Some days had been good for Frodo, while others were, if not bad, at the very best uncomfortable, usually in response to what he saw about him, he realized.
The death of a soldier who’d been badly burned in the assault on the city from still another infection caused Frodo great grief. Frodo had been visiting the Man almost every day since the return from Ithilien, and he’d come to care deeply for him, appreciating his sense of humor and the courage with which he’d faced each new day. The Man had fought infection after infection until the last one had set in. The soldier had been withdrawn when Frodo visited him the last time, and they had spent much of the visit in mutual quiet, Frodo holding the one hand that hadn’t been badly seared when he’d found himself caught in the fires that had raged within the First Circle of the city. The next morning when he arrived Frodo had found the room empty, the bed stripped, the healers and aides who’d dealt with the Man most solemn as the Warden explained the Man had died in the night.
He’d stopped to see several others, including the youth who’d fallen from the walls of the Fifth Circle and the young Man who’d been hurt in the rubble in the First Circle. A child who’d been brought to the Houses after swallowing a goodly portion of her mother’s soap had held Frodo’s hand and smiled up at him as he’d taught her nursery rhymes from the Shire.
“One, two, eyes of blue.
Three, four, feet on the floor.
Five, six, add eggs and mix.
Seven, eight, fetch a plate.
Nine, ten, do it again.”
It appeared the girl would recover completely, as would the youth and young Man, which was heartening; but the loss of a person for whom he’d come to care so deeply left Frodo the more bereft. He’d not had the heart to eat much that night, and his grief for the soldier left him withdrawn the following day.
Pippin returned from his duty to find Frodo sitting in the narrow back yard of their house, looking across the river toward Ithilien. Frodo had come down from Aragorn’s audience that day early, pleading fatigue. He’d drunk the water he’d been given but hadn’t touched the plate of vegetables and cold meats he’d been served. Merry was leaning on the balcony looking down, his eyes troubled.
“Did he eat anything at luncheon?” Pippin murmured in Merry’s ear.
Looking down at the still figure below to see if there was any sign Frodo had overheard, Merry shook his head and pulled his younger cousin back inside. “No,” he’d declared once he had Pippin back in the kitchen. “Just pushed all about his plate moodily.”
Sam, who’d recently returned from the yard of the empty house with the day’s harvest of mushrooms, looked over from where he was cleaning them with a brush. “He’s not ill--or leastwise, he’s not as yet. But if he won’t eat soon he will be, if you take my meaning. Thought as if we was to have a goodly amount of mushrooms maybe he’d eat some at supper, for he could never say no to mushrooms less’n he was almost too ill to stand at all.”
Pippin’s face brightened. “Wait,” he said, “I have an idea.”
“What kind of idea?” asked Merry.
“Just leave supper to me,” Pippin said mysteriously. “If I can’t get Frodo to eat, then we’ll send for Aragorn. But, if he isn’t ill, I’ll wager he’ll be eating and laughing soon.”
“What are you going to do?” Merry asked, his curiosity piqued.
“Wait and see,” the Took admonished. “Just clear out and let me work.”
“What’s your name?” Frodo asked the boy who’d come alone to peek over the wall from the yard of the empty house two down from theirs, and who’d been coaxed to cross carefully through that of Eldamir’s family to that of the Hobbits’.
“Fargillion, sir,” the child had answered.
“Where do you live?”
“Down in the Fifth Circle, almost right down below, sir. Sometimes I look up and can see you leaning on the wall looking out.”
“You can? I see.”
“What’s your name?” Fargillion had asked, emboldened.
“Frodo Baggins, at your service.” Frodo gave a half-bow from his seat on the bench.
“What does that mean?”
“It’s the way most in the North introduce themselves to others. It means that should you need whatever aid I might be able to give you, I will gladly help you if I can.”
“Can you tell my big brother to stop tousling my hair?”
Frodo gave the first laugh of the day. “Would it do any good for me to speak to him, do you think?”
The boy shrugged. “I’m not sure, but it might be worth a try.”
“How old are you?”
“Nine and a half.”
“How old is your brother?”
