself in return for his errand, but Faramir saw both himself and me served, using the goblets kept on the side table within the room.  It’s quite potent, so I’ve not accepted any more, but I fear that Faramir has indulged perhaps more than is strictly good for him.  He stated after his first sip of it that this was a vintage that both his father and his brother favored, and he became quite solemn.  The more he drinks the more sad he’s become, until a few minutes ago he began singing this song, he says in honor of the fallen.”

          Aragorn nodded, understanding the situation.  “Do not worry, Frodo—this was bound to hit him eventually.  You must realize that he has not truly had a chance to mourn for the loss of his brother and his father.  He is one born to duty, much as you yourself are, and in the past few weeks since their deaths he has been able to do little but to face one matter of state after another.  The knowledge of how much Boromir and his father loved this wine would have finally brought to mind the fact that they are gone from him indeed.  And, for the first time since the siege was lifted he has leisure to allow the grief its way that he might at last truly put it behind him.

          “You may remain if you wish, but perhaps you would be more comfortable back at the guesthouse for the evening.  I can keep Faramir company as he works through his grief.  Know this—my kinsman Halbarad, who was as a brother to me from the time I returned to my own people when I first came of age, was also lost in the battles.  Perhaps if you will send word to Halbarad’s brothers Hardorn and Halladan asking that they join us here we can all drink to the memory of those we have lost who were so dear to us.  For all need to mourn when the time is right for it.”

          Frodo smiled in understanding.  “I see.  And you, too, wish to mourn Lord Denethor and Boromir as much as he does, I think.”

          Aragorn laid his hand on Frodo’s head.  “I do.  In spite of the suspicion Denethor came in time to show toward me, still I liked and honored him well.  We were indeed as close as brothers when I first came to Gondor so long ago.  I wish he had not become jealous of the regard shown me by his father and the people of the land, for he and I shared so much love for lore and the traditions of our people.  As for Boromir—having fought side by side with him as we did along the way and having come to honor him as I did for his integrity, I could almost wish that he were my Steward now, in spite of the love I now feel for his brother.”

          “I will go to summon your friend’s brothers, but do you mind if I remain?  For although I did not know your kinsman or Lord Denethor, I still find myself grieving for Boromir, and am so glad that he realized that the actions he took at the end were brought on by the Ring rather than by his own bent.”

          “And it is to those who fell we raise our glasses…” intoned Faramir.

          Aragorn gave his young Steward a glance, and nodded.  “He will not begrudge you your presence here tonight, Frodo.  But go and fetch Halladan and Hardorn.  They, too, have had little chance to mourn properly.  We shall all do so thoroughly this evening.”

          Reassured, the Hobbit left upon his errand, knowing that all would be the better for having been allowed to grieve for those lost in the war.

For Lily Baggins, Lily the Hobbit, and Ansostuff for their birthdays.  Beta by RiverOtter.

On the Ponies

          Merimac Brandybuck rode down the lane toward the gate through the High Hay, although of course he was not intending to go quite as far as that.  He led two mares from the pony herd for Brandy Hall, ponies intended to be made intimately familiar with his nephew Merry’s white stallion, Stybba.  As he approached the field opposite the gate to Crickhollow, he paused his own gelding, watching with delight as Stybba and the other ponies currently pastured there raced past, apparently reacting in pleasure to the beauty of the day.  Pippin’s Jewel followed at Stybba’s flank, while the mare he’d been told had been given to Sam Gamgee to ride home from Gondor trailed behind, her dark mane streaming in the wind of her passing.  He wasn’t certain why Sam had chosen to ride that skewbald pony back to the Shire from Bree and had left this delightful lady with their even darker pack pony at the Prancing Pony, for there was no question that she was indeed a beauty, a grey with black mane and tail and a bright, intelligent eye that any gentlehobbit would be proud to ride.  But the gardener appeared to have a special place in his heart for the brown and white pony he called Bill, and rode him by preference.  Merry had assured Mac that the mare would be going on to Hobbiton soon enough, perhaps after the marriage of Sam to Rose Cotton, which was to take place the first of May.  But as the gardener could only ride one pony at a time and boarding at the stable in Hobbiton was at a premium at the moment, what with reconstruction of the Ivy Bush’s outbuildings still going on after the damage done there on Lotho’s orders, when the King’s Men brought the pony to the Brandywine Bridge she’d fallen under Merry’s guardianship for now.

          Mac slipped to the ground and pressed forward, leaning on the fence to watch the ponies’ antics.  April was half over now, and all was bright and shining both in Buckland and in the Shire proper.  The grass was growing rapidly, and the ponies had plenty to eat and a good deal of room to run, and appeared to be filled with the joy of spring.

          One of the mares he’d brought with him pressed against his shoulder with her muzzle.  “What do you think, lass?” he asked her.  “Does he look a likely match for you?  I have an idea that the two of you will throw beautiful foals.”

          “That they should,” agreed Merry, who’d come soft-footed out of the gate to the house that he shared with Pippin.  Mac smiled at his nephew and returned his attention to the ponies in the field.  “And I’ve put in a word for a few other ponies from Rohan’s herds for the future.  We in the Shire will have a wider choice as to steeds once some of those add to our current bloodlines.”

          “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen ponies as beautiful as these you four brought home with you.  Oh, that one of Sam’s that he rides more often than not is plain enough.  But these----”

          “Bill was born and bred right there in Bree, so is probably of much the same lines as many of our own ponies.  No, he’s not particularly special to look at, but he has true heart that proved itself several times over while we were on our way east and south.  Sam has good reason to love him well.  This mare is a fine thing, but when we reached Bree on our way back and we found that Bill was there waiting for us I thought Sam would expire from sheer satisfaction and pride!  Of course he chose to ride Bill home and had this one sent afterwards.  And I suspect that one day he’ll breed Bill to her to make certain both bloodlines are preserved.”

          “Then Bill was not gelded?”

          “Bill?  Oh, no—not that he was treated in such a way that he would have had that much interest in a mare before he came into our hands.  Had a bad master before he came our way—a nasty sot named Bill Ferny.  In fact, when we got here to the Shire he was attached to the Shirriff House by the Bridge Inn, Ferny was.  Ferny apparently treated the pony badly indeed—it looked much older than he actually was, and Ferny must have fed him next to nothing.  To go along with us and appear better when we approached Rivendell than he did when he came to us in Bree, Ferny had to be bad to the bone.”

          “But what happened to the ponies you left with—the ones you told us had the scours?”

          Merry blushed.  “I’m sorry I lied about them, really, but we didn’t want anyone to guess we were leaving the Shire—it could have been very bad indeed if that became generally known.  Well, they’re in Bree now.  When we got there to the Prancing Pony there were some bad people there.  Some we’d now recognize as probably being half-orcs—had goblin blood, that is.  They were Saruman’s people, we learned.  He had been sending them north secretly for quite some time.  We found out where all the food and pipe weed went that Lotho had been sending off out of the Shire, by the way—was sending it all south to a place called Isengard, where Saruman had lived for quite some time.  He’d been experimenting with breeding orcs—seems as if all those who go to the bad get into that.  Started back with Morgoth, Frodo and Aragorn explained, and then Sauron started doing it, too, and finally Saruman did so as well.  Anyway, Saruman is the one who they called Sharkey when he got here.  Used to be Gandalf’s chief, but he went bad secretly some time ago, and nobody realized it until Gandalf left the Shire after letting Frodo know just what it was that Bilbo had left on his hands when he left the Shire after the Party.”

          Mac was beginning to feel a bit dizzy, as none of this seemed to make much sense at the moment.  “Am I talking with Pippin?” he interrupted.  “You don’t usually blather like this, Meriadoc Brandybuck!”

          Again Merry colored, his ears going quite pink.  “I’m sorry, but it’s all very complicated.  But Saruman—Sharkey, that is—he found out about the Shire from Gandalf and had thought it sounded a good place to start trying to conquer the world at.  He also wanted to conquer Rohan, which was the kingdom nearest to where he lived in Isengard.  That way he’d have two lands he was boss over, I suppose.  So he put one of his agents into Théoden King’s court to convince the people and the King that Théoden was too old and frail to rule properly.  He may have been using poisons or bad medicines on him, too, as well as poisonous words.  And Saruman sent agents north to try to take over the Shire and the Breelands.  At first they were supposed to look for anybody who was leaving the Shire who might have the—well, what Bilbo left to Frodo.  If they could they were supposed to keep Frodo in Bree until enough bully-boys arrived to take him prisoner so they could search him, find what he was carrying, and bring It back to Saruman, or that’s what they figured out once we got to Rivendell.  Only Sauron had learned from Gollum that a Hobbit named Baggins had found It, so he sent his Black Riders, too.  Those were the ones who broke into the Shire at the Sarn Ford.  They went all the way to Hobbiton and were asking about where Baggins might be even before Frodo, Pippin, and Sam were quite out of the village.  They appear to have pursued them all the way to the Bucklebury Ferry, and a few days later several of them tried to get into the house here, and that was when Fatty went on the run to try to get away from them.  We were long gone by then, and they don’t appear to have felt brave enough to attempt to follow us into the Old Forest.  I doubt that either the trees or Tom Bombadil would have welcomed them there, though.”

          “Tom Bombadil?  How on earth did you learn about Tom Bombadil?”

          “Well, there are enough stories about the strange old soul who lives in the Old Forest floating around Buckland and the Marish, you know.  But I didn’t believe they were real until we met him in the Old Forest, when he saved us from Old Man Willow.”

          Mac felt himself going white.  “You mean those stories are true, too?”

          Merry nodded, rubbing as he often did at his right arm as if it were suddenly cold.  “Oh, yes—tried to eat us in his own treeish fashion, he did.  Tom made him let us go, though—Frodo says he took one of the tree’s own branches and hit him with it, telling him to stop being horrible and to go to sleep like a good tree, or something like that.  And he did, but not with any good grace from what we could tell.  The trees do what Tom tells them to do, at least.  Then Tom took us to his house for the next few days until we were ready to go on again.  The Elves know about him, although they have a different name for him, it appears.  Sam said they even talked about sending the—It—to him for safekeeping, but it was decided that wouldn’t be either safe or effective.

          “But this still isn’t telling how the ponies I had here ended up staying in Bree, I suppose.  When we got to Bree, we got there pretty late.  Butterbur gave us a private parlor and a room with four beds in it, but the rest went to the common room while I went out to take a walk and have a look around at Bree.  While they were in the common room someone talked Frodo into giving them a song from the Shire, so he gave them that one about the Man in the Moon coming down to the inn and getting drunk.  They appear to have liked it, so they got him to sing it again, so this time the dear old lad got up on a table and started that dance that Bilbo had made to it, until the table fell over and he went rolling over and disappeared.”

          “Then that report was true!”

          “You heard about Frodo disappearing at the Prancing Pony?”

          Mac gave a twisted smile.  “There are those even in Bree who report to the Master of Buckland and the Hall, you know.  Yes, we heard about it, although the tale was a bit muddled.  Frodo at the time you left was a bit too—substantial—to just go invisible, you see.”

          “Well, that’s because no one knew what it was he was carrying and what It could do if one were to wear It.  But there were agents both from Isengard and from Mordor in Bree, and people like Harry Goatleaf on the gate and Bill Ferny had been approached by both parties, it seems.  There was quite a party that had come north up the Greenway, and most of them were in the Pony’s common room that evening and saw Frodo’s song and dance, and how he went invisible when the table fell over and he went rolling head-over-heels across the floor.  Frodo crawled away as fast as he could until he was in the far corner before he realized he was wearing—It, so he took It off and got told off strongly by Strider for being so careless.  It took even him some time to realize just how—nasty—It could be and how It was trying to betray Frodo.  Realizing that It was awake and aware and recognized that Its Master’s people were nearby and so It was trying to catch their attention was quite the shock for Aragorn son of Arathorn, it seems.  Well, he learned while we were on the way from Bree to Rivendell just how sly the horrible thing was, and how hard it was for Frodo to keep It from taking him over when It felt it was to Its advantage.

          “The night we spent at the Prancing Pony, Strider wouldn’t let us sleep in our assigned room.  We fitted the beds up with bolsters and such to make it appear we were sleeping there, and they even found a dark mat that was enough like Frodo’s hair that anyone seeing it would think that was his bed, and we slept on the floor of the parlor instead.  That night the windows to the room were forced, and when we went in to see after dawn, the bolsters and pillows and beds had been slashed to pieces, and that mat had been torn to shreds.  And someone had broken into the stable and apparently stole all of the horses and ponies that were there.  So we had lost the five ponies I’d bought that we took with us, and our packs weren’t big enough to carry everything we needed.  Butterbur felt it was his fault somehow, and insisted on paying me for the five missing ponies, and he bought Bill from Bill Ferny for us to use as a pack beast.”

          “I see,” Mac said.  When the same mare pushed again at his shoulder, Merry helped him remove fence rails to allow those ponies he’d brought to join Stybba, Jewel, and Sam’s mare. Once the rails were back in place, the two Hobbits stood close to watch them. 

          Merry rubbed a bit at his shoulder before leaning with his forearms on the top rail.  “Apparently after we left the Breelands and there was the attack on Bree by Sharkey’s people, one day a young Ranger showed up at the door of the Pony leading my ponies, saying that they’d been found in the Old Forest, and Tom Bombadil felt that they should be sent back to Butterbur.  He’d paid for them, thinking they’d been stolen on his watch, so I left them there when we came back through Bree, figuring he deserved them.  They’re well treated and serve as riding beasts happily enough, and they’re not being abused as Bill was, at least. 

          “Bill, however, came back on his own apparently not that long before we got back to Bree.  He went east to Rivendell with us, and we took him south with us for as long as we could.  But once we had to cross to the eastern side of the mountains we couldn’t take him further.  We tried going over the mountains but there was a terrible snowstorm and we couldn’t make it to the summit of the pass, even.  So we ended up having to go back and go under the mountains instead, going through the Dwarf mines of Moria.  We couldn’t take Bill through there, and at the last moment he was frightened away by a monster that attacked us.  We got inside the mines just in time, and he fled back the way we’d come.  Sam felt so ashamed, but what could he do?  Sam truly had come to love Bill, and it tore him in two to have to leave him outside the mines when we fled inside, but as Aragorn told us Bill was a wise beast and returned to where he felt we would come again if we were able.  Bob had been taking very good care of him since his arrival, so Bill was quite fit when we got there at last.”

          “So, how did you come by these ponies?” Mac asked, indicating Stybba and the two others from Rohan.

          “Well, Théoden King gave me Stybba.  I learned when we were returning home and stopped at Meduseld for the handfasting of Prince Faramir to the Lady Éowyn that Stybba had been the herd stud for the King’s personal pony herd.  Stybba’s sire had been the pony on which Théoden King’s son Théodred learned to ride, in fact, and somehow when he saw me he determined that I should have Stybba.  It was a great honor to be given this particular pony to ride, and he appeared to be glad to see I was already an accomplished rider.  I would have ridden Stybba all the way to Minas Tirith when we headed out to break the siege on the city, but at the last moment Théoden decided I should remain in Rohan for my own safety.  Turns out he didn’t believe me that I’d had proper training in using my sword—thought I was just bragging.  But let me tell you that Boromir and Aragorn saw to it that we got excellent training in the use of edged weapons while we were in Rivendell, and we practiced as often as we could while we were headed south.  And we finally had to put that training to use there in the Mines of Moria.  I’ve now killed my share of orcs, and even a few Men, there in the battle of the Pelennor Fields.

          “I was furious and embarrassed to learn I was to stay behind, of course, but then a smaller Rider came to me secretly and said he’d take me with him to the battle, although I’d have to stay hidden under his cloak until we were well on the way.  So I rode with—Dernhelm, he told me to call him.  I was so worried about Pippin being alone there in Minas Tirith with a war going on around him that it just never struck me as odd that Dernhelm’s voice was rather high or that he was so small and slender.  So it was that I rode to the battle with the Lady Éowyn and never really recognized her as a woman, much less as the King’s niece.  I rode with her on her horse Windfola, and when we got to the Pelennor we fought as we could from the back of the same horse, her fighting to the left and me to the right.  Killed twice the number of enemies that way, I suppose.”

          Something in the way this was said gave Mac a chill, although he did all he could to hide that fact.  This was more than Merry had been willing to tell since he’d returned to the Shire in November, and the older Hobbit felt it was important that the family begin to properly understand what had happened to the lad out there.

          “Then we were on the ground—an oliphaunt came near to us, and Windfola threw Dernhelm and me and ran off in her terror.  Yes, we saw oliphaunts out there, Mac.  Even Sam and Frodo saw one in the forests of Ithilien when they caught a glimpse of a battle between Men of Gondor and warriors from Harad coming up the South Road to join Mordor’s armies.  The Southrons put huge saddles on the oliphaunts and built platforms on the saddles, and then war towers on the platforms.  Their archers would ride on the towers and shoot down on foot soldiers and what cavalry could stay ahorse near them, most horses, like Windfola, being too terrified to remain near the oliphaunts for long.  They didn’t get much in the way of opposition!  But warriors afoot learned to aim bows and spears at their eyes, and so they could be brought down.”

          Now Merry went quiet, and Mac had the idea that although he was no longer describing what he’d seen, yet he was still reliving the horror of that battle in his memory.  At last he said, “We were victorious, Éowyn and I, against the Witch-king, but at great cost.  He’d attacked the King’s horse, and killed it—and it threw the King and rolled on him, and killed him.  Only Éowyn would stand to protect her uncle, so I rose to protect her, and then—then each of us struck at him, and we managed to kill him.  I didn’t think it was possible!

          “Then I was inside the city, and Pippin had found me, and then Aragorn was calling for me to awaken from—from dark dreams.  Frodo must have fought such dreams, after the Witch-king stabbed him on Weathertop.  No wonder he was so ill for so long!  With the Morgul shard working its way toward his heart and the Witch-king’s curse on him, and the Ring on his person—I am still amazed how very strong Frodo proved!  And he carried It all the way from the Shire to the Mountain in Mordor—every step of the way, fighting It and doing all he could to protect everyone else from Its persuasions!  Oh, It was indeed awake now, and every time It sensed Its Master’s people nearby It would try to force him to put It on and reveal himself to them!  It was terrible to see him having to fight It, Mac!  And he fought it so hard—and so well!”

          Again he went quiet, and he’d obviously skipped a great deal of time when he spoke next.  “I was there when they all woke up in Ithilien, there on the field of Cormallen.  Pippin had been fallen upon by a troll he’d killed, and Frodo and Sam had been rescued from Mordor by Gandalf and the Eagles.  All were in a bad way when I arrived from the city—I was sent for when it was decided I was well enough to travel, and that the others would benefit from me being by them while they slept.  Once he awoke, Pippin began recovering rapidly, and it was much the same with Sam.  Only Frodo never fully recovered—Strider says he was hurt too deeply for too long, and the scars will most likely always be with him.  He and Sam were still rather weak when we returned to the city, so Aragorn had sent a message to Lord Faramir, the new Steward of Gondor, to have ponies ready for Frodo and Sam to ride up through the city upon, once the coronation was over.  Aragorn insisted that he would be crowned outside the city in sight of all, and only would accept the crown if everyone agreed they wanted him to take it.  It was very moving, when our Strider became the Lord Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, the first King of Gondor in a thousand years, and the first King of Arnor in even longer.  He’s a very good king, you see.

          “The ponies Frodo and Sam were allowed to ride were only loaned, and so when Éomer, the Lady Éowyn’s brother and the new King of Rohan, left with his sister and most of their Riders to see to things back home in Rohan, he promised to bring back a pony for each of us when he returned to take the old King’s body back to Rohan for proper burial there.  They came back shortly after Aragorn married Lord Elrond’s daughter Arwen.  I suppose, as he’d been fostered by Lord Elrond after his father’s death, perhaps Aragorn should have thought of her as his foster sister—he certainly considers her twin brothers his own brothers.  But it seems she wasn’t in Rivendell when he grew up there, having gone to Lórien to stay with her grandparents after her mother was injured and had to leave Middle Earth.  So he didn’t even meet her until the day he came of age, and he’s been in love with her ever since.  Finally she agreed to marry him, but her father wouldn’t let it happen until Aragorn was King of both Gondor and Arnor, so if Frodo and Sam hadn’t made it to the Mountain as they did he’d never have been allowed to marry, it seems.

          “They brought Stybba for me, and Berry here for Sam, and the bay for Frodo, and Jewel for Pippin, and Charcoal as our pack pony.  Frodo immediately named his pony for Aragorn, and Strider he’s been ever since.  Frodo was not so happy to find that Strider was a gelding, although he loves him the more for what he’s been through.  Seems that a younger lord had picked out Strider when his wife gave birth to a lass, intending that the child learn to ride on him when she was old enough, and they had Strider gelded to make him a better mount for a girl-child.  Only the bairn didn’t live all that long.  So many children don’t seem to live to the age of three in the outer world.  But when the masters for the pony herds were asked to pick out suitable mounts for Pippin, Sam, and Frodo, it appears everyone agreed that Strider was the finest pony available, so they sent him for the Ringbearer.  And there’s no question that Frodo and Strider love each other dearly.  Frodo says that Strider is exactly the type of pony he wanted when he was a child.”

          “Yes, I remember him telling me what kind of pony he and Aunt Primula intended for him to ride.  Although I think he’d planned to name it Pacer or perhaps Trotter.”

          “Trotter?  Isn’t that just like Frodo—not exactly the most original when choosing names for beasts, is he?”

          Nephew and uncle exchanged soft laughter.

          Merry watched the ponies.  “I’m glad that the one mare we left behind managed to escape the Black Riders, although it pained me to hear she’s had to be tamed all over again.  In Bree when the Black Riders came there, we’re told that the geese and dogs were all mad with fear and rage, and all the cats hid in dark, sheltered places, and some didn’t calm for days.  Bob was telling me about how he found the stable cat hiding behind a manger, and she wouldn’t so much as look at a rat for a week, even if it was feeding right in front of her!  I wonder if the mare would like to come back here under Stybba’s protection?

          “But I have a few more ponies I’ve put in a word for, and Éomer has promised to save them for me or to send them north later.  One is of the same breeding as Strider, but two years younger—as sweet a little filly as you will ever see, Mac.  And there is a young stallion----”  He smiled at the image in his head.  “Looks a good deal like Shadowfax, who is one of the Mearas, the Lords of Horses.  He’s only a yearling as yet, but when he’s fully grown he will be such a beauty!  Grey as the Sea, Gandalf tells me.  I may name him Sea Foam.  And Lord Halladan of Annúminas has promised me one of the ponies the northern Dúnedain raise for light draught hauling in the low mountains north of Fornost.  He thinks I will be impressed by their stamina.  Our herds here will be much enriched, Mac—much enriched.”

          Merry, Mac realized, was going to be far more directly involved in the breeding and training of the Buckland herds than his father had ever been.  He’d always thought that his son Berilac would succeed him as the keeper of Brandy Hall’s stud book, but the lad had never shown much heart for it.  But there was certainly no stricture against the Master of Buckland and the Hall of being his own herd master as well!

          “I’ll tell you what, Merry:  you come back to the stables with me and we’ll take a look at what other mares may be coming into season in the next few months.  And I have one stallion that I’d love to see mated to Jewel there, if we can get Pippin’s cooperation….”

 

For all--my birthday mathom to all of you!  (Admittedly a bit late!)  Written for the LOTR Community Poetry Challenge.

All He’d Wanted

He'd always wished an oliphaunt,
An oliphaunt, an oliphaunt,
He'd always wished an oliphaunt,
An oliphaunt to see.

At last he saw an oliphaunt,
Great oliphaunt, grey oliphaunt,
In Ithilien an oliphaunt
To the forest running free.

He'd wished to take his Rosie-lass,
His Rosie-lass, sweet Rosie-lass,
He'd wished to wed his Rosie-lass
And have her for his wife.

And so he wed his Rosie lass,
Sweet Rosie-lass, dear Rosie-lass,
And was kissed so by his Rosie- lass
She bound him to this life.

He'd wished to serve his Master dear,
Kind Master dear, wise Master dear,
He'd wished to ward his Master dear
To keep all cares at bay.

And so he'd followed his Master dear
Through empty lands both wild and drear;
And saved him from the heart of Fear
And brought him yet living away.

He'd ever feared the waters deep
With depths of cold where dead might sleep.
So he skirted e'er the waters deep,
Avoiding them when he could.

But his Master crossed the waters deep
In search of Peace, his soul to keep.
Yes, his Master crossed the waters deep,
And even grief could be good.

He'd never thought to be the Mayor
Or in Shire's power to be a player,
In governance to have a say, for
That was for those above.

But his Master'd had a plan for
Sam to be lord of the manor.
Sam as Mayor does what he can for
The land they both so love.

And when Rosie's gone her way
He, too, shall ride toward the West one day,
And from Mithlond's stony quay
Shall seek that distant shore.

On his own grey ship to ride
Across the shining, shifting tide
He will come at last to Frodo's side
And see his friend once more.

And with all tears at long last dried
They'll think to rest now side by side,
Off'ring up their lives with pride
Beneath the light of stars.

Into greater Light they'll soar
And all they've loved will be restored.
Ne'er again to want for more.
Nothing their bliss to mar!

For Awallen, Radbooks, and Erulisse for their birthdays, with love to all of you! 

Coming of Age  

            “Thank you Ad—Lord Elrond,” the youth Aragorn said with a highly formal bow.  His head held high, he turned and left the study of the Master of Imladris, realizing he was being very much on his dignity.  Once he was out in the hallway and the door to Elrond’s study shut behind him, he slumped against the wall, trying to take in all he’d just learned. 

            Oh, he’d known all of his life that he was a Man rather than an Elf and that Elrond was not the one who’d conceived him with his mother.  He’d always known that Elrond was merely fostering him while he was yet a child, raising him up due to some debt Elrond believed he’d owed to Aragorn’s real father.  But it had been Elrond who had bound up scraped knees and who gave him his first wooden sword—and who’d scolded him for using that sword on the roses in the garden, setting him to practicing with it instead on the ragweed and goldenrod along the pasture fence.  It was Elrond who sat by him while his mother taught him his letters and who introduced him to Quenya as well as Adûnaic and Sindarin and Westron.  It was Elrond who took him out into the herb gardens and taught him to tell seedlings from weeds, and who taught him how to harvest and prepare the plants they grew for use in the kitchens and the healing wing.  It was Elrond who gave him his first pony, and then his first horse when he was big enough to ride it!

            But it was just now that he knew his true lineage and just why Elrond had seen him brought up and educated and trained in so many subjects, why he’d been groomed to administration, record keeping, healing, the study of law, the study of history, gardening, and warcraft as well as languages and the practice of diplomacy.  He knew now why his brothers had been tasked with teaching him how to track and how to recognize and deal with the many foes that abounded in the region surrounding the hidden valley of Imladris.  He knew now why all had drilled him into an attitude of constant vigilance.  Of course he must be vigilant—he was the heir to Isildur and the rightful Chieftain of the northern Dúnedain warriors, and those of his lineage who had failed in their vigilance tended to die violent deaths at the hands of their many enemies!  His own father had been slain by an orc arrow that had hit in the eye, after all.

            Aragorn son of Arathorn—that was his true name, his rightful lineage.  Aragorn son of Arathorn, the Heir to Isildur and through him of Elendil, and heir of the ancient Kings of Númenor as well.

            “Well, Dúnadan?”

            He looked up, startled.  So much for the constant vigilance he’d been trained in!  He’d not heard the approach of Glorfindel, who was the Captain of the forces that protected the valley.  Not, of course, that Glorfindel generally allowed his approach to be detected….

            “You have known my true name and history?” he asked, realizing as he spoke how petulant the question sounded.

            “Of course.  I helped in the training of your father during his own years of fostering here, as I did with your grandfather and his father before him.  All of your ancestors since the return of the followers of Elendil to Middle Earth have spent time here in Imladris, after all.  Although I do not believe that Elrond has been as close to any of them as he is to you since he fostered Valandil here.”

            “And why do you call me Dúnadan?”

            “Are you not the Man of the West, child?  It is ever one of the titles borne by the heirs to Elendil.”

            “But we have not dwelt on the isle of Númenor for three thousand years!”

            Glorfindel gave his elegant shrug.  “Perhaps not, but the memory of those golden days lives on in you, Aragorn.  The hope of your bloodline is there within you, and it is likely that the time for that bloodline to reassert its innate royalty will come during your lifetime.”

            The young Man closed his eyes and swallowed deeply.  “Is that why he called me Estel as a child?” he asked as he reopened his eyes to meet the Elf’s gaze.

            “Yes.  All of your life you have embodied the hope of the Dúnedain as well as the hope of all who seek to defeat the evil of the dark powers.  In you your adar has seen again the greatness of his brother, whom he lost so long ago when Elros chose the mortality to which you were born.  He has seen the great integrity he honored in Elendur, Isildur’s oldest son.  He has seen the promise of nobility that so many Men have doubted they can again achieve after so many yen deprived of proper rule by those intended to serve as their Kings.  It is in you, beloved one, to lead the forces of the West against the evil of Mordor and to see it defeated once and for all.”

            “That is much to ask of me, a largely untried youth.”

            “Perhaps.  Do you think yourself unprepared to follow the path appointed to you as Chieftain of the Northern Dúnedain and perhaps as intended King of the reunited realm?  Not that you are expected to take on the rule of both Arnor and Gondor all in an instant.  You will take some time to gain the trust even of your own people within the Angle and across northern Eriador, for but a few of them have held the knowledge that you did not die as had been feared in the last great plague visited upon the western lands by the Necromancer ere the White Council forced him to reveal himself as Sauron.  You have been trained as a warrior and a great captain; now you must convince the Rangers of the north that you are that indeed.  You must earn their trust and demonstrate that you can give just judgments and accept counsel and make the hard decisions expected of those who are intended to rule.  You must come to know them and their hopes and fears, to stoke the former and strengthen them against the latter.  You must approach the various peoples of the northern lands and coax them to cooperate with one another, to stand together against the evil of the darker days to come. 

             “You will be misunderstood by some and reviled by others, and will be embarrassed by the blind love offered by some few you will find difficult to understand.  It will not be easy to take your place in the world outside this protected vale, but it is needful that you be willing to do so if the Darkness is not to overwhelm us as it intends.”

            “And you think that I can do this?”

            Glorfindel gave a smile that was overwhelming in its delight.  “Oh, but if anyone can achieve this, I think it is you, for are you not both Estel and Aragorn, Hope beyond understanding and the Valiant Lord?  Yes, child, I do believe that you can achieve this—if you can believe in yourself as we have all of your life so far.  Do you question your adar’s judgment, or mine?”

            And in that moment the hope that had been inherent in his childhood name filled him, and Aragorn son of Arathorn put aside his doubts, and went out of Elrond’s house to seek a place to practice his new identity, singing the Lay of Lúthien as he sought the comfort of the birch wood where he’d often found the solitude he needed to accept to himself some new truth or responsibility.

For SivanShamesh and Julchen for their shared birthday.

First Impressions

            “Did you first meet our ada when you went to our daeradar’s house for the Council, Uncle Legolas?”

            Legolas smiled down at Aragorn’s son Eldarion, touched at the title the child had accorded him.  “When I arrived at Imladris for the Council of Elrond?  Oh, no, child, I met him first many years prior to that, on a visit to Elrond’s house in company with my adar while your ada was himself a child not much older than you are now.”

            Eldarion exchanged wide-eyed looks with his sister Melian.  “Oh?  You mean he was a little boy, the same as me?”

            “Oh, yes, Eldarion.  He was child yet, his eyes still wide with the wonder of the world.”

            Melian asked, “And what did he look like?  Did he look as Eldarion does now?”

            The Elf glanced across the room to where the subject of their discussion sat, listening warily as to what he might say.  Deciding to tease his friend, he gave Aragorn what he knew to be his most maddeningly enigmatic smile, and returned his attention to the two children.  “Very similar, but at the same time different, very much his own self.  His hair was less curly than is that of Eldarion, and was shorter, having only recently been cut and shaped more to his head.  I believe that his naneth said that he had been climbing one of the great pines that grows in the valley, and had covered himself in pitch, and that a goodly amount of the pitch had so befouled his hair that it had been necessary to crop it close.

            “He had set himself to help in the guarding of the approach to the house, so he had done his best to make certain he was properly armed.  He carried at his belt the wooden sword carved for him by Elladan and painted by Elrohir, with a piece of green jade set in the pommel.  He also had thrust through the same belt the small eating knife he’d received from his uncle for his conception day gift.”

            Eldarion was shaking his head.  “It wouldn’t be for his conception day gift, but for his birthday.  Elves celebrate conception days, but Men celebrate birthdays instead.  My Uncle Laddan told me that.”

            “Did he?  Well, as he has spent far more time with Men than have I, I must suppose he is right.”

            He caught the smile Aragorn was entertaining at his expense.  He continued, “The eating knife was styled much like a dagger, so he was quite pleased with it, as it suited his appearance.  He carried for a spear an alder shoot he’d cut upstream on the river earlier in the day, and that he’d sharpened to a point and peeled to show the white wood underneath the fine bark.  He had a bow and quiver proper to his size, and he stood near to those who stood the duty in the proper stance, watching and ready to draw whichever weapon would be most appropriate for any provocation.  If he’d not had a large smudge of dirt on his cheek and a white cat at his feet he could have been taken for a proper guard indeed.”  He flashed a glance at Aragorn and saw the roll of the Man’s eyes at the unnecessary detail conveyed to his children.

            “He had a white cat even then?” asked Eldarion, intrigued.

            “Yes, and I learned later that her name was Imogen.  She appeared as dignified as only a cat can manage, her tail curled about her to neatly hide her paws, her eyes watching every movement we made, but always aware that she stood by her beloved person.  She appeared to be pleased with herself and with him, and we could hear her purr as we went by.”

            “If he was on guard he ought to have had a dog by him instead,” the boy commented.

            Legolas shrugged.  “Perhaps.  Imogen certainly did not indicate she was ready to spring to defend the keep should anyone offer any threat to the place or its inhabitants.”

            “Well, I’m certain that our adar was ready to do that himself,” sniffed Melian.

            Legolas gave Aragorn another sideways glance before he agreed, “I must suppose you are right, although it was difficult to take seriously the threat offered by one who barely reached past my waist.  Of course, that was long before I met Sir Peregrin.  Nowadays I would know full well that size does not limit the determination an individual knows to defend the home and people he honors and loves.”

            Eldarion gave his sister a satisfied smile.  “See, Melian, I can stand with the Guards if I want!  I want to protect Nana and Ada and you and everybody who visits the Citadel!”

            The Elf suspected that even now his friend was envisioning trying to explain to Arwen why their son was standing outside the Citadel with the Guards rather than coming to dinner or readying himself for bed, and suppressed the smile the thought gave him as best he might.  “Oh, I am certain that you love your own family no less than your adar did then, Eldarion.”

            “Did your adar notice him?” asked Melian.

            “Oh, that he did.  He noted the close-cropped hair, the dirt on the side of his face, the rip in his sleeve, and the green stain on his leggings where he’d been kneeling in the grass, and I have the feeling that your father realized just how much the great King Thranduil noticed each blemish.”  The rueful expression on Aragorn’s face showed him that he was right.  The Elf continued, “And of course he commented to Elrond as he was conducting us to the rooms set aside for our use on what he’d seen.”

            Eldarion demanded, “What did he say?”

            The children’s father was stiffening the slightest bit, Legolas realized.  He himself straightened, remembering so clearly the words of his own father regarding the appearance of Elrond’s youngest fosterling so long ago.  “He said, ‘I notice that you have an extra guard to the house today.’  Your daeradar looked sideways at him.  My adar continued, ‘I suspect that his sword and spear might possibly prove less effective than those of his fellows should orcs manage to find their way into the valley, but he looked as ready to use them as those he stood beside, and I am certain that he would have used them to full effect.  He appeared both most competent and most determined to do whatever he could to guard the safety of this house and those who dwell within.  I think that you can be fully proud of his sense of responsibility.’  And your daeradar responded, ‘Oh, but I do suspect that you are right, Oropherion.’  And he could not fully hide the smile of pride he tried to school from his face.”

            And for a brief moment he saw on his friend’s face the same look of unselfish pride and dignity he remembered seeing first in the boy some seventy years of the Sun past.

 

Written for the LOTR Community Jewels of Light challenge.  For Tari for her birthday, with best wishes.

Questions on the Smiths

            Estel sat near his foster father in the main library of Imladris, reading from a book entitled The Great Smiths of the Noldor.

            “Ada….”

            “Yes, Estel?”

            “Was there really someone like Fëanor?”

            “Yes, there was.”

            “Did you know him?”

            “No, I did not.  He was killed by the Black Enemy soon after he set foot upon the soil of Middle Earth, back shortly before the first rising of the Moon and the Sun.  That was many ennin before my birth.”

            “Did he truly make jewels that gave light without the need of flame?”

            “Oh, yes—that he did indeed.  The jewel that gives light in my study was made by Celebrimbor, who learned how to do so from Fëanor himself.”

            “Did you know him?”

            Elrond’s voice became solemn.  “Yes, my son, I knew Celebrimbor, there before Sauron slew him and laid waste to his land.  Celebrimbor had thought of Annatar, as Sauron was styling himself at the time, as a friend and teacher.  Never did he expect such betrayal.”

            The boy examined the illustration before him that showed Fëanor within his forge, laboring over some great jewel.  “It’s too bad that he forgot how to love his wife when he made the Silmarils,” he said.  “I am glad that my father never forgot how he loved my mother.  Or, at least that is what she tells me.”

