31. Bird in a Trap
Merry had told his father and mother about Paladin's plans for Pippin.
'Evidently his parents have had an understanding with Fredregar's parents since the lass was born. They just never bothered to tell my cousin about it until now.'
'There's nothing formal and binding in an understanding... why has he given up this fight before it has begun?' Esmeralda said, frustrated. 'I knew my brother was up to something, but I never thought...'
'It is more complicated than that,' Saradoc put in. He picked up a letter from the desk. 'The Thain has already announced the handfasting. He's sent out invitations, probably to every relative in the Shire.'
'Oh, no,' Esmeralda moaned. She turned to Merry. 'But what about Diamond of Long Cleeve? Had he spoken to her already? That could be considered a previous engagement.'
Merry shook his head. 'No. He told me she was too young, that he would speak at a more appropriate time.'
'She's the same age as Estella Bolger,' Esmeralda broke out. 'But my brother did not feel the need to show the same consideration as his son!'
Merry was sick at heart. 'He will not fight this,' he said, shaking his head. 'He can defy his father without a qualm, but he will not shame the lass.'
Esmeralda put her hands over her face. 'Oh, my poor lad,' she mourned. 'My poor, bright boy.'
Merry remembered being taken on a hunt as a youth, finding a brilliantly plumaged bird held in a leg trap, desperately beating its wings in repeated attempts to take flight, finally clubbed to stillness by the forester.
Saradoc said heavily, 'Well, I guess I had better invite Estella Bolger to the Hall for a visit, that they might get to know one another a little better before the handfasting. It's the only kindness I can think of in this.'
'The north-Tooks are due next week for a visit,' Esmeralda said.
'It might mean some awkwardness, but we might as well get past it now as later,' Saradoc said.
Esmeralda greeted Estella Bolger kindly. It was hardly the girl's fault that they were in this situation.
'I must tell you again how much we love your portrait of Frodo,' she said over tea in the parlour.
Estella glanced up at the painting, then looked back to the Mistress. 'It is how I choose to remember him,' she said.
'But how...?' Merry asked.
She turned to him with a smile. 'I remember everything I see. Most of the time it is a blessing. I can close my eyes, and see Frodo as if he were standing here before me.'
'My birthday is coming up,' Saradoc said. 'I would like you to paint a portrait of Meriadoc, for my wife.'
'Oh, Husband!' Esmeralda said, overcome.
Estella smiled. 'Since I'm here to visit anyway, I would be happy to.' She turned her eyes to Merry. 'Would you have time to sit for me? Or should I do it from memory?'
'What kind of memory?' Merry asked.
Her smile brightened. 'Oh, there's so much to choose from,' she said mischievously. 'Like the time you and Fatty were wrestling and ended up in that mudhole? Or the time...?'
'I can make the time to sit for you,' Merry said hastily.
Pippin sipped his tea and had nothing to add to the conversation.
Estella asked to meet Merry and Pippin's ponies. 'You can tell so much about a hobbit from his pony,' she teased. Meeting each pony in turn, she ran her hand down the shining neck, took a carrot from her pocket to offer on her flat hand, murmured an endearment in words that only she and the pony understood.
'Well?' Merry asked as she stepped back.
'I think you both have very fine ponies,' she answered.
'So what can you tell about the hobbits who own the ponies?' he pressed.
'Now that would be telling, wouldn't it?' she laughed. 'If you can't figure it out, I certainly am not going to enlighten you!'
Taking Pippin's arm, she said, 'Let's walk back to the Hall. All this exercise has given me quite an appetite.' She looked up at Pippin. 'And I don't know why, but I feel exactly like a mother bird, looking at you. I just want to stuff you full of food every time I see you!'
'You and everyone else,' said Pippin.
The north-Tooks arrived with a little less than their usual jollity. Farmer Took looked quizzically at Pippin as he and Estella stood with the others to greet the wagon. Pippin turned his eyes away from the hurt in Diamond's.
'I'm glad to see you on your feet, lad,' Farmer Took said quietly. 'We'd heard you were laid pretty low.'
'I'm alive,' Pippin replied. For a hobbit who would be handfasted in a few weeks, he certainly looked somber. 'That's something, anyway.'
After he had been closeted in the study with the Master later in the day, Farmer Took understood. He shook his head. 'Pity the lad,' he said. 'I thought such things had gone out of fashion.'
'The Thain has always been a law unto himself,' Saradoc muttered.
'Aye,' the farmer sighed. 'When you get your way long enough, you start to think you can live everyone else's life for them.'
'Well, Peregrin's never allowed his father to live his life for him. Not until now,' the Master said.
'I admire the lad his honour,' Farmer Took said slowly. 'But then I knew he'd got courage. He's shown it time and again.' He drained his glass of brandy. 'Well,' he said, 'I must go and explain to Pearl and to Diamond. I'm afraid they've had reason to think hard thoughts about the lad since the invitation for the handfasting arrived, though they didn't want to believe it of him.' He sighed. 'Well, it's not the lad's fault, nor the lass's, either.' He shook his head. 'It's a bad business.'
Saradoc could only agree.
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.