Two days later Boboli had his wagon mostly ready for the trip. The preceding day he and Lilia had spent baking pasties to take with them, and filling bottles with water and cold tea and buttermilk. He wished he’d been able to bake a couple chickens as well, but as they had no fowl as yet that wasn’t practicable. He privately vowed to remedy that lack while they were gone.
They carefully slipped a straw-stuffed mattress into the back of the wagon, then covered it with thick blankets and pillows, and added blanketrolls for himself and Teo. After making certain the lasses had their thickest dresses on and were wrapped in their warmest cloaks, for the temperature had dropped from the comfortable levels it had held two days back, Bob judged they were almost ready to go. Teo was set to harnessing up Poppet while Bob went back into the growing smial to go over instructions with Holdfast and to check for any items that had best not be left behind. The call, "Dad! Riders coming!" accompanied by Lister’s excited yaps drew him out of the hole rapidly, long knife in hand, to watch as two horsemen and a dog came up the track he’d blazed.
The shorter one was again Teregion, but the taller was a different Man than he’d seen before. He was younger than Faradir and wore no beard; but his face was kind and competent. Reassured by the satisfied smile on Teregion’s face, Boboli sheathed his knife and indicated Teo should hold onto the ratter.
"Welcome, Mr. Teregion," the Hobbit called out. "And what brings you back so quick?"
As he dropped from his horse, the youth explained, "My adar wrote that letter of introduction he told you he’d do and wanted me to bring it to you, and Eregiel here wanted to be introduced to your son Holdfast so he’d be recognized as he keeps watch on your lands while you’re gone. Eregiel is another of our kinsmen, although you’ll learn that almost all of the Dúnedain remaining in the north are related to one degree or another."
"As Faradir indicated you have but one long knife for protection, I thought I’d bring you a second so you could leave one with your son and still have one with you in case of need," Eregiel indicated. "Plus I brought you some travel bread and cold fowl from the Prancing Pony in Bree as well as some winter apples to help tide you over." The hound stepped forward from its place beside Eregiel’s horse as the Man dismounted, and sought to sniff at Bob’s pony. As Poppet startled away, the Man turned and commanded, "Artos--back."
"Hound’s well trained," Bob said approvingly as the dog returned to his place and sat, panting.
"For the most part. He’s but a year old, but has become my boon companion. Now and then, however, he forgets himself a bit and needs a reminder to behave himself." In moments Eregiel had a hamper unfastened from his saddle and was presenting it; then was unfastening a sheathed long knife from his saddlehorn similar to the one he wore. "My father was one of those who rode south who will not return again, for he’s been buried near the Field of Cormallen. This was his, and I’m glad to give it to you for your protection in token of the respect we offer all Periannath for what was done by the Ringbearer and his companions," he said as he presented it.
It was a somewhat more slender blade than that Boboli had found in the digging of his smial, and straighter as well. Holdfast had followed his father out of the hole and now reached to take it, letting his hands get used to the heft of it. "Its grip is a bit large for my hand, but not uncomfortable so," he commented. "I suppose as I could carry it well enough."
The Man smiled. "My father would feel honored, I’m certain."
Bob had opened the hamper to take a quick look at the fowl, and was pleased by what he found. Not only were there two roasted chickens and about a dozen apples, but also some berry tarts, a loaf of crusty bread appropriate for travel, and what appeared to be a small crock of berry jam as well as a quarter round of hard cheese. He looked up at the two young Men. "It’s mighty generous as you’ve been to us," he said, "trespassin’ as we are from your point of view, at least. We’re grateful, but are at a loss as to how we’ll ever repay you."
Teregion answered, "As Ada said the other day, it’s the rest of the Free Peoples who will never be able to repay what was done by the Cormacolindor. It’s little enough we can do for you after what Hobbits have done for all others."
As Bob carried the hamper to stow it beneath the driver’s seat for later in the day alongside the long knife he’d found, he said, "I still don’t understand as exactly what this Lord Iorhael o’ yours done, but it sounds as if ’twas a great deal. As for how Hobbits could’a managed to bring down anyone, much less Sauron...." He found himself shuddering.
