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Chapter 1: Recollections

by SilverMoonLady


I didn’t know my grandfather long but he so vividly marked my young memory that I felt I’d known him for ages. From the cradle I remember his warm presence and the deep rumble of his laughter. His was ever the lap I most favored and my little fingers smudged many of the ledgers in his study. It was long before I realized how wretchedly spoiled I was, the only girl child in three generations amidst a scrambling brood of boys, and how my dear old grand-dad doted on me. He appointed himself my particular teacher and opened the world of words and maps and stars to my eager mind. He also insisted I be taught the sword and the bow alongside my brothers, though my scandalized mother shook her head and muttered over my scrapes and bruises as much as she did the ink that smudged my fingers and frocks, and sometimes even my face.

“Better to have a skill that never serves than let it be lost and found wanting in the future,” was his calm answer to her complaints.

He was my afternoon companion and between lessons he would read aloud far away tales and legends from the many books that crowded the long shelves. As my own reading skills advanced, spurred on by a mad curiosity about the wider world that never seemed satisfied, he started to lend me those volumes that were sound enough to be safe in my hasty young hands. In time, almost every one passed under my avid eye, all but one leather bound book that sat high upon the topmost shelf. The first time I inquired after it, he fixed me with the strangest look, both eager and considering, but only said, “Another day, perhaps.”

At twelve I was content to wait as I was bid, quickly distracted by a new set of maps sent to me by my cousins. At fourteen however, the first itch of teenaged rebellion added to my desire to pierce the mystery of that anonymous red cover, and that delicious and harmless temptation haunted my every moment for weeks.

So it came to pass that I was caught by candlelight eight nights into the tale. I never heard him enter the room or approach the cushioned bench where I sat. His sun-dark hand fell heavy on my shoulder and I fairly leapt out of my seat, or would have had the large tome not neatly pinned me in place. He gazed intently into my eyes, so like his own, and for a moment his expression was grave and I knew my nightly expeditions were certainly over.

“I should have known you were too old to take ‘no’ for an answer,” he finally said, chuckling quietly, and he settled beside me with a sigh. “So, how far have you gotten?”

“Dimrill Dale,” I murmured, trying to appear contrite.

He nodded silently and looked down at the page beneath my hand. “A terrible time that was…”

“It is a true telling, then?”

“Oh, yes, very true indeed. I was there…”

I regarded him again with a closer eye, trying to fit him with the image of the brave young traveler that bore his name, who I had assumed was surely a figure belonging to some distant past or a purely fictional tale. In the dim light of my pale candle the multitude of lines the years had carved into his face melted into shadow and the gray streaks could pass for gold in the neat curls that haloed his head.

“Hard to believe, eh?” he asked, his face wreathed in that particular grin I knew he saved just for me.

“So… Mayor Gamgee and the Thain…?”

“Yes, my dear, we old hobbits once had our day in the sun.”

“But where has Mister Frodo gone? I’ve never met him.”

A vague shadow of sorrow flitted across my grandfather’s eyes, like the memory of old pain, and I regretted my question immediately. But the sadness passed, chased by a small smile and his gnarled fingers mussed the hopeless blond tangles that framed my face.

“Read on, my curious girl. That tale must be told aright or it has little point. We can make this history your study if you like, and you can come and read it during the day while I work. But for now, to bed!” he said, rising stiffly from the bench.

“May I please finish this passage tonight?” I pleaded, breath held in hope.

He shot a quick glance at the closed door, grinned and sat again beside me.

“Well, alright, but lets do so together,” he conceded, settling the book across his lap and curling an arm around my shoulders as I leaned against him. Wrapped in the warm familiar smell of pipeweed, ale and apples I plunged back into the dark flight of the companions as they escaped the dreadful clutches of their foes.

The days passed and the history of my grandfather’s journey unfolded before me in black ink on pale parchment. Tucked away in a corner of his study, with the low voices of my uncles and other hobbits whose business brought them there as a comforting counterpoint, I felt and saw the perils of their trek in the wide ranges of my imagination. Grandfather often sat beside me when time allowed, and it was with his firm hand upon my shoulder that I learned of brave Boromir’s noble death, and that terrible moment of decision that Frodo faced upon the shore.

My grandfather closed the book for me that morning, and led me out into the sunshine to the orchard. We walked long among the trees where tiny green apples hung from each bough. Knowing fingers poked and pulled at bark and branch, retying a hastily laced support, pinching off leaves touched by sickness or swarm.

After a time, he sat upon an overturned crate, stretching long legs and arms in the bright sunshine, and I wound lazy circles about the nearest trees, too full of questions and turmoil to be still.

“Is that why we must learn the sword and bow, Grand-dad?”

“In part.”

“He bought back his honor in this way?”

“He did.”

“It must have been so awful to see...”

