The Blind, the Deaf, the Crippled

King's Commission, The

11. Negotiations with the Shire

Negotiations with the Shire

            Barliman Butterbur looked down at the four asking for rooms and was totally out of his reckoning.  He'd housed his share of Men, Dwarves, and Hobbits in his day, and his dad and granddad and great-granddad before that; but this party--if it didn't take the cake.  First of all, they'd arrived in a coach, and come up the Greenway, and, to hear them tell it, before that up the Old South Road.  And they said they had come all the way from Minas Anor in Gondor, and on the King's Business.

            Now, if that wasn't a phrase to catch one's attention--indeed, he couldn't think of a better.  Old Gandalf and the Travelers had told him that old Strider was now the King, although he couldn't truly take it all in how that sinister Ranger had managed that trick. 

            Then there was the odd part about their size.  At first he'd thought they were a party of Hobbits with a single Dwarf, which was unheard of to begin with.  But when he said this the man snorted as if insulted, and said if he hadn't the wits to recognize Men when he saw them, even if they were mannikins, then there was perhaps no use in saying more.  Certainly on second glance they'd been clearly not Hobbits--no Hobbit wore a beard or had hair like that, and the man's hands, at least, were the size of those of a normal Man.  And the boy was very clearly of the race of Men for all his strange garb.  And the woman did not have the look or walk of a Hobbit lady, either.  But what a mannikin might be he had not the slightest idea.

            However, they did agree to take two rooms, one of those designed for Hobbits--with at least three beds; and one designed for Dwarves.  Butterbur had thought the request for separate beds odd until he heard the woman address the man as "Brother," and then understood.  And they paid for it with the new coinage, the King's coin, and in looking at it he was again bemused to seem to recognize the features of the enigmatic Ranger on the profile of the King.  He'd received several of these in the past two years, often from the Rangers themselves, who seemed to walk more proudly than they once did and who spoke of journeys to the south to see their kin serving now in Gondor or of when the King would come back north among his own people.  He'd had these coins checked by the Dwarves, who told him every time they were of exactly the worth in gold or silver or copper stamped on them, and now he trusted them.  If they carried the King's coin, he thought, that certainly indicated they probably did come from the Southlands.  Their use of the Common Tongue was a bit odd, but clearly understandable, and finally he had Nob show them to their rooms and promised to bring along a supper for them if they wished.

            As he came in with a heavy tray half an hour later, he heard the woman exclaiming, "Oh, Brother mine, I never thought to find any inn where the furniture was comfortable for our size, but now we've found two!"  Then she reddened when she realized she'd been overheard.

            "Oh, we're always proud to cater to the Little Folk," Butterbur explained as he set the tray on the table.  "We have a number of Hobbits who live here in Bree, the only land where such happens, Big and Little living together, from what I've heard tell from them as ought to know.  And as you are, begging your pardons, even shorter than most Hobbits I would guess this room would be about fit for your comfort."

            She nodded.  "In Minas Anor several of the inns in the lower circles have rooms for the Halflings, should they desire to visit the City, and we were allowed to use one there, for there are none visiting as yet.  It was the first inn my brother had ever stayed in anywhere where he has seen such a thing."

            The boy nodded solemnly.  "The King told us it was so that if the Pheriannath return to visit they will have a room devised for their comfort, and not have to try to become used to beds and tables too high for their stature.  The Ernil i Pheriannath and his kinsman Sir Meriadoc came to teach us how to make them comfortable."

            "Ernil and what?" Butterbur found himself asking.

            The little Man interrupted.  "The folk of the city saw Peregrin Took and thought he was a Prince of the Halflings, and so they gave him that title."

            "Peregrin Took?  Peregrin Took, a Prince of Hobbits?"  The innkeeper was so tickled at such an idea he began to laugh uproariously.  "My heavens," he finally managed, "the idea of that one as a prince--it is even odder than that of Strider as King!"

            "That's right--that is how you know him, isn't it?  I'll admit, the first time I realized Strider was the Lord King Aragorn Elessar Telcontar I, too, was taken quite aback.  But I've seen him both as Strider and as the King, and I assure you he is one and the same."  And he went to the chest by the windows and fetched a book from it, and opened it to a page.  "Behold the King," he said. 

            Butterbur looked at the drawing of a man seated on a high chair, Winged Crown on his head, a surcoat with a tree and seven stars embroidered on it, a scepter in his hands, and realized he did indeed recognize those features.  It oughtn't to have been such a shock, as he had been told, and by them as ought to know, after all, that Strider was the King now of Gondor and Arnor, but he still found himself totally overwhelmed.  "Who'd have ever thought," he murmured, bemused, "that the Ranger sitting in the corner with his long legs stretched out was the King?"

            "Yes, I know," the man said.  "That was how he introduced himself to me, too.  Although it turned out I'd already seen him in the Crossed Keys in Casistir, where I thought he was one of the new King's officers--only to learn later he was the King himself.  I didn't recognize him the following day when, dressed as Strider, he came to my work shed to talk to me about the commission.  I have a picture I did of that, but it's packed in the other chest."

            "I've certainly seen a shirt like that one there," Butterbur said, indicating the one worn by the King.  "Those as call themselves the King's Messengers wear them, and Peregrin Took was wearing one, too, and over silver mail.  Only it has a crown broidered on it."

            "Yes, that is his uniform shirt.  He must wear it when he stands on duty before the King's throne.  Didn't you know?  Peregrin Took is a member of the Guard of the Citadel and serves the King himself when he is in Gondor."

            "Then it's all true?" Butterbur found himself saying as he sat down, rather hard, on a stool, "all of it, what the Travelers said, about what they'd done and all?"

            "Well, I can't speak to what they said or didn't say to you, but, yes, Peregrin Took served Gondor in the War of the Ring and became a Guard of the Citadel; and Meriadoc Brandybuck served King Théoden of Rohan and is considered a Knight of Rohan--indeed King Éomer, who became King when his uncle died in the Battle of the Pelennor, sent him a gift through us when we saw him on our way here.  And Master Samwise Gamgee is seen as a Lord of the Realm, as was Master Frodo Baggins, for they carried the Enemy's Ring to Mordor itself to its destruction."

            "They did what?  Mister Baggins and Mister Gamgee, I mean?"

            "They went to Mordor, alone, to destroy the Enemy's Ring.  It almost killed them both."

            "They was alive enough when they got back here."

            The man smiled.  "They had had some time to recover--although I'm told Master Frodo's health began to fail after he returned to the Shire.  That is why he is no longer there."  His eyes grew saddened.  "Which is a great pity, for I would have been very glad to have met him, and to have thanked him."

            "Thanked him for what?"

            Dark eyes met those of the innkeeper's, solemnly searching them.  "For offering his safety and health for the freedom of Middle Earth."

            Butterbur didn't know what to say to that.  It had been enough for him to think on, struggling to wrap his brain around the thought of Strider as King.  But for those Hobbits to have gone alone to the Black Lands!  He shivered.  He forced the thought and the images it raised to the back of his mind to think on later, when he'd have time, and looked back to the picture.  "Well, must say he cleans up proper well," he commented.  His guests laughed.  A cry could be heard down the hall, and he turned in frustration.  "Now what mischief?  I'm sorry, but I must see to what's going on now.  You enjoy your supper, and I'll look in on you afore you go to your rest.  Ring if you need anything, and Nob should see to it."  And he left them, wiping his hands on his apron, barely acknowledging the approach of the Dwarf carrying a tankard of ale with a nod.

