The seneschal of the Citadel of Minas Tirith looked up from the requisition from the Mistress of Laundresses for six new wash tubs and two dye vats to see one of the younger pages standing at the door to his office. “Yes, Sephardion?”
“The door herald would see you, sir. Ivormil son of Canelmir, lord of Bidwell in lower Lossarnach, has arrived, and would present his father’s letter of greetings and service to the King. He has been told that the King is not within the city, and he is most displeased.”
Balstador groaned as he rose. With all the fuss of the coronation and the coming and going of the great ones at all times of the day and night, or so it seemed, he was beginning to wonder if there would ever again be a time when a Man might actually get some of the more needful work of the Citadel done? Or did the lords of the city think that washtubs and dye vats remained usable indefinitely?
He walked with the page down the corridor, hearing the heels of the boy’s dress boots clicking on the black and white marble while his softer-soled slippers made a distinct shushing sound. “What is the problem with the Man?”
“He appears to believe, sir, that the King ought to have had the courtesy to remain within the Citadel until he arrived and presented himself and gave his missive into the King’s hands.”
Balstador gave a sideways look at the boy. He might be young, but Sephardion was far from dull-witted, and had obviously taken this lesser lord’s measure quickly and found it wanting. “I see. Was there any notice that Lord Canelmir was sending his son to Minas Tirith to present his duty correspondence before the King?”
“None that I am aware of, sir, although there has been discussion between our Lord King, Master Galador, Prince Faramir, and Lord Húrin as to which of the lords of the land had yet to swear their fealty, and the name of Lord Canelmir was given as one who had not yet done so nor sent word as to when he might be expected to do so.”
“The young lord has been greeted with courtesy and offered the hospitality of the Citadel?” asked Balstador.
“He’s been shown to the lesser retiring room that he might refresh himself, with instructions he is to be brought afterwards to the northern waiting room and that he then be served his choice of ale, juice, or wine and breads and cheeses and what fruits we have on hand, sir, at least until we learn what more we may be required to offer him.”
Balstador nodded. “It sounds as if you and the door herald have it well in hand, then. I’ll see him and find if we will be required to offer him one of the suites for the minor nobility, then. Who’s attending on him?”
“Good--he will have no cause to complain for service, then. Is there aught else you should tell me or that you need to do with this one?”
“No, sir--merely to announce you as you arrive, sir. The door herald felt the young lord would take it amiss should that not be done.”
“I see.” They were approaching the main doors into the Citadel, and he greeted the door herald, listened to his report and found it the same as the boy’s, and agreed that all had been done to welcome this Ivormil with as much courtesy as could be expected for one who came unannounced.
“He appeared most displeased our Lord Elessar was not within the Citadel to meet with him immediately, Master Balstador. I explained that the Lord King holds regular audiences in the mornings four day a week while he is in residence, and that had he come yesterday morning he might have been properly introduced before the entire court. He waved his hand as if the King’s schedule was of little import. Even our Lord Steward Denethor held his public audiences on a regular basis, if not as frequently as does our Lord Elessar. I do not understand why he appears to believe the King is answerable to him--save he is very young, I fear.”
Balstador gave a great sigh. “I will speak with him and see if we can placate him, not that, as you’ve noted, that should be necessary. You have done your duty well--I will take over the matter from this point.” The door herald bowed, relief that someone else had taken responsibility for the young intruder obvious as he returned to his regular post on a stool near the station for the inner guards for the great doors.
Sephardion preceded Balstador back down the hallway toward the passage to the northern waiting room. A single guard stood there now, one of those extra who’d stood within the great doors as was proper. Balstador halted short of the doorway and asked, “How many did he bring to attend on him?”
“Two guards and a valet, sir. They’ve been taken to the visiting servants’ hall.”
“Good. All right, I believe you may announce me now.”
“Yes, sir.” The boy approached the door and knocked, then opened the door, stepping in and holding it as he announced formally, “Master Balstador, seneschal for the Citadel of the White City, my Lord Ivormil.” With that he gave a graceful bow as the seneschal entered the room, after which the boy withdrew and, Balstador was certain, also gladly left matters in Balstador’s hands.
Balstador stopped some yards short of the visitor and made his own bow. “My Lord Ivormil, as you’ve already been told, our Lord King Elessar is at this time out of the city examining the damage visited on our defenses and seeing what repairs have been wrought so far so as to establish what yet remains to be done. I regret it falls to me to greet you, but I do so in his name. If there is aught that we might do for you while you must wait, you are free to ask it of me.”
Ivormil son of Lord Canelmir was indeed young--perhaps eighteen, his beard still establishing itself; and it was obvious he was rather a dandy with his pointed boots and his clothing that was flattering but would restrict his movements were he called upon to defend himself or do aught of a useful nature. He was also plainly in a pet. “What you might do for me?” he fumed. “I am brought to a darkened waiting room, served cheese and breads and fruit but no meats, and offered substandard beer and wine--and juice as if I were a simpering maiden. Then I am greeted not by one of any rank but by heralds and other servants!” And it was obvious by the way he spat out the word he felt servants were beneath contempt.