"Perhaps you will be able to convince one of them to tell you the full tale," the young Man answered, "although my adar indicates Lord Iorhael prefers not to speak of it to any great extent." He brought a rolled scroll bound with a ribbon of silver silk out of his saddlebag and presented it. "Bear them my father’s respects, and my own," he continued.
"Gladly," Bob said as he accepted it and stowed it inside his larger food hamper with the pasties.
"Have you some canvas to raise over the wagon bed in case of rain?" asked Eregiel. Shortly he and Holdfast had retrieved this and some line appropriate to fastening it to the wagon from the byre and had it rolled and stowed as well. He examined the wagon and its load, then nodded approvingly.
Bob went into the smial to send out the lasses, spotted Anemone’s doll and brought it out with him. Eregiel was lifting Anemone into the wagon, then took the doll and saw it into its mistress’s hands, then handed in Lilia as well. Having surrendered the dog to his brother, Teo scrambled up onto the box to sit by his father, and once Bob had joined him they were ready.
Lister whined as he saw most of his family inside the wagon, and twisted in Holdfast’s grip. "I’ll accompany you for a time," Eregiel indicated. "Teregion, however, needs to go east, as his father awaits him on the way to the Weather Hills where he’s to meet with Lord Halladan’s patrol. There’s been some orc activity not far east of Amon Sul."
Bob let off the brake and chirruped to Poppet, and the pony gave a shake and stepped forward. "You take care, son," Bob advised Holdfast. "I’m right proud of you, you know."
The two young Men were swiftly mounted, and with a spoken word to the hound Eregiel drew even with the wagon while Teregion fell behind it, turning in his saddle to call out farewells to Holdfast, adding his to those of the two lasses in the wagon bed.
Once they were out of sight of the smial Poppet picked up her pace a bit as they headed east to the Greenway. Teo examined the Man ranged alongside them, then asked, "What’s Cardolan?"
"It was one of the three kingdoms into which Arnor was divided by King Eärendur when he sought to make each of his sons a king in his own right. Rhuadar was somewhat to the south and east of us; Arthedain where Eärendur’s oldest son Amlaith remained king lies to the north, holding the traditional capital of Annúminas and the fortified city of Fornost in it; and Cardolan lay here to the west. However, Rhuadar and Cardolan didn’t continue all that long. Trouble was raised in the south from among the Dunlendings and the hill-men of the border regions, and Rhuadar fell within a few generations. Also, ever has the Enemy sought to destroy the folk of the northern kingdoms by loosing plagues and waves of pestilence our way, not to mention encouraging the breeding of orcs, trolls, wargs, and other fell creatures as well as depredations from the north of our lands, from Angmar where the lord of his Nazgul ruled for so long.
"As the integrity of Rhuadar was destroyed border wars began to break out between that land and Cardolan, mostly for the control of the Weather Hills and Amon Sul, what is known in Westron as Weathertop, one of the watchtowers of the north in which Elendil had set one of the palantiri or seeing stones brought from Númenor. Angmar, seeing Rhuadar as the weakest of the three kingdoms, came down from the north with small forces to assault Rhuadar’s defenses, and through betrayal, trickery, and assassination as well as alliance with the Dunlendings finally slew the last king of that land and brought its glory to naught.
"Cardolan was already much weakened by disease and the constant wars with Rhuadar and Angmar, and after the crown prince Endorgil was slain in an ambush by Men from Angmar, the last king of Cardolan marched northward to seek vengeance for his son, and his force was slain to the last Man. Celebrindor’s son Malvegil rode out from Fornost to support Mirucar, but came too late, finding only the remains of Mirucar’s army, and the King’s beheaded body hanging upside-down from a tree. Furious at this insult to his kinsman’s people, Malvegil took his forces northwards and found Angmar’s folk camped two days south of their borders. The army from Arthedain fell on the forces of the northmen, and treated them much as they had done to the folk of Cardolan. The Witch-king himself fled the assault and hied himself back to his own lands; but after retrieving the head of Mirucar for proper burial Malvegil had the heads of Angmar’s lieutenants hewn off and sent back to their land with the bodies of the rest of their soldiers.
