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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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94
94: Travelers' Honor

94: Traveler's Honor


Merry watched Pippin packing for his expected week at the Great Smial with concern. “I’m not certain why you’ve even considered it, Pip. You know as well as I do they aren’t going to listen to you, and won’t accept what happened to you. You heard what Pearl said when we were at Budge Hall, after all. Frodo seemed to be all right when at last he came to breakfast, but not until after the night before when he’d been reduced to having to go to Willigrim for poppy juice to help with the pain from his head and shoulder. They did that to him, you know.”

Pippin was going Took-stubborn on him--he could see that well enough. “Merry, I would appreciate it if you didn’t talk so about my parents, even if it is true. In spite of all they’ve done in pushing away the truth, the fact remains we love one another, and I have to give them another chance.”

“Another chance to try to pretend nothing happened to us out there?”

Pippin stopped and looked coolly into Merry’s eyes. “I would suggest that you stop trying to discourage me from talking with my parents and look at doing just that with your own. Unlike my folks, yours want to know and are willing to believe you even if they don’t fully understand as yet. They may want to smother you to death with love and understanding and protecting you and all, but at least they want to know, which is a step in the right direction.”

Merry took a deep breath, held it briefly, then let it out. “I’m not certain which is worse--although at least I do work with my dad every day as I did before I left. He’s still doing his best to prepare me for when I’ll be Master in my own right.”

“Who knows, Merry--I may get to that point eventually as well. Frodo’s letter about his last visit there was a good deal more positive.”

“At least Frodo’s writing again.”

Both of them went quite still for a moment. At last Pippin said, “Yes, at least he seems to be--better?”

That last word was a hard one to examine. Frodo was thinner than ever, and at the Free Fair had looked--looked as if--as if he were----

Neither wanted to say it--dying. Withering, fading, failing, thinning, preparing to pass.... So many words to avoid saying dying. Sam could barely be brought to admit it, but you could see it in his eyes as he watched more of Frodo Baggins appear to burn away day by day. Frodo’s well was going dry; the flame of his candle was preparing to gutter out; the oil of his lamp was almost consumed.... June had been a difficult month for Sam, and when they’d seen him he’d always been preoccupied and with a good deal of grief and a surprising amount of anger to him. Not until the last week of the month had he seemed to give over the anger and bitterness, and at the Free Fair there had been just the grief, that patient, consuming grief.

And then, as Frodo always seemed to do, he’d rallied once again, and a couple weeks after the three of them were certain he was too weak to do anything but lie upon his bed and let go the bonds to this life they’d arrived at Bag End to find him eager for a visit to Buckland for Merry’s birthday. Together they’d walked to the Ivy Bush to get Strider, saw him saddled and bridled, and together they’d ridden--slowly--to Buckland and stayed at the Crickhollow house, wandered along the banks of the Brandywine, talked and laughed for three days, forbidden to come to Brandy Hall as a nasty summer cold was making the rounds there and the Master had forbidden visits there or with its denizens until it had spent itself, particularly not wishing to see Frodo grow ill with it.

They were to ride back to the Great Smial together; but on the return ride, Frodo, who’d been gay and lighthearted for the last eight days, had collapsed in the heat as they neared Budgeford, and he’d insisted they take him to Freddy’s house rather than on through Tuckborough to the Thain’s home. Then once he was there and they’d helped Viola and Budgie see him tucked up into Freddy’s extra bed, he’d insisted they go on. “It was only the heat, you know,” Frodo had whispered.

Only the heat our Aunt Fanny! both Merry and Pippin had realized.

A few days later, after the hot spell was over, Freddy had returned him to Bag End in the Bolger family coach. For some reason Frodo had been insistent on again traveling to Buckland, however, and toward the end of August had hired the pony trap from the Dragon and had tried once more. He’d not planned it well, apparently--or so it had seemed at first--for when he arrived at Brandy Hall his uncle was out of the Shire in Bree, meeting with Lord Halladan about the King’s continued emergency edict about Men not being free to enter the Shire, and Esme had been in the Southfarthing visiting Hornblower relatives there. She’d returned on the third day of Frodo’s visit, and not long after she arrived back Frodo had suddenly asked his trap be brought around and he’d disappeared as only Frodo had ever been able to do within Brandy Hall until the trap was at the door; then he was away once more.

Mac had been sent after him to make certain he was well, and he’d returned to the Hall where Merry was trying to console his mother with word that Frodo seemed well enough, and had stopped to speak with an Elf.

They then had learned that during the two days of his stay he’d gone to visit his parents’ grave; certainly when they came there afterward all the weeds which had grown upon it had been cleared away, and a pot of primulas had been placed near the headstone--a pot of primulas and a second of variegated ivy. The children said he’d come out to sit under the shade of a tree to watch them swim in the protected bay where the children of the Hall had always gone swimming, where he himself had ruled during his teen years. Merimas then told them at night he’d sat out in the Master’s portion of the garden where they used to sit and talk in the evenings, and where he’d often spent nights during the summer months. And he’d been reported as entering the abandoned smial by the river where his family had lived for a time.

Pippin suddenly spat out, “Why doesn’t he just go to Rivendell and stay there with Lord Elrond and Bilbo? That’s the only thing that could help him now, Merry--for--for whatever time he has left.” The two cousins looked at one another. Neither wanted for Frodo to leave the Shire, but one way or another, it was going to happen, and if he stayed--if he stayed, it would most likely be too soon.

