King's Commission, The
56. Placing an Apprentice
Placing an Apprentice
The next day Mardil and Faragil left the party to go on to their homes, for the rest were to reach the home of an artist friend of Ruvemir's that evening where the apprentices would receive some experience with colors, painting, and drawing. After two nights with Master Burúnir they went on again, finally reaching Belfalas and the home of Mistress Andúrien. Here they were made welcome and settled into the guest house, and for three days they all explored the working of clay and wax, and saw the creation of a mold based on a figure done by Pando with which the lady was quite pleased. She signed the document of indenture gladly, assuring Pando she would teach him all she knew, and probably send him on to other teachers if she managed to exhaust her own teaching.
Yet it was with a good deal of regret that they at last took their leave, and Pando clung to Ruvemir and Folco, again feeling homesick. This time there would be no Ririon to comfort him; but one of the other apprentices, a girl named Raineth, promised to look after him. As they left, Ruvemir found himself wondering if this might turn out to be the start of a second tale of love between the world of Men and that of Hobbits. Lorieth looked through the rear window of the coach for quite some time, saddened deeply, for she had come to love the young Hobbit.
At last Folco took her upon his saddlebow, talking to her, pointing out the crops grown in this field and that, telling whether the farmer was caring for the field properly or not, predicting when a particular field would be harvested. Lorieth became interested, began asking questions, began identifying crops by the end of the day.
Ifram of Rhun had watched his brother with interest. Shefti had always loved shape and form, and now watched the working of the artists with fascination. When the apprentices worked with painting and clay, he sat or stood alongside them, trying his own hand, seeing how the paint was laid on, how the clay was shaped, how the wax was carved.
Ruvemir saw Ifram watching Shefti closely as he worked carving wax, and smiled. "He also has the soul of an artist," he commented.
Ifram shrugged. "I know that when Staravion began to teach us your writing, when he taught the letters called Tengwar, Shefti was captured by the heart, and he said they were beautiful. I do not see what he sees, for to me they are but letters. Yet he will sometimes, when writing his poetry, seek to choose words for how the letters will fall as much as for the sound or rhythm or meaning."
Ruvemir was impressed. "Such is not uncommon among Elvish poets as well, or so I have been told. So, he is a poet as well as a scribe?"
"He is very popular among our womenfolk as a result," Ifram affirmed, smiling.
Shefti had borrowed the Lord Frodo's book while they stayed with Mistress Andúrien and read all the stories, examined the illustrations. Afterwards he'd returned it reluctantly, and had then peppered his brother with questions about the Hobbit. Finally, faced with many questions for which Ifram had no answers, he'd referred him to Ruvemir and Folco. "They know of him, and I do not, Brother. Let you ask them."
So, now as they rode back north to the estate of Master Mardil, Shefti asked, and the Hobbit and the sculptor answered as they could. Finally Ruvemir found himself asking his own question in return.
"What has brought on this deep interest in the Lord Frodo Baggins, Lord Shefti? Before you appeared barely interested in him."
"His writing is among the most graceful I have ever seen, and yet it appears to have been done with great rapidity and ease. His drawings also appear to be highly skilled, and in this book range from simple to full and detailed. I have not seen any artist among my own people who shows such skill, nor such delight in the making. Such a one would have been well worth the knowing."
Folco smiled over Lorieth's head. "Oh, yes, he was well worth the knowing."
"He was then a Lord among your people?"
Folco shook his head. "No, for we do not have those of the nobility among us--only those who own more properties and lands and rent them out, those who are the heads of their families, and those who own less and must labor more intensely. Sam's father always felt that in working as a servant to Bilbo this made his family inferior to that of the Bagginses or the Brandybucks--even to the family of the Boffins, of which I am a member. Yet in actuality there's little enough difference. Sam studied under Bilbo and Frodo as a child, learned to read and write and figure, and by his own choice focused on the histories of the First Age, the tales of the great Elves within Middle Earth. Neither Bilbo nor Frodo saw any difference in status between themselves and Sam's family, or Frodo would never have chosen Sam as his heir. Those who labor for others, even serve in the great homes such as the Great Smial or Brandy Hall, are not bound there, only serve there until they themselves choose to go elsewhere--if, of course, this is their desire.
"The one thing Frodo could not leave to Sam was the status of being the head of the Baggins family, for Sam is not a Baggins. As there are now so few of the name left in the Shire, for in the last few generations most born to the name have been female who enter the families of their husbands on their marriages, the family is no longer one of note. The male descendants of the Bagginses have been born into the families of the Boffins as I am, the Proudfoots, the Bankses, even the Brandybucks. A family tends to develop status by virtue of how many of the name there are within the Shire, and now the Bagginses have diminished, particularly as Frodo found himself unable to marry or father children. Now that Sam has become Master of Bag End and he and Rosie have begun to produce what appears likely to be a large and happy family, I suspect the family of the Gamgees or the Gardners, as he is also now known, will rise in prominence.
