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Day 29 of the New Year (April 23 SR)
"Where did you get this again, Merry?" Frodo asked doubtfully, sniffing at the pale liquid in his mug.
"From Drâmyn and Unomer*," Merry said, happily pouring an inch into everyone's mug. "I tried a bit already, and it's a sight better than that peach concoction of old Ponto's, may his memory live on."
"I am not reassured," Frodo replied, but Merry had just filled the last mug and was lifting his own for the first toast.
"What shall we drink to, Merry?" Pippin asked.
"To Frodo and Sam, of course," Merry said, but Frodo frowned at him.
"There's been quite enough of that over the past few weeks," he said. "We should drink to the return of the king."
"To the beauty of the Lady Galadriel," Gimli put in.
"To the dawn of a new Age," was Legolas' suggestion, and Pippin's was, "To the end of the war."
"We can't drink to all that, at least not in one round," Merry said, exasperated. "Sam, help me out."
Sam had watched the others as the toasts were being suggested round the table with a small smile on his lips, and he now raised his cup confidently. "To dear friends," he said quietly, and was met with the clinking of glass and a chorus of "To dear friends!" He then downed the questionable brew in one smooth gulp and wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve.
"It's right good, Mr. Merry," he said after a moment's contemplation, "but I don't know that it's better than Mr. Ponto's."
Pippin was coughing a bit, his eyes watering, and Gimli patted him on the back. Frodo set his glass down after a tentative sip and wrinkled his nose. "Merry, stronger does not necessarily mean better, you realize," he said. Merry was a mite flushed himself after polishing off his glass, but he gamely defended his find.
"You just don't remember what that peach swill tasted like," he said, his voice a little raw. "This is a vast improvement."
Gimli licked his lips and heaved a contented sigh, seemingly quite unaffected by the draught. "Ah, that hit a nice little spot, but it is no replacement for a fine ale. I, myself, will stick with Gondor's finest for the rest of the evening." Then, noting the odd, puzzled look on Legolas' face, he added, "Well, what do you think, Master Elf?"
"What a strange refreshment," Legolas replied after a beat. "It is not terribly unlike a cordial, yet with an odd aftertaste. But I will say, I much prefer it to ale, which I have never developed a great liking for."
"Then you should stick with the brew for the rest of the night, Legolas," Pippin advised sagely, earning him suspicious looks from his kin. "It is nice, isn't it? I do not think it is so strong as Cousin Frodo fears, at least not for an elf." And he helpfully refilled Legolas' glass, to the top this time.
The evening was given over to festivities, as the company was drawing near the end of its stay in Ithilien, and the six friends had bagged a table off to the side, relieved that for the first time in too long there were no ceremonial duties to perform. An impromptu band was playing, and the field was filled with the sounds of music and merriment. A long, large table fairly groaned with the weight of food, and casks of ale were conveniently scattered about the field. The evening was the warmest yet that spring, and a soft breeze ruffled the hobbits' curls as they sat swinging their legs from their chairs.
Many rounds later, they had drunk to the Lady of the Golden Wood, and to the return of the king, and to the end of the war, and to the dawn of a new Age, and even to Frodo and Sam. And then to the Shire, and to Bilbo, and to dear old Ponto Goodbody. Gimli and Merry were red-faced and full of merriment, both determined to keep pace with each other. Merry had taught Gimli a hobbit word-play game only to discover that the dwarf was quite clever at it, resulting in Merry having to take more than a few swigs of his ale. Despite matching them ale for ale, Sam was still quiet and unobtrusive, ever mindful of his master's needs, quick to hop up and deliver more food and ale. Frodo, for his part, had slowly nursed his pints over the course of the evening, and kept a watchful eye on Pippin's consumption. In fact, he was concentrating so hard on keeping track of how much ale Pippin had consumed that he paid little heed to anything else his youngest cousin was doing, including filling up Legolas' glass with the brew at every opportunity.
The world seemed a grand place to Legolas at the moment, with all his dearest friends surrounding him. Gimli, Merry, Frodo, Sam . . . and most especially the little hobbit at his side, once again helpfully refilling the glass before him.
"Pippin, you are just a splendid friend, just absolutely splendid," the elf said solemnly.
"I am, aren't I?" Pippin answered, green eyes sparkling. "Are you having a good time, Legolas?" Legolas nodded slowly, picking up the glass to sip at it some more. "Do you know what we should do, Legolas?" Pippin whispered in delight.
"What?" Legolas whispered back, leaning in conspiratorially.
"We should sing some drinking songs," Pippin said.
"Now there is a fine idea," Merry interrupted, catching the last part of the conversation as he and Gimli finished yet another round of word play. "Which one shall we have first, Pip?"
"No, Merry, Legolas wants to sing," Pippin said. "He told me just the other day that he wanted to learn some hobbit songs to take with him back to his own land. Didn't you, Legolas?"
Legolas could not recall having said any such thing to the hobbit, but that was of little consequence, for singing hobbit drinking songs seemed the most heart-lifting idea he had had in weeks. "Will you teach me?" he asked Pippin solemnly.
"Of course!" Pippin said. "I know all the best songs." And he leaned his head in close by Legolas', the elf ducking down so Pippin could whisper in his ear.
