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From Wilderness to Cities White  by Larner

For Linda Hoyland, Dawn Felagund, Speedy Hobbit, and PearlTook for their birthdays, and for Ring Day as well!

Insult and Injuries

            “Ah, but our King now approaches,” they could hear Lord Faramir, now both Prince of Ithilien and Steward of Gondor, say to the Man with him as Aragorn and some of his Companions approached from the Citadel, planning to head lower down in the city.  They could not say for certain who this Man might be other than that he was a soldier, for none of them had seen him before.  Tall and spare he was, and clad in formal black and silver, the bare White Tree embroidered upon the breast of his dress uniform.

            “He must have changed into fresh clothes on entering the city,” Pippin noted to Frodo in low tones.  But at that point Pippin was being summoned away by Captain Gilmaros so that he might receive his orders for his next term of duty that he was to take up within a quarter mark, and so he had no time for more than to note Frodo’s nod of acknowledgment of what he’d said.

            “A stiff sort, I’d say,” Gimli said in a low rumble.

            Legolas gave his own nod.  “A swordsman rather than an archer,” he added.

            Aragorn listened absently as he evaluated the stranger for himself, finding each of these comments to be confirmed by what he saw with his own eyes.

            Faramir smiled, turning to greet them as they came close.  He bowed his head, and introduced the newcomer.  “My Lord, may I introduce Captain Reginorn of the Eighth Company.  Captain Reginorn has oft served as my brother’s second, and has but today arrived from his last posting in the garrison keeping watch at the foot of the Stair at Rauros Falls.  Captain, this is our new King, Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, late the Chieftain of the Dúnedain of the North and Heir to Isildur, who led our army to victory at the Black Gates.”

            The soldier gave a profound bow, although the look he gave his new sovereign was as much an evaluation as that he was receiving from the King.  Aragorn could not fault the Man, considering how much he’d found himself evaluating those promoted to command among his own people when he returned from his wanderings in the south of Middle Earth so many years ago.  This Reginorn had as little knowledge of Aragorn’s skills as Aragorn had of Reginorn’s, after all.  The King decided to soften the meeting.

            “I welcome you home, Captain.  And to have been Second in command to Lord Boromir is quite the recommendation.  From what I know of his nature, he must have esteemed you greatly.”

            Reginorn gave a flattered smirk.  “Indeed so.  But, then, I had a remarkable teacher, for Boromir taught me all that I know.  It is only too bad that you did not have the chance to know him, for I am certain he could have taught you much regarding the handling of a sword.”

            Aragorn felt his lip attempt to twitch, but he schooled it to stillness.  “Do you truly believe so?” he asked mildly.

            Reginorn looked down at Frodo, then back to meet the King’s eyes.  “You bring your son with you, then?  And what does his mother think of him traveling so far from her side in the troubled times we knew ere Mordor fell?”  He glanced down again appraisingly.  “A likely boy he appears to be, and save for the curling of his hair he favors you greatly.  Although, why is it he goes unshod?  Is this the fashion there in the wild lands of the north?”

            Aragorn felt Frodo stiffen at his side.  However, before he could attempt to explain, Reginorn’s restless gaze had landed upon Captain Gilmaros standing some yards away, still speaking with Pippin.  “And have you granted Gilmaros his own page?” Reginorn asked.  “I do not believe it would be a necessity, as it is not as if his Men actually fought for the city.  They are the Guards of the Citadel, after all, and rarely leave the upper levels of Minas Tirith.”

            Frodo spoke, and his voice was decidedly cool.  “Yet many of the Guards of the Citadel went out to fight before the Black Gate,” he said. “There many won great honor and showed both skill and dedication.”

            “And many also died there, for what chance do they have to keep abreast of their training when they mostly stay on the sixth and seventh levels?”Reginorn asked with a level of scorn in his voice.

