55. Continuing South
They rose at dawn and ate their dawn meal, and soon after were again on their road. And so the pattern was set for their journey, stopping two or three times a day usually for resting and refreshment and to care for the horses and ponies, finding a good inn for the night with orders for food to eat along the road for the next day, followed by the early start the next morning.
Eventually they found themselves following the Gilrain, and after several days they approached a crossing where a new bridge was being crafted to the hamlet on the other side. "That is Casistir," explained Ruvemir, "where the King saw the sculpture I did of the Lord Captain Thorongil which led to him deciding to approach me about doing the memorial."
"I would like to see this sculpture," Ifram decided. "Would it be acceptable to break the journey to see it?"
The coach, ponies, horses, and a sleeping Lanril were left with Master Mardil on the near shore, and they took the small temporary footbridge over the river into the village. Ruvemir was greeted frequently by those they passed as they made their way to the Hall; but although the rest of the company was examined by those they passed, no one appeared sufficiently bold to approach them or ask after them. Most of the attention seemed to be given to the two Hobbits and Mistress Miriel, and there was much buzzing of talk apparently focused on them as they followed the sculptor to the square; but no one appeared to give any of the three Easterlings a second glance.
Ifram and Shefti examined the sculptures decorating the front of the hall with interest, and Master Faragil explained the events that had inspired the theme. He pointed out the image of Prince Adrahil, and the resemblance to his son was obvious. But it was to the figure of the Lord Captain Thorongil that the party gave its greatest attention; and there was no question that it was indeed the King whose image had been reproduced in the stonework.
"I am not surprised the King's party was taken aback," Faragil commented. "The Lord King himself must have been most shocked."
"Apparently," Ruvemir allowed.
The door to the Hall opened and the Master came out, saw the group examining the sculptures decorating the front of the Hall, and recognizing Ruvemir came to greet him. "Master Ruvemir!" he exclaimed. "Welcome! Thrice welcome! Have you come to stay in the city for a time?"
"No, Master Anárion, we came across the footbridge only to see the statuary, I fear. My father came this way on his way back from the summer fair in Dol Amroth and saw them after I went to Minas Anor, but my other companions here have not seen them until now."
The Master looked up at those who accompanied Ruvemir and smiled even more broadly. "Master Faragil? It has been many years, hasn't it? Welcome to Casistir, masters, mistresses."
"We are returning home from a wedding in Minas Anor. Master Anárion, this is Master Ruvemir's new bride, Elise daughter of Curion of Minas Anor; and these are his sister and her husband, Mistress Miriel and Master Folco Boffin of the Shire in Eriador of Arnor."
"Newly wedded?" His expression was one of surprise, which he quickly mastered. "Mistress, I wish you joy and happiness." He looked a bit uncertain still. He turned again to the older sculptor. "So you have come to see the works this one wrought here, have you?"
Faragil nodded. "Especially, of course, that of the Lord Captain Thorongil. We were told that when the King saw himself in the statue he was quite taken aback."
The Master laughed, his uncertainty forgotten. "Taken aback? I should say so. He stopped quite suddenly and simply looked, his face full of surprise, while the jaws of those with him quite dropped. Then I recognized his seeming in the statue, and he feared I would have a brain storm--and at the time I wasn't certain I'd not had one."
Ruvemir laughed. "He has been heard to say he seems to have that effect on people at times."
Elise nodded. "I was afraid my grandmother would have a seizure of her heart when she recognized him at the last, for she had been visited by the Lord Captain Thorongil when she was a young wife, when my grandfather was killed in Ithilien."
"I was surprised when I recognized him, also," Master Faragil said. "And this one--" indicating Ruvemir "--was standing there, obviously amused, and trying to pretend that he had no idea I'd know him."
"And I," Ruvemir sighed, "simply assumed this unknown Ranger who'd approached me was the son of the Lord Captain. I didn't realize it was the King for weeks, when I finally saw him in formal dress."
"Yes, Master, for he served as Captain of the Rangers in Arnor and chieftain of the Northern Dúnedain for almost all of his adult life. He approached me in his Ranger's garb when he asked me if I would accept his commission. He would not tell me who he was, and let me figure it out for myself. I felt quite the fool."
Master Anárion shook his head. "He is quite a different sort of Lord for us, I must say." The others agreed.
They stopped at the Crossed Keys as they went back to the footbridge to purchase food to take with them back to the coach, purposing to eat it in the glade where the coach now waited. The Easterlings suggested that Ruvemir, Folco, Miriel and Elise go ahead with the apprentices and Lorieth back to the coach to prepare for the meal, and that they and Master Faragil would bring the food once it was prepared, and the rest agreed. As they approached the crossing, however, they could hear comments from those working on the new bridge, and unlike the reaction seen in the Master, they did not try to mask their rudeness. "Look at the troupe of little ones--and one has raised a beard in imitation of a Man."
