Rosearwen Took was undeniably fair of face, and fetching enough (he supposed) in a primrose yellow frock with matching yellow ribbons woven through her long, dark braid. The darkness of her hair, he marked briefly, stood in startling contrast to that of her sister, Glorfinniel, whose golden tresses were very nearly bright enough to light the passageway. The Master’s stories had only just recently begun to make mention of the rare, silver-blonde hair that appeared now and then among the descendents of Samwise Gamgee, and even more unexpectedly in other, random families in the Shire, but Jamy had never seen it before today, and his first startled glimpse had been of Mistress Goldilocks Took’s bright crown of silvery-gold as she bent kindly to bid him welcome. Perceiving his open astonishment, Bo had quietly asked his opinion of this wonder, and he had allowed as how it was astonishing—bright as sunshine!—but admitted that he couldn’t quite cotton to it: the river-folk had ever been dark to middling russet and he was used to that and thought it far more natural.
"Aye." Bo nodded gravely. "Spoken true—not only as a river-hobbit but also as a Bucklander. We do not yet spin white gold in the Eastmarch, though we have been known to serve up a fair golden honey from time to time. Berry is one such; I wonder if she and Tom will have children gifted of the Lady? O! I’m sorry—you wouldn’t know. I mean to say a babe with flaxen-hair. The Gamgee-Gardners say their fair-haired children come through the magic of the Lady—meaning the Elf Lady Galadriel of Lothlorien—who gifted Sam with the silver seed of the Mallorn tree."
Jamy nodded absently, his greater part of attention trained still on Rory as he slipped smoothly in amongst the Took cousins, intent upon his sweetly feminine objective. Eager and completely unabashed, the young Brandybuck had gained Rosearwen’s side through a series of agile, eel-like maneuvers and subsequently, by virtue of an excessively ingratiating smile, garnered her somewhat bemused attention. Jamy’s eyes narrowed censoriously.
"Disapprove, do you?" Bo’s slow smile might have signaled mischief to an older lad than Jamy. "Well, I understand your feelings, lad, but have patience with him; he’s just been caught off his guard. He’s not seen his lass-cousins since they all of them began to come into their teens, and sure you can see that one’s come a very pretty lass."
"Aye, but she’s a lass!" Jamy glowered. "And he’s no tween, that he should have any truck with lasses. I don’t!"
"Hmmm—well, I’ll agree he does seem to be getting a bit ahead of himself," Bo said, glancing at Rory with a thoughtful eye. "But I’ve observed that ladies can prove a distraction at any age. My brother set his heart on his lady long before he saw his majority—and now that I think of it, so did my mother set her affections upon my father in the same way, early on!"
Bo frowned. These were proving to be issues of interest to him now where once he had dismissed as frivolous and inconsequential. "Perhaps it’s something to do with Bolgers?" he murmured, more to himself than to the boy, and for a moment he wandered with his ancestors, far away in his mind. "Bo?" queried Jamy, noticing his distraction, and with a start he remembered himself and tried to pick up where he’d left off:
"Well don’t fret, lad, for Rory is a Brandybuck, and he’ll be back soon enough, once we get down to business here. There’s nothing like a wedding to remind a lad that his days are better spent in games!"
"Huh!" said Jamy doubtfully.
Bo chuckled silently, then moved to spring the delicate trap he had set in the offing. "But see here, Jamy Bucket—who are you to talk? I doubt I am the only one who saw you staggering out to the waggons but a day ago with Ella’s bags, and so deep in conversation with that lassie that you never heard Rory calling you back! And you but fifteen, lad! Pot and kettle, eh?"
Jamy flushed red to the tips of his ears. "It’s nowise the same thing!" he whispered fiercely, looking furtively about to be sure no one else was looking or listening. "That’s just manners, if you want to know!" He drew himself up indignantly. "You can’t stand by like a great lump when a lady needs her bags stowed. Don’t you think my Dad taught me better than that?" He smiled then, his feelings overrun: "Besides, Bo, she’d made the best picture of the Lyssa, and it was so fine I had to tell her so!"
"Oh, I see how it was then," Bo said, patting his shoulder in a grave and fatherly fashion. "I saw that picture, too, and it was very fine! I think she means it as a gift for your father when he returns to the Barway." He coughed delicately. "I’m sure she was much obliged for your help though, lad, dainty little creature that she is."
"Lasses need help sometimes," Jamy said virtuously, apparently oblivious to Bo’s sly good humour. His brow darkened yet again as he observed that the ladylike Rosearwen had been forced to gently, but firmly, deny Rory’s amiable attempt to draw her arm through his. "Huh!" he muttered scornfully. "What’s that fool on about, anyway? She didn’t ask him to hold her up!"
Bo cleared his throat hastily to suppress a snort of outright laughter and managed for mercy’s sake to murmur sympathetic solidarity of opinion as soberly as he might. But inwardly, his heart stirred as thoughts of his own dear lass, so newly come back into his lonely bachelor’s life, sprang up now in his restless heart and head. He wondered how long it would be before the Buckland train arrived; Tansy was travelling with them and he was very much looking forward to tucking up her arm on as many long, rambling walks among the wild rhododendrons as they could fit in while they were here; often he had heard Uncle Peregrin maintain that the Green Hills Country was the most romantic in the Shire—there was no better time than this to see if it was true!
Save us, but he’d nearly ruined himself, devoting his youth to tramping about, and then removing altogether to his work and the woods, and obstinately oblivious to the passage of time! And then there had been the shock of his mother’s sudden failing health and his father’s subsequent agony of loss—such distress as had driven him even further into the wild so that five years had come and gone before the females of his family had seen just how fearful he had become of offering up his heart to any lass, lest it be broken just as badly in the end. Now he thanked the stars that Cammy and Berry had judged their brother’s heart filled to the brim with love a better bargain than a cold and empty shell, and that his father had given his vigorous—if underhanded—blessing to the domestic conspiracy that brought Tansy back to him. She had been so sweetly and wisely forgiving of his idiotic fears—just as his mother had been of his father’s so long ago. Odd that he had followed the same path, and just as unintentionally: was that a Brandybuck trait, then? Here were the ancestors again! He wondered if his grandfather Saradoc had led Esmeralda Took the same sort of merry chase. Upon reflection, though, he doubted it. The Tooks were not renowned for their patience in such matters. Very like it had been Grandmother Esme who managed it all—and Grandfather Scattergold, ever amiable, had been well content to do as he was told!
Bo longed exceedingly (and privately, in view of Jamy’s current disposition) for the comfort and completion of Tandy’s pretty hand in his; well he knew what a difference she would make in his life, when his father and Uncle Peregrin had departed for good and they were all of them left alone in the Shire, the commonplace children of extraordinary fathers, and heirs to a land, now as of old, bereft of Heroes and a people who were none the wiser.
Privately, he had dared to hope that the old Knight of Gondor might have preserved a smallish bit of the legendary troll he had felled before the Black Gate of Mordor. If Eirien could successfully extract from the Master the promise of an oliphaunt bone from Gondor, it stood to reason that such things might be had, and so he dreamed that a remnant of troll might be tucked away somewhere in the Thain’s collections. Ardently he had hoped for a finger—or better yet, an ear!
His hopes were dimmed in short order, though his parameters were expanded hugely. Stepping eagerly over the threshold of the room with Bo, he was instantly swept forward into the middle of the place by the folk coming hurriedly up behind, a fortuitous circumstance as it happened, as it meant his first view of the Library was from its centre, and thus all-encompassing. He pulled up short in the curve of the sumptuous tea table—in actuality several long, curved, linen-covered tables matched to the arc of the cushioned window-seat that partially encircled the room and provided seating, with extra chairs set along the outside of the board—raised his eyes and kept raising them, catching his breath in sharp surprise. Slowly he rotated in place, staring up and down and side-to-side, open-mouthed. "Save us!" he murmured. "Save us—where’ve I come to?"
"Astonishing, isn’t it?" Bo said quietly, appearing quite suddenly beside him, the shameless Rory now in tow and looking nowhere near as chagrined as he ought. "Not at all what I expected the first time I saw it. You wouldn’t think to find it in the Shire, would you?"
But Jamy, gaping, could find no words to reply. Nowhere to be found in this extraordinary room was the sweeping curiosity and artless exuberance that would forever characterize the Master’s study at Brandy Hall. Here was something disquietingly different, something all unlooked-for in relation to the daring, impetuous and decidedly Tookish Thain Peregrin I. It was not in Jamy’s power to accurately define what he saw—and indeed, there were very few hobbits who could do so—for though it was a strange and compellingly beautiful chamber, it was not at all hobbit-like in character. Distinguished by a preternatural sense of order and the unmistakable patina of alien antiquity, the Thain’s library was a setting as polished and elegant and unlike the Shire-at-large as it was possible to imagine.
The chamber itself was large, even for a hill-delving; it was also round, and vertically cylindrical, a design unprecedented in Jamy’s experience and —had he but known it—most of the Shire’s as well, notwithstanding the hobbit propensity for circular windows and doors. It was remarkable in other ways as well. The elegant, darkly paneled walls rose two floors to meet the great dome of polished burl, and a ring of casement windows set in above the startling, circular upper gallery filtered the light in soft rays from the outside world into the space below. Jamy had often admired the decidedly eccentric skylight built into the Master’s chambers at Brandy Hall for stargazing, but these lofty windows seemed to him to be part of a far more deliberate design than the Master’s unconventional fancy.
