After a dinner all praised that night, an evening of song and tales was proposed, and so they gathered at the other end of the hall of entertainment and called upon various ones to sing. The children of Ankhrabi and Nefiramonrani were there, and the King sent for the Lady Avrieth to bring the children of the Northern party there also. When they had come, it was asked what song all wished to hear. And so it was that the grandchildren of the Farozi opened the evening with a song in praise of Neryet, often sung when children were put to bed to lull them to sleep. The Elf Legolas responded with a hymn to Elbereth, one Pippin had heard first in the wilds of the Shire.
Seeing the sadness in Pippin’s face, the Farozi asked, “What is it that grieves you so, Captain Peregrin?”
“I was remembering the first time I heard that, my Lord,” murmured the Hobbit. “It’s a sweet grief, though a grief it is.”
“What happened that time?”
And so, simply, Pippin recounted the night he, Sam, and Frodo had left Bag End, the realization the following day they were being followed by Black Riders, how one had approached where they were hiding in the sunset hours and how it was driven away by the singing of Gildor Inglorien and his folk, how Frodo had finally told afterwards of the mad compulsion he suddenly felt to put the Ring upon his finger.
“He didn’t realize till later that the Ring had sensed the coming of Its Master’s darkest servants, that It Itself was trying to get him to do this to reveal It to them so It could be found and reunited with Sauron.” He shivered, looking off into the distance.
“What were they?” asked Nefiramonrani.
Pippin had looked at her, his face far too stern for a Hobbit. “They were the Nazgul, Lady.”
The King added, "The ones you knew as the Dark Ones." Her face blanched.
Pippin looked off again. “Sauron had never given us Hobbits much thought for so long--he never even thought to have a Ring made to try to control us. But, then, how could we be expected to be taken seriously by such as he?” he asked, looking again into her face. “His chief Nazgul had thought our land destroyed along with the kingdom of Arthedain at the last. He’d driven Arvedui North, and his ship foundered in the ice after he thought he was rescued, and he was lost. His wife and son and the bulk of his forces were helped across the Shire by our folk, and the hosts of Angmar followed them, setting fires to those of our homes and fields they could recognize as they came.” He sighed. “Gondor came then, but too late to truly save the North Kingdom--too late for Arvedui; and his son wouldn't call himself a king any more, as there was no North Kingdom to speak of left. It was written down afterwards what had happened and how we Hobbits of the Shire had helped, and copies of the records given to our folk; and I finally found them, hidden in the vaults of our archives. None of the Thains have sought them out for generations, not for over seven hundred years, from what I can tell. We preferred the tales of things we knew hadn’t happened, or had happened to other peoples.” He shook his head and looked to the floor. “And we forgot, along with everyone else, what Mordor was and what it could do, and so were vulnerable when Saruman came.”
Never had the Farozi and his son seen such solemnity in the Hobbit Captain. Pippin straightened and looked steadfastly in front of him. “We won’t forget again,” he said with purpose. “We won’t be so vulnerable again. A knowledge that evil is there and that we are vulnerable is needed if we are to be kept from being taken again by such as Saruman and his folk, if we are to keep the Lothos from rising from within our fields.”
“How will you make certain that you don’t forget?” asked Ankhrabi, fascinated by this glance into another world hidden within his own.
The Hobbit gave a one-sided smile. “I’m the Thain’s heir and will be Thain myself all too soon, I fear, and a Captain in the King’s guard. Merry’s now Master of Buckland and a knight of Rohan, and Sam’s now Mayor of the Shire and the King’s Friend. The schools Frodo endowed are established, and they are spreading into even the furthest villages. Our children are learning more than how to plant, manage, and harvest our crops, more than how to dig smials and raise barns, prepare meals, and distinguish between edible and poisonous mushrooms, my Lord. The Hobbits of the Shire are realizing there is more to the world than us and the Breelands and the hints of other things and peoples far away. We are once again part of Arnor and Gondor, are privy to the councils of kings.
“Sam, Merry and I--we’ll see to it that the schools must teach the history of all of Middle Earth so we don’t again grow complacent, certain the rest of the world will be willing to ignore our small corner of it. Those who aren’t aware evil is and can be made manifest are always its first and worst victims.”
