Before doing anything else, I must extend enormous thanks to my tireless beta Docmon, without whom this little piece would be completely inane. It's thanks to her efforts that it is only mostly inane, and to her I extend many fond and sincere acknowledgments. If only Sam could have added her to his impromptu editing staff…
With Many "Fond" Acknowledgments…
Samwise Gamgee was cultivating a large headache.
This was, of course, an unwelcome development any day, but on this day, it was especially irksome because Sam had taken steps specifically designed to avoid a large headache. Earlier that morning, Rosie and Elanor had invited him to join their outing to the merchant sector of Minas Tirith, but having learned from hard experience that sensible people did not visit Gondor's crowded and deafening markets during the summer months, Sam had hastily declined, listing a number of duties that absolutely required his presence in the Citadel. He didn't think he'd fooled Rosie, but Elanor had seemed accepting enough and the two had left without him. Confident that he'd been spared both a headache and madness, Sam had relaxed and counted himself fortunate, a conclusion that was now proving to be a bit premature…
"Why is there nothing here regarding my speech at the Council of Elrond?"
"What speech would that be, Master Dwarf?"
"A report of what transpired when Black Riders descended upon Dale! Surely you were not inattentive. You seemed aware enough to report your failure to confine Gollum."
Struggling to ignore the raised voices around him, Sam rubbed his temples and wondered why this particular room of the King's House had only one exit. And why he had allowed Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli to sit so close to it. And why he had not chosen his own seat with greater care.
"I thought your father delivered the bulk of that report."
"Were you as inattentive as the elf? My father spoke of the Lonely Mountain, but I was in Dale at the time and it was I who spoke of their troubles. Mahal's beard, I begin to think that none of you took note of any concerns beyond your own!"
Most of all, though, Sam wondered why he had thought that bringing Mr. Bilbo's book to Gondor would be a good idea. It had sounded harmless enough back in the Shire. In fact, it had been one of Elanor's first suggestions when Sam broached the idea of visiting Aragorn and Arwen for a year. She viewed it as a wonderful opportunity to check some of Frodo's dates and events against what had been recorded by Gondor's scribes. A sensible plan by all accounts, and Sam supposed that it might have stayed sensible had they kept it a secret. Allowing Elanor to tell her beloved Uncle Gimli that they had brought the book to Gondor was clearly a lapse in judgment. Allowing Gimli to persuade the minstrels that there should be a public reading of the book at the Midsummer's Eve festival was pure foolishness. And allowing Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli to read the book ahead of time in preparation for the festival was proving to be a mistake of monumental proportions.
"Your situation was considered, Gimli, but there was much discussed at the Council. It could be that matters not pertinent to hobbits were forgotten."
"Bilbo was taking notes throughout the Council. Nothing was forgotten. He simply failed to mention that both my father and I spoke!"
They'd cornered Sam shortly after Rosie and Elanor left for the markets. Initially, he had tried explaining that he was not responsible for most of the text and felt a bit presumptuous about making any changes, but it soon became apparent that his protests fell on deaf ears. His current strategy was to let them argue with one another in the hopes that they would forget about him and allow him to slip away. He had high hopes about this plan, for it had now been at least several minutes since anyone had asked him a direct question.
"Perhaps there was not room enough in the account for both of you."
"There would have been room if lesser details had been omitted. In fact, this brings us to another concern of mine. There are many unnecessary things contained in this account, such as a certain passage regarding the Paths of the Dead. Specifically, the passage about my entrance. Why was this included, Samwise?"
His hopes of remaining unnoticed destroyed, Sam sighed and reluctantly turned his attention back to the conversation. "Begging your pardon, but I didn't quite hear what you asked."
"The Paths of the Dead," Gimli said heatedly, holding the book aloft. "Frodo wrote that I hesitated before entering. Again, I ask why this was included. And how did you even learn of it? I told no one!"
"I…don't know how Mr. Frodo learned about it," Sam lied with a sideways glance at Legolas. "But I'm sure he thought it was good to include. It helps show how dark and lonesome the road was."
"I told Frodo about the incident," Legolas said, neatly undermining Sam's evasion. "Arod and I were forced to wait for you beyond the threshold, and I was close enough to hear your words."
Gimli's expression turned thunderous. "You told Frodo?!"
"There is no shame in admitting your fear," Aragorn broke in. "We were all distressed by that road."
"I do not deny that I was afraid," Gimli said sharply. "But the fact that a dwarf hesitated to follow an elf underground… That should not have been written!"
"Peace," Legolas said, forcibly taking the book from Gimli. "If it is of elves and dwarves that you wish to argue, then let me remind you that my discomfort beneath that road's black trees was also included. Indeed, I may have the better quarrel altogether," he continued, pinning Sam beneath a fierce, elven glare, "for in the portrayal of various battles, the narrative is clearly in favor of the dwarf!"
