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3
Gifts and the Benefits of Scholarship

Inspired jointly by Bodkin and the Grey Wonderer. Enjoy!


~~~

Gifts and the Benefits of Scholarship


Eager to escape the confines of the Citadel for a time, the Lord Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar went first to his own rooms and removed his robes of state, pulled on a simple shirt from his Ranger days, took up his cloak from Lothlorien and flung it about his shoulders, and set about slipping out of the place. He was going, he thought, more than slightly mad from being held always indoors, such as hadn’t happened in many, many years; and being held from the freedoms of the woods and forests and fields and riverbanks was almost enough to drive him fully insane. He couldn’t go far or for long, he knew, for a delegation was due from Fornost an hour before dinner regarding the confirmation of their new lord; and the Lady Inidril of Dol Amroth was due to arrive at the Harlond before nightfall with her daughter Lothiriel and the youngest of her sons, Amrothos he thought he’d been told the boy was called. Not, of course, that he was a child now, but nearly a Man grown who’d been fighting the enemies of the land for the last three years since he turned fifteen, much as Aragorn had gone at that age with his brothers to aid in the wars against the orcs of the Misty Mountains.

No, he couldn’t stay away long; but if he didn’t get away from pomp and circumstance and protocol for at least the next two hours he’d undoubtedly begin flinging flagons and cups at all who approached him. He’d given a rather wild look, he knew, at the Lord Steward Faramir after the last group of minor nobles had been shown from his presence, said, “Can you take over for a time?” and at the amused nod he’d noted had fled for his rooms to make his bid for freedom.

He almost made it unaccompanied, but found that near the ramp down to the sixth level Peregrin Took, a Guard of the Citadel now under the joint command of Captain Gilmaros and Lord Captain Hardorn, was waiting for him. None of the other Guards of the Citadel seemed to even notice him; but Pippin was, after all, a Hobbit. Coming from a people apt to hiding and going unnoticed as well as being accustomed to traveling with others wearing cloaks from Lorien, Pippin spotted him right away, shrugged, and slipping on his own cloak which he’d been holding over his arm moved to follow him down to the sixth level. A large family who’d been up to look out across the Pelennor from the Court of Gathering and to relive in talk the coronation and the wonders of the past week were on their way down the ramp, and somehow failed to notice the two forms cloaked in grey that had joined their party; and none noticed as these broke away from it to head down a quiet lane past mostly empty houses and guest houses for the city to the furthest down on the right.

Here no guard had been set, for Frodo had been absolutely insistent on that, his pale face going totally white in his anger at the thought. The two in grey cloaks paused, and Aragorn pushed back his hood, looking down on his smallest guard with calculation. Pippin pushed back his hood as well, his amused green eyes looking as levelly up to meet those of his friend and newly-sworn lord as possible for one not four and a half feet tall to gaze into the eyes of one well over six.

“Hardorn set you there, I suppose?”

“Of course. Actually, Aragorn, it’s taken you a day longer to break than I’d thought, and two more than he’d hazarded. I think Lord Éomer has won the wager, actually.”

Somewhat baffled, the newly crowned King of Gondor and Arnor looked down at him. “You’ve been wagering on when I’d become so overwhelmed I’d try to get away unseen?”

The Hobbit laughed as he nodded. Not certain whether to become furious or to laugh loud and long, Aragorn son of Arathorn opened the door and went in, shaking his head. Pippin followed him and closed the door after them, then hung his cloak on the tree set for that purpose. Only one other hung there now, for Merry was standing guard at the tomb where King Théoden’s body lay at rest, Gandalf was out riding the Pelennor with Elrohir, Elladan, and Prince Imrahil, looking for signs of any fell weapons that might have fallen unheeded into the mud of the battlefield and not yet found; Gimli was out walking the walls of the city with the Master of the Guild of Masons and Builders and the Master of the Guild of Stone Cutters surveying the damage done there; and Legolas and Samwise were in the garden of the Houses of Healing speaking with the Master Herbalist and some of the gardeners for the city.

It was a wonder to find the house almost empty. In the kitchen he could see Mistress Loren, who’d been given the keeping of the house for those of the Fellowship who dwelt yet for a time here, obviously preparing a cake for baking; where Frodo and the young page Lasgon might be, however, wasn’t immediately clear. Then they heard a blow of some kind followed by a cry of pain. Pippin and Aragorn turned toward the balcony and ran that way, then leaned on the railing and looked down into the narrow yard below to see Frodo sitting there on the ground with several slabs of wood about him, a hammer fallen by his knee, sucking on his thumb.

Aragorn hurried down the stair and knelt by his friend, seeing that there was no real hurt there, but that Frodo’s face reflected equal measures of amusement, embarrassment, and frustration. “What is it, Frodo?” he asked.

“It was to be a surprise for Sam,” Frodo sighed, allowing the Man to examine the thumb. “But I find I can’t even hold a hammer, Aragorn.”

Examining the slabs of wood, the King looked at his friend with interest. “What is it you’re seeking to build?”

