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Eucatastrophe: The Return  by Dreamflower

AUTHOR'S NOTE:

This story takes place in my "Eucatastrophe" universe; in that universe, the Three Elven Rings did not fade, but were freed to full power by the destruction of the One, Saruman was killed by Quickbeam during the storming of Isengard, and the journey to Elvenhome is now a two-way trip, allowing those who have gone across the Sea to return to Middle-earth, if they so choose.  While this story actually chronologically precedes the other stories in this universe, for an explanation of how the AU came to be, you may want to read the first two stories I posted in this AU, if you have not already done so:

Eucatastrophe

 http://www.storiesofarda.com/chapterlistview.asp?SID=1900

Eucatastrophe: Everything Sad Come Untrue


http://www.storiesofarda.com/chapterlistview.asp?SID=2984

(This chapter written for Marigold's Challenge #36)

AUTHOR: Dreamflower
RATING: G
AUTHOR'S NOTES: My elements are--a third anniversary, Aragorn, second breakfast, and the hobbit archers at Fornost. 
SUMMARY: A return home, and a new and less perilous adventure awaits Frodo…
DISCLAIMER: Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the Tolkien Estate. I own none of them. Some of them, however, seem to own me.


EUCATASTROPHE: THE RETURN

It was exactly three years to the day since Frodo Baggins had seen the One Ring to the Cracks of Doom, and it was only a little under six months since Sam Gamgee, Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took had seen Frodo sailing off on an Elven ship at the Grey Havens.

And now they awaited his return.

Merry stood at the quay, staring at the sea as though by concentrating, he could make the ship arrive faster, his attention occasionally caught by Pippin's fidgeting and chatter. Sam stood at the very edge of the dock, seemingly watching the wheeling gulls, and lending a patient ear to Pippin. Merry wasn't fooled. He knew Sam was watching just as eagerly as the cousins, while Pippin's stream of words masked an anxiety that what they awaited would never arrive.

"The letter from Aragorn said it would be today! He wouldn't make a mistake about a thing like that!" Pippin's voice was slightly higher pitched than usual, though perhaps not enough for anyone but Merry to notice. "But how could he be sure? I mean, I know he probably used--that stone--" Pippin's voice faltered slightly and continued on, "but he couldn't see everything! What if the wind changes? What if there was bad weather out there? What if--"

"I don't know about you, Mr. Pippin, but if it don't come today, I'll wait right here until it does." Sam's voice was as tolerant as always, but the very fact that he had interrupted at all made Merry to know that his friend's patience was wearing thin. "Strider said they'd be coming, they'll be here."

Pippin looked a bit taken aback. He stood silently, rocking back and forth on his heels. Merry was afraid the silence would not last long.

A large hand descended on Merry’s shoulder. “Your cousin seems anxious, Merry. And I sense that you are worried as well.”

Merry turned and looked up. “I shall have to be honest, Elladan, and say that Pippin and I have been worried ever since Frodo left. He wasn’t well, I know. And though Gandalf *said* they’d be back…”

Elladan nodded. “The journey to Elvenhome has always been one way only, before this.” He smiled, his dark hair whipping in the wind and his grey eyes shining, “It is something new and unheard of. But I have every confidence in what my father and Mithrandir told us before they sailed. Estel did indeed foresee the date of their return in the palantir, and more to the point, my grandmother has also foreseen this.”

“Oh. Well, I shouldn’t dare to gainsay the Lady Galadriel.”

“No, Master Meriadoc, I don’t think you should,” Elladan replied with a smile. Suddenly, he tensed, and placed a hand on his brow above his eyes, and peered seaward. He grinned. “Allay your fears, Merry, for I see grey sails approaching in the distance.”

With a whoop of joy, Merry darted down to the end of the dock, to convey the news to the others.

It was still an hour or more before hobbit eyes could espy the sails, and a few more hours before the ship drew close enough to see tiny figures standing at the prow, one considerably shorter than the others.

Merry clutched at Pippin’s arm, and felt Sam’s hand upon his shoulder. He paid no heed to the tears that ran down his cheeks at he sight of Frodo’s beloved face. His cousin’s blue eyes sparkled, and he had a joyful grin--a grin such as Merry had not seen for a very long time indeed.

Now Círdan and his Elves came down to help the ship tie up to the dock, and the gangplank was lowered. It had scarcely touched down, before Frodo was running down with the abandon of sheer joy, into their waiting arms.

“Oh! How I’ve missed you all!” he exclaimed, during the laughter and back-slapping of their greeting. “I’ve so much to tell you all! Ugh! Pippin, you’re squeezing the breath out of me! You don’t know your own strength you daft Took! Sam! How are Elanor and Rosie? Merry--you did wait, didn’t you?”

Finally able to get a word in, Merry chuckled. “Of course! The wedding’s not till Lithe! But you are really going to have to make it up to me, cousin! Estella and I are sorely beset, for Rosamunda has taken the extra time to plan a truly elaborate wedding! But of course I could not get married without you standing witness!”

Frodo hugged him tightly, and turned to Sam, his face grew a bit serious. “Sam, I’ve just realized--I’ve taken you away from Elanor’s first birthday!”

Sam shook his head, smiling. “She’s too little to notice her dad’s not there! She’ll have a wonderful birthday with her ma and her grandparents and such, today. And when we get back, she’ll have another, with her dad and her uncles, too!”

“Well, I’ve brought gifts for all, but most everything’s still on the ship!” he turned to look. “The Elves will get most things off I suppose. But do you want to come aboard, and I‘ll fetch my pack?” Sam shook his head, but Merry and Pippin followed him back up the gangplank.

“How was Bilbo when you left?” asked Pippin. Bilbo had been looking every bit of his one-hundred and twenty-nine years when he had gone aboard the ship the previous September.

Frodo laughed. “He was doing splendidly! He looked twenty years younger by the time we arrived, and was as full of questions as a certain young Took I know! And he’s settled very nicely into Elrond’s household, in quarters very similar to those he had in Rivendell. The main difference is that his window overlooks the Sea. And he’s being thoroughly spoiled by the Elves of Tol Erresea, who’ve never had a hobbit among them before!” He chuckled. “They did not much want me to leave when I did, kept trying to get me to postpone my journey home. But I know how Elves keep time, and I should have been quite as old as Bilbo is now, if I had given them their way, before I set off again!”

Merry gave Frodo a grim look. “They’d no business trying to keep you from coming back to your family!”

Frodo shook his head at that. “No, no need to worry on *that* score! I must confess though, I wasn’t sure I’d survive the voyage over. I suppose you know I wasn’t very well when I left.”

His cousins nodded. “We’d have had to have been blind *not* to notice, Frodo,” said Merry. “And we knew you’d have your anniversary of Weathertop while you were at Sea.”

“But I had the best of care. Elrond and Gandalf both were there for me, and Elrond made use of his Ring. I won’t deny I was very ill that day, but by the next morning, I felt the best I had since--well, since I took my wound at Weathertop. And after the sea air, and some long talks with Gandalf, I think that I understand a lot of things much better than I ever had before.”

Frodo showed them his little cabin, and indeed, two Elves were already there, fetching a small trunk. He took his well-worn pack from his bunk, and introduced Merry and Pippin to them. After he thanked the Elves, he gave his cousins a little tour of the ship.

Merry marveled at the change in Frodo. He’d not seen his cousin so thoroughly carefree in *ages*--most certainly not since Frodo had discovered what Bilbo’s Ring really was. There was a light in his cousin’s eyes that Merry at one point had thought might be completely extinguished.

Soon they headed back down the gangplank, where Sam still waited for them. As they did so, Pippin said “Who’s the Elf with Gandalf and Elladan? I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Elf so--so shiny! Why, he’s even shinier than Lord Glorfindel!”

Merry looked over where Pippin had indicated. Gandalf and Elladan were in a clearly serious discussion with the newcomer. Merry saw at once what Pippin meant. The Elf had a presence about him, much like that of the Lady Galadriel, but less subtle.

Frodo grinned. “*That* is Lord Finrod, Lady Galadriel’s brother!”

Pippin shook his head--the name meant nothing to him, but Merry turned to Frodo in shock. “But--he was killed back in the First Age!”

“So was Lord Glorfindel,” said Frodo, amused.

Now Pippin looked at him in amazement. “Killed?”

“Elves don’t die the same way we mortals do, Pip,” said Frodo. “They are sent back--the way Gandalf was, after the Balrog.”

Merry looked dubious, and Frodo shrugged. There must be more to the explanation than that, but this wasn’t the time to pump Frodo for information. Instead, he asked “Didn’t Lord Elrond return with you?”

They’d joined Sam again at this point, and Sam also asked “Where *is* Master Elrond?”

Frodo smiled. “He’s going to stay for a few years. He’s just been reunited with his wife, after all, after over five hundred years. They have a lot of catching up to do. But he told me to let his daughter and sons know that both of them *would* be back.” Frodo glanced once more to where the wizard and the elves were speaking. “He sent Vilya back to Elladan. And Lord Finrod came to see his sister. Since the Ban had been lifted, they had expected her return as well.”

Merry nodded. The Lady Galadriel *had* come to see the voyagers off, but she had sent the message that she would remain in Middle-earth until she had finished healing Lothlórien from the hurts it had received at the end of the War, and until her husband, Lord Celeborn, was ready to come with her.

Círdan approached Gandalf and the others, and then moved off, followed by Elladan and Finrod. With a smile, Gandalf approached the cluster of hobbits, and received from Merry, Pippin and Sam an embrace of welcome. Pippin’s hug was especially enthusiastic. “I was wondering if I’d ever see you again, Gandalf!”

He ruffled Pippin’s head fondly. “Fool of a Took,” he chuckled. “As if I could be kept long away from my hobbits!”

Frodo looked at his tall friend. “You never did say what you’d be doing when we got back!”

“Well,” said Gandalf, “I thought I might make a bit of a visit here in the Shire, before I head once more for Rivendell, and then Gondor. But I am in no hurry. I’ve no longer a pressing task, nor the fate of an age in my hands.”

Merry found himself nodding. After the Quest had ended, Gandalf had seemed full of light, and far more light-hearted. But now, he seemed even more so. Then a thought suddenly occurred to him, and he found himself suppressing a chuckle. Gandalf was on holiday! His eyes met those of Frodo, and seeing the twinkle in Frodo’s eyes, and the way he bit his lip, he knew that the same thought had dawned on his cousin. He looked away quickly. No matter how light-hearted he might be, it was never a good idea to laugh at a wizard!

They spent the night at the Havens with the Elves, and the following morning, they prepared to leave. Shadowfax was waiting for Gandalf, and the hobbits had their own ponies: Bill, Strider, Stybba and Sable.

They said a farewell to Elladan and to Círdan and to Finrod, who would be leaving soon for Rivendell, and made their way back. They camped the first night near the White Towers, which Pippin and Frodo explored, though Merry and Sam could not be coaxed into them.

They had a long and leisurely journey back; they often sang, and Gandalf would join in, his deep voice making a pleasant contrast to the hobbits‘ higher ones. Frodo wanted to know everything that had happened in the Shire since he left, and Sam regaled him with all of Elanor’s little accomplishments, while Pippin was full of the news from all over, and told of all the goings on in both Buckland and Tuckborough. Merry told him of the wedding plans, and rhapsodized over Estella--much to his older cousin’s amusement.

As they camped one night, Pippin shook his head when Merry began to talk once more of the wedding. “It’s hardly fair, Merry! Diamond and I still have to wait not only for our coming of age, but for her apprenticeship to end! It’s going to be *forever* before we can get married!”

Gandalf, who was blowing smoke rings raised one eyebrow in amusement. “Forever is a long time, young Peregrin.”

Frodo laughed. “Just be glad you won’t have to have a forty-year betrothal like your King, Pippin Took!”

Pippin looked rueful. “I keep telling myself that. But it doesn’t always help.”

Sam shook his head. “Just be patient, Mr. Pippin. It will come to pass,” he said with the complacency of the happily wed.

Merry patted his shoulder. “Well, at least you won’t have Rosamunda Bolger for a mother-in-law.”

Pippin brightened. “There is that!”

On another evening, the hobbits coaxed tales out of Gandalf, persuading him to give an account of how he and the White Council had seen to the Necromancer when he had left Bilbo and the Dwarves, and to recount some of the adventures he had shared with Aragorn over the years. He was quite open and matter-of-fact about it all, and the hobbits marveled at hearing him speak so freely.

They were still two days out, when Pippin finished up their evening by passing out his birthday gifts: a pouch well-filled with Old Toby for Gandalf; a flask filled with Aunt Primrose’s cherry cordial for Sam; a new pipe, the bowl carved in the likeness of the horse of Rohan for Merry; and for Frodo, a leather-bound pocket journal, with a silverpoint stylus.

To Frodo’s attempts to apologize for making him miss his birthday with his family, Pippin merely chuckled. “What do you think you are, Cousin Frodo? Besides, I had my birthday with my parents and sisters early, as Merry and I detoured to the Great Smials on the way to the Grey Havens.”

Finally one bright morning, they made their way into Hobbiton and up the Hill to Bag End. Merry and Pippin were going to stay for only two days, before travelling on to Crickhollow.

Rose was overjoyed to see them, and her kiss of welcome to Sam made the others grin and Sam to blush. But he kept his arm firmly about his wife’s waist, and said “See, Rose, our Mr. Frodo’s home again! And look who he’s brought with him!”

She smiled shyly at Gandalf. She had seen him a few times as a lass, but she had never really met him before. “Welcome, Mr. Gandalf! We still have your room--Mr. Frodo’d insisted on keeping it up.”

“Where’s Elanor?” asked Frodo eagerly.

“She’s been napping. But I think she’ll be ever so glad to see her Uncle Frodo again!”

“And what about *us*?” asked Pippin, pretending to be offended at being overlooked.

Rose just laughed, and went to bring Elanor out.

Frodo caught his breath. He’d nearly forgot what a beautiful child she was--and she had grown so, while he’d been gone. But she seemed very happy to be placed in his arms, and smiled at him beguilingly.

“Ellie-my-heart,” Frodo said, “there’s someone I’d like you to meet.” He turned and presented her to Gandalf. The wizard took her carefully. She looked so small in his large hands. But she smiled up at him, and reached for his beard.

“Ah, little Sunstar,” he said, “you will be very blessed in your life.” And he drew her up and bestowed a kiss on her tiny forehead.

The next day, they all had another birthday party for the baby, and Frodo gave her his present--a beautiful shell, of creamy iridescence, that had come all the way from the Blessed Isle.

And the day after that, Merry and Pippin headed home to Crickhollow, leaving Gandalf to visit for a while longer, and very pleased at having Frodo home once more. They would be stopping by Brock Hall in Budgeford, for they were escorting Estella and her mother to Brandy Hall for the planning of the wedding. Odovocar and Freddy would join them later, just a few days before Lithe--the wedding would be held at Brandy Hall on Midsummer‘s Day.

It was at second breakfast one morning, a couple of weeks later, that Merry was holding forth to Pippin about the unfairness of weddings. “I was hoping that having Estella at Brandy Hall would allow me to see more of her. But I’ve scarcely set eyes on her since we got back! Between my mother and hers, she’s kept constantly busy! And when I complained to Da about it, he had the nerve to quote Frodo’s Aunt Dora at me!”

Pippin chuckled. “The Bride and the Groom are only considered as a Necessary Means towards the holding of the Wedding. As for Fathers, Grandfathers, Brothers and Uncles, they exist for the holding of the Pocketbook and the moving of Tables and other Furniture.”

Merry looked at him sourly. “She should never have written that!”

Pippin shook his head. “She was only saying what everyone already knew was true.” He had been through two sisters’ weddings before, though Pervinca had wed while they were gone on the Quest, and he knew what he was talking about. “The best thing any lad can do when a wedding’s in the works is to make himself scarce until the big day arrives.”

“That’s easy for you to say. *I’m the groom*!”

“*Especially* the groom!” Pippin shook his head, his eyes sparkling with amusement. “Here--we’ve a letter from Frodo in the post. Perhaps that will get your mind off Estella!” He held the letter out to Merry, while he looked through the remaining letters, in hopes of seeing one from Diamond.

Merry took the letter quickly, and ran his thumb under the seal. He read quietly for a moment, his eyebrows climbing.

“Well?” asked Pippin. “What does he say?”

Merry shook his head. “You are *not* going to believe this!

Dear Merry and Pippin,

I hope you had a pleasant trip home. I’ve enjoyed myself immensely re-acquainting myself with little Elanor, and settling back into Bag End.

I decided to take up a bit of work I had once started before the whole business of the Ring came along to distract me; you know, Merry, that history of the settling of the Shire I was working on for a while?

Looking through my notes, I realize that there is a good deal of information that I simply do not have, and that is not available in the Shire. I do know, for I have thoroughly searched not only Bilbo’s library, but that of Great Smials and Brandy Hall as well. It reminded me why I had given the work up in the first place.

But it occurs to me that now I might be able to fill in those gaps: about the granting of the Shire to Marcho and Blanco, about the hobbit archers who went to the service of the last King, and several other matters. That information must be available in Rivendell--not only in the library there, but I could also speak to those who were there at the time: Elrond’s sons and Glorfindel come to mind immediately, though I am sure that some of the other Elves might remember as well. They did, after all, keep the history of Arnor for the time that the King should come again!

So, I was wondering if the two of you would like to accompany me on a short trek. It would not take us nearly so long to get there now, as the King’s Peace holds, and we could go by road and not through the Midgewater Marshes!

I promise that we would be back in plenty of time for your wedding Merry! I know that all the preparations must be driving you out of your mind!

I’m going, at any rate. Sam needs to stay home with his family this time, but I’m sure he would feel much better if he knew I was taking you two valiant warriors with me.

I’ll be following this letter in just a few days, and see what you think.

And we don’t have to go through the Old Forest this time.

Love,

Cousin Frodo.”

Merry and Pippin exchanged astonished glances. Then Pippin grinned. “At last,” he said “a *proper* Adventure!”

Merry stared down once more at the letter. If ever proof were needed that Frodo was healed, this was it.

TBC in Challenge #37

(This chapter written for Marigold's Challenge #37)
AUTHOR: Dreamflower
RATING: G
AUTHOR'S NOTES: (1) My starter sentence: What am I going to do with you?" (2) This story takes place in my "Eucatastrophe" universe; in that universe, the Three Elven Rings did not fade, but were freed to full power by the destruction of the One, Saruman was killed by Quickbeam during the storming of Isengard, and the journey to Elvenhome is now a two-way trip, allowing those who have gone to return to Middle-earth, if they so choose…
SUMMARY: A return home, and a new and less perilous adventure awaits Frodo…
DISCLAIMER: Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the Tolkien Estate. I own none of them. Some of them, however, seem to own me.
PREVIOUSLY: Frodo and Gandalf returned from voyaging to the Blessed Isle, to see Bilbo settled into his new home; now a couple of weeks later, Frodo has written to Merry and Pippin, to tell them he is considering yet another journey, this one somewhat shorter, and asking them to accompany him.

 EUCATASTROPHE: THE RETURN, PART TWO

"What am I going to do with you?" Estella hissed. "Merry Brandybuck, you *know* what my mother would say to you turning up at my door this hour of the night!"

Pippin leaned against the corridor wall, and tried unsuccessfully not to listen to the hastily whispered conversation. He was keeping watch, and was also there to witness the propriety--such as it was--of this clandestine meeting.

"But Estella, I've hardly seen you since you arrived at Brandy Hall! And I really need to speak with you."

She stepped out of the room into the passageway, closing the door behind her, and holding her dressing gown close. She saw Pippin watching, and rolled her eyes.

"Well, what is it then, Merry?" her expression softened as she looked at her betrothed's desperate face.

"We got a letter from Frodo today…"

Estella looked surprised at that, and Pippin arched a brow, wondering what her reaction would be. "And?" she asked.

"Estella, he wants Pip and I to go with him to Rivendell. He promises we'll be back before the wedding--and I've never known him to break a promise. But if you'd rather I stay…" his voice trailed off.

Pippin bit his lip. He and Merry had discussed it earlier, and painful as it would have been, Merry had said that if Estella said "no" then Pip would have to go along with Frodo without him.

She stared at him for a moment.

"Estella, I--"

Estella reached a finger up and placed it on his lips. "Actually, Merry, it might be a good idea."

Pippin nearly laughed out loud at the expression on Merry's face. Before his cousin could speak again, Estella said, "Really, I do. I know how frustrating it is for you to have me here, and yet we've no time for one another. And Mother's being her most annoying and managing self--I'd really not rather have my bridegroom run mad before the wedding. She was in a fair way to making you lose your temper yesterday, when she went on and on about the color of your weskits!"

Merry blushed. "I didn't say anything to her, Estella!"

"No, dear, I know you didn't. But you were *thinking* at her very hard--and not, I'm quite sure, anything very complimentary! Not that I blamed you."

Merry caught her in a quick embrace. "Estella, if you're sure--"

"I am. But I don't envy you telling the rest of the family. And it might be best if my mother does not encounter Frodo before you leave--she'll never believe that you'll be back in time, and she's liable to give him a piece of her mind!" She gave a warm little chuckle, and gave him a kiss on the cheek, and reaching behind to open the door, she vanished back within her guest room.

Merry turned and met Pippin's amused eyes.

"Pip, was there ever a lass like her?"

"Well, I think there is at least one other--I'm quite sure Diamond would have been just as practical!" Pippin grinned. Actually, Diamond would have been more practical, and would never have stood for all the fol-de-rol that Estella was putting up with from her mother. But then, Diamond's mother was a rather quiet and unassuming little widow, and he expected she would probably be letting his mother do most of the planning when the time came.

"We are a lucky pair, aren't we?" Merry flung a companionable arm around Pippin's shoulders. "I suppose we'd better get home. Frodo will be here sometime tomorrow."

They were mostly silent on the walk home to Crickhollow--the stars lighting their way, the late spring air balmy. Pippin found himself lost in thoughts of Frodo.

He and Merry had not discussed it much while Frodo was gone, but he knew that Merry had been just as fearful as he that their beloved older cousin would not return from his voyage. There had been no logical reason for that feeling in the pit of his stomach, as he watched the Grey Ship sail away, that he had seen Frodo for the last time. After all, they had been assured by the Wise that the Ban on Elves returning from the West had been lifted. And they had never had reason not to believe Gandalf.

He had promised them he would bring Frodo back himself, and he had.
Still, the sight of Frodo, so happy and carefree had lifted a great weight from Pippin's heart.

And now, now, they had a chance to have a real journey into the Wide World--no peril, no flight from enemies too terrible to contemplate, no danger that pursued them relentlessly. Just a simple visit to friends in a somewhat distant place, and a quest for knowledge--no evil Rings, no Wraiths. They would have a chance to *enjoy* the trek, as they had not the first time.

He laughed aloud, and when Merry glanced in his direction quizzically, he began to sing:

"Farewell we call to hearth and hall!
Though wind may blow and rain may fall,
We must away ere break of day
Far over wood and mountain tall.
To Rivendell where Elves yet dwell
In glades beneath the misty fell,

Along the road, to their abode,
Where with joy our hearts will swell.
With friends ahead, we gladly tread
Beneath the sky shall be our bed,
Until at last our toil be passed,
Our journey done, our errand sped.
We must away! We must away!
*

We ride before the break of day!

Merry shook his head, grinning. "I think I like those words a lot better than our original ones! But I do hope that we don't have to start off before the break of day this time!"

Softly, they sang it through again as they passed up the lane to their little house. Merry lit the lantern that hung beside the doorpost, as Pippin unlocked the door.

Pippin smiled as he opened it. It always gave him a little feeling of pride, this round blue door on their very own house. He turned to Merry. "What do you say to a cup of tea and bite to eat before bed?"

"That sounds like a very good plan, cousin! I do think that Bluebell baked extra seedcake this morning…" Bluebell was the matron engaged by Merry's mother to come in and do a bit of cleaning and cooking for the "young masters" twice a week.

"I think you are quite right!" And they made their way into the kitchen.
_______________________________

It was after elevenses the next morning when Pippin left Merry in the study trying to balance the household accounts, and went to the stable to tend the ponies and feed the cats. Then he sat on the front step, stroking Dumpling and enjoying a pipe.

When he heard the sound of hooves approaching the front gate, he knew right away it was Frodo.

"Well, it seems that you made good time," he grinned.

Frodo dismounted, and gave Pippin a brief embrace, and then Merry came out.

"I thought I heard you arrive," said Merry. "Pip, why don't you help Frodo see to Strider, and I'll get luncheon started!"

A short while later, the cousins sat down to a meal of vegetable soup, a salad of spring greens from the garden, cold sliced ham, with the last of the winter apples and cheese for filling the corners.

"Merry, this is excellent!" said Frodo. "Sorrel in both the soup and the salad! I take it you had an abundance in the garden this year?"

"Well, thank you for the kind words, Frodo! And yes, we do have quite a bit of sorrel in the garden."

Soon they were leaning back and lighting their pipes.

"I suppose you are wondering what got into me, wanting to go off to Rivendell, this soon after my return?"

Pippin looked at Merry, who was looking rather surprised. This Frodo was a deal more forthcoming than he had been before. They nodded, not wanting to say anything that might stop this unexpected flow of information.

He chuckled. "You're thinking good old Frodo is not so close as he used to be, aren't you? The truth is, I feel that I left a good many things undone, due to the Ring. And this history is one of them--I would like to get the information I need, and go forward with it. And I suppose that I could write and ask, but I think I will get a much fuller accounting if I ask in person. And I want to see what I missed from Bree to Rivendell, I want to enjoy the journey, not feel as though I am fleeing from danger into more danger. Gandalf thought it was a very good idea." He took a draw on his pipe and blew a couple of smoke rings. "So, are you coming with me? I know that you would *like* to, of course, but I also know you have obligations."

Pippin laughed. "Obligations? Well, I don't, and I'd be coming with you anyhow! I can't allow the Bagginses to get ahead of the Tooks when it comes to adventurousness! Besides, who knows what sorts of bogs and ditches you might fall into without me along?"

"Why thank you, Peregrin for your vote of confidence!" Frodo turned his eyes on Merry.

Merry tried to school his face to solemnity, but he failed miserably. Pippin rolled his eyes--as if Frodo were not going to see right through Merry.

"Uh, well, Frodo, you see…" He let his voice trail off, and then he laughed. "Estella can't wait to get rid of me! She's afraid, I think, that I will murder her mother before the wedding. But you had better get me back in plenty of time! And she says you'd better avoid Rosamunda before we leave if you don't want to be raked over the coals!"

Frodo grinned widely. "Ah, Merry! You have found yourself a rare one! Tell her I will indeed have you home in plenty of time! After all, that's my duty as your witness!"

