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Buckland Celebration  by Baggins Babe

October 29th, 1428 SR

Rose was still brushing little Rosie's hair when the carriages arrived outside. Frodo-lad scampered out to see the ponies and the smart painted carriages full of assorted Took women and children. The coachmen continued to the top of the lane and turned so they would be facing the right way for the journey to Buckland.

       "Hello, dear," said Eglantine, smiling as she leaned out of the window. The child beamed and allowed himself to be chucked under the chin by the Thain's wife and Uncle Pip's sister Pearl. He was joined by Ellie and finally Rosie-lass and Rose carrying Merry-lad. She locked the door and put the key in the hanging basket by the door.

       "Hello, Rose!" Paladin rode up on his beautiful grey pony and doffed his hat. Gaffer Gamgee might have spun in his grave at the sight of the Thain raising his hat to Farmer Cotton's daughter, but to Paladin Rose and Sam were family. Without their devoted care Frodo would not be alive.

       "Good morning, sir. How are you?"

       "I'm fine. You look blooming, I must say."

       "Rosie!" Pippin charged up, leapt from his large pony and hugged her before pulling away and scanning her anxiously. "How are you? How's the babe? Growing, I see." He nodded at her rounded bump.

       "Kicking like a mule! I was so sorry about Diamond."

       Pippin's face clouded. "It was a shock. We thought everything was going well and then............."

       "It sometimes goes that way with a first - it's as though the body has to have a sort of practice first. My sister -in-law was the same, and she's had three healthy ones now. Di will be fine next time." Rose patted Pippin's shoulder and he smiled gratefully.

       "Don't forget - if that one is a boy he's to be named after me. You can't have Merry without Pippin."

       "Well he's fidgety enough!" Rose laughed and went to speak to Eglantine and the other women. She had once been nervous in their presence but now she acted normally and enjoyed being treated as an equal. She got on well with most people and had known them long enough to think of them as friends.

       Frodo appeared from the garden, carrying Rufus, and allowed the cat to hop down and sit on the grass.

       "Are you bringing Rufus?" Pippin enquired.

       "No, silly. Daddy Twofoot's daughter is going to feed him for a few days, and he can sleep in the shed in his basket."

       Sam made his way down from the stables, riding Bill and leading Frodo's pony, Strider. He greeted everyone cheerfully and smiled as Rose shooed the children into the carriages.

       Pearl, Pip's eldest sister, leaned out to kiss Frodo. "Are you sure you're fit to ride all the way?" she asked.

       "I'm as fit as I've ever been, Pearly-whirly," he said, and she chuckled at his use of her childhood nickname.

       Minto Hornblower, Pearl's husband and heir to the pipeweed business, gave a snort of laughter. He had heard the name before but it never failed to make him laugh.

       Frodo swung up into the saddle and the procession set off; four carriages with assorted women, children and nursemaids, and the men riding together. With Paladin, Sam, Pippin and Frodo rode Minto, Berilac Brandybuck, married to Pimpernel, and Everard Took who was married to the bewitching and exasperating Pervinca.

      In the carriage with Eglantine, Rose sat Merry-lad on her knee. She liked the Tooks - they were funny and cheerful and not in the least snobbish. Pervinca tickled the baby's feet and he squealed and kicked in delight.

       "Frodo looks so well now. He hasn't looked like that since before he went on that terrible journey. We really can't thank you enough for the way you've looked after him," Pearl smiled at Rose. "Where would he be if it weren't for you and Sam? I dread to think."

       "I'm just thankful we managed to pull him back. Can't believe he was still unconscious a year ago - doesn't seem possible he's recovered so well in less than a year. Even the fading process seems to have reversed itself - at least I'm not afraid he might ....disappear or something. I never thought he'd wake again, but Sam refused to accept that. Frodo has always said they survived that trek to Mordor thanks to Sam's determination, and I can see what he means." She bounced Merry and he gurgled and then scrambled over onto Diamond's lap, holding up his arms and chattering nonsense.

       "You're adorable!" Diamond huffed warm air on the fat tummy and tickled the child until he shrieked with laughter.

