Of Dreams, Bad and Sweet
Untold Tale Number 3 from the Mayor’s “Green Book”
This was Folco Boffin’s first stay at The Prancing Pony, so the five hobbits decided to eat their dinner in the small parlor where Sam, Merry, and Pippin had slept with Frodo and Strider that night so many years ago when the Quest for the Ring had just begun. It was a walk down memory lane for the Ringbearer’s companions, and a familiar haunt for Fatty Bolger, a frequent guest and raconteur at The Pony. Folco had no trouble understanding why his friends spoke so fondly of the place, and wondered to himself why he had put off a trip to Bree for so long. Ale, pipe weed, and a roaring fire were homey whether one was back home in the Shire or off paying a visit to the neighbors “Outside”.
It had been a fine summer’s ride the two days the friends made from Crickhollow to Bree. Lila Bolger had packed a sumptuous board for them, which they ate at their leisure along the way. Sun and gentle breezes kept pace with them at each step, and none of them thought the end of the road could be any better than the journey itself. Even the afternoon given to exploring the eaves of the Old Forest had been uneventful and filled with wonders – not the least of which, for Folco, that they had survived the “ordeal” and were able to continue their pilgrimage unmolested.
A fair amount of effort had been necessary on Fatty’s part to delay his joining the company in the common room immediately upon their arrival. His many evenings at the inn telling tales, singing songs, and lifting mugs had become something of an institution to the Breelanders. Only his promise that they would not retire for the night without at least one pint with the crowd quieted the insistent demands for a song or a verse or at least news of the four farthings. That and the fact that he and his friends planned a good fortnight amongst the worthies of Bree. There would be plenty of chances for many a song.
But for now the five friends were bent on the important business of Butterbur’s hearty supper. And then after the mutton, honey-laden loaves, sweet corn, taters, and cherry pie, there was more ale to drink, pipes to smoke, and history to recall. The company would have to wait quite a while before Fatty was satisfied and they could be satisfied with Fatty.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s been eleven years since Frodo and Gandalf and all took ship into the West,” Folco observed with his first puff after the dinner dishes had been cleared.
“Yes, almost thirteen years since the Ring was destroyed,” Pippin added.
“And nigh on fourteen since you and me and Merry first sat here with Mister Frodo and Strider – or His Majesty the King, I should say now!” Sam put in.
“You wouldn’t have said it then,” said Merry with a good-natured laugh. “You were all ready to tell Strider to hit the road practically the minute you set eyes on him!”
“Well, I’ve learned a few things about His Highness since then. ‘Live and learn!’ as my Gaffer used to say. I’m not too proud to admit a mistake. Here’s to the King!” Sam raised his mug, and the other hobbits joined him in drinking the King’s health. If it were up to the hobbits, this night would make the King very healthy indeed.
“I wish I had had the courage to go along with you all when I had the chance.” Fatty seemed unusually pensive as he took a slow draught from his mug. “I often wonder how my life might have been different if I hadn’t been so frightened at the idea of going off into the Wild with you all, or like Mr. Bilbo before you.”
“I’m surely not one to criticize,” Folco said in an effort to comfort his friend’s melancholy. “I couldn’t even manage to do what you did at Crickhollow, what with Black Riders chasing you and all. Besides, you might not ever had had the chance at knowing Lila. You might never had made it back.”
“That’s right, Fatty,” Pippin said. “Who knows what could have happened to you along the way. Many’s the time that I thought that I was done for. There was the whole time with the Uruk-hai, the siege of Minas Tirith, and the awful last battle before the Black Gate of Mordor. I could have died at any time – and a lot of others. Who knows?”
Merry went on, “And even when we were back in the Shire and thought we were safe, anything could have happened. The Battle of Bywater was no picnic. And besides, you weren’t exactly knitting shawls down in Scary before they caught you and put you in the lockholes.”
“I know, I know,” Fatty barely agreed. “But I still think that I came up short somehow.”
“I don’t know about that,” said Sam. “There’s a lot that none of us knows about how important the part is that we play in a great story like the Quest for the Ring. We all, every one of us, had something to do, and it seems to me that we all did it. If we hadn’t, I don’t think we would be here right now. It’s like Pippin just said, at any point anything might have happened. I remember when Mister Frodo and me had just gotten away from the Tower of Cirith Ungol. We had a real near thing, when two orcs almost nabbed us. They had found the spot where Gollum had found a mail shirt that Mister Frodo had cast off, and they were hot on our trail. If things had been just a bit different, things would have been a lot worse, and they were awfully bad already.”