Merry sighed. “He still won’t admit we recognize he’s--fading.”

“Stubborn Baggins,” Pippin muttered.

“I’ll remind you he’s a good part Took, Pippin. The stubbornness of Frodo and Bilbo both comes mostly from the strong Took strain, I think. Before them the Bagginses were mostly known for their respectability.”

“Well, that’s definitely gone out the window with those two,” Pippin replied. And suddenly the two of them were laughing together.

“Take care of yourself, and remember that if you return and I’m not there you can find the extra key under the flower pot.”

“As I put my own key there so I don’t have to carry it, I think I’ll be able to remember that, Meriadoc Brandybuck. Besides, I’ve left my window open.” Pippin strapped his pack to his back, grabbed up his saddlebags, and went out to get Jewel ready for the trip to the Great Smial.

As he found his way onto the Road Pippin saw he wasn’t the only one riding toward the central Shire that day, for Brendilac Brandybuck was there on his pony Thrush. Pippin encouraged Jewel to come up with him.

“Hullo, Brendi,” he said.

“Hello, Pippin. Going to try once more?”

“Yes. Hope keeps springing up in my breast that this time they’ll just let me tell it as I must.”

“Frodo appeared more hopeful about your parents when I saw him during his visit.”

“Are you going to visit him?”

“No, not this time, although he’s asked me to come two days before Esme and Sara are to visit Bag End.”

“Any idea why they’re going then?” But a look at Brendi’s face indicated that what he knew of that proposed visit he’d been sworn to secrecy about. “Sorry--I know that as his personal lawyer you can’t say a lot.”

Brendi nodded. “Thanks for not pushing.”

“Merry and me--we just wish he’d agree to go to Rivendell.”

“Rivendell?”

“To Lord Elrond--be with him and Bilbo.” Then, all in a rush, “It’s his only hope, Brendi. Lord Elrond is the greatest healer in all of Middle Earth--surely he must be able to somehow help him through all this! To just die----”

After a few moments of riding quietly Brendi asked, “You think, then, that--that he is indeed about ready to die?” Pippin looked at the lawyer, and realized his face had gone pale.

“He can’t go on losing weight as he has, Brendi. He can’t go on being bedridden more and more often, and us not face the fact that one of these times will be the last time.” Pippin straightened in his saddle. “It’s beyond belief that he’s lasted this long. Look at how many times he’s been at the point of death--or worse--already. Just after we left the Shire there was the attack by the wights in the Barrowdowns----”

“What?” Brendi pulled Thrush to a halt.

“Well, we did ride out of the Shire through the Old Forest, you know.”

“No one’s told me about any wights.”

Pippin thought. “No, I don’t suppose any of us would have spoken of it.”

Brendi kicked Thrush back into motion, and before she agreed to move she looked over her shoulder at him as if in question. “Tell me about it.”

Sorry he’d mentioned it, Pippin told of the trip through the Old Forest.

When he was done, Brendi sighed. “Frodo told me you’d met Bombadil, but not about Old Man Willow or the wights, only that you’d not have made it out of there without the help of the strange old soul.”

“It’s where we got our swords--mine and Sam’s and then the first ones for Merry and Frodo, that is,” Pippin sighed, resting his hand on the hilt of Troll’s Bane. “Aragorn has told us his ancestors made them, and that the swordsmiths who wrought them put runes on them especially intended to fight the power of the folk of the Witch King of Angmar. Elrond has said the same, and that probably no weapon was happier to meet its end than the one Merry used on him.”

“On whom?”

“On the Witch King of Angmar.”

Again Brendi pulled Thrush to a halt, and she looked first back at him, and then at Pippin with an accusing stare as he pulled Jewel to a halt also. Brendi was staring at Pippin with his mouth open.

Pippin felt embarrassed. “What are you looking at? It’s not as if I’d grown a second head or such, you know.”

“Where did you meet the Witch King of Angmar?”

“Well, we’re not certain whether or not he was one of the Black Riders who was searching for us here in the Shire, but he was the one who stabbed Frodo at Weathertop.” And at Brendi’s blank expression he said, “Didn’t you know, Brendi, that the Witch King of Angmar was the chief of Sauron’s Ringwraiths, and the Lord of the Nazgul?”

“I thought he was just a horrible legend!”

“Well, he was a good deal more than that, I’ll have you know. We heard stories of them all while we were at Rivendell, but they didn’t truly make a good deal of sense to me, at least, until I finally got to Gondor and found myself a member of the Guard of the Citadel. Those in Gondor know all the old legends, and of Eärnur coming North to help Arvedui Last-King’s forces fight those of the Witch King of Angmar. We’re part of those legends, you know. Eärnur’s Men came back with the tales of the Pheriannath, the Halflings, who’d fought for Arvedui, some of whom they appear to have seen--probably Bucca of the Marish and his companions, I must suppose. They know that after Eärnur’s army helped rout the Witch King’s army he fled back to Minas Morgul on the edge of Mordor, what used to be Minas Ithil, the city Isildur himself built there but which the Nazgul took long ago.

