Title: “Hark, How Blithe the Throstle Sings”
Elements: Bird: a song thrush also known as a throstle
Author's Notes: Quite some time ago, lindahoyland requested a time-stamp story from me to take place a few weeks or months after my story "Good King Elessar", before the King returns to Gondor. I made a start on it, but ran out of steam, and had to put it aside to wait for further inspiration. And then it seemed to me to fit perfectly with this month’s theme of renewal, so I decided to finish it for this challenge. The title is taken from a poem by William Wordsworth.
Summary: Young Frodo Gamgee, serving the King for a year in Annúminas is a bit homesick, but a visit from his father cheers him up.
Word Count: 5,074
Frodo Gamgee stood respectfully at his post in the Queen's antechamber. Through the window he could see the bright blue of the spring sky, not a cloud to be seen, and cool breezes brought to him the smells of the garden: newly-turned earth, and freshly cut grass, and the fragrance of primroses and bluebells, violets and lilacs. How he longed to be out there, grubbing in the dark soil, planting seeds or transplanting bedding plants. If he were at home in Bag End, that's where he'd be right now, at his father's side.
While he'd missed his family as he was serving his year in Annúminas, it was only now that he felt himself truly homesick for Bag End. But spring--well, he'd never thought what it would mean to be away from home during the spring! It had always been his favourite part of the year, as he and his Sam-dad worked to plan and plant and keep the gardens of Bag End the finest in the Shire. With a scarcely audible sigh, he swallowed the lump in his throat, and blinked away the sting in his eyes. He had asked for this duty, and he'd see it through, he would.
He softly brushed the embroidery of the white tree on his livery. He was proud to serve the King and the Queen as a page. The King was so noble and gracious; high and filled with the ancient dignity of his Númenorean blood. Frodo had seen him deal justice from his high throne, and he could be terrifying to one who'd done wrong. Yet he still remained in Frodo's heart of hearts his "Uncle Strider", who would tell him tales of when his father and his Uncles Merry and Pippin, and his long-gone but still beloved Uncle Frodo were on their long-ago journey into danger.
And the Queen! How beautiful she was! As beautiful as a sky at night, filled with the light of countless stars--yet for all of that, her heart was more beautiful still, and she would often turn on Frodo a look of warm understanding that he never thought to see in any eyes other than those of his own mother.
But he still found himself shy of the other Big Folk here--most of them so very grand and imposing, even the servants. And while there were several other hobbits also serving here, they were kept busy with their tasks, and spent their free time in the small village outside the city walls. He was the only hobbit among the pages, and he had found it hard to become friends with them. There were five other lads, all of them taller, larger and younger than he--and they tended to treat him with a combination of awe and deference that he found hard to overcome. Just because he was named after the Ringbearer, and that his father was Samwise the Brave--well, that didn't make him anyone special. He'd yet to do anything that would make him special, though he hoped one day that he might.
He was used to the rough and tumble of his younger brothers, who most certainly did not think he was anything grand or special, and he found that he was sorely missing the presence of all his younger sibs. Perhaps he would write another letter tonight. The King's Messengers rode down to the Stonebow Bridge at least three times a week to meet the Shire Post riders, so Frodo tried to send a letter every time. He wrote to his mother and father every week, but he was also writing letters separately to his brothers and sisters, taking them in turns. It was little Hamfast's turn for a letter this time. What could he say that would be of interest to his little brother? Ah, yes! The new kittens in the Citadel kitchen! Cook's tabby had just produced a fine litter!
Just then, the door to the inner chamber opened, and the Queen came out, accompanied by one of her maidens-of-honour, Lady Haleth. The Queen was dressed in a simple gown of blue--Frodo thought it was just the color of delphiniums--embroidered at the neck, hem and narrow sleeve edges in a slightly darker shade of blue. Her dark hair was gathered into a net of silver lace, held by a simple coronet of braided gold and silver. Even so simply clad, she took Frodo's breath away.
"Good morning, Frodo," she said.
He gave a small bow, and said, "Good morning, Your Grace." He was beginning to get rather good at the bowing, he thought.
"Haleth and I are going down to the gardens. Please attend us."
"Yes, my lady Queen," he answered, a grin threatening to split his face. They were going outside to the gardens!
