"Come in, gentlemen," the King called in response to the knock at his door.
It was opened by Bergil, who had taken the duty earlier in the day from Pippin, who would insist on serving his own shift as Guard when he was in the Kingís company. Pippin had been told to go change his clothing from his Guardsmanís uniform and to gather to him Merry and Sam and come to the Kingís study an hour after noon. The King smiled to see that young Frodo-lad was following after his father, and that Pippin now carried his son Faramir in his arms.
He looked at Merry and raised an eyebrow. "Your Perry chose not to come with you?"
"Heís been fighting the sniffles the last three days of our journey, and his mother has put him to bed with a warm cloth soaked in eucalyptus over his chest," the Master informed him. "I was entertaining him singing him some of the songs I learned in Rohan when Pippin came to fetch me. What is it you wanted to show us, Strider?"
Aragorn smiled. "The archivist brought me a document out of the cavern where the Kingdomís records have been stored for the last two thousand years, and once I saw it, I knew the three of you would be interested."
Samís left ear twitched visibly, a sight that momentarily distracted the Man from the purpose of this call. "You have your archives here stored in caverns similar to those in Minas Tirith?" the Shireís Mayor asked.
"Er, yes. These were enhanced for Argeleb the Second by Dwarves from the northern Misty Mountains, and have done very well for preserving some of our oldest and most fragile documents. This one, however, is in excellent condition, considering itís been there for a millennia and a half."
Pippinís brows raised and his mouth opened slightly, and he immediately shot a look at Merry who at first looked mildly interested but whose eyes suddenly widened with understanding. "You donít mean...."
Aragorn smiled widely and nodded. "Yes, one of the original copies of the Charter written by Argeleb the Second granting the lands between the Baranduin and the Far Downs to Blanco and Marcho of the Periannath for the settlement of their people."
The scroll was contained in a tube of mithril. Aragorn twisted the cap off of one end and gave it to Pippin to examine. The tube itself had a design of vines and leaves twisting about it, and the cap had a single oak leaf upon it, its veining perfect. Pippin passed it to Merry, who passed it to Sam, who in his turn held it down for Frodo-lad to see. "Beautiful workmanship," Sam said, smiling.
"I agree," Aragorn said. But he was already slipping the rods of the scroll out of the carrier and laid it gently upon his desk, then carefully opened it.
There was a low, wide stool already in place for Samís use, and he stepped upon it carefully with Pippin standing to the left of it and Merry to the right. Pippin settled Farry on the edge of the desk to his left, and Merry picked up Samís oldest son and set him down to his right so he, too, could see.
"Will you look at that," Pippin breathed softly as the scroll was slowly unrolled and stretched tight across the desktop. "Now, Farry my lad, this is true history--the first proper agreement written between the King of Arnor and the Hobbits of the Shire--the Charter granting the lands to us."
Frodo-lad was running his eyes across the Tengwar script. "Itís beautiful, Da," he whispered. "Oh, look, thereís the signs for us, for the Periannath."
"Donít touch it, lad," his father cautioned him, grasping his hand before he could do so. "Thatís right old, you know. Written afore our folk ever come over the Brandywine, it was."
Aragorn was nodding, pleased to see the mixture of pleasure, awe, and pride in the expressions of his friends. He unrolled some more, and then more still. Finally they were past the Tengwar of the Sindarin and into the translation into Westron. Pippin was murmuring scraps of the text as he scanned it. "Northern moors ... marshes to the south ... rockslip ... the Messengers of the King...."
"There!" Merry said, pointing to a section. "Yes, the upkeep of the Great Bridge as itís called here is definitely up to us. Now, thatís something I have to tell Uncle Mac, as he tried to say that as thereís a King again itís up to the King to finance the repairs for it."
Frodo-lad added, "And itís the Shireís responsibility to keep the roads in order as well."
Pippin looked up to meet his Kingís eyes. "We have a copy of the charter in the Westron translation, but itís been damaged by time, and that section hasnít been clear for as long as I can remember. The original was lost apparently in the days of Arvedui and Bucca of the Marish. Can you have an exact copy made for us to take with us when we return south to the Shire again?"
"Yes, of course."
"Wish we had Frodo here to copy it," Merry said softly. "He was the best copyist the Shire ever produced, you know."
Aragornís face had softened also as he gently nodded his agreement.
Slowly he rolled through the sections until they reached the end. Merry seemed to be devouring the document with his eyes. "There they are--the signatures of King Argeleb the Second, Marcho, and Blanco. Inscribed almost fifteen hundred years ago, they were."
"About a thousand Ďn four hundred and thirty-four, I make it," Sam said, also examining the signatures.
Pippin straightened after a moment, then looked again at his friend and King. "Now, when we were there in Minas Tirith after you were made King we saw you signing a lot of documents and agreements and treaties and even a few contracts, purchasing fabric for the livery for those who served in the Citadel and the Houses of Healing, for example. But I donít remember you ever signing in red ink, and the number of witnesses needed seemed to be different each time."
