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PART II: 1 ASTRON S.R. 1423
“Come along, now Sam! Pippin will never forgive us if we are late for his party.”
“I just want to make sure everything is locked up tight, Mr. Fro--” he stopped at a look from his friend. “Sorry, Frodo.”
“I don’t know why we still bother, as there are no more Sackville-Baggins left to plague us.” Frodo grinned and handed the tiny babe in his arms up into the carriage to his mother, Rose. “And do remember that I only allowed you to name this lad after me on the condition that you stopped calling me ‘Mister’.”
Sam took his place in the driver’s seat, as Frodo clambered in. As soon as he was seated, little Elanor scooted into her ‘uncle’s’ lap, and Sam shook the reins. Frodo had insisted on purchasing the carriage and ponies when he had discovered Sam and Rose were expecting their second child. He had intended to hire a hobbit to drive it as well, but Sam had put his hairy foot down at that notion.
“No one but me going to be driving that, or we’ll not ride in it.” And that was the end of that, though Frodo secretly thought getting the carriage itself enough of a victory.
“It’s a good thing they got this new road to Tuckborough finished, else we’d not be taking this carriage at all.”
Frodo nodded. He and Paladin had shared most of the cost of building the new road. But money was the least of it. It was worth it to have the Shire thriving again.
When he and the others had returned, they had been appalled to find the Shire overrun with Big Folk, ruffians brought in by Lotho to do his bidding and intimidate the Shirefolk. Merry and Pippin had immediately put their experience to work to the end of driving them out, and then they had headed for Bag End to deal with their self-styled “Chief” Lotho.
But a number of the villains had made their way to Bag End first. They had taken their anger out on the one who had brought them there in the first place. Lotho had been brutally beaten to death in Bag End’s front garden. Lobelia, witnessing the murder of her son, had suffered apoplexy from the shock of it, and did not long survive.
As they were the last of the family, everything, including Bag End, reverted back to Frodo. He found that the S.-B.’s holdings, in combination with his Baggins and Brandybuck inheritances, and the rewards that the Kings in the South had insisted on his taking, that he was probably the wealthiest hobbit to ever inhabit the Shire. It did not take him long to realize that he could put all that to good use, repairing a lot of the damage that Lotho’s bullies had caused. It had been only a couple of weeks afterwards, that a delegation representing the leading families of the Shire had approached him. Old Will Whitfoot’s health and confidence had suffered serious blows due to Lotho’s machinations, and he wished to resign as Mayor. They hoped Frodo would take on the job.
He had at first planned to turn it down, wanting only to get back to his old quiet life, but they were insistent. He took the post on the condition that they allow him to appoint Sam as his Deputy Mayor, and though some of them were a bit taken aback, they were so desperate for him to take it on that they acquiesced. Frodo’s plan was to keep the job until Old Flourdumpling’s term would have been up; by then, they would be glad to let Sam assume the responsibility. And in the meanwhile, it gave him the chance to bring some much needed improvements to the Shire. Such as the Bywater-Tuckborough road.
Sam had also gone to work, putting the gift of the Lady Galadriel to good use. “But you know, Mr. Frodo, somehow I expected all this to be much worse, if you know what I mean, after that look in the Lady’s mirror.”
Frodo had smiled at him. They were planting the seed of the mallorn near the Three Farthing Stone at the time. “I know, Sam, you told me--cutting down the Party Tree, and Bagshot Row dug up; but I think everything turned out much better than the Wise expected it to. They thought the Three Elven Rings would lose their power as well, and they were wrong.”
“Well, I can’t say as I’m sorry they was wrong. It’s good that the Elves don’t have to leave, and can even come back now if they want to.”
“Yes, Sam. That was a blessing unlooked for, and all the more precious for being unexpected.”
He looked up at Sam now, as they came near the young Tree. It looked as though it had grown for a decade, and not merely four years. “Well, Sam, are you pleased with your Tree?”
Sam looked over at it, and a broad grin appeared. “I don’t know as I’d call it *my* tree, but I think it’s doing right nicely, for all that it’s growing all alone.” But Frodo grinned back. Everyone in the Shire except Sam called it “Sam’s Tree”.
They rode along in silence for a while longer, when they suddenly heard the sound of hooves coming up behind them--not pony hooves either.
“Frodo Baggins, are you going to take up the entire road with this carriage?” said a gruff familiar voice.
“Gandalf!” The White Wizard rode up alongside the carriage. He was mounted on Shadowfax, and leading a packhorse. Another horse rode up on the other side. “Legolas and Gimli!”
