And Aragorn planted the new tree in the court by the fountain, and swiftly and gladly it began to grow;
and when the month of June entered in it was laden with blossom.

heo knelt on the cold ground beneath the Tree, frowning at the perished seedling his father had brought him to see, and trying to fathom how it could have happened that the great canopy had shaded the leaflet to death and soured and spoilt the earth so that nothing could grow there—so that even the Tree itself must expire in the end. The oddly suppressed passion with which the old hobbit had explained this lay uneasily on his mind: something was amiss, he thought. Theo watched surreptitiously as his father fussed at the exhausted soil with a little twig; the strange, bitter grief had faded somewhat now, but the remarkable blue eyes were yet dark with banked emotion.

From childhood, Theo had known that when his father’s eyes looked like this—when the blue fire was quenched and dimmed away to shadows—it was pain that made it so, that stirred the deep and silent well of grief that Merry Brandybuck had carried close upon his heart for all the years since the War of the Ring. No one but Uncle Peregrin and Mother had ever known its exact boundaries, but over the years the children had learned to recognize the well when it rose up and were wrung with quiet shame whenever they might thoughtlessly do something to call it forth; and even grown, their hearts grew nearly as heavy as his when the laughing blue gaze darkened. It didn’t happen often, but when it did it was momentous, Theo was fairly sure he had not yet heard the half of what had caused this. He reached for his father’s weathered hand. “What is it, sir?” he asked quietly.

His father sighed. “I never thought to see this Tree die,” he mused wearily. “I own I was completely unprepared for it, Theo, and as wrong as I could be in refusing your opinion yesterday. I am very sorry to have grieved you. It will have to be taken down, of course.”

This was no answer, but Theo was grateful to know the unhappy argument over the Tree was ended. He said easily, “Well, there’s plenty of time, Father. Tom says it’s a matter of years, perhaps, before there could be damage to the Hall.”

His father prised the lifeless stem carefully from out the earth with his tough brown fingers and regarded it with remorse. He put it in his pocket. “No, lad, it must be done soon. The sooner this calamity is set to rights, the sooner the soil can be sweetened and a new Tree set to grow. I shall hate to see such a legend come to ashes, but there, I admit it: so all life comes in time, one way or another.”

Theo looked tenderly at the crown of his father’s snowy head, bowed sorrowfully over the child of the Tree. He said quietly, “Whenever you like, then, Father,” and prepared to rise, but the old hobbit reared his head sharply to look at him, and Theo checked himself in dismay at the hard frown that met his startled gaze.

“Sir?” He drew back hesitantly, but his father only grimaced and shook his head irritably, clapping a hand on Theo’s shoulder to steady himself to his feet. “This won’t do,” he muttered, and turning away he commanded gruffly over his shoulder, “Come with me!” Silent and wondering, Theo followed him from out the cool, dark cover of the Tree and across the path to the bench where the sunlight lay warm on the stone and the grass was thick and sweet. His father eased himself down onto the bench. “Sit down, lad,” he said.

“Father, what—?”

The blue eyes flashed despite the open well of pain. “Theo, this can’t continue!”

He shook his head in confusion. “Sir?” he said helplessly.

His father’s expression softened then, in sympathy, it seemed. “Dear boy,’ he said kindly, taking Theo’s hand, “Mind I said this wouldn’t be easy for either of us. I thought perhaps to say nothing, but I see now I cannot. What has come amiss here must be set to rights.”

Theo sat down. “Yes sir, but I don’t understand,” he said. “I think we are not talking about the Tree, but what is the matter, then?”

His father sighed heavily. “I know it is not our custom here in the Shire,” he began, “to speak too deeply of what lies upon our hearts when they are full; and most times I would agree it is better to say less than we mean. But sometimes, when it is very important that we understand each other, Theo, we must be sure to say enough. I grant the fault for this is mine, but I must open my heart in this matter, and I would be grateful if just this once you would open yours as well.”

