King and Sculptor
Narcissa knew that Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin loved the King dearly; but even knowing that, seeing the Lord Aragorn Elessar and his greeting of the three who’d returned to his city was a shock. He did not greet them formally, but with the joy of family, kneeling in the midst of them, exchanging children, hugging and being hugged. The sight of the tall Man kneeling on the ground outside the great Gates to the city, one arm around Sam and with Sam’s arm around his chest in return, Frodo-Lad on his other arm, would remain in her memory as the defining moment of knowing the nature of their King. This was not a distant Lord, but a present individual who truly loved these three. That he was King of Gondor and Arnor was totally secondary to his love of his companions. Only at the end did he rise to greet kinsmen from the North and the Lord Celeborn and the Galadhrim.
Then she’d seen the small sculptor being greeted by Sam, Merry, Pippin, Rosie, Estella, Cyclamen and Elanor, and the King’s pleasure as he watched that greeting as well. Now the sculptor was back on his pony, riding while the others walked, carrying Elanor before him as he rode by Merry, who carried the King’s own daughter in his arms. She watched him with interest, then looked about herself. She felt overwhelmed by the size of the city, by the crowds that stood by the way, the singing and the calls of greetings, the enormity of the gates, the height of the surrounding buildings, the mountain rising up on one side. The way through the city rose ever before them and they went first one way, and then turned to walk back the other, climbing ever higher past more and more crowds of people.
At one point a Man and his wife approached them, and the Man looked disappointed as he looked in vain for one who was not there, and she realized he’d hoped against hope to see Frodo. A Man, desiring to see Frodo? And she realized that, yes, Frodo and the others had indeed been here, stayed here for a time, had met people here, even Men--especially Men, for this was, after all, a city of Men. The King spoke gently to him, explained Frodo had been too badly hurt to remain, and had needed far more healing than could be offered him in Middle Earth. The Man was grieved, but stood proudly before the King, smiled up into the clear grey eyes that searched his own, presented his wife and child, accepted the King’s acknowledgment.
A woman came forward in one of the marketplaces and presented each of the womenfolk among the Hobbits with a strand of beautiful glass beads, each bead unique, each full of delicate colors. Narcissa looked at hers with awe, then realized she knew who the woman was. She nodded to her, promised herself she’d come back to the market and seek her out and speak to her.
As they went through yet another gate, she looked at the sculptor, who was speaking with Merry. Then he pulled away from Merry and came to her, introducing himself and inviting her to stay with him and his wife. Was he just being kind? she wondered. Perhaps. She made no promises--not yet, at least, but would consider the offer. She saw the wife turn about and catch his eye and smile, then turn back to Sam and Rosie, laughing at what they were saying.
The young ones who followed after and about him were briefly introduced as his apprentices. She saw the tall youth who’d accompanied him to the Shire, who was even taller now; and saw how he walked amongst the others, one hand on his dog’s rump and the other using a staff to feel expertly for anything lying in his path. On the other side walked Fredegar Bolger leading Ferdibrand Took, who was speaking animatedly with the lad. She could sense the respect the apprentices felt for the sculptor, the caring he had for them in return. His descriptions of the city were fascinating, yet she found herself glad that they were almost at the top, for she was beginning to feel fatigued. She looked to the outside of the city, thinking to see the walls, but instead she found herself still surrounded by houses and businesses, gardens and stalls, even an inn or some such business there to the right. She could barely see the mountain still rising on one side, the hint of open sky to the south, the tall ridge of rock with its archway now just behind them. Then finally they went through the sixth gate and they found themselves in a much quieter circle of the city.
Frodo, Merry, Pippin, and Sam had lived here, in this circle, in what had been a guesthouse for the city. Now Ruvemir and his wife lived in that same house. There was one more level to climb to, one more level above them. How had Frodo liked living here, she wondered? Had he been overwhelmed by the height of the city as she was feeling now? Or perhaps had this seemed little enough after what else he’d seen in the world?
Then the sculptor Ruvemir was alighting from his pony, giving it over to tall grooms who smiled at his courteous thanks, and they were standing at the bottom of the ramp to the top level....
