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Part I: Sip of the Cup
Lavender North-took set the wreath of sweet-smelling flowers atop her cousin's brown-gold curls. It slipped halfway down Diamond's brow and for a moment Lavender saw not the bride of today, but the little girl she'd often made daisy-crowns for in the summers.
"This wreath has a mind of its own," grumbled Lavender as she straightened it. The bridal wreath was an old Shire custom. Previous generations assigned meanings to the flowers they knew and hobbit lasses selected their flowers of their garlands with great care, often taking their namesake flowers and those of their new relations. Pimpernel and eglantine, change and poetry, peeped out amidst forget-me-not, gillyflower, sweet basil, and roses. All common elements in the bridal ring, but Lavender wondered at the inclusion of laurel.
"I know gillyflower is for affection, forget-me-not for remembrance, sweet basil for good wishes, and roses for love, but what of the laurel?"
Diamond laughed, her happiness transformed the sound so that it was like chimes in the wind. "Laurel is for victory. Mother Eglantine told me the Bullroarer's bride wore it in her wreath."
"Where are your hairpins," her cousin asked a moment later. It might make it harder to remove the wreath, but it seemed the only way to keep it in place for the ceremony and feast.
"The little box by the bed," Diamond pointed to a small wooden box on the beside table given to her by Lavender's brother as a birthday present. As she picked it up, her thumb brushed the tiny carved squirrel reverently. Hildibold married a girl from the Tookland and had been among the nineteen hobbits killed at the Battle of Bywater.
"You have lovely hair pins," Lavender noted as she opened the box, studying the fine tortoise shell pins that once belonged to Diamond's late mother. She picked up a carved comb, also of tortoise shell, carefully made to match the leaf patterns picked out on the pins. Lavender had never seen it before.
"Your betrothal gift from your father?" she guessed. Hobbits did not as a rule give gifts other than flowers at a wedding, but it was tradition for parents and children to exchange presents before a betrothal. These gifts were often handmade and usually intended to be used at the wedding; Diamond's gift to her father was a shirt of creamy linen embroidered by her own hand.
The bride nodded. "I can't believe it's my wedding day!"
"I image every lass says as much," Lavender said with a wistful smile as she set about securing the headpiece. She had aided many brides but had yet to be one herself.
Diamond gave her friend's arm a sympathetic squeeze. "You'll meet the right hobbit soon."
"Imagine all the fine folk come for the wedding. I don't doubt you'll have many a fine hobbit vying for a dance with you. All those Tooks, Brandybucks, Bolgers," the bride's eyes glittered with mischief. "And you'll see more of them than I will!"
They both laughed. It was custom for the bride and groom to 'escape' to their chambers shortly after the wedding feast, leaving their guests to enjoy the party. As soon as the bride tossed her wedding-wreath on the table, any unmarried lad or lass who caught the newlyweds could demand a kiss of the bride or groom. It was a game of sorts with the talk awarding the prize to couples who succeeded in reaching their rooms unscathed.
"I imagine I will, unless you and Mr. Peregrin are planning on spoiling all the fun by lingering like Holly Twofoot and her husband did." Holly and her bridegroom elected to wait out their guests and slipped away after most of the rowdy tweenagers who had thought to chase them had been shooed off to bed by their families.
Diamond blushed from curls to well-brushed feet. "No."
"I hear Mr. Meriadoc means to claim a kiss from you," teased Lavender as she straightened the skirt of Diamond's pale green gown. "Word is that he has an ambush all thought out."
"He'll have to catch me!" Diamond said pertly. "Besides, Pippin and I have an exit strategy all mapped."
"Mr. Merry has rather long legs."
"So does my husband!" Diamond blinked as she considered what she said. "My husband," she sighed. Lavender shook her head.
There was a knock at the door and Diamond's great-aunt Althea stuck her head in. "It's time."
"A minute," Diamond called. She reached up a hand to her bride's wreath and tugged a rose and a bit of sweet basil free. She tucked them behind Lavender's ear.
