King's Commission, The: 19. Defining the Image

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19. Defining the Image

Defining the Image

            The next day after breakfast Ruvemir sat an hour with the Thain, questioning him about Frodo and his appearance, then after watching most take a second breakfast he did the same with Mistress Eglantine, then with Mistress Pearl.  And after luncheon (he couldn't bring himself to face elevenses) he found himself with both Pervinca and Pimpernel as they sat sewing in a sunny room at the front of the Smial, and questioned them as well.  He had so many images of Frodo now, filling his booklet, but he was still trying to find one that fully fit the memorial he was to sculpt. 

            Pervinca was describing Frodo as he'd looked the first birthday he'd spent at Bag End, of his look of shock when May Gamgee had said the mushrooms he was eating were from Farmer Maggot's farm, and how his expression had changed when Bilbo noticed his change in attitude and had come over to exchange quiet words for a few minutes, how suddenly something Bilbo'd said made Frodo laugh and look delighted, and how he'd started eating the mushrooms again, and Bilbo's own look of satisfaction.  Then she told of how Frodo had always doted on Merry, but now he was plainly doting on both Merry and Sam.

            "Where was your brother at the time, Mistress?"

            "Oh, he wasn't born yet.  He was born a few months later, just before Yule.  In fact, his birthday is in two days.  Will you still be here?"

            "I see--so that is why they insisted we stay three full days here, then.  Yes, we are to leave for Bag End the day after that, and will spend Yule in Bag End, I understand."  He thought for a moment.  "What kind of gift would be appropriate to give your brother for his birthday?"

            She looked surprised.  "Oh, in the Shire we give presents to others on our birthdays.  Do they do it otherwise outside?"  At his nod, she said, "How strange!"

            "I understand, Mistress Pimpernel, Frodo and your sister Pearl thought to marry one day.  How deeply did he love her, do you think?"

            "Very deeply," she said, thoughtfully.  "He was so shocked when suddenly she stopped returning his regard--for about two years or more following he was heartbroken and wouldn't even look at another.  I was jealous for a time, for I was quite smitten with him as well.  Almost all the lasses who'd known him felt the same, too.  He had such a beautiful smile, he danced superbly, and in spite of his slenderness--or perhaps because of it--was seen as extraordinarily handsome.  He was very polite, and unlike most young Hobbits he spoke to us lasses as if we were intelligent folk, too, not as if we were of a different species.  And he'd listen, truly listen to you as you spoke--wasn't always thinking of what he'd say next to you.

            "And he loved children--would tell them stories when he went to Hobbiton or Bywater to do marketing or whatever, when he came to the Smial or the Hall; would sometimes help them with a chore if they looked like they could use some help or praise them when he saw them taking responsibility.  He'd teach them to read and give them books and such.  One time when he saw a child who'd hurt herself he picked her up and comforted her, checked out the hurt and saw it wasn't serious, went to the well and got some water on his handkerchief and cleansed the wound for her, telling her the drollest story about Bilbo and the Dragon to distract her.  She was laughing and merry when he was done and sent her in to show her mother."  She paused.  "He'd have made a wonderful father, you know, and he told me once how he dreamed of the day he'd have children of his own.  To hear Mum and Dad tell of the pain he showed when he said he was burnt out, and that little Elanor was the closest he'd ever have to having a child of his own, that hurt me so.  He wanted to fill Bag End with children--and I suppose now he has, by giving it to Sam and Rosie."

            Suddenly she was angry.  "To think he was treated so by the Powers, Master Ruvemir!  He gave so much to get rid of that awful Ring, and he never had the chance to father children as he so desired!  It's just not fair!"

            Ruvemir lowered his eyes, then looked at her with pity.  "It seems to me he, in a way, did his best to make every child he met his own, to love them the way his parents apparently loved him." 

            And he saw the novelty of this perception cleanse away the sorrow and pain.  Tears filled her eyes, but she was smiling as they slipped quietly down her cheeks.  And when she looked at the image of Frodo he'd just finished, she smiled.  "Yes, that was the Frodo I knew."  And when Pervinca nodded agreement, he felt he'd finally found Frodo Baggins.

