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Beneath Strange Stars  by Larner

Written for the LOTR Community's "Believe it or not" challenge.  For Harrowcat for her birthday (belated).  Thanks to RiverOtter for the beta.

When All Was Remade

            They found themselves standing side by side, the Elf, the Man, and the ruined Halfling.

            The Elf was tall, his eyes a keen, haunted grey, and his hair a fiery red.  One arm ended in a scarred stump, and the other, which had a decidedly burnt appearance, held a great, radiant jewel.

            The Man was tall for his race, although nowhere as tall as the Elf.  His eyes were also grey and were both haunted and defiant.  His hair had been dark, but was shot through with white strands; and his face was grim, and had been hardened by years of self-discipline and many griefs and disappointments.  In his veined hands he held a sphere of dark glass through which swirled ribbons of light and shadow.

            The skin of the ruined Halfling was almost grey, fragile in appearance.  What color his eyes might once have been had been washed from them by eons spent in dark caverns, peering through the blackness surrounding him.  What few hairs clung to his wizened skull were lank and nearly lifeless, a few stubbornly clinging to a dark brown verging on black, but most nearly white.  In his thin hand lay a gold ring far too large for his apparently webbed fingers.  It did not sparkle in the sourceless light that filled the space in which they stood, but lay sullen and resentful upon the Halfling’s palm.

            The space was so white and filled with light that it appeared nearly featureless—featureless save for a dark pool that lay at their feet.  What filled that pool, whether black water or fluid metal or starless sky, they could not tell.  But within it lay three forms.

            All had to them the outward shape of the Children of Ilúvatar.  The first, however, was impossibly beautiful as well as impossibly repulsive, its eyes filled with malice as well as need.  The second seemed merely a shadow of the first; of its features they could tell nothing.  The third was an Elf, one with dark hair and fair features; but the eyes were blank and sightless, while the mouth was twisted into a grimace of agony, the teeth firmly gritted.

            The one-handed Elf gave a cry of grief.  “Atto!” he cried.  “My father!”

            The Halfling looked down on the shadow creature with horror, and his hand closed convulsively around the ring he held.  “The Master of the Precious!” he moaned.  “He is here!  He with his nine fingers!”

            The Man looked from one of those flanking him to the other, and he held the tighter to the sphere in his grasp.  “And who is the third?” he asked uncertainly.

            The Elf beside him growled, “The Black Enemy!  Long he left me hanging upon the walls of his place!  How should I have forgotten him?  But how is it he lies now by the side of my father?  Lo, they were ever the most deadly of enemies!”

            A movement within the Light across from the three of them drew their attention, and they discerned the approach of one from whom that Light emanated.  A child this one appeared, but when they met its eyes great age could be seen there—age, dreams, visions, memories….

            The ancient child stood across the pool from them, examining them with a compassion so deep it seemed dispassionate.  Welcome, my children!

            The Man examined the child suspiciously.  “And who are you?”

            I have even more names and titles than the one you have thought of as your rival since you were young men together, both serving your father.  The Elf was certain that he detected humor in the response.  Abba, Atto, Great Mother, Kali, Ancient of Days----

            There was a snort from the Man.  The child continued, Lord God Almighty, Father of All, Creator, Allah, Sun-Father, Brahma—there is no end to the names by which I have been called.  But you have been taught to refer to me as Eru Ilúvatar.

            The one-handed Elf asked, “Why do Morgoth, my atar, and this other lie there?”

            Your father would not remain within the Halls of Mandos, but sought instead to place himself so that when at last the one he saw as his enemy came into the Void he should be there to greet him and so wreak his revenge.  But vengeance is Mine, and not his to take as he might will.  He had not the ability to find his way there, for My Children are not intended to dwell in nothingness.  Now it is time to recall him.

            “And why are we here?” demanded the Man.

            The three of you are those who were most robbed by these of what you were intended to be, and what you carried with you into Death is needed to recall these to what they were intended to be.

            “And what was the Black Enemy intended to be?” demanded the Elf.

            My beloved son, he who was to comfort with the peace of darkness.  But he sought instead to either gather all Light to himself or to destroy it, and so lost the portion of the Imperishable Flame that was granted to him at his beginning.

            “And am I to give him the Silmaril, which he took over the bleeding corpse of my grandfather?”  He lifted the shining jewel he held in his one hand in question.

            The child gave a gentle smile.  He spent his own Light needlessly, and now needs to be refilled.  Remember this—all Light is of Me from the beginning, and that includes the light with which this crystal has been filled.  Nor did your father create the light within the Silmaril—he merely caught a portion of the light emanating from Laurelin and Telperion, both of which merely showed forth the Light with which I gifted Ëa at its beginning, binding that light into one shape.  I did not intend any of the Light I gave unto the universe ever to be held solely in the keeping of one being throughout all ages; to think one can hoard it in coffers or crowns is foolish.

            Yea, Melkor stole it and its sisters, and slew another in order to do so; but he was as foolish as was your father, for both came to believe they could possess the beauty of Light ever only for themselves.  But light is of no use at all when it is captured and hidden away from the rest of the world.  And what use were any of your father’s jewels when they were locked away in his treasury, offering illumination to no one, not even Fëanor son of Finwë?

            The Man looked at the child somewhat sidelong.  “But if that one was indeed to be the Lord of Darkness, how can he be missing Light?”

            One cannot truly see darkness without a contrast of light, any more than one can appreciate light without there being a hint of darkness.  Varda’s stars shine the more brightly because they blaze against the dark of night, and the dark of night is the more beautiful because it contains the light of stars within it.  And can one truly love the light of the Sun if there is no shade from it?  So it is with my Children—each holds measures of Light and Dark.

            The child held out His hand.  Give me the Silmaril.

            Unwillingly, the Elf complied, and the child took it, blessed it, and held it over the pool, over the breast of the one who appeared both beautiful and terrible.  Be filled again, Best Beloved, he said gently, and broke open the great gem, pouring out the light within it as if it were water.  The light pooled upon the breast of Melkor, and then began to sink within, as if being absorbed by a dark sponge.  But as the light infused him, the visage grew more beautiful and noble, and the horror the three of them had felt on looking on him began to dissipate.  At last the eyes looked up from the pool, and, yes, they were dark; but no longer were they terrible in their darkness, for there was a soft spark of light to be seen there also.  Laughing, Melkor rose indeed in Might, and bowed before his benefactor.  Go now, my son, and join your brothers and sisters, who await you eagerly.

            With another bow, the Vala left the chamber, although none of the three could say which way he went.

            Now the Ring, commanded the child, looking at the ruined Halfling.

            “But it’s my Precious, my Birthday Present!”

            You know by and for whom It was made.

            Whimpering, the creature at last surrendered up the dull golden circlet.  The child examined it, shaking his head.  There was a finger within it when you fell to your death, He admonished the Hobbit.

            “Yess, there was.  But in the Fire it was losst!”

            The child turned It within his hand, at last commenting, Ah, but that finger would have been too small for this one.  He looked down into the pool, focusing his attention on the shadow creature.  Mairon!  Waken and present your hand!

            A dull red circle of flame began to make itself manifest around the figure, presenting an aspect that most resembled a red eye with a cat-like pupil.

            Cease such nonsense, and present your hand.  The command was not to be disobeyed, and sullenly the creature raised his hand out of the pool.  The child leaned over to grasp it, and all could see that one of its digits was missing.

            Foolish child—do you not see what crafting such a thing as this has done to you?  By pouring the greater part of your nature and power into it, you yourself became diminished, save when you wore it, and even then much of your nature was far different than you were meant to be.  You were intended to teach the Children to rule themselves, and how to focus their abilities, not to seek dominance over them.  Lo, wearing it you took to yourself the appearance of one of the Noldor and the name of Annatar, a shape you continued to wear when you removed the Ring from your hand before you surrendered yourself to he who named himself Ar-Pharazôn, and so it was that when Númenor sank beneath the waves you lost the ability to take such a shape to yourself again.  A mere shadow of what you were meant to be are you now.  Would you be more again?

            The response rang through the room like an echoing whisper:  Yea, so I would wish it.

            The child ran a finger over the place where the finger was missing.  Then be complete once more, Mairon.

            As the three watched, they saw the finger begin to form where it had been missing before, and at last the child set the Ring upon the finger.  Be whole, and go forth to do what you were charged with before.

            The flames began to die away, and the shadow began to take on shape, substance, and color.  Soon a Maia of incredible beauty rose from the pool, singing with thanksgiving as he bowed in honor to his Lord. 

            Now, go—your brother Olórin awaits you with impatience.

            And leaving behind him the heavy scent of attar of roses, he who had been Sauron departed.

            Now only one remained in the pool.  The Man looked down on the Elf who lay before him uncertainly.  “And how shall this restore him?” he asked.

            Give it to me, and you shall see.

            The Man gave a brief nod and passed the palantir across the pool.  The child held it between His hands as He looked down on the grimacing Elf with compassion.  Fëanáro—your enemy has been bested.  Come back, and see once more that which you once loved and honored.  So saying, he held out the sphere where the eyes must fall upon it.

            Within its depths light began to swirl, growing brighter and more colorful by the minute.

            “I have looked into the seeing stone more times than I can count!” the Man whispered, “But never has the light been so clear, so colorful!”

            The child smiled at him.  But you never looked to find what you truly loved, save in moments of anxiety.  This was meant to allow communication between those who loved one another.  And now the time is come to see this one’s family once again brought together in harmony, centered in My love for them.

            And the eyes cleared, the grimace fell away, as the face a red-haired woman of beauty and character became visible within the sphere, and then a dark-haired man carrying a harp crafted of mithril and lebethron, and then five more.

            “My amillë!  My brothers!”

            Are you ready to be reunited with them, my child?

            “Oh, yes!  Atto!  Rise up—let us go to them!”  Maedhros reached out his right hand, and grasped that of his father as the Noldo rose from the pool.  No longer did his arm end with a scar, and the skin on both hands was healthy and clean as he pulled his father into his embrace.  Fëanor looked with wonder on the child and on the palantir he held, and his hands trembling, he reached out to take the seeing stone into his own grasp.  A look of joyful anticipation shone on his face, and he bowed before disappearing with his son, the eyes of both fixed on the family they so desired to be with once more.

            Now, children, the child said to the two remaining, now that what you brought here has gone where it was needed, now you, too, are restored as well.

            The Man looked down at the wizened Pherian, and saw that he now stood straighter.  His skin began to change, and was yet pale, but now yet the color of a living being.  His eyes darkened, becoming a bright, inquisitive dark brown, and his hair fell over about his head in a dark, full veil.  He was smiling, and watching across the chamber where several who appeared to be related to him appeared.  “Déagol!  Grandmother!  Master!” he cried.

            And the three figures came forward, radiantly smiling as they all sought to embrace him at once.

            “Oh, Sméagol!  At last!  Thank you for doing what I could not at the end—taking It from me without allowing It to take you!”

            Now only the Man remained, watching after the Halflings as they were sent off.  He felt somewhat bereft, having seen these others each restored to what they were intended.

            Do you think, Denethor, that I have forgotten you?  Behold!

            And near where the Hobbits had been now several shapes appeared, and Denethor son of Ecthelion saw his sons appear together, followed by their mother, then his sisters, his father, his mother, and at last….

            He looked at this last figure, and bowed in recognition.  “So, my Lord Captain Thorongil—my father was right about you?”

            The King nodded.  “Yea, so he was.  But I find I am not complete until I have been reunited with yet another I ever thought of as my brother.  Come, gwador nín, and let me greet you at last!”

            Two who indeed appeared to be brothers by birth reached out to one another as had ever been intended.  And as they prepared to leave the Presence, Denethor gave a deep bow, murmuring, “And I thank you, Atarinya.”

            Eru smiled as He watched them going, their arms about one another, Finduilas following them, radiant.

 

Written for the A_L_E_C Wine and Mistletoe Challenge.  Beta by RiverOtter.

Yule in Time of War

            Bucca of the Marish stood amidst his fellows in the King’s camp, looking across the trampled battlefield of the preceding day toward the tents of Angmar’s troops.  One of his fellows stood at his side.  “Doesn’t seem right,” the other Hobbit muttered, “that we should be here when Yule’s coming in.  Should be home in the Shire with our families, watching for whoever comes First Footing, and lighting the Yule bonfires.”

            Bucca could hear murmurs of agreement from the other Hobbits.  Suddenly he smiled.  “So, it’s a Yule bonfire as you’re wanting?” he asked, cocking his head to fix a bright eye on his fellows.  “What do you say we brighten up the turning of the year for the folks over that-a-ways?”

