King's Commission, The
17. To the Great Smial
To the Great Smials
Ririon rose with better grace the following morning, and went to the privy with his guardian. He explained all he'd seen the preceding day while Ruvemir was off with Merry and Pippin, and described the birthday celebration he'd attended, marveling that the honored host gave presents on that day instead of receiving them from others. He'd been given a walking stick with a carved handle depicting a dragon--or at least that was what he'd been told. And one of the girls who'd come to the library afterward had explained that as he was a late addition to the party there'd been no chance to choose a proper gift for him, so he'd been given an available mathom that it had been decided would probably interest him as one who was learning to carve wood. When they got back to their room Ririon got it out of the corner where he'd set it between the wardrobe and the wall, and Ruvemir examined it closely. It was indeed a dragon on the handle, carved in very low relief, and the wood was a form of willow he'd never seen before, with purple patches where branches had been attached. When Ruvemir declared it one of the most unique examples of a walking stick he'd seen, Ririon smiled, and apparently decided that he would then carry it wherever he went.
Certainly Merry and Pippin appeared impressed with it when they saw it, and asked if he'd decided to go into wizardry, now that he had the requisite staff. Mistress Estella was accompanied as she had been the day before by young Arto, who immediately sat beside Ririon and began asking questions about arms and armor, having decided that he was an expert, in light of the discussions on Pippin's helmet the preceding day. Once the Thain, Master, Mayor, and the Master's Lady appeared, followed closely by Sam and Miriel, and once all had observed the Standing Silence, including Mayor and Thain, they sat down to their meal. Ruvemir had brought his sketch booklet, and soon Pippin had asked permission to look at his most recent studies and was leafing through it. Suddenly he stopped at one of the pictures and showed it to Merry, and Ruvemir saw there was a look of deep approval of both of their faces. He thought it must be the study he'd been doing of the two of them in the library until it was turned slightly his way and he saw it was instead the one done of Sam telling the story of the Ride to the Grey Havens to the children. Sam craned his head to see the picture, and then flushed slightly and held out his hands to take it. Pippin looked a bit reluctant to give it up, but passed it on, and Sam sat looking at it for several moments with great care before flipping back to the study done of the two knights in their uniforms, and the same look of pride and approval that had filled their faces looking at his portrait now filled his looking at theirs. He looked across at Ruvemir and nodded, then passed it back to Pippin, who found Estella was now demanding the chance to examine it more closely. The booklet then made the circuit of the table.
During the meal Merry asked if, before the departure for the Great Smial, Ruvemir would like to examine some of the books Frodo had helped copy for the Hall's library, and he quickly agreed. Once the meal was over and the three guests rose to bow and curtsey to their hosts, Merry led the way to the library, and brought out several books that had been sent to the Hall from Bag End.
Miriel was delighted to see the books, and exclaimed over the subjects as well as the quality of writing and binding. Ruvemir was very impressed--seldom had he seen books of such quality coming from private individuals. Most were written in the graceful script of Frodo Baggins, although some had been copied or translated directly by Bilbo, whose writing was thin and perhaps a bit wandering. He quickly found even the one book written in Elvish script, which he recognized as Sindarin Tengwar characters, was also recognizable as being the work of Frodo Baggins. Not only was his writing beautiful, but he realized that he could tell the difference in who did the binding of the books, also, with those done by Frodo consistently more elegant than those bound by Bilbo. And when he leafed through a book of tales and found an illustration of a boy talking with a fox, he quickly recognized the artistry of Frodo Baggins as well--an earlier Frodo Baggins than the artist who'd produced the pictures he'd seen in Minas Anor, but still obviously the same individual. And he'd swear the boy was modeled on a young Meriadoc Brandybuck.
Merry suddenly said, "Frodo did that picture. See the dragonfly?" and he pointed to a mark in the lower right corner. "That was his signature--a backwards F and a stylized B." He took the book briefly and paged through it to finally find another picture, of a farmer, his wife, their son, their daughter, their baby, their pony, their cow, their dog, their cat, and a rat dancing around in a circle about a cheese. And again, in a corner, the dragonfly. "He copied this from a book of tales Bilbo had bought for him when he was small, and he illustrated it for me. It was given to me for Yule when I was ten." He smiled. "Many of his later pictures he did before we left he no longer did the dragonfly on, or not that I could see. He used to do lots of pictures of me and Bilbo, and then, once he got to Bag End, of Sam and the Gaffer and so on. Lots of pictures of Sam's flowers. It was like Sam taught him how to see flowers, even when Sam was just a little lad himself."
"Do you know if he drew much in Minas Anor?"
