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“Frodo Baggins, sit down, or I’ll tie you up in a bundle with Lord Faramir’s hammock!”
Meriadoc Brandybuck, squire of Rohan, stood in front of his cousin, hands on his hips, eyes shooting thunderbolts at the Ringbearer. Frodo glared back, his own eyes narrowing.
“I’ve watched you pace up and down this room for more than an hour and my neck is getting stiff. What do you expect from Aragorn – that he put you at the head of an army of warriors to free our poor Sam? He doesn’t yet even know where they hold him captive, and he has no idea what that ransom those brutes will want! Don’t you think there is already enough going on that makes him want to tear out his hair?”
Frodo opened his mouth and closed it again. He walked slowly over to one of the overstuffed chairs beside the window and sat down. Meriadoc thought that he looked surprisingly old, and a small voice in the back of his head cried out in angry, childish protest: This is not fair! He has really suffered more than enough, hasn’t he?
Finally Frodo spoke. He stared at the marble floor and his voice was so soft that Meriadoc had to step closer to understand him.
“The problem is I have the distinct feeling that I’ve missed something,” he said. “Something terribly important that I don’t see, something right in front of my eyes, and I simply don’t get it yet. And, you know, I fear time is growing short.”
He took a deep breath.
“I am no fool. I know I won’t be able to be a real help if it should come to a fight. But as soon as Aragorn knows where Sam is and gets him out of there – and I know he will – I want to be with him. I don’t want to be left behind, a helpless audience to the deeds of others.”
Merry gave a snort.
“You sound like Éowyn,” he said in a slightly brusque tone. “And I fear you won’t be able to hold the King of Gondor back if he decides to ride out to a mission of rescue without you.”
Frodo shook his head.
“You are right.” He raised his head, staring out of the window. The Pelennor lay before them under the full blast of the midday heat, the far away chain of the eastern mountains a jittering, dark line on the horizon. “But I know that there is something I can do to help – if only I could understand what it is that I have overlooked.”
“Who knows about Sam’s kidnapping now?” Merry asked. “Aside from us hobbits, Aragorn and that nice, elder fellow from the pigeonry, I mean?”
“Arwen”, Frodo replied absently, still lost in thought. “And the Keeper of the Jewels… Artanis was her name…” He paused, frowning and biting his lip. “Artanis… sweet Eru, I knew there was something I had missed!”
Merry stared at him.
“Who is Artanis?”
Frodo raised his head; his eyes were burning, and when he spoke, his voice had an urgent, agitated tone.
“The Keeper of the Jewels, as I said.” He got up from his chair and started to pace the room again. This time Merry wisely decided to keep his mouth shut. “She is a young woman… not very pretty, not someone you would notice if you passed her in the street.” An ironic glance in Merry’s direction. “I met her yesterday afternoon after a full-blown argument with Aragorn. I saw him in his audience room, and when I stormed out again, I crashed into a Lady who was standing in front of the door. She carried a bag of pearls – as she told me later – and they fell to the floor when I collided with her. I started to collect them, and when I handed them back, she stood there, staring down at me with a face as green as foul whey.”
“So much about the famous Baggins-charm.” he muttered, but this time his sarcastic humor had no effect. Frodo’s gaze was turned inward as if he tried to recall a certain memory.
“Wait…” he whispered, “wait… she seemed completely normal when our eyes first met, a little surprised, perhaps… but then…” His head jerked upward, eyes ablaze with a sudden realization. “Aragorn called my name from inside the audience room, and at the same time I handed her the bags with her pearls… and she touched my bandaged hand. That… that was the moment when she froze and her face turned green.”
“Hmmm…” Merry shrugged, still trying to understand. “What does that mean?”
“When Aragorn called my name – and when she saw the missing finger - the Lady realized who I was,” Frodo replied, his voice grimly triumphant. “And I’d bet my hale hand that she didn’t expect to see me there.”
“Well…” Merry rubbed his chin. “Let me see if I understand you correctly: You believe she is involved in Sam’s kidnapping?”
“I know that sounds crazy.” Frodo looked at him, lips forming a tight line. “But whatever the quest has taken from me, it has also left with me strange gifts; I can see into the hearts of people, I can feel their thoughts, their joys and fears. And the moment the Lady touched my hand I felt her shock and guilt as a sudden burst of flames in my mind.”
Merry slowly shook his head. “Listen, Frodo…”
“Shall I tell you what is going on in your mind right now?” The Ringbearer stepped closer, his hand touched Merry’s shoulder and their eyes met. Merry saw understanding and sorrow and a pain deep enough to make him shiver with fear.
“You are frantically trying to find the Frodo you’ve known since you were a child,” his cousin said, the familiar voice a warm caress. “And there are nights when you lie wide awake, afraid that I might have walked the dark path too far and will never return to be the hobbit I was before Bilbo left the ring to me. Every time you return from your duties, you secretly expect to find an empty shell instead of me… which is why you barely leave me alone these days. Isn’t that so?”
