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In Empty Lands
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In memory of Fiondil, and for Cairistiona for her birthday.



“Are we ever going to stop for a rest?” demanded Pippin. They’d apparently been walking longer the last few days than they’d done earlier in their journey, for already there was light peeking over the mountains to the east. It would not be that long before full dawn.

Aragorn and Gandalf, who had been involved in quite a discussion about which path they should take for the next stage of their journey, looked up at his question. Gandalf appeared disgruntled at the interruption, while Aragorn seemed glad for a break in what was clearly becoming very close to an argument. Boromir watched with interest to see what answer the youngest of the four Hobbits would receive.

“Legolas has gone ahead to check how far it will be to what I’d planned as the day’s camp. I doubt we’re more than three furlongs from the place,” Aragorn said, giving Gandalf a sideways look.

Gandalf gave a decided, “Humph!” and continued stumping forward, following the line of the shallow gully to his left, refusing to look at either the Man or the Hobbit.

“Aren’t you ready to stop for a time?” Pippin asked, dancing backwards in front of the Wizard. “I know I’m tired, and Merry’s been wanting to stop for ever so long, ever since he twist----”

What else he might have said was lost as he took a half step too much backwards and to the side, directly off the edge of the gully. He managed to fall sideways, and was swiftly rolling down the slope and into a shallow stream, one whose water was icy, being this close to the mountain slopes.

Before either of the Men or the Wizard could quite respond to the situation Frodo was there. “Stay here,” he commanded as he dropped his pack to the ground. “The slope appears quite soft, and you’d most likely end up no better than Pippin there.” So saying, he swiftly but competently made his way down the slope, slipping off his cloak and tossing in onto the slanting bank to the stream.

Pippin was lying on his back, his pack supporting him mostly out of the water; but his cloak was rapidly growing wet, and he was definitely too surprised at his sudden, unexpected change in position to do much to help himself.

“Are you seriously hurt?” Frodo asked as he leaned over his younger kinsman. “No, stay still for a moment while I check you over.” He tilted his head. “You have a good deal of bleeding here at your hairline, but it may not be anything—you know how cuts to the head can bleed when they’re not really all that bad. Stay, still, won’t you? I need to see how bad it really is.” He scooped up some water and used it to wipe at a darkening spot on the side of Pippin’s head. “It’s too dim to see well, but it doesn’t look serious. But we’ll have Aragorn check it out anyway. Can you move your arms and legs?”

The others, except for the Elf, were now gathered close to the edge of the gully, and could see Pippin demonstrating that his limbs were all capable of independent movement.

Frodo gave a decisive nod. “Then I’ll help you up. Oh, dear, it does appear this arm is badly scraped. Well, we’ll clean it properly once we have you out of here. Put your arms about my neck and stand up slowly. Now, to get this pack off of you, and then your cloak. Here—let me put my cloak around you now—no reason for you to go without a cloak when you are so wet. Can you stand properly? Oh, good. Then put this arm about my shoulders and we’ll get you back up the slope. Sam, can you come down and bring up Pippin’s pack and cloak? And you have a blanket ready for him? Excellent!”

Gandalf gave a sigh and extended his staff. “Here, take hold of this and allow it to steady the both of you as you climb up.”

In moments the two Hobbits were back on level ground, and Aragorn was wrapping the blanket he’d taken from Sam about Pippin’s shoulders in place of Frodo’s cloak. He allowed the youngest of the Hobbits to sit on Frodo’s pack and began to examine him. Boromir glanced at Sam to find the gardener staring down the slope with a grim look on his face, and the Man realized that the Hobbit did not feel comfortable going down that slope without a clearly defined path to follow.

“Here Sam,” Gandalf said, “Let me aid you. Take hold of my staff and I will steady you as you go down and come up again.” He gave Sam a gentle, reassuring smile. Sam returned the smile briefly, and obviously much heartened, he grasped the end of the Wizard’s staff and carefully started down the steep slope, and was swiftly back again, looking much relieved, wet cloak and pack in hand.

Pippin was soon sporting a bandage wrapped about his head and another around his left arm where he’d skinned himself on something he’d rolled over going down the gully’s side. He had a bruise already beginning to show on his opposite leg, and another, larger one that was forming on his back to the right side of his spine where his weight had borne down upon his pack both during his roll down the hill and as he landed at the bottom.

“Still, you are fortunate you weren’t worse hurt,” Aragorn noted as he rose at last. “Wear the bandage on your head today and during our next walk, and I suspect you shall not need it after that. As Frodo said, it’s quite a shallow cut and will soon mend itself. I’ll check the scrape to your arm before we start on our next tramp, but it shouldn’t give you any real trouble, either.

“Now, Merry, it is time for me to see what mischief you might have done yourself. Pippin said something about you twisting something?”

With a reproving look at Pippin, Merry took his cousin’s place upon Frodo’s pack, and Aragorn bent to remove a bandage from his ankle.

“It’s nothing, really,” Merry said. “Before we paused for our last rest I twisted it upon something hidden under the grass, and Sam wrapped it for me. It’s sore, but not particularly swollen.”

