1. Seeking Adventure
Written for the LOTR Community Yule Gift Exchange, for Huinárë.
Hildifons Took sat upon a fallen log in a clearing on one side of the Road leading from the Brandywine Bridge eastward toward Bree, staring across toward the beginning of the Barrow-downs. "Fascinating!" he murmured to himself. "And it's full of wights, they say?"
"That it is," said an unexpected voice, causing the Hobbit to start in surprise.
Hildifons turned and found himself looking up—and up. Now, as the son to Gerontius Took, Hildifons was no stranger to Big Folk. After all, the Wizard, Gandalf the Grey, was a frequent visitor to the Great Smial, and many a peddler came once or twice a year. Even the mysterious Rangers and occasionally a Dwarf and once even an Elf had come there to consult with the Thain of the Shire. But he'd not seen this Big Person before. He appeared to be a Man, but not dressed as any other Man he'd ever seen. He was garbed in well worn brown robes over dark trousers and boots, with a leather cloak, his dark brown hair and beard heavily streaked with grey. Hildifons's attention was caught by the Man's staff, however, and he realized that this must be another Wizard. Hadn't Gandalf told his father that there were other Wizards besides himself? Hildifons thought he remembered hearing Gandalf mentioning there were at least two others in his order….
Heartened by his identification of his new companion as possibly a Wizard, the Hobbit smiled as he rose to his feet. "Are they as terrible as people say?" he asked with a nod toward the Barrow-downs.
"Oh, but they are far worse, if that is possible," the brown-clad person responded with a thoughtful look toward the nearest of the hillocks that were supposed to house the bones of the ancient dead as well as malevolent spirits. "The Witch-king of Angmar drew the wights here to trouble those who travel the Road going either east to the mountains or west to the Sundering Sea. He bore no love for Arnor or its peoples, you must understand."
"Arnor?" questioned Hildifons. He rather thought he'd heard the name, although he couldn't say when or where. Perhaps it has been in one of the books from his father's library, the very books that had inspired him to go outside the Shire and seek an adventure of his own.
"Of old that was the name given to the lands of the King here in the north," his companion answered, now searching the young Took's face. "The Sea-kings named the southern realm Gondor, and the northern one Arnor."
"That's where I remember the name, then," the Hobbit said. "It's in the charter that we were given when we were granted our land by the King."
The brown-clad Man's eyebrows rose as he considered that. "I see." He looked about him. "I remember when I was first arrived here, when this land belonged to Cardolan. That," he said, indicating the Barrow-downs across from them, "was the royal cemetery where the kings and nobility of Cardolan and Arthedain were buried. The King's city was nearby on the banks of the river, beyond the Old Forest on this side of the Baranduin. When Angmar managed to destroy the royal lineage of Cardolan the land reverted back to the control of the one remaining Dúnedain line, and became again a part of Arnor—until the last war between Arnor and the Witch-king when Angmar was utterly defeated and the Nazgûl fled away southwards to Mordor once more. Aranarth, I am told, refused to name himself King in his father's stead, and since that day his descendants have considered themselves merely the Chieftains of the Northern Dúnedain rather than the Kings of Arnor. But perhaps one day the King might indeed return."
Hildifons snorted. "For us, the phrase when the King returns indicates whatever it is you're speaking of is most unlikely to ever come to be."
The Man laughed. "I can appreciate that," he said. "Did you stop for your midday meal? Would you mind if my companions and I were to join you? I have some freshly harvested mushrooms in my bag, and my friend provided me with a new loaf of bread and a pot each of butter and honey before I left him about an hour since."
At the thought of adding mushrooms to his meal Hildifons brightened. "You have a friend near here?" he asked. "Where?"
"He dwells in the heart of the Old Forest. You might have heard of him. He calls himself Tom Bombadil. His wife baked the bread this morning."
"Then there is indeed someone living within the Old Forest? My Brandybuck relatives speak of Tom Bombadil from time to time, but I've never met anyone who's actually seen him. Should we cook those mushrooms, or would you prefer them cut up into thin slices? And what companions do you have?"
Hildifons' new friend introduced himself as Radagast the Brown, and admitted he was indeed a Wizard and that he knew Gandalf well. His primary companion proved to be a young fox with a broken leg he'd heard crying in the woods this side of the Road and that he'd rescued and had been carrying beneath his cloak when he came upon Hildifons. When a rook alighted upon his shoulder he explained that this was another of his companions, and that there were a number of birds who were likely to come and go while they were together. "I rather like birds," he explained, "and they appear to like to keep me company. But I also like other creatures as well, and hate to see an animal in unnecessary pain."
