24. Rewriting History
Dirlayn and Léofred had decided to make their wedding a very quiet affair. After all, neither of them still had a parent to give them away, and they could not hope to have a son to inherit Léofred's ancestral sword, other than Déoric, who already had his father's blade and no earthly use even for that. They also felt that challenges and set periods of betrothal did not befit their mature ages. In fact, they had waited only for Déoric's return, and a week later they were wed in a simple ceremony with no-one present but Déoric and Fana and Éomer King, who presided. This haste was prompted as much by Dirlayn's desire to let the young people have a place to themselves as by her wish to take up residence with her new husband. So she moved into Léofred's house a stone's throw from the Golden Hall and Déoric and Fana savoured the delicious if somewhat overwhelming feeling of being masters in their own home.
Two days afterwards, Déoric busied himself in the scribe's room on a task entirely for his own satisfaction. Brecc had told him the previous morning that his older brother was about to set off for Dunland as an escort to a second mission of supplies. Déoric had asked for the young man to drop by at the scribe's room before his departure. On the way home that afternoon, he had gone to the market and bought a few sewing needles, which now lay on his desk, neatly pinned to a piece of leather. But there was more he wanted to send.
Slowly and deliberately, he went through his stacks of drawings. Every now and then, he would pick out one and put it aside: a vague, but very lifelike sketch of Fana, a nicely finished portrait of his mother, Blythe sleeping in her basket, a view of Edoras as seen from the river. He chose nearly a dozen and wrapped them up in cloth together with the needles and the panel on which he had painted The Book. Brecc sat nearby, painstakingly copying a parchment that Déoric had set him as a practice task. About an hour before midday, Brecc's brother Stearc came in. He wore his riding boots and said the convoy would leave within the hour.
"I would be grateful if you could do me a favour," said Déoric and held out his parcel. "I would like you to give this to an old woman who lives in a cottage above the village of Carbryn. It's one of the first villages north of the Gap of Rohan. The woman's name is Lunet."
"Gladly, though I think you would be better off giving it to one of the Dunlendings, Déoric," said the young man. "They're more likely to know her."
"What Dunlendings? I don't understand."
"But didn't you know? A whole delegation has just arrived this morning to have talks with Éomer King."
"Oh." Déoric had noticed a certain buzz about the place, but had attributed it to the imminent arrival of the party from Dol Amroth and indeed to the wedding preparations which became more noticeable by the day. He knew that Éomer had sent messengers to Dunland, but had not expected a response so soon. "How many are there? Are they with the king just now?"
"I know nothing of the matter," replied the young man, "other than that they are here."
"If it's the Dunlendings you're talking about," said Léofred, coming in the door, "yes, they are with the king. Ten came, but I cannot tell if there is anyone from your village, Déoric. You'll find out soon enough, though. Éomer King wants you along there in an hour. He says he wants to discuss the matter of Helm Hammerhand."
"Is that wise? I thought these were supposed to be peace talks? Why bring up a subject that is bound to cause hard feelings?"
"I dare say the king has considered his plans carefully, Déoric. Bring along whatever you have on the subject. Have you finished what I saw you writing the other day?"
"Not entirely finished, no. I couldn't because, well, there's something I don't know yet."
"Well, take it anyway. And to you, Stearc, I wish a safe journey." He clapped Brecc's brother on the shoulder and left the room. Déoric put his parcel to one side and began to assemble the pages he would need. An inkbottle fell off the desk and shattered on the flagstone floor.
"My goodness, you are nervous, Déoric," said Brecc and crouched down to pick up the shards.
"You are so."
"Let's not fight, eh? These are peace talks after all."
The Dunlendish party turned out to be rather unconventional. When Éomer had invited the chieftains, he could not have been aware just how devastating the war had been for the men of Dunland. There was only one man with the looks of a warrior about him. The others were old men, long past the age of weapon bearing, a couple of sturdy women, and three lads with barely the shadow of a beard between them. Déoric suppressed a shout of joy when he recognised one of them to be Gruffyd. Gruffyd grinned.
