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15
Tales for Bairns

Tales for Bairns

They decided that the next summer they would visit the Northfarthing, and again Narcissa found herself thinking of cousins who might be willing to host them during their visit. She drove them back into Westhall, the three laughing and joking, and she dropped them off at the door to the Gravellies’ farmhouse, telling Emro how much of a pleasure it had been to accompany them on the trip and how proud he and Lilac could be of their behavior. He seemed embarrassed, but nodded his thanks, and saw them into the house. He didn’t think to offer her any hospitality, and with some surprise she drove to the inn to stay the night.

During their monthly visits with Daisy and Griffo the twins took to spending one day with her, and they would time this for Mersdays, for on Mersdays Sam Gamgee was taking to sitting in the common where Frodo used to sit, and was telling stories to the children, stories about Gondor and Arnor, mostly. He told one time of the fight between the Dúnedain of the North and the Witchking of Angmar, of the death of Arvedui and the fleeing of his forces across the Shire, heading for the safety of the Havens of Mithlond, telling how the Hobbits of the Shire had assisted them in fleeing the Nazgul’s forces.

“What does Nazgul mean?” asked young Beredith Chubbs when the story was at last over.

“The Nazgul were the Ringwraiths, those kings of Men who accepted the Rings of Power intended for Men, the Rings as was forged in Eregion by the folks of Celebrimbor under the teaching of Annatar, the one they thought of as the Lord of Gifts. What none of them knew was that Annatar was but Sauron the Deceiver and Accursed in disguise. He taught the making of Rings of Power to the Elven smiths of Eregion, but did so intending to betray them all. When the Nine for Men and the Seven for the Dwarves was done, he left them, secretly returned to Mordor and to his own forge in the Sammath Naur, the Chamber of Fire as was his own Place within Orodruin, the fire mountain, the volcano known as Mount Doom, there in the heart of Mordor. That was when he forged his own Ring, the Great Ring of Power intended to rule all others forged through the teaching he’d given to Celebrimbor and his folks.

“After Annatar left Eregion, Celebrimbor set out to make the Rings of Power for the Elven lords, giving two to Gil-galad, the lord of Gondolin, and one to the Lady Galadriel, who came from Aman itself, the eldest and wisest of all of Elvenkind in all of Middle Earth. These were the Rings of Water, of Fire, and of Air. I suppose he intended to do a fourth, the Ring of Earth, as well, and perhaps for hisself to wear; but they was betrayed by Sauron hisself afore it could be made. Realizing the betrayal as Sauron uttered the enchantment by which he poured so much of his own power and hatred and essence into that plain-looking gold Ring as he’d forged, those as had received the Elven Rings took them off and hid them, refusing to wear and use them as long as Sauron wore his, refusing to become his slaves and further his dupes.

“Furious at being found out and at the refusal of the Elves to let themselves be controlled and betrayed further by him, Sauron set out for Eregion to demand the remaining Rings of Power from Celebrimbor. When the Elven lord refused to give them over, Sauron made war on him and his land, and finally prevailed against him. The Lady Galadriel and her husband, the Lord Celeborn, were given safe passage with many refugees through the Dwarf Kingdom of Khazad-dum, of Moria, to the other side of the Misty Mountains, the Eastern side, looking down on the vale of the Great River Anduin. But Celebrimbor and many of his folk died at the hands of Sauron and his forces, and at last Sauron entered in and took the six Dwarf Rings as he could find and the Nine intended for Men. Then he looked for those as looked apt to his hand to gift them to.

“Those who received the Nine all fell to Sauron’s own power. They couldn’t die fully while they wore his gifts, but neither could they continue to live properly forever, so they passed into the Shadow world and become wraiths, horrible wraiths neither properly alive nor dead, until the destruction of Sauron’s own Ring finally released the eight as was left.”

“What happened to the ninth?” asked Pando Proudfoot.

