A Tale of the King
Frodo had not given anyone his reasons for not standing for election as Mayor, and no one asked them of him. Will had simply looked at him sadly and accepted that he was doomed to retain his old office for another seven years, Isumbard and Tolly had shaken his hand and wished him well, Sam had bowed his head and said, “I see,” his cousins had shaken their heads with disappointment.
He now felt oddly free, and yet also oddly adrift, as if he’d cut loose an anchor without having an oar in his fishing boat with which to propel or steer it. He knew he’d done the right thing, that he most likely would not live long enough to finish such a term; but he had to accept he missed the responsibilities and the challenges. He looked again at writing the story of the quest, looked over the material he’d written already, tried to think how he’d word it properly, made a stab at starting it anew or continuing on, then set it aside.
He walked out every day--into the village of Hobbiton, to Bywater, occasionally as far as Overhill, although he preferred to ride when he went that far. But he was determined not to become a prisoner in his own home.
He walked into the Green Dragon one day at lunch time and found it full. He went to the bar and ordered a lamb pastie--he’d have loved a steak and kidney pie, but knew from grim experience what his stomach would do with that--and after receiving old Rubo’s assurance he’d bring it and a large mug of tea to his table, he looked to find somewhere to settle. Every table was taken and most of them full. Then he noticed a smaller table in the corner where there was only one person. He walked over with his mug of light ale to ask if he might share the table, and realized the one sitting there was Narcissa Boffin. Her eyes lit up as she saw him approach, and he felt a sinking of his heart; but there was nothing for it now--he could not turn aside now without looking desperately rude.
“Hello, Narcissa--it appears the place is full.”
“You are welcome to sit here, Frodo.”
After he sat with his mug and took a couple of sips, she looked at him. “You are looking very fine, Frodo.”
He gave a humorless laugh. “Fine if one likes scarecrows, I suppose.”
She gave him an appraising examination. “Well, I must say you are quite thin.”
He nodded. “Can’t seem to get my weight back.”
“Does it bother you to be so thin?”
“Actually, it does. I miss being able to eat a good meal.”
“But you live with Sam and Rosie, and they--”
“And they are among the best cooks in the Shire? Oh, I certainly do know that, Narcissa. I’m not talking about missing good food--I get that, and I’m not a bad cook in my own right--when I pay attention to what I’m doing, of course. I’m talking about a good meal, where I can get down more than a single dish at a time. I feel as if I were still in Minas Tirith, watching with envy others at the feasts eating of everything being served while I must eat rice and lamb or chicken.”
“But you always said you hated rice.”
“I do. But Aragorn and the Lady Arwen did know how to make even that palatable, and it is easy to digest.”
“Oh, I see.” After a moment of silence, she asked, “How long has your stomach been delicate?”
“It feels as if it’s been forever.”
“Who is Aragorn?”
He looked at her for a moment before answering, “The King.”
“Then you do know him personally.”
He nodded. Finally he looked down at his mug and added, “We met in Bree.”
“What was the King doing in Bree?”
“He wasn’t the King yet. Were you at the Free Fair? Did you hear Will’s speech?”
“Yes, I did.”
“After the King Arvedui died, there were no kings left anywhere in the Sea Kings’ lands, north or south. Arvedui’s son survived, but there weren’t enough people left to call it a kingdom, so he just called himself the Chieftain of the Northern Dúnedain instead, and was the high captain of their Rangers as well.”
“Oh, are the Rangers of the Sea Kings’ people, then?”
“You have heard of them?”
“My dad used to go frequently to Bree, and would see them there. He said they were tall Men, and rather grim and sad. He said the folk of Bree, Big or Little, were suspicious of them, but they were very polite. He realized his second trip that they guarded the borders of the Breelands and the Shire. If one of them saw him on the road he’d usually accompany him to Bree, see him through the gate; and usually there’d be one waiting to accompany him back as well.”
“He never told me that.”