“You still ought to have told me,” Aragorn said. “Well,” he added after a moment’s examination, “you are correct that it isn’t much swollen, and there’s little enough hurt done. Still, had it been worse you could have crippled yourself for several days. How does this feel?”

Boromir couldn’t see what the Man was doing, but Merry’s eyes widened as if with surprise. “Oh, but it feels warm, and a bit tingly,” he commented. “It does feel much better. What did you do?”

But Aragorn simply smiled mysteriously. “If it is better that is good, but I think I will have you ride upon my back the rest of the way to our campsite. Gimli, if you will consent to take Pippin?”

Boromir leaned over to take up Pippin and Merry’s packs, but paused. “He’s not been under any discipline today, has he?” the warrior asked.

Frodo gave him a look that was at first surprised, but that swiftly turned to amusement. “No, not today,” he said. “You’ll not feel any extra weight.”

The Man felt himself flush a bit, but laughed. “Well enough, then. Let us go!”

Soon the line had reformed and they continued on their southward path. They met Legolas within minutes, and learned that they were very close to a suitable campsite where they could even have a fire if desired. Within a quarter mark they were nicely situated under an overhang with good cover from any sudden storm that might rise, close enough to the stream they’d been following to have easy access to water, and with the wall of the mountain guarding them on two sides and clear sight the other directions. It would be a fine, dry, and comfortable place for them to rest—far more pleasant than some they’d known so far upon their journey.

“If you will please take the first watch, Sam,” Aragorn said, “I will do a closer inspection of Pippin’s wounds and see to our morning meal.”

Sam gave Boromir a sideways look and shrugged. “All right,” he said. “Leastwise we know as what you will cook is likely to be edible.” So saying, he headed out to find a good spot from which to watch the approaches to their camping place.

Boromir didn’t mind the implied criticism of his cooking skills—after all, Faramir had often declared that the older of the two sons of Denethor was the only person he knew who was capable of burning water. He gathered the pans and bottles and went to bring in what water would be needed.

Merry and Pippin were examined once more, after which Frodo began seeing to it that his younger cousin was properly cleaned up and his clothing changed. Legolas went out to find what he could scavenge to add to their meals, Gimli unloaded the pony and saw to Bill’s comfort, Gandalf fetched in wood and built up the fire, and Aragorn saw to their morning meal, once he’d left the two younger Hobbits to Frodo’s ministrations.

At last they settled down to their meal, Frodo insisting on taking Sam’s rations out to where Sam sat on a spur of rock. “You be certain to get some sleep once you’re done with your breakfast, Master,” the gardener said as Frodo turned to head back to the shelter.

Frodo waved a hand dismissively. “Once I’ve seen to Pippin’s dirty clothing. Is there anything of yours you’d wish to have cleaned?”

Sam, however, was already straightening in his place. “Oh, no, Mister Frodo!” he protested. “It’s not for the likes of you t’do my washing!”

Frodo turned, his posture sternly erect. “And why not? As it is, you take most of my duties. You are already on watch. Why should I not do what I can for the sake of the Fellowship? It’s not as if I didn’t have practice at it, after all. Bilbo made certain that I had practical as well as intellectual training, you know. Now, is there anything of yours you wish to have cleaned?”

Sam had flushed a bright red with embarrassment and mumbled a reply. Frodo gave a nod, saying, “I will be right back, Sam.” He turned and returned to their shelter, fetched Sam’s pack, and brought it to its owner, who rooted through it, gave some items into Frodo’s hands, and after securely fastening the pack returned it to his Master, who replaced it where he’d found it and placed the garments given him with Pippin’s clothing to deal with once he was done eating.

Boromir eyed the Hobbit once Frodo sat to eat his meal. “You are accustomed to washing clothing?” he asked. “Do you do this in your home, then?”

Frodo gave the barest shrug to his shoulder. “No, we have always employed Sam’s sisters to do our laundry. But Bilbo insisted I learn how to clean my own clothing when we were out on a tramp through the Shire. He said we could not look for laundresses while we were camping out in the Binbole Forest or en route between Hobbiton and Buckland. So he taught me to wash in streams, using rocks and sometimes soap-root if it could be found.”

Frodo ate swiftly, and after scouring his tin plate and cup with sand, went round to each of the others to gather up a few more items to wash along with what he had already. With this clothing in hand he made his way down to the stream.

Boromir watched after Frodo as the Hobbit went off to the side of the stream. “I would never think of him working as a washerwoman. Did his mother do such work, then?”

Merry laughed. “My father’s aunt work as a laundress? Not likely! After all, her father and then her brother and now her nephew have all been the Masters of Buckland, each in his turn. As for her husband—Drogo Baggins was the favorite of all the children or grandchildren of old Bilbo’s uncles and aunts, and was the only one who regularly visited Bilbo even after his return from his own adventures. Drogo’s sister Dora got along well enough with Bilbo, or at least enough to send him reams of letters. But she rarely walked across Hobbiton to visit Bag End, save for an occasional birthday or when Frodo was so ill the winter he came back to the village as Bilbo’s ward. And Frodo’s Uncle Dudo moved out of Hobbiton once Bilbo returned, ashamed to admit that Bilbo remained his Family Head after he’d had the bad taste to go off adventuring with thirteen Dwarves and a disreputable Wizard.”

