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3
Hospitality

Written for the Day Eighteen-Wilderland Challenge:
There is no beautifier of complexion, or form, or behavior, like the wish to scatter joy and not pain around us. 'Tis good to give a stranger a meal, or a night's lodging. 'Tis better to be hospitable to his good meaning and thought, and give courage to a companion. We must be as courteous to a man as we are to a picture, which we are willing to give the advantage of a good light.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

The act of kindness or hospitability usually comes from a generous heart. Write a story or poem, or create a piece of art where your character displays this virtue.


~~~

“So that is Thorontaur,” Elfstan Fairbairn mused, his gold-brown curls gleaming in the lantern light. He and Hethlin were seated in his parlor, a comfortable room with ceilings high enough even for Big People. The fire in the grate was blazing and he’d settled them both in overstuffed chairs, with a table for refreshments between them and a hassock for the Ranger’s bad leg. Hethlin threw him an inquiring look, which Elfstan, a very clever fellow, immediately understood.

“He can’t hear us. I saw him off to bed myself, there are several rooms between the guest bedrooms and the parlor and the walls are thick. You wore him out-I doubt he‘ll go wandering.”

Hethlin sighed and settled back into her chair. “That is Thorontaur. A more selfish, self-absorbed, self-indulgent young churl you’ll never meet, Elfstan.”

“He seemed polite enough to me,” the hobbit observed.

“Oh, he can put on a good enough show when he’s inclined to. But when he’s not… By the Valar-how did all that good blood curdle so badly? I’m embarrassed he’s my descendant-I feel as if I should be apologizing to the combined populations of Gondor and Arnor!”

The hobbit chuckled. “I hardly think you were solely responsible! As a great-grandparent, only about a twelfth of the blame can be laid at your door.”

“You…genealogist, you!” They both laughed and Elfstan gestured towards her leg. “Are you comfortable? I can fetch the sofa pillows if you want them.”

“I’m fine.” The old Ranger sighed reminiscently. “That hot bath was wonderful, Elfstan, and the dinner…I can’t thank you enough! We show up well after dinner at your door in the dead of night and you still manage to feed us like kings! With Marjory gone to Staddle, too!”

Elfstan shrugged. “I’m a hobbit. Hobbits live to cook. And eat. Speaking of which, would you care for some tea? I can brew a pot in next to no time. The kitchen fire is still hot..”

Hethlin’s eyebrow crooked upwards and she grinned. “Peckish again already, are we? No thank you-I’d not sleep if I did and I need my rest to deal with him.”

“It’s sleepy-tea, it won’t keep you awake. But now that you mention it, I do have something better.” Elfstan went off into the kitchen to get the wine, two tankards and the mulling spices and grabbed the leftover berry tarts from dinner while he was about it. Carrying the tray back in, he paused for a moment in the doorway, observing his guest, who had tipped her head back against the chair and was reveling in the heat of the fire, her eyes closed, a smile on her face.

For the first time since I’ve known her, Hethlin seems old, he reflected sadly. Which is not surprising-she’s older than the Old Took now! But they say the Dunedain don’t age as regular Men do, they just keep going until they suddenly burn out or like Elessar, decide to end things. She’s been a fixture in my life for almost all my life. When she goes, the world will not seem the same to me!

He came back into the room, set the tray on the table and began pouring the wine. Hethlin cracked an eye open.

“Oh, that is better! Ernil i Periannath!”

“I’d prefer to be known as Prince of Historians, if I’ve a choice in the matter,” Elfstan observed as he measured the spices into the tankards, then moved to the fireplace with them and stuck the poker into the coals.

“You are a princely fellow in so many ways, it is impossible to number them,” the Ranger declared.

Watching the poker and keeping his face turned carefully away, Elfstan said, “I saw them ride west, Hethlin. I am sorry.”

There was a long moment of silence, then her voice came to him, a bit harsh with suppressed emotion. “I knew that the day would come eventually, Elfstan. I’ve known it for decades. After Arwen went it was inevitable. And it’s what I wanted for him…them. They will be safe there, safe from fading and safe from what Men will do to this world. We are not mindful as they are.”

“But they are a part of this world, one of the first parts. It will seem lessened when they are all gone.”

“To some few of us, perhaps. Not to most. Most of them have never known the Elves and they don’t understand why we should be upset at their departure.”

The poker hot enough, Elfstan thrust it into the tankard and watched the wine heat, the spicy fumes rising to his nostrils. Time to change the subject, I think.

“So. About Thorontaur. Surely you’d met him before your last trip down to Gondor?”