Frodo and Sam had just begun to breathe freely again when harsh and loud they heard orc-voices. Quickly they slunk out of sight behind a brown and stunted bush. The voices drew nearer. Presently two orcs came into view. One was clad in ragged brown and was armed with a bow of horn; it was a small breed, black-skinned, with wide and snuffling nostrils: evidently a tracker of some kind. The other was a big fighting-orc, like those of Shagrat’s company, bearing the token of the Eye. He also had a bow at his back and carried a short broad-headed spear. As usual they were quarrelling, and being of different breeds they used the Common Speech after their fashion.
Hardly twenty paces from where the hobbits lurked, the small orc stopped. ‘Nar!’ it snarled. ‘I’m going home.’ It pointed across the valley to the orc-hold. ‘No good wearing my nose out on stones any more. There’s not a trace left, I say. I’ve lost the scent through giving way to you. It went up into the hills, not along the valley, I tell you.’
‘Not much use, are you, you little snufflers?’ said the big orc. ‘I reckon eyes are better than your snotty noses.’
‘Then what have you seen with them?’ snarled the other. ‘Garn! You don’t even know what you’re looking for.’
‘Whose blame’s that?’ said the soldier. ‘Not mine. That comes from Higher Up. First they say it’s a great Elf in bright armour, then it’s some sort of small dwarf-man, then it must be a pack of rebel Uruk-hai; or maybe it’s all the lot together.’
‘Ar!’ said the tracker. ‘They’ve lost their heads, that’s what it is. And some of the bosses are going to lose their skins too, I guess, if what I hear is true: Tower raided and all, and hundreds of your lads done in, and prisoner got away. If that’s the way you fighters go on, small wonder there’s bad news from the battles.’
‘Who says there’s bad news?’ shouted the soldier.
‘Ar! Who says there isn’t?’
‘That’s cursed rebel talk, and I’ll stick you, if you don’t shut it down, see?’
‘All right, all right!’ said the tracker. ‘I’ll say no more and go on thinking. But what’s the black sneak got to do with it all? That gobbler with the flapping hands?’
‘I don’t know. Nothing, maybe. But he’s up to no good, nosing around I’ll wager. Curse him! No sooner had he slipped us and run off that word came he’s wanted alive, wanted quick.’
“Well, I hope they get him and put him through it,’ growled the tracker. ‘He messed up the scent back there, pinching that cast-off mail-shirt that he found, and paddling all round the place before I could get there.’
‘It saved his life anyhow,’ said the soldier. ‘Why, before I knew he was wanted I shot him, as neat as neat, at fifty paces right in the back; but he ran on.’
‘Garn! You missed him,’ said the tracker. ‘First you shoot wild, then you run too slow, and then you send for the poor trackers. I’ve had enough of you.’ He loped off. ‘Eh, what’s this?’
‘What’s what?’ said the soldier trotting after him.
Frodo and Sam exchanged terror-stricken glances and grabbed the hilts of their swords. If they were discovered here, within sight of the Dark Lord’s gathering armies, not only was there no hope for their escape, but there was no hope at all to prevent Sauron spreading his shadow right to the shores of the western Sea. But how the two hobbits were to evade detection or to fight their way free was beyond the power of either of them to imagine.
“Smell this! It reeks of elves! Argh! How I hate the very air of them!” the tracker finished with a spasm of half-feigned coughing. The cause of his disgust was a small fragment of the leaf-wrappings from a wafer of lembas that evidently had fallen from Sam’s pack or pocket.
“Phew! You’re right,” the soldier sniffed and coughed in his turn. “It’s elvish all right. So put that snotty nose of yours to work and find ‘em. They can’t be far now.”
Lowering himself on all fours and snuffling about like a misshapen hound, the tracker surveyed the ground immediately around the two orcs. Even his sensitive nose had trouble in the barren, arid land picking up a scent. Several minutes went by without him making any sign that he knew the direction they should take.
The soldier was getting visibly impatient when the tracker became suddenly agitated. He had found a scent. Quickly and eagerly he began crawling toward the hobbits’ hiding place. Frodo steeled himself for what seemed inevitable: a fight to the death. He kept no illusions about their chance for surviving the struggle.
Sam, too, steeled himself, but he had a bold idea born of the desperation of the moment. While the tracker was intent upon the ground and the soldier gave all of his attention to the tracker, Sam picked up a large stone and hurled it behind and to the right of the approaching orcs. The sound startled the creatures and they turned to face their unseen foe.
