The Hobbits rode out on a Highday to the memorials upon the Pelennor with the King, Queen, and their foreign guests, heard the battle described by those who had seen it and fought in it. They all went down together one night to the Dragon’s Claw and ate there, feasting on mushrooms dipped in batter and fried in fat, roast lamb, mashed parsnips, and greens in a marvelous salad into which mushrooms of a sort they’d not seen before had been sliced. They attended audiences, and several times Sam, Merry, and Pippin were asked to attend Council meetings. They attended the weapons practices in which Pippin and Merry regularly took part, and saw Pippin giving instruction on unusual techniques to some of the younger recruits.
Narcissa went several times with the King and Budgie Smallfoot to the Houses of Healing, and watched the recovery of the youth Borion. One day when they arrived they found Lorieth and Miriel were there, Lorieth holding her hair out of the way to show the scars on her face and shoulder, and describing how they were on her side as well. The young Man treated her with great kindness, and she smiled back up at him. “You won’t be as scarred as me,” she said reassuringly. “And mine aren’t so bad as they were.”
Folco went often to one or another of the gardens in the upper levels of the city alongside Sam, and he described the farm in Lebennin and his work there and the flourishing of the gardens and fields. Narcissa saw the happiness in the face of each as Folco and Miriel would see one another after an absence even of so short a time as an hour or so, and was reassured that her cousin had chosen well in marrying this woman from among Men.
The Dwarves held a feast one night and invited the Hobbits to it, and all sat on low benches and ate and drank heavily, laughing and hearing the songs of the Dwarves sung, with their images of gold and jewels and defiance of dragons. At one point a number of the Dwarves, including Gloin, Gimli, Dorlin, and Orin, performed a dance of their people, one that was particularly moving. Among the guests, besides the Hobbits, were Ruvemir and Legolas Thranduilion, who watched with respect and delight this exhibition. In return Merry, Pippin, Gimli, and Legolas sang a song that Bilbo had once written about Smaug the dragon, and all applauded happily.
One night a number of the Elves from Eryn Lasgolen, Lothlorien, and Rivendell gathered in the gardens about the Houses of Healing and began singing. From all over the Sixth Circle and the level of the Citadel folk gathered to listen, songs humorous and sad, stirring and soothing, mysterious and joyful, reflecting longing and fellowship, shining like Varda’s stars and glinting like their reflections on the waves of the Sea. Narcissa had never heard such beauty in her life.
On a night of rain the Hobbits joined the King and Queen in their own chambers, and there they saw the great bowl which Frodo had given them before he left Gondor to return to the Shire, and the small figure Ruvemir had carved of Frodo on the bench before Bag End, his pipe in his hand.
“He never smoked after we was saved,” Sam said sadly. “His lungs couldn’t tolerate it none, not after what we went through. Although,” he added after further thought, “I suspect that the smell of smoke often brought back the darkness of Mordor for him.” The King nodded his understanding. “But it’s good to member that at one time he did smoke and enjoyed it, that it meant he was indeed a Hobbit of the Shire.” He looked at the smiling face of the figure and smiled in return, stroked its head with his finger. Then the talk turned to the Shire schools and the progress there, their growing acceptance throughout the four Farthings and Buckland.
Another night they dined in the house of Mistress Idril, saw Master Ruvemir and Mistress Miriel with their father and Master Faragil and Mistress Lisbet, the joy of the family, the pleasure and respect all felt toward Folco and the love all felt for the children. Stories were told of growing up in the city and in the countryside of Lebennin, then contrasted with stories of the farms of the Marish and life in Hobbiton and the Tooklands. Weddings were described, in Michel Delving, in Buckland, at Bag End, on the farm in Lebennin, at the Inn of the King’s Head, in the Citadel of the city, in Edoras. Their favorite books were discussed, and the Hobbits were all amazed at how much more extensive their own libraries were than that of Mistress Idril, which was considered quite large, they learned, within Gondor.
Ferdibrand Took and Narcissa stood near the end of the pier of rock, Narcissa describing what she saw below them, the wind from the Sea to the South blowing their hair behind them as they faced into it. They were joined by the Lady Arwen, who stood quietly listening as Narcissa finished her description. Ferdibrand turned slightly, seemed to be listening carefully, then asked, “My Lady Queen, am I right in thinking it is you there?”