“I must have,” Hethlin said, her brow furrowed. She accepted the tankard, wrapped with a towel. “He had to have been at Elessar’s funeral. I just don’t remember him. But that was three years ago, and children can change a lot in three years. And there’s such a brood of them down there now that it’s difficult to keep them all straight.” Sipping, her face lightened and she made a blissful sound. “Oh, thank you, Elfstan, that’s marvelous!”

Having finished warming his own wine, he returned to his chair and offered her a berry tart. She considered the pastry for a moment. “No, I couldn’t. I’m full.” But when his hand moved to put it back, she stopped him and took the tart. “Upon further consideration, I think there’s still a corner or two that could be filled up.”

“That’s the Captain Hethlin the Shire knows and loves!”

“I hate to tell you this, Elfstan, but only within the Four Farthings is ‘You eat like a hobbit!’ a compliment. Everywhere else it means ‘what ravening plague of locusts did you spring from?’” She bit into the tart and chewed, her eyes crinkling with pleasure.

The Warden of Westmarch laughed. “Back to Thorontaur. Exactly why is he up here with you?”

Hethlin swallowed. “Eldarion called me down from Rhovanion because of Thorontaur. Well, that and because he wanted me to sail up with him to the Havens to say good-bye to Elladan and Elrohir and Celeborn. I sat down with him and Vinyarion and we talked about the boy. The older he got, the more unmanageable he had become and his father and grandfather were worried. He seemed concerned about nothing but having a good time and had fallen in with a set of friends his family did not approve of. They thought it would be a good idea to remove him from that social circle, so Eldarion decided that perhaps this would be a good time for Thorontaur to explore his northern heritage, even as he and Vinya had done when they were younger, and he asked me to oversee things.”

“A bit inconsiderate of him about the timing, don’t you think?”

Hethlin‘s brow furrowed. “The Kingdoms’ needs always trump the needs of those who serve them. Eldarion knows I understand that.” She ate another bite of her tart. Elfstan took one up for himself and chewed for a moment, thinking.

“Speaking of timing-you said the boy had gotten worse the older he got. Did the King say when exactly things had started being very bad?”

“Yes. After Elessar’s funeral was when he got really wild. He’d always been a headstrong lad, but things got worse then-that’s when all the drinking and roistering started.” Hethlin curled her gnarled hands appreciatively about the warmth of her tankard and took a long draught. Her grey-gold eyes met and held Elfstan’s.

“What are you thinking, my scholarly friend?”

“I was just wondering how close Thorontaur was to the late King and Queen.”

“According to Eldarion, very close. He would heed Aragorn when he would heed no one else. And he was the Queen’s favorite great-grandchild and you know she had a fair number of those. Are you thinking their deaths had something to do with this?”

“I’m thinking that might be part of the problem. Aragorn was old and while Thorontaur-oh let’s call him Tel since he prefers that name and it certainly rolls off the tongue more easily!-might have been able to understand why he would chose to die when he did, the Queen was another matter. She still looked reasonably young and hale. I gather the family asked her to stay?”

“Any number of people begged her to stay,” Hethlin said, taking a draught of her wine, her eyes hooded. “I will own Arwen disappointed me there at the end. It is possible to lose people you love without indulging in a lot of romantic, bardic ridiculousness. And she knew what the bargain was when she made it.”

“You’re not happy about it and you have decades of wisdom to draw upon. But Tel-he would have been about sixteen or seventeen then, correct?- a very young man without that wisdom might have felt abandoned if one he thought of as a kindred spirit would not stay when he needed her.”

“It’s not as if he didn’t have other family, Elfstan.”

“No, but you know that even within families, some are closer than others.”

“So he misbehaved while she was still there in an effort to convince her he needed her guidance and that she should stay and when she was gone, he kept misbehaving because he felt hurt and betrayed?”

“I’m thinking that might be a possibility.” A companionable silence fell then as they addressed themselves to their pastries, each taking another when their first was finished. Finally, Elfstan wiped his mouth, got up, went to his desk and got out his pipe and tobacco. Returning to Hethlin he gestured with the pipe and asked, “Do you mind?”

She snorted. “If I do, I shouldn‘t be in Arnor!” When he had lit the pipe and settled himself once more, she said, “All right, out with it. I know that look in your eyes. You’ve got more.”

The hobbit smiled apologetically. “I don’t mean to presume, Hethlin. You have years on me. But you said yourself earlier that you’d gotten off to a bad start with the boy and that might color how you think about him. I’m at a distance from the problem.” He took a deep draw from his pipe and sighed a smoky sigh of contentment. The scent of pipe weed began to fill the room and blend with the scent of the spiced wine and old books and well-polished furniture.

