“They say it was brought from far away, to the East and far South of here,” Pippin said as he led them along the main way in the Fifth Circle. “I’ve never seen anything of the kind before, you know.”
“You say it’s something like a pheasant?” Merry asked, trying to clarify the idea of the bird in his mind.
“Yes, but much, much larger. And when it calls out, it sounds as if some lass has managed to get her hair caught in the chain for the well bucket.”
“And how do you know as what that sounds like?” Sam probed, giving the King’s smallest guard a sidelong look.
“I have three sisters, if you’ll remember,” Pippin pointed out. “On the farm Pervinca was always doing that--leaning down to see the bucket hit the water and standing to find her curls were caught again. Da finally removed the chain and put a rope on the bucket instead, it happened so often.”
“I thought you had a pump in the kitchen at the farm,” Frodo commented.
“Well, we did, for the kitchen. But we didn’t have one outside for the garden, you know. We had to haul buckets of water into the barn and the byres and to water Mum’s flowers and the vegetable plots.” Pippin turned to lead them down a side street away from the Pelennor. At the fifth house he stopped, motioning for the others to do the same. Quietly he said, “It’s here, in this yard.”
The wall was low, but was topped by a fence about five feet high made of bars of wrought iron with a top rail with spiky points at regular intervals. Inside was an imposing house of three stories, its windows glazed with diamond panes, a columned portico before the grand front door. Plainly this was the town estate for a wealthy merchant or possibly a lord of the realm. The grounds before it were immaculately kept, as were the trees planted to shade its lower story from the morning Sun.
The four Hobbits paused, watching through the fence. Finally there was a movement toward their right, and three great birds came pacing around the corner of the house and ambled across the yard toward them. Frodo straightened, for he’d never seen any bird so large in his life. All three were almost as tall as he was, with crests on the tops of their heads. The largest, plainly the male, dragged a tail behind him across the smooth lawn, as brilliant a blue-green as the feathers on its breast. Frodo could hear Sam murmur, “Look at that, will you?” as he found himself already following the gardener’s suggestion.
“They’re so big!” Merry exclaimed, his voice filled with awe.
As they came out from beneath the shade of the trees the two females paused, allowing the male to approach the wall. He came closer, then paused a couple paces inside the fence, peering at those looking at him with the same interest they showed. He paced slightly to the right, watching them with his near eye, then turned about and followed the line of the wall, examining them with the other one. Then it turned back, deliberately strutting now, then paused and turned toward the Hobbits, opened its beak and gave a cry that had the four of them clutching at their ears, particularly Frodo, whose hearing had become far more sensitive since he was wounded at Amon Sul. Having impressed its audience with its cry, the bird now lifted and spread its tail, and Frodo dropped his hands from his ears in astonishment. The feathers spread into a great, iridescent fan sufficiently large to have been useful to a troll intent on cooling itself, he thought, remembering the three stone trolls they’d seen as they’d traveled to the Bruinen. The bird seemed intent on showing every glorious, shining inch of himself, and it turned slowly first this way and then the other.
“What’s it called?” asked Sam.
“I don’t know,” Pippin admitted. “But it’s a beauty, isn’t it?”
Without thought Frodo pressed closer to the fence, and the bird did the same, each examining the other closely. Frodo reflexively reached his hand through the bars, gently touched the sleek head.
“And what do you boys think you’re doing?” asked a woman’s imperious voice from behind them, and all jumped and turned.
It was hard to say which was more startled, the Hobbits or the woman who stood there before the armed footman and maidservant who attended on her. These were, she realized belatedly, not boys after all, but the new King’s Pheriannath companions.
“I’m sorry,” the slender Pherian with the dark curls said. “We’d been told of your pets, and couldn’t credit the story without seeing them for ourselves. None of us have seen such things elsewhere. That is, they are yours, aren’t they?”
“Yes,” the woman said, much mollified and even a bit embarrassed. “You mustn’t try feeding them, by the way, for I find the boys of the circle will give them almost anything, and it’s caused no end of bother. The cock here will accept anything offered to him, and we’ve almost lost him three times so far due to choking.”
“Oh, we wouldn’t think of hurting your birds,” the one with the warm brown hair said. “What are they called?”
