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In Empty Lands: 18. An Encounter with the Ringbearer
For Linaewen for her birthday.
An Encounter with the Ringbearer
Boromir found Frodo Baggins one day, standing half concealed in a doorway, looking out into a sunlit courtyard where several Elven maidens were busily hanging out what must have been newly laundered clothing. There were many fine lines hung between one side of the court and the other, and these cords hung over what seemed to be a winter garden of some sort.
They spoke quietly as they worked, each nimble hand deftly affixing damp garments to the lines with carefully worked cleft pegs of wood so that they were able to hang straight and dry unwrinkled. In spite of the autumn chill in the air, it was nevertheless fragrant within the courtyard, and the lines of plants were as pleasing to the eye as were the views of the women who adorned it.
One began to sing, and Frodo's chin rose in response, his lips parting in pleasure as he listened. When the others joined in the song of the first his eyes closed as if in ecstasy.
Boromir realized, Our Ringbearer is hopelessly devoted to beauty! Certainly he was now transfixed by it.
The Gondorian looked out into the courtyard again, and noted that the one leading the singing was the Lady Arwen, daughter of Master Elrond himself, or so he'd been told. There was no question that she was of unsurpassed beauty, although Boromir found himself reacting with suspicion to the alien nature of that allure. She was an Elf, after all—or at least a half-Elf. Peredhel, from a household ruled by peredhil. Who knew how old she might be? At least several centuries, if the old tales were true.
From the shadows where he stood, Boromir considered the Halfling and the fact he appeared to have been spying upon the Elves. Was Frodo Baggins enraptured by Lord Elrond's daughter? A thought to be pondered!
He turned to leave as quietly as he'd come, but apparently it was not quietly enough to escape the notice of the Ringbearer. Frodo turned his head suddenly, and his face went pale, save for his cheeks, which burned with color. The Hobbit gestured for him to continue to leave, and followed after him, his posture stiff. Boromir cast but one glance back toward the doorway into the courtyard, and had a brief glimpse of the Lady Arwen. Somehow he knew that she'd realized that the Hobbit had been there, and part of the reason she'd begun to sing had been for Frodo's benefit.
Frodo pushed past the Man as they went through another passage, at which time he led the way into a small room filled with light and fine porcelains. In the center of the room stood a circle of carefully wrought benches, on which one might sit and appreciate the beauty with which the chamber was fitted. Here he stopped, staring up at the Man with an expression so filled with dignity that Boromir was reminded of his own father. Boromir dropped to sit upon the nearest bench so as to be more on a level with his companion, deciding that he would allow the Hobbit to speak first.
At last Frodo said, as if answering an unspoken question, "Like you, I just happened upon that passage, and heard the maidens within the court speaking. I have been seeking to improve my understanding of spoken Elvish, so paused—at first—merely to try to understand. I swear I was not deliberately spying upon them."
Boromir gave a studied shrug. "It is nothing to me, small master, should you choose to watch those who host us here. They spoke of little enough—merely commenting on the health of the garden in which they worked."
The Hobbit's stiffness melted somewhat. "Then you speak Elvish?"
"We speak both Sindarin and Westron in Gondor, my friend. Sindarin is the language we have spoken throughout our history, and is widely used by the nobility. But more and more of our daily business is conducted in Westron, it seems."
"Westron is the name for the Common Tongue?"
Frodo nodded, a half smile at this intelligence on his expressive face.
Boromir continued, "We do not speak Sindarin exactly as do the Elves of this place, I find. Our accent is somewhat different, and we have different phrasings, or so it appears to me. But those differences are not enough to keep me from understanding what is said by those who live here."
Frodo again nodded. "I see." He stood a moment in thought before explaining, "Bilbo began teaching me Elvish when I was but a child, although he admitted that he wasn't always certain he had the pronunciation quite right. I even know some Quenya—not a great deal, mind you, but enough to appreciate some of the references in the books Master Elrond has shared with Bilbo and Great-grandfather Gerontius. I doubt Uncle Paladin truly appreciates just how much correspondence has gone on historically between the Great Smial and Rivendell, actually."
He sat himself upon the bench at Boromir's side, apparently having decided to be companionable. "The voices of the Elves—they are so beautiful," he said softly. "I can sometimes seem to see that of which they speak, particularly when they sing or are chanting poetry. That song that they were singing just then—it was about riding horseback, wasn't it?"
The Hobbit's smile indicated he was pleased to see he had it aright. "I could see it in my mind—a great crowd of folk, all following the huntsman together."
"It was a hymn in honor of Oromë, the Hunter among the Valar, the one known to the Rohirrim as Lord Bema," Boromir explained. "It is said that he was the first among the Powers to come across the newly awakened Elves by the Waters of the Beginning, so I must suppose he is greatly esteemed among them."
Again that smile of discovery. "I see." Frodo Baggins looked up to search the Man's eyes. "How pleasant it must have been to come here and find that you understand the language, no matter how differently you might speak it within your home," he said. "As if you had come across unexpected kindred from afar."
