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22nd September, 1429 SR
"It's Ring-Day! It's Ring-Day!"
"It's Uncle Frodo's birthday!"
"Happy birthday, Uncle Frodo!"
Frodo surfaced from sleep to find a lot of over-excited children jumping on his bed. The three little girls were showering him with kisses while the boys bounced and sought to be first to hug him."We must breakfast, bathe and dress if we are to be out in time for the parade."
"Steady on, there's only so much of me to go round!" he laughed, struggling up and cuddling as many as he could reach.
"Birthday kisses, Uncle Frodo. Are you better now?" Finduilas asked shyly. Frodo had been somewhat under the weather the previous day, forswearing alcohol with the fervour of the terminally hungover. He had remained in bed for most of the day and elected to have an early night.
"Yes, thank you, dear child. I'm fine and looking forward to today. This all sounds very exciting."
Rosie and Sam peeped round the door, having heard the commotion. Rosie was tying her robe and shaking her tumbled hair out of her eyes. She giggled at Frodo's unruly locks, which went all ways in the morning.
"You can stop grinning, Rose! I know I look like a scarecrow first thing in the morning - my mirror doesn't lie! How can I possibly have Elvish blood? I certainly don't have the self-combing hair!"
"You'll do! Feeling bright and perky, are we? Recovered from all that ale?" She kissed him gently. "Happy birthday, dear Frodo!"
Sam gave him a bear hug. "Yes, happy birthday and many of 'em!"
Outside, the September mist was clearing to reveal a blue sky and sunshine. The murmur of voices drifted up from the streets on the city's lower levels as people staked their claim to the best places along the walls and main thoroughfares. The laughter of children, street cries and the odd rumbling cart or trotting horse could also be heard. There was a sense of anticipation and barely-suppressed joy.
Frodo pushed back the covers and stepped onto the floor. He stretched and grabbed a robe, then ventured to the window. Below, the crowds were already gathering, women gossiping cheerfully, groups streaming out of their houses, children running and skipping, men shifting benches and erecting gaily-coloured awnings. It looked like highly disorganised chaos to Frodo's eye, but very thrilling.
They went to the private apartments, children running around them, and found the rest of the company there already and grinning in an infuriating manner. Everyone rushed to greet him, all thrilled to share such a special day. He was hugged, kissed and fussed over until he was quite out of breath. Arwen indicated a huge pile of packages in a corner.
"All yours, dear Frodo, from your loving friends."
"Open them! Open them!" clamoured the children, hopping up and down in their eagerness.
"I doubt there is time!" Frodo laughed.
"I hope my dress is smart enough," Rosie fretted. "I shall feel very insignificant next to Queens and Princesses and fair folk."
"Ah! I do hope you won't be offended, dearest Rose, but we have had clothes made for you and Sam and Frodo, as a gift from us. Merry and Pippin will be in their finery anyway and we did not think you should be left out. You will find them in your rooms when you go to dress. I do hope you like them." Arwen looked quite anxious; she wanted everything to go well and could not bear the thought that the hobbits might not like such a gift. She studied Rosie's face, which lit up in a wonderful smile.
"You really are the kindest people! I'm sure they'll be wonderful - thank you, dearest lady!" She took Arwen's hands and kissed them, and Arwen crouched and pulled her into her arms, joy spilling over in happy tears.
In their bedroom Sam and Rosie gazed in awe at their new clothes. Rose tentatively stretched out a hand and stroked the dress, unable to believe it was hers. It was in the hobbit style, in a beautiful lavender silk with an embroidered bodice and a delicate lace trim. There was a matching lace wrap too, and delicately worked silk petticoats which rustled when they were stirred. There was also a dainty circlet of fresh flowers for her hair. She had never seen anything so fine.
"You'll look like a queen yourself in that, my lass." Sam kissed her very deeply and she trembled in his arms; his passion and love for her sometimes overwhelmed her.
"I do love you, Sam Gamgee. I know I can be a bit sharp sometimes............."
"Hush! I love you so much, my lovely Rose. You and Frodo and the children mean everything to me and so long as I have you all my life is perfect." He held her tightly for several moments before releasing her with another kiss. "Go on, go and let that little maid get you dressed. I can't wait to see you in all that silk.........and I'm sure I'll spend half the day wondering how to get you out of it!"
