1. The Third Ceremony
For Lindelea with love as her birthday approaches and for NancyLea. Joy to both of you!
The Third Ceremony
Estella looked up from the drawer she'd been arranging as her husband entered their new room. His face was still drawn with grief from the recent death of his father, perhaps enhanced as a result of having just been going through the Master's Desk in the Master's study, that room having just become Merry's own. He held in his hands a largish carved box that had long been a part of that room, standing as it did on the dresser in which many of Brandy Hall's records were kept. She supposed she must have seen it at least once a week since she and Merry had taken up residence in the apartment given over to the Son of the Hall and his family.
"What is it, Merry?" she asked.
"I just opened this and learned what it is, and what it contains."
"It was carved by Frodo's father, wasn't it?"
He nodded. "Yes, and apparently as a gift to my great grandfather on the occasion of Drogo's marriage to Aunt Primula. Everything within the box has to do with the two of them and their children."
Her eyes widened with astonishment. "But they only had the one child!" she said.
He was shaking his head. "No, they actually had five, only one of whom survived more than a few hours after birth. My mum lost two before I was born, and after that she and Dad never deliberately tried for another, not being willing to risk another miscarriage. Even Aunt Eglantine lost one baby, there between Pervinca and Pippin. But Aunt Primula and Uncle Drogo—they lost four, two before Frodo was born and two after, the last one when he was about eight, according to the documents in this. Great Grandda Gorbadoc died not all that long after the loss of the first child, apparently, so all of the documents having to do with the other four children were filled out by Old Rory and Gamma Gilda. I'd seen the notations in the family Book, but they just didn't strike me as much as seeing the documents here, I'm afraid. Only the last one was a daughter, and they'd planned to name her Pansy. She appears to be the only one that Frodo was aware of as a child—he was too young, just barely a faunt, when they lost the lad that came after him."
He opened the box as he spoke, and drew out the relevant documents, each of which, as custom dictated, had attached portions of the umbilical cord for the child whose birth it documented. Suddenly the grief embodied in each of those documents hit Estella. She'd had such an easy pregnancy with her Periadoc. How it would have hurt her to have lost a single child, much less four of them! "Aunt Primula must have been devastated," she murmured.
"Gamma Gilda's journal is in here, and yes, she was. I'm afraid I spent more time going through what's in here and reading the journal than I did in sorting much else out of the desk. And I found the original copies of their marriage contract and their death certificates, too. Grandda's hand shows just how upset he was when he had to write those." He pulled out two more documents and laid them on the end of their bed near where he'd set those that represented Frodo and the four other children born to Drogo and Primula Baggins.
Estella rose to her feet and came where she might look down on them. She touched one letter that was rather blurry. "Tears—he was crying when he wrote this."
"Yes," he responded simply, his voice rather hushed. Then it became somewhat brighter as he continued, "But not everything here is sad, of course. Here's the contract for when they bought River Place, and the one for the smial that was being dug just north of Brandy Hall where they'd planned to move. And there are a number of prizes won by Drogo and Primula at the Free Fair, and some won by Frodo as well. Here's the one for when he entered his roast chicken into the contest for cookery by tweens. And one for paintings he'd done of the Brandywine. Did you realize he painted that view of where the Withywindle enters the Brandywine that hangs in the dining hall? I didn't realize that until today!"
"Really, Frodo painted that?"
"And he did this set of miniatures of his parents, Bilbo, Grandda and Gamma, and all of Grandda's other brothers and sisters and their husbands and wives. And I suspect that this is of his Uncle Dudo. That one was definitely of his Auntie Dora—I remember her well. She died just a year or two after the Party. Bilbo's leaving hurt her so. I don't think she ever quite recovered from that. And look, here's Uncle Mac and Aunt Mantha. And here's Beri as a faunt."
"And you! Oh, you were so darling, Meriadoc Brandybuck!"
"Yes, I was, wasn't I? And look at this—would you mind if I put this up in here, in what will be our bedroom?"
