Too Many Tooks by Kathryn Ramage

The next day was brilliantly sunny, with bright blue skies and only the slightest touch of autumnal coolness in the breeze. Frodo was reminded of his last September in the Shire--was it only two years ago?--and another beautiful early autumn day. And he remembered the night that followed, when he'd been forced to flee for his very life and the safety of all Middle-earth, never knowing if he'd ever see his home again.

Sometimes, now that he was actually home again, all those months he'd been away seemed like an incredible dream. And sometimes, this seemed like the dream. After all he'd been through in the greater world, beautiful days like this had a particular dream-like quality. How could he be here, walking the green hills of Tuckborough with his Took and Brandybuck cousins, doing something as innocuous as gathering armloads of flowers?

Today, everyone was busy with last-minute preparations for the wedding. The local farm-hobbits and laborers who had been hired to set up the tables and benches hastened to finish their work. Cooks and maids were busy in all the Took kitchens baking and stewing foods for the feast. Melilot and her mother and the girl-cousins who would stand with her at the wedding ceremony fussed at their finery. The boys, too, had been pressed into service, and had been sent out to gather as many flowers as they could collect from the fields beyond the town for garlands to be hung around the wedding pavilion.

"I don't see why we couldn't get all the flowers we need from the garden," Ilberic grumbled as he hacked at a handful of long-stemmed Halimath daisies with his pocket-knife. "There are plenty there already."

"Yes, but Aunt Eglantine didn't want the flower beds all chopped to pieces and trampled down before the celebration tomorrow," said Everard. "I don't care so much myself. I can do without the flowers, but you know how ladies are. A wedding ceremony's got to be perfect in even the smallest details. If it makes Melly happy to be surrounded by every flower we can find, then we'll find 'em."

As Everard and the younger lads went off in quest of more wild-flowers in a nearby dell, Frodo sat down in the grass to gather up the cut daisies into sheaves. As he knotted a long stalk of wild grass around each bundle and set it aside, the sweet, sun-warmed scent of the flowers seemed to fill his senses. He shut his eyes and, holding the last bundle in his arms, breathed in the scent, then sighed.

When a shadow fell across his face, he looked up to find Merry standing over him, frowning down with concern. "You not getting tired, are you, Frodo?"

"No, I'm fine."

"Never mind the flowers. We can go back to the Thain's Hall if you want to rest," Merry persisted. "Pip and I promised Sam we'd look after you."

"And you're doing a splendid job." Frodo smiled up at his cousin. "Honestly, Merry, I haven't felt so well in a long time. It's just that I was thinking of Sam myself. These remind me of him." Flowers and gardens often had that effect on Frodo, so closely associated in his mind as they were with his lover. "I've been missing him terribly, more than I expected to."

"I could have told you that," replied Merry. "You spoke his name last night in your sleep."

"I didn't!"

"You did." Merry grinned. "You threw your arm across me in the middle of the night, snuggled up, and mumbled 'Sam.' I didn't have the heart to tell you you had the wrong person."

Frodo remembered waking up that morning curled close to Merry. He had to believe that the rest of it was true. "I hope I wasn't too troublesome."

"Oh, it's quite all right," his cousin assured him. "I missed having someone to cuddle up with too. Poor Pippin doesn't have anyone."

"You can go and join him tonight if you like," Frodo offered.

"But that'd leave you alone," answered Merry, still smiling. "I couldn't do that. Sam would never forgive me if you had a turn and nobody was there to take care of you. Maybe we could have Pippin come in with us? The bed might be a little crowded, but I'm sure we could manage."

At midday, the boys brought their bundles and basket-loads of flowers to the garden to be placed in tubs of water to keep them fresh. As a reward for their morning's work, Everard invited the others to lunch at his father's house.

Pearl, who was lady of the house since her father-in-law was a widower, was not expecting a half-dozen hobbit-lads to turn up for a meal, but there was sufficient food in the larder to feed them all. She set out lunch for them on a small, half-moon terrace cut into the hillside overlooking the garden. Reginard was already there, seated at the table, and the baby was on a blanket on the grass. While the other lads took chairs around the table, Pippin sat down on the ground to play with his nephew.

"You're very good with babies, Pip," his sister said after watching him babble and coo at little Peveril. "You know, you could have one of your own."

"Me?" Pippin laughed, and the baby, whom he was bouncing lightly on one knee, laughed too. "I can't see it."

"Give yourself time. You're still half a child yourself. You'll change your mind when you're a bit older. It's only what every hobbit wants."

"Not every hobbit," said Merry.

"Most hobbits," Pearl responded. "It's only natural." She turned to Everard. "At least, you and Melilot will begin having your own children soon enough. I expect that within a year of your wedding day- Oh! I forgot!" And she leapt up and went into the house.