“Margil is fifteen. He’s to apprentice soon to a baker.”
“Ah, a wonderful profession,” Frodo said, smiling.
The boy shrugged. “I’d rather be a soldier, myself. I like swords.”
Frodo’s humor fell away. “I see.”
“The Lord Prince Faramir is a soldier, you see, and I’d like to be like him.”
The Hobbit found himself smiling again. “Now, that is a worthy ambition, if you mean to be truly like him.”
“You know him?”
“Yes. I met him first over there,” he said, indicating the far side of the Anduin. “He showed himself an excellent warrior that day, but told me something I will never forget--that he loves the sword not for its brightness, but for what he can protect with it.”
“And what can he protect with it?” the boy asked.
Frodo thought for the moment, then looked deeply into the child’s eyes. “You--you, your family, your friends, your city, your nation. He loves it very deeply, you know, as did his brother Boromir.”
“You knew the Lord Captain Boromir, too?” The boy’s face was growing pink with excitement.
“Yes, I did. He traveled with us from the North, from Imladris to Parth Galen beneath Amon Hen, on the lake just this side of the Argonath.” He found the memory didn’t hurt today.
“You saw the Argonath?” the child asked in amazement.
“Oh, yes, we did. We sailed down the river between them, looking up at them. Boromir admitted it was the first time he’d seen them, also, he who had lived here in Gondor all his life.”
“Were you in the boat with him?”
Frodo shook his head. “No, Sam and I rode in the boat with the Lord Aragorn Elessar, while my cousins Merry and Pippin rode with Boromir and Gimli rode with Legolas, the Elf.”
“Until you came with the King, I’d never seen an Elf.”
“I know. I’d not seen any for many years until we left my home of Bag End to come out of the Shire.”
“But you’d seen them before?”
“Yes. I saw an Elf the first time when I was perhaps about of an age with you. Elves, particularly those from the wandering tribes, like the Shire, and used to cross it frequently, going East or West, mostly. For many years, however, most that could be seen had been going West, to the Havens and away, and wouldn’t stay to talk.”
“Is the Pelargir West of you?”
Frodo again laughed, but with a feeling of melancholy. “Not the Pelargir--the Havens of Mithlond, the Grey Havens of the Elves.”
“What was it like to travel with Lord Boromir?”
And so Frodo began describing Boromir, the wonder he’d seen in his eyes on his arrival at Rivendell, the concern for his people and the capital where he dwelt, his passion for his land, the concern he’d shown for all, the courtesy, the teaching he’d given all of them with swords.
“You have a sword?”
“Yes, I do.”
“You don’t wear it.”
“No, I prefer to wear it only at need.”
“Did you kill an enemy with it?”
Frodo felt himself grow a bit stern. He took a deep breath. “I used it only to try to protect others and myself, and when we were in grave danger. I am not a warrior. It is my cousins Merry and Pippin who are the soldiers among the four of us, not Sam or myself. I never killed any creature with my sword. Only once I used a sword to save Sam, Merry, and Pippin from a wight. I used Sting against the great spider that lives in the Pass of Cirith Ungol, but didn’t kill it, although I was able to drive her back for a time and cut her web so Sam could escape.”
At last the boy looked out at the angle of the shadow of the mountain. “I must go, or I will be late for the evening meal and my nana will be upset,” he sighed. “Thank you.” He rose and carefully made his way over the wall and away toward the ramp down to the Fifth Circle, gently treading between Mistress Linduriel’s flowers, Frodo noted with approval. Once in the yard of the empty house he’d turned to wave, then disappeared.
A form settled either side of him. “’Nother young spy?” asked Sam.
Frodo smiled. “Yes, and quite a nice lad. Says he lives just below us.”
Merry laughed. “They keep coming up, don’t they?”
Frodo nodded. “Yes, they do.”
“Well,” Merry said as he stretched, “we’d best be getting up into the house, for Pippin’s been working in the kitchen since he returned from his duty, and insists he has produced the meal of meals. And if you don’t at least try everything he’s prepared he’ll be most insulted and will sulk for hours, which makes him a most uncomfortable roommate.”