            After their meal they rang for Nob, who showed them the way to the bathing room and demonstrated the use of pump, boiler, and drains, then removed their used dishes, and they took turns ridding themselves of the grit of the road.  By the time Butterbur returned Dorlin had finished and was sitting in front of the parlor fire, tankard by his side, rebraiding his beard while the boy sat on a foot stool set on a wide cloth as the man guided his hands as he did something to a block of wood he held, and the woman sat by the table, embroidering by the light of three lamps.  The innkeeper nodded to see such a domestic scene.  "If only all my guests were as pleasant a lot as you," he commented.  "An argument broke out in the common room between two who disagreed as to which was the smarter, and if it didn't turn into a fight!  Had to finally knock their heads together to break it up, and told 'em both they've neither got the brains to come in out of the storm--quite obvious, that."

            All laughed.  The man then became businesslike.  "I'll need to send messages into the Shire on the morrow--will take them to the Bridge myself if it is necessary.  Can you advise me what is best to do?"

            "Well, if you are willing to ride to the Bridge yourself, that might be best, although the messengers are far more regular nowadays.  But they usually do the rounds three times a week, and as tomorrow's High Day they won't be likely to stir themselves for others.  Have you a saddle for one of your ponies?

            The Dwarf nodded, fastening a golden circle about the bottom of the braid he'd just completed.  "The King provided a saddle for each, and they are in one of the chests on the coach roof.  I'll remove them tomorrow morning if you'd like, Ruvemir."

            "Thank you, Dorlin.  When will you be off to see your mother's people?"

            "On the first day of the week.  Some of my folk from Erebor are here, and I'll travel with them."

            The woman spoke up.  "We'll miss you while you are gone, and hope that you will find the visit heartening."

            He smiled.  "Oh, I think I will."

            "You have a sweetheart among your mother's people?"

            The Dwarf didn't answer, only smiled again, and lifted his tankard in salute.

            The woman turned to the innkeeper.  "One other thing, Master Butterbur--is there a decent laundress nearby we can trust our clothing to?"

            "Yes, Mistress.  Missus May Underhill as lives nearby does much of the linens for the Pony, and is by all reports responsible and careful with all fabrics."

            "Good, for all our clothes need cleaning again, I fear.  It has been a long journey.  If you can give us directions in the morning, I'll appreciate it."

            "Nob told me as you'd used the bathing room.  Was it sufficient?"

            The little Man nodded, then turned back to the boy. "No, Ririon, or you will scar the wood.  You've shifted your grip again."  After watching the boy change his hold on the tool and giving an approving, "Better," he turned  back to Butterbur.  "It was good to feel clean again, and to soak my hip.  It has ached in the cold and damp." 

            "If your hip is hurting you, Ruvemir, perhaps we should wait till the messengers come.  The King didn't want you to ride and perhaps reinjure your hip.  And with the snow the road will be slick."

            He shrugged.  "I'll chance it, Sister mine.  I wish to meet with the three of them as soon as I can."

            She tutted with disapproval, and turned back to her embroidery.

            "And what business do you have with the Shirefolk?" asked Butterbur.

            The little Man sighed.  "I've a commission from the King himself, and to complete it properly I need to meet with Sir Meriadoc, Captain Peregrin, and Lord Samwise."

            "What kind of commission?"

            "I'm a sculptor, Mr. Butterbur.  I'm to do a memorial of the four Halflings for the capital, particularly of Lord Frodo.  But as he is no longer in Middle Earth, he is proving the hardest to picture."

            "A memorial?"

            "Yes, statues of the four of them together.  It is the King's will."

            "I never heard tell Mr. Underh--I mean, Mr. Baggins, had died."

            "He's not believed to be dead, sir--but he has left Middle Earth.  The King was told by the other three himself, for they saw him go.  Had he stayed, he would have died, though.  The King was very sure."

            "But where could he have gone?"

            The  little Man was quiet briefly.  "The King did not say, but all I can imagine is that he must have been granted the grace to go to the Undying Lands.  He gave up very much to complete his duty.  He certainly deserved some great reward."

            Butterbur thought on it himself.  "Funny," he finally said, "but I can accept that better than Strider as King, although Gandalf told me himself, and he's never lied to me.  But I can actually see that gentle soul among the High Elves."

            "Then you remember him?"

            Butterbur nodded.  "Oh, yes, I remember him.  The row he started the first time, how could I not?  Dancing on the table, disappearing that way...."

            "Let's sit."  And they sat.

            And Butterbur found himself describing that first visit by the party from the Shire, the fear and determination that filled their faces, the attempt to hide the identity of the leader of the group by calling him "Underhill."

            Suddenly the small Man laughed.  "Underhill!  That is what Lord Samwise spoke of in his letter!"  Butterbur looked at him in some confusion.  "He mentioned using an empty home in the village as a school, the old Underhill place, and then wrote, 'And don't you laugh at the name, I know you will, remembering Bree.'  Now I understand why he wrote that."

            "Mr. Gamgee is writing you letters?"

            "No, he sent it to the King, who allowed me to read it to learn more of what he is like."

            "He writes to the King?"

            "Yes, and from what I can tell the King writes to him as well.  They did travel from here to Gondor together, after all.  And in Gondor the titles held by the Lord Frodo Baggins are 'The King's Friend' and 'The Ringbearer,' while Lord Samwise is known as 'The Esquire' and 'The Faithful.'"

            "'Esquire'?"  Butterbur shook his head.  "I thought he was a gardener!"

            "I am sorry--I interrupted your story.  Go on.  You were telling me that the Lord Frodo was trying to disguise himself through the name of Underhill."

            So the innkeeper went on, and told of the letter from Gandalf, and the warning to be looking for Frodo Baggins, who would be traveling as 'Mr. Underhill' and who would most likely need aid, and how the letter had sat for months in his own quarters, forgotten, when no one could be found to take it to the Shire.  And of the visit to the common room and the song on the table, and falling off and disappearing....  "Talk about a row!  Let me tell you, that caused one, a big one indeed.  And that was when that Strider got to them at last, and they took up with him in spite of what I could do to keep them safe.  Only, how was I to know he was the King?

            "And then that night they stayed in the parlor--this very parlor, in fact, and didn't go to their room at all.  And in the morning the window had been forced to their room, and the beds were all cut up and stabbed, the bolsters destroyed, the dark mat cut to pieces.  Feathers was everywhere, and we were finding them here and there for weeks after.  Them Black Riders had crept in, or had got some of the evil Men then coming up the Greenway to creep in, and tried to kill all four of them.  And some of the evil Men opened the stables and drove away the ponies and horses, and stole one or two, and that, too, was awful, for they were in a pinch--needed something to carry supplies, and nothing to be found but that awful Bill Ferny's old wreck of a pony, so they took that.  And now Samwise Gamgee has that pony back, and they do seem to love one another dearly."

            "And you didn't see them after that?"