"Cheeky!" She gave him a playful tap as he patted her bottom, and ran into the dressing-room next door, laughing. "You get yourself dressed. I want to see my handsome husband in his new suit!"
Sam dressed slowly, revelling in the sensation of the fine material. The jacket and trousers were in a deep mulberry colour and the waistcoat was a beautiful blue - the colour of Frodo's eyes, he thought - and made of silk, embroidered with white stars. He chuckled. Merry would be sick with envy over the waistcoat!
They gathered in the King's apartments. Merry and Pippin arrived, wearing the liveries of Rohan and Gondor. They argued good-naturedly about which was smarter, Merry's green and white or Pippin's black and silver.
"Women will fall at our feet, Pip. We are irresistible, after all."
"Quite! It's almost wicked. We're too attractive for our own good!"
The door opened and Frodo entered, almost timidly. Everyone stared. Rosie's eyebrows rose and her jaw dropped. Three royal ladies gawped unashamedly. Pippin broke the silence with a curse.
"Damn! The women aren't going to notice us at all, are they?"
"At least it will be easy to track your progress today, Fro. There'll be a trail of swooning women in your wake!"
Frodo was wearing a suit of deep forest green silk velvet, with small gold buttons, and a waistcoat of embossed cream silk embroidered with tiny gold flowers. His curls had been brushed until they shone, his eyes sparkled and his cheeks were faintly tinged with pink, which deepened as he blushed.
Aragorn twirled a finger in the air, indicating that he should turn and show off the outfit to everyone, to which he obliged, chuckling.
"Well! That's every other male in the procession relegated to second place!" said the King. "What that outfit really calls for on such a ceremonial day, is a sword - Sting, in fact. Sam has brought his sword, I believe?"
Frodo smiled. "That would be difficult, as Sting is in a chest in the cellar at Bag End, and would be a little difficult to retrieve at short notice!"
"Actually it isn't......." Sam began nervously. "Pippin said I should bring it as it would look good today, so I brought it with my things......" Frodo had said he never wanted to wear a sword again. Would he be angry?
"Oh did he?! It's another conspiracy, isn't it?" He tried to sound cross but found he could not possibly be annoyed on such a day. He allowed Sam to fetch Sting and was very embarrassed when Aragorn himself knelt and fastened the jewelled belt for him. Then he produced the silver circlets they had worn so long ago on the night of the banquet at Cormallen, and reverently placed one on Frodo's dark curls and the other on Sam's sandy ones, and kissed them both on the brow.
When he was ready, Frodo gazed at his friends. "Rose! You look beautiful! I think that dress needs something to complete it. Let me give you my present now." He drew out a box from a pile of parcels on the table. "Here - this is for you, my dearest sister and friend. It......belonged to my mother, and I think it deserves to be worn again."
Rose opened the box and caught her breath. Inside lay an exquisite silver necklace of Elvish design, trailing leaves interlaced with tiny flowers, each with an amethyst at its centre. She looked up, tears spilling down her cheeks.
"Oh Rose, please don't cry! Don't you like it?"
"Of course I like it, you silly hobbit! It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. You really are the dearest, dearest................." She pulled him to her and kissed him several times while he wiped her tears. Then she turned and let him fasten the necklace for her. "I shall cherish this all my life, Frodo dear," she whispered, kissing his maimed hand gently as she did so. Sam thought she had never looked more lovely, not even on their wedding day, and he felt tears in his eyes as he gazed at the two beings he loved most in all Middle-earth.
"Sam, dearest Sam, you look splendid! Now you must have my gift because I knew you'd brought your sword and bought this especially for you. Besides, we can't have just one of us with a smart belt." Frodo took out a finely jewelled belt and put it round Sam's ample middle.
The plan was to go down from the Citadel by a private way and gather before the gateway outside the city, where there was to be some sort of Thanksgiving. Then they would ride through the gates and up through the seven levels of the city in procession, pausing to watch various tableaux along the way. Once returned to the Citadel there was to be a banquet with ambassadors from Gondor's allies and the city's chief officials.
