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Buckland Celebration  by Baggins Babe

3rd November, 1428 SR

After breakfast everyone gathered in the Great Hall, as Pippin had requested. Pip entered, in his uniform, and presented Frodo, Sam, Saradoc and Paladin with letters, bowing as he did so. The black seals clearly indicated that the letters were from the King, and there was great excitement from the assembled company as those seals were broken. Over the years Aragorn's letters to Master and Thain had changed from the formal address of Right Trusty and Well Beloved to a tender informality. Saradoc read through his letter eagerly, smiling as he did so.

       "Shall I read mine first?"

       "Of course. You're the host, Sarry." Paladin grinned. "Hurry up, or the rest of us will be overcome with curiosity."

       Saradoc cleared his throat and began:

       My Dear Master Saradoc and Mistress Esmeralda,

       It is to be hoped that these letters reach you before or during the gathering at Brandy Hall. I only wish I could be there with you, to see a proper hobbit celebration and to witness Frodo's recovery. I shall no doubt peep into the palantir in the hope of seeing you dancing and enjoying yourselves and we in Gondor will raise a glass to our friends in the Shire. You are all dear to myheart and none shall ever disturb your peace again if it is in my power to promise such a thing.     

       We feel such gratitude to all of you for the love and care you have given Frodo, and for helping to bring him through his ordeals to the realisation that he is loved by everyone. The people of Gondor are looking forward to his visit next year as they have long desired to show him how they feel. We celebrate his birthday with great style, with alcohol and fireworks in abundance, and the citizens are already working on tableaux and processions for the great day.

       Arwen blooms and grows, as does the lady Eowyn. These babies are expected at much the same time as Sam and Rose's latest, and I hope that all these children will grow to be friends in the years to come.

       I wish you all good health, happiness, peace and prosperity, my friends. And tell those rascals Meriadoc and Peregrin that they are much missed in the taverns of Minas Tirith.

       Yours ever,

       Aragorn Elessar

       "He doesn't even sign himself King!" exclaimed Primula.

       "It is a personal letter to friends. He likes informality wherever possible."

       "Such an honour to have such letters. His letter to us is just as friendly." Paladin read Aragorn's flowing script with ease.

       My Dear Thain Paladin and Mistress Eglantine,

        As always, it was a joy to receive your last letter and read of Shire affairs, which sound so much simpler and more enjoyable than anything we can manage in Gondor. I hope that your lives continue to be peaceful and as joyful as they have been since those incorrigible and courageous scoundrels returned and raised the Shire. I'm sure you are proud of Gondor's smallest knight - small in stature by our standards but with the heart of a lion - and be assured that he and his friends are held in enormous esteem by all our people.

       I have been trying to guess who is who when seeing you all in the palantir of Gondor. I can see that your families are all strong and healthy, and that Pippin's sisters are very lovely. Their daughters are beauties too, and I would guess that the lovely young lady with the long auburn hair is Primula. I can hardly wait to meet you all and when I come to my Northern Kingdom I hope to finally put names to those faces.

       May the Shire live forever unwithered, my friends.

       Yours always,

       Aragorn Elessar

       "Oh my goodness!" Primula was scarlet, covering her face and laughing to cover her confusion.

       "What did I say?" Frodo laughed. "I knew he would think you beautiful."

       "Shall I read mine?" Sam asked after showing the letter to Rose. The children squealed with excitement and Sam grinned and began to read.

       My dear Sam, Rose and family, 

       Well my dear friends, it will not be long before I can greet you face to face, and I am certainly counting the days until you arrive. Arwen tells me I'm as bad as the children, and I think Faramir is beginning to dread my appearance with yet more plans for your visit. He has taken to hiding under tables and ducking into closets when he hears me approaching.

       I see that Rose is flourishing as she carries another babe beneath her heart. Bag End is a joyous and happy place, full of love, and you have both made it a proper home for Frodo. I am full of admiration for the care you give him and his recovery is due to your love and the love of his family. The children clearly adore him and I have to say his nappy-changing skills are a good deal better than my own or Faramir's.

       Arwen, Faramir and Eowyn send their love. The ladies will be writing to Rose, no doubt to compare experiences of babes and birthing.