“Peacocks,” she explained. “The cock is quite the most beautiful bird of which I’m aware. They are from a far country to the East and South where some sailing merchants go to trade for spices. My father had some of the feathers from the tail of one, and I’d always hoped perhaps to have one myself one day. When my husband learned of a party going there he commissioned them to bring me back six of the birds. The other male died not long after they were brought to me, for he swallowed something the boys gave him and it killed him. One of the females didn’t survive the journey, and so I have but the one cock and three hens. The other hen has a clutch of eggs in the coop in which they spend their nights. I’m not certain how long it takes for them to hatch, and of course I’m not certain they’ll hatch after all. But if they do we intend to gift a few to the King when they are older.”
“Oh,” commented the one with the dark curls as he turned to look at them again. “Aragorn would undoubtedly enjoy that.” Again he reached through the bars and stroked the bird’s head, and the peacock closed its eyes and nuzzled against the Halfling’s hand. When the taller Pherian with the auburn hair followed suit, however, the bird drew back, then threw back its head and again gave its shrill cry. Immediately all seven clapped hands to their ears, and the woman could see the distress in the eyes of the one who’d caressed the bird. When the peacock went still again he dropped his hands, rubbing at his left shoulder as he contemplated the cock, his brow slightly furrowed. “Now,” he added, “I’m not certain he’d like that.”
“Now it is my turn to apologize,” she answered. “I had no idea when I received them their cries would be so loud and painful to hear. But they do tend to deter those who like to climb over fences, for they will cry out when strangers enter the gates.” She straightened courteously. “I would like to make amends. Would you honor me by being my guests and accepting some wine or juice?”
The four of them looked to one another, and at last the one with the auburn curls answered for the rest, “The honor would be ours, Mistress.”
The one with the curls of dark gold gave the one with auburn hair a reproachful look, but the one with dark hair said, “We’re not letting you out of it, Sam. Don’t forget what Aragorn told you of your status here. Now, come along.” The one called Sam muttered something under his breath the other three obviously understood, for the dark-haired one gave him another meaningful look while the others smiled and even, in the case of the one with auburn hair, gave a light laugh.
The footman went forward to open the gate, and all entered in. The peacocks walked along the path by them, the cock’s attention still fixed on the four Pheriannath, and particularly on the dark-haired one.
“I am sorry,” the one with the warm brown hair said as they approached the door, “but we’ve not learned your name as yet, Mistress.”
She flushed. “I must beg your pardon again, small masters,” she replied. “I am Elisien, wife of Valdamir son of Castigil, Master of the Merchant Adventurers’ Guild.”
The four small ones had stopped in a group. The dark haired one bowed first. “Frodo Baggins of Hobbiton in the Shire, at your service, Mistress Elisien.”
“Meriadoc Brandybuck of Buckland, at your service,” said the one with the brown hair.
The one with auburn hair followed his friend in a deep bow. “Peregrin Took of the Tooklands in the Westfarthing, at your service.”
“Samwise Gamgee of Hobbiton at your service, Mistress,” finished the last, the broader halfling with the hair of dark gold. His bow wasn’t quite as deep as those of the others, but was nevertheless graceful.
Mistress Elisien smiled down on them. “Now that that is out of the way, do come in.” The maidservant went forward to open the door for her mistress, curtseying as they passed her. Elisien noted with surprise that as they entered each gave a small bow to the girl and thanked her for her courtesy, and the maid smiled warmly in response. Elisien herself spoke to the girl, who once all were within hurried off toward the kitchen.
The woman led the way from the entrance down a lofty passageway to a room at the back of the house, looking out into the back garden. She saw that the eyes of all four lighted with pleasure, but particularly those of Masters Frodo and Samwise. “Very nice,” Master Samwise said with obvious approval. “It’s one of the first gardens as reminds me o’ home as I’ve seen yet, I must say.”
“Yes, Sam, isn’t it?” commented Master Frodo, his eyes running hungrily over the flowers. “More cozy than that of the Citadel, and far more beautiful than the one behind our guest house.”
“Oh, that last is comin’ along,” Samwise answered him, “not that I expect it’ll ever be much this season. I don’t suppose we’ll stay for the entire summer, do you think?”
Master Meriadoc shook his head. “I hope not, for our families must be fully worried about us by now, don’t you agree? It’s truly about time we went home.” He smiled. “It reminds me of the Master’s private garden behind the Hall, don’t you think so, Frodo?”
Frodo nodded, smiling gently. “Yes. I remember how much time we’d spend out there when you were small, Merry.”
“Yes, before you went with Bilbo.”
Master Peregrin considered it. “Now that you mention it, you’re right. I knew it reminded me of a place somewhere at home, but couldn’t think particularly what,” he said. He glanced at Master Samwise. “I bet you’re itching to get out there in it and find something to putter with, aren’t you?”
