37. Feasts and Fears
“Good!” whispered Frodo into Sam’s ear. “Now I can spill all over myself and drop food everywhere and no one will see.”
Sam grinned back. “Aye, sir. You do so much o’ that. Don’t they look fine, though?”
The young hobbits did indeed look fine, if somewhat uncomfortable. Elrond had gifted each with a fine suit of new clothes for the occasion, allowing the retirement of Merry’s now very disreputable waistcoat. The new one, an identical yellow, gleamed with fine stitching. The two were tugging surreptitiously at the new clothes - they fit perfectly but were stiff with newness.
The twins, Elladan on the right and Elrohir on the left, sat next to the hobbits, with others of Elrond’s folk about them. Surprisingly, Gimli the dwarf also had a place of honor at the High Table and looked as uncomfortable as the hobbits. Arwen had been seated directly to his left, and devoted much of her time to alleviating his discomfort, the rough voice and the sweet one murmuring together, and at intervals both were raised in gentle laughter.
The young hobbits had been relieved to find that their chairs were padded with many cushions and if they teetered uncertainly on the pile, at least they were raised enough above to table to see. The twins steadied them and the two sat more comfortably. Merry was grinning unabashedly at all and sundry and Pippin also, though he looked rather frightened.
Frodo and Sam were joined by Gandalf, with Legolas and Boromir in tow. The wizard smiled at them, his usual rough-woven robes exchanged for soft dove-grey linens. Frodo thought he looked very fine, though the mischievous glint in those deep eyes was the same as ever. To Frodo’s delight, rather than joining Arwen and his kin, Aragorn sat with them also. The Ring-bearer’s eyes wandered among the Fellowship, considering each face, studying the features of those chosen to accompany him. Strength and nobility he saw in those faces, Aragorn’s especially. Legolas’ face was fair beyond that of mortal men, but humor and a joy in life softened it and made it congenial. Boromir’s eyes held strain but he had a wide, generous mouth and he smiled often. Next to Frodo, Sam’s sandy head was turning constantly, enthralled by the fair assemblage. Gandalf … what could Frodo say of his old and much-loved friend? Meeting Frodo’s eyes suddenly, the Ring-bearer found himself being considered in return. The old wizard arched a bushy eyebrow, smiling at the hobbit’s abased expression.
Scarcely had greetings been exchanged when the Elf-lord rose and placed a long hand on the shoulders of his small guests. Merry and Pippin stopped bouncing on their cushions and sat up straight. Elrond’s deep gaze wandered over his Household and his guests, and the soft-voiced conversations ceased as every head turned towards him.
Many and praising were the words he spoke to describe the young halflings’ bravery and quick-thinking actions, that had saved the lives of his sons. Merry and Pippin blushed, then flushed, then continued to turn the most astonishing shades of red. Merry’s bright curls made his face look even more scarlet and Pippin, daring to glance at his cousin, could not restrain a giggle. That started it. “Shush!” hissed Merry behind Elrond’s back, choking back his own mirth. Pippin tried but it escaped him, evolving into snickers and coughs and little rifts of uncontrollable laughter.
“… most noble act of bravery…” the Elf-lord was stating in his clear, sonorous voice, glancing down at the two giggling halflings, his dark brows drawing together in puzzlement, “… who by their courageous actions…” (giggle, giggle, choke) “… most unselfishly …” (giggle – hic! – giggle) “… did most valiantly preserve the lives of the princes of Imladris…” (ha, ha, ha – quiet, Pippin!) “… vanquishing an enemy…” (and its horse!) “… we in gratitude and honor…” Elladan and Elrohir were laughing softly now, their dark eyes sparkling as they enjoyed their lord father’s growing bewilderment, and stifled chuckles were breaking out among the lower tables. Frodo stared at his younger cousins furiously, his face flushing, which only added to the honorees’ hilarity.
Elrond rallied magnificently. Unaccustomed to such frivolity at a High Feast, he was wise enough to recognize that a mighty Elf-lord held little chance against the merriment of hobbits. Elrohir and Elladan were smiling in delight, each keeping a hand on hobbit-shoulder to help them balance against the cushions. Gimli looked confused but amusement danced in his deep-set eyes. Arwen awarded her father a commiserating look but no help, her eyes bright with humor at his consternation. With a resigned sigh, the Lord of Imladris concluded his remarks and signaled for the serving to begin.
