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DEDICATION: This story is dedicated to Golden (Jana), without whom I never would have thought of writing it.
BETWEEN CHILDHOOD AND COMING OF AGE
Tweens: "...as hobbits called the irresponsible twenties between childhood and coming of age at thirty-three." FotR, Book 1, Chapter 1, "A Long Expected Party"
It had been several years since Frodo had been at Brandy Hall this time of year--the last time he had visited in early summer had been about fourteen years ago, when his impulsive visit proved to be quite lucky, as he had been able to help search for a lost Pippin. But he'd brought Pippin here himself, this time. Tomorrow he and several of the Brandybucks would be heading to Tuckborough and the Great Smials, to be there for the big Midsummer's celebration. And Saradoc had decided to throw a large party this evening as a sort of farewell. The Hall was full of hobbits, some of them taking advantage of a lull in the music to visit the refreshment tables. Others were taking advantage of the break in a different way.
Frodo watched with an indulgent smile as Merry led Cherry Goldworthy, with whom he had been dancing, out for a "breath of fresh air". Now that Merry had come of age, the lasses fluttered around him like bees to honey; it was clear he enjoyed the attention.
Pippin came to stand at Frodo's elbow, and the expression on his face was not indulgent; it was more wistful, than anything else. Pippin gave a dramatic sigh.
Amused, Frodo said "Yes, Pippin?"
"I suppose Merry's kissed a lot of lasses." He cast a side-long glance at Frodo.
Ah-ha! Frodo thought. Pippin's begun to notice the lasses. He suppressed a smile, and said indifferently, "I wouldn't know."
"You wouldn't *know*!" Pippin's tone was incredulous. "I thought Merry told you everything!"
"Not you?" parried Frodo. Merry and Pippin confided in one another far more these days than in him.
"Not if he thinks I'm too young to understand," Pippin said carelessly, "but I'm sure he's told *you*!"
"Well, you would be wrong. Merry is a gentlehobbit. A gentlehobbit does not kiss and tell." Frodo responded primly. He was still more amused than anything else, but this was an important lesson for Pippin to learn. Merry had, in fact, confided his first kiss to Frodo a few years back, but Frodo had carefully stopped him before he told who, even though Frodo had a good idea already.
Pippin snorted rather inelegantly. "I've heard the other fellows talking! The other day Merimas was telling us about Lil--" He suddenly stopped as Frodo gave him a light smack in the back of his head. "Oi! What was that for?"
"If Merimas was talking about a lass, then he was not behaving as a gentlehobbit. And you will not repeat what he said; most especially you will not repeat names!"
Pippin gave Frodo a scowl quite unlike his usual sunny expression, and then he shrugged and looked down at his toes. "How am I going to find out anything, if no one will talk to me?" he muttered.
Frodo chuckled, and shook his head. "You are asking the wrong questions, dear. Ask me, or ask Merry, how we get to know a lass, what we talk about, how we feel--but do not ask who, or how many. It's very rude. Think about it, Pippin--how would you like it if you heard a lad gossiping about what he'd done with one of your sisters?"
Pippin's head jerked up, and his green eyes flashed. "I'd smack him on the nose--even if he was bigger!"
"Well, there you have it." Frodo smiled in approval.
Pippin sighed again. "Lasses talk about lads all the time, though, Frodo. That's one thing I *do* know, having three sisters!"
Frodo chuckled. "Rules are different for lasses. That's just the way the world is, Pip."
Now Pippin finally grinned, "isn't that the truth! You wouldn't believe the things Vinca can get away with just because she's a lass!"
"I'm sure I wouldn't."
Pippin opened his mouth to say something else, when they were interrupted by Aunt Esme. "Pippin, do you want to play again? I believe it's time for us to start once more, before all the dancers wander off."
Pippin shot her a grin, and dashed off to get his fiddle. She watched him go for a moment, and then cast an eye about the room.
Frodo correctly interpreted her look. "I'm sure Merry will return when they hear the music begin."
She chuckled, shook her head, gave him a fond peck on the cheek, saying, "Why don't you find a partner?" before she went back to pick up her own fiddle.
As the music began, a stately pavane, Frodo went over to a cluster of older matrons, mostly widows and spinsters of a certain age.
"Aunt Delphinium, would you honour me?" he asked, extending his arm.
The elderly widow of Cousin Gorbulas gave him a delighted smile, as he escorted her into the line of the dance. But he looked over at the musicians, and saw that all of Pippin's previous moodiness was gone as he played his fiddle with the others. Now that Pippin had finally begun to notice the lasses, he was likely to turn more than a few heads, and probably break a few hearts.
Frodo thought he would have a word with Merry. Pippin wouldn't be heading into deep water without guidance.
A few hours later, he and Merry sat in the Son of the Hall's apartment sharing a brandy. Merry had only moved into these rooms a few months ago, after coming of age, but it in some ways it felt more homely than the Master's residence. Merry had mostly grown up in these quarters while his grandfather was Master and his own father was Son of the Hall, and this was also where Frodo had lived with them for many years.
Pippin was still with Esmeralda and the other musicians. Though the dancing had ended long before, they seemed reluctant to stop playing.
"Pip's going to be as cross as two sticks in the morning," said Merry. "But Mum so seldom gets a chance to play--" he shook his head, and smiled fondly. "I think she enjoyed having Menelcar here. She was as taken with him as Pippin was."
"Pippin's going to miss him. But I'm very glad that he decided not to run off and become a minstrel's apprentice!"
Merry shuddered at this reminder of that recently averted disaster. "Are you sure Uncle Paladin will be in a better mood when we bring Pippin back to Great Smials?"
Frodo nodded. "He understands a few things he didn't before. Besides, he'll soon have something else to worry about with Pippin!"
Merry sat forward. "What now?"
"Well, let's just say that Pippin has begun to realize that the gentler sex may be more appealing than annoying."
Merry and Frodo exchanged rueful glances. Both of them could remember their own adolescence very well, with all of the attending turmoil.
