In late February the King Elessar of Gondor and Arnor sat in his private office reading the latest letter he’d received from Frodo.
...It is the perversion of our law that bothers me most, Aragorn. I read these twisted contracts presented by Lotho Sackville-Baggins and apparently written by his cousin Timono and I want so just to weep. And even those who should know how easily words can be twisted to different meanings by varying their order just a bit or by changing the context in which they are presented seem to need me, a scholar and no lawyer, to point out to them how it was done.
I think this bothers me even more than the brutality known by so many or the outright thefts and imprisonments.
And now we have a new need--in the past few years, I’ve learned, the number of Shire lawyers qualified to write contracts between Hobbits of the Shire and the folk of the Breelands has fallen to three, one of whom, Timono Bracegirdle, is now imprisoned in one of the new Lockhole cells, and a second one of which is under investigation for his involvement in apparently altering sales agreements to send goods out of the Shire, south to Isengard. Now that it should be safer to resume business associations with the Breelands we need to have more of our own lawyers trained to help write such contracts, and then to write contracts between our people and the folk of Arnor and Gondor.
You were right when you told your Council that no land can afford to stand solely on its own any more, and that we must work on developing trade between all our peoples. Certainly there were those in the talks held in Minas Tirith who seemed interested in trading for our produce and woolens; and we would do well to find sources for fruits such as the orange fruit and its like, particularly as so many there in Gondor speak of how such fruits appear to help fight off illnesses such as colds and ague and catarrh and the lung sickness.
Could you find one from Gondor who would be willing to travel north and accept apprentices (or at least students) in the writing of contracts in keeping with the laws of the outer realm? And if at the same time he is willing to learn how the laws and customs of the Shire and the Breelands have traditionally been written it would benefit all sides, I’d think.
Laws and legal wording--so much of what I do right now focuses on these....
Aragorn considered, then rose and went in search of Faramir to ask his advice.
Alvric son of Maerdion of Lamedon was the antithesis of all things Dúnedain. He was not particularly tall, reaching not quite five and a half feet in height. His hair was mouse brown, and rather curly in nature. His face was given to freckling in the summer sun, a trait that had caused him much embarrassment when he was younger. His eyes were blue-green and rather short-sighted. He rode only because not to do so was unthinkable for a gentleman’s son, but he did it with little enough enjoyment--he found he didn’t much care for riding and knowing soreness for days afterwards. He could never have defended himself with a sword if he tried--no one had even thought to question he would be sent out of Minas Tirith during the siege, after all.
He carried a crystal lens it was said had come from the Dwarves of the North with which to look out at the world in order to see it more clearly, for a good deal beyond the reach of his arms was somewhat blurry in his sight. He loved small dogs rather than hounds, kept three tortoiseshell cats in his rooms, and collected crystals and rocks.
And perhaps no one had more astute a mind regarding the laws of Gondor than he did. He was first assistant to the Master of the Guild of Lawyers of Minas Tirith and the northern fiefdoms, and would very likely be Master himself one day in spite of his blatant lack of interest in warfare, weapons, and politics. He sometimes served as a magistrate for the Fourth Circle, where he lived in a large house that rented suites of rooms to single gentlemen lacking the desire (and often the skills) to care for themselves or their quarters.
He was in his quarters on this day, his oversized kettle given him by his sister on its hook over the flames of his fireplace, the fire itself warm, the leaves for the herbal drink he intended to enjoy already in his equally oversized mug. He was lounging in his favorite chair with a copy of the King’s most recent judgments on his lap for his perusal when the knock came at his door.
He rose, setting aside the transcripts he’d been examining, and went to find out who would be visiting him on the High Day.
"I’m sorry to disturb you, Master Alvric," explained Mistress Arië, obviously rather flustered, "but you have callers from the Citadel."
"Callers? Today? Have they said what they want?"
"I’m rather sorry, but they haven’t--only that they regretted the possible inconvenience but that they had a favor to ask of you." Then she leaned forward to whisper, "One is our Lord Steward Faramir, sir,"
He automatically shoved his dog Holby back with his foot. The Steward, here? "Then if it is Lord Faramir send him up immediately," he said. He looked back nervously at the room, hoping it was presentable.
"Shall I bring up some light foods, do you think?" she asked.
"Yes--some of the yellow wine from Lossarnach would be in order, I think, and your cream cakes that you served at the noon meal, if you have any left. Thank you for your thoughtfulness, Mistress Arië."
