The Master and the King

This was written for Back to Middle Earth Month 2015, and was posted to LJ back in March. It was written for the following prompt by Dreamflower: "We know that Éomer wrote to Merry at the end of his life, but it seems logical they would have had other correspondence over the years. It would be really neat to see the letters exchanged between the Lord of the Mark and the Master of Buckland."

The Master and the King by Targon Fletcher, Fellow of the University of Fornost, published in First Century Studies, vol. 129, part 4 (F.A. 2734)

Meriadoc the Magnificent is a popular figure of folklore in the north-west parts of the kingdom, especially in the region once known as Buckland. That he was real is indubitable. However, in common with other popular heroes, his story has grown with the telling. Over the centuries, his story has seen a gradual accretion of fanciful tales and marvellous anecdotes. He has been credited with buildings that did not exist until five hundred years after his death, and with quirky geological features that are unarguably natural.

To the drinkers in the pubs of Brandihale, well into their cups, all such stories are true, and they will fight anyone who dares say otherwise. At the other extreme, we find those historians, self-styled revisionists, who claim that Meriadoc, like the equally famed Thain Peregrin, was just a wealthy, well-travelled hobbit with a gift for self-publicity, flogging lies and exaggerations to the credulous stay-at-homes. Because some of the deeds associated with him are demonstrably false, they argue, then all are.

A main pillar of their "evidence" is the oft-cited claim that Meriadoc regularly exchanged letters with the great King Éomer of Rohan. Such a claim is absurd, they declare, for no such letters remain in the archives of Rohan. (Said archives are scant, since Rohan at that time was still largely an oral culture, but this does not deter the revisionists.) They concede that Meriadoc and his friends feature strongly in the contemporary records of Gondor, where several sources laud their deeds and go as far as to claim that they were close friends of King Elessar. However, at the centre of these accounts is a classic biased source: the "Thain's Book," a copy of the now-lost Red Book of Westmarch, delivered to Gondor by Thain Peregrin himself. Of course such an account would emphasise and exaggerate the role of these hobbits, they say.

The present author has some sympathy with their claims. The drinkers of Brandihale apart, few now would believe the tales of vast armies of walking, talking trees, for example: at best a metaphor, at worst just a fairy tale. But in common with most reputable historians, I have always believed that these revisionist historians have gone too far in their desire to be cynical and modern. Some of the tales have a basis in truth, and some do not. Untangling which tale is which has been the central challenge of my academic career.

Which brings us to this present article. Two years ago, Brandihale Hall was sold by its impecunious owners, and bought by the state, with the intention of opening it to the public. It turned out that instead of a hall, they had acquired a time capsule: a warren of sealed-up rooms deep beneath the hill; dust-covered chambers still furnished in the style of our grandfathers; and a muniments room full of ancient scrolls and old letters, untouched for hundreds of years.

In was in this room that a series of chests was discovered. Upon investigation, they were found to contain countless bundles of the correspondence of Meriadoc the Magnificent. The letters contain enough material to fuel a lifetime of scholarship, and have the potential to transform our understanding of so many aspects of first century history. Fortunately for the historian, Meriadoc was in the habit of writing his letters in draft before making his final copy and seems to have returned from his travels with the instincts of an archivist, and kept everything, even aborted drafts of letters that were never sent.

Analysis has barely begun, but here is a "sneak preview," as the theatre-men would say: a small selection from the first bundle of letters exchanged between Meriadoc Brandybuck and King Éomer of Rohan - yes, King Éomer of Rohan, despite the claims of the revisionists.

1. Éomer to Meriadoc, T.A. 3021

From Éomer King, Lord of the Eorlingas, to Sir Holdwine of the Mark, prince of the holbytla, greetings.

Éomer King wishes you well, Sir Holdwine, and invites you to share in his present happiness. For he is to be wed upon the first day of Weodmonath to the Lady Lothíriel of Dol Amroth, and desires all his friends to partake in his joy. He regrets that the leagues that separate you are too great for you to attend, but you will be in his thoughts. His sister, Lady Éowyn of the Shield-Arm, has told him that your people give gifts on their own special days, so he sends these gifts to you, Sir Holdwine, on the joyous occasion of his own wedding. For he and his people owe you a great debt which can never be repaid and will never be forgotten as long as there are songs, and men to sing them.

