33. Dissolution of an Agreement
Merry shook his head. 'I don't really know,' he admitted. 'My father just said there was to be a hearing, and you were needed.'
Saradoc looked searchingly at his son. 'Do you know aught of your cousin's behaviour that has been less than honourable?' he asked soberly.
'No,' Merry said, shaken. 'Who has brought accusation against him?' he demanded.
Saradoc shook his head. 'I know only that a hearing was requested; I do not know the charges. You know that he must be charged before witnesses. That custom stands for his own protection, as well as the other party in the matter. Bring him.'
They entered the study. Saradoc sat behind the desk. To one side stood Cardoc the Steward, Farmer Took, and Merry's Uncle Merimac--three witnesses. Pippin's eyes sought Merry's. This was a full formal hearing, about as formal as you could get in the Shire. What was going on?
Merry squeezed his arm and went to sit by the desk, picking up his pen. He would act as scribe. He began to write as Saradoc spoke the formal words.
'We are met in full formal hearing, to consider the consequences of actions taken by one hobbit, Peregrin Took,' his voice softened as he met Pippin's eye, 'my nephew,' he concluded. 'We will now hear the evidence.'
Esmeralda rose to escort Estella Bolger from where they had sat, unnoticed, in the corner. The lass was pale, and serious.
'Estella Bolger of Budgeford in Bridgefields,' the Master intoned. 'What would you say before this hearing?'
'I have requested three witnesses to hear my words,' she answered in a clear voice, lifting her chin, 'and a scribe to take a full account,' she said. 'Let there be no mistake.'
Pippin waited, breathless. He could think of lots of things he had done in the past, all just mischief, but nothing to warrant a hearing with three witnesses. Estella Bolger? What could she have against him?
She turned to him, still serious, grey eyes taking his measure. 'Let me say first that Peregrin, son of Paladin, has never acted in less than honourable manner towards me. Yet for reasons of my own, and no guilt on his part, I find it impossible to continue on the path set before us. Peregrin Took, I dissolve the agreement between us. It is my right, and I choose to do this before witnesses.' She smiled. 'I release you.' Sheer mischief danced in her eyes. 'Now let the Thain stick that in his pipe and smoke it!' She looked quickly at Merry. 'Don't write that last part down!' she said urgently. Merry shook his head, smiling, and handed the pen and paper to the Master, who signed his name and affixed his official seal. Cardoc, Farmer Took, and Merimac each took up the pen in turn to add their signatures to the document.
'Done,' Saradoc said in satisfaction, then turned to his nephew, who still stood frozen in shock. Farmer Took caught Pippin as he staggered, led him to a chair and eased him down.
Merimac poured a glassful of brandy and offered it to him, keeping a hand on his shoulder. 'Drink it, lad,' he urged. Pippin sipped mechanically, still trying to absorb what had happened.
Estella came to kneel before him, placing a hand upon his knee. 'Oh, my beloved,' she murmured, then smiled again, gently. 'My former beloved. I am sorry this came as such a shock.' She looked up at Saradoc, then back to Pippin. 'But knowing the Thain, I thought it best to do it this way, that there would be no mistake, and no blame placed on you.' She stroked his cheek with a gentle finger. 'Had I spoken to you beforehand, your father might have accused you of trying to influence me, and tried to set aside the decision.'
She looked searchingly into his eyes. 'Don't you understand?' she said urgently. 'You're free. Your father has no hold over you now.' Tears filled her eyes. 'I could never stand to see a wild creature caged,' she said. He raised a hand to wipe away a tear from her cheek. 'You're free,' she repeated.
Merimac took the glass from him as Pippin reached forward to take her in a great hug. When he released her, she stood up and smiled down at him. 'Now would it really have been so terrible to be married to me?' she teased. She looked to the Master. 'All right, then,' she said. 'This has been a house of mourning long enough. I hope you are going to order a grand celebration in the great hall tonight.'
Esmeralda hugged the girl. 'The grandest there could possibly be,' she said.
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