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33
The Watchful Peace

The Watchful Peace


Galadriel looked at the Grey Wizard amazed, her eyes wide with surprise and growing humor. “You had the head made of fireworks pronounce what?”

“I’ve repeated it twice—I filled the room with the pronouncement, ‘Nányë Ozimandus, iTúra Rúcimayë!’ and followed that with talk of judgment.”

Galadriel and her daughter exchanged looks and burst into peals of laughter, leading Arwen to peer into the chamber where her grandparents and parents sat with Gandalf in curiosity. “And what is so funny?” she asked.

Elrond’s eyes were fixed on Gandalf with wonder and approval. “Mithrandir here managed to frighten those who dwelt in Dol Guldur out of their hiding with what has to have been the most daring trick possible,” he explained.

“But who—or what—is Ozimandus the Great and Terrible?” questioned Celeborn. “And why should the Necromancer be sufficiently frightened of him to flee eastward as he did?”

Gandalf’s smile was rueful. “I have no idea—the name just came to me along with the idea of filling his primary hall with lines of fountains of colored sparks and smokes and the great floating head. I doubt that any within Dol Guldur had any knowledge of such a person, but it was sufficiently alarming to convince them that this Ozimandus must be someone capable of causing them great harm. I’ve never felt so much relief as I did when those of evil intent within the place unceremoniously departed, and all headed eastward at speed.”

“And the Necromancer—were you able to satisfy yourself as to his identity?” Galadriel was leaning forward intently.

But the Wizard shook his head. “No, I could not. Nor could I get into his lower dungeons or the room where he practices the harvesting of the life forces of others—as he fled, the Necromancer appears to have uttered a spell that blocked all such places. A single Man, dazed and naked, managed to come into the throne room of the tower, able to state only that those who had been in the room with him and who had intended to kill him for purposes of their own had fled away at the reports of the disturbances elsewhere. Then he fainted as the shock of his narrow escape hit him. I left him in Thranduil’s care for the time.

“I was able to release the spell binding the doors to some of his work rooms, however, and it is definite that he was working on the means to cause more plagues intended to kill many people. At least some four score individuals were found, of whom perhaps thirty have survived. But their lungs are weakened, and I fear they shall all die of wasting conditions within one to two years of the Sun.”

This news sobered them all, and the discussion turned for some time to descriptions of the symptoms seen in these victims and the progression of the disease as it led to their deaths, and what the Wizard had noted that might be the means of passing the disease from one to another.

Gandalf had found Celeborn and Galadriel visiting in Imladris with their daughter and her family, and so did not need to travel to Laurelindórenan to make a report separately to them.

“Has Curunír been advised as to what you found?” asked Celeborn.

“Not as yet. When I left Dol Guldur I went back to Minas Tirith to see if he was in residence, but he left word for me that he had gone to Umbar to examine the situation there. I was loth to leave a written report, and so I will do my best to be there in Gondor when he returns.”

They spoke of the situation in Dunland and lower Rhudaur, and of the drought that had left much of the population of those lands nearest the base of the southern Misty Mountains and just north of the White Mountains in need of aid. Gandalf explained, “I will be speaking with Aranarth and Mardil about what help each might be able to extend, not that Aranarth has that many resources at hand to share with those who have ever been his enemies. But it is to be hoped that those who may be moved to accept whatever bounty the northern Dúnedain might share will find their traditional animosity somewhat lessened.”

***


Gandalf stayed in Elrond’s house for some weeks before he headed into the Angle where most of the remaining Dúnedain had their settlements and hidden strongholds. Aranarth could not afford to share a great deal, but still he was able to send seven wagonloads of food south with Gandalf, where it helped save at least five villages.

Mardil, now the Ruling Steward of Gondor, was able to send substantially more northward into Calenhardorn and Dunland, and it was enough to lessen the threat of invasions by the inhabitants of the Brown Lands into Gondor’s territories at least for the moment.

