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For LindaHoyland for her birthday, with apologies for taking so blasted long!
Frodo had had enough of Aragorn’s court for the day. He was hot and tired, and the outfit he wore today was scratchy and heavy with gold braid. He was fighting a headache, and what he wanted at the moment was to return to the guesthouse and retire to his bed in the library with a cold cloth over his eyes. Yes, a cold cloth, and perhaps a cold drink as well? Why should he as a Hobbit of the Shire be forced to be on display for these people he would most likely never see again once he returned home once more?
“Master Frodo, would you care for a drink?”
He looked up to find one of the maids standing over him with a tray of cups, her eyes kindly. Aragorn had charged those who offered service to the residents and guests to the Citadel to see to it that Frodo and Sam always had drinks available to them, drinks and at least small platters of such food as was available that could be eaten cold and with the fingers. He could not be annoyed with those who watched over him to offer to such relief. “Thank you,” he said. “A cold drink is precisely what I am wishing for most at the moment.”
In minutes she had left him with a small goblet of watered wine and another of juice from the orange fruit, both of which he found refreshing. Feeling more charitable towards the world, he took a sip of wine and sat back, settling his two cups beside him as he leaned back upon the bench in the gardens where he’d taken refuge to stretch, running a finger about his neck where the gold braid caused it to itch.
“Oh, dear, another refugee from the to-do within the Citadel,then?”
Frodo looked up with surprise, for as distracted as he’d been he’d not heard the approach of anyone, and certainly he ought to have been aware of the arrival of another Big Folk! The one who had spoken was a lass—a girl, he reminded himself. Had she been a Hobbit he’d have judged her to be in her early tweens; he wasn’t certain just how old that made her in the reckoning of Men, but she was clearly somewhere between childhood and being of age. She was richly dressed in a gown of dark blue, her hair wound about a golden cord that matched much of the decoration of the bodice for her dress, her sleeves, and her girdle.
“I don’t know why they insist on bringing children such as you and me to court. You must be bored quite as much as I have been….” Her last words had faltered as she took in the features of his face and apparently found reason to question her estimation of him as a child. “I’m sorry,” she faltered. “Are you a Dwarf, then, one of the new King’s friends?”
For the first time since he’d come up to the Citadel from the guesthouse Frodo felt amused. “I do hope that Gimli doesn’t hear you thinking me a Dwarf,” he said. “Although, yes, I am one of the King’s friends.”
“You aren’t a Dwarf?” she said, obviously surprised. “Then….” She examined him more closely, and suddenly flushed. “A Pherian!” she breathed. “You are a Halfling!”
“Our name for ourselves is Hobbit,” he told her.
“I thought that my naneth was only trying to tease me when she said that there were Pheriannath within the White City,” the girl explained. “I never dreamed you were real!” At which she flushed again, afraid she might have given offense.
Frodo smiled, finding he truly liked the child. “Oh, we are real enough, believe me. At home I fear it is you that people would choose to disbelieve in, for rarely enough do we see Big Folk. Many of those who live far from the Sarn Ford or the Road may never see a Man in all of their lives.”
“But you’ve seen Men before?”
He shrugged. “A few times, mostly when I lived in Buckland as a child, or at the Free Fair in Michel Delving. And Gandalf, of course. Although I suppose that he perhaps is not precisely a Man, being a Wizard.”
She looked confused. “Gandalf?”
“You most likely know him as Mithrandir. That is what most of the Elves call him and how I have heard him addressed here in Gondor. But in the north he is known usually as Gandalf.”
Her expression had cleared during his explanation. “Oh, yes, we know about Mithrandir. He visits Minas Tirith every few years. Somehow I was not surprised to learn that he is a friend of our new King.”
“They appear to have known one another for many years. Bilbo tells me that the first time he visited Rivendell with Gandalf and the Dwarves he met Aragorn then, although the Elves called him Estel. Aragorn was but a child at the time, however.”
