In the morning she found there were platters of fruit, baskets of rolls, and ewers of juice on the table in the dining room along with stacks of plates and goblets. She got herself a light first breakfast and let herself out of the house, and made her way up the ramp to the seventh level, then turned to walk out on the pier of rock that thrust out from the mountain. She heard him before she saw him--he was singing softly as he sat on the wall, looking to the East, although as his song progressed it became louder and clearer. She found herself smiling as she came to stand near him, listening with pleasure.
At last he was done, and for a few moments he continued to stare Eastward, then looked at her and smiled. “Welcome, Mistress Narcissa,” he said. “You rise early for a Hobbit--or, at least, compared to the Hobbits I’ve known best.”
She smiled in return. “My dad told me you were a good singer, and I learned last night that he did not lie or exaggerate. But this morning, it was just as he had described hearing you sing so long ago.”
The King Aragorn Elessar looked down at her with surprise. “Your father heard me sing?” he asked. “When was this?”
“As I said, it was years ago. Of course, I don’t know how many single Hobbits you and your Rangers accompanied from the Bridge to the gates of Bree....”
He laughed with pleasure. “That was your father? Was he part Took, then?”
“Oh, yes. His mother Ermengarde was daughter to Isembold and granddaughter----”
“Granddaughter to the Old Took himself, then. Of course!” He shook his head. “I ought to have known. I ought to have known.” His smile, she found, was infectious. “It was so unusual to see a Hobbit of the Shire riding out of it alone. We worried for him, for there were a fair number of highwaymen and brigands and landless Men about then, driven North by the fear growing in the South.” He examined her more closely. “He knew me as Strider. How did you learn Strider and the King were the same person?”
“Frodo told me. I was telling him of my father realizing the Rangers of the North protected the Shire when they would ride by him as he drove to Bree, and that his favorite was one named Strider....”
Again he laughed. “Oh, I can imagine. He’d lift his chin--” he said, lifting his own to demonstrate, “--and smile and say, ‘Mine, too.’”
Her own smile widened. “Yes, that was precisely how he said it.”
His face grew solemn. “I grieve so I could do no more to ease him. I could relieve a good deal of the pain, and I know he grew stronger while he was here, but none of us could make it as he had been before. He would not tell me or allow the others to tell me openly how it was with him most of the time, but I know he often went days barely able to keep his food down. Then, on the days when he could eat, if he tried to eat more than a little at a time he’d lose it again. The healers in the Houses of Healing sought to aid him, but their draughts did little to help; and when I became aware of just how hard it was for him and sent draughts of my own, he would not drink them, certain they would not assist him either. Adar sent me word on his arrival in Rivendell that he, also, had not been able to get him to accept most draughts along the way, even the ones he and I were most certain would ease and strengthen him. Finally there in Rivendell Adar told him that it was tea he was being served, and Frodo finally began to accept them. Serve it to him out of a teapot, and he’d drink it.” He put his right hand to his eyes. “He was a stubborn one.”
“Yes, I know.”
After a time of silence, he said quietly, “From what the others told me he preferred to sleep late, but loved to sleep under the stars, and to do walking trips about the Shire.”
“Yes, that was true.”
“He would have nights here when he did not sleep well, when the nightmares were more than he could abide. He’d sometimes walk outside and sit or stand watching the stars on such nights, although when he did usually Sam would insist on following him. I would try to be out on the nights when I feared they were returning so that I could be with him, for then Sam would agree to go back to bed.”
At that moment a bell rang. They heard an exchange further down the wall, and turned to watch.
“Captain Peregrin come to relieve you, sir,” Pippin was saying to a grey-cloaked figure Narcissa had not noticed in the dawn light. The tall Man had a bow in one hand, an arrow in the other. He slipped the arrow back into the quiver he wore on his back, gave a salute and bow. “It’s an honor to see you again, Lord Hardorn,” Pippin continued.
“And one for me to greet you as well, Captain Peregrin,” the Man returned. The two exchanged a few more quiet words, and Pippin nodded, then saluted again and turned to approach Narcissa and the King, bowed low, turned, drew his sword, and stood at the ready. The Man bowed also to his Lord. “I will see you later in the morning, then, my Lord Cousin,” he said.
“Get some sleep, Hardorn. You can trust this one will allow no one to threaten my safety,” the King returned. “And don’t try to avoid sleeping by getting involved in discussions with your brother, for I’ve already warned him to say nothing to you until you’ve rested.”
The Man made a wry face. “And a good day to you also, Mistress,” he said, and then he turned and walked to the ramp and went down it.
“Lord Cousin?” she asked.
“Yes, for his father was brother to my mother. His brother is Lord Halladan, my Steward in Arnor. Their elder brother was Halbarad, whom I made Steward after their father’s death, for he was Steward from the time of my father’s death. Halbarad was my dearest friend among Men from the time I came of age.”
“He died in the battle out there?” Narcissa indicated the land below, beyond the outer wall of the city.
“Yes. We lost so many there.”
She looked down, surprised she didn’t feel particularly giddy. After a moment she asked, “The two areas with the little fences, what are they?”
