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EUCATASTROPHE: THE RETURN, PART THIRTEEN
Trewsday morning, Frodo finished the rest of the Marriage Lines before anyone else was awake save Legolas. He looked it over carefully, and though it was not perhaps as perfect as he would have once hoped to see, he knew that any flaws would only be visible to himself. And he was quite sure that Merry would like it. He laid a thin sheet of tissue over the document, and rolled it carefully, before returning it to its carrying case. He would take it up to Brandy Hall and give it to Saradoc today.
He smiled. Today he’d give Merry his and Bilbo’s gift after luncheon. He got up, and headed for the kitchen, for he could smell some very tantalizing smells. Pippin was busy at the stove; he had dressed already this morning. Frodo was surprised to see his younger cousin in the trews and silk shirt he usually wore beneath his armor.
Pippin noticed his questioning glance. “Merry’s been a bit tense since we got back. I told him we’d spar a bit this morning before second breakfast.”
Frodo nodded. He knew his cousins seemed to enjoy sparring as sport, though he himself could not really feel comfortable with the idea of playing with swords, he realized that it was important to both of them. And they were very good at it.
He left them clacking away under the approving eyes of Legolas and Gimli, and went for a walk. He headed for the Brandywine. The feelings of sorrow the River had once brought upon him, as he remembered his parents’ death had been blunted by time and experience, and since his healing, he had come to realize they were not truly gone. He fully believed that one day he would be reunited with them.
He had a very pleasant stroll, and passed a number of the local hobbits, some of them headed for Brandy Hall with business for the wedding. Each of them had a word and a greeting for him. Most of the Buckland hobbits had never forgotten young Master Frodo, and they were glad to have him among them once more.
He stood on the bank for a while, skipping stones, and then headed back. He saw two young lads making their way to the River, fishing poles in their hands. The older one appeared to be just shy of his tweens, the younger one looked to be about eight. They reminded him sharply of him and Merry at that age.
When he returned to Crickhollow, his cousins had cleaned up and changed. All of them sat down to elevenses, consisting of bread, cheese, pickles and ale, and then they strolled down to the Hall.
More guests had arrived. It was clear that Brandy Hall was packed. Frodo shook his head--he’d not seen such a crowd there since his Uncle Rory’s funeral, years ago. But this was, of course, a happier occasion. In three more days there would be even *more* people here! Why, this was going to be as large a crowd as Bilbo had drawn for his Farewell Party!
Luncheon today was served on the grounds as well as in the Hall, for there were far too many people to eat inside.
Frodo noticed that Folco Boffin had arrived. “Sam!” He called, “Can you and Pip help me get the gift down to the parlor? Folco is going to be staying in my old room, and if he gets a look at it, everybody here will know about it within five minutes!”
Sam grinned. “Well, I’d say that’s a good idea, Mr. Frodo. But I’m not certain we’ll be able to get Mr. Pippin’s attention.” He nodded over by the large table, where Pippin could be seen in earnest conversation with Miss Diamond North-took.
Frodo chuckled. “I daresay you’re right, Sam. Hoy! Berilac! Could you give us some help?”
“Whatever you need, Frodo,” Berilac said amiably.
“We need to bring Merry and Estella’s wedding gift from Bilbo and me down to the parlor. I’d like to have it there before the two of them come in to do their sitting. And I’d like to get it out of the room before Folco sees it!”
“Of course! I helped take it up there!”
The three of them made their way to the Master’s apartments. The room kept for Frodo here, ever since Saradoc had become Master, was not the room he had grown up in, in the Son of the Hall’s quarters. This room had a window, and was rather spacious. But it had the same furniture and bedcoverings Frodo remembered from his childhood. He drew the blanket off the gift, where it stood next to the wardrobe.
“I’ve never seen one so large,” said Berilac admiringly.
Frodo grinned at it. “Ostentatious, actually. I hardly think my Aunt Dora would have approved, but Bilbo ordered it specially. I think he wanted to make sure his last gift would be talked about as long as his last party was.”
