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In the Court of the High King  by Dreamflower


In the Court of the High King


In the small room that he had prepared as an office, Aragorn removed his crown and mantle of state, and sat back in the comfortable chair behind the battered table he used as a desk.  As usual, he had a stack of documents to read, many of which would need to be signed and sealed by him.

Court had been uneventful this day.  Some of the lords from outlying lands had arrived, with gifts to present.  And the Weaver’s guild had complaints about the fees of the Merchant’s guild over woolens.  As soon as he had dealt with the various scrolls demanding his attention, he could go to his private apartments, where he and Arwen could share their customary day-meal in peace and privacy.

There was a rap upon the door.  Sighing, he called out “Enter!”

It was Faramir.  He wore a wide smile.  “My lord King?”

Aragorn nodded, and Faramir came in and shut the door.

“News?” asked the King.

“They have passed the Rammas Echor,” he said.  They should be here before sunset.”

Aragorn laughed aloud.  “Very well.  It will be too late today—they will be tired and hungry.  Send word to have everything ready for their arrival.”


In the Court of the High King

Chapter 1

Freddy took a deep breath, and glanced over at Beri, who bit his lip, and nodded.

They had done it. Here they were, about to be announced to the High King; behind him stood the other hobbits of the delegation. He heard Jolly cough nervously, and he could tell they were fidgeting. Soon they would be walking through those immense doors into the throne room.

He had thought this would be easier, after meeting the King of Rohan, and their time in Edoras. But that was before he had his first glimpse of Minas Tirith.

The White City had lived up to its name--it had glittered in the Sun from miles away. Dwarfed at first by the mountains behind it, they had not realized how very large it was until they grew closer. Then as they approached and saw its true immensity, he had begun to feel very small indeed. He had never in his wildest imaginings thought anything built by hands could be so grand and imposing.

Pippin loved this place. But he too had felt small and frightened, he had told Freddy, as he and Gandalf had ridden past the Rammas Echor and across the Pelennor. “And then I saw the Sun rise as dawn broke, and I couldn’t help but just cry out, it was so lovely! The towers were glittering like diamonds and the walls gleamed like pearls! I never knew there was such a place in the world!”

But his cousin had been on his way from one deadly peril into another, and the shadow of war was not something that Freddy and his companions would have to face.   

They had paused briefly at Snowmane’s Howe, to remember the great deed that Merry and the Lady Éowyn had done. Not far away was the dead blackened spot where the monstrous fell beast had been burned. For quite some time after that, the whole group had travelled in silence, their minds full of the fearful things that their friends had endured.

Then they’d approached the City, and once more they’d been rendered dumbstruck by the sheer immensity of it all. What had been even more intimidating had been the gathering of cheering crowds who greeted their arrival and their journey up through the City.

That had been yesterday.  It had been late in the day when they had arrived, far too late to seek a proper audience with the King. 

The group had been met at the Gates by another escort of Guardsmen, and a Man who introduced himself as Master Ondahil.  

“I am the King’s chamberlain,” he had explained.  “When the King realised you would not arrive before evening, he thought you would like a chance to eat, and to rest.  You all will have your audience with him tomorrow at the third hour.”

They had been led, up and up, all the way to the Sixth Circle.  A large house, built of the same white stone as the rest of the City, surrounded a courtyard.  There the six hobbits of the delegation, Mistress Poppy and Viola dismounted.  Their ponies were led away, as were Clodio and Dago.  The other hobbits affected not to notice the terrified expressions of the two prisoners as they were separated from the rest, and taken to their own, less hospitable accommodations.

“This is the guesthouse that was granted to the King’s companions after the Coronation,” Master Ondahil said.  “It has now been designated as the official embassy for the Shire, and outfitted for the comfort of pheriannath… “The Man flushed, and corrected himself, “that is to say, for hobbits.”

A splendid and hearty meal had been laid, and the hobbits were served a supper that was more than satisfactory, by a Man and his wife, Avor and Tadiel, who were to dwell in the upper floor as their servants.

On the lower floor, sleeping chambers had been added—four of them, each one with two hobbit-sized beds and other furniture built especially for them.  There were also two bathing-rooms.

The weary travellers had been only too glad to fall into their beds.  Freddy and Berilac were given the largest of the four rooms.  Berilac turned on his side, and was soon sound asleep, but Freddy lay awake for some time, wondering about the morning’s audience, and what the King would think of them…

Now he ran his finger under his collar, and then took yet another deep breath.

Then the huge doors before which they stood flung open wide and a Man in the livery of the King beckoned them to come forward, to stand together in the doorway.

Freddy remembered Pippin's description of the room as he first had seen it.  And now here it was, imposing in its majesty.  It was a great hall, more than four times the size of the hall at Meduseld.  Huge windows and high pillars of black stone flanked the room on either side.  A number of Big Folk stood to each side, and behind them were the statues of Men, solemn and stern-faced, which Pippin had described to him.  At the end of the room, across what seemed to the hobbits to be a vast distance of polished marble floor, atop many steps was a huge throne beneath a carven canopy.  The High King sat there in all his majesty, his crown gleaming.  Behind him, with one hand upon his shoulder, stood the most beautiful creature Freddy had ever beheld.  Now he could understand the look he had seen in Pippin’s eyes, one day when he’d tried to explain the Queen to his friends.  No, thought, Freddy, no words would do her justice…

Upon the bottom step was another seat, a large chair carved of black stone.  A Man sat there, garbed in grey and white, holding a white rod.  Freddy knew this was the Steward, Prince Faramir. 

The hobbits waited nervously to be called by the King’s Herald, first the delegation as a whole would be called, and then each of them would be introduced in turn.  The herald stood to the right, at the bottom of the steps, a plump fellow of middle-years, clad in a long voluminous robe of dark grey.  Over it he wore a tabard of black.  It was broidered on the chest with the emblem of the White Tree, and on the left shoulder was a small round badge of blue, with two golden trumpets crossed—that was his badge of office.  Freddy found himself very grateful for the days of instruction he and the others had from Prince Amrothos on the journey here, on matters of court etiquette.

The herald’s stentorian voice boomed forth, filling the vast space easily.  “We call into the presence of the King the delegation from the Shire!”

The hobbits walked forward, stopping about halfway, as they had been instructed, to give a little half-bow.  Then they waited to be called one by one.

“Master Fredegar Bolger, head of the delegation!”

Freddy walked forward, and about half a rod from the steps, he gave a full bow, and then knelt, as he had been instructed.  As he did, he caught the eye of the Steward, who gave the tiniest of smiles of approval.

“Master Berilac Brandybuck!”

Freddy resisted the urge to turn his head and look.  He could not hear Beri approaching until he knelt by Freddy’s right side.  Freddy gave him a brief glance.  Beri looked calm enough, but Freddy had come to know him well on the journey here, and he could spot the signs of nervousness in the tautness around his eyes.

“Master Mosco Burrows!”

Mosco soon was kneeling at Freddy’s left.  Freddy shot a look at him—Mosco was pale, and he was biting his lip, but otherwise seemed well.

“Master Wilcome Cotton!”

“Master Denham Banks the younger!”

“Master Rollin Banks!”

As each was called, Freddy knew that they would come forward to kneel behind those already there.  He could sense their presence behind him, and he heard the rather heavy breathing of one—he thought it might be Rolly.

“Mistress Poppy Burrows, a healer of the Shire, and her apprentice, Miss Viola Harfoot!”

He heard the swish of skirts, as the healer and her apprentice presented their curtseys, and he heard the faint grunt Mistress Poppy made as she knelt.  He fancied he could hear her knee pop a bit as well.

From what Freddy had been told by Prince Amrothos, the next step of the protocol was for the Steward to welcome them on behalf of the King, after which they would be allowed to rise and leave the presence.  Instead, the Steward stood, and looked up the steps.

There was a stir among the gathered crowd of courtiers.  This was not the usual procedure, and Freddy wondered if they had somehow done something wrong.  He looked up, to see the King rise, and offer his arm to the Queen.  Together, they gracefully descended the steps, and walked towards the kneeling hobbits.  Freddy looked up into a pair of grey eyes, filled with warmth and kindness.

“Hobbits of the Shire, on behalf of the people of Gondor, and in honour of your friends and kin who were Our Companions in the War, We bid you welcome to Minas Tirith.”  The King bent and offered his hand to Freddy.  “Rise, and take your places in Our Court.” The Queen offered her hand to a stunned Mosco, who was very nearly too frozen in surprise to take it, while the Steward offered his hand to Berilac.  The three then assisted the other hobbits to rise, the King himself offering both hands to Mistress Poppy, and giving her support as she stood.

There was an instant of shocked silence, as the hobbits slowly stood, and then there was a deafening sound of applause throughout the assembly.


Chapter 2

The evening before...

Clodio Banks felt decidedly green as the Guardsman with whom he rode turned away from the place where Fredegar Bolger and the delegation had been left.  He was riding with Borondir; he glanced over at Dago, who was in front of one of the newer Guardsmen who had met the group in Edoras.  Clodio did not remember this one’s name.  He wondered if he looked as terrified as the Bracegirdle did. 

His mouth was dry, and he felt a roiling in the pit of his belly.  He had been spared the dungeon in Edoras, mostly due to Mistress Poppy’s interference, but she had declared that he was mostly recovered from the heart problems that had set upon him when they entered Rohan.  He wondered what a dungeon would be like.  Dago had refused to answer his questions on the subject.

On the journey from Edoras to Gondor, Dago had at least been more civil to him.  They had held occasional conversations on safe topics, such as guessing how far the day’s travel would be, speculating on the meals, or the weather.  Both of them had ignored what was uppermost in their minds: their fate at the hands of the High King.  And both of them had also ignored their grievances with one another.

Clodio was not sure he would ever forgive Dago for turning Clovis against him; and of course Dago still blamed him and his sons for the actions that had brought their own activities to light.  But since they were more or less alone—for the other hobbits studiously ignored them, except for an occasional world from the Bolger—it would have been entirely too bleak to forego one another’s company altogether.

The thought of his sons brought another ache to Clodio’s heart.  He had ruined their lives.  Clovis had been scornful in their last encounter, and let his father know it.  Clodio found himself worried about his older son—Clovis was every bit as stubborn as he had been at that age, and he had to admit, far more spoiled.  Cado seemed to have forgiven him, though, and Clodio held out hope that perhaps his younger son’s life would not be entirely miserable.  But he could see no future for either of them, banished from the Shire as they were.

The horses were steadily continuing upward, something else that brought a shudder to the hobbit.  He looked up, and saw looming before them a massive structure, casting a shadow into which they now entered.  The horses stopped at a gate that pierced a wide stone wall, and Borondir dismounted and lifted him down.  He could see that Dago’s guard did the same, and that all the other Guardsmen also dismounted.  Another Man came to lead all the horses away, and Clodio and Dago were shepherded along towards the vast building ahead of them.  Clodio looked up—he could not see the top of any of the towers, for they were too close.  To his left, he could see a courtyard, a fountain playing beneath a tree.  But they were led to the right, and around the perimeter of the outer wall.  There a smaller door led into the vast building which he had learned was called the Citadel.

They entered into a passageway, and turned to a room to the right.  It seemed a very large room to Clodio, though he supposed the Men might find it small.

Two Men stood there, one an older Man, grizzled and bearing a scar upon his cheek, who was dressed in the livery of the Guard, the other a younger Man, with a face so noble and stern and wise that Clodio was certain he must be the King—but no…

“My Lord Steward, Captain Beleg,” said Captain Targon.  “Here are the two prisoners we have brought from the Shire, accused of treachery to their own people and therefore banished from their land, and accused of collusion with the wizard Saruman, and therefore brought to the King, that the extent of their guilt might be judged.”

“This one—“ he waved a hand, and the guard brought Dago forward.  Dago was as white as Clodio had ever seen him, and he was sweating profusely, in spite of the chill of the evening, “is named Dago Bracegirdle.”

The Steward turned his eyes on Dago, who met them only briefly before looking away.

“And this one—“  Clodio felt Borondir’s large hands upon his shoulders, as he was given a slight shove forward, “is named Clodio Banks.”

Now Clodio tried to meet those stern grey eyes, but he too found he could not hold that gaze, and dropped his own eyes to his toes.  He was reminded all too uncomfortably of the look in Frodo Baggins’ eyes when his collaborations with Lotho had been uncovered.  He felt his heart begin to race, and he grew light-headed, swaying beneath Borondir’s grip.

“Is he ill?” he heard the Steward ask, as if from a far distance.

He felt Borondir lift him, and could hear the voices of the other Men, though he could not hear them well for the roaring in his ears.  But after an instant, he felt someone holding water to his lips, and then he realised he was being offered a few drops of the medicine that was kept for him, which Mistress Poppy had prescribed.

“Do we need to take him to the Houses of Healing?”

“The medicine that Mistress Poppy gave me for him should take effect soon.  Perhaps it would be wise to send for a healer, but I do not think he needs to go to the Houses, my Lord,” said Borondir.

He swallowed the medicine and the water, and then licked his lips.  Summoning up the nerve to speak, he said “I will be all right in a few minutes.  The medicine will soon put me right.”

“Very well, Master Banks.”  The Steward made a gesture, and Borondir placed him in a chair.  It was far too large, but he pulled his legs up onto the seat and rested his head on his knees.  He was already beginning to feel sleepy—an effect of the medicine.

Clodio must have dozed off, for the next thing he knew, he found himself waking up in a large cot.

“Well, look who’s back in the land of the living.”  Clodio glanced over and saw another, identical cot, on which Dago sat. 

“How long have I slept?” he asked.

Dago sniffed.  “About two hours, I’d say.  I’m glad you are awake.  There was a young Man here, they said he was a healer.  He said to feed you when you woke up, and so of course they are waiting to feed me at the same time.” 

Clodio gazed at the room.  If they had been Men it would have been very small.  There was nothing in it at all but the two cots, and only about a foot between them.  The walls and floor were of bare stone.  There was a window.   He blinked and shook his head, and looked at the window again.  “The window?” he asked.

Dago gave a bark of bitter laughter.  “The window, yes!  No bars on it, and too small for a Man to crawl through, but nothing that would stop a hobbit.  Except…”

“Except what?”

“I stood on my bed to look out.  There is a sheer drop below this window of hundreds of feet!”  He gave a shudder.

“What?  They brought us to the top of the tower?”

“No, the rooms on this side are built against the outer walls of this level.  They’ve no need to worry about anyone without wings making an escape through the window.”

“What good would it do to escape?” asked Clodio bleakly. “We can never go home again.”


Faramir returned to his office in a thoughtful mood.  Tomorrow the King would officially receive the delegation from the Shire.  He smiled at the thought of how that was going to go—one more chance for Elessar to do away with some of the more constraining formalities of the Gondorian court.  It would scandalize some to see the King descend the steps and personally welcome the hobbits.  But it would be popular with even more of the people. 

The Stewards had done their best over the centuries to preserve the kingdom for the eventual return of a King—but in preserving it, they had allowed much to simply stultify.  Gondor had grown dusty and dry and stiff—only the rigours of the fight against the Enemy had kept the White City alive.  His father had the weight of tradition on his back, and that, Faramir sometimes thought, as much as the fight against Sauron, had helped to make his father the hard man he had become. 

Now the King had, in fact, returned.  There had been jubilation in the initial aftermath of victory—the City had celebrated like none had known in living memory, from the time the Eagles announced the astounding news that the Dark Lord had been overthrown, through the coronation and the beauty of a regal wedding, the people had been carried on a tide of unexpected good fortune. 

Then the celebration had wound down, and the people of Gondor were faced with building anew, and with having a King instead of a Steward.  For some among the upper echelons of the Gondorian nobility, it meant digging out dusty tomes of protocol as to how things had been done in the days of the old kings.  Instead of moving forward into a new Age, they seemed determined to turn the clock back almost a thousand years.

At first, Elessar and his Queen had wryly accepted the restrictions, in an effort to bring the more hide-bound factions gradually forward.  But many of the old customs chafed, and some were simply no longer an option in this new world in which Sauron was no more.

And if anything could help the King to wake up the City, it would be the presence of hobbits!

Still, these two hobbits in particular could prove a problem.  Not one beyond Elessar’s wisdom to deal with, Faramir was certain, but a problem nevertheless. 

And tomorrow, after the delegation had been received, they would have a word with Master Fredegar Bolger about what might be done with Master Dago Bracegirdle and Master Clodio Banks.


Chapter 3

When court had ended, the King and Queen departed.  The hobbits soon found themselves surrounded by curious Big Folk.  But Freddy and Berilac were drawn aside by the Steward.

“The King wishes a private word with the two of you, Master Bolger and Master Brandybuck, regarding the two exiles you have brought to him for judgement.”

Freddy and Beri nodded, and followed Prince Faramir through a side door to the huge room, and down a short corridor.  A guard stood in front of a door, but he gave a nod to the Steward, who opened it, and ushered the two hobbits in.

The King sat behind a large and rather battered table.  To one side was a somewhat untidy stack of papers, and to the other side a lamp, unlit as it was unneeded in the light of day, which poured in through large windows on the wall to the right of the door.  But most of the table was bare.  A bookshelf crammed with volumes was behind the King’s chair, and atop it rested the winged crown he had worn before.  Now he bore only a simple silver filet, with a gem in a star-like setting.  His mantle of state hung from a hook upon the wall, and he wore a simple sleeveless doublet of dark grey velvet.  The sleeves of his white shirt beneath had been pushed up to the elbows.

Freddy and Beri started to bow, but he shook his head, and waved a hand.  “In this room I indulge myself by waiving formality,” he said.

There was one large chair next to the table, besides the one in which he sat, but then Freddy noticed that Faramir had moved to a corner and was bringing two smaller chairs forward—there had been four of them there.  The chairs were higher in the seat than the large chair, but had rungs placed so as to make it easy for a hobbit to clamber up, and the seats were smaller, sized for hobbits.  Freddy blinked in surprise.

Berilac, however, grinned.  “I suppose those are chairs you had made for our cousins and Sam!” he said, his eyes twinkling.

“You suppose rightly, Master Brandybuck!  Please, be seated.”

The two hobbits found it was a simple matter to use the rungs and climb up into the chairs, which were quite comfortable, though having his toes dangling above the floor made Freddy feel somewhat like a child again.

Faramir sat as well, in the other big chair, and the King leaned back.

He smiled at them, and Freddy was once more struck by just how much his smile transformed his rugged face.  “I am happier than I can say to see all of you arrive safely here. “  He picked up a letter that lay atop the stack of papers, and Freddy recognized Frodo’s distinctive hand.  “Frodo writes most fondly and highly of all of you.  I look forward to getting to know you.”

Freddy found his voice.  It was impossible to remain timid in the face of such good will.  “And we are looking forward to getting to know you, sire.”

Elessar nodded.  “Unfortunately, we also have the matter of Clodio Banks and Dago Bracegirdle to deal with.  Captain Targon delivered the dispatch case last night, containing many of the documents that Frodo and the Thain had found, concerning the dealings of these two.”

Freddy and Beri nodded.  Both of them had seen these troubling documents, detailing the partnership that Clodio Banks and Dago Bracegirdle had entered into with Lotho Sackville-Baggins.  It was quite clear that Clodio had been motivated by ambition for the Banks family, while Dago had been motivated mostly by simple greed.  Lotho had not exerted the sort of pressure on them as he had with a few other “investors”, who had found themselves fearing for their families.

“From what I can tell, Lotho Sackville-Baggins invited Dago into the partnership on the strength of his relationship to his mother, and it was Dago who then encouraged Clodio to join in on the scheme.”

“I know,” said Freddy, “that the three of them bought up a good deal of property that should not have been sold.”

“In addition to that, I have papers that were confiscated from Isengard.  These detail the dealings that Saruman had with the Shire from his end.  Did you know that Saruman had been dealing with the Bracegirdles in the Southfarthing for over sixty years before Gandalf suspected the presence of the Ring in the Shire?”

Freddy’s jaw dropped in shock.  “How can that be?” he asked.

“Apparently, it was Gandalf’s own interest in the Shire that drew Saruman’s attention.  He began to build commercial ties with the pipe-weed growers of the Southfarthing.  He was known to them as “Mr. White”, and he sent his agents there to buy pipe-weed and other commodities.  His purchases were small at first, but he paid higher prices for them than was usual. The earliest mention we have dates to 2953, when we have a letter from the head of the Bracegirdles at the time, to him.”

“Shire Reckoning 1353,” said Berilac.  “Why that’s only about ten years after Bilbo returned from his Adventure!”

“Did he suspect the Ring was in the Shire at the time?” Freddy asked.

The King shook his head.  “No, he had been spying on Gandalf, and had noticed his visits there.  I believe at the time it was merely suspicion of his fellow wizard that drew his attention.”

“But leaf was going out of the Shire in great quantities at least a year before Gandalf returned to give Frodo the news of the Ring!”  Freddy remembered how his rebels had discovered this fact when they had begun their activities against Lotho.

“That was Lotho’s doing,” said Faramir.  “We found letters from him, in fact, among the papers in Isengard.”

The King reached into the stack again, and drew forth another letter:

”4 Solmath, S.R. 1416

1 Longbottom Lane

Southfarthing, The Shire

Dear Mr. White,

You have been recommended to me by the Family Head of my mother’s people, my uncle Mr. Bruno Bracegirdle, as someone who has an interest in the pipe-weed trade.  I am aware that you have been buying exclusively through the Bracegirdles, but I am hoping that you might consider an expansion of this trade, and I am offering my services as a broker, should you think well of the idea.

I have a good many business and family connexions throughout the Shire, and am well-known for my profitable business dealings here.  I have long thought that the Shire needs to broaden its horizons, and trade beyond our borders is a good way to begin.

Should you be interested, I have already purchased the interest in this season’s harvest of Longbottom Leaf from my cousin Dago Bracegirdle. I would be most pleased if you would consider this proposition.

Sincerely yours,

Lotho Sackville-Baggins”

Freddy sat up sharply.  “I wonder!  I wonder if the mysterious Mr. White had anything to do with the problems of the Bracegirdle family several years ago?”

“Cousin Hugo?” Berilac asked.

Freddy nodded.  “At some point in time, Brutus Bracegirdle-- he was Lobelia's eldest brother-- disowned his own children, Hugo and Hilda, and passed the headship of the family to his younger brother Bruno, who was Dago’s father.  At the time it was thought that it was because Hugo supported the marriage of his sister Hilda to a Brandybuck.  But perhaps there was more to it than that.”

“It’s possible.  Hugo was only a Brandybuck connexion by marriage and not by blood, but he visited Aunt Hilda a lot, and he was always disparaging of the business dealings of his own family. He was the only Bracegirdle relation that Dodi and Ilbie ever really knew growing up.  I know that it used to amuse Cousin Hugo that Lobelia would cut him if she saw him, and she was always angry when he would visit Bilbo.”

“Bilbo was very fond of Hugo, though he would get annoyed when the books he loaned him were not returned.”  Freddy would have continued in this vein, but he noticed that the King was trying to suppress a chuckle.  “I am sorry, sire!  I am afraid family gossip is a sad failing of hobbits.”

“Not at all,” he said, “it reminds me much of Bilbo, and also of Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Sam, who could while away entire evenings with old gossip about their families.”

“At any rate, there were several pieces of correspondence between Lotho and Isengard.  Here is the last one we found:

”30 Halimath, S.R. 1418
Bag End
Hobbiton, The Shire

My dear Mr. White,

In regard to you inquiry as to sending your agents to the Shire to purchase pipeweed, I am in full agreement with you that your own people would be able to negotiate larger purchases than those we are able to do through the intermediaries of the Dwarves.

I believe that if you sent your own Men, not only to see to the purchasing as a few have done in the past, but also, as you have suggested, as carters, or even as those who could work in the pipeweed fields, it would increase the profits, since there would be no need to pay a percentage to the Dwarves.

If you could see your way to sending your people to Sarn Ford, they would find a ready welcome among the plantation owners of the Southfarthing.

I thank you for the suggestion, and look forward to working with you more closely in the future.  Perhaps at some time you might see your way to making a visit to us here.  I have accommodations in my new dwelling in Hobbiton that are meant for the comfort of Big Folk, and I would like very much to show you hospitality.

Sincerely yours,

L. Sackville-Baggins”

Freddy went white, as he read.  Two spots of red appeared on his cheeks, and Berilac said “What is it, Freddy?”

In a tight voice, Freddy said “The date—look at the date!”

“That was the date…” Berilac’s voice trailed off.

“What is wrong?” asked the King.  “What is the significance of that date?”

“It’s the day that the Black Riders invaded Buckland!” said Beri.

“The day they attacked Crickhollow,” added Freddy.  He gave a shudder.  “Lotho had much to answer for.”

The King nodded.  “But he has gone beyond answering to us.  Now we have to discover the culpability of his accomplices.”

“I think,” said Freddy carefully, “that they did not have any idea at all who the mysterious ‘Mr. White’ was.  I do not think that they intended the damage that was done by the Ruffians.  I do think that they knew Lotho’s own practices were dubious, but they decided to ignore that in the name of profit.  I am sure that neither of them thought of what they were doing as treason, although of course, it really was.”

Berilac nodded.  “I am sure that they thought they were simply being sharp in business.  And I am equally sure that while they would not have agreed to the violence that Sharkey’s Ruffians brought, they were not much concerned with the fates of hobbits who were displaced and dispossessed by their doings.”

“They deserved exile,” Freddy added.  “But I do not believe that they deserve, well, the sorts of punishments Men sometimes deal out…”

“You mean death,” said the King bluntly.  “I do have some latitude in sentencing them as accomplices to the doings of the Sackville-Baggins.  Fortunately they committed no violence themselves.  I am glad that the two younger hobbits remain in Rohan.  I am trying to get some of our laws changed, but the injury they did would not have given me any choice in the matter, according to Gondorian law.”

He leaned back, and thought briefly.  “I will give some consideration to the matter.  I believe I will take a week to deliberate the matter and think of what I will do.  I thank you for your frankness.  I know you are hungry.  It is nearly time for nuncheon here.  Please go and find your fellow hobbits, and enjoy the rest of your day.  And I look forward to seeing all of you once more at the feast tonight!”  For the hobbits already knew a great feast of welcoming had been prepared for them.

“Thank you, sire,” said Freddy, relieved.  He had confidence in this King, whose eyes spoke of wisdom and discernment.


Chapter 4  

A page from the citadel, a young boy named Sador, led Freddy and Berilac back to the guesthouse after their meeting with the King, for the other hobbits had already gone back there.

“I think you will soon find your way, master hobbits,” he said.  “Sir Peregrin learned his way around very well in only a short time, and it did not take too much longer for Sir Meriadoc, Lord Frodo and Lord Samwise to learn as well.  But the levels of the City can be confusing to newcomers at first.”

“Did you know my cousins while they were here?” Freddy asked.

Sador nodded, and blushed.  “Sir Peregrin was very kind to me during the siege.”

Freddy and Beri looked interested, so the child took heart, and explained further.  “I was the youngest of the errand lads up at the Houses of Healing.  And I was horribly frightened during the siege.  Sir Peregrin found me hiding away from all the dreadfulness and he talked to me and sang for me and cheered me up.  Afterwards, well, I was one of Bergil’s friends, so I got the chance to spend time with the hobbits sometimes.”  He sighed.  “I miss Bergil.  I wish I could have gone to see Shire when he did.”

Freddy smiled. “The Shire.  I notice that you call us ‘hobbits’ and not pheriain.”

“That is what Sir Pippin said you liked to be called.  I always try to remember!  And the King always says ‘hobbits’!” They took a turn, and there was the guesthouse.  “Farewell, Master Fredegar and Master Berilac!  I am sure I will see you again!”  He waved cheerfully, and then turned and went back the way they had come.

Avor and Tadiel,  the married couple who had been assigned to care for the delegates and see to the guesthouse had prepared a noon meal for all in the dining room.  It had been set up with a hobbit sized table and low benches.  Freddy noted how well the huge house had been adapted to hobbit needs.  But of course, the Gondorians had months to make all the alterations.

Luncheon consisted of salad, a basket of flat bread, a platter of cold meats and cheeses and a large bowl of fruit, some of which did not look at all familiar, but most of which proved refreshing and delicious when sampled.  The food was abundant, and the hobbits set to with gusto.

Tadiel was gratified by their compliments on her cooking, and she blushed and told them what an honour it was to be working for them.  “And I have been told by Master Ondahil that it is the way of your people often to cook for yourselves, so I will not be offended if you wish to prepare some of your own meals.  Just let me know ahead of time when you wish to do so, and I will see to it that you have everything you need!”

“Thank you,” said Freddy.  “We are most grateful for your cooking!  And I am sure it will be a few days before we wish to take on some of it ourselves.”

“But, begging your pardon, Mistress Tadiel, we’d not take it amiss if you’d show us about the kitchen and where everything is, and all,” Jolly put in.

And so after luncheon was finished, she showed them the kitchen.  “Many of the things you see here were done in the months when Lord Frodo and his friends stayed here.”  She pointed out the rolling stepladder which would enable hobbits to reach the upper cupboards, the hobbit-sized pots and pans kept in a chest near the hearth, and the two tables in the center of the room: a large one, sized for Big Folks and a small one sized just right for hobbits.  She also showed them the well-stocked larder, and the cellar where the wine and ale were kept.

After their tour the hobbits retreated to their rooms to begin preparing for the feast that night.  It would begin somewhat earlier than the hobbits would have had their suppers in the Shire, but later than teatime. 


Mistress Poppy and Miss Viola were accorded the first use of the bathing room.  The bathing pool was far different from the common bathtubs of the Shire.  It was of marble, and set into the floor with steps upon which one could sit as one bathed.  The water was piped in—something only seen in the greatest smials in the Shire.  There was piped in water at the Great Smials, a thing which Mistress Poppy had thought quite handy.

As they soaked, Mistress Poppy informed Viola that on the following day, they would be taken to the Houses of Healing, and introduced to some of the healers there, so that they could start doing what they’d come for—to learn of some new healing methods.

“I have to say, Viola, I am really looking forward to this!  But mind you, we need to also keep our hobbit sense about us!  We don’t need to swallow everything they tell us whole!  Keep your eyes and ears open, my lass, and don’t be afraid to ask questions!”

Viola smiled at her mistress’s emphatic words.  She was nervous, she had to admit to herself that much.  These Big Folk all seemed so sure of themselves!  But she was not as fearful as she once had been.  The weeks of travel and the time spent at the court of Meduseld had worn off the edge of her timidity around Big Folk.  At least, their size and their noisy ways no longer made her wince. 

The two went to finish getting ready and to leave the bathing room for the other hobbits.  Viola was looking forward to wearing her blue dress for the first time.  She wondered what Berilac would think of it…


The Gondorians called it the eleventh hour, but by Shire reckoning, it was about five o’ clock, when Master Ondahil and two Guardsmen came to escort them to the feast hall, which they had been told was called “Merethrond”.

“Imagine that,” said Rolly to Denny, “having a name for a room!”

“But,” his brother replied, “it’s not so far-fetched as all that!  Most of the gentry have names for their smials, like Bag End or Brandy Hall.  And you know, these rooms is as big as a whole smial, like as not!”

Rolly chuckled, and admitted he had the right of it.  “I suppose it makes sense at that!”

Once more, the hobbits found themselves waiting to be announced by the herald.  Rolly supposed they would have to get used to it; it seemed that no one ever came before the King without having their name shouted out for all to hear.  It seemed a funny way of doing things to him, but maybe that was because he wasn’t used to it the way the gentry were.  But he kept his da’s words in mind:  ”Lad, I’m sending you off a-cause whether we will or no, we’re gentry now.  You and your brother need to get used to dealing with high folk—and there’s none higher’n the King to my mind.” 