Elladan leaned over a repentant Merry and whispered to his father, “It is for the best, Father. You do tend to pontificate, you know.”
Before the Elf-lord could draw breath to respond, Elrohir supported his brother with, “And I, for one, am pleased to hear laughter in the Great Hall. It has been much missing of late.”
Elrond felt a tug on his mantle and looked down into Pippin’s anxious eyes. “I’m sorry, sir,” the young hobbit apologized contritely. “But Merry looked so odd. Odder than usual, I mean…” the young hobbit darted a teasing glance at his cousin, who had just taken a mouthful and was unable to defend himself, “and, well, all we did really was to use our heads a bit. All those things you were saying … we’re honored, sir, but we’re just hobbits.”
The immortal Lord of Imladris regarded the small beings. “I very much doubt that you and Master Meriadoc are ‘just’ hobbits, young Peregrin. I suspect that you two will have a much larger role to play in the upcoming effort than you believe.”
Merry swallowed hurriedly. “What do you mean, my lord?”
“Great feats come to those who are willing to do them, young hobbits. Middle-earth cries out for heroes with sharp minds and brave hearts.”
“Heroes,” repeated Merry and Pippin together, their small faces beaming.
“Did I not say so?” asked Elrond. Then more gravely he turned to them, and looked deeply at them from those dark, wise eyes. “Thank you for saving the lives of my children.”
The remainder of the feast was concluded in more dignity. Dish after dish was presented first to the High Table then served to the lower tables; soups and salads, baskets of elaborate breads, dishes of vegetables cut into astonishing artwork, bowls of potatoes and yams whipped into imaginative shapes, peacocks and pheasants with their plumage restored, suckling pigs turned on spits with apples in their mouths. Between each course a little lemon- or peach-flavored ice was offered to clear the palate. Course after course followed one another, some so elaborate that the hobbits were unsure whether they were for admiring or consumption. Pippin picked up a radish carved into a blooming rose; it was lovely but what to do with it? He examined it thoughtfully then ate it.
After a while, a minstrel came before the dais, strumming softly a lute. She did not sing but played only, the soft notes of the music weaving among the diners with the warmth of a cat brushing along its person’s ankles. The Elves partook but lightly of each dish, but the hobbits, after their initial shyness, ate heartily. This honest appreciation of his efforts pleased the head cook immeasurably. Long familiar with wistful eyes and hungry expressions from when the little ones would beg for a snack, the tyrannical Elf had given much thought of what would best please the evening’s honorees, and the bounty of this blatant favoritism spilled over to Frodo and Sam.
At last the two guests of honor pushed back their plates with a groan. The head cook signaled to his staff. The plates were cleared away and before each of the diners was placed a pastry swan made of a cream-puff, frothy whipped cream filling the cavity. The hobbits stared in amazement. The top of the puff had been cut off and sliced in half and the two sides had been tilted up against the sides like wings. Tiny dots of chocolate formed the eyes on a graceful neck of piped dough.
“Ohhhh,” the hobbits breathed. The head cook beamed. Elrond smiled, amused by both his kitchen staff and his guests. Slowly, with reverence, the dessert was consumed. “Ohhhh,” Pippin repeated in bliss, eyeing his cousin’s barely touched dessert. “Ah, Merry, if you’re not going to eat that…”
“Hands off, Pip. I was just figuring out how they made it so I can take the idea back to Brandy Hall. Can you imagine these served at the Yuleday feast?”
The tweenager’s sorrowful eyes remained glued to the delicacy. “My head hurts, Merry,” he whispered shamelessly.
Merry rolled his eyes. “And my swan would help that?”
“Uh-um!” Merry sighed and slid it over to him.
Elrond turned from his place in time to see the exchange. “I fear, Master Meriadoc,” he said softly, “ that you will hear that particular lament from young Pippin for as long as you allow him to get away with it.”
Merry nodded, not at all discomforted. “I know, sir. But I don’t mind, really. My dessert is small price to pay for his being all right.”