            Aragorn was now growing angry as well, although he again did his best to keep his tone mild.  “All are required to practice daily either in the salle here behind the Citadel or within the practice grounds near the barracks of the Sixth Circle.  Perhaps tomorrow you will agree to come and see for yourself how well they are prepared should they need to march out again in defense of Minas Tirith and the nation,” he suggested.

            “Indeed that sounds very appropriate, Aragorn,” Frodo agreed.  “Now, if you will excuse me, I believe I shall return to the guesthouse, for I find I am tired, and a headache threatens.  Captain Reginorn, my Lord King Elessar, Gimli, Legolas, I wish you a pleasant afternoon.”  He bowed to each, ending with a profound bow to Aragorn, who pressed his hand to Frodo’s shoulder, smiling down into his face ere he let the Hobbit go his own way.

            Once Frodo was going down the ramp toward the Sixth Circle, Aragorn returned his attention to Reginorn, his expression more formal than it had been to that moment.  “I am not married, Captain Reginorn.”

            Reginorn raised an eyebrow suggestively.  “And since when is marriage a necessity when begetting a son, my Lord?” he asked.

            The King’s voice was now at least as cool as had been Frodo’s earlier.  “I assure you, sir, that Frodo is not my son.  Indeed, had you looked more closely you would have noted he is not a child.  He is not even of the race of Men.  He is a Hobbit of the Shire, who rarely leave their own land, which was given his ancestors by my great-father, Argeleb the Second.  As I have just noted, rarely do the Hobbits of the Shire come forth from their own borders, but ever when they have done so it has been to the benefit of all, as proved true this time.  Had the Hobbits not come as they did, it is likely that Mordor would have won this war.”

            Again Reginorn’s eyebrow rose in obvious disbelief.

            Aragorn gave a nod of dismissal.  “I will leave you to the company of our beloved Prince Faramir here.  And I look forward to seeing you tomorrow at the seventh bell, down in the practice yard at the barracks in the Sixth Circle.”  So saying, he went forward toward the ramp, followed by his two remaining Companions and two personal guards.

            He could hear Gimli muttering, “Well, that was not particularly well done, was it?  Insulting both Aragorn and Frodo?”

            Legolas gave a brief laugh.  “He did not do well at all.  I suspect he will much rue his thoughtless words.”

            “Indeed!  And Boromir could easily have told him that insulting Frodo Baggins is a grave mistake!”

            “Particularly,” Legolas responded, “if Frodo chooses to come down tomorrow to the practice field.”  After a moment he went on, “I, for one, believe I would do well to do some sparring with my long knife tomorrow.”

            “And I could do with some practice with my belt axe,” Gimli agreed.

            Aragorn smiled.  He, too, hoped that Frodo would come to tomorrow’s practice, for he wanted very much to see how his small Companion would take his revenge, for he was certain that Frodo would exact precisely that from Reginorn of the Eighth Company.

*******

            Reginorn was surprised to see an expression of disapproval on the face of his former Captain-General’s younger brother.  “Did I say aught wrong?” he asked.

            “You have insulted Master Frodo Baggins, which was not well done at all, as well as impugning the honor of our new Lord King, which was at least as bad.  Know this—our King is more fully Dúnedain than perhaps any here in Gondor, and as such is not prey to sexual adventures as is true of lesser Men.  He has not spoken to me as yet of his intentions to marry save to say that he does intend to do so when the right lady comes to him.  He also has said that he was forbidden from his earliest manhood from binding any woman to him until he should become King of both Gondor and Arnor.  Other than that he has said nothing on the subject.  The women of the city and those marriageable daughters of such Lords and notables as have been able to approach him are treated with greatest respect and courtesy but with no true warmth, not even the Lady Éowyn of Rohan, who would have gladly given him both her heart and her person had he allowed it.  His kinsmen from Arnor will not speak on the subject, for he has forbidden them to do so.”