            The Master of Rivendell laid a gentle hand on the boy’s shoulder, squeezing it in comfort.  “There is no question that your father continued to love your mother all through their marriage, although it was nowhere as long as had been the marriage of Fëanor to Nerdanel.  I doubt not that he continues to love her now, even though they are parted by his death.”

            The boy shrugged slightly.  After a moment he asked, “How could Celebrimbor trust Sauron, even if he was in disguise?”

            “I’m not certain, ion nín.  When Annatar came to us, neither Círdan nor I could find it within us to treat with him, for there was something to him neither of us could bear to be near.  I have come to wonder if it was the fact that Celebrimbor, having been among the Noldor of Aman, might have known Sauron before he betrayed the Valar, back when he served within Aulë’s forge and was known as Aulendil.  When Annatar came to Ost-in-edhil to offer his services to the Elves there, Celebrimbor might then have responded unwittingly to the sense of familiarity he had already with him, and thought that this must be one he could trust.  But he definitely wished to find glory of his own to match that so long given to his grandfather, and the idea that he could create rings of power excited his imagination to the point he ignored the warnings he received regarding the possible motives of this ‘Lord of Gifts’.”

            Estel thought on this as he traced a fingertip over the jewel pictured being wrought by Fëanor.  At last he turned the page, and read the inscription.  “Enerdhil of Gondolin was one of the greatest of the Noldor smiths to come to Ennor, although few of his creations remain within the Mortal Lands.  He rejoiced to create gems of healing and renewal, inspired by some jewels that were brought from Aman that came from forges other than that of Fëanor.  His greatest achievement was the green jewel known as the Elessar, the Stone of Renewal, which was set within a silver brooch shaped in the likeness of one of Manwë’s Great Eagles.  It shines with a clear, healing light when its power is wielded, and those bathed in that light know joy and easing, and relief from the pain of all wounds.  It has been foretold that it will come in its proper time into the hands of a great King who will take his name from it, and with it he will bring a renewal of peace and glory to the land given into his care, a land long bereft of its full dignity.”

            The illustration given was of a far different Elven smith, one who worked with fine tools to set a great green gem within a setting shaped as described in the text.  The expression of the smith was as intent as had been that of Fëanor, but it was at the same time more serene, with the trace of a smile of pleasurable surprise to it.  After examining the picture for a time he looked up into his adar’s face.  “Did you know Enerdhil, Ada?”

            “No, for I never went to Gondolin, which fell long ere I was born; and he did not survive the assault on Turgon’s land by Morgoth’s creatures.  Celebrimbor told me of him, however, for they were friends and often worked together, most likely before Enerdhil entered the hidden realm.  In fact, I believe Celebrimbor was the one who crafted the eagle brooch in which the Elessar stone was set.  How beautiful it is!  The feathering is most delicately done, and it is indeed as if one holds one of the Great Eagles in miniature within one’s hand!”

            “Then you have seen the Elessar stone?”

            “That I have.  Enerdhil gave the brooch to the Lady Idril, who in turn gave it to her son Eärendil, who was my father.  He wore it when he sailed West to beg the aid of the Valar for the protection of all who lived here within the Mortal Lands against the depredations of Morgoth and his armies.  I believe that as he bade farewell to those who sailed back to the Undying Lands after the War of Wrath was over, Celebrimbor found it pressed into his hand, but he never knew who it was that saw it given into his possession.  He gave it to the Lady Galadriel, whom it was said he loved but who had married another and could not return his devotion in like kind.  Long she wore it ere she gave it in turn to her daughter on the day she was married to the one she chose as her husband.”

            “Did you know the Lady Galadriel?  Or her daughter?”

            “Yes.”

            Estel wondered at the expression on his adar’s face, the mixture of intense joy and equally intense pain.  He realized that if he wished, Elrond could say a good deal about both ladies.  After a moment he turned his attention back to the book and the picture of the smith setting the great green gem into the eagle brooch.  At last he said, “If I had a choice between one of the Silmarils and the Elessar stone, I think I’d prefer the latter.  After all, no one ever fought over it as they did the Silmarils.  And I’d prefer seeing lands healed to having to fight wars for them.”

            This time he was unaware of the expression in the peredhel’s eyes as Elrond looked on him. 

            It is said that one day the stone will come to you, and that you will be called after it.  For so many ennin it has been in my daughter’s keeping now.  How it is that Arwen might be convinced to give it into your hands I cannot foresee, but my heart forewarns me that I shall have mixed feelings to see it upon your breast as it lay upon that of my father.  Oh, son of my heart, I beg of you not to rob me of my treasure!  But, if it is to be, I pray that you will be worthy of it, and of her.

            Ignorant of the turmoil in his adar’s heart, Estel turned another page in his book.

 

 

For Linda Hoyland for her birthday.

The Right Decision Affirmed

            “I wished to thank you, Faramir.”

            Faramir turned from the citizen who’d been presenting him with a spray of rosemary to give his attention to the newly made King who walked up through the city by his side.  “My Lord?” he asked.  “Thank me?  For what?”

            “For the manner in which you dealt with Sam and Frodo, there in Ithilien.  Each has told me of their meeting with you and your men, and has expressed appreciation for the courtesy and aid you offered them.  Sam is certain that the extra food that you gave them helped them to survive to achieve their quest, while Frodo was heartened to know that there was someone in this strange land who appeared to understand him and wished him well.  He has told me that he felt that somehow you were guarding him as much as your own people.”

            Faramir looked ahead to where the two Hobbits whose acquaintance he’d made across the river rode upon ponies at the head of the King’s procession, his expression thoughtful.  “I doubt it was more than any other might have done,” he said quietly.

            The Lord King Aragorn Elessar gave a snort, and Faramir could barely suppress a laugh at such a mundane sound given by such a lordly Man.  “Nonsense, Faramir, my friend.  Damrod and Mablung and others who went with us to the Black Gate have told me of your father’s edict that all found wandering without leave in those lands at the very least were to be bound and brought back here for the Steward’s judgment, if not killed outright.  You know as well as I that had you done so Mordor would most likely now hold sway over most of Middle Earth and would be swiftly advancing on those few hidden lands where it did not already hold power.”

            Faramir gave a reluctant nod of understanding.  “I fear that you are all too right, my Lord Elessar,” he answered.

            “Why did you decide to trust them?” the King asked, and Faramir sensed that the curiosity was unfeigned.

            The Steward of Gondor gave a slight shrug, staring again at the back of the head of Frodo Baggins as the Hobbit turned his steed to go through the gate to the Fifth Circle.  “I am not fully certain I can answer that, my Lord, or not precisely explain my reasoning there at first,” he answered slowly.  “I must say that those few from Harad we have taken there are capable of similar courtesy, although there is always a significant degree of thinly veiled contempt to be discerned in them.  It was very plain that neither Master Frodo nor Master Samwise was speaking freely nor telling us everything of their errand in Gondor’s lands, but I could sense no evil will in either of them.  Indeed, I could sense but the greatest of anxiety and concern in the both of them, and a level of terror that Master Frodo held, not fear of me, but of what I might be brought to do.  Nor was the terror of what I might to do to him.  It intrigued me, but also left me realizing that he must have great and perhaps dread reason to hold such concern.  And the horror they both displayed at the news I gave them of having seen Boromir’s body floating in a boat upon the surface of the river reassured me that they truly grieved for his passing and thus had known him indeed.  Although I must admit that I sensed a degree of relief in Master Samwise at the news, which told me that they did not necessarily part from my brother in good fellowship.”

            The King sighed.  “Alas that this was true, although it was perhaps needful that Boromir should seek to take the Ring from Frodo at the end as he did, as I doubt anything else might have stirred Frodo to realize that he was right, and that he must break from the rest of the Fellowship to continue on his journey alone.  The Ring was constantly testing our wills at that point, and how much longer I myself might have held out against Its temptations I could not begin to say.  At least your brother recognized that It had taken him at the end, and appeared to accept my assurance that he had followed Its will rather than his own.”  He paused to accept a spray of daisies offered him by a shy girl whose mother stood behind the child, obviously proud of her daughter’s courage in approaching their new Lord.  “Oh, sweet one, I thank you so!” he said, giving the child a smile that won the hearts of both her and her parent.  He touched the girl’s head in blessing, and gave a respectful nod of his head to the woman before moving on to approach the gate through which Frodo and Sam had already ridden.

            “I was so glad when Master Samwise let it slip just what it was that his Master carried,” Faramir murmured in low tones.  “Knowing what it was that I faced and beginning to appreciate just what trial Master Frodo feared I would undergo helped me know that I must aid them upon their way.  And I cannot but praise the constancy of purpose the two of them showed.”

            His companion nodded, sighing as they again came within sight of the two Hobbits who’d made that dread journey through Sauron’s realm.  “As I do also.  Princes of the West they are now, for so the Great Eagles have named them, and so we acclaimed them there at Cormallen.”  He turned to give Faramir a wide smile.  “And to that estate it is unlikely they could have come had you not aided them as you did there in Henneth Annun.  And again, I thank you so.”

            Faramir was so warmed by that smile and his new Lord’s so obvious approval.  But there was now no more time to talk, for the press of citizens wishing to bestow upon them sprays of flowers and greenery was heavy once more.  But he knew that he had indeed done the right thing when he’d sped Frodo Baggins upon his way with gifts of food and drink.  He wondered briefly what had come of the staves he’d gifted to the two Hobbits, but shrugged and turned to smile down on a sturdy boy, who held out a branch of lebethron with its five-lobed leaves to him, his eyes worshipful.  That confirmed in his heart that he’d been led by the Powers indeed to do the right thing, that day in Ithilien.

For Soledad and Kitty for their birthdays.

The Editor

            Fredegar Bolger took the large envelope into his study, calling over his shoulder to his aide, Budgie Smallfoot, who with his wife Viola “did” for him, “It’s the next chapter of Frodo’s book that he wishes me to go over for him.”

            Budgie laughed.  “I don’t know what Mr. Baggins would do without you to see to it he uses proper grammar and spells things correctly!”

            Freddie smiled back at him.  “Indeed!  Can hardly write, it seems.  Well, I’ll undoubtedly be busy until lunch time, so if you will call me when that is ready.”

            “Shall I bring you anything, sir?” Budgie asked.

            Freddie shook his head.  “No.  Viola already supplied me with a cup of tea, and brought me a plate of vegetable fingers and two biscuits just before the post-Hobbit arrived.  I shall be well enough off until luncheon is served.”  He gave another professional nod of acknowledgment and shut the door.

            Eagerly he opened the envelope and extracted the enclosed sheets of foolscap.  He was growing increasingly excited, for Frodo had reached the portion of his tale in which the Fellowship was traveling through the Mines of Moria, a period in which apparently something terrible happened, and Freddie wished to learn precisely what that horrible experience had been.  He set the stack of papers down upon the desk, and sat himself in his desk’s chair.  His red pencil with which he could make corrections lay to one side, alongside the blue one with which he made comments on what he’d read.  In actuality he rarely used the former, for Frodo rarely made mistakes in his spelling or punctuation, much less in his choice of words.  No, his interest was mostly in what precisely had occurred to his relatives who’d left the Shire to take the Ring away from it while he’d stayed at home, mistakenly believing that he’d chosen to remain “safe.”

            He picked up the blue pencil and tapped its blunt end against his teeth as he began to read.  “The company of the Ring stood silent beside the tomb of Balin….”  Soon he dropped the pencil onto the surface of his desk, from which it rolled unnoticed to the floor as he clutched at the desk’s surface.  Goblins—or yrch, as Legolas named them—and trolls that tried to skewer his cousin with spears, and then something else, something more sinister, something of fire and shadow….

            And then the desperate race across the narrow bridge of Khazad-dûm, and Gandalf’s terrible last stand against the Balrog….  As he read tears sprang unbidden to his eyes, and Fredegar Bolger found himself crying out, “No!” along with Frodo as Gandalf fell.

            There was agitated knocking at the door that brought him back to himself.  Budgie was calling out, “Freddie!  Freddie!  Are you all right?”

            Freddie had to shake himself back to the present, and called out in a voice he realized was trembling, “I am well, Budgie.  Do not worry for me.  It was only what I read that startled me.”

            Budgie finally managed to open the door and looked in, growing relief in his eyes as he saw that his Master and friend was indeed unhurt.  “It was only that you called out so, sir.  It took me quite by surprise, and I was afraid that perhaps you’d had an attack of some kind.”

            “No, it wasn’t for myself I cried out.  But what Frodo wrote….”

            Budgie walked into the room and looked at the manuscript over Freddie’s shoulder, frowning as he read aloud, “With a terrible cry the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished.  But even as it fell it swung its whip, and the thongs lashed and curled about the wizard’s knees, dragging him to the brink.  He staggered and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss.  ‘Fly, you fools!' he cried, and was gone.”  He stood for a moment and shook his head.  “But didn’t Frodo say that Gandalf accompanied the four of them back to the edge of the Old Forest?  How could he have done that if he truly fell into an abyss?”  With that he turned to leave the room, commenting over his shoulder ere he closed the door again, “Your cousin certainly knows how to tell a thrilling tale, doesn’t he?”

            But Frodo doesn’t lie, Freddie thought to himself as he turned his attention back to Frodo’s writing, turning to the last page of the chapter he’d been sent.  No, Frodo Baggins isn’t given to making up stories.  If Gandalf didn’t fall there, there in Moria, then something worse must have happened instead.

            He finished the last paragraphs, noting that Frodo’s writing was unnaturally shaky at this point.  No, what Frodo wrote—or didn’t write—indicated that Frodo had been under terrible stress at this point in his journey, and Freddie was certain that whatever had happened to Gandalf, it must have been indeed terrifying and that as a result Frodo had felt terribly guilty, certain that he was to blame for the injury that the Wizard had taken.

            At last Freddie sat back, pulled out a kerchief, and wiped his brow.  Now, that was quite an adventure and no mistake! as Sam Gamgee would put it.  He reached for the blue pencil and realized it wasn’t there.  It took a minute or two to find it where it had rolled under his chair, but at last he had it in hand, and began wracking his brain for some comment to write.  But all he could think of was what Budgie had said.  Shrugging, he began to write, “A thrilling tale, my cousin!  Now, to find out how it was that he was able to accompany you home to the edge of the Shire once more when all was done.”

            As Fredegar Bolger packed up the manuscript with the blue-penciled comment for its return to Hobbiton, he hoped that Frodo didn’t interpret that comment as indicating that he disbelieved the description of Gandalf’s fall.  In fact, he wished that, like Budgie Smallfoot, he could do so.

 

Written for the LOTR Community "A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words" challenge.  For Harrowcat and Claudia for their birthdays.

The Refuge from the Storm

            The storm hit with a suddenness and fury that took all by surprise, causing those in the party traveling south to Dol Amroth to look up in dismay at the lowering clouds and pouring rain as bolts of lightning hit the surrounding high ground and peals of thunder rolled over the landscape. 

            Crash!  A tree atop the rise to their left burst into sudden flame—that which had not been blasted into pieces from having taken a direct hit of lightning, that is, and more than one horse neighed in terror and either reared up or turned tail and ran, no longer docile or answering to the reins.  One of those that lost its head entirely was a young gelding being ridden by Bergil son of Beregond, the youngest of the King’s guards present.  It bucked and cried out in its alarm, and swerving sideways headed down a track none of the others had noted.

            Only one steed within the party was sufficiently responsive to its rider to answer the order to follow the youthful horse and guardsman, and that was the one ridden by the King himself.  Roheryn, after all, had many years of experience in traveling in all weathers through worse wilderness than one found anywhere within Gondor, and although he did not particularly like the current conditions he trusted his master sufficiently to go where directed.

            “Bergil!”  A single flash of lightning lit the landscape before them, and a huddled shape could be seen upon the sodden ground where the young Man had been swept off his steed by a low limb.  Roheryn stopped just short of the tree as yet another peal of thunder boomed, and the tall Man who’d ridden astride him leapt to the ground and fell to his knees by the guardsman’s limp body.  A hand was placed against the pulse point on the throat, and after a moment the King relaxed somewhat.  “He’s alive—merely unconscious from the fall, apparently,” he said aloud.  Now he felt the back of the neck and down the spine, nodding with further relief as he noted no signs of any serious injury there. 

            One wrist was beginning to swell, and a knot was forming on the young Man’s brow under a bleeding abrasion.  “Concussion and either a break or sprain to the right wrist,” the King concluded.  “We must get him out of this rain, and as soon as possible,” he added, looking about.  There was a glimpse of a yellow light to be seen beyond the tossing trees, further down the track.  “A house!  We can take him there!”  So saying, the tall Man scooped up his unfortunate youthful guard into his arms and rose to his feet, heading toward the source of the light as best he could, his faithful horse following behind.

 *******

            Old Mithrellas closed the shutters to her windows against the sudden onslaught of wind and rain, muttering to herself as to how much damage the unexpected storm was likely to cause to her kitchen garden and the peach orchard.  “Of all times for the Powers to decide what we need rain!” she grumbled.  “Half the young fruit swept off the trees ere the blossoms are fair set, most like!  And my new onions sets probably drowned ere they take fair root, I’d wager.”  Well, there was nothing she could do to protect either trees or garden at this point.  All she could do was hunker down in the safety of her cottage and hope that the fixes to her roof made by her near neighbors a week past held against the wind and rain.

            The sudden pounding on her door took her by surprise, and she clutched at her chest before realizing that someone had somehow come upon her steading in the storm and was in need of shelter from the unruly elements.  She rose and stumbled to the door, and unfastening the bar opened it, only to have the wind tear it from her grasp and bang it fully open against the wall of her house.  An enormous shape stood there holding a second form in its arms, both dripping from the downpour.  The tall stranger stooped to enter through the low doorway, and brought his burden within her cottage.

            “Please, my lady,” her unexpected guest said, “my man here was swept off his horse and has been hurt.  May we take shelter here until the storm clears away?”

            In moments the injured Man was laid upon her cot, and she was fetching toweling and clean linens to see him dried and cleansed of what mud was upon him.  “Is there a place I can stable my horse?” the other asked.  “Then I will return with my bags and see to his injuries.”

            “There’s a rough byre ahind the place, back by the jakes,” she directed with a jerk of her thumb to indicate the general direction in which the building might be found.  “Got no cow nor goat now to keep in it there for the nonce, but it should do well enough for your needs.”

            He gave her his thanks and went out, closing the door behind him.  It was some time before he returned again, and she figured that he was seeing to it that the horse’s saddle and bridle were properly removed and the horse rubbed down before he left it.  One who was competent in caring for his steed, at least.  Meanwhile, she saw the wound to the younger fellow’s forehead cleansed, and set some comfrey to steep in a pannikin in front of the fire.

            He gave a brief knock ere he reentered the cottage, and soon had the door properly closed and barred once more.  He was quickly kneeling beside her, setting two bags down at his side, drawing the smaller of his bags to him and unfastening the complex knot that held it closed.

            “You a healer?” she asked, surprised as she saw him draw forth a few small packages from the red bag he’d opened.

            “Yes, I was so trained,” he replied absently as he examined the wound she’d exposed.  “Not as bad as I’d feared,” he commented, giving the knot a gentle but competent touch.  “Thank you so for cleansing it.  And you’ve set comfrey to steep?” he added, meeting her gaze.  “That is most helpful.  I will add these, if you don’t mind.”  He set one of the packages to the side and opened the others, and added some more herbs to the pannikin, murmuring to himself as he dropped in a pinch of this and a measure of that and stirred it with a clean wooden stick that she set before him for the purpose.  They soon had both head and wrist poulticed and properly bandaged, and the Man saw his unconscious companion gently stripped of his wet garments and set the clothing to steam dry near the fire.  Then he competently prepared a pallet for her to lie upon.  “I will do well enough for the night in a chair, Mistress,” he said.  “But you should not be denied your rest because of our unplanned for visit.”

            “Him, he’s a soldier,” she said, her eyes on the uniform stripped from the young Man’s body.

            “Yes, a soldier of Gondor, as is his father.  Two men of particular honor, the two of them have proved.”

            “But you wear no uniform.”

            “I, too, have fought for Gondor, and have worn her uniform in my day.  And if she is threatened again I shall do so in the future.  But my primary service is otherwise now.  Have you eaten your evening meal as yet, little mother?  You need not worry about us—we ate not that long since, and we have rations in our gear.”

            “But I saw no gear upon him.”

            He gave his companion a thoughtful glance.  “Alas, I must admit that his gear has gone with his horse, and in the rain I have little heart for tracking the creature, which is young and inexperienced with the ways of storms.  But I think I have enough for the both of us.  I ask again, have you eaten?”

            She had the unique experience of seeing this stranger preparing her a filling evening meal, supplementing it with jerked meat from his personal satchel that he added to the stew he cooked, along with certain herbs.  “You carry cooking herbs as well as healing ones?” she asked.

            He gave her a conspiratorial smile.  “A true herbalist learns all uses for each plant, little mother.  And my adar saw to it that I was trained as a true herbalist.  You should hear my beloved wife on the subject, for she studied under him even longer than did I!”

            “It’s married you are, then?”

            He smiled, and by that smile she recognized just how dear his wife was to him.  “Married?  Oh, yes, little mother, I am now married, and happily so.”

            She gave him a quick appraisal.  “I’d say she has a good husband, then,” she responded.

            He smiled even more fully.  “How could I be anything other?” he asked simply.  “Now, eat that and go to your rest with a calm heart.”

            It was not long before the young Man began to stir, and her tall guest rose to kneel by the low cot and saw to his care.  Yes, a born healer he was, she thought as she heard the reassuring tone in his voice and noted how competently he saw to the younger Man’s needs.  He was speaking with the young Man in the high tongue as easily as he’d spoken with her in the vernacular.  A healer, an herbalist, and a scholar, apparently, she thought.  Somehow this was reassuring, and she soon relaxed into sleep, soothed by the Man’s humming as he oversaw the administration of a draught he’d brewed up for his younger patient.  Somehow just having him within her house, as small as it was, made her feel safe and watched over.

 *******

            The storm was past when she awoke again, and moonlight was flooding past the swiftly shredding clouds and slipping through the cracks in her shutters.  There was a distinctive odor, and she realized that the younger Man must have been coaxed to use her chamber pot.  He lay now with his eyes closed, visibly swallowing.  “Him, he’s dizzy?” she asked the taller healer.

            “Yes,” he answered, making certain the lid was closed over the vessel.  “We’re fortunate he’s not become seriously nauseous.  I’m allowing him to move as little as possible for the moment.  The blow to his head was a glancing one, but not anywhere as serious as I’d first feared.  He will be all right to travel after another day, I’d say.  I grieve we will not be able to leave ere that, but shall see to it that you are well recompensed for your courtesy and hospitality.”

            He was examining her chamber pot.  “I admit to being surprised by this,” he said, lifting it slightly for emphasis.  “It is quite old, and of Elvish make.”

            She gave a slight nod.  “My Amdir, long ago he made a journey to Dol Amroth with some others from the village yonder.  Brought that back for me, he did.  Said as he found it in the ruins of the old Elf city t’other side of the harbor.  Said as the Elves made beautiful things such as shouldn’t go wanting for use.  Said as I deserved beautiful things for taking the likes of him as husband.”

            He gave her that winning smile.  “He was a wise Man, your Amdir, and one who knew the worth of a good woman.”

            She felt she was blushing as she’d not done for long years, perhaps not since that day when Amdir had returned from his journey to the Prince’s city, bringing with him such an item as a chamber pot wrought ages past by the Elves.  Then, thinking, she eyed her visitor in the firelight.  “You are from the White City?” she asked.  “You know Elvish work, and it’s said our new King and Queen are both tied to the Elves.  Most people wouldn’t recognize Elvish work, I’d say, but you do.”

            He shrugged.  “Yes, the stories are true.  Our Lady Queen is own daughter to the Lord Elrond Peredhel, all blessings upon him for granting her presence to those of us who will remain throughout our lives here in Middle Earth.  And for a time we will know trade with those Elves who remain in the hither lands, and many will know the blessings of Elven work, as well as Dwarven work and even Hobbit work.  When I return to the capital I shall see to it you receive samples of each.”

            She gave a snort.  “Not what you’ll remember the likes of me when you are back among your own.”

            He gave a short laugh.  “Do not count all of your chicks as cockerels ere they come of an age to begin to lay,” he said, quoting an old adage to her.  “Now I’d best get this emptied out into the jakes, as I doubt you will wish to use it until it’s been cleansed, not after young Bergil there.  Shall I bring in some extra water, think you?”

            She shrugged.  “The rain will have filled the cistern and the butts.  And there’s a tap in here to allow me to draw water from the cistern without needing to go out to fetch it.  My Amdir, he sought to make things as easy for me as is possible.”

            “A good man he proved to you, I’d say.  I will return soon, then.”

            When she awoke again she saw him dozing in the chair that had once been Amdir’s, and on its stand stood the Elvish chamber pot, properly clean, she was certain.  She smiled and returned to sleep.

 *******

            When she awoke again water was already steaming over the fire, which had been properly stirred ablaze for the morning’s cooking.  The youth Bergil was awake, and gently rubbing at his eyes.  She sat up and looked about.  The older Man was gone out, most likely to see to his horse, she thought.  Well, she needed the jakes, and so she’d go out and use them, even if it meant she’d have to rouse him from them so as to give her a proper turn.  She simply did not feel like relieving herself in front of the younger Man, recovering or not from his fall from his horse.  She smiled at Bergil and wished him a good morning, and rose to prepare her for the day.

            She did not see the taller Man until she came out of the jakes.  He was coming from the direction of the fields to the south of the village, leading a dappled grey horse that was still laden with a saddle that was knocked somewhat askew, its reins dark with wet and mud, leaves and twigs caught in its mane and tail.  One of the saddlebags had been torn open and appeared to be empty, although the second appeared to be whole and properly packed.  “You found his steed, then?”

            He nodded.  “Yes, and not badly off, I rejoice to say.  There’s a bit of a scrape to its off hock and another to its shoulder, but no serious damage done.  It, too, will require a bit of time to recover from its fright.  There was a bolt of lightning that hit a tree quite near us, and this one found that more than it had bargained for.  Bergil was scraped off when this one tried to hide among the trees of your orchard—he held on quite well until they went under that last branch.  I will see him into the byre by Roheryn, with your permission.  I am sorry that we must impose upon you for a time, but until our other people find us it is best that we remain in one place and that Bergil not bestir himself more than is absolutely necessary.  I set some water to heat for the morning’s needs.”

            She gave him a smile.  “Will porridge be acceptable to you and young Bergil?” she asked.  “And we have some peaches that I put up last summer.”

            “That sounds delightful!  And in return I shall see what there is I can do after last night’s storm to set things aright for you.”

            When the porridge was ready she came out to find him refashioning the hinges to the gate to her poultry run, and saw that he’d gathered a number of fallen limbs and had set them into as orderly a stack as was possible near the byre.  He came in and ate both swiftly and neatly, checked Bergil and appeared pleased with the young Man’s condition, and went out again to continue such work as he could find was needed. 

            When he came in with an armful of wood to set beside the fire she shook her head with amazement.  “I could become quite spoiled,” she said, “having all of my work done for me in this manner.”

            He laughed.  “It is good to have something physical to do,” he assured her.  “I feared I should forget how to do such things, so long have I dwelt within city walls.” 

            After nuncheon he went out again, and she found him kneeling within the kitchen garden, examining the young plants and doing what he could to see them cleared of the storm’s debris.  She joined him for a time, concerned that he might do more damage than good; but he proved to be knowledgeable about such things as seedlings, and she saw no signs that he was pulling up young lettuce mistaking them for weeds or any such mistake.  At last she left him to it, and went in again to find the younger Man sitting up, glad for her company.

            It was late afternoon when she heard a hail from the orchard, and she went to the lane between the trees to greet a small company of about five soldiers.  “You looking for a tall Man and a second little more than a boy?” she asked.  “They arrived here at nightfall in the midst of the storm.  The young one is sporting quite the bruise to his head, but will be well soon enough.  The older one has been caring for him, and says he ought to be able to rise on the morrow.”

            “Our Lord was unhurt, though?” asked the one who appeared to be in charge.

            “Oh, yes.  He’s out in the kitchen garden, seeing to it.  Seems what he knows what to do with the young plants.”

            One of the soldiers shook his head.  “Trust our Lord to be working in a garden,” he said.  “Who would have ever imagined the likes of him being so fond of gardening?”

            Three of the five left again, while two remained, although on orders of the tall Man they went into the village to take a room for the night.  One returned with provisions to replace what the Lord and his soldier had eaten and with grain for the horses, and from what she could tell one or the other remained outside the steading on guard throughout the night.

            Seven Men arrived the next day, leading an extra horse for young Bergil, as the dapple grey was deemed in need of more time to recover from its own injuries.  The tall Man again thanked her for her hospitality and kindness, and offered to pay her for allowing them to stay with her, but she would not accept it.  “With all what you’ve done, how could I accept more?” she asked.  “No, go your way, and may you rejoice to return to your wife again.”

            He smiled at her.  “Oh, I always rejoice when I see my beloved Lady,” he assured her.  “And at least I will be able to return Bergil to his father little worse for the wear.”

            She laughed and gave him a familiar swat to his backside, and he left, mounting his horse with a wonderful grace.  In moments they were gone down the lane between the trees, and she went back to look about the place, amazed at how neat and clean all was, the yard swept, fallen limbs drying for firewood, the hens contentedly pecking the ground behind the renewed gate to their run, safe from fox and other predators, and the plants in the kitchen garden all standing straight and green, each one she would swear several inches taller than it had been before the storm.  Her unexpected guest had indeed left things far better than he’d found them!

            *******

            Some six weeks later she was sitting in her door yard plucking a foul for her dinner when a small cart came down the lane.  Surprised, she rose and approached the place where the lane emerged from the overarching limbs of the orchard.  “You are Mistress Mithrellas, the widow of Amdir the orchardist?” the carter asked.

            “Yes,” she said.  “You seek me out?”

            “Yes—I was given a cartful of goods I was to bring to you.”

            “Goods, for me?  But why?”

            “I was sent by the King, Mistress.  He told me that you were promised samples of workmanship from the various races and peoples who have allied themselves with Gondor, in thanks for the hospitality you showed to him and to his guardsman when the younger Man was injured in a storm some weeks ago.  Shall I carry them into your cottage for you?”

            She stood, paralyzed with shock, as he pulled back the heavy canvas that served as a tarp over the back of the cart and began carrying items into her house.  There was a proper bedstead with two mattresses upon it, new linens and blankets far finer than she’d ever possessed; two cooking pots and metal spoons and ladles she was told had been made by the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain; a set of mugs that came all of the way from the Hobbits’ Shire, from the land of the Cormacolindor; a table of finely carved lebethron that came from Eryn Lasgalen; and a beautifully made basin and ewer set that had been brought to Gondor by the Queen Arwen from her father’s home in Imladris. 

            “It was made by the High Elves,” the carter said proudly as he set the ewer within the basin in place on the wash stand.  “The Queen was insistent that you should be gifted with this in particular, for succoring her husband and their guardsman.  She loves our Lord King so very much, you see.”

            She could barely speak as he took his leave, but he was smiling as he drove away, realizing how overwhelmed the old goodwife was by the gifts sent to her from the White City.  Only after he was well gone did she return into the cottage to examine each item.  Most of it was proper to its new home, save for the ewer and basin, those and the table.  Those were of the most exquisite workmanship imaginable.  And although they didn’t exactly match the chamber pot, yet they managed to go well with it!

            At last she found that the cottage could not hold her gladness, and she went outside, looking about her again at all that the tall Man had set right in the day he’d remained in her house.  She wandered over to the low fence that surrounded her kitchen garden and looked down at the neat rows of plants—onions and tomatoes, marrows and peas and turnips, remembering how she’d knelt by him as he’d labored over her storm-tossed garden and set all aright once more.  “The King—that was no mere Lord, but the King’s own self!  Who could have thought that the King was a healer, an herbalist, a scholar, and a gardener—and such a good Man?”

Inspired by the LOTR Community's "A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words" challenge.  For Thundera Tiger and AnnMarwalk for their birthdays, with my thanks to both for both pleasure and inspiration.

The Kobold’s Pay

            Frodo Baggins sat on the bed in the room that had been his since his parents’ deaths, his hands folded in his lap, his expression enigmatic as he examined his beloved cousin Merry’s face.  Sixteen-year-old Merry sat in the chair by the desk Frodo had inherited from his mother, his own expression rebellious.  Here he’d been bragging to Frodo as to how clever he’d been, and it was plain that Frodo didn’t agree.

            “You admit that you stripped her berry bushes?” the Baggins asked, his voice studiously neutral.

            “Well, yes,” Merry said, his tone defensive.  “But she had plenty of berries!”

            “Little good how many berries she might have had did her when you admit that you took them all except for the little she has picked over the past week since they first began to come ripe,” Frodo said.

            “But she’s always been so stingy with her raspberries!”  It was obvious Merry was intent on convincing Frodo that he’d somehow been forced into acting as he’d done.

            “And what else does Missus Goldenthatch have to sell or trade for any other goods she might need?” Frodo asked.

            “But you never got on with her all that well when you lived here, back before you went to live with Bilbo!”

            “No one has ever gotten on well with her in all of the time I’ve known of her,” Frodo agreed.  “But that is no reason to believe that you have the right to strip her of her livelihood.  I repeat, Merry—she has no other thing she can easily sell or trade in order to provide herself with anything else she might require, particularly as she’s now quite elderly and can barely weed what garden she’s planted.  I saw her in Bucklebury as I waited for the ferry, you know.  Her hands are all gnarled, and her back is stiff with pain.  Her lads all live now in the North-farthing, which leaves her with no one near to hand to help her.  If she’s run you lads out of her garden, it’s been with good reason.  Bilbo and I’ve been buying a good deal of her raspberry jam for the past few years and paying a good price for it—it’s the least I can do to help make up for the deviling I gave her when I was the most brilliant scrumper in the region, after all.  And, yes, she grows the best raspberries in the whole of the Marish, but even that does not give us license to take all she has.  I’m not trying to tell you not to scrump at all, Merry, but remember that those with smallholdings such as Marshsweet Goldenthatch lives on often barely can grow what they need for their own use, never mind to satisfy the cravings of greedy teens and tweens.”

            Marshsweet Goldenthatch lived alone in the Marish, a proud Hobbitess who’d never accepted charity from anyone, not even when her husband died young, leaving her alone with three wee lads to raise on her own.  Her parents had foretold calamity should she marry Boddo Goldenthatch, and she refused to allow them the satisfaction of broadcasting far and wide as to how they’d been proved right.  So, she’d planted an extensive kitchen garden each year, kept a few sheep with exceptionally fine wool, and cared for her raspberry canes, managing to scrape by year after year on the proceeds of her sales of yarns and threads and her beautiful pots of raspberry jam, which were much praised and prized across the breadth of the Shire.

            Merry tried one last time to explain how he felt justified in raiding the Goldenthatch raspberries, but Frodo was obviously not going to accept any such rationalization, and at last the teen went still.  Frodo Baggins had once been known as the worst scrumper that Brandy Hall had ever produced, but he’d stopped doing so after one too many raids on the Maggots’ mushroom patch had led to him being run off Bamfurlong Farm by Farmer Maggot’s dogs.  He’d become a reformed character, Merry knew; but Merry also knew that many of those who’d been victimized by Frodo’s gang had well deserved the raids they’d suffered, and he was certain that old Missus Goldenthatch was among them.  Still, if Frodo decreed that she deserved recompense, Merry knew he would give her that.  He might defy his parents at times, and even his grandparents on occasion, but Meriadoc Brandybuck could not imagine purposely disappointing his Baggins cousin who was so much an older brother to him.  Somehow, he would find a means of making things right for her, even if he could not truly understand just why this was necessary.

            He began by approaching her property from the rear and examining her kitchen garden.  When he was younger the Goldenthatch kitchen garden was legendary for its variety and quality.  But now there seemed to be so little!  There were only five rows of carrots and the same of taters.  How on earth did Missus Goldenthatch think she could make it through the winter on so few taters?  And so much kale!  What on earth would anyone do with so much kale?

            And there were so many weeds.  He thought on what Frodo had said about Missus Goldenthatch’s hands being gnarled now, and of how much pain she might be experiencing.  He remembered his Aunt Asphodel, the second of Grandda Rory’s sisters, and how gnarled her hands became as she aged.  She’d been a talented artist and seamstress in her day, and had taught Frodo to draw and paint; but in the years immediately preceding her death she’d not been able to grasp either a paintbrush or a needle anymore.  Was that how it was with Missus Goldenthatch, too?  Suddenly Frodo’s objections began to hit home with Merry.  If she could not easily grasp things with her fingers, then how could she hope to do a lot of things about her home and garden? 

            But what could he do?  Well, he supposed he could begin by weeding, so he crept into the garden and began removing dandelions and vetch….

 *******

            “Dodi,” Merry began, “when you begin thinning your vegetables, may I have some of the plants you are thinking of taking out?”

            Dodiroc Brandybuck, who had his own vegetable patch near the quarters he shared with his wife Violet, examined Merry’s face with interest.  “Are you setting up your own vegetable garden, Meriadoc Brandybuck?” he asked.

            “I’m helping someone else,” Merry temporized.  “For Frodo,” he added, knowing that Dodi had a soft spot for the young Baggins.

