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Chapter 1: The Eyes of the King
In the meanwhile the host made ready for the return to Minas Tirith. The weary rested and the hurt were healed. For some had laboured and fought much with the remnants of the Easterlings and Southrons, until all were subdued. And, latest of all, those returned who had passed into Mordor and destroyed the fortresses in the north of the land.
‘The Field of Cormallen’, The Return of the King
The brothers Delumîr and Caladîr gasped, exchanged amazed glances, and hurried to where the richly-garbed man stood. As one, they quickly knelt. This man had once been the Lord Aragorn, who had led them to the Black Gate, but before them now surely stood the King Returned, as the rumors in Minas Tirith had spoken. A light flickered about his head from the star on his brow, and the green jewel on his breast blazed even under a clouded sun.
“I beg you rise,” Aragorn said softly. “The Eagles brought word of your approach from the north. On behalf of all Free Peoples, we are grateful for your service, and take joy in your safe return.” He sheathed Andúril and pressed a hand to his heart.
The men slowly rose, and Caladîr, the elder, stepped forward.
“Sire,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady, “we are honored by your welcome. We completed the task set for us, and the remaining strongholds near to the broken gates have been burned. Before returning, we worked to clear a great deal of filth and obstructions from the streams thereby.”
“You have done admirably,” Aragorn said. “We will feast you and your men this eve.” He smiled gently. “And I deem that baths would not be unwelcome.”
Delumîr blushed, and self-consciously brushed his hands down his tunic such that clouds of dust began to fall. “We would be most grateful for that. But sire...” He looked puzzled. “You called us captains, but we are but men at arms of the fourth company. Were you expecting someone else?”
“No,” Aragorn said firmly. “You are last to arrive in camp, but far from the least in my esteem. You were the first to volunteer to stay behind amidst the ruin of a poisoned land when the host departed, not knowing how long you would be away from your families. I have eyes in many directions, and know that you both labored long and tirelessly. You demonstrated self denial and generosity by sharing your rations with those of lesser vigor, and on the long road back you kept the spirits of your companions from faltering. As your sovereign, I declare your new rank as well-earned. You will march in the King’s Guard just behind me and the hobbits when we approach Minas Tirith.”
The men’s faces shone with amazement and delight, and both bowed deeply.
“We are grateful, sire,” said Caladîr. “Proudly will we do so.”
“You do us great honor, my liege,” Delumîr said softly, and bent his head to hide his swelling emotions. Did you know how desperately our families need the extra coin such a promotion will bring? Perhaps so. And when he looked up, the King was smiling at him.
“Why did you come this way?” Aragorn asked. “There are more direct paths to the main encampment.”
“Sire,” Caladîr said hesitantly, “forgive us if we are trespassing in a restricted area. We asked the sentries, and they said that the Ring-bearers may be found in yonder grove. Would it be permitted... I mean, might we...”
“You wish to meet Frodo and Samwise,” Aragorn said, and the men shook their heads.
“Nay, sire,” Caladîr hastened to explain. “We merely hoped to linger here awhile, unseen amidst these trees, and perhaps catch a glimpse of them. We would not presume to approach them.”
“Have you sent your men to be welcomed and quartered, and your horses tended?”
“We have,” Caladîr said.
“Then come with me,” Aragorn said, motioning to the beech-grove.
“To see the Ring-bearers?” Delumîr asked in surprise. “What would we say to them?”
“Frodo and Samwise are worthy of all honor, and I understand that you might hesitate, having heard about them only through rumor,” Aragorn said, “but they would not wish to be spied upon from a distance, nor thought of as unapproachable. It is as hobbits that they won through to the Fires of Doom, and it is as hobbits that they wish to be known.” He gazed at the men gravely. “If in generations to come it is remembered that even small, frightened, and vulnerable beings could survive such a journey and the hardships they endured, perhaps it will be understood that any road can be walked and any goal is worthy of attempt, if one pledges to be steadfast. The hobbits will always remind us that the love of one’s home, and one’s friends and family, can inspire greatness.”
“We understand,” Delumîr said quietly, and Caladîr added, “For what else were we all fighting, if not our homes and family?”
“So you see,” Aragorn told them, “you are not so different from them after all.” He knew that while it was important for the hobbits to be treated with respect, it would hurt them deeply to be set apart, or seen as unapproachable by any of the men with whom they would be spending the next weeks... and possibly longer. “Can you now greet them with understanding, and a wish for friendship?” he asked, and the men nodded.
“Then come. I will introduce you. But please, gentlemen, do not kneel before Frodo and Sam. I tried that, and it made them terribly uncomfortable.”
“May we bow?” Delumîr asked.
“You may. I am certain they are used to that by now.”
AUTHOR NOTE: I'm in the midst of preparations to move across the country, and most likely won’t be able to start chapter 3 for another month. But here's chapter 2, and thank you for reading!
Chapter 2: Resilience and Respect
Then Aragorn entered first and the others followed. And there at the door were two guards in the livery of the Citadel: one tall, but the other scarce the height of a boy; and when he saw them he cried aloud in surprise and joy.