Everyone lined up: the King, resplendant in black with the White Tree embroidered upon his breast, and a deep crimson cloak, his coronet of silver round his brow and Anduril in its scabbard; Arwen in a deep purple and white gown, a delicate fillet of mithril silver in her dark hair; Faramir in dark blue with Eowyn in pale blue; Eomer and his Queen in dark gold and pale yellow respectively; Legolas in a very pale lilac tunic with silver embroidery and a soft silver-grey cloak; Elladan and Elrohir in soft shades of grey and green; Prince Imrahil in a rich blue; Celeborn in silver and Gimli in his usual mail but with a rich russet cloak. The children were all clad in their best, and even young Boromir had managed to remain clean so far, much to Eowyn's astonishment and relief. Bergil and Beregond were both in full dress uniform, the father in that of the White Company while the son wore the insignia of the Citadel.
Aragorn gazed fondly at his extended family. "Everyone ready? Then let us go!"
They trooped down to the sixth level and mounted their horses and ponies, who were as beautifully dressed as their riders. The grooms had been up since before dawn, brushing, braiding and saddling the many fine equines for the big day, and the hobbit ponies had never looked so smart. Frodo's Strider was wearing a bridle glittering with gems, and the saddlecloth was a decorated affair of white damask. Bill was also wearing rich apparel and their manes and tails were plaited with white ribbons.
The excited buzz of voices hushed as the procession appeared and made its way to stand before the gates, where Aragorn had been crowned over ten years before. The King looked so noble that people were stilled in awe. He spoke, his voice carrying on the mild air.
"My people! Today we celebrate a very special day, the birthday of the Ring-bearer, Frodo Baggins. This year our day is even more special because he is here with us! Ten and a half years ago the One Ring went into the fires of Mount Doom, and our lives were changed forever, for the Shadow departed from Middle-earth. Frodo and Samwise went alone into the heart of the Black Land to do this deed, and they will be remembered as long as my line shall last. On this day I say to you, we no longer have need of the Tower of Guard because the Tower of Sorcery is no more! Minas Tirith shall once more become Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun!"
The crowds on the walls cheered themselves hoarse. The Towers of the Sun and Moon had faced each other for years, until the Witch-King, Lord of the Nazgul took Minas Ithil and turned it into a place of horror and evil, Minas Morgul. Then Minas Anor had indeed become the Tower of Guard and remained so for the rest of the Third Age.
"To mark this occasion I here present to Frodo and Samwise a special gift from the people of Gondor! For your bravery, fortitude and endurance, I give you the Minas Anor Star!"
Faramir stepped forward, bearing a purple cushion on which were two radiant gold sunbursts. The King lifted one and pinned it to the lapel of Frodo's jacket before embracing him and kissing his brow. He did the same to Sam, and both hobbits stood blushing as the crowds cried: "Long live King Elessar! Long live Frodo and Samwise!"
Rosie almost exploded with pride and felt tears sting her eyes. She felt Arwen's hand on her shoulder, steadying her, and was grateful because she knew she was shaking. She seemed to note every tiny detail: the sun glinting on the King's diadem and his dark hair lifting from his collar in the gentle breeze; Sam's protective arm round Frodo's shoulder and Frodo's grateful smile when he felt the pressure.
The ceremony of Thanksgiving was a simple one. Everyone gazed east to the Land of Shadow and then faced West, right hands on breasts as the King intoned the words of thanks to the Valar for their assistance.
"With the help of the Valar and the courage of all Free Peoples, we have peace and prosperity, and the Shadow is no more. We thank the Valar for their help and for granting us strength and wisdom. May this continue until the unmaking of the world!"
There was a minute of complete silence, then the cheering began, louder than ever, and continued as the barriers were opened. Children appeared, dressed in white, to strew flower petals before them as they mounted their horses. Garlands were draped around the necks of the Ring-bearers, and they rode into the White City through the magnificent new gates. People ran alongside, throwing flowers and calling. After a few minutes' acute shyness, Frodo decided to take part fully in this amazing experience. He waved and then placed his right hand on his heart and bowed. The cheering seemed to double in volume whenever he did this, and Sam tried it too, with a similar effect.
