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(The remaining chapters were written for Marigold's Challenge #42)
EUCATASTROPHE: THE RETURN, PART TEN
Estella flung herself onto the bed in her guest room at Brandy Hall and indulged herself in furious tears. Her mother was driving her utterly mad! If only she and Merry could have wed last Yule, as they had originally planned! But she had understood and agreed to Merry’s decision to delay--he wanted Frodo at his wedding, and he had hoped that his cousin would return in good time. But the delay had given her mother ideas, and now Rosamunda had become obsessed with them having the fanciest wedding the Shire had ever seen!
The problem was, she had so hoped that Merry’s mother Esmeralda would help her to hold her own mother in check. However, she had failed to take one thing into account: while Esmeralda was normally a very sensible hobbitess, she had no daughters. Most of the Brandybuck lasses in the last generation had lived away from Brandy Hall, or were yet too young to wed. Far from trying to hold Rosamunda back, Esmeralda had joyfully jumped into the elaborate plans herself--at last she had her one and only chance to be in on a wedding, and not just any wedding, but the wedding of the heir to Buckland, her only son, and she had not only fallen in with all of Rosamunda’s plans, but had even helped make them *more* elaborate.
Any protests Estella had made had resulted in her mother laughing and telling her not to worry her little head about it, because everyone knew this was the job of the mothers--why even Frodo’s Aunt, Miss Dora Baggins, had said so, and Rosamunda brandished the well-thumbed copy of Miss Dora’s famous book.
Estella’s own protests that Miss Dora also said the bride’s wishes should be considered were completely ignored. And her father was no help either. Odovacar and Saradoc had managed to make themselves scarce whenever the wedding details were discussed.
While Merry was still here, she had been trying very hard to hold both her tears and her temper in check. She had been very afraid that if Merry had ever seen Rosamunda make her weep, he would have lost his own temper. It was one reason she had encouraged him to make this journey--so she would not be on edge, in the fear of her mother setting him off.
In fact, she was quite certain that if he had heard her mother’s words that morning, he would have been very angry indeed. Estella had tried on her wedding dress, and it had been discovered that it would need taking in, for apparently Estella had lost a bit of weight. Rosamunda had rebuked her, saying that she needed to put on a few pounds! “After all,” she had said, quoting the old Shire saying, “a bride should be plump and happy!”
Then her mother had tried to suggest that the dressmaker add a few more ruffles to the skirt. On that, Estella had held firm, and helpfully the dressmaker had said there was not enough time before the wedding to get extra fabric for ruffles. Still, it had been a near thing.
Estella began to wish she had gone with Merry and his cousins; surely they could have found someone to marry them in Bree. An elopement for the future Master of Buckland! What a scandal *that* would have been!
There was a tap at the door.
She sat up quickly, and grabbed a handkerchief to wipe her eyes. “Who is it?” she called cautiously.
“It’s your brother!”
She gave a big sniffle, and took a deep breath. “Come in, Fatty!”
Fredegar opened the door, and stepped in. “Are you all right, kitten?” he asked. “Mother told me you were suffering from ‘bridal nerves’.”
Estella gave a slightly hysterical bark of laughter. “The only ‘nerves’ I’m suffering from are *hers*, Fatty!” She shook her head and took another breath. “When did you get here?”
“Angelica and I just arrived a few minutes ago. Mother and Cousin Esmeralda have snatched her up into their planning.”
“I wish they would snatch me into the plans. As it is, they make the plans, and then tell me afterwards; and if I don’t just grin and bear it, then Mother pats me on the head and tells me I’m just nervous.”
“Perhaps I should have a few words with Mother,” Freddy said.
Estella looked at him dubiously. “I’m not sure if you could do any good, but it’s sweet of you to try. I don’t suppose it could hurt anything; you’ve always got on better with her than I.”
Freddy chuckled. “I’m her son. And she hasn’t always approved of the things I’ve done.”
“No, you go ahead and do them, and she accepts them in the end.”