“Who is Bilbo?”
He smiled. “He is my older cousin, enough older that I often refer to him as my uncle. He left the Shire, where most Hobbits living in Middle Earth dwell, over seventeen years ago, and has lived most of the time since in Rivendell in Lord Elrond’s house. Although you probably have heard of Rivendell by its Elvish name—Imladris.”
“And our new King’s given name is Aragorn, then?”
Frodo nodded. “Most of the Kings in Eriador have had names that begin with A R, which goes back to how Kings were addressed in Númenor, I understand.”
She appeared impressed. “You know about Númenor?” she asked. “I had to learn about it in my history lessons.”
Again Frodo gave a slight shrug. “Bilbo insisted I must learn about it, and so I learned how the Kings were addressed, first by the prefix of Tar- and later Ar-. In what was Arnor, and that is now known as Eriador, the heirs to Isildur eventually returned to that convention.” Afraid that the conversation would become bogged down in technical aspects of the usages of language, he sought to turn the conversation. “You said that you didn’t understand why children were brought to the Citadel today, and that you didn’t think that this was right. Why?”
She appeared very embarrassed. “I am not yet fifteen, but my naneth insisted that I come today dressed as if I were a woman grown. When it was learned that our new King Elessar was not yet wed, the women of Gondor began to grow hopeful that each might capture his heart and his hand for herself or her daughter. So it was that my mother, who belongs to the Guild of Seamstresses, wrought this gown for me and saw me dressed ready, she hopes, to beguile the eyes of the King. The upper courts of the White City will be simply seething with women and girls hoping to capture his eye and his heart. And my father, who is the Master of the Guild of Jewel Smiths, was prevailed upon to bring me here today as the Guild Masters come to pay him court. And many brought their sons as well, hoping to find preferment for them in the King’s personal service. I thought that you were one of the boys brought for such purposes. I mean, with that costume upon you, what was I to think?”
He laughed. “Then this was intended perhaps for the use of a child? I wore it only because a woman who dwells in the next lane to ours offered it to me and told me it had been her son’s, but that he had died in the battles. What so slight a lad was doing still within the city walls I do not know, although Pippin tells me that there were several boys who had refused to leave the city who dwelt in care in the Street of Lamp-wrights during the days leading up to the battle upon the Pelennor.” Again he ran his finger about his neck, just inside the gold braid. “It is most uncomfortable, the way the braid irritates my skin.”
She nodded briefly, her mouth pursed wryly. “So my cousin would say, also, when he must wear the one such outfit my aunt purchased for him. They are commonly worn by boys on formal occasions, you see. They look almost like livery.”
“Well, I have done my duty and have worn the outfit and have been seen doing so by the woman who gave me these clothes, and tonight I shall see if one of the children who lives nearby could possibly wear it..”
“You could come to my mother, who could make for you costumes far more in keeping with your personal tastes and your station. You are not a boy, or so your face tells me. You should be wearing something more akin with the manner in which the men of your people dress, or so it seems to me.”
He smiled, and he could see her face softening in response to his smile. “I thank you. Aragorn has been seeing to it that clothes are made for us, as what we wore upon our long journey has been either destroyed or lost or worn nearly to rags. Not that Merry or Pippin could wear what they brought with them any longer, of course—they are unconscionably tall for Hobbits now, ever since they met the Ent creatures of Fangorn Forest, at least. But I must say that the livery Pippin must wear when he attends upon Aragorn as King appears far more comfortable than this, save that it is black. But the silver embroidery does not appear to scratch him.”
She appeared interested. “This Pippin is one of your people? And he attends upon the King himself? That is quite an honor!”
