Malawen would not be left behind this time, when her mate went to war. So it was that she rode pillion behind one of the soldiers, on that mad dash down the Greenway to intercept Itaril's army, and when they joined battle, her bow sang as bravely as the rest. They surprised a force of several hundred Men in the open country south of Sarn Ford, and the engagement was quick and brutal.
"No prisoners," Canohando had ordered. "They are traitors, else they would not be here under arms, in this quiet place. We will set fear this day in the hearts of those who think of invading this guarded land!"
But he himself spared one life, a stripling who stood over a fallen comrade, defending him, until an arrow pierced his sword arm. The Orc finished the wounded rebel with one stroke of his knife, but he called off his men before they killed the young fellow.
"You deserve a better cause for your sword," he growled. "Take a horse, and carry word from me to the leaders of this rebellion: Itaril is dead, and Eldarion rules, in the North as in Gondor!" He had the young man's injury bandaged, broke his sword in two, and sent him off.
They had lost a few of their own men, though not as many as might have been, without the Orc's wily generalship. Canohando would have given them a warrior's funeral pyre, but he yielded to the protestations of Darak and the others, to follow their own burial customs. They carried their fallen back to the fortress across the Road, and laid them to rest in a woodsy place nearby, in the shade of the tall trees. But when all had been done, to satisfy the grief of the living and the honor of the dead, Radagast came to speak with Canohando.
"The time is now measured in weeks rather than months, before I must depart to meet Celeborn at the Havens," he said. "And I must first go to Great Smials, for the fever is there and in some of the outlying villages, yet I would have your comradeship a little longer. Also I should teach Malawen all I can, so that she may carry on in my place. Will you come with me? My winged friends will carry messages back and forth at need, from you to your garrison."
Canohando was willing. "The whole of the North is on alert, and if I know Eldarion, he will have sent a company toward Mirkwood, to block the rebellion there at the source. If you will send a messenger each evening to the fortress, so that Darak may report to me, I will go gladly. It sorrows me to lose your friendship again so soon, old man."
Radagast laid a hand on the Orc's shoulder. "We will lose our fellowship, but not our friendship, Haltacala," he said.
So they set out together once again, with Farador as their guide as he had been before, for he insisted upon accompanying them.
"I promised Uncle Ordi I would bring you to the Thain," he explained. "And besides, I still want to show Canohando Bag End."
Just inside the borders of Tookland, they found a child sick in an isolated smial. Radagast sat up with him all night, swaddling him in wet sheets to bring the fever down, and in the morning he called Malawen and went carefully over the necessary treatment with her.
"This little one is not taken so badly as the twins were. I think you can bring him through, my dear, and I must reach Great Smials and share what knowledge I have of this disease with the healers there. Stay until he is out of danger, and then follow me."
So Malawen ministered to the fevered lad inside the house, and Canohando tried to allay the fears of the simple parents, both at their child's illness and at their outlandish visitors. But it was not until the third evening, when he played his drum, that the hobbits of the place began to lose their terror of him.
He was sitting outside at sunset, remembering how he had sat with his runt sometimes in Mordor as the clouds turned scarlet and crimson, watching Frodo's rapt expression more than he did the sky. It was his runt who had taught him to love beauty -- to see it, even -- and here he was, incredibly, in Frodo's own country. He was stricken suddenly with deep gratitude, as with a sword. It was beyond words, yet he could not be silent, and he pulled his drum between his knees. Softly at first, then with greater sureness and authority, his hands beat out the fullness of his heart.
The sun gave a last golden flash and vanished, and the western sky cooled to lavender and darkened. Canohando came back to himself and closed his mouth; he had been chanting without realizing it, making a song of thanksgiving in rhythm with the drum. He softened the touch of his fingers on the leather until the sound faded away, even as the light had faded. Then a voice spoke quietly from behind him.
"What were you singing, if you don't mind me asking? It was wild as foxes yipping at the moon, and yet tender, too, like an old hen clucking to her chickabiddies - enough to bring the tears to your eyes, almost."
It was the old grandfather, of all the family the only one who did not whisk himself out of sight any time the Orc looked in his direction. Canohando had to think for a moment, to remember the words he had been stringing together as he drummed.
"I was making a promise," he said slowly. "I had a friend, a shield-brother, and this was his homeland, but he is dead now. I owe him a debt I cannot repay, unless by taking the Shire for my homeland as well, to guard it for his sake."