He gave Gandalf a pointed look, to which the Wizard gave another decided “Humph!”

It was Pippin who continued the tale. “It was Bilbo who saw to it that Frodo learned how to clean clothing in streams. Bilbo learned the how of it while he was traveling with the Dwarves, and he told us all it was a useful thing for any Hobbit intent on having an adventure of his own one day to learn. Frodo took to it well, but then he’s always been one who has loved to do useful tasks. He’d do more on this journey if anyone would let him. But almost every time it’s his turn to do something Sam will insist on doing it for him, or Aragorn or Gandalf will need him to discuss something or other. He’s been getting quite testy about it, really.”

“He probably feels the way he did before Bilbo took him back to Hobbiton,” Merry added. “My grandmother barely allowed him to do much of anything for much of the time he was growing up with us in Brandy Hall after his parents died.”

Boromir found his curiosity piqued. “His parents died when he was young, then?” he asked.

Merry and Pippin were both nodding. “He wasn’t quite twelve when they died,” Merry said. “His family was visiting us in the Hall, and his mum and dad went out boating one evening after Frodo went to bed. When they weren’t there in the morning and didn’t come in for second breakfast, my Grandfather Rory, who was Master at the time, sent out search parties. They found the boat, upside down, caught in the bay where we children usually go swimming, with Aunt Primula’s body caught under it. They didn’t find Uncle Drogo’s body until the next day. The river had dragged it far downstream, and it was caught in the roots of a downed tree. Frodo saw it as they brought the body in, and he fainted dead away.”

“You saw this, too?” asked Boromir.

“Me? Oh, no—I wasn’t even born yet! I wasn’t born until two years later.”

The Man straightened. “You are that much younger than Frodo is?”

Merry nodded. “I’m almost fourteen years younger than Frodo, while Pippin is almost eleven years younger than I am,” he explained. “And Sam is two years older than I am. He was born only a month or two before Frodo’s parents died.”

“Frodo’s dad carved Sam into that sideboard he made for the Council Hole banquet hall,” Pippin continued. “He showed Sam’s mother outside Number 3 holding him as a baby, with the Gaffer, Sam’s dad, I mean, up working in the flower gardens for Bag End, and Lobelia standing outside a hole in Hobbiton listening at the window. Bilbo he showed sitting on the bench outside the door of Bag End, smoking his pipe. Only none of them much look like the real people. Cousin Drogo was a good carver, but not so good at making people look like they really do. The best he did was Lobelia, actually.”

Boromir didn’t know quite know what to think about all of this information, but he’d found that true of much of what Pippin said. He finally asked, “Then, did Frodo learn about cleaning clothes in streams from his mother?”

Pippin gave a deep sigh. “No! Frodo already told you—Bilbo taught him, not his mum. I mean, he was far too young to learn it from Cousin Primula before she died. Although from what Mum and Dad told us, Primula did her own family’s washing while they lived in Whitfurrow, which is about halfway between Hobbiton and Brandy Hall in Buckland. They said Drogo had a fine copper boiler made for her to use, and she set it out on the pavement beside their hole where they lived to use on washdays. She didn’t need to do so—when they lived in Hobbiton I think that Sam’s mother did their washing usually, just as she did for Bilbo. But she was like Frodo, and loved to feel useful.”

Merry said, “My grandmother said she was always helping the ones who did the laundry at the Hall when she was growing up, when she wasn’t out helping with the gardens. Aunt Primula loved working in the gardens, and Frodo used to help her in the gardens in Whitfurrow when he was a little lad.”

“But Frodo said Sam’s sisters did the laundry for him and for Bilbo.”

Sam sighed from where he sat outside the overhang. “That was after my mum died they took over the laundry for Bag End. Mr. Drogo and Missus Primula, they didn’t live in Hobbiton long after my Mr. Frodo was born, not once old Missus Lobelia started in on her. Missus Lobelia was that jealous of how Mr. Bilbo made over little Frodo when him was but a faunt, she was, and said all kinds of outlandish things about the bairn and his mum. Mr. Drogo, he wasn’t goin’ to let the old cow say awful things about his wife and son, and they moved out of Number Five, what used to be the original Baggins hole afore Mr. Bilbo’s dad dug out Bag End further up the Hill to bring his bride to, and moved to Whitfurrow.”

Boromir considered the gardener, again amazed at how keen the hearing of Hobbits tended to be. “Then you, too, lost your mother?” he called.

Sam nodded. “A couple-three years after Mr. Frodo came to Bag End,” he answered. “That first winter as him was back, it seemed as everyone was gettin’ real ill, and all in our hole was real sick. Mum was the worst, and Mr. Frodo—him was took bad—very, very bad. My Master got over it, but not my mum. She was frail-like, after the lung fever and all. A few springs later she said one day, ‘I feel right tired,’ and went into the hole to lie down. When my dad went in to check on her, he found her dead.” He turned away, looking off toward the way they’d come.

Boromir considered Sam thoughtfully. “So—three of us upon the quest have been bereft of our mothers since our childhood. Unless,” he added, looking at Merry and Pippin questioningly, “yours are also gone beyond the Circles of Arda?”