And Pippin was a Took.
"We shall just have to watch out for him, then," said Merry firmly.
A few days later, Pippin lay wide awake, back in his old room. The party from Buckland had taken the carriage and the long way to Tuckborough, since Uncle Saradoc and Aunt Esme were coming as well. They had stayed two days at Bag End, before heading on to the Great Smials.
He'd been dreading coming home. The last time he'd seen his father, Paladin had been furious with him. He knew that Frodo had written to Paladin, and he had as well, apologizing for his rash behaviour. But he was sure that his father would still be angry. It had been a surprise to find he was wrong. They'd had a long talk, and Pippin felt closer to his father tonight than he had since they'd all come to live at Great Smials.
" I understand now, son, why you said you didn't want to be Thain."
Pippin had turned a miserable face to his father. "It's just so dreadful to think that you will be dead!"
Paladin's eyes had filled, and he had blinked. "It may not be as bad as you think, Pippin. I may live as long as the Old Took! Or perhaps I shall decide to take a long holiday after you come of age--like Bilbo did!"
Pippin had laughed at that outlandish idea, and father and son had embraced, before Paladin had sent him off to his rest.
Now, as Pippin drifted off to sleep, he remembered how much fun he'd had with Menelcar, playing his fiddle in the inns. And he recalled how some of the lasses had watched him--he'd never had lasses notice him before.
He remembered one of the serving lasses at The Floating Log. After they had finished playing, and Pippin had settled at a table for a break, she had come over with a mug of ale--a *whole*, not a half, for him. He'd been startled, and when he met her eyes, he had been even more startled at her expression. She'd given him a smile that made him feel both delightful and very uncomfortable at the same time, and had leaned very close as she placed his ale on the table. Pippin had scarcely known where to put his eyes. But before they could have any conversation, Frodo had come along. He'd taken one look at Pippin's mug, and given him an expressive lift of the eyebrow.
Pippin had stammered out, "I think you made a mistake, Miss. I'm only supposed to have a half."
She looked very cross, took up his mug, and flounced off, and didn't return. A few minutes later the innkeeper himself had brought Pippin's half.
Frodo had said he was proud of him, and that had been nice. But now he couldn't help but imagine what might have happened if Frodo had not shown up when he did…
He woke up very early after pleasant but disturbingly vivid dreams.
He washed and dressed quickly, and made his own bed. He took a look at his nightshirt, and shoved it as far back under the bed as he could, before he left his room to go to first breakfast.
He remembered his dream, and his face flamed.
After second breakfast, as Frodo was busy talking with Paladin and Saradoc about the upcoming Lithe celebration, Merry and Pippin decided to take a ride.
Pippin saddled his mare, named Toffee for her golden-brown coat; Merry, who had not ridden his own pony from Buckland, decided to borrow a dapple-grey gelding named Toby. Merry watched Pippin; he'd been unaccountably quiet during breakfasts, and Merry was sure his younger cousin was trying to work up to talking about something important.
They mounted up, and rode down the lane in silence for a while, and then Pippin said, "Merry, I know that, well--I'm sure that you've kissed a lot of lasses--"
Frodo was right, thought Merry. Out loud he said, "Pippin, you know that--"
"I know! 'A gentlehobbit does not kiss and tell.' I don't want to know *who* you kissed--well," he blushed, "I rather do, but I don't expect you to tell me. But was it really nice? And how did you know it was right to kiss them?"
Merry smiled, but he carefully did not laugh. He recalled only too well how easily his own feelings were bruised by teasing when he had begun to notice lasses. "It's very nice." He grinned. "It's very, very nice indeed. Do you know how nice it is to find a really sweet ripe berry, and savour it on a hot summer day? Well, it's nicer than that." He grinned again.
Pippin's green eyes grew wide. "Oh." He bit his lip, and looked over at Merry again. "And how did you know she wouldn't mind?"
Merry did laugh this time. "Well, my first kiss was a surprise to both of us. We were walking along and talking, and we stopped by the river--and the next thing I knew, I'd kissed her. I jumped back and apologised all over the place to her, but she smiled and said she didn't mind. And the second lass I kissed, I misjudged badly, and got my face slapped roundly!"
Pippin looked alarmed. "Merry!" His shock was almost comic. "I don't suppose I'd ever dare to kiss a lass again if that happened to me!"
"I learned a lesson. Just because a lass agrees to take a walk with you, or even to hold your hand does not mean she wants you to kiss her! And for a while after that happened, I was afraid to be around lasses alone--but then I had a talk with Da, who'd noticed my sudden reluctance, and he gave me a few pointers." He grinned. "And now that I'm of age, I don't get quite so many opportunities. The lasses who want to be with me now have very alert mothers and fathers and brothers who watch carefully. Older lasses are looking to get married, and not just share a few stolen kisses."
Pippin nodded. He remembered Pearl's wedding last year. His parents had watched her and Falco Bolger like hawks until after the wedding. And now Pimmie was betrothed to Milo Goodbody--but that particular courtship had been understood from the beginning--there had never been anyone else for either of them.
Merry watched Pippin thinking for a moment, his usually cheerful face solemn. He shook his head. It wouldn't do for Pip to be brooding over this. "Pip! Let's race!" and he leaned forward and kicked Toby into a gallop. He flew down the road, and laughed as he heard Pippin give a yell, and then hurtle after him.
The next day was Midsummer's Day, and the Sun showed her face early and bright. The large assembly field across the lane from the Great Smials had bloomed with pavilions and cookfires. It was a riot of colour, and the air was redolent of all sorts of wonderful things.
There would be music and games and dancing and, of course, feasting, all through the day. Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Fatty Bolger headed to the pastry tent to make a first breakfast of tea and all sorts of lovely baked goods.
"What has everyone planned for the day?" asked Fatty, as he bit into his third strawberry scone. "The only thing I must do is meet a couple of sheep farmers from Tookbank on a bit of business for my father after luncheon."
