Rowanna had no idea how long she sat sobbing with frustration. Suddenly, however, a voice broke in to her weeping.
"Good gracious! My dear lady - whatever is the matter? May I be of any assistance?"
Rowanna slowly raised her head from the heavy oak table. She had not seen anyone in the room, and realised too late that she had succumbed to a childish tantrum in the hearing of someone who must have been concealed from view between the bookcases. She blinked back the tears which blurred her eyes - then scrubbed more furiously at her face with the sleeve of her gown, convinced her vision must be deceiving her. The voice addressing her had the tone and pitch of a Man of late middle age, with an earthy solidity to the accent; yet the figure she saw through her swollen eyes, greying and a little stout, one hand in the pocket of its dark green waistcoat, stood no higher than the table. It - he - was barely three feet tall.
"Oh, I do beg your pardon; where are my manners?" Perceiving her astonished stare, the stranger bowed solemnly before her. "Bilbo Baggins of the Shire, madam, at your service and your family's," he announced a trifle portentously.
"R-Rowanna of Rohan, daughter of Míranna, at yours," Rowanna managed to stammer back, feeling that some response of the sort was required. She sniffed, and realised to her mortification that she had no linen to blow her nose. Fortunately, the little figure before her was better equipped, and proffered a large blue spotted handkerchief.
"Rohan, eh? You will pardon my saying so, madam, but you look like no lady of Rohan I ever heard tell of, for by everything I've read the Rohirrim are all as golden-haired as lions!" He hopped nimbly up on to a stool as he spoke, and Rowanna noticed that it was made with several rungs, to enable one of such short stature to climb up to sit at a height that suited the table. Misery driven out for the time being by curiosity, she replied with a shaky smile;
"And if you will pardon me, Master Baggins, you do not look like any Man I ever saw either! Who... I mean..." She could find no courteous way to phrase the question. Her companion rescued her.
"Or rather, what am I?" His eyes twinkled. "I, dear lady, am a Hobbit. A Hobbit of the Shire! Or a halfling or holbytla, as we are sometimes less courteously called in other lands. And if you have the leisure and the inclination to listen, I shall be delighted to tell you as much and probably more about the history and ways of my folk than you could ever wish to hear! But you have not answered my original question." His rather ruddy face, laughter-lines crinkling around the eyes, was all concern. "Will you not tell me what ails you? You sounded most dreadfully upset..."
Feeling distinctly foolish, Rowanna attempted to explain. It was difficult to put into words quite why the exquisite, indecipherable script had upset her so; oddly enough, however, the little Hobbit was quick with his sympathy.
"Oh, my goodness, yes! That's a very ancient form of tengwar - quite different from the Númenorean script of this age, however lettered you are. Took me years to learn it - that's Elves for you, of course, eternity to do everything, they never think of us lesser Mortals trying to master their crafts! There are texts here you could read, if you know the tengwar of Gondor, but you'd need to know where to find them. I keep trying to persuade Elrond to let me re-organise things properly, but he says he always knows where to find what he wants - as he would, of course; he's had thousands of years to remember his way around the collection, with perfect Elvish memory to boot!"
"Have you dwelt in Rivendell long yourself?" Rowanna enquired. "You seem to know the library well..."
"Oh, a few years, a few years." Master Baggins looked wistful for a moment. "I decided to retire here from the Shire on my eleventy-first birthday, you know. Ah, I'm older than I look!" He smiled at Rowanna's surprise. "But no Mortal lifetime would ever be long enough to master all the lore in Elrond's library. Not that I haven't had a good try! - I'm researching for my own book as well, you see, and Elrond gave me a key to the library some time back, after the housekeeper grumbled about how often she had to open up for me. You were lucky I was here, or the door would have been firmly shut!"
"I've never found any door locked in Rivendell," Rowanna protested.