Narcissa Boffin found herself totally bespelled by the Lady Arwen Undomiel. Never, ever in her life had she known such amazement looking into the eyes of another as when she looked up into those of the Queen of Gondor and Arnor. To be examined, to have her love for Frodo so clearly recognized and understood--and then to have her tears of grief, loss, and release wiped away with such gentleness--never, never had she known such tenderness in her life, not even from her own mother, who had loved her so dearly and whom she’d loved so in return. She found herself wondering just how old the Queen was, then found herself wondering if perhaps she might truly not wish to know. She was an Elf, was most likely at least an age old already. What must it be like for the King, to look into eyes which had seen those of his father, and grandfather, and who knew how many generations before him, and yet looked now into his own with the love of wife for husband? Merry had told her when she’d visited Brandy Hall with Fosco and Forsythia that the Lord Elrond had fostered all the descendents of Isildur in Rivendell, after all.
Then they were going into a great hall to eat, the Feasting Hall of Merethrond, Folco was telling her. They sat at the far end of that hall, clustered about the King and Queen, laughing and joking, smiling and rejoicing. And once he was done eating, as they talked and shared news the King held one or another of Sam and Rosie’s children on his lap alongside his own daughter, tenderly sharing his love with the children of Hobbits.
After the meal the ladies from among the Hobbits were brought to a room where they were told they might rest if they desired, bathe and change their clothing, and dress their hair. There were a number of low couches about the room, and at one end a bathing room with the largest bathtub any had ever seen in it.
There was a knock at the main door, and a tall woman with long hair the color of fields in autumn entered, followed by others carrying what appeared to be garments of various sorts.
“I welcome you to the Citadel,” the woman with golden hair said. “I am the Lady Éowyn, sister to Éomer King of Rohan, and wife to Faramir, the Lord Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien. I have been sent to bring you gifts prepared for you by the Lady Arwen and Mistress Miriel of Lebennin. We hope that you will find them comfortable.
“Mistress Rose, we will have a pallet in a moment on which the children may rest if they are ready to nap. And we hope you will find the bathing tub comfortable. There are plenty of fresh towels stacked in the chest.”
A young page entered carrying a rolled mattress and blankets which he carefully laid flat in a corner. The garments were gently laid out on one of the low couches. A maid entered with a large tray on which lay bowls of fruit and plates of rolls, and set them out on the low table in the center of the room. She curtsied and left, and another entered with a tray of goblets and decanters of juice.
Finally the only one left was the Lady Éowyn, who smiled as the Hobbitesses clustered about the couch. Rosie reached out to lift up the topmost garment, and found it was a dress of Hobbit design, but of materials and a color such as none had seen in the Shire. It was a dusky rose color with a cream-colored bodice heavily embroidered with a spray of rose blossoms. Éowyn smiled. “I do believe, Mistress Rose, that this was intended for you. Miriel was able to give us some ideas of the proper colors for you, and I believe your husband gave her some aid in gaining the necessary measurements from dresses from your wardrobe.”
In Estella’s and Diamond’s cases it was the same--their husbands had been asked to do certain measurements from their favorites of their wives’ gowns, and Miriel had made suggestions for fabrics and colors. There had been several garments intended for each, and a couple of extras. Rosie suddenly looked at a gown of a deep and rich blue, and smiled, then looked at Narcissa. “This,” she said with conviction, “is a perfect color for you.” It was embroidered with white blossoms and silver stars, and was quite the most stunning dress Narcissa had ever seen. Rosie lifted it up and examined it thoroughly, and the others with her, then all looked at Narcissa and nodded in concert.
“But they didn’t even expect me to be here!” Narcissa protested.
“The Lady Arwen herself made that one,” Éowyn said. “I suspect you will find it will fit none of the others as well as it does you. You may lay responsibility on her gift of foresight, if you desire. These were prepared for you to make choices from for tomorrow’s ceremony, although you may wear any you choose tonight if you wish. The Lady Arwen is ever glad for a reason to craft new garments, you will find.”
They rested, bathed, refreshed themselves, dressed one another’s hair, and when the word came that the Rohirrim were come at last they came out to wait at the top of the ramp, all dressed in new gowns that caused the guards’ eyes to look at them with great admiration, and Miriel and the Queen to smile in approval. Sam’s eyes as he looked at Rosie were lit with interest, while Folco’s eyebrows lifted with pleasure as he smiled at Narcissa.
