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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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28
28: On Lordship and Lands

28

Sam opened the door when Aragorn came down, accompanied by one of his kindred from the North as personal guard, to bring Frodo his evening draught.

As they walked into the day room, the King asked, “How has he been?”

“Since you brought him home earlier? He’s been quiet, Strider. Been mostly in his room. Watched the carpenter fix the legs on the beds and the chairs and desks and all, helped to make up the bed all over again, watched as Gandalf hung his wind rods as Master Faralion give him in the window, then sat in the cushioned chair as is in there reading. Or, at least he’s had a book in his lap. Don’t know as he’s actually been reading it. Did go out and walked up to the barracks and back to the Houses of Healing and then back here again, and Gimli walked with him to keep off those folks from Umbar.”

“Have they been disturbing him?”

“No, not really. But the leader, the one with the narrow face and the mouth as looks as if he was eatin’ sour sloes, he was there askin’ questions this mornin’, and Mr. Frodo decided as he didn’t want to have to answer them this afternoon.”

“What kind of questions?”

“Did we come with you from the North? That kind of thing. Tryin’ to figure you out, I suspect.”

“Oh, I can imagine.”

Pippin was sitting in one of the chairs in the room with a mug of ale to hand, his expression uncharacteristically solemn. “I didn’t realize that was Halargil’s house there. And now he’s dead?”

“Yes. He apparently suffered a brain storm after the death of Denethor.”

“I’d think so. He was the one whose torch Lord Denethor took and lit that pyre with.”

“That may have been a contributing factor, Pippin, but he was not a young Man. He’s served the Steward of Gondor for about fifty years.”

“How do you know that?”

“It’s been forty years since I was here in Gondor last, and he’d served ten years then.”

“Did he recognize you?”

“Yes. Will you allow me to examine you so that I can decide whether you can return to full duty tomorrow?”

“Shall I remove my shirt?”

“It would help.”

“That’s right--you was the mysterious Captain Thorongil as they all talk about,” Sam commented as Pippin removed the surcoat and green shirt he’d put on when he came off duty.

“Yes.”

Pippin, pulling his arm free of the sleeve of the shirt, looked up at him quizzically. “You were? But he’s a legend!” Aragorn gave a small grin and a shrug.

“Any others recognize you?” Sam asked.

“A couple in the Citadel.”

“And Captain Faramir.”

“Yes, and the Lord Steward Faramir.”

It was the first time Sam had seen Pippin without a shirt since he’d awakened in Ithilien, and as he looked at Frodo’s younger cousin he gave a whistle of surprise. “You know,” he said, his voice somewhat hushed, “I knew as a troll landed on you, but I just didn’t realize as to just how hurt you was till now. I didn’t know as bruises could come in those colors.”

“What colors?” asked Frodo as he came out through the room in which Sam slept--and then he caught sight of Pippin and stopped, his face going paler. “Sweet Valar!” he whispered.

“It’s nothing compared to how you looked, Frodo,” Merry said, coming out of the kitchen with a tray of steaming mugs of tea. “Even when I reached the encampment and Pippin was still in healing sleep himself, as badly bruised as he was then he still looked so much better than you did.”

“This is nothing, Frodo,” Pippin said quietly. “When I awoke I had a black eye and my jaw and forehead were still swollen from where I caught them on my shield and helmet as I fell. And my hip is more green than my chest. This is almost all gone now. But you and Sam----” He shivered.

Frodo turned his attention blankly to the Man, whose own face was solemn. “They are right, tithen nín. Each of the four of you came close to death, and each of you I called back to life again. But it was you two and Lord Faramir who came the closest to actually passing through the Gates of any I have ever called. And, Frodo, you have had the furthest to come back.”

“He’s our little Pippin,” Frodo finally said. “I brought him to this!”

“You brought him to nothing!” the Man insisted sternly. “No one brought him to anything, Frodo. He went to fight in a battle--for your sake and for the sake of all Middle Earth. He went out of love for you, and because he refused to be the only one who did not hazard himself for the sake of all. And because of him at least three others besides himself are alive, not to mention the rest the troll would have gone on to kill once he was done with those four. He paid the price for heroism.

“But all of us would have died if not for you and Sam. And even if he had stayed home in the Shire, he would not have been safe had you two had not done what you did. If you think that once he was aware of the Shire’s continued existence Sauron would have allowed it to remain clean and isolated and safe, you are mistaken. His treasure lay there for seventy-eight years, in the center of your land and people. He would have wreaked his vengeance toward you and Bilbo on the Shire, and those of your people who survived would have regretted doing so. And your closest kin and those you loved the most would have drawn his greatest cruelty and malice.”

