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The past few years I have kind of had a tradition of giving my friends a new story set in the Eucatastrophe-AU for my birthday. This one is a day late, due to me having an unexpected errand that took me out of town yesterday, and also to some formatting trouble and a keyboard with the hiccups. At any rate, here is my birthday mathom for this year! I apologize for the lateness!
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story takes place in my Eucatastrophe-AU, in which the Three Rings do not fade, but are freed instead, by the destruction of the One, and in which Saruman was killed by Quickbeam in the destruction of Isengard--so that Sharkey never came to the Shire. Elves are, for the first time, free to return to Middle-earth from Valinor, and--most important of all, Frodo was healed, and lived on in the Shire, a Shire in which the Edict banning Men never became permanent.
This story takes place about a year after Frodo retired to Gondor (at the age of 83) to work on his book on the languages of Middle-earth. He lives with Gandalf (who also remained in Middle-earth for a while) in the same guesthouse in Minas Tirith that they stayed in after the War. For the first two years he was joined by Merry's son Peridoc, Pippin's son Faramir, and Sam's two sons, Merry and Pippin Gamgee, who were spending time as pages and being educated in the court of King Elessar.
1 Astron, S.R. 1452
"I wish I was not having a party this year, Diamond. I'm too old for parties like we had when I was young, and too young to have a party to celebrate my having achieved a remarkable age. I think I shall have no more birthday parties until I am eleventy-one."
"You are the Thain, Pippin. You cannot simply ignore your birthdays. Besides, that is not the reason you don't want a party this year. You are missing Fam, and you don't think a party without your son will be any fun."
Pippin huffed out a humourless chuckle. "You know me too well, my dearest. It won't be the same without Fam here, or without Perry or Frodo, for that matter." He sighed. His son and Merry's son, and Merry and Pippin Gamgee had all accompanied Frodo to Gondor last year; the lads were to be educated at the court of King Elessar for two years, when Frodo had gone there to work on his book about languages. He'd hoped for a letter from them in time for his birthday--it would have been something, at least. But the post between the Shire and Gondor, while more reliable than in the past, still was unpredictable.
"Now," said Diamond, standing before him and reaching up to adjust his collar and cravat, "you will have guests coming today with gifts and the Party is tomorrow. Don't let me catch you moping!" She tiptoed up and pressed a kiss upon his lips, and he caught her by the shoulders and returned it as more than just the brisk peck she had planned. They drew apart after a moment, breathless and flushed, and Pippin grinned at his wife. She patted her hair and said, "Don't you try to distract me, Peregrin Took. We must wait for that sort of thing until we've plenty of time to enjoy ourselves," her voice was prim, but her eyes twinkled, and he reached for her again, but she ducked away. "And now is not the time." She took up his jacket and handed it to him, careful to stay out of grabbing range. "Later, my love," she cooed, and swept out of their room with a rustle of skirts.
Pippin laughed, his mood much improved, and the thought of "later" on his mind.
The family took first breakfast in the family quarters, and his daughters presented him with their gifts.
Primrose had a number of her sketches bound into a book; the first page was a portrait of her parents, and within were a number of homely scenes she had captured of members of her family and of the denizens of the Great Smials, as well as of the gardens and grounds. She beamed when her father was excited over it--"Primmie, these are amazing. Thank you so much! I think you will be known as the greatest Shire artist since Calla Brandybuck!"
His oldest daughter blushed. "Uncle Frodo was a good teacher, and Calla was his teacher!" Pippin just smiled, remembering how thrilled Primrose had been when Frodo had agreed to accept her as his student.
Petunia and Pansy had made their gift for him together. The twins were fairly gifted with their needles, and had made him a new weskit. It was of light grey summer-weight wool, and they had embroidered the tree and stars of Gondor on the lapel. He grinned and embraced the both of them, and stood up to change into it right then and there, pulling off his jacket and taking off the weskit he was wearing and putting the new one on. Then he spread his arms, turning round so they could see how well it fit, and strutted about the dining room with his chest puffed out. He reduced them all to giggles, before sitting down once more at the table to finish his first breakfast. Then he went to his study to begin his day's work.
