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Now it's time for me to beg my readers' mercy. I'm so, so sorry it's taking me so long to update! Real life has been a hassle lately, but I'll do my best to write the next chapter more quickly. You guys are wonderful, thank you for your comments!
And as always, many thanks to Melyanna for her beta assistance.
And as always, many thanks to Melyanna for her beta assistance.
Chapter 20 – Under the Hill, Under the Stars
* * *
It was only a few hours until sunrise, and Pippin and Diamond had been riding throughout most of the night; but both were wide awake, too tense, too charged to even consider being sleepy. They had made only a few stops, all brief and none that allowed sleep – one had been at the post office of a small town just inside the East Farthing, to drop off a hastily scrawled letter addressed to Crickhollow.
Diamond had pressed herself so close to Pippin that he could feel her heart thumping faintly against his back. His own heartbeat quickened with nervous anticipation as they came nearer and nearer to their destination. He heard her give a soft gasp as they passed the towering mallorn of the Party Field.
Pippin dismounted the pony as they came to the little road that ascended the Hill. He planned on letting Diamond stay atop the pony, but did not object when she immediately joined him on the ground, taking his hand.
They left the pony at the small gate and walked up the path to the round green door that was so familiar to Pippin, a door that Diamond had heard of only in a famous Shire bedtime story. Pippin raised his fist to knock, but froze suddenly.
“What’s wrong?” whispered Diamond.
He screwed up his face in concentration. His voice was hushed when he responded in a dire tone, “If I knock too softly, no one will be able to hear it; but if I knock too loudly, the entire household will wake up.”
Despite the situation, despite her anxiety, Diamond couldn’t help but smile. I think he’s been awake for too long. “Maybe you should just find a middle ground.”
“Good idea!” he said emphatically, and he knocked on the door in a way that was neither too loud nor too soft.
At first they thought the knock had been too soft, for there came no sign of reply from the other side. But soon they heard the shuffling and grumbling of an approaching hobbit. Diamond instinctively moved closer to Pippin, and he grabbed her hand and held on tightly.
The green door opened to reveal the newly-elected Mayor Samwise Gamgee, holding a candle and still wearing his nightclothes. His bleary gaze slowly traveled from Pippin to Diamond and back again. “Pippin… kidnappin’ lady hobbits in the middle of the night will get you nowhere fast.”
“I didn’t kidnap her!” he insisted, eyes wide. “Well, maybe I did… but it wasn’t against her will, honest! We—” He felt Diamond squeeze his hand, soothing his nerves by the tender reassurance of her touch, her mere presence, and he took a deep breath. “We need your help, Sam.”
* * *
Merry focused all his mental energy on deciding what clothes he should fit into his traveling satchel. He much preferred to think about what he was packing rather than why he was packing.
Estella watched him from the doorway, with little Boromir asleep in her arms. Breaking the silence that lay heavy in their bedroom, she spoke, attempting a casual tone: “I’ll clean the house a bit while you’re gone. I suppose I should fix up Pippin’s bedroom, considering the state he keeps it in…”
He didn’t reply, merely continued to pack in a somewhat haphazard manner; the force he used to shove his clothes into the satchel gave clear evidence of his temperament.
Deciding that small talk was not going to get her anywhere at this point, Estella asked softly, “Will you try to talk him out of it?”
“That would be the sensible thing for me to do, yes. I just hope Pippin will want to listen to reason.” Merry clasped the satchel closed and sighed; his voice lowered to a barely-audible whisper. “That fool. He’s the biggest fool I’ve ever known.”
“But you love him,” she said gently, sadly.
Merry closed his eyes and was silent for a moment, his features heavy with pain. “Of course I love him,” he replied at last, swinging the pack over his shoulders. “That’s what makes him so difficult to handle sometimes.”
Just then, Lily came bounding into the room, jumping up onto the bed. “Bringing Pippin back?” she asked her father as she lightly bounced in place.
Heaving a sigh, Merry responded, “Yes, love. I’ll be back with him soon.” He sat down beside her on the bed. “Listen, Lily – hold still, darling, I have to talk to you – when I bring Uncle Pippin back, there might also be—”
“Merry,” Estella interjected, and he looked up at her in surprise. “Don’t worry, I’ll explain it to her later. You should be going now.”