Ankhsarani objected, “But Mordor is fallen, and cannot touch us again.”
The Hobbit looked at her with eyes that were too wise from experience. “Do you think, Lady Ankhsarani, that the voice of Morgoth doesn’t still whisper in the hearts of those of us who live in Middle Earth? Merdirion wore Sauron’s ring--such a little thing, and it rang in his heart which grew empty to all else. But you don’t need gifts of rings to desire power over others. No one gave anything like that to Lotho, after all.”
To break the solemnity, Haleth of Rohan started a song about horses and the wind, in which An’Éomer, his sister, wife, and envoy joined, with the Lord An’Elessar joining in the chorus. When it was done, the King said thoughtfully, “Gandalf warned us that Sauron, great as he made himself at the expense of all others, was yet but an emissary himself, began and remained ever the servant of Morgoth. Even though he has been exiled beyond the Gates of Night, yet Morgoth would enter into Middle Earth again if he is allowed but the smallest gateway. Well, my friends, the smallest gateway is through the greed to which we are all vulnerable.”
King Éomer nodded slowly. “We are told that Saruman came from the West with Gandalf and Radagast to help us ward against Sauron and the threat he posed. Yet he studied Mordor too deeply, and sought first to emulate the Nameless One as the Dark Lord had sought to emulate Morgoth, then came to the point of seeking to take his place.
“My sister and I--we saw what Saruman did to our uncle and King, what he sought to do to all our land; and then when they returned to their own land Merry and Pippin, Sam and Frodo found he’d fled there and sought to again poison and destroy, taking their Lotho as he’d taken Gríma, using each as his agent, not recognizing he was but himself Sauron’s agent, and that of Morgoth in the end.”
Pippin shivered. “It was bad enough seeing what Saruman and Lotho had done to the Shire--the houses burnt and the holes dug out, trees murdered and fields and vineyards ravaged and laid low, the spirits of our folk beginning to be corrupted. And then--then we saw his end, like what the King and others told us of watching the end of Sauron, but as if reflected in a bent mirror, small and petty. To imagine what it must have been like when the Valar themselves came to Middle Earth to throw down Angband----” He shuddered once more, and shook his head. “Listening to the voice of Saruman there in Isengard and later in the Shire, seeing the envy and hatred that was all he had left to him, once the symbols of the power he’d thought his by right were washed away and exposed as empty and bare, then comparing that to the mind of Sauron--he never realized just how petty he was. I wonder if Sauron had any idea he was to Morgoth as Saruman was to himself? None of them capable of anything but lust and envy and fear and hatred any more, but each only a shadow of the one before him?”
“How do you know what the mind of Sauron was like?” asked Lord Afraim.
The Hobbit looked up at him as though what he said next was but a triviality. “He showed it to me, in the Palantir.”
Aragorn rose and crossed to Pippin, stood behind him, placed his left hand on Pippin’s left shoulder, his right on his head. He looked at the Haradri Lord. “Six of his people had the experience of hearing the echoes of Sauron’s mind. Pippin looked into one of the remaining three Seeing Stones from Númenor while Sauron held another, and Sauron could not hide all his thought from this one. Merry twice suffered from the Black Breath, the last time as he stabbed the Witch King of Angmar behind the knee with the mate to the sword Pippin carries, and felt the hatred and overweening pride of him, for the Ringwraiths had become only extensions of Sauron’s will in the end. Frodo and Sam carried the Ring awakened, and before them Bilbo carried It quiescent for sixty-one years while Gollum had carried it five hundred years since the day It was first found again at the bottom of the Anduin where Isildur had lost It. For far too long had Gollum carried it to remain unaware of the dreams the Ring still held and offered, those dreams being ever those of Sauron himself; and Bilbo was himself close to being taken by It as had happened with Gollum when he finally left It to Frodo at Gandalf’s insistence.”
Pippin twisted to look up at the Man standing over him. “Sam said that Bilbo was the only one to give It up voluntarily, that only because Frodo snatched It from him could he let It go.”
“In that case, then in reality none did so, for Bilbo was close to pocketing It again when he dropped It. It was Gandalf who scooped It from the floor and placed It on the mantelpiece--Bilbo admitted this to me himself, and Gandalf’s story was the same.”
