As he came down into the gardens surrounding the Houses of Healing, Húrin saw a small form standing stiffly at the wall, looking intently eastward, as if willing himself to see clearly what happened there. Had he not by now come to know Master Meriadoc, Húrin would have thought it one of the boys who served as messengers between the healers and the city’s defenders. He came to stand beside the--the Hobbit.
The Pherian looked up at him briefly in acknowledgment of his arrival. “My Lord Húrin? Have you come to speak with Lord Faramir, then?”
“Indeed, although my errand is not particularly urgent. He’d given orders that the masons and artisans prepare the Royal Wing for occupancy, but a pair of peregrine falcons have built their nest on a windowsill on the second floor, and they would not disturb it without his approval. Falcons are greatly esteemed here, you must realize.”
“Falcons? Well, from what I’ve seen of Strider, you’d best let them be--he’d be delighted to have such creatures nesting outside his windows.” He looked back eastward again. “Has there been any word?”
“Not since they turned northward from the Crossroads.”
“Where are they now, do you think?”
Húrin looked thoughtfully northward. “Considering the size of the army and how long it took them to cross the Pelennor and all disappear into Osgiliath, I’d say probably about even with the Field of Cormallen, perhaps a day’s march from the turn eastward. They will probably be before the Black Gate day after tomorrow.”
Merry nodded thoughtfully. “And Frodo and Sam--Lord Faramir says that he saw them last fifteen days ago. They ought to be well within Mordor by now--if they found a way into it, at least.”
“They did have a guide of sorts with that gangrel creature, from what was told to my cousin.”
“He is your cousin, then?”
Húrin nodded absently as he peered eastward. “My mother was Lord Denethor’s elder sister--I think she was about twelve years older than he. She and my aunt died some years ago, my aunt when I was a boy and my mother shortly after the death of the Lady Finduilas. There was a pestilence that was making its way through the city at the time, you see.”
“Oh.” Master Merry turned to look up at him. “Then you are indeed Faramir’s first cousin?”
“Yes, and twenty years the elder. And what is your relationship to Guardsman Peregrin?”
“Pippin’s my first cousin on the side of his father and my mother--my mum’s Uncle Paladin’s younger sister, although they have three older ones. Then we’re third cousins on my dad’s mother’s side, for I’m great, great grandson twice to the Old Took, and him once. Frodo’s great grandson to the Old Took also through Mirabella as I am great, great grandson through her, so he’s both my first and second cousin, once removed each way. But I suspect that this is all only serving to confuse you. Aragorn understands it, but then he’s the heir to the Line of Kings, after all, and has had to keep track of his ancestry as close as any Hobbit; but poor Boromir would only look confused when Pippin would try to explain it all to him.”
Húrin surprised himself by laughing. “I suspect that Faramir will appreciate the relationships better than his brother did, for he’s always loved to tease out such details.” Then he grew more grave. “Alas that Boromir did not return to us--the news that he was dead greatly weakened my uncle’s courage.”
The Hobbit nodded as he looked back eastward. For a time they were quiet, before he at last said, “I hope Pippin comes back to us. I don’t know what I’ll do if the battle’s won but he’s lost--Uncle Paladin and Aunt Eglantine would be destroyed by it, you see. As will I,” he added, more softly. “It would feel like losing a part of myself, just as it does thinking----” He took a deep breath. “--Thinking that it’s very possible I’ll never see Frodo again. And there’s a good chance I won’t see him, isn’t there?”
Húrin sighed as he looked down on the Hobbit and placed his hand on Meriadoc’s shoulder. “You must not give up hope, my friend. I will not lie to you and assure you that you will see him again--we truly cannot know that at this point. But miracles do happen, as happened out there eight days since when a Pherian and a woman from Rohan cut down the Enemy’s great general.”
Indeed there was hope in the Hobbit’s face as he again peered eastward. “Yes, there is that. Still can’t believe we did it, Éowyn and I.”
