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Frodo Gamgee learns something about the High King...(If this story seems to bear a more than passing resemblance to a familiar seasonal song, it is not a coincidence.)
GOOD KING ELESSAR
PART I: HITHER PAGE AND STAND BY ME
Foreyule, S.R. 1442
Frodo Gamgee stared out the window at the lightly swirling snowflakes--there were only a few so far, and they melted as soon as they touched the ground. He wondered what they were doing at Bag End. His parents and the others should have arrived at home a few days ago--his mother would probably be starting on the Yule baking. And Elanor would be settling back in at home, and likely flitting about to see all the friends she had been missing for the past year while she'd been in Gondor maid-of-honouring to the Queen.
He sighed, and reminded himself that it had been his choice to go to the Northern court. Elanor'd had her turn this past year in the South, while her parents were in Gondor, and now it was his chance to prove himself--he was nearly twenty, after all! And while Annú minas mightn't be so grand a city as Minas Anor, still it was grand enough for him. He glanced down at himself, and fingered the embroidery of the stars-and-Tree on his surcoat. One of the High King's pages he was, now. And at the moment the High King's *only* page, seeing as they were not at Court.
For this had been Uncle Merry's and Uncle Pippin's surprise gift to the King when he had arrived in Arnor on his progress: a hunting lodge, about twenty miles north of the Brandywine Bridge. It was not too far from Girdley Island, a sprawling dwelling well able to accommodate both Big Folk and Little, as long as they were not accompanied by a horde of servants--a place where, as Uncle Pippin had put it, the good King Elessar could put aside his worries and be once more Strider the Ranger for a little while--only with a few more comforts! It was much nearer than the Northern Citadel on the far shores of Lake Evendim, and so would make the perfect spot for visits between old friends.
His sharp hobbit ears heard the soft tread of his liege, as the King entered the large front room where Frodo stood. He turned. "How is Uncle Merry, sire?" he asked.
"Embarrassed," replied the King. "It's only a light sprain, after all. I think your Uncle Pippin was more upset than he was. A day of bed rest, and keeping his ankle up will see Merry right very soon. But I gave both of them a light sleeping draught."
Frodo nodded. Poor Uncle Pippin had been distraught when he had helped his hobbling cousin inside. The two had been out in the cold, and, as his own father often called it in exasperated tones, "playing about like a couple of tweens". Actually, as Uncle Merry had said with dignity, they had been sparring, when he put a foot wrong.
"Serves me right," he had winced, as Aragorn had checked his injury. "I've neglected to keep in fighting shape the last few years."
Uncle Pippin had nodded seriously, but said nothing, as he bit his lip and hovered over his older cousin like a hen with one chick. But Frodo-lad had been reassured when he met the King's eyes, and seen the twinkle there.
"I scarcely think, Sir Meriadoc, that we are in any peril here," he said mildly. "And if unexpected foes should suddenly appear, I still have the doughty Sir Peregrin and the brave Captain Bergil. Not to mention the son of Samwise the Stout-hearted."
Frodo felt a brief instant of warm pride, at both the praise of his father, and the implication that he was worthy of similar regard--though in his heart he knew he was young and untried.
"Well, but we promised, Strider," said Pippin, "that you'd not need a horde of guards with you when we came here."
"Nor do I," and without so much as a by-your-leave, he'd picked Uncle Merry up, and with Uncle Pippin trotting at his heels, had carried the injured hobbit off to his bed.
Now Uncle Strider--no, Frodo reminded himself--the King, for the next year, he must only think of him as the King--turned to the door, and summoned Captain Bergil inside.
"Everything shall be quite well, Bergil," the King said. "Merry has merely sprained his ankle, slipping on the icy ground as they sparred. However, this may put his return home off a few days longer. I want you to ride down to the messenger-house by the Stonebow Bridge, and see that word is taken to Mistress Estella. I don't wish her to worry unnecessarily, and I am afraid she might box my ears," he laughed, "if I should fail to inform her!"
Frodo-lad suppressed a chuckle at the thought of Aunt Estella boxing the King's ears--but she *would* be cross if no one thought to tell her of her husband's mishap!
Bergil looked doubtful at this order, though he said nothing, but stood with arms folded, regarding the King--who correctly interpreted his look. "I shall be quite safe here. Now, if any should seek to chastise you for leaving my side, you have a direct order from me."
"Very well, sire." But Frodo could tell that it set ill with the captain to go off and leave the King unguarded.
King Elessar, on the other hand, was grinning. "Now off with you, Bergil!" And of course, the Guardsman had no choice in the matter.