This one was of Frodo himself, done when he must have been a tween, perhaps about the time he left Brandy Hall to go live with Bilbo in Hobbiton. "He looks so determined," she said, stroking the frame.
"It's the same type of frame as the ones of Mum and Dad that they always had on the mantel in the parlor. He did those, too, you know."
"Your mum took those with her to her new rooms."
He nodded. "And the rooms she chose—they were the ones that were always Primula and Drogo's when they visited here. The last time he came, Frodo left the key under Mum's pillow."
There were all of the letters that Frodo had sent to Old Rory and Menegilda Brandybuck from Bag End. It made quite a stack. And near the bottom of the box was what appeared to be another wedding contract. She pulled it out, smiling, and then stopped, amazed, as she looked at the names of bride and groom. "This has our names!" she said.
"And look at the signature for the one performing the ceremony," Merry said, smiling as he pointed.
She was smiling tremulously also as she read the familiar script. "Frodo! Wait—this is from that time we were playing at weddings, back when I was just a young teen. Do you remember? Oh, stars and Moon—I'd almost forgotten! And Merilinde helped me with the dress, in spite of not being well at all. And your cousin Brendilac wrote out the contract. I remember you telling him it was good practice for when he'd be writing them for real! And then, after the ceremony we realized that your dad and Bilbo had both watched the whole thing and your dad was asking us if we were going to live here in Brandy Hall or back with my parents in Budgeford, acting as if it were indeed a binding marriage!"
"I know that Grandda Rory afterwards told me that I'd done the details so right I'd best make certain that when I really did get married I would have to marry you or I could be sued for bigamy," Merry confessed. "I never dreamed he and Dad had kept this contract! I know Dad told me more than once as we were preparing for our real wedding that it was knocking about the Hall somewhere! And it was in here the whole time!"
"He could have married us, once he was the Baggins and had been the deputy Mayor," Estella said.
He nodded. "I'd hoped that perhaps I might persuade him to do just that, back when I was still just imagining asking you for real, before I knew he was already planning to leave the Shire and Middle Earth both. Although I don't think he'd have wished to do more than stand up beside me. I'd have had three to do that—him, Pippin, and Sam." He sighed. "I now wish that he had done it for real, Frodo. Dad would have understood. And I wish Strider could have been here to see…."
"We'll have to show this to him when we go south to Gondor this spring. Lord Strider will smile to see it, I think."
He began to nod, and then stopped, his face struck with a thought. "I wonder," he whispered. "I wonder if Strider just might be convinced to perform a ceremony himself?" He looked at her, his eyes bright with the idea of it. "What if we have Strider formalize our wedding, and have him countersign this contract? Then it would be as if he, Frodo, Dad, and Uncle Paladin had all married us! You know how he sent the wedding cord that was used at Sam and Rosie's wedding, and how Frodo wove in some of the Dúnedain ceremony into ours so that their marriage would be recognized as valid no matter where in the two realms they might travel. And both Dad and Uncle Pal took part in the ceremony with him when Brendi married Narcissa, there in Rivendell that summer he came north for the trade conference not long after Frodo left."
She was smiling, her eyes bright with pride. "Oh, Merry, that would indeed be perfect! Do you think he would? We're going to Gondor ourselves this spring, after all."
The King and Queen listened to the request made them by Meriadoc Brandybuck and his wife Estella, formerly of the house of Bolger, the King carefully schooling his expression to remain dispassionate, although his eyes sparkled with amusement.
"You'd wish to be married again by the standards of the Dúnedain, would you?"
"If you wouldn't mind, Strider. Perhaps a day or two after the New Year is celebrated so as not to take away from that. My mother came with us as well as my Cousin Berilac just so they could be here to see, and Freddy came to be the witness for the Bolgers. Rosamunda is all up in arms, of course, thinking anyone might not recognize a proper Shire marriage. But she just doesn't understand."
"But Shire wedding contracts are already recognized as valid by the standards of both the North and the South kingdoms."
