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The Tenant from Staddle
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A Trip to Bree

A Trip to Bree

Persivo was watching out for his father as Bartolo arrived home, and hurried to the stable to help unharness Dottie. Ricki paused in the act of mucking out Spotty’s stall to listen as his father instructed, “When the stable is clean and the ponies fed we’ll need to have the coach wiped down and prepared for tomorrow.”

Persivo straightened with anticipation. “We’ll be making the trip to Bree, then?”

Bartolo nodded. “The deputy Mayor received a letter from the King’s lawyer. He’s just arrived from the King’s city, and will be able to meet with us as soon as we can get there. Appears as he’s taken rooms there in the village in a private home. I sent a note from Michel Delving indicating we are on our way and will meet with him in four days.”

His older son cast a quick look toward the hole, then turned back to his father with a level of concern. “Mum probably won’t take too well to having to pack in haste, Dad. It’s not much in the way of warning.”

The lawyer gave his own instinctive glance that way, then shrugged; he’d not thought on that aspect of the proposed journey. “That may be,” he said, “but as I’ve already sent word we’ll have to do the best we can to arrive on time. Your mother’s a canny one—she’ll come through.” And grabbing his bag out of the trap he turned toward the smial.

Petunia was waiting to open the door for him and take his bag. “You’re home earlier than we’d looked for, Da,” she said after giving him a quick peck on the cheek.

“Yes—there was news at the Mayor’s office. Where’s your mother?”

“In the kitchen, teaching Lyssa to roll out a pie crust. We’re to have chicken and mushroom pie for dinner.”

“Good. Now, I want you to go up to your room and start packing clothes for you and Lyssa for our trip to Bree. We’ll need to leave early tomorrow if we’re to make it on time.”

Pet gave a shriek of excitement. “Really, Da? We really get to go to Bree?” Then she paused, growing more concerned. “But that’s not much time to get ready, you know. What kind of things should I pack?”

“A couple of nice dresses for each of you, but mostly clothes that will do well for a prolonged journey—enough for ten days, I’d suggest. Three night dresses and a dressing gown each, I’d say, and of course your brushes and proper ribbons and kerchiefs.”

“You don’t want me to pack for Begonia, too?”

Her father sighed. “You remember the last time anyone tried to pack for your sister—she had a right fit that they were all the wrong things, and wouldn’t speak to you or your mum for three days.”

Pet laughed. “And it would serve her right at that if she does do it up wrong this time. Well, I’ll hurry to get the packing started, although I’m certain Mum will make me put a good part of what I choose back once it’s put together.” And she turned and headed down the hall toward the bedrooms, pausing along the way just long enough to leave the bag on the chair inside the door to his study.

Bartolo watched her disappear, then turned toward the kitchen, pausing to take a deep breath before he went in. Alyssa was leaning over a low table working on rolling out the promised piecrust, her mother standing behind her, her hands on her daughter’s to gauge the pressure being used. “Now, turn the roller the other way and do it again, dearling,” she said.

Begonia looked up from where she stood by the stove, stirring the pot of simmering filling. “Daddy’s home,” she said, her face lighting with delight.

Delphie looked up, her eyes brightening as she pushed a curl out of her eyes. “You’re early home, love,” she commented with a smile. “No problems with the partnership agreement, then?”

“Oh, no. Although I was advised the King’s lawyer has arrived in Bree. I sent off a note advising him we’ll be in Bree on the twenty-eighth.”

Delphinium straightened with dismay. “The twenty-eighth? Bartolo Bracegirdle—what possessed you to make such a promise? Why, we’d have to leave tomorrow!”

“I know, sweetling—right after first breakfast.”

“No!” objected Alyssa. “We can’t miss second breakfast—I get to make it and I was planning bread dipped in egg and fried in a skillet. I know you love that, Daddy.”

“Surely we won’t have to leave that early, Barti dear? Couldn’t we load the coach between meals and leave after second breakfast?”

Bartolo shrugged, but secretly was pleased, for that was what he’d truly planned on. “I suppose—and certainly we can’t afford to miss Alyssa’s fried bread. Blueberry syrup?”

“Blueberry syrup, or cherry jam. We have lots of both in the root cellar.” Alyssa smiled with satisfaction. “The Gatherers and Sharers didn’t manage to find the door to it. We hid it well, didn’t we, Daddy?”

He smiled at her, then looked at the lass’s mother. “So, Delphie, you think we will be able to leave right after second breakfast, then?” At her nod of commitment he said, “I’ll go out and speak to Greenman about keeping an eye on the place and feeding the cat then.”