Unexpected kindred from afar? Boromir felt somehow discomfited by such a thought. After all, from what he had learned of this Aragorn son of Arathorn—he appeared almost ready to press his claim to the Winged Crown and the throne of Gondor, and where might that leave Boromir and his family? So long had the House of Húrin faithfully served the people of Gondor. Certainly he should not desire to totally disinherit them or set them at naught? Surely not!
But it appeared that the Ringbearer had read his thought. "Oh—so, your own people might have mixed thoughts at accepting Aragorn as your King, then?"
Boromir realized his own expression must be perplexed. Frodo merely sighed as he sat forward on the bench, setting his hands on either side of his thighs, turning his gaze toward a great urn before them. For a moment the Man felt as if there were a strange kinship between his companion and that urn, both deceptively delicate in appearance and filled with an alien beauty, but both enduring beyond what a Man might expect of them. But then the thought fled him as suddenly as it had come.
Frodo Baggins was plainly thinking things through. "It must be much as Otho and Lobelia felt when Bilbo brought me to Hobbiton as his ward, realizing I threatened their inheritance," he said quietly. He looked up to smile wryly at the Man. "Otho Sackville-Baggins was Bilbo's cousin, the son of his father's next younger brother, and thus Bilbo's proper heir according to Hobbit custom, seeing he never married or had children. Otho was always a rather unpleasant chap, however, and when he married Lobelia Bracegirdle he became even more so. Their son Lotho is a lout—always has been. They spoiled him terribly as a lad, and allowed him to lord it over the other Hobbit children. Nor did they do better by him as an adult. Lobelia herself is a known petty thief, and she encouraged her son to follow in her footsteps, I fear. Far too much time on his hands with far too little direction or proper employment. He stole from the merchants in the marketplace, and pocketed trifles he saw when visiting with others. I suppose it's the Bracegirdle in him—he has a cousin named Timono who is just as quick to snatch up things that aren't rightly his."
He sighed and shifted slightly. "Bilbo, as family head for the Bagginses, was responsible for seeing to it that all those in the family who were in want had their needs met. My parents died when I was a child, leaving me in want of a proper guardian. My mother's people insisted on keeping me for years, but at last agreed it was time I found a proper place among my own family of name." He paused, then blurted out, "They were almost killing me with kindness, you see. Aunt Menegilda was so careful of me, I found it quite stifling. I was a tween when Bilbo finally insisted it was time I came to Bag End with him.
"I didn't remember Lobelia to recognize her, although I remembered that she used to make my mother cry, back when I was little and we still lived in Hobbiton. It was because of Lobelia that my father decided we should move east, first to Buckland and then Whitfurrow. They came to see me, just after Bilbo brought me home, and were insufferably rude." His expression became wry. "I have to admit I was equally rude in return. Bilbo and I used to find ways of being scrupulously polite while being as rude to the three of them as we could be."
Boromir found himself laughing with delight. "That," he chortled, "must have taken a good deal of thought."
Frodo's smile became more obvious as he looked down at his now linked fingers. "It was often amusing to plan just how to be as insulting as possible using wording that could not be easily recognized as rude by anyone hearing the words repeated. Bilbo had raised it to an art form." His eyes twinkled in appreciation for Boromir's laughter. He straightened, linking his hands behind his head as he stretched. "Bilbo didn't tell them that he'd truly adopted me as his heir, and Lobelia refused to believe that he'd actually do so without letting it be properly published about the Westfarthing. By the time Bilbo decided to leave the Shire for good it was too late for them to do anything, and you can believe that Bilbo made certain that all was properly done so they could do nothing. And the three of them had made themselves so unpopular that the best lawyers of the Shire cooperated to see to it the adoption papers were incontestable. Believe me, Otho did his best to see if he could break Bilbo's will!"
"And who sees to your inheritance while you must be away?" asked the Man.
The smile faded from the Hobbit's face. "I sold it—Bag End, that is." He sighed. "I had to make it appear that I must leave Hobbiton, so I pretended to have come to the end of my money, and sold it. I sold it to Lotho Sackville-Baggins and his mother. Bilbo is most upset with me, allowing them to take possession of his beloved home." He stood up, drawing into himself. "I doubt that I shall be returning home in any case. I only pray they do well by the place. If they don't, I fear that Sam will take his vengeance on them when he returns to the Shire."
Boromir looked on Frodo Baggins and knew not what to think. The Hobbit appeared particularly vulnerable and isolated, but also filled with a peculiar dignity and authority that somehow brought to mind his brother Faramir. "And why is it that you do not believe you shall return to your own land?" he asked.
Frodo snorted, a sound Boromir had not expected to hear from this one of all people. "I ask you, my lord—I am to travel to Mordor, the Enemy's own stronghold, and somehow enter into his lands, slipping past what I must guess to be highly guarded gates, and find my way all the way to the mountain where the Ring was forged. Do you truly believe any person, no matter how trained he might be in stealth, can do such a thing? And even if I come to the fire, what will happen when the Ring goes into it? Do you think it even possible that anyone standing over the fire would survive once the Ring goes into it? I doubt it." He shook his head. "I must find my way, somehow in the trackless wilderness, and take these others I love with me, and even you and Strider, Masters Gimli and Legolas, into dangers they cannot begin to imagine on a quest that is nigh hopeless. And I am not certain how to get there to begin with!"