“Meriadoc Brandybuck, Esquire to the King of Rohan, and the Lady Éowyn of Rohan stabbed him afore the walls of Minas Tirith. It was said no Man could kill him. No one said anything about the ability of a Hobbit and a woman. Even as far away as we was at the time, Mr. Frodo and me felt the moment of relief Middle Earth knew as that one died, and the slaves of Mordor was whispering of it in shock and dismay.” He thought for a moment. “That one used to be the Witchking of Angmar, afore he fled south after killing Arvedui and the coming of the forces of Gondor finally broke his army and power in the north. Reckon Arvedui and those of our folk as aided his widow and heir to escape feel right honored to see one of ours helping to finally rid the world of Arda of him at the last. And the smith of Arthedain who forged the blade which Merry used, he’d of been right proud of its ending.”

“Why did the blade end then?” asked Pando.

Sam gave him a sad but proud stare. “No blade could survive what cut into the undead flesh of one of them. Mr. Merry never named his sword, and we don’t know if the one as carried it afore ever did, not that it was a sword for him--only a long knife in the hands of one of the tall Men of the Dúnedain. When it was made, however, the smith of Arthedain as forged it inscribed it with rune spells of curses aimed at the Witchking of Angmar and his forces. When Merry stabbed the Lord of the Nazgul behind the knee, the blade burned away, he said, like cordwood. When the Lady Éowyn cut into where the thing’s neck ought to of been, its black crown went rolling across the field, and her sword also burned away. Their arms went numb, both that of the Lady and of Merry. She fell unconscious almost on the spot, in grief and horror at the feelings that filled her and the loss of her uncle, the Lord King Théoden, as was hurt to the death when the coming of the Nazgul made his horse to fall on him, crushing his body.”

“But Merry has a sword now,” Pando pointed out.

“Yes, and it’s a proud blade, it is. It was commissioned for him at the request of the Lord King Éomer as became king of Rohan after his Lord uncle died. The smith as wrought it for him wasn’t of either Rohan or Gondor, strictly speaking--he’d come north from Harad long afore the war, and he’d accept no pay for the making of it. Don’t know as exactly what the runes as he put on it say, but they are intended, he told us, to proclaim the honor of him as for whom it was made and to work for the good and honor of whoever carries it from now on. He’s not named it as yet, for a name is usually given a sword after it’s proven itself in battle; and even Merry hardly holds what was done here as a battle, as important as it is for us. For one as fought in the Battle of the Pelennor and saw his sworn Lord fall in honor and who faced the terror of the Witchking of Angmar and saw his end, it’s hard to consider the Battle of Bywater as quite enough to name a sword for.”

“Did you ever kill anyone?” asked Pando.

Sam shrugged. “I killed at least one orc in Moria, and I certainly hurt old Shelob, the great spider as guarded the tunnel in the Pass of Cirith Ungol. Don’t know as I killed her, though. The orcs as I faced in the tower there, one got away and the other tripped over the ladder head and fell and broke his own neck, so didn’t have the chance to kill either of them myself, though the Powers know as I wanted to.

“But my job wasn’t to kill, not particularly. My job was to help Mr. Frodo to do what had to be done that we all might have the chance to remain living free. And that’s what I did, doing my best to hold his hope so he could have it again after.

“When you are fighting evil, you don’t just fight with swords.”

The children, realizing at last Sam was done, rose and began dispersing. Narcissa noted Ted Sandyman standing on the edge of the common, looking at Sam with a mixed expression.

Ted worked now as a common laborer. He’d sold the mill on the Water to Lotho full willingly, and the replacement of the original water-driven mill wasn’t yet complete, and would not return to him in any case. One of his distant cousins, a Goold from Hardbottle, was providing the new millstones and was helping to pay for the building of the mill now being erected. He’d be the new miller for those who lived here around the region of the Hill. Ted had collaborated fully with Lotho, his Big Men, and later with Sharkey; he’d never been liked in Hobbiton for his petty and bullying nature, and now hardly anyone would give him the time of day. At the Free Fair he’d almost accused Sam of running away from the Shire before the Time of Troubles; but what Sam had just said indicated that the Travelers had known much worse than what they’d found here on their return. Certainly what he’d just said indicated Ted’s own claims of having survived terrors were nothing compared to what Merry, Pippin, Frodo, and Sam himself had survived.