            "Not till they came back.  And wasn't that a surprise!  Nob called out, 'They're back, Mr. Butterbur!' and I thought it was the evil Men coming back, but it was the Travelers instead.  Here I was with a club in my hand, looking at four Hobbits and a Wizard.  'Twere rather funny, really.  They were trying to tell me about the war down south ways, and I was trying to tell them about the evil Men trying to take over Bree and all, and us driving them away.  And I think we were all talkin' over one another more than listening.  Only after the first Mr. Under--I mean Mr. Baggins--sort of sat back and let them tell it.  Looked kind of tired, don't you know, and Gandalf was looking amused and proud like, but was also looking at Mr. Baggins watchful like.  Was surprised not to see old Strider with them, but I guess they left him down south after he became King."

            "Who were the Black Riders who were after them?"

            Butterbur found himself becoming very solemn.  "Strider said as they came from Mordor, that they were the Ringwraiths.  I had thought the Ringwraiths were only from old, old stories.  Oh, I'm a lettered man, and I've heard the old stories of what Sauron had done afore.  And I'd heard tell of the Ringwraiths, too, and the Black Breath and what it was like.  But I saw Mr. Brandybuck's face when he came in, when they first got here.  He'd gone out for a bit of a walk, and saw Black Riders and was trying to see what they were doing, only one seems to have crept behind him, and he seems to have been overcome by the Black Breath.  His face was white when he ran in, and Strider went just as white when he heard his tale.  Luckily Bob and Nob had gone looking for him, and saw two Riders crouched down getting ready to haul him away, but when they saw the torches coming they crept off and let him lie. 

            "Only Gandalf said, when they came back, that the Ringwraiths are no more, that they were destroyed, but I don't completely understand how."

            "You say that Mr. Baggins was singing and dancing on the table, and then suddenly he disappeared.  Do you know what happened?"

            "No, I don't think I really have the right of it.  Mr. Took had started telling the tale of old Bilbo Baggins's birthday party, and we'd heard that tale even here, how he was giving a speech and said he was leaving the Shire, and then he disappeared in a flash of light and a cloud of smoke and a sound like thunder.  Then suddenly Mr. Frodo was up on a table talking fast and drawing the attention of everyone else--or, so I'm told by them as was there--I was talking to the Dwarves at the time, for one had decided the ale was watered down and was raising a row of his own.  Anyway, as long as he was on the table, everyone thought as he'd had more ale than was good for him, and someone called for a song, and he sang.  Sang a song about a cow jumping over a carriage and the Moon getting drunk and a dog laughing, or some such nonsense, and then he started dancing a bit, too, only the table fell and he did and he flat disappeared--everyone who was watching swears to that--that they saw him start to fall and disappear afore he hit the floor.  Only he was trying to claim he hit the floor and rolled under the table and crept off to the corner, and Strider had him sit by him to talk about something.  But old Jape, my barman, says that when he was dancing he had something in his hand, and he thought he saw some gold, and Mr. Frodo grabbed for it, and then he disappeared.  And coming so close on the story Mr. Took was telling about old Mr. Bilbo Baggins disappearing, it seemed too much a coincidence to some of the folks as were there, and particularly to Jape.

            "He--meaning Mr. Underhill--was right apologetic and paid for the broken dishes and all, but it was just too much.  But then something in the story, probably the idea of him disappearing with a small flash of gold he was grabbing for after the story of old Bilbo Baggins, made me remember the letter the Wizard Gandalf had left to be sent to Mr. Frodo Baggins, and I thought, 'What if the two of them stories go together?  What if this is Gandalf's Frodo Baggins?'  So I took a chance, and brought the letter here to see if he was indeed Mr. Frodo Baggins, and it turned out he was."

            "You said he looked sort of tired like when he got back?"

            "Yes, tired like.  Like he'd been through a lot.  Was eager and pleased to be home, but then drew back, sort of.  Smiled and all, and nodded a lot, and now and then corrected the others, but more and more it was them telling the tale and not him.

            "I don't know for certain what all happened down south, but it changed Mr. Baggins.  I think he was bad hurt, some how.  Seemed to be recovered, but maybe not as much as he looked on the outside, maybe.  And if anyone deserves to go with the Elves, I think somehow it would be him.  Can't really say quite how I know that, but that's the way I see it.

            "Now, you say that in Gondor they call him the Ringbearer.  Why do they call him that?"

            "He carried the Enemy's Ring to Mordor to have it destroyed."

            "But how did he get such a thing?"

            "Did you hear tell of Mr. Bilbo Baggins leaving the Shire before?"

            "Of course--another tale that made it even here.  Quiet, dependable Hobbit suddenly goes haring off with thirteen Dwarves, begging your pardon, Mr. Dorlin, sir...."

            "Quite all right, Mr. Butterbur.  But one of those thirteen Dwarves was my father, you should understand."

            The innkeeper's eyes got larger.  "Oh, really?  Do tell, Mr. Dorlin!"  He blinked several times, then continued:  "Anyway, off he goes for a year and a day, and then just as suddenly he comes back again with a bunch of treasure."

            "Well, apparently at one point in their travels they were traveling through the passes of the Misty Mountains and found themselves in Goblin caves."

            Dorlin interrupted.  "There was a horrible storm, and mountain Giants were throwing boulders about, so they found what appeared to be a shallow cave to take shelter in until the storm went down and the mountain Giants went to sleep.  Only it turned out this was the entrance to a series of Goblin caverns, and the Goblins came through a hidden doorway while all were asleep, stole the ponies, and took the Hobbit and my father and the other Dwarves captive.  But Gandalf helped them escape, and while they were seeking the way out, Bilbo got separated from the rest, and found a deep cavern with an underground lake, and met the creature Gollum."

            The little Man nodded.  "So, that was the way of it, then?  I see.  Anyway, years ago the creature Gollum had lived near the Great River Anduin, near the place where Isildur son of Elendil and High King of Gondor and Arnor was slain, and the Ring Isildur had been carrying was found at the bottom of the River there.  Gollum stole it and carried it away, and he hid in the depths of the caverns beneath the Misty Mountain and kept the Ring for his own, not knowing it was in truth the Enemy's Ring.  I am told he used it to make himself invisible so he could attack Goblins, which sometimes he would eat. 

            "One day the Ring slipped off his finger after he'd attacked a Goblin, and it was the day on which the Dwarves and the Hobbit were in the caverns seeking a way out of them.  Bilbo Baggins somehow was separated from the Dwarves and the Wizard and found himself in the depths of the caverns and tripped, and as he was trying to rise again he put his hand on the Ring and picked it up, then heard the creature Gollum and stuck it in his pocket.

            Again Dorlin nodded.  "Yes, he told my father and the others about this, too, how Gollum heard him and came to see what he was, and he indicated he would like to try to see if such as Bilbo were better to eat than Goblins.  And they played the Riddle Game.  If Bilbo lost, Gollum would eat him; but if Gollum lost, he would give him a present and lead him out of the caverns.  And when Bilbo touched the Ring in his pocket and didn't remember putting it there, he asked, 'What do I have in my pocket?' and the creature thought it was the next riddle and demanded three guesses, and lost.  And as he ran away from Gollum, once he realized Gollum intended to eat him anyway, he tripped while his hand was in his pocket, the Ring slipped on his finger, and he realized Gollum couldn't see him, and that the Ring made him invisible.  He used it several more times during their journey, usually to save my father and the other Dwarves."