       May the peace of the Valar be with you all.

       Your loving friend,

       Strider.      

       "Strider?! He signs himself Strider?" everyone cried.

       "Why not? It's how we first knew him. He doesn't mind us calling him that, and we're not being disrespectful."

       "He changes nappies?" Eglantine asked, her face a study in disbelief.

       "Not very well, apparently!" Merry laughed. "And poor Faramir being reduced to hiding under tables!"

       Everyone laughed at the idea of the Steward of Gondor diving under a table at the approach of his King eager to share more ideas. Cornflower looked impressed and overawed.

       "Does King 'Lessar know 'bout me?" asked Peridot, tugging on Frodo's sleeve.

       "An' me?" Persimmon added.

       "Yes, my dears, he knows about you all, and he sees you sometimes in the seeing-stone, although I gather he tries to be sparing in its use. Since my illness he has used it to see how I am doing, and I feel sure he was watching us last night. Would you like to hear my letter?"

       "Of course - if it isn't too private, dear," said Esme.

       My dear Frodo, dearest of all hobbits,  

        The hours are determined to crawl by until your visit, but I am contenting myself by planning all sorts of interesting things for you, and driving Faramir and Arwen to distraction - which, you will no doubt write and tell me, is a little village half a day's ride from Bree. The children are my fellow conspirators, being just as excited by the prospect of finally meeting you.

       Young Elboron - known to everyone as Boromir - is an imp and is always in trouble of some sort. You would laugh to see his mother go through his pockets looking for frogs, lizards and mice which he constantly carries about with him. Eowyn says she has two small boys to deal with, not just one, because Faramir is forever encouraging him. I have often heard her scolding the pair of them, and I find it almost impossible to hide my amusement. Thankfully Eldarion is less inclined to mischief, having a certain Elven gravity and calm, although he has his moments. Last week the two boys were overheard discussing the possibility of climbing the White Tower. I now live in fear that we shall wake one morning to find that the standard of the White Tree has been replaced by one of Eowyn's petticoats or Faramir's most disreputable shirt. (Arwen has just read this and says the situation will be a hundred times worse if they use my most disreputable shirt).

       The Easterlings have been rather troublesome, making incursions into neighbouring territory, and I was forced to lead Gondor's armies into battle last month, but the ring-leaders have been overthrown by some of their own people. It seems the ordinary citizens there have no more love for warfare and wish for some of the prosperity which Harad is now enjoying. I hope this sensible attitude will spread. We are now holding discussions with the new rulers and a treaty is being prepared. Thankfully others are realising how costly war can be, in both lives and money.

       I can see that you are thriving and growing increasingly strong and healthy under the care of your family and that you are doing justice to Rose's cooking. Thank her for the wonderful jam, and the very rich fruit cake which was devoured very quickly. Just as well she sent four of them. They were superb and vanished in no time.

       A parcel should be arriving soon, containing oranges, which I know you enjoy, chocolates and other sweetmeats and some fine peaches in brandy, which should make good Yuletide fayre. We are also sending similar parcels to the Thain and the Master and their families.

       Take care of yourself, my friend, dearer than brother, for there is no-one more precious to me in all of Middle-earth. Enjoy your health and happiness, for you deserve it, and I await the day when I can say these things to your face and embrace you in the Courtyard of the Fountain.

       Your loving friend and devoted servant,

       Strider

      PS. Arwen, Faramir, Eowyn and all the children send their love.

        "He writes so normally - and he really loves you, Uncle Frodo." Pinto looked at Frodo with shining eyes.

       Frodo smiled. "Yes, he does. He is a remarkable person and a remnant of the race of Numenor. His like has not been seen in Middle-earth for many generations."

       "He seems to have many names," Esme said. "He appears to be known by different names in different places."

       "Yes, he was born Aragorn but he is Estel to the Elves - it means 'Hope' - and Stick-at-naught Strider in Bree. He was Thorongil, the Eagle of the Star, in Gondor and Rohan years ago, because of the brooch he wore, and he is Elessar Telcontar, otherwise known as Envinyatar - the Renewer. Elessar means 'Elfstone' and was the name forseen by the Elves, and Telcontar is the Elvish translation of Strider."