“He didn’t tell anyone but Mum and me, I think. He said most folk who rode to Bree went in parties--he was one of the few who would ride there alone. His favorite to ride with was called Strider.”
Frodo laughed. “I see. Mine, too.”
“You know Strider?”
“Why was Strider his favorite?”
“You are avoiding the question.”
“I know. Why was Strider his favorite?”
“Because sometimes he’d sing as they rode, and he loved his voice. Never said much of anything, but was always polite.”
“Yes, that is Strider.”
“Would you know the same Strider?”
“I think so. He is of almost pure blood, so he is almost ninety now, but looks much younger. And he admitted he’d often guarded the borders of the Shire and the Breelands.”
“Sounds as if he talked more to you than he did to my dad.”
“Well, I was with him a much longer time. You see, he’s the King now.”
She looked at him, amazed. “Strider is the King Aragorn Elessar all those other things?”
He nodded. “Yes, the Lord King Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar. Telcontar means strider, by the way. He incorporated it into his throne name.”
Her mouth was open with astonishment. Finally she commented, “Imagine--my dad knew the King before he was the King.” After a moment, she asked him, “How did you meet him?”
He looked away. Just then Rubo’s son arrived with the pastie and tea, and Frodo thanked him. After the young Hobbit had gone off to another table to take an order for another round, Frodo finally said, “Gandalf told him I would be leaving the Shire, and asked him to keep an eye out for me if he wasn’t able to be there. He knew when I was due to leave, and at the right time was watching the Road from the Bridge, followed us into Bree, and finally introduced himself there.” His expression, which had been open a moment before, was now closed. She wondered why.
Finally she asked, “What is he like, this King Aragorn Elessar?”
The closed look fell away. “He is one of the gentlest and most capable beings ever born of any race.”
“Oh, yes, in spite of the fact he’s the greatest warrior living among Men.” He lifted his fork and took a bite. After he’d finally swallowed, he went on. “He was raised in Rivendell by the Lord Elrond, as if the Lord Elrond were his father. His own father Arathorn died when he was only two years of age. I think he said it was due to an orc arrow.”
“Why in Rivendell? Isn’t the Lord Elrond an Elf lord?”
“Yes. But his brother was the father of the line of the Sea Kings. He’s always cared for his brother’s descendants in Arnor since they returned to Middle Earth. Elrond and Elros were the first of the Half-Elven, and were granted the choice to live as Men or Elves. Elrond chose the Elven way. Elros chose mortality.”
“Oh, I see.” For a few minutes she watched in silence as he ate. He ate slowly and somewhat deliberately, and she remembered he’d said his stomach was now delicate, and wondered why.
He put down his fork again and continued. “While growing up he was schooled in warfare, in healing, in languages, in ruling, in history. On occasion he would sing for us when we traveled, and his voice was beautiful, as your father told you. He sang us part of the Lay of Lúthien once, and it eased our hearts. But it was after he became King he began to sing more regularly, particularly after the Lady Arwen arrived for their marriage.” Again he lifted his fork, ate some more.
“He realized your stomach had become delicate?”
“He’s of the line of the Kings, and is descended from the Half-Elven. He inherited the healing gift of that lineage. Elrond has it as well. Elrond saw his gift was trained.”
“He couldn’t heal your stomach?”
“He helped a good deal, but could not make it as it was before.” He set down the fork again and sat silent for some moments. Finally he looked up into her eyes, his own full of sadness. “When there is too much scarring, body or soul, even the King cannot strip it away--not completely.”
“What caused the scarring, Frodo?” But he would not answer.
He was able to eat half the pastie, and looked at the remainder with regret. He drank the tea, wished her a good day, thanked her for allowing him to sit with her, and left. She saw him later sitting on a bench in the common, looking sad. A group of children had seen him and were coming to demand a story. She lingered nearby to listen.