Narcissa found herself glad Ted had heard all this. Insufferable git, she thought.

********

The following summer at the Free Fair Fosco Baggins stepped into the empty space Isumbard, Reginard, and Folco had left, and they were so surprised to see one who so resembled Frodo taking that spot that they said nothing and didn’t think to make another empty space. Somehow none of them was surprised with the young tween did the full seven rounds without a single error or stumble, and that he wasn’t even winded after, although his own look of pleasure and triumph was different from that Frodo had shown. He stepped off the grounds, turned as a young lass called out “Here, Fosco,” and joined what was plainly his sister and Narcissa Boffin, approached Emro and Lilac Gravelly of Westhall. Only then did they realize that this tween was also nearly blind, as he took his sister’s elbow.

“Who was that?” asked Reginard Took of Narcissa, who’d lagged somewhat behind.

“It’s our second cousin Fosco Baggins, son of Dudo Baggins and Emerald Boffin,” she answered.

“Emerald Boffin? You mean, Hugo and Donnamira’s child?”

“Yes, that’s the one.”

“When did she marry Dudo?”

“A few years after Camellia died and he moved to Westhall.”

“But when was he born?”

“A year and a half after Bilbo’s last Party, just a few weeks before Dudo died. And the lass with him is his twin sister.”

“Twins?! Did Frodo know about them?”

She gave an exasperated snort. “Of course he did. He was family head for the Bagginses, after all. Who do you think taught Fosco how to dance the Husbandmen’s Dance other than his own cousin?”

*******

The story Sam told that day was of the meeting with Strider.

“For four as had never been out of the Shire afore, the first time as we saw an inn designed for Men was a bit on the shocking side. We walked in and felt overwhelmed. Men are, for the most part, so very tall. They towered over us, making us feel small and vulnerable.

“Barliman Butterbur, the innkeeper, was fairspoken, but much given to constant chatter and bustle, trying to watch all sides at once and to anticipate the wants and needs of all. As such he was constantly being distracted, and his mind full of a million details at the same time.

“Gandalf had warned Frodo not to use his right name, as that was known to the Enemy, so he was to call hisself Mr. Underhill. So, once we’d eaten in the private parlor as we was given and three of us went off to look into the common room, that was how he was introduced to the folk of Bree as was in the Prancing Pony that evening.”

A few of those adults listening nodded at the description given of Butterbur and the inn and the common pleasantries there, for there were a few who’d been to Bree in the past. They laughed at the idea of someone of the Shire thinking to write a book, and nodded as Sam described the friendliness of the Hobbits of Bree.

“But in the corner sat an especially tall figure, cloaked and hooded in a stained green cloak, smoking his pipe, watching us, especially Frodo, with interest. He was a sinister figure, he was, sinister and dark. I pointed him out to Frodo, who asked Butterbur about him. ‘He’s a Ranger from out of the Wild,’ we was told. ‘Don’t know as what his right name is, but around here he’s known as Strider.’

“Strider. What he was to become to us we had no idea then, but at the time he simply frightened us. Well, we thought, we won’t have no need to deal with him.

“Oh, was we wrong!"

The ones listening were laughing as the conversations with the Hobbits from Bree were described, as they each insisted on telling their stories right there and then or sought to give Frodo a list of folks who could tell him great tales, beginning with Barliman here. “It was as if they all expected him to pull out book and quill and ink right then and there and produce this book right on the spot, it was. Folks seem to have no idea as to what writing a book entails, they don’t.”

“How do you know what it’s like?” asked one of those sitting there.