Merry left Pippin and Frodo to do the washing up, for he was going up to the Hall to break the news of his departure to the rest of the family.

"Wish me luck!" he said. "If I'm not back by teatime, then either Rosamunda Bolger has murdered me, or my parents have locked me up! I trust you can think of a rescue!"

Pippin laughed, and shook his head, and turned to Frodo, who was gathering up the plates. "You do know that he is only half joking? Your timing on this could have been better, cousin!"

Frodo placed the dishes in the dishpan, and began to pour the hot water from the kettle. Pippin fetched a clean dishtowel, to dry.
"If I had waited until after the wedding, he could not have come at all. I would not have taken him away from his bride then."

"Is that why Sam's not coming?" Pippin honestly was surprised that Sam had not insisted on accompanying Frodo--Rose would have been understanding.

Frodo shook his head. "I know you think Rose would not have minded, but she also would have been left alone once more. And I think the Cottons and the Gamgees would very much have minded." He handed Pippin a wet plate. "Besides," and here he smiled mysteriously, "I had my own reasons as well for forbidding him to come."

"Which were?" asked Pippin curiously.

"My own." And he began to pay close attention to the bowl in his hands.

Pippin rolled his eyes. Now *this* was the Frodo he remembered--close as wizards.

_____________________________________

The next couple of days were spent in a whirlwind of preparation. Three days later, they approached the Great East Road at the Brandywine Bridge, and began their journey. Pippin found himself grinning. This was going to be lovely; this was what their Adventure *should* have been. He allowed Merry and Frodo to ride a bit ahead of him, and he studied them fondly. He remembered what Bilbo had said about Adventures not being all "pony rides in the sunshine". Well, they'd made a good start on it--a better one than Bilbo had, to be sure. They all had handkerchiefs, and plenty of coin, and soon enough they'd be having a pleasant night at The Prancing Pony…

________________________________

*Adapted from "Farewell We Call" in The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, Chapter V, "A Conspiracy Unmasked"

(This chapter was written for Marigold's Challenge #38)

RATING: G
AUTHOR'S NOTES: (1) The Challenge was to include Chapter XII - Flight to the Ford, and my three elements are a glove, a bar of soap and a bag of stones. (2) This story takes place in my "Eucatastrophe" universe; in that universe, the Three Elven Rings did not fade, but were freed to full power by the destruction of the One, Saruman was killed by Quickbeam during the storming of Isengard, and the journey to Elvenhome is now a two-way trip, allowing those who have gone to return to Middle-earth, if they so choose…
This part was beta’d by Llinos and Marigold
SUMMARY: A return home, and a new and less perilous adventure awaits Frodo…
DISCLAIMER: Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the Tolkien Estate. I own none of them. Some of them, however, seem to own me.
PREVIOUSLY: Frodo, Merry and Pippin arrived in Bree, in the company of the Rangers, Mellor and Eradan.

 EUCATASTROPHE: THE RETURN, PART THREE

Frodo gazed about him, at the blue sky overhead, the road on which they travelled, the hedgerows and fields they passed. He still seemed to be seeing everything with new eyes. The world was a far finer and happier place than he’d thought it to be for a very long time. It still filled him with wonder to realize how light his heart now was.

And he gazed fondly at his companions: it was good to be on this journey with his cousins. He did miss having Sam at his side, but he had very good reasons for leaving Sam at home. He grinned to himself. Yes indeed, if he were to have that little name-sake early next year, it was quite important that Sam and Rose have a bit of time together right now. He recalled the flashes of foresight he had about Sam and Rose and their children--he’d thought that a legacy of the Ring that might go away when he was healed, but it had not. Gandalf had told him it was his own hard-won wisdom, and he might as well enjoy it. He laughed out loud.

Merry and Pippin turned to look at him. “What’s so funny, Frodo? Can you share the joke?” asked Merry.

He smirked. “No. No, I don’t think I can!” And he laughed again, for sheer joy, and for the look they gave him.

They’d been so horribly worried, Frodo knew. All that they had done, they had done for him, and he had repaid their devotion with gloom and sorrow. But they were very glad to see him in better spirits now, and he was glad to *be* in better spirits.

Pippin shook his head in befuddlement, and then began to sing one of Bilbo’s songs; Frodo raised his voice to join in, and in a moment, so did Merry.

It was on average, a two-day ride to Bree. The three did not stop for second breakfast or elevenses, but ate from their saddlebags. However, they had gone about four leagues, or half the first day’s journey, when they decided to stop for luncheon.

Frodo spotted a likely clearing to the north of the Road, alongside a low stone wall that bordered some farmer’s orchard. A small copse of trees grew nearby, and a little brooklet trickled beneath the wall and ran alongside the Road for some distance.

Merry got out the supplies, while Pippin and Frodo fetched wood and water and started a fire. Soon they were brewing tea, and had taken out the food--bread, cheese, hard sausage and fruit.

A leisurely meal, punctuated by gossip and reminiscences, was followed by pipes all around. Frodo found himself beginning to drowse.

Suddenly, Merry and Pippin leaped to their feet, swords drawn in a single motion.

Frodo stared at them in shock. “What--” but then he saw the Men approaching around a bend in the road to the east. He realized his cousins must have heard them. However, Merry and Pippin relaxed and put their swords away, for both men wore the grey cloaks and the stars of Rangers.

“Well met! Sir Meriadoc, Sir Peregrin, Lord Frodo!” said one of them.

“Hullo, Mellor, Eradan!” said Pippin. “No need to be so formal! We‘ve told you before to call us ‘Pippin’ and ‘Merry’. ”

“You rather startled us,” said Merry as he sheathed his sword.

Frodo stood up. “I don’t believe we have met. How is it you know me?”

The older and taller of the two, the one who had spoken said “I know your cousins, Lord Frodo, and all the Dúnedain know your description. I am Mellor son of Meneldil, and this is my partner, Eradan son of Erellont--at your service.”

“Please, call me Frodo,” he said in bemusement. His own fame still amazed him, though it no longer distressed him.

The younger Ranger bowed. “It is an honor for me to finally speak to you--” he hesitated, “--Frodo. For though we have not spoken, I have seen you before.”

Frodo smiled at him. “You are not from here, are you? Your speech is that of Gondor.”

“You are right, I am from the South. I had the honor to serve Captain Faramir in Ithilien. I saw you and Lord Samwise when you were among us at Henneth Annûn, and then again at the Field of Cormallen.”

“Won’t you join us?” asked Pippin. “We’ve finished our meal, but we’ve pipe-weed to go around, and we can brew more tea.”

“Well, as to joining you, Pippin,” said Mellor, “that was our purpose. We’d had word you would be travelling this way, and were asked to bear you company for a while.”

“Asked?” said Merry, as he poured more water into the small kettle. “By whom?”

“By Gandalf,” was the reply. “He passed through this way several days ago, and had a word with us.”

Both the Men took tea, but only Mellor lit a pipe. “We thought to bear you company from here to Bree--perhaps beyond.”

Frodo smiled. “You’d be very welcome to do so. How is it that you know these two rascals here?” He gestured with a grin at his cousins.

“Oi!” said Pippin. “Rascals?” but he laughed even as he objected.

Merry chuckled. “Mellor and Eradan are two of the Rangers assigned to the Shire’s borders now. Our paths have crossed a few times.”

Soon the hobbits and the Rangers mounted up and rode out once more. Frodo found himself riding next to Eradan, and was delighted to have an opportunity to question him about Gondor, its history and tales, about Ithilien, and about Faramir. Merry and Pippin were glad to exchange a bit of gossip with Mellor, who was well acquainted with the Brandybucks. The hobbits occasionally pulled snacks from their saddlebags, and the little group of travellers did not stop until after what would have been teatime in the Shire.

There was no need to make up a campsite that evening. The Rangers had established a small waystation at the halfway point to Bree. It wasn’t much more than a small hut at the end of a faint dirt path just north off the road.

They made an early start the next morning--earlier than Frodo would have liked, actually, and soon were on the road to Bree once more.

This time, Frodo took the chance to ride alongside Mellor. He had some questions for the northern Dúnadan, and began to coax him for tales of the old Northern Kingdoms. It seemed Mellor knew a goodly number of such stories.

“Do you know much about the last days of Arvedui?”

“There are a few tales told among us. But that was a bad time, and a confusing one. You will learn much more when you reach Rivendell. The Elves there have kept the records of our people for all these long generations.”

Frodo nodded. “That is the reason for this journey. I am hoping to write a history including the early days of the Shire, when we were still a part of the Kingdom of Arthedain.”

“A worthy undertaking,” the Man responded. “It would be well if the history of those days was known once more. And not only among hobbits of the Shire. Few Men living in the North have any idea of the old kingdoms, nor of the honorable lineage of the Kings of old. It has yet to truly become real to them that the King has indeed returned.”

Frodo nodded thoughtfully. Perhaps the scope of his book could be expanded--it might very well be of interest to others outside the Shire.

Suddenly he chuckled. Mellor looked at him inquisitively. He flashed the Man a mischievous grin. “The first time I came through Bree I pretended I was writing a book! Now it’s actually true!”

After a brief stop for a noon meal, they were on their way once more. Soon the road curved away in a more southerly direction, and they could see to their right the low mist-enshrouded mounds of the Barrow-downs. All three hobbits shuddered, and Merry and Pippin rode up to either side of Frodo, while Mellor rode in front, with Eradan at the rear. It would be a very long time, thought Frodo, before anyone was ready to take the Barrow-downs lightly.

By late afternoon, they came to the gates of Bree, which stood open in the daytime. The town was pleasantly bustling. Frodo looked about with pleasure. Merry and Pippin had been here several times since they had returned from the Quest, to meet King’s Messengers. But this was the first time Frodo felt free to really take in the town. On his first visit, he had been far too anxious, and on their return, he had felt weighed down by the malaise that had crept upon him at the first anniversary of his wounding at Weathertop.

It really was a very nice town. Frodo supposed at one time he might have been more impressed by it, but having been in Minas Tirith, he realized that this was only a very small town after all.

Yet in many ways it was the chief town of the North, until Aragorn was able to rebuild his capital at Fornost. And it had, of course, the unique position of having the largest hobbit population outside the Shire itself.

He smiled, remembering Bilbo’s accounts of his passage through the town with the Dwarves, and how fascinated his Uncle had been by shops that catered to both “Big and Little”.

They soon made their way to The Prancing Pony’s courtyard. Bob, the stablehobbit came running up to them. “Hullo, Mr. Merry, Mr. Pippin! And--” he looked askance at Frodo. “Er, I’ve seen you before, but I can’t say as I remember your name, rightly, Mr. er--”

Frodo smiled. “Baggins,” he supplied. He shook his head, remembering how he had introduced himself as “Underhill” the first time he came through, and how little good it had done.

As the hobbits dismounted, Bob looked up at the Rangers. “Master Mellor, and Master Eradan--if you will wait a minute I’ll call Mat--he’s the Big lad what handles the horses…”

Mellor shook his head. “No need to worry Mat, Bob. We’ll stable our horses ourselves.”

Merry looked at the Rangers. “We are going in to see to our rooms, but if you would care to join us in the common room for a bit of supper?” They agreed to this readily, and the hobbits turned into the Inn.

Butterburr was both delighted and surprised to see them. He directed them to the hobbit rooms, the very rooms in which they had been unable to sleep that fateful night so long ago, talking the whole way.

The cousins used the opportunity to wash their hands and faces before returning to meet the Rangers in the common room. There was some discussion as to what sort of table they would take, and it was finally decided that they would sit at one of the hobbit-sized tables, and the Men would sit on the floor.

“We are quite accustomed to that,” said Eradan.

“Well,” said Pippin, “we got accustomed to sitting in Big Folks’ chairs when we were on our journey.”

“Thank you, anyway,” said Frodo, giving Pippin a bit of an elbow. The matter had been settled, after all.

Nob came to the table just then, forestalling any future discussion. “We’ve some nice chicken stew,” he said. “Or if you’d rather--there’s a joint of mutton just done to a turn, and some taters and such.”

Everyone looked at Frodo for his preference. “I think the mutton sounds lovely, as do the potatoes. What else have you to go with them?”

“Well,” said Nob, “there’s a pot of beans been cooking, with onion and salt pork.”

“Bring some of those as well, and some bread and cheese. And a pitcher of beer.”

Pippin spoke up “You could also bring us some *small* bowls of the chicken stew as well! Are there mushrooms in it?” he asked hopefully.

The hobbits all grinned at Nob’s nod of assent, and before he could hurry off, Merry added “If there’s an apple tart around, I’m sure we wouldn’t mind if you brought some of that as well.” Frodo and Pippin grinned at him, and he said “I’m sure I smelled some! And if we wait to order afters until we have finished the rest of the meal, there might be none left!”

As Nob trotted off to see to their order, Pippin noted the Rangers’ amused looks. He put on his most innocent expression, “Oh, and what were *you* planning to eat?”

Everyone burst out into laughter, and Merry aimed an easily dodged swat at the back of Pippin’s head.

Soon Nob was back, with tankards for all and the pitcher of beer. Behind him was a Big lass, her cheerful round face proclaiming her close kinship to old Barliman, carrying a heavily laden tray. The food was soon deposited on the table, and she and Nob took their leave.

Frodo smiled at the prospect of the meal. It was so lovely to have a hobbit’s appetite again, after his years of not feeling up to a proper feed. With a flourish, he stood and carved the joint. Merry took it on himself to put the beans on the plates, and Pippin started to dish up the potatoes.

“Oi! What’s this?” He lifted the spoon, with a single piece of potato on it. It was cut into a rather unusual shape. He lifted out another. It was cut like the first.

Frodo peered at the potatoes. All of them were carved into the same strange shape--almost like chunky little boats--yet, not quite. He puzzled over them for a moment, and then noticed Mellor chuckling. “What’s so funny? What are these meant to be?” He took the spoon from Pippin and poked around in the dish. “They are just plain potatoes, boiled, with butter and parsley--but they are all cut into this odd shape.”

“They are meant to be little wooden shoes, such as the peasants in the countryside of Bree-land often wear.”

The hobbits stared at him. Finally Frodo said “Why would anyone cut potatoes into the shape of shoes?”

Eradan looked at his partner. “You know, I have wondered that myself.”

“Well,” said the Ranger, “that’s one of the few tales said to have come down from the time of the fall of the Kingdom.” He reached his hand to take the plate Merry offered him, for the hobbits had continued to dish out the food, even while they were listening to him.

“It’s a very simple tale, and there is no knowing how much truth there may be to it, but it was said that for a while things were so bad in the Bree-lands after the Enemy had passed through, that the folk had to resort to using their shoes as fuel for the hearths. When things got better, someone came up with this way of making potatoes, as a way of commemorating the event.”

There was an instant of stunned silence, and then the hobbits all laughed. “Can’t you imagine what Sam would say to this?” asked Frodo.

“He’d think it a lot of work for the cook! And he’d be quite right!” said Merry.

Pippin popped one into his mouth. “Well, whatever their shape, they *taste* just fine!”

There was another burst of laughter around the table, and Frodo watched it all with shining eyes! Oh, but he was having fun!

______________________________

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I have this wonderful cookbook, first compiled in 1981, called Forgotten Recipes. All of the recipes come from old magazines published in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, and it also includes quaint little “household tips” and other neat things. I thought the recipe was charming and so cutely worded, and wondered when I saw it what hobbits would make of it. (Really, that *was* my first thought. Obsessed? Who, me?) At any rate, here it is:

"1931 Potatoes Galosche

6 large potatoes
¼ cup butter softened
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

Pare your potatoes and cut them in the shape of wooden shoes. If you don’t feel up to being quite that artistic, make them into potato balls, or just their regular shape. I don’t know about you, but when a recipe says to make wooden shoes, mine always come out looking like galoshes. Anyway…cook your potato shoes, balls or whatever in boiling water til tender; drain, and pour the following sauce over them. To make this sauce you’ll need to cream the butter in a warm dish until it is very soft, add the seasonings, parsley and lemon rind and serve. Use only the yellow part of the lemon rind…not the white."

From Forgotten Recipes: From the Magazines You Loved and the Days You Remembered Compiled and updated by Jaine Rodack, Published by Wimmer Books, (Memphis/Dallas: 1981) page 57

(Written for Marigold's Challenge #38)

AUTHOR'S NOTES: (1) Challenge elements in this part are a glove and a bar of soap. (2) This story takes place in my "Eucatastrophe" universe; in that universe, the Three Elven Rings did not fade, but were freed to full power by the destruction of the One, Saruman was killed by Quickbeam during the storming of Isengard, and the journey to Elvenhome is now a two-way trip, allowing those who have gone to return to Middle-earth, if they so choose…
Part four was beta’d by Llinos and Marigold.
SUMMARY: A return home, and a new and less perilous adventure awaits Frodo…
DISCLAIMER: Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the Tolkien Estate. I own none of them. Some of them, however, seem to own me.
PREVIOUSLY: Frodo, Merry and Pippin arrived in Bree, in the company of the Rangers, Mellor and Eradan.

EUCATASTROPHE: THE RETURN, PART FOUR

Merry lay abed in comfort, though he was quite awake. The beds at the Pony were comfortable--they were built with Dwarves as well as Hobbits in mind, and so were plenty long enough. He'd slept well enough. The first time he and Pippin had come here after they returned, he'd worried that memories of the night the Black Riders attacked would give him unpleasant dreams. But old Butterbur had turned the rooms out completely, and redone them, so that while they were still cosily furnished with the likes of Little Folk in mind, all had been re-arranged and painted, to drive out any dark associations.

He could hear both Frodo and Pippin stirring. He wondered how long they would let him get away with pretending to still be asleep. The question was answered when a pillow landed on his face with a thump.

"Merry, you slug-a-bed! Be awake!" He could hear the amused impatience in Pippin's voice.

He gave a half-hearted moan. "Pippin, have some respect for your elders!" He turned over, pulling the pillow over the back of his head.

His ruse did no good. The covers were drawn back with a yank. "You have some respect for *yours*, Meriadoc!" laughed Frodo, giving a tug to his foot for good measure. "Come along! The morning is wasting away--it's a nice new day, and we have a road awaiting us!"

Merry shook his head in amazement, but grumbling good-naturedly, swung his feet to the floor. "I can't believe this is my cousin Frodo Baggins! Since when have you been an early bird?

Frodo chuckled. "Since Pippin's rumbling stomach woke me up at the crack of dawn. Come now, Merry!"

Merry ambled over to the washstand and poured water in the ewer. He splashed his face and washed his hands with the bar of rosemary soap provided, and then turned to find his livery, where he had left it at the foot of the bed. He and Pippin had made the decision to travel armed and armoured--it was the Wide World, after all.

He was buckling on his cuirass, when he saw Pippin, who'd already finished, down on his knees, looking under the bed.

Frodo, who had been watching them in fascination--for he'd never quite got used to the idea they were warriors--looked over at Pippin.

"Whatever are you doing, Pippin?"

There was a grunt, and a mutter of "Got it!" He scooted backwards. "One of my riding gloves has fallen under the bed," he explained.

Merry strode over, and gave his younger cousin a hand up. Pippin gave a small wince as he stood up, and Merry looked at him reproachfully. "You shouldn't be crawling around on the floor with that knee."

Pippin just shrugged. "It's just something I have to get used to. It will work itself out in a few minutes." He tucked the glove into his belt with its mate, and then glanced at Frodo, whose expression was decidedly unhappy. "Good heavens, Frodo! I thought you were finished with all that! My knee is *not* your fault!"

Merry followed Pippin's gaze, and felt the familiar pangs of worry. Frodo had been so happy and cheerful. Was he not really over his feelings of guilt and shame?

Naturally Frodo noticed their expressions of wary alarm. He gave a rueful chuckle. "I really *am* healed. Now I know the difference between what I could have done, and what I could not, and I am not going to fall back into melancholy. But it does not change the fact that I am your older cousin, and I will always feel badly that it was on my account that either one of you came to harm through following after me." He smiled. "It also doesn't change the fact that I'm very glad you *did* come, and that I am immensely proud of you both."

"Yes. Well." Pippin shook his head. It was true enough that even before the Quest Frodo had an overdeveloped sense of being responsible for them.

Merry chuckled. "Well. You dragged me out of a comfortable bed. So shall we go and get some breakfast?"

When they arrived in the common room, they learned that Mellor and Eradan had breakfasted early and headed out to the stables to check on their horses, so the cousins sat down and ordered their own breakfast--sausages, fried potatoes and mushrooms, eggs, scones, blackberry jam and a pot of tea. They were on their second servings when the two Rangers returned.

"Come, join us and have a bit of second breakfast," Frodo invited cordially.

Mellor laughed. "I am afraid we've not digested our first yet!" Nevertheless, the two sat down on the floor, and accepted cups of tea.

By mid-morning, they were riding East out of Bree. Unlike the first time they had come through, there was little interest in their small party--over the last couple of years the Bree-landers had become more or less used to the comings and goings of Rangers, and even Shire hobbits were no longer a novelty.

They'd not gone far, when Pippin pointed to a copse of trees to the north of the road. "Over there! That's where Strider took us off the road to go across country!"

Merry looked at the spot, remembering. "He said his 'cuts, short or long, did not go wrong'."

"No, I suppose not, though it wasn't the most pleasant way to go." Pippin scratched at his arm, as if remembering the midge-bites of long ago.

Frodo laughed. "It's true he did not get us lost, but I think he dragged us into every single bog between here and Weathertop."

Mellor shook his head. "The Midgewater Marshes are to be avoided at any rate!"

Merry gazed about him. They had come this way from the other direction when returning from the Quest, but it looked different heading East. Also, it had been rather dreary in the autumn, but now late spring had lent a cheerful glow to the world, and there were flowers by the road and birdsong in the trees. He glanced at the Rangers. "How far will we go before we camp tonight?"

"We shall not be camping--The Forsaken Inn is now once more open, and we shall stay there the night. But it will be camping again from there to the Last Bridge." Mellor raised an eyebrow. "I look forward to seeing what they've done to the inn. It has been in deplorable shape for many years."

Pippin nodded. "I remember seeing the building when we were on our way home. It was hardly more than a ruin."

"Yes, Gandalf told us it had once been an inn; otherwise we'd never have known it," said Merry.

"Is it still known as 'The Forsaken Inn'?" Frodo asked curiously. "It scarcely seems a name to inspire custom."

"I believe I have heard the new owners may wish to give it another name," replied Eradan, "but so far no one has called it anything else."

"What's it like?" Pippin asked. "Is the beer good?"

Mellor laughed. "Well, as this shall be our first time to stay there as well, we shall find out together!"

The day passed pleasantly enough, with the hobbits snacking from their saddlebags, while they all chatted or sang, or simply enjoyed the lovely spring weather. The day was pleasant, neither too cool nor too warm, and the sky a beautiful blue with a few puffy clouds.

To the amusement of the Men, Frodo and Pippin indulged in finding shapes in them for a while. Merry did not take part in their game, but simply enjoyed listening to them. It was not something he'd ever thought to hear Frodo doing again, though it had been a favourite pastime of Pippin's from the time he was barely more than a faunt.  

Frodo pointed--"That one, Pip! Doesn't it look somewhat like Minas Tirith?"

Pippin squinted. "Maybe, a little, but now the wind's blown the top of the Citadel off, and now it looks more like Bilbo's last birthday cake."

Merry rolled his eyes, and Frodo chuckled. "And were you old enough to remember that cake?" he asked.

A rather dreamy look came over Pippin's face. "Oh, yes! I remember it all right! It was one of Mistress Lily's masterpieces…" he sighed, and then grinned. "Bilbo did me a great favour, vanishing as he did! Everyone was far too taken up with his trick for them to pay attention to a little hobbit lad. I think I managed to get at least five pieces before Pearl hauled me off…" He licked his lips in remembrance, and all of his companions burst into laughter. Merry shook his head. After all these years, he was still learning new things about Pippin Took. But then, he'd been too worried about Frodo that night to notice what Pippin was up to. Little though they'd known it, that had been the start of it all.

They stopped for luncheon, to rest the ponies, and have a smoke, and then they were once more upon the road. Now they saw other travellers passing them in the opposite direction from time to time.

It was mid-afternoon when they saw a small waggon, being driven by an elderly Man, but with two Dwarves seated alongside him. The waggon-bed was piled high beneath a large canvas covering. They paused for a moment and hailed the little party.

After introductions and pleasantries had been exchanged, they began to discuss the state of the Road.

"All is well," said Mellor, "from here to Bree, and even beyond to the Shire, from which our companions here came."

The Man gave the hobbits a shrewd look. "These goods are indeed destined for the Shire! They have been sent all the way from Erebor, some of them are destined for Buckland--they seem to be wedding gifts."

Merry looked startled, and Frodo and Pippin laughed at him. Then Frodo said, "Well, I suppose I could even guess as to what some of those are, and from whom, but I won't." He chuckled knowingly, and then said "And what of the Road to the East?"

Merry gazed at the waggon. When they had said "wedding gifts" his first thoughts had been of Gimli. But now it sounded as though Frodo had sent for some things there himself, perhaps before sailing. He narrowed his eyes, and wished he could see what was under the covering. But then his attention was caught.

One of the Dwarves was shaking his head and saying, "We encountered no difficulties ourselves," and he patted the axe at his side, "and I am certain such a well-armed party as yourselves will have no trouble, but there was some talk at the Inn last night of lone travellers being waylaid by brigands in that area."

This alarmed Mellor and Eradan, and they questioned the merchants closely, but the three knew no more than the bits of gossip they had heard the night before at The Forsaken Inn.

The waggon drove on, and the others decided to pick up the pace, and go more swiftly.

The shadows had lengthened, but it was still broad daylight, when the five tired travellers came within sight of the Inn. A tiny village--consisting of just a few cottages and a smithy, seemed to have sprung up about it.

The hobbits studied it closely. Frodo did not remember anything about it, but Merry and Pippin recalled passing it on the way home--it had then been not much more than a tumble down ruin. This building looked brand new: half-timbers yet unweathered, the mortar between the stones still white, the thatching still golden. Only the stone foundation along one side looked old. It had two large stories, and was built in an L-shape. It was about half the size of The Pony. A long wooden stable was perpendicular to the building, and the courtyard was paved with cobbles. A well stood in the centre. There *was* no sign there at all, though it was clear the inn stood open for business.

A little boy of about ten came running up, calling out "Da! Customers!" before offering to take the horses and ponies for stabling. As was their custom, Mellor and Eradan refused the offer of help, for their steeds, while not war-horses, were nevertheless rather spirited, and were not used to being handled by other than their own riders.

The boy grinned at the hobbits, before taking the ponies, and followed Mellor and Eradan, wide-eyed. "Are you *really* Rangers?" he asked eagerly.

