He went down to work on Lord Frodo's block again, and this time Faragil accompanied him, sitting on a stool apparently used by the Dwarves and watching with interest as Ruvemir worked on the block. After an hour and a half they draped the stone, swept up the waste as had been done before, turned out the lamps, and left the building, Ruvemir carrying a pot of the black paint left for him with a note to that effect on one of the blocks on which the lanterns stood. Making certain that the door was locked, Ruvemir led the way back through the second gate and to the inn, where both had a drink with Mardil before retiring to their beds.
In the morning they went down to look at the great Gates of the city, and found Dorlin talking with a captain of the Guard. Once the two of them were through with their discussion, Dorlin gladly turned to the sculptor and agreed to show all the work the Dwarves had done. Mardil and Faragil both found the description of how the figures had been reconstructed to be fascinating and instructive, and both were mightily impressed by the engineering feat illustrated by the great leaves.
They then borrowed horses and a pony from the stables and rode out of the city upon the Pelennor, making a pilgrimage to the two fenced areas, and Ruvemir told them what he'd learned of what had occurred at these two spots. Faragil looked at the bare spot with wonder. "And one of Folco's kinsmen stood and stabbed the Nazgul there? A mighty deed!"
"Yes, and his stab allowed the Lady Éowyn to use her own sword and destroy it. But it was not without cost. Sir Meriadoc has suffered repeated nightmares of the experience, and recurring bouts of coldness and numbness of his sword arm ever since, although he and his wife tell me this is finally abating somewhat."
Mardil shook his head. "No wonder the Lord King desires to honor the Pheriannath." His son nodded his agreement.
They visited the warehouse, where Mardil examined the work done with interest and approval, and Ruvemir thanked Dorlin for the pot of paint. On the way back up through the First Circle they stopped for a pint of ale at a tavern, then continued on the way, finally coming back to the inn in early afternoon. Ruvemir finished his diagram of Samwise Gamgee's figure, then rested some before it was time to bathe and prepare for the night's feast.
At last with the bundles containing the two gifts secured in a heavy carrying bag and the model for the memorial carefully packed in wool batting within a protective box of pasteboard, Ruvemir, accompanied by Folco, went out just as the pony cart turned into the drive at the inn. His father and Miriel were already waiting, and Master Faragil came from the other direction to join them. Folco joined the carter on the bench while the other four took the seats in the cart, and at last they started up toward the Citadel as Mardil carefully settled the birthing gifts at their feet. Celebgil, Ririon, and Pando watched after them with envy, and Joy gave a single bark of farewell, then went off accompanied by Benril to get their meal at the Dragon's Claw, where Ririon intended to introduce his fellows to his friends there.
They were met at the top of the ramp to the Court of Gathering by Tharen Thranduilion and one of the sons of Elrond, who accompanied them to the Citadel. Elladan, having been enlightened as to the contents of the bundle brought by his foster brother's guests, smiled and indicated he would see each gift to its proper place with neither King nor Queen aware of the existence of the other until the gifts were exchanged, and slipped away quietly toward the royal apartments. Tharen smiled after and led Ruvemir's party to the private audience chamber where they'd met with the Guild Masters and the King before. They were given drinks and instructed to sit and take their ease, and soon after the King arrived, dressed in a robe of rich, dark blue embroidered with seven eight-pointed stars in silver and gold threads arranged asymmetrically across the chest, the largest over the left breast. He wore the brooch of the Elessar stone fastening a sash which ran from right shoulder to left hip and back, and the Star of Elendil shone on his brow, the pommel of the great sword Anduril at his hip. There was no question that he was King this evening, Ruvemir noted as he rose and gave a profound bow alongside the rest of his party.
