Into the Valley of Death (Part the First)



The Grand Hall of House Bar-en-Acharn saw a busy and jovial company one evening after Yule.  Many of the Household had gathered at the bidding of Lady Seregrían not only at her call, but also for the fellowship and merriment to be shared.  The Hall and Salon were lit by hearth and lamp, warm and inviting; a marked change from the dark and brooding fortress of a year ago, when Seregrían was rocked by the tidings that her beloved Cutch was slain.  Just one year later, the couple had been reunited, married, and now looked forward to the impending birth of their first child, the girl already named Bainiel.

Little Royzenberry, one of the newest members of the Household, bustled about the hall assisting Cutch, who was busy in the Scullery preparing a substantial feast for the Council.  She moved over to the Salon where Seregrían was seated on a sofa with one foot propped up.  Cutch appeared at her side with a small dish and a bottle of scented oil, pouring the oil into the dish and setting it beside the fire to warm.

“Is there anything I can fetch for you, Your Ladyship?” Royzenberry asked.  “Coffee, maybe, to go with dessert?”

“A small glass of red wine, Berry dear,” Seregrían said, and the hobbit moved off.  “Oh, and a meat pie…”

“Got it,” Royzenberry called over her shoulder.

“And some bread - and cheese...”

“Bread and cheese, coming!”

“And a handful of grapes...”

“Righty-o!”

“And did I mention the wine?”

“Yes, you did,” Royzenberry called back, smiling at Cutch and shaking her head.  Cutch smiled back as he picked up the warm oil and sat by Seregrían’s foot.

“Now again, what happened, melon nin?” Cutch asked his wife.

“I slipped coming down the stairs,” she replied.  “I stopped myself from stumbling, but I jammed my foot in the bookcase.  My ankle is very sore – not to mention swollen.”  She sighed then, “I must be more careful, it’s getting a little hard to keep my balance.”

Cutch tenderly reached for Seregrían’s foot with one hand while dipping his fingers into the bowl. “This should help, mell bereth,” he said as he began to apply the oil gently, rubbing it into her skin. 

Royzenberry arrived with a large plate of food, all arranged around the edge while in the center sat one of her own creations, an impossibly sweet confection she named the Berryblast pie.  She also thoughtfully handed to Cutch a bit of ice wrapped in a cheesecloth.  Cutch smiled in thanks and slid the icepack under Seregrían’s foot.

“Between these two, you should have all the relief you need,” Cutch said.   “Is there anything else I can get you?”

Hannon le, melethel, I shall be fine,” Seregrían said.  “Now Berry dear, until Applecider arrives, Cutch will need your help in the Scullery, so be ready to get busy.”

“I’m as ready as I can be,” Royzenberry said cheerfully.  She hid a chuckle as Seregrían reached for the meat pie and devoured it in four bites, licking her fingers and looking hungrily at the Berryblast.

Presently, more of the Household began to arrive as Iyenue, Mistress of the Hunt, greeted Ingrasion the Master of Song, as they entered the hall.

“I’m happy to see you once again, Iyenue,” Ingrasion said smiling.

“Likewise, Ingrasion,” Iyenue said with a proper curtsey.  The two Elves crossed over to the Salon and sat opposite Seregrían.

“Ingrasion, Iyenue, welcome to both of you,” she said.  “I trust you had no problems getting here today?”

“None at all, milady,” Iyenue said, “though it feels good to sit here and warm up at fireside.”  Ingrasion nodded his agreement as he stretched out on the sofa.

“Then you can get even warmer, Iyenue,” Cutch said, “if you help me in the Scullery – you can be my taster.”  Iyenue chuckled and rose to follow Cutch into the Scullery.

“What are you planning to serve today, my husband?''  Seregrían asked.

“Our usual bounty, Your Ladyship,” Cutch said, “lots of food and dainties for the Household to share.  I was anticipating venison and boar, perhaps?”

“Ah yes! Meat, and a lot of it,” Seregrían said, then looked to Royzenberry and Ingrasion,  “And music, of course!  It's so good to have so much talent at the Lair.”  The two smiled at her compliments, Royzenberry dashing off to offer a tray of snacks to the others. 

At that moment, another voice was heard as Gilberian entered the hall.  “Suilaid, mellyn nin!  And greetings, Your Ladyship,” she said with a nod to Seregrían.

“Ah, Gilberian, welcome!”  Seregrían smiled, “so good of you to arrive – and just in time, too.  Let us all go to the main table and enjoy the feast.”  She rose unsteadily from the sofa, taking Ingrasion’s offered hand, and the company crossed to the High Table where she sat in her white chair at the head.

