“Go South?” objected Emro Gravelly. “Absolutely not!”
“But, Da--” Fosco began.
“There is no way in Middle Earth I’d give my permission for that,” his foster father continued hotly. “It’s bad enough you gadding all over the Shire visiting all these folk who never cared two pins for you while you were growing up....”
“And whose fault was that?” Forsythia asked, her own anger equal to that of her foster father. “It certainly wasn’t due to lack of family feeling, you know. Now that they do know of us they pay us proper attention, at least.”
“Do they indeed? Are they truly interested in you, or in your inheritance?”
The twins and Narcissa were all three shocked. “Our inheritance?” Forsythia finally spluttered. “What do they care for our inheritance? Most of those who are related to us have more than enough themselves to keep them busy, and don’t care that much about what we might look to inherit, and particularly what is here in Westhall, as far out of the way as it is seen to be. The farm here is our home and always has been, and we love it. But it is not of much interest to anyone else but other Gravellies, just as Griffo’s and Daisy’s farm is mostly of interest only to other Boffins and us as their sister and brother.”
Brendilac Brandybuck agreed. “Those who have come to care for the twins have come to do so for Frodo’s and their own sake, certainly not because of any hint of any inheritance.”
Emro didn’t look any too convinced, and pointedly ignored the lawyer. “I still will not agree to you two leaving the Shire to go South. I don’t like you going out of the Shire to begin with, no matter what your Cousin Frodo foresaw. But, as your Mum and I agreed to it, there isn’t much we can do when folk go out here in Arnor. But I’m not giving my permission to go to Gondor and that’s flat. We have nothing down there.”
“Our cousin Folco Boffin is down there, as you put it, as is Pando Proudfoot, who is another cousin,” Fosco pointed out.
But no argument would sway Emro.
As Narcissa and Brendilac started to leave, the twins walked out to the waiting cart with them. “We want you to go, Narcissa,” Forsythia said. “We want you to go and to come back and tell us about it.”
Narcissa wouldn’t commit herself, but agreed she’d consider the project.
As they drove away, Brendilac looked briefly back over his shoulder at the two dejected looking tweens waiting in the winter twilight. “They’d give anything to go themselves,” he sighed.
“I know,” Narcissa agreed.
He continued, “But here he has every right to say no.”
She nodded. He drove her back to Overhill and dropped her off at her smial, wished her a happy Yule, and drove back toward the Road, heading East back to Buckland. She watched after him, not really realizing how sad she was to see him go.
She went into Hobbiton a couple days after her return to do some marketing, and heard sobbing as she walked past the Ivy Bush. Following the sound of the crying, she walked around the inn to find young Cyclamen Proudfoot leaning against the building behind a bare lilac, her attitude one of abject grief.
“Cyclamen, what is it?” she asked, reaching out and taking the lass into her arms.
“Mum and Dad don’t want me to go to Minas Tirith!” the child managed to sob out.
“Well, I can see their point,” Narcissa said.
“But Pando’s going to come back up to the capitol for the unveiling of the monument, and I want so to see him again. Oh, I want to see him, and I want to see the monument and the city as well. I miss him so, Narcissa! It’s been so long.”
“What would it take to get them to give you permission, do you think?”
“Someone to take care of me. They can’t go now. Dad is dying to go himself, really, but he can’t afford to. He’s the only carter within twenty miles, and he already has jobs set for March and April. Mum would go if Dad went, too, but wouldn’t think of going without him. And they don’t want me to go without someone who would only think to care for me. Of course, once we’re there I wouldn’t be alone, because Pando would be there for me, you know. But on the way....”
The word had come that the memorial to the four Travelers would be unveiled on the New Year for the outer world, which was March twenty-fifth. Forsythia and Fosco couldn’t attend, not without Emro’s permission; but suddenly Narcissa found herself deciding she would see to it that Cyclamen got to go. She knew how much Frodo had meant to the child, and had an idea of how much she already knew about Gondor from the stories she’d heard from Frodo, Sam Gamgee, and now her brother’s letters.
