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Many Happy Returns  by Grey Wonderer

Chapter 9††††††††††††††††††††††† "Party Conversation"

Pearl and Esmeralda took charge of Lilac. They led the rather embarrassed lass from the party and met Nell who had just returned with a healer. "Seems your younger brother took matters into his own hands, Nell," Esmeralda smiled. "I suspect that Lilac will be fine once sheís had a bit of rest."

"Lilac?" Nell said, softly. The two of them had been friends for a very long time but Lilac couldnít face Nell at this minute. She hung her head and stared at the floor, embarrassed about how she had behaved. There was no reason to suspect that Nell wouldnít hear of her actions. She was terribly worried that she might lose her best friend over this. Nell adored Pippin and would not take kindly to Lilacís latest infraction.

"I think she needs to rest just now, Nelly," Pearl said, knowingly. She gave Lilac over to Esmeralda and put a hand on Nellís shoulder. "We should return to the party. After all, papa had to leave after his brief appearance and go off to his study and now Aunt Esmeralda will be away for a time. We canít leave Pippin to run his own party."

Nell frowned after Lilac who was allowing herself to be led away by Esmeralda and the healer. "Well, I suppose youíre right. I havenít seen too much of Pippin since he nearly drown half of his guests." She smiled over at Pearl and the two started back into the party. "How is he?"

"Well enough to have saved Lilacís life just now," Pearl said, watching as Nellís eyes widened in surprise.

Over in a quiet corner of the room, Pippin stood with his hands in his pockets, leaning against the wall. Frodo was standing next to him. "That was very quick thinking, Pippin," Frodo said.

"I donít suppose that I thought much at all, Frodo," Pippin admitted. "I was just trying to get her to cough. She was turning blue."

"All the same," Frodo said. "You managed to do what needed doing and it was a very fortunate thing for Lilac that you did. Iím very proud of you."

"You are?" Pippin asked, looking over at Frodo and smiling.

"Of course I am, you silly Took," Frodo said. "Merry will be too when he hears about this."

"I wish Merry were here," Pippin sighed. "Iíve been so worried about him."

"Now, you know that heís going to be fine," Frodo said. "The healers have assured us all that he is recovering quite nicely. Iíll wager that itís too slow a process to suit Merry, but he is recovering nicely."

"It was all just so very frightening," Pippin said. "I hadnít seen that much blood since, well in a while." Pippin looked a bit pale just thinking about it. Frodo knew that the last time any of them had seen that sort of injury had been in battle during the quest but neither he nor Pippin would mention the quest tonight. Neither cousin wanted that shadow over the evening.

"Iím told that you managed to handle that situation as well," Frodo said, laying a gentle hand on Pippinís shoulder. At present, Pippin and Frodo were eye level with one another. Pippin was slouching against the wall and Frodo was standing at his full height. It seemed more natural to both of them. Looking up at Pippin was still something that Frodo was not used to.

"I leave this party to visit with Mister Merry and all manner of things go on," Sam said, coming over to join them.

Frodo turned and smiled at his dear friend. "Welcome back, Sam. Iím very glad that you could join us."

"Well, I thought I should, er, well, I wanted," Sam fumbled a bit.

"You wanted to check on me and see how I was doing didnít you, Sam?" Frodo said.

"Well, no sir, Mister Frodo, I," Sam tried as both Frodo and Pippin watched him in amusement.

"If thereís a worse liar in all of Middle Earth, then I havenít met him," Pippin said, fondly.

"Yes, I was wanting to check to see how you are doing, Mister Frodo," Sam admitted, blushing.

"I am fine, Sam," Frodo said. "How is Merry?"

"Oh, heís fine," Sam said. "I know he misses not being here for the party, but he is sitting up and telling tales and all. Heís had quite a few visitors tonight and when I left, he and Mister Fredegar were both napping."

"Freddyís with him?" Pippin asked, brightening.

"Yes, he has been in with Mister Merry for some time now," Sam said. "I was takiní a tray of food in, but I gave it to Mister Merryís father and so I suspect that heís still there."

Pippin and Frodo both smiled at this. No harm would come to Merry while Saradoc was with him. No one had a better relationship with their father than Merry did.

Suddenly Pippinís attention was elsewhere and Frodo followed his cousinís gaze. There she was, Diamond Took, standing with several other lasses and chatting. She had her back to them, but there was no question that she was the object of Pippinís glances. "Sheís got on one of Nellís frocks because I ruined hers," Pippin said, still looking at Diamond.

"How do you know itís Nellís?" Frodo wondered.

"If you have three sisters, Frodo, you learn to notice frocks for your own safety," Pippin said. "If they ask you about a certain frock, you canít not know if itís new or whose it is. They donít take well to that, especially Vince. Sheís fussy about clothes."

"Iíd never keep it straight," Frodo admitted. "Iím afraid I couldnít tell you what Diamond was wearing before if my life depended upon it."