Fredegar stood up and kissed her on top of the head. “I will see what I can do.”
Estella was not sure if her mother would listen, but it did feel good to know her brother was on her side.
“Nonsense, Fredegar! Your sister is just a bit high-strung!”
“That’s the first I’ve heard of it, Mother. Estella’s always been a very calm and level-headed lass.”
“Yes, well, she’s not been a bride before. Brides are always a bit high-strung and moody before their weddings.”
Rosamunda sniffed. “Angelica did not have such a wedding, poor dear, with no mother to see to her! Of course it was different! Poor Ponto had no notion of how to plan a wedding.” Her tone was not only smug, but a little annoyed. She had tried very hard to have her say about Freddy’s and Angelica’s wedding, and had been gently rebuffed by Ponto Baggins.
Freddy’s eyes narrowed. He would not allow his mother to patronize his wife. “Angelica and I had just the sort of wedding we wanted! It was perfect!”
Their wedding, not quite a year before, had been a small and quiet affair, held beneath the Party Tree in Hobbiton, and officiated by Frodo as Head of the Bagginses, several weeks before he had departed to see Bilbo off with the Elves.
“Perfectly small and insignificant,” said Rosamunda in an affronted tone. “You are the next Head of the Bolgers. Your wedding should have been much more impressive.”
“That’s ridiculous, Mother! I did not *want* an impressive wedding, nor did Angelica! And for that matter, nor does Estella!”
“Ridiculous, am I? What a way to speak to your mother! I can’t believe you said that to me, Fredegar Bolger!”
“I did not say *you* were ridiculous! But what you said was…”
Just then they were interrupted, as Odovacar entered the room. “I heard raised voices,” he said, in a tone of mild rebuke.
“I apologize, Father,” said Freddy, in a flat tone. “I am sorry if you misunderstood me, Mother, but I do hope that you will be a little easier with Estella. I am going to find Angelica now.” And he stalked off, leaving his father to stare at him in puzzlement, and his mother in frustration.
Estella followed her mother and Esmeralda about the Brandy Hall gardens, as the gardener diffidently pointed out which blooms would be at their best in time for the wedding. She tried to feign interest in the bridal wreath which she would wear upon her hair, but it was very difficult. She was worried about Merry. They were to begin sitting for their gifts the next day, and he had planned to be back today at the latest; yet there was no sign of the three cousins yet, and the day was drawing on.
Perhaps she’d made a mistake in encouraging him to go. Yet she’d relied on his assurance that things were safer now with a King on the throne once more, and at the time it had seemed more important to get him away from the danger of having a fight with her mother. But now it began to occur to her that “safer” did not mean the same as “perfectly safe”, and that they might have met with some mishap on their journey, or had something else to delay them. Frodo had seemed healthier and happier than she’d seen him since their return from their first journey, but what if he’d fallen ill again, after all? She bit her lip.
“Estella!” Her mother called her name sharply. “I would think you would be interested. What do you think?”
She jerked her mind to attention, and cast her eyes towards a lovely display of flowers in several shades of lavender. “How about some sweet honesty?” she said. She loved its delicate fragrance.
Rosamunda shook her head emphatically. “We’d agreed that it would be all white flowers, dear.”
“Oh.” Her mother had come up with the idea, and there had been no question of disagreement.
“We will be able to have some gypsophilia, campanula and valerian. And there are some white geraniums that Master Caradas says will be at their peak in a few days,” said Esmeralda helpfully.
“Those sound fine to me, Mother Esme,” Estella said. Esme had asked her to begin calling her that already.
“But how about asters,” asked Rosamunda fretfully. “My daughter should have asters if possible.” For asters, also known as “starwort” were supposed to be Estella’s nameflowers.
“I’m sorry, Mistress, but they aren’t in bloom yet. Won’t be in bloom for another month or more.”
Rosamunda gave a huffing sigh, as though the blooming habits of asters had been especially chosen to frustrate her.
“I’ve an idea,” said Emeralda. “Master Caradas, are those flowers Merry had from Master Samwise established?”