It was three years before Saruman crossed the Poros into Gondor’s territories again. He’d heard reports that some practiced blood and death magics in the chief city, but had not been able to identify more than three families where this might be true. There was no question that Umbar had alliances with both Harad and Rhûn, but that with Harad was, for the moment, uncertain, and Umbar had recently sent its fleet to block Harad’s greatest harbor after a series of incursions by Haradri barks into what Umbar considered its waters.

“They are so involved in each seeking to prove its naval superiority to the other that they are quite ignoring Gondor,” he finished smugly. “And I have heard no reports of the Necromancer for at least the last three years.”

It was at that that Gandalf described his foray into Dol Guldur itself, omitting only the manner by which he’d managed to approach the doors unseen.

Saruman was alarmed. “That was a most dangerous and perhaps a foolish thing to do, my friend! What if you had been caught? When first I arrived in Umbar the word was that the Necromancer had issued a bounty for the capture and delivery to one of his agents of one of the Istari. To simply walk in through his gates and possibly right into his grasp was as close to true folly as I have ever heard of you committing!”

Gandalf felt stung. “Yet did you not remain within Umbar after learning this, brother? Was that not perhaps as equally foolish as entering Dol Guldur alone? Yet it was you who suggested that the one to slip within the Necromancer’s keep should not be an Elf. You, Radagast, and I were the only ones attending the council in Mirkwood who were not Elves—that did not leave much room for picking and choosing.”

Saruman gave a one-shouldered shrug. “And Radagast is certainly not likely to have volunteered,” he admitted.

“And with you away, who did that leave?” continued Gandalf. “I did what I could.”

“And you invoked the name of Ozimandus? Just who is Ozimandus?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea—the name just came to me, and it certainly sounds portentous, does it not?”

After a moment’s thought Saruman admitted, somewhat grudgingly, “You did well enough, I must suppose. It was enough to send the Necromancer scampering away as would a naughty child!”

Gandalf smiled openly. “It was most amusing, I must admit.” He sobered. “But I failed in my purpose—I did not establish for certain who he is—or was. We still cannot say with certainty either that he is or is not Sauron.”

“And you did not see him?”

“No. He was in a shielded room beyond his throne room, where they were seeking to kill a Man to harvest his life force. I could not tell on entering the tower where exactly he was, only that he was within it somewhere, before my—diversion—worked so as to send him scurrying out the back way. And I could not sense enough of his essence to tell whether or not I recognized it from when we served together in Aulë’s forge.”

Saruman appeared confused. “And just when did you and Sauron serve together in Aulë’s forge?”

Gandalf was surprised at this question. “It was not just Aulendil and I who served together under the tutelage of the Smith, my friend. Or have you forgotten that you, too, served him?”

Saruman went utterly still, his face losing all color. He had indeed forgotten this! Was he beginning to lose himself into this body he inhabited?

Rapidly he changed the subject, vowing to himself that he would begin a regular practice of sifting through the memories stored within his staff at more regular intervals!

***


There was leisure for study now, the two Wizards agreed, with the Necromancer fled so far away. Saruman was seeking information once more on the manner in which the Rings of Power had been created, and had added all he could find on the nature of orcs. Gandalf, on the other hand, had begun a study of Words of Power, and began visiting various peoples to learn which Words of Power and lesser spells each was willing to share.

“One never knows when such knowledge might prove useful,” he commented to his superior.

Saruman had to agree, and left Gandalf to it.

When Gandalf went off into Rhovanion to question people there, Saruman began ferreting into obscure corners of the Great Archive in Minas Tirith. One day he found, quite forgotten, a text in a somehow familiar hand that appeared promising, and he found himself intent on possessing it. He finally slipped it within his robes and brought it to his rooms in the guesthouse where he and Gandalf stayed so frequently, and secreted himself in the large study on the lower floor that was his. There were many volumes here that he had acquired over the years, and once again he was grateful that Gandalf was sufficiently honorable to grant him this room for his own and did not visit it unless specifically invited to do so, something that had not happened now for over two hundred or so years.

