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 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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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,
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
"Beg pardon?" he spluttered, and reached for
"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
"Only to Gondor," Merry said. "You'll have
to get your orders from the court as to which part of
Nurnen you settle in."
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
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.