Theo hesitated. “Of—of what are we speaking, sir?” he asked cautiously.

“Of yourself, lad,” said his father. “Of the very reluctant future Master of Buckland.”

Theo shrank into himself, mute with dismay. His heart contracted in shame, as it had when he was a child and knew he was in some way responsible for the pain that darkened his father’s eyes.

“Shall I tell you how much it grieves me to see you hold yourself back,” his father said, softly now, “to know how easily you can be induced to relinquish your wise and considered opinions to mine upon the instant I set myself up as Master—even when I’m far and away in the wrong, or have no business giving an opinion in the first place? Theo, I have always had faith in you, but I own this has disturbed me.”

Theo bowed his head. “I beg your pardon, Father,” he said a little stiffly.

Very gently his father said, “Won’t you tell me why this is, lad?”

Theo flushed. “Sir…,” he murmured.

“Just this once, Theo. I promise you, I’m about to do the same.”

With difficulty Theo looked up to meet his father’s steady gaze. “Faith!” he muttered anxiously, feeling both obligated and ill at ease, but the unwavering expectation in his father’s eyes was too compelling, and in the end he sighed deeply.

“I—I am not like you, sir,” he began haltingly, in a tone of deep mortification. “The stars could answer to how hard I have tried, but….” He shook his head with embarrassed regret and looked away. For a moment he was silent and then, with a wry smile, he said quietly, “Meriadoc the Magnificent is Master here, sir; for such an ordinary fellow as me to thrust himself between The Magnificent and his folk is both presumptuous and foolish—”

“Plague take me for the fool!” growled his father. “That I did not see this before today is quite the worst thing I have ever done! I beg you will forgive me, child—for I guessed it at the last, and I do mean to make it right.” He took the lifeless seedling from his pocket and held it forth. Theo frowned.

“The Tree and the Master are much alike, Theo,” his father said, “each a guardian and a testament to the long history of the Brandybucks of the Hall—and in my case, each of us ‘Magnificent’ in his own way.” He sighed heavily. “It was Magnificence that did this,” he said, tenderly turning the dead seedling over on his palm. “The shadow of Magnificence wearied this child of the Tree to death, and one just like it—my own!— fell across your path and has made you doubt yourself—you, who are a Master in the making, Theo, and a son to be proud of!”

He shook his head, grimacing. “This tag, ‘Meriadoc the Magnificent’, speaks to who I was perceived to be long, long ago, but it was never meant to deny my son his birthright or his honour. No tree or hobbit’s grandeur should reach so far as to blight his child, Theo. I feel I am as guilty for these feelings of yours—which never ought to have been!— as the Tree is for the death of this little one. It is my own shadow that has hindered and harmed you, and I am so sorry—I did not know!”

Theo stared, aghast, and then he seized his father’s hands. “No!” he said with strong decision. “No, Father. You’ve done no harm to me. It is true that I could wish to be more like you, but never think that you have rendered me unable to stand for myself when the time comes that I must.” He folded his father’s fingers around the tiny plant. “Listen now,” he said gently. “Whether you like it or no, Father, I have loved and admired Meriadoc the Magnificent for all of my life, and it has been many years now since I came to know I could not hope to equal your measure. I make no complaint, though, for I have no cause to. You have been a kind and loving father, and all the inspiration I could ever hope for.”

He paused, then met and held his father’s gaze. “If ever I have shamed you by my conduct, sir, please believe I never meant to, and if I have held my peace when you expected otherwise, I beg you will forgive me, for I only ever meant to honour you, who should be honoured for as long as may be.”

The aged blue eyes shimmered, darkly wet. His father laid the seedling aside and stroked with trembling fingers the dark curls that fell across Theo’s brow. “But you do me too much honour, my lad,” he said in a low voice, “if you diminish your own light to reverence what is left of mine. I would have you believe in yourself now, regardless of how you believe in me.”

Theo regarded him shrewdly. “Is that why you told us about Uncle Freddy last night?”

