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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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40
40: Traversing the Circles

40: Traversing the Circles


Frodo rode with Aragorn down through the city, Sam with Elladan, Pippin with Faramir, and Merry with the Lady Éowyn. People lined the way to watch the procession, calling out in gladness at the sight of their King and his guests. The party rode cheerfully through the streets of the city, Frodo and Sam feeling strange as they sat so high on the backs of true horses, glad to know they were with those well accustomed to riding such tall beasts. There was regret in the departing guests to be leaving, mixed with the anticipation of returning home to their own lands at last. Yet all laughed and joked as they rode, and as they entered the Fourth Circle Éomer raised a riding song in which those familiar with Rohiric joined, including the King. Sam smiled as he listened, and Frodo felt his heart lift.

Many came forward with blossoms and sprays of greenery to hand to the departing King and his Lady sister, to the two Elven Lords, and the grey-clad Dúnedain from the North accompanying them. The Lord Elessar sat his brown steed proudly, his face joyful as he acknowledged his people. All saw the gentleness with which the Pheriannath were treated, saw their smiles as they rode with the great lords down the steep streets of the White City. Many called out to them and bowed toward them in honor. Word that their beloved Lord Faramir had been made Prince of Ithilien had been passed to the Heralds of the city and had been read at the gates of the seven levels the preceding day at sunset, and all rejoiced to see him wearing his moonstone circlet while their Lord wore the Star of Elendil on his own brow, the stone shining brightly in the early light of the day. King and Prince rode easily and well, their faces full of solemn pride as they saw their guests on their way, Faramir openly holding the hand of the Lady Éowyn much of the time.

Mithrandir on Shadowfax joined them in the Third Circle. He’d ridden out after the feast last night on business of his own. “I’ve scouted out past the Rammas Echor and all the way to Amon Din--no sign of any enemies,” he reported. “I don’t think you will find the way difficult. Do be prepared for rain tonight, though.”

“Thank you, Gandalf,” Éomer replied. “We will make camp early tonight in Anorien, then.”

When at last they came to the gateway all dismounted. Most of the returning Rohirrim were awaiting their Lord and Lady here, having come down through the city early in the morning to make ready. Wagons of supplies were there waiting, as well as carrying those who could not ride due to their injuries. Here all made their last embraces, and the Hobbits bade farewell to those who were leaving.

Éowyn held out her hands to Faramir. “I will return when we come again to bring away the body of him who was as father to me. Until then, my beloved....”

The final kiss between them was tender, and there were many who watched as, unashamed, the Prince of Ithilien and the White Lady of Rohan gave one another their final embrace. Both Éowyn and Éomer knelt to take their leave of Merry and then gently bade goodbye to the Ringbearers and Pippin. Then the party mounted once more. Aragorn remained afoot after the others and turned to Frodo. “As you asked, a meal will be ready for you at the King’s Head as you reach it in the Second Circle. Go slowly, and if you tire enough to need it, stop at any gate, and the guards will send for ponies for you to ride the rest of the way. After we see them off, we are to ride on a review of the damage between here and Osgiliath. I will return this evening.” He knelt to embrace each of them. “Go well, and do not tire yourselves.”

He swung himself onto Roheryn, and looked down on them and saluted. Frodo and Sam bowed deeply while Merry and Pippin gave salutes, and they watched as the cavalcade readied itself in ranks, and led by Aragorn, Éomer, and King Bard, they headed north toward the gate in the Rammas Echor.

The four Hobbits watched as the last of the line of Riders finally pulled away from the city, followed by the wagons, in which Men sat, waving back at those who stood outside the gates and watched from the walls. Finally Frodo turned and led the way back into the city, and they began their way through the First Circle to the gate to the Second Circle.

Master Beneldil, innkeeper for the Inn of the King’s Head, waited at the drive for the inn, greeted the four of them with pleasure and deep bows, and conducted them himself to a quiet corner of the Common Room where a table awaited them. The four of them gave thanks to him for the meal served to them, ate and drank gladly enough, then sought to pay the bill. “No,” Beneldil said, shaking his head. “I would not take your coin. My wife’s brother is alive today only because of the final destruction of the Ring; and the city stands because of the four of you. We of the City of Minas Tirith owe you each so very much. We can never repay what you have done for all of Middle Earth.”