He grinned. “Yes’m, They are indeed, and right pretty they are! I can believe they are Elf flowers!” He led them along another path to a partially shady area, rather set apart from the rest of the garden, with a rather proprietary air. Master Caradas was a Brandybuck, though from a junior branch of the family, and he was very proud of the gardens in his care. “Here you are!” He said, with a sweep of his hand.
There, spread across a grassy sward, were dozens of beautiful white blooms, small and star-shaped, with a delicate and hard to describe fragrance.
“Oh!” said Estella. “Those are perfect! What are they?”
“Master Merry said as they was called niphredil. He said he saw them growing in the Golden Wood of the Elves, that he saw on his long journey. The Elf that came to Master Samwise’s wedding gave Master Samwise some of the seeds as part of his wedding gift.”
“I think those will be perfect!” exclaimed Estella, bending to examine the blossoms more closely.
Rosamunda pursed her lips, as though she wanted to protest this use of foreign flowers in the wedding, but as she watched Estella, her face softened a bit. She gave a grudging nod. “They would look nice in the wreath,” she said reluctantly.
Just then, a maidservant came scurrying along the paths, clearly in search of them. “Mistress Esmeralda!” she called.
“You wanted to know when the Thain and Mistress Eglantine arrived! They’ve just come!”
Estella gave a sigh of relief. Eglantine was here! If there was anyone in the world who could manage her mother, it was the Thain’s Lady.
The welcoming dinner in the main dining hall had been a nice respite for Estella. Fortunately, the arrival of Paladin and Eglantine meant a seating rearrangement, and she had found herself down the table and seated next to Freddy and Angelica, while her parents had ended up at the other end. For once, she could take a deep breath and relax. Merry would be back soon, she was sure, and Freddy had also reassured her on that score.
“More stuffed mushrooms, Estella?” asked her sister-in-law. Angelica held the platter over.
Estella grinned, and helped herself. Perhaps, with another evening or two like this, she might not need her dress taken in after all.
“Thank you, Angelica,” she said, as she bit into one of the treats.
The next day, they were to go through all the names of those who had accepted invitations, and plan the seating. Eglantine had joined Rosamunda, Esmeralda, Angelica, Merry’s cousin and Estella’s good friend, Melilot, who was standing witness for Estella, Pearl, who had arrived with her parents, and Estella--who felt much like an afterthought. They had gathered in the private dining room in the Master’s apartment, and sat around the table, where they sorted through the stack of letters.
Finally, they had managed to figure out the arrangements for the lesser tables.
“Well,” said Pearl, “the head table should not be a problem. Bridal couple in the center, witnesses on either side, and then the parents.”
Everyone nodded. So far that was traditional.
“That is,” said Melilot, making a note on her list, “Merry, with Cousin Frodo to his left, followed by Aunt Esme, and then Uncle Sara. Estella on Merry‘s right, with Melilot on her right, followed by Cousin Odovacar, and then you, Cousin Rosamunda.”
“That means that you, Tina, should be next to Sara, with Paladin,” said Esmeralda.
“But that’s in the normal run of things. We will have foreign dignitaries,” said Eglantine. “We have Prince Legolas, not to mention Lord Gimli and Gandalf to consider. Do you think that as a matter of precedence, Prince Legolas should be next to Sara?”
“Or,” said Rosamunda, “he could be on the bridal side.” Her expression, which had soured a bit at the mention of Gandalf, brightened a bit at thinking that she might be seated next to a prince. Even if he was an Elf.
Esmeralda shook her head. “They certainly will be at the bridal table, but they are not family. And from what I know of them,” for she had met them two years ago, and they had stayed several days at Brandy Hall, “they would not wish to put family out.”
“What would Miss Dora say?” asked Pearl.
“I don’t believe she addressed the matter,” said Rosamunda, with a frown.
“Well,” said Angelica timidly, “I remember what she used to say.” All eyes turned to her. She was a Baggins, after all, and old enough to remember Dora personally. “Cousin Dora said that at family occasions, such as weddings, close family was most important and had precedence over any who were not kin.”
