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The Ties of Family
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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27
Guardianship

Guardianship

It was five days before Emro returned to Westhall, during which time Delko and his wife Gladdie came in to rearrange the house, bring in some of their own goods, and decide which bedrooms would house whom. Narcissa helped Fosco and Forsythia to care for the animals, and did a good amount of hoeing alongside Forsythia in between caring for Brendi while Fosco packed as much as he could during the day, with his sister and guardian aiding him in the evenings.

Emro’s face was sad when he entered the house and saw the changes which had been made. “I’ll have to see about finding a hole of my own,” he began, but he was interrupted by his brother’s wife.

“Nonsense, Emro Gravelly. You’ve been foolish--no question about that. But you ain’t losing your home, not after you’ve lived here all your life. No, you will stay on as long as you like. True, the twins need to get away at least for a time, although they’ll be back in August to help with the late summer harvest and to plan for the orchard and all. But this will stay your home. We did think, however, you might be more comfortable in Fosco’s room--’twas yours when you was a lad, after all.”

“We’ll stay at our real mum’s smial when we return, Da,” Fosco explained. “We will be back to see you regular, you know.”

Emro wiped away the one tear he couldn’t seem to marshal otherwise, then gave the two of them a hug. “I’ll miss you two, right enough,” he murmured into Forsythia’s hair. “But it’s time and past for you to start being Bagginses after all, I figure. You two are far smarter’n me, far smarter’n I’ll ever dream of being. You need more education than I can give you, even with that Took teacher you’ve had. As long as you don’t forget the good as we taught you, Lilac and me.”

“We won’t, Da,” Forsythia promised.

In the dining room on the table lay those items that Pippin had found in the Bracegirdle house which had been identified as having come from the Gravelly farm and the Baggins smial. A number of other items had been found which apparently had come from other homes in the village, and these had been taken to Gander’s home for identification and return. Emro looked it over, gently pulled out all the jewelry, and offered it to Forsythia. “All came from your mums,” he said. “Ain’t right it ought to go to others.”

Forsythia looked through the items, then removed two necklaces and a ring. One of the necklaces and the ring she offered to Gladdie. “You always loved these, Gladdie, and they will look more fitting on you than they will me,” she said. “And both my mums would be glad to see you wearing them for their memory,” she added. “The other ought to go to Daylily.”

Delko nodded, smiling broadly. “I’ll see as it gets to her, Sythie. Now you pack up the rest of that, hear?”

With a nod, the lass walked toward the pile of her own things near the door, carefully opened one of the bags and slipped the jewelry inside. Narcissa murmured to her, “Properly speaking you weren’t supposed to do that for two more years, but I don’t think anyone will complain.” The lass smiled back at her.

Fosco said, “Any of the furniture that our dad made that came from the smial, keep it here. It will comfort Da, I think, and we shan’t need it for some time.”

Delko nodded his agreement. “Will do, lad. Now, once we’ve all eaten, you’d best get on your way.”

Narcissa was going to check on Brendilac when he came out of the room where he’d stayed the last few days, his face pale and with a nasty bruise on his temple, but sound enough now. “Did someone say something about a meal?” he asked. “I do believe that I must be on the mend--I’m actually hungry.”

All gathered one last time in the dining room for the farm house, and waited as Narcissa honored the Standing Silence, thinking on the Valar, the Elves, and Frodo Baggins, all of them now in the Undying Lands. l take good care of them, Iorhael, found herself thinking.

*******

The hearing was held two days before Midsummer, and many who were coming to Michel Delving for the Free Fair came early to see it. Again Brendilac stood by the accused, although it was obvious that those were not particularly happy at this. Bigelow Bracegirdle was given seven years servitude aiding in rebuilding mills and then serving in the roads details, and was told he must afterwards dwell in Michel Delving for the rest of his life, here where all knew of his tendency to use weighted dice. He was also ordered to pay reparations to Emro and certain others whose goods had been found in his hole. Malco and Lothario Bracegirdle were each given two year servitude, and Lothario was banned from writing contracts for the rest of his life. The three who’d gone in search of Forsythia were all made to serve six months servitude in rebuilding the mills.

Those seated at the table examined Ted Sandyman with mutal disgust. “Well, Ted,” Will Whitfoot said, “it appears you still haven’t learned your lesson. Why you seem drawn to those least worthy of respect is a question I think we’ll continue to ponder for years.”

Ted looked sideways at the Mayor, then pointedly away. “Didn’t really do nothing,” he said.