And so Rolly tried to remember that.  But he’d been a working hobbit all his life up to now, and he didn’t suppose he’d ever forget that it was the traitors’ fault he’d been gentrified!  If the former Banks hadn’t’ve been so proud and high and mighty, he’d never’ve thrown his lot in with Old Pimple.  But at least Rolly knew from the Brandybucks, and from some of the other gentry that not all of them were like that.

Soon enough, they were taken to the King’s own High Table, bigger and longer and fancier than the King’s table in Rohan!  At least he and Denny were down near the end.  Mr. Freddy and Mr. Beri was right up there by the King, and Mistress Poppy and Miss Viola was next to the Queen.  Down at the other end was Mosco and Jolly.  No one sat down at first; this was something they’d been told about, and Rolly stood with all of the other folk, looking to the West, for a minute of silence.  It was right solemn, and made him feel rather queer to be a part of it.  Then they sat down and the feast began.

Right by the end of the table, next to Denny was a jolly looking Man.  He had still a bit of ginger amongst the grey hairs on his head, and he smiled at the two hobbits.  “Good evening, Master Rollin and Master Denham! I am Menelcar the Minstrel, at your service,” and he sketched a little seated bow to the brothers.

They offered their service politely in turn, and then looked up eagerly as the servants came with the first of the dishes!

There was white bread and butter, a soup that Menelcar said was called “tredure” – seemingly made up of bread and spices and eggs, raspberry tea and – oh glory! a mushroom-and-cheese pie!

“This is but the first remove,” the minstrel said.  “Though I doubt much that will make a difference to hobbit appetites!  Tell me, how does the Shire fare?  I know that even there the enemy made his presence felt, and it saddens me to think of its fair fields and woodlands spoiled by his evil.”

“You know the Shire?” asked Denny, surprised.

“I was there some years ago, and came to know Sir Peregrin well during his youth—he was but a young tween at the time.”  He launched into the tale of how he’d first met Pippin, and Rolly and Denny found themselves easily able to believe the trouble that Took had nearly caused!

The three spoke pleasantly as the hobbits devoured the delicious food.  Soon enough it was taken away, and more food was brought: stuffed goose, pork meatballs, a cheese-and-onion pie, a delicious salad of greens and fruits dressed with vinegar and sugar, and a pear compote.  Rolly thought it rather an odd combination of dishes, but all were tasty!  The raspberry tea was replaced by wine, which Rolly sipped carefully—ale was more to his taste, and he didn’t wish to overdo and disgrace himself.

“There will be a pause before the next remove, and then the subtleties will be brought,” said Menelcar.  Rolly nodded—they’d had subtleties in Rohan too.  Just another name for extra fanciful afters, so far as he could tell. 

“At any rate, I must prepare to sing for my supper during the pause,” said Menelcar, and he rose, bowed to them, and then went off.  Rolly and Denny returned their attention to their food, but then noticed the room grew silent.  They looked up to see that Menelcar had returned with a harp, and was standing before the King and Queen.

They listened as he launched into a stirring song about the King’s return, though they didn’t understand some of it.  And then he said quietly:

“In honour of the friends and Kinsmen of our saviours, the Lord Frodo, Lord Samwise, Sir Meriadoc and Sir Peregrin, I present this tribute:

"We hearken to the harp and hear
of deeds of Elves and Men…”

By the time Menelcar finished the song all about what the four Travellers had done, Rolly had tears in his eyes.

But they did not last long, for right off, Master Menelcar launched into a jolly song straight from the Shire, that had both Rolly and Denny tapping their toes on the rungs of their chairs!

Then he began to play his harp with no more singing, and some low talk returned.  So did the food.

There was a venison pie, herb fritters, a dish of rice and almonds, little cabbage sprouts*, and an apple-raisin pudding.  They were still eating when Menelcar finished his playing and returned to his seat.

“I’m just in time for the grand finish,” said the minstrel.

“That was some mighty fine music,” said Denny, and then blushed.

“Thank you,” said Menelcar simply.  “Ah!  Here we are!”

With great fanfare, servants were bringing in large pies.  “I have it on good authority,” said Menelcar, “that they are strawberry!”

Rolly, who had thought he had almost eaten enough, found his appetite renewed at the announcement.  Imagine!  Strawberries this time of year!


*another name for brussels sprouts

This feast is described in more detail at Goode Cookery.

It's an actual feast, based on actual period recipes and redacted for modern use.

 A/N:  Some readers may notice that the middle portion of this chapter has appeared before, as an entry in the June Challenge for the GFIC group.  It was posted as "In the Courtyard of the Fountain" at the Challenge's LJ community.  It has not previously appeared here at Stories of Arda. 

Chapter 5

Mosco had enjoyed the feast immensely.  That soup made with bread and spices was like nothing he’d ever eaten before, and the strawberry pie had been every bit as good as any that he’d ever had back home.

And the minstrel’s singing, that had been very moving!  There was something sort of familiar about that Man, but Mosco couldn’t call it to mind at the moment.   

He noticed that servants were beginning to come in, taking things away, and that the people at the lower tables were beginning to rise from their places.

Jolly, who sat to his left, turned to him.  “Mr. Mosco, is it over?”

“I think so, but I’m not sure…”

The elderly woman who sat to Mosco’s right-- the Lady Ivriniel, she was, and Prince Faramir’s aunt—spoke:  “The eating of the feast is ended.  There will be a pause while the Hall is prepared for further festivities.  There will be more singing, and dancing as well.  Most people will take this opportunity to walk about, converse with others and refresh themselves.  If you will pardon me, Master Burrows, I am going to do so myself.  Perhaps we may speak again later in the evening.”

“Thank you, Lady Ivriniel,” he replied politely.  “I have enjoyed our conversation.”

She sailed away with great dignity.  Mosco had enjoyed their talk.  For the first time he had met someone of the Big Folk who truly seemed as interested in family lines as hobbits were.  She had responded to his polite queries about her connexions with Faramir in great detail, and had listened attentively to his own explanations of his relationship to Frodo and the others.  She reminded him a good deal of old Aunt Dora.  She had been his mother’s third cousin on the Baggins side, and had passed away when he was only nineteen.  Lady Ivriniel seemed a kindly sort, at any rate. 

Jolly had clambered down from his own chair.  “I’m going to go find Rolly and Denny and see if they want to take a breath of air, Mr. Mosco, and maybe have a pipe.”

Mosco nodded.  He watched Jolly make his way through the milling crowd of Big Folk, and felt rather small.  A breath of air sounded just the thing, though he thought he might rather be alone for a while.  He had a lot to think about.  This City, these people, the things he had learned about his own people’s sacrifices… he had always admired Frodo Baggins, but he had never been especially close to him, not like Pippin and Merry always had been.  Yet he had always respected him as a solid and dependable person, well-suited to be Master of the Hill, and the Baggins of the Bagginses.  He recalled how surprised he had been when Frodo had seemed to vanish off on a mad Adventure the way old Bilbo had!  His mother had been most upset with her cousin, though his father had subscribed to the rather dark popular opinion that Frodo had done no such thing, but had been done away with by some of Lotho’s big Ruffians.  “If he didn’t have Frodo and his cousins murdered outright, then he had them chased into the Old Forest, which amounts to the same thing in the end!” To which his mother had replied ”If he had not moved off to the wilds of Buckland that would never have happened either.”  His father had said no more about that—after all, he was half Brandybuck and Frodo’s own first cousin on that side of the family, something his mother tried to ignore.

The evening was pleasantly cool, and he found himself wandering in the direction of the Courtyard of the Fountain, for there was something he wanted to see.


Berilac had been delighted to recognize Menelcar when the minstrel stepped up to sing.  He had met the bard when Menelcar had enjoyed the hospitality of Brandy Hall for a few days before leaving the Shire.  The song about Frodo and the others brought him to tears, and he found himself blinking furiously at the end.  It was maddening to realise how little the hobbits of the Shire understood about what the Travellers had done while they were away.  He knew of a few people—some who really should have known better—who thought that the four had somehow “had it easy” because they were gone during the Troubles!

“It is a moving and humbling song, is it not, Master Brandybuck?” Faramir asked.  He was seated at Berilac’s right; Freddy was on his left side, between Beri and the King.  Someone had told the hobbits that normally Faramir himself sat by the King.

“It is,” he said.  But then the musical interlude was ended, and the two were taken up by the remaining food being served.  Beri grinned up at the Steward.  “Your cooks know how to please hobbits,” he said.

Faramir laughed.  “I am glad to hear that.  I know there had been some trepidation in the kitchens among the staff there, for fear that they could not live up to hobbit reputations!”

Berilac noticed the tables being cleared and moved.  “What happens now?” he asked.

“Why the musicians will set up, and there will be singing and dancing!”

Beri’s face lit up, and he could not avoid casting a look down the table where Viola sat with her mistress, on the other side of the Queen.  “Dancing?  Do you suppose there will be any dances we know?”

Faramir smiled.  “I do not doubt it, Master Brandybuck, since Menelcar made the arrangements.  I take it that you look forward to dancing with the fair Miss Viola?”

He blushed, but laughed.  “And what if I do?” he asked cheekily.

“I wish you joy of it,” said the Steward, “but, alas, my lady wife is in Ithilien.  So I will forego the dancing this night.  And tomorrow I ride back to her, to spend some time there.”

“I hope you have a safe journey, my lord.”

“Thank you, Master Brandybuck.  I will look forward to seeing you when I return in a few weeks’ time.”  He rose from his seat, and gave a polite half-bow before walking away.

Berilac smiled, slid down from his perch on his own chair, and went to speak to Viola.


Mosco stood with his hands clasped behind his back. The only sound was the music of the fountain. It trickled soothingly beneath the slender boughs above it. The evening was young and only a few stars had made an appearance in the East, while in the West there was still the faintest rosy tinge of sunset still painting the horizon. The White Tree nearly glowed in the twilight. He'd heard it called "White", but he'd never known before how many sorts of "white" there could be. The bark of the trunk was striated in very pale shades and textures, from smooth to rough. There was an opalescent silver sheen to the underside of the leaves, but the upper sides were a velvety dark green, scarcely visible due to the myriad of snowy blossoms that nearly obscured the leaves altogether. He tried to ignore the forms of the Guardsmen, who were as still and silent as the statues he'd seen in the King's Throne Room. It was rather unnerving, and somewhat unnatural to see living things be so very still. He glanced over at one of them, at the gleaming silver and white embroidery against the black of his livery and then looked again.

"It's not quite what I expected," he muttered to himself as he stared at the young Tree.

"And what did you expect, Master Burrows?" asked a low voice behind him.

Mosco jumped, startled nearly out of his wits, for he had not heard the Man coming up so close. He turned, blushing to the tip of his ears. It was Prince Faramir! How embarrassing, to be caught gawking at the Tree and talking to himself by the Steward! "P-prince Faramir, I-- I--" he stammered, and then stopped, feeling himself flush even more.

"I am sorry, Master Burrows, I did not mean to interrupt you, or to intrude on you. I often come out to look upon the White Tree, and was pleased to see you here doing the same."

"N--no, my Lord! I- I mean you're not intruding..." He took a deep breath and straightened up. "What did I expect? I expected it to be beautiful, and it is. And I expected it to be white. And it is. But I didn't expect it to be so treelike, although I know it's a tree. But--" He stopped again, trying to explain what he meant. He looked up, and the Prince gave him a kindly and encouraging smile. He furrowed his brow, as he tried to gather the right words. "I guess I expected something more like, well--" he stopped and gestured at one of the silent Guardsmen with one hand, and at his chest with the other. "I thought it might look like the Tree does on the uniforms and on the banner, perfectly shaped with all the boughs even on both sides, just like the Tree we see everywhere. I've seen trees trimmed and trained to grow just so, I suppose I thought this one would be like that." He stopped and blushed again. "I know now it must have been a rather silly notion..."

The Prince chuckled, but his mirth was warm and not mocking. "It is a charming notion, I think, that the White Tree might look like the White Tree we use as our symbol. But none, I think, would dare to prune or constrain this Tree. It grows naturally, although some might think it grows unnaturally quickly."

Mosco nodded. "I understand that now. It just seems odd to me that I did not understand it sooner. A picture of something is not often a truly accurate likeness."

"No," the Prince replied, "not often. And yet those of us who behold a likeness very often expect that it is."

The hobbit chuckled ruefully. "It's not very sensible, though. And I think it is much more beautiful as it really is. It reminds me in some ways of the new Party Tree Sam planted. That grew too quickly as well. But even though they are both beautiful, they do not look alike. But there is something about them that makes them seem more--" Mosco stopped and turned his attention to the object of their discussion once again. "More alive than the things around them, and they both seem to be ancient, even though they are still slender and not much more than saplings."

"You are very discerning, Master Burrows," Faramir replied. Mosco blushed again, this time with pleasure at the compliment. Faramir continued, "I think that you see the air of the Tree from whose line this one is sprung, all the way back to the beginning, and the light of the Two Trees when the world was young, before the Sun and the Moon."

Mosco looked startled. "You mean to say that's a true story? I mean about the Two Trees? I recall Cousin Frodo telling that one at Yuletide in Brandy Hall one year! It seemed to me to be just a pretty fancy!" He laughed. "Of course, most of us thought the King returning was a pretty fancy! And there were some of us who even thought Elves were only a pretty fancy!" He made a rueful face; he had been one of those youthful doubters.

Faramir laughed as well. Then he leaned down and said in a conspiratorial whisper, "Master Burrows, I know some within the sound of my voice right now who once thought that the pheriannath were only a pretty fancy!"

"But--" Mosco stopped, as he realised that the Prince had spoken so low that no one but the two of them could have heard what he said. "You mean to say you did not believe in hobbits?"

"Not even after my dream. Not until I saw two of them spring up out of the wilderness of Ithilien, walking out of fable and into my life, and carrying the fate of the world in their hands." He straightened up and looked down at Mosco seriously. "And they were not at all as my fancy would have painted them either. But, Master Burrows, I most assuredly believe in them now. I believe very firmly in hobbits."

Mosco knew he did not merely mean that he believed hobbits existed. "Some hobbits are worthy of being believed in. I think most of us have yet to prove we are worthy."

Faramir shook his head. "Never doubt it, Master Burrows. Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee did a deed worthy of song for so long as Arda shall endure. But they could accomplish that deed only because of the love of their home and the people they had left behind."

"I could never have been so brave as Frodo or Samwise. Or as Merry and Pippin for that matter," Mosco murmured ruefully.

"Master Burrows, from what I know of hobbits, they find their courage as Mithrandir-- Gandalf-- always called 'in a pinch'. And I have no doubt that if you were 'in a pinch' you would find your courage."

Mosco looked back at the White Tree, and then once more at the Tree on the guardsmen. "I would like to think you are right, my Lord. But I doubt if I ever have occasion to put it to the proof."

Faramir placed a kindly hand on his shoulder. "Let us hope no such occasion does arise, for I would hate to think of you in such danger. Shall we rejoin your friends in the Merethrond?"

Mosco nodded, and followed the Steward back to the Feast Hall. But he turned and gave one more look back at that Tree. He would never forget the sight of it.


The first of the dances had been led out by the King and Queen themselves.  It was a pavanne—not exactly one that they knew in the Shire, but simple enough and very similar in style.  Several couples were lined up behind the monarchs, and Beri and Viola were near the end, Freddy and Mistress Poppy behind them.  It might be simple, but the hobbits did not wish to put anyone else off if they made a misstep.  The back of Beri’s hand felt warm, where Viola’s palm lay over it, and he smiled at her.  She smiled back, blushing slightly, and biting her lower lip nervously.  Beri’s heart turned over.  She was so beautiful in her blue dress, her hair held back by the ribbon he had given her in Rohan.  By what blessed good fortune had he gained her regard?

The music began, and Beri recalled the simple directions the Queen had given them ahead of time.  Two steps forward, leading with the left foot.  Two steps forward, leading with the right; pause; step apart slightly, step together, then two steps backwards, before beginning all over again.  The line of dancers continued their slow circuit of the room, until the music ended, and all turned to their partners for a deep bow.

This dance was followed by one familiar to all the hobbits: the Shire Tangle Dance.  The Queen herself led the Tangle, and quite merry the dancers found themselves! 

And so the evening passed, with dances both lively and stately in turn.  Berilac realised he could not dance all of them with Viola, and Freddy relinquished Mistress Poppy, so that the other hobbits could dance as well, if they wished.  But though Beri found himself watching wistfully as Jolly piloted Viola through a vigorous dance, he knew he could not grudge the others a chance at some of the fun.

Some of the Gondorian dances were too intricate for any of the hobbits to attempt, and so they stood back and watched and admired them from afar. 

The final dance of the evening was one for couples only.  It was slow and elegant, and the partners were held closely in one another’s arms.  But the steps did not look too difficult.  He glanced at Viola, who was watching with wide eyes and blushing.  “Do you want to try?” he asked her hopefully.

She cast a glance at Mistress Poppy, who sniffed.  “When in Gondor, do as the Gondorians do.  Yes, go ahead, lass.  Try not to step on her toes too badly, Mr. Brandybuck.  She has work to do tomorrow!”

Laughing, Beri swept her off into the music, relishing his hand on her back, her hand on his shoulder.  They were not perfectly in step with the other dancers, nor even getting all the steps right, he was sure, but he could not begin to care.

Chapter 6

Mistress Poppy smiled at the sight of her apprentice in sleep.  The lass had the expression of one who was having very pleasant dreams, and it seemed a shame to waken her, but this was a day Mistress Poppy had been looking forward to for a very long time.  At last she would get a look at those famed Houses of Healing, and have the chance to meet some of these Southern healers.  She gave Viola’s shoulder a little shake.

Viola wakened instantly, needing little more than a couple of blinks to realise that it was morning and time to rise.  One of the first things an aspiring healer needed to learn was to waken easily and to be alert when doing so. 

She sat up and put her furry feet to the floor.  “Mistress Poppy?” It was a simple appeal for instruction, as her mistress knew.

“It’s time to rise, dress and breakfast.  Master Ondahil will be coming by to take us to the Houses of Healing and to introduce us to the Warden of those Houses.  Please dress neatly but practically.   We’ll be touring the place, and we also may see healers at work, or even some patients.”

Viola was already making her morning ablutions at the washbasin.  She scrubbed her face, and then quickly combed her hair and bound it into a braid about the crown of her head.  She looked at her yellow hair ribbon, but put it aside with a sigh.  It wouldn’t do to let anything happen to it.  Mistress Poppy nodded in approval, as she laced herself into her own practical and sturdy workaday dress—a bodice and skirt of a sturdy light brown wool over a creamy linen chemise.  Viola’s garb was similar, though her bodice was dark brown and her skirt was green.  Both of them donned black pinafore aprons, and then carefully brushed their feet, and hung their pendulums about their necks.

Mistress Poppy made Viola turn around in front of her, and then nodded.  “You’ll do, lass.  Do I make a respectable showing?” she asked.

Viola smiled, and reached up to tuck in a grey curl that had escaped from  the neat bun atop her mistress’s head, and said, “You look quite respectable, Mistress Poppy.”

The two made their way to the kitchen, where a first breakfast of freshly baked sweet rolls, butter, fruit, and juice awaited.  There was also a pot of tea and…

“Coffee!” Mistress Poppy exclaimed in delight at the invigorating aroma.  It was a rare treat in the Shire, but Pippin had told her it was more common in Gondor.  Viola made a face.  She had never learned to like the bitter brew, though she had tried it a few times.

Jolly was already there taking his own breakfast, and he greeted the two healers politely with a nod, as his mouth was full.  The two sat down at the table with full plates, and were soon joined, one by one, by the other hobbits. 

Mistress Poppy was amused to note that each time someone new entered the room, Viola’s head shot up in expectation.  But Berilac was the last to arrive for breakfast.  His smile made the apprentice blush becomingly, and he loaded his plate and sat down by her hopefully.

But Viola had finished her own breakfast.  Mistress Poppy stood up.  “Come along, Viola!”  and was amused at how crestfallen the young Brandybuck looked.  “You will have to learn to rise earlier, Mr. Brandybuck, if you expect to keep company with a healer!”

Viola grinned at him, and followed her Mistress obediently.  They could hear the other hobbits begin to tease Berilac as they left the room.

Master Ondahil awaited them, and they followed him as he led them toward the Houses of Healing.  The Houses were on the same level as the guesthouse, but nearly halfway around the Eastern side of the circle. 

Mistress Poppy looked curiously as they approached.  There was a low stone wall enclosing the grounds, no more than shoulder height for a Man, but well over the head of a hobbit.  They entered through a wrought-iron gate, and found themselves on a path of white flags.  Creeping thyme grew between the smooth paving stones.   There were several buildings—three large ones that appeared to be of two or three stories, a medium sized two story building that was directly in front of them, and scattered about were a number of smaller buildings of only one floor.  All of the larger buildings were of the same white marble as the rest of the city, but the smaller were built of stone and half-timbers, though plastered over with white.  Garden beds were scattered about the grounds, the first she had seen since her arrival, and the air was filled with the invigorating scent of herbs.

Master Ondahil led them to the medium-sized building, and knocked.  The door was opened by a tall Man of middle years.

“Master Sardos, as we had discussed, I brought the visiting healers to you.  They are eager to learn about our ways of healing here in Minas Tirith.”  He turned “This is Mistress Poppy Burrows of the Shire, who has been for many years the family healer for the Thain of the Shire.  And this is her apprentice, Miss Viola Harfoot.”

“Mistress Poppy, this is Sardos, the Warden of the Houses of Healing.  I will leave you in his capable hands.”


Serindë put her head in her hands, as she looked over the paperwork on her desk. She sighed. Life was much easier in the middle of a war, when all one had to deal with was blood and gore and life and death situations. A new crop of apprentice surgeons, however, presented a completely different set of problems. She looked up in irritation at the knock on the door.

“Come in!” she snarled, expecting yet another apprentice with a complaint about his or her schedule. She was surprised when the door opened.

“Sardos!” she said, and her expression changed to pleasure at the sight of the Warden of the Houses of Healing, and her friend. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“A new delegation arrived in the City yesterday--you may have heard? They brought a healer with them who is hoping to learn some of the methods we use here. I would like you to take her and her apprentice under your wing so to speak.”

She scowled in irritation. “I hadn’t heard. Now that I don’t have to deal with Denethor I avoid politics. I know that Aragorn’s not going to exile me on false charges. And why are you putting this person with me? Don’t I have enough to do?”

“Oh, I thought you might find her congenial. And you have a good rapport with her people.”

While Serindë’s eyebrows climbed at this pronouncement, Sardos turned and gestured, and there appeared at his side a most unlikely pair. Serindë grinned. He was right--she had most certainly missed the company of hobbits since the four small heroes of the War had returned home!

“This is Mistress Poppy Burrows, of the Shire, and her apprentice, Miss Viola Harfoot. Mistress Poppy, this is our Chief Surgeon, Serindë of Dol Amroth.”

Serindë rose, and gave a courteous bob of the head. “I am at your service, Mistress Poppy.” This was going to be a very welcome interruption.

Jolly wanted to offer to help with the washing up after breakfast, but felt somewhat shy about it.  He did not wish to offend Avor and Tadiel, but he felt at loose ends.  He was used to being busy, he was, and now that they weren’t travelling, he wondered what he would be doing.  Captain Freddy, and Mr. Beri and Mr. Mosco, they was gentry, and they’d be doing  gentry things; all the talking with the King and such was their duty.  He’d thought to be of some use to Captain Freddy, as Sam had to Mr. Frodo, but he’d soon realised Mr. Freddy didn’t really need him in that way.  As he stood there wondering, he heard his name spoken.


It was Mr. Mosco.  “Yes, sir, Mr. Mosco?” he asked.

“Jolly, please don’t call me ‘mister’; you are a delegate just as I am.  While we are here, we are equals.”

“It’s hard to break a habit.  What did you need, M-Mosco?” he stumbled slightly, but he’d try to honour the other hobbit’s wishes, instead of being as stubborn as a Gamgee about it.  But in his head, he could still feel that “mister” wanting to come out.

“Freddy and Beri are going to the Citadel to see the prisoners, and I think Rolly and Denny are going with them.  I was wondering if you would like to see some of the City with me?  I’d like to see more of it, but I would feel very strange about going alone.”

That sounded like a right good idea.  It was better than just sitting about in this great stone house, it was.  “Did you have any notion of which way we’d go?  And of how we get back, sir?”  It wouldn’t do to get lost here, that was for sure!

“I spoke to Avor.  He said that as long as we stay on the main streets, and don’t go into any of the side streets or alleys we should find our way back easily enough.  He wanted to send for a guard to go with us, but I told him I didn’t think it was necessary.”

“I’d feel mighty funny, having a guard trailing me about,” Jolly replied, “so I’m just as well pleased not to have one!”

"I know what you mean," answered Mosco.  "I'd feel very foolish having some big soldier following me everywhere.  And from all we were told by Frodo and by Merry and Pippin and Sam, Gondor is at peace now.  There should be no reason for us to need guarding."

Jolly shook his head.  "I think the Big Folk hereabouts have lived with danger for so long they don't know any other way to be."

"You could be right.  I know from the things we heard on the journey that Gondor was at war with the Dark Lord for generations."

The two took their time, pausing as they passed through the tunnel-like gate leading to the Fifth Circle to decide which way to go.  "I don't think it matters," said Mosco.  "There will be another one of these a quarter of the way around, leading down to the next level.  But one cannot pass straight down.  That's very clever!"

"What's clever about it, M--Mosco?"  Jolly was going to get the hang of not "mistering" if it took him all day.  "It means you can't go straight to where you're headed!"

"Yes," said Mosco, "but it means if enemies get in and are coming up from the other direction, then neither can they!"

"Oh!"  Jolly looked at his companion.  "I would never have thought of that."

Mosco shook his head.  "Neither would I have, on my own.  But when I asked Artamir about it as we rode up, that was what he told me."

"Seems to be mostly big houses on this street."

Indeed, nearly all of the white marble buildings they passed looked to be generally the same as the house they were using one level up.  Some were larger, some the same size, but none were smaller. 

"I think this must be the part of town where the gentry lives," Jolly added.

"I'm sure you are right.  Look at that balcony, though."  Mosco stopped to examine it closely.

Jolly stared, not sure what had drawn his companion's attention.  He shook his head.  "What's so special about it?"

"Most of the other balconies we have seen have low stone walls or columns of stone for railings.  But that one seems to be made of finely wrought iron."

"Oh," he said, "you are right about that, sir.  I would never've noticed that."

"I think all these buildings are very interesting.  They are beautiful."

Jolly shook his head.  "Too much stone and not enough green to suit me," he said.  "Now I liked Edoras just fine!  It was different enough to be interesting, but it still felt kind of homelike in a way.  This place, well, I'm glad we're just visitors."

They had come to the tunnel-gate to the Fourth Circle.  The two looked carefully at their surroundings before going through.  The street below was slightly narrower than the one they had been walking along, and unlike the first street, there were actually people walking about their business.  They'd seen not a soul on the Fifth Circle, though there had been the occasional sound of a voice or a barking dog which let them know there were occupants. But they could see people who seemed to be shopping or doing business of some sort. 

"The pavement is different," said Mosco.

"What do you mean?" asked Jolly, his eyes on the Big Folk who were strolling about, some carrying baskets or string bags or parcels.

"Back there," he gestured behind them with a thumb, "the cobbles were laid down in a pattern, rather like the weave of a basket.  These cobbles are just...cobbles."

"Oh."  Mr. Mosco-- Mosco-- noticed the oddest things.

They turned to the left, and walked some more.  "They're staring," whispered Jolly uncomfortably.

Mosco blushed. "I know."

Indeed, the folk were hesitating, casting their gaze on the hobbits, and then whispering behind their hands.  If any saw the hobbits looking back, their eyes dropped and they turned away.  Fortunately none approached the two. They were not certain what they would have found to say to all these strangers.

While many of the buildings they saw were houses like those above, although smaller, there were also buildings that clearly seemed to be shops of some sort or another, for folk would go in empty handed and come out with parcels. They seemed to be very discreet shops, for it took them a while to spot the small plaques by some of the doors.

"Master Malvegil son of Malbor, mercer and tailor," read one.  In the bowed glass window by the door stood a tailor’s dummy clad in a fine brown tunic, embroidered at the neck and sleeves with vines of green and gold.  Arranged beneath it were bolts of fabric.

Master Daeron of Dol Amroth, Apothecary”read another.  The glass in the window in that building was thick and wavy.  It would let light in, but one would not be able to see within very well.

The next shop they spotted brought a grin to their faces. ”Mistress Ivoreth & daughters, Guild Authorized Bakers” read her small sign—though the lovely smells and the trays of cakes and biscuits in the window would have given it away.  Above the discreet sign was another small plaque, this one black, with the emblem of the White Tree. 

The two hobbits looked at one another.  “Don’t you think it’s near elevenses?” Mosco asked.

“Near enough,” chuckled Jolly.  As they entered, a little bell above the door tinkled. 

The smells of the bakery: yeast and cinnamon and ginger and honey made Jolly take a deep breath and close his eyes.  It nearly felt as though he'd been transported back to the Shire, back to Cousin Handfast's bakery in Michel Delving, where he'd spent many an hour as a lad when visiting his mother's kin.  When he opened his eyes again, it was almost a shock to him to see the large furnishings and the tall young woman behind the counter.  He supposed that the smells of baking must be much the same, no matter the height of the baker.

"What do you boys want-- oh! I beg your pardon, small masters!"  She blushed that she had nearly taken these pheriain for children.

Mosco looked around the clean and spacious bakery.  There were two tables with chairs in the middle of the room, though the perimeter of the room was filled with shelves bearing a bounty of baked goods, from breads of all shapes and sizes, to biscuits and scones and pastries and cakes.  A set of wide swinging doors behind the young woman clearly led to the kitchen and the ovens in the back. 

"How may I help you?" she asked, her pleasant face still red.

Mosco smiled at her.  "Well, miss, we thought we would have a bite to eat, since it has been a while since breakfast."

"You would like some 'elevenses' then?"

"We would!  And how do you know of elevenses?  We did not know it was a custom of the South!"

She laughed softly, and said, "It is not.  But Lord Samwise and the Ernil i Pheriannath-- that is to say, Sir Peregrin-- were often customers here!  They usually took their purchases back to their home on the Sixth Circle, but once Sir Peregrin and his cousin Sir Meriadoc took 'elevenses' here.  That is when I learned of your custom."

Jolly grinned, and gave an introductory bow.  "Jolly Cotton, at your service, miss.  Sam is my brother-in-law.  He married my sister just a few months ago!"

Mosco also bowed.  "Mosco Burrows at your service.  Meriadoc Brandybuck and Frodo Baggins are my cousins."  Mosco did not go into more detail, for he was beginning to learn that most of these Big People were not so interested in genealogy as hobbits were. 

She gave them a little curtsey.  "I am Glorwen.  My mother, Mistress Ivoreth is the owner of this shop.  What may I serve you?" She indicated the various goods on the counters with a sweep of her hand. 

"What did the others fancy?" asked Jolly.

"Well, Lord Samwise was very fond of our lemon tarts.  And also our savoury garlic and cheese scones.  Sir Peregrin was quite taken with our cake made with fig preserves.  And I can brew up a pot of tea to serve with your dainties."

The two hobbits looked at one another in delight.  "We will have the tea, and some of each of those, Miss Glorwen," said Mosco.