On the twenty-fifth it seemed to be as dark and dread as it had been the day on which those who remained within Minas Tirith had stood upon the walls and first looked out to see the forces of Mordor facing them. There was a heaviness in the air that made it hard to breathe, and all felt oppressed. When Húrin came to the Houses of Healing and saw that his younger cousin stood there with the Lady Éowyn, particularly once he’d seen what garment Faramir was at the moment wrapping about her shoulders, he’d gone on to seek out Master Meriadoc. Dendril and Leonid were going through the records of the debates surrounding the rejection of the claim of Arvedui and Fíriel for the Winged Crown and the subsequent acceptance of the suit of Eärnil for the same object, along with Master Alvric and two others from the Guild of Lawyers, and were likely to be much of the day about it, if Húrin didn’t miss his guess. The reports had come back from the Citadel’s artisans that all within the Royal Wing was sound, and the replastered walls had just been painted. A woodworker was now busy setting new shelves along one wall of what would again soon be the King’s private sitting room, and windows were now being measured for new draperies while Master Balstador, the Seneschal for the Citadel, had set his folk to scouring the storehouses for possible items of furniture likely to be found appropriate for furnishing the wing. It was, Húrin thought, a good time to be out of the Citadel itself.
Master Meriadoc was not in his room, but Mistress Ioreth was quick to let him know that the Pherian who’d ridden with the Rohirrim was down visiting those of the Riders of Rohan who were yet housed here, and that he’d gone to speak with them and learn their songs--he had quite the love for songs and poetry, did Master Meriadoc; and his presence was deeply appreciated by the Rohirrim. They’d all made the place gay with their golden hair and their free-spirited ways, and truly made over the Pherian. Was Lord Húrin aware that the Pheriannath referred to themselves as Hobbits? Now, Master Meriadoc, now that he was feeling better, was proving to have quite the appetite....
Húrin found himself hurriedly making excuses and fairly scurrying off to the ward where the Rohirrim were housed lest he be trapped in the hallway for the next hour listening to Mistress Ioreth prattle on.
As he approached the door he could hear singing. It must be almost everyone within, he thought as he paused just outside the door.
“Hey, ho, to the bottle I go,
to heal my heart and drown my woe.”
Ah, a drinking song! Appropriate, he knew, for the Rohirrim, although this song sounded a good deal less sonorous than most of the songs he’d ever heard from that people in the past.
“...but I still have many miles to go.”
He smiled as he pushed the door open, finding the room filled with a glad laughter in direct contradiction to the gloom of the day. Yes, there was laughter here, but it was offered to spite the Nameless One, he realized. Not quite forced, but....
Master Meriadoc stood on a chair and was directing the Riders in the singing of the song. Yet in spite of the laughter in his eyes Húrin could detect the great anxiety that he was so seeking to suppress.
The song came to its end, and all within laughed and applauded themselves. “A fine song, Master Holbylta,” said one of the Riders. “Your folk know well how to enjoy the gifts of the Lady of the Fields!”
“Thank you!” replied the Hobbit with such a sweeping bow he almost fell from the chair on which he stood. He looked up and saw the Keeper of the Keys for the City and Citadel and gave a nervous smile. “I see news might have come for me regarding my kinsmen. If you will excuse me.” So saying he hopped off the chair.
“Go, and hurry back to us,” shouted one of the Men in the room.
“And when you stand guard next by our Lord Théoden’s bier, bear him my best wishes,” said an older Rider, one who wore about his arm a bracelet that must have been bestowed on him by his late sovereign. Most likely he’d been one of the knights of the King’s House, Húrin thought.
But as he came to Húrin’s side, all thoughts of Rohan were fading already from Master Meriadoc’s mind, the Man realized. The frown lines that ought not to be present already between the brows of one so young were more obvious than ever. He still thought to turn, bow deeply, and wave to the residents of the ward before coming forth and shutting the door behind them, but his first low words were, “Is there any news as yet?”
“No, none. However, as looming as are the clouds of ash, I suspect that the battle is already on. Come--come out with me, and let us seek comfort in the beauty of the garden.”
“What can be seen of it in this murk!” muttered the Hobbit as they returned to the main hallway. They stopped long enough for the Pherian to fetch his cloak and throw it about his shoulders, and then they were hurrying out of the building, seeking some place where the air didn’t feel so dead.
They started toward their favorite place to look out together, but paused, for there were already two together there, two who were unlikely to appreciate anyone joining them.
“Then I tell you that you are fair....”
“We’d best go this way,” breathed Merry, and soundlessly he led the way further northward, away from the Man and Woman who were beginning to find themselves and one another as they spoke. “At least one good thing is coming out of this darkness, if those two are realizing they love one another. Not, of course, that my sword-sister will give her heart easily at all this time, considering how badly things went the last time.”
