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(This chapter written for Marigold's Challenge #36)
It was exactly three years to the day since Frodo Baggins had seen the One Ring to the Cracks of Doom, and it was only a little under six months since Sam Gamgee, Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took had seen Frodo sailing off on an Elven ship at the Grey Havens.
And now they awaited his return.
Merry stood at the quay, staring at the sea as though by concentrating, he could make the ship arrive faster, his attention occasionally caught by Pippin's fidgeting and chatter. Sam stood at the very edge of the dock, seemingly watching the wheeling gulls, and lending a patient ear to Pippin. Merry wasn't fooled. He knew Sam was watching just as eagerly as the cousins, while Pippin's stream of words masked an anxiety that what they awaited would never arrive.
"The letter from Aragorn said it would be today! He wouldn't make a mistake about a thing like that!" Pippin's voice was slightly higher pitched than usual, though perhaps not enough for anyone but Merry to notice. "But how could he be sure? I mean, I know he probably used--that stone--" Pippin's voice faltered slightly and continued on, "but he couldn't see everything! What if the wind changes? What if there was bad weather out there? What if--"
"I don't know about you, Mr. Pippin, but if it don't come today, I'll wait right here until it does." Sam's voice was as tolerant as always, but the very fact that he had interrupted at all made Merry to know that his friend's patience was wearing thin. "Strider said they'd be coming, they'll be here."
Pippin looked a bit taken aback. He stood silently, rocking back and forth on his heels. Merry was afraid the silence would not last long.
A large hand descended on Merry’s shoulder. “Your cousin seems anxious, Merry. And I sense that you are worried as well.”
Merry turned and looked up. “I shall have to be honest, Elladan, and say that Pippin and I have been worried ever since Frodo left. He wasn’t well, I know. And though Gandalf *said* they’d be back…”
Elladan nodded. “The journey to Elvenhome has always been one way only, before this.” He smiled, his dark hair whipping in the wind and his grey eyes shining, “It is something new and unheard of. But I have every confidence in what my father and Mithrandir told us before they sailed. Estel did indeed foresee the date of their return in the palantir, and more to the point, my grandmother has also foreseen this.”
“Oh. Well, I shouldn’t dare to gainsay the Lady Galadriel.”
“No, Master Meriadoc, I don’t think you should,” Elladan replied with a smile. Suddenly, he tensed, and placed a hand on his brow above his eyes, and peered seaward. He grinned. “Allay your fears, Merry, for I see grey sails approaching in the distance.”
With a whoop of joy, Merry darted down to the end of the dock, to convey the news to the others.
It was still an hour or more before hobbit eyes could espy the sails, and a few more hours before the ship drew close enough to see tiny figures standing at the prow, one considerably shorter than the others.
Merry clutched at Pippin’s arm, and felt Sam’s hand upon his shoulder. He paid no heed to the tears that ran down his cheeks at he sight of Frodo’s beloved face. His cousin’s blue eyes sparkled, and he had a joyful grin--a grin such as Merry had not seen for a very long time indeed.
Now Círdan and his Elves came down to help the ship tie up to the dock, and the gangplank was lowered. It had scarcely touched down, before Frodo was running down with the abandon of sheer joy, into their waiting arms.
“Oh! How I’ve missed you all!” he exclaimed, during the laughter and back-slapping of their greeting. “I’ve so much to tell you all! Ugh! Pippin, you’re squeezing the breath out of me! You don’t know your own strength you daft Took! Sam! How are Elanor and Rosie? Merry--you did wait, didn’t you?”
Finally able to get a word in, Merry chuckled. “Of course! The wedding’s not till Lithe! But you are really going to have to make it up to me, cousin! Estella and I are sorely beset, for Rosamunda has taken the extra time to plan a truly elaborate wedding! But of course I could not get married without you standing witness!”
Frodo hugged him tightly, and turned to Sam, his face grew a bit serious. “Sam, I’ve just realized--I’ve taken you away from Elanor’s first birthday!”
Sam shook his head, smiling. “She’s too little to notice her dad’s not there! She’ll have a wonderful birthday with her ma and her grandparents and such, today. And when we get back, she’ll have another, with her dad and her uncles, too!”
“Well, I’ve brought gifts for all, but most everything’s still on the ship!” he turned to look. “The Elves will get most things off I suppose. But do you want to come aboard, and I‘ll fetch my pack?” Sam shook his head, but Merry and Pippin followed him back up the gangplank.
