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Crown of Laurel  by Lyta Padfoot

"Crown of Laurel"
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.

       "Thank you!"

       "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."

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