Frodo stood upon the white marble steps which
led up in a lazy spiral to the Citadel of the King of Gondor.
But he did not climb. He sat upon a bench and put his chin
in his hands and pondered the strangeness of the journey he had
just endured, from Edoras to Minas Tirith. Invisible hands
were indeed shaping his path, and still he still was no closer to
He had set out with the Riders of the Mark,
who were delivering a phalanx of horses to the King of Gondor,
for the use of his guard. One hundred fair horses, led upon
tethers by an Eored, accompanied Frodo, or rather he accompanied
them. They had also two waggons bearing gear and tackle,
and tents and supplies. They followed the East Road.
Frodo rode in contentment, happily engaging one
rider or another in conversation, in common tongue or Rohirrim,
as the rider preferred. Frodo enjoyed their rough humor,
very much like that of his own kind. However, their speech
was courteous, at least to Frodo. Sometimes they rode singing
their strong songs, which spoke mostly of seas of grass and great
battles past. Frodo itched for parchment and quill, to write
down the songs he learned.
The men were cheerful and easygoing, yet Frodo
soon noticed also that their watchfulness increased as they left
the golden-green plains behind, and entered lands of hills of stone
and scattered trees. When these trees and stones closed
about them, or when in the night all the world sang of sleep,
the men were most alert and vigilant.
"What is it that you watch for?" asked
Frodo one evening, to a rider named Himlad. They were relaxing
and stretching their legs after a long day of riding through rough
hills. "We have encountered no bandits, such as King Elfwine
spoke of, and no fell beasts or men."
Himlad grinned around the stem of grass he
chewed, and said, "With so many men few would dare to accost us, yet
vigilance must be maintained, against the foolish or desperate."
Foolish indeed would be any who assailed these
men, said Frodo to himself. He watched with amusement and
interest when two men stripped to their waists and wrestled, to
the cheering and wagering of the other riders. Sometimes this
was done to settle the odd disagreement that cropped up between a
man and his brother. But most often it was just for exercise
The ride took them slowly through the land
of Eastfold, while the White Mountains marched endlessly upon
their right. Frodo recalled their names as he rode by, and
one day he paused in wonder as he realized that they were riding
through the eaves of the Firien Woods, beneath the shadow of one
of the beacons of Gondor, which stood waiting, until need woke it
to flame. Ancient stone piled upon the height of the hill,
strong-looking and well-maintained. The Lord of the Mark
kept well the oath of his fathers.
That night they camped beneath the eaves of the
Whispering Woods. The horses were herded for fodder, and the
men not on guard collected about the evening fire to sing tales.
Frodo was preparing to join them, but he wanted
to finish grooming Ol'orin first. The petite stallion
held very still as Frodo brushed his coat and mane until they
shone. Before he could finish smoothing his flowing tail,
the little horse started at a noise behind them, like a dry branch
Men with masks came leaping out of the trees,
surrounding the camp. Frodo called out, and was caught in the
strong arms of one man, who lifted him off of the ground.
He laughed, and said in a harsh voice, "Where are you off to, my
lad...?" He dropped Frodo and sank to the ground, clutching
Frodo scrambled to his feet, to be caught again
by another man, who cruelly twisted his arm behind his back.
Ol'orin dispatched him with a solid head-butt. Frodo climbed
upon his back quickly, and he dashed out of the trees.
Frodo lifted Kunin's gift to his lips, and let
cry the Horn Call of Buckland. The Riders returned from the
pasture to aid their brothers. Now outnumbered, the bandits
fled, melting back into the trees.
Himlad called to Frodo after the last of the
fighting ceased. "Well given is the gift of Kunin!
You have saved the day, Master Holbytla. We should give you
a shift upon the watch, for your eyes are very keen to have seen
shadows in the dark"
"Nay, my good rider. I was caught like
a hare in a trap, and but for Ol'orin and the valiant Riders of
the Mark, I would be still! Are there many hurt?"
A few Riders were lightly wounded, but none so
badly that they would turn back or stop. The Riders brought
the horses into the camp, and rode about in an endless moving
circle in shifts, until the sun rose. Then they moved on,
following a clear road through the trees, and soon the Riders were
back to normal, jesting and singing, and watching carefully.
Frodo shook off his own alarm and his spirits
rose again. They began to pass among rounded hills, and the
rode wove about. Many Riders went ahead and to each side
and they rode on without further interference.
Frodo saw ahead a tall standing stone on the
side of the road. It called to his memory a song he had once
sang with his fellow Travelers, long ago as they walked through
A sudden tree or standing stone
That none have seen but we alone
He paused, and looked at the stone for a long
moment. The other riders moved on, but Himlad halted next
"What is the matter, Master Elvellon?"
"Nothing. I only want to explore.
Will we be halting for midday meal soon?"
Himlad squinted up at the sun.
"Aye, high time, I'd say, by the rumbling in my belly.
Go ahead, Master. We will be camped just up the road by
the stream. But keep handy that horn, if you should find
After Himlad rode on, Frodo turned back to the
stone. He didn't quite understand the feeling that compelled
him, but he was learning to trust his instincts on this strange
journey. He dismounted, and walked around the stone.