"But the damage was done, and Malvegil became King not only of Arthedain but of the remnants of the folk of Rhuadar and Cardolan as well. His son he named Argeleb in token that the three kingdoms were now again one, using the prefix indicating lordship in the naming of the child; and so it has been ever since. Aragorn is the twenty-fifth so named, and has become the one to reunite North and South as Gondor and Arnor again have become a united realm."
Bob shook his head. "And you folk say as Hobbits helped win the day ’gainst Mordor, eh?"
The Man’s face was solemn as he nodded his agreement. "Indeed--the victory could not have been won had it not been for the assistance of the four who came out of the Shire." Then, after a time of quiet he asked, "Will you stay the night in Bree before going on to the Shire?"
"Perhaps, though I’ve not a great deal in coin to waste on nights in inns."
"I could help you there." He reached and unfastened a belt purse of finely tanned leather, and after untying it brought out a handful of coins. "You can pay it back in hospitality when I find myself patrolling the region in the rain. What say you?"
At last Bob accepted it, agreeing to the terms suggested by the young Man. He’d just pocketed the coins when Artos halted and looked behind, giving a soft "Woof" of warning. The bark was answered by excited yapping, and Lister at last caught up with them. Bob halted the wagon with a sigh. "Catch him up, Teo, and give him to Lilia to watch over. Too late to take ’im back now, y’know."
Soon they were off once more, the small dog lying between the two lasses licking his paws, exhausted but triumphant.
Once they reached the Greenway Teregion took his leave, turning off southeastward, swiftly urging his horse to a quick trot. "Fine horse as he’s got there," Bob commented. "Not but what yours is as fine, o’ course," he added, politely.
"We breed and train exceedingly fine steeds--steady and dependable. There’s some Elf-steed in their bloodlines, and some fine Rohirric stock as well brought in some years back by Aragorn. I think it’s my Lord Cousin’s current ambition, however, to see about adding some Mearas blood to the mix."
"The line of the King’s steeds of Rohan--the lords of horses. It is said their forebears were brought to Middle Earth from Aman itself during the War of Wrath, and given into the hands of the Edain from whom the Rohirrim are descended. Great indeed are they--silver as the sea and running like the wind over the grass. None can match them for intelligence, speed, and endurance, or so I am told. It is also said of them that they understand the speech of Men."
"Sounds fine indeed."
"They are. I’ve seen but one, Shadowfax, who is ridden now by Gandalf...."
"Gandalf? The old grey conjurer rides one of’em, these king’s horses?"
"I’d not suggest you speak so of Gandalf in the hearing of any of the four from the Shire or any of us who are in the King’s service. Gandalf is greatly honored by our people, and with reason. He was granted Shadowfax both by King Théoden’s gift and that of his successor Éomer, but even more so by the acceptance of Shadowfax himself according to what has been told to us by those who returned from the war."
"And you seen them, the Wizard and the horse?"
"Yes, as winter was setting in a few months back. Gandalf was returning from the Old Forest toward Imladris."
Once again Boboli’s hair stood up on his head and feet. "The Old Forest? What was the fool doin’ in those parts?"
Eregiel’s voice became stiffly formal. "No one can ever truthfully declare the Grey Pilgrim a fool, sir. As for what he did there--he has said he visited with Bombadil."
"You mean as old Bombadil does dwell there in truth?"
"You didn’t believe the tales? Oh, yes, and it’s said he aided the four from the Shire as they fled the Black Riders as they began their journey south."
It was much to think of during the rest of their ride. They stopped for a brief and quiet meal, then went on. The day was growing darker and clouds gathered the further they drove. As at last they approached the north gate into Bree Eregiel halted his own horse, and his expression was less stiff as he took his leave. "Forgive me my retreat into formality, sir, for it is as painful to hear people question the honor of Gandalf the Grey as it is to hear them speak dismissively of Hobbits. No one should ever question either, I’ve found."
"Sorry myself," Bob admitted as he halted Poppet briefly. "I’ve seen old Gandalf a time or two in Bree, but that’s all as I can say of him. But folk do talk...."