            That afternoon he went to the stables with Pippin, and showed him the picture he'd done while speaking with his two younger sisters.  Pippin looked at it, and smiled a gentle smile.  "Yes, you have him fully, the gentleness as he spoke to children.  He always doted on us, made us feel special, made us feel safe.  He wanted everyone to feel safe.  He always insisted we be responsible in our acts, our choices, and when I finally realized what he meant and began actively trying to think what would make others smile and so on, he was so proud of me."  He gave the book back, and took up a fork and took it to the furthest stall where a barrow already waited.  Ruvemir watched as Pippin cleaned the stall, took fresh straw from a nearby stack and spread it, then filled manger and water bucket, then went to the next and did the same.  He began to help with the spread of the straw, although his short arms made it difficult to do much.  It took the better part of an hour to finish, and then Pippin led the way back indoors.  "I'm going to bathe.  Want to join me?"

            And this day Pippin didn't close the curtains, and Ruvemir saw clearly the scars on the young Hobbit's back and legs, and the bumps under the skin where his ribs had been broken, and he smiled to know he'd earned Pippin's trust.

            Afterwards they sat in the library, a longer, narrower chamber than that in Brandy Hall, and he had Pippin describe Frodo during the quest, particularly as he'd been before the breaking of the Fellowship at Amon Hen.  He'd begun to have an inkling of what he wanted to show in the final memorial, and he began to work on that image now.  And when Pippin looked at the picture he nodded.  "It's not him smiling or laughing, but appropriate to him with the Ring."  And after dinner as they met in the parlor with the family and Smial business was being discussed around him, he had Pippin pose before him wearing his Elven cloak so he could see how it draped about his form.  Ririon had finished his serpent, and was now working on a clay sculpture, and had given small pieces of clay to the other children so they could have something to do.  Miriel was now working on the White Tree on the front piece of the King's surcoat, and discussing embroidery and stitches with the women gathered and exchanging stories with Folco Boffin.  It was a pleasant time.

            The next day Ruvemir awoke to the awareness he was catching a cold, and immediately Ririon and Miriel, and then Pippin and his family, rallied around him, moving him to a sunny Great Room where he could lie on a couch with a blanket over him, bringing him chicken broth and fruit and cider and teas, fussing about him.  He finally sent Ririon to bring him his dropcloth, his finer tools, and a block of stone, and, wrapped in his blanket, he moved to a simple wooden chair and began to sculpt.  The block Ririon had chosen was long and narrow, and he found himself doing a small sculpture of Pippin in his Guard's uniform, standing at attention, listening as he worked to the gammers and gaffers who seemed to love the room and its light as they chattered and gossiped, happily allowing him to work in his place in the sun.  Long he worked at it, gently adding details, stopping and covering it when the family came in with their food and drinks; and at last indicating he desired to sleep he went to his room, taking it with him.  Pippin entered with a basin of steaming water into which he dropped a bruised leaf of athelas-- "I thought it might help you sleep better, or at least breathe more easily."  Ruvemir thanked him gratefully, and after carefully putting the wrapped statuette into his personal satchel, he crawled under his covers and slept.

            When he woke, Miriel was leaning over him, and Ririon was sitting on the other bed, both wanting to know how he felt.  "Much better," he told them.  "Was wondering how we were going to handle Yule gifts.  I have few in the works."  They spent some time deciding who would provide what; then he spent the evening in his room, working on some pictures while Miriel and Ririon went through many of the items they'd done along the way to while away the long hours.  At last they felt they had appropriate items for each person they felt close enough to to merit a gift.

            He felt much better the next day, although he learned the cold was making the rounds of the Smial.  Ferdibrand was in the Great Room when he found his way to it, a walking stick by his chair as he sat where the light of the Sun fell through one of the windows.  Hearing someone enter, he sat up straighter. 

            "A good morrow to you, Master Ferdibrand," Ruvemir greeted him.

            "Master Ruvemir?" the blinded Hobbit returned.  "And to you I wish the same.  And how goes the work?"

            "I am told I finally have captured the Lord Frodo's image, and now I am deciding on the final composition for the memorial."

            "I find the idea of this memorial intriguing.  That there are those outside the Shire who wish to have the images of Hobbits where they can see them I find hard to fathom, even with such a one as my cousin Frodo."

            "Did you know him well?"

