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Written for Marigold's Challenge 33, 10/8/2006
Title: Dressed to the Teeth
‘I know how to divert you from your purpose!’ Farry said, his tone triumphant as he entered the sitting room and swept Goldi into his arms.
‘I love it when you take that masterful tone,’ Goldi said, smiling smugly into his face. ‘It sets such a challenge, for me to see how I might sway you to my will...’ She accepted his kiss, nay, welcomed it, rather, and then she gasped, half pulling away, her hand going to her middle.
‘Goldi?’ Farry said, playfulness changing instantly to solicitude. ‘Is it...?’
‘The babe!’ she gasped, and her eyes, brimming with wondering joy, looked up to meet his once more. ‘I felt it move, Farry. O your kisses set my butterflies a-flutter, for certain, but this was something else again...!’
He laid a tender hand upon her abdomen and the hope growing there in secret, and she laughed in delight. ‘But it’s much too early, my love!’ she chided with a grin. ‘You won’t be able to feel anything for weeks, yet!’ Why, she didn’t even have enough of a bulge to leave off her regular clothes for the looser ones a mum-in-waiting wore, when comfort won over fashion.
‘I must practice, so I’ll know it when I feel it,’ he said, cupping his hand over the babe.
Goldi tilted her head to invite another kiss. When at last Farry’s lips left hers, she gasped a little, for she needed to take in air, and then she remembered, and spoke in her sauciest tone. ‘So is this how you mean to turn me from my purpose?’ she said. ‘You’ll drown me in kisses for the next half-a-week... until the first of the month has decently arrived, when it would be proper to begin the Yuletide preparations?’ She pouted. ‘I really don’t see the harm in beginning a few days early...’
‘And a few days earlier next year, and a few days yet earlier the next, and before you know it we’ll be hanging the Yuletide greens and ribbons and glass balls and other decorations at harvest-time!’ Faramir said. He put on a thoughtful look and said, ‘...but I do like your plan for being diverted...’ and kissed her once more, a brief kiss this time, that didn’t leave Goldi breathless. ‘Perhaps I ought to send word to Budge Hall that we won’t be coming after all...’
‘Budge Hall!’ Goldi gasped, and then, ‘the Bolgers! O Farry, what have you...?’
‘The Bolgers have invited us to spend a week in Bridgefields,’ Faramir said. ‘Their timing is perfect, of course. Perhaps Laurel, knowing you, realised that you would try to set all tradition on its head in your pursuit of pleasure...’
‘She’s in full agreement, I’ll have you know!’ Goldi said. ‘She’d have Yule celebrated the whole year through, if it were in her power!’
‘Good thing it’s not in her power, then,’ Farry said with a shudder. ‘Plum pudding in mid-summer! What an idea!’
‘Mmm,’ said Goldi. ‘Plum pudding the year-round.’
‘You’d tire of it, you know that you would,’ Farry warned.
‘I’d like to try,’ Goldi said saucily, and Faramir had to laugh, though of course he wouldn’t order the kitchens to make up a batch of plum puddings just to satisfy his beloved. It was more than a month until the actual days of Yule, after all, and Yuletide wouldn’t start for half a week, yet.
Because of her “delicate condition” Goldi reluctantly agreed to ride in the coach, rather than pony-back, and she allowed that they could make it a two-day journey to Bridgefields, stopping over in Frogmorton, even though it wasn’t much further to go along to Budgeford...
But she had promised her good friend Laurel Bolger that she’d let Farry pamper her, so long as she was expecting his child, the first of many, as they both hoped. Seeing that they’d been married a little more than half a year, they had made a good start on the matter. Goldi would rather not bother with being pampered, especially as it did not extend to spoiling. For example, Farry had not let her order the decorating of the Great Smials a full week before Yuletide began. And while he blissfully ordered, at Goldi’s whim, the strangest concoctions a hobbit could imagine, from the kitchens, at the oddest hours of the night, he would not let his wife stuff herself with sweetmeats alone. No, she had to eat plenty of fowl, and eggs, in deference to Healer Woodruff’s theory that because chickens laid an egg a day, hobbits must eat the birds and/or their offspring on a daily basis in order to be as free of trouble when producing young of their own. Goldi was growing to detest chicken. There were only so many ways to fix fowl, or eggs.