On every level there were tableaux of some event during the Ring War - Gandalf arriving at Helm's Deep; Eowyn facing the Witch-King; King Elessar taking the Paths of the Dead; Theoden leading the Charge of the Rohirrim, and Frodo and Sam confronting Shelob. Frodo felt ridiculously light-hearted, even when faced with so many reminders of the Quest. It was good to watch the children acting out the events, as no doubt they did in their everyday play, and to see how much it meant to them. Unlike their time in Gondor after the War, when they had been oddities to a people who had not realised hobbits existed, now they were better understood. People in the streets knew more about Halflings than they would have believed possible.
The King rode between Sam and Frodo, while Eomer rode behind with Queen Arwen and Lothiriel. Then came Faramir and Eowyn with Rosie and the children, Legolas and Gimli, as ever upon Arod, and behind them came Celeborn and his grandsons. Merry and Pippin rode alongside, varying their pace, dropping back then riding to the head of the procession in the proper manner of guards, not that anyone seriously expected any trouble from any quarter. Frodo felt as if he were being carried on a wave of affection and love. He looked up at the people waving from the upper windows of the inns and houses along the way, seeing as much fun and happiness here as at the Free Fair in the Shire. He mused idly that perhaps there were more similarities than differences between hobbits and Big People, and if only Big People spent less time on power and ambition and more on food, ale and pipweed, the world might be a better place.
"Well, my dear friend, is this what you expected?" enquired Aragorn, turning to him with a smile.
"I don't know quite what I expected, but this is beyond my wildest imaginings! I have never had such a birthday before, and I don't suppose I will ever have one like it again."
"I was so afraid that you would never know what this day is like. I thought you would never be well enough to come to Gondor, or that...............that .....your burdens would prove fatal." The King leaned over and clasped Frodo's hand. "It joys my heart to see you here, enjoying the love and adulation of the crowd. You deserve it, my dearest hobbit."
"I wonder if Bilbo and Gandalf know.............................?"
"They say there is an all-seeing stone in Valinor, and I am sure they know of this day and share our joy. There will be laughter and celebration in those lands also on this day and no doubt Bilbo is raising a mug to you."
It was a nice thought, Bilbo with a mug, or a glass of fine Elvish wine. The image lingered in Frodo's mind and he sent his love to the dear old hobbit, and to Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel. Then he glanced at Sam, and thanked the Valar once again that he had decided to stay.
Young girls pushed through the crowd to hand posies to Frodo, reaching up to kiss his hand as he took them. He soon had so many bouquets that he and Sam had to hand some to Rosie, the royal ladies, Merry, Pippin and even the King. It looked so incongruous to see Aragorn clutching armfuls of flowers that Frodo could hardly stop laughing.
By the time they reached the Citadel everyone was hungry. Pippin was sure the whole city could hear his stomach growling, since they had eaten nothing since breakfast, and second breakfast, elevenses and luncheon had passed unheeded. They entered the apartments to tidy up and wash their hands but before they could eat they had to respond to the insistent shouts from the crowd on the lower levels, who were still calling for them. Aragorn led them out to the walls and the cheers became deafening. Even after the last bow and wave, the people were still cheering.
They were escorted to the Merethrond, the Hall of Feasts, Aragorn taking the Ring-bearers by the hands, as he had done on the Field of Cormallen.
"There will be lots of food and lots of speeches, and it would be best if no-one falls asleep during the speeches, even if the Warden of the Keys is a little long-winded. You ......er........you may be expected to reply to his speech, Frodo."
"What?! Why didn't you tell me?" he cried. "I have nothing written down or prepared!"
"I didn't tell you because I did not want you to ruin your day by fretting and fussing over it! Just speak from the heart - I find that is the best way," said Aragorn.
"That's easy for you to say," Frodo grumbled half-heartedly. "I don't have your experience of public speaking."
"You filled in as Mayor for a while. I'm sure you'll manage admirably. My dear Frodo, it won't matter what you say. You can just say 'thank you' and sit down again, and everyone will cheer you to the rafters!" He chuckled at Frodo's severely sceptical expression. The dark brows were arched above the brilliant eyes, and that full lower lip was set in something dangerously close to a pout. Then the lips twitched slightly, and Frodo began to laugh.