“It does, does it?”
“You know how he is when he sulks--he just lies still, which isn’t restful at all.”
“You’d rather he rolled frequently as he usually does?”
“At least I know his heart is light then.”
Frodo gave another brief laugh, and Merry and Sam caught one another’s eyes in hope.
Gandalf, Legolas, and Gimli were already in the dining room waiting for them. The table was set, but other than a covered dish and a plate of bread and crock of butter there was no food as yet to be seen. They rose for the Standing Silence, which all did automatically any more, then they sat and Pippin removed the cover from the dish on the table. “Greens with bits of mushrooms in them,” Pippin announced as he placed a small amount in a bowl and set it before Frodo. This was followed by creamed mushrooms in a soup, which was followed by a thinly sliced roast of beef and potatoes smothered in mushroom sauce and green vegetables steamed with bits of mushroom and a small dish of mushrooms sautéed in butter on the side. As dish followed dish, each with mushrooms in it, Frodo began to laugh, his laughter becoming freer and freer until all were laughing with him. When the pudding proved to be a compote of fruit with cream whipped with tiny bits of mushrooms in it he could barely contain himself.
“You rascal!” he said, trying vainly to give Pippin a stern look. “You rascal!”
“Well, it got you eating, didn’t it?”
Frodo gave him a playful clout to the side of the head.
Two days later the word came that there was a riding of fair folk from the North, and the King’s joy could barely be contained, it seemed. The next morning after leaving the Houses of Healing Aragorn descended alone down to the Fourth Circle where he visited the building that housed the bankers who oversaw the income he received from his lands. He was dressed plainly and wore his Elven cloak, the Elessar brooch hidden beneath its folds.
The banker who received the ring presented examined it carefully, then went to an index and retrieved the card on which the token was pictured from all sides along with the verbal description, along with the extraordinarily thick folder which held the history of the account over the years since its inception. Assured this one was authorized to access information and funds associated with this account the Man returned his attention to the one who sat opposite him. “And how may we serve you, Master?” he asked.
Aragorn named the funds he wished withdrawn from the account. The banker was impressed for it was a sizable amount. “You are looking to purchase a new estate, sir? Or to perhaps to commission the construction of a ship?”
“No, it is to pay for my wedding feast.”
The banker stopped in surprise. The amount appeared rather substantial for a wedding feast. However, if this client sought to stop curiosity regarding his intentions for his own funds, the banker knew his business and ceased asking further questions. He left his client in his office and went down to the vaults where with two others to serve as witnesses he drew the requested amount from the stores there, placed it in a chest, and assisted by another brought the chest back to the office where the client waited. “Here, sir, is the amount you requested,” the banker announced.
“Thank you very much,” the client said, reaching out and taking the chest, tucking it handily under his arm as he rose to leave.
“When is the wedding?” the banker asked with a sardonic smile.
“Day after tomorrow,” his client answered, bowing somewhat clumsily, which was to be expected with the weight he carried.
The one who’d assisted in bringing the chest to the office had stood transfixed, his eyes fixed on the client throughout, watching after with amazement. The banker watched his client’s departure. “Tall fellow,” he observed to his colleague.
The other looked back at him. “Tall fellow, you say? Of course he is--the Lord King is the tallest Man I’ve yet seen.”
“The Lord King?” The banker’s voice seemed to stick in his throat.
“Didn’t you recognize him?”
The two looked at one another. Wedding feast? Day after tomorrow?
A series of pages and messengers made their way down through the city to key vendors of foodstuffs on each level, each carrying small chests and messages. On the day of Midsummer at noon each was to open the stalls that offered food for festivals, and all who came to them were to be given food and drink. Funds to provide for this proved to be generous. That afternoon cattle, sheep, and fowl ordered a month before by the Crown arrived from the Southern fiefdoms to the cattle markets for the city, while great quantities of fruits, vegetables, flours, fine breads, pastries, sugar, sweets, and wines were delivered from the same sources; and the amounts provided allowed the vendors to purchase sufficient for the needs of those likely to patronize each stall. By sunset the rumors that the King was to wed and that his bride approached Minas Tirith were rampant throughout the capital and surrounding districts.