The morning was broken by second breakfast in the dining hall, and elevenses as he worked, and also by the frequent diffident approaches of servants and minor members of the Family bearing small gifts, to be given as was proper, on the day before the birthday. Pippin accepted them graciously, the smallest ones finding a place in his capacious pockets, the more unwieldy ones carried about until he could find a place to put them down. There were carvings and pocket handkerchiefs and pastries and cakes and jars of preserves and bottles of homemade wine and polished stones and other such things. He appreciated these tokens of his people's affection for him, and as was his wont he would remember them all.
Luncheon would be in the main dining hall, and he returned to his own quarters to empty his pockets and freshen up. He washed his face and combed his hair and feet. Diamond joined him, and they walked together to the dining hall. The two of them waved at their daughters, who were already seated with friends at the tween's table. Luncheon was a less formal meal, and they helped themselves at the sideboard before seeking their seats at the high table. Pearl was already in her seat which was to Pippin's right. She smiled up at Pippin, as her brother gave her a kiss on the forehead in greeting.
"Merry and Sam should be here very soon," she said.
Diamond nodded. "They have said they will be bringing a special gift with them," she added. She looked sideways at her husband, who had scrunched his face up. "Aren't you curious?"
"I am. But I have to say, I wish Sam would not indulge Merry."
"What do you mean, little brother?" asked Pearl mischievously, though she knew perfectly well.
"Merry! He knows the byrding should not be upstaged by the gifts he gets! The gifts I give should outshine anything given to me."
Pearl shook her head. "Peregrin Took! You know quite well that there is to be no competition in the giving of gifts, nor is anyone to call attention to the value of them! It's quite rude! What would Frodo's old Aunt Dora have said?"
Pippin snorted. "She'd have been quite appalled at the both of us, and then 'What would you expect of a Brandybuck and a Took?' is what she'd have said." Then he looked a bit abashed. "I'm sure Frodo would agree with her; he always reigns in Merry's and my excesses."
Pippin grew quiet as he turned his attention to the meal before him, and scarcely listened as his wife and his sister (who between them managed the Tooks quite successfully with little need to call on him) discussed the goings on in the Smials. Diamond, as a healer, was pleased that they had avoided any outbreaks of the usual spring childhood ailments so far, and Pearl mentioned that two of the married maidservants had confided in her that they thought they had quickened with child. "Send them to me," said Diamond, "and I'll confirm it for them."
Pippin was trying to decide whether to take his plate for a return visit to the sideboard (for the lamb had been especially good) when one of the grooms entered the dining room. Diccon was twisting his hat in his hands and looked both nervous (for he was unused to coming inside the big smial) and excited. He approached the table, and bent to speak to Pippin in a low voice. "Begging your pardon, Thain Pippin," he said, "but there's a waggon a-coming up the road from Tuckborough way, and there's Big Folks with it." His voice was awed. "And the Master and Mayor Sam, they're with it too!"
Pippin's jaw dropped. Since the Edict had been allowed to expire many years ago, it was not entirely unknown for Men to enter the Shire on business from time to time, and indeed, two years ago the King and Queen and their folk had deigned to visit and to stay at the Great Smials for a time. But it was still a matter of excitement and speculation when Men did show up--and for Merry and Sam to be with them could only mean that whoever and whatever was in the waggon was to do with whatever that mysterious gift might be.
Needless to say, the lamb (however excellent) was instantly banished to the back of his mind. Diamond and Pearl had both heard Diccon's announcement, and were just as curious as Pippin.
They did not run, they had their adult dignity to maintain after all, but the three of them rushed out as quickly as they could. Though Pippin had said nothing, a few observant Tooks noticed his departure, and by the time he, Diamond and Pearl had gone down the front drive toward the road, there was a substantial crowd following them. Pippin found himself tempted to run the rest of the way and hang over the fence, as he used to do as a child. Perhaps it showed on his face, because suddenly his sister latched onto his arm. "Oh no you don't, Peregrin Took! You aren't seven years old anymore."