“Yet you stood by Bigelow and Bedro, and items stolen years ago from others were found in your pockets, and more have been found in the search of your home,” Will pointed out. “Small things, and not particularly important, maybe; but still items that ought never to have ended up with you. You have shown yourself to be a petty thief as well as a fool. You are hereby ordered to help in the rebuilding of each of the proper mills for the Shire, and afterward to spend a full week each month serving whatever needs the headman for Bywater may have. And each of the items must be returned to its owner or principal heir.” A couple large boxes standing near the doors between a pair of Shiriffs were indicated. Ted’s face darkened. “Reparations to those who have suffered such losses will also be paid out of the wages due you for your servitude.”

Beasty received special consideration. Benlo Bracegirdle examined him with grave disgust. “Twice now, Bedro, you’ve shamed the name of Bracegirdle, and this second time is too much. We now cross your name out of the book, and cast you out of the family. A fool, a thief, a brigand as much as any of those Lotho brought into the Shire--we have no more time nor patience with the likes of you.”

Will nodded. “We would send you to stand before Steward Halladan, save we hear that he will be attending the conference to be held in Rivendell--a conference which we are told the King himself will attend. You, therefore, will go there, and learn first hand the nature of the King’s justice. You are not welcome ever again within the borders of the Shire. Do you understand? And what possessions other than your clothing that have worth will be sold to pay reparations to those from whom you’ve stolen and whom you still owe.”

Beasty nodded, his face pale but set. But the anger in his eyes could be seen clearly as he glanced at Forsythia and Fosco as he was led past them on his way back to the Lockholes.

Brendilac sighed and wiped his forehead as he finally saw the others led out. “That went better for them than I’d expected, especially Bigelow,” he commented. “I hope there are none others planning on getting into serious problems for a time. I don’t know if I want to do this a third time.” He sighed, then smiled at Narcissa and the twins. “Well, at least I, too, will be able to meet this King of ours now, for I’ll be going with Bedro to Rivendell, at least.”

“Frodo didn’t ask you to stand for these,” Master Saradoc commented quietly, having come to stand by him once the hearing was over.

“I know, sir,” Brendi answered, “but I don’t think Frodo would have seen any difference between these and the first time.”

Saradoc sighed and shook his head. “No, I think you have the right of it there. Far too decent a Hobbit, Frodo was.”

Narcissa gave a wry smile. “Just look who taught him everything he knew about fairness and decency, though,” she said.

The Master smiled.

*******

Again Fosco Baggins danced the Husbandmen’s dance with the rest of the menfolk, and afterwards, after the greased pig race, most of the children attending gathered around the empty barrels outside the ale tent. Sam took his place there this year.

“I’m here to tell you the tale of a suit of clothing,” he said quietly. “For years these clothes lay in drawers or hung in the wardrobe in Mr. Frodo’s room in Bag End. Nice sturdy trousers, well woven and sewn together with neat, sturdy stitches by the Goodbodies of Hobbiton, and a shirt as was sewn by my sister May and embroidered by my sister Daisy. There used to be a vest to it, too, but that was lost along the way--so much was lost along the way, for the way was hard, cruel hard. The jacket was lost, too, somewhere in Ithilien, where we’d stopped one day to sup a bit on some stewed conies as old Sméagol had come up with one day when we was particular tired of lembas bread.”

Narcissa and the twins listened to the tale of herbs and stewed rabbit with interest, then the story of how the small meal was followed by a glimpse of more of the Enemy’s forces and even an oliphant marching to join his army when they were ambushed by Captain Faramir’s archers. He then described the capture of the two Hobbits by the Men of Gondor, the night spent behind the waterfall of Henneth Annun, and the release the following day to continue the journey toward Mordor. All listened to the description of the glimpse of the head of the statue of the King that stood at the Crossroads, crowned with silver flowers and golden stonecrop and other lichens, and the awe inspired by this sight, there in that desolate land under the looming darkness of Mordor, sent out to make the way easier for Sauron’s orcs and trolls to march abroad, and to darken the hearts and counsels of the defenders of Minas Tirith and Gondor.

“Not many have looked on the ruins of what was once the fairest of cities ever built by the survivors of Númenor,” he said. “Don’t rightly know as how long the Enemy’s folks held it, but know it was a powerful long spate of years, it was. Once shining with the reflected light of the summer Moon, now it stood glowing in a sickly manner, like dead things as one sees in the deepest, darkest, and dankest of woods where the hearts of the trees are filled with hatred and malice. Ever Sauron and his folks sought to destroy what they couldn’t make themselves, and corrupted the rest as much as possible. Isildur built it, but the Lord King Elessar, for all he is Isildur’s Heir, wouldn’t set foot in the desecrated place. Heard tell as it was thrown down to let the honest light of the Sun and Moon into the heart of it to cleanse away the shadows.”

