17. One Arrival and Three Departures
"It was quick for a first child," said Fana's mother. Her eyes shone as she handed her granddaughter to Déoric, who received the infant with the awkwardness so often seen in young men. He held her up; a tiny body that fit snugly into the hollow of both his hands.
"It didn't seem quick to me," said Fana. She looked pale and tired but couldn't stop grinning.
"It was quick enough for me to miss it," said Déoric without taking his eyes off the child. Her face was barely as big as his fist, her eyes shut tightly. Someone, probably Dirlayn, had swaddled her in the shawl that Fana had only finished knitting a few days ago. Until this moment, one babe had seemed much like another to him. For the first time ever he regarded an infant with more than a fleeting interest.
"She looks like me," he whispered suddenly. "Just look!"
"Well, she's your child, Déoric," said Dirlayn.
"I know, but still..." He ran his thumb along the infant's cheek and chin. "And she's so small!"
"That'll be because she's my child, too," said Fana and pushed herself up on her elbows.
"She was a little early, wasn't she?" said a neighbour – just how many people were in the room? – with a knowing smile.
"As happens often enough, I'm sure," said Dirlayn calmly. Déoric was too excited to mind, though he did know what the woman had alluded to, and he saw Udele throwing her an angry look. He grinned. And if she was right, who cared? Here he was with his wonderful wife and wonderful child. Nothing could spoil this moment, not all the gossip of all the well-meaning spinsters in Edoras. He leaned over Fana and kissed her thoroughly on the mouth, caring nothing for what the onlookers might think.
"Now here's a splendid scene," said a male voice, one that Déoric knew well. His father-in-law had just come in.
Ethelhelm shuffled through the crowd of neighbours and took the chair that was hastily vacated for him next to Fana's bed. Tenderly, he took her hand and pressed it between his own.
"My little girl," he said. "You've done well."
"I'm glad you think so, Father," said Fana. She held out her hands to Déoric, who reluctantly let go of the infant, and handed Ethelhelm his first grandchild.
All were now assembled who by custom should be present for the first important event in a newborn's life, the bestowing of a name. Déoric would have given her a name full of high virtue; he would have named her after honour or valour or truth. But this was not his hour. Fana had given birth to the child, and as was the tradition, she would name her, too. The dozen people or so who were crammed into the room turned their faces to her in expectation.
"Your name, little one," she said, beaming, "shall be Blythe."
Yes, thought Déoric, that's just right.
"What are these?" asked Pippin with a mixture of alarm and amusement in his voice. He tapped the pile of parchments, neatly secured with string, which lay on the bench next to some items of clothing, clearly meant to be packed into the gaping trunk on the floor. "The book's all finished; you can't add anything else to it now."
The book in question was their wedding present for the King and Queen of Rohan. They had agonized long what they could take; there was no craftsmanship within the boundaries of the Shire able to produce a gift fit for a king. It had been Frodo who had pointed out that the true proficiency of Hobbits was in a glorious but fleeting, or rather, consumable art: cooking.
"You don't mean we should take a mushroom pie to Edoras?" Pippin had asked. "That's hardly a suitable present for the king of Rohan!"
"No, but think of, say, Mrs Maggot's recipe for mushroom pie... and your mother's recipe for trout and asparagus omelette...and Sam's recipe for rabbit stew with potatoes...and many others. I think if we collected all the best recipes in the Shire and made them into a book, it would be a treasure to be cherished even by a queen. And it would be very much ... in the spirit of the Shire."
This suggestion, odd though it seemed to them at first, became more and more convincing the longer they thought about it, and so they had spent much of the last four months on this scheme, collecting recipes from all over the Shire, discussing their merits and, of course, testing and sampling. Sam had volunteered to cook every recipe considered during their fortnightly meetings at Bag End, which made these conferences such sumptuous occasions that even Frodo began to put on weight. At first, Merry had meant to do all the writing himself, but it soon became clear that he would never get finished in time, and on Frodo's advice he had mustered the help of half a dozen Tooks and Brandybucks who were known for their fair hand. Frodo himself wrote quite a few sheets, when he felt well enough.
And then it had occurred to Pippin that the other real treasure of the Shire was the beautiful countryside, and he had tramped around with his pastel sticks to draw all the most famous views in the four Farthings. The book that had resulted from their combined efforts was splendid indeed and it already lay, securely wrapped in linen and leather, at the bottom of the trunk. Pippin was right then, to be puzzled about Merry's parchments.
"These have nothing to do with the book," replied Merry. "They are passages from some old history books in our library that I've copied out to give to my young friend in Edoras, you know, the scribe? We are both interested in finding out what connections there may have been in the past between Hobbits and Eorlingas, though I do not have much hope that we ever will."
Pippin shrugged; his interest in history had never been as keen as Merry's.
"Is that the lad who lost his leg? What was his name, Doriac?"
"Déoric, yes. If I am not mistaken, he has a great career ahead of him. I should introduce him to you, Pip. I am sure he would be interested in hearing you sing a song of the Shire or two. And he is an artist, you know. You two could compare pigments or whatever it is you folk do."
Pippin, who had been without a kindred spirit in Art since the death of his Uncle Ferumbas, his drawing teacher, smiled and fiddled with the strings that tied the parchments.
"That sounds good, Merry." He sighed. "I wish we could have gone to Rivendell to look at the paintings again."
"Another time, Pip. We really cannot make such a long detour at the moment, unless we want to be late for the wedding, and that would never do. Maybe on the way back…"
"Do you think so? But we'll back for Frodo's birthday, won't we?"