He nodded tiredly, looking extremely grateful. He kissed Lily’s brow as she wrapped her arms around his neck in as strong a hug as a three-year-old can give. He then stood and approached his wife; after running a gentle hand through Boromir’s curls, he met Estella’s gaze, resting his hand against her cheek. Finding no words to say, he kissed her softly on the lips and walked out.
* * *
Sam stood at the threshold of Bag End’s dining room, leaning against the wall and watching those who sat at the table eating luncheon; his eyes focused mainly on the new arrivals. Pippin – who was a self-proclaimed expert on Rosie’s cooking – was filling Diamond’s plate with all the different foods he thought she should sample (which was practically everything in the kitchen). The dark-haired girl kept her head down throughout most of the meal, occasionally stealing a glance at Pippin, who would smile brightly at her, though not without a trace of his own anxiety coming through.
Rosie, who had been tending to little Merry-lad, noticed her husband watching from the doorway; she carried the baby over to where Sam stood. He set his arm around her, leaning his head against hers as she spoke softly, “Does it look familiar?”
“What do you mean?”
Rosie smiled. “The look that Diamond keeps giving him.”
He watched, and only a few seconds later he saw what his wife must have been referring to – Diamond gave Pippin another glance, and Sam saw it clearly in her face: the shy adoration of one who clearly felt unworthy, coupled with the unquestionable devotion of one whose affections could never waver.
“I see the look,” he said to Rosie, “but how is it familiar?”
Her smile widened. “Well, ‘tis familiar to me, at least. I remember seeing it coming from you.”
* * *
The following morning, Sam sat in the study, the room he still felt belonged to Frodo Baggins. He wondered if he could perhaps channel his former master’s wisdom to aide him in the current situation. Somehow, Sam felt very inadequate to make this decision on his own.
Anyone with any common sense could tell that what Pippin and Diamond were requesting of him was a terrible idea. Sam felt it would be dreadfully wrong to abuse his mayoral powers in such a way.
And yet… something in his heart was pleading with him to go through with it.
There was a soft knock at the door, and he turned to find Pippin standing in the doorway, looking apprehensive.
“Are you busy?” he asked.
Sam shook his head and gestured for Pippin to enter. The stood facing each other for a moment, trapped in an awkward silence. Pippin seemed torn between proper etiquette and extreme desire to be rid of his uncertainty. At last he blurted out, “Have you decided?”
Sam clasped his hands behind his back and stared down at his feet. “I think,” he said slowly, “that I’d best talk this over with Merry before I make any decisions. He’s a far wiser hobbit than I, and I think he’d know best.”
Pippin walked closer to him, clutching his hands together in a vain attempt to stop them from shaking. “But Merry isn’t going to think this is a good idea, I know he won’t.”
Wincing, Sam replied, “I can’t say that I would disagree, I’m afraid.”
Pippin’s face fell drastically, his eyebrows furrowing upwards in an expression of fearful disappointment. “You don’t want to marry us, then.”
Still refusing to meet Pippin’s gaze, he responded, “It’s not that I don’t want to help you and Miss Diamond, it’s just that… I shouldn’t be usin’ my position in such a way, if you follow me.”
After mouthing wordlessly for a moment, Pippin sputtered out, “Well… what- what should we do, then? Should I take her back to Long Cleeve and forget I ever met her?”
Sam looked at him then and placed his hands on the younger hobbit’s shoulders. “No one’s askin’ you to forget about her. But it might be best if you at least waited ‘til she’s of age before—”
“Her parents would never let me come near her!” Pippin wrapped his arms around himself, and his voice became bitter, shameful. “Not after I’ve talked her into this…”
Sam let out a sigh. “Well. I suppose there’s no use wonderin’ what you should’ve done differently. You’ve got no choice but to work with what you have now.”
Pippin’s heart froze then, for they heard a knock on Bag End’s front door. Sam gave him a pitying look before walking past him and out into the hallway. But there he saw his wife, well within earshot of his conversation with Pippin, leaning against the wall with her arms folded across her chest; her glare caused him to halt in his tracks. Rosie held the glare for several seconds before shaking her head, turning around and walking towards the front door. Sam followed her dutifully.
