The Night Before A Party
Elanor Gardner, daughter of Samwise and Rosie Gamgee Gardner, was excited at the prospect of her upcoming two-and-twentieth party. For tween girls in the Shire, nothing short of a wedding was as exciting as the twenty-first anniversary of their birth. This marked the beginning of their two-and-twentieth year when they officially became ‘eligible,’ to be courted by the young, and sometimes not so young ardent and hopeful bachelors, of which there suddenly seemed an almost endless supply. They were coming not only from Hobbiton, Bucklebury and Tuckborough, and every other corner of the Four Farthings, some said hobbits were traveling to Bag End from as far as distant Bree.
All this undoubtedly on account of the Great Year of 1436. That was when the High King Elessar of the United Kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor, Queen Arwen, the princesses Celendrian and her sisters met HMS Samwise, his wife the inimitable Rosie, their seven children; the Thain Peregrin Took, ruler of Tookland, his wife Diamond and their son Faramir; the Master Meriadoc Brandybuck, ruler of Buckland, his wife Estella, sons Théoden and Boromir, and daughters Priscilla and Esmerelda; and many other hobbits of note. They came together and assembled for a magnificent ceremony held at the Brandywine Bridge.
It was the grandest event any living hobbit could remember!
The King affirmed his previous proclamations: all the realms inhabited by Hobbits were Free Lands under the protection of the Northern Scepter. HMS Samwise, the Thain and Master were his personally appointed Counsellors. Men were forbidden to enter, except by permission of the King and his Counselors of the North Kingdoms, or their duly appointed Deputies.
The High Queen Arwen, born of the immortal Elves, had forsaken her immortality to marry her love Aragorn, as Elessar then was known. A wise and elegant woman, she was rivaled in beauty only by Elanor, whom she made an honorary Handmaiden. Elanor became great friends with the royal princesses, especially Princess Celendrian, closest to her in age.
But for Elanor, the capstone of the festivities came when Elessar draped her father’s well-traveled grey Elvish cloak about his shoulders and fastened it in place with a dazzling bright brooch called, ‘The Star Of The Dúnedain.’
Rumor had it the clasp had been crafted by the Dwarves of Erabor and was made entirely of mithril. That alone would have made Sam the richest hobbit in the Shire, if he hadn’t been already. It was quite the honor for the High King to be recognizing hobbits and their contributions to the free the people of Middle-earth during the great War Of The Ring.
After the festival Elessar, his family, their guests and a large crew of Gondorians traveled a hundred miles north to the source of the Brandywine River, Lake Evendim. It was bordered on the north by the Emyn Uial: The Twilight Hills of Eriador. There they commenced rebuilding the ancient city of Annúminas, once long ago and now again, the capital of the Kingdom of Arnor.
News may be slow to get around in these parts, but what’s come around’s been around, if you catch my meaning. After that Tookland, Buckland and the Four Farthings were never quite the same sleepy places people remembered from before the Great War.
It should be expected. After all, when the High King of Middle-earth comes a-calling bringing princely gifts and honoring so many of your own, people are bound to notice.
The sixteen-year-old Crown Prince Eldarion Telcontar had stayed behind in Gondor. He lived in the Palace of Anor in Minas Tirith, ruling as Regent. Guided by Prince Faramir of Ithilien, Elessar’s Steward and principal Counselor, Eldarion studied the languages and histories of his subjects from ancient scrolls, and some said, being tutored by wise Men and High Elves in the Arts of falconry, philosophy and warfare, and the ancient Lore of the Rings.
So it was clear to everyone that Elanor was a catch. Besides her father being decorated for his accomplishments by the High King and she herself being honored by the High Queen, Elanor was the most beautiful hobbit anyone had ever seen!
She lived with her family at the top of the Hill in Bag End. Its seemingly endless tunnels were rumored to be stuffed with treasure, and some said, ill-gotten gains from three generations of particularly adventuresome hobbits.
