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Written for the LOTR Community Potluck Challenge. For Lindelea for her birthday, with love.
The Tribute of the Insects
The second night out of Minas Tirith, the party accompanying the body of Théoden King rested along the road in what appeared to be park land. The Lord King Elessar had asked the scouts to find an area with trees where the four Hobbits might lie beneath leafy boughs, such having proved most comforting for the Ringbearer, and they had done well in choosing a good area for the great procession to rest for the night. After having his thighs and legs anointed for saddle sores and eating the evening meal, Frodo had taken his bedroll and found a tree that pleased him, and had settled there for the night. Before he was quite settled, Merry, Pippin, and Sam had come to join him, each laying out his own bedroll alongside his own, Sam to his left, Pippin to his right, and Merry to Pippin’s right, much as they’d usually slept along the way south from Rivendell. Frodo smiled, ruffled Pippin’s curls, and lay back, happy to see the sky darkening overhead as glimpsed through the leaves of the elm tree under which he lay, drifting swiftly into a doze. He woke frequently, and each time smiled at the stars that lit up the scene.
The soldiers watching over the camp while most slept shook their heads over these four small folk who did not take cover within the tent set up for them, choosing instead to lie out under trees and the open sky, and became even more amazed when one came out of one of the pavilions set up for royalty to cross to where the Hobbits slept and settled himself nearby, that curious construction that they had learned was called a pipe in his hand. They watched him take a pouch out of his pocket and pour crushed leaves into the bowl of the pipe, compacting them with a blunt stick, then using a small striker set expertly to set the leaves smoldering so that he could breathe their fumes.
There he sat, breathing in the smoke of his pipe and exhaling it into the air, watching the four sleeping Hobbits who were, unbelievably, among his closest friends! One was said to be, in their own land, a servant and gardener. The youngest, who wore the livery of the Guard of the Citadel itself, and who, when not on duty, spoke familiarly with their new King as if they were both but wanderers over the face of the world, admitted his father was the most influential of all their people. Another’s father was spoken of as the chief administrator of two regions of the Hobbits’ land. And then there was the Ringbearer himself, who, it was said, was naught more than a scholar among their people. And these were intimate friends with the newly returned High King of the West!
Frodo awoke remembering when he was yet but a tween, only recently returned to Hobbiton from Buckland, smelling the familiar scent of Old Toby being smoked by one watching over him. He had been ill—so ill!—with the lung sickness, nearly to the point of dying. He’d been nursed back to health by Bilbo, his Aunt Dora, and by the gardener’s young lad, Sam, who’d become his shadow in the months since he’d come to Bag End. Bilbo had sat in one of the two chairs that stood near the fireplace at the far end of his bedroom, smoking his pipe, during the hours that Frodo had slept. Then it had been Gandalf who sat near the window in the room where Frodo lay unconscious in Rivendell, also smoking Old Toby, when at last Frodo came awake there. And now it was again the scent of Old Toby that awoke him now, here on the edge of the Gondorian province of Anorien; and this time it was…
“Strider? Aragorn? And why are you not there in your own tent with your fair Queen? Why are you out here, on the edge of the camp, once again watching over mere Hobbits?”
The King laughed. “There is nothing mere about the Hobbits of the Shire, Frodo Baggins, and particularly not about you, my friend. As for why I am here—I, too, was feeling restless and could not rest. So, at last, Arwen told me to come out and have a smoke, and then to air myself carefully and thoroughly before returning to her company. She foresaw that I would relax better if I was assured that the four of you were resting undisturbed, or so I believe. And there is something now familiar and restful about watching especially Pippin there sleep.”
“When you aren’t awakening us all with your talk and your smoking,” Pippin murmured, knuckling his eyes and yawning, twisting to look up into their friend’s eyes. “So, you also found a cot too soft, now that we are again upon the road?”
“Apparently so, Pippin. I can well appreciate why Frodo especially would feel most comforted sleeping with leaves and stars over him.”
Pippin nodded, looking up with a contented smile on his face. But his smile turned to puzzlement. “I don’t think I’ve seen a star there before, have you, Frodo? But—” his puzzlement turning to alarm, “—it’s moving—and here beneath the trees?” He sat up, staring intently, which startled Merry awake.