"Oh, that's true on the whole, but Master Elrond is terribly particular about his books!" the Hobbit countered. "Just as you would expect from a loremaster, after all. You noticed of course that the windows are glazed, to keep the weather out and let the light in? This room is even built directly above the kitchens, you know, so that the warmth from the stoves rises and helps to keep the damp out in the winter. But listen to me prattling on, instead of helping you to solve your difficulty." He looked Rowanna up and down with a beady eye. "I'll tell you what, Rowanna of Rohan; I will make a bargain with you. I have lived in the Last Homely House for some time, and made the lore and legends of the Elves my study for many years before that, and without taking a single volume off these shelves I could tell you more of the histories of the Firstborn than you could find for yourself here in a twelvemonth." His pride in this doubtless accurate statement was so obvious that Rowanna smiled despite herself.
"You spoke of a bargain, Master Baggins. In what coin could I repay you for such kindness?"
"Why, in the same coin, of course!" the Hobbit exclaimed excitedly. "I know little of the Rohirrim, my dear, or not nearly as much as I should like. And I will wager there is more to your lineage than first appears in any case, for if I were to trust the evidence of my own eyes I would say it was the blood of either Arnor or Gondor that flows in your veins rather than that of Eorl, and I should like to know more of that too; for there is nothing Hobbits enjoy so much as a good complicated genealogy!"
"If you are truly interested in how the daughter of a Gondorrim and a Dúnadaneth came to be born and brought up in the Riddermark and ended up as a horse-trainer to the court of Edoras, Master Baggins, then I can certainly give you fair exchange!" Rowanna laughed, feeling suddenly much happier than she had done for several days. "And you will truly teach me the histories of the Elves? And some of the Elvish tongue, so that I need not go about in Rivendell deaf and dumb?"
"Most truly!" The Hobbit beamed with delight. "It seems we have a bargain, then, dear lady. There is but one last condition to the pact; none of this 'Master Baggins' business. You make me feel as though I were tutoring my gardener's son Sam again back in the Shire! You must call me Bilbo."
The bargain Rowanna had made with Bilbo Baggins kept both of them busy for many days, and provided both instruction and entertainment. In the mornings, Rowanna would walk about the House, or around the gardens with Arwen, gradually regaining strength in her unpractised limbs. She had no wish to slacken this regime; in any case, Bilbo maintained he needed part of each day to work on his book, which she gathered was a history of his past adventures.
Following the midday meal, they would meet in the library. Seated at their preferred table under the windows, its age-darkened oak surface strewn with books and with Bilbo's endless sheaves of neat notes, several hours' hard work on Elvish history or on the Grey Tongue would ensue. Bilbo, Rowanna found, was a kindly but firm taskmaster, quick to correct her Sindarin pronunciation or phrasing, but equally swift to offer praise where it was due. He found the woman of Rohan an able pupil, and was delighted at how quickly she understood what she heard around her.
"It is not so surprising, when you think about it," Rowanna argued. "As soon as I could talk I had to come to grips with more than one tongue; Mother and I always used the Common Speech at home, but every time I stepped over the threshold I heard Rohirric all around me."
"I'm not denying you have an excellent ear, dear lady," Bilbo conceded. "Your grammar, on the other hand - ! Come along, let us try again, shall we?" and he fixed Rowanna with a stern gaze until she gave in and worked her way painstakingly through the day's lesson once more.
Not all their discussions were formal, however. "Read, mark, learn - and then inwardly digest, dear lady; that has always been my motto!" Master Baggins declared to an amused Rowanna.
Their afternoons, therefore, inevitably concluded cosily in the small parlour of Bilbo's rooms around the corner from the library. Here the two scholars would recover from their labours, aided by tea for Bilbo, a little sweet Elven wine for Rowanna, copious quantities of cakes and other dainties from Rivendell's kitchens, and endless tale-telling.
Rowanna found that Bilbo's professed fondness for genealogy had been no jest, and that he really did wish to know in every detail the descent of both her parents - in which she rather disappointed the Hobbit, having only hazy recollection of her father's kin in Minas Tirith.