"For luck... with the gentlehobbits."
Lavender startled, it was a special blessing to be given flowers from a bride's wreath. "You might want these back - you'll need all the luck you can gather as its Pippin Took you're wedding!"
Arm in arm, tears of laughter shinning in their eyes, the two cousins walked into the hall where the rest of the family awaited them.
As Diamond had no mother or sisters living, Lavender sat beside her at the high board representing her female kin. She watched her cousin brought forward by her father, wearing the shirt she had embroidered for him, and led to the anxiously waiting Pippin, clad in the silver and sable uniform of a knight of Gondor.
Paladin Took, as head of the Tooks, filled an ancient looking goblet with sweet wine. The Took marriage cup was said to be older than the Shire, it was of special silver that never needed polish and was encrusted with tiny cabochon rubies set in star patterns. Lavender had only ever seen the North-took cup (it lacked jewels but was carved like wood so it looked like a silver tree) used in a family wedding, but she hoped this cup had the blessings that other goblet offered. With a start she remembered the North-tooks were a very young branch of the Took family and her great-great-grandparents probably sipped from that same jeweled cup on their wedding day. The realization relaxed her. This was not some new and strange cup, but one blessed by the love of their kin, a link in the chains of tradition and life.
Paladin spoke the words, his face bright with joy at the occasion. "We gather today to celebrate the marriage of my son, Peregrin Took, and Diamond of Long Cleeve. Until today they drank life from separate cups, from this day forward they shall ever sip from the same cup. Their joys shared and magnified; their sorrows common and lessened."
The words said, Paladin handed the cup to Diamond and she drank half of it, wrinkling her nose slightly. Lavender suppressed a giggle; Diamond had never acquired a taste for wine and even the sweetest seemed bitter to her lips. When she was finished, she passed the cup to Pippin and he drained the cup before returning it to his father.
Paladin set the cup down on the high board between the places set for Pippin and Diamond. He then took the pair's hands and joined them, raising their united hands high so that all could see. Everyone cheered as the newly married couple enjoyed their first kiss, held by tradition to mingle the last drops of the wedding wine.
Part II: The Wedding Feast
Diamond had never expected to marry someone like Pippin. The wedding she thought would be hers as a child was one akin to her parents'; the feast held inside her family home (furniture removed to make more room) and tables comprised of simple planks on barrels. Despite their lineage, Diamond's family like many in the north kept customs closer to the common folk the Shire.
Before Lavender led her away to dress for her wedding, Diamond slipped away to wonder at the site of her wedding. Instead of her family smial filled with temporary tables, there were fine trestles collected from nearby families. The smell of beeswax polish and fresh-cut flowers filled the air. It was beautiful, but a bit frightening as well.
She'd worried her wedding at the Great Smials would be intimidating, but from the moment her father led her into the hall and she saw Pippin awaiting her in his black and silver uniform, the movement of time altered and she forgot everything but him. It wasn't until she drank from the marriage cup that her mind started to return and she relaxed. Even the wedding wine didn't taste quite as terrible as she'd feared. When Paladin joined her hand with Pippin's and raised them high – it struck her: she was married; but had barely paid attention during her own wedding. It took an effort of will to keep from giggling like a tween. A glance at her new husband confirmed that he was in a similar state, biting his lip to keep from ruining the dignity of the moment with an undue fit of laughter.
"Didn't pay attention?" her husband's warm breath caressed her ear as Paladin stepped back and Pippin put an arm around her waist. He led her around the high board to their flower decked chairs and helped her into her seat.
"You're rather distracting in this uniform," Diamond said with a slight tug on his sleeve. Under her fingers, the fabric was cool and smooth.
"It's it a good thing I'm the only knight of Gondor in the Shire?" Pippin teased as he poured them each a goblet of honeymead. The rest of the guests drank from pewter or wooden cups depending on their station, those at the high board had fine silver goblets from the Thain's hoard. "Otherwise, you might have made a mistake and wed the wrong hobbit."
Diamond made a show of studying Pippin. "I doubt anyone else would fill out the uniform as well as you."