The King’s seneschal felt his hackles rise. In the past few weeks their new Lord had made it plain that he would see all serving within the Citadel treated ever with honor, and that he honestly was both grateful for the service rendered by all who labored to keep this great edifice functioning properly and respectful of the work they performed. And here came one who resented being greeted by such as himself when the King and his folk all were courteous and expressed thanks regularly? Balstador carefully restrained himself, taking deep breaths before he spoke. “I grieve that this must be so, my lord, but so it is at this time. Not only has the King ridden out, but most of his advisers and the lords of the realm currently in residence within the city have gone with him or have retired to their own houses, so I fear that there are but few of any rank within the Citadel to give you proper welcome.”
“Surely the King’s Lady wife----”
Balstador could feel himself stiffen the more. “As yet our Lord Elessar is unwed, and he has not appointed a chatelaine. His kinsman, Lord Hardorn, he has appointed to oversee the running of the household until such time as he takes a wife; but Lord Hardorn is also the captain of the King’s own Guard as well as Master of the Privy Purse, and he rides at our Lord’s side. Nay, I fear the only lords of any rank----” He paused. Did he dare? He found he had to labor to keep from grinning evilly at the idea of it, but it would serve the foppish popinjay right! He gave a cough, covering his mouth to hide any sign of a grin until he could properly school his expression to one of apparent courteous solicitation. Finally he continued, “Pardon me, my lord. As I began to say, the only lords of any rank currently here on the level of the Citadel are two of the King’s Companions, one of whom is enjoying the gardens and one of whom is studying documents in our Lord Prince Steward’s private office. If you would wish to accept their greetings?”
“That will do,” Ivormil said with a careless wave of his hand, the idea apparently appealing to his vanity.
“As you will, my lord. If you will follow me.” He turned to Iorvas and noted the tension and relief the servingman barely hid. “Does Lord Iorhael have all at hand he might wish for?”
“Yes, Master Balstador,” Iorvas answered, “and before I came to offer what I might to Lord Ivormil here I’d just taken Mas--Lord Perhael bread rolls with cheese and meats and some drink.”
“Very good, Iorvas. And could you tell me where I might find him within the gardens?”
“He was near the rose arbor, sir.”
“Excellent, and I offer you my thanks for that information. I will take Lord Ivormil there, then.”
Balstador saw the amusement rising in Iorvas’s eyes. “I shall carry the refreshments there, then, sir, before I must return about my regular duties.”
“Very good.” The seneschal turned to the visiting heir to Bidwell. “Young lord, if you will follow me, then?” He turned and led the way out of the room back toward the vestibule and the way toward the Hall of Kings.
“I am sorry, my lord, that you have found our refreshments less than satisfactory,” he continued as they walked. “However, due to the serious nature of the siege against the city and the destruction of many of the storehouses in the First Circle by the Enemy’s siege engines and the fires he rained upon Minas Tirith and the destruction of farms upon the Pelennor there have been shortages of food and goods experienced within the capital. Our Lord King refuses to feast at the expense of the rest of the city, and has ordered austerity measures until more shipments arrive from throughout the rest of the realm. We are to take delivery of vast stores of grain from Lebennin tomorrow, I am told, although he has directed most of it is to be made available to the bakeries and malt houses lower in the city; and a shipment of beef cattle and hogs that arrived two days since from Anorien is to be made available to the public markets in the First, Third, and Fourth Circles while he has agreed to accept a shipment due tomorrow from Lamedon for the purposes of the Citadel. What meats we have available are being saved primarily for full meals, although for those of the King’s Companions who took the worst hurt he has ordered they be given meat whenever they desire it for the sake of their health.
“As for the ale and wine--he has granted some of the best from the Citadel’s cellars to the butteries for the Men of the Guard both for the Citadel and for the city at large. Our Lord Elessar explains that he has only the greatest respect for those who braved all for the defense of the city during the siege and the long war with Mordor, and for those who went willingly to face Sauron’s forces at Cair Andros, Osgiliath, and before the Black Gates and throughout Ithilien in the last several weeks of the War.”
“I see,” Ivormil commented, and for a moment Balstador thought he detected a trace of discomfort in the eyes of the young Man. However, that was swiftly forgotten as they entered the Hall of Kings and Ivormil first saw the reflection here of the greatness of the realm. The chin of the young heir to Bidwell raised as he looked upon the statues of the Kings and Stewards chosen to reflect the greatness of Gondor’s past and as he beheld the great dais on which the throne of Gondor sat, with the two chairs upon its lowest step. He paused, turning to the seneschal. “For whom has a second seat been made available?” he asked, indicating the one draped in grey opposite the black seat for the Steward. “For Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth?”
“Indeed no,” Balstador replied. “That is the seat of Lord Halladan, kinsman to the King and Steward for Arnor. Our Lord King is, after all, ruler of two realms now.” He resumed his stride up the Hall toward the doors leading back into the residential wings. “Will you and your servitors be requiring lodging, Lord Ivormil?” he asked as they passed the dais and the Guardsmen who stood by it.
“Yes--we will be remaining within the city for at least a week, I must suppose--time enough for the King to compose a fitting response to my adar.”
“I understand,” Balstador commented, privately thinking that Lord Aragorn might consider making this insolent pup wait even longer, considering how Canelmir had neither come to the defense of the realm nor sent more than the most symbolic of troops to the defense of Pelargir and nothing to the needs of Minas Tirith itself. He nodded his thanks to those guards who opened the doors to the hall to the living quarters and led his charge through them. “I will send word to have quarters made available to you. You brought three with you, I understand?”