That night Narcissa considered all the reasons why she ought not to go to Gondor, and the next day she went to Number Five, New Row, and had a long talk with Angelica and Sancho Proudfoot. The argument went on for hours, but at last they agreed, and Cyclamen was almost floating around the room in her delight.
The next one to approach was Cousin Fredegar, who had let Merry know he would be going and taking the family coach and that Ferdibrand Took intended to travel with him, neither wife wishing at this time to go. Would Freddie accept two more passengers, she wondered? Well, she would at least ask.
She rented a cart from the Green Dragon and drove to Budgeford. Melilot was surprised she’d consider going at all, but supported her arguments with Freddie, who agreed that he’d be willing to allow Cyclamen and Narcissa as two more passengers in the coach, as long as they paid their own way at whatever inns they might stay in. She agreed and headed back to Hobbiton, and together she and Angelica Proudfoot did their best to figure out how much might be needed. Narcissa and Cyclamen composed a letter to the Lord Steward Halladan, who responded within two weeks, and with the amount he suggested in mind, the Proudfoots prepared for their daughter to attend the unveiling of the monument.
Brendilac came to Overhill in mid-January, two weeks before they were to leave, and reviewed the plans with Narcissa.
“You have the money to pay for inns?” he asked.
She brought forth Lord Halladan’s letter and indicated she had enough, and would change it for King’s coinage in Bree.
“You have your clothing all packed?”
“All but my nightwear and two dresses I intend to wear between now and then, and which will be laundered before I pack them.”
“Any books you intend to take?”
“They are already in the trunk.”
“Yes, I’ve packed two and will carry one--plus pens and ink in travel bottles, a stick of graphite Frodo sent me for the last Yule he spent here, and a ball of gum.”
“Brush, comb, and mirror?”
“Ready to pack at the last moment.”
“Combs and ribbons?”
“I’ll carry that.”
“Ready to go into my personal satchel.”
“Have them ready.”
“Blanket roll in case of emergency?”
“Freddie has indicated he will bring five.”
“In the trunk already.”
“In my personal satchel already.”
She was becoming amused. Just how much did he feel he ought to be responsible for what she took? Certainly he seemed to feel that he needed to make certain she wanted for nothing once she arrived in the city. He went through the entire list of what he seemed to think would be necessary for a Hobbitess to take with her for a trip to Gondor, and could not find her wanting on any point. Finally he sighed.
“It appears you are indeed ready for the trip,” he said.
“Why don’t you come along as well?”
“I am greatly tempted, I must admit. However, I have had some appointments for March and April committed to since last year, and cannot easily change them.”
“You might try.”
“I might. However, among other things, I feel I need to stay and keep an eye on the twins and Emro. I have a feeling something is happening there that we are not being made privy to, and I intend to make certain they are not given an unwanted surprise while you are gone.”
“You don’t think Emro would do any such thing, do you?”
“He’s becoming increasingly resentful of their growing connections outside Westhall.”
“I know, but----”
“Don’t worry, Narcissa. I’ll keep an eye on their best interests.”
She smiled. “Thank you, Brendilac. I’ll count on that.”
He left a couple hours after sunset to head for the Green Dragon where he was to stay the night, and she watched him drive away. She was glad he would not be going on the journey, and sorry at the same time. At least she knew him and they had a good deal in common, including Forsythia and Fosco.
The journey began in early February. Brendilac drove a small wagon to Bywater three days before all were to leave the Shire, stayed the night at the Green Dragon, picked up Narcissa, drove to Bag End where Sam and Rosie carefully loaded their baggage, Elanor and Frodo-Lad, they were joined by Cyclamen with her small trunk, and finally mounting their ponies they followed behind the wagon first to Frogmorton for the first night and then to Brandy Hall, the parents taking it in turn to carry Rosie-lass under their cloaks as they rode. Fredegar Bolger arrived in the Bolger carriage with Ferdibrand not long after, their carriage followed closely by Pippin and Diamond. They spent that night at Brandy Hall, and in the morning all prepared to ride out. Each pony carried saddlebags which were full, and each party fastened a single small trunk on the roof of the carriage. Cyclamen and Narcissa were to occasionally exchange places with those ladies riding the ponies, but they started inside the coach holding Rosie-lass and Frodo-Lad, today Elanor riding before her Sam-Dad looking out through his cloak, feeling very grown up. Brendilac handed Narcissa and Cyclamen into the coach, giving each a chaste kiss on the cheek, then handed in the two small Hobbits, Rosie-lass full from her early breakfast and intent on going back to sleep. Narcissa held the small lass gently as she slept, and watched out the window as Budgie Smallfoot set the team in motion, while Cyclamen waved at Brendilac and those who’d risen to see them off.