Without hesitating a moment, Sam quietly leapt from their refuge and, as only a hobbit can, soundlessly covered the distance to the tracker, now many strides behind the soldier rushing to investigate the cause of the noise. Frodo was dumbstruck and for the moment found himself unable to move.
Not a sound came from the tracker as Sam’s sword went through his back and the orc toppled over dead. Oblivious to his danger the soldier was slowing, looking from left to right, wondering what had made the sound.
“Someone’s nearby, but who and where I can’t – “ the orc’s confusion grew before he could finish his sentence as he turned to face the tracker, only to see Sam lunging at him with a fierce expression that would have turned a wolf’s blood cold. Roaring in anger, Sam hewed with his sword at the spear arm of the orc, sending the arm lifeless and the spear useless to the ground.
Shocked into action, the orc shrieked in pain, but used his remaining arm to counter Sam’s next thrust with his shield. The orc then pressed forward on Sam and butted his far smaller enemy with the shield, forcing Sam to his knees. Sam could neither strike at the orc nor find a way to escape the harrowing blows that seemed to come endlessly. Over and over again he looked into the evil Eye of Mordor descending on his head, bringing dull pain, and finally utter darkness.
It was this sight that moved Frodo at last to aid his servant. The soldier was pummeling Sam into unconsciousness, turning the hobbit’s head into so much pulp. Frodo careened into the open, to the great dismay of the orc, now weakening from loss of blood, and threw himself with a frenzy onto the fiend brutalizing his dearest friend.
Crows circled the site for hours as the orc’s life dripped away from the mortal wounds he had sustained. But before he lost consciousness, he had succeeded in aiming a blow at the head of the little rat that had cut off his leg, a blow that sent the vermin flying headlong against a boulder. Neither Frodo nor Sam nor the orcs would wake to see the dawn. Instead, the carrion fowl would feast by night. And the Dark Lord would send an endless night to trouble every land, devouring light and freedom and hope.
“I took many labored breaths before realizing that I had awakened and that the horrible fight with the orcs was just a dream,” Sam continued. “But you couldn’t have convinced me it wasn’t real for a good minute after I woke up. I didn’t trouble Mister Frodo with my nightmare, but, I tell you, it followed me every step of the way from the Morgai to Mount Doom. Not a day went by but I thought that it would be the last. That’s how close we came – a hundred times! So, Fatty, don’t be too hard on yourself or on your fate. Worst almost came more times than we can count. And in your own way you kept some of the worst from happening, too.”
A long and leaden silence descended on the party when Sam finished recounting his all too vivid dream. Then draining his mug, Pippin announced, “This is much too serious for a holiday outing. It’s time we joined the company. Put away your bad dreams and bad memories and let’s go enjoy Bree!”
Merry, Folco, Sam, and Fatty laughed at themselves for how drear they had become. They followed Pippin’s lead and finished off their pints. His Majesty was growing healthier by the minute – and by the ounce.
The five folk from the Shire entered the common room and were swept up in introductions, calls for songs, and generous offers of more ale. Since Fatty knew many of the company already, he availed himself of the chance to renew the quenching of his thirst while renewing friendships. Folco was being passed around to the curious who wanted to make him their newest best friend. And Merry, Pippin, and Sam were complimenting Butterbur on the continued excellence of his room and board.
“Well, I can’t say but that makes me proud and pleased to hear you say that, Mr. Brandybuck. And thank you, too, Mr. Took and Mr. Gamgee. It’s always a pleasure to have you all come out and visit us in Bree. Makes me think somehow that I should come some day and pay you all a visit in the Shire. But when a body’s going to find the time for such a trip this body sure don’t know yet. Still, it’s an inviting idea. I’ll have to give it some thought, when I get the chance, if I ever get the chance. But I’m forgetting my manners! You folk don’t have a mug in hand! I’ll cure that directly.” And with that, before Merry, Pippin, or Sam could respond or take a breath, Butterbur flew off in the direction of the kitchen.
Several of the Bree hobbits made room for Merry, Pippin, and Sam on the benches at their table. Sam produced a large pouch of Southfarthing Longbottom Leaf and shared it around with his tablemates, who were very grateful for his largesse. Laughter floated toward the ceiling along with the smoke from their many pipes. The levity was greatly aided by Butterbur’s return with pints for all. He scurried about the room depositing mugs from the huge tray he lofted over his head, lading it with empty mugs that he would have to wash and refill in very short order.
“So, you gentlemen plan on a fairly long stay with us, I hear,” one of the Breeland hobbits, a Mr. Banks, gently probed Pippin.
“We’d stay permanently,” Pippin obliged his interlocutor, “for the ale if nothing else, but two weeks is all our wives would give us.”
