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47
The Perfect Gift

For Flying Challenge for her Yule gift! Beta'd by RiverOtter, and my thanks to her and Fiondil!


The Perfect Gift


“And what is this?” Aragorn asked as his smallest Guard dragged quite a large bundle, securely wrapped in heavy canvas tied with strong twine, into his office.

“It’s part of my Yule gifts for my family this year,” Pippin answered. “I’ve been collecting them since we returned from Ithilien, and as we’re now preparing to return to the Shire I’ve been gathering them together, and realizing there is no way in Middle Earth I’ll be able to carry all this home with me, even if we had three pack animals. It’s just that my mum would be thrilled to have some of this silk, and my da would love this saddle I found in the market last week. I know it was originally intended for a child of Men, but it would a good fit for him, and it will always remind him of me with the falcons worked into the leather and stirrups. And I found a set of wooden storage bins that my Auntie Jade will be able to use, for she just loves baking; and some stock pots that will be perfect for Aunt Esme, and a roasting pan that Uncle Sara will like the next time he prepares his duck. His roast duck is really very, very good, you see....”

“And why are you bringing them here, Peregrin Took?” the King asked, interrupting the list of gifts before the day could get much older.

“Well, I know that you’ll be sending some wagons of supplies north to the Rangers that patrol the borders of the Shire and the Breelands--you were discussing it with the Council just last week, you know, and I thought....” The flow of talk trailed off as Pippin looked at him with an endearing mixture of wariness and hopefulness that Aragorn was certain was well practiced, undoubtedly honed through years of usage on his parents, uncles and aunts, and older cousins.

“So, you are somehow suggesting that I just might see this bundle slipped onto one of the wagons loaded with arrow points and spearheads, I take it?”

“If it isn’t too much trouble.”

The moment of exasperation he felt faded as he looked into green eyes filled with pleading, and he found himself laughing out loud at the audacity of the young Took. “All right, Pippin--you win--but only the one bundle. Anything else you might wish shipped north will have to wait for the wagon Gimli’s bringing to the Shire in the spring--do you understand?”

Apparently aware he’d pushed the situation as far as he could hope, Pippin agreed.

“I’m rather surprised,” Aragorn commented as he worked the bundle into a corner near a storage cabinet with the Hobbit’s help, “that you’ve begun collecting Yule gifts already. It’s only July, after all.”

“Oh, I learned when I was still a small child that you can’t ever truly begin gathering birthday and Yule gifts any too early; and that when you see the absolutely perfect gift for someone, it’s best to get it then, for there’s a good chance that if you think it’s perfect, someone else will think so for their Aunt Marguerite or something like, and then it’ll be gone by the time you’ve thought it over and come back to look at it again. It happens all the time, you see.”

“Did you carry this up here yourself?” Aragorn asked, once it was settled as carefully as possible that it not fall down on him should he brush up against it.

“Merry helped me get it to the ramp while he was on the way to take his turn standing honor guard at the tomb where Théoden’s body lies, and one of the Guards there helped me carry it up to the top; but I carried it the rest of the way. I just hope Uncle Ferdinand will like the bows--they’re for training for the archers who are at the command of the Thain in offering service to the King and for protection of the Shire itself.”

Considering the weight of the bundle, Aragorn again stood in awe of the basic strength of Hobbits, who, he’d learned, could bear more in weight than the sizes of their bodies might indicate. He knew from experience that Sam had chosen to carry a pack the weight of which would have been more than most Men would be willing to bear; and all four Hobbits had carried more than their share of the weight of what must be brought with them between Bree and Rivendell. “And you have bows there, also?” he asked. “Then, as this is at least in part intended as weapons for our northern reserves, that will lessen the feeling of guilt for those who must add it to their carts.”

He saw Pippin’s face lighten, for he’d clearly not thought of that justification for his request. “I know it doesn’t make it all right, don’t you know,” the Hobbit commented, “but it does make me feel at least somewhat better.”

Having finished going over the documents he must study for the day, Aragorn waved to indicate he was leaving the room anyway, and Pippin preceded him out into the hallway. “I don’t think I thought to consider Yule gifts this long before the event before,” the Man said as he secured the door behind them.

“Well, I’ll admit I usually don’t do so, either; but there are so many things one can purchase here that just aren’t available in the Shire, such as a saddle like that, or some of the toys I bought for my nieces and nephews and younger cousins. And the quality of paper here is superb! I’ve purchased a good deal for various aunts and uncles who seem to think they have it in them to rival Frodo’s Aunt Dora for correspondence--she was as renowned throughout the Shire for the amount of written advice and wisdom she shared as is Sam’s dad, the Gaffer, for his spoken advice. And both of them have always advised to think long and well upon what to give as gifts that they be the right ones for the person and the occasion.”