The cousins turned towards the Inn door, where a Man, of early middle years stood. "Welcome to our Inn, little masters! Tad Rushlight, at your service."

As the oldest, Frodo made the introductions. "I am Frodo Baggins. And these are my cousins, Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took.   We would like to take a room. We are also travelling with the two Rangers who are now in the stables; I believe they would also like a room as well."

The innkeeper gave a start at their names, and then a shrewd look, but all he said was "I'm afraid we've no hobbit-style rooms, as they have back at the Pony in Bree, but I do have a nice ground floor room in the south wing that could accommodate you three. And I've a room for the Rangers as well." He glanced over at a young matron who was standing behind the bar wiping mugs. "Molly, me love, I'm just a-going to show these gentlehobbits to their room."

She nodded, and gave a smile of greeting to the hobbits. She was dark-haired and pleasantly plump, with a sprinkle of freckles across her pert nose. She looked vaguely familiar to Merry, which was explained by their host's next words.

The Man grinned proudly. "Me wife. 'Twas her father, Barliman Butterbur, as set us up here in business. Thought 'twould help his own business to have an inn along the way to Bree, and said 'twas time that the Forsaken Inn was forsaken no longer." He led the way along a wide corridor, limping very slightly.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Rushlight," said Pippin curiously, "but I noticed that your inn has no sign."

He gave a wry shrug. "Well, as to that, the wife and me, we have a disagreement as to what we should call it. My wife wants to call it The Cat and Fiddle, after a song she heard once."

Frodo blushed, and Merry and Pippin put their hands over their mouths to stifle their laughter.

"Now, me, I want to call it The King's Rest, seeing as there's a King again now and all. But she says the old inn 'twere a ruin for ever so long, and it's not likely the King ever rested at it. I suppose she's right, but still, I like that name a sight better than The Cat and Fiddle!"

He flung open a door on the left-hand side of the corridor. There was a room, cosy by the standards of Men, but rather large for hobbits, with a bed that would indeed accommodate the three of them comfortably, a small hearth, and a washstand.

"This looks very nice," said Merry approvingly. The large windows were square, and the furniture Man-sized, but they had dealt with that enough in Minas Tirith. He turned to the innkeeper. "Mr. Rushlight, do you think you could bring us a small stool? That and some fresh water for the ewer should be all we need to feel quite comfortable."

"That I will little masters!" He bowed. "Would you like a meal sent to your room?"

Frodo shook his head. "I think we will take our meal in the common room with our friends."

The innkeeper left, and only a few minutes later, he tapped on the door, bringing fresh water and clean towels, and a small stool on which they could stand to wash or to clamber into the bed.

Merry looked about the room, and then hung his cloak and pack on the foot of the bed, Pippin and Frodo followed suit, and then, after washing faces and hands, and combing heads and feet, they made their way back into the common room.

Mellor and Eradan soon joined them, and this time they were sitting at a table meant for Big Folk, for that was all there was to be had. Merry and Pippin were not too uncomfortable, but Merry called for Rushlight, to bring a cushion for Frodo to sit on. Their toes dangled before them, and they felt like children. Mrs. Rushlight came over, and took their order: lamb stew, with bread, cheese and ale. She bustled away and soon returned with their meal.

Merry sighed and swung his feet back and forth. "I remember doing this in Minas Tirith. Oh well, the world outside the Shire is meant for Big Folk anyway." He dug in to the lamb stew with alacrity, realizing as the appetizing smell reached him, just how hungry he was.

Pippin laughed. "Ah, but it's a sight more comfortable for us than when the Big Folk visit the Shire! They have to sit upon the floor there, and are always banging their heads upon the ceilings." He grinned. "I'm trying to persuade Father to build a special guest wing onto Great Smials. If I can ever persuade Strider to visit, I want him to be comfortable!"

"Well," said Frodo, "Bag End already has accommodations for Big Folk."

Mellor smiled, and said, "Accommodations or no, I was quite comfortable at Brandy Hall last summer--"

But Merry's attention had been caught by someone coming into the inn. There *were* just a few folk there already, but this Man, short and slight, and dark, seemed agitated. He went over to the innkeeper, and they gave a quick look over at their party.

The others looked to see what had drawn his gaze. "Something's amiss," whispered Eradan.

Frodo nodded, and Pippin sat up alertly.

In just a moment, the innkeeper was bringing the other fellow over to their table. He spoke apologetically to them. "Beg pardon, Master Mellor, Master Eradan--word's gone out that Rangers was here, and this is Ab Thistlewool, what works as a hired man for Tell Goatleaf. They have a farm just outside the village. He says as he has summat to tell you."

"Uh, Mr. Rangers, sirs, you mayhap as have heard that a merchant got waylaid by some brigands last week? It 'twere on the lane to the South of the Road, not far from my master's place?"

Mellor and Eradan sat forward attentively. "Go on," said Mellor.

"Anyhow, the goats, well one of the kids, it wandered away from its mam--and, and I had to go and fetch it, and, well, anyhow I seen these fellows a-camping in the woods. There was three o' them, and the way they was talking, well, I knew they must be the robbers. When I heard that there was Rangers here at the Inn I thought as I'd best come and tell. And, uh, well, I could take you there…"

Mellor stood up at once. He looked at Frodo. "We need to go and see to this right away, if you would excuse us."

Frodo looked troubled, but nodded.

"Shall Merry and I come along?" asked Pippin. "Perhaps you could use an extra sword or two?"

"I do not doubt, Sir Peregrin, that you and Sir Meriadoc would be of much help, but I think that the two of us can handle this on our own--it is, after all our job. Thank you for the offer though--I know it was heart-felt." He turned to Ab Thistlewool. "Lead the way."

And Eradan followed them out.

The hobbits gazed after them with troubled eyes. Merry tried to turn his attention back to his meal, but he had lost his appetite. Something about this did not seem right. He caught Pippin's eyes, and could tell that Pippin agreed.

But it was Frodo who spoke. "I do not like this. There was something untrustworthy about that fellow."

 (Element in this part: a bag of stones.) 

EUCATASTROPHE: THE RETURN, PART FIVE

The three hobbits picked at their food in silence; it was all they could do to finish what was on their plates, and none of them had any interest in seconds.

Pippin, too, had thought there was something a bit shifty about that fellow the Rangers had gone off with, and if *Frodo* thought so, it was dead certain, for Frodo was an excellent judge of character--especially since the Quest.  He glanced up for a moment at Merry, but Merry didn’t meet his gaze.

Suddenly Frodo said, “If it had not been for me, would Mellor and Eradan have allowed you to accompany them?”

Pippin looked at Frodo, startled.  But, as Merry still had not thought fit to say anything, he answered, “I daresay they might have.  And if we had insisted, they could not have gainsaid us.  As knights, we outrank them.”

Merry finally spoke.  “They know we are soldiers.  But you are not, and you outrank all of us--they would not risk leaving you on your own.”  He met Frodo’s gaze.

Frodo  looked right back.  “I am no warrior; but I’m far from helpless.”

“Frodo you can’t be thinking--” Merry started to say, but Pippin put his hand on Merry’s arm.

“I can,” replied Frodo.  “As you just reminded me, I outrank you.  And in more ways than one.  I am *still* the eldest here, as I will thank you to remember.”  He stood abruptly, causing the cushion to fall the to floor.  “I’m going.  You may come or not, as you please.  But first, I think, I shall need my cloak.”  And he strode off in the direction of their chamber.

Pippin stood up.  “We’ll need our cloaks as well, and our swords I think.”

Merry gave a long-suffering sigh, and followed.

A few moments later, with their cloaks, and Merry and Pippin armed, they returned to the common room, where Frodo sought out the innkeeper.

“Mr. Rushlight, what do you know of that fellow who left with the Rangers?”  he asked.

“Well, as to that, Mr. Baggins, he’s a hired man out at a little farmstead east of town.  He works for Tell Goatleaf and his sons Tom and Diccon--I think he’s kin of some sort as well, mayhap a nephew.”

Frodo looked worried. “How long have they been here?”

“Tell moved here about a month or so ago, not long after we reopened the Inn.  I think he wanted to get away from Bree, after all the trouble his other son Harry caused.”

Pippin  gave a start.  Harry Goatleaf?  He was the one who might have collaborated with the Ruffians, perhaps even with the Black Riders.  And these were family of his?  His hand sought the hilt of Trollsbane, and he felt comforted at the solid and cold feel of the metal.  They had dealt with Ruffians before, after all.

“Where is this farmstead?” Merry asked.

“About two furlongs west of the village, there’s a lane leading into the wood south of the Road.  The farmstead is about three furlongs down the lane.”

The innkeeper bit his lip.  “Do you think--”

Frodo shook his head.  “No, Mr. Rushlight.  You have a wife and son.  But if we, or the Rangers, have not returned by the morrow you may wish to send word to Bree.”

The hobbits went out of the Inn and into the courtyard.  It was twilight, and the Sun was low in the west, though she had not set, but even so a couple of stars were twinkling in the sky above.  Frodo stopped briefly and took a small bag from his pocket.  He removed the only thing in it: his pipe, which he replaced in his pocket.  Then he stooped and carefully selected a handful of stones with which he filled the bag.

Silently, as only hobbits can, they moved westward along the Road, back the way they had already travelled.  Pippin could not help wishing for some of his other friends--Strider, perhaps, or Legolas.  Not Gimli.  Dwarves were excellent fellows, but far too noisy for such stealth as they required tonight.  Moving lightly, and clad in their Elvencloaks, they were very nearly as invisible as any Ring could have made them.

Merry walked in front, his own sword drawn, and Frodo followed.  Pippin took the rear, and though he yet kept hand to Trollsbane, he did not draw it.

It was full dark by the time they came to the lane the innkeeper had told them of, with the Moon waxing at the half he lent only a small amount of light, and Merry walked right past the turning, ere Frodo stopped him.

“We turn aside here,” said Frodo. 

“I think we should not walk on the lane, but alongside it,” said Merry.

“I agree,” said Frodo, “and now *I* should go in front, for my night-vision is better than either of yours.”

Merry looked set to protest, but Pippin said, “He’s right, Merry, and you know it.”

Merry met Pippin’s gaze briefly, and then nodded, and Frodo took the lead, and they vanished into the darkness.  Pippin now drew his sword, and kept his eyes on Merry’s back, for he could scarcely see Frodo at all.

It was true:  the Quest had sharpened Frodo’s sight and hearing nearly as much as that of an Elf, and it had heightened that Tookish insight he shared with Pippin until it was far beyond anything comprehensible to the average hobbit.  It was, Pippin had supposed, a sort of compensation for all that Frodo had suffered.

Pippin had always loved Frodo in a far different way than Merry.  Merry had always been a playmate and a comrade, in spite of their age differences.  But Frodo had been someone that Pippin had admired and respected, more of a beloved teacher and mentor, though they had  their own share of fun together.  Pippin had always been fascinated by Frodo’s confidence and determination and intelligent wisdom.  And he had always known that someday he’d follow his older cousin into Adventure.

When they had first left the Shire, especially when they had left Bree, Pippin had sometimes felt the whispers of the Ring, beckoning him with glimpses of fame and glory that could be his.  But It never seemed able to offer him what he really wanted--young as he was, he scarcely knew himself what he really wanted, save peace and safety for all of them.  It kept at him though, until one evening not long out of Bree, It suddenly stopped.  Pippin thought perhaps It had simply given him up as a lost cause.

And then Pippin slowly began to realize that the Ring had not left off. Not at all.  Frodo was using all his own determination to shield him and Merry and Sam from Its constant blandishments.  In fact, thinking back on it, Pippin believed it was that, more than anything else, that kept Frodo from succumbing to his wound at Weathertop--he would not abandon Sam, Merry or Pippin to the Ring.

But as the Quest continued, that protection had come at a cost, as Frodo’s sense of self was eroded, day by day in his struggle with the Ring.

It had made Pippin nearly sick to see the doubt and fear and pain and guilt in Frodo’s eyes.  Sometimes, Pippin was glad to have been spared the worst of it, the way it must have been in Mordor.  Poor Sam, how it must have hurt him to see Frodo like that.

When victory had come, all had been elated to find out they were all still alive, though battered and the worse for wear.  Between Strider’s healing hands, and Lord Elrond’s, augmented by his use of Vilya, now freed of the threat of domination by the One, they had been mostly restored to health.  

Even the terrible memories and dreams were few and far between.

But, as Frodo had been the worst off, his health remained precarious.  Lotho’s murder at the hands of Ruffians, and the signs of trouble in the Shire itself had shaken them all, but Frodo blamed himself--even though all of them knew it could have been, and very nearly had been, much worse.  It was not until he had gone with Gandalf to escort Bilbo across the Sea and returned, that Frodo was finally able to be fully healed.  The proof of it was here and now, in the confident way Frodo was leading them through the darkness, now and then stopping, so that they could swerve around some obstacle that only Frodo could see.


Suddenly, Frodo halted, holding a hand up.  There before them in a clearing was a small cottage built of rough-hewn logs.  They saw two windows, unglazed and unshuttered, and a door.  Ab Thistlewool stood in front of the door, leaning on the doorpost, digging at his fingernails with a small knife. 

“If he’s meant to keep watch,” hissed Merry, “he’s not doing much of a job.”

“So much the better,” whispered Pippin.  “And I think now it is my turn.  I can move more quietly than either of you.”

Merry looked as though he might dispute it, but then nodded, and so did Frodo.  Silently, slipping from shadow to shadow, Pippin crept to the nearest window.  The Man never even glanced in his direction.

Pippin blessed his extra inches.  He scarcely needed to tip-toe, and the sill was right at his eye level.  He peered within.

A small, banked fire gave a dim glow from the hearth, on the floor in front of which lay Mellor and Eradan, well-trussed.  It was hard to be certain in the faint light, but it looked as though there was blood on Mellor’s brow.  There was a table in the center of the room with a candle burning low, and a Man sat there, his head pillowed on his arms. A bottle of some sort of spirits stood by his elbow.

In a cot on the far side of the room, an older Man with grizzled hair and white beard, sprawled, snoring loudly.  Pippin took it all in.  There should be, he thought, another Man somewhere.  He shifted slightly, so that he could look at the room from another angle--there! beyond the hearth!  Another cot, another slumbering figure, and best of all, a third window.  He gazed at the room for a minute longer, so as to be certain of all the details, and then, moving as quietly and quickly as he had come, he hurried back to where Frodo and Merry huddled behind a tree.  

In a hushed whisper, Pippin explained the situation.  There was a brief silence, as all of them thought rapidly, and then Merry said, “All right, here is what we need to do…”

A moment or two later, Pippin watched anxiously, clutching Merry’s arm, as Frodo stepped out from behind the tree, one of the stones from his bag in his hand.  A sudden flash of his arm, and an instant later,  Ab Thistlewool slid down the doorpost to the ground. 

Now, Pippin and Frodo watched as Merry, darting among the shadows the way Pippin had earlier, made his way to the back of the cottage.  As soon as he had vanished behind the corner, Pippin and Frodo made their own way to the near window through which Pippin had spied their foe earlier.  Softly as they could, Pippin boosted Frodo through the window.  He passed his sword to Frodo, and then followed himself.  The two of them hung back against the wall, and watched as Merry managed to clamber in the other window by  himself.  Pippin saw that Eradan had noticed them.  The Man’s eyes grew wide.  Pippin grinned at him, and Frodo put a finger to his lips.  The Ranger nodded, and prodding Mellor with his foot, pointed with his chin to the hobbits.  Mellor’s gaze was shocked.  But he kept silent.

Now came the tricky part.  

Pippin watched as Frodo went to the floor, and crawled along it, under the table.  Very carefully, he untied the Man’s bootlaces, and then tied them back again--together.   Now Pippin and Merry crawled over, and using their swords, cut the Ranger’s bonds.  While Mellor and Eradan managed to finish unwrapping the ropes, Merry went over the cot of the older sleeping Man, and Pippin to the other cot.  Frodo crawled back out of the way, and stood against the wall, another stone in his hand, just in case it was needed.

As soon as it was clear that the Rangers were able to stand up, Merry and Pippin placed their swordtips at the sleeping Men’s throats.  Merry said aloud “Do not move!”

Pippin watched as the younger Man’s eyes flew open.  He kept his gaze locked on his prisoner, and did not let Trollsbane’s tip waver.  “I do know how to use this, even if I don’t like to,” he said cheerfully.  “I’d really rather not have to cut your throat.”  He ignored the sound of cursing behind him, and the commotion as the Man at the table fell over, his feet tangled together.  He really had to give Merry credit for such a fine idea--he’d never have thought of using that method to subdue one of them.  Even when he heard a scuffle across the room, and a cry of pain, followed by a thud, he did not let his attention wander.  The cry of pain had not been Merry, which was all he needed to know.  And the thud was probably Frodo using the stone.  A second later, he felt a large presence behind him, and the Man on the bed looked even more frightened if possible.

“Thank you for your timely rescue, Sir Peregrin.”

“You are quite welcome, Eradan.  Is everyone else all right?”  Pippin stepped back as Eradan reached down and pulled the Man up by his collar.

“Yes, it does appear so.  Mellor suffered a blow to the head when they ambushed us, but he seems to be fine now.  The leader of this little band of outlaws is wounded, but not seriously so.”  Eradan began tying the prisoner up with the very ropes he had been bound with, and Pippin finally sheathed his sword.

“That fellow who lured you out here was also knocked out by Frodo’s accurate arm.  He’s just outside the door.” 

Now Pippin finally turned, and saw Frodo tying the Man who’d been at the table to the chair.  Mellor was dragging Ab Thistlewool in, and it was clear that the older Man was now unconscious, though there was blood in evidence as well.  Merry was using the end of a blanket to clean his sword. 

“What happened, Merry?” Pippin asked. 

Merry shrugged.  “He didn’t believe me when I said ‘don’t move‘.  I had to stick him in the shoulder.  And then Frodo knocked him out.”

“Ah!”  He bent over the prone form, and lifted an eyelid.  “I think he’s well and truly out of it for a while, but he’d best be tied anyway, just in case.”

Mellor came over.  “I’ll see to that, then.”  And he swiftly bound the Man’s hands and feet, before checking the stab wound.  His brow rose, and he took the blanket, and ripped a long strip, with which he staunched the bleeding.

“I did not want to kill him,” said Merry.  He was a bit pale.

“I do not think he will die of his wound, Sir Meriadoc.  This was well done, my friends, and I thank you more than I can say for your rescue.  These villains had us marked for death in the morning.  They did not kill us yet because they meant for us to walk to our graves on our own two feet.  Apparently they thought that we were here to put an end to their highway robbery, and decided to get rid of us before we had a chance to investigate.”

Frodo finished securing the knots on the Man at the table and stood up, glancing at Merry.  “What should we do now?”  Pippin hid a grin.  It did not even occur to his cousin to ask *him* about strategy, and he noticed with a certain amount of gratification that Frodo did not ask the Men either.

Merry briefly glanced at Mellor and Eradan, and Pippin thought he saw a flash of smugness on Merry‘s face as well, and then said, “I should think one of us should stay here with them, and the other two should walk back to the Inn--it’s nearly morning now--and see to getting a cart or waggon sent out here for the prisoners.”

Mellor nodded.  “That sounds like a good plan, Sir Meriadoc.”  And Pippin noticed respect in Mellor’s voice, if there was a touch of embarrassment on his face.  However much the two Men had voiced the opinion that they believed the hobbits were capable warriors, he was quite sure that underneath, it had to be just a tiny bit disconcerting to owe their rescue to hobbits, after all.

“I’ll stay,” Pippin said.  “I’m sworn to King Elessar, after all.”  Besides, he thought, it would be fun to stay here and find out the story of how those two Rangers had come to be caught out.  

Frodo and Merry chuckled in agreement, and headed back out into the balmy evening, but not before Pippin caught them exchanging a look, and rolling their eyes.

Pippin leaned against the fireplace, and took out his pipe.  “Is there anything to eat around here?”


(Element: "The Flight to the Ford")

EUCATASTROPHE: THE RETURN, PART SIX

Frodo opened his eyes to a rosy dawn sky and the cheerful sound of birdsong.  He moved very carefully, so as not to disturb Pippin, who lay on his left, and grinned at Merry, who had been keeping watch.  He moved away behind a nearby shrub, to see to his morning needs, and then walked over to stand by his cousin.

“Good morning, Merry,” he said quietly, so as to not disturb Pippin’s sleep.

Merry looked over at the slumbering Pippin and shook his head.  “Silly Took!  He would have taken my watch as well as yours, if I had not awakened myself.”

Frodo busied himself at the fire, pouring water from a waterskin into the kettle to brew tea.  They had been on the road now for five days since leaving The Forsaken Inn.  The Rangers had reluctantly allowed the hobbits to journey on alone, for they needed to convey the prisoners back to Bree, accompanied by the innkeeper’s younger brother, a journeyman blacksmith, to help them guard their catch.

Mellor had tried to persuade the hobbits to await their return, but Frodo had flatly refused, and the three cousins had set off on their own along the Road.  Frodo had planned this journey out in his mind, and he had no wish to make any delays such as that--he had to get Merry back in time for the wedding, after all.

It had been pleasant so far, the Spring weather holding fair, with only one brief shower the afternoon of the second day out.  They had skirted the southern edge of the Midgewater Marshes, noting how different they appeared now than they had in the autumn.

Frodo took out some of their supplies, and a small skillet, and soon the scent of sausage and onions, along with that of tea, brought Pippin to wakefulness.

“Good heavens!” he said, sitting up, “breakfast already!  Frodo, I do think you may be getting very nearly as efficient as Sam!”

Frodo chuckled.  “That will *never* happen, I’m afraid.  But I do my best.”

They finished eating, and packed up their small campsite, and prepared to get on the Road once more.  Frodo noticed his cousins kept giving him surreptitious looks of concern.  He thought he knew what was bothering them, but decided that it was best to get the subject out into the open.  “All right, Merry, Pippin!  Out with it!  Why are you watching me as though you expect me to fly away any second?”

He checked his impatience at the startled and guilty look the two of them exchanged, and waited them out.  Finally, not quite meeting Frodo’s eyes, Merry spoke: “It’s just that today--our route will take us in sight of--Weathertop.”  He looked a bit pale and uncertain as he said it.

For the first time, it dawned on Frodo that they would be having dreadful memories of that awful night as well.  He thought for a moment, casting back in his mind to their return from the Quest, trying to see if the memory still haunted him.  

It was there, no doubt--how could *anyone* forget an event like that?  But as he pushed against it, like a child worrying a loose tooth, he realized that it *was* merely and only memory--unpleasant to be sure, but no more real or vivid than any other memory.  It did not seem as though he were fated to relive it, in all its power, as he had done in the past.

He noticed that both of them were still staring at him, waiting for him to say something.   “I shall be just fine, cousins,” he said briskly.  He hoped he was right--after all, the sight of it might unnerve him, but he did not think it would.

They rode briskly that morning, not giving themselves much time for talk or singing, and stopping only briefly for a noon meal.  It was early afternoon when they entered the foothills below Amon Sûl, and they could espy the tip of it in the far distance. 

Frodo looked to the north of the Road.  When he had returned from the Quest, he had deliberately averted his gaze.  Today, he looked at it defiantly, feeling as though he were daring it to intimidate him once more.  It was, after all was said and done, only a place.  A place where many other things had happened than his wounding.  And he was here, now, and alive and free, while the one who had harmed him was gone forever, never having known freedom again.  He wondered, for the first time, why Angmar had accepted a ring of Power, and if he had any idea of what a trap he had walked into when he placed it on his hand.  It was sad, really, thinking of what he had come to.  But in the end, the Ringwraith had been nothing more than an emptied vessel, filled with the malice of his Dark Master, and set free himself only when Merry and  the Lady Éowyn had slain him.  He glanced over at Merry, riding on his right, and was surprised to see that Merry had turned his own face away.

“Merry,” he said.

Merry looked at him, startled.  It was the first any of them had spoken since they had taken to the road after luncheon.

“Merry, I don’t know if I could ever thank you enough for what you did, putting an end to him.”

Merry swallowed, and bit his lip.  “I couldn’t have done anything else, Frodo.  I couldn’t let him strike Éowyn--I *had* to do *something*.”

Frodo smiled.  “Of course you did!  My brave Merry!”

Merry turned red to the tips of his ears, but his eyes sparkled with gratification.

Pippin laughed.  “Well, we’ve all outlasted the old shade now, haven’t we?”  He leaned forward, the better to see Merry on the other side of Frodo.  “Maybe this time, you will finally get the chance to ask Lord Glorfindel about that prophecy!”  Then he clucked up his pony into a canter, making Merry and Frodo have to catch up.

__________________________________________________

A week later, they were approaching the Last Bridge over the Hoarwell.  It was early afternoon, and Frodo looked about him with interest.  He’d paid very little attention to his surroundings when he had passed through on the way home, huddling in on himself, and wishing that he had never left Rivendell.  And of course, on his first journey here, he had been in no shape to really notice much of anything.

The woods here were sparse, and just over the bridge were the edges of the Trollshaws, where the country grew more difficult.  It had been somewhere across that bridge that Aragorn had led them once more away from the Road, and into the trackless and stony hills.  But here, to the west of the bridge was a small grassy area beneath a rather stunted spruce--a perfect spot for a campsite.  After all, they could go no further without a guide, if they had any hope of reaching Rivendell.  Gandalf had promised to make the arrangements, and Frodo wondered whom the Wizard would have found to do so.

They set up camp, and then Pippin walked onto the bridge and looked into the water.  He stood for a few moments, and then grinned.  He turned and looked back at Frodo and Merry.  “Would anyone care for trout for supper?”

They fetched lines and hooks from their gear, but there were no fallen limbs long enough to make poles, and none of them would cut a living branch for the purpose.  So they sat upon the edge of the bridge parapet, and dangled the lines in by hand.  Frodo smiled, as he realized this was the first time he’d been fishing in at least four years.  His cousins had done a bit of fishing while on the Quest, but Frodo had been too burdened to feel like joining them. 

“Sam wouldn’t like this,” said Merry as he leaned forward and jiggled his hook.  They had used a bit of salt pork from their supplies as bait.  “Nor would Freddy.”

“What, leaning out over a rushing river like this?” asked Pippin.  “Whyever not?” 

All of them chuckled over that.  The three of them had no fear of falling in, and if they did, they were all good swimmers.  They had a bit of luck--Pippin caught a nice sized fish, and Frodo caught two rather smaller ones.  Merry had a perfectly huge trout take his line, but it got away before he could set his hook.  He was not amused at losing it, and kept trying to catch it again, even after Pippin and Frodo gave up to go and prepare their meal.