He opened the new volume and began reading. It was a copy of a description by Lord Celeborn of the time he and his wife lived within the kingdom of Ost-in-Edhil as advisors and courtiers to Celebrimbor, and especially dealt with the period during which the being known as Annatar dwelt there as well, teaching Celebrimbor and his most closely associated smiths the secrets of forging Rings of Power.

Saruman was ecstatic! Perhaps he might now find the specific information he sought! He began to read assiduously.

“Woefully inadequate and incomplete!” the White Wizard complained a few hours later. There had been much about the suspicions that Celeborn and Artanis Galadriel had developed about the nature of Celebrimbor’s mentor, and indications on the capabilities of some of the lesser Rings that had come from the forge, but little if anything about how it was that any of the Rings crafted in Eregion was empowered. Disappointed, he closed the volume and took it to the shelves that held his personal library, knowing automatically just where it should lie within the system he had developed to indicate just how useful a particular volume or scroll might be. As he pulled out a tome already upon the shelf to confirm that he wished to place the new book beside it, however, he paused, his eyes widening. The faded title worked into the leather of its binding was identical to that on the volume he had just taken from the Great Archive that day!

“How is this?” Saruman demanded of the Fates, who did not deign to respond to him. He opened this book, and inside the cover he saw the name of the lord from whom he’d taken it centuries ago. He began comparing the texts and found them identical, until he came to the ending of his newer prize. There was the signature of the scribe who’d copied this volume, with the indication that it had been copied at the behest of Curunír from a book from his own collection with the intention of gifting it to the people of Gondor. He recognized the name of the scribe, a Man he’d employed to copy several works to gift to a long dead King.

He cursed in Adûnaic. How in Middle Earth had he managed not to recognize a book he himself had gifted to this benighted realm? “Now I must go to the trouble of returning it!” he growled. He had no use for the newer volume, as until he should ever find a place in which he might dwell permanently he could not afford to possibly carry about duplicates of books that might well prove needful of being moved on an irregular basis. He considered merely burning it, but found that he could not do so. Books were not for burning, after all. Had not he himself gone to the trouble of getting the thing copied? And, should anything untoward happen to his own library, at least now he knew where he could find another copy of it!

He set the book aside to return as best he could the next day, and went upstairs to his bedroom to retire and ponder the vagaries he was finding in his memory! Had he held this form too long? Was that why he was finding himself not recognizing his own past actions? He did not wish to lose himself, after all.

His dreams were troubled….

*******


Gandalf examined Thráin’s son Thorin, not certain why he felt such unease. “And why are you leaving the halls your father founded?” he asked.

Thorin shrugged, obviously offended by the Wizard’s question. “What does it matter to you where Dúrin’s people should dwell, Tharkûn?” he responded querulously. He glared at Gandalf for a moment before giving a huff, finally explaining, “Not all of our folk from Khazad-dûm chose to follow my father here, although they honored him as their King during his lifetime. My wife’s people dwell with my mother’s in the Iron Hills, but most are gathering in the Grey Mountains. They wish to have their King live among them, and so I have chosen to go where they would have me. A few may remain here—it is a rich place, after all. But most of us will remove to the Grey Mountains for as long as they can support us.” He added, with a rather sly sideways glance, “If it is merely a matter of the availability of the mineral salts that you have purchased from my people, well, are they of that much value to you?”

“You would change your plans should I offer to pay you enough to remain here in Erebor?” Gandalf sniffed. “No? I rather thought not. I have appreciated being able to obtain such salts and other materials from you as needed, although that has been a rare enough occurrence in the past century or so. But I am not without other sources for what I might need in the future. You need not worry as to whether or not I want for rare metals and mineral salts merely because you do not dwell here any longer.”

He did barter for a supply of magnesium, however, and set off first eastward, having learned a few useful spells that were commonly used by those of the line of Dúrin—and that without Thorin’s knowledge.

In company with Thranduil and both his sons, Gandalf looked upon the tower of Dol Guldur. The Elven King said in a low voice, “There have been no signs of the Nazgûl or troops of the Rhûnim since you brought out of that foul place the foreign Men who were ill, nor any hint that the Necromancer himself might have returned. It was a marvelous deed, to slip somehow around my warriors unseen and enter that accursed fortress and so roust him.”