Isumbard said, after a little thought, “Then, in reality the only one who ever willingly gave up the Ring from his possession was Gandalf himself, for he held It then.”
Pippin laughed, suddenly delighted, his light-heartedness restored. “Which shows he was greater than Sauron in the end--for he gave It up twice! He also threw It into the parlor fire in Bag End to reveal the fire lettering of the Ringspell Sauron wrote on It, then pulled It from the hearth with the fire tongs and gave It to Frodo to look to see if the heat was enough to reveal them. And then, realizing how easy it would be to begin guiding us to our best interests in spite of ourselves, he left Middle Earth with Frodo so he wouldn’t be tempted to stay and find himself becoming as bad as Sauron in the end.” He laughed in sheer relief. “Ah, if I’d have had to follow one of the Istari, it would ever have been Gandalf!”
Isumbard smiled. “Sounds as if you did, Pippin.” Peals of Hobbit laughter filled the room.
Pippin began to sing as the King took his place by his wife again, singing a portion of the Lay of Frodo of the Nine Fingers, the exultant portion from its ending, and the King and Legolas sang it with him.
When they were done, Ma’osiri asked, “What does eglerio mean?”
The King smiled. “Praise them.”
Pippin said, “Frodo and Sam.”
The boy’s father answered, “For carrying the Ring of the Death Easter to Mordor to its destruction so that he is no more.” He reached down and lifted his son, as big as he now was, into his lap protectively. “You do not grow up with the fear we knew, best beloved, because of what they did.” He held the boy close to him, the boy’s head against his shoulder. “I so rejoice this is so. I am so grateful.”
Nefirnerini leaned against her mother. “I remember the day the red temple fell, the moment when it seemed lifted up above all others, and then it sank. We watched from the wall. And I remember Babari singing with joy.” She turned to Pippin. “Did you sing with joy?”
He laughed when the question was translated. “No, I didn’t--I was busy being terrified and struck dumb with grief at first, for the Enemy tried to convince us Frodo had been captured and was being tortured; then we were fighting, and then I don’t remember much of anything else from the day because I was unconscious underneath a troll.”
Once he understood what the Hobbit had said, Amon’osiri said, “That was a foolish place to hide, under a troll. Sherfiramun told me they are huge--almost as big as a mumak.”
“Oh, I saw the oliphaunts from the walls of Minas Tirith, and I can assure you a troll is nowhere near as big. However, he was right--they are very still very big, especially compared to a Hobbit. And I wasn’t hiding--it fell on me when it died.”
His father looked down on Amon’osiri and explained, “He killed it when it tried to kill his comrade.”
“Oh!” The eyes of both boys widened, and they gave the Hobbit captain a look of deep respect.
There was a short time when all were quiet, and then the King began to sing the Lay of Lúthien, with the Queen joining in. Their eyes were often on one another as they sang, and the love was clearly expressed between them. The King had his son now cradled in one arm as he sang, his other about his wife. When at last they were done, he smiled at her for quite a time, his eyes full of wonder. “I still marvel, that after an Age of Middle Earth, you would choose me, beloved. You could have gone to Aman with your father and been reunited with your mother and so many others, or chosen any among your father’s people, and have known bliss that lasted as long as Arda.”
“We do not choose those who stir our hearts, Estel,” she answered. “Of what use is immortality if it is without the fulfillment of loving the proper person given us by Iluvatar?”
He sighed, smiled again, and kissed her tenderly, murmuring quietly to her in Quenya.
Master Ruvemir at that moment gave a grunt of satisfaction and set down the cloth with which he’d been polishing his figure. The Farozi looked over at him with interest. “Is it finished, then?” he asked in accented Westron.
The small sculptor, his expression now rather serious, nodded, looking at the work he held in his hands. He stood slowly, and leaning on his cane he came forward to present it to the Farozi for his examination.
The figure was now complete indeed. The Hobbit stood upon grass in which small flowers bloomed about his bare feet with the indication of hair on the tops of them. He wore trousers similar to those worn by the two Hobbits who were guests of the palace at this time, a shirt with loose sleeves and cuffs fastened with some form of jewel; and over the shirt were straps from the back of his trousers up to where they crossed, then over the shoulders and down again to the front of them. Under his right arm he carried a large book. He stood comfortably, the left foot slightly forward of the other, his face turned just slightly as if he’d just been called by name, that smile beginning on his lips.