The evening meal was excellent, and Narcissa found she was enjoying herself thoroughly. Men, Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits mixed freely, and she saw Men from several lands represented--those who had come from Rohan behind their young king, many from Rhun and their Shkatha, the ambassador from Harad, and envoys from the Dunlendings and from Tharbad as well as Dúnedain from both Gondor and Arnor. She was told this was not a formal feast, for all it was being held in the feasting hall; the formal feast would be here also, but tomorrow night. After the meal they remained in the hall to talk and sing, laugh and share stories. A Rhunish couple had a daughter with absurdly short arms, and she saw how lovingly the husband cut up the portions for the child. Afterwards the girl and Elanor accepted the gift of a soft cloth ball given them by the lady of one of the lords present, and began to play with it in the area usually reserved for dancing and entertainments. Cyclamen and Pando and some of the younger apprentices joined them, and soon Frodo-Lad was joining in as well, young Owain helping him to catch and throw the ball. Melian and Rosie-Lass now each sat on one of the King’s knees as he and various lords and Hobbits played at Peep-and-See-Me with them, galloped them on knees, and generally kept them giggling and smiling together. Now and then someone would start a song. Pippin, Merry, and the King together sang one of Bilbo’s more questionable drinking songs that the old Hobbit had written, one which had them all laughing and blushing somewhat. That was followed by a far gentler and more haunting melody as the King and his wife sang in Sindarin the Lay of Amroth and Nimrodel. Then the folk of Rhun began a song which apparently the King recognized, for after the first verse he joined in, adding a deep harmony to the exotic tune. One of the Rohirrim then began a question and answer song in which he sang the question and the King the responses.
Finally Pippin pulled out the flute he’d been given by Diamond and began playing a shepherd’s melody; when he was done, Folco began to call for the Springlering. Somewhere bells were brought out, and Narcissa found herself brought forward to dance it with him. It had been years since she’d danced it last, but she found she could still keep up; and with Estella partnered by her husband and Cyclamen and Pando as a third couple they put on an exhibition of the dance for the party.
Freddie suggested the Husbandmen’s Dance; however, the rest shook their heads. “No,” Merry said decisively, “that takes someone of the skill of Bilbo or Frodo or Fosco or Isumbard or Brendilac to present properly, and we simply don’t have anyone here save Folco who could keep up for the full seven rounds.”
Budgie laughed. “Or do you intend to dance this yourself? Not that I’d recommend it. The Took Reel is about as involved as I’d wish to see you.”
The King nodded. “Frodo danced it once for us here in this hall, although I suspect it was more rigorous than he perhaps ought to have tried at the time. I have tried to imagine it danced properly by the lines of menfolk, and suspect it is quite a marvelous thing to watch.”
Pippin’s face became solemn. “That was the last time I know of he danced it, Aragorn. He was simply not in good enough health when we returned to the Shire.” The faces of many became solemn as they remembered how he had danced it when younger.
Estella laughed. “How we used to moon over him. Do you remember, Narcissa? He’d dance with the menfolk, and then we lasses would go to the Council Hole and recount how well he had done, how graceful he was, how that smile he’d always give at the end would touch our hearts.”
Rosie nodded. “I was but a little one the first time, seven years or so, when he danced with his uncle Bilbo and Isumbard and all. It was a sight to see. Bilbo was in his late nineties but could still keep ahead of most of the younger gentlehobbits, he could. And Master Frodo----” She gave a deep sigh.
Folco smiled in memory, then gave a significant look at Narcissa. “It was the year before that, though, my fair cousin, that you first lost your heart to him, the time he danced it behind the ale tent with Ferdibrand, Brendilac, Isumbard, Lotho and all, and he won the wager.”
“What wager was that?” Aragorn asked, leaning forward with interest, his arms around his daughter and Rosie-Lass.
Ferdibrand laughed aloud. “How could I have forgotten? Yet I had. Oh, yes. Lotho and Isumbard, whose great-grandfather Isembold was one of the Old Took’s older sons, got into an argument as to which was the better dancer. Isumbard was the elder by two years and was quite good at it in practice, and then Frodo came around the tent and heard Lotho indicating Uncle Bilbo was too old to dance it any more. Well, no one said anything against Bilbo within Frodo’s hearing, of course. Lotho had no idea who Frodo was, for it was the year before Bilbo took him as ward. Next thing anyone knew the three were making a wager as to who could dance it best. Isumbard was spot on about Lotho--didn’t make it through three rounds. Isumbard kept up but did have a couple stumbles in the seventh round. Frodo won two pocketknives, and at least two hearts. Narcissa and Pearl were both looking after him with longing as he strolled off, totally unaware of them as only a young tween lad could be.”
Narcissa found herself blushing. “Well, at least he was able to teach young Fosco, who dances it fully as well as Frodo did.”
“Does he have the same smile at the end?”
“No, he doesn’t--Fosco’s smile is strictly his own. But I’ve seen the lasses watch him as he walks away with his sister and his da.”
“At least he has an excuse for not noticing their moon eyes, though,” Ferdi said, smiling.