The Wizard shrugged. “But I failed to see the Necromancer with my own eyes and so tell who or what he might be.”

“He did not capture you—that was a victory in and of itself!”

“I still wish to know,” his darker haired son murmured, “how it was that we did not see you or identify you.”

Gandalf merely gave him an enigmatic smile, and stared once more at the keep.

*******


Legolas Thranduilion gave the Wizard’s face a swift examination before noting softly, “A Wizard is not likely to give up his secrets lightly, my brother.” His own expression hardened as he looked back at the shadowed keep before them. “I doubt I will ever find it within myself to forgive the Necromancer for the condition of those you brought out to us the last time, though, Mithrandir. I can only rejoice that eight did manage to survive and to return home, although their lives are not likely to have proved either long or comfortable, considering how difficult it was for them to draw breath once they’d recovered.”

The Wizard gave a sober nod to that. “I did not know how well any of them might be able to recover, much less whether any might,” he admitted. “But if it was within them to do so, I believed that your people might be best suited to help them, as it was too far to seek to take them to Elrond’s care. I doubt any of them would have survived the trail up to the High Pass. If your healers will be willing to give me a report on how they aided those Men, and perhaps more details on how their conditions appeared to progress ere they left you, I would be willing to bear the information to Elrond to add to his store of knowledge on how to fight such illness should it suddenly become common here in the western lands.”

Thranduil gave a single nod. “Willingly, friend.” He gave one last examination of the not quite deserted fortress. “Orcs still dwell there and guard the place, as do wargs, werewolves, and many of the great bats that drink blood. I do not believe that the Necromancer will stay away forever, although we are making the most of his absence.” He straightened some and turned away. “I, for one, have seen enough today. Come, let us return home, and I will have the healers speak with you.”

*******


Radagast served him an herbal tea sweetened with honey that had been stored in oaken barrels. “I came south to Thranduil’s palace to see the former prisoners, and helped arrange for their return to their own homes, far to the east, beyond Rhûn. Tatars, they called themselves. They did not have any word of our brothers in blue, although one elderly woman did recall a legend of two who, although they called themselves brethren, still did not look to have come from the same peoples. In ancient times, she said, they came from the west, each bearing a long staff, Men of great power and wisdom who sought ever to heal rifts between brethren. But they disappeared further east, many, many lifetimes ago, she said.”

“It is more knowledge of our brothers than we have heard since our arrival,” Gandalf noted. “I will speak of this with Saruman and see if he has heard more. Have none of your birds or beasts brought you any word of them?”

“When first I chose this as my home I would on occasion hear rumors of them from some of the far-ranging swallows and finches. But long years have passed since I last heard anything. One sought to dwell far to the east, in a land watered by a river the color of goldenrod, or so the birds told me. He aided a worthy Man to reign over a large nation. But the Wainriders swept through that land, and none can tell what became of our brother, who appears to have been Alatar. Of Pallando I have heard nothing save the words of the old woman, which offer no details that we did not know already.

“Now, tell me, Gandalf, of what word has been circulating regarding the lord of Dol Guldur?”

*******


He saw what appeared to be the ruins of an abandoned smial in the valley of the Anduin, but nothing more of the Hobbits reported to have returned to the region. What might have led to this smial being abandoned he could not tell. Nor could those of the Éothéod tell him what might have happened to those who had lived in that bank.

“We would leave gifts of milk or tanned hides in a niche cut into the rocks near the confluence of the Great River and its tributary that entered it from the mountains, and in return we would find many cunningly worked items, such as leathern bags of fine and intricate workmanship, lengths of linen cloth, closely woven baskets often filled with recently harvested berries, or turned wooden bowls etched with images of sheaves of wheat or wreaths of flowers or fruits. But two years past our gifts went uncollected, with only a length of fine rope to be found when we went first that way.” The Rider with whom he spoke shook his head in regret.