            At that moment the small personage in the uniform of one of the Guards of the Citadel who had been speaking with Captain Gilmaros straightened, gave a sharp salute to the Man, and turned to race by Faramir and Reginorn, giving an abbreviated salute to the two Men but not staying to receive their own in response.  Faramir watched after him, a fond smile on his face.  “Peregrin there,” he said as he turned again to meet Reginorn’s inquiring gaze, “might have halted to receive our salutes as well, but now must attend upon our King and thus might not stop by us.  He has won much honor here within the City, acquitting himself well both during the battle of the Pelennor and afterwards at the King’s side.  He is to be treated with the gravest courtesy, do you hear?  As is true of all of the King’s special Companions.”

            “But where is it they go?”

            “Down to the Second Circle where they will meet with the Dwarves of the Iron Hills who are now arriving.  We already host many from Erebor, mostly kinsmen to Lord Gimli, who walked with the King and the Elf you saw with him.  They have come to offer their aid in rebuilding what was damaged during the siege.  I doubt not that they will be much disappointed to be denied the chance to be greeted by their Esteemed Burglar’s kinsman, as Frodo has withdrawn from the greeting party.  Master Frodo is given to terrible headaches, and I suspect that he has begun to know one as a result of your discourtesy.  As I said, what you said was not designed to gain you respect from the King and those close to him.”

            Uncertain, Reginorn followed Faramir into the Citadel, where he was granted an audience with Lord Hardorn, who apparently was now appointed Captain-General of Gondor’s forces in place of Boromir son of Denethor.  This was yet another stranger, and apparently a kinsman of their new King.  As far as Reginorn was concerned, this was another purported warrior whose abilities he did not know, and he found himself resenting the Man.

            “You come also from the north?” he asked, affecting a casual tone as best he could.

            Hardorn gave a shrug.  “So I do,” he answered.  “There I have been one of our King’s lieutenants since I was accepted as a Ranger and a warrior, and head of his personal guard—for those times when he has accepted such guardianship, at least.  We of the northern Dúnedain have been far from numerous for most of the last thousand years.  Most often the Chieftains of our people have merely gathered to themselves the greatest of our warriors, and such have ridden out together against the orcs, trolls, wargs, and Mannish enemies from north and south that most bedevil us.  In the case of my Lord kinsman, however—he is the greatest tracker among Men that I have ever seen.  His skill is held in awe even amongst the Elves of Lindon and Rivendell, and he is alarmingly independent.  When he follows the spoor of enemy or creature, he rarely tolerates the company of others who may distract him, and so he often goes his own way while assigning us to other tasks.”  He gave a wry smile.  “I fear that he will find the requirement as the Lord of Gondor that he always be shadowed by a bodyguard very onerous.  Although I suspect that he shall prove himself guarding his guards more often than they guard him.  He is very difficult to take by surprise.”

            With that Hardorn reviewed Reginorn’s records.  “I see that you were often second to Lord Boromir.”  He gave a nod.  “We found him well-spoken when we met him along the Road.”

            “You met him?”

            “Yes, as he sought Imladris and the Sword that was Broken.  I suspect that he found all far more than he’d expected.  We saw him within Elrond’s house as we came and went ere Aragorn and he headed south with the Fellowship.”

            “Fellowship?  What Fellowship?” asked Reginorn.

            Hardorn searched his face.  “Has no true news come to those who kept the watch in your garrison as to how it was that Mordor fell?”

            Reginorn shrugged.  “There were tales that no sane Man could believe, that a Pherian entered the Black Land in secrecy and somehow, from Mount Doom, managed to throw down Barad-dûr.  But all know that there are no Pheriannath.”

            Hardorn’s own face had gone stiff.  “No Periannath?” he asked.  “It is obvious that you have never travelled through northern Eriador.  But was not Master Frodo Baggins at the King’s side when you saw him?  He was to go down to greet the Dwarves that just arrived from the Iron Hills, after all.”

            Reginorn said slowly, “Master Frodo Baggins?  Yes, he was at the King’s side, but chose not to go down into the lower city, claiming a headache.”

