As Sam came into his Master’s study with a mug of tea and a plate of toast and a pot of May’s currant jam. Frodo was copying the last chapter returned by his cousin Fredegar Bolger into the Red Book, the rough draft resting against a special stand Sam had made for him that he not have to bend over both copy and book. Sitting to one side of the desk, on the envelope in which the chapter material had been returned, lay the other missive received that day, a good quality parchment folded in three that had been sealed with an unfamiliar hard green wax into which the shape of a leaf had been pressed. Frodo had obviously recognized the seal and had opened the missive without comment, first a faint smile to be seen on his face followed by a look of regret. He’d then refolded the communication and set it aside and turned to the larger packet from Mr. Fredegar. Apparently, however, considering the current placement of the letter, Frodo had reread it once more before again setting it aside.
Sam made a point of carefully straightening the empty envelope and letter slightly before pushing both further toward the back of the desk so as to set his tray in their former place. “Not from one of your relatives, then, Master?” he inquired innocently.
There was a momentary pause before the older Hobbit gave a slight shake of his head. “No, not a relative.”
“Looks like many of them letters as we receive from Minas Tirith what are folded like that,” Sam continued, watching Frodo’s face obliquely.
Again the slight pause. “Yes,” Frodo agreed. “Yes, this is from one from Minas Tirith, although he is not in the city at this time. He’s--he’s one I’ve consulted on business regarding those lands Aragorn saddled us with. A few months back one of the properties acquired a new tenant. We’ve been corresponding on how the new tenancy agreements must be written.”
Sam gave a considered nod as he turned his attention back to the note. “A new tenant, eh? From what the agent told me there in Minas Tirith, the families on those lands settled on me’ve been there forever--or closest thing to it.”
Frodo gave a slight shrug, and glancing that way Sam noted the faint crease between his friend’s brows. “Most of the tenants on mine have been that way also.”
“This new tenant givin’ your agent problems, then?”
Frodo looked up, obviously surprised at the idea. “Problems? Oh, no--no difficulties from the tenant--quite a nice sort, apparently. No, this is an invitation to a wedding.”
Sam straightened. “A weddin’? What’s he expectin’, as you’ll just ride casual-like down to Minas Tirith to a weddin’?”
Frodo laughed, and it was good to hear him do so. “No, Sam--nothing of that sort. Indeed, the wedding’s being held in Bree.” His face saddened somewhat. “No, not that far, perhaps, although I can’t see how I’ll be able to attend a wedding in Bree in February when I can barely find it in me to face a trip to either Tuckborough or Michel Delving at the moment.”
“What’s one from Minas Tirith doin’ in Bree?”
Again a slight shrug. “He was sent here to Eriador on Aragorn’s business. He’s dealing also with Lord Halladan and Lord Faradir on the business of the two kingdoms, I understand. Indeed it was during a visit to Fornost and the site where Annúminas is being rebuilt that his lady and he decided that they would marry. It’s only that as things have been settled with the new tenant that we’ve exchanged letters on occasion. Although I’ll admit most of the ones sent me I received in Michel Delving. I’d not heard from him directly since last summer, you see.”
Sam understood suddenly. “That lawyer as the Lord Strider sent here to train the Shire lawyers as are bein’ readied to write contracts and agreements with the King’s folks, then? I see.”
Frodo’s expression had grown more distant. “Yes,” he agreed, then turned his attention back to his copying. “I hope to have most of this copied over by dinner time,” he commented pointedly.
Recognizing the dismissal, Sam straightened, wondering just what it was that Frodo didn’t wish to discuss with him. The Ringbearer was becoming more remote with time, he realized, and he ached for that. However, he tried once more to assure his beloved Master he was there should he choose to share any concerns. “I can understand if’n you’re not plannin’ on attendin’ this weddin’--for all we’ve been to Gondor and back, a trip to Bree’s not one as I’d wish to do in February, I’m thinkin’. But you’ll be wishin’ to send a gift, surely?”
Frodo nodded, his attention back on the folded parchment. “Yes. Perhaps one of those table shawls that Marigold makes, if she has one done that she’d wish to sell me. She had one I remember that had wreaths of flowers worked into it....”
A few weeks later that table shawl was on its way to Bree, accompanied by the Ringbearer’s regrets he would not be able to attend the wedding himself.
“Master Alvric? A moment, please. A package came for you--one from the Shire, I believe.”
“A package, Master Barliman?” Alvric turned toward the innkeeper as he left the common room of the Prancing Pony, a small barrel of ale under his arm. He was to host a dinner for his current crop of students tomorrow night, and had come to fetch the drink himself.
Butterbur disappeared into the room where he kept his accounts and came out again with a packet wrapped in canvas, carefully sewn shut. A few moments later the lawyer was out the door, headed toward the house where he dwelt.
Carnation saw him approaching and came to open the door, and it was with relief that he surrendered the small keg to her and then laid the canvas-wrapped parcel on the table before shrugging off his cloak and seeing it hung on the pegs in the entranceway. The Hobbitess paused to examine the parcel. “What’s this?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Alvric admitted. “Mr. Butterbur appears to think it came from the Shire. Where is Denra?”
“In the stillroom with Mistress Blackroot--they’ve been cleaning the still apparatus.”
He nodded and took the package and headed through the house.
Carnation’s second son Bedlo sat on a low stood in the corner, drying bottles and setting them into one of the low crates in which Denra stored such things while the two women used a brush to clean the coils. Denra looked up as Alvric entered. “What is it that you bring?” she asked, looking at the canvas-covered packet.
“I’m not certain, but it appears to be from the Shire. It’s addressed to both of us. Shall we open it together?”
“From the Lord Frodo?” she asked.