2. Meriadoc to Éomer, S.R 1422 (F.A. 1)

[The following letter contains many crossings-out, most of which have not been replicated here, and much idle doodling: flowers, leaves and horses. It was apparently never sent.]

From Meriadoc Brandybuck of Buckland to King Éomer King, Lord of the Eorlingas, greetings.

Thank you for your letter.

Meriadoc Brandybuck sends his thanks to

I am delighted to hear about your wedding, my lord. If by Weodmonath you mean the month that we call Wedmath, then your wedding is half a year past, and your letter took many months to reach me. I believe it travelled the Greenway with no more than the usual inevitable delays and tumbles, but it was once the king's couriers handed it over to hobbits that the problems began. It spent a month in Bree, where they scratched their heads and wondered who on earth this "Sir Holdwine of the Mark " might be and where he lived, and then another month being passed from pillar to post throughout Buckland and the Shire. It arrived strangely stained; I believe it took a tumble in the Brandywine at some point.

I don't expect you will write again, but if you do, can I request that you tell your scribe - it was written by your scribe, was it not? - to address it to Meriadoc Brandybuck of Crickhollow, which is where Pippin and I are living for now. It will avoid some confusion.

Thank you for

Meriadoc Brandybuck would like to thank

I don't know how to write to a king. My father ensured that I was taught all those things a well-brought-up gentlehobbit needs to know. I can write letters to grocers and tenants; to great-uncles and aunts; to the Mayor and the Thain. He didn't teach me how to write to a king. I apologise for any breach of etiquette. I have probably committed them with every word.

Thank you for the gifts. There, I've said it: a simple hobbit way without any flourishes. The barrel of mead survived the tumble in the Brandywine very well, and was dragged out by three boatmen with nets. Pippin and I served it at one of our parties. We hold a lot of parties nowadays. The younger hobbits like them very much, although the older ones sniff loudly with disapproval, while quietly wishing they were invited. (They are, of course. We turn nobody away.) They seem to think we're something marvellous. And it's good to be home, because this is our place. I felt that so strongly at the worst of times. But now…

I'm home now, back where I belong, but sometimes we stand there in the middle of one of our parties and we know that, for all the noise and all the toasts and all the attention, nobody else really understands.

Frodo's gone, you see. Did you know that? It was all about Frodo. It was always about Frodo. Pippin, Sam and I, we only got involved because we were going with Frodo. He and Sam endured so much more than us. Frodo should be the one standing on a table receiving the toasts of an exuberant crowd (a crowd, I should admit, somewhat the worse for your very kind gift of mead) but he couldn't…

He's gone.

But this letter is too long already. I appreciate your letter, but you aren't interested in the ramblings of a small hobbit from so far away. So I'll finish with a gift of my own. Éowyn is half right, because on our birthdays, we do indeed give gifts as well as receive them, but on our weddings, we only receive them. So please accept the accompanying barrels as a belated wedding present from the far-off land of the hobbits.

I wish you every happiness, Éomer King.

[The text above has been crossed out with a single line. The paragraph below is presumably an early draft of the letter which was eventually sent.]

From Meriadoc Brandybuck to Éomer King, Lord of the Eorlingas, greetings!

Meriadoc Brandybuck wishes to thank Éomer King for his kind letter and his gift of a barrel of mead, which we greatly enjoyed was greatly enjoyed by him and his friends. Thank you He thanks you for your kind invitation, and regrets that the letter was delayed on its journey, meaning that he only found out about the wedding many months after it had happened. (Should you write again, he humbly requests that you address it to Meriadoc Brandybuck of Crickhollow in Buckland.) He sends you a gift to go with these words, and hopes that it gives you and your people as much joy as it gives us to him and his.

3. Éomer to Meriadoc, F.A. 2

From Éomer King, Lord of the Eorlingas, to Meriadoc Brandybuck of Crickhollow in Buckland, greetings.

Éomer King thanks you for your kind gift. He wishes you to know that when he told Elessar King what you had sent, the King of Mundburg laughed and shook his head and sent that you had sent him a precious gift indeed, but one which he might have cause to regret. He wishes you to know that he put a pinch of your gift into one of the pipes that you sent him and set it smouldering, only to cough mightily for many a long minute. His queen, he is sorry to say, does not like it, but some of those who share in the hospitality of his hall have grown inordinately fond of this Leaf of the Long Bottom. He understands that a merchant of Edoras will be contacting you before the year is out to establish a regular supply.