Aragorn bowed in return to the party and signed quickly that, for now, this was all the formality he wished to see. "We will be going to the feast hall, where Arwen and I will be already when our other guests arrive. We will greet them Elf fashion, which will undoubtedly disconcert them; however, it will do well for the folk of the city as well as our guests to be reminded that we are related to both Rivendell and Lothlorien, no matter how few remain there. I have a place ready to hold the model. Ambassador Ifram will sit on my left, and Ambassador Rustovrid will sit to Arwen's right. Ruvemir, I'd like you to sit to Ambassador Ifram's left, if you will, with Miriel and Folco to the left of you. Master Mardil and Master Faragil, if you would sit to the right of Ambassador Rustovrid, I'd be relieved. We are going to impress upon these folk that our first priority is not warfare and domination. Behind our table will be two others, with our bodyguards at the ends nearest us, the bodyguards for the ambassadors behind their masters, and the rest of the seats filled with Galadhrim archers. The Elven Lords will sit on the inner arc of the table facing us, flanked by Marshall Elfhelm's party and then the guild masters. It is driving the court Master of Protocol into absolute fits of apoplexy, but I've assured him that I will be master of my own table tonight so as to satisfy my own designs.
"It will make the following official dinner in which proper protocol will be strictly followed even more impressive."
"What happens at that dinner?"
"Our new allies will see our military might, and our military allies. Our first priority is not warfare, but we will not allow others to destroy what we have sought so strongly to build." Once again Ruvemir saw the description given by Pippin made manifest, most grim. He found himself grateful he had not made himself an enemy of Gondor and Arnor.
The King was looking at Ruvemir. "How is your hip?"
The mannikin smiled. "Well, until I started trying to climb up through the city it had not pained me since we were in the Shire. However, it is without pain tonight."
"Would you mind if I examine it? I would not like to see it slip once more."
Again he led Ruvemir to the nearby chamber where he had the sculptor lie on his side on a wide couch, and ran expert hands over the joint, feeling its alignment. Ruvemir noted that his father was watching through the doorway.
"No marked signs of it being fevered or swollen, which is good. Ah, wait, here is a small problem."
He had Ruvemir lie face down on the floor and knelt beside him, set his hands over the spine and gave a series of pushes. Ruvemir gave a gasp of slight pain and surprise as several places clicked and popped, and then the King was finished, rose with grace, then leaned over to assist his guest to his own feet. Again he had Ruvemir lie on his side on the couch, once again felt back and hip, and smiled. "I'll massage it briefly for you, and you should be better ready for sitting at table."
As he massaged the hip, he spoke very quietly. "I know you have told Gimli you have no desire to become a spy, but I did mean what I said about admitting you to the ranks of those who gather information for me. I do not wish you to spy on others, merely to share with me those things you learn that are of relevance to the realms of Gondor, Arnor, and Rohan. Your ability to get people to open themselves to you is remarkable, as is your ability to evaluate and understand the implications of what you learn. I will not ask you to reveal what is told you in confidence, but I do ask that you be willing to share any news which has bearing on our security.
"More than that, however, I wish you to befriend Ifram of Rhun. I sense in him one gifted with discernment and honor, and he will need a friend here, one who will not judge him because he is from Rhun and once thought to stand against our armies. Properly treated, he will become a staunch ally, and where he leads, his brother, for all he is the Shkatha, will follow. I would have him know we here in Gondor will be worth trusting, and for him to learn this we need someone he can trust to be his friend. Are you willing to do this for me? I do not wish you to spy on him for me, nor to tell me anything private that happens between him and you."
Ruvemir was surprised, but agreed. The King smiled, then signaled to one of his attendants, who brought forth a small whisk to brush the clothing of sovereign and artisan. He then accepted the model for the memorial and took his leave, promising to return if he could before they went in to dine.
Ruvemir stretched and found he felt decidedly better, and that there was a comfortable warmth in his spine and his hip. His father examined him with care, then shook his head. "I'd certainly not thought to see such tonight."
One of the Elves from Imladris who waited with them smiled. "Our Lord Elrond taught him well. Estel never could bear to see others in discomfort if he could do ought to relieve it, and it appears that such is still a strong force in his nature."
"Estel?" asked Master Faragil.
"The child's name given him by the Lord Elrond," explained the Elf.
Aragorn and Arwen came through the chamber once more, greeting their guests and indicating Lasgon would be leading them to the doors to the feast hall of Merethrond, then disappearing to their self-appointed places, followed by a clearly disturbed Master of Protocol. Soon after Lasgon appeared, and all prepared to enter the presence of the King and Queen of Gondor.