“We can’t take Feathers, Da?” asked Alyssa, looking stricken.

“Pay attention to your pie crust, daughter,” her mother admonished her. “No, we can’t take Feathers. You know she hates being in the carriage or trap when it’s moving—she’d most like leap out and get lost somewhere in the Marish and mayhaps get eaten by some farmer’s dogs.” Chastened, the lass turned back to her rolling out. Once she was certain the child was doing it properly Delphie asked, “How long will we be on the road, do you think?”

“We’ll drive to the Floating Log in Waymeet tomorrow and stay there the night. Then we’ll go on to the Bridge Inn and stay there a night, then on to Bree the following day.”

“How long will we be there, Daddy?” Begonia asked, forgetting her stirring.

“Watch the filling, lass, or it’ll scorch. I’m not certain—not more than a week, probably.”

“Two week’s worth of clothing, then,” Begonia noted.

“No more than ten days’ worth, or there won’t be room in the coach. They have laundresses in Bree, and we’ll have what’s been worn so far cleaned before we leave to return home to the Shire.”

Nodding and obviously planning what she’d take, Begonia turned back to her pot, then after a couple stirs she turned, dismayed. “You haven’t set Pet to choose out my clothes, have you?”

“No—not after the last time. No, you’ll do it yourself, and no one will help you, although you’re to show your mother what you plan to take so as to make certain as she approves. And no more than two very nice dresses.”

“Mummy!” she protested, but in this Delphie agreed with her husband.

“We’re not going to be attending a good many parties, dearling. Much of the trip will be traveling, so you’ll need clothes that won’t show the dust for that part of it.”

Begonia turned back to her filling with a subdued, “Yes, Mum.”

Once the piecrust was folded over to be laid out in the tin and Alyssa started on trimming it, Delphie asked, “And was Ricki mucking out the stalls when you arrived?”

“Yes, he was. I take it that was punishment?”

“Yes—I’d set him to weeding the tomatoes and picking aphids off the pea vines, and he slipped off next door to play at conkers with Jessup and Able instead. I hope that Vigo will let us pay his lads to watch the garden while we’re gone, or we’ll not have much in the way of vegetables this year.”

“I’ll speak to him about it. But I doubt he’ll disagree.” So saying, Bartolo headed out to speak to their neighbor.

During dinner most of the talk was focused on what food they’d need to take. “I can go to the inn and order up some pasties to take—we can pick them up along the way,” Bartolo suggested. “How many loaves of bread do we have ready?”

“Four, two of them large crusty loaves.” Delphie thought for a moment. “We could slice those two across and put slices of cheese and roast lamb between them and then slice them for individual portions—we have that joint I roasted the other day we can use, and we’ll need to use it up—we can’t leave it, after all. I can fill bottles with sweet, cold tea for us to drink, and we have plenty of dried plums from last fall we can take with us. And I’ll put a couple chickens to roast in the embers tonight. We have some carrots left in the stores, and then whatever we can get along the way.”

Pet suggested, “There’s the cake I baked this morning we can take also, Mum. We were going to have it for afters, but it would be better to eat along the way, don’t you think so, Da?”

Ricki asked, “If we get pasties from the inn, can we take bottles of ginger beer as well, Dad?”

Bartolo looked at his younger son appraisingly. “Do you think lads who slip away from their chores to play at conkers deserve ginger beer, Enrico?”

The lad flushed. “I said as I was sorry, Dad, and I did a good job mucking out the stalls—didn’t I, Persivo?”

By bedtime all was in surprisingly good array for the following morning. Begonia had only had two fits of temper when her mother insisted she not take a particular frock, and Alyssa had finally realized she wasn’t going to be allowed to take her blue dress with the silver lace. “Much too fancy,” her father said, shaking his head. “It would be lost on the good folks of Bree, I suspect. No, the yellow frock would be far more suitable, lass.” Each one was allowed to take three favorite possessions suitable to keeping them distracted in their rooms at the inns, and their mother made certain two slates and several chalk pencils were ready to take with them so they could play naughts and crosses or doodle while they traveled.

Next morning, while Petunia oversaw Alyssa’s preparation of second breakfast the rest saw the coach loaded, and Bartolo inspected the harness to make certain all was in readiness. The children hurried through cleaning the kitchen and dishes as soon as the meal was ended, and there was a last-minute grabbing of cloaks and checks to see all was in order, and Ricki headed next door to leave the key with Vigo Greenman while Persivo and Bartolo harnessed the ponies to the coach. Finally Delphie, the lasses, and Ricki were bundled inside while Persivo and his father mounted the box; Bartolo slapped the reins and released the brakes, and they were off.