Pippin rolled his eyes, and looked down the road, as the approaching waggon came closer. He saw both Merry and Sam riding their ponies alongside. Behind the waggon was the Gamgee coach, purchased by Frodo for Sam's family shortly after Frodo-lad was born. And in the waggon were three men and a hobbit...no, three Men and a boy...he noticed with disbelieving joy: one of them looked familiar. "Menelcar!" he shouted, and escaping his wife and sister, he raced towards it.
The driver of the waggon stopped, and the Man seated next to him came down, and knelt in the road to receive Pippin's laughing embrace. After a moment of back-thumping hugs, Pippin drew back to look at his old friend. The minstrel's weathered face had changed little save for deeper laugh lines, his once ginger hair had gone wholly white, and there was now a stoop to his lanky form. They drew apart, and Menelcar gestured to the boy who jumped down from the back of the waggon and came over to help Menelcar rise. The child appeared to Pippin to be about eleven or twelve years old. He had a head full of wavy ginger hair and was perhaps an inch taller than Pippin.
Menelcar introduced him. "This is my latest apprentice, Culas son of Carafin, my great-nephew, grandson to my sister. Culas, this is Sir Peregrin Took, Thain Peregrin of the Shire."
Culas bowed. "At your service and your family's, Sir Peregrin." Clearly Menelcar had taught the boy the manners of the North.
Pippin returned his greeting, and then turned to see Merry grinning down at him from the back of his pony. "You sneaky Brandybuck! Is this, then your surprise?"
Merry chuckled. "Not entirely. This particular conspiracy originated in Gondor, with our Baggins cousin and your son and Gandalf, and with the help of a certain King we know. We only found out a fortnight ago, when a King's Messenger brought news they were on the way."
Menelcar introduce the other two Men, Master Lenandor, son of Gannandil and the other, whom Pippin realized was in the livery of the Tower Guard, Belegorn, son of Borondir. "Belegorn! Good heavens, you are all grown up! How is your father?"
"He is enjoying his retirement, Sir Peregrin," said the young Guardsman.
"Well, shall we get this thing into the smials?" asked Sam. "And I know Rosie and Estella and the children are right tired of that coach."
Pippin nodded, and at Menelcar's invitation, clambered up to the waggon. He turned to look at the very large item, all covered in canvas, in the back. They drove up the wide curved drive, stopping in front of the Great Door. Servants rushed out to help the guests from the coach, and to see if they would be needed to help with the gift.
Master Lenandor, Belegorn and Culas used pegs to attach a set of wheels to the big wooden crate revealed when the canvas was rolled back. A cunning ramp hidden beneath the waggon was pulled out and the crate was carefully unloaded.
Pippin could scarcely contain his curiosity as they rolled the large crate through the Great Door into the front hall.
"Where should we put it," asked Menelcar.
Pippin shook his head. "How should I know? I don't even know what it is, much less where it should go!"
Sam and Merry laughed at the frustration in Pippin's voice. "One of the parlours, I think," said Merry. "One with space enough, and some natural light in the daytime."
Diamond paused. "The south parlour, I think. It's large enough, with a space in the center, and it has both a window facing the south terrace and a skylight."
The parlour was a spacious room, but it didn't seem so, what with the large crate and all the Men and hobbits crowded into the room. Pearl looked around, and began to shoo mere onlookers out, leaving only the Men who now had room to unpack the gift, and the Brandybucks, the Gamgees, and Pippin and his own immediate family as witnesses. The Men used crowbars to carefully pry off the boards at the side, revealing a large object covered with thick grey woolen blankets. Menelcar and Calus went over and began to take the blankets off, to reveal a strangely shaped box on three legs.
Pippin looked at it, puzzled. "A box harp?" he asked. He'd seen that rather tinkly instrument in Minas Tirith, but he honestly thought the sound was disappointing.