Aragorn and Arwen could be seen seated in the canopied seats at the far end of the room once the doors were thrown open, and as hidden musicians began to play a tune with a martial air, they rose regally and awaited the entrance of their guests. A herald cried the name of each guest, who then stepped forward to enter the hall and receive the honor granted by the King and Queen of Gondor and Arnor, and then be greeted by a servant who ushered each to the place assigned.
Ruvemir felt highly self-conscious when his name was called, but walked forward as proudly as he could, leaning on his cane. His bow was suitably deep, and he was glad he'd practiced sweeping the cane gracefully, and he saw a glint of approval in the King's eyes as he bowed in return. He waited by his chair as did the others as they entered, and examined his proposed seat surreptitiously as he waited for the sign to take it. The back was apparently identical to those on the rest of the chairs at the table, but the seat was raised, and there were both a small step to assist the individual to climb up into it, and a rail to serve as a footrest. He was reassured that neither he nor his sister would look quite like errant children at the table, at least.
The last to enter were the two ambassadors, who accepted the bows by their hosts with dignity, and returned them with equal dignity, at which they were led to their places. Finding the rest of the company still standing, they wisely chose to follow suit, and Ruvemir found that the Easterling standing at his side was managing to keep his face schooled to a neutral expression. Ruvemir smiled up reassuringly at the taller Man, and looked to the King. As the musical piece came to an end, the King announced, "My Lady Queen Arwen and I greet you to the feast hall of Merethrond. Tonight we will not speak of war, fighting, or warding, but instead will look at the shared concerns of the majority of our citizens--farming, building, artistry, commerce, construction and reconstruction. Those attending this meal are not generals, but artisans, Masters from the guilds of the nations of Arnor and Gondor, entertainers, and representatives from many lands. We have the Elven kindred of my wife and myself from Rivendell and the Golden Wood, and friends and allies from Eryn Lasgalen, the great Forest of Green Leaves. We greet representatives of the Dwarven kingdoms of the Iron Hills, the Lonely Mountain, and the Glittering Caves. Men are here from among the Dunlendings north of Rohan, from the northern capital of Annúminas, from Dale and Laketown as well as from our close friend and ally, Rohan itself, and our two new ambassadors from Harad and Rhun. We even have a representative here from the Periannath, or Hobbits as they name themselves, of the Shire, a Perian who is kin to the Ringbearer and his companions who has made his first journey to lands outside his own, and who comes to teach skills in farming to those who are willing to learn what he wishes to share of his own people's wisdom. I invite you to greet and acquaint yourselves with those seated by you, as each has a specific skill or set of skills it is well worthwhile learning of."
The Lady Arwen spoke next. "This will most like be the last time I will sit in this hall for some time, as the signs are that our child will be born in the next week, and I will be far too busy acquainting myself with the child's ways to take part in public functions for the next month. For those who have come to share our joy in the birth of our first child, we greet you with thanksgiving for the honor you show us. Now, we ask all of you to join us in the honoring of those in the Undying Lands, through whose grace we all prosper."
All present turned to the West for the Standing Silence, and as he usually did, Ruvemir offered his own small prayer of honor for the Ringbearer. At last the King and his Lady sat most gracefully, followed by all others.
Ifram b'nto Agharan looked with curiosity at the small figure who had stood beside him and who now carefully climbed into the special seat provided as the music began again. He was amazingly short, yet was bearded and dressed as were the Men of Gondor. Beyond him was a woman who resembled him strongly, then another small man, but of a different sort, beardless, his face round, his eyes and skin and hands being of those who work the land. How had such as these come to sit at a formal dinner with the King of Gondor? Was one of these the Pherian of whom the King had spoken? Was that the meaning of Pherian, then--half in size instead of half a Man? He'd had intriguing images in his head of the left half of one person greeting the right half of another. Ah, to learn the true meaning was so much simpler!
They'd heard such odd things in the wake of the downfall of Sauron, of a Pherian, a Half Man, who had entered into Mordor and come unlooked for during the battle to the Black Tower itself, casting it down without weapons, through the greatness of his will rather than through any act of war. It was even said that when brought out of the Land of Mordor he was almost naked, with no weapons about him at all. Again Ifram looked at the three beside him, trying to see signs of such great power one of these could have cast down the Enemy of all of Middle Earth. But there was nothing about any of the three that indicated possession of magic or power. Humor, yes; intelligence, yes. Power? Nothing discernible--certainly nothing to equal the power he sensed in the King and his Lady Queen--or the great Elves identified as kin and allies to him called Aragorn Elessar Telcontar and his wife.