The Farozi turned it over in his hands with interest, fascinated by the detail in it. He then gave it into the free hand of his son, who held it where he and Ma’osiri could both examine it. The boy’s eyes grew wide with surprise, and held out his own hands for it, then gently turned it around and around to look at it from all sides. He handed it to his brother, who did the same; he handed it to his sister, who passed it to her mother, who gave it in turn to her sister.... And so it went from one to another throughout the room.
Ankhsarani asked, “This is not an image of you, Captain Peregrin?”
Catching the gist of the question, Pippin didn’t wait for translation. “No, not of me, or Isumbard. It is of our cousin Frodo--Frodo Baggins.”
“Why didn’t he come with you?” asked Nefirnerini.
Pippin’s face grew quiet. “He is no longer in Middle Earth, my Lady. Carrying the Enemy’s Ring hurt him, hurt him very, very badly. He was also severely wounded several times while we were on our journey. That he lived at all is the miracle.” He reached out to accept the figure, which now had come to him. A small, sad smile played across his face. He examined the right hand which held the book. “You did this of him before the quest, then,” he said, looking up at Master Ruvemir.
The sculptor nodded. “Yes, I did.”
“This is the figure you intend to give Merry, then?”
“Who’s Merry?” asked Amon’osiri.
“Another of our cousins. My first cousin. His mum is my da’s sister. His da was nephew to Frodo’s mother. After Frodo’s mum and da died in an accident, Frodo stayed with Merry’s mum and da for several years in Brandy Hall, even though they were Brandybucks and he was a Baggins. Frodo lived there when Merry was born, and it was as though Merry was his little brother. He’d have done anything for Merry, he would.
“Then another of our cousins, our Cousin Bilbo Baggins, decided it was time for him to become Frodo’s guardian. He was family head for the Bagginses, after all, and he’d thought perhaps to take Frodo earlier, but Aunt Esmeralda and Uncle Saradoc wouldn’t let him go. Now they finally agreed. I was born a few months later, and Merry was there for me as Frodo had been there for him.
“I have three older sisters, but no brothers of my own. Maybe if my folks had chosen to live in the Great Smial it would have been different; but because we lived on the farm instead for most of the year, I became closer to Merry than to my proper Took cousins. Merry felt I was the little brother he’d always wanted; and so Frodo, who was almost a grownup by then, treated me like his baby brother, too.”
He sighed, and handed the little statue to Isumbard. “Bilbo was much older than any of us, and older even than our parents. He didn’t look it, though, and no one could understand why, not even Bilbo himself. They used to call him Old Mad Baggins, because he’d stopped worrying what the neighbors thought of what he said or did. When he was fifty a group of Dwarves came to the Shire, one of them Master Gloin, Gimli’s father.” He nodded toward the Dwarf. “They wanted to go to the mountain where their people used to live until a dragon came to take it away from them, where they hoped to get back part of the treasure the dragon stole from them; but they needed someone sneaky and quiet to go with them to act as a scout and burglar. Gandalf the Wizard told them Bilbo could do it, and he ended up going with them.
“While they were traveling Bilbo found a magic ring that could make him invisible when he put it on, so he kept it. He never thought to ask anyone where it might have come from. He had no idea it was what was making him stay young looking.”
He looked at the girl. “Even though we’re smaller than Men, we age more slowly. We aren’t grown up until we’re about thirty-three, and we usually live to be around a hundred. When Bilbo turned eleventy-one he still didn’t look old. He looked younger than my da, in fact. He didn’t look old, but he was starting to feel old. He decided to leave the Shire again, and he did, for Frodo had just come of age and could inherit Bag End, which is the name of his home. So he left, and named Frodo family head after him; and Gandalf the Wizard convinced him to leave the Ring behind for Frodo, too.”
Again the story of the Ring was told, in simpler, more intimate terms this time, while the small figure was passed from hand to hand and all examined it.
“When the Ring finally went into the Fire in Mount Doom, Sam got Frodo out of there. They got onto a little hill and then were stuck there, as the volcano was tearing itself to pieces and they couldn’t escape. They thought they were dead at last.
