Clack. Clack. Clack.

It was two days since Frodo-lad's "adventure" with the King. The snow had mostly melted-there were still a few banks and patches in the shade where the Sun did not show herself, but she was bright this morning.

Clack. Clack. Clack.

He was in front of the lodge, sparring with Uncle Pippin, with wooden practise swords. The King and Uncle Merry and Bergil watched. Uncle Merry had been glad to be allowed to come out in the sunshine. He sat on the front step of the lodge, with his foot propped up on a small barrel. The King sat next to him, and Bergil stood nearby, keeping an alert eye out.

"Move your feet, lad!" called the King.

Clack. Clack. Thwack.

Frodo stopped completely, startled. He'd actually landed a blow to Uncle Pippin's upper arm. Uncle Pippin stepped back. "That was good, Frodo-lad! Very good!" He rubbed at the place where the blow had landed.

"Are you all right?" asked Frodo.

"I'm fine; I'm wearing my armour, after all, lad."

The King had sighed and rolled his eyes. "Hobbits!" he said.

Uncle Merry glanced over at him. "What's the problem?" he asked, amused.

Bergil exchanged a glance with the King, and then said "You hobbits are too polite. You stop in the middle of a match to exchange pleasantries!"

Uncle Pippin laughed. "Why not? It's not like we are fighting actual enemies."

This was an old argument, and the Men and the hobbits all chuckled now.
Then Bergil called out, "Look!"

Frodo glanced to where the captain was pointing. A figure was coming towards them. "It's Mr. Appledore!" He tossed aside his practice weapon-getting an exclamation of protest from all the adults-and dashed forth to greet the new arrival.

Tom Appledore looked rather surprised at the warmth of his reception. The King had stood, and he nervously approached, and attempted a rather awkward and unpractised bow. "My lord, I-uh-well, if you still want me, that is, I thought I would take you up on your offer to be caretaker?" He gazed up at the lodge, and his eyes grew wide. "If-if you think I can do it?"

The King placed his hands on Mr. Appledore's shoulders. "I am glad that you have decided to accept my offer. I think you will do well."

The other Man had tears in his eyes. "I don't know why you are so kind to me." Suddenly, he sobbed, putting his face in his hands.

The King drew him into a brief embrace of comfort, and then turned with his arms about the poor Man's shoulders.

"Come inside with me, and we shall speak privily."

Frodo stood with Captain Bergil, Uncle Merry and Uncle Pippin, and watched as the King drew Mr. Appledore away.

Uncle Merry and Uncle Pippin exchanged a look full of meaning. "Was there ever anyone like him?" asked Uncle Pippin.

"He helps us to live on those heights we once spoke of," said Uncle Merry. "I can't think of a greater blessing than to have him for our King."

Nor can I, thought Frodo-lad. And it's going to be a real blessing to serve him this year.