She smiled and hurried down to show the visitors up to his rooms, then was off to her kitchens to fetch the requested foods for her boarder’s important guests.
Alvric admitted three Men, all much taller than himself. The Lord Steward looked wonderfully gracious as always as he thanked the lawyer for agreeing to see him with no notice or appointment, and hoped they weren’t disturbing his day too much.
"Oh, no, not at all," Alvric was saying when the tallest of the three pushed back his hood and all thought of words fled his head. He was certain his face had to have lost all its color as he stood gawking, then collected his startled wits to bow deeply. "My Lord King!" he finally managed. "But I had no idea...."
"As I sent no warning, how could you?" His Lord King looked somewhat amused. "Prince Faramir had suggested you when I came to him with my questions, is all, Master Alvric. Do you mind if we explain the situation to you, and then you could possibly suggest someone to accept a mission in the north kingdom?"
"But of course--come in and do make yourselves comfortable...." He found himself looking from the King to his own chair with a measure of regret.
The King, he realized, was following his own thoughts perhaps far too closely. "I’m sorry," Lord Elessar said rather apologetically, "but not only would I feel uncomfortable taking your chair, but it would be uncomfortably low for me. There are disadvantages to being particularly tall, I find at times. No, I suspect I’ll be more at ease with this stool, if you don’t mind." As he immediately suited actions to words, casually pulling said stool over so he could sit facing his host, it appeared there was nothing further to say.
As both his other guests seemed more comfortable seated on the divan under the windows looking down on the street, he reluctantly retreated to his chair. For a few moments all were quiet, looking at one another. Holby came to investigate the two strangers on the divan, sniffing at their ankles, while one of the cats leapt off the top of the book shelf by the door to his bedroom and sat briefly contemplating the King before leaping neatly into his lap.
Alvric watched as the King automatically accepted Marble’s advances, immediately winning her approval by scratching her favorite place under her chin. "Yes," the lawyer said uncertainly, "and if you could give me an idea as to what you need...." He looked from King to Steward and back.
The King smiled. "I would like to introduce one of my kinsmen as well as one of both my captains and my officials within Arnor, Lord Berevrion. He has been sent south by Lord Halladan, the Steward of Arnor as Prince Faramir is the Steward of Gondor. Lord Berevrion is known in Bree, where they like to give us rather interestingly descriptive names, as the Scribe. He has been keeper of the records of Arnor, such as they’ve been, and our chief legal advisor for the past twenty-two years.
"To be honest most of the laws of Arnor have been to the point of suspension for the nine hundred and some years since Arvedui died in the ice floes of the far north, for we were much reduced in that time, and much of our lives has been spent just seeking to survive from one day to the next. Our cities were reduced to villages and most of our villages were spread far apart in order to make it harder for the Enemy to destroy all when his folk found one of them, and also to make it harder for us to easily pass the diseases he has ever sent our way from one to the next."
"Sauron sent diseases to your people?"
Berevrion answered him, his voice lower and more mellow than that of the King. "Did you not know he has done so ever since the time in which he managed to destroy Telemnar and his family here? Gondor was not the only land devastated at that time, you see. But we have been ever in alliance with Lord Elrond of Imladris, and our Line of Kings has been true and trained by Lord Elrond to use the healing gifts they’ve inherited as the descendants of Eärendil and Elros Tar-Minyatar. We have managed to survive, but at times it has been a very near thing."
The King continued, "We are preparing there to do as we’ve been doing here, to review the laws of the land. We wish the two bodies of law to be in line, one with the other, of course. Plus there is another need--to prepare those who write contracts and agreements within the northlands to write them in keeping with the laws of the reconstituted combined nation. And we have received a specific request for one to help educate the most active set of lawyers in the northern lands that their contracts and agreements specifically may be properly done. You see, one of our northern peoples has always been given to such considerations.
"We are hoping you can help us identify a lawyer from here in Gondor, one who is expert in contract law especially, who will be willing to help train those identified among the lawyers of the Breelands and the Shire to write properly constituted and binding contracts and agreements with our folk out of Arnor and Gondor. Plus we believe it will be found instructive for us to be more knowledgeable as to how these folk have governed themselves for the past fifteen hundred years. Where our own people have waxed and waned, the folk of the Breelands and the Shire have increased, slowly but steadily, and have mostly governed themselves and done so admirably well."