When Goldi wakened, stretching and yawning, it was still dark. Good, she thought to herself. She’d needed so much extra sleep these days... it was satisfying to awaken at her (former) regular hour.
...only to have Faramir throw open the shutters to streaming sunlight. ‘Good morning, dearest!’ he said cheerily.
Goldi had instinctively shielded her eyes from the onslaught.
‘O my love,’ Farry said, rushing to her side, to envelop her in his arms. ‘Is it too early? Do you need more sleep?’
‘What time is it?’ Goldi grumbled. ‘It must be ever so late! What must they think of Tooks, sleeping until midday!’
‘Adelbrim and I ate early breakfast,’ Farry said. ‘You were still sawing logs, and I hadn’t the heart to waken you.’
‘I don’t snore,’ Goldi said with dignity.
‘Of course you don’t, love,’ Farry said. ‘But you were... erm, you were deeply asleep, when I wakened, and so I closed the shutters so that the sun wouldn’t shine in your eyes, and I went off for early breakfast. It’s a lovely day, although cold, and the sun sparkling on the snow looks like a thousand diamonds.’
‘A veritable treasure chest,’ Goldi said, ‘as big as all outdoors!’ She yawned, and said, ‘but I’m starving, and the babe is ravening... Just what meal is it, anyhow?’
‘Elevenses,’ Farry said. ‘I was going to waken you soon, if you didn’t waken yourself!’
‘Elevenses!’ Goldi said in shock. ‘Why, we’ve missed two breakfasts!’
‘Then come along, my love,’ Farry said, lifting Goldi’s dress over her head and doing up the buttons for her. ‘Let us not delay. They were laying the tables in the common room when I left...’
Elevenses more than filled Goldi’s hollow places, and she enjoyed the company of the two male hobbits who doted on her every whim. One was her husband, of course, whose duty it was to dote upon her as his wife, and the other was the head of the Thain’s escort, whose duty it was to dote upon her as the Mistress of Tookland, whilst Diamond was away in the southlands with Thain Peregrin.
Adelbrim knew better than to take a servant’s role, eating in the kitchen or at the least at a separate table. Goldi would never stand for that, and Pippin had raised Faramir to be a sensible hobbit. The three of them talked and laughed, drawing other hobbits into the conversation, until it was almost as if there were a party at the Dancing Doves that day. Indeed, the innkeeper urged them to stop over another day, for the weather was bitterly cold and clouds were rolling in.
‘But no,’ Farry said regretfully. ‘The Bolger is expecting us this day...’
‘You could send a messenger,’ the innkeeper said.
‘In this cold! Why, no, I could not conscience such a thing!’ Farry said. ‘We’ll be fine, tucked snug inside our coach, and no troubles from the wind or the cold...’
Adelbrim, driving the coach, might be chilled, but it was all a part of his duty, and he was too brave and bright a Took to complain of such. He was over-young to be head of escort, of course. Tomorrow would be his birthday, as a matter of fact, the day he’d come of age. Because of his prowess with the bow he’d been allowed to shoot with the grown hobbits this year at the Tournament, and he’d won! By custom the Thain must offer him the job as head of the Thain’s escort, and to everyone’s surprise (and consternation, on the part of some of the Tooks, for that matter), he’d accepted the position, and thrown himself into his work with verve and enthusiasm, and amazingly good judgment for one so young.
He got on very well with Farry and Goldi, being about the same age as the one and a year older than the other, indeed was more a friend than a servant, and so being escorted on their travels was not so much of a rub as it might have been.
And so they were on their way after finishing elevenses, and due to arrive at the Ford well before teatime.
Truth be told, it was bitter weather, and Goldi was glad for the footstove, filled with coals before they departed, and she accepted the blankets that Farry piled over her as they rolled along. ‘I don’t know,’ she said, broodingly, ‘that it was the best idea, love, to go on so... Think how cold it is for Adel!’
‘He relishes the challenge,’ Farry said. ‘Not to mention, he’ll probably hint for extra pay, for the effort...’
‘He’d never!’ Goldi said, and Farry laughed.
‘Of course he wouldn’t,’ he said, ‘but I’m going to give him extra pay for this day’s work, anyhow. It’ll make a nice Yule bonus for the hobbit, and perhaps he can buy a pretty for that lass he’s had his eye on, and in presenting it he might actually work up the courage to ask her to marry him!’
