From the Ashes a Fire Shall be Woken
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 6, Part 251
January 7, 1453
“I beg your pardon?” Lord Faramir looked up from his desk, nonplussed, at the hobbit who had interrupted his work.
“I asked you to arrest me.” The Steward still looked like a young man, dark haired without a trace of frost, skin as smooth as innocense, shining in the candlelight that filled in for the sickly sun.
“I have broken my exile, your honor.” Yet wisdom lay in those gentle gray eyes that youthful years could not attain.
“I have not found you within Tar Elessar’s territory, Master Gardner. King Eomer rules in Rohan.” Faramir returned to his documents.
“Yes, well, I couldn’t very well get here without crossing Gondor, now could I?”
Faramir looked up again, regarded Frodo for a moment, then scooped together papers, tapped them into a neat stack, and set them aside. “I see. You do not feel that kidnapping by a creature the size of a giant, while in a fevered stupor, would suffice to excuse your presence west of the Anduin.”
“I would rather leave that for the King to judge.” The silence stretched, so Frodo added, “Nice study, your stewardness. The woodwork, uh, sort of resembles some of the stone sculptures in Minas Tirith”
“It would look even better by an undimmed light. King Eomer had this wing built especially for my family and myself on our visits. If you like this room, you should see the nurser...” and here that normally suave man stopped cold, clapped his hand over his face and sighed.
“Nursery. It is all right, milord; I can hear the word. I know that others have had children, who lived.”
“Precisely what do you mean, Master Gardner, by barging into my study uninvited and unannounced, asking me to arrest you?” The Steward’s face had reddened, and the hand that he ran through his hair added to his flustered appearance. “I really should, you know, merely for your impertinence. Where is my squire, by the way?”
“Please do,” Frodo said. “As to your squire, your stewardness, if you mean the young fellow by the door who wouldn’t let me in earlier, it seems that an impromptu race started up just outside, and he found it worth attending. Didn’t you hear all of the commotion? The cheers and shouts and the pounding hooves?”
“Not really,” Faramir replied, rather acerbically, “Considering how much work I have to occupy my attention.” Then he couldn’t resist an ironic smile as he murmured, “Perhaps I should arrest him instead, for dereliction of duty.”
“Young men from Gondor do not often have the chance to witness a horse race, your stewardness.”
“My title is not...Very well! I shall confine my chagrin to a stern reprimand, directly before I assign him to a stint at cleaning stables, since horses seem to fascinate him so. Now, seriously, what can I do for you, Master Gardner?”
“Arrest me, your...sir.”
“You are certain of this?”
“And nothing will dissuade you?”
Faramir rested his cheek in his palm and regarded the hobbit. “Yet I cannot send you to Minas Tirith for judgment until my wife deems you–and more to the point, Mistress Gardner–fit for travel. I fear that you shall have to linger here in Edoras for awhile longer.”
“That does not disturb me, uh, your Stewardship. I find accommodations here quite to my liking. It is the road back that, er, bothers me.”
Faramir nodded and stared keenly at him. “I understand. You wish to encounter the inns along the way while firmly under guard. Yet Frodo, you must sometime learn to be your own guard.”
“Sometime, yes. I am just not so sure that now would be the time to try it.”
Faramir’s eyes softened. “Yes–so close after such a bereavement.” And here he raised a brow. “I do know what the maid cleaned out from your quarters last night, by the way.” Palms smacked firmly onto the desk. “Very well, then. Consider yourself under arrest from this moment on. I shall even assign guards to you right now, if you like.”
“Well, I’m not sure if ‘like’ would be the proper word for it, but yes, I do feel grateful.”
Faramir stroked his chin, still solemn, though Frodo thought he caught a sparkle in the eye. “Let me think on this. My plans require that I stay in Rohan awhile longer; I cannot spare anyone from my own guard to travel with you when you do leave for Gondor. However, I know of two, not subjects of the King, yet sufficiently close to him that they might be persuaded to travel to Minas Tirith on business of his, if it means a meeting with an old friend at the end of the road...”
“Legolas and Gimli!” the hobbit exclaimed before he could stop himself. “That would be jolly indeed!”
“Jolly?” Faramir asked, yet he no longer concealed his amusement. “The halfling folk have strange notions of arrest.”
