Marigold's Tale Challenge 37 - Benevolence for a Weary Heart by Pippinfan
Feb. 4th, 2007
10:42 am - Benevolence for a Weary Heart by Pippinfan
A weary, lonely watchman passes through the Buckland gate and finds kindness in unexpected places...
The theme will be to write a story that involves any character or characters learning about a different culture that begins with an assigned starter sentence.
Disclaimer: All hobbits and Middle-earth belong to JRR Tolkien, but in my dreams, they belong to me.
Summary: A weary, lonely watchman passes through the Buckland gate and finds kindness in unexpected places.
Characters involve those we know; Aragorn - still 48, and various hobbits that we ought to be familiar with (i.e., Hob Hayward, and Marmadas Brandybuck, Primula and a young Frodo Baggins, and Merimac and Rorimac Brandybuck.)
“His face was sad and stern because of the doom that was laid on him, and yet hope dwelt ever in the depths of his heart, from which mirth would arise at times like a spring from the rock.” - Return of the King, Appendix A (v), the tale of Aragorn and Arwen.
Beta: The best in the business - Marigold and Llinos. Thank you!
Benevolence for a Weary Heart
The sun glittering on the snow caused a glare that made Aragorn’s eyes water and sting. He closed his eyes until he felt they had adjusted a little more, then opened them again, squinting as the cold air touched them. This sensation made his nose run so he reached into his coat pocket for a handkerchief.
Limping behind him in the ankle-deep snow was Andúnië, his faithful horse that had seen him through many recent battles in the South. Perhaps, Aragorn thought, with so many miles under his feet, he ought not to wonder why his horse had thrown a shoe while they ambled along the riverbank. Nevertheless, Aragorn gave the affected hoof a close examination while cold air blew loose snow all round them. When he saw the shoe had been lost, he decided to try to find a blacksmith within the borders of the little country he and his kinsmen diligently watched over and protected.
Aragorn figured he and Andúnië had been walking steadily, albeit carefully, for close to three, very slow hours along the eastern bank of the Baranduin. The Bridge of Stonebows was at last within sight. Aragorn felt his stomach rumble. He took the rucksack off his shoulders, rummaging for something to eat. All he had left from this morning was a bit of dried meat. He had been hunting when Andúnië lost his shoe. Breakfast was the last time either one of them had anything proper to eat. They had nearly lost their warm fire during the night however, Aragorn was able to nurse it back to life in order to break his fast with a warm meal and a mug of hot coffee. But that seemed long ago now.
He allowed himself a brief glance at the clear blue sky to gauge the hour; it was almost noon and the sun shining overhead was cold and cheerless. Her rays brought no warmth to Aragorn; he pulled his cloak closer around himself.
Approaching the Bridge of Stonebows, Aragorn let his thoughts drift to Arwen, the love of his heart...and then to the many tasks set before him. Aragorn shivered as he walked, wondering if it was the weather that made him tremble, or the weight of care that sat upon his shoulders.
Aragorn thought to pull the hood of his cloak over his head for warmth but then reconsidered; a very tall man and a horse walking in a land full of shy Little People would appear threatening enough without a hood concealing his face. Aragorn had only once or twice directly met any inhabitants of the Shire and could only speculate what sort of greeting awaited him. Certainly he had interacted with Bree-hobbits, or observed the Shire-hobbits in years past, however, until now he simply had no reason to deal with them on a more personal basis. Moreover, Aragorn simply felt that fewer dealings with shirelings, the better off they were. But, seeking a blacksmith among the hobbits for his horse was the only option left to him.
Just as Aragorn and Andúnië stepped upon the foot of the Bridge of Stonebows, he stopped to contemplate which path he should take. Nailed to a single signpost were seven wooden signs, three pointed south, obviously bearing the names of towns lying along that path: Newbury, Bucklebury, Standelf. Then there were four similar signs pointing east that also bore names of distant towns: Whitfurrows, Frogmorton, Bywater, and Hobbiton. The signs, at a man-child‘s eye-level, were a clear indication to Aragorn that he was no longer in the Shire. And too, the gate leading into Buckland was no taller than he. There was yet another wooden placard affixed to the gate that opened to the south road that read, “Buckland” and underneath it, “Hay Gate: no admittance between midnight and first breakfast”.
“Where ye be goin’?” the gate master asked the tall stranger.
The voice drifting from the lean-to located just inside the open gate caught the man off-guard. A stocky hobbit stood near to his refuge from the bitter cold warming his hands over an open brazier.
Noting the stranger’s uncertainty, the hobbit added, “Name’s Ned Hayward - what business do ye have in Buckland - or is it the Shire?”