He told them of the new King, who had been born nearby, actually, north and east of them in Eriador. “He lived as a boy in Rivendell among the Elves, raised as the Lord Elrond’s own child. He grew to be wise, and gentle, and caring. He fought the Enemy’s own people in many lands, here in Eriador, near Dale and Mirkwood and Erebor, in Rohan and Gondor and places in between. He has borne many names and titles.
“When he was twenty he learned of his birth and lineage, and was returned to the Dúnedain to learn their needs, to take up his place as the chieftain of their people, to prepare himself for the day he would become King, if that should come to be. He learned to be a Ranger, and then led the Rangers of the North. He went south to Rohan, where the Horse Lords dwell. Tall and golden they are, the Rohirrim. He begged to ride among them and was granted that right, an even taller Man with hair dark as ebony and eyes grey as the sea, not blue as are the eyes of the Rohirrim. He rode with their eoreds, fought in their wars, led troops after a time.
“Then he went to Gondor, which is the southern of the Sea Kings’ lands, where he was also the heir as he was here in Arnor. He swore allegiance to the Lord Steward Ecthelion and learned the way of Gondor’s armies, fought among Gondor’s Rangers as well, learned the ordering of the land and people, learned the greatest threats against them.
“He told none his name when he went south. Among the Rohirrim he was known as Ælric by some, but was better known as Thorongil, which means the Eagle of the Star. That name he bore to Gondor. For many years he served there, until word came his uncle, who was Steward of his people here in the North, had been slain, and he came back to Arnor to serve the needs of his own people once more.
“Long he waited....”
Narcissa listened, fascinated as were the children, saw the pride of Frodo as he described to the children the King they would live under, whose rule would touch the lives of those within the Shire in spite of its isolation, heard the love in the words.
Finally he spoke of the Enemy. “He we know as Sauron was created as a servant to the Valar, the Powers of the West. One of the Valar rebelled against Eru and his brethren, and finally fled here to Middle Earth, where he thought to become ruler of all who dwell here. Some among the servants of the Valar he drew after him, and he taught them fell shapes. But greatest among them was Sauron. After the Valar themselves came to Middle Earth to fight Morgoth alongside Elves, Men, and Dwarves for the freedom of Middle Earth and cast him down, Sauron went and hid in the waste places until he learned that the Valar had decreed they would not do such again; then he sought to take Morgoth’s place.
“He took Mordor, a bare land surrounded by mountains, and made it his own. He raised the mountains of its fences higher, steeper. As had Morgoth, he captured Elves and Men and other creatures, corrupted them, twisted them, tortured them. They became orcs and goblins. He bred them by the thousands to become his slaves and his armies. He took the mountain Orodruin and made it his forge. But although he spread his darkness to many lands, he could not fully conquer all of Middle Earth as long as the descendants of the Edain and the Elves and the Dwarves recognized him for what he was. So he sought to win them by trickery and spells.”
He then described the making of the Rings of Power, and finally, the One Ring, Sauron’s own Ring, which had the power to rule the rest.
“But he lost that Ring. Elves and Men united against him, besieged him in Mordor, finally after ten years broke into that land and faced him down. He fought against the greatest of the Elven Lords and the greatest of the Kings of Men, against Gil-galad and Elendil the Tall. He managed to slay both, but at the cost of being cast down himself, and before he could arise again the son of Elendil, the Lord Isildur, took up the hilt of his father’s sword, which had broken when Elendil used it against Sauron and he fell, and with its broken blade cut from the hand of Sauron the finger bearing the Ring.”
Frodo stopped then, as if the rest he must say was painful. Narcissa saw him swallow. “But Isildur could not bring himself to destroy the Ring, which could only happen there in Orodruin where It was made. Instead, he took It for his own, and grieved later when he realized that in fact he had not taken It, but that instead It had taken him as Its bearer. He wore It but once that we know of, when he sought to flee orcs which assaulted his troops as he headed north to Rivendell where his wife and youngest son waited his return. His other three sons were slain, and finally he himself as It slipped from his finger as he sought to swim the River Anduin, and he was revealed, and the orcs shot him with arrows.
