3. Chapter Two
Esmeralda patted her cheek. “Hush, don’t talk like that! I know Lalia is difficult, but she is the head of the family and must have some respect.”
“But she said you and Mama were spoiling Frodo, and that the dinner was his idea—”
“Ignore such nonsense, dear. Now let’s go in, and be happy so you don’t upset Cousin Lilac—it bothers her when you’re angry.” Esmeralda clicked the door open and called out cheerfully, “It’s Pearl and I, Lilac. What would you like help with, and where is Eglantine?”
The tiny, wizened hobbit at the side table looked up from the plate of mints she was arranging in a dish. “Tina went to fish Pippin down from the tree he climbed on a dare—Pervinca really should learn to keep quiet.” Her eyes twinkled in amusement. “Are you being good, Pearl?”
Pearl embraced her elderly cousin affectionately. “Of course I am—I’ve been with Aunt Lalia, so I didn’t have a choice.”
Lilac grimaced. “Oh, well.” She sighed in frustration. “Lalia never does mellow, does she?” She shrugged humorously. “Please fix some more plates of sweets, Pearl.” Pearl began to work industriously, anxious to please her cousin.
Lilac Took, at ninety-nine years old, was perhaps the most beloved member of her large family. One of the numerous descendants of the Old Took’s son Isembold, she had never married, which was a puzzle in light of her gentle humor and appealing character. She had lived her whole life in the Great Smials, and had become the tutor to many of the Took children because of her skills in both book learning and the domestic arts. Her aged hands could no longer stitch the fine embroidery they once did, but her abilities in confectionary and distilling remained unimpaired. Pearl, one of her more gifted pupils, had helped Lilac prepare the candies and cordials for the dinner, eager to display her housewifely talents to all and sundry.
“Does the room suit, Esmie? This is very much your affair, after all, and I know how special Frodo is to you.” Lilac hobbled to Esmeralda’s side and touched her arm.
“The parlour is beautifully decorated, Lilac—thank you.” Esmeralda stopped, a lump welling up in her throat as she saw in her mind’s eye the eleven-year-old Frodo Baggins standing in the entry of Brandy Hall and staring at her with Primula’s huge, soulful blue eyes as he arrived after his parents’ funeral. “It’s very good of you to take me in, Cousin Esmie,” he had whispered, and won Esmeralda’s heart in an instant. She devotedly fostered Frodo for the next nine years, treating him as her own son as she fought to give birth to a Brandybuck heir. Frodo had returned her love, rejoicing with her when Meriadoc was born and becoming the boy’s big brother, protecting and nurturing Merry with absolute care. While Esmeralda could not argue with Bilbo’s adoption of Frodo—there had been no question it was the best thing for Frodo on several levels—it had been a dreadful wrench to see him leave Brandy Hall for Bag End. After the first year, Esmeralda had approached Bilbo and asked to hold a second and more private birthday party for Frodo a few weeks before their bigger joint party. Bilbo agreed, and since then Esmeralda held a dinner every year for Frodo, inviting only those relatives and friends he loved the most and insuring he was the sole center of attention.
Esmeralda traced a pattern on the lace tablecloth with her finger and admired afresh the elegance of her favorite room in her ancestral home. The Blue Parlour gained its name from the blue furnishings and trim decorating it. Part of a series of colored rooms that the Old Took’s wife, Adamanta, had redone two hundred years before, its large windows looked southwards over the orchards that provided fruit for the household. Esmeralda, pleased Eglantine remembered her likes so well, hummed a song under her breath as she began helping Lilac and Pearl.
A sudden loud racket erupted at the parlour’s entrance; three heads jerked up together in surprise. A hobbit woman stumbled through the door as she dragged a tiny hobbit boy behind her. He wailed at the top of his lungs while kicking wildly. “Put me down, Mama! Put me down! I wasn’t going to fall, I wasn’t!” His shrieks increased in volume and he tried to pummel his mother’s leg.