The one seated next to him looked up again at him with friendly eyes, eyes of a dark brown, dark as his hair and beard. "Welcome, Lord Ambassador Ifram," he said, smiling. "I am Ruvemir son of Mardil of Lebennin, Master Sculptor."
"Then you are not the--the Half Man."
The small Man looked startled, then laughed. "Halfling," he corrected. "No, I am of the race of Men, as is my sister Miriel here--it is only that from time to time among us one will be born as we are, stunted in our growth. Are not such children born among your people as well? I have learned that even among the Pheriannath such occur."
"The King pronounced the word differently."
The King turned his way and entered the conversation. "I was not born here in Gondor, but north in Eriador, and was raised in Rivendell, the Vale of Imladris, among the people of Elrond Peredhel. My Sindarin is that of the Elves of Imladris and the usage of Arnor, and is therefore somewhat different in pronunciation than that of our people in Gondor."
"I'm surprised you didn't change some of your pronunciation in your last sojourn among the people of Gondor, my Lord," the small Man said.
The King laughed. "Oh, I did, and was told on my return north just how uncouth and affected I now sounded. The Lord Elrond did not take well to his foster son bastardizing his native tongue, or so I was told, most emphatically. He said that if the folk of Gondor chose to slip away from proper accent, then that was their affair; but no fosterling of his would speak so in his house.
"And so it is that I speak of Periannath rather than Pheriannath. What is it you wish to know about Hobbits, Lord Ifram?"
"You spoke of a Perian visiting the city."
"Master Folco Boffin there, seated by his wife, Mistress Miriel daughter of Mardil of Lebennin, Master Embroiderer. He has been in the city just about two weeks now, and is most welcome. He and Mistress Miriel met in the Shire, which is the homeland of his people, and he chose to marry her and to leave his own land and sojourn here in Gondor, to work alongside the father of his bride."
"Oh, I see. I'd wondered if one of these three could be such."
The King smiled, then had his attention drawn away by one of the Elves seated across from him. Ifram looked back at the small Man on his left. "And you are, you say, of the race of Men?"
"Yes, my Lord."
"He does not look that different from you."
"You have not yet seen his feet. And you might note his ears as well. Also, he is built more in proportion between limbs and body than Miriel and I. Nor have you yet seen his appetite." The small Man smiled again.
The servers had been working their way up the tables from the far end, and had now reached the places for those immediately flanking King and Queen. Ifram had expected to experience difficulty with the eating implements of Gondor, but found the opposite to be true. Set for him was an eating knife and spoon of a pattern similar to that used in his own land. He looked to the implements set out for the one next to him, and saw they were different, that they were the same as those set out for the King, but different from those immediately opposite set for the two Dwarves. The courtesy of this arrangement struck him deeply, that he not be put at a disadvantage in being forced to try to master implements unfamiliar to him at such a formal dinner. When the King looked his way again he raised the eating knife in a salute, and saw the Man's smile and nod of acknowledgment.
Opposite him sat the Dwarf whom he'd seen with the King on his entrance into the city, fair hair and beard carefully and elaborately braided, the braids fastened with golden beads. Seated by him was another Dwarf, smaller, hair and beard the deep brown of rich earth. The dark Dwarf looked across the table and asked the small Man, "Will you be at the warehouse working on the Lord Frodo's stone later this night?"
"I doubt it, for I don't know as yet how long this dinner will run. Also, Celebgil is watching Pando and Ririon, and I didn't wish to keep him at it all night. Nor will I do particularly well up here at the worksite tomorrow if I remain awake all tonight."
"Pippin's stone is going very well."
"I am amazed at how quickly the work moves. I am seeing the contours of his face already. And without your assistance and advice I doubt we'd be as far as we are with the work."
Ifram was intrigued. "What do you do with this stone belonging to these others?"
"I am a sculptor. Master Orin and Master Dorlin here are also sculptors among their own people, with Master Dorlin--" a nod to the fairer of the two "--having done the bulk of the work on the reconstruction of the sculptures of the Gates to the city. The Lord of the Nazgul's troupes burst the original gates during the siege of Minas Tirith, and the Folk of the Lonely Mountain and the Iron Hills have wrought the new gates.