Aragorn ran his fingers down Pippin’s chest, gently feeling the knobs where his ribs had been cracked or broken, feeling the healing where the bruises had faded to green and yellow, where the hip had been disjointed, the arm injured, muscles pulled. He looked into Pippin’s eyes and the two of them shared a smile. “I am proud of you, Peregrin Took, Guard of the Citadel.”

“I, know, my Lord. And no more than I am of you. I’ve fought in only a few battles; you’ve been fighting them from the time you were little more than a child. And who knows how many injuries you’ve suffered?”

Aragorn laughed. “Oh, my adar and brothers have done their best to keep a full count, believe me.” His face grew solemn again. “And I do not regret it, for others have remained whole only because I have been willing to be hurt for their sakes. That is the whole point--the only point I have ever seen, to being a warrior.” He turned his attention to Pippin’s body again, had him turn, twist, bend; had him pull and stretch. Finally he straightened and signed that he was satisfied. “You are fit for full duty, Peregrin Took. Tomorrow you are to tell this to your captain, and are to resume full training sessions either here on this level or in the salle behind the Citadel.”

“Yes, my Lord,” Pippin said, his face solemn but proud, his salute crisp.

“Now, put back on your shirt.”

“No, wait,” Frodo said, and he came forward, gently ran his own hands over Pippin’s body, the knobs, the discernible bruises, the healing hip. Then he pulled his younger cousin to him and held him tightly. “Oh, Pippin, how much I love you. How very proud of you I am.”

Pippin clutched him back so hard it almost hurt. “And you, Frodo--we couldn’t protect you, and that was why we came, after all--to protect you. So, since we couldn’t protect you, we each did the best we could to protect someone else. And between us all, every one of us, including Boromir, we’ve managed.”

Frodo was shivering, and the tears could be seen pouring down his face. Merry joined the two of them, then Sam, the four Hobbits holding one another tightly. The front door opened and closed, and Mistress Loren and Lasgon came into the day room from the passage, baskets and parcels in their arms as they returned from the Citadel’s stores with supplies they’d obtained. Now they stopped, looking on the huddle of Hobbits with surprise, and on the sight of their King watching. When at last Sam and Merry stepped back, they could see Pippin’s back where the last of the bruises could be seen healing, and more on his chest as Frodo finally pulled away and gently helped Pippin to don his shirt. Sam produced a clean handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to Frodo, steered him to a chair and insisted he sit, then brought him one of the mugs of tea Merry had brought from the kitchen and insisted he drink it.

Once he had Frodo settled, Sam turned on Aragorn. Setting his hands on his hips, he looked him up and down thoroughly. “As for you, Lord Strider, looks as if you’ve been pushin’ yourself too hard today as well. You take that tall chair there and have a cup of tea and let yourself relax a bit, also. Won’t do to have you work yourself into a frazzle, it won’t.”

Mistress Loren was horrified and young Lasgon fascinated. Aragorn just looked at Sam and shook his head, a smile lighting his features. “Yes, my Lord Samwise, I will do just that.” As he took his seat in the indicated chair he asked, “Have you been taking lessons from my brothers?”

“Can’t say as I have, but if they make you rest when you ought, then I’d say they have the right of it. I’ve seen you, you know, goin’ days without sleep, watchin’ out for everybody else. Well, as we’re not in immediate danger of an orc attack or nothin’ like, you can afford to rest from time to time.” Sam had picked up one of the mugs, checked the temperature of it, then brought it over to place it in Aragorn’s hands. “Now, drink that and rest yourself a bit.”

Aragorn caught Frodo’s eyes on him, and saw that he was amused. The Man gave an exaggerated long-suffering sigh and sipped at his tea, enjoying being coddled for a change. Merry smiled, then turned to the housekeeper and page. “Here,” he said, taking a couple of packages threatening to slip from Mistress Loren’s arms and a third from the boy’s, “I’ll help you with these. Now, where have you been storing them?”