“Gandalf and the Eagles found them and brought them to safety and to the King, and he brought them to the field of Cormallen in Ithilien until they awoke. All of us who were hurt in the last battle were brought there. Gimli found me and Captain Beregond.” He indicated one of the two guards of honor in the white livery. “We were both trapped under the troll, and a few others as well. Beregond was the friend the troll was trying to kill when I killed it.”
He sighed, and looked at where the figure had been passed to Beregond, who examined it, his attitude as if he were all but saluting the little statue. “Aragorn kept Frodo in healing sleep for two weeks. He was so much better when he woke, but he would never really be well again. At last he was allowed to leave Middle Earth with our Lady Queen’s father and grandmother and go to Tol Eressëa, the island that is now the entrance to the Undying Lands, to spend the rest of his life there. They can give him the healing there he couldn’t find here, healing for both his body and his spirit. We miss him. We miss him terribly. But we are glad he was granted the grace. He was tearing himself apart every day he stayed in Middle Earth, and he hurt so, so much of the time.”
“Why was he tearing himself apart?” asked Lady Nefiramonrani.
Isumbard answered her. “Guilt. In the end he couldn’t either throw the Ring into the Fire, or jump in with It. It took him at last, there in Orodruin itself. Gollum finally left his home under the mountains to go find the Ring again, and he followed Frodo and Sam all the way to Mount Doom. He knocked Sam on the side of the head with a rock and stunned him, then attacked Frodo. He bit Frodo’s finger off to get the Ring back, but he was too close to the edge of the platform over the Fire, and he fell into it, taking the Ring with him.”
He shook his head, looked at where Berevrion now held the statue before he passed it on to Lord Afraim. “He felt guilty because he felt he should have taken the Ring into the fire instead of Gollum, and because he still felt that he shouldn’t have let It take him. He felt guilty so many died because it took him so long to get there while he’d managed somehow to survive. He felt guilty because the Ring had taught him to feel guilty--guilty about everything. He felt guilty because when he got back he found that our country had been taken over by his own cousin Lotho and an evil wizard while he was gone, and if he’d only come faster he might have stopped at least the wizard from hurting us. And he felt guilty because, in spite of knowing what It was at the last, in spite of working so hard to get to the Mountain so It could be destroyed, he found he still wanted It. It had wound Itself so closely into his mind that it was like a part of him went into the Fire with It. And he felt guilty--just because he knew he shouldn’t feel guilty!”
Lord Ghants’pa’amon had accepted the figure, was turning it over. Ruvemir had returned to his seat and now had out one of his sketch booklets, was drawing rapidly in between glancing to see the progress of the statue around the room.
“What was it you sang earlier?” asked Nefirnerini.
Pippin smiled. “It’s part of the Lay of Frodo of the Nine Fingers, which was written by one of the bards of Gondor. It was sung for Frodo and Sam when they first awoke and were brought to be shown to all those who’d gathered there in Cormallen. It tells the story of the quest, and how Frodo became Frodo of the Nine Fingers. Sam was thrilled to hear it, and Frodo was so glad for Sam to be able to hear it.”
“Wasn’t he glad to hear it, too?”
Pippin shook his head slowly. “No, not really. I don’t think he’d fully taken in that he was still alive after all--and then--then, he felt guilty.” His smile was twisted.
The King added sadly, “We found that the Ring was as much a burden after It was gone as when he carried It on a chain about his neck through Mordor itself. I hated the thought of It, when I was a child and must first learn of It, of how it sundered Gondor and Arnor and betrayed my ancestor Isildur to his death; but as I saw what It did to Frodo and Boromir--” his voice became filled with a rage even more terrible to realize because it was so extraordinarily controlled, “--I came to bear for It a hatred beyond passion, and an even greater one for he who wrought It an age and a half ago. It was no longer an idea in my mind, for now I saw, with my own eyes, what it did to two of the greatest people I knew. And then I learned to what the father of Boromir and Faramir had come, having been fed the lies of the Enemy by way of the Palantir of Minas Anor for so very long, and my wrath was even greater, for I had known him when we were both young, and I had ever honored him. No longer did I think of Isildur as weak for having been taken by the Ring so swiftly. How very strong Its will must have been, so freshly come as It was from the heat of Sauron’s hand, and so close to the seat of Its power. And I found myself wondering if, once he realize how much enslaved he was to It, if he did not bear an even greater burden of guilt than did Frodo?”
