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I could not believe what I heard my Modor say. I could feel my mouth gaping open, like a fish; peeking quickly at my Ada, I saw that his mouth looked the very same.
Master Thain Peregrin Took was whooping - “Yes, it will be such fun!” - and Master Meriadoc Holdwine was grinning, and Prince Legolas Greenleaf was laughing and shaking his head. Finally, I heard my Ada say, “Éowyn, dear heart, could you repeat that, please?”
“I said,” Modor repeated, in her pretending-to-be-annoyed-but-not-really voice, “that I think Elboron is old enough to ride along to Edoras with Merry and Pippin when they leave. It's not all that far; the party will be large enough for everyone to keep an eye out for him; and he's certainly skilled enough at riding Thunor. He can stay the summer, and return with Éomer and Lothíriel when they come to visit this autumn...”
I didn't even bother to listen to the rest. Ride with the holbytla for two whole weeks , and then spend the whole summer in Rohan? It was just too wonderfully wonderful. And to think that Master Thain Peregrin Took had brought it up first!
I had been very rude to him the afternoon before. They had all come riding in together, Master Thain Peregrin Took and Master Meriadoc Holdwine and Prince Legolas Greenleaf; all laughing in the morning sunshine, and got to go right into my Ada's office and disturb him at his work. I never get to do that, well, hardly ever – it is one of Modor's firmest rules. But when I do do it, Ada always swoops me up, laughing, and tells me stories about whatever is sitting on his desk. “Look at this stone,” he'd say. “It was born in fire under the ground. See how it shines? That is from being melted, and cooled, over and over, until it finally escaped outside, in a river of molten rock.”
Then he would show me Mordor and Mount Doom the map, and tell me about how the land that was once covered with ash and dust is just now beginning to bloom again, the dust turning into dirt from the soft rain, and the west wind blowing gently and the birds bringing seeds in their bellies. And how soon there would be wild roses and raspberries and fireweed, and one day there will be farms and forests and great pastures for sheep and horses. And then Modor would come in, and scold me, and Ada would say, “How is he to learn these things, Éowyn, if not from me?” And she would wag her finger at him, and they would both laugh. So most of the time I tried to remember not to disturb him at his work.
But then yesterday his friends came, right in the mid-morning, his busiest time, or so Modor always says, and told him that it was much too fine a day to spend inside, and that they should all go hiking together up to Tinker's Cliffs, and how often did they ever have a chance like this? And Ada and Modor laughed, and said what a wonderful idea that was, and that they would leave right away. Modor called for food and skins of water and ale and Ada was searching around for his boots and his special hiking stave. Even the dogs were all frisking and yelping about, wondering which of them would get to go along.
I ran and got my boots and pack and hiking stave, and waited for them in the courtyard, but when my Nurse saw me she said, Oh, little lord, I do not think they are meaning to take you, too. Then I stomped my foot and cried, because Ada had said he would take me up to Tinker's Cliffs one day, and why couldn't I go? Nurse said that I was not big enough yet, and that I was only six years old and my legs were too short to walk all that way up to the cliffs and back. I became very angry and said that was not fair, for wasn't I just as tall as Master Thain Peregrin Took? My mother and father turned away – I think they were laughing – but Master Thain Peregrin Took sat down by the fountain and set me on his knee. Then he rolled up his trews and said, “Look at my calves, they are hard as rocks,” but I was so surprised that he actually did have hair on his feet, thick and curly like the hair on his head, that I forgot to cry. Sometimes when you hear things, you don't think about whether they are true or not, and then you actually see them, and you have to believe that they are.
So after a bit Modor and Cook came out with packs all full of picnic food, and flasks of water and ale, and off they went. I sat outside on the porch waiting for them to come back, because I wanted to hear all of their adventures, and see if Master Thain Peregrin's feet would get all cut and sore like mine did when I ran barefoot for too long, or if they were tough like leather boots, but I waited and waited and then it was evening and Modor came out and we sat and watched the fireflies together.
