For Virtuella and Illereyn for their birthdays, and for Thanksgiving.
Frodo and Gandalf were walking back from one of the smaller markets in the Fourth Circle toward the gate to the Fifth Circle when a voice called out behind them. "Lord Frodo! Please—wait!"
Frodo stopped, shuddering at the sound of the title, one that continued to leave him feeling somehow unnatural. Gandalf looked down at him with concern, allowing one hand to touch the Hobbit's shoulder. "What is it, my friend?" the Wizard asked.
"Someone is calling out to me," Frodo murmured. He took a deep breath, and turned reluctantly. A young Man and a woman were coming toward him, the Man on crutches, one leg missing below the knee, a hat askew upon his head not fully hiding the scar where the slash of an enemy sword had removed his left ear. The woman was young—quite young, and very pretty, her right hand upon her escort's back, her face somewhat anxious and protective. Something in that expression made the Hobbit reluctant to take the young Man to task for the use of the unwanted title. For he was quite young, Frodo realized, young and rather excited. Instead, Frodo held himself respectfully still, watching the two approach.
"We thought at first we saw a child," the young woman said, letting her hand fall and giving but a half a curtsy before she stepped closer. "But then Derunol told me, no, it was not child but one of the Pheriannath. He said that he'd come to recognize the Pheriannath in the camp at Cormallen, and that one of them had befriended him while he recovered in the healers' tents. I'd told him I wanted to thank you, to thank you all, for saving him for me, and for giving him hope when he lay in the tents thinking that he would have no life, what with losing his leg and an ear, thinking I would not want him back again. And he said that you would come through the tents with the King, and all rejoiced to see you come, for doing so gave them heart to live again, and hope for the future.
"I understand that you, too, were badly wounded, and far closer to dying than was my Derunol, to the point some despaired of you waking yet again. I rejoice that you did so, so that we could thank you. Had you not succeeded in making it all of the way to the Mountain when you did I understand that it is likely my Derunol would not have come back to me. So, I thank you, and ask that you bear my thanks also to your kinsman Meriadoc who comforted my beloved in the healers' tents. Thank you for your faithfulness and for your endurance, that you made it possible for the Enemy of us all to be finally brought down completely. And I ask that you bear my thanks to your esquire, also, who it is said accompanied you all of the way through Mordor. I do not know what I would have done, should I have lost my beloved either to his wounds or to despair."
She leaned down and kissed the top of his head, and Frodo felt his cheeks burn with both embarrassment and an unexpected pleasure. "I thank you, mistress," he managed. "But I feel you perhaps think more highly of us than we deserve. We only did what was needed, you know."
She laughed rather breathlessly, touching his cheek gently. "And what was needful was that you reached the Mountain before all who fought the forces of Mordor were lost, and that you did! And you allowed me to find my love again, and to know that he also helped protect us all. We all bless you for it, Lord Frodo! And we—well, Derunol and I wished to ask if you and your companions would honor us by attending our wedding next week? We've been betrothed for a year, you see…." Her cheeks were pink with her own presumption, and Frodo felt himself warming to the two of them in spite of himself.
At last she was done, her eyes bright because Frodo had promised for himself and for the other Hobbits to come to an inn in the Fourth Circle where the wedding was to be held on the Treesday next, and with another fumbled curtsy and as awkward bow from her intended the couple turned away, her arm once more possessively across her beloved's back.
"Well, that was interesting," Gandalf mused, watching after them with approval. "I remember seeing him in the camp at Cormallen as they taught him to use crutches, watching after the one for whom so many worked to give him that wheeled chair you thought of. I never thought I should give much thanks for the example of Lalia Took, but I did on that day."
Frodo noted, "At least she had both legs on which she could stand, even if walking more than a step or two was no longer possible for her."
The Wizard nodded his agreement. "That was true enough. But it was you who inspired so many to work together to help make such a chair for the one who'd lost both his legs, and that one to stand once more and to walk with crutches. As Sam would say, where there's life there's hope."
"And want of vittles," finished Frodo, surprising himself with a small but heartfelt laugh. "Well, what do you know? I'm to attend a wedding, here in the White City!"
"And one that they both appear to feel is happening only because of what you and Sam—and Gollum—achieved together. Well, perhaps we should get those pigeons you just purchased back to the guesthouse so that they can be placed in the cool room until they are wanted for dinner, and then you can pass on the invitation to Merry, Sam, and Pippin and begin thinking on what you all should wear."
As they turned again to resume their return to the Sixth Circle, Frodo murmured, "Well, at least they called me by my proper name, and with a minimum of bowing and scraping and that 'Lord Iorhael' nonsense."
Gandalf laughed loud and long, and many watched after them as they passed the gate into the Fifth Circle.