As they walked back to the Prancing Pony together from the Grange Hall, Bartolo Bracegirdle considered the question he wished to ask of Alvric son of Maerdion. He was disturbed to find this question working its way through his thoughts, and under normal circumstances such a question would never have occurred to him. However, these were not normal circumstances, and he was not dealing with a normal lease agreement, and definitely he was not working on writing a contract for one of his normal range of clientele.
“Master Alvric,” he finally asked aloud, “why do all these folk call Frodo Baggins the Ringbearer? Even you did today.”
Alvric sighed. He glanced around him, although whether it was to make certain they weren’t in immediate danger of being overheard or to assure himself Holby was following properly the Shire lawyer couldn’t be positive. They weren’t, of course, the only party headed back toward the High Street and the inn; but they’d been among the last to leave the Grange Hall, having remained to speak with Master Watercress along with a number of other lawyers from Bree village who hoped to perhaps form the core of the next class. The Rangers and the King’s Messenger were already gone ahead, and it didn’t appear that anyone else was close enough to overhear them now--not to Bartolo at least.
At last Alvric answered, although of course it wasn’t the answer Bartolo found himself wanting. “It goes back to the heart of the matter that Lord Frodo does not wish discussed, Master Bartolo. Why he seeks to hide this I cannot fully appreciate, save that first he does not believe your folk will fully appreciate what it means; secondly, he appears to desire to protect you from the full horror of what he and the others faced; and thirdly, he does not desire to have to answer questions about it or have to discuss it on a regular basis. I understand now more fully what it means to be one of your folk with your innocence of the ways of the outer world, and where even your Mayor and Thain hold not the authority to truly command or rule others but instead merely to suggest and guide and to form and govern the forces that serve and protect your people from within your borders.
“It was a matter of much amazement that although none questioned the right of Captain Peregrin or Sir Meriadoc to be addressed by their military titles--or at least when they wore their uniforms, none of the four of them appeared particularly comfortable with the idea of Lord Frodo or Lord Samwise having their ennoblement acknowledged aloud. Within the Citadel all who are employed and serve within its precincts were instructed to speak to all four as “Master” and no more, unless Captain Peregrin or Sir Meriadoc was accoutered for duty. Often when Master Samwise was addressed by title he would truly fail to appreciate it was himself that was being addressed; Master Frodo would go markedly pale and he would either turn away and refuse to recognize the one addressing him or would employ a look that it was learned could quail the greatest and most arrogant of the lords of the realm and the most influential and powerful officers of the forces of Gondor.”
Bartolo was surprised to find his lip twitching. “Used the Old Took’s Look on them, did he? Him and old Bilbo--both were good at it.”
Barti shrugged. “Old Gerontius, him as we’ve always called ‘the Old Took,’ was famous for his ability to quell foolishness with his expression. He lived to the age of a hundred and thirty. Old Bilbo was one of Gerontius’s grandsons, and Frodo’s a great grandson, and Merry Brandybuck and Peregrin Took are great, great grandsons. For the most part old Bilbo was an amiable soul, but he inherited the Look and a tongue to match, and when truly annoyed would employ both. Now, usually when he’s unleashing the Look, Frodo won’t speak at all, although when he is forced to speak he will do so, short and to the point and enough to singe the tips of your ears, or so it’s said.” Alvric noted that Barti flushed a bit.
“I’ve never heard tell of either Merry or Pippin using the Look, much less Thain Paladin. But for Frodo Baggins--he could use it even as a teen. Plus, apparently after he went to live in Bag End with old Bilbo, at some time he learned how to fight. Aunt Lobelia, of course, told it about he was quite the bully with that punch of his; but the Shiriffs and our Boffin relatives insisted she was turning it all around--that the only time he ever punched anyone was to stop them from hurting or bullying others. Lotho and that Ted Sandyman, the miller’s son in Hobbiton--they both got punched by him a time or two--great louts, they always were as lads. But I’ve never heard tell of him ever striking anyone more than once, actually.”
Alvric, he noted was beginning to smile appreciatively. The Hobbit examined the Man’s face. “Then he hit someone there in the King’s city, did he?” he finally hazarded.
Alvric nodded. “Yes--an envoy from Umbar who thought to accost and abuse him. It was apparently the second time the fool had approached him with indecent proposals that day, and it appears this second time he was quite intoxicated. I’m told Master Frodo was apologetic for the fact it took two blows to subdue the Man. But Prince Legolas of the Great Forest and Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth were both quite impressed, and the description given by our Lord King’s Elven brothers, who witnessed the event, was quite lyrical. Apparently no one had told our Lord Aragorn Elessar that your kinsman had such a skill, and he’d proved to be barely capable of protecting himself with a blade. Had any of those seeking to train him known he was so talented they would have sought to train it further, although it is difficult to effectively use ones fists against those armed with swords or knives.”
“What about this King of ours?”