The younger two Hobbits exchanged looks. “Oh, his parents and mine are still alive, and were in good health when we left the Shire at least,” Merry said. He looked at Gimli. “What about your parents?” he asked.

“Mine are both within Erebor, or so I hope,” Gimli said.

Aragorn answered the unspoken question, “My mother was by me all during the years of my childhood, but died less than two decades after I was judged a Man grown.”

“And you miss her?” asked Pippin.

Aragorn gave a sad smile. “Of course. She loved me perhaps the more deeply since my father died when I was so small, and I miss the knowledge of that certain love very much.”

Pippin turned his questioning gaze upon Boromir. “And your mother is gone, too?”

The warrior nodded. “I was eight years old when she died. She’d not been strong since before my younger brother was born. My father has told us that she felt she had been away from the Sea for too long—too long in the shadow of the walls of the Black Land. Many find themselves growing fearful as Mordor grows stronger and darker, and he believed that was true of my mother.”

“So, you were just out of faunthood,” Pippin began, but Gandalf interrupted, shaking his head.

“A boy of eight years of age is much like a Hobbit lad of eleven to twelve, Peregrin Took. He would have been much the same as Frodo was when his parents died.”

“Really?” They all turned to see Frodo reentering the camp, carrying several pairs of socks.

Boromir shrugged. “If Mithrandir says so. I would not know, this company and Master Bilbo being the only Hobbits I have ever come to know.”

Frodo gave a single nod as he began laying pairs of wet socks over rocks where they could dry near the fire. “I know that I was old enough to remember full well what it was like being with my parents before they died, how they looked and smelled and sounded, what they liked best for first and second breakfasts, what they allowed me to do to help them in their work and their play, how they smiled….”

“Much as it was for me,” Boromir responded. “Although I do not clearly recall my mother’s face save when I look at the portraits made of her. Only the expressions in those portraits are different from what I remember of her—she was always so glad to hold us, my little brother and me. The formal portraits always show her as a great Lady, proud and solemn, which she was save when she was with us, her sons.”

Frodo and he shared a smile of similar remembrances, both proud and sad at once. Frodo said, “I remember telling Dad that I should like to know what it is like to fly—to fly like a bird. So he had me lie upon my stomach and hold out my arms and legs. He lifted me by one arm and leg and swung me around and around until he was so dizzy he was almost ready to fall down in a heap himself. But he managed to set me down so—so gently! It was wonderful fun. And my mummy taught me to swim. Those times when I dream of flying, I seem to mix up the two—my father swinging me about and me swimming by my mother’s side in the river when the water was quiet.”

Gandalf’s smile was particularly gentle. “Having flown with Gwaihir, the Lord of the Great Eagles, I can tell you that flying is like neither of those, but like them at the same time. Although,” he added, his eyes suddenly twinkling, “I don’t think that your Uncle Bilbo found his first experience to be anywhere so pleasant. Certainly Dori did not enjoy it at the time!”

Frodo laughed aloud. “Did he truly hang from Dori’s leg the whole way?”

The Wizard nodded, grinning widely behind his beard. “That he did. Although he wasn’t truly in danger. One of the younger Eagles was flying just below and behind the one that bore Dori, ready to catch Bilbo should he lose his grip. But Bilbo’s grasp was truly fixed, that time at least. He found terror gave him strength he’d never thought he possessed.”

“Dori always maintained that Bilbo’s grip was like iron, and that he’d never realized just how heavy a Hobbit might be until one almost pulled his leg from its socket,” rumbled Gimli. “Well, I’m done with my meal. I was supposed to take the first watch today, so I shall go out and relieve Master Samwise.”

“I’ll do your dishes for you,” offered Pippin.

“Thank you so,” returned the Dwarf as he rose to his feet. “And I thank you for washing those—items, Frodo Baggins.” With a nod he strode off to take Sam’s place on the rocky area outside the overhang.

Frodo was so solemn so much of the time that the change in him when he laughed was quite amazing, and Boromir noted that both Aragorn and the Wizard appeared quite pleased at having seen him so amused. Certainly he appeared far more relaxed than the Gondorian had seen him since they’d left Rivendell.

“What special things do you remember about your mother?” asked Merry.

Realizing that this question was addressed to himself, Boromir thought. “She had the most wonderful stories, mostly about the strange things to be found after high tides below the Keep at Dol Amroth where she was born and lived as a child. She had an amazing collection of shells, many of them so delicate one wonders how the creatures that wore them survived in the possible violence of the waves that would sweep them high up on the sand; and she knew the name of each creature and how it lived within the sea. She had a rope of large pearls she wore in her hair during affairs of state, each pearl a different color and shape. She used to let me play with the contents of the box in which she kept her sea glass, and we would hold each piece up to the light of the window and make up stories about what kind of bottle, vial, or jar each one might have come from. She played upon the flute, and would make up tunes to amuse us. And my father loved her so—so very much. After she died he did not laugh again for years, or so it seemed to me.”

“That is grievous to hear,” Aragorn said softly. “I know that he doted upon her.”

“And you know this how?” Boromir asked him.