Master Samwise straightened, offended. “Now, that’s not quite it, Mister Pippin,” he said. “I don’t putter in gardens--I work in ’em plain and simple.”
“Oh, then you are a gardener in your own land, Master Samwise?” Elisien asked.
“Yes, Mistress,” he answered. “Been workin’ in gardens since I was a little one, alongside my dad.”
“And none in the Shire is better,” Master Frodo added, a look of pride on his face. He looked back out at the garden outside the window, and again she could see the raw hunger for such beauty there in his pale face. There was something else there, too, in his gaze--homesickness, she realized. All four were homesick, but especially this one. The others stood about him protectively, Meriadoc with his hand on Frodo’s left shoulder, Samwise with his on the right one, Peregrin just where he could see Frodo’s face out of the corner of his eye.
“Would you like to sit out in it for your drink?” Mistress Elisien asked them.
The pleasure could so easily be seen in the eyes of the eyes of each of them. “Could we?” breathed Master Frodo. “Oh, that would be so pleasant.”
They’d barely spared a look at the appointments of this back parlor, but she found she didn’t mind as she brought them out of it to the doors that opened on the rear garden and to the circle of chairs about a metal table there on a small pavement of stone blocks set in a sunburst pattern. The others steered Frodo to a seat first, where he sat rather heavily for one his size before the others each chose one for himself, Meriadoc again on one side and Samwise on the other, and Peregrin where he could keep an eye on him. Elisien sat herself across from him, grateful the table and chairs were as low as they were. From within the house she heard a cheerful clatter down the stairs. “Oh, dear,” she said. “The children have realized that I’m home, and will be down here in but a moment to overwhelm us, you’ll find. I hope you don’t mind children.”
“Oh, don’t worry for us,” said Master Meriadoc. “Frodo here’s a past hand at dealing with children. After all, he’s cared for each of us and our countless cousins and Pippin’s and Sam’s sisters over the years, not to mention the children that flock about him to hear his stories when he walks into Hobbiton and Bywater.”
She smiled. “Valdamir and I had this table put here for ours. We have four,” she added, perhaps unnecessarily as the four in question burst out of the house, all eager to speak with her, only to come to an abrupt halt as they looked on their mother’s guests.
The oldest had the coltish looks of a lad in early adolescence, and promised to be tall when his full growth was reached. His dark hair was falling across his eyes, which were bright with interest and surprise as he examined the four about the table. The next was a lass, with hair as dark as that of her brother and mother, and alert brown eyes, a book carried in her hands. The third was a younger lass still with the roundness of childhood about her, perhaps up to the shoulders of the Halflings were they to stand. She held a doll, obviously much loved, protectively in her arms. The smallest was another lad, not as tall as his next older sister, who wore a wooden sword at his belt and an open helm on his head. “Nana,” he said, after looking at the guests, “did you bring children for us to play with?”
Master Frodo laughed, a clear, sweet laugh that filled the garden, and both Meriadoc and Peregrin laughed with him, while Samwise gave a low chuckle and shook his head. “I very much fear,” Frodo said at last, “that the four of us left childhood a time ago, although I’ll admit that Pippin there is not quite of age yet.”
“Well, I’m far closer to being of age,” said Peregrin, “than I am to being a child.” He gave an ostentatious sigh as he turned to the older lad. “Now, you don’t have intentions of standing me on my head, do you, as did the last lad I met here in Minas Tirith?”
Frodo looked at him with surprise. “Tergil would never suggest such a thing, surely?”
“Not Tergil--Beregond’s son Bergil, Frodo. When I was first sworn to Lord Denethor’s service Beregond told me where Bergil was staying in the Street of Lampwrights in the lower city, and first thing he was offering to do just that. Definitely a Guardsman’s son, that one.”
“He’d be so discourteous to one he’d but met?” asked Mistress Elisien’s oldest child. “No, I’d not do so. Then you are the Ernil i Pheriannath?”
Peregrin rose and again gave a low and courtly bow. “Peregrin Took at your service,” he said again, “although most just call me Pippin.”
“But that’s but an apple,” objected the older daughter. “My name’s Arniel, and that’s Valdarion--” pointing to her older brother, “--that’s Meliseth, and that’s our little brother Hirgon, who wants to be a Guardsman when he grows up.”
Frodo looked to the little boy. “Were you named for Lord Hirgon, then?” he asked.
“He’s our ada’s cousin,” the child answered, nodding. “Are you really a prince of the Halflings?” he asked Pippin.