“I am called...Thorongil. My horse - he needs a shoe,” answered Aragorn quickly regaining his tongue. “Where may I find a blacksmith?”
“Whitfurrows be too far for yer beast t’ travel if he‘s lame,” said Ned, squinting at the signs. “Newbury’s just seven miles. They’ve got one smithy - he might not be home, but I heard he he‘s got two apprentices. Yer other choice would be t’ try for the town o‘ Bucklebury - they have three smithies there.”
“How far is Bucklebury from here?”
“Eighteen miles or so,” Ned replied, “
Aragorn’s face fell. “We have already walked for some miles. Andúnië is in need of rest.” The Ranger patted his grey dapple horse and then looked toward the Shire proper.
“Whitfurrows is farther than Newbury--close t’ eighteen miles. That be too far t’ go t’ find he‘s not at home, either.” Ned sympathized with the stranger; he could count on a few fingers how many times his pony had thrown a shoe and he had to walk him back to town. The walk may be good for a hobbit, but not for a pony - or horse, in need of a shoe. “My brother Hob will be here soon t’ take the watch. Ye’re welcome t’ stay until then t’ rest up yer horse. Then ye can decide what t‘ do.”
Aragorn accepted the invitation, bringing himself and Andúnië closer to the brazier for warmth.
“What’s that?” Ned asked his guest unashamedly.
“That,” Ned repeated, pointing at Aragorn’s scabbard. “Is that a sword ye carry?”
Aragorn had almost forgotten about his sword, though for the sake of easing this kind hobbit‘s curiosity, he slowly drew it forth. He saw Ned’s eyes open wide in horror. “Do not fear,” Aragorn indicated the broken blade, “This sword is only for hunting or orcs - goblins, as you call them.”
For a while, Ned and Aragorn stood close to the fire to keep warm, talking of various things such as the weather, their steeds, and travellers along the Road. Aragorn rarely had encounters with anyone else other than his kinsman, Halbarad, while keeping watch over this peaceful land, so he was enjoying this casual discourse. Pretty soon a pony and rider could be seen trotting up the Buckland road.
“Hoy there, Ned!” the rider cried out as he pulled his pony to a stop, a scarf wrapped round his face and neck. “If it was any colder out here, I’d have icicles under my nose!”
To that, Ned laughed. “I’ve been out here long enough that I already have!” Seeing the tall man, his brother walked timidly toward the brazier. First, Ned reassured Hob, then introduced the guest. As Ned walked away to get his own pony, he suddenly turned round. “Mr. Throngil, why don’t we go together t’ Newbury and see if old Dan the smithy is home? ‘Tis closer than Bucklebury. If not, we might ask for the apprentices - they could do the job as well.”
To Aragorn’s amazement, Ned led his pony and walked alongside him and Andúnië every step of the way to Newbury. No, the blacksmith was not at home, but he did have an apprentice who interrupted his luncheon to help the stranger. He was quite able to shoe Andúnië, though with some adjustments. Andúnië’s hoof was much bigger than what young Elgin, the apprentice, was used to.
In no time at all, and after some heartfelt farewells, Aragorn was riding Andúnië elf fashion eastward on Newbury lane back towards the Buckland road. Halfway there, Aragorn became light-headed and Andúnië faltered a couple of times as they rode. Food! Aragorn had been so distracted with Ned’s kindness and shoeing his stallion that he forgot about nourishment. Apparently, the battle-weary man was just as starved for goodwill as he was for sustenance. No sooner had this thought crossed his mind than he began to hear bells jingling not far away.
A copse of trees near to the main road concealed the origin of the sound until Aragorn cleared them. Just south of where the Newbury lane and the Buckland road met, a young hobbit stood beside his pony-led sledge and kicked it in frustration. It appeared to have a rocking chair and a small bookcase inside. Aragorn was tired and hungry, but what was one more delay? Perhaps the hobbit required assistance.
“Good day,” Aragorn spoke as he approached the hobbit. The hobbit appeared to Aragorn to be young, yet old enough to be out and alone on such a blustery winter day as today. “Do you require help?”
“I require a new hitch!” the hobbit replied hotly, then turned to see who it was that greeted him, jumping in surprise. “Who are you and where did you come from?”
“My name is Thorongil,” said the man, giving the hobbit a bow from where he sat upon Andúnië. “I am at your service. I am leaving Newbury where my horse was shod. Where are you headed? I may be able to help.”