“We could see Minas Morgul from the city walls of Minas Tirith when it was clear, especially after the Enemy was cast down. Aragorn had fire set to the fields around it, and has given orders it’s to be taken apart, stone by stone. Once a month, his last letter told me, a troop of soldiers goes there with some engineers, and they spend a day just taking apart the walls and casting the stones this way and that. He says that so far that’s as much as he’ll ask of anyone, to spend one day a month at the labor of dismantling the city. But he wants the place opened up to the light of Sun, Moon, and stars, and the breath of the wind.”

At last Brendi realized they were just sitting their motionless ponies in the middle of the road, and he shook his head and, after patting Thrush, once more coaxed her into motion. A word from Pippin and Jewel again paced alongside the mare. Pippin continued. “The Witch King of Angmar and the other eight Nazgul mostly stayed on the East side of the Anduin until not long before we left the Shire. Somehow Gollum had been captured by Sauron’s folks, and he learned that Gollum had possessed the Ring but had lost it to a Hobbit of the Shire, a Baggins. Sauron sent the Nazgul out to find the Shire and the Baggins who dared to hold his Ring, capture both, and bring them back to Mordor.”

He quickly described the trip from Bag End to Rivendell, and how they’d been dogged all the way by the Black Riders, and how Frodo had been stabbed beneath Weathertop and how at last the waters of the Bruinen had swept all nine of them and their horses away.

“At first I thought they were all dead and gone forever, but Aragorn and Elrond soon let us know that that wasn’t true--that the Wraiths would just make their way back to Minas Morgul and start over again. The Witch King was ordered to lead the first of the armies set to assault Gondor. Frodo and Sam were there, hiding beside the road from Minas Morgul to Osgiliath and Minas Tirith, and saw them ride by, led by the Witch King of Angmar. Sam says Frodo went white and shaking with pain, and that where he’d been wounded hurt as badly as it had when it first happened.”

He went on to briefly describe the battle of the Pelennor, and the arrival of the Rohirrim, the attack on their king by the Witch King of Angmar, and how the Lady Éowyn and Merry, thrown from their horse and near at hand, had faced the wraith and killed him.

“He struck Éowyn’s shield from her with his mace and broke her left arm, and was ready to kill her when Merry crept behind him and drove his sword into his leg behind the knee. That paralyzed him, and Éowyn finished it. The blades of both swords burned away and their sword arms went numb, and both Éowyn and Merry were struck with the Black Breath--a malady that’s a terrible sort of fit of horrors in which the person loses all hope and eventually dies. Aragorn saved them, but ever since every time someone mentions the Nazgul Merry’s right arm goes cold and numb, sometimes so much it will actually hurt. Frodo’s is worse because he had the actual Morgul wound, so he feels terrible pain and cold, as if he’s being frozen from the inside out, or so he describes it--when we can get him to talk about it at all. A lot of the--the depression both have seems to come from the fact both were touched with that evil.”

“And if Elrond hadn’t been able to get the splinter from that cursed knife out of him----”

“Well, if he hadn’t, we would have lost Frodo then, once it worked its way to his heart. He’d not have died, but would have become a lesser wraith under them. He would have far preferred to have died than that.”

“No wonder Frodo has such moods of--of melancholy.” Brendi looked off into the distance toward the West without seeing any of it.

“Yes.” Pippin remained quiet for a while. “As we traveled, the Ring seemed to gain weight for whoever carried it. Both Frodo and Sam have said the same. Sam only carried it for about a day and a half, and he said once he actually went over into Mordor it was as though he were carrying the weight of a millstone about his neck. And Frodo has actual scars where the weight of the Ring pulled the chain he wore It on into the skin of his neck and shoulders.”

“How did Sam come to carry the Ring?” Brendi asked. After Pippin told of the betrayal by Gollum and the attack by Shelob, he sighed. “So,” the lawyer said, “that was the way of it. He told me part of it, but not that Sam had thought he was dead.”

“That was the second time we almost lost him,” Pippin said. “Sam says that as they went through Mordor Frodo just got weaker and weaker, until he literally couldn’t go any further. They’d had almost no food at all, and less water. Sam had to carry him up much of the mountain because he was so weak. Sam hoped only to get Frodo there before he died, for Sam didn’t have the slightest idea as to what to do then.”

“And then that Gollum reappeared, and Frodo found the strength to defy him and curse him, and then the Ring took him.”

“Yes. And then Gollum bit his finger off and----”

“Gollum bit Frodo’s finger off him? Sweet Valar!” Thrush again looked over her shoulder at her master as if trying to divine if he wished to halt yet again, and he absently patted her neck. She made the determination another stop wasn’t required and they continued West. “So,” Brendi finally said, “that was how it was done. I thought he’d had a knife or something.”

“No one has ever said anything about Sméagol and any knife. No, he was into strangling--did everything with only the weapons nature gave him.” Pippin shuddered, and Brendi felt he fully understood the younger Hobbit’s feelings.

“Apparently as soon as the Ring went into the fire the earth itself was shaken. It opened up and swallowed the Black Gate and the Towers of the Teeth that had flanked it. The tower of Barad-dur could be seen shivering to nothing, off in the distance, and they could see the Mountain tearing itself to pieces. All thought Frodo and Sam had to have died there, in the destruction of the Mountain. And then----” He paused for a moment. “Then, they saw a huge shape rising up, crowned by lightnings, shaking its hand at the West--and a wind, a mighty wind, came out of the West and blew the shadowy shape to nothing.