Pearl returned a few minutes later with a small pile of letters and notes, posted or hand-delivered, which she placed on the table before Everard. "These came while you were out," she explained. "There were more, some with gifts, but Melly and Aunt Melisaunte have taken charge of those. These were addressed to you alone, so I set them aside. They must be from your particular friends."

Everard picked up the letters and began to open them one by one with his pocket-knife. "Yes, they're from my friends," he said after reading the first few, "mostly from the ones who won't be here tomorrow, but want to offer their congratulations and best wishes."

"You'll have to answer them all," said his brother.

"Oh, I will, but I think that can wait 'til after tomorrow," Everard laughed. "My friends will understand that I've too much to do to keep up with my correspondence." He stopped suddenly at one folded, sealed note; Frodo, who was seated at Everard's right, noticed that it was directed simply to 'Everard Took,' without any address or indication of whom it was from. But Everard must have recognized the handwriting, for his face went pale, and he hastily tucked the square of paper into his waistcoat pocket without opening it, then went on to read the rest of his letters.

Later that afternoon, after tea, a group of young hobbits went into the garden: Everard, Merry and Pippin, Pim and Peri, Doderic, Ilberic, Ada, Flora, Isalda, Ferdi, and Frodo. They were to make garlands from the flowers the boys had gathered and hang them up to create a bower around the pavilion. The work had to be done this evening, for the wedding ceremonies would begin at 9:00 the next morning.

While the other boys sat on the lawn some yards from the pavilion, fishing flowers from the tubs of water and trimming and weaving the long stems to form chains, Ferdi helped his five unmarried girl-cousins to string up the finished garlands on the pavilion and in the trees around it. He flirted with all of them simultaneously, but if he had special feelings for any one girl, he did not show it.

At intervals, Ferdi came over to the other boys to collect finished garlands.

"It's quiet," he observed during one such trip, and looked around. The group of young hobbits was alone in the garden. The laborers had finished the last of their work--hanging up little tin lanterns containing candles--and had gone home to their dinners. No other members of the family were around.

"What?" Everard asked, and looked up at his cousin. Although his fingers worked nimbly on the flower stems, Everard seemed distracted; he kept an eye on the sun as it sank lower over the western ridge of the hill, and would probably have spoken little if the constant chattering of the other lads did not draw him in.

"It's quiet," Ferdi repeated. "Where is everyone? You'd think they'd all be out enjoying a lovely afternoon like this. There won't be very nice afternoons in the coming months. And yet the old folks are staying indoors: My parents. Your father. Aunt Eggie and Uncle Paladin, and our Brandybuck guests--you lads excepted, of course," he added to Merry, Dodi, Ilbie, as well as to Frodo, for the Tooks counted him as a Brandybuck. Ferdi glanced up over the heads of the other boys to the hillside and smiled. "Pearl and Reg."

"Surely Pearl and Reg aren't 'old folks'?" said Everard.

"They certainly are! It happens the instant you marry, my dear Ev. You'll sit home by the fire, smoking your pipe."

"I do that now."

"But that's all you'll do," Ferdi went on teasing. "Every evening, from dinner 'til bed-time. No more fun. No more going out to the pub or meeting your friends." Everard's face colored, and he ducked his head. "And Melly will spend all her days looking after the little ones and gossiping with the other ladies... Do you suppose that's where the ladies are now? Gossiping?"

"I couldn't say about the other ladies, but I'm certain that Mother and Auntie Di are discussing 'the problem,'" said Pippin, referring to himself. "They've been on about it since last night. They'd like to find some way to make me like girls, or at least one girl in particular. I've been a great disappointment to them. It's what they wanted me home for."

"Pearl's baby hasn't made you change your mind?" Merry asked him.

"No..." Pippin shook his head. "But, you know, I've been thinking: If I ever do have a little boy of my own, I'd like to name him after Faramir. Is that silly?"

Frodo smiled, for he knew what a powerful impression Faramir had made on Pippin during his stay in Gondor; he had hero-worshipped the young captain from the first time he'd seen him, even before he'd had the chance to save Faramir's life. "No," said Frodo, "it's not silly. I think he'd be very pleased if he knew."

The other lads looked nonplussed and Peri, who had come over to see why Ferdi was taking so long, laughed and said, "Faramir? What an odd name for a hobbit!" as she gathered up the finished garlands and returned to the pavilion.

Ferdi lingered to continue the conversation. "Do you think your father's with them, Pip?"

"Probably. I must be as worrisome to him as to Mother."

"And Uncle Adelard?"

"I saw my father awhile ago," Everard said, "sitting in his study. He's always there these days--working on his carving, as he does when he's got something on his mind. He's been thoughtful since he heard about my wedding plans."