"Oh, yes, I think we should make quite sure of that," said Merry. He had continued to put items into the trunk and now placed the parchments on top. "Well before his birthday, I would say. In fact, I don't feel good about leaving him at all, but it would have been unspeakably rude to decline the king's invitation. Well, we've talked about all this before. There, all done now; I'm a genius at packing. What do you say to dinner, followed by a glass of wine and a smoke and then an early night? Let's make sure we're fresh to set out at the crack of dawn."
"Yes, I suppose," replied Pippin. "You know, it will be so strange to travel by cart."
"Indeed," Merry agreed, "but it will also be much more comfortable, what with all our luggage. And the roads, I hear from Strider, are in much better repair now than they used to be."
"I know, I know. It just seems rather grand to me, after we've walked across half of Middle-earth with nothing but our packs."
"Look at it this way," said Merry and closed the trunk. "As Knights of Gondor and the Mark we have a reputation to maintain." He sighed. "I just hope that Frodo will be all right."
"Sam will look after him," said Pippin.
"I know, I know. Come on then. What's for dinner?"
"Miss Violet Bracegirdle's Thyme and Parsley Potato Bake with crunchy bacon," said Pippin. "It's been in the oven for nearly an hour now and should have a lovely golden crust. I'll let you have all of it if you let me mop up all the sauce."
"Not in your dreams!" said Merry as they jostled through the doorway.
"It is most unwise. He is too young for such a journey."
A member of the lesser nobility, but blessed with above average ambition, Serveren of Pinnath Gelin had jumped at the opportunity to become a lady in waiting of the new Princess of Ithilien. In that budding province, she had reckoned, her importance would be far greater than at the bustling court of Minas Tirith, and the barbarian lady would come to depend on her, Serveren's, superior knowledge of propriety and decorum. Things had not turned out quite the way she had expected.
"Nonsense!" said the barbarian lady and shifted the infant to her other hip. "On the contrary, he is too young to be separated from his mother."
"If you had but employed a wet nurse - " began Serveren, and was cut short by her mistress.
" - then I would let my child form his first tender bond with another woman. I shall no debate this again, Lady Serveren. Elboron shall come with us, he shall see his mother's native land and he shall see his uncle wed."
Serveren shook her head sadly. However much she was officious and overbearing, she truly cared about the infant. "I only hope you will not come to regret it. So much could go wrong. What if he gets stung by a wasp?"
"Whatever makes you think of wasp stings?" said Lady Éowyn with a puzzled look.
"I heard that the child of one of the kitchen maids was stung on the neck only yesterday," said Serveren. "It seems a dreadfully early time of year for wasps to be about."
"Indeed," replied Lady Éowyn. "But I heard also that the child was perfectly fine after the sting was treated with raw onion and vinegar. If it gives you any comfort, I shall carry a supply of both with me."
"But this was a child of several years! Your son is only a few months old, and considering that he is not quite - "
"There is nothing wrong with him! Merilwen says it is just a whim of nature and it has never caused any trouble for anyone."
"Merilwen is only an ordinary woman," said Serveren.
"She is a skilled healer and experienced midwife."
"Is that why you are taking her to Rohan with you?"
Lady Éowyn gave her a quick, sharp glance. Elboron, who had been watching the exchange with obvious curiosity, used the pause to express his views in the shape of a happy babble.
"I am taking Merilwen because I promised her so a long time ago," said Lady Éowyn. "I had thought of asking you, too, but it cannot be so. I am afraid I shall have to burden you with the task of seeing to the ordering of this household while I am away."
A smile spread on Serveren's face.
"I will not disappoint you, Lady Éowyn," she said.
"I know you will not."
"Dah!" said Elboron.
"And how do you like these?" Brecc spread out a handful of parchments in front of Déoric. Each was filled with his carefully traced knot patterns. Déoric picked them up one after another and surveyed them with the same thoroughness with which he had just appraised Brecc's handwriting samples.
"Very neat," he said at last. "Do you enjoy making these?"
"Yes, very much."
"Hm." Déoric rubbed his beard. "I confess I'm not quite sure what one would do with a whole page full, but..." He turned one of the parchments this way and that. "...if you could make a border down one side or a frame around a body of text, it would be very pretty indeed."
"Do you think so?"
"Yes. Why don't you try it out? Take a short text, say..." He shuffled through a pile of parchments and pulled out a sheet. "...this one, copy it out and draw a frame around it. I'm sure the king would be delighted. It looks very, um, very true to the spirit of the Mark."
Brecc took the sheet and sat down behind the desk to start on the new task straight away. While he measured out the margins, Déoric turned to the purpose of his visit in the scribe's room and began to assemble a box of writing supplies he would need for his forthcoming journey. He was just debating with himself whether to take any ink or to rely on the silverpoint stylus only, when Léofred came in. He enquired after the well-being of, as he put it, Déoric's three women, glanced over Brecc's shoulder at his work and sat down on the spare chair.
"Is that you all set to go?"
"Almost," said Déoric. "There's not much to pack. I'll travel as lightweight as possible this time."
Léofred's smirk vanished as quickly as it appeared.
"And are you pleased about your new escort?"
"Very much so. Not that I was ever displeased with Aldfrid."
"Of course not. But the man deserves a rest. Well, I shall look after your womenfolk while you're away, Déoric."
"That is a great comfort, Léofred," replied Déoric.
The king's advisor rose and took his leave, but in the door he turned back.
"Oh, and Déoric," he said, "I think you will be glad to hear that Éomer King is sending eleven cartloads of supplies to Dunland. There may be more by and by, but it's all we can spare right now. But don't mention it to him. He's a bit shy about it."
And then, with a wink, he was gone.
They set off from Edoras the next morning shortly after the dawn chorus had faded.