"May I complement you on your attire as well Mistress Took? I have never seen a lady look so lovely in green," he said, raising his goblet to her.
She plucked up her own goblet in an answering toast. "You may."
"Your wreath is lovely," Pippin said. He ran a finger along the outer flowers. "Are those pimpernel and eglantine?"
"You have an eye for flowers Mr. Took...," Diamond teased. "But I believe this wreath would look even better on the table than my head."
Pippin colored. It was his turn to make a show, looking back and forth from Diamond to the high board. "You're far lovelier than the table."
Diamond snorted. "There is something we can tell our children of this day."
"Yes," Pippin grinned. "Dad thought Mum was lovelier than an old oak table."
"It's an original compliment." Diamond noted a moment later as she began to fill her plate from the variety of dishes laid out on the table. As weddings meant more work for family and servants, it was tradition to set all courses out so that those who prepared the feast might enjoy it with the guests. There was roast chicken, beef, and pork for the main courses with numerous sides. Sweets included cakes, pies, and bowls of small flat wheat cakes made from flour grown by the bride's family or purchased with their labor. Unmarried tweens saved cakes to nibble the next day for luck.
"So I've noticed."
"Speaking of original..." Diamond glanced around to make certain that those around her were engaged in other conversations. Lavender was chatting with Fatty Bolger while Merry Brandybuck was engaged in conversation with Pippin's parents. It was strange how she kept forgetting she wasn't alone with Pippin, he had a way of making the world seem as though it had condensed down to just the two of them. "You promised to tell me your plans creating a diversion to cover our exit."
"Yes..." Pippin hadn't been able to spend enough time alone with Diamond after he formulated his plan to inform her of it in any detail. "It'd be better to show rather than tell."
She leaned forward to whisper into her husband's ear. "Pippin, love, your diversion doesn't include fireworks, by any chance?" She glanced down the table to where Paladin was breaking one of the wedding cakes in two to share with Eglantine.
"Inside the Great Smials?" Pippin said, his lip twitching. "Father would never forgive us."
"How then shall we escape?" Diamond asked. "If Merry or Folco catch us there will be no chance for revenge when they wed. Only the unmarried may pursue the bride and groom."
"Patience love, all in good time," he raised her hand to his lips. His voice dropped again in volume. "I personally cannot wait to be alone with you, but custom must be satisfied."
Diamond felt herself redden. "This feast is taking an eternity."
Pippin's hand gently brushed back a stray lock of her hair; Diamond felt one of the pins holding her bridal wreath pull away. She saw it briefly in Pippin's palm before it disappeared into a pocket of his uniform.
"How many more hair pins did Lavender use?" he whispered. His voice so low she almost believed his words existed solely in her mind.
"No, five," Diamond corrected, "I wasn't including the one you pulled out."
Part III: Catch If Catch Can
Over the next half hour, Diamond's five remaining hairpins followed the first into Pippin's pocket. With nothing restraining the wreath, Diamond could toss it onto the high board with ease when the time came.
"Ready yourself, love," Pippin whispered. His hand closed around hers under the table. Out of the corner of her eye, Diamond saw him pull his gray elven cloak, which folded into a surprisingly small bundle, out from under his tunic.
Diamond prepared herself to run. There were many pairs of eyes fixed on her and Pippin, and she wondered how they would ever manage to leave unhindered. She looked helplessly around the room for a moment before her gaze fell on her cousin Hyacinth, busy simpering at Merry Brandybuck, who looked even more ready to flee than the bride and groom. Diamond indicated Merry with her chin, Pippin barely managed to reign in his giggles.
Merry, with years of association with Pippin under his belt, immediately noticed and fixed his best friend and his new wife with a charming smile that promised swift vengeance. Unfortunately for Merry, Hyacinth took his smile as encouragement.
Just as Diamond started to worry that escape was a feat on par with invading Mordor, an ear-piercing shriek snatched everyone's attention. An indignant young hobbit lass bounded into the room, pursued closely by a lad carrying a fog.