“It is,” nodded the old hobbit, “for I know what worries you most, Theo. Outside of Sam Gamgee, there never was in the Shire a steadier fellow than Freddy. You must never think my high adventures and tributes were any more honourable than the wretched months he spent starving in the Lockholes for leading the Rebellion. There’s a rare kind of courage attends a fellow like that who rises to the occasion when all he wants is a quiet life—and that’s what ‘more Bolger than Brandybuck’ means to me, lad, if so be you’re chewing on that old hide yet: handsome courage. Your mother had it, too. You remember her, and Uncle Freddy, if you ever have cause to doubt yourself in this silly business of Bolgers and Brandybucks again. It doesn’t mean a straw and never did; you can never do anything but make me proud, my boy.”

Theo flushed scarlet at this, and tears quite unexpectedly pricked his eyes. He had never considered the fact that his father might have heard that bantering taproom talk from here and there in Buckland, but the expression on the aged face now seemed to say that the Master had known of it and dismissed it out of hand as long ago as Theo had taken it to heart. “You—you knew of that, sir?” he asked in a low voice.

“Of course I did!” his father said with feeling. “But I never thought you’d listen to a lot of drunken fools, Theo. Follow your own heart, lad, and mine if you must, but don’t set store in any such thing again, eh? Never think Buckland won’t take to such a modest Master as you may think yourself to be, coming along after Meriadoc the Magnificent. They’ll have you tagged in no time at all, and love you with all their hearts—and not just because they won’t have to crane their necks to meet you eye to eye, but for all the sense and steadiness you’ve shown them all your life.”

Theo laughed softly, and his father’s eyes brightened. “Have we said enough, then?” he asked, and, brushing a sleeve quickly across his eyes, Theo said, “I think so, sir. And if advancing my opinions will give your heart a rest, I shall dispense them freely from here on out!”

“And I shall be delighted to hear them!” his father chuckled, and then with a little sigh he took from the pocket of his coat the leather packet from Rohan that Jamy had brought downriver the day before. “Now I should like you to read the letter from Rohan,” he said, giving it into Theo’s hands, “for it bears upon what I must say to you next.”

“Faith, you are full of business today, Father!”

“I am that,” the old hobbit said comfortably. “Get on with it, now. There’s much to talk about!”

Theo nodded, looking down at the letter in his hand. Like Jamy and his father had done before him, he ran his hands appreciatively over the soft leather, tracing gently the ribbons and seals, and perceiving faintly the captured scents that drifted with it. He brought it to his nose and closed his eyes, inhaling curiously. “Here indeed is Rohan!” he murmured faintly, surprised. His father nodded silently.

Theo had been to Rohan once, when he was barely come into his tweens, traveling with his father and Uncle Peregrin and Master Samwise, who brought also their oldest sons. Faramir Took and Frodo Gardner were with them, and also Fastred of Greenholm, who was goodson to Master Samwise by reason of his marriage the year before to Frodo’s sister Elanor. Together they made a delegation from the Shire to the white halls of the High King in Gondor, who was pleased to give over his holdings in the Westmarch to the Shire and to appoint Fastred the Warden of the new lands. The Counsellors of the North-kingdom had deemed that their heirs should witness this solemn occasion and be made known to the King and the lords of Men.

It marked the first time any of them had been separated from his brothers: Theo had parted from Bo reluctantly, for though there were four years between them, they were close within each other’s hearts and had never been apart, learning the manners and byways of Buckland together, with no thought to who came first or second. It was different in Tuckborough, where Fair Took and his younger brother Galen had eight years and two sisters between them. Exceedingly fond though they were, in the sweet way of Uncle Peregrin’s children, they had ever been on separate paths: Fair next the Thain and Galen keen to follow the arts of Healing, liked his mother’s folk in the North. Galen held an amiable peace in the matter of his brother’s trip to Gondor, for he had been promised a year of study with Elven healers in Rivendell when he came into his tweens. As for Frodo Gardner, he had six brothers, two of whom were very close behind him and of a far more exuberant temperament than he, and six lively sisters as well. Frodo was glad of the quiet, and of the time he had now to spend with his father, who, while always tenderly affectionate, seldom had the luxury of attending with complete attention to any one of his children at a time without at least some of the others standing by.