       "More! More!" He clung round her neck, giggling as she delivered smacking kisses on his stomach.

       "More, you cheeky little piggy? Do you love your Auntie Di?"

       "Yes, yes!" He kissed her enthusiastically and snuggled against her. She smiled fondly and turned to Rose.

       "Do you think I'll ever have one of my own?"

       "Of course you will, pet. There'll come a time when you tell that husband of yours to take a walk round the garden to cool off because you don't want another just yet!"

       "I'm sure you never told Sam to walk round the garden!" Diamond mock-nibbled at Merry-lad's exploring fingers.

      "No, and look at me! Mum says Sam only has to undo his trousers and I'm expecting again!"

       "Well, Sam is a gardener so he should be good at sowing seed," said Pervinca slyly. "Stop rolling your eyes, Mother. It's true!"

       "What is the little one looking at?" Eglantine asked, nodding at Pervinca's daughter. Little Persimmon was cooing and waving at the window, her face full of wonder.

       "What has taken your fancy, little one?" Rose asked, peering round and following the child's line of vision. "Ah! You've seen your Uncle Frodo, have you?"

       "Fo!" shouted Merry-lad, looking up.

       "F.....Fo?" Persimmon said experimentally. "Fo?"

       "Fro, you have an admirer here!" Pervinca called out of the window. Frodo trotted alongside and looked in.

       "Hello, little one. You are a pretty girl, aren't you?" He stroked the fat little cheek and the child smiled and held his hand. "Goodness me, she's grown! What is she now - three?" Pervinca nodded.

       "Fo!" the child said again. He laughed and ruffled her light red-brown curls.

       "That's right! What a clever girl!"

      "I think you'll have to keep in her eyeline or she'll bawl the place down," said Pearl, smiling.

       "Very particular in her likes and dislikes, our Persimmon," murmured Pimpernel. "Woe betide anyone she doesn't like! She lets everyone know about it, very loudly and at great length."

       "Well she is a Took female," Frodo said with a grin, and Pippin bellowed with laughter.

       In the carriage with the older children, young Pinto Hornblower, Pearl's eldest boy, was staring out at his heroes. He knew the stories by heart and was now old enough at eighteen to appreciate just what they had done during the War of the Ring. He knew Merry and Pippin well enough to have got over his awe, but he did not really know Frodo and Sam, and was too shy to speak to them. Frodo had been so distant before his illness and this was the first occasion where they would meet properly since. He was not aware that Sam had seen his wistful expression, or that his father had mentioned his hero-worship, until the carriage stopped.

       "Would you like to ride with me, lad?" Pinto blushed to the roots of his hair.

       "I......I........I'd love to, sir, if I wouldn't be a burden for your pony or a nuisance to you."

       "Of course you won't be a nuisance, and I don't think you have to 'sir' me. I'm just plain old Sam Gamgee, the gardener." He helped the boy up to sit in front of him, then nodded to the coachman to continue.

      "Now that is utter nonsense," said Everard Took. "You're the Mayor, the greatest gardener in Shire history and one of the Ring-bearers. Don't be so modest, Sam. Besides, you saved Frodo's life several times and you look after him wonderfully."

       Sam shrugged. "Don't know about that. I'm no hero - that's for others. I did what I did because I would never leave Frodo. Guess I'm just stubborn."

       "You are very stubborn, Sam, to keep denying your virtues." Frodo trotted up and clasped Sam's shoulder. "Now, young Pinto, what's all this about being too shy to talk to me? I bounced you on my knee when you were a baby often enough - and you puked on my shirt once, I seem to remember! Let's ride together and we can get to know each other a little better. I have to ride alongside that carriage, otherwise little Persimmon screams. Eru knows why, but she has taken a fancy to me and wants me in view."

       Pinto smiled shyly. "I remember you before you went away, sir, but I have not had a chance to see you much since......"

       "That has been entirely my fault, lad. I've lived like a recluse for a long time and I should have seen more of you. I'm happy to say I shall be doing more visiting from now on, and I need to catch up with all your gossip. Now, tell me everything."

