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16
16: Benediction

16: Benediction


On the morning after Midsummer those who’d loved the Hobbits most deeply came together to lay the body of Samwise Gamgee to rest. As he’d requested, he was wrapped in his cloak from Lothlorien and buried in the garden Iorhael had cultivated before the summerhouse where he’d dwelt for over sixty-one years. Sam’s face was calm and happy, his limbs relaxed before they raised the hood of the cloak and pulled it closed about him.

Afterwards they entered the house to see how it had been left by the two Periannath. Frodo had left several pictures and figures with indications they were intended for particular individuals--the promised figure of Bilbo for Elrond; a painting of Elrond with his sons for Galadriel; one of Aragorn and Arwen at their wedding for Celebrían; a figure of Shadowfax running for Gandalf; the figure of Sam and Rosie at their wedding for Meliangiloreth; a painting of Galadriel’s hidden garden in Lothlorien for Celeborn; one of the Elven woods hall in the Shire for Gildor Inglorion; the first chalk drawing Frodo had done of Bag End for Livwen; others for this one or that. Frodo indicated he wished the painting he’d done early in his stay of Aragorn seated in judgment should be forwarded to the Mariner, and a figure of a gliding albatross with a star pattern on its breast to the Lady Elwing.

Gilmir and Pelmirieth accepted their gifts of books of stories and poetry from the Shire with tears in their eyes, for it was difficult for either to accept they would not see their friend again in this life. But soon their eyes were examining the carefully detailed pictures with which the books had been illustrated, finding hidden figures in several of them and seeking out the dragonfly with which Frodo usually identified his work.

Olórin carried his figure back across to the mainland where a silver-grey steed stood waiting for him. Here, my brother, is the figure of you as he has remembered you all these years.

The great horse sniffed at the figure, amused, and brought to mind the image of Pippin.

That one is now in Annúminas with Elessar, where temporarily dwells your grandson Elrond. But now both who traveled here aboard the ship that brought us have gone on to the Uttermost West, as has Samwise Gamgee.

Shadowfax gave a small snort, and imagined a Hobbit riding one pony and leading another, then embracing clearly the pony Bill.

Yes, that is the one. He was able to be by Iorhael at the end, and together they have now passed beyond the West.

A picture of the dancing stars and the two great Lights rising up to dance among them.

Yes, that was their leaving of Arda.

There were several images and feelings of comfort, and at last an image of Gandalf on his back, riding in the Hunt behind Oromë.

That is what you would like to do now, my friend? If it would please you....

The Hunter watched with compassion as the Maia arrived on the back of the great Mearas. You would join me in the current hunt, faithful one? Come and be welcome, and find acceptance of their leaving in action and the ride.

Olórin bowed low. "Soon enough, my Lord, I will go to Nienna. But for now to feel life in the riding would itself be soothing." Shadowfax bowed his great head, then moved into the line with the rest who followed in Oromë’s retinue. When all were ready, the Vala lifted his great gloved hand and with a leap his steed began the race into the wild places still on the western borders of the continent; and Shadowfax gave a neigh of challenge and sprang after.

*******


The King Elessar sat upon his throne, his great sword across his knees, the Winged Crown on his head, the Elessar stone fastening closed the neck of his shirt. No longer was his hair dark, for the years had left it and his beard white; yet his grey eyes were as clear and discerning as ever.

His son today sat on the chair placed beside him, Eldarion’s own young son Valandil sitting on his lap. Beside the high dais stood the royal Princess Melian and her husband, Hirlion of the Keys, their daughter standing with her hand in that of her father. The audience had been a long one, for there had been several deputations from about the double Kingdom and beyond its borders, from Rhovanion and Erebor and Rohan and Angmar, that had come that day. Now a ship’s master came forward with a small figure by him, one that many had at first taken for the captain’s son. The King, however, straightened, recognizing the dress as that from the Shire as well as the limp this one had as one who’d badly broken his leg in childhood, not to mention the dark cane of lebethron he carried. The King rose in respect, and inclined his head in honor. "Thain Faramir," he said. "And what brings you to the White City at this time?"

Faramir Took took one more step forward and bowed with that particular grace that seemed to be given to so many Hobbits, his face shining with happiness. "It is so good to see you once more, Lord Aragorn. I have given over my office as Thain to my son Frodo, and have chosen, if you will allow it, to follow my father and Uncle Merry’s example to come here to spend my last years by your side."

