The figures continued to progress. By mid-September Gilmirion was polishing the figure of Peregrin Took, that of Sir Meriadoc was all but completed, Sam's face was clearly visible, and the figure of Frodo was ready to be moved at last up to the work site. As he worked on the hair of his figures, Ruvemir was now using the portable scaffolding he'd brought back from his father's home atop the carriage. Now a couple of the other apprentices were accompanying their master, Celebgil, and Armanthol to the site as they worked more intensely to finish the figures.
The arrival of Mardil and Ririon with Joy lifted the hearts of all. Ririon was to work on the surround, and he sat down with the uniform blocks found in the storage area of the smaller workshop and began doing his intricate designs, Lindorn and Owain assisting him in this, the three of them soon close friends.
The King came often to the worksite, and would sit nearby, sometimes smoking his pipe, often singing the song of shaping, occasionally doing a little of the shaping himself. And each day they worked on the project all came closer and closer to the final structure.
In early September the engineers came to work on the foundation for the memorial, assisted by folk from the Guild of Masons. Master Dorion came to see progress about once a week and appeared very pleased, both with the work done and with the progress of the former apprentices of Master Varondil.
Just before Yule the King performed another marriage at the Inn of the King's Head, as Faragil of Lebennin took Idril of Minas Anor as his second wife. In mid-January there was a wedding performed in the Embassy of Rhun, when Shefti and Liana were joined, Angara standing happily with the two of them.
Letters went between Minas Anor and the Shire, between the capital and the farm in Lebennin. In February there was a second trip to Mardil's farm, and the Prince of Dol Amroth married Mardil of Lebennin to Lisbet of Minas Anor.
Early March, and the four figures were completed. Mid-March, and the foundation and the surround were also completed and the figures placed, and Folco and Miriel came from the farm with Pando, Lorieth, and Lanril in company with Mardil and a glowing Lisbet.
The twenty-fourth of March a party arrived from the North.
Halladan, Steward of Arnor, arrived with folk from several parts of the northern realms. Once again Lord Celeborn came to the city with many of his folk of the Galadhrim, and accompanying them also were several from the Shire. Those of Gondor who came out with the King looked with interest at Sir Meriadoc and Captain Peregrin in their livery, riding by their wives; but with them was a stouter figure in typical Shire attire, that of Samwise Gamgee, escorting a relatively slender Hobbitess who held a small child before her as she rode her pony. while watching carefully over the two others who rode before two of the Northern Dúnedain.
With them were more. Fredegar Bolger alighted from the coach that accompanied the party, and with him was a Hobbit who carried a walking stick in his hand and walked with his hand on Fredegar's elbow. Behind them came a Hobbitess that Ruvemir did not recognize--and Cyclamen! Dorlin, Gloin, and several other Dwarves were also come to see the unveiling of the memorial. Eregiel stood behind his cousin Halladan, once again in the silver and grey of the Northern realm, nodding his recognition, Artos and another hound following at his heels.
Ruvemir stood by the side of the King at the great Gates to greet these guests. The Lord Aragorn Elessar was quite still as he waited, yet the small sculptor could feel the barely contained excitement that, in this Man, manifested itself in stillness and Light. The Queen waited above at the top of the city, while her husband had come forth here to the gates, Melian in his arms, to be there when his friends at last arrived. They watched as the Hobbits dismounted, handed their ponies to the grooms awaiting them, as Sam and Rosie gathered their children, Sam lifting Frodo-Lad into his arms, Elanor between her parents. There was a moment of pause, as the three Travelers found themselves looking at the city in recognition for what they remembered and awe at the work done in the restoration, a smile of delight shining on Sam's face as he murmured into his son's ears, Rosie, Diamond, and Estella looking simply stunned and overwhelmed, Fredegar with a look of recognition on his face turning to describe things to Ferdibrand Took. Then the coachman slipped from his seat and stretched, his place taken by Lasgon, who saluted a glowing Pippin as he turned the coach to take it to the outside stable where the luggage would be transferred to a pony cart to be taken up into the city. Ruvemir smiled to recognize Budgie Smallfoot as he came to stand by Fredegar and Ferdibrand.