Hildifons found himself helping the Wizard set the fox's break, and was amazed at how much the creature appeared to be cooperating with them in spite of the pain it must have been enduring. The Hobbit willingly sacrificed a few of the handkerchiefs he'd brought with him to make bandages with which to bind twigs on either side of the affected leg, and smiled to see the obvious relief the fox felt once the bone was properly aligned and stabilized. Radagast then made a tea of sorts using certain herbs and fed it to the creature, and soon the fox was sleeping in a sling the Wizard fixed up under his cloak.
The two of them then made a meal of the bread, honey, and mushrooms the Brown Wizard had named as well as some of the ham and cheese the Hobbit had brought in his own small pack. They were starting to clean up their tin dishes at the stream that ran through a back corner of their clearing when they heard the stump of footsteps coming toward them. Both looked down the road toward the Brandywine Bridge, and they saw approaching them a Dwarf with a pack on his back, using an axe as if it were a walking stick. The Dwarf stopped once he reached them, examining both of them carefully. "Hello, friend Radagast," he rumbled. "And what brings you to this side of the Misty Mountains?"
"Oh, I come this way perhaps once or twice a century," the Brown Wizard said. "The land here also tends to suffer at times from the Enemy's attentions, after all, and I do have a few friends in this area. I'll most likely stop a few days on my way home to visit with Elrond and learn the latest news being passed about amongst the Wise…."
"And what is it that you are about?" asked the Dwarf of the Hobbit.
Hildifons found the Dwarf's question rather intrusive. "What I'm about is my own affair," he responded rather stiffly. "Not that you and I have been properly introduced to begin with."
The Dwarf appeared surprised, even slightly chagrined. "I beg your pardon," he said. "Dwalin son of Fundin, at your service. I'm to visit with some of the petty Dwarves who live north of Fornost, and after that I'll most likely be accompanying one of the trading missions heading for the Iron Hills where so many of our kin have settled. I expect to return to the Blue Mountains with my brother Balin in perhaps a year's time. He's been advising Dáin Ironfoot for the past fifty years or so, but he's indicated he will be ready to return to Thorin's side shortly. Besides, he wishes to see Glóin's new son."
Hildifons realized he'd mistaken Dwarf shortness for discourtesy and sought to make amends swiftly. "Hildifons Took, at the service of you and your family," he said with a hasty bow. "I do apologize for appearing so rude. As to what I am doing—well, I am intent on finding an adventure for myself."
Both the Wizard and the Dwarf appeared surprised. "An adventure? A Hobbit?" exclaimed Dwalin. "Now, that is quite a surprise in and of itself! And what has led you to make such a decision?"
"And why not?" Hildifons asked, lifting his chin stubbornly. "Men and Dwarves go on adventures all of the time, I understand, while the lives of Wizards appear to be nothing but adventures, or so it seems to me from what Gandalf has said."
Radagast and Dwalin exchanged looks, Radagast's apparently amused and the Dwarf's considering. The Wizard returned his attention to the Hobbit. "Certainly Gandalf has led quite an adventurous life here in Middle Earth," he agreed. "But I fear I'm nowhere as bold as he is. Helping to heal that which has been hurt by evil is as adventurous as I tend to become, you must understand, my young friend."
Dwalin was shaking his head. "Trust Tharkûn to lead such a one as this away from the settled life of his kind," he sighed. "And just what kind of adventure is it that you have in mind?"
"Oh, I don't know." But a long suppressed desire was making itself plainer in his thoughts. He considered it for a moment before saying rather tentatively, "I've wanted for some time to see the place where we Hobbits came from. It's said that it was far, far away, near the valley of the greatest of rivers."
Again Dwarf and Wizard exchanged glances. "We tell in our histories that once our halls east of the Misty Mountains were always built near villages of Hobbits," Dwalin said. "We would trade many of our finished goods for the extra crops they tended or for the cloth they wove, and sometimes would train their youngsters in the arts of working iron or preparing pots for the kiln. But that was very long ago. Few of our halls or mines remain on either the east or western slopes of the Misty Mountains—orcs, dragons, and worse creatures have seen to that. And I do not know if any settlements of Hobbits remain east of the Misty Mountains or anywhere near the banks of the Anduin."