Frodo leaned forward to sip his tea. "I'm to officiate at the flower exhibits. I'm eternally grateful that the Gamgees always enter in the fair at Michel Delving. Otherwise, I'd be accused of bias."
Fatty laughed. "I'm surprised anyone still bothers to compete against them. Sam has won the blue ribbon for roses how many years in a row?"
Frodo grinned proudly. "He entered for the first time six years ago. He's won the last five. And he only lost that first year to his Gaffer, who no longer competes in the flower division. He puts all his efforts into growing the biggest turnips now!"
There was laughter among the friends, and then Merry said, "I don't have anything special that I must do! It's lovely being a Brandybuck in Tookland, and having no responsibilities." He picked up a cheese tart, and bit into it with a smug expression.
"You are a rogue, Merry! You hid from Paladin all day yesterday--he'd planned to ask you to judge the prettiest baby contest. Poor Cousin Reggie got landed with that job!" Frodo shook his head in mock disapproval.
"I've more sense than to allow myself to be roped into that! Why, every mother of every baby that loses would be after my blood!" Merry turned to Pippin. "And what do you have planned, Pip?"
"Well, I'll be marching with the pipers to open the celebration right after second breakfast. And I'll be playing my fiddle for the dancing during the time between tea and supper. But I'm free the rest of the day." He glanced around the tent, and his eye was arrested by the sight of a group of giggling lasses, huddled about another table--his sister Pervinca and her friends. "Who's the lass in the green frock?" he asked, his eyes wide.
Frodo and Merry exchanged an amused look. Fatty said, "That's Holly Boffin. She's Folco's third cousin on his father's side."
"And she's my fifth cousin on her mother's side, through Old Deepdelver's son Marroc," said Merry. "She and her family used to live at Brandy Hall, but they all moved away to the Yale several years ago."
"Oh." Pippin vaguely remembered a little lass named Holly, who had once played with his sister on visits to Brandy Hall. But if she was the same age as Pervinca, then--well, that meant she was five years older than he was.
He stared. She had long dark brown curls, held away from her forehead by a green ribbon, and her laugh was merry and musical. He gave a dramatic sigh. She'd likely never notice him, and if she did, Vinca would tease him mercilessly.
But just then he heard a call from the front of the tent. "Peregrin Took! We need you!"
Pippin jumped up. "That's Cousin Ferdinand! We've got to practice that march! I'll see you later!" He dashed off, nearly stumbling over his own feet as he turned his head for one more look at the lass in the green frock.
Frodo, Merry and Fatty met one another's eyes, and then burst into laughter.
Since none of the three had anywhere urgent to be before elevenses, they walked about the party field together for a while, and had a second breakfast from a vendor selling sausage rolls and ale, and then headed up to the lane, to watch the pipers marching, as they escorted the Thain to open the celebration.
There were eight of them, led by Cousin Ferdinand, and Pippin was in the last pair, marching next to Lott Brockhouse. The sound of the skirling pipes was stirring, and many of the hobbits who were watching were clapping along to the beat of the music.
Pippin was doing very well, until they passed the group of Pervinca and her friends. He unaccountably stumbled, and blushed red as a beetroot, but he didn't miss a single note.
Merry bit his lip, and looked at Frodo. "He's got a bad case, doesn't he?"
Frodo chuckled. "Time will cure it. It did for you." Then he ducked the swat Merry aimed at the back of his head with a grin.
Pippin tossed and turned. He sat up and punched his pillow. He turned it over, and flopped back down with a sigh. What had gone wrong? It had been a fairly good day--well, except for his misstep during the march. He and Merry had amused themselves all day, listening to music, joining in the games--he'd come in third in the archery competition, behind Ferdibrand and Pippin's brother-in-law, Falco Bolger, who were both excellent archers, and Merry had taken part in the wrestling, and bested everyone he had come against except for Sparrow Tunnelly, who was the West Farthing Champion. Frodo had joined them after he had finished judging the roses, and they had all three taken tea together. From time to time, Pippin had caught a glimpse of the lass in the green frock, Holly Boffin, and every time he saw her, his breath caught in his throat.
After tea, he'd taken his fiddle up to the bandstand, and joined the other musicians in playing for the dancing. As much as he enjoyed playing his feet itched to dance--and not just the circle dances. Up till now, he'd only ever danced couple dances with one or another of his sisters, or perhaps his mother or an auntie. But he could envision himself partnering Holly through Candles, or Exchanges, maybe.
Perhaps, he had thought daringly, after supper, he might ask her to dance with him? There would be other musicians playing for the rest of the night…
But when it came down to it, he could not get up the nerve. He had nervously approached the group of lasses, but they had started to giggle, and he quickly abandoned the idea, and pretended he was headed elsewhere.
"Why didn't you ask her?" hissed Merry, as Pippin returned to his cousin's side, where he more or less felt safe.
Pippin blushed and shook his head. "There are so many of them! Why do lasses always stay together like that? And what is so funny, that they have to giggle all the time?" he said crossly.
Merry had shaken his head. "I don't really know, Pippin! It's just one of those mysteries about lasses! But you are going to have to get used to the idea of asking her in front of the others, because they always do that."
"Do what?" asked Frodo, as he approached with an ale for both himself and Merry, and punch for Pippin.
"Stand around together, like a gaggle of geese!" said Pippin, scowling.
Frodo shook his head. "I don't think any hobbit has ever figured that one out, Pip!"
"I have an idea, Pippin," Merry said brightly. "I'll ask her to dance during Exchanges, and then you can cut in on me!"
Pippin grinned. "I can do that!" He loved "poaching" partners during that dance--it was customary, and made the otherwise stately and sedate dance into a game.
The band began to play Circle of Joy, and Pippin and Merry waited it out, though Frodo went to join one of the circles. It was his favourite dance. "I think," said Pippin, "that Exchanges will come after this!"