First, Bilbo went off with a company of Dwarves. Rumors persist to this day that they fought and killed a dragon, as unlikely as it sounds. Yet in light of later events, folks were no longer so quick to discount outlandish tales. Less credible sources claim they returned with their backs bent under war trophies, including the heads of trolls, enough magical items to start an entire school for wizards, and bags of treasure carried by more than three hundred Dwarves.
Years later, Bilbo mysteriously vanished at his own birthday party, an event still talked about and debated in these parts. Seventeen years after that, Frodo left to have his own extraordinary adventures with Sam, coming back even richer. Shortly after the birth of Elanor, when she was still Sam and Rosie’s only child, Frodo himself vanished on his final adventure with Sam. The two of them had traveled all the way west to the ocean. There they were met by the ancient Kings and Queens of Elves. Sam witnessed them leaving Middle-earth forever on a white ship, departing from the Havens and sailing West over the sea.
Returning home, he and Rosie were left holding the keys to Bag End. This did not sit well with the renewed consternation of many a Baggins kin. None more so than the many Sackville and Bracegirdle cousins of the now extinguished Sackville-Baggins branch of the Baggins family tree. The ever-regretful Lobelia and her son Lotho Sackville-Baggins had once acquired the surrounding land and coveted hole in a true and legal sale. It was that dark time years before when Frodo and Sam had been forced to flee the Shire pursued by Black Riders.
Merry and Pippin had joined them fighting in the Great War. The four of them endured torture and monstrous trials while adventuring through the kingdoms of Eriador, Eregion, Khazad-dûm, Lothlórien, Rohan, Fangorn, Gondor, Ithilien and Mordor.
While they were gone, half-Orc Southrons and Ruffians invaded their homelands, conquering the Shire and making her people slaves in all but name. Yet thanks to the return of HMS Samwise, Frodo Baggins, the Thain Peregrin Took and the Master Meriadoc, the courage of their people was re-ignited. Leading the very flower of formidable and steadfast hobbitry, the four Travelers (as they then were known) raised the people of the Shire against their enemies.
The half-Orc Southrons and Ruffians were routed at the Battle of Bywater in 1419.
When Lobelia was freed from her prison, she learned Lotho had been murdered asleep in his bed at Bag End. So she sold it back to Frodo in a ruinously dilapidated state, which would have cost a good-sized fortune to repair, for just a little more than what she paid (plus interest).
A plaque on the site of the battle commemorated the names of everyone who’d fought in the liberation of their homeland, except Lotho. Many believed it was him who’d let the Ruffians come in the first place. The Shire was finally freed from the evil wizard Saruman.
It was a tale with which to astonish children – except that every word of it was true!
It was once considered peculiar for a hobbit to leave the Shire. But these historic events inspired the younger generation. This fueled their ambitions to one day embark on the Road and undertake long and dangerous journeys of their own (few actually did so).
They yearned to travel to unknown lands and become part of the histories of kings, queens, wizards, dragons, elves and a multitude of nefarious Beasts. After performing heroic deeds, they vowed to return with much treasure and retire to a life of fame and leisure.
Except for Elanor.
Though genuinely enjoying the friendship of the Princess Celendrian and her sisters, the thought of unseen vistas in distant lands sounded unappealing.
She already had most everything a young hobbit could wish for: a loving family, great friends, and the prospects for a prosperous and happy future. The last thing in the world she wanted was to leave it all behind for strange people and foreign places. She didn’t even want to imagine riding on treacherous roads (although her father had been sure to teach her how to ride),
much less walking. Or worse, running in fear for her life. It not only sounded depressingly dangerous, it would have deprived her of the friendly faces and many comforts of home.
Elessar returned to Gondor after he and his men spent a year rebuilding the city of Annúminas. It now stood even grander than it had of old. During that year, Arwen and Rosie had both delivered babies and things became more hectic. In the following six years, her parents had three more children. Now her mother had recently announced, she was once again pregnant.
As happy as Elanor was at the prospects of her parent’s adding yet another child to their large happy family, she wondered if maybe – enough was enough.
She already had eleven brothers and sisters. She didn’t understand their need to keep adding more. She loved everyone in her family, but the tunnels of Bag End were not as endless as outsiders believed.