"We would leave those lands? Why?"
"For much the same reason as we did—because of the devastation left by orcs, dragons, and worse creatures! Also, there were years of drought and wild fires that destroyed fields and crops as well as homes. The lands through which the Anduin flows are not always hospitable, and the weather there is often chancy. And Hobbits perhaps also drew the attentions of the Necromancer. You might not gather treasure as do Dwarves and many Men, but he has never approved of seeing anyone merry or lighthearted."
"That is true enough," agreed Radagast. "The Necromancer makes a most unpleasant neighbor, even if I do not live right beside him as do the Elves of Mirkwood or the people of the Long Lake. Most of my labor is to help revive lands and creatures destroyed by his servants and slaves, and the stars know there has been far too much of that!"
"Could I go there—see those lands?" Hildifons asked, looking from one to the other.
"Why?" asked the Dwarf practically. "I sincerely doubt any of your people remain anywhere in the lands that feed into the great river."
"I only wish to see where it was we Hobbits came from. Imagine what it would be like to return home to tell our people that I've been there, there where we awoke in Middle Earth, our first home!"
"Would they thank or honor you for it?" demanded the Dwarf. "Not from what I've seen of your people when I've traded at your Free Fair. Few ever ask aught of us regarding the nature of the lands we inhabit, or might have come from. They tend to shudder at our songs, and hurry their children away when we would think to share our stories."
"My father would appreciate it," responded the Hobbit stubbornly. "He's a Took, after all—the family head for all of the Tooks, even, and he's been outside the Shire himself. It's said he's even been as far as Rivendell!"
Radagast raised his head and examined his smaller companion with renewed interest. "Your father has visited with Elrond of Imladris?"
"Yes, and more than once." The Hobbit looked up at him with a level of defiance. "Why shouldn't I wish to see the lands from which we Hobbits came?" he repeated.
"Why not indeed?" the Wizard asked. "Well, if you should wish to see them, you may accompany me back across the Misty Mountains, and I shall show you what I know to be there to see. And perhaps we shall also see the lands your people first inhabited when they crossed west of the Misty Mountains into Eriador."
It was the sons of Elrond who served as guide to show Hildifons Took where it was that his ancestors had once dwelt along the Mitheithil and other rivers of Eriador, and they told him what they remembered of coming to the aid of a group of Periannathwho'd been attacked by trolls near where they'd descended from the High Pass. "One Hobbit was severely injured, their guide, who was named Bilbiolo and who had dwelt here for several years before he crossed over the mountains to lead more of your people to more hospitable lands," Elladan said. "He had a hole here, in the ridge that used to stand here looking down upon the river, although that ridge is now long gone. When the river floods it often changes its banks and the lands through which it runs."
"Why did they leave these lands?" asked Hildifons.
"Because of the wars with Angmar," Elrohir explained. "Armies raged through these lands for hundreds of years as the Witch-king sought to see the land of Arnor destroyed. Most of the husbandmen who dwelt in this region were removed westward where they would not be likely to be destroyed by the weapons of the enemy. And the enemy came as much from what was once Rhudaur and the Brown Lands far to the south as they did from the north. They troubled the lands farmed by the Dúnedain as well as those claimed by your people, stealing harvests to feed their own armies and slaying all who would have sought to stay their hands. Arador's ancestors were oft hard pressed to protect those who dwelt in this region."
"I remember how pleased Mithrandir appeared when he related to our adarthat Argaleb the Second had granted lands west of the Baranduin to your people," Elladan added. "Both seemed to see that as a reason to hope better for the future."
Hildifons was fascinated by these tales, and came away from his visit to the site of the former Hobbit settlement along the Mitheithil with increased pride in the endurance shown by his ancestors.
A month later, at the height of summer, Hildifons Took and Radagast the Brown descended the High Pass into the valley of the Anduin, and as he looked at the expanse of the great River, the Hobbit lost his heart anew to these lands where his ancestors had once lived.
Periadoc Brandybuck, Pippin and Merry Gamgee-Gardner, and Faramir Took looked down on the maps spread out before them in the Citadel of Minas Anor. "They have been building a road northward on the eastern side of the Misty Mountains?" Faramir asked.