As they walked together back toward the wings for the living quarters where the Fellowship was to sup together with King and Queen ere they left Gondor in a few days’ time, Aragorn thought on that. He had so much to rejoice about and be glad for--and some to grieve about as well, as he thought of finding Halbarad’s body in the wake of the defense of the city and the growing isolation he saw drawing about the person of his friend, Frodo Baggins. Oh, how he wished he might find that perfect gift Pippin had spoken of for Frodo--and even more so, he realized, for his beloved Arwen. There she stood with Lothiriel of Dol Amroth and the Lady Galadriel by her, just within the doors to the hallway off which the living wings opened, and how his heart lifted just at the sight of her!

*******


That evening after they’d eaten he kissed his wife and left her in the companionship of her father, brother, and grandparents, and walked out to the walls with the Hobbits and Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli having excused themselves to return to the guesthouse to see to some of their own packing. Frodo walked first to lean on the walls to look at the night closing over the Mountains of Shadow as he so often did, that faint smile of relief he usually displayed when doing so showing as he again assured himself the skies over that land remained open to Sun, Moon, and stars.

“I’ll rather miss seeing them myself,” Merry commented as he drew out his pipe and his striker set. “To think how they were for that first week you all were gone from the city--and then to see the wind tearing away the clouds and the light flooding down on all that had been in darkness for so long! We all stood watching as if we could not fill ourselves with the glory of it! And if you could only have heard the singing of the Eagle! That the Great Eagles can speak the tongues of Men and sing out such joy! None within the Shire will believe it!”

He got his pipe alight and stowed the striker set before moving downwind of Frodo to lean forward on the parapet. He took a satisfying puff before turning his attention to the Man. “So, you agreed to have those carrying supplies northward carry home Pippin’s Yule gifts, did you?”

“Yes, he convinced me of it. Have you been gathering such things, too?”

“Yes, although most of what I’m leaving behind are going to be birthday gifts. As my next birthday is almost a year from now, it doesn’t really matter how long it takes them to get to me, as long as it’s all there in June. Oh, I got a few Yule gifts, too, but most are smaller things I can carry in my pack or easily have sent after me. Mistress Loren and Lasgon have promised to send one packet to me in three months’ time--it should arrive in plenty of time, and shouldn’t burden the message carriers too much. Mostly I’ve had garments made or purchased relatively light things that aren’t particularly bulky such as scarves and shawls or jewelry. Although for my birthday I have on order some glassware from Master Celebrion’s workshop Gimli’s to bring--I only hope it survives the journey in the cart. But he’s to bring a great bowl of green volcano glass, a bit smaller than the one Frodo gave to you and the Lady Arwen, that I’ve ordered for my mother, and a pink one for Aunt Eglantine. Aunt Lanti tends to like things in pink, I find. And there are some candle sticks for Aunt Rosamunda, similar to the ones Frodo ordered for Faramir and Éowyn. Most Hobbit holes aren’t fit for such things, but they will look marvelous in Budge Hall, I believe. Those are massy enough they ought to survive if properly wrapped, or so I’d think.”

“I’m looking forward to having a few days after we return to do some searches of the city myself,” Aragorn agreed, pulling his own pipe out of his belt and accepting the offer of Merry’s leaf pouch. “I’m trying to decide now just what I’ll give Arwen for Yule, or what we call Mettarë. I’d certainly like for it to be something especially beautiful and fitting. Perhaps something to remind her of the land she’s left behind and her childhood home. Have you ever considered such a gift?”

“Marigold Gamgee makes some of the most delicate lacework you can imagine,” Merry said. “For the birthday before I left I had her do a shawl for my mother in which she pictured the contours of Brandy Hall, with my portrait on one end and that of my father on the other. Mum loves it dearly. I bet we could get her to do something similar for the Lady Arwen, with images with meaning for her. Do you think she’d like that?”

Aragorn thought for a moment as he lit his pipe and puffed it into life, then smiled. “Yes, I think she would indeed like such a thing,” he said. “How does she do this?”

“It’s in the way she hooks her lace is all I can tell you. Would you prefer the shawl made of linen or silk or wool?”

“She can do this work in a variety of fabrics?”

“Well, of course. You can use different yarns or threads, depending on taste and intended purpose; you just need to use the right size hook for the yarn or thread you’re using. What would you prefer?”

“I’m not certain.”