‘Strider! How splendid! Do you know, I guessed it was you in the black ships. But they were all shouting corsairs and wouldn’t listen to me. How did you do it?’
Aragorn laughed, and took the hobbit by the hand. ‘Well met indeed!’ he said. ‘But there is not time yet for travellers’ tales.’
But Imrahil said to Éomer: ‘Is it thus that we speak to our kings?’
‘The Houses of Healing’, The Return of the King
He was startled when the King began to laugh, but his attention was diverted by his brother, who gasped and grabbed his arm.
“He lives!” Delumîr cried out. “There, I see him!”
“Who lives?” Caladîr asked, then he paled and his steps faltered. For there, emerging from the large tent they were approaching, was Peregrin Took, talking earnestly about something to the Dwarf, who was stroking his beard in thought.
“How can this be?” he marveled. “Sire, we saw the enormity of the troll warrior which crushed Peregrin. You saw it. There is no way...”
“There are two ways,” Aragorn told them quietly. “The resilience of hobbits, coupled with the determination and strength of a friend to find him beneath that great carcass ’ere his breath failed, and a strong and buoyant spirit was lost to us forever.”
“Resilience indeed,” Caladîr murmured, still scarcely believing his own eyes. “Halflings... err, hobbits, are truly extraordinary.”
As Gimli strode away towards the main encampment, Pippin spotted them and burst into a glad smile. “Strider!” he cried out happily. He began to hurry toward the King as quickly as his healing ribs and shoulder would allow, and Aragorn strode forward to meet him. The men followed in his wake.
Pippin bowed, then gazed up at Aragorn with delight.
“We were hoping you would visit today, but Merry says that King duties are even more difficult and time-consuming than Ranger duties.”
“They are,” Aragorn said with a laugh, “but I find it impossible to stay away. Today I bring new friends to meet all of you.”
Pippin smiled up at the men expectantly.
“I am Caladîr,” the elder spoke, slightly out of breath. He was warmed by the young hobbit’s exuberance. “This dusty fellow is my brother, Delumîr. We are both greatly joyed to see you well, Master Peregrin.” He and Delumîr bowed.
“Peregrin Took, at your service. Please call me Pippin.” Pippin bowed in turn, then peered up at them closely. “I remember you, I think. From the march north?”
“Yes,” Delumîr said. “Congratulations on such a miraculous recovery.”
Pippin grinned. “The praise is due to Gimli, who found me, and Strider, who wouldn’t let me get up even though there was so much to see and do here. I was forced to heal quickly to earn my freedom.”
Aragorn merely smiled, then knelt to inspect Pippin’s rust-colored tunic. It was slightly long for the hobbit, but well fitting otherwise.
“This is good cloth,” he said approvingly. “Have enough garments been found to suit everyone’s needs?”
“More than enough,” Pippin replied. “The supply boats bring the most wonderful things. Gimli seems to think it his duty to inspect everything, and appropriate what he thinks we might like.” He brushed the King’s embroidered sleeve with curious fingers. “This is nice. A king should dress well.”
“As should hobbits,” Aragorn said gently, “especially four very special ones.” He got to his feet as the brothers exchanged incredulous glances. To speak so informally to one’s king! And Lord Aragorn spoke in such a tender manner to this hobbit. It would take some getting used to.
Just then, Aragorn noticed Prince Imrahil beckoning to him from a nearby rise of land.
“Gentlemen, I hope you will excuse me if I do not accompany you further,” Aragorn said to the men. “'King duties' require my attention, as my young friend here would say. If you have no other pressing tasks, Sir Peregrin, would you act as my emissary and introduce Captains Caladîr and Delumîr to Frodo and Sam, and Merry, if he is about?”
“Of course,” Pippin said proudly.
“Thank you. They are only now returning from the Black Gate.”
“They’ve been in Mordor all this time, and missed all the feasts?” Pippin asked in dismay.
“Apparently we have,” Caladîr said with a smile. “But we begrudge not our duty, and the King has kindly offered to feast us this eve.”
“But that’s hours from now,” Pippin exclaimed. “You’d better come with me. We’re having luncheon as soon as Gimli returns.”
“A moment, Pippin,” Aragorn said, turning toward the brothers. “It would be a kindness if you could share with Frodo and Sam what you told me about the healing of Udûn – how the streams are being cleared, and the waters cleansed. They will like that, and such news will help ease their hearts.”
“We will tell them, sire,” Delumîr assured him. “And thank you.”
“It is we who thank you,” Aragorn said. “Enjoy your visit.” He strode away, and Pippin gazed after the King with an expression of love and respect. And even after such a short time in Lord Aragorn’s company, two brand-new captains of Gondor realized that they felt the same way.
Author Note: The hobbits’ tent and its furnishings are from my story “Keep Him Secret, Keep Him Safe”.
Chapter 3: A Most Resourceful Dwarf
Orcs, and talking trees, and leagues of grass, and galloping riders, and glittering caves, and white towers and golden halls, and battles, and tall ships sailing, all these passed before Sam’s mind until he felt bewildered. But amidst all these wonders he returned always to his astonishment at the size of Merry and Pippin; and he made them stand back to back with Frodo and himself.