It had no engravings, nor carven marks of any kind. Frodo
looked past, and the ground seemed impassably rough, right up
to a thick screen of woven tree branches that formed a wall of
greenery along the road. He turned to walk on, but his feet
kicked loose a pebble, and it rolled smoothly to the tree-wall
and disappeared beneath.
Frodo walked to the place where the stone
vanished. The ground was not as rough as it had appeared,
and when he peered through the trees, he saw that beyond a thin veil
of leaves a path wound up onto the hill. Calling to Ol'orin,
they pushed through the leaves, then Frodo remounted and rode up
the hill, where more standing stones marked the faint path.
Beyond the leafy wall the ground sloped gently
up, studded with trees and thick growth. A slight path led
upward, winding, accented by occasional monolithic stones.
The ride was easy, and Ol'orin took the path smoothly as if he
had trod it many times. All around them the world seemed
suspended, as if between breaths. Not fear of danger, but
reverence was the feeling; it was as if all the trees and grasses,
and all the creatures of the woods remained respectfully quiet.
The further they went, horse and hobbit,
the clearer the path appeared. Soon they were led to
a wide clearing, just below the crest of the hill where the
beacon stood. Frodo dismounted and took a seat on a low
stone while Ol'orin cropped the grass hungrily; the little
stallion had an even more voracious appetite than the most famished
hobbit. Frodo ate some rations from his own pack, resting
in the cool clearing, while the sun hung at zenith, shortening
all the shadows.
After a short rest, Frodo rose and headed back
down the trail, calling to Ol'orin to come. The little horse
did not move. He nickered at Frodo, pawing the ground with his
dainty hooves. Frodo walked back to him, calling him to come,
but the horse walked away, the first time he had ever disobeyed
Frodo's wishes. He refused a third call, but neighed,
and lowered his head and tugged at the grasses and vines that
covered over the stone where Frodo had taken his luncheon.
He raised his head and neighed again.
Curious, Frodo went to the stone, and pushed
back the tough growth. The stone was of black rock, and once
Frodo had cleared away the moss and dead grass, he could see three
Elvish runes carved upon the surface. "lambe ando lambe."
Stunned, Frodo sank down to the ground.
"The tomb of Elendil the Elf-friend? Upon the Amon
Anwar." He sat there in reverence, recalling all that he
had learned of that most famous Man who had befriended Gil-Galad
and joined forces with that mighty King to defeat Sauron a long
age ago. Here his heir Isildur placed a simple monument to
mark his father's place of rest, and then keep it secret from any
who would defile it.
A distant horn-call, and Frodo came back
to himself. They were looking for him! Hours he had
lingered. He bowed respectfully to the tomb, and led the now
willing Ol'orin away, mounting once beyond the glade, and riding
quickly down the hill.
He had just come out of the leafy barrier when
down the road, his friend Himlad appeared, riding hard.
"There you are, Master Frodo! Our noon meal is long past,
and the company moves on. I came back to seek you.
Were you waylaid?"
"Nay, good Himlad, I got lost! Thank
goodness for your horn-cry! I heard it and found my way back
to the path. Forgive me for holding you up."
"Not at all, but next time perhaps you should
take a Rider or two along. I worry that those desperate
fools might come back."
The Eored moved on, and Frodo spent long hours
riding in deep thought. Gondor waited at the end of
this ride, and Minas Tirith with all its renewed splendor.
King Elfwine had spoken of Prince Eldarion, but not of King
Elessar. Would Frodo find his old friend there?
What other wonders were there for him to find? What new
friends would he meet? Would the sons of Peregrin still be
performing errandry, as he started the tradition, even as Merry's
descendants served the King of the Mark? He rode on with a
lighter heart, accompanied by these thoughts.
The road led on, past mountain and valley.
At the Druadan Forest they turned Northward to skirt the trees, that
land being promised to the Dark men by the King Elessar for their
assistance to Theoden in coming to a timely arrival to the aid of
Minas Tirith. No man could set foot in those woods and lands,
except those who maintained the watchtowers. They camped that
night on the Northern edge of the forest. While preparing
for sleep, Frodo heard the rhythmic drumming of the Dark Men.
He listened to the stirring beat, and it lulled him to dreams.
Frodo sprang to his feet before he realized that
he had been sleeping. He heard the thunderous pounding of
hooves, not drums! And the screams of terrified horses!
They were galloping in every direction, pursued by shadowy figures
wielding torches. The Riders of the Mark were surrounded
by many dark figures who harried them with spears and brands, and
drove the maddened herd through the encircled defenders.
Before Frodo could cry out or lift his horn
to his lips, rough hands seized him, and a foul-smelling sack or
blanket was thrown over his head. He was lifted by strong
arms over a hard shoulder, carried for a time, then thrown down
upon the ground. He tore the cloth from over his head,
gasping for air.
He found himself surrounded by many men, but
they were not proper men. By the light of a few torches
he could see that their skin was sickly hued grey and green, and
their misshapen heads and bent limbs reminded Frodo of the orcs
Hobgoblins, the evil and treacherous work of
the dark sorcerer, the late and unlamented Saruman.