At last the party of Hobbits stopped looking up, and looked down at the gates. Before the gates and behind the King, Gimli leaned on his axe, Legolas stood straight and proud, Elladan and Elrohir sharing a smile with Tharen Thranduilion to see the happiness of the others. The smiles of recognition were there on both sides, Ruvemir saw, and he saw the three who were returning begin to move forward, sweeping the rest with them. The smile on Sam's face had faded into that look of intense pride and caring that Ruvemir had come to treasure; Pippin was walking straight and tall, Merry self-possessed as he yet fought down tears sparked by memory and love. The walk was deliberate, a holding in place, a last thrill of delight of anticipation before the meeting.
"Oh, Strider, are you looking fine," Ruvemir heard Sam say as he suddenly hurried forward as the King knelt, his free arm held out to embrace him, the tears suddenly flowing from the tall Man's eyes.
"Sam, oh dear, dear Sam," he was murmuring. "It has been too long, too long." There could be no question in the minds of the newcomers as to whom this must be.
Ruvemir smiled to see at last the greeting of the Hobbits. Folco and Miriel had finally been able to stand it no longer, had moved forward to embrace the rest. Pando had darted forward and taken his sister in his arms, was dancing with joy to see her. But Ruvemir waited for them to have done with the others. Elise waited with him, as did the apprentices.
"They do have that native dignity," Ruvemir heard Celebgil saying softly. "Oh, I can see it!"
Armanthol stood watching the King kneeling in the midst of the Hobbits, who were introducing the newcomers, wives, children. Suddenly Frodo-Lad was being held by the Man, Melian was in the arms of the Master of Bag End, Gimli was bowing before a fascinated Elanor, and Legolas was caressing the hair of small Rosie-Lass as he gave Sam's wife his greetings. And the King was turning to Ferdibrand Took and Fredegar Bolger and greeting them with grave courtesy, giving them every indication of great respect.
Suddenly Pando and Cyclamen broke from the others, ran forward on their bare, hairy feet toward Ruvemir, Elanor noting their hurry, looking to see their goal, and with a shriek of delight running after, her dress fluttering in the rush of her passing, holding out her small arms to Ruvemir. He knelt this time, was embracing a familiar form. "Elanorellë!" he was murmuring into her hair, which smelled of daffodils, he thought. "Oh, Elanorellë! Welcome to Minas Anor at last!" She looked up into his eyes, her own shining with pleasure of recognition and reunion.
Sam was looking at him, he saw, still with an arm about Aragorn's chest as he knelt in the midst of the Hobbits. Then the young Hobbits were drawing Ruvemir forward, bringing him into the group, to Sam, to Merry, to Pippin. Ruvemir looked up into their eyes, smiled. "It is so wonderful to see you in the flesh again," Ruvemir said.
Sam shared a quick look with Aragorn, then finally pulled away, held out his arms to the sculptor. "You are looking mighty fine, too, Ruvemir," he said as he pulled the mannikin into his embrace. "Marriage suits you, I think." All Ruvemir could do was laugh with delight, catching the approval in the eyes of the King, who at last rose to his full height, an amazed Frodo-Lad looking down in consternation from his arms, which he was sharing now with Melian.
Sam looked up and caught the concern in his son's eyes, smiled. "Just don't you worry none, Frodo-Lad," he said. "You're safe enough, you know. He's the King, after all. He won't let nothing hurt you."
The small lad looked up into the King's eyes, then smiled. "King Strider?" he asked. At the Man's nod his smile grew brighter. "Da!" he called down. "The King!"
At last Ruvemir returned to his pony and took its reins from Owain and mounted. He reached down to take Elanor before him, and with Elise at his side they began going up the steep ways of the city. Merry was walking by him carrying Melian now, and Ruvemir remembered, slipped his hand into the shallow pocket of his surcoat, pulled out a small item. "Sir Merry," he said, "Captain Pippin said you had been missing this."