Clodio and Dago sat up with a start when they heard the sound of their cell door being unlocked.  They had already had their breakfasts, but it wasn't time for elevenses.  Who could it be?

Captain Arminas gestured to Clodio.  "Both of you have visitors.  If you will come with me, Master Banks, I will take you to yours.  Master Bracegirdle, you will see your visitors here in this cell."  He stood aside, and Fredegar Bolger and Berilac Brandybuck entered. 

Clodio stood and went reluctantly out.  Who could be visiting him if not those two?  Perhaps it was Mistress Poppy, come to check on his health?

He was very surprised to see Rolly and Denny Banks in the sparsely furnished room to which he had been led.


Author’s Notes: Back in April of 2008, I made a comment in SurgicalSteel’s LiveJournal, with the part about Mistress Poppy meeting Serindë of Dol Amroth.  When I indicated to SS at the time that I might like to use that part in my sequel to “The Road to Edoras” some day, she gave me her blessing.  While much of this sequel has taken some time, most of this chapter has been languishing on my hard drive ever since.  I had only to write the parts with Jolly and Mosco, and the visit with the prisoners.

However, this Serindë of necessity is AU to her Serindë, and so is not exactly the same person.  The main difference is that this Serindë did not meet Halbarad as a result of a broken ankle, but rather as a result of a wolf bite to the shoulder.  There are several other differences as well, necessitated by the timeline differences between her universe and mine.

I appreciate her allowing her character to play in my universe, in spite of the differences.


Chapter 7

Viola followed her Mistress and Mistress Serindë from the latter's office down a vast corridor.  Trailing along behind the tall healer, who was dressed in breeches of all things! made her feel very small and very young.  All the doors were so large and the ceilings so high!  After Bree, after Edoras, after yesterday at the Citadel, she would have thought she'd begin to get used to it all.  But sometimes it still overwhelmed her.  Perhaps she should speak to her Mistress about it.  

Mistress Poppy was trotting alongside the Gondorian healer, and Viola hurried to catch up enough to hear what they were saying.  She was sure that Mistress Poppy would ask her about some of it at some point.

"The Houses really are several houses and buildings.  I wish that I had time to give you a full tour, but that will probably take more than a day, Mistress Poppy."

"I don't expect to see it all in a day, Mistress Serindë.  I thank you for sparing us the time today!"

"It's a pleasure to see hobbits again!  I grew quite fond of your people when I lived in Bree."

"You don't sound like a Bree-lander," Mistress Poppy replied.

"Because I'm not a Bree-lander. I was born in Dol Amroth, which is a sea-port in the South of Gondor. I trained here in the Houses and served as a healer with the Ithilien Rangers before that…" she paused briefly, and Viola was sure she had been about to say something else "... before political considerations made it prudent for me to leave Gondor. I met my husband in Bree, had my children there and raised them there. I only came back when I got word that the war started and they were screaming for trained battle surgeons."

"I didn't realise you were married.  It's uncommon, though not unheard of, for healers to marry in the Shire."

Their guide paused very briefly and took a deep breath, "I am widowed. My husband was killed in the war."  She began to walk just a little faster.  "Now," she added briskly, "down this way are the offices of the senior healers."

Viola glanced at her Mistress as they scurried to keep up.  Mistress Serindë had moved on from the topic so swiftly that there had not been even an instant for offering a polite word of condolence.  Mistress Poppy shook her head very slightly, and Viola realised that they were not to pursue the subject.  But she had heard the sorrow in Mistress Serindë's voice.  It seemed wrong not to show that they cared.

Most of the doors in the passageway were shut, but one of them was ajar, and a young Man was coming out with a polite bow.  "Yes, Master Egalmoth.  I will try to do better, sir…" he turned, saw them coming towards them, and his eyes widened in what Viola could have sworn was terror.

"Mistress Serindë!" He stopped and gave even more of a bow than he had when coming out of the other office.

"Apprentice Udalraph," she gave him a cool nod.  "May I present Healer Mistress Poppy Burrows of the Shire and her apprentice, Miss Viola Harfoot?"

The young Man gave a startled glance, as though he had not even seen them before the senior healer had spoken.  He gave another belated bow.  "I-I am honoured to m-meet you…" he stammered.

Mistress Poppy gave a gracious nod, as did Viola.  "At your service, Mr. Udalraph," she said.

He looked up at Mistress  Serindë and the terror returned to his expression. "I-er, I…"

She took pity on him.  "You may go, Apprentice Udalraph.  I am quite certain that Master Egalmoth has set you a task."

"Yes.  Yes, Mistress…"  he turned and nearly ran in the other direction.

She shook her head, a ghost of a smile twitching at her lips.  "He's new," she said.  She reached up and rapped at the open door.  "Master Egalmoth?  Here is someone you need to meet."

The Man inside rose.  He was not tall for a Gondorian, and was somewhat portly.  He had a bald spot on the top of his head and a short pointy beard and a small pointy mustache.  Viola had never seen a beard or mustache quite like that before.

"Master Egalmoth is our Herb-master here at the Houses of Healing…"

He stared, at a loss as to what they wanted.  "Denham, Rollin? Why have you come?"

Denny made a gesture for him to sit down.  They were seated on a low bench, and there was a short stool placed in front of them.  Reluctantly he took the seat, and his face flaming, he stared down at his toes, waiting for them to say what they had come to say.  He still could not understand why they were there-- by Shire custom, they should be pretending he did not even exist.  

He did not say anything aloud, so he was startled to hear Rolly saying, as if he had read his mind, "We aren't in the Shire."

Clodio looked up, to see both of them studying him closely.

"See here," said Denny, "we're in the world of the Big Folk now.  And we're here in the place of the King.  What he says goes.  Mr. Freddy, he thinks this King won't be too hard on you, on account of you being a hobbit and kin to Captain Pippin.  But there's no way to be sure.  Mr. Frodo told us the laws of Men are mighty stiff, and what Men think of as not too hard might be like rock to hobbits.  We're not so fond of you as all that, Cousin Clodio, but we don't want to see you suffer neither.  And what you say about things may make the difference."

Clodio looked down at his toes again; it was hard to look into these eyes of his kin, knowing how he had disgraced the family.  "Thank you," he said quietly.

"Why did you do it?" asked Rolly.

Why indeed? he wondered.  He'd been wondering ever since he'd begun to realise the depth of the trouble he and his sons and Dago were in just why he had thrown in his lot with Lotho.

"Why?" He sighed.  "Do you want me to tell you why I thought I did it at the time, or what I've come to realise in the last few weeks?"

"What happened?" Denny asked, and Clodio was surprised to hear simple curiousity, rather than the condemnation he so surely deserved.

"Jealousy, I suppose it was," Clodio answered.  "I was jealous of Eglantine.  It seemed to me that my sister always had things easy-- people always liked her.  It never seemed fair to me that she could make friends so easily, while I found it so difficult to get to know people.  And then, she wed into the Tooks.  Not merely a Took, but the Heir Apparent to the Thain even then-- because it was clear that no maiden wanted Lalia for a mother-in-law and that it was more than unlikely Ferumbras would ever wed.  Suddenly my sister was at the top of the Great Families.  And it rankled.  I kept telling myself that the Bankses were nearly as old a family-- and far more respectable.  It didn't seem right that our family name was not ranked higher, at the least higher than the Bagginses who were on the decline, and the Bolgers who were no older than the Bankses though they had a larger fortune.  And I certainly thought we should have been higher than the Boffinses and the Proudfoots and the Chubbs.  I had all sorts of ideas about why the other families tried to keep us down-- most of which, I admit now were nothing short of moonshine."

"But what difference does that make?" asked Rolly.

"Not a bit," Clodio answered, surprising even himself.  "I see that now.  But at the time I was full of pride and ambition-- and I confess it, greed.  And then Dago and Lotho came to me..."

"We have a proposition from an Outland customer in the South," Dago said. "Have you ever heard of Mr. White?"

"Only rumors," Clodio said.

"Mr. White is more than a rumor," said Lotho. "He has had dealings with my family for several generations. He pays very well for the leaf he buys from the Southfarthing-- better than anyone in the Shire, and even better than the Dwarves. And he has interest in purchasing more than just leaf. He'd like to start buying up produce and foodstuffs as well."

"Ship food out of the Shire?" Pipeweed and wool and woolen goods were the Shire's main exports, but it was rare to export food. Hobbits were always worried about another Fell Winter or even a Long Winter, and preferred to keep most of the food they grew within the Bounds.

"Why not?  We have excellent harvests every year, and what are the odds of another Fell Winter?"

Something about Dago's blithe assurance gave him a twinge of worry, but Lotho was speaking.

"What Mr. White has suggested is that we buy several farms.  We can continue to rent them out to the farmers, but for a share of the crops they raise.  We'll be able to ship the harvest to him without any objection-- or none that counts, anyway!  He's prepared to pay generously for the crops.  There are few farms in the country where he dwells.  For some reason the people there are obsessed with raising horses.  Most of the land is given over to the herds."

"Horses?"  Clodio was honestly confounded.  What use would so many horses be?  A few, for pulling plows or waggons, and a few for riding, but what would anyone need that many horses for?  Unlike sheep or cattle they produced no milk or wool, and he didn't know of anyone who'd eat horse or pony flesh!  "That seems a waste of fertile land."

Dago shrugged; Lotho said off-handedly "I think that the Men in the South are often riding off to wars.  I suppose that's why they need so many horses."

Clodio shuddered.  He could not begin to imagine a war.  Men were strange creatures!

"What do you want from me?" he asked.  "And more importantly, what's in it for me and for the Bankses?"

Lotho sat back and grinned at him.  "Just an investment; I have money coming from Mr. White, but it takes time for his messenger to come such a long distance.  I could use some smart investors so that I don't lose any time in buying up some of the land.  There are at least two farms that I can get my hands on very cheaply if I move quickly enough.  Anson Grubb is planning to move from the Southfarthing to Michel Delving to live with his daughter now that his wife is dead.  He wants to sell the farm he's been renting out to his cousin Dell for the last twenty years, so that he has a nest egg to help out his daughter and her family when he moves in.  I think my own cousin Cosimo will make a much better tenant.  And old Rollo Boffin passed on last week-- I'm hoping to get the widow to make a quick sale."

"What's the hurry?" Clodio asked.

"Because these chances can slip through our fingers.  My father had the chance to buy a sweet bit of property down Bywater way not long after my grandfather died-- then someone financed the tenants so that they were able to buy it right out from under him!  I've always had my suspicions as to who-- interfering old busybody!"

"Again, what's in it for me?"

Dago snickered.  "I told you he was persistent, Lotho.  Give him the same deal you gave me."

Lotho nodded.  "Your initial investment doubled in the first year, and twenty-five percent of the profits thereafter."

"How can you be certain of doubling the investment?"

Lotho leaned forward.  "Mr. White is smart, but he's one of the Big Folk and he lives very far away and he has very deep pockets.  He's always paid far more than the going rate for his pipeweed purchases.  He takes my word as to the value of his goods."

Dago laughed.  "As my father was fond of saying 'Some people have more money than sense'."

The old saying amused Clodio, and he laughed as well.  Double the investment in a year, would he?  And twenty-five percent after?  Lotho was very confident.  He grinned and reached a hand across the table.  It wouldn't take very long until the Bankses were wealthier than the Tooks...

"You had to know that was sharp dealing, Clodio-- especially taking advantage of a widow!" said Denny.

Clodio hung his head.  "I did not think much about it, Denham.  I was too blinded by greed.  And Lotho was very persuasive.  Then there was Mr. White's factor...

He was annoyed by Dago's letter.  The Bracegirdle had rather high-handedly summoned him to his family's ancestral home-- it was a house and not a smial.  Long and low, it stood impressively at the end of the lane, just south of Hardbottle.  Behind it stretched the fields of the pipeweed that had made the fortune of so many in the South Farthing.  Bracegirdles dealt mostly in Longbottom Leaf, prized by many in the Shire, and surpassed only by Old Toby, which had made the Hornblowers the wealthiest family in the Southfarthing. The Bracegirdles longed to surpass them, but the Hornblowers guarded their secrets most carefully.

At the end of the lane was a gate, and a servant stood there to take his pony. He turned it over and walked up the flagstone path to the wide veranda.  Dago and Lotho were waiting there.  Dago walked over to the top of the shallow steps, his hands in his pockets and a toothy grin on his face.

"Welcome to my humble house," he said with a wink. "We're meeting out here on the veranda, out of convenience for our other colleague."  He gestured behind him and to the left.  There in the shady corner by the window was a small table set with food and drink, around it three chairs and a bench. Lotho lounged in one of the chairs. The occupant of the bench made Clodio sucked in his breath sharply.

It was a Man. A Big Person.  It had been years since Clodio had seen a Man, and then not so close as this one was.  He stood, and Clodio felt a frisson of fear at the creature towering over him.

"Clodio Banks," Dago said, "This is Master Eadwacer of Dunland, the factor of our patron Mr. White."

The Man bent slightly and stuck out one of his large hands.  Clodio was briefly at a loss, until Dago elbowed him slightly and gestured with his own hand.  Clodio held his hand out and it was engulfed by the other.  "I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Banks," he rumbled in a deep and growly voice.

Clodio gulped as he took his hand back, and inclined his head.  "A-at your service," he squeaked.

Dago gestured at one of the chairs as the Man resumed his seat on the bench. "Have a seat, Clodio.  We were just about to sample some of the excellent wine Master Eadwacer brought to us from the South."

Clodio noticed an extraordinarily large bottle on the table, as well as goblets and a platter set with fruit and cheese.

"This is a fine red from the vineyards of Lebennin, laid down in the final year of the Steward Ecthelion," said the Man as he pulled the cork. He poured it slowly into Dago's fine crystal goblets.  He picked up one between his thumb and finger-- it looked like a child's toy in his immense hand.  "To profitable business between your people and mine!"  He tossed off the entire amount in one swallow.  

"To profit!" exclaimed Lotho. Clodio raised his glass as well.  To be sure, there was nothing wrong with profit.  The wine was rich and heady, and he drank deeply.  It was superb wine!  Why, if he began to do regular business with these Big Folk, he could have wine like this on his table!  The Thain had nothing like this-- it was finer than Old Winyards!

Lotho encouraged Master Eadwacer to speak of his home and his travels.  He extolled the wisdom and wealth of Mr. White.  "Why he is the councillor to the councillor of a king, and his advice has even been sought by Elves!  He has representatives far and wide who see to his interests and to increasing his fortune. And he sees the potential of the Shire as a place to expand his business; few there are outside this rich land who understand the profit to be made here!  Those few who have been here seem content to allow the Shire to languish in obscurity, even encourage it to cut itself off from the rest of the world!"

Dago nodded.  "If it weren't for Bracegirdles, the only outsiders who'd ever be seen in the Shire would be a few Dwarves and the occasional rag-tag wizard!"

Lotho snorted. "Dwarves! Ha! They are only interested in their own profit, not ours!"

"I can see that you three are intelligent hal-- hobbits," Master Eadwacer said.  "Mr. White is generous to his friends, and those who oppose him are fools."  He poured some more of the wonderful wine...

"Sounds like that Man was right persuasive," said Denny.  "But my Da always says it's not good to make decisions in your cups."

"Your father is right," Clodio sighed.  "But then, I had no idea how far in over my head I was."

Denny rose, and Rolly after him.  "So far as I can see, you fell in with the wrong folks, and when Mr. Freddy asks us what we think, that's what we'll tell him.  We have to take our leave now; I don't know as we'll be back.  But I don't know that we won't neither."

"Thank you for speaking to me," Clodio said quietly.

They nodded to him and went over to rap on the door and let the guard know they were finished.  He came in and took Clodio away.  

As Clodio walked back to his cell, he thought "'Fell in with the wrong crowd'? Oh, I wish it was as simple as that."

Denny and Rolly waited until he was out of sight before they left the little room; a page was waiting to guide them from the Citadel.

"What did you think, Denny?" Rolly asked his older brother.

"I think he's sorry now, when it's too late to change anything.  And I feel sorry for him; he's lost everything-- his name, his home, his family.  All from wanting too much."

Mistress Poppy and Viola had been introduced to a number of senior healers before they made their way to another wing of the Houses.  

"This is where we have many of our patients are who are recovering and will soon be sent home," said Mistress Serindë, as she led the way along a marble colonnade to another building.  The passage was open to the gardens on the left, and Viola's heart leapt at the scent of herbs and flowers.  To their right, wide windows had their shutters open, but they were set just a little too high for the hobbits to see inside.  However, they soon came to a set of double doors which opened in to a large room lined with beds.

There were two dozen beds, Viola counted, twelve along each side of the room.  Only eight appeared to be occupied.  Most of the patients were asleep, but one was sitting in a chair next to his bed, as a portly matron with a brisk and cheery manner was putting fresh linens on his bed.  On the other side of the room a young man in healer's garb was leaning over a bed and talking in a low voice to the patient there.  He gave a smile, and patted the patient on the shoulder, before standing up.  When he caught sight of them, his smile grew even wider, and he strode down the center of the room to them.

Viola looked up and saw that Mistress Serindë was smiling, and that her face had brightened.  As he came up and gave a nod of greeting, she said, "Mistress Poppy, may I present Master Thorongil?  He also happens to be my son."

"Thorongil, this is…"

He went down on one knee.  "Mistress Poppy Burrows and Miss Viola Harfoot!  I was in court yesterday, and saw you presented!  It's an honour to meet you!"

Dago leaned back against the wall behind his cot and put his hands behind his head.  "What are you doing here?" he asked.

Freddy and Berilac sat down on the other cot. Freddy leaned forward, with his elbows on his knees, his chin resting on his clasped hands.  Berilac, however, mirrored Dago's own insolent pose, and arched an eyebrow at the prisoner, who scowled at him.

"We are here for several reasons, Bracegirdle," said Freddy seriously.  "First of all, we need to know if you are being treated decently."

"Decently?" He barked out a mirthless laugh.  "By whose standards?  If we were in the Shire this would be miserable treatment.  But I suppose compared to those Horse People these Gondorians are treating us decently enough.  At least we are not in some miserable dungeon here.  We are just locked up at the top of a tower instead.  They feed us often enough.  And no one is beating us."

Freddy did not acknowledge the sarcastic tone, but simply nodded.  "Very well, then.  Secondly, we want the answers to a few questions."

"Why not?  No need to keep secrets now."

"When did Lotho approach you about investing in his schemes?"

"In the late fall of 1416.  He said Mr. White had been in touch with him.  We Bracegirdles knew of him as one who would pay well for any goods from the Shire-- especially pipe-weed, but also food crops. My own father and grandfather had dealt with him.  Lotho promised to double my investment the first year and twenty-five percent of the profits in the years after.  It sounded like a good deal, and I accepted it.  He wanted to know if I knew anyone else who'd be interested in the same deal.  I thought of Clodio.  We'd done business several times and I knew he was always looking for a chance to profit.  Lotho said he'd give me an extra five percent the first year if Clodio would join us."

"I see.  What happened next?"

"Lotho introduced us to a Big Person, Mr. White's factor-- a Man named Master Eadwacer.  Arrangements were made at that time to ship five waggon-loads of pipe-weed to the South with the next harvest.  And there was talk of shipping ten waggons the following year, along with the same number of waggons of potatoes and other root vegetables that travel and keep well.  Master Eadwacer paid us half in advance for the 1417 pipe-weed-- at almost thirty percent above the going rate in the Shire for Longbottom Leaf."

"You didn't think that was suspicious?"

"Why should I?" Dago shook his head.  "He was a Man; they aren't known for being particularly bright."

Berilac let out a hoot of laughter.  "Did you really think they were stupid?"

Dago scowled and turned red with anger, and Freddy shook his head.  "That's enough, Beri.  You know that's always been the prevailing opinion of Men in the Shire."

"Not in Buckland," Berilac muttered, but he subsided.

"Tell me, Bracegirdle, why didn't you put a stop to things when Lotho began to bring those rough Men into the Southfarthing?"

"It seemed like a good idea," Dago answered.  "Bring in some strong backs to speed up the harvest and the work."

"I see.  And what did you think when Lotho declared himself 'Chief'?"

"I thought his money had gone to his head; but it wasn't any of my business, so long as I got my return on investment."

"And when Lotho began to turn people out, and to send his Ruffians out to round them up for the Lockholes?"

"I told you it wasn't any of my business!  I had my own neck to look out for!  And Lotho was half-mad by then-- I knew I had to stay on his good side if I wanted to come out with a whole skin."

Freddy sighed, and looked at Berilac.  Then both of them shook their heads.

"That's enough, then." Freddy stood, and so did Berilac.  "Dago Bracegirdle, you were and still are a greedy and selfish fool, but I don't believe you understood your treason.  That's what I will tell the King, for all the good it might do you."

As they left the Citadel, they found Denny and Rolly waiting for them just outside.

"Well, how did it go, lads?" Freddy asked.

Denny sighed.  "I hate to think such a fool is kin to me," he said. "But I don't think he had any notion it would all go so far.  And he's sorry now."

Berilac shook his head.  "At least he is sorry!  Dago Bracegirdle is only sorry he got caught, and maybe sorry that his profits were cut off!"  He gave a start, and looked across the courtyard.  "Is that Miss Viola?  Excuse me..." He darted off at a trot.

The other hobbits looked at one another.  

"Mr. Berilac's got it bad," said Rolly with a grin.

After a day of being shown about the Houses of Healing, and answering question after curious question--a tour interrupted twice, for elevenses and luncheon--Mistress Poppy had dismissed her apprentice, who had become somewhat distracted as the day grew longer.

“Won’t you come back to the office and have a cup of tea with me?” Serindë invited her.

The stout little healer gave a sigh as she watched her apprentice hurry off.

“Most certainly, Mistress Serindë. A cup of tea and a few biscuits would be most welcome right now. And I wished to ask you…” The flow of courteous questions continued as they made their way back to the office.

They sat comfortably together, the hobbitess perched upon a couple of cushions, and spoke amiably of the various patients they had visited during the day. Serindë was impressed by her small colleague’s openness and frank curiosity, and she said so.

Poppy laughed. “I’ve spent over thirty years among Tooks! I think a good deal has worn off on me!”

“Your apprentice is a very bright lass.”

“She is. I am hoping that she does not let other things distract her too much as she is nearing the end of her training.”

“Other things?”

“Yes. On our journey here, she caught the eye of young Berilac Brandybuck, and she seems most certainly to return his regard. While I have no problem with that, it does seem to cause her attention to wander from time to time.”

Serindë laughed. “That’s a problem with apprentices everywhere--they are young, and subject to the impulses of youth.”

Poppy responded with a hearty guffaw. “‘Impulses of youth’! Oh, my! What a polite way to put it! Youth is wasted on the young!”

And the two healers grinned at one another in mutual understanding.

Serindë thought that things were looking decidedly up. It was going to be very pleasant to have hobbits around once more.

Back in April of 2008, I made a comment in SurgicalSteel’s LiveJournal, with a snippet about Mistress Poppy meeting Serindë of Dol Amroth.  When I indicated to SS at the time that I might like to use that part in my sequel to “The Road to Edoras” some day, she gave me her blessing.   

However, this Serindë of necessity is AU to her Serindë, and so is not exactly the same person.  The main difference is that this Serindë did not meet Halbarad as a result of a broken ankle, but rather as a result of a wolf bite to the shoulder. Thorongil also belongs to SurgicalSteel, and is at the Houses of Healing at this time.

There are several timeline differences between her universe and mine, but I am trying to keep their personalities consistent with SS.
My thanks to her for the loan of her characters.

  Chapter 8

"Well," said Freddy to Rolly and Denny, "it's nearly teatime!  Shall we go back to the guesthouse, then?"

"I'd say so, Mr. Freddy," Rolly replied. "Er, I mean, Freddy." He sighed.  This took some getting used to.

Freddy nodded. "Berilac will be along shortly, I am sure, with the lovely Miss Viola on his arm.  I wonder where Mistress Poppy is, though?"


"Where's your Mistress, Viola?" Beri asked.

"Healer Serindë asked her to take tea with her.  She's very familiar with the ways of hobbits-- she lived in Bree for many years!"

"What do you think of the Houses of Healing?"

"Oh, Beri!  They are so large!  I don't just mean large the way all of these buildings are, meant for Big Folk of course.  But there is so much more to them than I imagined.  There are several buildings and many corridors, and lots of rooms-- many more than we'd have time to see in one day or even in a week if we are trying to see it all properly!  I suppose they have to be, considering just how many people are in this great city, but I just never thought of how many sick folks they would have to take care of.  And things are very different with the apprentices here!  They have groups of them, and they learn from all the Master Healers, not just one."

"That sounds confusing," said Berilac.

"It would confuse me!  What if one teacher told me one thing and another told me something else?  How would I know which to believe?"

"I suppose it's a natural consequence of having so very many people living all in one place.  Master Ondahil told me that there were several thousand people living in Minas Tirith, and yet the population is down because they lost so many people in the War."

Viola shuddered.  "There is an entire building in the Houses of Healing set aside just for soldiers who were maimed in the War, who lost arms or legs, or who were otherwise permanently crippled.  And there is a wing there just for those soldiers who were driven mad by the fighting."

"I can imagine," said Beri, with a troubled expression.  He knew first hand of the terrible dreams that haunted the Travellers, and they would waken half-mad as it was!  He knew that sometimes Merry feared that Frodo would never recover from the awfulness he had endured.  He shook his head.

"There's so much to see and learn at the Houses of Healing.  I can understand why Mistress Poppy wanted to come.  We'll be spending most our mornings there from now on. Oh, we are almost home-- we have nearly caught up to the others."

Mosco and Jolly were waiting in the sitting room.  "Mistress Tadiel will be bringing tea out soon!  Where is Mistress Poppy?"

Viola explained.  

"How nice to find someone here who knows a little about hobbits and home!" said Mosco.

Viola nodded.  "Mistress Serindë is very nice, although some of the apprentices acted terrified of her!" She dropped into one of the chairs, and Berilac perched on its arm.  "So what did you two do with your day?" She smiled at Mosco and Jolly.

Soon Mosco was caught up in describing the parts of the City they had seen, and extolling the beautiful buildings.  Jolly interrupted.  "He's forgetting the most important thing: we found a bakery!"

Mosco laughed.  "A really good bakery-- we brought home lemon tarts for tea-- oh, look, here's the tea trolley now!"

Over tea, Freddy and the others filled Mosco and Jolly in on their conversations with the prisoners.  Then the talk went on to their impressions of the City and the sights they had seen.  Mistress Poppy came in just as they had finished their tea, and spirited Viola away to their room, as she wanted  to  discuss some of the things they had discovered in the Houses of Healing.  Berilac looked disappointed.

Freddy looked over at the other hobbits.  "Tomorrow we are all meeting with the King and Queen."

The others all looked somewhat shocked.  They had assumed that Freddy, and perhaps Berilac as his second, would handle all the meetings with the King.  "All of us?" squeaked Mosco.

"Will we be in that big room with the throne again?" asked Jolly.

"Yes, all of us, save Mistress Poppy and Viola, who will be going back to the Houses of Healing.  And no, this meeting will not be an audience in Court, but a meeting with the King and the Queen in their own quarters.  We shall go up to the Citadel directly after second breakfast, and I expect we will be there for several hours.  He wants our opinion on a number of things concerning the Kingdom of Arnor in general and the Shire in particular."

Rolly and Denny exchanged glances.  This was more than they had bargained for.

The next morning, Mistress Poppy and Viola were off once more to the Houses of Healing.  They knew that today, Master Thorongil would be showing them about.  The two of them left immediately after first breakfast.

The delegates were not expected up at the Citadel until the fifth hour-- or around eleven o'clock.  Freddy slept in until second breakfast, and so did Mosco.  Berilac had made a point of arriving early for first breakfast, but afterwards he went into the front room and napped in one of the chairs.

Jolly, Rolly and Denny enjoyed a leisurely first breakfast, and remained at the table "filling in the corners" and gossiping about their families back home until second breakfast arrived.

As soon as they finished, they prepared for their visit to the King and Queen.  Although they were beginning to learn their way, at least back and forth to the Citadel, there was a knock at the door shortly before time for them to leave; it was young Sador.

"I am sent to guide you to the King," said the page.

He took them not only to the Citadel, but led them within it, as well.  They realised that must have been why he was sent to guide them, for though they might know the way between the guesthouse and the Citadel, they had no idea of where things were within the Citadel yet.

They came to a corridor where stood one of the guards.  He looked at them all, and then gave Sador a nod.  "They are expected," he said.

The guard gave a nod, but did not otherwise speak.  Sador led them down the corridor past several doors on either side to a wide double door at the end.  Another guard stood there, and when they approached, he turned and cracked the door open just a little and spoke to someone inside. After only an instant, the doors opened from the inside, and the hobbits saw Master Ondahil, who ushered them into a large antechamber.

It was well furnished with low padded benches and low tables as well as chairs and side tables meant for the Big Folk.  The King and Queen sat in two of them.  The hobbits also saw Menelcar, and two other Men besides Master Ondahil.

Freddy and the others stopped a few steps away from the King and Queen, and started to bow, but the King smiled and waved a hand at them.  "We are not in court; there's no need for that much formality!  Please be seated!"  He gestured to the low benches.

"Master Ondahil?" said the Queen, "Please ask the servants to fetch the refreshments that have been prepared!"

The King leaned back in his chair. "While we wait, I will explain what I would like to discuss today.  First, some introductions-- I believe that you already know Master Menelcar, my Court Bard.  He is here because of his experiences in the Shire many years before the War, and also because later on we may enjoy his music.  This" -- he gestured to a Man who bore more than a little resemblance to the King, though he appeared to be somewhat younger; the Man was clad in grey, and wore a many-pointed star upon his shoulder-- "is  Hiril son of Halbarad.  He is the representative of his older brother Hador, who is my Steward in Arnor.  He is also my kinsman."  

The hobbits all gave him a polite nod.

"And this is Master Calembel son of Elmar, Head of the Stonemason's Guild."  

Master Calembel was in his middle years; his dark hair was liberally streaked with grey, and he wore a short, trim beard and mustache that were completely grey.  Seated, it was hard to tell, but he appeared to be somewhat shorter than the King and his kinsman, though perhaps taller than Menelcar.

"I am most honoured to meet you hobbits--" he said that last word awkwardly, as though it felt strange on his tongue-- "and am looking forward to getting to know all of you better."

Freddy and the others exchanged glances, and then began to relax as they realised it really would be very informal.  Their curiosity was piqued.

"As you know only too well, my writ runs not only here in Gondor, but north to the ancient Kingdom of Arnor as well.  While I expect that there will be several years before I am able to make a Royal Progress so far from here, once I do so, I expect to divide my time between the two Kingdoms, spending a couple of years here and then a couple of years there.  Circumstances allowing, of course.  If there is trouble in one of my Kingdoms, I would of course stay until it was resolved."

Just then two liveried servants entered from a side door, bearing trays.  One was laden with fruit, bread and cheese, while the other bore a steaming teapot and cups.

The servants placed the trays on a wide low table that was placed in front of where the King and Queen were sitting.  For a few minutes conversation was put aside as the Queen poured the tea, and cups and plates were passed around.  Once everyone had been served, the King spoke once more.

"Of course, the North no longer has a capital, but I purpose to rebuild Annuminas on the shores of Lake Evendim, and I would like it to be a place where hobbits of the Shire can come to visit or even to live if they wish."

The hobbits looked somewhat startled at this information, and Freddy said "What is it you wish of us?"

