16. Invitation from Long Cleeve
While graciously receiving Farmer Took and his wife, Esmeralda's sharp eyes catalogued the family. Well dressed, but not ostentatious. Wagon not new, but in excellent repair. Ponies healthy and well cared for, with a few extra touches--someone had braided bright ribbons into the flowing manes and tails. The four youngest piled out of the wagon like puppies, but lined up in fair order at a bark from their father, who then turned to help down his wife, and each of his two eldest daughters in turn. The girls were graceful in descending, and after a wide-eyed look at the sprawling Hall each kept her eyes demurely cast down.
Farmer Took presented each family member to the Master and Mistress. Esmeralda couldn't help catching her breath when Ruby raised her eyes as she was being introduced. The lass was lovely, indeed. She put out her hand to take the girl's, and it was not a soft hand but well kept despite the signs that the girl knew how to put her hands to useful tasks.
After greeting all the family down to the youngest boy (A scamp if ever I have seen one!) the Mistress stepped back with a smile and gesture towards the entrance. 'Come in!' she smiled. 'Tea has just been laid.'
'You and the girls go on, Pearl,' the farmer said. 'Lads 'n' I will just see about the ponies.' He looked to Saradoc. 'Meaning no disrespect, mind, but we always take care of our ponies, and they take care of us in return.'
'Of course!' Saradoc replied. 'I'll walk with you. We have a fine stables here; your ponies will be very comfortable.'
The men followed the ponies to the stables, chatting comfortably, followed by the tumbling lads.
Esmeralda poured out tea for the guests, asking about the ride, the weather, the scenery. Mistress Took answered easily and helped fill the plates from the tea tray. The older girls served their little sisters and then sat down themselves. Soon the men and boys came in, and the conversation became quite animated.
Suddenly a young voice pierced through the conversation. 'Where's Master Peregrin? He promised me a ride on Socks next time I saw him!' Mistress Took hushed her youngest. Esmeralda could see the same question in the older girls' eyes.
'The lads went out to the fields today to see to the last of the harvest,' Saradoc answered. 'They were to be back in time for tea, but you never know how these things will go.'
Farmer Took agreed, and the conversation turned to all the things that could go wrong at harvest.
There was a clatter of ponies' feet out on the stones and the youngest boy jumped up with a yelp. 'I see them! There's Socks! There's Jewel!'
'Tad.' His father's voice was quiet, but it stopped him short of running out the door.
The boy turned, remembering his manners, and bowed to Esmeralda. 'May I be excused, please, Mistress, to greet your-son-and-nephew?' he asked in an obviously rehearsed manner.
She smiled and said, 'Go ahead, I am sure they would love to receive your greeting.' He was off like a shot, and the older hobbits all laughed. She met Mistress Took's smiling eyes and said, 'Young Peregrin was much the same at that age.'
The farmer's wife laughed, saying, 'And he's not changed much, from what I can tell!' All laughed together again, and constraint rapidly melted. Soon they were old friends.
'Call me Pearl.'
'Only if you will call me Essie.' A smiling nod in acknowledgement. 'Peregrin has a sister named Pearl.'
'An old family name. I think you will find a "Pearl" in every generation of Tooks, among the north-Tooks as well.' They had quite a lively discussion, tracing the family tree, until they had properly established the family relationships.
At steps in the hallway, all looked up to see young Tad dragging the cousins into the room, having given a hand to each.
Ruby blushed to greet Meriadoc under his mother's eye, but her eyes were shining and she had such a sweet smile. Merry was unusually reserved, his mother noted. Her eyes met Pearl's, and the mothers shared a significant look.
The north-Tooks stayed a month complete, through Yule, for this was a quiet season for the farmer and his sons could easily handle all the winter chores themselves. The two eldest sons rode out from Long Cleeve for the noonday feast that began the holiday, but had to leave again right after teatime to get back to the farm in time for evening chores. The Hall was beautifully decorated with greens the young hobbits had collected in the woods, and ribbons and bows tied by the girls. Esmeralda was reckless with the supply of candles, and the great room shone with festive light. The musicians were at their liveliest, Peregrin joined in with his flute, and at the insistence of the old aunts Meriadoc sang more than once, his fine voice floating over the great room. He and Ruby sang a duet, and their voices mingled so sweetly that the crowd hushed to silence to hear them.
The cooks had outdone themselves; there was food enough to feast upon through the day. The younger hobbits danced far into the night, ending only when the musicians cried exhaustion and stumbled off to the beds the Hall had provided. Then the ones who were not sleepy sat and told stories and roasted bacon and mushrooms on long sticks over the great Yule log that burned on the hearth. When the Sun peeked her head above the horizon once more, the Master of the Hall arose to shoo all the remaining celebrants off to their beds.
After a day of rest to recover from the celebration, the north-Tooks packed up their wagon and prepared to depart for Long Cleeve. Many from the Hall came out into the chilly air to see them off.
The Master and the farmer had shared a last pipe as the wagon was being loaded, and Farmer Took now turned to Saradoc with a twinkle in his eye. 'Remember,' he said, 'you are to come next summer for Mid-year's Day! It is our turn to host the celebration!'
'We will be there,' Saradoc promised. 'Shall we bring the lads as well?' A great shout of protest arose from the younger members in the wagon and he grinned. 'I take it that is a "yes",' he grinned.
'Oh, aye,' said the farmer. 'I doubt they would let you in the door without the lads,' he added. Though there was a twinkle in his eye, he sounded quite serious.
Tad bounced out of the wagon and up to his father. 'Goodbye, Master!' he said cheerfully to Saradoc. 'I had a very good time. You can invite me anytime you wish!'
'Get along with you, young scamp!' the farmer said. Saradoc grinned.
'Can't I drive? You promised I could drive!' The farmer climbed up onto the wagon seat and Saradoc lifted the lad into his arms. Tad's father settled him in his lap and picked up the reins. Tad proudly took hold of the ends of the reins and chirruped to the ponies. The wagon started, and there was a grand chorus of goodbyes and a great deal of waving that continued until the wagon was well down the road.
Peregrin and Meriadoc would escort them part of the way home, and their ponies pranced and blew white breath from their nostrils as they rode to either side of the wagon.
Saradoc sighed and turned back to the bustling Hall. Esmeralda regarded him with a raised eyebrow. 'It is going to be pretty quiet around here, now that they're gone,' he said. He took her arm, and laughing, they walked back into the Hall.
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.