Ivormil seemed surprised the seneschal already knew this. “Yes.”
“Very good, sir. I will see things made ready, then.” He led the way to the right, past a great carved screen that marked an area where low couches had been set for residents and visitors to take their ease, and approached the doors at the north end of the hall. Here two guards also stood at the ready. These had followed the King to the Black Gates, and their uniforms still bore the traces of that fight with slight dents to their armor and helms and a certain battering to the great spears they held. Balstador gave each a profound bow of respect as they opened the doors they guarded, and saw them straighten at the recognition.
Ivormil, however, glanced back at them with a fastidious revulsion to be seen in his eyes. “The King would be served by Men so accoutered?” he asked.
Balstador felt himself stiffen. “Again,” he said, carefully modulating his tone, “we must remind you that we have just finished with a most grievous war; and we have not as yet been able to replace all arms and uniforms. I assure you that the King honors these as they appear, knowing how it is that their armor and weapons came to be damaged.” Good, there was another moment of thought actually forcing itself on the youth. Balstador hoped it would do the fool some good.
He led the way past the grounds prepared for the King’s herb garden toward the more formal flower gardens beyond the residential wings. They were soon amongst the roses, and indeed near the great arbor they found their quarry.
Ivormil was disturbed by the quiet indications of disapproval he sensed in his guide as well as the indications the King had ordered austerity measures for those residing within the Citadel. He would give the best wine and ales to mere Guardsmen? What kind of King was he, then, this Lord Elessar, this stranger from the far north, or so it was said? What did such a one know of the honor and dignity due the Lords of Gondor, coming from a land where their rulers had refused to accept the title of King for the past thousand years? And how could the line of Isildur have indeed survived for so long, in a place it was told of wilderness and ruin?
Now here, in the Citadel of Minas Tirith--here was grandeur befitting the rulers of the known world, those who had brought civilization to the Mortal Lands! He was proud to walk through it. And as they reached the flower gardens his pride grew the stronger, for here was proper beauty to delight the lords of the nation, not like that garden place they’d just passed that had obviously only recently been cultivated, and that had the look of a common kitchen garden to it so far. He smiled with satisfaction at the pillars to the arbors for great and obviously well tended climbing rose bushes, then paused at the sight of a child laboring over a bush beyond them. Balstador had also seen the small figure, and also paused. “There are a few things to know about Lords Perhael and Iorhael,” he began. “You see, their nobility is a matter of----”
“I need no reminders on how to behave toward nobility,” Ivormil interrupted, annoyed at this apparent attempt to instruct him in proper deportment.
Balstador examined him momentarily, his right cheek twitching briefly. “I see, my lord. However, you should be aware of the fact they prefer to be addressed as----”
Even more annoyed, Ivormil glared at him. “Would you seek to advise one born to become a lord of the realm in how to address others of his own rank?” he demanded quietly. He was pleased to see how the seneschal stiffened, obviously realizing the impropriety of trying to offer instruction to a lord of his quality. Once he was certain his point was taken he asked more graciously, “These Lords----” He gave Balstador an inquiring look.
“Lord Perhael and Lord Iorhael,” the Man returned formally.
“Perhael and Iorhael? I see. Which is it that I am to see first?”
“It is Lord Perhael that enjoys his time in the gardens today, my lord.”
“They are from the north?”
“Yes, my lord, from their own small country within Eriador. They came south accompanied by our Lord King and our Lord Captain Boromir and Lord Mithrandir and four others.”
“Mithrandir?” Ivormil felt uncomfortable again at mention of the Grey Wizard. He’d met Mithrandir but once, and he suspected that the Wizard had made uncomplimentary judgments about him.
“Yes, my lord. Our Lord King Elessar holds the greatest of honor for Lord Mithrandir and his wisdom, you must understand.”
“I am told that Lord Boromir did not return to Gondor.”
“He died upon our borders, on the slopes of Amon Hen just this side of the Argonath, or so I am told. Curunír’s Uruk-hai attacked them there, slaying our Lord Boromir with arrows when they could not overcome him with their swords or spears. I am advised by those who saw him fight and die there that he fought most valiantly.” Ivormil saw the respect and grief the seneschal’s eyes held as he made this report. Boromir had been greatly loved by those within the White City particularly, although his repute was honored throughout the whole of Gondor and beyond.
Then Balstador straightened and his eyes turned back toward the bushes beyond the rose arbor. “Come, my lord,” he said, and he led the way away from the arbor, toward the child. “Master Samwise,” he said with a surprisingly profound bow, Ivormil thought, “this is Ivormil, son of Lord Canelmir of Bidwell in lower Lossarnach. He has come to bring his father’s duty letters to the attention of our Lord King. However, as our Lord Elessar has ridden out of the city he has demanded to meet with one of the other ranking lords of the realm.”
The small figure looked up, obviously surprised. He wore a rather plain surcoat over a sturdy shirt, and dark trousers that didn’t quite reach his ankles. His face flushed markedly as he set the pruning scissors he carried aside on a nearby garden table, then looked up to meet the eyes of the young Man. Ivormil was surprised, for the eyes and face were not those of a child at all, but indicated an individual who was definitely an adult. He found his own attention caught by those eyes, and he barely noticed the second bow given by the seneschal before he swiftly headed back the way he’d come. “A rankin’ lord it is you’re wantin’ to see, is it?” Master Samwise said. He looked after the way Balstador had gone, shaking his head. “Must o’ been his idea of a joke, I suppose,” he added. He looked back up at Ivormil. “Well, sit down there and let me know your business so’s I can get back to my task.”