“The grassy hillock was where Snowmane, the horse on which rode the Lord Théoden, who was King of Rohan before his nephew, was buried. The bare spot was where the body of the horrible creature on which the Lord of the Nazgul rode was burnt. Nothing will grow there.”
She looked again. “Is that--is that where Merry and the Lady Éowyn stabbed it, then?”
He gave her an evaluative look, and smiled gently. “Yes, that is where they faced it and stabbed it. They served to rid the world of a great evil.”
Sam was coming to join them now. He nodded to Pippin as he passed him and came to their side. “Mornin’, Strider, Miss Narcissa.” He looked back to where Pippin stood so still. “The new uniform fits him nicely, it does. The old one was showing the wear. He’d simply not thought that he couldn’t fit his old clothing no more, so he about wore it and the one suit he took home with him out afore he thought to have more made. Rather foolish of him, I always thought.” He smiled up at the King. “Did the Queen make that, or the uniform Mistress?”
“My beloved wife. She has been industriously sewing and embroidering ever since it was realized the memorial would be unveiled today. The Lady Miriel has made some of the clothing for you gentlehobbits and the ladies among you, and she helped choose colors for those garments she did not make; mostly, however, she has been busy making new outfits for her brother and his wife and Pando and Folco and the children and Ririon and all. Both have been very busy.”
Sam nodded as if this was precisely what he’d thought to hear. “Rosie is feeding the bairns and chased me out. No time for menfolk for her this morning. Said I could go find a spot of garden to tend to, if I could do so and not get myself dirty.”
The King laughed. “I will be going down to the Houses shortly. Would the two of you wish to accompany me?”
“Gladly, Strider. It would be an honor. Did you tell your cousin the Lord Hardorn to rest or something?”
“Was he grumbling as he went down to his house?”
“Yes. Was muttering as some folks was fine ones to tell others to rest, seeing as they would push themselves to exhaustion if they wasn’t watched.”
“I have a mind to see him married. I hope that the Lady Lothiriel has brought with her some strongminded maids.”
“There were five women who came with us among the Dúnedain,” Narcissa said. “Or are they not strongminded enough?”
“Two are already married, one is to marry next year, and the other two are too close to our own family for him to marry.” He looked down at her. “Now, you appear to be strongminded enough, but are needed back in the Shire, apparently.” She saw the twinkle in his eye and realized he was teasing her. “Ah, well. Perhaps I ought to send him to Dol Amroth and let him fall in love with one of the cousins of Prince Imrahil as did Gilthor.”
“Gilthor?” asked Sam.
“A cousin to my father. He served here in the armies of Gondor, until he fell in love with a cousin to Prince Imrahil’s father. He was dismissed from the service of Dol Amroth and headed north, but she followed after. On learning she had left to follow him, Gilthor wrote a letter resigning his commission as an officer in the armies of Gondor, went back south in search of her, then carried her home to Eriador on his saddlebow, where they were married by my father. You will meet their son Gilfileg tonight, probably. He was at the meals yesterday, but spoke more to those from Rhun than he did most others. Are you ready to go down to the Houses?”
At their nods he straightened and led the way to the ramp, Pippin sheathing his sword and moving before, his hand on his weapon’s hilt. Four more fell into step, Pippin checking their faces as if assuring himself he recognized them before turning to go first down the ramp.
As they walked, Sam asked, “Was it you as set the Elves to guard us, or did they think of that theirselves?”
The King looked to one side to catch the eyes of an Elf who seemed to Narcissa to have appeared out of nowhere. “Would you care to answer that one, Lord Glorfindel?” he asked.
The tall, golden-haired Elf smiled. “It was our decision, Master Samwise. There are those now who have realized how deeply Estel cares for you and your folk, and we would prefer they not use your safety as a means of attempting to force him to their will.”
“You think as that would happen here in the King’s own city?” Sam asked, his eyes interested. “Aren’t folks here more civilized than that?”
The King’s face hardened. “There is no one so capable of refined viciousness,” he said bitterly, “as someone who believes himself to be fully civilized and who has convinced himself--or herself--that the one to be dealt with is not. It becomes then a matter of honor to be far worse in behavior toward the barbarian than the barbarian is believed to act.”
“I see,” Sam said thoughtfully.
At the bottom of the ramp they turned away from the direction of Ruvemir’s house toward the southern side of the Sixth Circle until they went through a gate and down a walk shaded by intertwined trees to the door of a large building. The door stood open, and inside a young Man rose from his seat and bowed deeply to the King. “My Lord King,” he said. “The Warden is in conference with your brothers at the moment.” He indicated a doorway. With a respectful bow, the King went through the doorway, indicating Sam and Narcissa should go with him. The rest of the guards had remained outside the Houses, while Pippin turned at the doorway, again on guard.
Neither Sam nor Narcissa understood all that was said in the conference, which appeared to be focused on the case of a young Man who had been badly burned. After discussing the case, the four of them and a healer who was part of the conference went to the room where burned patients were housed. They watched through the gauze curtain that protected the room as Aragorn, Elladan, and Elrohir, now masked and their hands cleansed, entered and examined the young Man, placed their hands over him, and together sang the Invocation, feeling the depth of his injuries, letting the healing power granted to them work to the needs of the injured youth.