"I’ve heard mention of the Shire--I know I have," Alvric said, trying to remember where. "You say its people have governed themselves and have grown in population where much of the rest of Arnor has been reduced to struggling for survival?"
"Yes. To their west and south they’ve been mostly protected by the Elves remaining in Lindon and Mithlond and those of our own people who have settled among them--few enough of those, I fear. To their east and north their lands have been guarded by the Rangers of Eriador, although we have patrolled all their borders, if not as much to the south and west as the north and east."
"And your own people traded with these?"
"Some, and mostly with those who have come out of the Shire into the Breelands to do so. However, it is only now that the Shirefolk are finding themselves willing to come out from their own borders once more, for the last few decades have been as tumultuous in the north as they have here in the south. But the requests for one to help educate the lawyers of the Shire and the Breelands have come from one we are loth to disappoint."
"And who is that?"
"Frodo Baggins, the Ringbearer."
It was probably as well that Mistress Arië arrived at that moment with the refreshments, for Alvric found himself at last overwhelmed with the greatness thrown at him this day. Dealing with accepting cakes and wine from his landlady and then serving them to his guests gave him time to get his confused thoughts back in some kind of order.
It was the King himself who, momentarily displacing Marble, took the kettle from the fire and poured its contents into the prepared mug for him. "I think you might well need this, Master Alvric," he said, "or perhaps a good sip of your wine. I will admit I am becoming accustomed to people finding themselves somewhat overwhelmed to realize they speak to the King as they would to any other individual, or who find they--find me familiar; but I have learned many do appear to hold Frodo with a deal of awe he himself found most distressing."
"Yes, I suppose," Alvric said, setting down his plate of cakes on the tray he’d placed on the low table by the door before turning to take the mug from the King. He sat again on his chair, and immediately Holby sprang up to sit between his side and the arm of the chair, watching the cup with interest, then turning his attention on the cake the King had taken before resuming his seat on the stool. When Marble made to resume her place she was forestalled by a look, and sat back, gave the Man a thoughtful examination, then turned to the business of washing her left hind leg.
After he’d drunk several sips Alvric set the mug down beside the transcripts he’d been reviewing, and scratching the dog’s ears absently he addressed himself to the King. "Lord Frodo is a lawyer among his own people?" he asked.
The King gave a slight laugh. "A lawyer? No, not exactly. Frodo was trained, of all things, to be a scholar, a linguist, a scribe and copyist, and a bookbinder, or so I’ve learned. However, since returning home to the Shire he has accepted the role of deputy Mayor, as the proper Mayor of the Shire was much injured by being imprisoned during the absence of Frodo and his companions when they left their land to travel first to Imladris and then south and east. As deputy Mayor he has been forced to learn the niceties of the laws of his land."
"You speak of him being a scholar, copyist, and linguist as if it were an odd choice of professions, your Majesty," Alvric noted.
His royal guest shrugged expressively. "The number of Hobbits of the Shire who have left the boundaries of their own land in the past fifty years probably doesn’t exceed six dozen all told, and except for Bilbo and Frodo Baggins and Frodo’s companions, none of those I know of has gone further than Bree, a half-day’s ride east from the Brandywine Bridge, where most folk enter their land. Meanwhile the number of Hobbits from Bree who’ve traveled from Bree to the Shire must be considerably fewer. Most Hobbits, both those who dwell in Bree and those who live in the Shire, know nothing of any language other than Westron; a large number are unlettered altogether; and only those from the more prominent families are likely to own any books, although I’ll admit those families do appear to all have remarkably large and diverse libraries from what I’ve been told by Bilbo, Frodo, Merry, and Pippin.
"To study languages or the history of any people other than Hobbits themselves, to be personal friends with Dwarves or Elves or Men, to purposely write books other than books on decorum or ones family genealogy, to even consider traveling to, much less beyond, Bree--any and all of these provide reason within the communities of Hobbits, whether in Bree or the Shire, to consider the one doing such things at the very least eccentric. In fact, Bilbo Baggins, Frodo’s elderly cousin and guardian when he was younger, was commonly referred to as old Mad Baggins. Much more leniency has ever been accorded Frodo, but his own people have ever found him odd and, apparently, a focus for gossip and speculation."
Alvric could not believe what he heard. "You mean that Lord Frodo is not honored among his own people?"