Merry took it with curiosity, then looked at it and laughed with pleasure. "My shirt stud!" he called to Pippin. "Did you tell him to look for it?" At Pippin's satisfied nod, he looked back to the mounted sculptor. "All the years I looked after him, finally he's returning the gesture."
Ruvemir laughed. "I understand your study became a stable one day."
"And a stall became my study. He even got the carpet out there. But Fíriel and the foal are doing well, in spite of the fact the foal thinks, like a dog, he can come into the smial whenever the door is opened."
"Does he really?"
"Oh, yes. Of course he's not a foal any more. He can lift the latch of the gate, clever thing that he is, and heads for the door to the Hall every chance he gets."
Throughout the city the people had turned out, flowers in their hands that they offered to the Pheriannath as they passed. There was singing and many calls of greeting as they walked up the steep streets, and now and then bows from people they recognized. As they passed the King's Head and the Dragon's Claw the folk there called out their welcomes, and the cook from the Claw came forward to hand Pippin a bag and to press a tureen with a lid on it into the hands of Diamond.
As they entered the Third Circle a Man came forward, bringing with him a woman and a child. He looked at them with hope, then disappointment. Ruvemir found him familiar somehow, then saw the King stop, turn toward him. "You are well, then?" the King asked him.
"Yes, I am, but I'd hoped to show my wife him."
"He cannot return. He was hurt far worse than you."
"He said you helped him find himself."
"Yes, I did--but he was still hurt far, far worse than you. His health was failing him. You heard he went to the Undying Lands?"
"Yes, but I didn't quite believe it, not a mortal as we are."
"He is receiving the healing there that was beyond our power, Men or Elves, to offer here. But we all rejoice to see you once again, to see you are doing so well. And he knows, I think, how much you honor him, how much we all do." The King held out his hand, held the Man's shoulder, and Ruvemir saw that small shiver run through him, a smile from the heart break through as he looked back into the King's eyes, as he drew himself straighter, drew his wife and child to him with pride. The King turned briefly to woman and child, gave them his attention, accepted the flowers they held out. After giving them his blessing he turned at last and went on up through the city.
A woman stepped forward out of the market stalls on the fourth level, carrying strings of glass beads, and offered them to each of the Hobbit ladies and to Miriel, and again Ruvemir felt recognition, realizing she also was one pictured in Frodo's portraits from the clothes press.
Pando and Cyclamen were walking now with Ririon, Joy, Celebgil, and Dorieth, chattering eagerly with one another, Cyclamen looking about her with delight. The Hobbitess Ruvemir didn't recognize looked about abashed. She did not walk with Fredegar, and obviously wasn't Melilot. She seemed, he thought, to favor Folco----
Suddenly Ruvemir knew. He leaned down to Merry, asked, "Is that Narcissa?"
Merry nodded. "Yes, she is. Why she decided to come we have no idea--had no idea, in fact, she realized there was a group of us heading for Gondor. I think it may be due to the Proudfoots, really, for Sancho was concerned about letting Cyclamen come, for all she was insisting no one would leave her behind if she could come to Minas Tirith and see you and Pando and the monument and all. I think they only agreed Cyclamen could come because Narcissa indicated she wanted to do so." He gave her a surreptitious look. "She's needed this, I think. She needs to realize it's not her fault that he couldn't return her regard, and that he was indeed too ill to remain. I saw her expression back there when the King was speaking to that Man. Am not certain what it was all about, of course, but plainly it was someone Frodo met." At Ruvemir's nod, he said, "You know of it, then?"
"They met in the Houses of Healing, once when he went with the King."
"Oh, I see. Black Breath?"
"No; the memory of horror, though."
Merry nodded. "The night of the feast, then. He was pretty thoughtful when he came back the following morning, and slept much of the day."
Ruvemir dropped back to ride beside Narcissa Boffin. "Miss Boffin, I am Ruvemir son of Mardil. I am sorry I didn't greet you earlier, but it has been an overwhelming welcome, I think. Welcome to the capital."
"Thank you," she said, looking at him and then quickly away.