Ivormil made no attempt to hide the insult he felt. “He brought me to a gardener?” he asked. “He told me he was bringing me to meet with Lord Perhael.”
Again the small being flushed. He reached to the table where a covered stein of ale sat, thumbed the lid open and took a swig, then let it fall shut again with a small musical sound as he again examined Ivormil’s face, the line of his jaw more firmly set. “Yes, sir, I’m a gardener, not as that’s nothin’ to be shamed of, mind.” He watched as Iorvas approached and set his tray on the other side of the table. “This for him?” he asked the servant.
“Yes, Master Samwise,” Iorvas said with a bow. “And is there aught else I can bring you?”
“No, not right now. Any idea as when Lord Strider’s to be back?”
“None, sir. And they may choose to stop for a time with Prince Imrahil in his house in the Fifth Circle before returning here to the Seventh Level.”
“I see. And I thank you, Master Iorvas,” Master Samwise added with an inclination of his head. “Thankee kindly.”
“My honor, small Master,” Iorvas said, his stance a bit straighter before he gave a bow and turned away.
Ivormil was now totally confused. Master Samwise set his stein back on the table, then lifted a cloth cover over a plate and brought out part of a bread roll--one that obviously held slices of ham within it--and took a bite, then set it back on the plate and covered it as he chewed thoughtfully. Ivormil had no idea what to think of this--this personage to whose presence he’d been led. A gardener, obviously, and common as dirt, from what Ivormil could tell. Yet he had not the look of a mannikin to him. Who and what was he? Finally the young Man asked, “You are employed by the Citadel here?”
Master Samwise looked startled by that question. “Employed here? No, not at all. I am employed as a gardener, but not here--back home in Hobbiton, it is. I just happen to love flowers is all, and I’m allowed to help here as I’m moved. A bit odd it is, to be prunin’ not ’cause it’s my job but ’cause I want to. But there you have it.”
“What brought you to Minas Tirith?”
“Come to help my Master as he needs it, I did.”
“And how did he come here?”
“Same way’s me.”
“And where’s Lord Perhael?”
“And if’n I was to say as you’d found him?”
Ivormil realized that Master Samwise didn’t appear to like him much, not that he’d ever say so. Ivormil felt the disgust growing in him rise. “Then perhaps I should speak to your Master, sir,” he suggested, putting every ounce of sarcasm within him into the last word.
“You’d see my Master, eh?” commented the small gardener. “Yes, mayhaps you ought t’ do just that, my lord. If’n you’ll come this way.” He started to turn away, then paused and looked back. “Suppose as I should take this with us, so’s you’ll have it when you feel the need of it.” So saying he reached to take the tray brought by Iorvas in one hand, balanced perfectly as one accustomed to carrying such things would know, and giving his own tray one last look he led the way back toward the same doors out which Ivormil had been led so shortly before. They passed a gardener with an apron over his livery, and there Master Samwise paused. “Pardon me, sir, but I’ve left my things back at the table there near the arbor, I have, but only till I can return, like. If’n you’ll see to it as none bothers it, I’d be most grateful.”
“Certainly, Master Samwise,” the gardener said with a deep bow. “I’ll see to it none disturbs it.”
“Thankee, Master Dolrad,” the small one said. He looked back over his shoulder at Ivormil. “Well, you comin’ or what?”
They were soon back inside the Citadel, doors opened automatically for them by bowing guards. As they passed the screen the small gardener paused somewhat uncertainly. “Suppose as I ought to go through the Hall o’ Kings,” he muttered to himself. “Regular warren of a place this is, after all. Well, come on, you,” he added to Ivormil. “Sooner as I lead you to my Master the sooner I can get back to the roses.”
Back they went through the Hall of Kings, going this time down an opposite passage off the vestibule from the way he’d been led to before. At last they came to a door some way down the hallway. He knocked at it, and a light tenor voice bade them enter. The small one reached up and managed to move the latch sufficiently to allow the door to open and they went in, obviously entering the Steward’s own office. Here a low table appropriate for older children had been set, and behind it sat what again appeared to be a boy--a boy with an aristocratic face, finely featured with most expressive eyes. He looked at the tray Ivormil’s companion carried and looked dismayed. “I’ve no need for more, Sam--they brought me more than enough not that long ago, you know.”
“Oh, this isn’t for you, Master, but for this one. Ivormil son of Lord Canelmir o’ lower Lossarnach, I’m told, and too good to speak with a mere gardener. Wants the Lord Perhael or the Lord Iorhael, he does.”
The small figure at the table grew pale save for his cheeks, which reddened somewhat. “I see,” he said. He too looked up, giving Ivormil a searching examination as he rose to his feet. He was perhaps an inch or two taller than Master Samwise. “And how may I help you, Lord Ivormil?” he asked.
“It’s not you I expected to see, but Lord Iorhael,” the Man insisted, not understanding why he was being passed from one odd small personage to another.