“I watched when Mr. Frodo finally wrote his book, after all, and I’ve tried my own hand at writing, just to see what it’s like, mind you.”

Looking at his expression, however, Narcissa Boffin was certain that there was a good deal more to the reason Samwise Gamgee had begun writing then simple curiosity about the process. He, however, was going on to speak of other things. He described the moment the local Hobbits had finally tired of waiting to see the promised book appear before their eyes, and Frodo, embarrassed, slipped away to the side of the room and found himself being summoned by the mysterious Strider, who clearly wanted to speak with him, but who suddenly became aware that Pippin was discussing things that ought not to be said while Frodo carried what he had in his pocket.

At that Sam became quiet for several minutes. Finally, he said, “It’s odd how things can move from one person and place to another. Sometimes it’s as if a thing could have a will of its own. But when a thing does have a will of its own, it can be frightening.” He looked around his audience coolly, as if gauging their ability to understand. Finally he gave a small nod, and continued.

“There are those here as have heard the story of the making of the Rings of Power. Sauron in disguise went to the greatest Elven smith then in Middle Earth and offered to teach him the ways of making such things, skills he hisself learned when he was still faithful to the Valar and served under their own smith. His plan was now simple enough--have the Elves do the work and others was like to trust the Rings as they made; then he’d make one more Ring, spelled to command the rest. He’d wear his Ring, they’d wear theirs, he’d see their hearts and thoughts and command them, and all would come under his sway. But it wasn’t so easy as that, or so he found.

“At last the day came when he lost that Ring, when his enemies finally brought him down, although it cost the greatest of the Kings of Men and Elves for that to happen. Isildur cut the Ring from Sauron’s hand and took It as his own--save it is more likely the Ring took him instead. Then when Isildur sought to use It to escape from orcs, It changed Its size, as It could do, and slipped from his finger and revealed him to the orcs as had been following his scent, and he was shot with arrows. I suppose the Ring thought one of them would see It and pick It up and bring It back to where Sauron could find it once his power was sufficiently restored he could reclaim It again, but instead It found Itself at the bottom of a river where nothing more interesting than fish saw It for the longest time.

“Then a fishing Stoor found It, and his own cousin saw It in his hand, there where he pulled hisself out of the River where he’d fallen in and seen It in the mud and brought It out, and Sméagol killed his cousin and took the Ring for hisself, then hid in the caves of the Misty Mountains with It for almost five hundred years.

“But once the Ring realized Its master was almost ready to try again for ultimate power and It began to awaken again, It realized as long as It remained with him, Gollum, as he was now called, would never leave where he was and wouldn’t carry It back to Sauron. So It abandoned him one day. Only no orc or goblin found It. Instead It was found by a Hobbit as had gotten lost escaping goblins, and Bilbo Baggins carried It away and brought It here, here to the Shire, in his pocket.

“Only one holder of the Ring ever give it up voluntarily--Bilbo Baggins.”

Pippin Took gave Sam a distinct look at that, which Sam studiously ignored. Narcissa wondered what wasn’t being said this time.

“Of course, he needed just a little help to let It go, but he did it and walked off away from the Shire, feeling suddenly free after over sixty years of carrying It. And so It came to Frodo Baggins, who never wore It--not till one day in the Old Forest, and then a second time, this time totally by the Ring’s will, there in the Inn of the Prancing Pony in Bree. Hearing Pippin starting to say things as oughtn’t to be said right then, Frodo climbed up on a table and begun a speech, and they thought as he was drunk. ‘A song! A tale! A dance!’ the crowd demanded, so he begun a comic song as old Mr. Bilbo had written, and when he was done they begged him to repeat it. So he did, and he begun to dance on the table, and then It betrayed him. He’d put his right hand in his pocket, and stepped to the side, and the table fell. Did he suddenly lose his step, or did the Ring suddenly change weight? I’m here to tell you It could do such, for It’s done just that more than once. In Mordor It felt as if It weighed heavier and heavier the further in as we went.