‘The Field of Cormallen’, The Return of the King
When the tent flap opened, Merry leaped to his feet at the sight of two tall strangers peeking hesitantly inside. Only the unexpected sound of Pippin’s laughter from behind the men kept him from crying out in alarm.
“Stand down, Merry!” came his cousin’s amused voice. “And Sam, these fellows have been through quite a lot. They deserve a better welcome than being threatened with cookware.”
Merry relaxed as Pippin ushered the two men into the tent. He hadn’t even realized that Sam had been instantly at his side, a dripping ladle in his hand.
Delumîr, who had been very careful to brush off every speck of dust from his tunic, gazed curiously at the two small persons facing him. With only Peregrin to go by, he had assumed that all adult Halflings (hobbits, he reminded himself) were about the same size; however, the difference in height in the two before him was striking. Like Peregrin, both wore tunics and trousers of fine cloth, if a bit ill-matching, and the smaller one stood tensely, eyeing him and his brother with caution. Which one was Frodo son of Drogo?
“Sticklebacks! Where has that brush gone off to?”
Merry grinned in the direction of a voice coming from behind tall crates in the rear of the tent. Caladîr, surprised at the number and variety of furnishings in the spacious tent, realized that one area had been set aside for privacy, perhaps for changing garments.
“Pippin’s brought guests, cousin!” Merry laughed. “Come greet them, then we can locate that wayward brush.”
“Locate it again,” said a fourth hobbit, stepping out from behind the crates. “Do you suppose Gimli could find us another?”
“Without a doubt,” came a gruff voice from the tent flap. Caladîr whirled about in unaccustomed panic. While simultaneously attempting to take in his surroundings, identify the Ring-bearers, and hope no one heard his stomach growling at the delectable aromas issuing from a number of pots hung on a makeshift hearth, he now had to quickly step aside to avoid the Dwarf Gimli who had burst into the tent. With an effort, he calmed himself. He and Delumîr were guests in this home, however extraordinary, and in all lands to which they had traveled it was protocol for the guest to initiate introductions. However confusing the situation, that was his first duty. He cleared his throat, whereupon four sets of eyes were upon him.
“I am Caladîr of Gondor,” he spoke to the three unfamiliar hobbits and to the Dwarf, “and this is my brother, Delumîr. Lord Aragorn was kind enough to permit us to come and pay our respects.”
Delumîr was relieved that his brother had finally found his voice and initiated introductions. It was for the eldest to speak first, whenever possible.
The hobbit who had been behind the crates stepped forward, smiling at them both.
“At your service,” he said. “I am Frodo Baggins of the Shire. Please call me Frodo.”
Frodo Baggins. Caladîr and Delumîr both instinctively started to kneel, but remembered at the same moment that the King had entreated them not to do so. As they fumbled, Caladîr saw Frodo exchange an amused glance with the ladle-wielding hobbit; without doubt, there were many who insisted upon kneeling to him. He instead bowed deeply alongside his brother, hoping to remember every moment of this experience to tell his wife and children.
“Meriadoc Brandybuck,” said the tall hobbit. “Merry, if you please.”
“Samwise Gamgee, at your service,” said the third. “Forgive me, sirs, but the soup needs a final stir.” He turned to the hearth.
Samwise Gamgee, companion and servant to Frodo Baggins! It seemed incongruous to that the two smallest hobbits were the legendary Frodo and Samwise, but the King’s words came back to him: ‘If in generations to come it is remembered that even small, frightened, and vulnerable beings could survive such a journey and the hardships they endured, perhaps it will be understood that any road can be walked and any goal is worthy of attempt, if one pledges to be steadfast.’
Small indeed, and what difference did it make?
“I remember you gentlemen,” Gimli said, inclining his head slightly. “Gimli son of Gloín, at your service.”
“And at yours, Master Dwarf,” Delumîr said. “We are honored to meet all of you.”
“Please join us,” Pippin said, motioning the men toward the commodious table and chairs in the center of the tent. “Sam, is there enough food for two hungry men? I thought so. Strider said that Captains Caladîr and Delumîr have been away in Mordor and missed all the feasts. Look how skinny they are! No doubt they’ve been eating nothing but travel rations and a bit of small game now and then. There’s your brush, Frodo, on that stack of pillows. No, I don’t know how it got there.”
Amused and put at ease by Pippin’s nonstop chatter, the brothers accepted the invitation to luncheon with pleasure, but refused to sit until the hobbits had done so. Delumîr found himself seated between Frodo and Gimli, and was enjoying the lively conversation around him when Samwise brought each person a bowl of thick, steaming potato soup. The portion was a hearty one, and would have been a welcome meal for the brothers after so many weeks of limited rations, but to their delight, Sam was far from finished. Loaves of bread and small crocks of sweet butter were set about the table, along with bowls of cut-up fruits, three varieties of baked fish on a large platter, sliced cheeses, and, filling the last empty spot, a tower of small, delectable cakes.
“Go on,” Pippin urged the brothers. “This should hold you until the feast tonight, don't you think? Sam, this soup is wonderful. And where have you been hiding those cakes? Don’t you trust us?”
Sam just smiled, happy to see Frodo filling his plate.
