The Adventures
of
Frodo Gardner

Volume II
Through Shadows to the Edge of Night
By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 3, Part 33
The Hospitality of the Golden Hall
(November 21, 1451)

After supplying him with raiment worthy of the court of Meduseld (a red and gold tunic over white satin chemise and brown velvet breeches) Beordred summoned Frodo to supper, by way of a long ramble through the palace and an equally long ramble about his wife and kids. "...Me eldest ain't no warrior, he told me that up front. Says he wants to be a potter, loves to sink his hands into clay and get that wheel of his spinnin' with his toes at just the right speed--if he could control a horse's reins as well as he can control that wheel, I'd be a happy man. But hey, he's got his own life to live. I mean, it took some gettin' used to, but in the end I figgered that the whole point in me fightin' was so's me kids wouldn't have to. So I told him, aye, go ahead and throw yourself some pots, with your ol' Dad's blessing. Ya gots any kids, Master Frodo?"
 
Frodo turned as red as the tunic and said, "Um, I'm a bit young for that. I, uh, suppose that...what I mean is that technically I could marry, with parental permission, but..."
 
Beordred laughed loudly as heads turned and Frodo did his best to make himself even smaller than he was. "Whatcha mean to say is that you're another underage soldier just like I was!" Laughing again, he smacked the hobbit sharply between the shoulderblades. "Ye must be somethin' special, laddie, if the King o' Gondor be sendin' ye out on missions so young thatcha have to ask your Mommy's blessing for a lil' tumble with a bride!" Frodo choked at the thought of asking Mama for any such thing. "So, Master Frodo--ye got anybody lined up and waitin' for ya back home?"
 
Frodo shook his head, afraid to trust his voice. Once, not so long ago, he thought for sure he might have gotten up the courage to ask a dance of one of the merry Breeland lasses (with a little help from Barliman's brew) but the few dates he'd actually experienced involved sitting stiffly in parlors with the parents of his latest fancy firmly settled into the cushions to either side of him, while he threw himself into conversation like one of Eowyn's "jumpers" hurtling over the brink, all the while gazing desperately across the room at the motions of cherry-rouged lips. Of course, long before that a girl had quickly kissed his cheek at apple-harvest time, and then fled, but he'd been too young to appreciate his luck at the time, and so had gone to wash his face till it stopped burning.
 
"Ya wish, huh?" Beordred said genially, with a hand on Frodo's shoulder. "Don't worry about it, lad--the ladies like a fellow what's been out and about in the world, even if that's the first thing they try to cure him of once they get hold of him. Why, by the time ye get home the friskier one's'll...oh wait--we almost walked right past the door! Have a nice supper, sir." Beordred bowed and opened wide the great double-door to the banquet hall and its sudden burst of noise, then limped away, whistling to himself.
 
Frodo had hoped for a quiet meal and perhaps a little conversation, but to his dismay he found the banquet hall filled with King Eomer's thanes, generals, advisors, distant relations, courtiers and other worthies, not to mention their sundry spouses and children, all talking at once, as servants bustled in and out bearing steaming platters and foaming mugs, while dogs the size of Billie-Lass cracked bones among the boots. He froze in his tracks as someone by the door shouted, "Presenting Master Frodo Gardner, Son of Mayor Samwise of the Shire and Royal Gardener to the King of Gondor!" He felt every eye upon him as he walked down the long, long hall. The table-tops reached about to his nose-level, but he wished he could shrink even smaller, regretting every last drop of that ent-draught that he'd tried. But then someone else got announced behind him and he sighed with relief.
 
King Eomer gestured Frodo over to a seat on his left next to Merry--an elevated chair carved with puppies at play, obviously meant for a human child. When Frodo settled onto its cushion, the King leaned over Merry to whisper, "I apologize for that, Master Gardner; I know that the holbytla dislike formality and instructed my servants to dispense with it when alone in your presence, but we could not go so far as to let you enter the Golden Hall unannounced."
 
"Uh, that's quite all right, your Highness. Some hobbits do like ceremony quite a lot--just not the ones who leave the country."
 
"I trust that Beordred has treated you genially enough? Old school soldiers like him, well, you know how it is. I have yet to get more from him than 'Yes, your highness,' or 'No, your highness," but I strictly enjoined him to treat you a little more warmly than that--I hope he at least made the effort."
 
Merry choked on his ale trying not to laugh, as Frodo said, "Yes sir--he has been, ah, quite genial enough." Frodo couldn't help but notice that Merry sat in an adult human chair with no problem; he seemed to have reached the height of a human stripling, only stouter.
 
A servant plopped a slab of beef in gravy on Frodo's plate, right on top of bread in the human fashion, alongside some boiled vegetables that Frodo didn't recognize, and then sat a tankard by the plate that the hobbit wondered if he could even lift. Before he could find out, though, Frodo looked up and saw that Eowyn, on the King's right, had red and puffy eyes. He didn't know what to say, so he gave her what he hoped was a sympathetic gaze.
 
