The Portrait

by AuntKimby

Part One- Meeting the Artist

Knowing it might be the last time he would see his four beloved hobbits together, King Elessar commissioned Alemnos son of Isobold, one of the most skilled artists in Gondor, to paint their portrait. It was a great honour to be asked, and Alemnos humbly accepted the commission. However, the message from the King did not specifically mention that the honorees were the four famous hobbits. Alemnos had never seen a hobbit, for illness had prevented him from witnessing the coronation two months earlier and his home was not in Minas Tirith.

It would be an experience he would not soon forget.

“Why shouldn’t we wear our armour, Merry?”

Pippin deftly snatched an apple from the bowl of fruit on the table before Merry could stop him.

“Because although Frodo and Sam have armour, they aren’t comfortable wearing it. We already agreed that all four of us would wear regular clothing. And stop eating all the apples! I like them too, you know.” Merry tried to relieve his cousin of the apple, but Pippin took an enormous bite of the fruit, and smiled smugly as juice dribbled down his chin. Merry glared at him, but not very effectively. Pippin swallowed and then said, “Oh, there’re plenty left, Merry, and I didn’t touch any of the grapes, which you like even more. You can’t get those at home after all.”

“That’s not the point, Pip. Wasn’t there an identical bowl of fruit placed in your own room this morning?”

“Of course, but it seems to be empty now.” Pippin hiccupped slightly, and rubbed his stomach. “Gandalf scolded me for trying to cook first breakfast yesterday morning before the servants arrived, so today I had to stave off my hunger pangs with the fruit.”

Merry rolled his eyes. “He didn’t scold you for making breakfast, Pip. He scolded you for almost setting fire to the kitchen.”

“Well, it amounts to the same thing! I was not used to that fireplace, and it’s been a long while since I had a chance to cook!” Pippin protested.

“And we are all grateful for that,” a voice spoke from the doorway. Pippin threw a pillow at Sam, who deftly caught it and grinned at him. “You stick to catchin’ the fish, lad, and I’ll cook ‘em.”

Pippin returned the grin. “Well, if they remember us for nothing else, Sam, we shall be remembered as the hobbits who introduced proper Shire fish and chips to the inns of Minas Tirith. Hopefully, the Gaffer will never learn that you gave up the secret family recipe.”

“I left one ingredient out,” Sam corrected him, “so I didn’t truly give it up.”

“What ingredient was that?” Pippin asked innocently.

“Nice try, lad,” Sam told him, and tossed the pillow back to him.

“Shouldn’t you two be getting dressed?” Frodo asked as he appeared in the doorway behind Sam. “We are supposed to be in the Courtyard of the White Tree by ten o’clock for the first sitting.” He and Sam chose two chairs and sat down to wait for their friends.

Both Frodo and Sam looked splendid in their silk and velvet garments, though Sam looked rather uncomfortable, not being used to such finery. He kept tugging at the sleeves and collar, even though the clothing had been tailored for him.

“Pippin has been too busy eating his fruit and mine to think of getting dressed,” Merry informed him, “and I fear that I slept rather later than I should have.”

“That’s because he sat up late writing a long letter to a certain Brandy Hall lass,” Pippin called out from where he had disappeared behind the wardrobe screen. Merry turned bright red, but then Pippin cheerfully clarified, “His mum, of course! I don’t know why he bothered; we’ll probably get there at the same time it arrives. It’s that overactive Brandybuck sense of responsibility.”

Merry looked at Sam. “Do you think you could arrange an accidental dunking the next time you and Pip go fishing?”

“I am certain that could be arranged,” Sam assured him drolly.

“Come now, Merry, you need to get ready,” Frodo urged him gently. “We do not want to be late.”

“I’ve never had my portrait painted,” Pippin said as he emerged from behind the screen, buttoning his silk waistcoat. He also wore a scarf made of deep red silk, a gift made for him by Beregond’s wife. It was the first time he had worn it, and it looked quite smart against the comparatively quiet brown satin jacket and trousers he had chosen to wear.

“That’s because you never sat still long enough for anyone to try,” Merry told him as he took Pippin’s place behind the screen with his chosen garments, predictably green and yellow, draped over his arm. Pippin took another apple from the fruit bowl and perched on Frodo’s knee, and Frodo grunted. “Pip dear, please remember that you’re three inches taller than you were the last time you did that; I don’t think my ancient joints can bear the strain.”

“Sorry, Frodo,” Pippin apologized. He sat on the footstool and started on the apple. “Do you remember the name of the artist that is painting our portrait?”

“It is Alemnos, son of Isobold,” Frodo told him. “His father was the official artist to the families of Denethor and Ecthelion, and the son is said to be even more skilled.”

“It would be nice if we could have a copy of our portrait to take home to the Shire with us,” Pippin commented.

Frodo affectionately tousled his hair. “You want to delay our journey home long enough for the artist to paint two portraits rather than one, Pip? I thought you were anxious to start for home.”

“Perhaps he could have two easels set up at once, and paint both at the same time,” Merry suggested from behind the screen. “Our families would like to see it.”

Sam grinned. “And where would we hang this portrait so that all of our families would see it at once?”

Pippin took another bite of his apple. “We could take turns passing it around,” he suggested.

“We would have to get it home in one piece too,” Frodo added.