“You used to dance it. You could perhaps dance it tonight,” Merry suggested. “And you can’t use your vision as an excuse, you know.”
“I’m not as coordinated as I was before I was imprisoned, though,” Ferdi said, his face becoming solemn. “More than my vision was lost when they kicked me. My balance was also damaged a bit, although I’ve learned to overcome it. I’d probably start to slap the sole of my foot and fall over sideways.”
Narcissa smiled at her cousin. “You could dance it, you know, Folco.”
“No, too out of practice. Wouldn’t want to dance it alone in any case. Frodo taught me, you know, after he came to Bag End. Bilbo caught us practicing and gave me some pointers as well. I always wondered why they stopped asking Frodo to dance with the others after he turned forty-two.”
The Queen noticed how Narcissa Boffin’s face flushed when this was asked, but decided to ask her about the reason later.
At last the party quieted and people began to think of going to bed. Many of the womenfolk had napped in the afternoon, but their husbands had not, and Pippin and Merry were to rise early to attend on their lords. Servants who were to prepare the Hall for the proper feast the next evening also desired to have time to see it properly cleaned and prepared, and were looking in concerned from the doors. The King at last reluctantly wished his guests a good night, embraced his friends one last time, saw Sam and Rosie in possession of their children at the last, and saw them to the top of the ramp.
Narcissa walked alongside the small sculptor and his wife as they went down the ramp, spoke quietly of life in the city. A pony cart waited, she saw, to carry Ferdibrand, Freddie, Budgie, and Mistress Idril down to the lower levels of the city. “I shall return to the Sixth Circle in three hours,” the carter explained to Miriel and Folco.
“We will be ready. And we thank you.”
“It is but a pleasure to have you back in the city, although our Lord has let the populace know they may apply to him for the right to use the services of myself and my fellows to go up and down through the levels of Minas Anor if they are weakened, ill, or unable to do so without endangering their health. Once he becomes aware of a need, our Lord King seeks ever to see it fulfilled. And this is more pleasant duty than standing on guard for hours on end--it is certainly more stimulating.”
Narcissa had taken a quick bathe in the chamber to which they were shown, but had not washed her hair, and gladly accepted the chance to bathe again once they reached the house where the small sculptor lived. This bathing room was more familiar and not as overwhelming, its proportions more manageable than the great tub in the room to which they’d been shown. Ruvemir and Folco were out on the balcony once she was done, Ruvemir carving, Folco smoking his pipe, a small lantern giving sufficient light for Ruvemir’s work. She’d dressed in one of her own familiar dresses after her bath, sat brushing her hair and getting the feel for the household, watched the four apprentices present and the two children being fostered by Miriel and Folco, both of whom sat raptly as a story was read to them. Tomorrow she would see the unveiling, and look once more on the image of Frodo. Would it help, she wondered, to lay the grief she still felt over his going, over his inability to care for her in return for the caring she’d showered on him all these years? Finally she went out onto the balcony herself, and asked for the details even Freddie hadn’t been able to give, of what had happened at the last to Frodo to complete the change to him, and to rob him of his finger.
Ruvemir told it, with gentleness and deep compassion. He cared, she realized, for all four of those who had made the journey, who had left their land in innocence to draw evil from it and had found themselves fighting worse down here. She listened, weeping gently for what Frodo and Sam had endured, realizing that it was there that Frodo’s health had finally been broken, as he woke in the tower at the top of the pass, still sick with the poison from the great spider, as he walked through the devastation of Mordor, as he collapsed on the side of the great volcano, as he was robbed of his finger and the evil which had taken him by Gollum, as he lost consciousness alongside Sam on the knoll. She felt the compassion shown her by her host and hostess, and accepted the kerchief given her to wipe her eyes.
“No wonder he could not eat properly after,” she said quietly during the late dinner provided for her and Folco and the apprentices. Miriel, Ruvemir, and Elise sat with cups of juice and a plate of small biscuits to keep those who ate company. “The day I sat by him in the Green Dragon he looked so very frustrated as he picked at his pastie.”
“His digestion was still bad?” Ruvemir asked.
She nodded. “He could eat only half of it, and Isumbard has told us that much of the time he had to be given only small amounts at a time of anything, or he would simply lose it all. Trying to explain to those who prepared dinners to which he was invited as deputy Mayor that he was not insulting their cooking but simply could not eat properly any more became an obsession with Isumbard, who felt quite protective of him.”
The sculptor indicated his understanding. “Isumbard...that is the one who married Pearl Took, is it not?”
“Yes. He, Folco, and I are all the great grandchildren of Isembold Took--along with a number of others, of course. Isembold was almost as prolific as the Old Took himself, who was, after all, his father.”