The King caught the look and said, "Be at peace, little Master. Harsh words exchanged before you arrived, truly, but the storm has passed and the fields shall reap the benefit of its rain."
 
Eowyn said, "I certainly hope so--if indeed the rain does not run off of obdurate stone."
 
With an acid smile the King said, "Now sister; we need not trouble our guests with the politics of a land not their own. Be welcome, Master Frodo, and enjoy the hospitality of the House of Eorl as only the holbytla can!"
 
With that Frodo paid proper attention to his food, and discovered, to his delight, the mushrooms in the gravy. He also found that he could indeed lift the great tankard, and that the ale within was well worth the effort. When he made inquiries about the vegetables, he learned that, by arrangement, his seat-mate to the left happened to be the Royal Gardener to the King of Rohan, so they got into quite a happy discussion about the best soil-types for each root and herb on the dish, and planting-times, and preferred amounts of sun and water, till Frodo quite forgot the court all around him, as in his heart he walked again with the Gaffer in the fields of home, sun-warmed earth between his toes.
 
Then a knife poked at a leaf on his plate. "And that one," said Eowyn, reaching across the table, "thrives in soil wherever blood has spilled--it grows thick and green yet in the fields before Helm's Deep." Frodo looked at her as she continued, "I confess that I know little about how to prepare the leaves as food, but the root makes a poison that slows the heart--which makes good medicine for a heart that races overmuch."
 
"An interesting lesson, milady," Frodo said, raising his tankard to her and feeling unusually urbane. "So ill fights ill, and even things turned to evil use may be turned again to good--a fact that, no doubt, you find in your work applies to more than herbs." King Eomer gave his sister a surly glance at that, so Frodo hurried on with, "Have you discovered a healing use for pipeweed, Lady Eowyn?"
 
Drily she said, "A rolled-up bit of leaf makes a powerful suppository." Everyone around them laughed, though the King's laughter never reached above his cheeks and his eyes looked murder upon Frodo.
 
Trying to make amends, Frodo said, "I find, ah, in my own trade, that an infusion of pipeweed can't be beat for an insecticide, but you've got to go sparing with it, because it kills the good bugs with the bad." Eomer did not look any more pleased; the laughter of the court grew strained and petered out to awkward silence. "It, uh, it also has the most fragrant blossoms, and, uh, is well worth cultivating for that alone. By 'alone' I don't mean 'only', uh, I'm sure it has, ah, many other..."
 
Merry came to the rescue. "And what did you think of the spicy-root I showed you?" he asked Eowyn, interrupting Frodo's stammers. "I find it helpful for upset stomachs and sore throats, myself."
 
Eowyn smiled (with relief?) saying, "I am well acquainted with this root--zhinjir, they call it in the East. It also makes a fine poultice for sore muscles and congestions of the chest, not to mention its use in baths for bruises and abrasions..."
 
Frodo let the conversation roll on without him. He had just decided that half a human tankard of Rohannish ale was quite enough for one night, and prepared to excuse himself from the table, when the King looked right at him and said, "...so it may well be, Master Frodo, that I will have to deprive you of all companionship on the road."
 
"Beg pardon?" he spluttered, and reached for the tankard.
 
"Well, if your father-friend is right, and if my sister has her way, we will have much to settle here in Rohan between us; I shall not only have to require their expertise, but also, no doubt, the men at arms I sent to escort you, to maintain the peace in the face of unpopular commands. That is if they are right," he added with a glare to his sister.
 
"Does...does that mean I will have to find my way alone--to Mordor?"
 
"Only to Gondor," Merry said. "You'll have to get your orders from the court as to which part of Nurnen you settle in."
 
"Even so..."
 
Eowyn said, "Fear nothing, little warrior. The road lies plain and straight to Gondor, and all folk along the way will help to guide you. You will find naught but peace upon the land from here to there."
 
The king smiled so firmly on Frodo at her words that the hobbit didn't dare ask, "Well then, what do you need to keep your guards for?" Instead he decided to finish the tankard after all, while fervently distracting himself in a discussion with the royal gardener on the value of hops in companion-planting, and nearly succeeded...almost.
 
That night he lay on the oversized bed, staring unseeing at a dark-veiled roof, with so many thoughts whirling through his brain that he thought he'd never fall asleep, though his dinner left him too drowsy to move. He couldn't even tell what he felt, precisely. Fear, most probably, at least he felt he ought to fear, as any sensible hobbit should, what with the great wilds about to open up and swallow his lonesome little self, far from the protection of even nominal adult supervision. Suddenly a grin took him by surprise, lying there unencumbered in that bed as wide as the great outdoors, and he turned over, and slept with utter abandon.

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