            The Hobbit considered for several minutes.  "Not as well as Pippin or, especially, Merry, although we were far closer in age, Frodo and I.  The Brandybucks would bring him to the Great Smial with them from time to time after his parents' deaths, but at first he was so overwhelmed at his loss he didn't want to do much with others, and then they would keep him close.  We got to know each other better after he went to live with Bilbo.  He had, I found, a marvelous sense of humor--very subtle.  More than once when the Thain was becoming too overbearing I would ride across to Hobbiton and invite him to spend the day with me.  Bilbo I'd never come to know well--had too much of the common prejudice toward him, I suspect.  I wish now I'd let myself know him better when I was younger.  The Thain, however, thought little of him, and most followed the Thain's lead, including, alas, myself.  Paladin and Eglantine got on with both Bilbo and the Brandybucks better, but as they spent much of the year on the farm, they had more freedom both to entertain and visit with Bilbo and Paladin's sister's family."

            "So most of the time when you met with Frodo it was alone?"

            "Yes.  Actually, the first time I really got to know him it was at the Free Fair in Michel Delving, the year Bilbo adopted him.  He was so changed!  When he lived among the Brandybucks he was quiet, increasingly quiet, it seemed, each year, except for about three years after he turned sixteen.  Then he suddenly was very much out and about with the other Hall lads his age, laughing and joking, rough and ready as they were.  And then he was quiet again, his expression terribly apologetic, sad, and wary.  Once he came to Bilbo that changed--he was smiling, confident, curious.  And Bilbo had dressed him up.  In Brandy Hall most folk seem to see too much dressing up as putting on airs, and they don't cotton to it very well.  It's all right for the Master and the Heir and their ladies, or when they're at a feast or something; but for everyday they prefer sensible.  Bilbo had a sense of style, however, and realized that for folk to take Frodo seriously as his heir he needed to dress the part, and he'd been working hard, trying to get Frodo to accept this understanding.

            "It was about the first time in years I'd had a chance to talk to Frodo on his own, and I found he was very intelligent and exceedingly well read.  As this was my own inclination as well, I found myself enjoying myself with my cousin.  He also turned out to be quite observant about our mutual relatives, and had a good feel for who was doing what and why as well as what was likely to follow.  I'd not enjoyed myself so much at the Free Fair in years as I did that year, wandering the fair with him.  And when Merry joined us he was well behaved for a lad of nine, not interrupting too much, and not pushing in.  He and Frodo were obviously close, more like brothers than cousins. 

            "Then a group of children from Hobbiton found him, and Frodo was being besieged to tell a story.  With a look of apology at me, he had them sit down and we sat down, too, and he began.  It was marvelous!  He had us all enthralled.  Wonderful storyteller!  Then his gardener's son joined us, as we went on.  There was a lad who obviously worshiped Frodo, and Frodo obviously felt the same toward him.  At first I didn't understand why, until I listened to them for a while.  That rustic talk Sam Gamgee speaks hides a keen intelligence and heightened observational skills.

            "Every once in a while Frodo would check back in with Bilbo, who seemed quite happy to see us together and watching after Sam and Merry.  Once he gave Frodo some pocket money, and after the day was over I saw Frodo return what was left, which was most of it.  Bilbo trusted Frodo, and Frodo was intent on maintaining that trust, it seemed.  It was then, for the first time, I realized Bilbo Baggins was not in the least mad, but that it pleased him to be taken as eccentric and that he used that to his advantage.

            "So I started visiting with Frodo about once every two months or so.  Usually I'd come over and we'd then go out into Hobbiton, Bywater, or maybe even Overhill, but as time went on we'd stay more often at Bag End and talk, and I finally got to know my cousin Bilbo pretty well.  When the Thain found out I was seeing Bilbo Baggins, however, he became very upset.  He seemed to think me spending time with Frodo was acceptable, mostly because he'd been raised primarily by Esme and Saradoc; but he had no use for Bilbo at all.  But even he went to Bilbo's big party when Bilbo turned a hundred eleven and Frodo came of age, although he was one of those who felt personally insulted by Bilbo's speech and seemed to take Bilbo's second disappearance as a personal affront.  After that I saw Frodo only about three times a year, until the Thain died and Paladin became the new Thain.  Paladin has been a good and responsible Thain, and life here in the Great Smial has certainly relaxed a good deal.  Now, Pippin has been a trial at times, but Paladin is a fine gentlehobbit."