Unfortunately his deeds did not perish with him. With no
crazed wizard or dark lord to direct them, these misbegotten
creatures scattered after the Last Battle, seeking dark lairs
or empty lands. But greed and hate drew them out, and they
harried the good folk, stealing and slaying when desperation or
hunger drove them to it. They were hunted by the Kings' Men,
Gondor and Rohan.
Frodo stood upright, effecting haughty dignity
(which he did not feel) and brushed dirt from his garments.
He stood in the center of a ring of squat, ugly half-men, and they
made a wall around him of flesh and steel. Frodo stared at
them, refusing to beg or cower. Oddly, he found that they
would not meet his stare, and they flinched if he moved toward
them, though the others would wave their spears or swords to keep
him from escaping. They feared him, he saw, but some greater
fear kept them steady.
Frodo remained still, not wishing to test
the mettle of his Dwarven mail against so many blades.
The wondrous coat did not protect such vital things as heads
One man-orc, larger than the others and fierce
in mien, shuffled up to Frodo and brandished his scimitar, shaking
it in Frodo's face and shouting in his abominable tongue.
With the swiftness of a striking snake, he dealt Frodo a back-handed
blow with his horny fist.
But Frodo was ready for this maneuver.
He easily ducked the swing, dodging past the prodding spears
of the others, who began to hoot and gurgle with excitement,
Frodo kept away from the circling brawler,
neither backing down nor engaging him. He would not give
satisfaction to these foul creatures. They closed around
him, and Frodo was tripped with a spear haft by one of the
onlookers. The orc sprang upon him as he fell, snarling and
bringing his foul sharp teeth close to Frodo's face.
"ENOUGH!" A shout scattered the leering
group, and Frodo's assailant dropped him and cowered down, though
he snarled still with fury and fear. Frodo picked himself
up and looked, for to his utter amazement a hobbit stood there
before the groveling hobgoblins.
Battle-scarred and travel-stained, the strange
hobbit regarded the orklings with disgust. He kicked them
and slashed at them with a short whip of stiffened leather.
"I told you... NO SPORT! Get up, you maggots! Pick up
those spears and get back in place!" The hobbit looked at
Frodo, and Frodo saw that one of his eyes was covered by a greasy
patch of leather. A fierce-looking scar ran up from his jaw
and under the patch to disappear into his hairline.
He looked Frodo up and down, then spat upon
the ground. He dug into a pocket and came out with a square
of clean white cloth, which he tossed at Frodo. He pointed
at Frodo's left hand, where a long cut was oozing blood.
"Cover that! The smell drives 'em mad."
Frodo wound the handkerchief over the scratch,
and the hobbit walked around him, surveying him with a proprietary
air. The goblin-men gathered around, holding their spears
and watching the hobbit warily. Frodo perceived their fear
and hatred of this individual, and he wondered how a creature
that stood a mere three feet tall could cow so many ruthless and
violent cutthroats. But fear him they did, and as he walked
around Frodo, if he came close to any of the goblins, they backed
away from him with much deference.
"So, what have we here, lads?" the hobbit
drawled, and his voice dripped with cruelty and bitterness.
"A little halfling prince," he continued, "wandering far from
home. We've been following you since before you left
Hightown. Almost lost you to that band of amateurs. What
will your family pay, princeling, to hear that you are alive?"
Frodo returned his gaze levelly, but offered no response.
"Too proud to speak, or too scared? I know your name,
Shire-rat! What will your family pay for your ransom?"
Frodo's persistent silence infuriated the
hobbit-highwayman. He strode up to Frodo and slashed with
his crop across Frodo's breast. Frodo endured the blow,
unable to dodge for the spears of the orklings pressed to his
back. The stiffened leather cracked against his hidden mail,
harmlessly. He did not flinch and he did not speak.
The goblins squeaked and gurgled with amusement.
Apparently this highway-captain was unused to
such displays of defiance. He stared at Frodo in wonder, then
a gleam came into his eye. "Proud and brave, just like his
sire. Maybe I should let the boys have their sport, to teach
you when to be brave and when to be wise. DO YOU KNOW WHO I
AM??" the hobbit shouted, turning to stamp a few paces away,
then back in close to Frodo, his face twisted with fury.
"I'll have you know, Namebearer," he spat the epitaph out, "know
I've killed plenty in my time, and not a few hobbits either.
If the money wasn't good, I'd feed you to these stinking animals
right now! Do you know who I am?" he repeated petulantly.
Frodo answered, speaking in a quiet, firm voice,
"I do not know your name, but I think I can guess who your father
might have been. I have often wondered whatever became of
old Ted Sandyman after we pulled that filthy mill down.
No one ever heard from him again. A pity he didn't stay in
the Shire." The regret in Frodo's voice was genuine. "He would
have been shown mercy."
"'Mercy! What's that?" Much jeering
and grunting laughter from the orklings. "And what do you
know of my father? Do not speak to me of pity; you have no
idea what he endured, what our family has suffered, exiled and
homeless. Well, I'm going to get back everything that Father
lost, and I'm taking the first payment out of your hide!