            The Hobbits exchanged glances, and he began to see grim smiles break out.  “That we can do,” one of the Tooks assured him.

            A Burrows from the Northfarthing fetched one of the dark lanterns and saw it lit, while three of the archers tied rags to their arrowheads and dipped them in tow.  One of their number who’d done some scouting earlier indicated where the supply wagons for the enemy were set, and four Hobbits crept out in that direction, intent on seeing to it that the army from Angmar was kept lively as Yule set in.  Bucca himself snatched a jug of the raw spirits that was being shared amongst the defenders of Arnor to somewhat brighten the evening’s watches before he went upon all fours after the others, a long knife at his belt.

            None of the Witch-king’s guards saw the small shapes that crept close to their lines, much less the one that slipped past them to the place where the horses were picketed, for the grooms and carters had settled to play a game of knucklebones and were paying no attention.  The horses were easily led aside from the wagons, following the gentle whistle of the one who’d freed them.  A single soldier approached the area, and found himself face to face with a small figure armed with a shining blade.  Before he could fumble his own weapon free, he’d been impaled by the Hobbit and slipped soundlessly to the ground, grasping helplessly at the hole in his chest.

            Bucca gave him a look and murmured, “It’s said by my kin amongst the Tooks as him as comes First Footing ought to bring with him drink to lift the spirits, and mayhaps aught to brighten the fire on the hearth.  I think as you’ll find I’ve done both.”  And after dousing one of the wagons with the liquor, Bucca slipped away again, back toward his companions.

            With the dark lantern shielded from the enemy by a stubborn evergreen shrub, the three archers strung their bows.  The fourth briefly opened the shutter, allowing them to dip their points into the flame, then closed it again as the bowmen rose to their feet and loosed arrows at the supply wagons.  At the same time cries on the other side of the camp had drawn all attention away as some of Aranarth’s Men crept close enough to send a barrage of stones into the tents, felling a number of soldiers and toppling a couple of pavilions before disappearing back into the night.  By the time it was noticed that three of the wagons of supplies were alight, the five Hobbits were already halfway back to their own camp.

            Once they were back they could tell easily which wagon had been covered by the spirits as it blazed a bright blue as opposed to the yellow and orange flames of the other wagons.  The one carrying the lantern blew it out before passing out sprays of evergreen branches to his companions.  “We must decorate somehow,” he said, a conspiratorial smile on his face.  “After all, it’s Yule!”

            The others laughed, and hearts lifted as the longest night of the year was lit by the brightest of bonfires they could imagine.

For Erulisse for her birthday.

An Enemy Unmasked

            Celeborn paced back and forth through the rooms in which they dwelt in Celebrimbor’s halls.  “I simply cannot understand, vanimelda, why he continues to listen to the words of this Annatar.  I cannot trust the creature, whatever he is, at all, no matter how I try.  His nature simply fails to ring true.  He is no Elf, of that I am certain; nor is he a Man of any sort.  And so, what is he?”

            Galadriel Artanis gazed at him over her goblet.  “Almost his fëa reminds me of that of our lady Melian, but far darker.”

            He turned his intense gaze upon her.  “Think you that this Lord of Gifts--” his tone made of curse of that; “--that he is in fact from among the Maiar?”

            “I cannot say, not for certain.”

            He thought for a moment before adding, “Elrond does not trust him, and would not treat with him.  He warned Celebrimbor against him, in fact.”

            She nodded.  “I know.  Nor will Círdan or Ereinion Gil-galad allow him near their lands.”

            He sat down heavily in a chair.  “Then what are we to do?  I fear that if our lord continues as he does that Annatar will betray him—indeed he will most likely betray us all!  And I do not like this idea of creating Rings of Power.  I would not see our people compelled to listen to a ruler solely because he wears such a thing upon his hand.”

            She again nodded, and stared down into the cup of pale wine she held.  Her breath disturbed its surface for a moment, but then the liquid stilled.  And, as it stilled, it began to grow darker, as if it held clouds of smoke.

            “Ah!” she exclaimed shortly, her attention caught by the images that formed within the cup.  She saw orcs and wargs, fell Men and trolls, advancing toward Ost-in-Edhil, and at their head Annatar himself, but wearing dark armor, each scale of which was inscribed with dark words written in the fair script of Tengwar.  And on his hand----

            Celeborn watched her cheeks grow bloodless, her eyes widen, her pupils dilating and her nostrils flaring with distress.  “What is it?” he demanded, although his voice was almost deathly quiet.

            At last she broke her gaze away from the pictures of war and destruction that had formed in her cup.  “We must speak with the Dwarves, Celeborn.  Evil and death bear down on us even now.  Celebrimbor will not listen to us, but Dúrin may.  We will need to assure that as many as possible will be able to flee at a moment’s notice through Khazad-dûm to the security of Amroth’s lands, there in his valley between the Silverlode and the Anduin.”

            His face was almost as pale as her own as he reached out to set his hand over hers.  “You have seen this?  And Annatar, he is indeed a deceiver?”

            “More than that,” she whispered.  “He is the Deceiver!”

            He paused, shock taking him as he realized the true name of their enemy.

           

Nath asked for something that was not based on Tolkien's Arda.  So, I thought to do a dribble based on ...

On Fairy Tales

 

Dragons!

Devious.  Dangerous.

Destructive, deceitful, deadly.

How I desired them!

How I sought for them!

To find dragons in one’s life

would make that life so very fascinating.

Excitement is something we all wish to experience

at least once before we must find our way

outside the boundaries of the world, into the Father’s presence.

Written for the LOTR Community "Summertime Blues" fixed-length ficlet challenge.  372 words.  Beta by Fiondil.

The Only Choice

            “We cannot go home again?  We must leave our children, friends, and people all to their own fates?”

            Even so, child.  But think:  Sirion is no more.  The Fëanorians have destroyed it.  Is this not why Elwing is here with thee rather than there—dead?

            “But our children----”

            They at least are safe.  Neither Macalaurë nor Maitimo will suffer any more violence or grief to befall them.

            “It was not so with Elwing’s brothers.”

            That was not due to the will of either.  Indeed, Maitimo sought diligently for them.  He gave over searching for them only when it was indeed too late to save them.

            “You know this?”

            Yea, we know this.

            “And, then, what will become of us?”

            The choice lies before you:  to bind yourselves to either the fate of the Eldar or the Edain.

            “So you have told us.”

            Thy choice, Eärendil?

            “I must choose for both?  She wishes to live as an Elf, and I a Man.”

            And thou wouldst sunder the two of you?

             “No.”

            Then which?

            “But why can we not return?”

            Because neither can survive there.  As child of Melyanna and using the power of the Silmaril, in the desperation to save all who yet survived, Elwing took flight as a seabird and so found thee.  In doing so, most of what was mortal in her was burned away.  She gave the holy jewel into thy keeping, and in using it to find the way to Aman, thou, too, wast shorn of most of thy mortality. 

            “Then, there is no true choice, is there?”

            No.

            “Then what is to become of us?”

            We would honor thee.  Thou hast borne the Silmaril faithfully, seeking not thine own glory but for the needs of all.  Indeed, thou hast borne the hope of all upon thy breast along with the jewel.  We would have thee continue to be the Herald of holy Estel.

 (*)

            They robed him in azure and transfigured his ship.  A diadem they wrought for him and bound it to his brow, and he was lifted upon Manwë’s winds to sail the Seas of Night, ever the one to kindle hope anew within the hearts of those who dwell here, here in Middle Earth.

 

Written for the LOTR Community "In the Eye of the Beholder" Challenge, inspired by Erulisse's drawing of those watching the burning of the swan ships on Feanor's orders.  Beta by Fiondil.

Regrets on the Burning of Ships

            “You did not stand with Atto and the rest of us upon the beach, Maitimo.”

            Maitimo looked up to search his brother’s shadowed eyes.  “Should I have, Macalaurë?  Ought I to have stood by our father while he made of us not only murderers but also traitors to our own?  I know he does not love his brothers by our grandfather’s second wife; but to have left them and our cousins and so many of our people stranded upon the shore after promising to send the ships to fetch them----How will they come, think you?”

            “They can follow the path taken by the Black Enemy!” Macalaurë assured him.

            “But he is one of the Valar, while they are clad in flesh and blood.  What is the ice bridge of the Helcaraxë to one such as he?  What will it do to those of the Noldor who come that way?  Have you considered that, my brother?”

            Maitimo rose from the stump on which he’d been sitting, and looked at where the rest of the party sought to make shelters out of freshly felled trees.  “It is not only smithing that I studied under Lord Aulë, you must understand.  He has spoken to me of the shapes of both Aman and Middle Earth, and the nature of the lands of both.  I once thought to travel perhaps by foot from one to the other that I might see where it was that our people awoke in Arda, and stand by the Waters of the Awakening where our grandparents were joined.  And he told me why it was that we were brought to Aman by way of Tol Eressëa instead of by way of the Helcaraxë.  It is cold, Macalaurë—so cold that the water of the Sea itself is frozen into ice that can burn the flesh as surely as does fire.  And the ice does not stand still, but is constantly broken by the water deeper underneath, causing gaping fissures that can open with great suddenness and close as rapidly, with deadly potential.  He warned me that should I seek to come by that way, it was likely that many in my party would not live to reach the other side.  And with no light but starlight, and with little of that most of the way as clouds form frequently over the ice, it could take years of toil to make the crossing.

            “How many of our women and children will never live to see these lands, Macalaurë?  How many men will be cut off from family and friends when they go forth from the companies to hunt for food and furs or to seek the safest paths to go forward, and never return to those they love?”

            Macalaurë’s face had gone pale.  “I did not know!”

            “Our father knows.”  Maitimo’s voice was as cold as the ice he’d described.  “He was there when I spoke of this proposed journey with Lord Aulë, and at the time forbade me to consider it further, for he told me that he loved me and those who might be moved to accompany me too well to see us lost to such a foolish and needless enterprise.  Yet that is what he has doomed our uncles and cousins and those who accompany them to!  Why else did he seek the ships of the Teleri for our own transport, do you think?”

            Again his brother protested, “But I did not know this!” shaking his head.

            “How could you?”  The two eldest sons of Fëanáro and Nerdanel stood looking at one another, the younger stricken and the older grim.  At last Maitimo looked away, striking his thighs with his open palms as he cried out, “This is what we have been brought to—breakers of the Peace of the Valar, rebels against the Valar who only wished us good, kinslayers and the basest of thieves, and now traitors to our own.  Ever has the Black Enemy hated the Elves, and particularly those of the Noldo clan; and now he had achieved his intention to destroy us utterly.  And we, you and I and our brothers, must stand by our father in all he chooses to do, having taken the oath he demanded of us.  And what will that oath drive us to in the future, do you think?  And will we ever see Ñolofinwë or Arafinwë or any of their children again?  Turucáno is accompanied by his wife and children, and Itirildë is little better than a child, as we both know.  Will any of them survive the grinding ice?”

            “Nothing will stop Artanis,” muttered Macalaurë, to which his brother gave a strangled chuckle, surprising them both.

            “No, whatever might betide the rest, she will make it,” Maitimo agreed.  “As for what the oath will make of us in the future—I dread to learn that.”

            Both brothers shuddered at the thought of what that might prove to be.

-~0~-

This story was inspired by this picture by Erulisse that she did for the January art challenge for the LOTR Community:  http://lotr-community.livejournal.com/182939.html#cutid1

In turn, my story inspired Sunny, known on LJ as Urania, to do this picture:   http://urania-12.livejournal.com/

Both are beautiful!  Thanks to both of you!

Written for the LOTR Community Harvest challenge.  For Peregrin Ionad for her birthday.  Beta by RiverOtter.

He Who would be Lord of the Harvest

            He had learned that he had little control over the holders of the Seven, and so he had sent out dragons and hordes of orcs to take the Rings away from the Dwarf lords who’d held them.  Why should those who refused to allow themselves to be ruled by their Rings continue to profit by them?  He’d coaxed Celebrimbor and his smiths to craft them so that he, not the holders of the Rings, should in the end reap the harvest nurtured by the use of the Rings of Power, after all! 

            For a long time the last of the Dwarven Rings eluded him, that one having been crafted by Celebrimbor himself and bestowed by the Elf upon Dúrin there in Khazad-dûm.  It had taken much patience and a certain level of luck before it had come to him in the end, as the Dwarf Thráin the Second, slightly addled by age, grief at the death of his father, and the loss of his own kingdom under the Mountain, had wandered at last close enough to Dol Guldur that he could be taken prisoner and the last Ring could be wrested from him. 

