18. Mid-year's Eve, Morning
'You must be related to half the Shire,' Ruby teased her husband-to-be.
'And you're related to the other half!' He returned with a grin. Her laughter washed around him in little ripples, and his fingers tightened on hers. Surely he was marrying the most beautiful hobbit-lass in the Shire.
With a farmer's practicality and economy, Ruby's father had set the date as Mid-year's Day, the day after Ruby's coming of age, making three celebrations spanning a mere two days. That left barely a month and a half, a short time in terms of preparation, an eternity to the young hobbit-lasses and lads at Hall and farm... and to the happy couple.
There was much riding back and forth for the two families, and Saradoc joked that he would have to put extra crews on road repairs. Esmeralda spent nearly as much time at Long Cleeve as she did in the Hall, and she and Pearl became closer even than she had been to her sisters before leaving Tuckborough to marry Saradoc. Little Emmy took to calling her 'Auntie' and plopping herself in the Mistress' lap whenever she sat down to rest, and with Ammy in her own mother's lap there were many companionable conversations.
Wee Taddy became Pippin's shadow; you could hardly see one without the other. He would still prefer his father's company when it came to driving a wagon, for the tiny lad felt that no one could chirrup to the ponies quite as properly as himself.
In the week before Ruby's birthday, several great pavilions were set up in the meadow near the house, one containing an open-air kitchen, more than one with long tables and benches for the feasting, and the largest for dancing. The hobbit children were everywhere underfoot, and good natured workers had to keep shooing them out of the way. There were no casualties, however, only a happy, busy, atmosphere that promised wonderful festivities to come.
Merry and Ruby had little time together. Sometimes they could steal away with Pippin and Diamond as escort. The four would pack a picnic and ride their ponies into the hills or woods and spend half a day talking, laughing, singing. These times were rare enough, for there was so much to be done about the farm to prepare for the wedding, and a wedding dress to be fitted and sewn and fitted again.
Most of their time together seemed to be washing and drying dishes. They would lift their voices in song, and often hobbits passing near the house on wedding business would stop to listen for a moment or two. The happy couple were glad that so much food needed to be cooked and served--and washed up after--in those busy days.
The evening before Ruby's birthday, all was ready. Ruby and Merry walked hand in hand in the fields behind the house, away from the bustle, trailed by Diamond and Pippin and faithful Tad. They stopped to look up at the canopy of stars spread above, and to enjoy the evening breeze after the warm, busy day. Merry took a deep breath and laughed. Ruby looked up inquiringly, and he looked down into her face and squeezed her hand.
'Why, we could get married tomorrow,' he chuckled. 'Everything is ready.'
'Now, Meriadoc, you would not spoil everyone's plans so! Half the relatives would miss the wedding!'
'And would that be a bad thing?' he teased.
She laughed. 'But think of the waste!'
He shook his head merrily. 'No waste. We can slip away and leave the feasting to them!'
'Mmmmm,' she answered. 'I must admit it is tempting.' She looked up again. 'But,' she sighed, 'It would not be fitting for the young Master-to-be of Buckland, not to mention Hero of the Shire, to so shirk his responsibilities.'
'Oh, I see how it is going to go,' he said. 'You are going to become my taskmaster.'
'Your conscience,' she corrected. They laughed together. Behind them they heard Taddy's voice pipe up, Pippin's answer, and a laugh from the little group behind them.
Diamond's voice floated to them on the breeze. 'Ruby!' she called.
'Yes?' Ruby called back.
'Taddy wants to know what you're going to give him on your birthday tomorrow!'
'How about a switch?' Ruby called. Pretended outrage from her little brother. She felt Merry's shoulders shaking with laughter. 'Tell him it's a surprise!' she called back. All of her littlest brother's wheedling could not draw any more information than that.
Mid-year's Eve day dawned with great promise. Ruby met her father coming from the barn, put her arms around him, careful not to spill the milk in the buckets he held, and said, 'Well?'
He looked down at this eldest daughter of his, whom he would be giving away on the morrow. 'Ah, lass,' he said. 'Is it too late to call it all off?' At her quizzical expression he smiled. 'I do not know quite how I will be able to spare you.'
'I will make my new husband bring me for dinner twice a week,' she smiled. 'And so, you see, the wedding is a good thing, for while you'll have less of me, you'll have more of Meriadoc! You were just saying the other day how fine it was to gain another son...'
'Oh, aye,' her father replied. 'But can he manage a plow?'
Pearl heard their laughter as they approached the house. Her heart ached to be losing her lovely daughter, but that was the way of things. Birdlings grew up and flew from the nest, and it would hardly be fitting for her to keep her daughters at home until they were aunties by the fire.
There was a step behind her and she found herself enveloped in a gentle hug. 'I won't take her away if you don't want me to, Mother Pearl,' Merry's teasing voice said gently in her ear.
She pulled away and seized his ear. 'Now young master, I hope it's not cold feet that you're getting! Are we going to have to tie you up to keep you here until the wedding?'
'Oh, no!' Diamond said, entering. 'He wanted to have the wedding today, as a matter of fact.'
Pearl released the ear. 'Oh, well, then,' she said. 'That's all right.' At his look of surprise, she said, 'We can get the feasting over with and when the relatives arrive on the morrow they can help clean it all up again.'
The sound of Pippin's flute was heard, playing Sam and Rosie's wedding tune, and he entered the main room with little hobbits dancing about him. He put down the flute, eyes adance with mischief. 'So, cousin, have you told her all your secrets, yet?'
Merry's eyes met Ruby's soberly. She knew all about the Shadow. She had been there the first time it had nearly taken him in the Shire, and Merry had told her about the subsequent attacks. She had shown no qualms at having to deal with its return every mid-March. 'There will be happier anniversaries to celebrate, as well,' she'd said when he brought the subject up. Now she smiled suddenly and turned to Pippin, 'Oh, no!' she said lightly. 'I expect it'll take a lifetime to learn them all!'
'Good thing you plan to spend a lot of time in each other's company, then!' Diamond put in.
'Oh, aye,' Merry breathed, gazing at his bride-to-be. A lot of time, indeed.
Pippin broke out again. 'Ah, but does she know about the hobbit lass you left behind in Hobbiton?'
Her puzzled eyes met Merry's; she knew it was a joke of course, but what could he mean? Her mother laughed suddenly, and began to sing.
'Then Merry he took him a bite, a bite
'And his face was all spread with delight, delight
'And he sang to the sky, with a gleam in his eye,
' 'Tis the finest pie ever could be, could be,
' 'Come, dear Rosie lass, marry me!'
The rest of the family joined in the song, Pippin seizing Pearl's hands to swing her into a dance about the kitchen. Soon the room was overfull of singing, dancing hobbits.
'Captain Merry, he turned then to Sam, to Sam
'And he said, 'I'll advise ye, my lamb, my lamb!
' 'Better speak to her soon, beneath the full moon,
' 'Or soon she'll be married to me, to me,
' 'Better take warning, Samwise Gamgee!' '
The song ended in breathless laughter. 'How can she not know?' young Jotham cried. 'The song's been sung at every wedding in the Shire since!'
'Author! Author!' applauded Farmer Took.
Merry bowed, and Pearl broke in. 'All right then, unless you all want cold breakfast you'd better sit down at table!' All the Tooks and Brandybucks present complied.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.