“Nothing can help this miserable sledge. I think my future brother-in-law is trying to tell me something - the wretched tween. It was fine this morning, but now it appears that while his sister and I were busy with the furniture her parents gave us, he was busy having a bit of fun with my sledge. I don’t think it can be fixed out here. Tinker and I will have to hoof it all the way to Brandy Hall,” remarked the hobbit, then he felt a bit embarrassed about his outburst. “Oh...my name’s Marmadas Brandybuck, at your service, Mr, Thorongil, though I can‘t offer much of it at the moment. I’m guessing you don’t come from these parts.”
Aragorn smiled. “No, I do not. But, Marmadas Brandybuck, I have known the kindness of a hobbit more than once this day, so I am more than willing to be of service to you. If you will loose your pony, we can ride to wherever you wish with Tinker in tow.”
“Me? On...on your horse?” Marmadas suddenly grew nervous.
Aragorn glanced about the area. “I see no other horse here besides my own,” he said with a sparkle in his eyes.
“My cousins will never believe this,” Marmadas muttered while he unhitched his pony from the broken sledge. “Though I suppose it’s preferable to walking several miles home.”
Where the road is long and silent with only one rider, it is shorter with two companions, and filled with smiles and laughter. Marmadas quickly warmed up to his new friend as he spoke of everything from broken carriages or sledges, to his future wife.
“Sylvia and I will be married this spring - the 5th day of Astron, to be exact. I went to Newbury to help pick out the furniture her parents were giving us. We want to start a family right away.”
“Her parents purchased new furniture for their daughter and you?”
“No - it doesn’t always work like that,” answered Marmadas, “but sometimes that is the case. Sylvia had her heart set on keeping the rocking chair she had while growing up. Later, when the weather gets warmer, they’ll give us more of their mathom furniture. My folks are doing the same. Don’t all parents help out their children when they get married and move away?”
“In the world of men, it does not always work that way,” said Aragorn.
“We want to have at least four children,” said Marmadas. “How many children do you have?”
“I am not married,” Aragorn answered, then smiled. “Not yet, anyway. Although I plan to have children when I am.”
“My cousin Merimac’s wife gave birth to their first child last week - a son, no less. Today there will be jolly party and a feast awaiting us when we reach Brandy Hall. If I haven’t offered you anything else, at least I can offer you some cheer at the end of the journey.”
Noting his companion’s emphasis on sons, Aragorn asked, “Are sons more special in Brandybuck families?”
Marmadas laughed, “We feel all of our children are special - sons and daughters, however, lads seem to take the lead with Brandybucks. Both lads and lasses are recorded into the family Book on their Name Day.”
“Naming Day?” Aragorn wondered what customs hobbits had for milestones their children reached.
“No, Name Day,” the hobbit corrected the man. “Though the rest of the Shire calls it a Name Blessing. The naming of the babe is usually done before birth, though there are those parents who were not ready from the start, if you take my meaning. But either way, it won’t become official until the end of the babe’s first month and it’s entered into the Book. Today’s feast will pale in comparison to his Name Day feast!”
Marmadas then told Aragorn about faunthood and that rite of passage, the customs of birthdays and the ribadyan, of finding that special lass - or lad, and later the wedding. Aragorn related the traditions of his own people as they rode on towards Brandy Hall. The sky had clouded over and the pale sun was descending towards the treetops when they turned into the lane of the Master’s residence. Andúnië and Tinker were both stabled and fed before Marmadas and his guest went to seek their own fodder.
There were three entrances to Brandy Hall, but Marmadas picked the one closest to his family’s own tunnel where his parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all lived. Aragorn had to crouch down in order to enter through the doorway. Inside, the tunnel was silent.
“Of course it is,” Marmadas replied when Aragorn pointed this out, “Everyone is at the feast. I thought we’d like to wash for dinner.”
Once they were ready, Marmadas led the way through the various twisting tunnels. Aragorn tried to keep them straight in his head but instead grew light-headed from the effort...or was it again from the lack of food? Aragorn heard song and laugher grow louder as they drew near to the place of feasting. Finally, Marmadas headed straight for a set of round double doors. Once open, the light from the room and warmth from the hearths and happy chatter washed over them, chasing away any chill left from the wintry weather outdoors.
When Marmadas stepped inside the dining hall, all conversation stopped, then just as quickly it started again, although the chatter was now more in hushed tones. Probably wondering about their cousin’s tall friend. Merimac and a several other lads approached Marmadas with smiles of greeting on their faces.
“Glad to see you’ve made it back, Marm! Who is your friend?” he asked.
“Mac!” Marmadas greeted his cousin. “This is Mr. Thorongil - Mr. Thorongil, this is my cousin, Merimac.”