"Some, but he burned almost all of what he drew, I think. I think he used drawing as a means of--of getting out the fears, the anger, the nightmares, sometimes. I don't remember him bringing any home, and he didn't show any to me. But I'd go in and he'd have his drawing sticks out, or his graphite--Gimli found him some graphite somewhere, I think--and he'd be feeding drawings to the fire. One I saw was of a great tower, but not one I ever saw, so I think it may have been Barad-dûr. Anyway, over it was a great rendition of what looked like a fiery eye like the Sun. He had a--an intense look of disgust on his face as he put it in the fire. No, maybe not disgust--may have been anger and horror. I think it may have been a rendition of the Dark Lord himself, in fact, as he seemed to perceive him as he carried the Ring. Both he and Sam spoke of being aware of an Eye searching for them."
"But you don't think he burned them all?"
"No, he did a few for Lasgon, I think--which I suspect you have seen. The first picture you did of Sam was quite different from the one you did yesterday--the first one was--was Sam as Frodo saw him. The one you did of Sam telling the story was quite different, although they are both definitely Sam. I've been seeing Frodo's pictures all of my life, particularly his pictures of Sam. There's no question both pictures are truly Sam--but that first one--it wasn't just a matter of Frodo's description, was it? But probably the strongest reason we all reacted to that picture was because--because it so reminded us of Frodo's work."
Ruvemir felt embarrassed and looked at the picture of the circle of creatures about the cheese. Finally he asked, "Why did Frodo never tell the King he was an artist?"
Merry dropped his own eyes to the book as he thought on the question. Finally he said, "I'm not fully sure why. He didn't do any drawings as we traveled, of course; and if he did any in Rivendell it would have had to have been while he and Bilbo were shut up in Bilbo's room, talking. In Lorien Sam begged some parchment, a pen and ink to write down a poem about Gandalf Frodo had thought out so he could keep a copy, and then Frodo had him write down a poem Sam had composed about a stone troll; then when they'd been written down Sam gave the rest to Frodo. Frodo did one picture I'm aware of, although he didn't show it to me--I think it may have been of the Lady Galadriel. I don't know what he did with it, for it wasn't in his pack before he left us at Amon Hen--I'd gone through it with him the night before looking for something. In Sam's when they found him were only the hithlain rope, an empty waterskin, and the poems--nothing else. He'd even dumped his box of seasoned salt and his pots he used for cooking. He was carrying the Phial of Galadriel and the box she'd given him in his pockets, and he wore Sting. Frodo wore Sam's cloak from Lorien wrapped around him, belted with a length of the hithlain rope--he had nothing else at all. Aragorn showed the items to me, and Gandalf said they had nothing else when they were found--not even a blanket."
"Where did Frodo get the drawing sticks?"
"In Minas Tirith. We were coming up from the lower city back to the sixth level, not long after we got there, and Frodo had to stop and rest on the fourth level. He saw a shop that sold writing and drawing materials, and he went in. The shopkeeper insisted on giving him everything Frodo looked at. He had found he couldn't write properly with his finger gone, so he wanted to use a wide charcoal drawing stick to practice with. He was given a thick stack of paper and several different drawing sticks, different thicknesses, and a ball of gum. Then he was given a fine steel pen and a bottle of ink. He practiced for hours at a time until his writing looked normal. Then I realized he'd started drawing again, drawing his nightmares, it seemed.
"Then one day, after we'd been sitting for the artists of Minas Tirith, as we went back to our lodging Sam was grumbling that Mr. Frodo as had ought to do the drawings hisself, and Frodo was horrified. He forbade us telling Strider he could draw at all, in fact--was afraid Aragorn would have him do the pictures and do the monument after all."
Merry began gathering the books to replace on the shelves, Miriel assisting him. Ruvemir took one last look at the picture of the circle of creatures around the cheese, closed the book reluctantly, and took it over to the shelves and slipped it into place.
They arranged to leave the chest of tools and much of their other gear in their rooms at Brandy Hall, and after packing such items as they felt they needed, they carried the clothing trunk to the carriage. Merry and Pippin helped fix it into place atop the vehicle, and the Master helped harness the two ponies they were taking with them. A few of the kitchen staff came with the food chest ready for their journey and lifted it into the coach. Ririon, his hat on his head and staff in hand, scrambled onto the box alongside Pippin, who was to drive it. Sam and the Mayor came out of the smial with the Master and the Thain; and the ponies for Sam, Will Whitfoot, and the two Tooks were brought out, and all prepared to take their leave. The Mayor looked envious of those who were to ride in the coach, and mounted his pony for his ride back to Michel Delving with distaste. Sam greeted his Bill with pleasure, checked to see the girth was fine, the saddlebags properly fastened in place, and the bit not distressing the pony, and finally with a last pat to the animal's head he mounted and straightened his cloak about him, and reached down and accepted a shoulder bag offered up by the kitchen staff, thanking all for their hospitality. With final goodbyes said, these two set off on their road. Merry opened the door to the carriage for Miriel and Ruvemir, and as they got in he surreptitiously pulled from beneath his cloak a brown envelope and slipped it to Ruvemir, winked, and after seeing to the stowing of the steps closed and fastened the door. Lowering the windows, the two passengers also offered their thanks to all, and with a chirrup Pippin set the team in motion, Paladin Took riding behind, leading Jewel, all waving as the coach set off for Tookland. Once on the road the Thain rode beside the coach, and they conversed as they went, their host pointing out many of the features of the Shire and telling stories of its inhabitants. Now and then Pippin or Ririon would add to the conversation, with the Thain relaying comments from the inside of the coach to the box and back again.