The high and mighty Gardners will pay a tall ransom, even if I
don't send back all the pieces of their precious Namebearer."
"Sandyman, if that is your name, I think you
have made an error identifying me. I am not this 'Namebearer'
you speak of, nor am I related to the Gardners of the Shire and
"Don't lie to me, princeling. I heard
you addressed as 'Frodo' by those tow-headed flock-herders.
Only the Gardners name their brats after their precious 'hero of
the Third Age'," Sandyman sneered out this title as if it were an
insult, "so you can't be anyone BUT a Gardner. Most are too
cowardly to step foot outside that stinking park of the Shire, so
I have had to wait. The hill-lands south of Rohan, forsaken
by all men but the poorest or most desperate, make an excellent
location to recruit bandits, even if most of them are drooling
idiots," and he kicked one goblin who moved too slow to avoid his
blow. He rounded on Frodo quickly, his eye narrow and red
with anger. "And you will address me as Mister Sandyman,
prisoner, if you don't want me to get ugly."
Frodo ignored the comment, unable to imagine
how this person could get any more unpleasant.
Sandyman continued his rant, growing more and
more voracious and incensed. "I figured the Great King of
Gondor would eventually send for you, since you and your family
have become the bootlickers of Men. I'll see my family
reinstated in their proper holes, and you and yours can go live
with your holy Men."
"Your senses have left you, Sandyman.
You have but to lay aside these evil ways, quit this foul company,
and go home. You will not be turned away, if you take your
family back to live in peace. But be that as it may, I am
NOT Frodo Gardner." Frodo crossed his arms over his chest,
right over left, so that his hand was plainly visible. "Return
with me to the Shire, and I will see that you will be welcomed,
if you do as I ask and set aside this ridiculous vendetta."
Sandyman looked at Frodo's hand, then up at
his face. He seemed stunned. The orklings began to
mutter behind him, so he turned on them and swore and slashed
until they cowered again. When he turned back to Frodo,
he had an unpleasant light in his eye.
"So... not the Gardner's boy, but the Baggins
himself? After all this time. Tales say you are dead,
gone off to die with your precious Elves. What did you come
back for? This makes my revenge all the sweeter. I
will avenge my Father and family AND give my lads sport!
I'll get no ransom, true, but that's alright...there'll be a
Namebearer along someday. I'll show him your head on a pike
before I cut his throat!" The grim hobbit drew out a long
wicked knife and drove it at Frodo's heart.
The blade turned and broke against the Dwarven
mail, and Frodo shoved Sandyman and dodged away. The
orklings became terrified and more excited. They threw down
their weapons and scattered, but lurked in the trees and bushes,
watching and giggling madly.
Sandyman threw away the useless knife-hilt, and
swung his crop at Frodo, who ducked and danced away, trying to stay
out of reach. Sandyman was too far-gone with rage; he came on,
swinging and swearing, until he was panting with exhaustion.
But the red fire in his eye still raged, and he cried out,"Get him,
lads! Bring him down and let me kill him proper!"
But the lads did not come. The trees
and bushes were empty of leering, slavering goblins, but upon
the ground dark still shapes could be barely seen, lying beyond
Sandyman charged Frodo again, his madness
giving him desperate speed and strength. He bore Frodo back
against the bole of a tree, the crop under his chin cutting off his
air. "I'll have you, Baggins!" He grunted through clenched
teeth, his eye round with horrible delight as Frodo gasped and
struggled against him. Spots were dancing before Frodo's eyes,
and drumming pounded his head, an erratic heartbeat in his ears.
The pressure eased suddenly, and Frodo
was kneeling and gasping, drinking great draughts of air
desperately. He had shoved Sandyman away, and the foul hobbit
lay where he had fallen. Six darts puckered the fabric on the
back of his tunic. His face was still frozen in murderous
ecstasy. Frodo shuddered to look upon him. He backed
away, hand still massaging his throat, until he leaned against the
tree. He was alone in a circle of dead in the midst of the
Druadan Forest, and the drums were loud in the darkness.
A figure detached itself from the greater
darkness and ambled over to Frodo with a hand-and-haunches gait
like a tree-monk. It squatted down and waved its large flat
hands at Frodo, as if to get his attention. Frodo saw that it
was a man, but with skin so dark it was nearly black, with strange
symbols painted upon his naked flesh. He wore only a clout
of scraped leather, and carried a long tube of hollow wood.
The man grunted and coughed, and Frodo
realized this must be speech, a language he was wholly unfamiliar
with. The little man waved his hands again, and crab-walked
away, stopping after a few paces and waving again. Frodo
followed him cautiously. He stepped over the corpse of Ted
Sandyman's son, and followed his little guide into the black night
under the trees.
Frodo followed as well as he could in the
blinding darkness, and his little guide waited if he fell
behind. The trees were close together, their branches
interwoven tightly so that little light from star or moon penetrated
the inky darkness.
Soon they halted, and Frodo's guide, crouching
in the dark reminded Frodo suddenly of Gollum when he led Samwise
and himself through the fearful darkness of Mordor. But
he turned, and the similarity disappeared. The man touched
Frodo's sleeve and pointed at the ground.