“Very well, then,” said Eglantine. “Paladin and I will be next to Sara.”
Rosamunda flashed a look of triumph. “Then the Elf prince will be seated next to us.”
“No,” said Esme, “we still have family to seat. Pippin will be next to you. And as they are an acknowledged couple, Miss Diamond North-took next to him.” While they were both still thought too young for an official betrothal, it was well-known that they were a “courting couple”.
Rosamunda gave a sigh of disappointment, but it was not too much. After all, familiar as he might be, Peregrin Took *was* the Thain’s Heir. She just hoped he would not spend the entire dinner making jests.
Pearl glanced over at Melilot’s chart. “Let’s see, that puts Uncle Merimac and Aunt Linda next to Father. Freddy and you, Angelica, next to Diamond; and Beri and Viola next to them. Then myself, Pimmie and Milo, Vinca and Tanto on the other side…” Her voice trailed off. “I think that’s all that would be called ‘close’.”
Esmeralda nodded. “All the parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and first cousins and their spouses, at any rate.”
“So all that are left at the bridal table will be the Outland guests?” asked Melilot.
“No,” said Eglantine. “Samwise Gamgee and his wife will also be here.”
Rosamunda looked up sharply. “Surely you are not suggesting they have a place at the bridal table! Why, he’s a gardener!”
Estella took in a sharp breath, and snapped a look of alarm at her mother. There was a sudden silence, as everyone stared at Rosamunda.
Rosamunda flushed. “Well, he is!”
Eglantine stood, and putting both hands on the table leaned across it. “Samwise Gamgee has been acknowledged by the King as having precedence over everyone except Frodo Baggins himself.”
Rosamunda looked taken aback, but she was not ready to concede yet. “An Outland title!”
“And yet,” said Eglantine, with narrowed eyes, “you are ready to grant precedence to the others on the basis of their Outland titles!”
“But they *are* Outlanders, and not hobbits! Surely, even if the Gamgees have a place at the bridal table, it is at the end! They are merely common folk!”
Estella stared at her mother, appalled. She knew that her mother had those sorts of notions about people, but she was usually much more diplomatic about it than this.
Eglantine leaned over even more, so that she was very close to Rosamunda’s face. “I think that you are quite mistaken,” she said, in a cold and dangerous tone, “and that you had best get over such notions.” Everyone knew that when Eglantine grew cold, she was in a towering fury.
Rosamunda paled, but she was still angry. She drew breath, but before she could say any more, Esmeralda said, “I hope, Rosamunda, that you are not rash enough to say such things in front of Merry. Or Frodo.”
“Or Pippin,” added Eglantine, moving in even closer. “Or that Elf you want to impress, or the Dwarf Lord.” She paused and added significantly, “or Gandalf. I would certainly not think it wise to offend a wizard.”
Estella felt close to tears. How could her mother do this? She stood up, and went over, putting a hand on her mother’s shoulder. “Mother, Sam and Rose are very dear friends; Frodo himself considers them family. Please do not quarrel over this.”
Rosamunda looked up at her daughter, and for an instant, Estella thought she saw a hint of panic, turning to gratitude. “Very well, Estella, for your sake, I shall drop the matter.”
Everyone there drew a sigh of relief, and Eglantine slowly straightened up. “That’s very wise of you, Rosamunda. I know you are under a good deal of stress, with planning the wedding; I forgive you for your lapse in judgment. I hope that you will forgive me my temper?”
Rosamunda drew a deep breath and nodded, and her hand came up to pat Estella’s hand on her shoulder.
Just then, they heard a clamor in the courtyard. Estella felt her heart leap, and she raced to the window.
Merry! Merry, and Frodo, and Pippin had ridden up, accompanied by--it *was* the Elf, with the Dwarf riding behind him!
With a wordless cry of joy, she raced from the room.
A few seconds later, she found herself in Merry’s arms, as he held her close, and the rest of the world ceased to exist.
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