"Strider, you are incorrigible!"
"Oh I hope so!" The King was laughing now. "Don't worry, my friend, no-one will care what you say!"
"Of course they won't," added Merry. "They'll be too busy admiring the outfit!" He fingered the silk enviously. "Can I have the weskit?"
"No, you can't! Buy your own, you scoundrel Brandybuck!" He wagged a finger at his cousin, who was grinning in an infuriating manner.
"When are you going to wear this again? Unless you're going to start being terribly sociable and go to every Shire party for the next five years. Or are you planning to go courting?" teased Merry slyly. "I declare it will take at least six hobbits to hold Hyacinth Bracegirdle back when she sees you in that suit - and it would be a shame if she ripped this weskit in her eagerness!" He danced backwards, out of reach of Frodo's intended clip round the ear.
"Merry, I think you must like living dangerously! And how on earth are you going to fit this weskit anyway?" demanded Frodo, laughing as he advanced on his cousin. "You're six inches taller than me and a lot fatter! Do you seriously think it will look anything other than ridiculous, riding up under your arms, and you've no more chance of doing it up than I have of being King of Gondor!"
"Alright, alright! No need to rub it in, Bggins! I suppose I have put on a little weight lately," Merry admitted ruefully, patting his substantial stomach.
"You need more exercise, Meriadoc! I shall ask Eomer to give you extra duties to help trim your figure," said Aragorn, pretending to be stern although his grey eyes were dancing.
Merry nodded over at the Elves. "You never see a fat Elf, do you? I wonder why?"
"We eat but little, and we are very active, not lazy like these hobbits!" said Legolas, smiling down at them with great affection.
"Should we not go to the banquet?" asked Gimli impatiently. "My stomach thinks my throat's been cut, and poor Pippin here is almost faint with hunger!"
"I am, I am!" said Pip, staggering exaggeratedly and pretending to be overcome. Rosie fixed him with a look.
"You ate your own breakfast and most of Frodo's because he was too nervous to eat it, so stop trying it on!"
"That was days ago!" Pip groaned. "We've missed at least three meals now!"
They filed in and took their seats at the High Table with the King. When all were in their places they stood and turned to face West, and Frodo remembered Faramir at Henneth Annun when they ate supper with the Rangers of Ithilien. "We look towards Numenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be."
Aragorn had not been wrong when he said the Warden of the Keys was long-winded, although his speech was quite amusing. He paid tribute to the Ring-bearers in such fulsome terms that Frodo felt himself to be as red as the King's cloak. He wondered what he could possibly say in reply, in front of so many. His courage almost failed him as he heard the man's speech drawing to a close. Panic rose in a giddy, nauseous wave and he feared he might have to dash for the door. He took a deep breath. Don't be a fool, he told himself. You can't make an ass of yourself, and you can't leave Sam to do it because he's more scared than you are! He wiped his damp hands on his handkerchief and tried to think clearly about his feelings.
The King stood and nodded . He thanked the Warden for his kind words and then said:
"I'm afraid I did not warn Frodo that he might have to make a little speech, so please don't be offended if his speech is a short one. The fault is mine, but I did not wish him to trouble himself and worry about it." He indicated Frodo, and sat down.
Frodo stood. A stool had been thoughtfully place for him to stand on and from his vantage point he surveyed the room. All the faces turned to him expectantly, but their expressions were kind and sympathetic. Perhaps this would not be so bad.
"Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, my lords and ladies, my lord Warden, I am indeed unprepared to make a speech, just as I was unprepared for the welcome given to us in this city. You have all shown great understanding and kindness.... no, more than kindness......love, which we can never repay................."
"It is we who can never repay you, Master Baggins," said the Warden softly. Frodo smiled.
