1. The Mathom House Quest
“Now this is an important quest, so I want you all to be sensible and not wander off in search of mushrooms or anything like that,” announced Sam Gamgee to the five young hobbits ranged in front of him in their finest outdoor clothing.
A quest! Five pairs of bright eyes danced with excitement at the word.
In truth the overnight journey was hardly to be perilous, or else the three King’s Officers of the Shire would not be sending their children on the errand. All three fathers had agreed that it would do the youngsters good to enjoy the spring weather with a long walk, while they themselves discussed important Shire business that evening. Thus it was decided that Merry, Pippin and Goldie Gamgee, Faramir Took and Theo Brandybuck should walk to Michel Delving, stopping overnight with the Brankins, good friends of Mrs Took’s family, who kept a farm on the edge of the town.
“This,” said Sam, holding up a long package, “is to be delivered safely to Mr Ramsden at the Mathom House in Michel Delving tomorrow morning.”
“What is it Dad?” asked Pippin.
“It’s copies of some of Mr Bilbo’s old maps. They ought to be where other hobbits can take a look at them,” said Sam, carefully handing the package to Merry while staring down his two younger children who had reached out to carry the package. Merry was a sensible and responsible lad, Sam thought. The maps might be purely an excuse for the walk, but he’d still rather they were looked after properly.
“But that’s not a proper quest,” said Theo, his face screwed up with disappointment. The voice of the youngest adventurer took on a slightly babyish whine as he went on. “Not like Bilbo’s quest. You’re sending us to get rid of the things. We ought to have to find something, like a mighty sword.” Despite his best efforts to remind himself that Theo was only a child, Sam felt his jaw tighten slightly at the words. He glanced sidelong at his two friends and noted their faces whitening slightly with suppressed anger and thoughts of things long past.
Faramir leaned down to his little second cousin’s ear and hissed in a loud stage whisper. “Of course it’s a proper quest Theo, Uncle Frodo’s journey with our Dads was to get rid of something wasn’t it?”
The littlest hobbit’s eyes widened in surprise and his lower lip wobbled. Just as Sam thought the lad was about to burst into tears at the realisation of what he had said, Theo’s father leapt in with a distraction pretty well guaranteed to work with young hobbits.
“Well, we must arrange the provisions for this quest.”
Cold sausages, pickles, apples, fruit cakes and bread rolls were soon being stuffed into the hobbits’ knapsacks.
While the other four tried to squeeze just one more seed cake into Pippin Gamgee’s pack, Sam drew his elder son to one side. “Now listen Merry,” he said. “I know there’s not much danger out there and you’re a sensible lad who can look after himself, but Theo’s only a tiny thing and Farry’s not long back on his feet. You be sure an’ take good care of them.”
“Of course I will Dad,” said the youngster, glowing a little with pride at the responsibility. Sam threw his arms around the lad for a rough cuddle and laughed. “Looks like marvellous weather for a walk, I almost wish I was coming too.”
Their packs readied, the five adventurers lined up on the doorstep of Great Smials. Their foreheads were duly kissed, their hair ruffled and then they turned their feet towards the road. Sam watched them fondly.
Pippin and Theo set off almost at a run, with Goldie skipping along behind them making up an adventuring song largely consisting of nonsense words. Merry was about to launch into his own typical swinging stride when he spotted the small frown on Farry’s face.
“Don’t worry, they’ll soon wear themselves out at that pace,” he said.
Farry blushed bright crimson. “I’m afraid it will be a slow walk with me holding you all up,” he said, pouting as he stared down at his twisted foot.
Merry stopped and swung off his small pack. “Can you fit this on your back?” he asked. The smaller hobbit nodded, puzzled but took the pack and fitted it over his own. “Jump on!” said Merry, turning his back to offer a piggy-back ride.
With Faramir and two packs upon his back, Merry staggered obviously trying to find his balance, then broke into a trot. Both he and his rider laughed aloud as they wobbled their way through the garden gate and set off along the road in a hobbley-de-hoy fashion.
The last thing the three fathers heard as their children disappeared out of sight was Goldie’s voice pleading with Pippin that she might also be allowed a ride.
The elder Pippin, Thain Peregrin Took, gazed after them wistfully. “He’s a lucky lad my Faramir,” he said. “He’s got a Merry and a Gamgee all rolled into one.”