            “Fred Oldbuck? He was never much good at keeping his garden up.”  Fred Oldbuck, whose parents had a shop in Kingsbridge, had been one of Frodo’s close companions in the few years Frodo had been free to ramble about Buckland and the Marish, and had taken part in many of Frodo’s raids on farms, gardens, glasshouses, dairies, and smokehouses throughout the farmlands in the floodplains of the Brandywine valley. 

            Merry realized that to Dodi it would make sense that Frodo would wish to see Fred make a success of his garden, so he simply smiled, expecting rightly that the older Brandybuck would assume his guess had been correct.

            “Well, Fred certainly deserves our help,” Dodi said.  “As it happens, I’ll be thinning out the potatoes tomorrow, and the cabbages are coming up far too thickly.  Oh, and the parsley, too, and the radishes.  If you’ll help me with the thinning you can take as many young seedlings as you’d wish.  But you’ll need to be careful you don’t kill the stems or roots, of course, if you wish to transplant them, see?”

            Merry saw, and early next morning, when Dodi came out to work on his vegetable patch, there was Merry already waiting to help, a few light plant crates at the ready.  Then, late in the afternoon the young Hobbit slipped off with his crates to the place where one of the rowboats the lads tended to use was concealed beneath the canopy of a willow tree, rowing to the west shore of the river where he cached the crates in a tumble-down shed on the edge of the smallholding farmed by the ferry Hobbit.  Three days later he borrowed a low wagon and drew his plants to the lane behind the Goldenthatch garden, and once he was assured that Missus Goldenthatch was settled down to take a nap he set to work.  By sundown there were two more rows of radishes, eight more potato plants set out, a single row of rose cabbages that hadn’t been there at all at dawn, and sixteen parsley plants along the sunny side of a low wall.  He’d also planted five tomato plants, replacing the rusted old frames where no plants had been placed this year with extras from Brandy Hall that hadn’t been used in the glasshouse over the winter.

            He was weary as he pulled at the oars to take himself back off to the eastern shore of the Brandywine, but felt surprisingly satisfied, for there was no doubt he’d done a good day’s work.  And behind him, when Missus Marshsweet Goldenthatch came out to tut over the meager garden she’d been able to plant this year, she found that the plants were green and thriving, and she could swear she’d not put in any t’maters, but there were five plants that appeared to have come up there under the south windows, just where she’d always grown them.  How marvelous, that this year the t’maters had decided to come back!  Now, this was a wonder, and no mistake!  And how well the weeds seemed to be behaving—there were very few she needed to pull out.  She was still smiling when she went inside alongside her old tortoiseshell cat to get them both some late supper before they both retired to the bedroom, where Puss curled up, warming the old Hobbitess’s aching back, purring and soothing them both to a well deserved sleep.

 *******

            The sixth and seventh tomato plants were not as far along as the first five, but quickly throve in the excellent soil beneath the southern windows of the Goldenthatch cottage.  Now there were two rows of marrows and one of pumpkins, as well as four rows of maize on the northeast border of the garden.  Runner beans made rich green tents on their leaning poles, and snap peas grew along the picket fence on the border of the yard, the fence somehow boasting a coat of fresh whitewash.    Plus there was now a row of sunflowers beyond the turnips, and their stalks promised to grow tall and produce many seeds before the summer was gone.  As Marshsweet Goldenthatch stood examining her garden in mid-July she couldn’t help but wonder how this transformation had come to be.  “Niver planted no sunflowers, niver in all me days,” she said, shaking her head.  “And who’d of believed as seven t’mater plants’d come up a second year in a row?”

            A week later she was kneeling by one of those plants, a harvesting basket lying by her as she pulled the first of the ripe fruits from their stems. 

            “I must say, Missus Marshsweet, as it’s a right fine garden as ye have this year.”

            She looked over her shoulder to see her neighbor standing the other side of the picket fence along which the snap peas grew, her dog and young son by her.  Slowly she rose to her feet, rubbing at her back.  “Isn’t it, though, Anise?” she replied.  “Although I must say as I’ve had fairly little t’do with it this season.  What with the rheumatics in me back and my hands as painful as them is, I swear as I just couldn’t do it up right what I usually do.  But look at it!  Have ye iver seen such a sight as these?  Was thinkin’ as a few of them t’mater plants as I put in last year made it through the winter, but I swear as I niver, niver planted none as give off t’maters as are the size of small plums!  Now, there’s no question as these is ripe as c’n be, and so sweet!  But where’d such as this come from, you think?”

            “Ye’re sayin’ as ye didn’t plant all of this?” Anise responded.  “Well, I wonder, is there another kobold loose in the Marish after all this time?”

            “What’s a kobold, Mam?” asked her son.

            “A kobold, Elfsum?  Oh, it’s a creature as is full of mischief, till it finds as it’s gone too far and feels as it must make amends.  Once as it come t’that conclusion, it’ll work right hard, doin’ all as it can t’set things as right as possible, replacin’ what it took or fixin’ what it broke down.  The kobold’ll do all it can to help until it must go elsewhere or it figgers as it’s made it up t’ye right and proper.”

            Elfsum shook his head.  “Never saw no creatures in Missus Marshsweet’s garden.  Just a lad in Hall----”

            But his mother was clapping her cupped hand over his mouth.  “Be still now, Elfsum Riverbanks!  Mustn’t try t’give a name to a kobold or ye’ll mayhaps drive it away betimes.  And there’s no question as Missus Marshsweet deserves what help as she c’n get this here year, right?  Now, you take Blueberry there back t’the house and tell yer da as Missus Marshsweet could do with some help with her gate.  Looks as if the hinge could do with some fixin’.  Off with ye, now, lad!”

            “And what do ye know about the likes of kobolds settin’ gardens t’rights, Anise Riverbanks?” demanded the older Hobbitess  as the young lad, his lips set in a pout, drew the dog away, saying, “Come on then, Blueberry,” as he headed for home.

            Anise shrugged, although her eyes were twinkling.  “Ye’ll member some years back, after some three years when we was all bein’ driven t’distraction by them scrumpers as took everthin’ as grew sweet or rich, when it was the opposite an’ instead one was comin’ in quiet-like, weedin’ the vegetables and whitewashin’ the stones along the garden borders?  Well, Evan an’ me, we decided as it was a kobold, and we was both surprised and delighted t’learn as one’d decided as it owed us recompense.  Ours come back some years in a row, harvestin’ our tomatoes for us and all.  Oh, we was glad as c’n be for our kobold, for with some time to spend on one another we finally was able to come by Elfsum there.  Best gift as the kobold give us, time to love one another as we both deserved.”

            “It’s a fool name as ye give the lad,” Marshsweet commented, “namin’ ’im fer Elves.  Ain’t nonesuch in the Shire, I’m a-thinkin’.”

            Anise glanced back toward her place, and gave a knowing smile.  “Don’t say no such thing near my Evan,” she warned.  “Him’s lived here on this land all his life, and him says as the footpath ’cross the back pasture where Butter ’n’ Cream graze most days was made by the Elves.  Men may of built the Road, and Hobbits and Dwarves and Rangers use it; but it’s Elves as made most of the footpaths an’ some of the bridle trails through the Shire.  And we saw Elves watchin’ over our kobold several times, though I doubt as him saw them back, and them was pleased with what him was a-doin’.  I think as a good part o’ why our blueberries and your raspberries thrive as they do is ’cause the Elves wanted t’make things better for us from what them saw our kobold doin’ for us.  So, it’s as much for his sake as for that of the Elves what we named our son Elfsum, you see.  And if’n yer kobold is close t’ourn, I suspect as ourn made certain as you was recompensed fer the berries as the scrumpers robbed ye of a month back.”

            Missus Goldenthatch wasn’t convinced, but she didn’t argue.  And she set out to find a way to spy upon her own kobold, deciding she wanted to find a name for him, even though she had no desire to drive him away by naming him aloud.  It took a time to catch the lad at it, for she had to forego her daily naps to be in a position to see him at work.  She was surprised and humbled once she did, but she felt a warmth she’d not known for years once she’d realized just who it was who was trying to set things right for her.

 *******

            “You sent for me, Grandda Rory?” Merry asked on entering his grandfather’s study.

            “Yes.  Just what has managed to bring you to the attention of old Marshsweet Goldenthatch in the Marish?”

            Merry felt his mouth go dry and the skin on his scalp and feet tighten.  He’d been identified as the one who’d stolen her raspberries last year, and now she was going to see him brought to justice—was that it?  “I don’t know, Grandda,” he managed to say.  Then it all came out in a rush. “Oh, Grandda, I’m so sorry, but I scrumped her berries last summer.  But I swear that I did my best to square things—Frodo insisted I needed to do so!”

            Old Rory had an odd smile on his lips.  “You scrumped her raspberries, did you, and Frodo insisted you make things right?  So, that explains it!”

            “Explains what?” Merry asked, confused.  It appeared that the Master of Buckland wasn’t upset with him after all, but he couldn’t think why else Missus Goldenthatch would bring his name up to his grandfather.

            Rorimac Brandybuck shook his head, his expression growing gentle and fond.  “She was a tough old bird, and far too independent for her own good at times,” he said.  “I’ll admit this now, Merry, but don’t let it convince you that it means I condone the scrumping our lads are prone to.  You see, when we were younger, my brothers, sisters, and me, we used to go scrumping in the Marish, too, the same as the teens do now.  And my sister Primula just loved raspberries, so she’d sneak off to the Goldenthatch place to eat her fill once the berries came ripe.  Oh, but Missus Marshsweet would complain to our dad about it, and more than once!

            “Now, as you undoubtedly have been told several times, Primula and Asphodel were both gifted needleworkers, and as she grew better at woolwork and knitting, Primula would do anything to get hold of the best threads and yarns she could find.  And the best wool in the East-farthing is that produced by Marshsweet Goldenthatch.  For years Primula wouldn’t buy any wool if she knew that it came from the Goldenthatch sheep, considering how much trouble her scrumping of those raspberries had cost her, but then she decided that she wanted to make a knitted blanket for our first child, your Grandmother Gilda’s and mine, your father Saradoc.  So at last she humbled herself to approach Missus Goldenthatch to purchase enough yarn to make it.  She apologized for what she’d done, and she offered far more than the yarn was worth to purchase enough to make her blanket.    And she brought her some tomato plants for her kitchen garden.  Missus Goldenthatch gave her just the yarn she’d asked for, and Primula made the blanket she’d wanted to make, the same one you used to be wrapped in when you were a bairn. 

            “Well, the next year a bundle arrived at the Hall for Primula, and it was full of the same amount of yarn as she’d bought the year before.  There was a note with it saying that considering that Primula had paid twice as much as it was worth for the yarn she’d purchased a year earlier and the wonderful yield of the tomato plants she’d given to Missus Goldenthatch, Missus Goldenthatch felt that she owed this yarn to Primula.  So Primula made a shawl of the yarn, and dyed it a gorgeous soft blue, and on her birthday saw it in a parcel set on the Goldenthatch stoop.  So the next year, if there wasn’t another measure of yarn sent to Primula, and even more this time!  In the end Primula did a woolwork blanket that was more than big enough to cover any bed you can imagine, even the one that it’s said the Bullroarer used to sleep upon, and slipped it onto the Goldenthatch stoop at Yule.  That was the last Yule before Primula and Drogo died.

            “When Frodo was making his amends in the Marish for the damage he’d caused to many smallholders with the scrumping he and his gang did, we received several skeins of yarn each year from the Marish, but with no notes attached.  We didn’t understand why we’d gotten them until after Frodo left with Bilbo.  At that time the yarn stopped coming.”

            He paused, and looked over to the dresser in which the records for the Hall were kept.  On it lay what appeared to be a folded blanket of a rich, golden color.  His eyes were now somehow sad and proud at the same time.  “Marshsweet Goldenthatch died a week ago, and her neighbors, the Riverbankses, have been seeing to her affairs.  She directed that this should be given to you, whom she described as Meriadoc Brandybuck the Kobold.  We didn’t understand why, not until you told me what you’d done.”

            He turned to smile at Merry, now plainly proud of his grandson.  “You have done well to listen to your cousin, for in my estimation you can find no better Hobbit in the Shire to learn from than Frodo Baggins.  You’ve done very well, my Merry.”

 *******

            Years later, the bridal bed Meriadoc Brandybuck shared with his new wife Estella Bolger was covered with that golden blanket, finally removed from the cedar chest he’d inherited from his grandfather, one that had been crafted by Drogo Baggins. 

            “What a beautiful blanket!” Estella said, running her hand over the careful patterns worked into it so long ago by Primula Baggins.  “However did you come by it?”

            Merry smiled.  “It was a wedding present, one given me in anticipation of this day, jointly by a Hobbitess who used to live in the Marish and by Frodo.” 

            And he never said any differently to anyone who ever asked.

Written for the LOTR Community "Lost and Found" challenge.  For Linda Hoyland and Fiondil. A true drabble.

Comfort in a Moment of Grief

            As Aragorn fell exhausted upon the cot set for him in the tent raised upon the Pelennor, he felt again the pain of loss engendered by Halbarad’s death.  His first friend among his own people, his almost-brother, was lost, having made himself a target by insisting on carrying Aragorn’s banner in the battle!

            “Grieve not for me, you great silly!” he seemed to hear murmured into his ear.  “Think on what you have found!  You’ll never be alone.”

            Remembering the amazed worship he’d seen in Faramir’s eyes as the young Man awoke from near-death, Aragorn again knew contentment, and slept.

For La Prime, Illereyn, and Virtuella for their birthdays.

Grace Granted

            Elso Twofoot led his young granddaughter Rosemary across to the Party Field.  “Since you and your mum will be stayin’ with us for a time, it’s probably best as you get t’know what’s what here ’round the hill.  Us Twofoots have lived here on the Row for at least eight generations, ever since the Row was dug, and we’ve always lived in Number Two.  Now, that’s now the Party Tree, although it wasn’t when me old dad was young.  Then the Party Tree was an oak, the largest oak, it’s said, in all of the Shire.  And a fine tree it was, and quite beautiful, my granfer tol’ me, at old Mr. Bilbo’s last party, all lit up with lanterns tied on and such.”

            “What happened to it?” the child asked.

            Elso’s mouth went tight.  “Lotho and Sharkey happened, that’s what.  Lotho Sackville-Baggins what was.  Bought Bag End up there,” he waved at the windows halfway up the Hill for emphasis, “from his Cousin Frodo and took t’lordin’ it over all the Shire as if it now made him King of the world.  Brought in a bunch o’ Big Men as an army and tol' all the Hobbits what was then as him was the Chief and they all had t’do what him told ’em.  It was a bad time, the Time o’ Troubles.  They was always a-cuttin’ down trees and burnin’ down many o’ the inns and diggin’ out holes and a-tearin’ down folks’ houses just t’be mean!”  He shook his head.  “They even dug out the Row!  Moved my granfer and all t’other side o’ the village to some awful houses built by them Men, an’ if they wasn’t terrible!”

            “But Number Two is back now!”

            “Yes it is, and that’s cause of the Travellers comin’ back when them did and settin’ things back t’rights.  Mr. Frodo and Mr. Sam saw the holes dug back in and fixed up good as new—even better, cause now we have good floors an’ better walls ’tween rooms, or so me dad tol’ me.  Anyways, Lotho hated ever’thin’ as had t’do with his Cousin Frodo and old Mr. Bilbo, so him ordered the Party Tree cut down and left t’rot.  It took weeks t’have it proper cut up into lumber once Sam Gamgee was a’seein’ t’things bein’ cleaned up, like; and my dad said as the trunk was never dug out but was cut right t’the ground in the end, for it was far too big for grubbin’, don’t ya see.  It was a right ol’ tree, and my dad said as Mr. Frodo tol’ him one day as it had been there since afore the Shire was the Shire, even.  Mayhaps had begun growin’ in the days o’ the Kings of Cardolan an’ Arthedain, afore the days of Arvedui Last-king!  Him and my dad tried countin’ the rings, as that’s how one tells how old a tree is, don’t ya know, but my dad lost count somewheres around two thousand.

            “Anyways, that tree’s an Elvish tree from a place called Lórien what ain’t there no more, or so them tells me.”

            “Why’s it not there no more?” Rosemary asked.

            He shrugged.  “Somethin’ ’bout a war down southaways,” he answered.  “The Travellers, them was involved, although I can’t say proper how, but all tell as somehow Mr. Sam Gamgee an’ his Mr. Frodo was both right there at the center of it all.  Anyways, it’s all long past now, and now the King’s come back and all is good, and most special as the Mayor an’ the Thain an’ the Master is all the King’s particular Friends!”

            “So, what kinda tree is this?” Rosemary asked.

            “It’s called a mallorn, or so the Mayor tells us.  Beautiful, ain’t it?”

            The little lass nodded, smiling at the silver tree with its golden leaves.  “How come we got this one now?” she asked.

            He shrugged.  “Mr. Sam, him planted it when him got home, after the old Party Tree was took away.  Just a little silver nut, it was, too!  But did it grow, and fast!  But, then all the new trees as was planted back then grew fast, so my dad and my granfer both tol’ me.  The Mayor tol ’em both as the Lady’d blest the Shire and the trees, and him had a box o’ dust as him used t’do the blessin’ with.  His Mr. Frodo come down and helped him with the plantin’, although I don’t think as Mr. Frodo did a lot o’ the work.  Somethin’ ’bout him not bein’ in the best of health, there was.  My old dad said as Mr. Frodo was a-holdin’ the box for Mr. Sam whilst him dug the hole for to plant that silver nut, and him opened the lid, and some of the dust was blowed out on the breeze across the field.

            “Now, we’ve always had some mushrooms as’ll grow in this field, but ever since that day there’s a lot more, and some right special ones as don’t grow nowhere else in all the Shire.  They grows over here, see?”

            Rosemary crouched down to examine the indicated mushrooms more closely.  “I never seed ones as was that kind of goldy-yellow,” she said, her little brow wrinkled by her contemplation.

            “Nor have any of us, not nowhere but here in this portion o’ the Party Field,” agreed Elso.  “We calls them Mr. Baggins’s Buttons, for there’s a story as Mr. Baggins lost his brass buttons tryin’ t’escape from goblins in the mountains.  But I’m not certain as to which Mr. Baggins it was, whether t’was Mr. Frodo Baggins what was one o’ them Travellers, or old Mr. Bilbo, the one as used t’be called old Mad Baggins, although you’d best not ever call ’im that anywheres the Mayor or his family can hear it.  They are all very protective of old Mr. Bilbo’s reputation, they are.  Anyways, these are about the best mushrooms as grows anywhere in the whole Shire, but there’s rules for pickin’ ’em.  You can’t take more’n a modest bowl for each one in the hole, and no more than once a week for each family.  You have t’leave enough for others.  Those is the rules as Mayor Sam laid down for ’em.  Said as they’re a part o’ the grace offered us for Mr. Frodo’s sake, and we mustn’t trespass on that grace or we might just lose them altogether.”

            “But who is Mr. Frodo?” she asked, looking up to search her grandfather’s face.  "I’ve never heard tell of him.”

            He straightened.  “Him used t’live up there in Bag End, up high on the Hill.  Was old Mr. Bilbo’s ward and heir.  T’was Mr. Bilbo’s dad, Mr. Bungo Baggins, as dug out Bag End for when him got married t’Miss Belladonna Took, one o’ the Old Took’s three daughters.  Mr. Bilbo never got married, so him chose his Cousin Frodo t’adopt.  All as knew Mr. Frodo say as him was about the best Hobbit as they ever knew, honest, and fair as fair.  Mayor Sam worked for Mr. Frodo as his gardener then, he did, and lived down on the Row with us, there in Number Three, with his sisters and his old dad, what they all called the Gaffer.  A fine gentlehobbit Mr. Frodo was, my dad used t’say, always a-helpin’ anyone anywhere near the Hill as might need any aid at all.  But after the Travellers come back, Mr. Sam got married to Missus Rosie, and they lived in Bag End with Mr. Frodo till him went away.”

            “Where’d him go?”

            He gave a twisted smile.  “Can’t rightly say.  At first him was as busy as Mr. Sam and Mr. Meriadoc Brandybuck and Mr. Peregrin Took, afore them was Mayor, Master, or Thain, in helpin’ make things good again.  Mr. Frodo even worked as the deputy Mayor for a time, takin’ over for old Will Whitfoot, what was Mayor afore Mr. Samwise.  My granfer even tol’ me as there was hopes as him would be elected Mayor hisself, but he decided not t’run after all.  But him rode off one day with Mr. Sam, and although Mr. Sam come home to be the Mayor, Mr. Frodo didn’t.  They say as him went with the Elves, and could do so cause of what him did in that war of theirn.  Mr. Sam says as Mr. Frodo earned a good deal of grace for what him did.” 

            He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, then leaned down to whisper in her ear, “But I don’t think as him’s all gone.  Oh, him don’t live there no more, and I never seen him proper, not ever in my life.  But there’s glimpses of a tall Hobbit—oh, not so tall as the Master nor the Thain, mind, but tall enough—t’be seen watchin’ over the Shire from that bench up there by the door t’Bag End.  Him used t’sit there most ever’ evenin’ t’watch the settin’ of the Sun and the risin’ of the Evenin’ Star.  Was right fond o’ the Evenin’ Star, my dad tol’ me when I was little.  And if’n anyone takes more’n their proper share of them mushrooms, them feels as if there’s someone as knows ’bout it and is sad for their greed.  So you can eat one or two when you’re a-goin’ ’cross the field, an’ bring some home if’n yer grammer sends ye off t’fetch some for dinner.  But don’t ever, never get greedy with ’em, see?  It just ain’t right!”

 *******

            When that evening her grandmother sent her off to do just that, Rosemary did her best to do as she’d been bade, bringing just enough home for each member of the family to have a modest bowl of them, and in looking up at the bench by the door to Bag End she could have sworn that a tall, slender Hobbit she’d not seen anywhere about Hobbiton was sitting there with a pipe in his hand, and that he was smiling at her in approval, although the next moment he wasn’t to be seen.  But all the time she dwelt on the Row she felt safe, knowing that there was a tall, kindly Hobbit who saw to it that those on the Row were guarded, and she never had a single nightmare.

Written for the LOTR Community Yule Exchange challenge.  For Cathleen.

Plans for a Future Yule

            When Merry found Pippin at the Golden Perch, the young Took was smiling broadly.  “You came to meet me!” he exclaimed.  Immediately he was signaling for the innkeeper to bring his cousin a beer.  “Master Littlesmial—one for the Son of the Hall here, please!”

            “Meet you?” demanded Merry.  “You were supposed to arrive at Brandy Hall three hours ago!  Your mother is fit to be tied!  Aunt Lanti’s storming all over the place complaining about how irresponsible you’ve become in the past few years, and it’s all Mum can do to convince her not to send out your dad and mine to find you!”

            “But you knew where I’d be,” Pippin responded, and he took a large sip from the mug in his hand.

            “As does your da, Peregrin Took.  And you know how he’d be once he came upon you in the common room here.”

            Pippin’s face soured.  “Oh, indeed I do.  His mouth would go all twisted, as if my name had that sour taste to it.  It’s about the only way he looks at me at all anymore.”

            “If you’d only pay attention when he tries to involve you in Took family business—” Merry began, but Pippin didn’t allow him to finish.

            “And why do I want to get involved in all of that?” he asked.  “Da is hardly ready to kick the bucket any time soon, after all.”

            “But you could help him.”

            Pippin gave a bitter laugh.  “How am I to help him, Merry?  He doesn’t really want help, and any suggestion I do make he discounts with statements such as, ‘You will know better when you are older.’  He told me that I could organize the back store rooms, so I set to, intending to see them sorted out.  But as soon as I started work he sent Ferdi in to help, only it appears that Ferdi was told to see to it that it’s all organized Da’s way.  How am I to accomplish anything of worth when I’m not allowed to do anything without somebody standing over me telling me how to do it?  He still treats me as if I were just twenty, and I’m twenty-seven now!”  He drained his mug, and held it out to the server when he arrived with Merry’s drink in hand.

            The server, however, did not take it.  “I am sorry, Master Took,” he said. “but Mister Saradoc has forbade us to serve more than five mugs in an evening to those not yet of age.”

            Pippin started to protest, but stopped as his cousin prodded him in the chest with an elbow.  “Forget it, Pip,” Merry advised.  “My dad’s had this limit for those who aren’t of age since before I became a tween, and he’s not going to be happy if you browbeat Elno there into giving you what you think you want.”

            “What do you mean, what I think I want?  I know I want another beer!” 

            “Why?  So you can demonstrate to your father that you are truly as irresponsible and careless of your health and safety as he imagines you to be?  Now, did you stop by Bag End as you said you would?”  He nodded a dismissal that Elno responded to swiftly.

            “Yes, and Frodo wasn’t there.  Sam says he decided to drive up to the northern borders of the West-farthing for some reason he wouldn’t say before he headed east toward Buckland.  He rented one of the traps from the Green Dragon, I believe.  Probably Baggins family business, if I know our Frodo.”

            “Is Frodo still studying Bilbo’s maps of the lands east of the Shire?”

            “Yes—he’s had one that follows the Road east to the Misty Mountains on his desk all this month, although Sam says that he doesn’t see any indication on it of where Rivendell might be.  You do think he’d go there first, searching for Bilbo, don’t you, Merry?”

            “Yes, I do.  I mean, if Bilbo were to insist on revisiting some of the places he’s been to before, the two places we know he wanted to see again most were Rivendell and the Lonely Mountain.  And if there’s someone who probably could tell anyone where to find Bilbo, I suspect it is Master Elrond.  Bilbo appears to have respected him a good deal.”

            “Yes, and he liked it there.  Bilbo always tended to favor the Elves from what I could see.”

            “I wouldn’t be the least surprised to learn that Bilbo’s been staying there, really.”

            Pippin nodded his agreement, and looked down morosely at his empty mug.  “So, you won’t make them give me just one more half?”

            Merry gave a sharp laugh.  “And have Dad disappointed in me?  No, I’m sorry, Pip, but I couldn’t.  I’ll finish this, and we’ll go.”

            Pippin sighed, and watched longingly as Merry downed his own mug of beer.  Only as his older cousin began rebuttoning his jacket and drew on his cloak did the young Took finally stand up from his place, tying his scarf around his neck.  “Is it cold out there?” he asked as he hefted his pack from the floor.

            Merry shrugged.  “It’s still and frosty out there now.  It’s going to be cold crossing on the ferry.”

            “I guess I don’t mind that much.  I like looking at the winter stars.”

            Merry smiled as he led the way to the door.  “Frodo’s rubbed off on you that much, eh?”

            Now it was Pippin’s turn to shrug.  “Maybe.  Or maybe I just happen to like stars myself, whether Frodo likes them or not.  It’s mostly because the stars seem brighter somehow in the winter, though, I think.  Like they were shining brighter to keep themselves warm.”

            Merry grinned at him as they exited into the inn yard.  “Now, there’s a thought.  Do you think one would agree to come down and sit in one of our pockets to keep us warmer, too?”

            There was just the moment to see Pip’s answering grin before the door swung shut behind them.  “As if a star would do that just for us, Meriadoc Brandybuck!  Although one of them just might do such a thing for Frodo, I’ve always thought.  Now, thinking of Frodo, what do you think he’ll bring for us for Yule?”

            “Who knows?  Books, probably.”

            Pippin gave an exaggerated groan.  “Not a book, surely?  It’s not as if he hasn’t given both of us more than either of us ever truly wanted, after all.”

            “A map of the empty lands between here and Rivendell, then.”

            “At least that might be useful once we’re certain that he’s truly ready to leave.”

            “He’ll be fifty next fall, Pippin, the same age Bilbo was when he left the Shire the first time.  I don’t think he’ll wait long after that to follow him.”

            “I’m sure you’re right there, Merry.”  Then, after a moment of walking down the lane toward the ferry, he continued, “What have you got for Frodo?”

            “A new pack.  A larger one than the one he uses now.  I figure he can break it in before we leave.”

            “And what did you get for me?”

            Pippin could just make out Merry widening his eyes.  “And you think I’ll just tell you what you’re getting for Yule, do you, Peregrine Took?  Oh, no, my dear cousin—you’ll have to wait another two days the same as everyone else.”

            “I got Frodo a new water bottle.  His old one has a leak in it.”

            “And how do you know that?”

            “He was complaining about it last time he came to the Great Smial.”

            “And why was he complaining about it to you?”

            Pippin shrugged defensively, fixing his gaze on the post where the ferry lantern hung.  “It could be because I accidently jabbed a hole in it when I was visiting Bag End last spring, I suppose.”

            Merry sighed.  “So, really you’re repaying him a new water bottle and calling it a Yule gift, are you?”

            “Well, I had to save my allowance for a few months to afford it.”

            “You didn’t just lift one from the storerooms at the Great Smial, then?”

            “And have one more thing for Da to be angry with me about?  I may have a few faults, Merry, but I’m no thief to steal from my own.”

            Merry’s voice gentled as he sought to assure his younger cousin, “I’m sorry, Pip.  No, you’ve never been that.  And I’m certain that Frodo will love a new water bottle from you.”

            Pippin brightened.  “You really think so?  I got it at the Lithe Days festival in Tuckborough last summer.  The North Tooks had several very nice ones, you know.”  He squinted at the ferry.  “Drat.  We’ll have to pole ourselves across, apparently.”

            “Tolo’s busy tonight—it’s his cousin’s birthday, so he’ll be staying at the farm.  And you’ve never complained about us poling ourselves across before.”

            “I forgot to bring my gloves, and it’s a lot colder now than it was when I went into the inn.  Oh, but look, Merry—he’s decorated the ferry!”  He pointed to the lantern pole, where Tolo had hung a wreath of greens decorated with red and white berries.

            “Yes, he does it every year.  Where did you lose your gloves?  I can’t imagine your mother allowing you to leave the Great Smial without them.”

            “They were mittens.  I left them in Frodo’s study.”  Pippin followed Merry onto the dock, dropped his pack onto the ferry, and at a gesture from his cousin began untying the mooring line.  “Mum just made them for me.  They are red, with deer embroidered on the backs.  And white pom-poms.”

            Merry had to swallow down a gasp of dismay.  Eglantine Banks Took apparently had it in her head that if only she could keep her son dressed as a child he would remain one indefinitely.  He could not understand it—when she was merely the wife of Paladin Took, farmer of Whitfield, she was as sensible as anyone he’d ever known.  But now that she was the Thain’s Lady she’d gone almost as strange in her way as had Lalia before her.  She encouraged Pippin to behave as a child one moment, and was bemoaning his lack of responsibility the next.  No wonder Peregrin Took did everything he could to escape the Tooklands as often as possible!  Was it something to do with the Thain’s quarters that caused their occupants to lose their common Hobbit sense?  It was almost as bad as Aunt Rosamunda and the way she kept feeding Freddie until he had the proportions of a roopie ball!

            He got the main pole in hand and gestured for Pippin to join him on the ferry’s platform.  Pip rolled up the line and hung it over the post set to hold it while the ferry was under way.  Within moments they were in the current, with only the guide line holding them from drifting southward.  Pippin grasped the second pole and worked to assist Merry—the faster they were across the Brandywine, the sooner they’d be able to reach the warmth of Brandy Hall. 

            But in the middle of the river Pippin paused and looked upwards.  “Oh, Merry!” he breathed.  “Look at how beautiful they are!”

            Merry also paused in his poling, and followed Pippin’s gaze.  Yes, there was no question that the stars were spectacular tonight!  “I do hope that Frodo’s enjoying them, too,” he said.

            “I’m certain he is.  He told Sam that he planned to drive straight through so as to be across the Bridge and into Buckland within an hour after sunset.  He just might beat us to the Hall!”

            “We can’t let that happen!” Merry exclaimed.  “Come on, lad—let’s put some muscle into it!”  Reluctantly Pippin obeyed, and they were soon across the river and tying up to the dock on the eastern shore.  While Merry handled the mooring, Pippin dropped a few coins into the designated basket to reimburse Tolo for having to row across the river in the morning so that he could ply his trade during the day, and grabbing up his pack once more, he scurried off after Merry toward the ridge into which Brandy Hall was excavated.

            As they reached the main doors to the Hall, a trap arrived, its driver muffled in a thick, warm brown cloak, and with a wooly hat on his head and a soft rug across his lap.  “Oh, so you have come out to meet me!” Frodo called.

            “Meet you?  Hardly, Frodo Baggins!  We just arrived from the Golden Perch, is all,” Merry answered.  “Had you come down the Stock Road you could have come across on the ferry with us.”

            “Ah, but then I might have missed watching the Swordsman as I drove,” Frodo responded before turning to Horto, who usually served as door warden.  “Hello, Horto!  Are you ready for Yule yet?”

            “And how am I to have time to wrap packages with all of the grand folk arriving at all hours?” Horto demanded.  “Welcome, Frodo!  Did you stop in Frogmorton or Whitfurrow for the night?”

            “I had some family business in the far West-farthing to see to, so on the way back I stayed one night in Michel Delving, the second in Whitfurrow, and drove from there to here arriving tonight.  I’d have preferred to sleep out, but it’s been cold enough that I thought better of that idea in the end.”

            “As well you might.  Oh, but here comes Gomez to take the pony and trap.  Shall I help you with your parcels?”

            “Better you than these two rascals.”  Frodo gave Merry and Pippin a significant glance.  “Even Merry isn’t too old to shake his package in the attempt to figure out what he’s receiving, I’ve found.”

            Merry gave a mock-indignant squawk.  “What?!  I’ll have you know I’m far too old to do such things!”

            “Too old, perhaps.  Mature enough to refrain from doing so?  Not hardly, Meriadoc Brandybuck!  Here, take my trunk for me.  And you, Pippin, can carry my food hamper.”

            “And what delicacies has Sam sent that you haven’t eaten yet?”  Pippin was already rifling through the hamper until Frodo slapped his hand.

            “That’s enough of that, Peregrin Took!  Behave, or I shall tell your mother that you deliberately left your new mittens in my study!  Yes, I stopped at home briefly yesterday and found them there.  Although I can’t blame you for choosing to ‘lose’ them.  Really, your mother should know better than red mittens with white pom-poms!  The deer were actually a nice touch, but those pom-poms are far too much.  Shall we go in, my beloved lads?”

            With one hand on the shoulder of each of them, Frodo walked Merry and Pippin into the Hall, will they, nill they.  Although they didn’t truly mind, even seeing that Eglantine was all ready to sweep down upon her errant youngest child to berate him for lingering so long on the road.  They knew that Frodo would see to it that she was placated and properly distracted so that Pippin wouldn’t long suffer under her attentions.

            Two hours later, watching Frodo standing with the Thain, the Master, and their Ladies, enjoying a glass of the finest wine in the Hall’s cellars, Pippin suddenly shook his head.  “Look at him, talking with them as if they were all of an age,” he murmured.  “And in an hour he’ll be with us and the others in their thirties as if he were still in his thirties himself instead of almost fifty!”

            He paused to sip at the goblet of wine he’d managed to slip from a server’s tray.  “This is good,” he commented, briefly examining the color of the liquor in his glass.  “Perhaps I should order it the next time I’m in Stock.  Although the beer at the Golden Perch is excellent.  Oh, but how am I to decide?”

            “Why not wait until you are there next before you make such momentous decisions?” Merry responded.

            “I wonder—do the Elves of Rivendell drink ale?”  Pippin took another sip.  “I never heard Bilbo mention the ale there, although I remember him commenting on how good the mead was in Beorn’s house.”

            Merry shrugged his shoulders.  “I don’t remember him mentioning beer or ale in Rivendell, either.  I do recall he said he recommended their wine, though.”

            Pippin smiled with satisfaction.  “Then I shall make a habit of drinking more wine this coming year.  After all, if Frodo does what we suspect he’ll do in September, then we’ll most likely be finding out just how fine the wine in Rivendell is for ourselves, don’t you think?”

            Merry shook his head and gave a laugh as he removed his own glass from his lips.  “Next Yule in Rivendell, then!” he pledged, and the two clinked their goblets together.

            “May it be so!” Pippin agreed, and took still another sip from his goblet before going forward to claim Frodo’s attention away from the grownups.

Written for the LOTR Community Potluck challenge.  For Cairistiona for her birthday.

The Standard Revealed

            Elladan came to his sister’s rooms intending to fetch the grey cloaks given to himself and his brother by their grandmother.  Arwen had taken them to see them cleaned and refreshed, along with certain other garments that she knew they would want ere they set off to the south to join Estel for the last battles against Sauron and his armies.  She’d also indicated that she had items that she wished to see taken south for her beloved, that when he should face the forces of Mordor he look the King he was intended to be.

            The Elven cloaks lay side-by-side across a divan, the slanted sunlight of late winter bringing out the sheen of new leaves and silver glints as of running water from the weft threads.  Nearby sat a watertight bag in which their sister had indicated she would pack garments for Aragorn, obviously packed tightly, its flaps properly deployed and its ties fastened.  A stack of shirts for Elladan and his twin had been set with a number of underthings and new pairs of leggings upon a chest.  But Arwen barely indicated awareness of her brother’s arrival, for her attention at the moment was centered upon what appeared to be a roll of black stuff, wrapped about with cords of silver gilt.  He was confused until he saw that emerging from the roll of fabric was a great staff of elm, at which time he took a deep breath.

            “Then you have finished it at last?”

            She gave a distracted nod.  “Yes, and last night Boraënur fixed the two rings with which it is to be held to its staff as well as delivering to me the cordage to be used in fastening it when furled.”  She gave a deep sigh, still examining the bundled standard she’d worked on for so long for Estel’s usage.

            “I shall take it, then,” he began, reaching out his hand toward the staff, but she pulled it away, her eyes fearful.