"I doubt the folk of the Shire have any true idea as to what a great one they have among them. From what Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Bilbo have told me there have been attempts to have Frodo elected Mayor of the Shire in his own right, one of their three greatest offices and the one elected position of leadership within their land, since he came of age, but he has never agreed to accept nomination."
"Then how did he arrive at the office of deputy Mayor?"
"He was so appointed by Mayor Whitfoot after his rescue from the prison in which he was held."
"And what perfidy had this--Mayor Whitfoot committed that led to his imprisonment?"
"None. A Hobbit brought in a small army of brigands to take control of the Shire, and imprisoned the Mayor when he thought to object. However, in time he found that the Men he thought he controlled had actually been sent by the traitor Curunír, who was known in the north as Saruman. This Lotho is now dead, as is Saruman; but since their return Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin have all been engaged in cleansing and rebuilding their own land, and Frodo has been forced to the study of law. He is much concerned with how choice of language was used by Lotho and those helping him to confiscate goods, money, and property belonging to others."
"And he wishes to see lawyers of his people trained in the laws of the outer realms as well?"
Having finished his cake, the King reached down and scooped Marble back into his lap, stroking her back. Alvric could see her sisters peering out of his bedroom. "Yes," the Lord Elessar said, "he would see them educated in the laws of the outer realm. Their usual office is merely to help write up contracts of various sorts, sales agreements, and so on; and it has been the desire of Frodo, Merry, and Pippin especially to see trade flourish between their land and the outer realms."
"They have the authority to see to such things?"
The King smiled. "Frodo is, at least for the moment, deputy Mayor; while Peregrin Took is the son and heir to the Thain of the Shire, their hereditary leader since the days of my ancestor Arvedui, who was last King of Arnor; and Meriadoc Brandybuck is heir to the Master of Buckland. Mayor, Master, and Thain are the three most influential individuals in the Shire, and where they lead the rest of the Shire will follow."
"And what of Lord Samwise?"
Lord Elessar’s face went solemn and somewhat distant, and his hands went still, no longer stroking Marble’s back. Finally he said, in a quiet voice, "He will follow his Master, as he has ever done, and will be full Mayor one day. Mayor, and teacher and teller of tales and history as Frodo has ever been." His head bowed, and with one hand he clung to his knee.
Lord Berevrion looked to his kinsman, then back at Alvric. "I think he has been granted a vision of Lord Samwise’s future, and perhaps that of Lord Frodo as well. It is one of the gifts of our lineage."
After some moments of quiet the King looked up, meeting Alvric’s eyes. "All of Middle Earth owes its continued existence to Frodo Baggins. It has been little enough he has asked in return, and one boon he asked of me I did not allow, selfishly enough. If he wishes a teacher of the laws of the outer realm, I would send him one--not that we do not need one to help review the laws of the realm in both Kingdoms, north and south."
"Then I will go myself," Alvric said.
Aragorn son of Arathorn looked about the lawyer’s outer room, his face twitching as he evaluated it. He then looked again into Alvric’s eyes. "You have not the look of one who would enjoy the journey, my friend."
Alvric found himself shaking his head. "My Lord King," he said with far more surety than he would have believed possible had not the Ringbearer’s wishes been part of the situation, "I am the most knowledgeable of all lawyers in Gondor. I would not send one less capable than I am to see to it that the Lord Frodo’s wishes might be met."
"I will warn you this, Master Alvric--I sincerely doubt you will actually have the chance to meet with Frodo if you go north, for I’ve first forbidden Men to enter the Shire for a time as the folk of that land find their peace after the trials they faced while our four were gone from there, and I suggested that as much as possible Frodo remain in the center of his land for his comfort--although," he continued, his face growing more stern, "considering the situation the four of them found on their return I’m not certain just how much comfort that has offered him. When each day he is faced with the evidence of the perfidy of his own cousin who wrought the rebellion, I fear that there is little comfort to be had no matter where he might be amongst his own."
Both Berevrion and Faramir were equally curious along with the lawyer. Faramir asked, "And why is it that being in the midst of his own people would offer him more comfort, my Lord Elessar?"