Merry rejoined them, looking quite princely in his new clothes. “Surely we will not be taking the same routes home that we did getting here,” he declared absently as he admired his reflection in the full length looking glass. “There is no need for secrecy or subterfuge this time, so it would be no real difficulty.” He ran his fingers through his curls critically, the same way he had before every social event in the Shire that he had attended since he had become a tween and had suddenly discovered that he quite liked that he was rather the dashing young hobbit.

“Don’t you think we should discuss this with the artist before we make any decisions for him?” Frodo teased him. “I’m no authority on portrait painting, but surely it is quite time consuming and exacting to paint just one, much less two at once. Perhaps he can make a copy later, and King Elessar will send it to us. The Road should be much safer soon.” He got to his feet and announced, “I think we’ve dallied long enough, lads. It’s nearly quarter before ten and we shall be late as it is.” He looked pointedly at Merry. Merry didn’t notice the look, or Pippin and Frodo exchanging a smile behind his back. This was a part of their Merry that they hadn’t seen in a long while and they suddenly realised that they had missed it very much.

“It’s only a fifteen minute walk- we won’t be late,” Merry said confidently, checking his reflection in the looking glass just one last time. He adjusted the placement of his gold stickpin an infinitesimal amount to the right.

Sam snorted. “It’s a fifteen minute walk for you and Pippin-lad, you mean, what with your longer legs.”

Pippin turned from watching Merry preen, his green eyes dancing with mischief. “Shall I give you a pig-a-back ride, Sam? I’m certain I could carry you now, with all the exercise and training I’ve had since we left home.”

“I’ll pig-a-back you,” Sam said gruffly, but with no small amount of affection in his voice as well. The other hobbits dragged Merry away from his reflection with assurances that he looked splendid and they set out together in the brilliant summer sunshine, remaining in step with each other, despite Merry and Pippin’s longer legs. The joy and pleasure of being in each other’s company once again was still as strong as it had been the day of their reunion in Cormallen, and they savoured every moment.

Alemnos, son of Isobold, warmly greeted the four Periannath that presented themselves in the Courtyard of the White Tree at precisely ten o’clock.

“It is a pleasure to meet you at last, honoured masters,” he said with a bow. “I am Alemnos, son of Isobold. The King’s letter mentioned four heroes of Gondor, but I did not know it was the four famous Halflings. I am honoured even more by this commission.”

Frodo stepped forward. “Thank you, Master Alemnos. I am Frodo Baggins, and this is my dear friend Samwise Gamgee. These two are my cousins, Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took.”

Alemnos smiled again, and his smile faltered somewhat when he saw Pippin gazing up at him with frank curiosity and wonder.

“I need only a moment more to ready my materials, young masters, and then we can begin,” he said, and turned back to his easel. The four hobbits sat on the low stone wall surrounding the White Tree to wait.

Frodo leaned forward slightly to direct a reproving look at his youngest cousin. “Pippin, why were you staring at Master Alemnos like that? That was rather impolite.”

“I couldn’t help it, Frodo. I’ve never seen a nose that long on a person. Not even Gandalf,” Pippin confessed.

“Neither have I,” Merry agreed. “It must be as long as my hand.”

Frodo frowned at them, even though he had privately thought the same thing.

“Hush, you two, he might hear you. Such observations are not worthy of two knights, I should think.”

Pippin leaned closer to Merry and whispered, “I’ll bet he uses a sail as a handkerchief.”

His cousin snorted with merriment, and now both Sam and Frodo glared at them.

“All right, we’re sorry, we’ll stop,” Merry apologized, straightening and elbowing Pippin in the side just as Alemnos approached them with a warm smile.

“On this first sitting, young masters, I shall sketch all four of you together. Then, in the days following, you will need to return together around the same time each day so that I may execute the painting.”

The hobbits all looked at each other and then at Alemnos with dismay.

“Well, I cannot be here at the same time every day, sir,” Pippin told him, “for I have morning tower guard duty three days each week.”

“And I am standing Guard of Honour over King Theoden’s bier while it lies in state on most of the mornings that Pippin is off duty,” Merry said.

“And this is the first full day Sam and I have had free for weeks,” Frodo admitted with some embarrassment. “We have been kept rather busy ever since the coronation with social engagements and visits, and likely will remain so for the duration of our stay.”

Alemnos drew a deep breath, trying hard to not to show any distress at these pronouncements.

“Of course you all have other responsibilities and engagements, young masters- forgive me for assuming it would be otherwise. However, it is not an impossible situation to resolve. I can have you come for separate sittings, as you are available to come, and will paint your portrait in that manner.”

The hobbits were greatly relieved. After some discussion, it was settled that Pippin and Merry would sit for their portraits, either separately or together, on the mornings that each was free, and Frodo and Sam would take turns attending any morning functions so that at least one of them would be free two mornings a week as well.

“Today, at least, young masters, we shall make the preliminary sketch.” He eyed them a moment, pondering the positioning. He walked back over to his easel and picked up an oblong wooden box that held some of his supplies, and carefully emptied the contents before he returned with the box in his hands.

“I think,” he said at last, “that Masters Frodo and Samwise will stand in front since you both appear to be a bit shorter than Masters Peregrin and Meriadoc.

And…Master Peregrin, perhaps you would be good enough to stand on this box, so that you will be exactly the same height as Master Meriadoc. The box is two inches, which seems about right…”

He broke off with consternation when Pippin’s jaw dropped in outrage, Merry grinned smugly, Frodo closed his eyes as if in pain and Sam groaned, “Oh, lor’…”