“It was. It still is.”

The soft sadness that had so often altered his usually cheerful face when we read together was present now and I laid my small hand in his, strangely troubled that a loss so long past still affected him. The peek into the events of his younger years was shedding new light on the vague rumors and odd goings on I had witnessed in my short and curious life, but none more so than what I read the following day.

I peeped over the back of my bench to find him dozing in the soft afternoon light, feet propped up on the desk. The steady rise and fall of his chest, miraculous and precious sign that what the Enemy had nearly stolen was safe and sound before me was all I heard in the still air of the room. I crept closer, quiet as only a child intent on silence can be, and came to his side. Every mark and line long learned and therefore almost invisible took on new significance. The dark scar on his brow could have come from any random accident in the active life he still led, but I now knew he’d earned it fighting for his life against an enemy twice his size. The cruel bonds had bit deep, though close on sixty years of life and sun had faded their tracks, lost in the curly hair at wrist and ankle. The tiny veil of doubt about the tale’s truthfulness vanished for me in the face of the proof he carried in his flesh. It was almost too much for my young heart and I left without a sound.

I spent three long days minding my youngest brother, whose amazing propensity for mischief was happily offset by a sunny disposition. My mother was too glad for the reprieve to question my presence, unusual as it was, and between splashing in the shallows of the river and chasing butterflies and frogs I managed to stay clear of my grandfather’s study, though not without some guilt. The darkness and the light of the tale both drew me and my steps soon took me back to the dark hall outside the study. My timid knock at his door, which had until this day been no true barrier to me was answered by a cheerful call, which I knew must turn cold when I entered, for surely my desertion would have disappointed him. His warm smile melted all my fears in seconds, and I ran to him, feeling foolish as a tot, certain he’d find me childish and silly but not caring a bit in that moment. He wrapped me in a comforting hug, arms still strong despite his age, and I gladly buried my face against his shirt.

“Now, now, my girl. What’s all this?” he asked, patting my shoulder.

“I… I thought you might be… disappointed…” I stammered.

“Dear child, there’s no shame in finding the tale heard to hear. It was a hard to write and even more to live, and though it is a part of the past the author’s skills bring it straight to the heart. He always did have the right word to catch my own imagination. I should rightly apologize to you, I should never have encouraged you to read it so soon.”

“Oh no! I want to read the rest, in fact I must! I just… It’s really not a made up story at all…” I mumbled, one finger tracing the pale scars on his wrist.

“Ah, I see,” he said covering my hand with his own.

He pulled the book down from the shelf and opened it to where my pale green ribbon marked the page. Eyes quickly scanning the page, a slow grin spread across his face.

“That was about when we realized it was all rather bigger than us too, this danger to the world. A rude awakening for us both, I’d say, and long overdue. But we made out alright, as you can see,” he finished, looking warmly down into my face. I answered his smile with one of my own, and we sat again on that dark pine bench through the morning and most of the day, reading together in comfortable silence.

It was a strange surprise to find my namesake bound up in this tale, but I knew by then to hold my questions for the end, for few answers could not be found or intuited from the text itself, and it proved so again. I felt no little pride at being named for so noble and courageous a lady and vowed in my young heart to bring only honor to our common name.

Long after I had finished that fearsome account and asked what questions still filled my hungry mind, we sat long afternoons in book bound explorations, my grandfather and I. He slowly passed his tasks on to younger shoulders and devoted himself once more to his apple trees and to his books. I was with him when the letter came from Rohan, to tell him that the king was dying and wished to see his old friend again. Amidst the hurried exchange of papers and other formalities, the quiet or tearful farewells and the multitude of traveling arrangements to be made, I managed to tiptoe into the empty study, resolved to wait all night if need be to catch a quiet moment before he left. He found me there a moment later and gently clasped my hands.

“I was looking for you,” he murmured and steeped to the long chest beneath the window seat. He pulled from it a dark bundle from which he freed a long sword sheathed in dark red leather. “I had it made for you the year you read the book,” he said, placing it into my right hand. He then set that same heavy tome into my left. “To guide and to protect,” he said laying a hand on each as he spoke. “Your task is to remember and remind the Shire that evil may yet come, and that we should bravely rise to meet it always.”

He cupped my cheek tenderly, and I barely had the presence of mind to nod, tears threatening to spill from my eyes. He brushed a soft kiss upon my forehead and tousled my curls one last time.

“There are many things that I will miss, but most all you, dear Eowyn.”

A few hours later I watched him ride off, his cousin as always by his side. Voices raised in merry song, they cantered away, and in the uncertain light of dawn it was easy to mistake them for two young travelers, carefree and on the road to adventure once more.

This is dedicated to the ones who sailed too soon, and those who are still watching on the shore.
A little gift from Hokusai's daughter.