‘And if he cannot work up the courage, perhaps...’ Goldi said, and Farry shook a warning finger in her face.
‘Now, lass,’ he said. ‘It’s his place to ask...’
She laughed. ‘But if I hadn’t been the one to pop the question to you would we even be married now?’ she demanded.
‘I asked you first,’ Farry said.
‘No you didn’t!’ Goldi retorted. It was an old argument with them, one they enjoyed re-hashing, especially with the inevitable making-up afterward which was indeed something to enjoy... except that this time they were rather... interrupted by untoward events.
‘What happened?’ Farry said, when the coach had stopped tumbling. He’d curled himself protectively around Goldi, and a good thing, too, for he felt quite bruised by the pelting he’d received, of loose objects inside the body of the coach.
‘I’m sure I don’t know,’ Goldi muttered, putting an unsteady hand to her whirling head. ‘I know that you adore kissing me until I’m giddy, but that kiss was the giddiest yet...’
‘Hulloo!’ came from the door of the coach, which was unaccountably above them rather than to the side. ‘Are you all right in there?’
‘All right?’ Farry said. ‘How could we be all right? Everything is downside-up!’
‘It’s not,’ Goldi countered. ‘It’s sideways.’
‘Coach skidded into the ditch,’ Adelbrim said apologetically. ‘I couldn’t stop it,’ he said, ‘I’m that sorry, sir, but...’
‘Stop your apologising and get us out of here,’ Farry said. ‘How far to the Ford?’
‘An hour’s walking,’ Adelbrim said. ‘But if you’d like to wait in the coach, I think you’ll be warmer.’
‘What!’ Goldi said. ‘Out of the wind, perhaps, but not warmer! And certainly not more comfortable. Why, all the seats are on the walls, and we’re practically sitting in the snow, what with us perched on the window, here!’
‘Get us out!’ Farry said. ‘We can stand to walk an hour... whereas if we sit here it’ll be teatime before we’re missed, and they come looking...’
‘I can walk!’ Goldi added.
It took a little more persuasion, but at last the head of escort agreed. With Farry boosting from under, and Adelbrim pulling, Goldi was soon sitting atop the side of the coach. The ponies stood in their traces, heads turned back in frank astonishment at proceedings.
‘And now for you, Farry,’ Adelbrim said, but just then something alarmed the ponies, a gust of wind, perhaps, and they began to fuss, and then to rear and plunge.
‘I don’t know what’s got into them!’ the escort said, and called down to Faramir, ‘a moment, sir!’ To Goldi, he said, ‘Wait a moment, Mistress!’
‘I always find myself looking around for Diamond-Mum,’ she muttered as he slid off the coach, to calm the ponies, and looking down at Faramir she said, ‘Comfortable, my love?’
‘Not particularly,’ Farry answered. He tried to find purchase, to get high enough to reach the door, pull himself up, and climb out, but couldn’t quite get a grasp. ‘We would have to take the great coach...’
‘In the interest of comfort and pleasure,’ Goldi said. ‘Your da had this coach made for your mum, as you remember, and a more lush and luxurious conveyance is beyond my imagining.’ She laughed in his face. ‘I told you that riding ponies would have been just the thing, but no, you insisted that the coach would be safer...’
‘Best laid plans,’ he sighed. ‘But you must be awfully chilled, up there, not to mention uncomfortable...’ He hunted around the jumbled interior, bundling together blankets and throwing them up at her, followed by a well-stuffed cushion. ‘Sit on that!’ he said, ‘and wrap yourself well. And what is wrong with the ponies?’ For he could hear their protests, even inside the coach.
‘I’m sure I don’t know,’ Goldi said, looking up from Farry’s face, but seconds later her own scream blended with those of the ponies.
If Farry could have, he would have launched himself up and out of the coach. As it was, he was so galvanised by Goldi’s scream that his leap brought him within grasp of the doorway, and he hung on grimly, swaying a bit, and somehow pulled himself up.
The ponies were screaming wildly, kicking and plunging, and Adelbrim was laying about himself with the whip, the only weapon he had, at the moment, and great, silent, fanged beasts were dodging in to slash at their chosen prey, and dodging out again—wolves! Wolves in the Shire! Wolves, for the first time since the Fell Winter, in Bilbo Baggins’ youth!