Sam turned red, while Frodo went white, only his cheeks showing any color at all. Master Beneldil and his wife, however, stubbornly refused to consider accepting payment, and at last the four Hobbits rose from the table. Merry gave a quick glance at each of the others, and at a nod from Frodo carefully hid a couple gold coins under the basket which had held bread rolls; they finally accepted the bag of scones given them by the cook of the establishment and left to resume their walk up through the city.

They’d not gone far, however, when they heard shouting from the walled yard to the building opposite the King’s Head. Frodo turned that way, upset by what was obviously anger, and turned to the open gate to the drive through which delivery wagons would go and peered in. As he did so they heard the cry of a child, at which time Frodo forgot the idea of just peering into the yard and strode in full of the fury which would take him at times back in the Shire when he heard someone abusing a child or animal.

“I don’t know what to do with you!” a Man was shouting. “And you did it on purpose--I know you did! How dare you?” All four heard the blow as the Man boxed the boy’s ears. Several of those who clearly worked in the kitchen of the place were there, Men and women wearing cooks’ aprons, one heavy-set woman whose arms were white with flour to the elbow.

“Ow!” cried the child. “No, Evamir--no! Don’t hit me again! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Please!”

And then Frodo was there in the midst of it all, taking all by surprise as he grasped the child and pulled him from the hands of the large Man, putting the boy behind himself. The Man stopped in total surprise and looked at the figure now standing between himself and the child, his face pale but lifted proudly and with an aura of authority the Man had never encountered before.

“Leave off!” Frodo commanded. “Whatever this child has done, he does not deserve to have his ears boxed like that. You’ll deafen the lad if you do it again. Stop--now!”

The tall cook looked down amazed, and stopped, suddenly ashamed of himself. “I’m sorry, small master. I’m sorry to have upset you.”

“Never mind me. Stay there and let me find out what is the matter.” So saying, Frodo turned to the boy, who was crying openly. He was a well-favored lad, his face slender and fine featured, his body just beginning to lose the fat of early childhood, his arms well developed from regular work done. There was no sign that he was regularly abused as Frodo had at first suspected, and even now he didn’t cringe away from the cook, even though he was crying miserably. Frodo pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and presented it to the boy. “Here--wipe your eyes and blow your nose. When at last you can speak, let me know.”

It took a few moments for the boy to calm, but at last he said, “I can talk now.”

“Good. Now, I wish you to tell me what has caused this upset.”

“I let the soup to burn.”

“Was it an accident?”

The boy answered in a low tone, “No. I did it of purpose.”

“You did it on purpose?”

The boy nodded. “Yes. I wished to go out to watch the Rohirrim to ride by, but he wouldn’t let me to go. He told me to stir the soup instead, for he had other dishes to care for, and he thought he could trust me.”

“But you didn’t stir it?”

“I started to do so, but then I stopped, for I was angered and thought to punish him. And the soup burned, and now it is ruined and must be done again.”

“Was it right what you did?”

“No, it wasn’t.”

“You deserved punishment, then.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I see.” The Hobbit silently examined the boy. “What needs to be done now?”

“The spoiled soup must be poured out into the vat set aside for the keeper of pigs who comes to collect it, and the pot must be scoured carefully to remove the burnt food from within it.”

“Then go in and see to it, and do it properly, do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then when you have it cleaned and set back up again, wait for what the cook will tell you to do next, and do it properly. Is he good with you?”

“Most of the time, yes.”

“Then you will not disappoint him again in that way, will you?”

“No sir, I won’t.”

“Go then.”

The boy nodded, turned to the Man and said, “I am sorry, Evamir. I won’t do it again.” So saying he went back into the back door.

The Hobbit turned now to the cook. “As for you--he did indeed do it on purpose, and you had every reason to be disappointed in him and angry; but you had no right to strike out in anger at him, for it did no good at all save to make him fear you. You would have done better to send him from your sight with instructions to sit doing nothing either in a corner or in his room until you were calmed, and then call him back to do what he does now, then punish him properly when both you and he were calm.”