Eglantine Took deposited her recalcitrant son in a heap on the floor and put her hands on her hips. “You most certainly were, Peregrin, and you know better than to take your sister’s dares! Now be quiet, or you will not, I repeat will NOT, be allowed at the birthday dinner tonight! Do you understand?”
The little boy sniffled, and said reluctantly, “Yes, Mama. I’ll be good.”
“Then do so while I finish things here.” A flustered Eglantine smiled at the others. “Hello Esmeralda, Lilac. Sorry for the interruption—didn’t want Pippin taking another crack at that tree. How is everything?”
Pearl kissed her mother on the cheek and then gestured at the table. “We’re almost done. Doesn’t it look nice?”
“Yes, dear. You did a lovely job.” Eglantine said affectionately.
Pearl, about to show her mother the results of her candymaking, saw a small hand edging towards the plates from under the table. She screeched, “Pippin, you little brat, stop—hands off!” She pulled Pippin out and he in turn began yelling again.
“Children!” Eglantine snapped. “Can’t you exhibit some manners for at least a few minutes?”
“It’s not my fault Pippin can’t behave,” Pearl said sulkily. “Maybe I should take him back outside—I’d rather babysit him for a while than have him wreck all my hard work in here.”
“That is a wise thought, Pearl,” said Esmeralda soothingly as she glanced out a window. “In fact, I see Frodo walking to the orchard. Why don’t you meet him there? You haven’t had time to talk to him much.”
Pearl’s face lit up, and so did Pippin’s. He cried, “I want to play with Frodo! Come on, Pearl!” He climbed to his feet and pulled his sister to the parlor door.
“Then please behave, Pip—Frodo and I want to do more than chase you round . . .”
Lilac chuckled as Pearl and Pippin departed, still arguing. “Those two are entirely too much alike. You’ll never have any peace as long as they share a roof, Eglantine!”
“You may be right, Lilac,” murmured Eglantine as she drifted over to the window and joined Esmeralda. The two sisters-in-law watched as Pearl and Pippin ran to the orchard, waving at Frodo. Even at a distance, the warmth of his greeting for Pearl was obvious as he hugged her tightly. Eglantine made a small sound of satisfaction.
“Matchmaking again, Tina dear?” Esmeralda’s drawl held a note of reproof.
Eglantine blushed. “Just a bit, Esmie.” She was very pretty still, with a fluttery, flirtatious charm she had bequeathed to Pearl along with the prettiness. “You shouldn’t blame me—it would be a very good marriage indeed, on both sides.”
“Yes, becoming mistress of Bag End is fine, but you’re not believing those ridiculous stories about Bilbo’s hidden treasure, are you?”
“Not at all, Esmie, not at all,” said Eglantine airily. “Frodo is the only hobbit lad in the whole Shire, it seems to me, who really is Pearl’s equal in appearance and in brains. They’re close in age too. Don’t you like the idea of them marrying?”
“Of course I do—I want Frodo and Pearl to be happy. I sometimes wonder if Pearl isn’t more in love with Frodo than he is with her, that’s all,” said Esmeralda softly.
“Fiddlesticks, Esmie, he may be reserved in public, but Pearl has told me enough for me to be certain he loves her quite the same. He’s always adored her—remember how he helped her walk the first time when she was a toddler, and fussed over her whenever they were together. They’ve been childhood sweethearts forever.”
“Yes, I know—perhaps I worry that they have been too absorbed in each other for too long. It might be better to court others before they make a final choice. And I needn’t remind you that Lalia is adamantly opposed to the match. If she keeps living and stays head of the family, you won’t succeed regardless of the arguments you and Paladin make.”
“But that’s the problem, Esmie!” Eglantine said plaintively. “After giving in when Lalia demanded Pearl as her companion, Paladin and I can’t force Pearl to marry someone else, simply because Lalia picks him!”
Lilac shuffled over and leaned on her stick. “My darlings, none of this matters.” She pointed at the two figures in the orchard. “They are in love—which means the rest of us cannot rearrange their hearts, unless we use some sort of magic.”
The three women looked at one another, and stared thoughtfully out the window.
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.