“You did not think we would miss Pippin’s Coming of Age Party, did you, young hobbit?” said the Dwarf. Legolas laughed, that musical Elven laugh that lifted the spirit.
“How do you do, Mistress Rose?” the Elf asked.
Rose dimpled prettily at him. The Elf was always so mannerly and courtly to her. Elanor awakened from her nap in Uncle Frodo’s lap, and gave a crow of joy to see the newcomers. She was lifted out to ride before Gandalf on Shadowfax, and all were glad to admire little Frodo-lad, who was only a few weeks old.
“And how are you doing, Frodo?” asked the Wizard.
“I’m doing disgracefully well, Gandalf. I was ill for a day on the thirteenth of Rethe, as usual, and it happens in Winterfilth as well. But the melancholy has been gone ever since we took Bilbo to Tol Eressëa. I have never felt better in my life than when we returned from that voyage last year. When do you think that Elrond will return?”
“I do not know, Frodo. I do know that when he can persuade Celebrian to come with him, he shall return, if only to see their daughter once more.”
“And how are Aragorn and Arwen?” he asked.
“Doing very well. Gondor thrives, thanks to the efforts of Galadriel and Elladan--” for Elrond had entrusted Vilya to his son’s care before he left Middle-earth. “even the Black Land is slowly beginning to come forth from its devastation. They are, of course, impatient to start a family, and get an heir to the throne.”
“I should like to pay them a visit someday.”
“They would like that.”
Frodo glanced at the wizard. “Your beard is going to get dreadfully tangled.” For little Elanor was amusing herself by tangling her fingers in it.
“That’s why I have it, Frodo. For little hobbits to play with!”
They arrived at the Great Smials before luncheon. To their left, they could see the assembly field being transformed with pavilions and tables and a large bandstand. There were banners and pennons flying everywhere, and large firepits, for cooking and for sitting around later, were being prepared.
As they pulled up, stable hobbits came up to see to the carriage ponies. They knew better than to try and deal with the horses, Shadowfax in particular.
As Frodo exited the carriage, and Sam handed Rose out, they were quickly joined by the byrding, as Pippin came running up.
“Frodo!” cried Pippin, gathering his older cousin up in a crushing hug, as though he had not seen him in months instead of just a couple of weeks.
“Oi, Pip! Put me down, for pity’s sake!” Frodo laughed. “Where’s Merry?”
“Merry’s right here!” said his Brandybuck cousin, coming up and leading his wife by the hand. Estella was blooming, the future heir to Buckland growing beneath her heart. She broke away to embrace Rose, and Merry greeted Frodo and Sam.
Pippin had turned to Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli. “I’m so glad you came! We’ve finally finished the new wing, so you should all be quite comfortable this time!”
For Pippin had persuaded his father to build on a new wing to the Smials with guest quarters for Big Folk. Since his son offered to finance the renovations out of his stipend as a Knight of Gondor, Paladin had agreed, and a set of magnificent apartments proportioned to Man size, and modeled after the rooms of Minas Tirith had been added. Pippin fervently hoped that one day he would be able to prevail on the King and Queen, and perhaps Faramir and Éowyn, to pay a visit to the Shire. He wanted to have appropriate accommodations.
Gandalf smiled. “I am sure that we will be most contented, Peregrin.”
Pippin gave a little bounce. “I’m sure you will too! Now, did you bring fireworks?”
“Of course I did, Peregrin Took. Don’t be a fool!” he said gruffly. But his eyes twinkled merrily as he said it, and Pippin laughed and turned to Legolas and Gimli, who were receiving hugs from Merry. He went to join in, grabbing Gimli first, with much pounding on the broad back. Then he attached himself to Legolas.
“It’s so good to see you!” The young Took was fairly vibrating with excitement.
“I am glad to see that so weighty a thing as a Coming of Age has not dampened your enthusiasm, Pippin,” laughed Legolas, as he recovered from the fierce squeeze.
“Oh, well, it’s just another birthday, isn’t it?” he said carelessly, but the pride beaming from his green eyes belied his tone. “Come up to the Smials and greet Father and Mother, and I will give you your birthday presents! By the way, you are not the only Big Folk here!” He gestured to a tall and lanky figure making its way toward them from among the pavilions.
“Menelcar!” cried Frodo. “How good to see you!” He was pleased to see once more the minstrel who had once come to the Shire, and nearly lured an underage Pippin away, all unknowingly. They had met again after the Quest in Minas Tirith.
All of them headed to the Smials, and Sam fell into step with Merry, while Rose followed along behind with Estella. “Well, Mr.--” he stopped and shook his head. “well, Merry, who else is here?”