It was mid-morning the next day, and Merry and Pippin were trying their luck in the river once more.  Frodo had stolen a few moments to write in his journal, when suddenly he thought he heard the sound of bells.  Putting his book down, he stood up and gazed across the bridge.  Merry and Pippin jumped up, pulling in their lines.  Frodo strode to the bridge, and they waited there.

“Well met, Lord Glorfindel!” Frodo said, inclining his head slightly.

The Elf dismounted, and knelt before the hobbits, so that he could look them in the eye.  “It is good to see you, my friends.  I was pleased to take this chance to escort you back to the Last Homely House once again.”

Merry was reaching up to touch the nose of the beautiful white horse.  “Hullo, Asfaloth!  And how are you?”

The horse whickered and tossed his head, as though he were laughing.  Glorfindel stood, and replied “He says he is doing quite well, Meriadoc.”

The four walked back across the bridge, and the Elf helped the hobbits to break camp.  Soon they were packed up and ready to go.  Strider, Stybba and Sable seemed eager to impress the Elven horse, and Glorfindel kept them riding at a trot for quite a while. 

They had gone about four leagues or so, when Pippin pulled up abruptly, and gazed up into the hills to the north.  The others stopped as well, and looked back at him. 

“What is it, Pippin?” Frodo asked, puzzled.

“I was just wondering if anyone wanted to go look at Bilbo’s trolls again?  It’s only about seven miles that way.”  He gave Frodo one of those looks of his.

Frodo hardened his heart.  “I don’t think so, Pippin.  That’s seven miles out of the way.”  He’d seen the trolls on the way back--it was one memory he did have of that time.  And they did not need to be making any detours.  “We have a schedule to keep.”

“We do?” Pippin asked, surprise in his voice.

“*I* certainly do!” exclaimed Merry.  “I *do* have a wedding to get back to!”

Frodo shook his head, he hated disappointing Pippin.  “Maybe--just maybe--on the way back…”

Pippin sighed.  “Never mind.  We shall probably be in even more of a rush on our return journey.  I did rather want to see what sorts of birds were nesting in old Bill, Bert and Tom.”

Glorfindel had waited patiently while the debate was going on.  Now he trotted ahead, and the hobbits rode to catch up with him.  “We shall travel another league, I think,” he said, “ere we make camp.”

They actually made about five more miles, before deciding to stop.  The hobbits could have kept going, but the ponies were tired.  They soon had a campsite set up, and Pippin began to put together a meal--fried salt pork and griddlecakes.

Frodo arched a brow, as he bit into one of the flat cakes, on which he had smeared some of Rose’s strawberry preserves--carefully packed for them in a stone crock.  “Your cooking’s improved, Pip,” he said.  “These are as good as Sam’s!”

Pippin grinned.  “Well, I should hope so.  It’s his recipe.  He taught me a thing or two while you were gone.  I spent a few days at Bag End with him and Rose, on my way home from the Tooklands not long after you left.”

Glorfindel had eaten two of the cakes, though he had declined any of the salt pork.  Frodo caught his eye, and realized the Elf was amused.  For some reason other races found hobbit appetites entertaining.  Only Dwarves came anywhere near to hobbits when it came to eating, and they were quite a distant second.  “Aren’t you hungry, Lord Glorfindel?” he asked wickedly.  He was quite aware that the Elf had probably already sated his appetite.

Pippin glanced over.  “Do have another!  I can easily make more.”  He thrust the plate of steaming cakes over to the Elf.

Glorfindel started to shake his head, but Merry, having caught the mischievous twinkle in Frodo’s eye, said “What is the matter?  Don’t you like my cousin’s cooking?”

Reluctantly, the Elf took a cake from the plate.  “They truly are delicious,” he said truthfully, taking a bite.  Pippin of course, was oblivious to his cousins’ byplay, for he was concentrating on his own meal.

“I do think these are successful,” Pippin said smugly, and having finished his second, he rolled up a third and took a bite.  

Frodo and Merry relented their teasing of the Elf, and took the last two cakes on the platter for themselves.

This night, they all three could sleep, with Glorfindel to stand watch.  Frodo lay awake for a while, between his cousins, staring up at the stars.   Now they were at the part of the original journey that he could not remember very well at all--he knew he had been placed on Asfaloth--perhaps he’d be able to remember more, as they rode along on the morrow.  Finally, as the Moon made his way across the night, Frodo finally drifted off.

The next day, they rode along pleasantly.  Frodo glanced about him, trying to remember any of the places they passed.  But the clear greens of Spring looked far different than the faded colors of Winterfilth.  It was not until they came to a small stream, that he felt a sense of recognition.

“Didn’t we stop here?” he asked.  “On the way to Rivendell the first time?”

“Collapsed, more like,” said Merry, remembering how exhausted they had all been.

“Indeed,” said Glorfindel, “this  is a spot where we took our rest for a brief time.  I am surprised that any of you recollect it, you were so weary, and Frodo, you were so ill.”

Indeed, he had been more than ill, he had been fading.  And yet it had not felt like *he* was fading, but more that the world about him had faded.  Certainly the sense of pain and sharp cold was as sharp as ever, but the world around him had faded into a grey mist, and all seemed drear and hopeless.  To his clouded eyes, all he could see of his companions was a faint light, except for Glorfindel, who was a bright and incandescent blaze that hurt to gaze upon.  All he had to anchor him to the world it seemed were the hands of Sam and his cousins, who were constantly touching his legs and knees as he rode along on Asfaloth, a warm and welcome acknowledgement of their love and support.  Once in a while one of them would touch his hands.  With his right hand, he could return their touch, but his left hand and arm were numb, and he had only been aware of a sense of pressure. 

The only thing that was not fading was the constant nattering of the Ring.  Most of the time, he had managed to keep Its whispers down to an irritating buzz, rather like a ringing in his ears, and seldom paid attention any longer to what It said, as long as It did not direct Its malice at his companions.  But since he had been stabbed, Its voice had been louder and more insistent, almost gloating: What’s the use of resisting?  Soon there will be nothing to keep you in the waking world.  You will walk among my Master’s Servants as one of them, the least, the lowliest of slaves.  You will be naked before his Eye, and do all his bidding.  And I will have it all anyway--and you will see my Master cover the world in darkness, and you will watch him take all those you have kept from me and set them to torment.  You should not have resisted.  You’ve only made your doom and theirs worse…

And on and on It continued, and it was all he could do to hold his own will together and deny It any satisfaction.  No and No and No and No.  He *would* not abandon Sam or Merry or Pippin to the Ring.  And if he could, he would keep it from Strider and the Elf as well.  No.  All of his thought as they plodded along had coalesced into that one word of denial.

Frodo shook his head, to clear it of the memories.  At the time he had been filled with despair that he would ever win free.  But he had won, after all.  He glanced over and saw his cousins looking at him in concern.  He gave them a smile.  “I’m fine!”  And the smile reached his eyes, and reassured them.

They had ridden somewhat less than four leagues when Glorfindel had them stop to camp for the night.   Merry prepared supper and once more the Elf took the watch.  It was the same place they had camped on their original journey, where the road began to slope downhill towards the Bruinen. 

The cousins lay awake for a while.  “Are you sure that you are all right, Frodo?” whispered Merry, a line of worry appearing on his forehead.

Frodo smiled once more, and turned his head to kiss Merry’s brow.  “Worrywart,” he chided. 

Pippin, on his other side chuckled.   “Are you just now finding that out, after all this time, Frodo?”

Frodo sat up on an elbow.  “Peregrin Took, I have known this worrywart since before you were even a glint in Cousin Paladin’s eye.”

“ ‘M *not* a worrywart,” muttered Merry crossly.

At this Frodo caught Pippin’s eye, and both of them spluttered with laughter.

“Oh, go to sleep!” said Merry, turning his back to them.

The next day found them riding through the pine-covered slope down to the river, the very place where the Nazgûl had begun the pursuit. 

Frodo pulled up briefly, and surveyed the ground ahead.  The others stopped as well.  “I do not remember any of this,” he said.

But he did remember the chase, the Ring calling out to his pursuers, and the fear and terror behind him, and the only thing he *could* feel, of Asfaloth’s heaving sides beneath his legs, racing faster and faster.

He looked over at the horse, and smiled.  “I don’t think I’ve ever thanked you properly for saving my life, Asfaloth!”

The horse tossed his head, and then shook it.  Glorfindel inclined his own head.  “He thought it an honor, Frodo Baggins.  And it is something he is quite pleased with.”

They splashed across the Ford, which remained blessedly calm.  That was one memory he *did* have, the river roaring down, like a stampede of white horses, and he remembered that last moment before all went dark: the Ring, laughing in anticipated triumph, bringing him to that last furious defiance: he *would* not allow it to win!

As they all reached the further shore, Frodo turned Strider, and gazed back across.  Against all the odds, he had succeeded in getting the Ring to Rivendell.  He laughed.  He had won, in the end, after all.

TBC

(This is the last of the parts which have been posted at the Challenge site, so it really will be next month until another update.)

 (Written for Marigold's Challenge #39)

AUTHOR:  Dreamflower
RATING: G
AUTHOR'S NOTES: (1) My element for this challenge was to use a particular quotation.* (2) In the flashback, Bilbo is two, or the human equivalent of  13-14 months old. (3) This story takes place in my "Eucatastrophe" universe; in that universe, the Three Elven Rings did not fade, but were freed to full power by the destruction of the One, Saruman was killed by Quickbeam during the storming of Isengard, and the journey to Elvenhome is now a two-way trip, allowing those who have gone to return to Middle-earth, if they so choose…
SUMMARY: A return home, and a new and less perilous adventure awaits Frodo…
DISCLAIMER:  Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the Tolkien Estate.  I own none of them.  Some of them, however, seem to own me.
PREVIOUSLY:   After rescuing Mellor and Eridan from brigands, Frodo, Merry and Pippin continue on towards Rivendell and are escorted the last part of the way by Glorfindel…

EUCATASTROPHE: THE RETURN, PART SEVEN

There was a feast of welcoming that night:  Elladan had the place once held by his father at the High Table, and Frodo sat on his right hand, with Elladan’s great-uncle, Finrod, upon his left.  Pippin sat between Elrohir and Gandalf, and Merry sat between Gandalf and Glorfindel.  There were a number of other Elves at the feast, yet still not so many as before--a number of them had sailed, some with plans to return, others who had decided to stay in the Blessed Lands.

Gandalf was enjoying himself immensely.  It had pleased him no end to see the three hobbits arrive in Glorfindel’s company.  When he had suggested to Frodo that he seek for the historical records to be found in Imladris, he had of course meant that they would be useful.  But more than that, the wizard had wanted Frodo to see the extent of his healing.  He knew that if Frodo could retrace his steps once more, he would find that the places where the darkness had threatened to overwhelm him no longer held any power over him. 

He was also pleased that Merry and Pippin had chosen to accompany their cousin.  They too, needed to see for themselves that Frodo was well and truly healed. Gandalf was well aware of the reasons Frodo had forbidden Sam to come, and his lips twitched in amusement.  It would be very pleasant to make another visit to the Shire next year, and meet Frodo’s little namesake.  And speaking of next year--

“So, Peregrin, you will be coming-of-age next year.”

Pippin turned his Tookish grin upon Gandalf, and the wizard was struck once more by the lad’s remarkable resemblance to his Great-great-grandsire, Gerontius.  That smile never ceased to charm, even when its possessor was determined to annoy.  “So I will, Gandalf!  Will you be there for my party?”

“And why would I do that?” he harrumphed gruffly, though his dark eyes twinkled with affection.  This was an old game between them, his stern voice belied by his good humor.

“Oh, I suppose so you could have a chance to show off your fireworks,” said Pippin amiably, not in the least fooled by the stern voice.

“Show them off?” He tried to sound offended, rather than amused.

“Of course.  You know no one appreciates your fireworks like hobbits!” was the airy reply. 

Gandalf let out a roar of laughter, and Pippin looked gratified.

“Uncle Paladin is already making plans,” said Merry from the other side.  “He hopes to out-do Cousin Bilbo’s last party!”

“Well, I most certainly cannot miss that,” said Gandalf.

“D’you know,” said Pippin thoughtfully, “what the best thing about my next birthday will be?”

“What’s that, Pip?” asked Merry warily.

“Why, I shall be of age, and I can certainly eat as much of my own birthday cake as I wish, with no one to gainsay me!”

Merry’s groan in response to this was greeted by another roar of laughter from everyone within earshot.

Gandalf shook his head.  Hobbits!

After the feast the group gathered in the Hall of Fire, for stories and songs.  Gandalf gathered the hobbits about him, where he sat on a low bench not far from the fire.  Lindir was playing his harp, and nearby Finrod sat in an attitude of thoughtfulness.  His great-nephews were one on each side of him, and on the floor before him sat Gildor Inglorion, pleased to once more be in the presence of the Prince of his House.  Gandalf was glad that Gildor had decided to delay his departure from Middle-earth--otherwise his reunion with Finrod would have been short-lived, as the Prince had decided to come to these shores to seek out his sister. 

The voice of Erestor came from behind them.  “I am pleased we once more have hobbits among us.  I am glad that Bilbo was able to go to Elvenhome, but I must say that I miss his company on these evenings.  His presence lent much cheer and his compositions were always amusing.”

Frodo sighed.  “I do miss Uncle Bilbo.  But he seemed perfectly happy there among all the Elves, just as he was here in Rivendell for so long.”

“Your uncle,” said Gandalf, “had a very long acquaintance with Elves.”

“He never forgot his visit here, when he was on his Adventure.”

“Ah, but his acquaintance with Elves goes much further back than that, Frodo, though perhaps he would not have remembered.”  Gandalf leaned back, and waited for the question.  He did not have to wait long.

“Whatever do you mean, Gandalf?” Frodo asked.

Gandalf cast his gaze across the room, and caught the glance of Gildor.  The Elf nodded, almost imperceptibly, and the wizard returned his nod the same way.

“I shall begin the tale, though there is another here who is in better position to complete it.  Now, I know you lads are all familiar with your family history, and know that I was very good friends with your Grandfather Gerontius--don’t interrupt Peregrin, I am well aware of how many ’greats’ precede that, but ’grandfather’ is much less cumbersome.  You also know I was a frequent visitor to Tuckborough and the Great Smials, and that the Adventurousness of certain Tooks was laid at my door.  However, I was also responsible for returning one particular Took to the fold.  It was in the spring of the Shire Year 1292, and Bilbo was still a babe in his mother’s arms…”

“I still don’t know why you think it’s necessary for me to return home *now*, Gandalf,” grumbled the small figure seated at the wizard’s side, as the cart rumbled along the post-road between Tuckborough and the Great Smials.

 

“Because, Isengar, I promised your father I would find you and bring you back.  You have had three years in the Wide World after all.  Do you really wish to be responsible for breaking his heart?  Your brother vanished sixteen years ago, and a good many hobbits of the Shire blamed *me* for that.”

 

“I planned to come back when I came of age,” the hobbit muttered.

 

“*If* you were still alive and in a position to do so,” said Gandalf firmly.  “You survived one shipwreck.  Do you think that you are possessed of enough luck to survive another?  You have learned of the many perils there are in the world.  Do you not think that Hildifons would have returned if he had been able?”

 

The young hobbit shrugged.  He was only a young lad of fourteen when his brother had left after quarreling with the lass he had hoped to court--Hilfy had only been thirty-two at the time, a year short of his majority.  He remembered his parents’ worry, the fruitless attempts his father and older brothers had made to find Hilfy, his mother’s tears.  Yet three years ago, when he was only twenty-seven, he’d not remembered it, not when he’d had a chance of Adventure of his own. 

 

A visit to some cousins on the Chubb side of the family, who lived in Michel Delving, had proven to be deadly boring.  The main advantage of Michel Delving was its proximity to the edge of the Shire, and the fact that the Great East-West Road ran right through it.  On more than one occasion, young Isengar had watched in fascination as groups of Dwarves or even Men travelled over the Road, and out of the Shire.  His cousins thought his questions about these travellers rather silly, and had no answers for him.  One evening, he and his cousins were at a local inn, but Isengar had become bored with the local gossip, and had slipped away.  He found himself drawn to the campsite of three Men, who were on their way to the Gulf of Lune, where they expected to meet a ship.  They invited him to join them at the fire, and share their sausages and ale, and he listened with wide and fascinated eyes to their tales of life upon the Sea.  Their descriptions filled him with a longing to see the great waters, to hear the waves and the cry of sea-birds, smell the salt air, to feel the mighty winds.  He asked if he could join them, but they were canny, and knew him to be too young.  “Tell your father to come along in the morning and give us his permission, young master hobbit, and we’ll take you along,” one of them had laughed, knowing such would never happen.

 

But Isengar was filled with his idea, and the next morning, he had slipped away from his cousins’ hole, and quietly and unobtrusively followed.  He waited until they had travelled for several days before revealing himself to the Men, and by that time of course, they had no choice but to either bring him along or leave him all alone in the wild, or turn back and lose their chance of meeting their ship.  And he knew just how to charm them into taking him--his smile had always worked on his older relatives, and it was no less effective with these Men.  He’d sent a letter back to his sister Mirabella, who would understand if anyone did, and was off on his own Adventure.

 

He had spent over two years on The Western Star, for he was a hobbit who was not afraid of heights and was nimble in the riggings.  But a storm had put an end to the gallant vessel, and he, along with a few others had been plucked from the wreckage and put ashore in Pelargir.  It was there Gandalf had found him, and had insisted on his return to the Shire.  And the truth was, in spite of his protests, he was homesick and ready to see his family again.

 

But he wished it had been on his own terms, and not being taken back like a wayward child.

 

As Gandalf approached the Great Smials, he attracted, as usual, a crowd of young hobbits, and a few older ones as well. 

 

Suddenly there was a sharp exclamation: “Gar!  Gandalf has Gar with him!” 

 

Gar turned to look at the familiar voice.  It was Mira!  The wizard slowed the cart down, and the young hobbit leapt from his seat into the welcoming arms of his sister.

 

After the whirlwind of family greetings had passed, and young Isengar had been hauled off by a tearful mother, Gandalf had obeyed the summons of his host, and followed Gerontius to his study, where he made himself comfortable in the Big Person’s chair, kept there by the hearth in his honor.

 

“I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am, that you found my wayward lad and brought him home, Gandalf,” said the Thain with feeling, seating himself across from the wizard, and proffering the pipe-weed jar.

 

“Ah,” Gandalf had smiled, “Old Toby!  This goes a good long way to settling any question of debt between us, my old friend.”

 

Gerontius shook his head, but knew not to press the matter.  “Tell me, was it hard to find him?  How was he?”

 

“It was not that difficult to locate him, though I could have wished to have found him a few weeks earlier, and spared him some danger and hardship, for I will not lie to you, Gerontius.  He came very near to losing his life.  But it may be that was as well, for in spite of his protests, I think he has truly had enough of Adventure to last him, and secretly is glad to be home.”

 

Gerontius nodded gravely.  “Perhaps you are right,” he said.  “I hope so.”

 

“I hope you will take my advice in another matter--he is, I know, still a few years shy of his majority.  But if you insist on punishing him like a willful child, he will resent it.  Having been among Men, and doing the duties of an adult for nearly three years, he has learned much.”

 

“Well, that will be something I will have to think over.  There will have to be *some* sort of consequence--even Tooks do not look lightly on runaways.  I shall have to inform the rest of the family, and talk to his older brothers.” He stopped for a moment, and smiled.  “I’ll have to send a messenger to Hobbiton, to let his sister Belladonna know.  She will want to come and see him, and present his nephew to him.  I’ve two grandsons you’ve yet to meet--Hildibrand and Citrine’s little Sigismond, and Belladonna and Bungo’s little Bilbo!”

 

Gandalf was pleased to accept Gerontius’ hospitality for a few weeks.  He had planned to be there for  Midsummer’s Day anyway--he tried to be there as many years as he could, for the fireworks, and because of young Isengar he had arrived early.

 

Over the next few days, those members of Gerontius’ immediate family who did not dwell in the Great Smials began to arrive.  Gandalf occupied himself as he often did while in the Shire--telling tales to young hobbits who were endlessly fascinated by his size and his beard, eavesdropping with amusement to the gossip of the matrons, playing draughts of an evening with his old friend Gerontius, and working on his fireworks for Midsummer’s Day.

 

On his second day there, he had seen the arrival of Belladonna, the eldest of the Thain’s three daughters, with her husband and infant son Bilbo.  She was married to a Baggins, who looked on with alarm at her enthusiastic greeting of the old wizard.  Yes, it was quite clear that though Bungo Baggins was besotted  with his wife and son, he simply did not know what to make of all those Tooks, much less this odd wizard among them.

 

Gandalf was out in the field across from the Great Smials, planning the trajectory of some of the rockets he would be using, when he heard someone behind him.

 

“Ahem.” There was a hesitant throat-clearing. “Er--uhm…”

 

The wizard turned, to find Bungo Baggins, standing just out of arm’s reach, and with an expression that was both determined, and yet spoke of a readiness to flee at any second.  “Good afternoon, Mr. Baggins,” he replied cordially.  It was obvious that this hobbit had very few dealings with Big Folk, if any, and had needed to gather all his courage to speak to such an alarming personage.

 

“Er, well, yes. G-good afternoon.”  Now the hobbit flushed, and said “Have--have you seen my wife, Mistress Belladonna, pass this way?  She had our son with her…”

Gandalf raised a bushy eyebrow.  “As a matter of fact, I did see them earlier, walking towards the East.  But that was some hours ago, before luncheon.  Has she not returned?”

 

Now the hobbit looked distressed.  “Oh dear! Oh dear!” he said, “She wasn’t *at* luncheon, and no one in the smials has seen her since second breakfast!  She--uh, she--wasn’t happy with me this morning…”

 

“Well, Gandalf! Don’t stop there!” said Pippin impatiently.

Gandalf shook his head.  “I told you that someone else here could finish the tale.”  He looked across the room.  “Gildor, do you suppose you could be prevailed upon to tell them what happened next?”

The Elf smiled, and nodded graciously.  “Most certainly, Mithrandir.”

The hobbits all looked at Gildor in surprise. 

“As I told you on that autumn evening when we came across you as you were leaving the Shire with your burden,  my people often passed through the Shire on their way to the Havens.  I was leading one such group on that summer’s day…”

Gildor looked up through the trees.  They had stopped for the day, and would continue their journey beneath the stars, for they had come to the end of this small forest, and if they were to keep their presence from becoming generally known by the small inhabitants of this land, they would need to wait until the cover of night.  Once they had left this wooded area, they would be travelling over more settled lands--tilled fields and bare hills.  But at night, there would be none to mark their passage, save perhaps a wakeful shepherd or two, who would scarce believe their own eyes.

 

He wondered if *this* would be the time he himself would take ship and return to the West.  He had led many to Mithlond, each time thinking that he too, would sail.  Yet each time, as he stood upon the quay, his heart would tell him “not yet, not yet; you have still some task to fulfill ere you may depart these Shores and cross the Sea to Elvenhome.” 

 

Suddenly, he was startled from his reverie by a sharp cry of distress.  It was not one of his people--that was not the voice of an Elf, and it came from ahead of him and not behind.  Swiftly, though cautiously, he made his way in the direction of the sound. 

 

As he came nearer, he heard a soft weeping, and in addition to the weeping, another whimper.  There, near the gnarled roots of an old oak was one of the periannath--apparently a young mother, for she held a whimpering babe close to her heart, and was rocking it back and forth, trying to soothe the child, even through her own tears.

 

“There, there, my little lad,” she sniffed.  “Momma just tripped over the nasty roots.  It’s all right, Bilbo dear.”  She held the child close, and with an elbow braced herself on one of the roots and tried to rise, only to sit back down abruptly with a cry of pain.  Startled the babe began to wail in earnest.  “Shush, my child!”  the young mother said.  “We don’t want a nasty old fox to hear us.”  She looked about her, eyes wide with fear. “Momma’s turned her ankle, that’s all…” 

 

Keeping the presence of Elves a secret was all well and good, but Gildor could not simply stand by and leave her thus.  While it was unlikely any predators would be close now with Elves nearby, she had no way to know of that unseen protection.  And she and the child were far from the help of any others of her kind.  Silently he stepped forward, keeping his hands wide and trying to appear unthreatening.

 

“Small Mistress,” he said, as softly as he could, “may I be of some assistance to you?”

 

She looked up alarm, but did not make a sound as her jaw dropped.  She stared, her green eyes huge, and she clutched the child even closer.  Finally, she swallowed. “You’re an Elf,” she rasped.

 

“Gildor Inglorion, of the House of Finrod,” he said, bowing slightly, and cautiously moving closer.

 

She did not flinch, though she did tense up a bit. “I am Belladonna Baggins, at your service, Master Gildor,” she said shakily, but with the ingrained courtesy of her people. “This is my son Bilbo.  I am afraid that I stumbled and turned my ankle.”

 

Gildor nodded, and knelt down by her.  “May I?” he asked.  He reached out very slowly, and took her right foot in his hand.  It was, of course, unshod.  He prodded it gently, and she winced and bit her lip.  The baby in her arms twisted around to look at this new person. 

 

“Meh!” he said, his blue eyes huge.  Gildor studied him.  He was a comely child, with a riot of brown curls and an amiable and intelligent expression. He gave the Elf a grin, and Gildor found himself grinning back.

 

Returning his attention to the perian’s ankle, he saw that it was already swollen.  She would not be able to walk upon it for some time. 

 

Before he could say anything to her about it, there was an alarming rumble from her mid-section, and she blushed.  “I-I’m sorry--I’m afraid I’ve missed elevenses, and it must be nigh on to luncheon.”

 

Gildor sat back on his haunches.  “My people are encamped a very short distance from here.  Perhaps you could take a meal with us.  We have also a healer, who could bind up your ankle for you, and then we could send a message to your people--”

 

She stared at him for a moment, as if uncertain, and then nodded.

 

The Elf reached out to the child, who trustingly came to him.  He settled the babe on his left arm, and then with his right, picked up the mother.  She gasped a bit as he stood up, and gripped him about the neck.

 

It took Gildor only a few moments to stride back to the place where his people were encamped, and they looked up in shock to see their leader carrying the perian and her child.

 

He turned and spoke.  “Lomiel,” he called, and an Elven-woman with raven hair stood up and came over.

 

Gildor looked down at Belladonna.  “Mistress Baggins, this is Lomiel.  She will tend your injury, and then perhaps, we shall see to finding you a meal?”

 

“Thank you--” she looked at him uncertainly, “what about Bilbo?”

 

He smiled at her.  “I think that you may safely leave him with me for a few moments.”

 

She nodded, and allowed Lomiel to carry her away a short distance.

 

Bilbo watched his mother, an expression of curiosity on his small face.  He glanced up at the Elf who still held him. “Ma-ma?” he trilled.