            “No!”

            Elladan was confused.  “But surely I can deliver this to our brother,” he said.

            “You must not touch it now, Elladan!  Only I may touch or carry it until it is delivered into the hands of the one intended to serve as Aragorn’s first standard bearer.”

            Suddenly he understood.  “Then you have foreseen----”

            She gave a single nod to her head.  “Yes.”  Her face was pale, but set with determination.  “Halbarad and I have discussed this, and he is willing to chance the vision.”

            He grew still, his concern clear to be seen.  “Halbarad?  But Aragorn sees him as much a brother to himself as he sees Elrohir or me.”

            Again that single nod, and he could see the grief she felt.  “Yes.  I know.  Halbarad knows.  But if the first to bear the standard is likely to fall in battle, he wishes to take that hazard upon himself for his Chieftain’s sake.”

            “Then you shall ride out with us to meet with the Dúnedain?”

            She gave him a twisted smile, her eyes unnaturally bright with unshed tears.  “It would appear that I must, Elladan.  But I will entrust this to no one save to Halbarad himself.”

 *******

            A guard of eight accompanied the three children of Elrond when they left the bounds of Rivendell, Arwen heavily cloaked and carrying the furled standard in her arms protectively.  When they were spotted by those chosen to go south with the Grey Company, there was quiet comment on the number of Elves in the riding, for it had been expected that only the sons of Elrond would go with the Men of the North to their Chieftain’s aid.  “There are few enough warriors left in the hidden valley to see to its defense should the Enemy send forces to lay siege to it,” commented one of the older Men.

            “Indeed,” answered one of Halbarad’s brothers, both of whom had indicated they would not agree to stay behind.

            “They are come as escort only, and will be returning to the valley forthwith,” Halbarad cautioned the rest.

            One of the younger Men snorted.  “And since when have the two brothers required an escort?”

            “It is not for Elladan and Elrohir they have come,” Halbarad said.  “Three of the Peredhil have come forth this time, and one will return.”

            “But Lord Elrond is not among those approaching,” one of the others objected.

            But Halbarad’s younger brother was shaking his head.  “He did not say that Master Elrond came forth, only that there were three of the Peredhil in the party.  It is the Lady Arwen who comes to bid her brothers and us farewell.”

            There was a general straightening of the riders as the rest sought to see the reclusive daughter of Elrond, she who had held the heart of their beloved Chieftain for so long.  Only Halbarad’s eyes were not upon the lady, but instead upon the roll of black fabric she bore.  His face was pale, but set.  He had accepted the hazard, and knew that it was very probable that he would not live to see his cousin crowned King.  It was, for him, an acceptable sacrifice, although he knew that it would tear at the hearts of Aragorn and his brothers and other close kin.  Silently he begged for the strength to endure what he must face, and an unseen Eonwë noted down his unspoken vow to bear this as far as he might for the sake of all of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth. 

            Arwen’s face was also pale as she brought her palfrey near to him to lay the burden of the standard in his arms.  “You are certain that you are full willing to bear this for the Dúnadan?” she asked before releasing it fully to his care.

            He nodded solemnly.  “I shall bear it proudly for him, my Lady,” he said with a respectful bow of his head.  “For his sake and for yours, and for the sake of all who desire to see the power of Mordor brought low at the last.”

            “Then take it, and know that the blessings of the Elves are upon you, and that prayers are uttered to the Powers for your sake.”  She gently relinquished it, and laid her gentle hand upon his head, then raised it so she could look into his face.  She gave him a soft smile.  “Ever has Estel drawn to him the loyalty of those of worth,” she said quietly.  “And certainly you are among the most worthy of those.  Ride to the defeat of Sauron and all of his works, Halladan Halbalegion!”

            “Nasië,” he answered her, feeling an unfamiliar sense of power and joy fill him.  “I will remain by his side ever for as long as is given me, sweet Lady.”

            Once the twin sons of Elrond had joined the company, Arwen gave her brothers a silent salute of farewell, and the two companies parted, the Elves returning with their Lord’s daughter to Elrond’s house once more, the Grey Company heading south, Halbarad fitting the staff for the standard into the fittings he’d had added to his saddle so that he could concentrate better on the road intended to bring them to Aragorn’s side.

 *******

            The first time Halbarad was asked to unfurl the standard was within the confines of the citadel of the Hornburg, there within the tower chamber where Aragorn had withdrawn with him and the palantir, intent on challenging Sauron himself.  Aragorn tied his dark hair back and covered his face with a sheer scarf borrowed from one of the Rohirrim that his features not be clearly seen, and had Halbarad stand with his own face in shadow.  A single candle lit the room, drawing only intermittent sparkles from the metallic threads and many gems worked into the standard, just enough to hint at the devices worked into the black cloth.  The one item that was not at least partially hidden from Sauron’s Eye was the Sword of Elendil, which glowed with its own innate challenge once the Dark Lord looked upon it and saw that the edge that had robbed him of his precious treasure an age ago was as keen now as it had been at the foot of Orodruin, if not even sharper.  As for the hand that would wield that sword--it was well muscled and perfectly suited to the weapon, as if it and the sword had been in company for many ages of the Sun instead of only a matter of months!

            The one to whom the sword was shown drew away at last, pondering on the hints given him of the person faced, the keen eye, the powerful hand, the as yet undeclared claim to the ancient dual realm of the Dúnedain hinted upon by the barely discerned banner….

            Uncertainty gnawed at the Lord of Mordor as he contemplated what could be seen of his maimed hand.

 *******

            The clouds churned out of Mordor to blacken the sky offered no light to glint off of the pattern worked into the standard borne in front of the one who had declared himself Isildur’s Heir, but the dead did not need light with which to make out the devices thereon.  One of that dread host moved forward unheeding, drawn by sight of the depiction of blooming White Tree and the Seven Stars, and for the first time in over an Age of the Sun he remembered his name.  Amerlik—his name had been Amerlik, and he had been among the first of those who fled behind his King, away from the wrath of Isildur, into the darkness of the cleft in which his kind had hidden since the day they were cursed.

            He would do anything at this point to keep that awareness of who and what he had once been, and to know the peace of having fulfilled his vows to assist the Sea Kings’ people against Sauron’s power.  Oh, yes, he would follow this yet living Man, and raise his sword against those indicated to be his enemies.  He wished only to be free, to remember the past and to look once more to a future that was not overshadowed by broken words and vows that had been shunned.  For he knew that it was not so much the anger of Isildur that had trapped them all within this world when they ought to have been free to roam and  hunt amongst the stars, but the mistaken belief that Sauron had been sufficiently powerful to protect them that had imprisoned them within the Dwimmerholt.

            When the one bearing the standard turned to bear his banner behind his Lord, he who had once been Amerlik was close behind, still finding himself by the vague glimmer of the symbols worked upon the sable fabric as the light escaping from shuttered windows and barred doors were reflected by the gems and threads worked into it by the hand of the daughter of one of the wisest Lords of the Eldar remaining within Middle Earth.

 *******

            Sephardion stood in the gardens surrounding the Houses of Healing with several of the other boys who remained within the City and who now primarily ran errands for the Healers.  They were able here to look down upon the lands before the White City, but now it was not the verdant fields and orchards of the Pelennor they saw but instead a swirling mass of chaos as the battle raged before them.  Even here high up in the city they had heard the challenge of the horns of Rohan as the unseen Sun arose beyond the Mountains of Shadow, and they had watched as dark shadows with golden hightlights fell upon Mordor’s forces from behind and the companies of orcs and evil Men were overrun.

            But it appeared that Mordor’s captains had held certain surprises for just such chances, and a braying of brazen horns and a thunder of fell drums announced the arrival of a company of great mumakil, each bearing war towers and troops of archers and spearman who rained missiles from above and who drove the horses of the Rohirrim mad with terror.  Then one of the Nazgûl, mounted upon one of the noisome great flying things, stooped upon what appeared to be the King of Rohan, and what was happening none could see clearly.

            “Blasted wind!” cursed Garthil, brushing curls out of his eyes so he could see better.

            “May it be cursed, for all that it has turned at least toward Mordor,” Lasgon said, his eyes filled with dismay.  “Look!  The black ships come!  The Corsairs of Umbar are nearly here!”

            The others followed his pointing finger, and far closer than any had imagined they saw black ships looming out of the gloom.  The wind grew in power, and not only did it speed the ships toward the Harlond, but it tore also at the looming clouds overhead.

            “At last!  At least a glimpse of sky!” Sephardion breathed, feeling at least some relief at seeing the threatening clouds being dispersed.  If they were to be indeed defeated and the White City should fall, at least it should not be under the darkness imposed upon them by the Nameless One, but they should have the Sun herself as witness!

            The greatest of the biremes bearing down upon the havens along the river had a great roll of black set high upon its main mast, and at least two Men within the rigging were working to see it loosed.  Sephardion wondered if he should be able to recognize the heraldry it would display.  As one who had been amongst the Citadel’s pages, part of the lessons he’d received had been in recognizing the devices of Gondor’s major and minor lords as well as those of many of the realm’s allies—and enemies.  He knew the banners of at least four lords of Umbar and five of Near Harad and two of Rhún.  Would this be one of those he’d seen in his books?

            “Sweet Valar!” whispered Garthil as half the banner fell open.  “I don’t think any enemy of Gondor would display that!”

            The boys crowded more closely upon the wall, one of the smaller boys crowding under Sephardion’s arm so as to see better, all craning for a view of the banner as it at last fell free to belly out in the wind.  The relief at a glimpse of honest daylight was as nothing as to the shock and growing awe all felt now. 

            “Elendil!” Sephardion said, then shouted out, “Those are the emblems of Elendil himself!”

            “Then does Elendil come to fight for us?” asked the smallest boy.

            Lasgon gave a sound of disgust.  “How?  Do his remains not now lie in the Silent Street in the House of the Kings?”  He looked out upon the wonder of Elendil’s banner streaming from the mast of what ought to have been an enemy’s ship.  “No—someone else comes claiming his authority!”

            Sephardion found himself nodding his head.  “It must be the Heir to Elendil!”

            But Garthil was shaking his own.  “There are no heirs to Elendil and Anárion here in Gondor who might raise his banner!”

            Sephardion and Lasgon shared a glance, and Sephardion hazarded, “There may be no heirs to Elendil and Anárion here in Gondor, but Gondor was not the only realm over which Elendil reined.  Nor did he challenge the right of his sons to rule here in the south, for he had his own realm in the north, to which Isildur intended to return!”

            Garthil searched their eyes uncertainly.  “From the north?  From Arnor, you mean?”

            Lasgon nodded, adding, “And Arvedui, the last King of Arnor, was married to the daughter of Ondoher, King of Gondor.  His descendants have at least a possible claim to the Winged Crown.”

            The ships of the Corsairs of Umbar were pulling into the quays of the Harlond, and already Men were riding off of the flagship.  The two Men up high in the rigging reached out and lifted the banner from its supports and dropped it down, and others caught it to fasten it to the staff of the standard bearer.  It was lifted up to a tall mounted warrior, who quickly had it set into place in the supports for it on his saddle before spurring his horse down the gangplank to come even with his Lord, an even taller Man upon a powerful brown steed, a great gem like a star shimmering upon his forehead, another gem gleaming green upon his breast, a sword lifted in his hand that shone like a flame in the growing light as the clouds lost the battle for supremacy in the air.

            There was a pause as the greater part of the mounted Men from the ship gathered about the Man with the shining sword and the banner his companion carried.  With a cry that could not be heard by those upon the walls of the White City, the troop of tall, mounted Men, followed by a growing horde of armed Men on foot, rode from the river’s side to join the fray, sweeping all enemies before them!

            “Elendil!  Isildur!” Sephardion and his companions called.  “Elendil for Gondor!”

            And by following the shining of flowering White Tree upon a sable background they could tell where the tall Captain of their unexpected defenders fought upon the battlefield.

 *******

            The riding of the Dúnedain brought them to the center of the battlefield almost before they were aware of it.  The majority of the orcs and Uruks had fled away, and they faced mostly Southrons and Easterlings, some fighting under their own banners and others behind the sigils of Mordor and the Morgul Vale.  No one saw precisely who managed to get past the sons of Elrond, Halladan, Hardorn, and Aragorn himself to thrust a spear into Halbarad’s chest, and no one could be certain as to which of those five brought him down.  Aragorn himself caught the standard before it could fall, and Hardorn had it in hand almost before the rest of the Grey Company knew that their Chieftain’s lieutenant had fallen.  But there was no Man or evil creature left behind alive when the northerners rode forward, and already those behind them who’d come up the river on the black ships were gathering up the bodies of those who had fallen attacking the enemies of the West.  These offered the few among the Northerners whose bodies they found greatest honor as they brought the bodies together, and treated that of the Dúnedain’s standard bearer with grave respect.

            “Istilmir!  Istilmir of Pelargir!  You have come!”

            Istilmir turned from where he and his followers were fabricating makeshift litters from abandoned spears and cloaks to peer up at the mounted Gondorian who’d addressed him.  “Lord Húrin?  That is you?  Aye, we came after all!  But considering how unexpectedly we were succored, how could we do otherwise?  Who would believe that just as we thought ourselves conquered by the Corsairs the Heir of Isildur would arrive to our aid, and with such a force as the Army of the Dead?  Ah, but the Umbarians fled, gibbering with terror!  And when the Heir of Isildur bade us accompany him to the defense of Minas Tirith, we obeyed!”

            “He is the Heir of Isildur, then?”

            “So we have been told.”

            “And who is this?” Húrin asked indicating the body of the tall warrior who lay, respectfully covered with his own grey cloak.

            “We were told his name was Halbarad son of Halbaleg, and that he was the Steward of what remains of the Dúnedain of Arnor, second only to the Chieftain of their people.  He served his Lord as standard bearer in the battle, until he died in the assault against those Easterlings who gathered here.  There,” he indicated the sword lying along the fallen Man’s breastbone, “lies his sword.  It appears that he slew his share of the enemy ere he fell.”

            The sword was indeed red with blood, and not his own.  “A mighty warrior indeed to slay many foes while bearing his Lord’s banner,” Húrin noted.  He looked down thoughtfully, and reached to remove a brooch he wore at the throat of his shirt.  “Here—let this stand in place of the banner that has passed into another’s hand,” he said, dropping it into Istilmir’s hand.  With a nod of understanding, Húrin turned and called out, “Stretcher bearers needed here!”  He bowed his head respectfully toward the fallen and rode off, looking for the next place where the services he’d been organizing might be needed.

            Istilmir watched the Warden of the Keys ride away, then knelt to fasten the brooch, which bore the pattern of White Tree and Seven Stars, to the throat of the standard bearer’s shirt as it had been worn by its previous owner.  “Sleep well,” he murmured.  “Your Lord has been served well by you, and even now leads those who defend the city under the standard you bore.  It has not touched the ground nor known any dishonor, and others gladly follow it to the defeat of the foe you came so far to fight.”  As the stretcher bearers summoned by Lord Húrin arrived, he advised them, “This one was well loved by the one who leads those who fight under the Banner of Elendil.  Treat his body with all honor.” 

            They nodded, and gently lifted Halbarad’s body onto the litter and bore him away to the place set aside for those who had fallen in battle.

 *******

            The Sun had set in glory ere Aragorn and his Men could come to the tents to which the bodies of the dead had been brought.  Hardorn still bore Arwen’s banner, and at a sign from his Chieftain he planted it in the dirt over which the tent had been raised, there at the head of the hastily erected bier on which Halbarad’s body lay.  His face and arms had been cleansed as well as could be done, and his hands had been folded over the pommel of his sword, whose blade was also cleansed.  His lips were slightly parted as if in surprise, but there was no distress or fear to be seen in his expression.  Aragorn, Halladan, and Hardorn leaned over Halbarad, their own faces tired, Aragorn’s filled with tender grief as the three mourned their joint loss.  “He always treated me as if I were as much his brother as the two of you,” he said softly.

            “Indeed,” Halladan admitted.  “He must rejoice at the great victory that we have won.”

            Hardorn looked down at his fallen brother, and said, “Look, Halbarad, for here is the standard you bore so proudly.  I have brought it back to you, that it might remain by you at least for the night.  The battle is won, even as you foresaw, and I have made certain that it remained by our Lord’s side.  Know peace, and assure our adar that we will continue on until Sauron and his works are thrown down utterly.”

            Halladan reached down and touched the unfamiliar brooch that now fastened his brother’s shirt.  “Someone sought to honor him as your standard bearer, Aragorn,” he commented.

            “So it would seem,” Aragorn answered, and smiled through his grief and exhaustion.  “He will never give over bearing my standard, then.  That is fitting.”

            But then the three of them turned, for someone was anxiously calling Aragorn’s name.  “No rest for those who have borne the worst of the battle, apparently,” Hardorn said.  “It would appear that the Grey Pilgrim requires your presence.”

            Reluctantly, the three Dúnedain left the tent, going out to learn what further need there was at this time for their Chieftain’s presence.  But in the light of the single lamp that lit the interior of the tent the White Tree bloomed and the Seven Stars glittered, blessing the one who had first carried it to indicate the presence of the Heir of Elendil and Isildur.

 

Written for the LOTR Community "Show, Don't Tell" challenge. 

The Ambush

            There had been no movement in the brush or among the trees for quite some time, so the small flock of birds returning late from further south settled in the limbs of a stand of tall elms, most chattering as they tried first one roost and then the next, until at last all seemed satisfied for the evening.  The woods went quiet as the light slowly dimmed behind the looming grey clouds that covered the sky. 

            A dog fox, resting in the mouth of his den, watched the birds as they flitted from branch to branch, but lost interest when it became obvious that none intended to alight upon the ground and that they intended to sleep soon.  He rested his muzzle on his paws, and his eyes went half closed as he gave a slight snort.  The breeze, which had been mainly from the east, changed, first coming from the north and then the west.  As the clouds began to break apart the fox raised his head, his ears suddenly pricking alert, his nostrils flaring at the foul stench of approaching orcs.  It gave a warning bark, and took cover under the nearby spreading roots of an ancient beech that raised its limbs over the forest track, watching to the east where the Moon was rising over the shadows of the Ephel Duath.  Alarmed, the birds rose from their resting places, calling out their fear and displeasure at being driven from their chosen copse, heading north and west, closer to the river.  The fox watched the way along which the evil creatures were likely to come, its presence but a frail protection for its mate and kits somewhat further from the two-foots’ way, unwilling to retreat too much further.

            A rook rose cawing from the undergrowth, and foraging conies dove into whatever holes they were closest to.  A frenzied crashing amongst the brush near the beech marked the flight of a young wild pig as it caught the scent of the oncoming intruders and panicked.

            Then, briefly, all went silent again.  There was a shrill cry of a jay, and a momentary movement in the brambles adjoining the road, and then----

            Tramp, tramp!  Tramp, tramp!  Tramp, tramp!  Tramp, tramp!  Crack, crackle, snap!

            The orcs pushed past overhanging shrubbery from a narrow track, growling and complaining as they made their way onto the broader path.  A tracker came first, his nostrils quivering as he tried to sort out the scents about them.  He was followed by eight smaller orcs in mismatched armor, two carrying small bows and the rest armed with crude scimitars.  Behind them were sixteen uruks, three of them archers and the rest carrying both pikes and blades.  A uruk thumped one of the shorter fighters with the shaft of his pike, and all in the party went into a grudging, wary silence.  They turned southward and began moving forward, slowly, watchfully.  There was a grunted command given in the Black Speech, and a general wordless acknowledgment as the troop gained confidence and began moving rapidly southward.

            Another alarm call from the jay, and the orcs stopped in their tracks, looking about to see the bird fly.

            But what flew in that moment was aimed at them, not taking wing away from them!  Seven orcs looked down in shock to examine the arrows that had appeared to sprout from their bodies, and five of them toppled in the next instant.  There was the growl of a badger, and another flight of arrows took them, causing five more to fall at least to their knees, if not flat upon their faces!  Only one of the orc archers was still standing, but stood confused, unsure as to where to aim his arrows.  One of the pikemen hurled his weapon in the general direction of the source of the arrow that had taken the orc who’d been marching next to him, but it bounced harmlessly off the trunk of one of the elms.

            They heard a shrill whistle from the west side of the path, and all turned that direction, their scimitars raised.  But then armed Men leapt down from behind the rocks on the eastward slopes, taking them from the rear.  The fight was swift and fierce, and in moments all of the orcs were lying upon the ground, the Men stepping back and wiping their blades clean as they surveyed the results of their ambush.  As a shorter Man turned his masked face toward one of his fellows in unspoken question, however, one of the apparently stricken orcs jumped up unexpectedly and sought to take him with as much surprise as had been given its own squadron.  But it had not taken two steps before it fell, an arrow in its throat, its intended target turning toward it with some surprise, his sword already lifted defensively.

            The hidden archers stepped out of their hiding places, and stood in the darkening roadway.  At a gesture from their captain each Man stooped over one of the prone orcs and delivered a blow from which none would be able to rise, then moved on to strike another, pulling their arrows out of their victims as they could.

            Ten Men gathered at the last about their captain, who released his mask to smile at the rest in approval.  He pointed southwesterly, and all nodded their understanding before melting soundlessly into the bushes and trees that bordered the pathway.

            Soon all was quiet and still once more.  At last the fox stirred, slipping from its own hiding place down to investigate one of the bodies lying on the pathway.  It sniffed at the corpse, then recoiled at the reek of the spilled black blood.  At last satisfied that the orcs were indeed dead, it lifted its leg defiantly and marked the closest one with an indicator that this land was both occupied and defended.  Satisfied that no other fox would trespass on its claim, it returned to its former place at the mouth to its den, relieved to hear the gentle sound of nursing kits within and the panting of its vixen.  No further danger threatened its family this night!

Written for the LOTR Community "Bunny Hutch" challenge.  For Lbilover, whose prompt I answered; and for Baylor for her birthday, and in honor of "The Care and Feeding of Hobbits," one of the first fanfiction tales I ever read.

Foul—or Fair—Enough

            “But I must admit,” he added with a queer laugh, “that I hoped you would take to me for my own sake.  A hunted man sometimes wearies of distrust and longs for friendship.  But there, I believe my looks are against me.”

            “They are - at first sight at any rate,” laughed Pippin with sudden relief after reading Gandalf’s letter.  “But handsome is as handsome does, as we say in the Shire; and I daresay we shall all look much the same after lying for days in hedges and ditches.”

            …

            “…You have frightened me several times tonight, but never in the way the servants of the Enemy would, or so I imagine.  I think one of his spies would - well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand.”

            “I see,” laughed Strider.  “I look foul and feel fair.  Is that it?”

From “Strider,” FotR.

 ***

Merry  “Do you think we can trust this Strider?”

Frodo  “I think that if he were a servant of the Enemy he would seem fairer and feel fouler.”

Merry  “He’s foul enough!”

From the movie, FotR, along the way out of the Breelands before Strider and the Hobbits reach the Midgewater Marshes.

 *******

 

            I look foul and feel fair.  Why does everyone assume that this is how I prefer to appear?  I was not born in a barn or raised in a farmyard!  I was raised as the son of a great Lord among Men and Elves.  As a child I was never allowed to come to the table with dirty hands or face or with hair tangled and greasy.  As a young man serving at my adar’s board I was expected to dress in comely garb and for my boots to be clean and without stains.  Had I taken up a book while still wearing an archer’s glove Erestor would have clouted the side of my head.  Had I come into my mother’s rooms and sat upon her cushioned chair still reeking of the stable or the practice yard, she would have sent me forth posthaste to bathe, forbidding my return until I should be an ornament to her quarters rather than a jarring note!

            But bathing is a luxury for those of us who patrol the lands in search of the Enemy’s creatures; and what use is it to comb my hair now when within half an hour I will most likely be crossing swords with ruffians or orcs, who care not whether my hair is in order or matted?  And should I enter Butterbur’s establishment dressed as befits my proper station as the Heir to Isildur, what would he make of me then?  Would I not spend every spare moment having to match courtesies with him, whilst fending off every sneak thief come in off the Greenway seeking to fatten their purses by lightening mine?  One such as I am must hide within plain sight, after all.  One dressed as I ought to be garbed calls attention to himself from all of the wrong people, and chances are that I would have been dead before I began my third score of years had I taken on royal airs when still a young Man.

            But, tonight, I am returned to the house in which I was raised, and tonight I shall bathe and dress as I please, not so as to blend in with landless folk passing through the crossroads of Bree.  I think I might even shave!  Ah, to be rid of this foul stubble!  I almost wish that I were as Isildur and his son Elendur were said to be, as beardless as an Elf—or Hobbit!  What will Frodo and his companions think of me when they see me garbed in true keeping with my station?  But, then, ought I to shave after all?  It takes so blessedly long for my beard to grow as it is, and it’s likely that within a week I shall be out searching the wild for signs of the Black Riders, orcs, or the sell-swords purchased to the Enemy’s designs.  I will have the irritation of the beard growing in once more without the full benefit of protection for my face.  No—I shan’t shave it, not this time.  But I shall certainly trim it! 

            And to wear clothing that is both clean and comfortable and that becomes me—what a pleasant thought.  I do tire of appearing foul to others while feeling fair.

 ***

            As Aragorn approached the privies, he saw that Meriadoc Brandybuck stood, obviously feeling lost and forsaken, in a hallway running between the bathing chambers and the rooms of refreshment, some ways from the guest chambers off of the Healers Wing to the Last Homely House where he was housed.  The Man felt compassion for the Hobbit, who must feel totally out of his depth by this point.  After the last two weeks of anxiety and fear for Frodo, to find himself in such a large establishment with so many hallways leading to who knew where must have been almost more than the young Brandybuck could take.  Although, now that he thought on it, Brandy Hall where Merry had been born and raised ought to have been in many ways very similar to Elrond’s home in Rivendell, with similar interspersing of functional rooms with living quarters.

            Before Aragorn could slow his pace, Merry saw him, and the Man could see the relief in the Hobbit’s face.  “Oh, good!  Please, will you direct me back to my room?  Only I have no idea how to tell you which corridor my room is on.  We just got here last night, you see.  I’ve had no chance as yet to become familiar with the place at all.  Someone else led me here this morning, and I am so turned around as to feel totally lost!”

            “I shall be glad to help you back to your room, Merry,” Aragorn said, and had the distinct satisfaction of seeing the Hobbit give a start of surprise.

            “Did I meet you last night or something?” Merry asked.

            “Or something,” the Man said, feeling highly amused.

            “We haven’t been properly introduced, I fear.  Meriadoc Brandybuck of Brandy Hall in Buckland on the edges of the Shire, at your service.”  Merry gave quite a graceful bow.

            Aragorn inclined his head equally gracefully, intoning, “Aragorn son of Arathorn, born in the Angle but raised as a son of this house, at the service of you and all of your family, my friend.”

            Merry, who’d not fully straightened from his bow, looked up in shock.  “Aragorn?  Strider?  Is that you?”  His return to the vertical was made in haste.

            Aragorn bent down to whisper into the Hobbit’s ear, “Not so foul now, am I?  Do I clean up nicely?”  He then straightened, a huge, satisfied smile on his face.  “Now, if you will follow me, I need to check on when Master Elrond wishes my presence so that we can probe Frodo’s wound.”  And as he led Merry back to the way to the Healers Wing a pompous march that Denethor of Gondor used to have played as he entered the Hall of Kings to serve as his father’s deputy was running through his mind.

Written for the LOTR Community Fixed-Length Ficlet Challenge: a summer breeze.  For Rhapsody and Leianora for their birthdays.

A Child’s Dream of Hope

            Faramir stood atop the hill of Emyn Arnen, where once his family had dwelt in the keep built for the House of Húrin.  The summer breeze tousled his hair, and he had to keep brushing it from his eyes as he squinted northwestward.  “It is beautiful here!” he declared to his father, who had brought him to Ithilien on one of the rare occasions that the Steward rode abroad from the White City.  “I shall live here one day!”

            Denethor gave a single bark of a laugh, one without humor.  His attention was not westward, but instead focused to the east, toward the dark wall of the Mountains of Shadow as it stretched north and south of them.  “Not as long as the threat of Mordor persists shall anyone be able to rebuild here,” he prophesied.  “The Nameless One will seek to destroy anyone who stands in such defiance of him.  Nay, my son, I fear you shall be fated to remain within the walls of Minas Tirith, and the thought of refounding our ancient stronghold here shall always be merely a sweet but unworkable dream.”

            Faramir’s resolve wavered briefly; but then he heard the creak of leather harness and saw one of the guards below them leaning down to pluck a pink blossom that had also nodded in the breeze, sniffing at the spicy scent of a flower grown from roots that had probably been planted here many generations past when Men did not fear to dwell here in sight of the Enemy’s walls.  He clenched his fists tightly.  He would see his dream made a reality—he would!  And one day he would bring a bride here, and together they should cover this hillside with bright blossoms of many flowers and even brighter children….

            He looked back into the wind, sensing that his hopes would be brought to Gondor from north and west.  And in his mind the White Tree bloomed once more for the King he knew would come again.

A double drabble for the birthday of Mews and Cheryl Ann Alexis

Accepting the Dwarf

             Gimli stopped in their journey through Moria, or Khazad-dûm, as he named it, his eyes alight as they fixed upon a particular pillar.  Legolas could not appreciate what made this different from the hundreds of others they’d passed, but the Dwarf stepped up to it as if he recognized it.  “This is the mark of my house!” he proclaimed to the Elf.  “It is said that my great-grandsire carved it in front of his dwelling here in the realm of Dúrin the Deathless, which means that my grandfather….”  He turned slowly, and indicated a smashed doorway to their right.  “My grandsire must have been born there!”

            The Elf considered the ruins of an ancient home within these dark precincts, and for the first time he realized that this was for Gimli what Amon Lanc had been to him, the ancestral home to his family and people.  Here, too, evil had taken possession, and Gimli had reason both to feel both pride at what his people had accomplished and grief for what had been lost to them.

            It suddenly struck him that he actually had a good deal in common with the irascible Dwarf, and he bowed his head in shame.

Written for the LOTR Community's "Celebrate!" challenge.  For Harrowcat with much love for her birthday.  A sequel to "A Wizard's Blessing" in the Between Green Door and Gold Ring collection.

The Wizard’s Gift

            “That ball is old!” observed Pippin-lad.

            Young Ham nodded his agreement.

           Their Sam-dad laughed.  “It is old.  It’s said as old Gandalf give it to the first bairn born alive in Bag End, and him give it to the only one of his cousin’s children as survived his birth, down in Number Five, there on the Row.  Then, hearin’ as my mum was expectin’, he sent it all the way from Buckland with his dad to have it given to me when I was born in April of 1380.  When we was expectin’ Elanor, him and me agreed as it should go to her.  It’s been there for each of you, and now it’s come to our little Tom.  A special gift, originally from old Gandalf hisself.”

            A still colorful woolen ball was set in little Tolman’s cradle, and the infant hugged it gladly.

    

For LindaHoyland for her birthday, with apologies for taking so blasted long!

Discomfort

            Frodo had had enough of Aragorn’s court for the day.  He was hot and tired, and the outfit he wore today was scratchy and heavy with gold braid.  He was fighting a headache, and what he wanted at the moment was to return to the guesthouse and retire to his bed in the library with a cold cloth over his eyes.  Yes, a cold cloth, and perhaps a cold drink as well?  Why should he as a Hobbit of the Shire be forced to be on display for these people he would most likely never see again once he returned home once more?

            “Master Frodo, would you care for a drink?”

            He looked up to find one of the maids standing over him with a tray of cups, her eyes kindly.  Aragorn had charged those who offered service to the residents and guests to the Citadel to see to it that Frodo and Sam always had drinks available to them, drinks and at least small platters of such food as was available that could be eaten cold and with the fingers.  He could not be annoyed with those who watched over him to offer to such relief.  “Thank you,” he said.  “A cold drink is precisely what I am wishing for most at the moment.”

            In minutes she had left him with a small goblet of watered wine and another of juice from the orange fruit, both of which he found refreshing.  Feeling more charitable towards the world, he took a sip of wine and sat back, settling his two cups beside him as he leaned back upon the bench in the gardens where he’d taken refuge to stretch, running a finger about his neck where the gold braid caused it to itch.

            “Oh, dear, another refugee from the to-do within the Citadel,then?”

            Frodo looked up with surprise, for as distracted as he’d been he’d not heard the approach of anyone, and certainly he ought to have been aware of the arrival of another Big Folk!  The one who had spoken was a lass—a girl, he reminded himself.  Had she been a Hobbit he’d have judged her to be in her early tweens; he wasn’t certain just how old that made her in the reckoning of Men, but she was clearly somewhere between childhood and being of age.  She was richly dressed in a gown of dark blue, her hair wound about a golden cord that matched much of the decoration of the bodice for her dress, her sleeves, and her girdle.

            “I don’t know why they insist on bringing children such as you and me to court.  You must be bored quite as much as I have been….”  Her last words had faltered as she took in the features of his face and apparently found reason to question her estimation of him as a child.  “I’m sorry,” she faltered.  “Are you a Dwarf, then, one of the new King’s friends?”

            For the first time since he’d come up to the Citadel from the guesthouse Frodo felt amused.  “I do hope that Gimli doesn’t hear you thinking me a Dwarf,” he said.  “Although, yes, I am one of the King’s friends.”

            “You aren’t a Dwarf?” she said, obviously surprised.  “Then….”  She examined him more closely, and suddenly flushed.  “A Pherian!” she breathed.  “You are a Halfling!”

            “Our name for ourselves is Hobbit,” he told her.

            “I thought that my naneth was only trying to tease me when she said that there were Pheriannath within the White City,” the girl explained.  “I never dreamed you were real!”  At which she flushed again, afraid she might have given offense.

            Frodo smiled, finding he truly liked the child.  “Oh, we are real enough, believe me.  At home I fear it is you that people would choose to disbelieve in, for rarely enough do we see Big Folk.  Many of those who live far from the Sarn Ford or the Road may never see a Man in all of their lives.”

            “But you’ve seen Men before?”

            He shrugged.  “A few times, mostly when I lived in Buckland as a child, or at the Free Fair in Michel Delving.  And Gandalf, of course.  Although I suppose that he perhaps is not precisely a Man, being a Wizard.”

            She looked confused.  “Gandalf?”

            “You most likely know him as Mithrandir.  That is what most of the Elves call him and how I have heard him addressed here in Gondor.  But in the north he is known usually as Gandalf.”

            Her expression had cleared during his explanation.  “Oh, yes, we know about Mithrandir.  He visits Minas Tirith every few years.  Somehow I was not surprised to learn that he is a friend of our new King.”

            “They appear to have known one another for many years.  Bilbo tells me that the first time he visited Rivendell with Gandalf and the Dwarves he met Aragorn then, although the Elves called him Estel.  Aragorn was but a child at the time, however.”

            “Who is Bilbo?”

            He smiled.  “He is my older cousin, enough older that I often refer to him as my uncle.  He left the Shire, where most Hobbits living in Middle Earth dwell, over seventeen years ago, and has lived most of the time since in Rivendell in Lord Elrond’s house.  Although you probably have heard of Rivendell by its Elvish name—Imladris.”

            “And our new King’s given name is Aragorn, then?”

            Frodo nodded.  “Most of the Kings in Eriador have had names that begin with A R, which goes back to how Kings were addressed in Númenor, I understand.”

            She appeared impressed.  “You know about Númenor?” she asked.  “I had to learn about it in my history lessons.”

            Again Frodo gave a slight shrug.  “Bilbo insisted I must learn about it, and so I learned how the Kings were addressed, first by the prefix of Tar- and later Ar-.  In what was Arnor, and that is now known as Eriador, the heirs to Isildur eventually returned to that convention.”  Afraid that the conversation would become bogged down in technical aspects of the usages of language, he sought to turn the conversation.  “You said that you didn’t understand why children were brought to the Citadel today, and that you didn’t think that this was right.  Why?”

            She appeared very embarrassed.  “I am not yet fifteen, but my naneth insisted that I come today dressed as if I were a woman grown.  When it was learned that our new King Elessar was not yet wed, the women of Gondor began to grow hopeful that each might capture his heart and his hand for herself or her daughter.  So it was that my mother, who belongs to the Guild of Seamstresses, wrought this gown for me and saw me dressed ready, she hopes, to beguile the eyes of the King.  The upper courts of the White City will be simply seething with women and girls hoping to capture his eye and his heart.  And my father, who is the Master of the Guild of Jewel Smiths, was prevailed upon to bring me here today as the Guild Masters come to pay him court.  And many brought their sons as well, hoping to find preferment for them in the King’s personal service.  I thought that you were one of the boys brought for such purposes.  I mean, with that costume upon you, what was I to think?”

            He laughed.  “Then this was intended perhaps for the use of a child?  I wore it only because a woman who dwells in the next lane to ours offered it to me and told me it had been her son’s, but that he had died in the battles.  What so slight a lad was doing still within the city walls I do not know, although Pippin tells me that there were several boys who had refused to leave the city who dwelt in care in the Street of Lamp-wrights during the days leading up to the battle upon the Pelennor.”  Again he ran his finger about his neck, just inside the gold braid.  “It is most uncomfortable, the way the braid irritates my skin.”

            She nodded briefly, her mouth pursed wryly.  “So my cousin would say, also, when he must wear the one such outfit my aunt purchased for him.  They are commonly worn by boys on formal occasions, you see.  They look almost like livery.”

            “Well, I have done my duty and have worn the outfit and have been seen doing so by the woman who gave me these clothes, and tonight I shall see if one of the children who lives nearby could possibly wear it..”