"We would be pleased if you would agree to stay with us, my wife and I," he said. "For the others there is the reunion with those they came to know so well and the introductions to friends of husbands and family. But it appears you are almost alone. Folco is staying at the King's Head, but is coming up to our house with Miriel this night for dinner." She looked up at him again, and he saw the look of loss in her eyes. "Will you consider it?"
She thought, and answered, "Yes, I'll consider it."
They continued up through the city. She looked about, then up at him. "How many levels are there?"
"Seven. We are in the Fifth Circle now. Soon we will reach the gate to the Sixth Circle, which is mostly quieter, for it is primarily the level of the Guest Houses and the homes of those who serve in the Citadel or the Houses of Healing, with the barracks and butteries on the north side, not far from us. It was in the Houses where the Man from the Third Circle met the Lord Frodo. He was in the last battle before the Gates of Mordor, and it left him in the grip of terror. The Lord Frodo helped him calm again after an evening of horror relived, until the King could finally reach him with his gift of healing."
"Why couldn't the King heal Frodo?"
"You heard him--the scarring left on his spirit was too great, had been going on too long. What the Lord Frodo went through--few could have survived a tenth of it, much less all of what he endured."
"You sound as if you know."
"I know how deeply Lord Samwise, Captain Pippin, and Sir Merry were hurt, the depths of the memories they bear, the extent of the physical scars. They've told me, showed me. It was far, far worse for Lord Frodo."
"Why couldn't he just tell someone about it so we'd understand?" He heard the deep anguish in her voice.
"He was never one to speak his pain--he always held it inside him. It used to worry Master Bilbo terribly, how he could not let it out into the open."
"You are a stranger. How can you know or understand?"
"The King himself sent me to learn of Frodo Baggins, my lady. He sent me to ask questions, to probe, to seek, so that I could reproduce his seeming here in Minas Anor. They didn't always wish to tell, and were horror-struck when I came into the bathing room in Brandy Hall and could see their scars. I can understand--I am not particularly happy with my body, mannikin as I am. But they told me, finally, let me hear the stories not just of the pleasures and the triumphs and the easings, but of the horrors and the losses, the fears and the hurting. And Sam let me read the Red Book, where at last I could see what Frodo himself said, what he remembered and what he was told afterwards of that which was beyond memory during the worst times. He almost lost his soul, and came close to losing his life many times. He lost all vestiges of innocence, and almost all his dignity for a time. The last part of his journey he barely remembered after. The device of the Enemy sought to destroy him, and took him in the end.
"He wanted so to be able to love, to marry, to father children--but it has been denied him by the Ring. He was but a shadow of himself when he was found, then truly at the Gates of Death. And afterward there was too little of himself left to begin to reach out. Only in the Undying Lands can he find true healing for what was done to him."
"But he cannot come back."
"No, he cannot come back." They were silent for a time as they came to the sixth gate. Finally he said, "You are not alone in your grief for him, my lady. It has torn great holes in Master Samwise, his cousins there, and the King. They bear it, knowing they can do nothing else; but the grief never fully is gone from them. Enough healing has reached them to know that there will come the time of reunion for them, and they are able to deal with the joys of life as well as the griefs. But they all have times when they miss him terribly, as I find I do, too, though I have met him only through them and his own writing.
"Part of what sustains Lord Samwise is the knowledge that the King remains, that he can find the same Light in him as in Frodo."
"You know about--about the Light?"
"Yes, I know about it. I've seen it in the King, and saw it flare with great joy this day as he held his friends to him. I've seen it shine when he looks on his wife and his daughter, his foster brothers, his brother lords, the Elves who sustained and taught him. I've seen it glow as he looks on the peoples he cares for."
She sighed. "I fell in love with Frodo when I was but a teen, saw during my tweens he cared for Pearl Took and saw no other, then saw her pull back, the pain it left him. I so hoped, especially after Bilbo's party, he could possibly come to care for me. I saw his Light then."
"At the party he could have--not after, though. Then he carried the Ring, and It destroyed that part of himself as It had destroyed it in Bilbo before him."
"You are certain?"