“The great Eagles had come to join in the battle, and now their King, Gwaihir the Windlord, came at Gandalf’s call. He allowed Gandalf to ride on him, and with two others they flew off to the volcano to see--to see if they could find Frodo. They could see Frodo and Sam on a knoll at the foot of what remained of Mount Doom, passing out as they approached. They carried them out of Mordor, and Aragorn was called to tend to them.”

“You weren’t there?”

“Oh, I was there, all right, but I wasn’t in a position to see much of anything at the time. I was buried under a troll, you see. I’d killed it in the battle, and didn’t have the good sense to move out of its way before it fell on me. I’m afraid I don’t remember much from the point of stabbing the thing on until I woke, several days later, in the healers’ tents with Merry holding my hand.

“Merry says I looked awful, and Gimli had been sure I was dead when he first found me on the battlefield. But when I finally was allowed to be taken to see--to see Frodo and Sam---- Oh, Brendi, you can’t imagine how bad it was. You think Frodo is thin now? He was as bad or worse then. They had a huge bandage on his hand. He had horrible bruises on his throat where Gollum had tried to strangle him--and Sam had similar ones. There were cuts and bruises and scabs and burns everywhere. Frodo lay almost perfectly still. Only the fact he--he hadn’t gone stiff convinced me he was still alive at first. You couldn’t see his breathing unless you looked very close. I couldn’t feel his pulse or even his heartbeat for the longest time. They were constantly having to force both of them to swallow liquids, and had to do it carefully that they didn’t choke on it. They had to turn them at least every hour that they didn’t develop sores. The first time--the first time Frodo actually turned himself in his sleep there was a celebration in the healers’ tents--you could hear everyone cheering.

“It had been easier to accept Sam was still alive than it was for Frodo. You could actually see him breathing, at least. Aragorn said neither could bear not having natural light over them, so instead of putting them in a tent they just did an enclosure around them with a line high over them to suspend a canvas cover from when it rained.”

Pippin gave a great sigh. “I was allowed to finally get up and move around only the day before they awoke. My hip had been pulled out of its joint, and I had to have exercises to strengthen the muscles so it shouldn’t pop out again. Most of my ribs had been cracked or broken. One leg had a break in the bone, but not all the way through. I wore a fine splint on it, although I was able to walk on it by the time Frodo and Sam awoke finally. Strider removed the splint a few days before we left Ithilien.

“And the first few days after they awoke, Frodo was so overwhelmed. He’d not had proper food for ages by then, so they had to start him on small meals every hour. He hated it, not being able to eat a proper amount. He’d need to get out of the camp or back into his enclosure regularly to deal--to deal with being around people all the time. And the noise of the camp bothered him. You can’t believe how noisy Men can be, Brendi. Most Men can’t walk softly to save their lives, and their voices are often loud and harsh. But Frodo made it.”

“Between the near starvation and thirst and then his hand--his finger bitten off?” Brendi shivered all down his body. “And then the condition you describe....”

“Because of the ashes and gases and smoke, his lungs were also affected. None of the three of us was allowed to smoke again for weeks, and Frodo can’t bear it for himself. Believe me, Brendi, that Frodo lived at all is the miracle. Aragorn has said calling him back was the hardest he’s ever done.”

“Calling him back?”

“Yes. Calling him back from dying. He was dying when they found him, Frodo was. Aragorn and his brothers and the Lord Elrond can call folks back from dying, if they’re not through the gates yet. Aragorn said Frodo was right before them, ready to pass through, before he finally agreed to turn and come back.”

“And now....” The older Hobbit didn’t continue.

“And now--now it looks as if this time he will go through them after all. Although he keeps rallying.”

“Yes, I’ve noticed.”

Brendi turned off toward the Southfarthing as they approached Waymeet. Pippin asked, “Who’s your client?”

Brendi smiled. “You won’t believe it--Benlo Bracegirdle.”

“What?”

“Yes. Since the spectacle Bartolo made of himself at the banquet before Yule Benlo has switched to me.”

“A Bracegirdle with a Brandybuck lawyer--that must be a first!” The two laughed and waved as Brendi went on toward Hardbottle and Pippin sat astride Jewel watching after him. At last Pippin turned Jewel’s head back westward and picked up the pace.

*******


When Frodo became ill on the way to the Great Smial and asked to go to Freddy’s house instead, Pippin and Merry had also changed their plans. They went onto Tuckborough to bring the news to the Thain that Frodo had become ill and wouldn’t be coming after all, and then after spending a single night there they returned to Budgeford to visit with the Bolgers at Budge Hall for a few days, joining Pearl and Isumbard, Maligar and Pervinca, Ferdi and Pimpernel and the children, who were all there with Estella and Melilot to help celebrate Rosamunda’s birthday. The last night Frodo stayed with Freddy the two of them came to Budge Hall to join the gathered family and guests for dinner.

Young Isumbrand, Bard and Pearl’s son, was fascinated by Frodo, having become acquainted with him only recently at the Free Fair. “Cousin Frodo, are there really Elves?”

“Yes, there are,” Frodo assured them.

“Do they ever come to the Shire?”

“Yes they do. Two of them came to the Free Fair last year and sang for us all if you will remember, Lords Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Lord Elrond of Imladris.”

Brand looked up at his father. “Did they really, Da?”

Bard smiled. “Yes. Don’t you remember? The very tall ones with long, straight dark hair who sang last, and who sang the song we couldn’t understand?”

“The one about the two who climbed the fire mountain?” Brand asked.