       "So 'Strider' is the name of the royal house? That denotes a certain sense of humour I would say," said Saradoc.

       Ellie and Frodo-lad were thrilled to receive little notes and drawings from Prince Eldarion, Princess Gilraen, Elboron and Finduilas, and they read them several times. Rose was equally pleased with her letters from the two ladies, which spoke of the discomforts and pleasures of childbearing and the joys of motherhood.

       In response to the clamour, Merry fetched his sketchbook and revealed some of his drawings from the journey - Boromir, Legolas, Treebeard, Theoden, all appeared in vivid strokes, caught by Merry's quick eye and hand. He had left most of the drawings in Rivendell when they embarked on the quest, and Lord Elrond returned them to him in Minas Tirith after the wedding. Most of those present recognised Legolas and Gimli, who were regular visitors to the Shire, and there was astonishment over the picture of Treebeard. Merry had never revealed the pictures before, unable to bear the memories they evoked, but now he was glad to see them, although he shuddered at the picture of the Witch-King. He was afraid that Frodo might react badly to the sight but to his relief his cousin simply looked interested. Near the back of the book were some pictures drawn by Sam. He was not such a skilled artist as Merry but if something was particularly vivid in his mind he could put that experience on paper. One showed Shelob, and made everyone cringe as they saw the deadly creature who had almost killed Frodo. Another was of Gollum, hunched and twisted, crouched on a tussock in Ithilien, looking speculatively at Frodo. The look on his face would give Esme nightmares for weeks. The third one was of Frodo at Cormallen, still pale and weak, his hand swathed in bandages and his eyes distant and full of anguish.

       Saradoc looked at the picture of Strider in the Prancing Pony and smiled. "This is the King?"

       "As Strider the Ranger, Chief of the Dunedain, yes," replied his son.

       "Then I have seen him! I often travelled to Bree on business and saw this Man several times. I wished I could sit and talk to him but he always looked careworn and occupied and I didn't like to trouble him. He was unfailingly polite though."

       "You must tell him in your next letter. He'll be so pleased." Merry flicked to the pictures of Arwen and Galadriel. "I could never capture the beauty of these two. You have to see them to understand - that incredible ageless quality, the sadness and the wisdom of thousands of years in their eyes." He ducked Estella's affectionate swat. "I would never deny your beauty, my dearling, but it is the beauty of a healthy, happy hobbit-lass, which is quite different."

       The picture of the White City from a distance provoked much comment. Few of the hobbits had ever seen anything bigger than a village and the city's size seemed overwhelming. Rose wondered how on earth she would cope in such a place, but she told herself that hobbits were held in great esteem there and that people were people, even if they were six feet tall. If Sam had walked around Minas Tirith then so would she.

       "Isn't it frightening to be surrounded by so many people?" asked Eglantine.

       "Oh no, it's very exciting after a while," said Pip. "Imagine the Free Fair gathering multiplied by thousands and you'll have some idea of the numbers of people in the city. There are markets and inns and shops and workshops and little courtyards hidden behind the buildings, and gardens and great houses, and the Citadel right at the top."

       "My little baby Pip is so grown-up," Eglantine sighed. "A Knight of Gondor! Who would have thought it?"

       Frodo stood up and stretched. "Now, who is coming on that walk through the maze?"

       There were shouts of 'Me! Me!' from everyone. Frodo was the acknowledged expert in finding his way through the maze at Brandy Hall and had promised the others a trip. Despite the fact that he had not been through it himself for at least fifteen years he hoped he could remember the route. Even Merry did not know it well and had never bothered to go through it without his cousin. It had been planted by old Marmadoc Brandybuck when they were the latest fashion and he was attempting to outdo his Took relations who had a splendid maze. Lalia Took had had this removed when she considered herself the head of the Tooks, despite the fact that her son was Thain, and this left the Brandybucks as sole possessors of a labyrinth.

       Cloaks were donned and everyone set off from the south door. The children scampered ahead and then ran back, jumping around in excitement.