"I am certain. It was nothing to do with you--if he'd not received the Ring, it is likely he would have seen and recognized the love you bore for him--perhaps he had already begun to, but had not yet spoken. But with the Ring he could not. It was all he could do to retain himself while he carried It."
He felt a certain easing in her with the knowledge that Frodo had not just refused to see her, but had not been able to do so.
They came at last to the ramp to the level of the Citadel, and once more they looked up. Ruvemir handed Elanor down to Narcissa, then dismounted and a groom was there to take the pony. He gave him thanks, and then, with Elanor between them, holding a hand of each, they went to climb the ramp at last. "One level at a time I can bear," he told her over Elanor's head. "But the entire way destroys me, I fear. Not built for climbing through this great city." She found herself smiling at him.
He looked ahead. "Ah, my beloved wife is coming under the spell of Lord Samwise. And Mistress Rosie already has it in mind to take her over and see her coddled. She doesn't yet realize that I already know she's quickened. I'm going to let her amaze me with the news."
"How do you know?"
"I've seen the looks the Queen and the King give her. They know. And I know them well enough now to read some of what they don't say."
She laughed, perhaps the first free laugh she'd given in six years or more. He smiled back. Folco looked across at them at that laugh, and gave Ruvemir an appreciative look, and Ruvemir winked in return.
They finally came up to the level of the Citadel, and she stopped, amazed, looking at the shining White Tree and the Citadel behind. "Oh," she said.
"Yes, oh indeed," he said. "I have been up here so many times working on the King's commission, and I still say 'Oh' almost each time I come up again."
She watched as Peregrin Took marched up to the Captain of the Guard who waited there and saluted, saw the salute in return. "Captain Peregrin Took reporting for duty, sir," he said.
"Your duty is accepted. You will serve before the throne tomorrow morning at the first hour. Until then you are dismissed, Captain."
"Thank you, sir."
"And you will attend weapons practice on the sixth level tomorrow afternoon."
"Yes, sir. A good day to you, my Lord."
"And to you, Captain Peregrin. And welcome back to the White City, sir."
She looked to Ruvemir. "He is truly a soldier of Gondor?"
He smiled at her confusion. "He never lied about that--he is a Captain in the Guard of the Citadel--a junior captain, to be sure, but a Captain. And his duty has ever been to guard the King's person."
Diamond was watching the return of her husband with surprise and a new level of respect as well. Other guards saluted him and he saluted back properly--there was no childishness in his manner, no unwarranted lightheartedness.
"You will find they haven't embroidered their experiences here--if anything, they have understated them, made light of what at the time was deadly serious. Many here who serve the Citadel and in the Court of the Tree fought at the Black Gates, remember Captain Peregrin's courage there, the finding of him beneath the body of the troll he slew, his ribs broken, his hip out of its joint, very near to death ere the King could call him back. He fell saving others from a horrible end. They remember the horror of the Nazgul flying overhead, and the way in which Sir Merry and the Lady Éowyn between them faced down their chieftain and destroyed him. Most here saw the bodies of the Lord Frodo and Lord Samwise as they were brought from the ruins of the Mountain when all thought them dead, how they lay unconscious for two weeks, a good part of that time hovering between life and death. Those four are honored here for great cause, my Lady."
"I didn't know."
"Seeing how hard it was for these three to tell even their own families what they experienced, or for their families to believe it, are you surprised?"
The Hobbits were beginning to come together around the King again. Sam was checking on the location of his children, then to see all others were accounted for. All had now paused once again. Before them, between the Court of Gathering and the Court of the White Tree itself with its fountain, stood a new structure, not very high, covered over with a light white tarp that billowed in the mild breeze. Pippin looked at this critically. "So, that is it, then?" he asked.
Aragorn, holding Frodo-Lad protectively in his arms, looked down and smiled. Pippin and Merry were at least half a head taller than the rest of the Hobbits, yet they still barely reached the Man's chest in height. He would give no answer, but his eyes sparkled with enjoyment. Merry looked up at him, then to Pippin. "I see it's rather like the wedding again, Pip--he wants to let us find out when the time is right instead of coming out and telling us, knowing that our Hobbit nature will drive us mad with curiosity. Now, if I remember correctly, he is ticklish behind his knees...."