“It appears that even after his return to the Shire Frodo still drew to him the caring of those who came close under his influence.”
“Yes. They’d been rivals, Isumbard and Frodo; but Isumbard was too good a Hobbit to bear a grudge. He, Folco, and Reginard made certain a place was kept in memory of Frodo during the presentation of the Husbandmen’s Dance at the Free Fair, but now Fosco dances there, which is memorial enough, I suppose.”
“Who is Fosco?”
Folco grinned. “Frodo’s first cousin, the son of his uncle Dudo from Dudo’s old age and second marriage. Fosco and Forsythia have proven quite the surprise to all within the Shire. I’m surprised they didn’t come with you, Narcissa.”
She shook her head. “Emro’s suddenly become difficult.” She turned to her host and explained, “After the death of his first wife and the loss of their son, Dudo withdrew from society, and moved to an obscure little village called Westhall. He would return for the Free Fair, but the rest of the year basically ignored us all. He remarried Emerald Boffin, who was granddaughter to the Old Took through his second daughter Donnamira. Suddenly, after Dudo’s daughter Daisy by Camellia was married to Griffo Boffin and settled in Hobbiton, Emerald found herself, at long last, pregnant. They had twins! Twins are almost unheard of among Hobbits, although I understand they are common enough among Elves and Men.
“Dudo died shortly after the birth of the bairns, and Emerald, who was no longer young, was quite overwhelmed. She accepted the aid of Emro and Lilac Gravelly, who had been partners in the farm they jointly owned. Lilac already knew she could have no children of her own, so she took care to hide from the rest of the Shire the news of the twins’ birth. It appears about the only one to know about their birth was Frodo himself, who as family head for the Bagginses had been advised by the village headman.”
Briefly she described the history of Forsythia and Fosco Baggins and their dealings with their cousin as they grew.
“He had them call him Iorhael, did he? Interesting. I’m surprised no one told me of this before.”
Folco laughed. “Sam, Merry, and Pippin knew little enough about it, for this is Baggins and Boffin family business, after all. Took, too, of course, but less that than Baggins and Boffin. Now the affair is far better known throughout the Shire, of course, but Frodo did his best not to cause too much stress on the Gravellies, or too much notoriety on the children. He knew all too well what Lobelia was likely to do if she knew about them, of course. Wasn’t till after he left the Shire most of us had any idea they existed, although he told Daisy that first summer he was back. She says he was quite exhausted, and drifted off into a doze while they discussed the case.”
“And he left you their independent guardian, did he? It appears he made a good choice,” Ruvemir said to Narcissa.
She flushed, and Ruvemir smiled. “I like to see a beautiful woman color, you know,” he said, his eyes alight with laughter. “Are you done with your dinner? Would you like to see the other pictures, then?”
One last glance she gave the drawing of the Citadel and White Tree with the Queen’s face hidden amongst its branches, and then she followed Ruvemir into the room where Merry and Pippin had slept and which he now used as a studio to look at the picture of Master Iorhael. He then led her through the day room and the small parlor in which she would sleep and showed her the picture Frodo had done of Bag End. She immediately saw and recognized Pearl Took’s face caught in the flowers, then that of Rosie Cotton, and then that of the third, unknown Shire lady who yet appeared familiar. Then she saw her own there, right by the door to Bag End. her own face caught by the talented hands of Frodo Baggins as an artist. Her own face, there in his picture of his beloved home. She stood stunned, her face pale, her eyes glowing. Finally she turned to look at the artist who stood there, saw that he, too, saw her face in the picture.
“He put me there, Master Ruvemir--put me there alongside Rosie, Pearl, and that other one. Do you know who she is?”
He nodded. “Yes, I do--the third was his mother.”
“But he barely even spoke to me, except at Bilbo’s party--he danced with me several times that night.”
He smiled, although he looked as if he were on the verge of tears. “I think he did notice your regard, and treasured its memory, Mistress Narcissa.”
She looked back at the picture. “I’d forgotten how good an artist he was. And although he told me, before he left, that he saw me as beautiful, I couldn’t believe he truly saw me that way, not until now, when I saw myself there. To have such proof that--that he was capable of caring for me in--in that way--it means so much.”
“Yes, I can imagine.”
She thanked him, then indicated she thought she would go to bed. “It has been a confusing day, and a full one. If I’m to be up to attending the unveiling tomorrow, I’d best sleep now.”
“We will be as quiet as we can be passing through to here, Mistress Narcissa.”