34. Beanpoles and Bedtime Snacks
'Now that you've shed yourself this beanpole, you'll be in need of a husband!' Merry's cousin Meliloc came up to say.
'I'm too young to be thinking of marriage!' Estella retorted with a smile. 'You will have to talk to me about it later.' He turned away with a grin to join the dance, and she shook her head. Merry heard her mutter, 'Much later!' The hobbits sitting around them erupted in laughter.
Estella smiled at Pippin. 'I think I will excuse myself, my former beloved.' He reached out to take her hand, speaking his thanks with his eyes, fingers squeezing hers gently. She pulled her hand from his. 'Now eat! Before I take up your spoon and feed you!' Laughing, he complied and she walked away.
After a few bites, Pippin looked down at Diamond beside him. 'I think handfasting is a good idea, don't you?' he said. 'The sooner the better, I'd say.'
She laughed up at him, 'I should say so! Before the Thain gets the idea of auctioning you off to the highest bidder!'
Everyone at the table chuckled but Pippin. 'That's not so far-fetched,' he said soberly.
'Who's the lucky lass to be?' Merry's cousin Celandine called across the table.
Pippin smiled down at Diamond. 'I do not think I will have to look far,' he replied.
Diamond felt her heart leap. 'Don't you have to ask my father?'
'He has already given his blessing.'
'Well who am I to argue, then? After all, my father is always right.'
'Until you get married,' he said. 'Then your husband is always right.'
'Oh, aye,' she said with a chuckle, nestling against him. 'Indeed.' Hobbits' laughter washed around them, accented by the joyful music and bright swirling dance.
Sometime later in the evening, Esmeralda saw her son excuse himself and take his leave of the celebration. She squeezed her husband's hand and he followed her gaze.
'Off on another ride,' he said.
'Oh, Saradoc,' she murmured. 'How long will our son be alone?'
He had no answer, but patted her hand. 'Meriadoc will be all right,' was all he could answer.
Merry reached the stables to find Estella feeding pieces of apple to Jewel, with cousins Merimas and Pansy her escorts this evening.
'Hello,' she said, looking up with a smile at his step. 'I'm just feeding my favourite lads a little snack before they get tucked in for the night.'
Merimas laughed. 'It's early yet,' he chuckled. 'Many's the night Jewel wanders under the stars. He's only half pony, you know,' he teased. 'The other half is owl, I think.'
'As is his rider,' Pansy added.
'Oh, no, I merely go along to keep him out of trouble,' Merry grinned. Estella's laughter chimed softly.
Pansy looked up at Merimas. 'Husband?' she asked. 'D'you really think that Wingfoot is going to win the pony races this year? Jewel is looking awfully fit.'
'Let us go ask him,' Merimas replied, and hand in hand they wandered down the line of stalls.
Merry watched Estella offer apple slices to Jewel. When she was finished, she caressed the crooked stripe running down the pony's face, then gathered up the long forelock, braiding it quickly and tucking it up. 'There!' she said. 'If you are to take a ramble in the middle night you ought to be able to see your feet.'
She turned to Merry with a sigh, 'It has been a good visit, for the most part.' She turned back to the pony, fingers playing with his silky mane. 'I will miss my lads,' she said. 'D'you suppose they'll miss me at all?'
'They won't be the only ones,' Merry answered. He did not see her tense in the semidarkness. He went on, 'Half the Hall will miss you when you go.'
Her shoulders slumped, but she quickly straightened and turned back to him with a bright smile that seemed to light the darkness. 'And the other half will be saying, 'Good riddance to that hard-hearted lass! How could she throw over fine Master Took that way!'
'The way they are celebrating in the Hall this night, makes me think they are not feeling too sorry for poor Master Took this evening.'
Exasperated, she said, 'And would I have made him such a terrible wife? He'd have made me such a dashing husband!' He laughed, and her mouth relaxed into a smile again. 'I must admit, the idea of being the Thain's wife was a tempting one. Of course, Pippin would have to survive to be Thain... if all of Tuckborough didn't kick us out and lock the door behind us. That dusty old place, with its dusty old rooms always brought out the worst in me. It needs a grand sweeping out.' She grinned mischievously up at Merry. 'I might not have been quite the wisest choice on the old Thain's part...'
'What do you mean?'
She didn't answer, but turned back to the braids she was making in Jewel's mane, saying to the pony's neck, 'Did you hear old Ferdinand's teeth have gone missing again?'
Hearing Merry's laughter ring out over the quiet stalls, Pansy turned to her husband with a wistful look. 'Oh, I wish...'
He squeezed her hand. 'I know.' He put an arm around her waist and she leaned into his shoulder.
Back in front of Jewel's stall, Merry mused, 'Pippin said I would need someone to take care of me when he's gone.'
'Oh? Is he planning on dying soon?' Estella asked idly, then nodded to herself. 'Oh, of course, of a broken heart. I nearly forgot. I've left him in the dust and he hardly crosses my mind anymore.' She smiled at Merry again. 'Unless you mean The Took is going to kill him when he finds out I will not be bringing my fortune with me to the Great Smials.'
'You are too young to marry...'
'Ah, yes, but it would have been a marvelous handfasting.' She sighed, 'My mother had the loveliest dress made up, and Fredregar had charge of the feast... and you know how he is about food... all wasted now.'
'It wouldn't have to go to waste,' Merry said gently. She caught her breath and looked up at him. 'I may not be quite as dashing as my cousin, but... if you'd have me...'
She held out her hands and he took them in his. 'If I'd have you?' she smiled. 'Why do you think I was such a pest, following you all over Budgeford all those years ago?'
Merimas and Pansy smiled to hear the laughter pealing from the two in front of Jewel's stall.
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.