"He put a frog in my dress!" young Aster Took wailed, pointing a shaking finger at Otis Burrows.
"She started it!" Otis insisted, clutching his frog to his chest protectively. "She insulted Ribbit. I was just showing to her him and he hopped down her dress."
"You dropped him down my dress. On purpose."
As soon as Aster entered, Pippin took immediate advantage of the distraction for it would only gain them a few seconds at best. He grabbed a bowl of apples and dove under the table pulling Diamond along with him, barely giving her enough time to toss the bridal wreath onto the high board. He then covered the both of them with his Lorien cloak before fixing her with a grin and raising a finger to his lips. Diamond shook her head; didn't he know everyone checked under the tables? It was the oldest ploy in the Shire.
"The wreath is on the table!" one of the Bracegirdle guests noted, her voice carrying like thunder throughout the room.
"But where are Peregrin and Diamond?" Someone asked as Pippin offered his bride an apple from the bowl he brought with him. To her amusement, she realized it was a pippin apple.
"I smell a plot," Merry said as he rose, his chair scrapping against the wide oak floorboards.
From her place on the floor underneath the high board, Diamond could see the two children who'd caused the distraction grinning at each other in a conspiratorial way she recognized from years of collaborations with her brothers and cousins.
Then Merry knelt down to check under the table and Diamond felt her breath freeze inside her chest. Pippin put a comforting arm around her shoulders. She watched in amazement as Merry's gaze skirted over them, as through their cloak-shrouded forms somehow merged with the shadows under the high board. Even before she recovered from her astonishment, Merry shook his head a little and used the edge of the table to hoist himself back up onto his feet.
She turned her head to gape at her husband. Pippin's dancing green eyes met hers. "The elves did say these cloaks were to help shield us from unfriendly eyes."
"Somehow I doubt this is what they had in mind," Diamond said dryly as she bit into her apple. Their circumstances suddenly struck both Tooks as absurd, and they had to press their hands to their mouths to muffle their laughter. Diamond felt as though she had regressed in age to her teens.
"Not under the table?" queried Fredregar Bolger. Diamond could see his well-brushed feet standing next to those of Lavender.
Merry's reply was unintelligible to Pippin and Diamond, but he obviously conveyed a negative answer to those above and around them.
"They aren't behind any of the chairs either," Folco said. "We might still catch them if we hurry."
"They can't have got very far... probably hiding in that storage closet..." Merry's voice trailed off as he moved away from the table, a flock of unmarried hobbits at his heels. As feet retreated from view, Diamond inched a little forward for a better view just in time to glimpse the retreating backs of Merry, Fredregar, Folco, and her cousins Lavender and Hyacinth.
"I'm insulted," Pippin quipped as he raised himself up onto his elbows. "Does Merry honestly believe I can't improve upon my hiding places?"
"He still sees you as his little cousin," Diamond reminded him, resting one hand on Pippin's arm.
"Not so little anymore, in height or otherwise," Pippin said, as he took another bite of apple.
"Isn't there cake and wine in our apartments?" Diamond asked as she leaned forward and mischievously took a bite of Pippin's apple.
Pippin ducked his head to avoid a hit by his father's foot. "We have to get there first."
When all those eligible to hunt them finally cleared the room, Pippin helped Diamond out from under the table. The conversation of the remaining youngsters and married couples immediately ceased.
Paladin choked a bit on his wine at the sight of his son and daughter-in-law emerging from under the high board.
"Peregrin Took..." Eglantine shook her head; tears streaming down her face. The bridal wreath now lay by her place at the table for it was the duty of the groom's mother to lead the older married women to bury the wreathe in a secret location after the feast.
"I regret that my wife and I must depart," Pippin said, giving his parents and Diamond's chuckling father a courtly bow. Diamond managed a passable courtesy, before they ran laughing toward the servants' entrance. On their way out, Pippin smiled at Aster and Otis and tossed them a small parcel of sweets.
"Good night Mr. and Mrs. Took," the two children chorused behind them.
