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EUCATASTROPHE: THE RETURN, PART ELEVEN
Frodo looked on fondly as Merry and Estella embraced, the two of them oblivious to the amused grins of cousins and guests. He had done it--he had returned Merry to Buckland in plenty of time for the wedding. In fact, not a day too soon, as the couple were to begin sitting for their gifts this afternoon after luncheon.
“Oh, Merry!” Estella drew back at last to gaze up at her betrothed with tears in her eyes. “I’m *so* glad you are back at last!”
Merry looked down, confusion writ large on his face. “But Estella, you did say I was to go!”
She gave a little chuckle and wiped her eyes. “I know that I did. But I had no idea how much I would miss you.”
“Oh.” Now Merry’s expression was one of gratification, and he drew her close and kissed the top of her head. “I missed you also, my heart,” he murmured.
Frodo found this reunion unexpectedly touching. What a fortunate fellow his cousin was, to have found someone like Estella! He thought fondly of the child who’d dogged his steps ever since he had been old enough to do so, and who had grown up into a friend who continued to do so, even in the face of unspeakable danger. Merry deserved every bit of good fortune that came his way, and Frodo was more than pleased to realize what this would mean to the future. Like Sam, Merry would now begin to make a life for himself, one that included a family of his own.
His musings were cut short by a chuckle from Pippin. “Merry Brandybuck! You shall have time and enough to greet your lass--but we’ve guests to see to!”
Blushing, Merry turned, his arm still around Estella, and began to stammer out his apologies to Legolas and Gimli. But just then his parents came out, accompanied by several other inhabitants of Brandy Hall, all very pleased to see that the groom and his friends had arrived home safely and in time.
Saradoc and Esmeralda greeted Legolas and Gimli graciously and fondly. They had guested the Elf and Dwarf before, and were pleased to have them at the wedding. They wondered at the absence of Gandalf, however.
“He’ll be here,” said Merry confidently. “He has Shadowfax. And besides, as he is fond of reminding us, Wizards are never late!”
They went inside to a jolly luncheon. Enough guests had arrived that most of the meals now were being taken in the main dining room. Legolas and Gimli were warmly welcomed by various Brandybucks who remembered their previous visit, and the cousins made quite a tale of their journey to Rivendell and back. By mutual consent, they played down the encounter with the ruffians. Merry would tell his father the details later, but they saw no need now to alarm others, especially since all the danger was past and gone.
When lunch was ended, Merry and Estella retreated to the drawing room of the apartments that had traditionally been those of the Son of the Hall. Merry had only lived in them, however, for three years, after his coming of age and before the Quest, when he had then moved into Crickhollow with Pippin. The rooms had been turned into guest quarters, and it was there that the Bolgers were staying until the wedding.
Melilot joined them, and with her help, the couple began to tackle the task of opening the many wedding gifts that had been arriving by post over the last few weeks.
“For goodness’ sake!” exclaimed Melilot, “just look at this mathom from Hortensia Boffin!” She held up a rather spectacularly purple teapot. Merry groaned, and Estella rolled her eyes.
Frodo took Saradoc aside. “Uncle Sara, did the item from Erebor arrive safely?”
Saradoc nodded. “It did indeed. There’s not a scratch on it. It is safely stored in your old room.”
Frodo breathed a sigh of relief. That particular gift had been ordered from Frodo and Bilbo’s old friend Nuri before the two hobbits had sailed. The present was from both him and Bilbo. “That’s good, Uncle. I’ll present it on Trewsday, then, when things are a bit less busy.” Traditionally, the majority of gifts arrived either the first day or the last, of the week of sitting for gifts. But midway in the week was a bit of a slack time often cherished by close friends and kin for presenting their gifts in less hectic circumstances. “We shall take Legolas and Gimli with us, and settle in at Crickhollow, then, this afternoon. We will come back to take supper here at the Hall, and fetch Merry then. I have a few details to see to. Are all of the witnesses still available?”
“Yes, they are. Did you get the document completed?”
“For the most part. I have just a few little things I wish to add, and I need to double-check for any errors. Are there any changes in the contract I should know about?”
“No, lad. All is just as Odo and I agreed upon at the betrothal. It’s all quite simple.”
“I’m glad! That means I’ve room to add a few special embellishments!”
Saradoc smiled, and clapped him on the shoulder. “I am certain that it’s a real work of art, Frodo. You don’t know how glad I am to see you taking an interest in such things once more!”