As had happened when he was left with Master Samwise this one’s mouth thinned somewhat. “So, it’s Lord Iorhael or no one, is it?” He turned to the gardener. “Set that on the visitor’s table there, Sam, and be off with you. You must have far more productive ways to spend your time than dealing with the likes of this one.”
“That I do, Mr. Frodo, sir,” Master Samwise agreed, and he carefully set the tray on the indicated table. “And is there aught as I can get you?”
“No--Aragorn’s seen to it the staff is aware of anything at all I might possibly need, and as a result I have more than I can even use.”
Master Samwise gave a throaty chuckle. “Then I’ll be off, back to the roses. I only hope as that cousin o’ yours is takin’ care of those at Bag End.”
“I’m certain Lobelia won’t let them languish, Sam. Enjoy those here.” Mr. Frodo was smiling indulgently as he watched the gardener leave the room, pushing the door closed behind him. Then he turned his attention back to his clearly unwanted guest. “I welcome you to the White City, Lord Ivormil. Why don’t you sit down?” he suggested indicating the guest’s chair. “They’ve been most accommodating for us and have done their best to see to it that our size is provided for, although I suspect this table hasn’t seen the light of day since Boromir and Faramir outgrew it years ago.” So saying, Mr. Frodo sat himself behind it on the matching chair. On the table were several large tomes, one open before him, and a board to the left with writing paper partly inscribed in Westron affixed to it. An inkstand held two bottles of ink and both a quill and a steel pen; there was a box of drying sand there as well, and a sheet to use in gathering the sand after use to return it to its box. A narrow tray held a goblet of wine, a tumbler of water, and two carafes as well as an assortment of sliced meats, cheeses, whole fruits and vegetables, as well as a napkin.
Not knowing what else to do, Ivormil sat. For a few moments the small person behind the table waited patiently. “You still will not let me know your purpose in coming?” he finally asked.
“I thought I was to see either Lord Perhael or Lord Iorhael,” the Man persisted, wondering when the situation would become plain to this Mr. Frodo.
“And if I were to suggest you’ve seen both?”
Was this some kind of game? “If you will please have Lord Iorhael apprised of the fact I am here,” Ivormil said stiffly.
“Oh, I assure you he is well aware of the fact you are here within the Citadel,” the small one said. He waited some moments longer, then sighed. “Well, if you will not tell me why you wish to see Lord Iorhael, then if you will excuse me I will return to my work. I am doing some research for Aragorn, you see.” So saying he turned his attention back to the open book and began reading it, now and then stopping to take notes on the paper affixed to the board.
So they sat for at least three quarters of a mark, Ivormil now sufficiently bored he’d almost forgotten the insult given him. He was realizing this was no boy, but also an adult of his kind. Again, there was nothing to indicate this was a mannikin, but he was totally puzzled as to what kind he was. Finally his curiosity won out. “Mr. Frodo?” he said.
The small one raised his head inquiringly. “Yes, Lord Ivormil?”
“You are from where?”
The small one sighed, and wiping the pen he held with a small cloth he removed from his sleeve, set it on the inkstand and closed the lid to the ink. “Sam and I are from the land of the Shire, sir.”
“And he’s your gardener?”
“My gardener and my friend for many years.” He folded his hands on the book before him.
“And your people are called...?”
“We refer to ourselves as Hobbits, sir.”
“I see.” The answer told him nothing. He’d never heard of Hobbits, after all.
“And will you tell me of Bidwell?”
“It’s a small city near the southern borders of Lossarnach. My father is Lord there.”
“I see. Yet you did not come to help in the defense of your capital?”
Ivormil felt himself flush. “We were seeing to the defenses of our own lands, you understand.”
“Then Bidwell lies near the Anduin or its tributaries, does it?”
“No, far from it, actually.” Ivormil felt himself redden more at the admission. “And what do you do here in Minas Tirith?”
“We also sought to serve as we could in the defense against Mordor.” There was a finality in the way this was said indicating that Mr. Frodo wasn’t likely to say much more on the subject.
Ivormil examined his companion. “Your folk sent you out to the needs of Gondor?” he asked, amazed.
“It’s not the first time folk from the Shire have gone out to fight against the servants of the Shadow, sir.”
“It’s just that you do not have the look of a warrior.”
“I have proven to be anything but a warrior, my lord. I did not come to fight Sauron’s orcs. And I will say that neither do you have the look of a warrior, either.”
Ivormil felt himself redden once more. “I am trained in the use of a sword,” he said stiffly.
“We were schooled in the use of weapons also, but I proved rather a failure at it. We Hobbits rarely need to fight, although we can and do defend ourselves at need.”
After a pause Ivormil asked, “And where is your land?”
“North and west of here.”
“How did you come to Gondor?”
“We walked, mostly.”
“Can you not imagine that walking can get one from one place to another as surely as pony--or horse?”
“Do you ride?”
“Of course I can ride. However, it was thought to be more appropriate and inconspicuous if we were to walk, so walk we did.”
Ivormil was uncertain what more he could ask. The--Hobbit took up his tumbler of water and drank from it, his eyes examining him over its rim. It was as he went to set it down, however, that Ivormil noted that Mr. Frodo was missing a finger on his right hand. He felt his scalp tighten--he’d heard something about a finger from the messengers who brought the word of the victory against Sauron, although he had no idea what significance there was to it. He’d barely listened.