Sam blinked. "Is it?"
"In your account of the Battle at Helm's Deep," Legolas said, his glare deepening, "there is special attention paid to the fact that Gimli was victorious in our little contest."
Frowning, Sam searched his memory. "You mean he wasn't? I thought you said that—"
"Whether he was or was not is of little consequence," the elf interrupted, flipping through the book. "What is important is that you say nothing of the battle before the Morannon, and it was in that battle that my number of kills greatly eclipsed Gimli's."
"You shot stray Orcs from afar with your bow!" Gimli protested. "I opted to challenge the Olog-hai directly, and they were far more difficult to kill."
"Now just a moment," Sam said, shaking his head in disbelief. "You mean to say that you played this game at the Black Gate, too?"
Gimli shrugged. "It was but a small matter. Hardly worthy of mention."
"A small matter?" Aragorn echoed incredulously. "It seems we view the event very differently, for I would venture to say that our entire army could hear you counting your slain opponents. Not only did they play their game at the Black Gates, Master Gamgee, but they continued to play it when we ventured into Mordor itself. Moreover, the competition became so fierce that they would accost either Eomer or myself and force us to follow them when they hunted enemies so that there might be a witness to verify the number."
"And it is most certainly worthy of mention," Legolas added, his eyes burning. "Should you exclude it, this book is inaccurate. What shall those here in Minas Tirith think when the minstrels read of how a dwarf bested me at Helm's Deep and I did not return the favor?"
"They shall think that dwarves are hardier and more capable than elves," Gimli said, clearly enjoying his friend's outrage. "And why should they think otherwise? It is true enough."
"Only for those who refuse to see truth in its entirety," Legolas retorted, bending over the book and continuing to read. "What more on this count has not been portrayed accurately, I wonder?"
"Mr. Frodo didn't intend to leave those things out," Sam said wearily. "He had to write a lot from what others said, and sometimes he couldn't find the whole story."
"We made no secret of our contest at the Morannon."
"Well, I don't remembering hearing about it."
"Enough, Legolas," Aragorn intervened. "We can discuss the Morannon another time, for there are things that I would speak of while they are yet fresh in my mind. In particular, I would like to… Legolas, may I see the book?"
"A moment," the elf murmured, now turning parchment rapidly. "I am looking for other omissions."
Aragorn frowned and moved as though to take the book, but Legolas shifted away. With a sigh, the King shook his head and turned back to Sam. "I question the wording of a certain passage, but that will have to wait until I have the section before me."
"The wording?" Sam said. "It's not one of the elven words, is it?"
"No," Aragorn said. "In fact, Frodo was quite talented when it came to elven phrases. I found no errors insofar as translation and spelling were concerned."
"I'm glad to hear it," Sam said, with no small amount of relief. "And I'll admit to being a bit worried about that, too. Elven words can be tricky, I've found."
"It seems to be the delight of elves to make things difficult," Gimli said with a sage nod. Legolas glanced up long enough to send the dwarf a dark glare.
"And what shall we say of the dwarven language?" Aragorn asked, making another attempt to take the book from Legolas.
"Indeed," Legolas said, moving his shoulder to shield against Aragorn's reach. "It is my belief that Khuzdul is possibly the most confounding language ever created."
Gimli's eyes flashed at that. "Khuzdul was designed by Mahal himself."
"Perhaps in the beginning," Aragorn allowed. "But the language has undoubtedly changed since then. I know that I find Khuzdul to be rather awkward."
"Men and elves have no understanding of these things," Gimli said, turning to Sam. "And it is here I must pay you and Frodo a compliment, for your spellings of the few dwarven words in the text were very close to the dwarven pronunciation. They should go over well at the festival."
"Thank you!" Sam said, wondering how long the sudden praise would continue.
"Yes, I was quite impressed," Gimli said. "It was more than the elves managed. They could not even be bothered to inscribe the correct name of Khazad-dûm upon the Hollin entrance when they made the West Gate. They elected to call it the Black Pit." The dwarf turned toward Legolas and raised his voice. "A curious thing, is it not? And perhaps one that warrants an explanation. Legolas? Would you care to enlighten us as to why the elves wrote 'Moria' upon the western gate of Khazad-dûm? It was certainly not called such at the time."
Legolas looked up with a pained expression. "Gimli, my father and grandfather had both settled east of the mountains by then, and I had yet to be conceived. Why would I know any more of this matter than you?"
"Elves wrote the words, did they not?"
"Nay, in that you are wrong. It was not elves but Celebrimbor who crafted the inscription, and Celebrimbor was of the Noldor. I do not pretend to understand their strange ways, and I have no inclination to try."