            “You could come to my mother, who could make for you costumes far more in keeping with your personal tastes and your station.  You are not a boy, or so your face tells me.  You should be wearing something more akin with the manner in which the men of your people dress, or so it seems to me.”

            He smiled, and he could see her face softening in response to his smile.  “I thank you.  Aragorn has been seeing to it that clothes are made for us, as what we wore upon our long journey has been either destroyed or lost or worn nearly to rags.  Not that Merry or Pippin could wear what they brought with them any longer, of course—they are unconscionably tall for Hobbits now, ever since they met the Ent creatures of Fangorn Forest, at least.  But I must say that the livery Pippin must wear when he attends upon Aragorn as King appears far more comfortable than this, save that it is black.  But the silver embroidery does not appear to scratch him.”

            She appeared interested.  “This Pippin is one of your people?  And he attends upon the King himself?  That is quite an honor!”

            Frodo answered her, “Well, we did come south with Aragorn, after all, and have all become rather close.  Although it was first to your Lord Denethor that Pippin swore his fealty, in memory of how Boromir sacrificed himself to protect both Pippin and Merry when they were under attack by Saruman’s great orcs.  From what Pippin and Gandalf tell me, once he swore his fealty to Gondor in such a manner, he must continue on even though it is Aragorn as the King Elessar he now serves rather than Lord Denethor.  He continues to honor the late Lord Steward even though Lord Denethor is gone, and he has developed a deep respect for Lord Faramir as well, as,” he added with another smile, “have we all.”

            “All love and respect our Lord Faramir,” she said, returning his smile.  “He is a most gentle and honorable Man, you see.”

            “I am honored,” someone else responded, and Frodo and his companion turned to see Faramir himself approaching them. 

            The young woman flushed once more on realizing she’d been overheard, and sank into a graceful curtsey.  “My Lord Faramir!” she murmured.

            Frodo stood up, smiling his welcome and inclining his head courteously.  “Lord Captain,” he said.  “I believed I recognized your step.”

            “Again, I am honored, Master Baggins,” Faramir said with an equally courteous bow of his own head.  “I fear that our new Lord King could not get away to join you.  It would appear that the Master of the Guild of Shipwrights of Pelargir is intent on introducing him and Éomer of Rohan to his three daughters and pointing out the—assets of each one.  He asked that I find you and assure myself on his behalf that you are doing well.  I take it that the gathering was becoming both too loud and too crowded for your complete comfort?”

            Frodo could feel his cheeks and the tips of his ears redden somewhat.  “I regret to admit that this indeed was the case.  But I have found pleasant companionship here in the gardens.”

            “Ah, yes, with young Mistress Kirilien, I see.  You are most welcome, sweet lady.  Although it would appear you have grown up far more quickly than I might have expected.  Your mother has done marvelously at indicating just how much you have done so since I saw you last at Mettarë, my dear.”

            The girl was flushing fiercely with embarrassment.  “I am sorry,” she said. 

            He laughed as he bent to take her hands and draw her to her feet.  “Do not be, child.  You are not the only girl sent so to draw the King’s eye.  Knowing he is not yet wed has drawn the ambition out in so many women intent on capturing such a prize for their beloved daughters.  Although at least your mother has the skill to do so most beautifully.  That gown is indeed a work of art without being too blatant about its intent, and indicates that you shall be even more beautiful as you mature into a woman indeed.”

            Her flush shifted from embarrassment to pleasure, and Frodo could do nothing but smile along with her delight at the compliment paid her.

            A manservant followed the new Steward of Gondor into the gardens, carrying a tray on which lay small plates of cheeses and rounds of toasted breads alongside selections of small fruits and slices of vegetables.  “My lords, young Mistress,” he said as he presented his tray to the three of them, after which he returned back through the rest of the gardens to offer to any others who might have sought relief from the gathering within the Citadel.

            “I am rather surprised you have been allowed to escape, no matter how briefly,” Frodo commented as he chose some unfamiliar small orange fruits to try.

            “It has been quietly shared about the White City that my heart has finally been captured by a certain beautiful Shield-maiden from Rohan, and although many mothers are disappointed for their daughters on my behalf they are nevertheless intent on testing what draws the attention of our new King,” Faramir answered him.  “Has he a woman close to his heart back in the northern lands, think you?”

            Frodo could only shrug.  “When we met in Bree we did not see many women at all of any race, and the few we did see we noticed only as we were leaving the Breelands, and none of them appeared to be happy to see him at all.  But while he and his Rangers are about their business of protecting the more settled parts of Eriador where other peoples dwell, they appear rough and uncouth and go by whatever names they are granted by the people they meet.  In the Breelands he is known as Strider, which was how we were first introduced to him.  He told us his name as it was given to him by his parents, but it was not until we reached Rivendell, Imladris, that I began calling him Aragorn rather than Strider most of the time.  He spent most of his childhood within the boundaries of Rivendell, and I understand that even most of his own people believed he had died when barely better than a babe in arms.  The Enemy had been sending plagues and assassins into Eriador for generations to try to see the last of the Heirs to Isildur slain, and so when he became seriously ill the Sons of Elrond suggested that it be told abroad that he had died so that he might be raised safely under Lord Elrond’s care until he was old enough to return and take his place as the ruler to the Dúnedain of Eriador. 

            “While we stayed within Rivendell I saw him with Lord Elrond’s daughter and some of the Elven women who yet remain there.  He and the Lady Arwen tend to be rather formal when they are together, but appear friendly enough, I suppose.  The rest of the women there tend to call him Estel, which I understand was the name he was called by as a child growing up amongst them.  They all respect him, but I saw no—no familiarity—there between him and anyone of womankind.

            “The only other place ere we came here where I have seen him with women about him was in the Elven land of Lothlórien, east of the Misty Mountains.  He was obviously known and respected there by many of that land, and their Lady treated him with great honor, but again with no familiarity.

            “Gimli and Legolas tell me that there was no question that the Lady Éowyn was drawn to him as a moth is to a flame whilst they stayed within Edoras in Rohan, but that he showed her respect and friendship but nothing more during their time together.  Merry did not see them together, so could not say one way or another, save what others told him as he recovered from the Black Breath in the Houses of Healing, that she appeared to think herself in love with him but that he politely and gently refused to say aught to indicate he might return her affection.  I do know that upon our arrival out upon the Pelennor on the eve of his coronation that he basically told the Minister of Protocol that he would be seeing to obtaining his own bride and that there was nothing to be done by any here within Gondor.”

            “So,” Faramir said slowly, “he might well have a woman amongst his own people that he has come to care deeply for.”

            “It seems possible.  I do know that he was told by Lord Elrond that he might not take any woman to wife until he was ruler of both Arnor and Gondor.  I heard this mentioned while we rested in the Lady Galadriel’s lands.  But as Lady Éowyn appears to be quite happy knowing that you love her deeply, I would say that she has taken no lasting hurt from her former attraction to Aragorn.”

            Faramir smiled at him at that.  “So it would seem.  Now, if Lord Éomer would agree to affirm our betrothal all would be most well indeed.”  He gave Frodo a closer examination as once more the Hobbit ran his finger about the neck of his shirt.  “And where did you obtain this set of clothing, Master Frodo?” he asked.  “It is not one of those that our Lord King asked that I commission for you.”

            “From a lady on the next lane to Isil Lane where we are staying,” Frodo explained.  “She told me that it had belonged to her son.”

            “Ah, Mistress Finroniel,” Faramir said.  “Her son has not been able to wear that for several years, I fear.  He died, I am told, during the siege of the city.  He was carrying food to some of those on watch along the walls of the Second Circle when the catapults of the Enemy rained fire upon the city, and one of the balls hit him and set his clothing and hair alight.  I am told that he died in agony about an hour before I was carried to the Citadel by my uncle.”  He shook his head, his grief for what his people had suffered clear to be seen.  “So many died then, both inside and outside the walls of Minas Tirith.  I only rejoice that you achieved your own task, Master Frodo, ending the evil of Mordor completely so that the siege could not be taken up once more.”

            Frodo shrugged, feeling as uncomfortable for what he felt was undeserved praise as he was for the scratchiness of the braid on the shirt he wore.  “At least the Ring is destroyed at last,” he said softly, although in his heart he felt that the sound of it was also quite harsh.

            Kirilien was looking at him with growing wonder.  “Then you were the Ringbearer, Master Frodo?” she asked.  Again she sank into a deep curtsey, and Frodo felt his cheeks growing flushed indeed.

            “Please, please don’t curtsey to me, young Mistress,” he begged. 

            She looked up, obviously surprised.  Faramir indicated she should rise.  “It is not the way for his people to accept such gestures of respect, Kirilien,” he explained.

            She straightened to her feet, uncertain as to what she should do next.  “Please sit down by me,” Frodo suggested as he settled himself again upon the bench, patting the place to his left where there was ample room for her to seat herself.

            She did so, asking, “What was it like, traveling with our new King?”

            He picked up his cup of juice and emptied it, set it down and nursed his wine goblet for a time, focusing on memories of his journey with the Fellowship.  “It was difficult for Merry, Pippin, and Sam to realize that he was intended to be our King,” he said finally.  “When we met in Bree, as I told you, we were introduced to him by the name they called him by there, Strider.  The innkeeper at the Prancing Pony, the inn where we met him, thought him most likely a terrible person.  Nor did he appear particularly special.  His clothing may have been expensive once, but it was worn and terribly stained, and he badly needed to have his hair and beard washed and trimmed.  He looked as if he’d been out in the rain for several days in a row and had never had the chance to properly dry out.”

            Faramir laughed aloud.  “Ah, but certainly my men and I have all looked like that at times when we’ve been on a long patrol.  My cousin Húrin was commenting that he feared that our other captains and lords would resist having to defer to him were he to wear his riding leathers on the road to the Black Gate, insisting that we must find him armor to wear more appropriate to his position as Isildur’s Heir and the Captain General over the Army of the West.”

            Frodo smiled as he sipped from his glass of wine.  He lowered it and nodded.  “Butterbur was most upset that we had, as he put it, taken up with that Ranger, convinced as he was that Strider was the worst sort of ruffian.  But then the people of Bree have no understanding of who the Rangers of Eriador truly are, or what they do to protect those of us who live in the few settled parts of the northern lands.  Not that we Hobbits of the Shire understand any better than the Breelanders.  When Sam and I met you with your Rangers in Ithilien we could tell that you were from an established army, for all of you were dressed much the same with the same symbols about you indicating that you were brothers in arms.  But the only thing that identifies one as a Ranger of Eriador is that they all wear long cloaks and carry swords in well cared for scabbards, and their cloaks are almost always held closed on the shoulder by silver star brooches.  But their cloaks might be brown, grey, green, or silver, and are usually well worn and stained by long wear and usage, while the clothing under those cloaks is alike only in that it is all intended to last through long periods of wear and through all types of weather.  Aragorn wasn’t wearing the star brooch most Rangers we see inside the Shire wear, so none of us identified him at the time with the Rangers who have tended to pass through the Shire heading east or west along the Road or south from the Brandywine Bridge to the Sarn Ford.  Not, of course, that we knew precisely who the Rangers were or what their purpose was.

            “Strider followed us to our rooms in the Prancing Pony and begged us to accept him as our guide to Rivendell.  He managed to unsettle us completely, but I still felt, somehow, that I should trust him.  He admitted his proper name, and swore that he would protect me by either his life or death.”

            Faramir raised his head sharply, straightening to attention.  “He swore himself to you?” he demanded.  “He was intended to be King of both his land and ours, and he swore himself to you?”

            Frodo gave a solemn nod, and Faramir sat back, his eyes filled with wonder.  “But you were no lord of any land, no one of any importance, save for the fact that you carried the Enemy’s Ring.”

            Again Frodo nodded.  “He knew about It—that I carried the Ring, and recognized that when I disappeared there within the inn’s common room that I must have slipped the foul thing upon my finger.  I don’t think he realized that It had slipped Itself upon my finger, that I’d had no intention to do any such thing.  But what was I to do other than to carry It with me?  Gandalf would not accept It when I begged him to take It, there in the parlor at Bag End, my home in the Shire.  He didn’t say anything, but Aragorn still made it obvious, to me at least, that he didn’t wish to even look at It.  He certainly said nothing to indicate that I should give It to anyone else, and made it plain he did not wish to touch the horrid thing.  Only when we were attacked at Weathertop, however, did he begin to realize just how treacherous It was capable of being.”

            Kirilien appeared uncertain.  “How could a ring slip Itself onto your finger?”

            Frodo looked away.  “As Gandalf explained to me in the parlor at Bag End, the Rings of Power have the ability to see to their own priorities, and it was especially true of Sauron’s own Ring.”  He looked over to Faramir, almost with apology.  “Boromir appears to have heard It calling to his spirit far too easily.  But they all tell me that It called to them, and Aragorn himself told me he had to steel himself against Its demands of him.  And when Sam thought I’d died as we left the spider’s lair and took It from my body to finish the quest himself, It did everything It could to get him to claim It so It could betray him, too.”

            Faramir visibly shuddered.  “The more reason to be glad that It is destroyed, then.”

            “Yes.”  Frodo sighed and sipped from his wine cup.

            There was quiet for a few minutes, until Kirilien asked, “What will you do now?”

            Frodo shifted his head slightly, then answered, “Aragorn wishes us to stay with him here for a time, and suggests that perhaps when the time comes for King Théoden’s funeral we should then be able to go back north in some safety and, he says, in company with others that we not be assaulted as we travel.  Apparently reports are that the roads through and just north of Dunland are being populated by landless Men who are preying on travelers and parties of merchants.  It is one of his goals to see the North Road made safe between the Gap of Rohan and the Breelands.  At least there is no further danger from Isengard as there was while we traveled south.”

            Faramir cocked his head.  “We weren’t aware until the Enemy was sending his armies against the White City that Saruman had turned traitor.  Suddenly my father knew, although we knew not how word of it had come to him.”

            “Gandalf believes that Lord Denethor learned of the White Wizard’s treachery through the seeing stone,” Frodo said, his expression darkening.  “It would have pleased the Enemy at that point to give your father further reason to despair.  I knew dreams of a huge army of great orcs, far different ones than Sam and I saw in Mordor, heading westward toward a huge tower built against the base of high mountains.  The Ring loved showing me such images, I found, hoping to make me lose heart for my purpose.”

            Faramir was nodding his head in understanding.  “My father ought to have realized that with the Enemy in control of Minas Morgul that the Dark Lord most likely had the Ithil stone within his grasp, and that he would use it to darken our counsels.”

            “Not even Gandalf thought of that possibility, though,” Frodo answered.  “Do not blame your father for not thinking of it, no matter how wise he might have been.”  He took a deep breath and looked up at the blue sky overhead.  “How long do you think it might be before the Rohirrim are ready to take their old King home?”

            “Perhaps shortly after Midsummer,” Faramir responded.

            “Then it is not likely we will return to the Shire until after the birthday,” Frodo said, feeling rather sad.  “Bilbo and I have the same birthday, you see, about the time summer gives way to autumn, just as the first leaves begin to change colors.  Then I think I may insist we go first to Rivendell so I can spend our birthday with Bilbo.  He would like that, I know.  After all, now that It is gone, he is not likely to linger all that much longer.  Gollum knew that he would die—die into the dust, as he put it, once the Ring was destroyed.  At least he died with It, glad only to hold It in his hands once more, and had no chance to seek to claim It before the Fire took him and the Ring together.  Bilbo didn’t carry It anywhere as long, and It remained largely asleep while he held It, so he didn’t take as much damage from It.  But he will be changed, I am certain, when I see him again.  Certainly,” he added as he leaned forward to drink the last of his wine, “carrying It changed me.”

            “Master?” interrupted another voice, and the three of them looked over to see Sam entering the garden where they were gathered.  “I went down to the guesthouse and fetched up a different outfit.  Seein’ as how much you’ve been a-rubbin’ at where the braid touches your skin, I’d say as you’d do with somethin’ more comfortable.  You want to come in and change?  I think as Lord Strider wishes you to come back, don’t you know.”

            Frodo found himself smiling.  “My dear, dear Sam Gamgee,” he murmured in a low voice.  “How well you know me!”  Then louder he answered, “Yes, Sam, that would be most welcome.”  He rose to his feet, setting the wine goblet beside the cup that had held juice.  “You will see these returned to the kitchens, please, my Lord Faramir?  Thank you oh, so much.  Mistress Kirilien, I hope I might encounter you again ere we leave again for the north.  If you will excuse me….”

            He turned away to return to the rooms Aragorn had had prepared for the Hobbits within the Citadel, anxious to be more comfortable once more.

For Tiggersk8, with my best wishes, for her birthday.

A Grim Prediction

            Daisy and May Gamgee, having brought up their father and brother’s nuncheon as asked, leaned over the hedge that surrounded Bag End’s gardens, watching as Sam worked at uprooting weeds amongst the petunias that grew near the border.  “What do you think, Sam, about having young Miss Pearl as your new Mistress?” ventured Daisy.

            Sam looked up at them, blinking.  “And who says as she’ll be Mistress here at Bag End?” he asked.

            Daisy shared a glance with May before returning her attention to their younger brother.  “He squires her about when her family comes to visit in Hobbiton, and spends a good portion of his time visitin’ at their place in Whitwell in between.  And word is as him’s ready to pop the question when them gets here termorror.”

            Sam turned his own gaze down toward the flower bed he’d been tasked with clearing of weeds, but not before his sisters saw his jaw go rigid.  “Ain’t gonna happen,” he said stiffly.

            “But him and Mr. Bilbo went all the way to Michel Delving to buy the promise gifts!” May insisted.  “A pendant on a silver chain and ear drops to match, all set with big pearls, like her name!  I tell yer, Sam—he’s gonna ask her this visit!”

            Sam gave a particularly vicious jab at a stalk of grass with his weeding tool.  “And I’m a-sayin’ as it won’t happen, not when push comes t’shove,” he predicted, giving a decisive shake of his head.  “I hear her when she’s a-walkin’ out here with her sisters whilst he must attend on her parents.  Miss Pearl Took don’t want t’be Mistress where she must do the greater share o’ the work on keepin’ the house spotless.  Talks of nothin’ but of how nice it’ll be once their dad is Thain and they’ll live in the Great Smial all year long, and others do most o’the cookin’ and cleanin’ and such.  I’m not sayin’ as she’s a bad housekeeper, for I know as she’s a good’un from what her mum and dad say o’her work there on the farm in Whitwell.  But Miss Pearl Took is all for keepin’ t’her needle work once she’s a lady grown, and leavin’ the keepin’ o’the house t’others as is paid t’do it.”

            It was something to ponder on, the two Gamgee lasses agreed as they returned down the Hill to the Row once more.

            And when word went out that Pearl Took, oldest daughter to Paladin Took, the one what was most likely to be Thain next after old Mr. Ferumbras was gone, had thrown over Frodo Baggins when he asked her to be his bride and offered her his promise gifts, Sam’s expression was sad for him even as he kept himself from saying, “I told you so!”

Written for the LOTR Community "Gratitude" challenge.  For JustAnnNow for her birthday.  A true drabble.

Exultation

            Halbarad felt the impossible pain as the Southron’s spear pierced his heart.  He glanced up just in time to see the look of surprise on his foe’s face as the Man’s head parted company abruptly from its body.

            Then the pain fled; he stood inexplicably above the battle, looking down as someone caught up Aragorn’s standard before it could touch the ground.  A thrill of joy ran through him.  It is done!  He shall be the King he was ever meant to be!  The sacrifice has been well worth it!

            His spirit singing its thanks, he joyfully left this world.

 

Written for 2015 B2MeM for a prompt given by KGreen.  For NancyLea for her birthday.

The Gardener’s Tribute

            Bilbo stepped out the kitchen door to find his gardener standing there, hand upraised to knock, looking quite wrongfooted to find that the door was no longer there as he prepared to rap upon it.  “Why, Master Hamfast, what is it?” he asked.  “You look quite out of countenance.”

            “Don’t know naught about bein’ short on nothin like that, Mr. Bilbo, sir, but I’m definitely upset.”

            “Yes, I can see.  What is it that is bothering you?”

            “Well, sir, it’s that lad o’yours.”

            Bilbo was quite surprised.  “Frodo?  And how on earth can Frodo have you upset?  He’s not played a prank upon you or Sam, has he?”

            “A prank?  Oh, no, sir—not that.  Not that at all.  Or mebbe it is.  I can’t rightly say, if’n you take my meaning.”

            “I’m quite certain I don’t—take your meaning, that is.  Has he played a prank or not?”  Bilbo knew well enough that Frodo could indeed play pranks quite handily if he chose, but he couldn’t imagine him playing one upon their good gardener.

            “Well, Mr. Bilbo, sir, I must suppose as you must be the judge of that.  It’s this garden of his as has me worrit up, you see.”

            “Garden?  Frodo has a garden of his own going?”  Bilbo felt himself growing confused.  Frodo had said nothing to him about growing any garden, and he certainly knew better than to tamper with any plot that the Gaffer was working on.  “Where is he doing this?  I’d not seen anything amongst the flower beds.”

            “Oh, but it’s not here, not rightly speakin’, sir.   It’s up there, atop the Hill.”

            In moments Bilbo and the Gaffer were climbing to the top of the Hill, and he swiftly saw that Frodo had indeed been cultivating some ground up there, although he couldn’t imagine for the life of him what kind of bed he had going.  It appeared to be designed as a circle.  “When did he start this?” he asked Hamfast.

            “About a week ago.”

            “Do you know what he’s planted?”

            “Yessir, Mr. Bilbo.  Him’s planted dandelion seeds.  And that’s what has me worrit up, sir, havin’ dandelions planted on purpose, like, where the seeds will blow out upon the gardens below.”

            “Dandelions?  Why on earth would he plant dandelions?”

            “I don’t rightly know, and that’s a fact.”

            Bilbo scratched his ear.  Now, this was a puzzle indeed, why his young ward would decide to plant dandelions almost right atop the Hill, there toward the west side overlooking the flowers and fruit trees below.  What made it even more puzzling was that Frodo had done so but had obviously been removing those dandelions that grew atop the Hill naturally.  He could see the tell-tale divots where the plants and their roots had been grubbed up here and there about the place, clearing a great space around his bed.  “Do you know where he’s at?” he asked the Gaffer.

            “No, I don’t, sir.  Asked me if’n Sam could go with him into the village, and then left with my lad in tow.  Told me as they shouldn’t be gone more’n half an hour or so.”

            “Well, I shall speak with him.  However, as he’s working atop the hill and not in the flower or vegetable gardens themselves, I must advise you that I’m reluctant to tell him he must stop.  But I shall inform him that he will be required to look out for dandelions that might grow down here as a result of his—project.”

            That appeared to satisfy the gardener at least a bit, and he went back to his work.  Bilbo intended to catch Frodo as soon as he returned, but the post got there first and there was correspondence he must see to, and he quite forgot his plan to waylay the lad and find out just what he was doing.  It was tea time before Frodo came in, calling a cheerful hello as he headed down the hall to the privy and bathing rooms, announcing over his shoulder that he’d be washed up as swiftly as possible and would then be ready to help with preparing tea.

            “As if you’ll actually be out in time to be of any help for anything but to help eat it!” Bilbo said quietly, not truly begrudging the lad.

            When Frodo returned his hands were definitely scrubbed, but there was a smear of dirt on the cuff of his sleeve and a definite grass stain on his trousers.  “You’ve been busy, have you?” Bilbo commented.

            “Yes.  Have a small project going atop the Hill, Uncle Bilbo, and I hope you don’t mind if I ask that you not go up there for two or three weeks until it’s all ready.  It’s a surprise, you see.”

            “If you wish it, dear boy.  But I must advise you that you are to be on dandelion patrol in the gardens down here.”

            “Oh, then the Gaffer told you about me planting dandelion seeds.”

            “Yes.  Whyever for, Frodo-my-lad?”

            Frodo refused to look at him.  He merely raised his chin and explained, “It’s part of the surprise.”

            “And just who is to be the recipient of this surprise, Frodo Baggins?”

            “The Gaffer.  For his birthday.”

            “But that’s not for four weeks.”

            “I know.  Sam and I have it all planned, and everything should be coming together right about then.”

            “Well, he’s not particularly pleased to know you’ve been planting dandelions on purpose up there where the seeds will blow out over his flower and vegetable beds.”

            “I can understand,” Frodo said, but his expression was thoughtful once the two of them sat down to eat cress sandwiches and ham rolls.

 *******

            A few days later while Bilbo was strolling back across the Party Field after taking a look at the currant bushes that grew in the hedge beyond it, he looked up and realized he had a perfect view of Frodo’s garden.  The dandelion plants were growing indeed in a circle, but the center of the circle had other plants in it.  He couldn’t tell precisely what kinds of plants they were, not from this distance, at least.  But they didn’t appear to be any bigger than the dandelion plants, whatever they were.  “What on earth is the lad doing up there?” he wondered aloud.  But when he asked Frodo about it, the lad merely answered that things were going well and his plants were doing precisely as he wished them to.

            Two weeks passed and the dandelion plants were growing like the weeds they were usually considered, and the other plants also appeared to be thriving as well.  Frodo and Sam went up for a half hour a day, and the grass was obviously filling in the spaces where Frodo had removed the “wild” dandelions.  It looked so bright and green up there!  Still. Bilbo found himself growing impatient to see just what the point of the project to surprise the Gaffer might be.

            Then one day he noted that the dandelions were beginning to bloom, and soon the other plants were surrounded by a circle of brilliant yellow that was quite thick toward the top of the circle.   The other plants were also growing, however, and he had the feeling that their buds would soon open as well.

            “Do they let you go up there?” he asked the Gaffer three days before the gardener’s birthday.

            “That they don’t,” was the reply, Hamfast Gamgee’s expression rather sour.  “They planted somethin’ else aside them dandelions, but I can’t tell what, not yet.  And they did it right, from what I can tell.   Took up good soil from last year’s compost pile and prepared the bed, and are up there takin’ care of it ever’ day, them is.  But I just can’t tell just what them two rascals is up to.”

            Whatever it was, Sam appeared pleased no end.  Bilbo overheard him confiding to Frodo, “It ought to be all bloomin’ proper for his birthday, right, Master Frodo?”

            “That it should, Sam.  And I do think he will be impressed.”

            They were planning to have a party for the gardener out in the Party Field, so the next day Sam and Frodo worked all day with Bilbo to see things prepared.  Bilbo hired the tent that the Ivy Bush set up to serve their beer and ale out of at the Free Fair and other festivals, and borrowed another from the Boffins to serve as a cook tent.  Trestle tables were set up for the guests, and the stand for the musicians was assembled on the side of the area cleared for dancing.  It was nearing sunset when they finished as much as they’d planned for the day, and as he headed back toward Bag End Bilbo looked up to see what was shaping up in Frodo’s dandelion garden.

            “Primroses!  Those are primroses!” he noted.  Several were beginning to bloom, most of them of a peach color, although he saw at least one blue one and some that were pink as well.  The yellow of the dandelions was less vibrant, though, and he was surprised to realize he was sorry this was so.  They’d been so cheerful in appearance.

            The next day others arrived to help finish the preparations for the party.  Young Griffo Boffin worked hard all day long alongside the older Baggins and Frodo, seeing to it that jars of candles were ready to light up and wire to the branches of the great oak tree once it was time, and that the ale kegs were arranged in the ale tent as well as all of the mugs for the guests.  Daisy, May, and Marigold brought out stacks of plates and baskets of napkins, and Frodo fetched down the pewter forks, knives, and spoons that would be used.

            Hamson and Halfred Gamgee were come for the party, Half bringing with him tubs of flowering shrubs to add to the festive air of the place.  As sunset approached and Griffo prepared to depart, he looked up to the top of the hill and commented, “Dandelions, eh?  So, why did Frodo plant dandelions up there surrounding all those primroses?”

            “I don’t know, not for certain. It’s supposed to be a surprise for the Gaffer’s birthday.”

            “Some surprise when the dandelions are all ready to go to seed,” Griffo grunted.  “Not that I’d think that the Gaffer would appreciate dandelions anywhere near his beloved gardens.”

            “Actually, he doesn’t.  But Frodo has promised to take care of any dandelion plants that seek to grow down amongst the flowers, so Hamfast seems to accept that it won’t hurt much in the end.”

            Griffo turned to survey the work they’d done.  “Well, this has gone well down here.  I’ll be here shortly after noon to drink to the old fellow’s good health.”

            “And I thank you, and look forward to you coming then.”

            With that Griffo left, as did the rest of the volunteers.  Sam and Frodo hurried up the hill for one last look at their project, and when Frodo came in he was definitely glowing with satisfaction.  “It ought to be just perfect in the morning,” he announced, but refused to say anything else.

            The next day dawned clear and bright, just right for a party, no matter how modest.  All morning Frodo and Bilbo were busy taking down those dishes they’d prepared for the party fare, and immediately after an early luncheon the two of them bathed hastily and donned their most formal shirts and gayest waistcoats.

            Precisely as the clock on the mantel chimed one the two of them descended to the Party Field to greet the guests in the name of the byrding.  Hamfast arrived, his two older sons on either side of him and Sam, his eyes alight with excitement, running ahead to stand by Frodo and Bilbo.  Daisy and May came after, each one holding onto one of Marigold’s hands to keep her from trying to keep up with her brother. 

            The guests arrived, with Aunt Dora leaning on young Griffo’s arm.  “How Bright and Delightful a day for a Party!” she declared.  “And how Thoughtful the two of you have been to prepare such a Celebration for Mr. Hamfast here.  Many happy returns for the day, Master Gamgee,” she told him.

            The gardener flushed with pleasure at this greeting.  “And thank you, Missus Dora, for comin’ t’my party!” he said with a happy—if awkward--bow, pulling at his forelock. 

            But Sam was pulling at Frodo’s sleeve.  “Did it come out right, Master Frodo?” he asked in a loud whisper, nodding toward the Hill.

            Frodo glanced toward the top of the Hill, and smiled brightly.  “You tell me, Samwise Gamgee,” he said, indicating that the lad should look up there for himself.

            The others all turned to see what the two younger Hobbits were discussing, and Aunt Dora gave a clap of delight.  “How Perfect!  Frodo, is this your work?”

            “It was Sam’s idea,” Frodo explained, clasping the lad by the shoulder.

            “But it took you to see it done,” Sam said.  “I’m not the one as figgered out how to place the plants,”

            For atop Bag End primroses formed perfectly a portrait of Hamfast Gamgee, the face peach colored with pink cheeks and lips, and blue blossoms for his eyes, and his soft grey curls all formed out of dandelion clocks.

 

Written for B2MEM 2015 in response to a prompt posted by MyBlueRose.

The Lay of Strider

I was a Ranger,

and to Bree was I newly come.

No one there knew where I was from.

Of my parts they could make no sum.

I was a cipher

to which no answer could be put.

I’d no horse, had come on foot.

Of evil Men was I in pursuit.

They did not like me.

To them I represented great danger.

No time had they for the stranger

who’d come to Bree in the guise of a Ranger.

They sensed me a puzzle,

for I would answer not their questions.

They gave me conflicting directions

and most uncomfortable suggestions.

I found the Men I sought

in the bar room at the Pony.

One tossed o’erhead a single stone he

had stolen last night from Estelconi.

Ah, but they knew me,

knew they truly must distract me.

One threw a knife hoping t’would impact me

whilst the others merely sought to trap me.

They sought to flee me.

In the bar they sowed confusion,

and with a confederate’s collusion

they tried to fool me with illusion.

They slipped out of the inn,

and in a storage shed lay hidden.

But still I came on them unbidden;

’twas their bodies’ stink undid them!

One still thought to flee,

and like a coney he raced all through town!

But afoot I chased him, and he found

that in the end I still ran him down.

A young girl squealed with glee,

and said, “He’s caught them like a spider!

I’ve never seen such a strider!”

Had I ridden I’d now be “Rider.”

 

Written for a B2MeM prompt by Dreamflower.  For Armariel.

Letting Go the Fear

            The Lady Arwen Undómiel was returning to her own rooms from the chamber in which the Hobbit Frodo Baggins slept, carrying her sewing with her.  She was moved by the stricken Hobbit’s combination of vulnerability and sheer strength of will.  To hold such a malevolent thing as a Morgul shard at bay for so long was unheard of!  Only Boromir, father of Cirion of Gondor, had ever survived such a wound, and was healed only because her father had left the north to go to his aid.  But what good had that done in the end?  Had the Man not withered due to ongoing pain from his wound, living but twelve years of the Sun once the Shard was removed from his body?  Little enough good had her father’s aid proved to him in the end!  Would it be with this Frodo as it had been for that once powerful Man?  It was said that even the Witch-king of Angmar had feared Boromir of Gondor, while his wisdom and fairness as Ruling Steward for the South Kingdom was legendary.  She found herself offering up supplication to the Belain for guidance for her father’s hands as he sought to search the wound for the shard in the morning.  It must not be with this one as it had happened with the Lord Steward Boromir there before her mother was forced to leave Middle Earth.

            Using osanwë she advised Mithrandir that Aragorn had come to Frodo’s room and could undoubtedly benefit by the Wizard’s company, and then let her father know that his fosterling had been unable to sleep and had returned to continue his watch over the Perian.  Satisfied that with someone to watch beside him Aragorn might finally relax enough to sleep, she took a turn out of the hallway she was traversing to cross a courtyard to the building where her own rooms were situated, only to be arrested by a furtive sound from the region of some bushes.

            It sounded like a sniff.

            But even with the fuller sight granted to those of Elven heritage at first she could not see who it was that had sniffed.  Only a slight movement as someone lifted his hand to rub at his nose told her that someone was huddling almost underneath the bushes.  A second, more forceful rub caused the individual’s cloak to fall open slightly, and with a glimpse of a loose white garment under it she realized it was another of the Periannath who’d apparently taken refuge there, still clad in the nightshirt she’d seen prepared for their four new guests.  Opening her awareness to him, she sensed roiling layers of fear, grief, and general misery.

            “I can see you,” she said in a soft, low voice.  “I can tell that you are afraid for your kinsman, but I assure you that all will be well with him.  Do come with me where it is warmer, for you must be very cold dressed as you are, even with that cloak about you.”

            Reluctantly the small being slid forward out of his refuge and stood, still uncertain of his welcome in spite of her gentle words.  “It’s only I didn’t want to disturb anyone,” he murmured, and he again gave a sniff.  “So I came out here to cry it out so I wouldn’t waken Merry.  He’s so exhausted!  Only I forgot to bring a handkerchief, and Bilbo will be on me—he’s a big one for handkerchiefs, you must understand.”

            Ah!  The youngest of the four Hobbits, the one they called Pippin.  “Yes, he has told me his thoughts on the need for sufficient handkerchiefs,” she advised him.  She held out her hand.  “Come with me out of the cool air.  I believe that I have one or two that I will be glad to share with you.”

            He gave her a watery smile, took her hand, and followed her into the next building.

            Several maidens of the valley sat in the comfortable room that served as her workroom, one weaving a fine cloth on a loom near the north window that filled the room with starlight, and the rest sewing on various projects, enjoying one another’s company and talking in low voices as they worked.  They looked up as Arwen entered, and when they saw her guest they rose respectfully, each giving a quiet welcome as they looked questioningly to their lady.  In moments only the weaver was left, the others sent here and there to fetch refreshments and cushions on which the Hobbit might sit comfortably.  Arwen went through a chest and brought out a handful of handkerchiefs in a variety of colors, and Pippin was amazed and delighted, his tears having abated.  Now that he was in the light she could easily see his eyes were puffy from weeping and his nose quite red.  Certainly he was already benefitting from her gift as he wiped his eyes and blew his nose.

            “We’ve been so distracted just trying to keep Frodo alive and warm and finding our way through those hills—Strider called them the Ettenmoors—that it’s taken till now to realize just how frightened I’ve been,” Pippin explained, turning his handkerchief and blowing his nose again.  “We were all terrified when the Black Riders found us at Weathertop, and I know I froze!  I mean, Merry and I both just fell right down on the ground!  Neither of us was any good at all at protecting anyone!  At least Frodo tried—he tried to cut off the biggest Black Rider’s feet, although apparently all he did was to cut a slash through his black cloak.  Strider found it the next day, the cloak, I mean, and you could see where Frodo’s sword cut a gash in it.  But there was no blood on it, and Aragorn said something about a blade perishing if it actually did any damage to—to one of them.  But, how in Middle Earth does a blade perish, since swords and knives aren’t alive?  I find I don’t understand a good half of what Strider’s trying to warn us about.

            “But I’m so glad that Frodo decided to trust him back there at the Prancing Pony.  Strider does know about traveling in the wild and about how to fight the Black Riders.  He told us to each take up one of the longer sticks from the fire and use it to ward them off, but we didn’t listen.  And he’s not really slept since Frodo was hurt.  I don’t know how he’s stayed awake and alert like he has.  Although he did get us a bit lost, apparently, trying to go around instead of staying right on the road where they might find us easily again.  Not that I blame him, really.  If he’s usually stayed on the road and avoided the Ettenmoors because trolls are found there—that’s what I think he said, at least—then of course he’d likely get a bit lost when he had to go that way, I suppose. 

            “He and Glorfindel both warned us that the Black Riders were probably at the ford before we got there, and they were right, weren’t they?  But this time we all grabbed the burning sticks and used them, and Strider was right—the Black Riders and their horses went back into the river just as it rose up and swept them away!  Was that Elf magic, the river rising up like that?  Glorfindel knew it was going to happen.

