Breakfast was a chilly affair, for Begonia was determined to be as nasty as was possible to her sister, intent on punishing her for the insult given her ribbons. By the time the meal was done even Bartolo was reconsidering his intention to leave his youngest child, knowing she would have to deal with her older sister. But how he was to take her with them he couldn’t imagine.
As the family went out to the stable to see father and brother prepare for their ride, they found that Faradir was waiting there already with Master Alvric and his horse Jongleur, Holby already in his carrier and peering eagerly out at them through its top. Alvric quickly noted the discomfort between Begonia and Alyssa, and was giving Bartolo a questioning look. And when Lyssa, eager to examine the finely detailed stirrups of Faradir’s saddle, accidentally trod on Begonia’s foot and Begonia fetched her such a clout on the side of the head that the smaller child was knocked sideways into a hitching post the lasses’ father finally had enough. “Alyssa,” he directed, “Go in now and fetch your cloak and something to keep you occupied. I’m not leaving you here with your sister in such a mood.” And as the lass, her face lighting with pleased surprise, hurried back into the inn the lawyer rounded on his second child. “You have every reason to be angry that your sister took your things without permission and damaged them as she did, but no right in Middle Earth to clout her in this way. If you don’t show more self-control by the time I return, I will have one of the King’s Men take you to the Brandywine Bridge and have you stay in the Bridge Inn until we can return to you. Do you understand?”
Shocked at her father’s threat, Begonia simply nodded. “Yes, Daddy. I’m sorry, Daddy,” she whispered through pale lips.
“Good. And I’d best not hear any tales of you giving Pet or your mother any grief today when I get back.” So saying, still stiff with fury and mortification his family would act this way before the King’s folk, Barti turned back to speak with Bob.
Two saddles and bridles were borrowed, and soon Spotty and Dottie were readied for the ride. As Bartolo was checking the cinch and the fit of the bit in Spotty’s mouth Delphie came up alongside him. “I’m sorry, love, but am glad you’ll take the lass with you.”
“I won’t allow her sister to abuse her. It was but an accident, after all.”
Faradir, who’d been accepting the store of prepared food brought out to them by Nob, commented, “She won’t necessarily be bored, for Master Hedges has two daughters and sons with him, and I believe his Anemone is near your daughter’s age.”
Ricki was wild with envy at his little sister’s chance to spend the day meeting new Hobbits on the property belonging to their father’s mysterious client, and was casting her looks as dark as those given by Begonia, looks Lyssa was blithely ignoring as she returned with a bag over her shoulder in which she’d stowed her doll and the poetry book. At last Bartolo and Persi swung into their saddles, Faradir lifted Alyssa to sit in front of her brother, then he and Alvric mounted and they set off toward the market square where the four ways out of the city met and they turned northward toward the gate.
The way was lined with observers, for it wasn’t every day the folk of Bree watched Hobbits riding alongside Men, and the two ponies, white spotted with black, were quite a contrast to the Ranger’s dun and Alvric’s dark brown gelding. Dottie insisted on trotting almost as close alongside Spotty as she ordinarily strode as they pulled the trap or coach together, and Persivo found himself having to watch she didn’t get so close he and his father rubbed knees. Alyssa spotted Freesia and Bettina Sandheaver and was waving with eagerness and pride, so much so Persivo found himself grabbing her hand. “Put my eye out, Lyssa, and I’ll set you down and leave you right here and now. Have a care!”
The lass refused to feel chastised, however, and was soon looking up into her brother’s face to exclaim to him about the new sights they were seeing within Bree. At last her father gave a sigh of exasperation. “Oak and ash, child--can’t you be quiet just for a time? It’s enough to set any head spinning, all this chatter.”
Outside the north gate they were soon joined by a young Man, probably much of an age with Persivo, each of the Hobbits judged. Faradir smiled, turning to the Hobbits and explaining, “My son, Tergion. He’s been staying with the Hedges and helping to excavate their hole. Master Alvric son of Maerdion, the King’s council; Master Bartolo Bracegirdle of the Shire as council to the Lord Iorhael; his son Persivo and his daughter--and I fear I do not know her name.”