 

Gildor chuckled.  “Your naneth will be just fine.  In the meantime, shall we see if we can find something for you?”

 

The other Elves had begun to gather about Gildor, marveling at the tiny child, who was so small that he easily fit into Gildor’s two hands.  Bilbo looked about him, with an expression of delighted wonder, and when one silver-haired Elf leaned over him, he reached up a chubby hand to pull on one of the locks.  The Elf laughed, and then the child laughed too.

 

Soon the Elves were all seated around, and had provided Bilbo with a rusk of bread to chew on.  If he had been smiling before, he was positively gleeful now.  Never had he tasted anything like it.

 

Her foot now snuggly wrapped in a bandage, Lomiel carried Belladonna over to the rest, and she took little Bilbo into her own lap once more.  Soon she was provided with bread, fruit, cheese, and a fragrant golden draught.  She listened in amazement, as the Elves began to sing.  Little Bilbo tried to sing along as well in his wordless fashion.

Gildor watched over the small group, and then slipped away. Time was passing, and the family of the little wanderers would probably be searching for them frantically.  If he could find a sign of searchers, he would take her back to them, but he would prefer not to have to go into the settled areas to do so.

 

He had nearly reached the spot where he had first found her, when he heard the sounds of someone approaching.

 

“Dear me,” said one voice, clearly that of a perian, “I am so worried.  We’ve not seen any sign of her since that oak tree.  This is all my fault.  If I had not made her cross with me over my timidity with her family--”

 

“Do not fret, Mr. Baggins,” came the other voice  “I am sure we shall soon find her.”  Gildor knew that voice--it was Mithrandir! 

 

The Elf stepped forth.  “Are you searching for Belladonna Baggins and her child?” he asked.

 

Bungo gasped, and stepped behind the wizard, who chuckled and put a reassuring hand on the curly head.  “Well met, Gildor Inglorion!  I take it you have found our strays?”

 

“Yes, we have both mother and child safe with us.”  He glanced down at the perian who had cautiously moved forward.  “Your wife has sprained her ankle.  But our healer is tending to it, and she and your child have been fed!”

 

“Oh! Oh thank you!  But--but I am forgetting my manners!  I am Bungo Baggins, at your service!” and he made a courteous bow.

 

“You are most welcome, Master Bungo.  If you and Mithrandir will follow me, I shall take you to your family.”

 

A short while later, Gildor led them into the clearing, and with a sharp cry, Bungo darted over to his wife and took her into an embrace, baby and all.  The Elves and wizard kindly pretended not to notice the tearful apologies from both parties.  After a few moments, Bungo stood back up.  “I do not know *how* to thank you, Master Gildor!  I was so worried!”

 

“No thanks are needed, Master Baggins; we have much enjoyed the company of your wife and child.”

 

It was soon arranged that Gandalf would carry Belladonna, as she was not to walk upon her ankle for some days, as Lomiel told her firmly.  “Be certain to seek the advice of a healer of your own people before removing the bandage,” the Elf-woman reminded her.

 

Belladonna nodded, and impulsively kissed the healer on her cheek.  “Thank you, Lomiel,” she said, as Gandalf scooped her up into his strong arms.

 

Little Bilbo was in his father’s arms.  He looked up and laughed “Pa-pa!”  Bungo hugged him tightly.

 

Gildor knelt down.  “Master Baggins, may I say farewell to your remarkable son?”

 

Bungo handed Bilbo to the Elf, who took him carefully.  Big blue eyes gazed up at him solemnly.

 

For some reason, Gildor had the feeling he had not seen the last of this one.  Leaning his face down, and not flinching as the tiny fingers wound into his hair, he murmured “No e beren, ar garo i dhôl vell na nauthad, ar i ind vell na velad, ar i gaim vell na gared naid, ar i dail vell na drevaded, ar lúban tolo beriannen na mar în,*” and bestowed a kiss upon the little brow.  Then he handed the child back to his father.

 

Mithrandir looked at the Elf.  “That was quite a blessing you bestowed upon this child,” he said in Sindarin.

 

“My heart tells me that perhaps this little one will need it someday,” was the bemused response.

 

Gildor watched as their unexpected guests left the clearing.  No, he did not think he would be taking ship this time, either.

“…And so, you see,” ended Gildor, “that my acquaintance with Bilbo was a long-standing one indeed.”

“I had no idea!” said Frodo, “that you had known him *that* long!”

“It would surprise me if he remembered, Frodo,” said Gandalf, “for he was so young at the time.”

“Maybe,” said Merry thoughtfully, “it would explain why he always loved Elves so much.”

Pippin leaned back and looked at Gandalf.  “Yes, but *I* want to hear more about great-great-Uncle Isengar!”

Gandalf chuckled, and shook his head.  “Insatiable Took!  *That* is a tale for another time!”

Pippin grinned.  “I won’t let you forget it!”

“No, I don’t much imagine that you will, Peregrin Took!”

______________________________________________

 

*[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Here is the quotation I was assigned by Marigold.  It was translated into Sindarin for me by Ithildin:

   'May he be brave, and have the strong head to think with, and the strong heart to love with, and the strong hands to work with, and the strong feet to travel with, and always come safe home to his own.' ” From “Five Children And It” by Edith Nesbit ]

 

PART EIGHT

The next day, Frodo began his search among the many books and scrolls available in the library of Rivendell. There was an entire section devoted to the records kept of the old Kingdoms, and of Arthedain in particular, as well as the records kept of the Chieftains of the Dúnadain. With Erestor’s help, he was soon set up to begin copying the information he needed.

Ten days. Frodo had allotted himself ten days to do the work he wanted to do, before he needed to take Merry and Pippin back to Buckland. If they followed his plan, they should return just in time for Merry to be there with Estella when it was time to sit for their gifts.

The first few days, both Merry and Pippin helped as well as they could, finding texts in Westron, and doing some of the copying. But Pippin soon grew bored and impatient, and after the third day, he and Merry found other things to do--much to Frodo’s relief. Merry was a big help, but tended to get distracted by his own interests--herbology and genealogy and maps. And Pippin not only tended to fidget, but to sing or hum or even worse, talk. Frodo found he worked far more quickly with only Erestor’s help.

Merry and Pippin wandered down to the smithy, armory and training field.

They greeted Master Dorlas, the armorer, with enthusiasm. The Elf was pleased to see the two young hobbits. He had grown quite fond of them during their previous stay in Rivendell, when Glorfindel and Boromir of Gondor had sought his assistance in making training gear for Merry and Pippin. He had watched them as they threw themselves with enthusiasm into their new skills, and had been much amused at their efforts.

“It is very good to see you again, Meriadoc and Peregrin! Do you know, I still have your padded jerkins and leather armor.” He reached up to a shelf, where the items had been stowed neatly away.

Pippin touched the items, and shook his head. “I don’t believe any of these would fit us now,” he said ruefully.

“But we have armor of our own, now,” said Merry. And indeed, in the hopes of getting in a bit of sparring, they had worn their armor that morning.

Dorlas smiled. “Indeed, it is very well made gear.” He examined Pippin’s mail shirt and Merry’s leather cuirass critically. It was obvious that although the items might have been originally made as indulgences for royal children, they were also quite functional. And while they were not so beautiful as such items made by Elves, nevertheless they were well-crafted and attractive.

“I still have your sparring weapons, as well,” he said, a smile twitching the corner of his mouth. He nodded his head to the rack of wooden swords used for training, and indeed, there were two, much shorter and smaller than the others.

The two hobbits exchanged a grin, and soon the open training ground echoed to the clack of the wooden swords.

When last they had time to train in Rivendell, they had been novices under the patient and amused tutelage of their friend Boromir. Now they were warriors themselves, seasoned by their encounters with Orcs and Ruffians, and they had been given additional training in their time away by other friends: Aragorn himself, Faramir, Éomer, Legolas and even Gimli. They had sparred with their comrades among the Rohirrim and the Citadel Guard, and learned much.

But they had discovered a true delight in sparring with one another. Nearly equal in size and reach now, and knowing one another so very well, they could easily anticipate one another’s moves. It was sport, and they played to win, though that still was more important to Merry than to his younger cousin, but it was also like a graceful dance, one that exhilarated them both.

Today, neither of them gained advantage over the other--it was instead, the summer heat that defeated them both, causing them finally to stop, winded and sweaty, in order to take a breather. They turned, surprised to see behind them Glorfindel, a grin on his face, and a waterskin in his hand. Thanking him, they each drank thirstily, and only afterwards realized they had drawn an audience. In addition to Glorfindel and Master Dorlas, they saw Elladan and Elrohir, and Finrod, who had all been watching them.

Glorfindel chuckled. “I see, Merry, that you have learned not to hold your breath.”

Merry shook his head ruefully, remembering how embarrassed he had been about that bad habit. Boromir had often had to scold him about it, and it had nearly landed him in trouble. “It’s not a problem any longer!” he said.

Pippin wiped his brow. “I think it’s time for elevenses,” he said. “Do you suppose we could get the cooks to spare us a crust?” He tried to look pitiful.

Glorfindel laughed. “I am supposing that they are already expecting you, and will have a great array of treats set out for you! They have missed having hobbits about who appreciate their art!”

Merry handed the now empty waterskin back to the Elf. “Will you join us? I’d really been hoping for a chance for a bit of conversation with you.”

Pippin gave Merry a sharp look. He knew just what Merry wanted to talk about to the Elf.

Glorfindel raised a brow. He, too, had an idea of what Merry wished to ask him. He nodded, and the three of them walked back up to the house and the kitchens.

Most certainly, the Elves in the kitchen had outdone themselves as usual. Pippin gave Merry another look, and then said “I don’t see Cousin Frodo here, of course. He’s quite possibly lost in the mists of time somewhere in ancient Eriador. Why don’t I make up a tray for him--and me--and see if I can coax him to eat there in the library?”

Merry smiled gratefully at Pippin. “I doubt if you’ll need to do much coaxing. His appetite has quite returned to normal along with the rest of him--but still, he *will* forget to eat when he is reading. Most unhobbitlike of him, but very Baggins!”

Glorfindel was not fooled. The last couple of days had seen Merry and Pippin dragging Frodo away from the library at mealtimes; it was clear that Pippin was wishing to leave Merry alone with him. As the hobbit poured tea for the both of them--Glorfindel had become rather fond of taking tea with Bilbo over the last few years--he studied Merry. It was clear that the young hobbit had been schooled through his experiences. There was the scar above his brow, taken when he and Pippin had been captured by the Orcs; there were the faint scars of rope burns on his wrists and the callouses from his sword work; his right arm bore also a very faint tracery of white scars, given when his blade had struck the Witch-king, part of the spell that had protected Angmar for so long. Most of all there was the hard-won wisdom in his grey eyes.

For a few moments they conversed about the cheese tarts and the apple pastries, to satisfy hobbit propriety, but the Elf could tell that Merry was hoping for an opening to ask his questions. He decided to spur him on.

“Well, Merry, what is it that you wished to ask me?”

Merry blinked at the abruptness of the question, and then chuckled. “For an Elf, you do come right to the point! Why old Treebeard might call that positively hasty!” He took a sip of his tea, and met Glorfindel’s eyes. His question when it came was equally abrupt.

“Did you know that I would be part of fulfilling that prophecy you made?”

The Elf put down his own teacup. “Not at first. You must understand, Meriadoc, that I did not at first truly realize what my prophecy meant: ‘Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall.’ Though Angmar was defeated by our forces, he had fled away. As we thought to give pursuit, I suddenly was visited with the foresight that caused me to say that. I saw a brief vision, of the Witch-king, confronted on a battle-field by a woman and what I thought was a small child. I knew that it would be useless to pursue him, that the doom I had envisioned would be at the end of the Age.”

Merry nodded, and nibbled absently at another cheese tart. “So you had no idea that it could have been a hobbit there?”

The Elf shook his head. “I suppose I should have done--we had a few hobbit archers there at the battle, doughty and determined, but hopelessly overwhelmed by the forces against them.” He closed his eyes for a moment, at the memory of pain, seeing those childlike figures, like broken dolls upon the field. It was an image that had never faded from his mind. “Still, it did not occur to me.”

“However, when I found you with Aragorn in the Wilderness, and knowing that Frodo carried the One, it did suddenly come to my mind, that of course! it was indeed a perian who had stood there so defiantly with the woman!”

Merry’s eyes grew distant. “I did not much feel defiant, if you must know. All I felt was despair, and sorrow, that Éowyn might die there alone and unaided. I thought the least I could do was to die at her side.”

“Still you struck the blow, my small friend.”

“I did.”

“And so I did begin to think, as the Companions for the journey were chosen, that it might have been one of you four, although I still had no idea who the woman was, nor how she might have been on such a battlefield with a hobbit, nor why they two would be facing so fearsome a foe alone. And yet, Merry, when the tale was told to me, I was not surprised that it was you.”

Merry looked up and his eyes grew wide, an expression of astonishment on his face.

Glorfindel smiled. “I had noticed your particularly tenacious and loyal spirit, Merry! And Bilbo had told me that you were the guiding force behind seeing that Frodo did not leave his home alone. Your heart is naturally that of a guardian.”

For a moment, Merry was silent, studying the Elf’s face, as if seeking a confirmation of his words in his countenance. Then he looked down, and murmured “Thank you.”

“Prophecies are chancy things, Merry. Angmar was overweening in his pride. He heard of my prophecy, and thought that it made him invincible.”

Just then Pippin arrived, Frodo in tow. “We polished off the tray and came to see what other goodies might remain--”

Frodo had overheard the latter part of the conversation. “It’s often so with evil, that it cannot believe it would ever be defeated.” He took a cheese tart. “That was the mistake Sauron made, when he made the Ring, in thinking it could never be destroyed.” He spoke casually, with none of the hesitation or pain that had once marked any mention of the One.

Pippin, who was pouring himself a cup of tea, said, “Actually, it just shows what a fool the Witch-king was.”

Glorfindel cocked his head in amusement. “Angmar would have been the last one to think himself foolish. And many of his defeated foes over the years might disagree with you, Pippin. He was a fearsome antagonist.”

“Still,” said Pippin cheerfully, “he *was* a fool! Why, that prophecy should have made him all the more wary, not less so!”

Merry shook his head. “And whatever makes you say that, Pip?”

“Well, the prophecy said ‘not by the hand of Man’. So it turned out to be a woman and a hobbit. But it could just as well have been a Dwarf, or an Elf; it could have been an Ent, or an Eagle, or even an Orc, if one betrayed him. Why it could have even been Old Man Willow--or a wild animal like a bear or a wolf! There are a great many beings in Middle-earth that are not Men!  Or it said 'by the hand'--suppose some Man decided to kick him?”

Glorfindel chuckled. “You do have a point there. Though I do not suppose any of those beings would have had the right weapon at the right time, and while a kick in the head might have been salutary, I do not believe it would have killed him.”

“True,” said Pippin, taking a bite of an apple pastry, and then licking his fingers. “But he wasn’t to know that, was he?”

And Glorfindel threw back his head and laughed, and the others joined in.

(Written for Marigold's Challenge #41)

AUTHOR:  Dreamflower
RATING: G
AUTHOR'S NOTES: (1) The sentence for my story was “You have to be joking. It was also to involve a journey. (2) This story takes place in my "Eucatastrophe" universe; in that universe, the Three Elven Rings did not fade, but were freed to full power by the destruction of the One, Saruman was killed by Quickbeam during the storming of Isengard, and the journey to Elvenhome is now a two-way trip, allowing those who have gone to return to Middle-earth, if they so choose…
SUMMARY: A return home, and a new and less perilous adventure awaits Frodo…
DISCLAIMER:  Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the Tolkien Estate.  I own none of them.  Some of them, however, seem to own me.

EUCATASTROPHE: THE RETURN, PART NINE 

“You have to be joking.”  Frodo shook his head.  “You mean to tell me there is no blacksmith?”

“No, Mr. Baggins.  I’m sorry, but he’s not returned from Bree.”

Frodo took a deep breath.  It was not Mr. Rushlight’s fault.  But now his careful timetable was getting ruined.  The cousins had taken exactly the time he had allotted to get to Rivendell, just as he had planned.  And he had spent exactly ten days in gathering his research, and in visiting with his friends.  Now they were on the road back, and by all rights, should arrive at Brandy Hall with a few days to spare before Merry had to sit for his gifts with Estella.  He *had* after all, *promised* to get his cousin back for that wedding, and as Merry’s witness, it was his duty to make sure that Merry had time to do all the other things he needed to do.  And he had several duties of his own to see to, for Merry’s sake.

But a couple of days out from the Forsaken Inn, Merry’s pony, Stybba, had thrown a shoe, and the need to go carefully in order to avoid laming the pony had added another two days to the journey.  Still, they had consoled themselves with the knowledge that the little hamlet that had grown up where the Inn stood boasted a blacksmith.

The three hobbits had finally arrived late last night, weary and worn.  The first thing Frodo had done on awakening was to ask the innkeeper about the blacksmith.

Only to be told that said blacksmith had not yet returned from Bree.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Baggins, but when Tam got back to Bree, he found his old master was laid up a couple of weeks, so he sent a message back here that he’d be delayed--he thought to stay long enough to see him back on his feet again.

Frustration and guilt tugged at him.  He had been quite selfish in taking this journey, now, so close to Merry’s wedding!  But he had so wanted his cousins’ company--and he knew it wouldn’t have been fair to take Merry away afterwards--if he would have even gone.  But he’d been so confident in his ability to get them all back in plenty of time.  Well, Gandalf had told him once that pride went before a fall, and he supposed that this was his due.  But it was horribly unfair to Merry.  He dreaded telling him.

Merry’s reaction, however, was not quite what Frodo expected.  “It’s not a problem, Frodo.  We’ll stay over one day--that will make it two weeks, and the blacksmith will return, and we’ll start back.  If we push it, we can still make it back in time for me to be there a few days before the wedding.”

Frodo shook his head.  “What if the he doesn’t return in a day or two?  What then?”

“It’s simple enough.  I’ll leave Stybba here with you and Pippin, and I’ll borrow Sable and head out on my own.”

Frodo exchanged a glance with Pippin, who’d so far kept silent.  Both of them shook their heads.

“No,” Pippin said firmly.  “Together we are safe enough.  But our experience here on the journey out should be warning that no hobbit should be travelling alone on these roads.  The Goatleafs were probably not the only Ruffians hereabouts.  You won’t be borrowing Sable.”

“Nor Strider,” said Frodo firmly.  “You don’t go by yourself.”

Now Merry *did* start to look alarmed.  “But Estella will be worried.”

“Not to mention Rosamunda,” said Pippin cheerfully.  “But why not take your own advice from the start.  We’ve at least a day before we need fret.”

Both Frodo and Merry gave Pippin a look of disbelief.  But Pippin just grinned.  “Now Cousins!  No use in fretting on an empty stomach.  Why don’t we see what our good host has for breakfast.  You did notice by the way that this inn is not forsaken any longer?”

Though they recognized the attempt to cheer them up and change the subject, they decided to go along with Pippin.  “So, did they decide to call it ‘The Cat and Fiddle’?” asked Merry.

“No, it’s ‘The King’s Rest’ right enough!”  He chuckled, and called to the young innkeeper.  “Mr. Rushlight!  I thought that you had decided that would not work as a name, since the King never rested here!”

He grinned at them with a twinkle in his eye.  “Well, I had a little talk with Mr. Mellor, the Ranger fellow, and he told me as how when the King was still Strider the Ranger his own self, he often camped out here.  So I guess that we was wrong about that!”

“And was your wife very disappointed?” asked Frodo.

He chuckled.  “Not after I promised to buy her a length of new woolen cloth the next time we are in Bree!”

Merry arched a brow at him.  “Ah!  Perhaps I should ask you for advice--my cousins here are both bachelors, but I am about to enter the married state at Midsummer!”

“Well, congratulations, Mr. Brandybuck,” the innkeeper beamed.  “And what advice would that be?”

“How angry is my betrothed likely to be if I am not in time to sit for the gifts before the wedding?  I am afraid this delay will mean we are cutting it a bit fine.”

Before Mr. Rushlight could reply, Frodo said “My cousin has the notion that he should take one of our ponies and ride on ahead alone!”

The innkeeper looked Merry in the eye.  “If your lass is at all fond of you--as I think she must be, if you are getting married--she would be *more* angry at you endangering yourself than she would be if you was a day or two late.”

Merry subsided.  “Everyone’s against me,” he muttered.  But he appeared willing to accept the consensus.  “Let us just hope that the blacksmith *does* arrive tomorrow.”

The heat outside was oppressive, but inside the inn was cool enough.  They were the only travellers staying there, and so had the common room to themselves.  Merry and Pippin amused themselves with games of draughts, sitting in the large bayed window, and Frodo took himself to a quiet corner with his notes, hoping to work a bit on setting them in order for his book.

He’d had very good fortune among the records kept at Rivendell.  Among the documents he had been able to examine was a copy of the original charter granted to Marco and Blancho for the settling of the Shire, a copy of a letter from Aranarth, the first Chieftain of the Dúnadain to Bucca of the Marish, acknowledging and affirming the choice made by the hobbits of the Shire to make him the first Thain.  In addition, he had found a large ledger, into which had been filed years of reports from various Rangers who had kept watch over the Shire.  It was a rich lode of material from which to draw, and it was going to be a long and fascinating task to bring it all into a coherent whole. 

He was deep in thought, letting the homely sounds of the inn wash over him as he perused his notes.  There was the cheerful sound of singing from the kitchen, where the innkeeper’s wife was cooking something that smelled delicious.  He could hear birdsong through the windows, and the amused bickering of his cousins at their game.  They did seem to enjoy an argument, if they had nothing else to occupy their time. 

So absorbed was he that he was completely taken aback when Pippin shouted out, “Hoy!  Look who’s here!” leaping from the window seat so abruptly as to send the draughts set flying.  Merry was right behind him.

Frodo stood, alarmed.  What on earth?  Then he heard the shouts of “Legolas! Gimli!”  and the music of Elven laughter, and the boom of Dwarvish laughter, and he too was flying into the inn’s yard.

After a round of excited greetings, Frodo stood back, shaking his head in amazement.  “How do you come to be here?”

Legolas gave an elegant shrug.  “Why, we stopped in Rivendell, on our way to Buckland for a dear friend’s wedding!”

“Imagine our surprise,” said Gimli, “when Gandalf told us that if we hurried we could, perhaps catch up with you on the road.”

“The wedding is still on, is it not?” asked Legolas.

“Of course it is!” said Merry indignantly.

But Frodo had seen the twinkle of mischief in the Elf’s eyes.  “He’s teasing you Merry.  If he’s been in Rivendell, he knows all about it.”

“Yet we do not know,” said Gimli, “why we have caught up with you here!  We did not expect to draw even with you before Bree.  You should be much further along by now.”

Frodo sighed.  “We have a bit of a dilemma.  Merry’s pony threw a shoe along the way.  And we had expected to find a blacksmith here.  But he’s gone and won’t be back until tomorrow or perhaps even the next day.”

“Is that all?” asked Gimli.  “Well, it has been many a year since I shod a pony, but I do believe that I can still remember the skill.”

Frodo broke out into a delighted smile, and Merry gave a whoop of joy.

“Is there a place I can do the work?  I assume there *is* a smithy, if there is usually a smith here.”

“Let us go and ask the innkeeper if we may use the smithy!” said Frodo.

“Good! Good! If we can get it done this afternoon, we might all be able to leave in the morning.”  Gimli rubbed his hands together.  Shoeing a pony might not be quite so interesting as making a sword, but it would be nice to get his hands on a hammer and tongs again.

“That’s all very well,” said Pippin, “but don’t tell me you mean to start before luncheon!”

“Never fear,” said Legolas.  “That Dwarf is as firm as a hobbit about his mealtimes.”

The innkeeper was certain that the smith would not mind Gimli using his shop and tools in his absence, and the friends shared a jolly luncheon of cold roast chicken, fresh bread, cheese and fruit.

After lunch, Frodo and Merry accompanied Gimli to the smithy, while Pippin went off for a stroll with Legolas.  Merry smirked at Frodo.  “They’ll probably end up in a tree somewhere.”

Frodo nodded.  He knew that was probably true.  “Yes, and probably singing or playing their pipes.”  While all of those who had been in the Company that set out from Rivendell had become as close as family, Frodo knew that Legolas and Pippin seemed to have more in common than anyone would have expected of an Elf and a hobbit.

Merry led Stybba to the smithy, and Frodo helped his cousin in trimming the hoof.  It was Stybba’s left foreleg, and he stood patiently for the hobbits, enduring the procedure with aplomb.

Meanwhile, Gimli fired the forge, and found a blank pony shoe.  “We will leave payment to the smith with the innkeeper for the use of his tools and materials,” the Dwarf said.  Merry took the bellows, and soon the sound of hammer and anvil rang out. 

Frodo stood back with the pony and watched.  He found it fascinating to see Gimli work--he had never seen him do so, like this.  Of course he had watched him hone his weapons or those of others.  And he knew that the Dwarf, like many--though by no means all--of his people was a skilled smith.  But he had never seen him actually working at the anvil before.  It was an impressive sight.  He handled the Man-sized tools with little difficulty, holding them closer, perhaps, than their owner would have.  There was an expression of fierce joy on his rugged features, as he attained the proper rhythm for his work.

Merry soon took off his shirt, in the heat of the forge.  For the first time since his return, Frodo felt a bit of unease--as hot as it was, still he was hesitant to take his own shirt off, for even with the use of Vilya at full strength, Elrond had been unable to erase most of his scars.  Yet he knew that both Merry and Gimli had seen his scars before, at their worst, and that they each had their own scars.  Shaking his head at his own folly, he took his shirt off as well, feeling just a bit defiant as he did so--though who or what he was defying was uncertain.

Gimli did not seem to notice the heat, and kept his own shirt on.

Soon Stybba was shod, and he seemed to be glad of it.  Frodo took out a pocket handkerchief and wiped his brow, and then put his shirt back on, as did Merry.  He smiled at Gimli.  “It looks as though we are done in time for tea!”

________________________________________

The five friends were up and ready to make an early start the next morning, in spite of having made very merry the night before, talking, laughing and reminiscing.

Frodo was very relieved.  He had not looked forward to facing Estella and Rosamunda and Esmeralda if he had delivered Merry late for the wedding.