“You are right, small master. I will not do this again.”

“Then that is all I require. You usually treat him well?”

“Yes, for although he is often a lazy boy whose attention can be pulled away from his work when he is busy thinking on his figures, yet he is a sweet child and full willing to do his work properly; and his mother was well liked when she worked among us.”

“His mother is dead now?”

“Yes, a year ago she died, and her husband two years before that.”

“An orphan, then, as I was.” The Hobbit’s eyes showed his own grief. “Do not let him be bereft again as he must have been when his parents died. And don’t let him come to hate or fear you.”

“We will not, small master.”

“Good enough. I will wish you a good day then.” And fully on his dignity, Frodo turned and left the yard, the folk from the kitchen watching after him, all bemused. It was as he came out into the street Frodo realized that folk from the upper rooms in the inn opposite had witnessed the whole incident, and several were commenting on it with those who watched beside them. Frodo lifted his head high and led the way up through the level, away from the two opposing inns.

They stopped soon after they entered the Third Circle at a stand where sweet drinks were offered, and got juice for each of them, sitting at a table provided nearby while Frodo got his wind again. Word was spread rapidly that the four Pheriannath were within the Circle, and once they proceeded along the way anew they were approached again and again by those who presented them with sprays of flowers or leaves, and on occasion by individuals offering them early fruits from their gardens or drinks of water, juice, and on one occasion even a goblet of wine.

In the Fourth Circle it was much the same. Frodo stopped in the marketplace to examine some of the items offered there for sale, finding some items he hoped he might purchase as gifts to take home with them. It was there he saw a young woman whose appearance stopped him in his tracks, his attention wholly arrested. She was young, nearly but not quite to adulthood, her eyes a clear blue-grey, her hair a lovely light brown, her expression thoughtful and introspective, her smile a work of loveliness. Never had Frodo thought to find his attention arrested by a lovely lass again as hadn’t happened since he himself came of age; but for the second time since his arrival in Gondor it had occurred. She was selling glass beads and other small items of glass--small bowls, figures, sets of goblets.

Merry was also impressed. “Now there,” he commented, “is a woman of such loveliness it makes me regret I am a Hobbit.”

All Frodo could do in return was to nod his agreement. But both Merry and Sam noted Frodo’s own fascination and shared a look of recognition that once again Frodo was indeed able to respond to female beauty. Reluctantly Frodo pulled his attention from the girl and turned back to the way through the city.

Frodo was growing tired before they made the gate to the Fifth Circle, but kept stubbornly on his way, refusing to let the others realize how tired he actually was. Each now carried quite a bouquet of flowers and greenery, and again there were those who approached to greet them and to offer water or juice. Near the gate they came upon an eating establishment, and Frodo indicated they should stop and get something more to eat. Once inside, however, he ordered but a glass of mild ale and some rolls of bread for himself. The others asked for sausage rolls and fruit and mugs of darker ale, and Sam also asked for a bowl of curds and whey which, once it arrived, he set before Frodo. Frodo ate the bread and curds and whey, and drank part of his tankard of ale and a glass of water, at last indicating he was willing to go. Pippin settled the bill, and together they went on, leaving the flowers behind, making the gate shortly.

They were about midway through the Fifth Circle when Frodo admitted he was too tired to go further as yet, and together they sat on a bench at the edge of a square. Frodo drank from his silver flask as the rest nibbled at the scones from the King’s Head. Together they looked around the square at the houses and businesses lining it, and Frodo suddenly recognized from the goods displayed in a window that the shop opposite them was a stationer’s. “I’d like to stop there for a time,” he commented. “I’ve tried writing, but my hand cramps too much to allow me to grasp a pen properly. Perhaps there I can get paper and thick drawing sticks to practice with.”

The others agreed, and together they went to enter the shop, Pippin holding the door for the others to enter ahead of himself. The room in which they found themselves was larger than they’d expected, with displays of paper not only for writing but for artwork as well. In the midst of the shop was an easel on which paper was fastened to a board; on it was part of a painting, a painting of the coronation of Aragorn by Gandalf, although the face of the Wizard was rather vague and misty, the major focus of the painting having been given to the features of the new King of the realm. The attention of all was fixed on it.