"Yes, I know. But his purpose has now been revealed, and he’s met it and more. Without him it’s possible much more would have been lost. Ah, go well, friend, and bring my respects to the four who traveled south. I swear I’ll keep watch over your son and lands while you are gone. Hurry now, for the clouds will break all too soon, I suspect." And with a lift of his hand in salute he turned to head once again northwards, pulling up his hood as he went.
With a sigh Bob turned from watching after him, glanced up at the lowering clouds, and chirruped once more to Poppet. "Up, lass--it’ll be a dry stable and oats for you this night." A call at the gate and it was opened, and Boboli drove his wagon inside and toward the Prancing Pony where he intended to get a good meal for his children and soft beds for the night. They arrived just as the April sky let loose a torrent, and all scurried for cover as a Man and Hobbit together accepted the pony and wagon there in the inn yard.
They were given a room with four beds off a private parlor. Nob brought them a good nourishing meal and warmed towels, seeing to it the parlor fire was merrily burning. As Nob brought fresh candles and saw them lit, Anemone, who’d been exploring the bedroom, came out with a small bunch of feathers in her hand. "Look," she said. "There were feathers caught in the ropes under the mattress."
"You found yet more?" Nob asked, shaking his head. "Well, if that don’t just beat all. I’d a’thought as we’d got the lot by now, but apparently we missed a few."
Teo looked up at him curiously. "Why’s there feathers about?" he asked.
The Hobbit servingman shrugged and looked a bit uncomfortable. "Oh, ’twas a thing as happened year and a half past," he mumbled. "Had guests--that ’twas to’ve been their room, don’t you know, only they was warned not to sleep in it, so they slept here in front o’ the fire instead. Good thing, too, as the room was broke into by some as wished to see ’em dead. No one was hurt or nothin’ like, and they ended up doin’ well by all, or so we’re told. No need to worry now, o’ course. Ones as wanted ’em dead’s all gone themselves now, and they’ve finally been able to go home, safe and sound. Just the featherbeds was torn up, and there’s still feathers a’floatin’ around the place, you see."
It was a rather sobering thing to reflect on. Yet no one bothered them that night--indeed all slept well and soundly, for the beds were comfortable and the room felt welcoming. As they prepared to leave, Nob came to them, a garment of some kind in his hand. "I was thinkin’, sir," he said to Boboli, "as perhaps your son there could use this. ’Twas left here last fall by one as said as he didn’t need it and didn’t want to take it with him. It’s good cloth and most finely made, apparently in foreign parts. Beautiful embroidery, it is. Hate to see it go to waste, but it’s for someone as is lot’s thinner’n me."
It was like a vest, but with no front opening, sleeveless and obviously made to slip over a proper shirt. The front was indeed beautifully embroidered with renditions of two trees, the one on the left with leaves and globes of silver, the one on the right the same in gold. Between them was a circle of seven stars, in it a sunburst and crescent moon. Boboli examined the shirt with surprise. "It’s plainly intended for a Hobbit and not a Man," he said, "but where would it of come from?"
"I think as it come from the southlands somewheres," Nob said. "Would you think as this is black or dark blue?"
"Dark blue, definitely," Bob said. "I never saw such afore."
"Nor me, sir. If’n I had a son, I’d keep it for him; but my nephew’s too large for it, as am I and our Bob as works in the stable or any of the Hobbits as is around here. But your lad--he’s not put on the weight as would keep him from wearin’ it, I think."
"Teo!" Boboli called, "come look at this and tell me if’n you’d like to have it."
Teo came out of the bedroom where he’d been helping Lilia check under the beds to see if anything had been dropped. "What is it, Dad?" he began, and then he saw the shirt and stopped, his mouth and eyes opening round with surprise. "Oh, Dad," he said with quiet awe, "but that’s that beautiful, it is. Where’d it come from?"
Nob explained, "A guest last fall left it here, said as he didn’t want it no more. I couldn’t bear to see it thrown out, and you’re about the first as I’ve seen as could wear it, I think. Would you like it?