Pippin brushed a stray curl from Diamond's face. "That has a nice ring to it, don't you agree?"
"Very nice," Diamond agreed. "Were those two in on your plans?"
"We needed a distraction." Pippin reminded her as he led them outside and into the hedges that lined most of the Great Smials. Only at the entrances were the hedges broken. "I left a window in our apartments ajar."
"What a corrupting influence you are, my love."
"Consider it practice for when Merry has children," they both laughed at that. "Actually, I was merely directing them. Otis and Aster fight all the time without my intervention; I merely managed to put them on the same side. Friendly secrets between cousins lead to friendships."
"Is that how you and Merry became such close friends? Your mother indicated that you were not always so close."
Pippin smiled. "Certainly."
"And what was your secret." Diamond asked as she pushed aside a branch.
Pippin flashed her a dazzling smile. "The strange disappearance of a number of raspberry tarts from the kitchens of Brandy Hall."
Part IV: Friendly Cousins
While Lavender North-took thought Pippin Took too spirited for her, he was exactly right for her cousin Diamond. After her initial stab of jealousy fled - for once again she watched someone else find love - Lavender could not help but feel joy that Pippin and Diamond had found happiness in each other.
"Pip can talk for days and never touch on anything of importance," Lavender remarked to her dinning companion. She sat by Diamond, but her cousin's attention was on her new husband as was right and proper, but Lavender did not know many of the other guests near her at the high board. The nearest hobbit was pleasant-looking with a dazzling smile and the substantial padding of one who appreciates his meals. He looked familiar, but she could not quite place him.
He seemed to sense her difficulty. "Fredregar Bolger," he introduced himself. Even without the name, she knew he was from the northern part of the Eastfarthing by his accent alone. "We're third cousins through your father."
Lavender nodded. Now that she knew his identity, she recalled what the talk said of him. He was a friend of Pippin and Merry, a more sensible sort who elected to remain in the Shire instead of venturing to parts unknown. She'd heard of his heroism in leading a band of rebels against the ruffians. "And cousins again coming down from Isumbras III."
Fredregar leaned in close. "I hear Pip has a plan to escape unnoticed with Diamond," he informed her with a wink.
She raised an eyebrow. "Does he now?"
"Merry will make it difficult. Folco too. Not to mention all the lads whose sisters Pippin's ever 'caught'."
"It should he interesting to see what they have planned," Lavender drawled. She would bet her new wool cloak that Pippin and Diamond wouldn't make it from the room unscathed.
"It should," Fredregar agreed.
They continued to chat amicably, keeping one eye on the bridal couple, as the feast continued. Fredregar proved to be an interesting dinning companion, full of amusing anecdotes and jokes. Lavender found herself drawn to him and sensed it was mutual; neither felt much compunction to speak with the other diners - though Fredregar did occaisonally speak to a lovely lass seated beside him.
"My sister Estella," Fredregar said, gesturing to the hobbit lass seated on his other side. Lavender had been searching for some time for a tactful a means of asking if she was his wife or sweetheart. Part of her suspected Fredregar knew this and enjoyed teasing her a little. "Estella dear, this is Lavender, one of our North-took cousins."
"I believe we met years ago at Althea Boffin's wedding," Estella said as she studied Lavender. Her face held an evaluating expression Lavender recognized from her own siblings.
"Yes, we did."
"You're from Bindbale Woods." The question was almost a challenge.
While the Talk might rank the North-tooks as below the Bolgers; Lavender was one to disagree with the view that the North-tooks were merely an upstart branch of Took family. "My people have lived in the Northfarthing for over ninety years." Her tone also conveyed a reminder that the Northfarthing was a part of the Shire, not the Breeland.
Estella nodded and something in her manner indicated that she approved of Lavender.
Just then a loud cry made Lavender turn away from Estella, Fredregar, and the high board for just a moment.
A pair of teenagers burst into the room, a flushed girl and a boy carrying a frog. Lavender belatedly recognized them as Aster Took and Otis Barrows, a pair of cousins from the Tookbank who always seemed to be fighting with each other.
