The King’s Arrival
“What of your things will you need to get from Buckland for the trip?” Narcissa asked her guest as he placed the freshly laundered clothing she’d just brought into the guestroom into the new pack that sat on his bed.
“Well, I took only one extra outfit to Westhall so have only one here, so I should think I’d need a fair amount. I’ll nead at least three more changes, don’t you think? And I probably ought to take a cloak, for it may be warm here, but if it rains on the way. But I’ll admit now--I spoke to Merry at the Free Fair, and he’s bringing my things to the Bridge with him so we won’t need to leave early.”
“Did you remember to ask him to bring a blanket roll?”
He laughed. “Now who is it who’s making certain folk are ready for a trip?”
The trip this year would not be through the Shire, but out of it. Once they returned from the Free Fair, the twins and Narcissa immediately threw themselves into packing for the trip to Rivendell. Correspondence with the Lord Steward Halladan indicated the King and his party would be at the Brandywine Bridge five days after Midsummer, so there was little time to prepare.
Brendilac had returned to Overhill with them from Westhall, and had remained there for the last few weeks, recovering and assisting the twins to settle into the smial. Together they had helped unpack not only their things brought from the farm and their parents’ smial, but also those items that Narcissa had brought back from her own journey. Forsythia looked on the midnight blue gown embroidered with blossoms and stars with sheer awe as she pulled it from the second trunk Narcissa had brought home with her. She finally tore her gaze from it and looked at her new guardian. “This is the most beautiful gown I have ever, ever seen!” she said. “You brought it back from Gondor with you?”
Narcissa smiled. “It was my welcome gift from the Queen. She apparently made and embroidered it herself. She is the most marvelous seamstress and embroiderer, and while we were there was inducted into their guild of seamstresses and tailors as a master embroiderer. She and Mistress Miriel, the sister to Master Ruvemir and wife of my cousin Folco, made garments for all of us, husbands, wives, and children.” She searched through her original trunk, finally drew out a strand of beads. “Here--these are for you.” Carefully she draped them around Forsythia’s neck. “The glassblower who crafted these is the most wonderful Man, and these are made with the ash from Mount Orodruin, the volcano up which Frodo and Sam climbed in Mordor.”
Forsythia looked down on them with even more awe. “These are by the one Iorhael told us of,” she asked, “the last time at the Free Fair before he left the Shire?”
“Yes,” Narcissa replied, nodding. “As we entered the city and went through the Fourth Circle his daughter Linneth came to us from the marketplace there, and gave a strand to each of us, and to Mistress Miriel as well. I purchased these for you, though, just before I returned home. I wished to have a set intended specifically for you. I will treasure the ones given to me forever, remembering how they were given us in memory of Frodo, whom her father honored greatly.” She brought out a velvet bag and carefully slipped out her own strand, and donned it. She then brought out a fine shawl of heavy woven silk in a warm, golden brown, fringed and embroidered in gold. “This is for you, also. Mistress Miriel embroidered it.” Carefully she wrapped it around the lass’s shoulders. “Yes, it flatters your hair most beautifully, and the golden blossoms make your skin glow.”
Brendi now leaned in the doorway, a smile of approval on his face. “It is beautiful, and becomes you well, Forsythia,” he said, and the lass glowed in his praise and admiration.
For Fosco, who was sitting on the floor by the bed, she had brought a vest of green wool lined with a soft gold linen, embroidered with soaring birds. “These are gulls such as fly up the River Anduin from the Mouths of the Sea,” she explained as he felt the patterns. “The buttons were made by the glassmaker who does the volcano glass, and each appears to have a gull within it. He made them specifically at the request of Mistress Miriel so she could use them on some of the garments she wished to make for gifts to the Shire folk and for Folco and the children.”
She also gave to him a figure of a bird carved of wood, a finch preening at its wing. “Ririon, the ward to Master Ruvemir and his sister, carved this of cherry wood, then stained it. It is one of the most realistic carvings I have ever seen. He helped in the carving of the memorial, and did the design for the surround for its base. He did another of a bird raising its wings to fly away, and it sits now on the stand below Frodo’s garments from the quest. For all that his vision is now very poor, Ririon still is one of the most gifted carvers I have ever seen, and both his foster father and Master Mardil, the father of Ruvemir and Miriel, are very proud of him.”