Merry nodded thoughtfully. “Most of the pieces Marigold uses for items to be placed over tables or to add to dresses she makes of silk or flax threads--or cotton, when we can get it, or the very finest of woolen threads. She uses different twines and cordage for mats or rugs. Then there are all different kinds of yarn for use in garments to wear or for yarn work blankets to lay over beds or the back of sofas, for new bairns and the like. For a shawl for a table or dresser she tends to use finer yarns or threads; for one to wear people usually prefer for it to be made of a softer wool. But the softer and more woolly the yarn, the more difficult it can be for the image to be seen and recognized, or so she told me when I commissioned the shawl for my mother.”

“I see.” Aragorn knew his mother had been considered a weaver of note, as was true of the Lady Galadriel; and the same was said of his wife as well as being among the greatest of embroiderers in all of Middle Earth, and certainly he’d seen enough of the women of his own folk weaving and doing woolwork in the years he’d served as the Chieftain of the Dúnedain of Eriador. Yet save to admire how a dress or shawl might flatter a woman he’d never thought much about how such weaving and woolwork was transformed from mere fabric into such garments as women wore. “I’d like for it to be soft for her to wear it, but definitely fine enough to show the images well,” he decided.

“Perhaps a blend of silk and fine woolen fibers, then,” Merry advised. “Any idea of color?”

Again Aragorn thought deeply as he puffed on his pipe. With her dark hair and fair skin, his Arwen tended to look particularly beautiful in almost all colors he’d ever seen her in. But now he had to actually think to decide what colors those were. White; blue--he thought of the dark blue garments she’d made for the two of them to wear to their wedding banquet and found himself smiling at the memory of just how her gown had flattered her, then thought of something to wear over that gown to accentuate it. “White,” he decided. “A creamy white.”

“Creamy white. That sounds good, although whether or not Marigold has any such yarn or thread is, of course, a matter of question. Maybe tomorrow we can go down to the First Circle and look for some suitable threads. Then there’s the question of whether you would wish it to be square, rectangular, triangular, or oval; do you wish beads worked into it; do you wish the lower edges fringed or plain....” Then he frowned as he took his final puffs on his pipe. “And there’s the problem of whether or not it could be completed in time. It took Marigold three months to make that for my mother, you must understand. Perhaps you should look for your woolworker somewhat closer to home, as it were.”

“But I know none here in Minas Tirith,” Aragorn objected.

“That could indeed pose a problem,” Merry commented as he knocked the compacted ashes out of his pipe.

“Pose a problem for what?” asked Frodo as he turned away from the wall.

“You remember that shawl I had made for Mum last summer?”

“The one you had Marigold make? Yes--it was beautiful, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Aunt Esme so touched in my life.”

“We were just discussing having her make such a thing for our Lady Arwen for Yule, but I doubt she could get it done in time, even if we were to have the perfect yarn to take with us. He’d like it done in a fine, creamy white silk thread, you see--something soft and fine, to match our Lady herself, I think. Am I right?” Merry asked, looking up at their King.

“Oh, indeed,” Aragorn agreed.

Frodo said thoughtfully, “She must have used about eight of the skeins of the finest yarn Aunt Lanti spins to make that shawl. For our Lady Queen, I’d think she’d need about twice that at least, for Lady Arwen is much taller and has wider shoulders than your mother does.”

“Who’d need yarn?” Sam asked as he joined them.

“Your sister Marigold,” Frodo explained as they turned to include him in the discussion. “Aragorn was considering having her do a shawl similar to the one she did last year for my Aunt Esme, only for the Lady Arwen.”

“A picture shawl? She won a fine prize at the Free Fair, first one of them as she done, there about six year back.”

“Yes--I remember. It had the portraits of your mother Bell and the Gaffer worked into it, against the background of the pattern of panes for the front window there at Number Three, didn’t it?” His face fairly shone with the memory of the beauty of it.

“Yes, it were beautiful--and the Gaffer has it laid over the table in the front room, he does, for all t’ see as they come in. And our May--she’s to have it after he’s gone--we’ve all agreed, we have. Marigold did it in a linen thread--took her months and months to finish. But it’s a thing of beauty if’n anythin’ is.”

“What’s a thing of beauty?” Pippin asked as he and Gandalf walked over from where the two of them had been talking together, further down the wall.

“That picture shawl as Marigold made of my dad and mum,” Sam told him.

