The hall of the Breelanders' house was full of people; tall King's Folk in their rich velvets and silks -Strider and Gil and assorted attendants -then the eight envoys from Bree and finally their wives and families all crowded in the corners and lining the stair and gallery. Three copies of the new charter lay on the long center table, one in High Elvish; one in regular Elvish and the last in good old Westron, all beautifully written and illuminated.
Barliman Butterbur stood frowning down at the last, giving it one final read over. "Which of these new kingdoms did you say we were in again?"
"Mine, Arthedain." Gil answered, then laughed at the look on his face. "I promise, you will scarce notice the difference."
"I am hoping that he will." Strider said quietly.
"Me too." said Beomann with emphasis.
Gil grinned at Barliman and shrugged. "See how I am overmatched! Very well, I promise whatever difference you see will be for the better."
Beomann nodded approval. "Bree will still run her own affairs, Dad, that's what the charter is for."
Changes, Barliman thought gloomily, nothing but changes. Still, as long as Bree herself was let alone...
Strider took the golden pen one of his knights handed him and put his names in Elvish letters on the first charter. "This is for the archive here in Annuminas." he explained, then moved on to the second to sign another set of names Barliman couldn't read. "This one is for Gil to keep at Fornost." finally he came to the last document and wrote 'Elfstone the King' in plain letters. "And this copy is for Bree."
Strider handed the pen to Gil who surprised Barliman by writing 'Gil the Rover' under the King's signature before moving back to put Elvish names to the other two. Then it was Barliman's turn.
Holding the pen he looked uncertainly at the unintelligible first charter. "Just sign your name as you usually would." Gil said. So he put his plain 'B. Butterbur' on all three parchments. Then it was Ted's turn, and after him the other envoys.
There were a few more words and courtesies before Strider and Gil took themselves off, along with their folk and the Elvish charters, leaving the Breelanders clustered around their own copy. "The Tree and Star is the seal of the High Kingdom." Beoman told his father, pointing to a blob of black wax at the bottom of the parchment. "and here next to it is the Star of the North Kingdom. This cipher here is the King's personal seal, and the star and sword is Gil's." The King's was in green wax and Gil's in blue and at the very end was another green seal. "And this," Beomann said, touching it with a proud finger, "Is Bree's seal; the Hill and Sun."
"I didn't know we had a seal." Barliman said in surprise.
Beomann grinned at him. "Me neither. But we do - and there it is."
His father looked at the Hill and Sun stamped there next to the signs of Kings and Kingdoms. "Seems Bree was a pretty important place in the Old Days." he said slowly.
"Very important." Beomann answered firmly. "And she will be again."
But Barliman's thoughts were running in another direction. ' There's always been a Bree - Kingdoms or no Kingdoms. Maybe Gil's right, maybe it won't make such a difference to us after all - except for a bit more custom from respectable people on the Road which is all to the good.'
Father and son gave way to other Breelanders wanting a close look at the new charter and moved together towards the open front door. "So what happens now?" Barliman asked.
"Well we still have to hold the enscepterings for the under-kings; Gil, Belegon and little Daeron." his son answered. "After that everybody goes home and gets to work. I'll escort you lot back to Bree, then Gil and I will travel up to Norbury to start the rebuilding and Belegon will do the same down at Sudbury. The King's going to be moving around, seeing to things, probably pass through Bree any number of times. And they'll be plenty of traffic between the Angle and the Shire and the new cities. Lots of custom for the Pony, and the Forsaken too."
"That'll be fine." Barliman said, and meant it. He was beginning to get his head around this new order of things and had just about decided it wouldn't be so bad after all.
Beomann grinned. "And don't be surprised if Conn pops up one day soon. He's sweet on May - Hill and Wood alone know why!"
Barliman looked at his eldest in dismay. Now there was an awful thought. What if his May should take it into her head to marry young Conn? Not that he didn't seem a nice enough lad but he'd take her off to some outlandish place leagues and leagues away and they'd never see her again!
Then a second thought, almost as unwelcome, struck him; what if Beomann brought one of those solemn, silent Ranger girls with him when he came home for good? Not that the Rangers hadn't turned out to be decent enough folk in their way but Barliman didn't fancy one for a daughter-in-law - and he knew Ishbel wouldn't!
"Changes." he said aloud. "Naught but changes."
"I know." Beomann answered sympathetically. "But don't worry, Dad, Bree'll stay Bree. Maybe a little richer and little less lonely but that's all." he looked out, over the roofs of the houses, at the golden domes of the Palace glowing against the blue sky and squared his shoulders with an almost Ranger-like look of grim determination on his face.
"Still a lot to be done before the North is back as it should be. But we've made a good start." then he flashed a smile at his father. "And it'll be a fine thing to have a King and Kingdom again, Dad. You'll see."