Sam smiled proudly, pleased with his son’s loyalty and kindness. Merry Brandybuck put a reassuring hand on Pippin’s shoulder. “He’s a determined lad too,” he said. “He’s walking better and better. He’ll be alright once the younger ones tire enough to drop off their speed.”
The Shire shone like a green jewel under a brilliant blue sky. A fresh spring breeze occasionally ruffled the longer grasses and cooled the young walkers as they tramped along the road, passing acre after acre of wide-open fields. Everything was gloriously alive. The trees and hedgerows were in blossom, the shrill twitter of birdsong filled the air and in the tilled fields the tufty shoots of plants could be seen.
As a golden-orange butterfly fluttered in front of his face, Theo fancied he could almost feel the gentle touch of its delicate wing on his cheek. He giggled for sheer joy at the ticklish sensation.
His stomach rumbled, and he bit back the desire to ask Merry for the umpteenth time when they would stop for lunch. The last time he’d asked, Merry had told him that brave adventurers didn’t always have time for six meals a day. The thought worried him for a little while, but between Goldie pestering him to join her loud singing and Cousin Farry pointing out the wild things growing in the hedgerows and teaching him the names of creepy crawly creatures he barely had time to think about food until at long, long last Merry announced that it was time to stop for lunch.
They sat down on a grassy slope looking back over the route they had taken. The ground was rising a little now onto the White Downs and the West Farthing was spread out in front of them.
Theo stretched out his small body on the warm grass, cheering in delight as his cousin and friends began to unpack the picnic. Their rash packing earlier in the morning meant most of the food was a good deal squashed.
It was no less delicious however, and walking outdoors had given everyone a healthy appetite. All songs and chatter stopped as they got on with the serious business of tucking into the bread, cheese and sausages. There were cakes and plum jam to follow. Eventually they were all quite stuffed and sat back to recover.
Theo gazed across the landscape trying to catch sight of any sign of hobbit life. In the far distance he could see a small farm holding, but otherwise they were entirely alone. It really was a proper adventure.
Behind him, Goldie and Farry lay on their backs looking up at the small fluffy clouds overhead, laughing at the increasingly absurd suggestions as to the shapes they could see.
“A wizard’s hat.”
“No, nothing like. Where are the wings?”
“Balrogs don’t have wings.”
“Yes they do.”
Goldie wasn’t like most of the other girls Theo knew, who preferred dolls to adventuring. Her long golden curls were generally tangled and often matted with mud or twigs and leaves and she was daring enough to climb higher up trees than many of the tweenage lads.
He thought it was funny that Farry and Goldie were such good friends, given that they were so very different. Theo adored his quiet cousin, for all the older boy’s seriousness and bookishness. Farry was quiet and thoughtful and kind. He never climbed trees – even before the accident that left his leg so twisted and strange-looking. But there was a true friendship between the pair. Farry always seemed more cheerful in Goldie’s presence and when he was stuck abed with a broken leg she had spent afternoon after afternoon playing quiet indoor games to keep him company. For several months she had looked almost respectable.
“Look at this!”
Theo rolled onto his stomach to look at what Pippin was shouting about. He discovered the bizarre sight of an upside down hobbit.
Theo heard Merry sigh. “Don’t stand on your head Pip, not straight after lunch. You’ll make yourself sick,” said the eldest adventurer.
Pippin thumped to the ground and rolled over, groaning a little as if suffering stomach pains, then grinning broadly he flung himself onto his older brother, tickling furiously. “Merry! You sound just like Mum. When did you get so serious all of a sudden?”
Merry squirmed frantically under his brother and finally got the advantage of him, returning the tickles with gusto. Eventually they separated and lay back on the ground, saying in exact unison, “Ooh, I feel sick,” then bursting out laughing.
Another hour, thought Merry, and Michel Delving would be in sight. He whistled cheerfully as the adventurers sauntered along the road, subtly setting a steady pace suited to Farry’s lame leg and Theo’s two shorter ones. His brother and sister still seemed to have boundless energy and would race further up the path occasionally, running back to report on the sights around the next corner. They must have walked nearly twice the distance.
It was while Pippin and Goldie were some distance ahead that a strange keening wail erupted from a nearby copse – the unmistakable sound of a wild thing in pain. Merry winced as the two youngsters ran in the direction of the sound. “Wait!” he shouted. “Be careful!”