            “And are you related to Lord Elrond?”

            The last question came so swiftly after the comments about the Black Riders that she was momentarily taken by surprise.  She took a breath to steady herself after Pippin’s rapid-fire speech and answered, “Yes.  I am his daughter, Arwen.  There are three of us who are children to our adar, my twin brothers, Elladan and Elrohir, and then me.  In the absence of my naneth I serve as Lady of Imladris.”

            “And you keep piles of handkerchiefs in your chest there?”

            She laughed, suddenly glad for this youngling’s curiosity.  “Once we realized how much Bilbo is reassured to have ready access to such things, I have seen to it that there is always a good supply of them ready for when he needs new ones.  They are easy to prepare, so I usually have a dozen or so at hand at any time.”

            “I’m glad,” Pippin said, and once more blew his nose before setting the used handkerchief aside and taking a new one.  “And I’m certain that Bilbo must love these.  They are quite soft and such lovely colors.  My sister Pearl used to make a dozen for him each year for Yule gifts.  She’s the seamstress in the family, Pearl is.  And he always seemed to really appreciate them, not like Ferumbras who never really sounded glad to get them when she gave him handkerchiefs.  Although he did seem to like it the time she made him a white silk cravat for her birthday.”

            He dabbed at his nose, and then twisted the cloth between his hands.  “We were so frightened, and terrified that Frodo might die from his wound.  His shoulder and his arm were so, so cold!  We tried everything we could to keep him warm.  I gave Strider my extra shirt to wrap warm stones in to lay against his side, and both Merry and Sam would lie down with their shirts off, pressing their own shoulders against his, trying to warm him that way, while I would lie against his other side.  He’d be almost all right in the morning, but after he’d been riding on Bill—that’s Sam’s pony—for a time his face would go grey and his eyes blank, as if he wasn’t seeing things clearly.  Sometimes he’d be muttering things we couldn’t make out, or almost answering their cries when we’d hear them in the distance.”  He looked up intently into her eyes.  “Will he be all right?”

            “I believe so, Pippin.  My father is a skilled and powerful healer, and has learned many things during his time here in Middle Earth.  He has saved the life of at least one person who was injured as was your kinsman Frodo, and he has learned even more in the yeni since that day.”

            “And Lord Elrond will be trying to get the piece of knife out of Frodo in the morning?”

            “Yes, he will search the wound then.  However, he might not be able to remove it the first time.  It is not always easy to find small fragments of weapons left behind.  But if he cannot remove it tomorrow he will do so when he searches the wound again.”

            Pippin shuddered.  “I just hope there is no second time looking for it,” he said.

            “Nor does he,” she answered him.  “But he is good at what he does.”

            He gave a single nod.  “I’ll hold you to that.”  He was quiet for a time, then appeared startled when he found himself yawning.  “I do believe,” he said through a second yawn, “that I’ve got the fear out of me.  No,” he said to one of the returning maidens who offered him a plate of cheese and crisply toasted bread, “I am embarrassed to say I’m not really hungry for a change.  I’d best get back to our room and go back to bed before Merry awakens to find me missing and becomes frightened for me.  Thank you so very much!”

            He accepted a drink of hot milk, thanked them all for their care and concern, and at a nod from Arwen one of the maidens led him back to the door of the room assigned to himself and Merry.

            Arwen watched after him, glad to meet still another Hobbit of the Shire.  Bilbo was something special, she knew, and it appeared the same thing could be said for young Pippin as well.

 

For Easter, and for RS9 for her birthday.  A true drabble.

Resurrection

            Perhaps nothing could raise the isle of Númenor again from the depths of the Sea.  But under the reign of the King Elessar two ancient realms rose anew, combining to show forth the forgotten glory of the Sea Kings of old.  All looked on in wonder and awe to see Arnor rebuilt in what had been the wilderness of Eriador, once again a thriving land of plenty; while Gondor renewed led Middle Earth in knowledge, industry, and commerce.  With the sagacity of their King and the beauty and honor of their Queen, no other mortal land was their equal.

 

Written for the LOTR Community "Wisdom" challenge.  For Nilmandra for her birthday, with love!

To Take what You Like

            “You struck him from the Book of Bracegirdle, didn’t you?” 

            Benlo Bracegirdle, Family Head for those of the name, looked to squarely meet the eyes of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, she having been born a Bracegirdle, after all.  “Yes,” he admitted.  “We struck him and Timono both from the Book that first Yule.  And Delo Sackville, who’s followed him as the Sackville, has struck him from the Book of Sackville as well.”

            “You did not so advise me.”

            Benlo shrugged.  “Considering as Lotho had disbanded the Quick Post for anyone but him and his fellow conspirators, how could I let you know?  He knew it would happen, and so did Timono.  Once I knew as the two of them was passing bad contracts I warned them—warned them both.  But they kept on doin’ it, again and again.  What was I to do, Cousin Lobelia—let’em both off ’cause them was both Bracegirdles?  They was both bringing shame on the name, and I couldn’t let that stand, and you know it!  Enough of the elders agreed with me as it ought t’be done, and so that first Yule as him was claiming t’be the Chief Shirriff I struck him from the Book, and I don’t grieve havin’ done it.”

            She leaned her head against the back of the wing chair in which she sat, closing her eyes.  “I’d no idea he was passing bad contracts.  Oh, I’m not surprised to learn Timono was doing so—I never liked Timono as a lad, much less as a Hobbit grown.  The few times he was allowed into the hole I’d have to search him before he left again—had sticky fingers, Timono did.”

            Benlo eyed his elderly cousin rather sideways.  There was no question that Lobelia Bracegirdle and her son Lotho also had reputations as petty pilferers, although few citizens of the Shire had ever had the effrontery to search their persons—not since Bilbo Baggins left for good, at least.  For her to complain about anyone doing to her what she’d done time and again displayed a decided double standard, he thought.  He was rather surprised at her next words.

            “Not, of course, that we were any better than Timono, I suppose.”

            His jaw dropped.  Never had Lobelia Bracegirdle Sackville-Baggins admitted she regularly took things that were not hers.

            She continued, “Not that we thought anything wrong in it.  You know the old saying—if you see something you like, take it.  So, we’d take it.”

            “There’s more to the old sayin’ than merely that, Cousin Lobelia, more that not you, Lotho, nor Timono ever cottoned to—the full of it is, If you see somethin’ as you like, take it—and make it better.”

            She gave a brief bark of a laugh with no humor to it.  “At least Frodo Baggins appears to have heard the whole aphorism and to have taken it to heart.  Lotho made himself the Chief of the Shire, the Boss of all, and see where it got him!  Dead, murdered in his own hole, the one hole he didn’t cheat anyone to get!  And now Frodo is deputy Mayor, and he’s actually making everything better for everyone, perhaps everyone but himself.”  She sat up, plucking at the blanket her niece Hyacinth had tucked around her earlier, staring earnestly at Benlo.  “Well, I’ve a good many sins to make amends for myself.  Lotho realized before the end that he’d got caught in a cleft stick of his own making, or at least I’d hope he did so, once he realized that that horrid Sharkey was taking over as Boss of all and that he wasn’t needed any more.  And it’s up to me to make things right.  Finding myself in those Lockholes of theirs made me realize just how little power either of us had any more, how Sharkey intended to get us both out of the way.  And I saw the others, both as they took me in and as Frodo Baggins led me out and we sat together in the banquet hall in the Council Hole, all the others who’d been prisoners there, all of us ragged and dirty and thin and sickly.  And I realized I wasn’t one whit better than any of them, that we’d all been prisoners together, and not one of us deserved it.”

            She sighed and leaned back more comfortably.  “The healers tell me I don’t have that much longer.  My heart isn’t strong any more, Cousin Benlo.  I hope to live to see Spring return, but wouldn’t be surprised to find myself going sooner.  I’m giving Bag End back to Frodo.  I never belonged there.  I couldn’t keep the gardens green and lovely.  No one wanted to visit us there.  No one was happy for us to be in possession of the place.  I wasn’t as happy as I’d thought to be with Bag End at last my home.  No, it’s Frodo’s home, not mine, and I’ll see it back into his hands.  He and that Sam Gamgee will see it restored as I couldn’t and can’t.  Nobody can give me the chance to change the past, or give me back my son.  I can’t see him change as I’ve changed since I was locked up in Michel Delving.  I’ll never see anyone cheer him as they cheered me when Frodo brought me out.”  Her mouth was working, and her eyes were moist.  “I have to make amends for both of us,” she whispered.  “I can’t do it all myself, but at least, since Frodo’s deputy Mayor now he can see things made better again for me, help make reparations.”

            She closed her eyes and waved vaguely in Benlo’s direction.  “Bartolo’s my personal lawyer, and he, at least, wasn’t party to what Lotho and Timono and—and that Smallburrow lawyer were all doing.  Please have him call on me as soon as possible.  He can help me put the deed to Bag End back into Frodo’s hands, and can help rewrite my will, now Lotho is gone and it’s up to me to set things up to make them better.  Lotho and me, we took too much.  Now it’s time to give back again, I suppose—make things better for all we wronged.  Some people need their homes returned, and others had everything taken from them by those Gatherers and Sharers.  Time to give back.  Give back….”

            Benlo realized that Lobelia had slipped into a doze.  He sighed, and looked to catch the eyes of Hyacinth, who sat quietly across the room with her embroidery.  She shrugged and gave him a sad, slightly twisted smile.  He straightened, gave her a slight bow, and took his leave.  He’d go immediately to summon Bartolo to Lobelia’s side.  Best not give her time to change her mind back and slip back into the old ways again, he thought.

For Aliana and Rhapsody for their birthdays, for the Fourth, and for Jess.

Freedom

            “They’re gone?” Will Whitfoot asked his wife Mina for about the fifth time since he’d been carried back to his home from the Lockholes.

            She smiled, and he could see too easily in the light of the late autumn day that she’d developed worry lines on her face since he’d been seized by Lotho’s Big Men.  “When Frodo Baggins, Merry Brandybuck, Pippin Took, and that Sam Gamgee got back from wherever it is they went the first thing as they did was to raise the Shire.  And if the Big Men haven’t gone running!"

            Will shook his head.  Freedom returned!

 *******

             He’d come to Gondor as a soldier of Harad following the standard of the Scarlet Serpent.  He’d been cut down by the grey-clad horseman who’d carried the black standard that yet sparkled in the unexpected glory of the Sun.  He’d awakened in a healers’ tent in a hastily erected stockade built upon the Pelennor, his right arm gone.  His officer had found him there and had ordered one of his fellows to kill him as one now useless to fight.  The healers protected him, and his former officer had been banished elsewhere.

            What could he do with his freedom?

            Dream!

 ******* 

            He sighed as he awoke, the scent of new growth all about him.  When he’d known such an awakening before he’d thought he’d died, that his willing sacrifice of himself had won the freedom of Middle-Earth from Sauron’s would-be domination.  But he found he was still living, still prone to pain and grief, tempers and melancholy, still hearing the echoes of the Ring in the back of his mind and the secrecy of his heart. 

            Well, he was still stubbornly alive and mortal, although no longer within Middle-Earth.

            But at last, from the horrors of the Ring he was free!

Written for the LOTR Community "The Great Feast" challenge.  For Claudia, Kitty, Febobe, Tracey Claybon, and all others whose birthdays I've missed in the past few months.  And with memories of Pon Nak, my beloved sister-in-love.

For the Wedding Feast

            “So, Samwise Gamgee, it’s the Princess’s weddin’ day at last, is it?”

            Sam looked up from where he was slicing boneless beef steaks into thin strips, although his hands did not pause in their work.  “That it is, Tom.  And I wish as you wouldn’t call her that.  It embarrasses her terrible, it does.”

            Tom Cotton, husband to Sam’s sister Marigold, shrugged and took a deep draught from his beer mug.  Swallowing and wiping his mouth with the back of his sleeve, he commented, “Her’s about the prettiest lass in all the Shire, and has served the Queen herself and all.  And the stars know as even poor Mr. Frodo doted on her more’n about anythin’ else in Middle Earth afore he left the Shire.  Can’t think on anyone else as deserves the title more’n our Elanorellë.”

            Sam returned his attention to the beef, his nose twitching slightly as it sometimes did when someone mentioned his long-absent friend.  “Mayhaps as you’re right, Tom.  But our dear lass has never put on airs nor thought herself above anyone else, not ever since she was born.  And now she’ll be leavin’ us as her and Fastred will be startin’ up their lives together back in Greenholm.”  He was quiet as he cut three more slices and scooped what he’d cut so far off the cutting board and dropped it into a basin of what appeared to be some kind of oil.  As he set to cutting even more slices he continued, “We’ll not know what t’do without her, her mum and the younger ones and me.”

            “It’s not as if she’s never been gone, though,” Tom noted, “what with her stayin’ up north in the King’s new city, servin’ in the King’s own house.”

            “That may be true,” Sam said, “but then she was still ours, but from now on she ain’t.  She’ll be mistress of her own hole, she will, and Fastred’s wife, and soon enough mother to her own bairns.”  He wiped his forehead with his bared arm.  “Think of that—me, a gaffer in my own right!  How Frodo would laugh at that, all delighted!”

            Tom’s face grew more solemn.  “That he would,” he agreed, his voice quieter and more respectful.  “He loved her deeply—I know that, memberin’ how he looked at her last time as I saw him.  It’s too bad, really, as he couldn’t be here today.  How he’d of loved to dance at her weddin’, or so I’m thinkin’.”

            Sam gave a nod as he finished up the last of the steak he’d been slicing.  “Indeed he would.”

            “Not,” Tom added, “that I member him dancin’ at any weddin’ after the four of you come back from down south-aways.  That seemed so strange at the time, seein’ as him was about the best dancer in the whole of the Shire when he was younger.”

            Sam set aside his knife and added the new strips of beef to the basin.  “You’re right—Frodo didn’t dance after we come back home.”

            “Why not?”

            Sam looked up to meet his brother-in-love’s questioning gaze.  “He was hurt too bad for too long.  It’s why he left when he did, Tom, for he wasn’t getting’ any better.  You know as how moody he’d get when we was stayin’ at your place, there afore Bag End was finished for him to return home, and how his shoulder’d pain him so.  It never healed, there where the Witch-king stabbed him.  And he couldn’t walk on and on, not like he always did afore.  When we was headin’ south he’d outwalk every one of us, but not after we was saved from Mordor.  But, think on it.  If’n you’d been stabbed with a Morgul blade and nearly was turned into a wraith, then was poisoned by the most evil of great spiders as the Enemy ever bred, was beat by orcs and almost died of lack of food and water and rest and the poison of the worst fire mountain as ever was, and had your finger bit off by the likes of that Gollum, do you think as you’d of ever got better?”

            Tom had to allow that perhaps he’d have done no better than had Frodo Baggins.  “It’s just too bad he couldn’t dance after that, though,” he said.

            Sam set another steak on the board and prepared to slice it.  “Actually, he did dance twice, there in the White City, after Lord Strider was made King, and again at the King’s weddin’ to our Lady Arwen.  Danced the Husbandman’s Dance for the King and Queen, he did.  Pippin was singin’ the song for it, and as they picked up the tune the musicians joined him in the music.  And Mr. Frodo, he made it through all seven turns, each one faster and faster!  Only----”  He paused, staring off into old memories before finally continuing, “Only when it was done it was all he could do to stand upright.  Almost collapsed right there afore all them fancy lords and ladies.  That was it for him—he wouldn’t dance again.”

            He was quiet, looked down and gazed for a moment at the knife in his hand as if he didn’t recognize its purpose, then gave himself a shake and returned to his slicing.

            Tom decided he’d best change the subject.  “And what is it as you’re fixin’ for the weddin’ feast, Sam?”

            This time Sam smiled.  “It’s a dish as Mistress Loren taught me, there in the guesthouse where we stayed in Minas Tirith.  Said as she learned it of a lass what had been saved from a slave ship from those from Harad, one as Prince Imrahil’s folks captured.  Don’t know as where this lass come from to begin with, but it was a land far, far away from Gondor.  She wasn’t much taller than a Dwarf, although she was in truth a woman amongst Men.  But her skin was almost yellow, and her hair and eyes so dark as to be almost pure black, and her eyes rather tilted.  Mistress Loren’s family give her a place to live, and she took to helpin’ with the cookin’.  So I asked Lord Strider for the oils and seeds and sauce as is used in the makin’ of it, and decided it would be quite the treat for my eldest’s weddin’ day!”

            Tom leaned over to sniff at the basin.  “Don’t think as I’ve smelled anythin’ quite like it.  So, it’s got carrot strips in it, does it?”

            “Yes, and green onions and garlic as well.  I think as you’ll like it fine.  Now, if’n you’ll see to it as the rice there is ready to cook, I’d be much obliged.  It goes right fine with rice, it does, although Mr. Frodo preferred it with somethin’ else as they call noodles, there in Gondor.  He never cared for rice much, not my Frodo.”

            Elanor Gamgee-Gardner Fairbairn had to have been the prettiest bride that Tom had ever seen, dressed in that gown of tea green silk.  And as her father danced with her afterwards her face glowed so with happiness that Tom was certain she’d managed to pass up even her aunt Goldy on the day Tom and she’d been married by Mr. Frodo. 

            All praised the food served at the wedding feast, and as Tom had his third serving of the sliced beef that had been marinated in the foreign oil and spices, he saw a rather tall, slender Hobbit who appeared somehow familiar speaking with Elanor beneath the Party Tree.  The two of them danced a turn there in the dappled light under the golden leaves of the Mallorn, then the strange Hobbit bowed in a courtly manner to the young bride, kissed her tenderly on the top of her head, above the crown of primula blossoms and elanor flowers she wore, before he left, although afterwards Tom could never say for certain which way he’d gone.

 

--~0~--

Bulgogi
Grilled Marinated Beef

 

Bulgogi is one of Korea's most popular beef dishes that is made from thinly sliced sirloin or another prime cut of beef (rib eye). It is usually marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, black pepper, garlic, onions, ginger, and sugar for two to four hours to enhance the flavor and its tenderization. Bulgogi is traditionally grilled but broiling or pan-cooking is common as well. Whole cloves of garlic, sliced onions, and chopped green peppers are often grilled or cooked at the same time. It is often served to non-Koreans as a first taste of Korean cuisine.

This dish is usually served with a side of lettuce, spinach, or other leafy vegetable, which is used to wrap a slice of cooked meat, often times along with a dab of ssamjang, kimchi, or other side dishes, and then eaten as a whole.

Korean 101: Bul is the Korean word for fire and gogi is meat, therefore, it translates into fire meat. However, it's not quite spicy in taste but somewhat on the sweet side.

 

Recipe Ingredients

 

  • 1 lb thinly sliced beef (sirloin or rib eye)
  • 5 tbsp sugar
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 2 buds finely chopped garlic (can be crushed but remove buds before serving)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 5 tbsp Mirin (sweet sake, optional)
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 cup split green onions
  • 2 cups thinly sliced carrots (optional)

 

Cooking Directions

 

  1. Mix all ingredients except carrots. Marinate in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
  2. Cook over medium high heat until meat is just short of desired completion.
  3. Add carrots and cook for an additional 3 minutes.
  4. Serve with rice.

Recipe from TriFood.com  http://www.trifood.com/bulgogi.asp

Written for the LOTR Community "Nostalgia" fixed-length ficlet challenge.  For La-Prime, Just_Ann_Now, Nierielraina, Virtuella, ThunderaTiger, and Illereyn, for their birthdays.

A Promise ere Parting

            “For what do you pine, ion nín?" asked the Elvenking.

            Legolas’s eyes were distant as he turned to meet his father’s gaze.  “What leads you to believe I pine for anything, hir nín?” he asked, his voice toneless.

            Thranduil shook his head, examining his golden-haired son from head to the toes of his soft leather shoes.  “For the past yen we have barely seen you here within the Greenwood, for you have been about the establishment of your own realm, spending time amongst your mortal acquaintances.  But now that Elessar is gone it was my hope you would perhaps return here for a time ere you resumed your rule.  And here you are----” he indicated the balcony on which Legolas had spent so much of this visit, staring westward, “and it is obvious that your heart is not with us, your family and your people.”

            For a time it was not clear what it was the younger Elf considered, but at last he truly saw his father and King.  “For what do I pine, Adar?” he asked.  “Not for anything within your power to grant to me.”

            “I almost wish that the Enemy’s Ring had remained lost, for then I would not have lost you.”

            The answer was a twisted smile.  “Would you truly prefer it were this stronghold still surrounded by tainted trees, the great spiders, and Sauron’s other atrocities?”  Legolas sighed.  “My time to go West approaches swiftly, Adar.  I began the building of my ship long ago.  Gimli sails with me.”

            Thranduil’s heart twisted.  “I cannot tempt you to stay, my son?”

            “I was lost to you the first time I heard the wailing of the gulls.  They call, and I must sail.”

            A pause.  “Then greet your naneth for me, my beloved.”

            Wordlessly, Legolas assented.

Written for Linaewen for the 2015 LOTR Community Yule Exchange.  Beta by Gail, who hasn't forgiven me for what happened to Morwing.

A Gift for his Brother

            It was cold as Boromir emerged from the cutting of the way from the Seventh Level of Minas Tirith onto the main road through the Sixth Circle and turned south toward the gate to the Fifth Circle.  He pulled his cloak tighter about him and wished he’d followed his tutor’s advice and worn the heavy knitted gloves he’d been given by Faramir’s nurse rather than the leather ones he’d chosen.  Ah, but it was so cold today!  But with Mettarë approaching as swiftly as it was he had no choice but to go out today, for he’d not have another chance before the arrival of the first guests, at which time he’d have to be present to do proper honor to them.

            “Boromir!”

            He paused, surprised.  Only his brother and father called him simply Boromir usually.  Oh, his uncles Húrin and Imrahil would do so, as would his cousins and those of his Lord Father’s closest advisors who were most influential in his Council.  But even the sons of great lords tended to address him as young Lord or, in very few cases, as Master Boromir.  Who had the temerity to use his given name as if he were family?

            He peered back over his shoulder, and immediately the cold breeze flowing down Mindolluin blew a lock of hair across his eyes.  He impatiently brushed it away and saw that Mithrandir was approaching from behind.  He must have just entered the city the previous evening or early this morning, Boromir thought.  His personal guard started to move to intercept the Grey Wizard, but Boromir waved him back to his customary place ten paces behind his charge.  He knew that his father distrusted the motivations and secret intentions of both Mithrandir and Curunír, but he had no quarrel with the former.  Curunír, however, was quite a different matter.  The two times he had been in the White Wizard’s company had been—well, it had been extraordinarily uncomfortable, as if his value as a pawn in some game Boromir did not quite understand was being evaluated.  He’d felt a good deal of relief when at last Curunír returned his piercing gaze to meet his father’s eyes, although to go from the center of the Wizard’s intent focus to being dismissed as if he was no longer of any interest at all had been disconcerting, even insulting, although the boy had held his temper well enough at the time.  And the way Curunír had looked at Faramir had caused the younger child to freeze in sheer terror, leading Boromir to shake with fury.  Had it been the White Wizard behind him today, Boromir would have readily allowed Vortigern to intervene.

            However, it was not Curunír now, but Mithrandir, and Mithrandir always spoke to both of Denethor’s sons with courtesy and open friendliness.  That Faramir liked the Grey Wizard increased Boromir’s tendency to accept Mithrandir’s company.  Mithrandir would listen to the young boy respectfully and answer his questions as if they were as important as those their father might ask, which also favorably impressed Faramir’s older brother.  Boromir knew that Faramir hero worshiped him; but the older boy secretly admired his younger brother at least as much.  In spite of how young he was, Faramir understood other people far better than did Boromir, and his advice on how to approach someone on almost any question the older boy had found well worth listening to.  Like their Lord Father, Faramir could tell whether or not those speaking to him were being honest or trying to hide something, whether they could be trusted or if they were scoundrels.  Boromir so wished he were similarly gifted!

            The youth gestured for the Grey Wizard to join him, ignoring Vortigern’s expression of concern, and waited for Mithrandir to do so before recommencing his journey to the lower circles of the White City.

            “And where is it you are bound, Denethorion?”

            Boromir shrugged.  “To find a gift for my little brother,” he said.  “It is Mettarë in a few days, and I do not wish for him to do without until the new year is well commenced.  Did you just arrive?”

            Mithrandir gave a wry smile.  “Only a few hours ago.  I have seen your Lord Father, but he has told me he cannot speak further with me until after the general audience tomorrow morning.  As for your proposed gift for Faramir, have you decided what it is you wish to give him?”

            The boy felt his own lips purse.  “Oh, but I had it all chosen.  There is a weapons smith who has a forge in the Fourth Circle who often supplies the lords of the realm, even on occasion my Lord Father, in spite of him coming from Far Harad.  His work is exquisite, and when I was there two sennights past he had a long knife I felt would be perfect as a sword for Faramir.”

            “A sword, for a boy as young as your brother?”

            Boromir stiffened somewhat.  “He’s as old as I was when I received my first sword, which was also really a long knife.  He is almost nine summers now.”

            The conversation paused as they went through the gate into the Sixth Circle and headed down the steep way toward the area where the finer homes and better shops could be found and beyond them to the gate to the Fourth Circle.  Only once they’d cleared the gate and were separated from others heading toward the lower city did the Wizard continue the conversation.  “So, if you had determined to purchase such a weapon for him, what has happened to make you decide to search anew for a gift for Faramir?  Did your Lord Father forbid you to give him such a thing?”

            “Forbid me?  Hardly!”  Boromir was unaware of the sour expression his face had taken on.  “Nay, he thought it a fine idea—so fine he took it for his own!  In fact he would do it even better than I could, for he has decided to provide Faramir with livery in keeping with that worn by those who guard the Citadel itself, even having a light mail crafted of silver wire for him to wear under the uniform shirt and tabard.  He has put the best of the seamstresses for the Citadel to the making of the uniform, and the armorers to crafting a helm for him.”

            “Even a helm?  Dear heavens!  It does sound as if your father is intent on doing it up properly.  Does he have the black boots on order as well?”

            “Yes.”

            After a moment of silence Mithrandir asked, “Will Faramir be glad of such a gift, do you think?”

            Boromir nodded, although without a good deal of enthusiasm.  “Oh, yes, he will like it well enough, considering the thought put into it and how much care is being given to making it as perfect as possible.  Although,” he continued more slowly and thoughtfully, “he would like it better were it to resemble the uniforms worn by those who guard the White Tree.  He would love to offer that service, I think.”

            “So,” the Wizard said, “your father has chosen to give Faramir the sword you had thought to give him, then?”

            The youth shook his head.  “No.  There is another sword smith in the Fourth Circle who fashions swords for young gentlemen made after the pattern of those issued to those who serve in the Guard of the Citadel, and our Lord Father has commissioned from him a sword to match the uniform and proper to Faramir’s size.  I understand he has many mostly prepared to which he needs to do little save to apply a badge to the sheath and to inscribe the blade.”

            “Then, if the sword from your father is different from the one that you would choose for your brother, then there is no reason you cannot give him a second sword, is there?”

            Again Boromir shook his head.  “I would not do that.  I would not put him into a position in which he might unwittingly anger our father.”

            “I do not understand, Boromir.”

            Boromir stopped walking and looked up earnestly into the Wizard’s dark eyes.  “Can you not?  Think, Mithrandir!  My father and I each give Faramir a sword, but his comes with the uniform.  Faramir is pleased, but he wishes to do honor to both of us.  He cannot wear two swords at once, so he seeks to honor our father by wearing the uniform, and me by wearing the sword I have given him.  How do you think our Lord Father will respond to that?”

            Mithrandir took a deep breath.  “I can see the difficulty, Boromir.  Indeed you know his nature well.  Even though he knows that Faramir will only wish to show both of you how much he appreciates your separate gifts, still your father will feel slighted should he see that Faramir may possibly prefer your choice in blades to his.”

            “And when he feels slighted or his pride is hurt our father—well, he can be difficult.”

            The Wizard’s mouth was fixed in a wry, humorless smile as he indicated his understanding of the situation.  At last he asked, “And have you thought what kind of gift you should give your brother instead of a sword?”

            “Is that not why I am going out this day, in hopes of finding the perfect gift for Faramir?” the youth asked, feeling exasperated.

            The Wizard’s face was now contrite.  “I do beg your pardon, young Lord,” he said.  “Tell me this—what do you believe your brother would most like to receive as a gift?”

            Boromir didn’t even have to think on that.  “A book.”    

            Mithrandir’s eyebrows rose inquiringly.  “A book?  Ah, but there are many, many kinds of books in this world.  What kind of book would he appreciate most?”

            “Almost any kind of book,” Boromir replied, shrugging.  “Save he would not like a picture book intended for small children.”  He thought on it, and added, almost sadly, “But Father would not want for it to be merely a book of tales.  He believes that a book must teach something.”

            The Wizard gave a sigh at that.  “I can easily imagine that,” he said, his tone particularly dry.  “So, we must find something that will be a balance between something that your father would approve of and something that Faramir would definitely like.  That may take a bit of thinking.”

            Boromir could feel his insides tighten.  “But I don’t wish to give him only a book,” he pointed out.  “I’d wanted to give him a blade.  He has always wanted to do what I do, and as I am busy learning how to be a soldier he wishes to stand beside me.  And that long knife would have pleased him very much!  It has a running horse upon the grip, and it is so beautifully crafted and balanced!”

            “He likes running horses?”

            “Oh, yes.  You see, since he started taking riding lessons he has come to love the ponies and the horses.  He spends almost as much time in the stables in the Sixth Circle now as he does in the archives, and the horses and ponies love him dearly.  He has them all eating out of the palm of his hand, and not even the stallions will misbehave if he is nearby.  He is now eager to travel to Rohan, for he wishes to see the horses there running free across the green fields of the horse runs.  He would run with them were it allowed, I trow.”

            Mithrandir was nodding, smiling slightly as if he were seeing the younger of Denethor’s two sons running amongst Théoden’s Royal Herd, there in his mind’s eye, and found it a delightful scene.  Then he cocked his head and asked, “Which do you think Faramir would prefer, the sword his father has commissioned for him or the one you had thought to choose?”

            “Oh, the one I chose.  I do not mean he would not appreciate the other one, but—well, it is—it is cold.  And considering some of the swords that smith makes that others my age have received, I doubt that it will prove to be particularly well balanced.  They are not intended for true use, this smith’s swords, but for show.”

            “So, as weapons they look proper, but the feel of them is artificial?” the Wizard asked.

            “Artificial?” asked Boromir, unsure what the word meant.

            “Not what they are intended to look like.  Not real.  Not alive.”

            The boy smiled.  How well that described the swords he’d seen come out of that smith’s shop!  “You are right, Mithrandir—not alive!  But the smith from Far Harad—his weapons are things of beauty but true to their purpose.  I have a dagger he wrought, and it fits my hand as if it grew there, as well as drawing the eye.”

            “Ah!  So he makes daggers as well as swords and long knives, does he?”

            Boromir nodded, saying, “Yes.  He does all edged weapons and even some tools such as scissors.”  Then he paused with realization.  “I could purchase a dagger for him!  Father has not ordered a dagger, too, and many of the Guards of the Citadel wear daggers of their own choice as well as their swords.  It would be perfect!  And then,” he added, “I ought to have enough coin left over to find him a book as well.  Would you help me pick out a proper book for him?”

            Once the Wizard agreed to do so, they turned to go down to the gate to the Fourth Circle.  As they walked Mithrandir asked, “So, Faramir is to have an appropriately sized helmet as well, is he?  What kind of sea bird is to provide the wings, then?  A full-sized gull or albatross would have wings far too large for the helm for a child.”

            Boromir frowned.  This was a matter that he’d not wanted to even think about.  “Father decided a bird from the city should provide the wings rather than a sea bird,” he admitted, trying to keep his anger out of his voice.  “Not many of the smaller sea birds come close to Minas Tirith, after all.  So he’s chosen a raven’s wings rather than those of a sea bird.  He says it would be appropriate for one who serves in the Guard of the Citadel.”

            The Wizard, obviously surprised both by the choice and by the youth’s response, asked, “The wings of a raven?   Why those of a raven, of all creatures?”

            Again Boromir gave an elaborate shrug.  “It was a happenchance is all,” he answered.  He took a deep breath, not wishing to say more on the subject, but he found he couldn’t continue to avoid Mithrandir’s eyes, so at last he explained, “It started a few months ago when we had a few soldiers who came into the White City on rotation from the garrison on Cair Andros.  One was originally from the Morthond Vale deep in the Ered Nimrais, the White Mountains.  Haerborn’s father had long been in service to Lord Angborn there, and Haerborn decided to look further afield for his own service.  So, he joined the army for the nation, and eventually was stationed on Cair Andros.  One time while they were on a patrol along the west side of Anduin, they ranged close to the roots of the Hithglaer, the Misty Mountains, when a drenching storm hit.  They found a shallow cave where they took shelter, but the rain continued on until the mountainside above them became unstable and there was a rockfall.  Only Haerborn had any experience with unstable ground, so he crawled out to see if it was safe for the others to come out, too.  He found that a large tree from high up the slope had been felled by the rockfall, and in it was a raven’s nest.  Only one of the nestlings had survived, so he took it to raise as a companion.

            “When he came here to Minas Tirith it was about the time Father decided that Faramir needed a personal guard of his own, so two of those newer soldiers within the city were chosen for the duty, one of them Haerborn.  Faramir and Haerborn came to enjoy one another’s company, and Faramir loved to listen to the stories Haerborn told him, both traditional stories told in the Morthond Vale and the tales of his adventures when he was growing up and while he was in the army.  So he learned of Morwing, Haerborn’s raven.

            “On the day that Father decided he would have the livery made for Faramir, he was discussing what they should use for the wings for the helm with his personal clerk when they saw, outside the window, Haerborn crossing the grounds with Morwing, whom he was bringing to visit with my brother.  The moment he saw the raven, Father was certain he’d found the source of the proper wings for Faramir’s helm, and he sent his clerk out to fetch the soldier with the raven in to speak with him.  He told Haerborn he wished to purchase his raven from him for Faramir’s sake, and Haerborn thought he meant to give the bird to my brother as a companion.  He hated to lose the bird himself, but for Faramir’s sake he would do so, for he had come to love him.  So he agreed, only learning after the deal was struck and my father had paid him what he asked for the raven that it was only for its wings that Father wanted the bird.  But, by then it was too late to change his mind, for the clerk had taken the bird away to the kitchens to have its head struck off!

            “Haerborn is heartsick at the loss of his companion for such a reason, and he has asked to be sent to the garrison in Osgiliath.  Faramir thinks that Haerborn is angry with him for some reason he won’t tell, and he, too, is heartsick.  And when he learns the source of the wings on his new helm he will be most angry on Haerborn’s account, but won’t be able to do anything to make it up to Haerborn for Haerborn is to leave tonight, or so my personal guard tells me.”

            For the first time since he started reciting this story, Boromir looked again toward the Wizard’s face.  He found it suffused with equal parts dismay and suppressed fury.  Mithrandir strode forward, striking the butt of his staff hard against the pavement, his eyes blazing with wrath before he leaned down to mutter into the boy’s ear, pitched only for Boromir to hear, “For all of your Lord Father’s much vaunted wisdom and ability to sift hearts to find the truth, too often he misses the heart’s message.  And this time,” he added, his voice harsh with anger, “he hasn’t shown the wisdom of a drunken Hobbit on his way home from a harvest festival, mistaking his neighbor’s ass for a milch goat and thinking to slake his growing thirst with a drink from the creature’s supposed teat and receiving a mouthful of piss instead!”

            Boromir had no understanding for most of what Mithrandir had said, but was highly impressed and hoped he could remember it all to repeat one day to Vortigern, who he felt would appreciate the sentiments even if neither of them had any idea at all as to what a hobbit might prove to be!

            They didn’t speak again until they were well into the Fourth Circle and nearing the area where those who wrought weapons had their forges, not far from the potters’ district.  At last Boromir pointed out the forge they wanted, and led the way into the shop attached to the forge.

            The smith was tall, with the heavily developed chest and shoulders of his calling, his skin dark as ironwood, his white teeth flashing as he smiled to greet the Steward’s son, asking if he’d come for the long knife he’d chosen.

            “No, for my father has also chosen to give him a weapon for the festival,” Boromir said, still unhappy to have to forego purchasing the blade for his brother.  “But if we might examine the daggers you have that would be appropriate for a boy Faramir’s age, we would be most grateful.”

            “Ah, it is too bad that you cannot purchase for your brother the knife you had first thought to give into his hands, but I can understand.  But a dagger—oh, yes!  Yes, that would suit quite well for a young Man already gifted with a suitable sword by his father, no?” 

            In moments a tray of daggers lay before them, and then a second.  But it was not until he laid a fourth tray before them that Boromir felt his heart stir with the excitement the long knife with the horse upon its pommel had given him.  “That one!” he said, pointing to one on which a tree that looked much like the dead White Tree before the Citadel was carefully worked into the grips of the pommel and flaring into the hilts.  It had a green stone set into the center of the tree’s trunk, and a moonstone at the end of the grip.  And onto the blade was etched a beautiful depiction of the Moon.  “He will like this one!”

            Mithrandir leaned down over the youth’s shoulder, smiling in approval.  “Indeed, Boromir son of Denethor, I do believe you have indeed found the perfect blade for your brother to carry.  Well chosen!”