Galador rose at the knock at his office door and opened it. Outside stood the King and his kinsmen the Lord Steward Halladan of Arnor and his brother the Lord Hardorn, along with Mithrandir and the Elf Legolas. They were speaking rapidly in what Galador must assume to be a Northern tongue, one that he’d often heard the Northern Dúnedain use when addressing one another.
The King paused as the door opened. “Master Galador? I told you that there would soon, I hoped, come a series of feasts where I myself wished to decide seating. Well, one will come tomorrow and one the day after. If we might make use of your representation of the table, I would be greatly appreciative. If you will give us a list of those Lords, Ladies, and notables within the city or who could arrive by tomorrow night, we will take this within. Then, if you will join us in an hour’s time we will see to the seating of those from within Gondor.”
“A party comes from the North?”
“It is important?”
The King looked at him, his expression terribly serious. “For me, Master Galador, perhaps the most important party that can ever enter the city of Minas Tirith.”
The King took a very, very deep breath. “My bride and those who attend on her,” he said. “It is likely an Elven lord will arrive soon at the Citadel. I have given orders that should this happen he be brought here that we may plan the seating in more detail.”
Galador hadn’t heard much past the first two words the King had spoken. “Your bride?” he at last said in a strangled voice.
Aragorn looked at him levelly. “Yes, my bride, although you are now commanded to speak of this to no one. Master Faralion and the Master of the Guild of Bards and Minstrels have been summoned; let them come in to join us when they arrive, please.”
Few seemed to note the tall, slender, cloaked figure who rode sedately yet remarkably swiftly up through the ways of the city a short time later. Until he swung down from his horse at the upper stable none appeared to realize this was an Elf, tall and regal. He pulled back his hood and indicated he had word for the Lord Aragorn Elessar, and a guard at the bottom of the ramp accompanied him up to the doors to the Citadel where another awaited just such an arrival. He joined the party within the Feast Hall of Merethrond, and refreshment was soon at his elbow as he and the rest discussed who should sit where. When Galador saw the names inscribed on the slate for the guests arriving from the North he blanched, for they were names out of legend. But no name was inscribed over the seat to the King’s right. It was obvious the identity of the coming bride was to remain hidden to the last.
That evening the King came briefly down to the guest house. “My adar and others come tomorrow,” he told them. “I will go down to the barrier at the gates to greet them. Will you come with me? Please?”
Looking to one another, Hobbits and Dwarf agreed. Never had Frodo seen his friend look so much in earnest, much less so nervous. “Of course, Aragorn,” Frodo told him. “The Lord Elrond comes to see you? And will he give you the Sceptre of Annúminas at last?”
“Yes, Frodo; and something else I have awaited a very, very long time.”
After he’d left Merry commented, “I wasn’t any too certain he’d not faint. Whatever it is, he’s in a right state about it.”
Early the next morning the King was out in the gardens with the gardeners and Sam, picking the best blooms available, indicating they were to be delivered to Mistress Gilmoreth and her aides to fill certain rooms throughout the Citadel. Others were to be taken to the feast hall for decorations there.
But the very finest were marked for harvesting the day after. “There will come some who will see to their placement,” he said. “But they are to be cut just after dawn.”
Those in the flower markets had also been sent orders for flowers to be delivered to the Citadel, and others to be made free to all who desired them on the day of Midsummer starting at noon, and again the funds provided were generous.
By noon Mistress Gilmoreth and Master Balstador indicated that all was in readiness as the King had commanded. Two hours later Aragorn was in the Hall of Kings, accompanied by the Lord Prince Steward Faramir, the Lord Prince Imrahil and his wife, sons, and daughter, the Lord Steward Halladan of Arnor, the Lord Hardorn and most of their kinsmen, Lord Elfhelm from Rohan who served as envoy from his land, the Lord Rustovrid from Harad as envoy from the Farozi of that land who’d arrived that morning with four others to speak about making a treaty between Gondor and his people, Lord Gawain of Dale who’d arrived as official envoy from King Bard’s court, Master Galador (whose face was quite strained), Master Faralion, and the Master of the Guild of Bards and Minstrels as well as Mithrandir and the rest of the King’s companions from the Fellowship of the Ring.