“She’s loved before?”
“Well, she thought it was love, from what little she’s let slip; not that there was any hope from it. No, I’m not certain, but I think that there’s a far different love for our Strider, although he’s willing to love the Lady Éowyn as a sister.”
This intelligence caused the Gondorian’s eyebrows to rise. “She was in love with the Lord Aragorn?”
“I think so--I think that this is why she chose to ride with her uncle rather to stay home as she’d been bade by him. From what Elfred’s said, she did little but watch Aragorn the whole time they were within King Théoden’s halls, and at whatever he said to her as he took his leave of her at Dunharrow she came away in mixed grief and outrage. He said he saw her step too closely toward Strider, and he stepped back, speaking in low tones to her, taking her hand and kissing it, then stepping back further and bowing low before leaving her.
“At least she knew well that her uncle and brother both loved her dearly, and she sought to spend what time might be left all of us as close to them as she dared be. It’s not easy agreeing to stay home, supposedly safe, when those you love best are going out to face dangers you can’t imagine.”
“You speak as one who has experience in such things.”
“Frodo was going to go alone at first, until Gandalf insisted that Sam go with him. And none of us wanted Pippin to come along with us--he’s not even of age yet! Uncle Paladin will skin me alive when we get back for allowing him to come at all! But there was no way in Middle Earth I’d have let Frodo go without me, and even less that Pippin would have allowed the same of me and Frodo both!”
The Man nodded. “Then you love him, this first and second cousin once removed each way?”
“Oh, yes. He’s like my older brother, and Pippin’s like my little brother. As for Sam--he’s become like the big brother to all of us, for all he’s not that much older than me and is so much younger than Frodo himself. I don’t know what we’d all have done without him--he’s the most practical and steady of all of us, you see, but still hides a romantic nature behind his Gaffer’s sayings and his attention for comfort.”
They stood together, looking out. Lord Elfhelm from Rohan came to join them, standing on the other side of them. “I’d thought to have a few words with the Lady,” he commented in soft tones, “but I see she hears but one voice today. I am glad--she deserves a good husband, and he will love her as she ought to be loved, I think. He will respect the Shieldmaiden and nurture the woman both. One of the finest I’ve ever seen, your kinsman, Lord Húrin.”
All three became quiet. Now and then they would catch a word from the two down the wall from them, but mostly they looked eastward as well as they could. “Oh, Frodo--where are you, you and Sam? Are you nearly there, there by the Mountain? They’re doing their best, Frodo, to see to it the way’s open for you!” The Hobbit’s whisper was fervent.
And just then they felt it--that terrible moment of balance when it all could have gone one way or another. They heard the Lady Éowyn cry out, and Faramir’s voice rose in response, challenging the East and declaring his intention to protect this woman as he could. They turned involuntarily and saw the two of them together, drawn close to one another’s side as the darkness appeared to close around all of them----
----And then the Wind sprang up! It blew in the trees and bushes about them, and raised the white pennon of the Stewards and let its device of bare white tree upon a white background be seen! They heard it sing about the Tower, and rise to rip at the lowering clouds of ash, saw the brown and grey begin to tear apart. Afar off to the east the winds also tore at the sky, seeking to allow honest sunlight and blue heavens to be seen over a horrible battlefield and tortured land. But a darker cloud was rising, and about it they saw great bolts of lightning tear--but this darkness proved feeble in the end, and with gladness the winds of the world tore it apart, dispersing it away, allowing all to breathe freely!
And without volition they turned to where Faramir stood, his arm about the White Lady of Rohan, and he turned his face to her, spoke in low tones, and then kissed her! And the wind mingled their hair together, long, dark threads and longer golden ones whipping about their heads and forms, molding their clothing to them on one side and blowing it away on the other; and the three reluctant watchers felt the wind doing the same with themselves as their cloaks and shirts and hair were whipped first one way and then another. Merry laughed aloud with sheer heart’s ease. “They did it!” he cried out in gladness. “Frodo and Sam--they did it! With Gollum’s help or in spite of it--they did it! The Ring is destroyed!”
And below them in the city they heard the cries of awe, surprise, and joy as all realized that the darkness of the East was gone--and Sauron could now be freely named for he was no longer a danger to any!