Looking around the table, Caladîr filled his glass from a pitcher of water and raised it.
“My new friends, my brother and I thank you for sharing this meal with us. We miss our families. It has been a long time since…” His voice broke.
“It’s been a long time for all of us, sir,” Sam said understandingly. “I surely hope you like everything.”
Everyone ate ravenously, praising Sam many times for the repast.
“Delumîr, what have you been doing all this time?” Frodo blurted out suddenly. “In Mordor, I mean. We heard that, Sam and I that is, we heard that everything was destroyed. There was nothing. I mean… is anything left there?”
“No, Frodo, there is not,” Delumîr said. “For as far as we could see from the highest point in Udûn, even beyond where the Mountain once stood all is laid waste and the land is still.”
“Where the Mountain once stood,” Frodo murmured. Merry, seated on Frodo’s right, reached out to take his hand, which Delumîr noticed was missing a finger. So it is true, he marveled. All of it.
“Frodo,” Caladîr said gently, “there is nothing left to fear from the Black Lands. As the ash continues to settle, the air grows more wholesome by the day.” He remembered what the King had asked of them. “You ask what we were doing all this time? Among other things, helping to clear several choked streams, and dig deeper channels for the waters to flow.”
“Oh,” Frodo whispered. “Oh Sam, just think of it!”
Seeing Frodo’s eyes fill with tears of joy, the men suddenly realized that these menial tasks, almost an afterthought before they left Udûn, meant more to the King and the Ring-bearers than anything else they might have accomplished. Caladîr had noticed that both Frodo and Samwise drank and refilled their glasses several times, as if simple, pure water was as delicious to them as the finest wine.
“It’s wonderful, that it is,” Sam said dreamily, already imagining rain, budding trees, and parched, thirsty lands renewed. “Maybe this big city we’ve heard about has a few gardeners who’d enjoy spending time out there.”
“I suspect it does,” Delumîr assured him. “The King will set all to rights. I have no doubt of that at all.”
“Speaking of kings, I must attend Éomer,” said Merry. “You may have been given the day off, Sir Peregrin, but some of us are called to duty. Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure meeting you.”
Pippin, his mouth full, waved a farewell cake at Merry as his cousin left the tent.
“Sir Peregrin,” Caladîr said with a smile. The King had said that, as well. He assumed the title was an honorary one bestowed as a sign of affection.
“Pippin is a knight of Gondor, acclaimed for his deeds,” Frodo said, his eyes beaming with pride, “and King Éomer honored Merry for service to Rohan, saving Lady Éowyn's life, and aiding in killing the Dark Lord’s servant, the Witch King of Angmar. I wish I had awoken in time for the ceremonies.”
Delumîr gasped in shock, and Caladîr choked on a mouthful of fish.
“Merry did what?” Caladîr asked incredulously. “That tale had not reached us.”
“You’ll have to come back and visit us, and hear all the stories,” Pippin said. “Of course, Frodo and Sam had the worst of it, but Merry and I tried to do a little something, in our own way.”
“More than a little,” Frodo said quietly. “Much more. And there are still plenty of stories Sam and I haven’t heard, either.”
“We would be truly delighted to return,” Caladîr said.
“Excuse me a moment,” Frodo said, leaning forward to get the Dwarf’s attention. “Gimli, were you able to find any?”
“Yes, Frodo, and it’s quite large,” Gimli said, pointing to a sack he had brought into the tent. “’Tis a strange thing to see, and to feel. I hope Aragorn knows what he is about.”
“He usually does,” Pippin piped up, and the other hobbits laughed.
“Aragorn suggested that I try to find something called a sea-sponge,” Frodo explained to the men. “He says that they expand and become soft when placed in water, but still firm enough to give resistance when squeezed.” He flexed the fingers of his right hand. “I’m exercising my hand quite a lot, but Aragorn always seems to have new ideas.”
“Squeezing a large sea-sponge might indeed be helpful for you. Have you also tried wax?” Caladîr asked, and Delumîr nodded in agreement.
“Wax?” Frodo asked. “Like candle wax?”
“Yes,” Caladîr said confidently. “Master Dwarf, you seem quite gifted in locating prized objects. Are there any stores of wax in camp?”
“Aye,” Gimli said. “The Steward and his councillors must think that Aragorn is already making endless proclamations requiring his seal, if he even has one. Several blocks of wax arrived with the first supply boat, along with blank parchments, pots of ink, and an assortment of fancy pens.”
“Gimli, is there anything about this camp you don’t know?” Pippin asked in admiration.
Gimli just chuckled, his eyes twinkling.
“Excellent,” Caladîr said with satisfaction. “Frodo, I believe I know a way that Delumîr and I can begin to repay you and your companions for your hospitality. We are from a family of artisans -- not rich in coin, but in knowledge and skill passed down many generations.” At that moment, a faint trumpet call could be heard from afar. He got to his feet, and at his signal, his brother did the same. “We have lingered here most enjoyably, but it grows late, and my brother and I still need to see to our men and learn the ways of this encampment. If you wish it, and we gain approval, we will return.”