“Alyssa,” Bartolo said shortly, “and more trouble this day than snails in the garden, I fear.”
“I’m in disgrace,” Lyssa explained, not a sign of contrition to her. “Daddy’s taking me with him so’s Mummy doesn’t have to deal with my sister being mad at me all day.”
Tergion tried stifling a laugh and almost choked, and Persivo found he couldn’t help laughing, too. Bartolo sighed and rubbed at his eyes, and asked a grinning Faradir, “About how long’s this ride going to take?”
They eventually crossed a bridge constructed of beams and heavy boards to the west side of the Brandywine, following a track that was barely to be seen as it wound its way southward again. They found they were being watched for. A pole gate now closed off the rutted lane that led onto the farm, and a lad opened it so they could ride through and closed it again afterwards. As they halted their mounts before the smial a sturdy Hobbit came out from the door to the left accompanied by a yapping, slightly shaggy small dog, nodding his greetings as he dried his hand on the towel he had tied about his waist as an apron. “You’ve made good time, it ’pears,” he said. “Welcome to you all. Hush, Lister, and mind your manners. Elevenses are about ready, if’n you’re hungered.” He watched as Bartolo dismounted and reached to take Alyssa from her brother. “This is your lass, is it? Anemone and Lilia’ll be right pleased, they will--they miss their lass friends from Staddle.” He leaned down to look into Lyssa’s face once she was set upon the ground. “I’m Boboli Hedges, at your service, little miss. That--” pointing at the lad who’d handled the gate and followed them into the yard, “--is Teoro, and his older brother Holdfast’s in the stable seein’ to it as there’s feed for your animals ’longside our Poppet. Teo, fetch Lister back inside afore he sets one of the ponies rearin’ at the sheer noise of him--there’s the lad.” At that Lister stopped his barking, and was now standing on his hind legs perhaps closer than was wise to one of Jongleur’s rear hooves, sniffing up eagerly at Holby, who was craning trying to see the other dog and whom Alvric was vainly trying to hush. As Teo finally managed to scoop up his own dog, Boboli straightened, examining them all. “Master Faradir--your Tergion’s been quite the help--helped us put in a window frame today, he did. This is going to be quite the smial when it’s done. And we found some more goods today as you’ll like to see, I’m thinkin’. And if’n you’ll tell me as who these all are?”
In moments they were introduced, while an older lass and Teo came out to set up supports and laid over them trestles to serve as a table and a smaller lass came out carrying a cloth to set over it.
“These are my daughters,” Bob explained as an older Hobbit lad in his late tweens approached from around the ridge. “Older one’s Lilia, and the younger one’s Anemone; and here’s my older lad Holdfast. Lasses, this is Alyssa Bracegirdle, Master Bracegirdle’s youngest lass, I’m told; and this is his son Persivo, who I understand is studyin’ to follow his dad into lawyerin’, while this is Master Alvric. And Holdfast here--he’ll be takin’ your beasts, if’n that’s all right with all of you.”
Teo looked up at their guests with interest as Holdfast and Tergion led the ponies and horses away. “Is it interesting, learnin’ lawyerin’?”
Persi flushed a bit. “Well, I think so, and it sounds as if Master Alvric here felt the same way when he was learning about it.”
Teo turned to the smaller Man with surprise. “You studied lawyerin’, sir? But I didn’t think as any Men liked lawyerin’--I’ve never seen a Man as was a lawyer afore, at least.”
Alvric laughed as he shrugged, lifting Holby out of his carrier and holding him under one arm.. “Well, as no Hobbits have ever lived in Gondor that I’m aware of we Men have had to do it for ourselves. Although we do more with our ‘lawyering’ than I’ve seen so far with the business of the folk of Bree or the Shire.”
Barti eyed the Mannish lawyer sideways before turning his attention on the lad. “From what I can see, being a land of all Men, they’ve found ways to make their laws fairly complicated. Sounds as if they need their lawyers as much as we do--if not more.” He turned to their host. “If we can assist you and your children with the meal, we’d be glad to do so.”
