Among the letters laid on the deputy Mayor’s desk was another written in green ink upon grey vellum, and Frodo found himself smiling as he broke the seal into which the shape of a holly leaf had been impressed and opened it.
My beloved Lord Frodo,
I rejoice to report that the teaching of Master Bartolo and his son Persivo goes apace. Master Bartolo is most intelligent, although I regret to say he shows little imagination, which is needful to appreciate difficulties before they befall. The same is not true of the son, however, for young Persivo has a clear appreciation of how important it is not to allow words in a contract to remain ambiguous or contain a double meaning for fear such uncertainty might be abused. I can see how he is more similar to this cousin Timono than is his father, although I rejoice to report that as far as honor goes he more clearly follows his father’s example. His father speaks of apprenticing Persivo to one they speak of as “old Berni,” whom I am given to understand is the Master of the Guild of Lawyers within the Shire. I believe the boy will do very well.
We have added another Hobbit lawyer from here in Bree to our class, one who writes contracts for goods and services most predominantly. He does not yet fully accept the renewal of the rule of Arnor and return of the King, although that is likely to change soon. Meanwhile Master Bartolo and his son are coming to a more full appreciation of how their way of life mirrors and contrasts with the world of Men. Rejoice, Lord Frodo, that your people are less complex and subtle than are Men, for you are spared much of the grief we who judge in the courts of the magistrates must face daily.
We hosted the family of Master Bartolo yestereve for a dinner here in the home of Mistress Denra Gorse, who has graciously allowed me to board with her, using the rooms once inhabited by her brother Fell, who died during the attempts of Curunír’s folk to take power over the Breelands and the Shire. I find myself quite liking Mistress Delphinium and the rest of the children born to her and Master Bartolo, and find myself admiring how Persivo and Petunia particularly more resemble their mother than their father in temperament and thought. Meanwhile Mistress Carnation Sandybanks, a most wonderful Hobbitess who--does--for Mistress Gorse--that is how it is said, is it not?--is shocked to learn that there are yet Elves lingering in Middle Earth and that the Rangers she has been accustomed to distrust all her life are actually our Lord King’s own folk.
There was one further guest at that meal--young Eregiel son of Miringlor, a cousin of some sort to our beloved Lord Aragorn Elessar. He made much clear to Mistress Gorse and Mistress Sandybanks and Master Bartolo and their families about the true nature of the Rangers of Eriador and the desperate nature of the war fought elsewhere against the Enemy of all, although we have been most careful not to allow your particular part in it all to be described in accordance with your will in the matter.
I find I rejoice to work so closely with one of your own kinsmen to assist warmer intercourse between my people and yours. Master Bartolo and Persivo will ride with me to meet with the family that inhabits the property given to your maintenance on Sunday where we will work to finalize the terms of the lease agreement with them. I must report that during our studies it has become obvious to young Persivo that the property in question has been granted to you and that the lease agreement to be written and signed is being done for your benefit; however, he also agrees to abide by the oath of secrecy accepted by his father, and will not speak to any other, not even his mother or sisters or brother, regarding the identity of the parties involved until proper leave is given by you. However, there is no way I could begin to hide the fact you and Lord Samwise were ennobled in the outer world, not when your titles have been gladly proclaimed to them by Elves and Men before they met with me. How much longer you may expect to hide that fact within your own land I have no idea.
I wish you joy and the pleasure of the coming days as spring flowers into high summer. And may the Valar continue to keep and prosper you, my beloved Lord Frodo. A laita te.
Alvric son of Maerdion
The deputy Mayor didn’t know whether to be relieved or alarmed to know that his title and rank were known by the family of Bartolo and Delphinium Bracegirdle. He knew he could trust the lawyer to keep quiet about it all once he returned to the Shire, and believed Delphinium and Persivo would follow suit; but as to what might be expected from the younger children--who could say what they might allow to let slip? Although, once he thought on the case, he felt relief at the thought that few would accept the word of such younglings as the small lass and lad he’d seen in the office here a little over a month past.
“A fascinating letter?” asked Tolly as he brought a mug of cider to set on the desk before Frodo.