Frodo answered her, “Well, we did come south with Aragorn, after all, and have all become rather close. Although it was first to your Lord Denethor that Pippin swore his fealty, in memory of how Boromir sacrificed himself to protect both Pippin and Merry when they were under attack by Saruman’s great orcs. From what Pippin and Gandalf tell me, once he swore his fealty to Gondor in such a manner, he must continue on even though it is Aragorn as the King Elessar he now serves rather than Lord Denethor. He continues to honor the late Lord Steward even though Lord Denethor is gone, and he has developed a deep respect for Lord Faramir as well, as,” he added with another smile, “have we all.”
“All love and respect our Lord Faramir,” she said, returning his smile. “He is a most gentle and honorable Man, you see.”
“I am honored,” someone else responded, and Frodo and his companion turned to see Faramir himself approaching them.
The young woman flushed once more on realizing she’d been overheard, and sank into a graceful curtsey. “My Lord Faramir!” she murmured.
Frodo stood up, smiling his welcome and inclining his head courteously. “Lord Captain,” he said. “I believed I recognized your step.”
“Again, I am honored, Master Baggins,” Faramir said with an equally courteous bow of his own head. “I fear that our new Lord King could not get away to join you. It would appear that the Master of the Guild of Shipwrights of Pelargir is intent on introducing him and Éomer of Rohan to his three daughters and pointing out the—assets of each one. He asked that I find you and assure myself on his behalf that you are doing well. I take it that the gathering was becoming both too loud and too crowded for your complete comfort?”
Frodo could feel his cheeks and the tips of his ears redden somewhat. “I regret to admit that this indeed was the case. But I have found pleasant companionship here in the gardens.”
“Ah, yes, with young Mistress Kirilien, I see. You are most welcome, sweet lady. Although it would appear you have grown up far more quickly than I might have expected. Your mother has done marvelously at indicating just how much you have done so since I saw you last at Mettarë, my dear.”
The girl was flushing fiercely with embarrassment. “I am sorry,” she said.
He laughed as he bent to take her hands and draw her to her feet. “Do not be, child. You are not the only girl sent so to draw the King’s eye. Knowing he is not yet wed has drawn the ambition out in so many women intent on capturing such a prize for their beloved daughters. Although at least your mother has the skill to do so most beautifully. That gown is indeed a work of art without being too blatant about its intent, and indicates that you shall be even more beautiful as you mature into a woman indeed.”
Her flush shifted from embarrassment to pleasure, and Frodo could do nothing but smile along with her delight at the compliment paid her.
A manservant followed the new Steward of Gondor into the gardens, carrying a tray on which lay small plates of cheeses and rounds of toasted breads alongside selections of small fruits and slices of vegetables. “My lords, young Mistress,” he said as he presented his tray to the three of them, after which he returned back through the rest of the gardens to offer to any others who might have sought relief from the gathering within the Citadel.
“I am rather surprised you have been allowed to escape, no matter how briefly,” Frodo commented as he chose some unfamiliar small orange fruits to try.
“It has been quietly shared about the White City that my heart has finally been captured by a certain beautiful Shield-maiden from Rohan, and although many mothers are disappointed for their daughters on my behalf they are nevertheless intent on testing what draws the attention of our new King,” Faramir answered him. “Has he a woman close to his heart back in the northern lands, think you?”
Frodo could only shrug. “When we met in Bree we did not see many women at all of any race, and the few we did see we noticed only as we were leaving the Breelands, and none of them appeared to be happy to see him at all. But while he and his Rangers are about their business of protecting the more settled parts of Eriador where other peoples dwell, they appear rough and uncouth and go by whatever names they are granted by the people they meet. In the Breelands he is known as Strider, which was how we were first introduced to him. He told us his name as it was given to him by his parents, but it was not until we reached Rivendell, Imladris, that I began calling him Aragorn rather than Strider most of the time. He spent most of his childhood within the boundaries of Rivendell, and I understand that even most of his own people believed he had died when barely better than a babe in arms. The Enemy had been sending plagues and assassins into Eriador for generations to try to see the last of the Heirs to Isildur slain, and so when he became seriously ill the Sons of Elrond suggested that it be told abroad that he had died so that he might be raised safely under Lord Elrond’s care until he was old enough to return and take his place as the ruler to the Dúnedain of Eriador.