Although the early spring day was sunny, it was somewhat cool, and the breeze was brisk. Haleth went to the large wardrobe and fetched the Queen's everyday cloak. She brought her own as well. Frodo took his cloak from the peg on the wall by the door.
He and Haleth walked at a respectful distance behind the Queen as they made their way out. Frodo liked Haleth--Elanor had spoken of her as a friend, and she had been very kind to Frodo. He had been very surprised one evening when Haleth had confided to him that while they had been in Minas Anor, she had been far less than kind to Elanor.*
"But your sister forgave me, and asked the Queen to give me another chance, even though I didn't deserve it, Frodo. Elanor is my friend now, and I am glad to do all I can for you to make you feel comfortable! I feel that I need to make it up to her for treating her so shabbily before!"
But Frodo was glad to have at least one friend, and was grateful to Elanor for paving the way for him.
They walked along the garden paths, admiring the flowers and the newly greened shrubs and trees. Occasionally they'd pass a gardener, who would duly stop work and bow to the Queen. Frodo found himself envying them, for after they would pass, the gardeners would return to their work. How he wished he dared get his hands dirty!
They stopped so that Queen Arwen could admire a display of daffodils, blazing like the sun. Frodo frowned. To his eye they looked a bit crowded. If he'd had the working of this bed, he'd have thinned them, and divided the bulbs before this. They looked all right for the moment, but they were far too close together.
Suddenly, he heard a familiar voice behind him. "I'd've thinned those out if it were up to me."
Frodo turned suddenly. "Oh, Dad! It's you!" All thought of his dignity as a page was gone, and he threw himself into his father's embrace, laughing and weeping at the same time. "Oh, Sam-dad! I've missed you! What are you doing here? Did Ma come with you? When did you get here?"
Sam laughed. "How am I going to answer all that with you choking me?" he said.
Frodo suddenly recollected himself, and pulled back, his face red as he could hear the Queen laughing behind him, and oh dear! There was the King as well, staring at him with a twinkle in his eye. "I-I'm sorry, sire! My lady! I should not have forgotten myself so!"
The King laughed. "I should have thought something was wrong with you if you had not, Frodo-lad! You are a hobbit, after all. Do you like your surprise?"
Frodo gazed up at the King, his brown eyes shining. "Oh sire!"
Sam laughed again. "Well, Strider, I can see my lad's placed his trust in you the way we did all those years ago. Good! Good!"
Frodo turned and looked at his father again. "But Sam-dad, what are you doing here? You didn't come just to check up on me, did you?"
"No, no, son, I didn't. It's just Shire business--I've brought the new wool trade agreement for the King and the Steward to look on, and also the new head of the Hornblower family wanted to be presented to the King--I'm thinking he's wanting to expand the pipe-weed trade. But I'll say I took the chance to come, for your Uncle Pippin could have brought it instead. I did want to see you, lad. You're missed." He pulled Frodo into his embrace once more. "I miss having my best apprentice at my side in the spring."
"Frodo," the King said.
Frodo turned, and he stood very straight. "Yes, sire?"
"We are excusing you from your duties for the rest of the day. You may spend the afternoon with your father, for he must leave again on the morrow. We will expect the two of you to take tea with us later. And at the feast this evening, Frodo, you are not to serve, but may sit by your father as a guest."
Frodo nodded obediently. "Thank you, sire," he said. He felt both elated and disappointed. It would be splendid to have plenty of time to visit with his dad--but it would have been nice for his father to see him at his duties, and know that Frodo was doing them well. But when he glanced at his father's expression, the elation won.
The King, the Queen and Lady Haleth went on their way, watched by the two hobbits, and then Sam turned to his son, and taking him by both shoulders, he looked him in the face. "Well, son, are you happy here?"
"Yes, Sam-dad, I am, for the most part. Sometimes I'm homesick, though. I miss all of you dreadfully. But the King and Queen are so kind and so good--I really do feel the honour in serving them."
"It is an honour to serve him, son! Not just because he's our King, but because he's a friend to our family and our people. We owe him, Frodo-lad. Without all he did for us, none of us would have lived to come home!"
"I know. But he doesn't see it that way. He says he owes us."
