A/N: It's the final section: a little longer than the other chapters, but then I wasn't sure where to split it. In fact I may repost the whole thing as one document since it seems a bit bitty as eight chapters. What do you think?

Oh, in case anyone was wondering, the full story of Arvedui can be found in Appendix A.

Anyway, on with the show. Hope you enjoy the conclusion.

*******

It took a little more research to track down the rest of the history of the shield. And even then there were questions. But Merry Brandybuck was sure that it had belonged to Arvedui and that it had been lost at some point in his rapid retreat northwards to Forochel.

Certainly hobbits had been involved in the conflict - there were several records of hobbit archers going to war alongside men in that period - but none were recorded as having reached the north with Arvedui. It was surely not too unlikely that some hobbit warrior fighting in the rear-guard had come upon the lost buckler and grabbed it as a useful item with which to defend himself. As the chaotic retreat fell apart, perhaps this hobbit had lost his comrades and finally, sick-at-heart, turned homewards towards the Shire.

After the loss of the last king, the hobbits had looked to themselves for leadership. The Shire had remained peaceful, untouched by the goings-on of the wider world, but for long years they had remained ignorant of how Arvedui's descendants had shielded them from danger.

Merry called together the Thain and the Mayor for a meeting and they decided that Arvedui's shield should be returned to its rightful heir - as so much else had now been.

*****

It was almost a year before they had a chance to do so.

The three leading families of the Shire gazed around them at the splendour of Annuminas. There had been a great many improvements to the northern palace - as there had been throughout the kingdom in the past score of years. The walls had been bare, dazzling fresh-painted white the last time Sam, Merry and Pippin had all visited together, with Rosie and little Elanor. Now immense tapestries of extraordinary artistry hung from the high ceiling down to the floor.

As ever, the hobbits found that they could easily be over-looked in a crowd of courtiers. Of course anyone spotting them was polite and friendly, but the trio were not offended when they went unnoticed. They had long since learned the benefits of being small and inconspicuous. Pippin Took chuckled at the sight of his wife and Estella darting through the throng, hand in hand like small girls, exclaiming with delight at the many beauties of the hall.

The children - the five adventurers of a year ago were all present though the rest of Sam's immense family had remained home with their mother - were quite subdued. Merry and Faramir seemed to be carefully rehearsing their speech. Goldie was neatly attired in a green dress and so far hadn't got a single mark on it. In fact she looked positively elegant and Pippin suppressed another chuckle as he saw the way the four boys looked at her a little in awe - as if wondering what this creature had done with their sister and friend.

There was a sudden commotion in the hall and the crowd divided as the King and Queen walked to the dais.

Queen Arwen took her seat, but the King remained standing to address the crowd. "Friends, honoured guests, welcome to Annuminas. It is good to be in the north again." There was a smattering of polite applause.

"Now," he went on. "I was told there are some young hobbits hereabouts who wished to speak to me."

Pippin exchanged a grin with Merry Brandybuck, standing to his left. They had told Aragorn the youngsters had something to give him - but had resisted all his questioning as to the nature of the gift.

The five children stepped forward, a little shyly at first, but Pippin saw how they glanced at each other and seemed to take comfort in having their friends close at hand.

Pippin watched as Faramir knelt before the man he still occasionally struggled not to call Strider, let alone Aragorn. In his full kingly regalia it was almost impossible to think of him as anything other than King Elessar. But only almost - the Thain of the Shire had shared many pleasant smokes under the stars with his old friend in the past 20 years and these days thought little of chiding him for his inability to delegate some of the lesser tasks of running his kingdom.

Nevertheless he felt oddly nervous for the group.

*****

He could feel his hands sweating with nerves and feared that he would leave a damp mark on the gift he clutched, wrapped in a fine cloth. Glancing across at the crowd Faramir caught his father's eye and received an encouraging nod.

"Sire," he began, a little too loudly, for he had not expected his voice to carry so well in so large a room. "For long years the rangers of the north shielded our lands and our forefathers. The Hobbit folk knew nothing of the sacrifices that were made to keep the Shire safe."

The next lines were Merry's: "It is a poor gift to give in return for the peace the Shire knew through the years when other lands struggled against the darkness. And perhaps the poorer, for it already belongs to your people by right."

The King coughed, looking confused. "No thanks or reward is needed. We were ever glad to do it."

Faramir stood up and took three steady steps forward, concentrating hard on making the limp unnoticeable. He held out the parcel.

The King took it and unwrapped it. Faramir didn't have words to describe the various emotions that passed over the weathered face of the former ranger. Astonishment was there certainly. Joy, of a kind. Sadness, or perhaps more accurately grief, in some measure. For a moment, to Faramir's surprise, he simply looked overwhelmed. He had not expected the great hero- King Elessar to be so taken aback.

He ran a finger over the metalworked name. "Arvedui." he whispered, audible only to the five youngsters and the queen by his side. Then he seemed to collect himself.

"This is an extraordinary gift - from an extraordinary people. I shall treasure it," he announced.

The hall burst into rapturous applause.

****

"It is truly astonishing," said the king, lounging on a cushion on a flat roof of the palace.

His three officers of the Shire nodded their agreement, each drawing deeply on their pipes. The four smokers had been banished from the family rooms by Queen Arwen. Even thoughthe sun had already set, it was a pleasant warm evening and all of them were old enough to enjoy the slight frisson of childishness involved in scrambling out of a window onto the rooftop.

Aragorn - for out here, away from the formality of the court the familiar name seemed more appropriate than his proper title - went on. "That they should find such a thing in this museum of yours, this Mathom House. What other treasures are you hiding in the Shire?" he jested.

"Oh, the finest pipeweed you'll ever smoke," answered Merry, producing a neat smoke-ring for emphasis.

"And the best ale you could ever drink," added Pippin.

Sam remained silent and Aragorn could have bitten his tongue in annoyance. What treasures are you hiding? Idiot. Even now, after all these years, Sam's thoughts could turn all too easily to the Ring and Frodo and the king did not want this brief moment of relaxation with his old friends to be swallowed up in melancholy memories.

"And the bravest young hobbits who ever went out on an errand and came back with a king's treasure," Aragorn said brightly.

The three hobbits grinned with fatherly pride.

"Aye," said Sam. "Its like young Theo said when they were setting off that day. Quests should be about finding."

And on that cryptic note Sam leant back on a richly embroidered cushion and puffed on his pipe, looking content.

They stayed out on the roof late into the night, sharing tales of the past and hopes for the future. The cloudless sky above them gradually faded from dark blue to black. A vast field of bright stars shone upon the king, his three friends and a land at peace.

The End