The hobbit came out of the smial and sat down within arm's reach of Canohando.
"It's a puzzle to me how someone from the Shire could be any such thing to an Orc, not that I know much about Orcs, if it comes to that. But it seems uncommon strange, and I wouldn't say no to hearing the story, if so be you're inclined to tell it."
Canohando chuckled, looking from the corner of his eye. "Very well, halfling, I will tell you. He told me tales enough, about lands and people almost beyond my understanding, and I wonder what you will make of this one.
"So, then: there was a halfling, and I called him Ninefingers, but his true name was Frodo Baggins..."
The summer ran by on fevered feet. There were many children stricken, and Radagast and Malawen both were caught up in the struggle to save their lives, traveling to and fro across the Shire as they received calls for aid. Canohando went where Malawen did: he would not be parted from her, and neither would she have allowed it. But they did not come near Bag End.
At last the days began to grow shorter, and the fever abated. The travelers made their way wearily back to Buckland. A fortnight later, a group of hobbits came riding into the dooryard of Brandy Hall, tanned and dusty from the Road, and exuberant with homecoming: Fordibras and his companions, back from Rivendell. They burst into the Hall like strong beer that foams over the top of the mug, filling the place with noise and tidings of the outer world.
Fordibras emptied his saddlebags on the Master's big desk: four books bound in fawn-colored leather, the leaves within covered in Elven script, illustrated with fine drawings of the human body and also of medicinal herbs, meticulously labeled as to names and which parts should be used.
"I'm counting on you to be able to read these, cousin," he said with a grin. "I wander about the world like old Bilbo, perhaps, but I'm not the scholar he was. You will have to spend the winter translating."
Sariadoc took one of the volumes between his hands, turning the pages reverently.
"Celeborn gave these to you?"
"Aye, and sent his blessing with them. Elrond studied the healing of Men as well as Elves, and he collected his knowledge in these books. The doses will have to be adjusted for hobbits, of course. Was the Wizard any help, this summer?"
"Mmm." Sariadoc was murmuring to himself as he read, only half attending. "What did you say, cousin? Oh, the Wizard, yes: he was a great help, indeed, and he shared his expertise with Marabuc here at the Hall, and with the healers in Tuckborough. And he taught the Elf maiden, also. I may ask her to assist me with this translation. I will get on faster with her help, and so we will be prepared before the fever season comes again. We lost none of the children whom the Wizard had in care, and only two suffered any aftereffects." He looked up with the ghost of a smile. "You missed all the excitement, Ordi."
Fordibras poured himself a glass of the Hall's finest, and did the same for Sariadoc.
"Excitement, in the Shire? You cannot mean the fever: that is grim enough, but hardly exciting. But is the Elf is staying the winter? What of her mate? I doubt that hobbits will be glad of such visitors, for the long term."
The Master sipped his brandy. "Well, they will be in the fort by the Bridge, not right inside the Shire, and I expect that hobbits will have to get used to it. The King has named Canohando to command the border guard, and I must say the Orc did an efficient job of dispatching the ruffians who came down on us this summer.
"Ah, yes, I blew the Horn of the Mark in sober earnest, for the first time in my life, and rode off to battle as bold as Merriadoc himself! And may I never hear again such a sound as the Orc made when we started out: it was enough to congeal the blood, and I thought the ponies would run from here to the Tower Hills!"
Fordibras was staring at him with the glass halfway to his mouth.
"An Orc, to guard the Shire? And you had ruffians here! When I think of the times I have felt myself half asleep in broad daylight, wishing for something, anything, to break the monotony -- and while I'm away from home, adventure comes to my very doorstep! It hardly seems fair, cousin. I suppose it had something to do with the conspiracy of Elves from Eryn Lasgalen, that we heard of in Rivendell? Messengers came from the King, seeking counsel of Celeborn, but I never thought you would have seen anything of it here!"
Sariadoc smiled thinly. "I knew you would be sorry to have missed it, Ordi. For myself, I would prefer boredom. The Shire escaped very lightly, thanks in large part to the Orc, but we lost four hobbits, and that is four too many for my peace of mind."
Fordibras set down his glass. "Forgive me, Sari; I was not thinking. We should have peace now, though. The King's Men were on the march when I left Rivendell, and if Canohando is commanding the Shire garrison, I doubt we will see any more intruders."