He then described the stairs of the Pass of Cirith Ungol, the winding stair and the straight one, of the exhaustion of climbing them, the concern as to what Gollum might be planning for them. The description of the stop to sleep, of the true rest the Ringbearer was granted this time as opposed to the dreams of Eyes and Fire and Shadow which were more common to him, tugged at Narcissa’s heart; and the description of Sméagol as Sam awoke to see him, grieved her even more.

“At the time I thought as he was pawing at the Master, but I realized that, for the moment at least, he was seeing the Light of him shining, same as I’d seen it. I’m shamed I spoke to him as I did, for I was short with him, I was. But when I begged pardon he wasn’t having none of it--the malice was back, the longing for It, the anger at me.”

When he spoke of the darkness and horror of the tunnel, all shivered; then he described the realization Gollum had abandoned them to whatever fate he’d planned for them. He spoke of the growing knowledge something, concealed in the darkness, was watching them, planning on attacking them. Then he spoke of the Ringbearer remembering the Phial of Galadriel, bringing it out and invoking the name of Eärendil, whose light was captured in the Starglass, and it shining to dispell the darkness, revealing the horror of the stalking Shelob. All straightened as he described the fight between Frodo and the giant spider, her eventual retreat when her eye was stabbed and her claw damaged, the hurry through the rest of the tunnel. He then told of the web of shadow which could only be cut by the blade of Sting, how he held the Starglass while Frodo hewed at it, and how Frodo then gave him the sword as well and ran ahead.

“He was drunk with the thought of light after the darkness we’d passed through, and his heart hungered for the fresher air of the outer pass; and he begun to run ahead. Only neither realized that that spider and Gollum was both stalking us. I saw the spider creep out of a narrow crack after him, but as I started to call out the warning, I was grabbed from behind, for Gollum had decided to kill me hisself, he had. But he spoke too soon, and I was able to fight him off, gave him a shallow gash with Sting, I did, and he let me go, fled away.

“Shelob, the spider, had the Ringbearer, and was wrapping his limp body with her silk. I fought her, fought her with Sting and the light of the Lady’s Starglass, and at last held the sword over me as she sought to crush me with her body, and she drove herself upon it, wounded herself bad. She pulled away in her agony, squeezed herself into a tiny crack, and I saw her not again.

“She’d bitten the Ringbearer on the back of his neck, driven her poison into him. I could hear no heartbeat, feel no breath. I was certain as he was dead. I cut the silk from his body, held him long in my grief. Finally--finally, I knew as what I must do--I must take the Ring and go on myself to the Mountain and throw It into the volcano. If he was dead, then all as was left to do what needed to be done was myself. Don’t know as how long it was afore I finally realized all this, but I took It at the last, put the chain holding It around my own neck, took my own sword’s hangers off my belt, laid it aside him, took Sting’s sheath and hung it on my belt, sheathed Sting at the last, put the Starglass in my pocket, and started on the way.”

Then he described realizing orcs were approaching, and how he’d put on the Ring to hide from them, and found that, wearing It, he could hear and understand the Orcs better. He told of the discovery of the body, the realization the Ringbearer was actually still alive--just paralyzed with the spider’s poison; the realization they were taking the Ringbearer into their tower, and his further realization he must get back to him, must save him.

“But the way they went they shut and barred after themselves, and I had to find another way. Stunned myself trying to fling myself at the door they’d locked behind them; once I finally come to I had a long search, finally found the main gate, forced myself in using the Starglass to confound the evil watchers, started up into the guard tower, went higher and higher.

“The two platoons of orcs as was there had started to fight with one another--that’s the nature of orcs, after all--must fight with one another if they can’t find no one else to fight. They’d fought over the mithril shirt as had been left on the Ringbearer, for the two leaders both wanted it, one to take to Sauron and the other for hisself. Their fight had spread to all, and now there was only three still alive in the tower. One killed one of the other two, and finally come down the stairs carrying a bundle, and I tried to stab it with Sting, but it used the bundle to fend me off, got by me, took that bundle away. Bundle looked familiar, it did--but then it ought to of looked familiar--it was all of his clothes, all of them--and my sword. When at last I found him, he had nothing on, had just awakened, his skin red with the results of the poison still in him, just starting to drain away from his neck. The last orc broke his neck falling down a ladder in his surprise when he saw me.”