            Hardorn gave a thoughtful nod.  “Yes, he is now prone to such things.  But what brought it on?  He looked hale enough when I saw him not a full mark ago.”

            Reginorn scratched at his ear.  “It seemed to start when I mistook him for the King’s son.”

            Now there was no question that Captain Hardorn was angry, although he kept himself in rigid control.  In a low tone he asked, “Did you fail to look into his face, then?  In no way is his face that of a child, and you should have noted the pain and grief there, pain and grief etched upon his very soul by the burden he bore.  And my Lord kinsman has not yet married, and so has no children of his own.”  Noting Reginorn’s barely noticeable flinch, he continued, “Or did you suggest that perhaps one does not need to marry to beget a child?  You did?  Know this, Reginorn of the Eighth Company, that you have failed to endear yourself to anyone who knows either Lord Frodo or our King.  And, yes, Master Frodo Baggins has been ennobled, an ennoblement that is recognized throughout the whole of the Free Peoples, for his service in helping in the overthrow of Sauron and his creatures.  Both Frodo Baggins and his servant and friend Samwise Gamgee are now recognized as Princes of the West.”

            With that he turned his attention back to Reginorn’s records.  “I understand you are to stay in the barracks of the Sixth Circle.  Well enough.  It would be best to remain apart from the King and his Companions at this point, or so I see it.”

            Realizing his impolitic remarks had managed to work against him, Reginorn admitted, “I have been all but ordered to join the King tomorrow at the seventh bell for weapons practice.”

            A slow smile began to lighten the Northerner’s expression.  “Is that so?  Well and good, then.  I believe I will join my Lord kinsman for weapons practice tomorrow afternoon.”

            “But why would he even need to practice with weapons?  After all, he is the King and as such may be excused from any further conflict!”

            Captain Hardorn shook his head.  “Do you not realize, Captain Reginorn, that as our Chieftain for most of the years of his majority, that my Lord kinsman has been Captain-General of our forces in the north?  Our King is master of many skills, and I doubt that there is any Man cannier in the arts of war than he.  And he does not lead from behind—that is not his way.  You are dismissed, Captain Reginorn.”

            Feeling uncomfortably uncertain of himself for the first time in years, Reginorn of the Eighth Company saluted and left the building, noting that the Guards of the Citadel he passed all proudly bore weapons that had seen use recently, and that more than one was visibly scarred.

*******

            As Pippin went through the bowl of fruit lying at the end of the work table in the kitchen of the guesthouse, he commented to Frodo, who was putting together a salad, “Oh, and Aragorn is asking if you will come to the practice grounds tomorrow at the seventh bell.”

            “Why should I?” Frodo asked.  “I certainly do not intend to ever raise a weapon again.”

            “I have the idea it has something to do with that Captain who returned to the city today.  I got the impression that the Man managed to offend Strider somehow.”

            Legolas, who leaned back against the doorway with his arms gracefully crossed over his breast, gave a short laugh.  “That he did—and Frodo as well.”

            “Is that why you begged off going down, then?  Daín’s son Thorin Stronghelm was most disappointed not to be able to greet you in his father’s name.”  Finally choosing a peach, Pippin rubbed it against his tunic.  “It wasn’t particularly smart of him to offend either of you, or so I’d think.  And if you attend the weapons practice you should easily find the means to put him in his place.”  So saying, he took a large bite, smiling at his older cousin over the fruit.

            Frodo gave but the slightest of shrugs, but his mind was already working.

            When Mistress Loren came to call Frodo away to receive something sent down from the Citadel to his attention, Legolas commented in a soft voice, “I look forward to seeing how this Reginorn shall be taught the error of his ways.”

            Pippin gave a satisfied nod of agreement.