"He doesn't object, does he?" asked Merry. "He likes Melly?"

"No, it's not that. He's fond of Melly. He was very glad when I told him I was going to settle things with her, and he welcomed her when I brought her back to Tuckborough, just as if she were his daughter-in-law already. Only..." Everard frowned, puzzled. "He isn't sad, exactly, but he's been brooding. I think he wants to tell me something, and hasn't worked himself up to it yet."

"If it's the talk about how little hobbits are made, he's left it rather late," Doderic joked.

"You do know that you don't find babies under the rose bushes, don't you, Evvy?" Ilberic asked with mock solemnity. "We can't have Melly disappointed on her wedding night." And the boys burst into laughter.

These were common enough japes from a bridegroom's friends, but Everard blushed deeply. "Where is Melly?" he wondered. "She's not with the other ladies, is she? I haven't seen her in hours."

"She must still be fixing her wedding dress," said Ferdi.

"Still?" asked Pippin in surprise. "How long does it take to fix a dress?"

"It's the ribbons," Ferdi explained. "The girls have offered to help her with the sewing, but it's a very delicate piece of work and she wants to do it all herself. You'll have to see it to appreciate it: there's a sort of weaving of colored ribbons on the front of the bodice-" he demonstrated with his fingers over his waistcoat, "and the ends all tie around in the back. She picked out special ribbons for it. We went shopping with her in Tookbank for them--Pimmy, Flora, and I. We each bought her a different color."

The other boys gaped at him.

"I think you've been spending too much time with the girls, Ferdi Took," said Doderic.

"I don't mind," Ferdi responded, unabashed. "I like girls." And, with that, he gathered up the garland the other boys had just completed and returned to the group of girls who were waiting for him at the pavilion. He said something to them, so softly that the boys couldn't hear it, but they heard the delighted giggles that followed. Doderic's ears turned bright red.

"Has he picked out any one of 'em in particular?" Pippin wondered. "If Ferdi's going to be my brother-in-law, one way or the other, I think I ought to know about it."

"I've no idea," said Everard. "He might marry one of my sisters just as easily as yours. I expect it'll be up to the girls in the end. I hope there won't be any hard feelings when they come to the point."

"He's right about one thing, Dodi," Ilbie told his brother. "You won't get any girls to like you if you don't spend time with 'em."

"How would you know?" Dodi retorted.

"At least, I've been out boating with a girl-"

"And look how that turned out!"

"How did it turn out, Ilbie?" Frodo asked. He knew that the two were referring to an adventure Ilberic had had this past spring at Brandy Hall, when he'd run off for an hour with Estella Bolger, escaping the watchful eyes of her Aunt Beryl long enough to tell the girl how he felt about her. Estella had thanked him, but informed him that her affections were already bestowed elsewhere.

"Oh, I haven't seen 'Stella since she left the Hall," Ilbie said glumly. "I've written to Fatty once or twice, asking after his sister, but don't want to bother her. I won't push myself at her. I want to give her time to get Merry out of her mind."

"I'll be happy when she does!" Merry said with blunt sincerity.

"Me too!" interjected Pippin.

"She's a nice girl," Merry continued, "and she ought to have the right sort of boy for her. I'm entirely the wrong sort. If I married her as Father wanted me to, I'd only made her miserable. If you can win her over, Ilbie, I'll wish you both the best."

"Don't you think about marriage at all, Merry?" Everard asked him frankly. "I've heard, of course, about you and Pip and all the trouble you've been giving the family. Don't you ever think of how much easier it'd be to do what the family wants--for your own sake, if not for theirs? Have you never thought about having children?"

"You mean, what every hobbit naturally wants? Oh, I suppose I'll have to think of my responsibilities to the family one of these days," Merry admitted with equal frankness. "I'll have to provide the next heir to the Brandybucks. But not for a long time yet." He flashed a smile at Pippin. "Not for at least another ten years. When I do marry, it won't be to some poor, innocent girl who doesn't know why she won't be getting... well, what any girl has a right to expect from her husband. I can't pretend to feel something I don't, and I won't lie. Whoever she is, she'll have to understand just what she's in for when she marries me. That's only fair."

"I don't think you'll ever find such a girl," said Everard. "She doesn't exist."

"Perhaps you're right. All the same, I prefer to wait." Merry got up and walked a little distance from the group. He leaned against a tree in the deepening shadows, fished his pipe out of his waistcoat pocket, and lit it. Pippin went over to join him and the two began to talk quietly.

"I hope I didn't upset him," Everard said to Frodo. "I didn't mean to. I only... well, wondered."