The pale shafts of afternoon light that slanted down into the cool shadows of the library bathed the space about the long tea table in a golden mist of radiance that spilled softly into the shadows beyond, and the whole of the chamber was further brightened by the soft glow of sunlight that came in through the long sweep of narrow windows that made up the curve of the eastern outer wall. These were framed in graceful casements, carved in the Elvish fashion Jamy had first seen in Estella Brandybuck’s picture-book and edged with mossy velvet draperies—a symbiosis that served to strengthen the strong impression of otherworldliness that grew in the mind as one looked about. The effect was completed by the window-glass, which was faintly, luminescently green—and whether that was intrinsic to the glass, or a reflection of the leafy private garden that opened out beyond it, was difficult to tell.
No miniature forests grew here amid a jumble of notebooks, nor did any stony-eyed owl preside over arcane inventories of seed and feather; here instead was an archive of awe-inspiring dignity that spoke to a very real, and startling, solemnity of purpose. The dark upward sweep of the walls was filled from floor to gallery with handsomely carved shelves which held a great many leather-bound volumes and rolled-and-ribboned parchments, carefully labeled and reverently placed in a way that, even to the simple river-child, spoke to treasured collection rather than heavy use.
In addition to the books, the library presented an intriguing collection of relics as well. In the tall, narrow, glass-fronted cases tucked in here and there along the lower walls, and mounted on the heavy wooden columns that rose to the ceiling, Jamy’s darting eyes took in small tapestries, crumbling maps and several bits of polished armour; a shield and bow inlaid with gleaming silver and gemstones; a dagger with what looked to be a crystal blade. There were also to be seen some small pieces of gold and silver jewelry; two ancient-looking battle flags; and a tray of antique drinking cups, all of different sizes and shapes, and fashioned of gold and silver and thick, coloured glass. All this he registered in one sweeping glance; he did not doubt there was more to see, for there were many drawers and cupboards in the cases where things could be hidden away. But the whole of it shimmered like fairy-gold to Jamy, who sensed rather than recognized the rarity of the Thain’s acquisitions, and their delicate, somehow numinous aura of significance.
Thus it was that he found himself swept away, transported before he knew it from the tangible reality of the moment to a startling interface with the past that even the Master, with all his powers of storytelling, had not managed to conjure before now. He shivered, feeling awed and solemn but otherwise undisturbed in his mind, and looked about, wondering if the source of the strangely comforting reassurance he felt was somewhere in the shadows. And he found it before long in an intriguing little alcove just inside the door: a tiny sitting room that he knew at once was the Thain’s place in this otherwise extraordinary chamber.
The little sitting room enclosed a small hearth and was in every way a reflection of Thain Peregrin as the Master had made him known to Jamy: a hobbit of warmth, humour, high station and profound sentiment. Mindful of his place, the boy, as was his habit, once again came to quarters, locked his hands behind his back as he had been taught to do in places not his own, and looked about hungrily, eager to see all that there was to see.
On the wall above the chimney-shelf hung a familiar artifact: a duplicate of the High King’s sealed and beribboned parchment on the Master’s wall, this one bestowing upon ‘The Thain of the Shire—all the Rights and Responsibilities of a Counsellor of the North Kingdom.’ Beside it was fastened up a split-leather banner worked in black and silver with the sigil of the Tree and Seven Stars Jamy remembered from Mistress Estella’s pictures as the standard of Gondor, the seat of the High King where Thain Peregrin had been an honourary member of the Tower Guard from the days of his youth.
But the old campaigner was first and foremost a hobbit, and he had not forgotten it: his little hearth reflected the contents of his heart. Indeed, a very interesting collection of objects was scattered across the chimney-piece and tabletops below. A clutch of small silver frames held pride of place on the mantelpiece, portraits of four tousled children and a beautiful lady-hobbit with dark hair and a heart-stopping gaze of dark periwinkle blue: these must be the Thain’s family, Jamy guessed, peering at them with interest. The young quartet was now grown to imposing adulthood—he had met them in the drive!—but they were still in all recognizable, and he smiled to think the young Thain Faramir, so handsome and proper in his address, had once been such a wild and carefree child as was captured in his little portrait.
He was sad to think that the family’s lady-mother was now departed in death, just like his own. Still, he was drawn to the image of the Thain’s lady, so delicate and starry, like the rare blooms that he sometimes came upon in the wild beside the dark, secret pools of the leafy backwaters, so much more exquisite in colour and detail than all the other flowers that might be found nearby, as if they had pushed up through the soil from some other world altogether. He could see that Mistress Amethyst, whom he had lately met (Geron having introduced her as his mother) was very like the Thain’s lady in form and colouring—and come to look at her, the lass Rosearwen was as well—but neither had the same mysterious look in her eyes, nor ever such an enchantment as the smile upon her lips.
There were also on the chimney-shelf two small wooden stands, each holding an article of significant craftsmanship: one was a beautiful pipe, bound around with fine-wrought silver and tipped with a pearl mouthpiece (surely he had seen its twin among the Master’s things?), and the other was a dark leather cylinder, stopped at each end with a small bronze cap that was studded with bits of polished stone—lapis, carnelian and jade. The cylinder was encircled by a similarly ornamented band of bronze attached by a short chain to one of the end-pieces. A scroll case! Jamy realized, eyeing it speculatively. He had seen some plainer, more utilitarian versions at the Rangers’ station down at the Ford, held in reserve for messages that must be carried in one direction or another. This one, so embellished, must shelter a document of considerable consequence; he wondered what it might be, and whence it had come.
At the far end of the shelf was a tall glass jar that looked like a fall of water. It was filled with an assortment of stones and pebbles and wrapped round in what looked to be the remnants of a fringed woolen scarf, very old and thin in the weave. A very small, deeply polished wooden box was tucked into the folds of the ancient scarf; a vine of leaves was carved into the side panels.
The stones were of many colours—green, black, yellow, red and several shades of brown—and they did not look as if they had come of the Shire. Some of the stones were round and smooth, like those that came from the River, while others were rough and gritty or sharp-edged and striped in different hues. Perhaps the Thain had gathered them on his travels?
Two chairs, old but stately and softly well-upholstered, with footstools to match and flattish pillows at the backs, were drawn up before the little hearth and there was a side-table next the larger chair where a tea tray with all the necessary crockery, utensils and durable provisions lay comfortably within reach. Another wooden box, this one quite large and even more intricately carved than the smaller one on the mantle, with softly coloured dyes rubbed into the fine, polished relief, lay on a shelf below the tea tray, and edging close enough to catch a glimpse, Jamy caught his breath, for upon the lid was a scene of riveting familiarity: a two-masted ship of cunning design, framed in the entrance of a great harbour and heading out toward the open Sea. He knew in an instant where and when he had seen that ship before, and his heart leapt with excitement. He vowed to ask the Master as soon as was decently possible what was in that box, for he could not imagine that the vessel on the lid was anything other than the ship that had taken the greatly esteemed Frodo Baggins away into the West—and if in fact it was, then whatever lay within must be something precious indeed!
He had no chance to ask about it then, however, for the folk were beginning to take their seats and the Master and Thain Peregrin were beckoning him to a place set between them at the head of the table. He hesitated, flushing with discomfort at being singled out in the midst of so many noble strangers, but once seated he raised his eyes to see that no one seemed to mind; indeed, just as it had been at Brandy Hall, he seemed to excite a considerable amount of friendly curiosity. Geron and Gardner waved from their seats and several little lasses smiled at him; even Gardner’s older brother Per, whom he knew to be Thain Faramir’s heir, grinned and nodded pleasantly.
And so it was that, once the obligatory time and attention had been given over to making enthusiastic inroads on a really splendid tea, and Thain Peregrin had several times over importuned him to tell his "quite unusual" story, Jamy was obliged to tell the assembled company something of himself. Shy at first, he nonetheless warmed quickly and naturally to his subject, describing his life on the River, his father’s unexpected triumph on the Barway, the odd set of circumstances that had led to his surprising friendship with the Master of the Hall, and the exciting visit to the King’s Rangers that had followed his appointment as the Master’s Envoy on the River. The group listened to all of this with close, if not breathless attention, and when Jamy was finished Thain Peregrin flashed a brilliant smile at the Master and clapped his hands together in delight; a cheer went up along the table, accompanied by the musical clatter of spoons upon the drinking cups.
"Well done!" cried Geron and Gardner, who had listened to Jamy’s adventures with great interest and enthusiasm, and a chorus of other young voices rose along both sides of the table in echo of their admiration: Hurrah for Jamy! Hurrah for Captain Bucket! Hurrah for the Barway!
"I wish we had a big river," opined one of the little lads from Long Cleeve. "I want to go in a boat!" Surprisingly, it was Rory who answered him (seemingly recalling, at least for the moment, the singular joys of boyhood). He leaned forward, grinning madly, and with considerable relish said, "Oh no, you don’t, Paladin—wait till you hear about the River Woman!"
"What?!" cried the little one, his eyes widening. "Who is that?"