            The little Man Ruvemir nodded.  "So, that is a fuller tale than I had heard.  At any rate, this was how the Enemy's Ring came into the possession of the Pherian Bilbo Baggins; and many years later the Wizard Mithrandir, still not certain what Ring it might be but frightened by changes he was beginning to see in his friend, convinced him to give it to his heir, the Lord Frodo Baggins."

            Butterbur found himself nodding.  "So, that was the way of it, then," he said.  "Old Mad Baggins put it on during his speech--"

            And Dorlin added, "And Gandalf set off one last firework to surprise everyone so no one would guess he had a Ring of Power in his possession.  Yes, Bilbo told us of that as we drove away toward Rivendell and Erebor."

            Ruvemir looked at him with surprise.  "You were there at the birthday party, then?"

            Dorlin shrugged.  "Several Dwarves, including my father, were at Bag End, assisting Bilbo in his preparations to leave, and we traveled together first to Rivendell, where the Dwarves have ever been at peace with the Elves of that place, and then over the mountain passes and on until we at last came to the Lonely Mountain.  We did not go to the Party, though, knowing rightly that if we did, when Bilbo put on the Ring we would be blamed for the disappearance.  As Gandalf attended the party, he was blamed instead, and we were content that he should bear the brunt of the blame.  Now and then a Wizard needs a humbling experience."

            And all laughed.

            Butterbur continued, "And then, when he was here, Mr. Frodo Baggins had the Ring in his hand as he danced on the table, and when he fell he slipped it on his finger."

            Ruvemir shook his head.  "The King is certain that the Ring slipped itself onto Lord Frodo's hand on purpose, to reveal him and itself.  He said that the malevolence of the thing was immeasurable, and that it often sought to reveal itself and to betray them on their journey.  It betrayed Lord Frodo at Amon Sul, and called to the evil creatures that lived before and within Moria while they sojourned there, although he would say no more than that.  A great grief happened there, apparently, for he would not speak of it, but pain was in his face in the mere mention of the place.  And he said he often felt a compulsion, while Frodo was sleeping, to come to him and take the Ring for himself.  The loathing he felt toward the thing was extreme.  He told me of it the night before we left Minas Anor.  He was trying to explain why it was that once they reached Orodruin Lord Frodo put it upon his finger one last time."

            Dorlin nodded sadly.  "Gimli has told me of how they looked when they were found, he and Master Samwise, both near death and unconscious, Frodo's hand still bleeding where the ring finger was now gone, both gaunt with lack of food and water and exposure to the fumes of the air of Mordor.  Both were bruised and cut from falling on the jagged stones of the Mountain, and Frodo was so far given to death the King almost could not call him back.  Master Samwise told him later, after they wakened, that he carried Frodo out of the chamber of the Sammath Naur, and that they managed to crawl till they came to a hillock where they had a few moments to speak their goodbyes to one another ere they died, for both were certain they would die."

            "But," Butterbur asked, "what happened to the Ring?  How was it destroyed?"

            Ruvemir sighed.  "Apparently after Bilbo took the Ring from Gollum's cavern, Gollum himself left the Misty Mountains in search of it.  He followed the Fellowship several times during their journey, and when Lord Frodo left the rest to go on alone save for Lord Samwise, who would not leave him, he followed Lord Frodo and the Ring.  He followed them all the way to Orodruin and into the Chamber of Fire, and when it claimed Frodo and he finally put it on his hand one last time, Gollum struck down Lord Samwise and leapt where he'd last seen Lord Frodo, and found his hand by feel, captured it, and brought it to his mouth.  He then bit off the finger bearing the Ring and took it once again for his own--and fell, holding it, into the Fire of the Mountain, and so both were destroyed."

            Butterbur shivered.  "That poor creature," he said, unsure himself if he meant Frodo or Gollum.  And all nodded in agreement.  "Well," he said at last, "that explains a good deal.  And you tell me Mr. Baggins is gone now, gone for good.  May he find rest."

 *******

            The next morning Dorlin agreed to go with Ruvemir on the ponies to the Brandywine Bridge to send off the letters to Bag End, Brandy Hall, and the Great Smial.  In going through the dispatch bag provided with the carriage, Ruvemir had found there were several letters and packets already addressed and sealed, plus he had written his own letters to Lord Samwise, Sirs Meriadoc and Peregrin, the Mayor, the Master, and the Thain, asking for permission to speak with them of a commission laid on him by the Lord Aragorn Elessar Telcontar, King of Arnor and Gondor.  Then they returned to Bree and the Prancing Pony, where he repaired to the bathing room to soak his hip before returning to his own quarters to do the exercises before falling at last into his bed.  He had nothing save his old, threadbare robe to change into when he awoke, as Miriel had gone during his absence to see the laundress suggested by Butterbur and had taken all else to be cleaned, so he spent the day in his room or in the private parlor while Ririon and Miriel went to explore Bree with Dorlin.  Butterbur checked on him several times during the day, and during one of these visits Ruvemir produced from the dispatch case a thick, heavy envelope addressed to Barliman Butterbur, Proprietor, The Prancing Pony, Bree, Eriador in the Kingdom of Arnor, sealed with two blobs of black wax, one impressed with the device of the Tree, Stars, and Crown indicating this was from the Court of the King, and the second with the simple A glyph Ruvemir now knew indicated it came from the King himself.  Butterbur seemed very impressed, he noted, and rather than breaking the seals he provided a small knife and lifted them carefully, then opened the envelope with an expression of concentration on his face.

            The letter itself was short, but inside the paper was a black leather bag tied about with silver cord; and after puzzling out the letter Butterbur opened it with clumsy fingers to reveal seven gold pieces of the King's coin, and shook them into his hand with a look of wonder.  That look continued as he raised his head to look at his guest.  "He says that this is to recompense me for the damage done when Mr. Underhill danced upon the table, and for the aid given to the party as they left the following morning and for any losses caused by the evil Men who attacked Bree.  He says Arnor and Gondor will always remember how the aid given at the Prancing Pony helped in the defeat of the Great Enemy."  He looked down at the coins with awe.  "I've never held so much in worth in all my born days," he said.  "And he signed it, 'King Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, Aragorn son of Arathorn, King of Arnor and Gondor, Strider.'  He signed himself 'Strider'!"  He shook his head.  "Who'd have thought he'd remember the Pony?"  And shaking his head in amaze he went out.

            Ruvemir smiled after him.

 *******

            Sam Gamgee looked at the excited face of his friend Robin Smallburrow who stood at the door of Bag End, holding in his hands several missives just taken from the bag he wore at his shoulder.  "And what are you, a Shiriff, doing, playing at Quick Post messenger, Cock Robin?" he asked.

            Robin looked disappointed.  "Well, these came to the gate at the Brandywine Bridge yesterday, and I thought as you'd like to get them as quickly as possible."

            Sam looked at the top one, and failed to recognize the handwriting.  "Who brought them?  A King's Messenger?"  The looks of a King's Messenger in their black and silver or grey-green with silver star at the shoulder were now a familiar sight at the east gate of the Shire.

            Robin, his excitement again growing, shook his head.  "Oh, no, not a King's Messenger this time--a very short individual such as I've never seen before in my life--has a beard like some Men, but not long like old Gandalf wore.  He rode upon a pony, and wore a cloak of a wine color, very fine looking.  Wore boots, one of them with a very thick sole.  His arms and legs were very short, very short indeed.  I have no idea what race he is of."  He shook his head with amazement.  "Never saw such as he in all my days."  He held out the letters, and Sam took them diffidently, looked at the first with continued suspicion, then looked at the second, at the sight of which his expression lightened.  "Who's that one from, then?"

