Through Shadows to the Edge of Night
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 9, Part 39
Dinner with the King
(December 10, 1451)
Frodo opened his eyes to a
youth saying, "Come Master Frodo, while the water is
hot." He realized that he had sprawled upon a bed
without having even changed from his travel-stained
clothes or bathed his dirty feet. He blinked about the
room, disoriented for a moment--this place looked much
too rich and well-appointed for a room in any inn he'd
ever seen. Then he remembered where he was: Minas Tirith,
capitol of Gondor, in the Palace of the King. He got up
rather stiffly and followed the servant, deciding that a
bath sounded like an excellent idea.
Frodo couldn't say whether the steaming water revived him
or relaxed him further, but it sure felt good after a
long winter's ride. The soap smelled good
too--restorative, like the first breath of spring upon
the wind; he guessed it came from one of Rivendell's old
recipes. Eventually he emerged from the bath all pink and
tingly-fresh, to clean and comfortable robes awaiting him
along with a brush for head and feet. As soon as he'd
made himself presentable, another servant led him in
silence to have dinner with the King.
Frodo dreaded another state occasion like he'd survived
in Rohan, after such a hard day, but the servant brought
him instead to a study with a little table pulled up to a
hobbit-sized overstuffed chair beside the fireplace, and a taller chair nearby. A
fine meal of chicken and winter vegetables sat alongside
a goblet of wine on the table, and underfoot spread a
warm fur rug to curl his chilly toes in. The bottle and
some toothsome desserts waited on a sideboard. All the
nourishing aromas spiced the air and set his mouth to
"Go ahead," said a deep voice behind him.
"I have already eaten. Help yourself."
Frodo spun on his heel. "Your majesty!" he
cried, and bowed to the tall and lanky man with the trim
gray beard and the crinkles radiant around the keen, gray
The King laughed. "Now, now, in the privacy of this
room I am Strider, and you are the son of one of my
dearest friends." He placed hands on the hobbit's
shoulders. "Let me take a look at you--my, but
you've grown!" He winked when he said, "An inch
or two more than I might have expected, had I not been
Frodo averted his eyes, embarrassed. "Um...yes. I
suppose you know all about the ent-draught."
"Indeed I do, and more besides. Come--sit!
Eat!" Frodo complied with no hesitation whatsoever
and found the meal delicious. "I had an especial
interest in seeing how Legolas fared, of course,"
said the King, leaning on the mantle like any commoner,
in a comfortably shabby robe obviously reserved for
less-than-state occasions. "We go back a long ways,
he and I."
"Your majes...uh, Strider, if you could follow
Legolas by palantir, how come you couldn't tell Eowyn and
Gimli where to find him?"
"Reading a palantir takes no little skill, Frodo.
You see many images overlapping and ever-changing--not
just in geography, but also in time. It takes effort to
sort through to the image you want, and strength to hold
onto it. And Legolas wandered a great deal through
wilderness without landmark. I did catch a glimpse of him
lingering in one place longer than his average, at the
Prancing Pony, though I could not fix the dates, but by
the time Eowyn and Gimli arrived, he had departed. And
when I found him again later in Hollin, I had no way to
convey the message to his seekers; fortunately Gimli
figured it out for himself."
"Did you know then, ahead of time, about his merging
with the willow?"
Strider took the bottle and a cup from the sideboard and
sat down across from Frodo. Grimly he said, "I saw
that one possible future. I also saw Legolas dead in
Hollin beneath a howling orc. And I saw him take his own
life in the Chamber of Aule. And I saw him running savage
and in rags where even Gimli could not find him. So many
terrible, possible futures!" He poured himself a cup
of wine and sipped it slowly. "It is unwise to rely
on the palantir overmuch. Now that I have you here, and
safe, I will not use it again for awhile."
"I-I am sorry to have caused you so much
trouble," Frodo stammered.
"Trouble? It is because of you that the worst
futures never happened." Strider helped himself to a
bit of toast from the side of Frodo's plate.