“Now, if that isn’t Strider!” exclaimed Sam, his approval obvious in his voice.

“Looks just like him,” agreed Pippin. “He makes a wonderful King, you know.”

“Yes, of course we know,” Frodo said, smiling.

Merry was shaking his head. “But is that really supposed to look like Gandalf?” he asked. “That certainly doesn’t do him justice.”

“Doesn’t do justice to whom?” asked a voice from behind the counter, and they looked to see a figure rising from behind it. The Man looked with confusion about the room, then looked down. “And what are you four boys----” He stopped in embarrassment, realizing his mistake. “No, you’re not just boys, are you? The Pheriannath--here in my shop? I welcome you, small masters. What may I do for you?”

Frodo looked up at him. “Please forgive us. We were only admiring the picture of the coronation of the King. The portrait of Aragorn is masterful, but that of Gandalf--of Mithrandir--is rather blurred.”

“Gandalf?”

“It is how he is known in the Northern lands more than as Mithrandir.”

“Gandalf, is he now? A proper sounding name for him, I must say. I wanted the focus to be on the King himself is all. And you called him Aragorn?”

“Aragorn son of Arathorn, now the Lord King Elessar.”

“So that was his given name?”

“Yes--the kings and chieftains of the Northern Dúnedain have been given names with the Ar- prefix for generations he has told us.”

“That is fitting enough. Then you know him well?”

“Well enough. We traveled with him, after all, for weeks from Bree to Rivendell--to Imladris as it is better known here; and then from Rivendell to Amon Hen and at last from Ithilien back to here.”

“You are the Ringbearer?”

Frodo paled. “Yes. Frodo Baggins of the Shire at your service, sir. And these are my friends and kinsmen, Meriadoc Brandybuck, Peregrin Took, and Samwise Gamgee.” The other three bowed politely, murmuring their own offerings of their services.

“I am Iorhael son of Bernion of Lossarnach, my friends.”

“Well, what do you know, Frodo? He has the same name as you,” commented Pippin.

“I beg your pardon?” asked the Man.

Frodo’s cheeks became quite pink. “It is nothing.”

“But you didn’t come into the shop to see the painting.”

“No, it wasn’t visible from outside. I came in hoping to find some thick drawing sticks and paper to practice writing with.”

“You are just learning?”

Again Frodo’s cheeks became pink. “No, I was always good at writing. But my hand was injured, and I cannot bear to hold a pen or quill for any length of time. I must practice to build back my ability to write once more.”

“He was excellent at writing,” interjected Merry. “You should see the books he has helped copy out over the years.”

“You were a copyist?”

“And a bookbinder,” confirmed Pippin.

“I see. I’d never thought of the fact you would have had a profession in your own land and among your own people. It’s odd how little we can imagine people as they are in their own eyes, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“You say your hand was injured? Let me see it.”

Reluctantly Frodo held out his hand. The Man’s face grew pale as he examined it. “So, you’ve lost a finger indeed, have you? Being the third finger it isn’t one which touches the quill or pen much; yet I can see how it would change the way in which your hand would close. Well, come over here where I have a low table. Usually I work with children here when I teach the art of writing and drawing. I will bring out a selection of drawing sticks of various widths and we will see how each suits you.”

Frodo took a place at the table, grateful for the low chairs intended to fit children of Men that suited his height well enough. In moments the Man was back with a large sheet of drawing paper that he placed before Frodo, and a narrow basket of drawing implements he set to Frodo’s right. “You use the right hand by nature and inclination? That is good enough, although too many seem convinced that all ought to use only the right hand. But considering the injury you sustained, it would perhaps be better if you’d been one to use your left hand.”

“I was never good at using my left hand, although I certainly tried to learn to do so when I was young.”

“I broke my arm once and was forced to use my left hand for weeks. My writing and drawing were so clumsy,” the Man commented. “Well then, check through the basket. I have samples of different widths and shapes of drawing sticks there which you may try.”

