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THIS TIME NEXT YEAR
Part 1: Brandy Hall
The Yule log blazed brightly. Hobbit voices rose in song. Children ran about the Hall, and tweens moved the tables for dancing.
The Master of Buckland spoke jovially to his guests. Only careful observation let Merimac see his brother's mask slip.
There, underneath the smile was longing and fear: fear for an only son, for a beloved nephew, for a cousin dear as son, and for their friend, gone to uncertain fate.
"No, I'm sure they'll be back," Saradoc proclaimed. "This time next year, they'll be telling their own adventures in the back parlor."
But Merimac saw his doubt.
Part 2: The Great Smials
Peridot Took watched her brother sadly. His face had grown hard and cold since that day when word had come from Buckland that young Pippin and his cousins and Frodo's servant had gone missing under dire circumstances.
Paladin had been furious, first with Pippin, then with Merry and Frodo, and Saradoc. But Peridot knew his temper, his despair: Paladin's certainty Pippin was dead.
But Peridot was sure her nephew was alive. In danger, perhaps, but this time next year, he'd be home.
She picked up her lap harp, and played one of Pippin's favorite tunes, smiling defiance at Paladin's glare.
Part 3: Number Three, Bagshot Row
Second Yule, and they'd just finished elevenses in silence. Her old dad wasn't much for talking nowadays--not since the bad news had first come from Buckland.
Mr. Berilac had come to tell them: Mr. Frodo's house attacked, him and Sam and Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin fled into the Old Forest.
Yesterday, at Daisy's, no one had so much as mentioned Sam's name.
This morning, the Cottons came.
"Mark my words," Rosie said. "this time next year, our Sam will be home."
Part 4: Bag End
Lobelia sniffed disdainfully at the stack of letters on her desk. Refusals. For every invitation she had sent, had come "regrets".
Porto's health was poor. Ponto and his daughter Angelica were hosting the Burrowses--his sister Peony's family, so of course, Peony had sent regrets as well. The Boffins had already accepted invitations to the Bolgers. The Bolgers said Fredegar was "still getting over his fright".
She was no fool. She'd heard the gossip connecting Lotho with the bad news from Buckland.
Stuff and nonsense! This time next year, they'd forget all about it. Lotho was, after all, head of the Bagginses!
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