"Besides, at times you were downright entertaining
to follow--particularly at sword practice." He
buttered the toast, popped it in his mouth, then said,
"But I should warn you that you were luckier than
you perhaps deserve. That little wanton that you dallied
with, for instance, could easily have picked your
Frodo choked on a turnip. "Dallied?" he
cried, horrified. "I didn't...I never...I mean all I
"Get close enough for robbery. This isn't the Shire,
Frodo, as I said to your namesake many years ago. You
needn't blush! I am not altogether naive. But you have
much to learn about the wide world, my friend. Never
trust anyone bent on instant courtship with a total
stranger--they are either ill-intentioned or a fool, and
the latter might actually drag you into more trouble than
the former. But enough said!" he exclaimed with a
clap of the hands. "Tell me about the Shire. And
tell me of your travels--my random glimpses have shown me
too little for my liking. Tomorrow I must again become
the King, and you the Royal Gardener, and we shall have
much business to discuss between us, but tonight we're a
couple of old friends meeting, after many years, in a
quiet room away from all the bustle. Tell me
And so they talked, with great enjoyment on both sides.
Sometimes Strider would listen to the young hobbit's
traveling-tales with questions or exclamations of
interest; at other times he would recount the doings of
his son, or tell of good fishing to be had in certain
nearby mountain streams, or praise a cloak that his wife had
made for him--he could have been anyone besides a king.
Yet intermixed with such accounts mingled tales of his
adventures in points east and south; then would his eyes
shine and his voice take on a richer timbre, as he
recounted marvels he had seen in distant lands, acts of
courage in friend or foe alike, or moments of the most
profound emotions--fear or joy or grief, pity or respect,
unexpected hope, astonishment and wonder.
One thing only
did Frodo note by its absence, in expression or in word,
and that was pride. Tar Elessar never told his own deeds
as anything remarkable, focusing rather on his feelings
of the hour, or the accomplishments of those around him.
But neither did he deny anything he did, nor put on shows
of false modesty; he seemed utterly sure in who he was,
needing neither adornment nor denial.
Frodo soon felt so at ease that he could bare his heart
about Billie-Lass, and found the words that he couldn't say
over the cairn on the road to Minas Tirith. Strider in
turn shared his own reminiscences of her grandsire Bill,
from the first time he'd laid eyes on the scraggly beast,
to watching him thrive under Sam's kindly hand, to the
grief Strider'd had to swallow back in the Mines of Moria
when he thought Bill lost, to his great joy on reading
Sam's letter and learning that Bill had survived after
all. "Did Billie-Lass bear any foal of her
own?" he asked Frodo.
"Yes. A little boy-colt a couple years ago. He
beelined straight for Tom from the moment he first
staggered up onto all four legs. So of course Tom got
him, and Tom named..." and then he turned bright
"Why Frodo, what...oh." and the King began to
chuckle. "Don't tell me. He named the pony
"Begging your pardon, sir, but not that many folks
know nowadays that you ever went by that. And it..."
"It is a rather natural name for a horse is it not? I
believe your namesake rode a pony called 'Strider' for
awhile, himself." Then he leaned over and said,
"Don't tell anyone--least of all my wife--but as a
small boy, myself, I once named a puppy
"Luthi...oh my!" And Frodo burst into
uncontrollable giggles that grew into belly-laughs the
more he tried to fight them down. All the Gamgees knew
the King's nickname for the Queen.
"Well, she seemed very beautiful to me at the
time," Strider said. "A pretty white dog with
floppy black ears, and the biggest, most soulful eyes. My
mother was scandalized, but Elrond laughed."
"And what became of her?"
"Died long ago." Strider shook his head,
staring into his cup. "The orcs did not dare
challenge elves on the hunt, but they weren't above
leaving poisoned meat for the hounds where they thought
the hunt might pass. I suppose that passes for humor,
among orcs." When the king looked up, Frodo
saw how his eyes glittered with unspilled tears, even
now, to remember. "That is when I learned that Elrond
could not heal everything, though he tried. At least he
could ease Luthie's pain before the end."
Then Strider smiled gently and said, "I have learned
never to trust anyone, be he man, elf, hobbit or dwarf,
who cannot grieve for an animal who has served him or
dwelt long with him. And one time, Frodo," he leaned
forward again, speaking softly, "one time I saw an
orc turn back for a wounded warg, grief plain on his
hideous face. Oh, he snarled at me where he knelt by the
monster, but he did not leave, though I stood over him
with my bared sword--he had given up all advantage to
return to his animal. And I, Frodo...I found that I could not
Strider's smile went crooked as he traced a line across
his chest. "Here he slashed me, once the beast had died
with his hand soft upon its muzzle. The knife only bore a
mild poison, as orc poisons go--Elrond could bring me
back from fevered dreams, though he raged at me later for
frightening him nearly to the death like that. But when
he demanded if I had learned my lesson, I stared him in
the eye and said 'Yes," in a way that told him I did
not mean the lesson he had in mind. I still have the
scar, and I am glad, for it humbles me." He laughed
and shook his head. "Elrond later told me that he felt
glad, himself." Then, more seriously, he mused,
"You know, the orc could have stabbed me dead."