“Whatever the cause, the table fell, and Frodo fell, and as he fell, It slipped Itself onto his finger and he went invisible. And there were there in the common room those as had been set to watch for any hint the Ringbearer had come their way. No better way to announce Its presence then making someone go invisible, after all. The honest folk was confused and frightened; those of us as knew what it was he carried was terrified; the ones set to watch was triumphant and went to call their masters.

“Frodo crawled away to a corner and took It off, furious and terrified at what It had done, for he certainly hadn’t wanted to do such a thing. And Strider saw him, told him they needed a long talk and soon, and told him to get out of sight as quickly as he could. But then Butterbur was there to find out what had caused this stir, and at last he indicated that arguing about what had and hadn’t been seen was foolish, and we slipped off alone, we hoped, to our room. Only Strider was there with us, sitting in the corner and demanding to speak with Frodo.

“He wanted to be our guide--this grim looking stranger, this very tall Man with an ancient sheath for an ancient sword at his side, this one who was telling us to trust no one--trust no one but still trust him? Well, I thought, if we was to trust no one, then we ought to start by not trusting him, particular as it appeared he knew precisely what It was as sat in Frodo’s pocket. He’d been told to be on watch for a Baggins using the name of Underhill, had he? Only one knew as Frodo was supposed to use that name, and he wasn’t there. Where was old Gandalf, and how did this odd, rough looking soul know about Gandalf telling Frodo to use that name?

“And how came it he shone with the same Light as my Master? I could see that, and was took aback, I was, for no one as ought to do that save Frodo Baggins. Yet here was this one as was called Strider, this Ranger from the Wild, this one as we’d been told not to trust by Butterbur and who’d told us to trust no one, and he held the same Light in him, and I was shocked.

“As he spoke, his speech was changing. At first he spoke as one would expect of a rough stranger, his voice as rough as his looks. But slowly as he forgot his disguise and he responded to my Master’s Light, it become smoother, more that of a well educated soul, more that of one who is intended to speak and others do, who asks and others answer, who tells and others listen. There was music in his voice, as even when he was uncertain there was yet the grace of the dancer in my Master’s step. And as they spoke the Light of each flared, grew stronger and more distinct. Mr. Pippin and me, we was fascinated, and terrified.

“But Mr. Merry wasn’t there, and we realized as he’d had time to go out and sniff the air as he’d indicated he’d do many times over. Where could he be?

“Then there was another knock at the door, and it was Butterbur, and in his hand was a letter. He was sorry, he told us, but he’d been asked to keep out an eye for a Hobbit of the Shire as would be coming to Bree calling hisself Underhill, but whose real name was Frodo Baggins. He had been asked to help such a one as well as he could, for he’d been warned this one would be most like running from danger into even greater danger. All his responsibilities had knocked the memory of that almost clear out of his head, what with one thing and another, and only now had he remembered those words and the request as had come with them, the request to forward a letter to the Shire, a request made at the beginning of summer, and here it was late September. For he’d found no one headed for the Shire to entrust the letter to, he hadn’t and now he was taking the chance that this one as had come to his inn that night calling hisself Underhill was the Frodo Baggins he’d been asked to watch for....

“Who was it as had left the letter with him? Well, it was the wizard Gandalf it was, and Butterbur was certain as he’d be changed into a toad in the garden for his lapse of memory, or perhaps something worse. Frodo was that put out, he took the letter and opened it. And Butterbur was muttering about how there was folks about as had been asking about Bagginses, and that the one called Strider had been demanding to see Mr. Underhill, he had been. And where was the fourth of their company, that Mr. Brandybuck? Well, if it didn’t appear as this party of innocents from the Shire as needed a keeper....”

Sam was smiling, shaking his head with the memories, looking into the distance of time, seeing it all again. And Merry and Pippin, who sat nearby, had identical smiles on their own faces.