“Do you think that I have not borne back tales of how things go in Gondor after my visits to Minas Tirith?” Gandalf asked pointedly.

“Even you must know that some of those who come from distant lands to serve in Gondor’s armies are from those of us your people have long called the Lost,” added Aragorn. “To whom do you think they report when their terms of service are over and they disappear back into the Wild?”

There was no answer Boromir could think to give to that.

Pippin, who’d just come back from the stream with his dishes and Gimli’s, looked from one Man to the other, and now addressed himself to the Chieftain of the Northern Dúnedain. “So, your mother was with you when you lived in Rivendell as a child. Do you have any memories of your father?”

“Pippin, what memories do you think he’d have? He’s admitted he was little more than a babe in arms when his dad died,” Merry objected.

Aragorn was shaking his head. “I’d been walking without having to hold onto things to steady myself for several months, as I was two years old when he died. I have little memory for his face, but I certainly recognized his boots when I saw them when I stayed in my uncle’s keep after my first patrol with our new Rangers. But I was amazed at how small they appeared then. In my earliest memories they seemed so large! He would return from a patrol and would be singing as he approached the house in which we lived, and Nana would throw open the door and stand in the doorway, straightening her shawl about her shoulders as he rode closer and the singing grew louder. When he dropped from his horse I would rush out of the house and throw my arms about his legs as high up as I could reach. His boots were his one true extravagance, and were always finely tooled and dyed with several colors. And Naneth would embroider the outer seams of his trousers, often with sunbursts or starry shapes, and I would run my fingers along the carving in his boots and the threads of embroidery. He would reach down and lift me to his shoulder and settle me there, sitting down with my legs dangling, balancing me with one hand on my waist. And I would place my hand over his and run my finger over the shape of the ring he wore while he would embrace my mother with his free hand and kiss her soundly. I loved it when he came home from a patrol. Although I now think some of those rides out were really to other villages where our people lived. But to me at the time, I always thought he was out upon a patrol when he left us.”

“And then one time he didn’t return,” Frodo said softly, his own eyes downcast.

“That is true, but I fear I don’t remember that time. There had been more attacks upon our settlements, and then there was a virulent fever that was sweeping throughout Eriador.”

“Like the year the ague and colds and catarrh and lung fever made so many ill in the Shire and Buckland, when we almost lost you, Mr. Frodo,” Sam commented as he, too, returned from the stream where he’d cleaned his dishes.

“Something similar,” Aragorn admitted. “Both my mother and I were ill, and had been taken to Uncle Halbaleg’s keep to be cared for. When the Rangers who’d ridden out with my father returned with Elladan and Elrohir, bearing word of my father’s death, they found me so ill I had become insensible. One of the women who were attending upon us thought that I had died, and ran out of the sickroom to cry out the loss of the last Heir to Isildur. Only I was not dead, and the twins were able to bring me back around. That was when it was decided that they would allow the word that I had died to stand, and Naneth and I were taken to Imladris so that I might grow up safe from the Enemy’s further attempts to destroy the last of the lineage of the Kings from Númenor.”

“And it was as if Lord Elrond were your father while you were growing up?” Pippin asked, although he knew the answer well enough by now.

“Yes,” Aragorn said, reaching out a hand and tousling Pippin’s hair familiarly. “I knew he was not my true father, but ever he treated me as if I were indeed his son.”

“Then why now do you not speak of or to him as if he were your father?” asked Frodo.

Boromir was surprised at this, as Frodo rarely asked such personal questions.

Aragorn looked down at the backs of his hands, those hands that were so clearly those of a swordsman yet were also finely modeled, those perhaps of a musician, those of a healer. At last he raised his eyes to meet Frodo’s. “You must understand, Frodo, how difficult it was for me when I returned to my own people after eighteen years spent among Elves. I dressed much as the Elves of Imladris did, fought as they did, thought much as they did. Except—except I was a Man, not an Elf. Naneth warned me that it would not be easy, to return to our own people and to be accepted as Chieftain of the remnants of the Dúnedain of Arnor when I clearly was other than they. Our people honor Elrond and those who dwell in his protected valley, but although we know that we are kindred from afar, still we know that we are different from them. We are mortal and must know an end to this life. We must marry and beget children if we are to leave a permanent mark upon Middle Earth or see our distant aims met. I would not be accepted as the Dúnadan, the Man of the West, if I bound my heart ever in my thoughts to Elrond as my father. My naneth told me this, and even Elrond did similarly on the day he declared me a Man grown and ready to return to my true purpose and place as a leader and hopefully one day a high ruler among Men.”

He sighed, and looked down again, this time looking at his now upturned palms. “I cannot help but love Elrond for being the father I needed to have as a child. But my fate is not his. We are long-lived, those of us who are direct descendants to Elrond’s brother, but we will still die in the fullness of time. My very mortality estranges us, whether we would have it so or not. And,” he added, looking up to catch Frodo’s eyes again, “there is another barrier between us, that I must bring to his family the pain of loss, when time must steal away the life of yet another he has loved deeply, even as he loved his brother, my blessed great-father Elros.