They sat and rested. After a few
minutes the small black-skinned man rose and disappeared into
the trees. Frodo stood but did not follow, unsure of the
direction. Then he was surrounded by small dark figures that
materialized out of the trees with dizzying suddenness.
Frodo remained still, unsure of threat or
danger. It was too dark to see well, even for Frodo's
night-eyes. He reached slowly into his breast pocket and
came out with Galadriel's gift. It shown gently like a star
in the warmth of a summer night. The one who had guided him
reappeared at his elbow and clucked at him, then made a show of
bowing low, first to Frodo, then to another Dark Man. This
man was garbed in ornaments of bone and wood. He was very
old, wrinkled and grey-haired, but his body was well fleshed and
wiry. He sat down upon his haunches and spoke to Frodo.
"We are Drua.(Dark Men) We slay
gorgun. Slay all come here with killing tools. I
Guri-Guri. What you?"
"I am Frodo Baggins. Thank you for sparing
me, and for saving me from the goblins."
"Guri-Guri hates gorgun, slays always.
You not horse-man or stonehouse-dweller. What you?" he
"I am a Hobbit. My home is far away to
the North and West. Men call my kind ‘halflings',
but we care little for that name."
Guri-Guri coughed out a laugh. "Drua
called ‘wild men' by Men, care not for that name, too.
Both our kinds named poorly by Men."
"Yes, good Guri-Guri, but some Men are wiser,
and they name us well. I remember the name of Ghan-buri-Ghan,
and my kind and the Men of Minas Tirith and Rohan remember his
name also. We respect the land of the Drua."
"Yes. Only gorgun and evil men come into
Drua land. They do not leave here alive. Something
else has come here also, and Drua know not how to slay this
thing. Is greater than gorgun, greater than great beasts of
the south. Eats all living things, and Drua walk in fear in
the woods now."
Frodo felt a cold fear climb from his guts.
"What does it look like?"
"Like great darkness. Never see. But
leave big webs all around, strangle trees and foul waters.
Drua know secrets, never stick in webs. But food animals
flee or die, and forest grows smaller."
"What can I do, Guri-Guri? I cannot slay
"Guri-Guri did not ask this. Ask only
Fro-da," his tongue tripped over the unfamiliar word, "Ask Fro-da
to seek answer in big stonehouse. Ask wise Men. Find
way to slay or scare away black badness. Come back and tell Drua
secret. Drua will clean forest of shadows."
"I will do what I can, I promise.
Guri-Guri is wise and honorable. For the gift of my life,
I will do this."
"Guri-Guri is child next to Fro-da in
wisdom. Drua would save hob-bit anyway. Like
Fro-da. Do not like gorgun. Do this favor for
Ghan-buri-Ghan. Do for Drua children."
"I will. I must return to the Horse-men,
or I fear they will seek me, and they will be in danger from the
webs of horror. Can you lead me back to them?"
"It will be done." The Drua chieftain
touched his head to the ground and turned away, melting back into
the trees with his people. Frodo's guide led him back through
All around drums echoed, as if the very trees
were hollow and sounding the throbbing beat. Shortly they
arrived near the place of Frodo's abduction. He could hear
the Riders of the Mark, arguing about mounting a search now and
others against until the drums ceased and sun showed her face.
Frodo's dark guide paused beyond the light
cast from the campfire, long shadows thrown by the trunks of trees
lying like bars of midnight. He urged Frodo forward with a
grunt and a wave. Frodo faced him and, not knowing how to
thank him properly, bowed low three times. When he looked
up from his bow, the little man was gone.
The drums rolled out one long rumbling peal,
and then fell silent.
Frodo stepped out of the trees into the
firelight, and met Himlad leading a handful of Riders toward the
trees. The group halted in astonishment, and Himlad spoke,
"Elvellon! Where have you been? We found your things
scattered and you missing. We feared that the bandits had
"They did indeed. I was rescued by the
Druadan. I would, were I you, move back away from the trees
or lay down those weapons. The Dark Men do not suffer any
to enter their lands armed. I believe that the only reason
I am alive and here now is because I bear no weapon."
Himlad led the group back to the light.
There was much consternation and gladness among the other riders
at seeing Frodo. They set him down with a deep cup of wine,
and prized the tale from Frodo's reluctant lips. They
listened to what Frodo would tell, and learned of the deaths of
the highway-captain and his hobgoblin bandits. Frodo told
an edited version of his rescue by the Druadan. Also, he
left quiet Sandyman's name and his origin. Those sad facts
he lodged in his heart, and he used them to remember always the
need for pity and forgiveness.
Frodo was still sitting on that white stone
bench when blasts from many silver trumpets rang out nearby.
The doors were thrown open and a processional came out, headed
by a young man who bore a strong resemblance to a certain ranger
Frodo had once known.
Hastily, Frodo moved to clear a path for
the Prince, for he could be no one else but the son of Aragorn
and Arwen, such was his presence and demeanor. As Eldarion
walked past the hobbit, he turned his blue-grey eyes down and saw
Frodo. He studied him in surprise, and seemed about to stop
and speak, but the crowd of people behind him split and passed
around, and they swept them apart.