Sam clapped his son on the back, and shook his head. "Well, he owed Mr. Frodo, I'll say that much, for he'd not have been King without what all your Uncle Frodo done. And so he is kind to us for Mr. Frodo's sake."
Frodo looked at his father in surprise. Such was his faith in him that it had never occurred to him his father could be so wrong about something--he knew that it was not only for Frodo Baggins' sake that King Elessar felt indebted to hobbits--he had told Frodo himself that he owed much to Samwise Gamgee, and to Peregrin Took and Meriadoc Brandybuck as well. "For if not for your father, Frodo-lad, the Quest would have come to nothing, for your Uncle Frodo would never have reached the fiery
Mountain. And if not for the roles Merry and Pippin played, the West would not have been left standing, even if the Ring had been destroyed. It is true I owe the most to Frodo Baggins, and that he sacrificed the most to see his task done, but that does not mean I have less regard for the others. Indeed, if I did, and he were here to know of it, he would rebuke me soundly for not regarding his loved ones enough!"
But Frodo said nothing of this to his father, but asked instead, "I have to admit, Dad, I was feeling pretty homesick this morning. Isn't this just the perfect day to be working in the garden?"
"It is, Frodo-lad! If I was to home today, I'd be setting out bedding plants alongside the front path." He sighed. "But Tomias Hornblower wanted to meet the King, and I wanted to see you, so here I am instead! What do you say to us finding a bit of vittles, and making us a picnic. I'm sure you know a good spot!"
Frodo smiled and nodded his head. He led his father to the kitchens, where the cooks were honoured to prepared a hamper of fine fare. The cooks of the Northern Citadel had entertained hobbits before now, and knew what would be enjoyed. A bottle of fine ale as well as one of ginger beer were included, along with bread, cheese, hard sausage, and a small basket of berries. The two hobbits took the hamper with much thanks, and passed out of the kitchen. As they went back outdoors, Frodo noticed some of his fellow pages staring in amazement, and he realised they were impressed by his famous father. Frodo felt a swell of pride-- it was his father who was a hero, and had done such brave deeds, and it made him feel warm to see him respected so.
He led him to one of his favourite spots, a little walled in garden profuse with summer flowers, not confined to beds, but scattered about in clusters on the soft grassy lawn, almost as though they grew in a meadow. Roses climbed abundantly on the stone wall, and five shapely poplars lent their shade. There was no stone paving here, and one could walk freely on the grass. In the center of the garden was a large stone bowl with a fountain shaped like a fish leaping. The water spouted from its mouth, and trickled into the basin with a delicate tinkle. Butterflies lent their color, and in one of the poplars a throstle sang his cheerful filip filip filip codidio codidio quitquiquit tittit tittit tereret tereret tereret.
Sam chuckled and said, “He’s calling his lady-friend! Soon you’ll have a nestful of little throstles to entertain you here.”
Frodo laid the cloth and opened the hamper. “There are a lot of birds come back from their wintering. But I think I like the throstle’s song the best--he sounds so happy-like.”
“That he does, Frodo-lad! But he’s a fine mimic as well! I will never forget the time your old Gaffer was trying to find the cat that seemed to be somewhere in the back garden at Bag End. It sounded like it were trapped or lost, it mewed so pitifully. It was two days afore he figured out it was a throstle instead. Right red in the face he was, when he found out!”
Frodo laughed. He could just barely remember his Gaffer Gamgee--he had only just come out of faunthood when his grandfather passed on. But he remembered the gruff voice and the warm laugh and the calloused hand that sometimes held his own.
The two ate their luncheon heartily, as they chattered of friends and family. Frodo learned that Merry and Pippin had been in disgrace for hiding Rose-lass’s favorite hair ribbons, that Goldi, Ham and Prim between the three of them had baked a cake without any help from Mother Rose or Elanor for little Bilbo’s birthday, that Ruby was learning her letters from Elanor, that Robin was walking and had begun to talk, and that little Tolman had frightened the family with a bout of colic, but was fine now.
And Frodo told of his time with the King and Queen, and how he’d made friends with Haleth, and how he was finally improving his riding on the pony his Uncle Merry had given him, and how the King and Queen had asked his advice on a birthday gift for Uncle Merry a few weeks ago. “I told them that if they could give him some books to copy, it would please Uncle Merry.”