"No, Sir Peregrin," said Master Lenandor. "this is a new instrument of my own devising. I call it 'drīngtithin', or 'little hammers' as you might say. It has quite a different sound. It has become quite popular in the White City."
Pippin stared. A new instrument. He felt his heart beat faster; it had been a long time since he had learned to play a different musical instrument. "Is it hard to learn?" he asked.
"The keyboard is played much like the box harp, but the sound is produced differently. You should have no trouble learning to play it," Master Lenandor replied.
Menelcar cleared his throat. "I have a letter for you, which will explain much, Pippin." He took a sealed letter from his tunic and passed it over.
One look at the elegant hand gave him to know that the letter was from Frodo. He gestured to Sam and Merry, for they always shared correspondence from Frodo if they were together.
Trewsday, 2 Solmath, S.R. 1452
The idea came from your son several months ago. The lads and I attended a concert at the Citadel of Master Lenandor playing upon his invention, the drīngtithin. All of us were enthralled by the music.
Perry, Merry-lad and Pippin-lad could not stop talking about it, but Fam was unusually quiet.
I asked him what he was thinking, and he said, I want Papa to have one of those. The instant he said it, I knew he was right, and that it was just the thing for you.
Thus was our conspiracy born. Menelcar introduced us to Master Lenandor, and we learned what the cost would be to build one sized for hobbits.
While it is true that Gandalf and I bore the main part of the cost, Fam wished to pay for some of it as well, and the other lads were also excited about the prospect. All four of them earned extra money taking various small jobs about the neighborhood when they were not on duty as pages or attending lessons at the Citadel. One day they spent an afternoon baking, and then took their wares down to the market the next morning. They sold everything most successfully, and a guild baker approached them and offered an enormous sum for the reciept for Bucklebury Cakes.
The instrument was successfully built, and of course, Aragorn had to get in on it as well. He gave Menelcar leave to accompany the gift, and made arrangements for an escort of Guardsmen to go along. You will also find that the Queen made her contribution as well, and I believe that Menelcar has a more personal gift to add along with his presence. Master Lenandor agreed to go along to see your drīngtithin set up and to help you learn to play it, mostly I believe to have a free trip to the Shire.
I hope that it has arrived safely and that you will enjoy it quite as much as young Faramir and I believe you will.
Do give my love to all! Gandalf also sends his regards and his wishes for a Happy Birthday.
Your loving cousin,
P.S. Your son wishes to have his say as well, so I am allowing him to add to this letter. FB
I really, really hope you like your present! It's quite the biggest present I have ever given anybody, even though I had a lot of help.
Have a VERY Happy Birthday, Papa! And give my love to Mama and to Primmie and Pet and Pansy, and to my aunts. And also everybody else. When I get home I would like you to play on it for me.
I miss you all very much, but I like it here, too!
Pippin had to blink away tears by the time he got to the end.
Merry slung an arm around his cousin. "That was quite an undertaking! I would have loved to see our lads hawking pastries in the marketplace!"
Sam chuckled. "Well, looks like the lads are keeping Mr. Frodo busy down there."
Pippin handed the letter to Diamond and went over to see the drīngtithin. It looked like a box harp, but Master Lenandor raised the cover of the keyboard and leaned over and began to play a scale. The sound was deep and rich and soft; then he played it again, a bit harder. This time the scale was deep and rich and loud. He turned and went to the back and raised the lid. Pippin stared in--there were the wire harp-strings as found in a box harp, but instead of the little quills that plucked the strings there were tiny little hammers.
Master Lenandor said "Culas?"
The boy looked at his uncle. Menelcar nodded, and Culas went to sit on the small stool that accompanied the instrument and began to play a simple Gondorian melody. Pippin watched in fascination as the tiny hammers came up and struck the wires. The sound was unlike any other he had heard before; not quite bell-like, but far from the tinkly sound of the box harp. Then a note struck that made him cringe. Young Culas winced, but Master Lenandor shook his head. " 'Twas not you, Culas. As I feared, the journey means I shall need to do some tuning. Sir Peregrin, are you familiar with tuning stringed instruments?"