"Yes. It was a plan first put forward by Isildur, and according to other records written at the same time as his description of the One Ring as he first experienced it, part of the reason he chose to return northward through the valley of the Anduin was to do a survey of those lands prior to ordering such a road built. However, as you know, he did not make it further than the Gladden Fields, and when Meneldil refused to acknowledge his cousin Valandil as High King of the Dúnedain the project was forgotten. And so it is that now I have seen to it that this second route is made safe for the journey to our northern lands." King Elessar smiled down at the indications that the Road had finally been completed to the entrance to the High Pass.
The four young Hobbits felt excitement rising in their hearts. As one they raised their eyes to meet those of their fathers' friend. "We want to go home that way," Faramir said decisively. "We want to see the route you took with our dads to come to Parth Galen from Lórien. We want to see the pass Bilbo went over with the Dwarves to get to the Lonely Mountain. We want to see the eaves of the Woodland Realm and the Carrock, and maybe the stone giants."
Merry asked, "And we'd love it if you could come with us at least part of the way, Lord Strider."
But the King was already shaking his head. "I cannot, for too much has changed. You have yet to learn what all must know one day—there is no true going back. Lothlórien is not as it was when the Lady ruled there and the mellyrngrew at her will. Few of the Galadhrim remain there, and the Golden Wood is already experiencing the throes of mortality. It is not as your fathers remember it, much less how I remember it or how Frodo described it in the Red Book. I will not say that you will not find much to wonder at when you come there, but it would clash too much with how I remember it. Nay, it is better you come there to see it as it is, not to see my grief for what it was."
The four sons of the Travellers were considering his words when a page came and knocked at the open door to the office where they'd met with the King. "Lord Elessar," he said, "I regret to interrupt you, but one has come to the Citadel asking to meet with you. He names himself Radagast the Brown?" It was plain that the young Man had not the faintest idea why such a one as this Radagast might importune the King's indulgence.
He was more surprised when Pippin Gamgee-Gardner whooped with delight. "Radagast? Here? This is wonderful. We've none of us seen Radagast since we were mere lads when he came through the Shire to see what state Sharkey might have left it in."
His brother Merry was nodding enthusiastically. "I remember how our Sam-Dad blushed with pleasure when Mister Radagast told him that he'd proved as good as any Wizard or Elf at setting the land right again."
Faramir Took laughed with pleasure. "And of course your dad was trying to say that it was more due to the gift of soil from the Lady's garden and to the blessings offered him by Gandalf and Uncle Frodo than to his own work, and he was telling him how all over the Shire Hobbits came out to help him replant the trees and put right the damage done by Lotho's Big Men at Sharkey's orders."
"I remember my dad shaking his head and murmuring, 'Isn't that just like our Sam?' to my mum," added Periadoc Brandybuck. "And Uncle Sam was even trying to insist that it was due to you, too, Lord Strider, with you able to wear and wield the Elessar stone."
The King beamed. "Your father had the right of it—bless our beloved Sam! Escort Lord Radagast here, Sephardin. The Brown Wizard is ever welcome here in the White City and its Citadel."
Sephardin's brows rose at the realization that this was the one Wizard known to remain within Middle Earth, and he hurried off to bring Radagast and the creatures that accompanied him to the King's presence.
It was a merry meeting, and the Hobbits made much of the young wolf and the doe that currently served as the Wizard's four-legged companions, while the King's son beamed when a gyrfalcon stepped readily from Radagast's shoulder to his own.
"I must say," Radagast said as he accepted a mug of ale from a servant, "that I find the ability of mortals to mature so rapidly a matter of wonder to this day. It seems merely yesterday I saw the four of you Hobbits and your families and you were but small children. And you, my dear Eldarion—I think you were still but a babe in arms when last I met with your parents."
Queen Arwen and her daughters entered the room almost on the Brown Wizard's heels, and he greeted and made over the young Princesses, and was given welcome by the daughter of Elrond, whose memories of him over so much of the past age were warm.
It was after dinner that he explained that he had been laboring last in the wastes of what had been Mordor, far to the south and east. "Those who had been Sauron's slaves are finally beginning to do well by the land, but it has been difficult for them, as you have been apprised. It has not been an easy experience for them to learn how to deal with their freedom after so long in captivity, and it has been even more difficult to learn to govern themselves rather than being told ever what to do and how it is to be done as has been true for so very long. The advisors you have sent their way are doing well, and it is good that they are relieved every four years so that they do not come to think of themselves as the Nurnian's new masters rather than merely teachers. But I find now that I am hungry to return to Rhosgobel for a time, for it is far too long since I have dwelt in the peace of my own home. I rather suspect that the woods will not remember me, and that the trees that form my walls will be sulky at my return, feeling too long ignored."