“Think, Frodo, what it must be like for him. He chose the life of the Eldar, and yet he has, since the return of Elendil to these shores, always succored his brother’s descendants, has seen them born, grow to adulthood, and then age and die—if they were not slain else. He has told me that not since Valandil dwelt in his house whilst Elendil, Isildur, and Valandil’s brothers went to fight before Mordor has he been drawn to love one of us as if we were his own child, not until I came there with my mother, brought by my Elven brothers. Those of us who were born knowing that one day we will leave the Circles of Arda know the grief of loss, but hold the hope of reunion in whatever realm to which we shall be removed. He cannot know such hope before the remaking of the world. Believe me, I am glad to know that, as a Man, one day I will be able to lay down my life with honor and reach for what comes next and not know the burden of years beyond count without the surety that what has been lost may be found once more. But for him and his sons, that is what they shall know once I have abandoned my body.”

Boromir sensed, as he thought that Frodo did also, that there was something more there that had not been said, and that would not now be put into words. He decided that perhaps he should change the subject that those unspoken truths not be unwisely probed.

“You said that you remember running your finger over the ring that your father wore.”

“Yes.” It was obvious to the Gondorian that this distant kinsman from the north was relieved at the turn in the conversation.

“Do you remember its pattern?”

Aragorn’s lip quirked in an amused smile. “Oh, but of course I do. But, then, it was given to me on the day Adar told me my true name and lineage.”

“Then it was not buried with him. Was it, then, the symbol of your office as Chieftain of the Dúnedain of Eriador?”

“It is the symbol of my lineage as the Heir of Isildur.”

Suddenly Boromir knew. His voice went low with surprise, and he felt a level of awe as he asked, “You mean, the ring was—was the Ring of Barahir?”

“It is the Ring of Barahir.”

“Then why do you not wear it now?”

Aragorn gave a great sigh. “I will admit that I have not worn it more than it has sat upon my finger. As a child it was kept by Elrond against the day I should be known by all as my father’s son and heir. When I returned to the people I was intended to rule, at first I would not wear it openly. I did not desire to immediately declare myself and have people bow down to me solely because I was the son of Arathorn and now claimed his place as my own. I wished to test them to see if I would even want to serve as their leader, and I felt that they had the right to test me to learn if I was worthy to follow my father and grandfather as their Chieftain. So it was that I went first upon a training patrol among the other young Men who desired to join the Rangers of Eriador, and the while I carried what I’d always thought of as my father’s ring in a finely wrought leather pouch hung on a chain about my neck. The other youths thought that it was an amulet of some kind, and I allowed them to continue to think that until at last they realized just who my father had been. Then and only then did I begin wearing the Ring of Barahir upon my hand.

“Later it was deemed wise for me to see more of the world and the peoples I might one day reunite into one kingdom under my rule, and to learn directly of their allies—and their enemies. Again I carried the Ring of Barahir usually in the pouch hung from the chain I’d worn before. I walked, rode, and sailed most of the ways of the known world, and learned what I could of all peoples I encountered. I learned to fight in the manner of many lands, and studied as many of the tongues of Men as I could. I even ventured into one of the Red Temples in Umbar and another in Harad, and have climbed secret ways up over the walls of Mordor to peer into the Black Land itself. I visited Mirkwood and was honored there by Legolas’s father. I have visited the Blue Mountains, the Iron Hills, and Erebor as well as the halls of the lesser Dwarves beyond Fornost. I have guested among the dwindling tribes of Lindor and stood upon the quays of Mithlond. I have heard the carillons of Dale and have been feasted by the denizens of Laketown, and have bought the fabled honeycakes of the Beornings. The citizens of Bree have named me Strider, thinking it perhaps an insult. But certainly it is descriptive of what I have experienced in the long years since I left the house of Elrond to return to my own people.”

“But you wear no chain about your neck now,” Boromir observed.

Aragorn arched one brow. “No, I no longer carry the Ring of Barahir with me. But even as the great Finrod Felagund gave the ring into the hands of Barahir in token of the great debt he owed to the Man who had saved his life, promising to aid whosoever might display it to him once more, so I have entrusted it to another in token of a promise made many years since. One day that promise may well needs be honored, at which time I am assured that the Ring will be returned to me until it might be bestowed upon my son.”

“Should you ever father a son,” Boromir said.

“Yes, should I ever father a son. Yet, hope that that day may one day dawn yet remains in my heart.”

Gandalf gave a small, warm chuckle. “It is so fitting that Elrond gave you the child’s name of Estel, my friend.”

Aragorn smiled in return.

“Frodo inherited a ring from his dad, too,” Pippin said. He gave his older cousin a sideways glance. “But I’ve never seen him wear it.”

Frodo shrugged. “It is much too big for me to wear comfortably, and it would be a shame to have to cut out enough silver for it to fit my finger. My dad had a far wider hand than I do, with thicker fingers.” He was silent for a moment before continuing in lower tones, “Besides, it’s hard to imagining me wearing it after having seen it last on his hand as it was when they brought him back from the river. I hate to imagine what they had to do to get it off of his finger.”