"And there are women among them, too. And all wee enough to be children themselves."
"One is a child, fool," one Man said, trying to drag one of his companions away from a confrontation.
The one who'd spoken first stepped forward to block their way. "Little folk must pay a toll to cross this bridge--little folk and those foolish enough to travel with them."
Ruvemir drew back and looked up at the fellow. He was not particularly tall for a Man, although he was of course much taller than the mannikin, but his shoulders were broad and heavily muscled. There was no way, he realized, that he could best this one in a fight. "And good day to you, also, sir. What kind of toll do you think to charge for the use of this foot bridge?"
The Man smiled evilly. "Maybe a kiss from this one here," he sneered, indicating Elise.
"Targon, come away. You will find yourself in more trouble than you know, the Master Engineers see you," the third Man said.
"Why should we worry about them? It's been a long day and wearisome. I'm thinking we could enjoy ourselves just a bit...."
Pando had tossed a stone before any realized what was happening, with Folco's following swiftly. The Man Targon stumbled backwards, his hand going automatically to his forehead, coming away with blood, at which he stared stupidly for a moment. Then he began to be angry.
Another stone, larger this time, struck him and he fell. The fellow who'd been drawn away broke free of the third Man's grip. "You can't do that to us--" he began, when a stone hit his chest, and he doubled over.
"You mean to tell us," Ruvemir said coldly, "that it is acceptable for you to be rude, to threaten us, and to offend our womenfolk, but not for us to defend ourselves? Oh, I wouldn't come closer if I were you." He raised his cane, and the taller Man drew back.
Targon was rising to a crouch, intending to rush Ruvemir, when suddenly he found two swordpoints aimed at his face. Ifram of Rhun looked down on him in contempt. "I suggest you let be," he said. He then looked pointedly at the other. "If you do not wish to be struck again, then I would think you would go back to your own work. Periannath are well known to be deadly with flung stones, and these two have already proven themselves against ones better able to fight than you."
"But he's a mannikin," insisted the second Man, pointing at Ruvemir.
"So he is, but those two are not. Their kinsman defeated Sauron armed only with his will--do you think such as you are seen as particularly difficult to subdue?"
Folco smiled an exceedingly grim smile. "I fought in the battle of Bywater, my friend, and again in the wilds of Eriador. I have no compunction against killing if it is necessary."
Ruvemir's face was simply grim. "And he does not boast idly. The Ernil i Pheriannath, who is their kinsman, slew a troll with a single blow, and their cousin Sir Meriadoc helped to destroy the Lord of the Nazgul. It is not wise to rouse the ire of the Halflings."
"Yes," Folco said, "we are Halflings, as you call us. And no longer will we allow such as you threaten us." He turned to the younger Hobbit. "It is well enough, Pando. Escort Miriel and Lorieth across the bridge, and Ruvemir, escort your wife. Ririon, is all well with you?"
"Then follow Ruvemir. We three can hold off these fools if it is necessary."
"Just a moment," Pando said. "I want to get back my stone first--it's the one the King said I should carry with me." He walked near the Men and quickly found the marble shard and pocketed it, then turned back to take Lorieth's hand and offer his other arm to Miriel, and they went across the footbridge.
A stir behind the Men heralded the arrival of the Engineers who were in charge of the building of the new bridge. One approached. "What is happening here?"
"These two were amusing themselves at the expense of those smaller than they," Folco explained. "I believe they now know we will not permit ourselves to be molested with impunity. I do not suggest forcing them to leave their positions, but they might do well from a significant cut in their pay. And I will be communicating with the Lord King and the Lord Gimli about them, and about the honor shown by that one, who sought to restrain them and to remind them how decent Men are to act." He indicated the third Man, who flushed. Folco nodded his head at Ifram and the guard, who sheathed their swords, turned back to where they'd set down their bundles of food from the inn, took them up again, and followed Ririon and Joy across the narrow bridge. Master Faragil followed them, and at last, certain all others were safe, Folco bowed to the engineers. "Thank you, good sirs," he said. He turned to the third Man. "Your name, sir? I would wish that the King hear the name of one in whom honor is intact."
"Húrin son of Hergion, Master," the Man said finally, after a sign from his own Masters he ought indeed to answer.
"Then you have the thanks of the Shire, Húrin son of Hergion."
"You know the Lord Gimli?" asked one of the engineers.
"Yes, we know the Lord Gimli and many of his kin and people--Dwarves are always welcome within the Shire. Good day, good sirs." He gave a sketchy bow and turned to follow the rest across the footbridge.
Once he'd joined the rest he smiled. "I thought the name of Gimli would get the interest of the engineers at least. They know who broke the debate about which design of bridge to build here and at whose request he came. They will not allow those to follow us."