Bard straightened with surprise and looked at Frodo in question. Frodo’s expression softened as he asked, “Did the song seem to make you see pictures, almost like a dream?” At the lad’s nod Frodo smiled gently. “You are very fortunate,” he said. “It’s one of the gifts given to many of Elven kind to be able to spark such images in the minds of those who hear their songs, although not all mortals appear to see the images.”

“What was the song about?”

“About the fall of Sauron.”

“Were you there that night at the Free Fair?”

“Yes, I was. I was one of those who sang earlier.”

Brand thought. “They brought you letters, didn’t they?”

“Yes, they did.”

“And you were crying as they sang. You, and Uncle Pippin and Uncle Merry and Mr. Sam.”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because.”

“Did you understand what the song was about?”

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t we understand most of the words?”

“They were singing mostly in Sindarin, partly in Quenya, a little in Rohirric, and the rest in Westron.”

“What are those?”

“The languages used in the writing of the song. Sindarin and Quenya are Elvish languages, although a form of Sindarin is also spoken by the people of Gondor, while many of the King’s kindred in Eriador speak the Elvish form of it. Rohirric is the language spoken by the people of Rohan, and Westron is the formal name for the Common Tongue, the language we use.”

“Did the Elves make up that song?”

“No. It was written by Master Faralion, a minstrel of Gondor. He’s a Man.”

“How do you know?”

“I met him, and heard him sing it the first time it was sung properly.”

“When?”

Pippin laughed. “Frodo, just tell him the story of it--it will be far easier and faster than him digging it out of you in yeses and nos.”

Frodo looked at his young Took cousin with a slightly exasperated expression. “I wasn’t exactly there for how he came to write it, Pippin.”

Pippin gave a brief laugh. “Now, that’s not strictly true--you were there the entire time. You might----”

“I might not have been particularly aware? I definitely was not, as you know all too well. The one of us who knows best how the song was written and was there at the time is Merry.” He and Pippin turned to look at that cousin, both with identical expressions of interest.

“What’s the name of the song?” Brand persisted.

The Lay of Iorhael na I·Lebid,” Frodo answered absently, his attention still fixed on Merry.

But Merry was shaking his head. “Don’t ask me to tell it, Frodo, for you’re the story-teller in the family.”

“And when I am not around to tell the stories, will they languish for having no one to tell them?” There was something in the tone in which the question was asked that caused Merry and Pippin both to examine his face closely, their faces having both gone very solemn, even concerned. “You tell it, Merry.”

Merry was still examining Frodo’s eyes, which were giving away nothing. Finally he said quietly, “If you insist, Frodo.” He looked at the children. “All right, then, gather around.”

He gave a sigh as they sat on the floor about his feet, then looked back at Frodo, for a moment definitely concerned. Finally he looked back at the children. “The war with Sauron was over at long last, and all who had fought and labored long to bring him down finally had a chance to rest and regain their strength, and to try to learn once again how to live without always being on alert for an attack by his folk--if they’d ever been in a situation in which they knew peace, that is. Most of those who had fought in the battles, after all, had never known a time when they were not having to defend against attacks by the Enemy’s forces. The Army of the West withdrew from the blasted lands before the place where the Black Gate had stood West and South into Ithilien, the forest land between the great River Anduin and the Mountains of Shadow, bare, black mountains which have formed the Western wall of Mordor since its beginning. It was a time for licking of wounds, resting and cleaning weapons and seeing them ready to hopefully store away, and for seeing to the needs of those who had been sorely hurt.”

He paused again and looked a question at Frodo. Slowly Frodo shook his head, and Merry gave a small shrug before turning again to his audience. Pippin’s eyes darted from one to the other, finally settling again on Merry.

“There were many heroes, some of whom came away with barely a scratch, and others who were badly hurt, a few very badly hurt indeed. The tents of the healers were full. Most would in time recover and return to their former lives or find new ones for themselves. Unfortunately, there were a large number who were now lame, or blind; who had lost limbs, eyes, or even ears in the battles, or who had wounds so deep they would be unlikely to ever fully recover.”

Although Merry kept his eyes now firmly focused on the air over the heads of the children, Pippin’s automatically turned to Frodo. Frodo didn’t appear to notice.

“Among those who were badly hurt indeed were--the--the Cormacolindor--two who had done the most to see the Enemy felled. They had slipped in through the walls of his defenses as secretly as they could, and with little in the way of supplies or defense they went forward to destroy the Enemy’s greatest weapon before he could have the chance to use it and so manage to destroy everybody. Those two were found after the battle was over, lying unconscious in the ruins of what had been the strongest and most dread of places in his lands, both so close to death most feared they’d never recover. They were brought out and cherished by the King and all close to him. They were housed apart from all the others, and kept long in healing sleep, cared for as if they were beloved children found close to death, which they were.” His eyes flickered briefly to Frodo, an almost defiant look in them.

“The King wished to honor these two, and called for the Master of the Guild of Bards, Minstrels, Musicians, and Tellers of Tales for the land of Gondor and told him he wished a lay written extolling their great deeds, and the Guild Master called upon a young but highly gifted minstrel named Faralion son of Farathor to compose the lay. Over the long days in which these two remained sleeping and healing he moved among those who had traveled with them and knew them best, asking about them, asking what was known of what was done by them both while they remained with their former companions and after they broke away to go alone into the darkness of Mordor to do what was needed.