He took a length of wide silk ribbon, and wrapped it around three times before tying it snugly in a double bow. Then the three hobbits lifted it carefully, and made their way to the parlor, where they set it in the middle of the room. Frodo stood back and admired it. “Yes indeed, Uncle Bilbo, I do believe Merry will be impressed,” he murmured. A shame Bilbo could not be here to see it received; but he was happy enough with the Elves.
They were not a moment too soon. The door opened, and Merry and Estella holding hands and laughing, came in with Melilot right behind them. They stopped, and stared.
Frodo looked at them fondly. “Congratulations and best wishes, Cousins, from Bilbo and myself.”
Estella and Meli just stared. Merry’s jaw dropped, and he stepped forward, hand outstretched. After a hesitant second, he untied the ribbon, and it fell to the floor.
The clock stood as high as he himself. The dark rich wood gleamed, and the glass front showed the pendulum. The clock face itself was of crystal, the inlaid numbers of gold, and the hands of silver. Merry came over and stood before it, entranced. He turned a questioning look to Frodo, that reminded Frodo more than anything else of his cousin at Yule, when he was only six.
“Here’s the key, Merry.” He reached up and opened the clock, so that Merry could see its inner workings.
“Oh Frodo!” Merry finally let out the breath he’d been holding.
“A clock was my idea. *This* clock was entirely *Bilbo’s* idea! According to the Dwarves, you will only need to wind it every sevenday.”
Estella finally stepped forward, smiling. She put a hand on Frodo’s arm, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you, Frodo. I wish we could thank Bilbo as well.”
“I wish you could, too, Estella. But somehow, I think he’ll know that you like it.”
Two days until the wedding. All of them were up at the Hall, and Frodo had just ticked off all the witnesses on the list, and had a private word with Paladin and Pippin. A precedent had been set at Sam’s wedding, in which Pippin had been allowed to sign as an eighth witness, so long as his signature was attested by his father. Frodo wanted to be certain that the arrangement was also in place for this wedding. It would mean a lot to Merry and Estella to have Pippin’s name on their Marriage Document.
Then, just as Frodo and Pippin were going to join Merry and Estella in the parlor, there was a commotion.
“King’s Messenger!” The cry went up, and Frodo and Pippin turned to see a large bay galloping up the lane, the rider in the familiar black and silver of Gondor.
“Haldad!” cried Pippin, for he knew this messenger, Haldad son of Hathol came regularly with messages from the High King, and from the King of Rohan as well.
The Man dismounted, and sketched a bow to the two hobbits who stood before him. “Lord Frodo, Sir Peregrin!”
They returned the courtesy with a little half-bow. Frodo blushed. It no longer pained him to be reminded of his rank--he knew it was an honor that his King and friend intended for him, and he had come to terms with the fact that he deserved it. But he still found it a little embarrassing in the Shire--hobbits of the Shire had no lords among themselves, after all.
“Welcome, Haldad,” said Pippin, who after all, was a King’s Messenger himself, and in a manner of speaking Haldad’s superior in rank.
“I bear messages and packages for Sir Meriadoc, and was enjoined to deliver them in person to him and in the presence of his betrothed before the wedding on Mid-summer’s Day.”
“You are in luck then, Haldad, for Merry and Estella are sitting for their gifts at this very moment! I’ll take you to them!”
“Pip,” said Frodo, “I’ll go find Uncle Sara and Aunt Esme and bring them--I know that these gifts they would like to be present to see received!”
A few moments later there was quite a gathering in the parlor. The ceilings in Brandy Hall were high enough that Haldad could stand upright without risk of banging his head, though he had to stoop low enough to go through the doorways. He stood before the hearth, with his saddlebags in his hands. Frodo thought with amusement that he looked a bit intimidated to be faced by so many hobbits at once--for he had brought the Master and Mistress with him, and as he had found them with the Thain and his Lady, he had brought them as well. Pippin was there of course, and Sam and Rose had joined them. Of course, Merry and Estella and Melilot were already in the room.