The King laughed aloud, turned and walked around the structure to where several people sat beneath the White Tree, the light sifting through the gently swaying branches and early buds and leaves to fall on them almost like bright rain.
The Lady Arwen sat, embroidery in hand, singing as she worked, the Lord Glorfindel and King Thranduil singing with her, a song of growth and richness of life. Around them early flowers bloomed, young plants strengthened and reached for the light. At the back of the structure it could be seen rosemary had been planted, already reaching up evergreen branches toward the Sun. The Hobbits once again paused, not wanting to interrupt the Elven song, Sam's posture erect with honor and delight, obviously at one with it, though his voice did not join in, Merry's and Pippin's faces soft with memory, the others simply amazed. They had heard Elven singing before, Ruvemir remembered, but could not have heard much of it. Narcissa's eyes began to close as she listened, her expression rapt, something in it easing even more, starting to smile again.
At last the singing was finished, and all felt the regret that this was so. Pippin stepped forward gently to stand before the Queen, bowing. "My Lady Arwen, Lord Glorfindel, Lord Thranduil, we bring you greetings from the Shire and rejoice to see you once again."
She set down her work as she rose, came forward and knelt, held out her arms, and he moved into them. "Oh, my Lady," he murmured. "Six years is indeed too long. Even the four years since we saw Aragorn is too long."
"Yes, Pippin," she said gently, "it has been long and long in the ways of mortals, has it not?"
The other Elves and those with them rose and bowed, and the group of Hobbits bowed or curtsied deeply. Merry came forward to take Pippin's place in the Queen's embrace, then withdrew, and she looked at Sam, who looked back, walked forward slowly, then embraced her with a fervency that was moving to see. At last he drew back, looked up with tears in his eyes as she rose to her feet, then sat again. "It is good to see you so well, my Lady, and your daughter is a marvel."
"Let me see yours, then," she said, her eyes shining with the light of stars.
He smiled, and held out his hands to the King, who finally relinquished Frodo-Lad to him. "Our son, Frodo-Lad."
She took the child, looked deep into his eyes. He gazed back, his eyes wide, his mouth open in awe. "I understand," she said softly, "that this one and his elder sister both teethed on their father's circlet of honor. From what I can see, he will be filled with that same honor." She looked into Sam's eyes--he was blushing, but stood firm, his chin high with his native dignity, his gaze steady. She continued, "One day he, too, will serve to make the Shire shine with growth and light, following your example." She set Frodo-Lad on his feet, and he stood looking up at her still, his hand on her knee as she caressed his curls.
Sam held out his hand to Rosie, who came forward, suddenly shy, holding her younger daughter to her breast. Rosie gave a curtsey, and then flushed almost as deeply as could her husband. Sam smiled encouragingly at her, then turned to the Queen. "My wife, Rosie," he said, perhaps unnecessarily, "and our youngest, Rosie-Lass, as was born the same day as your Melian."
Arwen examined Rosie, then bowed her own head in great respect. "We welcome you, Mistress Rose, you who were born to be mother to many, both those born to you and those who will simply need your nurturing. Yes, you are indeed the right mate for this one, and I see you understand his nature perhaps even better than he does, although he has been learning it. May I hold your daughter?"
"Yes, my Lady," Rosie said, never taking her eyes from the face of the Queen. She held Rosie-Lass out, and Arwen took her, looked at her with gentle delight.
"Small Rose," she said. "Yes, a small Rose indeed, one who will delight ever in beauty, who will encourage others to find and seek it, both for her delight and for their own. Welcome, little one, and I rejoice to know you and my own daughter will share so much." She kissed the tiny lass softly, and at last returned her to her mother.
Sam was beckoning to Elanor, who let go the hands of Ruvemir and Narcissa, walked forward to stand first just behind her father's knee, looking at the Queen from that vantage point for a moment, then moved forward to stand by her younger brother. She smiled, gave a wobbly curtsey, and straightened. "Hello, Lady Evenstar," she said.