            Sauron could have allowed the Dragon to take Thráin, he supposed, although that would have meant he would have lost that Ring for good, either swallowed with the Dwarf and melted in the furnace of the Dragon’s gut, or made a part of the Dragon’s hoard.  But Sauron could sow no future harvests if he had none of the Rings crafted for Dwarves to bestow on the unwary in the future.  He wished the holders of all of the Rings of Power to belong to him, even as did the holders of the Nine!  What a fine sheaf the Nazgûl formed, bowing before him and ever serving his will!  He had sought to—adjust—those Rings that had come back into his possession so that when they were given out anew he would be better able to influence their wielders, although it would have been easier if he were able to wear his own Ring.

            As for those who held the Three—well, the identities of two of those he knew well enough.  One was the cursed witch there in her Golden Wood, and the other Elrond of Imladris, neither of whom had ever trusted him.  The third he was uncertain of.  Perhaps whoever it was dwelt there in Imladris alongside Elrond, or it might be that both Lord and Lady of Laurelindórenan were Ringbearers.  He had once believed that Círdan might have been given the third Ring, perhaps by Ereinion Gil-galad.  But if so, Círdan had never used its power, not that Sauron could detect.  But those of his Nazgûl who had traveled past the entrance to the Firth of Lhûn insisted that they failed to sense any power similar to that held in their own Rings anywhere in the region, and definitely not in the past two thousand years of the Sun.

            On occasion they spoke of a whiff of power sensed upon the wind, but never twice in the same place.  He’d certainly chosen to have his new stronghold of Dol Guldur built on the ruins of Oropher’s palace in hopes of possibly finding that the third Ring for the Elves might have come into the keeping of the King of the Wood Elves.  If so, Oropher had not taken it with him into the siege of Mordor, however.  But then, none of the holders of the Three would dare to wear their Rings then, not while he still wore the One.

            Thranduil had left his father’s stronghold, having had a new keep delved from the living rock of the stone hill that rose in the midst of his forest.  But although he wielded potent magics of his own, still Thranduil had employed Dwarves to help carve out the new halls for himself and those of his people who dwelt under his direct protection.  Surely that would not have been necessary had he worn that third Ring!  So, if Oropher had possessed it, that indicated he must have secreted it somewhere within the foundations of his palace.  But by now Sauron’s creatures had investigated each least stone or panel of wood used by the Elves in crafting the place, and nowhere had they found any trace of the third Ring, or any taste of such power having lain anywhere within its environs.

            Without his own Ring Sauron could not approach either Artanis’s lands or Elrond’s, and so he could not settle the question as to who might hold that third.

            Instead, he intensified the hunt for his own missing Ring.  He sensed that It no longer lay at the bottom of the Anduin, but where It now dwelt he could not say.  If It lay warded about by water It could remain hidden from him.  But he was determined that, one way or another, at least twelve of the nineteen and their bearers should be under his control.  Three Rings of the Dwarves he now held.  Should he offer them in return for information, perhaps he could have a fuller sheaf of rulers bowing down to him, even without the One again upon his hand!

            It was a strategy worthy of further study….

For Antane, Armariel, and Fiondil for the inspiration each gave to this tale, and to Lindelea, Febobe, Virtuella, Harrowcat, Linda Hoyland, and Dreamflower for their support at what has been a bad time for me.

The Burden of the Swan-headed Boat

            He who crafted the swan-headed boats for the Galadhrim had been among those who had come in the train of Findaráto across the Helcaraxë into Middle Earth.  His mother had been of the Noldor, while his father had been of the Teleri, and had come into the service of the House of Finwë when the Lady Eärwen married Arafinwë.  Always his father had served his princess, going with her to Tirion from Alqualondë as one of her personal guards, and marrying one of the ladies-in-waiting to the Lady Findis.  His atto had taught him the secrets of carving watercraft, and together they had created a number of smaller boats, each swan-headed, for the children of their Lady to sail in the ornamental lakes and streams that filled the royal park.

            When Arafinwë turned back to return to Tirion and judgment, the younger boat-carver had continued stubbornly on, sickened by what they’d found in the city from which his father had come, and feeling particularly tainted having learned that Fëanor (he refused to ever again give that one his Quenya name) had himself slain his uncle on the quays of Alqualondë.  He’d intended to take personal vengeance upon the one he saw as the instigator of their misery, his fury at Finwë’s oldest son alone keeping him going across the grinding ice; but when they arrived at last again upon solid ground it was to learn that Fëanor had died at the hands of Morgoth’s creatures almost as soon as he’d made landfall.

            Before he’d come away, the carver’s mother had given him a necklace set with black jewels crafted by Mahtan to remember her by, and he kept it ever with him.  He considered himself as a part of the household of Findaráto, and he dwelt with his Lord in Nargothrond until the coming of Celegorm, at which time he left Finrod’s service and went to dwell at Balar instead.  Too much did Celegorm, of all of Fëanor’s sons, remind him of the ellon’s hated father, and he would not remain where that one was accepted.

            In Balar he served Círdan for a time, and learned that each time a ship was crafted intended to sail between the Hitherlands and Aman a jewel from Aman was set within each eye carved upon the swan’s head of its prow to lead them Home.  This was an open secret among the Falathrim, but was not shared with those among the Edain who learned the art of shipbuilding from them.  He helped Eärendil to construct his ship Vingilot, but although this one had more than his share of elvish blood, none of those who had a hand in the construction of the ship would share with him the secret of the gems.  So it was than when in time Eärendil sought to sail to Aman to beg the aid of the Valar against Morgoth, he sailed in a ship blind to the way, and it took the arrival of his wife in the form of a seabird with the Silmaril upon her breast to bring him the guidance needed to arrive at last upon the shores of the Blessed Lands.

            During the Second Age of the Sun the boat-carver passed into the service of Findaráto’s sister, following her first to Eregion and then into Laurelindórenan.  Here at last he found an unexpected peace dwelling in the Golden Wood that his new Lady caused to grow there east of the Hithaeglir.  Here he again carved pleasure craft for her as he’d done as a young ellon within Tirion, and each time he created a new boat he set within each eye of the swan-headed prow one of the black gems he’d take from his mother’s necklace.  When Artanis Galadriel asked him to choose three of the sturdiest of his smallest boats to gift to the Fellowship, he’d considered within himself as to whether he should remove the gems, but in the end, moved by some unspoken guidance he felt within his heart, he let them remain.  And as he saw the son of Thranduil admiring the workmanship of the three craft, he found himself pressing upon the golden-haired archer a small silk bag that held two more of the gems he’d recently prised from the necklace, having intended to use them in creating a new boat for his own use.  “For the eyes,” he’s murmured to Legolas Thranduilion as he’d slipped the bag into the archer’s hands.  He’d seen the lack of comprehension in the wood-elf’s eyes, but he was certain that when the time came Legolas would realize their purpose.  For this Elf he recognized as one who would in time choose to sail to Aman.

            As he watched the three silver boats sail away down the Silverlode toward Anduin the Great, he felt an unexpected lightening of his heart, for a whisper from the river itself told him that at least one of these would find its way Home.  He called upon Ulmo to bless these and their occupants, and turned away from the river with a song upon his lips, one he’d last sung in Balar.

*******

            Falmalótë of the people of Ulmo found the small, grey, swan-headed boat floating upon the surface of the Sea north of Tol Eressëa, and drew it to the mainland and through the archway toward the quays of Alqualondë.  The boat was filled with water, and within the water lay preserved the body of a warrior who had apparently died of multiple arrow wounds.

            “He is none of the Eldar,” murmured the one who’d discovered this boat drawn up by his own fishing vessel.

            “Nay, he is of the Edain,” agreed Prince Findaráto, who had come with his mother Eärwen to visit her parents’ people.  “And he is of the house of Barahir, a distant descendant of Beren, I would judge.  See the color of the hair, the turn of the nose, the width of the brow, and the cleft in the chin?”

            Eärwen, who had been inclined to bid her son turn away from what she believed must bring back to him terrible memories, paused at the respect she heard in his voice as he indicated these were aspects of Men he’d known, honored, and even loved.  She gave the body a full examination, putting aside her prejudices against the Mortal Lands for the yéni they has stolen from her of her children’s presence.  At last she looked up to meet the gaze of her son, himself returned to her through Námo’s halls.  “Do you remember, beloved, how perhaps a yen past one came to us from Tol Eressëa naming herself Mithrellas, bringing us word of Nerwen Artanis, telling us that now she is named Galadriel?  Does he not also have the look of her?  Regard the set of the mouth, and the shape of the hands.  For all this one is clearly one of the Second-born, still there is about him that which speaks to me of the Eldar.”

            “And how is it he came here, and in a craft clearly wrought by one of our people?” asked the master of the ship by which they stood.

            The Noldo Prince knelt and scooped out a handful of the liquid that bathed the fallen Man and tasted it.  “It is fresh water, and mostly from a river of Endorë,” he pronounced.  “Some is from rainfall, I admit; but this tastes of the Mortal Lands, carrying with it the sorrows and triumphs of those lands and their peoples.”

            But one of Eärwen’s guards had come forward with no thought of protocol, his attention fixed upon the small silver-grey craft itself.  “I know this work!” he said in wonder.  “It was carved by my son—I know it!  My son—he yet lives in the Mortal Lands!”

            “But how is it that such a small boat, one clearly intended for use in sailing upon a lake or a river, managed to come unhurt across the Sundering Sea and by way of the Straight Path?” demanded his fellow.

            It was Eärwen’s father who discovered the secret as he examined the carved swan’s head on its prow.  “There are jewels set in the eyes,” Lord Olwë said, indicating what appeared to be the pupils.  “These were crafted here in Aman, and by a Noldo smith of master class!”

            The first guard leaned to peer more closely at the nearer gem, and he began to smile.  “His ammë’s necklace that I gave her when he was born—these gems are from that necklace!  She gave it to him to remember her by when he left to follow the rest!  Mahtan himself wrought the jewels, and set them in the necklace!”

            “And these jewels led it here to our shores,” Olwë added.  “So it is with our Falathrim kindred who craft the ships by which those who return here sail from Endorë, setting the eyes of the swans’ heads with jewels from Tirion to help them find the Straight Path and to lead them to Tol Eressëa.”

            “He was a landsman,” the ship’s master noted, his attention still fixed on the body of the warrior, “and not a sailor himself.” 

            Findaráto indicated his agreement.  “A warrior.  His weapon of choice is the sword whose hilt lies yet with him.  Not for him a watery grave, for all his body was apparently given to the river to preserve it from desecration by his enemies.”  He reached for one of the stubs of arrows still protruding from rents in the Man’s garb, and it came away in his hand with little hurt to the body.  He examined it with growing distaste.  “The work of yrch,” he pronounced. 

            The air was beginning to shimmer with the arrival of Maiar, and Eonwë himself, attended by others in the liveries of Manwë, Vairë, Estë, Nienna, Ulmo, Aulë, and Námo, appeared about the small craft.  The gathered Elves bowed in respect, and Olwë spoke for them.  “Welcome, Lords and Ladies all.  We are uncertain as to what we should do with the body of this one, who apparently fell in the Mortal Lands after facing creatures twisted by Melkor and his fell servant.  Shall we lay him within the earth here, or perhaps build a tomb to house his body?  Or is it even meet that his remains should have come here from the wilds of Endorë, and should they be returned to Ulmo’s care?”

            Manwë’s herald looked at the broken arrow held by Findaráto and shook his head slightly.  “Not by Melkor or he who was once known as Aulendil were those who slew this one last meddled with, but by one we’d thought to be of our own.  I grieve to know that another of our brothers has fallen to the Black One’s blandishments, but this is not the first time, and perhaps may not prove the last time, either.  We were sent to bring this one’s hröa to the Máhanaxar, that our Masters and Mistresses might decide what is to be done.  Ere he died he was sorely tried, but repented his errors and knew forgiveness before he breathed his last.”

            A female Maia leaned over the boat, her face filled with compassion.  “Also, he fell defending two of his fellows who were not raised as he was to warfare.  They each did as he could to protect himself and his kinsman, and together they sought even to protect him as their enemies closed in about him.  But the orcs sent against them were told to capture those two and to kill all within their company who were warriors, and they left this one dying ere the others with them could return to their aid.  He fought bravely and well, but archers are harder to protect oneself from than those who wield swords.”

            Findaráto asked, “Was he indeed descended from Barahir and Beren?”

            Eonwë smiled at him.  “Indeed, distantly.  There are others more directly descended from those two and Elros Tar-Minyatur than he, however.  But none can question his nobility, or his courage.”  So saying, he leaned down and took up the body in his arms with great gentleness, as if the fallen warrior were likely to waken if jostled.