“And Strider, hisself both thoroughly disgusted and yet wanting to laugh at the situation come forward from the corner where he’d sat hisself, and said Strider was here after all, and Butterbur would of saved all a great deal of trouble and his tables and crockery a good deal of damage had he let him down the corridor to speak with us earlier. Butterbur retreated, he did, promising to send Bob and Nob out to seek Mr. Merry, shaking his head that we was now in worse danger than ever, if we took up with this woodsman from the wild.

“The letter was straightforward enough--word had come to Gandalf as already the Enemy had sent out his darkest servants to seek the Shire and Bagginses, and we was to leave the Shire as soon as possible and not wait for the birthday as had been planned. On the way we was to keep watch for one as called hisself Strider and whose real name was Aragorn, and we could trust him, we could, for he knew our business and it concerned him closely anyway. And there was the worry that somehow Butterbur might just get distracted and forget to send this letter, and the threat that if he did he’d be toast, the realization Butterbur had the memory of a lumber room--thing wanted never to be found.

“And at the end of the letter was a poem, advising us that not all that is gold does glitter, and not all as wanders is lost. Frodo read that, looked up at Strider, and demanded to know as why he hadn’t just told us he was Gandalf’s friend. So if he didn’t just start quoting the same poem as was in the letter!

“How was we to know as this was the real Strider? I demanded. How was we to know he wasn’t a brigand as had killed the real one and had taken his clothes?

“He laughed at me, he did. Had he wanted the Ring, he told us, he could of taken it much sooner and without all this talk--and he stood up over me and I was pulling at the sword as I’d been given in the Barrowdowns, wishing I knew how to actually use the thing. But then he backed down and his voice and his face was sad. Oh, he was the real Strider, he told us, and that poem went with him as Aragorn son of Arathorn. And he unhooked his sheath from his belt, pulled the hilt of his sword out to show us the blade was broken, then spilt out the rest of the blade onto the table.

“I’d not read that much about the end of the Second Age and beginning of the Third Age, so had no idea what that broken blade meant--not then. I’ve read up on it since, though. But if I was puzzled by him afore, now I was flat confused. He was out wandering the wilds with a broken sword? What in Middle Earth was this about? Mr. Frodo, though, he was beginning to understand, for what I hadn’t read he had, either in his own studies or in the copying as he’d done for old Mr. Bilbo. He knew there was one sword which was broken as was important, important enough those as cared for it would keep it just as it was, until the day it was time to reforge it. He knew the story of Narsil, and how the broken blade had been used to relieve the hand of Sauron hisself of that as sat now in his pocket.

“One last time those two, the tall, spare Man and the Hobbit as was a scholar, looked to one another’s eyes, and their Lights both shone together again; and I realized with a rising and a sinking of my heart that we was going to follow this one to whatever destination as he’d chosen for us.

“How was I to fully realize I’d just been introduced to him as was to become our King, after all?”

Again, the story was plainly over, as Sam stood up and bowed to the crowd of children and their parents, and his daughter followed after him as he walked away.

Again Pippin and Merry joined him in the ale tent, and Narcissa Boffin sat nearby where she could hear. Pippin sat and shook his head. “Only one gave up the Ring? You know that’s not true, Sam Gamgee, and you know the circumstances as to when it happened again.”

Sam looked up at him solemnly. “Are you so certain,” he said quietly, “that I give It up willingly? True, when he snatched It away from me I didn’t snatch It right back. But I was reluctant to give It back. It was already working on me, It was. It was beginning to know It could get at me through my pity for him, as It had realized It could get at him through his pity for others. It was finally coming to grips with the minds of Hobbits, It was.”

All three of them looked at one another, and gave identical sighs.

*******

The next day Forsythia and Fosco were off to the Northfarthing with Narcissa where they moved among relatives who were of the North-Tooks for the most part. So it was that they happened to be there on the day when Peregrin Took arrived at the home of Olimbard Took to bring a message sent by the Thain, and saw the meeting between Pippin and Diamond of Long Cleeves.

