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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".
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