The two hobbits disappeared into the trees. He sprinted after them. The cry came again, this time followed by the high pitched shriek of his little sister.
Panicking he crashed into the copse and there saw Goldie clasping her hand to her chest and Pippin staring at her white-faced.
“What happened?” he gasped. Pippin stood aside and on the ground he saw a young fox, little more than a cub, its leg bloodied where it was pinned by a trap. Merry knelt down close to the creature. The trap was hobbit work – perhaps the fox or its family had been attacking poultry at a local farm. The animal was panting, it’s tongue lolling, it’s eyes glazed with pain. He reached towards it.
“Don’t!” shouted Goldie. “Don’t touch it. It bit me.”
Unwillingly Goldie unclenched her hand. It was bleeding, but not badly, the semi circle of teeth marks raw and angry. Struggling to remain calm and collected Merry rummaged in his pack and found a water bottle. Goldie was biting her lip and evidently trying very hard not to cry. He bathed the wound and wrapped it in his cleanest handkerchief. As he did so, Farry and Theo finally appeared in the copse aflame with curiosity. Merry sternly ordered them all out of the trees and told them to wait for him on the path. Then he took out his pocket-knife and sat down on the mossy ground close to the fox.
Fuddled by pain and exhaustion the fox tried to raise its head to look at the hobbit. The sounds the large creature made were soothing but seemed to be getting more distant. In fact the whole world seemed to be getting distant and dark. Was it nightfall already? The fox’s throat was dry and he longed to quench his thirst, plunging his head into a cold stream. He needed to get up, find water. Now why couldn’t he seem to move his legs? Oh yes, the trap, the pain. But the pain was gone now and he couldn’t feel his legs. Now there was just the thirst and the darkness and the hobbit murmuring. Then the hobbit, the murmuring calm hobbit, reached towards him holding something and suddenly there was…
Merry wiped his knife on the ground and stood up shakily. He had helped in the slaughter of animals before at grandfather Cotton’s farm, but never a wild creature. Even so badly injured the fox had been beautiful. Its red coat was silky and its face intelligent-looking. Dead, it simply looked sad and empty. He took several large gulping breaths before heading out to join the others on the path.
“Come on in my dears, you must be ready to drop after walking all that way,” said Mrs Brankin ushering the little troop into her kitchen.
The hobbit house – for the Brankin’s home was not a traditional hole but one of the mannish houses common in this part of the Shire - smelled of fresh baking. Pippin was almost dizzy with delight as he dropped into a chair and accepted the warm honey cake offered by Ned Brankin.
By the time Pippin finished his second slice of cake, Mrs Brankin was carefully re-bandaging Goldie’s bitten hand while Theo described every single detail of the day to Ned, the Brankin’s son, who was almost of age. Farry was petting the Brankin’s rather large dog, which was slavering all over him in return. Pippin glanced at Merry and noticed that he was absently pushing his cake around his plate.
“Don’t you want it?” he asked.
Merry gave him a warning glare and forked two mouthfuls in quick succession, before pushing the plate across to Pippin with a sigh.
For an hour or so the young visitors made polite conversation with their hosts – or at least Farry and Merry made polite conversation. Theo was almost nodding off at the table; Goldie looked slightly sullen and occasionally stretched the fingers of her injured hand as if to make sure they were still working. Pippin studied his brother. Something was wrong, he was certain of that, although Merry was making a convincing show of pretending that he was a carefree young gentlehobbit who’d had an enjoyable day’s walk.
Finally they were bundled off to bed. Goldie was given a room to herself, Theo and Farry were to share, as were Merry and Pippin. They didn’t chatter much as they prepared for bed and the exhausted Pippin fell into an easy sleep within a few moments of clambering under the covers.
Some time later he was woken suddenly by a sound – a gasp or a sob perhaps, he thought – from the next bed.
In the darkness Pippin could hear his brother tossing and turning and after a few minutes was certain that Merry was awake.
“What’s wrong Merry?” he whispered.
“S’nothing Pip,” snapped Merry. “Go back to sleep.”
Pippin lay awake for a few minutes more, wondering whether to try again. In his imagination he tried out several more opening gambits to get Merry to tell him what had so upset him, but the imagined conversation soon merged into a dream of walking on to the Blue Mountains to see the dwarves. He fell fast asleep, oblivious that his brother still lay wide awake and rigid with misery in the next bed.
