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20
The Tale of the Ringbearers

The Tale of the Ringbearers

When the summons came for the evening meal, Benai, a blue cloth bound about his brow, a blue sash about his waist into which he’d thrust the long knife from Far Harad Aragorn had carried home with him after his last visit, walked with the others guards of honor and stood behind the Queen’s couch. Even for Harad he appeared now so exotic that he was treated with deference by the slaves and servants of the palace, and the nobles found themselves eyeing him with approval. He stood, his hands on his waist, feet apart, behind the Lady Arwen, his eyes watching all as did the Lord Hildigor, who stood as the King’s guard that night, or Haleth behind the couches for the King and Queen of Rohan, or Beregond behind Faramir and Éowyn.

Discussions this night centered on the coming festival set for the Farozi’s birthday and how it was to be organized. Tonight the small Princess Melian had been allowed to attend the meal, along with Rustovrid and Ghansaret’s daughters and the Farozi’s grandsons and granddaughter. Each was to be allowed to take part in the procession, and the twins were very excited about their part in it, to walk one before and one behind their grandfather carrying torches.

After the meal the party rose and moved to the other end of the room where all could mingle more informally. The Farozi sat in his great chair, while his royal guests sat on couches in couples, their guards behind them, the rest of the company about them. The Farozi spoke. “You had promised that this day we should hear the tale of how the Death Eater was cast down, my Lord An’Elessar. Will you tell it now?”

The King of Gondor looked levelly at the Farozi and slowly nodded his head. “Yes, we will tell you; but we warn you it is a long tale, and somewhat complicated.” He turned. “Captain Peregrin, will you come forward, please?”

Pippin, who as he was not on guard tonight had dressed in a tunic of figured green rather than his livery, came from his place by his cousin and the Lady Anidril, who’d been translating, to stand at the King’s hand. “Yes, my Lord King?”

“As this is as much your tale as mine, I would have your aid in telling it.”

“As you wish, my Lord.” He bowed deeply.

The King turned to Legolas. “Will you please translate into Adunaic, Legolas?” At the Elf’s nod, he turned to Lord Amrahil. “If you will translate into Westron, or from Westron to Haradri when it is needed, my Lord....” Again, with the agreement of the Ambassador, he gave a sigh, bowed his head for a moment, then raised it.

“It begins, my lords and ladies, with the story of Seti, which most of you know, how for the sake of Osiri the rest of the gods came to throw Seti down and cast him out. In the Northlands we name them differently, and the stories of how the Valar came to fight Morgoth is told somewhat differently as well, but it comes to the same thing.

“He whom you called the Death Eater we called Sauron, the Accursed....”

And so the story was told. Servants came and went, brought wine and juices, plates of cakes and pastes of fowl and fish on thin bread baked crisp. Sometimes Aragorn spoke, sometimes Pippin, and sometimes the Lady Arwen as the oldest one present, who knew much seen through the eyes of her grandparents and father.

Éomer and Éowyn described the coming of the Three Hunters with Gandalf to Edoras, then the fight at Helm’s Deep, the parley with Saruman, the despair of Éowyn and her taking Pippin’s beloved cousin before her on her horse as she rode, disguised as a Rider in the murk of the Enemy’s cloud of ash, amongst the forces of Rohan to the lifting of the siege of Minas Tirith and the destruction of the Lord of the Nazgul.

Hardorn told of the ride of the Grey Company to Rohan in search of their kinsman and Lord, and the ride through the Paths of the Dead, the taking of the fleet of Umbar, and the sail up the River to finish the Battle of the Fields of the Pelennor.

Pippin related the crossing of the Dead Marshes, the crossing into Mordor, and the climb up Mount Doom as written by Frodo and as described further by Sam. Faramir told of meeting Frodo and Sam within Ithilien, the realization of the nature of Frodo’s burden, and the decision to aid him as he could. Aragorn spoke of the flight of the Istari on the back of the great Eagle Gwaihir to seek the Ringbearers in the ruins of the Mountain. Gimli spoke of the finding of Pippin beneath the body of the great troll he’d killed, Beregond of seeing his death in the troll’s face, and his realization Pippin had saved him, but at the cost of having been crushed by the troll’s fall.

Aragorn spoke at last of the healing of the Ringbearers, the realization that the healing of Frodo was physical only and tenuous at best, of the nightmares all four of the Hobbits endured and continued to endure from time to time as a result of their experiences.