At a wink and a smile from the Master and an eager nod of encouragement from the old Thain, Jamy then obligingly recounted the shivery river tale, adding as he progressed a few horrendous embroideries he had not had time to stitch in at Brandy Hall. The response to this was very gratifying indeed: shudders of horror and delight ran round the table and there were cries from the littlest children of "Ho, I shouldn’t want to go on the River NOW!" and "Mummy, she can’t come up on LAND, can she?" and one and all agreed that river-hobbits led a tremendously exciting life for Shirefolk, even taking into account various legendary Tooks. And if there was any judgment of life on the River itself, of the sort Jamy knew to be usual among the land-locked hobbits of the Shire, it was not expressed in this company. The Tooks appeared to be unusually open-minded.
Then Rory, with a furtive, sidelong glance at Rosearwen, who was seated some distance away, told the story of how he and Jamy had "almost singlehandedly" saved the village of Haysend from flooding by breaking down the deadly weir (under which the River Woman had most certainly been lurking), and Geron and Gardner, aghast at the opportunities available for adventure in the Buckland, disgustedly deemed their own experiences hopelessly provincial in contrast and demanded of their fathers, as soon as might be possible, an extended visit to the Eastmarch. Rosearwen, who had bid Rory farewell at the door without looking back, looked at him now with a thoughtful smile, and the veriest hint of a blush could be seen to stain her cheek. Glorfinniel, sitting across the way, observed this and nudged her cousin Peridot Proudfoot, who had also seen; the two of them wrinkled their noses at one another and made girlish sounds of revulsion behind their hands. Jamy, observing their disgust, nodded with satisfaction—but only to himself, for he had no wish to be taken up as an ally by any strange lasses, even if he was in wholehearted agreement with their views!
Thain Peregrin left the impropriety of his young folk to their assorted parents, being yet charmingly distracted by the novelty of Jamy’s company, and as conversation went on again up and down the table, he leaned over to speak privately.
"I’m told this is the first time you’ve been away from the shores of the Brandywine, lad," he said, glancing brightly at the Master, who was watching the two of them with a quizzical smile. "I must ask: how do you like the Shire away from your River? And what did you think of the Hut? We built it, you know, Merry and I. It’s quite a useful stopping-place, I think, though there are still some folk who think it’s too eccentric by half!"
"Oh, aye, it is that, sir!" said Jamy cheerfully, for he found himself quite as much at ease now with the Thain as he was with the Master. "But I liked it fine! ‘Ship-shape’ is what my Dad would call it, and for sure it reminded me of our boat, with everything latched down and below decks like. And climbing up into the—the loft, is it?— is like going up on deck on The Lyssa, though of course there’s nothing but sun and stars overhead there." He pointed upward. "I see you’ve another loft here—I like it! The Master said it was you made sure the one at the Hut was set about with rails. That was good thinking, sir. We do the same on the boat, so’s people don’t fall off!"
The Thain nodded seriously. "I have slept in some strange places in my life," he said, his eyes lighting with memory, "mostly when I was young—in boats, in the saddle, in countless verges, and on an Elvish flet high up in a mallorn tree—save us, but it was beautiful: someday you must see the one at Hobbiton, lad! — and while I took most of it in stride (in the spirit of adventure, you know) I confess my fear of tumbling off that flet in the middle of the night was so real it has never really left me, despite all the years that have passed since then. I don’t mind a room upstairs—we’ve never fussed much over such things here at the Smials—but I like it to have walls! So that is why there are rails at the Hut, and here about the Library loft as well. Fairly innovative, if I do say so—Hoy! But here I am going on about myself when what I really want is to hear what you thought of your overland journey to the Green Hills Country! How do you find the Shire beyond the River, lad? And what do you think of Great Smials here, as compared to, say, wee Brandy Hall?"
"Huh!" growled the Master, lifting a satirical eyebrow. Beside him, Bo laughed softly, his dark eyes warm with affection and amusement.
"Well, sir," Jamy said, considering. "Not so long ago I’d have judged it beneath me to spend much time ashore. Truth to tell, we river-folk can sometimes be scornful of land-hobbits, on account of so many live with their shoulders to the plow and are ruled by the seasons coming and going—which don’t add up to any kind of life as we see it, since we’re free to walk the decks and follow the River as we please, even when there’s ice in the shallows and snow on the banks. "
"I quite understand," said the Thain, again with great seriousness, which had the effect of overlaying his bright, playful countenance with a good deal of gravity and his words thereby with considerable import. "As a general rule, Shirefolk think much the same of the Outlands—that is, the King’s lands beyond the Bounds. I know Merry and I did too before we came to know them better."
"Aye, sir, and that’s what I mean to say! Now that I’ve traveled some away from the River, well, I can see there’s something to be said for a bed of soft grass, and the sweet taste of spring water coming up cold out of the meadow, and acres of orchards where you can take a damson or an apple to hand right off the tree anytime you like"— ("Hmph!" snorted Mistress Pervinca over the rim of her teacup from her seat on the Thain’s other side—she had done with the costermonger but was ruffled yet from the ordeal) — "so what I’ve learned is that every place is as good as the next, like, and has a reason to be, and ought not be scorned just on account of it’s different from everything I ever knew."
"You’re a wise fellow!" observed the Thain, smiling even as his eyes widened in surprise. "It’s not every hobbit sees a new place or new folk so tolerantly. So, then, tell me what you think of the Smials, young traveller!"
Jamy could not help himself; he laughed heartily. "Oh, save us, sir! Who could imagine this place? Why, I think I was struck dumb for close on a minute when first I saw it and tried to make out what it was! I never saw such a place in all my life!"
"I would not be overstating matters much to report that his hair actually stood on end at his first glimpse of the place," the Master said wryly, tweaking one of Jamy’s curls.
Thain Peregrin chuckled. "I felt much the same when I first saw it as a child," he confided seriously. "Little did I know then that I should come to call it home, or that I should so grieve to leave it when the time came! But my father was a farmer before he became the Thain, and our pleasant little smial in Whitwell might have been a beetle-hole by comparison! The only thing I’ve ever seen to match the Smials was an anthill of appalling proportions over on the Downs outside of Michel Delving. Brandy Hall has always seemed to me a far more reasonable approach to accommodating one’s relations—" He paused, nodding toward the Master. "But then, Merry has no doubt told you that Brandybucks are far more practical than Tooks!"
"Not to mention less numerous!" the Master said dryly, winking at Thain Faramir across the table.
The old Thain suddenly turned his attention to pouring out a cup of tea from the special teapot that had earlier been set beside his plate, and Jamy’s eyes sought the Master’s in distress. Had he done wrong? He regretted deeply now his casual reference to folk who were slaves to the plow and the growing seasons; he had had no idea that the Thain himself was a son of farmers! But the Master only smiled and shook his head, as if to say his friend had neither marked the gaffe nor taken any offense.
"I have always found the Great Smials quite cozy despite their proportions," he said now conversationally, as the Thain stirred a good-sized spoonful of honey into his tea, nodding pleasantly. "I have had my own small apartment here since I was a tween, and I always feel right at home. You will, too, lad; it’s just a matter of forgetting that any given passageway may stretch half a mile and open on to half a hundred separate residences!"
"Half a mile!" Jamy gasped. "Half a hundred in one passageway! How many folk live here, then?"
"Oh, hundreds and hundreds!" said the old Thain brightly, turning back to take up the conversation once again. "I don’t think anyone knows for sure!" He took a sip of his tea with the dutiful air of a child taking a tonic and then leaned back in his chair, solemnly contemplating the remainder. He seemed to sigh a little. Jamy saw Mistress Pervinca glance anxiously in her brother’s direction, and only then did he remember that Thain Peregrin was critically ill and would only be really well again when he was far beyond the Shire. He had quite forgotten it till now, for the old Thain—like the Master—seemed remarkably fresh and resilient for all his years and infirmities.
The aged Thain tipped up his cup again and drained it to the dregs. "Well, that’s done," he said to no one in particular, and then he looked at Jamy and smiled. "Now then, lad, I should like you to tell me what you think of my Library. I saw you looking round with the most astonished expression!"
Jamy sought the Master’s eyes uncertainly, but his elderly friend said frankly, "Go ahead, lad! Never fear to ask or say what you will to me, or to the Thain. Curiosity pleases both of us."
The Thain confirmed this. "I should not ask your opinion if I didn’t think you had something of interest to say," he said, and added kindly, "I see questions in your eyes."
Jamy flushed; he had not thought his internal judgments were so obvious as that. "Well," he said slowly, "—and begging your pardon, sir, if I say anything amiss—but, well, I guess it’s not what I expected."
"Really? Not at all? How is that?"
"Well, I thought it would be more like the Master’s study, sir. Meaning, full of things you like, things that could tell folk as might look in what you’re about. But, well—it seems to me that you’re only just there." He gestured toward the alcove that sheltered the little hearth, the pictures on the chimney-shelf, the wall with its images of Gondor, and the shelf with the carved wooden box. "That’s you, I think, but the rest of it—well, the rest of it feels like the way storm-light sometimes changes the way the world looks—do you know how that is, sir, when the sunlight changes color and seems to come from nowhere you know, and everything looks so strange that you feel like you’re in some other place than where you are? This library—it’s like coming on another world, isn’t it?"