"I have been commissioned by the King to create a memorial to the four Pheriannath who came to the aid of our peoples during the War of the Ring, particularly the Lord Frodo, who was the Ringbearer. I have completed my research and have begun the actual sculpture of the figures now. Captain Peregrin, who is known among his own people as Pippin, is the first of the figures we began carving. The stone for his figure we have been bringing close to the features of his face and garments. Tomorrow I will be working on his hands and the shape of his blade."
"Where do you do this work?"
"At the side of the Court of Gathering on the other side of the Court of the White Tree, here on the level of the Citadel."
"Ah, is that what the open roof is for?"
"Yes, to offer us shade from sun and cover from rain as we work the stone."
"You were not there yesterday."
"No, nor today, which is the High Day when I offer my apprentices some holiday. We went out upon the Pelennor to visit the memorials to the fall of the Nazgul and the horse of the King of Rohan. One of great evil and one of great good fell there, side by side."
"There were four Pheriannath who took part in the battle?"
The small Man looked sideways at his sister's husband, then back at Ifram. "Only one of the four fought in the battle itself before the walls of the capital, Sir Meriadoc, who is one of the kinsman of my brother-in-law Folco. A second, Captain Peregrin, had come to serve the Lord Steward inside the gates. He did not fight then, but did march with those who fought before the Black Gates. He slew a great troll there, saving several others in the doing, but almost dying himself when it fell on him and crushed him. The other two went on alone into Mordor to the Mountain of Fire, guided part of the time by one who had once carried the burden now borne by the Lord Frodo."
"It is said a Half-Man--a Halfling--caused the fall of the Tower of Barad-dûr, that he did this with no weapons, but with his will alone."
All of those sitting near grew solemn and quiet, and he could hear the music, which had been playing quietly in the background. The eyes of those looking on him were all touched with honor, he saw, and grief, even those of the King who again was attending to this conversation. Finally the sculptor spoke, his voice low and measured. "Barad-dûr was raised using the power of the Ring into which Sauron poured the bulk of his personal will, power, and hatred. The Lord Frodo bore It to Its destruction, and you are correct he did this without the use of weapons, borne up himself only by his own implacable will and the hope held by his companion, his friend the Lord Samwise Gamgee. Only when the Ring went back into Orodruin from whence It had come did Sauron fall."
He looked amazed into the eyes of the stunted Man who sat by him, looked beyond to meet those of the woman who sat beside him, and the hazel eyes of the one who sat beyond her, looking at him now with an expression of pride and loss, then back at the Dwarves opposite, and finally to the eyes of the King on his other side. The honor they felt toward those two, all of them, was palpable; the grief just as evident. Not to the Black Tower had the Halfling gone, then, but to the great volcano. He himself shuddered.
"They died doing this?"
"The willingness was there. No, their lives were spared, at the time. But it cost both deeply. The Lord Frodo never fully recovered, and has now gone to the Undying Lands, the only mortal now living there, or so we believe."
The Halfling seated to his left leaned across his wife. "My cousin Frodo was deeply loved by our people. His leaving of the Shire with the Ring was not understood at the time, and his leaving the second time is widely mourned.
"We are not warriors, we of the Shire. We are not powerful. We have few ambitions save to grow full crops and to enjoy the fruits of our labors. We are not accounted among the wise. Yet it appears that in the battle against Sauron, our innocence and our form of will was needed. It cost us the best of the people we produced." He sat back in his place, and contemplated the rest of the dish before him, his face saddened but set.
Ifram turned back to the King, saw he'd heard the Halfling's words, saw he, too, felt grief, felt it deeply. Beyond him the Queen sat, her face also reflecting the same honor as the rest, the awareness of her husband's personal loss. She reached to place her hand on her Lord's shoulder, saw him turn to her with a smile. Again Ifram looked to the sculptor by his side.