“While we stayed within Rivendell I saw him with Lord Elrond’s daughter and some of the Elven women who yet remain there. He and the Lady Arwen tend to be rather formal when they are together, but appear friendly enough, I suppose. The rest of the women there tend to call him Estel, which I understand was the name he was called by as a child growing up amongst them. They all respect him, but I saw no—no familiarity—there between him and anyone of womankind.
“The only other place ere we came here where I have seen him with women about him was in the Elven land of Lothlórien, east of the Misty Mountains. He was obviously known and respected there by many of that land, and their Lady treated him with great honor, but again with no familiarity.
“Gimli and Legolas tell me that there was no question that the Lady Éowyn was drawn to him as a moth is to a flame whilst they stayed within Edoras in Rohan, but that he showed her respect and friendship but nothing more during their time together. Merry did not see them together, so could not say one way or another, save what others told him as he recovered from the Black Breath in the Houses of Healing, that she appeared to think herself in love with him but that he politely and gently refused to say aught to indicate he might return her affection. I do know that upon our arrival out upon the Pelennor on the eve of his coronation that he basically told the Minister of Protocol that he would be seeing to obtaining his own bride and that there was nothing to be done by any here within Gondor.”
“So,” Faramir said slowly, “he might well have a woman amongst his own people that he has come to care deeply for.”
“It seems possible. I do know that he was told by Lord Elrond that he might not take any woman to wife until he was ruler of both Arnor and Gondor. I heard this mentioned while we rested in the Lady Galadriel’s lands. But as Lady Éowyn appears to be quite happy knowing that you love her deeply, I would say that she has taken no lasting hurt from her former attraction to Aragorn.”
Faramir smiled at him at that. “So it would seem. Now, if Lord Éomer would agree to affirm our betrothal all would be most well indeed.” He gave Frodo a closer examination as once more the Hobbit ran his finger about the neck of his shirt. “And where did you obtain this set of clothing, Master Frodo?” he asked. “It is not one of those that our Lord King asked that I commission for you.”
“From a lady on the next lane to Isil Lane where we are staying,” Frodo explained. “She told me that it had belonged to her son.”
“Ah, Mistress Finroniel,” Faramir said. “Her son has not been able to wear that for several years, I fear. He died, I am told, during the siege of the city. He was carrying food to some of those on watch along the walls of the Second Circle when the catapults of the Enemy rained fire upon the city, and one of the balls hit him and set his clothing and hair alight. I am told that he died in agony about an hour before I was carried to the Citadel by my uncle.” He shook his head, his grief for what his people had suffered clear to be seen. “So many died then, both inside and outside the walls of Minas Tirith. I only rejoice that you achieved your own task, Master Frodo, ending the evil of Mordor completely so that the siege could not be taken up once more.”
Frodo shrugged, feeling as uncomfortable for what he felt was undeserved praise as he was for the scratchiness of the braid on the shirt he wore. “At least the Ring is destroyed at last,” he said softly, although in his heart he felt that the sound of it was also quite harsh.
Kirilien was looking at him with growing wonder. “Then you were the Ringbearer, Master Frodo?” she asked. Again she sank into a deep curtsey, and Frodo felt his cheeks growing flushed indeed.
“Please, please don’t curtsey to me, young Mistress,” he begged.
She looked up, obviously surprised. Faramir indicated she should rise. “It is not the way for his people to accept such gestures of respect, Kirilien,” he explained.
She straightened to her feet, uncertain as to what she should do next. “Please sit down by me,” Frodo suggested as he settled himself again upon the bench, patting the place to his left where there was ample room for her to seat herself.
She did so, asking, “What was it like, traveling with our new King?”