 *******

            It was obvious from the moment he entered the buttery for officers and visiting soldiers that word of Reginorn’s poorly chosen remarks to their new King and his friend the Hobbit had swept through the Guards of the Citadel and those soldiers from the realm who were staying within the sixth and seventh levels.  As he went to take a seat at one of the trestle tables where Men who had served with him on more than one occasion were enjoying their meal, all within the room went quiet, and one of the officers sitting there rose and gave his salute, noting, “If you will excuse me, but I have been asked to join my fellows over there.”  With that he left to the far corner of the room to sit with others who swiftly shifted to give him room at a table that was already nearly full.

            The three soldiers who remained appeared uncomfortable, and two finished their food swiftly and took their leave, remaining painfully courteous but still distant while they ate.  The third was an older lieutenant who had risen through the ranks and had been accepted to the City Guard three years since.  He did not hurry his meal, and openly watched Reginorn over his fork as he ate what remained to him.  At last he set aside fork and eating knife to take up his tankard.  He took a swallow of the markedly fine ale they’d been supplied with, and commented as he set the tankard down, “It would appear that you have not made a particularly fine beginning with the King and his Companions.”

            “So it would seem, Morloth,” Reginorn said, breaking off some of his bread to sop up the gravy on his trencher.  “But who would believe that the King would come with—with these Hobbits or whatever they are, much less with Elves and Dwarves?  I did not believe such creatures were to be found anywhere within Middle Earth any longer.”

            “Apparently they are more common in the lands north of Rauros, Reginorn,” Morloth responded.  “But you should remember this:  the Rohirrim began the lifting the siege on the White City, while Lord Elessar finished it.  Without both the Riders of Rohan and the aid brought aboard the captured ships of the Corsairs by he who is now our King, Minas Tirith would lie now in ruins.  And if Lord Frodo Baggins had not reached Mount Doom when and as he did, those of us who went to fight before the Gates to Mordor would all be dead or enslaved.  It does not do to offer either of them insult.”

            With that he finished his ale and rose to return his wooden trencher to the stack awaiting the attentions of the pot boys, leaving Reginorn sitting alone at the table where he’d thought to sit with his fellow officers.

*******

            After a lonely noon meal, Reginorn repaired to the bath house for the barracks area, returning to find that his practice garb, which he’d left lying upon his narrow bunk, was no longer there.  The orderly who sat in the larger room looked up from where he’d been burnishing an officer’s breastplate as Reginorn came out of the cell to which he’d been assigned.  “Your practice garb has been taken to the dressing room by the practice yard, Captain Reginorn.  Sir Peregrin came to fetch it away for you.”

            “Sir Peregrin?  And why would he do such a thing for me?”

            “I could not say, sir,” the orderly answered.  “Perhaps it was at the King’s orders—he does serve upon our Lord Elessar himself, after all.”

            Somehow this suggestion seemed ominous to Reginorn.

            As he approached the dressing room by the practice grounds, he could hear voices within.  “And why did you bring Sting, Sam?”  He heard what appeared to be the voice of Master Frodo Baggins, rather higher than the voices of most Men, yet cultured and clearly modulated.

            “Lord Strider asked as I should,” said another voice, also higher than the voices of most Men, warm but at the moment rather guarded.  “He wants to see how you can grip a sword, Master.”

            “And why should I wish to use a sword again, my friend?  I doubt I shall ever need to do so in the future.”

            “There’s still the trip home to make, and there’s still bad folks and creatures hidin’ in the wilds whether Mordor’s active or no.  Him doesn’t wish for you t’be defenseless should somethin’ approach you when you’re more’n a pony’s length from any as could help you.”

            Reginorn heard a sigh.  “All right, Sam—for his sake I will carry Sting today.  But I do not desire to ever have to use a weapon again against any living creature—not ever.”

            “I doubt as wild creatures or ruffians’ll care much whether you want t’ hurt them or no, Mister Frodo—they’ll only be seekin’ t’ do what they find natural, which will be t’ try to hurt one of us.”

            Well, thought Reginorn, this Sam appears a practical soul.

            “And have they provided you with somethin’ t’ wear today, Frodo?”