"Well, I would like to have your opinions of the project, and I would seek advice from you on how best to make hobbits feel welcome in my Northern capital.  I know that hobbits of the Shire can be suspicious of people and things outside their boundaries, and I am sure that attitude was increased by the recent troubles Saruman brought to the Shire."

Freddy smiled.  "It was; and yet I think the actions you and  Éomer King took last spring were a great deal of help in balancing the opinions of hobbits towards Men.  Not only the money-- though the treasure certainly was an eye-opener--but the Men you chose for the delegation were courteous, kind and well-spoken.  They were as much unlike the rough brigands that Sharkey brought in as possible."

"I am most pleased to hear that," the King answered, "and I know that Faramir will be as well, since he chose most of the Gondorians who went on the embassy."

Mosco had been getting up his nerve to speak, and his face turned bright red as he asked "What sorts of buildings do you have in mind for your new city?  Will it be like this one?"

The King looked at him and smiled.  "I am afraid not.  Minas Tirith is an old city, built at the height of Gondor's might when many of the skills and arts of ancient Númenor were still remembered.  Annúminas is now little more than a few ruins and an outline; it will have to be completely rebuilt.  It will be much smaller and less grand than Minas Tirith, I am sorry to say."

"But," Mosco persisted quietly, "will the style of the buildings be similar?  The buildings here are beautiful, but they will loom uncomfortably if you wish to welcome hobbits."

"It will be a city built to be defended, for though the great Enemy is defeated, many lesser ones were not, and in the North especially, linger many creatures who are allied to the dark.  Therefore it must have high walls. But I do not think that there will be many buildings as tall as those of Minas Tirith. Two or three stories at most, save perhaps for the Citadel that will be built there-- and it will not be even half so tall as this one."  He turned to Master Calembel.  "What say you?  Have you any ideas of what the new city will look like?"

"Frankly, sire, no.  Not until I see the site itself. We are likely to have fewer resources there.  There were marble quarries in Gondor, which is why that is what was mostly used to build this city.  It would be far too costly to try to bring marble to the North."

"And," said Lord Hiril, "cost will be an important factor, and even more, skilled labour will also be a factor.  The population of Arnor is sparse."

Freddy exchanged a look with Berilac.  "There are quarries in the Shire; near the village of Scary where some of us hid from the Ruffians during the Troubles, there are several quarries.  They are not used so much anymore-- not for lack of stone still to be dug, but because there are fewer smials and houses built.  They were quite active and busy before the Fell Winter."

Aragorn looked doubtful.  "You would not want a lot of Men there doing the work."

"No.  Hobbits delved the quarries to begin with.  Hobbits could still run them.  Granite would be an excellent export," he grinned.

"And," added Berilac, "Dwarves could help.

Lord Hiril nodded.  "We've had offers of trade alliances from the Dwarves of the Ered Luin."

"One thing I know," the King said.  "I would like a special wing built into the Northern Citadel, at the ground floor level, built so that hobbit guests will be comfortable staying there.  I hope to have many visits from my dear friends when I am there, and I want to encourage them to stay."

It was as though a light bloomed in Mosco's mind, an opportunity that he never could have imagined before.  "Sire, I would like to offer to help you with that.  There have been many well-known hole-builders in the Burrows family.  My uncle was not only skilled at building smials but he also built several houses as well.  In past years, I have often spent a few months in the spring and summer working with him, and even considered apprenticing to him-- but my mother did not like that idea."

The others gaped at him in astonishment.  Mosco was usually quiet and rather timid around the Men, and his offer left them with their jaws dropping in surprise.  But Mosco paid no attention, but kept his earnest gaze on the King.

"I will most certainly accept your offer, Mr. Burrows!"  He turned to Master Calembel.  "You now have the first member of your staff!"

Mosco felt something within him shift.  This was right. This was why he had come, not even knowing it at the time.

Chapter 9

The rest of the afternoon-- broken by luncheon and tea, of which the hobbits partook as hobbits will, and the Men partook but lightly-- was spent in discussing what trade would be profitable for Arnor and the Shire in particular, as well as what would profit Gondor.  Not only the granite from Shire quarries and of course pipe-weed, but wool and woolen goods and some other things, while the hobbits were interested in the exotic spices and other fine things of the East which made their way through Gondor.

The hobbits finally took their leave after tea, and Master Calembel went out with them, still speaking animatedly with Mosco Burrows, who was explaining some of the intricacies of smial building with him.  The Queen also took her leave, as she wished to meet with her handmaidens before the supper hour.

"Well, Hiril, what did you think of it all?" Aragorn asked his kinsman once they were alone.

"I am pleased to find these hobbits so willing to listen and to work with us.  I must confess that over the years, most of the hobbits I have known have been suspicious sorts, or else timid.  Of course, I knew very few hobbits from the Shire; most of those whom I met were Bree-landers."

Aragorn laughed.  "If anything, the average Shire-hobbit is even more timid and suspicious than the average Bree-lander.  But these hobbits are anything but average. Every delegate is kin of one degree or another to the four heroes of the War.  And all of them were somewhat tempered by their experiences during the occupation of the Shire by Saruman's lackeys.  In addition, they have been seasoned by travelling with our people on their journey here."

"Do you believe you will need to make the edict banning Men from the Shire permanent?"

The King sighed.  "I do not know.  It is still early to tell how well it will work; but I do not want the peaceful hobbits of the Shire to have to deal with another incursion.  I know that Frodo indicated in his letter that he feels it is a good idea, and I am inclined to trust his wisdom in this."

"I know that Hador wants hobbits to dwell among the Men in Annúminas, much as they do in Bree.  He feels that it would be good for the Dúnadan to have hobbits among them."

Aragorn nodded.  "I too, would like to see such an arrangement.  I was most surprised by young Master Mosco's offer-- but having a hobbit assist in the building of the capital is the best way I know of to see that we have a place where both races could be comfortable."

"Well, I will have quite a report to send my brother.  With your leave, sire, I would like to go and prepare it while my memory of the conversations is still fresh in my mind."

"You may do so.  Please give my regards to Hador, and my congratulations on young Oriel's betrothal.  Arwen and I must give some thought to a wedding gift!"

Hiril chuckled.  "You shall have plenty of time for that!  My brother will insist on a long betrothal for his only daughter!"

"If it does not last forty years, it will not be the longest betrothal in the family!"

This made Hiril laugh heartily.  "You jest about it now, cousin, but I can recall when no one dared to jest about it to you without risk of raising your ire!"

Aragorn arched an eyebrow in amusement.  "Ah, Hiril-- there is a world of difference now, for the waiting is at an end, and the reward for patience casts a glow over all the time before."

Hiril took his leave, and after the door closed behind him, Aragorn found a goblet and a carafe of fine Dol Amroth red, and poured himself some wine.  He sat down and pondered the one subject that had been completely avoided this afternoon: the fates of Dago Bracegirdle and Clodio Banks.

He had listened to the results of Freddy's and Berilac's conversation with Dago, and to what the Banks brothers had recounted of Clodio's confessions.  He still had a difficult task ahead of him.  There was no question of a death sentence, unless he intended the Shirefolk to see him beginning his reign as a tyrant, and truly he did not believe death was warranted in this case.  He smiled though, recalling Frodo's suggestion in his letter that it would do them no harm to worry about it.  Frodo was not nearly so soft as some people thought him.

Éomer's sentences upon the younger offenders had been very skillful-- Aragorn was pleased and impressed with the justice of Rohan.  The problem here would be finding something appropriate for these particular offenders; they were older, and they were hobbits.  The sort of hard labour he would sentence Men to would not work for them, especially for Clodio Banks whose health was still precarious.  If Pippin's uncle-- however estranged-- was to drop dead of heart trouble while building a stone wall on the Rammas Echor, he would feel the guilt for the rest of his life.

Of course as hobbits they would know their way around a kitchen, but the kitchens of the Citadel were extremely busy, and his cooks and their assistants would not care to have to keep an eye out for escape attempts.  The kitchens were not as secure as some other parts of the Citadel. There were far too many deliveries and too much coming and going.

He wished Faramir were here; he trusted his Steward above any of his other advisors, save Arwen, and in matters that touched on Minas Tirith and the Citadel, even above hers-- since Faramir knew the City intimately, and would easily be able to put his finger on the task that needed doing and that a hobbit could do.  Yet he could not grudge his absence; Faramir had not seen his wife in several weeks, and with the work to be done in Ithilien, it needed the presence of its Prince at least part of the time.  He would be back soon, and bring Éowyn with him this time.

Who could he ask...of course! His Chamberlain!  Master Ondahil would know what tasks would be useful, even if he might have little idea whether a hobbit could do them.  That would fall to him, perhaps in consultation with Fredegar Bolger.

He restrained himself from instantly rushing out in search of Master Ondahil, who would be scandalized at the King coming to him.  Instead, he called for a servant and asked him to fetch the Chamberlain.


As they left the Citadel, Calembel felt like a mastiff surrounded by a pack of cheerful terriers, as the hobbits encircled him, all of them talking at once it seemed, and making it difficult for him to understand what any of them were saying until one phrase cut through the rest:

"We must celebrate Mosco becoming part of your staff Master Calembel!  Is there an inn where we might all go to have an ale in honour of the occasion?"  It was Berilac Brandybuck who made the suggestion, but all the other hobbits-- save Mosco, who was too busy blushing-- joined in with a chorus of approval.

"I think it's an excellent idea," said Fredegar.  "Do you know of a good place?"

"There are a few inns in the fourth circle that might suit the purpose," Calembel chuckled.  It was still early enough in the evening that a brief stop at an inn would not make him very late in arriving home.  His wife would not be pleased if he were late for supper, but he should easily be able to have one drink and make his way home-- he lived in the fourth circle himself anyway.  "The Queen's Cat is a very good inn, and they serve a very nice brown beer." And, he thought, it is not far from home.

They made their way down through the city; Jolly made a quick detour to the guesthouse to let Tadiel and Avor know where they were going, joining the group again before they went through the tunnel to the fifth circle.  As they walked along, Calembel showed them some of the sights, pointing out the finer details of some of the buildings they passed.  Soon enough they came down to the fourth circle, and turned to the left to get to the inn Calembel had told them of.

There were a few of the inn's regulars already there for an evening, some of them playing draughts, some throwing darts, and most sitting around in amiable gossip. But there was a sudden silence when Calembel walked in surrounded by six pheriain.

All eyes were on them. The hobbits began to look apprehensive, and Calembel blinked, not quite sure what to say.

Fortunately the innkeeper recovered his wits and broke the silence.  "Cal!  What will you and your friends have?" Calembel ordered a round of beer for them, and they found a table which would accommodate all of them, though he had to pull chairs from a couple of other tables to do so.  

Three men from a nearby table got up and came over to them after the innkeeper served their beer.  "Calembel!  Will you not introduce us to your new friends?"  

Calembel smiled and stood. "Master Malvegil the tailor, and his apprentice Duinhir, and Master Girion of Dale, here are the pheriain-- the hobbits-- of the Shire's delegation to the court of the High King: Master Fredegar Bolger, Master Berilac Brandybuck, Master Mosco Burrows, Master Wilcome Cotton, Master Denham Banks and his brother Rollin."

The hobbits all stood and nodded and offered their service; the newcomers pulled chairs over, and offered to stand them all drinks.  

That was the beginning.  At some point or another, it seemed everyone else in the room wanted an introduction to the hobbits, and wanted to buy all of them drinks. Calembel began to lose track of both the number of ales and the time.  

Some of the men wanted to tell the hobbits tales of their encounters with the four heroes when they were in Minas Tirith; Master Girion told of how Gimli the Dwarf had brought Merry and Pippin to his shop to buy gifts for their families, and Master Malvegil told of measuring the four for new clothing.  Some just wanted to thank the hobbits for the part their kin had played in the War, and many simply wanted to be able to boast to their families of their meetings with the pheriain.

The hobbits all were laughing and telling their own tales; amusing childhood stories of those who were revered by the Gondorians were met with astonishment.  Soon they were singing songs of the Shire, and at one point Jolly did an impromptu jig upon the table, as the men around them clapped and joined in the chorus of the song.

"A hobbit of habit is Nob o' the Lea
a hobbit of habit is he, is he...

First breakfast he has at the rise of the sun,
Two eggs, a sausage and one sticky bun.
He stays at the table until it is done,
And then back to bed is his idea of fun.

A hobbit of habit is Nob o’ the Lea,
Oh, a hobbit of habit is he, is he!  Second breakfast, to the kitchen again,
Porridge and cream is his happy plan,
Followed by toast and strawberry jam,
An apple or pear and a wee bit of ham..."

Soon enough the room was spinning around him, and finally Calembel gave up...

"Uh-oh," said Freddy, as he saw Calembel's head hit the table with a thud.

Berilac looked at him with a surprised expression. "You would think that such big people could hold their ale better."

Mosco shook his head.  "How will we get him home?  And do any of you know how to get back to the guesthouse from here?"  

  Chapter 10

The innkeeper came over and put his hands on his hips, and shook his head, though he was smiling.  "Ah, well! It does happen to the best from time to time, though I do not think it ever happened to Master Calembel in The Queen's Cat before."

Freddy chuckled, but then sighed.  "Master Innkeeper--"

"The name's Findegil-- but everyone calls me Fin."

"Master Fin, then, we were wondering how we are to get our friend home-- not to mention ourselves, as we are not yet so familiar with the City as to be certain of our way back."

"That's quite all right, small masters!  Ox!" he called.

From the back corner of the room a perfectly huge man arose. The hobbits stared in astonishment.  He was bald, for one thing, though he sported a grizzled shovel-shaped beard.  He had a black eye patch, and on the cheek beneath, a livid scar.  As he came over to the table, he seemed to grow even larger.

"This is my cousin Ox. He works for me, mostly to see that no one starts fights here, but also he occasionally sees a customer home who's had one too many ales."

Ox looked down at Master Calembel, and then took one of his arms and hefted him up. "You want me to take him home, Fin?"

"Yes.  And when you've done that, show these pheriain back to where they are staying..."

"The King has put us up in a guesthouse on the Sixth Circle," said Freddy.

Ox nodded. "I know the one!  It is the place where the Ernil i Pheriannath and his kin stayed after the War."

Master Calembel seemed to have roused just enough to move his legs a little, so that he was not quite being dragged by the big man.Once they came out the door, the fresh air roused him, and he mumbled a little and was able to stumble along with Ox's guidance.

The hobbits ranged themselves on either side of Ox and Calembel.  Mosco walked right next to the Man; he felt somewhat responsible for Calembel's condition, since it was in celebration of his new duty that they had gone to the inn.

Berilac, on the other side of Mosco, looked up at the big Man who was escorting them.  "Ox is not your real name, is it?" he asked.  He hoped the Man would not be offended, but he was curious.  Good heavens! he was getting as bad as Pippin, he thought.

But to his relief, the Man just chuckled.  "It suits me, don't you think? Ox as in 'as big as'? He smiled down at Berilac. "I was doomed to have such a name-- it wouldn't do to just shorten my real one."

"What do you mean?" asked Freddy.

"Well, my cousin the innkeeper is Findegil. My older brother is Finrod. My father is  Finwë, and  I am Fingon.  It just would not do in my family to shout for Fin!"

The hobbits all laughed, and Freddy said, "That reminds me of the sons of the Old Took!  He had twelve children. His sons were named Isengrim, Hildigard, Isumbras, Hildigrim, Isembold, Hildifons, Isembard, Hildibrand and Isengar.  The other three were daughters and fared somewhat better: Belladonna, Donnamira, and Mirabella!"

Ox laughed so hard that Calembel looked up briefly and blearily.  "Where..." he mumbled, before he lost focus again.

"I would imagine it made things difficult calling them all to supper," Ox said.

The hobbits laughed now, and Jolly said, "It's never difficult to call a hobbit to supper!"

"How much further?" asked Freddy.

"Just one street over from this crossing," said Ox.


Niriel paced back and forth, looking out the window again and again.  It was not at all like her husband to be late coming home.  In fact, this was the very first time he had been more than a few minutes late ever.

She and the children and had waited, and then finally dined nearly two hours ago.  It was fully dark now, and she was growing quite worried.  Her husband had been twice to the Citadel to consult with the King and had been home on time before.  And yet, perhaps something had come up and he could not get away.  The King had a reputation for being fair and considerate of others, but Niriel knew perfectly well that a person could not simply leave the King's presence without permission.

Dinner would have been utterly ruined if they had not eaten, yet it had seemed so strange to go ahead and eat without him.  The children had been shocked at first, but then ate with enthusiasm-- Calion was twelve and Ivoreth was ten, and both had hardy appetites at the best of times.

The two had wished to stay up until their father came home, but Niriel had been firm on that and had sent them to bed an hour ago.  If their father did not have a very good explanation for worrying her like this, she would give him a tongue-lashing he would never forget.  

But she could not help thinking that there might very well be a good explanation and every one of them she could think of made her worry more...


"I used to be a Guardsman!  I knew the Ernil i Pherriannath!  Lost my eye at the Black Gate to a Southron blade, but I'm luckier than most.  When I left the Guard, my cousin had a place for me. It pays well enough and the work's not hard.  He rarely gets the rowdy sort at the Cat."  Ox stopped.  "Well, this is the place-- ah! There is his house..."

Ox half walked, half dragged Calembel to the door, and Freddy rapped upon it smartly.  He was profoundly embarrassed that the hobbits had put Calembel in such a pickle.  A fine way to begin their representation of the Shire!

The door was opened by an attractive woman of early middle years.  Her dark hair was drawn back in a net and her grey eyes were huge at first with astonishment; then they narrowed in anger as they aimed at her husband's face.  "Bless me, Calembel! What have you done?" she said sharply.

Calembel looked up, and blinked owlishly at her. "Oh, Niriel?  Am I late for supper?" he mumbled.


It was more than an hour before they got away from Calembel's home.  The hobbits had been so very apologetic and abject, and so insistent that Calembel's drunken state was entirely their fault, that Niriel had finally relented her anger.  Who could stay angry at all those earnest little faces?

Ox saw Calembel up the stairs and his wife went up to tuck him in.  Perhaps she was not nearly so angry as she ought to be-- but his state in the morning would be more than enough punishment.  She looked forward to opening the curtains noisily at first light.  And perhaps bringing him a large breakfast of eggs and sausage.  No, even better, she would have the children bring him a large breakfast of eggs and sausage...

She came back down to say farewell to her unexpected guests. "I know that you say it was all your fault, Master Fredegar," (for the hobbits had, of course introduced themselves) "but I am sure that Calembel holds at least some of the responsibilty."

"Mistress Niriel," said Ox, "you should have seen the crowd there. It is hard to imagine any way he could have turned down all the offers of drink without being rude."

She sighed.  

"Mistress," said Freddy, "I do hope that this episode has not given you the wrong idea about hobbits!  We truly only wanted to celebrate the opportunity that the King had given Mosco to work with your husband.  To make it up to you, I would like to invite you and your husband and family to be our guests at supper."

"Oh, that's a splendid idea, Freddy!" said Beri enthusiastically.

Niriel blinked.  This was the last thing she had expected.

"Perhaps not tomorrow, but the day after?" said Freddy.  "If of course, that is convenient for you?"

"Why, yes.  We do not have other plans for that evening!"

"Excellent, excellent!  We shall look forward to seeing all of you then! You will be our first guests at the embassy!"  

Mosco stepped forward.  "And please, Mistress Niriel, do give my personal apologies to your husband!  I am so sorry that things turned out like this tonight!"

Niriel smiled down at him.  His brown eyes were so filled with contrition; he really did seem to feel badly about all this.  "Of course I will tell him of your words, Master Mosco, but I am sure that he will not hold you responsible."

The other three hobbits had not said much, but they tendered their farewells politely.  "And I hope," said Jolly, "that he doesn't have too much of a sore head tomorrow."

Niriel had to laugh.  "Well, I am sure he will have one, for I do not think he's been in this state since some friends took him out to celebrate the birth of our son.  I am afraid he seldom takes more than one ale at a time."

"Oh dear," said Mosco.  "No wonder he had no head for it all."

"Well," said Freddy firmly, "we must take our leave.  We will see you all the day after tomorrow!"  

He pushed and chivvied the others, who all seemed to wish to say one more farewell, out the door, and they were followed by Ox, who turned to give her a respectful nod, before the door closed behind him.

She stood looking at the door, shaking her head, and chuckling at them.  Then her eyes grew wide.  Supper at the embassy of the pheriannath!  What should she wear?


"We shall have to tell Tadiel that we will be cooking for guests!" said Freddy, as they followed Ox up through the City.

"It'll be good to be cooking again," said Rolly.  "Haven't got to do no cooking since we got to Edoras, and haven't cooked in a kitchen since we left the Shire!"

"Do you think we can find mushrooms in this place?" Beri asked.

"I don't know," said Freddy. "We'll have to find the markets tomorrow.  I am sure Tadiel will give us some good advice about where to find what we need."

"There's that bakery Mosco and me found..." said Jolly.

"I could make some of my savory scones," said Denny.  "They have cheese and garlic in them..."

The rest of the way they began to discuss the meal they planned to prepare for their guests.  By the time they left Ox, with much thanks, at the door to the guesthouse, and he turned to go back to the Cat, he was very, very hungry.

  Chapter 11

The next morning at first breakfast, Mistress Poppy and Viola were filled in on the events of the day before.

Mistress Poppy shook her head.  "That poor Man!" she exclaimed.  "You should have known better!  Men simply do not have as sturdy a constitution as hobbits when it comes to food and drink!  I am surprised his wife was so gracious to you!"  She punctuated her statement with her fork, stabbing a bit of sausage emphatically.

"But just think!" said Viola, "We will have guests tomorrow evening!  There will be so much to do to get ready!"

"We shall be able to help tomorrow, lass, for we shall take a day off!  But today we must go to the Houses and meet young Master Thorongil!  Fredegar, I know you lads will be planning the menu.  I'll be glad to make my apple pie."

Viola blushed.  She was a good cook, but she had yet to find her "special" dish. "I'll help in any way I can," she said.

The healers took their leave; the others began to talk among themselves.

"Mosco and I must go back to the Citadel today after second breakfast.  We are to consult some more with Lord Hiril about the work to be done in Arnor.  Beri, can you see to getting everything we will need to entertain our guests tomorrow evening?"

"Of course, Freddy!  We'll have a word with Tadiel and Avor to find out the best places to go for what we need."


The morning was busy one--Viola found herself trailing behind Mistress Poppy as they followed Master Thorongil about. Though Viola was still somewhat unused to the idea of male healers--the only one in the Shire she knew of was Berilac's cousin Dodinas, though she knew that her Mistress knew a couple of others--she was beginning to be more comfortable with the thought. Master Thorongil also seemed young to have his mastery, though he appeared to be quite competent. Having met his mother, Viola was very certain that he knew what he was doing, and he had a kindly nature, much like Mistress Serindë herself.

Then Viola suddenly remembered seeing an encounter between Mistress Serindë and an apprentice who had been less than gentle with a patient--she'd certainly not been kindly then! But Viola felt quite sure that the apprentice deserved it--she could not imagine treating a patient so!

Still, the Chief Surgeon was kindly enough to the patients and so was her son, and that was what mattered.

Their tour had begun in the dispensary, where many of the herbal preparations and medical supplies were kept. She attended carefully as Master Thorongil explained the system to Mistress Poppy, and they compared notes as to which preparations were the same as in the Shire, and which were different.

"It is very convenient," said Mistress Poppy, "to have an apothecary handy. And yet all the same I would feel uneasy in my mind relying so exclusively on another's skill. We are very used to preparing almost all of our own medicines."

"I understand your concerns, Mistress Poppy," Thorongil replied. "In Bree, my mother and I did the same. But here there are far too many patients and calls upon our time for us to be able to do that."

"That's understandable. I believe that Master Tobold Brockhouse and Master Willem Lightfoot are the only full-time apothecaries in the Shire. When I need something that I do not have myself, I use Master Toby, whose shop is in Tuckborough."

Thorongil nodded. "There are a number of apothecaries here in the City who cater to most of the healers and patients, but we have our Herb-master here, and are able to keep a supply on hand of most of the remedies we need. The dispensary is also responsible for keeping clean bandages available, and for keeping surgical tools available for beginning apprentices, until they have their own."

Viola swallowed. Surgery was not much practiced in the Shire, save for patching up injuries. She still had nightmares about assisting in Opal's amputation. And surgery was one of the healing techniques that Mistress Poppy wanted to know more about.

"That seems sensible to me," said Mistress Poppy, "when I think of the number of patients you must treat! I can recall thinking myself much put upon when I had as many as six or seven patients in one day."

Thorongil gave a slight chuckle, and then turned his attention to filling his healer's satchel with the supplies he would need, Mistress Poppy asking questions whenever she saw something unfamiliar.


Avor and Tadiel agreed to accompany the other hobbits in their shopping expedition, once the menu had been agreed upon.  Tadiel had listened in amazement as they had discussed the menu for the following night, each wanting to have a chance to prepare his specialty.  While she had been told that hobbits enjoyed cooking, this was her first chance to see just how much they enjoyed it!

The Fifth Circle was where the residences of the noble and wealthy were located; the Fourth Circle was where the finer shops were; but most of the food vendors were in the Third Circle, and that was where they headed.

Berilac and Jolly went with Avor to the poulterers.  Chicken and fowl were still the easiest of meats to come by in the city.  The hobbits had decided on roast chicken rubbed with herbs and stuffed with onions and garlic as the main feature of the supper.

"There will be twelve of us: eight hobbits, and Calembel and his wife and the two children," said Beri.

"Six birds, then," said Avor.

Beri and Jolly stared at him eyes wide.  "That's only a half a chicken apiece," said Beri, stating the obvious.  "I think nine would be better.  That's half a chicken, plus a little extra for seconds."

Now it was Avor's turn to stare.  He had seen hobbit appetites at work over the last few days, but this was the first time he began to truly realise how different they were.

The poulterer was smiling widely.  Pheriain were good for business.

Beri and Jolly took their time picking out the plumpest birds, and then haggling a little with the poulterer, though not much, as they were well supplied with funds.  When the embassy had set out from the Shire, it had been with a goodly sum of Saruman's gold from the weregild.

Once the price for the birds was agreed on, Beri offered to pay extra to have the birds dressed and delivered to the guesthouse.


Tadiel, along with Rolly and Denny, headed in the opposite direction, to the sellers of produce.  They found some salad greens, and were amazed at finding any this time of year; the seller reminded them that this far south the growing season was much later.  A bushel of apples was purchased, to be delivered to the Sixth Circle.  

"Look," said Rolly, "there's some of them orange fruits we've been having for breakfast."

"What are them yellow and green ones in the next basket?  Are they the same?"

The vendor, a young woman who was thrilled to have pheriain at her stall said "Those are lemons and limes.  They are too sour and bitter to eat alone, although a few people will eat them that way." She made a face that indicated she was not one of that minority. "But they are very useful for cooking, and with the addition of honey or sugar to their juice they make a delightfully refreshing drink. The juice is useful in cooking chicken and fish, and the skin may be grated for extra flavour, or even candied.  Smell of them."

The two hobbits did so, an expression of bliss crossing their faces.  "We'll take some, miss," said Rolly.  "Can you send a basket of 'em up with the apples?"

Before Thorongil began his rounds, he stopped in a large room near the main entrance to the Houses. Viola saw that there were a number of benches there, and perhaps a dozen or so people, some of them with the listless look of the ill, some of them coughing or sneezing. She saw a young woman with a screaming baby--probably teething, thought Viola. It did not have the frantic sound of a child with colic.
A couple of other healers were there, speaking to some of these patients. One of them gave Thorongil a friendly nod. The other did not seem to notice their presence. Some of the patients looked at the hobbits with a brief glance of curiosity. Viola noticed several alcoves nearby. In two of them there were more patients, each attended by a healer.

"This is our clinic," said Thorongil. "Those who have an illness or injury, and no personal healer, may come here for treatment. On most days, it is usually not very busy, though we do have times when it can become quite crowded. We charge according to the means of the patient's family--those who can afford to do so pay, for those who cannot other arrangements are made--usually a barter of some sort, or sometimes a day or two of labour in the kitchens, gardens or laundry of the Houses."

In one of the alcoves was a little girl. She was probably, thought Viola, about six or seven years old.

She was having a cut upon her arm stitched by a young woman healer, who was keeping up a bright stream of nonsense chatter to distract her little patient. The child's mother sat next to them, holding the child's arm and wincing every time the needle went in and out. The little girl was biting her lip, but was not screaming or weeping aloud, though tears streamed down her face.

The healer finished her stitching, and then looked at her little patient. "There now, Ivorwen! I trust you will be more careful about broken flower pots from now on!"

The child sniffled, and nodded, and her face brightened in surprise as the healer offered her a small sweet taken from her apron pocket.

Her mother gave her an embrace. "You were very, very brave, dearest! Why you were as brave as a hobbit!"

The child's face brightened even more.

Mistress Poppy and Viola exchanged a look of startlement.

Behind them, Thorongil chuckled. "You see that your race is not only a legend here, but is honoured by becoming the very definition of courage."

Chapter 12

Clodio and Dago were surprised when the guard bringing their first breakfast told them that after the meal, they would be taken out and allowed to stroll around in an area set aside for prisoners in the Citadel to take exercise.  

"Why do you suppose they are going to let us do that?" Dago asked after the guard had left.

Clodio had turned his attention to the rather bland porridge that made up his breakfast. "I've no idea; perhaps it is something they do often. Otherwise, why would they have an area set up for that?"

Dago snorted, and applied himself to the porridge. It was not very tasty, but it was hot and filling and there was plenty of it.  Instead of tea at breakfast, they were given tumblers of a sweet and tangy orange coloured juice-- and that was tasty enough for anyone.  Soon enough, breakfast was done, and the guard came to collect the dishes. At the same time, another guard accompanied him, and that guard summoned them from the room. They followed him meekly, but slowly when they came to the staircase. He stopped at the bottom and looked up to see them carefully picking their way down from halfway up. He simply waited, watching them carefully. The stairs were steep and not made for hobbit legs or hobbit sensibilities. Clodio fought down his feeling of panic at the distance to the bottom.

They finally reached the guard, and he turned and led them to a nearby door, where yet another guard stood. The two guards exchanged nods, and then the first one led them outside. Clodio and Dago found themselves in an area about forty feet square, flagged underfoot, and surrounded by a high stone wall topped with iron spikes. There was a stone bench against one wall. The bench was occupied by a rather disreputable looking fellow, who had one knee pulled up on the bench and was slumped against the wall. There were two other Men in the area as well, seemingly wandering about the perimeter.  The hobbits noticed they gave the scruffy fellow on the bench a wide berth.

"You will have one hour," said the guard. "Oh, before I forget--" he pulled a package from his pocket. "Mr. Bolger suggested that these might be a welcome distraction." He unwrapped it: it contained their pipes and pouches of pipeweed. "I am afraid that I will have to light them for you."

The two were too delighted to mind the indignity of someone else lighting the pipes; they quickly filled them, and then stood for the guard to use his flint striker and place a small bit of tinder to their bowls. After a few puffs the pipes were truly lit, and with a nod the guard stepped back to stand by the door that was the only way in or out of the enclosed area.

They began to walk around the edges of the enclosure, smoking in silence, and simply being grateful for fresh air and sun above. Like the other two Men, Clodio and Dago were going to avoid going too near the Man on the bench, for he had a very dangerous air about him. But as they passed by, he called out: "Ho! Shirelings! Is that Longbottom Leaf I smell?"