“Oh, the one she won all those prizes for? My mum loves it, and would love to have a table shawl like that of her and Da. I’d thought of having her make one for Mum for Yule or my birthday this year, but I doubt we’ll be home in time for her to finish it. It took her months and months to do that one. I know she wants one, and especially after how the rectangular one Marigold made for your mum turned out, Merry. She’ll not be content until she, too, has one of Marigold Gamgee’s shawls. But what got you on the subject?”

“We were discussing whether or not she might make something like the one she made for Mum for the Lady Arwen,” Merry explained.

“Oh, there wouldn’t begin to be time,” Pippin sighed, his brow furrowing. “Although there’s a lovely old woman near the fruiterer’s and the bookstall there in the market in the Fourth Circle who does similar work. I was watching her the last time I went down to purchase fruit for the guest house.”

“There’s someone here in Minas Tirith who does such work?” the King asked, intrigued.

“Yes--she makes mostly small mats to set on tables showing the shape of the city against Mount Mindolluin, although she did a marvelous one of your face, Strider, that I bought to give to my sister Pimpernel for my birthday. She’ll be the sister who’d most like such a thing, you know. I tucked it into my pack last night.”

“It’s a wonder your pack doesn’t just burst apart with all the things you’ve tucked into it,” Frodo commented, shaking his head.

Pippin made a face at him, then turned back to look up at his king. “You might consider having her make it, although she’d probably wish for you to purchase the yarn for it yourself. I know--you don’t have a public audience tomorrow, do you?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Nor any envoys you have to make over? I thought not. Why don’t we make one last visit to the lower city together, and I’ll introduce you to her. Her name is Mistress Aiden, and she’s just remarkable.”

*******


So it was that the next morning, after the King finished his visit to the Houses of Healing, he came to the guest house on Isil Lane where the rest of the Fellowship had been staying to find the four Hobbits and one Dwarf were awaiting him. “I need to stop at a silversmith’s shop in the Fifth Circle as we return,” Pippin added. “I found my ‘I’m home again and you have to forgive me’ gift for my mother there, and he’s to have it completed today.”

Amused by the title he’d given to this set of gifts, Aragorn asked, “But what about one for your father?”

“I have that already. It turns out one of the Dwarves in the party from the Lonely Mountain is a maker of clockworks, and he was finishing up a pocket watch one evening when we were down at the Wounded Drum together. I had him engrave it with my da’s initials and the crossed bow and riding crop that’s the sign of the Thain. I had to promise him a barrel of Longbottom Leaf, but with what pocket money I had on me at the time he let me have it.”

“It’s one of Lani’s best pieces,” Gimli noted with satisfaction. “Hobbits have always had a fascination with timepieces, so he took the chance, one he realized there would be Hobbits here, that one of them might be interested.”

“You didn’t take it, Frodo?” Aragorn asked as they finally stepped outside the door and started down toward the lower city.

“I have a perfectly good pocket watch waiting for me back in the Shire,” Frodo sniffed.

“I’m rather surprised you didn’t bring it with you, considering how attached Bilbo is to his.”

“What? And what if I’d fallen in a river or something with it on me? I had no idea at all before we left the Shire I’d find myself traveling with a Dwarf; and Dorlin had advised me that the making of clocks and watches tends to be an obscure one, even for Dwarves. Now, he did put the mantel clock in the parlor back together the time Pippin took it apart....”

“I didn’t mean to!” objected the Took. “I was what? Seven or so? I think even you might have examined it to try to find out how it worked, had your family stayed in Hobbiton longer.”

“You did mean to, Peregrin Took! As a small child you tended to leave a trail of destruction behind you wherever you went, and at that time for some reason I still can’t fathom Merry was encouraging you in it.”

“With you and Bilbo having to watch so over him, I was able to get into the study and read Bilbo’s book.” Merry’s voice was oh, so reasonable, and even a bit on the smug side. “For me, that was the start of my participation in the Conspiracy.”

Aragorn glanced sideways. Frodo appeared somewhat exasperated, Merry very complacent, and Pippin aggrieved. As for Sam, he was shaking his head, not bothering to try to hide the grin on his face. “They’re much as they was then, Strider,” he advised their friend, “for all ’twas twenty years back.”

The Guardsmen at the gate watched after their King and his companions and unobtrusive personal guard as they walked by, down into the Fifth Circle, for the King was laughing freely as he passed, his head thrown back in delight.

*******


Many of those who held stalls in the great marketplace in the Fourth Circle were still opening panels and setting out goods. The fruiterer was moving baskets of fresh fruit from his small cart onto his counters, while the nearby bookseller was carefully arranging his wares to attract attention. Frodo’s eyes were inevitably drawn there, and Aragorn felt a pang in his heart as he saw the hunger for more knowledge he saw in his friend’s eyes competing with the realization he couldn’t take all back to the Shire with him.