 TBC…

(The remaining chapters were written for Marigold's Challenge #42)

AUTHOR:  Dreamflower
RATING: G
AUTHOR'S NOTES: (1) The assignment was to show Rosamunda Bolger having an argument or a fight with one or more, of four assigned characters.  I picked Fredegar and Eglantine.  (2) This story takes place in my "Eucatastrophe" universe; in that universe, the Three Elven Rings did not fade, but were freed to full power by the destruction of the One, Saruman was killed by Quickbeam during the storming of Isengard, and the journey to Elvenhome is now a two-way trip, allowing those who have gone to return to Middle-earth, if they so choose…
SUMMARY: A return home, and a new and less perilous adventure awaits Frodo…
DISCLAIMER:  Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the Tolkien Estate.  I own none of them.  Some of them, however, seem to own me.
PREVIOUSLY:  After an unexpected delay, Frodo, Merry and Pippin are on their way back to Buckland in hopes of arriving with a few days to spare before Merry’s wedding.  Legolas and Gimli, who caught up with them on the way, are accompanying them…

EUCATASTROPHE: THE RETURN, PART TEN  

Estella flung herself onto the bed in her guest room at Brandy Hall and indulged herself in furious tears.  Her mother was driving her utterly mad!  If only she and Merry could have wed last Yule, as they had originally planned!  But she had understood and agreed to Merry’s decision to delay--he wanted Frodo at his wedding, and he had hoped that his cousin would return in good time.  But the delay had given her mother ideas, and now Rosamunda had become obsessed with them having the fanciest wedding the Shire had ever seen!

The problem was, she had so hoped that Merry’s mother Esmeralda would help her to hold her own mother in check.  However, she had failed to take one thing into account:  while Esmeralda was normally a very sensible hobbitess, she had no daughters.  Most of the Brandybuck lasses in the last generation had lived away from Brandy Hall, or were yet too young to wed.  Far from trying to hold Rosamunda back, Esmeralda had joyfully jumped into the elaborate plans herself--at last she had her one and only chance to be in on a wedding, and not just any wedding, but the wedding of the heir to Buckland, her only son, and she had not only fallen in with all of Rosamunda’s plans, but had even helped make them *more* elaborate.

Any protests Estella had made had resulted in her mother laughing and telling her not to worry her little head about it, because everyone knew this was the job of the mothers--why even Frodo’s Aunt, Miss Dora Baggins, had said so, and Rosamunda brandished the well-thumbed copy of Miss Dora’s famous book.

Estella’s own protests that Miss Dora also said the bride’s wishes should be considered were completely ignored.  And her father was no help either.  Odovacar and Saradoc had managed to make themselves scarce whenever the wedding details were discussed.

While Merry was still here, she had been trying very hard to hold both her tears and her temper in check.  She had been very afraid that if Merry had ever seen Rosamunda make her weep, he would have lost his own temper.  It was one reason she had encouraged him to make this journey--so she would not be on edge, in the fear of her mother setting him off.

In fact, she was quite certain that if he had heard her mother’s words that morning, he would have been very angry indeed.  Estella had tried on her wedding dress, and it had been discovered that it would need taking in, for apparently Estella had lost a bit of weight.  Rosamunda had rebuked her, saying that she needed to put on a few pounds!  “After all,” she had said, quoting the old Shire saying, “a bride should be plump and happy!” 

Then her mother had tried to suggest that the dressmaker add a few more ruffles to the skirt.  On that, Estella had held firm, and helpfully the dressmaker had said there was not enough time before the wedding to get extra fabric for ruffles.  Still, it had been a near thing.

Estella began to wish she had gone with Merry and his cousins; surely they could have found someone to marry them in Bree.  An elopement for the future Master of Buckland!  What a scandal *that* would have been!

There was a tap at the door.

She sat up quickly, and grabbed a handkerchief to wipe her eyes.  “Who is it?” she called cautiously.

“It’s your brother!”

She gave a big sniffle, and took a deep breath.  “Come in, Fatty!”

Fredegar opened the door, and stepped in.  “Are you all right, kitten?” he asked.  “Mother told me you were suffering from ‘bridal nerves’.”

Estella gave a slightly hysterical bark of laughter.  “The only ‘nerves’ I’m suffering from are *hers*, Fatty!”  She shook her head and took another breath.  “When did you get here?”

“Angelica and I just arrived a few minutes ago.  Mother and Cousin Esmeralda have snatched her up into their planning.”

“I wish they would snatch me into the plans.  As it is, they make the plans, and then tell me afterwards; and if I don’t just grin and bear it, then Mother pats me on the head and tells me I’m just nervous.”

“Perhaps I should have a few words with Mother,” Freddy said.

Estella looked at him dubiously.  “I’m not sure if you could do any good, but it’s sweet of you to try.  I don’t suppose it could hurt anything; you’ve always got on better with her than I.”

Freddy chuckled.  “I’m her son.  And she hasn’t always approved of the things I’ve done.”

“No, you go ahead and do them, and she accepts them in the end.”

Fredegar stood up and kissed her on top of the head.  “I will see what I can do.”

Estella was not sure if her mother would listen, but it did feel good to know her brother was on her side.

_______________________________________

“Nonsense, Fredegar!  Your sister is just a bit high-strung!”

“That’s the first I’ve heard of it, Mother.  Estella’s always been a very calm and level-headed lass.”

“Yes, well, she’s not been a bride before.  Brides are always a bit high-strung and moody before their weddings.”

“Angelica wasn’t!”

Rosamunda sniffed.  “Angelica did not have such a wedding, poor dear, with no mother to see to her!  Of course it was different!  Poor Ponto had no notion of how to plan a wedding.”  Her tone was not only smug, but a little annoyed.  She had tried very hard to have her say about Freddy’s and Angelica’s wedding, and had been gently rebuffed by Ponto Baggins.

Freddy’s eyes narrowed.  He would not allow his mother to patronize his wife.  “Angelica and I had just the sort of wedding we wanted!  It was perfect!”

Their wedding, not quite a year before, had been a small and quiet affair, held beneath the Party Tree in Hobbiton, and officiated by Frodo as Head of the Bagginses, several weeks before he had departed to see Bilbo off with the Elves.

“Perfectly small and insignificant,” said Rosamunda in an affronted tone.  “You are the next Head of the Bolgers.  Your wedding should have been much more impressive.”

“That’s ridiculous, Mother!  I did not *want* an impressive wedding, nor did Angelica!  And for that matter, nor does Estella!”

“Ridiculous, am I?  What a way to speak to your mother!  I can’t believe you said that to me, Fredegar Bolger!”

“I did not say *you* were ridiculous!  But what you said was…”

Just then they were interrupted, as Odovacar entered the room.  “I heard raised voices,” he said, in a tone of mild rebuke.

“I apologize, Father,” said Freddy, in a flat tone.  “I am sorry if you misunderstood me, Mother, but I do hope that you will be a little easier with Estella.  I am going to find Angelica now.”  And he stalked off, leaving his father to stare at him in puzzlement, and his mother in frustration.

_____________________________________

Estella followed her mother and Esmeralda about the Brandy Hall gardens, as the gardener diffidently pointed out which blooms would be at their best in time for the wedding.  She tried to feign interest in the bridal wreath which she would wear upon her hair, but it was very difficult.   She was worried about Merry.  They were to begin sitting for their gifts the next day, and he had planned to be back today at the latest; yet there was no sign of the three cousins yet, and the day was drawing on.

Perhaps she’d made a mistake in encouraging him to go.  Yet she’d relied on his assurance that things were safer now with a King on the throne once more, and at the time it had seemed more important to get him away from the danger of having a fight with her mother.  But now it began to occur to her that “safer” did not mean the same as “perfectly safe”, and that they might have met with some mishap on their journey, or had something else to delay them.  Frodo had seemed healthier and happier than she’d seen him since their return from their first journey, but what if he’d fallen ill again, after all?  She bit her lip.

“Estella!” Her mother called her name sharply.  “I would think you would be interested.  What do you think?”

She jerked her mind to attention, and cast her eyes towards a lovely display of flowers in several shades of lavender.  “How about some sweet honesty?” she said.  She loved its delicate fragrance.

Rosamunda shook her head emphatically.  “We’d agreed that it would be all white flowers, dear.”

“Oh.” Her mother had come up with the idea, and there had been no question of disagreement.

“We will be able to have some gypsophilia, campanula and valerian.  And there are some white geraniums that Master Caradas says will be at their peak in a few days,” said Esmeralda helpfully.

“Those sound fine to me, Mother Esme,” Estella said.  Esme had asked her to begin calling her that already.

“But how about asters,” asked Rosamunda fretfully.  “My daughter should have asters if possible.”  For asters, also known as “starwort” were supposed to be Estella’s nameflowers.

“I’m sorry,  Mistress, but they aren’t in bloom yet.  Won’t be in bloom for another month or more.”

Rosamunda gave a huffing sigh, as though the blooming habits of asters had been especially chosen to frustrate her.

“I’ve an idea,” said Emeralda.  “Master Caradas, are those flowers Merry had from Master Samwise established?”

He grinned.  “Yes’m,  They are indeed, and right pretty they are!  I can believe they are Elf flowers!”  He led them along another path to a partially shady area, rather set apart from the rest of the garden, with a rather proprietary air.  Master Caradas was a Brandybuck, though from a junior branch of the family, and he was very proud of the gardens in his care.  “Here you are!” He said, with a sweep of his hand. 

There, spread across a grassy sward, were dozens of beautiful white blooms, small and star-shaped, with a delicate and hard to describe fragrance.

“Oh!” said Estella.  “Those are perfect!  What are they?”

“Master Merry said as they was called niphredil.  He said he saw them growing in the Golden Wood of the Elves, that he saw on his long journey.  The Elf that came to Master Samwise’s wedding gave Master Samwise some of the seeds as part of his wedding gift.”

“I think those will be perfect!” exclaimed Estella, bending to examine the blossoms more closely.

Rosamunda pursed her lips, as though she wanted to protest this use of foreign flowers in the wedding, but as she watched Estella, her face softened a bit.  She gave a grudging nod.  “They would look nice in the wreath,” she said reluctantly.

Just then, a maidservant came scurrying along the paths, clearly in search of them.   “Mistress Esmeralda!” she called.

“Yes, ivy?”

“You wanted to know when the Thain and Mistress Eglantine arrived!  They’ve just come!”

Estella gave a sigh of relief.  Eglantine was here!  If there was anyone in the world who could manage her mother, it was the Thain’s Lady.

________________________________________

The welcoming dinner in the main dining hall had been a nice respite for Estella.  Fortunately, the arrival of Paladin and Eglantine meant a seating rearrangement, and she had found herself down the table and seated next to Freddy and Angelica, while her parents had ended up at the other end.  For once, she could take a deep breath and relax.  Merry would be back soon, she was sure, and Freddy had also reassured her on that score.

“More stuffed mushrooms, Estella?” asked her sister-in-law.  Angelica held the platter over.

Estella grinned, and helped herself.  Perhaps, with another evening or two like this, she might not need her dress taken in after all.

“Thank you, Angelica,” she said, as she bit into one of the treats.
________________________________________________

The next day, they were to go through all the names of those who had accepted invitations, and plan the seating.  Eglantine had joined Rosamunda, Esmeralda, Angelica, Merry’s cousin and Estella’s good friend, Melilot, who was standing witness for Estella, Pearl, who had arrived with her parents, and Estella--who  felt much like an afterthought.  They had gathered in the private dining room in the Master’s apartment, and sat around the table, where they sorted through the stack of letters.

Finally, they had managed to figure out the arrangements for the lesser tables. 

“Well,” said Pearl, “the head table should not be a problem.  Bridal couple in the center, witnesses on either side, and then the parents.”

Everyone nodded.  So far that was traditional.

“That is,” said Melilot, making a note on her list, “Merry, with Cousin Frodo to his left, followed by Aunt Esme, and then Uncle Sara.  Estella on Merry‘s right, with Melilot on her right, followed by Cousin Odovacar, and then you, Cousin Rosamunda.”

“That means that you, Tina, should be next to Sara, with Paladin,” said Esmeralda.

“But that’s in the normal run of things.  We will have foreign dignitaries,” said Eglantine.  “We have Prince Legolas, not to mention Lord Gimli and Gandalf  to consider.  Do you think that as a matter of precedence, Prince Legolas should be next to Sara?”

“Or,” said Rosamunda, “he could be on the bridal side.”  Her expression, which had soured a bit at the mention of Gandalf, brightened a bit at thinking that she might be seated next to a prince.  Even if he was an Elf.

Esmeralda shook her head.  “They certainly will be at the bridal table, but they are not family.  And from what I know of them,” for she had met them two years ago, and they had stayed several days at Brandy Hall, “they would not wish to put family out.”

“What would Miss Dora say?” asked Pearl.

“I don’t believe she addressed the matter,” said Rosamunda, with a frown.

“Well,” said Angelica timidly, “I remember what she used to say.”  All eyes turned to her.  She was a Baggins, after all, and old enough to remember Dora personally.  “Cousin Dora said that at family occasions, such as weddings, close family was most important and had precedence over any who were not kin.”

“Very well, then,” said Eglantine.   “Paladin and I will be next to Sara.”

Rosamunda flashed a look of triumph.  “Then the Elf prince will be seated next to us.”

“No,” said Esme, “we still have family to seat.  Pippin will be next to you.  And as they are an acknowledged couple, Miss Diamond North-took next to him.”  While they were both still thought too young for an official betrothal, it was well-known that they were a “courting couple”.

Rosamunda gave a sigh of disappointment, but it was not too much.  After all, familiar as he might be, Peregrin Took *was* the Thain’s Heir.  She just hoped he would not spend the entire dinner making jests.

Pearl glanced over at Melilot’s chart.  “Let’s see, that puts Uncle Merimac and Aunt Linda next to Father. Freddy and you, Angelica, next to Diamond;  and Beri and Viola next to them. Then myself, Pimmie and Milo, Vinca and Tanto on the other side…”  Her voice trailed off.  “I think that’s all that would be called ‘close’.”

Esmeralda nodded.  “All the parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and first cousins and their spouses, at any rate.”

“So all that are left at the bridal table will be the Outland guests?” asked Melilot.

“No,” said Eglantine.  “Samwise Gamgee and his wife will also be here.”

Rosamunda looked up sharply.  “Surely you are not suggesting they have a place at the bridal table!  Why, he’s a gardener!”

Estella took in a sharp breath, and snapped a look of alarm at her mother.  There was a sudden silence, as everyone stared at Rosamunda.

Rosamunda flushed.  “Well, he is!”

Eglantine stood, and putting both hands on the table leaned across it.  “Samwise Gamgee has been acknowledged by the King as having precedence over everyone except Frodo Baggins himself.”

Rosamunda looked taken aback, but she was not ready to concede yet.  “An Outland title!”

“And yet,” said Eglantine, with narrowed eyes, “you are ready to grant precedence to the others on the basis of their Outland titles!”

“But they *are* Outlanders, and not hobbits!  Surely, even if the Gamgees have a place at the bridal table, it is at the end!  They are merely common folk!”

Estella stared at her mother, appalled.  She knew that her mother had those sorts of notions about people, but she was usually much more diplomatic about it than this.

Eglantine leaned over even more, so that she was very close to Rosamunda’s face.  “I think that you are quite mistaken,” she said, in a cold and dangerous tone,  “and that you had best get over such notions.”  Everyone knew that when Eglantine grew cold, she was in a towering fury.

Rosamunda paled, but she was still angry.  She drew breath, but before she could say any more, Esmeralda said, “I hope, Rosamunda, that you are not rash enough to say such things in front of Merry.  Or Frodo.”

“Or Pippin,” added Eglantine, moving in even closer.  “Or that Elf you want to impress, or the Dwarf Lord.” She paused and added significantly, “or Gandalf.  I would certainly not think it wise to offend a wizard.”

Estella felt close to tears.  How could her mother do this?  She stood up, and went over, putting a hand on her mother’s shoulder.  “Mother, Sam and Rose are very dear friends; Frodo himself considers them family.  Please do not quarrel over this.”

Rosamunda looked up at her daughter, and for an instant, Estella thought she saw a hint of panic, turning to gratitude.  “Very well, Estella, for your sake, I shall drop the matter.”

Everyone there drew a sigh of relief, and Eglantine slowly straightened up.  “That’s very wise of you, Rosamunda.  I know you are under a good deal of stress, with planning the wedding; I forgive you for your lapse in judgment.  I hope that you will forgive me my temper?”

Rosamunda drew a deep breath and nodded, and her hand came up to pat Estella’s hand on her shoulder. 

Just then, they heard a clamor in the courtyard.  Estella felt her heart leap, and she raced to the window.

Merry!  Merry, and Frodo, and Pippin had ridden up, accompanied by--it *was* the Elf, with the Dwarf riding behind him! 

With a wordless cry of joy, she raced from the room.

A few seconds later, she found herself in Merry’s arms, as he held her close, and the rest of the world ceased to exist.

 TBC

AUTHOR:  Dreamflower
RATING: G
AUTHOR'S NOTES: (1) My elements for this chapter were: a creative endeavor, a shade tree, Berilac, and a King’s messenger. (2) This story takes place in my "Eucatastrophe" universe; in that universe, the Three Elven Rings did not fade, but were freed to full power by the destruction of the One, Saruman was killed by Quickbeam during the storming of Isengard, and the journey to Elvenhome is now a two-way trip, allowing those who have gone to return to Middle-earth, if they so choose…
SUMMARY: A return home, and a new and less perilous adventure awaits Frodo…
DISCLAIMER:  Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the Tolkien Estate.  I own none of them.  Some of them, however, seem to own me.
PREVIOUSLY:  Estella had been having a rather nerve-wracking time of wedding preparations, but now Merry is back, as are his cousins, and the day of the wedding fast approaches…

EUCATASTROPHE: THE RETURN, PART ELEVEN

Frodo looked on fondly as Merry and Estella embraced, the two of them oblivious to the amused grins of cousins and guests.  He had done it--he had returned Merry to Buckland in plenty of time for the wedding.  In fact, not a day too soon, as the couple were to begin sitting for their gifts this afternoon after luncheon.

“Oh, Merry!” Estella drew back at last to gaze up at her betrothed with tears in her eyes.  “I’m *so* glad you are back at last!”

Merry looked down, confusion writ large on his face.  “But Estella, you did say I was to go!”

She gave a little chuckle and wiped her eyes.  “I know that I did.  But I had no idea how much I would miss you.”

“Oh.”  Now Merry’s expression was one of gratification, and he drew her close and kissed the top of her head.  “I missed you also, my heart,” he murmured.

Frodo found this reunion unexpectedly touching.  What a fortunate fellow his cousin was, to have found someone like Estella!  He thought fondly of the child who’d dogged his steps ever since he had been old enough to do so, and who had grown up into a friend who continued to do so, even in the face of unspeakable danger.  Merry deserved every bit of good fortune that came his way, and Frodo was more than pleased to realize what this would mean to the future.  Like Sam, Merry would now begin to make a life for himself, one that included a family of his own.

His musings were cut short by a chuckle from Pippin.  “Merry Brandybuck!  You shall have time and enough to greet your lass--but we’ve guests to see to!”

Blushing, Merry turned, his arm still around Estella, and began to stammer out his apologies to Legolas and Gimli.  But just then his parents came out, accompanied by several other inhabitants of Brandy Hall, all very pleased to see that the groom and his friends had arrived home safely and in time.

Saradoc and Esmeralda greeted Legolas and Gimli graciously and fondly.  They had guested the Elf and Dwarf before, and were pleased to have them at the wedding.  They wondered at the absence of Gandalf, however.

“He’ll be here,” said Merry confidently.  “He has Shadowfax.  And besides, as he is fond of reminding us, Wizards are never late!”

They went inside to a jolly luncheon.  Enough guests had arrived that most of the meals now were being taken in the main dining room.  Legolas and Gimli were warmly welcomed by various Brandybucks who remembered their previous visit, and the cousins made quite a tale of their journey to Rivendell and back.  By mutual consent, they played down the encounter with the ruffians.  Merry would tell his father the details later, but they saw no need now to alarm others, especially since all the danger was past and gone.

When lunch was ended, Merry and Estella retreated to the drawing room of the apartments that had traditionally been those of the Son of the Hall.  Merry had only lived in them, however, for three years, after his coming of age and before the Quest, when he had then moved into Crickhollow with Pippin.  The rooms had been turned into guest quarters, and it was there that the Bolgers were staying until the wedding.

Melilot joined them, and with her help, the couple began to tackle the task of opening the many wedding gifts that had been arriving by post over the last few weeks.

“For goodness’ sake!” exclaimed Melilot, “just look at this mathom from Hortensia Boffin!”  She held up a rather spectacularly purple teapot.  Merry groaned, and Estella rolled her eyes.

Frodo took Saradoc aside.  “Uncle Sara, did the item from Erebor arrive safely?”

Saradoc nodded.  “It did indeed.  There’s not a scratch on it.  It is safely stored in your old room.”

Frodo breathed a sigh of relief.  That particular gift had been ordered from Frodo and Bilbo’s old friend Nuri  before the two hobbits had sailed.  The present was from both him and Bilbo.  “That’s good, Uncle.  I’ll present it on Trewsday, then, when things are a bit less busy.”  Traditionally, the majority of gifts arrived either the first day or the last, of the week of sitting for gifts.  But midway in the week was a bit of a slack time often cherished by close friends and kin for presenting their gifts in less hectic circumstances.   “We shall take Legolas and Gimli with us, and settle in at Crickhollow, then, this afternoon.  We will come back to take supper here at the Hall, and fetch Merry then.    I have a few details to see to.  Are all of the witnesses still available?”

“Yes, they are.  Did you get the document completed?”

“For the most part.  I have just a few little things I wish to add, and I need to double-check for any errors.  Are there any changes in the contract I should know about?”

“No, lad.  All is just as Odo and I agreed upon at the betrothal.  It’s all quite simple.”

“I’m glad!  That means I’ve room to add a few special embellishments!”

Saradoc smiled, and clapped him on the shoulder.  “I am certain that it’s a real work of art, Frodo.  You don’t know how glad I am to see you taking an interest in such things once more!”

Frodo grinned.  “Well, I most certainly could never allow anyone else to prepare Merry and Estella’s Marriage Lines, Uncle Sara!”

_______________________________________

Legolas and Gimli would be staying at Crickhollow with the cousins; the Hall was going to packed to the rafters with other guests, so it was a good thing that they could take a couple of them off Saradoc and Esmeralda’s hands.  They left Stybba at the Hall stables, and rode slowly the two miles to the cottage.

Soon the four friends were in the kitchen, where Pippin played host, making tea, and looking out for provisions.  “We’ve some biscuits in the tin, but I shall have to go to market tomorrow,” he said, as he poured tea.  “It’s a good thing we are taking supper at Brandy Hall.”

Gimli chuckled.  “Merry seemed quite happy to see his lass.  Are you certain he’ll want to come back here with us tonight?”

Frodo smiled.  “He won’t have much choice.  His old bed in his old quarters are currently occupied by his future in-laws.  I do not doubt that Aunt Esme will have to resort to pallets on the floor for many of the guests.”

“What about Sam and Rose and Elanor?” asked Pippin.  “We’ve no extra beds here!”

Frodo laughed.  “Aunt Esme assures me that she has put aside a room for them already.  I do believe it’s *your* old room!  And I think that Folco Boffin is to have my old room!”

“Good heavens!” Pippin exclaimed.  “The Hall really *is* packed if Aunt Esme is using those rooms!”

 When they had eaten, they went outside, and Frodo, Pippin and Gimli took out their pipes for a smoke.  Legolas shook his head, and took himself up the shade tree that stood by the gate to the lane.  Frodo chuckled.  “You’d think he’d be used to our smoking by now!”

Gimli shook his head, and laughed.  “He’s only known us for four years, after all.  That’s no time at all to an Elf.”

Pippin cast a sly glance at the Dwarf.  “By the way, Gimli, how do you feel about cats?”

Gimli raised his bushy eyebrows in surprise at the question, but said, “Useful enough creatures, I suppose.  They keep the vermin down…”

Pippin grinned, but his expression suddenly changed to one of pain. “Ouch!  What did you pinch me for, Frodo?”

Frodo looked at Gimli.  “This cousin of mine is trying to find a home for Dumpling’s latest litter of kittens!”  He turned a stern look on Pippin.  “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

Pippin looked unabashed.  “You don’t suppose your Strawberry would like some company, do you?  I’m sure Sam and Rose…”

“Oh no you don’t! One cat at Bag End is enough!”  Frodo sighed, and added ruefully, “Besides, soon enough I’ll be having to try and find home for *her* kittens!”

Pippin and Gimli both laughed at this reluctant confession.

When they had finished their smoke, Legolas rejoined them.  Somehow he had come across the kittens, and was carrying two of them about, one of them in his hands, that he was caressing absently, the other perched on his shoulder, purring in his pointed ear.  Pippin looked immensely pleased, and Gimli suppressed a smile.  He wondered how they’d convey the kittens away with them.  If the young Took had decided that they’d be a good home for the little animals, he and the Elf did not stand a chance.

Pippin showed them about the gardens, pointing out all the improvements he and Merry had made to the place in the last couple of years.  They were  quite proud of the extra wing they had  recently built onto the eastern side of the house, which would give the newly-wed couple a bit more space, and a little extra privacy.

Pippin sighed.  “We’ll be starting another such wing on the western side of the cottage.  But probably not for a few years.  I’ll be glad when Diamond and I can wed, and I can bring her here also.” 

Frodo beamed.  “I am so glad that you and Merry are making your lives here.  I wondered sometimes if giving you this house was the best thing to do.  Both of you had lived all your lives in the ancestral tunnels--I  sometimes feared you might find it too quiet and solitary here!”

Pippin turned an amazed face to his older cousin.  “Oh, Frodo!  It’s the best gift you’ve ever given us!  Both of us know that sooner or later we’ll have to return to the family holdings and take up our duties.  But for now, it’s lovely to have a place where we can just be ourselves, and not the Thain’s Heir or the Son of the Hall!  And it will be nice to start our families here, away from the bustle of Brandy Hall or the Great Smials.”  He gave a little hop, and then said “By the way--have you seen Merry’s new herb beds?”

Soon enough, it was time to go back to Brandy Hall, for supper, and to collect Merry.  Things were going to be very busy from now until the wedding.

It was with a very happy weariness that Frodo sank into his bed that night, and he fell asleep as he counted over his duties as Merry’s witness.

EUCATASTROPHE: THE RETURN, PART TWELVE

Frodo found himself awake early.  It was something new for him, to waken in time to see the dawn nearly every morning.  It had begun on the voyage to Tol Eressëa, when all of the Elves would waken to greet Anor, as she broke over the Eastern horizon.  He found himself strangely invigorated at that time of day. 

He had expected to fall back into his old, and self-confessed slothful habits on his return to the Shire, but he had not.  He got up and dressed, for sharing a hole with Rose Gamgee had cured him of his bachelor habit of breakfast in his dressing gown, and made his way to the kitchen.  He passed by the room which Legolas had been given, but the door stood open.  The Elf was probably already outdoors.