At last Mr. Frodo asked, “And what has brought you to Minas Tirith?”
“I was sent by my father to bring his duty letters to the King.”
“Oh. Then there is little I myself can do to assist you even if you were brought to me. I believe there is to be a public audience tomorrow morning at which time you can present them.” At Ivormil’s nod he continued, “Then why did you ask to see Lord Perhael or Lord Iorhael?”
“I am not a simple commoner to need to deal with mere servants,” Ivormil explained.
The Hobbit’s right cheek twitched much as Master Balstador’s had done earlier. “I see. Well, I assure you I am no mere servant, and although Sam has been in my employ for years neither is he.”
“And am I to deal with clerks and gardeners, then?”
Mr. Frodo stood up, his expression unreadable. “I fear, my lord, that you have a good deal yet to learn about the nature of service. If you will excuse me, I am finding myself entertaining a headache. Please feel free to bring with you the two trays here, and you may freely help yourself from the one brought me earlier. I’ve eaten all I can of it.”
“The seneschal said that except for proper meals there was no meat save for those who have been ill,” Ivormil commented.
The Hobbit gave him another look. “And what does that tell you, young lord?” he asked. He set a marker in the book and closed it, and was coming out from behind the table when he paused as if listening. Ivormil heard nothing at first, then finally became aware of distant voices and a stir back toward the vestibule, apparently questions and answers, and finally approaching footsteps and voices. “I understand that Master Samwise brought him to the Steward’s office, my Lord, to see if Master Frodo could speak sense to him.” Hearing that, Ivormil felt his face flame.
“Thank you, Master Balstador. I will see to it from here.”
A moment later there was a knock on the door, and Mr. Frodo, his face now alight as Ivormil hadn’t yet seen, called out, “Do enter!” The door opened, admitting quite a tall fellow dressed in well-worn green riding leathers over a rich maroon shirt. “You wore that, Aragorn?” asked the Hobbit of the Man, his eyes filled with disapproval. “Certainly you must have some more fitting riding outfit by now! Bilbo would be most discomfited to see you looking so far from your current station, you know.”
The Man Aragorn laughed. “Not yet, small brother, save for ceremonial garb that is unfitting for tramping the bounds of the Rammas in.” He turned his attention to Ivormil, who’d risen uncertainly. “You are from Lossarnach, I understand?” he asked.
“Ivormil son of Lord Canelmir of Bidwell in lower Lossarnach, sir,” admitted the younger Man, not certain what to think of this newcomer.
“And the purpose of your visit?”
“Must I answer to you?” Ivormil asked, suspicious of this stranger.
The tall Man paused, his face losing its humor, giving Ivormil a very thorough scrutiny. “I see,” he said at last. “You came, I am told, to present correspondence to the King?”
“Yes,” Ivormil said, pulling himself as straight and tall as he could. “And I will give it only into the King’s hands, mind.”
The tall Man gave a single nod. “So it shall be, then. You may present it in the morning at the public audience, I suppose. Iorvas has advised that quarters have been readied in the guest wing for you and your three attendants. If you will take yourself to the vestibule he waits there to show you the way. One thing, young lord--I suggest that you consider the nature of nobility, honor, service, and humility before you present yourself tomorrow before the King.” So saying, he turned coolly away from the young lord, back to the Hobbit. He looked him over quickly. “Headache?” he asked.
“Yes, some,” Mr. Frodo answered.
“Will you dine with me in my private quarters, then--you and Sam? The rest intend to visit with Gloin and the deputation from Erebor tonight.”
“But Mistress Loren----”
The Man was shaking his head. “I stopped by the guest house to advise her I was making the invitation, and she was relieved. As she’d seen none of you today she’d not prepared anything. And how goes the research?”
“I found a few references,” the Hobbit said, then paused. “If you would go first, my lord,” he suggested formally to Ivormil, “I will then have the chance to secure the Lord Steward’s office as he requested of me.”
The young lord’s son rose, feeling himself again flushing. “I am sorry,” he said.
He turned and preceded the other two out of the room, at which time the Hobbit turned, and pulling a key from his pocket fitted it into the lock and turned it, then replaced the key, giving Ivormil a surprisingly graceful bow. Then looking up with a smile quite different from the air he’d displayed to the young Man from Lossarnach he said to his tall companion, “Sam was last out amongst the roses. Shall we fetch him first, do you think?” as the two disappeared with more rapidity down the passage than Ivormil had expected, followed by a Guardsman in uniform.
Ivormil rose early the following morning and enjoyed the meal delivered to his quarters. With the assistance of his long-suffering valet he was finally dressed to his own satisfaction, and he at last left the room where he’d spent the night, ready to attend the King’s audience. However, once he got into the hallway into which the guest wing opened he found himself uncertain as to which way he ought to go next.
It was at that moment he spotted what appeared to be a page coming down hall past him. “You, boy!” he called out.
The child stopped and turned toward him, obviously surprised. “Were you addressing me, sir?” he asked, his voice rather deeper than a child’s voice usually was. Ivormil at that point realized the livery worn was a replica of the uniform worn by the Guards of the Citadel, complete with a sword girt at his waist. The face was guileless, the expression open and curious.
“Yes, you--I need to be taken to the Hall of Kings.”
