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In the Court of the High King
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.
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.
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