“More likely it’s all you can manage without them!” guffawed one of the Bree men at an adjoining table.
His friend sitting next to him could not leave that remark unremarked. “You oughta play fair now, Bob. Your wife wouldn’t mind you being a bit less able to pry yourself away from her most nights. In fact, shouldn’t one of your lads be arriving any minute now to remind you of the way home?”
“Now, now, Tom, my leash’s no shorter than yours. Seems to me most nights one of my lads has Barliman’s front door held for him by one of yours! You’d think after all these years our womenfolk would learn a little efficiency and just send one of the tykes for the two of us. But if they’re willing to keep fetching, I’m willing to be fetched. Here’s to wedded bliss!” several wives had their health improved almost as much as the King’s.
Mr. Tunnelly, a hobbit from Combe visiting Mr. Banks, turned the conversation back to the Shire-hobbits’ holiday. “I don’t get into Bree as much as I might like to. How often are you able to make your way to Barliman’s fine establishment?”
“Our friend Fatty over there gets in pretty often, probably once a month or so,” Merry answered.
“Yes, but Mister Pippin here and I don’t live as close to the borders as Fatty and Mister Merry,” Sam explained. “I live out Hobbiton way and Pippin is in the Tookland, a bit further south and west of me.”
“I don’t know why I don’t come more often,” Merry offered. “I live in Buckland at Brandy Hall, right at the edge of the Shire, but somehow I don’t come unless Sam and Pippin are along. More’s the pity. I think I’ll tell Fatty to bring me along more often.”
“Well, Mr. Brandybuck,” Mr. Tunnelly said, “maybe I’ll have to do the same. After all, Combe is a lot closer to Bree than Buckland, but I let too long go between my visits, too.”
“I’m glad I don’t have your problems,” Mr. Banks puffed smugly at his pipe. “Barliman sees me practically every night!”
“That’s why you’re my friend, Will,” Mr. Tunnelly puffed back. “Whenever I come for a visit, you make sure that Barliman’s ale doesn’t get neglected for even one night.”
“Of course, there’s many a place with fine ale in the Shire that can keep a person from wandering too far,” Pippin said while paying homage to the local brew down to its last drop of foam. “But coming to The Pony’s a good way to keep from getting in a rut.”
“It’d take a powerful large rut to hold you or Mr. Brandybuck for any time,” Mr. Tunnelly said rather undiplomatically. “Why, you’re every inch of five feet tall by the looks of you! Are they growing giants along with pipe-weed in the Shire these days?”
Both Merry and Pippin roared with delight at the observation. They had grown very accustomed over the years to being objects of amazement. Although still quite small of stature when compared to a man, Merry and Pippin were uncommonly large for hobbits. Neither of them was shy about explaining how it came to pass that they lacked the normal hobbit’s briefer height. In fact, each took a kind of pride in their distinction.
“Mr. Tunnelly, you are seeing the effects of time spent with the Ents,” Pippin spoke through a grin haloed in a smoke ring.
“I beg your pardon,” Mr. Tunnelly returned sounding rather confused. “What, pray tell, is an Ent?”
“Ents,” said Pippin, “Ents are – well Ents are all different for one thing. But their eyes now, their eyes are very odd. When I first set eyes on an Ent’s eyes, it felt as if there was an enormous well behind them, filled up with ages of memory and long, slow, steady thinking; but their surface was sparkling with the present: like sun shimmering on the outer leaves of a vast tree, or on the ripples of a very deep lake. I don’t know, but it felt as if something that grew in the ground – asleep, you might say, or just feeling itself as something between root-tip and leaf-tip, between deep earth and sky had suddenly waked up, and was considering you with the same slow care that it had given its own inside affairs for endless years.”
Mr Tunnelly and Mr. Banks stared blankly as Pippin finished.
“Pippin always gets poetic when he talks about the Ents,” Merry explained with a chuckle at his friend’s reverie. “Ents are a people who live out past the edge of the Wild. They are very, very old and very, very deliberate in everything they do. They speak slowly, think slowly, and live a long, long time.”
Pippin stirred from his reflections. “But when their trees are in peril, they can move with a speed that you could never imagine was possible for them. That’s what they are, shepherds of trees, and when their trees are in danger they will protect them with a savagery that is astounding in its ferocity.”
“That’s the wonderful thing about them,” Merry then said. “As fierce as they can be, they are even more tranquil and peace-loving. I remember when we spent several days with them before coming to the sack of Isengard how utterly at peace the forest was wherever Quickbeam took us and sang to his beloved rowan trees. It was almost like a mother singing a lullaby to a baby on his way to sleep.”