            "I see."  For a few minutes they were both quiet, and as he digested what he'd been told, Ruvemir polished his statue of Pippin.

            Finally Ferdibrand asked, "What are you doing, Master Ruvemir?"

            The sculptor explained, "Working on a small stone carving.  Would you like to see it?" 

            At the Hobbit's assent, he placed it in Ferdibrand's hands.  He watched with interest as the Hobbit examined it carefully, realizing which side was meant to be up, identifying face and feet.  And at last he asked, "What is this on the shirt?"

            Ruvemir smiled.  "The embroidery of the White Tree of Gondor, the image of the Crown, and the Seven Stars."

            "What is this White Tree?  I know so little of the world of Men."

            And so Ruvemir began to explain about the history of Gondor, of the return of the Kings of Men from the foundered land of Númenor, bringing with them seven princes of Men each with a circlet with a brilliant star gem in it, seven seeing stones, and a young tree from Elvenhome descended from the sacred Trees of the Valar.  "At first they planted the tree in Osgiliath, and it had a single fruit from which they grew a second tree, and Isildur planted it to his brother's memory in Minas Anor, the city Anárion founded at the end of the White Mountains at Mount Mindolluin.  Later, after the fall of Minas Ithil, the city Isildur himself founded on the walls of Mordor, Minas Anor was renamed Minas Tirith, no longer the Tower of the Setting Sun, but instead the Tower of Guard.  Then with the abandonment of Osgiliath and its destruction by Sauron's folk Minas Tirith became the new capital.  And so it has been the White Tree brought from Númenor and the seven stars have become the symbols of the realm, and the Crown indicates there is again a King, and Pippin is therefore of the King's Guard."

            "I never thought to hold Pippin in my hand," laughed Ferdibrand.  "This is marvelous.  His hair?"  And with Ruvemir's verbal explanations he again examined it carefully.  "Greatly detailed," he said at last.  "Is this intended as a model for the memorial?"

            "Perhaps as a trial run, but more as a gift for the Thain."

            "He will greatly appreciate it.  Pippin has grown up since his disappearance, grown up greatly.  Paladin didn't appreciate just how much at first, but he certainly sees it now."

            "So I've learned."

            Returning the figure at last, the Hobbit asked, "Tell me of your own people.  I've never heard of mannikins before."

            "There are few of us, actually.  We live scattered among the Men of Middle Earth.  Most are little regarded by the world, and are treated as oddities or as children throughout our lives.  I was fortunate to be born with great artistic talent and support to strive to perfect my skills, as was true of my sister as well.  Our father is a Master Carver of wood, while our mother was a Master Weaver.  She died when Miriel and I were still young.  Because I was found to do well with faces, I was given an excellent grounding in the history of Gondor and before so that I might depict ancient tales as well as memorialize those who walk Middle Earth at this time.

            "Our tastes tend to reflect the people among whom we live.  As there are so few we have little culture of our own, unlike Hobbits."

            Realizing this was all Ruvemir was going to say about his people, Ferdibrand finally asked, "Then what makes you different from Hobbits?"

            "Our bodies are less in proportion than is true of Hobbits.  Our arms and legs tend to be exceptionally short, our heads look to be large and often misshapen, and our feet and hands often appear too large for our bodies, and we usually need to wear shoes."

            "I see."  Ferdibrand produced his pipe, filled and lit it, and drew on it.  "Now and then there will be such a child born to us, but we do not call such a different race.  You and your sister are, then, Men born simply in misshapen bodies?"

            Ruvemir felt himself flush.  Finally he said, softly, "Yes.  However, we agreed with the Thain and the Master and the Mayor not to name ourselves so.  Mannikin is simply the name given in Gondor for those born as we are."

            "Why were you not to admit you are Men?"

            "That we not reawaken the anger and resentments caused by the Time of Troubles."

            "I bear you no anger or resentment.  You are not one of those who blinded me."

            "But in Brandy Hall we heard hatred expressed toward Men in general, and along the way more."

            Ferdibrand puffed thoughtfully, then shrugged.  "I am sorry.  Is that why the Thain and all rode forth to Bree to meet you, then, that they might meet you ere deciding to allow you to be exceptions to the King's law?"

            "You are very perceptive."

            The Hobbit smiled.  "I suspect I am at least as intelligent in my way as Frodo was.  Were your parents mannikins also, then?"