“That was a good thought, son,” said Sam. “Your Mother Rose and me went to visit in Brandy Hall just last month, along with your Uncle Pippin.”
Frodo nodded. His father and Uncle Pippin often went to Buckland near the middle of March, as sometimes Uncle Merry was under the weather at that time.
Then they scattered the few crumbs that remained on the lawn, for the bird to later enjoy. “Though we shouldn’t,” said Sam. “He’ll keep the snails down better if he‘s a mite hungry.”
Frodo nodded. “I don’t think this once will hurt, though, Dad.”
Sam chuckled, and stood up. Frodo stood too, and was surprised to realise he was nearly his father’s height. He blinked.
“Well, son, I need to go and check on Mr. Hornblower. But I’ll meet you for tea with the King and Queen in a little while.
Frodo-lad nodded. “I’ll take the hamper back to the kitchen, then, Sam-dad, and will see you there.”
Sam smiled as he watched his son trot off, looking quite sharp in his page’s livery. His lad seemed to be doing quite well--although Sam’s sharp eye had noted a certain wistfulness as they had walked through the garden. It must be hard for Frodo-lad not to be able to get his hands dirty in the spring. But he seemed truly proud and happy to be of service to his King and Queen.
When Sam and Rose had learned of Frodo-lad’s little adventure with the King just before Yule**, Rose had been rather indignant and worried. “I’d’ve thought better of the King than that, to take our lad out into such weather!”
Though Sam had calmed her down, he had to confess to himself he’d been more than a mite upset as well, though it wouldn’t do to have Rose know it. But he’d had faith in Strider for many a year, and he didn’t see reason to change it now. Still, when Elanor had been in Gondor, she’d had her old mam and dad with her to watch over her should anything go amiss.
So when Pippin had dropped by as Thain one day, for them to go over those new wool agreements, and mentioned the Hornblower’s wish to be presented to the King, Sam had quickly volunteered to go as Mayor, in the Thain’s stead. He knew by the arch of Pippin’s eyebrows that his friend had guessed his true reason, but all Pippin had said was, “Well, that will save me the trouble, for lately I’ve been away far too often for Diamond’s taste!”
Sam chuckled as he recalled Frodo-lad’s pleased surprise at seeing him once more. Poor lad! Sam understood being homesick all too well, he did. But he was right proud of his son’s determination to stick with what he’d undertaken. He mightn’t share a drop of blood with his namefather, but that lad was every bit as stubborn as any Baggins Sam had known. He hoped somehow Mr. Frodo could know of how fine Frodo-lad had turned out. And likely he did, seeing as he had predicted his namesake in the first place.
Sam soon found himself at the hobbit-wing of the Northern Citadel, where hobbit-guests were put up when they came--nice and low-built, round windows and doors, though the doors was large enough for Big Folk to go in without stooping mostly, and the ceilings were high as well, to save bumped heads. But the furniture was hobbit-sized in the rooms, save for a few larger benches and chairs scattered about, in the event of larger visitors.
He found Mr. Hornblower in his room, all amazed at the conveniences, and asked what he thought of it all.
“It’s all quite large,” was the subdued response. “I can’t get over all these Big Folk and how tall this Citadel thing is.”
Sam chuckled. “’T’isn’t naught to the Citadel down in Minas Anor. This place is not even a third as high as the main part of it, nor even half so large. And as for the Tower itself, well, I got a crick in my neck just trying to look up to see the top of it. This place doesn‘t even have a tower.”
Mr. Hornblower shook his head, not so much in disbelief as in shock. Such was unimaginable to him.
“Well, are you ready to go and take tea with the King and Queen?”
Mr. Hornblower nodded, and the two hobbits went on their way.
“What did you think of our King, then?” Sam asked. Sam had presented the Hornblower to King Elessar the first thing, but had not stayed afterwards. Instead he had gone to his room to clean up, and then he had gone to search for his son.
“Well, Mayor Samwise,” Mr. Hornblower said, “He’s very tall--no, I mean--” he added as Sam began to laugh, “he’s tall even for a Big Person. Quite the tallest Big Person I have ever seen. And he has a very knowing look in his eye, but also very kind. Though I don’t think he’d have any trouble being stern if needed.”