“Yes, that’s right!” Pippin agreed. “The Ents were contemplating war and the forest was set on edge, but whenever Quickbeam approached, and especially when he sang, it was as if there was nothing else in the world but sunshine and treeshade and birdsong.”
“He’s getting poetic again,” Merry smiled at Pippin’s description. “But he’s not far off the mark. Just like a shepherd tries to calm his sheep with soothing words, I think that Quickbeam was telling the trees that everything would be all right and that there was nothing to fear. I know it made me feel a whole lot better.”
“The last morning of Entmoot,” Pippin continued, “I was lying on the ground after waking but before I got up, and Quickbeam was already out and about. Merry here was still fast asleep. Quickbeam was strolling thoughtfully around the glade that surrounds his ent-house. He sang a deep, rich and melancholy but somehow sweet melody. I don’t know if there were words to it or if he just hummed – Entish is almost impossible to translate, even if you understand it, which I don’t.
“But, anyway, he sang this painfully beautiful song to his rowan trees, and visions came to my mind unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before or since. Not even in Lothlorien did I have a sensation quite like this.
“It was like I had plunged right into the depths of an Ent’s eyes and had begun to see things the way he does. Each blade of grass, every feather on the lark, a thousand hues of green in the springtime forest – all of them seemed to place themselves before me for my undivided attention. And I was able to consider them individually as if there was nothing else to be seen, and seeing each lovely thing was enough to make my heart burst with joy – and then there was something else to look at.
“I think the bittersweet part of Quickbeam’s song was that no matter how long he was able to look at everything, he could never see everything all together and ceaselessly. There was such joy in every beauty and all of them taken together were exquisitely beautiful, but no eye and no amount of time had the power to embrace all of it. And I think that Quickbeam really did want to gather everything that he saw into his arms and hold it to his heart.
“Yet, something else made the song even more incredible and dreamlike. While I lay there listening and seeing, I had the strangest sensation that everything that Quickbeam was singing about was listening and seeing, too, and had begun to sing back. Even now I don’t know if I was dreaming or if it was some kind of real vision or if it actually happened, but just as Quickbeam was expressing his desire to see everything, and touch everything, and cherish everything, it seemed that the dew wanted to be drunk by Quickbeam and the glow of dawn wanted to warm Quickbeam and the breeze wanted to caress Quickbeam and the first lark wanted Quickbeam to teach her his song so that she could teach it to her chicks.
“Quickbeam knew exactly what his woods wanted, and all of the forest creatures and the trees knew that they were his heart’s desire. That morning it seemed that there was no power in the whole world that could make any of them refuse to share their bliss, to do anything at all to satisfy every yearning they knew they all held in common. Just before Merry woke up I found myself almost ready to abandon the Quest and to renounce the Shire and just stay there and learn how to receive what the forest offered and to share whatever I had as well. I think, for maybe a minute or so, I had a true glimpse of how the Ents see the world.” Pippin drifted off into another reverie.
“But not long after that,” Merry filled the gap left by Pippin’s silence, “the Entmoot was over and the decision was made to go to war. And Quickbeam played a big part in destroying Isengard and making things safe for his trees. I think he kept his end of the bargain to do whatever he could for them. And I can’t imagine that they aren’t somehow trying to do what Pippin described and showing their gratitude to Quickbeam for his bravery and his tender care.”
Mr. Tunnelly and Mr. Banks exchanged glances when Merry finished. “Shepherds of trees, you say, Mr. Brandybuck?” Mr. Banks said with a queer tone to his voice. “And visions and woodsong and magic eyes. And all this time I thought that Mr. Bolger was the only one with a vivid imagination. You two tall fellows can tell a pretty tall tale.”
Sam, who had sat by quietly while his friends related their story, chuckled a little, and was about to come to their defense when a commotion stirred a few tables to his left. Near the hearth at the center of one end of the common room, Folco was standing on top of one of the tables, mug in hand, swinging and swaying in time with a song he began to bellow amidst surprised and delighted laughter. Messrs. Banks and Tunnelly’s skepticism was quickly forgotten as they all gave heed to Folco’s boisterousness.
While Pippin had been relating some of the experiences that he and Merry had had with the Ents, Folco was being barraged with questions about himself and the doings back in the Shire. He was enjoying himself immensely, telling stories and listening to the small gossip of the Breeland. One of the Bree men, Mr. Rushy, asked, “Why is it now that we have seen Fatty there so often, and even Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin and Mr. Sam from time to time, but we haven’t met you ‘til tonight?”