They remained for quite some time, and eventually Frodo chose out a variety of sticks of charcoal and graphite with which to practice. He’d scribbled with several of them, and eventually as he found quite a thick one which at the moment felt comfortable to his hand he’d done a quick sketch of Sam.

The shopkeeper looked at the sketch with admiration. “Ah, an artist as well as a writer, then. I am most impressed with your skill, sir.”

“I thank you, but it is little compared to what I once did.”

“It is much compared to most of my pupils, Master Frodo. I have had so many who think of themselves as talented who do such childish work; and there you, with a piece of charcoal better suited for drawing on walls, have done a marvelously skilled drawing of your companion here with such an economy of line. Your talent is great and obviously well honed.”

Sam nodded. “He was always a fine one with drawing sticks, the whole time as I’ve knowed him.”

“You see, Master Frodo, they recognize your talent has not diminished overmuch. Now, some paper to practice with. Ah, I have the very thing.” He vanished into a back room, continuing to speak with them from behind the curtain that cut it off from the shop. “I laid in quite a stock of paper when I was working with one boy. A fine enough artist he was, but with most paper he’d just scoot it all over the surface of the table. So I found a papermaker who used a good deal of linen fiber in his goods, sufficient to add enough texture to help the paper keep its place better. Most don’t appreciate its qualities, but I do. Ah, here it is.” He came out carrying quite a stack of thick paper. “Shortly after I began working with the child his grandfather in Anorien died and the family moved to take over the family estate, and so I lost my pupil. I will gladly give you a good number of sheets, and don’t think to pay for them. I was given quite a marvelous bargain on them as I’d bought so much, and other than a few who like the manner in which it absorbs paint few have any interest in it at all, which is quite a shame, really. To see it given into the hands of a master such as you are would be an honor in and of itself.”

“But I can’t just agree to accepting everything as a gift....”

“Nonsense. You can pay for it with gifts of drawings you make, and with coming down to give an old Man your company. There are few enough at the moment who care to work on artistry, and have been few for several years now. It is wonderful to have one nearby whose talents I can admire and respect as I see I can with yours. And you can tell me the tales of your journeys. I’ve not been further than the places of refuge for many years now, and my son and his family are so far away much of the time on the family estates in Lossarnach. He, too, is a fine artist, and his family often winters here in the capitol with me. I’d like for him to take over the shop when I must at the last go on, but I doubt I could convince him to remain here in Minas Tirith long enough.”

It still took a good deal of coaxing for the Man to get Frodo to agree to accept the gift of paper, drawing sticks, a large ball of gum for erasures, and finally a gift of a fine steel pen and ink as well--a broader one than Frodo was accustomed to, but one which was comfortable enough to his hand at the moment for the time he could bear to hold anything that narrow.

Sam and Merry carried the packages between them while Pippin carried the last of the scones, and at last they took their leave, Frodo promising to come down at times to visit with the elderly shopkeeper. As he saw them to the door, Master Iorhael commented, “I am pleased you appear to like the painting. I’d not added in your figure as yet, although I did intend to place you there. Now I shall certainly do so.”

Frodo managed to thank him, although the small spots of color appeared again on his cheeks. Pippin smiled as the door finally closed behind them to keep out the growing breezes. “So, you are to be immortalized in a painting of Aragorn as King, are you? It will be a fine memorial to the day, then. Although I’d personally rather he did a proper portrait of Gandalf as well.”

“I’ll be certain to tell him, then,” Frodo said dryly.

They finally reached the gate to the Sixth Circle, and were soon back in their own house. Merry and Sam carried the paper and other materials to place on the desk in Frodo’s room, then went out to where Mistress Loren and Lasgon were beating carpets on a line hung temporarily between the two trees on each side of the narrow yard between the back of the house and the outer wall of the circle. Pippin called out he was going to fetch mushrooms and disappeared with a basket for the empty house with the chestnut tree. At last alone with his acquisitions, Frodo unfastened the string with contained the materials gifted to him, and after arranging them on the desk and putting most of the great stack of paper into the drawer, he began to practice.

After about a half hour of practice Frodo set his practice sheets into the fireplace for burning later and settled himself onto his bed to rest for a time. Sam, coming in later, found him deeply asleep, his right hand tightly closed.

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