Frodo watched the mass of people move away,
and he looked up at the open doors of the Citadel. He slowly
mounted the steps. A guard dressed in the sable and silver
livery of the Citadel stood by the doors. He watched Frodo
approach, saluting as he drew near.
"Hail, visitor. Welcome to the Citadel
of Minas Anor. There is no court today, as the Prince is
abroad in the city. What may be your business here?"
"Thank you, soldier of Gondor, for your
welcome. I wish to walk Rath Dinen, and see the City of the
Kings, if I may."
"That is permitted, but you must use the entrance
on the fifth circle. I will call a guard to escort you..."
"That will be unnecessary, my good Man.
I know the way."
The soldier watched him as he made his way down
the steps. Halflings he had seen, but something about this
one seemed different. He shrugged and turned back to his duty,
hoping time would pass quickly. Guard duty was so tedious.
Frodo retraced his climb down to the fifth
circle, back to where under the great mass of Mindolluin the silent
city of the great Kings of Gondor lay. Frodo walked down the
smooth flags of the street. His bare feet made no sound on
the cool stones. There was a chill in the air, though the
sun shone down brightly, it did not seem to warm the white marble
and granite. Flowers and vines were carved upon stone lintel
and threshold, but no growth or greenery could be seen, only a
frozen memory of spring. Frodo shivered and drew his
cloak about him. Great houses loomed upon left and
right, high vaulted rooms where nothing living dwelt. The
silence grew as an odd pressure, and Frodo found himself humming
and singing softly to keep away the chill of dead quiet.
The street led up a hill, then turned suddenly
and opened upon a fair courtyard. Here grew real trees and
flowers, a simple garden oasis in the stone city of the dead. There
were trellises of flowers and small trees growing in a circle of
sunlight, and carven statues amid foaming fountains. Behind
that were two small slabs of green and gold-veined marble
Frodo moved toward them, ran his hand gently
across the graven runes and carved leaves upon the surface of
Merry's tomb. Pippin lay beside him, even as they had been
always together in life. Frodo sighed. He knew he
ought to feel anguish and grief, but they were still young and
alive in his heart, as he had last seen them. He sat down
between the stones and spoke to his friends, telling them of Aman
and all his adventures. He smiled, recalling his young
cousins so clearly that all the time and history between them
seemed to fade, and he could just almost see them... an unfading
image in his memory. They had passed beyond the confines
of this world, as all mortals must, as Frodo would someday.
"I'll be along soon, my friends. I am not done yet, but when
I am, we shall have our merry meeting." He laughed then,
even as a tear fell from his eye, and he sang songs of Valinor to
the living heart of the city of the dead.
The sun was dimming toward evening when
Frodo stood and stretched his cramped legs, preparing to leave,
when he more closely noted the carven figures. They stood
in half-circle fountains that flowed down gently behind
like a cloaks of water. Around the fountains grew many athelas
plants. He came closer and was astonished to find
likeness of himself in one statue's face. It held in its
stone left hand a teardrop-shaped crystal that gave off a faint
luminescence. The figure's right hand, third finger missing,
cradled a stone book. At it's feet lay a bouquet of flowers,
just beginning to wilt. Frodo noticed the square of stone
the stature stood upon was engraved with Elvish characters.
He stooped to read them, but it was now too dark to make out.
Frodo took out of his pocket the Phial of Galadriel. It
shone brightly in Frodo's warm hand. When he brought it
close to the base of the block, he saw that the Elvish letters
were glowing, as if they were made of ithildin, woken by
the light of the star of Earendil. He read the letters out
loud, and there came the sound of stone grinding, for the front
of the block was swiveling open on some hidden hinge, and inside
was a cloth-swaddled bundle. He gingerly lifted it out, and
found a length of Elvish silk wound around a short sword.
It was Sting, to Frodo's surprise and delight. He lifted the
blade and admired its fine workmanship and elegant beauty.
"Sam, you left it here for me, didn't you?" He buckled on the
sword, feeling it's once familiar weight strange upon him.
He wondered briefly if he should not take the thing, if he should
leave it in its shrine, but something, maybe the same thing that
had led him here, told him to accept it. He did, and then he
held up the star-glass to examine the other stone figure.
It was, of course, a likeness of his faithful
comrade Samwise. The tears that came slowly before flowed
freely now, and Frodo gathered the wilting flowers from the base
of his monument and lay them at the toes of his friend.
"Well, Sam! This is a beautiful place. I wonder how
much of it was your doing? Look after Merry and Pippin until
I get there, will you? I miss you all."
Using Sting, he culled a sprig of athelas and
wrapped it with the silk cloth, stowing it in his pack. He
replaced the phial in his breast-pocket and bowed to the monuments
of his friends, then turned to leave.
And found that he was not alone. A tall
figure stood in the street where the courtyard opened, and for one
moment Frodo thought that it was Strider that stood there.
But no, the figure walked forward a step into the faint light of
the crystal, and Frodo saw that it was the Prince. He bowed
low, a hand upon his breast. "My Lord Eldarion."
"I am surprised that you are still here.
It has been hours since I saw you on the steps. I hope I am
not interrupting you."