Then Pippin described their return home, the Scouring of the Shire, the selection of Frodo to serve for the Mayor, the relinquishment of the office after only a few months, the final fifteen months of increasing discomfort his cousin endured, his final decision to leave Middle Earth altogether. He described the ride to the Havens as Sam had described it in the Red Book. “Of course, it wasn’t all that simple, or so Sam will now admit, who was beside him along the way. Frodo was once again approaching death, and he knew it. He didn’t speak when we arrived at the Havens--I don’t think he could do so at that point. He embraced us and kissed us, but said not a word--finally went aboard the ship, and it sailed West. Our Lady Arwen’s father sailed with him, and her grandmother, the Lady Galadriel, and many others of the greatest Elves who had remained in Middle Earth. Now so few remain--Lord Celeborn, the sons of Elrond, Lord Glorfindel, King Thranduil who is Prince Legolas’s father and many of his people, Círdan at the Havens who builds the greatest of the Elven ships--some few others.”

The King Elessar finally took up the tale, one arm about his wife. “The Third Age of Middle Earth is over, and with it passes the Eldar Days. Now is the Time of Men truly upon the mortal lands of Arda, and it is up to us to decide whether we will follow the lead of most of the Elves and deal well with the world and one another, or whether we will continue to follow the policies of Mordor, and before it Angband.”

The solemnity of each one who added to the tale impressed all, and Ankhrabi found himself again examining the King of Gondor and Arnor anew in light of what he’d just learned. No, he’d not been King long, but he’d been preparing for his accession for over sixty years, had indeed fought Mordor and its creatures and policies for all that time....

And the respect they felt toward the Hobbit warrior was now openly expressed, along with the grief all seemed to feel for this Frodo.

Ankhrabi turned to the dwarfling sculptor. “What is your place in all this?” he asked.

Ruvemir laughed as the question was translated. “Six years ago I was finishing up sculptures of Prince Adrahil of Dol Amroth and the mysterious Lord Captain Thorongil for the city of Casistir, and Prince Adrahil’s son Prince Imrahil rode with a party from the capitol into Casistir, including one very tall individual cloaked in the black and silver of the King’s service. None in Casistir had seen the King before, and so we all thought this one was but an officer under the new King. Garbed as a Ranger of Arnor, he came to me the next morning to offer me a new commission, to do a memorial for his friend who’d left Middle Earth. And--and so it started.

“It took me some weeks to realize this was the King himself, and that the subject of the memorial was the Lord Frodo Baggins of the Pheriannath. And so I was sent to the land of the Shire to meet Captain Peregrin, Sir Meriadoc, and Lord Samwise, and to learn all I could of them and the beloved Lord Frodo so I could complete my memorial. It stands now before the Citadel of Minas Anor, before the Court of the White Tree. I’ve done others now near Mithlond and in Annúminas, the Northern capitol. But my love and admiration for the Hobbits of the Shire has grown each time I must meet with them. I regret I never had the chance to know Lord Frodo himself, but am glad I’ve had the chance to know and come to honor and respect the other three and their families.”

Lord Sherfiramun stood up, shaking his head with disgust. “I went with the troops that were sent to serve the Death Eater. I have seen trolls. How can this one have killed such a beast? They are two to three times the size of a tall Man!”

At the translation of that, the Hobbit Peregrin’s face went stark white, and his body rigid with shock.

The Farozi looked at his niece’s husband. “You doubt the testimony of those who were there? You doubt the testimony of the Dwarf that he rolled the body of the thing off of the Hobbit?”

“How can I believe such things? How can I believe the tales of being carried by orcs across Rohan, of beatings? Orcs do not leave such weak prey alive! They will kill and eat those they capture!”

“Not,” the King Elessar said, “if their orders from the highest of their masters were to bring them halflings alive and unspoiled.” He stood now. “I myself put Pippin’s hip back into its socket, wrapped his chest, reinflated one lung. I called him back from death, as I called back Lord Faramir, Lady Éowyn, Merry, Sam, and Frodo himself, not to mention many, many others after both battles.”

But Pippin was stepping forward, his face very pale. “Do you doubt everyone’s word? Almost the last thing I remember of the battle was the black blood of that thing pouring over me as it started to fall, then the call that the Eagles were coming, and the realization I was probably dead.”

Sherfiramun looked down at him. “How am I to believe it all? All we have are the words of these, and how do we know they are not making fools of us? You are no warrior for all you carry a sword.”

The Lady Éowyn stood up, her own face set, once his words had been translated for her. “Did you not see him spar with me this morning? Or do you think that the sparring was only in jest?”

“Let me see the scars of the wounds he tells of,” Sherfiramun said coldly. “How can I tell the skill of one who will spar with women?”