The Thain glanced at the Master and then back at Jamy and the slow smile that lit his face and eyes transformed them to such a remarkable effect that Jamy blinked in surprise: the Thain, like the Master, it seemed, also had a special smile that made him seem more lad than ancient venerable; here yet was another eager boy, looking out from an aged face, and this one somehow very like himself!
"How very perceptive you are," said the Thain, and there was something like a shade of wonder in his voice. The waiflike boy behind his eyes seemed quite delighted. "All that is gold does not glitter, I see," he said softly, and The Master made a sound like wistful laughter in his throat. Jamy looked from one to the other, but neither marked his gaze, they being fixed on one another, but presently the Thain said confidingly:
"I know what you mean about Merry’s library, my lad. I have always cherished it myself! It’s nothing short of spellbinding, and a perfect reflection of both Merry and the Shire-at-large. You have guessed right about my library, too: only a small portion is really mine, and even less reflects the Shire. But that is the point. It is meant to recall other, older times than ours—a world that came and went in this very place before we ever came to be, and a folk who faced their own tumultuous times with great courage. And while I enjoyed the designing and building of it very much, I must confess I did not choose its contents, save those that came of the House of Took. The rest was given to me in trust. Shall I tell you all about it?"
"Oh, yes, please, sir!" Jamy said, and several places down the table, Bo, Rory and Perhael Took, each of whom had caught enough of the old Thain’s words to fire their attention, leaned in to listen.
But afters were announced just then, and as if by magic, trays of tarts and teacakes in great variety began to appear, carried in by a bevy of plump little ladies from the kitchen. The trays were laid down at intervals along the table and the ladies then set about refilling all the cups and beakers. The Thain seemed to blanch a little when a bottle of wine was set down next his plate, and the Master reached over and deftly removed it, passing it on to Bo. Mistress Pervinca directed that the children should be served a special treat: the cold cider that had come that very day from Pincup. The Thain, brightening, asked if he might have a cup as well, which of course he could. The cider was very cold and very fine, and Mistress Pervinca went very pink in the face when the Thain gave a funny little toast to her ingenuity in procuring it.
It was soon made clear to Jamy that here at Great Smials the arrival of afters betokened a time for tales, for once the dessert plates were filled the younger children’s voices rose, calling for afterstories. The adults declined gently, nodding toward Thain Peregrin, who was hosting the affair, and indeed the old hobbit was already rising to speak, a tall figure wreathed in the filtered glow of afternoon sunlight drifting down from the casements above the loft:
"Well," he said, smiling round, "Now we come to it. I confess I asked to take tea here today for a special reason. I wanted to tell you some things about this library of mine, so that all of you will understand why I made it, and why you must help to care for it when I am gone. And when I say ‘you’ I mean all of you old enough to understand what I am about to say, and to assume responsibility as I hope you will."
Round the table there was a stir of surprise and curiosity. All eyes turned to the aged Thain.
"Of course it is no ordinary Library," he said with a shake of his cottony head. His smile was pensive now. He sought out the curious gazes of his children with a shrug that might almost have been apologetic. "I know some of you must have guessed as much," he went, "but I think if you did you chalked it up to the adventures of my youth and the eccentricities I have been known for all my life. Don’t feel badly if you did; I wanted it so, until such time as it was necessary to bequeath the whole of it to you. Merry knew, of course, and your mother. I wrote out a paper—in case I should not be able to tell you myself—but as it happens, I have lived to tell the tale, and so you shall hear it from my own mouth."
The Thain lifted his hands as if to embrace the library chamber. "This place," he said solemnly, "is a gift, a collaboration, and a sacred Trust—one I have guarded these thirty years or more since it was built—and when I am gone it shall be the honour of this family to guard it, as I have done: for the King, and the Shire, and even— should any dark days follow upon these peaceful ones—for Middle-earth itself."
The old Master leaned back in his chair, a cup of wine held lightly between his hands, his keen blue gaze resting with undisguised affection on the Thain’s tall, slender figure. A tender smile lifted the corners of his mouth, even as shadows of memory gathered swiftly in the dark blue depths of his eyes. He sighed and brought the cup to his lips.
Memory dimmed Thain Peregrin’s eyes as well, deep as the Master’s and just as old. He stood still for a moment, gathering his words, and Jamy felt a tug at his heart. What must it be like, he wondered, to have so many strange, distressing and thrilling memories crowding round your head? He himself was just getting used to knowing and observing things beyond his ken, and he knew most folk were content with far less consideration of such things as he. The average river-hobbit knew nothing in his lifetime but the boats and the River; the average Bucklander nothing but the predictable day-to-day tread of the Eastmarch—and so it must be the length and breadth of the Shire, each hobbit to his own place and the age-old traditions of his folk. What must it be like to have such a multitude of memories—so much feeling!—that no one else could ever fully understand, lacking the same experiences? It seemed to Jamy that it must sometimes make the two old gentlehobbits feel very lonely to be cut off from their folk in this way, just as he marked his father seemed now, whenever talk of the Barway came up. Small wonder then that the two old fellows met as they had done today, with such anxious scrutiny and thankful delight, as if each brought some indefinable comfort to the nature of the other. So many of the memories they shared must always be theirs alone.
If I go to the Barway when I’m old enough, I’ll know what it is Dad feels and why, and then he won’t have to bear it all alone, he thought. And I will go, as soon as ever I’m twenty!
The Thain’s voice held a note of quiet pride as he began to speak: "This room is made of memories," he said, looking round at his family, young and old. "Of places I saw both here and abroad during my early life—places of power and mystery that have stood witness to the long history of Middle-earth and the many brave folk who lived and died before us. You know these things are important to me. I looked on those places in wonder when I was young, and later I had a chance to preserve that feeling here. And I think I must have done, in part, for I am told by at least one person here that it feels like stepping into another world. And well it should, my dears—well it should!"
The old Thain smiled then, his eyes brightening. "I like to think my place here is treeish—do you think so? Ah! I made it so a-purpose, to conjure Wellinghall, which is the house of Treebeard the Ent in Fangorn Forest, the place where—when I was yet a tween and very far from home—I was compelled to make a very early start on growing up—aye!" he laughed, in response to their knowing smiles— "in more ways than one, and Uncle Merry here right along with me! It was a lovely place—far more open than this, of course—but I hope I have captured the feel of it, the sense of timelessness and order and ancient ways…."
The old hobbit paused, and a wistful flicker of longing crossed his face. "The pale light here is a-purpose, too, you know—for in addition to Fangorn, I wished also to remember Queen Arwen’s lovely Elvish gardens in Annúminas, and all the dappled green forest glens that schooled or comforted me as I made my way in the world—especially the musty Old Forest of Buckland, and the canopies of Caras Galadon in Lothlorien where the great mallorn trees grew to touch the sky, away beyond the Misty Mountains. Lothlorien is all but empty now, of course, but once upon a time it fairly glowed with the life-force of the Elves and the green and silver leaves of the mallorn trees, and the brilliance of the Lady Galadriel’s Ring of Power. Nenya, the ring was called, and Sam—who was the only one of us privileged, along with Frodo, to look upon it—said that it shone like a white star. It is gone away into the West now, of course, together with the Elves and Gandalf, and dear old Bilbo Baggins, and, of course, our beloved Cousin Frodo. But I thought to honour all these things: forests and ancient mysteries and magic and the lives of those who are lost to us now. I always feel as if I am visiting friends when I come here."
The hallowed name of Frodo Baggins caused the Thain to pause again, and thereafter he spoke more thoughtfully, and there was a glimmer in his eyes that had not been there before.
"It’s more than that, though," he said. "And now we come to the thick of it. This is, quite literally, a Took’s interpretation of the High King’s Library at Annúminas. The beauty, order, and tranquility of design that I attempted here is but an echo of what exists in that place, where the library is an actual building, round with a high dome, just like this one, but it is much larger and built of yellow stone that seems to glow from within. It is a place that is open to anyone who comes seeking knowledge—oh aye, there’s a story coming now—but I’m parched! Merry, do tell them something of Annúminas while I have another cup of tea—"
The Thain, seeming weary suddenly, sat down and poured out another cup of tea and the Master rose to take his place without comment, though Jamy was sure he felt something pass between the two. He looked anxiously at the Thain, but the old fellow only smiled sweetly and sipped his tea, seeming to listen as intently as the rest as the Master took up his narrative:
"The King’s Library at Annúminas houses a great collection of books," the Master said, by way of beginning in his own way: sharp and to the point. "They are the great Histories and biographies and genealogies of Middle-earth and they are among the greatest treasures of the World. This library at Great Smials is a replica of that one, and all the treasures in it—everything that has been deemed irreplaceable— have been copied out and placed upon these shelves. Why? For surety: that they might be found again, lest the King’s library be destroyed in some unforeseen cataclysm, and all that has ever mattered be lost to whatever new world might come struggling after."
There were soft intakes of breath around the table, and the faces of those old enough to understand what the Master meant by this reflected openly their astonishment and dismay. Jamy looked to the Thain, quietly taking his tea, and saw in his eyes a sparkle of mischief and what seemed to be a flicker of regret as well, as if the old hobbit had been happy keeping his secrets but found the anticipated act of relinquishing them harder than he had supposed it would be.