Merry nodded. As soon as the circle dance ended, and Exchanges was announced, Merry had approached Holly and asked her for a dance; Pippin had watched nervously, afraid she might not accept, but soon he saw Merry lead her into the line of dancers. He saw Frodo, partnering Aunt Esme, and his father had led his mother to the head of the double line. The music began.
Pippin moved closer, as did a number of other unpartnered hobbits. By tradition, four measures would be played before the "poachers" could move in.
He kept his eye on Merry, who was dancing with his usual skill. As the third measure ended and the fourth began, Merry looked at him, and tipped him a wink. Pippin took a deep breath, and as the two dancers separated briefly, he moved in and Merry moved out.
There he was--he was next to her, and now she placed her hand on his for the next measure, and he could hardly breathe, much less remember what his next move was! Fortunately, his feet remembered what his head could not, though he was about a half-beat slow. He hurried the next step to get back in time, and then, as they broke apart to move around the other couple in their set, he felt a hard shove to his shoulder. He stumbled away, nearly falling, to see that Sancho Proudfoot, of all people, had cut him out! And before he'd even had a chance to *speak* to her! Angry, he positioned himself to cut in again, as soon as the chance came.
But he had misjudged, and as he took what he thought was his moment to move in, Cousin Hildibold did the same, and somehow Pippin realized that not only had he *not* cut Sancho out, somehow he and Cousin Hildibold were now partnered--and even more humiliating, Pippin was on the lasses' side of the line! His face flamed red, and as soon as he could, he stalked away.
He could hear several lasses laughing at him, and some lads as well. Without stopping to talk to Merry *or* Frodo, who both looked as though they wanted to commiserate with him, he stomped back up to the Smials, and went to his room. Since *everyone* was still out celebrating, he slammed his door with a satisfying bang, and took himself to bed.
Holly was probably laughing at him right now, he thought angrily. He began to imagine how differently it might have gone, if only Sancho had minded his own business.
And his imaginings were very nice indeed…
The next morning, he stuffed that nightshirt under the bed with the other one…
A couple of days later, in the Thain's private dining room a lovely second breakfast was being served. Paladin looked across the table at his shrunken family. Only Eglantine, Pippin and Pervinca were at breakfast today. The Brandybucks and Frodo Baggins had departed immediately after first breakfast; Pearl and her husband had returned to their own home north of Tookbank; and Pimpernel had gone with her betrothed and her future in-laws for a month's visit.
Paladin had noted the number of suitors Pervinca was attracting as well. Soon enough she would also be leaving. At least Pippin had a good many more years before he came of age. He was glad that the two of them had worked out a few of their problems. Pippin had lost that sullenness that had marked him earlier in the year, though he remained somewhat moody, often going unexpectedly quiet. His son was blushing a lot, as well. Paladin chuckled to himself--both Frodo and Merry had warned him that Pippin had begun to take note of the lasses, but he could not miss the signs himself. Poor lad, that was a very awkward stage of life.
Right now, Pippin was seemingly focussing all his attention on his plate, and making short work of it. Pervinca was talking to her mother about some of her friends, and it was evident to Paladin that though he was affecting disinterest, his son's ears were twitching in his sister's direction.
Just then, Eglantine spoke up. "Peregrin, it's very thoughtful of you to make your own bed for the last few days, but Mistress Appleblossom tells me that Daisy has been unable to collect your linens for the wash."
Pippin looked up, his eyes widened, and he blushed. "Uh--I'm sorry, Mother. I'll see to it tomorrow? Uh--I told Auntie Peridot I'd come see her this morning. Excuse me!" He jumped up from his seat, and left as quickly as he could, short of actually running.
Eglantine watched her son's departure, perplexed.
Pervinca laughed. "Lads are so strange!" she giggled. "I hope he's not up to something!"
Paladin had a good idea of what the problem was. Of course he did. He'd have a word with Pippin this afternoon.
It was Trewsday. Pippin had sums with Cousin Fortinbrand on Trewsday between elevenses and luncheon. After luncheon, his father went to his room. Pippin should be studying, but his father could hear him sawing away on his fiddle as he approached the door. He rapped on it smartly.
"Come in," said Pippin. He sat up, alarmed, when he saw it was his father.
Paladin shook his head, and smiled, to let his son know he was not in trouble. They had only just managed to settle things between them since Pippin's return from Buckland, and he knew the lad was still apprehensive.
He went over and sat on the bed next to his son. "Pippin, is there a particular reason you've been making your bed? And avoiding allowing the maidservants to see to your laundry?"
Pippin's green eyes nearly startled out of his head, and his face flamed to the tips of his ears. "Father, I--" He stopped, and bit his lip. "I--I've been having these dreams, and, and--"
Paladin shook his head. "Say no more, son! I do understand--I was a tween myself once, though you might not believe it to look at me now. Would it help if I asked Mistress Appleblossom to send Timmon to pick up your laundry instead of Daisy? We lads should stick together."
Pippin gave his father a look of dawning hope, and then hugged him as he had not since he was much smaller. "It *would* be a little less embarrassing, Father." He drew back. "I never knew thinking about lasses could be so--erm, *uncomfortable*!" He swallowed.
"Yes, it can be quite a problem, son. Especially at your age, when it sometimes may seem that anything at all might make you think of them!"
"You *do* understand!"
"Well, I will tell you what my own father told me: 'Exercise and cold water work wonders when the mind wanders.' I did find it helpful."
"Exercise? Cold water?"
"He would give me extra chores, and I would work up quite a sweat! Which I would then follow with a cold bath."
"I could do chores again!" said Pippin eagerly. "I rather miss the chores I used to do…"
Paladin shook his head. "It wouldn't do to have the gossips thinking that I am punishing you, Pippin! However…" He stopped and thought a moment. "However, I could speak to Cousin Ferdibrand about giving you some extra archery instruction--you are quite good, I think you could do even better. And perhaps you can see to helping in exercising the ponies more. And I could tell Cousin Archibold that I want you to learn more about stable management--from the ground up." He looked at Pippin to see how this would be received, and was relieved to be met by a bright grin. His lad had never been afraid of hard work, so long as it was not boring. "But don't forget the cold water part," he chuckled. "And you should be too tired most nights for those sorts of dreams--but they never go away completely once they've begun, my lad!"