For Brendilac she’d brought back a book of the history of the city of Minas Anor, a tunic designed and embroidered by the Queen, and a silver flagon chased within with gold. “This was made by the Dwarves. Lord Gimli had intended to give it to Frodo, but then learned that Frodo had left Middle Earth. He asked me if I knew any of Frodo’s kindred who would appreciate it in honor of him, and I suggested you. When I explained how you had stood by Timono and the others at Frodo’s request, he was impressed, and asked that I give it to you, said that he admired your courage and your faithfulness to Frodo.”
Brendi examined it carefully, the design on it of a bird in flight against stars. “What kind of bird is this?” he asked.
“It is a type of seabird called an albatross that flies over the waves by both day and night. It is greatly beloved by many among the Elves, who see it as a guide to far destinations. Gimli first began working it into his designs for the pleasure of his friend Legolas, who remains in Middle Earth now for his sake and for the sake of the Lord King Aragorn Elessar.” She looked at it seriously. “He had been told by Legolas that the Elves of Middle Earth had petitioned the Valar to allow Frodo to go to the Undying Lands for his easing, and he hoped this would help him to accept the grace; but he finished it too late. He had already done flagons for Sam, Merry and Pippin, and did not wish to favor one over the others with this as a second.”
“For his easing,” Brendilac sighed. “If only he hadn’t needed such easing.”
“The King grieves for him, and that he was unable to aid him to full healing,” Narcissa said sadly. She brought out a framed picture, one in color of Frodo with Elanor on his lap, smiling down into her eyes. “Master Ruvemir did this for me,” she said quietly, “and the Dwarves framed it.”
“It is a good one of our lost cousin.”
She nodded. “I have so much to tell, and there isn’t yet time. We will speak of it on the way. These two and you will see the King this time. And Frodo was very right--he is well worth the loving.”
This time they rented ponies, and each party brought a pack pony. “The road to Rivendell,” Pippin explained, “isn’t a good one for wagons.”
Rosie-Lass, Frodo-Lad, and Elanor were now experienced travelers, and took turns riding before various of those in the party. Diamond and Estella were at ease riding alongside Narcissa and Rosie, while Melilot, Pimpernel, and Viola were a bit less certain. Piper carried Drogo with him most of the time, and was thrilled to be allowed to go with the party. Neither Pervinca nor Pearl chose to leave the Shire this time, although they came to the Bridge to see the King and Queen, but Isumbard and Reginard Took were among those serving as guards for Bedro Bracegirdle. Even Will Whitfoot had agreed to come as far as the bridge, as had a number of others who had never been as far east as Frogmorton before. It was quite the party that rode east from Michel Delving two days before the expected meeting and stayed the night at the Floating Log.
They were still two miles short of the bridge when a strange pair could be seen riding toward them. One of the Tooks who’d been riding ahead came back at a run. “There is a true horse on the road,” young Levandoras reported, “with two riders upon it. The one in front is tall and has long golden hair, and the one behind....”
“Legolas and Gimli!” called out Pippin, his face alight with joy. “Who’s with me?” And with that shout, he gave Jewel leave to gallop, and he sped forward out of the group, Narcissa and the twins and Brendilac right behind him, alongside a few others in the party.
As they passed Sam, they heard him laughing. “We’ll catch up,” Sam called after. “Not going to rush my children, I’m not, not even for Strider hisself.”
The ponies seemed to grow excited at the sight of Arod, who stopped still till they came up to them. Legolas was laughing down at them, and Gimli smiled broadly. “Is this all that’s coming?” the Dwarf called out. “Aragorn will be most disappointed.”
“The rest of the party are too sedate to hurry themselves,” Pippin called back, indicating the remaining cavalcade behind them. “Ah, though it’s been such a short time this time, it is yet so good to see the two of you again.”
Legolas laughed with pleasure. “It’s long in the thinking of mortals since I was in Northwestern Eriador, and I thought I’d see if the forests were as green as my memories of them. We’ve ridden far ahead, for the rest of our party had barely left Bree when we left them.” He turned Arod around upon the track. “Arod wished a good run, and we’ve given it to him.” He looked about. “The trees are young, very young, here along the Road within the Shire. Saruman killed so very many?”
Pippin became solemn. “Yes, he did. If he’d had any idea as to what Saruman was to do here, I suspect Treebeard would never have let him go as he did. He and his folk murdered thousands of trees.”