The Master was continuing his narrative. "You might ask, what might be found here?" he said, "and we should answer: are many of the great tales of ancient Númenor, copied out by the King’s scribes and bound by the King’s bookbinders and smuggled into the Shire in diplomatic pouches from Gondor. Here there are tales relating to the Kings of Arnor—Elendil and Isildur of legend—and more recent stories of the sword that was broken and re-forged for our own King Elessar a thousand years later. Here are lists of Kings and Stewards in the world of Men and all their family connections, and all that is known of the mysterious lands and peoples beyond the Reunited Kingdom to the east and the south across the Sea.
"Here there are maps of the Shire as it was long before these lands belonged to us—when Sarn Ford was called Sarn-athrad and the Men of Arnor had only just built the Bridge of Stonebows over Baranduin, which we call now the Brandywine River. And here, in our own interests, as might be expected, are the journals of the Old Took and eyewitness accounts of the Bullroarer’s triumph at the Battle of Greenfields—oh! and from not so long ago, accounts of the Battle of Bywater, in which the Thain and I played a small part. Indeed, The Roll itself—which, for you little ones, is a beautifully written list of all the hobbits who fought and, in some cases, died in that Battle to reclaim the Shire—is here somewhere, safe in a handsome leather scroll case. A copy of my own little book, The Tale of Years, is up in the loft, and I hope you will start with it if ever you begin to study the history of all that came before you, for it has a simple timeline you will find easy to follow."
The Thain, who had been sipping steadily at his tea, set down his cup now, and seeming much revived, nudged the Master with such a droll expression that most of the children laughed. The Master smiled and bowed and sat down, and the Thain took up the story once again:
"I’m sure you’ve noticed that are also some very old things in here as well as books," he said with a sweeping gesture toward the wall hangings and the glass cabinets with their arresting contents. "These are Objects of Antiquity, things that belonged to the folk who lived here in this land and elsewhere, long before we came to be. They were mostly gifted us by Lord Gimli, who had them from the Dwarf hoards—the Dwarves are excellent hoarders, you know, and a good thing, too! Some of these things they found hidden away in the earth, and some they said were given in payment for services, and some were actually given over to the Dwarves by folk who hoped they might be remembered through the things they left behind. I have been honoured to shelter these treasures for all these years—and by now you must realize that I have done so in the strictest of confidences, for that was the King’s wish. What we hold here, and it is considerable, we hold in secret, in trust for the King."
"In secret?" Young Thain Faramir’s fine, dark brows drew together. "But all of Tuckborough knows of your Library, Father, and some folk even speak of it from time to time!"
"They know I have books," smiled Thain Peregrin, "and a lot of what they think of as old, Outland rubbish. But never think they know or care what may be in these books, or what stories these rubbishy things can tell! Only three families in the Shire could have any notion of the importance of these things; the rest have little or no interest in any of it beyond the fact of its being yet another of my odd, Tookish fancies, good for a shrug and a laugh now and then. Listen, though! In the Outlands, it is also secret of great import, and only a few people there, very highly-placed, have been entrusted with the secret: the King and Queen and Prince Eldárion, the Princes of Ithilien and the Sons of Elrond, for as long as they choose to stay in Middle-earth. Beyond these, there is not a whisper of it anywhere in the world."
Thain Faramir sank back in his chair looking somewhat alarmed, and his brother Galen, who wore the Healer’s Stone, eyed their father with some consternation. "Sir—!" he began.
But the old Thain seemed to understand at once. "You must not think of this as an insupportable burden, my dears," he said earnestly. "Truly, I have found it ridiculously easy to cloak it in obscurity, in much the same way that all the treasures of the Old Took’s Room were ‘lost’ in plain sight for so many years because none of us knew what we were looking at. You’ve had no idea now, have you?" He laughed suddenly. "Why, that may be the solution, lads: if worst comes to worst, you can always bundle all of this back down to the Took’s Room and ‘lose’ it again for a couple of generations!"
Faramir laughed at this, too, but when he rose to speak his eyes were grave. "No, Father, we will continue to keep the secret. I am not afraid; only surprised to find such unexpected treasure in my custody. Never fear that we might fail to keep this Trust, or to make sure that those who come after us understand its consequence." He looked round at the children, his own as well as his nieces and nephews, all but the very youngest gazing solemnly back at him, each according to his age aware in some sense of the importance of what had been revealed to them.
"Well," he said solemnly, and Jamy marveled to look at him, for suddenly his face was lit from within, like the face of the Thain’s Lady in the portrait on the chimneypiece. "What have you to say to this?"
"We’ll keep it safe, GrandPer," Perhael Took said readily, coming to his feet and speaking as he often did for all the younger Tooks, and after a moment Bo said staunchly for Buckland (Rory having seemingly forgotten that he was the only Heir to the Hall present and mute on the subject): "The Masters of Buckland will also share and keep your secret, Uncle Peregrin, and ever help to guard it."
"The Gamgee-Gardners can be trusted as well," said Mistress Goldilocks, smiling, "even though we are many, and scattered to the four Farthings! Our Sam-Dad so loved this library, Father. He called it a ‘treasure box to keep all the best tales in’! That’s why he had our Pippin-lad write out The Thain’s Book, so you would have a copy of the best tale of all! I daresay he knew your secret?"
"Aye," said the Thain softly, glancing at the Master. "Sam knew." It was not impossible to fathom the meaning of that look; Jamy thought everyone must feel the measureless ache that passed between the two of them, missing their old friend who had himself gone into the West not so long ago. Suddenly he thought he knew what was in the beautiful box carved with the harbour and the Elvish ship.
"Here!" cried little Paladin Took from his place beside his mother, his small face blazing with excitement. "I want to hear the best tale! Will you read it out to me, Papa?"
"Aye, laddie," said the Healer softly, his eyes upon his father. "Someday. It is a very long story."
Thain Peregrin opened his mouth as if to speak, but before he could do so, a sharp rap sounded at the door. It opened a foot or more and an elderly hobbit looked in. He cast a quick, searching glance about the room, marked the location of the Thains—young and old—and made a quick beeline for them.
"Hullo, Will!" said Thain Peregrin, reaching out a hand to welcome him. "Is everything well without? Have a cup of tea and a sweet, won’t you?"
"Save us, no! There’s no time for tea now! Every apology for barging in, Faramir—er, Thain—er, you, too, Peregrin—but you’re to be advised there’s a great train of folk turning in at the drive. I think Buckland has come, for I saw the young Master of the Hall getting down—but if that’s all, Master Theo must have brought half the Eastmarch with him, for there’s a fair press of folk crowding in behind him. I think you’d best come see to it."
Thain Faramir and Goldilocks rose hurriedly, and the Master and Bo exchanged a puzzled look. "We had not so many as that in the train," said Bo, shaking his head and rising as well. "There must be more than one party arriving. I’ll come along as well, if you don’t mind."
"And I’d best get to work," said Mistress Amethyst, jumping up. "You go with Auntie and Faramir, Golden. I shall fetch the room assignments, and the cottage lists. Save us, but I’m glad we finished them early!"
"Aye, that will do, and we shall follow along behind," said Thain Peregrin, his eyes alight with pleasure. "Though now that Merry and I are retired," he continued with a roguish wink at the younger lads, "we shall make a more stately progress!"
"Speak for yourself," laughed the Master, pushing back his chair. "Let’s go!"
Thain Faramir turned to the table. "Buckland has come!" he said. "Let us go to greet our guests!"
"What in all the Shire?" Mistress Pervinca gasped, surveying the scene with alarm. "Has the whole of Tookland got the day wrong, then, and come two days early for the wedding?"
"I think," the Master said, squinting thoughtfully against the lowering sun, "that some of these may be Sam’s folk!"
Thain Peregrin shaded his eyes and nodded. "I think you’re right." he said. "Golden told me yesterday that the entire dozen of her brothers and sisters had pledged to be here to see Tom take Berry to wife—and each with a family, of course. It looks like most of them have arrived together!"
"Hoy! There’s Tom and Berry!" Rory exclaimed, grabbing Jamy’s arm in excitement and pointing far back in the throng. "And Mum and Ella and Eirien, too! See the little imp capering atop the waggon—I think she’s waving at us! Come on, then, let’s go!" And Jamy—surprised and delighted to find that in matters of Buckland at least, Rory was once again one of the lads—whooped happily and leapt off the porch behind him, the two of them racing toward the trees at the back of the park where most of the Buckland train seemed to alighting, and shouting for Bo and the Master to follow.
Goldilocks gave a cry of surprise. "Fair!" she said, pointing. "Look! It’s my folk from the Tower Hills! There’s Elanor with Rosie and Ruby and oh!—can all the little ones have grown into their tweens already? Look at them! And here’s Frodo-lad coming to meet us, as well! Save us, they’re all here!"
Sure enough, Frodo Gardner came striding purposefully toward them through the milling throng, as always the very picture of solemnity and quiet purpose, with Theo Brandybuck to one side, smiling broadly, and Fastred of the Fairbairns, Warden of Westmarch, keeping amiable pace on the other. The Warden was an arresting figure who was not often seen beyond the Westmarch, and many were the eyes that followed his elegant progress across the lawn. Faramir went forward eagerly to greet them, the elder Thain and Master strolling along behind, with Bo on the Master’s arm and Galen on the Thain’s. Goldilocks flew by the congregation of gentlehobbits with a wave, crying "Hello, my dears! I’ll see you soon!" on her way to greet her sisters.