Barely sparing Tolly a glance, Frodo nodded as he saw the letter refolded and slipped into the folder in which he carried those contracts he took with him to review when he left the Mayor’s office. “Regarding the progress Bartolo Bracegirdle is making in his studies on how to write proper contracts and agreements binding within the King’s lands,” he admitted quietly. “He’s doing well, apparently.”
“That’s good,” Tolly said, smiling. “Honest as the day is long, Bartolo is, for all his Bracegirdle prickly nature. How went the wedding in Bywater?”
“Excellently well,” Frodo said, smiling up to meet his distant cousin’s eyes. “Tom and Marigold appear quite happy, and Old Tom is fair beaming to know this double knot between his family’s and Hamfast’s. No one appears to begrudge the thought taken away from the farm and its crops, although I was pleased at how the folk at the surrounding farms have given assistance at seeing to it the plowing and planting and cultivation were made in a timely manner.”
“The strawberries are coming on apace,” Tolly noted. “The Green Hills seem to be covered with strawberry plants this year, in fact, and there are white stars of the flowers everywhere. I suspect we’ll have a bumper crop of them this year.”
Frodo smiled, remembering a prank pulled on him the previous summer in Gondor. “Well, it should keep even Pippin’s belly filled,” he commented. “The young scoundrel! Just don’t let him take any into the bathing rooms.” And with a lighter heart Frodo began looking over the first of the claims for reparations set on his desk that day.
“This King--we hear tell he’s of the Rangers?” demanded one of those attending the meeting in the Grange Hall.
“Yes, the chieftain of their forces. He is descended directly, father to son, from the one you know as Arvedui Last-king, and came to the southlands to the defense of our capital against the direct assaults sent by Mordor.”
“But, there isn’t any Mordor!” objected a Hobbit lawyer from, if Alvric remembered correctly, the village of Archet.
Alvric took a deep breath to steady himself against the impulse to anger he’d felt. Finally he said, “Just because your land has remained far from the thought and threat of Mordor all these years does not mean Mordor has not existed. I must assure you it has endured, along with its cursed Master and his armies. Few enough of the Enemy’s folk have come northward from Gondor, southward from Angmar, or westward from the Misty Mountains to trouble your lands of Bree and the Shire; but that has not been true of other lands and realms.
“Erebor of the Dwarves was lost when Sauron encouraged a Dragon from the northern wastes to fly south and east over the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood to the Lonely Mountain and Dale. It took the cooperation of those survivors of the assault who fled to the few Dwarf-holds remaining in the Misty Mountains and the Iron Hills and Blue Mountains and a Hobbit of the Shire, Bilbo Baggins, to mount an assault on the Lonely Mountain to draw the dragon Smaug forth; and then the courage and skill of the descendants of Dale to see the dragon felled at the last. Even then Men, Elves, Dwarves, and Eagles needed to fight together against a vast army of orcs and wargs come south from the Misty Mountains to seal the defeat of Sauron’s assault on their lands and peoples.
“Now at last Sauron is defeated utterly, and again only because Hobbits of the Shire have left it to go at need elsewhere to see what needs doing done.”
“You mean them Hobbits as come through here a year and a half back, then again in the fall?” demanded one of the few Men who attended the meeting as a member of Bree’s Council.
“Yes, I mean those four.”
“But what they told on their return--Black Riders and flyin’ beasts like but unlike dragons, fiery mountains and flowerin’ trees--it’s not to be believed!”
“If you do not desire to believe the truth, that is your affair, of course, Master. However, as one who has walked the devastation of the fields of the Pelennor before the walls of Minas Tirith, who saw the King crowned by the hands of Mithrandir himself, who rejoiced to give honor to the Ring-bearers, who saw the carcasses of fell beasts and múmakil gathered with great labor and burned along with the enemy’s catapults, I must tell you I have no choice but to believe. For the first time in living memory when Anor rises over the peaks of the Ephel Dúath it does not illuminate the clouds of ash spewed forth by Orodruin, what you know as Mount Doom, in its torment. Once again the city of Osgiliath rises on both sides of the River Anduin where it has lain in ruins for so many centuries, and we do not look to it falling again to Mordor’s troupes. Our city walls are being repaired as I speak by Dwarves gone south to give honor to our Lord King Elessar; and the letter I received yesterday from the King’s city speaks of the arrival of Elves from Eryn Lasgalen to bring life again to its gardens and gifts of trees and singing birds to the delight of our people.