"It was lavender-colored, with a rather large bow in the back," Pippin said, absently. "Thatís Nell white frock with the blue tea roses on it that Diamond is wearing now. They must be nearly the same height as the dress doesnít seem too much too long on her."

"You have sisters, Sam," Frodo said, still amazed by Pippinís fashion knowledge. "Do you know their dresses on sight?"

"Some oí them," Sam said, glancing at Pippin and frowning. "Why donít you go over and ask that lass to dance, Mister Pippin?"

"Well, Sam, I doubt sheíd even speak to me, much less dance with me," Pippin sighed. "First I nearly soaked her and then the next time I get near her, Iím trying to help Lilac get a bite of apple out of her throat and it comes out and hits Diamond in the face. She probably thinks I did that on purpose." Pippin sighed and continued to stare at the back of Diamond Took.

"Pippin, she canít possibly think you meant that to happen," Frodo said.

"Well, all the same, Iím sure she feels safer with me over here and her all the way over there," Pippin said.

"I heard about you saving Miss Chubbís life, Mister Pippin," Sam said. "I should think that sort oí thing might impress that lass."

"Maybe not," Pippin said, glumly as he watched his cousin Alford Took take Diamond out onto the dance floor.

"He asked her, Pippin," Frodo smiled. "You have not."

"Heís older and tall and-" Pippin stopped and looked at Frodo who was laughing now. "Whatís funny?" Pippin scowled.

"Heís tall? Heís not taller than a certain Took of my acquaintance," Frodo reminded Pippin.

"Oh, I keep forgetting," Pippin said. "Iím not used to being tall yet." Pippin straightened up to his full height at that moment as if to remind himself how tall he was and Frodo found himself looking up at the lad.

"Sam, will you keep Pippin company for a moment?" Frodo asked. "I think that I should like to dance with Estella Bolger. She looks as if she is missing her usual partner."

"Go on and have fun, Mister Frodo," Sam grinned, pleased to see his friend was planning to do something at this party other than stand around. "Mister Pippin and I will be just fine."

Pippin scowled after Frodo.

"Whatís that look for?" Sam asked.

"Just Estella is all," Pippin said. "I wonder what Merry sees in her?"

"Hard to say," Sam said. "Maybe what you see in that Miss Diamond?"

"Or what you see in Rosie Cotton?" Pippin smiled.

Sam just grinned in return. He doubted that there was a lass in all of the Shire that could hold a candle to his Rose, but heíd not argue that with Mister Pippin. Knowing it was so, was enough for him. If others didnít see it, then they just werenít paying attention. They watched as Frodo escorted Estella Bolger out onto the floor for a dance.

As he put an arm around her waist, Frodo leaned in and asked, "Estella, would you mind helping me with a project?"

"What are you up to, Frodo Baggins?" Estella sighed, as they danced easily together.

"Well, I have a plan that needs a lassís touch," Frodo said, smiling.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After they had talked for a bit, Merry dozed off again and left Fredegar and Saradoc to talk quietly on their own. "He seems to be doing quite well," Fredegar said, softly. He had noticed Saradoc looking intently at Merry as the younger Brandybuck slept.

"Yes, heís so much better now," Saradoc said. "I was afraid that we might lose him." It was a wonder how many times heíd watched his only son sleep after a close call had passed. Sometimes, he didnít think he could endure another scare, but he always found the strength. For a healthy lad, his Merry had certainly given him quite a few scares over the years. Usually, it was some sort of an accident. Merry had been a very active child. He was always into something. Now, as an adult, Merry still had his share of accidents. In spite of it all, Merry had been very lucky.

"Merry is a fighter," Fredegar said, confirming what Saradoc had been thinking.

"Yes indeed," Saradoc said. "He has a will of iron." He smiled over at Fredegar. "He also has many dear friends and a large family to look out for him. If it werenít for Pippin, we might have lost him this time."

"I havenít heard much about the accident. I wasnít here when it happened and so Iíve just heard bits and pieces of the story," Fredegar admitted.

"I wasn't here either, but Merryís told me most of it, down-playing the seriousness of the injury," Saradoc said. "I got the rest of it from the healers and, of course, all I had to do was take one look in Pippinís eyes and I knew it had been close. That one had to be forced out of this room finally."

"Why donít you two go and have a smoke? Iíll sit with him while he sleeps," Esmeralda said.

They both looked up at her in surprise. Neither of them had heard her come in. "Go on, Sara," she said, gently. "You can't sit here and stare at him all evening. Youíre worse than Pippin. Besides, itís my turn." She had her hands on her hips and was trying to look stern, but failing. Both of Merryís parents had been through so much. They had just begun to feel secure about their son again after his return from his journey with Frodo and then this accident had reminded them how quickly things can change.

Saradoc rose from his chair and gave it over to his wife, reluctantly. He and Fredegar quietly left. Esmeralda would watch Merry sleep. A pipe might be good or maybe just a breath of fresh air. It was a clear night and the weather was warm. Perhaps he and Fredegar could use a break.





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