Drawing his sword, Farry jumped down, ignoring Goldi’s fresh scream at his peril, and he waded into the fray. He lamed one wolf with a mighty blow, and some of its ravenous fellows at once turned on it. With this successful distraction, Farry turned his attention to the ponies. They were hindered, bound as they were by the traces to the overturned coach. Rear and plunge as they might, it wouldn’t be long before they were pulled down by the attacking wolves. Of course, what he intended would seal their fate, most likely... but it was a necessary sacrifice. Goldi’s life, and that of their unborn child, was at stake.
He slashed through the traces with the razor-edge of his sword. It was not long before the ponies pulled free of the coach, fleeing, drawing the wolf pack with the irresistible urge to the chase... and soon the only wolf left was the badly torn creature that struggled feebly nearby, staining the snow with bright blood. Farry stepped over and with a quick thrust of his blade, put the wolf out of its misery.
Adelbrim stood panting, holding the whip aloft, mid-slash. ‘It’s over,’ Farry said, wiping the blood from his sword. ‘They’re gone.’
Adel started, as one wakening from nightmare. ‘Not for long, I fear,’ he said. ‘They’ll catch the ponies, or not, but they’ll be back, I think. They looked famished...’ He looked up at Goldi. ‘P’rhaps we’d best lower you into the coach again, Mistress,’ he said. ‘It’s some sort of shelter. And when we don’t arrive by teatime, the Bolgers will come looking for us before we freeze.’
‘If they come back, as you think, I’m not sure the coach will be much refuge,’ Goldi said. ‘I can see daylight right through one side, where they were carrying on...’
‘Better to make our way to the nearest farm,’ Farry said.
‘But to be caught in the open,’ Adelbrim protested.
‘We won’t be,’ Goldi said with more bravado than truth. She could not bear the thought of sitting here, waiting for the beasts to come back... and enduring their onslaught, watching the coach splinter around herself and Farry and Adel, when they did return, waiting for the powerful jaws to break through, reaching them at last...
Farry sheathed his sword and helped Goldi down. Adelbrim fetched his bow and quiver of arrows, and two bags from the luggage—more clothes, he said, just in case they needed to add to what they were wearing, as the temperature seemed to be dropping. Or so it felt.
‘How are you going to shoot wolves, if you’re carrying baggage?’ Goldi wanted to know.
‘The wolves aren’t returning any time soon,’ Adel retorted, remembering belatedly to add, ‘Mistress. You said so, yourself.’
‘Of course they aren’t,’ Goldi said with as much dignity as she could muster, pulling her blankets more closely around herself. Even with her heavy winter cloak, she was chilled. But she was not going to huddle in the uncertain refuge of the coach. The nearest farm was only a mile or two away...
They were skirting a patch of brambles when they heard the howling on the wind.
‘They’re coming!’ Adelbrim gasped, dropping the bags. ‘They’re nearly upon us!’
‘Quick, Goldi,’ Faramir said, drawing his sword and pushing his wife ahead of him. ‘Play that we are rabbits, and our home is in the brambles—they’ll offer some shelter, at least!’
Despite the cruel jabbing and scratching of the thorns, even through her blankets, Goldi dove into the thicket, shoving as deep as she could, until the tangles became impassable, and then she turned, seeing Farry and Adelbrim right behind her, facing the opening they’d made.
No wolves appeared at once, though the wind brought the howls to them, and Adel, a little shame-faced, scuttled out to fetch the bags he’d dropped. Piling them with the cushion Farry had carried, they made a little couch of sorts to keep Goldi off the frozen ground.
‘Now, if you could only kindle fire,’ Farry said, ‘we’d be quite cosy here.’
‘Not to mention, it would make another weapon to hold the wolves at bay,’ Adel said. ‘And someone might see the smoke and come to investigate.’
‘You fellows are full of all sorts of good ideas,’ Goldi said with asperity. She opened one of the bags, to dig out the box of matches she’d packed, and a bit of bright green-gold fabric spilled out.
‘Is that what I think it is?’ Farry said, raising an eyebrow.