“I’m very sure that you’re right, Mr. Hornblower.” They had arrived at the King’s quarters, and Sam gave a nod of greeting to the guard who stood there. “Afternoon, Sador.”
“Good afternoon, Lord Samwise.” He bowed slightly, and allowed Sam and his guest to pass through.
“ ‘Lord Samwise’?” Mr. Hornblower asked in surprise.
Sam rolled his eyes. “One of the King’s Outlandish fancies. He made lords out of Mr. Frodo and me after the War was over. It’s not really important.”
And then Sam watched his guest stop stock still, as he got his first glance of the Queen. The King and Queen awaited just inside the door, greeting each guest. As Mr. Hornblower stood before the Queen attempting to stammer out his courtesies to the Queen’s warm reassurance, Sam moved on to speak with his old friend.
He reached to take the outstretched large hand, still familiar in it’s gentle, calloused strength even after all these years. “ ‘Afternoon, Mr. Strider, sir,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
Strider burst out into laughter. “Ah, Sam! You never called me ‘Mr.” back then!”
Sam chuckled. “It’s good to see you. Rose told me to give you a piece of her mind though, when I did, so consider it given.”
The King did not pretend to misunderstand. His face grew serious. “Believe me, Samwise, I never thought the weather would turn so quickly. I would never have taken your son out in it if I had known.”
“No need to fret. ‘What’s done’s done; no harm, no scolding’ as the Gaffer used to say-- after the scolding was done with, of course!”
They both laughed at this, and then Sam went on, to allow Mr. Hornblower to speak to the King again.
They were not the only guests; Sam saw both the “Big and Little” Mayors of Foregate, the village outside the walls, one mayor for the hobbits and one for the Men who dwelt there also, a couple of the Queen’s Ladies, and there was Captain Bergil, speaking to Frodo-lad.
Sam went over to join them, and to give Pippin’s greetings to Bergil. Soon tea was served, lavish and abundant enough to delight any hobbit’s heart. Sam and Frodo were seated next to the Queen, who plied them with questions about the family, and about Elanor, for she dearly missed her hobbit maiden-of-honour.
After tea, Frodo turned to his father. “I know I’ve been excused of duty today, Sam-dad, but I need to speak to Tarostar, one of the other pages, for he’ll be taking my place tonight at the High Table, and I need to let him know some things.”
“You go right along, son! I’ll see Mr. Hornblower back to his room, and then go to my own. Your old dad is tired after the journey. I’ll take a kip, and see you at the dinner.” He pulled his son down and kissed his brow, making the lad blush. But there was no complaint. He just smiled at his father before scurrying away.
But Sam did not leave immediately. Instead, he decided to have a quiet conversation with Strider first. His lad had many duties to attend to, but a growing young hobbit also needed some time in the fresh air and sunshine.
Frodo felt nervous as he dressed for dinner at the High Table. It was the first time since he had come to Annúminas that he would be sitting at the table as a guest, and not attending as a page. On the evenings the pages did not have duty, they usually ate in the kitchen, unless they had a parent at court-- but none of them were high up enough to sit at the High Table. Since his father was a Lord and a Ringbearer, though, they would both be right up there by the King and Queen.
At least he had some very nice clothing, as he would not be wearing his livery. Since he would be away from the Shire over both Yule and his birthday, his parents had given him a very nice going-away party. The nice wool suit, in shades of greens and browns had been a gift from his father; and the shirts of fine lawn from Uncle Pippin. And his weskit of green, embroidered all over with flowers and leaves, had been a gift from his mother. He’d had no clothes from Uncle Merry, though a pony more than made up for that!
At any rate, he would not disgrace himself or his father by his appearance. He stood on a small stool, to see his head as he tamed his sandy curls with a comb, and then he stepped down and took his foot-brush to his feet. He had the little room assigned to the pages all to himself-- the others were already down in the kitchen getting ready to do their jobs. He tucked the handkerchief Elanor had embroidered for him with his initials, into his pocket, and then headed for his father’s guest room in the hobbit wing.
Frodo was not even halfway there when he met his father coming in his direction. Sam grinned at him, and took Frodo-lad’s elbow as they turned and went to the feast hall.
“Where is Mr. Hornblower?” asked Frodo.