The delegation was seated in two rows at a right angle to the throne. Éomer gestured for Déoric to bring his wheeled chair to the other side.
"This is my chronicler, Déoric son of Féadred. He has travelled in the Mark and in Dunland and has heard the stories from both sides. Let us hear what he has to say. Déoric, I believe you have recently taken some notes about Freca and Helm Hammerhand. I wish you to present them now."
Déoric's hands tightened around the arm rests of his chair.
"As you wish, my lord."
He took his parchments and began to read. The tense attention of the listeners soaked up his every word. He read the story of two countries - ill at ease with each other but not openly at war - and of two leaders determined to stand up for their people. It was the story also of Wilone, Helm's daughter, of how she travelled in the Westfold and met Freca's son Wulf and fell in love with him. Déoric told how Wulf persuaded his father to secure him Wilone's hand in marriage and how Freca went to Edoras with an anxious heart. He told how Helm saw Freca's appearance at the council as a threat, how they quarrelled, how Helm killed Freca. He told of Wilone's marriage to a man of the Mark and of her untimely death. It was a story of anger and of despair, of hurt feelings and bruised honour. He told of all the fights that followed, of dying men and weeping women, all the while carefully avoiding any implication that either side was right or wrong. Though he didn't dare look up, he could feel that the king and the Dunlendings still listened with eager curiosity. When he had reached the last sheet, he braced himself for what was to follow.
"From then on there was ever strife between the people of the Mark and the people of Dunland, for neither could ever forget what had befallen and each thought their grievance grave and serious, caring little for the sorrows of the other.
Here Déoric paused and boldly looked around at his audience. The king's mien was solemn.
"Well, Déoric," he said with a trace of impatience in his voice. "However what?"
"I have not written the end yet, my lord," said Déoric, "because I think the story is not finished. However, if you wish, I will tell you what I would like to write."
Éomer glanced at the Dunlendings, whose faces showed polite interest mixed with a hint of unease. He nodded.
"We will hear it, Chronicler of the Mark."
The Dunlendings turned their eyes towards Déoric again. He imagined he saw Gruffyd wink. From his bag, he pulled his wax tablet and began to read out the passage he had drafted earlier.
"However, in the days of Éomer King, this ancient enmity came to an end and it was decided they would dwell no longer on what had been and strive instead for a new understanding that would allow each people to live in peace with the other. And from then on friendship flourished between the people of the Mark and the people of Dunland and the old wrongs were laid to rest. And so it was that as a new age dawned over Middle-earth, another stain of darkness was removed and it was said that wherever there is a will for peace among Men, hatred can be overcome and a better life for all is within the grasp of anyone who so desires."
Déoric felt his hands tremble and his eyes well up as he came to the last sentence, but he knew it so well, he had thought about it so hard, that he easily recited it from memory. When he had ended, nobody spoke. The hush made him feel queasy. Eventually, Éomer cleared his throat.
"If I understand you right, you mean to say, Déoric, that it is up to us here today to bring about this glorious future?
"I believe it is, yes," whispered Déoric.
"Hm." Éomer rubbed his beard.
"My lord king." Gruffyd stood up. "I believe Déoric is right. We have come to some good agreements this morning, which can pave the way to the peace we all desire. I don't see why he shouldn't add that ending to the story right now. It would be a good way to ensure that we all make the best effort we can."
Éomer grinned. "I see your young men are just as forward as ours," he said to the older Dunlendings. "Well, I, for one, am inclined to listen to them. If you agree, then Déoric shall complete the story here in front of our eyes, and I shall have a copy made for you to take back to Dunland."
Looks and nods were exchanged among the Dunlendish delegation and then a white-bearded man stood up.