“Oh nearly everyone in the Shire is bound to show sooner or later. My mum and da will be here a bit later in the day, and so will Fatty and Angelica Baggins-Bolger. Folco Boffin’s already here. Pip is trying to act like this is any other birthday, but I think if he gets any more puffed up he’ll burst his buttons! And he’s going to be greatly surprised later. You know that Men give gifts to the byrding instead of the other way ‘round, don’t you? On the day of the birthday, I mean.”
“Instead of sensibly ahead of time, like hobbits,” Sam nodded. “Seems a bit backwards to me, but they have different ways, after all.”
“Well, Aragorn and Éomer have sent quite a magnificent gift to Pip, and it will be presented later in the day.” Merry grinned. Pip was going to be *so* surprised!
Pippin led the way to the family sitting room, and Paladin and Eglantine greeted the newcomers, and Eglantine fussed over little Frodo-lad. Pippin, who had been full of excitement and enthusiasm suddenly went beet red, and diffident, as he passed out the gifts to those who had just arrived. He stood by the fireplace, and putting his arm against the mantle, he turned his back, while he waited for them to open their gifts. He was always worried whether people would like their gifts or not, especially when he had a number of them to give.
Both Gandalf and Gimli were the recipients of new pipes, each accompanied by new pouches and a small barrel of Old Toby; for Legolas, there was a finely tooled leather knife sheath, quiver and arm guards; Sam received a pocket watch, engraved with leaves and vines; Rose opened her locket, engraved with the same design--inside was a miniature of little Elanor.
Frodo was the last to open his gift, and his exclamation of joy made Pippin finally turn around. “Oh, Pippin, it’s wonderful!” It was a portrait of Bilbo and Frodo together. He crossed the room to give Pippin a hug, and Pippin breathed out a sigh of relief. Now everyone began to thank him and praise their gifts, and the byrding basked in their approval.
After the gifts had been passed out, Pippin showed everyone to their quarters. Frodo, Sam and Rose of course, knew where they were staying, for they had permanent guest rooms, but Pippin was eager to show off the new “Men’s” quarters.
The apartments were comfortably arranged, but in addition to the special Big furniture, there were also interspersed Hobbit-sized chairs and footstools, so the Hobbits could visit with their guests at their ease.
Then everyone trooped on back outside to the Party field, where a lavish luncheon was being served. Musicians were warming up their instruments on the bandstand, and the festivities had begun.
The afternoon had passed in a splendid haze of color and music and laughter. Pippin had darted about here and there, and all were pleased to have his cheerful attention. As the day drew on, Merry took Pippin and led him to the main pavilion.
“You have a surprise coming to you at any moment, cousin.”
“Why, I’m amazed Merry! You know it’s not proper to give me a gift after noon today!”
“Well, it would be, if the gift were from me! But you know that some of our friends have different customs. Look!” And he pointed to a rider, approaching and leading, not a pony, but a very small horse, outfitted in a magnificent saddle and harness, set with silver and gems! And the rider--
“Bergil!” Pippin exclaimed, rushing up to greet the lanky teenager, clad in the same Gondorian livery that Pippin himself wore. Bergil dismounted, and knelt down just in time to receive his friend’s embrace. After a brief moment of laughter and tears, he stood up and cleared his throat.
“Sir Peregrin Took, Guard of the Citadel and heir to the Thain of the Tooks, on behalf of His Majesty, Elessar, High King of Gondor and Arnor, and His Majesty, Éomer, King of Rohan, I present this gift of a horse of Rohan, with these silver mounted trappings especially made in Gondor, on the auspicious occasion of your majority.”
Merry stood behind his cousin with a grin so wide it nearly split his face.
“Her name is Bridd. I certainly hope that you do not mind a mare, but as they sent me a stallion for my wedding--well, Éomer thought that my Widfara and she might make some lovely foals.”
Pippin reached up and scratched her nose. She tossed her head and then bumped his hand for more attention. “She’s wonderful! And how long have you been keeping this secret from me?”
Merry laughed. “Bergil and I have been having a lovely visit in Buckland just about ever since you left two weeks ago to come here. But I had word last month from the last King‘s messenger that they were coming.”
Pippin aimed a swat at the back of his cousin’s head, but with an ease borne of long practice, Merry ducked it. Just then they heard the whistling sound of a rocket going up, and turned their faces to the twilit sky, just in time to see it burst into a shower of blue rain.