When she was little and had only two or three siblings, their halls had still seemed spacious. When her grandfather the Gaffer died, her father added his hole to their own, bought the others, and rechristened the entire Hill the sole property and extended estate of Bag End.
Elanor had proudly welcomed Queen Arwen and the royal princesses to the many newly-connected and well-appointed holes in their extensive and now lavish home.
But after adding so many more children and with the prospects of yet another, even with all the additions, things were beginning to feel a bit cramped.
To make matters worse prospective suitors, anticipating the intense competition that would invariably ensue after Elanor’s two-and-twentieth, and opting to forgo the adventuring part and skip right to the treasures and Bag End, had decided to get a jump on the competition.
Many had already come calling. Knocking on Bag End’s large round door, they came unannounced in ill-fitting, overly formal clothes and sweat stained faces. Invariably they brought inappropriate and ridiculously over-expensive gifts. None of them pleased her and she didn’t take any of their offers of courtship very seriously. It got so bothersome, her father set a permanent guard at the bottom of the path leading up the Hill to their door.
That was fine with Elanor.
She still felt much too young to begin courting the ne’er do wells of the Four Farthings, much less marrying and leaving her family.
There was still a great deal of work to do on the Red Book. And there wasn’t a hill, hole or house in any of the lands she’d visited, nor any she’d heard tales of, holding the least bit of attraction to her more than Bag End already did.
Though once when she was still quite young, her father had taken the entire family on the most wonderful vacation! They traveled west past the Far Downs and chanced on another hobbit family traveling west, the Greenholms. The head of the clan was a respectable old hobbit named Folcred, who everyone called Ed. Both he and his wife Ewartia, who everyone called Alice, had impressed her parents with their knowledge of ship craft and navigation. They were teaching these to their children, especially their oldest son Fastred. Elanor had been impressed with Fastred too, but they were much too young to think of each other as anything other than friends.
When they reached the Elvish Kingdom of Lindon, it was the Greenholm’s turn to be impressed. The Elven ruler Lord Círdan welcomed them to East Mithlond. It was the southern harbor of the twin Elvish towns, the Grey Havens. They sat on opposite shores in the Gulf of Lune at the river mouth. Círdan held a lavish feast in her father’s honor calling him Ringbearer.
The next day Círdan’s chief advisor, the Elven Lord Galdor of the Trees & Havens, gave them a tour of the palace and harbor. Among the many wonders, Elanor had been most impressed by two magnificent statues.
The one at the palace had been sculpted by the red-haired Elvish sculptress, Lady Drendelen. She lived in Rivendell and was the finest sculptor in Middle-earth. Her grandmother the Lady Nerdanel lived across the ocean in Valinor. She was the widow of the legendary Elvish smith and master craftsman Lord Fëanor and the finest sculptor in all of Arda.
Drendelen’s sculpture depicted the ancient Elvish High King Gil-galad wielding his enchanted spear Aeglos (presumably against orcs). The look of fury on the statue’s face, the tension in the marble arms and the frozen-in-time perception of Gil-galad’s arms slinging his mighty war spear forward – were breathtaking.
At the harbor was another statue, a masterwork of Lady Nerdanel’s. It had been sculpted in Valinor and shipped to Númenor by the Eldar, the Elves of Tol Eressëa. It was among their most precious gifts to the Edain, the wisest and strongest Men in Middle-earth.
Many of Nerdanel’s statues had been brought from Númenor by Elendil the Mariner, the first High King of the Númenórean Kingdoms in Exile. He and his sons Isildur and Anárion founded the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor after their island continent sank beneath the sea.
Nerdanel’s statue depicted the legendary Elvish Captain, Lord Eärendil. With his cloak billowing, he stepped onto the prow of his ship holding the dazzling gem known as the Silmaril, one of three forged by Fëanor. Eärendil was returning it to Valinor to beg for the aid of the Valar against Morgoth, the evil Dark Lord destroying Middle-earth and enslaving her people.