            The Teleri guard stepped forward.  “The boat—was it indeed carved by my son?”

            The female Maia examined him.  “And if it was?”

            “Then he might yet return to me!”

            She looked on him with compassion.  “He who carved this boat has served well in the Mortal Lands.  The decision is his, however, as to when and if he will return here and face judgment and accept forgiveness.”

            With that, those who had accompanied Eonwë gathered about him, and the party shimmered out of sight, leaving the night scented with flowers and herbs, and the Elves gathered by the quay were smiling and heartened in spite of themselves.

 *******

            Those gathered in the Ring of Doom looked down on the Maiar who appeared in the midst of the circled thrones, and at the body of the one carried in the arms of Eonwë.

            So he is come at last, and to our shores.

            Ulmo, who came rarely enough to these gatherings, shifted on his throne, and the reflection of light from water filled the circle, touching the face of the fallen warrior.  When he was given to my keeping in such a manner, and in such a craft, what else might I have done with his hröa?  He gave all that the two companions of the Cormacolindo might survive, and he should have his reward.  We have agreed that all three of the Cormacolindor might come here, each in his time, and that the Naugrim Gimli might accompany his friend Legolas Thranduilion.  Shall not those of the Edain not also be represented, considering their efforts in facing the evil of Sauron, which after all was inherited from our own fallen brother?

            But, objected Vána, his fëa is already in the keeping of our brother Námo.  And how are we to honor this representative of the race of Men when his body is already empty of the flame given him at his birth?

            Manwë looked from her visage to that of his brother in question.  Her query is meet, is it not, Námo?  What more can be done now for him, when there is no indwelling spirit within the body of this Child?  Nor was this one brought living to Tol Eressëa as has been granted to the others, but dead here to Aman itself.  Even if you were to restore fëa to hröa, he would not live long here, where the air itself would cause the flame within him to burn more brightly than his mortal frame could bear.

            Námo merely shook his head.  There is a reason he was brought here after his death, and a purpose intended for him.  His spirit may dwell in my halls for now, now that he has fled the confines of his body but has not yet stepped beyond the Circles of Arda, but there is a blessed fate intended for him.  For he recognized not only the extent of his own sins, but also that of those who gave birth to his lineage.  He repented and accepted forgiveness, and has no need of further judgment from us, for it was to the one intended of be the High King of the Edain he confessed and from whom he accepted forgiveness.  Even though he had not yet crowned, yet he was already the Sacred King, empowered to offer absolution beyond our ability to judge and dispense with doom.  Evil has failed to take him as it intended, and now he will lead others to face their true purpose.

            Vairë examined the face of her spouse.  The Sleepers? she asked.

            He merely smiled at her.

 *******

            Vána danced with Yavanna and Nessa about the body of Boromir son of Denethor, and youth and fullness were restored to it.  Nienna wept over it, tears of grief, rightful and selfless pride, and joy, and it was cleansed of all its hurts.  Estë and Tulkas together anointed the body, and the wounds were healed, the skin made whole, the sinews again knit together in strength.  Aulë took the hilt of the sword that had remained clutched in the warrior’s grip and wrought for it a new blade, one that would never break and that would shine as brightly as Andúril as it was wielded against the foe.  Vairë took the rent garments and remade them, enriching them with mithril images of Moon and Stars, and embroidering a great golden sunburst over Boromir’s heart.  Oromë gifted the renewed warrior with a new horn, and a sheath of dragon’s hide to house his renewed sword.  Varda herself kissed his forehead in blessing, and replaced the silver belt of green-enameled leaves about his waist, setting one of her smallest stars to shine at its fastening.  And Manwë set a kingly helm and a great shield beside the body as it lay upon the bier where it had rested as these ministrations were performed upon it, laying his hand upon the warrior’s breast and hallowing him to his new purpose.

            At last Ulmo and Irmo took the body and brought it to its new resting place, in a cavern filled with the hröar of other mortal warriors who had once thought to follow Pharazôn to seize the secret of immortality from the Powers of the West, only to find that true everlasting life was quite different from remaining in one body for all of eternity.  For over an Age of the Sun the bodies had lain here, their fëar in a long sleep, awaiting the day when their might and weapons would be needed to redeem themselves as they faced the Master of him they had known as Zigûr, the one who had betrayed them by convincing them that they could avoid death.  Ah, but they had lost their lives in vain striving for what they had never lacked, and would awaken to the final battle having lost the chance to know any other fulfillment. 

            Námo returned to his halls to speak to one of those who dwelt in the Hall of the Dúnedain, and showed him what had been done to his body.  Will you accept this commission, when the Last Day dawns? he asked.

            Boromir laughed in joy and delight.  “Of course!  What other purpose have I ever wished than to strike the greatest blow against those who would destroy all of what I ever held dear?”

            Then you will accept being consigned in time once more to the body you once bore, and will lead those who until this time never knew the purpose for which they were truly intended?

            “If you wish it, I will gladly become their Captain General.  Let those who think only of domination and destruction quail in the face of our valor, my lord.”

            The Lord of Mandos returned to make his report to his fellows, well content with the outcome of his mission.

 *******

            The Ringbearer slept upon the couch he considered his, the light of Varda’s stars shining upon him through the open casements of the room in which he and his kinsman rested.  The room was filled with the scent of athelas from the plant that grew in a stoneware pot upon the windowsill near his head, and the Maia sent to summon him paused, delighting in the beauty of the slight body and the mithril purity of its pulsing Light of Being.

            Olórin smiled down on his friend, and leaned over to speak softly in his ear.  “Frodo, will you come with me?  Lord Irmo has something he would show to you.”

            Frodo looked up, smiling sleepily.  “He would show me something?  Where would you take me?”  He rose up, then stopped, surprised.  He looked back at the couch, where his body still rested, then looked up in question to meet the former Wizard’s eyes.

            You do not need your body for this, Iorhael.  Let it rest and be renewed while you go where it cannot safely travel.  Take my hand.

            Frodo found himself in a cavern that was filled with shimmering light emanating from a pool that filled much of the floor of the place.  He looked about, somewhat puzzled, at the multitude of warriors that filled the vast hall, each with his weapons by him, helm on his breast, shield across his feet.  One lay somewhat apart at the far side of the room, the body of an aging Man dressed in gilded armor, a sword surely one his age must have found difficult to wield lying with his hands resting upon its hilts, its blade unsheathed.

            Ar-Pharazôn the Golden, he named himself.  And this is what he has come to, he and those who voyaged with him in his great armada that served no purpose at the time.

            The Hobbit looked upon the body of the failed King of Númenor with pity.  Too bad he did not realize earlier the vain nature of his quest.  As for why anyone should wish to live forever, unable to get away from pain and grief, I cannot imagine!  I do not envy the Elves their apparent immortality, I have found.

            But, then, you were ever rightly named, Iorhael.  But that is not why you were brought here.

            Frodo turned to regard the one who’d spoken.  No Elf this, and no Maia, either.  His eyes had depths to them that the Hobbit felt he could easily lose himself within, and his hand lay upon a bier that was different from those on which the other warriors lay.  On it lay a familiar form, and Frodo felt wonder fill him.  Boromir!  Boromir lies—here?

            The Vala’s head turned to look down at the Man’s face.  Yea, so it is and shall be.  Let it be a warrior who has truly faced evil and who has mastered it lead the rest of these when their day shall come.

            Frodo felt himself smiling, and his Light of Being shone the brighter.  He called out after me that he realized he’d been taken by It, and that he repented what he’d sought to do.  But I do not blame him.  How could I, knowing how It tormented me, and how It promised what I knew It could not in the end fulfill, as It could only destroy, not create?  At least he inspired me at last to do what I knew I must if the Ring were to be brought to the Mountain to Its destruction.  And he will lead the rest?  That would please him mightily, to know he led the army of Men who would help destroy the Enemies of us all.

            The Vala’s face shone in approval as he laid his hand upon the shining head of his mortal guest.  I am told he has indeed accepted this commission, and will gladly waken to his body again when the time comes, and will see these serve their rightful duty to stand against the forces of Darkness.  That you would approve of this was desired, and I rejoice to know that you have let go all fear and anger you ever held toward this beloved Child of Eru.  Those who fight against the Dark, whether through force of arms or through endurance and faithfulness, are all worthy of our respect and honor.

            Frodo awoke just before dawn again upon his couch, his light silken blanket over him, listening to the soft snore of Bilbo as he yet slept.  Bilbo would not linger much longer, he knew, but somehow that thought no longer filled him with pain.  Somehow the knowledge that Boromir the Bold lay in a blessed rest, awaiting the day when he should indeed fight amongst the warriors who would oppose Melkor’s returning horde gave him assurance that all would be well, no matter what might happen to those he loved throughout the Bounds of Arda.  He rose up, carelessly straightening the blanket over the cushions on which he’d slept, and stepped to the window that faced east.  There he began to sing as the Sun rose in the sky, the Sun that had already risen hours ago over the King he loved and the kinsmen and brothers of the heart he’d left behind in Middle Earth.  And all rejoiced who heard that song, including Bilbo as he awoke, gladdened to know that even more healing had come to his beloved lad.

 *******

            The ship that carried Master Samwise Gamgee to Tol Eressëa finally disgorged its final passenger, as one who’d once followed Lord Findaráto to Middle Earth now followed his latest lord off onto the quays of Avallóne.  Today, he knew, he was lordless at last, and he felt somewhat lost as a result.  Celeborn needed no guards or followers here, and with his reunion with wife and daughter his attention was upon his new life rather than his old one or those who’d served him in Lórien or Imladris.

            He looked about almost helplessly, suddenly at a loss to know why he’d decided to come now.  Who would remember the son of a mere guardsman to the Lady Eärwen, after all?

            But then he heard a once familiar voice call his name.  “Artos!  My son!  Artos!  Here!”

            He turned to look at the water, dumbfounded to see a familiar silver boat being rowed toward him, his father in the prow, his uncle, apparently reborn, at the stern, his mother in between, their faces alight with joy.  The paddles he’d once carved for this craft had been replaced by different ones, most likely carved by his own father.

            Suddenly he knew why he’d come—because he’d hoped, hoped beyond all expectation, that he might know just such a welcome.  And his joy leapt up in his breast as he leaned down to take his father’s hand….

 *******

            The chamber rocked, and a wall shivered away to rubble as the Last Day dawned, the Sun red as it shone into the cavern.

            “Wake up, you slug-a-beds!” Boromir roared, one hand on his hip, his sword’s point grounded on the floor of the place.  “Up and doing!  Take up your swords, your bows, your pikes and spears, your catapults, and all other weapons you might have, and let us go forth to face the foe!  Up!  Up, all of you!  You too, Pharazôn!  You wanted to conquer something, didn’t you?  Well, the day is come, and it’s time to be ready to fight.  And fight you shall, even if it’s a far different foe than you’d first envisioned.  Why do you think you have all lain here for so long, except for this day?  Strange, that in Middle Earth Aragorn should find himself seeking out the restless Dead to bring them to fight for him that they might fulfill their vows and find peace, while I must rouse the sleeping living for the same purpose.  Come on!  The Enemy won’t wait until you rub all of the sleep out of your eyes!  Fall in!  Yes, that means you, too, Pharazôn!  I am the commander here, not you.  Again, and I mean it—fall in!”

            He reached down and swept up the helm readied for him and set it upon his head, and took his shield upon his left arm.  “Now is our time!” he called to the others.  “Today, we fight!”

            “Today, we fight!” echoed the rest in agreement, including Pharazôn, who followed after the rest as they streamed out of the cave after Boromir son of Denethor to wreak vengeance on the one who’d betrayed them all and his own Master who was more fell still.  And as they went, Pharazôn knew he was no better—and no lower—than the Man who led them.

 

Written for the LOTR Community Yule Gift Exchange, for Huinárë.

Seeking Adventure

            Hildifons Took sat upon a fallen log in a clearing on one side of the Road leading from the Brandywine Bridge eastward toward Bree, staring across toward the beginning of the Barrow-downs.  “Fascinating!” he murmured to himself.  “And it’s full of wights, they say?”

            “That it is,” said an unexpected voice, causing the Hobbit to start in surprise.