“A bench--a proper sized bench for a Hobbit. These others are just too tall. I’d planned to set it up on the balcony, but thought it would be better put together down here where--where I can’t destroy too much while trying to put it together. The carpenter who helped adapt the furniture cut the wood for me and brought it all here, but I’d wanted to put it together myself.”

“Where’s Lasgon?”

“He’s gone to the market in the Fourth Circle for me, to see if he can find some of the orange fruits for me to eat.”

Knowing how hard it had been for Frodo to eat much at a time or to keep it down since he’d awakened, the King nodded his acceptance of the youth’s errand. “I’d be glad to help you, Frodo. I’d warned you it could be difficult to hold things for a time. Is it aching again?”

“Yes, the stump has been throbbing all morning.”

Aragorn took the hand in his, caressed it, then focussed his attention on it and allowed his fingers to feel deep, began to quietly sing the invocation. That the pain was ebbing at least some was evident from Frodo’s face; but it didn’t ease completely. There were so many wounds that Frodo had gathered, it seemed that the King’s healing abilities would ever be stolen away from the hand to one of the others. Frodo’s eyes had gone closed, and there was a definite relaxation in his shoulders. Finally he opened them again and looked into his friend’s grey ones.

“That is better. Not just my hand, but--but my back as well.”

“You’d best allow Pippin and me to work on this, then, don’t you think?”

Sighing with acceptance, Frodo reluctantly rose and sat upon the stone bench which stood in the center of the small yard, laid his left hand over his right one in his lap. “I always was mostly a failure with tools, although I did manage do to my nesting boxes--although many of those I held together with twine and glue rather than nails. Bilbo helped me find a way of doing them when he realized how much they meant to me, told me that part of the reason we employed the Gaffer and Sam was to see to the projects beyond those of us inept at working with our hands.”

Pippin gave him a searching look. “You mean that the summer I was working on carpentry the reason you didn’t help teach me----” At Frodo’s nod he burst out laughing. “Now there are two things I’m better than you at!”

Even Frodo smiled at that.

“Now,” Aragorn said, “since you are such a wonder with tools, maybe you’ll help me with this.”

“Help you?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

The Man took a deep breath. “Pippin, I have been learning to use weapons since I was five, and how to heal and use my abilities there even longer. But although I’ve learned how to repair the seams on my riding leathers----”

The Hobbit guard snickered. “They look as if you were trying to set stitches on a wound.” He refused to be cowed by the glare he received.

“As I was saying before you interrupted, I have learned the rudiments of sewing and carving, but have never successfully wielded a hammer in my life.” He looked at the pieces of wood lying there and commented, “It can’t be too difficult, can it? Now, how do these go together?”

Frodo came forward to help set the pieces in alignment, showed how the ends had been mitred to allow legs and seat to fit together neatly, how the triangular pieces went between leg and seat to keep all from collapsing, and how he’d already marked where the pieces went together.

Pippin again laughed. “That’s a good job, except....”

“Except what?”

“You marked the places on the outside, not where they go on the underside of the bench and the inside of the legs. You ought to have Sam here--he understands all this.”

“It wouldn’t be exactly a surprise if I had him help me put it together, would it?” Frodo asked dryly.

“We ought to put one leg onto the seat first, but it will have to be driven carefully, the way it’s cut,” Pippin said. He looked at the nails supplied by the carpenter and nodded with relief. “Good--they’re sturdy but not too wide. First time I used one so wide it split the wood, and Sam had to help me cut the piece out all over again.” He had Aragorn hold the leg and Frodo the seat, and after making certain all were properly lined up he carefully set the nail, then managed to get it properly hammered into place. Then he did the same with a second nail.

“That’s good,” Pippin said. “They’re in at the right angle so they didn’t come through the side of the leg or anything.” More quickly they got the second leg on it. However, with the last nail he used he smashed his finger badly enough to split the fingernail.

Sucking at his fingernail, he still managed to drive the nail home, then looked at the wedges.

“We could do without those, couldn’t we?” Frodo asked.

“No, Frodo, we couldn’t. With the mitering, the first time you tried to sit down on the bench it would collapse.

Frodo sighed. “It would be that way.”

“At least you have the outside marked so we can see where the nails will go.”

They measured carefully to see where the piece was to be set into place, centered on seat and leg, and Pippin demonstrated why the two nails had to be placed here and here rather than there so as to not stick out near the corners of the wedge. Finally, with Pippin lying on his back holding the wedge into place, Aragorn took the nail between thumb and forefinger of his left hand while preparing to wield the hammer with the other....

The blow was a mighty one, and the words that poured out of Aragorn’s mouth were rolling and terrible to hear. The house next door was inhabited by the family of Healer Eldamir--his wife, their son and daughter, and the wife’s parents who worked in the Citadel. Eldamir had come home early to get a nap before going back on duty at nightfall. He thrust his head out of his open window to look down to see what was the source of the words he was hearing, to find the new King of the realm kneeling by a bench holding his thumb to his mouth, a hammer lying by his knee, and uttering words that Eldamir found himself glad he didn’t understand. Captain Peregrin was lying on his back under a wooden bench wearing his uniform, his eyes wide with some type of horror, and Lord Frodo was sitting on the stone garden bench in the center of the yard, his cheeks a flaming red as he seemed almost to be choking.