Watching the others being domestic, Frodo finished his tea and continued to sit there, holding the mug between his hands as if he found its residual warmth comforting. He closed his eyes and leaned back, a faint smile on his lips, then drifted into a doze. At last, having finished his tea, Aragorn set aside his cup and rose, came to Frodo’s side and felt the side of his neck, then looked at Sam. “I’ll see him to his bed,” he said quietly, and at last Sam gave a reluctant nod. Gently the Man took the mug from the now lax hands and handed it to the gardener, and then he as gently lifted the sleeping Hobbit and followed as Sam led the way through his own room to that prepared for Frodo.

Frodo woke as Aragorn gently set him on the bed. “What...?”

“You fell asleep, my brother,” Aragorn murmured.

“Asleep?”

“Yes.”

“Pippin knew Master Halargil before?”

“Yes. The two served Lord Denethor together.”

“Could you have saved him, Aragorn?”

Aragorn considered as he sat on the wooden chair that Sam pushed forward for him. “Had he desired it, I could have helped him live further and to recover from the lung sickness. But he would not have lived much longer in any case, Frodo, and it would have been very hard for him, for he could not have risen again, he could barely have spoken again, he could not even have eaten by himself again. If one does not recover from the effects of a brainstorm quickly, the muscles waste even more quickly than they did with you and Sam, and the chances to recover strength to them dwindles by the hour. He had not recovered in over a month. It is unlikely I could have brought back any strength or control to the left side of his body again. The lung sickness he felt to be a kindness, as it allowed him release from a body which was now no longer a vehicle for his spirit but a prison.”

“Why did you send for Lord Faramir?”

“That his spirit might be eased, and that any decision he made be made not from grief or guilt. He blamed himself, Frodo, for coming so near to causing Faramir’s death as well as allowing Denethor to do what he did to end his own life so horribly. However, Faramir was not hurt by what he did--he, as you and Merry have experienced, was suffering in part from the Black Breath as well as fever from his wounds and despair from the growing unreason he saw in his father’s actions. He also was at the Gates of Death when I sought after him, as you and Sam were.”

“He’s made a complete recovery.”

“He was healthy and strong when he was wounded and overtaken, Frodo. You were not. Only Baggins stubbornness brought you back to us, I suspect.

“Know this, Frodo Baggins--I may have called to you, but it was your choice to return. The Gates were opened for you--for you and Sam; but it was you who turned and came back. I will rejoice that you did, for I would have been loth to lose you again....”

“Oh, Aragorn!” Man and Hobbit embraced. “I will try to make the best I can of the gift you’ve given me. But it is so discouraging at times.”

“I know, Frodo. And I’m selfish, I’ll admit, not wishing you to go on as yet. But in spite of all you can know beauty and laughter, joy and delight.” He sighed as he straightened. “Now, I brought with me your evening draught.”

Frodo sighed and turned away. “Thank you, I suppose. Sam doesn’t need it any more.”

“No, he doesn’t. He was not as heavily scarred as you, Frodo.”

Sam cleared his throat. “Shall I fetch it, Strider?”

“If you will, Sam. It’s covered by the blue cloth.”

“I’ll be right back, then.”

A breeze stirred the wind rods hanging in the window, and Aragorn turned toward the open casement at the head of the bed, unconsciously smiling as he looked up at it. “Those were a gift to you?” he asked.

“From Master Faralion, the last night before we left Ithilien.”

“The sound of them is beautiful.”

“Yes, it is.”

“I bless him for the gift.”

“I wish I could have stayed last night for the singing. What Sam and Pippin have described for me sounds as if it were beautiful.”

Aragorn shrugged. Finally he said, “It is good you have begun walking out. And I am glad that Gimli went with you if you were bothered by those from Umbar this morning.”

“Not bothered so much as----” Frodo stopped, not knowing precisely how to put his unease into words. “The one who spoke with me this morning was the leader.”

“Lord Wasnior, then.”

“Is that his name? He never told it last night.”

“No, he didn’t. Lord Elphir told me.”

“He’s trying to learn as much as he can of you, Aragorn.”

“Yes, that would be to their advantage, of course.”

“I don’t know that I would truly distrust him; but I still find I do not feel completely comfortable with him or his fellows. What kind of place is Umbar?”

Aragorn sighed. “It was once one of the centers of Númenorean culture within Middle Earth, before the return of Elendil and his followers. It was founded by adventurers from the Star Isle, mostly--adventurers and some exiles. Many did not wish to remain but subjects in Númenor when they could be great lords of Men, they thought, were they to return to Middle Earth. After all, they bore with them the knowledge and culture and technologies of Oesternesse, and carried weapons and knowledge of sea craft and the making of tools such as were not known here in Middle Earth. But most of those who settled there became enamored of power to the point they allowed themselves to be wooed by Sauron. The Black Númenoreans, they were called; and many were much given to sorcery and the black arts.