The statue had come to Sa’Amonri. “What arguments did you hear in the ear of your spirit from It?” he asked.
Aragorn shrugged and was still briefly. Finally he spoke. “At first, it was the promise that with It I could use Its power to reunite Gondor and Arnor and subdue forever all of those who had been their enemies--and my own. I could somehow free the power of the Elven Rings from It’s awareness, allowing those who bore them to remain in Middle Earth to spread the bliss of the Eldar throughout the lands. I could compel those who had ever fought and distrusted one another to work together in amity. I could speed the day on which I would finally take to wife the only woman I had ever loved or desired, and could please her so that she would never regret her choice of me. I could command the respect and adoration of Denethor son of Ecthelion. I could compel the respect of all toward the Periannath, for whom I already bore love and honor, and I could bring them to Mordor to make of it a blooming garden. Gandalf and my Adar would come to me for counsel.”
He shook his head. His voice grew softer. “In the end, however, as It perceived my great hatred for It growing, It used the argument solely that I could take It from him, ease him of Its great weight, take from him the tortures of the mind and spirit It exercised in his heart.” His face contorted in his grief as he looked at the small figure lying in the priest’s hands, then raised his face to that of the Man. “And so It sought to plant in me also the burden of guilt, that I allowed the one I loved as a brother to continue to be torn apart by It. But had I taken It from him, that would not have freed him from the lust for It, and would not have given him the relief It promised. I knew that--he would hate me then, and the more because he would know I kept It from him. And the love we bore, one for the other, would come to rivalry; and in the end would a new type of kinstrife to sweep Middle Earth.
“The Ring proved as great a liar as Sauron himself.” He watched as the priest handed the figure to Benai, who in turn gave it into the hands of Hasturnerini.
The Haradri girl asked, “What does he carry in his hand?”
Pippin smiled more freely when he understood the question. “A book.”
“Why does he carry a book?”
His smile broadened into a grin. “Because it was Frodo. Frodo and Bilbo both. You hardly ever saw them without a book in hand. They were always either reading a book, or copying a book, or studying a book, or making notes on a book, or binding a book, or showing someone else a book, or giving someone a book, or writing in a book.” He smiled across the room at the figure, then looked at the girl. “They were both scholars, Bilbo and Frodo. Always curious, always looking for more knowledge and understanding. They studied history, languages, about healing, about the land itself, poetry....” He straightened. “That’s how Merry knew him best, other than when Frodo was into Farmer Maggot’s mushroom patch. That’s how he wants to remember him. Of course, Merry’s a bit of a scholar himself, I suppose.” Hasturnerini handed the figure to Afraim’s guard, who seemed surprised to receive it.
Isumbard looked at the Man who now examined the figure before handing it to Lord Ghants’pa’amon’s body servant. “I’m glad he was allowed to go there, where he can meet the greatest minds among Elves, and know healing at last. To know he’s able to see the stars so closely, to be surrounded by the beauty that would overwhelm us but be meat and drink to his soul, to know he can learn and sing and dance again....”
“I’ve always had this imagining,” Pippin said, “that there, somehow, he might be able to meet Eärendil himself. I know it’s not likely, as he’s limited to the island and Eärendil has to sail each night so can’t stay away from Valinor for long, but....”
Legolas threw back his head and laughed in sheer delight, and all others had to smile in response. “I can see it now--the great Eärendil the Mariner and the great Frodo Baggins the Hobbit together. They would love one another, I’m certain!” he finally said, his eyes fond as he looked at the Hobbit whom he’d accompanied through Eriador.
“Two shining souls side by side,” Pippin agreed, smiling back at him as the statue was handed to the Princess Melian, whose own face shone in delight as she touched the blossoms about the feet of the figure.
“Elanor,” she said, raising her eyes to those of her parents. “He carved elanor about Iorhael’s feet! Elanor Gardner will be so happy when she sees it, to know her flower is there with her Uncle Frodo.”
Her mother reached to draw her nearer, looked with a gentle smile at the figure in her daughter’s hands. “Yes, she will be delighted indeed, as will her parents.”