Faramir gazed up at the familiar shape of his family’s long and detailed family tree. The one framed on the wall of the Mathom House was identical in details to the one that hung in his father’s office, only it was more ornately decorated and considerably larger. Alongside it were the smaller tables of many more families of the Shire.
While Mr Ramsden was chatting with Merry about the maps, the other hobbits were exploring the strange building that stored all the keepsakes and heirlooms of the Shire – or at least those that could no longer be spared house-room.
A massive stuffed fish with angry eyes and pointy teeth was mounted on top of one of the large cabinets running down the centre of the main hall. Faramir imagined the astonished hobbits out for a day fishing in the Brandywine and catching such a creature.
Inside the cabinets all kinds of objects were displayed. Interesting rocks lay side by side with ornate decorative embroidery. Fine pottery, musical instruments, paintings of long-forgotten faces – objects that had been useful and objects once well loved, and everything with its own secret history.
Faramir wandered slowly past the cabinets to a tall dusty case at the end of the hall. He stood staring at the collection of ancient weaponry, lost in dreams of flourishing the small sword as a knight of Gondor like his father. The sword was the perfect size for a hobbit, as was the bronze helmet. There was also a small highly ornamented shield that looked like a full-sized man’s buckler – perhaps adapted for a hobbit’s use as a full shield. It wasn’t long before Pippin, Theo and Goldie gathered by his side to admire the arms.
“Look Theo,” grinned Pippin. “It’s that sword you were talking about.”
The joke roused Faramir from his thoughts and he laughed. “I wonder what story lies behind these things,” he mused aloud. But Pippin and Theo were already off again on some game of finding items beginning with various letters.
“The shield is beautiful,” sighed Goldie. “It looks like elvish work, doesn’t it?”
“No,” said Faramir. His mind was racing, for surely this was not… “The writing is Elvish, but the name is, I think, Numenorean. But it cannot be.”
“But Farry! What do you think it is?” demanded Goldie.
“Something I have read about. I’m not certain, I’ll have to ask father, but it looks very much like an item that was lost more than a thousand years ago.”
“But what would it be doing in the Shire?”
“I’m not sure. It was lost in the ice-lands in the north.” Faramir turned to see where the museum’s keeper was. “Excuse me Mr Ramsden,” he called.
The elderly hobbit shuffled over to the corner.
“This shield, do you know aught of its history?” asked the youngster.
“Oh, now, let me see. It’s been kept here for four hundred years, but before that it belonged to a Took. Hmm, now. It was Isumbras Took. That would be your great-great..” he broke of and looked up at the family tree. “Your ancestor. You’d probably find out more about it from the records at Great Smials. It’s a beautiful thing, but it’s clearly seen action.” Mr Ramsden ran his finger over a long gash that cut through the decoration, showing the plainer metal beneath.
“Do you think it would be alright to borrow it? I’ll look after it, but I want to ask father about it.”
“Well, or course. It belongs to your family after all. And you’re a responsible young fellow,” said Mr Ramsden, lifting up the great hinged lid of the case.
Faramir lifted the shield out, handling it with all the delicate respect due to such an old object. It would be just the right size for a hobbit to use as a shield.
His pack was almost empty since its contents had all been eaten. With a little help from the museum-keeper he safely wrapped the shield in a picnic blanket and squeezed it into the bag.
~~I’m so tired and my hand aches and I’m hungry and I’m bored. It’s not so much fun as yesterday and the boys have all given up singing. I wonder if this is how all adventurers feel after a quest. Maybe it’s why Uncle Frodo left, because he felt the whole point of the thing was over with and all that was left was the pain. And oh but it hurts. It’s all swollen up where that horrid fox bit it. Well I know it’s still miles to go, but I’ve got to say something or I’ll burst.~~
“Are we nearly there yet Farry?”
“No, not halfway.”
~~Silly girl, has she no idea of geography? Still I suppose I shouldn’t have snapped like that, but my leg hurts and I’m tired and it looks like it’s going to rain. I wonder whether the shield is really what I think it is. Oh bother the shield, it’s so heavy. I’d ask Merry to carry it but he looks so miserable and tired and worried. Perhaps he thinks he’ll get in trouble because Goldie got bitten. Anyway I don’t want them all to think I can’t keep up. I want to show them I can walk, even if it’s a stupid funny looking walk.~~
“Merry, it’s raining.”
