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The Green Knight  by Le Rouret


            “Master Holbytla!  Master Holbytla!”

            Bandobras wrenched himself upward from his thick and cloying dreams towards the sound, shaking the sleep from his eyes and looking around.  It was very dark, and all he could see was the outline of the maid Éodild, silhouetted in the golden glow of a single candle.

            “What is it?” he asked sleepily, sitting up on his little pallet.

            “There has been a messenger come from the field of battle,” she said, and he could hear the excitement in her voice.  “It is one of the Elvish scouts; he has just informed my Lady that the victory is ours, and our casualties but light; all the unhappy captives have been freed and they will make their way to Osgiliath in two stages.”

            “Two stages?  What do you mean?”  Bandobras rubbed his eyes, trying to shake the cobwebby tatters of slumber from the corners of his mind.  “What is the time, anyway?  Is it night still?  It is so dark!”

            “It is two hours ‘til dawn,” said Éodild, rising and turning to go.  “The army will take two days to march back, on account of all the wounded, you see.  Is it not an astounding thing, master Holbytla?  Three score women and children safe and sound, and a force of five hundred reduced to a handful of prisoners!  Now I must go, master Holbytla; Queen Undómiel has sent my Lady back to bed but I felt I must tell you the news as soon as possible.”  And she hurried out of the room, her linen shift rustling.

            “Wait!” cried Bandobras; “what have you heard about my Master?  What about the Green Knight?”  But she was gone and did not hear him.

            “Botheration!” muttered the Hobbit.  “Couldn’t she just sit for a moment and let me ask questions?  And I’m sure I’m very glad to have heard we won the battle, but now I’m so wakey I’m never going to get back to sleep.”  He lay back down and closed his eyes, but after a few minutes of tossing and turning and punching down the lumps in his flattened pillow he sat up again.  “No choice for it!” he sighed.  “I might as well get up and get some breakfast.  I wonder if Ardún remembered to buy mushrooms yesterday?”

            He rose and pulled on his clothes, and running a perfunctory hand through his unruly curls he padded down the stone hallway to the kitchen.

            Ardún was awake, and moving slowly about the cavernous room, shuffling from window to window and opening the shutters to let in the cool air of the moist predawn.  He turned when he heard Bandobras’ feet pattering upon the cold tile, and smiled, as did most who looked upon the Halfling.  “Good morning, Ardún!” said Bandobras brightly.  “Though I feel I ought rather to say ‘good night’ again.  Did you hear the news?  King Thranduil and Lord Faramir and my Master and Gimli routed all of those bad men!  I am very happy to hear it, but O I wish I knew if they were all safe and sound – Éodild’s a good girl but doesn’t talk nearly enough.”  At Ardún’s surprised and disbelieving look, Bandobras said, “Well, I mean, she talks plenty, you know, it is just she talks about all the wrong things.”

            “I myself have heard the news just now,” said Ardún, turning to the inglenook to stir up the ashes.  “But so far lists of dead and wounded have not been forthcoming, so I fear I am unable to satisfy your curiosity.  And as to the Lady Éodild, she has been up and down the stairs twenty times at least, bringing messages from the queens to my Lady.  I would rather she let her sleep, but the little maid is very eager and does not think of such things.”

            Bandobras went to one of the windows overlooking the courtyard, and climbing upon a bench peered out into the darkness.  He could hear voices, speaking low and quiet, and against the dim gray stone could just see the darker shadows of figures moving about.  “Who is out there?” he asked.

            “It is Queen Undómiel and the Elven Queen, speaking with the scout and sundry others,” said Ardún.  Seeing the look of keen interest upon the Halfling’s face he said suddenly:  “O!  How vexing!  Look, I am out of wood; would you, little perian, be so good as to fetch me a faggot or two?  They are out in the courtyard.”

            Bandobras brightened and jumped down from the bench.  “Right away!” he squeaked, and heaving the door open bolted into the morning gloom.  Ardún chuckled, and kicked the stack of wood by the hearth back into the darkness so the Hobbit would not see it when he returned.

            “Good morning!  Good morning, your majesties!” cried Bandobras, running out into the courtyard.  The pavers were cold and slick under his feet, and he stumbled a bit on the broken stone.  He ran up to the cluster of Big Folk, finding Queen Edlothiel’s skirts in the circle and standing by her.  He smiled up at the two queens, and the scout and Rangers who had been speaking with them looked at each other and smiled as well.  “So it is good news, then?  That is what Éodild told me, though she didn’t tell me much else.”