“How was Bilbo when you left?” asked Pippin. Bilbo had been looking every bit of his one-hundred and twenty-nine years when he had gone aboard the ship the previous September.
Frodo laughed. “He was doing splendidly! He looked twenty years younger by the time we arrived, and was as full of questions as a certain young Took I know! And he’s settled very nicely into Elrond’s household, in quarters very similar to those he had in Rivendell. The main difference is that his window overlooks the Sea. And he’s being thoroughly spoiled by the Elves of Tol Erresea, who’ve never had a hobbit among them before!” He chuckled. “They did not much want me to leave when I did, kept trying to get me to postpone my journey home. But I know how Elves keep time, and I should have been quite as old as Bilbo is now, if I had given them their way, before I set off again!”
Merry gave Frodo a grim look. “They’d no business trying to keep you from coming back to your family!”
Frodo shook his head at that. “No, no need to worry on *that* score! I must confess though, I wasn’t sure I’d survive the voyage over. I suppose you know I wasn’t very well when I left.”
His cousins nodded. “We’d have had to have been blind *not* to notice, Frodo,” said Merry. “And we knew you’d have your anniversary of Weathertop while you were at Sea.”
“But I had the best of care. Elrond and Gandalf both were there for me, and Elrond made use of his Ring. I won’t deny I was very ill that day, but by the next morning, I felt the best I had since--well, since I took my wound at Weathertop. And after the sea air, and some long talks with Gandalf, I think that I understand a lot of things much better than I ever had before.”
Frodo showed them his little cabin, and indeed, two Elves were already there, fetching a small trunk. He took his well-worn pack from his bunk, and introduced Merry and Pippin to them. After he thanked the Elves, he gave his cousins a little tour of the ship.
Merry marveled at the change in Frodo. He’d not seen his cousin so thoroughly carefree in *ages*--most certainly not since Frodo had discovered what Bilbo’s Ring really was. There was a light in his cousin’s eyes that Merry at one point had thought might be completely extinguished.
Soon they headed back down the gangplank, where Sam still waited for them. As they did so, Pippin said “Who’s the Elf with Gandalf and Elladan? I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Elf so--so shiny! Why, he’s even shinier than Lord Glorfindel!”
Merry looked over where Pippin had indicated. Gandalf and Elladan were in a clearly serious discussion with the newcomer. Merry saw at once what Pippin meant. The Elf had a presence about him, much like that of the Lady Galadriel, but less subtle.
Frodo grinned. “*That* is Lord Finrod, Lady Galadriel’s brother!”
Pippin shook his head--the name meant nothing to him, but Merry turned to Frodo in shock. “But--he was killed back in the First Age!”
“So was Lord Glorfindel,” said Frodo, amused.
Now Pippin looked at him in amazement. “Killed?”
“Elves don’t die the same way we mortals do, Pip,” said Frodo. “They are sent back--the way Gandalf was, after the Balrog.”
Merry looked dubious, and Frodo shrugged. There must be more to the explanation than that, but this wasn’t the time to pump Frodo for information. Instead, he asked “Didn’t Lord Elrond return with you?”
They’d joined Sam again at this point, and Sam also asked “Where *is* Master Elrond?”
Frodo smiled. “He’s going to stay for a few years. He’s just been reunited with his wife, after all, after over five hundred years. They have a lot of catching up to do. But he told me to let his daughter and sons know that both of them *would* be back.” Frodo glanced once more to where the wizard and the elves were speaking. “He sent Vilya back to Elladan. And Lord Finrod came to see his sister. Since the Ban had been lifted, they had expected her return as well.”
Merry nodded. The Lady Galadriel *had* come to see the voyagers off, but she had sent the message that she would remain in Middle-earth until she had finished healing Lothlórien from the hurts it had received at the end of the War, and until her husband, Lord Celeborn, was ready to come with her.
Círdan approached Gandalf and the others, and then moved off, followed by Elladan and Finrod. With a smile, Gandalf approached the cluster of hobbits, and received from Merry, Pippin and Sam an embrace of welcome. Pippin’s hug was especially enthusiastic. “I was wondering if I’d ever see you again, Gandalf!”
He ruffled Pippin’s head fondly. “Fool of a Took,” he chuckled. “As if I could be kept long away from my hobbits!”
