11. Chapter Ten
As Gandalf demonstrated the toy’s proper operation to a wide-eyed Pippin, bubbles floated everywhere. A large one perfumed with violets drifted over Pearl’s head; Frodo leaned over and popped it with his finger, sending drops showering into Pearl’s hair. She laughed merrily and gave Frodo an openly flirtatious glance.
“Trying to make sure I smell nice?” she asked.
Frodo grinned. “Yes, I guess I am—not that you didn’t already!” The musicians Bilbo had gathered from every corner of the Shire began playing, and he caught at Pearl’s hand. “Come on, Pearl, dance with me!” He pulled her after him into the cleared area before the performers and they began to dance, their arms around each other. As Frodo drew Pearl into a closer embrace, she smiled and let herself yield to him. His response was gratifying, and her willfulness surged up full force once more.
“So did you find that letter I tucked into one of the books you borrowed?” she murmured.
“Yes I did, as a matter of fact.” Frodo cleared his throat. “Tell me, how does a nice girl like you learn about those sorts of things?”
“I read a lot, for one thing. The Old Took seems to have collected some very interesting books when he went adventuring with Gandalf.” Her smile widened into a grin of pure wickedness. “And I’m not blind—I can see perfectly well what the sheep are doing in the fields! Are you shocked now?”
“Not hardly, since I’ve known you entirely too long to be that.” He pulled her against him tightly. “But what even am I going to do with you, Pearl, my sweet?”
“You have to ask?” The music ceased and they stopped breathlessly, their arms around each other. “And it can be tonight, if you wish it,” Pearl whispered, throwing prudence to the winds.
“Tempting me again?” Frodo’s voice was light but his eyes were hot.
"Always . . .”
He began leaning towards her but a sudden thump on a drum made them jump and broke their concentration. Hamfast Gamgee, who was the main drummer, shouted, “Chose your partners for the leap dance! Let’s see who can last the longest! Come on, lads, which lass shall it be?”
Frodo grinned at Pearl. “Ready for a challenge?”
She laughed saucily. “Of course! Let the others try, but we’re the ones to win today!”
“Don’t be so sure of that, Pearl.” Pimmie stepped up to them as she tugged a blushing Sam by the hand. Frodo looked at him in disbelief.
“Sam? Are you actually going to dance? Impossible!”
“Well, Mister Frodo, Miss Pimmie’s awfully anxious to win—she thinks I can help her more than Mister Merry usually does.” He carefully put his hands on Pimmie’s waist as they took their place in the rapidly forming circle.
“Dream on, Pimmie,” said Merry airily, falling in beside his cousins. His partner was little Estella Bolger, Fatty’s sister, who was practically bouncing with joy; it was a family joke that Stella had developed quite a crush on Merry over the past few months. “Now you’ll see what I can really do with a lighter lass to lift!”
Pimmie snorted. “And you’ll see what a stronger lad does for me, you weakling!”
“You all are going to lose!” Frodo proclaimed grandly.
As the circle of dancers filled up, some of the older couples joined too, determined to prove they were still fit and hale. Among them were Paladin and Eglantine, much to their daughters’ surprise, and finally Sarry and Esmeralda took their place after a whispered conference. The drummers stepped into the middle of the circle, counted, and struck up the quick racing beat. The circle of dancers moved about as each girl was tossed up by her partner and then came down to whirl vigorously before being tossed again.
Pearl soon lost count of how many times she and Frodo had gone around. As he lifted her again, she flung her head back, dizzy with sun and dancing and desire. She caught glimpses of the cheering, clapping crowd, including a beaming Bilbo with an excited Pippin standing beside him. She even saw Gandalf clapping with the beat, laughing heartily. Who would have thought!
One by one, couples began to drop out, too tired to continue. Finally there were only four pairs left: Frodo and Pearl, Merry and Estella, Sam and Pimmie, and most surprisingly Paladin and Eglantine. But when Paladin tossed Eglantine again, he grunted and put his hand to his side as she landed.
“Too much for me! It’s up to you youngsters now!” They moved off to join Bilbo and Gandalf.
Around the three couples went, the cheering and clapping growing louder. Merry tossed Estella expertly, only to have her stumble and fall against him when she hit the ground. “My head’s spinning!” she cried. Merry swore and reluctantly stepped away from the circle. Frodo and Sam paid no attention as they focused on their partners. The cheering became even more raucous.
“Go, Sam-lad, go! Show ‘em what stuff you’ve got!” yelled Hamfast.
“Come on, Frodo!” called Merry. “One for the Brandybucks!”
“And the Tooks!” shouted Paladin.
Around and around they went once more, driven on by the drums and handclaps. Pimmie landed heavily and grabbed at Sam, who was gasping for breath. “Sorry, Miss Pimmie, but I’m a goner,” he wheezed. The two of them stopped dead as Frodo and Pearl kept dancing. Fresh cheers erupted as Frodo lifted Pearl up and twirled her wildly in a flurry of blue, her peals of laughter barely audible.
“We have a winner!” shouted Ham over the applauding guests. “Frodo Baggins and Pearl Took! Give the birthday lad and his lass their prize!”
Bilbo crossed to the keg of beer he had placed on a nearby table and filled a pewter tankard; it was the best ale from the Ivy Bush, rich and hoppy. He offered it to Frodo, who raised it high to loud cheers. He turned to Pearl and held the tankard as she drank from it, and then tipped it up to drain it dry. Bilbo led the cheers as he did so.