They spent the night in the Prancing Pony, Butterbur greeting his friends from the Shire with respect, meeting wives and Sam’s children for the first time. They managed to fill his rooms for Hobbits, which was something he’d never had happen before during his tenure as innkeeper. Shortly after the arrival of the Hobbits came a riding from the North, and he found himself scrambling to settle a group from the Northern capitol. The Rangers had, since the news the King had come again, become less ragged and disreputable in appearance, and there had been several times he’d found himself hosting the one known as Lord Halladan, the Steward. This time there could be no question that these were indeed officials of Arnor, for their horses were groomed carefully, their cloaks pristine, their clothing, which had always been of excellent make if well worn and long used, was now new, the silver stars on their shoulders having been carefully polished. Sword hilts and sheaths might each be unique, but clothing itself was more uniform, and riding leathers were new yet supple.
Behind the riding was a single wagon with a raised tarp over it. Into this the trunks from the carriage were transferred, save for the food chest which the Hobbits would have carefully filled in the morning. Once all were arrived, they repaired to the common room where a party of Dwarves already were eating their evening meal, drinking more temperately than most such parties Butterbur had seen. As the Hobbits and Rangers entered, the leader of the group of Dwarves rose. “Welcome, Lord Halladan,” said that one. “Honor to be riding with you!”
“And you, Master Gloin,” the Steward said, bowing deeply. “May your beard grow ever thicker and longer.”
The Hobbits also bowed deeply, and then were greeting a few among the Dwarves they recognized and being introduced to the others. Barliman was flabbergasted. As he said to Jape next morning after they’d seen the cavalcade off, “Now, if that don’t beat all. All it wanted was a few Elves to fill it out, like.”
The locals filled the common room that night, looking at the mixed party with interest and curiosity. A few Rangers on patrol came in, greeted Halladan, had a few quiet words for him, enjoyed a drink of ale and a small plate of food, then left to return to their duties, each bowing deeply to those in the party of Hobbits as they passed their tables.
One of the local Hobbits stopped by Sam. “Hullo, Master Gamgee,” he said. “I don’t know as you’d remember me, but I’m Ned Underhill of here in Bree. Was wondering about your friend, the one as was writing a book. Did he ever get it written?”
Sam rose and indicated he might join them if he liked. “Yes, he did,” he said, when Ned Underhill politely declined. “He did write it, and he did a full reporting of the odd business here in Bree, he did, noting the courage of the Big and Little folk of Bree in facing down the brigands as tried to take your land over. It made him proud to report it, sir.”
“He’s not with you, then?”
“No, sir, he left us three years past.”
Noting the sad pride to be seen in the eyes of the entire party, Ned nodded with sympathy. “I’m right sorry as he’s gone, then. Wanted to give a kinsman my respects, don’t you know.”
“Thank you, Master Underhill. We’re honored you remember him.”
Glad to bear such a report back to his fellows, Ned withdrew to his own table, and soon a round of drinks was brought by Jape himself to the Shire Hobbits’ table with respects from the locals. Mr. Brandybuck acknowledged receipt with many thanks, and those at the table rose to bow respectfully toward the locals’ table, which made hearts fill with pride.
None stayed late in the Common Room. Early in the morning they had a filling first breakfast, accepted the filled food chest and saw it stowed in the coach, and soon all were ready to ride out.