As for the "barrel of mead" of which you make mention, Éomer King wishes you to know that he sent six barrels, and six barrels did indeed cross the borders of his realm. He sends you five more barrels, in the hope that at least three of them reach you: one for you, Sir Holdwine, one for Sir Peregrin of Mundburg, and one for Master Samwise, for he has learnt from Queen Arwen that Master Frodo has departed these shores, and with him gone the Third Age of our world.

4. Meriadoc to Éomer, S.R. 1424 (F.A. 3)

[Another early draft, of which the final form is unknown.]

From Meriadoc Brandybuck to Éomer King, Lord of the Eorlingas, greetings!

Thank you for the barrels of mead, of which four arrived safely. I wonder where the fifth barrel went! Shall we trace the path that your gift took? If I read the directions correctly, you entrusted it to your courier who had orders to pass it to Strider's King Elessar's regular supply train that carries goods between Minas Tirith and the north. That trundles its way slowly along the Greenway, eventually reaching Bree, where your letter and gift are passed to our shiny new stagecoach service, which brings it as far as the Brandywine Bridge, where our own local delivery lads take over. It takes around four months, I believe.

Now that I think of it like that, the loss of but one barrel seems like a low price to pay. The leagues between us are great, as you say, and the roads are still long and dangerous. It is through the labour of many that we are able to talk to each other across the miles. Let them share in our gifts with our good wishes!

I have not yet received any message from a merchant of Edoras, but perhaps he did that "Sir Holdwine of the holbytla" thing and poor Men of Bree are still scratching their heads about it. I'm glad your men liked the pipeweed. You should try it again, Éomer King! It takes some getting used to, but once you're accustomed to it, it is truly a marvel. I promised to tell Théoden King all about it, but I never did. That's why I sent the barrels to you, in his memory. Because I wasn't able to give them to him.

You will, of course, be very eager to learn everything that there is to be known about pipeweed and its associated lore, so I am sending you a copy of a book I have started to write. It is incomplete and unpolished, but I would like to you have it. It is only a small bundle of papers, so I will enclose it with this letter, in the hope that without barrels to slow it down, it can travel with the fast couriers and reach you before the roads become impassable in the winter.

[Several more letters were exchanged between F.A. 3 and F.A. 6, suggesting that the absence of bulky gifts did indeed increase the speed of delivery. If the drafts accurately represent the final letters, much of Meriadoc's contribution to the exchange consisted of lengthy discussion of herblore. The "regular supply" was established, although Meriadoc was not directly involved in that since he was not "in trade," as gentlehobbits of the time loftily put it, and by F.A. 5, Éomer was apparently an appreciative although infrequent consumer of pipeweed. His queen remained unconvinced.]

5. Meriadoc to Éomer, S.R. 1427 (F.A. 6)

["First draft," this letters read. "Rewrite in more formal language."]

From Meriadoc Brandybuck to Éomer King, Lord of the Eorlingas, greetings!

Well! Such a lot has happened since last I wrote to you! Sam has been elected Mayor: can you believe that? Well, actually Pippin and I can believe it very well, because nobody is more worthy than Sam. I know Frodo worried about Sam, because… Well, we don't have kings here - well, of course, we do have a king now, but we've never had hobbit kings - and there are no princes and lords, but Pippin and I are like… our fathers are a bit like your marshals, and Frodo was is our cousin and came comes from a very good family, but Sam… Sam's like the men who work in your stables and don't own horses or spears of their own. You know his worth, of course, but Frodo worried that he wouldn't receive the honour he was due. But now he has. As I said, Pippin and I are delighted and unsurprised, but Pippin's father is a bit sniffy about it. Pippin will work him round. Change takes time.

Secondly, Pippin's gone and got married! Fancy that! I remember him being born. So we aren't living together any more, and that feels… I don't know. Everything's changing. I'm living by myself at Crickhollow now.

And the third thing that's happened is… Well, you've probably heard all about it from Aragorn King Elessar. (I still sometimes think of him as Strider. Do you think he'd mind?) He's issued a decree saying that no Men can entire the Shire! He consulted us beforehand, of course, with shiny heralds and solemn councillors (I recognised one of them; he was one of those Grey Company fellows we met that day) who stopped at the Brandywine Bridge. Last autumn, that was. Pippin and I - and Sam, too, although he wasn't Mayor then - had been summoned, and they told us the plan, and we said that we would like it very much indeed, because it was quite horrible, the thing that Saruman and his Men had done while we were away, and I know that some hobbits are worrying that now we've come back "all fancy-like," we're going to start flooding the Shire first with Big Folk ways, and then with Big Folk. ["Long sentence," is scrawled in the margin. "Rewrite."]