            “We have just been discussing it, Little One,” said Edlothiel, taking his hand in her own.  “It was a grand battle and well thought out; the enemy was taken unawares and unprepared, by all reports.”

            “It is true,” said the tall dark Elf standing with them; “they were crushed underfoot like grass.  Many had not even time to arm themselves before being overcome.”

            “Were you there, then?” asked Bandobras eagerly.  “Please tell me, have you seen my Master?”

            “Not since late yesterday afternoon,” said the scout.  “A band of horsemen escaped, and he and various others went in pursuit.  The last we heard, Prince Legolas had harried them up the mountain to their lair, and though his men suffered injuries from an ambush laid they were victorious.  He apprehended the chief of the traitors himself, and it is only through concern for his injured compatriots he remained atop Amon Din during the night.”

            “Bandobras,” said Arwen gravely, “though Legolas escaped without injury, I must tell you this, that your surprise and sorrow shall be the lessened when your Master returns to you:  the ambush was fierce, and several wounded; also several horses were slain, one of them your Master’s.”

            The Hobbit’s breath hitched on the intake and he stared at her in horror.  “Hatchet, dead?” he cried, his brown eyes filled with dismay.  “O no, O no, O no, not poor Hatchet!”  And burying his tiny face in Edlothiel’s skirts he burst into tears.  The queen knelt, taking him into her arms and pressing him against her slim shoulder while he sobbed. 

            “Disdain not your tears,” said Edlothiel softly as he wept; “Hatchet was indeed a fine and noble horse, strong of stature and great of heart; I know that you and your Master shall miss him sorely.”

            “I’m sorry,” stammered Bandobras through his sobs; “I know it’s so terrible that all those poor people were killed in the villages and farmsteads, and that so many of our own folk were hurt, but O I wish Hatchet hadn’t of died!”

            “Think on it this way then,” said Arwen gently.  “The doors of Mandos have opened, and a great and fine destrier makes his way there, for Námo welcomes all those who die nobly and well in battle.”

            “Really?” said Bandobras, wiping his eyes and looking up at her.  Then he frowned and asked,  “What’s Námo going to do with a dead horse?”

            Dawn proclaimed her imminence through the lightening of the skies above Ephel Duath from velvety black to deep blue; also the stars faded, their fires banked in the heavens, and soon the soft sleepy trilling of birds began to fill the trees in the ruined stone city.  The denizens awoke, moving quietly in the morning hush, fetching water and wood and preparing to begin their second day in Osgiliath.  The air was damp and cold, and carried within it the scents of hard stone and moist earth; soon cookfires wound their smoky tendrils about the broken columns and crumbling walls, and mingled with the birdsong there was the merry piping of children’s voices.  Swallowing his tears Bandobras returned to Ardún’s kitchen (having forgotten to bring the wood, he was constrained to return to the courtyard again, apologizing and sniffling back his tears so that Ardún’s heart was wrung on the perian’s behalf), and set himself the task of preparing breakfast for the Lady of Emyn Arnen and her noble guests.

            Edlothiel had taken her son’s request to heart, and had so filled the Halfling’s hours with work and activity that he’d had no time to think, much less to worry.  He had seen to the feeding and housing of nearly a hundred villagers and farmers, so wrapped up in their care and comfort he’d not had a single thought for his own ease, and though when he’d tumbled into his bed the previous night he spared a brief apprehension for his Master’s well-being, he had been so exhausted by his labors he fell almost immediately into a deep and much-deserved slumber.   Seeing the value of keeping himself busy he threw himself into the preparation of breakfast for the four ladies, and by the time Ardún carried Lady Éowyn’s platter up the stairs even Éodild could not sample all the dainties and good things he had made for them.

            Also about the great wooden table were seated the Elven scout and several Rangers, who had been patrolling the outskirts not only of Osgiliath, but also its neighboring village and the Tent City.  As there was such bounty upon the board they partook as well, and so soothed the Halfling’s trammeled heart with their praise of his cookery he nearly forgot his grief.  And when he had finished the washing up of the dishes at the pump, Edlothiel sent him as a runner to the temporary settlement in the center of the city on so many errands he was kept busy until noon, overlooking even second breakfast in his diligence.

            He had just sat at the table in the kitchen to a thick slice of bread slathered in honey, washing it down with a tumbler of fresh warm milk under Ardún’s watchful eye, when the clang and boom of heavy iron bells shattered the afternoon peace and made them both sit up in surprise.  “What is that?” cried Bandobras, leaping to his feet and upsetting a tray of half-peeled apples in his consternation.  “Is that my Master?  Has he come back already?”