The Elf-lord nodded in understanding. “All things seem trivial when measured against the well-being of those we love.”
* * * * *
Dawn had not yet painted the mountains with light when Merry tried to rouse his cousin for the day’s activities. Pippin yawned then tried to burrow deeper into the blankets. “I can’t get up for lessons today,” he explained to Merry earnestly. “My head hurts. Truly, Merry.”
As they had done the previous afternoon, Merry’s hands burrowed through the thick curls and did indeed discover a sizable lump, though one much diminished from the initial injury. The tweenager endured this stoically, having explored the site earlier himself. Pippin’s green-gold eyes met his cousin’s hopefully and he made a great show of rubbing the bump. This heart-rending performance was rather spoiled by another yawn.
“Pippin,” argued Merry reasonably, “you must get up. We have boating practice today and everyone’s going to be there. Then Gimli is going to test us on weapons he thinks we might use.”
“I know how to paddle a boat,” retorted Pippin. “You taught me. What sort of weapons?”
Merry considered his answer then chose to address the first rationalization. “The scows and row-boats we use on the Brandywine aren’t like elven boats, Pip. Have you seen them?” Merry’s face took on an eager, abstracted expression and Pippin was intrigued in spite of the soft mattress and warm covers. “They narrow at the bow and stern and the hulls are tapered to a point. You can’t sink one even if you want to. You can’t. And they’re beautiful, Pip. Like poetry on water. Slim and graceful … not like anything we have in the Shire.”
“You’re always on about things and ideas we can take home,” the youngest hobbit groused good-naturedly, his reluctance disappearing in his cousin’s enthusiasm (and thoughts of breakfast). “Let’s see these wonder-boats, then.”
It wasn’t until much, much later that Pippin remembered that Merry had said nothing about the dwarf-weapons.
* * * * *
“I don’t like this, Mr. Frodo,” Sam muttered.
Frodo nodded jerkily. “Me neither, Sam.”
The hobbits stood in an apprehensive cluster (minus one) on the banks of one of Rivendell’s swift-flowing streams, eyeing the two elven river-craft Elrond had provided them for practice. Bilbo had chosen to accompany them this morning, complaining cheerfully of the early hour and his old bones.Aragorn watched the elderly hobbit cautiously, seeing how he and Frodo and Sam blanched at the noisy waters and stood well back of the bank.
Aragorn had chosen one of the smaller streams, more gentle than many that dashed through Imladris with such exuberant vigor, but still he sensed the hobbits’ unease. Frodo, the Ranger remembered, had his own reason to fear boats and water. Bilbo had told him the story of the Ring-bearer’s parents and their untimely death on the waters of the Brandywine. The orphaned hobbit-child had been taking in by Merry’s folk and at Brandy Hall had learned to face his fear and even boats, but the Ranger saw that Frodo was tense and nervous. Samwise looked simply frightened, his round face white and sweating, high spots of color on his cheeks. Pippin was excited and eager but he stayed close to Frodo, hanging back behind his cousin and keeping a hand in Frodo’s. Sparing a reassuring smile for the anxious hobbits, Aragorn turned his attention to the one among them who seemed comfortable.
The young Brandybuck had greeted the slender elven craft with a cry of joy, exclaiming over their graceful lines and running his hands over the painted prows. Bilbo had also warned Aragorn that the other Shirefolk considered the Brandybucks “right odd” because of their most unhobbit-like enjoyment of water and boating. Contrasting this young one’s ardent face with the others, Aragorn seconded the Shirefolk.
Prying Merry away from the river-craft, Aragorn sat the younger hobbits down and explained the principles of steering and paddling. Then he had them scoot into a line on the grassy turf and practice with imaginary oars. Gimli made the mistake of laughing at the comical sight and found himself seated after Samwise, stroking industriously with a non-existent paddle. Thus forewarned, Legolas and Boromir were careful to keep their miens serious and helpful, and assisted the Ranger with positioning small hands and calling out a rhythm. Gandalf watched for a while then laughed and excused himself, admonishing Aragorn not to let anyone drown. The hobbits stared after him, not appreciating the joke.
* TBC *
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.