Frodo also sat up, his eyes wide and his mouth in a surprised O. “That’s no star, Peregrin Took! But, what is it?” With that he held out his finger, and in a minute the small light appeared to settle upon it. “Why, it is a flying creature! An insect!”
Aragorn’s eyes were alight with pleasure. “Fireflies! Ah, but now I know what it was that I missed seeing, looking down upon the Pelennor from the city walls—there are no fireflies there before the city! The fires that Sauron’s folk lit in the trenches they dug across the Pelennor must have killed their eggs and young, and who knows how long before they return to the farmlands about Minas Tirith?”
Pippin was peering at the insect resting on Frodo’s fingertip with interest. “I have never seen anything like it,” he said in almost a whisper. He reached to touch it, but paused to look up into the Man’s eyes. “Is the tail hot, there where the light is?” he asked.
Aragorn was shaking his head. “Not in the least. Their young appear like worms, as is true of most larger insects, and they, too, have this cold light toward their hind end. They are known as glow worms here.”
Merry had risen upon an elbow. “Well, I never thought to see a fly that carried its own light!”
“Children often capture several of them at a time and put them into glass bottles to light their way after dark, although most are admonished to release them after a mark that they not die of privation. There are almost no fireflies to be seen within Eriador north of Tharbad, although now and then they have been brought to Rivendell. Glorfindel brought a few to show me when I was very small, but they soon flew away. I am not certain whether it is too cold or too damp or what the reason, but they appear to prefer more southern climes and lands east of the mountains. Although I have rarely seen them remain long upon the hand of anyone as this one does with Frodo.”
Merry smiled up at him. “You have at least two in your hair, Strider!”
The King straightened, surprised at this intelligence. “Do I, really? How surprising!”
Sam was now rousing. “Now,” he yawned, “if this isn’t a how-ta-do! A visit from the King this time of night!” Then he stopped, his eyes fixed on Frodo’s finger. “What’s this?” he asked, his voice still. “What’s this light?”
“It’s an insect, Sam, a firefly! Is it not strange? There, look—here are two more!”
There were more than two, it proved, for quite a number were coming into the space under the elm tree, flying about the five of them.
“Can you use them to light your pipe, Strider?” Merry asked.
Pippin, who’d been gently touching the one on Frodo’s finger, shook his head. “No—he’s right, Merry. The light is a cold light.”
“We didn’t see such things there where the army rested,” Sam observed.
The Man shook his head. “It was too early for them to emerge.”
“And do they all blink off and on?” Pippin asked.
Aragorn nodded. “That they do!”
“Now,” a gentle voice spoke from beyond the tree’s canopy. “What is this? So, the fireflies have come out to honor the Ringbearer and his companions!”
“My Lady Arwen!” Frodo said, making to rise.
“No, do not bother to stand, Frodo. You shall return to sleep soon enough, I trow.”
“And you are aware of fireflies, then?”
“Oh, yes. It may seem like spring in my daernaneth’s land throughout the year, but in the true summer the fireflies are common there. How they lit the Hill of Amroth on the night when my beloved Estel here and I plighted our troth.”
“They were like a coronet of living light about your hair,” Aragorn murmured, his eyes alight with the love he felt for his wife.
The Hobbits went still, aware that they had been all but forgotten.
“And one had alit upon your shoulder,” she whispered in return. “Are you ready as yet to return to your rest? We have far to ride tomorrow.”
He grasped her hand and rose to his feet, leaning forward to kiss her gently. “Yes, I think that I am.” He turned to smile down upon the Hobbits. “I wish you a refreshing sleep, my friends. I will see you again in the morning. Rest well!”
He walked away hand in hand with his Queen, murmuring quietly to her, and they heard her delighted laugh as the two returned in the direction of their pavilion.
“Will you look at that!” Sam said, sitting up, his hands resting in his lap. “Those fireflies do seem to like them.”
Both King and Queen had the insects resting in their dark hair and fluttering about their heads. The Hobbits did not realize it, but as they returned to sleep a fair number of the creatures kept them company under the elm’s branches, many of them apparently fascinated by the dark hair of the Ringbearer.
And in the morning, as the column again moved out, it was butterflies that circled about the King and Queen as they rode, and more accompanied Frodo on his pony, Strider, drawing the attention of many to these three special members of their company.
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