Pippin looked thoroughly alarmed. "Never?"
"Never. But once you are grown up and married, they are not a problem!" He grinned himself at this statement.
Pippin blushed even redder than before. "Father!" he exclaimed, shocked and embarrassed at his father's implications. He knew his parents were fond of one another--but--no! He didn't want to think of *that*!
Paladin chuckled, and tousling his son's curls, he left. He was unsurprised to hear the fiddle begin again as the door closed behind him--a much livelier tune this time!
Pippin found his father's advice helped to a certain extent. He certainly enjoyed getting outside more, and both his riding and his archery improved immensely.
The stable lads were surprised at the enthusiasm Master Pippin threw into his hours there--learning from his cousin about ponies, but also spending plenty of time on the more onerous chores of mucking out, or feeding or grooming the ponies. At first there had been speculation that Master Pip was being punished, but Pippin's cheerful attitude made that unlikely.
And as for the "cold water" part of his father's prescription, there was a perfectly lovely and very cold brook which ran back of the Smials, and Pippin found a chance to go swimming after a hot afternoon much more enticing than the thought of plunging himself into a tub of cold water.
The embarrassing dreams did not go away--and Pippin had to admit to himself that he didn't *really* want them to, for they were more than a little pleasant in many ways--but they did get a bit less frequent. And since Timmon was collecting his laundry, it was not nearly so embarrassing in the mornings.
Frodo had decided to have a somewhat larger party for his forty-seventh birthday than he had been having in recent years. Nothing, of course, like Uncle Bilbo's still-famous eleventy-first, but more guests than he'd been accustomed to asking in the last few years. He invited sixty friends and relatives all told, and was unsurprised to have sixty-six accepting invitations--the extras being guests of his guests, of course, and more than welcome.
"Mr. Frodo?" Frodo glanced over his shoulder at the kitchen door where Sam had just come in. "Mistress Lily just delivered the cake. Do you want it down at the Party Field?"
"Yes, thank you, Sam." He turned his attention to wiping the bottles of Old Winyards he had brought up from the wine cellar. Several casks of The Green Dragon's best brown beer had already been delivered earlier in the day.
He glanced out the window to the field, where Merry was supervising the setting up of tables. Pippin and his family should be arriving very soon--ah! There was the Thain's coach coming up the lane now!
He went out to greet the new arrivals. It was still early--before elevenses--and the party was not supposed to actually begin until luncheon, but Frodo was very glad to see them all, especially Pippin.
"My word, Pip!" he said, as he gave him a quick embrace in greeting. "I do believe you've actually grown some since Midsummer! You *did* bring your fiddle, didn't you?"
"Of course, Frodo! I couldn't miss playing for your party!" He glanced around. "Who's coming?" he asked, not quite meeting Frodo's eyes. "Are there going to be many lasses?"
Frodo chuckled. "Indeed, I do hope that there will be a few lasses."
"Oh." Pippin turned just as Merry came up to meet him, and Frodo shook his head, smiling at his young cousin, who only a few months ago thought that lasses were an unnecessary annoyance.
After luncheon the guests began to arrive in earnest, and Frodo greeted each with a gift. He had already given his gifts earlier to his closest friends and family. Merry was more than pleased with the book of maps, bound in blue leather, that Frodo had commissioned for him--each of the Four Farthings, Buckland and the Breelands in great detail. And Pippin was thrilled with the one in green leather containing copies of Bilbo's songs--many of which he had helped Menelcar to copy out earlier in the year.
Finally persuaded to put his new book aside by his father, Merry came over to Frodo as he handed out more gifts to some of the new arrivals. "Frodo, did you invite the Boffin lass?"
Frodo nodded. "They arrived a short while ago. Pippin is busy rehearsing with the other musicians right now, though, and hasn't noticed yet. But remember, you promised me not to interfere--let Pippin work up his own nerve to speak to her, now that she's here."
"The only thing I will do is try to keep Sancho out of the way. *He's* the one who interfered the last time." Merry sounded cross. He had not forgiven the young Proudfoot for cutting Pippin out at the Lithe dancing when Merry had gone to such trouble to set Pippin up with Holly Boffin.
"I've got an idea about that." Frodo arched an eyebrow, and there was a distinctly mischievous twinkle in the blue eyes.
"Frodo! What?" Merry grinned--Frodo could be quite wicked when he set his mind to it.
"After supper, I shall ask him to go down to the cellar to please fetch up another cask of ale."
"Frodo Baggins! He's never given up his idea that there is treasure buried down there--he'll be digging holes in your walls!"
"I know. I very carefully loosened one of the stones on the south side, and put a bit of fresh whitewash around it, and left a pick against the wall there. He should spend several hours digging right in the spot where I was planning on enlarging the cellar anyway!"
Merry's jaw dropped. Then he gave a quickly suppressed bark of laughter, before he glanced around to see if anyone noticed. He put a hand over his own mouth, and his face turned red. When he finally could speak, he shook his head. "Frodo, every time I think you have turned into a staid old Baggins, you prove me wrong. That is absolutely priceless--I wish I could see his face when he finally realizes there's nothing there!"
Frodo elbowed him into silence as some new guests arrived. "Hullo, Mrs. Bunce! I'm so glad you could come! Here's a little token of the occasion…"
Pippin had been enjoying the party immensely. He'd played his fiddle, and he'd had plenty of food, and his favourite cousins were there. And he'd spotted Holly Boffin. She had come with several other Boffins, including Folco, who was up on the bandstand with Pippin, playing his flute.
Pippin turned to his Aunt Esmeralda. "I thought maybe I'd dance for a while, too, if you don't mind, Aunt Esme."
"You go right ahead, Pippin! But I'm afraid we have finished most of the livelier dances for the evening. "
"That's all right," he said, kissing her cheek, before putting away his fiddle and hopping off the bandstand.