They ate elevenses and luncheon along the way, and stopped in a village for tea. By the time they arrived at the Floating Log Alyssa was tired of traveling and thrilled with the novelty of staying at an unfamiliar inn. The next day the ride was shorter, and they arrived at the Bridge Inn early in the afternoon, allowing the children time to do some exploring before tea while their parents purchased food to eat along the way during the trip from the Brandywine Bridge to Bree.

During dinner Persivo asked, “Will we see anyone along the road tomorrow, Dad?”

Bartolo shrugged. “According to what the deputy Mayor tells, it’s possible we might meet a Ranger along the way. Says as they’re the King’s own folks and that they guard the borders, after all, and that they’ll often escort travelers between the Shire and Bree.”

But the one who approached them wasn’t a Man cloaked in grey or green or silver with a star on his shoulder, but instead was an exceptionally tall individual with long golden hair braided at the temples, a bow and quiver over left shoulder, a long knife tucked into his belt. He rode a tall roan horse, its lines sleek and smooth, its hackamore, reins, and neat saddle decorated with small chiming bells of silver. A look at the almost unnatural grace and the pointed ears told Bartolo that this was an Elf. He was surprised, for he’d almost been convinced that Elves were only features in old tales—the kind of tales favored by the likes of Frodo Baggins. The lawyer drew on the reins, and the ponies stopped, although he could tell they were trembling with excitement.

The Elf paused also, then rode forward to meet them. He gave a surprisingly graceful bow from his steed’s back. “Glorinlas Gildorion at your service,” he said, introducing himself. “You travel unaccompanied to Bree?”

“Yes,” Bartolo answered carefully. “I am Bartolo Bracegirdle, this is my son Persivo, and inside the coach are my wife Delphinium, our three daughters, and our younger son Enrico.” He examined the Elf, then flushed as he realized his interest might be seen as intrusive. “Please forgive me, but I’ve not seen one of—of your people before.”

“I return to my kindred from Imladris,” Glorinlas explained, “but I will not be long delayed if I accompany you until you reach the Breelands. I’ve not seen nor heard any indication of enemies this day, although few would think to challenge me at this time. However, the Dúnedain have managed to take four renegade Men as prisoners in the past fortnight in the region immediately surrounding Bree, and so it would be wise to remain on guard.” So saying he turned his horse to ride alongside of the coach. As he began to pull somewhat ahead, Spotty and Dottie began to pull at the traces, not waiting for direction from their master, unwilling to be left behind by the Elf’s mount. Once the coach was well on its way he fell back to ride even with the box.

“Where’s Imladris?” Persivo asked. “I’ve not heard of it before.”

“It is our name for Rivendell,” the Elf explained.

Pet asked from inside the coach, “Were you going to ride through the Shire?”

Glorinlas gave a remarkably graceful shrug to one shoulder. “Our people have always rejoiced to pass through your land, although we have not done so openly for many years.”

Alyssa pushed herself up even with her older sister. “Where is your family?”

He smiled at her. “My people are right now ranging south of the Western Marches, west and then south of the borders of your land. We are soon to pass through your lands going eastward for a time before most take the last road west.”

“What makes it the last road west?” asked Alyssa.

“Many of my people will now take ship to Elvenhome, now that the greatest danger to Middle Earth is past. Our time is now passing away swiftly, and I doubt many Elves will remain in Middle Earth once the Lord Elessar leaves it, although that will not come to pass for many years yet, possibly another century, more or less.”

“Who is Lord Elessar?” asked Enrico, shoving at Pet from the other side.

“It is the name taken by the King of Men at his coronation. He is a worthy one indeed, and as greatly honored by our people as by his own.”

“Have you met him?” asked Petunia.

“Yes, several times in years past as he has coordinated the defense of these lands with my folk. We are not great warriors such as have ever set forth from Imladris, but we have ever fought the Enemy’s creatures wherever we have encountered them. No love have we for the orc-kind, or for wolves or wargs or trolls.”

“Have you ever fought a dragon?” asked Ricki.

The Elf laughed, although it was in a kindly way. “Not for many years. Nay, it was Bilbo Elvellon who helped see to the destruction of the last dragon of whom my people were aware. But that was not in these lands—it was far to the east of the Misty Mountains, east even of Thranduil’s realm.”