"Let us hope not, indeed," said Sariadoc.
"Is the Wizard still here?"
"No," said the Master. "He left a week since for the Havens, to put all in readiness for the Elves' departure."
Radagast had spent a few days at the fort before he left, writing down for Malawen's use everything he had learned over the summer about treating the hobbits' strange fever. In the evenings he sat with Canohando before the fire in the Commander's private sitting room. They reminisced a little about their years in Mordor: Lash and his sons, Yarga, and Frodo, always Frodo.
"You still have not visited Bag End," said the Wizard.
"We will go when winter comes," said Canohando. "Snow will clog the roads and put a chill on the rebellion, if there is anything left of it by then, and I will feel safer about being away from the fort. Bag End is too far from the border."
Radagast smiled and blew a smoke ring up at the ceiling.
"Well, you have plenty of time. Now I've had a chance to reflect on the matter, I believe you are right to remain in the Shire. You could not wish for a better place to raise your family."
"The halflings would relish that, do you think: a nest of young Orcs growing up on their doorstep? I am not so sure. I think we may build another fortress out to the West in a year or so, between the Shire and the Havens. It was that region that tempted Itaril, and it will be standing empty."
The Orc tipped his chair back against the wall -- he was finally becoming accustomed to sitting in chairs -- and picked his teeth with a splinter of wood. "We will make our settlements in the wild country outside my brother's land, a ring of protection, like a wall around the Shire. A thousand years from now, when Gondor maybe is no more, we will still be here, and the land will be secure."
"And may the Holy Ones add their blessing," said Radagast. He rose, knocking the ashes out of his pipe into the fireplace. "I must leave at daybreak, Canohando. Already I have lingered too long, wanting to prolong our time together."
The Orc got to his feet and took the Wizard in a clumsy hug.
"You go to your rightful place, Brown One, and I remain where love and duty call me. But it grieves me that we will never meet again, in all the long turnings of the world."
"Who told you that?" said Radagast. "Never is a long time, my friend."
The Wizard left at dawn, and they heard later that three grey ships put out from the Havens before the storms of autumn came, but the Orc did not go to Hobbiton that winter. By the time word came from Minas Tirith that Itaril's rebellion was utterly put down, Malawen was reluctant to venture out, and Canohando cosseted her and sent to Buckland for one of Farador's aunts to come and bear her company. Toward the end of March their hopes were realized, and the Elf lay with her newborn son in her arms, while Canohando bent over them, hardly daring to touch and unable to look away.
"He is so little," he marveled, but Malawen chortled.
"He is big where it counts," she answered, and her eyes danced with mischief. "You did say that you want many grandchildren, melethron?"
Canohando looked at her blankly for an instant; then he gathered her and the babe together into his embrace, shaking with laughter.
"Oh, my Elfling, what tree did you fall out of? When I used to listen to my runt tell tales of the Elves, I thought they were all starlight and mithril, and blades of sharp steel flashing in the sun. You would have made him blush to the roots of his hair, melethril! I do not think he ever met an Elf like you."
She giggled, her voice muffled against him. "I have been too much in the company of soldiers, and a certain Orc Commander. Look at his face, love, he has your eyes! What shall we name him?"
Canohando laid her gently back among the pillows, and took the child from her arms, holding him securely while he peeled back the layers of blankets. The babe was small, but huskily built, with large hands and feet, and he lashed out with arms and legs, squalling at the touch of cool air on his skin. The Orc examined him minutely, paying no heed to his protests, but when the little one began to shiver, his father wrapped him up again, tucking the blankets in snugly, but leaving one hand exposed. He laid his finger against the tiny palm, and at once the child closed his fist around it.
"He has a strong grip. What is the Elvish for 'Protector,' melethril?"
"Osta. Or perhaps Vara."
"Osta. That will be his name. Our firstborn, our eldest son: and one day he will patrol the borders of the Shire with me, second in command over his brothers."
It was the end of May before they set out at last for the West Farthing. Farador was with them, hugely pleased to be escorting Canohando to Bag End at last. He rode a shaggy pony, and Malawen was mounted on her own mare, from the stable at the fort, with Osta in a doeskin bag strapped to her back. The baby slept most of the time, cuddled against her and soothed by the horse's steady gait, but when he grew hungry he would make little snorts and grumbles, wakening himself slowly, until he came to full consciousness bellowing his discontent. Then they would stop and rest under a tree, while Malawen fed her nursling.