His heart was pounding and his palms were sweating as he approached the group of lasses. Holly was wearing a white frock this time, though she had a green ribbon in her hair, and she was busy laughing at some joke Estella Bolger had just told. Pervinca looked surprised as Pippin approached. He swallowed and gave his sister a pleading look, and she refrained from teasing him.
Holly smiled at him.
"Would you honour me with a dance? They are going to play the Cherry-blossom Pavane?"
She favoured him with a smile that made his breath catch. "I will, Master Took," she answered, placing her hand on his arm.
Pippin somehow managed to get them into the line of the dance without stumbling. Now, he thought, if only I don't disgrace myself. But once the music began, his feet easily remembered the simple steps. Merry had advised him to choose this dance, as it was very simple and hard to forget, and slow enough to allow them time to talk.
Step. Step. Step. Pause. "Thank you for dancing with me, Miss Boffin."
Step up, step back. "You're welcome, Master Took. Please call me Holly."
Yes! Step apart, step together. Back. Back. Back. He grinned at her--"I will, if you'll call me Pippin."
"Of course, Pippin." Step. Step. Step. She smiled at him again.
Time to drop hands and back away, step, step, step, step, then forward. As they slowly passed shoulder to shoulder, Holly said "Pervinca told me that you liked me, Pippin. I thought she was joking."
Pippin bit his lip and blushed. As they came together again and backed up, he asked, "How did she know? I didn't say anything!"
Holly chuckled softly, and it made a chill run up Pippin's spine. "Sisters do tend to know these things."
They conversed lightly as the dance continued, and then as it ended, Pippin asked if she'd care to dance again. The next dance was a set dance for two couples, and they found themselves paired with Pimmie and Milo.
Afterwards, Pippin brought her some punch, and they sat and chatted lightly, finding mutual acquaintances and family connections. But the evening was winding down, and Holly noticed her mother looking for her.
"I had a lovely time, Pippin. But we are staying with my aunt in Bywater, and must leave a bit early."
"Oh." Pippin was disappointed. Who knew *when* he'd see her again?
"Will you be in Buckland at Yule?" she asked.
"We're *always* in Buckland at Yule," he replied, wondering why she had asked.
"We'll be going there this year, too."
Pippin brightened considerably. "But that's wonderful! Holly--uh--would you--could you--allow me to escort you to First Night?" For that was what Bucklanders called the feast and dance held on first Yule.
She smiled brightly. "Why I shall look forward to that, Pippin Took! You are a very good dancer!" and she gave him her hand briefly, before allowing her mother to lead her away.
Pippin grinned, and hardly knowing how to contain himself, raced off in search of Merry.
He briefly wondered, as he passed him, why Sancho Proudfoot was looking so very cross and dirty.
Sam was busy in the vegetable garden, turning under the now-spent rows of beans, and preparing the beds for winter; he was whistling cheerily, one of the tunes played at the party, when he heard a pleasant voice take up the song.
"Good morning, Master Pippin," he said with a grin, stopping to lean on his shovel.
Mr. Merry and Master Pippin had stayed on a few days after the party. Mr. Frodo would be going to Brandy Hall for a visit, but he had some business matters in hand, and could not leave immediately. Mr. Merry was waiting to travel back with his older cousin, while Master Pippin had begged leave of his parents to stay at Bag End until the older cousins left.
"Hullo, Sam! Can I help you with anything?" The lad ducked his head, abashed, at Sam's arched eyebrow. "Merry's helping Frodo go through his accounts this morning."
"Ah." Master Pippin was bored. Whatever the Gaffer might think about gentlehobbits helping in the work, a bored Took was to be avoided at all costs. "Well, in that case Master Pippin, if you don't mind, you can help me lay a barrow-load of mulch on this bed."
Master Pippin grinned and grabbed one of the shovels, and the two of them began to make short work of it.
The lad was quieter than his usual wont, Sam noticed. But they worked companionably for a while and when they had laid down two barrow-loads, Sam took out the jug of small beer. "Care for some, Master Pippin? I've no cups."
Pippin nodded, and like Sam, took a swig from the mouth of the jug. "Thanks, Sam. It's thirsty work." He stopped and glanced up at Sam through lowered lashes. "Sam--um, you aren't a gentlehobbit…" he stopped and blushed, mayhap aware of how that might sound.
Now that was a surprise. Master Pippin wasn't no more likely than Mr. Frodo nor Mr. Merry to take notice of that; otherwise he wouldn't have been out here working alongside Sam in the first place. The lad clearly had something on his mind. "No more am I, Master Pippin. I'm just a plain Gamgee, and well pleased to be a working hobbit," Sam answered mildly, waiting to see what would be forthcoming next.
"It's just that sometimes it's hard to get Frodo or Merry to answer questions."
"Ah." Now what was *that* in aid of? Sam didn't want to put his foot in it, if there was somewhat that Mr. Frodo didn't wish spoken of to his cousin.
Pippin blushed again. Finally he muttered, "All they will ever say when I try to get a straight answer is 'a gentlehobbit doesn't kiss and tell'. And, well, there are some things a lad needs to know…" his voice trailed off.
Aha! Pippin was starting to think of lasses. Sam had seen him in the dancing last night--and not a-dancing with one of his sisters neither. So that was it. Out loud he said, "No, they don't. And a working hobbit what respects lasses don't neither. But that doesn't mean I can't answer *some* of your questions."
"It's just--well, everyone *knows* that you never think of any other lass but Miss Rose Cotton. How did you *know* she was the one? I don't think I've ever seen you even *looking* at another lass, if you know what I mean."
Sam chuckled. "Well, yes and no, Master Pippin. It's true that ever since I realised my Rosie was all grown up, I've not thought of other lasses, nor wanted to. But when I was your age, well, she was still enough younger that I thought of her as naught but my friend Tom's little sister. And I found myself *looking*, as you say, at plenty of lasses. Some of 'em, I looked at in ways that probably would have got my nose broke if their fathers or brothers had've known what was in my head. But I was too shy to say anything to any of 'em for the most part, and I'm glad of it."