"The closest we have to nobility are the heads of the Brandybuck family, which has always been large and fertile, and of the Took family, which is even larger and more fertile. The head of the Took Family is known as the Took as he is the head of the family and is expected to offer aid to any Took who needs his assistance, and is also the Thain, the traditional, hereditary representative of the Shire before the King and the King before the Shire. As the Baggins family has decreased in numbers, Bilbo and Frodo became the patrons of the central part of the Shire where they lived, assisting any in need in the area surrounding Hobbiton, Bywater, and Overhill, although Sam has admitted their assistance went to many outside that region as well, usually working anonymously."
"Anonymously means what?" asked the scribe.
"Secretly, without saying who they were when they made their gifts or offered their services."
Both Shefti and Ifram thought about this for some time. "How does one offer assistance without others being aware of it?" asked Ifram. "And why would one wish to do so?"
Folco had to think deeply before he answered the question. "To help others without it becoming generally known is fairly common in the Shire, and we have even developed a tradition of bankers of discretion who assist in this service. They are bound not to name the person offering their services without the specific permission of the benefactor. It comes from dealing with strict Hobbit pride, I suppose. A Hobbit who is down on his luck doesn't usually like to admit it, and will be likely to turn away what he sees as charity even if he is starving."
Ruvemir, listening from inside the coach, shook his head. "Rather like Gaffer Gamgee insisting that his children ought not to play with the children of his employers, then, insisting on seeing class distinctions where neither Master Bilbo nor Lord Frodo saw any."
"Yes, the Gaffer always has been one to insist his family ought not to get above themselves when it was plain they were as good as any other Hobbit in the Shire, and head and shoulders above such as the Sackville-Bagginses." He shifted Lorieth to a more comfortable position on the saddlebow. "Many who are wanting to start businesses of their own will need assistance in doing so, and the bankers of discretion will often approach them with offers to provide them with a silent partner who will finance the beginning of the business for a share in the profits."
"Silent partner?" asked Ifram.
"One who helps finance the start of the business, but who says nothing about how the business is run. Sometimes a father whose son has turned down the assistance of the family to start a business will utilize a banker of discretion to approach the son in this manner. Not knowing (or at least admitting) that his father is the silent partner helps the recipient maintain his dignity in his own eyes, for it has now become a matter of business."
Remembering Sam's own story that he'd read in the Shire, Ruvemir added, "Master Bilbo and Lord Frodo would also have their banker of discretion look for young ones who needed assistance with dowries and such and make gifts of money or goods to them under the pretext that this was a bequest from a relative who had died."
"Did they indeed?" asked Folco. He thought for a few moments, smiling gently. "Sounds just like them, and I can name at least two I think were such recipients. The particular banker of discretion was a Brandybuck, if I recall correctly, which would certainly also fit, as both were part Brandybuck, particularly Frodo, whose mother was Master Rory's younger sister.
"Being a silent partner offers an income to the one serving as such with no need for him to actually know anything about the business in which he has invested. Now, if the business fails he may find himself owning it outright, at which time he can either arrange for the sale of its assets or may find someone else more capable to start it up again; but for the most part he needs to pay it little attention while it provides him with what is usually a steady income.
"We will also buy shares in farms not our own, allowing the one who is actually working the land to do the majority of the work and again taking a share of the produce or profit. Many who live in the Westfarthing will have shares in the pipeweed plantations in the Southfarthing so they get their own pipeweed as their share of the crop. Bilbo loved Old Toby, and owned shares in the plantation that produced it; I own a share in the Longbottom plantation, so when the crop is harvested and dried, my share of the crop will be shipped to me here in Gondor. I also have retained my shares in our family farm, and my share of the profits is being funneled through my own family's banker of discretion."
Ifram and Shefti looked to one another, shrugging. "It sounds a strange custom," the ambassador allowed, "but it appears it serves your people well."
"As a result of these traditions, we Hobbits can at least change our status over time," Folco agreed. "Only those devoted to a wandering life are without a house or hole, and there are few such among Hobbits. Only those who will not accept a silent partner need dwell in poverty, and there are even fewer of such in the Shire than there are vagabonds.
"When my father died, we received assistance from the head of the Boffin family, but we received more from Bilbo Baggins. He had no legal need to do so, but gave because we were still descended from the Bagginses. My mother, however, at first preferred to draw on our Took connections and tried to gain sponsorship for me from the Thain, but finally deferred to our Bolger cousins, agreeing with them that the Thain was a disagreeable git with too grasping a nature. Since Pippin's father Paladin, who was second cousin to his predecessor, became Thain things are much better in the Great Smial as well as within the Shire itself."
"Then," Shefti finally ventured, bringing the discussion back to the original topic, "the Lord Frodo was not a great one among your own."
"No. We have no titles such as 'Lord' or 'Lady.' 'Master' or 'Mister' and 'Mistress' or 'Missus' is generally as far as we go, and such have no authority outside their own families and employees, save for the leadership the Thain has provided traditionally and that of the Mayor, who is elected from among any of the folk of the Shire who may wish to run. Will Whitfoot's family has no prominence to speak of, and never has had. But he's a good one for quelling fights between those families who do have prominence, he's an excellent witness for legal documents, which is one of his primary functions, and he can most genially preside at banquets, weddings, and feasts. Everybody likes him and respects his opinions. He's not a gifted Mayor, but he's more than satisfactory.