They slept that night in an inn, and the two from Gondor found themselves again a focus for attention as folk recognized these were strangers to the Shire and began examining their clothes and hairstyles, and as people stared with fascination at their boots. They were treated well enough, but they found some of the comments they overheard to be blunt to the point of rudeness.
It was pleasant to finally reach their destination the following afternoon, and to finally be able to stretch the cold and stiffness out of their bodies as they were welcomed to the Great Smial. Their welcome was warm, and as they were greeted by Pippin's brother-in-law and cousin Ferdibrand, whom they learned had been blinded during the Troubles, they realized just why it had appeared Ririon's near-blindness had not raised signs of concern in their hosts. Mistress Eglantine was pleased to take her guests in hand and show them personally to their rooms, and Pippin arrived not long afterwards with their clothing chest, asking if they'd like to bathe before the next meal. The remains of the supplies in the food chest, he informed them, had been taken to the main kitchens where it would be added to the provender for the inhabitants of the Great Smial, and it would be replenished before they left for Hobbiton three days later. Accepting the offer of a hot bath with relief, Ruvemir gathered clean clothing to change to, informed Ririon he was to do similarly, and they followed Pippin down the passage.
"We're not as modern here as in the Hall," Pippin said as they walked through passageways that were decidedly lower than those they'd seen so far. "There's a boiler, but you have to dip out the water into the tub by hand. And afterwards the tubs are spilled into a central drain. Am working to rectify the situation, but many of the older inhabitants of the Hall object. 'If it were good enough for the Auld Took' is their refrain, I fear."
"I think we can deal with that," Ruvemir said as Pippin opened the door and led them into the bathing room.
Tubs here were in bays that offered a modicum of privacy for each bather, and they were shorter than those seen in Brandy Hall. By the time he'd filled first Ririon's and then his own tub by hauling hot water from a central boiler, Ruvemir found himself glad for the lesser volume. There was a lot to be said, he thought as he divested himself of his clothing and climbed in at last, for the more modern pipes and drains that were used in the Hall and Minas Anor.
One of the bays had a curtain around it, and it was to the tub in this bay Pippin repaired. Soon the heard a vigorous splashing and gay singing from behind the curtains, and at one point water spilled from it to the shallow trough down the center of the room. "Water hot is a noble thing!" they heard, and at that point another gout of water ran across the floor.
Ririon laughed. "Is he splashing the water out of his tub?" he asked from the next bay.
Watching the next wave with some concern, Ruvemir answered, "Apparently he is intent on emptying the tub before he gets out of it and has to turn it on its side."
They had dressed and were trying to figure out how to drain their tubs when Pippin appeared from behind his curtains, also dressed and toweling his hair dry. He demonstrated the use of the handles on one side of each tub, showed them where to put the used towels, and once all had gathered their soiled clothing they headed back for their rooms with the advice they'd be dining with the Thain and his Lady and Heir in just short of an hour.
As they walked Ruvemir commented on the one curtained bay, and Pippin's face softened. "When I came home the first time after Frodo was gone, Da had fixed that for me, so I wouldn't have to show my scars to others. Bless him." Ruvemir wondered if it was the Thain or Frodo who was being blessed, or both.
Having disposed of their dirty garments, Ririon and Ruvemir checked out the softness of their mattresses, and finally the artist decided to check out the envelope given him by Merry as they left the Hall, which he'd stowed in his personal satchel.
It proved to contain a stack of pictures, apparently mostly the early work of Frodo Baggins. He looked at the comparatively crude work displayed in the earliest examples, and realized that these still indicated the one executing them was possessed of a fair amount of talent. There was a family portrait, with "DAD, MuM, and mE" written under three figures which were surprisingly well delineated for all they appeared to have been drawn by a small child. Attempts at a portrait of what Ruvemir was certain must be Frodo's mother indicated a sweet-faced lady Hobbit with her hair drawn to the back of her head, braided, and pinned up the back and fastened at the end of the braid on top of her head with a bow of ribbon. There were a few of a sleeping baby, and one definitely of a much younger Esmeralda Brandybuck holding that baby, who must be Merry, he realized. There were many faces he did not recognize, then two Frodo must have made later of elderly Hobbits quite skillfully done, each so reminiscent of Master Saradoc the sculptor realized these must be his parents. There were many subjects besides Hobbits as well--a landscape he recognized from his trip across the Brandywine of farmlands with a distant farmer plowing his field; the Brandywine Bridge; a flat barge lying at the edge of a river, an ancient stump, a Dwarf, an Elf in the midst of trees. And in the middle of the stack--could he at last have found a self-portrait?