Remembering that Frodo’s father’s body had been in the water for at least a day and a half, Boromir could imagine what a task that must have been, and experienced a shudder of sympathy for the Hobbit. He cleared his throat, saying, “I do not look forward to the day I must don the Ring of the Steward of Gondor. To be honest, I would wish never to have to sit upon the Black Chair. I am too much the soldier and the captain. My brother would make a far better Steward than I ever will. He is much wiser and better at reading the hearts of other Men, and far more politic than I am capable of being.”

“Then you don’t wear a ring to show you are the heir to your father?” Frodo asked.

“Oh, no. This,” he said, patting the horn he carried, “has long been the token borne by the heir to the Steward of Gondor rather than a ring or a particular sword. The Steward’s ring is actually his seal as the ruler of the land in the absence of the King, and is received along with the White Rod as he is established as the Steward and seated for the first time upon the Black Chair. Although I never understood when I was younger why my father was seen as a Steward rather than a King, considering that he serves the people as does a—good—King. But to choose anyone other than those who were proper heirs to Elendil is simply not done in Gondor.”

“And so it is true in what remains of Arnor as well,” agreed Aragorn.

“Sounds plenty complicated to me,” Sam commented in a low voice to Merry.

Merry said thoughtfully, “We don’t have rings for the Master of Buckland. The Master has the Seal of Buckland, and the Sword, of course.”

Boromir was intrigued. “You actually have swords in the Shire? But I thought you said your weapons came from elsewhere.”

“They did,” Aragorn said. “Tom Bombadil gave them each a long knife from one of the barrows of my ancestors in the Barrow-downs between Bree and the entrance to the Shire at the Brandywine Bridge.”

“Save mine broke when I raised it against the Black Riders at the Ford of the Brúinen,” Frodo added. “As I said, Sting Bilbo carried from the troll hoard they found before Thorin’s company arrived at Rivendell, and he gave it to me there soon after I recovered from the Morgul wound. It is said it was forged in Gondolin.”

“Which it was,” commented Gandalf, “as was Glamdring here which I now carry, and Orcrist that Thorin took and that lies now upon his tomb.”

“An Elven sword atop a Dwarvish tomb is a novel concept,” Boromir noted. He turned back to Merry. “What is this sword that you speak of that is a symbol of the Master of Buckland?”

“It was given to Bucca of the Marish by the heir to Arvedui Last-king in token of his great service offered in the war against Angmar,” Merry said. “He was the only one of the Hobbits who went out of the Shire to fight for the King to survive, although it was said another Hobbit, one from the Breelands, returned home with him when the war was done and the Witch-king had fled away.”

“Indeed,” Gandalf said. “And full worthy was he to receive it. It was a beautiful weapon that Aranarth had worn during his youth, and again a long knife rather than a true sword, but fully useful as a sword for a Hobbit, of course, much as is true of the weapons you, Pippin, and Sam carry.”

“And you know this how?” Boromir challenged.

The Wizard straightened where he sat. “Do you truly believe that these and Bilbo are the first Hobbits I have known in the better than half an Age of the Sun I have walked in Middle Earth, Boromir son of Denethor? I stood by Eärnur’s side to witness the honor paid to those considered heroes of the conflict, including Bucca of the Marish and his Breeland companion. And you have here at least three of Bucca’s most worthy descendants.”

Pippin’s mouth was open in an O of astonishment, and he pulled his small frame up taller at that realization. Merry’s eyes were shining. Frodo merely looked more thoughtful at Gandalf’s pronouncement. Sam was looking at his Master with open pride, and for a moment Gandalf’s gaze fell upon the gardener and grew considerate, his eyes widening briefly before he gave a small nod to himself as if he’d made a realization of his own. “Another line come full circle as well,” Boromir heard him murmur under his breath. He wondered what the Wizard might mean by that, but knew from experience he was unlikely to get an explanation, or not now, at least.

Instead, he focused his own attention on the Ringbearer. “The ring you inherited from your father, the one you do not wear, was it an heirloom of your house?”

Frodo appeared surprised to find himself addressed. “No,” he began slowly, “not precisely an heirloom. When I was quite small I believed my mother had given it to him as a marriage token, but Bilbo said that this was not true. He said that he gave it to my father at his first birthday after his return from his adventure. It had been given to him by Balin, who had recognized it in Smaug’s hoard. Balin himself had wrought it as a gift to his sister’s firstborn son. Neither his sister nor his nephew survived the assault by the Dragon. He gave it to Bilbo, he said, in honor of the great integrity Bilbo had shown in seeking to stop the pending battle between the Dwarves and the Men of Laketown and the Elves of Mirkwood over the Dragon’s treasure, much of which had come from Dale and the Men and Elves who traveled through the region as well as what Smaug had gathered within Erebor after he took the Lonely Mountain as his own.”

Gimli, Boromir noted, had turned to listen to the talk, and his eyes were now wide at the tale of his kinsman’s gift to Bilbo Baggins.

Frodo continued, “There were some other pieces of jewelry that were family pieces, but they were mostly for lasses and ladies rather than for gentlehobbits. Bilbo gave most of them to my dad to give to my mum, and I’d hoped to give them to whosoever I might marry. Only that did not happen in the end.”

“Perhaps you shall meet the woman of your dreams when you return from this journey,” Boromir suggested.