Persivo straightened. “Are there people outside the Shire named Bilbo?”

Glorinlas again gave his graceful shrug. “Bilbo Elvellon is from your own folk. I believe you know him as Bilbo Baggins. The Dwarves tend to refer to him as the Esteemed Burglar Bilbo Baggins.”

“But Elvellon isn’t his name, Mr. Gildorion,” objected Ricki.

Again the Elf laughed. “Elvellon isn’t a name—it is a title. For a mortal to be named an Elf-friend is an honor indeed, as it is to be esteemed by Dwarves. Nor may I be properly addressed as ‘Mister’ Gildorion. Would anyone speak of you as Mr. Son of Bartolo?”

At that Delphinium managed to pull him back onto the seat proper, and indicated that Pet and Alyssa had best sit down as well. “You could unbalance the coach,” she cautioned her children. “And if you sit down properly you can still see Mr.----”

Glorinlas again laughed. “You need not speak of me by more than my name, mistress,” he advised her.

“Please forgive them, Mr. Glorinlas. They’ve never seen an Elf before, you must understand.”

Begonia called out, “Then Gildorion means you’re Gildor’s son? Who is Gildor?”

“My father, and the lord of our clan.”

“Oh.” The thought that this one was a lord’s son was sobering. They all looked at one another thoughtfully.

Finally Persivo asked, “Do you know Bilbo Baggins?”

“I’ve been in his company several times when he dwelt here in the Shire, and I certainly saw him while I consulted with Lord Elrond in Rivendell.”

“Cousin Bilbo is in Rivendell?” asked Delphinium, surprised.

“Yes, he has dwelt there for many years now. He is now aged in the reckoning of your kind, and I do not believe he will be able to live many more seasons. You are all kindred to him and Lord Frodo, then? It is an honor to meet any who are family to Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.” Again he gave a respectfully deep bow to the Hobbits.

Bartolo found that bow made him feel very uncomfortable, as did the title of Lord applied to Frodo Baggins.

“You know Cousin Frodo also?” asked Delphie, her amazement growing.

“I’d seen him walking about your land in the company of Bilbo a few times, always from a distance; but I met him first as he left the Shire. A most responsible individual, and most faithful in the end. Always we have honored your people for your stewardship of the lands granted you by Argeleb; considering the service given all by Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Peregrin Took we cannot help but honor your people the more. Each aided greatly in fighting the evils of these times, and all of Middle Earth owes them a debt that perhaps can never be fully repaid.”

Bartolo felt his hair prickling on the back of his neck. “It’s not as if they did anything special—they’re naught but Hobbits, after all.”

The Elf looked at him, his expression most surprised. “They did nothing special, you think? To remove from your land the token of the greatest of evil and to go into the darkness of the black lands to see to the destruction of the thing—you see that as nothing? To face down the Lord of the Nazgul, and to fight before the Black Gates—to offer themselves for the safety and lives of others you see as meaningless? Have you of the Shire no understanding of what has happened out here in the outer world in the past two years?”

“Well, it’s not as if we were involved. We had Lotho and that Sharkey and their Big Men to deal with, you see.”

Glorinlas gave another of his shrugs, then fell back to trail the coach for a time. Delphie poked her head out of the coach’s window to look up at her husband. “I fear you’ve managed to offend him, Barti,” she sighed. She looked back, concern in her eyes, then looked up again at Bartolo. “Do you know anything about all this fighting he was talking about?”

The lawyer shook his head, for the little he knew he’d taken an oath not to discuss, and he didn’t begin to understand most of what the Elf had said. He looked back. Glorinlas and his horse were tall enough he could see the face of the Elf clearly, and the expression was watchful and utterly self-contained.

They stopped at midday to eat their luncheon, and Petunia approached the Elf as he sat his horse to invite him to join them. He looked at her for a few moments, then swung down, and with a word to the animal in his own tongue he followed her to where the rest of the family sat in a clearing opposite the Barrowdowns.

Bartolo glanced briefly at his wife, then looked at the Elf. “I—apologize if I appear to have spoken out of turn.”

Again the Elf gave his graceful shrug. “It is not as if I weren’t warned by Master Bilbo that your people would have little knowledge of how the war affected the rest of the lands. However, to learn you were so ignorant of the services offered by those four who left the Shire was—unexpected. And you did have to deal with the traitor Saruman and his actions against your land.”