"I've been overjoyed to see my dearest friend Samwise Gamgee receive the praise he deserves. Without him the Quest would have foundered. His strength and courage, his unquenchable hope and optimism brought us through. He saved my life more than once and has saved it countless times since, and I don't know what I'd do without him." He held up his hand to still Sam's protests. "When people ask me what we did, I always say that I carried the Ring but Sam carried me, and he did indeed carry me. For years I have denied my part altogether, being ashamed that I succumbed to the Ring at the last, but I now see that I did all I could. No one - man, elf, dwarf or hobbit - can do more. It has taken me a long while to believe what other people have said - I'm not sure I believe all of it, even now, but I feel I can live with it, and I've been helped by all the friends who have convinced me that I deserved to live. The world will never be as it was, and neither will I. Much that once was is lost, and we can never un-know what we know, but I have learned that although I can never regain what is lost, there are other things to be gained. I see now that I have the love of so many who are dear to me and life is more precious to me now than ever, because I so nearly lost it. I suppose that is how everyone feels, to have nearly lost all that we hold dear, and to be given a second chance. The whole of Middle-earth has been given a second chance, and I am overjoyed to see this great city in all her glory, with a White Tree in the Courtyard and a great King upon the throne. It has been a privilege to share this day with you all, and thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for everything you have bestowed upon us here in Minas Anor."
He bowed and the entire room erupted in applause. The Warden walked over and knelt before the fragile-looking hobbit, took both his hands and held them for a moment. Then he embraced Frodo gently and kissed his right hand.
"Master Baggins, that was an eloquent speech, particularly as it was unprepared. Yet spoken from the heart, and all the more moving for it. You and Samwise are held in our hearts. Return to us soon, we beg you, since Ring-Day without you is unimaginable!" He twinkled. "Oh - and happy birthday, my dear Master Baggins!"
"Thank you." Frodo smiled, relieved and impossibly happy. He had eaten little so far, due to nerves, but now he was very hungry. Everyone sat down and more wine was poured.
"If.........if I may...................?" Sam stood up suddenly, looking to the King for permission. Aragorn smiled encouragingly and nodded. "Mr Frodo has said a great deal about the kindness we've received, and I echo that. Where we disagree is over his part in the Quest. He says I did a lot and that he just carried the Ring. Well, if you ask me, that was more than enough for anyone to do! Mr. Frodo's always been far too modest about what he did. As for me...... I followed him on that journey because what else would I have done? What sort of a friend would I have been if I'd let him go on his own? When I was only a child I remember Mr. Frodo being kind to me and smiling at me, even when I was pestering him. I knew then that I'd follow him to the ends of the earth if needs be, and I did. What I did I did out of love, and I reckon that's not a bad reason for doing something. My greatest joy in being in this city is seeing my Master receive the praise due to him, and I thank you all for that. Even if I have got myself the sack for speaking out!"
Blinded by tears, Frodo grabbed Sam's hand and held it. He was shaking with emotion but he finally walked the two steps to Sam on very unsteady legs and embraced him.
"Looks like my job's safe after all!" Sam remarked, and the chamber echoed with laughter.
"We do wish to propose a special toast," said Faramir, standing and calling for silence. "Happy Birthday, dearest Frodo!" Everyone stood and raised their glasses. Frodo thanked them, and the banquet continued happily for several hours.
When even the hobbits felt they could not face any more food for an hour or so, the guests departed and everyone staggered into the private quarters. The ceremonial dress was discarded in favour of comfortable robes and they slumped on the couches. The children, who had not attended the banquet, joined them, overflowing with excess energy, and Frodo prepared to give and receive his birthday gifts. He joked that he would need a pack horse to carry them all back to the Shire.
There were books galore; a very accurate picture of Aragorn and Arwen with the children, and one of Faramir with his family; a lovely sketch of Rivendell from the twins; a very fine carved horse and a magnificent set of silver trappings for his pony; a finely wrought new chain for his watch, made by the dwarves, with matching cufflinks set with emeralds from the Glittering Caves, and a new set of pens and writing tools with assorted inks in a variety of colours. The children gave him a pair of carved wooden cats, one sitting upright and alert with a dead mouse between its paws, the other curled round with its nose tucked under its tail. They reminded him of Rufus, who was no doubt mousing in the barns at the Cotton's farm.