All were watching the King who, dressed in the new green robe that had been delivered just that morning, paced nervously up and down the Hall, stopping now and then to examine the vases of flowers and greenery which now decorated it, seeing to it that the candles in the sconces were as ordered all new and ready to be lit, that the pages and servants to serve tonight and tomorrow were all at attention and impeccably dressed.
“He’s nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs,” commented Sam in a low voice to Frodo, who stifled a chuckle as he nodded his agreement.
Gimli was watching Aragorn with amusement; Merry in his uniform attended on Lord Elfhelm; Pippin was standing on guard before the King, his uniform clean and his mail, helm, sword and sheath brightly polished as had been ordered for all of the Guard of the Citadel and members of the King’s personal Guard.
A door opened, and a tall figure came through from the hall to the living quarters to join those who attended on the Lord of Gondor and Arnor. Frodo looked to see who it was, and was amazed to recognize Gildor Inglorion whom he’d last seen in the Woody End in the Shire. “My Lord Gildor,” he said, bowing deeply. All others turned and joined in the bow, including, Galador noted with dismay, the King himself.
“My beloved Lord Frodo,” the Elf said, returning the bow to the Hobbit. The spots of color could be seen on Frodo’s cheeks, but this was one even he would not seek to correct. Gildor came before Frodo and knelt to look into his face. “You won through, enduring beyond all hope,” he said softly. “I greet you and offer you and Lord Samwise and your kinsmen ever the honor of my people.” He gently took Frodo’s hands, and the embarrassment the Hobbit felt faded as a fierce and unexpected joy filled him.
“I’d not expected to see you again.”
“I have come with Lord Elrond and others from the North to offer honor to the King of Gondor and to witness the surrender of the Sceptre of Annúminas to his keeping, as well as what is to occur tomorrow,” Gildor said. “It has been a long time coming; but is the sweeter for the wait for him and the more dear to those who love him.”
A light refreshment was provided, although Aragorn ate barely anything. Merry and Frodo exchanged looks of amusement. Frodo watched Aragorn closely and with a feeling of compassion. Fit to burst, had Sam described him? An understatement if there ever was one.
At last the King indicated he was ready to go down through the city to the barrier at the gates. The Star of Elendil shone on his brow; the Sword Reforged hung at his hip; the Elessar Stone reflected the light from the windows from its place at the neck of his robe. Together they walked out of the Hall of Kings to the Court of the White Tree. There the King paused to lay his hand on the stem of the young Tree, murmuring to it before he bowed and at last passed it to continue on to the ramp. Sam looked at it critically. “It’s taller even than it was yesterday, Master,” he murmured. “I’ll swear as it’s at least a foot taller’n when he planted it, if that’s possible.”
As he gave a bow of his head as he passed, Frodo had to agree. At the top of the ramp Aragorn stopped, indicating he wished Sam on his left and Frodo on his right. As they started down the way to the Sixth Circle he said quietly, “The ponies are ready for you at the bottom. I know you don’t need them now, but I don’t want you, Frodo, overtired when we come back up. I want you ready for the feast to come. Are you at ease today?”
“Oh, yes, Aragorn.”
The grooms were waiting with the two ponies Frodo and Sam had ridden before there before the stable, and soon the two of them were mounted and moving to take the lead at Aragorn’s gesture. The streets were lined with many watching their King and his companions descending to the First Circle, going, it was said, to meet his bride.
All watched with awe as he walked by, tall, regal, his face alight with joy and anticipation. He smiled at those who called out to him, but did not speak. All looked on those who attended him with interest, and watched as the procession moved down the main Way through each level of the City.