But Pippin lingered in the doorway of the study, chewing on his fingernails and awaiting the doom of reasoning that his cousin was sure to bring. And while Merry gave his greetings to Sam and Rosie, Pippin saw Diamond make her way out of the kitchen and walk quickly towards him. She looked almost as nervous as he felt. He reached out to her and put his arms around her, pulling her to him so quickly and forcefully that she nearly fell over.
“He’s your friend,” she said, “so there’s nothing to be worried about… is there?”
Pippin made no reply.
All too quickly, they found Merry standing before them wearing the face of an admonishing parent. His gaze traveled between the two of them, resting at last on his cousin. “I should’ve known that when you finally decided to get married you would want to do it in the most reckless way imaginable.”
Pippin looked up at him sharply, but still did not speak. Merry sighed and moved his gaze to the other hobbit. “Hello, Diamond.”
“Hello, sir.” She looked like she wanted to say more, and opened her mouth to do so; but no words came to her, and she returned to staring at her feet.
“Diamond,” he said in a commanding tone so that she looked at him again. “How old are you?”
She winced. “Thirty-one.”
“Thirty-one,” Merry repeated softly, glaring at Pippin. “Not even of age, then.”
“I guess I didn’t think about that,” Pippin mumbled.
“Of course not,” said Merry sharply. “That would’ve required some foresight on your part. And we both know that foresight isn’t something you’re very good at.”
Pippin’s brows furrowed as he frowned defensively. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Merry rolled his eyes. “Oh, honestly, Pippin. You’ve made it quite obvious over the years that you are seemingly incapable of thinking things through, of thinking about the possible consequences of all your rash decisions. Remember Moria? The Palantír?” His voice became gradually louder.
Pippin bristled. “Haven’t I made up for that by now?” he hissed.
His tone coming close to a shout, Merry responded, “It doesn’t matter if you’ve made up for any of that, not so long as you keep making the same kind of impulsive, foolish decisions!” He turned abruptly and began to walk away.
“Where are you going?” Pippin called out to him angrily. He was given no reply.
As soon as Merry was out of sight, Pippin felt his rage quickly ebb and turn into fear. His knees grew weak, and he leaned on Diamond for support. Unable to speak, she simply held him.
* * *
Merry entered the kitchen to find Sam sitting quietly at the table, with Rosie standing beside him. She looked up at Merry, a fire in her eyes.
“Shall I give you the same talk I just gave him?” she asked heatedly, nodding her head at Sam, who was massaging his brow.
“I know what you’re going to say,” replied Merry, fighting to keep his voice even. “You’re going to say that we’re all terrible people for trying to keep those two apart. But this isn’t all some romantic fairy tale – these are two irresponsible young hobbits—”
“How can you say that?” Rosie interrupted, looking appalled. “Even if you don’t know Diamond, Pippin is still your best friend, how can you speak to him like that?”
Merry laughed humorlessly. “You have to understand, Rosie, that part of being friends with Pippin is realizing when he’s being an unbearable fool.”
Rosie looked at her husband, her eyes brimming with angry tears; her soft voice carried traces of desperation. “Sam?”
He didn’t meet her gaze. “You know I can’t, Rose.”
She sat down next to him at the table, taking his hands. “Is it because Diamond is underage? Tweenagers get married all the time!”
“With their parents’ consent,” Merry pointed out.
“All of them?” she asked.
“Well… I’d imagine, yes.”
“But do you know for sure?”
Merry furrowed his brows. “Well… oh, what difference does it make? It’s still against the law, isn’t it?”
They both looked at Sam, who appeared deep in thought. When he realized that they were watching him expectantly, his eyes widened. “I… I’m afraid I don’t rightly know, actually. This situation isn’t exactly a common one.”
“Shouldn’t you look it up, then? Find out if there really is any law that prevents it?” asked Rosie.