For nearly half an hour, they watched the sky fill with light and color, as Gandalf set off one piece after another. Finally there was a rising wave of green fire that burst out into the shape of a ship at its crest. Instead of bursting into sparks, it rose higher and higher, and then gathered itself into a ball of white light that shot up and over the horizon, falling finally into the west.
This was the signal for supper, and such a supper as it was had not been seen since Bilbo’s famous Birthday so many years before. The drink flowed like the Brandywine, and there was food in so much abundance that it actually looked at one point as if there might be leftovers--something almost unheard of in a Shire gathering.
Pippin sat at the head table, with his parents on his left, and Miss Diamond North-Took on his right. Merry, Frodo, and all his other dearest friends and relations were seated nearby. As the last of the desserts were served, he grew a bit nervous, for he would soon be expected to make a speech.
He fidgeted a bit, until his father gave him a nudge, and Merry reached around Diamond to give a reassuring squeeze of the shoulder, so he finally stood up and cleared his throat. He had gone quite red, but he was game.
“My dear friends and relations, from near and from far away, I am so glad that you have come to help me celebrate my Coming of Age!
I am not eloquent, and though I have been known to talk a lot, I am not much for speeches.
So instead of a speech, I would like to make a couple of toasts: to my parents, without whom I would not *have* a birthday of any sort--”
There was a good deal of laughter and cheering at this, and Paladin and Eglantine gave their son a gratified nod.
“And to my very dear cousin Frodo, without whom *none* of us would be here tonight!”
Frodo looked up at his cousin with a start. He had not expected this. Pippin looked down with a fond smile, and nodded. Frodo smiled back.
“And finally, to the Shire! The best place in Middle-earth!”
There was an outburst of cheers from every direction.
“Now, let’s have some music!”
There was much loud cheering at this, and an enthusiastic swarm of hobbits headed in the direction of the bandstand, where Menelcar already awaited.
“Gentle people!” the minstrel announced, “in the south, no gathering of any size goes by in this new age, without the recounting of this tale. I will give it to you in the abridged form, and in much humility at being in the actual presence of the one whom it honors: Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom!”
Sam stood behind Frodo, and excitedly said “Mr. Frodo! I never thought we’d ever hear it again!”
Frodo smiled, and did not reprove Sam for the ‘mister’ that had slipped out. When he had heard this at Cormallen, it had brought him little pleasure, for he was still feeling the effects of the Ring, and considered what had happened at Sammath Naur as a failure. But now he could appreciate it for the tribute that it was, and he prepared himself to enjoy it truly for the first time. For Lord Elrond had wrought his healing with the Elven Ring Vilya, and any lingering doubts and melancholy he had suffered had been washed away on the tide by his voyage West and back.
After Menelcar finished with the tale it was time for music of a more lively kind. Pippin spent as much time on the bandstand, playing and singing himself as he did dancing. It was not strictly speaking, proper for the host to be performing, but no one really minded, especially when Pippin and Menelcar sang together.
It was well after midnight, when Frodo felt weariness finally begin to claim him. Merry had long ago taken Estella to their quarters, for she tired more easily in her condition. Sam and Rose likewise had retired, taking the babies to tuck them in. He looked about at the other guests. Gandalf stood to one side, leaning on his staff and watching, an expression of gentle amusement on his face. Legolas and Gimli were deep in conversation with the Thain, and Bergil was talking with Esmeralda. He looked about for his young host, in the hopes of bidding him good night.
Pippin had put aside his fiddle some time ago to join in the dancing, but he did not see him.
“Are you looking for me?” he heard behind him.
Frodo turned. “Yes, I was. I am old, and cannot be staying up to greet the dawn any longer.”
Pippin put an arm around Frodo’s shoulder. “You are never old, cousin. I am so glad you are here tonight.”
“Where else would I be, dear, but here? You know I would never miss this occasion.”
Pippin gave a weak chuckle. “I know. But there was a time--do you know, when you left to see Bilbo off, I had the most horrible fear you would never return, that I would never see you again. Merry and I were never more relieved than we were to see you and Gandalf step off the returning ship.”
Frodo was surprised to see tears in Pippin’s eyes. He embraced him gently. “Oh, Pip! The Blessed Realm is beautiful, and I am so glad that Bilbo was able to go and live out the rest of his days among the Elves he loves, but it’s not the Shire, and it could never be home for me.”
Pippin hugged him back fiercely. “Well, I am glad of that. For the Shire would not be the same without you. Go on and get some rest. I have a party to see to.”
As Frodo walked back to the Smials, he looked up at the stars, and imagined Bilbo in the West doing the same.
Life was good. It didn’t get any better than this.
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