"So you will be traveling north up the valley of the Anduin until you are north of Eryn Lasgalen?" the King asked.
Radagast replied, "That is what I had planned."
After a quick glance at the four young Hobbits, Aragorn asked, "And how would you like to have some companions along the road? These four must soon set out to return home to the Shire, and have indicated they wish to travel north along the great river until they come to the High Pass. There is a garrison where the Great Road emerges from the Pass, and guards from there can accompany them over the mountains back into Eriador, and I suspect our brothers will gladly offer them company the remainder of the way to the Brandywine Bridge. Eldarion, if he agrees, will go with them, for he is to remain with our kinsmen in Annúminas over the winter until we return to the north next summer. It will be good for him to see more of Rhovanion that he be more aware of those lands also, and it would be good for him to have instruction from the one remaining Wizard of whom we are aware."
After much discussion Radagast agreed, and a week later the four Hobbits, the Prince of Gondor and Arnor, and the Brown Wizard took leave of the King and Queen and set off northward, accompanied by a small company of Guardsmen and the Prince's valet, who was as much a friend as a servant. They went slowly, climbing the North Stair up to the slopes of Amon Hen, where they walked on the grass of Parth Galen and looked at the memorial raised there by the King and his Steward to the memory of Boromir the Bold. "How proud he looks," Faramir Took commented, "with his sword in hand and his horn raised to blow."
His cousin Periadoc nodded, unconsciously mimicking the attitude of the figure of the former Warden of the White Tower. "Just think, Farry—if it weren't for Boromir, it's possible that you and I wouldn't have been born at all, for perhaps our dads might not have lived to be taken prisoner by the Uruk-hai! He died trying to save them, after all."
The silver-grey boat that alone remained of the three that had set out from Lórien had been placed upon a pedestal behind the statue of Boromir, and the four young Hobbits and the Prince of the Reunited Kingdom explored them respectfully, speaking of what their respective fathers had told them of that journey so long ago, the Guardsmen and the valet listening curiously. One of the guards told them that his own grandfather had served amongst the Rangers of Ithilien, and after the Battle before the Black Gate was one of those who was sent here to fetch away those goods left behind by the Three Hunters so that they might not be lost forever.
"Such was the virtue of the wood of this vessel that no enemy dared take what had been placed under the overturned boat, and all apparently was as it was left by our Lord King and his two companions. And I suspect that your honored fathers were grateful to know the return of such oddments as they found, such as extra small clothes, their original packs, and the like.
Faramir Took laughed. "My father told of how glad he was to see such things, but how surprised he was to find they no longer fit him now that he had drunk the Ent-draughts. He said he and Uncle Merry had them taken to Frodo and Sam's enclosure where they slept that they might have small clothes that had a chance of fitting them once they awoke. His ought not to have fit either Uncle Frodo or Uncle Sam, he said, considering that he had been the smallest of the four when they left the Shire, but considering how much weight Frodo lost he appeared not to notice that they'd not been his own originally."
"My dad was glad to have the return of the sharpening stone he'd been given at Yule," Perry admitted. "And his leather wallet in which he stowed his leaf was there, too, the one Sharkey stole from him when they overtook the villain in the wilderness during their return journey. He told me that Uncle Sam found that wallet in the shed in which it appears Sharkey slept in the garden, but he never wanted it back. That's why it's in the museum in Michel Delving now."
The rest nodded, remembering other stories they'd heard of what happened here and on the hillside within the forest. They climbed to the top of the hill and each sat in the King's seat atop it, recalling the descriptions they'd heard read of what Uncle Frodo had seen and heard there, but themselves hearing little but the contentment inherent in the rustling of leaves and grass and the roar of triumph Rauros gave now that it ran forward through uncontested Gondorian lands once more. In the distance to the southeast could be seen the Ered Lithui and the great gap that once had held the Black Gate of Mordor, far across a shining land of marshes that even from here could be seen to teem with wildlife as great flocks of geese, ducks, and swans rose from it, making their trial flights before they might fly further south for the winter months.