"He put a frog in my dress!" Aster pointed an accusing finger at both Otis and his frog.
"She started it! She insulted Ribbit," Otis hissed. He held the frog close to his chest. "I was just showing to her him and he hopped down her dress."
"You dropped him down my dress. On purpose."
Lavender well remembered similar pranks played on her by cousins, but something about Aster's demeanor struck her as odd. She seemed more excited than angry.
Just then one of the Bracegirdles' noted "The wreath is on the table!"
"But where are Peregrin and Diamond?" Estella wondered aloud.
The two youngsters were grinning at each other and the pieces clicked together in Lavender's mind. She was not one a great one for unraveling a prank or plot, but she didn't have to be to realize the children had been brought in as a diversion.
"I smell a plot," Merry said as he got to his feet. He gave Aster and Otis a look of mingled admiration and annoyance.
While Merry knelt to check under the table, other cousins completed a quick search of the room. There were enough people about that it would be possible to hide – for it was only unmarried who hunted the bride and groom. The married couples often offered them some aid.
"Not under the table?" Fredregar asked. It was a common joke that only a desperate or unimaginative couple concealed themselves under the table. It was the first place searched at a wedding.
Merry shook his head in the negative. No one really expected to find Pippin and Diamond there, but it was good to check.
"They aren't behind any of the chairs either," Folco said briskly as he peered behind a row of bemused aunts. "We might still catch them if we hurry."
"They can't have got very far... probably hiding in that storage closet..." Merry said as he hurried toward the door. The eligible hobbits followed him like a flock of migrating geese. Lavender found herself joining them. It would be amusing to claim a kiss of Diamond's Pippin.
But Diamond and Pippin were not in the hall storage closet, the linen cupboard, many of the narrow service passageways, or concealed within the larger trunks lining certain of the hallways.
Nor were they within their apartments. Bright green ribbon and flowers still encircled the round door. If the couple were within, the first thing they would do would be to remove the ribbon and flowers and lock the door securely behind them. Reassured by the sight of the door, most of the pursuers decided to backtrack or to concede defeat and return to the feast. Soon only Merry, Estella, Folco, Fredregar and Lavender were left standing outside the bridal apartments.
Folco gently pushed at the door. It moved a little. "The door isn't locked."
Merry shook his head. "They must be somewhere."
"Merry," Lavender laughed. "This is Pippin's family home. Surely he knows more hiding places than even you are aware of."
"She's right," Estella said smartly. "It's just like Pip to have some special place he never told us about."
"Remember the time we placed hide-and-seek and we had to give up on finding Pippin?" Fredregar reminded them, a fond glint in his eye. "We never did learn where he'd hidden himself."
"Yes," Merry said softly. "We were having tea when he bounded in, upset that we'd stopped playing without finding him. Frodo finally convinced him that he'd outfoxed us. He preened for days."
The other hobbits grew quiet at the mention of Frodo Baggins. Lavender knew him only by reputation but she felt the deep love and respect the others had for him, it was as tangible as the oak floorboards under her feet.
"He's still here in our memories," Fredregar said, echoing the old belief that so long as a hobbit was remembered they were not entirely gone from this world. "Perhaps, in other ways too."
"I'm going to wait here," Merry said after a few seconds of comfortable silence. "They have to enter the apartments somehow."
"I'll wait with you," Folco offered. Estella echoed him a moment later, her eyes more on Merry than the corridors from which Pippin and Diamond could emerge. Though Merry failed to notice her interest, Fredregar did not. He smiled at Estella.
Fredregar shook his head. "I'm willing to concede victory to Cousin Pippin. I feel a need for some air; would you care to join me, Lavender?"
Lavender smiled and accepted his arm.
The landscape of the Westfarthing tended toward gently rolling hills, not the rockier terrain of the Northfarthing where Lavender and Diamond's family lived. With the sun beginning to dip below the horizon and crimson splashed across the sky, there was a softer edge to the light that allowed display of the flowers at their best.