It was plain that Boboli Hedges was a decent cook, and with the mushrooms and greens for the salad they could tell that the family had already discovered several natural sources of food and took excellent advantage of them. Lister and Holby, having been each given a bone, sat under the table near the feet of their respective masters, each working on his own meal and eyeing the other with a greater chance they’d get along afterwards.
When the meal was half over Persivo asked, “And how did you come to decide to settle here, Mr. Hedges?”
Boboli shrugged again. “First come this aways long ago, when I was a tween. Me ’n’ my brother, we’d sometimes take a few days to get away from the farm--go out and explore the lands around us. One summer after hay harvest we went west toward the river, and found this spot. I loved it from that day, and come here once every year or two since. When Holdfast was old enough I’d bring ’im with me, and two years ago Teo as well. We’ve always looked at the ridge here and thought as how right it would be with a smial dug into it.
“Then--when the ruffians come, not all went to Bree. Some come further north, they did, and come into the farms about Staddle. Didn’t bother the farms of Men, but they attacked those as us Hobbits held. Us Littles--at least four of our farms were hit. My dad died, and they’d caught my wife comin’ back from the barn. We had a calf what was motherless, and she’d gone out to nurse it one last time afore we went to bed. They--they wasn’t gentle with her. She survived at the time, but her spirit was broke, and she finally died. It was more’n I could take, thinkin’ of goin’ back there and rebuildin’ all as they’d burned, for they’d set torches to everything.
“So, we decided, the childern and me, as we’d come here, away from the memories, build a new life together. And you can imagine as how shocked as I was when Master Faradir there rid up to here one day to tell us as the land’d been give to another and we’d need his permission. Although,” he added rather sternly toward the taller Man, “you’d of done well had you told us this Lord Iorhael’s proper name. We had a right time of it, tryin’ to learn as which one o’ the four it was as we was seekin’.”
Faradir flushed. “I’m sorry,” he sighed. “I have managed, I’ve learned, to leave more in confusion than I’d intended, what with speaking of Lord--Master Frodo by his title and Elven name and by not taking thought to the fact that few outside our own people and the Elves of Rivendell can read or even speak Sindarin and Adunaic. I humbly beg your pardon.”
“Then Cousin Frodo Baggins used a different name in Gondor?” asked Lyssa with interest. “Pet will want to know....”
Bartolo sighed and covered his eyes. “Ah, lass--what am I to do?” He looked at her seriously. “Mr. Baggins,” he said rather stiffly, “has let it be known as he doesn’t wish for folks to discuss his business with others who don’t already know. You can’t be discussing this with your sister, you see.”
“Why not, though?” she demanded. “And why does he have a different name for there?”
“It’s not a different name--it’s his name translated to a different language,” Anemone told her. “He told us when we visited him at Bag End. Both mean ‘wise one’.”
“Oh,” Alyssa responded. “Then you got to come to the Shire?”
“Yes, Dad and Teo and Lilia and Lister and me. It’s a beautiful place.”
“And we got the tour of it, we did, chasin’ reports o’ Mr. Frodo Baggins from the Bridge to Hobbiton to Michel Delving and back again,” Bob added, smiling and shaking his head. “And we managed to meet Mr. Brandybuck and Mr. Took as well, there at the inn where we was stayin’ in Bywater. Amiable folk, they are.”
Barti shrugged, feeling a bit uncomfortable, uncertain any more with whom he might discuss what. “I’ll need to ride the boundaries as it appears the distances are a bit long for walking,” he said rather formally. “Have to verify the boundary markers.”
“We can do that,” Boboli nodded. “Not what we could move any of ’em. Can’t figure as how them standin’ stones was placed to begin with--they’re not from local stone, can say that.”
“The ancients who raised them appear to have carried stones in some cases hundreds of miles from where they were quarried,” Faradir agreed. “Aragorn says the circle of standing stones beyond the Barrow-downs was made from stones that had to have been brought from the Blue Mountains west of the Shire, while the central stone came from the Misty Mountains, far to the east.”
“What’s he know of that? How would he get past the Barrow-downs?” Boboli was surprised. Many, many evil stories were told about the Barrow-downs, after all.