He picked up his cup of juice and emptied it, set it down and nursed his wine goblet for a time, focusing on memories of his journey with the Fellowship. “It was difficult for Merry, Pippin, and Sam to realize that he was intended to be our King,” he said finally. “When we met in Bree, as I told you, we were introduced to him by the name they called him by there, Strider. The innkeeper at the Prancing Pony, the inn where we met him, thought him most likely a terrible person. Nor did he appear particularly special. His clothing may have been expensive once, but it was worn and terribly stained, and he badly needed to have his hair and beard washed and trimmed. He looked as if he’d been out in the rain for several days in a row and had never had the chance to properly dry out.”
Faramir laughed aloud. “Ah, but certainly my men and I have all looked like that at times when we’ve been on a long patrol. My cousin Húrin was commenting that he feared that our other captains and lords would resist having to defer to him were he to wear his riding leathers on the road to the Black Gate, insisting that we must find him armor to wear more appropriate to his position as Isildur’s Heir and the Captain General over the Army of the West.”
Frodo smiled as he sipped from his glass of wine. He lowered it and nodded. “Butterbur was most upset that we had, as he put it, taken up with that Ranger, convinced as he was that Strider was the worst sort of ruffian. But then the people of Bree have no understanding of who the Rangers of Eriador truly are, or what they do to protect those of us who live in the few settled parts of the northern lands. Not that we Hobbits of the Shire understand any better than the Breelanders. When Sam and I met you with your Rangers in Ithilien we could tell that you were from an established army, for all of you were dressed much the same with the same symbols about you indicating that you were brothers in arms. But the only thing that identifies one as a Ranger of Eriador is that they all wear long cloaks and carry swords in well cared for scabbards, and their cloaks are almost always held closed on the shoulder by silver star brooches. But their cloaks might be brown, grey, green, or silver, and are usually well worn and stained by long wear and usage, while the clothing under those cloaks is alike only in that it is all intended to last through long periods of wear and through all types of weather. Aragorn wasn’t wearing the star brooch most Rangers we see inside the Shire wear, so none of us identified him at the time with the Rangers who have tended to pass through the Shire heading east or west along the Road or south from the Brandywine Bridge to the Sarn Ford. Not, of course, that we knew precisely who the Rangers were or what their purpose was.
“Strider followed us to our rooms in the Prancing Pony and begged us to accept him as our guide to Rivendell. He managed to unsettle us completely, but I still felt, somehow, that I should trust him. He admitted his proper name, and swore that he would protect me by either his life or death.”
Faramir raised his head sharply, straightening to attention. “He swore himself to you?” he demanded. “He was intended to be King of both his land and ours, and he swore himself to you?”
Frodo gave a solemn nod, and Faramir sat back, his eyes filled with wonder. “But you were no lord of any land, no one of any importance, save for the fact that you carried the Enemy’s Ring.”
Again Frodo nodded. “He knew about It—that I carried the Ring, and recognized that when I disappeared there within the inn’s common room that I must have slipped the foul thing upon my finger. I don’t think he realized that It had slipped Itself upon my finger, that I’d had no intention to do any such thing. But what was I to do other than to carry It with me? Gandalf would not accept It when I begged him to take It, there in the parlor at Bag End, my home in the Shire. He didn’t say anything, but Aragorn still made it obvious, to me at least, that he didn’t wish to even look at It. He certainly said nothing to indicate that I should give It to anyone else, and made it plain he did not wish to touch the horrid thing. Only when we were attacked at Weathertop, however, did he begin to realize just how treacherous It was capable of being.”
Kirilien appeared uncertain. “How could a ring slip Itself onto your finger?”
Frodo looked away. “As Gandalf explained to me in the parlor at Bag End, the Rings of Power have the ability to see to their own priorities, and it was especially true of Sauron’s own Ring.” He looked over to Faramir, almost with apology. “Boromir appears to have heard It calling to his spirit far too easily. But they all tell me that It called to them, and Aragorn himself told me he had to steel himself against Its demands of him. And when Sam thought I’d died as we left the spider’s lair and took It from my body to finish the quest himself, It did everything It could to get him to claim It so It could betray him, too.”