He was not good at recognizing hobbit ages, but he felt this was the equivalent of a youth in his mid-teens. It certainly looked very much like the drawing of Frodo laughing he'd done--dark hair, cleft chin, nose unusually straight and finely sculptured for a Hobbit, high cheekbones, large, expressive eyes with dark lashes. The major difference, besides the fact this was a youth and the one he'd done was of an adult, was that this figure did not look as if he'd done much laughing for quite some time. The face had an expression of frustration, wariness, and sadness that touched his heart at the same time it spoke of a level of defiance and contempt.
The work on this portrait was not as fine as with most of Frodo's work, being rougher and somewhat rushed, the symmetry slightly skewed, the mouth a bit wooden. Ruvemir looked and found the tiny dragonfly symbol had been worked into the figure's shirt.
The face was narrower than he'd drawn himself, the chin not as long, the brows less arched, a slight difference to the hairline. Ruvemir carefully noted the differences, then was startled as a knock sounded at the door. Ririon startled from a doze and sat up as the sculptor quickly replaced the pictures in the envelope and slipped them into a drawer in the bedside table, calling out that they would be ready in a moment.
Quickly donning shoes and running a comb through first his own hair and then Ririon's, Ruvemir led his ward into the passage and found Miriel already waiting with Pippin. She wore a wine-colored gown he'd always loved to see on her, and she was laughing at the comments their guide was making, apparently a description of the digging of the smial being told with gross exaggeration in the most solemn tone possible, but with eyes alight with humor. And as they walked through the low passages he continued with his solemn depictions of diggers who got lost underground, digging more and more rooms and chambers in all directions as they vainly sought to find their ways out. "It is said they are still at it, except they are now in their twentieth generation at least--families of diggers we become aware of only when we discover new doors along the passageways to the deep larders," he was saying as he opened a door into what was plainly a single family's formal dining room.
The long, narrow table was old and richly carved, as were the chairs about it and the great sideboard on the far wall and the two side tables and extra chairs ranged against the other walls. Great candlestands stood before mirrors hung on the walls, and oil lanterns hung from the ceiling in three places. The three guests stopped in sheer awe, even Ririon picking up on the richness of the room. Pippin looked at them a bit bemused, then took a look about as if seeing it all from their point of view. "I suppose it is a bit much," he commented, "but for now I suppose it will have to do." Miriel started to giggle at this, and the paralysis was broken and they went on forward to be shown their places.
The Thain sat at one end of the table and his Lady at the other. Pippin took his place at his father's left and Ruvemir to the Thain's right, Ririon on the far side of Pippin, and a strange Hobbit beside him, then a couple with a small boy between them, one of them the blind Hobbit Ferdibrand, and Miriel to the right of Mistress Eglantine. On Ruvemir's side were two more couples and another two children. Ruvemir, Miriel and Ririon thanked their hosts, then stood for the Standing Silence with Pippin, and noticed that the other adults rose to join them, some looking a bit uncertain. The children on Ruvemir's side of the table remained sitting, but the other boy rose with his parents. And after taking their seats the meal began, and they were introduced to those sitting with them, Pippin's sisters Pearl, Pervinca, and Pimpernel and their husbands and children, and their other guest, their cousin Folco Boffin.
Pervinca looked at her brother with amusement. "You have finally convinced Da to join you in your Standing Silence, I see," she commented, but he was shaking his head.
"No, I think it was Master Ruvemir here who accomplished that," he said, gesturing across his father's form.
Flushing lightly, the Thain tried to explain. "Our guests are from Gondor and were sent by the King himself, and this is the proper form for them to observe, my dear. We can respect both their customs--and your brother's--as well as the Powers, you know." He gave a glance around, and all seemed to think on it and then nod in agreement. Pimpernel and Ferdibrand and son, who'd been introduced as Piper, smiled broadly at Pippin.
"We hope you aren't too overwhelmed by the family," Mistress Eglantine said. "Everard and Ferdinand and their wives also often join us, but we decided it could make it more difficult for us to keep to the subject of your visit, as the moment they join us for a meal they end up discussing family business with Paladin, no matter what is supposed to be the focus for the evening. There will be plenty of time to meet with them over the next few days."
Pearl looked down the table at Ruvemir. "We understand you have been commissioned to create a monument in memory of Frodo," she said.