            "No, although an uncle of my father was, but he did not live to adulthood."

            "So it is with our own stunted children as well--very few born, mostly within the same families, and most dying in childhood."  Then, after a moment, "It must feel odd to be among others of your own size who are your age and older."

            "We find it pleasant, actually."

            The Hobbit smiled.  "Good," he said.  "Well, I, at least, welcome you for what you are--pleasant, polite folk it is an honor to know, no matter what your race."

            "Whom may I ask for materials to make picture frames?"

            "More gifts?"

            "Yes.  You do give gifts to one another at Yule, do you not?"

            Ferdibrand laughed.  "That we do.  Well, I can help you there.  Tell me what you need, and I will obtain it for you.  I am keeper of many of the stores needed for repairs for the Smial, you see."

            Satisfied, Ruvemir began to outline his needs, and Ferdibrand led him to the storage areas where wood was kept and helped him choose what he needed to complete his gifts.  Together they returned to the sunny great room where Ruvemir began working on a picture using his colored pencils.  Soon they were joined by Ririon, who had questions for the blind Hobbit on how he found his way about the place.

            "Oh, it's simple enough--I was an adult when I was blinded, so I already knew how the place is set out; so it was a simple matter of learning other cues to recognize precisely where I am.  And I've found my walking stick is handy, especially when outside or going through a cluttered or large room." 

            In minutes Ririon and Ferdibrand were headed outside together, each with his walking stick, where the Hobbit proposed to show the boy some of the tricks he'd taught himself to use his stick to check out the ground over which he walked and find his way.  He was quickly replaced by Pippin and Merry, who'd arrived early that morning, and they began discussing Pippin's birthday party, which was to take place that evening.  Then when the talk grew silent they overheard a group of gammers gossiping in the corner, remembering past parties, until one of them recalled gossip she'd heard about the last party held for the Old Took, when Gandalf came, bringing fireworks to fire off.

            "My gammer said he didn't fire them all off, that he got to the end and there was one package left, and he looked at it for some time, then carried it into the Smial and put it in one of the storerooms."

            Ruvemir saw Merry and Pippin grow interested as they listened, then give one another significant looks.  "Want to do a bit of a hunt?" asked Pippin.

            "Shall we go looking, Cousin?" asked Merry at almost the same time, and they quickly set off on a search of the Smial's storage rooms.

            An hour later they returned, a large package carried between them, dust in their hair and streaked across their faces, which were highly satisfied.  Pippin carefully unwrapped the bundle, and called out, "Oh, there are crackers, too!"

            Merry's eyes were dancing with barely suppressed excitement.  "I suppose we ought to have guessed.  Bless wizards and their foresight!"  Then Pervinca came in to tell her brother he needed to bathe before guests started arriving, and leaving the bundle in Merry's keeping, Pippin hurried off.

            "You're certain this is a firework?" Ruvemir asked Merry.

            "Oh, yes--I helped Frodo and Gandalf empty the wagon before the Birthday Party, and all the fireworks were similar to this, complete with the G rune and the fuse, and most with sticks such as this."

            "Are you certain it is still functional?"

            Merry looked thoughtful, then smiled.  "Gandalf made it, so I suspect it would keep a very long time.  And, that it should be found now, for Pippin's coming-of-age--that I find significant.  Gandalf was always drawn to the Tooks, you know--liked their rather unpredictable natures, their desire to embrace the world and new experiences and all.  And during the quest he kept being drawn back to Pippin again and again, finally taking him with him to Minas Tirith.  Of course, partly that was for Pippin's own good and protection--all right, it was all for Pippin's own good and protection; but the fact remains I suspect that Gandalf was having some foresight in the making of this firework, and that this is why he stored it away instead of firing it then."  His face became solemn.  "When Gandalf left, Pippin's heart was terribly bruised.  To lose not only Frodo but Gandalf as well--it caused him great grief.  I can't wait to see what this will become."

            After luncheon Pippin handed out birthday presents to the denizens of the Smials, a procedure that the Gondorians watched with interest.  Merry and Pippin's sisters assisted in locating the proper gifts for each individual.  Ruvemir and Miriel sat by Ferdibrand as he explained the process.  "Not all, of course, will be able to attend the party.  Yet, as the Thain's son and heir he has a responsibility to make all feel they are involved, so the Smial comes to him, as it were.  Most of the gifts will be small things or old mathoms--odd items that get handed around and around and around that everyone tends to either hate because no one else wants it, either; or love because it's such a tradition for it to be given.  Oh, I hear Toby coming up now.  Watch--Pippin will give him a bottle of Old Winyards--probably the last bottle available right now."