A woman who sold fabric was busy carefully lifting aside the canvas covering of her cart, folding the heavy material and stowing it inside the stand. Her best bolts she set out neatly on the counters of her stall, setting the finest bolts of silk back where they might be easily seen but not easily soiled by overhandling; she finally stood the bolts on the bottom level of her cart up on end to show them off to whoever might be passing by. For a moment Aragorn wondered why she didn’t have a stall amongst the other sellers of fabric, for he noted the quality of her wares was actually quite good, before he realized her strategy--the stalls on the outside of the market were among the least expensive to lease; and by being one of the first such stalls encountered by those entering the market she increased her chance of making good sales.

But the stall to which Pippin led them was on the far side of that of the fruiterer, a smaller stand with blue surfaces. On the counters an older woman, plump and rosy-cheeked and much resembling a Hobbit herself, was setting out rows of white mats.

“Hello, Mistress Aiden,” Pippin greeted her. “I brought a friend to meet you. He’s wanting to have a shawl made for his wife for Mid-winter.”

“A shawl, is it?” the woman asked, peering toward the Man who accompanied the Hobbits. “Is she comely?”

Aragorn felt an instant liking for the woman come over him. “Comely, you ask? Ah, but she is one of the comeliest of women remaining within Middle Earth, although I must suppose that Master Samwise here might just insist that his own Rose might just be comelier.”

Sam appeared surprised and pleased by Aragorn’s sally, and even Frodo’s eyes shone with approval. As for the woman--she laughed out loud. “Ah, yes, that’s indeed as how it is with menfolk,” she managed at last. “Even my old Berengold says the same of me, and refuses to think of it as blatant flattery. So, you’d have old Aiden make a shawl for your lady? And how long is it since the knot was tied?”

“Ay, but a matter of a few weeks only.”

“No wonder it is, then, that you are eager to name her amongst the fairest in the land. Is she fair or dark?”

“Fair of skin, dark of hair, eyes of clearest grey.”

“Then she’s of the pure blood, then?” Mistress Aiden asked, smiling.

“Of the purest,” Aragorn answered her with such a reverent tone that the woman straightened, obviously suddenly aware of the identity of the Man who came to her stall, accompanied by the four Halflings and a Dwarf.

“But, you’re the King!” she gasped, going into an awkward curtsey.

Aragorn felt dismay go through him. “Please, Mistress Aiden--do not stand upon protocol here within the marketplace. I merely came, as would any person desiring your services. Although, of course before going further I would like to examine a sample of your work to determine whether or not you appear to have the skill I’d like to see.”

“But, of course--a sensible Man you are, too, my Lord King,” she said as she began rooting under the counter. “Oh, you might look at what’s there on display, but they are but pieces for those as visit the White City, don’t you know. The best pieces I don’t have up as yet.”

She brought out a square basket and carefully searched through it until she found a piece under the rest. “Here--I’ve but recently finished this one for Mistress Elisien in the Fifth Circle--one of her great birds as a gift to her husband’s mother.” She shook it out and set it upon the countertop--Aragorn recognized the peacock of Valdimar and Elisien of the city, superbly depicted in the lace.

“How well done!” he commented, running a single finger over the fabric. “Oh, I assure you, Mistress Aiden, I cleansed my hands before I came out today, and have handled nothing to make them greasy or dirty. As my beloved is herself a weaver, seamstress, and embroiderer of great skill, she has taught me well how it must be when one approaches work such as this.”

Again she laughed. “Ah, a practical sort, and well trained, I see. Yes, if indeed our Lady Queen is as good as you say, it is best that you be accustomed to keeping your hands clean afore touching her work.”

He paused. “You are from Eriador?” he asked, his eyes brightening with interest. “It can be heard in your speech!”

She flushed. “Oh, yes, my Lord King. I was born in a far village, one called Staddle on----”

He interrupted with a sense of triumph. “On the far side of Bree Hill? Ah, but I know it well enough, believe me. Remember, I, too, was born within Eriador and served amongst our Rangers there.”

“You were a Ranger? You really were? How odd! I remember as how when I was a young child the Rangers were thought dangerous and fearful. It was a surprise to come here as a girl and find that the Rangers were thought to be amongst the bravest of Gondor’s forces, for they saw more of the Enemy’s evil creatures than any others. Was it in truth the same for you?”

Aragorn gave a small nod. “Yes, it has ever been thus for us. But how did you come here from the Breelands?”