            "Strider--from the King hisself.  Well, you may as well come in, as I know you aren't going to leave anyway till I tell you what it's all about, are you?"  And he turned and left Robin to close the door and follow him into the parlor.

            Rose looked up from mending she was doing.  Elanor sat near the fender removing the dress from a doll, and her brother lay on his back on a blanket nearby, sucking industriously on a large silver circle, watching the two Hobbit men with interest.  "A letter from the King, Rose, and another as well.  Cock Robin decided to play postman with them to relieve his curiosity."  Rose smiled. 

            Sam set the missives on the chest by the chair which was now his, and headed back into the cellars and kitchen to fetch his friend some refreshment, and returned some moments later with a laden tray and set it on the chest by the letters, handing bread folded around sliced ham and cheese and a mug of ale to Robin and a cup of mulled cider to his wife.  Then and only then did he finally sit down and take up the letter from Aragorn and open it.  His forehead wrinkled as he read it, and finally he looked up.

            "How many other letters did he bring to the gate, this stranger?"

            "Oh, several, Sam.  A couple each for the Travelers, for the Mayor, the Thain, and the Master as well as these for you."

            "And when did they get sent on?"

            Robin shrugged.  "I just told them that as my duty was now over I'd save a messenger and bring yours to you on my way home to Bywater, and set off immediately.  I suppose they would have been sent on right away." 

            Sam nodded, and carefully examined the second.  Its seal, as Robin had already noted, was of grey wax stamped with the image of a mountain.  He opened and read it, a look of discontent on his face.

            "What is it, Love?" Rose asked.

            Sam shook his head as he answered.  "It's that fool idea of doing a monument again," he commented.

            "What monument?"

            "Oh, the King wants to do a statue of us for Minas Tirith.  Says he has a Master Sculptor he's sending here, and asks us to meet with him and perhaps let him into the Shire to talk with them as knew and cared about Mr. Frodo most so as he can do a study for the statue.  And he wants him to do statues of us, too, me and Mr. Pippin and Mr. Merry.  Gonna do a group statue of all four of us, he is.  And the second letter is from the sculptor himself, someone named Ruvemir son of Mardil of Lebennin.  Think Lebennin is one of the southern fiefdoms, near where the Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth comes from, down near the Sea south and west of Minas Tirith.  Anyway, he's come to Bree from Minas Anor, and is excited to finally have a chance to meet us, and me in particular, he says.  Admits he was in the Southlands when the war was going on, so he never saw any of us.  Says he's a Man, but is of a sort called a mannikin, although I have no idea in Middle Earth what that means.  Says he is here with his ward and his sister Miriel, who's a broiderer.  Wants to meet with us in the next week."

            "Doesn't sound like you're too keen on this monument idea," Robin said as he raised his mug to finish his ale.

            Again Sam shrugged.  "It's not like we did anything all that special," he said.

            Rosie stopped short, her needle paused in mid-air.  "Samwise Gamgee!" she exclaimed.  "I swear, I don't know what to think of you at times.  You went all the way to the Black Land with your Master, all the way to Mount Doom itself, almost died how many times, and you don't think that's important?  We'd all be in chains if you hadn't--in chains or, more like, dead, if you and Master Frodo hadn't done that.  And if the King wants to do a monument for it, then I say good.  You deserve to be honored, you and Master Frodo both.  And from what you've all told me, Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin deserve as much as well, for a lot of important folk would have died hadn't they done what they did.  Now, am I right, or am I right?"

            Sam reddened as he shrugged again and took up the third mug on the tray and drank from it.  Finally he said, "But you didn't see the pictures as those artist folk in Minas Anor did."
            "That one of your Master is fine enough."

            "Well, that one was fine, but nowhere near as good as anything Mr. Frodo could have done, but Mr. Strider never asked him."

            "No question Master Frodo was as skillful with drawing sticks as with his pen, but did Mr. Strider ever see any of his pictures?"  After another shrug from her husband, she nodded.  "Well then, then why complain he didn't ask to see what he didn't know was?"  She resumed her mending.  "I'm all for it, myself, Love."

            "Why?"

            "Because I'm married to the finest gentlehobbit now in the Shire, and I think he deserves it, that's why.  Now, why don't you go get Cock Robin another mug of ale and a small cup of milk for your daughter?"

*******

            For several hours that night Sam sat looking at the two letters, and finally, after Robin had left and the children were in their cots and Rosie had announced her back hurt bad enough to take it to bed, he went into the study to write a reply.  Then he fetched his stationery box from the small desk in his bedroom, unlocked the drawer, and spent a while going through the papers it contained, a familiar ache in his heart.  Near midnight he finally locked them back in the drawer, and carrying it went back to the master bedroom and put it back where it belonged, and undressing and putting on a thick nightshirt against the cold, he slipped into bed beside his wife.

            A few hours later he woke to find her stroking his face, her eyes tender.  "I'm sorry, my love," she said softly.  "I didn't mean to waken the grief again."

            He realized he'd been weeping in his sleep.  "It's okay, Rosie.  You didn't do it, and you're right, he deserves a monument--a whole kingdom's worth of monuments, even.  But I wouldn't of done what I did if it hadn't been for the need not to let him go alone.  He'd have died--almost did anyways."

            She nodded gently, and kissed him just as gently, and he embraced her with relief.

*******

            Nevertheless, it was still with a degree of reluctance that Sam went to meet with the Mayor and the Master and the Thain and Merry and Pippin in Michel Delving three days later.  Pippin and Merry were already there looking uncertain, while the Thain, the Master, and the Mayor all looked eager, if (on the Mayor's part, at least) a bit bemused.

            "I think it's about time the Shirefolk got some recognition in the outer world," Paladin Took, Thain of the Shire, announced.  Since reading the entire Red Book his pride in his son and his friends had grown to an almost alarming point, and of the six of them he was the most keen on the project.  "After all, our own gave a good deal to help defeat the Enemy, and they have all done much worth praise."

            "It was Frodo and Sam who did the most, Da," Pippin said, "and they are the ones who deserve praise, not me.  And even Merry helped kill the Lord of the Nazgul."

            "And you were found with a Troll the weight of a mountain on you, one which you vanquished.  And your friend from the Guard, the one who is now the chief guard for the Prince of Ithilien, would not be alive if not for you.  Even Merry wouldn't be alive if not for you."  To which Merry nodded agreement.

            "I'm agreeing only for Mr. Frodo's sake," Sam said.  "He's the one what deserves a monument."  And Merry and Pippin agreed.

            The Mayor shrugged.  "I still don't completely understand what it was all about, and you can keep on talking about Black Men on Black Horses and Rings and mountains till the world ends and I doubt as I'll ever truly understand.  But the four of you apparently saved a whole bunch of folks out there, and that's good enough for me.  And what's more, you saved a bunch of folks here.  I go along with it."

            Sam grunted.  "Well, I want to see what he's good for, first.  The ones in Minas Anor--they was awful, and you two--" with a nod to Merry and Pippin "--you two know it.  If he ain't going to do a good job, I don't want nothing to do with him.  If he's to do a monument for Frodo, he's to do it right or not at all." 

            "And I agree with that," Merry said. 