Alvric shrugged, although a smile of pride was clear to be seen. “All say that he is among the greatest among Men in the wielding of sword and knife, although his kinsman Lord Hardorn, who is captain of his personal guard, is almost as good with a blade and is said to be better with a bow and--other weapons. Both, it is told, were trained in warcraft by the Elves of Imladris, and there are no greater warriors anywhere than Elves, or so it is said.”
After a moment of thoughtful silence Barti asked, “What happened to the envoy?”
The Mannish lawyer gave a sigh. “He was taken to the prison for the night and brought for the King’s judgment the next day. He was ordered branded and into enforced servitude, somewhere here in the north.”
“Branded?” The Hobbit felt confused.
“With a hot iron, with a D to indicate he is a degenerate. The leader of the embassy failed to seek to intercede on his behalf--and neither did he seek to intercede for the spymaster and slaver who was condemned with him. The three remaining envoys were ordered out of the city and our lands, and sent back to Umbar with a treaty of our devising to present to their lords. None of them felt in a position to seek to negotiate better terms, for the King himself is capable of quelling others with a look, or so we have found.
“Indeed,” he continued, remembering tales he heard from Lord Berevrion on the way to Bree, “I am told that when your kinsman and our King quarreled both were seeking to command the other with his own look.”
Barti stopped short, shocked at the idea. “But Frodo appears to love the King. He speaks of him and his eyes grow soft and he looks right proud.”
“And our Lord King certainly loves Lord Frodo. However, even those who love one another dearly will quarrel at times, and both our Lord Aragorn Elessar and Lord Frodo are filled with great self-will. Such is necessary for one seeking to rule such a people as ours, and was definitely needed for one charged with the quest for Mount Doom such as Lord Frodo achieved.”
“What is this Mount Doom?” asked the Bracegirdle.
The Man turned away and continued to walk toward the inn, although they continued on slowly. At last he said, “It was a volcano--a fiery mountain from which molten rock flowed, in the heart of the land of Mordor. It is said by those who went to the final battle before the Black Gate that when all was done and the Black Tower collapsed and the walls and gates of the land and much of its army were swallowed up by the earth itself, that they could see the Mountain, far, far off in the distance, tearing itself apart.”
Suddenly the Man stopped, his face white with alarm. “I may speak no more of that, save that Orodruin served in its day as Sauron’s forge, and there it was he forged his greatest weapons for use against the Free Peoples of Middle Earth. Whenever he sent out his battalions of orcs against the people of Gondor he would torture the mountain to spew forth vast clouds of ash that they not be forced to march under the direct light of the sun, for his folk could not bear the light of Anor, while mountain and cave trolls will turn to stone if exposed to sunlight. There were many trolls, I am told, who were sent against the city of Minas Tirith, and it has caused us much difficulty to deal with the forms of those among them that turned to stone when the wind changed and the Enemy’s clouds were ripped away and the light of day was allowed to shine upon the battlefield. Not all trolls react so to sunlight, though--many of the great fighting trolls merely fled eastward again through Osgiliath, back toward Mordor’s walls.”
As they reached the inn’s doors, Bartolo paused. “I still have not received the title and deed for this land Baggins has been granted, and I cannot finish the lease agreement properly without those.”
Alvric opened the door to the place and held it politely for his companion to precede him. “I know. I believe, however, that this Faradir who came to the meeting earlier has been entrusted with them. Shall we see if he is within the common room?” And followed by Holby they went into the Inn of the Prancing Pony.
Begonia was furious. “Alyssa--look what you’ve done to my hair ribbons! Mummy--she’s ruined them, using them on the hair of her new doll! And they matched my best frock!”
“Well, Dolly needed some, and only you had some of the color to match her dress,” Alyssa reasoned.
“But you didn’t have to cut them up like that!” her older sister wailed.
“They were too wide and long for her if I didn’t,” the younger lass began.
“But they weren’t yours--they were mine! And Auntie Lavinia said she had to order them special for me! Mother!”
Bartolo, who’d walked into this scene, hastily backed out again and hurried back to the common room. He’d had too much experience with Begonia’s temper when someone ruined one of her things to want to be there now. No, he’d allow Delphinium to deal with it, not that she’d thank him, of course.
Master Alvric sat still at the table in the corner with the three Rangers who sat there, Faradir, Berenion, and Gilfileg. It seemed odd to see the shorter Man sitting in the midst of the three tall kinsmen of the King, his light hair, fine and somewhat wispy after being blown about by the wind out in the streets and lanes, quite a contrast to the sleek, darker hair of the three Rangers. Gilfileg noticed his approach and spoke to Faradir, who rose and brought a higher stool from a position between this table and the next to allow the Hobbit to sit much at a height with his companions.
Many of those who enjoyed the Pony’s hospitality and ale that night watched him with quiet exclamations of amazement that any Hobbit, even one from the Shire, would seek out the company of such folk. But others watched with growing curiosity and even admiration--the word that the Rangers were the King’s own folk was making its rounds throughout Bree, and although not all fully believed the news as yet, still those who felt free to associate with them were coming to be accounted as being important.