The Shirefolk had been warmly welcomed to the White City and though the younger lads were at first shy of so many tall folk, they soon enough grew accustomed to looking up at everyone, or, more to Theo’s liking, stepping up on chairs and benches to make conversation, as Master Sam put it, “eye to eye.” In Minas Tirith there was much interest in “the land of the Halflings” and Theo marveled that wherever they went folk came out to meet them and to be remembered to the hobbits of the Fellowship who had for so many years been beloved of the White City. “I deem we do not know our fathers so well as we think,” whispered Fair Took when his parent was hailed with a deafening round of cheers in the mess of the Tower Guard; and Frodo Gardner, who was older and mostly solemn, grinned despite himself as he watched his father pacing the parapet in merry conversation with the High King, “Well, will you look at that?” he murmured, “He’s gone and forgot to be serious and proper for once—and it looks as though the King has, too!”

On the return trip they turned off the North-South Road in the Westfold of Rohan and made their way south into the hills to Édoras, and there they were welcomed by the King of the Golden Hall. Éomer King, though old to their young eyes, being weathered and white-haired, was yet a handsome man, with a fierce brow, and he rode an alarmingly large and spirited horse. He met their fathers with a fond shout of delight, and when the lads from the Shire bowed respectfully before him, he said with frank admiration, “The Shire is blessed indeed to have such lads as these to place the hopes of future years in. We have all of us been rewarded in our sons, have we not?”

The King’s son Elfwine stood beside him, tall and proud, and to him they bowed also, though he was young—close to Frodo’s age—and had not yet the bearing of a king, seeming to them more like the common Riders they had met in the yard. Indeed, he was a Rider, and his younger brothers, too, but afterward he came privately to Frodo and Faramir and Theo as they looked about the Hall and, taking a low stool—so that he might be eye to eye—offered each of them his hand and a promise of friendship. “For are we not all of us the eldest sons of kings,” he said, “and should we not pledge our bond as well, against the years that are to come?” And when they protested the accuracy of this pronouncement, explaining that there were no kings in the Shire, but only the Thain and the Master and the Mayor, the young prince of the Horse-lords shook his head and smiled, saying, “Never fear I mean to mock you, but I know a king when I meet one, even if he is half my size! Whatever they may be called in your own land, your fathers are held as princes in the lands of Men— not ancillaries, but lords in their own right—and so I deem that you will be, too!” And they had pledged continuing friendship before their fathers, and Theo, who was the youngest and most forethoughtful, had departed from Édoras with a sense of wonder—and no little trepidation—when he reflected that in the lands of Men beyond the Shire his father was held an equal in company with Kings, and that one day he would be expected to replace him.

He drew the letter from the packet and setting the soft cover aside, spread the fine, folded sheets of parchment. There were several, covered with the king’s tip-tilted scrawl, and he read them slowly and carefully, for he knew from Bo that his father had been much moved by what Éomer King had written there. He guessed also that herein must lie a clue to his father’s seeming strangeness of mood—some concern that the King had brought home to him and that his father now would have him understand. Theo saw the connection right enough in Éomer’s concern for Elfwine, but not the relevance; still, his senses prickled oddly as he scanned one line after another, until at last he came to read the king’s desire, sweetly touching, to see his father again. This he read twice over, with deep and painful misgiving.

Come to us in Rohan for this little while….Theo bit his lip: a hundred and fifty leagues, at least, and two weeks in the saddle! Save us, the Master of Buckland might not believe in old age, but surely he could not escape the fact that he was a hundred and two years old! The relatively easy trip to Tuckborough was an undertaking; he could not seriously be thinking of making such an expedition as this?