Frodo grinned. “Well, I most certainly could never allow anyone else to prepare Merry and Estella’s Marriage Lines, Uncle Sara!”
Legolas and Gimli would be staying at Crickhollow with the cousins; the Hall was going to packed to the rafters with other guests, so it was a good thing that they could take a couple of them off Saradoc and Esmeralda’s hands. They left Stybba at the Hall stables, and rode slowly the two miles to the cottage.
Soon the four friends were in the kitchen, where Pippin played host, making tea, and looking out for provisions. “We’ve some biscuits in the tin, but I shall have to go to market tomorrow,” he said, as he poured tea. “It’s a good thing we are taking supper at Brandy Hall.”
Gimli chuckled. “Merry seemed quite happy to see his lass. Are you certain he’ll want to come back here with us tonight?”
Frodo smiled. “He won’t have much choice. His old bed in his old quarters are currently occupied by his future in-laws. I do not doubt that Aunt Esme will have to resort to pallets on the floor for many of the guests.”
“What about Sam and Rose and Elanor?” asked Pippin. “We’ve no extra beds here!”
Frodo laughed. “Aunt Esme assures me that she has put aside a room for them already. I do believe it’s *your* old room! And I think that Folco Boffin is to have my old room!”
“Good heavens!” Pippin exclaimed. “The Hall really *is* packed if Aunt Esme is using those rooms!”
When they had eaten, they went outside, and Frodo, Pippin and Gimli took out their pipes for a smoke. Legolas shook his head, and took himself up the shade tree that stood by the gate to the lane. Frodo chuckled. “You’d think he’d be used to our smoking by now!”
Gimli shook his head, and laughed. “He’s only known us for four years, after all. That’s no time at all to an Elf.”
Pippin cast a sly glance at the Dwarf. “By the way, Gimli, how do you feel about cats?”
Gimli raised his bushy eyebrows in surprise at the question, but said, “Useful enough creatures, I suppose. They keep the vermin down…”
Pippin grinned, but his expression suddenly changed to one of pain. “Ouch! What did you pinch me for, Frodo?”
Frodo looked at Gimli. “This cousin of mine is trying to find a home for Dumpling’s latest litter of kittens!” He turned a stern look on Pippin. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Pippin looked unabashed. “You don’t suppose your Strawberry would like some company, do you? I’m sure Sam and Rose…”
“Oh no you don’t! One cat at Bag End is enough!” Frodo sighed, and added ruefully, “Besides, soon enough I’ll be having to try and find home for *her* kittens!”
Pippin and Gimli both laughed at this reluctant confession.
When they had finished their smoke, Legolas rejoined them. Somehow he had come across the kittens, and was carrying two of them about, one of them in his hands, that he was caressing absently, the other perched on his shoulder, purring in his pointed ear. Pippin looked immensely pleased, and Gimli suppressed a smile. He wondered how they’d convey the kittens away with them. If the young Took had decided that they’d be a good home for the little animals, he and the Elf did not stand a chance.
Pippin showed them about the gardens, pointing out all the improvements he and Merry had made to the place in the last couple of years. They were quite proud of the extra wing they had recently built onto the eastern side of the house, which would give the newly-wed couple a bit more space, and a little extra privacy.
Pippin sighed. “We’ll be starting another such wing on the western side of the cottage. But probably not for a few years. I’ll be glad when Diamond and I can wed, and I can bring her here also.”
Frodo beamed. “I am so glad that you and Merry are making your lives here. I wondered sometimes if giving you this house was the best thing to do. Both of you had lived all your lives in the ancestral tunnels--I sometimes feared you might find it too quiet and solitary here!”
Pippin turned an amazed face to his older cousin. “Oh, Frodo! It’s the best gift you’ve ever given us! Both of us know that sooner or later we’ll have to return to the family holdings and take up our duties. But for now, it’s lovely to have a place where we can just be ourselves, and not the Thain’s Heir or the Son of the Hall! And it will be nice to start our families here, away from the bustle of Brandy Hall or the Great Smials.” He gave a little hop, and then said “By the way--have you seen Merry’s new herb beds?”
Soon enough, it was time to go back to Brandy Hall, for supper, and to collect Merry. Things were going to be very busy from now until the wedding.
It was with a very happy weariness that Frodo sank into his bed that night, and he fell asleep as he counted over his duties as Merry’s witness.
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