"No, my lord, I was just preparing to leave."
Eldarion looked about the courtyard.
"I come here when I have time and want peace. My father
raised me on stories of the Travelers. Someday I hope to
journey to the Shire and see that pleasant land."
"It has been so long since I have stood in that
land, I'd feel like a stranger there. May I be traveling
that way soon! But for now, I must go out into this great
city and try to find lodgings. I lingered here longer than
I expected. If you will excuse me, my lord..."
"Permit me to guide you to the gate.
It grows dark here quickly, and the stones are treacherous to
Frodo graciously accepted, but wondered how
long this Man had been watching him unseen, and whether he should
dissemble about his identity. Possession of Sting alone would
loudly declare him to any familiar with the Red Book. Frodo
felt suddenly weary, and the whole difficulty seemed less important
than finding a place to curl up and sleep. If it were not
for Eldarion's presence, Frodo would have slept in the garden.
He followed the Man doggedly, until the gate of
the sixth circle was in sight. The Prince stopped
and Frodo bowed to him. "Thank you, my Lord Prince.
I must go now and seek a berth. A long journey has left
me weary, and I must find lodgings in an unfamiliar city.
Farewell." He then turned to walk on to the fifth gate,
which lay to the north and led down into the city.
Eldarion stayed him with a light touch on his
shoulder. "My good Perian, seek not lodgings within the
city. A fairer chamber awaits you above. Will you not
come? All periannath who visit Minas Arnor are housed in
the Citadel. It is an honor, and the ruling of the King."
"Very well, my lord." The King!
Where was Aragorn? Frodo wished very much to ask, but fatigue
stayed his tongue.
"Perhaps you are also desiring to find a
board." Eldarion guided Frodo into the Citadel, leading him up
a long stair that tunneled through the great bastion of stone.
"You lingered long in the Court of the Halflings. And if I
know aught of Hobbits," he grinned down at Frodo in good humor,
"you are probably hungry."
Frodo laughed, "My lord, you know my people
well. Yet a poor example of a Hobbit I must be, for my desire
for sleep exceeds even legendary appetite."
"You shall be refreshed, however you desire
it. Come with me, it is not far now."
So Frodo followed past many guards, silver trees
embroidered upon their breasts and winged helmets shining in torch
and lamplight. The stair seemed endless to his tired feet,
and he sighed when they finally ran out. Eldarion smiled down
at him and opened one of the doors which occupied the landing.
Behind the door was a fair room, with a blazing
hearth and a feather bed. Eldarion gave the bellrope a pull,
and said, "Water and food will be brought shortly, if you can find
the will to wait for it. I will return tomorrow, after you
have rested. Sleep well...Perian."
"My Prince." Frodo was uncomfortably
aware that his failure to introduce himself had left the Prince
at a disadvantage. His thoughts were dimmed with fugue and
fatigue. "Thank you." He said, feeling wrung.
He stifled a yawn and dipped his head in a bow.
The Prince merely smiled, and closed the
Frodo stumbled to the bed and fell at once into
a dreamless sleep.
It was not morning, nor even midday which
greeted Frodo at waking, but golden afternoon. Frodo sat
up, the silk coverlet slipped off of him, and he found that he
was down-dressed. His cloak, pack and clothes lay upon
a chair, Sting hanging on the back. He was dressed in a
linen tunic that reached his knees. He slid out of bed and
poured water from pitcher into basin, and washed his hands and
face. When he dressed, he found that his clothes had been
aired and mended. He opened the shuttered windows, saw the
city tumble down below him, layer upon layer of gleaming white
stone. There were vivid green gardens and riots of colorful
The high tower of the Citadel rose above the city
like the towering prow of a great ship. Frodo looked down like
a figurehead, and the distant mountains were like a rippling sea
parting before a mighty ship which sailed the land unmoving.
Clouds drifted in the middle distance, foaming waves of salt.
Frodo shook his head and blinked, dizzy with height.
A sound came behind him; the door was opened
slowly, and a hobbit-lass came in softly, carrying a laden tray.
"O! You're awake! Thank
goodness!" She chattered, setting the tray down upon a
table. "The Prince wanted me to try to wake you again,
if you were still asleep. He was so worried, he almost
sent for a healer!" She wiped her hands with a clean cloth,
then began to set the table with food and cups and plates. "Well,
sit down! If you don't eat every bite, the Prince will know
you are not well."
Frodo stood unmoving by the window, staring
in wonder. The lass was a perfect picture of Rosie Cotton,
right down to her merry tongue. Briefly he was set to by
memories of the Green Dragon Inn, where Rosie had worked long
years before. Merry and Pippin, and he, singing
and drinking...he blinked and gathered himself back into the
Thank....thank you, my lady," he stammered.
"It was not my intention to cause any concern. Please
tell the Prince that I am perfectly well, and thank him for his
"You can tell him yourself, 'cause he wants to
see you once you have supped. Now not another word.
Eat! You are nearly transparent with hunger." She left
in a swirl of skirts.
Frodo applied himself to the food, good simple
fare, just as hobbits enjoy. He was finishing when the door
opened with a thump, and two hobbits burst in, both dressed in
"Hail, kinsman!" one came forward and seized
his hand. "Niphredil said you were roused and we wanted to
greet you before the Prince took you away for endless talk.