Frodo opened the kitchen window and looked out--yes, there he was, beneath the same oak he had climbed yesterday, his face turned to the East, and a low song on his lips, which Frodo could barely make out.  He was tempted to go and join his friend, but he was still a hobbit, after all, and tea seemed rather a more urgent need at the moment than song.

Humming under his breath the same melody that Legolas sang, he pumped water into the kettle, and stirred up the fire in the stove, which had been banked for the night.  Once he’d put the kettle on and taken out the tea cannister and teapot, he turned his attention to the larder.  Pippin had indicated that it was nearly bare yesterday, but he noticed that the ingredients for griddlecakes were there, even if there were no sausages and eggs to accompany them.  There were also some jars of preserves, put up at the Hall. 

He was busily making a lovely stack of griddlecakes when Pippin wandered into the kitchen in his tatty old dressing gown.  Even though it was nearly worn out, and was far too small for him since he had returned from his Journey, he refused to get rid of it.  It had been a gift from his Auntie Peridot when he was twenty-seven.

“Ah, Frodo!  I thought I smelled something good!”  He reached over to the plate and snatched one of the cakes, deftly dodging Frodo’s ill-aimed swat, and taking a bite from it.  “Mmm…very good, cousin!”

Frodo chuckled.  “You will eat them all before we even sit down, you impudent thing!”

Pippin just smiled, and took down two plates.  “There are plenty here for the two of us.  Legolas never eats first breakfast, Gimli usually sleeps through it, and Merry will as well.  He didn’t sleep well last night.  He had some unsettling dreams.”

Frodo looked over at Pippin with alarm.  “Nightmares of the Quest?” he asked worriedly.  While he felt that he was mostly free of his bad memories, he worried about the others--they had not had the same benefits that he had.

Pippin shook his head and smiled.  “Nightmares of quite a different sort!  He was dreaming that he was at the wedding dressed only in his smallclothes!  Apparently in his dream, only Rosamunda seemed to notice, and she approached him with a weskit she wished for him to wear.  As she came after him, at first it was a very plain black one, but it kept changing color while she chased him.  And then Estella started weeping that he was standing her up!”

“Oh dear!” Frodo wasn’t certain whether to laugh or not.  Poor Merry! 

“Anyway,” said Pippin, as the two of them sat down together to stacks of griddlecakes and strawberry  preserves, “I am going to the market this morning in Newbury.  Care to come with me?”

Frodo shook his head.  “I think that I shall work on the Marriage Lines.  I have only a few things to complete, and then that will be one task out of the way.”

“You can use Merry’s desk in the parlor,” said Pippin.  “He’s not going to be busy there anytime soon.”

Frodo nodded.  “Well, then, as I made the breakfast, I shall leave the washing up to you, Pip.”

Pippin rolled his eyes.  “Bossy older cousins!” But there was fond laughter in his voice.

_____________________________________________________

Frodo fetched the long brass tube, in which the document had traveled, and the case containing his inks, paints, pens and brushes. 

Frodo was humming pleasantly beneath his breath, as he unrolled the large document.  He placed a heavy polished stone at each corner,  and blew gently, in case of any stray particles of dust.  He did not turn around, for he knew Legolas had come in.  “What do you think?” he asked shyly.  He wondered if his work would come up to Elven standards of perfection.

Legolas came near, and stood over his shoulder.  The document was written in the precise rounded Westron that the hobbits of the Shire preferred.  He recalled the document Frodo had prepared for Sam’s wedding, with its rich border of roses and other flowers, and a small watercolor inset of a Shire landscape.  This was quite different in style.

“It reminds me of Rohan,” he said cautiously, in case his guess was wrong.

Frodo beamed at him.  “I’m so glad to hear you say that!  I was quite taken with the intricate knotwork I saw decorating much of Meduseld.  And, as Merry is a Knight of Rohan, I thought that I would include some of that.  But I hope that there is not too much of it, for he is also a hobbit of Buckland, and Estella’s of the Shire.”

Legolas looked more closely, and Frodo held his breath for the verdict.  “The knotwork has a Rohirric flavor, but I like the tiny river scene you have placed within the illuminated capital.  A scene of the Baranduin?”

Frodo nodded, pleased. 

“And there are the floral vines within the knotted borders, and the style of the lettering.   I certainly think that you have honored the Shire as well as Merry’s Rohirric connections.”

“Thank you! That is just the effect I was hoping for.”

“You cannot have much left to do to this,” said Legolas.

“No, not a lot.  I took it with me on the voyage to work on, and I’ve done more since I came back.  Mostly I need to fill in and illuminate the dates,  for I did not then know what the date would be--Merry did promise to wait for me, but I was not sure if Estella and the Bolgers would allow the delay.“ He stuck his tongue in his cheek and examined his work briefly.  “I did most of the gilding first, but I was uncertain about gilding their names.  What  do you think, Legolas?  Should I gild them, or simply paint them in color?”

“Why, whichever you prefer, of course.  Or whichever you think Merry will prefer…”

Frodo chuckled.  “I should have known not to ask your advice!  You are an Elf, and won’t commit yourself!  But--yes, I think that Merry would like the gilding--he tends to be a bit on the colorful side--he reminds me a good deal of Bilbo in that.  And I am quite certain Estella’s mother Rosamunda would like the gilding!  Yes, let us be extravagant!”

Frodo took out a tiny porcelain dish, and a little jar of distilled water, and found a tablet of gesso, lightly tinted yellow, which he placed in the dish.  He had prepared it himself, of slaked plaster and honey. He stirred some water in carefully with a small brush, and then began to apply it to the lettering on Estella’s name.  He soon became absorbed in the task, completely oblivious to the silent Elf watching over his shoulder.  While the gesso dried, he turned his attention to the letters in the date.  He carefully mixed a bit of crimson pigment in another of the porcelain dishes, and began to paint each letter carefully.  When he had finished, he checked the gesso.  It was dry enough to add a second layer, which he did.  He rinsed his small brush, and wiped it carefully with a bit of cloth, before putting it down and stretching flexing his fingers.  He startled a bit to realized that Legolas was still there.

He grinned.  “I should have thought you would have grown bored by now,” he said ruefully.  “It can’t have been very entertaining to watch me work.”

“On the contrary,” replied the Elf.  “I always find it fascinating to watch someone who knows what they are doing at work.”

Frodo blushed, and glancing at the clock on the mantelpiece, said, “This has to dry before I lay the leaf.  So I think that I will make a couple of other additions.  I had left some blank areas, in case there were any last minute changes to the contract.  I think I will place the Rohirric device here,” he pointed, “below the place where Uncle Sara will sign and seal the document.  And I do believe I will put a few more asters on the vinework.”

Soon he was once more absorbed in the work.  He paid no attention when he heard Gimli enter the room. Once he had drawn in the charge of horse-heads, he checked the gesso.  It was precisely right.  He took up a reed, and carefully blew through it to moisten the sizing, and then, very carefully, took up a tiny sheet of gold leaf to lay down.

Once the leaf had been laid upon the names, he took up a large soft brush, and began to gently brush away the residue.  Next, he took up his agate burnisher, and soon the letters gleamed.

He was trying to decide about painting the device he had drawn, when they heard Merry calling.  “Oi!  Where is everyone?  It’s nearly time for elevenses!”

 “We’re in the parlor, Merry, but don’t come in here!  I don’t want you to see this yet,”  Frodo exclaimed.  He stood up and stretched, and smiled at Legolas and Gimli.  “I suppose that it’s time for a break, at any rate.”

The three of them returned to the kitchen, where they found Merry looking through the barren cupboards.  “Where is Pip?” he asked.

“He went to market,” said Frodo.  “I think you will find your cupboard is as bare as old Gammer Hubbard’s.”

“Well, that’s a fine state of affairs,” Merry grumbled.

“And one I am here to solve,” came Pippin’s cheerful voice from the kitchen door.  His arms were laden, and two young lads, also burdened with bags and parcels, stood behind him.  He advanced to place his market basket on the table, and gestured for the lads to do the same.  He took some coins from his pockets, and pressed them upon his helpers.

“Ooh! Thank you Captain Pippin,” exclaimed the older of the two.  “Look, Bert!  Two whole coppers apiece!”  They stammered their thanks again, and then raced away.

__________________________________________________

The rest of the day was busy.  They all returned to Brandy Hall after elevenses, for Merry and Estella’s second day of sitting for their gifts.  Frodo left Legolas and Gimli in Pippin’s company, and went with Saradoc and Odovacar to discuss some details of the ceremony.  Around teatime, Sam and his family arrived, and there was a joyful reunion.  Frodo had missed them a good deal while he was gone, and he took possession of little Elanor, only reluctantly relinquishing her to Gimli after several heavy-handed hints.

He looked at Rose, and smiled, a little secretive smile that he saw mirrored in Legolas’ face.  She *had* quickened within the last couple of weeks.  She gave him a puzzled look when she saw him studying her, so he quickly looked at Sam, and asked for the Hobbiton gossip.  Soon everyone was laughing at Sam’s account of the Gaffer’s escalating rivalry with Widow Puddifoot in the matter of growing the largest marrow.

Later, while Merry was quite busy fending off his future mother-in-law’s questions as to why the couple was not moving into Brandy Hall, Frodo spirited Sam and Pippin off to show them the gift he was presenting to Merry and Estella the next day.

“Oh my, Mr. Frodo!  That’s a nice piece, that is!” exclaimed Sam in wonder.  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen one so large!”

Pippin had not said anything, but his green eyes glittered with curiosity, and he approached it with hands outstretched.  Frodo smacked his hand smartly.

“Oh no you don’t, Peregrin Took!  You don’t touch it!”

Pippin turned wide eyes on him.

“No, that look is not going to work on me!  This came all the way from the Lonely  Mountain, and it is from both Bilbo and me, so you just keep your Tookish fingers off.”

Pippin sighed.  “I wouldn’t hurt it.”

“You’ll have plenty of opportunity once they get it to Crickhollow.  Then if you break it you can face Merry’s wrath--and Estella’s!”

“I wouldn’t hurt it,” he repeated.  “What makes you think I would?”

“Uncle Sara’s spyglass, Uncle Bilbo’s mantel clock, Pervinca’s wind-up doll, the scales at Whitwell, your clockwork dragon from Uncle Bilbo…”

“Oh, well,” Pippin said huffily, “if you are going to bring up ancient history…”  But there was a twinkle in his eye.  He was enjoying this.

“Well, Mr. Pippin, there *is* the matter of that bell in Minas Tirith…” said Sam slyly.  Frodo looked at him in surprise; Sam rarely got involved in the cousins’ disputes.  But  Frodo could tell Sam was just as amused as Pippin was by the argument.   With a start, he realized they were both humoring him.

“Shall we rejoin the others before Merry decides to come looking for us?”

__________________________________________

After supper, they headed back to Crickhollow.  They had walked up this time, and so they were walking back.  Legolas and Pippin were singing, and Gimli was following along in their wake; Frodo hung back.  He could tell Merry wanted to talk.

“Why am I so nervous about this wedding, Frodo?  I keep reminding myself that it’s something I want.  I can’t wait for Estella to be my wife.  And it’s not all the pomp--we had plenty of that at the court of the King, and it never made me so nervous.  We all got used to people staring at us.”

Frodo smiled.  “Yes, but with the exception of a few close friends, they were all strangers to us.  These are our family and friends that we’ve known all our lives--and while it *should* make you less nervous, it actually makes you more so.  After all, you will be around most of these folk the rest of your life, and you worry about making a fool of yourself in front of them.  But the truth is, you are not going to make a fool of yourself--once you have Estella by your side, you will forget everything else.  Remember Sam and Rose, at their wedding?”

Merry smiled.  “Of course you’re right, Frodo!  And it’s what I do know when I stop to think about it.  Thank you for reminding me!”

“Well, it’s one of my duties, after all--dealing with the groom’s nerves!”

EUCATASTROPHE: THE RETURN, PART THIRTEEN

Trewsday morning, Frodo finished the rest of the Marriage Lines before anyone else was awake save Legolas.  He looked it over carefully, and though it was not perhaps as perfect as he would have once hoped to see, he knew that any flaws would only be visible to himself.  And he was quite sure that Merry would like it.  He laid a thin sheet of tissue over the document, and rolled it carefully, before returning it to its carrying case.  He would take it up to Brandy Hall and give it to Saradoc today.

He smiled.  Today he’d give Merry his and Bilbo’s gift after luncheon.  He got up, and headed for the kitchen, for he could smell some very tantalizing smells.  Pippin was busy at the stove; he had dressed already this morning.  Frodo was surprised to see his younger cousin in the trews and silk shirt he usually wore beneath his armor. 

Pippin noticed his questioning glance.  “Merry’s been a bit tense since we got back.  I told him we’d spar a bit this morning before second breakfast.”

Frodo nodded.  He knew his cousins seemed to enjoy sparring as sport, though he himself could not really feel comfortable with the idea of playing with swords, he realized that it was important to both of them.  And they were very good at it.

He left them clacking away under the approving eyes of Legolas and Gimli, and went for a walk.  He headed for the Brandywine.  The feelings of sorrow the River had once brought upon him, as he remembered his parents’ death had been blunted by time and experience, and since his healing, he had come to realize they were not truly gone.  He fully believed that one day he would be reunited with them. 

He had a very pleasant stroll, and passed a number of the local hobbits, some of them headed for Brandy Hall with business for the wedding.  Each of them had a word and a greeting for him.  Most of the Buckland hobbits had never forgotten young Master Frodo, and they were glad to have him among them once more.

He stood on the bank for a while, skipping stones, and then headed back.  He saw two young lads making their way to the River, fishing poles in their hands.  The older one appeared to be just shy of his tweens, the younger one looked to be about eight.  They reminded him sharply of him and Merry at that age.

When he returned to Crickhollow, his cousins had cleaned up and changed.  All of them sat down to elevenses, consisting of bread, cheese, pickles and ale, and then they strolled down to the Hall.

More guests had arrived.  It was clear that Brandy Hall was packed.  Frodo shook his head--he’d not seen such a crowd there since his Uncle Rory’s funeral, years ago.  But this was, of course, a happier occasion.  In three more days there would be even *more* people here!  Why, this was going to be as large a crowd as Bilbo had drawn for his Farewell Party!

Luncheon today was served on the grounds as well as in the Hall, for there were far too many people to eat inside.

Frodo noticed that Folco Boffin had arrived.  “Sam!” He called,  “Can you and Pip help me get the gift down to the parlor?  Folco is going to be staying in my old room, and if he gets a look at it, everybody here will know about it within five minutes!”

Sam grinned. “Well, I’d say that’s a good idea, Mr. Frodo.  But I’m not certain we’ll be able to get Mr. Pippin’s attention.”  He nodded over by the large table, where Pippin could be seen in earnest conversation with Miss Diamond North-took.

Frodo chuckled.  “I daresay you’re right, Sam.  Hoy!  Berilac!  Could you give us some help?”

“Whatever you need, Frodo,” Berilac said amiably.

“We need to bring Merry and Estella’s wedding gift from Bilbo and me down to the parlor.  I’d like to have it there before the two of them come in to do their sitting.  And I’d like to get it out of the room before Folco sees it!”

“Of course!  I helped take it up there!”

The three of them made their way to the Master’s apartments.   The room kept for Frodo here, ever since Saradoc had become Master, was not the room he had grown up in, in the Son of the Hall’s quarters.  This room had a window, and was rather spacious.  But it had the same furniture and bedcoverings Frodo remembered from his childhood.  He drew the blanket off the gift, where it stood next to the wardrobe.

 “I’ve never seen one so large,” said Berilac admiringly.

Frodo grinned at it.  “Ostentatious, actually.  I hardly think my Aunt Dora would have approved, but Bilbo ordered it specially.  I think he wanted to make sure his last gift would be talked about as long as his last party was.”

He took a length of wide silk ribbon, and wrapped it around three times before tying it snugly in a double bow.  Then the three hobbits lifted it carefully, and made their way to the parlor, where they set it in the middle of the room.  Frodo stood back and admired it.  “Yes indeed, Uncle Bilbo, I do believe Merry will be impressed,” he murmured.  A shame Bilbo could not be here to see it received; but he was happy enough with the Elves.

They were not a moment too soon.  The door opened, and Merry and Estella holding hands and laughing, came in with Melilot right behind them.  They stopped, and stared.

Frodo looked at them fondly.  “Congratulations and best wishes, Cousins, from Bilbo and myself.”

Estella and Meli just stared.  Merry’s jaw dropped, and he stepped forward, hand outstretched.  After a hesitant second, he untied the ribbon, and it fell to the floor.

The clock stood as high as he himself.  The dark rich wood gleamed, and the glass front showed the pendulum.  The clock face itself was of crystal, the inlaid numbers of gold, and the hands of silver.  Merry came over and stood before it, entranced.  He turned a questioning look to Frodo, that reminded Frodo more than anything else of his cousin at Yule, when he was only six. 

“Here’s the key, Merry.”  He reached up and opened the clock, so that Merry could see its inner workings.

“Oh Frodo!”  Merry finally let out the breath he’d been holding.

“A clock was my idea.  *This* clock was entirely *Bilbo’s* idea!  According to the Dwarves, you will only need to wind it every sevenday.”

Estella finally stepped forward, smiling.  She put a hand on Frodo’s arm, and gave him a kiss on the cheek.  “Thank you, Frodo.  I wish we could thank Bilbo as well.”

“I wish you could, too, Estella.  But somehow, I think he’ll know that you like it.”

_____________________________________________

Two days until the wedding.  All of them were up at the Hall, and Frodo had just ticked off all the witnesses on the list, and had a private word with Paladin and Pippin.  A precedent had been set at Sam’s wedding, in which Pippin had been allowed to sign as an eighth witness, so long as his signature was attested by his father.  Frodo wanted to be certain that the arrangement was also in place for this wedding.  It would mean a lot to Merry and Estella to have Pippin’s name on their Marriage Document.

Then, just as Frodo and Pippin were going to join Merry and Estella in the parlor, there was a commotion.

“King’s Messenger!” The cry went up, and Frodo and Pippin turned to see a large bay galloping up the lane, the rider in the familiar black and silver of Gondor.

“Haldad!” cried Pippin, for he knew this messenger, Haldad son of Hathol came regularly with messages from the High King, and from the King of Rohan as well.

The Man dismounted, and sketched a bow to the two hobbits who stood before him.  “Lord Frodo, Sir Peregrin!”

They returned the courtesy with a little half-bow.  Frodo blushed.  It no longer pained him to be reminded of his rank--he knew it was an honor that his King and friend intended for him, and he had come to terms with the fact that he deserved it.  But he still found it a little embarrassing in the Shire--hobbits of the Shire had no lords among themselves, after all. 

“Welcome, Haldad,” said Pippin, who after all, was a King’s Messenger himself, and in a manner of speaking Haldad’s superior in rank. 

“I bear messages and packages for Sir Meriadoc, and was enjoined to deliver them in person to him and in the presence of his betrothed before the wedding on Mid-summer’s Day.”

“You are in luck then, Haldad, for Merry and Estella are sitting for their gifts at this very moment!  I’ll take you to them!”

“Pip,” said Frodo, “I’ll go find Uncle Sara and Aunt Esme and bring them--I know that these gifts they would like to be present to see received!”

A few moments later there was quite a gathering in the parlor.  The ceilings in Brandy Hall were high enough that Haldad could stand upright without risk of banging his head, though he had to stoop low enough to go through the doorways.  He stood before the hearth, with his saddlebags in his hands.  Frodo thought with amusement that he looked a bit intimidated to be faced by so many hobbits at once--for he had brought the Master and Mistress with him, and as he had found them with the Thain and his Lady, he had brought them as well.  Pippin was there of course, and Sam and Rose had joined them.  Of course, Merry and Estella and Melilot were already in the room.

Haldad drew forth three packages from the saddlebags, and went down on one knee.  He held forth the first one, a box covered in wine colored leather and tooled with intricate knotwork.

“On behalf of Éomer King of Rohan and his Queen, Lothíriel, with their best wishes for your marriage.”

Estella looked at Merry, and he nodded, so she took it.  Opening the lid, she gave a little gasp.  Merry’s eyes grew wide, and he reached in to draw forth one of the two silver goblets within.  They were perfectly sized for hobbit hands, and he and Estella examined them briefly, before he replaced it in the box.  He turned and handed the box to his father, so that the others could see the gift.  “Those are perfect replicas,” he said in an awed voice, “of the King’s own goblets in Meduseld!”

Merry turned back to Haldad, as the goblets were still being passed around and exclaimed over.  The next box he held out to them was flatter, of dark wood, highly polished, but otherwise unadorned.  “From Lord Faramir, Prince of Ithilien, and his wife Éowyn, the White Lady.”

This box contained a set of silver spoons, each with a handle of finely carved oliphaunt ivory.  There was a private message inside, sealed.  Merry withdrew it and handed it to Frodo.

“Keep it for us until later,” he said.  Frodo nodded, and placed it inside his breast pocket.

Haldad held out the last package, “From his Grace, the Lord Elessar Telcontar, High King of Gondor and Arnor, and his Queen, Arwen Undómiel.”

The final package was somewhat larger, and soft.  It was wrapped in fine white wool,  and tied with a silver ribbon.  Merry held it as Estella untied it, and drew the wrappings away.  There was a snowy expanse of the finest of white linen, soft as butter.  It was embroidered, white on white.  Frodo and Pippin helped, and the four of them unfolded it to reveal a magnificent tablecloth.  The White Tree was in the center, and around the edges were vines and flowers in abundance.  A flowing design was embroidered in silver all around the hem.  Frodo looked closely at it--it looked like Fëanorian script.  “Merry!” he said, awed, “that is a hymn to Yavanna!  This tablecloth was embroidered by the Queen’s own hand!”  There was also a private message enclosed with this gift as well, and Frodo took charge of that.  He knew that Merry and Estella would want to read those messages from their friends in private.

Merry gave the cloth over to Estella, and turned to Haldad.  “Thank you for bringing these, Haldad.”  He looked at Estella, and then at Frodo, and finally turned a questioning look at his father.  Saradoc nodded, and Merry turned back to say, “I would like to offer you the hospitality of Brandy Hall, and if your duties do not press you to return too quickly, I would like to invite you to stay for the wedding.”

Haldad smiled.  “I was not to ask, but the High King told me that if such an invitation was offered, I was to accept, so that I could tell every detail of the festivities on my return.”

Saradoc spoke then.  “I am afraid that I am only able to offer you a pallet on the floor.  We have no beds for Big Folk here.”

Haldad nodded.  “That is quite acceptable, Master Brandybuck!”

______________________________________

One day was left before the wedding.  Merry ate his breakfast absently, and had begun to fidget more than Pippin ever did.  Frodo had never seen the usually unflappable Merry in quite such a state of nerves.

This time it was Sam who found the solution.  He and Rose and Elanor had come to Crickhollow for second breakfast, and he saw how perplexed Frodo was over Merry’s nervousness. 

“Mr. Merry,” said Sam, “I don’t believe you’ve showed me the new beds in your herb garden yet!”

Soon enough, Merry and Sam were out in the garden, and busily looking at the plants.  Pippin joined Frodo at the window as they watched them.  “Sam’s a marvel!” Pippin said.  “He’s clever to boot; Merry will almost forget about the wedding talking plants with Sam.”

“I know,” said Frodo proudly.  They watched a few moments longer, as Legolas joined the two in the garden.  Rose had retreated to a back room to feed Elanor, and Gimli had yet to arise.

Suddenly, they saw Legolas straighten up from the small plant he had been earnestly examining, and give a shout of joy.  Frodo and Pippin turned to look and one another, and then laughing ran outside, to see the large White Rider on the king of the mearas.

Gandalf had arrived at last.

EUCATASTROPHE: THE RETURN, PART FOURTEEN

In the Master’s apartment, Frodo put the finishing touches on his cousin, brushing the back of the rich green velvet jacket, before handing it to Merry to put on.  Pippin had turned his attention to Merry’s hair, combing it with all the attention that Merry had ever paid to his own curls.  Sam, Freddy and Berilac all watched in amusement. 

“That’s an amazing weskit there, Merry,” said Freddy.  The garment in question was a rich wine colored brocade, with gold buttons.

“Can you believe that at one point your mother was trying to make me wear a *lavender* waistcoat!”

Freddy snorted.  “Of course I can!  I am afraid mother rather ran wild with this wedding.”

Frodo helped Merry to button the jacket.  “Can’t have you putting the buttons in the wrong holes today, Cousin.”

Merry chuckled.  “Trust you to bring that up, Frodo.”

“Wrong holes?” asked Sam.

“Yes,” said Frodo.  “He used to start his buttons in the middle to save time, he said, and of course he’d be one hole off in both directions!”

“Frodo!  Be fair!  I was only seven years old at the time!”

Frodo just ruffled his hair affectionately, causing Pippin to cry out in protest, and attack Merry’s head with the comb once more.  “Frodo! You are being more hindrance than help,” Pippin muttered mutinously.

Frodo shook his head in amusement.  Merry’s nerves seemed to have all disappeared when he had awakened this morning, and Frodo sensed in him a calm eagerness now, to have it done with.

Just then, Saradoc stuck his head in the doorway.  “It’s time,” he said simply.  But Frodo saw his older cousin’s eyes spark with happy tears as he looked proudly at his son.  He gave them a nod, and went off, followed by all the other hobbits in the room save Frodo and Merry. 

Frodo put his hands on Merry’s shoulders, and looked up into the clear grey eyes.  “I am so very happy to be here for this day, Merry.”  He felt tears spring to his own eyes, and blinked them away.

Merry pulled him into a quick embrace.  “I know, Frodo.  And I can’t imagine doing this without you.”

Frodo returned the hug.  “I love you, sprout,” he whispered.

For once, Merry did not protest. 

Together, they went down the passage, and out into the brightness of a Midsummer’s noontide, and made their way to the large white pavilion that stood beneath the huge tree in the courtyard.  The two of them took their places next to the table where the contract lay, in all its gilded splendor.

In only a few moments, Estella came, escorted by Melilot.  She was radiant in a gown of finest white lawn, embroidered in flowers on the bodice and hem, and a sash of green silk.  The flowers on her head were like stars on her dark hair, and she had eyes only for Merry as she stepped to his side.

Saradoc blinked away his own tears, and cleared his throat.  “I have before me two hobbits who have come with a petition of marriage. Who will vouch for them?”

This was a moment Frodo had waited for most of his life.  He blinked at the tears of joy that threatened, and cleared his throat as he stepped forward.   "I am Frodo Baggins, a hobbit of Hobbiton. I present Meriadoc Brandybuck, a hobbit of Buckland, known to me as a hobbit of good character, who is of age, with no reasons why he should not be wed.” He turned a fond glance on his younger cousin, who met his eyes briefly, the happiness clear to see.  He gave Merry a smile of reassurance and stepped back.