All those in the King’s party straightened at the insult. Lord Mablung stood now. “I would have sparred with her, my Lord. I only changed partners because you challenged those of our party, and I was the one Man available who had not yet sparred with others. I have sparred with Princess Éowyn many times in the past ten years, and I tell you she is a worthy opponent who has managed to disarm me several times.” The King translated this, and Ankhrabi nodded his surety that the King had translated truly.

Pippin took another step forward. “You wish to see my scars? I didn’t even show my family my scars for over two years after the battle. But if you must see them....” He reached up to slip the tunic over his head, and his fingers were trembling with his anger.

“No, Pippin,” the King said. “You do not have to prove yourself to anyone.”

The Hobbit looked at his King. “If they doubt my honor and honesty, Aragorn, are they going to believe anything else you tell them?”

King and Hobbit looked at one another for several moments, and then the King went down on one knee, reached out and helped Pippin out of his tunic and the soft shirt he wore beneath it. He rose and stood aside, and said quietly, “You do not know what you have asked of this one. Hobbits, unlike Men, are not proud of the scars they have earned in battle. But I tell you this--every scar he bears is an honorable one.”

Lord Amrahil translated that to Westron, and Pippin shook his head. “Except the one on my lower right leg on my calf, the one where I tore my leg on a fence fleeing Farmer Maggot’s dogs when I was a very stupid teen.” Pippin’s voice was even, and suddenly all in the King’s party were laughing, and even the King himself smiled as he translated what the Hobbit had said to Haradri.

The Farozi stood and walked to the side of Lord Sherfiramun. “Well, my Lord, you have demanded to see his scars, and he bares them to you. I will go forward, also, and see them as well, and bear witness you have seen the scars described.”

The whip scars could clearly be seen on Pippin’s lower back above his trousers and the lower legs below the trousers’ cuffs. The scars where his hands had been tied could be seen still, although those on his ankles were clearer. There were the nicks of one who trains with swords on his torso and arm, and the development of his right arm and shoulder was that of a swordsman as well. But clearest were the knobs on his chest where his broken ribs had healed. The Farozi gently touched these, ran his hand down the Hobbit’s chest, looked deeply into his eyes. He then straightened.

“You have spoken truly, Captain Peregrin. I no longer doubt your word.” He returned to his chair and sat again. He looked at Sherfiramun. “Well, Sherfiramun, are you satisfied as well?”

The King again knelt to assist the Hobbit to dress. No longer was Pippin shaking--indeed he was quite still, his face still set. When his tunic was again in place, he turned to face the court. “Of the four of us, I have the fewest scars. Merry has one on his forehead, which he hides by letting his hair grow longer over it. For years after we went home, every time anyone mentioned Black Riders or Nazgul his right arm would go numb and physically cold. It was rather eerie. It still does that from time to time, mostly when he is very tired or stressed. I believe the Lady Éowyn can tell you a similar tale.” That Lady nodded her head.

“Sam has a couple on his forehead, and another on his temple. He’s the only one of us who wasn’t bound at one time or another, so he doesn’t have any rope marks anywhere; but he was beaten, and when they found him his lower legs and the palms of his hands and his wrists were all torn up from crawling on the rough stone on the side of Mount Doom. Gandalf brought me a bit of it Aragorn took out of one of Sam’s wounds below his knee. It was black and very rough.” The King nodded. “He has bite marks on both shoulders from when Gollum bit him and tried to get to his throat to tear it out. Gollum bit him ten years ago now, yet he still has the scars to this day. The whip weals on his backside and legs have faded more than mine have, but you can still see and feel them.

“But Frodo--Frodo had the worst. He’d been tied as tightly as we had, and he’d apparently struggled the most. They beat him on his back trying to find out why he was going into Mordor--it was awful, looking at his back while he was recovering. He had the scar where he was stabbed by the Morgul knife on his shoulder. When he and Sam were caught and forced to run with the orcs through Mordor the slave driver whipped him repeatedly on his legs, too, like they did Merry and me in Rohan. Seems to be a favorite thing for the troop drivers to do--keep the slower ones running in fear of being whipped. Sam had at least seven lash marks on his legs--Frodo was evidently slower--I couldn’t count them all.”

The King interrupted here. “Frodo had fourteen.”

The Farozi looked at him, surprised. “You counted?”

Aragorn stood very straight. “I was the one who tended to his wounds the most--yes, I counted. He had indications of having been struck at least five lashes with a whip with multiple cords across his back and side. We assume that occurred in the Tower of Cirith Ungol. He had bite marks from having been poisoned by the great spider that guards that pass. Where the chain on which he wore the Ring bit into his skin was a long line of a wound, as if it had been pulled deliberately into his neck and shoulders. He and Sam both swore this was due to the weight of the thing, which grew heavier and heavier as they traveled closer and closer to the Mountain where It was forged. Where the Ring lay against his chest it was like a great burn. I have never seen such in my life. Both Sam and Frodo were burned repeatedly by falling ash from the volcano. Both had crawled up Orodruin, although Frodo collapsed partway up and had to be carried most of the way by Sam.