“Yes, come back,” Frodo said, reaching up to take Delumîr’s hand. “We’d like that.”
“Wait a moment,” Pippin said. “You didn’t explain how ordinary candles will help Frodo.”
“Did I say anything about ordinary candles?” Caladîr asked teasingly. Then he touched a hand to his heart and addressed the young hobbit respectfully. “Sir Peregrin, as highest ranking among us, we request your leave to depart.”
Pippin hopped down from the chair and solemnly gazed up at the men.
“Granted,” he said, “of course. And please find out if you can visit again tomorrow.”
“We will,” Caladîr assured him. “Our thanks to all of you.” He and Delumîr bowed again, then left.
As they walked towards the main encampment, Caladîr looked back at the tent.
“Now that we have met the hobbits, I understand Lord Aragorn’s unwavering esteem for them,” he said. “Tonight we must ask for his approval to assist Frodo. I wish to do what we can for him.”
“It would be a joy to contribute, even in a small way, to his healing,” his brother agreed, then he began to chuckle quietly. “Ordinary candles! Far from it. I think the hobbits will marvel at what we can show them.”
“So do I,” Caladîr said with a smile of anticipation. “So do I.”
** TBC **
Chapter 4: Wax On, Wax Off
Pippin gazed in growing wonder at the great stone city, vaster and more splendid than anything that he had dreamed of; greater and stronger than Isengard, and far more beautiful. Yet it was in truth falling year by year into decay. ‘Minas Tirith’, The Return of the King
Just before sunset, in the largest tent, an evening meal was served to the companies of men quartered at Cormallen. On this day, after the Standing Silence was concluded and everyone was seated, a herald announced that this feast honored those who had only recently returned from Mordor. Extra courses were served, as well as a fine wine.
As dishes from the final course of sweets and cheeses was being cleared away, Lord Aragorn stood up from his place at the High Table and called for attention. In a soft but somehow ringing voice, the King spoke of the hobbits who had traveled so far and risked so much to place their small selves against a menacing evil threatening all Free Peoples. He extolled their courage and compassion, steadfastness, generosity, unwavering friendship, love of country, intelligence, mercy, and a bright spirit even when faced with a Darkness that none of them could have imagined.
Then he turned to the table where Caladîr and Delumîr were seated. To the brothers’ surprise, he asked them to stand so that all could see them. They had assumed that their men would be informed of their new rank, but had hardly expected to be singled out by the King.
“As you have all seen over these past weeks,” Aragorn said, “those who exemplify the qualities of which I have spoken find high favor in my eyes. Many of you have been honored publicly, and also in private council. At this time, I ask that you now join me in honoring these two men, Caladîr and Delumîr, newly-appointed Captains of Gondor, who have proven themselves to their comrades, to the Ring-bearers, and to their king.”
Shouts of gladness and approval rose from all sides, and those who had been with Caladîr and Delumîr in Mordor knew such a promotion to be well earned. The brothers found themselves surrounded by cheering men who clapped them on the shoulders, clasped their arms, or raised their glasses in salute and toasts.
Overwhelmed, Caladîr looked up to where Aragorn stood, and clear grey eyes met his. Who is this King who sees into the hearts of men and is so generous with praise? he marveled. A new age is truly beginning. He suddenly found himself nearly knocked off his feet as his brother embraced him, and they stood quietly together for a moment, grateful to be alive, and still together, and on their way home.
After the feast, the brothers approached the High Table, where they bowed before the King.
“Good evening to you, Captains,” said Aragorn. “Did you enjoy your time with the hobbits today?”
“Very much indeed,” said Delumîr with a huge grin. “What a delightful folk. Their joy in life is equaled by their joy in a well-laid table. We felt very welcomed.”
“They asked that we visit with them again, and gladly will we do so, with your approval,” Caladîr added.
“I gladly give it,” Aragorn said with a smile.
“My liege,” said Caladîr, “You greatly honor us. We will strive to continue earning your high regard, and your trust. When you mentioned that we had proven ourselves to the Ring-bearers, you were referring to the clearing of the streams to enable seeds, saplings, and wildlife to begin bringing life to the Black Lands, were you not?”
“Yes,” Aragorn said.
“There is something more that Delumîr and I wish to do for Frodo, and perhaps for all of the hobbits. May we discuss it with you?”
“Of course,” Aragorn said. “There is nothing, whether by coin, sweat, or my own blood, that I would not see done for Frodo and his companions. Please, sit here by me and let us talk.”
Soon after they began speaking together, Aragorn called over Gandalf to join them, and also Gimli, who, when he heard the plan, had ideas of his own to contribute. And when they understood fully what the brothers had in mind, all three -- King, Wizard, and Dwarf -- found themselves nodding and smiling.
“I say no, Mr. Frodo!” Sam pleaded. He eyed the pot of melted wax that Caladîr was setting in front of Frodo with trepidation. “Don’t do it, sir.”
“I’ve dipped many a candle at home, sir, and hot wax is nothing to be messing with.” Getting nowhere with Frodo, Sam looked up pleadingly at Aragorn, sitting next to him at the table in the hobbits’ tent.