"I do have ancestry among the Noldor," Aragorn said coolly, forcing his way past Legolas's shoulder to capture the book.
"And all should be grateful that you have also the blood of Elu Thingol, else your line would have destroyed itself centuries ago," Legolas countered, attempting to regain the book but failing when Aragorn stood and moved away. Scowling, the elf watched him for a moment and then turned back to Sam. "That brings to mind another question: Why does the book say little of the war against Dol Guldur? From this account, it appears as though Greenwood and Lothlórien took no action in the War."
"The same could be said of the Lonely Mountain and Dale," Gimli said, seeming to forget his annoyance with the word 'Moria.' "The book says nothing of their battle against Rhûn."
Sam shrugged. "I suppose Mr. Frodo felt it didn't really affect the Shire."
"Didn't affect the Shire?!" Gimli exclaimed. "My good hobbit, had the Lonely Mountain not endured Rhûn's siege, it is possible that Rhûn would have joined with Dol Guldur to overrun Mirkwood, march through to the Misty Mountains, and ultimately take Eriador. The Shire might have been soiled by Saruman's lackeys, but envision an army of Easterlings burning it to the ground!"
"And even if they did not burn it to the ground, Rhûn has been known to seed enemy farmlands with salt so that crops cannot be grown for many generations," Legolas added.
"At the very least, you would have been forced from the Shire by famine," Gimli concluded. "Yet you do not think this might have affected hobbits?"
"Well, put that way…" Sam trailed off, unable to think of a good response.
He was saved by Aragorn, who chose that moment to rejoin them. "Here, Sam," the King said, running his fingers down a page. "Here is a part that concerns me. This passage deals with our journey to Rivendell after we were joined by Glorfindel. The text states that 'even Strider seemed by the sag of his shoulders to be weary.'" Aragorn looked up, his eyes narrowed. "May I ask who drew that conclusion? Frodo was hardly aware of his surroundings at that point."
"Maybe it was…Merry and Pippin," Sam hedged, not meeting Aragorn's gaze.
"Indeed? Well, it is a simple enough mistake, but I would like to clarify that I was not weary. Troubled, perhaps, but not weary. I have traveled roads far more taxing."
Gimli's brow lifted. "I was among those who witnessed your entry into Rivendell; you looked weary to my eyes."
"At the time we entered Rivendell, yes," Aragorn said. "And with good cause. Unhorsed and outnumbered, we had just confronted the Nine with naught more than fire and Glorfindel. But prior to that, I would not describe myself as weary. Now, ordinarily I would not contest the point, but there will be elves at this festival whose trust I would like to keep and these elves are familiar with the road from Bree to Imladris. No Ranger worth his star would be wearied by such a journey, and they know this."
Shaking his head, Legolas leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. "My visiting kinsmen notwithstanding, I fear I must agree with the dwarf. You appeared quite weary upon your arrival in Rivendell, and while an encounter with the Nine explains much, it does not explain all."
A look of frustration crossed Aragorn's face. "Then consider it a matter of consistency. The road from Bree to Imladris was a journey of three weeks. The road from Imladris to Moria was also a journey of three weeks. Yet there is no great mention made of weariness at the end of the latter road."
"On the contrary, the writing notes that both Boromir and Gandalf declared the Fellowship to be fatigued," Legolas pointed out. "Moreover, I believe we were described at one point as stumbling wearily down the slopes of Caradhras."
"Immediately after our defeat at the Redhorn Gate, yes, there is mention of weariness," Aragorn said. "And as with the Nine, that was to be expected. Yet according to this account, we were all but running the next day when we reached Moria itself, ignoring the fact that we had spent much of the previous night battling Wargs. By contrast, this should have been a far more wearying journey than the journey to Rivendell."
"I do remember that we were all greatly wearied upon reaching the West Gate," Gimli mused. "But perhaps that was left out because the hobbits did not wish to admit their own exhaustion."
Sam closed his eyes and resisted the urge to pound his head against the wall. "I don't suppose you read the last bits of the book where Mr. Frodo explained just how tired we were in Mordor? Or where he talked about being tired on the road to Rivendell and—"
"Which is the part that I am attempting to correct," Aragorn interrupted. "Prior to the Ford—"
"That raises an interesting question, Samwise," Legolas broke in, ignoring Aragorn's stern look. "Your adventures on the road to Rivendell are all written in great detail. Or rather, most of them are. But what of the road to Moria? Why is so much absent? I think a record of our exploits there would be most instructive."
"I was saddened to find no mention of Pippin inadvertently using Boromir's shield as a sledge," Gimli added.
Sam winced at the memory. "Maybe Mr. Frodo could have put some of that in," he said. "But it didn't really seem to matter. Nothing that happened between Rivendell and Moria was big enough."