Theo glanced up from the letter. His father had risen and was walking back and forth along the path. Now he stopped and turned to look at his son; his face was as open as a boy’s and something in his expression said he was deeply sensible of Theo’s foreboding. For an instant, something very like sympathy flashed in his eyes. Save us! He means to go! Theo thought, dropping his eyes to the page again. He braced himself—We can’t stop him— and looked up again, tapping the page on his knee.

“Please tell me you do not mean to fall upon your sword, as the king allows those fearsome men of the East must do,” he said, smiling just a little.

His father laughed cheerfully and came to sit beside him. “Alas! By now my sword is too blunt to cut anything but teacakes,” he declared, “and I should think a button could turn it from my heart! In any case, Theo, you know I could not do it. Such Eastern ways are not for hobbits, or for the Men of the West.”

“I cannot think they are for anyone, but I am glad to hear it you say it, sir,” Theo said sincerely. “You lay at least one of my apprehensions to rest.”

“Have I done, lad?” The old hobbit cast him a deep blue glance, thoughtful and deliberate. “And have you others?”

Theo hesitated for a moment. I can’t stop him.

“Do—do you mean to go to Édoras, then?”

“I do, lad.” He might almost have been sorry, so gentle was his tone.

“Father, such a journey!”

But his father said, shaking his head gently: “Éomer is dying and begs me come, Theo. He has been my friend for over sixty years. I cannot refuse him this. And only think: if I do not go, I will never see him again in life!”

Theo sighed and nodded. The friendships his father and Uncle Peregrin and Master Sam had made so long ago in the Wide World were powerful. Even long years and the leagues that separated them had not dimmed their ardor; letters came and went with considerable regularity and the memories they recalled of time spent together might as well be of yesterday. He and Bo—and Faramir and Galen Took as well—had all been named in honour or in memory of Men their fathers had met and grown to love beyond the Bounds. The banner of Rohan hung in Brandy Hall, and his father yet wore gear upon which the sigil of the Horse-Lords was woven. There were a number of books in the library—many written by his father—that recounted the histories of Rohan, its kings, and customs and language. Merry Brandybuck was as bound to Rohan as he was to the Shire, Theo realized, and Éomer King might as well be family.

Smothering another sigh, he asked, “How long will you be gone, sir?” and then, figuring quickly in his head, as was his habit, he answered for himself:

“I should think a year at least, wouldn’t you, assuming the king sees true and his strength fails at the last in winter as he foresees? You will be obliged to wait for the thaw before you can come home again.”

His father shook his head sadly. “In truth, I haven’t thought past going, Theo. But I’m off to Tuckborough in the morning to bring the matter before Uncle Peregrin, and I daresay we shall work it out together.”

“You mean to take Uncle Peregrin with you?”

“Oh, yes, indeed. I can’t go without him!”

Theo wondered silently what Faramir Took would say to his father riding away to Édoras at the age of ninety-four. He vividly recalled, as he knew Fair would as well, the wide plain that spread out on either side of what was left of the North-South Road, the great highway that had been laid down by Men of ancient times, reduced now to a pale, wandering string through the bleak, unpopulated lands that lay between the Shire and the Gap of Rohan. They had followed it home to Sarn Ford at the end of a pleasant summer on that trip long ago, but he thought that in winter the great flat expanse would provide little or no shelter from the weather, and he did not like to think of the two old gentlehobbits bent against a bitter wind, trying for home. He doubted the Tooks would either.

Even more than the younger Brandybucks—who were actively hampered in their efforts to watch over their father by his obstinate refusal to accept any limitations of age—the Tooks were stoutly protective of their elderly parent. And the Thain, cheerful and hardy and not at sword points with the passing years, had been quite content for some time now to allow his young folk to look after him as they saw fit. Theo wondered what the Tooks would think of this mad scheme to go adventuring so late in life—not that Tooks would blink at adventuring, but Uncle Peregrin was getting on.