“Who is Saruman?” Ricki asked.

“I believe they called him Sharkey there in the Shire,” Glorinlas answered. “He was a great one, but was corrupted by the thought of the power that might have been his should he ally himself with the Nameless One or if he might seize control of the Enemy’s weapon. He apparently learned that It might dwell in the Shire and convinced one of yours to allow him to send his folk to seek It, under the pretense that they were aiding him to take power over your land and people. It was an evil decision, and for the Ring-bearers to return to such a situation was most unfair, although they acquitted themselves well.”

Alyssa looked at him curiously. “Do you ever visit the Shire?” she asked.

At last he smiled again. “My clan often travels through your land going east or west. We have not done so openly for many years, though, for your people are often overawed when you see and recognize us. We have a forest hall we visit from time to time near the village you know as Woods Hall. I suspect it was named in honor of our retreat there.”

Ricki was examining his weapons. “Are you any good at archery?” he asked. “You have a bow….”

The Elf laughed. “Yes, I have had many years to perfect my skills. We Elves are often excellent archers, although I believe the best among us within Middle Earth is Prince Legolas Thranduilion of the Great Woodland Realm east of the valley of the Anduin.”

“Where’s that?” asked the lad.

“East of the Misty Mountains. Long his land was known as Mirkwood, but as the Enemy is now cast down it shall be known as Eryn Lasgalen once more. That means the Forest of Green Leaves. It was once among the greatest of realms of our people here in the mortal lands, and it will know its greatness once more before its dwellers make the choice to sail West or to remain here in Middle Earth and dwindle alongside our memory.”

“But why would you want to leave?” asked Alyssa. “The bad Men are gone now.”

The Elf looked at her with a sad smile. “Our time in Middle Earth is over. More and more of our folk hear the Sea calling to us in our hearts, and we know we must go to the place appointed to us in the Undying Lands. The times of the Elves are past, and the time of mortals, particularly Men, is now come. At least with Aragorn Elessar you have a wise and blessed King over you for what time he knows. I only hope that his descendants follow in his mold. My father and Lord Elrond tell me that when they look on him it is as if he holds within him the spirit of Elros Tar-minyatur himself, and none among mortals was ever more blessed than he. Plus he has taken to wife the Lady Arwen Undómiel, and the blood of the Eldar will run through their descendants even more strongly than it has heretofore.

“Rejoice, child of Bartolo, for you will know a time of peace such as has not been known in Middle Earth for over two thousand years in the count of mortals.”

He accepted some cold chicken and a pastie, and offered the rest a share of the dried fruit he carried, fruit that in spite of its form seemed to burst with a sweet flavor. He listened to Delphie and the children talk, and listened to their tale of Bartolo’s commission to seek training from the King’s lawyer sent all the way from the southlands.

“Have you ever been there in the south where the King lives now?” asked Begonia.

Glorinlas shook his head. “No, for our folk rarely go out of our own ranges. My father has been there, and he has been east of the mountains and into what were the lands of Rhovanion, long ago before the failing of the Kings of Gondor and the kingdom of Arnor here in Eriador. He went recently again south to Gondor for the marriage of the Lord Elessar to the Lady Arwen, and returned north alongside the four of your folk who went upon the quest. He is heartened that Aragorn Elessar is able to draw the love of so many to himself, and appears likely to heal the long rift between my people and the children of Aulë. That Elves and Dwarves would come to labor side by side with one another and would each come to honor the skills of the other is not a situation that has been known in Middle Earth since the fall of Moria. Yet this looks to come to be now that Legolas Thranduilion and Gimli Gloin’s son have come to love one another as brothers, following Aragorn and Frodo as members of the Fellowship. Both have sworn to bring craftsmen of their own folk to Minas Tirith to see it rebuilt once more, healed of the wounds of the long defense against Mordor.”

Persivo asked slowly, “Then, there is really a place called Mordor. I mean, it’s not just a place in the old stories.”

The Elf shrugged. “And where did you think the old stories came from, young Hobbit? Most are taken from the histories of Middle Earth, you must realize. Long ago, when he went south to Rhovanion, my father detoured to look across the Dagorlad, the ancient battlefield where the armies of the Last Alliance fought against the Dark Lord’s forces at the end of the Second Age, to see the ruins of the gates of Mordor. When he was in Gondor for the King’s marriage he was able to look across the Great River at the ramparts of the Ephel Duath, and saw that those black mountains now sport green as for the first time in well over three thousand years living trees begin to grow upon their flanks. The land of Mordor itself may still be dry and sere, but its walls begin to support life again.”