The pony Frodo rode was somewhat tense, and it took concentration for Frodo to keep it steady at first until they’d made it down to the Fourth Circle when at last it walked more sedately. That morning Frodo had spent here in Master Celebrion’s workshop, watching him craft a great bowl of the volcano glass. Its main color was blue, although once it had cooled it had shown a full spectrum of tones and hues, and Frodo had been enchanted by it. “I wish to purchase it,” he’d said with sudden decision.
“I’ll give it to you freely, Master Frodo,” the glassblower had said, but Frodo had shaken his head.
“No,” he said with certainty. “It is to be a gift. Will you deliver it to my guest house tomorrow morning? How much do I owe you for it?”
Frodo and Celebrion had argued over the price desired for a time, for Frodo wished to pay a fair price for it, that it be a worthy gift. Finally they settled, and the glassblower, watching after as Frodo had left, had decided to add another gift for Frodo himself. A smaller bowl did he blow, similar to the great one the Pherian had purchased, and when it was finished and cooled he carefully wrapped it and nested it in the larger bowl, saw it also carefully packaged, and prepared both for delivery the following morning. Celebrion now stood near the bounds to the market with Linneth, and as Frodo and Sam rode by preceding the King he’d smiled, bowing to the two of them.
They finally arrived at the barrier for the gates, and there all stood, waiting. Frodo and Sam dismounted, holding the ponies and calming them.
A choir now gathered, and musicians with instruments suitable to be played while walking. The musicians began playing softly, a gentle piece written a century before in honor of the River Anduin, one well known and loved within Minas Tirith. That was followed by another, longer piece that was older, one written to describe in musical tones the land of Gondor. As the musicians finished this a horseman approached, dismounting to speak to the King before taking his steed through to the stable in the First Circle, and those who lined the way outside the walls could be seen straining their attention to the North. Aragorn took a very deep breath and held it, then with a nod led the way out past the barrier. Those who already waited there gave way as the King’s party took its place, and the choir took its place behind them. Faralion raised a baton, and a note was played; he raised it again, and a song was begun, one whose tune was ancient and which had not been sung before the people of Gondor for over a thousand years. It was the song by which all coming to wed the King of Gondor had been greeted to Minas Tirith since the days of Meneldil himself, it was said. The questions as to the accuracy of the rumor were now laid to rest.
The party from the North approached. First rode back the sons of Elrond, tall and proud and on guard. With them were other Elven warriors, led by a markedly tall warrior whose long hair was bright as sunlight, as Lord Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower rode behind his friend’s sons.
Next came a party on foot, archers from the Golden Wood, and those of the Fellowship recognized several, including Haldir and his brothers Rumil and Orophin. Behind them came Prince Tharen, who’d apparently separated from the rest of the party going North to await this party. He led a party of mounted archers from Eryn Lasgalen. Behind them was a tall Elf whose appearance was sufficiently similar to that of Tharen and Legolas it was plain this was indeed Thranduil of Mirkwood. After him and his attendants came others Frodo, Sam, and Pippin recognized from Gildor’s people whom they’d met in the Shire.
Finally among a group of mounted Elves from the Golden Wood rode the Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel of Lothlorien, followed by a group of mortal Men and women from Arnor, more of Aragorn’s kindred from his own land. Last after lords and ladies of his House came Elrond of Imladris carrying a rod in his hands veiled in red velvet; and on his right on a white palfrey rode as a shining vision the Lady Arwen Undomiel, and at last Frodo understood. He looked up at Aragorn’s face, shining with earnest longing, and saw there raw and finally unveiled the love he’d long held for the maiden he’d desired since first he saw her, the day he’d come of age, so long ago in Imladris. Frodo heard Aragorn murmur, “Tinúviel come again,” as he finally moved forward to bow deeply to the party, and as he stepped to the stirrup of the Lady Arwen to assist her from her steed.
The surrender of the Sceptre of Annúminas by Elrond to Aragorn and the acclamation by the representatives of Arnor of him as King followed, but all eyes were primarily on what would be surrendered fully to the Lord Aragorn Elessar on the morrow. Now, Frodo realized, even the times of darkness within Gondor would be blessed, for the Evenstar would shine ever at the King’s right hand.