Merry closed his eyes. His hands were shaking and he clenched them to fists, desperately trying to swallow around the aching lump in his throat. He knew that he would burst into tears if he made the attempt to speak, so he only nodded wordlessly.
“I know it is difficult to believe, but I beg you to trust me in this matter,” Frodo said, squeezing his shoulder reassuringly and handing him a handkerchief. “The thing is, I barely know anything about the Lady Artanis of Lebennin. Who could help us to find out more?”
Merry blew his nose and cleared his throat, manfully struggling to master his tumult of feelings.
“Pippin” he said with a watery voice. “Pippin is exactly the hobbit we need right now.”
Pippin actually turned out to be the ideal choice. He had already made half a dozen friends among the soldiers of the guard, in addition to Beregond. Some of the men had been on duty for more than thirty years and they were a fount of knowledge about the former steward’s household. Pippin had a huge lunch with his cousins, was thoroughly instructed as to what to research and disappeared for the better part of the afternoon, asking questions whenever he saw the chance to do so.
He came back as evening was drawing closer. The tension in the palace was growing, for the kidnappers hadn’t sent any more messages to specify the ransom they wanted in exchange for their hostage. Nonetheless, a very satisfying dinner was served and Pippin enjoyed every single bite while Frodo listlessly pushed the roast beef (deliciously stewed in red wine) and the caramelized vegetables around on his plate. Finally the smallest Knight of Gondor gave a very sated sigh, wiped his mouth and hands with the napkin and started to enlighten his cousins.
“The Lady Artanis is the daughter of the Prince of Lebennin,” he said, a smug expression on his face. “The Prince’s name is Ardhenon, and he’s been serving Lord Denethor for more than forty years… as Keeper of the Jewels, the same way his daughter serves the King now. He must have been quite a fearsome man, strong and haughty… one of the elder guards told me that he’s still able to stare a man down and make him wither inside with one single word. But they all say that he had been very devoted to the steward, and that his death shook him to the core.”
For a long moment he was silent, his eyes darkened by the memory of madness and flames. One hand flew up and for a few seconds he covered his mouth and nose as if to shield him against the ghostly stench of oil-soaked wood. Neither Merry nor Frodo spoke. Then Pippin shivered visibly, took a deep breath and continued.
“The Prince had a son, Maedhron. He must have been a handsome, brilliant man, and a skilled warrior. He was a close friend to both of Denethor’s sons and was about to take a high position in the guard when Boromir set off to Rivendell.” Again a short pause, and this time Merry gave him a small, comforting smile. “Maedhron grieved deeply when Boromir’s broken horn returned from the river and the Prince of Lebennin was afraid that he might lose his son as Denethor did. He ordered him to leave Minas Tirith, but Maedhron refused to obey. Beregond said that he fell on the Pelennor fields, and he had tears in his eyes while he told me. Maedhron was obviously very well-liked.”
Frodo nodded slowly.
“Wonderfully done, Pip,” he said. “I’m really impressed. Is the Lady as well-liked as her brother?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “It is a little strange… as if the Lady was generally invisible. All the men could tell me of her was that she’s always been a shy, little creature, that she must be in the middle of her twenties now, and that she inherited the task of Keeper of the Jewels from her father when the Prince retired. The only one who really cared about her was her brother… at least that is what Beregond said.”
Frodo finally decided to try the roast. His face grew increasingly brighter, and within minutes he had emptied his plate. Merry watched him with some surprise.
“Where did that sudden hunger come from?”
“I need some strength,” Frodo grimly declared, “for the next thing I will do is to find out if the Lady is on duty in the palace right now. If not, I will have to sneak out of here and see her at home.”
“You’ll land in the dungeon if you leave these rooms again without Aragorn’s permission,” Pippin stated, carefully choosing a ripe apricot from the enormous fruit basket. “And it won’t be necessary anyway – the Lady is still here.”
Frodo swallowed the last caramelized carrot and stared at him. “Oh?”
Pippin pursed his lips. “The Lady has a sweet, elder nurse, and said nurse told me that her mistress won’t return before nightfall. Now all you have to do is to find the Royal Treasury.” He gave his cousin a mischievous smile. “And you should leave Aragorn a note, or he’ll rip your head off as soon as he’s found you. “ The smile deepened to a grin. “Ah well… I presume he’ll rip your head off anyway.”---
Half an hour later both Merry and Pippin left. Frodo stayed behind; he stepped over to the window opening to the east. The warm, deep golden light of the late afternoon streamed inside, reminding him that time was passing swiftly by. Still no message from Sam’s abductors, and Aragorn was supposed to come alone and bring a ransom he knew nothing about yet. The burden of Sam’s uncertain fate weighed heavy on his heart.
And so he walked up and down the room, trying to come to a decision. He had battled fears few hobbits had ever known. He had destroyed the ring… even if all he ever managed was to carry it to a place where in the end the most miserable of creatures did what he should have done.
And now he stood in the royal palace of Minas Tirith and steeled himself for the most unusual fight of his life. ____________________________________________________________________
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