The King gave Anduril into his son’s hands, and descended the steps from his throne. He knelt before the Hobbit. "Allow it? You know I will ever rejoice to have you and yours beside me for whatever time you wish. Arwen will be so pleased, and Master Hamfast and his family will no longer feel so isolated, I think. Did you indeed come by sea?"

The captain straightened from his own bow. "Yes, my Lord King. We set out from Mithlond several weeks back, and have only finished the sail up Anduin today."

The King examined him closely. "Well, Belterion, it is good to see you once again. Your voyages make good profits as they have ever done?"

"Indeed. And we bring you a gift that we pulled from the sea as we approached the Mouths of Anduin." He held out a bottle, one that had obviously been carried in the ocean’s swells for some time, and yet that carried a collar of white blossoms that hadn’t been washed away by the waves and had not faded or decayed. "The wonder of the white flowers was the deciding factor that led us to believe it should come here, my Lord King."

The King took the bottle into his own hands and examined it, then gave his attention to the small collar of white blossoms. Melian stepped forward with her daughter Arien, who reached out a single finger to caress a petal of one of the white flowers. She looked up into her grandfather’s eyes. "They are from the White Tree," she observed.

"So it appears, beloved."

A second small figure made its way up through the group that filled the Hall of Kings, allowed through so he could approach his countryman. "Thain Faramir?" said Hamfast Gardner as he approached the King and his guest. "They told me you’d arrived, but I’d not have believed it if I didn’t see you with my own eyes!" Then he looked at the bottle the King held and paused, then looked again at the former Thain. "And did you bring the bottle from the Mathom House in Michel Delving?" he asked.

"What bottle?" Aragorn asked, not worrying about possible lack of protocol.

"The one Periadoc Brandybuck found on the beach near Mithlond," Ham said. "Isn’t this the one? I’ve heard the story told often enough, Lord Strider, of how it was found and my gaffer opened it and found pictures inside from Uncle Frodo."

Faramir Took’s face brightened. "That’s what it reminded me of!" he exclaimed. "Oh, how could I have forgotten? I remember Uncle Sam working the cork out so carefully, and then teasing out the contents." He looked at the expression of curiosity in the King’s eyes and his nostrils flared slightly with his enthusiasm. Aragorn suppressed a laugh, so much did Faramir remind him at the moment of his father Pippin. Faramir continued, "You haven’t heard the story, then?"

"Obviously not," the King said, shaking his head. "Tell me."

The two Hobbits looked at one another, and then Faramir began telling the tale of how years ago his father had decided to send the remains of a bottle of wine to the Undying Lands in a toy boat, setting it loose on the current of the Baranduin and invoking Ulmo’s assistance to carry it to Frodo; and how years later the bottle had come back, washing ashore while Merry and his family walked the beaches near Mithlond, and how it had been carried back to Hobbiton and its contents finally shown to have been pictures done by their Uncle Frodo, pictures plainly executed on Tol Eressëa.

"Uncle Sam had the bottle placed in the Mathom House, and the story of how it was found is told below its case. The two picures are there, also, the one of Uncle Bilbo, awake and surrounded by flowers, and the other of our dads together as they were when they bade Uncle Frodo farewell. They were carefully mounted and framed behind glass, and have shown no sign of fading."

"Then this isn’t that bottle?" asked Ham. "It looks just like it, you know."

"Save for the blossoms from the White Tree. Did you or your children take any blossoms from the Tree and make such a wreath of them?" Aragorn asked of the Head Gardener for the city.

"No," Ham declared. "I doubt the children would imagine doing such a thing, and I’ve never done anything like that."

Aragorn looked at the bottle with interest and a feeling of growing excitement. Many of those who’d attended the audience that day were now craning forward to see, their own curiosity roused by the strange story. Aragorn examined the bottle carefully, turned it to look at the deeply indented bottom and the pontil and mold marks, and at last turned to a page and asked him to call for the Seneschal. Soon Master Danrigil was found and hurried to his King’s service. In moments one of the glaziers for the Citadel was summoned, and he came bringing with him a bent pick and long tongs, and carefully he removed the collar of blossoms and laid them in the Lady Melian’s hands.

"They are true blossoms," she said quietly as she examined them, "and definitely not silk or of any form of artifice." She held them where her daughter Arien could see them more clearly.