“Caladîr is an expert, Sam, and is being most careful,” Aragorn said soothingly. “I believe him when he says that this temperature won’t burn Frodo. I consulted with Gandalf, who understands more than any the uses and subtleties of fire, then tried this myself last night. Observe.” With both hobbits watching closely, he dipped one of his fingers into the wax, which Caladîr had previously heated to liquid on the hearth then set aside to cool slightly. Aragorn nodded encouragingly. “It is hot, Frodo, but not scalding. Will you try it?”
“All right,” Frodo said doubtfully. He rolled up his right sleeve, then touched the waxy surface with his right hand, tentatively breaking through the thin crust to the liquid beneath. He sucked in his breath at the unexpected heat, which caused Sam to jump. Frodo pulled his hand out, his fingers now covered in a thin coating of wax.
“Again,” Caladîr urged.
Less hesitantly this time, Frodo slid his whole hand into the pot, letting the heat envelop his fingers.
“It feels wonderful,” he said with surprise.
“Again,” Caladîr repeated. “Each time you dip your hand, a new layer of wax will build up around your fingers, and the warmth will be caught therein. My great-grandsire, who started our candle business, discovered that handling heated wax helped his stiff, aching hands to feel better.”
Soon, too soon for Frodo’s liking, the wax began to cool and harden. He pulled his hand out of the pot one final time, amused by the waxen sheath that coated his fingers.
“Just wiggle your fingers, and the wax will crack, enabling you to easily peel it off,” Caladîr said.
“My finger – well, where my finger used to be, anyway – does feel better,” Frodo said wonderingly. “Sam, would you like to try it next time?”
“No, thank you, sir,” Sam said firmly.
“There is something more for you to try, Frodo,” Caladîr said. “Before this wax hardens completely, you can grasp it in your hand. Pretend you are squeezing the sea-sponge that Gimli found for you.”
Frodo grasped a quantity of the hardening wax from the pot, and tried to close his hand around it. It was still warm, and slippery, and it took a great effort to squeeze his hand shut. Over and over, he worked hard to close his hand around the wax, until it was finally too hard to be malleable.
“I like this ‘therapy’,” he said to Caladîr with a smile. “Thank you.”
“I will return each day and heat the wax for you,” Caladîr said. “I would prefer that you let me do it, and the King agrees. After many years working with wax, I can tell just by looking at the liquid when it is hot enough to help you, but not hot enough to scald. The same wax can be used many times.”
“I would appreciate that very much,” Frodo said gratefully.
“My good wife finds that immersing her hands in hot wax keeps her skin soft,” Caladîr said with a grin. “I can attest to the truth in that.”
From across the table came a hoot of laughter.
“Quiet, Merry,” Frodo said. Touching his right hand with his left, he realized that the skin did seem smoother. “He’s right, you know; you might want to tell your Mum about this, when we get home.”
Caladîr smiled. “It is quite magical what can be done, in the right hands, with a bit of wax.”
“I can see that,” Frodo said, gazing across the table to where his cousins sat on either side of Delumîr. ‘You’re a true artist, Delumîr. Do your new students have any potential?”
“I believe they do, Frodo,” Delumîr said. “Now add a few drops of that rose oil, Pippin. Very good.”
He was teaching Merry and Pippin to make candles, but not the ordinary, everyday tapers with which every hobbit was familiar. After working together all morning, pausing only for a filling meal that the hobbits called second breakfast, the table was filling up with candles of various shapes and sizes, formed by pouring heated wax into small containers Gimli had cut and shaped out of unused baking sheets and small pieces of discarded armor. A wick even protruded out of wax hardened inside a slightly-cracked drinking horn that one of the Rohirrim had discarded. Inspired by the delight the hobbits showed in working with wax, Delumîr had moved on to showing them how to fold pieces of thick parchment into shapes into which wax could be poured. When the wax cooled and the parchment was peeled away, they were left with candles that held their shape -- round or square, smooth or fluted. Eager to learn more, Pippin was now infusing his candles with scent.
Delumîr was pleased that the hobbits’ hands, although small, were quite dexterous; he was already thinking ahead to teaching them the art of colored and decorated candles; to that end, Gimli had promised to ferret out any dyes that could be found in camp.
“And candles are just a beginning,” Caladîr said. “Sculpting with wax is an art for which our family is known throughout the South.”
“What kind of sculptures?” Merry asked curiously.
“All kinds,” Delumîr said with a smile. “Dragons, trees, ships, beloved pets, even ocean waves as they roll towards shore, the colors of one wave blending from the deepest blue upwards to a frothy white cap. Every color and shape, opaque or translucent, small or large.” He sighed. “Sadly, as the Darkness grew and taxes were raised higher to build up the Steward’s armies, many ordinary folk have no longer had the extra coin to spend on needed repairs to their homes, and only a few can now afford luxuries such as sculpture. In recent years, our family has been hard-pressed to earn a living.”
“Thanks to the King, we will be bringing home increased wages,” Caladîr said quietly. “We are grateful.”
“I’d love to see your shop,” Pippin said wistfully, and the other hobbits all nodded. The young hobbit laughed suddenly. “I doubt anything Merry or I could create would be useful to you, alas.”