Pippin wore his mail with the black surcoat over it, his sword suspended from a belt made of enameled links shaped like leaves. His helmet hung from the pommel of his saddle on one side, his shield on the other. He rode erect and proudly, and he could be heard singing as he approached the smial. The song he sang was in a strange tongue, and was hauntingly beautiful. Narcissa and the twins sat with many of the younger denizens of Long Cleeves in the front garden, enjoying tea in the open air while the youngest of the children turned cartwheels and somersaults on the lawn among the dogs, and the mothers and nurses watched all in between gossiping and taking stitches at whatever needlework each carried that day.

Diamond sat at the next table with her sisters Sapphire and Ruby and her closest cousins Elsbeth and Lorilmae. They’d been playing at shuttlecock much of the day, and their rackets sat beside their chairs as they sipped at tea cooled by ice chipped earlier in the afternoon from the store in the ice cellar. There was a lake below the hill into which the long smial had been cut where this was cut in the depths of winter each year, and the ice cellar at Long Cleeves was considered a marvel throughout the Shire. As they heard the singing coming nearer, all craned their heads toward the track leading to the smial, saw the shining form, silver embroidered Tree on his chest, riding toward them, looking like a figure out of an ancient tale.

Pippin stopped Jewel at the beginning of the walk, looked down at the assembled young folk and bowed his head. “Is Master Olimbard within?” he asked.

The children had stopped in their tumbling and looked up at him with their mouths open in surprise while the teens and tweens seemed to be equally impressed with the vision before them. Finally Diamond stood, realizing no one else was in any shape to answer, and gave a surprisingly deep yet mocking curtsey. “Ah, Sir Knight,” she said, half mockingly, “yes, our dear grandfather is indeed within. Will you dismount and accept our hospitality?”

Pippin colored, then dismounted. “Sorry,” he said, “but when I have to ride far within the Shire I prefer to be ready in case we find more of the brigands hiding in the wilder bits. Also, as part of the message has to do with the King’s business, I felt I ought to dress the part.”

Diamond shrugged. He stood, holding onto the pony’s bridle, and examined her. “Hello, Diamond,” he said. “It’s been about six years, hasn’t it? You have grown up to be a very lovely lass, you know.” Then he realized he’d just said this in front of about every young Hobbit in Long Cleeves, and flushed again.

“And you have gone from being woefully short to being the tallest individual I’ve ever seen,” she answered. “Have problems finding clothes?”

He shrugged. “Have to have them made to order, I must admit. Anyway, my da has forwarded a message from the Lord Steward Halladan as well as one he’s sent himself to your great grandfather, and I suppose I’d best deliver them.”

She indicated to one of the older lads he ought to take Pippin’s pony, then turned coolly toward the open door and headed for the smial. Pippin quickly slipped his saddlebags and a dispatch case over his shoulders and followed her inside.

That night Pippin sat beside Olimbard at the high table, dressed now in a more common outfit of greens and golds. Olimbard was questioning him on the intent of the proposed meeting to take place the following month in Michel Delving on what each family unit was willing to trade with the outer realm, and asking whether he ought to attend himself or if his second son Embilard who now worked most closely with the farms and the lime kilns and the shepherds ought to go in his stead. Diamond sat toward the end of the table studiously ignoring their guest, who kept looking her way.

Pippin stayed for three days and had several conferences with Olimbard and his sons and oldest grandsons; but it was plain he would like to have some time to spend with the younger Hobbits, particularly Diamond. Narcissa was amused to see how he kept trying to bump into her, and how carefully Diamond was avoiding his attentions.

The last evening, though, was Diamond’s birthday, and Pippin was invited to attend the party. Olimbard had indicated to Diamond’s parents that Pippin was to sit at the head table with them and Diamond, which as Diamond was still pointedly ignoring him caused him great embarrassment. When the gifts were passed out, Pippin unwrapped his to find a wooden flute which was rather battered looking. Pippin, however, smiled to receive it, examined it carefully, then lifted it to his lips, gave a few tentative notes, and commented, “This is quite marvelous. Do you mind if I try a tune on it?”