“I thought you were going to retire to the private parlor so as to spend the evening with your family,” Berenion said.
Bartolo shrugged, turning to address Jape the barman and request a half of the inn’s finest, then turned his attention back to the older Man across from him as he laid the great file he held down on the table’s top. “My daughters,” he said, his posture rather stiff as he perched himself on the stool, “have chosen to quarrel tonight.”
The Man laughed. “Ah, daughters!” he said, shaking his head in sympathy. “What mine will do to one another at times is beyond belief.”
“Do they fight over hair ribbons?”
“No--neither appears to care for hair ribbons. However, let Gloringilien touch her sister’s bow, or Gilmorien Glorin’s harp, and one would think a pair of wargs were warring behind the doors to their rooms.”
The Hobbit looked at the Man amazed. How old he was was difficult to determine, but he must be elderly; his hair had a good deal of grey to it, and his beard was almost totally white. And his daughters claimed ownership to bows and harps?
Realizing how his words appeared to have shocked the lawyer, the Man explained further, “Our home is in a walled village some fifteen miles south of the border with Angmar. Many of our women are trained in the use of a bow, and many in the use of other weapons as well, for when our enemies come, whether Men from Angmar or orcs and trolls from the mountains, they will not spare women or children--this they have proven many times over. My wife died twenty-six years past with an orc arrow buried in her side. I will not have the same happen to my daughters if I can help it. They are far better archers, both of them, than any orc, and their bows boast better range than those wielded by orcs. No enemy has come close enough to our walls to send arrows over it since my daughters and several others of our women began training with the bow, shortly after their mother’s death.”
Remembering Eregiel’s statement that he always was on guard, and that the worst ambush he’d fought against had taken place in his own people’s fields, Bartolo was once again struck by how dangerous life was for other peoples, and he felt his scalp prickle. “And for us,” he commented, “goblins are rarely thought of save for the claim that the Bullroarer knocked the head off the leader of those who sought to enter our lands in the Battle of the Green Fields and it landed in a rabbit hole, leading to the interest we have in our sport we call golf.”
“We are told those came from Moria. You are fortunate, for such are much smaller than most of their kind, and less capable under the light of sun, moon, or stars. How they got past our guard we have no idea, but after their leader died those who survived fled your borders, and we were able to find and slay a goodly number, or so it is reported in our annals. Of course, the number of those who patrolled the borders of the Breelands and the Shire was far smaller in that time, for we were recovering from another of the waves of illnesses the Enemy ever sent against us.”
“Your people guarded our borders even then?”
It was Gilfileg who answered, “Yes, as we’ve ever done. You cannot appreciate how much we have ever rejoiced to know there are at least a few retreats within Eriador where most of the time all is well and peaceful, and where the dangers facing most of Middle Earth rarely come.”
Jape returned with the requested mug of ale, followed by Persivo, who asked rather tentatively if he might join them. “Begonia and Alyssa are almost at blows, Dad,” he reported, “and both intent on getting Pet to side with them. She’s about to barricade herself in our room to get away from both of them, and Mum is hard pressed to keep Gonya from slapping Alyssa silly.”
“I see, lad,” Barti said, his face clouded. “Would you like a half?”
Persivo smiled. “Oh, yes, Dad,” he said appreciatively at this recognition of his maturity. Barti looked his request at Jape, handing him two coins instead of one, and the barman nodded his understanding as Faradir found and fetched a second taller stool and brought it for the younger Hobbit’s use. “Thanks so much,”
Faradir smiled, commenting quietly, “It is my honor, sir,” to which the lad flushed. “For the sake of Lord Iorhael I would do almost aught ever requested of me by those of your people...” he continued until Gilfileg elbowed him in the side.
“From what Berevrion has told me, every time you addressed him so Master Frodo would go white with embarrassment, and the rest would roll their eyes,” the Man with the black glove on his hand commented, his expression rather severe.
“Iorhael?” Bartolo asked. “The directive I have from--from my client indicates this is his name in Elvish?”
“Yes, in Sindarin,” agreed Gilfileg. “Once word went abroad that Frodo son of Drogo was fleeing the Shire pursued by the Black Riders, the meaning of his name was noted and further reports were made in Sindarin with his name translated to that tongue as well, for such would have less chance to capture the attention of the Enemy’s creatures should such reports be overheard. Not all who are allied with the Rangers of Eriador and the Elves of Rivendell are literate, after all; and written missives in such hands could all too easily attract the attention of those such are employed to avoid.”
“Yet I do not feel comfortable speaking of him as if he were but a commoner,” Faradir objected. “He and Lord Perhael accomplished so much, after all....” At a glare from Gilfileg, however, the Man went silent.
Jape returned with Persivo’s half-pint, nodding at Persivo’s word of thanks and looking back over his shoulder with narrowed eyes as he turned back toward the bar once more.