"A memorial for all four of those who took part in the quest, actually," Ruvemir corrected her, "although the focus of it will be the Lord Frodo. The whole of Gondor and Arnor combined seek to honor him for his sacrifice--all four for the courage and giving nature they all showed. Your brother is held in high regard by his Captain in the Guard of the Citadel; Lord Éomer, King of Rohan, sent special greetings to his swordthain Meriadoc through us; and all who came to know them have expressed great honor to the lords Frodo and Samwise for the saving of us all by their terrible trip into the heart of the Enemy's land. And our Lord King Elessar and his Lady Wife, the Queen Arwen, have sent greetings to all three of their friends who remain here in the Shire."
Pearl looked down, and her husband Isumbard looked at her with a mixed expression. "You know," he commented, "I could almost be jealous of Frodo; but I am, for my part, sorry for him as it has turned out I ended up marrying the sweetest lass the Shire ever produced." And at that his wife looked up and gave him a grateful smile, while their children looked at their parents with surprise.
Pearl looked down at her daughter Pansy and said, "Yes, I once thought to marry our cousin Frodo, long ago, before I realized I loved your father."
"But he was so quiet, Mother," the girl replied. "I can't imagine you married to anyone so quiet and shy."
"He was not anywhere so quiet and shy when we were younger," Pimpernel said. "He was a bonny dancer, and I think it was that that caught your mother's fancy. She was always one to love to dance."
"You should talk," Pervinca said wryly. "You had your eye on him, too, and for quite some time, you know."
"Every lass in the Shire had her eye on him at one time or another," Pimpernel returned. "He was, after all, handsome and romantic and oh, so lighthearted once he moved to Bag End with Uncle Bilbo." Her face saddened. "Until Bilbo left, that is. Then he changed. I still don't understand what got into him."
Pippin, his face grave and sad, explained, "It was the Ring he inherited from Bilbo, Pimmie. It wouldn't let him look at lasses any more. He couldn't understand it until we were in Rivendell. I remember him watching after Sam and Rosie as they danced, envy and confusion in his eyes, for he simply couldn't fathom why he no longer seemed to see how beautiful lasses were." He shook his head. "He was almost bitter when he realized how it had affected him for so long."
Folco looked up in interest. "Was that it, then? I'd always wondered."
Mistress Eglantine looked at him with grief in her eyes. "You should have seen him at that last dinner we had with him, Folco, as he declared how burnt out it had left him."
Pippin nodded. "I can imagine," he responded. After a time he added, "We had all hoped that now It was gone and destroyed, he'd be able to recover and perhaps find someone who would give him joy and comfort. Strider tried to tell me he didn't think Frodo had recovered that much, but I hated to think he'd been so deeply hurt by It. Only as we left Rivendell it began to be obvious he was not over the memories of It. When we came to the Fords of the Bruinen where he had faced all Nine of the Black Riders, suddenly his face went perfectly white as the memories hit him with the force of being struck by a sledge careening down a steep hill."
Ruvemir looked at him in shock. "He faced all Nine of them? Sweet Valar--those who heard the cries of just one of them were unmanned!"
Pippin nodded. "Oh, don't I know! They were terrible enough as the few--still not sure how many there were following us--Black Riders who pursued us here in the Shire. And they found us again in Bree, at least two or three there, too. And three attacked Crickhollow where Fredegar Bolger remained, trying to keep the news we'd spirited Frodo away from becoming known too soon. We saw one at a time here, at least two together in Bree, three attacked Crickhollow, I think four attacked the Prancing Pony that night, then there were five facing us at Weathertop, at least six as we approached the Ford, and finally all Nine together followed Frodo as Glorfindel's horse Asfaloth carried him across the Ford. It seemed they just would keep multiplying. He couldn't fully oppose all their wills combined--he turned to face them once he was across, but still defied them. Then the water of the Bruinen rose against them, and we came up behind with burning brands to chase them into the flood, and they were washed away. They couldn't bear fire nor water unless they themselves were wielding it.
"Then, after we got south and they were mounted on those horrid winged beasts of theirs, we'd feel them flying overhead, and the power of their cries, even though they were further from us, was far greater. I'll never forget the sound of them from on high." He shuddered. "I was clutching so at my ears once I lost my helmet in the streets of Minas Tirith--someone found it days later and returned it to the Citadel, and the Captain never considered reprimanding me. Others did far worse than just lose their helmets. And when I saw Gandalf at the Gate of the City facing down their chieftain--it was the most unbelievable thing I could imagine. He never wavered, just stared it down as its sword flamed against him--and then it heard the horns of Rohan blowing from the east, and it left. I'll never hear horns blowing in the distance again without a thrill in my heart!"
Ruvemir nodded. "Others who fought there alongside Mithrandir have told me of that confrontation, and all agree. And I saw the remains of the old gate he cast down. But the new leaves are now in place--we left a few days after they were set up, in fact. The Dwarves worked over three years forging them, and they are mighty."
"Gimli promised Strider they would be," Pippin remembered.