            Hildifons turned and found himself looking up—and up.  Now, as the son to Gerontius Took, Hildifons was no stranger to Big Folk.  After all, the Wizard, Gandalf the Grey, was a frequent visitor to the Great Smial, and many a peddler came once or twice a year.  Even the mysterious Rangers and occasionally a Dwarf and once even an Elf had come there to consult with the Thain of the Shire.  But he’d not seen this Big Person before.  He appeared to be a Man, but not dressed as any other Man he’d ever seen.  He was garbed in well worn brown robes over dark trousers and boots, with a leather cloak, his dark brown hair and beard heavily streaked with grey.  Hildifons’s attention was caught by the Man’s staff, however, and he realized that this must be another Wizard.  Hadn’t Gandalf told his father that there were other Wizards besides himself?  Hildifons thought he remembered hearing Gandalf mentioning there were at least two others in his order….

            Heartened by his identification of his new companion as possibly a Wizard, the Hobbit smiled as he rose to his feet.  “Are they as terrible as people say?” he asked with a nod toward the Barrow-downs.

            “Oh, but they are far worse, if that is possible,” the brown-clad person responded with a thoughtful look toward the nearest of the hillocks that were supposed to house the bones of the ancient dead as well as malevolent spirits.  “The Witch-king of Angmar drew the wights here to trouble those who travel the Road going either east to the mountains or west to the Sundering Sea.  He bore no love for Arnor or its peoples, you must understand.”

            “Arnor?” questioned Hildifons.  He rather thought he’d heard the name, although he couldn’t say when or where.  Perhaps it has been in one of the books from his father’s library, the very books that had inspired him to go outside the Shire and seek an adventure of his own.

            “Of old that was the name given to the lands of the King here in the north,” his companion answered, now searching the young Took’s face.  “The Sea-kings named the southern realm Gondor, and the northern one Arnor.”

            “That’s where I remember the name, then,” the Hobbit said.  “It’s in the charter that we were given when we were granted our land by the King.”

            The brown-clad Man’s eyebrows rose as he considered that.  “I see.”  He looked about him.  “I remember when I was first arrived here, when this land belonged to Cardolan.  That,” he said, indicating the Barrow-downs across from them, “was the royal cemetery where the kings and nobility of Cardolan and Arthedain were buried.  The King’s city was nearby on the banks of the river, beyond the Old Forest on this side of the Baranduin.  When Angmar managed to destroy the royal lineage of Cardolan the land reverted back to the control of the one remaining Dúnedain line, and became again a part of Arnor—until the last war between Arnor and the Witch-king when Angmar was utterly defeated and the Nazgûl fled away southwards to Mordor once more.  Aranarth, I am told, refused to name himself King in his father’s stead, and since that day his descendants have considered themselves merely the Chieftains of the Northern Dúnedain rather than the Kings of Arnor.  But perhaps one day the King might indeed return.”

            Hildifons snorted.  “For us, the phrase when the King returns indicates whatever it is you’re speaking of is most unlikely to ever come to be.”

            The Man laughed.  “I can appreciate that,” he said.  “Did you stop for your midday meal?  Would you mind if my companions and I were to join you?  I have some freshly harvested mushrooms in my bag, and my friend provided me with a new loaf of bread and a pot each of butter and honey before I left him about an hour since.”

            At the thought of adding mushrooms to his meal Hildifons brightened.  “You have a friend near here?” he asked.  “Where?”

            “He dwells in the heart of the Old Forest.  You might have heard of him.  He calls himself Tom Bombadil.  His wife baked the bread this morning.”

            “Then there is indeed someone living within the Old Forest?  My Brandybuck relatives speak of Tom Bombadil from time to time, but I’ve never met anyone who’s actually seen him.  Should we cook those mushrooms, or would you prefer them cut up into thin slices?  And what companions do you have?”

            Hildifons’ new friend introduced himself as Radagast the Brown, and admitted he was indeed a Wizard and that he knew Gandalf well.  His primary companion proved to be a young fox with a broken leg he’d heard crying in the woods this side of the Road and that he’d rescued and had been carrying beneath his cloak when he came upon Hildifons.  When a rook alighted upon his shoulder he explained that this was another of his companions, and that there were a number of birds who were likely to come and go while they were together.  “I rather like birds,” he explained, “and they appear to like to keep me company.  But I also like other creatures as well, and hate to see an animal in unnecessary pain.”

            Hildifons found himself helping the Wizard set the fox’s break, and was amazed at how much the creature appeared to be cooperating with them in spite of the pain it must have been enduring.  The Hobbit willingly sacrificed a few of the handkerchiefs he’d brought with him to make bandages with which to bind twigs on either side of the affected leg, and smiled to see the obvious relief the fox felt once the bone was properly aligned and stabilized.  Radagast then made a tea of sorts using certain herbs and fed it to the creature, and soon the fox was sleeping in a sling the Wizard fixed up under his cloak.

            The two of them then made a meal of the bread, honey, and mushrooms the Brown Wizard had named as well as some of the ham and cheese the Hobbit had brought in his own small pack.  They were starting to clean up their tin dishes at the stream that ran through a back corner of their clearing when they heard the stump of footsteps coming toward them.  Both looked down the road toward the Brandywine Bridge, and they saw approaching them a Dwarf with a pack on his back, using an axe as if it were a walking stick.  The Dwarf stopped once he reached them, examining both of them carefully.  “Hello, friend Radagast,” he rumbled.  “And what brings you to this side of the Misty Mountains?”

            “Oh, I come this way perhaps once or twice a century,” the Brown Wizard said.  “The land here also tends to suffer at times from the Enemy’s attentions, after all, and I do have a few friends in this area.  I’ll most likely stop a few days on my way home to visit with Elrond and learn the latest news being passed about amongst the Wise….”

            “And what is it that you are about?” asked the Dwarf of the Hobbit.

            Hildifons found the Dwarf’s question rather intrusive.  “What I’m about is my own affair,” he responded rather stiffly.  “Not that you and I have been properly introduced to begin with.”

            The Dwarf appeared surprised, even slightly chagrined.  “I beg your pardon,” he said.  “Dwalin son of Fundin, at your service.  I’m to visit with some of the petty Dwarves who live north of Fornost, and after that I’ll most likely be accompanying one of the trading missions heading for the Iron Hills where so many of our kin have settled.  I expect to return to the Blue Mountains with my brother Balin in perhaps a year’s time.  He’s been advising Dáin Ironfoot for the past fifty years or so, but he’s indicated he will be ready to return to Thorin’s side shortly.  Besides, he wishes to see Glóin’s new son.”

            Hildifons realized he’d mistaken Dwarf shortness for discourtesy and sought to make amends swiftly.  “Hildifons Took, at the service of you and your family,” he said with a hasty bow.  “I do apologize for appearing so rude.  As to what I am doing—well, I am intent on finding an adventure for myself.”

            Both the Wizard and the Dwarf appeared surprised.  “An adventure?  A Hobbit?” exclaimed Dwalin.  “Now, that is quite a surprise in and of itself!  And what has led you to make such a decision?”

            “And why not?” Hildifons asked, lifting his chin stubbornly.  “Men and Dwarves go on adventures all of the time, I understand, while the lives of Wizards appear to be nothing but adventures, or so it seems to me from what Gandalf has said.”

            Radagast and Dwalin exchanged looks, Radagast’s apparently amused and the Dwarf’s considering.  The Wizard returned his attention to the Hobbit.  “Certainly Gandalf has led quite an adventurous life here in Middle Earth,” he agreed.  “But I fear I’m nowhere as bold as he is.  Helping to heal that which has been hurt by evil is as adventurous as I tend to become, you must understand, my young friend.”

            Dwalin was shaking his head.  “Trust Tharkûn to lead such a one as this away from the settled life of his kind,” he sighed.  “And just what kind of adventure is it that you have in mind?”

            “Oh, I don’t know.”  But a long suppressed desire was making itself plainer in his thoughts.  He considered it for a moment before saying rather tentatively, “I’ve wanted for some time to see the place where we Hobbits came from.  It’s said that it was far, far away, near the valley of the greatest of rivers.”

            Again Dwarf and Wizard exchanged glances.  “We tell in our histories that once our halls east of the Misty Mountains were always built near villages of Hobbits,” Dwalin said.  “We would trade many of our finished goods for the extra crops they tended or for the cloth they wove, and sometimes would train their youngsters in the arts of working iron or preparing pots for the kiln.  But that was very long ago.  Few of our halls or mines remain on either the east or western slopes of the Misty Mountains—orcs, dragons, and worse creatures have seen to that.  And I do not know if any settlements of Hobbits remain east of the Misty Mountains or anywhere near the banks of the Anduin.”

            “We would leave those lands?  Why?”

            “For much the same reason as we did—because of the devastation left by orcs, dragons, and worse creatures!  Also, there were years of drought and wild fires that destroyed fields and crops as well as homes.  The lands through which the Anduin flows are not always hospitable, and the weather there is often chancy.  And Hobbits perhaps also drew the attentions of the Necromancer.  You might not gather treasure as do Dwarves and many Men, but he has never approved of seeing anyone merry or lighthearted.”

            “That is true enough,” agreed Radagast.  “The Necromancer makes a most unpleasant neighbor, even if I do not live right beside him as do the Elves of Mirkwood or the people of the Long Lake.  Most of my labor is to help revive lands and creatures destroyed by his servants and slaves, and the stars know there has been far too much of that!”

            “Could I go there—see those lands?” Hildifons asked, looking from one to the other.

            “Why?” asked the Dwarf practically.  “I sincerely doubt any of your people remain anywhere in the lands that feed into the great river.”

            “I only wish to see where it was we Hobbits came from.  Imagine what it would be like to return home to tell our people that I’ve been there, there where we awoke in Middle Earth, our first home!”

            “Would they thank or honor you for it?” demanded the Dwarf.  “Not from what I’ve seen of your people when I’ve traded at your Free Fair.  Few ever ask aught of us regarding the nature of the lands we inhabit, or might have come from.  They tend to shudder at our songs, and hurry their children away when we would think to share our stories.”

            “My father would appreciate it,” responded the Hobbit stubbornly.  “He’s a Took, after all—the family head for all of the Tooks, even, and he’s been outside the Shire himself.  It’s said he’s even been as far as Rivendell!”

            Radagast raised his head and examined his smaller companion with renewed interest.  “Your father has visited with Elrond of Imladris?”

            “Yes, and more than once.”  The Hobbit looked up at him with a level of defiance.  “Why shouldn’t I wish to see the lands from which we Hobbits came?” he repeated.

            “Why not indeed?” the Wizard asked.  “Well, if you should wish to see them, you may accompany me back across the Misty Mountains, and I shall show you what I know to be there to see.  And perhaps we shall also see the lands your people first inhabited when they crossed west of the Misty Mountains into Eriador.”

 ***

            It was the sons of Elrond who served as guide to show Hildifons Took where it was that his ancestors had once dwelt along the Mitheithil and other rivers of Eriador, and they told him what they remembered of coming to the aid of a group of Periannath who’d been attacked by trolls near where they’d descended from the High Pass.  “One Hobbit was severely injured, their guide, who was named Bilbiolo and who had dwelt here for several years before he crossed over the mountains to lead more of your people to more hospitable lands,” Elladan said.  “He had a hole here, in the ridge that used to stand here looking down upon the river, although that ridge is now long gone.  When the river floods it often changes its banks and the lands through which it runs.”

            “Why did they leave these lands?” asked Hildifons.

            “Because of the wars with Angmar,” Elrohir explained.  “Armies raged through these lands for hundreds of years as the Witch-king sought to see the land of Arnor destroyed.  Most of the husbandmen who dwelt in this region were removed westward where they would not be likely to be destroyed by the weapons of the enemy.  And the enemy came as much from what was once Rhudaur and the Brown Lands far to the south as they did from the north.  They troubled the lands farmed by the Dúnedain as well as those claimed by your people, stealing harvests to feed their own armies and slaying all who would have sought to stay their hands.  Arador’s ancestors were oft hard pressed to protect those who dwelt in this region.”

            “I remember how pleased Mithrandir appeared when he related to our adar that Argaleb the Second had granted lands west of the Baranduin to your people,” Elladan added.  “Both seemed to see that as a reason to hope better for the future.”

            Hildifons was fascinated by these tales, and came away from his visit to the site of the former Hobbit settlement along the Mitheithil with increased pride in the endurance shown by his ancestors.

            A month later, at the height of summer, Hildifons Took and Radagast the Brown descended the High Pass into the valley of the Anduin, and as he looked at the expanse of the great River, the Hobbit lost his heart anew to these lands where his ancestors had once lived.

 *******

             Periadoc Brandybuck, Pippin and Merry Gamgee-Gardner, and Faramir Took looked down on the maps spread out before them in the Citadel of Minas Anor.  “They have been building a road northward on the eastern side of the Misty Mountains?” Faramir asked.