Startled, they stopped.  Clodio blinked at being addressed that way; Dago answered: "Yes it is.  How do you know we are from the Shire? And your words sound different than these other Men-- you are not from here!"

"No. I came down from the Bree-lands before the War. There is always a need for fighting men in a War.  And only Shire hobbits would be smoking Longbottom Leaf."

"Oh." In spite of their fear, Clodio and Dago found themselves approaching him. They could not seem to help themselves.

The Man inched over and said "Have a seat. That leaf smells very good. If I had anything worth offering on me, I'd trade it for a puff or two." He patted the bench, and the hobbits gingerly sat, toes dangling.

Clodio could never understand after why he did what he did next. He held up his pipe to the stranger and said, "Tell us who you are and why you are in this place."

The Man chuckled and accepted the pipe, taking three good puffs before handing it back. "Good Shire leaf can't be beat.  The name's Tel.  I'm here because of a disagreement with a comrade of mine. He wasn't any too happy with me."

"Oh." Clodio didn't think this explained much.

"So, what are a couple of Shirelings doing in this place? What would bring you so far as this? Or what you did you do that was so terrible as to end up a guest of the King's hospitality?"

Dago gave a bark of harsh and bitter laughter.  "We made a few bad investments with the wrong person at the wrong time."

"Bad investments, eh?"

Somehow they found themselves telling their story to this stranger who asked for nothing more than an occasional puff from one of their pipes. Clodio spoke less than Dago did; he listened to the excuses and explanations of the other hobbit, realising them for the same things he had said to himself in the beginning to excuse his poor judgment, and understanding now just how empty they were.  "We were fools," he said.  "Fools to ever trust Lotho, and fools to think that we could hide our parts in what he did and fools to think we'd ever get away with any of it."

"Speak for yourself," snorted Dago.

Just then, they looked up to see the guard approaching.  Their hour was up.

They followed the guard, Clodio turning briefly to give their new acquaintance a last look, as they were led back into the tower.

Tel watched until they had been gone several minutes, and then rose and went into the tower himself.  The guard by the door gave a nod, which was returned.  He passed the stairs that went up to the prison cells, and strode down the corridor. About halfway down a door stood open, and he entered the room.

Captain Beleg looked up, and stood.  "Sire!  Or should I call you 'Tel'?"

Aragorn chuckled, "You may if it so pleases you, but do not allow Master Ondohil to hear you, else he might have apoplexy."  He sat down in the chair across from the Captain's desk, stretched out his long legs before him, and waved a hand negligently to indicate that the Captain could sit as well. Beleg did so with a grunt.

"Are you still cross with me?" Aragorn asked.

"No, sire, though I thought your timing was unwise. Those two scoundrels who were also there might have recognized you."

He shook his head. "No, I was ten feet over their heads on a throne when I sentenced them. And they would never have thought the King could possibly look like--" he gestured at his worn leathers, "this."

"Was it worth it, sire?"  Beleg was beginning to understand why the King both delighted and frustrated the Steward.  The King knew perfectly well how to be formal and to stand on ceremony, but he also had a penchant for disposing of both when it suited him.  It gave him a sort of boyish unpredictability at odds with his years.

"Yes, it was. I wanted to see for myself what I have been told about them, and I have. Clodio Banks is clearly repentant; Dago Bracegirdle is still clearly blaming anyone but himself for his plight. I have a similar sentence in mind for the both of them, but I do not expect that Dago will carry through on his part."

"And if he does not, sire?"

"Then he will suffer the clearly spelled out consequences of his failure. The sentencing will be the day after tomorrow."  Aragorn rose, and so did Beleg.  "I must go now and prepare for today's audiences.  I do not want anyone to associate 'Tel' with the King. Be sure to allow the hobbits to take their excercise again tomorrow; I thought both of them were looking pale--being confined is unnatural for their kind."

"More unnatural than for our kind?"

Aragorn looked him straight in the eye. "Yes. So unnatural that they did not even have the concept of a prison until some of our kind introduced the idea by way of Saruman. Think on that." He left the room.

Beleg stared thoughtfully after him.


The group arrived back at the guesthouse in high spirits; Jolly had begun to sing an old Shire ditty as they walked, and all had joined, Tadiel and Avor a little embarrassed at first, but the hobbits' enthusiam was contagious, and the second time the song began the two hesitantly at first and then with more confidence joined in:

Up in the green orchard there is a green tree,
The finest of pippins that ever you see;
The apples are ripe and ready to fall,
And Rolly and Robin shall gather 'em all.*

Sing hey! Sing ho!
To harvest we go!
Sing high! Sing low!
To harvest we go!

Out in the field the barley is gold,
The bread will be brown, the beer will be cold.
Now is the time, let the reaping begin,
And Rolly and Robin shall gather it in.

Sing hey! Sing ho!
To harvest we go!
Sing high! Sing low!
To harvest we go!

Down in the dingle the mushrooms are brown.
Penny Buns and White-caps all cover the ground.
Creep into the dell before the Sun’s up--
And Rolly and Robin shall eat them all up!

Sing hey! Sing ho!
To harvest we go!
Sing high! Sing low!
To harvest we go!

People on the street paused, and smiled to see the pheriain in such fine spirits.  None approached or interrupted them, yet all would be glad to tell of this when they arrived at home.

Laughing the party arrived at the guesthouse and all entered by way of the kitchen to put away their burdens. They had taken elevenses by way of sausages from a street vendor as they shopped and had their luncheon at an in called The Golden Cockerel.  The innkeeper was delighted to serve them and to tell them of how their kin had been his regular customers.

"Sir Peregrin said that our chicken pie was as fine as any he had been served in the Shire!"  

Of course the hobbits all had to try it, and the innkeeper was gratified when they proclaimed that Pippin had been quite correct.

Freddy and Mosco returned as the others were putting away the produce and other things purchased for the supper they would be making the next day.  Some items would be delivered by the tradesmen on the next morning-- the chickens were to be delivered plucked and dressed, for one thing , and the fruit for another.  Mosco bore a basket with three bottles of wine, "courtesy of Lord Hiril," he said.

"It's what he called Dol Amroth Red," added Freddy. "He said that our guests would enjoy it."  He put the basket down. "It looks as though most of the work of putting away is done here," he said. "If you would come into the front room we need to talk."

Wondering what Freddy needed to say, for he had sounded quite serious, the others followed him into the front room.

"What's the matter, Freddy?" asked Berilac.

"The King came by while we were with Lord Hiril.  You know he'll be sentencing the prisoners day after tomorrow?"

The others all nodded.

"Well, he wanted to let us know ahead of time what's been decided..."

The other hobbits listened carefully. When he finished, Rolly said "I think that's a good choice for Clodio. But I'm not so sure about the Bracegirdle."

"The King knows that. But he has his reasons."
* The first verse of the song is a traditional children’s nursery song, slightly altered. The chorus and remaining verses are mine. This song first appeared in my story "Trotter".

Chapter 13

All of the hobbits were pleased to be making preparations for their first dinner guests at the embassy. They bustled around beginning right after second breakfast.

"We need flowers," said Freddy.

"I noticed a flower stand in the Fourth Circle," said Berilac. "Perhaps Viola and I can go down there and purchase some."

Freddy gave Berilac a look. Beri blushed, but said, "You are not as good at that as Frodo is, or Aunt Esme! But truly, we would run the errand gladly, and will not dally."

"You most certainly won't dally," said Mistress Poppy, who had overheard the exchange. "I'll give my permission for her to go, but have her back before luncheon! There is far too much to do, and many hands make light work."

"Yes, Mistress Poppy!" said Beri. He turned to Freddy. "Now she does that look every bit as well as Aunt Esme," he muttered.

"I heard that, young Brandybuck!"

Freddy laughed. "We do have a lot to do! So long as you will be out anyway, stop at Mistress Ivoreth's bakery on the way back and bring home some more of those lemon tarts for tea."

"As you wish," said Beri, scurrying off to find Viola and tell her of their errand.

Freddy looked at Mistress Poppy. "You do know that you gave them permission to be out for elevenses, don't you?"

She threw back her head and laughed heartily. "I can't put one past you, can I, Fredegar? Viola's been working quite hard since we began going over to the Houses of Healing, and she deserves to have a little time with her swain."

Each of them equipped with a basket, the two young hobbits took themselves off. Viola's brown eyes were sparkling with joy at being out and about, and Berilac could scarcely keep his own eyes off her. They'd had precious little time together since arriving in Minas Tirith, and even less of that alone.

"Tell me more about our guests, Beri," Viola asked.

"Well, Master Calembel is a master stonemason, and the King is putting him in charge of the new capital in the North. Mosco is going to be working closely with him, which is why we took him off to celebrate." Beri shook his head. "We had no idea he'd have such a poor head for drink!  But he's very nice, and his wife seems that way as well. She certainly could have blamed us for the state he came home in, but she did not. And there are two children. All I know of them is that they are a lad and a lass, I mean, a boy and a girl."  They passed through the tunnel to the Fifth Circle.

"It will be nice to have company." She stopped. "Which way do we go now?" She looked around. This was her first time to see this part of the City since their arrival. She had been spending all of her time at the Houses of Healing.

"To the right," said Beri.

They took their time in the Fifth Circle, looking at the magnificent houses, and what they could see of fine courtyards beyond iron gates. "They are beautiful," said Viola, "and I suppose they suit the fine people of the King's Court, but I don't think they feel at all homely."

"I know. Brandy Hall is large, and so are the Great Smials-- I suppose if you take size into account they are larger for hobbits than these houses are for people. But grand as they are they don't feel so imposing, and they feel much more like home. Merry says he thinks it's the difference between cold stone and warm earth.  I mentioned that to Gimli once on our journey here, and he did not agree. He thinks the difference is that these houses were built not for the comfort of their dwellers but to impress their neighbours."

Viola gazed once more at the great white marble house and said thoughtfully, "I think they both are right. We hobbits are more used to the earth than to stone, and so that feels more natural. But even the Great Smials-- which I have to say I found to be imposing at first when I went there to become Mistress Poppy's apprentice-- is built so large because it is needed to accommodate many hobbits. Mistress Serindë told us most of these houses have only one family living there and a few servants, and that even the families do not live in them all the time, but go out of the City in the summers to live at their estates in the country."

Beri nodded. "That's what Calembel told us as well."

"What is Brandy Hall like, Beri? I've never been to Buckland."

Beri's face lit up. "Buckland is beautiful! There is nothing like the Sun on the River. This time of year, the colour of the trees is reflected in the water: golden above and below! And when the apple orchards are in bloom, the whole of Buckland smells of apple blossom.  Brandy Hall is not as large as the Great Smials, but it's not much smaller.  We have more families there, but fewer servants. It's actually older than the Great Smials, and it could have been larger, for Buck Hill is huge! But many of the oldest tunnels of Brandy Hall have been sealed off and some have even been filled in."


"They were once prone to flooding. But those levels are below the lowest of the residence tunnels. There are a few mathom rooms down there from which one can still get into the old diggings. Once Pippin went in alone to explore when he was little, and got lost." Beri gave a shudder. "It took us two days to find him. Merry was frantic, and the rest of us were dreadfully frightened. Pippin bounced right back, of course."*

Viola chuckled. "Of course."

"But the Hall is well dug. It has ceilings high enough for Big Folk, and there are three common kitchens and two common dining rooms on the main level, as well as three parlours, the library and the Master's study.  The next level up are the main family apartments-- that's where my parents and I have ours-- and the apartment of the Master and the one for the Son of the Hall. Merry doesn't live there, of course, since he's living at Crickhollow, but when he comes up to the Hall and stays overnight he uses it. There's a common bathing room on that level, but some of the apartments there have their own water closets and bathing rooms. The upper levels are similar, though most of them have to make do with common bathing rooms and water closets."

"It sounds very civilised."

Beri laughed. "Yes, I know what the rest of the Shire thinks of us 'wild Bucklanders'! We do all sorts of strange things, like swim and go about in boats, and lock our doors and live 'right up agin the Old Forest'! And the gentry will roll up their sleeves and work alongside the servants, even when its not harvest-time! It's not natural!"

Viola smiled. "Somehow when you talk about it, it doesn't sound nearly so wild as everyone thinks-- except the Old Forest part."

"Well, we have the High Hay. It keeps us safe from the trees. I used to think a lot of the stories about it were just tall tales-- until Merry came home and told us what happened there. Even then I did not quite believe all of it, until I met Treebeard! Ah! Here's the Fourth Circle!"

They soon found the flower-seller, who had an abundance of blooms arrayed upon her cart.  She was pleased beyond words to have the visiting pheriannath at her stand, and when she had got over her astonishment, introduced herself as Erien.

"Oh, what lovely flowers!" exclaimed Viola. "At home all the flowers will have been long gone until next spring! I never expected to see so many kinds of flowers here."

"My family dwells south of the City in Lossarnach, in the small valley of Tumladen. It is sheltered by the mountains from the north winds, and has the Sun from the South nearly the whole winter long. It rarely gets even as cold as the City there. My cousins bring me the flowers they grow to sell for them here. They also have a small glass house for some of the less hardy flowers"

The two hobbits spent some time over the flowers: poppies and lavender and even roses and irises (the latter two Erien, explained, were forced in the glass house) and many other flowers. There were also flowers that the hobbits did not recognise. She showed them two lovely flowers of a deep blue-violet colour. At first Beri thought they were the same, but Viola, with her healer's eye quickly noticed a difference. "These are both a sort of crocus. But they aren't the same."

Erien nodded. "Yes, these are both crocus. But as you say, they are not the same: look carefully, little lady. They are both beautiful to look upon. And this one is very valuable, for it is the saffron crocus. See the three stamen, which are much longer? Those are the source of saffron. The other is a deadly poison-- we call it "blue deceiver". But I am told that even the poison can be useful for healers."

Viola nodded. Many plants had poisons that could be useful for healing when used properly. A tincture of foxglove, for example was often useful for heart patients.

"Take note of them well, for they both grow wild during the autumn!"

The hobbits nodded, and then turned to the selection and purchase of some flowers to adorn the guesthouse this evening, and soon Viola's basket was full.  

Beri smiled, and selected a single white rose. He pinched the flower from the stem, and tucked it into Viola's hair, into the yellow ribbon just behind her ear.  She blushed, and Erien laughed, making note of the moment, and pleased to have a little gossip to share about the two-- clearly they were in love!  How sweet!

After paying Erien, they realised it was time for elevenses, and Beri decided to take Viola to The Golden Cockerel.  It was too early to get the chicken pie, so they ordered a platter of honeycakes and tea. Beri would have preferred a beer, but he thought it best not, since he was with Viola. There were still a few of the honeycakes left when the two of them were sated, so they put them in Beri's basket to take home, and decided to head back, remembering the need to stop at the bakery on the way.
Calembel came home early from the Guild Hall.  He knew that Niriel would wish his presence as she prepared for them to dine with the hobbits that evening.

He took his best tunic from the wardrobe and laid it out.  She looked it over. "It will have to do. But you will need a new one soon."

Calembel knew better than to ask her "why?".  She was simply nervous, and she would forget all about the idea by tomorrow. The tunic was only a year old and he wore it seldom-- though more often now than before they had a King.  

Niriel had taken out two gowns, "I cannot decide whether to wear the green one or the blue one. I fear that the blue one makes me look fat.

Calembel blanched and thought quickly. "I think the blue one brings out the beauty of your eyes, my love."

Niriel beamed. "The blue one it is, then."

There was a rap on the door of the chamber, and Niriel turned. Calembel breathed a sigh of relief.

"Mistress?" It was Idril, the children's nursemaid.

Niriel bid her enter, and she came in holding a boy's tunic in her hands.  "I only just discovered this as I was getting his things out for this evening." She held the tunic up, and wiggled her finger through  a hole in the left sleeve just behind where the elbow would be.  "Do you wish me to mend it, or should he wear his second-best?"

"Ah!" Niriel gave an annoyed cluck of the tongue. "Let me go and look at his second-best; I fear it would take you too long to mend it so that it will not show.  But I think he may have outgrown his second best tunic..." She went bustling out of the room behind the nursemaid.

After luncheon the kitchen at the guesthouse was a blur of activity; baking, and cutting, and cleaning, and preparing those things that could be prepared ahead of time.  

Tadiel was amazed at how well all the hobbits worked together in kitchen. Eight of them, scurrying about like so many rabbits, yet they never ran into one another or even got in one another's way.  It was almost like a dance.  She found her own role relegated to reaching things down from high cupboards and washing up the pots and dishes as they were used, to save so much cleaning later. Yet it was such a lesson to watch the small ones working that she did not mind being demoted to scullery maid for a day.

Soon the chickens were trussed and roasting on the hearth. Apple tarts were cooling on the sill, causing Berilac to briefly begin singing "One Hundred Apple Pies" before the evil glares of all the rest brought him to a slow silence.  "I suppose I should begin making my scones now."

Teatime was brief; cups of tea, the lemon tarts from the bakery, and the honeycakes that Beri and Viola had brought back, and it scarcely brought things to a halt.  Avor was preparing the dining room, and Freddy went out to see that all was as it should be.  He had, after a lot of thought, decided to serve the meal Shire style, rather than being waited on by the servants. Avor had been somewhat take aback at this, but after some thought decided it would be nice to have an evening off with Tadiel.

"And we'll do the washing up after our guests leave. With the eight of us it won't take much time."

Jolly, Beri and Viola would see that the food was placed upon the table while Freddy and the others greeted the guests, and then come to be introduced before all of them went in for supper.

Niriel inspected her family carefully, checking the neat darning on Calion's tunic, tucking Ivoreth's hair behind her ears, and arranging Calembel's collar, before looking carefully down at herself.

"You look lovely, Niriel," said Calembel. "Stop fretting. It is not like you to be so fretful."

She smiled. "I suppose you are right, husband. Well, shall we go?"

The children walked between their parents as they made their way up the City.

"Father, how tall are the pheriain?" asked Calion.

"The tallest of the hobbits is Master Fredegar Bolger, and he is half a head shorter than you are.  The others are near to his height, though."

"Why are we not to say pherian?" put in Ivoreth.  "That's what everyone says."

Calembel shook his head. "Not everyone. The King and the Queen say 'hobbits', and many other people of the City have taken it up. It is, after all, their proper name for themselves. If we travel to the North as the King wishes, we shall have to get used to saying it."

"Oh." This silenced the children for a while as they considered the implications of travelling so far away. 

Soon they had entered the Sixth Circle and were approaching the guesthouse…


Everything was ready. The table was being laden with food, and the house gleamed.  There was a knock upon the door.

Their guests had arrived.


*My story "The Brandy Hall Incident"

Chapter 14

Calion stared with unabashed interest at the small person who answered the door, and at the other small ones who stood there behind him. He was not quite as tall as Calion himself, and had a shock of dark curls on his head and his feet.

"Good evening, Calembel, Mistress Niriel! Do come in!"

"Master Fredigar! May I present my children-- my son Calion, and my daughter Ivoreth."

Calion gave a polite bow, and Ivoreth made a neat curtsy. Calion listened carefully as his father gave him the hobbits' names. Such funny names, they had!

He looked about him while his parents and Mr. Bolger (what kind of title was Mr., he wondered? It sort of sounded like "Master", which was his father's title as a guildsman.) exchanged polite talk. The rooms were tall and fine. He knew that this building was meant for the King's guests, and he guessed they were grand enough-- but it seemed odd to see the small furniture scattered about-- low benches and tables, they looked like nursery furniture. Then his attention was caught by some delicious smells, and he blushed as his stomach growled. Ivoreth glared at him.

Mr. Bolger laughed. "I see that the youths of Men have one thing in common with the 'tweens of the Shire: their stomachs are quite reliable when it is suppertime! Speaking of which, I do believe all is ready!"

He and the others led Calion and his family up the corridor, past two rooms on either side, to another room to the left. A wide arch opened into a large dining room. It boasted a long table in the center of the room, but oddly, on one side of the table there was a long high bench with a step all along the bottom. At either end were two chairs that reminded Calion of nothing so much as baby chairs: they were small, but high. Along the other side were four ordinary chairs.

But what truly made his eyes grow wide was the sight of the table: it was laden with food, from which the most delicious smells came! He saw at least two platters of roasted chickens; there were baskets of freshly baked breads of several kinds and shapes; there was one platter of roasted vegetables and a bowl of buttery boiled potatoes; there was a platter of stuffed mushrooms (Ivoreth would not touch those, he would be bound); and there was a bowl of cooked greens (he turned up his own nose at the thought of those).  On a sideboard at one end of the room, he saw three large apple tarts, steaming hot, and a bowl of clotted cream. There was also a platter of cheese and fruit and more bread rolls. He'd never seen so much food all at one time and in one place in his life. Even the one time he'd been with his family to a feast at the King's Hall of Merethrond, the servants had brought the food one remove at a time.

All of them stood briefly next to the table and observed the Standing Silence. Calion was surprised that these pheriain knew what that was. But perhaps they had been told. That would make sense.

Mr. Bolger sat at one of the high chairs at one end, and Mistress Poppy sat at the other end, and the other hobbits all sat on the long bench. His parents took the chairs at either end of the other side. Ivoreth slipped into the one next to their father and so Calion found himself next to his mother.

He was very hungry. He started to reach for the basket of bread rolls in front of him, and then hesitated. What was the proper thing to do when the food was already on the table? Mr. Bolger smiled at him. "We are serving Shire-style tonight. Take what you want from the food in front of you, and then pass it to the person on your left."

Calion nodded, and placed one of the rolls upon his plate and then handed the basket to his mother. She also took one, and then handed the basket to Mistress Poppy. Calion turned as his sister handed him the platter of stuffed mushrooms. He noted with surprise that she had actually taken one!

In this way, the food was rapidly served, and Calion realised his plate was piled high. He had even taken some of the greens-- just a few-- because they had smelled so good, not at all strong like he was used to. He had half a chicken on his plate, because that was how it came on the platter. Usually he only ate the leg of fowl. But everything tasted so good! Even the greens were good-- sweet and tangy at the same time, with no bitter aftertaste. They had little bits of smoked ham in them, and onion. He honestly could not recall ever having a meal that was so delicious before! He soon realised his plate was empty of every crumb. Mistress Poppy was asking him and Ivoreth if they wanted seconds.

"Oh no, Mistress!" his sister exclaimed, then blushed and put her hand over her mouth.

Calion thought quickly. "It is just that we would like some of that wonderful smelling apple tart," he said, "and we need to leave room for it!"

Mistress Poppy laughed. "You could have said nothing to please me more, young Calion! I made that tart with my own two hands! Viola, since we all seem to be finished with the main course, bring the dessert over here and I will slice it."

For some strange reason her statement made Viola and Mr. Brandybuck blush, and some of the other hobbits sniggered, but Mr. Bolger looked at them sternly.

Miss Viola slipped from her place and brought the tart to her mistress, who carefully divided it up and then turned her attention to the second one Viola placed by her. Mr. Brandybuck had come down from his space on the bench, and he brought a small stack of plates on which Mistress Poppy began to put the slices. Like the food, the dessert plates were passed to the left until everyone had some. Then the bowl of clotted cream was passed around.

Calion turned his attention to the tart, and when it was all gone, and he had decided that if he ate one more bite he would burst, he looked up. His parents' plates and his sister's were empty. The hobbits had finished with their tart, and now were eating bits of cheese and fruit as they talked.

"Fredegar," said his father, "I do not know when I have had such a wonderful meal!"

"Thank you," said the hobbit. "such compliments are music to hobbit ears! We love to please people with food. Meals and hospitality are very important in the Shire."

Niriel asked, "Did the King give you no servants? I was surprised to learn that you cooked all of this, and to see that you served it this way."

Mr. Bolger laughed. "We were given servants, but we gave them the evening off. We wanted the chance to cook, for cooking is one of the prime arts of our land; and this is the way most meals are served in the Shire-- with the food set upon the table, and then passed around."

"Oh." Niriel looked thoughtful. "Is that only among the hobbits of your land? What about the Men?"

"Well, if you are meaning 'the Shire' there really are no Men living there, only hobbits, as it was gifted to our people by the King of Arnor. But if you mean 'Arnor', then I think you will find that the by the time the King's Court is well established the customs will be much as they are here. But the North is a much more rustic place now, and very sparsely populated."

"This is what I have heard from Lord Hiril," said Calembel. "He says that the Dúnedain of the North are scattered and few."

Fredegar nodded. "That's true. Of course, there are other sorts of Men, but they are mostly settled in small villages and towns, also scattered and few. The principal town between the Shire and the Misty Mountains is Bree, and compared to Minas Tirith it is quite small. I should say it is not a third the size of Edoras, if that. Still, once the King rebuilds the capital and the traffic on the Road increases, that may very well change."

Calion listened with interest. If they were to travel there, they would need to know more about it all. It sounded exciting and adventurous, although glancing at his mother's troubled expression, he thought perhaps she might not care much for it. But if they were all there together she'd grow to like it. During the War, his mother, and he and Ivoreth, had been sent off to Ethring in Lebinnen, where they had distant kin. She had not much cared for it there, either, when they arrived. But by the time they left to come home, she was sorry to leave the new friends she made-- though very glad to be reunited with Father, who had been needed in the City for the defenses of the walls. This time Father would be with them, so Calion was sure she would grow to like things sooner.

"Shall we go into the parlour?" said Mr. Bolger. "We'll leave the cleaning up for later."

The front room was large, and scattered with an assortment of chairs and settees meant to accommodate both Big and Small people. His parents sat on either end of a long settee with Calion and Ivoreth between them, and the hobbits made themselves comfortable in various smaller chairs, except for Mr. Brandybuck and Miss Viola, who chose to sit on the edge of the hearth, which was rather higher than most hearths Calion had seen before.

The talk briefly turned to the changes that Minas Tirith had seen since the Dark Lord had been overthrown and the King had returned.

"It seems strange that we are no longer fighting the Enemy. It is good, but still, strange," Calembel said. "Lord Hiril told me there was much fighting in the North as well. How did your people fare?"

Fredegar laughed. "Not well, though not nearly so badly as we thought we did or as badly as it could have been had Frodo not achieved his goal. We were somewhat overrun, but not by any creatures of Sauron-- rather by brigands and rough Men sent our way by Saruman. A few of us tried unsuccessfully to fight back, but we didn't accomplish much until Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Sam returned."

"Captain Freddy!" Jolly exclaimed, "You did as much as anyone could be expected against the Ruffians and Sharkey!"

"You were a captain of soldiers?" Calion blurted, surprised into speaking in the presence of his elders.

"Not really," he answered, but did not elaborate.

Mr. Brandybuck spoke up from his place on the hearth. "Hobbits don't have soldiers," he said. "Not like you have here, where someone chooses to be a warrior and that's a job. We have what they call the 'Shire Muster', in which the Thain levies hobbits in an emergency. The heart of the muster are the archers of the Tooks, and then others are gathered from elsewhere, the Four Farthings and even Buckland. But during our recent Troubles, the Tooks were besieged and could not call for others. Cousin Freddy here, who's half-Took by the way, managed to gather up a band to harry the Ruffians. But none had the knowledge or experience to be effective until Merry and Pippin and Frodo and Sam came home."

"So hobbits have never had a war?" Calembel's voice was incredulous.

"No." said Berilac. "Forty hobbits of the Shire Muster went to the support of Arvedui Last-King as he's known in our history, though no one knows what happened to them. But the Shire was invaded once, and by goblins-- Orcs as you say-- no less."

"With no army, how were they defeated? Did help come from others?" asked Calembel.

"The Shire Muster was called, and led by the Thain's younger son Bandobras. There is a humorous story about the event, which said that Bandobras used a club to knock the head off the Chief Goblin Golfimbul, which flew into the air and down a rabbit hole, thereby inventing the game of golf." Fredegar snorted.

Calembel laughed. Lord Hiril had told him of the game. The rest of his family simply looked puzzled.

"There were all sorts of fantastical stories about that battle, and most hobbits think it only a myth," Berilac said. "But Frodo told us the real story. He used to tell stories to us younger hobbits at Yuletide, and I especially remember when he told this one:

Chill rain rattled the window of the second parlour at Brandy Hall, which was filled with the younger tweens and the children, all there to carry on the tradition of a Baggins telling stories to little Brandybucks at Yule. The fire crackled in the hearth. Beri and several other cousins were scattered around the floor, though some of the lasses had taken the settee. Merry had the coveted place right next to Frodo's knee, as their older cousin sat in the same armchair Bilbo had occupied for many years. Pippin Took had the most coveted place of all: Frodo's lap. He was nearly eight, and almost too old for laps, but it did not seem to bother him.

"Tonight," Frodo had begun, in his best story-telling voice, "I will tell you of Bandobras Took. Most of you know the story of how he saved the Shire from an invasion of goblins long ago, but I doubt many of you know the
true story!  There is a book in the library of the Thain in the Great Smials. This book was written by Bandobras' cousin Ferumbold who accompanied him on that mission….



 Berilac continues the tale of the Battle of Greenfields for the enlightenment of their guests...

Chapter 15

In the Shire Year 1147, Thain Isumbras III lay ill, and his older son Ferumbras who was his heir, was off in Buckland doing business with the Master, who was at the time Gormaduc the Wise. This left Mistress Lavinia the Thain's Lady, who had been a Goldworthy by birth, in charge and Bandobras to help her. 

It was just before sunrise in mid-Thrimmidge, while most were still abed, there came a pounding on the Great Doors. The servant who slept in a nearby room and whose job it was to see to such off-hour visitors was quickly awake. He hurried to the doors and flung them open to see a very bedraggled and exhausted hobbit. He came quickly wondering what the trouble could be.  Soon enough he found out. "I've come from the Northfarthing, with an urgent message for the Thain!" he exclaimed. "It can't wait. It's a matter of life-and-death!" 

Well, of course, with the Thain laid up, they sent for Mistress Lavinia, and when she heard his message, she sent for Bandobras. He came quickly wondering what the trouble could be.

His mother turned to the messenger. "Tell my son what you told me," she ordered.

"Master Bandobras, four days ago a Big Man approached Long Cleeve, riding a huge horse. He was weary and wounded. He said he was a Ranger, and he bore word to the Shire: that hobbits must all hide or evacuate, for a large group of goblins were coming our way. He said they'd be here inside of two weeks at the rate they was a-marching, and I've been on the road for three since he got there. We believed 'im we did-- so would you did you see 'im, for he was near done in, he was. He had a big old cut on his side, and the healer was almighty worried she was!" 

Mistress Lavinia looked her son dead in the eye. "It's all up to you, Bandy! You must call the Shire muster! Take the Tooks with you, and gather others as you go. No time to wait for the muster to gather in one place. Hie them all to Long Cleeve as fast as you can and hope you find that Man alive to tell how many there are and how they are making their way to the Shire. I'll see to getting messages out ahead of you! Go, son! Go!" 

Bandy didn't wait at all, he hurried off, and one of the first people he wakened was his cousin and friend Ferumbold. "Fermy, old chap, get up and about! I'll tell you as we go; Mother has ordered out the Muster. Get your bow, and gather up the archers! We are headed for the Northfarthing." 

"Bandy, I hate to mention this, but you are no archer." Ferumbold eyed his cousin suspiciously, half thinking this was perhaps one of his cousin's jokes.

"I know that." Bandy was a great strapping lad for a hobbit, and a decent hand with a sling or thrown stone, and the best wrestler in the Tooklands, but he was no good at archery. He went over to his cousin's wardrobe, flung it open and began rummaging about. 

"Oy!" cried Ferumbold. 

But Bandy emerged, lifting the object of his search high. "I didn't think you'd returned my 9-iron!" he exclaimed. "Well, I'm claiming it now. I should think it would make a goblin think twice. 