Haldad drew forth three packages from the saddlebags, and went down on one knee. He held forth the first one, a box covered in wine colored leather and tooled with intricate knotwork.
“On behalf of Éomer King of Rohan and his Queen, Lothíriel, with their best wishes for your marriage.”
Estella looked at Merry, and he nodded, so she took it. Opening the lid, she gave a little gasp. Merry’s eyes grew wide, and he reached in to draw forth one of the two silver goblets within. They were perfectly sized for hobbit hands, and he and Estella examined them briefly, before he replaced it in the box. He turned and handed the box to his father, so that the others could see the gift. “Those are perfect replicas,” he said in an awed voice, “of the King’s own goblets in Meduseld!”
Merry turned back to Haldad, as the goblets were still being passed around and exclaimed over. The next box he held out to them was flatter, of dark wood, highly polished, but otherwise unadorned. “From Lord Faramir, Prince of Ithilien, and his wife Éowyn, the White Lady.”
This box contained a set of silver spoons, each with a handle of finely carved oliphaunt ivory. There was a private message inside, sealed. Merry withdrew it and handed it to Frodo.
“Keep it for us until later,” he said. Frodo nodded, and placed it inside his breast pocket.
Haldad held out the last package, “From his Grace, the Lord Elessar Telcontar, High King of Gondor and Arnor, and his Queen, Arwen Undómiel.”
The final package was somewhat larger, and soft. It was wrapped in fine white wool, and tied with a silver ribbon. Merry held it as Estella untied it, and drew the wrappings away. There was a snowy expanse of the finest of white linen, soft as butter. It was embroidered, white on white. Frodo and Pippin helped, and the four of them unfolded it to reveal a magnificent tablecloth. The White Tree was in the center, and around the edges were vines and flowers in abundance. A flowing design was embroidered in silver all around the hem. Frodo looked closely at it--it looked like Fëanorian script. “Merry!” he said, awed, “that is a hymn to Yavanna! This tablecloth was embroidered by the Queen’s own hand!” There was also a private message enclosed with this gift as well, and Frodo took charge of that. He knew that Merry and Estella would want to read those messages from their friends in private.
Merry gave the cloth over to Estella, and turned to Haldad. “Thank you for bringing these, Haldad.” He looked at Estella, and then at Frodo, and finally turned a questioning look at his father. Saradoc nodded, and Merry turned back to say, “I would like to offer you the hospitality of Brandy Hall, and if your duties do not press you to return too quickly, I would like to invite you to stay for the wedding.”
Haldad smiled. “I was not to ask, but the High King told me that if such an invitation was offered, I was to accept, so that I could tell every detail of the festivities on my return.”
Saradoc spoke then. “I am afraid that I am only able to offer you a pallet on the floor. We have no beds for Big Folk here.”
Haldad nodded. “That is quite acceptable, Master Brandybuck!”
One day was left before the wedding. Merry ate his breakfast absently, and had begun to fidget more than Pippin ever did. Frodo had never seen the usually unflappable Merry in quite such a state of nerves.
This time it was Sam who found the solution. He and Rose and Elanor had come to Crickhollow for second breakfast, and he saw how perplexed Frodo was over Merry’s nervousness.
“Mr. Merry,” said Sam, “I don’t believe you’ve showed me the new beds in your herb garden yet!”
Soon enough, Merry and Sam were out in the garden, and busily looking at the plants. Pippin joined Frodo at the window as they watched them. “Sam’s a marvel!” Pippin said. “He’s clever to boot; Merry will almost forget about the wedding talking plants with Sam.”
“I know,” said Frodo proudly. They watched a few moments longer, as Legolas joined the two in the garden. Rose had retreated to a back room to feed Elanor, and Gimli had yet to arise.
Suddenly, they saw Legolas straighten up from the small plant he had been earnestly examining, and give a shout of joy. Frodo and Pippin turned to look and one another, and then laughing ran outside, to see the large White Rider on the king of the mearas.
Gandalf had arrived at last.
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