“Yes Theo, I can see that.”
“But we’re miles from home.”
“We’ll just have to walk quickly then won’t we.”
~~It’s clouded over real dark all of a sudden. I think we’re in for a proper downpour and there’s still an hour or so to walk. My eyes hurt from tiredness now. I didn’t sleep at all last night I don’t think. Every time I nodded off I could see that fox, looking at me, so terrified and wild and beautiful and doomed. I betrayed it, killed it as I looked into its eyes. Yes, the rain’s come on heavy now and Theo’s starting to sniffle. He’s only little, maybe it wasn’t so sensible to bring him with us. Farry doesn’t complain but he’s limping more than yesterday and I’m loathe to make everyone speed up because it’ll only remind him that he can’t run. Oh great, now Pippin and Goldie are arguing.~~
“You splashed me. You splashed me on purpose.”
“Did not, anyway you’re soaking wet already, what’s some puddle water matter?”
“It’s muddy Pippin and now my dress is all muddy.”
~~ And when I get home it’ll be all ‘oh Goldie, can’t you be more ladylike, more like Elanor?’ Drat it. It’s not fair, I mean no one would go off on an adventure in a white dress by choice. Except Gandalf maybe, only even he didn’t start out in white but sensible grey and anyway that was wizards’ robes, not a stupid frilly dress his mother made him wear.~~
“Let’s sing a song.”
“Good idea Pippin, that’ll lift our spirits.”
“Splish, splash, splosh, splash
Raindrops falling all around me
Muddy sisters get all dirty…
~~Crumbs, she can be vicious my little sister.~~
“Can’t the two of you behave like civilised hobbits?”
“Shut up Merry. You’re such a boring grown-up these days.”
~~Everyone’s shouting and it’s horrible and I just want to get home and I hate walking and it’s not fair and it’s stupid and I’m cold and wet and tired and hungry.~~
“Shush Theo, don’t cry, look we’re nearly there. Just over that hill we’ll be able to see the chimneys of my home and there’ll be a warm bath and supper.”
~~Mmm, bath, warm, sleep~~
They stumbled over the doorstep, dripping miserably onto the stone floor of the hallway, refusing to look each other in the eye.
Diamond instantly took charge, peeling off five soaked overcoats and briskly despatching the children to a variety of rooms where warm baths and dry clothes awaited, calling promises after them that there would be fish and chips for everyone once they were warm and dry.
One bath later, Merry pulled on a woollen jumper that had been laid out on his guest bed – he supposed it belonged to Mr Took. The cold and the ache of his legs were gone, but just the thought of walking back into the midst of everyone brought him to the brink of tears. Just as he was fighting back the urge to throw himself onto the bed and weep, there was a knock at the door.
In answer to his shout, his father edged into the room.
“You’re taking your time my lad. Are you joining us for dinner?”
“Have you seen Goldie? Is her hand going to heal?”
“Yes, it was well tended and she’ll barely have a mark to remember her adventure by. I think she’s a bit disappointed at that to tell you the truth,” said Sam.
Merry could bear it no longer and burst into loud sobs. His father sat himself down on the edge of the bed and pulled the youngster gently onto his knee. The whole story of the fox tumbled out.
“I didn’t know what else to do,” he finished. “Dad, I know it bit Goldie, but it looked at me with such trust and I tricked it and killed it.”
“I know lad, I know,” his father murmured, stroking his hair. “But you didn’t betray that trust. It was a wild creature and it wouldn’t have survived. You ended its pain. Better that surely, than leaving it to die slowly and miserably from starvation.”
Merry nodded, glad that his father agreed with his decision, but still fearing that those beautiful eyes would continue to haunt his dreams.
“And I was a terrible leader. Everyone was miserable and snapping at each other on the way back.”
“Well, even the king couldn’t stop Legolas and Gimli from snapping at each other. It took days and even weeks for that to stop – and muddy puddles weren’t the half of it. Anyway, now that everyone’s all dried off and warmed up things’ll look better. You’ll see.”
The boy snuggled closer to his father, appreciating that, at the age of 15, he was really far too big to sit on anyone’s knee, but enjoying the warm safe feeling for a moment longer.
“Come on,” said Sam. “Fish and chips – and if we don’t go soon, Pippin will have had our share too.”
“Our Pippin or Uncle Pippin?” asked Merry with a small smile.