"They are the Great Marshes now," Eldarion said softly. "No longer do those who must make their way through them look down upon images of the dead, not since Mordor fell and my parents came there a year after the victory, calling down blessings upon the land and waters. My adartold me that he had wished Frodo and Sam to come there with him when the land was cleansed of the last of the evil that had ruled there, but they would not go there again, not then, for the memories of what had befallen them were yet too fresh and terrible."
Again they nodded thoughtfully, glad that all had been made new since Eldarion's father had come rule both Gondor and Arnor.
They went on, now riding upon the steeds that had been brought to this place by a different route in preparation for their continued journey. They went without a great deal of hurry, enjoying the vistas they were granted and speaking of their fathers' memories and their own hopes and dreams for the future.
In time they came to what had been the borders of Laurelindórenan, where still mellyrngrew in silver and golden majesty, although now more common, mortal trees grew between them and in the growing number of gaps where the great trees nurtured and sustained by the Lady's power had begun to succumb to their great age and the coming of certain insects and diseases into their midst. They were greeted by those Elves that yet remained within the bounds of their ancient lands, welcomed in light of their relationship to the Ringbearer and his companions and Eldarion's blood ties to their Lord and Lady.
Radagast looked on the new trees growing vigorously amidst the stately mellyrnwith mixed approval and regret. "The old make way for the young here as elsewhere," he sighed. "It is ever thus in these lands, and certainly there is a feeling of rightness to it. But it is often difficult to let go of the familiar."
The elleth who served as their immediate hostess looked about her where they stood by the landing where the pleasure boats of the Galadhrim had always been kept, her expression thoughtful. "Change is the way here in the Mortal Lands. It is true that our beloved Lady Galadriel kept it at bay for many ennin, but we have learned over the many ages we have lived that we merely postpone the changes to come, we do not deter them." Her eyes followed Eldarion as he knelt to examine the carving done on the pleasure boat that had been crafted for the specific use of his mother's grandparents, and there was a curious hunger to be seen in them. "We have not heard the voices of children here for so very long, and I find now that we have been the poorer for it. In clinging so strongly to ancient glories we have almost lost the ability to look to the future. I hope that when we come to Aman we will find ourselves again able to look forward rather than ever to our past, and that we shall again rejoice to give birth and to watch our children discover the delights of living as do these younglings. He reminds me of Elladan and Elrohir when they were children and were brought here by their parents. I had almost forgotten what it is like to be with children…."
They stayed within the remains of the Golden Wood for less than a fortnight, climbing to the great fleton which the house of Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel had been built; visiting the sunken garden where the Lady had bade Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee to look into her mirror, treading the green grass that clad the sides of the hill on which Amroth had dwelt, and listening with delight to the song of Nimrodel echoed in the stream that bore her name. But they did not wish to linger longer, for they were mortal and must look to the future rather than to a rapidly fleeing past. The sky was filled with scudding clouds on the day they set off again northward following the valley of the Anduin, returning to the King's new highway on ponies and horses that proved as eager to resume their journey as were they.
They knew three days of rain as they traveled, three days during which they barely made ten miles per day. Finally a day dawned with clear washed skies and the sound of dripping foliage much muted over what it had been, and the chief of their guard agreed that they should perhaps remain where they were one more day so that muddy clothing could be washed in the pool that had widened about the nearby stream and hung up to dry, and so that they might perhaps do some hunting to lighten the load on their stores for a time.
Pippin Gamgee-Gardner ended up on washing detail with Radagast and the Prince's valet, while Perry and Merry went foraging for greenstuffs with a younger guard, and Faramir Took, armed with sling and bow, joined the hunting party with Eldarion and three of the Guardsmen.
"That looks to be a Gondorian bow," commented one of the guards to the Hobbit.
Farry smiled. "It is. After the war apparently many families chose to sell the training bows that they had kept for the children of their houses, and my father bought up a number of them to take home to the Shire to add to the number of bows in the Shire Militia's arsenal. When I began to train with the archers I found I always favored this bow, so it's become my own, and I brought it away with me on this journey south. I'm not much good with a sword, my leg gimped up as it is, but I'm more than passable as a bowman."
"How was it your leg was injured?"