“I accompanied him the day he was allowed first to enter the enclosure where they slept, and saw the compassion on his face as he looked down on them. I heard many of the questions he asked and heard the answers. I saw the love all had in their eyes as they spoke of these two. And I saw the pride in the eyes of the King and his Companions, and felt it myself.

“On the day the Cormacolindor finally awoke they were brought out before all and praised by all. And when I heard the call of Eglerio as they walked through the camp and later as they walked through the city of Minas Tirith it would make my heart rise, remembering how it was called out to them that day. And at the end of the calls of praise in all the tongues of Men, Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits, Master Faralion stepped forward, offering to sing the lay before us all. And I’ll never forget how Samwise Gamgee was so moved he cried out, ‘O great glory and splendor!’ And it was great glory and splendor, you know.”

Brand looked up at Merry curiously. “Why were they called the corma--cormacolor?”

Cormacolindor is an Elvish word for what they did, and is the title given particularly to----” But at a sharp glance from Frodo he didn’t finish.

“What’s an enclosure?”

“In this case it was the walls of a tent put up around them, but with no roof over them. The King had two real beds brought there to be as soft as possible for them, considering how badly hurt they’d been.”

“Why no roof? If it rained, wouldn’t they get wet?”

“When it might rain they did put a roof over the enclosure; otherwise they seemed to need to have daylight and moonlight and starlight shine on them.”

“Did you get to know them?”

Merry again cast a look at Frodo, and then answered, “Yes, as well as I’ve been allowed.”

“What does Eglerio mean?”

Merry answered, “Praise them--and I do praise them.”

“Why?”

“For being willing to sacrifice themselves for everyone else--I’m only glad they survived. Now I think that dinner is ready,” Merry added as the Bolger’s cook peered into the room.

And as the rest went before them into the dining room, both Merry and Pippin made a point of pausing by Frodo and saying, very softly but definitely, “Eglerio!” And as the two of them walked slowly across the village back to Freddy’s home once dinner was over, Freddy’s arm around Frodo to support him once they were out of sight of the windows of Budge Hall, Freddy, who after all had been reading the chapters of Frodo’s book as they were written and knew now who it was who had slept in that enclosure, made a point of saying the same.

*******


On the night Pippin left Crickhollow for his last attempt to spend a week with his parents and hopefully find reconciliation with them, Frodo was seated on the bench outside the door to Bag End, looking out across the Party Field and the Water, remembering the evening at Budge Hall, two items lying by him at the moment--a brambleberry pie made for his purposes by Begonia Rumble that had just been delivered jointly by Pando and Cyclamen Proudfoot, and the latest chapter to be returned by Freddy to be copied tomorrow into the Red Book. There had been fewer and fewer criticisms or corrections noted by Freddy on each chapter, or so it had seemed for the last few months; the sheet he’d added this time had only a few words scrawled across it:

To my beloved cousin, the Lord Frodo Baggins: Eglerio. A laita te.

As he sat there, tears gathered in Frodo’s eyes.

He had chosen--at last. He would leave the Shire to take the ship and go into the West--with Bilbo and the Lady Galadriel and Lord Elrond and he was certain most of the other great Elves still remaining in Middle Earth.

Perhaps he would die on the way.

Perhaps he would find healing there, and at long last have the final cleansing he knew he needed both to remove the last of the filth left in him by the Ring and to be refilled once more. He was so very tired of feeling empty of nearly all save pain. One way or another, the pain would cease.

Yes, beloved child, it will cease, and if you will accept it you will be refilled. Be at peace, Lord Iorhael. You will one day be able to accept “eglerio” once more.

*******


Pippin rode into the stable at the Great Smial whistling a song he’d heard the previous evening, arriving just before noon of the day after he left Crickhollow. Aldenard, who was stablemaster for the Thain, came out to greet him. “You’d best let my lads see to Jewel there and get in as soon as you can,” he advised the Thain’s heir. “Pal is in a terrible mood--just learned as Misty was seen bein’ covered by the Underhill’s bay what’d found a weak place in the hedge atween the two fields. Was hopin’ to breed her to your Merry’s Stybba, you know. This’s put paid to a lot o’ his plans for the next lot o’ foals to be born.”

Pippin shook his head, for Misty was his father’s favorite mare, and the Underhill’s bay was as unprepossessing a pony as had ever carried a Hobbit to market. Yes, if that had happened his father would indeed be in a foul mood. He unfastened his saddlebags, hooked Troll’s Bane’s hangers over his swordbelt, made certain his pack was comfortable over his shoulders, and with a pat to Jewel and an apple slipped to her from his pocket he turned to go into the Smials through the stable entrance.

He stopped at his own quarters and laid his saddlebags on the table in his sitting room and set the pack on his bed, delving into it for the gifts he’d brought for his parents once he’d washed his hands and done a quick brush-up on himself. With these in hand he went on to the Thain’s private dining room, only to find it empty. “The Thain’s decided to eat in the common dining room today,” he was advised by Peasblossom, who supervised meals brought to the Thain’s quarters. Pippin wasn’t certain whether to be pleased or alarmed at this news. Hopefully in front of the greater possible audience afforded by those who usually chose to eat in the common dining room his father wouldn’t be too outrageous in what he might say; yet at the same time if his parents forgot themselves the potential for embarrassment was much amplified.