Goldi blushed and shoved the fabric back before digging for the matches. Adelbrim, of course, had no idea, and if she could manage to keep the dress out of sight, he would remain ignorant, as was only proper. ‘It’s nothing,’ she told the curious escort, and after Adelbrim had nodded and turned away, moving to the edge of the brambles to survey their surroundings, she whispered to Farry, ‘I thought it about time to return the thing to Laurel... Now that she’s had her babe she’ll soon fit into it again, and we shouldn’t keep such pleasant diversions all to ourselves...’
‘Ah,’ Farry said, and then he blushed, endearing him all over again to Goldilocks, and then he took himself off to stand beside the escort, watching for the wolves’ return. And Goldi thought back to a visit to Budge Hall, some time before her wedding...
Goldi sneezed. ‘Really, Laurel,’ she said. ‘I don’t know if this is such a good idea...’
‘Really, Goldi!’ Laurel said in the same vein. ‘Where’s your sense of adventure?’
Goldi sneezed again. ‘I wouldn’t call a dusty old storehole “adventure”...’
‘Well,’ Laurel said, ‘surely there’s some sort of treasure to be found here, to present you for a wedding-gift! A box of jewels, maybe, or...’
‘Or...’ Goldi said, ‘a plugged nose, perhaps! Won’t I look fine, standing with my family as my father opens the Bridgefields planting festival, with my nose as red as a cherry!’
‘Redder!’ Laurel said in reassurance. ‘You’ll look absolutely charming, Goldi. That shade of red sets off the gold in your hair...’
‘Lovely,’ Goldi muttered.
‘But what’s this?’ Laurel said, pouncing on another dust-covered trunk. ‘Something from my grandmother’s time, I think!’ She opened it, and uttered a crooning ohhhhh as gold-green fabric glinted in the lamplight.
‘Beautiful,’ Goldi whispered, her eyes wide.
‘O but you’d look well in this,’ Laurel said, tissue paper drifting down as she shook the dress out of its folds and held it up. ‘The fabric is so rich—it looks as if gold has been woven into the cloth... and the lace! So finely woven... Here, try it on!’
The beautiful gown was not dusty in itself, having been sheltered in the cedar-lined trunk, and it shimmered as if it were some sort of liquid fire, draped over Goldi’s curves. But the bodice... what there was of it...
‘Really,’ Laurel said, casting a critical eye up and down the dress, as Goldi blushed before her regard. ‘It is a lovely dress indeed, that you’re almost wearing.’
‘What were they thinking?’ Goldi wanted to know, raising an arm to cover her upper region. ‘I mean, who’d wear a dress like this? Why, if my dad were to see me in this, he’d take off his coat and throw it around me and hustle me off to my room, and not let me come out again for a month!’
‘It was all the fashion during Mistress Lalia’s time,’ Laurel said, rolling her eyes. ‘The stories my grandmother told! Why, at one fancy ball, a fashionable young Took fell right out of her dress in the middle of a reel, and...’
‘I can only imagine the pandemonium that broke loose,’ Goldi said, ‘along with everything else.’
‘Still,’ Laurel said, her eyes dancing, ‘I can only imagine my Rudi’s reaction, were I to wear such a thing...’
‘Then you go ahead and wear it,’ Goldi said, trying to reach behind her to undo the fastenings once more, her front jiggling perilously as she removed the support her sheltering forearm had provided.
‘I just might,’ Laurel said wickedly. ‘Just think, when I was nursing a babe, I wouldn’t even have to undo anything...’
And she and Goldi shared a most unladylike outburst of laughter.
When Goldi and Farry opened their wedding presents, the dress was among them.
And yes, Farry had found it exceedingly diverting.
When the wolves arrived, Adelbrim was able to hold them off with his expert shooting. At first, Goldi was hopeful that he’d drive them away completely, but they kept returning anew, with fresh determination.
It appeared that the farmers had locked away their sheep and cattle and goats and ponies, in this bitter cold, and there was nothing easily available to satisfy the wolves’ starvation... except, perhaps, the three hobbits, caught out in the open.
‘Practically laid out on a platter,’ Goldi mumbled to herself, striking yet another match that only flickered and died.
‘What was that?’ Farry said, holding his sword tightly in his hand, though Adelbrim’s latest arrow had taken the nearest wolf in the throat, causing the others to fall back once more.
‘Nothing,’ Goldi retorted. ‘I’m running low on matches.’