Ruvemir's dark eyes looked at the King with sadness as he spoke quietly, "He was guide to the Hobbits on the first part of their journey. He came to love each deeply, particularly the Lord Frodo. They are brothers of the spirit, he and Frodo. That his ability to heal was not enough to restore Frodo's full health and ability to know happiness is a great grief to him. His passing into the West has left our King bereft. Our Lord Aragorn Elessar would not have become King, nor would he have been allowed the grace to marry his beloved wife, had the Lord Frodo not offered himself for the whole of Middle Earth."
There seemed to be little to say beyond that.
The meal progressed, and the one sitting beside the Halfling was speaking with him, the ones opposite, discussing the crops raised by those in the land of the Shire. The Elves opposite the King were discussing the coming of the babe the Queen bore. Behind the Dwarves, on the opposite side of the Queen, the ambassador from Harad was speaking animatedly with those who sat near him. The Man who sat by his side looked remarkably like the small one who sat by Ifram himself. The sculptor looked to follow Ifram's gaze, and smiled as he recognized the focus of his attention. "Our father, Mardil of Lebennin, Master Carver of wood. Beyond him is Faragil of Lebennin, Master Sculptor as I am, and once my own master during the days of my apprenticeship. Beyond them sit Masters of other guilds, other professions and skills. This is not a dinner for discussing armed might, I'm told, but for honoring those who give meaning and joy and purpose to life for the people of our realms.
Folco turned to his wife's brother, again leaned across her person. "They ask what I will raise on your father's land. What grows there already?"
"Ask Miriel--she is the one who has lived there, while my own work has taken me to the corners of the realm."
The Halfling's face flushed, and he looked into his wife's face. She was obviously suppressing laughter. The sculptor looked up into Ifram's face. "Even in the Shire it appears they look to others of the menfolk to answer what can be as easily answered by the womenfolk." He shook his head, then smiled as he looked back at sister and her husband. Then he looked back into Ifram's own eyes. "Is it thus in your land as well?"
The conversation that followed was as intriguing and proved remarkably entertaining. Now and then the King or the Queen would add a word, but most of the talk was with the sculptor and the Dwarves and Folco and Miriel. The meal was long but not overwhelming, and included dishes from Rhun and Harad, from the North Kingdom and Rohan, even, he was told, from the Shire. Ifram of Rhun was enjoying the feast as he'd never thought to do. Who would have thought his first feast in Gondor would so prove?
At last the meal finished, and dancing ensued. During this time his companion introduced him to part of the company who in turn introduced him to others. Trade was discussed; artisans described their work; scholars asked him questions about the stories of his people; farmers asked him about the crops grown in his lands and described their own. The King and his wife took part in a couple of the slower and more sedate dances, and afterward he would dance now and then with others of the women present, once with the diminutive Miriel. He was not, Ifram noted, a particularly talented dancer. Folco and Ruvemir had come near him and stood watching also.
"Here Frodo surpassed him," the Hobbit commented. "Frodo was one of the most graceful dancers I've ever seen."
"You have not heard the King sing," Ruvemir noted. "There he is a master."
"Frodo could sing, and fairly. Not a master singer, though. Pippin's voice is the sweeter."
The dance ended, and the Hobbit claimed his wife for the next dance, and Ifram could see the Hobbit was talented in dancing as the King was not. The King smiled at him, sat in a nearby chair, his grey eyes watching Folco and Miriel with pleasure, rubbing his bearded chin. Ifram moved closer.
"I saw Frodo dance thus a few times, after his return. Folco is almost as gifted a dancer as his cousin. I never showed the full gift of dancing, I fear. Too much time spent riding and in swordplay, I suspect." He looked up at the ambassador from the east. "Have you seen the model for the memorial yet?"
"No, I have not."
"Then I shall show you." The King rose and crossed to a place near the doorway where a plinth of white marble rose, on which stood a small sculpture of four individuals, three of them armed, one wearing no sword but with his hand stretched out in front of him in challenge.
On the opposite side of the plinth stood Rustovrid of Harad, his dark, narrow face intent as he examined the figures. He looked to the Man who stood near him. "Your son carved these figures, you say, Master Mardil?"
"Yes, as he is doing the full-size memorial that will be erected before the Citadel."
"They wear no shoes."
"If you will look to the Pherian dancing there with his wife, my daughter, you will note he wears no shoes. The feet of the Pheriannath are such shoes are unnecessary, or so he and his younger cousin who is within the city with him tell me."