Frodo looked at his tall friend. “You never did say what you’d be doing when we got back!”
“Well,” said Gandalf, “I thought I might make a bit of a visit here in the Shire, before I head once more for Rivendell, and then Gondor. But I am in no hurry. I’ve no longer a pressing task, nor the fate of an age in my hands.”
Merry found himself nodding. After the Quest had ended, Gandalf had seemed full of light, and far more light-hearted. But now, he seemed even more so. Then a thought suddenly occurred to him, and he found himself suppressing a chuckle. Gandalf was on holiday! His eyes met those of Frodo, and seeing the twinkle in Frodo’s eyes, and the way he bit his lip, he knew that the same thought had dawned on his cousin. He looked away quickly. No matter how light-hearted he might be, it was never a good idea to laugh at a wizard!
They spent the night at the Havens with the Elves, and the following morning, they prepared to leave. Shadowfax was waiting for Gandalf, and the hobbits had their own ponies: Bill, Strider, Stybba and Sable.
They said a farewell to Elladan and to Círdan and to Finrod, who would be leaving soon for Rivendell, and made their way back. They camped the first night near the White Towers, which Pippin and Frodo explored, though Merry and Sam could not be coaxed into them.
They had a long and leisurely journey back; they often sang, and Gandalf would join in, his deep voice making a pleasant contrast to the hobbits‘ higher ones. Frodo wanted to know everything that had happened in the Shire since he left, and Sam regaled him with all of Elanor’s little accomplishments, while Pippin was full of the news from all over, and told of all the goings on in both Buckland and Tuckborough. Merry told him of the wedding plans, and rhapsodized over Estella--much to his older cousin’s amusement.
As they camped one night, Pippin shook his head when Merry began to talk once more of the wedding. “It’s hardly fair, Merry! Diamond and I still have to wait not only for our coming of age, but for her apprenticeship to end! It’s going to be *forever* before we can get married!”
Gandalf, who was blowing smoke rings raised one eyebrow in amusement. “Forever is a long time, young Peregrin.”
Frodo laughed. “Just be glad you won’t have to have a forty-year betrothal like your King, Pippin Took!”
Pippin looked rueful. “I keep telling myself that. But it doesn’t always help.”
Sam shook his head. “Just be patient, Mr. Pippin. It will come to pass,” he said with the complacency of the happily wed.
Merry patted his shoulder. “Well, at least you won’t have Rosamunda Bolger for a mother-in-law.”
Pippin brightened. “There is that!”
On another evening, the hobbits coaxed tales out of Gandalf, persuading him to give an account of how he and the White Council had seen to the Necromancer when he had left Bilbo and the Dwarves, and to recount some of the adventures he had shared with Aragorn over the years. He was quite open and matter-of-fact about it all, and the hobbits marveled at hearing him speak so freely.
They were still two days out, when Pippin finished up their evening by passing out his birthday gifts: a pouch well-filled with Old Toby for Gandalf; a flask filled with Aunt Primrose’s cherry cordial for Sam; a new pipe, the bowl carved in the likeness of the horse of Rohan for Merry; and for Frodo, a leather-bound pocket journal, with a silverpoint stylus.
To Frodo’s attempts to apologize for making him miss his birthday with his family, Pippin merely chuckled. “What do you think you are, Cousin Frodo? Besides, I had my birthday with my parents and sisters early, as Merry and I detoured to the Great Smials on the way to the Grey Havens.”
Finally one bright morning, they made their way into Hobbiton and up the Hill to Bag End. Merry and Pippin were going to stay for only two days, before travelling on to Crickhollow.
Rose was overjoyed to see them, and her kiss of welcome to Sam made the others grin and Sam to blush. But he kept his arm firmly about his wife’s waist, and said “See, Rose, our Mr. Frodo’s home again! And look who he’s brought with him!”
She smiled shyly at Gandalf. She had seen him a few times as a lass, but she had never really met him before. “Welcome, Mr. Gandalf! We still have your room--Mr. Frodo’d insisted on keeping it up.”
“Where’s Elanor?” asked Frodo eagerly.
“She’s been napping. But I think she’ll be ever so glad to see her Uncle Frodo again!”
“And what about *us*?” asked Pippin, pretending to be offended at being overlooked.
Rose just laughed, and went to bring Elanor out.