"I was saddened by Master Déoric's tale," he said. "It made me feel ashamed that we've sent our sons to their deaths; sent them to fight alongside orcs, all because of things that happened long before any of us were born. I had three sons and five grandsons. I sent them off into battle for the sorcerer at Isengard and I sought to ignite their hearts with hatred against the Strawheads by reminding them of the abominable Helm and his cruel deeds. Not a day has passed since that I haven't regretted that hour. Of the eight, only one came back. The eyes of my womenfolk are always red now. It was our hatred, fuelled by our old stories, which led to our destruction. Will we allow those who come after us to make the same mistakes? I say, no! Éomer King is right. Let his chronicler finish the story the way he has suggested, and we shall take our copy back with us and read it out in every village in Dunland. And let us all pledge here today that we will make the story come true."
He sat down again. In the silence, everyone stared at Déoric.
"Well," said Déoric, "I will need a desk."
It was quiet in the house. Fana had just settled Blythe to sleep in the basket near the fireplace, when she heard the knock on the door. She smoothed down her dress and her hair, conscious of being the mistress of the house, a role that still felt new to her and a little too big.
The two lads came up to her shoulder and with their heads of curly dark hair she would have taken them for Dunlendings, had her glance not fallen on their uncommonly large, bare, hairy feet. When she looked at their faces, she saw that they were indeed no children.
"Mistress Fana?" said one of them. "I am Meriadoc Brandybuck, at your service, and this is my cousin, Peregrin Took." The other Halfling – for this was what she now knew them to be – smiled and bowed. "We have come to see Master Déoric."
"He's not home yet. But do come in and wait for him. I'm sure he'll be here within the half hour."
She ushered them in and placed them on the chairs by the table, where they sat with their legs dangling.
"Would you like a bite to eat? I can give you bread and butter and ale. The evening meal is not yet finished."
"Thank you, Mistress Fana," said the Halfling called Meriadoc. "We have already partaken of an afternoon meal with the King."
"But that is not to say," added the one called Peregrin with a quick look at his companion, "that we wouldn't appreciate another little morsel."
"There's more than enough," she said. "If you would excuse me."
She scurried into the kitchen where she prepared a plate of buttered bread, garnished with freshly harvested radishes, and filled two mugs of ale from the barrel in the corner. A couple of buckwheat pancakes completed the meal. When she returned with her tray, she found that the Halflings had slipped off the chairs and stood huddled over the infant's basket.
"…how you can still see that they're tiny even though they're quite big," said the one called Peregrin. "It's the shape of their hands and faces, I suppose."
Fana put the tray on the table. The noise startled the Halflings, who straightened up and hurried back to their chairs.
"That's a fine child you have there, Mistress Fana," said the one called Meriadoc. "A little girl, I take it?"
"Yes. How could you tell?"
"Oh, just something about the mouth, and the set of the jaw. She resembles your husband."
"So everyone says." She noticed how they were eyeing the food keenly. "Oh, please do help yourselves."
The Halflings didn't need any further urging and got busy, while Fana sat down beside them with a sock she needed to mend.
"So, you've come for the King's wedding then? Déoric mentioned that he might have the opportunity to see you, Master Meriadoc. He speaks very highly of you."
"See, Pippin?" Meriadoc licked a smidgen of butter off his lip. "My reputation precedes me. Mistress Fana is already predisposed in my favour. You, on the other hand, will have to take care that you make a good impression. See to it that you keep your Tookish nature reined in."
"You misrepresent me, Merry! My nature is all amiable. Mistress Fana, I beg that you pay no heed to my cousin's slanderous remarks. He will paint me in the most sinister colours and remind me of every single folly of my youth just to make himself appear wise and respectable."
"Not at all, Pippin. I am merely, as the senior hobbit, giving you sensible advice regarding your conduct in foreign parts."
"Of which, of course, I have had no prior experience."
Fana laughed, her hands shook and so she pricked her finger with the needle. She flinched and rubbed off the tiny spot of blood.
"You are merry folk to be sure," she said. "Tell me, how do you like Edoras?"
"Much better than the last time we were here," said Peregrin. "Éomer seems to have done a lot of work to the place. The market looks very busy."
"Not just the market. I noticed thousands of ladybirds in the city this morning," added Meriadoc. "I saw a wall that was all red with them. Are they always so plentiful here at this time of year?"