Arien leaned forward and sniffed at them as the glazier worked at trying to remove the cork whole from the neck of the bottle. "They have a scent to them, Nana," the girl said, "a sweet scent as do the blossoms of the Tree."

Aragorn reached out his hands, and his daughter gave the small wreath into them. "Definitely they are true flowers, sell nín," he said, "with true petals and sepals and stems, wound together into a wreath on a straw ribbon. But never have I seen grass stems such as this straw."

"Nor I, Adar," Melian answered him.

In spite of his attempts to keep from breaking the cork, the glazier found it, unlike the straw and floral collar, brittle with age and exposure, and as he sought to extract it the thing fell to pieces, many sticking to the neck of the bottle. He gave a small exclamation of frustration, then colored to have said such things before the royal family. The King, however, was not disturbed by such comments uttered under such circumstances, and did not reprove him, and after the initial embarrassed silence the Man returned to his work, carefully seeking to remove the rest.

Hirlion stepped forward beside his wife, and the King surrendered the small wreath to him. "Clearly true flowers and dried grasses, my Lord," he said before surrendering them to the gardener.

Hamfast Gardner gave them a thorough examination. Finally he looked up into the King’s eyes. "These are indeed blossoms from a White Tree," he said definitely, "but are larger and somewhat finer than those from the Tree that grows before the Citadel, if that’s possible."

"Then they must be from a different White Tree," Arien declared as she accepted the small wreath from Hamfast Gardener.

"Beloved, there is no other White Tree..." began her mother.

Aragorn straightened, his face growing solemn and reverent. "No other White Tree in the mortal lands that we know of," he agreed. "However, we do know that there is another White Tree within the bounds of Arda."

Eldarion stood at that pronouncement, and as murmurs and whispers filled the hall he came down the steps of the dais with his son and his father’s sword until he came to the King’s side, giving first sword and then the child into Aragorn’s hands and accepting the flowers from his niece. He also examined them closely, then turned his eyes to Captain Belterion. "How long ago was the bottle found?" he asked.

"Two days out from the Mouths of the Sea, my Lord Prince," the captain said. "It was found just after sunset when the stars were first beginning to be seen. It was Thain Faramir who saw it floating in the water, the white petals shining in the early starlight in such a way we could not help but realize this was not a glimmer of typical sea wrack or foam. We brought up the long-handled net we use to pull fish caught for the galleys from the waters and used it to scoop it from the waves. As Thain Faramir had first seen it, we left it in his keeping once all had examined it and we had determined it should be brought and delivered to your father. He kept it in his cabin, and the flowers have not wilted at all, but have given off a sweet and wholesome odor that has filled the chamber."

"That’s exactly as it’s been, my Lord," Faramir Took agreed. "I’ve never seen the like, and Uncle Sam did his best to fill the Shire with odd plants, as you know. I’ve seen the White Tree in blossom, of course, during previous visits to the White City, and I certainly recognized these; but I cannot understand why they don’t fade and wilt."

The King gave a nod as he indicated the flowers should be returned to Melian for the moment, and Eldarion took back Valandil, who now stroked one of the petals himself gently and reverently as his grandfather hung the hangers of Anduril’s sheath from his belt.

A stir from behind the dais, and the Lady Arwen entered with Eldarion’s wife Loreth. Together they came forward, carrying with them baskets of flowers harvested from the gardens. Master Danrigil stepped forward to accept the Queen’s basket as she came beside her husband. "What is it, Estel?" she asked.

"A bottle, vanimelda, brought from the sea--a bottle wreathed with this," and at a glance from her father Melian gave the wreath to her mother.

Arwen looked at the straw, and gave a stifled cry of amazement. "It is from the grain from which lembas is made, Estel," she explained. Her husband gave an awed smile in return.

The glazier grunted with satisfaction as he removed the last of the cork, then lifted the bottle to look into it through its neck. "There appears to be rolled paper or parchment inside, my Lord," he said as he let his hands drop from his face. "And the flowers where they lay appear to have protected the glass under them from the sand scouring of the rest of the bottle." He handed the bottle to the King, who found the Man spoke rightly, and showed this new marvel to the others standing close to him.