“Yes, Master Ferdibrand.”
He smiled. “I am beginning to perceive your Light now, I think. That of the King I always see now, as I did Frodo’s. And I can certainly tell that of Lord Celeborn and Lord Glorfindel now.”
“Your heart sees truly, my friend,” she said quietly.
He ducked his head slightly in response. “I am even realizing I’ve seen Sam’s Light for years, and have no idea how I could have missed paying attention to it all this time.”
“Perhaps he stood for too long beside Frodo, and so you saw only that of the one you knew better and loved as friend and kinsman.”
“That is very probable,” he agreed. “Also, I never allowed myself to truly know him before, for before I saw Frodo first and Sam second to him, as if he were only part of Frodo instead of the wonderful Hobbit he is in his own right.” He straightened, and Narcissa realized that he did so the same way that Frodo had done. “I have been having different people tell me what they see from here, for each seems to see different things and describes it differently. Would you mind telling me what you see from here?”
Her eyebrows rose in response to the request, but she smiled and knelt down beside him and looked out. After a moment of silence she began to speak. “Far to the South is the shining of the Sundering Sea, the gold of the lowering Sun reflected in pale glory from its waters, the dark of the River Anduin, which twists by the city to the left and across the path of vision before us, running into its light and losing its darkness at the last.”
Narcissa stood, fascinated, listening to the lyrical description the Queen gave, giving majesty and character to all which her eyes saw, and a small smile of delight sat on Ferdibrand’s face as the description unfolded. The King came out to join the three of them after a time, and he, too, leaned on the parapet and listened, his eyes shining with delight, his smile almost matching that of the Hobbit for whom his wife described the view. Ferdibrand turned toward him briefly, gave a bow, then turned back to attend more closely to the Queen’s words.
Finally she paused. “There is so much I can see with my eyes, more than there is time to tell of,” she said quietly.
“It is enough, my Lady,” he answered. “Each one who’s described it to me has told different things from the others, and from them all I am developing a more full idea of what all there is to be seen. But you see further than the others do, and there is more of light and darkness in what you have to tell.
“I miss seeing faces the most, but also I miss the lie of the land. What is described here is so different from what I remember of the Shire. The tall, dark mountains there--” he pointed off to the left, east across the river, “--are so much greater and more frightening than the hills and ridges I’ve known in my homeland. I thought the ridges above Long Cleeves in the Northfarthing were the highest and most formidable heights I could ever know; but then I have not seen true mountains save through the eyes of others. Then there are the mountains to the west and north of us, which reflect the light where those on the other side absorb it, and I begin to understand why Sauron was referred to as the Dark Lord.”
“An interesting observation,” the Queen replied. Then she turned to Narcissa. “Mistress Narcissa,” she began, “there is a question I would ask you, now that there is only one other here whom I know to be discrete. On the evening we discussed dancing, it was noted that although Frodo had danced the Husbandmen’s Dance for many years, they stopped asking him to do so. At the time, you flushed. Do you know why this happened?”
Narcissa dropped her gaze, feeling her face flush once more, feeling like an errant child caught stealing from the pantry. “Yes, my Lady. My mother told me the reason when I demanded to know why he didn’t dance that year.”
“Will you please tell us?”
She wished she could sink into the stone on which she stood. “It was because of me,” she said, her voice not much above a whisper. “Well, not only me, but mostly because of me.”
The Lady set a finger beneath Narcissa’s chin and raised her face to her own. “Please tell us,” she said softly.
Narcissa sighed, and explained. She saw the grief grow on the King’s face, but on both she also saw understanding. When she was done, Ferdibrand said, “So, that was it, then? I’d wondered also.”
The Lord Aragorn Elessar looked off to the West, his face saddened. As he turned back he sighed, “Another joy the Ring stole from him. Nay, small Lady, do not blame yourself. The Ring may have been mostly asleep, but It was wakening, and would have delighted to deprive Its bearer of the ability to express joy and the skill of his body. I suspect It also helped the envy felt by his cousin Lotho to increase to the point he would seek to deprive him of all that had formerly given him pleasure and balance in his life as well. The Ring was ever vindictive when Its bearers did not bring It closer to Its master.”