“I have stood before the White Tree renewed in its flower in company with the King of Gondor and Arnor, and have seen the damage wrought by Nazgul, orcs, trolls, and evil Men and beasts. I have seen the villages and fields of western Rohan growing anew out of the ashes left by Curunír’s armies as he sought to take that land for his own. I have ridden in company with the King’s own kindred north up the way from the Gap of Rohan, and have seen now Hobbits, Ents, Elves, and Dwarves as well as the lands of your peoples--lands and peoples as much the stuff of the legends of my people as Mordor and the Winged Crown have featured in the tales you tell your children.”
There was a general muttering amongst the company, but what he could determine of its import led Alvric to allow it to go on uninterrupted for some moments.
Then the door opened, and Alvric noted that a group of Rangers as well as a Man in the Black and Silver of the King’s service had entered. He bowed respectfully in their direction, then straightened and turned to address the assembly, which had gone silent as they examined the newcomers with mixed suspicion and curiosity. “I now greet those who have come to represent our Lord King Aragorn Elessar, sovereign of Gondor and Arnor. As I do not know all of them personally, I will have them introduce themselves.”
“Black Glove,” he heard murmured as one of those in the grey-green cloaks led the rest further into the room.
When again all had gone quiet the Ranger spoke at last. “Yes, you know me as Black Glove. However, my true name is Gilfileg son of Gilthor, and I am one of our Lord King Aragorn Elessar’s closer kinsmen. We are of the Rangers of Eriador, and are the descendants of Elendil the Tall of Númenor and his people. Once it was our people who filled all of the northlands with our cities, farms, and villages; but Elendil was hated deeply by Sauron both for the opposition the Man gave him when he came to Númenor and did his best to destroy the integrity of our lands and people, and again for the renewed opposition given when he returned here to Middle Earth to learn Elendil and his sons had survived to arrive before him and had set up lands of their own.
“That hatred was compounded when Isildur managed to cut from Sauron’s hand the Ring of Power Sauron had again taken to himself as he made one more bid to crown himself Lord of all of Middle Earth, and when Isildur bore It away, allowing It to be lost in the depths of the River Anduin. Always Sauron has attacked both Gondor and Arnor, and most especially those of the Line of Kings. Eärendur did little good when he sought to make each of his three sons king each of his own realm; with Arnor divided into three Sauron found it easier to attack each smaller land on its own, and so he managed at the last to destroy two of the three Kingdoms and their rulers, until at last only Arthedain remained to take rule over the fullness of Arnor once again.
“But we never again found ourselves respected by all of the peoples of what had been Arnor; Dunland was able to free itself of the control of both Gondor and Arnor, and has always listened to the blandishments of the Black Lands and Dol Guldur. I cannot begin to recount the number of times our lands were invaded by their forces, or how much damage they have done to Arnor through the footholds they cut for themselves in what had been Rhuadar. Ever Angmar has assaulted us from the north, although once Cardolan was no more the forces of that land have ever focused more strongly eastward where we of Arnor have maintained our largest remaining strongholds. Those of your peoples who had settled amongst us there along the Mitheithel we moved westward for your safety, which is why Hobbits are now concentrated now here in the Breelands and the Shire, for those of your folk who refused to either move westward or return over the Misty Mountains back to the valley of the Anduin were destroyed by the forces of Angmar and southern Rhuadar.
“We are what remain of the Dúnedain of Arnor, and as the protectors of your lands we have remained, working secretly to guard your borders against those forces stronger than you could deal with yourself. And, unlike the folk of other lands, you have had little reason to fear goblin orcs or trolls, or the great wolves, for we have ever sought to keep them away from your lands.
“My Lord Cousin is now King again of Arnor, and to him Elrond of Imladris has surrendered both the Rod of Annúminas establishing his rule over the northern kingdom as a whole once more, and the hand and heart of his beloved daughter, the Lady Arwen Undómiel, as his wife and queen.