"Though if as you say you never yet set foot in the White City, I suppose that is hardly surprising," Bilbo sighed. "Yet it is a pity. I know little of the noble houses of Gondor, and I should have liked to discover more of your father's descent. Still, your mother's lineage, now, that is fascinating. I wonder how far back her branch of Elros' line moved south and married into the nobility of Minas Tirith?" He sipped thoughtfully at his tea. "No matter. We might even find someone who knows, one of these days - I shall have to remember to ask the Dúnadan..."
Rowanna was puzzled by this cryptic utterance, but forebore from asking Bilbo about it, since the little Hobbit had made the remark almost to himself, and for a moment looked lost in thought. Instead she busied herself topping up the teapot as Bilbo had shown her, and the clinking of china roused him from his reverie.
"In any case," he added hastily, as though to cover up the fact that he had been caught daydreaming, "their two families made the match, you say; it was to the liking of both, I take it, and they were married in the White City - in what year, now?"
"If you want a date, I cannot give you one in Shire-reckoning, for I still cannot make head or tail of it!" Rowanna admitted a little shamefacedly. "But it was thirty-three years ago; for I know it was just three months after they were wed that Father took Mother north to Rohan, and he was in his third year of service in the Mark when I was born." She reached for another of the delicious, feather-light pastries filled with honey which the kitchens of Rivendell seemed able to produce at a moment's notice. Bilbo chuckled.
"They are good, those, are they not? I fear I've become quite shockingly portly since I came to Elrond's House. I don't get the exercise I used to - I'd walk all over the Shire and beyond, you know, was quite notorious for it. 'There's old Mad Baggins off on another of his adventures', folk would say, every time I went further than Bywater. But I don't do more than take a turn around the gardens, now. And there are so many wonderful things to eat here..."
"I could eat all day, when there is such food as this!" Rowanna agreed. "One of the Elves said something the other day about how much less thin I was looking - at least, if I understood him right then he said," - she glanced sidelong at Bilbo - "that I was looking much more comely, and that I must be eating like a Hobbit!" To her relief, far from being offended, her tutor roared with laughter.
"Do you know which of Elrond's folk it was? Lindir, I'll wager; he's convinced we Hobbits never have a thought in our heads beyond our next meal. But truly, my dear, I am delighted to see you enjoying Rivendell's food to the full; for if it isn't ungallant of me to say so, the day we first met, you looked in need of a few good square meals!"
"That was only because I had been ill," Rowanna protested. "I always had a hearty appetite - being out on the plains with horses all day never taught me the dainty eating habits of a fine lady of Gondor, I fear!"
A few days later, the Hobbit was glancing over his morning's notes relating to the dwarf-clans of the Grey Mountains, when an unfamiliar sound caused him to glance up. Hurrying feet, and not Elven feet, either! A moment later, the woman of Rohan burst through the door, face flushed, but eyes sparkling. Bilbo was somewhat taken aback to observe that instead of the borrowed gowns he was accustomed to see her in, she wore Mannish breeches; before he could exclaim over it, however, Rowanna had rushed up to their table and was gasping breathless apologies for her tardiness.
"I am so sorry, Bilbo - but oh, you will never guess what I have been doing -"
"If I did not know better," the Hobbit retorted with a twinkle in his eye, "I should say the only possible excuse to be thus late for your lesson, my dear girl, was that you had been on a horse!"
"But I have!" Rowanna grinned so broadly that Bilbo could not help but feel warmed by her delight, and smiled back. "Master Elrond agreed last night that I was strong enough to try to ride if I wished to; and so this morning Brethil the head groom -"
"I do know Brethil, yes, dear girl, I have dwelt in Rivendell some sixteen years -"
" - Brethil picked out a mount for me, and Arwen and I have just been down to the river and back!"
Suddenly Rowanna's legs looked as though they would no longer bear her, and she collapsed into the nearest chair. Bilbo was alarmed.
"My dear, are you well? There now, sit still, take some deep breaths. Are you sure you have not done too much?"