"Then, why did you volunteer to take it?" asked the Man.
The Hobbit's face was again pale, even his cheeks this time. "You do not know what carrying—It—is like. You do not know how It can take hold of you. It has happened to me—twice. You don't want to feel It take you. No one should ever feel such a—violation. No one. If I can make certain that no one else endures what I have, then I will see to it.
"Now, if you will excuse me…." So saying, he rose, gave a surprisingly graceful bow, and left, taking the passage that led toward the section of Imladris where he was housed. Boromir was left, watching after him.
After a moment the Lady Arwen entered. She looked toward the passage Frodo had taken, obviously as thoughtful as Boromir himself. At last she said, "He is finding the Ring a greater burden than he'd expected. Bilbo, since the Ring was identified as Isildur's Bane, has told me of how his thoughts were often fixed upon It to the exclusion of all else, of how he feared It might abandon him as It had the creature Gollum. He has spoken of how he would attempt to leave it locked in a drawer in his study in Bag End, and find he could not enjoy himself at a banquet or party, realizing he was fearful that some harm might come upon It while he must be away. Ah—to be so taken by what appeared to him to be a trifle, a simple souvenir of his journey to help retrieve treasure from Smaug.
"He confided to me the other day that he'd often held the fancy that somehow the Ring was disappointed in him, and now realized it was more than a mere thought. And he is in terror as to what It might do to the beloved son of the heart. He has said many, many times that his beloved fosterling is the best of Hobbits throughout the Shire, one who learns well from his own errors and who seeks then to set things straight, one who is a paragon of responsibility and caring. He would not see that gentleness sullied, or the responsibility punished as he realizes the Ring is capable of doing."
"You speak of the Ring as if It were a living being," Boromir said, surprised.
But she was shaking her head. "Do not underestimate It or Its capabilities, Boromir of Gondor. It holds the greater portion of Its dread Master's evil intent and malice toward all other life. It will betray us all if It can—never doubt that!"
"And what would one raised in the protected seclusion of Imladris know of such things?" he demanded, the words rushing out of him as if with a life of their own.
She sighed. "I have not spent all my life here in my father's house. Nay, I have traveled the distance between here and my grandparents' home far more often than you might realize, and particularly since my mother was forced by the evil of Sauron's influence to abandon the Mortal Lands. And you will find I have far more knowledge of the capabilities of the Great Rings than you could ever know in your lifetime, even if you were granted the grace to know the full tale of years granted my adar's brother.
"The Great Rings were all granted the ability to care for themselves, and the Ring even more power of self-determination than is true of the rest. It does not stir here, in Imladris; again It slumbers. But once the Ringbearer leaves the valley, I fear It will awaken with a vengeance, and will tear at him as It can, seeking to force him to turn from his purpose, to claim It for his own or to cast It away where It might be found by one of Its Master's slaves. It cannot easily escape from the chain on which It hangs, and the protection wrought into that chain may help dampen Its power somewhat for some time. But what It will do to him as he comes ever closer and closer to Its birthplace—I fear for him. Already he has been gravely wounded for Its sake, for It has sought to betray him several times since he left the home of his heart. And how he will be torn when he realizes that It will also seek to turn the hearts of his companions—that will be a great torture."
She searched his face with eyes in which whole fields of stars seemed mirrored. "Be ready, my lord, for It will seek to take your will as well as that of every other member of the Fellowship. From what I have read of him, Frodo Baggins has managed to protect his friends and companions from Its influence over the years; but whether or not he can protect Men as he does Hobbits is questionable."
"Then you believe that the Ring will particularly be an evil influence upon Lord Aragorn and myself?"
"It took the will of Isildur, and he was a most strong-willed individual, or so both my mother and father and their advisors have told me. It has a particular affinity for Men, it would appear. Remember—Its maker managed to corrupt the heart of Ar-Pharazôn to the point he felled the White Tree of Númenor and allowed it to be burnt upon Morgoth's altar in Armenelos. It will seek to do as much to those who bear the inheritance of the Star Island.
"I do not fear as much for Aragorn as I do for you, Lord Boromir. He has been mightily tried again and again throughout a lifespan nearly twice your own. He knows much of his own strengths and weaknesses, and has experience at guarding his heart from outside influences. Still, he will be as under assault by the Enemy's weapon as will you."
She leaned closer to him. "Be on your guard, and question any thought that would seek to turn you from your honor. For not all the thoughts that cross your mind will be merely your own, you will find once you cross out of the borders of my father's lands. Remain vigilant! And do not underestimate the Hobbit, for he has strengths you cannot fully understand."
She gave him one last searching look, and left him, returning the way she'd come.
Warily, he watched after her, wondering what had motivated her to speak as she had.
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