“Oh my, we’d better hurry,” laughed his father. “With two Pippins eating…”
As Merry and Sam walked into the dining room, Uncle Pippin lifted the lid from an enormous dish filled with steaming chips. Merry looked around, expecting to see tension still between the other children. Theo’s face was filled with simple bliss at the sight and smell of the glorious chips. Oh, that life was always as uncomplicated as it was for a nine-year-old faced with a mountain of chips!
Farry and Goldie seemed to be continuing the feud in a more good-natured fashion, pulling hideous faces at each other over the table, while evidently struggling not to laugh. Pippin pushed out a chair for his brother and gave him a look of concern as he sat himself down. Merry wondered just how awful he must look for Pippin to actually acknowledge that he was worried about him. Their tight bond of brotherhood was normally firmly masked by continual bickering and rivalry. He wrinkled his nose a little in the traditional inter-brother code for ‘I’m alright now, don’t worry.’
Then the feast began.
It wasn’t until everyone was replete that Faramir remembered the shield. As the whole party decamped to the sitting room he dashed to the pile of wet baggage in the hallway and tugged his pack free.
All eyes were on him as he hobbled back into the room carrying the shield, still wrapped in the picnic blanket. With a small flourish he revealed the object he had carried all the way back to its former home. Within seconds his Uncle Merry had bounded across the room to study the filigree metal writing that formed part of the delicate pattern around the shield’s edge, looking more like an excited child at Yule.
Faramir could hardly breathe for excitement, but somehow he managed to ask: “It does, doesn’t it? It says ‘Arvedui’? The last king of the north?”
“Extraordinary,” gasped Uncle Merry. “Surely this was lost when his ship sank.”
“But what is it?” Uncle Sam cut in.
So Merry – with a little prompting from his nephew – told the story. Of Arvedui who battled the Witch King and was forced to flee over the north downs to the frozen lands, who was helped by the Snowmen who lived in strange round houses made from ice, and who finally perished when the ship sent by the elves to rescue him was trapped in the ice and crushed.
It was a perfect tale for a rainy night and kept all the young hobbits (and the older ones) spellbound until a sleepy Theo falling from his chair alerted them to the lateness of the hour.
It took a little more research to track down the rest of the history of the shield. And even then there were questions. But Merry Brandybuck was sure that it had belonged to Arvedui and that it had been lost at some point in his rapid retreat northwards to Forochel.
Certainly hobbits had been involved in the conflict – there were several records of hobbit archers going to war alongside men in that period - but none were recorded as having reached the north with Arvedui. It was surely not too unlikely that some hobbit warrior fighting in the rear-guard had come upon the lost buckler and grabbed it as a useful item with which to defend himself. As the chaotic retreat fell apart, perhaps this hobbit had lost his comrades and finally, sick-at-heart, turned homewards towards the Shire.
After the loss of the last king, the hobbits had looked to themselves for leadership. The Shire had remained peaceful, untouched by the goings-on of the wider world, but for long years they had remained ignorant of how Arvedui’s descendants had shielded them from danger.
Merry called together the Thain and the Mayor for a meeting and they decided that Arvedui’s shield should be returned to its rightful heir - as so much else had now been.
It was almost a year before they had a chance to do so.
The three leading families of the Shire gazed around them at the splendour of Annuminas. There had been a great many improvements to the northern palace – as there had been throughout the kingdom in the past score of years. The walls had been bare, dazzling fresh-painted white the last time Sam, Merry and Pippin had all visited together, with Rosie and little Elanor. Now immense tapestries of extraordinary artistry hung from the high ceiling down to the floor.
As ever, the hobbits found that they could easily be over-looked in a crowd of courtiers. Of course anyone spotting them was polite and friendly, but the trio were not offended when they went unnoticed. They had long since learned the benefits of being small and inconspicuous. Pippin Took chuckled at the sight of his wife and Estella darting through the throng, hand in hand like small girls, exclaiming with delight at the many beauties of the hall.
The children – the five adventurers of a year ago were all present though the rest of Sam’s immense family had remained home with their mother – were quite subdued. Merry and Faramir seemed to be carefully rehearsing their speech. Goldie was neatly attired in a green dress and so far hadn’t got a single mark on it. In fact she looked positively elegant and Pippin suppressed another chuckle as he saw the way the four boys looked at her a little in awe - as if wondering what this creature had done with their sister and friend.