            “Nay!  It is too soon for Lord Faramir’s troops to have returned; they are not coming back until tomorrow,” said Ardún.  “If you would, good Bandobras, run to the guard at the end of the walkway going east from our courtyard, and ask him why the bells of the towers have been rung.”

            Bandobras bolted from the house without even a glance backward, so he missed the look of resignation upon the Man’s face as he gathered up the apples from the floor.  He had just rinsed the dust from them in the kitchen bucket, and set them back to drain upon the tray, when panting and flushed the Halfling burst into the kitchen.

            “It’s the King!” he shouted, nearly causing Ardún to drop the tray.  “King Elessar, I mean!  The Elves in the watchtowers have seen his ships coming up the River.  He’ll be here for supper, and we’re going to have a splendid feast!  Hurrah!”

            As the bells sang and swayed in their towers the criers ran through Osgiliath, spreading the news of the King’s imminent arrival; joyously the citizens crowded the banks and bridges, shading their eyes from the autumn sunlight and pointing out the glint of sails down the River.  Full of delight and goodwill they joined in with the Elven archers who prepared the evening’s feast, having culled flowers and herbs and wreaths of fragrant branches from the surrounding woods and meadows, where they were festooned about the walls and arches of Osgiliath.  Tables were laid and a dais built, over which was erected a great tasseled pavilion of gold and blue damask cloth; garlands of aromatic resinous boughs were tied up with bright ribbon and rushes strewn upon the damp cool tiles.  The walls of the city reverberated with laughter and song, Men’s and Elves’ voices mingled, and over all tolled the smallest of the bells in their campaniles, ringing and resounding and echoing from the hills of Ephel Duath to the slopes of Mindolluin, where the bells of the White Tower boomed back, their great bawling voices reduced to chiming miniature across the valley.

            By the time the sun threw her rays eastward back across the Pelennor to Osgiliath the Elves in the watchtowers reported the white-sailed ships hove to at the docks of the city, and a line of troops in shining armour entered the gates of Minas Tirith.  Then one lone boat detached itself from its moorings and beat its way up the sparkling surface of the water, its oars dipping in and out in time and its sails booming in the evening wind.  From its mizenmast, said the Elves, one could see the dark pennant floating, upon which gleamed a silver tree surmounted with stars.

            Thus King Elessar returned to Osgiliath as he had promised, victorious and in triumph; by his side was the brave Prince of Dol Amroth, beneath the standard of the Swan, and behind him a tall dark grim man, bearded and clad in brown, whom Bandobras thought he should recognize but could not recall the name to mind.  The plank was lowered and Elessar stepped forth, showered in flower petals from the windows of the walls above him, where the children stood, singing.  He approached and was greeted by the Lady of Emyn Arnen, who curtseyed and welcomed him; then he greeted his wife, kissing her soundly before the entire assembly.  He turned to Edlothiel and hailed her with pleasure.

            “How disappointed I am to have missed riding off into battle with your lord husband,” he said to her; “though I was well-attended down South it has been long since we hunted together.”  Then he stepped aside and Imrahil gave his greetings to the assembled guests.  During this time the man in brown watched, brow furrowed as he looked upon the Elven Queen and other royal ladies; in his eyes was a look of wonder and consternation.

            “This is Baldor of Lossarnach, Hallas’ sire,” said Aragorn at last, drawing the man forward.  He bowed, speechless, for the beauty and magnificence of the Lady of Emyn Arnen and the two queens had stilled his tongue, and he was abashed.  “Though it took much to convince him to accompany us his companionship has been fruitful, for he has at last disclosed to us the name of our traitor.”

            “So have we,” said Lady Éowyn; “in truth you shall see his faithless fat face on the morrow, for your Goat has him well apprehended and brings him to you as the firstfruits of the Elves’ gifts to Gondor.”  She turned to Baldor.  “Welcome to Osgiliath, Baldor of Lossarnach!” she said.  “Gladly do I greet you in health, and perceive your liberation was timely and efficacious.”

            “ I thank you, my Lady!” he said, bowing deeply.  “I am indebted greatly to his Majesty, who with pity and compassion did make my rescue a rout of our enemies.”  He looked anxiously about the assembled dignitaries.  “I know that my son is injured and low of rank,” he said with careful humility, “yet I greatly desire to look upon him and to speak with him, to reassure myself that he is well.”