“That candle you’re making will smell good anyway it looks, Master Pippin,” Sam said encouragingly. “I like rose oil. It reminds me of…. Well, I just like it, that’s all.”
“Gimli found lavender oil, as well,” Merry said, pointing to a small vial. “Don’t ask me where.”
Aragorn smiled at them all, then got to his feet.
“I must go, my friends. There are still some in need of healing, and I wish to meet with Elladan and Elrohir. We need to discuss how to transport the remaining wounded when we return to Minas Tirith.”
“Aragorn, lavender-scented candles might be nice to set about the tent where the wounded lay,” Frodo said thoughtfully.
“That’s a good idea, Frodo,” Aragorn said. “If we could--”
“Strider, what about that special plant?” Sam blurted out, then he reddened in embarrassment. “Sorry sir, for interrupting you.”
“It is all right, Sam,” Aragorn said kindly. “What are you thinking?”
“Strider, what if those kingsfoil leaves you use could be pressed into an oil, like roses?” Sam asked earnestly. “And the oil added to candles? Maybe the smell of it would be good for the hurt men.”
The three other hobbits stared at Sam in amazement, and Aragorn’s eyes lit up.
“Sam Gamgee,” he said slowly, “your services to Middle-earth continue to astound me.” He turned to Delumîr. “Can any fragrant plant oil be added to a candle?”
“I do not see why not,” Delumîr responded. “But isn’t kingsfoil just a weed?”
“Hardly. I will let the hobbits explain,” Aragorn said with a grin, then he hurried away.
** TBC **
Author note: The discovery of athelas (kingsfoil) growing near Cormallen is from my story "Keep Him Secret, Keep Him Safe".
Note: A special thank you to Andrea, who inspired an idea for this chapter.
Chapter 5: More Precious Than Gold
In his time the City was made more fair than it had ever been, even in the days of its first glory; and it was filled with trees and with fountains, and its gates were wrought of mithril and steel, and its streets were paved with white marble; and the Folk of the Mountain laboured in it, and the Folk of the Wood rejoiced to come there; and all was healed and made good, and the houses were filled with men and women and the laughter of children, and no window was blind nor any courtyard empty.
‘The Steward and the King’, The Return of the King
The evening before the large company at Cormallen assembled for their return at last to Minas Tirith, Aragorn summoned Caladîr and Delumîr to his tent. When the brothers were seated beside him, and a light refreshment had been served, the King smiled warmly at them.
“Once again I have reason to be grateful for your service – to the hobbits, to me, and also to the men,” he said. “Sam’s idea to infuse your candles with kingsfoil oil was inspired, and has been of great benefit to the wounded men. Those who suffered despair and a darkened spirit from the approach of the Nazgûl at the Black Gate were given candles to burn at night, and their dreams have lightened and been made more wholesome.”
“I’m overjoyed to hear these things,” Caladîr said. “Who would have imagined that a forgotten weed could have such an effect?”
“Forgotten no longer,” Aragorn assured them. “Tell me, gentlemen, what had you planned to do when you return home?”
“Embrace our families before all else!” Delumîr said with a laugh. “Caladîr and I have been discussing this as well. Whatever the King requires of us in the days of peace we will do, and with glad hearts.”
“Excellent,” Aragorn said. “I have watched your friendship with the hobbits grow, and they have spoken of their high regard for you. They trust you, as do I.”
“Thank you, Sire,” Caladîr said quietly. “We are both extremely fond of them.”
“My fondness for the hobbits is no secret, and will be more widely observed when we return to the City,” Aragorn said. “It is possible that not everyone will welcome a king, or believe that a Ranger from the North could claim to be one. It pains me to think of it, but I have begun to wonder if someone of misguided intent might seek to injure or entrap one or more of the hobbits – Frodo in particular – in an attempt to blackmail or dishearten me.”
The brothers stared at him with horror in their eyes.
“To surround our small friends with armed guards would limit and perhaps frighten them,” Aragorn continued. “I do not wish their stay in Minas Tirith to be anything other than peaceful, and a rest for their spirits.”
“Of course,” Caladîr said emphatically. “What did you have in mind?”
“Once you are settled back in your homes, and assured that your families are well provisioned, would you continue to visit with the hobbits as you are doing now? They have asked to be housed with Legolas, Gimli, and Gandalf, and will have that protection, but when their companions are away I know they will welcome your company as both friends and teachers. If one or both of you accompanies them as they explore the City, they would be seen in the company of respected soldiers... and would not guess about any possible danger. Of course I hope my fears are ungrounded, but it is better to be safe than sorry.”
It took Caladîr and Delumîr but one glance between them to agree.
“We would be honored,” Caladîr spoke for them both. “Our craft takes years to master, and lessons will occupy Frodo and his companions for as long as they wish to learn. Delumîr and I grew up in Minas Tirith, and can introduce the hobbits to a great number of skilled artisans and honest, hard-working families. They will make friends among those we trust.”
The men rose to their feet.
“We pledge ourselves to the hobbits’ safety, for as long as they dwell amongst us,” Caladîr assured the King, and he and Delumîr bowed.
Aragorn breathed a sigh of relief.