       Pinto took a deep breath and began to talk, gradually forgetting his shyness in the face of such interest.

                                                                           ************

       It was a merry group which clattered across the Brandywine Bridge and into Buckland. They turned right onto the path to Brandy Hall, and were soon rattling up the drive. The servants were lined up outside, and Saradoc, Esme, Merry and Estella were waiting to greet them. It was like old times for Frodo, although it was Rose and Sam's first visit, and everyone was soon kissing and hugging everyone else. Pervinca hurried up and kissed Frodo. Persimmon transferred herself to Frodo's arms, smothered him in sloppy kisses and rested her head on his shoulder, where she promptly fell asleep.

       Rosie had expected Brandy Hall to be magnificent in its furnishings but everything was very homely and the furniture old and comfortable. She was unused to servants but Merry waved a hand.

       "You'll have to get used to it when we stay in Gondor. There will be hundreds of them there."

       "Are you sure you're up to such a long journey, dear?" Esme stared at Frodo, who shifted under her scrutiny.

       "I'm fine - and we're not going until the end of May, so I'll be even stronger by then."

       "And you're going too, Rose - and with a small baby? I thought we Tooks were adventurous but you have us beaten." Pimpernel shook her head.

       "Wouldn't miss it. I have to see this handsome King Elessar and his beautiful queen - not to mention Faramir, Eomer, Eowyn and the rest. I want them to be more than just names in the Red Book to me. Besides, we'll take the journey slowly and in easy stages. We're staying at Edoras for a while on our way there. The baby won't be a problem - his food is the least of our worries. Always there, no problems heating it to the right temperature or making sure the feeding bottles are clean. The other children are staying with my parents and brother Tom, so they'll be well looked after, even if they are sulking."

       Frodo sat down on an over-stuffed couch, the snoozing hobbitling still clinging to his shoulder. He patted her well-padded bottom and chuckled. Pippin grinned and fetched him a cup of tea and a sandwich.

       "Bikkit!" a little voice demanded as Persimmon raised her head and surveyed the tea table.

       "That woke you up, Madam! Smelled the food, didn't you?" Pip said, mock-biting the child's neck until she shrieked..

       "What else do you say?" Frodo prompted gently. "Bikkit.......?"

       "Pease? Bikkit, pease." She fluttered her eyelashes and dimpled at him and he sighed.

       "You are just like your Mama. She was an artless little flirt at your age, and just grew more so as she grew older." He handed her the biscuit and she sucked it carefully.

       "'hank oo, Fo."

       "I was not!" said Pervinca indignantly. "Well.........I may have been a little Madam ........" She grinned at Frodo. "Watch your shirt if she has a jam sandwich because it will be all over you."

       "Oh yes, just like her Aunt Pimmie. She was the one for smothering me in jam. I can tell you that jam is extremely difficult to remove from hair - foot hair included!" He laughed and turned to look for Sam.

       Sam was chatting quite easily to Saradoc and Paladin. They were the three senior figures in Shire affairs, and met to discuss matters, usually in an informal way over some ale. Time was when Sam would have been tongue-tied and bashful; now he was happy to exchange opinions with them as a social equal. Frodo was delighted.

       "Here comes another lot of visitors," said Merry, bouncing to the door. "You'll be pleased about this, Fro!"

       Frodo kissed Persimmon's cheek and then said, "I think this young lady is rather sleepy. Perhaps it's nap time?"

       "No!" The child protested loudly as she was whisked out of Frodo's arms and carried off, her wails echoing down Brandy Hall's passageways.

       Frodo chuckled and then stood as the door opened. In came a hobbit of similar age, leaning on a cane and walking with a pronounced limp. His auburn hair was heavily salted with grey and his face bore the lines of recent pain, but he was smiling an unmistakeable Took smile.

       "Reggie! My dear friend!" Frodo embraced his cousin and was hugged back with equal force.