            “Yes.  It was a plan first put forward by Isildur, and according to other records written at the same time as his description of the One Ring as he first experienced it, part of the reason he chose to return northward through the valley of the Anduin was to do a survey of those lands prior to ordering such a road built.  However, as you know, he did not make it further than the Gladden Fields, and when Meneldil refused to acknowledge his cousin Valandil as High King of the Dúnedain the project was forgotten.  And so it is that now I have seen to it that this second route is made safe for the journey to our northern lands.”  King Elessar smiled down at the indications that the Road had finally been completed to the entrance to the High Pass.

          The four young Hobbits felt excitement rising in their hearts.  As one they raised their eyes to meet those of their fathers’ friend.  “We want to go home that way,” Faramir said decisively.  “We want to see the route you took with our dads to come to Parth Galen from Lórien.  We want to see the pass Bilbo went over with the Dwarves to get to the Lonely Mountain.  We want to see the eaves of the Woodland Realm and the Carrock, and maybe the stone giants.”

          Merry asked, “And we’d love it if you could come with us at least part of the way, Lord Strider.”

          But the King was already shaking his head.  “I cannot, for too much has changed.  You have yet to learn what all must know one day—there is no true going back.  Lothlórien is not as it was when the Lady ruled there and the mellyrn grew at her will.  Few of the Galadhrim remain there, and the Golden Wood is already experiencing the throes of mortality.  It is not as your fathers remember it, much less how I remember it or how Frodo described it in the Red Book.  I will not say that you will not find much to wonder at when you come there, but it would clash too much with how I remember it.  Nay, it is better you come there to see it as it is, not to see my grief for what it was.”

          The four sons of the Travellers were considering his words when a page came and knocked at the open door to the office where they’d met with the King.  “Lord Elessar,” he said, “I regret to interrupt you, but one has come to the Citadel asking to meet with you.  He names himself Radagast the Brown?”  It was plain that the young Man had not the faintest idea why such a one as this Radagast might importune the King’s indulgence.

          He was more surprised when Pippin Gamgee-Gardner whooped with delight.  “Radagast?  Here?  This is wonderful.  We’ve none of us seen Radagast since we were mere lads when he came through the Shire to see what state Sharkey might have left it in.”

          His brother Merry was nodding enthusiastically. “I remember how our Sam-Dad blushed with pleasure when Mister Radagast told him that he’d proved as good as any Wizard or Elf at setting the land right again.”

          Faramir Took laughed with pleasure.  “And of course your dad was trying to say that it was more due to the gift of soil from the Lady’s garden and to the blessings offered him by Gandalf and Uncle Frodo than to his own work, and he was telling him how all over the Shire Hobbits came out to help him replant the trees and put right the damage done by Lotho’s Big Men at Sharkey’s orders.”

          “I remember my dad shaking his head and murmuring, ‘Isn’t that just like our Sam?’ to my mum,” added Periadoc Brandybuck.  “And Uncle Sam was even trying to insist that it was due to you, too, Lord Strider, with you able to wear and wield the Elessar stone.”

          The King beamed.  “Your father had the right of it—bless our beloved Sam!  Escort Lord Radagast here, Sephardin.  The Brown Wizard is ever welcome here in the White City and its Citadel.”

          Sephardin’s brows rose at the realization that this was the one Wizard known to remain within Middle Earth, and he hurried off to bring Radagast and the creatures that accompanied him to the King’s presence.

          It was a merry meeting, and the Hobbits made much of the young wolf and the doe that currently served as the Wizard’s four-legged companions, while the King’s son beamed when a gyrfalcon stepped readily from Radagast’s shoulder to his own.

          “I must say,” Radagast said as he accepted a mug of ale from a servant, “that I find the ability of mortals to mature so rapidly a matter of wonder to this day.  It seems merely yesterday I saw the four of you Hobbits and your families and you were but small children.  And you, my dear Eldarion—I think you were still but a babe in arms when last I met with your parents.”

          Queen Arwen and her daughters entered the room almost on the Brown Wizard’s heels, and he greeted and made over the young Princesses, and was given welcome by the daughter of Elrond, whose memories of him over so much of the past age were warm.

          It was after dinner that he explained that he had been laboring last in the wastes of what had been Mordor, far to the south and east.  “Those who had been Sauron’s slaves are finally beginning to do well by the land, but it has been difficult for them, as you have been apprised.  It has not been an easy experience for them to learn how to deal with their freedom after so long in captivity, and it has been even more difficult to learn to govern themselves rather than being told ever what to do and how it is to be done as has been true for so very long.  The advisors you have sent their way are doing well, and it is good that they are relieved every four years so that they do not come to think of themselves as the Nurnian’s new masters rather than merely teachers.  But I find now that I am hungry to return to Rhosgobel for a time, for it is far too long since I have dwelt in the peace of my own home.  I rather suspect that the woods will not remember me, and that the trees that form my walls will be sulky at my return, feeling too long ignored.”

          “So you will be traveling north up the valley of the Anduin until you are north of Eryn Lasgalen?” the King asked.

          Radagast replied, “That is what I had planned.”

          After a quick glance at the four young Hobbits, Aragorn asked, “And how would you like to have some companions along the road?  These four must soon set out to return home to the Shire, and have indicated they wish to travel north along the great river until they come to the High Pass.  There is a garrison where the Great Road emerges from the Pass, and guards from there can accompany them over the mountains back into Eriador, and I suspect our brothers will gladly offer them company the remainder of the way to the Brandywine Bridge.  Eldarion, if he agrees, will go with them, for he is to remain with our kinsmen in Annúminas over the winter until we return to the north next summer.  It will be good for him to see more of Rhovanion that he be more aware of those lands also, and it would be good for him to have instruction from the one remaining Wizard of whom we are aware.”

          After much discussion Radagast agreed, and a week later the four Hobbits, the Prince of Gondor and Arnor, and the Brown Wizard took leave of the King and Queen and set off northward, accompanied by a small company of Guardsmen and the Prince’s valet, who was as much a friend as a servant.  They went slowly, climbing the North Stair up to the slopes of Amon Hen, where they walked on the grass of Parth Galen and looked at the memorial raised there by the King and his Steward to the memory of Boromir the Bold.  “How proud he looks,” Faramir Took commented, “with his sword in hand and his horn raised to blow.”

          His cousin Periadoc nodded, unconsciously mimicking the attitude of the figure of the former Warden of the White Tower.  “Just think, Farry—if it weren’t for Boromir, it’s possible that you and I wouldn’t have been born at all, for perhaps our dads might not have lived to be taken prisoner by the Uruk-hai!  He died trying to save them, after all.”

          The silver-grey boat that alone remained of the three that had set out from Lórien had been placed upon a pedestal behind the statue of Boromir, and the four young Hobbits and the Prince of the Reunited Kingdom explored them respectfully, speaking of what their respective fathers had told them of that journey so long ago, the Guardsmen and the valet listening curiously.  One of the guards told them that his own grandfather had served amongst the Rangers of Ithilien, and after the Battle before the Black Gate was one of those who was sent here to fetch away those goods left behind by the Three Hunters so that they might not be lost forever.

            “Such was the virtue of the wood of this vessel that no enemy dared take what had been placed under the overturned boat, and all apparently was as it was left by our Lord King and his two companions.  And I suspect that your honored fathers were grateful to know the return of such oddments as they found, such as extra small clothes, their original packs, and the like.

            Faramir Took laughed.  “My father told of how glad he was to see such things, but how surprised he was to find they no longer fit him now that he had drunk the Ent-draughts.  He said he and Uncle Merry had them taken to Frodo and Sam’s enclosure where they slept that they might have small clothes that had a chance of fitting them once they awoke.  His ought not to have fit either Uncle Frodo or Uncle Sam, he said, considering that he had been the smallest of the four when they left the Shire, but considering how much weight Frodo lost he appeared not to notice that they’d not been his own originally.”

            “My dad was glad to have the return of the sharpening stone he’d been given at Yule,” Perry admitted.  “And his leather wallet in which he stowed his leaf was there, too, the one Sharkey stole from him when they overtook the villain in the wilderness during their return journey.  He told me that Uncle Sam found that wallet in the shed in which it appears Sharkey slept in the garden, but he never wanted it back.  That’s why it’s in the museum in Michel Delving now.”

            The rest nodded, remembering other stories they’d heard of what happened here and on the hillside within the forest.  They climbed to the top of the hill and each sat in the King’s seat atop it, recalling the descriptions they’d heard read of what Uncle Frodo had seen and heard there, but themselves hearing little but the contentment inherent in the rustling of leaves and grass and the roar of triumph Rauros gave now that it ran forward through uncontested Gondorian lands once more.  In the distance to the southeast could be seen the Ered Lithui and the great gap that once had held the Black Gate of Mordor, far across a shining land of marshes that even from here could be seen to teem with wildlife as great flocks of geese, ducks, and swans rose from it, making their trial flights before they might fly further south for the winter months.

            “They are the Great Marshes now,” Eldarion said softly.  “No longer do those who must make their way through them look down upon images of the dead, not since Mordor fell and my parents came there a year after the victory, calling down blessings upon the land and waters.  My adar told me that he had wished Frodo and Sam to come there with him when the land was cleansed of the last of the evil that had ruled there, but they would not go there again, not then, for the memories of what had befallen them were yet too fresh and terrible.”

            Again they nodded thoughtfully, glad that all had been made new since Eldarion’s father had come rule both Gondor and Arnor.

 ***

            They went on, now riding upon the steeds that had been brought to this place by a different route in preparation for their continued journey.  They went without a great deal of hurry, enjoying the vistas they were granted and speaking of their fathers’ memories and their own hopes and dreams for the future.

            In time they came to what had been the borders of Laurelindórenan, where still mellyrn grew in silver and golden majesty, although now more common, mortal trees grew between them and in the growing number of gaps where the great trees nurtured and sustained by the Lady’s power had begun to succumb to their great age and the coming of certain insects and diseases into their midst.  They were greeted by those Elves that yet remained within the bounds of their ancient lands, welcomed in light of their relationship to the Ringbearer and his companions and Eldarion’s blood ties to their Lord and Lady.

            Radagast looked on the new trees growing vigorously amidst the stately mellyrn with mixed approval and regret.  “The old make way for the young here as elsewhere,” he sighed.  “It is ever thus in these lands, and certainly there is a feeling of rightness to it.  But it is often difficult to let go of the familiar.”

            The elleth who served as their immediate hostess looked about her where they stood by the landing where the pleasure boats of the Galadhrim had always been kept, her expression thoughtful.  “Change is the way here in the Mortal Lands.  It is true that our beloved Lady Galadriel kept it at bay for many ennin, but we have learned over the many ages we have lived that we merely postpone the changes to come, we do not deter them.”  Her eyes followed Eldarion as he knelt to examine the carving done on the pleasure boat that had been crafted for the specific use of his mother’s grandparents, and there was a curious hunger to be seen in them.  “We have not heard the voices of children here for so very long, and I find now that we have been the poorer for it.  In clinging so strongly to ancient glories we have almost lost the ability to look to the future.  I hope that when we come to Aman we will find ourselves again able to look forward rather than ever to our past, and that we shall again rejoice to give birth and to watch our children discover the delights of living as do these younglings.  He reminds me of Elladan and Elrohir when they were children and were brought here by their parents.  I had almost forgotten what it is like to be with children….”

 ***

            They stayed within the remains of the Golden Wood for less than a fortnight, climbing to the great flet on which the house of Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel had been built; visiting the sunken garden where the Lady had bade Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee to look into her mirror, treading the green grass that clad the sides of the hill on which Amroth had dwelt, and listening with delight to the song of Nimrodel echoed in the stream that bore her name.  But they did not wish to linger longer, for they were mortal and must look to the future rather than to a rapidly fleeing past.  The sky was filled with scudding clouds on the day they set off again northward following the valley of the Anduin, returning to the King’s new highway on ponies and horses that proved as eager to resume their journey as were they.

            They knew three days of rain as they traveled, three days during which they barely made ten miles per day.  Finally a day dawned with clear washed skies and the sound of dripping foliage much muted over what it had been, and the chief of their guard agreed that they should perhaps remain where they were one more day so that muddy clothing could be washed in the pool that had widened about the nearby stream and hung up to dry, and so that they might perhaps do some hunting to lighten the load on their stores for a time.

            Pippin Gamgee-Gardner ended up on washing detail with Radagast and the Prince’s valet, while Perry and Merry went foraging for greenstuffs with a younger guard, and Faramir Took, armed with sling and bow, joined the hunting party with Eldarion and three of the Guardsmen.