“I’ve been asking myself that all night,” Folco replied. “It’s a wonder that I could keep myself from such pleasures for so long. But it seems that over the years, first one thing and then another always kept me from accepting Fatty’s invitations to come along. I was just about to join him on a visit about a year and a half ago when the biggest obstacle arose.” Folco paused significantly.
“Yes? What happened?” Mr. Rushy asked eagerly.
“I was attacked by a Daisy!”
“What? A daisy? A flower attacked you? You’ll have to explain that, Mr. Boffin!” Mr. Rushy insisted with a bit of frustration at the hobbit’s coyness.
“I didn’t say that a flower attacked me. A Daisy attacked me. It’s simple enough. The lovely lady who is now my wife is named Daisy. We were just married a bit over a year ago. I couldn’t very well leave the house while I was still a newlywed and had a baby on the way shortly after that!”
“Oho! I see,” said Mr. Rushy. “True love found you. But if it isn’t too forward of me to ask, aren’t you a bit past the normal age to have just gotten married a year back? Seems that a hobbit your age should be an old hand at marriage by now, with a whole herd of children.”
“You’re absolutely right, Mr. Rushy. I did wait too long to get married. But it was worth the wait. Daisy is the best wife there ever was. It’s just that it took our slow uptake a while to understand that. Daisy and I were meant for each other: neither of us knew that both of us knew that we were meant for each other!”
And with that Folco leapt up onto the table and burst into song*:
O Vi’let, sweet Vi’let, how can I win the lovely hand
of you who are truly the fairest maid in all the land?
Your father looks kindly, but can not give his blessing ‘til
his Vi’let, sweet Vi’let says, “Yes, I want to marry Will!”
O William, dear William, when will you come to me and say,
“O Vi’let, sweet Vi’let, thy lovely hand to win I pray!”?
My father, don’t fear him, he’s only looking for a sign
that William, dear William, will boldly call his daughter mine.
O Vi’let, sweet Vi’let, what can I give to you for proof
that sharing with William his heart and home and name and roof
will please you and surely be ev’rything that you desire
and yet pledge the morrow will more each day to come aspire.
O William, dear William, this house to me is but a jail,
a prison, a birdcage, where hopes and dreams are bound to fail!
No promise of pleasure or any better e’er to be
await me so long as from wedlock and my Will I’m free.
O Vi’let, sweet Vi’let, if I should weep would you then cry?
Perhaps my sad groaning might move your lips to share my sigh?
But I’ll not be unmanned nor offer you dishonored dearth,
for Vi’let, sweet Vi’let, shall have the best that walks the earth.
O William, dear William, can you resist a maiden’s tears?
Come swiftly, I beg you, when my distress has reached your ears!
Since woman is fairer and tender far than any man,
my eyes you’ll find sweeter than any river ever ran!
O Sweet one! O Dear one! Our waiting now is at an end!
As spring into summer our bliss will ever grow and blend.
And children – a dozen of each of both of girls and boys
shall twice-grace each twelvemonth with boundless, never-ceasing joys!
*to the tune of “The Lost Lady Found” [c.f. P.A. Grainger's "A Linconlshire Posy], more or less
Folco ended amidst a round of applause. The company seemed especially delighted in his rendering of Violet’s part of the song in a shrill falsetto. He acknowledged his appreciative audience by lifting his mug to them and draining it at one draught. The King and his subjects grew yet healthier. After Folco leapt down from the table with the same gusto with which he had ascended, his tablemates and he returned to their enthusiastic conversation.
“Your friends are awfully animated tonight,” Mr. Mugwort observed to Fatty Bolger, who was sitting across the table in a dark corner of the common room. It was in fact the same corner where Frodo had met the Ranger Strider many years before. Mr. Mugwort and Fatty were as subdued this night amidst the general frivolity as Frodo and Strider had been when Pippin had been the one regaling the company that night at the beginning of the Quest to destroy the Ring. Those days and their perils seemed now as far away as the dark side of the moon.
“Something about The Pony brings that out of a person,” Fatty said. “I know that I have a hard time not getting caught up in the excitement of the place whenever I come. Maybe excitement’s not the right word. Energy, maybe. Even when the tale being told is sad or quiet or dark and frightening, there’s something about this place that gives me a feeling of expectancy and liveliness. And, yet, at the same time the place is comfortable and cozy like the hearth in your own parlor. It strikes me as what Rivendell would be if mortals had the gift to create such a place. Maybe that’s just what Barliman has done.”