"Really?" Master Pippin's face brightened, and his eyes lightened with relief. "Because, well, I met this one lass, and I like her. I like her very much indeed. But I still want to *look* at other lasses sometimes. And I know what you mean about what was in your head."
"That's as may be, Master Pippin. You may get to know and like heaps of different lasses till you meet the right one. It doesn't often happen that the first lass a body likes is the one he's meant to be with for life. Not saying it don't, 'cause it happened for me, but it don't for most."
"How will I *know* though, Sam? Know, like you know about Miss Rose?"
Sam shook his head. "Can't explain that, Master Pippin, not in regular words. But trust me when I say you'll know for certain when the time is right."
Pippin gave a great sigh, and Sam stood up. "Now, if you're still of a mind to help, let's go get another barrow-load of mulch."
Pippin returned to the Great Smials after Merry and Frodo left for Buckland. The autumn had turned chill and wet, and Pippin found he was no longer able to spend several hours riding, shooting or even doing much in the stables. A cold swim was out of the question, and a cold bath was unappealing.
And a warm bath had its own temptations for a wandering lad's mind. Still, he felt reassured when his father told him that it was perfectly normal for a lad his age to act out such thoughts.
He had his eyes opened to a lot of things he had failed to notice in the past. He often would catch a glint of something in the eyes of one or another of Pervinca's suitors, and found himself reacting to their attentions to her with anger rather than teasing as he had in the past. He noticed how Pimmie was pining over Milo, in the midst of all the wedding preparations, and felt sorry for them being apart--not something that would have occurred to him before.
And he rather thought he knew what was going on when he heard female giggling and low male laughter coming from behind the closed door of a linen closet one day. Moved by a mischievous spirit, he rapped smartly on it before moving on, and grinned to hear a mild curse in Timmon's voice. He'd no idea which of the maidservants was in there, and reminded himself it was none of his business.
As for his parents--well, the less said the better. He was noticing things about *them* that were *really* embarrassing. He made the mistake of saying something to Pervinca about the way they acted "at their age" one day, and was rewarded by a smack on the back of his head, as she waspishly informed him that *she* thought it was "rather sweet"!
And he began to long for Yule to arrive in a way that he had not since he was a very young lad--though for very different reasons.
Holly unpacked her travelling case, and went to hang her party frock in the wardrobe in her guest room. Brandy Hall was every bit as large and confusing as she remembered it from her childhood.
She had been looking forward to this visit. Pervinca's brother was a very sweet lad, and it was so flattering to have him notice her, unlike certain other hobbits who didn't have a clue. One day, she supposed, she would have to put her pride aside and do the speaking, because otherwise it would probably *never* occur to Folco.
She'd been hopelessly in love with her third cousin for years, for she could easily see the kind and generous nature that most people could not. It was a shame he couldn't keep his foot out of his mouth, but then, she smiled to herself, that *was* a part of Folco's charm as well.
Still, in the meantime, it would be nice to have an escort to the party on First Yule. She didn't think she was in any danger of breaking Pippin's heart--he liked her, it was clear, but she did not believe he fancied himself in love with her. And he too, was a very sweet and generous soul, and a real charmer, like most Tooks. She anticipated having a lot of fun at Brandy Hall this year.
Well, that was not until tomorrow evening. Tonight, she'd go down to supper in the main dining hall, and she'd enjoy herself with her friends--which included not only Pervinca, but Pervinca's charming little brother.
She was greeted with enthusiasm by her friends, and soon found herself seated at the tweens' table between Pervinca and Melilot Brandybuck. "Where's your brother?" she asked Pervinca.
"He's about, somewhere. Probably with Merry and his friends."
Holly was a bit disappointed, but her attention was soon taken by the arrival of a large dish of mushrooms and a platter of roasted root vegetables. She had finished dishing up her plate before she noticed that Pippin had sat down across from her. He gave her a cheeky grin. "Hullo, Holly!" He blushed.
"Hullo, Pippin," she replied. She passed the dish of mushrooms across to him, and further conversation soon turned upon the food.
"These mushrooms came from Bamfurlong," said Melilot, "which is why they are so tasty."
"They are that," agreed Pippin. "No one has mushrooms like Farmer Maggot!"
Suddenly they were interrupted by a voice. "Miss Holly!"
Holly turned to see Sancho Proudfoot standing behind her. "Yes?" she replied coolly. She was still rather cross at the way he had cut in on her during the dancing at Lithe.
Unabashed or perhaps unnoticing, Sancho grinned at her. "I was wondering if you'd allow me to be your escort tomorrow night."
"No, thank you. I have already agreed to go with someone else."
"Who?" He was bristling.
"If you must know, Sancho," said Pippin from across the table, "she's going with me."
"You?" Sancho's tone was scornful, but he was saved from disgracing himself further by Berilac Brandybuck's arrival. Berilac put a heavy hand on the younger hobbit's shoulder.
"Sancho, I'd advise against you saying anything you'd regret to Pippin. Mother would be most displeased."
Beri's mother was Sancho's Aunt Linda, and so Sancho gave his cousin a withering look, and stalked off.
Beri shook his head. "I'm sorry about that, Pip and Holly. I'm getting rather tired of keeping a leash on him this visit. Sancho's very full of himself these days."
"So full of himself," snapped Pervinca, "that it's a wonder he doesn't make himself sick!"
"That's all right, Beri," Pippin said. "I've a few regrettable cousins myself."
"Don't we all?" replied Berilac, shaking his head.
Pippin looked across at Holly. "Sancho wasn't always so--um, rude, you know," he said anxiously. He wasn't best pleased with Sancho himself, but they'd been good enough friends when they were small, and he said so.
Holly gave him a smile. "You are a very sweet and generous person, Peregrin Took."
Pippin blushed to the tips of his ears.