They rode out like the wind, with thirty-nine of the Took archers who made up the heart of the Muster-- the fortieth was Bandy's brother Ferumbras. Bandy hoped that word would reach his brother in Buckland, but he scarcely hoped that Rumble would catch up with them.

They passed through Tuckborough and added twenty more to their number; and in Waymeet another dozen. Every village and hamlet through which they passed added a few more. As they made a brief halt to rest the ponies in Needlehole, they were joined by a group of ten from Michel Delving. The leader of the Michel Delving hobbits told Bandy that fifteen more were following on foot. There were none with ponies in Needlehole, so six from there agreed to join the hobbits who were a-foot when they came through. In each village, arrangements were being made to hide the mothers and children and as much of the food as they could. Animals were set free to fend for themselves. If all went well, they could be rounded up later.

They managed to reach Long Cleeve in two and a half days. Mr. Longhole was waiting there with at least fifty hobbits, half of them mounted, and all armed with bows.

"How is the Man?" asked Bandy.

"He still lives, and is doing better. But the healer says he's three weeks at least from being up and about. He nearly killed himself getting here with word. But he's well enough to talk." Mr. Longhole was talking as he escorted Bandy and Ferumbold through the passages to a large room. Several mattresses had been laid down to form a pallet bed, and a very large Man was lying there. He was awake. He wore no nightshirt, and Bandy could see wide bandages wrapped around his torso. He was lean, of middle years, and had dark grey-shot hair and piercing grey eyes. He was very pale, and there were dark circles around his eyes.

"Bandobras Took, this Hirluin son of Dirluin, and he says he's a 'Ranger'. I think it's the Big Folks' version of the Bounders, and he's ridden all this way to help the Shire. Hirluin, this is Bandobras, the son of the Thain."

"I am at your service, Master Bandobras, such as my service may be right now. I wish that I could rise to help you. You must get all your people to safety."

"Word's been sent. The families will see to the safety of as many as they can. But they'll need time. I have almost two-hundred hobbits, half of whom are mounted on ponies. Most of them are archers, and all are good hands with throwing stones and with slings. We will do what we can to hold them back for as long as we can. What can you tell us of them?"

"It's a group of almost a hundred, who have come here from Mount Gram in the Ettenmoors, many leagues East of here. Somehow they heard they might find easy and fat pickings here. They are led by a huge fellow called Golfimbul, if you could call it leading. They are not mounted. Horses and ponies will not bear them and the Wargs they often ride have been scarce in recent years. If they continued the route they were on, they will have crossed the Baranduin and will enter the Shire from the North very soon, if they have not done so already."

"North, you say?" asked Bandy.

The Man nodded.

Bandy looked at Mr. Longhole. "Will that bring them near Greenfields?"

For the first time since Bandy had met him, the other hobbit smiled.

Bandy asked: "Do you have hobbits who know the moors?" For Greenfields was a village at the edge of a large moor, criss-crossed with many bogs, green and fair to look upon, but treacherous to anyone who did not know the ways.
Hirluin, who had up until now, been feeling hopeless as to the chances of the Shire began to feel a faint stirring of hope.

"You must keep in sight of your troops, Bandobras," the Man said.

"How can I do that? There's going to be a lot of confusion."

The Man looked at him closely. "You are quite tall for one of your kind, you know."

Bandy grinned. "That's true."

"Have you ever considered riding a horse?"

He looked the great beast over. It was a nicely proportioned animal, and even though it was a stallion, Hirluin said he was good natured and easy to ride. Hirluin was not Belan's first or even second rider, but they'd been together over a year now, and knew one another well. If the Man thought he'd let Bandy ride him, he was probably right.

Bandy was a good rider, and he had a fond but firm relationship with his pony Biscuit. Belan was big, but he seemed to be less skittish than Biscuit was. Still, he couldn't help a little apprehension as he led the animal next to the paddock fence. He could mount from there.  Ferumbold handed him up the 9-iron, and Bandy took it firmly in his grip and shook it briefly. Then he began to walk the horse around the paddock, then they trotted, cantered, and finally made two rounds at a gallop. He was surprised to realise how easily riding the huge animal came to him; it rather reminded him of when he was a child. Riding a horse as an adult was not much different than riding his father's large pony when he was a six-year-old—save that now he knew how to ride.

He began to canter around the paddock again, and Ferumbold set some bottles on the top rail near where he stood to the left of the gate. As Bandy came by he swung the club, shattering each bottle as he came to it. He tugged lightly on the reins, and Belan came to an obedient stop. Bandy grinned. He liked this animal! It would be hard to give him back later.

"Well, I won't be defenseless," he said, "and that's good to know."

He clambered down. "Now we need to talk about strategy..."

The scouts were sent out that afternoon, but the hobbits did not wait for their return; they would meet them on the move-- they left at moonrise.

Hirluin had given Bandy some last minute advice, to engage the goblins during the day for the goblins did not like the Sun and were weaker then. "But weaker than they are at night does not mean they are weak enough to defeat easily. They will be more confused in sunlight, but they will still be stronger than hobbits. Your archers and your stones and your terrain will serve you better than attempting to engage them close to. And the land itself will be your best defense."

The mounted hobbits rode hard. They were being followed by those on foot, but they knew they could not wait. At dawn, they were found by one of the scouts. "The goblins are encamped in Greenfields. The Ranger had warned the village, and the hobbits were evacuated in time, but the beasts have moved in and destroyed many of the smials, tearing the doors and windows off them so that they can get in out of the Sun. They've set guards, but those are mostly hiding in the shadows of the buildings, and they can't see very well-- their line of sight is mostly blocked."

Bandy sent the scout to tell the foot hobbits to spread out between Long Cleeve and Oatbarton. "Tell them to be sure to have plenty of stones and arrows. Dirluin said they will be weakest at noon. We'll get ready to drive them out then. Surround the village on three sides, but leave plenty of room to the South for them to flee." He looked around at them. "I'll be waiting with two-score Tooks at the south end of town.

The listening hobbits nodded, and gave grim smiles. Then all began to prepare.

The Sun was at her zenith when the attack began with flaming arrows aimed at the broken windows and doors. In a matter of seconds, goblins came pouring out of the smoke-filled smials with roars of anger. At first, many of them cowered in the Sun, but their leader came out with a long whip and began to lay about him. He soon had brought them into a semblance of order and they spotted the mounted hobbits at the end of the street and began running towards them.

Bandy gave a signal, and the archers let fly. He loosed off several stones, for none of the enemy were close enough for his club. The arrows-- and the stones-- found their marks, and some of the goblins went down, but most of them kept coming. Bandy gave another signal, and as agreed, the hobbits feigned terror and turned to ride away.

"Hai!" called the leader. "After those little rats! We'll feast on them, and on their fat little ponies, too! Don't let them get away." The chase was on.

Bandy and his hobbits led them into the moors which gave Greenfields its name. Once they had them a few furlongs out of the village, the other hobbits who had surrounded the village came behind, more archers, and hobbits with slings. Infuriated, and beset before and behind by beings they considered their rightful prey, the goblins lost all caution.

Then with a screech, the first one went down in the first of the bogs. Within minutes a good third of the goblins were sinking fast. The rest became more cautious, yet not knowing the land, many were still getting caught in the bogs. Bandy had been busily throwing stones, but now they were all gone.

And then he realised that he was in danger of going into one of the bogs himself. He was between two dangerous areas, and though he'd found a spot with firm footing, retreat would be difficult. Then the goblin chief spotted him, and began moving towards him with a snarling grin. "Well, well, well, a rat on a horse! You must fancy yourself something special. I wonder are you tastier than these others?"

Bandy stood fast; Belan had his feet planted firmly, though he pawed the ground with a forefoot and snorted. Belan had encountered goblins before, and he didn't like them. Bandy took a deep breath and drew the 9-iron from its sheath on the saddle. He stood as tall in the stirrups as he could, realising that mounted as he was, he was actually "taller" than the goblin. He drew back as the creature approached, its own wicked sword raised high, and swung as hard as ever he could. The goblin's head snapped back with a crack, and the head hung at an unnatural angle. With a sound that was more a squeak than anything else, Golfimbul teetered and fell sideways into a bog. But the impact unbalanced Bandy, and he toppled off the horse into another bog.  "I'm done for," he thought, as he landed in the mucky surface.

He was quite surprised to waken several hours later to his cousin Ferumbold's anxious face. He'd struck the back of his head on a submerged rock, which had actually saved him, for unconscious, he had not struggled. He floated atop the bog for long enough to be rescued by his cousins. He spent several days being nursed back to health by Mr. Longhole's daughter Diamante, and it came as no surprise to Ferumbold when Bandy decided to remain in Long Cleeve and settle down there...


Berilac stopped. "Frodo told it much better, and in greater detail, but this is as much as I can remember of it."

Calion, and indeed the rest of his family, had listened entranced to the tale.

Freddy took a deep breath. "You told it very well, Beri."

Viola was staring at Beri in frank adoration. "I had never heard it like that before!" she said. "That sounds as though it really happened. All the other versions I've heard were funny, and made it all sound like nothing more than a joke!"

Berilac shook his head. "It was no joke. It did happen. Nearly a dozen hobbits lost their lives in the battle, and the village of Greenfields was destroyed. All the hobbits who had lived there had to go to Long Cleeve and Oatbarton until the village was rebuilt.  But the goblins were completely routed, and not a one escaped."

"But that," said Fredegar, "was the only battle ever fought in the Shire until the Battle of Bywater when Frodo and the others came home."

Ivoreth yawned, and Calion found himself yawning as well.

Calembel looked at them, and said, "I thank you, my friends, for a pleasant and fascinating evening! The food was beyond delicious, and the tale was amazing! But I think our children have been up far past their bedtimes!"

Farewells were spoken, and the family made their way down to their home. Calembel carried Ivoreth, who was soon sleeping on her father's shoulder. But Calion walked behind his parents, lost in a dreamlike daze as he imagined that great hero, Bandobras Took.

Chapter 16

Aragorn was waiting in the study he used when he wished to speak with individuals in a setting less formal than an audience in the throne room, but not as informal or intimate as his small office. It was a larger room, with an impressive desk (upon which there was little to be seen, as he did not actually use it for work) and massive chairs with intricate carving on the legs and back. Wide windows were flanked by tall shelves, upon which a few selected books and objects rested. It was not a room to be comfortable in, but it served its purpose.

He had set the day aside to deal with the matter on which he would be ruling on the morrow. The hobbits were going to be busy all day preparing for guests, and it was a day on which no formal court had been scheduled. This gave him a day in which he could examine everything and be certain that the judgment he planned to hand down on Clodio Banks and Dago Bracegirdle would be the best one he could contrive. All would depend on the two Men he would interview today. While he trusted the judgment of Ondahil, and even more that of both Faramir and his father before him, he would not be satisfied without coming to his own conlusions about these Men.


Maevor son of Maldir stood nervously before the door to the room to which he had been summoned. All he had been told by the seneschal Ondahil was that the King wished to consult with him on a matter of importance. His position as keeper of the accounts for the Citadel was a responsible one, and he was certain that he had done nothing wrong. Nevertheless, he could not seem to help the feeling of cold dread at the thought of actually speaking with the King, well, not in a conversation with only the two of them present, anyway.

He had, of course, been introduced to the King shortly after the coronation, as had all the Citadel's staff; and he had been present at meetings in which it was others who did the talking. He had never seen any signs of tyranny in the new King, who was decidedly amiable in comparison with the stiff and unapproachable Lord Denethor when he had been Steward--still, a King is a King, and he was made more nervous by the fact that he had no idea of what that King wanted with him.

Well, he was not alone at the door, at least. Master Ondahil placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder very briefly, and then turned to speak to the Guardsman who stood by the door. "This is Master Maevor, whom the King has summoned at this hour." Both Men bowed, but were not required to kneel, as this was not a formal audience.

"Thank you, Master Ondahil." The King gave a nod of dismissal, and the seneschal left; when he heard the door close behind him, Maevor could not help a sinking feeling.

The King was standing behind a huge desk. He wore, not the crown, but the Elendimir, and no mantle of state. He was clothed in black trews and a deep grey doublet, embroidered with silver stars. He sat down in the massive chair behind it, and waved a hand at the equally massive on across from him. "Please be seated, Master Maevor. Our conversation will be a lengthy one, but you are not here to be reprimanded. Rather I wish to learn if you are suitable for a task that I would set before you, and to find out if it is a task you care to take on."

Maevor drew breath to say "Whatever the King wishes..." but he had not the chance. The King stilled him with a gesture.

"Do not be too quick to agree, Master Maevor. Wait until you understand what it is that I will ask of you. But before I do, I will lay before you what I already know of you from Master Ondahil, as well as others who have noted your performance of your duties.

I am told that your father was a Guardsman, and was slain in battle with the Enemy when you were but a youth. Because you were your mother's only son, you put aside your own wishes to follow your father, and instead apprenticed yourself as clerk to a banker of convenience, Master Mallior. You learned well the art of clerking, and soon gained your own Mastery, though you remained in Master Mallior's employ as you had not the wealth to become a banker yourself. You supported your mother until she died in your thirtieth year. After that, you lived on your own. You also joined the City Militia, and acquitted yourself well, not only learning to use the weapons that help defend the city, but also becoming the quartermaster for your unit. You came to the attention of the Captain General, Lord Boromir, when you were able to assist him in finding supplies that he needed. He in turn recommended you to his father when the Citadel was in need of someone to keep the accounts after the man who previously held the post proved less than trustworthy, diverting funds into his own pocket. Lord Denethor interviewed you himself and deemed you honest--putting you under the authority of Master Ondahil. During the War, in addition to your regular duties, you acquitted yourself well in helping defend the City walls. Have I missed anything important, or stated any fact incorrectly?"

Maevor blinked. "N-no, Sire. Everything you have stated is true." He was amazed at how the King seemed to have all this information ready to lay before him, without even looking at any notes or records.

"Are you aware of the embassy of hobbits that have recently come to Gondor?"

For an instant, Maevor was surprised at what seemed an abrupt change of subject. But he managed to answer: "Yes, Sire. It has been the talk of the City. And I was present on the day you received them in Court."

"Did you know that two other hobbits also travelled here with them? Two who were banished from their own land, and came here as prisoners?"

Now Maevor was shocked; he shook his head. "What crime could such have committed that would earn them banishment?"

Maevor listened with distress as King Elessar explained to him what the four small heroes of the War had found upon returning to their homeland, and the discovery that they had been betrayed by their own. "The Ringbearer's own cousin, architect in the Shire of all that followed, was murdered by Grima Wormtongue, and the closest accessory to his crime, Ted Sandyman, was slain by the Men that Saruman had brought into the Shire. However, there were others who willingly helped betray the people of the Shire. Motivated by greed and pride, they helped to finance Lotho's takeover."

"The two of whom you spoke?"

The King nodded, and explained what had happened while his representatives were in the Shire, and how two culprits had been detained for their punishment in Rohan and two sent on to Gondor. "The Rohirrim were granted the right to punish them since it was one of their own who was injured--this was a technicality granted by my ambassador Captain Targon, since our penalties in Gondor would be too harsh for hobbits. I am granted more leeway with these two older hobbits, since their offenses were not violent." He went on to explain the punishment that the King of Rohan had meted out to the younger prisoners, and Maevor began to understand what the King might wish of him. And if he was right—what a responsibility it would be.


Amdir son of Amrod waited nervously at Master Ondahil's side. Whatever did the King want with him? The only time that he had spoken with the King was that unfortunate accident, when he had locked the Ringbearer and the Ernil i Pheriannath in the Archives.* Oh, dear, oh, dear! Whatever could he have done wrong now? In spite of Master Ondahil's reassurances that he was in no trouble, he could not help but recall how sharp the King had been with him on that occasion. Of course he had deserved it; he should never have forgotten they were present, should have checked to be sure they were gone before he locked up, but it had been so long since any had even come to the Archives…

His train of thought was interrupted as the door opened, and someone came out.

"Good afternoon, Master Ondahil, Master Amdir," the Man said with a polite nod. His face was familiar, but Amdir could not recall his name. Fortunately Master Ondahil remembered for both of them.

"Good afternoon, Master Maevor."

Then Maevor went on his way, and Master Ondahil was leading him into the King's room.

The King was standing behind a large and impressive desk.  Both Men bowed to him. He greeted them cordially, and then Master Ondahil was dismissed.

"Master Amdir, I am most pleased to speak with you under better circumstances than the last time. Please be seated," and he sat himself in the huge chair behind him, while gesturing at the one in front of the desk.

"You are no doubt wondering why I have summoned you."

"Y-yes, My Lord," Amdir stuttered.

"Be at ease; you are in no sort of trouble this time. In fact, I have a task for you, if you should choose to take it on…"


Aragorn watched as the elderly Archivist left the room. The old fellow looked much more confident than he had upon entering. He was kind and amiable; he lived away from the Citadel in his own house, kept for him by his widowed daughter. He was quite pleased with his choices, and now could go to judgment tomorrow knowing that the sentence he passed would not only be fair, but workable.


*A reference to my story "The Archives Incident" .



Chapter 17

The guard banged the large spoon against the bars on the door, startling Clodio and Dago from sleep. Dago sat up abruptly with a curse; Clodio blinked owlishly, and shook his head to clear it before sitting up slowly. From the scant light coming through the small window, it appeared that the two hobbits were being awakened even earlier than usual.

And then Clodio recalled just why they were being wakened early: today they would receive their judgments from the King. He felt a wave of stomach-dropping fear. What was going to become of him, of them? He and Dago had avoided talking about it ever since they left Rohan, and now it was too late. He wasn't sure that he even wanted to know what Dago thought of it.

The guard had brought them a somewhat larger than usual first breakfast: toast and an apple in addition to the ubiquitous plain porridge, and tea. He placed the tray down, and said, "Eat up. You will not have time for a 'second breakfast' today. I will come back in half an hour to escort you to the bathing room, and then you will need to get ready. You are due in court at the third hour." He backed out and pulled the door to with a clang, and then there was the jingle of keys and the snick of the lock.

Dago picked up one of the bowls of porridge and the apple. "This is ridiculous," he muttered. "It's not going to take us anywhere near three hours to eat this stuff and then take a bath and dress."

Clodio shrugged, and began picking at his own meal. He knew he needed to eat, to keep up his strength; he didn't want to grow light-headed and perhaps swoon in front of everybody. Having done that before, he knew it was humiliating.

The porridge seemed even more tasteless than usual, and even the apple did not seem to have much flavor. The tea was no more than lukewarm by the time he finished sipping it. Dago had barely touched his tea, though he had devoured his food. Clodio had forced himself to eat all the apple and most of the porridge when the guard returned to escort them out.

When they stepped from the cell, they were handed a folded towel with a pile of clean clothing on top, as they had the last few times they'd been taken to the baths. But the clothing was not simply their own spare clothing which they had brought along into exile.

"What's this?" asked Dago.

"It is what you will be wearing from here on out. There is a second set put by for you when you are taken to wherever it is that you will go after judgment. You are privileged. Since special clothing had to be made for the both of you because of your size, the King asked that the style be close to the style of your own people."

He opened the door to the bathing room, and gestured for them to go in. He went out and shut the door; they knew he'd be standing right outside.

This was their second bath since arriving at the Citadel, so they were not surprised at the two tin tubs filled with warm water. For Men, these were merely hip baths, but the two of them could submerge themselves completely and relax their bodies, if not their minds. There was a pile of clean folded flannels on a wooden bench that was bolted to the wall. They put their new clothing down on it and each took up a flannel; lumps of brown soap were in a basket next to the flannels, and they each took one of those as well. They turned their backs to one another as they disrobed and quickly got into the water; neither spoke as they took their baths and then sat and soaked until the water began to cool.

Dago was the first to get out; the towels were huge, and completely enveloped him. When Dago was completely covered, Clodio sloshed out and wrapped himself in his own towel. By the time he was nearly dry, Dago was almost dressed.

Clodio studied the new clothes in surprise: a grey shirt of a serviceable linsey-woolsey fabric; a pair of darker grey calf length breeches held up by braces such as Shirefolk wore; and an even darker grey vest--it was not a weskit as it did not button closed, but hung open in the front--with a device on the back of a white square with black lines on it. Clodio stared at it for a moment before he realized it was a representation of a barred window!

They put their soap back in the soap basket and threw their wet flannels into a bucket by the door. Dago rapped at the door and the guard opened it, and looked down on them. "A proper pair of gaolbirds you look now," he chuckled, and herded them off to the office of his captain, as both of them flushed.


"Eat up," said Mistress Poppy firmly to all the hobbits seated around the table. The plates were laden with a fine first breakfast set before them by Avor and Tadiel: hot rolls of a savory bread laden with bacon and onions, scones full of dried berries, coddled eggs, fruit both fresh and stewed, and plenty of hot tea. Yet as wonderful as it all smelled, most of the hobbits found they were merely picking at the food.

Freddy looked at her; she was the only one eating with aplomb. "Come now, we'll get no second breakfast today; we'll be in the King's Court. What would it look like if you all start dropping of hunger. We've seen enough of King Elessar to know that whatever fate he has in mind for those traitors, it won't be anything too dire for our sensibilities! His concern for hobbits being what it is, he probably will be less harsh with them than they deserve. Haven't you observed him enough to know that by now?"

At her scolding, Berilac chuckled, and said, "You are quite right; we're being glum for no reason." He took up one of the scones and slathered it with honey before taking a large bite. Jolly followed suit with a large forkful of eggs, and soon the mood had lightened.

All were already dressed for the day, and ready to go up to the Citadel, to witness the judgment being passed.


In Captain Beleg's office the two hobbits stood uneasily at one side of the room. They had understood the guard's remark on entering there: two Men with manacles fastened to their wrists were also waiting. The Men wore shirts of the same grey linsey-woolsey as that of the ones the hobbits had been given, but worn over long darker grey trews, and with a surcoat of dark grey with the barred window device on both the front and the back. They also wore short boots also of dark grey, and they were clean-shaven, unlike most of the Men of Gondor. Their hair had been so closely cropped that the hobbits could not tell what colour it had been. It was a few moments before Clodio realised they were two of the Men they had seen one day in the exercise yard! He put his hand up reflexively to his head--would they shave his curls? he wondered.

The two Men were led away by other guards, and Captain Beleg turned his attention to the two hobbits. "We have no manacles that will fit you," he said. "But prisoners cannot go unbound before the King." He picked up two lengths of slender rope from the desk and came over to them, gesturing for them to hold their hands out. He bound their wrists carefully, not tightly at all, yet still the knots were not just for show. He could not help a shudder. He looked at Dago, whose face was as white as he had ever seen it. He guessed he was just as pale.

With Captain Beleg in front, and the guard who had fetched them walking behind, they were led away to judgment.


Aragorn smiled up at Arwen, as she placed her hand upon his shoulder, then he took a breath and became Elessar; he put on his "King-face" as he had heard Sam describe it once, and fixed his attention on the Court gathered before him. The Steward's chair was still empty, of course. It would be another week before Faramir returned, this time bringing Éowyn with him. But he had missed having his Steward with him the last few days.

There to his right, far down upon the floor stood all of the hobbits who had come from the Shire. It was interesting--from a distance, Fredegar Bolger bore a strong resemblance to Frodo, though that illusion vanished when one drew closer. But his hair was dark--though not as dark as his Baggins cousin, and there was a certain family resemblance about the forehead and chin. He was not quite so pale as Frodo, nor quite so tall. He was probably about the height Merry had been before the Ent-draughts. From this distance, too, it would be quite easy to mistake Berilac for Merry--the Brandybuck features were strong ones. But Beri was slightly fuller of face and slightly stockier in build than his cousin; and of course, now he was half a head shorter. He had barely begun to know the other hobbits yet, but he hoped he would get the chance to know them better while they were still in the City.

To his left he saw Maevor and Amdir, both of them standing patiently, waiting for their roles to be revealed. He had given these men a difficult task, but he thought that each of them would be up to the challenge he had placed before them. Master Maevor was a very practical sort, one with a sharp eye who would not let much get past him. Master Amdir, though absent-minded, was patient and dedicated and kind. He also loved what he did with a passion, and could pass that on to others.

There were very few other courtiers present this morning. To the people of Gondor these were minor crimes committed by people unknown to them, even if they were halflings. But he was slightly surprised to note the presence of Serindë of Dol Amroth and her son Thorongil. They very rarely left the Houses of Healing, though Thorongil might appear in court slightly more often than his mother. Then he saw her exchange an encouraging smile with Mistress Poppy, and realised she was there in support of a colleague.

The Herald, Lord Dorlas, looked up at him, and he gave a slight nod as the signal. The Herald in turn nodded to the doorward, and the doors were opened.

"We call into the presence of the King the prisoners Clodio Banks and Dago Bracegirdle, to face the justice of the King. Captain Sir Beleg, bring the prisoners forth!" Dorlas proclaimed in a voice that reached every corner of the throne room.

Beleg escorted the prisoners forward, and about halfway to the dais he stopped and with a tap on their shoulders, signaled them to kneel. Bound as they were, this was slightly awkward, but both hobbits went to their knees.

King Elessar looked down upon them, feeling as he often did towards the malefactors who came before him, a mixture of anger and pity. Since they were hobbits, the pity was uppermost, but he reminded himself that being hobbits in and of itself did not excuse their actions. "Please read the charges, Lord Dorlas," he said, his own voice, though not quite so dramatic as that of his herald, also reached every corner of the vast room.

"The prisoners Clodio Banks and Dago Bracegirdle have been accused of, confessed to, and found guilty of, collaborating with one Lotho Sackville-Baggins, who in the Shire did unlawfully imprison his fellow citizens, seized property without compensation, and gathered to himself authority which by rights belonged to the Thain who is the rightful representative of the King in the Shire. Clodio Banks and Dago Bracegirdle were tried in the Shire and found guilty there by a consensus of their peers, and sentenced by them to forfeiture of all property and banishment from their homeland.

They are further convicted of collaborating with the Renegade Wizard Saruman, also known as Cúrunir, whose actions in the recent War resulted in hundreds of deaths, and in massive destruction of lands and peoples belonging to our Ally, Rohan. They are also convicted of conspiring to conceal their actions from those deputized by Your Grace to discover what took place in the Shire."

Lord Dorlas paused, then went on: "In addition, Dago Bracegirdle has also confessed to attempting to bribe one of Your Grace's Rangers of Arnor;* he has also been convicted of attempting to escape from custody while in route to Your Grace's justice."

There was a long silence, as Aragorn allowed the charges to sink in to everyone's minds, a reminder of that grim time when evil had sent its tentacles everywhere, even to a far-away land that should have been protected. Then he spoke.

"Clodio Banks and Dago Bracegirdle, after a thorough examination of all evidence sent to me from Lord Frodo Baggins, Deputy Mayor of the Shire, and Thain Paladin II, the Thain of the Shire, it is clear to Us that while you knew very well that what you were doing was wrong and that it would result in hardship for your fellow hobbits, you were ignorant of the larger issues involved. We are convinced that in your cases, you were mere cat's paws; however, you were motivated by greed and pride, and did not care about the troubles your actions visited upon others.

Ignorance of the Law is no excuse. However, it may in many cases, ameliorate the severity of the sentence passed."

He stood from the throne, and this time the force of his regard for the two before him made them look up at him. "You were both ignorant of the nature of the one with whom Lotho Sackville-Baggins dealt; you were also ignorant of the issues in the wider world that made your involvement with his schemes much worse than you ever intended. But your motives were selfish, and the results of your involvement mean that you must be punished. By Shire law you have already been punished for many of your offenses there, but your banishment from that land means you now have come under Our jurisdiction. We cannot allow wrongdoers to simply roam freely through the Two Kingdoms and perhaps victimize others. And your dealings at whatever remove, with Saruman, means your treachery affected Our Realm.

The sentence We would usually pass in such circumstances would be at least a year of hard labour, on the roads of Gondor, or rebuilding the walls of the Rammas Echor, or helping to maintain the sanitation of Minas Tirith or some similar task. However, We must also take into account your ages, and the fact that because of your race you cannot physically perform many of those tasks.

Therefore, you will be set to less onerous tasks, though your sentence will be longer to make up for that."

He sat once more on the throne. "Rise, Clodio Banks."

Pale-faced and sweating, Clodio awkwardly rose to his feet.

"Master Amdir son of Amrod, step forth."

Amdir blinked briefly, and then stepped from his place at the side of the court to the center, and gave a profound bow. "Your Grace," he said.

"Amdir son of Amrod, you have spoken with Us about the task we would have you undertake. Are you still of the same mind?"

"I am, Sire."

"The Crown thanks you for your willingness to serve."

"Clodio Banks, you are remanded into the custody of Amdir son of Amrod, Chief Archivist of the Kingdom of Gondor. You will dwell with him, and undertake any tasks he sets forth for you for a period of not less than three years and not more than five years. During the time you are in his custody, you are not to be abroad alone. You must at all times be with him, or with another responsible person he has chosen to accompany you, or with a Guardsman of the Citadel. He will report to me on a regular basis your behaviour, and will be responsible to see to your room, board and health.

If at any time you break the terms of your sentence or attempt to escape from his custody, you will be returned to the custody of the Crown, your sentence will be increased and will no longer be so light. Do you understand?"

Clodio nodded briskly, more than a little relieved. It would be hard to have to serve another, but the alternative was much worse. He stood rather dazed, until Beleg took him by the shoulder and drew him back a couple of paces.

The King turned his eye to Dago. "Rise, Dago Bracegirdle."

Dago stood up, not quite so awkwardly as his companion, but not gracefully either. He cast his eyes down once more, but when the King allowed the silence to stretch his gaze was once more dragged upward.

"Master Maevor son of Maldir, please step forth."

Maevor was prepared, and drew near to the center of the room with a well-practiced bow.

"Maevor son of Maldir, We have spoken also with you of a task We would wish you to do. Are you still willing to so serve?"

"Yes, Sire."

"Dago Bracegirdle, you will be remanded into the custody of Maevor son of Maldir, Chief Clerk of the Accounts of the Citadel. You will dwell with him in his quarters which are here in the Citadel and you will undertake any tasks which he assigns to you for a period of not less than four years and not longer than six. This sentence is longer because of your crime of attempted bribery of one of Our Rangers, and because of your attempt to escape the custody of those who were bringing you to justice. During this period you are not to be abroad unless in the company of Master Maevor or of a responsible person of his choice, or of a Guardsman of the Citadel. Because you will be dwelling in this Citadel, you may go about alone within its walls, but there will be areas forbidden to you where you may not go alone. Master Maevor will instruct you in this. He will be responsible for your keep and your health, and will report to Us on a regular basis about your behaviour.

If at any time you break the terms of your sentence or attempt to escape from his custody, you will be returned to the custody of the Crown, your sentence will be increased and will no longer be so light. Do you understand?"

Dago looked over at the Man to whom he would answer for the next several years. "I understand," he choked out.

Now the King turned his gaze to the hobbits of the Embassy, who had been there to witness the judgment. "Mr. Fredegar Bolger?"

Freddy gave a slight start, but quickly recovered and stepped forth with a bow. "Yes, Sire?" he asked.

"Are you satisfied that the justice we have meted to these two is neither too harsh nor too lenient for the crimes of which they have been convicted? Do you believe that this judgment will be approved by the Worthies of the Shire?"

"Your Grace," Freddy said clearly, "I believe that your mercy and your justice is right. These two have been fools, but you give them a chance to amend their foolishness. The greater part of their punishment is behind them, for they have already lost their possessions, their homes, their families and even their names among those who once knew them. If they would no longer be fools, they should take full advantage of the opportunity you have given them to learn wisdom and humility."