“For a time after the founding of Gondor Umbar was part of the realm, but resented the rule of the heirs of Elendil. Then during the days of the Kinslaying, those who supported Castamir the Usurper followed him to Umbar when he was cast down and claimed independence, and the hatreds between that land and Gondor grew. Since the deposition of Castamir there has ever been enmity between the two lands, and their ships have ever been a terror to the coastal cities and towns here as well as to Gondor’s ship traders.”

Frodo nodded thoughtfully. “I see.”

Sam entered from his room, carrying the cup holding the draught and a fresh carafe of water. “Merry heated it up for you, Master.”

“Thank him for me, then.” Frodo accepted the cup and drank it down, then took the water Sam had poured out for him and used it to wash away the taste. “Nasty stuff.”

“I’m hoping that in the next week we can go to lighter herbs and focus mostly on those which will ease your digestion. Elladan tells me that your heart seems stronger and more steady.”

“So he said last night. It was affected, too?”

“Frodo--there’s little of your body that was not affected by what you went through.”

Aragorn again felt the pulse at the neck, then helped Frodo out of his shirt and had him lie back so he could listen to his chest and his stomach, then roll onto his stomach so as to listen to his back as well. Then he helped Frodo to roll again and set his hands over chest and belly and began to sing the invocation, allowing himself to feel deeply. Reassured, he took Frodo’s hand in his and massaged it gently as he’d done the night before and as Elladan had done, caressing the palm, easing the wrist. More thoroughly than he’d done before he worked up the arm to the elbow and then the shoulder. At last he finished, and saw that Frodo lay back relaxed.

Sam brought the night shirt and Aragorn helped Frodo slip it over his head. Frodo stood to loosen his trousers and let them fall. “Still feel a bit insecure without braces,” the Hobbit commented. He reached down to pick up the trousers and folded them as neatly as he could over his arm, then surrendered them to Sam who laid them over a chair for the coming day. He went into the privy, coming out a few minutes later, his hair neatly brushed and his face and hands clean.

Sam had folded back his covers, and he gratefully laid himself down, and pulled the blankets over himself. He leaned back for a time thoughtfully, then looked back at the Man. “Aragorn, we cannot go on allowing you to do all for us simply because you are the King. We need to be able to pay our own way, for the sake of our own dignity.”

“I know. Merry and Pippin have their wages they receive as Guardsman and esquire; but for you and Sam--for the two of you, it must be galling not to have employment for your hands and wits. However, I do have need for your services. I would have you attend on me for the rest of your stay and advise me about some of those who will seek to meet with me over the next few weeks. And I would have you accompany me as you did today and in the camp in Ithilien when I visit with those who are ill and wounded, for you hearten them. Men who were despondent when I last saw them are smiling and planning how they can do things anew when I see them again after speaking with you. How you do this I cannot tell; but I will not argue with the truth when I see it.

“I spoke further with Mistress Berilien this evening before I came here. Before our arrival Halargil was distant, and did not appear to be aware of what happened around him, responding little even to her taking his hand. When we entered, and particularly after you took his left hand, he began to rouse notably. I doubt he could feel you taking his hand--the affected side after a brainstorm often has little feeling. But he did respond simply to your presence. He was able to rouse and to think clearly, and to in the end accept the Gift with a degree of grace, which I am certain he’d not thought to have been possible to him earlier.”

“Why would you wish me to meet some of these who would meet with you?”

“You are very discerning, Frodo, and I would appreciate your evaluation of them and their motivations, strengths and weaknesses. And, for those times when you are willing to accompany him, Sam, I’d appreciate the same from you. Both of you have shown the ability to see beneath appearances----”

Sam flushed. “See beneath appearances? How about as when we met up with you at the Prancing Pony, then? I thought as you was the scurviest knave as ever walked Middle Earth, I did!”

Frodo laughed. “Nonsense, Sam--you saw his Light as clearly as I did there in Bree, and you know it. And that’s a good part of the reason you reacted to him as you did, because you saw it so clearly and hadn’t seen such in Men before.”

Sam shrugged. “Don’t know about all that, but I suppose as you’re right.” He looked back at Aragorn. “And what are we to do about what we see, then? Tell you in front of ’em or behind their backs?”