The dwarf and the elder hobbits now were looking suspiciously at the pair. "I do believe Legolas has had quite enough of that brew," Frodo said. "How much has he drunk?"
Merry lifted the jar and squinted to see better in the flickering light of the torches, and through the haze brought on by the pints. "Well, about three-quarters is gone, but surely Legolas hasn't drunk all that himself. We all had a shot to begin with -- how much else have the rest of you had?" He turned his head to survey and found his answer in three grimly set countenances. "None, of course," Merry muttered. "So, how much can an elf drink?"
"I have never seen any elves drink anything stronger than wine," Frodo said.
"That," Gimli pointed at the jar, "is a fair shot stronger than any wine I have ever encountered. Legolas, my friend," he called across the table, "how are you feeling?"
Legolas looked up from his conference with Pippin. "I feel splendid, Master Dwarf. What a wonderful evening this has been, here with all of my friends. My wonderful, wonderful companions," he answered, no hint of slurring in his voice. Then he let Pippin tug his head back down by an ear to continue their consultation.
"Hmph," Gimli said. "He seems fine. Just very happy. Perhaps elves can drink a lot."
"Still," Frodo said, a bit worried, "perhaps we should put it away. Trust you, Meriadoc, to locate something like this even out here leagues away from civilization. Set it aside before it causes any trouble."
At that moment, Pippin and Legolas broke off their huddled whispers. The elf promptly sprang to his feet in a fluid motion, drawing eyes from nearby tables. Bowing to the field at large, Legolas drew in a deep breath.
"Too late," Merry said wryly, and Legolas -- very loudly -- began to sing.
Ho! Ho! Ho! to the bottle I go!
The elf was drawing attention now, and seemed delighted with it. So delighted, in fact, that he climbed on top of his chair, swaying only slightly, so that all present could better hear him.
Ho! Ho! Ho! to the bottle I go!
The crowd was cheering in approval now, and Pippin looked ready to burst with glee. The other hobbits and Gimli looked torn between horror and amusement, struggling with grins that wanted to break free. Legolas paused and looked down at the hobbit, who prompted, "Rain may fall and wind may blow," and the elf was off again.
Ho! Ho! Ho! to the bottle I go!
The chair, Legolas decided, was too low for everyone to see him properly, so he climbed up on the table.
Ho! Ho! Ho! to the bottle I go!
The elf had rather theatrically drawn breath to continue when he suddenly spied the king striding purposefully toward their table. "Aragorn," he called out, "will you join me in the next verse?"
"No, my good elf, I come to ask you to join me," the king replied, his lip twitching. "I seek your counsel, if I may pull you from this merriment."
Legolas hopped lightly off of the table and bowed grandly before the High King. "I am ever at your service, Aragorn, as you well know," he said.
"Come, walk with me," Aragorn said, draping an arm about Legolas' shoulders and then using it to steer him as Legolas began to walk in a different direction than the king had indicated. "Here, this way. Let us go somewhere a little quieter." As he drew the beaming elf away, he cast a chastising glance at the table behind him.
"Well, he doesn't need to look at us that way," Merry said huffily, just as Frodo, whose hands had covered his eyes for the final two verses, groaned, "Pippin!"
"What?" Pippin asked, all innocent eyes and naive face. He squawked suddenly as large, gnarled fingers fastened onto one of his ears. "Peregrin Took!" a stern voice intoned.
"What?" Pippin said with more urgency and less innocence. "I didn't do anything!"
"Oh, really?" Gandalf said. "Then was it someone else who plied Legolas with that vile homebrew of the Rohirrim and then convinced him to stand on a table and treat the entire camp to a rousing rendition of 'Ho! Ho! Ho! to the bottle I go!' It was Frodo, no doubt. Or Gimli, perhaps?"
"He was having a good time, Gandalf!" Pippin squeaked as the pressure on his ear increased. "Legolas loves to sing!"
"Imagine if he had reached the final verse!" Gandalf chastised, then bellowed, "Meriadoc, turn over that brew this instant!" Merry, caught off-guard and suddenly in the line of fire, gave it over without hesitation. It disappeared into Gandalf's robes. Then he guided Pippin out of his chair and away from the table, his hand still grasping the tween-ager's ear.
"I trust that the four of you can finish up the night without further spectacle or humiliation of any of your remaining companions," Gandalf addressed the table. Four heads nodded as one. Gandalf turned on his heel and strode away, Pippin scurrying to keep up and insure that his ear remained attached to his head.
Gimli glared at the curious crowd and made a low noise in his throat. Suddenly, the onlookers all had other things to do or look at. The four companions sat in stunned silence for several moments, then Sam finished the last of his ale and set it down with a satisfied sigh.
"I take it back, Mr. Merry," he said. "That brew is better than old Mr. Ponto's after all."
(*Note: Drâmyn and Unomer belong to Llinos, and you can find them in Recaptured! She kindly lent them out to the party, as they are dear friends of Merry's. Ponto Goodbody is my invention and can be found in several of my stories. A semi-retired healer of Hobbiton, he prepared a certain liquid concoction of peaches and grain every year that made him very good friends with Bilbo. The drinking song is my composition, but is a variation on the one Pippin and Sam sing in "The Fellowship of the Ring," in the chapter "A Short Cut to Mushrooms.")
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