Once the barman was out of earshot, Alvric explained to the Hobbits, “It is customary for those ennobled to have documents filed in their names identified in either Sindarin or, in some cases, Quenya. Lord--Master Frodo did not appear to be particularly uncomfortable with that of our customs, and even admitted that he had been known to use that name within the Shire when he was dealing with some to whom he did not wish to identify himself properly. Apparently ‘Frodo’ itself is not precisely a commonly used name among you?”
Barti shrugged, a slight scowl on his face. “I understand it’s been used a time or two in the past, but Baggins is the only one I’ve known in my lifetime.”
“Iorhael is occasionally bestowed upon children within Gondor as well,” Alvric admitted. “I knew one child so named when I was younger, and there is a merchant and artist in the Fifth Circle of the city of Minas Tirith who has that name as well. I purchased a painting of the city he did shortly after I was accepted as a lawyer of the realm.”
“I never heard of Baggins introducing himself as Iorhael,” objected Barti, setting down his mug.
“He spoke of it during a meeting with the Guild of Lawyers of the capital he attended alongside the King,” Alvric explained. “He did not relate the specific circumstances, however, only said that at times when he did not wish to be recognized as himself he would inform those he’d recently met to address him as Iorhael.”
“Well, there’s none from Michel Delving to Whitfurrow or within Buckland or the Marish who wouldn’t recognize him, I’ll warrant,” the Bracegirdle insisted. “Well, maybe those down south-aways in Buckland, perhaps, or far north in the Northfarthing, or near the borders toward the Western Marches or through much of the Southfarthing. But most of those as are Bracegirdles, Goolds, Longbottoms, Hornblowers, and such even in the Southfarthing are relatives and would recognize him from the Party, even if they’d not seen him since old Bilbo left Hobbiton.”
“Who is to witness the agreement?” asked Persi.
“Baggins has indicated he wants it witnessed by Oridon and Ordo Goodbody, and Merimac Brandybuck for the Shire, although I’ve not yet heard who will witness them from outside the Shire,” his father answered him. “Oridon and Ordo are his bankers of discretion, you understand, and would be bound by their own oaths of secrecy against speaking further about it all. I don’t know much about the Master’s brother, but I doubt, once Frodo asked him to keep quiet about it all, as he’d speak of it to others, perhaps not even to Saradoc.”
“Merimac Brandybuck has an excellent reputation even here in Bree,” Faradir said quietly. “In the days before simply riding between the Bridge and Bree became dangerous he was often sent here to conduct Buckland business. I escorted him a time or two.”
Having drunk half his mug of ale, Persi looked curiously as Gilfileg. “I know you are called Black Glove, but was wondering why you always wear one? Do you ever take it off?”
“At times,” the Ranger admitted, “although not particularly often, not among those who don’t know me well. However,” he continued as he undid the fastening that held the glove tight about the wrist and worked it off his hand, “I do so to spare others from seeing this,” displaying his right hand, pale white where the rest of his skin was darkly tanned, from which his middle and ring fingers were missing.
Persivo and Bartolo straightened in shock and revulsion as a look of compassion filled the face of the Mannish lawyer. “Years ago,” Gilfileg said quietly, contemplating how his hand had been maimed, “I asked for and was granted permission to go south to Gondor to serve in its forces. Always there have been a few of us who have done so, although few among whom we served have realized where we came from. I was seriously injured while out on a scouting mission along the borders of Mordor and Rhun, and I had to hide for some days. The wound festered, and I could not take time to properly clean or care for it, much less get to a proper healer. In the end, having exhausted my water and refusing to take water from the Dead Marshes I made a foray eastward, and lost consciousness on the edge of an oasis beyond the borders of Rhun. There I was found by a warlord among the Rhunim and was taken as a slave. However, he also had the healer of his company see to my wounds, and I recovered.”
“And that’s how you lost your fingers?” asked Persi.
“No,” the Man admitted, shaking his head, “not then. After I was recovered a council of the warlords was called, and my new master was required to bring me before them. They thought I was from Gondor and wished to know what information I could give them regarding Gondor’s forces and their movements. I told them I was a new recruit who had been a hunter and tracker before, which was true enough, although I was not quite as new a recruit amongst the Rangers of Ithilien as I told them. I insisted I knew nothing of the movements of Gondor’s armies, as I was too newly accepted among the Rangers, and kept on insisting that even when they sought to torture the truth out of me. What little I told them was of changes done some weeks before I was separated from my own troupe, and as they already had knowledge of those changes it was of no real use to them. After they removed the second finger and I still refused to change my story they finally believed me. I lost consciousness then, and I was told afterwards I called out in Adunaic--they by then were certain I originally came from Umbar.
“As I left Aragorn’s side with his permission to go southwards, he advised me that if I were ever given the care of children I was to remain with them until they began training as warriors. My master set me as tutor to his grandsons. That Aragorn is subject to foresight is well recognized amongst us, you understand. Now that I found myself given the care of a Rhunish lord’s grandchildren I felt honor-bound to remain with them for as long as they were allowed to remain with their mothers.