“Perhaps,” Frodo returned, although Boromir thought that the Hobbit feared it unlikely he would ever return to his homeland. Who could blame him, though, for such thoughts, considering where he was going and what he was supposed to do? Again he felt himself giving a shudder of sympathy, glad that he had decided he would go no further than his own land. Not for him to walk through Mordor!

Merry looked toward his younger cousin. “What I am glad of, Pip, is that I won’t have to wear the Thain’s Ring. It’s a heavy thing. How Uncle Pal can bear it I don’t know.” He looked at Gandalf. “Was that from the King’s son, too?”

Gandalf shrugged. “I am not certain. He did not give Bucca a ring or chain to mark his appointment as the Thain, merely the Sword. Although the Thain’s Ring might have been in the chest of treasure he presented to Bucca. There was some jewelry as well as a good deal of money in the chest he gave to the Hobbit from Bree.”

“You got to see what was inside that chest?” Pippin asked.

“Yes—I accompanied Holmwise to Hobbiton, and saw him give the chest into the hands of the widow of his closest comrade for her to use to help the families of those in the region whose loved ones had died in the defense of Arnor. Bucca proposed to do much the same with the similar chest of treasure he was given by Aranarth for those families from the East- and South-farthings. Thirty-nine brave Hobbits of the Shire died fighting the armies commanded by the Witch-king of Angmar; none was forgotten by Bucca or Holmwise.”

Sam had cocked his head at this talk. “How come a Bree Hobbit would come to the Shire?” he asked.

“His friend from Hobbiton gave him a holding he owned in the North-farthing. It was the least that Hobbit could do for the one who had chosen to follow him in the battles. Besides the chest of treasure Aranarth gave this Hobbit, who had been very valiant beyond the expectations of anyone, particularly beyond those of Holmwise himself, was an empty book in which to write his own story, although I never heard of such a volume in any of my visits to the Shire since that day.”

“But why would Hobbits of the Shire fight for the King of Arnor?” Boromir asked.

He was surprised when it was Pippin who answered him. “When King Argeleb the Second gave the land of the Shire to Marcho and Blanco, part of the agreement as recorded in the Charter written to mark that gift was that we would speed the King’s messengers through our lands, we would see the roads kept properly so that they should travel safely, and if the King should call for an army we would send forth a levy to his needs. Bucca of the Marish lived near to the Brandywine Bridge, which the King’s people call the Bridge of the Stone Bow, and he was the first to be advised that Arvedui needed that levy, and he asked for only forty who were willing to fight. Bucca was ancestor to both Merry and me—and to Frodo as well. After all, all three of us are descended from the Old Took, and Merry’s a Brandybuck besides.” The young Hobbit turned to ask Gandalf, “So, they had a levy from the Breelands also?”

“Yes, and more Hobbits voluntarily answered that call than did Men. Those from the Breelands mostly were sent southward to fight in Rhudaur and against the Dunlendings. I was told that this Holmwise bound himself to fight with the Hobbits of the Shire, who fought in the forces commanded by Arvedui and his sons, ending under the command of Aranarth in the last battles. Holmwise was befriended by one who’d come from Hobbiton, and they were almost inseparable, or so it was explained to me. Together they defended Aranarth’s mother Fíriel, and when his friend died in that defense Holmwise fought the harder in memory of the one he’d thought of as his Master.”

Is he deliberately avoiding looking at Sam? considered Boromir. Sam’s eyes were round with wonder. I think that somehow Sam reminds him of this Holmwise.

The Gondorian looked from one to another. He’d never thought of these Hobbits as possibly joining an army, but obviously their ancestors had done so and had fought with distinction. He tried to imagine Sam fighting in defense of their Fellowship, and had to smile at the idea of it.


Aragorn interrupted his thoughts. “I grieve that your mother died when you were so young, Boromir. My mother saw me well into adulthood, at least, although she had no heart to stand fast to see the final battles of our times. You, Sam, Frodo, Legolas, and I have known loss of our mothers, and Frodo and I have both lost our fathers as well. I pray that they will be proud of the defense we give to the Free Peoples of Middle Earth. I certainly have dedicated my sword and myself to do honor to the memory of my parents, and I would now include all of our beloved dead with them in that dedication.” He rose to his feet, and held his sword, its tip grounded on the earth before him, and the rest followed suit. “May those who have loved us ever find only honor as they examine our actions from this day onward.”

“May it be so,” the rest answered.

It was at that moment that Legolas joined them, a brace of ducks in his hands. “There is a pool not far to the south, and these were swimming there. It would appear that the winter will not long linger in these lands! But what are you all doing yet awake? I’d thought to find you all walking the path of dreams by now.”

Gandalf nodded. “Wise advice, Legolas. The rest of you, get out your bedrolls. The days grow longer, but the nights are yet longer than the daylight hours, and we will need to walk far tonight.”

But as the warrior set out his bedroll not far from where Gandalf laid out his own, Boromir could hear the Wizard murmuring quietly, “The pattern repeats itself. And if it come to a similar ending? What then for our beloved Sam?”

How Boromir wished he could plumb the depths of Mithrandir’s memories of those battles so long ago.


Gandalf speaks of characters and incidents told in "Stirring Rings."


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