(They like the mead, though. That's one Big Folk way that they're quite happy to keep, thank you very much. They've worked out how to make their own now. It's not as good as yours.)

I just wish Frodo could have seen it. We keep talking about him in the past tense, as if he's dead, but he isn't. He isn't. I wonder what he's doing now.

I wonder if he thinks about us as much as we think about him.

6. Éomer to Meriadoc, F.A. 7 (extract)

From Éomer King, Lord of the Eorlingas, to Meriadoc Brandybuck, greetings.

I hear from King Elessar that Sir Peregrin is due to visit Minas Tirith next summer. Are you to travel with him? I journey often to Gondor, but the hospitality of Meduseld is always open to you, should you wish to visit. Lothíriel would love to meet you. She is at my elbow now, and she wishes me to ask Sir Peregrin if he really means to undertake so long a journey so soon after his marriage. I know not what she means. I travelled many times to Gondor and beyond during the early years of our marriage. It is the merely way of things. Men travel and women stay at home. The Greenway is safer now, or so I hear, but the journey is still a long one, and not one for a lady, although Lothíriel wishes to remind me that Éowyn would disagree.

7. Meriadoc to Éomer, F.A. 9 (extract)

From Meriadoc Brandbuck to Éomer King, greetings!

Well, we made it back in time! I expect Éowyn has told you about the letter that found its way to us when we were staying with her and Faramir and their little one in Emyn Arnen. Yes, Pippin was due to have a little one of his own, and if he wanted to see it born, he should get a move on a hurry on home before Yule, rather than wintering in Gondor as we had planned. So off we rushed - I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to you - and made it home with several weeks to spare. Baby Faramir was born two days after Yule, which is the start of the year as we reckon it in the Shire (1430 to be precise), although it's still "last year" as they reckon it in Gondor.

Talking about years, I keep meaning to ask you more about your calendar. Your month names are so similar to ours, although we are so different in many other ways. I would like to find out more about the histories of our people and the similarities between our tongues. Do your scholars have any books that can help me?

It's strange to think of Pippin as a father. And you, too, of course. What am I thinking, to say nothing about it until now? ["Rewrite," reads the marginal note. "Put congratulations first."] We heard it from the dispatch riders on the road - and if we travelled fast, those fellows ride like the wind! - and know that Lothíriel was safely delivered of a son just before the first snows of winter. May he know a lifetime of joy!

Where was I? Yes. Pippin as a father. Little Pippin, now with a little one of his own. Diamond's always busy with the baby, and poor Pippin looks quite hollow-eyed with sleeplessness. I'm spending quite a lot of time with old Fatty Bolger, who so nearly came with us on our journey. His sister Estella is nice.

8. Éomer to Meriadoc, F.A. 9 (extract)

Our scholars have few books, since the memory of our people is held in our songs and stories, which are told around our fires and sung in our halls. If a story is to live forever, my people believe, it should be known by heart and sung out loud, not committed to fragile paper which can be lost or burnt. If a tale is written down, they believe, then there is no need to remember it, and our tales are not tales that should be forgotten.

But my grandmother, Morwen, came from Gondor, and she felt otherwise. She produced some writings on the history of her husband's people, and Lothíriel is of a mind to produce yet more. We are no longer a people apart, looking inwards and wrapped in our own tales, but are part of a world that is far wider and far greater. If our tale is to be told outside our borders, we need to learn to write it down.

Next time you come to Edoras, I will gather together our best bards and singers and you can question them to your heart's content. I intend to found an Archive of the Mark in Edoras. I would feel greatly honoured if our people are remembered, too, in books in Buckland in the Shire.

[The history of Rohan dominates the next few letters, and have been omitted from his article, although they will be quoted in full when in my forthcoming book. As well as letters from the king, Meriadoc also receives several letters from bards and scholars. One such bard insists on writing all his letters in alliterative verse, and continues with this habit for the entire thirty year duration of the correspondence, even when the content of his letters relates to the weather, persistent stomach complaints, and small-talk about mutual friends.]

9. Meriadoc to Éomer, F.A. 11

From Meriadoc son of Saradoc, to Éomer King, Lord of the Eorlingas, greetings.