That was Melilot’s cue, and now she stepped up.  “I am Melilot Brandybuck, a hobbitess of Bucklebury. I present  Estella Bolger, a hobbitess of Budgeford, known to me as a hobbitess of good character, who is of age, with no reasons why she should not be wed.”  She reached over and gave Estella’s hand a brief squeeze before stepping back to stand next to Frodo.

Frodo watched as Saradoc now turned to his son, his face beaming with pride.

“Meridaoc Brandybuck, is it your intent to wed Estella Bolger, of your own free will?”

Merry turned to face his bride, his face as solemn and serious as Frodo had ever seen it.  “It is,” he said, firmly and clearly.

“Estella Bolger, is it your intent to wed Meridoc Brandybuck, of your own free will?”

Estella blushed, but her heart was in her eyes, as she said proudly. “Yes, it is!”

“Meriadoc Brandybuck and Estella Bolger, you have declared before witnesses your intent to wed. The duties of marriage are to honor and support one another; the blessings of marriage are to love and respect one another. These duties and these blessings are meant to last for a lifetime. Are you prepared to take on these tasks, through such joys and sorrows as may in time come to you?”

“Yes, we are!” they said together.

Saradoc looked at the two of them for a long moment.  Frodo noticed the tears in his uncle’s eyes.  The Master of Buckland swallowed twice, and then, looking out over the great crowd of assembled hobbitry,  raised his voice.  “There was a time, not so very long ago, that I feared this day would never happen, that I feared I would never see my son, my cousin or my nephew or their friend again.  There was a time when we were sorely pressed, here in Buckland, and even more so across the River in the Shire.  And just when we thought that things could only grow worse,  word came: the lost were not only returned, but had returned with hope and the courage to end our trouble.  I have good reason to be proud of my son, who one day, I daresay, will completely eclipse me as a magnificent Master of Buckland.  And he will have at his side a wife who will make a wonderful Mistress of the Hall.  But more than this, I know that they have what it takes to make a good marriage: love, loyalty, determination and hope.  Estella and Meriadoc, may your joys be many, may your sorrows be few.”

Saradoc sniffed, and cleared his throat once more.

“And now, if the designated witnesses will come forward: Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Fredegar Bolger, Merimac Brandybuck, Berilac Brandybuck, Doderic Brandybuck, Paladin Took, and, to be attested by Paladin Took, Peregrin Took.”

This last did not occasion the comment and gossip that it had at Sam’s wedding.  It had been a foregone conclusion that the underage Peregrin would still sign his cousin’s Marriage Lines--many hobbits thought that perhaps Merry had been planning to make it a precedent so long ago as that.  “Because you know, the Brandybucks are well-known for planning ahead!”

Merry would just smile and arch an eyebrow when he was asked about it, and Pippin would beam.

Frodo had signed his own name and stepped back, to look over the sea of assembled hobbits--and one Wizard, one Dwarf, one Elf and one Man, who stood at the back of the crowd lest they obscure anyone’s vision.  Even from this far away, Frodo could see the pride on Gandalf’s face.  The Wizard met his gaze, and gave a brief nod.

The contract signed,  Saradoc announced: “I now present to you Mr. and Mrs. Meriadoc Brandybuck!” 

Merry needed no prompting, he pulled Estella close to him, and kissed her thoroughly, to the loud cheers of all the guests.

Frodo heard Merimac chuckled.  “He’s welcoming her into the family in proper Brandybuck fashion!”

The guests who had been invited into the Hall filed in for the wedding luncheon, while a great picnic was spread outdoors for all the other guests.  And one more guest had been squeezed in at the head table:  Haldad, as the representative of the King.

The feast was long and varied, and the wedding cake was immense.  To the amusement of Frodo, Rose found the silver penny.

After the cake had been served, Pippin rose from his seat, and went around to stand at the other side of the table, across from the newlyweds.

“I gave you this song earlier, for your approval.  But now I’ll sing it for all to hear:

“Come sit by me, love, I will tell you a tale,
To move your hard heart without fail:
I’ll tell you a tell of far foreign lands
Of forests and mountains and white sea strands.

Oh no, my dear, no!
No such place would I go!
But tell me a story do,
Tell me one true.

Come sit by me, love, I will tell you a tale,
To move your hard heart without fail:
I’ll tell you of doom and of sorrow,
And of those who had no tomorrow!

Oh no, my dear, no!
No sad tale of woe!
But tell me a story do,
Tell me one true.

Come sit by me, love, I will tell you a tale,
To move your hard heart without fail:
I’ll tell you of battles and warriors bold,
Who were the great heroes in days of old!

Oh no, my dear, no!
No hero from long ago!
But tell me a story do,
Tell me one true.

Come sit by me, love, I will tell you a tale,
To move your hard heart without fail:
I’ll tell you of those who have found their true love,
Whose hope was as constant as the stars above!

Oh yes, my dear, yes!
Such stories are best!
Tell me a story do,
Tell me one true.

Come sit by me, love, I will tell you a tale,
To move your sweet heart without fail:
I’ll tell you of my deep love for you,
And how I shall always be true!

Oh yes, my dear, yes!
That story’s the best!
Tell me that story, do,
And we shall make it true!”

There was much applause for this, and Pippin was prevailed upon to repeat it. 

When the luncheon was finished, it was back out to the front garden for music and dancing.  Frodo led the Tangle Dance, and afterwards found several willing partners for some of the other dances.  Breathless, he finally took a break, and found himself with Gandalf, who was smiling and clapping his hands.

“Well, Frodo, you appear to be having a wonderful time!  Are you glad you came back?”

He looked up at the Wizard.  “Of course I am!  I could not imagine missing this day!  Elvenhome was lovely--but my family is *here*.”  He sighed, “Except for Bilbo.  But if he had stayed, I am sure I would have lost him by now.  Still, he would have loved all this!”

“Yes, he would have,” Gandalf agreed. 

The music was uninterrupted by the appearance of more food at the outdoor tables.  This was the longest day of the year, and there would be tea and supper and late supper without any real break in between.  When some of the musicians flagged, others appeared to take their places.  Frodo had seen Pippin playing three different instruments--he had his fiddle again, and Aunt Esme had hers, and they were playing so well that some of the dancers had stopped just to listen.

Finally, the Sun went down, and as her last rays disappeared across the River, a great light shot up with a whistle, and exploded into flowers of light.

“Fireworks!” was the cry.  “Gandalf brought fireworks!”

As the marvelous fireworks exploded across the sky, Frodo found the tired but happy bridal couple.  “Are you ready to get away?” he asked.

The look they gave one another was answer enough.  Frodo chuckled.  “Remember our plan!”

As another spectacular firework drew everyone’s attention, Frodo spirited them down the lane, where a waggon awaited, driven by Gimli.  Pippin pulled aside a tarp, and Merry and Estella were soon hidden beneath it.  Frodo hopped up next to Gimli.

“Legolas has gone on to retrieve our packs.  We will drop you two off at Crickhollow, and the rest of us will go back to the Ferry.  Sam and Rose left earlier.  We’ll meet them in Stock and then head to Bag End in the morning.  Crickhollow will be just for the two of you for the next month!”

But from the muffled giggles he heard beneath the tarp, he was not certain if they had paid any attention to him.

Frodo laughed, and looked up at the stars.  Life was good, and only getting better.

________________________________

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  For a look at the Wedding Document prepared for Merry and Estella by Frodo, click on this link. You will see the full text of the legal contract, as well as the fully illuminated document!

http://talechallenges.livejournal.com/18869.html

EUCATASTROPHE: THE RETURN, PART FIFTEEN

In the Master’s apartment, Frodo put the finishing touches on his cousin, brushing the back of the rich green velvet jacket, before handing it to Merry to put on.  Pippin had turned his attention to Merry’s hair, combing it with all the attention that Merry had ever paid to his own curls.  Sam, Freddy and Berilac all watched in amusement. 

“That’s an amazing weskit there, Merry,” said Freddy.  The garment in question was a rich wine colored brocade, with gold buttons.

“Can you believe that at one point your mother was trying to make me wear a *lavender* waistcoat!”

Freddy snorted.  “Of course I can!  I am afraid mother rather ran wild with this wedding.”

Frodo helped Merry to button the jacket.  “Can’t have you putting the buttons in the wrong holes today, Cousin.”

Merry chuckled.  “Trust you to bring that up, Frodo.”

“Wrong holes?” asked Sam.

“Yes,” said Frodo.  “He used to start his buttons in the middle to save time, he said, and of course he’d be one hole off in both directions!”

“Frodo!  Be fair!  I was only seven years old at the time!”

Frodo just ruffled his hair affectionately, causing Pippin to cry out in protest, and attack Merry’s head with the comb once more.  “Frodo! You are being more hindrance than help,” Pippin muttered mutinously.

Frodo shook his head in amusement.  Merry’s nerves seemed to have all disappeared when he had awakened this morning, and Frodo sensed in him a calm eagerness now, to have it done with.

Just then, Saradoc stuck his head in the doorway.  “It’s time,” he said simply.  But Frodo saw his older cousin’s eyes spark with happy tears as he looked proudly at his son.  He gave them a nod, and went off, followed by all the other hobbits in the room save Frodo and Merry. 

Frodo put his hands on Merry’s shoulders, and looked up into the clear grey eyes.  “I am so very happy to be here for this day, Merry.”  He felt tears spring to his own eyes, and blinked them away.

Merry pulled him into a quick embrace.  “I know, Frodo.  And I can’t imagine doing this without you.”

Frodo returned the hug.  “I love you, sprout,” he whispered.

For once, Merry did not protest. 

Together, they went down the passage, and out into the brightness of a Midsummer’s noontide, and made their way to the large white pavilion that stood beneath the huge tree in the courtyard.  The two of them took their places next to the table where the contract lay, in all its gilded splendor.

In only a few moments, Estella came, escorted by Melilot.  She was radiant in a gown of finest white lawn, embroidered in flowers on the bodice and hem, and a sash of green silk.  The flowers on her head were like stars on her dark hair, and she had eyes only for Merry as she stepped to his side.

Saradoc blinked away his own tears, and cleared his throat.  “I have before me two hobbits who have come with a petition of marriage. Who will vouch for them?”

This was a moment Frodo had waited for most of his life.  He blinked at the tears of joy that threatened, and cleared his throat as he stepped forward.   "I am Frodo Baggins, a hobbit of Hobbiton. I present Meriadoc Brandybuck, a hobbit of Buckland, known to me as a hobbit of good character, who is of age, with no reasons why he should not be wed.” He turned a fond glance on his younger cousin, who met his eyes briefly, the happiness clear to see.  He gave Merry a smile of reassurance and stepped back.

That was Melilot’s cue, and now she stepped up.  “I am Melilot Brandybuck, a hobbitess of Bucklebury. I present  Estella Bolger, a hobbitess of Budgeford, known to me as a hobbitess of good character, who is of age, with no reasons why she should not be wed.”  She reached over and gave Estella’s hand a brief squeeze before stepping back to stand next to Frodo.

Frodo watched as Saradoc now turned to his son, his face beaming with pride.

“Meridaoc Brandybuck, is it your intent to wed Estella Bolger, of your own free will?”

Merry turned to face his bride, his face as solemn and serious as Frodo had ever seen it.  “It is,” he said, firmly and clearly.

“Estella Bolger, is it your intent to wed Meridoc Brandybuck, of your own free will?”

Estella blushed, but her heart was in her eyes, as she said proudly. “Yes, it is!”

“Meriadoc Brandybuck and Estella Bolger, you have declared before witnesses your intent to wed. The duties of marriage are to honor and support one another; the blessings of marriage are to love and respect one another. These duties and these blessings are meant to last for a lifetime. Are you prepared to take on these tasks, through such joys and sorrows as may in time come to you?”

“Yes, we are!” they said together.

Saradoc looked at the two of them for a long moment.  Frodo noticed the tears in his uncle’s eyes.  The Master of Buckland swallowed twice, and then, looking out over the great crowd of assembled hobbitry,  raised his voice.  “There was a time, not so very long ago, that I feared this day would never happen, that I feared I would never see my son, my cousin or my nephew or their friend again.  There was a time when we were sorely pressed, here in Buckland, and even more so across the River in the Shire.  And just when we thought that things could only grow worse,  word came: the lost were not only returned, but had returned with hope and the courage to end our trouble.  I have good reason to be proud of my son, who one day, I daresay, will completely eclipse me as a magnificent Master of Buckland.  And he will have at his side a wife who will make a wonderful Mistress of the Hall.  But more than this, I know that they have what it takes to make a good marriage: love, loyalty, determination and hope.  Estella and Meriadoc, may your joys be many, may your sorrows be few.”

Saradoc sniffed, and cleared his throat once more.

“And now, if the designated witnesses will come forward: Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Fredegar Bolger, Merimac Brandybuck, Berilac Brandybuck, Doderic Brandybuck, Paladin Took, and, to be attested by Paladin Took, Peregrin Took.”

This last did not occasion the comment and gossip that it had at Sam’s wedding.  It had been a foregone conclusion that the underage Peregrin would still sign his cousin’s Marriage Lines--many hobbits thought that perhaps Merry had been planning to make it a precedent so long ago as that.  “Because you know, the Brandybucks are well-known for planning ahead!”

Merry would just smile and arch an eyebrow when he was asked about it, and Pippin would beam.

Frodo had signed his own name and stepped back, to look over the sea of assembled hobbits--and one Wizard, one Dwarf, one Elf and one Man, who stood at the back of the crowd lest they obscure anyone’s vision.  Even from this far away, Frodo could see the pride on Gandalf’s face.  The Wizard met his gaze, and gave a brief nod.

The contract signed,  Saradoc announced: “I now present to you Mr. and Mrs. Meriadoc Brandybuck!” 

Merry needed no prompting, he pulled Estella close to him, and kissed her thoroughly, to the loud cheers of all the guests.

Frodo heard Merimac chuckled.  “He’s welcoming her into the family in proper Brandybuck fashion!”

The guests who had been invited into the Hall filed in for the wedding luncheon, while a great picnic was spread outdoors for all the other guests.  And one more guest had been squeezed in at the head table:  Haldad, as the representative of the King.

The feast was long and varied, and the wedding cake was immense.  To the amusement of Frodo, Rose found the silver penny.

After the cake had been served, Pippin rose from his seat, and went around to stand at the other side of the table, across from the newlyweds.

“I gave you this song earlier, for your approval.  But now I’ll sing it for all to hear:

“Come sit by me, love, I will tell you a tale,
To move your hard heart without fail:
I’ll tell you a tell of far foreign lands
Of forests and mountains and white sea strands. 

Oh no, my dear, no! 
No such place would I go!
But tell me a story do,
Tell me one true. 

Come sit by me, love, I will tell you a tale,
To move your hard heart without fail:
I’ll tell you of doom and of sorrow,
And of those who had no tomorrow!

Oh no, my dear, no!
No sad tale of woe!
But tell me a story do,
Tell me one true.

Come sit by me, love, I will tell you a tale,
To move your hard heart without fail:
I’ll tell you of battles and warriors bold,
Who were the great heroes in days of old!

Oh no, my dear, no!
No hero from long ago!
But tell me a story do,
Tell me one true.

Come sit by me, love, I will tell you a tale,
To move your hard heart without fail:
I’ll tell you of those who have found their true love,
Whose hope was as constant as the stars above!

Oh yes, my dear, yes!
Such stories are best!
Tell me a story do,
Tell me one true.  

Come sit by me, love, I will tell you a tale,
To move your sweet heart without fail:
I’ll tell you of my deep love for you,
And how I shall always be true!

Oh yes, my dear, yes!
That story’s the best!
Tell me that story, do,
And we shall make it true!”

There was much applause for this, and Pippin was prevailed upon to repeat it. 

When the luncheon was finished, it was back out to the front garden for music and dancing.  Frodo led the Tangle Dance, and afterwards found several willing partners for some of the other dances.  Breathless, he finally took a break, and found himself with Gandalf, who was smiling and clapping his hands.

“Well, Frodo, you appear to be having a wonderful time!  Are you glad you came back?”

He looked up at the Wizard.  “Of course I am!  I could not imagine missing this day!  Elvenhome was lovely--but my family is *here*.”  He sighed, “Except for Bilbo.  But if he had stayed, I am sure I would have lost him by now.  Still, he would have loved all this!”

“Yes, he would have,” Gandalf agreed. 

The music was uninterrupted by the appearance of more food at the outdoor tables.  This was the longest day of the year, and there would be tea and supper and late supper without any real break in between.  When some of the musicians flagged, others appeared to take their places.  Frodo had seen Pippin playing three different instruments--he had his fiddle again, and Aunt Esme had hers, and they were playing so well that some of the dancers had stopped just to listen.

Finally, the Sun went down, and as her last rays disappeared across the River, a great light shot up with a whistle, and exploded into flowers of light.

“Fireworks!” was the cry.  “Gandalf brought fireworks!”

As the marvelous fireworks exploded across the sky, Frodo found the tired but happy bridal couple.  “Are you ready to get away?” he asked.

The look they gave one another was answer enough.  Frodo chuckled.  “Remember our plan!”

As another spectacular firework drew everyone’s attention, Frodo spirited them down the lane, where a waggon awaited, driven by Gimli.  Pippin pulled aside a tarp, and Merry and Estella were soon hidden beneath it.  Frodo hopped up next to Gimli.

“Legolas has gone on to retrieve our packs.  We will drop you two off at Crickhollow, and the rest of us will go back to the Ferry.  Sam and Rose left earlier.  We’ll meet them in Stock and then head to Bag End in the morning.  Crickhollow will be just for the two of you for the next month!”

But from the muffled giggles he heard beneath the tarp, he was not certain if they had paid any attention to him.

Frodo laughed, and looked up at the stars.  Life was good, and only getting better.

________________________________________

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  For a look at the Marriage Certificate that Frodo created for Merry and Estella, click on the following link--http://talechallenges.livejournal.com/18869.html

(The text of the document is at the top, with pictures of the illuminated document below.)


EPILOGUE

The next morning rose bright and fair, for those now on the western bank of the Brandywine. Frodo and Pippin met Sam and Rose with the baby, and Gimli as well, in the common room of The Golden Perch for first breakfast. Legolas was already out in the stables, seeing to Arod and the ponies.

And shortly afterwards they started the journey to Bag End, Sam and Rose and little Elanor in the pony trap, with Frodo and Pippin riding alongside on Strider and Sable, while Legolas and Gimli rode on the other side on Arod.

Frodo was glad to be going home once more. He’d scarcely had any time at Bag End before his journey to Rivendell. He realized now that it had been mostly Gandalf’s idea, but he could not find it in him to be cross at his old friend. It had been important to *know* that his healing went further than simply being home in the Shire: that the things which had happened to him on the Quest held no more power over him than that of memory. And he was happy to have had the time to spend with his cousins--it had been good for all of them. But he had missed Sam, and he had missed Rose and Elanor as well.

He glanced once more at Rose, and could not help smiling to himself.

They had eaten second breakfast as they traveled: pastries and apples and water; but they stopped for elevenses just shy of Whitfurrow, and made a picnic in a meadow, next to a copse of trees.

While Sam tended to watering the cart pony--not Bill, but a placid thing hired for the trip to Buckland--Frodo took out the picnic hamper to help Rose spread out the blanket and put out the food.

“When, Mr. Frodo?” Rose asked quietly.

“I beg your pardon, Rose?”

“You been giving me those same little smiles ever since you saw us in Buckland--the same kind of smiles as you gave me before I found out I was carrying Elanor. And Mr. Legolas has been trying to hide his smiles as well. So, when can I expect this little one to come along?”

Frodo chuckled quietly, and shook his head. “There’s no fooling you, Rose. Yes, you’ve quickened, though I daresay your body has not noticed it yet. Next spring. Probably late in Solmath or early in Rethe, sometime before Elanor’s next birthday.”

She grinned at him, and picked Elanor up. “Do you hear that, Elanor? You’ll have a little brother or sister--” she stopped and looked at Frodo’s face. “--brother next spring!” Elanor giggled, and reached for her mother’s hair.

Rose looked back at Frodo, who was watching in fond amusement. “Don’t let’s tell Sam yet. I should wait at least until I’d have known for myself.”

“Of course, Rose.” He began to unpack the hamper.

“Mr. Frodo?”

“Yes?”

“I’m glad you are home.”

Home. Yes.

“I’m very glad too, Rose.”

*[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Here is the quotation I was assigned by Marigold.  It was translated into Sindarin for me by Ithildin:

 'May he be brave, and have the strong head to think with, and the strong heart to love with, and the strong hands to work with, and the strong feet to travel with, and always come safe home to his own.' ” From “Five Children And It” by Edith Nesbit ]

And here are the notes on the translation, provided for me by the very kind and talented Ithildin:

 No e beren, ar garo i dhôl vell na nauthad, ar i ind vell na velad, ar i gaim vell na gared naid, ar i dail vell na drevaded, ar lúban tolo beriannen na mar în.
May he be brave,
No e beren,
May-it-be-that he (is) bold,

and have the strong head to think with
ar garo i dhôl vell na nauthad,
and (may) he have the head strong to/for thinking

and the strong heart to love with
ar i ind vell na velad,
and the heart strong to/for loving,

and the strong hands to work with
ar i gaim vell na gared naid,
and the hands strong to do/make (or- for doing/making) things,

 and the strong feet to travel with
ar i dail vell na drevaded,
and the feet strong to/for traveling, (traversing)

 and always come safe home to his own,
ar lúban tolo beriannen na mar în.
and all-times come protected to home his own.  

May he be brave 
No e beren,
May-it-be-that he (is) bold,

_No_ - (imp.) - May it be that – imperative verb form (using optative case)
_e_ - he
_beren_ - brave

and have the strong head to think with
ar garo i dhôl vell na nauthad,
and (may) he have the strong head to think,

_ar_ - and
_garo_ - (imp.) – have/do
_bell_ (b>v lenition) - strong
_dôl_ (d>dh) - head
_na_ - to/for (causes lenition in following word)
_ nauthad_ (ger.) thinking/to think - (from _nautha-_ to conceive/to think) (S. gerund used for Eng. Infinitive)

and the strong heart to love with
ar i ind vell na velad,
and the strong heart to love,
_ ind_ – heart (inner thought, meaning, heart)
_meled_ (ger.) (m>v) – loving/to love (from _mel-_ to love)

and the strong hands to work with
ar i gaim vell na gared naid, and the strong hands to make things
_ caim_ pl. – hands (c > g lenition) (_ cam_ s. – hand)
_cared_ (ger.) (c>g) – making/doing, to make/to do [substitute for ‘work’] (from _car-_ - to make/do)
_naid_ pl. - things (_nad_ s. - thing)

and the strong feet to travel with
ar i dail vell na drevaded,and the strong feet to travel, (traverse)
_ tail_ pl. – feet (_tâl_ s.- feet)
_trevaded_ (ger.) (t>d) - traversing/to traverse (from _trevad-_ to traverse)

and always come safe home to his own
ar lúban tolo beriannen na mar în.
and always come protected to his own home.
_ lúban_ - always (from Tara’s list)
_tolo_ (imp.) - come (from _tol-_ to come)
_ bar_ (mbar) (b>m) - home
_beriannen_ (pp) protected (from _beria-_ to protect)
_în_ (reflexive pr.) - his own

excerpt from Thorsten Renk’s Sindarin course http://www.phy.duke.edu/~trenk/elvish/index.html

From Pedin Edhellin
Page 64
9.2.3 Imperative of ’to be’

There are few situations where the context is not sufficient to allow what form of ’to be’ needs to be filled into a given ’gap’. One of these situations is the imperative. Here, the form  no!  (be!) is written explicitly.

No veren! (Be bold!)

Most likely, this no has evolved beyond a mere imperative into a particle denoting optative, which might be translated as ’may it be that’.

All vocabulary from: 

Dragon Flame Sindarin Dictionary (Hiswelókë)
Suggested Conjugation of Sindarin Verbs (Ardalambion)
Reconstructed Sindarin Vocabulary (Taramiluiel)








































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 ar lúban tolo beriannen na mar în.

and all-times come protected to home his own.

May he be brave 
No e beren,

May-it-be-that he (is) bold,

_No_ - (imp.) - May it be that – imperative verb form (using optative case)

_e_ - he

_beren_ - brave

and have the strong head to think with

 ar garo i dhôl vell na nauthad,

and (may) he have the strong head to think,

_ar_ - and

_garo_ - (imp.) – have/do

_bell_ (b>v lenition) - strong

_dôl_ (d>dh) - head

_na_ - to/for (causes lenition in following word)

_ nauthad_ (ger.) thinking/to think - (from _nautha-_ to conceive/to think) (S. gerund used for Eng. Infinitive)

and the strong heart to love with

ar i ind vell na velad,

and the strong heart to love,

_ ind_ – heart (inner thought, meaning, heart)

_meled_ (ger.) (m>v) – loving/to love (from _mel-_ to love)

and the strong hands to work with

 ar i gaim vell na gared naid,

and the strong hands to make things

_ caim_ pl. – hands (c > g lenition) (_ cam_ s. – hand)

_cared_ (ger.) (c>g) – making/doing, to make/to do [substitute for ‘work’] (from _car-_ - to make/do)

_naid_ pl. - things (_nad_ s. - thing)

and the strong feet to travel with

ar i dail vell na drevaded,

 and the strong feet to travel, (traverse)

_ tail_ pl. – feet (_tâl_ s.- feet)

_trevaded_ (ger.) (t>d) - traversing/to traverse (from _trevad-_ to traverse)

and always come safe home to his own

ar lúban tolo beriannen na mar în.

and always come protected to his own home.

_ lúban_ - always (from Tara’s list)

_tolo_ (imp.) - come (from _tol-_ to come)

_ bar_ (mbar) (b>m) - home

_beriannen_ (pp) protected (from _beria-_ to protect)

_în_ (reflexive pr.) - his own

excerpt from Thorsten Renk’s Sindarin course http://www.phy.duke.edu/~trenk/elvish/index.html

From Pedin Edhellin

Page 64

9.2.3 Imperative of ’to be’

There are few situations where the context is not sufficient to allow what form of ’to be’ needs to be filled into a given ’gap’. One of these situations is the imperative. Here, the form  no!  (be!) is written explicitly.

No veren! (Be bold!)

Most likely, this no has evolved beyond a mere imperative into a particle denoting optative, which might be translated as ’may it be that’.

All vocabulary from: 

Dragon Flame Sindarin Dictionary (Hiswelókë)

Suggested Conjugation of Sindarin Verbs (Ardalambion)

Reconstructed Sindarin Vocabulary (Taramiluiel)





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