"Thank you Mr. Bolger. We trust that you will report to the Thain the conclusion of this case." The King gave another curt nod to Lord Dorlas.

"There being no further business before the King, this concludes the Court of His Grace, Elessar Telcontar, High King of Gondor and Arnor."


*As revealed in Chapter 55 of "A New Reckoning"


Chapter 18

Dago followed behind this Man who now held his life in his hands. They left the Throne Room from a small and nearly unnoticed side door. His new Master seemed to be of middle years; his hair was dark, and cropped shorter than most of the Men Dago had so far seen, and a few threads of silver could be spied at his temples. He wore a very neat and small mustache and beard. It appeared to encircle his mouth, but left his cheeks bare. He was walking briskly, until he noticed that Dago was having to run to keep up.

He stopped. "Excuse me, Mr. Bracegirdle. There is no need for me to be in such a rush right now." Master Maevor waited until Dago caught up, and then continued at a slower pace.

"Thank you," Dago said, a trifle curtly. Still unhappy with this situation, he knew it could have been much worse, so it would behoove him to at least try to be polite to this Man. He'd be serving under him for years, unless he could find a way out that wouldn't get him caught immediately. He recalled how easily that Elf had found him and Clovis; it still stung. And depending on what the Man had him to do, he might want to just stay where he was until his time was up. He glanced down at the tattoo on his hand. After all, it wasn't like he could go back to the Shire.

"This is the East wing; many of us who work here dwell in this part of the Citadel, especially those of us who have no immediate family. I have arranged a place for you in my chambers. Turn right--" He pointed to a corridor that intersected with the one they were in. "--my chambers are behind the second door to the left." He opened a door and gestured within.

The hobbit saw a spacious room. A window was directly across from the door; wide and long, the sill was low enough that he'd be able to look out--already an improvement over that cell he'd been occupying, and a great improvement over the dungeon of Meduseld. On the wall to the right of the door was a small fireplace, and placed near it were two armchairs, a footstool and a low table. Next to the fireplace was a small set of bookshelves, and a few books filled it. The wall to the left was much closer to the door, and there were two other doors in it. A large section in the far corner by the second door had been curtained off. The heavy white curtains hung from floor to ceiling.

Master Maevor pointed. "That first door is the door to my own sleeping room. The second is the door to the water closet. I am quite fortunate, for not all the chambers in this wing have their own water closet. The area behind the curtains is for you.

Dago walked over curiously and pulled back one of the curtains. He saw there were ties on it, so that he could leave it open if he wished. The section was quite spacious for a hobbit, though like the cell he'd been in, he suspected a Man would find it small. There was a bed that was almost hobbit sized. He walked over and examined it carefully, and realised that it must have been a child's bed, and that even so it appeared the legs had been cut down. A small chair (which he also suspected had been made for a child), a trunk that stood at the foot of the bed, and a low table bearing a ewer and washbowl completed the furnishings. He also noticed that three hooks had been placed in the wall, perhaps for hanging clothing, and next to the bed was a low shelf on which stood a candle in a candlestick.

While it was nothing like what he would have considered acceptable lodgings in the Shire, it was a great improvement over his more recent accommodations, and he considered that he would be comfortable enough. On the bed was a grey cloth bag. He went over to open it, and found his small clothes and nightshirt and dressing gown, his brushes and his pipe--but there was no sign of his Shire clothing. Instead was another outfit of the drab grey, identical to what he wore now.  Clearly the clothing marked him as a prisoner, just as the tattoo on his hand marked him an exile.

"I am rarely here except to sleep, though I will sometimes spend a rainy afternoon by the fire reading if I am not working. Meals are taken downstairs in the dining room set apart for the Citadel staff, though I occasionally brew some tea in a kettle on the hearth, or make some toast at the hearthfire. There is a common bathing room down the corridor. It has four bathtubs, but they are curtained off from one another. I will show it to you on the way to the dining room for luncheon, which is at noon. The kitchens and dining rooms are downstairs. The king has told me that you need to eat more frequently than Men. The cooks have agreed that you may come to the kitchen midway between breakfast and luncheon and again midway between luncheon and supper, and they will provide you with something extra to eat at those times."

Dago nodded, rather grateful, though that only came to five meals rather than a proper six. But it was still better than the journey here, when he ate only when the Men did. "Thank you," he said.

"You are perhaps wondering why the King assigned you to me," the Man said.

"I am. You do not look as though you have need of a servant with such a small place."

"No, I do not. I generally tidy up after myself, and any real cleaning that needs doing is done by servants who work in this wing. Do you recall what the King said my position is?"

"He said you were Chief Clerk for the Citadel?"

"That is correct. I keep the accounts of all the income and expenses involved in running the Citadel. I answer to Master Ondahil the chamberlain, and to the King himself."


"I have three clerks who work under me--or rather I had three. The youngest has joined the Guard, and will be working in the Quartermaster's office. The King indicated that you had been in business in the Shire, and know how to keep track of numbers."

"I do!" If there was one thing Dago knew, it was how to keep books, and account for profits and losses.

"Very well, I will show you where we work. Follow me closely, as it may take you a while to learn your way there."

They left Master Maevor's quarters and went back to the main corridor. Dago followed him to another intersecting hallway, and this time they turned right. They passed several doors, turned right again, went up a flight of stairs, and this time turned left. Then there was another left turn, and at the end of that passage was a door. Master Maevor opened the door and gestured for Dago to precede him.

There were wide windows on three sides, set high in the wall. They let in plenty of light, but even the Men could not have seen out from them. Below the windows were set three clerks' desks and one low table.  In the center of the room was one large and imposing desk. All the desks were covered with ledgers and papers, and there were quills and inkpots at each one. Only the low table was bare; set beneath it was a footstool. Dago knew at once that this would be where he was expected to work.

Two of the tall clerks' desks were occupied, and the Men were facing the wall, and so had not seen Master Maevor and Dago enter the room.

Master Maevor cleared his throat, and both Men turned with a start.

"Cambedil, Faron, this is Dago Bracegirdle. By the King's justice he has been set to work among us; he is far from his homeland. I expect him to be treated as you would any other clerk."

Both Men stood and gazed down at him.

Dago flushed as he endured the frankly curious gaze of the two Men. Cambedil was the older of the two, of middle years; he had a receding hairline and a very short beard of faded brown. The younger man was clean-shaven and had shoulder length dark hair; they were clad in the livery worn by those who worked in the Citadel. Both of them were giving him an appraising look, and Dago was all too conscious of his attire, marking him as a felon.

Master Maevor gestured to the wall behind them, the same wall as the door. Shelves lined the wall, filled with baskets of papers, and more ledgers. Master Maevor walked over and picked up a basket and a ledger, and took them over to the low table. "I believe we will put you on the kitchen accounts for now."          

Dago nodded. He looked up at the windows, and something occurred to him. "Master Maevor, are we in a tower?"

"Yes—a turret, actually."

Dago's mouth went dry. "A turret?"

"This juts out from the rest of the tower; the windows on three sides give us plenty of light to do our work."

The hobbit looked at the solid stone floor beneath his feet. That meant there was nothing below that floor but…air. He swallowed. It could be worse. He remembered the dungeon in Rohan.

This was his new life; he might as well get used to it.


Chapter 19

Clodio watched with a sinking stomach as he watched Dago being led away. He couldn't say he was even on good terms with the Bracegirdle, but at least they had been two hobbits together in the same predicament. He stared at the figure of his companion (for surely they at least had been that) being led through a door that shut behind him. A hand descended on his shoulder, and he gave a start.

"Master Banks, if you will follow me?" Clodio looked up into the eyes of the Man into whose hands his fate had been placed, and turned to follow. Master? What was his name? Amrod? No...Amdir.

"Where are we going, Master...Amdir?" he ventured.

Apparently he had got it right, because the Man answered. "We are going to my domain: the Archives." He led him back the way they had come, and out, through a pleasant courtyard--Clodio could see at a distance a young tree and a fountain--and then towards a low building that seemed to stand alone. It was tall, in the way all of the buildings seemed tall to a hobbit, but it was low in comparison to the huge tower of the King. Perhaps it was about two stories tall? There was a many pillared portico running all the way around it, and seven wide stairs led up to the portico.

"Many people think the Archives, the feast hall of Merethrond and the Guards barracks and a few other outlying structures are separate buildings. From here it appears so. But none of them are truly separate--all are a part of the Citadel, and are connected below by many passages and tunnels--or above by covered walks."

The steps were not steep, thankfully, and Clodio followed Master Amdir up to the massive door. From his belt the old Man took a ring of what seemed to be perfectly huge keys, and turned the largest of them in the lock. He pushed open the door with ease--Clodio wondered how something so big and heavy could move so smoothly and quietly. After they went in, the Man gave it barely a push, and it swung shut behind them with a snick. Clodio stared at the door--it seemed almost magical. Then he turned and looked at the immense room before him, and felt dizzy as he realized the building was truly only one story and the ceiling was probably between twenty and thirty feet above their heads. While the ceiling in the throne room had probably been higher, it had not felt like it; or perhaps he had simply been too worried about his fate to notice.

The upper part of the room was surrounded on all four sides by high narrow windows. They were shuttered, but the room was not dark, for in the center of the ceiling was a skylight. The glass was frosted, and let in light but not glare. Clodio thought that was quite clever. Below the windows on the two sides of the room were bookshelves against the walls, filled with volumes. The room was broken by many more tall bookshelves in rows across the room, wide tables with chairs were in the aisles between the shelves. At the far end, he could see there were doors at the back of the room. To his right were many cabinets which appeared to be closed and locked, and to his left was a long counter; there were some chairs and shelves behind the counter, but the shelves only had a few items upon them. By the wall next to the door on the right was a tall pole with a hook on one end and some sort of leather handle on the other. Master Amdir took the pole and began to go around the room with it, using it to open the shutters as he went. He used the hook on the end of the pole to push a bar that would tilt open the louvres of each shutter. Clodio stared in amazement. The room was now filled with light.

To make the circuit of the room took Master Amdir several minutes. When he returned to where Clodio waited, and leaned the pole back in its place, he took a deep breath of satisfaction. He walked behind the counter, where there were a couple of tall stools, and an even higher chair that resembled to Clodio's eyes a baby's high chair. "That chair is yours, Master Banks," said Master Amdir. "The King had it sent down yesterday."

Clodio was very surprised that the King would have thought of such a thing. But clearly he had. He noticed that the rungs on the legs were set in such a way as to make it easy for him to climb into, and that in addition, one of them at the front jutted out enough for him to rest his feet, so that his legs would not be dangling down.  He would be at just the right height to sit at the counter.

He followed Master Amdir as the Man showed him about the place. The locked cabinets were where many of the legal documents of the Kingdom were stored so as to be at hand if needed, but were not allowed into the hands of just anyone.

"Anyone who cares to may come here to the Archives to read from the documents on the shelves, though they must read them here at one of the tables. I show them where they may find some of those things, but my most important work is back here." Clodio followed his new Master. "The door on the right leads outside to the jakes. We do not have a water closet here. The center door leads down to the old tunnels and passages that go back towards the main part of the Citadel." Clodio was surprised to see his guide blush fiercely and look embarrassed. "It was there I accidentally locked the Ringbearer and his cousin Sir Peregrin in one night! I had no idea they had gone in. They had gone straight down the stairs to the old rooms, and missed the passage altogether. The King and the Steward were most upset. But it had been so long since I had any visitors here—I quite forgot to notice they had not left!"

Clodio gaped at him in astonishment, and the Man gave a chuckle. "I have truly learned my lesson about that. I make sure now that there are no others here when I lock up at night!" He sighed. "In a way, it was a good thing it happened. There were a great many neglected documents down there and things had deteriorated to a very sad state! There were even rats! That problem has been solved, and the rooms are in the process of being cleaned.  I am hoping to begin the process of organizing the documents later this year."

He gestured to the door on the left. "There is my workroom." He led the way and opened the door. Inside were shelves filled not with books or scrolls, as in the outer rooms, but with scribal tools—pens, penknives, parchment and paper, quills and ink, rulers and piercing tools, pigments and paints and many other things Clodio could not begin to recognise.

"It's important to copy the oldest documents before they deteriorate, and to repair damage to newer ones."

Clodio nodded. One of his tasks as Family Head had been to see to the re-copying of the Family Books before they grew to old or faded to do so.

"The King tells me you are literate; do you read or speak any tongues other than Westron."

"No." He'd begun to understand that the language he had always taken for granted was not everywhere spoken, and was sometimes spoken differently than he was accustomed to. Was he going to have to learn any of them in order to please his new Master?

"It is just as well. Your help among the stacks and in the outer room will free me to take more care of things here. I am hoping very much to find an apprentice soon. My last one went for a soldier ten years ago and never returned." Master Amdir looked quite sad as he said this.

"Well, Master Banks, we shall get no work done today. I must take you to my home and help you settle in. And I think perhaps you may be ready to have luncheon."

Clodio was most certainly ready for a meal! He had grown used to not complaining of his hunger around the Men with whom he'd travelled, nor with the guards who were set upon him. He knew he was fed more than Men eat, but they had not understood the frequency of hobbit meals; or perhaps it was that when it came to prisoners, they did not care. But he was still hungry at mealtimes, and he wondered if he'd ever have six proper meals a day again.

Amdir led him back across the courtyard across which they had come, and then partway around the perimeter of the wall that enclosed the Seventh Circle. There was the tunnel-like gate, through which they had arrived that first night.

Master Amdir spoke to the Guardsman on duty there.

"One moment, Master Amdir. Captain Beleg left this for your companion." He held up a long grey bag, pulled closed at one end by a drawstring.

"Thank you," said Master Amdir. He handed it to Clodio, who took it, wondering what on earth it could contain. "I believe, Master Banks, that it is your clothing and possessions."

"Ah," he said, hefting the bag over his back and keeping one hand through the drawstring, he followed his new Master.

They entered the Sixth Circle (passing, if only Clodio had known, right by the guest house in which the rest of the hobbits had made the embassy) and then turned down a quiet lane. These houses were smaller and not quite so imposing as the other houses closer he had seen closer to the Citadel, though they were still quite large to hobbit eyes. None of them were more than two stories, and they appeared to all be built to one of two or three similar plans. All had low stone walls in front--though they were high enough that Clodio could not see over; perhaps a few inches above his head. And all the walls had ornate iron gates.

"These are houses where senior officials at the Citadel who have families, and who choose not to live within the Citadel itself, live," said Master Amdir. He stopped at one of the iron gates and lifted the latch, and led Clodio within. The house was built of the same white marble as nearly all the rest of the city. They entered a tidy paved courtyard with a very small fountain in the center. Immense pots were placed all around the courtyard, planted with herbs and other plants that Clodio could not identify, though a couple of the pots appeared to hold small trees. The main part of the house faced them, with a wide veranda supported by round marble columns; it was two stories high, but was flanked on both sides by wings of one story. The roof was of grey slate tiles, and the windows all had grey shutters on them.

"Right now the inhabitants of my home are myself, my widowed daughter Glinis and my grandson Hethuvir. My granddaughter Hithuiwen is recently wed, and dwells in the home of her husband. My wife died many years past, and both my sons were slain by the Enemy. The elder was killed upon the Pelennor, the younger was lost a few years before in Ithilien. I have two other grandsons, sons of my elder son, but they do not live in the City. They live south of Minas Tirith in Lebennin with their mother; but sometimes they come to visit me in the fall."

Clodio shuddered. His wife and sons were lost to him--not to death, but to his own folly.

Amdir led him into the house, and called out: "Glinis, my dear! We are home!"

A voice called out: "I am in the kitchen, Father!"

Clodio followed Master Amdir to a corridor that led to the wing on the left side of the house. His nose told him quite clearly that was the way to the kitchen.

Mistress Glinis was presiding over the hearth, where something that smelled delicious bubbled. A soup or stew of some sort, if his nose was right, with beans and garlic and onions and parsley; perhaps summer savory and thyme, and bay. There was a platter of hot flat breads already upon the table. He noticed that one of the chairs had two cushions upon it, so clearly they had planned for him.

"Master Banks, this is my daughter Glinis, widow of Hithmir. Glinis, this is Clodio Banks, whom the King has given into our keeping."

Clodio bowed politely and said, "At your service." Then he looked up to study the mistress of the house. She was taller than her father, he was surprised to see, and her black hair had a few threads of grey. Her eyes were also grey, as seemed true of most of these Southern people he had seen--but in spite of that, there was something about her that reminded him sharply of his sister. He could easily imagine that same expression on Eglantine's face: skepticism, yet also willing to give him the courtesy of a doubt.

So this was his new home. He hoped very much that he could erase that skepticism, and prove to her that he could do his part--whatever that part might be.


Chapter 20 

After the judgement was rendered, the hobbits of the embassy left the Citadel. Mistress Poppy and Viola had been invited to take luncheon with several of the staff from the Houses of Healing, and Lord Hiril and Master Calembel wished to meet with Mosco to discuss hobbit buildings and how they might be adapted for the new Citadel in Annúminas.

Freddy was feeling somewhat at loose ends; now that they'd seen Dago and Clodio sentenced, he wondered what sorts of duties remained to the rest of them. At any rate, he thought perhaps they might want to do something to take their minds off the serious business. Yes, it had worked out well--King Elessar's decisions were decidedly fair and very reasonable--but until it had become official this morning, Freddy had still been more worried than he had realised. Beri clapped him on the shoulder. "I think we need to go have a celebration that this unpleasantness is over with, don't you?"

"I could not agree more," said a familiar, but decidedly non-hobbit voice. Freddy and Berry turned to see Menelcar standing by them. Jolly, Rolly and Denny looked dubious at the Man's interruption.

"Begging your pardon, Mr. Menelcar," said Jolly, "but the last Man who went off with us to celebrate had to be carried off home."

Menelcar laughed. "I heard about that. But then I know better than to try to keep up with hobbits drinking; I have more experience of your people than most, you know. I heard about Master Calembel's, er, unfortunate mishap at the Cat." He smiled. "I know an inn none of you has been to yet."

Freddy chuckled. "Very well, Master Menelcar, we shall follow you to?"

"The Tree and Fountain," he replied. "It's a brand new inn in the Fourth Circle, and quite popular with the Guardsmen."

Freddy waved his hand, "Lead on, Master Menelcar, and we shall follow."

The Tree and Fountain was very clearly a brand new inn; the lower part was built of the white stone one found everywhere in the City, but the upper part was half-timbered, and the beams were black against the crisp whitewash of the upper part. In Bree or Edoras it would have been thatched, but here in Minas Tirith it was roofed with slate tiles; thatching was not allowed inside the City walls. Hanging beside the door was a sign with a representation of the White Tree, though it bore no stars above it. Just below was a very small fountain splashing in a stone basin.

So early in the afternoon, the inn was not crowded. A few Guardsmen were clearly lingering over a meal after having come off-duty, and a few craftsmen or tradesmen were doing likewise.

Two elderly Men were over by the dartboard, and from the jibes they exchanged were clearly old friends playing for drinks. The hobbits found a nearby table as Menelcar fetched their drinks from the tapman, and placed an order for pork pasties for the table. He returned to the table to find them watching the game with raised eyebrows.

Menelcar grinned at the hobbits. "I daresay you think that a rather silly game; from what I understand, darts is a much different game in the Shire."

"Our board is much different," said Freddy diplomatically. "This one is much larger."

The serving maid came and placed the platter of pasties on the table, and a plate of small spicy-smelling cakes as a courtesy.

"And much easier to hit," the minstrel chuckled. "I remember an evening at The Golden Cockerel when some people learned the value of a hobbit's sharp eye and true aim."

Berilac, who had just taken a deep draught from his cup, put it down and swallowed, as he reached for one of the pasties. "I sense a story here," he said with a grin. "Do tell."

Menelcar laughed. "You sound so much like your cousin Merry sometimes, if I closed my eyes I could swear you were him." He sat back casually, and took a sip of his own beer first. "It is a long story. I have to wet my whistle first, as Master Samwise would say...

Shortly after the King's Companions had moved into that guesthouse that you now occupy, I was there visiting after supper with Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Sam. Legolas and Gimli were there as well, when there was a knock at the door. It was Targon and Beregond. This was before Aragorn had passed judgment on Beregond, so he was still in the City. The two had come to invite Pippin to join them at the tavern for a few drinks, and when they saw everyone who was there, it was decided to make up a party of all of us...

We were quite a jolly party, and of course, Beregond, Targon and I benefited greatly by being in the company of those heroes! Our table was treated to a number of rounds; we were certainly in no danger of going thirsty.

But not all were paying attention to our group. There was a crowd near the other end of the tavern who were intent on something else; every once in a while a shout would go up from that corner of the room. Gimli and the hobbits could not see what was going on.

Pippin stood upon the table and craned his neck. "They are throwing something at the wall--I think perhaps they are throwing darts!" He sounded excited, and bounced a little on his toes. "Darts!" He grinned down at his cousins and Sam. "Darts?"

Merry grinned back, and Sam was also smiling broadly. Frodo chuckled and said, "Have fun, lads. But no wagering!"

"Spoilsport!" Merry grumbled, but good-naturedly, and the hobbits slipped away from the table and headed over towards the crowd. Needless to say, the rest of us followed along to see. The hobbits quietly pushed their way through to the front of the crowd, but the rest of us stayed to the back; Gimli followed Pippin's example and stood upon a table to get a better view.

They told us later they were shocked at the size of the dartboard; they could not believe how large the target was, nor how the players were trying to hit the bull's eye in the centre.

The round ended, and a shout went up, and then as we watched various wagers being settled among the onlookers we heard Pippin's voice pipe up. "How do you score?" he asked.

There was a long silence as the crowd realized the famous halflings were among them, including the Ernil i Pheriannath. Then the winner of the previous match began to explain. I am afraid he made the mistake of sounding as though he was explaining the game to young children, and Gimli was the one who voiced what we were all thinking: "Uh-oh."

Then we heard Merry's voice. "Do you suppose that we might try it? Perhaps we could play the winner?"

"I suppose," said the Man, "that you could give it a try. Would you like to practice a bit first? And perhaps we should move the board lower and the oche--the line you stand behind--a little closer?"

"Oh no," said Pippin looking down at the chalk line marked upon the floor, "we wouldn't like to put you to all that trouble. It's just a bit of fun, after all."

We began to hear the murmur of wagers being placed, and all of us looked at one another. I think all of us in our group had seen enough of hobbit skill and accuracy to know what would happen--but most in the crowd were naturally wagering on the fellow who had just won his match. They clearly thought that the game was a novelty for the pheriain, and were not finding those who would risk wagering on the "little ones", as they were saying. It was Legolas who first spoke, saying "Of course I must take the part of my young friends. I will take your wager."

"And I," said Gimli.

The rest of us showed similar solidarity in upholding the honour of the hobbits. Most of the takers thought we were simply doing it out of loyalty to our friends, but that did not keep them from being willing to take our money. Of course, we did not disabuse them of their notions.

It scarcely took a few moments for the wagers to be offered and taken, and then the group grew silent as the previous winner stood up to the oche, and we heard the first dart hit. It was a twenty, and landed in the outer green ring, which doubled it; the other two landed very close to the bull's eye but not within it--nevertheless, he had a respectable score.

Merry stepped up to the line. He hefted the darts in his hand, and said "These are a bit larger and heavier than the ones we use in the Shire." Then with a motion nearly too quick for the eye to follow, he threw the first one. It struck loudly and soundly in the bull's eye. Two more followed, so that the three darts were clustered in the very centre. "Not bad," said Merry to a stunned silence. He glanced up at the scorekeeper who stood by the slate and had just dropped his chalk, and said, "Would you remove them please, so that my cousin can throw? I am afraid we can't reach the board."

Pippin did not wait an instant to take his turn as soon as Merry's darts had been removed. He did not throw so quickly as Merry had, and his throws seemed almost careless; nevertheless he repeated his cousin's feat. "You're right, Merry, they are a bit heavier--makes them stick harder!" Indeed, the scorekeeper had to tug a bit to remove Pippin's darts, and when he did, it was clear that the cork was damaged.

There was more total silence, and I could see that Targon and Beregond looked somewhat worried that the crowd might grow nasty. I suppose if it had been anyone else who had done such a thing, it probably would have, but Gondorians all had a soft spot for the four small heroes, and especially for their Ernil i Pheriannath. The former winner began to chuckle, and then he said, "My lords, I concede the match! I see that you are not strangers to the game after all."

Laughter broke out, and the losers were soon coming to pay us all off, looking rueful but not grudging. We heard Pippin answer: "Well, in a way. This isn't quite how we play it at home; this is a bit too easy for hobbits."

Legolas and Gimli used their winnings to buy rounds of drink for the house. Targon, Beregond and I pocketed ours. Then we sat and drank and watched as all four hobbits demonstrated their own way of playing darts and throwing trick shots. Even Frodo participated in that; it was a very memorable evening. I recall Frodo's wink to us as he saw us pocketing our purses. "I don't care for wagering, but I daresay that this group of Men has learned not to underestimate hobbits!"

The hobbits were all laughing and shaking their heads. "You told that well, Menelcar," said Freddy, "I could just see it happening."

"I can imagine the look on Frodo's face," said Berilac. "His jaw all prim and proper and his eyes full of mischief!"

Jolly laughed even harder at that. "Oh my, I do recall seeing that look on Mr. Frodo's face a time or two myself."

The Men who had been playing finished their round, and the loser was buying the drinks. The hobbits went over to claim the dartboard, and suddenly all eyes were on them.

They inspected the board with great interest. It was at least twice as large as the board they used in the Shire, and the outer bands alternated between wider ones and narrower ones of red and green. The dartboards they used at home had outer bands that grew progressively narrower the further out they went from the bull's eye in the centre. But the numbers around the board were similar, from one to twenty, but placed randomly rather than consecutively.

Noting the chalk line on the floor designating the place to stand, they realised it was somewhat closer to the board than in the Shire, but as Menelcar had mentioned in his tale, the board was higher up than they were used to.

The hobbits passed the darts around to get the feel of them, and then agreed among themselves that Freddy and Berilac would go first. Men chose the one to throw first by seeing who came closest to the bull's eye, but the two hobbits tossed a coin instead, and Freddy won the throw. He glanced around at the crowd who had begun to gather to watch, and glanced up at Menelcar. "Menelcar, Merry and Pip were right about retrieving the darts. Would you do us the favour?"

The minstrel nodded and went over to stand by the board so that he could pull out and return their darts. He recalled his amazement when he had observed how hobbits did this in the Shire. The audience was in for a surprise.

"Freddy, it will be too easy to just call the numbers. Why don't I call colour as well?" asked Beri.

Freddy nodded.

"Red six, green fourteen, red eight."

Freddy threw quickly, hitting the red and green bands within the numbered sections Berilac had called. He turned to Beri. "Red one, red five, green eleven!"

Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! Each one was precisely placed. Menelcar wrote the score on the slate that hung on the wall, and pulled out the darts. He noted with amusement that Jolly, Rolly and Denny had placed wagers among themselves, and clearly the astonished Men in the crowd were beginning to do so as well.

The game continued for quite a long while. Neither hobbit had missed at all, and the score remained even. They had paused a few times to have a drink, but then went back to the game. Menelcar wondered how much longer they would play--when he heard a rumble. Ah! It was nearly time for tea. If they were hungry they would want to finish.

Freddy gave Berilac a mischievous look. "Red seven, Red six, Red five."

Beri gave Freddy an annoyed look, and took a little more time to place the three darts all in a row. Then he smirked at him. "Green seventeen, green seventeen, green seventeen!"

Freddy's jaw dropped. Getting all three in the same space would be difficult, though not completely impossible--he'd once seen Sam Gamgee make a shot like that. He took a deep breath, focused, and threw. The three darts were closely clustered together, but were all of them in the same section?

"Menelcar?" he asked.

The minstrel pulled them out one by one: "Green seventeen, green sixteen..."

There was a whoop from Rolly and Denny, who had wagered on Berilac with Jolly who had bet on Freddy. Jolly paid up, and the three of them went up to claim the board for themselves. As for Freddy and Beri, they went back to the table and ordered large bowls of stew, and a platter of bread, cheese and pickles.


Author's Note: The events in this chapter were briefly mentioned in Chapter 7 of "Testaments of the Past" co-written by Gryffinjack and myself.

Chapter 21

"29 Halimath, S.R. 1420 Minas Tirith, Gondor

To Paladin Took, Thain of the Shire:

Thain Paladin, this morning King Elessar rendered judgement on the two prisoners we brought with us to Gondor."

Freddy bit the inside of his lip. This was going to be awkward if he kept trying to avoid naming Clodio and Dago. He set the parchment aside for another use, and started over on a clean sheet.

Thain Paladin, this morning King Elessar rendered judgement on the former Clodio Banks and Dago Bracegirdle..." There, that was a good compromise. It acknowledged the Shire custom by referring to them as "former", but showed that such a convention was useless in the outside world. He'd never truly understood before this journey that the Shire custom of pretending the banished had never existed was a silly convention at best and a cruel and foolish lie at the worst. If wrong-doing was never remembered or acknowledged, how was it to be avoided in the future?

"The former Clodio Banks was sentenced to three to five years in the custody of the Archivist of Minas Tirith, an older Man by the name of Amdir son of Amrod. The length of his sentence is dependent on his behaviour. I must say that I think he has begun to show some remorse for what happened in the past (too little, too late, but progress of a sort for him). I think that the Archivist will find work for him that will not strain his heart. Mistress Poppy has turned over his care to the healers of Gondor, but she receives reports from them that he is doing as well as can be expected.

"The former Dago Bracegirdle was sentenced to four to six years in the custody of a Man named Maevor son of Maldir. The extra length of his sentence was due to the attempted bribery of a King's Ranger when he was first apprehended, and to his escape attempt on our journey here, which I previously reported to you. He still is willing to blame everyone but himself for his predicament, though I think he has finally realised the enormity of what he was involved in. Master Maevor, who is Chief Accountant for the King's Household, dwells within the Citadel, so he will be much more closely watched. And it would not surprise me if the King does not expect him to break the terms of his custody. I hope he is not that foolish, but he's yet to understand his past folly. I do not see what will keep him from more foolishness.

"This business having been concluded, I've other news to impart: with plans in the works for the capital of the Northern Kingdom to be rebuilt, the King has assigned a Man to be in charge of that duty, and Mosco Burrows has volunteered to assist with the effort. He is now part of the staff of Master Calembel son of Elmar, who is both a stonemason and an engineer, and is head of the Stonemason's Guild here in the City. They will be working closely with the Northern Steward, Lord Hador son of Halbarad.

"Berilac and I have been working on some of the trade agreements that were discussed before we left. It looks as though we may be able to expand some of our pipeweed trade to the South; there are not many smokers here, but since it is something the King indulges in it is spreading. Gondorian merchants will not pay the kind of coin which the fallen wizard Saruman was. But they will pay an honest and fair price that will bring in a decent profit. Speaking with Lord Hiril, who is Lord Hador's brother and the representative of Arnor in the High King's Court, I would say that there is far more likely profit for us among the Dunedain of the North. The Rangers and the folk of the North already smoke, and Shire leaf is far superior to what comes out of the Breelands. It would be worthwhile, I think, for you to send someone to speak to Lord Hador about expanding that trade. Perhaps Pippin could speak for you.

"King Elessar would very much like to increase the importation of Shire wool and woolen goods, but he is having quite an uphill battle trying to convince the Cloth Merchant's Guild of the benefits of that trade. I think if you could see your way to shipping some samples of our best down here, it might convince them.