They learned soon enough how so many people came to be in the yard: the Master of Buckland’s long procession had had a chance encounter at the Three Farthing Stone with the Gardners of the Hill, who were just setting out—also great in numbers, having collected relations from all over the West Farthing—and the two sets of travellers had gone forth together in happy procession, the Gamgee-Gardners delighted at the prospect of escorting their soon-to-be good-sister to her wedding. Then several hours later they had come upon the somewhat smaller, but no less exuberant train of the Warden of Westmarch, just turning off the Great East Road at Waymeet. They were in all nearly a hundred strong at this point, and a merry company they had made upon the road, chatting and calling and sharing food and drink and song.
"We looked a royal progress!" smiled the Warden, who knew something of those things. "And may I say, if there was anyone along the way who did not know before this that the Great Houses are celebrating momentous doings at the Smials in two days’ time, they most certainly know it now!"
"They send their best wishes, too!" declared Theo, embracing his father and brother with a wink. "I never would have guessed it, but it seems Gamgees, Gardners and Brandybucks are rather well thought of here in the Tooklands!"
"Theo," said Fair, seizing the young Master’s hand. "I cannot tell you how glad I am to see you! I think you are the only hobbit here who can fully commiserate with me, having been as ruthlessly catapulted to your new position as I have been to mine." He threw a sardonic glance at his father and the old Master, watching with their boyish smiles. "You and I are allies now in more ways than one, cousin; we must have a long talk while you are here."
"I think you must have read my mind!" exclaimed Theo, clapping his shoulder gratefully. "I was hopeful for just such a meeting!"
Frodo Gardner had taken each of the elderly hobbits by the hand. "Uncles," he said earnestly, "I must tell you: as happy as I am to celebrate the wedding that will make us all kin at last, I cannot help but feel the sorrow of your going above everything else today. I know you are called to go, just as my Dad was, but it feels like the end of all things to me. I’m afraid to think how we shall go on now."
"It is not the end of all things, Frodo-lad," smiled Thain Peregrin, warmly enveloping the younger hobbit’s hand in his own. "Only such things as have run their course and must naturally fade away. Hobbits are not so very different from the leaves, you know. And comes the time each and every one has to let go. But never fear, for every spring brings a new crop."
"No such crop as turned out The Travellers, sir—you and Uncle Merry and Dad and Mr. Frodo Baggins! Mind you are numbered among the Great!"
"We are," agreed the Thain. "But even the Great must move aside when time reminds them to."
"The Shire is yours now, lads," said Meriadoc the Magnificent, turning on the circle entire the same flashing blue glance that had stopped them in their tracks more than once when they were yet mischievous youngsters caught at playing pranks. They looked at him now in the same way they had then, still and silent, waiting on his opinion, but now their faces were writ with care and the passage of years, and all but the Warden’s were pale in response to their newly anticipated burdens of Destiny.
"Never fear," the Magnificent said softly. "For the Shire will go on for good or better as long as there are hobbits. Be honest in your dealings, and do what you know is best for every farm and meadow and hobbit in your care, and the Shire will flourish for you, just as it did for us. Of such acts as these, freely offered, is Greatness really made, my lads; you will every one of you know it in your time."
"But, Mummy—!" Erien protested as the new cover-up—a cunningly designed acorn brown linen manifesting Mrs. Theo’s dearest hopes of obscuring any more ravages of exploration this day—was slipped over her arms and twitched into place over her little green frock. "I don’t—!"
"You sit still, miss," Mrs. Theo ordered darkly as she buttoned up the back, "for now I’ve got to do something about your hair now! No, I shan’t brush out the tangles —there’s no time for that, and lucky for you!—but I think you had better wear your new embroidered cap for the rest of the day to cover the worst of it up! What a mercy I could find it in the trunk; it’s one thing to look a shambles while you’re travelling or playing on the riverbank, but it’s quite another in such a company as this!" She tugged a little brown linen cap embroidered with leaves and yellow daisies over Erien’s unruly mop of curls and tied the strings beneath her chin. "You will have to have a care for your appearance while we are here at the Smials," she admonished. "We do not want to discredit Papa now that he is Master, or embarrass Auntie Berry at her wedding. And we want to look our best for Grandfather these next few days. You will be careful, won’t you? Oh! Save us! What in all the Shire—Rory!"
A little shower of sugared tea biscuits fell into the grass at Erien’s feet and Rory and Jamy popped grinning out of the teeming park. "Mum! Here you are! And there’s the Daisy! Eri, we saved you some biscuits from our tea!"
"Save us, lads!" Mrs. Theo exclaimed, snatching up the biscuits and slipping them into the pocket of her travel duster. "And wasn’t that thoughtful of you! I’ll just keep them for you, shall I, Eri, at least until we’ve made our bows and got settled. Oh, all right just one! But nothing to drink! And mind you shake the crumbs out of your smock! Now, then, come here, lads, and get a proper welcome, for I’ve missed you these two days! There now! How are you getting on?"
Mrs. Theo looked them up and down in critical appraisal of the states of their hair and clothing, then embraced then both with smiles and murmured endearments and bestowed upon their burning cheeks several warm kisses of welcome each. "Mum!" Rory laughed, dancing away, but Jamy could not help but return a quick squeeze of affection before he was let go, grateful as he was to her for all she had done for him, and happy as he was that the family was all together now. It felt right now that everyone was here. But Mrs. Theo gave him a quick, searching glance as she released him, and suddenly fearful that he might have been too bold, he flushed and lowered his eyes, mumbling an apology under his breath as he turned away. He should have thought: regardless of the fact that he was to live now with the new Master’s family, there were undoubtedly proprieties he would be expected to observe.
This one, however, did not appear to be among them, at least so far as Mrs. Theo was concerned. She caught his sleeve and turned him round, smiling into his eyes. "Dear boy!" she said tenderly, and she reached to smooth a lock of his hair with her fingers, just as if she were his mother, or the gran he had never known. "I am so happy you have come to us."
Berry and Tom jumped down from the waggon to embrace the lads as well, their faces bright with happiness and the growing excitement of their wedding drawing near.
"I thought you came with Robin," Rory said to Tom. "Where is he?"
"Hightailing it to Whitwell," Tom smiled. "There’s a lass there, name of Honeysuckle Brownlock, that it seems he sets great store by. He’ll be bringing her along tomorrow to meet the rest of family."
"Berry!" said Cammy. "I’ve not heard a word of this! Robin in love?"
"Oh, save us, Cammy!" moaned Berry. "I only just learned of this myself! She’s been walking out with Robin for years, and he’s been waiting for us! I won’t know what to say to her. I wish now I’d hadn’t made Tom wait so long for me—!"
"Jamy," Tom said quietly, drawing him a little away from the others. "Your wedding gift—the shell—it’s a wonderful thing, lad! Berry is already looking for a glass box to put it in, and I—well, the Captain told me how you thought I might like to listen to it, so as to get a sense of where my Dad and Mr. Frodo might be, if they’re anywhere at all. Lad—I’d no idea such a thing was possible, and I can’t tell you what it means to me! My Dad used to talk about the call of the Sea, and he tried to describe it now and then, but I couldn’t ever imagine it, and I’ve never yet been able to go beyond the Tower Hills to hear it for myself. Thank you—I never thought to have anything the like of it to remember him by. It means the world."
Jamy smiled, pleased that he had done right in the matter of the shell. "I’m that glad, Tom," he said shyly. "I hoped it would be a right present."
"You’ll never know how much," said Tom fervently, pulling him into a quick, one-armed hug.
Ella jumped down from the carriage, neat in a travelling dress of brown gabardine belted over a soft yellow waist, her dark, silky braid wrapped and tied off with a sensible strip of buttery brown leather. Her green leather picture keeper was tucked up under her arm. "Hullo!" she said. "Did you have a good journey, then?"
"Splendid!" said Rory, throwing her a current biscuit or two (for it turned out he had rather a variety in his pockets). "You should have come with us! We got to sleep in the Hut and we were set-upon by highwaymen! And our lad Jamy is a Prince of the River now, if it please you. Save us! Did you have all these folk with you the while? How many are there?"
"What?!" she exclaimed, laughing in confusion at this hail of questions, tidings and biscuits. "Oh! No, we collected them along the way—some at the Threefarthing Stone, and the rest at Waymeet. Oh, and we met Tom at the gate just outside! They’re all his folk, did you know? Papa guessed our train must have been close on a hundred hobbits! But what do you mean, you were set-upon? What highwaymen?"
Rory and Jamy took turns telling the others about their meeting with Geron and Gardner in the road outside the Great Smials and of the Old Master’s very entertaining participation in the game that had resulted in their paid admittance to the Smials and Jamy’s questionable new identity. Tom and the girls found this very amusing, and Mrs. Theo did, too, though she did tsk every now and then, and in the end declared herself vastly relieved to have married a Brandybuck instead of a Took. "We may be considered a match for the Tooks by Hobbiton standards," she said archly, flashing round a twinkling smile in the same breath, "but no Brandybuck would ever think of being a highwayman!"