“He went to dinner down to Foregate. Turns out him and Mayor Sandheaver are fourth cousins on their mothers’ sides, so they got some catching up to do.”
Soon they were seated at the High Table. His father sat to the King’s left hand, and Frodo sat the other side of his father. It seemed very strange to be sitting there, and he looked up in startlement, when Tarostar appeared next to him and poured water into his goblet. He looked at the other page and caught his eye, and Tarostar blushed. Frodo noticed that when Taro served the famous Lord Samwise, his hands trembled, though he did not spill anything.
The food was plentiful: a huge trout served on a hot plank; roast pheasant from a recent hunting served with roasted parsnips and carrots and mushrooms; a savory pie of mixed meats; hen’s eggs, boiled and covered with sausage and then fried ( a recipe, Sam-dad said, as was popular in the Tooklands, and gifted to the cook by Uncle Pippin) ; a soup of summer vegetables; a salad of mixed greens, with cucumbers and tomatoes, sprinkled with chopped herbs (Frodo detected basil and summer savory and parsley) and some vinegar and fine oil. There was fine white bread and brown, and cheeses of all sorts. And for afters, a pastry baked in the shape of a swan and filled with strawberries, bilberries and sweetened cream, as well as some sweets baked in the shape of mushrooms.
Frodo found the food delicious and plentiful. He could not understand the complaints of some of the courtiers who had come from the South at the “simple fare” of the Northern Court, but it suited the King, and so the complaints were usually only voiced in front of servants or pages.
They were at the stage that hobbits called “filling up the corners”, which he and his dad were doing with some of the bread and cheese, when Master Menelcar, the King’s Bard came forth to sing.
“We are honoured tonight to have with us one of the Ringbearers, and so in his honour, I shall sing a song I composed after the War, to celebrate our pheriannath heroes. I call it ‘The Smallest Hands’.”
Menelcar began to sing, his voice in no way diminished by his age. Frodo-lad had never heard this one sung before, and he looked on his father once more in pride, to hear him placed alongside all the great heroes of the Ages. Sam-dad’s face had that faraway look it often got when he thought of Uncle Frodo, and tears glistened in the brown eyes.
And Frodo-lad was filled with love for his father at that moment, and if they had not been sitting there in front of the King and everybody, he would have hugged him as hard as ever he could.
The song ended, and Sam-dad took out his pocket handkerchief and blew his nose. The King turned, and put a hand on his shoulder, and got a smile in return. Then he leaned around to speak to Frodo.
“Frodo, your father reminded me of something today. I should have realised how much you would miss working in a garden. From now on, you shall have one day a week in which to do so, starting tomorrow.”
Oh! He was so happy he nearly could not speak for a moment, and then he said, “Oh thank you, Sire!”
The King and his father laughed, and the Queen bent one of her lovely smiles upon him, and Frodo felt that it was a fitting ending to one of the best days he’d had since coming to Annúminas.
He had seen his father off the next morning, with many messages for his mother and sibs and friends in the Shire, and then dressed in sturdy but worn work clothes, he had gone in search of Mr. Thistlewool, the head gardener, to find out what needed doing.
And now, he was happily trimming the verge about the fountain in the very same garden where he and his father had picnicked the day before, whistling a cheery tune.
He stopped a moment, as he heard another song.
“Filip filip filip codidio codidio quitquiquit tittit tittit tereret tereret tereret, !”
Frodo grinned up at the throstle in the poplar. He felt quite as blithe and happy as the bird did.
A/N: Information on the throstle (or song thrush) came from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Song_Thrush and from http://www.birdsofbritain.co.uk/bird-guide/
“The Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) is a thrush that breeds across much of Eurasia. It is also known in English dialects as throstle or mavis.”
“The Song Thrush has a short, sharp tsip call, replaced on migration by a thin high seep, similar to the Redwing's call but shorter. The alarm call is a chook-chook becoming shorter and more strident with increasing danger. The male's song, given from trees, rooftops or other elevated perches, is a loud clear run of musical phrases, repeated two to four times, filip filip filip codidio codidio quitquiquit tittit tittit tereret tereret tereret, and interspersed with grating notes and mimicry. It is given mainly from February to June by the Outer Hebridean race, but from November to July by the more widespread subspecies. For its weight, this species has one of the loudest bird calls.”