Sigmund emerged from the great hall and walked towards the horse-drawn wagon carriage from which a lantern hung. Swinging in the breeze, the light from the lantern showed that the driver, a hobbit, sat with one hairy foot propped up and was smoking a pipe.
Sigmund laughed as he approached. “When they said a child in a wagon wished to speak to me outside, I should have known it was you. But I confess, I did not ever expect to see you again, Rufus North Took.”
“Hello Sigmund, my friend. Yes, I imagine this is quite a surprise,” the hobbit replied. Something in his tone gave Sigmund pause and he slowed his advance. Rufus stood up and bowed, as was the custom of his people. Sigmund returned the gesture stiffly.
“What is it, my friend? What is wrong?” Sigmund asked in a deep voice.
“I bring dark news. It’s about the …” Rufus choked, unable to finish.
“Ah, the assassination of Una, I mean, The Queen. Yes, I know. We all heard two days ago. Dark news is swift, they say.”
“I was there,” Rufus added.
“You? In Esgaroth, you mean? Did you witness it?” Sigmund asked.
The hobbit nodded. “I was there. I was holding her hand.” Rufus broke down in tears. Unsure what to do, Sigmund put his hand on the hobbit’s shoulder. He was shocked when Rufus flung himself into his arms like a child.
Minutes passed before the hobbit seemed to regain control of himself and Sigmund placed him back on the wagon.
“Tell me,” said Sigmund. “Everything.”
Rufus recalled the council meeting that took place and then told Sigmund about the parade on the last day and how he snuck through the crowd to talk to the woman that he and Sigmund had once spent months with traveling from her lands.
His voice went flat as he relayed how the first arrow struck King Bard and how The Queen immediately dropped Rufus’ hand and was at his side. He told how two arrows struck her in the back instead of hitting her husband. He described how the life vanished from her eyes and how the dark blood pumped from her body after he removed one of the arrows.
Rufus then reached into his shirt and pulled out a silk scarf, its fabric stained dark and crusted with dried blood. He held it in both of his hands as he described comforting the queen’s son, Prince Bane, as his mother’s body was carried away.
The two sat in silence for several minutes. Sigmund stared up into the night sky. He said nothing.
“There is more,” Rufus said. “But I hesitate to share it. It is a secret that will burden you greatly.”
“Speak,” said Sigmund.
“Before the assassin’s arrows flew, she asked me about you. She asked if you were with me,” Rufus said. "When I told her you were not, she tried to hide it, but I could see she was disappointed.”
Sigmund stared at the hobbit. Unsure what to say.
“Here,” Rufus said. He handed the bloody scarf to Sigmund. “This should be yours. I’m leaving now. I’m returning to The Shire for a time. Taking the long way around, as they say, to my inn before hiking over the mountains. I’m coming back, but I’m not sure when. Narvi is dead. Allydial is … not well. I’m heart-sick and weary. But I’ll be back. There’s more to be done.”
Rufus picked up the reins and started the horse moving, but then stopped it again.
“You know her son, Bane? Well, he is seven now. He was born nine months after we brought her safely to Esgaroth,” Rufus said.
“He doesn’t resemble The King in the least,” Rufus added. He clapped the reins and the horse began moving again, down the rutted road to the west.