“Do you think they are all right, Modor?” I asked. “They were not eaten by a bear, or perhaps stolen by Beornings, and made to tend their beehives and care for their animals?” My Ada had just begun to tell me tales of the Beorings, shapeshifters from the North, but I wasn't exactly sure how far north of Tinker's Cliffs they lived, or how far south they might wander.
“Have you forgotten that your father was Captain of the Rangers of Ithilien? No one knows this land as he does. Perhaps Merry and Pippin were wearied from their visit to the White City, and wanted to sleep again under the stars.”
Well, the White City wearied me, too, with all the people, and the stiff clothing we had to wear there, and few trees or gardens anywhere. But just then the nightingale began to sing in the jessamine bush, the sign that it was time for me to go to bed. Modor came along and tucked me in, singing me a goodn- night song like Ada always did. After she blew out the lamp I lay wondering about the road to Tinker's Cliffs, and if there were still tinkers there, and how did they get their wagons up and down the cliffs, and where did they get their goods to sell if they lived way up there? And then, I think I fell asleep, because I never did figure it out.
But the next afternoon they were back again, all sunburnt and laughing. Master Meriadoc Holdwine had stepped on a thorn and gotten it stuck into his foot, whining about it the whole way back, or so Master Thain Peregrin Took said. Modor had to leave the cooking, great slabs of smoke-pork ribs roasted in a pit, to help take care of him. First she set him in a chair in the sunniest part of the courtyard, and then heated one of her fine steel sewing needles in a fire. Master Thain Peregrin Took was ready to hold him down.
“What is that in her hand?” Master Meriadoc Holdwine howled.“Look at it; it's as big as her sword.”
“Don't be such a crybaby, Merry, honestly,” Master Thain Peregrin Took said. I had never heard grownups speak to each other so; they sounded like our stable boys. Perhaps Master Thain Peregrin Took and Master Meriadoc Holdwine were not really grownups after all? They never seemed to really act like other grownups.
“Stop jiggling your foot about, Merry, or I shall never find the thorn,” Modor said. “And besides, the bottoms of your feet are so thick, it's like looking for a stone in horse's hoof. I may need a sword, rather than-”
“Ow!” Master Meriadoc Holdwine jerked and jumped, both at the same time, punching Master Thain Peregrin Took in the nose, knocking him over backwards. My Modor held up the needle triumphantly, a briar-thorn stuck to the end of it, while my father and Prince Legolas Greenleaf roared with laughter. The kitchen-maids, yard hands, and everyone else in the courtyard shouted and clapped. After dusting himself off, Master Meriadoc Holdwine bowed as though it had all been a mummer's play performed to entertain us.
It was after the meal (“That was quite a fine afternoon tea, Éowyn,” Master Meriadoc Holdwine said, belching a little, “and I'm looking forward to dinner, too”; Modor threw an apple core at him but he ducked, just in time, it struck Prince Legolas Greenleaf instead, but he was talking to my Ada and didn't notice. ) that Modor surprised us all with what she said. She had been talking and laughing at her end of the table with Master Thain Peregrin Took and Master Meriadoc Holdwine; I was not sure where I was supposed to sit with so many guests present so I just sat in the middle, trying to hear what was being said on either side.
My Ada and Prince Legolas Greenleaf were talking about trees, and whether it would be better to plant fast-growing ones, even if they weakened as they grew older, or to plant slow-growing ones, and wait and watch patiently. I said, can't you just mix them up together, then you would have some now and then some later. They both looked at me. Then Prince Legolas Greenleaf said that was the most astute, I think he said, thing he had ever heard from a young man of only six years, and that I had the makings already of being a first-rate forester and steward. Ada looked at me all proud and happy and I felt proud, too, because there's nothing in the world I want to be more than a first-rate forester and steward, like him or maybe an Ithilien Ranger like he used to be; or Captain-General of the White Tower, like my uncle Boromir was. Or all three.