“Had they been Men, they’d have died probably long before they made it to the Mountain. But Hobbits are hardier than Men are--so we have learned through experience.”

“And then,” said the Hobbit Isumbard, “there was where his finger had been bitten off.” It was the first time this Hobbit had spoken in this conversation, and all turned to him with interest. “He would try to hide it, but we could see it was missing if we really watched. Most of the time no one noticed, though. Then one day I found myself holding that hand, felt the scar. What Frodo went through out here in the outer world scoured him to the core of him. It took the most wonderful, intelligent, responsible, delightful Hobbit ever born to the Shire and emptied him of his innocence and his joy. The last time I saw him----” He shook his head, pain in his eyes, obviously unable to finish. Finally he said softly, “He apparently almost died several times after he left the Shire. And he almost did again before he left it the last time.”

“He is a lord among your people?”

Isumbard snorted when he understood the question. “Most of the folk in the Shire have no idea what he did out here. He couldn’t speak of it most of the time. I think it must have been almost all he could do to write about it, and I still haven’t had the chance to read the story, although the Thain has read it, of course.

“We don’t have nobles in the Shire. We have family heads, the Thain, the Master, and the Mayor. That is it. For those of us who know what happened out here, mostly family members of the four, we honor Frodo and Sam as the Lords they are to the rest of the Free Peoples. But most folk, when they look at Sam, they see just the Mayor, the master of Bag End, and the best gardener ever born anywhere. Frodo was head of the Baggins family and master of Bag End for nineteen years, and acting Mayor for eight months. What else he did for the Shire all during his life there few know; and fewer care what he did while he was gone. Although more now are coming to understand what they did--what Frodo did for all of us.”

The Dwarf now spoke. “Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee were made Lords of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth by acclamation by representatives of all races. The King first made the open acclamation, and we Dwarves have ratified it.”

Legolas stood straight and tall. “The Elves of the Great Woodland Realm have ratified it.”

“Those of Imladris, the Golden Wood, Mithlond, and the wandering tribes as well,” said the Queen, her head held high.

“We Dúnedain of the North recognize it,” said Lord Berevrion.

“As do we of the South,” added Lord Amrahil.

“And those of the White City and surrounding lands,” Faramir avowed.

King Éomer stood proudly. “We of Rohan have also ratified it, as have the Ents of Fangorn Forest.”

“The Great Eagles have also proclaimed it,” added Legolas, “and the first to offer them honor was one of the Istari, who were sent to Middle Earth to teach us to stand against Sauron.”

Pippin nodded. “Yes, Gandalf honored them, as does Radagast. We still don’t know what happened to the two blue Wizards who went East, do we?”

The King shook his head. “No, we don’t.” He turned to Sherfiramun. “We would not be able to speak today if Frodo and Sam hadn’t done as they did, offering themselves for all. I would still possibly be alive, but in no condition to speak coherently. Sauron would have loved to have taken me captive. He certainly tried often enough to have me killed or captured, both when I was but a baby and he had an idea of who I was and what I might be one day, and when I was but the name of a captain in Eriador, the ruins of Arnor, in Rohan, or in Gondor; or when I was described as a tracker out of the Northwestern wilderness. Now, you have doubted Pippin’s word. One thing you should know is that Hobbits don’t often lie, unless they are seeking to hide a stand of mushrooms they’ve discovered. As this matter has nothing to do with mushrooms, I can assure you he is not lying.”

He sighed and sat again by his wife. “That, my friends, is the story of how Sauron was defeated. You may accept it or not as you please; but if you come North this is what you will hear.”

The Lady Arwen then spoke. “One thing alone I will add--my father forbade my beloved husband to pursue his love for me unless he should become King of Gondor and Arnor. Then and only then would he be allowed to marry me, or I him. For no less a person would my father allow me to give up my Elven birthright. Were it not for Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, I would not remain in Middle Earth to sit in your court this day.”

After that all sat quite still and quiet for some time. Finally the Farozi rose. “You were right, An’Elessar--this was a most long and complicated story. You and your people have given us much to think about. I believe it is now time for us to retire and rest, for much of tomorrow will be given to the priests and priestesses who will direct the celebration. I wish you all a good night.”

All rose and bowed deeply as he withdrew to his quarters, and afterwards the rest went back to their own quarters, all very thoughtful.

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