"Hello, Lady Elanor," the Queen returned. She held out her hand, and Elanor took it. The delicate Hobbit child stood before Arwen, her face rapt, as the Queen examined her closely. Finally she said, "You were named for the Elven flowers that grow in Lothlorien, where my grandparents ruled for an age of Middle Earth. I see you were aptly named indeed." She looked at Sam. "You chose her name?"
He shook his head. "No, Lady. No, it was Frodo as named her, for we couldn't think of a name beautiful enough to do her justice, Rosie and me."
She gave a soft laugh. "Ah, I ought to have known. Yes, he would have known the right name after all." She looked again at the child. "Tomorrow is your birthday, I understand."
"Yes, and I brought you a birthday present, but I can't tell you, for it's to be a surprise." She leaned forward to whisper, and the Queen inclined her ear. The whisper carried to more than its intended recipient, though. "I brought the Lord King a present, too, but he isn't to know." She straightened and nodded solemnly.
Arwen suppressed a laugh, and assured her, "Then he shan't learn it from me."
Elanor continued, "Mistress Miriel made me a doll for Yule when she and Master Ruvemir came to visit us. She is the most beautiful doll I've ever seen. I named her for you--Evenstar. I hope you don't mind."
"I am honored, Elanorellë." The girl flushed with pleasure at the usage of her dear-name.
"I left her in the coach, for Sam-Dad said they would fetch her after, and she wouldn't be so hot as if I carried her all the way to the top of the city."
"That is probably just as well. Are you hungry?"
"Oh, yes, for it has been a very long way."
"We shall go in for luncheon as soon as the bell rings. They are just finishing it now."
"Very good, then. But I think that Frodo-Lad and Uncle Pippin are probably more hungry than I--they are always hungry."
"Yes, I know about your Uncle Pippin." The Queen smiled. At a nod of her head, both Elanor and Frodo-Lad stepped back to their father's side, and he set a hand on each one's shoulder in approval. Elanor smiled up at him delightedly, then set herself to watch the rest of the introductions.
Pippin and Merry presented their wives, who gave well-practiced curtseys, and the Queen welcomed both with gentle and discerning words. Fredegar Bolger stepped forward and bowed as he was introduced, and she paused, giving him her attention, and then bowing her head again with deep respect. "So, you are the one who was fearful to leave the Shire before. I rejoice you have overcome that fear, for it is an honor to have one here who has developed such a great appreciation of the outer world simply from the reports of others."
"I vowed I'd not let fear stop me again from seeing somewhat of that outer world, my Lady," he said.
"I see, and see also that you learned to school that fear ere these returned to the Shire. And I see that because you did so, others were able to know some relief from the Time of Troubles, and that you encouraged others also to school their fears."
He swallowed. "I tried, my Lady, but couldn't do much for long--they captured us and imprisoned us, after trying to humiliate us before the Shire."
"Your people honored you instead, did they not? And with reason. You, too, paid the price for that honor, and are full worthy of it."
He could not answer further, merely bowed deeply again.
"Welcome, Master Fredegar, and know that we, too, appreciate your sacrifice. We rejoice the cost was not as great as that which others had to pay, though."
He nodded, his face now sad. "I know. They went through worse than I, and it cost the Shire the best of us all."
Budgie was then brought forward. Again she looked at him long and deeply, then smiled. "Estel will be glad to get to know you, Healer Smallfoot," she said. "You came for the sake of Master Fredegar?"
"Yes, he's my friend, my patient, and my employer--and, now, my brother of the heart as well."
"Your caring is well given. And we thank you also for what you did for Frodo while he remained within the Shire."
"It was little enough, my Lady Queen. I could do little for him, and did not fully appreciate how I might have used the kingsfoil to assist him more."
"You did more than you realize, I think; and his last letter to us gave praise for your help, both to himself and to his cousin."
"Thank you, my Lady." He stepped back.