But whether illness, a natural disaster, or assault from the Enemy’s creatures had led to the emptying of that smial the Wizard never learned.

*******


Elrond listened to Gandalf’s report of what he’d found and learned since their last meeting, his expression sober. “So, it appears that those of the Periain who returned eastward have not prospered as have those who dwell now in the Breelands and the Shire,” he mused. “And the Necromancer has not yet returned from wherever it is he hides in the east? What is Thranduil’s response to that?”

“He says that his people seek to take advantage of their fell neighbor’s absence while they may. The forest is nowhere as forbidding as it was during the Necromancer’s presence in Dol Guldur, and none of the great spiders has been seen in several years. Although they have found a few nurseries where egg sacs had been suspended, but with all of the spiderlings already hatched and dispersed.

“There have been a few children born in Lasgalen in the last few years, but less than ten in all. Most couples refuse to bring children into this world when the future is so much in question.”

Elrond nodded his agreement with this decision. “The Dúnedain have increased in number for the first time in many ennin,” he said. “But they do not seek to rebuild their cities or dwell openly as yet, for it is murmured among them that the signs are not proper to allow them to come fully out of hiding. The threats to the heirs to Isildur have ever been too common to ignore. Now, what more has been learned of the illness with which those you rescued from Dol Guldur had been infected?”

What had been reported to the Wizard by Thranduil’s healers and by Radagast was recorded now by Elrond, who indicated he would discuss the information with his fellow healers within Imladris and his sons, and that he would share it with the Dúnedain as well. “Aranarth’s grandson Aranuir is here now, studying the lore of his house and the arts of rule as has been true of all his forebears since the days of Valandil. He is a competent healer, as has been true of all within his line, although he is not as dedicated to healing as have been many of his ancestors. Perhaps if you will speak with him about what you found within Dol Guldur he will be inspired to take more of his lessons to heart….”

***


In Eriador there were reports of sightings of dragons to the north, up near the borders with Angmar. The red dragon had been seen a few times, but now there were two more, each a different shade of green, and neither of them as large as the red one. No one could say whether either of these was a female. One of these sought to raid Dwarf holdings in the mountainous country north of the ruins of Fornost, but was driven back, one of its wings now torn by arrow wounds.

Gandalf remained in the north for some years, going between Imladris and the Dúnedain settlements for the most part, occasionally entering the Dwarven halls in the Blue Mountains and the region north of Fornost, sometimes going east over the mountains and back, and now and then straying through the Shire….

*******


Gorhendad Oldbuck, heir to the Thain, stood by his older sister’s husband Isumbras Took, looking across the Brandywine at the land that lay there between the river and the Old Forest, eyeing the ridge his family had desired to delve a proper smial into for generations, ever since the coming of Modoc to the Shire. Gorhendad had dwelt amongst the Tooks for a time, and had become fast friends with Isumbras, who was much of an age with him, and in time they had married one another’s sister.

The Oldbuck had loved staying in the Green Hills where many families lived close by one another, in many cases in rambling smials shared by families of siblings or multiple generations, and he wished to build a large smial of his own for all of the children he and his new bride Beryl hoped to produce. But here in the Marish there was little land suitable for the digging of proper holes. Much of the Marish was floodplain, its soil rich for crops mostly due to the fact that many springs saw it covered by the waters of the river. Houses were built mostly on what higher ground could be found, and the few smials to be seen were small, contained within isolated hillocks here and there, or near the top of the few larger hills that lay between the fields.

The Oldbuck home was definitely comfortable, but it simply wasn’t large enough to house all who wanted to dwell near to one another for the comfort of family, much less to properly house the records for the Shire. There had been repeated attempts to enlarge it, but all had failed in the end as only a certain amount of land stood high enough above potential floods to be suitable for building.

“I tell you, Isumbras, that I refuse to stay this side of the Brandywine any longer,” he declared. “I know the King didn’t give us that land, but does he or any of his live there? Of course not! I’ve explored there more times than I can count, and there’s rich land for farms well above the level of the river, as well as some hillier country to the south where there’s signs of good iron for tools, and plenty of timber for use by carpenters and joiners as well as for the construction of sturdy homes, and supports needed in delving proper smials.”