       "Frodo! By all that's wonderful! They never said you'd be here. How are you now?" He held Frodo at arm's length and gazed at him for several minutes, unable to believe it. "Last time I saw you must have been Merry and Pip's weddings, and you looked so ill then I honestly thought...................I thought you'd be dead by year's end."

       He wiped tears from his cheek and hugged Frodo again.

       "I nearly was," he replied shakily. "How are you though?"

       "I'm fine. I so wanted to come and see you when I heard you were ill, but after my accident it just wasn't possible. We've had to content ourselves with letters since."

       "I should have come to see you once I was well............"

       "Nonsense! You had to take things slowly - no point overdoing things, my dear Frodo. Are you really well now?"

       "I'm very well. Come and sit down and tell me all the news." Frodo patted the couch and Reggie leaned back contentedly.

       Just before Frodo became seriously ill the previous autumn, Reginard Took had been badly injured when a wagon ran backwards down a hill and spilled its load of logs. Two of these had smashed into his leg, shattering the bones in his knee and shin. It was thought he might lose the leg, but Ivy Brownlock was a determined healer and had persuaded the doctor to try and save it. They had performed a complicated operation to put the pieces of bone together and then splinted the leg. Reggie had been confined to bed for a long time, and had then had to learn to walk again.

       "Interesting set of scars," Frodo commented, peering at his cousin's left leg. "Between us we have far too many to count!"

       Reggie barked a laugh. "At least yours were gained in exotic and strange places. I got mine in the Southfarthing, which seems very prosaic."

       "Not all of mine were from the journey. Some were self-inflicted, I'm ashamed to say." Frodo looked down at his arms. "Still, gouging my shoulder removed the last fragment of the Witch-King's blade, so I probably shouldn't be ashamed of all of them."

       "You shouldn't be ashamed of any, my dear Fro. I can't even begin to imagine what you went through on that journey, but I know the rest of us would have never returned, or if we had it would have been as gibbering madmen with no hope of a cure. Pippin says you survived things which would have killed a Big Person - or even an Elf." He helped himself to some sandwiches. "Some of us understand just what you did, even if the rest of the Shire-folk can't be bothered."

       Frodo began to laugh. "I think they know now, since the King wrote and told them. Merry and Pippin went round with Aragorn's letter and lectured everyone until they were made to understand."

       "Good for the King! He sounds a sensible fellow, I must say."

       "Yes, he is, although I doubt he thought it would result in the women of the Shire sending food parcels to Bag End and trying to turn me into another Will Whitfoot!"

       "You? You could eat from now to Mid-Year's Day and not gain an inch! You're more Took then anything, physically at least." Reggie gazed at his cousin. "You look so much better though - there's a light in your eyes again and I do believe there is even a bit of colour in your cheeks. It is truly wonderful to have you restored to us."

       "No more wonderful than it is to be here and enjoying all the small joys of life again. Sam and Rose spoil me utterly, and everyone seems pleased. I have much to be thankful for. We both do, it seems."

                                                                            ************

       After a short nap and a wash, Frodo selected a fine ruby velvet suit and silver-grey waistcoat. He was preparing for the night's banquet, but he was also about to pay a visit to an old friend. He left his room and walked down the twisting corridors without even thinking where he was going. His memory did not let him down and he took left and right turns without pausing to wonder where he was. He reached the servants' wing and knocked on a door, which was opened by an elderly hobbit woman in a rust coloured dress with a shawl draped over her shoulders.

       "Hello, Aster," he said softly. She stared at him for a moment, her eyes widening.

       "Master Frodo!" she gasped. "Oh my dear child!" She burst into tears and held him tightly.

       Aster Weaver had been chief cook at Brandy Hall when Frodo's parents died. She had taken him under her wing and encouraged the lonely little boy's visits to the kitchens, finding tasty treats to stimulate his appetite and teaching him to cook. She had been warm and motherly and always smelled comfortingly of cakes and spices and reassurance. Although more or less retired, she continued to rule the kitchens with a rod of iron, supervising the 'flibbertigibbets and addle-witted maids' who bustled to and fro and were utterly terrified of her.