“That’s my boy!” Bilbo pounded Frodo on the back. “Nothing like a Baggins to show the rest of the Shire how it’s done!” He called out to the musicians, “More music, but a slower tune if you please!”
They began playing a stately pavane while Frodo and Pearl mopped themselves off. Pearl tucked her lace-trimmed handkerchief into her pocket and asked, “Will you dance with me again, Frodo?”
“Not this time, since I owe Aunt Esmie a turn.” He bowed to Esmeralda. “Will you give me this dance, Mistress Brandybuck?”
“Beyond question,” said Esmeralda. “Lead the way.”
Pearl, deprived of her partner, thought for a moment and then walked up to Gandalf, her expression pure imp. “Shall you dance with me, Master Gandalf? I may be much shorter than the elves you are used to, but you can see I dance very well indeed.”
Gandalf looked down at the pertly pretty hobbit, her head thrown back so she could see him. Stifling a smile, he gave Pearl his deepest and most dignified bow. “You do me great honour, to ask an old man like me to tread a measure with the fairest lass in the Shire. I only hope my dancing equals yours.”
“I’m sure it does—come along, now . . .”
They made an oddly touching sight, the tall grey wizard and the little hobbit maid, as they carefully traced the highly formal pattern of the dance. Esmie saw them as she danced nearby, and her heart unexpectedly crumpled up. Maybe Bilbo’s right and there’s nothing to worry about—she’ll do fine as Frodo’s wife, look at the poise she’s acquired . . . but I still wonder . . .
Pearl dipped into a curtsey as the music came to a halt. Gandalf took her by one small hand and escorted her back to the sidelines with the same ceremony he would have shown the Lady of the Golden Wood. No sooner had he done so than Pearl was besieged by a flock of hobbit lads anxious for a chance to dance with her. Frodo was similarly in demand once he finished partnering his older relations, for many lasses resented the hold Pearl had on him and were convinced they could lure him away from her. By the time they reunited, it was time for tea. They sat down with Merry, Pimmie, and Sam at a small table under a tree at the edge of the Party Field, eager for a bit of privacy in the large crowd. A well-behaved Pippin soon joined them, and they all spent an hour gorging on pear tartlets, berry bread, ham and egg sandwiches, small glasses of cherry and elderflower wine, and endless cups of sweet tea.
Once they were done, Merry asked, “Anyone else interested in a round of wickets? I still haven’t beaten Pimmie this summer.”
Frodo shook his head in amusement. “You two never stop competing, do you? All right then, wickets it is!”
They gathered up some other cousins, including the Bolgers and Pervinca, and played amid much laughter, witty barbs, and wine until Merry finally beat Fatty and Pimmie in the last round. Pimmie took her loss in good part but refused to play further, insisting she wanted to dance again. After Frodo and Merry led them through another fast tune, the two cousins began drinking more wine while the sisters wandered over to a clump of giggling girls. Merry polished off most of his goblet before he spoke.
“So what have you and Pearl been discussing this afternoon? Making plans for tonight?”
“Even if we were, I hardly am likely to tell you about it—you’re far too eager to watch,” Frodo said tartly.
“But it would further my amorous education. Don’t you want to help me down the path to adulthood?”
“Not in that area. You’ll have to teach yourself, I’m sorry to say. Go remind Pimmie she’s kissing kin and take her to a hayloft for practice.”
“That’s not Pim’s style, I’m afraid. She prefers shooting real arrows to sheathing the other kind.”
“Then you’ll have to wait for Stella to grow up more, or suffer in silence.” Frodo peered at Pearl and Pimmie through the falling twilight. Mentha Brandybuck and Angelica Baggins were whispering to them while pointing at two dwarven cooks resting underneath a nearby tree. The Tooks began marching purposefully towards the dwarves. “What are they doing?” exclaimed Frodo, suddenly panicking over a possible insult to Bilbo’s guests.
“They seem to be persuading them to dance,” replied Merry. He raised his goblet in salute. “Go to it now, coz!”
The two dwarves danced reluctantly with their petite partners, but by the end they appeared to be enjoying themselves. Afterwards, Pearl and Pimmie rejoined Merry and Frodo, their faces flushed with wine and laughter.
“That was certainly different,” Pimmie said. “It helped they’d taken their boots off—I’d have lost my toes if they hadn’t.”
“But they were sweet despite being clumsy,” Pearl said. “And we’re supposed to make guests feel at home, aren’t we, Frodo?”
“Yes, and thank you.”
“Enough of dancing, though. I’d like to play some cards until supper. What about you, Merry?” asked Pimmie.
“Sounds good to me—in fact, I see Aunt Asphodel and Cousin Peony putting together a hand of whist even as we speak.”
They departed, leaving Frodo and Pearl alone in a darkened corner of the Field. He studied her for a moment, noting her slightly tipsy state. He finally decided to crawl out onto a limb. “What would you like to do until supper?”
Pearl gave him a wide smile, leaned against him, and whispered into his ear, letting her tongue flick its pointed tip as she drew away. Frodo looked around furtively before he spoke. “Are you quite sure, Pearly-girl?”
“Yes.” She took his hand and led him to the fence. They climbed over and slipped down the lane leading from Bag End, heading to a copse of beeches wreathed in dark shadows.
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.