They rode steadily through the day, and at sunset found themselves approaching a pavilion raised in the forest at the edge of the trees. Narcissa was amazed to find their party being greeted by bowing Elves, and soon they were being led within. The bedrolls brought by all were laid on prepared pallets of early greenery, a meal was already prepared and was swiftly consumed, and soon all were preparing for sleep within the bower, save for the three Travelers, the Elves, and three of the Rangers, who walked out to watch the stars and talk for a time. Merry stayed up on watch for a time, and later in the night Pippin spelled one of the Rangers. Narcissa, who slept lightly in such surroundings, realized that none of the Men were protesting about the Hobbits sharing their duties, and she realized this underscored the fact they saw Merry and Pippin as their equals in this, at least.
They traveled steadily, and as all became more hardened to travel each ride grew longer, as did the days. Each day at least one Man and two Elves would ride ahead as scouts and hunters, each evening the Elves would set up the pavilion, and Elves and Hobbits would share the task of cooking for the party. They broke in Tharbad for a day, and all the Hobbits and Men bathed and had their clothes laundered; then they were back on the road once more.
They often passed parties of Men working on the road, smoothing and in some cases paving it with blocks of stone, removing ruts and boulders and lifted tree roots. Lord Halladan explained that many of these groups were made up of captured brigands who had been judged worthy of the chance for reformation. They were expected to work hard, but not slavishly, and as they grew more skilled were given more and more responsibilities and the opportunity to make informed decisions. After their terms of servitude were up they would be freed and paid the wages saved for them, and given the right to settle where they desired and make a clean start. If any reoffended, however, then they would most likely be hanged. Narcissa watched carefully after that, and was not particularly surprised when she spotted a small figure in one of the gangs. She looked to Sam and noted he’d seen the figure, also, and recognized Timono Bracegirdle among those they’d just passed.
After they’d passed this group a rider rode forward to join their party. He was a young Man followed by two great hounds. He approached the Steward and raised his hand in salute. “My Lord Cousin,” he called, “I give you greetings.”
“Welcome, Eregiel,” Lord Halladan replied. “Have you finished gathering the reports?”
“Just received the last one now, sir,” the younger Ranger said. Then he looked on the party, smiled, and bowed as deeply as one on horseback could. “My Lord Samwise, Captain Peregrin, Sir Meriadoc--I give you welcome to Southern Eriador and greet you and your party with pleasure. It is a great honor to meet you this day.” He turned to the Elves then. “Lord Celeborn, Haldir. I greet you with greatest joy.” His hand to his breast, he bowed deeply a second time.
“We thank you,” Pippin said, “although I fear I don’t recognize you.”
“I am Eregiel son of Miringlor of Annúminas, still another of our Lord King’s kinsmen. During the war I was serving on the northern borders and could not come to his side. I accompanied Master Ruvemir and his party south, so came to know Master Folco and young Pando. I have seen your pictures often enough, I must say, and so had no difficulty in recognizing the three of you. These are your family and more of the Ringbearer’s kin?”
Introductions were quickly given, and Eregiel and his two hounds joined the cavalcade. “I’m surprised you’ve stopped at two,” Halladan said, yet he smiled as he said it.
Eregiel laughed. “My mother would be most troubled had she none of the hounds to care for,” he said, smiling broadly. “And as much as our Lady Queen appreciates Artos, I doubt she would welcome my full kennel.”
The hounds were very well behaved, and although at night Artos always stayed around wherever his master was, Gwynhumara would most generally set herself in care for the smaller Hobbits. The four young ones became inured to the trip quickly, but during the stops the three littlest ones were quick to stretch legs and run about hurriedly, checking out the wonders surrounding the camp. Here the sweet-tempered dog would watch over them as if they were busy pups of her own, often turning Frodo-Lad back toward his parents if she felt he was straying too far. She and Cyclamen developed a warm bond as the two gave the older Hobbits a break from their constant watchfulness.
The day they reached the Gap of Rohan Merry and Pippin were extremely watchful, keeping an eye out for signs of Ents. In late afternoon as they came in sight of the Tower of Orthanc on top of its rocky islet in the midst of the shallow lake which had taken the place of the Vale of Isengard, they finally saw what they sought. Three Ents and what appeared to be a tall Man clad in flowing brown robes approached them.