"A riding accident when I was a lad. I was allowed to go with several of my Brandybuck and Took cousins on a camping party into the Binbole Forest, and on our second day my pony shied at a snake that we startled in a clearing and threw me. Uncle Berilac splinted the leg as best he could, but apparently didn't do as well as he might have done. The leg had already begun to knit by the time we returned to the healers, and my mother refused to allow them to rebreak the leg so as to splint it properly this time. And Eldarion's father agreed that she was probably right to do so, as there was no guarantee that it would have been much better set by that time."
"Lord Elessar is wise in such matters," the guard agreed, and they went on more quietly in search of prey.
An hour after the hunting party left, Radagast's wolf paused in lapping up a drink, going suddenly on alert. The doe also stopped browsing the grass that grew near the pool where those doing laundry labored, gave a soft slub of a noise, and faded back into the nearby trees.
The valet looked from where the doe had been to Radagast. "What has disturbed them?" he asked.
The Wizard kept his head slightly cocked, obviously listening intently, before saying softly, "We are being watched. Do not worry—I detect no malice in the watchers. Merely continue on as you are."
A moment later the gyrfalcon dropped onto Radagast's shoulder, followed closely by a titmouse that twittered excitedly in his other ear. The falcon spread its wings and hissed at the smaller bird.
"Stop that!" Radagast cautioned the raptor. "Now, you were saying, my dear?" he said to the titmouse.
The gyrfalcon pointedly turned away from the Brown Wizard's face and mantled before sulkily preening its chest feathers while Radagast continued listening to the titmouse. Pippin, however, had gone rather still, as if he'd heard something, before he began energetically working at a spot on the pair of leggings he'd been cleaning. Without turning his head he whispered to the valet, "Someone just exclaimed, 'Did you see that?' He's right—we're being watched!"
Even the valet heard a sudden giggling from bushes across the pool from where they were working, and he found it difficult to pretend not to be aware of watching eyes. Shortly after, Perry and Merry returned carrying bulging collection bags and dropped down beside Pippin, who looked up to catch his brother's eyes.
"And what all did you find?" the younger Gamgee-Gardner asked.
"Well," Perry began, "we found some very nice asparagus, and some excellent dandelions for greens. And a lovely patch of mushrooms."
"And you are certain they are all right for eating?" Pippin asked.
"They're common button mushrooms," Merry assured him. "But there was something particularly interesting about the mushroom patch."
"What was that?"
Merry gave a twisted smile. "It had already had some mushrooms picked when we found it," he said in low tones.
"Is that so?" asked Radagast, turning his attention from the two birds. "Well, I do believe we should hang these out to dry and return to the camp. Did you manage to find some currents, by the way? The titmouse is particularly fond of them."
"We hadn't picked any yet, but I think I spotted a bush over that way," Perry said, waving in the general direction of the opposite side of the pool.
There could be heard a soft Ooh! and the bushes rustled. And was that the sound of boots on the path?
Those at the side of the pool exchanged glances as they rose. Perry and Merry helped drape wet clothing over low branches and nearby bushes, and the five turned toward the main campsite. Halfway back Merry and Pippin slipped off the path and out of sight while the others spoke with those of the Guardsmen who'd remained there, assuring them that the clothing should be dry shortly, as warm and dry as the day was proving. There were pleasant comments in return, and all busied themselves about the camp, waiting for the two young Hobbits to indicate what they'd found.
And what they found….
"I don't know what I'm to do about these children!" fumed Sage to herself as she hurried down the path toward the stream. "They know we mustn't show ourselves! Who knows who these are who are camping down by the stone road?" She pulled her shawl more closely about her shoulders, pausing for a mere instant, and turned white when a young wild pig came crashing through the woods and ran across the path right in front of her, squealing shrilly in distress.
"It almost ran me down!" she exclaimed aloud. "Oh, dear—the children! What if one of the pigs should run right over them?" She began running forward half panicked, only to find herself running right into an armed Man who came out of the woods in the wake of the pig. She gave a shriek of terrified startlement, and found herself being enfolded in the Man's arms.
"No!" she cried. "Let me go! The children! I must get to the children! You must let us go—we've not done any harm to you!"
"What is this?" asked another voice, one that in spite of sounding young was yet filled with a level of authority that caused Sage to go still in the clutch of the Man who held her.
"It's a girl!" the Man holding her said.
Why that caused Sage to lose her fear she could not later say, but suddenly she was furious. "I am no child!" she insisted. "Now, let me go!"
When he did so she almost lost her footing. Somehow she managed to stay upright and glared up into his surprised face. "I am sorry," he began apologizing. But others followed him out of the trees and were gathering about them, three more Men and a boy. A boy, was it? No!