“Now, tell me what you think,” Cutch said to Iyenue as he handed her a small plate with a sample of each offering he had prepared.  Iyenue, true to her habit, bolted the pork before anything else but approved of each sample.  Satisfied, Cutch waved to Royzenberry and the three began ferrying plates and bottles to the table, Cutch laying everything out in his flair of form and display.  A tantalizing display of glazed venison, roasted boar, and plates heaped with vegetables adorned the table.

“Today is a buffet feast, everyone,” Cutch announced, “no ceremony, just fill your plates and tuck in!  I shall serve Her Ladyship, of course.”  He produced a large bowl from the sideboard and set it on the table.  “Now, here is something new I have discovered!”

“And what is this?” Seregrían asked.

“This,” Cutch explained, “are just in from Durin's Court, and it is called Gundabad Vegetable Medley.  The Dwarves claim these are just right for an expectant mother.''

“Puzzling indeed, from Gundabad?” Iyenue wondered.  “I did not think anything grew in that weather, surely not that far north.”

“I am told,” Cutch explained, “there is a place there called Clovengap, a wonderful garden; or so I hear from Durin's court.''

“Clovengap, you say,” Iyenue said.  “Interesting, it would be something to see for certain.  Though I do wonder, if the Dwarves would allow us to enter a place they hold sacred.”

“Once things are back to normal - I hope - perhaps this might be something to see,” Seregrían mused.

“Please, Seregrían,” Gilberian asked, “just how are you doing?”

Seregrían said in between mouthfuls, “Three months into this ‘condition’, and all seems to be going well - despite the fact that I can't seem to stop eating!  I shall be as round as Applecider before the baby arrives.”

“Do you mean to say Applecider is fat?”  Gilberian giggled.

“Well, she's in her own words, 'chubby as a chickadee',” Seregrían laughed, then signaled to Cutch, “I think some fruit or something, dear one - some juice, perhaps?  The wine isn't suiting me.”  She made a face, and then uncharacteristically, belched.  “No, it's not settling at all...”

“Oh my, are you alright?”  Iyenue asked.

“It seems my stomach isn't quite up to things lately,” Seregrían replied.  She looked around at the company, everyone chatting amongst themselves with her husband and Royzenberry moving about and smiled softly – just when a familiar voice rang out in the hall.

“Hullo dere, everyone, the door was open and I smelled supper, might I come in?”  And into the hall walked Lancogard, the hobbit shaking off the cold as he approached the company.

“Lance!  I did not expect to see you, such a welcome surprise!” Seregrian cried happily.  The company greeted the hobbit Shirriff gladly as Lancogard crossed to Seregrian, his face a study of awe and wonder.

“So what Cider was hinting at is true – you’re having a baby!” he cried with delight.  “I have been too long away and missed the happy news.”

“Oh, but there’s more, my sleuthing friend,” Seregrian said, “you are responsible for her name – for she shall be called Bainiel.”

“Oh, you DIDN’T!” Lancogard cried.  “You named her – and she’s a girl?!  Oh, this is just the end of all, a wee lass like yourself!  Master Cutch, you must be so proud!”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Cutch laughed.  “Now, my friend, you’ve been gone too long, come sit and do the Shire proud!”  He pulled up a chair next to Seregrian, and Lancogard sat, still staring unabashed at the Elf-mother’s swelling middle.

“Bainiel... who could believe it!” he said grinning.  “And what a spread you’ve laid out, Cutch!  Meats, fruits, cheeses - why, this looks quite homey!”  At that moment he noticed Royzenberry,”And who have we here? Yet another hobbit in the Household?”

Seregrian said, “Lance, meet Royzenberry Goldflower - Berry, here is Lancogard North-took.” Both hobbits nodded to each other formally.

“The finest detective mind in, well, anywhere!” Cutch declared.

“Well, not quite, Master Fox!” Lancogard said. “After all, YOU gave me a run for the hills, if you recall?”

“That was not all my doing, my friend,” Cutch said, “it took a company of Dunedain to complete that trick.”

Seregrían sighed, “Have you two STILL not let that pass?”

“Outfoxed by the Fox - I shall never live that down!” Lancogard said.

“It is a fond thing we share, now,” Cutch replied, “and we are still friends, you know.  I wouldn’t be here if not for you, Lance.”

“You redeemed your error, dear halfling, you know that,” Seregrian said.  “Your careful skills helped find my husband, remember?”

“Ah, but it was Her Ladyship's eagle what found you, though,” Lancogard offered.

“You still had a vital part to play, and one I will always be grateful for,” Cutch said.

“And that whole adventure turned out well, for us all,” Seregrian said, “and started us all out on new adventures - which is one reason I have called you all here today.”

Lancogard pricked his ears up, “Wait, you're not talkin' 'bout one again!?”

“Your Ladyship, remember,” Gilberian said, “no more adventures?”  The rest of the company turned quiet, listening to the exchange and dreading what was coming…

(Continued...)