There was a sudden commotion in the hall and the crowd divided as the King and Queen walked to the dais.
Queen Arwen took her seat, but the King remained standing to address the crowd. “Friends, honoured guests, welcome to Annuminas. It is good to be in the north again.” There was a smattering of polite applause.
“Now,” he went on. “I was told there are some young hobbits hereabouts who wished to speak to me.”
Pippin exchanged a grin with Merry Brandybuck, standing to his left. They had told Aragorn the youngsters had something to give him – but had resisted all his questioning as to the nature of the gift.
The five children stepped forward, a little shyly at first, but Pippin saw how they glanced at each other and seemed to take comfort in having their friends close at hand.
Pippin watched as Faramir knelt before the man he still occasionally struggled not to call Strider, let alone Aragorn. In his full kingly regalia it was almost impossible to think of him as anything other than King Elessar. But only almost - the Thain of the Shire had shared many pleasant smokes under the stars with his old friend in the past 20 years and these days thought little of chiding him for his inability to delegate some of the lesser tasks of running his kingdom.
Nevertheless he felt oddly nervous for the group.
He could feel his hands sweating with nerves and feared that he would leave a damp mark on the gift he clutched, wrapped in a fine cloth. Glancing across at the crowd Faramir caught his father’s eye and received an encouraging nod.
“Sire,” he began, a little too loudly, for he had not expected his voice to carry so well in so large a room. “For long years the rangers of the north shielded our lands and our forefathers. The Hobbit folk knew nothing of the sacrifices that were made to keep the Shire safe.”
The next lines were Merry’s: “It is a poor gift to give in return for the peace the Shire knew through the years when other lands struggled against the darkness. And perhaps the poorer, for it already belongs to your people by right.”
The King coughed, looking confused. “No thanks or reward is needed. We were ever glad to do it.”
Faramir stood up and took three steady steps forward, concentrating hard on making the limp unnoticeable. He held out the parcel.
The King took it and unwrapped it. Faramir didn’t have words to describe the various emotions that passed over the weathered face of the former ranger. Astonishment was there certainly. Joy, of a kind. Sadness, or perhaps more accurately grief, in some measure. For a moment, to Faramir’s surprise, he simply looked overwhelmed. He had not expected the great hero-King Elessar to be so taken aback.
He ran a finger over the metalworked name. “Arvedui…” he whispered, audible only to the five youngsters and the queen by his side. Then he seemed to collect himself.
“This is an extraordinary gift – from an extraordinary people. I shall treasure it,” he announced.
The hall burst into rapturous applause.
“It is truly astonishing,” said the king, lounging on a cushion on a flat roof of the palace.
His three officers of the Shire nodded their agreement, each drawing deeply on their pipes. The four smokers had been banished from the family rooms by Queen Arwen. Even thoughthe sun had already set, it was a pleasant warm evening and all of them were old enough to enjoy the slight frisson of childishness involved in scrambling out of a window onto the rooftop.
Aragorn – for out here, away from the formality of the court the familiar name seemed more appropriate than his proper title – went on. “That they should find such a thing in this museum of yours, this Mathom House. What other treasures are you hiding in the Shire?” he jested.
“Oh, the finest pipeweed you’ll ever smoke,” answered Merry, producing a neat smoke-ring for emphasis.
“And the best ale you could ever drink,” added Pippin.
Sam remained silent and Aragorn could have bitten his tongue in annoyance. What treasures are you hiding? Idiot. Even now, after all these years, Sam’s thoughts could turn all too easily to the Ring and Frodo and the king did not want this brief moment of relaxation with his old friends to be swallowed up in melancholy memories.
“And the bravest young hobbits who ever went out on an errand and came back with a king’s treasure,” Aragorn said brightly.
The three hobbits grinned with fatherly pride.
“Aye,” said Sam. “Its like young Theo said when they were setting off that day. Quests should be about finding.”
And on that cryptic note Sam leant back on a richly embroidered cushion and puffed on his pipe, looking content.
They stayed out on the roof late into the night, sharing tales of the past and hopes for the future. The cloudless sky above them gradually faded from dark blue to black. A vast field of bright stars shone upon the king, his three friends and a land at peace.
This story is a sequel to Broken - which explains what happened to Farry's leg.
Thanks to Forodwaith for beta-reading and Mara for the encouragment of loving my early draft
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.