“The Hall of Kings? As an observer, or do you wish to be presented?” the youngster asked.
Annoyed at what he saw as inappropriate curiosity, Ivormil said, “I have letters to present today.”
The boy examined him as had so many in the past day. “You must be that one,” he said almost to himself. “Oh, well. I can’t take you the whole way for I myself am on an errand for our Lord King; but I will put you into a page’s hands to see you brought to the heralds. This way, sir.” He led him down the hallway to a door where he knocked then opened it and leaned inside. “I need a guide for this young lord, please,” he said, then pulled out, swiftly followed by a page garbed as had been the one Ivormil had seen the previous day. “Please escort this Man to the herald that he might be properly presented to the King,” he instructed.
“Yes, Captain Peregrin,” the boy returned. At that the young one in the Guardsman’s livery gave a salute to the boy and a brief bow to Ivormil before hurrying off on his own errand. It was as he neared the end of the hallway adjacent to the pierced wooden screen, just before he turned into one of the other residential wings, the young lord first noted something unusual--his former guide, rather than boots, appeared to be wearing rather hairy slippers--or so it looked from behind.
His new guide led him out the same door used the previous day. “If you are to be put into the hands of the heralds you will need to enter from the vestibule, Lord Ivormil,” the boy said, obviously recognizing him from a description given him by the previous day’s page. He turned right to lead him around the Citadel, past the Tower of Ecthelion and the entrance to the Feast Hall of Merethrond toward the front doors to the Citadel. There he was left in the charge of a herald, who took down the information on a list he carried, then pointed to a place near the back of the Hall of Kings where he might wait until his name was called.
Unfortunately, it was difficult to see what was going on there near the dais for the throne. He saw a tall and regal figure ascending the steps to take his place on the High Seat as the voice of the Lord Prince Steward Faramir rang through the room announcing the opening of the day’s audience, but as the surprisingly thick crowd muffled most of what was said Ivormil was soon totally lost as to what might be happening and found himself even more bored than he’d been the day before.
It was quite some time before his own name was called, but at last Ivormil found himself being directed up the aisle left by the observers toward the dais. He looked up and saw, on the head of the Man above him, the Winged Crown itself, worn indeed in pride as it had not been worn for almost a thousand years. He saw the great sword of Elendil laid across the King’s knees. He saw the Ring of Barahir on the King’s hand as he raised it briefly to his chin. He saw the great green Elessar jewel clasping closed the white mantle he wore. He looked into the regal face and saw----
He stopped in his tracks, muttering, “Oh, sweet Valar!” If only the floor would open and swallow him up!
The King rose and, casually hooking the hangers for his sword’s sheath to his swordbelt, paced slowly down the stairs to stand between the seats for his two Stewards. Prince Faramir was at least familiar, his face deceptively mild as ever, youthful compared to the King and his fellow from the distant north. The Steward of Arnor had a broader face than either the King or Faramir, rather austere yet equally capable, Ivormil thought, of appearing stern or kindly. The King, however--the calculation he’d seen in the Man’s eyes the preceding day was nothing to what he saw now.
At last the King spoke. “I believe, Ivormil son of Canelmir, that it is time for me to properly introduce myself to you. I am Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, born Aragorn son of Arathorn, Lord Chieftain of the Dúnedain people remaining within what had been Arnor and heir of Elendil and Isildur through Isildur’s son Valandil and his descendant Arvedui, and of Anárion through his descendant Ondoher of Gondor by way of his daughter Fíriel, wife to Arvedui. And these are my Companions----” He gestured at a group standing to one side. “Gimli son of Gloin, kinsman to Thorin Oakenshield, Dain Ironfoot, and now Thorin Stronghelm, Kings under the Mountain of the Dwarf kingdom of Erebor.” A russet-headed Dwarf gave a slight bow, fixing him with a close stare. “Legolas Greenleaf of Eryn Lasgalen, son of King Thranduil.” A tall Elf with eyes blue as skies and hair golden as sunlight looked down his nose at him. “The Istar Mithrandir, known in the north as Gandalf the Grey, now the White of his order.” Ivormil swallowed to see the changes in the Wizard, the Light that appeared barely veiled beneath the surface of him.
“Sir Meriadoc Brandybuck of the Shire, Holdwine of the Mark for Rohan and heir to the Master of Buckland.” He indicated a--a Hobbit dressed in finely wrought chainmail and a leather gambeson decorated with the White Horse of Rohan, a most strange swordbelt of silver leaves enameled with brilliant green about his waist, the sheath for a sword made to fit his stature hanging from it. There were signs this one was usually given to good humor, but the expression in those clear eyes was now stern. “Captain Peregrin Took of the Shire, Guard of the Citadel and one of my own personal Guard, heir to the Thain of the Shire.” The King indicated behind himself, and Ivormil saw the one who’d served briefly as a guide to him this morning, properly on guard with drawn sword, those green eyes watchful and competent.
“Samwise Gamgee of the Shire, the Lord Perhael of all the Free Peoples of Middle Earth, the Steadfast, Esquire to the Ringbearer.” Ivormil looked on the small gardener he’d met the day preceding and closed his eyes. “And Frodo Baggins of the Shire, the Lord Iorhael of all the Free Peoples of Middle Earth, Iorhael na I·Lebid, Bronwë athan Harthad, Cormacolindor, the Ringbearer.” Opening his eyes reluctantly, the young Man found his attention caught by the small, dark-haired individual with whom he’d spent so much time the day before, now garbed as befitting a prince.
