18. Wilderland: hospitality
19. Rivendell: meetings or reunions
Boromir, some pioneers, Frodo, Aragorn, the returning Grey Company
19. Rivendell: meetings or reunions
Boromir, some pioneers, Frodo, Aragorn, the returning Grey Company
Halladan, now officially the Steward of Arnor, looked over when one of his companions rode up alongside him. “What is it, Evram?”
The dour Ranger, who’d watched the borders of the Breelands for most of his life and who hoped to continue doing so in the future, nodded toward the back of the company. “It is the Ringbearer, sir. He says he wishes to stop for a time.”
Halladan was immediately concerned. “He’s not appearing ill or in pain, is he?” Aragorn would have his hide if anything should threaten his small but beloved friend’s welfare before he returned safely to his own land.
“No, sir. But he was speaking to his kinsmen of a debt of honor.”
Halladan was intrigued. He looked at the sky, realized it was near to noon at any rate and they’d all do better for a time of rest and food, and gave the order to halt and dismount. The Elves from Imladris followed suit and soon were seeing to the comfort of the mounts, and a few of Elrond’s guards as well as three of Halladan’s group set up a watch on the periphery of their noon camp. Halladan dismounted and gratefully handed over his mount to one of the Elves who’d come forward to take it, and walked to where Frodo stood, rubbing at the ache in his thighs absently while examining a track that led westward off the Greenway past a lightning-blasted tree.
Frodo was remembering:
He, Aragorn, and Boromir, back in Rivendell some days before the Fellowship left the comfort of Elrond’s House, had spent a long, dark afternoon in the library, once again going over what maps of Mordor and the lands surrounding it could be found, trying to determine the best routes to take within it to reach Oródruin once one was past the Black Gates. The debate between the two Men had only served, it had seemed, to give Frodo himself a headache, as they could not agree on where it might be feasible to enter Sauron’s land with the least likelihood of being captured.
When Aragorn realized that Frodo was wincing each time one of the Men slapped the map they were currently examining, he wisely suggested that they leave off for the remainder of the day and get a drink together. He’d led them to a small parlor where they might relax, requesting of an Elf they encountered along the way that a light repast for Frodo and drinks for them all be brought to them there.
The food and drink had done much to ease Frodo’s discomfort, and Strider had turned the talk to Boromir’s journey northward from his home in Gondor.
“Where did you stay along the way?” Frodo had asked. “Were there many inns?”
“Inns?” Boromir had laughed, with a meaningful glance at Aragorn. “What inns? Tharbad is barely more than ruins, and other than a few small settlements and isolated farmsteads, I saw almost no signs of habitation along the way that were more than fallen walls or piles of rotting timbers and stones. Mostly I slept wrapped in my increasingly ragged bedroll and my cloak wherever I felt it fairly safe to let down my guard.
“A few times I did find a homestead where I would be granted a place in the cow byre or the barn for the night, but never more than that—well, save for one time.”
He’d taken a deep breath and was obviously drawing up the image of this incident in his mind. “About twelve days north of the crossing of the Hoarwell at Tharbad I found myself overtaken by a terrible storm, and I was soon drenched through and through. I saw a track leading westward, marked by a lightning-struck tree. Desperate to get out of the downpour, I set off to follow this way, and about eight furlongs off the Greenway I found a farmhouse surrounded by sown fields and a kitchen garden, with several outbuildings of various sorts. A pair of herding dogs came out to greet me, and appeared to find me no threat—at least they allowed me to approach the dooryard. A Man and his wife came out to meet me, and the Man spoke to me in Rohirric. When I returned his greeting properly but switched to the Common Tongue, he followed suit. He was from Rohan, from the Eastfold. He’d married a woman who was half-Dunlandish, and his own folk would not accept her, so they’d set off northward past her homeland, where he was not welcomed, until they found good land that no one appeared to claim, and there they’d settled to carve a farm for themselves and their children. They’d had time to build a comfortable house for themselves, and even had a small herd of horses of their own as well as a few kine and a small herd of swine.
“He recognized the devices on my shield, and gave me a proper welcome as one who served the Lord of Gondor. His wife appeared to be thrilled to be able to offer hospitality to someone of quality, and gave me the finest meal I’d had since I’d left the fortress at the foot of Amon Dîn. They had a proper copper bath, and insisted I cleanse myself of the mud and dust I’d gathered, and she did her best to clean and refresh my garments. I was given their son’s bed in the loft, and the child slept on a pallet near their own bedstead.
“I had nothing to leave them in payment for their welcome and hospitality, but they gave me such provisions as they could spare before I left the next morning.”
Well, Frodo had it in mind to see this family rewarded as he could.
As Halladan approached the Hobbits, he saw that Sam had been rummaging through one of the bags his pony had carried, and now he approached Frodo with something cupped between his hands. “Is this what you was wanting, Master?” he asked, holding whatever it was out to Frodo.
The Ringbearer smiled, and held out his hands to take the thing. The Man saw that it was a cloak brooch, quite a large one that appeared to be made of gold, with an embossed symbol of the White Tree of Gondor on it, inlaid in silver. “That is beautiful,” he said admiringly. “But what do you want with it now?”
“I wish to repay a debt of honor,” the Hobbit explained. “Would you mind accompanying me down this track, Lord Halladan? If it is the one I believe it is, there is a farm down it, perhaps a mile and a half or so back.”
Halladan exchanged glances with Evram, who’d followed him back to his station in the line near the Hobbits, and it was plain his fellow Ranger knew no more than he did. “But how do you know there is such a place at the end of the track?” Halladan asked.
“I was told of it last winter, just before we left Rivendell. The one who told me of it felt he owed a debt here, and as I said, I would see it paid.”