“Only if the Ring could be unmade could Sauron be totally defeated, for the bulk of his power he had poured into It at Its making. Only when It was found and returned to the volcano where It was forged could he be brought down again.
“After long years Sauron regained much power and might, but at terrible cost to those whom he captured, tortured, slew. Sauron grew in might as Gondor and Arnor failed. His servants sought to slay those of the Lines of Kings, until Gondor had no King any more but was ruled by Stewards. Finally only one line remained, the descendants of King Arvedui. And Aragorn son of Arathorn was the heir.
“Mordor grew again, and Sauron sent out its troops to assault the capitol of Gondor, Minas Tirith, the Tower of Guard. Many came to the defense of the city, but not enough. Théoden King of Rohan led his eoreds to the aid of Gondor, and almost he broke the siege. Only when the Lord Aragorn came from the Mouths of the Sea on ships he’d captured from the Corsairs of Umbar, ships Aragorn filled with defenders from the south of Gondor and those of the Rangers of the North who could reach his side beforehand, and with Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf--only when they arrived did they finally turn the tide of the battle and defeat Sauron’s army.
“But that was not enough. Only if the Ring was destroyed could the final defeat of Sauron himself come. The Ring had been finally found, had been identified, and was sent to Mordor for Its destruction. Our Lord Aragorn knew that time must be given to allow the Ring to come to Orodruin, to Mount Doom, so he gathered about him an army only large enough to engage the interest of the Enemy, and took it before the Black Gates of Mordor to draw the attention of Sauron himself so that he should not see those who crept into his lands, closer and closer to the Mountain each day. He led it, and with him went the Lord King Éomer of Rohan, who became King when his uncle died before Minas Tirith; Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth; Gimli the Dwarf; Legolas the Elf; Peregrin son of Paladin of the Periannath; the remainder of the Lord Aragorn’s own kin from the north; and soldiers and knights from Rohan and Gondor. All were willing to die for the freedom of the Peoples of the West, to allow the Ringbearer time to conclude his quest.”
Then he stopped, bowed his head, and grew quiet and still.
Finally Pando Proudfoot, one of Frodo’s cousins who lived on the Row beneath Bag End, asked, “What happened? Did they live?”
Frodo lifted his face, which was quite pale. “He’s King now, isn’t he? Yes, most lived. The Ring went into the fire, Sauron fell utterly, and they lived.”
Frodo shook his head. “Don’t ask me that. Just know it happened.”
It was some time more before he finally finished the story. “After the fall of Sauron they returned to the Fields of Cormallen in Ithilien. It is a beautiful place, green and fair. We stayed there some time while those who were hurt recovered, then slowly went back to the capitol.
“On the first of May Aragorn came before the walls of Minas Tirith, and was crowned King, and entered through the broken gates. The day before Midsummer the Lord Elrond of Rivendell came with a party of Elves from his land and from Lothlorien and elsewhere, and brought to the King’s side his daughter, the Lady Arwen Undomiel, and gave into his hands the Sceptre of Annúminas as he is King of Arnor as well as Gondor. On the day of Midsummer the Lord King Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar took the Lady Arwen Undomiel to wife, uniting the world of Men and the world of Elves one last time.
“Rejoice, children, for the King has come again at the last, and he is a great Man and will be a great King.”
“You saw all this?” a small lass asked.
“I saw the coronation and the wedding and a good deal else.”
“Who was the Periannath that has the same name as Pippin Took?” asked Pando Proudfoot.
Frodo smiled gently. “Periannath is the Elven name for Hobbits,” he explained. “Now, I must return home.” He rose, bowed, and left.
Pando looked after his cousin amazed, then looked around and caught the eye of Narcissa. “Does that mean Pippin fought before the gates of Mordor?” he asked, astounded.
She shrugged. “It sounds as though he did.”