Frodo caught his breath. He’d nearly forgot what a beautiful child she was--and she had grown so, while he’d been gone. But she seemed very happy to be placed in his arms, and smiled at him beguilingly.
“Ellie-my-heart,” Frodo said, “there’s someone I’d like you to meet.” He turned and presented her to Gandalf. The wizard took her carefully. She looked so small in his large hands. But she smiled up at him, and reached for his beard.
“Ah, little Sunstar,” he said, “you will be very blessed in your life.” And he drew her up and bestowed a kiss on her tiny forehead.
The next day, they all had another birthday party for the baby, and Frodo gave her his present--a beautiful shell, of creamy iridescence, that had come all the way from the Blessed Isle.
And the day after that, Merry and Pippin headed home to Crickhollow, leaving Gandalf to visit for a while longer, and very pleased at having Frodo home once more. They would be stopping by Brock Hall in Budgeford, for they were escorting Estella and her mother to Brandy Hall for the planning of the wedding. Odovocar and Freddy would join them later, just a few days before Lithe--the wedding would be held at Brandy Hall on Midsummer‘s Day.
It was at second breakfast one morning, a couple of weeks later, that Merry was holding forth to Pippin about the unfairness of weddings. “I was hoping that having Estella at Brandy Hall would allow me to see more of her. But I’ve scarcely set eyes on her since we got back! Between my mother and hers, she’s kept constantly busy! And when I complained to Da about it, he had the nerve to quote Frodo’s Aunt Dora at me!”
Pippin chuckled. “The Bride and the Groom are only considered as a Necessary Means towards the holding of the Wedding. As for Fathers, Grandfathers, Brothers and Uncles, they exist for the holding of the Pocketbook and the moving of Tables and other Furniture.”
Merry looked at him sourly. “She should never have written that!”
Pippin shook his head. “She was only saying what everyone already knew was true.” He had been through two sisters’ weddings before, though Pervinca had wed while they were gone on the Quest, and he knew what he was talking about. “The best thing any lad can do when a wedding’s in the works is to make himself scarce until the big day arrives.”
“That’s easy for you to say. *I’m the groom*!”
“*Especially* the groom!” Pippin shook his head, his eyes sparkling with amusement. “Here--we’ve a letter from Frodo in the post. Perhaps that will get your mind off Estella!” He held the letter out to Merry, while he looked through the remaining letters, in hopes of seeing one from Diamond.
Merry took the letter quickly, and ran his thumb under the seal. He read quietly for a moment, his eyebrows climbing.
“Well?” asked Pippin. “What does he say?”
Merry shook his head. “You are *not* going to believe this!
Dear Merry and Pippin,
I hope you had a pleasant trip home. I’ve enjoyed myself immensely re-acquainting myself with little Elanor, and settling back into Bag End.
I decided to take up a bit of work I had once started before the whole business of the Ring came along to distract me; you know, Merry, that history of the settling of the Shire I was working on for a while?
Looking through my notes, I realize that there is a good deal of information that I simply do not have, and that is not available in the Shire. I do know, for I have thoroughly searched not only Bilbo’s library, but that of Great Smials and Brandy Hall as well. It reminded me why I had given the work up in the first place.
But it occurs to me that now I might be able to fill in those gaps: about the granting of the Shire to Marcho and Blanco, about the hobbit archers who went to the service of the last King, and several other matters. That information must be available in Rivendell--not only in the library there, but I could also speak to those who were there at the time: Elrond’s sons and Glorfindel come to mind immediately, though I am sure that some of the other Elves might remember as well. They did, after all, keep the history of Arnor for the time that the King should come again!
So, I was wondering if the two of you would like to accompany me on a short trek. It would not take us nearly so long to get there now, as the King’s Peace holds, and we could go by road and not through the Midgewater Marshes!
I promise that we would be back in plenty of time for your wedding Merry! I know that all the preparations must be driving you out of your mind!
I’m going, at any rate. Sam needs to stay home with his family this time, but I’m sure he would feel much better if he knew I was taking you two valiant warriors with me.
I’ll be following this letter in just a few days, and see what you think.
And we don’t have to go through the Old Forest this time.
Merry and Pippin exchanged astonished glances. Then Pippin grinned. “At last,” he said “a *proper* Adventure!”
Merry stared down once more at the letter. If ever proof were needed that Frodo was healed, this was it.
TBC in Challenge #37
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