It was the night before we were going to leave. I had gone through my pack over and over, putting in things and taking them out again. Pippin (“You don't have to keep calling me 'Master Thain Peregrin Took,' over and over,” he said, “I have to keep looking over my shoulder to see who you're talking to. Just call me Pippin, or Pip, like everyone else.”) had dumped out his pack onto the floor, to show me what sorts of things he carried, but then Merry came along and said I wouldn't need the pipe or the sack of pipeweed or the flask of brandy. Pippin said in that case why would I need a pack at all? Then Ada came and said I needed to carry dry socks and an extra set of smallclothes, and perhaps a leather pouch for treasures I found along the way. And then he gave me one that had been his when he was very small, a gift from his Nanny, he said. It had a tooled design of a rabbit on it, because his nickname when he was small was “Rabbit”, and his brother, my uncle Boromir the Bold, Captain-General of the White Tower, was called “Duckling.” I had never thought of my father as being six years old , like me, with a nanny and a big brother.
My nurse (“We call her Nurse, instead of Nanny, because there's only one Nanny,” my Ada said) was not coming with me to Edoras. She didn't like to ride, anyway – how can someone not like to ride? - and my mother said she would need her over the summer.
“After two weeks with you ruffians,” she said, Merry and Pippin hooting with laughter, “there won't be a nurse in all the West who'll want to have charge of him. I'll send a note to Blidhe, she'll find someone there to tend to his grimy socks, and check that there isn't anything living in his hair. If he's to be a ranger, he's not too young to learn to fend for himself.”
I wasn't really sure what she meant by that – would I not sit at table in the Golden Hall? Would I have to hunt and cook my own food all summer? - but then Merry grinned at me, and Pippin winked, so I supposed I could just follow them around and try to blend in.
I had already said most all my goodbyes, to Nurse and Cook and the kitchen maids and stableboys, to the blacksmith and his helpers and his wife and the shepherds and farmers. My father's friend Gaersum had brought me a small leather-bound journal and a set of colored pencils as a going-away gift. “Draw what you see,” he said, which was a lot of talking for him, because he usually didn't speak much at all. His wife Fridhu, on the other hand, talked quite a bit, from the moment she arrived in the morning to help my mother in the herb garden, though nuncheon, and into the afternoon. She and my mother would sit and knit or sew and sometimes sing, songs that made the people around us who knew Rohirric howl with laughter, while the people who didn't looked worried. When I asked Modor why the songs were so funny, she told me to ask Uncle King Éomer about them. So many things to remember! And then suddenly there was one more thing.
“Modor,” I whispered. She lay on her back, with great goose-feather pillows behind her. Her belly, which did not seem so big during the daytime, looked like a small mountain under the covers. She was snoring, just a bit.
“What is it, Elboron?” my Ada whispered. I had not meant to disturb him; in fact, I hoped that he would sleep very late in the morning so I would not have to say goodbye to him again. My heart hurt me inside every time I thought about not seeing him for so long. But to have such an adventure! I hope he did not mind too much that I was leaving. At least he would have peace and quiet to do his work.
“I've forgotten to pack any Court clothes, Ada! The ones I have here are too small, Nurse said, and all my new ones are at Minas Tirith! What am I to wear to be presented to Uncle King Éomer and Aunt Queen Lothíriel? I'll just have traveling clothes, and that one set of extra smallclothes in my pack. Should I bring two sets, do you think?”
My Ada choked a little bit, and then Modor opened her eyes very wide, like she had been awake the whole time. “You won't need to bring any Court clothes to Edoras; if you need any, they can be made for you there. Rohan green, be sure to tell them, with gold embroidery, because you too are a prince of Rohan. And don't you let them forget it.”
She pulled back the blankets, and I hopped in between them, just like I used to when I was very small. Then she took my hand, and put it on her belly, and I could feel something moving there, like the fluttering of a little bird. “You'll be a big brother when you come back,” she whispered. I was so surprised I must have gasped like a fish again. Then my Ada turned and wrapped his arm around me, his hand on Modor's belly, and all three of us curled up to sleep. No, all four of us.
A birthday gift for Acacea, November, 2007
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