"I see. And this is their style of dress?"
"The one in the back, Captain Peregrin, is dressed in the uniform of the Guard of the Citadel of Minas Tirith, whose service he entered. This one, Sir Meriadoc, is dressed as an Esquire of Rohan, and is a knight of Rohan and Swordthain to their King. This one, Lord Samwise, is, I believe, dressed in typical Halfling garb, as is the Lord Frodo. However, I see the Lord Frodo wears mail under his shirt, but of a style I've never seen. It has the look of Dwarven work."
The King smiled. "It is indeed Dwarven work. It is perhaps the finest example of Dwarf mail I have ever seen, a shirt of finely wrought rings of mithril." He turned to scan the company, and his smile broadened as he apparently saw whom he sought. He raised his hand in a gesture, and a few moments later one of the Elves of the company approached, the youthful looking Elf with waist-length dark hair who'd stood near the King at their arrival. "My Lord Tharen," the King asked with a slight bow, "you might now answer a question that has recurred several times to my mind in the past few years--do you know for whom the mail the Ringbearer wore had been commissioned?"
The Elf looked to be surprised by the question, but examined the small figure carefully. "It came from Erebor?" he asked.
"Yes. Thorin gave it to Bilbo after Smaug failed to return. It was found in what appeared to be an armory. All seemed certain it had been originally ordered for an Elven princeling. However, as your brother spoke of the search for the Entwines as an event he remembered, we all determined that the intended recipient wasn't Legolas, or likely yourself, either."
The Elf smiled. "Actually, Estel, I think this was originally intended for a child of Men. The Lord Elrond foresaw the coming of a young prince who might one day reunite the realms of Arnor and Gondor under one rule, and after his vision he sent word to my father to have the mithril shirt made against that day, for he foresaw that it would be needed to protect the hope of the Free Peoples."
The expression on the face of Aragorn Elessar became solemn as he looked into the face of the Elven prince, and that on the face of the Lord Tharen turned to wonder as he returned the look. Finally the King said, "To protect the hope, you say?"
"Yes, that was the manner in which the request was stated."
The King looked back at the figure, and gently shook his head. "And it did." He looked about the room again, and saw the figure of Ruvemir of Lebennin approaching with Guild Masters Dorion and Evram. "Will you please repeat that to Master Ruvemir, Lord Tharen?" At the Elf's nod, he turned to greet the sculptor. "Master Ruvemir, I asked Tharen Thranduilion if he could tell me for whom the mithril shirt Frodo wore had been wrought, and I think you will find his answer illuminating--about the mind of my Adar and the workings of the Valar and the One, if of no one else, at least."
Again the Elf repeated the request relayed by the Lord Elrond, and the eyes of the small sculptor opened wide in surprise. "We were discussing this, Folco, Master Samwise and I." He looked at his figure closely, then back up to the eyes of his King. "He thought it would be perhaps needed for you--but--?"
The King nodded solemnly. "Apparently it was truly given to its rightful recipient."
The faces of both sovereign and subject softened as together they examined the figure one more time. The sculptor finally said quietly, "And the Lord Elrond called you Estel." He took a deep breath, held it, and let it out with a sigh, then gave a small shake to his head. "The Valar do inspire us so strangely, it seems. I am so glad it did come to him when he needed it." Then after a moment, "Sam said that it stopped the spear, Saruman's knife, and a couple of arrows, and that it had done its duty. So it seems to have done indeed." The Elf smiled.
Ifram b'nto Agharan remembered that in Sindarin, estel meant hope. He looked with interest into the face of the King of Arnor and Gondor. "Then you have been called this as your name?"
Aragorn nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, it was the name to which I answered as a child. I was the hope, perhaps, for the future of the descendants of those who survived the foundering of Númenor; but on him rested the hope of us all."
Rustovrid of Harad examined their host with more interest and an expression of grudging respect. "You give him the honor for the defeat of the Dark Lord, then?"
The King gave a dismissive laugh. "No force of arms could have defeated Sauron this time. Only the destruction of the base of his native power could do that, and he'd poured that into the Ring. We went to the assault on the Black Gate only to give Frodo time to complete his task, to distract Sauron's attention from the danger creeping through his land to Mount Doom."