“I think Quickbeam would have gladly squashed him flat rather than that,” Gimli said grimly. “We stopped to speak to the Ents, of course, although most have returned now to the depths of Fangorn. Treebeard is eager now to return there himself, but I think Quickbeam will remain at Orthanc to guard the place. His hatred for Saruman and his works is still smoldering in his heart.” He gave a short laugh. “Never thought I’d find myself in sympathy with a treeherder,” he commented.
“These are glad to grow for the pleasure of the folk and for the joy of Samwise,” Legolas said. “They rejoice to rise to the sun in such a place as this.”
The rest of the party was catching up at last. “Legolas!” Elanor was calling out. “Legolas! Gimli!” Rosie-Lass was fairly bouncing with excitement as she rode before her father, and Frodo-Lad’s face was wreathed in smiles. Eglantine and the Thain paused for a moment, then rode ahead of the rest of the party to come up alongside their son.
“Prince Legolas, Lord Gimli,” Paladin Took greeted them, bowing as low as he could on pony back.
“Legolas, Gimli, my father and mother, Paladin Took, Thain of the Shire, and Eglantine. My sisters Pearl, Pervinca, and Pimpernel....”
The introductions looked to go on for a time, and Legolas laughed. “Let us be introduced as we ride, or I suspect the King’s party will reach the Bridge ere we do. Shall we proceed, friends?”
“One moment,” sighed Sam. “Gimli, can you take this one afore she wriggles out of my arms in her excitement? She is most insistent as she is to ride with her Uncle Gimli.”
Pippin took Rosie-Lass from her father and handed her up to the Dwarf, who held her before him with pleasure on his face, and even Legolas appeared flattered. At last they headed back toward the Bridge.
The party from Buckland was there before them, alongside a great number of others who had ridden out to see the King this day. Merry stood out from the rest of the party as he sat atop Stybba, and he rode forward some to greet the Elf and Dwarf. “Already have Rosie-Lass riding with you, do you?” he asked. “Seems the little ones cannot stay away from Gimli for long.”
“Melian would have ridden ahead with us if her father had allowed it,” Legolas admitted. “But he says that the edict holds for children as well, unless they accompany Master Ruvemir.”
“He did not come with you?”
“We caught up with him this side of Tharbad, for in the first few weeks he traveled more slowly than we. He spent the night in Bree where he has met with the Lord Halladan’s party. We camped just outside of Bree. He was just joining the King’s party when we left. While they were in Rohan Lord Éomer gave each member of his party a steed to follow behind the great wagon he drives. It is quite a marvel. However, they will come to the Bridge on horses and ponies.”
“Folco and Miriel have gone back to Lebennin?” asked Narcissa.
“Yes, although they both speak of coming north next summer. It is possible that Master Mardil and Mistress Lisbet may come with them, along with Dorieth, of course. Both wish to see the work Master Ruvemir will do.”
“Did any hear from the Lord of the Mundolië as to how he liked the figure of him Ruvemir did?” asked Pippin.
Gimli laughed. “The Ghan was reportedly quite pleased with how well Ruvemir caught his seeming, and has had the statue erected in one of the few settled cities of their land. Dispatch riders caught up with us with that news about the time we caught up with Master Ruvemir’s party.”
All dismounted from their steeds, and a few Bucklanders took them to a fenced field, saw each unsaddled and groomed, then turned them loose for the night. Those in the party saw to the disposition of their tack and luggage under a hastily raised pavilion, for all would camp just the other side of the Bridge tonight. Once all was in order, Pippin, Merry, and Sam walked out upon the Bridge with Legolas and Gimli and the children of the party, and sat on the stools provided. “I am getting too far along,” Sam said, as he sat upon his stool and pulled out his pipe, filled and lit it, “to feel completely comfortable sitting on the ground no more.” The others laughed. Soon they were followed by Thain, Master, and Mayor, who each carried a couple of flagons from the Bridge Inn, and their wives who carried more. “This is more like,” Sam sighed, accepting the mug offered him by the Mayor.
The rest stayed back upon the Shire side of the Bridge, although eventually most of the children from the village at the Bridge’s end and from the party had joined the group on the Bridge itself. Brendi sat on the blanket Narcissa had spread for their small group, and accepted the mug brought him by Fosco and Forsythia, who’d been into the Inn to bring out refreshments for their party.