Pippin nodded. "I play the fiddle and the lap harp."
"You may wish to watch this. It is a somewhat similar process..."
Nearly all the onlookers now began to drift away, save Merry, who was curious about the mechanisms. Menelcar and Culas also remained to assist in the tuning. Pippin paid close attention. He knew the minstrels would be returning to Gondor and it would be up to him to keep the instrument tuned after they left.
Even Merry had grown tired of watching the musicians as they carefully checked each key and string, adjusting the notes. It took much longer than tuning a fiddle, which he had often seen Pippin do.
Finally they had it adjusted to their satisfaction. "Do not fear that you will need to do this often Sir Peregrin. So long as it is not moved far and it is not exposed to the damp or excessive heat and cold, it should need to be tuned only about once a year, if that."
"Now let us play something." He leaned over the keyboard (for he was too tall to play it seated) and began to play a beautiful and complicated piece that made Pippin long to learn it. Just then the parlour door opened, and a maidservant gave a little curtsy. "Thain Pippin, Mistress Diamond wants to know if you want to bring your guests and take tea in the Big Folk's wing, or if you would like to have tea here with your new present?" She looked wide-eyed at the large item in the middle of the floor, doubtless wondering if she would have to dust it.
Pippin grinned at her. "Thank you, Clover. Please let Lady Diamond know that we'll be along to the new wing shortly."
She gave a bob of her head, and then before she turned to leave, she asked: "Beg pardon, sir, but what's it called?"
Pippin hesitated, trying to think how to pronounce drīngtithin. But Menelcar told her, a twinkle in his eye when she blinked at being addressed by a Man.
She nodded. "A 'dring-thing'. Very well." She went out to give her message, and all the others in the room laughed.
"You do realize, Pip," said Merry, "that the name of this is now going to be 'dring-thing' in Westron here in the Shire."
Master Lenandor looked appalled.
Pippin looked at him apologetically. "I am afraid Merry's right. It's new name will now spread like wildfire throughout the Great Smials."
Menelcar patted his colleague on the shoulder. "It is inevitable, my friend. I do not doubt that before the year is out it will simply be called a 'dring'."
Merry sputtered out with a laugh. "Can't you just hear folks asking you to play the springle-ring upon your dring, Pip?"
The Men remained for two months, so that Master Lenandor could give Pippin lessons on his new gift. The bards enjoyed the hospitality of the Shire, and Master Lenandor found himself composing several pieces inspired by his surroundings and the cheerful folk he encountered, enjoying his free visit to the Shire immensely. Pippin enjoyed learning to play his 'dring', but even more was pleased when his daughter Pansy and also Merry's youngest daughter Dilly wanted to learn to play it as well. Merry was not quite so happy. "Where am I going to get one of those? You know she's going to want one!"
Pippin just grinned. If Nephridil Brandybuck wanted one, he had no doubt Merry would move heaven and earth to get it for her.
AUTHOR'S END NOTE:
I had quite a time what to call the Middle-earth version of a piano. My original idea was to call it a "soft-loud" in Sindarin, but I could not find a word that meant a soft sound, and the word for loud just indicated "noisy" in the definition, and I was not sure how to combine them correctly, anyway. In my research on early pianos, I quickly realized what differentiated the piano from the harpsichord (which I call a "box harp" in this story) was the use of the little hammers, so I decided that Master Lenandor would name it after his innovation: so "little hammers" is what the word drīngtithin means. It's a combination of "dring" (hammer, like Glamdring, "foe-hammer") and "tithen" which means "little". If I made a mistake changing the vowels to indicate plural, just chalk it down to it being Gondorian Sindarin instead of Elvish Sindarin. I'm no scholar in Elven languages, so the word is sort of cobbled together.
At any rate, the resulting word would definitely sound odd to the hobbits, and made for a bit of silly word play.
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