“Pippin will come,” his father said with quiet certainty, as if to himself. “He needs a change; a little trek will do him good…” and Theo thought suddenly that, in truth, he could not hold out much hope for the protection of the Tooks after all, for no one had ever been a match for the combined wills of Merry Brandybuck and Peregrin Took, and it was doubtful that would ever change. If Thain Peregrin agreed to go to Édoras with the Master of the Hall, no argument would prevail against them for long.

His father stood up, suddenly restless. He took a quick breath and blew it out, straightening his shoulders and scratching the back of his head. He took a few steps on the path, then turned back. “Theo…”

Theo grinned, despite himself. “You’ve something more to say?”

His father nodded gratefully. “Yes, lad. I shall want you to take up the Hall.”

He was not surprised at this, for he had been expecting it from the moment his father had admitted he meant to go to Édoras. Further, he was inclined to think that this was for the best, for it had occurred to him that in this way his father would not have to see the Tree fall.

“But certain, Father,” he said. “I shall look after Buckland and the Hall while you are away, and never fear I shall make both your will and my own known at need. Before you go, we can make a list of everything you require me to do—”

“No.” His father lifted a quelling hand and his tone made Theo pause uncertainly. “I do not intend that you should care for the Hall in my absence, Theo. I intend to make you Master before I go.”


It seemed to Theo that suddenly he could not speak. The single exclamation came out in a strangled whisper, and echoed strangely in his ears; there was an unnatural silence, as if all the sounds that gave meaning to his life were suddenly hushed. What?!

His father drew himself up, a tall and lordly figure still, made all the more so by his snowy mane and the imposing lines of character that seamed his aged face. Theo saw that his flashing eyes were dark as indigo, and many fathoms deep.

“Éomer was right,” he said, his mouth twisting in a slow, sad smile. “While he and I seemingly go on forever, our sons are wasted and denied their rightful legacies. I mean to retire, lad. I mean to put all my lands and titles into your hands and make you Master of Buckland before I leave the Shire.”

Theo stared, his face utterly blank with astonishment. He had never been so staggered in his life. He did not know if he had heard correctly; he opened his mouth to speak, found himself without words, and closed it again.

“I mean to do it, lad,” his father said, and there was no sign that he might not, for he was speaking calmly and purposefully and the deeps of his eyes shone with a powerful determination. “My shadow has loomed too large here for too long. You must be free to come into your own now—with nothing and no one to stand in your way.”

Theo found his voice at last. “Father!” he gasped, profoundly shocked. “I have never asked this of you!”

“No,” agreed the old hobbit, gazing at him fondly. “I ask it of you, Theo. I ask you to take up your inheritance now, while you are young and strong and more than ready. It is a good thing, lad; you should not have to sit idly waiting for me to die.”

“Save us, Father!” cried Theo, thoroughly appalled and not a little indignant. “Don’t say that!”

“Éomer has said it,” his father said impassively. “And I think it bears repeating.”

“But—I—I am content to wait!” Theo protested. “This is not Rohan, sir! It has always been the tradition of the Hall that the young Master should take up his duties when the elder was—” he stopped and had to screw up his face in order to get the words out: “When—when—the elder was—gone, sir!”

“And so I will be gone!” said his father triumphantly, flashing his boyish smile. “Oh, but, listen, lad, be clear: tradition isn’t the law. There aren’t any laws for aethlings in the Shire, ‘bestowing crowns from out our tombs’, as Éomer says. The Shire has only a long tradition—and one that has never yet had to account for a fellow like me! And while Aragorn and the kings of the House of Elros may be privileged to choose the hour they will sleep, the rest of us, I’m afraid, are served without notice and must plans as we are able.”

He took the pages of Eomer’s letter from Theo’s nerveless hands, cast a swift glance over the last, and tucked the letter away in his pocket with a pained expression. “Oh, Theo!” he said sadly. “How bitterly Éomer suffers from tradition, as if death were not enough! I could not bear it—I cannot! Please!”

“But, Father—!” Theo’s senses, overturned, were too stunned for speech.