My father is dead, Éomer. I was with him when he died. It reminded me… Right at the end, although we were in a quiet room in Brandy Hall with all the curtains drawn and the whole room smelling of pipeweed and dried lavender, I was back on the Pelennor with Théoden King dying beside me.

I knew it was coming. He did, too. We all did.

It doesn't make it any better.

But there were things to do, and things to think about. I'm Master of Buckland now, and although it doesn't mean as much as it used to mean, it still means something. I'm back in Brandy Hall now, but in my old room, not in father's room. I don't think I'll use that again, not to sleep in.

I haven't written to you or to Éowyn for half a year. I've been putting it off, you see, because I knew what was coming. The year started with such happy news. I got married, you see! I told you about Estella, didn't I? "We should get married," I said to her one day, as she was helping me look up facts for my book on pipeweed (fifth version now; I'm getting as bad as old Bilbo.) And she said, "Yes, why not?" and so we did, no fuss and very little ceremony. We disappointed half of Buckland, I think, because they'd come to expect that when the Master's heir finally married, it would be in some lavish Man-style ceremony with coaches and jewels and maybe even the King himself (although he's away down south and can't enter our borders, anyway.) A few years ago, I might have wanted that sort of ceremony, too, but now I just want those people who really matter.

I wish you could have been there, and Éowyn and Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli.

And Frodo.

Frodo will never know that his Uncle Saradoc is dead. And when Frodo dies, we will never know. Maybe he's already dead. He was hurt so very badly.

I don't know how much of this I'll be sending. Perhaps none of it. We were due to visit Edoras and Minas Tirith next year, because our last visit was curtailed. I remembered what Lothíriel said, and I've asked Estella, and she really doesn't mind. Pippin and I live in a wider world now, she says, and she knew that when she accepted me. The other hobbits aren't quite there yet, she says, and are content to live their lives in the only place they have ever known, seeing just glimpses of the world outside.

I would like to show her the world outside one day, I think.

I don't know if we're still going to come. I think so. It's strange in Brandy Hall without father here, and with Estella managing the servants, although mother's still here, of course, and all the usual crowd of relations. I have responsibilities now, but we were always going to come. It was all but settled. And it's more of an honorary title, really, not like being king, and you're often away from the Mark for more than half a year at a time, or so Éowyn tells me.

[Meriadoc and Peregrin did indeed visit Edoras and Minas Tirith in F.A. 12 and stayed there for many months. It was an eventful visit, for King Elessar and King Éomer rode to war that summer, and the effects of that war reached even into Minas Tirith itself. It was to be their last visit for several decades. Within four months of their return to the Shire, Peregrin's father died, and he became Thain, and both Meriadoc and Peregrin settled down to their responsibilities in the Shire and in the north kingdom.]

10. Meriadoc to Éomer, F.A. 14 (extract)

From Meriadoc, Master of Buckland and Councillor of the north Kingdom, to Éomer King, Lord of the Eorlingas, greetings.

Do you ever feel as if you have two homes? Two families? Two loyalties? When I'm away, I think so fondly of home. It's so big in the world of Men, you see. They're still not used to hobbits out there, and they stare at us as if we're creatures out of legend. But when I'm home, much as I love it, I think of all those friends who can never visit us, and all those places that… well, that home is not.

Brandy Hall feels less strange, though. Going away helped, I think. Estella's given it a thorough tidy and reorganisation - she was tactful and let mother get involved - and I no longer feel as if I've stolen father's house from him as well as his title. It's still packed with relations, of course, but it feels different now. People call me "Master," and sometimes I turn round, but sometimes I just keep on walking, and forget that they mean me.

I wonder if Pippin feels the same. I must talk to him about it. Or maybe not. Forty-six years old and an esquire of Gondor, but he has never entirely stopped looking to me as if I have all the answers.

Did Aragorn tell you that he's made us all Councillors of the north Kingdom? We haven't done much counselling yet. Sam's already worrying that we'll have to sit around a big table with lots of tall men, with our feet swinging above the floor and our noses level with the surface of the table. That would be in Annúminas. I hear it's rather a lovely place now, but I've never been. I expect I'll go there soon. Aragorn's planning on visiting next year, he tells us. Will you be coming with him?

Sometimes I wonder if I'm dreaming. Sometimes I wonder if I fell asleep nearly twenty years ago, and everything that's come afterwards is a dream.