I am Theoden Brandybuck."
Frodo warmly returned his greeting.
"I believe I have met your brother, Faradoc."
Theoden grinned. "Yes! 'Doc loves
Rohan. I doubt that he will ever go home. Not enough
"And I am Fallomir Took." The smaller
of the two stepped up and shook Frodo's hand. His hair was
coppery red, but otherwise he looked very Took-ish, very like
Peregrin as a youth. "Welcome to Minas Anor." The two
hobbits looked Frodo up and down, then asked, as if with one voice,
"What is your name, friend?"
"A tale far longer in telling than we have
time now. Lead me to the Prince, and with his leave, I will
The Prince received him in the audience
chamber. He welcomed the hobbits warmly, and with a frowning
eye and a half-smile, looked upon 'Oden and Fallomir and asked
if they were off-duty. They assured him that they were,
and he allowed them to stay, playfully mussing their hair.
"They are too young, really, to be in the guard,
but Madame Elanor insisted that their cousin be escorted, and have
some of her own kind for company. My guess is that Niphredil
feels more like a mother to these children than a handmaiden to
the Queen. I entered them into service to spare her."
Frodo made polite comment, and they chatted for
a few minutes. But Frodo saw that while Eldarion kept his
inquiries light, his bright eyes were full of seriousness.
Finally, a silence occurred.
"I will tell you now who I am, my Prince and my
kinsmen. But I warn you, it will not be easy to hear. I
assure you, as fantastic as it all may sound, I speak truth."
And he told them, Man and Hobbits, who he was, where he had been,
and why he was in Middle-earth now.
In the astonished silence that followed,
Frodo had time to look closely at each of his listeners.
Eldarion's face was as handsome as his father's, but less roughly
hewn in feature. An intangible light that spoke of his
Elven heritage was clearly visible to Frodo. His hands,
long-fingered and strong-looking, moved as if with their own will
to the hilt of his sword which he wore always (doubtless another
legacy from Strider). It was not a threatening gesture,
but seemed like a reassurance in moments of confusion.
Theoden listened quietly with an intensity that
seemed to burn. Like the most adventure-starved hobbit-lad
listening at the knee of his Gaffer, he clung to every word.
His hands, brown with sun and callused with training, clenched
into white-knuckled fists when Frodo spoke of the sea.
Fallomir was overwhelmed, and sat open-mouthed
after Frodo's tales of Valimar, struck dumb with wonder.
He wavered between doubt and excitement, fidgeting until Eldarion
gave him a quelling look, then sat on his hands.
Frodo wound up his tale with his full adventure
in the Druadan Forest, after which he said pointedly to the
Prince, "Where the rest of the family dwell I know not,
and it is not assured that there are no more Sandymans out there,
packing grudges for my namesake. However, I would be indebted
to you, my lord, if you could pursue the matter, and if possible,
repatriate the exiles."
This demonstration of forgiveness and mercy was
the last nudge that Fallomir needed. He leapt to his feet,
then knelt before Frodo. "Ring-bearer! all record
of your deeds and nobility are understated! May I grow to
attain a fraction of your wisdom."
Frodo rose and bowed humbly.
Eldarion organized a force to accomplish
Frodo's wishes, and Fallomir and Theoden both requested to be
included. They set out on the errand and eventually located,
with the assistance of Faradoc and the other Riders of Rohan,
a small family of hobbits in the riverlands below the White
Mountains, south of Edoras. Mostly womenfolk and babes,
they had to be liberated from servitude from a gang of hobgoblins
bandits. The matron welcomed the idea of returning to the
Shire, for she had gone into exile only because she would not be
parted from her husband, though he be lost in madness. She
rounded up her children and never looked back. Fallomir,
'Doc, and 'Oden led them all safely back to Eriador and,though
Faradoc returned to Rohan with the Men of the Mark and Gondor, he
did take a short trip into the Shire to visit his mother.
The rescuers were celebrated as heroes, and they stayed to help
build a residence for the Sandymans, who changed their names to
Walker, and joined the Fairbairns in Westmarch. 'Oden and
Fallomir returned then to Gondor.
But there in the audience chamber of the Kings
of Gondor, Eldarion regarded Frodo with respect and new wonder.
"Why are you here, Ring-bearer? Did you
come to visit the King and Queen, or to see the monument of your
kinsmen Meriadoc and Peregrin?"
"All of these, my lord, and also to ask leave
to travel through Gondor."
'You were granted that right long ago, and I
give it again willingly, to you and to all your heirs. I am
glad that you have come. This is remarkable news! I am
distressed that Aragorn and Mother are not here to greet you; they
are in the North Kingdom. Will you travel to see them?"
"Yes, I will. If for no other reason than
to lay eyes once again upon the lovely Undomiel, who's beauty and
grace speak even in her son." And it was Eldarion's turn to
rise and bow humbly.
"Well said!" laughed 'Oden, shaking off
his wonderment and jumping to his feet. "We must set to the
task at hand, but may we all meet in Eriador someday."