Faramir visibly shuddered. “The more reason to be glad that It is destroyed, then.”
“Yes.” Frodo sighed and sipped from his wine cup.
There was quiet for a few minutes, until Kirilien asked, “What will you do now?”
Frodo shifted his head slightly, then answered, “Aragorn wishes us to stay with him here for a time, and suggests that perhaps when the time comes for King Théoden’s funeral we should then be able to go back north in some safety and, he says, in company with others that we not be assaulted as we travel. Apparently reports are that the roads through and just north of Dunland are being populated by landless Men who are preying on travelers and parties of merchants. It is one of his goals to see the North Road made safe between the Gap of Rohan and the Breelands. At least there is no further danger from Isengard as there was while we traveled south.”
Faramir cocked his head. “We weren’t aware until the Enemy was sending his armies against the White City that Saruman had turned traitor. Suddenly my father knew, although we knew not how word of it had come to him.”
“Gandalf believes that Lord Denethor learned of the White Wizard’s treachery through the seeing stone,” Frodo said, his expression darkening. “It would have pleased the Enemy at that point to give your father further reason to despair. I knew dreams of a huge army of great orcs, far different ones than Sam and I saw in Mordor, heading westward toward a huge tower built against the base of high mountains. The Ring loved showing me such images, I found, hoping to make me lose heart for my purpose.”
Faramir was nodding his head in understanding. “My father ought to have realized that with the Enemy in control of Minas Morgul that the Dark Lord most likely had the Ithil stone within his grasp, and that he would use it to darken our counsels.”
“Not even Gandalf thought of that possibility, though,” Frodo answered. “Do not blame your father for not thinking of it, no matter how wise he might have been.” He took a deep breath and looked up at the blue sky overhead. “How long do you think it might be before the Rohirrim are ready to take their old King home?”
“Perhaps shortly after Midsummer,” Faramir responded.
“Then it is not likely we will return to the Shire until after the birthday,” Frodo said, feeling rather sad. “Bilbo and I have the same birthday, you see, about the time summer gives way to autumn, just as the first leaves begin to change colors. Then I think I may insist we go first to Rivendell so I can spend our birthday with Bilbo. He would like that, I know. After all, now that It is gone, he is not likely to linger all that much longer. Gollum knew that he would die—die into the dust, as he put it, once the Ring was destroyed. At least he died with It, glad only to hold It in his hands once more, and had no chance to seek to claim It before the Fire took him and the Ring together. Bilbo didn’t carry It anywhere as long, and It remained largely asleep while he held It, so he didn’t take as much damage from It. But he will be changed, I am certain, when I see him again. Certainly,” he added as he leaned forward to drink the last of his wine, “carrying It changed me.”
“Master?” interrupted another voice, and the three of them looked over to see Sam entering the garden where they were gathered. “I went down to the guesthouse and fetched up a different outfit. Seein’ as how much you’ve been a-rubbin’ at where the braid touches your skin, I’d say as you’d do with somethin’ more comfortable. You want to come in and change? I think as Lord Strider wishes you to come back, don’t you know.”
Frodo found himself smiling. “My dear, dear Sam Gamgee,” he murmured in a low voice. “How well you know me!” Then louder he answered, “Yes, Sam, that would be most welcome.” He rose to his feet, setting the wine goblet beside the cup that had held juice. “You will see these returned to the kitchens, please, my Lord Faramir? Thank you oh, so much. Mistress Kirilien, I hope I might encounter you again ere we leave again for the north. If you will excuse me….”
He turned away to return to the rooms Aragorn had had prepared for the Hobbits within the Citadel, anxious to be more comfortable once more.
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