Canohando still refused to go horseback, and he walked beside them, reaching up sometimes to link hands with Malawen for a mile or two, or gently rubbing the baby's back when he seemed restless.
There was no hurry, and they traveled at a walk. The weather was fine, the spring sunshine pleasantly warm on their arms and faces, and what breeze there was, scented with apple blossom and clover. The wheatfields were showing the first new growth of the season, and the rolling, grassy hills were studded haphazardly with round windows winking in the sun, and round doors of blue, or green, or red.
Canohando had passed through this countryside the previous summer, but then the twin shadows of sickness and civil war had hung over it, and his mind had been stiff with watchfulness. Now all around him was a peace that seeped into his very pores; he could feel the tension easing out of his back and shoulder muscles, like a bow unstrung at battle's end.
Is the battle over, then? he wondered, but he knew there would be other struggles, other enemies, in the years to come. Only now there was this time of respite, and he had a sense of being on pilgrimage, passing backward in time even as he walked forward along the Road.
Not for many years had he felt so close to Ninefingers. The country was green, as Frodo had told him long ago, and the sky was such a clear, lively blue that the Orc had the odd sensation of traveling under an inverted sea, as if the heavens might turn inside out without warning and pour fresh water over him. Puffs of cloud sailed overhead like boats on the Sea of Nurnen, that he had heard of but never seen, far in the south of Mordor. More and more he felt himself in a waking dream.
Halflings passed them on the Road, staring curiously but without fear -- rumors of the Elf-lady with her gift of healing, and the Orc who had single-handedly driven off the ruffians, had spread far and wide during the winter months. Canohando found himself searching for his runt's image in every face he saw, but these were jolly, practical-looking folk, with round, rosy cheeks and laugh-wrinkles around their eyes. Hobbits, he reminded himself, the word strange on his tongue. Only Farador had Frodo's delicacy of face, and even he had not the deep eyes that seemed to draw your very soul to the surface and hold it up to the light.
"For this land, for this peacefulness, we fought the War," Malawen said softly, and he looked up in time for her to drop a kiss on his brow. She began to sing in the Elven tongue that he still understood only imperfectly, something about a wanderer garbed in grey. He could not catch more of it than that, and he let the melody wash over him without bothering about the words.
She was on his left, but he began to imagine that someone else was walking on his other side. Almost he thought he heard rapid little footfalls that were two to every one of his, as if he were flanked by a small escort who hurried to keep up. He looked, but there was no one; he faced resolutely forward and tried to catch a glimpse from the corner of his eye, but there was nothing to see. Only the sense of someone there, the feeling that there were five members to this party, and not four.
He stopped trying to see and gave himself up to feeling. Malawen had her hand on his shoulder, warming him right through his shirt. And on his other side tripped the light, quick footsteps... he slowed down, and they did too, walking sedately beside him. He stretched out his fingers, and though he felt nothing, he knew they had been taken; he was hand-in-hand with the unseen person at his side...
I have found my mate, he thought, and there was a smile beside him. I have a son, as Lash did, and there will be more, and daughters, too, I hope. The smile became a grin, and then a chuckle that he felt without hearing.
Farador named each little village as they came to it, and they stopped at evening to pass the night at an inn. But all the while Canohando had an eerie feeling that someone else was pointing things out to him: a gnarled old tree of tremendous size by the side of the Road, and there was remembered fear beside him; a farmstead with wooden buildings instead of a door in the hill, and laughter gurgled next to him as at an old joke that still gave pleasure. The Orc was glad that Malawen was content to talk with Farador, or sing lullabies for Osta as she rode. She did not demand conversation of him, and he was free to attend to the unseen companion who walked beside him.
In the afternoon of the third day, they came to a rustic bridge over a stream, and beyond it another little village, presided over by a hump of a hill that pushed up large against the horizon, surrounded by a lavish flower garden. Stone steps set into the hill led up to a round green door.
"And here is Bag End," said Farador, but Canohando knew that already by the rush of glad homecoming at his side. He felt a flash of great joy from the invisible presence, and for an instant his runt's face was clear before his eyes. Then the moment passed and they were only four travelers once more.