“Now that my Lord Cousin is the Lord King Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, we of the Rangers of Eriador will be more frequently seen throughout the northern realm, and our guard over your lands will be more open. You will be allowed self-rule in almost all things; but in your dealings with the outer realm you will need to bow to the King’s laws--laws I doubt you will find particularly difficult to accept, as he has chosen to do his best to follow the example of the Shire and Bree in seeing the statutes of the two kingdoms rewritten.”
After a moment of quiet murmuring, at last one of those present asked, “If your right name’s Gilfileg, why’n’t you told others this afore?”
The small group of those in the grey and green of Rangers gave small laughs, and finally one of the older in the group answered, “And if we’d told you our true names and purposes openly, Dugal Sorrel, would you have believed us? How many of you have accepted there are yet Elves living within Middle Earth?”
“You believe them still here?” the Man identified as Dugal demanded.
“I’ve ridden many times with the Elves of Rivendell and Lord Elrond’s sons, Elladan and Elrohir,” the second Ranger answered. “Our Lord Aragorn dwelt in Imladris itself in the House of Elrond as a child to keep him safe from Sauron’s repeated attempts on his life, and was trained in warfare and healing by Elrond and Glorfindel and Elrond’s sons themselves. Ever has Rivendell offered its own guard on Eriador alongside our patrols. Ever we have dealt with the Elves of the Grey Havens, and our fishing and trading ships have sailed alongside theirs. Ever we have traded with the wandering tribes and those who linger in what was the great kingdom of Lindon west and south of the Shire. Elves pass through the Shire and the Breelands regularly, in fact, although they allow few to glimpse them, wary of dealing with those who view them with suspicion and superstitious fear.
“Few enough Elves remain in Middle Earth, and until now few among other peoples have they dealt with openly. Now that Sauron is at last defeated more will leave Middle Earth at the last, and in time it is likely that none of the Firstborn will remain in the Mortal Lands. Until then, it behooves us to learn what we can and what they are willing to teach us before they abandon us forever.”
Sorrel then turned to Alvric, asking, “And you, Man of Gondor as you name yourself--do you believe in Elves?”
Alvric gave his own small laugh. “I have heard of Elves all my life, and have read the correspondence they shared with the lords of Gondor regarding the claims of Arvedui toward the Winged Crown. Letters there were from Elrond of Imladris, Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower, Erestor, Lindir, Galadriel and Celeborn of Laurelindórenan, and others each offering it as his or her opinion that Arvedui and his beloved wife Fíriel together held strong claim toward the rule of Gondor, particularly as Fíriel was the only surviving child and heir of Ondoher, who had worn the Winged Crown last. Almost I would have believed Elves but the stuff of legends in this modern day were it not for persistent stories out of Rhovanion about continued commerce with the Elves of Lorien, as infrequent as that might be; and more current tales about the woes of Mirkwood, said to be ruled by Thranduil and his sons.
“Then came the last assault of Mordor upon Gondor itself, and when the black ships of the Corsairs of Umbar arrived they carried not more of our enemies, but the forces gathered in haste by Aragorn, who would be our King, and accompanying him were three of Elf-kind--Prince Legolas of Mirkwood, son of Thranduil; and Lords Elladan and Elrohir of Imladris, the sons of Lord Elrond himself. After the coronation of our Lord Aragorn there came another great riding of Elves out of the north, as Elrond himself came with the rulers of the other Elven lands to see Aragorn established as King of Arnor as well as of Gondor, and to see the wedding made between our King and Lord Elrond’s daughter.
“When one has spoken to the likes of Elrond and Glorfindel, Thranduil and Celeborn, it is difficult to continue to disbelieve in Elves.”
Again there was quiet murmuring throughout the room as those gathered discussed this news amongst themselves. At last a Hobbit rose and stepped forward. “Most of you know me--Hob Tunnely of Staddle. I’ve told you all afore as I’ve seen Elves crossin’ my fields, and now mayhaps ye’ll choose to believe me.” With that he stepped back and sat down again on the bench where he’d been seated with others from Staddle, and he took what could only be described as a defiant puff at his pipe.
