“To the King of Gondor and Arnor, from the Farozi of Harad...”
It was the eighth day of May, three days after the birth of Eldarion, first son and second child of the Lord Elessar and Lady Arwen, King and Queen of Gondor and Arnor. Rustovrid of Harad, ambassador to Gondor from the Farozi, watched as the guard approached him where he waited near the door to the Citadel of Minas Anor.
“Our Lord Elessar has asked me to bring you to him, Lord Rustovrid. He is working in the herb garden. If you will follow me....”
Rustovrid followed the Man around the Citadel of Gondor. He tried to think of any of the three Farozis he’d known working in an herb garden, and laughed at the idea of it. An’Horubi would have been affronted at the idea, An’Ma’osiri would have been unable to imagine such an activity, and An’Sohrabi would have simply looked at anyone making such a suggestion with such scathing dismissal that the one foolish enough to speak of it would have wilted into the floor. Yet the great King Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar did so regularly. What a difference between rulers!
As they neared the garden he heard a voice singing, singing a song he’d heard but once in his life, many, many years ago in the Valley of the Sun in Harad, one which had made him laugh with the idea of it. He now understood the words, and it was every bit as whimsical as he’d been told then.
As he knelt weeding his herbs, the King of Gondor and Arnor was singing to his daughter and to the other children who either sat nearby or knelt working beside him. Behind him stood his bodyguard, today the Pherian Peregrin Took, his sword Troll’s Bane held at the ready.
“Oh, Miss Mouse, if you will come with me,
Lady of the pond you will surely be.
Soft the mud which will make your bed,
White the lilies to wreathe your head!”
One of the older children of the Pheriannath sang the response from the mouse.
“Live in a pond? Oh, surely not!
Life in the walls shall be our lot.
Soft lint shall we lie on, cotton and silk;
Corn shall we eat, our drink shall be milk.”
Rustovrid stood looking down on the kneeling King with new understanding, his face alight. As the King looked up, he caught the look of recognition and noted it. But he and the girl from among the Pheriannath finished the song between them, and all the children laughed and applauded it as they finished it. A last few weeds were flung into the basket which lay in the midst of them, and the King arose. “Now, go with Mistress Avrieth and see if you can get your own milk and biscuits. I must speak now with Lord Rustovrid.”
The nurse for the King’s children came forward to lift up young Prince Eldarion in his shaded basket which sat by his father, and with a curtsey she carried him off to his mother, followed by the rest of the children. The King wiped his hands on a kerchief he took from his pocket, then indicated the bench Avrieth had just vacated. A page came out with a tray set with a couple of goblets and a flagon and set it on the small table that sat nearby, withdrawing with a bow, accepting the smile of his Lord.
Rustovrid bowed before he sat, and he looked at the Man who sat now beside him, who was courteously pouring out wine for him. “Pardon me for asking, my Lord Elessar, but just how old are you now?”
“Ninety-eight. You look as one who has recovered a memory long treasured but then forgotten.”
“One other time I heard that song, Lord, when I was much of an age with your daughter.”
The King paused, looked on him for a moment, then smiled. “Yes, the small boy has become a worthy Man in his own right.”
“Then you are the one we called Horubi’ninarin?”
“Yes, I am.”
“You bested my father with swords.”
“I have bested many in my life--I have needed to, just to survive.”
“I believe the Farozi will be pleased to see you once again.”
“Does he come here, then?”
“No, my Lord, he does not. He is now old in the ways of our people, and does not seek to leave our land. However, he has sent this, and had asked I translate it.”
“If it is in the writings I learned when I was in your land then there is no need. I learned to read Haradri, you see.”
Rustovrid handed the King of Gondor the missive and watched as the Northerner took out the belt knife to lift the seal, unfastened the ribbon, and ran his eyes over the contents of the scroll. He nodded. “It seems hard to realize at times so long a time has passed since I saw him last.” He straightened. “He wishes me to come to join in the celebration of his seventieth birthday, then.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“I will think on it.” He turned to the Perian on guard. “What think you, Pippin? Would you wish to accompany me to Harad?”
The Hobbit turned his head, interest lighting his eyes, although he remained on guard. “You know, Aragorn, how I’d love to do just that! But what about Diamond and my Faramir? Or Merry?”
“I don’t believe that Merry would wish to go. He has, after all, far less of the Took in him than you or Frodo ever held. But we will discuss it this evening.” He turned to Rustovrid. “Did you tell your lord what I said about saving the life of Sohrabi of Harad many years past?”
“Yes, I did, my Lord.”
“Then he has known for six years whom I have become.”
“I would think so, my Lord.”
“I will discuss it with my advisors this evening, and will give my answer within three days.”
“You’re going where?” asked Merry during dinner.
“To Harad. The Farozi An’Sohrabi has asked me to attend the celebration planned for his seventieth birthday.”
Merry looked at his cousin. “I suppose you’re planning on accompanying him, then.”
Pippin smiled. “Of course, if Diamond will agree.”
Diamond looked at her husband and shook her head in wonder. “I know you wish to go, and it would be a great honor for you to do so, I’m certain. But I don’t wish to be gone from the Shire that much longer. Would you mind, beloved, if I went home with the rest?”
Lord Eregiel smiled. “We will see your wife and son home safely, Captain Peregin, along with the others who are returning.”