‘I’m running low on arrows,’ the escort said. ‘What’ll we do when we run out?’
‘Goldi!’ Farry called behind him, where his wife sought to kindle fire.
‘Nearly got it,’ she gasped, even as a finger of wind found its way through the makeshift shelter and extinguished her latest effort.
Goldi was more determined than the wind. She’d flung off her cloak and hung it on the brambles behind her, forcing it onto the thorns, making a wall of sorts for the wind to whistle around. Though her hands and arms were scratched and bleeding, she bent with a will to her fire makings. ‘Please,’ she said, thinking of the Lady who’d sent water and light to her father in a parched dark land, ‘Please.’ Her hands were trembling as she lit the match. It was the last, and then she’d be reduced to the flint and steel that Farry always carried, though his cousins teased him that he was hopelessly old-fashioned in that way.
The fire would not burn! ‘Please,’ she said again to the Lady. With a sudden thought, she took the cushion Farry had brought from the coach for her comfort and tore a hole in it with the knife that Farry had supplied her, should the wolves break through. She pulled out the stuffing, blessing for the moment the bitter temperatures that insured it was dry despite the snow that was sifting down. She spread a piece of stuffing with her cold-stiffened fingers, to provide air and encourage burning, and laid the stuffing at the base of the kindling. Now she picked up the flint and began to strike it on her knife, directing the sparks onto the stuffing. ‘Please,’ she said once more.
The sparks landed on the soft, flammable stuff and smouldered as if deciding whether to burst into flame or die. ‘Please,’ Goldi whispered.
‘They’re getting bolder,’ Farry said.
‘You’ll need to protect your arm,’ Adelbrim said, fitting another arrow to his bow. ‘If they rush you, and your sword gets stuck as you thrust it—well, another of them might go for your unprotected arm while you’re pulling the blade free again, or so I remember from your da’s tales of his Travellings.’
‘Good thinking,’ Farry said, turning back. ‘Goldi!’
‘I heard,’ she said, not taking her eyes from the infant flame she was nurturing. She grabbed at the bag, pulling out the first garment that came to hand, and Farry hastily wrapped it around his arm, even as the wolves launched another attack.
The sullen sky was growing lighter. Farry threw another armload of sticks on the fire and returned to the relative warmth of the cloaks.
‘Daylight,’ Goldi said sleepily. ‘They haven’t returned.’
‘No,’ Farry said, putting his arm around her after he’d settled the cloaks as well as he could, to keep out the bitter cold. ‘Thanks to your fire.’
As the flames had taken hold in the fading of the previous day, Adelbrim had launched his last arrow and fallen back; a great wolf had moved forward in a silent rush, knocking the escort to the ground as the hobbit instinctively threw his arms up to protect his face and neck. Farry’s sword had bitten deep, and the wolf had rolled away, convulsing. More wolves rushed at Farry, but Goldi rose from the now-vigorously burning fire, a flaming branch in each hand, to smite them on their muzzles and send them howling away.
A wolf had fastened on Farry’s free arm during the attack, savagely tearing, but the wrapping had kept him safe from mauling, to everyone’s great relief.
Goldi used the respite to bind up Adelbrim’s bleeding arm with strips torn from her petticoats. They’d alternated pacing and huddling beneath the cloaks for the rest of the night, fearful of sleep.
The wolves had returned twice in the night, but a few well-aimed fiery missiles had discouraged them from trying to win their way through the narrow opening in the brambles. Faramir, sword in one hand and burning branch in the other, crept from the bramble patch at first light. He returned soon, his sword sheathed, bearing moss which he placed in the middle of the fire. Smoke began to rise. Farry kept feeding the fire dry wood and damp moss as they waited.
Some time before elevenses they heard ponies approaching, and a questing cry.
‘Here!’ Faramir shouted, unwrapping the torn garment from his arm, for he’d need the protection no longer.
‘Farry! Goldi!’ came the answer. It was Rudivar, the Bolger himself, come in search with a body of hunters. He leapt from his pony, thrusting his way into the briar patch without thought of scratches or jabbing thorns, and embraced Faramir and then Goldilocks. ‘You were due yesterday, and then when word came that wolves had crossed the Brandywine we feared the worst...’