"Stars and Moon!" she whispered, suddenly leaning against the Man who'd held her and clutching at his near leg with a level of desperation. "Another Hobbit!"
Years of cooperation in both labor and mischief allowed Merry and Pippin Gamgee-Gardner to work together with little need for direct communication. They worked their way swiftly and soundlessly uphill of the suspect bushes, and then slipped back downward until they found themselves standing behind two kneeling figures whose attention was directed toward the path to the campsite. Not until the watchers turned to question one another as to whether they should change their place did they realize they were no longer alone, for there were two full-grown Hobbits, although clearly barely of adult status, behind them, each with a sword at his waist, their arms crossed and their expressions stern. "You two are curious about us, are you?" asked the older of the two Hobbits.
The other's eyebrows rose. "Now, this is quite the surprise!" he commented.
Those in the campsite looked up as two parties joined them from different directions, as the sons of Samwise Gamgee led in two children and those with Prince Eldarion and Faramir Took arrived accompanied by a Hobbitess. One of the children broke away from Pippin and hurried to the Hobbitess. "Mummy!" the child cried. "They caught us spying on them! And they're Hobbits, like us!"
"But not all of them are," spluttered the child's mother. "As for what's to become of us now that we're no longer secret I have not any idea in Middle Earth!"
"It's all right," the other child said, brushing some of the hair from her beard out of her mouth. "These Men are with Hobbits, after all. You don't have to worry, Mistress Sage. They already know about Hobbits, you see—these Hobbits trust these Men. They're not prisoners—they're friends!"
The valet was shaking his head in astonishment. "Hobbits! Hobbits, here in the valley of the Anduin, and in company with a Dwarf's child!"
Peregrin Took, the Thain of the Shire, listened in surprise and growing delight to the report given him by his son, his cousin's son, and the two of the Mayor's sons who'd just returned from Gondor. "You mean, that after all of these years, we finally know what happened to Uncle Hildifons?" he demanded.
Faramir beamed. "Yes—he traveled over the Misty Mountains in company with Radagast the Brown, somehow found the few Hobbits from the river valley who'd managed to escape the attentions of both Sauron's creatures and Saruman's agents, and brought them together higher up in the mountains where they settled near a small community of Dwarves that mine copper ore. And all did their best to remain hidden from any other of the peoples of Middle Earth, doing so successfully for better than a century! And while Uncle Isengar was sailing the Sea in search for him, Uncle Hildifons was well inland and never dreamed that this was what his younger brother would do!"
"And you are certain that they are related to us?" queried Diamond.
"If you could have heard the lad we found reciting his family tree you'd not ask that, Mum. Hildifons Took the Second, son of Everard Took and Sage Hillock Took, Everard being the son of Isengar Took and Platina Bywater Took, Isengar being the son of Forodor Took and Crocus Gladdenstream Took, Forodor Took being the son of Hildifons Took and Lemongrass Brownstream Took, Hildifons being the son of Gerontius Took and Adamanta Took of the Great Smial in the Green Hills country of the Shire. They're our kinsmen, all right! And we found them in company with a Dwarf child of a clan that Uncle Gimli wasn't aware existed! As soon as we were certain, Radagast sent a raven off to Erebor to summon Gimli, who arrived in a matter of days. He's so excited, and Dorlin son of Dwalin tells us that his father alone appears to have been aware of the settlement, and wrote of it in his personal journal he began keeping after the Dragon was vanquished.
"And little Hildifons's uncle Boregrin wants to come here and see where his great-great-grandfather came from! He's getting ready now, and should come next summer some time. He expects to leave there in the spring, as soon as the passes are cleared! Who knows—perhaps the whole clan might someday decide to remove here to the Shire? Or maybe we will have Hobbits living on both sides of the Misty Mountains, only now in direct communication with one another!"
Later in the evening Pippin repaired to what had been the Old Took's study, and standing in the midst of the room recited aloud the news given him earlier in the day. "We've made the notations in Old Yellowskin," he added. "At long, long last the lost has been found, Grandda. We know at last where Hildifons went, and that in his way he was as much a leader of Hobbits as you were. You can rest easily at last, you and Grandmum."
And it seemed to him that the room seemed more filled with light when he left it to return to his own quarters to go to bed with his beloved wife.