“Speak honestly about what you see when I ask you, or write me a written report on what you think about what you learn of them, whether you meet with them in my presence or on your own. What little Frodo has told me about Lord Wasnior I certainly find interesting and important. I’m certain part of the mission of his embassy is to learn what has become of Umbar’s fleet; but that he is trying to learn about me in particular confirms my own suspicion they are also to learn as much as they can about the new government of Gondor so as to figure out how they might exploit us as they can.”

“I see,” Frodo said. “And we will receive a wage for doing this?”

Aragorn sighed. “Frodo, let me explain something to you. You are now a Lord of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth. This means that each of the peoples who have accepted this status for you and Sam has accepted the duty to see that you are supported in accordance with that status. That means you are free to enter any Elven land or enclave throughout Middle Earth and are welcomed as an equal to their own Lords. That means that every Dwarf in Middle Earth, once your identity is made known, is honorbound to serve you as he or she can, will welcome you into their realms, will see you comfortably housed and fed and accoutered as you need--and much the same within Rohan. And there are lands in Gondor and Arnor that are now in your names. Those who work those lands do so in your names, rents collected on them are being put into accounts in your names, the profits of the enterprises of those lands that are the Lord’s share are also put into those accounts in your names. You are now rather wealthy individuals by the accounting of Gondor.”

Frodo flushed. “We are wealthy on account of the labor of others and not that of our own hands?”

Again the King’s expression became stern. “And what do you consider your service to all of Middle Earth, Frodo Baggins, but the labor of your own hands? Does that count for nothing, think you? As I already told you, the ennoblement of you and Sam is no empty gesture.”

Then his expression softened. “I, too, have lived with a similar situation here in Gondor. Ondoher settled certain of his own lands on his daughter Fíriel on her marriage to Arvedui, and then quietly saw to it that the management and profits of those lands went into a special account under the most discrete and respected of bankers here in Minas Tirith. When I first thought to come South to serve in Rohan and Gondor I was given a token that has been passed down through my family for centuries, from the mother of the heir to his wife, since the death of Arvedui. It was the ring given by Ondoher to Fíriel on the occasion of her marriage. My mother herself gave it to me.

“The bankers themselves had no knowledge of the name of the one who’d opened the account or for whom it was opened--only that it was there, and those who bore the accepted token were to have all opened to them and could draw on the funds kept for them and could order the investment of those funds at their own discretion. Only one other of my ancestors since the days of Arvedui had ever come South--Arassuil, who came here briefly during the reign of the Lord Steward Beren. Arassuil was the last to open those accounts, and he ordered much of the funds accrued to be invested in lands scattered throughout the realm. I’m not certain exactly how many estates I hold title to, but I believe Denethor would have been appalled.”

Sam was fascinated. “It sounds like to the farm shares and partnership agreements of the Shire, doesn’t it, Mr. Frodo?”

Reluctantly Frodo nodded. “Yes, it does, Sam.” He looked back at Aragorn. “So, you’re only the second of the Northern Heirs to come South?”

“The second in the last thousand years. Arvedui was the last King in the Northern Lands, and came to Gondor when it was under the rule of Ondoher and took his daughter Fíriel to wife.

“I had much of the funds accrued since Arassuil’s visit invested in trade goods, and when I went to Harad, it was as a trader.”

“Did you do well at it?” asked Sam.

“Oh, yes, quite well. I made a clear profit, and more of one with those goods I took back to Arnor with me. Círdan was very impressed.”

Frodo was intrigued. “Círdan, the Elven shipwright?”

Aragorn smiled. “Even so. I had my cousin Gilfileg bring a good part of those earnings South with him when he came to serve under Denethor about fifteen years ago, and the ring to allow him access to the account; he was to order the profits invested in setting up forges for sword smiths and armorers within the city and Dol Amroth, and in commissioning the building of two trading ships. I haven’t been able to check on those accounts since I returned, but look forward to doing so in a few days.”

“So, Sam and I have interests in lands here in Gondor now?”

“In Gondor and Arnor, although I’ll admit the lands in Arnor, as they are currently uninhabited, aren’t going to give you much in the way of returns for some years yet. But they are quite close to Annúminas. You also have a part interest in our family trading ship, in case you didn’t know.”

“Aragorn----”

“It was Halbarad’s part interest, Frodo. Halladan and Hardorn insisted. You and Sam share it equally.”