‘How did they get across?’ Farry asked. ‘I thought the Brandybucks had the gates up on the Bridge when they heard that wolves were prowling around the High Hay.’
‘The River’s frozen all the way across,’ Rudi said, ‘just as it was in the Fell Winter.’
Farry whistled. ‘I knew it was cold,’ he said, ‘but...’
‘Don’t know quite how cold,’ the Bolger said. ‘The quicksilver’s all the way down in the glass.’ He looked to the escort. ‘But you’re injured!’ he said.
Adelbrim eased his arm in the makeshift sling. ‘Could be worse,’ he said. ‘If it wasn’t for the Mistress and her fire-making...’
Goldi smiled. ‘You bought us time with your arrows,’ she said lightly.
‘Come now,’ Rudi said. ‘Let’s get you to Budge Hall, and warm. Cider’s already simmering on the stove, waiting for us.’
‘I’ll drink to that,’ Farry said.
And later that evening, sipping tea in their guest apartments, Goldi sighed. ‘I think I’ve finally stopped shaking,’ she said. ‘At last.’
‘From cold, or from fear?’ Laurel said gently, slipping an arm about Goldi’s shoulders for a heart-felt hug. ‘I’m still shaking—with relief! What a close thing it was!’ She gave a sigh of her own, resting her head on Goldi’s shoulder. ‘To think I nearly lost the best friend I have in the world... besides my dear husband...’
‘O Laurel,’ Goldi said, close to tears. ‘And I’m afraid my Yule present to you has been ruined.’
‘I don’t want any other present,’ Laurel said with another hug. ‘It’s enough to know that you and Faramir are safe...’
‘Well, it’s a good thing,’ Goldi said, sitting up as her friend released her. She reached down, for a paper-wrapped bundle. ‘You might as well open it now, for it’s not worth waiting until Yuletide.’
‘I never wait until Yuletide anyhow,’ Laurel said bravely, with a little laugh, putting aside sentiment for Goldi’s sake. And true, the first of the month was still a day away, and Budge Hall was already decked in greenery and bright ribbons and all sorts of pretty decorations. She tore into the paper, revealing shining green and gold. ‘But it isn’t...?’
‘It is,’ Goldi said ruefully.
Laurel held the present up, eyeing it critically. ‘I must say, Goldi, there wasn’t much to this before, but there seems to be even less to it, now... Did it inflame Farry, perhaps, to too great an enthusiasm, when last you donned the gown for his viewing pleasure...?’
‘Something like that,’ Goldi said demurely, casting her eyes down, though she smiled a secret smile. ‘He certainly did appreciate the gown, whether I was wearing it, or not, as it were...’ And though she was well-married, and well on her way to becoming a mum herself, and Laurel was a mother four times over, a blush still rose in Goldi’s cheeks.
Laurel laughed and cupped Goldi’s blooming cheek. ‘Really, love, you’re glowing,’ she said. ‘I’m certain that you and Farry enjoyed our wedding present, and I’m so very glad!’
‘Yes,’ Goldi said, her blush turning to a chuckle. ‘We got a lot out of it, more than you can ever imagine, my dear!’
And laughing, she and Laurel embraced, and then their husbands were entering, with the well-laden tea trolley, complete with a pot of hot, freshly brewed tea and birthday cake for Adelbrim, the head of the Thain's escort following, and Laurel hastily shoved the remains of the gown behind a cushion, where it remained for the rest of the evening.
‘And how does it feel to be a hobbit grown?’ Farry asked, sitting back, replete with tea and cake.
Adelbrim winced. ‘Rather more painful than I thought it would be,’ he said. ‘No, wait, that’s the wolf, I think.’
‘And I might’ve said the same,’ Farry said, ‘but for my wife’s quick thinking.’
‘Oh?’ Laurel said, accepting a fresh cup of tea from her Rudi.
‘Yes,’ Farry said. ‘A wolf went for my arm—but Goldi jumped out with a flaming branch in either hand and beat him off.’
‘Good for you, Goldi,’ Rudi said, as Laurel exchanged a meaning look with Goldilocks. ‘I’d expect no less from a daughter of Samwise the Brave.’
‘Nor would I,’ Laurel said. ‘Very quick thinking, my dear. And I’m glad that our present gave up its all in such good cause.’
‘Indeed,’ Rudi said, though he didn’t know the half of it.
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