The Valar agreed to help and returned with him, waging the terrible War of Wrath. Empowering Eärendil to pilot his ship through the skies, there he slew the giant father-of-all-dragons, Ancalagon the Black and achieved the victory. As a reward for his heroism, the Valar set him, his ship and his Silmaril high in the sky as the brightest star in all the Heavens.
Galdor explained that Nerdanel was considered the greatest sculptor who ever lived, because the balance and forms of her compositions were perfection. Not even Drendelen had captured the majesty of her subjects the way her grandmother had. Nerdanel’s statues were flawless idealized visions. She achieved what no artist ever had – she had captured the ideal.
Though no less skillful, Drendelen’s statues were full of flaws. They were not mistakes she made while sculpting, the imperfections were on the people and things she modeled.
Galdor pointed out the sweat on Gil-galad’s face, blemishes and scars on his skin, dents and rents in his armor, stray hairs on his head, and loose marble threads hanging from his marble clothes. Some argued the flaws were Drendelen’s: they didn’t belong in representations. Who would make gifts of cracked gems, dented rings or paintings marred by misplaced brushstrokes?
Others disagreed. They claimed Drendelen had never made an error, just as her grandmother hadn’t: the imperfections deserved to be represented because they were real.
Near the end of his tour, Galdor took them to the westernmost and tallest of three white citadels: The Tower of Elostirion. Rising high atop a hill, it looked far out over the sea.
Slowly, they climbed the long winding staircase until they reached the large chamber at the very top. They saw it was filled with art, gold, jewels, books and other Elvish riches. The walls were lined with display cases bearing ancient heirlooms and secret treasures.
Elanor found two statues on opposite sides of the chamber particularly striking. Nerdanel’s depicted Lord Fëanor rising from his workbench. In his left hand he lifted the first of his three dazzling gems, the Silmarilli.
Drendelen’s statue showed Fëanor’s grandson, the Elvish master craftsman Lord Celebrimbor. Once the King of Harlindon and Eregion, he raised his hammer high over his anvil. Within the tongs in his other hand he was forging one of his many Rings of Power.
Galdor pointed out the large roped-off empty white-marble pillar in the middle of the room. It had once held a palantír, or ‘Seeing Stone.’ There were seven that had been brought by Elendil from Númenor, from among the many Fëanor had forged in Valinor.
In this very chamber Elendil himself, who was called the ‘The Fair’ just as Elanor was, when facing West, could look into the palantír and see all the way across the ocean. There, he beheld the rulers of Valinor: Manwë and Varda themselves, sitting on their elevated thrones within the Palace of Ilmarin atop the peak of Amon Uilos, the highest mountain in all of Arda.
Elanor was dazzled.
Not just by the treasures and visions described by Galdor, but by a sudden kinship, completely unfounded she knew, she couldn’t help feeling for the High King Elendil.
Her brothers and sisters laughed at her.
But Fastred said he too felt a kinship with Elendil the Mariner, and this strange and beautiful land. Fastred confided that secretly, he longed one day to live somewhere as fair as these green hills, so he could sail across the ocean, just as Elendil had.
Of all the fair people Elanor ever met and all the wonderful things she ever did, it was this magic summer in childhood with Fastred in the West of Middle-earth among the Elves that she most fondly remembered, and to which secretly, she longed one day to return.
* * * * *
Late afternoon sunshine flooded the meadows of the Hill with a pleasant glow. Bright blossoming snap-dragons, sunflowers and nasturtiums filled the open fields and covered the green turf walls of Bag End. A stone-lined path led to a large round door at the main entrance.
In a small sitting room adorned with a large open window sat Rosie Gamgee Gardner, as the hobbits of the Four Farthings called her, on account of all the planting her husband, the Honorable Mayor of the Shire (HMS) Samwise Gamgee Gardner had done.
Sipping tea beside her was her oldest daughter Elanor ‘the Fair,’ as folks called her, on account of her uncommon good looks. Despite these handicaps, Elanor was a kind, if outspoken hobbit given to laughter, pleasant whimsy and occasional disagreements with her siblings.