       "Let me look at you - I was beside myself when the Mistress went to Hobbiton to nurse you and the news was never anything but bad. You certainly look well now, my dear. Come in, come in."

       Frodo stepped into the cosy room and sat down by the fire while Aster fussed about. She was no doubt well over ninety but very sprightly. She gave Frodo another searching look.

       "You still don't look any different, Master Frodo. Such a sweet face.......and no grey hairs yet?!"

       "I'm sure there's a lot of those, my dear Aster. It's a wonder I don't look a hundred! If I look well it's because I'm spoiled and treated better than any hobbit ever was. I don't know whether I deserve it............."

       "Of course you do! You were meant for great things, my child. There was a reason you survived that bout of pneumonia when you were little - and that wizard of yours knew it. I remember him muttering something about you being destined for something special." She patted his knee. "Those friends of yours seem to be doing a good job of looking after you. I'd like to meet Master Samwise and his wife one day. The Master and Mistress speak very highly of them."

        "And so you shall. They're here with me and I want you to meet them. I'll bring them to see you tomorrow. They're dear, honest, loving hobbits and I'm sure you'll like them. Rose is an excellent cook."

       "I'm glad to hear it." She cocked her head, listening. "That sounds like the first dinner gong. I hope those wretched maids and cooks have managed to prepare a proper meal. You've no idea how flighty they are these days. Not like that in my day. Old Iris - she was chief cook when I came here - she would have boxed my ears if I'd skittered about like these young ones."

        "I'm sure they'll do their best, Aster dear." He kissed her cheek. I'll come and see you again tomorrow, and I'll bring Sam and Rose with me." He stepped into the passage, grinning to himself and was still smiling when he arrived in the Great Hall.

                                                                           *************

       The great dining chamber at Brandy Hall had not seen such a splendid gathering since the days of 'Goldfather' Rorimac Brandybuck. Tooks, Brandybucks, Boffins, Bolgers, Bankses, Goulds, Chubbs, Gamgees and Bagginses all sat down to a feast which made Pippin's eyes almost pop out. Rose would have been terrified at one time, faced with so much crystal and silver and fine porcelain, but she knew she was among friends so she just copied others if she was unsure of which knife or fork to use. Not that hobbits worried unduly about such things. Pippin told her that in Gondor there were strict rules during Denethor's stewardship which Aragorn had thrown out as soon as was decent. Wondering which fork to use was not something he had ever had to ponder as a Ranger, even in Rivendell, and he had firmly stated that he was not about to start..

       Frodo was seated, at Merry's insistence, on Saradoc's right, between the Master and the Thain. He was being treated as a son of the house and although he was slightly embarrassed, this also gave him a great deal of warm satisfaction and delight. He ate with enthusiasm and took part in various conversations as the room filled with laughter.

       When the rate of food consumption had slowed somewhat, Merry rose and banged on the table for silence.

       "My father would like to say a few words."

       Saradoc rose and surveyed the company. He was wearing a suit of blue velvet and a brocade waistcoat which Bilbo Baggins might have envied. A gold watch chain stretched across his ample stomach and a small badge of the White Tree in diamonds glittered on his lapel.

       "Well, this is certainly the largest gathering in this hall for many a year! We meet at this time to remember the vistory over the Men and the forces of evil, a victory achieved in no small part by that rascally son of mine and his cousin, together with Samwise Gamgee and a large force of determined hobbits. But there was another who was present during those days, without whom there would not have been a Shire to save. Our dear Frodo, my cousin and foster-son, who had already endured so much, was forced to go through that too." He rested a hand on Frodo's shoulder. "Ill-health has deprived him of the chance or the wish to celebrate that victory and  indeed last year he was almost taken from us. When we met here a year ago we were a small and solemn group, awaiting news from Hobbiton and fearing it would be the worst news of all. None of us felt like going through with the ritual but we did it. A few days later a letter arrived from my dear Esme to say that Frodo would recover, and he has been recovering ever since. Frodo, my lad, welcome back to Brandy Hall and to your family. You are thought much of, and may you enjoy continued good health and happiness!" He raised his glass and the whole room stood and drank, with cries of "Frodo! Good old Frodo!" echoing to the rafters.