            “If Aragorn wishes to see how well I can hold a sword I shall not require practice garb, Sam.  Although I doubt I shall be able to do much with it, what with the way my hand will ache when I seek to grip anything properly.”

            “It’s just too bad that they can’t seem t’ do more t’ ease it, is all.  But you should wear somethin’ if’n he wants you to try some of them moves as we’ve had t’ do in the past.  The others may have practice foils and protective gear such as this here, but the Citadel’s not needed aught for those as small as us for a spate of years, I’m thinkin’.”

            “If ever, save for the sons of lords of the realm, I suppose.”

            “Well, are you going in or not?” asked a voice near Reginorn’s elbow.  Taken by surprise, the Man turned rapidly to find the one named Peregrin paused beside him, something silvery draped over his arm.  “After all, you cannot don your practice gear when it’s in there and you remain out here,” the small one continued.  “Well,” he added as Reginorn found himself unable to think of anything appropriate to answer, “if you will excuse me then I must deliver this to my cousin there.  I beg your pardon.”  And with that Peregrin pushed by him, entering the building.  “Hoy, Frodo—do you have your quilted shirt on under that?  You do?  Good!  Strider suggested you put this on as they don’t have anything fit for you to wear during weapons practice here.  And don’t go wrinkling your nose like that at me!  Healer’s orders!  Here—Sam and I will help you get it on.”

            “I swear—if Aragorn doesn’t quit thinking he can dress me as if I were some kind of great doll I shall be forced to have words with him!”

            He heard a snort of derision from Peregrin.  “As if they’d do the least bit of good.  Both of you are too strong willed for your own good at times, Frodo Baggins.  Now, turn that way.”

            As Master Frodo Baggins continued to mutter words of frustration, Reginorn finally started to enter the room himself, halting in the doorway.  So, he thought, Sir Peregrin is a Hobbit as well!  He stood several inches taller than did Master Frodo, and taller still than the other Hobbit in the room, a sturdy soul with a broad chest.  The two of them straightened and pulled away from Master Frodo, and Reginorn was dazzled by the spectacle before him!  No, there was no question of this being an adult, not with that dignity and splendor to him!  He wore a corselet of what appeared to be spun silver wire, shining with glittering crystals and pearls about the placket for the neck and its lower borders and the ends of its sleeves, and beneath it a long-sleeved tunic of royal blue velvet.  The broad-chested Hobbit had turned to fetch a swordbelt and scabbard from a bench to the side, and knelt to fasten it about Master Frodo’s waist.  This belt was obviously of the same workmanship as was the mail.  The scabbard, which would have seemed wonderfully ornate on a lesser belt, seemed almost plain by contrast. 

            Master Frodo fingered the belt consideringly.  “It is on a further setting than it was in Cormallen,” he said, “although not so much as when we left Lórien.”

            “You’re finally puttin’ on some proper weight,” said the other Hobbit, who must be Sam.  “Hopefully by the time as we head back t’ the Shire you’ll look far more yourself once more.”

            “I hope so.  I am tired of looking positively gaunt.  At least you and Pippin and Merry all look properly yourselves now, although how we are to explain the height of those two to their parents I have no idea.  Aunt Esme will be amazed, while Pal and Lanti will refuse to believe their little lad has grown so much.”

            “At least,” Sir Peregrin said, “I’m still of an age where I’d be expected to possibly grow at least a little bit.  Seeing Merry so much taller than when we left is going to shake the sensibilities of almost everyone in the Shire and Buckland.  Now, Sam, at least try on this padded shirt.  Faramir tells me it was made for Boromir when he was a child, so it might properly fit you.”

            “Who’d’a’ thought,” Sam commented, lifting the padded shirt to hold it against him, “as even as a lad Captain Boromir would of had such a broad chest.”  His expression was thoughtful and somehow reluctant.  “It don’t seem quite right,” he began, but did not continue.

            “Go ahead—put it on.  He would never begrudge it being worn by you, and you know it.  And don’t remember how he and I parted—you know that It took me at the last, too.  At least he was able to accept before he died that It had merely tricked him again.”  Master Frodo’s expression was markedly compassionate.