Helping her parents raise their ever-growing family, she loved to cook with her mother, creating new recipes and serving them up. While the others cleaned and tidied, she and her father would retire to his den. There, the two of them alone poured over the pages of ‘The Red Book Of The Westmarch’ which he’d been working on laboriously since just after she was born.
Sam had made sure that Elanor and the rest of his children received a far superior education than he ever had. As a farmer and a gardener, he had been lucky his father’s employer Bilbo Baggins had taught him to read and form his letters.
The task of recording the historic events he’d witnessed and making corrections to the writings of much more learned hobbits, like Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, Bilbo’s adopted heir to whom he’d left Bag End, proved less than an honor and more of a monumental chore.
When still quite young, Elanor began supplying small and careful suggestions, which Sam eagerly incorporated into the manuscripts. Although he swore Elanor to secrecy, as not to upset the others. Their father-daughter time was a special bond only they shared. She was especially proud of this and more than happy to keep their secret.
“Are you paying attention?” Rosie asked.
Elanor realized her mind had wandered. “I’m sorry, mum. What did you say?”
“Tomorrow your father is staying home from Michael Delving,” Rosie answered. “Tonight we expect guests before sundown.”
Excitement fluttered Elanor’s stomach. “When will the Tooks and Brandybucks arrive?”
Her father walked out onto the Sun drenched sitting room and kissed her cheek. “They won’t be here until tomorrow morning. I’m giving them and their guests the lower tunnels.”
“What about the Greenholms?” she asked.
“They’re already at your uncle Tom’s farm,” Sam answered. “I expect them, the Cottons and that scamp Fastred will be joining us for dinner.”
“Miss a free meal?” Fastred asked. He was hurrying up the Hill beside his best friend Théoden Brandybuck, who everyone called Theo.
The two of them looked at each other and chimed in together, “Not if we can help it!”
Theo took after his father Merry with curly brown hair, and he was larger and stronger than most other hobbits, except for his younger brother Boromir, who everyone called Ronny, and Pippin’s son Faramir, who everyone called Remy. Fastred and Theo had been born the same year and were of an age with Elanor.
“Young Masters Brandybuck and Greenholm!” Rosie exclaimed, rising from the table. She delighted seeing any of the Tooks, Brandybucks or Greenholms, but she had a special fondness for Fastred. He was Rosie’s favorite hobbit to whom she wasn’t already related.
‘Cu-clump, cu-clump, cu-clump’ came deep, ominous sounds of approaching hooves.
Sam knew those sounds. They weren’t made by ponies. Those came from larger horses usually only ridden by Men. Once long ago, they had heralded the approach of Black Riders.
“Did you invite some of the Big Folk… from Bree?” Rosie asked.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if some of our friends heard about the party and came,” Sam answered, shaking his head. He tried to figure who he might know who would dare break the King’s Law, coming to the Shire uninvited. “It must be a surprise from the Thain or Master!”
A magnificent large gray horse rounded the bottom of the Hill. On its back rode the most unusually dressed Man that Elanor had ever seen: he wore billowing robes of a brilliant deep sea blue. Though worn and weathered, they glinted here and there, run through with strands of silver. The bunching fabric and gray-white gleams gave the impression of breaking waves, capped with foam. Above his beard and shaggy mane of silver-streaked black hair was a similarly colored wide-brimmed hat. Rising high above his head, it covered his helm. Open at the front, his robes revealed a blue and silver leaf-mail shirt with studs, and below his belt were matching leg covers.
His leathers and regalia were stained in the same dark blue and silver colors. Sheathed in his saddle was a long, blue and silver-handled sword. Strapped above them, closest to the hand of the rider, lay a long and strangely gnarled wooden staff.
Fastred and Theo shouted in surprise. They started down the path to where they had been let through by the young hobbit standing guard named Sandro.
“Come into the house!” Sam shouted.
Responding immediately, they doubled back and climbed through the open window. Standing behind him, they shielded Rosie and Elanor.
The rider reined his horse. He bent down and spoke to the unarmed and rather frightened young hobbit. After a brief exchange, the rider produced a folded document. Sandro read the cover and touched the seal. Turning to Sam, he waved the letter frantically over his head.