“There are a couple of other things that I’m thinking of. The first is that it isn’t always easy to be the son or the grandson or even the great-grandson of a legend,” Samwise Gamgee’s grandson said with a twinkling smile. “People tend to have expectations which you may or may not be capable of fulfilling. You spoke of curdled blood a little while ago. We both know that good kings are followed by bad kings and the other way around all through history. Blood doesn’t always tell, and I fear you may have unreasonable expectations where Tel is concerned because of the people behind him and their deeds. Tel isn’t his pedigree, he’s just Tel.”

Hethlin grimaced and threw up a hand in acknowledgement. “You score a point there.”

“In the gold?”

“Close enough. And the other thing?”

“We are all of us grateful that Elessar ruled as long as he did, but it’s made problems for Tel. Barring accident or misfortune, Eldarion may rule as long as his father, perhaps even longer-he has Elven blood. And after him comes Vinyarion. There’s a very good chance that Tel will never take the throne. And the prospect of living his entire life as a prince- in-waiting is probably a dismaying thing to him.”

“I will point out that at one point in time Dol Amroth was filled with princes-in-waiting and they all found ways to be useful.”

Elfstan inclined his head. “That is true. But for whatever reason, no one in Minas Tirith has been able to convince Tel that there is important work he could be doing, that he has value as something other than a reserve throne-warmer. He’s an energetic young man, he doesn’t seem a dullard and he has nothing constructive to do. So he spends that energy in ways that are less than wholesome.”

“Now that I think on it, what you say puts me a bit in mind of Imrahil when he was young,“ Hethlin said thoughtfully. “From some of the things he told me he was every bit as wild as Tel, perhaps even worse.”

“He turned out tolerably well in the end, from all the accounts I’ve read,” the hobbit said with a grin, right before he took a puff and blew a smoke ring.

“He had Andrahar.”

“And Tel has you.”

“When I first traveled with Imrahil, I found him almost provoking,” the ranger said reminiscently . “It seemed everything he did, he did well. Prince Perfect, I used to call him in my head sometimes. I’m not sure my magic wand is big enough to turn Tel into a Prince Perfect.”

“Is it big enough to turn him into someone who has a thought for something other than his own pleasure?”

“Possibly.”

“Did the King tell you what to do with him? Did he ask you to make him a Ranger?”

“No, he said just to show him around and do with him as I felt best.”

“From what I’ve observed over the years, your best is very, very good,” Elfstan observed. “And I truly do not think Tel is unsalvageable.”

“Once or twice there’s been a moment where I’ve thought the same,” Hethlin said, then covered a yawn with her hand. “As enjoyable as this has been, it’s off to bed for me.”

“Rain is coming in tomorrow.”

“Trust me, I know.”

“There’s a bed-warmer by the hearth and poppy on the bed-side table if you want it, Heth.”

“My thanks, Elfstan. You’re a dear fellow. But I try not to take that unless I absolutely have to.”

“Why don’t you stay here tomorrow, so I can guest you properly?” the hobbit coaxed. “One day’s rest won’t hurt and you can drag Tel through the mud on the day after when the weather clears. Sleep in and I‘ll fix you a proper hobbit breakfast.”

“Oh, that does sound lovely!” For just a moment, the bone-deep weariness and sorrow were apparent on her face. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”

“Not at all!” Elfstan said heartily, and it was certainly true. “I always enjoy cooking for people who appreciate eating. And you and Tel can tell me more tales of what is going on down south. Fodder for my accounts! And we can get your laundry done as well!”

“Very well then, you’ve convinced me, you sweet-talker!” She levered herself to her feet with a pained grunt, then paused for a moment to squeeze Elfstan’s shoulders.

“Good night, Elfstan.”

“Good night, Hethlin.”

He watched her limp from the room, puffing his pipe thoughtfully. Walk to Evendim, indeed! It’s not happening on my watch! There was a Ranger courier outpost with horses five miles away. He’d send a boy from the village tomorrow to request two of them. What Hethlin didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her, and saddle sores would surely serve the purpose with Tel as well as blisters on the feet. She could drag the boy all over the countryside on foot when the weather was better and she wasn’t feeling so obviously heartsick.

Uncharitable thoughts crossed his mind for a moment where Eldarion was concerned, but he let them go. The King knows she will need something to keep her mind occupied in the next little bit. Heth is not one who will ever rust out and this is an important task.

Hospitality, hobbits knew, was not all pipe-weed and good food and drink and lavender-scented sheets. It was also a friendly ear and good counsel. I’ll wager she’ll be much more herself by tomorrow night! Elfstan thought with satisfaction as he laid his pipe down for a moment to bank the fire and blow out the lamps. He was planning the menu for breakfast in his head as he took himself off to his bed. There were many ways to serve the Kingdoms, and they all did not involve swords.

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