            An elderly Hobbit was approaching Pippin at that moment, calling out rather loudly, as if his hearing were less than it could be, "And a pleasant birthday to you, and congratulations on coming of age at last, Pippin."

            "Thank you, Toby.  And I have just the perfect gift for you--a bottle of Old Winyards."

            "Old Winyards?  Oh, Pippin--how wonderful!  And from old Bilbo's cellar, I'll be bound?"

            "Oh, of course, Toby.  Where else?  It was the one thing I could think of that is perfect for you."

            "And you do know how much I appreciate it, Pippin Lad."  And the beaming old Hobbit accepted the bottle with obvious pleasure, and hobbled away with it, showing it proudly to the others waiting in line to give the Thain's Heir their greetings.

            "How did you know it would be a bottle of Old Winyards?" Ruvemir asked.

            Ferdibrand laughed.  "That bottle was first given to Old Toby about the time Bilbo took Frodo to Bag End as his ward, and by Bilbo himself.  Now, Old Winyards came from grapes from a vineyard owned by the Baggins family--Bungo and Belladonna, Bilbo's parents, bought it shortly after they were married, and the vintners there produced the finest wine in the Shire for over a hundred eighty years.  Anyway, Bilbo gave Toby that bottle over thirty years ago on his birthday.  Toby's birthday is in March, and Bilbo usually went to the farm to see Paladin and his family about that time of year, and Toby was the foreman at the farm for years, until he handed the job off to his grandson Tolman about fifteen years ago.  Toby loved the idea of having a bottle of Old Winyards for his own, and always said he was saving it for a special occasion.  Then came his birthday and he found Bilbo and Frodo were both at the farm when it came along, and he couldn't think what to give Bilbo until he saw the bottle of wine on his shelf.  He knew Bilbo loved Old Winyards, so he gave it to Bilbo.  The next fall Bilbo gave it back to him, and then in the spring he gave it back to Bilbo.  That went on till Bilbo left the Shire, and then he started exchanging it with Frodo--Frodo had it sent to the Great Smial by the Post for the birthday he sold Bag End, by the way; and when Frodo wasn't there to give it to on his birthday he was truly distressed.  When Frodo was there the following birthday he sent it to him, and was decidedly relieved to do so.  And Frodo's next birthday it came back to him again."

            "And now that Frodo is no longer here, the exchange is now with Pippin?"

            "Yes, and  he appears very happy with the arrangement.  Every year he gets a bottle of Old Winyards, a fact he's very proud of.  Of course, chances are, as he always has it sitting on a shelf in the sun where he can look at it during the time he has it in his possession, that it is most likely fine vinegar by now...."  And all laughed.

            "Do they still make wine there?" asked Miriel.

            Ferdibrand's smile faded.  "There hasn't been wine from that vineyard since the Troubles, although I think there may be some this year.  Sharkey had the vineyard burnt to the ground."

            "Why?"

            "I understand the Travelers came upon him and his Worm-creature follower while they were coming home.  But they stopped several times along the way home, while Sharkey came directly here to the Shire.  For some reason he developed a hatred for Frodo, perhaps because by taking the Ring to the Mountain Frodo kept it from coming to him.  He destroyed much of what made the Shire beautiful, and seemed to take greatest pleasure at destroying things particularly dear to Frodo.  Seems to have questioned Lotho before he had him killed as to what would most distress Frodo by its loss.  I understand from what Pippin and Merry told me that he was trying to find the Ring for himself, and that was why his Orcs captured the two of them at Amon Hen."

            "So Sharkey truly was Saruman the Wizard?"

            The Hobbit nodded.  "Yes, they tell me that was the name they knew of him by.  Vicious creature, he was."  And his face was now quite grim.

 *******

            The North-Tooks arrived about an hour and a half after noon, allowing Ruvemir his first look at Pippin with Diamond of Long Cleeves.  Sam arrived with his family in a hired carriage in the late afternoon, and at last Ruvemir and Miriel had the chance to meet Mistress Rose and the children.  Rose was obviously pregnant and appeared quite happy about it, and on learning she was due about the same time as Queen Arwen she became even happier.  "How wonderful," she said, "to know this one and the Queen's child will be the same age." 