            Pippin added, "Me, too."

            A letter was drafted to send back to the sculptor in Bree, and all agreed to start for Bree the following morning.

 *******

            Ririon was feeling the small sculpture that his guardian had just finished, his face delighted.  "I can feel his hands, Ruvemir, on his knees.  And the hood half over his face.  And his boots."  He turned his face toward where the sculptor sat by the fire.  "Will I ever be this good, do you think?"

            Ruvemir laughed.  "You are doing well enough, Ririon.  You will be good at what you do, you will find.  I cannot do as well with animals as you do.  It is possible you may specialize in animals or even simple shapes.  My colleague Bergemon specializes in figures on horseback;  Ferion specializes in silhouettes in bas-relief; Damrod does armed soldiers and ships and buildings in bas-relief.  And I specialize in people, and reconstructing the faces and figures of those no longer with us.  You cannot expect to do what I do, nor what my father does.  You are already learning some of my techniques; but in the end you will develop your own that will serve you best.  This is the nature of art."

            At that moment there was a knock at the door to the parlor, and at Ruvemir's call the door opened and Nob entered, clearly excited.  Ruvemir had been happy to finally meet a Pherian in person, and had paid a small commission to both Nob and Butterbur to do several studies of him so as to better acquaint himself with Halfling physical appearance and build.  Nob had been embarrassed at first to be so closely examined, but as he saw the drawings produced from these sessions he'd become increasingly intrigued with the work of the odd guests at the inn, and more and more he had begun to feel he had a personal interest in seeing the sculptor complete his commission.

            Ruvemir noted immediately the excitement the servitor showed, and asked, "Word has come at last?"

            Nob grinned as he nodded and held out the envelope he carried.  "Just came, sir, just now.  I was shaking out the mat at the door when one of the messengers who makes the run to the gate at the Brandywine Bridge arrived and announced he had a letter from Michel Delving for the sculptor as was sent by the King."

            As he took the envelope Ruvemir asked, "Michel Delving?  That is the capital of the Shire?"

            "Oh, the Shire don't have a capital--it's just where the Council Hole and the storage tunnels and the Mathom House and the grounds for the Free Fair are.  It's central-like, so makes a good place for most folk to meet when it's needed to meet is all." 

            Deciding that it wasn't worthwhile trying to reason why that didn't make Michel Delving the Shire's capital, Ruvemir examined the envelope.  He did not recognize the writing, and the seal of what appeared to be a leaf wasn't particularly informative, either.  Sighing, he slipped the smoothing tool he'd been using under the wax and lifted it, then pulled out the letter inside.  Ririon had paused in his examination of the soapstone figure his guardian had made and was peering toward him expectantly, as was Nob.  And at that moment Miriel came out of the bedroom with one of the sleeves she'd just finished cutting, preparatory to starting the embroidery, and seeing the letter in her brother's hand she, too, waited to see what news had arrived. 

            Finally Ruvemir raised his gaze and announced, "They've agreed to meet with us, and are apparently already on their way to Bree."

            Miriel asked, "Who is coming?"

            Her brother looked back at the letter.  "Apparently all of those to whom the King and I wrote.  I'm not sure when they'll arrive, though, for no date nor time is given."  He turned to Nob.  "Can you let Master Butterbur know that we will expect at least six individuals from the Shire in the next few days, and I will gladly pay for rooms for them?"

            Nob smiled broadly as he assured the sculptor he would see to it immediately, and scurried off to carry the request.  Relieved to know that he would at least get a chance to meet his proposed subjects and to reason with them, Ruvemir took back the figure he'd been working on from Ririon, and had him bring out his own work, a wood carving of a snake coiled around a branch, and had the boy go over the work and point out flaws he could feel and describe why he believed them to be flaws and what he might do to correct them, or to compensate for them if he'd gone too deep to truly set things right.  He then set the boy to doing the corrections he'd identified, and examined his own figure for a few minutes, and setting it on the small table he'd been offered as a work bench he continued the smoothing process.  Miriel sat at the table with her sleeve and colored threads, and all had been working diligently for about an hour when an abrupt knock at the door announced the arrival of Butterbur and Nob together, both looking flustered. 

            "They're here already, sir!  Seems as they left the Shire afore the letter was entrusted to the Messengers, and the Messengers passed them on the Road today!  They're in the stables with Bob, seeing about the housing for their ponies.  What can we do to tidy things for you, now?"

            Ririon's carving and his own were both set on the main table momentarily as stools and work table were moved aside to lift the drop cloths Ruvemir routinely worked over when doing a sculpture inside, and Nob frisked off with them to shake them out in the alley behind the inn.  Butterbur ran a quick duster over the furniture; Miriel produced the whisk with which her brother brushed off his clothing after working on a project and did her best to hurriedly neaten the appearance of her menfolk; and deciding there wasn't time to do more at this point, the innkeeper hurried out to bring six more chairs into the room. 

            The additional chairs were barely in place before they heard voices in the passage, and a knock at the doorway announced the arrival of Nob with the cloths draped over his arm, leading six figures.  Ruvemir immediately recognized Peregrin Took and one who must be his father, as he had the same browline and auburn curls, and Meriadoc Brandybuck.  The serious-looking Hobbit who followed after was probably the Master of Brandy Hall, he decided.  He was surprised to find both sons were decidedly taller than their fathers, indeed taller than any of the Pheriannath he'd already seen here in Bree, and wondered at this.  Behind them was a round Hobbit who looked rather tired, as if he'd just done far more physical exertion than he'd done for some time.  His expression was cheerful but somewhat drawn, as if he'd been seriously ill at some time in the past.  At the end came Samwise Gamgee, his expression very guarded.

            Both the Hobbit knights and Sam wore now-familiar grey-green cloaks with hoods, cloaks fastened with enameled leaf brooches, and as they removed them he saw that the knights wore mail shirts and carried swords.  Lord Samwise, on the other hand, wore what he knew to be standard Hobbit attire--trousers to mid-calf, a finely made shirt, the garment he now knew was called a waistcoat or vest--a very fine one of figured cloth, he noted, far richer than he'd been pictured wearing by Frodo, neatly buttoned with a chain across it from which dangled a silver key; and over that a jacket of excellent fabric, finely finished, complementing the vest beautifully, with a fine kerchief standing up in its pocket.  It appeared first that Samwise Gamgee's status within the Shire had changed markedly for the better, and that he was intending to impress upon this stranger that he was a Hobbit of substance.  Ruvemir, Miriel, and Ririon found themselves the focus of serious attention by their guests, and Ruvemir found himself returning the attention avidly.  Miriel took the shed cloaks and laid them over the now dusted work table, which had been moved near the hearth, and once all were finally relieved of their outer garments, the sculptor decided it was time to make introductions.

            "As you have been told, I am Ruvemir son of Mardil of Lebennin, and am a Master Sculptor.  This is my sister Miriel, who is a Master Embroiderer, and our ward Ririon son of Embril and Damsen, who is apprenticed to learn carving."  With a low bow, he continued, "We welcome you and thank you for agreeing to meet with us, and for coming so quickly to Bree.  Won't you sit and become comfortable?"  He then turned to the innkeeper.  "Thank you very much, Master Butterbur, for the assistance you have given us tonight.  Will you please bring a pitcher of mulled cider and one of ale?  And we should all be ready for the excellent lamb stew I understand is being served tonight within an hour's time, if that is all right with our guests?"  He looked at the six Pheriannath, who, one by one, nodded their agreement.  Pippin and Merry greeted Butterbur quietly before he slipped out of the room, while Sam gave him a brief nod of acknowledgment and turned his gaze back on Ruvemir as he and his fellows seated themselves.  Each introduced himself, and he found he was right in his guesses, and that the sixth, the round Hobbit, was Will Whitfoot, the Mayor of the Shire.