Frodo took a deep breath. Finally he said, “You are telling us that Sam and I are now independently wealthy in the outer world?”

Aragorn’s eyes were steady. “Yes. The lands settled on you are partly from my own lands, but also from estates whose traditional lords have died in the war, Men who left no heirs. Better they should go to you than that they be fought over by distant relations who have no interest in them and will only interfere with those who currently manage them, or exploit them and leave them depleted. It is what usually happens. They may not do you much good within the Shire; but they give you a good deal of leverage outside of it.

“Although,” he added slowly, looking down to his hands, “you will probably find them useful in your endeavors within the Shire as well. You spoke while we were in Rivendell, Frodo, of the idea of opening schools free to all throughout the Shire--the income from these lands could assist in the purchasing and copying of books, maps, and other documents.”

“How do we manage such from inside the Shire?” asked Sam.

“You can use the bankers which Ondoher used, and we can set up an arrangements for these lands to see to their management. Part of the cost of the account which has fallen to me is for a management agent who visits each estate on a regular basis and checks the accounts for the place, orders repairs and improvements required or makes the determination whether improvements made by tenants have benefited the estate and thus need to be reimbursed to the tenants, accepts the rents due, and brings them back to Minas Tirith for addition to the account. I would suggest you make a similar arrangement.”

Aragorn examined the faces of Frodo and Sam. Sam was still looking surprised, while Frodo was obviously thinking deeply. “For now, you may simply think about what you now know, and next week we will do what we can to see to the management of your lands and funds.”

Slowly Frodo nodded.

Aragorn added, rather slyly, “However, I will add now that the number within Gondor who realize that your ennoblement is not merely an empty, symbolic gesture is in actuality relatively small. Also, your ennoblement is hereditary, and so it passes to your heirs.

Suddenly Frodo began to laugh, a laugh that started as a low chuckle and grew louder and more full as he lay there. He was soon helpless with it, and Sam, who’d been surprised when he first heard it start, was laughing with him, falling back into the chair in which Frodo had sat reading much of the day, while Aragorn sat by them both, his own eyes shining with satisfaction.

Merry and Pippin came through Sam’s room and peered in through the door. “What is it?” Merry asked Aragorn, totally mystified. The Man, grinning widely, just shook his head.

Finally Frodo managed to gasp out, “He’s just managed to--to perpetrate the--most complicated practical joke on the realm of Gondor--and Sam--Sam and I--we’re his instruments!” He shook his head in admiration. “You--you did this on purpose, didn’t you, to confound--confound the very lords of the realm--most likely to question you?”

Finally Aragorn laughed aloud. “But of course! Ah, Frodo, do you remember telling me while we were in Rivendell, about the same time you told me of your dream to open free schools in the Shire, that sometimes you thought the Shire needed a dragon loosed on it just to shake the worthies there out of their complacent surety that there will be no uncomfortable changes in their lives? Do you realize that I’ve felt exactly the same way about many of the lords of Gondor?”

Frodo looked at him, his eyes sparkling with delight. “So, having no dragons to hand, instead you’ve decided to plague them with Hobbits?”

“And why not? You four will be like a breath of fresh air to the entire realm.” He grew brusque. “And now, my friend, it is best you rest tonight. Gandalf will be along shortly. He’s dealing with some of the worthies near the Pelargir who are wanting to issue claims for distress suffered by their tenants when we rode through their lands with the Army of the Dead.”

Sam looked at him in surprise. “If’n you hadn’t of done it, wouldn’t many of those lands of been burnt by the folk on the ships from Umbar?”

“Exactly.”

“And let me guess--if’n that as had happened, they’d of been puttin’ in claims for relief for the lands burnt, right?”

“You have it, Sam.”

Frodo again laughed. “No wonder you’re willing to loose the Shire on Gondor, Aragorn.”

“Of course! And now, my friend, you will lie back and allow yourself to rest.”

“You are devious, Aragorn son of Arathorn.”

“I come by it honestly--I was raised by Elves, and have traveled extensively throughout my adult life with Gandalf.”

“That explains it, then.” Frodo smiled as he relaxed back onto his pillows, and as Aragorn gently brushed back the hair from his brow.

At last Sam put out the flame in the lamp, and the rest went out, leaving Frodo sleeping in the starlight entering through the open window, as a gentle breeze evoked a quiet chiming from the tuned rods hanging in its casement.

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