The King sighed as he lifted the cat from his lap and held her to his chest. "I learned during his visit here that Frodo is blessed with a remarkably strong share of the King’s Gift, a gift finely honed by the effects of the Enemy’s Ring while he carried It and used by the Ring against him. By nature most Hobbits are peaceable and given to enjoyment, and their land I can tell you is rich and fertile, its fields bountiful and its trees beautiful. I remember Frodo telling the envoy from Umbar that Hobbits for the most part simply enjoy, and thought how apt a description that was for his people.
"But he has returned to a land ravished by the greed and resentment of both his cousin Lotho and Curunír, and must deal with the echoes of that every day. He sees to much of the setting to rights of the legal dealings of the Shire, and leads consultations with family and village heads to see his people’s needs provided for; Merry and Pippin have helped in cleansing the Shire of the last of the brigands hiding here and there throughout the wilder places; and Sam even now is seeing to the replanting of the avenues and groves of trees Saruman ordered wantonly killed during his brief reign of terror as well as the rebuilding of homes and barns destroyed on Lotho’s or Saruman’s orders. Until Frodo feels the Shire is again fully at peace and amity within itself his King’s Gift will give him little if any rest."
Another of the tortoiseshell cats finally quit the further room and came to settle herself on Alvric’s lap. Holby gave a brief growl of disapproval, then quieted as his master touched his muzzle. The last came out and leapt onto the desk beyond their master’s chair, settling herself in the midst of the correspondence Alvric had been dealing with last. The King looked about at the three cats, then back to Alvric himself.
"It is one thing to feel moved to go yourself, Master Alvric, but I can tell you with certainty it is not an easy trip, although it would be far easier and safer for you now, traveling as you would be with Berevrion and his escort than it has proven in the past. Lord Berevrion has served as the primary envoy between our cousin Halladan as Steward of Arnor and the court here in Gondor, and as such Berevrion is becoming perhaps all too familiar with the road between here and the north.
"You have not the look of one who finds the saddle comfortable enough to wish to ride for weeks, nor one who would feel comfortable sleeping under the open sky for nights in a row while between the settlements of Men or Elves. I fear you would find yourself lonely for your companions here and your regular occupations of study and advising; and as you serve as one of our magistrates for disputes you would miss those duties as well. Are you truly desirous to leave your comforts behind for perhaps up to a year?"
Alvric looked about the room, then licked his lips. "If my rooms might be kept for me while I must be gone," he began, then paused. He thought more deeply, then looked up with decision. "I will admit I prefer to live comfortably, although I will tell you I found I actually enjoyed going to the place of refuge to which I was sent during the siege of the city. I am, of course, concerned for the safety and comfort of my cats while I must be away; but I would take Holby with me as he and I have traveled together whenever I must go between here and my family’s home in Lamedon. Would there be the possibility of furnished rooms to be had in the northlands where I must work? But I will tell you this--I fear if I do not take this opportunity to serve the realm I will ever regret it, particularly if I feel I have somehow failed the Ringbearer. I saw him a few times while he dwelt in the city, particularly during audiences and judgments and during the conferences on the manner in which different lands within Arnor are ruled, and came to honor him deeply for his intelligence and faithfulness and humble nature."
Faramir gave his clear laugh. "Ah, my friend," he said, "I see another has fallen under the spell of Frodo Baggins and his charm."
"Aye," the King returned. "Ever he draws those of honor to him."
Berevrion shrugged, smiling. "Such has ever been true of those who bear the King’s Gift, I think, kinsman." He turned to the lawyer, his expression thoughtful. "I must leave for the north kingdom again within ten day’s time. Can you be ready that quickly? And, as I understand you serve the Guild of Lawyers here, will the Master of the Guild grant you such leave?"
"Do not worry for me," Alvric reassured him. "I will be ready, although I will admit I do not have a mount at this time. The last time my brother visited me here in Minas Tirith he took Lavas back with him."
"We have a few steeds left us by Éomer of Rohan after the war," the King said, "horses whose Riders were lost. He felt they might help meet the needs of our errand riders. I’m certain we can find one to suit you from among them, and I can send a message asking him to have one or two more ready for you as you ride through Rohan. If you are to ride swiftly north, it would be best to have at least two horses to change between that none grow exhausted by being ridden all the day. So it is for those in Berevrion’s escort. If you could meet with me at the stable in the First Circle an hour before sunset we will see to it that you are properly mounted for at least the ride to Rohan. And I will see to it your rooms will be kept for you during your absence. And you say your dog travels with you?"