"My brother said that there were too few, that yours was an act not of foolish courage, but of sacrifice, and that it would draw the gods to fight for you as happened in the war against Morgoth," said Ifram.
One corner of the King's mouth twitched, although his expression remained solemn. "We went knowing we might well not return. But we did not expect it to draw the Valar. However, it appears the One Himself did intervene in the inscrutable manner He so often shows. The Ring was taken from Frodo brutally, but after It had finally claimed him. Then the one who took It fell with It into the depths of the volcano, and both were destroyed. Frodo was saved from It, in the end, and he was not alone, and so was brought out of the Sammath Naur before the Mountain tore itself apart." His eyes closed. "When we saw the mithril shirt in the hands of the Mouth of Sauron, all first thought that Frodo was indeed lost. But the sword was Sam's, not Frodo's, and there was only one of the cloaks from Lothlorien, and only one set of clothing." His eyes opened again as he looked searchingly into the Easterling's eyes. "It did not make sense, unless it was a bluff. Had they still held one prisoner as they claimed, then he would have confessed under torture there had been two, and that the tokens they held were from both Halflings, not from one alone. Either the prisoner was dead and the other was continuing on with the quest, or he'd escaped. Either way, we still needed to keep up our own bluff. We still needed to keep Sauron's attention engaged long enough for whichever held the Ring to achieve the quest. If we died in doing so, it was acceptable, for then still the rest of the world would yet stand."
Looking up into the eyes of the Southron, Ifram realized that in both of them respect for the courage and strength of will of those who had faced Sauron's forces before the Gates of Mordor was rising.
The King examined Ifram's face again. "Your brother's troupe did not join in the attack on us, and he was the first to come forward to lay down his weapons." Ifram nodded. "Why did he do this?"
"He said that the gods would fight for your people as a result of your sacrifice. He said if we went against you, we would be destroyed. He ordered our men to fall back, and not to go to the fight. They obeyed him."
"How did your brother become aware of the story of the war against Morgoth and the coming of the Valar to fight against him?"
"We had a slave from Gondor who cared often for us, taught us your languages, told us your stories. He escaped finally when I was fourteen years."
"Sauron told most of your people we would fall on them and destroy them completely if we prevailed against them. Why did your brother not believe this?"
Ifram shook his head. "Most did not grow up with Staravion, Lord King. We knew better the nature of your people. Moritum chose to judge you based not on what we had been told but based on what we knew of Staravion's example. Staravion would have done what you did, I believe."
The King's eyes lowered as he considered this. "I see." He looked back into Ifram's eyes and smiled. "We in Gondor and Arnor obviously owe a debt of gratitude to Staravion, wherever he might be, then, for the fact we now have your people as friend and no longer foe."
A guard approached, and Aragorn straightened, moved apart to hear his message, and laughed, grimly this time. "Tell him that he will have his wish in four days time at the latest." The guard bowed and left. The King pointedly ignored Ruvemir, and looked once more to the model. "These four, my Lord Ambassadors, came out of obscurity, out of the isolated land of the Shire, hoping only to draw evil away from their own land and people. Instead, each managed to do great deeds, and the fate of us all lay on their shoulders." He looked from Rustovrid's face to Ifram's. "One never knows when doing what we never expected to do may be required of us."
The current dance ended, and for a time there was quiet. Finally an Elven voice was raised in song, then a second joined it, and a third. All quieted to listen to the song, and when at last it was done, there was a collective sigh of pleasure and sorrow to have it finished. Prince Tharen turned to the King. "Will you sing for us, Estel?"
"And what would you have me sing?"
"I'm told by Master Faragil you have been known to sing the Quenya hymns to Elbereth."
The King laughed. "And so does he gently and with full courtesy avenge himself on me for the other day."
"Then you will sing?"
"If you wish."
The Elven prince signed to another Elf nearby, who approached carrying a small harp that he offered to the King. Aragorn looked at it, then shook his head. "I am no harper as is the Lord Elrond, only a singer. Will you accompany me?"
The Elf bowed, then set the harp at the ready. He sounded a single note, then a chord, and finally the King began to sing. Ifram found himself once again transported by the music, seeming to see the stars being scattered in the dark sky of night by a shining hand....
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.