"We'd all hoped and expected that one day Frodo would become Mayor, but he never ran for the office, even when Will tried to convince him to do so at the last election before he left with the Ring. Will appointed him deputy Mayor while he was recovering from his imprisonment by Sharkey's Big Men, but even then Frodo retained the position only until Will was well enough to take it back up. I think Frodo was realizing his own health was beginning to fail; and he never felt like he was truly himself again after his experiences in Mordor. When Frodo left to sail to the Undying Lands it took Will completely by surprise, although he'd had to sign Frodo's will and the deed giving Bag End and his other property to Sam as his heir.
"Frodo and Sam's titles of 'Lord' are strictly outside things, having meaning here in Gondor and Arnor and Rohan, but having no relevance within the Shire. And when Ruvemir or Miriel speaks of Captain Peregrin or Sir Meriadoc I still have to think back to the fact these titles have meaning here, for there they are just Pippin and Merry, the Travelers. Merry is the Heir to the Master of Brandy Hall and will be head to the Brandybuck family one day, and Pippin is Heir to the Thain and the Took, and will be Thain and the Took and Master of the Great Smial when his father dies or retires in his favor. But for now they are just Merry and Pippin."
"I see," Shefti said, thoughtfully, then fell back to ride behind the coach while he digested all this. The bodyguard just shook his head with wonder.
They finally turned off the main highway to a lane that led between estates, and at nightfall were approaching an isolated house. "This," Ruvemir said, "is the home of one of the other mannikins I have met in my travels. He is a lover of stones, and will travel many miles to find samples to add to his collection or to polish and sell as novelties, or to work into small figures and into jewelry. He finally found another mannikin to marry, and they live here. His workshop is behind, and is larger even than the house. He has invited me to visit him at any time, and so we will do. I only hope he is not away from home now."
The door was opened by a mannikin who obviously kept his face shaven, his hair shoulder length and apparently not too closely brushed as its dark curls were somewhat tangled. "And who is it who comes like this at nightfall, then?" he asked gruffly.
"Ruvemir, Margol my friend. Can you house a few guests tonight? We've brought our own food so you won't have to feed us."
"Ruvemir son of Mardil? Come in, come in and be welcome. And what brings you to this isolated section of the realm, then?"
The night was an interesting one for all. Margol son of Ivarion of Belfalas was almost a hermit, although the home and property he'd inherited from his family were substantial. He rented out the farmland for a share in the crop and the profits, and devoted himself to his collecting and crafting of stone. He and his wife and now two sons (both of whom were not mannikins themselves) were all involved in the enterprise, and he then went about selling stores of polished rock, his jewelry and small carvings to small shops and at fairs and open markets here and there about Belfalas, Anfalas, and southern Lebennin. Ririon examined the small figures with interest, and brought out some of those he'd carved of soapstone and that he'd tried to do with other stone as well. Margol was plainly impressed with the work the youth did in spite of his visual impairment, and offered, only half jokingly, to take him on as a partner in his own business.
They slept mostly on pallets set up in the workshop, and all helped in the preparation of the meals. "I, at least, can offer you eggs, as we now keep some hens," Margol said. "But there isn't a lot else we ourselves raise, for Indirien is no more a gardener than I am."
In the morning Margol showed them his tools and allowed Ririon to experiment with them on a large piece of carnelian he'd found, and at last Ririon began to realize what he must do to shape this harder stone, and smiled at it. Margol showed them also the device he'd devised to polish his pebbles, a round metal crock to which fins had been affixed, which was set in a special frame that he would lay over the stream that ran swiftly through his property, fixed in such a manner it would turn in the flow of the stream, keeping the materials within always tumbling among themselves.
"I put a heavy sand in the crock first with water, and set it turning. Then after some days I change the grade of sand to much finer sand, then finer sand still and an earth that gives them a polish. Eventually the stones become smooth and shiny, and children particularly love such."
He showed them the fittings he'd found to set polished pebbles for jewelry, the special saws with which he cut larger stones, and the other tools and devices for smoothing, shaping, and polishing harder stone.
They left not long after noon, carrying a large amount of soapstone, alabaster, and smaller blocks of marble, some of which Ruvemir intended to leave with his father for Ririon's use, but most of which he intended to use in the production of his models and smaller pieces.
Indirien and the boys had given them also a store of eggs and four dressed fowl insulated within waxed paper wrapped in other paper that had been soaked in the stream, set into an unglazed, lidded crock. "This will provide a feast for you once you reach your father's house," Margol informed them. "Go in blessedness, and return when you can."
They called their goodbyes, and went down the lane back to the highway. That night they stayed in an inn, and the next day at midafternoon they reached the home of Mardil the Carver, just north of the river town of Passaurin.
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.