"Yes--a special carrier my sister had made for me years ago. Holby does well enough in it, and would be most upset if I were not to take him."
The King exchanged amused looks with his kinsman. "So be it, then. With that I fear I must give over your delightful cat here and we must be on our way, for there are other considerations we must discuss before I can release Berevrion back to Halladan’s side once more." He gently coaxed Marble to the floor and stood up, finished his wine, and having given over his goblet to Faramir to return to the tray he stretched. "I will tell you this--I envy you the ride to Arnor and the Breelands. April is a kind month to the lands surrounding the Shire. And whatever else I might be, I remain the child of the North Kingdom. Until an hour before sunset, then." He bowed briefly and pulled his hood again over his head. Alvric rose hastily and bowed in return, and saw his guests down to the lower part of the building and away, then stood, watching after them, feeling rather bemused.
Two weeks later he found himself riding through Anorien on a rather small mare whose silky coat matched his own hair for color, their small company already approaching the borders to Rohan. Somewhere the King had found a sturdy cob to serve as packhorse for him, and so he led a tall, rangy grey loaded with a small tent, bedroll, balanced packs of books and scrolls and journals, travel bottles of ink and sticks of graphite and a lead pencil, and five sets of clothing as well as much of the travel supplies for the entire company of five.
Holby rode in his leather carrier tied to the crupper of Alvric’s saddle, his head usually poked through the open space at the top, watching the scenery and sniffing the wind of their passage with interest.
Lord Berevrion fell back from where he’s been receiving the report of the scout who’d just returned. "We apparently have a clear road ahead of us all the way to the borders of Rohan," he reported. "How are your thighs holding up?"
Alvric shrugged. "Better than the last two days, I think. I am sorry I slow you down."
The northern lord laughed. "It’s nothing like it was traveling north alongside King Théoden’s wain, four Hobbits, a large troupe of Elves, a love-struck Steward and his princess, and Gandalf. At times I wondered whether we’d managed to travel any distance at all during the day; and when the Elves of Lothlorien prepared to turn to their own lands we remained in one place for days as the great Elves and Gandalf held a final council with one another.
"Not, of course," he hastened to add, "that the Hobbits just by being Hobbits slowed us down. Only it was that Lord Frodo was unable to travel as steadily as the rest of us. Truly the Ring left its effects on him, although one would not know it just to look on him. I think he had the foreknowledge that all was not well with his homeland and he ached to return there as soon as he could do so; but he learned he could not push himself further in a day than we went. And he had the equally strong feeling he must see his kinsman Bilbo Baggins who dwelt in Rivendell before he returned to the Shire. So the Hobbits and Gandalf went east first and rested some days before they finally set off west for Bree and beyond."
"Then," said Alvric thoughtfully, "Lord Frodo had not completely recovered from his wounds before he left to return to his own people."
Berevrion shrugged. "He does not like to admit this, but it is true. But considering how many wounds he bore and how they were administered, are you surprised? Had he been a Man and not a Hobbit he would never have survived to reach Rivendell from the Shire. As it happened he was indeed at the point of death when Gandalf and the Great Eagles found him and Lord Samwise in the ruins of the Mountain. They did not know if he would return. Again, had he been a Man and no Hobbit it is likely that had he survived he would have been confined to his couch from that day forward. Instead he awoke and has been able to be among us beyond all hope."
"And your people call the Grey Pilgrim Gandalf at all times, then?"
Berevrion nodded. "So he has ever been known throughout most of the north. A counselor in time of need, and one to fight at the side of Kings."
"Has he been seen since he left Gondor?"
"Briefly only, and in passing. He parted from the Hobbits near the borders of their land and went to speak with the Eldest who it is said dwells within the Old Forest on the eastern borders of the Shire. He was seen over two weeks afterwards heading east once more toward Rivendell and Elrond’s house. I do not believe he intends to remain in Middle Earth."
Alvric looked at his companion with interest. "Where would he go?"
Berevrion shrugged. "He is no Elf, and yet neither has he proved a Man, for he has been in Middle Earth since at least the days of Celepharn of Arthedain. I have seen his name mentioned in the records of all our Kings and chieftains since that time, and most he saw receive the Sceptre of Annúminas, or at least the Shards of Narsil when at last it was judged Arnor was no longer a kingdom save in memory. Nay, I strongly suspect he was sent from beyond the West, and will return there soon enough."