Frodo shook his head as he answered for his friend. “No, Pippin isn’t a prince, although he is the Thain’s heir, for what that’s worth. And Merry there,” with a nod toward Master Meriadoc, “will follow his father as Master of Buckland and the Marish one day.”
Small Hirgon suddenly glowed with triumph. “But you two have swords,” he said, turning to where Pippin still stood, the hilt of Troll’s Bane at his hip.
Pippin’s face went solemn. “Yes, I do, but I’ll assure you they’re not for play.”
“Do you serve in the armies of your people?” Arniel asked him.
Pippin sat back down, arranging his sword as he sat. “We don’t exactly have armies in the Shire,” he said, “for which we’re all very grateful. Now we do have a militia of sorts, I suppose, in the Tooklands, for most of our menfolk are expected to use a bow in case of need. But we’d not gone to war since the days of Arvedui Last-King when Bucca of the Marish led a troop of archers to the King’s support in the war against the forces of the Witch King of Angmar.” Both Meriadoc and Frodo visibly shuddered when that name was uttered, Mistress Elisien realized, and stories of what these four had reportedly done in the war against Sauron suddenly were brought to mind.
The children looked at one another. “But the last king wasn’t Arvedui,” objected Valdarion. “It was Eärnur.”
It was Frodo who answered, his face notably paler and a bit sad. “Eärnur was last king here in Gondor,” he said quietly, “but in the North Kingdom our last king before Aragorn was Arvedui, who married Fíriel, daughter of Ondoher, reuniting the lines of Isildur and Anárion once more. And so it is that Aragorn is able to claim both the Winged Crown and the Sceptre of Annúminas, for he is the last heir to both North and South.”
The children were gathering near to the chair in which the dark haired Pherian sat. “Will you tell us about Arvedui?” asked Meliseth.
Frodo shared a look with his hostess as the maid and another came out carrying trays of drinks and cakes and fruit. “If you wish it,” he said, gently. “It’s a sad story, though. Much of it I learned as a child, and more from Aragorn and Lord Elrond while we waited in Rivendell for word it was safe to go on with our journey. But Bucca left a bit of a record of his part of it in the archives in the Great Smial, and my Uncle Bilbo read it when he would visit there.”
The maids quietly served their mistress’s guests, then stood aside as Frodo began his story, telling how word came that Angmar was coming South into Eriador proper to assault the King’s city on the shores of Lake Evendim, how Arvedui’s folk were eventually forced to flee Southward toward the Shire, how Bucca and his brother led forth a troop of archers but only Bucca returned again to the Shire to become Thain.
“Our people couldn’t hide the Men of Arvedui in our holes,” he explained as the story unfolded, “but we could aid them to go by hidden ways to the Western Marches and beyond to the safety of Mithlond and what remained of Lindor. His wife and his remaining heir went that way, until the day finally arrived that Eärnur led reinforcements to the aid of Arnor, and Angmar was at last defeated and it’s fell lord fled back South to Mordor, where he hid in Minas Morgul until Eärnur answered his challenge and disappeared into the dark vale.” He now stopped, his face still and solemn.
Throughout the children and the Pheriannath ate and drank, although Frodo did less so than his fellows. He now took up the glass before him and drank deeply from it. It was then that it could clearly be seen he had lost the ring finger on his right hand, and Elisien understood which one this was. Elisien realized that the food was all gone, and signed the two maids to come near, sent them off to fetch more, for she could see how Frodo had realized he’d had barely any of its bounty while he’d talked and that he was hungry.
“Do you really know the King?” asked Arniel.
“Oh, yes, we do,” Pippin assured her. “You can’t travel as far with a Man as we did with Aragorn and not know him somewhat, at least.”
“How did you meet him?”
And again Frodo was prevailed upon to tell the story.
The maids returned in record time, and Elisien realized the trays had been hastily refilled this time in the eagerness the two had to come again to hear what was next.
The peacocks had found them now, and the two hens settled down near Lord Frodo’s chair while the cock walked back and forth about it as if on guard for the Ringbearer, now and then pausing to display his glorious tail with its multitude of eyes upon it.
The children laughed as the meeting with the ragged wanderer Strider was told, and as he offered to serve as their guide. But as Frodo explained how as they spoke the mysterious Ranger straightened to his full height and dignity, how his voice changed, how his authority could be more clearly discerned and the Light of Stars could finally be seen about him they grew quiet and respectful.
“And now he’s our King,” Valdarion said quietly when the tale was done.
