23. The Old and the New
Now they gathered by the River with the rest of the hobbits of the Hall, watching the Sun seek her bed. As darkness fell, Saradoc, standing on the bank, lighted the torch in his hand, and the crowd turned respectfully to him.
'We gather together for remembering, as is our custom on this day. We remember those who have been lost to us since the last time we gathered so. We are here to celebrate their lives, their memory, our love which can never be lost, and the hope we share.'
Cardoc stepped up to him, small candle-boat in hand, and lit the wick from the Master's torch. Cradling the tiny craft, shielding the flame from any chance breeze, he turned to the River and set the boat on the water, naming his wife, who had died earlier in the spring. One by one the hobbits of the Hall who held similar craft stepped up to light the wick and set the floating candle afloat, naming a loved one. Pippin lit his candle, bent to the water, saying softly, 'Thom'. The flotilla of lights spread and grew and floated downstream, a constellation of tiny stars upon the water. Last to step up, Merry lit his candle and bent to the water. He cradled the tiny boat in his hands for a moment, then set it gently on the River. 'Ruby,' he said.
The hobbits stood to watch the candles float downstream. More small shining boats from upstream began to float by. A voice was raised in song, and many other voices joined to swell the tune. Esmeralda took Saradoc's hand; he squeezed hers as they heard Merry add his voice to the others, singing for the first time since losing his Ruby.
As the song ended, the hobbits started to turn away from the River, to be stopped by Saradoc's voice.
'We have something else to remember this day,' he called out. 'Three years ago, on this date, the hobbits of the Shire arose against their oppressors, and cast them out. Freedom is not something we can ever afford to take lightly. We must stand ever ready to defend the Shire, that our hobbit lads and lasses may grow up to live in peace.'
Merry stepped forward, raised his silver horn, and sounded a sweet note that echoed through the River valley. The hobbits stood a moment longer, then lifting up a new song, returned to their homes, to feast and share stories and remembrances.
That Yule was a quiet one, though the family from Long Cleeve had come once again to share the celebration with the family at Brandy Hall. The food was as sumptuous, decorations as beautiful, the Mistress perhaps even more reckless with the candles, but a somber mood prevailed. The dancing was much too decorous to be called a proper Yuletide dance, though the musicians did their best to play their finest.
'Come, Meriadoc, lad, give us a tune,' pleaded one of the old aunts by the fire.
'Yes, it has been too long,' said another. 'Sing one of the old tunes for us, now, do.' Merry started to shake his head, but Pippin and Diamond came up behind him, each taking an arm.
'Come, let's brighten the darkness for them, shall we?' Pippin murmured. Arms linked, the three walked over to the musicians. Merry nodded to the leader; when the song they were playing came to an end, they did not start another.
Merry opened his lips but no song came. He felt Pippin squeeze his arm, and then his cousin began to sing, a song about the dance of the stars through the seasons. Diamond joined in, and he listened to their voices in duet before adding his third to the harmony. The musicians came in softly behind them, and the crowd of hobbits in the great room hushed to silence to hear.
When the song was ended, Pippin began another, this time a joyful tune of plowing, planting, sweat and worry, ending in harvest and celebration. The crowd began to clap, and many joined in on the chorus.
Song followed song. At the last, Merry raised his voice to sing a sweet lullaby of hope for the morning. When he finished, he put one arm about Diamond and the other about his cousin. 'Thank you,' he said, looking from one to the other.
'Anytime,' Pippin answered, but his eyes glistened with tears that belied his light tone.
Merry gave him a great hug. 'I'll be all right, cousin. I wasn't so sure, for awhile, but I am now.' He thought of the folded paper tucked safe in an inner pocket, graced with Frodo's firm flowing script. 'No matter what happens...'
'What?' his cousin asked, puzzled.
'Oh, just something a cousin told me once,' Merry answered.
After the "old folk" had sought their beds, Merry, Pippin and Diamond were among the hobbits left in the great hall, staring into the flames of the Yule log and talking of the New Year.
'I'm getting too old for this,' Pippin yawned.
'If you're too old, then I'm ancient,' Merry rejoined.
His cousin eyed him seriously. 'Well, I wasn't going to say anything, but now that you mention it...'
Diamond giggled as Merry gave Pippin a push. 'Go on with ye now, you young scamp!' Merry said in perfect imitation of one of the old aunts.
Pippin sobered again. 'This is probably my last Yule at Brandy Hall,' he mused, looking into the flames. At Diamond's exclamation, he shrugged. 'It's true. I will come of age this summer and my presence will be required in Tuckborough...' a grin crooked his mouth. '...if they'll let me back in, that is.'
Merry looked at him quizzically. 'You think...?'
Pippin grinned back at him. 'No-o-o-o-o,' he said, drawing out the word thoughtfully. 'I'm sure they've forgotten all about that by now...'
The two cousins laughed heartily and Merry said, 'Well, I'm sure there will always be a bed for you here at the Hall.'
Pippin sighed. 'Ah, but it is so romantic to wander homeless...' He cast a sentimental look at Diamond.
She laughed. 'My father's never fed tramps at the door, and he's not about to start now!'
'He'd let them starve?'
'Oh, no!' She eyed him sternly. 'He'd put them to work, good hard labour, and then of course they wouldn't be tramps anymore, now would they?'
Pippin shuddered theatrically. 'Oh, aye,' he breathed. 'Guess I'll just have to keep bouncing from Smials to Hall and back again, then!'
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.