Not long after midday they reached the borders of Rohan where they were greeted by Riders guarding the southeastern boundaries. They were greeted with honor, and four were detached from the éored to accompany them back to Edoras, which they reached some four days later. Here they rested for three days, and they saw their supplies renewed before they must turn northward again.
"I have ready for you the second horse my brother Aragorn asked for you," said Éomer King on their first morning. "I only hope he will not prove more than you can handle."
Alvric was concerned until he noted the smile hidden behind the young king’s beard, but he and Berevrion followed their host out of the city to the lower paddocks.
"Will you see the Ringbearer when you go north again?" Éomer asked as they walked.
"I doubt it," Berevrion responded. "He remains yet in the heart of his land."
"I like it ill that the traitor Saruman came to their land and troubled it so," the king said, his expression hard. "I am somewhat surprised that Saruman could be killed--but as Gandalf Greyhame had already passed through death perhaps I should not feel even that. Just as long as his fellow cannot do the same." Then, at Alvric’s expression of shock and disbelief, Éomer stopped and examined the lawyer’s face. "What? The story of Gandalf’s fall in the clutches of a fire demon is not told in Mundberg?"
"No!" Alvric said, shaking his head. "Word had spread through the city that Gandalf had been destroyed; yet then he rode into it with the Ernil i Pheriannath before him on his great grey steed, dressed now in white and carrying a far different staff than the one he carried before, yet one more in keeping with his new dignity. All but supposed it was only the newest of many rumors disproved."
"Nor have we heard the entire tale as yet," Berevrion added.
"I know not what he spoke to the Council of Gondor of his fall, but I know what tale Aragorn told us when first we met and then later as we rode to Helm’s Deep after Gandalf left our side to seek out Erknebrand and his Men." Briefly Éomer related the tale of the facing of the Balrog on the Bridge of Khazad-dum, the fall and the battle as related by Gandalf, and the sending back. "He told Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas he was sent back naked, and that he awoke where life had fled him, there atop Zirak-Zigal, as the Dwarves name it. The great Eagle Gwaihir found him there and bore him to the Golden Wood where the Lady of Dreams dressed him now in white, although I know not how he came to his new staff."
They turned to finish the journey to the paddocks, and outside one the king stopped and leaned on the wooden rails, his face filled with satisfaction as he watched the milling of the horses within. This paddock held seven animals; two bays, a dun, a deep grey, one nearly white, a light grey, and a gelding so dark a brown as to be nearly black. Alvric found himself watching that particular gelding with interest, his mind distracted from thoughts of wizards destroyed and re-embodied by the sight. The horse was somewhat smaller than the rest, lean yet well muscled. "And no white upon him?" Alvric asked, looking sideways at his host.
"Only the smallest of clusters just left of his breastbone." The king smiled. "I’d thought to send him north to my Holdwine, but am not certain. One of our pony mares has just thrown a fine foal I think I might send Merry once he has been broken, and a fine stallion he will be, I deem. And he has promised to send me a wagonload of apples at their next harvest, and two great casks of fine cider." He watched the horse move some more, then turned to examine the smaller Man at his side. "I see he has already caught at your imagination. Do you think you would like to try and see if he will accept you as a rider?"
At Alvric’s nod Éomer nodded, then called out in Rohirric to one of the Men engaged in filling the manger with hay. The Rider answered, also in Rohirric, something that caused the other Men to laugh and the king to smile broadly. He answered back, and all laughed again. The one filling the manger finished his task, then went off to a nearby shed and brought back a blanket, saddle, and bridle. The king meanwhile had slid between the rails and walked further into the paddock. He stood tall, watching as the horses ran first to the other side of the paddock, then turned to examine the Man, then began to circle him, coming closer and closer to him. Alvric watched, awed, realizing precisely how this one was indeed King of the Horselords. The brown turned out of the circle, came closer and closer to Éomer, and finally stopped, trembling, just within reach. The Man reached out, stroked down the horse’s muzzle, then moved closer, allowing the animal to lip his hand. He reached inside his shirt and brought out a wizened apple and offered it to the animal, who took it tentatively, then after crunching it, sniffed at his clothing, its trembling stopped. He laughed and led the animal near the paddock fence. Now the others were coming closer, also nuzzling at him, and he turned to pet several of them, then pushed them gently away. "Sa, sa, my brothers," he crooned to them, "softly now, all of you. Soon enough we will find Riders for you, that you know the fulfillment of your kind. Beautiful are all of you. But for this one, I think we have found the one for him. You may watch, if you wish."