The Thain had contributed several head of beef cattle to tonight’s meal, sending them on to Buckland a few weeks back; and the Master had contributed several more. Sam had managed to get several bushels of potatoes arranged for, and purchases had been made from several of the farms in the Marish for more provender. The cook tents erected just across the Bridge were already sending out pleasant odors when the King’s party emerged from the shadows of the woods that arched over the roadway. Those waiting on the Bridge rose swiftly, and those waiting within the Shire also stood and surged forward to see. Master, Thain, and Mayor stood at the front, accompanied by their wives and heirs and heirs’ wives, Samwise and Rosie Gamgee, and the children who’d waited on the Bridge with them, as well as Gimli and Legolas. The Thain’s escort and those surrounding Bedro Bracegirdle had their bows at the ready, and all, including Bedro, peered at the riders approaching the Bridge.
Lords Hardorn and Eregiel and Gilfileg came first, each carrying their weapons at the ready, Artos and Gwynhumara following Eregiel’s horse, followed by King, Queen, Princess, and the Lord Stewards Halladan and Faramir and their wives beside them. Behind rode Prince Elphir of Dol Amroth to represent his father, Master Ruvemir and his apprentices, and those others from the courts of Minas Anor and Annúminas who accompanied the King, including a double guard of escort, half in the black and silver of the capitol and half in the silver-grey of Arnor. The King’s guard sheathed swords and shouldered bows, bowed to the Hobbits, and pulled to each side as King, Queen, Princess, Stewards, and wives dismounted gracefully. The King himself led the way forward until he reached almost to the halfway point on the Bridge, a few yards only separating him from his friends. Again the holding in place could be seen on both sides, and King and his friends among the Hobbits stood their ground, prolonging the pleasure. “Welcome to the Shire, Strider,” Sam said quietly, and suddenly he was moving forward, once again into the King’s embrace.
Brendilac Brandibuck watched the greeting between the Travelers and the King with surprise. “That is the King?” he asked.
Narcissa smiled gently. “Yes, that is the King,” she replied, and he and the twins could easily hear the pride in her voice.
“I never imagined....” Brendi started, but found himself unable to complete the thought of what it was he had thought the King might or might not be like.
Pippin and Merry stood waiting, then bowed low before each was in his turn swept into the kneeling King’s embrace. “This could easily become a habit,” Merry heard Aragorn murmur into his ear, and laughing he broke free.
“I wish it could be so,” he said with regret, smiling up into the King’s eyes.
Pippin then gestured his parents and those of Merry forward along with Will Whitfoot. “My Lord Aragorn Elessar, may I present my parents, Paladin Took, Thain of the Shire, Master of Tookland, and the Took, and Eglantine.”
“And mine, Saradoc Brandybuck, Master of Brandy Hall and Buckland and the Marish, and my mother Esmeralda.”
“And the Mayor of the Shire, Will Whitfoot, and his wife Mina,” added Sam. “Our Lord King Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, King of Gondor and Arnor, his wife the Lady Arwen Undomiel of Imladris and Lothlorien, their daughter the Princess Melian, and our Lord Stewards Halladan of Arnor and Faramir of Gondor, and their wives, the Lady Mirieth of Annúminas and the Lady Éowyn of Rohan.”
“A miracle!” Pippin commented to Merry. “He didn’t introduce him as Strider for a change!”
The King laughed, then turned to Thain, Master, Mayor, and their ladies and bowed respectfully. “It is an honor to meet you at the last. Thain Paladin, finally we have persons to attach to the names and correspondence we have shared. And I am proud to tell you how well you have done at raising a most remarkable and responsible son.”
The Thain flushed. “Considering how difficult it was for me to accept the news of what he’d experienced, it’s difficult to accept responsibility for how well he turned out,” he confessed.
“Oh, he could be maddeningly impulsive at times, also,” Aragorn laughed. “But all told, I am proud to have him at my side, and when he takes up his duty as my guard I feel truly safe.” He examined the face of the Thain. “I see, however, that he comes by his honesty from you. A worthy son of a worthy father.”
He turned to Eglantine, and smiled. “And his personal grace, I see, comes from you, my lady.”
“Thank you, my Lord,” she said, flushing with pleasure and confusion.