“Once they were removed to the warrior’s tents, however, at last I realized it was time to leave them, and so I escaped. So long had I remained with them without trying to escape they had no idea I would attempt such a thing; but my years with them had given me knowledge of their lands and habits and the placement of water sources, and it was simple to find my way out of their lands and back to the company of other scouts and Rangers from Gondor. I’d thought to remain in the service of Gondor for some years more, but the commander to whom I was taken in Ithilien brought me not to Captain-General Boromir but all the way back to Minas Tirith to an audience with the Lord Steward Denethor himself. He saw that my hand was now disfigured and would not accept my service again, although I am by nature left-handed and the loss of these fingers does not impede my use of a blade.”
So saying, he replaced his glove. “So,” Persivo said slowly, “the fingers are stuffed to make it appear your hand is normal?” At a nod, he continued, “Is that how Cousin Frodo Baggins lost his finger?”
But the Man was shaking his head. “It has been made plain to us that this knowledge your cousin does not wish made known to your people. I fear that you need to ask that question of him, although whether or not he would answer you I could not say.”
“He didn’t,” Bartolo Bracegirdle almost growled, and all turned their attention to him. But at their looks of curiosity he merely glowered, and Alvric changed the subject.
When they returned to the private parlor they found Delphinium sitting with her head back and a damp cloth across her eyes. She lifted the corner of the cloth as they entered, giving her husband a distinct glare. “That was a cowardly retreat, Bartolo,” she commented, replacing the cloth and leaning her head back again. “Lyssa is in disgrace, and I requested that trundle bed for her use for tonight, at least. She’s been sent to bed in our room. Begonia was furious when I told her to go to bed also, but at last she went. Petunia tried to get her calmed down, but at last I sent her out to the porch where the games are to get away from all that she not make things worse. Enrico came in filthy from playing with the other lads--apparently they were seeking to construct a hole. He just returned from the bathing room and I’ve sent him off to bed as well. I’d say give Gonya another half an hour and it should be safe for Pet to go to bed also.” With that she removed the cloth and laid it on the table as she rose. “Now I think I will go to bed and seek to imagine I don’t have two such as Begonia and Alyssa. Good night, Persi, Barti.” So saying she turned to the room she’d been sharing with her husband and went in, closing the door firmly behind her.
The remains of a simple meal sat on the table, and the two of them sat down to serve themselves. At last Barti said, “You may as well go out when you’re done eating, son, and fetch Petunia back in, although if you would wish to remain and play a game of draughts I doubt your mother will fault you. It is still early, after all.”
Persi nodded. “Thanks, Dad.” Then, after a time of silent eating, he asked, “Was everyone shocked to learn this Strider is our new King?”
“The subject of which Ranger it is who’s the new King didn’t come up,” his father answered, somewhat dryly. “Just accepting the fact that there is a new King and that he’s been chieftain of the Rangers appears to have been more than enough to handle for most of them, it seems--that and that the Rangers themselves are actually decent folks and not feckless wanderers who only happen to break up fights in town.”
Persi grinned appreciatively. “And that our four are all friends with him must be almost more than they can bear, I’ll wager.”
Barti’s expression grew more distant. “Yes.”
Realizing that there must have been some talk also about Cousin Frodo Baggins that his father didn’t wish to discuss, Persi focused on eating the rest of his supper as quickly as he could. At last Barti snapped, “Don’t bolt your food, lad--you’ll give yourself a stomach ache.”
Flushing, Persi murmured, “Yes, sir,” and slowed down his eating. Yes, his dad was unhappy about what he’d learned about Frodo Baggins--Bartolo’s children were becoming far too familiar with the expression.
Once he’d finished eating Bartolo opened the packet that contained the deeds and property titles he’d been given, and quickly his expression grew even more sour. At last he looked up. “As you go out, would you ask one of the Rangers to join me here. I can’t read these things!”
As he rose Persivo gave a long look at the document his father was examining, noting it was written in a script he’d never seen before. “What language is that?” he asked.
“No idea!” his father growled. “Some form of Elvish, I must suspect. Well, get on with you!”
Persi hurried out the round door from the Hobbit’s parlor and started back down the corridor to the common room, but met his quarry near the stairs to the upper floors where the four Men had stopped to talk before Alvric and Holby left the inn for Mistress Denra’s home. Seeing them all standing, he felt a bit faint--it had been easier when he’d sat atop the tall stool in the common room than now when all were standing and the three Rangers towered even over Master Alvric. “I beg your pardon, Masters,” he said somewhat diffidently, “but my father asks if one of you might join him in our private parlor. We neither of us can read those deeds, you understand....”
Gilfileg gave a deep sigh and both he and Berenion cast looks at Faradir, who at least had the grace to flush. Alvric, however, was focusing on Persivo. “Oh, I ought to have thought of the fact that these deeds would not be written in Westron.” He looked to Faradir. “Are they written in Sindarin or Adunaic?”
“Partially in one and partially in the other,” the Ranger admitted.