            Sam gave a small nod, and turned, suddenly flushing as he became aware that Reginorn was standing there in the doorway, watching.

            “I beg your pardon,” Reginorn said, wondering if he, too, were turning crimson.  “I did not mean to intrude, but I was told my practice garb was brought here.”

            “Yes,” Peregrin said.  “I brought it here at the King’s request.  I hope it has not inconvenienced you, Captain Reginorn.”  He gave a salute, holding it until the Man returned it, and then indicated where the Captain’s padded garb lay on another bench.

            Sam, meanwhile, was working the smaller padded shirt over his own head with the aid of Master Frodo.  With his face hidden and his voice muffled, he managed to say, “It’s fair t’ say as it’s a good thing as I haven’t all my own weight back, or I’d never get this on at all!” before his head emerged from the neck.  “His shoulders wasn’t any too broad in those days, not like when we knew him.”

            “You knew my Captain-General?” Reginorn asked, amazed.

            Master Frodo looked at him curiously.  “You did not know?  He came south with us from Rivendell.  We were with him until Sam and I left the Fellowship at Amon Hen to head south and east.”

            “But there is no way south and east from Amon Hen!”

            Frodo looked away.  “We took one of the boats across the river—to Amon Lhaw, Sam and I.  It was the proper time for me to take the road appointed for me—and to leave the rest to help protect the Free Peoples.  Boromir had intended to leave the Fellowship himself soon enough, now that we were within the borders of Gondor.”

            “And he died!”

            Master Frodo Baggins turned to search the eyes of Captain Reginorn of the Eighth Company.  “Yes,” he said simply.  “He died there, or so they tell me, there on the slopes of Amon Hen, near Parth Galen.  He died trying to save my two kinsmen from the orcs of Saruman.”  He glanced at the door.  “We had best go out now, Sam, Pippin.  Aragorn will be here soon.”

            “He’s just arrived,” advised a fourth Hobbit who entered dressed in the garb of Rohan.  “He asked me to give you this.”  He presented Frodo with a wine skin.

            “And I will thank him when we come to his side.  Thank you, Merry.  Captain, I look forward to see how you fare on the practice grounds.”

            With that Master Frodo gave a slight bow and led his fellows out, leaving Reginorn watching after, not quite certain what to think of these strange people from the north.

*******

            “Are you having difficulties, Reginorn?” asked Prince Faramir as he entered the changing room, carrying his own practice garb.

            Reginorn raised his own desperate gaze to meet that of the kingdom’s Steward.  “It is my laces, my Lord,” he said.  “They have all broken!”

            “Broken?”  Faramir came closer to look at the offending items.  “All of them?”

            “Yes—those for my shirt and those also for my protective trews as well!”

            “Well, there must be some here in the changing room—my father was careful to see that there were always extras of such things so that he would never have to dally here long should a lace break.”  Faramir opened a cupboard where such things had been kept in the past, and together they searched through various items until a snarled bunch of laces was found in a back corner.  It took a few minutes to untangle them and to sort out two pairs of the needed lengths.  Finally Reginorn was properly garbed and together they went out to the practice grounds.

            The two Gondorians went through their warm-up exercises and then through their basic forms before joining those who were watching the sparring.  There was room for several pairs to work together, and they saw that the King was sparring against the Dwarf, who was using a small fighting axe against the King’s metal foil.  Diagonally from them the two taller Hobbits were matched against one another, the one with auburn hair in Gondorian practice garb and the other wearing the Rohirric battle dress he’d been wearing earlier.  Reginorn was amazed to see that both appeared to be fully capable of using their weapons both properly and well, and appeared to be well matched in skill.  A cry from the nearer crowd brought his attention back to the King, who had managed to hook the axe out of the Dwarf’s hand and send it spinning across the ground, where one of the two soldiers sparring in that direction had to step lively to keep it from catching him in the boot.  That, of course, took his attention from his opponent, who was swift to take advantage of the situation.  The one who’d had to leap over the axe was swiftly relieved of his sword, but had a long knife out and was using it remarkably well from what Reginorn could see before he returned his attention to the King and his partner.