“Who will be accompanying you from your guard here?” Merry asked the King.
“Hardorn has already let me know he will do so, as will Mablung and Hildigor.
“I will be going also,” indicated Lord Faramir, “and of course Beregond and Damrod will be attending me.”
“And of course,” Gimli added, “Legolas and I will be going along. Aragorn will be properly attended and well guarded.”
“Will your ladies be attending?” asked Merry.
“I intend to accompany my husband,” the Lady Éowyn announced.
Aragorn looked to his wife with question. Arwen smiled. “I’m not certain how comfortable Avrieth will be, but I do intend, my love, to go with you. And, if I go, the children will go with me. I will not leave them behind.”
Merry thought for some moments. “I don’t think we both ought to go, Pippin. I think I’d best return to the Shire and do what I can to assist Sam. Also, I had indicated that I’d only be gone for four months at most, and this would extend my absence for--how much longer?”
“An additional month at least,” the King indicated.
Merry shook his head. “You don’t mind, do you, Pippin?”
Pippin smiled. “You know I understand, Merry. Estella, that’s fine by you, isn’t it?”
Estella sighed. “He will be miserable with concern for you, sorry the moment he gets home he didn’t go with you, but really doesn’t want to go if I know my Merry.”
Merry laughed. “Yes, my love, you do know me all too well.”
The others looked at one another. There was a low-voiced conversation going in the corner through much of the remains of the meal, and as dessert was served Pearl Took commented, “Bard and I have been talking it over, my Lord Aragorn, and we don’t wish our Thain’s heir not to have a proper escort of his own. Do you mind if he goes, too?”
“You are comfortable with this, Mistress Pearl?”
“Yes. I just don’t want my younger brother to be the only Hobbit attending, and Isumbard is keen to see a bit more of the world, I think.”
The King searched the face of Pippin’s cousin and brother-in-law, who simply straightened and indicated, “It’s been a while since we Tooks saw another of our own off on an adventure. This time I think it will be my turn.”
“If you are certain, it will be an honor to have you come with us.”
The next day the impending trip was discussed with Prince Imrahil and King Éomer, who’d spent the preceding evening with his wife’s family in the house the Lords of Dol Amroth had held in the Fifth Circle for several centuries. Imrahil laughed. “I have no intention of going to Harad, which, I suppose, leaves me in charge here, does it not?”
Éomer and Lothiriel discussed the situation for some time with Prince Faramir and his wife before the young King of Rohan finally indicated, “If you think we will be welcome, brother, we would be glad to see Harad as well.”
And so it was that a party of twenty-five planned to attend the seventieth birthday of the Farozi of Harad.
Three days later those from the North who were not going on the trip to Harad took their leave of the King and Queen and began their trip back toward the Shire, Rivendell, and Annúminas. Merry almost changed his mind, then shook his head. “No, Pippin, I think this time it is your turn to go without me.”
“It will feel odd,” Pippin said. “We’ve almost always been together on our jaunts out of the Shire.”
Arwen and her grandfather held one another close, and Elladan and Elrohir held niece and nephew one last time before they prepared to accompany the party Northwards. Elladan smiled at his foster brother. “The last time you went there your knife fighting stood you in good stead. I hope you’ve not forgotten all we taught you.”
A last series of embraces, and the northward journey was begun; Pippin rode with the King’s party that escorted them to the gate in the Rammas Echor, kissed wife, son, sisters, and beloved cousins one last time, then waited, his face somewhat white, as he watched them draw away. All were quiet on the ride back to the city.
Miriel of Lebennin was working feverishly on light-weight garments for those who would be going south, as were the Lady Arwen, her maids, and Elise wife of Ruvemir. Her husband had included himself amongst those to attend the Farozi’s birthday celebration.
“How will we travel?” Isumbard asked.
“We will go by ship, aboard the Harthad uin Dún.”
Ruvemir gave a sigh of acceptance. “I hope that I do not embarrass myself, my beloved Lord King. I very much fear I am not a good sailor.”
Isumbard looked quite shaken. “We will go upon a ship? Will we sail upon the Sea?”
Aragorn smiled. “It will be much quicker than if we were to go by land, and in the end more comfortable as well. When I went that way before it took us seven days to make the crossing. This time it will be less of a journey, for the Harthad is both bigger and swifter than the merchant ship we sailed upon before. We will not take our horses, for we’ll not need them there.” He examined the Hobbit with compassion. “Would you rather remain here, or be taken north to join the party heading back to the Shire?”
Isumbard took a deep, calming breath, and looked at his cousin and brother-in-law. “You are going to go even on a ship?”
Pippin nodded. “One of our great, great uncles was supposed to have served as a cabin boy on a ship from Gondor, you know. It’s not as if no Hobbit ever went to sea before, after all.”
The King took Bard’s hand and held it reassuringly in his own. “If you will allow it, I can offer you soothing drafts to aid you in making the voyage, or even aid you to sleep through most of it, although you will regret that, I suspect, once you begin hearing the tales this one has to tell.” He looked sideways at Pippin.
Bard nodded. “The draughts would help, I think. But I don’t really want to sleep through the entire voyage, or at least I don’t think I would wish to do so.”
So it was, five days after the majority of those from the North left to return to their own lands, the King and his party went to the Harlond to take ship for Harad.