He examined the address thoughtfully. “I suspect that it is from him,” he said, “although in writing on the fabric the writing is somewhat distorted.”
He surrendered the package to Denra, who on examining it reached into her apron pocket and pulled out her thread scissors. In moments she had the lacing of the packet cut, and she was pulling apart the seam to expose what was within. A second packet was wrapped in unbleached muslin and tied with a silver ribbon, and an envelope was tucked inside the bow, one of a golden hue shot with green threads. He smiled as he recognized the writing. “Yes, from Lord Frodo indeed.” She slipped it out of the ribbons and held it out to him, then untied the bow as he slid his finger under the wax into which the Hobbit’s star seal had been impressed and pulled out the enclosed letter.
His expression became melancholy. “He won’t be able to attend the wedding,” he sighed. “This was sent as a wedding gift. Apparently it was created by Lord Samwise’s sister Marigold, and he hopes it gives us great pleasure.”
“I still canna understand as just how a Hobbit o’ the Shire come to be a lord,” commented Mistress Blackroot, “nor all this talk of Mordor. Is there truly such a place?”
Alvric nodded. “There indeed was such a place, and under the Nameless One’s control--until Lords Frodo and Samwise went there to his destruction.” He straightened with the memory of it. “We saw its walls each day from the walls of our city, and when he sent forth his forces he had the great mountain spew forth clouds of ash to dismay us and to shelter his orcs and trolls from the Sun. On many days we looked eastward with dread for what that ash might foretell.
“And the day that they came to the Sammath Naur, while the Army of the West fought at the Black Gate itself to draw the eye of the Enemy away from Mount Doom----” His head was held proudly high, his attention on the memory of that day. He swallowed. “The gloom had come again after having been much dispersed on the day the siege of the city was broken, and all who had returned to the city could see the darkness so strong to the northeast where the gates to the Black Land lay. Suddenly----” He swallowed again. “Suddenly all paused, and all turned eastward, aware that a great moment had come. We could feel evil winding about in a great coil as if it would squeeze the city of Minas Tirith and the rest of Middle Earth as well; a moment of terrible balance had come. It felt as if any single movement we made could tip the balance toward the evil, and all would fall--and then there was a great wind rushing from the west toward the east, and the clouds suddenly were torn asunder, and all felt a moment of great joy, realizing that the coil had fallen in on itself rather than compassing us about. And we saw a great pillar of blackness rise over the Ephel Dúath, and lightning struck again and again about that pillar--and then the west wind struck it--dispersed it--and it was--it was no more!” His face was shining. “We were free--we knew we were free, and safe at last!” His attention returned to Mistress Blackroot’s face. “It was a great day, when the Ring went back into the Fire and was unmade, and Sauron’s evil with it!”
Denra had the ribbon removed from the muslin, but had waited until he’d finished speaking before removing the fabric from around the contents. “You hear them speakin’ of it,” she said quietly as she pulled back the fabric, “of the darkness of the day and the moment all felt queer, as if they daren’t move at all; then the moment of freedom! All the Rangers as was there say the same.”
She paused as she turned the packet over so that there was but a single fold of fabric yet over the contents, and turned her attention to the face of her neighbor. “Member the day, almost two year back, when the whole sky was brown and we was all feelin’ as if we’d had caterpillar spines stuck to our skins all over?”
The other woman nodded reluctantly. “Well, I’d tried to put that day out o’ me mind, like. ’Twasn’t a natural feelin’, that. And it had been goin’ on fer weeks, ye know.”
Denra was nodding. “Apparently it was that day, when the wind definitely changed and stayed changed and the brown at last left the sky--it was that day as they made it to the Mountain and we was saved. And we was so far away, and had no idea as to what it meant! Can you imagine--it’s like as it was our neighbors what done it, you know--got there and saw Sauron destroyed. But the Rangers as was there--they saw it close up, and they all say same as my Alvric.” She looked back at her intended. “Did he say as why it is as he can’t come?”
“He says he was ill in the fall and hasn’t truly recovered.”
Denra sighed as she turned back to the packet and pulled away the last fold of cloth.
“Ooh--it’s lacework!” murmured Mistress Blackroot as she came closer to look.
Denra’s face was shining. “Alvric,” she directed with a brief glance at him, “call Carnation! She’ll love this!”
By the time the lawyer and the Hobbitess had returned Denra and her neighbor had it stretched out between them. “It’s a table shawl, all of seven feet wide and ten long!” Mistress Blackroot said, a look of wonder on her face. “Why, if’n ’twas made by a Hobbit lass, it must of taken her a right long time!”
“Linen thread, and made with a fine steel hook,” agreed Denra reverently. “Look at how fine it is, Alvric, Carnation!”
About the oval of its interior was a great wreath of flowers with even more worked into the center. “Picture lace!” Alvric sighed. “My mother would have never have been able to afford something so fine! Marigolds and babies breath, clematis and roses--she is a most gifted artist with the lace hook, is Mistress Marigold. Well, it is said that her brother is one of the most gifted of gardeners within all of Middle Earth.”
“We’ll treasure it always,” Denra said softly as she began to move toward her friend to see it again folded. “We’ll treasure it for it come from Lor--no, Master Frodo--you know as Lord Halladan said as it’s how he wishes to be known, Alvric; and ’cause ’twas made by Lord Sam’s sister as much as ’cause of its beauty and all the work as went into it. I never, never thought as I’d ever have such a thing for myself.”
“It’s a right treasure,” agreed Carnation, her voice soft. “A right treasure indeed. Why, you could entertain the King hisself off that cloth and he’d feel full honored, I’m thinkin’.”
Alvric, smiling, had to agree.