So saying they returned to the glade where the coach waited.
The horses and ponies were grazing, and Mardil sat reading the book which had been Merry's wedding gift to Ruvemir and Elise, keeping half an eye on Lanril, who lay on a blanket spread on the ground, mouthing the teething ring Ririon had carved for him during preceding evenings and had finished only the night before. Mardil looked up with interest as they returned. "What was the shouting about, then?"
Ruvemir shrugged. "We had a bit of an altercation with the Men working on the bridge as to the toll for crossing the footbridge, but it is satisfactorily settled. Are you hungry?"
"This book is marvelous. Are these tales of the Shire?"
"Yes, Sir Meriadoc sent it as his gift. It was most generous of him to do so, and I know he will regret it when he has children of his own."
"The copyist has among the fairest hands I've yet seen, and the illustrations are a marvel."
Folco smiled. "Frodo copied it out, illustrated it, and bound it all three. I was there the day he bound it, and he allowed me to assist only in the mixing of the glue. He was determined to present it to his beloved little cousin Merry in four days time, and felt pressed to get it done swiftly."
Mardil looked at it with a sense of reverence. "This is the work of the Lord Frodo? I'd been told, but did not realize the fullness of his own artistry."
"Our Uncle Bilbo taught us both the art of copying books, and the Powers know I've copied my share. But I never was a hand at drawing as Frodo was; and almost all he did he did with a share of grace that marked it as extraordinary."
Mardil looked at his daughter's husband. "Do you envy him, Folco?"
The Hobbit looked up at him with surprise. "Envy Frodo? No, not since he came of age have I envied him. He may have been a wonderful dancer, have been learnèd and artistic, have been gentle and very much loved and admired--and envied by others, I suppose; but look at what it cost him. He lost his parents when he was still so young, was abandoned by Bilbo when he came of age, lost his innocence, his ability to love and marry and father children, his health--and now most like he has lost or is losing his very nature as a Hobbit. No, I don't envy him."
Mardil considered this as he looked at the picture to which the book was open. There were a total of five Frodo had done for the tales, and this was the most intricate and most whimsical. The story it illustrated was of a small child who'd lost the total contents of his toy chest, and he had until sunset to find all the lost toys and replace them in the chest before they became real and slipped away elsewhere into the wide world. The picture showed a Hobbit smial's round door and the garden about it, with all the items mentioned in the story hidden here and there, between plants, on the branches of the tree overhead, in the windowbox, in the shade of the bench by the doorway, caught in the panes of the window--a doll; a flock of wooden sheep, their wooden shepherd and two wooden dogs; a boat; two elaborate spinning tops; three balls; a wooden pony on wheels with a string to pull it across the floor; a paper bird; a pail and spoon; a carved apple; a carved wooden dragon....
"He was so very talented," the carver sighed. "This picture is so very elaborate."
"What is it like?" asked Ririon, and Mardil, smiling, began to describe it to him.
Ruvemir had found it while reading to Lorieth the day before as they traveled, and together they'd searched for the missing toys. He smiled as he listened to his father's description, saw Ririon's satisfaction increase as the details were listed.
Finally, when Mardil couldn't find anything else to describe, Ririon asked, "Did he do the dragonfly, Ruvemir?"
"Yes, he did, in the glass of the window to the left of the doorway."
"Is the door round with the knob in the center like at Bag End and the Great Smial?"
"Yes, it is a Hobbit's door indeed, Ririon."
"What is the dragonfly about? It isn't mentioned in the story."
"It is his signature sign. His father did a circle halved and one side quartered as his signature sign, and Frodo did a dragonfly, the body and left wings his first initial backwards and the other wing a small, elongated, stylized B."
"His signature sign?"
"Yes, Sir Merry showed it to me and explained it. Lord Samwise had not realized its significance, but began going through his Master's drawings to find it, and we have found that he had made a game of trying to work it into the drawing somehow as part of the picture he did."
"You say his father had a signature sign? Was he, too, an artist?"
"He was a joiner and carver of wood."
Pando looked at him, his eyes wide. "You mean my Dwarf box was carved by Cousin Drogo?" Ruvemir nodded. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Ruvemir smiled. "It wasn't the time to tell you when we were looking at the work you'd done. It was enough for me to understand that you'd inherited the family gift of artistry yourself."
Folco laughed. "Have you ever been to the Council Hole in Michel Delving, Pando?"
"Yes, last year during the Free Fair. There is a huge sideboard there with carvings all over it, and I spent a good deal of my day just looking at it."
"Drogo did that, too."
The younger Hobbit looked delighted. "I'm glad Lotho didn't know. He'd have destroyed it, wouldn't he have, Folco?"
"Most like, yes."
They ate their meal, and gave a large slice of lamb Lanril could not choke over to the child to suck and gnaw on as they did so; and were soon on their way again.
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.