“Your father’s not going to like the idea of you crossing the river,” cautioned his friend and brother-in-love. “Nor will most of the folks of the Shire appreciate knowing our Thain is living on the wrong side of the Brandywine.”

Gorhendad snorted. “Let them make of it what they will,” he said. “I’ll tell you this—I’ve never wanted to be Thain. If they want to strip me of the title, it’s no skin off my nose. You’re far better at administration than I’ve ever proved—you be Thain instead of me!”

“But you’re the proper heir to Bucca—” began Isumbras.

“But you, too, are one of his descendants,” Gorhendad interrupted. “We Oldbucks and Tooks have intermarried so many times we’re basically the same family anyway. If the Hobbits of the Shire insist that the Thain reside west of the Brandywine, then I say let them turn to the Tooklands. Besides, the Tooklands there in the Green Hills country are more central anyway. People won’t have to travel so far to have the Thain sort out their business for them!”

“But what about the Shire Moot and Muster?”

“What about them? The Tooks are the best archers in the whole of the Shire and usually make up the bulk of our Hobbitry-at-arms anyway—we all know that. And most of the time when the Thains call for a moot we meet in the Tooks’ holdings, or near Hobbiton, those being easier for most Hobbits to get to than here in the Marish. So, tell me it doesn’t make sense to change the family for the Thain!”

“But people want the Thain to come through the proper heir….”

The Oldbuck threw up his hands. “Amaranth is older than me, Brassie. Why can’t the Thainship pass through her to you? She became as much the Took as you when you married her, right? Just as Beryl will be as much family head for the Oldbucks as I am when A’da gives over the responsibility to me. Why can’t you and Amaranth share the Thainship in the same way? But I’ll tell you this—I want a proper smial, dug right into the earth, and I aim to get it, no matter the cost.”

On one of his journeys from the Blue Mountains and Mithlond back to consult with the Chieftain of the Dúnedain, Gandalf found the bulk of the family heads for the Shire meeting under a large pavilion that had been set up in a field across the West Road from the Green Hills. Curious as to what was going on, he stopped where he could look through one of the open sides and hear what was being discussed.

“And why should we wish as the Thain after you t’be Isumbras Took rather’n one of the Oldbucks as has been our Thains since the King went away?” an older Hobbit with thinning grey curls was demanding.

“Do you wish the Thain to be living the wrong side of the Brandywine?” retorted the one who appeared to be chairing the meeting. “My son has made it clear to me that he will be living in that smial he’s having dug into the great ridge to be seen across the river from the Marish. And he’s also made it plain that he doesn’t wish to follow me as Thain to the Shire. What am I to do? He’s a Hobbit grown, after all, and as stubborn as any Took I’ve ever seen!”

He rose to his feet and paced back and forth behind the table at which he’d been sitting. The Wizard could see he was a powerfully built Hobbit, his hair almost white with age but still thick, his face indicating long experience with life even if filled with annoyance at the moment. “He’s pointed out that his sister is older than he is, and perhaps ought to be Thain instead of him.”

There were general cries of outrage at this. “But the Thain’s never been a lass!” was the most common objection.

“I know!” agreed the current Thain. “I’ve pointed this out to Gorhendad again and again, and he just keeps asking, why not? Or, if not him, then why not her sharing with Isumbras as her husband? After all, we Hobbits have always shared the duties of the family heads between husband and wife—why not the same for the Thain?”

There was much discussion on this, and the debate raged for hours, through at least three meals that Gandalf counted.

It was after late supper, with torches and lanterns lighting the pavilion, that two younger Hobbits appeared, each with his wife by his side. Gandalf suspected they’d stood aside from the meeting so as to allow their fellows to discuss their concerns more openly, but had come now to hear the decisions made by those gathered.

“The Thain recognizes Bungo Baggins to speak for the family heads,” the Thain intoned.