Lavender could see why her brother so loved the area. The last time she had been here was to visit his grave, and everything seemed draped in a haze of pain that tainted her memories of the area.
"I've heard the gardens here are some of the finest in the shire," Lavender said as she admired the varied hues of the roses. She realized that the Tooks must employ an extensive ground staff, unlike her own family hole where her mother tended the herb and vegetable beds first and the ornamental plants with what spare time she could snatch.
"Bag End and my own dwelling in Scary are its only rivals," Fredregar said. It was not a boast, but a matter-of-fact statement.
Lavender was about to reply when she heard a rustling from the bushes. Fredregar raised a finger to his lips, then moved toward the hedge and fished a hand inside. He pulled out a laughing Peregrin Took by the collar of his fine tunic. A mirthful Diamond followed a moment latter, bits of twigs and leaves in her curls.
"Aren't you supposed two be celebrating your wedding night?" Fredregar asked the pair, taking the manner of a parent scolding a pair of truants.
"We knew Merry and Folco would try an ambush outside our apartments," Pippin answered, blushing furiously and not meeting his cousin's gaze.
"So you decided to try the hedge..."
"No," corrected Diamond as she tried to dislodge the shrubbery from her person. She indicated the window to the bridal suite with her chin. As Lavender looked closely, she noticed the window was slightly ajar. "The window."
"Our exit strategy," explained Pippin. "No one would expect us to go outside to get in."
"I see," Fredregar continued. Lavender could see that his mock-serious look was becoming strained as he fought back laughter.
"We didn't want to get 'caught'," Diamond protested. "It is undignified."
"And sneaking through the hedge is appropriate to your age and station?" Lavender asked dryly.
"We hid under the table first," Pippin pointed out. "A hedge is somewhat more dignified after that."
"Under the table..." Lavender remembered Merry looking under the table. "But Merry..."
"We were covered by my elf-cloak," Pippin explained. "It worked for Sam and Frodo in Mordor."
Pippin's comment was nonsensical to Lavender, but it must have made some variety of sense to Fredregar because he nodded in understanding.
"Well you are 'caught' now," Fredregar grinned mischievously. "I mean to collect a kiss your lovely bride, and Pippin, I believe you owe Miss Lavender a kiss."
To Pippin's annoyance, Fredregar insisted on giving Diamond a very long and through kiss. When at last it ended, Pippin stepped toward Lavender to pay his forfeit. To Lavender's delight, she caught a flash of jealousy on Fredregar's face.
She decided that Pippin was a good kisser, though Lavender wondered how Diamond could kiss him very often. He was so tall it would be easy to get neck strain.
With a last smile, the newlyweds made for the window and the sanctuary of their apartments. They might have been 'caught' but at least it was not by Merry or Folco.
Back in the hall, the party had picked up again and Merry and Estella were already well into the sweet wedding ale and discussing the bridal couple's disappearing act.
"Pippin just opened the door and pulled off the ribbon..." Estella shook her head. "Maybe they were hiding in their apartments all along, Pip's idea of a joke."
"But Uncle Paladin swears they were just hiding under the table. I checked under the table." Merry said, shaking his head as he finished off a pint. "I'd almost swear he used a ring."
"It was a cloak, actually," corrected Fredregar as he handed Lavender a mug of ale before pouring one for himself.
"A magic cloak?" a skeptical Folco querried.
"An elf cloak," explained Fredregar, shooting Merry an amused look. "Rather like yours, I believe."
"But," sputtered Merry, "that was to 'shield him from unfriendly eyes'."
"You're thoughts were rather unfriendly cousin," Fredregar quipped.
"No," corrected Lavender. "They were all too friendly."
They all shared a laugh at that.
"I never expected to be bested in this game by Pippin," Merry said. "A toast – to the new Mr. and Mrs. Took."
"A toast!" the others echoed as they raised their mugs.
As she drank, Lavender was certain that Pippin and Diamonds good fortune- and her own - had only just begun.
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