“What’s Rivendell?” Mr. Mugwort asked.
“It’s not a what but a where. It was the home of Elrond Halfelven before he took ship and sailed into the West of west with Gandalf and Bilbo and Frodo after the War of the Ring. Elrond is the father of Queen Arwen, wife of our own Aragorn who used to come here before his kingdom was restored. Most folks hereabouts called him Strider back then. But you know all that.”
“Yes, hard to believe as it might be. But tell me more about Rivendell and Elrond. I saw Queen Arwen once, at a distance, when she and her maidens were passing through on the way to Fornost. I can’t believe how beautiful she is,” there was awe in Mr. Mugwort’s voice.
“That would be her mother and grandmother shining through in her. Her mother is Celebrian, daughter of Celeborn and Galadriel of Lothlorien. And, of course, all of them are kin of the most beautiful lady ever, Luthien Tinuviel. It’s no wonder that you are taken with her loveliness. Arwen is all that’s left of that beauty in Middle Earth. Celebrian passed into the West more than five hundred years ago, and Galadriel took ship with Elrond and all.”
“Where did they go? You keep saying, ‘West of west’. What does that mean?”
“I don’t know that I can rightly say. It’s not for mortals like you and me really to understand all of that. I just know the few things that I have heard from the tales of the Blessed Realm. It is a place of wonder and dreams, of delight and enchantment. But it is more than the mortal heart can bear. I guess just knowing it from afar is blessing enough.”
“Tell me one of the tales,” Mr. Mugwort begged.
Fatty paused for a moment in thought. “Well, here’s a story I heard from the King himself. His Majesty heard it as a lad growing up in Rivendell. His dear mother, Gilraen, told it to him many a time, bouncing him on her knee or laying him to sleep at night. I’m sure she heard it first in the house of Elrond, and maybe even from the Lady Galadriel herself. She it was who brought this little tale from the Blessed Realm to Middle Earth. I can’t possibly do it justice in song, so I’ll just have to tell it briefly in words and then, Mr. Mugwort, I’ll bid you goodnight!”
“I accept your terms, Mr. Bolger.”
Fatty began in a most peaceful, singsong tone of voice: “A happy little girl lived in the fair city of Tuna upon Tirion on the eastern margins of the blissful land of Valinor. Her happiness was surpassed only by her beauty. She was of a noble house of the Elvish people called the Vanyar. Among them she was deemed a gem among jewels.
“This lovely lass had a mother most wise. She feared for her daughter, seeing how her daily joy was unsullied by any kind of grief. Not even in Valinor, where no death stained the land and no sickness lurked, could this be expected to last for long. Even the Valar knew sorrow, their lamentations woven into piercingly beautiful verse and song. No elf-maiden could hope to avoid all sadness for ever. This mother pitied her daughter, knowing that the longer she might be spared, the harsher would be her realization of the fullness of life’s offerings. Youth is graced with peace and joy, true, but it is also beset by a cruelly blissful ignorance. Knowledge seldom comes but in the company of wounds.
“At about the time our elf-maiden was come to her brightest blossom, and the years of Valinor were like unto our days, even hours, she took to visiting the exquisite gardens nigh the western reaches of the land beyond Valmar, city of bells and towers, abode of the rulers of Arda. These gardens were called Lorien, whence comes part of the name of that enchanted land of Queen Arwen’s mother, far kin of this elf lass. Lorien was ruled by a Vala named Irmo. He nurtured rest, healing, and fair dreams within his borders. High and low besought them there health, larksong, and gentle visions of delight and wonder and good counsel.
“’Mama,’ the lass asked one day, ‘many go to fair Lorien seeking true dreams – what should I seek?’
“’Oh, dear! My darling!’ her mother hid not her dismay. ‘Seek nothing in Lorien! Only take what is offered, receive what is given, and return naught but gratitude. The greedy come away from Irmo’s realm unsatisfied, for their needs rarely match their appetites. Go not there to possess. Rejoice in what you find unbidden, not in gaining what your folly demands.’
“’Is it not good, then, for me to go to Lorien’s gardens, Mama?’
“’It is good and rewarding, my daughter. But go nowhere ever looking for reward. It is most meet that you accept graciously what is given, and pine not for what is withheld.’
“’May I not pursue my heart’s desire?’
“’Yes, surely, and always do. I beg you only to train your heart on that which is true and worthy. Ask only that what should be shall be. Alas! great grief is in the world from those ungrateful for having won their hearts’ desires. Trust not the cravings of an impure heart!’