And so the conversation turned to tales of faithful
beasts, and Frodo told the King of Mormel the Raven. Soon
the whole story of M�rglin and Roin spilled from the
hobbit as the fire burned low in the hearth and Strider
built it up again. Frodo did feel a little disappointed
to learn that his theories had been all wrong, that
M�rglin could not possibly have returned in masculine
form, and that Roin would always come back remembering
his entire history, albeit gradually.
Strider did look thoughtful, though. "One of the
dwarf-stonecutters I employ is living here with his
family--he is lucky enough to have one. His son has
recently reached an age where he is able to announce his
own name, and he has called himself 'Roin'. I thought
nothing of it till now; the lad can barely put two words
together at his age and doubtless remembers no more about
himself than that--thus far. But now I wonder if
somewhere, hidden perhaps among the Moriquendi, an elvish
maiden has named herself 'M�rglin', and if the time has
finally come for them to return to us at last." He
stroked his beard, staring into the fire. "If so, a
hidden people might soon emerge from hiding--in Eldarion's
day, perhaps--and in these latter times they may need
help..." He turned suddenly to the hobbit, as though
remembering his presence. "If you would, Frodo, I
would like you to write down for me everything that you
remember of their tale."
"I already did," Frodo said, "in a letter
home--but I mailed it in Edoras. You can send to the
Shire for a copy, though; Elanor has a fair hand for such
work--she has recovered a number of old Master Bilbo's
poems that had almost faded past redemption. He wrote in
a thinnish script that doesn't hold up well, I'm
"I well remember," said Strider, smiling.
"That's right--you knew old Master Bilbo. He sailed
before I was born, to my regret."
"Oh, we were the dearest of friends, from the days
before he moved to Rivendell, even." Strider leaned back
into the cushions, eyes a-twinkle. "I had been
patrolling the Shire bounds the year that I met him. I
had tracked a most unwelcome visitor across the borders
into a northern woods, exercising what I considered the
utmost stealth so as not to alarm the locals with my
presence--though I should have known that the keen ears
of hobbits are not so easily deceived. Then, just as I
had the monster cornered and slain, and congratulated
myself on a job discreetly done, I heard a throat
clearing behind me, and a voice said, 'Excuse me, sir,
but isn't that goblin rather far from the Misty
Mountains? One of their northern nations, I should say,
if his clothes mean anything.' So help me, Frodo, I
dropped my sword in shock! It was not the sort of
remark I would have expected from a hobbit--nor did I
expect to find any such wandering so deeply in the woods,
least of all at that hour of the night." Strider
chuckled and sipped his wine. "I had much to
"Bilbo wrote that verse for you, didn't he--the one
one that starts 'All that is gold does not glitter', that
told my namesake who you really were?"
"The same. He knew me better than many a man or elf
who counted me a friend."
Gently Frodo asked, "Do you ever miss using your
The King shrugged, staring beyond Frodo as he rolled his
cup between his palms. "Aragorn was my official name
from birth, but I did not grow up with it; it never felt
like more to me than yet another alias."
"And what name do you call yourself, when there's
nobody to hear you?"
The King smiled mysteriously and finished his wine.
"I think we have discussed enough fascinating topics
for one night. You look badly in need of sleep,
The hobbit almost disputed this. He could have chattered
on forever if his eyes had not betrayed him by
persistently trying to close. "I s'pose you're
right," he said, less clearly than he intended,
thanks to a yawn.
"The hour is late," Strider said, "And we
have work to do in the morning." At the look on
Frodo's face he added, "Not too early in the
morning," and he winked. "I shall give word to
send your breakfast in at a leisurely hour, if that is to
"It is," said Frodo, suddenly wondering why he
hadn't toppled over hours ago. "Thank you."
"It is a small concession, compared to what I shall
ask of you," said the King, and Frodo raised a brow.
"One more thing," Frodo asked, "before I
go to bed. Has any mail arrived for me? Anything from my
Strider stood and looked sadly on the hobbit. "I
fear that the post has been delayed."
"Of course," said Frodo. "How could I
forget?" And he went to bed for a night of troubled