       "Now I want you to listen very carefully. You must all stay together because we don't want anyone getting lost and missing luncheon, do we?" Frodo addressed the little ones and they shook their heads in unison.

       "How do you know the secret of the maze, Uncle Frodo?" Pinto asked.

       "When I was young I spent a lot of time in the library - we'll have a look in there after lunch - and I found the book with the plans for the maze when it was first planted. It was much easier to work it out once I'd seen it on paper - from above, as it were. There is a bit of a trick to it and once I was confident I'd worked it out I went in and came out the other side without any trouble. It pays to be curious!"

       The maze consisted of yew and box hedging in an intricate pattern. it was now quite tall and there was no possibility of peering over the top. Frodo was glad he had been into the library and sneaked a look at the plans to refresh his memory. He steered the large group round corners and down what looked like blind alleys until suddenly there were gasps and they all found themselves at the very centre of the maze, in a large circular area with seats and a flowerbed. The children cheered and danced round their uncle, clasping his hands and singing.

       "And I thought we'd be lost out here till tea-time!" said Pip. He fished in his pocket and handed Sam some coins.

       "Were you wagering against me being able to navigate my way in and out of this place?" Frodo demanded.

       "Against you getting us here anyway. That's a point - I should wait until you've proved you can get us out as well before handing over my cash to Sam."

       "Sam who was sure you could get us in and out," Merry added. "Sam thinks you can do anything."

       "I shall prove I can get us out again. Come along - we're not going back the way we came. We'll go right through and out the other side."

       He did indeed lead them out. Then they turned and walked round the outside of the hedging, back to the hall. Frodo found himself walking with Cornflower. She had been quiet, almost subdued for most of the morning, and he wondered if there was anything wrong.

        "Are you well?" he enquired. She nodded, but the way she twisted her hands told a different story. He offered her his arm and they waited until most of the others had walked on before falling in at the back.

        "It's just..........I worry sometimes that I'm a disappointment. I let Freddy down because I'm such a goose and I say silly things. He's such a dear and everyone in the family seems so clever.......... When I'm nervous I babble and say all sorts of things and ..........I know he didn't marry me for my mind but I'm frightened he'll grow tired of me." She sniffed and wiped her eyes.

        Frodo stopped and turned her towards him. "Listen to me. You have transformed Freddy's life! He was so sad and melancholy after his terrible time during the Troubles, and now he is very contented. You have given him a wonderful home and two beautiful daughters and he loves you dearly. You must never believe otherwise. Stop blaming yourself, Cornflower. Freddy loves you as you are and he wouldn't change you for all the riches in Middle-earth. Self-blame is never a good idea." He gave a little laugh. "I should know about that after all. It is very easy to blame oneself for things beyond our control, but it won't do."

       "I feel uncomfortable when I'm with such clever people, because I know I'm stupid, and I talk too fast without thinking.........."

        "Dear old Bilbo gave me some very good advice about that, when he adopted me. I knew I would have to be the head of the Baggins family one day, and I was worried about public speaking. He told me to speak more slowly than usual, because that would allow me time to think. He also said that when you speak slowly people think you are very clever and important!" He smiled. "We Bagginses, Tooks and Brandybucks are dreadful show-offs really. You are most certainly not stupid, and you have a loving and generous heart and a cheerful disposition which makes your home a happy one. Your daughters adore you - and your son will love you too," he added, nodding down at her stomach.

       "How do you know? I haven't even told Freddy yet.......... And how do you know it will be a boy?"

       "I ......see things. My contact with the Ring has left me with the ability to foretell sometimes, and to see things far off."

       "I do so want to give Freddy a son. He is so anxious that the Bolger name should continue."

       "And it will. He'll be thrilled, I'm sure, as will everyone. We'll be in Gondor when the babe is born but you can be sure we'll pay a visit as soon as we return."

       "I know why everyone loves you, Frodo," she said shyly. "You are a very special hobbit, and I want to learn more about your journey, if you don't mind and you can spare the time one day. You may need to explain lots of things for me but I'll try not to be tiresome. I can't imagine what it must have been like to leave the Shire and not know if you would return. You must have been terrified."