“My father was a merchant--his family specialized in fine leather. They’d been told the best leathers came from the northlands, so that was where he went. He met my mother and remained there as the family’s agent for some years, until I was perhaps twelve. Then he returned here. He also began purchasing fine woolens--amongst the best woolens have ever come from the Breelands and the Shire, you know.”

“So I’ve ever felt as well. And I’ve learned much of the woolens we’ve ever purchased came from the family of Pippin here.”

“Is that so?” She looked at Pippin with interest. “You are from the Tooklands in the Shire?” At his node, she smiled. “It was a surprise to see Hobbits here in the marketplace, for I’d not seen them since I was a child. It was a Hobbitess as taught me woolwork and the making of the picture lace, you see.”

The Man felt a sense of satisfaction, for here was another tie to the northlands, and a reason both he and Arwen would treasure the proposed shawl the more.

She pulled out another mat from the basket and hung it from ties suspended from the rail to which the upper canvas protecting her stall was affixed. Aragorn looked up and saw it held the portrait of himself, wearing the Elendilmir. He paused, for it was quite a good one. As for Frodo, on examining the lace portrait he turned on Pippin. “Is this what you wanted those portraits for, Peregrin Took? I thought you wanted them only for memory’s sake!”

“Well, this is for memory’s sake, Frodo Baggins.”

“But you had Master Iorhael do another one of me, too, and you know I do not wish my picture to be widely available throughout the realm of Gondor!”

“Master Iorhael did that--the artist from the Fifth Circle?” Aragorn asked.

Pippin glanced sideways at his king, then warily back toward Frodo briefly before turning to face Aragorn and saying, perhaps a bit too brightly, “Oh, Iorhael did them of all of us.”

Something in Frodo’s expression hardened, and the Man sensed that once he had his younger Took cousin alone there would be a confrontation between the two of them. Gimli gave Pippin a suspicious look. “But I’ve barely met Master Iorhael. Are you saying he did portraits of me, too? And what about the pestilential Elf?”

Concerned, Mistress Aiden looked from the Dwarf to Frodo and back. “I was give pictures of all the Fellowship, much as I asked the young Hobbit here. But if you wish as I’d not use them....” Her eyes fixed uncertainly on the Ringbearer.

“I’d truly prefer you not do ones of me, Mistress--please,” he said with earnest pleading.

Pippin frowned, then turned to her. “Well, you do have permission to do the one of me!” he said firmly.

Merry’s expression was almost as exasperated as Frodo’s. “Those were intended just for you, and you know that Pip. Really!”

“Well,” the woman said, “the only ones as I’d done into panels as yet was those of the King and of Captain Boromir, you know.”

Aragorn sighed. “You have full permission, Mistress, to continue making the ones of myself, I suppose. You say you have ones done of Boromir?”

She produced one, and Aragorn had to say they were remarkably faithful, for portraits worked in lace. “How did you do this?” he asked.

She pulled out a large piece of paper on which faint blue squares had been worked. “I have a block at home, you see, as has a special bit of linen netting attached to it. I dip the netting into a light blue ink, and then can press it against paper to leave the lines indicating the squares as I form when I’m hookin’ my thread. I have the picture drawn on the paper, and I make certain as I’m working that I fill in those squares as are colored in by the drawing. It works right well, I find.”

Aragorn was intrigued. “How clever,” he commented.

She drew out one that had been filled in with a view of the old White Tree, and allowed him to compare it against one of the mats on which she’d done that particular pattern. “This one I’ve done so often as I know it by heart--can do it almost without thinkin’ on it, I can. Although I’d like one done of the new White Tree as it grows to do now,” she added. “I have a good one of Lord Denethor as I used to do, and one of our own Lord Faramir, too, as is right popular.”

Aragorn examined the ones done of Denethor, Boromir, and Faramir with interest and approval. “Oh, but these are very good,” he smiled. “You don’t happen to have one of the Lady Finduilas as well?” But she hadn’t.

The talk now turned to the project he wished to see done, of a triangular shawl showing the facade of the Last Homely House across it, a portrait of Lord Elrond on one corner and one of the Lady Celebrían on the other. She produced a large sheet of her lined paper on which he tried to draw the design he wished done, but even as he did it he realized he was failing to do his imagined shawl justice. Back in the days when he’d been known as Estel he’d done a good deal of drawing and even some painting, but he had to admit he was no great artist.

He looked up to see much the same expression on Frodo’s face as he’d seen there the first time the Hobbit had seen him dance. “Is that supposed to be the house in Rivendell?” he asked. “And is that supposed to be the Bruinen?”