11. Éomer to Meriadoc, F.A. 15

From Éomer, lord of the Eorlingas, to Meriadoc Brandybuck, esteemed Councillor of the north Kingdom, greetings.

I regret to say that I will not be coming north with King Elessar. The situation in the east is far from settled, and Aragorn wishes to leave strong leaders behind in his absence. (Those were his words.) So Faramir stays, and Imrahil, and I. Besides, Lothíriel is expecting again and cannot travel, and has let me know that although a journey to Minas Tirith or Ithilien is acceptable, an entire year spent in Annúminas is not. And so we will not meet again this summer, and must exchange letters instead.

Your last letter made me think, and I realised that I feel the same as you at times. I would say this to no other. Lothíriel still finds it difficult at times to live among people whose ways are so different from the ways she was born to, so I cannot expect her to bear the burden of my doubts, too. Éowyn is… Well, Éowyn is my sister, and what older brother like to show weakness to his younger sister?

I was not born to be king. Théodred was noble and strong and glorious, and when I was growing up, he was everything I aspired to be. He would have made a fine king, and I would have followed him loyally until the end. But Théoden died, and Théoden, too, and I became king, king of a proud people. I led them to the best of my ability, and I have no regrets, but sometimes I look at the world we live in now, and wonder how it came to pass. There is a Heir of Isildur on the throne of Gondor, Sauron is gone, and I am King of the Riddermark, and they tell me that my people love me.

Faramir might understand, I think. Faramir had a brother and I had a cousin, but they were the ones who were going to rule, and we were going to follow.

I have not talked to him about it.

I wonder if Aragorn himself feels doubt. Does he look in the mirror and wonder how it came to pass that he should be wearing the crown of Elendil? In his dreams, is he King Elessar, or is he Strider, the disreputable Ranger you met in an inn in Bree? Should I ask him one day? But, no, that is the sort of question that only a hobbit could ask. He would probably answer you, too, for that is the way of hobbits. That is one of your many gifts.

My people prize the spoken word over the written word, but perhaps the written word has merit. I would not speak these words out loud. If I destroy this letter now, they will go forever unheard.

Perhaps I will.

[The letter was clearly sent. However, Meriadoc's reply is missing. In all probability, it was written while Meriadoc was away from home, busy with King Elessar's visit, and as a result, no draft or copy was retained in his household archive. Did Meriadoc ask Elessar whether he, too, occasionally felt overwhelmed by his title? And if he did, what answer did he get? Unless new evidence surfaces, we will never know, and Elessar remains as inscrutable and near-mythical as Éomer himself was, until the discovery of letters such as this.]

12. Meriadoc to Éomer, F.A. 18 (extract)

[This is the first letter in which Meriadoc mentions his son, already four. No surviving letter from Meriadoc to Éomer mentions his birth, although Meriadoc wrote about it at length in a letter to Éomer's sister Éowyn. Either the record is less complete than it was at first assumed, or Meriadoc - doubtless suffering, as most new fathers do, from sleep-deprivation - forgot that he had not reported the birth to Éomer.]

From Meriadoc, Master of Buckland, to Éomer King, Lord of the Eorlingas, greetings.

It is strange to think about how quickly things have changed. Sometimes you notice change happening, when it's a sudden thing, like Frodo leaving or your father dying. But sometimes you hardly notice it, until you look into the past and remember how different things used to be.

If you ask an average farmer out in the fields, he'd say that nothing has changed for time immemorial. Certainly the seasons turns as they have always turned, and his life is ruled by the rhythms of the year. But although there are no Men in the Shire, we hear their songs and their stories. The stagecoach goes twice a day to Bree, and from there you can travel anywhere. Most days there are letters or parcels from lands that were once just a rumour.

And have you noticed that our letters are travelling so fast now? Oh, they still take many weeks, but remember when they used to take months, and all those barrels of mead got lost? It wasn't all that long ago, either.

Pippin's boy is nine years old now, and my little one's four. I don't see myself changing day to day, but I have, of course. Sometimes I still feel like the irresponsible young buck who caused havoc with Pippin. But when irresponsible young bucks are brought before me, having trampled the crops of honest farmers in their wild, irresponsible games, I play the stern Master and make them hang their heads in shame. And I'm not just playing the part, too. There is so much real evil in the world. Why should we wish to sow mischief ourselves?

Has all the change finished, do you think, or will the world keep on changing more and more? And will the hobbits be part of it, or will we stay safe and snug behind our borders, and let the world race away from us, pausing only to marvel, sometimes, at the wonders that we hear of in letters?