       "If I'd known what I would have to face I most certainly would have been. Thankfully, at the time my only thought was to get the wretched thing out of the Shire and as far as Bree. Even that was not without its horrors and difficulties, with Old Man Willow and the Barrow-wights, but I never suspected the ghastly things I would encounter later in the journey." He was startled when Cornflower suddenly threw her arms round his neck and kissed him.

       "I'm so glad you never went into the West. The Shire would be a much poorer place without you!" she said breathlessly. "May I name the new baby after you? I know Sam and Rose have their little one but I should love to have a son named Frodo."

       "Well, of course I'd be delighted - so long as Freddy agrees." Frodo chuckled. "Goodness me! All these little Frodos running about!"

       "I do like Rose. She's so sensible. I wish I was like that, instead of being a scatterbrain. She's very nice to me. I hear she's a wonderful cook. Fancy sending cakes and jam to the King!""

       "You and Freddy and the girls will have to visit us soon and try Rose's cooking. The meals she serves are absolutely superb. I suspect she will cook for Aragorn while we're in Gondor. He has mentioned it hopefully in his letters. She'll be unable to resist his charm if he asks her - few women can." He held out his arm and they set off for the Hall, and Cornflower was smiling and asking questions about the Quest.

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

       Sam and Rose were impressed by the library. The older children looked around in awe at the shelves of books stretching away. Frodo showed them the garden plans and Sam was very interested. He admired the design of the gardens, which had been carefully planned, although he was disappointed that there were no formal designs for the Bag End gardens.

       "My old Gaffer told me that Mr Bilbo's father designed the gardens with Da's cousin Holman, and he let Mistress Belladonna have her way in everything."

       "That's the secret of a happy marriage, dear," Rose murmured with a twinkle, to approving nods from the other women present.

       "The rose garden was said to be her pride and joy and few were allowed to touch it. My Gaffer swore that when Mistress Lobelia ordered it dug up, her ghost came back and chased the workmen off."

       Frodo chuckled. "I can imagine the great Belladonna Took doing something like that. She would never have allowed anyone to damage that rose garden. And how like Lobelia to want to."

       Pinto and Primula found a book of maps and were anxious to see where the Fellowship had travelled. Frodo traced the journey, taking care to show Cornflower and include her in the conversation.

       The family sat and marvelled as Frodo talked of the Quest and his own feelings. Since he had completed the Red Book he had shunned all mention of the journey, leaving the room if it was mentioned. They had read the tale and heard Sam, Merry and Pippin tell their stories, but they had never heard Frodo speak of his own feelings and emotions. Esme was concerned lest he become distressed but she sensed that talking about it was a sort of release, and her love and respect for him increased as she listened.

       "The Ring began to realise that its only influence on me could be through those I loved. That and my pity. Once it determined my character it began to work, whispering constantly that I could do much good with it, repair the evils wrought by Sauron. I tried not to listen but it became harder to ignore that constant chafing at the soul, the soft voice in my mind which never gave me a moment's peace. It also tried to part me from Sam, setting us against each other and trying to force me to send him from me - or worse! After all, Smeagol killed his friend within minutes of seeing the Ring. At the very least it hoped Sam would tire of this and turn back." He laughed suddenly. "There it made its most serious misjudgement - thinking that Sam would leave my side." He reached out and draped his arm across his friend's shoulders. "Though the Pit itself should gape, Sam Gamgee would stay beside those he loves, and I count myself the most fortunate in Creation that I can number myself among those."

       Everyone was deeply moved by this. Cornflower looked at Sam with new respect, and Merry and Pippin nodded in agreement.

       The old Sam would have blushed and looked bashful. Now he merely smiled and returned the hug. "When I carried it it whispered to me too. It always seemed to find a way in, it knew what would work on each person. Told me to take it and help Frodo, relieve him of the burden, and then, after Shelob's attack, when I had to take the blasted thing, it tried to show me how I could turn Mordor into a garden. At first I listened, but then I thought what a nonsense it was! It was just trying to get back to its Master and thought silly old Sam Gamgee would oblige! What more garden did I need than the gardens at Bag End, and my Master to admire them? Elves and dragons! I called myself a few names then, even ones the Gaffer hadn't found for me, and I took it off and closed my ears to it. Half-wise I may be, but I weren't going to listen to a ....a......piece of jewellery!"