"It isn't your fault," Frodo assured him. Everard had only happened to strike a sensitive nerve. Neither Merry nor Pippin was at ease being among their families again. All summer, Frodo had watched the two enjoy themselves at Bag End, forget their problems, and become almost the same careless, fun-loving boys they had been before they'd gone off with him on their adventures. The news of Pippin's planned betrothal had put an end to that. Since they'd come to Tuckborough, both were growing tense and unhappy. Merry, oddly, seemed to feel it even more deeply than Pippin did; it reminded him of what he already knew, but didn't like to think about: they could not go as two carefree boys in love forever. They might put it off, even by as much as ten years, but eventually, they would have to give in to family pressure.

The last chain of flowers was finished as the sun went down behind the crest of the hill. Ilbie and, at his brother's urging, Dodi, carried it over to the girls to help hang it up. Everard, who had been working swiftly to finish the final garland by sunset, set down the knife he'd been using to trim the flower-stems, washed the green stains from his hands in the water from one of the tubs, and hastily left.

Frodo flopped back to lie on the grass and stare at the sky overhead as twilight settled in. With the sunset, the color had waned from bright, cloudless blue to a dusky lavender, and was beginning to darken. It was indeed a beautiful evening, still, clear, and quiet. He could hear Merry and Pippin whispering together, and he could smell the smoke from Merry's pipe on the cooling air; he wished he had his own pipe with him.

There was some animated discussion near the pavilion, and then Ferdi, Pim, and Peri came to stand over him.

"The girls," announced Ferdi with a grin, "have a proposal."

"A dance!" cried Pim.

"Come on, Frodo!" said Peri, and reached down to take him by the hand and pull him up. "There'll be a lot of dancing tomorrow. We need the practice, and we need enough boys!"

"We can't all dance with Ferdi," Ada added with her customary giggle as she came over, but she managed to claim Ferdi for her partner just the same. On the green lawn before the pavilion, the others had also paired off--Flora with Dodi, Ilbie with Isalda.

"Merry, Pippin, come and join us!" Pim called out to the couple under the tree. "Pip, where's your banjolele? Do you still have it?"

"It's somewhere in my room," her brother answered. "It's been so long since I've played it, I'm sure I've forgotten how. I'll sit your dance out, just the same."

"Oh, no, you won't," said Merry and pulled Pippin after him into the circle the others were forming.

"Merry Brandybuck, that's not very gentlemanly of you!" Pim protested. "There's a girl left over now, and we ought to be in proper pairs. If Evvy were still here..."

"Evvy isn't here?" Melilot emerged from a path between the deep-shadowed clumps of shrubbery. "I thought he was out in the garden with you."

"He left a few minutes ago," said Ferdi. "We thought he was going to see you. You've finished the work on your dress?"

"Yes, finally!" She looked up at the garlands strung overhead. "What a lovely job you've done. Thank you, all of you. If Evvy was going into the house as I came out and we missed each other, he'll be out again in a minute or two. If you need a partner, Pimmy, I'll stand in." She offered a hand, and the other girl took it. "It won't matter when everyone gets mixed up."

The hobbits formed a wide circle on the grass before the pavilion--standing boy-girl-boy-girl for the most part--and then clapped their hands and counted aloud to set the beat: "One! Two! Three!" They all ran into the center, finding their chosen partners, and started the dance, singing a wordless melody to provide their own music.

Paladin came out through one of the back doors of the Hall and, seeing the young people dancing, came closer to watch. When he realized that Pippin and Merry were paired, he looked surprised, but said nothing. He did not interrupt the dance.

It was only when Pippin noticed that his father was there, and stepped quickly away from Merry, that the dancing circle was broken. "I'm sorry," he mumbled as he walked quickly away. "Merry can dance with one of the girls. I should've sat out." He headed toward the cover of the shrubbery.

"Pip!" Paladin called after him and was about to follow, when a sudden, shrill, horrified cry cut across the still evening. It came from the meadow beyond the garden.

The next few minutes were a riot of confusion as everyone ran in the direction of the scream. The meadow was full of hobbits searching the tall grass in the fading light for a fallen or injured person. Their voices babbled, running together, as they all asked questions at once: "Who was it?" "What's happened?" "Has someone been hurt?" "Is it Evvy?" But no answers came.

Ferdi cried out, "Over here!" and ran toward a clump of trees, the same grove where Frodo had stumbled upon Everard and his friend Toby the day before. The others followed.

Everard was kneeling in the grove now, over Toby, who lay still and waxenly pale in the crushed grass. His hand was on Toby's chest, and when he lifted it, the fingers were smeared with blood. The front of Toby's white shirt was dark with it.

Everard looked up at gathering crowd, dazed to find so many people there. Reginard, who was already at his brother's side, took his arm and tugged to urge him up. "Come away, Evvy!"
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