            When they returned to the Fifth Circle Boromir led the way to a bookstore, and soon he and the Wizard were looking intently at those volumes the merchant had on display.  The lost Morwing still on his mind, Boromir thought to ask if he had anything about ravens, to which the bookseller indicated he did indeed have such a thing.  He went into a back room and returned with an overlarge volume entitled The Ravens of Erebor.  “It comes from the northeast, from a land named Dale,” he said, “and it is beautifully illustrated.” 

            He opened it to display one of the illustrations, which showed a raven apparently in conversation with a broad, muscular individual in strange armor and with an exotic padded helm of a fascinating design upon his head, his beard elaborately braided.  Boromir leaned forward to better decipher the elaborate calligraphy.  “Thror leaned forward to speak with Grawk.  ‘Go forth to the Iron Hills, my friend, and summon my son Thrain back home to the festival I will throw at the time of the next full moon.  And I pray that he brings with him word that there he has indeed found the bride he sought.’

            “He will love this!” Boromir said, delighted.

            “Oh, but I do believe you are right there, child,” Mithrandir said with a sigh of satisfaction. 

            It was a mark of how pleased he was in the results of his quest to find the perfect gifts for his brother that Boromir did not feel slighted by the term of endearment the Wizard had used.

            Faramir indeed proved overwhelmed by the gifts he received for Mettarë.  He ran his finger again and again over the embroidery of the White Tree upon the tabard and on the sheath for his new long knife.  His happiness only receded when he examined the helm for his new livery and he saw that it was a raven’s wings that decorated it.  He looked up to catch his brother’s eye.  “Morwing?” he asked.  He looked back.  “Now I understand,” he said softly, with no further explanation to his father as he set the helm by to take up the first box from his brother.

            “Oh!” he exclaimed in a thrilled whisper as he lifted out the dagger and removed it from the rather plain yet exquisitely wrought sheath that came with it.  “Oh, but it is beautiful!”

            “Let me see,” said their father, who took it to examine it at length.  “Oh, but yes, it is a thing of beauty, this dagger.  And it is indeed a true dagger at that,” he said, pulling his thumb away from the blade to show he’d managed to inadvertently draw blood from it.  “You will need to be most careful with it.  This is definitely not a toy, Faramir.”

            “Oh, but I know how to treat a fine blade, Father,” the boy said dismissively, his attention on the second gift from his brother.  He removed the fine silk with which Boromir had wrapped it to reveal the book, and his eyes shone with great pleasure, which brightened as he opened it at random to show a picture of a raven in flight over distant forests and hills, a shining river in the background.  “Oh, Boromir!”

            He sat for several minutes searching the picture with eager eyes before he remembered himself.  “I must go and try on my new livery,” he said as he rose and reluctantly set the book upon a nearby low table.  “I shall wear both the sword and the dagger with it.  Thank you both so!”  So saying, he threw his arms about Boromir with a close, warm hug, then let go to bow to his father before hugging him also.  “Thank you, Father, for so thoughtful a gift,” he said, and Boromir could not hear any hint of sarcasm in his brother’s voice.

            As Faramir went out, his arms laden with the livery and his two new blades, Denethor turned to his older son and said proudly, “Indeed, my faithful jewel of a son, you have chosen for your brother the perfect gift.  Well done, Boromir!”

            Boromir sensed he was not speaking of the book.

 *******

            Faramir indeed chose to wear his new livery frequently after that, although the shirt had proved rather tight across his chest and had to be soon replaced.  But his brother noted that he never donned the helm, saying it was far too fine to be worn every day.  Only Boromir knew the real reason Faramir would not wear it.

 

For Alphien, NancyLea57, and Garnet_Took for their birthdays

Gone, but Not Forgotten

            He had been searching for some months, but had found little more than rumors of loss. 

            An empty home here—oh, but the young man and wife who’d lived there had left after their child disappeared from its cradle, which had stood not far inside the doorway, to one side, just out of the breeze when the door was open. 

            A forester grieving the destruction of a nest of a rare songbird that had returned each year to raise its young always in the same tree near his cottage.  Something had climbed that tree in the night and had stolen all the nestlings and broken up the delicate structure of the nest, and he feared the parents would not return again.  He had loved those birds.

            A child searching vainly for her cat.  Puss had been such a wonderful mouser!

            But the report that touched him the most he found in a stoutly built cottage near the Bight.

            He saw the woman gathering windfall wood just inside the forest.  She was rather small, and now had grown plump, although he was certain she would have been slight when younger.  Her brown hair was thickly laced with white, and her face was definitely wrinkling.  One ankle was swollen, and he suspected she had once injured it, most likely many, many years past.  But she moved with practiced purpose, always choosing the limbs most likely to burn easily.  When he approached her and joined her in her work she was properly wary at first, but was reassured quickly and was soon smiling at him, at last indicating that enough had been gathered for the time.  “This way,” she said in Westron with the local inflection.  “My home is this way, on the edge of the village and the edge of the wood.”

            It was as she’d said.  There was a neat cottage, and beside it a small barn with a lean-to to one side and a mud chimney above.  Five goats grazed in the meadow beyond the barn, and a marbled cat sat atop the chopping block, methodically grooming its right forepaw, although it paused to examine him briefly.  There were two gardens, one a kitchen garden alongside the place, and a narrower one of flowers along the sunny front of the house.  All about the house was in order, while all was a jumble near the door to the lean-to by the barn.

            “Liam lives there,” the woman said.  “A good boy.  His mother is many years dead, and his father has moved on to a different village.  But Liam was born here and would not leave with his father.  He helps to keep the place sound and aids me with the goats.  He supports himself by working for others, so he is gone for the day to help the charcoal burners deep inside the forest.  There—you can put the wood there.”  She indicated a pair of wood piles, one for logs and one for thinner wood for kindling.  “I would willingly let you stay here for the night in thanks for your help with the kindling.  I shall go in and see to the meal.  You can wash up at the well if you like.”  She pointed to the well, which was surrounded by a stone coping with a neatly constructed shelf to one side on which lay a heavy basin with a covered stone bowl beside it.  “Just come in when you are ready.”

            So saying, she opened the door, and immediately a small dog leapt out to greet her effusively.  “Come, you,” she said, herding the animal back inside.  “We shan’t allow you to disappear as did your sister.”  The door closed behind the two of them.

            Aragorn examined the pile of kindling.  There were many sticks there, few of which, he noted, were of a good length for a kitchen fire.  He set himself to remedying the situation, thinking that Liam most likely set his priorities with such common tasks as cutting kindling at the bottom.  There were both an axe and a hatchet next to the block.  He examined them both, swiftly sharpened the axe using the nearby stone, and set to cutting the limbs and branches to proper lengths and restacking the wood more handily.  Once done he approached the well and dropped in the bucket, drawing up water that proved sweet and clear with which he filled the basin.  The covered stone bowl proved to hold a soap made with sweet herbs that he recognized helped to deter many sicknesses.  He smiled as he washed his hands, arms, and face, and dried them on the sun-dried toweling that hung from one side of the shelf.  He approved of the woman’s practicality, he decided as he poured the water over the flowers next to the front door and returned the basin to its shelf.

            He wiped his feet on the worn mat woven of rope that lay outside the door and gave a brief, courteous knock before letting himself inside.  There were apparently two rooms with a loft above reached by a narrow stair at the far end of the room.  One end of this room held the kitchen fire.  There was a good bread oven above and to one side of the hearth, and a second oven constructed of metal next to the hearth, as well as a most practical cooking surface above the place where the fire was laid. 

            His hostess stood over a stone sink, where she was cutting vegetables into lengths suitable for eating with one’s fingers.  “I heard you chopping out there,” she said.  “You didn’t need to do that.  Liam or I should have cut the branches to proper lengths eventually.  But I do thank you.”  She smiled at him and indicated the wall beside the door.  “You can hang your goods there,” she said.

            There were pounded into the wall a number of sturdy pegs.  The shawl she’d been wearing hung from one along with a felted cape and hat for wet weather.  He hung his own cloak and pack from two more, and noted the long man’s cloak that hung from the peg furthest from the door, against which leaned a long, unusually slender staff.  On the floor beneath stood a pair of stout boots that were scrupulously clean but did not look to have been worn for some time.  As he took a seat at the small table he examined the rest of the room.  At the far end of the room was a second fireplace, this one intended more for comfort’s sake, he decided.  In front of it was a cushioned bench seat with a low table before it, and on either side were chairs, one intended for a much larger person than his hostess and the other of which must be the seat in which she regularly sat, he determined.  Beside it stood a table that held a lamp and some ornaments, and he saw three books on a shelf beside the mantel, on which stood more lamps and two candlesticks and still more ornaments, most of which had been carved from wood or stone.

            “My husband did the woodcarvings,” she volunteered as she set a bowl filled with the vegetables she’d been cutting before him.  “And he chose most of the stone carvings as well.  We have some wonderful Dwarf-wrought carvings there.  He bought them in Dale.  He went with his brother.”

            “He is gone, your husband?” he asked.

            She nodded.  “Some fifteen years.  He died young, my Torno did.  We lived in the middle of the village, and we had a shop where we sold his woodcarvings and I my mats and rugs.  But when he died I returned here, to the cottage where I was born.  It suits me better, not being cheek-by-jowl with everyone and his brother.  I kept his cloak and staff to remember him by—and his boots.  They comfort me.”

            The small dog lay upon a thick mat on the other side of the door.  Beyond it was a second identical mat, empty save for some long dark hairs from what must have been another dog.  “Brion and the cats are my companions now,” she said as she poured out a mug of cider for him.

            He turned at a mewling sound, and saw that a cat was sitting up inside a walled wooden box near the kitchen hearth and stretching to look at him, a mother with kittens, he realized.  He was surprised, as most mother cats were to be found inside barns rather than in the kitchen.  This woman, he realized, loved her animal companions.

            “You had no children?” he asked, returning his attention to her as she sliced a ham and set the slices upon wooden plates, then ladled cooked root vegetables onto the plates beside the meat and spooned a rich gravy over them.

            “Two—a son and a daughter.  The son does not live here.  He took to drinking early, I fear, and at last was driven out of our village because when he was drinking he tended to behave very poorly.  He lives an hour’s walk west of here.  Mostly he stays away from the drink, but at times he will slip back into it for a month or two and there will be some trouble until he stops again.  He is actually a good man, my son—just cannot drink.  And after how he behaved the last time he stayed with me, I cannot allow him to return here for more than a day at a time.

            “As for my daughter—well, Torno and me, we were not pleased with the one she chose to love.  They ran off to marry and have had two sons.  They returned here a few years back and live on the other side of the village.  I rarely see them, though.  My daughter’s husband has proved mostly to be a good man, but he is certain that I interfere and speak against him.  It is better we have little to do with one another, I find.”  She set the plates upon the table.  They were beautifully made of turned wood.  “Torno made these, and the mugs.  He was good with the lathe.  I sold it to the new wood turner—I cannot use such tools and our son has his own craft.  As does my daughter’s husband.”

            She brought a mug of cider for herself and seated herself at the table opposite him.  They ate using Dwarf-wrought spoons and forks, and he brought out his own eating knife to use.  She smiled at him as they ate. 

            He examined her face during the meal.  She had a pleasant, trusting face, although that trust was tempered with an acquired wariness that she’d set aside for the moment.  There were hints of sadness to be seen there, although mostly he saw contentment enough.  It hurt her, he thought, to be partially estranged from her children.  But there were signs of still another grief.

            Now that they were seated the dog—Brion, had she called it?—came to sit at her feet, not begging but still watching each bite she took as if knowing eventually his patience would be rewarded.  She smiled down at him, and turned automatically as if to share that smile with still another dog that was not there to receive it, at which her face clouded with pain.

            The dog wore a collar of woven purple laces, with a loop to which a leash might have been tied.  From a peg between the two mats hung two leashes wrought of braided twine and colored leathers.

            Aragorn considered this, and at last asked, “Then you have recently lost this one’s companion?”

            She nodded.  “Not three weeks back,” she said.  “It was his sister, from the same litter.  Her name was Alia.  She was so cunning, Alia was.  They were always together, Brion and Alia.  He is a dear, but she was cunning—cunning and most affectionate.  She charmed everyone who saw her.  She had black hair while he is fawn in color, as you can see.  Her coat was so shiny—nearly blue on the back and brown down near her tail, with a slim white blaze to one side of her breastbone.  I loved them both, but she was my darling, I fear.”

            “Was she ill?”

            She shook her head.  “Oh, no, not at all.  She simply disappeared one night.  I had put them out of the door to relieve themselves, and I was readying myself for bed.  Both of them barked, but she was one who always barked.  She barked for joy, for fear, for warning, and to tell upon her brother when he left the yard without permission.  That night she thought she heard something, but that is not particularly surprising.  They have such keen hearing, these small dogs of mine.  They always hear things I have not.

            “So, she was barking.  Brion had gone over to the barn—he loves to eat the goats’ droppings, I fear, so he checks out each evening to see what they might have left near the barn.  I try to stop it, but have found it does no good.  I could hear her bark as I returned to the door to let the two of them back inside, and suddenly the barking broke off—just a yelp, not of pain, but surprise.  And that was it.  That was when Brion came charging from the barn to the side of the house, barking furiously!  I caught up a lamp and we went searching, but I found nothing—nothing at all.  No sign of her anywhere, as if she’d simply disappeared off the face of Middle Earth!

            “We have gone looking again and again.  Had I heard wolves howling I would never have let them out, but I saw nothing to indicate that any wolves were about, nor any other beast.  Yet a beast must have taken her!”  She wiped tears from her face.  “My poor, dear Alia!  How empty the house feels without her.  And Brion cannot bear to be without my presence now.  They both slept with me upon my bed, but now he presses against me, as if to make certain I, too, will not disappear from his world.  And each time we go out—I dare not let him go out unaccompanied—he searches for her, climbs the woodpile and barks for her to come back.”

 *******

            There was a bed in the loft which she said was hers when a child and in which her son had slept before she had to ban him from the house.  Aragorn slept well there, and was given an ample meal to break his fast in the morning.  He greeted Liam, who was headed out to help rethatch a roof across the village, and shouldering his cape and pack Aragorn headed out to resume his search for Gollum, starting from the area where his hostess had indicated she believed Alia had been the last time she heard her bark.  There was nothing to indicate anything untoward had happened there—no signs of struggle or blood or anything else.  He found three animal tracks that led into the forest from the area.  One was marked by a single black hair, over a foot from the ground, hanging from a berry shrub. So he followed it.

            Two hours later he found the ruins of a collar of woven leather laces lying upon the ground.  Leather and a tangle of black hair, with one hank of white.

            The man shuddered.

 *******

            There was a knocking at the door, and the widow of Torno went to answer it.  She was shocked to find an Elf there, standing coolly, as if it were an everyday occurrence for him to visit the homes of Men.  He held in his arms a small dog, a pup of perhaps three or four months. 

            “The Dúnadan—he asked that we bring you this.”  And with that he placed the small dog in her arms.

            It was a small bitch, she realized.  It was black and brown.  She would be much the same size as Brion when she was grown.

            And about her neck, carefully repaired, was Alia’s collar.

            She held the small dog to her bosom, weeping with grief and finding, for some minutes before saying aloud, "But this is not Alia, cannot be Alia, and can never truly take her place.  But I trust she will help for the hole in my heart Alia's loss has left to heal more fully."

            The unnamed Elf smiled sadly, and quietly disappeared as only Elves can.

~-0-~

In Memory of Larner's Pandora's Hope, September 25, 2011 to January 10, 2016

And of Larner's Thingol's Lady, August 31, 2015 to September 27, 2016   

For Linda Hoyland, Dawn Felagund, Speedy Hobbit, and PearlTook for their birthdays, and for Ring Day as well!

Insult and Injuries

            “Ah, but our King now approaches,” they could hear Lord Faramir, now both Prince of Ithilien and Steward of Gondor, say to the Man with him as Aragorn and some of his Companions approached from the Citadel, planning to head lower down in the city.  They could not say for certain who this Man might be other than that he was a soldier, for none of them had seen him before.  Tall and spare he was, and clad in formal black and silver, the bare White Tree embroidered upon the breast of his dress uniform.

            “He must have changed into fresh clothes on entering the city,” Pippin noted to Frodo in low tones.  But at that point Pippin was being summoned away by Captain Gilmaros so that he might receive his orders for his next term of duty that he was to take up within a quarter mark, and so he had no time for more than to note Frodo’s nod of acknowledgment of what he’d said.

            “A stiff sort, I’d say,” Gimli said in a low rumble.

            Legolas gave his own nod.  “A swordsman rather than an archer,” he added.

            Aragorn listened absently as he evaluated the stranger for himself, finding each of these comments to be confirmed by what he saw with his own eyes.

            Faramir smiled, turning to greet them as they came close.  He bowed his head, and introduced the newcomer.  “My Lord, may I introduce Captain Reginorn of the Eighth Company.  Captain Reginorn has oft served as my brother’s second, and has but today arrived from his last posting in the garrison keeping watch at the foot of the Stair at Rauros Falls.  Captain, this is our new King, Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, late the Chieftain of the Dúnedain of the North and Heir to Isildur, who led our army to victory at the Black Gates.”

            The soldier gave a profound bow, although the look he gave his new sovereign was as much an evaluation as that he was receiving from the King.  Aragorn could not fault the Man, considering how much he’d found himself evaluating those promoted to command among his own people when he returned from his wanderings in the south of Middle Earth so many years ago.  This Reginorn had as little knowledge of Aragorn’s skills as Aragorn had of Reginorn’s, after all.  The King decided to soften the meeting.

            “I welcome you home, Captain.  And to have been Second in command to Lord Boromir is quite the recommendation.  From what I know of his nature, he must have esteemed you greatly.”

            Reginorn gave a flattered smirk.  “Indeed so.  But, then, I had a remarkable teacher, for Boromir taught me all that I know.  It is only too bad that you did not have the chance to know him, for I am certain he could have taught you much regarding the handling of a sword.”

            Aragorn felt his lip attempt to twitch, but he schooled it to stillness.  “Do you truly believe so?” he asked mildly.

            Reginorn looked down at Frodo, then back to meet the King’s eyes.  “You bring your son with you, then?  And what does his mother think of him traveling so far from her side in the troubled times we knew ere Mordor fell?”  He glanced down again appraisingly.  “A likely boy he appears to be, and save for the curling of his hair he favors you greatly.  Although, why is it he goes unshod?  Is this the fashion there in the wild lands of the north?”

            Aragorn felt Frodo stiffen at his side.  However, before he could attempt to explain, Reginorn’s restless gaze had landed upon Captain Gilmaros standing some yards away, still speaking with Pippin.  “And have you granted Gilmaros his own page?” Reginorn asked.  “I do not believe it would be a necessity, as it is not as if his Men actually fought for the city.  They are the Guards of the Citadel, after all, and rarely leave the upper levels of Minas Tirith.”

            Frodo spoke, and his voice was decidedly cool.  “Yet many of the Guards of the Citadel went out to fight before the Black Gate,” he said. “There many won great honor and showed both skill and dedication.”

            “And many also died there, for what chance do they have to keep abreast of their training when they mostly stay on the sixth and seventh levels?”Reginorn asked with a level of scorn in his voice.

            Aragorn was now growing angry as well, although he again did his best to keep his tone mild.  “All are required to practice daily either in the salle here behind the Citadel or within the practice grounds near the barracks of the Sixth Circle.  Perhaps tomorrow you will agree to come and see for yourself how well they are prepared should they need to march out again in defense of Minas Tirith and the nation,” he suggested.

            “Indeed that sounds very appropriate, Aragorn,” Frodo agreed.  “Now, if you will excuse me, I believe I shall return to the guesthouse, for I find I am tired, and a headache threatens.  Captain Reginorn, my Lord King Elessar, Gimli, Legolas, I wish you a pleasant afternoon.”  He bowed to each, ending with a profound bow to Aragorn, who pressed his hand to Frodo’s shoulder, smiling down into his face ere he let the Hobbit go his own way.

            Once Frodo was going down the ramp toward the Sixth Circle, Aragorn returned his attention to Reginorn, his expression more formal than it had been to that moment.  “I am not married, Captain Reginorn.”

            Reginorn raised an eyebrow suggestively.  “And since when is marriage a necessity when begetting a son, my Lord?” he asked.

            The King’s voice was now at least as cool as had been Frodo’s earlier.  “I assure you, sir, that Frodo is not my son.  Indeed, had you looked more closely you would have noted he is not a child.  He is not even of the race of Men.  He is a Hobbit of the Shire, who rarely leave their own land, which was given his ancestors by my great-father, Argeleb the Second.  As I have just noted, rarely do the Hobbits of the Shire come forth from their own borders, but ever when they have done so it has been to the benefit of all, as proved true this time.  Had the Hobbits not come as they did, it is likely that Mordor would have won this war.”

            Again Reginorn’s eyebrow rose in obvious disbelief.

            Aragorn gave a nod of dismissal.  “I will leave you to the company of our beloved Prince Faramir here.  And I look forward to seeing you tomorrow at the seventh bell, down in the practice yard at the barracks in the Sixth Circle.”  So saying, he went forward toward the ramp, followed by his two remaining Companions and two personal guards.

            He could hear Gimli muttering, “Well, that was not particularly well done, was it?  Insulting both Aragorn and Frodo?”

            Legolas gave a brief laugh.  “He did not do well at all.  I suspect he will much rue his thoughtless words.”

            “Indeed!  And Boromir could easily have told him that insulting Frodo Baggins is a grave mistake!”

            “Particularly,” Legolas responded, “if Frodo chooses to come down tomorrow to the practice field.”  After a moment he went on, “I, for one, believe I would do well to do some sparring with my long knife tomorrow.”

            “And I could do with some practice with my belt axe,” Gimli agreed.

            Aragorn smiled.  He, too, hoped that Frodo would come to tomorrow’s practice, for he wanted very much to see how his small Companion would take his revenge, for he was certain that Frodo would exact precisely that from Reginorn of the Eighth Company.

*******

            Reginorn was surprised to see an expression of disapproval on the face of his former Captain-General’s younger brother.  “Did I say aught wrong?” he asked.

            “You have insulted Master Frodo Baggins, which was not well done at all, as well as impugning the honor of our new Lord King, which was at least as bad.  Know this—our King is more fully Dúnedain than perhaps any here in Gondor, and as such is not prey to sexual adventures as is true of lesser Men.  He has not spoken to me as yet of his intentions to marry save to say that he does intend to do so when the right lady comes to him.  He also has said that he was forbidden from his earliest manhood from binding any woman to him until he should become King of both Gondor and Arnor.  Other than that he has said nothing on the subject.  The women of the city and those marriageable daughters of such Lords and notables as have been able to approach him are treated with greatest respect and courtesy but with no true warmth, not even the Lady Éowyn of Rohan, who would have gladly given him both her heart and her person had he allowed it.  His kinsmen from Arnor will not speak on the subject, for he has forbidden them to do so.”

            At that moment the small personage in the uniform of one of the Guards of the Citadel who had been speaking with Captain Gilmaros straightened, gave a sharp salute to the Man, and turned to race by Faramir and Reginorn, giving an abbreviated salute to the two Men but not staying to receive their own in response.  Faramir watched after him, a fond smile on his face.  “Peregrin there,” he said as he turned again to meet Reginorn’s inquiring gaze, “might have halted to receive our salutes as well, but now must attend upon our King and thus might not stop by us.  He has won much honor here within the City, acquitting himself well both during the battle of the Pelennor and afterwards at the King’s side.  He is to be treated with the gravest courtesy, do you hear?  As is true of all of the King’s special Companions.”

            “But where is it they go?”

            “Down to the Second Circle where they will meet with the Dwarves of the Iron Hills who are now arriving.  We already host many from Erebor, mostly kinsmen to Lord Gimli, who walked with the King and the Elf you saw with him.  They have come to offer their aid in rebuilding what was damaged during the siege.  I doubt not that they will be much disappointed to be denied the chance to be greeted by their Esteemed Burglar’s kinsman, as Frodo has withdrawn from the greeting party.  Master Frodo is given to terrible headaches, and I suspect that he has begun to know one as a result of your discourtesy.  As I said, what you said was not designed to gain you respect from the King and those close to him.”

            Uncertain, Reginorn followed Faramir into the Citadel, where he was granted an audience with Lord Hardorn, who apparently was now appointed Captain-General of Gondor’s forces in place of Boromir son of Denethor.  This was yet another stranger, and apparently a kinsman of their new King.  As far as Reginorn was concerned, this was another purported warrior whose abilities he did not know, and he found himself resenting the Man.

            “You come also from the north?” he asked, affecting a casual tone as best he could.

            Hardorn gave a shrug.  “So I do,” he answered.  “There I have been one of our King’s lieutenants since I was accepted as a Ranger and a warrior, and head of his personal guard—for those times when he has accepted such guardianship, at least.  We of the northern Dúnedain have been far from numerous for most of the last thousand years.  Most often the Chieftains of our people have merely gathered to themselves the greatest of our warriors, and such have ridden out together against the orcs, trolls, wargs, and Mannish enemies from north and south that most bedevil us.  In the case of my Lord kinsman, however—he is the greatest tracker among Men that I have ever seen.  His skill is held in awe even amongst the Elves of Lindon and Rivendell, and he is alarmingly independent.  When he follows the spoor of enemy or creature, he rarely tolerates the company of others who may distract him, and so he often goes his own way while assigning us to other tasks.”  He gave a wry smile.  “I fear that he will find the requirement as the Lord of Gondor that he always be shadowed by a bodyguard very onerous.  Although I suspect that he shall prove himself guarding his guards more often than they guard him.  He is very difficult to take by surprise.”

            With that Hardorn reviewed Reginorn’s records.  “I see that you were often second to Lord Boromir.”  He gave a nod.  “We found him well-spoken when we met him along the Road.”

            “You met him?”

            “Yes, as he sought Imladris and the Sword that was Broken.  I suspect that he found all far more than he’d expected.  We saw him within Elrond’s house as we came and went ere Aragorn and he headed south with the Fellowship.”

            “Fellowship?  What Fellowship?” asked Reginorn.

            Hardorn searched his face.  “Has no true news come to those who kept the watch in your garrison as to how it was that Mordor fell?”

            Reginorn shrugged.  “There were tales that no sane Man could believe, that a Pherian entered the Black Land in secrecy and somehow, from Mount Doom, managed to throw down Barad-dûr.  But all know that there are no Pheriannath.”

            Hardorn’s own face had gone stiff.  “No Periannath?” he asked.  “It is obvious that you have never travelled through northern Eriador.  But was not Master Frodo Baggins at the King’s side when you saw him?  He was to go down to greet the Dwarves that just arrived from the Iron Hills, after all.”

            Reginorn said slowly, “Master Frodo Baggins?  Yes, he was at the King’s side, but chose not to go down into the lower city, claiming a headache.”

            Hardorn gave a thoughtful nod.  “Yes, he is now prone to such things.  But what brought it on?  He looked hale enough when I saw him not a full mark ago.”

            Reginorn scratched at his ear.  “It seemed to start when I mistook him for the King’s son.”

            Now there was no question that Captain Hardorn was angry, although he kept himself in rigid control.  In a low tone he asked, “Did you fail to look into his face, then?  In no way is his face that of a child, and you should have noted the pain and grief there, pain and grief etched upon his very soul by the burden he bore.  And my Lord kinsman has not yet married, and so has no children of his own.”  Noting Reginorn’s barely noticeable flinch, he continued, “Or did you suggest that perhaps one does not need to marry to beget a child?  You did?  Know this, Reginorn of the Eighth Company, that you have failed to endear yourself to anyone who knows either Lord Frodo or our King.  And, yes, Master Frodo Baggins has been ennobled, an ennoblement that is recognized throughout the whole of the Free Peoples, for his service in helping in the overthrow of Sauron and his creatures.  Both Frodo Baggins and his servant and friend Samwise Gamgee are now recognized as Princes of the West.”

            With that he turned his attention back to Reginorn’s records.  “I understand you are to stay in the barracks of the Sixth Circle.  Well enough.  It would be best to remain apart from the King and his Companions at this point, or so I see it.”

            Realizing his impolitic remarks had managed to work against him, Reginorn admitted, “I have been all but ordered to join the King tomorrow at the seventh bell for weapons practice.”

            A slow smile began to lighten the Northerner’s expression.  “Is that so?  Well and good, then.  I believe I will join my Lord kinsman for weapons practice tomorrow afternoon.”

            “But why would he even need to practice with weapons?  After all, he is the King and as such may be excused from any further conflict!”

            Captain Hardorn shook his head.  “Do you not realize, Captain Reginorn, that as our Chieftain for most of the years of his majority, that my Lord kinsman has been Captain-General of our forces in the north?  Our King is master of many skills, and I doubt that there is any Man cannier in the arts of war than he.  And he does not lead from behind—that is not his way.  You are dismissed, Captain Reginorn.”

            Feeling uncomfortably uncertain of himself for the first time in years, Reginorn of the Eighth Company saluted and left the building, noting that the Guards of the Citadel he passed all proudly bore weapons that had seen use recently, and that more than one was visibly scarred.

*******

            As Pippin went through the bowl of fruit lying at the end of the work table in the kitchen of the guesthouse, he commented to Frodo, who was putting together a salad, “Oh, and Aragorn is asking if you will come to the practice grounds tomorrow at the seventh bell.”

            “Why should I?” Frodo asked.  “I certainly do not intend to ever raise a weapon again.”

            “I have the idea it has something to do with that Captain who returned to the city today.  I got the impression that the Man managed to offend Strider somehow.”

            Legolas, who leaned back against the doorway with his arms gracefully crossed over his breast, gave a short laugh.  “That he did—and Frodo as well.”

            “Is that why you begged off going down, then?  Daín’s son Thorin Stronghelm was most disappointed not to be able to greet you in his father’s name.”  Finally choosing a peach, Pippin rubbed it against his tunic.  “It wasn’t particularly smart of him to offend either of you, or so I’d think.  And if you attend the weapons practice you should easily find the means to put him in his place.”  So saying, he took a large bite, smiling at his older cousin over the fruit.

            Frodo gave but the slightest of shrugs, but his mind was already working.

            When Mistress Loren came to call Frodo away to receive something sent down from the Citadel to his attention, Legolas commented in a soft voice, “I look forward to seeing how this Reginorn shall be taught the error of his ways.”

            Pippin gave a satisfied nod of agreement.

 *******

            It was obvious from the moment he entered the buttery for officers and visiting soldiers that word of Reginorn’s poorly chosen remarks to their new King and his friend the Hobbit had swept through the Guards of the Citadel and those soldiers from the realm who were staying within the sixth and seventh levels.  As he went to take a seat at one of the trestle tables where Men who had served with him on more than one occasion were enjoying their meal, all within the room went quiet, and one of the officers sitting there rose and gave his salute, noting, “If you will excuse me, but I have been asked to join my fellows over there.”  With that he left to the far corner of the room to sit with others who swiftly shifted to give him room at a table that was already nearly full.

            The three soldiers who remained appeared uncomfortable, and two finished their food swiftly and took their leave, remaining painfully courteous but still distant while they ate.  The third was an older lieutenant who had risen through the ranks and had been accepted to the City Guard three years since.  He did not hurry his meal, and openly watched Reginorn over his fork as he ate what remained to him.  At last he set aside fork and eating knife to take up his tankard.  He took a swallow of the markedly fine ale they’d been supplied with, and commented as he set the tankard down, “It would appear that you have not made a particularly fine beginning with the King and his Companions.”

            “So it would seem, Morloth,” Reginorn said, breaking off some of his bread to sop up the gravy on his trencher.  “But who would believe that the King would come with—with these Hobbits or whatever they are, much less with Elves and Dwarves?  I did not believe such creatures were to be found anywhere within Middle Earth any longer.”

            “Apparently they are more common in the lands north of Rauros, Reginorn,” Morloth responded.  “But you should remember this:  the Rohirrim began the lifting the siege on the White City, while Lord Elessar finished it.  Without both the Riders of Rohan and the aid brought aboard the captured ships of the Corsairs by he who is now our King, Minas Tirith would lie now in ruins.  And if Lord Frodo Baggins had not reached Mount Doom when and as he did, those of us who went to fight before the Gates to Mordor would all be dead or enslaved.  It does not do to offer either of them insult.”

            With that he finished his ale and rose to return his wooden trencher to the stack awaiting the attentions of the pot boys, leaving Reginorn sitting alone at the table where he’d thought to sit with his fellow officers.

*******

            After a lonely noon meal, Reginorn repaired to the bath house for the barracks area, returning to find that his practice garb, which he’d left lying upon his narrow bunk, was no longer there.  The orderly who sat in the larger room looked up from where he’d been burnishing an officer’s breastplate as Reginorn came out of the cell to which he’d been assigned.  “Your practice garb has been taken to the dressing room by the practice yard, Captain Reginorn.  Sir Peregrin came to fetch it away for you.”

            “Sir Peregrin?  And why would he do such a thing for me?”

            “I could not say, sir,” the orderly answered.  “Perhaps it was at the King’s orders—he does serve upon our Lord Elessar himself, after all.”

            Somehow this suggestion seemed ominous to Reginorn.

            As he approached the dressing room by the practice grounds, he could hear voices within.  “And why did you bring Sting, Sam?”  He heard what appeared to be the voice of Master Frodo Baggins, rather higher than the voices of most Men, yet cultured and clearly modulated.

            “Lord Strider asked as I should,” said another voice, also higher than the voices of most Men, warm but at the moment rather guarded.  “He wants to see how you can grip a sword, Master.”

            “And why should I wish to use a sword again, my friend?  I doubt I shall ever need to do so in the future.”

            “There’s still the trip home to make, and there’s still bad folks and creatures hidin’ in the wilds whether Mordor’s active or no.  Him doesn’t wish for you t’be defenseless should somethin’ approach you when you’re more’n a pony’s length from any as could help you.”

            Reginorn heard a sigh.  “All right, Sam—for his sake I will carry Sting today.  But I do not desire to ever have to use a weapon again against any living creature—not ever.”

            “I doubt as wild creatures or ruffians’ll care much whether you want t’ hurt them or no, Mister Frodo—they’ll only be seekin’ t’ do what they find natural, which will be t’ try to hurt one of us.”

            Well, thought Reginorn, this Sam appears a practical soul.

            “And have they provided you with somethin’ t’ wear today, Frodo?”

            “If Aragorn wishes to see how well I can hold a sword I shall not require practice garb, Sam.  Although I doubt I shall be able to do much with it, what with the way my hand will ache when I seek to grip anything properly.”

            “It’s just too bad that they can’t seem t’ do more t’ ease it, is all.  But you should wear somethin’ if’n he wants you to try some of them moves as we’ve had t’ do in the past.  The others may have practice foils and protective gear such as this here, but the Citadel’s not needed aught for those as small as us for a spate of years, I’m thinkin’.”

            “If ever, save for the sons of lords of the realm, I suppose.”

            “Well, are you going in or not?” asked a voice near Reginorn’s elbow.  Taken by surprise, the Man turned rapidly to find the one named Peregrin paused beside him, something silvery draped over his arm.  “After all, you cannot don your practice gear when it’s in there and you remain out here,” the small one continued.  “Well,” he added as Reginorn found himself unable to think of anything appropriate to answer, “if you will excuse me then I must deliver this to my cousin there.  I beg your pardon.”  And with that Peregrin pushed by him, entering the building.  “Hoy, Frodo—do you have your quilted shirt on under that?  You do?  Good!  Strider suggested you put this on as they don’t have anything fit for you to wear during weapons practice here.  And don’t go wrinkling your nose like that at me!  Healer’s orders!  Here—Sam and I will help you get it on.”

            “I swear—if Aragorn doesn’t quit thinking he can dress me as if I were some kind of great doll I shall be forced to have words with him!”

            He heard a snort of derision from Peregrin.  “As if they’d do the least bit of good.  Both of you are too strong willed for your own good at times, Frodo Baggins.  Now, turn that way.”

            As Master Frodo Baggins continued to mutter words of frustration, Reginorn finally started to enter the room himself, halting in the doorway.  So, he thought, Sir Peregrin is a Hobbit as well!  He stood several inches taller than did Master Frodo, and taller still than the other Hobbit in the room, a sturdy soul with a broad chest.  The two of them straightened and pulled away from Master Frodo, and Reginorn was dazzled by the spectacle before him!  No, there was no question of this being an adult, not with that dignity and splendor to him!  He wore a corselet of what appeared to be spun silver wire, shining with glittering crystals and pearls about the placket for the neck and its lower borders and the ends of its sleeves, and beneath it a long-sleeved tunic of royal blue velvet.  The broad-chested Hobbit had turned to fetch a swordbelt and scabbard from a bench to the side, and knelt to fasten it about Master Frodo’s waist.  This belt was obviously of the same workmanship as was the mail.  The scabbard, which would have seemed wonderfully ornate on a lesser belt, seemed almost plain by contrast. 

            Master Frodo fingered the belt consideringly.  “It is on a further setting than it was in Cormallen,” he said, “although not so much as when we left Lórien.”

            “You’re finally puttin’ on some proper weight,” said the other Hobbit, who must be Sam.  “Hopefully by the time as we head back t’ the Shire you’ll look far more yourself once more.”

            “I hope so.  I am tired of looking positively gaunt.  At least you and Pippin and Merry all look properly yourselves now, although how we are to explain the height of those two to their parents I have no idea.  Aunt Esme will be amazed, while Pal and Lanti will refuse to believe their little lad has grown so much.”

            “At least,” Sir Peregrin said, “I’m still of an age where I’d be expected to possibly grow at least a little bit.  Seeing Merry so much taller than when we left is going to shake the sensibilities of almost everyone in the Shire and Buckland.  Now, Sam, at least try on this padded shirt.  Faramir tells me it was made for Boromir when he was a child, so it might properly fit you.”