            “Well done!” cried the Dwarf.  “You’ve been holding out on me in the past!”

            The King leaned on the foil, panting but not fully winded.  “You think so, Gimli?  Or perhaps I’ve finally identified your weak points!”

            Reginorn realized he was pulling at the collar of his garb.  Faramir turned to him.  “Are you uncomfortable, Captain?”

            “It’s as if there is something in my garb irritating my neck.  If you will excuse me….”

            Reginorn retreated to the dressing room and untied his laces.  It took three searches of the collar of his padded shirt to find what appeared to be a stiff bristle as if from a brush sticking out from the seam.  He removed it and donned the garment anew, watched with interest by the two Guardsmen who came in to change back into their uniforms—the two Men who’d been sparring while he’d watched.

            “A problem, Captain?” asked the one who’d changed to his long knife.

            “Nothing to be concerned with,” Reginorn responded, finishing the tie of the lace and going back out again.

            Now the King was watching the heavier Hobbit—Sam—going through forms with his weapon, a most serviceable blade, Reginorn noted, of an ancient form.

            “Well done, Samwise Gamgee!” the King said with enthusiasm as Sam finished.

            Sam flushed with pleasure, but his voice was solemn enough as he explained, “Captain Boromir saw to it as we learned t’ do them right, he did.”

            “As well he should have.  Would you like to do a round with me, Sam?”  He nodded to a young recruit, who brought through a foil appropriate to Sam’s size. 

            Sam took a watchful stance across from the King.  “Not like it’s quite fair, you know, you havin’ quite a bit more trainin’ from them as knows swords best and all the years of experience since.”

            The King gave the slightest of shakes of his head in response, and at that Sam attacked and the Man parried.  The bout didn’t last long, and Sam was holding his wrist and shaking his hand at the sting of it once he was disarmed, but the King was looking at the Hobbit with approval.  “That was very well done.”

            “Captain Boromir always told us not t’ give our opponents any more time t’ prepare than we had to.”

            “Wise advice.  Captain Reginorn, would you like a bout?  And Faramir, you might like to see what kind of opponent you might have with Sir Peregrin there.”

            The auburn haired Hobbit and Prince Faramir took the area where the two soldiers had faced one another earlier as Reginorn came forward to face the King himself.  Having seen the King liked for his opponent to take the offensive, Reginorn made the first attack, only to find something was stabbing into his groin.  He paused, his eyes wide with pain, before pulling back. 

            Raising his hand, he asked, “If you will excuse me again, please—there is apparently something more in my practice garb.  I should not be more than a moment.” 

            As he retreated again to the changing room, he could hear the King asking, “Something more, eh, Frodo Baggins?”

            Why is the King asking Master Frodo about what might be in my practice garb? he wondered.

*******

            Reginorn was making his fourth visit to the changing room when Faramir, having been disarmed by Pippin, sidled up by his new monarch.  “You do not appear to be particularly surprised by all of the difficulties Captain Reginorn is experiencing, my Lord,” he murmured.

            Aragorn shook his head, and with a level of satisfaction, Faramir noted.  “I am not.  Both your brother and I, at different times, you must realize, showed disrespect to Frodo’s mushrooms, and your brother during what passed for our Yule feast.  Had he known what happened to me as I traveled with the Hobbits from Bree to Rivendell, he would not have been surprised that as a Mettarë gift I presented him with extra laces.  He proved to need them, as I recall it.”

            Frodo’s face showed a studied level of curiosity as he watched the Captain of the Eighth Company disappear once more into the changing room, slamming the door behind him.

            The King smiled at Frodo.  “Okay, Master Baggins, come here and let me see how you are able to hold your sword.”

           





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