            The birthday supper was happy and pleasant.  With the firework had been found a number of crackers, an item Ruvemir had never seen before, and they turned out to be precisely the number needed to accommodate the number of guests taking part in Pippin's celebration.  Soon all had hats and small items pulled from the crackers, it seemed finely dressed small dolls for the little lasses, carved animals and figures for the lads, beads or rings or bracelets for the older lasses and Hobbit ladies, pipes or pocket knives for the older lads and the gentlehobbits, and in Pippin's own cracker, a ring set with a red stone, one which brought to Pippin's eyes a look of remembrance, while Diamond's held a second ring set with a diamond, and Pippin's eyes shone as he fitted it on her finger.  In Miriel's was found a beautifully carved bone needle case in the shape of a seated cat, in Ririon's a fine pocket knife with a number of tools and blades suitable for his carving, and in Ruvemir's a surprisingly long case in which he found two fine graphite drawing sticks.  He looked up at the head table as Sam pulled a cracker with his wife to reveal a delicate bracelet which Sam proudly fastened around her wrist, and Merry pulled one with Estella which contained a carved green dragon figure which he took and held in his hand, his face alight with memory.  Ruvemir watched Sam as the gardener pulled a second cracker that disgorged a tiny grey ship with a swan head prow.  Sam held the tiny craft in his hand, his expression thoughtful, and the sculptor was reminded of Sam's story told in the Library at Brandy Hall.  Sam looked up and caught his gaze, and gave a twisted smile, holding up the small ship as if in toast, and Ruvemir returned the gesture with his own pencil case, and he saw Sam start to laugh and shake his head.

            Pippin's gifts to the invited guests at his birthday supper were fine ones, and for Miriel there was a bracelet for her to wear that had a pincushion on it, an item none of the Gondorians had seen before, but which Miriel immediately appreciated.  For Ririon there was a finely carved box to keep his tools in, and for Ruvemir a picture Frodo had done of Pippin as a child.  "I thought you'd like to see some of the work Frodo did," he commented, and the artist just shared an amused smile with Merry.  Then, after he returned to the place of honor at the head table Pippin had Diamond close her eyes, stepped behind her, and gently fastened the White Tree pendant about her neck, and when she opened her eyes and saw what she now bore she was totally overwhelmed.  Pippin whispered in her ear, and when she turned and cried out, "Of course I'll have you!" and kissed him, all applauded and cheered.

            At first Pippin seemed surprised by the kiss, then he suddenly warmed to it and returned it with ardor, then with gentleness, and pulled away, looking into her eyes for several moments.  Then he turned to his mother and suddenly proclaimed, "Well, I guess this means you won't be sharing your apartments with Diamond after all!"  At which Sam, Merry, and the Thain all laughed.

            The birthday dinner was excellent, and included more dishes than Ruvemir, Miriel, and Ririon could find room to sample, and at last they went outside to light the firework.  Merry carefully set it into place far from the Smial, making sure its supporting stick was securely in the ground, and Pippin lit it, then all hurried carefully back to the front of the hill to watch.  From it sprang a great white tree full of white blossoms which grew then fell, and green leaves between, and a circle of seven stars glowed over it; and again all could see Pippin standing straight at attention as he watched with delight.  Ferdibrand stood by the sculptor, who was describing it to him, then describing the reactions of those who watched and Pippin himself, and he noted the blind Hobbit was nodding as if this all was expected. 

            "Gandalf always did have a soft spot in his heart for Pippin, from what I've been told," he commented.  "Wouldn't surprise me at all to learn his foresight led him to prepare these long ago.  Wizards are uncanny creatures, you know."

            "Did you meet him?"

            "A few times.  Once when I was going to go with Frodo to the Ivy Bush he was there at Bag End.  He seemed so enormously tall!  I was quite amazed by him, really, with his grey robes and his long beard and his staff and all.  As Frodo finished readying himself Gandalf spoke with me, asking me about life in the Smial, and then suddenly he asked me if I were afraid of the dark, and told me that when I shut my eyes I'd be surprised at the rich world of sound about us.  I had no idea what he was speaking of.  I now think he may have foreseen my blinding--wouldn't surprise me.  Then as I watched Frodo coming up the passage from his room I saw Gandalf watching him with troubled eyes.  I asked him quietly what was bothering him, and he whispered, as if he weren't aware he was thinking out loud, 'It will seek to eat the heart out of him.'  And he closed his eyes and bowed his head.  Then he shook himself and looked at me, and said, 'I will do my best to protect him,'"

            "What did you say?"