A taller, somewhat slenderer Hobbit than one usually saw within the Shire rose to face one of the two who’d just arrived. “Do you mean it, Gorhendad Oldbuck, that you don’t really want to be Thain after your dad?” he asked with more understanding than most of the other Hobbits had shown during the hours Gandalf had spent observing the moot.

“Yes, Cousin Bungo, I mean it,” declared Gorhendad. Gorhendad was a younger version of his father, the Wizard noted, his hair so dark a brown it was almost black. He wasn’t yet quite so broad as was the Thain, but was certainly as muscular, and his face was set with determination. “I’ve always been for crossing the river, as you know well enough. There’s good land and timber there to be had, and our smial, that for Beryl and me and what family we’ll get, is already under construction. And we’ll have room for our family to be easily to hand, if they want to be by us, and with small worry of being flooded out as happens every few years there in the Marish.”

“And you’re full willing to pass the office of the Thain to your sister and her husband for them to share between them as happens with the rule of the families?” persisted the Baggins.

“Yes.”

At that simple but definite response, those gathered exchanged glances and a few muffled comments with one another.

At last Bungo Baggins looked to meet the eyes of the other couple who’d just come. “How about you two, Isumbras and Amaranth? Are you two willing to take on such responsibility toward the whole of the Shire?”

Husband and wife’s eyes met, then turned back to meet those of the Baggins. “Yes—we’ve discussed it between us,” Amaranth said. “My brother’s never made no bones about his disinterest in becoming Thain once our father is gone, and with Mum already in her grave and our younger brother not even of age yet as well as being simple, there’s no question that if it becomes necessary we’ll take up the office between us. Although I must say I’ll probably let him do most of the work—after all, I’m expecting now, and will undoubtedly wish to spend most of my time taking care of our children. And I’m already taking part in many of the duties expected of the family head for the Tooks. Why not let my Brassie do most of the work as the Thain? Does anyone here question his integrity or his ability to sort out problems for the folk of the Shire?” She looked about the tent, noting the occasional nod of agreement. “I thought not.”

When Bungo Baggins focused his attention on the Took, Isumbras cleared his throat. “I’ll admit that I wasn’t prepared for this role, but I’ll accept it if that’s what the family heads want. And I vow I’ll do as well by the Shire as I can.”

There was a final vote, and when it proved to be overwhelmingly in favor of the compromise proposed by Gorhendad Oldbuck, that worthy soul gave a whoop of relief. “Yes! Thank you all! I know none of you will be disappointed to see the Thainship come toward the center of the Shire, and Isumbras Took and my sister here will do us all proud!”

Afterwards many of those gathered began to leave, some who lived in the region of the Hill or the Tooklands toward home and others to accommodations offered by local relatives or inns. Bungo Baggins was one of those who’d lingered, and now he approached Gorhendad and his wife. “So, you two are indeed leaving the Shire proper?”

“We’ll never consider ourselves anything but Shire Hobbits, in spite of living the other side of the Brandywine,” Gorhendad insisted. “I know that many in the family take exception to it, but we’re going to change the name of those who go east of the river to Brandybuck, to show we’re the ones who’ve chosen to take over Buckland.” Here he turned to face his father. “And there’s this. A’da—even though I’ll not be the Thain I’ll still be the Master of Buckland. Old Bucca himself wanted to live there, across the river in what he always called Buckland, and I’m the one to see his dream made real.”

One of the Hobbits who stood nearby the Thain tugged at Gorhendad’s sleeve. “But what of us as will stay in the Marish?” he demanded. “When yer dad’s dead and gone, who’ll be for us? Them as lives in Frogmorton? What do them know of what it’s like to live by the Brandywine? Our loyalty’s always been give to the Oldbucks, you know. Or will ye have yer li’l brother be the one as watches over us in the Marish? Him’s a simple one, as yer knows for true. That’s the only reason as the other family heads voted fer yer sister and Master Isumbras t’succeed your father, after all.”

Others who’d remained gave a murmur of agreement, and Gorhendad and his wife exchanged looks with one another and his father. At last the Thain growled, “Well, lad, out with it! Are you willing to stand for those of the Marish as well as those who’ll follow you east of the river, watching over them as he asks?”