       "Sam, you are certainly not 'half-wise.' As Aragorn says, Perhael who should be called Panthael. Never was there a less accurately named being in all of Middle-earth." He chuckled. "Only you could dismiss the One Ring as a 'piece of jewellery'!"

       Everyone laughed at Sam's indignation. Rose rested her head on her husband's sturdy shoulder and twined her fingers in his.

       "We have never wanted to press you before, lad," said Saradoc, "But it is good that you can now speak of these things."

       "Until my recovery I just could not speak of it. It wasn't that I was being rude. The pain in my shoulder and my neck seemed to worsen at the mere mention of the Quest, and I felt sick and faint. It was as though I was being smothered - I couldn't breathe. Aragorn said it was because I was reliving the fear and anguish. Sometimes the memories were so vivid that I thought I was actually experiencing them again. I would fight and struggle so much that I had to be restrained." He smiled. "I'm sorry I put you all through that."

       "We're rewarded by seeing you now," said Freddy. "And the answer to your remark to Cornflower earlier is that I'd be delighted!"

       Everyone clamoured to know what this was about, and Freddy took his wife's hand and announced the news that a new Bolger was on the way, and that he would be called Frodo. Sam and Rose were thrilled. As Sam said, what better name to give a child?

       "I hope he will have plenty of opportunities to know his uncle Frodo and if he grows up to be half as strong, brave and compassionate he will be a credit to the Shire."

       Cornflower nodded. "And I hope he is as clever too - not like his silly mother."

       "Not silly at all. Now I suggest we go to tea. Aster promised me cherry cake and I'm not missing that."

       It appeared that no-one wanted to miss Aster's cherry cake, and there was a general rush for the dining room.

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

       The evening of their last day at Brandy Hall was spent eating, drinking, singing, and telling tales. Sam made everyone giggle when he told stories about his brothers and their defence of Frodo against Ted Sandyman and Lotho.

       "My Mum always said Ted would come to a bad end. He threw in his lot with the ruffians and watched while they destroyed his mill. Never had an ounce of sense, that one."

       "I've heard that he beats his wife and children when he's drunk. That's unusual among hobbits. The older girl looks as weary as her mother and I saw the older boy last week when I was in Bree, and he had bruises on his face and legs." Saradoc shook his head. "I can't understand it. How can he do such a thing?"

       "I was talking to Ivy Sandyman's sister last month, and she is afraid Ted will kill her or one of the children sooner or later. She's begged Ivy to leave him but she won't." Rose sighed.

       "Too afraid, perhaps?" Estella murmured. "You know what the Shire gossips would say. And he might go after her."

        "Hmmph!" Rose sniffed. "I'd allow a man to beat me, I don't think! He'd feel the weight of my extra large rolling pin!"

       "It's true!" Sam said, cowering in mock terror. "Beats me every week, she does!"

       "No, only when you misbehave." Rose grinned. "You don't need beating, dearest Sam. You're good and kind and you'd never raise your hand to a woman."

       "It must be difficult to resist when you're as downtrodden as Ivy Sandyman. She's endured Ted's nasty ways for years and her resistance has been worn away. I wish she would leave him though, or a tragedy may result." Frodo looked serious. "My burden wore me down, and marriage to Ted is her burden. I hope she will find the courage, for the sake of the children."

       "Speaking of children, they are suspiciously quiet," murmured Eglantine. "What are they doing?"

       "Rehearsing. They want to dance for us so Ellie has taken charge and is putting them through their paces," Sam replied.

       The children arrived a little later, very excited, and danced 'Nuts in May' for the company. Then Sam took out his whistle, Pip grabbed the mandolin and Freddy played the fiddle, and they danced and sang until well after midnight, the children gradually falling asleep where they sat.

       It had been a wonderful time, and all were reluctant to end it, but in the morning they would go their separate ways for a while. Frodo re-read his letter from Aragorn, and fell asleep with it still in his hand, and dreamed of a white city and a tree by a fountain, and the sound of trumpets.

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

      





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