“Did you feel Its influence, my Lord King?” she asked.
He straightened and nodded, looked off Eastward at the former realm of Sauron. “Oh, yes, I did. I had to close my mind to Its call, for It would have delighted to catch such as me. Often I felt the demand as Frodo slept to come and take It from him, the assurance that It was destroying him, depriving him of his ability to know happiness. It realized It could capture my attention through my love and pity for him. Gandalf told me ere we parted that It was the same for him.”
“The Ring would have sought to take a Wizard?” Narcissa was shocked.
“It sought to take Saruman, and he at the time was the head of the White Council. And It called to him from across Middle Earth. Oh, yes, if It could have corrupted Gandalf as well, It would have been well pleased.”
Ferdibrand sighed. “Merry and Pippin have denied feeling It calling to them. As Sam wore it, I understand how he became aware of Its influence. Do you know if Gimli and Legolas felt It?”
“I have been reluctant to ask them and intrude on their privacy in this matter. Not,” he said, seeing Narcissa begin to blush again, “that I regret you asked me. You have done no discourtesy, my Lady.”
Ferdibrand again straightened and stretched some. “My Lord Aragorn,” he said, turning toward the Man, “would you like to share a pipe with me?”
“Gladly, Master Ferdibrand.” The King brought out his pipe and pouch, and taking the Hobbit’s pipe filled it with crumbled leaf, then filled his own. Ferdi brought out his striker and quickly had his pipe lit, then offered it to the King. Aragorn smiled, murmured his thanks, lit his own and held out the striker, which Ferdibrand reached for unerringly. For a moment the King examined his guest, then commented, “I know you cannot hear my changes of position all that well in this breeze, yet you seem to have no difficulty in following my movements.”
“It is your Light, my Lord,” the Hobbit smiled. “It keeps me apprised of where you are, and when you are near to me, of what you are doing.”
“Could you do the same with Frodo’s Light?” asked Aragorn.
“At the last I could. I had to learn to understand what it was I saw.”
“I see. I’d not thought before of being perceived myself in terms of Light, yet it seems to be almost as common among the Hobbits I have met as it is in the Elves.”
“Do you see the Light of Being in others yourself?”
“In the Elves I know, yes, and immediately in Frodo, from the moment I first saw him. It was disconcerting. Sam’s was not as quickly seen, but it grows ever clearer the longer I have known him. And I don’t think it is because his is growing greater as much as my own ability to perceive and appreciate it has grown.”
Ferdibrand laughed. “So, it is basically the same for both of us. We’ve had to learn to appreciate Sam to truly perceive and treasure his Light.”
“Apparently so, Master Ferdi. Now, tell me, what do you see to the West?”
Ferdibrand smiled and turned west, then looked a bit troubled, then looked down, then seemed to be focused on the Citadel. “There is another Light in the way, my Lord, and not like the ones I’ve seen in Elves, you, or other Hobbits. It is there,” and he pointed at the Tree. “I’ve noted it several times going through this level, and at times it’s as if I see a--a reflection of Frodo’s Light beneath it. His Light isn’t there now, though. Yet I’ve felt it there at times.”
“What does the Light you perceive there now remind you of?”
“I hope you don’t laugh, but it reminds me of a tree, such as the tree that was shaped in the firework of Gandalf’s that Pippin lit on his birthday as Master Ruvemir described it to me.”
King, Queen, and Narcissa shared looks. “Well, the White Tree stands there, and there is no question it has a Light of Being to it. And there is its ancestor standing, it is said, on Tol Eressëa. And I will tell you this: often when I touch it in greeting, I seem to feel Frodo as if he stood or sat beneath it. I have a strong feeling that he spends a good deal of time beneath the White Tree there, and that Bilbo did the same. However, I believe Bilbo is no longer on the island there, that he has gone on.”
“I do not see Bilbo’s Light when I look that way,” Ferdibrand said quietly. “If Frodo spends a good deal of time there, I suspect it indicates he still thinks a good deal of us here, and particularly you.”
Aragorn laid one hand on Ferdibrand’s shoulder as the two puffed on their pipes. Both appeared to have taken comfort in this exchange, Narcissa realized.
She looked to the Queen in question, and the Lady Arwen nodded in agreement.