Sam looked as though he wasn’t keen on answering, and so Merry spoke up, “Even if it isn’t strictly forbidden, it would still be very immoral of Sam to use his position in such a way. Besides, he may be the mayor, but Pippin’s father is still the Thain of the Shire.” His expression became gentler, weary. “Rose, I don’t like this any more than you do. Believe me, I would personally escort them to Gondor and let Strider marry them if I thought it would do any good.”
Rosie stared down at her lap and murmured, “It’s not fair.”
Merry let out a long breath. “No, it’s not.”
She looked up a moment later, first at Sam and then at Merry; she stood and walked out of the kitchen, gesturing for them to follow her. “Come with me. Quietly, now.”
They complied, following her into the hallway where Merry had left Pippin and Diamond; but the two hobbits were no longer in there, and Rosie walked towards one of the guest rooms. The door was open, and she peered inside. When she pulled away, she looked at Merry and Sam expectantly and nodded towards the room. Glancing at each other dubiously, they looked inside.
Pippin and Diamond sat together on the bed; his head was resting against her chest, her arms wrapped around his shaking shoulders as she ran a gentle hand through his curls. Pippin’s face was turned away from the door, but Diamond’s profile was in view from where Merry stood, her eyes squeezed tightly shut. This was the first time he had been able to carefully regard the girl who had stolen his cousin’s heart. She was a small, delicate creature, almost fairy-like. She was no outstanding beauty – she did not have Rosie’s comely grace, or the unwavering confidence that caused Estella’s face to shine so brilliantly; but she was pretty in her own way.
But most importantly, she was gentle. Merry was astounded by the tenderness she displayed as she held Pippin in her slender arms. Hearing Pippin speak of her, Merry had perceived her to be a person to be protected, not the type to do the comforting, which he could now see was an error in judgment.
Merry turned to his companion, and it was clear by the determined set of Sam’s face that his heart had won over his head.
Uncle Paladin is going to kill me for this.
* * *
Pippin’s tears had ceased, and he was now curled up against Diamond, her chin resting atop his head. She thought she heard him speak, but his voice was so soft that she couldn’t make out what he said.
He raised his voice slightly, but she still had to strain to hear. “I’m sorry.”
Her eyes widened in surprise; she was about to ask what he had to apologize for when she realized that was a rather silly question. She was silent for several seconds before whispering, “Don’t be sorry.”
“I’ve been an idiot. I’ve pulled you into something we might not be able to get out of. All because I still haven’t learned to think things through before I act.”
She bit her lip, her eyebrows furrowing upwards in a mournful expression. At last she turned her head and pressed her cheek against his curls. “It’ll all work out,” she said; but her voice wavered and betrayed her uncertainty.
She continued to stroke his hair, listening as his breathing gradually slowed. With a bit of effort, she managed to lay him down on the bed without waking him; she hesitated briefly, but her own exhaustion finally overcame her sense of propriety, and she curled up next to him, pressing her face to his warm chest. For a short moment before sleep claimed her, she felt a comforting sense of rightness, of perfection, of peace.
The next thing she knew, someone was caressing her forehead and voices were conversing somewhere above her. But she was not nearly ready to be awake yet, and so she lay still with her eyes closed, enjoying the feel of those soft fingertips against her skin.
“Diamond.” A warm, familiar voice was calling her back. “Wake up, Diamond.”
“Pippin,” she breathed. She opened her eyes and saw his face before her, brighter and more hopeful than she’d seen for far too many days.
Pressing his palm against her cheek, he said, “Will you still marry me?”
Though her mind was still quite groggy, his gentle inquiry rang clear, and she gave him a sleepy smile. “Of course.”
Pippin grinned and kissed the tip of her nose. “It’s going to happen, Diamond,” he whispered frantically. “Sam’s agreed to it, it’s really going to happen.” He glanced up at the figure standing behind Diamond. She looked over her shoulder to find Merry wearing a benevolent smile.
“It’s all been worked out,” he told her; his smile widened. “The only thing you need to worry about now is what you’re going to wear.” With that he turned and left the room.
Pippin kissed her again, this time on the lips, and everything else in the world disappeared.
There were no formalities, no long speeches that night – simply a small group of friends that watched as Pippin and Diamond Took shared a tender kiss beneath the stars.
* * *
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