He beckoned for Alvric to join him in the paddock. "If he is to be yours, you must allow him to come to know you. Come--come closer."
Several Riders were crowding around the railing as Alvric followed the king inside the rails, leaning on it and watching with interest as the one who’d brought the tack brought a carrot, almost as wizened as the apple had been, out of his shirt and handed it to Alvric. The lawyer held the carrot out to the gelding, and at first it shied away from him, then turned back, and at last emboldened came forward to accept the tribute. Soon it was allowing him to fondle it, and when at the king’s nod he reached for the saddle blanket it took but a half step away, then came forward again at a look from Éomer. It didn’t take long for Alvric to saddle the gelding, whose muscles twitched at the feel of the gear; and at last the Man made to mount. It took four tries before Alvric went before the animal and looked into its gaze. "If you will allow me, we can ready ourselves for our journey. I doubt you will find me that difficult to deal with. However, I have not the time to spend waiting for you to stand still."
Something in the tone appeared to reassure the gelding, and this time as Alvric set his foot into the stirrup it stayed still, allowing him to swing up into the saddle. At a nod from the king some of the watching Riders slipped a pair of rails out of place, allowing Alvric to ride out through the gap. There were moments of caution on the part of first horse and then Man, then growing confidence. Éomer had followed Alvric out, and now the rails were being replaced as the rest watched Alvric and the gelding come to appreciate one another.
There was a thunder in the distance, and a small herd of horses, each far greater than the brown, swept toward them, led by a silver-grey stallion of surpassing beauty. The gelding stopped and snorted, pawing at the ground and once again trembling some, but this time in what Alvric realized was eagerness.
The herd parted like a wave around a great rock as it swept past Alvric and his mount, and as the last ran by the brown turned and broke into a gallop after them. At their advent Éomer of Rohan moved forward, and now stood a fair distance from the rails of the paddocks, his face shining in eagerness as the stallion led his retinue toward and then around him. Alvric saw at least one other stallion in the group, several mares, and two half-grown colts, leggy yet full of promise.
As had done the seven within the paddock, the herd was now circling the king, coming ever closer and closer, and he was turning, watching them with pleasure and appreciation. At last the stallion turned out of the circling and made one more circuit, widdershins this time, and paused just within reach of the Man. As he’d done before, Éomer reached out to caress the animal’s muzzle, then to scratch behind its ears. The stallion pushed his head hard against the Man’s chest, then turned broadside to him. With a steed leap the king was astride, and the silver was turning to run again with his herd, then pulled out of it as the rest dropped back and found a stand of grass to graze. The silver led the way, and Alvric’s brown followed as together they raced down the plain, first away from the walls of Edoras and along the stream, then turning first west, then about at last.
It was a heady ride, and when at last the two animals stopped some twenty yards short of the paddock Alvric found himself relieved and saddened at the same time that the gallop was over. Éomer slipped from his steed’s back and embraced the animal. Lord of Men and lord of horses acknowledged one another, then Éomer turned to caress the rest of the herd as they crowded around him. At last the silver stallion came forward to sniff muzzles with Alvric’s brown, chuffed and appeared to nod in approval, then turned away. He gave a neigh of command, and the rest turned from their push at the king and gathered around him, and the small herd turned and began drifting northwest.
Alvric dismounted and watched after, his arm over the brown’s neck, feeling how eager the gelding was to follow after. He looked at the king of Rohan as Éomer approached. "The Mearas?" he asked.
The young king nodded. "Yes. It was how our people were convinced, on our return, that I was indeed intended to be the lord of our land, that the Mearas came to greet me and allowed me to handle and ride them. Perhaps the Men of other realms might not understand, but for the Eorlingas--the rightful king must be approved by our steeds as well as our people, and I doubt we would have it any other way." He reached out to the brown. "So, brother, will you have him, then? He saw the desire in you to follow your own lord and allowed it; but now his way is a different way. Will you go with him and the mare already sworn to him and see new lands? I sense he will be a kindly rider. Just don’t try too many tricks on him."
"Has he a name?"
"It has been in my heart to call him Jongleur. What think you, Alvric of Mundberg?"
And so it was that when Alvric mounted to continue the ride north two days later he led both the packhorse and Jongleur.