“Well, I’ve not done much in the way of sketching anything other than maps and flowers for many years,” the Man explained rather defensively. “And I don’t really have much time to do more today, as I must be back in a few hours to meet one last time with the Council about how matters are to be conducted while we are away to Rohan for King Théoden’s funeral and the handfasting of Faramir to the Lady Éowyn. Perhaps I could involve Elladan with it--he’s a fine one with drawing sticks.”

“Now, there’s one as I wish I had a good picture of so as I could do hers to sell along side that o’ the Prince,” Aiden sighed.

“I’ll tell you what, Aragorn,” Frodo sighed, as if he were making a concession he worried he might regret, “I know you won’t be able to work on this much as we travel due to being so much by your lady’s side. But if you’ll allow me to work with Lord Elladan, I could get it done without drawing her attention to it, I think. We could get it done while we’re in Edoras, and send it back as unobtrusively as possible.”

“That would do well,” Aragorn said slowly. “And you’d need him to do the portrait of the Lady Celebrían anyway, as of course I never knew her.”

“And if you’d like I could see to it you get one of the Lady Éowyn and the young White Tree as well, if you’ll promise not to do the portrait of me as long as I’m still living in Middle Earth,” Frodo added.

She smiled broadly. “I agree, Master Frodo,” she said. “Now--for the thread....”

From her stall Aragorn, Pippin, and Gimli walked down to the First Circle where they visited a particular weaving hall where she assured them they could find appropriate threads and yarns, and told them how much of each weight she felt was necessary for the proposed shawl for the body, edges, and lower fringe. “And if’n you decide as you’d like beads worked into it,” she added, giving directions to a purveyor of stone beads as well. Meanwhile Merry accompanied Sam and Frodo, laden with a fair supply of the lined paper, back up to the guest house in the Sixth Circle.

At the weaving hall they were greeted by the master of the shop, and were soon examining threads and yarns. Aragorn found precisely the shade he wished, adding a dark, shimmering blue to match the gown he was having this made to complement to work into the fringe. They went next to the bead shop and found there the onyx and lapis beads needed for the project, at which time they headed up through the city to the shop of the silversmith in the Fifth Circle of which Pippin had spoken.

The bracelet chain set with great pearl, dangling blossoms, and silver falcon figure intrigued him. “This is what you’ve had made for your mother, then?” he asked.

“Yes--the pearl for my sister Pearl, the two flowers for Pimpernel and Pervinca, and the falcon for me,” Pippin agreed. “And the matching ear drops here are for my sisters.

Aragorn smiled as he examined the set, then made up his mind. “I won’t be having all the portraits I’d originally thought of worked into the shawl; but if I could do a separate charm to serve as reminders of each one she’s loved....” He smiled more broadly. He swiftly made his own order for a chain bracelet for his Lady Wife, choosing from amongst the tiny figures the smith had made up the first few to be hung from it, and making up his mind to search everywhere he went for symbols for the others he wished to see remembered on it for his wife.

*******


Frodo finally did the sketch he felt caught the Lady Éowyn one evening during the ride to Edoras, making certain he was not seen drawing by the King, whose plans for a memorial to the four Hobbits disturbed him. He had no intentions of inadvertently allowing Aragorn to use his own drawings to make such a monument. And the evening after the handfasting of Faramir and Éowyn Frodo pleaded a headache and excused himself from the company to retreat to the room where he and the other Hobbits were to sleep, where he stretched out the carefully pasted-together pages he’d determined would serve as the model for the shawl and began the drawing.

“This is marvelous!” Elladan breathed as he looked down on the almost completed pattern Frodo had done, including the narrow panel of elanor blossoms worked along the upper edge and the niphredil above the lower fringes. He examined the portrait of his father, and smiled with pride. “Ah, yes, this is perfect,” he said.

“I can’t do one of your mother,” Frodo admitted, “so if you’d agree to supply that.” He indicated where it belonged.

Aragorn saw the completed pattern the next day. “It’s beautiful,” he murmured. “Yes--it is perfect for her. But I must say this isn’t your usual style of drawing, my brother.”

Elladan merely smiled. “I don’t always use the same style, little one,” he said with that careful edge of patronization Elves could capture so perfectly. Aragorn shook his head, then hearing his Arwen coming he indicated his Elven brother should see the pattern rolled while he went out to meet and delay her that she not see.

*******


Elrond listened to his fosterling’s plans for the bracelet with interest. “You would have me help gather small figures to represent those she’s loved throughout her life?” he asked. Celeborn, who stood behind his daughter’s husband, looked thoughtful as well.