            “He is not here, Lord of Lossarnach,” said Éowyn with a smile.  “So rapt was he upon the destruction of our foes he rode into battle at the Green Knight’s very side.”

            “How did he ride, my Lady?” asked the King in surprise.

            “Lashed to his saddle, your Majesty,” said Éowyn gravely.  “Fear not, Baldor of Lossarnach!  I have had reports from our scouts that he acquitted himself well upon the field of conflict and emerged unscathed, even to the scaling of the peak of Amon Din itself in pursuit of Eradan of Linhir.”

            Baldor beamed and his brow cleared.  “How like him that is!” he said with satisfaction.  “Even as a boy his hurts impeded him not in the fervor of his accomplishments.”

            “He is then a noble reflection upon his family,” said Undómiel, “and his father worthy of the accolades the people shall bestow upon him.”

            “Come!” cried Edlothiel to them then.  “My people await us and the feast is laid.  War and doom have passed us by and left peace in their tumultuous wake.  Eat, sing, make merry and rejoice!  The king has returned to his city in triumph!”  And turning she led them to the center square, which was filled with people, both Men and Elves, bringing in trays, platters, and trenchers filled to overflowing with food of all sorts:  Great smoking roasts of pork and beef and lamb, dressed with herbs and fruit; huge wheels of cheese in bright red rinds, creamy loaves of bread as big as bed pillows and dotted with olives and minced garlic cloves, cakes and dainties and sweetmeats and subtleties smothered in candied fruit, crystallized flowers, and clouds of clotted cream.  A great shout arose when Elessar ascended the dais and sat at the table there; before him was a great golden goblet and a jug of yellow wine, and behind him the curtains and hangings of damask and gold.  Beeswax candles glowed upon their candlesticks and all around was the sound of merry voices raised in high revel; children’s voices brittle with excitement, men’s and women’s voices chattering like magpies, and Elves’ clear bright voices singing and calling to one another across the courtyard.  In one corner upon a small stand was a group of musicians, which played while people ate and drank, and before long the space in front of them was cleared and circles of folk were formed to dance.  Elves danced first, their feet flickering lightly over the rushes in their intricate reels; then others joined them, men, women, and children, laughing and singing until the courtyard rang with mirth.  But one small figure did not rejoice nor join in the revelry; it was Bandobras the Hobbit, who sat forlornly upon the dark corner of the dais, obscured from the folk by a swath of damask silk, his chin sunk upon his little palm and his elbows on his knees.

After the stars had blossomed in the deeps of the heavens and the torches guttered and smoked in their dotage, the servingmen began to clear the tables, and mothers carried their slumbering children to bed.  The Prince of Dol Amroth and his retainers were led away to their especial quarters, and many other folk were dispersing for the night; Elessar sat, goblet in hand, watching the scattering people who sought their beds.  After a time he glanced into the corner of the dais and saw the small lonely Hobbit there.  He gestured and Bandobras came to him, his tiny face sad, to stand before the King with his little hands clasped behind him and his brown eyes filled with the detritus of two days’ labor and a week’s worth of worry.

            “What troubles you, O Bandobras of the Shire?” asked the King gently, laying a hand upon the Halfling’s curly head.  “I perceive your heart is heavy, and the joy engendered in this celebration and merrymaking has quite bypassed you, leaving you cold and desolate.  Is there aught I might do for you, to lighten your overburdened soul, in token of the honor and esteem I hold for your Master?”

            “Well, sir, that’s just it then,” said Bandobras with a great heavy sigh, his eyes glassing over with tears again.  “My Master’s not here, you see, and neither’s Gimli, nor Hador nor Aldamir nor any of those folk, and it just doesn’t seem right, you know, celebrating like this with them still gone.  And besides there’s all those other people, sir, who’ve lost their homes and the men have been killed, and there’s that Eradan, sir, who started it all – a horrible bad man he must be, I’m sure, sir, to want to do such things, and make men follow him – by all accounts he’s still living, and ought’n’t to be, if you don’t mind me saying it, sir, for I know it’s your business and not mine to decide that.  But it has been praying on my mind, you know, that winter’s coming and all that, and what shall all these poor people do?  They’ve got no homes and no crops, sir, and most of ‘em haven’t even got husbands and dads anymore.  Now, if they were Hobbits, sir, I’d say, just send ‘em to the Shire, and I’m sure my Uncle Pip’d be more than happy to take them in – but they’re Big Folk, and what do Big Folk do when such things happen?  Lady Éowyn says let ‘em live here, and I say ‘aye’ to that, but folk don’t eat stone, nor dirt neither.  And here we are, eating and feasting and having a grand time, but all I can think on is winter and spring, sir, and maybe folk going hungry, maybe – “ he gulped “ – maybe the little ones, which would be awful, sir.  So I was thinking to myself about the store-rooms here in Osgiliath, and the stuff that’s down there, and wondering how long it’ll last us – there’s quite a bit of it now, you know, but come summertime how much of it will be left?”