An older Man and woman came to stand by them and watch as the King and his brothers began to cleanse the burns, then treat and bandage them.
“Your son?” asked Sam softly.
The Man nodded his head. “It was an accident, just yesterday. He was assisting in the shoeing of a horse, working the bellows. The horse kicked over the portable forge, and he was burned. They brought him here.”
“The King and his brothers will help him if anyone can,” Sam said.
“What are they singing?” asked the woman.
“It’s an invocation to the Valar to assist and protect and heal.”
Narcissa asked, “You recognize it, Sam?”
“Oh, yes, I recognize it. I’ve said the words plenty myself.” His face was solemn. “He sang it over all of us, one time or another.”
The woman asked, “The King sang over you?”
“Yes, the King and the Lords Elladan and Elrohir there, and probably a good few others as well.”
“How were you hurt?”
Sam shook his head. “We was at the point of death when they found us and brought us to him, my Master and me.”
“And you recovered?”
“And your master?”
“He’s most like still healing.” He looked up at them. “I spect your lad there will do well. It’s not been too long, and the sooner they can get to the healing the better it tends to work. Now, if you’ll pardon me, I wish to go out and see the gardens.” The King looked out through the gauze curtain and exchanged nods with Sam, and Sam gave a slight bow and turned away. Narcissa followed after him.
Outside they found Lord Glorfindel in the herb garden with two other Elves and a woman, examining a row of plants that was growing along the edge of the plot. Sam smiled broadly as they approached. “Good to see you, Legolas, my Lord Tharen.” Again he gave a slight bow.
“You are looking well this morning, Sam,” Legolas said. “Mistress, welcome to Gondor.”
“Thank you,” Narcissa said.
Sam crouched down, examining the plants. “Aloe. Any difficulty with the way as they’re growing?”
“Other than that they need to be thinned somewhat, no. Do you need any more starts on aloe?”
“Actually, yes. Always had it growing in the garden at Bag End, but it was one of the plants as Sharkey’s Big Men flat killed. Could do with a few starts for there and for the Healers’ Garden at the Three Farthing Stone.”
“Then we will make certain they are carefully prepared for you to take home with you.”
Sam thanked them and went on with his inspection of the garden, now and then reaching down to dig his fingers into the soil, other times asking questions of the woman. He found a row of wintergreen and smiled. “Frodo and I started this row, we did.” He gently touched a leaf and examined it. “It’s doing well, it is.”
The woman’s eyes were wide with awe. “You are the Lord Samwise, then?”
His smile faded. “I was only named that cuz of him, and I certainly don’t feel like no lord without him. I’ve always been a gardener, like you.” He pointedly continued his examination of the garden.
He’d begun weeding a section where garlic had been planted when the King came forth accompanied by Lord Elrohir and the parents of the young Man he’d treated earlier. He saw the group in the herb garden and came near to stand over Sam, stooped down and put his hand on the Hobbit’s shoulder. “It’s time to go and get ready, Sam,” he said softly.
Sam looked up, dusted off his hands as he nodded and rose, looked at the Elf who’d come out with the King. “The Lord Elladan will stay here for a time, then?”
“Yes, he’ll stay a time longer with Bornion.”
“Won’t leave him much time to prepare for the unveiling.”
Aragorn laughed. “He won’t need a great deal of time. I’ve seen the two of these come directly from a prolonged fight with orcs and wargs, and shortly after be ready to attend a formal feast, looking as if they hadn’t stirred from Imladris for weeks. Elves have a distinct advantage over us mortals when it comes to looking elegant.”
Elrohir gave his foster brother a cool stare. “We have had time, Estel, to learn to dress ourselves efficiently.”
Sam smiled, then looked at his fingernails. “Rosie’ll have things to say about these, she will, once she sees them.”
The young Man’s parents took their leave of the King, suddenly aware that the one they’d spoken with earlier was the Lord Samwise, promising to come up to the unveiling of the monument just ere noon. The King nodded and smiled, advising them their son was doing well and would respond well to their visits. Sam was still quiet and thoughtful, his face particularly solemn.
As they walked back to the ramp preceded by Pippin and accompanied by the other four, Aragorn asked quietly, “You are missing him a good deal today?”
Sam nodded. “Oh, yes, I am. He is the most dearest of all I ever knew, and I miss him terribly. You?”
After a moment of thought, the King answered, still quietly, “Yes, I’m missing him terribly today, also. Although I did pray that as I must lose him, one way or the other, that he would choose to go via Tol Eressëa that he might know easing and a level of joy once again ere he finally goes through the Gates.”
Sam nodded, and Hobbit and Man took one another’s hand, squeezing them in mutual assurance.
Waiting near the top of the ramp stood the small sculptor accompanied by two of his apprentices, his face compassionate as he looked on his King and on the Hobbit of the Shire he’d come to love most of those he’d met. Narcissa was glad he was there for both Sam and the King today.