“Many of those Elves who regularly pass through the Shire will do so via Staddle, and so I will add my own testimony to yours, Mr. Tunnely,” commented Gilfileg. “They prefer to approach the West Road from the north rather than to pass through Bree itself.”
Again there was murmuring. At last the older Ranger straightened himself. “You have known me as the Bear. My true name is Berenion, and I am one of those who train our younger Men when they seek to enter the service of the northlands as Rangers of Eriador. This one beside me is Erador, one who was born in one of the most southern of our villages, in what had been Rhuadar. The other there is Faradir, one of the aides to our Lord Halladan, who has been doing a survey of lands given for maintenance to two of our most recently named lords. Faradir and Erador you have seen often enough in recent years; it has been longer since you last saw Gilfileg or myself, as we have served mostly along the northern and eastern borders of our realm for at least the last decade. We are all cousins to one degree or another to our beloved Lord King Aragorn, and rejoice that in these latter days he has restored our realm once more.
“We will not seek to cause difficulties to your people, but would ask that you put aside your long suspicions toward us now that we will again openly frequent the Breelands once more.”
“And will you lord it over us and the folk of the Shire?” demanded Dugal Sorrel.
“When have we lorded it over either the Breelands or the Shire?” Gilfileg asked. “Even in the days of the Kings we never did so save when we forbade you to treat newcomers to the region unfavorably. As for the Shire--out of the deep respect all hold for those who came out to help see the end of Mordor’s power, we will respect its sovereignty ever.”
All had gone very quiet. At last a Hobbit from Archet asked, “And how in Middle Earth did Hobbits of the Shire help put an end to Mordor?”
“With great grace and faithfulness,” responded Gilfileg. “Aware at last of the dangers facing all of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth, those four who passed through Bree each did much to see to Mordor’s fall. We are alive and free today only because of what they did and due to their example of courage and endurance against the worst Sauron and Saruman could throw at us.”
Alvric saw how all present were exchanging looks of surprise and, too often, disbelief. “Courage?” he heard one Hobbit comment quietly to the Man seated beside him. “Since when have Hobbits of the Shire been brave?”
“You yourselves were brave in facing down Saruman’s ruffians when they tried to invade Bree,” Erador said. “Had anyone told you that an army of half-orcs were coming your way to try to take over your lands but that you would successfully stand against them, would you have believed it?”
“What do you mean, half-orcs?” asked Dugal Sorrel.
“Saruman, known in Gondor as Curunír, had somehow been interbreeding orcs and Men. How it was done, we don’t know; but we were advised by both Captain Peregrin and Sir Meriadoc that this was true, and of the few we’ve identified as having been expelled from the Shire, two have been found bearing the orc taint in their blood.” Gilfileg’s words were answered by another long, questioning silence.
“Orcs--they the same as goblins?” asked one of the Hobbits.
“Yes. They are called yrchs in the Elven tongues, and orcs by most of us among the Dúnedain.”
Barliman Butterbur at last broke the silence that followed that pronouncement. “You say those Shire Hobbits were brave?”
“Yes, very brave. I’m not saying that they were fearless, for fearless and brave are not the same thing, you must understand. But in spite of their fear each of them went on to accomplish remarkable feats, for they realised that giving into their fears would leave others in danger that they could not bear others should have to face alone.”
Ora Watercress asked, “And that Hobbit that came here from the Shire and left with that Strider, the one who called himself ‘Mr. Underhill,’ what was his real name?”
“His real name is Frodo Baggins. He was advised by Gandalf to use a false name when he left the Shire as it was known the Enemy’s creatures were searching for a Hobbit named Baggins.”
“And why was they lookin’ for a Hobbit name of Baggins?” asked another Man in the group.
“It was known that a Hobbit named Baggins had found an object of interest to the Enemy during his journey over the Misty Mountains, and that he’d taken it back to the Shire with him when he returned to his home. The Enemy sent his creatures in search of any Baggins who might know something about the whereabouts of that object. Bilbo Baggins had left the object in question to his kinsman Frodo, and Frodo left his homeland to take it out of the Shire and hopefully to draw those who were searching for it away from his land and people.”