There was no way Bob could say no to his son’s expression. Teoro had always loved things of beauty, and there was no question that this was one. "Take it, then, son," he said quietly. "Take it and may it bring you lots of joy."
"Wait a moment," Nob said. "There’s a few more."
Soon he returned with a small pile of clothing, mostly shirts and the type of garment already given to Teo, and one pair of trousers. The trousers were oddly styled with no buttons for braces, and slightly longer than Hobbit trousers generally ran. Bob held them against his legs, and Lilia laughed. "Those are too long for you, Dad, too long and not big enough."
Bob examined the corded lacings. "These are somethin’," he said. The fabric was extraordinarily fine, the stitches small and even, the fine embroidery of small green vines with white blossoms up the sides delicate. They must have been very expensive, and had been specially made for the one who’d worn them. "Well," he said, "there’s no way Teo could ever wear these, nor any other as I know."
Nob nodded thoughtfully. "Not many’s I’ve seen was as tall as he is--exceptin’ his friends when they got back. Tallest Hobbits as I’ve ever seen, those two. But he was far too thin for a Hobbit, I think."
Boboli set the trousers aside, and took the first shirt, a thing of a heavy flame-colored silk with sunbursts on the standing collar and cuffs, again with lacing rather than buttons. With it went another of the garments meant to be worn over the shirt, a golden linen twisted with silk, embroidered with a large sunburst. The next such garment was of a dove-grey wool, embroidered with lines of birds in shades of grey from nearly white to darkest charcoal, the wool wonderfully soft and yet sturdy. The fourth was a soft, dusky green; with it was a simple shirt of light green, the embroidered cuffs with inverted triangles in alternating dark and light green threads.
"Why’d he not want to take these with him?" Bob asked.
"I don’t know," Nob answered. "I said as I’d try to find someone as could wear ’em, and he said to go ahead."
"Well, I don’t know as you’ll ever find someone as could wear the trousers," Bob said, "but I do believe Teo here could wear the shirts and these, although they was plainly tailored for someone special--you can see that. They’re a bit long, and the sleeves may need some takin’ in--but I think as I could maybe find someone as could take care o’ that." At Nob’s nod of agreement, he glanced out the window at the rain outside and then turned to Teo as he refolded the last outer garment and returned it to the pile. "Here, lad, put these in your bag, see? And make certain as the flap is pulled down. It’s wet out there, and I’m afraid as the shirts might take spots from it." He turned to Lilia. "And you lasses get ready to go. Get your cloaks on and the hoods up and all laced up fine, hear? I don’t want neither of you takin’ cold. And keep Lister by you."
Boboli soon had the bill paid and hurried out to the stable yard where Poppet was just being fastened into her traces. The inn’s Bob asked, "Should we fasten on the canvas, do you think?"
After looking at his lasses and the dog, the farmer nodded. "Yes, I think so."
A bar was set up at the front and rear of the wagon with a long rod between, and the canvas hung over it and fastened to the sides of the bed. Lilia, Anemone, and the dog were quickly lifted underneath the tented fabric and advised to wrap themselves with the blankets, their goods were stowed, and Bob and Teo climbed onto the box. "I don’t think the rain’ll go on that much longer," the ostler advised them, "but if you move brisk-like you’ll stay the warmer, I think."
Boboli thanked him, advised his son to secure his hood; and after seeing to his own, Boboli got Poppet moving and they headed for the west gate.
The ride was a dreary one. They ate as they drove, and sometime after midday a rider coming from the west spied them, then signaled for them to stop. When he saw the silver star on the left shoulder of the Man, Bob relaxed some.
"You are headed into the Shire?" the Man asked.
"You a Ranger?" asked Bob in return.
"Yes. I’ll ride behind you back to the gate at the Bridge, then leave you to continue on your way."
The Ranger proved true to his word, and within another two hours as the rain finally let up they arrived at the Brandywine Bridge. The Man turned about and set out eastward again, leaving the occupants of the wagon to approach the gate by themselves.
Those on duty at the gate greeted them. "You been stayin’ in the Breelands?" asked one.