“It’s Treebeard and Quickbeam!” announced Merry. “How wonderful!”
They stopped the group, and at a sign from Lord Halladan he rode forward accompanied only by the Hobbits and Lord Celeborn. Merry and Pippin dismounted, leading Stybba and Jewel forward. They bowed deeply, and the three Ents and tall Man bowed back.
“Boom haruum. I must say,” Treebeard said, his eyes sparkling with pleasure, “that it is a good feeling to see you two young things at the last. And how are you?”
“Very good, Treebeard,” Merry said. “We received word of your greetings sent by way of Master Ruvemir, and were grateful for your welcome to him.”
“An interesting soul,” the old Ent said. “Hoom. Now, let me see the families you have made, for I am told they are well worth the knowing.”
Those in the coach were beckoned out, and as they were introduced they found the deep gaze of the three Ents examining them with approval. Narcissa was shocked almost to speechlessness--never had she imagined anything such as these.
The one who was called Quickbeam examined her with interest. “You are a kinswoman to the Ringbearer, then?” he asked.
“Yes, we were second cousins once removed,” she explained. “And I am one of those appointed guardians of his first cousins as well until they come of age.”
“A gentle one he was, and very hard stricken by what he had endured,” Quickbeam said gently. “We are grateful he has been granted healing in the West, for if he hadn’t prevailed at the last I fear our long watch over the forests would have come to naught in the end.”
“Thank you,” Narcissa said.
The figure in brown robes bowed to Sam. “I passed through the Shire just ere you returned there, and again a few months back on my way here. It had been told me that you had used the gift given you by the Lady Galadriel well indeed, and I have seen with my own eyes this is true. The young trees you have set to grow in the place of those murdered by Saruman rejoice to grow for you, and the gardens sing to find the sunlight.”
“My Lord Radagast?” asked Sam, making an educated guess at the identity of this one. “I’m glad as not all the Wizards is gone as yet.”
He smiled. “My brother Gandalf has returned to the West, for his part in the business is complete. I linger yet for a time, seeing that the lands damaged by Sauron’s horror come alive again as they were meant to do before I, too, go to the Havens and back to my own place.”
“What has become of Mordor, then?” asked Sam. “So deeply as he scorched it, I wondered if ought other than the Ring Itself could bring it to life again.”
Radagast shook his head, and a mixed flock of birds flew about him, a magpie lighting on his shoulder. “Mordor was meant to be a desert land, yet you will learn that it, too, has its own beauty, one to which you, as one born to verdant fields, are perhaps not attuned. The rains proper to it now water it as they were intended, and in the season of growing life now fills what appear to be wastes the rest of the time. Small lizards, toads, serpents, and other small creatures fit for such places now know its beauty and its spareness and its surprising bounty.”
Sam nodded. “I’m glad to hear of it, sir, for I’m shamed to member what the Ring made me to think as I could do with it. Wouldn’t of been the same at all, it wouldn’t.”
Radagast smiled, then looked around them. “I’m pleased at what has occurred here. Saruman did very badly to seek to emulate Sauron and to make this into a small copy of Mordor. This is more in keeping with the intent given its forming. The Ents have done very well, and their stewardship is well received.”
Treebeard bowed stiffly. “That is a great honor from you, sir. A sad day when you, too, return to your brethren.”
“Yet for me it will not be sad,” the brown Wizard smiled. He looked again at Sam. “Rejoice, for your hope will be met at the proper time,” he said, and he bowed deeply. Then he looked at Halladan. “Now, if we could only teach your folk the proper husbanding of the bounty of Arda,” he said, sighing. “True, the Dúnedain and the Rohirrim tend to be better stewards of the Creator’s gifts than most of Mankind; but the fact remains that all too often Men misuse and seek to blindly exploit the riches offered.”
“I grieve this is so,” Halladan said, bowing deeply, “and I will bear your warnings to my Lord Cousin.”
At last the line reformed, and with last bows of respect to the Wizard and the Ents, they resumed their journey to Gondor.