"No - I am well -" She breathed hard for a few moments. "Although," - she winced as she shifted in her seat - "I fear I shall feel this sorely tomorrow! I know it is foolish to make such a fuss, when all I did was to walk a few steps on Edlothia, and she's a mare I would give to any frail grandmother back in the Mark! But oh, Bilbo, to be on horseback again..."
"My dear, I am delighted," the Hobbit pronounced, "even if I will never, if I live to be two hundred, understand why Elves and Men are so attracted by the idea of sitting astride those great four-footed beasts and galloping off over the horizon; why were we given two perfectly good legs of our own, after all? But never mind," he smiled at Rowanna's somewhat crestfallen reaction, "let every man dig his own plot, as old Gaffer Gamgee used to say, and I think this merits a celebration. What say we excuse ourselves from the history of Beleriand, just for today, and adjourn directly for some tea?"
Happily ensconced in Bilbo's rooms, Rowanna put away so many of her favourite pastries in rapid succession that a second plate had to be sent for.
"I am sorry, Bilbo!" she exclaimed, somewhat abashed. "I did warn you what an appetite I have when I have been out with the horses! I fear the kitchens may have to be warned that I am riding again..."
"Which reminds me, my dear horse-lady," the Hobbit pointed out as he poured the tea, "you had promised me the tale of how you came to be brought up on the plains of Rohan in the first place. What was your father doing there? One of those noble scions of Gondor who so commonly went to serve in the éoreds of the Riddermark a few years ago?"
"And you claimed to know little of Rohan!" Rowanna exclaimed. "How did you come to hear of that?"
Bilbo looked sagely at her over the rim of his teacup. "Oh, my good friend the Dúnadan - " There it is again, thought Rowanna - "was there himself at one time - a few years before your father, by the sound of it. What little I know of both Gondor and the Mark I largely have from him. But we digress! - if I am right, then, to whose éored was your father assigned?"
"The Chief Marshal of the Mark himself, Éomund. If it hadn't been for that chance - " She broke off, suddenly taking great interest in the delicate patterning of a plate on the small tea-table between them. After a long pause, the Hobbit enquired very gently:
"What did happen to your father, my dear?"
"Orcs." Rowanna took a deep breath, and her voice trembled only faintly as she looked up again at Bilbo. "Orcs out across the Dead Marshes on Rohan's eastern borders. Only the Chief Marshal himself and his own éored ever went out against them then; Mother says in those days their raids had been rare things, and when they began to be more frequent Lord Éomund saw the danger at once, and would insist on driving them back all the way over the borders." She heaved a great sigh. "At least," she added at last, "none could say Éomund sent his men where he would not go himself; for a few years later it was orcs in the same Dead Marshes that were his end too..."
For a long moment, neither spoke. The Hobbit laid a hand on his pupil's sleeve and nodded, sympathy written across his kindly face; at last he smiled, and offered her some tea. The chill which had descended on the cosy little room was banished as they both laughed and talked again. Yet Bilbo remembered it; and it came back to him a few evenings later when, in the Hall before supper, he happened to glance across at the Lady Arwen, and caught her gazing at Rowanna, with anxiety shading her clear grey eyes.
It was evening, and many of Rivendell's folk were gathering in the Hall to gossip before supper. From his habitual stool in the corner, Bilbo Baggins happened to glance across towards the fireplace where the Lady Arwen stood, and caught her gazing intently at Rivendell's mortal guest.
The Evenstar and Master Elrond had been observing the woman of Rohan's growing friendship with the Hobbit with pleasure, and not a little relief. Arwen was only too aware of Rowanna's isolation, and had puzzled over how to relieve it without infringing on her friend's prickly independence.
It is good to see her smiling; and better that she finds her own solace, she mused that evening as she watched Rowanna practising her newest Sindarin phrases on an amused Erestor. I was beginning to fear she would despair of ever regaining her strength... She laughed at herself a moment. You doubted the determination of a Mortal? You of all people, Arwen, know better than that! Besides, Father would say that she is meant to be here, and therefore she is meant to be healed. Would Béodred and Dirgon have succeeded else, with all the hazards that were stacked against them?