“Did they find this thing?” asked Butterbur.
“They found Frodo with it twice, but could not manage to capture him. Others of the Enemy’s creatures threatened him several more times, and I am not certain how many times he managed to elude capture or escape from it.”
“And he really knows this new King of ours?” asked Ora Watercress.
Alvric answered, “Oh, yes, he knows this new King of ours. I saw him at the King’s side first at the coronation before the gates of Minas Tirith, riding in the King’s company several times during his stay in Gondor, attending on the King during the wedding of our Lord Aragorn Elessar to the Lady Arwen, dancing at the King’s wedding feast, and during several of the King’s audiences and other feasts, as well as attending meetings with some of the officials from our Guild of Lawyers.”
The one in black and silver now spoke up. “I am Erengil son of Berestor of Ringlo Vale in Gondor. I was a Guard of the Citadel and now serve as one of the King’s messengers. I, too, saw all four of the Pheriannath from the Shire frequently in company with the King and Queen during their stay in Minas Tirith, and came to know Captain Peregrin Took personally as he, too, is of the Tower Guard. I saw him take his vows of service under the Lord Steward Denethor son of Ecthelion, and renew his vows to our Lord King himself with the Ring-bearer standing witness.”
Bartolo Bracegirdle wasn’t certain what made him add, “And I’ve seen letters as Frodo Baggins has received from Master Alvric, who was sent here by the King, and have heard the talk of all four. I’m convinced they all know the King.”
Gilfileg finally stated, “Other than the fact that it was due to a request made directly to the King by Master Frodo Baggins that a lawyer of the realm be sent to offer instruction to the lawyers of the Shire as to how to prepare contracts and agreements to be legal under the laws of the outer realms, whether or not he was the one who appeared in Bree under the name of Mr. Underhill is unimportant to the purposes of this meeting. Are you prepared to choose lawyers willing to also receive such training during Master Alvric’s stay here in the Breelands?”
“Why’d this Baggins want a Mannish lawyer sent up here to begin with?” asked Sorrel.
“First, because he found that a good reason why the takeover by the ruffians who invaded the Shire was successful was because a couple of lawyers of the Shire conspired with his cousin to write illegal and inequitable contracts allowing that cousin to gain title to much of the land and property of the Shire that meant most to the land’s people, and on which he could house many of the ruffians as his own private army,” Gilfileg explained. “He wishes that should such a situation happen again the properly constituted officials of the Shire might call upon the assistance of the officials of Arnor to help see things set right again, and he wished lawyers of the Shire prepared to write properly binding contracts and agreements with the outer realm.”
“But what does he care?”
“Frodo Baggins is family head for the Bagginses of the Shire as well as currently serving as deputy Mayor until Mayor Whitfoot is ready to return to full service. As Lotho Sackville-Baggins was officially one of his own family of name and as deputy Mayor, Frodo Baggins has the responsibility to investigate this situation and make it right.”
One of the lawyers from the Combe contingent examined Alvric closely. “Why should we bother learning the laws of the outlands?”
Ora Watercress gave a snort. “I don’t know about your clients, Rodric Sackins, but I have several as deal in woolens and linens, wines and root vegetables, pottery and leather goods, wagons and teams as wish to help supply those as will be working to restore the old cities to the north. We’ve seen the ridings here of groups of Men heading that way--Men carrying plans for the rebuilding of the old capital. We’ve heard them talking in the common room at the Prancing Pony and have answered their questions when they’ve come to the markets looking for sources of fabrics and foodstuffs. My clients, knowing as there’s those willing to pay for their goods and services, want to make certain the sales agreements are done properly that the King’s folks will see them properly honored for payment when the time comes.”
Again the company broke into a low buzz of more excited comment. Finally Barliman Butterbur asked, “Beggin’ your pardon and all, Master Alvric, but just how long are you intending to remain here in the Breelands?”
Encouraged by a smile given him by Black Glove, Alvric set himself to answering questions regarding his personal mission within Arnor.