Aragorn opened his parcels and exclaimed joyfully over a beautiful new pipe, made in the hobbit style but larger. The stem was intricately carved with leaves. He took out a pouch of pipeweed and filled it. The other part of his gift was a fine tankard, which would hold a quart of ale. Etched into the silver were pastoral scenes from the Shire - a plough drawn by a team of horses, sheep being herded by a dog, a farmer's wife feeding some chickens. The detail was exquisite. The silver had come from Aglarond and had been worked by the finest dwarf craftsmen. The King went to the table and tapped the ale barrel, watched by an amused group. Arwen raised her eyebrows in unspoken query.
"I have to try it out," he explained when he realised he had an audience, an excuse which was greeted with sceptical snorts.
His second package was large and heavy. When he opened it he gave a little cry of delight.
"My own copy of the Red Book! This will not be going into any archive! It shall remain here, in my personal library, with pride of place."
"Frodo copied and bound it himself," said Sam proudly, ignoring Frodo's blush.
Aragorn's eyes were glittering with tears. "Then it is even more precious to me, and I shall treasure it always, my dearest Frodo. Thank you."
Frodo's gift to Arwen was a delicate silk stole in a deep crimson. She draped it round her shoulders and laughed as she thanked him. He thought she looked more beautiful than ever. Underneath the stole was a box, and she opened it, gasped and looked wonderingly at Frodo.
"I give back the gift, my lady, for it truly belongs with you, and one day perhaps your daughters will wear it. It was my aid and comfort when life was dark, and now I return it with my love and gratitude."
Arwen lifted the white jewel on its chain. It seemed to give off more light than ever, filling the room with joy and peace. "Your own purity and character have strengthened it, Frodo. The jewel gives but it receives also, and your goodness has made it greater than it was. I shall wear it and think always of you and of this moment."
"If you will permit me.......?" She turned and allowed Frodo to fasten it round her neck, where it shimmered like the light of the evenstar.
Everyone was opening packets and exclaiming over the contents. There were embroidered dresses for the baby girls, carved dragons for the boys, tankards for Faramir and Eomer, new belts for Beregond and Bergil, and dainty silver girdle belts for Eowyn and Lothiriel. There were pretty necklaces for Finduilas and Gilraen, with which they were overjoyed.
One large flat package remained to be opened. Frodo had saved it until the end. It contained a painting of the Fellowship as they prepared to leave Rivendell, with Lord Elrond and his people gathered around him as he addressed the group by the gates. Entitled "The Ring-bearer setting out on the Quest of Mount Doom," it was a copy of one they had seen and admired in the museum. It had been painted by one of Rivendell's Elves and he had captured everyone's likeness to perfection. There was Boromir, with his horn and the great shield; Aragorn, smiling slightly in encouragement to Arwen; Gimli and Legolas avoiding each other; Sam standing by his beloved Bill...... The chill of the winter morning and the fallen leaves which formed a carpet round their feet were almost tangible. Frodo felt he might reach into the painting and roll those leaves between his fingers.
"It's beautiful! I've always wanted a portrait of you all, and this includes Boromir and Gandalf. How wonderful!"
"We were afraid there would be no room in Bag End to hang this picture, but Pippin assured us there is."
"Oh yes, there's room. We shall make room. Oh my! What a birthday this has been."
Later there was Elvish wine and a magnificent birthday cake. The children helped him to blow out the candles and stole scraps of icing as he cut it. Outside the noise of revelry carried on; bonfires and beacons were lit and people continued to sing and dance in the streets, determined to enjoy every moment of the day. The whole royal party ventured out into the Courtyard of the Fountain, where a group of the King's musicians were gathered, and there was dancing. Rose found herself being whisked round by the King of Gondor, then by the King of Rohan, Frodo led the Queen by the hand, Merry gallantly danced with Eowyn, and even Gimli was persuaded to step out by a very persistent Gilraen. Sam wished he could capture the whole day somehow, because he did not want it to end. He thought he would never forget a single second of it. Fireworks lit the sky and filled the night with whistles and pops, which continued long after the lights in the royal apartments were dimmed, although dawn was beginning to tint the eastern sky before they finally staggered to bed. Frodo slipped into sleep, thinking of Gandalf and the Shire and Bilbo's party, and of the day's events. It had been a unique birthday.
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