No one could say no to that request, and he began to play. He played a series of three songs, the first a shepherd’s tune quite familiar to many there, the second one which none recognized but which brought to mind starlight on water and leaves, and the third a dance tune all knew which set toes to tapping and hands to clapping after a time. Diamond had turned to him during the first song with interest; her expression was surprised and rapt during the second, and by the third had become almost worshipful. Narcissa was reminded how her own heart had been won by the grace and smile of Frodo Baggins; Diamond’s had now been won by the songs played on that flute.

Pippin lowered it at last, smiling at it. “It’s been a long time since I played a flute,” he commented. “I used to play one on the farm and when I worked among the shepherds when I was approaching twenty. Don’t know what happened to it. But I don’t appear to have lost the knack.”

Diamond looked at him, smiling. “No,” she said, “you don’t. That was very beautiful, you know.”

He looked at her, startled to find himself finally receiving her attention, and said with a duck of his head, “Thank you.”

“Where did you learn that second one?” asked Diamond’s mother.

He was looking at the flute again, and his expression became thoughtful. “The Elves were singing it as they went aboard the Grey Ship at Mithlond when Frodo left,” he said, finally. “I don’t know all the words, but the melody is one I’ll never forget. I think it was a hymn in honor of the Lord Ulmo.” He fingered the holes on the flute for a moment. “I suppose when I return to Minas Tirith I could ask the Lady Arwen about it. I’m certain she must know it. Probably Aragorn knows it as well.”

“You are planning on leaving?” asked Sapphire.

He looked up at her, surprised. “Leaving? You mean leaving the Shire for good? Oh, no, never for good, or not in the foreseeable future. But I am a Guard of the Citadel, and will go back to serve my duty from time to time, and will attend on the King when he comes north as well.”

His expression was utterly serious, and all realized this was a statement of fact. Diamond’s younger brother Micolo asked, “You mean you do know the King, then?”

Pippin nodded. “Yes, I do. He confirmed my vows to the Lord Steward Denethor after his coronation, and commissioned me as a captain of the Guard, which was embarrassing. I mean--I’m still not quite of age yet, and had only served for a little while. I ought not to have been given such a rank so soon. But the true Captain of the Guard not only accepts it, I found out he suggested it, and Aragorn gladly fulfilled the suggestion.”

“You call the King by his first name?” asked Olimbard, impressed.

Pippin colored again. “Not when I’m on duty, of course. But we did travel together for quite a while before it finally sank in he was meant to be the King. While we were traveling we all just called each other by name. No one bothered calling Boromir, for instance, Captain Boromir or Lord Boromir, both of which titles were his by right and achievement; and the only one who referred to Legolas as ‘my Lord Prince’ was Aragorn, and then only when he was particularly tired of hearing him bickering with Gimli, and Legolas’s father is King of Mirkwood. The only one anyone called by title with any regularity was Frodo.”

“Frodo? You mean Frodo Baggins?” asked Diamond’s father. “What title did he have? What relevance would being family head for the Bagginses have outside the Shire?”

Pippin looked again at his fingers on the flute. “Family head for the Bagginses and Master of Bag End? No, of course those have no relevance anywhere but here. However, he earned several titles outside the Shire, and I do mean he earned them. The one he’s known most by, however, is as the Ringbearer. That’s what they called him by most of the time, and what he’s known as by more than know his name.” Again he lifted his eyes and looked solemnly and proudly at Diamond’s parents. “And I will tell you, I am proud to have been one of the Ringbearer’s companions on that journey.” He looked back at Diamond. “Thank you again, Diamond, for the flute. I will truly treasure it.”

This time it was Diamond of Long Cleeves who colored--with pleasure, Narcissa noted.

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