       Frodo sat still, waiting for the heat in his cheeks to die down. He was deeply moved by Saradoc's speech and the emotion in his voice. He had always known that they loved him but to see such love expressed was almost overwhelming. When he thought his feelings were under control, he stood and looked around him.

       "I........hardly know what to say after that, except thank you, and that seems woefully inadequate. I am overjoyed to be here and to be enjoying life once again, and to experience so much love from everyone is more wonderful than I ever dreamed. I would say it is more than I deserve, but there is a glint in Sam's eye and he will not allow me to say such things these days, so I can only thank you all from the bottom of my heart." He looked at Sam and saw him smiling  encouragingly, his steady gaze full of love. "You are all my family, and Sam and Rose have made me part of their family too. May you all enjoy peace and long life!" He swallowed the lump in his throat and raised his glass, and the company applauded loudly.

       Paladin and Saradoc both patted him on the shoulders as he sat down, and his glass was re-filled. Various cousins hurried over to hug and kiss him.

       "I haven't been kissed by this many pretty girls since I was a tween," he said, as four of Eglantine's Banks relations hung round his neck, giggling shyly. "Now I know what I've been missing I shall have to attend family gatherings more often!" He smiled at another girl who was standing close by, one who looked so much like Pearl Took that she could only be her daughter. When she was born, Pearl had asked his permission to call her daughter after his mother, of whom she had been very fond, and young Primula was now almost twenty, with the light auburn-brown hair and greenish eyes of the Tooks.

       "Thank you for everything, Uncle Frodo," she whispered, her breath warm on his cheek. "We are so very happy to have you here with us."

       "Thank you, Primmie. You're such a lovely young lady now. I've missed seeing you grow up."

       "I hope you can make up for it from now on. We'd like to see you in the Southfarthing. Father says you're always welcome, and I know Mum would love to see you more often. You're so lucky, going to Gondor. I wish I could see the King and Queen."

       "The King will travel north soon and stay in Arnor. He intends to stop for a while at the Bridge, although he will obey his own edict and not enter the Shire - I'm hoping we can change his mind on that and smuggle him in for a look at the place at least. He is as anxious to meet you all and I've told him all about you. I suspect he sees us sometimes, in the Palantir, so he knows how lovely you are."

       "He sounds so sensible and kind - almost hobbity." She was blushing.

       "Oh! He will be very flattered when I tell him that! He is kind and generous, noble and fair, and very handsome too. All the ladies fall in love with him because he treats women with respect. Some Big People treat them as second-class citizens I'm afraid, but Aragorn never does."

       Hobbit women were accorded much respect. Many widows ran farms and pipeweed plantations and were extremely efficient at it. It was a rare hobbit who would treat his wife with disdain, and offering violence was not to be thought of, except (so it was rumoured) by Ted Sandyman.

       "Well I'm glad to hear it. The Queen is an Elf, isn't she? Uncle Pip says she's very beautiful. I think it's so romantic that she has given up her immortality for the King. She must love him very much."

      "Theirs is a love which will endure anything and last beyond death itself. She was his inspiration during his years in the wilderness and he adores her. It is very touching to see them together."

      "Sam and Rose are lovely too - they look so happy together, they're always looking at each other and at you too."

       Frodo was surprised. "Are they? I didn't realise that, although I know Sam keeps an eye on me, especially when he thinks I'm not likely to notice."

       "They're good people, and they love you. We all do, Uncle Frodo." She kissed him on the cheek and then skipped off to dance with one of the young cousins, her curls bouncing in their ribbons.

       By the end of the evening Frodo had been kissed and hugged by every woman in the room at least once, and had drunk more wine than he had for many years. By the time the evening wound down and the various hobbits made their unsteady was to their rooms, Frodo was sure he was very far from sober. He undressed and snuggled into bed, and was asleep almost before his head hit the pillow. He did not remember his dreams in the morning but he knew they were pleasant ones.

                                                         ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*





        

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