“Thank you, gentlemen,” he said with a smile. “I will rest more easily now. And who knows… you may find that teaching your honored craft to the hobbits will come to be of service to you and your families, as well.” With this enigmatic statement, he bid them goodnight.
One year later...
Minas Tirith’s recovery after the War was accelerated by the King’s moratorium on taxation for all citizens and farmholders for a three-year period – enough time, it was hoped, for farms, fields, orchards, livestock, and businesses to recover. A steady stream of Dwarves, responding to messages sent by Gimli Gloín’s son, had begun to arrive from the north, and the City’s roads, gates, and buildings were being made whole with surprising speed. The Elven prince, Legolas, continued to assist with the restoration of flowers and fruit-bearing trees. Hearing him singing softly wherever he went, many hearts were lightened. Also, the portion of the Steward’s treasury previously allocated solely for weapons and ships had been distributed by the King’s counsellors to maimed soldiers, as well as widows, orphans, and others in need. Renewed prosperity and buoyant hope were evident everywhere one looked.
The circumstances of Delumîr and Caladîr’s families had taken a dramatic turn for the better in a very short time, with their new wages as ranking officers put to immediate use. Then, as coin and goods flowed more freely in the City and outlying areas, sales of everything their families worked so hard to craft -- from serviceable but long-lasting household candles to lovely and elaborate wax sculptures -- began to increase. They were becoming hard-pressed to keep up with demand.
It was a most pleasant predicament, Delumîr reflected with a chuckle, but of course there was an additional reason for the shop’s popularity. After the last customer had gone for the day, he went into one of the storerooms and surveyed the items lined up on two long shelves. As always, the sight brought a smile.
Lord Aragorn had advised -- strangely, the brothers had thought at first -- that they pack up and bring from Cormallen all waxworks that the hobbits had made there -- large or small, clumsy or well crafted. Months later, after the King had been crowned and wed, it was time for the hobbits to depart the City with their Companions. Frodo chose a number of kingsfoil-infused candles to take home with him, and Samwise happily kept several pieces redolent with the rose oil he loved. Peregrin claimed the best and most fragrant of the waxen flowers he crafted in Minas Tirith as gifts for his mother and sisters, and after several months of lessons, Meriadoc had produced a horse of which he was quite proud -- similar in appearance to that noble steed ridden by King Théoden of Rohan.
Delumîr and Caladîr brought all of the candles and sculpted pieces left behind to their shop. Before they had decided what to do with them, soldiers who had known the hobbits at Cormallen began visiting the shop, alone or in groups, asking about items the hobbit heroes had made, and could they perhaps be purchased? They offered newly-minted coins, or services to barter, eager to obtain something that one of the small ones had formed with his own hands. Especially prized was anything Frodo Baggins himself had touched.
After talking it over, the brothers agreed to part with many things. They easily remembered who had made what piece, and were able to share with each purchaser an amusing or heart-warming story about hobbits that would be told and re-told throughout the City.
As the supply of hobbit-made items was finite, those who obtained one treated it as a treasure to keep in their families for many generations to come.
Before leaving the shop, Delumîr paused at a wall niche containing sculptures he and Caladîr had set apart from the rest, to be saved even if all others were sold. Their hobbit friends had crafted them in secret, and had presented them as gifts before they left the City.
Frodo had formed a gently-curved hill into which a round green door had been set. The hill was hollow, and the tiny candle Delumîr set inside sent a beam of yellow light through a window cut from a tiny square of glass. Sam had contributed groupings of miniature flowers and plants, and Pippin’s nimble fingers had created a small bench set beneath a nicely-shaped tree. Merry had molded a small brown pony, head down among Sam's flower beds.
The resulting tableau was what Frodo had lovingly called ‘Bag End’, his home in the north. No amount of coin, whether silver or gold, equaled their value to Delumîr and his brother. They called to mind treasured memories of bright voices, friendly faces, and small, dexterous hands. The Queen had even stopped by to see them, her presence bringing even more interest in the shop.
“Are you ever coming home?” came Caladîr’s soft chuckle from behind him. “Miranya will be feeding your supper to the neighbor’s dog if you tarry much longer.”
Delumîr grinned. “It would hardly honor the hobbits to neglect a meal.”
“You have learned much from our students, my brother,” Caladîr said with an equally bright smile.
They stood together, watching the tiny flicker of light shine from an equally tiny window.
“The King foresaw it all,” Delumîr said with awe. “Back at the campsite, he implied that what we gave the hobbits freely would return to enrich us, and that has indeed happened.”
He snuffed out the candle and left the shop with his brother. As they approached the home their families shared, each window shone with a warm light and the sounds of laughter and many contented voices came from within.
“We are the most fortunate of men,” Delumîr said softly. “Do we deserve such bounty?”
“To honor the hobbits is to appreciate the simple things of a life well lived,” Caladîr said. “For what else were we fighting?”
“You are right,” Delumîr agreed. “May the lives of all those who stood against the darkness be forever filled with the light of a thousand candles.”
He flung open the door, and his youngest daughter ran across the room to greet him. With a small cry of joy, he knelt to enfold her in his arms.
** END **
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