Yet as Bilbo watched her curiously from across the Hall, Arwen frowned, still troubled by Rowanna. The sun shines on her again in her waking hours; and yet - after all these weeks, she has no memory of what happened to bring her here, neither awake nor in dreams. I do not like that, and yet I am not sure why...
She shook herself, trying to cast off her unease, as she looked across the Hall to where Erestor and Rowanna sat, the twilight slowly deepening through the window behind them. In the great hearth, the first fire of the autumn had been lit; for summer was gradually losing its hold on Rivendell. While the days continued warm and sunny, the morning air had a bite to it, and the evenings were drawing in and growing colder.
The Evenstar paced slowly across to the balcony which opened out from the Hall, hoping to shake off her anxious mood; yet the view out over the valley, as the last hints of the Sun's presence faded from the West, only stirred deeper fears. Mist was slowly rising from the forest, obscuring the mountains beyond until Rivendell floated alone, an isolated island in a sea of darkness. It could almost be summer still, here in the valley; but beyond our bounds, the autumn's chill tightens, and yet - nothing. Silence. No sign of Elladan and Elrohir, who surely should be returned by now, or at least have sent some message. And...no word from you, my Estel. Nothing for many, many weeks. What is happening, out there beyond our wards? Why can I not see?...
On the other side of the Hall, her father's thoughts tended along lines not far from Arwen's. What is Mithrandir doing? I had thought to see him in Imladris before the leaf's fall, or at the least to have some word from him! However I might try to reassure Arwen of the unpredictability of wizards, I like it not, and my daughter knows it - and she knows too that if evil has befallen Mithrandir, then peril may well menace the borders of the Shire and those who guard them. At that thought, Elrond's jaw tightened, and he stared grimly into the fire. Silence from the Shire... my sons, where are you? Earendil, watch over them!
Wrenching his thoughts away from the darkness beyond his bounds, the lord of Rivendell gazed again at Rowanna, talking and laughing with his steward. I knew something tugged at the back of my mind regarding her branch of Elros' line, although I should have to comb through the genealogies of Arnor in the library to be sure. The fate of certain of its daughters... aging and dying before the usual span of a Dúnadaneth; overmastered by care and heaviness, and always at times when the dark was rising in Middle-earth. Was I right to speak my fears to you, my daughter? I would not burden you needlessly with them; and yet...
The Evenstar's glance crossed with her father's for a moment; in the instant before he withdrew, she read his thought unveiled, and swallowed hard. Unbidden, her mind flew to another woman of the Dúnedain, who had sunk beneath her foresight of the growing power of the Enemy ,and given up her ghost at barely a century old. Arwen still grieved for her, and wondered whether Estel would ever cease to blame himself for his mother's death.
Elbereth guard you, Rowanna, against such a fate! For I do sometimes think that the darkness weighs most heavily, not on those who can take up the sword and march against it, but on those whose battles are fought behind the lines; those who can only wait and pray for its overthrow...
At that moment Rowanna threw her head back and laughed at something Erestor said, and the deep, musical sound drifted through the company on the evening air. From their different corners of the Hall, Master Elrond, Arwen and Bilbo Baggins smiled in spite of themselves, and tried to forget the shadows which the warmth and light of the Hall could not quite drive away.
Dúnadaneth: according to Hisweloke, adaneth is the feminine of adan, "man". Seems logical that the word to specify a female Dúnadan would be dúnadaneth.
edlothia = blossom in Sindarin (thanks again to Hisweloke). Seemed an appropriate name for a very gentle mare.
"another woman of the Dúnedain who had sunk beneath her foresight...": Gilraen, Aragorn's mother, died in her hundredth year - a ripe old age for many Mortals, but nothing for a woman whose son was to live to over twice that. The account of her death in the Appendices to LoTR says she was "aged by care, even as one of lesser Men," and she told Aragorn that "now that it draws near I cannot face the darkness of our time that gathers upon Middle-earth. I shall leave it soon."