"Usually the number of witnesses is limited only by the number of high enough officials present who wish to serve in that capacity, Pippin."
Pippin nodded thoughtfully, thinking on that as again he looked at the signatures. Finally he looked up again and asked, "Does mithril help protect documents better or something?"
Aragorn considered. "I suppose it does. It does not tarnish or fade; and the few sheathes Iíve seen taken apart to be copied to make new ones, where the inlaid wire for the decoration is removed the leather has always been best preserved under where the wire was mithril. Certainly this scroll is one of the best preserved Iíve seen, considering its age. The ink is bright enough it might have been written and signed only a year ago instead of well over a thousand."
"Yes, I noticed," Pippin said, looking again at the document with an odd smile on his face. "You see how vibrant both the black ink is throughout most of the document and how bright red the signatures are?"
"Yes," Aragorn said, not understanding why that might be important.
Merry, however was smiling to match his cousin while Sam was sitting up straight now, his eyes again wide with surprise, clearly thinking. The Brandybuck asked, his eyes on the document, "Arenít the documents you sign usually signed with the same ink in which they are written?"
"Oh, no--often quite different ink. That used by the copyists is the very best quality available--thatís been true throughout the history of the Dķnedain, I think. But as official documents are often written by the scribes and copyists and clerks in offices quite distant from my own, I usually end up signing with whatever ink I have opened at the time. Most of it is quite good quality, of course, although some of them will wash away with water. I use that only when Iím signing a document thatís not going to be of any value within a short time after its purpose is fulfilled, though. When it is something that must be archived I use an ink that once it is dried cannot be easily washed away and is known not to fade."
"Do you ever sign anything with red ink?"
"No, I donít think I ever have. I used to use it when I was doing special copies of poems as gifts to highlight certain letters, along with other colors of ink and even gold leaf at times. But to sign something? No, not unless it was the only ink I had out, I think."
Sam started to chuckle. "So," he said, "itís likely the Shire requirement that signatures on legal documents must be done in red ink happened maybe ícause some clerk just happened to have a bottle oí red ink out when the Charter was signed then? Now, if that donít fit!"
Merry laughed aloud. "Now, wouldnít the news that the reason we use so much red ink within the Shire and that we have seven witnesses is due to happenstance at the time the Charter was written and signed upset the Guild of Lawyers?"
"Well," Sam said, "Iím not goiní to tell any of them. No point in causiní folk to question tradition."
"I agree," Pippin said, smiling broadly. Then he glanced at the other two. "I might just swear Bard and Brendi Brandybuck to secrecy and tell them, though. I think they at least would enjoy the joke as much as we do."
Sam, however, was looking back at the signatures, and the wry smile on his face matched that seen earlier on Pippinís. "And look there, how they signed it, Marcho and Blanco," he said, pointing.
"I can barely make it out," Merry objected with a shrug. "Their handwriting was quite different from the way most write nowadays."
"Maybe itís only ícause as Mayor I have to make out so many signatures," Sam said, "but itís clear enough for me. There, Marcho of the Tooks; and there, Blanco of the Tooks." He looked at Pippin. "Donít you see, Thain Peregrin--they was your ancestors."
"Are you certain, Sam?" Pippin asked, looking again.
But Frodo-lad was smiling. "Youíre right, Da," he exclaimed. "Even way back then the Tooks were leading the Hobbits of the Shire."
Pippin was shaking his head slightly as he continued to examine the document. "Iím not so certain...."
But after doing his own examination Aragorn looked up at Pippin and said, "Theyíre right, Sam and Frodo-lad are. Theyíre right."
The Thain, Master, and Mayor and their families (save for Elanor Gardner, who would remain in Annķminas and Fornost with the King and Queen as the Queenís Maid of Honor throughout the remainder of their stay in the North Kingdom) returned home shortly after Midsummer, bringing with them a special gift to the Shire from the King--a copy of the Charter granting the lands of the Shire to those Hobbits who agreed to follow Marcho and Blanco across the Brandywine Bridge from the Breelands. A special banquet was called of the family and village heads throughout the land, as well as representatives from the Guild of Lawyers, to celebrate its reception. Throughout the meal and the speeches it sat unrolled on a long table near one wall, lamps lit all around it.
After the festivities were over the participants lined up to file past the document, walking on either side of the table.
With the Charter was a separate document signed by the King himself indicating that this had been examined by seven individuals familiar with both languages in which it was written to make certain it was faithful in both the Sindarin and the Westron text to the original, and that an artist who specialized in reproducing signatures had done his best to copy the writing of those who had originally signed it. This document was signed by each of those who had done the examination (including the Queen herself and her brothers), most properly, the lawyers noted, in red ink. And as he carefully rolled the document up to return it to the gold tube made to protect it, Bartolo Bracegirdle, as the current assistant to the Master of the Guild of Lawyers, was heard to sniff, "Even then they used seven witnesses."
And he didnít understand the soft laughter from the Thain, Master, Mayor, and their personal lawyers who had sat near them during the meal.