He turned next to the Master. Long he examined Merry’s parents. “Yes, I see you in your son, and I am glad to recognize your hand in the forming of my beloved friend as well. Both spoke often and well of you both. It is a pleasure to meet you this day,” he said.
“Thank you, my Lord,” Saradoc returned. “Certainly we have heard nothing but good of you from all four of them, and since the return from the unveiling from these others as well. I wish we could host you in the Hall....”
But the King was shaking his head. “No, I would not be worthy if I exempted myself from the edicts I impose on others, temporary or permanent.”
“I understand, my Lord,” the Master replied, bowing deeply.
“We can still wish it, my Lord,” Esmeralda said. “To know lordship from those who follow the rules they impose on others is not always true, you know.”
“All too well do I know of it, my lady. I have had to study much of history, and not all of my forebears were fully honorable.” Esmeralda nodded her understanding to the King’s statement.
The King turned at last to the Mayor. He searched the Hobbit’s face, and smiled sadly. “I see that the reports of the ordeal you underwent were not exaggerated,” he said softly. “Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin have all described what they found on their return in their letters to me, and what they told me of your imprisonment was frightening.”
“It was very bad, my Lord King,” the Mayor said with a calm he’d not have believed previously he could feel at this moment. “But now it seems almost just a bad dream--except that I am still Mayor when I’d thought to have handed that office on to Frodo.”
Aragorn nodded, his expression solemn and filled with a level of sadness. “He would tell no one the depth of the pain he experienced, physical or spiritual, not even me. The one who knew the most was Sam, who was ever by his side; but even from him he withheld so much, always seeking not to burden others. He apparently weakened rapidly the last year he remained.”
The Mayor nodded. “Yet, in spite of all, he did so well the eight months he served for me, my Lord. He was a marvelous deputy Mayor, and would have given so much leadership to all. He was the most decent soul I’ve ever met.” He sighed. “I hope that the Elves there in Elvenhome realize just what a marvelous individual they have with them.”
The King nodded and smiled gently. “Oh, I think they do realize just that, Master Will.” He turned to the Mayor’s wife. “Mistress Mina, Frodo spoke so well of your caring for him while he stayed with you. It is always an honor to meet such as you in the world.”
Mina Whitfoot was conquered and lost her heart immediately.
At that moment Gimli and Legolas came forward, the Dwarf carrying Rosie-Lass in his arms, her hands entangled in his beard. The King laughed. “And what do we have here--a captured Hobbit maiden?”
“Captive? I don’t think so, Aragorn. Captor, maybe.”
“I see.” He gave the child a look of mock severity. “Unhand my friend the Dwarf, small mistress, or you shan’t be able to play with Melian.”
He held out his hands, and she gladly released Gimli’s beard and turned to hold out her arms to him, giggling. “Strider!” she said, very clearly.
All found themselves laughing as they watched the King swing a Hobbit child into the air, his own face as full of delight as that of Rosie Gardner.
After a list of introductions that no one could hope to remember in one sitting, the party moved to the far side of the Bridge where a large, open-sided pavilion had been raised. Traveling stools had been brought by the King’s party, and these were quickly placed at one end of the space where a trestle table had been set up for the use of the Big Folk. Merry had shocked his carpenters when he’d ordered the length of the legs for the horses, but now they saw he had not exaggerated the size needed. Merry looked about, and commented to his father, “I think perhaps we ought to make certain more of our folk take occasional trips to Bree, just to remind them that Hobbits are not the only folk who live in all of Middle Earth.” His father
More normal sized tables and benches for the use of the Hobbits had also been set up, and soon many were seated at them. Eglantine looked on the size of their guests and asked Pippin quietly, “Do we truly have enough to feed all of them as well as all the Hobbits present?”
Pippin laughed. “Mum, you will find they will not eat as much as the average Hobbit. Remember how it was when Master Ruvemir visited with us.” He looked around. “Ah--there he is, and I see Elanor and Cyclamen have already claimed him.”
The mannikin sculptor was indeed being pulled forward by the two lasses to speak with Cyclamen’s parents. Looking about some more, Pippin finally gestured to Celebgil, who came over and bowed respectfully. “Welcome to Eriador and the borders of the Shire, Celebgil,” he said quietly. “I see that Mistress Elise is not with you. Is she ill?”