Faradir shrugged. “He braved them once, among the first times he patrolled in the region. He won free, but said it was not easy. Many die or go mad who trespass amongst them, for the wights who dwell there do not love the living. And he spoke also of seeing the Eldest afterwards, who it’s said dwells there in the Old Forest. It is said that he alone walks untroubled amongst trees and the barrows, and the wights avoid him as they cannot evoke terror in such as he.”
“Why do they call him Eldest?” Alyssa asked.
The Ranger shrugged. “According to the oldest stories told amongst us, Iarwain has always been there, that he awoke there, first of all within in Middle Earth; and has taken the Old Forest as his own domain. And perhaps it’s because he lives amongst them that the trees of that place are at least half-aware, and many limb-lithe, or so it is said.”
“Is he an Elf?” Persivo asked.
“I don’t believe so--a child of the Powers, perhaps, but not an Elf. Little interest has he ever shown toward the outer lands; but it is to preserving the memory of the days before the rising of Anor and Ithil it is said he’s been given.”
After the meal Boboli, Bartolo, Persivo, Alvric, and Faradir, with Holdfast uncertainly riding behind the Ranger, rode out about the boundaries of the plat of land described in the deed, heading first north, paralleling the river. “The land along the Baranduin itself and a quarter mile each side of it isn’t part of the grant,” Faradir explained as they rode. “Always that much leeway has been granted the river itself, for with spring flooding it has been known to have changed its bed from time to time.” The rest nodded their understanding as they rode.
At last they approached the red standing stone that was the first boundary marker. Persi was impressed. “I’ve never seen such a large standing stone before,” he said. “Did the Sea Kings put it there?”
Faradir was shaking his head. “From what we’ve been able to gather from what the Elves and annals tell, most of the great stones were raised during the First Age or during the dark years of the Second Age, while our ancestors dwelt on the Star Isle. Some of the stone constructions appear to have been raised in honor of Sauron or Morgoth; but more appear to have been intended to mark where the Sun and Moon will rise and set at particular times, or to mark the movement of the wandering stars or the placement of particular constellations at various seasons of the year.
“This stone would probably have been the either a place to stand at, or a stone to be watched from different angles to assure when the seasons change or the Sun reaches her zenith on Midsummer or her lowest point at Yule.” He glanced around him, then nodded at a series of mounds that could be seen in an arc north of the stone. “I would suspect that either the stone was watched from different ones of those mounds to see the Sun or Moon to rise over it, or the shadow of the stone reaching those mounds was believed significant.”
Somewhat warily, Holdfast asked, “Are those tombs, like the barrows in the Barrow-downs?”
“I don’t know if they’ve been opened,” Faradir admitted. “But my people would not have been likely to have done so, in honor of those who raised them.”
All attested to the fact the stone was in place, and they now rode westward toward the grey monolith. It took them two more hours to return, at which time Lilia, Teo, and Tergion had a meal ready for them. Bartolo was stiff as he dismounted and allowed Tergion again to take his pony’s reins. “The King’s farmsteading, was this once?” he asked of none in particular. “A great place it once was.”
Faradir, having helped Holdfast down, agreed. “Yes, part of the dower lands granted to Anelisë of the house of Cardolan when she married Celepharn of Arthedain. The next lies further west of this, and the other two great plats lie north of the first two.”
“And the King granted these to Frodo Baggins?”
“The two closest to the borders of the Shire were granted to Lord Iorhael and the other two to Lord Perhael. I am uncertain he was aware of the exact placement of the lands he granted here in Arnor; three more plats he granted each closer to Annúminas, and then two, one each, along the banks of the Mitheithel. He was most insistent those plats be given them. I was a bit surprised at that insistence. They are perhaps six miles apart and no longer adjacent as has been true of the other grants, and the deeds are the others besides these four written in Sindarin. Also, one of the witnesses granting those lands to the King’s disposition was Elrond of Imladris.”
“Elrond? Thought as that was an Elf’s name.”