            It was Sam who spoke first.  "Well," he said, "Strider's told us as he's going to follow through on this monument of his, and that you are to carve it.  Not that I'm all that well pleased to appear in no monument, understand, although I can't presume to speak for Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin.  Don't rightly understand why Strider is so for it.  Are you any good?"

            Ruvemir decided false modesty would have only a negative effect on the Shirefolk, and answered with a succinct "Yes."  At the skeptical look on the Hobbit's face, he continued:  "Last summer I was working on a commission in the village of Casistir on the River Gilrain, and was approached by a cloaked and hooded stranger about accepting my next commission in Minas Anor itself, that he wished a memorial made for his friend.  He based his choice of me for this work on two of the sculptures I'd done for the new Hall for the village, one of them Prince Adrahil, father to Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth--" (all three of his subjects nodded their recognition) "--and one of the Lord Captain Thorongil, who many, many years ago served in the forces of Gondor, and who with Prince Adrahil led a very successful assault on the Corsairs of Umbar."

            Captain Pippin spoke up.  "You did one of Aragorn leading the assault on Umbar when he burned their ships in the harbor itself?"

            Ruvemir nodded.  "Then you have heard of that assault?"

            Captain Pippin returned the nod.  "Yes.  He told me of it as I was recovering in Ithilien.  He'd been injured in the fight on the wharves, but not seriously, he said; and then as they were returning to Minas Anor he got word through one of his foster brothers he was needed in Eriador, for his uncle had been killed in a major orc raid, so he sent a letter to the Lord Steward Ecthelion resigning his commission.  Once he had things settled there he came back south secretly and went east toward Rhun.  I'm not sure when he went to Harad, but he told us he'd been there, too.  But I thought hardly anyone in Gondor knew he'd served as Captain Thorongil."

            "That's true.  I certainly didn't know.  But I questioned some who had known him and got them to describe Captain Thorongil to me, and based my sculpture on that."        

            Lord Samwise snorted.  "And how was you to get a good description of him from others?"

            Ruvemir smiled and went to one of the chests which stood in a far corner, opened it, and brought out a booklet and carried it over to the gardener, leafing through it to a specific page as he walked across the room.

            "These are the studies on which the features of the Lord Captain were based.  They were all made from descriptions given me by those who remembered him.  They were made a year before I met the mysterious Strider in Casistir." 

            Lord Sam looked at the first indicated page with skepticism still obvious in his face, but the expression changed to surprise as he turned pages, looked at each new study.  Finally he reached the picture of the girl and looked up with new respect on his face.   "You did these just from what folks told you about what Captain Thorongil looked like?"

            Ruvemir nodded.  "Yes, from what others told me of him.  I understand when the King saw the finished statue he and the Prince and the others with them were all taken aback.  Certainly the first time I actually saw his face I recognized the features of Captain Thorongil, although I assumed that person had been his father."

            Sir Merry laughed.  "I bet when you asked him about his relationship with the Lord Captain Thorongil he just passed it off, although I'll also wager he was trying hard to keep a straight face."  And when Ruvemir indicated this was true, he continued, "That is just like him.  I can't tell you how many times it took hearing it to realize he was going to be King of Gondor sometime; and once it got through to me Frodo was thoroughly disgusted with me, but Aragorn was doing his best to keep from laughing in my face."

            Captain Pippin said, "Oh, I just didn't really understand what it all meant until Gandalf was leading me into the Citadel in Minas Tirith, warning me it wouldn't do to talk of Strider to the Lord Denethor as when he came he'd be coming to take over as King, and you should have seen the look old Gandalf gave me, Merry.  I must have looked quite the fool for my expression at the time."       

            "As if that were anything new," his cousin responded, and received a good-natured jab to his ribs from Captain Pippin's elbow.

            "Ow!" said Pippin.  "Remind me not to jab you when you have your mail on."

            Sir Merry smiled at Ruvemir.  "He always says that, you know."

            Ruvemir was beginning to see the reality of what he'd been told by Lasgon and Mistress Loren, while Ririon couldn't help but laugh at what he heard.

            Sam ignored the two cousins, having turned his attention back to the sketch booklet.  "So this is how you intend to find out as what my Master looked like, then?"

            Ruvemir nodded.  "I've already begun working on preliminary drawings." 

            Sam nodded guardedly and began turning pages.  He stopped at the page on which Ruvemir had begun doing the sketch intended to give him the proper contours of Lord Frodo's face and frowned, then turned past it.  The next study he stopped at for quite a while, and his expression softened.  Seeing this the two knights rose and came to stand looking over his shoulders, and the faces of both became gentle with memory.

            Pippin looked across at Ruvemir, his eyes shining with unshed tears.  "You caught him laughing."

            The sculptor nodded.  "Mistress Loren and the page Lasgon both told me of how hard you worked to coax him to laughter, my Lords.  I wanted to capture that."

            The door opened, and Nob and Butterbur carried in a couple of trays and set them on the table, then bowed and left to distracted thanks from those in the room.  Sam set the booklet on the table, turned to the tankards and pitchers of ale, then spotted the soapstone carving that sat there, reached out to take it up instead.  For some moments he held it, turned it to look at it from several sides, and at last looked to the sculptor.  "You did this?" he asked in a soft voice.

            Ruvemir nodded.

            Sam took a deep breath and held it out to Sir Merry, who took it with wonder, examining it with care and a level of reverence.  He then gave it to Pippin, who drew himself up straight, and suddenly Ruvemir realized just how the young Hobbit could be transformed into the Guard of the Citadel.  There was a decided look of pride on his face as he looked into the hooded features of the small carving.  He didn't quite salute, yet....

            The one identified as Sir Meriadoc's father had reached for the booklet and was handed it by his son; and had started to look at the pictures, then stopped to watch first Sam's face, then his son's, and then his nephew's as they each examined the small figure.  Captain Peregrin looked to catch his eye, then held it out with respect.  "Sir, this is how we first saw the King."  Master Saradoc set down the booklet on his lap to take the sculpture, and examined it carefully, then passed it to Mayor Whitfoot, who in turn passed it to the Thain.  Each looked at the sculptor with great respect as they completed their inspections, and for several moments the room was quite silent. 

            "Ruvemir?" asked Ririon, trying to understand the change in the tone of the assembly.

            "They are looking at the figure of Strider I did, Ririon."

            "And," added Captain Peregrin, "recognizing our friend and our King.  Your--master--is a fine sculptor.  A fine sculptor.  I see how he is considered a Master in his craft.  That is exactly how we first saw him, in the corner of the common room here in the Prancing Pony, just over five years ago."  He held out his hand, and the figure was returned to him, and he took it with great gentleness, stroked it gently with one finger.  A single tear rolled down his cheek.