“Er, well, yes, I accept the terms of my confinement.” Part of Frodo stood aside, shocked that he could think of jolliness even for a second, but the remainder felt glad indeed for the comforts of such companionship in the days to come.
“Can I count on you to be a good prisoner until I can quarter your guardians nearer to you? Will you go straight from here to your room, and only leave when they accompany you?”
“Yes, your stewardness, I mean your stewardship. You have my parole.”
Faramir finally laughed. “Ah, Frodo, you needn’t strain for titles for me. A simple, ‘my lord’, will suffice, or ‘sir’–or nothing at all when we converse alone together. I do not prize ceremony for its own sake, reserving it for those occasions truly deserving of its structure and its beauty.”
“Yes, sir. However, it has been pointed out, sir, that I have the rustic manners of my people. I felt that if I must err, better to err on the side of over-politeness.”
Faramir laughed again. “Spoken like a mayor’s son! Very well, then, Master Gardner–if we have settled all to your satisfaction, then consider yourself dismissed. Enjoy your arrest.” And he went back to his work.
Yet Frodo paused at the door, fingering his lens. “Good luck, sir,” he said, “with negotiating for the creation of a Gondor cavalry.” While Faramir’s eyes widened at the hobbit’s insight, Frodo added, “But just remember this, sir: horse-traders do not necessarily spare even in-laws, if they act on behalf of another.” And he left swiftly, before Faramir could say another word.
Frodo expected to find his wife still asleep when he returned, but Mattie sat up in bed, against pillows, and read a letter. “Yours is over there,” she said, not looking up. “A friend of mine would have carried them to Seaside if he hadn’t found out about my stay here, but it doesn’t take all that long for mail from the Shire to reach Rohan. I gave him your letter to take back.” With an impish smile and a swift glance his way, she added, “I signed it for you while you were out.”
“Signed it for you. Years of purloining the post have taught me that much at least, to forge a credible signature, and I know exactly how you’d close it, anyway.”
Frodo swallowed his surprise and addressed the most important part. “It does my heart good, wife, to see you smile for any reason.”
“Yes, well, one cannot mourn every minute of the day, can one?” She made a fuss to fluff up a pillow for him beside her, then stopped abruptly. “It still aches, Frodo. I never thought I could survive such ache.”
Frodo leaned against the bed and caressed her curls. “I know you can. Had you been as weak as you thought, you would have perished long ago.”
She captured his hand and kissed it. “I lied. I do mourn every minute of the day. I smile, I go through the motions, but it always remains, just beyond my face–that long, long night, and feeling the life slip out of Harding’s body.” Her voice caught. “I couldn’t hold him tight enough, Frodo. I couldn’t keep him with us.”
“No one said you had to. You took the best of care of him while you could.” He pressed her hand to his own lips. “Do not fear to smile, love. Harding would not wish sorrow on his mother.”
“Fear...yes, I suppose I do. Fear that it shows me a terrible mother, even as I always suspected that I would be.”
Frodo reached across the bed and embraced her. “You were magnificent, Mattie! No one could have done better, under such horrible circumstances.”
She returned his embrace, then picked up her letter again, but did not read it. “I knew the messenger who brought this,” she said. “I’d known him for years.”
“Of course you did.”
“Roby likes the Arnor-to-Rohan run, but sometimes he takes the Rohan to Gondor, too. We used to play darts in an inn on the second level, The Merry Moon, whenever we’d cross paths. He always won.”
“I would wager that your aim has improved since then. You should ask for a rematch.”
Mattie’s large eyes turned to her husband. “He regarded me with respect, Frodo.” She looked thoughtfully out the window. “He did allow as to how odd it seemed, to think of me as having given birth, when he’d seen me as male all along, but he respected me.”
Frodo kissed her on the cheek. “That is because he finally met the real you.” He nestled her head against his breast a long moment, before picking up his own letter. Then he climbed up onto the bed with her and broke the seal. The smoke-dimmed light, only marginally improved by a cluster of candles, might have defeated them, but it helped that Sam wrote in a bold, large script. Also, by some strange grace of the Glass of May, they found that if they desired to see a word magnified, it became so for them, without actually having to hold the lens over the page. Frodo found himself smiling as he unfolded the parchment. Mourning or not, prisoner or not, life did not look so dark with a letter from home.