"No, I have never seen so many before. They arrived only two days ago. Déoric says Master Gléowine will be pleased, because they'll surely make short work of the greenfly on his roses. Oh, here he comes now."
She jumped up to open the door for Déoric, hugged him and left him to greet his guests while she slipped into the kitchen and stirred the stew. When she returned, Déoric sat in his wheeled chair, while the Halflings had pulled up their chairs on either side of him and studied the parchments he had taken from his bag.
"…a typical village in the Wold. And here's one of the tree men, or Ent, as he called himself - "
"Why, it's Quickbeam!"
"You know him?"
"Of course. He is the hasty Ent who made up his mind straight away to attack Isengard."
"Really? Oh, yes, I think he mentioned something like that. Well, he was a truly remarkable person, I have to say. Though I think you'll be even more interested in this."
Déoric presented another sheet, and the Halflings leaned closer. Fana sat down and picked up her mending work again.
"Good grief, Merry, these look like Hobbit holes! Very dilapidated ones, but still."
"You are right," said Déoric. "They are abandoned, though for not as long as one might think. Just imagine, I met some people who told me that their great-grandparents had known Halflings in the Wold!"
"What happened to them?"
"Nobody knew. They all left one day. However, I have some kind of idea, because I came to remember a story I heard in the opposite corner of our land, in the Westfold. I have the notes I took up at the Hall, and I'd be happy to show them to you on the morrow. But I can tell you right now what the story amounts to. Sometime in the not too distant past, for the people who told it claimed it happened in their great-grandparents' days, a group of little folk was seen travelling on foot through the far corners of the Westfold. They seemed like children, and yet not so, and they carried heavy burdens. And when the people of the Mark approached them to find what their business was, they vanished without a trace, and so it was agreed that they possessed some kind of Elven magic."
"You big folk just cannot understand how light-footed Hobbits are."
"Be that as it may," said Déoric. "I inquired, I hardly know why, after the direction of their journey, and it was said that they came from the East and moved to the North-West. In the light of what I heard and saw in the Wold, I am inclined to believe these were the Halflings who left there three generations ago. Whence they went from the Mark, I cannot tell."
"They never made it to the Shire," said Peregrin, his brows drawn together in a frown. "We would have known if any new Hobbits had arrived almost within living memory."
He cast a pained glance at his cousin, who shook his head and rubbed his ear lobe.
"No," Meriadoc said eventually. "They never made it to the Shire. Because that is not where they went."
"Whatever do you mean, Merry?"
"Can you not see, Pip? The Latecomers! The Latecomers of Bree-land!"
Peregrin's eyes widened and he clapped his hands to his mouth.
"Good grief, Merry, are you sure?"
"Yes. How silly of me to think only in terms of the Shire hobbits. Pip, the solution has been sitting under my very nose and I haven't seen it."
"I'm afraid I can't follow," said Déoric.
"Oh, forgive me, I was carried away." Meriadoc straightened his waistcoat. "There is a place called the Bree-land, to the East of the Shire, beyond the Barrow Downs. It's a small country, consisting only of the town of Bree and three villages around it. One of those villages is Staddle, and a group of hobbits lives there who are called the Latecomers. They keep to themselves, so we don't know much about them, but it is said that they have arrived in Bree-land very recently, less than four generations back."
"But that is remarkable!" cried Déoric. "How is it possible that nobody has inquired where they came from?"
"Maybe some people have inquired, and not received much of an answer. As for the Shire hobbits, I'm afraid to them the Breelanders are outlandish folk anyway and they tend to shake their heads about them rather than expect them to make sense."
At that moment, Blythe awoke and began to cry. Fana sighed. The child would be hungry and she would have to leave the room to feed her, since it was not fitting to do so in the presence of guests. She lifted the infant out of the basket and, with a last regretful glance at the unusual visitors, climbed up the stair to her bedchamber. The last thing she heard before she closed the door was the voice of Meriadoc.
"We will find out what we can when we return home. I am looking forward to seeing your notes tomorrow, and your drawings, too. By the way, my cousin here is also an artist…"
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.