Merry helped Pippin into his jacket, and brushed the back of it down. He watched in amusement as his younger cousin, more fidgety than usual, attempted to tame his unruly chestnut curls.
"I hope I don't make a mess of things tonight, Merry. I hope--I mean, I wish--"
"Relax, Pippin. Just be yourself, and don't be pushy. And most of all, remember--"
Pippin chimed in as Merry spoke--" 'A gentlehobbit does not kiss and tell.'"
Merry gave him a reassuring pat on the back. "Well, as you are escorting Miss Holly, that leaves *me* to escort your sister. I hope that you appreciate my sacrifice."
For Pervinca had no escort--she had in fact turned down a few lads. Normally, Pippin would have had to serve as his sister's escort.
"Well, Pip! Off you go to fetch Miss Holly. We'll meet in the main hall for the lighting of the Yule log!"
Soon enough, Merry saw Pippin and Holly coming to join the crowd in the Hall. The Yule log was perfectly enormous. Merry looked with pride at his parents, who looked both resplendent and festive, as they stood by the hearth. Saradoc bent to light the huge log, and the tinder caught right away. A cheer went up for the good luck this indicated, and then the Hall rang with the sounds of "The Buckland Carol":
No shorter now will grow the days--
Fill the Hall with pine and holly--
To the New Year let us raise
Though the nights be cold and drear
Hearts and hands, we’re all together,
Our children all are snug and warm,
Let joy and laughter loudly ring
Ever longer grow the days--
Merry glanced over at Pippin, whose clear voice was easy to hear over the many others in the room. Pippin had Holly's hand in his, and when he saw Merry watching him, he grinned, without missing a note.
The feast that followed was magnificent, and would help Saradoc live up to his nickname of "Scattergold". The tables groaned with bounty. Tonight as the Master and Mistress were presiding over the Hall, Pippin sat at the high table with Holly at his side. Merry was next to his mother, on Holly's other side.
She leaned over, and he heard her whispering to Pippin, "In all the years we lived here at Brandy Hall, I *never* sat at the high table before."
"Never?" Pippin asked.
She shook her head . "No, we were only very distant cousins, after all."
"Well, as you see the food's no different."
"And I, for one," said Merry, "am glad that we finally have your company here!"
The feast came to a spectacular conclusion, with a lovely and flaming Yule pudding, and then it came time to clear the room for dancing.
Pippin looked at Holly. "I am sorry that I won't be able to dance with you for the first part of the evening, but I promised Aunt Esme--"
"That's quite all right, Pippin! I will enjoy watching you play your fiddle. And most of the dances early in the evening are circle dances--I shall have plenty of dancing tonight!"
"Well, we've a little while until the Hall is cleared. Would--" Pippin stopped, and then plunged ahead--"would you like to get a bit of fresh air before then?"
To his surprise, she smiled. "That sounds like a lovely idea, Pippin."
She took his arm, and they headed out into the garden. The evening was crisp, and their breath steamed in little wisps and puffs. It was very clear, and the stars were brilliant overhead.
Pippin looked up. "My cousin Frodo has all sorts of stories about the stars. He says they are the dew from a magical Tree, scattered across the sky by a powerful magical maiden."
"I don't think so, she seems to be something else altogether. I don't know if it's true or not, but Frodo says the Elves believe it."
"It's a very pretty story. And as likely to be true as not." Holly shivered a bit.
"Here!" Pippin led her around to the other side of a low garden wall, that served as a windbreak.
"Thank you." She pulled her wrap about her more closely. "You are a very sweet lad, Pippin." Her tone was almost sad as she said it. Suddenly he knew why.
"But you don't really like me in that way," he said.
She smiled. "Well, I do *like* you in that way, as I think you *like* me in that way. But I don't *love* you."
"I'm afraid I've already lost my heart to someone else long ago. But he doesn't even have a clue I'm alive."
"Well, he's very foolish, then," Pippin said stoutly. But inside he felt disappointed. He had hoped that perhaps Holly would allow him to kiss her.
Suddenly, she put her hands on his shoulders, and leaning forward, she put her lips on his. Pippin was almost too surprised to kiss her back. Almost. Her lips lingered for a moment, and Pippin felt it clear down to his toes and back. Without his own volition, his arms moved around her. After another instant she drew back, and smiled at him. "I think that you are a very good kisser, Pippin Took. And one day you will find a very lucky lass who will be worthy of you."
"But not you?" Pippin was not sure how he felt about this. He did like her very much, but he didn't feel about her the way Sam felt about his Rose.
She shook her head. "No, I'm not the one. But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy ourselves. And I think that your Aunt Esme will be awaiting your fiddle, don't you?"
He grinned, and led her back inside.
Pippin carefully put his fiddle in its case, and stepped down from the dais. He saw three lasses he knew smiling and waving at him. He gave them a smile and a cordial nod himself, and made his way to where Holly waited. He offered her his arm, and said "Would you like some punch?"
She smiled at him, and he didn't mind a bit that she was looking down slightly to do so. They made their way across the room to the refreshment table.
Nearly in the middle of the room, Sancho was holding forth to several of his friends. Pippin paused slightly as they went by, and frowned as he heard the subject under discussion.
"And Cellie and I were behind the oak tree for nearly an hour," Sancho was snickering, "and let me tell you, she may be young, but she is one eager--"
So full of his boasting as he was, Sancho failed to notice the change of expression on his listeners' faces from avid to alarmed. In fact, the first that he knew of something wrong was a shove from behind. He whirled around. "Oi! What--"
But he was abruptly silenced by a swift fist connecting with his nose. He looked up, blurrily, at Doderic Brandybuck.
"Keep away from my sister," Celandine's brother said furiously, before turning on his heel and stomping off.
Pippin could not resist. As he steered Holly past the still prone Sancho, he looked down, schooling his face into his best imitation of Frodo. "Sancho," he said, as seriously as he could manage, "a gentlehobbit does not kiss and tell."
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