"Nor would a Gamgee neither!" said Tom stoutly. "Though I do mind we used to play at being Painted Oliphaunt Riders. Dad loved those beasties, even if he had to admit they were on the wrong side during the War, and he said so long as we were painted Hobbits and not Southrons, he could see fit to allow a few oliphaunts in the garden."
"I want to ride an oliphaunt, Uncle Tom!" piped Erien, released at last from her mother’s ministrations and appearing at his knee.
"Do you, miss?" said Tom, his eyes lighting wickedly. "Well, then, up you go!" And bellowing picaresquely, he swung her up upon his shoulders and trotted off around the waggons, Erien shrieking with laughter.
"Mind you brush the crumbs out of your hair when she gets down!" called Mrs. Theo.
"Oh, Jamy!" said Ella, turning to him with her eyes shining. "I nearly forgot! You’ll never guess what happened while we were yet in Buckland: we saw Captain Bucket at the Brandywine Bridge! We were just crossing over and I was looking off the side to see the water going by and there below was the Lyssa, and the Captain on the deck! I called to him and waved for all I was worth and he waved back! Berry and Erien and Mum waved, too, and Papa gave a salute. I fancy the Captain was pleased."
Jamy smiled to think of this, his smile broadening when he considered how the river-folk who frequented the docks at the Bridge might have reacted to the spectacle of Mat Bucket trading pleasantries with a train of gentry passing on the road above. How quickly things changed! I bet he had to buy a few rounds of ale that night! he thought with a chuckle.
"I wish I’d had my picture of The Lyssa with me," Ella said wistfully. "I could have tossed it down to him."
"Better you give it to him when you see him next than take a chance on the breezes snatching it up and pitching it into the drink," he advised, and a thready little shadow of sadness slipped into his heart as a memory of his father took shape in his mind: the day he had come back, and they had sat together on the river bank and cried over the fact that he must go back to the Barway, and sooner rather than later. He shook his head to clear it; he did not want to think about Mat leaving again until there was no hope for it.
"Hullo, cousins!" Perhael Took loped into the circle now, having been dispatched by Thain Faramir with messages for the Bucklanders regarding their eventual arrival at the Great Door, from which they would be conducted to the guest apartments and cottages set aside for them. Perhael was handsome, and earnest in his conduct, if a little out of breath, and both Rory and Jamy watched him admiringly, for while he was solemn in duty, he was yet easy and open in his dealings with folk, and his presence was naturally reassuring. Jamy noticed that even Ella seemed captivated; her gaze as she sized him up was very keen.
When Perhael had communicated his message to Berry and Mrs. Theo, he gave a sharp whistle, which brought several grooms on the run. "The road is nearly cleared," he said. "These fellows will lead your carriage down to the Door and drop you there with your things." He beckoned Rory and Jamy to help with stowing the few articles that had been removed from the carriage and were yet lying in the grass. They ran to help and soon enough the carriage was loaded, and Berry and Mrs. Theo handed up into it. Tom appeared to say that he and Erien, as yet still gleefully astride his shoulders, would be taking his waggon to the stables straightaway, and would meet the ladies there when they arrived.
Rory and Jamy and Ella elected to stay with Perhael and wait with the waggon until either the drivers or the grooms returned. The four of them clambered up while Perhael told them of the exciting activities planned for the next day, a busy one that included helping to lay out the wedding circle on the park lawn, taking a hike into the highlands for a picnic with games and stories, and sitting round a bonfire in the evening. Jamy, who had rarely, if ever, experienced these things in kinship with other young folk, listened enthralled.
"Save us!" exclaimed Rory, who had seen a few such occasions. "This is the best wedding party I’ve ever been to. What larks!"
"Aye," agreed Perhael, with a grin. "And then the day after tomorrow is the Wedding, with feasting and cake and dancing after. It should be a fine time."
"I should say!" said Rory enthusiastically, but he looked askance at Ella, who stood beside him gazing pensively across the park toward the Great Smials. "What’s the matter?" he demanded. "Don’t you think it sounds like fun?"
"O, yes!" she said, looking round. "It sounds lovely, Per!"
"But?" Rory pressed and after a pause she sighed and said, "I wish we need not say goodbye to our grandfathers at the end, is all."
"O," said Rory glumly. "That.I’d forgotten that this little while. Aye, you’re right, Ella; it won’t end so happily as it begins. I can’t believe he’s going."
"I wish he wouldn’t," said Jamy fervently, as yet another thin shadow of sadness spiraled through his heart. "But I reckon the Thain and the King away there in Rohan need him as bad or worse than we do now. That’s true, isn’t it, Per?"
"Aye," said Perhael in a slightly abstracted tone, his gaze having found the object of Ella’s attention. "I suppose it is true, though it doesn’t make it any easier. Hoy! Mark that!"
"Mark what?" said Rory, squinting.
"The lot of them there, altogether. Grand-Per and Uncle Merry, and my father and yours—"
"Oh aye, I seem them now. There’s Uncle Bo and the Healer and Mr. Frodo Gardner, too—but who are the others, Per? I don’t think I know them. They look very fine."
"Aye, that is the Warden of Westmarch," said Per. "My Uncle Fastred, and the lady next him is my Aunt Elanor. They are the Fairbairns of Undertowers."
"Elanor Fairbairn?" said Ella, her eyes widening. "O, Per, I should love to meet her! They say she is something Elvish—is that true?"
"Well," he said, his eyes still on the knot of gentlehobbits. "They say when she was young she was more elf-maid than hobbit in looks—very fair and fine she is, as you can see. But so is my mother, and they are not so much alike otherwise, so it can’t really be about looks. There is something different about her, but I couldn’t say what. My Uncle Tom Cotton says the Lady of the Wood sent a blessing on the wind before ever she was born, and maybe that’s what made the difference. And of course later she went to court in Gondor and served as maid-of-honour to the Queen…." His voice trailed away.
"The Queen!" said Ella. "O Per! Do you think she might tell us about the Queen?"
But Perhael’s abstraction had grown, and so absorbed was he in staring at the knot of hobbits in the drive that he did not appear to have heard her question at all.
Ella marked his preoccupation with a frown. "What’s the matter, Per?" she asked, and Jamy, who had been idly contemplating the dark curl and soft leather lacing at the end of her long braid, glanced up curiously.
"Save us!" muttered Perhael under his breath, as a growing expression of dismay took possession of his face, and Rory said sharply, touching his arm: "Per? What’s wrong?"
"Nothing! That is—oh, save us! Only look there!" He nodded at their fathers and grandfathers and uncles—the highest-ranking hobbits in the Shire—standing together, talking in the drive. "I—it just came to me—I just saw—all of a sudden it seems so real! It never did before, though I can’t think why—save us, Rory, can you credit it? That will be us one day: Master and Thain! Us!"
There was a moment of shocked silence. "Save us!" Rory said hoarsely, whitening in alarm. "Credit it? I never gave being Master a serious thought till just this minute! Save us, Per! But it’s true—I really will be Master of Buckland one day, when my father—" He stopped suddenly.
"And I shall be Thain," said Perhael in a stunned voice.
Jamy suddenly felt very much out of place. This was no business of his. The looming reality of birthright seemed to have struck Per and Rory powerfully and without warning, and the distress and uncertainty that engulfed them now was palpable—and personal. He took a step back, but Ella caught his hand. Her eyes were wide. Don’t go, she pleaded silently. Please.
Rory found his voice, strained and low. "Per, d’you think we’ll be all right when our time comes? I mean, we can’t ever be them!"
"No," said Per, taking his meaning so quickly that it was clear he must have been thinking the same thing himself. "I can’t see how we can ever hope to be like Grand-Per or Uncle Merry, but we have to, don’t we?" A shadow of pain crossed his face. "I wonder if our fathers feel the same?"
They stared at one another, truth doing battle with love and loyalty. "No!" whispered Rory, shaking his head. "No!"
Per said nothing at all, but tears sparkled in his eyes.
Ella dropped Jamy’s hand, and straightaway he missed the small warmth it had given him. But when he looked at her, her eyes were still beseeching him, and after a moment he thought perhaps he could try to relieve the terrible weight of the moment, for her sake if not for his friends’.
"Come on!" he said with a little laugh. "Why dread your destiny? It’s not everyone has one, you know, and it has to be more interesting to have one than not. Your fathers will do what they have to do, and they’ll teach you: you’ll know what to do when you’re grown and your time comes to say what’s what. And you’re in luck, too—for now you have a friend on the River! If being rich and important lies too heavy on your hearts now and then, why, remember you can always come away with me and take your ease for a time on the Brandywine!" He chuckled to see the looks on their faces: incredulous, but thawing. "And don’t think that I won’t welcome your good company, too, for all I shall be about when I grow up is sailing fancy-free on my own fair boat whenever and wherever I please!"
"Gah!" said Rory, waving resentfully and gazing with an air of gloomy consternation at the little group still standing at the center of the yard. But Ella’s eyes brightened. "I should like to do that someday!" she whispered behind her hand.