            "I said, 'Good, for I've become very fond of him, you know.'  Then he responded, 'That seems true of all.  However, I fear he will deserve more than can be offered him here,  But I can't allow the Enemy to destroy his Light.'  Then he straightened and asked Bilbo, who'd just come in from the other way, some inane question about the best way to deal with dragons which might have invaded the larder, and I found we were all laughing uproariously and I almost forgot completely about the extraordinarily odd conversation by the time Frodo and I left.  Last I saw of them as we went out was Gandalf bent over to get down the passage following Bilbo back to the kitchen."

            "Destroy his Light?"

            "Yes, that was what he said."

            "And you are certain he was speaking of Frodo?"

            "Yes."

            "Do you have any idea what he meant?"

            "Unless he were foreseeing...."  The blind Hobbit gave an elaborate shrug.  "Certainly it did seem that there was an inner Light within Frodo at times, and we were all drawn to it.  It was that which I saw, I think, that time at the Free Fair--his inner Light starting to shine again.  Certainly the children were drawn to it.  And after I was blinded, the few times he came to the Great Smial--I could see a Light wherever he was.  I could see nothing, but could track Frodo through the Smials by the warmth of his inner Light, where he went, and not just by the sound of his steps.  He was weakening, I could tell that, but his inner Light was quite strong.  The last time he came he sat by my chair, holding my hand, remembering things we'd seen together, things we'd done together.  I could feel his pulse--it was erratic.   I realized his heart was failing him, and I wanted so to hold him in my arms and protect him.  And suddenly he said, 'You can't protect me, Ferdi.  No one can.  Sam is trying, and I bless him for it.  But I was too deeply hurt.  I must away soon.'  And then he changed the subject, as Gandalf did that time."

            "How long later did he leave?"

            "A couple months, perhaps."

            "And you miss him?"

            "Yes.  We all miss him.  I think, though, he survived the voyage, for I'll swear when I face the West I can, when I turn my thoughts that way, too, see his Light growing stronger.  I can see nothing else, but I can still perceive his Light.  And Gandalf's is nearby his."

            "You feel Gandalf has a Light, too?"

            "Oh, yes, quite distinctive.  When I saw Sharkey at first I thought he was Gandalf, for he looked similarly, although perhaps taller and more slender; but it was his Light I saw most, and I saw it had become darkened, and became darker and smaller each time I was aware of it; and I knew he wasn't Gandalf then.  He would come to the Lockups to gloat over us, to threaten us.  And when he saw my vision was darkening, he sneered at me.  But I could see him as he approached the hole in which they kept me, every time, no matter how quietly he walked, no matter I could see nothing else the last time.  And the time they'd been torturing me and I suddenly said to him, 'You have little time left--your Light is almost gone,' I thought he would expire with fright on the spot."

            "When was that?"

            "Only a few days before they didn't come to feed us, and the next day after that the Travelers came to bring us out."

            "So, you were held prisoner by Sharkey?"

            "I was a Took found outside the Great Smial--was trying to find out what had happened to the Mayor and those in Buckland--we'd lost communications.  They accused me of being a spy, and beat me, kicked the side and back of my head, took me to Michel Delving and threw me into the old storage holes there that they called the Lockups.  My family was frantic with worry, and thought I had been killed.  I was pretty weak by the time they rescued us.  But it was Frodo's Light I saw coming toward me through the passages, not Sharkey's that last time, Frodo who found me and held my hand as they brought me out.  Then they found Fatty Bolger, and he was worse off than I was--they'd been starving him, and when he got food he'd try to share it with the rest of us.  He was so weak they had to carry him out on a litter.  I, at least, could still walk."

            "No wonder so many remember the Troubles with anger in their hearts."

            "Yes, no wonder."

 


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.

Story Information

Author: Larner

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 4th Age

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 04/25/08

Original Post: 12/05/04

Go to King's Commission, The overview

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