"As for things that we might find of use in the Shire, there are fruits and some vegetables here in Gondor that do not grow in the cooler climes of the North, or grow only in glass houses and so are more expensive. We could also increase the flow of spices to the Shire as well; trade with the Southrons and some of the Easterlings has increased with the peace now that the Dark Lord has gone. I'm enclosing a list of such things for your perusal.

"Rest assured that all the members of our delegation are well and are learning much in our stay here."

"Yours in Service to the Shire,

 Fredegar Bolger"

Freddy put the official letter to one side to dry, and took up the discarded parchment. With a penknife, he sliced off the upper part he had written upon before and dipped his quill into the ink.

""29 Halimath, S.R. 1420 Minas Tirith, Gondor

"My Dear Angelica,

"A King's messenger is riding out for Arnor tomorrow, and since I had to send a report to the Thain, I thought to take this chance to write to you as well.

"The prisoners were officially sentenced this morning, and I must say that I was impressed with King Elessar's wisdom and practicality. Both hobbits will have the opportunity to work towards a new life, but they will be closely watched by their custodians. It seems a very fair sentence, considering that they were acting out of ignorance of the real situation, yet it takes into account that they were also acting out of greed and self-interest as well. I am very grateful that part of our duties is now ended and I no longer have to worry over them.

"Our delegation is housed in the very building where Frodo and his friends stayed after the War ended. Even after a couple of weeks it still seems immense to me, and I wonder shall I ever get used to it. Yet it is comfortable enough; they have arranged rooms that have furnishings which are made to suit hobbits, and kept our sleeping rooms downstairs. I share a room with Berilac, who snores, though not too badly! We have two Big Folk, Avor and Tadiel, a married couple, to act as servants. They see to most of the cleaning, and Tadiel is quite a good cook when we hobbits are too busy to see to our own meals.

"We had a family of Big Folk to supper the other evening. Master Calembel will be travelling to Arnor to work on the rebuilding of the capital city at Anuminnas. He brought his wife and two children, a boy and a girl. They seem very nice; I hope you will get the chance to meet them someday.

"By the way, I've not had the opportunity to mention it--I know that I wrote you that Berilac had shown his regard for Mistress Poppy's apprentice Viola, and that it seemed to be mutual--but I've yet to tell you that before we left Edoras Viola was sporting a new yellow ribbon in her hair, a gift from Beri! You've spent enough time among Bucklanders to know what that means!

"I find myself thinking of you often, Angelica, and wishing I could show you all the amazing sights of this place. I am not sure that I will have the words to describe it all when we get home. The world is truly such a vast place, so much more so than any of us in the Shire had any idea. It will be challenging to picture to you the vast plains and mountains and the sheer size of the White City and its strange beauty. It is all built of white stone and gleams from afar. The buildings are so high, but the other striking thing is their angularity: so square and straight and solid. They are massive, and Minas Tirith, though built into a mountain is yet like a mountain itself.

"I hope all is well with you and with your family. I know that you worry about your father. Please give him my regards. I know that if you should care to write back, Merry or Pippin will see that your letter arrives in my hands."

"Fond regards,


He looked at this letter again, his heart was full of things he wished to say, but that would be better kept for his homecoming rather than entrusted to ink. He had one more letter to write.

“Dear Father, Mother and Estella,

Since I have dispatches for the Shire, I thought to take this opportunity to let you know that all is going well. I am feeling better than I ever thought I would after Folco's loss; I still miss him, but my grief is no longer raw, and I am no longer consumed with thoughts of revenge. I know this will be a great relief to you, after having been burdened by my moods in the aftermath of the Troubles.

The King dispatched a fair and equitable justice upon the two older prisoners brought before him. They will be kept on a strict tether, in the custody of trustworthy and honorable Men, and be given a chance to redeem themselves and build a new life. I actually have hopes for one of them being able to do so, though I am very dubious about the other.

I wish that you could see this magnificent City in all its immense majesty! It is far larger than my imagination could have foreseen. But within the next year or so, you may be able to see the beginnings of something similar as the King takes up the task of rebuilding the Northern capital of Arnor.

Knowing that I will not be home for my birthday, I am also sending a parcel along with this letter, with my gifts for each of you. Please open them on my birthday, and drink a toast in my honour.

I miss you all.

Your loving son and brother,


He picked up the parcel and checked it once more to be certain it was safely fastened. The dispatches would go up to the Citadel in the morning.



Chapter 22

A few days later, Jolly, Rolly and Denny were strolling around the Seventh Circle. It was a lot bigger than they'd initially thought, and there were other buildings there than just the Citadel, though Jolly told the others that Mosco had said they were really all connected.

As they approached one such building, they heard the sounds of friendly shouting, as well as loud clanking and clattering. They spotted some boys coming in their direction, and one of them was Sador.

He halted, and the other boys did as well. "Good afternoon, Master Hobbits!" he said politely with a bow. He introduced the three boys who accompanied him, and who looked at him with awe that he knew the pheriain who had come to the City.

"What's going on over there?" asked Jolly, waving a hand in the direction of the noise.

"Oh, that's the armoury, with the training grounds behind it for the Guardsmen and the trainees. That is where we are going, for our own lessons--all of us hope to be Guardsmen one day, and they set aside some time for us to practice and learn."

"Could we watch?" asked Rolly.

Sador nodded. "A lot of people often come to watch the training," he replied. "Come along!"

The boys led them within the armoury. Inside the building was slightly dim. To one side the hobbits saw a forge and smithy, though there was no activity there at the moment. To the other sides were racks of spears and poles and wooden swords, and on the wall hung various sorts of armour, and on shelves were helms of many sizes, all of it looking rather old and battered. There were several boxes and chests against the wall. A door at the left bore a large padlock. An older Man sat near the door, sanding a wooden sword. He was clad in the livery of the Tower, and had a long scar that ran down from underneath his left sleeve all the way to the back of his hand.

"Ho, boys! Who have you brought with you today?" he asked heartily. He looked at the hobbits curiously.

"These are friends of the four pheriain--I mean hobbits--who saved the City during the War," said Sador proudly. Once more he made introductions.

"And this is Guardsman Derufin, one of our teachers."

"I am most honoured to meet friends of the Ringbearers and the Ernil i Pheriannath and the slayer of the Witch-king," he said.

Jolly blushed. "Don't know why it's such an honour, sir. They was the ones who did great deeds; we're just plain hobbits of the Shire."

"But you are their friends, Master Jolly" he replied with a twinkle in his eyes. "We seldom got the chance to honour them enough while they were among us. By honouring you, we honour them."

He turned to the boys. "It's time for lessons," he said. "Get your gear."

The boys went to one of the large chests and began to take things out: bulky padded jackets, and some rather oddly shaped items of leather. They helped one another into their practice armour: the padded jerkins, the gorgets to protect their throats, and leather knee and elbow cops. One leather item each boy took out they turned their backs to one another and to Master Derufin, and dealt with alone. Turning around once more they also drew out heavy leather gloves and from another chest, caps of boiled leather reinforced with metal bands.

As the boys got ready, Denny asked "What's in that room?"

"That is the place where the true swords and the armour for the Tower Guard is kept. Out here is kept only old armour and practice weapons," Derufin replied. He looked at the hobbits. "Would you like to practice?"

"Us?" Rolly stared in amazement, his eyes growing huge. "We wouldn't know what to do in all that gear! Besides I don't guess you've got anything that'd fit us."

"I am sure that we do," he replied. "You are not much smaller than Sador, and we have gear to fit younger and older boys--I am sure that some of it would fit you three. What say you?"

Rolly and Denny stared at each other, but Jolly said, "Oh, come on, lads! I'd like to give it a go!"

Denny gaped at Jolly, but then said, "Why not? After all, one of the last things Da said afore we left the Shire was to try and learn anything we could!"

So Derufin rummaged through the chest from which the boys had retrieved their gear, and through another one next to it. He held up various items to check the sizes, putting some aside and replacing others back where they had come from. When he had found what he needed to outfit the three hobbits, he gave them to them and had the boys help them into the gear. They were embarrassed and not a little surprised to discover what the item was that the boys had turned around to put on.

"Lawks!" exclaimed Denny. "I never would've thought about protection...there..."

"Me either," said Jolly. "I'm glad to see others thought of it before us, though. I really would like to be a dad one day!"

Rolly just shuddered, as he made sure his cup was securely adjusted.

Derufin led them out to the fenced in practice area, and they lined up against the back of the armoury to watch the last of the Guardsmen spar. There were three pairs of them, hacking away to the clatter of their practice swords, then two, and then the last pair of fighters kept going.

"Hold!" called a familiar voice. It was Captain Targon. "I call a draw!"

The sparring partners doffed their helms and the hobbits recognised two of their fellow travellers from the Shire, the Guardsmen Artamir and Adrahil, who were brothers. The two of them came over near where the boys and the hobbits stood with Derufin, for a bucket of fresh water was there, and a dipper. As the two winded Guardsmen refreshed themselves they noticed the hobbits standing there and greeted them with delight.

"Masters Banks and Master Cotton! Have you decided to learn how to fight?" Artamir asked.

Jolly shrugged and said, "It seemed like it might be a good thing to know! And Sador was saying as how Captain Pippin and Captain Merry would come here to practice..."

"So your class is increased, is it, Derufin?" Adrahil smiled and chuckled.

The armsman nodded. "Yes, it looks as though I have three novices, for this day at least." As some of the other Guardsmen noticed who was there, they came over as well.

When Captain Targon approached, he spoke to Derufin. "Would you object if I took the hobbits through their first paces, so that you can concentrate on the boys?"

Derufin nodded. In truth, he was relieved, for the boys would of course be more advanced than the hobbits. As Derufin led Sador and his friends over to one side of the enclosure, Captain Targon led the others to the opposite side, where about half a dozen thick poles were standing, planted deeply in the ground. They were hacked up and scarred. The Captain stood in front of the poles and had the hobbits stand before him.

"First, you must stand as tall as you can. Place your feet apart by the width of your shoulders. Denham and Rollin, I note you carry your swords in your right hands, so place your right foot slightly forward. Wilcome, your sword is in your left hand, so place your left foot slightly forward. Hold your swords in front of your chests, angled to the opposite shoulder."

As soon as they had all taken the position he described, he went to each to make slight adjustments, and then gave them a new position. After he worked with them a while on their stance, he set them to hacking at the poles.

Unnoticed by them, among the bystanders around the practice ground were the King himself and Freddy and Beri.

"It looks like fun," said Beri. "Perhaps I'll give it a try. Imagine how Merry would react if I was able to spar with him when I get home!" He grinned. "Though he'd still probably wipe the floor with me."

Freddy shook his head. "I'd be no good at that! Give me a bow, or a sling, or just a good sized rock anytime!"

Aragorn chuckled and shook his head. "It reminds me of watching Boromir teach Merry and Pippin in Rivendell once. I had come in to make a brief report after a scouting mission, and was able to watch them at one of their sparring sessions..."*


It was nearly teatime when Jolly, Rolly and Denny returned to the guesthouse, tired, dirty and sweaty, but determined to keep trying. They'd arranged to join Sador and his friends three times a week at the training sessions. Jolly was in high spirits especially. He was used to hard physical work on his father's farm. While they had been travelling, that had been exertion enough, but since they had been in the City, he'd begun to feel caged and lazy. This was the best he'd felt in a long time.

As they described their day to the other hobbits, they were embarrassed to find that Freddy and Denny had been observing them, and went even pinker to find the King himself had been there!

"Don't be embarrassed," Freddy said. "The King told us an amusing story of when Merry and Pippin were learning." He went on to regale them with the tale, and most of them laughed heartily to hear of Merry's own very embarrassing mishap.

"Do you think," asked Berilac, "that it would be all right if I joined you sometimes?"

"Of course, Mr. Beri!" exclaimed Denny.


*A reference to my story "Never Give Up" on this site in my anthology "Twice Twenty".


Chapter 23

Aragorn was looking forward to this day; yesterday Faramir had returned to the City after over a month in Ithilien, and Éowyn was with him. They had returned late in the afternoon, and had been invited to dine privately with the King and Queen.

Today he would have his Steward at his side as he conducted the business of the day, and that was something that just felt right. This evening there would be a feast of welcome for them, which he also looked forward to.

He rose and dressed informally for breakfast. Arwen had already risen; Elves were early risers most of the time, and she'd maintained her habits of a lifetime. She was up to farewell the stars and greet the Sun nearly every day. He went from their bedchamber into the sitting room, where one of Arwen's handmaidens was setting out the food on the small table by the window. When she saw the King, she made a small courtesy, and withdrew. Arwen was standing on the balcony, and turned to smile warmly at him, holding her own two hands out to him. "Good morning, belovéd," she said, as he drew her into his embrace.

After a rather lengthy and thorough kiss, he stepped reluctantly away, to pull out her chair. They sat down to a meal of fresh bread, fruit, and frumenty, and began to discuss their day.

Arwen and Éowyn would be going to the House of Children, an orphanage attached to the Houses of Healing. Although many of the war orphans had been placed in loving homes, there were still many more, as well as the children of more recent and commonplace tragedies. The Queen and the Steward's Lady hoped to arrange for several of the children to be relocated to Ithilien. Many could join the staff at the new Prince's home as pages or apprentices, and others could be taken in to some of the families who were now making their homes across the Anduin. Quite a few such families were those of Faramir's Rangers, and they would welcome the orphans with open hearts.

The King planned to make an early visit himself to the Houses of Healing; he made rounds there as a healer as often as his duties as King would allow.

When he returned, his valet would dress him in his formal court robes, and he would hold audience. He had to hear evidence against a baker accused of shorting his customers, and ratify the punishment his Guild had given the man, or change it or dismiss it. He chuckled as he told Arwen what that punishment was; the Guildmaster was rather clever. He'd most likely affirm the punishment if the evidence confirmed the baker's guilt. Arwen smiled, but did not laugh. It was rather ironic, but to her sensibilities it still seemed a bit harsh, though not cruel. He also had to affirm an agreement between the Merchant's Guild and the Seaman's Guild, and greet an ambassador from Dale.

The Royal couple made their way together in the direction of the Houses of Healing, followed discreetly by their personal guards. There they separated, as Arwen encountered Éowyn, and the two went to the House of Children, while the King headed for the Houses of Healing and the office of the Warden.

Master Sardos was in his office, and rose when the King entered. "Sire," he said, with a slight bow of the head. He appreciated the courtesy the King showed him by informing him when he was there; he could not keep regular hours nor could he have certain patients that only he attended. His duties as King meant that he might often be unavailable. But he frequently consulted with the other healers, especially for those illnesses of the mind such as were left behind by the War and that benefited most from the use of athelas and the healing hands of the King, and was always ready to put his hands to work whenever there was an emergency of any kind.

Once Aragorn had made certain that none had requested to consult with him recently, he went on to look through the patients in the various wards, lending a word of encouragement or comfort when needed, and a hand to any healer who might ask it of him. The second ward was one of his favourites: the birthing ward. While most of Minas Tirith's women preferred giving birth at home, some few whom their healers feared might have complications were brought there to give birth. Rarely did the complications actually happen, but it was always good to have all the resources available when they did.

He smiled widely when he saw who else was there. Thorongil was speaking to the Chief Midwife, Mistress Fieniel, and Mistress Poppy and her apprentice stood by his side. All of them turned at his entrance, the women gave courtesies and Thorongil gave a brief bow. This was Mistress Fieniel's domain, and so it was she who greeted him. "Sire! It is good to see you today!"

"Mistress Fieniel, you know that I enjoy your domain. You are not dreadfully busy at the moment, I see." Of the six beds, only two were occupied, and neither occupant was in labour. Both the patients were gazing wide-eyed at the King. It was clear they knew exactly who he was.

The midwife led them all over to the bed nearest the door. "This is Mistress Ava. Her own midwife wished her to have complete bedrest for the last month of her confinement. It was thought she would find that easier to accomplish here rather than at home. Ava, this is our King Elessar, who as you know is an accomplished healer, and this is Master Thorongil, one of the healers here; he has brought with him Mistress Poppy Burrows and Miss Viola Harfoot, healers of the Shire who have come to learn something of our methods here in Gondor."

If the woman's eyes had been wide when she saw the king, they grew even wider when she realised what the two small figures were.

The visiting healers looked her over with experienced eyes; she was not young, and it was clear she had borne children before. Aragorn smiled at her, and asked, "Why did your midwife wish you to have bedrest, Mistress Ava?"

She blushed, and stammered. "Wh-why?" Then she blushed. "This is my seventh babe in ten years. I also have my husband and his two brothers at home. The midwife knew I'd not get the rest I need with them in the house."

Mistress Poppy looked sympathetic. "If you were there, you'd still be at their beck and call. Let me guess, your husband never knows where anything's to be found, and his brothers never help with the little ones and the children's favourite word is 'Mama!' said always in urgent tones?"

The woman nodded. "You do understand!"

"Have you no female kin to help you out?"

"My brother's wife, my sister-in-law, she and I always helped one another...but...but he was lost on the Pelennor, and she moved out of the City to return to her own folk in Lebennin." The woman sighed.

Poppy took off her pendulum. "May I try something?" she asked.

This was not the first time Thorongil had seen the hobbits make use of their pendulums, but it was the first time for Aragorn to observe it in action.

She held it over the woman's swollen belly, and watched the movements with a smile, then turned to her and said. "The babe is well. Do you wish to know if it is a lad or a lass?"

"You can tell that? Yes, please!"

Poppy smiled. "It's a lass, my dear!"

Mistress Fieniel looked dubious, but the King stepped forward and held his hand over Mistress Ava's middle, about an inch above. He did not touch her. But he grinned at Mistress Poppy. "I concur, Mistress Poppy!"

Now Mistress Fieniel looked impressed; she had seen the King do that before and he was always right. But how could the pherian know, just from dangling her necklace like that? She turned a questioning gaze to Thorongil.

Thorongil grinned. "Most of our colleagues are doubtful when they first see the hobbits' pendulums in action. They are beginning to learn, though."

Mistress Fieniel led them to the other bed. "This is Mistress Isfen. Her midwife sent her along to us because she suspects twins. She is at the end of her seventh month."

Aragorn nodded. Going by appearances alone, he would have imagined she was nearly ready to deliver. The midwife introduced them all to MIstress Isfen, who confided that this was her second pregnancy, and that her husband was a Guardsman of the Second Company.

"Twins, eh?" Twins were a rarity among Gondoreans, but not unheard of. He held his hand over her as he had with Mistress Ava. He jerked his hand back, and blinked, then held it over her again. Then he looked at Mistress Poppy. "Mistress Poppy, would you oblige me?"

She nodded and took off her pendulum once again. She held it above Mistress Isfen, and studied its patterns for a while with a puzzled expression on her face. She looked up at the King, then tried again. "But it can't be!" she said. "I've never in my born days heard of such a thing!"

Mistress Isfen looked alarmed. "What is wrong? Do I have twins or no?"

Aragorn smiled at her, "No, you do not have twins," he said, "you have triplets."

Mistress Ava's jaw dropped. "Triplets!"

"Two lads and a lass, if I read it a-right," added Mistress Poppy.

Aragorn nodded.

"Congratulations!" Thorongil said to the astonished mother.

They left her to absorb the incredible news, and went to the other side of the room where they would be out of earshot of the patients.

"Master Thorongil," said the midwife, "Twins were why I had asked to consult with you. As you know twins often must be brought forth by surgical delivery. But with triplets, that's likely to be a certainty!"

Mistress Poppy looked up. "We've never had triplets in the Shire; twins are rare enough. Jolly Cotton is twin to Rose Gamgee, and I know that Pimpernel Goodbody was expecting twins before I left. But those are the only ones I know of. Just how common are twins and triplets among Men?"

Aragorn looked down at her. "Twins are less uncommon among Men than among hobbits; and they happen often in certain bloodlines. But triplets are very rare indeed."

Mistress Fieniel nodded. "The only other case I know of occurred early in the rule of Steward Turgon. According to the records they were three boys." She shook her head sadly. "Only two of them survived, and the mother nearly lost her life as well."

Aragorn looked over at the woman, who still looked quite startled by the news. "We shall do all that we can to avert such a thing happening again," he said.

“She is unlikely to carry to full term,” said the midwife. “If we can help her to rest and be calm I would like to see if we can help her to carry them at least another two to three weeks. Success will be more likely then, though the babes will be very small and may have some difficulties. The odds are against all three of them surviving.”

“Mistress Fieniel, I would like your permission to speak to the Queen. This may be a case in which her talents are useful.” Arwen had a way of calming the fears of patients.

“Of course, sire.”

“And I will take care of informing her husband, since he is in the Tower Guard. We should keep the news of her children as quiet as possible. Such a momentous event will create gossip all over the City, and create dismay if the ending is unfortunate.”

This seemed logical. There were superstitions enough over twins; they were considered an omen—of good fortune by the majority, but were also thought of as ill omens by many others. Triplets would astound everyone once it was known, and the poor parents would have no peace.

“Mistress Fieniel,” said Mistress Poppy, “I would like to offer my services and that of my apprentice as well. Unfortunately Tooks sometimes have a tendency to early births. We have experience with infants who come too soon into the world; I am sure that we can put that to use with these babies.”

“And I may need assistance with the surgical delivery,” said Thorongil. “I would like your permission to ask my mother if she can help.”

Aragorn spoke once more. “Mistress Fieniel, please do keep me informed of how things are going with this case, and let me know when it is time for the delivery, for I should very much like to assist as well if there is any way possible that I can.”

With the midwife's agreement, the others went to leave the room. Aragorn had only a little time left before he must return and prepare for court, and Thorongil had his rounds to finish, accompanied by the two hobbit healers.


Author’s Notes: Back in April of 2008, I made a comment in SurgicalSteel’s LiveJournal, a little micro-fic about Mistress Poppy meeting Serindë of Dol Amroth. When I indicated to SS at the time that I might like to use that part in my sequel to “The Road to Edoras” some day, she gave me her blessing. Since then she has agreed to allow me to continue using her characters, and has been most helpful with advice.

Serindë, Thorongil and Sador all belong to SurgicalSteel, although due to several timeline differences between our two universes, they are not precisely the same in my stories. I appreciate her courtesy in allowing me to use her characters, and her help with medical advice.

Chapter 24

Faramir was glad to be back in Minas Tirith. He loved Ithilien and his time there was such a joy as he and Éowyn planned their new home together. He longed to see Ithilien once more become the garden of Gondor and bloom in the peace that had been so hard to come by. But right now he felt his duties as Steward should come first; the King's reign was not yet two years old, and the ravages of the War were not all yet healed. While he was away, he could not help but worry about what was going on in his absence from the White City.

This morning Éowyn had parted from him after breakfast to meet the Queen at the House of Children. The notion of bringing some of the war orphans to Ithilien was an excellent one, and had been entirely Eowyn's idea. He was quite proud of her for taking on such a task, and felt it would be a fair way to success. He already knew that Mablung and his wife wished to take in at least one child, and perhaps more.

Now he was meeting with the hobbits. He smiled. Just thinking of them made him happier; one could not spend much time with those of the hobbit race without coming away quite charmed by them. They needed to discuss the best ways to speed the trade agreements. The delegation would be leaving in only a few months to return to the Shire, and they could not afford to let things drag on too long.

He knew the meeting would carry over into the time that hobbits called "second breakfast", so he had made arrangements for an array of refreshments to be set out. He had learned that they would probably simply nibble at things all through the meeting, so there was an assortment of breads, cheeses, biscuits, fruit and a goodly sized pot of tea, as well as a light wine.

His manservant Darion showed his guests into the room and left; he would be only the ring of a bell away if Faramir needed him.

"Many of the those in the Merchant's Guild are quite excited over the prospect of increasing the trade in pipe-weed, and in bringing more items into the Shire such as silks, spices and coffee."

"Lemons and some of your other Southern fruits are not completely unknown in the Shire, but are incredibly rare and dear," said Freddy. "I think that we are coming to a simple accommodation with the travelling merchants. But I don't understand why we are encountering so much resistance in the wool trade."

"The wool-trading families are much entwined, and they have controlled all aspects of the trade for generations. From sheep to raw wool to the spinning and weaving of cloth, even to the knitting of stockings and other such items, all are controlled by three families – who are so intermarried with one another that they might as well be one family. Though there is some rivalry between them as well."

Berilac shook his head. "Sounds like Tooks and Brandybucks," he chuckled.

Freddy laughed. "Sounds like most of the Great Families on the Roll, for that matter. Lord Faramir, we have asked the Thain to send some samples of some of the Shire's finest woolens. Perhaps we can make some judicious gifts among those families of those samples where such gifts will be most likely to do some good."

That was very astute, Faramir thought. There were some in the Guild who would see the advantage in some Shire produced products, and who might very well promote the Shire if the quality impressed them. Aloud he said, "I will give some thoughts to that subject. I think I know of some who might fit the bill." He rose. "Gentlehobbits, the time nears that I must prepare to attend Court. Will you be attending as well, today? I think you might find it amusing."

The hobbits often were among those who often attended the Court of the King, though not all of them did so every time Court was held.

"Perhaps we shall," said Freddy.

The hobbits all took their leave, and Faramir summoned Darion to assist him in getting ready. Once he was clad in his official robes of office, he took up the White Rod and went to the back of the throne room to await the herald's call. As was usual, Aragorn already sat upon the high throne; the Queen, who usually stood at his right arm, was not there this morning since she and Éowyn were still at the House of Children.

Lord Dorlas' voice filled the hall as he announced Faramir: "Lord Faramir son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien!"

Faramir, carrying the White Rod before him, went to claim the Black Chair of the Stewards. He glanced up to the throne where the King was already in place, and was rewarded with a small smile from Aragorn. He sat down with gratitude upon a thin cushion of black velvet. Bless the Queen; one of her first acts had been to see that cushions were made for his chair and for the King's throne. They were not obvious to the audiences in Court, matching each seat in colour and not especially lush, but they made life a lot more comfortable. He sometimes wondered if his father's dour disposition had partly been due to sitting for hours on cold hard stone for so many years.

He looked around and scanned the room. There was not a large crowd this morning; those who were in attendance appeared to mostly be those who were concerned with the cases appearing before the King. He did spot Freddy and the hobbits, as well as Menelcar. The bard seldom missed court, for there might be something of interest to inspire a song.

"We call Master Baker Lindilmir, Head of the Baker's Guild to come into the presence of His Grace the King, to give witness in the matter of Master Hargam son of Harvo."

A tall and rather portly Man of middle years stepped down the center of the room and bowed. Over his fine court clothing, he wore a pristine white smock, broidered on the shoulder with the device of his Guild, and a tall white hat, the emblem of his office, which he doffed as he bowed. When he straightened up, he held it before him in both hands.

Faramir spoke up: "Master Baker Lindilmir, please acquaint His Grace the King with the facts of the matter."

"Two weeks ago, a journeyman baker, one Gilihil son of Gilgon came to the Guild Hall with a disturbing tale. He had been hired by Master Hargam to help oversee some new apprentices and to assist in the bake shop. In the first two days he noticed several practices that are against the guild rules, such as substituting a lower quality of flour for the finest loaves and yet charging as much as those made of the finest flour. When weighing the loaves brought to him for baking by those who make their own bread, but lack ovens he was seen placing a thumb upon the scale. Worst of all: the table on which the unbaked loaves were placed had a hole in it. Below the hole was a shelf with a shelf and a large bowl beneath it. This was all concealed from the view of the customers by a tall counter. But he had instructed his apprentices who prepared such loaves for the oven to reach up through the hole and pinch off some of the raw dough. This was then dropped into the bowl, the pinched off part was smoothed over and then the loaf was baked as usual. The stolen dough was later made up into small loaves that could be cheaply sold, since they had cost him nothing. Master Hargam made it clear to Gilihil that he was expected to do the same and to teach this practice to the apprentices."

Faramir nodded. "Is Gilihil son of Gilgon here to verify this testimony?"

"Yes, my Lord Steward, he is." The Guild Master indicated a young man standing nearby. Not having been called by the Herald, he did not come forward, but he bowed and nodded his head.

"What did you do when this story was told you?"

"I called for two bakers whom I knew to be unknown to Master Hargam. They went to his shop as customers to observe these practices – they knew what to look for. They also took with them loaves for the baking that had been weighed at the Guild Hall beforehand. They weighed considerably less than they should have after baking."

"Then what was done?" asked Faramir.

"Master Hargam was brought to the Guild Hall, and there before nine of the most senior bakers of the Guild, he confessed his dishonesty, excusing them as practices he had learned from his old Master. But he admitted that he knew such practices were against the Guild rules. We stripped him of his Mastery, demoting him to journeyman. His shop has been confiscated by the Guild. He may work there under the supervision of another Master until we are satisfied his lesson is learned. In addition, that his perfidy may be known to all and that all may know the Guild did not condone his actions, he is to be paraded through the town, mounted backwards upon an ass, with a loaf of raw dough about his neck, and accompanied by one of the City criers declaring his crimes."*

Faramir glanced up and back to the throne, and at the King's nod, he in turn nodded to Lord Dorlas.

"We call into the presence of the King: Hargam son of Harvo, to face the justice of the King."

The baker had not been a prisoner of the Citadel; this was a civil matter, simply needing the King's stamp of approval. Yet because of the seriousness of his actions it was being done publicly in Court to show that the King would not put up with such perfidy. He was escorted forward not by guards but by two of his fellow bakers, who each had him by an elbow.

They gave him a slight push, and he went to his knees before the King.

Elessar looked down at him, and the man could not face his gaze. His eyes dropped. "Hargam son of Harvo you have been found guilty of violating the pact you made upon becoming a member of the Guild. We find that the punishment meted unto you by your peers to be both just and befitting the deeds which you committed. If they had not taken this matter in hand, your punishment from Us would have been far more severe. You took advantage of your customers who trusted you, literally taking the bread out of their mouths. For some who are poor, this could make a difference of whether all in the home would have a meal. Even worse, you tried to suborn an honest journeyman and to teach your wicked practices to the young apprentices in your care. We are not so long from the shortages of the War as to forget what it is like when there is not enough food." He cast his glance over at the head of the Guild. "Master Baker, We commend your Guild for taking swift action in this case. It is because of actions like this that Guilds prove their worth. We agree to your judgment, and the second part of it may be carried out the day after tomorrow beginning at noon."

The miscreant was taken from Court by his fellow bakers, and the Herald (as had been agreed ahead of time) did not seek to reprimand the laughter which followed him.

After this, the appearance of the representatives of the Seaman's Guild and the Merchant's Guild might seem dull. Yet both Aragorn and Faramir knew it to be the more important matter. Now that Sauron was cast down, the Merchants wished to send expeditions South along the coast of Haradwaith below Umbar to discover if a sea passage to the Eastern lands could be found. Royal permission was needed to authorise explorations of such foreign lands. It was also needed to grant special wages to seamen who signed up for such a hazardous journey. Elessar ratified the agreement quickly, and hoped few noticed how much more momentous this was than the matter of a cheating baker.

As court was dismissed, Faramir watched the hobbits follow the crowd out. They might be small, but he could tell by their thoughtful expressions that they'd listened more carefully than most. He could also tell that they were looking forward to a meal. He smiled as he went to get out of his formal robes. He was looking forward to luncheon as well, for Éowyn was sure to be back from her own business by then, and perhaps they could take luncheon together.


* This was a real punishment in a real case back in the Middle Ages. I am sorry that I cannot cite my source—it has been many years since I read the book with this information, and I can recall neither the title nor the author. The subject matter, however, stayed with me!


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