Alvric was shaking his head. “And I do not understand more than the most basic of Adunaic,” he sighed. He looked at the other two.
Gilfileg and Berenion exchanged glances, and at last the younger of the two gave a brief nod. “I’ll go, then,” he said. “I’m more fluent in written Westron than you are, having served in the south kingdom.”
Faradir objected, “But Lord Iorhael is conversant of Sindarin.”
“Perhaps, for certainly Master Bilbo is knowledgeable of the language, and has studied Quenya as well. But how likely is it, do you think, he is fluent also with Adunaic? Master Bilbo had known Dwarves and Elves prior to his removal to Rivendell, but little in the way of Man to that time--and probably none who wrote and spoke in Adunaic.
“However, as the one to write the lease agreement is Master Bartolo and not Master Frodo, he has need of one to translate. I wonder if I can get any paper from Barliman?” So saying, he indicated the rest should return to their rooms and he nodded for Persivo to accompany him first to find Master Butterbur and then show him the way to the private parlor used by the Hobbits.
At his father’s indication he should withdraw, Persi hurried out of doors, finding his sister playing a game of Fox and Geese with the King’s Messenger, who’d changed from his uniform tabard to a long-sleeved shirt of an undyed linen. Erengil was describing his home, and soon Persivo was also rapt as they listened to his words, picturing in his mind a building of stone three stories high, surrounded by high hills and low mountains, almost hidden in the valley of a swift-moving river.
“Is that how the King’s home is like, also?” asked Pet as he finished.
“I know little enough of what the homes of his people here in Eriador are like, save that Gilfileg tells me villages are small and scattered, and usually fortified. His home now, however, is the Citadel of Minas Tirith in the Seventh Level at the top of the city, and it is a mighty place, adjacent as it is to the Tower of Ecthelion. The Citadel itself is a massive building, of course. At the front is the entrance to the Hall of Kings, tall and austere....” Persivo, who sat himself nearby, listened along with his sister, fascinated by the description the Man was giving of white stone buildings and black slate roofs, great statues and paved courtyards, ramparts and a tower many stories high, the White Tree before it with the fountain beside that.
At last Petunia sighed. “I can’t imagine such a thing,” she admitted, “so big a place and so high as you say. The King must feel lost within it at times.”
“Yes, I suppose he must indeed feel so, for all he has now his wife beside him, for he tells he spent most of his years wandering the wild places of the lands, as a Ranger of Eriador and a mercenary in other lands besides, even sailing the Sea on the trading ships of his people. He often wakens in the night, it is said, and goes out to walk through the gardens and about the Citadel, often finding his peace beneath the White Tree. And it is told that when the Pheriannath dwelt in the White City after the victory over Mordor, Lord Frodo would often walk with him and they would take comfort speaking together under the light of the stars. It appears both were often restless in the night.”
“I wonder if Cousin Frodo is still restless at night?” Petunia considered. “But if he likes gardens at night he ought to be happy living in Bag End again, for everyone says that the gardens there are the most beautiful anywhere in the Shire--or at least they used to be, before Lotho moved there. But since Cousin Lotho and that horrid Sharkey are both dead and Aunt Lobelia gave Bag End back to him, Sam Gamgee’s supposed to be making the gardens right there again. Cousin Benlo says that Lotho and his horrid Big Men had built ugly sheds all over it, but that they’re all gone now.”
Erengil was shaking his head. “He and Lord Sam spoke often of the beauty of the gardens of his home. To return to find such destruction must have torn at the hearts of both.”
“It must have,” agreed Persivo. “And from what Cousin Benlo said last time I saw him, they’d had to redo much of the inside of the hole as well, for the Big Men had done much damage of the walls and floors and such. I know it was months Cousin Frodo stayed on the Cotton’s farm the other side of Bywater before he returned to Hobbiton. “
Erengil shook his head. “After offering their lives for all of Middle Earth to see Mordor brought down, neither Lords Frodo nor Samwise ought to have had to find such. Was it so with Sir Meriadoc and Captain Peregrin as well?”
Pet answered, “From what we heard, Lotho’s folks never quite made it into Buckland or the Tooklands properly, for the Brandybucks and the Tooks all did their best to keep them out. It must of been easier for the Brandybucks, as they live the other side of the river and to get beyond it was hard with the Ferry damaged and the boats all hid and the roads mined. The Tooks set archers all around their inner borders and shot at any as tried to come in, I understand, although a few managed to get enough into both lands to fire some fields and farms here and there. And the Big Men were all looking to catch any Brandybucks or Tooks as they could find as well as them as tried to argue with them, and took them all to the Lockholes they had in Michel Delving.”
Persivo shuddered as his sister finished with what she’d said, adding, “I’ve seen them--those Lockholes. They was--were just storage rooms with walls made of beams and boards--whatever the ruffians found to make outer walls and doors of sorts out of. Many of those as were locked up in them were just nailed in. Not like the new ones as deputy Mayor Frodo’s had fixed, as have stone walls and floors, good beds and privies and tables and chairs and all, clean and dry and comfortable, at least. Those as helped Lotho take over, those as was the worst, at least--they’re properly locked up so’s they can’t hurt others, but they’re not kept from having light and air or made to live with their own stink.”