“Yes,” Frodo agreed as he drank from his glass again and took up one of the cakes that this time Master Samwise had seen to it made their way onto the plate set before him. He ate and drank some more, and at last looked up at the lie of the shadows across the garden. “We must go now,” he said quietly. “Thank you again for your courtesy and hospitality, my lady, children,” he said, rising and bowing deeply. “And thank you for allowing us to see your beautiful birds,” he added as the cock rubbed itself against his maimed hand. He stroked it gently.
At that moment there was a flurry from an area fenced with wire mesh further down the way, and soon the third peahen emerged, proudly, watchfully leading a small brood forth for their first foray into the gardens of their home. All stood quite still as the hen and eight chicks came near. Spots of color could be seen on the fair cheeks of the Pherian as he watched them come, delighted. “Oh,” he said gently, “oh, how wonderful!” He looked up to Mistress Elisien’s eyes. “It appears that the eggs were fertile after all,” he said. “Such hope for continued beauty they are.”
Valdarion went to a covered pot nearby and lifted its lid, took out a handful of cracked grain, and scattered it for the peacocks, at which all came rushing round to share in the bounty. He reached in a second time and brought a handful of it to Frodo, who took it in the palm of his right hand then knelt gracefully to hold that hand out until four of the eight chicks crowded about it, taking the grain greedily. Again they could all see the place where a finger was missing.
At last all was gone and again he rose, somewhat reluctantly, wiping his hand on his trousers. “Thank you,” he said, “thank you so very much for adding to the beauty of the day.” He nodded to the others, and Samwise came near as if to offer the support of his shoulder if it was needed. Frodo gave a smile and the slightest of shakes to his head, and they turned to leave.
Now Elisien and the children escorted them around the house to the trees at the front, further escorted by the peacock and the two hens who remained yet chickless.
“You stay in the Citadel?” Elisien asked.
“No--we of the Fellowship have been granted a guest house in the Sixth Circle, on Isil Lane,” Frodo said. “It’s a fair place, and quite comfortable, but not home if you understand.”
“You look to return to your own place soon?” the woman asked.
“Aragorn wishes us to remain for something, although we’re not certain just what,” Pippin explained.
“It’s his hope, it is,” Sam said solemnly. “Whatever his hope is, we’re waitin’ for that to come to him afore he’ll let us to go home. And at this point I’m full ready, I must say.”
“Where your own hope awaits you,” Frodo said, his eyes lighting for his friend. Samwise blushed and the others gave soft laughs.
“Rosie’d wait to the end of Arda for you, Samwise Gamgee,” teased Meriadoc.
“Well, next time you’re homesick for your own gardens, do feel free to visit again,” Elisien said as Valdarion stepped forward to open the gate.
“Wait!” Arniel said. “Just a moment. I have something for you!” And she turned to gallop back to the house, threw open the front door, and disappeared inside. All watched after her curiously.
In moments she returned again, carrying with her a bunch of feathers from the peacock’s tail. Smiling with accomplishment she swiftly gave one each to Pippin, Meriadoc, and Sam, and then thrust the rest at Frodo. “I know how beautiful you find them,” she said. “We have lots, after all. Take them and be welcome.”
All could see the look of pleasure on Frodo’s face as he accepted the gift, his pale cheeks now pink with the unexpected joy of possessing such things. He looked from the feathers to Elisien’s face and the faces of her children. “Thank you again,” he said falteringly as he saw the gift confirmed by all of them. “Oh, I do thank you so.”
The four Pheriannath bowed deeply, and turned to Valdarion, who opened the gate to allow them to go. But at the last moment Meliseth reached forward to hug Frodo. “I wish you could stay here forever,” she said, “forever and ever, here in the garden with the peacocks about you, here where you could have beauty always there for you.”
Frodo looked startled. Finally he reached down to tip her face up so she could look into his. “I’ll never forget the beauty of this day,” he said, “and I’ll carry these to remember it with,” he added, indicating the feathers. “Thank you so for your wish. But wherever Sam cultivates his garden, that’s home and full beauty for me.”
He leaned forward to kiss her hair, then pulled back, and with mutual nods the four of them turned to go back the way they came.
The day came when the Lady Arwen arrived from Imladris to marry the King, and on that day the family of Valdamir and Elisien saw them again during the evening procession back up through the city. Many stepped forward to offer flowers and greenery to those who took part in that procession; the family of Valdamir gave each they could reach flowers and a brilliantly colored feather.
And among the wedding gifts to King and Queen were a pair of young peacocks.