            “Your thoughts behoove you, good Bandobras,” said Elessar with a smile, and gesturing to a chair the little Hobbit climbed upon it and sat looking at him.  “It is true, autumn with its small-toothed nips gives way to the harsher bite of winter, and there are many people here whose homes and crops have been burned by the Lord of Linhir’s mutinous men.  However, the past two summers’ yields have been bounteous, and the storehouses of Minas Tirith bulge with abundance of grains and seeds; also, remember the fishing boats of the Anduin and the huntsmen of Ithilien and think upon the separate bounty of the earth, not Yavanna’s realm but Oromë’s, upon the boar and the deer and the pheasant and the wild goat.  Also your Master’s people bring with them not only their own foodstuffs but also their woodcraft, and there are as you know many good things to be harvested in the forests to eat.  My people shall not go hungry; this I swear to you, good Bandobras son of Reginard!

            “Also think you upon your Master tonight, and be not sad that he is truant; strength and cunning is in his hand, and with his friends he has secured the lands of the Red Knight against further want and privation.  They are I am sure celebrating on their own, for the scouts have assured me Eradan’s men did not only burn but also carried off, and there is plenty for the poor widows and orphans to feast upon tonight.  The gay and merry faces of our Elven neighbors, and the brave and fair faces of our knights, shall sustain their grieving hearts, and they shall be strengthened and fortified by them.  But you, O Bandobras,” he said, leaning down and fixing the Hobbit with his kind gray eyes, “you who have shown yourself disposed to watch over their well-being, you I shall ask to grant me this boon, that during the autumn and winter months you shall put your deep compassion for them to viable work, aiding your Master’s people in the repairing of this city to provide homes for them, and distributing the harvested bounty of the lands that they hunger not.”

            “O!” exclaimed Bandobras, his eyes shining.  “Well, that sounds marvelous!  I certainly shall, sir, I promise you, so long as my Master allows it – and from what I’ve heard him say he certainly will, he’s been pretty harrowed up himself on the people’s behalf – do we really have enough food for everyone, sir?  That’s a great load off my mind, I can tell you.  And do you really think the folk in Amon Din are celebrating tonight?  Just the thought of them having a party is enough to put my heart at ease, for all I could think on was the women and children weeping, and dead bodies here and there.  It’s a hard thing, sir, to lose one’s dad,” he said, his brown eyes owlish; “that I can say from personal experience.  But maybe I can take these children in hand and let ‘em know it’s not the end of things, though it might feel as though it is, and at least they still have their mothers – that’s something too.”

            “You shall give them the benefit of your great experience,” said the King.  “That in itself I am certain shall aid in their recovery from these losses.  And now, good Bandobras, I perceive from the presence of the brooms sweeping up the rushes that it is time for us to seek our bedchambers, for after such a week as this it is our just due.  Tomorrow after noon you shall see your Master again, and we shall begin the happy task of bringing the miscreant Eradan to justice, to pay him for his crimes against my people.”

            “You’ve certainly got my support there,” said Bandobras, sliding off his chair and straightening his waistcoat.  “Well, sir, thanks for the chat – I feel much better, I really do.  Good night!”  He turned to go, then was arrested suddenly by a thought, which made him turn back, his eyes wide with horror.

            “O, I have just remembered!” he said, wringing his hands.  “O it is a good thing Gimli is not here!  I ought to have been calling you ‘your Majesty’ all this time, and here I’ve been calling you ‘sir’!  I am so sorry, your Majesty!  Will you please forgive me?”

            “There is naught to forgive, good Bandobras,” said Elessar, smiling down at him.  “To tell the truth I did not even notice.  And I promise you I shall say nothing to Gimli about this.”

            “O, thank you!” cried Bandobras in relief.  “This courtly behavior . . . I don’t think I’ll ever get the hang of it.”  And giving a perfunctory bow to the King he scurried off.

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