Erengil sighed. “Sounds as if Lord Frodo’s continued to be a wise and compassionate one, then. But it will distress our Lord King to know his friend’s own home and gardens were so damaged and that he’s become convinced his own land requires a prison now.”
They sat quietly together for a time before Petunia asked, “Was it bad--the war, I mean?”
The Man nodded, his eyes sad. “I don’t remember when there wasn’t a war, it seems, for Sauron has ever had his orcs and trolls and other slaves and allies assaulting our lands all my life. My uncle was one of those who sailed on Gondor’s warships that patrolled our coastlines to watch for assaults from Umbar and Harad and other lands, and he lost his leg when I was only six and was sent home to the Ringlo Vale, after his ship was attacked by Corsairs. His ship won the battle, but it was at the loss of almost half the crew dead or wounded. My cousin came to Minas Tirith, and because he was such an excellent archer and he was an experienced one in mountainous and forested terrain--he’d been trained as a hunter as a youth--he was chosen to become a Ranger of Ithilien. He barely survived the assault on Osgiliath, but he also was gravely wounded and was in the Houses of Healing for three months. My company was sent out upon the Pelennor twice during the siege of Minas Tirith, both times behind Prince Imrahil and his Swan Knights. Much of what we did was to bring those who had been injured within the city walls, and after the siege was broken and the battle won we helped to set up the healers’ tents on the edge of the battlefield and brought the injured and dying there.
“I was set to guard the encampment for those Men who fought for the Enemy--their commanders often treated their own wounded as badly as they did ours, and I had to save a few of the enemy soldiers from their own captains. I wasn’t sent to the battle before the Black Gate--I offered, but my captain asked I remain behind for he said he respected my cool head and felt I could help see to it order was better kept there before the city. As Men were released from the Houses of Healing or the city of healers’ tents I was set to give each duties to perform as he could, so I saw how many tried to serve, as sorely wounded or crippled as they might be.
“The walls of the city are within sight of the Ephel Dúath, the Mountains of Shadow that served as the west walls of the land of Mordor; and beyond their heights could ever be seen the smokes and steams released from Orodruin, Mount Doom, the great volcano of that land where Sauron had his own forge. All within the city could see the great brown clouds of ash released before Sauron sent his Nazgul to lead his armies against Osgiliath and the capital; and then again after the King led away the great army that assaulted the Black Gate. We felt the moment when the Cormacolindor stood upon the brink in the Sammath Naur, and then felt the earth shake as the Ring fell into the depths of the volcano, into the fount and river of fire that lay at the roots of it. We saw the great rising of shadow as Sauron rose that last time, then the lightening of the air as the West wind came to tear away the last of his veils and the might of Mordor fell to nothing.”
The two young Hobbits looked into the eyes of the Man, lost in the memory of that time as he was, saw the awe reflected there. “We saw the first transports of the injured from that battle, and the returns of the greenest troops. The reports given of the battle----” He was shaking his head. “Our men were outnumbered many, many times, and were all ringed about. It ought to have been a slaughter of our entire army, but that was forestalled when the Cormacolindor reached the Fire and the Ring went into it. The two of them ought to have died there, but they did not. The great Eagles came to help in the battle, and they helped ward off the assaults of the Nazgul themselves--then when the Ring was destroyed they carried Mithrandir in search of the Cormacolindor, helping to rescue them when they lay dying on the sides of the remnant of the Mountain.”
He looked into their eyes. “It was not the fighting strength of our armies or the endurance of our forces that won the war at the last, but the determination of two to reach the Fire as they could. All wondered that they were yet alive when found, although there was question for many days that they would remain that way. Yet they prevailed, and many who would have died lived and returned to the delight of their loved ones, and our children at least will know relative peace.”
“We could see brown clouds--south and east of us,” Persivo said.
“I am not surprised. When were they dispersed?”
“March twenty-fifth, last year in the spring. I wrote it in my journal.”
Erengil nodded. “Yes, that was the day. The end of Sauron’s might, for without his Ring he cannot rise again. And the Valar would not receive his spirit among them. He is left less than the whisper of malice within the mind.”
He looked out at the sunset to the west. “You had best go in, for it grows late.”
“Yes, thank you,” Petunia said, rising, and Persivo did likewise. Erengil rose and gave a very respectful bow, and the two young Hobbits found their way into the inn. Begonia was apparently asleep, snoring slightly, and her face still a bit flushed and marked with tears of anger, when Petunia changed to her night dress then peaked out to let Persivo know he could come in at any time. For a time the lad sat watching and listening to his father and Gilfileg working on the deed that was for the property on which the client’s new tenants were now living, but at last he tired of it and followed his sister into the bedroom, wondering how long his father would be at it.