“Indeed--Elrond has been lord of Imladris, or Rivendell as it is more commonly known in these days, for much of the last two ages of Middle Earth. The son of Eärendil the Mariner and the Lady Elwing, and twin brother to our own ancestor, Elros Tar-Minyatur, who chose mortality and was granted the Star-isle of Númenor on which to found his nation. Lord Elrond has fostered, trained, and educated his brother’s royal descendants here within what was and is again Arnor for the past three thousand years, since the return of Elendil and his sons to Middle Earth.”
They were now waiting to use the basin and ewer set out for their use on the end of the makeshift table prepared for their late luncheon. “Then you’re saying as the King is a nephew of sorts of this Lord Elrond?” Barti asked. “And is this ancestor Elros or whatever his name is still knocking about?”
“No--as I stated, Elros chose mortality for himself and his descendants, while his brother Elrond chose to live in accordance with the life of the Eldar; and to him is granted the right one day to sail one day to Aman, the Undying Lands, as has been granted to the Elves of Middle Earth. But to his children is granted the same choice granted to their father and uncle. Our Lady Arwen made her choice when she accepted the suit of our Lord Aragorn to become his wife----”
“Then the King’s married his cousin?” Barti interrupted. “Stars and dreams!”
Faradir appeared amused. “Many, many times removed. Captain Peregrin immediately began calculating just how many times removed once he understood the relationship, but I must confess I cannot remember the number he settled upon.”
“And what does ‘Perhael’ translate to, if ‘Iorhael’ means ‘Wise One’?”
“Half wise,” admitted Faradir.
Bartolo Bracegirdle straightened stock-still, looking up into the Ranger’s eyes. Frodo had advised him, but now it was hitting home. “Then this Lord Perhael--” he began slowly through a very dry mouth, “--this Lord Perhael’s a--a gardener!!”
“I will advise you of this, Master Bracegirdle--our Lord King himself is also an accomplished gardener. I’m afraid our Lord Aragorn has no care for the profession of those he honors most. But the first to suggest the honor were the Great Eagles, you see; and the two of them are honored equally by all the Free Peoples--Eagles, Ents, Dwarves, Elves, and Men, and I hope also by your own people the Periannath.”
“And how are we supposed to honor them when we’re not even supposed to know what it is they’ve done?” Barti raged.
Faradir shrugged, dropping his eyes. “A fair question, I must admit. I am certain that your--Thain, Mayor, and Master have all been advised of the state of affairs, and what it is that the Ringbearers accomplished....”
“And there that is again--that Ringbearer tripe. What does it mean?”
Persivo, standing behind his father, himself paled. “So, that’s it,” he murmured. “Cousin Frodo Baggins--he’s the one as went to Mordor--him and Sam Gamgee! They’re the ones--the ones as went to Mount Doom!” He collapsed to sit upon the ground, and drew his knees to his chest. “That’s what they did--they had It--the Enemy’s Ring!” He looked up into Faradir’s eyes, his face white. “No wonder they don’t want to talk about it--don’t want it gossiped about! Who’d believe it? Who’d understand? And--and it’s changed them!”
“Even so, small master,” agreed Faradir as he went to his knees by the lad and felt the pulse at Persi’s throat. “Captain Peregrin and Sir Meriadoc have been most concerned, for they feel their beloved cousin has lost much of his capacity to experience joy and pleasure since his experience, and Lord Perhael grieves for this as well. But Lord Perhael had waiting for him on his return the woman among your people he has loved most of his life, or so I am given to understand; and the others return to the caring of their families. I understand, however, that for Lord Iorhael there remain few to whom he feels free to confide what happened to him out there, save those who accompanied him out of your land in the vain hope they might keep him safe.”
“Then--then it wasn’t just for a lark....” Bartolo began.
“Certainly not, sir.” The Man’s eyes met those of the Hobbit lawyer. Barti realized he himself was trembling. He shook himself and turned his attention to his son. “You all right, lad?”
For a few moments it appeared Persivo was examining himself to make certain all parts were present and functioning properly, then he looked back to his father. His color was returning. “I believe so, Dada. But what a thing to have to do!” He accepted his father’s assistance to stand upright and looked at the Man again. “What a thing to have to do,” he repeated, to which Faradir nodded.