His parents tended to eat in the common dining room a couple times a week for luncheon and dinner, and almost always for afternoon tea and elevenses. Pippin hurried to join them, hoping that his parents weren’t too far along in the meal, as they preferred all sitting at their table to start at the same time.

He was fortunate--they’d only just had the bowls for the soup and platters of sliced roast set on the table when he entered. “Hello, Da, Mum,” he said as he approached the table and set his gifts down beside their plates. He turned to the West briefly, then settled down beside them.

His father looked up at him from beneath his brows, but kept his peace--he didn’t begin to understand this practice of looking to the West his son and the others had taken up, but had determined not to comment on it. Still it niggled at him, as did the realization that Pippin had again appeared at a meal with that sword of his at his hip. Certainly there couldn’t be a need for such a thing today, could there? “Son,” he said; but he was unable to keep all the disapproval out of his voice, and he noted the small wince Pippin gave at that tone. “We’d expected you last night or early this morning. Did you stay at the Floating Log or another inn along the way?”

“I’d expected to arrive last night myself,” Pippin admitted as, having caught his mother’s eye and gotten the small nod of permission he’d sought, he began filling his plate, “but as I approached the Woody End I found myself surrounded by a troop of Elves. Gildor Inglorien and his folk were coming to their forest hall there above Wood Hall, and they invited me to join them for the night. It would have been terribly rude to turn them down, you know, and they do serve the most marvelous wine and bread.”

“Elves, in the Woody End?”

“Yes. It’s the first time I’ve seen Lord Gildor since he accompanied Lord Elrond’s company to Minas Tirith for the wedding between Strider and the Lady Arwen, you know.”

Noting how Pippin’s expression had become quieter and almost sad for a moment, Eglantine asked, “What’s bothering you, Pip-dear?”

Pippin glanced at her and gave a rather elaborate shrug. “It’s only--it’s only that I suppose this may be the last time I’ll have seen Lord Gildor, Mum. He told me that now that Sauron is no longer a menace to Middle Earth he’s decided he’ll give way to the Sea Longing, for he admitted it’s been on him for quite a time. He indicated he’ll be sailing soon, most likely on the next ship to sail from the Grey Havens.” He sat, quite still for the moment, looking down on his plate. “I hate the idea that now all the Elves are definitely considering leaving Middle Earth. The world we must live in will be so--so dull without them here, too.”

“I’d never seen an Elf until the Free Fair last year,” Bard said.

“I’d never seen one until we were going between Hobbiton and Crickhollow when Frodo, Sam, and I walked there after he sold Bag End,” Pippin admitted. “One of the Black Riders had gotten off his horse and was sniffing after us when we heard the Elves singing a hymn to Elbereth as they came, and he got back on his horse and left.”

“Who’s Elbereth?” Isumbrand asked from his seat by his father across the table.

“The Vala who it’s believed scattered the stars in the heavens,” Pippin told him. “Her name is Elbereth in Sindarin, and Varda in Quenya, or so Frodo and Bilbo have told me.”

Eglantine opened her packet and found in it a beautiful brush with a back and handle of silver worked in an elaborate spray of flowers and leaves. “Oh, Pippin, this is so lovely! Where did you get it?”

“I sent a request for it to the Lady Arwen. There’s a silversmith in the Fifth Circle who does such things, and after your favorite brush broke last spring I thought you’d like it. Lord Gildor delivered it to me last night.”

Paladin opened his own package and found there a small silver figure of a pony. Pippin looked at it and then at his father. “I ordered that from the same smith, Da. He does marvelous figures of animals.”

His father nodded and gave a slightly twisted smile. “Thank you son. Did Aldenard tell you about Misty?” he asked.

“Yes, he did. That’s really too bad.”

“I never thought when I put her in that field that such a thing might happen. I obviously need to see the hedge repaired there. But to have a colt out of that awful bay of theirs....” He shook his head in disgust.

“Well, you might be surprised, Da, for the colt he threw on Old Tom Cotton’s Firelight last year was surprisingly beautiful, and shows remarkable stamina.”

The Thain raised his head and looked at his son with more interest. “Is that so?” His mood seemed lightened as he settled down to eat the soup with which Lanti had filled his bowl. “I’ll have to talk to Cotton about it,” he said between sips. “Have you heard from Frodo?”

“Yes, a letter a few days ago.” Pippin’s face went solemn.

“What did he have to say?”

“A great deal, and very little.”

“A great deal about what?” Pearl asked as she passed a basket of rolls.

“About how marvelous the garden is and how the mallorn has grown and about what little Elanor is doing. She’s been sitting up by herself for weeks, and has begun pulling herself to her feet now, and has even taken her first step. And Frodo swears she is starting to try to say words. Sam’s been teasing him by trying to teach her to say Cormacolindor.”

Pearl and Isumbard exchanged glances, remembering Merry’s story at the Bolger’s smial. Brand said, “But that’s the name of the heroes in that story Uncle Merry told.”

“It’s their title in Elvish.”

“What is it in the Common Tongue, Pippin?” Bard asked with a deliberately casual tone.

Pippin looked at him, glanced briefly sideways at his father, then answered, “In Westron it’s Ringbearers. Could you pass me the jam, Pearl?”

“Is the title of the song Elvish, too?” asked Brand.

“Yes.”

“What does it mean?”