“Theo,” his father said abruptly, with a look that suggested he was not happy to say or even think what came next: “I am old. I don’t own it very often, but I can’t think you will argue the point with me. And it’s come to me quite suddenly that I must make the best of whatever time is left to me, and I suppose, if I’m honest, I must admit that it may not be very much time at all. I mustgo to Édoras for Éomer, and there are some other things I must be about as well, I think, though I don’t know as yet what they are. You are more than ready to be the Master of Buckland, Theo. Do this for me! I want to see you settled and full of yourself and in your rightful place before I take the road. I want everyone to know you’ll be looking after Buckland—with my blessing—once I’m gone.”

It seemed to Theo that he heard in this alarming speech resonance of a deeper and more painful truth than his father was perhaps yet able to express. His heart was fearfully wrung by the thought of it, but he thrust his fear away for the moment, for suddenly he could see his way clear, and his father’s way, too. Slowly he came to his feet and the sun, rising in its leisurely arc above the forest, angled through the leaves to settle a quivering shaft of light on the path where they stood now together. With gentle dignity he took his father’s aged hands in his and kissed them reverently. “You’re quite sure?” he said softly, tears brimming up once again in his dark eyes, and his father nodded: “Yes, lad. If it please you.”

Theo bent his head and closed his eyes, bracing deep as a storm broke over his heart and the tears spilled down, slipping treacherously from beneath his lashes at the thought of how much he loved his father, and how hard it would be to let him go. He lifted his hand to brush them away and quite suddenly there came to him the thought of Uncle Fredegar, who had defied convention in needful times and addressed those needs with handsome courage, despite every personal inclination to the contrary. He lifted his head and met his father’s hopeful gaze. “All right, sir,” he whispered, and the Master of the Hall gave a glad cry and gathered him into a warm embrace.

“The stars shine upon you, lad, and no shadow loom again!” his father exclaimed, pride and delight shining in his face. “You’ll do fine!” And Theo, knowing the stars to be an Elvish blessing, and silently acknowledging that he must all too soon bestow it upon his wandering parent, bowed his head to his father’s chest and wept his heart out on the glittering silken waistcoat.

“That’s all right,” said the retiring Master of the Hall, patting him kindly on the back. “It’s what comes of saying enough. I know it was hard, Theo, but I think we’re quite the better for it, don’t you agree?”

They sat for an hour or more, deep in conversations Theo had never thought possible to have with his father, and then they walked up the path to the Hall together, hungry and hopeful of finding elevenses spread on the table in the study, for ‘saying enough’ was proving a famishing business.

“What must we do now, Father?” Theo asked, feeling still a little shy of all that attended his father’s grand and unexpected bequest. “Surely there must be some sort of ceremony we need conduct to transfer the titles—to make all this right for the Shire, I mean?”

“Oh, I shall nip over to Michel Delving while I am at Tuckborough and collect the proper documents,” the Master said lightly.

Theo laughed. “Father! There are no proper documents! Recall: the Shire has never yet had to account for such a fellow as you—I think you will have to explain all this to Nick and see what he can make of it.”

“Never fear,” the Old Master promised. “I shall have it all in hand when I return. In the meantime, from this moment we are both Master of the Hall. But I feel I shall be very distracted for some while, so you are free to conduct business in whatever way you like, lad; I promise you, I won’t interfere.”

“Will you give me advice if I ask for it?”

“But certain, lad—though something tells me you won’t need it.”

The old hobbit smiled his bright, boy’s smile and Theo’s overmastered heart warmed and ached at once to mark that upon his father’s face had come a flush of gladness such as had not been seen for the better part of five years, when so much of his pleasure in life had passed quietly away with Theo’s mother.

Faith, he’s found his peace again at last! Theo thought in a wonderment of gladness and sorrow while a hard lump rose in his throat. But it’s a long way to Édoras and back, and his years are all but spent. I wonder if he knows yet that he won’t be coming back?