            Master Saradoc was beginning to look again through the booklet, and found the studies of Captain Thorongil, leafed through them, stopped to look at the figure of the girl, then turned to see two pages had been removed before he saw the study of Frodo that had caused Sam to frown, and then the next one of Frodo laughing.  His face softened markedly, and Ruvemir realized this one also felt a level of grief.  He held it out to show the Mayor and the Thain, and saw the recognition in both faces.  He then began leafing through more pages, paused with pleasure at the study of his son, then held it out to show the others, and then with all three looking at it together he turned more pages, revealing the study of Captain Peregrin caught in a moment of introspection, and the Thain straightened much as had his son.  Then they turned to the picture of the King as he'd sat by Ruvemir's bed....

            "The King?" asked the Master.

            "Yes," Ruvemir replied.  "He came to tend me in the Houses of Healing after seeing an embassy from Umbar."

            "And what mishap had you endured?" Sir Meriadoc asked.

            "I got caught in a rainstorm out on the Pelennor, and took a severe chill.  Then my pony threw me twice, first time while I was trying to mount to get back to the city, and the second time when lightning and thunder broke over our heads.  It injured my hip, which isn't the strongest feature I have anyway.  Later that evening I was going to put some pictures into the desk in my room and the hip slipped out of place, and I was in agony.  I made it somehow to the bed before I quite passed out.  I was found in a bad way the next morning."

            "And does he make you do those exercises several times a day?" asked Captain Peregrin.  When Ruvemir indicated he did, the Pherian nodded.  "Yes, I had to do them up until after the wedding."

            "I didn't realize you'd had your hip displaced."

            "Oh, yes, when the troll fell on me.  I'm glad I was still unconscious when they put it back in."

            "I was just barely returning to consciousness, but I didn't stay so for long."

            "I can imagine.  My whole side turned the most interesting colors with the bruises."  Again they shared a mutual nod of fellowship.  "Umbar, eh?  And what did they want?"

            "A new treaty.  The Lord Elessar told me he gave them a new one--but strictly on his own terms."

            Pippin straightened again.  "Yes, I imagine he did," he said knowingly. "And I can imagine his expression--most grim."

            The other two who had known the King himself nodded their agreement. 

            Then the Master turned to the study of Samwise.  "But this looks just like him!" he exclaimed, then turned it so the younger Pheriannath could see.  Sam looked at it surprised, while the others gave a sharp intake of breath. 

            Sir Meriadoc looked at it in awe, then at the artist.  "How did you do that one?" he asked.  "It looks so very much like him."

            Unwilling to tell them of Frodo's pictures in Lasgon's keeping, he said, carefully, "Lord Frodo--left a description of Lord Samwise.  And it was so detailed I could--"  He stopped, and found himself looking into Sam's face, who was looking at him in a calculated way, and he realized this Halfling had divined what he'd really seen, but was willing to let the others think it was a written description.

            But the others nodded, as if this was not unexpected.  "Bet he did it for the King," Sir Meriadoc said quietly to his cousin, and Pippin nodded.

            Lord Samwise gave him a long, evaluative stare.  "And now you'd like to do life studies of us, I suppose, and have us to describe him as have done those in Minas Anor?"

            "Yes.  And this the Lord Elessar had hoped as well, that you would allow us to enter the Shire and see where he had lived and speak to those who remember him with love."

            "And you want to do this monument?"

            "Yes, I want, very much I want, to do this memorial."

            "Why?"

            Ruvemir looked down, then back at the gardener.  "I am a mannikin.  Can you imagine what the Enemy would have done to me and mine, to my sister and myself and others like us, had you and your Master not done what you did?  We would have been slaughtered out of hand, and I could barely have lifted a hand to try to protect us.  Oh, I can wield hammer and chisel well enough to carve, although I usually have an apprentice do the rough cutting as it is so much more laborious for me than for others of more normal proportions.  But I cannot use a sword with any facility at all--and as for a bow--"  He shrugged.  "The whole of Minas Anor wishes to do honor to you and your Master, Lord Samwise.  The word that he has left Middle Earth has spread through Gondor, and all everywhere mourn his loss."

            "I don't think as he's dead, not yet."

            "What has become of him is a mystery to all, and the Lord Elessar will barely speak of it for grief."

            Sam became more alert.  "Strider is grieving?"

            "Yes, Lord Samwise.  He knows he will not see him again in this life, and he grieves strongly for him."

            As the Lord Samwise squeezed his eyes shut, Ruvemir realized that the feelings of the King mattered greatly to him.  Sir Meriadoc placed his hand on Samwise's shoulder and gently kneaded it.

            Ririon spoke up.  "Lord Samwise, do you remember me from Minas Anor?"

            Sam looked at him intently.  "Should I member you?  Sorry, but I don't-- we met so many there."

            The boy nodded his understanding.  "I was much smaller than I am now, just a little boy in an innyard, getting my ears boxed--"

            "Oh, I do member you," the Halfling interrupted.  "And Mr. Frodo went in and stopped him hitting and yelling at you.  Did he treat you proper after that?"

            "Oh, yes, Lord Samwise."

            "And did you behave proper back?"

            The boy smiled.  "Yes, sir, I did.  I wanted to earn Lord Frodo's love."

            And the Pherian nodded slowly, and smiled back.  "Yes, I know."  He examined the boy's face for a time.  "What happened to your eyes?"

            "I got the pox, and it put blisters on my eyes, and afterward I could barely see.  I see better now, for the King helped scrape off some of the scars.  But I still can see only partially, sir."

            "And how did you end up with these folk?"

            "I have the gift of carving.  And Master Ruvemir is helping to teach me how to use my gift."

            Sam looked into the sculptor's eyes.  "He any good?"

            Ruvemir smiled.  "Look at the other carving on the table."

            Captain Peregrin turned and looked, then reached across and caught up the other carving, examined it and smiled, then handed it to Sam, who took it gently and looked at it with surprise.

            "Do snakes live in Minas Tirith?" he asked.

            "Evamir Cook kept one as a pet, to help keep mice down in the kitchens at the Dragon's Claw.  He had it from Anfalas.  He couldn't keep a cat--made his face to swell."  And again this carving passed from hand to hand.

            Finally the Mayor spoke.  His voice was high, but not unpleasant.  "I don't recognize the name of your race, Master Ruvemir.  Where do the Mannikins live?"

            Ruvemir shook his head.  "Mannikin is the name given to us by normal folk, Master.  My sister and I are of the race of Men, but are born with stunted bodies and limbs.  There aren't many of us in Gondor, but always there at least a few."

            The three older Halflings looked into one another's eyes with concern.  The Thain spoke finally.  "The King has made a law forbidding Men to enter the Shire, yet he asks you be allowed to do so anyway?"

            "Only for a short time, and only if you yourselves will welcome us, sir.   It is your decision, and not his--and certainly not mine.  Only to you does he grant permission to overlook this law.  Certainly he will hold himself to it." 

            The six of them looked from one to another, and he sensed they were making their decision without words.  Finally the Thain spoke.  "All right, we will grant it, for you and for the sakes of Frodo Baggins and the King.  But we will not tell our people that you are of the race of Men--too many are too deeply scarred by what we endured during the time of the Troubles.  And we ask that you refrain from naming yourselves as well."

            And so it was decided to allow the Master Sculptor to enter the Shire.


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.

In Challenges

Story Information

Author: Larner

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Rating: General

Last Updated: 04/25/08

Original Post: 12/05/04

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