13. Éomer to Meriadoc, F.A. 19

From Éomer King to Meriadoc Brandybuck, in haste.

Your letter was brought to me with the latest dispatches. Apologies for the late reply. My men and I have ridden to battle with King Elessar, for old enemies have surfaced again in the east. I apologise for the writing. I was wounded in the right arm, and although my left arm is trained for the spear, it refuses to cooperate when I ask it to write. And behold! I have knocked the ink pot over and all but obscured my words. Must go. Horns are sounding.

14. Meriadoc to Éomer, F.A. 19

You are at war? I knew that, of course, because we are Councillors of the north kingdom now, and important messengers keep us informed of such things. But you are at war?

Today I adjudicated over a boundary dispute - something about overhanging apple trees - and helped find a missing kitten.

And you and Aragorn are at war. You might have fallen in battle, and the messenger is even now pounding his way along the Greenway with the news, while I search for missing kittens.

Aragorn thinks it's important that we keep on doing things like that. He thinks that because we are the sort of people who spend our days worrying about missing kittens and overhanging apple trees, Frodo was able to do what he did. That's why he doesn't want us to be invaded by Men, who might change things. Sometimes I agree with him. Sometimes…

You're at war. I hope you're well. I hope you're already home. Home's important, but I wish…

15. Meriadoc to Éomer, F.A. 19

Éomer? Please write. Éowyn's silent, too. Pippin's heard nothing from Faramir, either. We even went to Annúminas but nobody knows anything there. What's the point of having such an enormous kingdom if we in the north don't know? Aragorn has the palantir, but what do we have? Just ponies. Messages are so much quicker than they used to be, but they still take weeks. I wish I could be everywhere at once. I wish…

16. Éomer to Meriadoc, F.A. 19

From Éomer King to Meriadoc Brandybuck, in haste.

All is well. Elessar was triumphant, although it was a close-fought thing. Our enemies were preying on our couriers, and many messages went astray. I was wounded, but it was but a little thing. Elessar was wounded worse, but that is all healed now. Faramir and Éowyn were too busy trying to hold things together at home. You were worried. Of course you were. I am sorry. I will send more soon.

17. Meriadoc to Éomer, F.A. 20

From Meriadoc, Master of Buckland, to Éomer King, Lord of the Eorlingas, greetings.

I am heartily relieved to hear that you and all our friends are alive and well. I wish I could have been there with you. But, no, I don't wish that, because although I learnt more about war than most hobbits ever know, and Pippin and I are considered military heroes for our part in the Battle of Bywater, I am not made for war. I have seen more of it than I ever want to see.

I don't know what world I want to live in. I want to live here, because this is my place, but I want to be with my friends in the south. I want the world to stay as it was, but I want it to change. I want to be there when my friends are fighting for their lives, but I want to stay here, fighting for the quiet freedoms that Aragorn's Rangers used to risk their lives to preserve.

I am in two worlds. Do you feel that, Éomer? Does everyone?

But at least we have letters. With letters, those two worlds can meet. The world is shrinking, but we still lie many weeks apart, but with words, we can know each other.

I hope our letters can continue. They mean a lot to me.

But now I must go. The goat has fallen in the duck pond again, and there is much loud clamouring, with everyone insisting it's someone else's fault. I'd better go and sort it out.


The letters do not end there. As Meriadoc hoped, the letters continued for the rest of their lives, but that is a tale for the second bundle…


Note: I'd originally intended the letters to cover the whole of Éomer's life-span, leading seamlessly into my story, The Swallow, which deals with Merry's arrival at Edoras not long before Éomer's death. But then I realised that I was approaching 5000 words and had barely covered a decade. Massive acceleration of the time-scale didn't feel right to me, and neither did suddenly jumping 30 years, and resuming near the end. So imagine that The Master and the King: part 2 will appear in vol. 130 of First Century Studies, and the complete, unedited correspondence (with copious annotations by Targon Fletcher) will be published in the following year.

The "eventful visit" to Minas Tirith in F.A. 12 is the subject of The Shadow of War, which I had only just started to write when I wrote this story, but which is now finished and posted.

Any similarities to Humphrey Carpenter's edition of Tolkien's letters are, of course, entirely intentional. Fortunately for future historians, Merry inherited his creator's habit of holding onto his drafts, even those that went unsent.