Pippin paused some moments in the spooning of jam onto the roll he’d buttered, obviously thinking how much to tell them. Finally he resumed the preparation of his roll as he said, “Iorhael na I·Lebid means Iorhael of the Nine Fingers. The lay tells how it is that Iorhael came to have only nine fingers now.”

“You know this Iorhael, do you?” Bard asked him. “Did you meet him in Gondor?”

“Yes, I know him, but I didn’t meet him there,” Pippin said, rather shortly.

Ferdibrand had sat on the other end of the table, not saying anything through the conversation so far. Now he commented, “You said the letter also said very little. Very little about what?”

There was a pause before Pippin answered, “About how he’s doing himself.” He took a deep breath, then purposely turned the subject to questions of how well the vegetable harvest had gone so far, and how many acres of beets his father thought to see planted for sugar in the coming year.

After the meal Eglantine drew Pippin away to talk to the tailor, who was to make a formal suit for him to wear at a family wedding they were to attend in a few weeks’ time. Ferdi and Bard followed Paladin to his study to begin looking at the most recent reports from the harvests. As they walked Ferdi commented, “Pippin certainly asked quite sensible questions about the harvests and plans for next year, Uncle.”

Paladin shrugged and glanced over his shoulder at Ferdi as he walked with one hand on Bard’s back. “Yes. He soon might well be ready to begin learning more about being Thain one day.”

“Don’t you think you might begin inviting him to come to your office to observe now? Sara’s been having Merry work with him since he was twenty-three, after all.”

The Thain gave a dismissive snort. “Pippin’s but a lad yet.”

“A lad who will be thirty soon enough, Uncle,” Ferdi pointed out reasonably. “One who has fought in a war and stands guard before the King when on duty there, and to whom people listen with respect, or so Frodo says.”

Remembering what Frodo had said during his visit in May, the Thain made a noncommittal noise. As they approached the door to the study Isumbard said, “So, that long Elvish word means Ringbearers, does it. Wonder who this Iorhael is?”

Ferdibrand gave a long sigh. “Think, Bard,” he said. “Just think for a few minutes. You know what Frodo and Pippin have said Frodo had to get out of here and where Frodo and Sam went. Whom do you know who now has only----”

Bard stopped and turned suddenly. “You can’t mean----”

“Can’t I, do you think? Remember this--before Bilbo left I often visited with him and Frodo. Bilbo told us what our names were in Elvish. Did you know that?”

Paladin Took felt his heart give a decided lurch. Isumbrand and Pansy had told him the story Merry had presented at Budge Hall, and Pearl had described the odd interplay between Frodo and Merry. He turned to look at the younger Hobbit who was distant cousin and his youngest daughter’s husband. “And just what is Frodo’s name in Elvish, Ferdibrand Took?”

Ferdibrand straightened some. “Iorhael, Uncle. It means Wise One, you know.”

*******


On the second night of Pippin’s stay a windstorm struck the Tooklands, followed quickly by a thunderstorm. Suddenly those in the Thain’s wing were awakened by cries from Pippin’s room. “Merry!” he was calling. “Merry! Where are you? No! No! Leave him alone! Merry! Where is Frodo! We can’t let him go alone, Merry--it will kill him! Merry, help me find him!”

The Thain rose in consternation, frightened as well as angry at having his sleep so disturbed. “Now what in Middle Earth has gotten into the lad?” he muttered as he pulled his dressing gown about himself.

“Paladin, it’s just a nightmare----” Eglantine tried to caution him.

“This is ridiculous, Lanti--him waking up the whole place every time a storm goes through!” He left their quarters, banging the door against the wall as he went out. He stalked to Pippin’s door and pulled it open.

Pippin was sitting up, one leg reaching down almost to the floor, his face white. “Frodo!” he was calling. He looked as his father entered the room, half recognizing him. “Da--we have to find Frodo--he’s trying to go to Mordor alone. They’ll kill him, Da! We can’t let him go alone. And I’ve lost Merry again!”

“What are you screaming about, Peregrin Took?” Paladin was himself screaming. “Your cousin Frodo is an adult and can take care of himself, you know. I’m getting right tired of all this, Pippin--you being reduced to a quivering lump every time a storm starts. What kind of coward are you? I thought you were some kind of soldier! Why do you keep behaving in such a childish way? When will you finally grow up and learn some level of responsibility?”

Pippin was now fully awake, and sat, white-faced, looking at his father. Suddenly he was making an inarticulate cry and rising. He grabbed his clothes off the chair where they were draped and began pulling them on over his nightshirt, his fingers trembling.

Paladin reached out to grab his son’s hand. “Pippin, what do you think you are doing?”

The look Captain Peregrin Took of the King’s own Guard gave him was chilling. “You will unhand me, sir. I am leaving before I do something we will all regret. I am sorry, Father. I was warned this would happen....” His voice was carefully controlled. He pulled away from his da’s grasp, was clothed within a minute, and taking sword, pack, and saddlebags shouldered past the Thain of the Shire into the passage, his father following after him. Paladin and Eglantine watched after him, stricken, as he disappeared toward the stables.

Pal turned at last, noting that Isumbard and Pearl, their faces pale in the dim light of the passage, were now standing outside the door to their apartment. Bard asked, “Did you manage to chase him off again, Uncle Pal?” After examining the Thain’s expression he shook his head, put his arm about his wife, and drew her into their rooms. “Daft fool, driving the lad off like that again,” he was saying as he pulled the door firmly closed.

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