"He showed them to Ririon and me just before they raised them, he and his father Gloin, and Dorlin, who did the resculpting of the figures on them."
Pippin smiled in surprise. "You know Dorlin? How wonderful! I remember how fascinated I was in him when I was a child and he came to visit Bilbo." He laughed. "I dismantled Bilbo's mantel clock, which had been in his family for generations. Dorlin put it back together again and let me watch, but wouldn't allow me near it again for fear I'd just take it apart once more trying to figure out how it went together." All laughed. "And then Frodo and Merry had a row over me, for Frodo accused Merry of encouraging me to run amok in Bag End, which was partially true. Merry was using my actions as a distraction so he could read the Red Book, where he learned about the Ring for the first time." He shook his head. "Frodo retreated to his room for days, writing page after page and stuffing them into the drawer of his stationery box, he was so angry at Merry and me." He smiled at the memories. "I was a right terror as a child."
"You still are, Little Brother," Pervinca smiled, and Pippin threw a roll at her, which she deftly caught, split, and buttered. "See, Piper," she said to her sister's son, "works every time with him."
"What was this stationery box?" Ruvemir asked.
"He had a wooden box with a tray on top to hold writing paper that stood on his desk in his bedroom, although after we returned and Bag End was restored and we brought the personal items and furniture back from Crickhollow he had that desk put in Bilbo's old room, which is now Sam's and Rosie's room; and he put the other things from his desk onto the big desk in the study. Whenever he was angry or upset or worried, he'd go into his room, he'd usually close his door, and he'd write--for hours at a time sometimes. It had a drawer in it that locked with a silver key, and after Bilbo left he wore the key as a fob on his watch chain. Sam has them now, the watch and the key, and I think the stationery box as well."
"So that was how he dealt with anger--writing it out?"
Folco responded, "Uncle Bilbo insisted he had to have some way of expressing his anger or worries--that otherwise it would 'eat his heart out.' For Frodo hated to tell others what was bothering him--he'd just go all inside himself. Anyone else could tell him anything and he'd keep it strictly private; but he wouldn't confide in anyone, not even Merry or Sam, or even Bilbo, unless he were forced."
Ruvemir considered. "Wise man, this Bilbo."
"Wise Hobbit, you mean," Folco corrected, and Ruvemir bowed his head toward him in response. "Bilbo was the only one who could deal with Frodo when he'd get in one of his moods. But you should have seen them the times the two butted heads on something. Frodo's look when he was truly angry was legendary--only one who never quailed at it was Bilbo. Bilbo had his own version of that look, but his was usually accompanied by well-chosen words that would skewer you right through."
The Thain agreed. "Menegilda insisted both had inherited that look from the Old Took, whose acerbic wit was even more legendary."
Folco continued, "When both were angry it was something to see. A wonder it was that Bag End didn't just crumble away trying to contain the daggers they'd look at one another. Frodo would be standing there, white as new cloth, glaring, and Bilbo'd be pacing about, casting glares and barbed words back. The two of them could go on for days like that, and I swear both relished it thoroughly." All laughed. "Did you ever hear about the Great Waistcoat War?"
Mistress Eglantine shook her head. "Waistcoat?"
Folco was grinning widely. "Yes, they had a real set-to about a waistcoat. It was the year Delphie married Bartolo Bracegirdle, when we all got dumped on Aunt Dora or Uncle Bilbo. Mum and I spent a few days in Hobbiton with Auntie Dora before Mum went on to the wedding, and she and I walked over to get the present Bilbo had ready to give them--he was doing it only for Delphie's sake, of course--Bilbo and Dora never got on any better with Bartolo than they did with his cousin Lobelia, you know. Anyway, Mum had said she'd take the gifts to the wedding for them, so we went over to get Bilbo's, and there the two of them were all in a temper over a waistcoat. Bilbo'd got it into his head Frodo needed a new one, and had decided to have one made in purple silk, and Frodo was having nothing to do with it. Didn't need a new waistcoat, didn't want a new waistcoat, wouldn't have a new waistcoat, and particularly not a purple, silk one. Then, once he'd said that, Frodo just froze up with the Look on his face, and Bilbo was giving it back with his little barbed comments about 'ungrateful kinfolk' and 'preferring to look like a tramp who'd dig a shelter in any sandbank.' Mum was shocked, and I was fascinated, and young Sam was just looking at them both and shaking his head. He walked out with us and told me he expected it would go on for at least another four days. Well, it didn't. Three days later Bilbo and Frodo came into town to go to the Ivy Bush with Gandalf, all smiling and arms around one another's shoulders and all as if there'd been no problems ever between them. Sam told me after that when suddenly Gandalf arrived, he'd taken a look at the two of them, each obviously enjoying being furious with the other, and started to laugh, and that got them all laughing so hard they forgot to be angry any more."
"Who won that one?" Ruvemir asked, fascinated.