He went quiet for a time. “This one isn’t exactly about saving him, but I did, and we finally got out of there, both of us disguised in orc gear. They’d torn his water bottle apart, shredded his pack looking for anything hidden. Lucky they couldn’t bear the touch of the lembas as he’d carried there, for they just left it in a crumbled heap by the wall. He was able to save most of it, and I put it in my own pack.

“As we finally got near the mountain in our journey, he got so weak he couldn’t carry the weight of the orc armor no more, nor the sword I’d found for him. I finally threw it all down a crack in the ground; my pans, too; anything of weight excepting only It, which he still carried on the chain about his neck. We was sure we wouldn’t live by then, once the Ring was gone. He couldn’t bear the touch of the orc clothing, neither, and he took it all off, and it, too, went down the crack. Wrapped hisself in my cloak from Lorien, he did, and I belted it with a length of the hithlain rope. When at last they found us, that’s how they found him--wrapped only in my cloak.

“We was unconscious for almost two weeks--the King hisself tended to us, put us deep into healing sleep, saw to the caring for our bodies. When at last we awoke we was first dressed in the rags we’d worn up the stairs to Cirith Ungol. The emissary of Sauron had brought the bundle out to show the Captains of the West as they stood outside the Black Gate, and Gandalf had taken it from him.

“Gandalf told us those rags as we’d worn would be preserved. After we was shown to the army of the West, he took us away again, dressed us in other gear as had been hastily made for us to wear, carefully wrapped our old rags up, told us again as it would all be preserved in honor.”

He straightened. “We just got home, you know, from a trip back to Gondor. The King ordered a monument carved of the four Periannath as had come from the Shire to the aid of the West in the fight against Sauron, had it carved there in their capitol, there in the Court of the White Tree, there afore the Citadel itself, at the top of the city, there in its very heart. That monument is finished now, and we went to its unveiling.

“You’ve heard tell of the King’s own sculptor, the Mannikin named Ruvemir son of Mardil of Lebennin. As fine a person as ever walked beneath Sun, Moon, and Stars he is, too. He come here to see us, to learn of us, and to learn of the Ringbearer, so he could carve his figures for the monument. Four figures are in it: one of the Captain Peregrin Took of the Guard of the Citadel as he stands when he is on duty afore the King’s throne, his sword drawn and ready in case any threatens our King or any under his protection; one of Sir Meriadoc Brandybuck, Esquire to the King of Rohan and Knight of the Riddermark, leaning on his sword in honor; one of the one known as the Esquire to the Ringbearer, wearing his pack, holding Sting as he did when fighting Shelob in the Spider’s Pass; and one of the Ringbearer hisself, standing proud, holding the Ring on the palm of his hand, his face stern and sad, challenging all to look on this talisman of evil and think in themselves if they would of had the strength to destroy It. These ain’t great statues the sizes of giants as so many statues are within Minas Tirith--they’re the size of us as we are--or at least, only just taller than we are as Hobbits of the Shire. And the Esquire to the Ringbearer and the Ringbearer hisself are shown wearing the clothes as they was wearing as they climbed the stairs of the Pass of Cirith Ungol itself, as those clothes was when they was found, the Ringbearer’s in the bundle taken from the Mouth of Sauron, and the clothes of the Esquire as they was taken from his body when he was found, almost dead, on the side of the mountain after the Ring was destroyed.

“The clothes themselves are preserved as Gandalf told us would happen, in crystal cases made by the Dwarves, hanging in the Hall of Memorials. Master Ruvemir looked on them long, he told us, afore he completed the sculptures, to make certain as they was done right. The knee of the trousers worn by the Ringbearer is torn from a slip on the stairs, one of the braces half loose from a missing button. The studs was lost along the way, one on Amon Hen, the other between Ithilien and the stairs. There was a rip in the shirt from climbing the ridge to look down on the Black Gate and another from falling into a pit in the desolation nearby; and more from the mat of brambles as we hid under after we left the Crossroads, afore we come to the secret stair. The color of the pants, once a dark green almost black, is now a muddy grey. The fine threads of the linked diamonds embroidered into the placket and cuffs of the shirt are torn and broken, and some of the stains from blood and other sources never come out.

“Before the case as holds the clothes of the Ringbearer is a stand, and on that stand a vase of glass, glass such as you’ve never seen in your life. The glassblower who blew that vase went about the city, gathering up the ash which fell on it released by Mount Doom itself; and he mixed the ash with the sand from which his glass was formed. The glass shines and shimmers with many colors, or so it seems as you move about it or as the light of the torches and lamps as light the room flickers across it. It is beautiful as you cannot believe. They keep sprays of green leaves and white blossoms in that vase, changing them every other day, they tell me, through all seasons, membering how the one as wore these once was willing to sacrifice all that the Enemy never have the chance to regain possession of his Ring, to use It to enslave and destroy all of Middle Earth.