Gorhendad swallowed, and at last straightened, turning to face his father straight on, his head held high. “If they wish it of me, I will, A’da. As long as they’re willing to deal across the river, I’ll stand by them as I will those of our family.”

The Thain appeared relieved. “Well, that’s settled, then. I was worried for that, you know, son. We’ve always been there for those of the Marish, those of us come down from old Bucca. And I’d not wish to see our family desert our own folk completely, what with your sister moved off here to the Tooklands.”

The last Gandalf saw before he entered the village of Kingsbridge, built on the Shire end of the Bridge of Stone Bows, was the rise of the ridge on which the Kings of Cardolan had built their keep, where the descendant of Modoc and Bucca of the Marish was looking to found his own small realm, and he smiled. Both Modoc and Bucca would be proud of Gorhendad, he was certain.

*******


He found Araglas, fifth in descent from Aranarth and the sixth Chieftain of the Northern Dúnedain, camped near the ruins of Fornost with a number of his closest kindred. “We’ve been driving out a number of the great wolves that have been making incursions into the Breelands,” he told Gandalf. “And now that they are gone north into Angmar, we returned here, where we’ve been going through the ruins of the fortress. I found this,” he added, holding out a mithril tube such as was commonly used to keep safe ancient documents. “It was hidden in a niche in what must have been my ancestors’ throne room, one whose significance the Witch-king’s people appear to have failed to appreciate, the panel covering it marked as it was with the eight-rayed star of Eärendil. They sought to eradicate the star, but never realized there was a storage space behind it.”

Gandalf opened the tube carefully, and pulled out the scroll that it contained. “It’s in marvelous condition!” he exclaimed in delight.

“That it is,” agreed the Man. “It appears to contain many of the prophecies made regarding Arnor by such as Malbeth the Seer, and earlier by Ozimandus.”

Gandalf’s attention was drawn immediately to focus on the face of Araglas. “Ozimandus?” he said sharply.

“Yes, Ozimandus. He was one of the companions and primary advisors to Amandil, according to our family traditions, one who had more frequent communication with the Elves of Eressëa. It was reported that he was originally keeper of the palantir that is said to remain in the Elven Towers near Mithlond, and that he saw the seeing stone placed there after the arrival of Elendil’s ships on the shores of these lands. He was a seer in his own right, and made many of the prophecies early in our history. It was he, for example, who foresaw that we should ever fight the evil intentions of the Enemy, and that one day we should most likely become a secret people, hiding in the Angle and watching over our former vassals unremarked. I understand that the Witch-king was confronted by Ozimandus more than once, and was rather in awe of him. It is said that he had a commanding personality, for all that he bowed to Elendil as King once Amandil was gone and all had come here. Or so it is written in those of our annals we took with us into our exile in the Angle.”

The Wizard found himself taut with surprise and a growing confusion. He carefully unwound the roll, finding the text to be upside down. Carefully he turned the scroll, realizing it was written in Adûnaic, but in Tengwar script. It took a few moments to puzzle out the words.

“And it is there, on the banks of the Baranduin, that he who shall one day see the Dark Lord brought low for the final time shall live during his childhood. Lo, but it shall be one long overlooked from among those who dwell hidden as if within the earth itself who shall find his way to the Enemy’s most ancient stronghold to cast within it that which will rob the Deceiver ever of his power! Beware, servants of evil, for you shall not triumph forever as you purpose!”

Gandalf felt the hair upon his scalp and the nape of his neck contract, and a shiver of anticipation ran through him. What could this mean? After all, those who’d dwelt near the Baranduin were no more, all slain long ago as a result of Angmar’s machinations. And now it was Hobbits who intended to dwell there!

He shook his head, rolled the scroll taut between its two rollers, and slipped it back into the mithril carrier. “Most interesting,” he commented as he returned it to Araglas.

But for some reason he kept finding the words he’d read ringing in his mind for some time afterwards, and often he seemed to hear them uttered within his dreams….



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