Perhael looked at Jamy. His eyes were the same spring green as the old Thain’s and just as reflective of his feelings. There was friendship there and, strangely, what looked to be concern. "But haven’t you thought?" he asked softly. "Haven’t you thought that the son of the first hobbit ever to attain the King’s Anchor will ever after have his own burden of proof to bear?"
Jamy started; beside him he heard Ella catch her breath, and Rory come back into himself with a gasp. "Hoy, Jamy!" he said, marveling. "I never thought of it that way! You really are a Prince of the River then, aren’t you?"
"No!" Jamy said quickly, scornfully, dismissing this heresy with a wave of his hand. But even he could hear how hollow it sounded. His father’s unintended triumph had changed them both, whether they liked it or not, and beyond it had most certainly changed whaeever future he himself might have hoped to have. Hadn’t he thought just today that one day he would sail down to the secret gate to discover the whole of his father’s legend and experience, and thereupon seek to match it, so that he might share in the otherwise unknowable memories and Outland obligations that his father must bear, and no one else to understand what it felt like? He had—but surely that was choice and never destiny?
Save us! he thought . Is that why Dad looks at me as if he was so sad and sorry somehow? Because the honour he’s won for me is so much greater than what he thought to save, and a heavier burden than ever he thought to leave me? But sure there’s nothing to it—there never was destiny on the River before!
But the thought of it pressed down on him now, just as the air of the woods at Brandy Hall had done when he first he had arrived in that strange and inscrutable place—another world altogether from the world of the River, different in shape and texture and colour and in the very air there was to breathe—and even as he trembled now he remembered how all his troubles had come right there, and he wondered if perhaps that was the way of destiny—that once a fellow agreed to set his foot on the path, it would take him wherever he had to go, and he would learn to do things he’d never dreamed of, just as if he’d always known.
It was Rory who spoke at last into the long, breathless silence: "Well, if our grandfathers could walk their paths all these years, and no complaints; and our fathers take up where they left off, in spite of how they feel, I expect we can walk our paths as well. But what would you think of—well, maybe we could look out for one another? Just as Grandfather and Uncle Peregin and Mayor Sam did all those years—maybe each of us could promise to help if one of the others should need it?"
"Rory!" said Perhael, his face brightening. "That’s a good plan! Let’s promise!" He slapped his right hand down on the waggon seat, and at his nod, Rory brought his right hand down atop it. Jamy hesitated, his heart beating even now a note of alarm at this sudden advancement of his place in the world, but Perhael said smiling, "You, too, Son of the River!" and so Jamy put his hand down as well. Then they repeated the ritual with their left hands for good measure, and in the end Perhael directed Ella, watching with a smile, to lay both her hands on all of theirs and seal the promise as their witness. This she did, and willingly, and Jamy felt strangely glad when her small hands—both this time—closed tightly over his, and, through his, over all the others.
"Remember your promise," Ella said gravely, looking round at them with her deep, dark eyes. "Look after one another."
"Save us, but there are a lot of people here!" said Merry, marveling at all the folk he had met earlier in the day. "I never imagined there would be so many—what was your plan, again? ‘Kiss the children and go’? We’ll still be shaking hands a week from Tuesday!"
"It’s all Sam’s fault," said Pippin complacently, licking drops of honey from his fingers. "When you have a baker’s dozen children, you are bound to have a great crowd of descendents. And all very handsome, too—did you notice?—though I never saw anything in hobbitdom to beat Elanor Fairbairn. She reminds me of something I’ve forgotten."
He took up his pipe again. "Of course, I’ve managed something of a crowd myself, I suppose, what with eleven grandchildren! I think you’re just used to fewer people about you, Merry, on account of Bo and Berry following your lead and taking so long to be wed. In any case, we’re used to having a great many hobbits here, so we’ve plenty of space and provisions."
"I wasn’t thinking of provisions, Pip; I was thinking of the multitudes we shall have to bid goodbye to before we can get out of here!"
"Well, most of it can be accomplished at the Wedding and the Party after. As for the children, never fear, Merry: our plan will go off without a hitch!"
"Says you! Aren’t you the least bit anxious, Pip?"
"No," said Pippin candidly, regarding him with a rather serious gaze through a fragrant haze of pipe smoke. "I don’t think going will be so difficult, Merry. I have waked to a number of days I thought would be my last, and have said my goodbyes each time I climbed to the highlands this past month or more. It’s not so hard as you imagine."
"Well, nobody knew you were doing it but you! I assure you, it’s an entirely different thing when everyone knows you’re saying goodbye for good and always, and not because you’re dying, either. Hobbits are not at all used to this sort of thing, Pippin; it’s awkward in the extreme! They’re very kind, of course, but still you get the feeling they resent the fact that you’re still standing on your own two feet and not even thinking about pushing up daisies anytime soon!"
"Poor Merry! But I heard your going-away in Buckland was a triumph!"
"Well, of course it was, but still, I think I’ve said all the goodbyes I want to say!"
"Only think of Sam, Merry," said Pippin. "Think of him saying goodbye to all those children and grandchildren, and all on his own, too! That was hard."
"Aye…though you notice he managed to avoid saying goodbye to us altogether!"
"Well, that might have been the hardest goodbye of all, mightn’t it?" said Pippin thoughtfully, and Merry thought of Sam’s farewell letters and of the story Goldilocks had told him of Sam’s parting words: Don’t you stand in their way! It’s no good meddling with destiny, and that’s what it will be, if they’ve heard the call, as I have.
Destiny again. The subject seemed to be on a lot of minds tonight. The lads had given him a pang, so anxious and earnest had they been in seeking him and Pippin out to talk for that little while. Well, Sam, he thought, we’ve heard the call, and no mistake. There’s no getting away from it, is there?
"I miss Sam," he said aloud. "I wish he might have been here for the wedding. I should have been proud to stand with him. I like to think he would have been pleased that our two children were going forth together; do you think he would be?"
"Yes, I think he would," said Pippin, a smile tugging up the corners of his mouth. "He’d have come quietly, too; marrying Goldilocks to Faramir pretty much took all the fight that was left in him! No need to fear Brandybucks when he’d survived the Tooks, after all!"
Merry chuckled, but Pippin was quiet for a long moment, gazing pensively at the fire in the hearth. At length he said, "Have you thought, Merry? None of us—not even Frodo—ever had to face leaving the Shire alone. Only Sam had the courage to go on his own. I can see him in my mind’s eye, coming at last to the Grey Havens and squaring himself to climb into a boat—of all things to be avoided!—so as to sail across the Sea! Brave lad! I hope Frodo was there to meet him when he came to shore."
"As do I, though it’s rather an odd thought, isn’t it, Pippin? It’s sixty years or more since Frodo went."
"I said as much to Sam once."
"Aye, and he said to me—wait now, let me see if I can remember—ah, there it is! There’s no knowing where Elves are concerned, Mr. Pippin. (He said to me.) And there’s no asking for explanations. How came Mr. Frodo and I to carry a star in a bottle, I ask you? How could a simple square of lembas-bread sustain us for weeks—hobbits, mind you, used to six meals a day, and no skimping, neither! How came my Elanor to be so fair—she and others besides—and the poor Shire to come roaring back to life that first spring after the Ruffians had spoiled it, thanks to a silver seed and thimbleful of dust from the Elvish lands? I ask no questions, Mr. Pippin. I’ve heard the call, and when I can, I’ll be following on!"
"Impressive," said Merry. "He lays it out fairly succinctly."
"I thought so, too. You understand now?"
"I think I do," mused Merry. "There’s nothing for it but to follow on, is there? And now we’ve had our call as well, Pip. Odd, though, that ours should take us in a completely different direction."
Pippin laughed. "Well, we always did seem to be going the other way, didn’t we, in those days?" he said. "But it was right that Frodo and Sam should go together then, and right that they should be together now." He took up his teacup and held it forth. Merry held his up to meet it. The old crockery chinked softly and they sat for a long moment in the silence of remembrance.
"I’m taking The Thain’s Book to Aragorn," said Pippin at length.
"I thought you might. I know he’s wanted a copy of The Red Book for years. And The Thain’s Book is a particularly beautiful copy, with Estella’s decorations and Young Pippin’s fine hobbit script. A Shire artifact, and no mistake, as Sam would say, and eminently worthy of the King’s house."
"It means there won’t be one here for the young ones to read, though. I’m feeling a little guilty about removing it."
"Don’t. The King desires it, and The Red Book is still at Undertowers, if Faramir wants to commission another copy. And who knows? Maybe it’s better told by the fireside for now. It won’t go for telling just because the book isn’t here. My lads and yours—and I daresay our daughters, too—can tell the tales until such time as a new copy finds its way into this Library. Frodo and Sam won’t be forgotten, Pippin, and neither will you or I—for a while yet, at least!"
"Well, that’s comforting," said Pippin. "Thank you, Merry. I shall speak to Elanor and Young Pippin tomorrow about keeping it in mind. And now I think we should drink to our journey. It’s going to be splendid!"
"It is, and I’m very much looking forward to it, Pippin," said Merry. "But right now I’ve got to see Berry wed, and I think I’d better keep my mind on that." He raised his cup. "To my only daughter, then, and to Sam’s youngest son—"
"—and to all our sons and daughters," said Pippin, raising his own. "May they be as blest as we have been, in family and in friends."