He then lifted the bottle and turned to look through it at the light from one of the high windows of the room. Indeed there appeared to be several sheets inside the bottle. The feeling of awe and excitement he felt again began to grow, and he turned to the workman. "Shall I hold it for you while you use your tools to roll the contents close enough to pull them out?" he asked, and at the Man’s agreement he did his best to hold the bottle at the proper height and angle to allow the Man to do his work. Finally the Man had the roll sufficiently compact to carefully extract it, and he held the sheets carefully, obviously excited himself to see what they contained. However, he dutifully held them for the King to take as Faramir Took accepted the bottle.

The Hobbit spoke up after examining the now empty vessel. "The bottle itself is from the Shire, my Lord King. It’s identical to those bottles used to hold the wine pressed from the Baggins Winyard vintages."

Hamfast looked at the Thain with interest. "My brother sent three such bottles with my gaffer when he left Middle Earth," he said, "in honor of Uncle Frodo’s birthday, for use in the toast."

Aragorn son of Arathorn considered as he looked from Faramir’s face to that of Hamfast Gardner. "And so," he said quietly, "this could indeed have come across the Sea from Aman--but only with the cooperation of Lord Ulmo himself."

Arwen gave a significant look at the small wreath she held. "Both Lord Ulmo and Lady Yavanna would have had to agree for this miracle, my love," she commented as the folk attending the audience all seemed to be taking another half-step forward in hopes of seeing what it was that was inscribed on the sheets the King now held. The King nodded his agreement with his wife’s words, and looked to carefully straighten the tight roll of parchment he held in his hands.

He found he held three sheets of parchment. The topmost caused him to smile, for it was a picture drawn in soft graphite of the Lady Arwen Undómiel alighting from the white palfrey she’d ridden when she first came to the White City, a picture clearly drawn from the point of view of one not much taller than the two Periannath who attended on him at the moment. He held it first to show to them.

Faramir Took’s eyes examined it quickly, then gave a grunt of triumph. "There’s the dragonfly," he said, pointing to a depiction of the insect beyond the neck of the horse. "This was done by Uncle Frodo, then." He looked up at the King’s expression and explained, "Uncle Merry said that this was his signature sign for his artwork, my Lord King. He even carved it onto the walking stick Master Ririon received as a gift in Brandy Hall and carried ever after."

"You mean the stick with the dragon carving was also done by Frodo?" Aragorn felt a bit dizzy.

"Yes, he apparently tried carving at least once, but finding it not as easy as drawing he didn’t do any more that we’re aware of. His father was a gifted carver and joiner, you see."

"We have the Bilbo Box in the study at Bag End," Hamfast agreed. "Our gaffer kept Uncle Frodo’s mail and sword and the circlets of honor they both received in it. Drogo Baggins made and carved it for Uncle Frodo’s mum."

The King now gently handed the first picture to Lord Hirlion as he looked to the second. The center was a picture of four Hobbits--and how familiar they were. Frodo himself stood in the middle, his face clear and shining with humor and an eagerness for adventure, a hand on the shoulder each of Peregrin Took and Meriadoc Brandybuck, their faces young, innocent, and smiling with eagerness; and somewhat behind Pippin and to Frodo’s side and half a step back stood Samwise Gamgee, his own face watchful and responsible and utterly competent. There was no sign of illness or pain in Frodo’s expression, no sign of reticence, no indication of suppression of his basic joy. Aragorn took a deep breath. About the grouping of four were portraits of others--his own picture as Frodo had known him at the top; that of Boromir son of Denethor at the bottom, Gimli on the left, Legolas on the right, Gandalf in the lower left quarter, Faramir, the Lady Éowyn, Éomer King, Treebeard the Ent, the laughing face of Tom Bombadil and the shining one of the one he suspected was Goldberry, Galadriel, Elrond, Bilbo, Celeborn, and Gildor Inglorion filling out the oval of faces framing the portraits of the King’s Hobbit companions. Vines of extravagant flowers encircled all, and the dragonfly could be found resting on Gandalf’s staff.

The third sheet held writing, and how familiar the flowing script was.

Sleep.

How pleasant

The word sounds.

Once I feared it,

but no longer.

I will

Rest.

-

Beside

The one

Come to fulfill my waiting,

I will lie down

Under silver boughs,

Under shining stars,

And offer myself up.

It was foretold

That Iluvatar would speak in my heart.

He does!

Ever He has done so!

And even the pain I knew

Is now blessèd.

-

Oh,

Distant Brother,

If only I

Could tell you just

how very much I have

Loved you in my heart.

I bear your memory

With me as

I go,

Aragorn.

-

Midsummer


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