“I can provide charms I feel are appropriate for those I know of--for you and my brothers, Erestor and Glorfindel, for the Lord and Lady here, and a few others I know she loves and cares for. But I do not know all she has loved over the yeni she dwelt here before I was born, many of whom were slain or sought the Havens long ago. You would know better what symbols would mean the most.” He turned to Frodo and Merry, who also had been drawn to this last conference. “And if you could supply charms to represent those of us who made up the Fellowship,” he asked.

“Not Pippin this time?” Merry asked.

“Knowing Peregrin Took, he’d take it over with a relish,” Aragorn sighed. “No, this time I’ll defer to your taste.”

*******


A week before Mettarë a packet was delivered to the Citadel of Minas Tirith by an Elf of Rivendell who’d come by way of the Golden Wood; a day later a wagon driven by a Dwarf arrived from the Shire, laden with a barrel of cider, barrels of Longbottom Leaf and Old Toby and a smaller barrel of Goolden Lynch, a barrel of ale from the Prancing Pony, and other gifts sent by his friends from the Shire, the Iron Hills, and the Lonely Mountain. Two days later a rider from Rhovanion arrived with more gifts from Dale and Eryn Lasgalen. Aragorn’s own gifts had gone out much earlier, and ought, he knew, to be arriving at their destinations.

He was able to identify those packets intended for the Queen’s gift, and went down to the jeweler’s shop to see them added to the bracelet of charms.

*******


On Mettarë Aragorn awoke early. The Hall of Kings had been filled with garlands of winter flowers and greenery and stands of candles; in their own private sitting room there were swags of evergreens and mistletoe brought from the mountains and Rohan, added to with holly sent from Eregion and hemlock and fir sent from the Shire. The feast hall of Merethrond, he knew from memories of days long past, would glisten tonight. Carefully he set his gifts for his wife upon the table. He’d not seen the great shawl--Aiden had it already sewn into a bag of white linen when he went down to fetch it away. Oh, how he prayed she would like it. He then went down the hall to the private kitchen for the wing to see to preparing a breakfast such as he knew she would prefer this day, and was bringing it back to set upon the table when she came out of her bathing chamber dressed in a fine dressing gown.

She examined the linen bag and the carefully wrought wooden box with interest. “And what are these?” she asked.

“Gifts to the lady of my heart and soul,” he advised her.

She smiled in a manner as to set his own heart racing, and she looked to open first the box.

“Oh,” she breathed as she lifted out the bracelet with its many charms hanging from it. There was a silver harp tinted a delicate green with an emerald dangling from it for her mother, and a slightly larger one enameled in dark blue set with a sapphire and a blue quill hanging from the same ring for her father. For Elladan was an easel; for Elrohir a running horse. A mithril flower with golden petals spoke of Glorfindel; an inkhorn of Erestor; a message carrier of Lindir. An eight-pointed star of mithril with a shining emerald in its center symbolized her husband himself; a partially unrolled scroll was for Bilbo; a small book whose enameled silver covers could indeed open stood for Frodo. A loom and miniature hand mirror indicated her daernaneth; a mallorn leaf her daeradar; a mithril swan ship Círdan. She examined it with wonder and tears of longing as she saw charms that plainly were meant to remind her of some who no longer remained in Middle Earth, and others who were nearby. Gandalf’s hat had been reproduced in silver, as well as Gimli’s axe, Legolas’s bow, and Boromir’s horn.

“Who does this symbolize?” Aragorn asked, indicating a sphere of crystal.

“The Lady Nimrodel,” she said softly, “and the swan with the beryl set in its breast is the symbol of Lord Amroth.”

Carefully he fastened the tinkling thing about her wrist, and she touched some of the charms gently--a trowel for Sam, a pipe and mug for Merry, a small falcon for Pippin. A second star set with a diamond obviously spoke of her father’s adar; a soaring gull of his naneth. She examined a silver comb. “My mother’s friend Calistië, who served as her handmaiden and confidant. She was slain when my mother was taken. And this is for her husband Curufil, who was chief of her guards. Their young son Curufimir sailed on the same grey ship as did Naneth.”

At last she turned from examining the charms to consider the linen bag. She fetched her thread scissors from the box upon a nearby shelf and snipped the closing threads, and pulled out the enclosed garment----

----and paused with awe, carefully shaking out the folds until it could be examined. “Home,” she breathed. “Oh, Estel!”

And as he helped settle it over her shoulders she looked down on the portraits done in lace of her father and mother, her eyes shining with tears of mixed joy and longing.

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