“She finally admitted not long after we left Rohan that she is with child. She’s been feeling a bit uncomfortable the last few days, and the King suggested she remain in Bree today and tomorrow, that she be better fit for the trip east to Rivendell the day after. She was disappointed not to accompany us, but was relieved, I think at the same time. By the way, Captain Peregrin, it is an honor to see you once more.”
“Mum, Da, this is Celebgil, one of Master Ruvemir’s apprentices from the city of Minas Anor. My parents, Paladin and Eglantine Took.”
“Master, Mistress, it is an honor to meet the Captain’s parents.” Again the youth bowed deeply.
Pippin sighed. “Thinking of being a Captain, I suspect I ought to go to Lord Hardorn and report for duty,” he commented. “If you will pardon me, Mum, Da.” He rose and walked to one of those who had preceded the King where he bowed and saluted, then spoke with the Man.
Paladin Took looked after his son with interest. “And who is that with whom my son is speaking?” he asked.
“Lord Hardorn, the King’s cousin and chief of his personal guards, as well as the Officer of the Privy Purse,” Celebgil explained. “He and Captain Peregrin share duties. Lord Eregiel and Lord Gilfileg are also the King’s kinsmen, and also often serve as his personal bodyguards. Lord Gilfileg accompanied our party north, where he serves as second to Lord Halladan, I understand. He has been in Gondor this past year and a half, and is now returning to his duties in the northern Kingdom. Not, I suppose, the King truly needs that much guarding--he is a great warrior in his own right, and is the greatest swordsman among Men in all of Middle Earth, I suspect. Lord Hardorn, however, is a better archer. Both were taught by the Elves of Imladris.”
“I see,” the Thain said. He watched as again Pippin saluted and bowed, turning away, then stopping to speak with one of those who attended on the King. “And that?” he asked.
“Our Lord Faramir, Prince of Ithilien and Steward of Gondor. Captain Pippin served to save his life during the war. And the guardsman in white with him is the Captain of the Prince’s personal guard, Beregond, Captain of the White Company. The young Man with Captain Beregond is his son Bergil, who will enter the Guard of the Citadel in two years time. The other with Prince Faramir is his cousin Lord Elphir, heir to Lord Imrahil, Prince to Dol Amroth.”
“I see.” Paladin was amazed at the high rank of those within the pavilion, but he supposed he ought not to be so. It was a different world out there, he realized, and he was venturing out into it further this time than he’d ever done before.
As the youth returned to Ruvemir’s side, a rider had come up the road, and had approached the pavilion, been examined and admitted by one of the guards, and approached the King, where he bowed deeply and offered a packet. The King had opened it, scanned the first few pages, questioned him briefly, then apparently had given him leave to refresh himself before he resumed his duties. The packet was then given to the Queen, who smiled to receive it. The King watched her open and read the message, then leaned over her, murmured something to her, then rose, looked around, saw the Thain and moved to come to where he sat.
“Thain Paladin,” he said quietly, “I was wondering if you would like to join me in a pipe?”
“You smoke a pipe, Sire?” the Took asked, surprised.
Aragorn laughed. “I was born and raised here in Eriador, and spent much of my career as a Ranger guarding the borders of the Shire and the Breelands, sir. You will remember that your son and your nephew have each sent me a barrel of pipeweed every Midsummer since their return to the Shire. These gifts have given some of my kinsmen from here in Arnor and me much pleasure over the years.”
“I would be honored, my Lord.” Paladin produced his pipe from an inner pocket of his jacket, while the King produced his from under his tunic, where it had been slipped into his belt. Paladin looked on it with approval. “Dwarf made, I see.”
The King sat himself on the ground as he pulled out his pouch and offered it to the Thain. “Yes, this one was a gift from Gimli. He’ll most likely join us in a moment. Smoking is one art none in the way of Elves whom I’ve known has ever taken to, however, so Legolas will stay aloof from us for the nonce.” After Paladin had filled his pipe, he filled his own and stowed the pouch back away again. “It is odd--no Elf would be caught smoking pipeweed, yet they have no qualms about crafting the most beautiful and serviceable pipes imaginable for those who do. Elladan has made several for me over the years, and used to make them for Bilbo as well, although I believe Bilbo gave the last two made for him to Merry and Pippin. But, as this one was made for me for my last birthday, I’ve been using it primarily lately.” He brought out his striker and expertly set his pipe alight, then offered to light that of the Thain’s as well.