“I thought I was to see either Lord Perhael or Lord Iorhael,” he’d said.
“And if I were to suggest you’ve seen both?” That was how the interchange had gone, wasn’t it?
He looked about--there were other Elves and Dwarves, and Men dressed in garb to indicate they came from other realms ranged about those identified as the King’s companions. The King indicated them. “The deputations from Erebor, Dale, and the great woodland realm of Eryn Lasgalen, come to give our land honor on its acceptance of its new King.
The King’s eyes were again scrutinizing him closely. “Yesterday you demanded greeting from a lord of the land, and you were brought to both of those remaining within the Citadel, lords not only of Gondor and Arnor but of all other lands and peoples who claim for themselves the distinction of Free Peoples of Middle Earth. Then when I came to greet you myself you refused to recognize the possibility that I could be anyone of consequence any more than you recognized that possibility in the persons of the two to whom you’d been brought. You were very much upon your dignity, I noted and had confirmed to me by these my most honored friends, demanding your due as the heir to a minor lordship.”
“Yes, my Lord King,” Ivormil admitted miserably.
The tall crowned figure before him gave a nod of acknowledgment before continuing, “Master Balstador attempted to advise you that these were the Ringbearers and that in respect to their personal preference they were addressed by the title of ‘Master,’ but he informs me you cut him off, insisting you needed no instruction in proper etiquette to other members of the nobility.”
Feeling the heat in his face indicating he was flushing fully, the young Man lowered his eyes in shame. “This is true, my Lord.”
The King continued relentlessly, “As we went to part from you, it was my suggestion that you think on the nature of certain concepts. Do you remember what they were?”
Dredging his memory, Ivormil said, “Nobility, service, honor, and humility, my Lord.”
“Your memory is not faulty then,” Lord Elessar noted. “You have correspondence to give me?” he asked.
The young Man carefully removed the message pouch he held and, kneeling properly, presented it to the King’s hands. The King accepted it, opened it and removed the correspondence it held, examined it briefly, then turning beckoned forward a second Guardsman, who accepted it, then turned to return the pouch to Ivormil. “You may rise.” Then after further scrutiny he continued, “I would have you aware of certain truths, Ivormil of Bidwell. I will not have serving as lords of this realm those who do not exhibit the traits you just recited to me. Lordship must be earned--it is not merely a birthright. I will honor those who display honor, no matter what their birth. I will respect all who offer service properly, and it is expected that all who enter the Citadel of this land or that being rebuilt in Arnor will do likewise. For it is in how you treat those who are least in the land that shows whether or not you exhibit proper nobility in yourself. Do you understand?”
“I believe so, my Lord.”
“And, as you have undoubtedly noted, these, the greatest among us all, are themselves shining examples of humility, taking no airs to themselves, treating others with the respect they expect to receive to themselves and not allowing themselves to become discomfited when they do not receive it.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“It is as you serve those who are placed under your protection that you prove your own honor to the land of Gondor. Do you understand this?”
“I believe so, Lord.” Ivormil met the eyes of the King and looked into the grey depths of them--grey with hints of blue and green such as one saw in the Sea, and swallowed deeply. Life in Gondor, he realized, was going to be profoundly changed from what he’d known in his eighteen years so far.
“That is good. For if your father wishes to be confirmed in his office by me, and if you desire to inherit that office when the time comes, it needs to be demonstrated that both of you understand these truths. It is said among those who raised me and trained me to ready me for the day when I must accept this--” he indicated the Crown he wore, “--that much is expected from those to whom much has been given; and that those who will not serve as is right and proper will have in the end all that they have known in goods and privilege taken from them.
“Your father did not lead forth troops to the defense of Gondor when the realm was attacked, going neither to the defense of Pelargir nor here. This certainly does not speak well of his honor to the nation that has granted him title of Lord. Nor did he send you in his stead if he is too infirm to raise a sword to the needs of the land. If he wishes to be confirmed in his current office it will be required he present himself before the throne within a month’s time and explain himself, and he must be ready to prove his loyalty to Gondor through the service he offers both the land at large and more especially those entrusted to his leadership and protection. And I tell you this--the latter will be true of you as well.”
Ivormil dropped his eyes. “Yes, my Lord.” He looked down, and noted that the three Hobbits of the Shire near him all also appeared to be wearing hairy slippers, then realized their feet were bare and covered with hair much the same color as that on their heads. He turned his eyes back to meet those of Frodo Baggins, filled with hard-won wisdom and experience, realizing those bare feet had trod the many, many leagues between his own land and the slopes of Mount Doom and those eyes had seen terrors the likes of which he, heir to the Lord of Bidwell, could not imagine. Humbled in the face of true greatness, Ivormil made the first bow of honest respect he’d ever offered. “I ask your forgiveness for my discourtesy yesterday, my Lord Iorhael,” he said with a sincerity he’d never felt before.
“Please,” the Hobbit answered him, “please address me as Master Frodo if you must use any title.”
Confused, Ivormil looked back into the eyes of the King, saw the pride and love held for this one, and began at last to understand what the Lord Elessar had meant about developing an understanding of the true nature of honor and humility.