“At your service, Mr. Thorongil,” Merimac said as he bowed. “It’s my son Berilac’s birth that we’re celebrating today. You will join us, won’t you?” He winked at Marmadas, “You have only four months left of waiting, my lad, and then you’ll be throwing parties just like these.” Marmadas blushed.
Before Aragorn could accept or decline the invitation, the Master of the Hall came over to greet the guest personally. “Hello, Marmadas! I trust your trip to Newbury went well?”
Marmadas immediately introduced Thorongil to the Master, then answered his question. “It went well until my return trip,” he said and then told of what occurred on the Buckland road. “When I realised I would have to walk all the way back this traveller was kind enough to bring me and Tinker to Brandy Hall. I brought him with me to the feast in gratitude for his kindness, if you don’t mind.”
“It‘s bitter cold outside, sir,” said Rory, “and I am grateful for you seeing my young cousin home. But you are far from home, are you not?”
Aragorn once again related his misadventure with Andúnië losing his shoe and seeking a blacksmith, but said nothing of his vigil of watching over the Shire - or Buckland.
“Well, I am sorry about your horse, but am glad that you happened by when Marmadas needed help, or he may have froze to death.” At length, Rory smiled and extended his own invitation for Aragorn to join the feasting.
“I would be honoured,” said Aragorn, and he bowed low.
After the rest of the hobbits introduced themselves - some were timid, but most were bold, they all dispersed to either eating and drinking, or smoking by the hearth. Aragorn found it was easier navigating inside the main Hall, as the ceiling was higher than the tunnels or apartments.
Then again, Aragorn reminded himself that he was not in the world of Men, but of Hobbits. He was offered a low stool to sit on at the table where the Master and his family were seated. Marmadas joined him, the server giving them both a plateful of roast chicken, gravy, steaming mashed potatoes, mushrooms and green beans. Aragorn felt his stomach growl yet again.
“Hungry?” asked the hobbit sitting beside him, a grin on his face.
“A little,” answered Aragorn, grinning himself, then ate heartily.
Marmadas was pleased to get a second helping for his new friend; he’d heard tell that Big People ate small portions. The best way to flatter a hobbit-matron - or any hobbit - was to ask for third or fourth helpings. “Pie?” he asked Aragorn as he rose for the last time. But Aragorn did not answer, his head rested upon his knees. His guest had fallen asleep right where he sat.
When Aragorn awoke, he found he was covered with several blankets; his head lay on a pillow - its casing made from rabbit fur, and lastly, he was surrounded by three rather curious hobbit children.
“You see?” exclaimed the one with large, blue eyes. “He’s alive - I win!”
“I never said he was dead,” said a second child, then he and the third youngster ran off into the crowd.
“Frodo!” a slender matron called from across the room to the first child. “Come and dance with your mother.” With that, the young child ran off in the direction of the lady. Clasping each others’ hands, they twirled around the dance floor in time with the music.
Soon he was rejoined by Marmadas. “I heard that you live,” he quipped.
“So I am told,” responded Aragorn, rubbing his eyes. “I have had a very long day.”
“Are you enjoying your stay?” Marmadas asked.
“Immensely,” said Aragorn. “Sadly, however, I must take my leave of your family and their most warm hospitality.”
“My kinsman will become anxious if I do not return to our camp soon. I have left him signs of what has transpired, but I must return.”
“Certainly not tonight!” exclaimed Marmadas. “It’s much too far. Please stay the night and then you’ll be well rested to resume your journey in the morning.”
What the young hobbit said was true, Aragorn thought to himself. “Very well, I shall stay. My companion is a good tracker and will deduce what transpired.”
“Why did he not come with you?” Marmadas asked.
Aragorn had to think quickly to explain Halbarad. “He...my cousin had travelled on in a different direction for a distance, so he was not with me when Andúnië’s shoe was lost.”
“Oh. Then perhaps you should go - you don’t want to keep your cousin waiting all alone.”
“No, I do not.” Aragorn smiled at the hobbit’s compassion.
* * *
“Where have you been?” asked the dark-haired man sitting on an old tree log before a blazing fire. “I saw your saddle and bags over by the shrubs.”
Aragorn tethered Andúnië to a tree nearby then carried a heavy sack towards the fire. He sat down beside his cousin to warm his hands. The next morning was just as cold as the day before, yet no frosty weather could dispel the warmth in Aragorn’s heart. “I spent some time with hobbits in Buckland. The Master of Buckland sends his regards,” he said with a smile, then opened the sack Rory and Marmadas prepared for his journey.
When his cousin opened the sack Halbarad whistled. It was near to overflowing with cheeses, apples, seed cake, some cold meat, and other food that would keep for a while.
To this, Halbarad smiled. “A generous folk, are they not?”