“This gave the lass much to ponder. She put off her next visit to Lorien for many long days giving thought to her mother’s wisdom. Suddenly to those near her, she seemed overly quiet and somber for one of her years.
“After a time, the lass arose from Tuna and journeyed to Valmar. She delighted in the wonders and marvels among the deathless kings and queens of Arda. Many fair songs and works of craft she beheld, taking the music to heart and learning the lore of beauty in vision beyond what the eye can imagine.
“She traveled in the company of one of her mother’s ladies-in-waiting. This attendant prudently allowed her charge to immerse herself in newfound splendor, while shielding her from those things which youth should not know. She did her duty so well that the maiden believed that nothing escaped her attention and no joy passed her by untasted.
“Valmar, however, with all its power to attract and enchant, was not the goal of this pilgrimage. Leaving behind the fabulous Trees of Light, the tuneful chimes of the spires, and the lush vibrancy of the gathered hearts in the thrall of such indescribable bliss, the maid and her guardian made their way at last to Lorien. There was no doubt in the young lady’s mind that something tremendous awaited her. But, obedient to her mother, she dared not proceed with silent pleas for a host of things she found desirable. Rather, she quieted her heart, opened her ears, and turned her face toward Lorien and whatever it held in store.
“As was her wont in her visits to Lorien, the maiden went on her arrival to a tranquil mere set in the heart of the land. It was surrounded by a garth rich and wide, which in its turn was encircled by sighing groves of willows. The fair breeze blowing through the myriad willowleaves sounded like the waves splashing a midnight shore beneath soft starshine. But upon the surface of the lake not a ripple stirred in the wind. Only the reflection of the drift of a few bright clouds overhead moved on the waters.
“Each time the elf-maiden had visited this peaceful scene before, she had been alone. Most often she would sit at the water’s edge and bathe her feet in its cool shallows. Either the noisy silence of the neighboring woodland or her own voice rising in gentle song were her only company.
“On this occasion she had sent her attendant directly to their lodgings, intending herself to spend a quiet afternoon with her thoughts at her accustomed spot on the barely sloping banks above the lake. Coming to the shore she began to hum and then to dance to the tune she improvised for her own delight. Twirling in slow circles she sank to her knees, scooped her hands together, and sipped from that living cup sweet water yet tasting of the cool of morning dews. Quenched for the moment, she sat down and looked first at the sky spread before her on the waveless lake, then gazed at the sky high above, drenched with enough blue to fill the space between both horizons and to flood the thirsty depths reflecting it at her feet.
“An hour at least passed thus. The fair maiden moved no more than the smooth sheet of glassy water before her. The melody of an unfettered breeze moving the willows to sigh was equaled in beauty by the plaintive, wordless song welling up from the heart longing for she-knew-not-what between water and wood.
“It never struck her as odd that she always had this idyllic setting to herself. Lorien was large and its visitors were respectful of their fellows’ desire for solitude. Still, a lake as substantial as that where this maiden found respite could accommodate many without undue distractions or interference occurring.
“Thus, when the eldest son of the youngest son of the High King of the Noldor approached, the maiden was surprised in spite of herself. That he walked directly to where she sat in repose almost shocked her. His first word to her nearly unnerved her.
“’Amarie!’ he whispered.
“’How – how do you know my name?” she gasped.
“’I am the dream that you seek. But if you seek me here, in Lorien, you shall seek in vain. I will seek you in Tuna. If you wish this dream to come true, you must follow me from Tuna wherever our doom might take us!’
“’But – but what is your name? Who are you?’
“’Do you not know? I am your wish. I can be your future, if you so choose. You will know me when we meet in Tuna. My name is Finrod.’ And with that he vanished.
“Amarie tarried many months in Lorien, but Finrod did not appear to her again. Many years later they finally did meet in Tuna. And many years after that, Finrod begged Amarie to marry him and to make a home with him far away.”
Mr. Mugwort thought he understood Fatty’s tale. “What a nice story! Your usual stories are so drear and sad. You say the King told you this one?”
“Yes, indeed,” said Fatty with a smile.
“Well, His Majesty tells a good story, a real good story!”
Fatty replied, “I’ll drink to that. Here’s to the King!”
“To the King’s good health!” boomed back Mr. Mugwort.
He rose and bid Fatty goodnight. Fatty slowly drained the last of his last pint. He went to bed dreaming of Nom and of Nargothrond and of oaths kept and of Sauron’s many victories and his ultimate defeat. Fatty understood. Not every happy beginning has a happy ending; not every sad ending is cause for mourning.
Author Notes: Folco's song really should be sung out loud when you read this story!