2. Chapter One
Pearl closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. If I just wait long enough, maybe Aunt Lalia will call for Pimmie or Vinca and leave me alone. Please, please let her give up—
Her great-aunt’s voice rang out once more, even more insistent. “Pearl, I’m perfectly sure you can hear me. Move those furry feet, child! It’s time for my daily air! Come roll me to the door, now, or your father will hear of your disobedience, I swear it!”
Pearl sighed heavily, disappointed she was to have no reprieve today of all days. She wanted to pick an exceptionally big bouquet of the last summer flowers to grace tonight’s dinner table. Frodo had come yesterday to stay for a few days, after all, and he deserved the very best for his birthday, regardless of what Great-Aunt Lalia thought of him. She snatched up a few stray blooms and hurried up the flight of stairs that led from her mother’s private garden to the main apartments of the Great Smials. She hastily opened the door to the parlor, breathing harder than she wished. She pinned a smile on her face as she entered.
“No need to roar, Aunt Lalia, I’m here. Shall we go?”
Lalia Clayhanger Took glared up at her great-grandniece from the wheeled chair she sat in. Her gaze drifted to the flowers Pearl clutched, and she gave a snort of derision. “What’s this? Flowers? So you’re still mooning over that Baggins boy. I’ve told you a thousand times over to stop making a cake of yourself over him. The Bagginses aren’t the marrying kind, and are crazy as loons. Look at the boy’s uncle! Bilbo’s daft and always will be, despite his Took blood. You’re the prettiest hobbit in the Shire and my favorite, and I’ll not have you throw yourself away on a dreamy lad who’s more likely to go off and hunt dragons than give you children.”
Pearl counted to three before she dared speak. “A opinion, Aunt, not a proven fact. Let us go. It takes me a while to wheel you to the Great Door, you will recall.” Thanks to the fact you are the fattest hobbit to ever draw breath, Pearl added silently, feeling particularly uncharitable.
Pearl’s lack of charity aside, the inescapable truth was that Lalia Took was massively, enormously fat. Her lengthy reign as the ironhanded matriarch of the Took clan had required a great deal of mental activity, but no physical exertion or exercise. The combination of this with an appetite hearty even by hobbit standards had produced a vastly rotund woman who could not move from her spacious suite of rooms without her wheeled chair or a walking stick, and the aid of her numerous relatives. Some of the younger set, often chafing under Lalia’s autocratic rule, had taken her nickname of “the Great” and impudently altered it to “the Fat.” Pearl was quite certain no one had the courage to call Lalia that to her face, not even her impish baby brother Pippin or their bold cousin Merry.
Pearl jammed the flowers into Lalia’s water pitcher, reasoning it would be changed soon anyway. She then grabbed the chair handles and pushed with all her might. Pearl, as always, had to struggle to get Lalia’s chair out the door and into the hallway. Pearl found herself wishing that the Great Smials, as huge and as comfortable a many chambered hobbit hole that had been built in the Shire, wasn’t so old. The floors buckled in spots, worn by generations of Tooks trampling them with their well-furred feet. But at least Lalia's weight kept her on the lower level, instead of the most unhobbity upper story earlier Thains had built. After all, I can manage stairs, but not that well, Pearl thought.
After a slow and ponderous journey, Pearl saw with relief that they had reached the Great Door of the house. It was already open, letting in the warm autumn sunshine and a light breeze. Pearl carefully parked Lalia on the threshold, and then stooped and tucked a small rock under one wheel of the chair. The flight of stone stairs was steep, and Pearl had been frequently warned to be careful about this particular duty by her parents. Pearl sat down on the top step and spread her lace-trimmed skirt over her legs. She hoped Lalia’s failure to browbeat her about Frodo while being moved meant that the subject was closed.
It was not to be. As soon as Pearl had settled herself, Lalia launched a fresh verbal attack on her grandniece’s sweetheart. “Your mother and aunt are spoiling that boy disgracefully. Why have a birthday dinner for him two weeks before Bilbo is having a huge joint party? It’s to be an absolute extravaganza by all accounts, and supposedly Gandalf will be staging a fireworks display the likes of which we’ve never seen. With a celebration like that for his coming of age, Frodo should hardly be imposing on Eglantine and Esmeralda. Was it his idea, so he could see you?”
“You know perfectly well that’s not true, Aunt Lalia,” Pearl replied as she prayed for patience. “Aunt Esmie does this every year, because she misses Frodo, and so he can spend more time with the relatives he cares about the most, like Merry and Pippin. Since we will all be going to Uncle Bilbo’s soon for the big party, Mother offered to have the dinner here instead of at Brandy Hall because Tuckborough is closer to Hobbiton. I think it was very kind of Mother to do that.”
Another loud snort erupted from Lalia, and she opened her mouth. Before she could utter anything, a quiet voice cut into the conversation with calm force.
“It was indeed kind of my sister-in-law to do this, and I am most grateful. Hullo, Aunt Lalia. How are you feeling on this lovely morning?”
Esmeralda Took Brandybuck, with her son Merry in tow, swept up to Lalia’s side and gave her crotchety relative a kiss on the cheek. She bestowed a glance of wry sympathy on her niece as she straightened, provoking Pearl to stifled laughter. Esmeralda’s aura of serene authority—highly uncommon for a birthright Took—and her position as the mistress of Brandy Hall since her mother-in-law’s death meant she was one of the only people in the Shire who challenged Lalia on a regular basis.
“My apologies, Aunt Lalia, but I must steal your usual companion. Eglantine and Cousin Lilac need her help in the Blue Parlour, to finish and arrange the confections for dinner. I brought Merry along to keep you company in the meantime.”
Pearl hastily climbed to her feet as Merry made a sketchy bow to Lalia. He looked at Pearl quickly and rolled his eyes skyward; Pearl grinned, ducked behind Lalia’s chair, and stuck her tongue out at her discomforted younger cousin. Esmeralda shook Pearl’s shoulder lightly with a frown.
“Very well, Esmie, if you must. Is your youngling strong enough to manage me in my chair?”
“Merry is nineteen and very fit; he will do a splendid job for you. Pearl and I are leaving now, Aunt.”
Lalia tapped the top step with her walking stick; Merry sat down nervously. As Pearl began trailing after her aunt, she heard Lalia demand, “Well, boy, do you know any good riddles? Most of your Took cousins are worthless at the riddle game—hope you have the wit to do better.”
“I—I believe I do, Aunt Lalia . . .”
Pearl giggled with sheer relief, and then hurried to catch up with Esmeralda in the passageway that led to the Blue Parlour.
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.