"Bilbo, I think. Frodo got a new waistcoat anyway--and a new cloak as well. Except they weren't purple. Frodo favored greens and golds and browns, and that's what he got. A green figured linen waistcoat and a green wool cloak with golden linen lining. He wore the cloak when he left the Shire. Don't know what became of it."
Pippin thought. "After we received our Elven cloaks in Lorien, that was what we all wore. His woolen cloak had already been cleaned and repaired from when he was stabbed at Amon Sul, and was damaged pretty badly by the spear he took when the orcs and the cave troll caught up with us by Balin's tomb in Moria, and then it reeked of the smoke from the Balrog and the fire they used to try to trap us. I don't know what fed the fire, but the smoke was especially black and greasy, and stank horribly. Only one who I think kept his old cloak was Aragorn. The Elves in Lothlorien cleaned his for him, although they still left in the stains. I wonder if those stains might have been a form of camouflage or something. After all, that was the mark of him being a Ranger--the closest, I think, the Rangers of Eriador have to a uniform. All of our cloaks were filthy and cut by the fighting we'd done, and stained with blood--mostly orc and troll blood. Orc blood, by the way, is black and smells awful."
Folco looked startled. "He never told me about being stabbed! He was wounded twice?"
"The stab at Weathertop was the first one. But he wasn't seriously hurt by the spear--Bilbo had given him his old mithril shirt the Dwarves gave him from when they took back the Lonely Mountain, and Frodo had it on under his clothes. It did knock the breath right out of him, though, the spear did, and we certainly thought he had been killed. One of the rings from the shirt was driven into his skin, and he had a spectacular bruise. How he kept from having broken ribs no one could understand." Ruvemir noted he unconsciously touched his own chest. For a few moments they continued the meal in silence, Pippin looking abstractedly off into space the while. Finally he went on. "As for wounds, believe me, before he was through Frodo had his share--more than his share." He looked down at his lap. "We all had our own share."
Folco's face was concerned. "I'm sorry, Pip--didn't mean to bring back hard memories."
Pippin looked up and smiled sadly at him. "Oh, don't worry about it, Folco. They just are there, the memories. And there is a lot of good along with the bad, joy along with the sadness. There was the day when I suddenly woke to the realization that I loved our King, and that I'd been traveling with him for months and had never realized it--who and what he was and what he'd be to us all one day, for all I'd heard it over and over and over almost the whole time." His smile broadened. "You can't believe what a great man Aragorn is, how dear Strider became to us all." Again, unconsciously he had straightened to attention. "And the day Beregond's case was brought before him, I was so proud of him, of his justice and discernment and mercy. Anybody else would probably have just ordered Beregond executed or exiled for leaving his post and staining the Hallows with blood; but Aragorn made him Captain of the Guard for the Prince of Ithilien. He was banned from the city of Minas Tirith, and when Faramir comes there the Lieutenant acts as his captain within the walls. But Beregond waits down in one of the hamlets outside the walls of the City, and takes up his duties as soon as they leave, and Aragorn goes down to greet him with deepest respect. Beregond has written to tell me of it, how much those meetings with the King mean to him."
Ruvemir found his curiosity roused. "I did not hear of this. Can you tell us?"
Pippin looked at him with a face devoid of his usual humor. Finally he said, "Did you hear how the Lord Denethor died?"
"The details are not known, only that he died within the city. There are rumors of a great fire and him being trapped in it, and of the Lord Faramir, who was reportedly gravely wounded, being rescued at the last moment. But it must have been down in the lowest levels of the city, for I saw no signs of active fires in the upper circles of Minas Anor."
"It was in the Tomb of the Stewards, Ruvemir."
"In the Cemetery of the Lords of the City? I heard no tale the enemy had penetrated so deeply into Minas Anor!"
Pippin's voice was flat. "No, the armies of the Enemy didn't get past the first circle, and few entered there in the end. The will of the Enemy, however, came to the chamber of the Lord Steward himself." He looked straight ahead of him, seeing again that time. "He had the Palantir of Minas Anor in his keeping, Denethor did, and he looked into it. And the Enemy had a Palantir, too--that of Minas Ithil. And the Enemy used that Palantir, Ruvemir. Believe me--I know." He suddenly shuddered, and his father reached out to place a hand on his right shoulder.
Finally he continued. "The final battle of Osgiliath went badly, as I'm sure you heard. The ruins of the old city were totally overrun by the Enemy's forces, and Faramir, as the Captain there, ordered a retreat across the Pelennor. He and his remaining knights acted as rearguard. The rear guard kept in order till a Nazgul stooped on them--then they almost broke ranks--but even in the shadow of that he kept them together--until a Southron arrow took him. Prince Imrahil's troupes and Gandalf rode out of the city to their aid, and the Prince himself carried his nephew's body back into the city. He was indeed gravely wounded.