To Sam’s eyes, the rider didn’t have the villainess look of any of the nefarious people he’d encountered, or the Black Riders that had once invaded their lands.
The horseman’s patient stance, and Sandro’s desperate waving, assured him this might be a messenger from Rohan or Gondor. The staff had made him curious. With a look back to ensure Rosie and Elanor were safe, he motioned for Sandro to let the rider through.
The horsemen rode at a brisk walking pace and stopped before he got too close. Slowly dismounting, he unstrapped his staff and used it as a walking stick. In his other hand, he carried the sealed document. When he reached a respectful distance, he stopped.
“Greetings, most Honorable Mayor of the Shire, Samwise Gamgee Gardner,” the stranger said. He held up the folded parchment. “I come from the High King Elessar in Minas Tirith on an urgent mission. This is my letter of safe passage, and request of aid, from the King.”
Theo stepped up even with Sam and caught his eye, to say he’d fetch the letter, if Sam wanted to have a look.
Sam lifted his hand for him to wait. “Who are you?”
The stranger smiled. “I am Alatar the Blue, a Wizard of Aman. I believe you befriended one of my Order, a wizard named Gandalf the White. Did he not mention me?”
“He never said anything about you,” Sam answered.
“Sam,” Theo said. Few hobbits addressed her father like Merry and Pippin’s children. “We can’t be sure he’s a wizard. But even if he is, do we want another wizard in the Shire?”
“I’m sure there were other wizards,” Elanor told them. “It says so in the Red Book.”
Sam looked at her and back out at Alatar. “At least, let’s see that letter then.”
Alatar walked to the window and passed him the thrice folded document. It was secured with thick white wax and at the bottom, it had been impressed with the seal of the High King Elessar: a four-pointed crown set above a white tree. The tree was ringed by seven stars set above the twenty-six points of its branches. Below the bole, it bore thirty-five points on its roots.
“That’s from the King,” Rosie said, looking up from the unmistakable emblem.
Sam stared at the seal and swallowed. For a long minute, no one spoke.
“Well… open it!” Elanor told him.
Sam hesitated. He knew whatever the contents, the minute he read them, his life would be forever changed. After waiting far too long for his family’s tastes, he broke the seal and unfolded the letter. Rosie, Elanor, Theo and Fastred crowded around to read over his shoulder:
THE PALACE OF ANOR, MINAS TIRITH, KINGDOMS OF ARNOR & GONDOR
March 15, Fourth Age 22, Shire Year 1442
My Dearest Sam,
Alatar the Blue, a Wizard of Gandalf’s order, has come to Gondor from out of the East bearing grave and perilous news. I believed the matter of the Rings of Power had been resolved by your and Frodo’s heroic efforts in Mordor, where you unmade the One, followed by the Three carried by their Keepers to the Grey Havens sailing West over the sea.
It is a difficult and grievous thing for a King to admit, who wishes only to protect his people, but Alatar has shown me proofs I was mistaken.
I dare not explain more in this letter. You can trust the words of Alatar. He is wise and learned in many things that have been hidden from us in the far east, beyond the borders of Rhûn, and he has much to share with you.
As your King, I must ask you to aid his efforts, as difficult and unseemly as some of them will undoubtedly be for you. Take heart. I will give you any and all the aid I can.
As your friend, please Sam, we must finish this business we started long ago. Not only for ourselves, but for our children, and our children’s children. We must send away or unmake any Rings of Power remaining in the whole of Middle-earth.
In Eternal Friendship,
King Elessar Telcontar
High King of the United Kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor
Below the firm signature, this time pressed in ink, the letter again displayed the emblems of his Reign: the firmly rooted and branching crowned white tree surmounted by seven stars.
Sam swallowed again and lowered the letter.
“Come inside,” he said to Alatar, then turned to Theo. “See to his horse.”
Theo started to climb out through the open window again.
Suddenly self-conscious, Sam tapped his shoulder and pointed for him to use the door. He went behind Theo with his family – to welcome Alatar to Bag End.