They were welcomed gravely by the young Master of Bag End, plainly nervous but doing his best to mask it with impeccable manners. He opened the door himself and bowed them in, and they found the small entrance hall thronged with at least a dozen hobbits, all in their best clothes and on their best behavior, but twittering softly with suppressed excitement.
"Welcome, good sir and lady. Hullo, Farador. We have been looking forward to meeting you since last summer, but I know you were preoccupied with more pressing matters. I believe I speak for all of Hobbiton in offering our sincere thanks for your labors on behalf of the Shire." He bowed again, his chestnut curls nearly brushing Canohando's knees, and the Orc covered his mouth to hide a grin.
"Thank you, young hobbit. I have wished for many years to see my brother's home, and I am glad to be here at last. Are you Harding, the cousin Farador spoke of?"
"Yes, Harding of the Hill, and may I present my wife to you, Mignonette --" He drew forward a pretty lass with hair the color of honey, who curtseyed and blushed, but smiled warmly when she caught Malawen's eye. A tiny hobbit girl clung to her skirts, peeping around her mother to stare up at the Orc towering over the company.
"Oooh!" she breathed, and burst into noisy sobs.
"And my daughter, Rosy," Harding added, picking her up and allowing her to burrow against his embroidered weskit. "Forgive her, please; we tried to prepare her, but she is over-young to really comprehend. Will you come into the parlor and refresh yourselves, while we get her settled?"
But Canohando had lowered himself to sit cross-legged on the floor, motioning Malawen to hand him the baby. He ignored the weeping lass, but sat cuddling Osta, humming softly and running one finger down the baby's nose and along the little ridge above his eyebrows.
"Wake, youngling, wake! See, here are courteous hosts you must give your greeting to, and a small one like yourself. Open your eyes, my son."
Sitting, he was on a level with the adult hobbits, and he smiled conspiratorially at the young Master. Harding took the hint and began whispering in the ear of his little lass, and finally she dared a peek out from behind her curtain of hair. Her eyes fastened on Osta, and she squirmed to get down.
"Baby!" she exclaimed. She squatted next to Osta and touched his cheek. Then she held her hand against his face, apparently struck by the difference in their skin tones: the little Orc was a shade lighter than his father, but still unmistakably grey. "Baby sick?" she asked worriedly.
"No, he is not sick. He is like me," said Canohando.
She peeped up at him, still wary, but he sat placidly under her gaze, making no movement, though his eyes twinkled as he looked at her. Finally she stood on tiptoe, and to the amazement of everyone present, planted a kiss on his lips.
"You good!" she averred, and flopped down on the stone floor to direct her attention to the baby. Osta by now was awake, his bright eyes staring up at her, and she fell to cooing over him and patting his face.
Mignonette took Malawen by the hand, smiling. "Well, that little storm is over! I think they will be friends, don't you? Come in and have a cup of tea, dear; you must be tired from your journey. Let the fathers care for their young ones a while."
It was the beginning of a pleasant visit that lasted nearly a fortnight, and Canohando found himself feeling as much at home at Bag End as he had ever felt anywhere. The Gardners were kindly and warm-hearted hosts, from Harding's father Holfast, a spry eighty-one years of age and still tending his garden every fine day, to little RosyPosy, who seemed to have adoped the Orc as an extra uncle, and alternated begging rides on his shoulders and playing with baby Osta.
They showed him Frodo's book of Memoirs, of course, and the sword Sting hanging over the mantel. Since Canohando could not read, old Holfast read the book to him, evening by evening before the fire. The Orc listened attentively, laughing sometimes, and recounting his own memories of the incidents described by Frodo.
And they showed him the carved bear's tooth that he had given his runt, kept under a crystal dome as Sariadoc had told him. He turned it round and round between his fingers as if he caressed it, and Holfast said,
"I mind when he showed me what he wore round his neck; we'd seen the leather thong, you know, that it hung from, but he always kept the tooth tucked inside his shirt. I remember thinking it was an odd sort of thing for a gentlehobbit to be wearing. Kind of wild and outlandish, and old Frodo was always that fastidious in his appearance, everything just so! But he never took it off, not till the day he died, and when he showed it to me, he handled it just the way you are now, like it was a precious jewel."
"You remember him? I thought those who knew him had all died long ago."