            “That looks to be a Gondorian bow,” commented one of the guards to the Hobbit.

            Farry smiled.  “It is.  After the war apparently many families chose to sell the training bows that they had kept for the children of their houses, and my father bought up a number of them to take home to the Shire to add to the number of bows in the Shire Militia’s arsenal.  When I began to train with the archers I found I always favored this bow, so it’s become my own, and I brought it away with me on this journey south.  I’m not much good with a sword, my leg gimped up as it is, but I’m more than passable as a bowman.”

            “How was it your leg was injured?”

            “A riding accident when I was a lad.  I was allowed to go with several of my Brandybuck and Took cousins on a camping party into the Binbole Forest, and on our second day my pony shied at a snake that we startled in a clearing and threw me.  Uncle Berilac splinted the leg as best he could, but apparently didn’t do as well as he might have done.  The leg had already begun to knit by the time we returned to the healers, and my mother refused to allow them to rebreak the leg so as to splint it properly this time.  And Eldarion’s father agreed that she was probably right to do so, as there was no guarantee that it would have been much better set by that time.”

            “Lord Elessar is wise in such matters,” the guard agreed, and they went on more quietly in search of prey.

 *

            An hour after the hunting party left, Radagast’s wolf paused in lapping up a drink, going suddenly on alert.  The doe also stopped browsing the grass that grew near the pool where those doing laundry labored, gave a soft slub of a noise, and faded back into the nearby trees.

            The valet looked from where the doe had been to Radagast.  “What has disturbed them?” he asked.

            The Wizard kept his head slightly cocked, obviously listening intently, before saying softly, “We are being watched.  Do not worry—I detect no malice in the watchers.  Merely continue on as you are.”

            A moment later the gyrfalcon dropped onto Radagast’s shoulder, followed closely by a titmouse that twittered excitedly in his other ear.  The falcon spread its wings and hissed at the smaller bird.

            “Stop that!” Radagast cautioned the raptor.  “Now, you were saying, my dear?” he said to the titmouse.

            The gyrfalcon pointedly turned away from the Brown Wizard’s face and mantled before sulkily preening its chest feathers while Radagast continued listening to the titmouse.  Pippin, however, had gone rather still, as if he’d heard something, before he began energetically working at a spot on the pair of leggings he’d been cleaning.  Without turning his head he whispered to the valet, “Someone just exclaimed, ‘Did you see that?’  He’s right—we’re being watched!”

            Even the valet heard a sudden giggling from bushes across the pool from where they were working, and he found it difficult to pretend not to be aware of watching eyes.  Shortly after, Perry and Merry returned carrying bulging collection bags and dropped down beside Pippin, who looked up to catch his brother’s eyes.

            “And what all did you find?” the younger Gamgee-Gardner asked.

            “Well,” Perry began, “we found some very nice asparagus, and some excellent dandelions for greens.  And a lovely patch of mushrooms.”

            “And you are certain they are all right for eating?” Pippin asked.

            “They’re common button mushrooms,” Merry assured him.  “But there was something particularly interesting about the mushroom patch.”

            “What was that?”

            Merry gave a twisted smile.  “It had already had some mushrooms picked when we found it,” he said in low tones.

            “Is that so?” asked Radagast, turning his attention from the two birds.  “Well, I do believe we should hang these out to dry and return to the camp.  Did you manage to find some currents, by the way?  The titmouse is particularly fond of them.”

            “We hadn’t picked any yet, but I think I spotted a bush over that way,” Perry said, waving in the general direction of the opposite side of the pool. 

            There could be heard a soft Ooh! and the bushes rustled.  And was that the sound of boots on the path?

            Those at the side of the pool exchanged glances as they rose.  Perry and Merry helped drape wet clothing over low branches and nearby bushes, and the five turned toward the main campsite. Halfway back Merry and Pippin slipped off the path and out of sight while the others spoke with those of the Guardsmen who’d remained there, assuring them that the clothing should be dry shortly, as warm and dry as the day was proving.  There were pleasant comments in return, and all busied themselves about the camp, waiting for the two young Hobbits to indicate what they’d found.

            And what they found….

 *

            “I don’t know what I’m to do about these children!” fumed Sage to herself as she hurried down the path toward the stream.  “They know we mustn’t show ourselves!  Who knows who these are who are camping down by the stone road?”  She pulled her shawl more closely about her shoulders, pausing for a mere instant, and turned white when a young wild pig came crashing through the woods and ran across the path right in front of her, squealing shrilly in distress.

            “It almost ran me down!” she exclaimed aloud.  “Oh, dear—the children!  What if one of the pigs should run right over them?”  She began running forward half panicked, only to find herself running right into an armed Man who came out of the woods in the wake of the pig.  She gave a shriek of terrified startlement, and found herself being enfolded in the Man’s arms.

            “No!” she cried.  “Let me go!  The children!  I must get to the children!  You must let us go—we’ve not done any harm to you!”

            “What is this?” asked another voice, one that in spite of sounding young was yet filled with a level of authority that caused Sage to go still in the clutch of the Man who held her.

            “It’s a girl!” the Man holding her said.

            Why that caused Sage to lose her fear she could not later say, but suddenly she was furious.  “I am no child!” she insisted.  “Now, let me go!”

            When he did so she almost lost her footing.  Somehow she managed to stay upright and glared up into his surprised face.  “I am sorry,” he began apologizing.  But others followed him out of the trees and were gathering about them, three more Men and a boy.  A boy, was it?  No!

            “Stars and Moon!” she whispered, suddenly leaning against the Man who’d held her and clutching at his near leg with a level of desperation.  “Another Hobbit!”

 *

            Years of cooperation in both labor and mischief allowed Merry and Pippin Gamgee-Gardner to work together with little need for direct communication.  They worked their way swiftly and soundlessly uphill of the suspect bushes, and then slipped back downward until they found themselves standing behind two kneeling figures whose attention was directed toward the path to the campsite.  Not until the watchers turned to question one another as to whether they should change their place did they realize they were no longer alone, for there were two full-grown Hobbits, although clearly barely of adult status, behind them, each with a sword at his waist, their arms crossed and their expressions stern.  “You two are curious about us, are you?” asked the older of the two Hobbits.

            The other’s eyebrows rose.  “Now, this is quite the surprise!” he commented.

 *

            Those in the campsite looked up as two parties joined them from different directions, as the sons of Samwise Gamgee led in two children and those with Prince Eldarion and Faramir Took arrived accompanied by a Hobbitess.  One of the children broke away from Pippin and hurried to the Hobbitess.  “Mummy!” the child cried.  “They caught us spying on them!  And they’re Hobbits, like us!”

            “But not all of them are,” spluttered the child’s mother.  “As for what’s to become of us now that we’re no longer secret I have not any idea in Middle Earth!”

            “It’s all right,” the other child said, brushing some of the hair from her beard out of her mouth.  “These Men are with Hobbits, after all.  You don’t have to worry, Mistress Sage.  They already know about Hobbits, you see—these Hobbits trust these Men.  They’re not prisoners—they’re friends!”

            The valet was shaking his head in astonishment.  “Hobbits!  Hobbits, here in the valley of the Anduin, and in company with a Dwarf’s child!”

 *******

            Peregrin Took, the Thain of the Shire, listened in surprise and growing delight to the report given him by his son, his cousin’s son, and the two of the Mayor’s sons who’d just returned from Gondor.  “You mean, that after all of these years, we finally know what happened to Uncle Hildifons?” he demanded.

            Faramir beamed.  “Yes—he traveled over the Misty Mountains in company with Radagast the Brown, somehow found the few Hobbits from the river valley who’d managed to escape the attentions of both Sauron’s creatures and Saruman’s agents, and brought them together higher up in the mountains where they settled near a small community of Dwarves that mine copper ore.  And all did their best to remain hidden from any other of the peoples of Middle Earth, doing so successfully for better than a century!  And while Uncle Isengar was sailing the Sea in search for him, Uncle Hildifons was well inland and never dreamed that this was what his younger brother would do!”

            “And you are certain that they are related to us?”  queried Diamond.

            “If you could have heard the lad we found reciting his family tree you’d not ask that, Mum.  Hildifons Took the Second, son of Everard Took and Sage Hillock Took, Everard being the son of Isengar Took and Platina Bywater Took, Isengar being the son of Forodor Took and Crocus Gladdenstream Took, Forodor Took being the son of Hildifons Took and Lemongrass Brownstream Took, Hildifons being the son of Gerontius Took and Adamanta Took of the Great Smial in the Green Hills country of the Shire.  They’re our kinsmen, all right!  And we found them in company with a Dwarf child of a clan that Uncle Gimli wasn’t aware existed!  As soon as we were certain, Radagast sent a raven off to Erebor to summon Gimli, who arrived in a matter of days.  He’s so excited, and Dorlin son of Dwalin tells us that his father alone appears to have been aware of the settlement, and wrote of it in his personal journal he began keeping after the Dragon was vanquished.

            “And little Hildifons’s uncle Boregrin wants to come here and see where his great-great-grandfather came from!  He’s getting ready now, and should come next summer some time.  He expects to leave there in the spring, as soon as the passes are cleared!  Who knows—perhaps the whole clan might someday decide to remove here to the Shire?  Or maybe we will have Hobbits living on both sides of the Misty Mountains, only now in direct communication with one another!”

            Later in the evening Pippin repaired to what had been the Old Took’s study, and standing in the midst of the room recited aloud the news given him earlier in the day.  “We’ve made the notations in Old Yellowskin,” he added.  “At long, long last the lost has been found, Grandda.  We know at last where Hildifons went, and that in his way he was as much a leader of Hobbits as you were.  You can rest easily at last, you and Grandmum.”

            And it seemed to him that the room seemed more filled with light when he left it to return to his own quarters to go to bed with his beloved wife.

My birthday mathom to all.  Inspired by a story I read in this year's B2MEM offerings.

Unfriendly Persuasion

            “After all, we have seen the face of Atto, while they have not.”  Mairon’s argument seemed reasonable, or so Curumo found it.

            Olórin, who stood nearby in the form of a silver haired Elf, his arms folded across his chest, humphed.  “The fact that we have seen the face of the One while the Children have not does not of necessity give us authority over them,” he said, countering his brother’s argument.  “They are our brethren as well, even if their gifts and dooms lie otherwise from ours.”

            Curumo considered Olórin with disfavor.  Although sworn to the retinue of Manwë Súlimo, Olórin had been granted considerable freedom by his Lord, and had studied under most of the other Valar, all save Melkor, whose company he avoided.  Curumo considered him prone to being sanctimonious and unnecessarily suspicious, and so it seemed in this instance.  Still, Curumo thought, he is open to reason.  Perhaps I can explain it to him.

            He began, “It is true that we should not consider ourselves the lords and masters of the Eruhini, my friend.  However, there is no question that we are both far older and more understanding of Ilúvatar’s thought than any of the Eldar.  Does not it behoove us, this being true, to warn them of those dangers that we are aware of that they are not, and to offer guidance as to safer and more productive actions or choices when it is clear that they are approaching questionable situations?  If it is obvious that one of the Children will seriously endanger himself or one of his brethren should he be allowed to proceed unchecked, would we not be remiss, perhaps even at fault, if we were to fail to intervene and as a result one or more should suffer hurt?

            “Nay, Olórin, I cannot fault Mairon’s logic, although I must admit that he perhaps overemphasized our responsibility to offer guidance to the Children in order to make his point.  But as we have been assured by our Atar that each of them is precious to Him, we must be aware that in order to properly serve we must at times be willing to exercise authority over them to protect them that they not destroy themselves due to their lesser experience and wisdom.”

            Olórin did not appear to be fully convinced.  “But if we seek to guide all of their actions, how are they to learn to take responsibility for themselves?”

            Curumo sighed, shaking his head.  “And who said that we were to guide all of their actions, Brother?  But if I were to fail to step forward and as a result one of the Children should be lost I do not believe that I could forgive myself for my lack of diligence.”