Eglantine’s eyes had become quite large at the sight of the King of Gondor and Arnor sitting beside their table on the ground, and he caught her expression and laughed. “Please pardon me, my lady,” he said. “There are times when I prefer to sit on the ground, even to this day. After all, I’ve spent a good deal of time doing so over the past ninety-five years. I fear I tend to strain the patience of my minister of protocol.”
“I can imagine,” she said, smiling in spite of herself. She glanced over again at her son where he stood talking with Prince Faramir and his wife, the Lady Éowyn, Gimli, Legolas, and Merry. “They look so comfortable speaking with one another,” she said.
The King nodded. “They are. Pippin feels somewhat responsible for Faramir after saving him from his father’s madness, while Merry and Éowyn have considered themselves sword kin since they rode together from Dunharrow to Minas Tirith. The two fought their first fight together there from Windfola’s back. Oh, Merry had fought before, in Moria and on Amon Hen; but this was the first look at unbridled war for each of them. They did well--very well.” His face had become solemn. “To see them lying in the Houses of Healing, laid low by the Black Breath, almost broke my heart. I am grateful I was able to call them back. And to see them well and happily married--all four of them--means a great deal to me.”
The sound of laughter from Samwise Gamgee drew his attention to where the Master of Bag End sat with his wife near Sancho and Gelly Proudfoot and the sculptor Ruvemir, Elanor sitting happily in Ruvemir’s lap while the group shared some jest amongst them. “So, that is Pando’s father and mother.”
“His aunt and uncle, actually, my Lord. His parents died of the fever shortly after Sancho and Angelica married, although Sancho and Gelly adopted him as their own.”
“He is another of Frodo’s cousins?”
The King nodded. “He resembles him strongly--it’s the dark hair and the fairly narrow face, I think.”
“Yes, the resemblance is strong, although Fosco favors his cousin even more strongly, I think.”
Paladin looked around, then spotted Fosco and Forsythia sitting on the far side of the pavilion with Narcissa and Brendilac, Isumbard and Pearl, Pimpernel and Ferdibrand. “Over there, my Lord.”
The Lord Elessar looked, but saw only the back of a dark head. “Ah, I see Master Ferdibrand sits there near him,” he said. “His gift of seeing the Light of Being has given us all much comfort.” He puffed on his pipe for a few moments as he surveyed more of the occupants of the tent. “That one there, with the four who appear to be guards about him, that is the prisoner, then?”
Paladin sighed. “Yes, that is Bedro. By rights, I suppose we ought to have brought Ted Sandyman as well, although his actions have been far more petty and even pathetic. But Bedro has stretched the patience of all this time.”
“I see. I will not sit in judgment here, though, and certainly not today. Let him see the contrast between the Travelers’ friend and the King.” The Thain, impressed by the change in the King’s voice, looked at him closely, saw the authority that Aragorn son of Arathorn wore so easily, just a layer down from the Man who sat comfortably on the ground by his table. Unconsciously Paladin Took straightened, appearing more like his son than he realized.
Again the King’s attention was drawn to Sam, and his smile became gentle as he looked on him. “It is good to see Sam able to smile and be easy. I feared after Frodo left he would know grief too great to easily let go.”
Eglantine nodded. “Frodo’s going was a grief to many, and far more of a grief than most of us realized it might be. He did his best to hide how very ill he was, rarely socialized, appeared uncomfortable when he must be in public. None of us had any realization of just how deeply he’d been hurt.”
Paladin shrugged uncomfortably. “Well, that isn’t exactly true--we could see--too easily see--he’d been hurt, and badly. But we had no way of understanding just how deep the wounds went, how much his spirit still bled, much less understand how he’d come by them. They could not bear to speak of it for so long, and--and we didn’t know how to ask the right questions, or how to listen, either. I was very hard on all of them, but particularly Pippin and Frodo. It must have torn his heart even further, my unwillingness to listen.”
“I was just as bad, dearling,” Eglantine said. “Everything Pippin or Frodo tried to say, if it looked as if it would be bad, I’d try to turn it around so it wasn’t. That last dinner, when he finally insisted we listen to him, hear the truth----” Her face became bleak. “Oh, Paladin, if we’d only listened earlier--maybe he would have been able to stay.”