“Funny as how the clothes made here in the Shire have come to such a place in a hall as was made to help all member those as have done the most to protect the lands of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth.”

He was starting to lean down to pick up Rosie-Lass from where she sat upon her sister’s lap, there in front of where he had sat on the barrel, when Fredegar Bolger called out from among the adults who stood around the audience of children, “And below the other case, is there not a similar stand there, too?”

Sam flushed furiously, but answered softly, “Yes, sir, there is.”

“And what sits on that stand, Sam?”

Sam lifted his head, his face solemn. “A vase.”

“And is that vase not the mate to the other one?”

“Yes, sir, it is.”

“And what fills that vase, Samwise Gamgee?”

“Flowers and herbs.”

Fredegar nodded. “Flowers and herbs of all colors, are they not, changed as regularly as those in the other vase?”

Sam looked at him but did not answer.

Fredegar smiled gently. “Two of our own are honored there, equally, Sam, and with reason. Let our children know about both.” He then bowed deeply toward Sam, and the others who had made the journey to Gondor did the same while Sam continued to flush, but stood his ground.

Narcissa smiled, and called out herself, “Actually, two more are honored in that room, too, if you will remember, for the hilt of the sword first carried by Merry is also there, as is the shield which Pippin first carried. Each of the four was found near to death after his labors against the Enemy, which is why all four are depicted in the memorial.”

Sam suddenly smiled. “Yes, they, too, fought the Enemy. And I wish you all a good day.” He leaned down deliberately to scoop up his younger daughter, and as the children began to rise and make way for him he carefully and deliberately stepped out of the circle, followed by Elanor and Frodo-Lad, joined his wife where she stood, smiling and delighted, and together they walked into the ale tent and sat down, the children with them.

Fosco turned to look into Narcissa’s face, holding his own face near so as to examine her expression carefully. “So, it is true, all four are heroes?”

She smiled, her eyes filled with pride. “Yes, they are all four heroes, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin. Each and every one of them.”

Fosco straightened in pride. She led him and Forsythia together into the ale tent, and they sat at the table where Sam sat with his wife and children, where Merry and Pippin brought their wives as well. Sam looked at Narcissa consideringly. “Well, as long as Master Freddie was intent on making me important, too, I’m glad you spoke up about these,” he said, with sideways nods to Merry and Pippin.

“Glad to oblige,” she said, smiling. She watched as Ferdibrand approached, led by Pimpernel, carrying the box he’d been given by Master Ruvemir. “Thank you, Ferdi,” she said as he sat down, “for bringing it. I did want the twins to see it.”

He smiled. “Give me a moment, then,” he said, lifting off the lid and then the top layer of wool, then the four batches from the sides, and finally the section from the middle. Carefully he lifted the model out of the box and set it on the table. “Fosco?” he asked.

“Here I am,” the younger Hobbit answered.

The elder smiled as he carefully slid it over toward the younger. “Here,” he said. “Each figure comes out of the base, and Pippin can take them out if you’d like, then put them back. He’s become quite experienced at it, really.”

Gently Fosco examined the model, and at last he asked to see each small figure separately. When all were finally replaced in the base, he straightened. “It’s marvelous. One day I will go to Minas Tirith and see the real memorial.”

Forsythia was reaching down and gently stroking the model of Frodo with her index finger, tears in her eyes. “No wonder he had to leave,” she said quietly.

Sam said, gently, “Yes. Cost him almost everything, it did. But at least he’s happy now.” He smiled at her. “And I hope as the Lady Galadriel has her Mirror there and can show him how wonderful as you and your brother is growing. He must be right proud of the both of you.” He shook his head. “And to think as he knew all along you was there, and didn’t tell me. He was a sly one at times, you know.”

Brendilac had come in during the examination, and now asked if he might look at the model.

“Of course, Brendi,” Ferdibrand replied.

The lawyer raised the model, turning it carefully, examining it in detail. “He wouldn’t tell me the details of what he did out there,” he said at last. “But I’m glad to finally begin to know.” He looked at his cousin Merry. “I’m glad you were there, too, to represent our side of the family.”

Merry smiled back. “I am, too, Brendi. But I wish it hadn’t been necessary to begin with.” His smile faded, then grew again. “I’m so glad he has been granted healing at last.” The rest nodded. He took the model from Brendilac, and gently settled it once more into the box, gently replaced the wool, and finally put the lid on top.

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