            At that moment Lord Aulë emerged from his forge and approached the three of them.  Ah, but here you are.  Mairon, my beloved friend, had you forgotten my promise to teach you how to create the tokens of power that you had asked about?  Do come now, for I have the forge prepared and all needed materials gathered.  I fear that if we do not begin the lesson almost immediately that Mahtan will succumb to his curiosity and begin experimenting with the materials, leaving us insufficient for our purposes.  He is proving already to have an affinity for the metals and elements of our craft, and ever he seeks to add to his knowledge by exploring what he can do with whatever materials he finds available to him.  Ah, but I look forward to teaching the Children, for they demonstrate such boundless curiosity and imagination!  And Olórin, would you be willing to speak with young Finwë regarding the manner in which air is used to increase the heat of a fire that it might melt metal and other elements?  As a servant of the Elder King and the Lord of Breath and Winds, I believe you can better explain how this happens than could I.  Curumo, if you would consider the engine you have designed to bring water from below the surface of the ground up to a spigot so that it can be used by the Children, I believe that Ingwë would appreciate your tutelage, for some of his people have built their habitations far from open or running water and will need to produce such engines for their own use if they are not to suffer thirst.

            Olórin was already bowing and hurrying to come to Finwë’s side.  Mairon also bowed to their Lord.  “We will come directly, my Lord and friend.  If you will give me but a moment in which to finish a thought with my brother Curumo here….”

            The Smith of the Valar smiled and returned within the forge that he might watch over the actions of the Elf he’d taken recently as his first true apprentice from among the Eldar but recently come to dwell in Aman.  Mairon watched him go, and then returned his attention to Curumo.  “Ah, but my brother, how well you understand and are able to share your wisdom and reasoning with others.  You are right—we are indeed as elder brothers and sisters to the Eruhini, and if we are unwilling to intervene when it is necessary to turn them away from danger I fear we shall see many of them destroy themselves needlessly. I hope that when I next go to commune with Melkor you will consider coming with me, for he could teach you to use such skills to guide others even more convincingly.  How could he help but honor your innate wisdom and ability to explain and persuade?  Do say that you will accompany me!”

            Curumo’s aura flared with pleasure at such praise, although he was not yet certain he would truly dare to approach the Dark Vala’s presence.  Still, it was satisfying to know that he had managed to so impress Mairon with his ability to explain matters to those of lesser intellect.  And if perhaps Melkor could assist him to hone his ability to elicit understanding and compliance from others, surely he could better serve both their Masters and the Children, making Arda a better--and safer--setting for the Children’s development.

            It merited consideration, he decided as he thought himself to where Ingwë awaited him. 

For Virtuella for her birthday.

This follows immediately after the final chapter of "Light on the Way."

Returned to his Proper Place

            Denethor son of Ecthelion found himself bemused as he followed in the train behind the first King and Queen of the Reunited Kingdom through the Timeless Halls to the Throne of Glory.  Many bowed as Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar passed, she who’d been his wife and love in life upon one side and the mithril-pure figure of he who’d been Frodo Baggins of the Shire upon the other. 

            How is it that I now rejoice to be with him? he found himself wondering.

            He could feel delight and humor rising up in the heart of the one who had been his younger son.  He was intended to be our King from the beginning, Father, Faramir assured him.  He has told me of how at first you and he were drawn together by friendship, mutual respect, and a shared love of learning, but how envy of how your own father treated him and fear that he might supplant you drove you to abandon that friendship, leading you to see him rather as a rival.  He ever grieved at that, you know.

            So he has told me, Denethor returned, regret at the lost years of possible companionship filling him.

            Suddenly he paused as he saw a familiar soul awaiting the procession.  My adar!  It was hard to know if what he felt was delight or alarm at the realization that Ecthelion stood awaiting the party newly arrived from the Halls of Mandos.  He saw his father bowing low before the one he’d always known as Thorongil, the Eagle of the North.  Oh, but it was, after all, right that his father should first acknowledge the one he’d always suspected, and rightly, to be the Heir to Isildur.  But the regret he’d begun to feel was swept away as he realized that although Ecthelion was giving honor to the one born Aragorn son of Arathorn, he was also approaching the one he’d known as his son, and that he, Denethor, was being swept into his father’s arms, enfolded in his father’s love!

            Oh, Denethor!  How wonderful to have you here with us, with your mother and me!  And here is our Boromir, I see!  And another son?  Faramir?  Ah, sufficient you have proved, more than sufficient, I trow!  And this is the woman you took as your wife, the niece, I understand, of our dear friend Théoden?  Welcome, my dearly beloved one, for it is our delight to greet you here.  Do come, Denethor, for the One wishes to embrace you.

            A great trembling filled him, and almost Denethor pulled away, until he realized that the One who sat—or perhaps stood—before them all was focused upon his approach.  Suddenly he felt a welcome such as he’d not known in living memory encompass his being.

            Welcome back, my dearly beloved, he heard in his heart of hearts.  Welcome back, and may you never stray again.

            And the one who’d for a time in Middle Earth had served as the last Ruling Steward of Gondor gave over that past, rejoicing to know that he was indeed Home, safe in the one place where he truly belonged.

 

For Curious Wombat, Nieriel Raina, Nimue 8, Ainu Laire,  Imhiriel, and Surgical Steel for their birthdays.  And for the birthday of the Master.

Builder of Worlds

            “Ronnie?  Are you reading under your covers again?  It is time to go to sleep, you know.”

            But Ronnie does not look up from the text illuminated by his torch, text that he is writing, not reading.  His mother, dear as she is to him, does not understand.

            The one single phrase he has read in New Testament Greek that he truly appreciates begins the book of John:  In the beginning was the Word.  How profound!  How true!  And his mind fills with words—atar, amillë, amdar, orc, gnome.  In the Kalevala the Wizard can utter words of power that can change reality, and songs can build worlds! 

            And he, too, has the power to build worlds!  First comes the Word, and then those who will use that Word—that word and others.  And their words are shaped by their lives, their lives and the worlds in which they live....

Written for the LOTR Community Fanworks challenge.  For PoppyMuddyfoot and 20thCenturyVole for their birthdays.

Seeking Introductions

            Elrond stepped out upon the deck of the ship that bore him to Tol Eressëa, sweeping the deck with his gaze, and finding the object of his search standing on tiptoe, staring determinedly over the forward rail.  He smiled, and walked carefully across the damp wood to stand beside Bilbo Baggins.  “You are so eager to see the Lonely Isle that you will dare the rain, my small friend?”

            Bilbo looked up with an eager smile the peredhel had not seen for several years on the Hobbit’s face.  “I cannot wait to get there and to walk where none of my kind has ever walked before—or, at least, not to the knowledge of anyone I have spoken with.  I rather wish that Glorfindel had come with us, for I am certain I would have been able to convince him to help me meet many of those I have heard tell of over the long years of my life.  I have so longed to see such worthies as Finrod Felagund and Lord Olwë of Aquallondë.”

            Elrond noted that Bilbo held under his arm a small book he had fashioned for himself, binding it with white deerskin stamped with gold lettering.  In it Bilbo had been gathering brief descriptions of many individuals he had spoken with in the time he’d spent as a member of Elrond’s household, each notation written whenever possible by the one whose story the Hobbit had wished to acquire.  “We will not be within sight of the island, they tell me, before the morrow’s dawn.  I fear there will be no one to write within your book before noon.  Perhaps someone of note will meet our ship who will consent to indulge you, however.”

            “Oh, I do hope so.  Although, Elrond, there is one individual I do hope you will be able to convince to come to meet with us.  Ever since I learned this grace was being granted to me I have so wished to meet in person.”

            “Whom might this be?” Elrond asked.  “And what makes you think that I might be able to persuade this person to come to Tol Eressëa to meet you?”

            “It’s your father, Eärendil the Mariner.  Ever since I first heard his story I’ve wanted to meet him, even to the point of writing that poem that I recited first the evening Frodo awoke from the Morgul wound.  I know you found it presumptuous—certainly the Dúnadan did!  But of all of the historical figures I’ve ever heard tell of, he is the one person I have dreamed many times of meeting in so many different manners.  And now, at last, I have the chance perhaps, before I must go on, to do so.  Please say that you will try to get him to come so I can perhaps convince him to write in my book!”

            Shaking his head at the Hobbit’s irrepressible nature, Elrond, formerly of Imladris, agreed to try.

 

Written for the LOTR Community "Lyrical Love" challenge.  A riddle poem.  For RabidSamFan for her birthday.

A World in Hand

’Tis lackwit’s bane but Baggins’ treasure,
the greatest means to spend one’s leisure.
To sluggards a slog, a bore beyond measure;
to the wise a journey sought after with pleasure.

When small it yet can encompass the world.
When great may focus on but one bud uncurled.
Commanding it may be like a banner unfurled,
or soothing as water about a sore body swirled.

To distant lands it may carry one away,
where strange folk love and labor and play.
It might bring the night into the light of the day,
or cause one to pause, to ponder—and pray.

One might find a mountain to hold in one’s hand,
or crouch in deep caverns where dragons command,
or by side of great kings awaiting battle to stand,
or watch brave warriors by terror unmanned.

Not all will end happy or joyful or with hope.
The best seem to offer ideas with which to cope;
better the puzzles for whose solutions we grope.
Those are the ones I most often ope.

Written for the LOTR Community Fixed-length ficlet, "Arrivals and Departures" challenge.  For all who mourn.

The New Folk

            “Ammë, while awaiting Atto’s return at the quays, a new ship from Endorë arrived.  And such people came off of it!  I’ve never seen the like of them!”

            Rhysellë smiled as she brushed out her daughter’s hair.  “Newcomers often wear different clothing and hair styles than do those who dwell here, Livwen.”

            But the small elleth was shaking her head.  “It’s not they dressed differently, Ammë—they are different!  Or,” she amended, “at least three of them were very different.  The first had the Light of Being of a Maia, but his hröa was so strange, as if he’d been worn by time itself.  And he wore a full beard and long hair of brightest white, but different from the most ancient of Elves.”

            Rhysellë wasn’t certain what she could say.

            “And then, there were the two little ones,” Livwen continued.  “I thought at first they were children such as I am, but no!  One was aged, but more so than the one with the Light of a Maia.  And the second----

            “Oh, Ammë!” she exclaimed, twisting to look up into her mother’s face.  “He was meant to be beautiful and joyous, but he has known such pain and loss.  His fëa is so clear, as if wrought of mithril.  But his life’s song is sad and damaged.  What is he?”

            Rhysellë stilled to send out the question, and was surprised to see the sparkling in the air indicating a Maia manifesting within their home.  Once it had taken on a body, it knelt that it not loom over Livwen.  These two visitors to our island are mortals, of a sort known among themselves as Hobbits.  Will you help to make them welcome, child?

            Solemnly Livwen nodded.  “But, what does mortal mean?”

            Rhysellë’s heart twisted.  Her daughter, she realized, would learn too soon what that word truly meant when these must depart.

For Easter, 2017

The Last Agreement

            “Frodo?”

            Yes, Samwise?

            “I’m glad I came.  Almost didn’t, don’t you know—but, then you know as how I’ve felt about water deeper’n my knees and boats.”

            Frodo laughed, and his Light shone out with delight.  I suspect that had we not been terrified of the Black Riders you would still be on the west side of the Brandywine, still needing to be coaxed onto the Bucklebury Ferry!

            Sam laughed, too, a deep, throaty chuckle that was delightful to hear.  “You’re all too right, I do believe.  I still am not too sure about that ferry—more a raft than a proper boat as it is.”

            After a moment of companionable silence, Frodo continued, We don’t have to leave any time soon, you know.  There is still much to see and do, if you wish.

            Sam was already shaking his head.  “No, I don’t want to wait too much longer.  Midsummer will do.  The Gaffer’s waitin’ for me, and my mum.”

            And my parents, Sara and Esme, and so many others.  I am almost ready now.

            “And what’s keeping you?  You don’t have t’wait till I’m ready, too, you know.”

            Frodo searched Sam’s face.  I don’t have to, but I wish to, Sam.  You stood by me when I was certain I would not return, offering your own life alongside mine.  I am only glad it was not required of you—that you were granted the grace to know the fulfillment of marriage and fatherhood.  Now it is my turn to stand by you.

            I did not have to wait.  I could have gone on at almost any time.  But, if you did come, as I so hoped you would, I did not wish for you to find yourself alone here, the only mortal amongst the immortals.  It can be a staggering thing at times.  I do not regret it, but sometimes I felt so apart.  What do the Elves understand about mortality?  What do they understand not only of the weariness of a long life and the pain of losses—they know those all too well, but of the wearing out of the body, much less of the eagerness we can feel to see just what’s beyond that secret gate?  I am now fully ready for that next adventure, but only when you are ready, too.

            “Thank you, Frodo.”  They sat side by side, smiling into one another’s eyes.  Sam suddenly straightened.  “Now—for today’s adventure.  You’ve been tellin’ me of that glade where the glass butterflies dance amongst the flowers.  Now, that’s somethin’ as I have to see afore we go on.  You up for it?”

            Up for it?  I thought you’d never ask!





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