The King sighed as he knocked the ash out of his pipe against the ground. “He was fading, Mistress Eglantine. He was fading very quickly there just ere he left. He’d not have lived much longer, no matter how understanding anyone might be. Nor would he have let you see the depths of his pain or his grief or his anger. He knew that I knew it was bad, but he would still hide it from me, and from Sam.” He straightened. “He is now, at least, apparently free from the pain and the illness, and his Light appears to strengthen ever more and more.”
“I don’t understand,” Paladin said.
“Did not Master Ferdibrand tell you of our last dinner together, and how afterward we went together to the White Tree?”
“He has mentioned it, but just smiles when we ask about it. What happened?”
The Lord of the White Tree smiled, and looked West across the Shire. Finally he said softly, “Long ago, before the breaking of the world, the Elves of Tol Eressëa brought to the heirs of Elros Tar-Minyatar a seedling from the White Tree that grows on their island. That Tree is itself descended from the Trees of Light that lit Arda in the days of Starlight. Ere the followers of Elendil left Númenor, Isildur took one of the saplings that grew there aboard his ship, and brought it to Middle Earth. At first it was planted in Osgiliath, but after the death of his brother Isildur planted a sapling of that Tree in Minas Anor, the city built by Anárion, in his memory.
“The White Tree is the symbol of the line of Kings, and we are bound to it and it to us. It has a Light of Being to it, and is aware. You can feel the pulse of its life when you touch its bark, and whenever I come to greet and reverence it, I feel it rejoice in my approach. Certainly I feel an--affirmation from it when I touch it.
“Often when I have touched it since Frodo and Bilbo left, I have felt an awareness of them. At first it was just Bilbo, then both of them, and then, late in the first spring, just Frodo. I believe that Bilbo must have died about then. There was a night when I felt him quite strongly. I could not bear to leave the Tree that night. That was the last time I was aware of Bilbo there.
“Since then I am often aware of Frodo. Mostly he is calm, and there is a feeling of happiness and peace. Sometimes there is longing, a deep longing, mostly in the spring. Occasionally I feel laughter. He’s not there every time I go to the Tree, and often weeks will go by without the awareness--and then I will feel him again.
“Master Ferdibrand is one whose gift of seeing the Light of Being is not limited by distance. Perhaps it is because he is physically blind now that his gift is strengthened. I’m not certain. He sent word to Ruvemir after his return to the White City that Frodo’s Light was growing ever brighter.
“While he was in the City, Master Ferdibrand and I were speaking of his gift, and I asked him to look to the West and tell me what he saw of Frodo’s Light, and he said he could not see it, because there was a closer Light of Being that he saw between him and the West that was too bright to allow him to see further. After he described what he perceived, Arwen and I realized he saw the Light of Being of the Tree itself. Then he told me he had been aware of this strange Light as he came and went to and from the Citadel, and that sometimes as he passed he felt he was seeing what he described as a reflection of Frodo’s Light beneath it.”
He was quiet for a time, then finally, softly, described the last night of the visit by the Hobbits, the trip to the Tree, the report by Ferdibrand that he saw the reflection of Frodo’s Light there that night, and the greeting all had done of him through the offices of the White Tree. “I cannot speak for what precisely the others felt, for none of us described what we felt to the rest. I felt Frodo standing beneath a Tree, one far greater than the one we stood under, and I felt he was as awed as we were. The awe in each of us was great enough to be clearly discerned. I felt the fierce joy of greeting, that he’d been waiting for me after the others, that he was as glad and heartened as we were. And I heard his thought in my heart as I felt his love expressed, as he delighted in Melian and wished me joy and fulfillment, and as he thanked me for bringing the others to Gondor for this greeting.”
“I’ve felt his presence since, but only twice. But then we left not all that long after the others did. Both times it was but fleeting, as if it were an acknowledgment of me before he returned to other pursuits.”
“Then, he is most like still alive,” whispered Eglantine.
“Yes.” For several minutes the King remained quiet. Finally he spoke again. “I have felt guilty at times to have called him back from the Gates of Death, only for him to know pain and growing weakness and an inability to fully rejoice in life. But now I know I did aright. He deserves to know joy again before he leaves Arda completely; and to know he is finding it relieves me greatly.”