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A NEW TRADITION
It was a new tradition, begun the first year of Thain Peregrin I: one year the Master of Buckland and his family would come to the Great Smials for Yule, and the following year, the Thain and his family would travel to Buckland. It had been several years now, and this year it was the Tooks turn to host the Brandybucks once more.
The Great Smials were all a-bustle with preparations. The head housekeeper, Mistress Moss, was explaining some things to several of the newer servants.
"Now, don't you get the wrong idea about Master Brandybuck, him as they call 'the Magnificent' in Buckland. He's not at all stuck-up or prideful. Him and our Thain is first cousins and best friends since they was just wee children. But he's right particular about Yule. Seems he can never be as happy with it here; thinks they do Yule much better at Brandy Hall. If we have things all decorated up, then it's 'too much'; and if we just have up a couple of wreaths and a garland or two, then it's 'not enough'. So if he seems to grumble a bit, don't take it to heart. He don't mean to be unkind." She grinned. "Besides, mayhap he'll be so pleased with the Thain's surprise for him he won't remember to complain this year!"
Pippin was ruminating upon the very same thing, as Diamond was making sure the children were well bundled up before they all ventured out to await the Brandybucks' arrival.
"I really do think I'll do it this year! I really think he'll be pleased with his surprise, Diamond!"
"Of course he'll be pleased. (Fam, leave your sister alone! Pet, button the top button on your coat--it is *not* too tight! Primrose, help Pansy find her other mitten!) You know, dearest, why he's so hard to please, really."
Pippin sighed, and a brief look of longing came over his own face. "It's the time of year he misses Frodo the most," he said wistfully.
"You miss him too, Pippin," and she stood on her tiptoes to give him a brief kiss. "Besides, I think you are right about his surprise."
In the Brandybuck coach, Merry sat back, arms folded, and lips pursed. Only tiny Niphredil was in the coach with her parents. Just barely a faunt, she was deemed much too young to ride up front with the driver like her sister and brother. Wyn and Perry thought it a great treat to sit by old Tip and watch him handle the ponies.
Estella arched an eyebrow at her husband. "Now, Merry, do remember your promise."
"I won't complain," he said flatly, "even though the Tooks never do get Yule just right."
His wife shook her head. "We have a Buckland Yule and they have a Tookish one! It's time you started behaving yourself! This turnabout was your idea, after all, so that the two of you could spend Yule together without neglecting your own responsibilities! I think that you hurt Pippin's feelings when you don't appreciate his attempts to impress!"
Merry flushed, but said "Pip understands me."
"Well, he shouldn't *have* to 'understand', Merry Brandybuck, and you know it!"
And the Master of Buckland had no response to this wifely rebuke. He knew she was right. He always felt ashamed of himself for his churlishness afterward. The truth was, Yule nowadays never seemed to have quite the charm of those of his childhood. But somehow at Brandy Hall, it was easier to imagine Frodo's presence.
The Thain and his Lady stood upon the front step before the Great Doors, their children lined up in front of them, fidgeting and giggling. Pippin felt like fidgeting himself, and rocked back and forth on his feet, until Diamond elbowed him lightly.
Faramir was grinning ear to ear. "I can't wait to see Perry's face when he sees Uncle Merry's surprise!"
"Neither can I, Fam," his father replied, also grinning.
The coach pulled up the drive with a flourish, and Wyn and Perry whooped their greetings to their cousins, causing old Tip to wince. As the coach rolled to a stop, the door opened, and Merry hopped out to take Dilly, and to lend Estella a hand. Wyn and Perry swarmed down from their perch into the waiting arms of their Took cousins, chattering away in high-pitched voices.
As Estella and Diamond exchanged greetings, Merry and Pippin shared a back-slapping embrace. Merry drew back, and with a quite genuine smile, said "It *is* good to see you again, Pip! It seems like its been forever!"
Pippin nodded. "September," he said. It had been an especially busy year for Thain and Master alike, and they'd last seen one another at Bag End, when they had joined the Gamgees to commemorate the Birthday. "Sam and his family will be joining us this year--and so will the Bolgers."
"That's wonderful!" he said enthusiastically, though his heart gave a lurch at the thought of the one who would *not* be joining them.
He thought he'd hidden the reaction pretty well, but Pippin patted his shoulder sympathetically, and allowed Merry to see his own sorrow surface briefly.
Then Pippin turned to his son, who had appeared at his side, hopping up and down, and now tugging his sleeve eagerly. "Yes, Fam," he laughed. "Now!"
Faramir darted inside like a stone from a sling, and Merry turned to Pippin. "*What* was that all about?"
Pippin beamed. "Just a surprise that won't wait for First Yule."
Merry scarcely had time to decide whether to be curious, when the doors opened, and Faramir came out leading--
"Legolas? Gimli?" He could hardly believe his eyes at the sight of the Elf and Dwarf. Then he darted over to them, laughing and weeping, into their open arms. Legolas knelt down, and Gimli was pounding him on the back. "How?" He turned to Pippin, whose expression was nothing if not smug. "However did you keep this a secret?"
"It wasn't easy! Now, are you happy with your surprise?"
Merry could only grin through his tears. Estella came up beside him, Niphredil in her arms. "I don't believe you've met my youngest. Dilly, this is your Uncle Legolas and your Uncle Gimli." Eyes wide, she stared up in astonishment.
The next few days of Yule passed by in a whirlwind: the Gamgees and the Bolgers arrived on First Yule, and there was much feasting and dancing, and a marvelous Yule log, and not a word of complaint was heard from Master Meriadoc the Magnificent.
The night of Second Yule, as the guests were enjoying quiet conversation in the Thain's family apartments, Merry stepped over to the window, to look out at the night. He felt Pippin's familiar presence at his shoulder. "I do still miss him, Pip, but he wouldn't thank me for letting his shadow spoil the holiday."
"No, he wouldn't. He'd scold you firmly, and tell you to enjoy what you have."
"Pippin, I owe--"
"Don't apologize, Merry. I *do* understand. But I'm glad you've had a happier time of it this year."
"It's been lovely to see them. The last time was when Fam was just out of faunthood and we all went to Gondor." He turned and looked at Pippin. "But you know, I really *do* owe you an apology."
Pippin shrugged. "If it will make you feel any better, I shall try to be grumpy at Brandy Hall next year."
Merry chuckled. "I'm not sure our wives would appreciate it."
"You could be right, at that."
"I'll tell you what: why don't we start a new tradition this year, of not being grumpy at Yule at all."
And now Pippin laughed outright. "Wouldn't that be something, cousin? I think that I shall take you up on it."
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