Alyssa found the trundle bed provided to be uncomfortable, and missed the comfort of sleeping with her sister. She woke frequently and wished she had her picture book of poems her mother had found at the public market at least to look at. Whoever had done the pictures had done a wonderful job, she thought, and the short poems were funny.
Apparently her mother was also having difficulty sleeping, considering she’d lit the lamp and was lying on her side reading the book she’d bought for herself at the same time she’d bought the smaller volume for her daughter. Then the door snicked open and her father entered, obviously exhausted as he rubbed his eyes.
“Did you get the deeds today?” her mother asked.
“Yes, at last--not that most of them do me much good, or at least not yet. Most of them are copied in different languages, and I’ve learned one is an Elvish language, while the other’s a Man’s language apparently brought from the Sea King’s island when they came here. Fortunately the one for the property in question’s in the Elvish language, and Mr. Gilfileg appears to speak it well enough, and he can read and write the Common Tongue--seems as not all the Rangers do, although almost all of them at least know this Sindarin.
“I’m rather glad as it’s a Man’s deed, I think, for it’s shorter than what it’d be if it was for Hobbits. Translating it didn’t take all the time as I’d been worried as it would take; but I’ll need to ride the bounds and see as the boundary markers show proper. Apparently there used to be a Men’s house and farm there--seems as it was deeded to the daughter of the King of Cardolan as part of her dowry when she was married to the son of the King of Arthedain, so it remained property to the descendants of that King, and they seem to be still living. Apparently originally there were four parcels, each with its own deed that was part of these dower lands, and--and the client has received two of them and the other two went to someone else.”
“Well, did they go to Frodo, Merry, or Pippin?” she asked.
Lyssa could hear the change in her dad’s voice as he responded, “And what makes you think as it’s one of them?” She rather thought he sounded suspicious.
“Who else is knowing descendants of kings in the north kingdoms, Barti? Although I suppose as it could be Sam Gamgee--but I’d put money on it being Frodo, myself.”
“I mayn’t speak of it, lovey,” he answered stiffly.
Delphie’s voice changed. “I’m sorry, dearling--it was unfair of me--I know you’ve been made to take the oath.”
“Thank you,” he said rather shortly.
Lyssa heard her father shed his clothes and put on his nightshirt, then heard him approach her trundle bed. She closed her eyes so he wouldn’t realize she was awake, felt him leaning over her and a gentle touch to her hair, and heard him return to the bed and it creak as he slipped under the covers on the opposite side from her mother. After a time she heard Delphie murmur, “It’s so late--I wish you weren’t having to ride so far tomorrow. You’ll be exhausted when you get back.”
“It’s part of the job,” he sighed, yawning. “At least I have most of the contract itself outlined, although I’ll have to arrange with my client to meet regarding the rest of the deeds when we return.”
“Persi regretted not being able to attend the meeting.”
“So he told me, although he appeared to enjoy talking to more of the Rangers in the Common room. How long do you suspect Gonya’s going to be unbearable?”
“At least two more days. Could you take Alyssa with you tomorrow, do you think?”
Lyssa was surprised at that, and felt a tingle of excitement at the idea, although she was reasonably certain her father would refuse. She wasn’t surprised, then when he said, “And how am I to manage that? She doesn’t know how to ride, after all.”
“She could ride before Persi. But Gonya’s going to treat her awfully if she stays with us, I fear.”
Bartolo mumbled something. Then he asked, “How’s the headache?”
“Much better. I suppose we can look for ribbons tomorrow. Alyssa will have to pay for them from her pocket money.”
“She ought to have done that already to purchase ribbons for her doll instead of cutting up those of her sister’s,” her dad pointed out.
Alyssa paused. She’d not thought of that.
“She is a child yet, dearling. Did they discuss the war again?”
“A bit. And the Rangers repeated that they’ve been keeping watch over the borders of the Breelands and the Shire for centuries, and that’s part of why there’s been little to disturb us. And--and they say as some of those Big Men of Lotho’s weren’t strictly Men at all, but were part goblin. And they say our people used to live elsewhere, somewhere east of here.” He was quiet for a bit, then added, “One of the Rangers has been to Gondor--says as he was captured by enemies and tortured. Wears a glove to hide the fact as he’s missing two fingers. And another was telling of his daughters fighting over harps and bows.” He continued in lower tones, “Seems as we have had it very peaceful compared to many folks. He says their village has been attacked by enemies several times, and even the womenfolk will learn how to defend themselves. And did you ever hear of Frodo introducing himself as ‘Iorhael’?”
“I don’t think so--no, wait. Seems to me that at that house party when we were young he was telling Dremma and Linden that his name in an Elvish tongue was something like that. I suppose Bilbo must have told him that.”
“Elvish. Seems as there’s more than one Elvish tongue. My mind’s in a whirl with all this talk of war and Elves and all. I’m about ready to go home, I think.” He yawned again. “Not much longer, I hope. Love you, dearling.”
He kissed her, and Delphie reached over to turn out the light. Alyssa rolled over and thought about what she’d heard.