"But Denethor wouldn't let them take Faramir to the Houses of Healing. Had his own healer look to him, and had us make up a pallet for him in his own chambers. Then he went up into the tower, and apparently got out the Palantir." His voice dropped. "When he came down again, he was grey with weariness and despair. He sat by Faramir through most of the night, and about two-three hours before dawn he made up his mind. Had his own servants get a bier and put Faramir on it as if he were already dead, and had them carry him to the Rath Dínen. Had them lay Faramir on the embalmers' table and he lay beside his son, and ordered them to bring wood and lay it under them and about the table, pour oil over them. Then he ordered them to bring more oil and torches, and he released me from my service. He was going to burn them both alive--wasn't going to wait for the Enemy's forces to kill the whole city. I refused to give up my oath, but took the release he tried to grant me as permission to go get Gandalf. I couldn't do anything against Denethor's will with his personal guards and servants there, but I thought Gandalf probably could.
"I found Gandalf just inside the great Gate as it shattered, and he was facing the Lord of the Nazgul himself. Then the horns of Rohan sounded--" again he straightened "--and he made to ride out after the Black Rider, only I called out to him, warned of Faramir's peril, that Denethor was now mad, and with regret he took me before him on Shadowfax and we raced to the Silent Street.
"As I'd gone through his gate Beregond called out to ask if Faramir had indeed died, and I'd told him no, but that the Lord Denethor was intent on burning him alive. He left his post to go to Faramir's aid, and when we got back we found no one at the sixth gate, and the warden of the gates to the Silent Street dead and his keys gone. At the doors to the Tomb of the Stewards Denethor's guards were fighting with Beregond, who held the doors closed with one hand and fought those who were bringing the lit torches with the other. When Gandalf arrived they all stopped and he took over. Denethor wrenched the doors from Beregond's grasp and was going to kill him, but was stopped by Gandalf. Denethor gave way before Gandalf's wrath, but was still intent on killing himself and his son. Gandalf forced himself by Denethor and took up Faramir and carried him out of the tomb and put him back on the bier, and when Denethor tried to go to him Gandalf forbade it, told him he could not kill himself and his kin as do pagan lords, and he needed to do his duty and lead the city.
"Denethor's laugh was crazed. He said that the Enemy had more troupes and would keep sending them until the city was finally taken and all Gondor fell, and that our hope had failed. And he brought out that Palantir. I think in it he saw the Enemy had Frodo's clothing and mithril shirt and Sam's sword from the barrow, and thought that meant that Frodo had been captured and that Sauron had the Ring back. Certainly he saw the Black Fleet coming up the river from the Pelargir, but not that Aragorn's troupes and more reinforcements from the south were on them. I wonder if even the Enemy knew that, for certainly the Nazgul seemed as caught off guard by their arrival as anyone else.
"Finally he snatched a torch from one of the servants who'd brought them, ran back to the table and leapt upon it, dropped the torch onto the oiled wood, broke his rod of office, and lay down on the flaming pyre with the Palantir clutched in his hands. Gandalf pushed us all out and closed the door, and left Denethor to the end he'd chosen." Again he shuddered, and placed a grateful hand over that of his father's on his shoulder.
At last he spoke again. "Beregond was a man at arms in the service of the Guard of the Citadel, and to leave his post at all without leave was reason for execution or banishment. He was relieved of his rank, but allowed to go to the Black Gates leading a force of men from the city who chose to fight under the new King--he served as their captain and trainer. I stood by him as the Black Gate opened, there in the first ranks of our group. And when the great troll warrior came and cut him down and then picked him up, ready to bite out his throat, I stabbed it with my sword, and it fell on us both. Gimli finally found us, saw my foot sticking out from under the troll's body, rolled it off of us. He thought I was dead. Beregond and another who'd also been caught by the troll's fall were conscious, although gravely injured, and told him what I'd done.
"Beregond befriended me when I first came to the city. He and his son Bergil helped me find a place in Minas Tirith, and helped me bear being apart from my kin for the first time in my life. I felt terribly guilty that my words to him possibly sent him to his death or exile. His face when Aragorn told him he must leave the city was paler than Frodo's--until the King added he was now Captain of Faramir's guard. He and I and all those who had been in his company had been holding our breaths--and only then did we breathe again."
"The King hadn't advised you of his decision?"
"No--only Lord Faramir, I think."
"Did you make a plea for your friend?"
"No. I didn't want to make him feel guilty had he ruled--as we'd feared. But he spent a good hour or more questioning me about all I knew of the case, and about Beregond's nature. And he questioned his officers and his fellow men-at-arms. And the King's ruling was fair, just, within the law, and merciful. Do you wonder I wished to continue to serve him?"
Looking at the seated individual opposite him, his bearing straight and proud, Ruvemir smiled as he shook his head. "No, I do not wonder. I feel the same."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.