Holfast chuckled comfortably. "Oh, there are a few of us left yet! Not many, you understand; we're getting on, of course, and then Frodo didn't go out among folks all that much, after he came back. He stayed pretty close to home taking care of my grandfather -- that was his friend, Samwise; I suppose he must've told you about him. And he only lived a matter of months after Mayor Sam died. But he used to tell us stories, us children, and let us handle his sword and practice shooting his bow, out in the garden. I remember him, right enough."
"His bow? Do you still have it?"
"Of course we do; it's one of the treasures of Bag End. Nor we don't let the children play with it anymore, neither: it's hung up on the wall in what used to be his bedroom, next to his portrait. Come along, I'll show you."
But when Canohando stood before the portrait, it was nearly too much for him. It showed a much younger Frodo than he had known; Bilbo had had it made the summer before Frodo's coming-of-age, and the blue eyes were full of intelligence and a hint of mischief, not the hard-won peace Canohando remembered. Still, it was a good likeness, and the Orc clenched his fists till his nails dug into his palms, willing himself not to break down.
"I am going for a walk," he said, as they left the bedroom. He turned on his heel and went out, and Holfast stared after him in consternation, wondering if he had said something to offend.
Canohando had been shown Frodo's grave in the little burial ground outside the village of Hobbiton, but he had not cared for it. To his mind, the honored dead should be sent into the next world in a blaze of fire, along with their most cherished possessions. It chilled his heart to think of anyone he loved laid forever beneath the cold earth. Now, however, he turned toward the graveyard instinctively, yearning for his runt and craving solitude in which to mourn.
It was good to know that Frodo was not forgotten. It comforted him to meet another creature who had known his runt, and held him in esteem, and Bag End seemed to bring him so near -- yet not near enough. He reached the burial ground, quiet and empty in the evening cool, and stretched himself out on the ground by Frodo's grave.
"I remember you," he whispered.
The smell of earth and growing things was sharp in his nostrils, and the tears he had been holding back overwhelmed him. He abandoned himself to grief: for his runt, lost to him so many years, but also for the ship that had sailed without him to the Blessed Land, which now he would never see. For Malawen's sake he had stayed behind, and for their children, and because he was called to guard the Shire, but all the while the hunger to go had ached in him, however much he pushed it down, resisted and denied it.
When he had wept himself dry, he lay quiet with his head on his arms. It was dark now, and a bullfrog croaked somewhere nearby, to be answered by another farther off. An owl called, and he wondered if there were frogs or owls in Valinor. Memories of Frodo slipped into his mind one after another, funny and touching by turns, and he grew more peaceful. After a while he slept.
He woke to a dawn of pearl and amber, and sat up to watch the sun rise. As the light strengthened, it glistened on bits of mica in the grey headstones, and a spider's web in the grass sparkled with dew. Frodo's mound was a dense carpet of heart-shaped leaves and small, purple flowers. The Orc pulled himself to his feet, a bit stiff from lying on the ground, thinking this was not such a bad place after all, for a mortal to take his final sleep.
Your bones lie here, my runt, but not your gentle spirit. And that is not lost, for you walked with me along the Road to your very door… He laid a hand caressingly on the headstone. You have not wholly departed from this land you love, and neither will I depart. So I pay my debt to you, brother – but no, there is no question of payment between you and me. Because I love you, then, and for your sake I love the land that gave you birth.
He started back toward Bag End, and suddenly happiness fell upon him. He swung his arms as he walked, feeling as if new strength and confidence had somehow been planted in him during the night. He thought again of Frodo, but with a smile this time; he seemed to have left regret behind him in the graveyard, as if it had soaked into the ground with his tears. This was the refuge given to him: not right inside the Shire, perhaps, but close at hand, watching over it.
He looked ahead and saw someone coming toward him; the only other person abroad, this early morn. Then she began to run, and he knew it was Malawen, and he ran, too, to catch her up and swing her around in a whirl of laughter.
"Where is the baby, melethril? Out practicing his bowmanship in the garden?"
She leaned against him, out of breath and clinging to his arm. "Not quite yet! He is growing, but not that fast. Where have you been, love? See, I worry when you are not with me; that is why I would have gone with you into the West, not to fear for you anymore."
He scooped her up as if she had been a child and cradled her against his heart.
"No, melethril, do not be afraid! We are home now; this is where we belong, you, and me, and our children. The Lady knew better than Celeborn, after all. The Shire will be our Blessed Land."