"We’ve always lived in the Breelands, but need to go into the Shire on business. You know as to where we can find the one the Rangers call Lord Iorhael?"
"The Lord who?" the gatekeeper asked, looking from Boboli to his fellow on duty.
Bob shook his head. He’d been foolish, he realized, not to ask Faradir just what Iorhael and Perhail meant in the Common Tongue. "The Rangers call ’im Lord Iorhael," he said. "Don’t know as what his right name is."
"I don’t know who it might be," the other gate guard said. "I never knew anyone called that. Do you know where he lives?"
"I was told as he lives in Hobbiton, but used to live in Buckland."
"I don’t know of anyone named Iorhael at all," the second guard said, "and I’m a Bucklander born and bred. Only one I know of who’s ever moved from Buckland to Hobbiton, though, would be Frodo Baggins, but that was years back when he was just a lad. Now, his mum did the same when she first married Drogo, but they moved this way when Frodo was not much more than a bairn, and Primula and Drogo have been dead for almost forty years now."
"Has this Frodo Baggins been out of the Shire or somethin’ like?" Bob asked.
"Has he? I’d certainly say as he has. But I doubt the Rangers would refer to him as a lord or anything of the like, for he’s not changed much from when the four of them left the Shire. They might call my cousin Meriadoc Brandybuck something like that, or possibly the Thain’s son Peregrin Took; but the other two, they just went back to the West Farthing and settled back in, you see. Nothing particularly lordly about either of them, not like Captains Merry and Pippin."
"Captains?" Boboli wasn’t certain he understood.
"That’s what we call them. Came back, both of them dressed up in mail with helmets and swords and shields and all. Ride around, tall and proud, singing songs from down in Gondor. Led the folk of Bywater and Tookland against Lotho’s Big Men and threw the ruffians out of the Shire, they did."
"Where would I find them?"
"Well, they live together now in Crickhollow, a rather lonely place north of Brandy Hall some miles; but they’re not there now. They were in Hobbiton last week at Bag End, and are supposed to be checking out rumors some of the Big Men were sighted eight miles or so northeast of Long Cleeve in the North Farthing. But if you go on to Hobbiton you can learn more. If Cousin Frodo’s not there, he’ll be in Michel Delving. Sam Gamgee might be at Bag End, but then again he might be off helping to replant more of the trees and all as were cut down on Sharkey’s orders."
"Who was Sharkey, you mean. The biggest villain of them all, apparently. He’s dead now--his own lackey killed him, I’m told, right there in the front garden of Bag End. An awful homecoming surprise for Cousin Frodo. Good riddance, though."
"I see. Then perhaps I’d best go on to Hobbiton. What’s the best way?"
"Just follow the Road here and keep to the right when it forks. You may want to spend the night at the Floating Log along the way--can’t miss it, as it’s right on the road. Or, if you prefer you could stay the night just inside at the Bridge Inn, although it’s still partly under repair, and go on tomorrow--if your pony is fresh and steady enough you should arrive in Hobbiton late tomorrow evening if you don’t spend much time along the way anywhere else. The turn-off to Hobbiton is marked clear enough, not far past the Three-farthing Stone."
They stopped at the Bridge Inn for a hot meal and a bit of a rest and to see Poppet cared for and to beg a bone for Lister. Two hours later they were back on the road, though, for Bob was determined to get as far as he could.
It was late when he realized they’d not make it to the Floating Log that night in any sort of good time; but as the sky was now clear he felt they could look to sleep out with some comfort. He found a small meadow with a spring-fed pond and pulled into it, and while he saw to Poppet’s needs Teo and Lilia got together a cold late supper. Once all had stretched and relieved themselves with some semblance of privacy, Bob saw the girls wrapped warmly together in the wagon bed with Lister, and he and Teo stretched out under the wagon. As he huddled into his blanket roll next to his son, Boboli thought on how tomorrow they ought to go about figuring out which of the four was the Lord Iorhael. He thought Faradir must have given them some clue, but as tired as he was he just couldn’t think what that clue might be.
He gave a great yawn, moved closer to his still shivering son, and fell asleep almost without realizing it.