Several others had begun to gather, including Master Elrond. Halladan considered, then hazarded, “That is no short walk. Perhaps we would do well to ride—it would quicken the return to your meal.”
In moments one of the spare horses was brought forward, and Halladan mounted. Knowing how poorly Lord Frodo responded to being lifted up by others, he rode up alongside an ancient stump. Frodo allowed Master Elrond to hold his hand to balance him as the Hobbit climbed upon the stump, and from there carefully clambered upon the horse’s back in front of the Man. With an Elf going before them on foot, they started down the track, and within a quarter of an hour or so they found themselves arriving at a house. A boy was out front, kneeling down to play with a half grown pup. He and the pup both were paused, however, watching for the horse they could hear to appear from beneath the trees that overarched the approach to the dooryard. The pup gave a surprised squeak of a bark, and immediately two more dogs came out of the house, both barking, placing themselves between the strangers and the boy. A woman followed the dogs out of the house, wiping her hands on her apron; and a Man appeared from what appeared to be a byre, carrying a sturdy looking hay fork.
He called out to them in Rohirric, and Halladan was surprised to hear Frodo reply in that tongue, quaintly accented, that they came as friends. He then switched to the Common Tongue. “I am sorry,” Frodo said, “that I know little more than that in your language, sir; but I learned it as we rode from Minas Tirith to Edoras among the King’s household knights.”
The Man straightened in surprise. “You know my Lord Théoden, then?”
“Alas, no. I grieve to tell you that he died in the early spring, fighting the creatures of Sauron as they attacked Minas Tirith. His sister-son Éomer has succeeded him. Prince Théodred died as the winter was fleeing, ambushed by enemies from Isengard.”
There were cries of dismay from the Man, who turned to the woman, apparently to explain in a different language the import of the news brought by these strangers. She, too, was distressed, and wailed her own grief, reaching out toward her husband. In moments Halladan had swung down from the horse, and led it to a high mounting block intended, apparently, for the boy’s use. There Frodo managed to dismount, and in moments was on the ground, bowing low to offer them his services. All three appeared surprised both at his stature and his courtesy, although in moments they were being drawn into the house, and food and drink were produced very swiftly.
Halladan, looking out of the window, saw the Elf who’d preceded them indicating he would bear word of their safety back to the company, and nodded his approval before returning his attention to their hosts.
Frodo ate what was provided for him quietly and quickly, and thanked them for their courtesy and hospitality. At last the farmer asked, “And how did you know that we were here? We are not close to the Greenway, after all.”
Frodo smiled solemnly. “I was told what to look for,” he answered. “Do you remember a visitor from Gondor last summer?”
The wife looked to her husband, who translated for her. Her eyes lit with pleasure. “Bo-ro-mir!” she pronounced proudly. “Lor’ Bo-ro-mir of Gondor!” She said something else in her own tongue, rattling off the words very quickly, then with a glance indicated that the farmer should tell them what she’d said.
“She says, yes, a good man, noble and proud. He helped me with the stacking of the wood for the fire, and swept the kitchen for her. He even helped with the drying of the trenchers! He was plainly not accustomed to such chores, but did his best to help as he could.”
Frodo was smiling more broadly. “Yes,” he responded, “so we found him also. We met in the fall, and he traveled with us when we went south and east.”
“He did not come this way again?”
But Frodo was shaking his head. “We did not travel along the old roadway, and went east of the mountains when we could, traveling the remainder of the way to the northern borders of Gondor along the Anduin. But he told me of his visit with you, and how of all of those he met here in the Wilderlands, you were the only ones to welcome him into your home and to give him a true bed to sleep in. Your kindness meant a good deal to him, and he grieved that he could not repay your hospitality in a fitting manner.” He paused to allow the husband to translate. When the Man was done, he continued, “We were attacked by orcs near the Argonath, the Gate of Kings.” The Man nodded his understanding and swiftly explained to his wife. “He died there, defending my kinsmen. Our companions committed his body to the river, not having time nor means to bury him fittingly, nor to return his body to his father for internment in the tombs of Minas Tirith. The goods they could not carry with them they placed in a careful pile and set a boat over it all. There were several battles, but in the end the armies of the Free Peoples, of Rohan and Gondor and the realms of the Elves and Dwarves and other Men who resisted Sauron’s assaults on us all, were victorious, and Sauron is no more. Mount Doom tore itself apart as the tower of Barad-dûr fell into rubble. When all was over and peace established again, some of Boromir’s soldiers made their way to Amon Hen and found the boat, which had not been disturbed, and brought what had been left behind to the White City. Boromir’s brother gave to me this----” and he brought out the cloak brooch. He examined it one last time, then raised his chin and looked the wife in her eyes. “He felt he owed you a debt of honor, and I wish to repay it for him. Please, accept this from me for his sake, for I do believe he would wish it to have come to you.”
The woman, once this had been translated, looked at him with shock, more grief, and wonder mixed. “She asks if you mean this?” the husband said.
“I do. It is the least that we can do in his memory,” Frodo assured them.
At last she took it, turning it in her hands. “She says that it is very valuable,” the husband said. At Frodo’s nod, he asked, “And you do not wish to keep it yourself in his memory?”
Again the Hobbit smiled sadly. “I will never forget him. He saved my cousins, and so it is I have them to his memory. Please—please let this keep his memory alive for you.”
They did not stay much longer. They were given tins of honey and a smoked ham to take with them as they rode away, and soon enough they were returned to the rest of the company, and then were once again heading northward.
But in later years, when traveling between Annúminas and Minas Tirith, Halladan made a point of turning off at the lightning-struck tree to carry the best wishes of the Ringbearer to the farmer’s family, and always the wife wore Boromir’s cloak brooch when she donned her cloak to see his party on its way.