            “Who’d’a’ thought,” Sam commented, lifting the padded shirt to hold it against him, “as even as a lad Captain Boromir would of had such a broad chest.”  His expression was thoughtful and somehow reluctant.  “It don’t seem quite right,” he began, but did not continue.

            “Go ahead—put it on.  He would never begrudge it being worn by you, and you know it.  And don’t remember how he and I parted—you know that It took me at the last, too.  At least he was able to accept before he died that It had merely tricked him again.”  Master Frodo’s expression was markedly compassionate.

            Sam gave a small nod, and turned, suddenly flushing as he became aware that Reginorn was standing there in the doorway, watching.

            “I beg your pardon,” Reginorn said, wondering if he, too, were turning crimson.  “I did not mean to intrude, but I was told my practice garb was brought here.”

            “Yes,” Peregrin said.  “I brought it here at the King’s request.  I hope it has not inconvenienced you, Captain Reginorn.”  He gave a salute, holding it until the Man returned it, and then indicated where the Captain’s padded garb lay on another bench.

            Sam, meanwhile, was working the smaller padded shirt over his own head with the aid of Master Frodo.  With his face hidden and his voice muffled, he managed to say, “It’s fair t’ say as it’s a good thing as I haven’t all my own weight back, or I’d never get this on at all!” before his head emerged from the neck.  “His shoulders wasn’t any too broad in those days, not like when we knew him.”

            “You knew my Captain-General?” Reginorn asked, amazed.

            Master Frodo looked at him curiously.  “You did not know?  He came south with us from Rivendell.  We were with him until Sam and I left the Fellowship at Amon Hen to head south and east.”

            “But there is no way south and east from Amon Hen!”

            Frodo looked away.  “We took one of the boats across the river—to Amon Lhaw, Sam and I.  It was the proper time for me to take the road appointed for me—and to leave the rest to help protect the Free Peoples.  Boromir had intended to leave the Fellowship himself soon enough, now that we were within the borders of Gondor.”

            “And he died!”

            Master Frodo Baggins turned to search the eyes of Captain Reginorn of the Eighth Company.  “Yes,” he said simply.  “He died there, or so they tell me, there on the slopes of Amon Hen, near Parth Galen.  He died trying to save my two kinsmen from the orcs of Saruman.”  He glanced at the door.  “We had best go out now, Sam, Pippin.  Aragorn will be here soon.”

            “He’s just arrived,” advised a fourth Hobbit who entered dressed in the garb of Rohan.  “He asked me to give you this.”  He presented Frodo with a wine skin.

            “And I will thank him when we come to his side.  Thank you, Merry.  Captain, I look forward to see how you fare on the practice grounds.”

            With that Master Frodo gave a slight bow and led his fellows out, leaving Reginorn watching after, not quite certain what to think of these strange people from the north.

*******

            “Are you having difficulties, Reginorn?” asked Prince Faramir as he entered the changing room, carrying his own practice garb.

            Reginorn raised his own desperate gaze to meet that of the kingdom’s Steward.  “It is my laces, my Lord,” he said.  “They have all broken!”

            “Broken?”  Faramir came closer to look at the offending items.  “All of them?”

            “Yes—those for my shirt and those also for my protective trews as well!”

            “Well, there must be some here in the changing room—my father was careful to see that there were always extras of such things so that he would never have to dally here long should a lace break.”  Faramir opened a cupboard where such things had been kept in the past, and together they searched through various items until a snarled bunch of laces was found in a back corner.  It took a few minutes to untangle them and to sort out two pairs of the needed lengths.  Finally Reginorn was properly garbed and together they went out to the practice grounds.

            The two Gondorians went through their warm-up exercises and then through their basic forms before joining those who were watching the sparring.  There was room for several pairs to work together, and they saw that the King was sparring against the Dwarf, who was using a small fighting axe against the King’s metal foil.  Diagonally from them the two taller Hobbits were matched against one another, the one with auburn hair in Gondorian practice garb and the other wearing the Rohirric battle dress he’d been wearing earlier.  Reginorn was amazed to see that both appeared to be fully capable of using their weapons both properly and well, and appeared to be well matched in skill.  A cry from the nearer crowd brought his attention back to the King, who had managed to hook the axe out of the Dwarf’s hand and send it spinning across the ground, where one of the two soldiers sparring in that direction had to step lively to keep it from catching him in the boot.  That, of course, took his attention from his opponent, who was swift to take advantage of the situation.  The one who’d had to leap over the axe was swiftly relieved of his sword, but had a long knife out and was using it remarkably well from what Reginorn could see before he returned his attention to the King and his partner.

            “Well done!” cried the Dwarf.  “You’ve been holding out on me in the past!”

            The King leaned on the foil, panting but not fully winded.  “You think so, Gimli?  Or perhaps I’ve finally identified your weak points!”

            Reginorn realized he was pulling at the collar of his garb.  Faramir turned to him.  “Are you uncomfortable, Captain?”

            “It’s as if there is something in my garb irritating my neck.  If you will excuse me….”

            Reginorn retreated to the dressing room and untied his laces.  It took three searches of the collar of his padded shirt to find what appeared to be a stiff bristle as if from a brush sticking out from the seam.  He removed it and donned the garment anew, watched with interest by the two Guardsmen who came in to change back into their uniforms—the two Men who’d been sparring while he’d watched.

            “A problem, Captain?” asked the one who’d changed to his long knife.

            “Nothing to be concerned with,” Reginorn responded, finishing the tie of the lace and going back out again.

            Now the King was watching the heavier Hobbit—Sam—going through forms with his weapon, a most serviceable blade, Reginorn noted, of an ancient form.

            “Well done, Samwise Gamgee!” the King said with enthusiasm as Sam finished.

            Sam flushed with pleasure, but his voice was solemn enough as he explained, “Captain Boromir saw to it as we learned t’ do them right, he did.”

            “As well he should have.  Would you like to do a round with me, Sam?”  He nodded to a young recruit, who brought through a foil appropriate to Sam’s size. 

            Sam took a watchful stance across from the King.  “Not like it’s quite fair, you know, you havin’ quite a bit more trainin’ from them as knows swords best and all the years of experience since.”

            The King gave the slightest of shakes of his head in response, and at that Sam attacked and the Man parried.  The bout didn’t last long, and Sam was holding his wrist and shaking his hand at the sting of it once he was disarmed, but the King was looking at the Hobbit with approval.  “That was very well done.”

            “Captain Boromir always told us not t’ give our opponents any more time t’ prepare than we had to.”

            “Wise advice.  Captain Reginorn, would you like a bout?  And Faramir, you might like to see what kind of opponent you might have with Sir Peregrin there.”

            The auburn haired Hobbit and Prince Faramir took the area where the two soldiers had faced one another earlier as Reginorn came forward to face the King himself.  Having seen the King liked for his opponent to take the offensive, Reginorn made the first attack, only to find something was stabbing into his groin.  He paused, his eyes wide with pain, before pulling back. 

            Raising his hand, he asked, “If you will excuse me again, please—there is apparently something more in my practice garb.  I should not be more than a moment.” 

            As he retreated again to the changing room, he could hear the King asking, “Something more, eh, Frodo Baggins?”

            Why is the King asking Master Frodo about what might be in my practice garb? he wondered.

*******

            Reginorn was making his fourth visit to the changing room when Faramir, having been disarmed by Pippin, sidled up by his new monarch.  “You do not appear to be particularly surprised by all of the difficulties Captain Reginorn is experiencing, my Lord,” he murmured.

            Aragorn shook his head, and with a level of satisfaction, Faramir noted.  “I am not.  Both your brother and I, at different times, you must realize, showed disrespect to Frodo’s mushrooms, and your brother during what passed for our Yule feast.  Had he known what happened to me as I traveled with the Hobbits from Bree to Rivendell, he would not have been surprised that as a Mettarë gift I presented him with extra laces.  He proved to need them, as I recall it.”

            Frodo’s face showed a studied level of curiosity as he watched the Captain of the Eighth Company disappear once more into the changing room, slamming the door behind him.

            The King smiled at Frodo.  “Okay, Master Baggins, come here and let me see how you are able to hold your sword.”

           

Written for the LOTR Yule Exchange a few years ago, and added to Lindelea's group story, "To Tell a Tale," in which Pippin, recovering from illness in Minas Tirith, is being distracted by various people sharing stories with him.  I felt it time to post it here independently in my own collection of tales.

On the Role of the Yule Dwarf

            “Sir Peregrin!  Are you here?”

            Pippin, who sat in the small garden behind the guesthouse in which those of the Fellowship dwelt in the Sixth Circle of the White City, looked up from the small table on which sat what little remained of his tea.  The voice was that of a Man, but was not one of those he recognized from his time spent amongst the Guard of the Citadel or those from the city who’d fought in the Army of the West before the Black Gate.  The voice was deep, and somehow sounded to be from the north, from the lands surrounding the Shire.  One of Strider’s kinsmen, he thought.  But not one I have talked to enough to recognize his voice.

            “I’m here, behind the house!” he called, and in moments a tall Man, definitely one of the northern Dúnedain, appeared around the corner of the building, carrying a bundle in his arms.

            “Aragorn asked me to bring you this clothing,” the Man said, “but no one was within when I knocked at the guesthouse door.”

            Pippin nodded and indicated that the Man should come closer.  “The housekeeper needed to go to the markets in the Fourth Circle, and the youth assigned as our page has today as his free day.  So, as I do appear finally to be recovering, they trust me to not push myself too far.  Join me, if you will!”

            The Man gave the bundle of clothing, a set of garments more in keeping with Shire fashions than what Pippin had now, into the Hobbit’s hands and sat down on the grass by Pippin’s bench.  “I am glad to have the chance to meet you at last,” he said.  “I was nearby when the Dwarf saw your foot under that troll, and we all but despaired of your life, I fear.  I am Bardamir son of Aldarin.  My family has dwelt always in the village of our Chieftains in the Angle, and I was one of those my lord kinsman trained in my first patrol as a recruit with the Rangers of Eriador.  I was glad to be chosen to come south in the Grey Company to join Aragorn in the final battles with the Enemy.  I understand that you dwell in the Tooklands within the Shire?”

            Pippin found himself wincing at the name of his home region.  “Yes.  You know of them?”

            Bardamir nodded.  “Oh, yes, I do.  I have often had to ride through the Shire on errands to the Havens and our lands about the Firth of Lhûn, and thus have passed through the Green Hills country fairly often, although few Hobbits will bother to speak with me.  But then, few Hobbits of the Shire willingly deal with Men anyway.”

            Pippin shrugged.  “True enough,” he allowed.  “We seem to be far more comfortable dealing with Dwarves than we do Men, although we even tend to ignore them as often as not.”  He checked his glass and saw there was still a swallow of juice within it, and finished it off before asking, “So, you lived in the Chieftain’s village, did you?  Then you knew Aragorn all your life?”

            “Not quite all of my life.”

            “No?  But you said that you lived in the Chieftain’s village.”

            Bardamir smiled.  “Living in the village of the Chieftain means but little when he does not live there himself.  He had not lived there since he was two winters old.”

            “Then where did he live?”

            “In the house of Elrond, in the hidden vale of Rivendell.  Most of our people did not know he yet lived, for it was told about that he’d died of the fevers that swept throughout Eriador that year.  My older brother, who was but three years of age, also died, and but a day before it was said that Arathorn’s son died.  Both he and his mother were fighting the fevers, you must understand.  Word had but recently come that our Lord Arathorn had been slain by an orc’s arrow whilst out upon a patrol, and so taken by grief was our Lady Gilraen that she, too, appeared in danger for her own life.  When it was reported that her son had died as well as her husband and that she was struggling to withstand the loss, none was surprised that she was taken to Lord Elrond for to be healed.  What did surprise my parents and most others was that she did not choose to return to us.  Few mortals are comfortable dwelling for long periods of time amongst the Elves, you see, for they see us all as children, considering how short our lives are compared to theirs.  That she remained there to be with her son as he grew up was something none had considered save for the very few who knew that he had recovered from his illness.”

            The Man sighed and shook his head.  “I must say that I am surprised to realize you did not know of this, as long as you and your fellows remained within Elrond’s home whilst you awaited the time to leave upon your quest.”

            Pippin could only shrug.  “We didn’t see all that much of Strider while we were there in Rivendell.  He was there while Frodo was ill, until after Lord Elrond managed to get that horrible Morgul shard out of him, and then there was the Council, to which neither Merry nor I was invited, and then he was gone, searching with the others for any sign that the Black Riders might remain anywhere about, ready to pounce upon us once we were on our way south and east.  And when he came back, he rarely had time to talk or to share tales, or not with Merry or me, at least.  We worked on our swordsmanship with Boromir mostly, and sometimes explored about.  Frodo probably learned about him growing up in Rivendell, either from him or from Bilbo, and I wouldn’t be surprised to know that Sam had learned about it, too.  But for Merry and me----”  Again he shrugged, his mouth twisted wryly.  “So, you were ten when he returned to your people?  Was that when you got to know him?  How old was he then?”

            Bardamir smiled.  “He was twenty, and was considered a Man grown.  At first I had no idea who he was or why he was in the village.  It was just after Midsummer.  Most of the elders of our people had been called away to a conference at Amon Sûl on the evening of Midsummer, so our usual festivals were not as we children were accustomed to.  And when Lord Halbaleg, who’d served as our Steward since the death of Lord Arathorn, returned, he brought with him this strange youth who was dressed much as the Elves dressed, not like any of our fathers or older brothers, you see.  It was about time for the young Men who were training as Rangers to go out upon their first patrol with Malvegern and Baerdion, who worked with our newest trainees, so we were told he was a Dúnedain youth who’d been fostered by Elves, but who was expected to take on the duties of a warrior of our people.  I didn’t see much of him save for at a distance, for when the other young Men in the patrol came to my father’s ale house on the evenings they had free before they must ride out, he did not come with them.  Only after the patrol was over did it come to be known that this was in fact Aragorn, the son of our late Lord Arathorn and his wife, and thus was proper Chieftain to our people.”

            Pippin was fascinated.  “So, he didn’t come to your father’s inn until he came back from his first patrol as a trainee, then?”

            Bardamir laughed.  “It was no inn, not really.  But there is the family recipe for ale that my grandfather and father brewed after they were each wounded and could no longer go out upon patrol themselves, and many times the Men of our village will come to the ale house after a long day of laboring in our fields or in whatever tasks each has taken to himself for the support of our people.  So, as our father’s children my brothers and sisters and I saw more of most of the Men of our village than many others.  But young Lord Aragorn was of a sober sort, and was not given overmuch to the drinking of ale or wine, and rarely came of an evening as he sought to learn more of our ways.

            “Nay, I must admit that the first I saw him face to face was at the Turning of the Year, that first winter after he returned to us.”  His eyes were focused on the memories, and he laughed again.  “He was portraying the Yule Dwarf, you see, and was most uncomfortable in the role—at least he was at first.”

            Pippin straightened on his bench.  “He was playing the Yule Dwarf?  But I thought that this was a Took tradition!  I mean, not many families in the Shire have the Yule Dwarf visit their children besides the Tooks!”

            Bardamir’s laugh was infectious, Pippin found.  “Oh, I know.  But it appears that Aragorn’s grandsire Arador fell ill or was injured one winter when he was riding through the Shire, returning from our lands about the Firth of Lhûn.  The Thain at the time found him laid low in a thicket where he’d taken shelter, and he had his people bring him to the Great Smials to be given what help he needed to recover.  It was Foreyule, as your people know it, when Arador came to stay with them.  And he was fascinated to learn how your people celebrate Yule.  When a particularly fat Hobbit arrived in a sleigh drawn by a pig, wearing armor made of foil and carrying a great axe made of pasteboard, his face half hidden behind a beard apparently made from sheep’s wool, Arador was intrigued.  The idea that the children seemed to believe that this was indeed a Dwarf caught at his fancy, and he saw how pleased they were to receive small trinkets from this person.

            “Arador returned to us a month later, having made a full recovery, and he carried with him great respect for the Tooks, who had shown him such kindness.”

            For a moment Bardamir went quiet, a fond smile on his lips.  “My papa was but a young boy himself that next winter, which was a bad one for our village.  There were several heavy snowfalls, each leaving behind even more snow than the last one.  And, of course there were illnesses, possibly some sent from Mordor to seek to destroy our people.  There was a bad fire that burned down the storage building in which most of our food for the winter was kept, and many found themselves in desperate want.  Lord Arador sent those of our Men who were able to travel through the deep snow to other villages to bring back supplies to see us through, and if it had not been for a line of sleighs from one particular village that was better protected than we had been, and for food sent from Elrond as well, it is likely most of those in our village would have died.

            “Some of those who spent much time carving wood or doing needlework and such had little else to do, and began making all sorts of items to fill the time.  We had a good supply of cloth available, at least—that was one of the things Arador had been bringing back from Lhûn, cloth.  One older woman who loved to sew began making dolls, each more elaborate than the last, while one of those who worked with wood began making a herd of horses, some with jointed legs.  A woman who knitted created soft animals of wool, and another who did hookwork made even more such toys, scarves with which to wrap babies, and soft balls that could be thrown about within the house with no fear of things being broken.  And others made other things.

            “One of those who died that winter was a young woman, a healer and a teacher of children.  She had been married but a few years and had two small children.  Her death caused great grief throughout our village, and particularly in her son and daughter.  They had been weakened by the cold and illness.  Many feared that they would lose all hope and die to follow their mother.  Lord Arador decided that this should not be, so he called as many as would come to the ale house to discuss what might be done to draw the hearts of these children away from despair and to awaken them to the possibilities of life instead.  And he suggested that we find a way to use the Hobbits’ tradition of the Yule Dwarf to encourage laughter and pleasure in all of the children.

            “Those who had made things that might be gifts for the children agreed to provide them as presents, and discussion was held as to how the idea of the Yule Dwarf might be presented.  We of the Dúnedain do not easily lie, not even to amuse.  It was decided that it should be obvious from the start that this was no true Dwarf, and so the tallest Man in the village was chosen to play the part.  There was one who worked land east of our village who stood half a head taller even than Lord Arador, so he was the one who was to do so.

            “So it was that the Man chosen to portray the Yule Dwarf was dressed in outlandish armor, a beard made of horsehair glued to his face, carrying a long axe that had been fitted with a great false blade of foil hiding its true blade, bringing with him a heavy large bag in which gifts had been placed for each of our children.  And the boy and girl over whom all had worried were so amazed to see someone who towered over them so pretending to be a Dwarf that not even they could keep from laughing with the rest.  They began to recover, my papa told me, from that evening, and I remember the woman who had been that girl from my childhood, for she was as dearly loved by all as had been her own mama.  And the tradition was continued from that year, and spread throughout most of the villages within the Angle, always with the tallest Man within the village taking on the role of the Yule Dwarf.”

            “I am glad to hear that the children recovered,” Pippin said, delighted with the tale so far.  “So, Aragorn ought to have felt honored to follow in that tradition.”

            Bardamir grinned widely.  “One would think so, no?  Oh, but when he returned to us I do not think anyone had thought to tell him of this tradition, probably not even his mother.  Remember, he had not been among our people since he was two years old, and most likely had no real memory of going out into the center of the village to greet the coming of the Yule Dwarf after the communal feast, there before the New Fire was lit.  The Elves of Rivendell have their own ways of celebrating the Turning of the Year, ways that included fire, dancing, and song, but far more graceful and beautiful than that to which we mortals are given, I am certain.  And for all that he knew himself to be a mortal, still he had been raised primarily by Elves, and had grown up with Elven sensibilities.  He had been raised with a deeper appreciation for the roles of the Powers than most mortals ever know, and his utterance of the traditional words of praise usually offered as the New Fire flares up can truly lift the heart.  But it was not until that first Mettarë was upon us that it was realized that he had no knowledge of what would be expected of him as the tallest Man now within the village.  He had been in the hall of the Keep with his Uncle Halbaleg as the bundles of gifts to be presented to the children were brought in with as much secrecy could be arranged, and had been told that these were to be distributed to the children after the feast.  That he was to be the one to give out these gifts he did not understand, much less the circumstances under which he was to give them out!”

            Pippin was now laughing.  “That must have been quite the feat, convincing him he must dress up as a Dwarf and come into the village with a sack filled with toys to give to the children!”

            “Indeed,” the Man said, nodding.  “My papa was among those who tried to explain what was expected of him.  If he had no appreciation that he would have to do such a thing, apparently no one within the village had taken thought of the fact that he was likely to not understand just how much this particular part of our Mettarë celebrations had come to mean to our people, and particularly to those of us who were children.  I mean, I was but ten, but realizing he was the tallest Man I’d ever seen I already knew he would play the Yule Dwarf that year, as did most of the other children, and many of us had already approached him with word of what we would like to receive for Yule, and he could not understand why.”

            He shook his head.  “My papa told me of the shock he displayed when his grandmother came to measure him for the armor and to see what alterations might be needed that he could wear the beard properly.  When they tried to explain about the tradition he could not understand it at all.  He kept asking, ‘But why am I to dress up as a Dwarf?  Who would even believe I should be a Dwarf?’  That everyone would understand from the beginning that he was not a Dwarf and that this was part of the reason he and no other should play the role went completely over his head!”

            Pippin was shaking with laughter.  “And considering how tall he is, that is saying a good deal!  We expect our Yule Dwarves to be decidedly fat, but that you should want them to be exceptionally tall….”  He wiped away tears of mirth.

            “Oh, yes!” Bardamir agreed, his smile even wider than before.  “He looked at the armor that his grandmother had brought and objected that it was like nothing he’d ever seen before, and that it didn’t even look like proper Dwarf armor anyway.  He’d seen Dwarves, it proved, there within Rivendell.”

            “Yes, he would have,” Pippin said, thinking for a moment.  “Yes, he would have seen them when Bilbo was there with Thorin Oakenshield and Gimli’s father Glóin and the rest.  I do remember now Bilbo telling us, when we were there in Rivendell, I mean, that the first time he’d seen Strider was when they passed through there going to the Lonely Mountain, and that Aragorn was just a child at the time.  So, he had definitely been in a position to see what real Dwarf armor was like.”

            “I understand that in the end Lord Halbaleg had to shout at him that it didn’t matter at all whether the armor was true Dwarf armor, but that it only had to look different enough from Men’s and Elves’ armor to be accepted as possibly being Dwarf armor for the sake of our children.  At last Aragorn stopped objecting, but mostly because he realized it was doing no good at all.  Then they had to convince him that he couldn’t walk like an Elf, but that he had to walk as if he had real weight to him if he was to be accepted as the Yule Dwarf, and he had to make his voice low and to laugh as if he might be a Dwarf as well.  As for the beard—that, too, was something he could not appreciate the reason for, particularly when he pointed out that it didn’t look like a real Dwarf’s beard.  Lord Halbaleg was at the point of tearing out his own beard before they got him to understand that even though he was being presented as the Yule Dwarf, everyone already knew that he was not a Dwarf after all—that all he had to do was announce he was the Yule Dwarf and get on with the giving of the gifts.

            “Late during the feast of Mettarë he was drawn away from the table at which Lord Halbaleg and his family sat.  It was Halbarad who was tasked with seeing him dressed in the costume and with attaching the beard to his face.  At least since his own beard had not begun to grow as yet he did not have to shave it off so that the glue should not catch in it.

            “As Halbarad told us later, it was quite the ordeal to get him readied that first year, for Aragorn was not at all happy to have to portray a lie, or so he thought of it at the time.  The clothing to be worn under the armor was heavy, and he found the great boots he must wear to be bulky and uncomfortable, but not quite long enough to properly fit his feet.  As for the armor, he swore that it would not protect anyone from any kind of a blow from an enemy.  I understand that he so complained and all but wept at the indignity of it all that Halbarad was reduced to swearing that if he did not cease his whinging he, Halbarad, would punch him in the mouth and that it did not matter who his father had been or that he was intended to be our Chieftain.  He said that this threat so surprised his lord kinsman that Aragorn looked upon him with shock and disbelief, but at least he finally shut his mouth and kept his complaints to himself.”

            Bardamir looked upwards, his mouth pursed with the memory of it.  “I remember how we children were made to form rows, the smallest in front and the tallest at the back.  We could all see him approaching, his legs stiff as he tried to walk heavily as he had been instructed, although he found walking in those boots, which fit him badly to begin with, difficult from the start.  His expression was grim, and my little cousin who stood in front of me was frightened by what he could see of the Yule Dwarf’s face.  Not that carrying that bag of gifts slung over his shoulder was a particularly easy task, mind you.”

            “Did certain people still make most of the gifts as they did that first year?” asked Pippin.

            Bardamir shook his head.  “Some people still made small items that were offered to those children who had no other gifts coming.  But mostly the parents or guardians for each child provided a single gift for their child to be given at that time.  For many of the boys who were approaching fifteen that meant they were receiving long knives or short swords, bows or quivers of arrows, a public acknowledgment that they would be expected to begin training to protect our people within the coming year.  Many older girls would receive sets of mixing bowls, or hand looms, or perhaps shuttles of colorful yarns or thread with which to do their first weavings of cloth upon the looms in their families’ homes.  There were still toys for the younger children, although many whose parents worked the land would receive small sickles or hand plows so that they might walk beside their parents at the harvests or at the spring planting and help as they were able.”

            “I see,” Pippin said.

            Bardamir continued, “A certain chair, almost a throne, has been set out for the Yule Dwarf for as long as I can remember, and when at last he reached it, Aragorn practically fell into it.  He’d been followed by Halbarad, who stood behind him, his own face set as he watched to see that Aragorn did the job properly.  He prompted Aragorn as to what he should say that we would know that he was indeed our Yule Dwarf, and I remember seeing the looks of fury exchanged as he prodded Aragorn to pull the bag of gifts around in front of him so that he might reach within it for the next gift for presentation.  Each present was supposed to have a tag attached so that Aragorn might know to whom it was to be given, but of course some tags had become dislodged when the bag was filled or as he carried it through the village.  Lord Halbaleg, who’d been the Yule Dwarf for several years, could recognize by how the gifts were wrapped who had furnished them, and with a simple glance at the donor would receive an indication as to which child it should be given.  But Aragorn did not know those who lived within the village all that well as yet, and had no idea for whom a particular item might have been intended.

            “I am not completely certain just why he did not throw his hands over the helmet he wore and flee, but he sat there growing obviously more and more frustrated as he fought to remove from the sack objects with odd shapes that seemed intent on catching in the folds of cloth that then had to be held up so that he could learn which child should be called forward to receive them.

            “There was one boy of an age with me, Tennig, whose body was twisted and whose mind was quite simple.  He was often ill, and he only lived three more years after that first Yule our Chieftain returned to us.  He watched with pleased excitement as the Yule Dwarf arrived with his sack, and although he commented to the girl beside him that this was a different Yule Dwarf than he’d seen before, he did not appear to be worried by the fact that this Yule Dwarf appeared to be so clumsy or uncertain.  When the gift for him was held up, he recognized the skin bag in which it was contained as belonging to his papa, and he stood up immediately to claim it, before any of the adults could name him.  Something about how eager he was to receive it from the Yule Dwarf’s hand caught Aragorn’s attention, and his scowl faded away as Tennig approached him.  He took Tennig upon his lap and presented him with the bag, and asked him how he knew it was his own.  And when Tennig opened it before us all and found it contained a gardening fork and trowel, and it was plain that he was so pleased to receive such as a gift that he turned to hug Aragorn about his neck, we could see that Aragorn forgot in that moment how upset he’d been to be asked to take on this role to begin with, and he hugged Tennig in return and set him gently upon his feet so he could return to his place.  Afterward he would show each gift to Halbarad, who would whisper to him the name to call, and he greeted the arrival of the children with smiles and quiet and cheerful words.

            “When it was my turn I received a toy boat my uncle had made for me, and the Yule Dwarf commented on how beautifully it was constructed and of the fine detail it showed, and he reminded me that allowing others to play with it would make it even more enjoyable, although he did tell me that if any mishandled it I should not allow them to touch it again.  I thought this last to be most satisfactory advice, and I remember thanking him for it, and seeing how his eyes shone with pleasure for my delight with the gift.”

            “So, in spite of everything he turned out to be a most satisfactory Yule Dwarf anyway.”

            “That he did.  Although there was one more mishap.”

            “There was?  What was that?”

            Bardamir leaned forward to confide, “Well, the trews of the costume were not of a proper fit for him, and as he rose to his feet and turned around, we could all hear a rip of cloth, and we saw that the seam of his trews had split right up the back.  He stopped and looked back, and he shook his head so hard that the helmet fell off and landed upon the ground with a loud clunk, and he left it lying there as he held his hands behind him, trying to cover up the rent in his costume as he fled into the meeting hall.  We children loved it!  But after that we noticed that the Yule Dwarf now wore quite a bright cloak over his armor, a cloak that would most adequately hide any further such problems.”

            Pippin was still laughing when Frodo returned to the guesthouse from the Citadel a short time afterward.

Written for the LOTR Community Potluck Challenge.  For Lindelea for her birthday, with love.

The Tribute of the Insects

            The second night out of Minas Tirith, the party accompanying the body of Théoden King rested along the road in what appeared to be park land.  The Lord King Elessar had asked the scouts to find an area with trees where the four Hobbits might lie beneath leafy boughs, such having proved most comforting for the Ringbearer, and they had done well in choosing a good area for the great procession to rest for the night.  After having his thighs and legs anointed for saddle sores and eating the evening meal, Frodo had taken his bedroll and found a tree that pleased him, and had settled there for the night.  Before he was quite settled, Merry, Pippin, and Sam had come to join him, each laying out his own bedroll alongside his own, Sam to his left, Pippin to his right, and Merry to Pippin’s right, much as they’d usually slept along the way south from Rivendell.  Frodo smiled, ruffled Pippin’s curls, and lay back, happy to see the sky darkening overhead as glimpsed through the leaves of the elm tree under which he lay, drifting swiftly into a doze.  He woke frequently, and each time smiled at the stars that lit up the scene. 

            The soldiers watching over the camp while most slept shook their heads over these four small folk who did not take cover within the tent set up for them, choosing instead to lie out under trees and the open sky, and became even more amazed when one came out of one of the pavilions set up for royalty to cross to where the Hobbits slept and settled himself nearby, that curious construction that they had learned was called a pipe in his hand.  They watched him take a pouch out of his pocket and pour crushed leaves into the bowl of the pipe, compacting them with a blunt stick, then using a small striker set expertly to set the leaves smoldering so that he could breathe their fumes.

            There he sat, breathing in the smoke of his pipe and exhaling it into the air, watching the four sleeping Hobbits who were, unbelievably, among his closest friends!  One was said to be, in their own land, a servant and gardener.  The youngest, who wore the livery of the Guard of the Citadel itself, and who, when not on duty, spoke familiarly with their new King as if they were both but wanderers over the face of the world, admitted his father was the most influential of all their people.  Another’s father was spoken of as the chief administrator of two regions of the Hobbits’ land.  And then there was the Ringbearer himself, who, it was said, was naught more than a scholar among their people.  And these were intimate friends with the newly returned High King of the West!

 *

            Frodo awoke remembering when he was yet but a tween, only recently returned to Hobbiton from Buckland, smelling the familiar scent of Old Toby being smoked by one watching over him.  He had been ill—so ill!—with the lung sickness, nearly to the point of dying.  He’d been nursed back to health by Bilbo, his Aunt Dora, and by the gardener’s young lad, Sam, who’d become his shadow in the months since he’d come to Bag End.  Bilbo had sat in one of the two chairs that stood near the fireplace at the far end of his bedroom, smoking his pipe, during the hours that Frodo had slept.  Then it had been Gandalf who sat near the window in the room where Frodo lay unconscious in Rivendell, also smoking Old Toby, when at last Frodo came awake there.  And now it was again the scent of Old Toby that awoke him now, here on the edge of the Gondorian province of Anorien; and this time it was…

            “Strider?  Aragorn?  And why are you not there in your own tent with your fair Queen?  Why are you out here, on the edge of the camp, once again watching over mere Hobbits?”

            The King laughed.  “There is nothing mere about the Hobbits of the Shire, Frodo Baggins, and particularly not about you, my friend.  As for why I am here—I, too, was feeling restless and could not rest.  So, at last, Arwen told me to come out and have a smoke, and then to air myself carefully and thoroughly before returning to her company.  She foresaw that I would relax better if I was assured that the four of you were resting undisturbed, or so I believe.  And there is something now familiar and restful about watching especially Pippin there sleep.”

            “When you aren’t awakening us all with your talk and your smoking,” Pippin murmured, knuckling his eyes and yawning, twisting to look up into their friend’s eyes.  “So, you also found a cot too soft, now that we are again upon the road?”

            “Apparently so, Pippin.  I can well appreciate why Frodo especially would feel most comforted sleeping with leaves and stars over him.”

            Pippin nodded, looking up with a contented smile on his face.  But his smile turned to puzzlement.  “I don’t think I’ve seen a star there before, have you, Frodo?  But—” his puzzlement turning to alarm, “—it’s moving—and here beneath the trees?”  He sat up, staring intently, which startled Merry awake.

            Frodo also sat up, his eyes wide and his mouth in a surprised O.  “That’s no star, Peregrin Took!  But, what is it?”  With that he held out his finger, and in a minute the small light appeared to settle upon it.  “Why, it is a flying creature!  An insect!”

            Aragorn’s eyes were alight with pleasure.  “Fireflies!  Ah, but now I know what it was that I missed seeing, looking down upon the Pelennor from the city walls—there are no fireflies there before the city!  The fires that Sauron’s folk lit in the trenches they dug across the Pelennor must have killed their eggs and young, and who knows how long before they return to the farmlands about Minas Tirith?”

            Pippin was peering at the insect resting on Frodo’s fingertip with interest.  “I have never seen anything like it,” he said in almost a whisper.  He reached to touch it, but paused to look up into the Man’s eyes.  “Is the tail hot, there where the light is?” he asked.

            Aragorn was shaking his head.  “Not in the least.  Their young appear like worms, as is true of most larger insects, and they, too, have this cold light toward their hind end.  They are known as glow worms here.”

            Merry had risen upon an elbow.  “Well, I never thought to see a fly that carried its own light!”

            “Children often capture several of them at a time and put them into glass bottles to light their way after dark, although most are admonished to release them after a mark that they not die of privation.  There are almost no fireflies to be seen within Eriador north of Tharbad, although now and then they have been brought to Rivendell.  Glorfindel brought a few to show me when I was very small, but they soon flew away.  I am not certain whether it is too cold or too damp or what the reason, but they appear to prefer more southern climes and lands east of the mountains.  Although I have rarely seen them remain long upon the hand of anyone as this one does with Frodo.”

            Merry smiled up at him.  “You have at least two in your hair, Strider!”

            The King straightened, surprised at this intelligence.  “Do I, really?  How surprising!”

            Sam was now rousing.  “Now,” he yawned, “if this isn’t a how-ta-do!  A visit from the King this time of night!”  Then he stopped, his eyes fixed on Frodo’s finger.  “What’s this?” he asked, his voice still.  “What’s this light?”

            “It’s an insect, Sam, a firefly!  Is it not strange?  There, look—here are two more!”

            There were more than two, it proved, for quite a number were coming into the space under the elm tree, flying about the five of them.

            “Can you use them to light your pipe, Strider?” Merry asked.

            Pippin, who’d been gently touching the one on Frodo’s finger, shook his head.  “No—he’s right, Merry.  The light is a cold light.”

            “We didn’t see such things there where the army rested,” Sam observed.

            The Man shook his head.  “It was too early for them to emerge.”

            “And do they all blink off and on?” Pippin asked.

            Aragorn nodded.  “That they do!”

            “Now,” a gentle voice spoke from beyond the tree’s canopy.  “What is this?  So, the fireflies have come out to honor the Ringbearer and his companions!”

            “My Lady Arwen!” Frodo said, making to rise.

            “No, do not bother to stand, Frodo.  You shall return to sleep soon enough, I trow.”

            “And you are aware of fireflies, then?”

            “Oh, yes.  It may seem like spring in my daernaneth’s land throughout the year, but in the true summer the fireflies are common there.  How they lit the Hill of Amroth on the night when my beloved Estel here and I plighted our troth.”

            “They were like a coronet of living light about your hair,” Aragorn murmured, his eyes alight with the love he felt for his wife.

            The Hobbits went still, aware that they had been all but forgotten.

            “And one had alit upon your shoulder,” she whispered in return.  “Are you ready as yet to return to your rest?  We have far to ride tomorrow.”

            He grasped her hand and rose to his feet, leaning forward to kiss her gently.  “Yes, I think that I am.”  He turned to smile down upon the Hobbits.  “I wish you a refreshing sleep, my friends.  I will see you again in the morning.  Rest well!”

            He walked away hand in hand with his Queen, murmuring quietly to her, and they heard her delighted laugh as the two returned in the direction of their pavilion.

            “Will you look at that!” Sam said, sitting up, his hands resting in his lap.  “Those fireflies do seem to like them.”

            Both King and Queen had the insects resting in their dark hair and fluttering about their heads.  The Hobbits did not realize it, but as they returned to sleep a fair number of the creatures kept them company under the elm’s branches, many of them apparently fascinated by the dark hair of the Ringbearer.

 *

            And in the morning, as the column again moved out, it was butterflies that circled about the King and Queen as they rode, and more accompanied Frodo on his pony, Strider, drawing the attention of many to these three special members of their company.

 





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