"If we could return to the subject of Rivendell—" Aragorn began.
"I think we should include the morning that Gimli tangled himself in Bill's lead rope," Legolas said, pitching his voice over Aragorn's.
"I think we should include the night that Legolas fell out of the tree," Gimli returned.
"If I might draw your attention back to—"
"What of when Gimli sat on the last of the mushrooms and fled before the wrath of the hobbits?"
"What of when Legolas and Boromir tried to add Gandalf's pipe to the fire on Caradhras?"
"Which was a wearying trial for all," Aragorn said loudly. "But what was not a wearying trial was the journey between the Prancing Pony and the Ford!"
Sam clutched his head and considered making a dash for the door. It was not too far a run, and if he left now, the other three might not even notice his absence until they stopped trying to speak over one another. Of course, all three had keen eyes, and if they caught his escape before it could be completed, they would be doubly on guard afterward. Perhaps he could plead illness and be excused. His headache was certainly large enough! Deciding that this was the best option available, Sam took a deep breath, readied himself to be heard above the rising clamor, and—
The room was immediately silent as the door to the study opened and Faramir entered, his face innocently blank. The breath Sam had intended to use for a shout rushed out of him as a strangled gasp, and he shot a pleading look at the man.
"Lord Steward?" Aragorn prompted, his eyes challenging.
"My liege, a message arrived for Master Gamgee from the Shire. It was requested that he read it at his earliest convenience."
"A message for me?" Sam perked up, his hopes soaring.
The man nodded. "The courier waits within your quarters."
"And you have become the courier's errand boy?" Legolas asked, his tone oddly flat.
Faramir smiled. "Such a role enabled me to forsake the company of quarreling guild masters."
"A worthy reason," Gimli conceded, though his eyes narrowed.
"Well, I'd best be on my way," Sam said, jumping out of his chair. "With your leave, that is," he added to Aragorn, though he was already halfway to the door.
His lips pressed firmly together, Aragorn gave him a short nod. "We will have to resume this at a later date."
"I'll…look forward to that," Sam managed, and hurried through the door, loosing a sigh of relief when Faramir shut it behind him. "Bless me but you've a good sense of timing and no mistake!" he hissed to the Steward.
Faramir laughed. "Had I my way, I would have contrived an earlier escape, but there were matters that could not be abandoned until now. Come, then. You appear in need of refreshment, and I think the kitchens will fix somewhat for you if I request it."
Sam blinked. "Isn't the courier—"
"Dear Master Gamgee, there is no courier!" Faramir said, laughing again.
"No courier?" Sam echoed, staring at Faramir. "Then what… You mean this was all just to get me out of the room?"
Faramir nodded, stifling his laugh. "As I said before, I would have done so earlier, but duty demanded my attention elsewhere." He paused. "You truly believed there was a courier?"
"You said there was! I hadn't any cause to think differently!"
"Then forgive me, my friend," Faramir said. "I forget that you are unfamiliar with the machinations of Gondor's courts. Such maneuverings may not be common, but they are not unheard of. And this was done with little care for subtlety. My own role as an errand boy was highly suspect, but more than that, it was most peculiar for a courier to await you in your quarters when he could have easily joined you in the study."
"Oh. I guess that is a bit—" Sam broke off as something occurred to him. "Does that mean Strider knows there isn't a courier?"
"Indeed he does, and Legolas and Gimli, too."
Sam looked back over his shoulder, almost expecting the other three to come after them in protest of Faramir's deception. "Then why—"
"They allowed you to leave because they could not challenge my word without proof," Faramir explained. "And it would have looked rather strange for all four of you to journey to your quarters in search of a simple courier."
"I suppose that's all well and good," Sam said slowly, "but…won't you be in trouble later?"
"Nay, I think my ruse impressed upon them the fact that they were behaving as fools. I need only remind them of that to escape reprisal. Now come. Unless, of course, you have no interest in the kitchens…"
"Coming!" Sam said quickly as they started off. "And I should have said it before, but thank you! I felt I was going mad in there."
"I felt likewise last night as we were reading together."
Sam stopped short. "You read it, too?"
"When Gimli was not blocking the parchment," Faramir said. "I found it to be very informative, for I had not heard the full tale from a hobbit's perspective. Legolas remembers it quite differently."
"I'm sure he does," Sam mumbled as a feeling of dread rose in his heart.
"Actually, there was something I wished to speak to you about. Was it Merry who told Frodo of my courtship with Eowyn?"
"I think so." Sam knew exactly where this was going now.
"I suspected as much. It is a rather abrupt account and reads as though her change of heart happened in but a moment. Such was not the case, I fear. In particular, the mention of—"
Faramir's voice droned on, but Sam was no longer listening. The headache drowned all.