Then it was Ferdibrand Took who was led before the Queen. She set a hand on his shoulder, examined his features. "It is an honor," she said, "to meet one who has learned to see with the heart. You, too, sacrificed much for your people, and we would have you know it was not in vain. Welcome indeed, Master Ferdibrand." He gave her his thanks and stepped back, embarrassed yet grateful.
The Queen next looked to Cyclamen, who still stood with her arms about her brother. Pando loosed her, gave her a push forward, and she came to the Queen suddenly shy and flushing and gave a weak curtsey that made her flush the more. The Queen laughed and held out her hand, took one of the lass's in her own. Cyclamen looked down in embarrassment, then back up at the Queen's eyes and was caught by them. The flush ended, and she started to smile in delight, a smile the Queen returned in kind. "So, you are young Pando's sister, are you? How glad I am to see you at his side today. He has told us of you while he has worked. I understand you have been studying Sindarin."
Cyclamen lifted her chin and answered in flawless Sindarin, "Yes, my Lady, I have. Master Perhael has been teaching me."
Arwen's delight deepened. "Ah, to hear my own language spoken so well by you is a pleasure indeed." She looked to Sam. "You said that you thought she has the makings of a teacher in her, and you are not mistaken. But it is her imagination that will win her fame, I think." She turned back to Cyclamen. "You are a weaver of tales now, are you not?"
This time the flush was of pleasure. "I like to make up stories, Lady Queen. Cousin Frodo taught me to love them, you know."
"Yes, I know."
Finally she looked to Narcissa. Ruvemir led the Hobbitess forward. "My Lady," he said, "this is Narcissa Boffin, a cousin to Folco here."
Again the Queen looked deeply into the eyes of the one before her. "You came not, however, to see your cousin primarily." Slowly, Narcissa shook her head. "I see," the Queen said gently. "You came to try to understand, because you loved where it was not returned. You know now that it could not be returned, that he was unable to love in that way after the Ring came to him, do you not?"
"Yes, my Lady, so I have been told." Narcissa's voice was low.
"I am sorry, for I think had he been able to continue to love in that way, he would indeed have rejoiced to share his love with such as you. And you would have been good for him and to him." The Queen sighed. "It was one of his deepest sorrows, to have lost that ability. It was lost even while the Ring still slept. The type of power it was created to augment could never accept a partner, never accept caring for another in that manner. It understood only domination, not sharing."
Narcissa looked deeply into the Queen's gaze, then nodded her understanding. "Thank you for your understanding of me, my Lady Arwen," she said, simply.
"His leaving left a hole in many hearts, tithen nín," Arwen replied. "You are not alone--no, not at all alone." She reached forward and wiped away the tears that had begun to fall from Narcissa's eyes. "Know this, that not all tears are an evil. Often they bring great healing." Narcissa nodded.
The Hobbits now moved aside that the Lady Arwen could greet the rest who had come. "Two hounds now at your heels, Eregiel?" she asked.
"Gwynhumara would not remain at home with my mother this time, not when her mate and I came away again." She laughed and fondled the ears of both dogs.
"Halladan, it is always a joy when you come. Gilfileg will be glad to allow you to take your own seat now."
"Master Gloin, Master Dorlin--to have you return is an honor indeed. Your son, your cousin continues to give so much in his service, his leadership, his friendship. And how does your son do, Master Dorlin?"
"Very well, my Lady. He is already practicing to swing his own hammer on the stone or anvil one day."
At last, after she'd greeted all others, she rose to face her grandfather. "Daeradar, I rejoice to have you returned again. Oh, how much I have missed you at my side since you went north." The two embraced, the silver-haired Elf and the dark-haired Elf-turned-Queen. For several minutes they exchanged that conversation of the mind that the Firstborn could share, then he kissed her brow as the bell began to sound. Aragorn, now stooping low to take his own daughter by the hand, came to his wife's side to lead the way into the Citadel to the hall of Merethrond.
"The feast hall?" asked Pippin.
The King laughed. "Where else could we hold enough food to satisfy such a party of Hobbits?" he asked, and the Hobbits all found themselves laughing with him.
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.