A moment later Eldamir was out on his own balcony and hurrying down the stairs to his yard, then stepping carefully between his wife’s flowers and over the low stone wall that marked the boundaries between the two yards. He quickly realized that Pippin had been unhurt, although he was now holding his head where he’d banged it on the bench trying to sit up and come to the aid of the Lord King Elessar. The King himself was alternately sucking his thumb and shaking it while apparently cursing fluently in a language Eldamir suspected was Dwarvish. Looking quickly to Lord Frodo, he realized that the slender Hobbit was not trying to deal with distress so much as struggling mightily not to laugh out loud, and that his eyes, which were too often sad and distant, were full of a mighty delight and humor. Following the healer’s gaze, the King found himself wanting to laugh as well, both of them glad to see the sheer enjoyment the Hobbit showed for the moment.

“Well, that is the one good thing to come out of this,” Aragorn said, the pain abating enough at last for him to examine the wounded thumb. “No real damage--just a heavily bruised nail bed, I see.”

Eldamir took his King’s hand and examined it carefully. “I concur, my Lord,” he said. He then looked at the bench and the wedges, and examined it all. “What have we here?”

“A wooden bench for Sam,” the Lord of Gondor and Arnor told him, his gaze at the thing stern. “You would think I could do something so simple as to drive a simple nail, wouldn’t you?”

“It does take some practice to do it well. Would you like me to do it, my Lord?”

“Not if it adds you to the list of wounded.”

“I’ve some experience at it. Let me see what’s still to be done.”

He soon had the thing on its side, saw where the places to set the wedges had been marked, was grateful the placement for the nails was marked as well, and soon had the last eight nails driven properly home. Setting it upon its legs, he bowed. “Now, my liege, if you would be pleased to try it....”

His liege was fully glad to try it, although he soon stood up and moved to sit on the wall instead. “It’s a bit low for me, of course. Frodo, do you need a glass of water?”

“If you would please get me one, Aragorn. I don’t think at the moment I could get up. That took me so by surprise.... Where did you learn that Khuzdul?”

“Elladan and Elrohir learned it years ago from Dwarves they met on the road to Mithlond.”

“Young Dwarves?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Fili and Kili had begun to teach Bilbo similar phrases, you see. Be certain you don’t say them around any Dwarves....”

“I do have a sense of propriety, Frodo Baggins. But at the moment--they do allow a good deal of frustration and pain to be voiced.”

Frodo waited until Aragorn was up the stairs and he’d entered the kitchen before he let out with a peal of laughter fit to set the late blossoms in the cherry tree overhead to dancing. “Oh, sweet Valar! I hope he never realizes what he was saying!” he finally managed to gasp out.

“Why?” asked the mystified healer.

“Young Dwarves----” He struggled to control his laughter. “Young Dwarves tend to have a marked sense of mischief, and Fili and Kili thought it great fun on the journey to the Lonely Mountain to teach Bilbo phrases. That must be one of their favorites to teach to non-Dwarves. It sounds so wonderfully angry, doesn’t it?”

“You know what it means?”

Frodo nodded, looking up with delight at the balcony so as to make certain Aragorn didn’t overhear him. “Bilbo stubbed his toe one time and used it in front of Balin, who explained the joke. It means something to the effect of ‘I would delight for you to apply the toe of your boot to my backside, sweet maiden’.” He giggled guiltily. “When Bilbo heard I was to be traveling with Gimli he thought to warn me what some of the phrases they’d tried to trick him into using were and meant so that I could make certain we Hobbits wouldn’t end up the butts of similar jokes. Thankfully, Gimli is apparently beyond that. And the words he did teach to Pippin and Merry do mean what they are supposed to mean.”

“How do you know what words he taught Merry and me?” asked Pippin suspiciously.

“Ever since I was stabbed with the Morgul knife my hearing has been sharper.” The glint of amusement was back in Frodo’s eyes. “To hear dear Strider say such a thing!” Again he broke out into laughter, which was continuing as Aragorn came down the stairs carrying a tray of mugs and jugs.

*******


Soon after Sam returned and was properly pleased and grateful to find the bench standing proudly on the balcony for him. Not long after that the King realized he must return to his duties, and after embracing Sam and Frodo he left with healer and guard in tow. As they approached Eldamir’s door the King, his Lorien cloak over his arm, glanced back long enough to see that Pippin, his finger now bandaged properly, was back a respectful distance. “Well,” he murmured as he paused to take leave of Eldamir, “it was worth while to smash my thumb to see Frodo laugh so, even if it was at the expense of some pain. And I ought to have realized that as well as Sindarin and Quenya Bilbo had taught him a smattering of Dwarvish also.” Eldamir collapsed into helpless guffaws as he went into his house and closed the door, and Pippin could be heard trying to suppress snorts of laughter behind him. As he headed up the ramp to the Citadel, Aragorn looked back suspiciously at Pippin, then toward the house where Frodo Baggins, who had also been a student of languages, giggled still over what he’d heard his friend say that he’d not translated for the others.

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