Delphinium watched the Elf for a time, then finally asked, “You say that my cousins Bilbo and Frodo are—what did you call them? Elvellon?”

“Yes, Elf friend each has proven, although each is honored by all peoples with whom they have dealt. The cleverness of Bilbo in dealing with the dragon Smaug was overshadowed only by his integrity in forcing the Dwarves to deal honorably with the Elves of Mirkwood and the Men of Dale and Laketown. He stopped a war between those who in the end proved to be allies when they were attacked by orcs and wolves from the Misty Mountains. As for the accomplishments of Frodo Baggins—never has any mortal of any kind done as well as he and Samwise Gamgee, not since the First Age of Middle Earth. Not for nothing have the Northern Dúnedain and our people sought to protect your lands from evil, for it was through the labors of your people that so much evil was brought down.”

“Then they are heroes, Frodo and Bilbo, and Frodo’s gardener friend?”

The Elf smiled. “As are Peregrin Took and Meriadoc Brandybuck. But the same is true of all who stood against Mordor’s might at the end, for all offered themselves as shield to the rest of Middle Earth. All are to be honored, I think.”

He turned then to Bartolo. “And Frodo has set you to learn the law of the reunited realm as it affects your land, then?”

“Yes, so we can write proper contracts and agreements with the outer realm and make certain our own judgments are in line with the King’s law.”

“He plans well for the future of your land.”

It was Bartolo’s turn to shrug. After a time of examining the lawyer, the Elf continued, “You must realize that your kinsman is greatly honored in the outer world. I see he has not told you the whole of his doings, and I must suspect he has his reasons, and probably most strong among them is his awareness that your people, having been isolated for so long, have little understanding of the dangers that have beset most of the lands of Middle Earth. It is difficult to explain when you have no concept of what an orc might be like, or a warg, or the Nazgul, although they did enter your land in the guise of Black Riders. Of course, none of those who have left these lands has had much awareness of the outer world and the creatures that fill it until they chose to face the choice to abandon your land’s isolation; but all have acquitted themselves very well, as I’ve said before. And now you help to bridge the gap between the Shire and the renewed realm of Arnor, and I must honor you for your coming part in bringing the Shire into more awareness of the rest of Middle Earth.”

Bartolo again felt uncomfortable at the compliment just paid him, but he was beginning to feel an understanding of why the Travelers failed to describe their adventures to those within the Shire.

They soon packed up the remains of their luncheon, saw the two ponies back into their harness, and were ready to finish the journey to Bree. Bartolo looked with approval at the clearing to see how well they had erased signs of their brief stay there. “This is a good enough place,” he commented. “It makes a good place to stop to rest along the road between the Shire and Bree.”

The Elf indicated his agreement. “We often pause our own journeys here as well, as do the Rangers when they patrol your borders. There is the stream that runs alongside the meadow for water, and many edible berries cover the bushes surrounding it in the proper season for them.”

Ricki pointed across the road at the tumuli. “I’d like to explore over there,” he said.

But Glorinlas was shaking his head. “No, small master,” he said, “you must not go there, not until the burial ground is cleansed of its dark inhabitants. It is a place of great evil and danger at this time. Many have been taken by the wights that have infested the place since the fall of Arvedui, and I suspect it will take the full power of the King to once again open it to the cleanliness of Arda’s proper airs again. Few have escaped from that place when the wights are abroad.”

Persivo shivered involuntarily. “What is it?”

“The burial grounds of the rulers of Cardolan, when this region was part of that lost kingdom. Great kings, princes, and nobles are buried there, along with those they honored most.”

Bartolo assisted his younger son to enter the coach and stowed the steps before latching the door. “Well, nobody’s going in there today,” he said to no one in particular, and he nodded to Persivo to climb onto the box, following him rapidly.

The Elf mounted his horse, and he rode alongside the coach for the rest of the journey, mostly singing in his own language as they traveled the road. Once they came within sight of the gates he drew back and nodded for Bartolo to go on. “I leave you here, and suspect that when you are ready to reenter your land a Ranger will accompany you. Good fortune to all of you.” And after offering them his blessing he indicated again for Bartolo to drive on, and with a deep breath once more the Bracegirdle slapped the reins and drove on, forcing himself to focus on what was to come. The west gate of the village was open, and soon they drove in past the palisade and up the cobbled street to the sign of the Inn of the Prancing Pony.


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