Uncle--no, the King--confound it, it was hard to think of him as King when he had that sort of smile, that come to think of it, reminded him a lot more of Uncle Merry and Uncle Pippin than it did of a King--the King turned and looked about himself as though he had achieved a mighty victory. But Frodo hoped that the Queen would not be too cross at Bergil for going off and leaving them. King Elessar looked at his face, and chuckled, "If she is angry with anyone, it will be with me, Frodo, and not poor Bergil."
Frodo was astonished. How had he known what he was thinking?
There was another chuckle. "You show every thought right on your honest face, lad, just like your father!"
Now Frodo found himself blushing to the tips of his ears.
"I'm going to go check on your uncles. Why don't you see to making some luncheon for us?"
The young hobbit grinned, and made a bee-line for the kitchen--he'd been itching to get busy there ever since Uncle Merry and Uncle Pippin had given them the grand tour this morning when they arrived. It was a splendid kitchen, and built so that hobbits would feel right at home cooking in it. There was a Big Folk sized table, and the dishes and pans were in two sizes, but the hearth and the stove and the pump at the sink were meant to be used by hobbit hands.
"We figured," said Merry, "that you'd be having hobbit guests with you whenever you stayed here."
"Ah," the King had replied, and he had raised an eyebrow at the unabashed Master and Thain.
"Of course," Uncle Pippin had said breezily. "Who else would be doing the cooking here?"
But while Uncle Merry and Uncle Pippin were showing the kitchen off, Frodo-lad had occupied himself with an inventory of the adjacent--and well-stocked--larder, and thought of all the wonderful things it might be possible to make. He had seen that plenty of provisions had been laid in--cheeses, and smoked hams, and preserves, and dried beans and mushrooms, and bottles of wine, and casks of beer and ale, and eggs and milk and flour, as well as loaves of bread, and baskets of root vegetables--carrots, onions, potatoes, turnips and other good things. Near the hearth was a well-filled woodbox, and Frodo soon had fires roaring in both the fireplace and the stove. By the time that the King joined him, he was busy chopping vegetables for a hearty soup, and had cut one of the loaves for toasting.
"They are both sound asleep. The chamomile, vervain and willow-bark did the trick, lad."
Frodo nodded, as he put the soup upon the stove, and the bread on the toasting forks. "I know Uncle Pippin was worried."
"They both worry about one another--they always have, as long as I have known them. They worried a good deal about Frodo as well, as did your father." The King sat in one of the big chairs near the large window, and stretched out his long legs, taking out his pipe to fill. Soon the kitchen was filled with the mingled smell of vegetable soup, Old Toby, and ale. The King gave Frodo-lad the half he'd be allowed in the Shire, and was rewarded by a smile.
As the soup simmered, Frodo listened to his King harking back to the days of the Quest, and telling him stories of that perilous journey. Frodo had read the Red Book, and more than once, but it was quite different listening to it from the King's point-of-view.
"I thought I knew something of hobbits, Frodo-lad, until I began to travel with them. And then I was constantly being surprised by them. It was not until we left Rivendell that I began to learn what tireless foragers they were…"
As Frodo served up the soup and toast, they ate together in companionable silence. He looked at this big Man--so tall, and so kind, and so familiar--and yet, recalling him on his throne in the Northern Citadel, with his beautiful Queen by his side, he knew also King Elessar's regal side. He recalled his father telling him once that sometimes it seemed as if Strider and the King were two different people. "But don't you forget, son, even when he was being Strider, way back then afore any of us had a clue, there was still something noble and high about him. And even when he's at his fiercest kingliness, at heart, he's still Strider as well. He never forgets what it was like to be a ragged wanderer, and made mock of by ignorant and suspicious folk--such as I was then! Don't forget Mr. Bilbo's words, 'All that is gold does not glitter', Frodo-lad."
Just as Frodo was about to offer to fetch seconds of the soup from off the stove, he saw the King sit forward, and gazed sharp-like out the window.
Frodo looked, too. The snow was swirling a bit more thickly, but there at the edge of the copse of woods to the north of the lodge, he could see it--a Man, limping, gathering up fallen wood from beneath the trees. The cloak he was wearing was ragged and threadbare, and he had no hood, nor hat upon his head.
"Look, Frodo-lad! Do you have any idea who that is? Where does he dwell?"
Frodo put his face closer to the window, and tried to think. "I think I know who he is--Uncle Merry says he lives about a league from here, near the forest eaves, by Lost Lamb Spring. He keeps to himself, so Uncle Merry says, and will hide if he sees hobbits coming."
The King looked intently, as the figure, burdened with the pitifully small amount of wood he could manage, vanished into the copse beyond. "Frodo, I have an idea."
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