"We know that, Aragorn. But we want to think that everyone we love and honor had a definite part to play in our marriage, even if it was before or after the fact of it."
But Merry and Estella would not explain. "We have the contract here—I know it was written out and witnessed years ago and it's the Shire form for it. We just want for you and Lady Arwen to bless our marriage, too, and to countersign the original contract. It would mean so very much to us. Please!"
There was something that the King was not being told as yet, and he could see the secrets dancing behind the eyes of the Master and Mistress of Buckland as well as being guarded by the Thain of the Shire. He didn't think that Mistress Diamond understood just what was going forward, and the idea that the Thain's Lady had no idea as to what intrigue was being presented by her husband's cousin and his wife piqued at the Man's curiosity. At last he and the Queen agreed to hold a private ceremony three days after the New Year affirming the marriage between the Master of Buckland and his bride of so many years.
The ceremonies of memorial held on the day of the New Year as known now in Gondor and Arnor were celebrated with joy, and many of the citizens of the Southern Realm came to the White City so as to see the two of the King's Companions who had come all of the way from the Shire to take part in them. Many comments were shared regarding the Pheriannath who stood by their King in the Court of Gathering, including Peregrin Took garbed as a Captain of the Guard of the Citadel and Meriadoc Brandybuck. Little Periadoc Brandybuck drew much attention, as did Faramir Took, the infant heir to the Thain of the Shire.
Three days later a second, far quieter ceremony was held in the Court of the Tree in which the King of Gondor and Arnor reaffirmed the marriage of his friend Merry to his wife Estella. King Éomer of Rohan was one of the attendants on the groom, while Queens Lothiriel and Arwen stood by the bride.
There were two copies of the contract, the King noted, set out on the small table holding the Presence Candle and the bottle of ink and pen with which he would countersign the agreements already made. He noted that Merry's kinsman Brendilac, who was Merry's personal lawyer, stood by Master Alvaric, now Master of the Guild of Lawyers for the Southern Kingdom, both of them with smug looks upon their faces. Apparently they, too, were parties to whatever secret lay behind the ceremony being held this day.
There was nothing false to the ceremony itself, however. Bride and groom responded to the ritual with solemn joy, and there was no question that they saw this indeed as a true reaffirmation of the vows they'd already given one another. Throughout much of the ceremony Estella's hand rested on her swelling abdomen, for she was even now well gone with her second child. The King Elessar wondered if he should perhaps suggest they remain in Minas Anor until after the birth so as not to hazard a possible miscarriage while they were on their way back home again.
At last he released the colorful woven marriage cord from their hands, bidding all to rejoice at this rededication of a marriage already well made, and all clapped and cheered as the Master and Mistress of Brandy Hall kissed passionately. The King laughed quietly as he turned to the table to countersign the copies of the marriage contract set there already, and then he stopped as the signature of the one who'd signed the first as officiant registered upon him.
"Frodo!" he whispered, his eyes meeting those of Brendilac Brandybuck.
"Yes, Frodo signed this one. You might note the date, though. Merry was only fifteen, and Frodo still a tween. I was only an apprentice at the time, for it was still a few years before I was recognized as a lawyer for the Shire. And you will note a couple of additions to the witnesses—Bilbo and Saradoc both insisted on adding their signatures."
"And Sam's signature is here as well."
"Yes, he signed it just before we left the Shire to come south. Pippin was part of the original ceremony, although his job then was to carry the wedding flowers. He was but a faunt at the time, you see. But he intends to set his signature here beside that of Freddy's."
The second contract was the one prepared for the proper, legal wedding of Meriadoc Brandybuck and Estella Bolger, and he saw that it had been officiated over by both Paladin Took and Saradoc Brandybuck. He knew that Sam and Pippin had both attended upon Merry at that wedding, and he knew now why both contracts were here before him. Smiling, he took up the pen, dipped it into the bottle of red ink, and signed the two contracts. It was the one signed by Frodo, however, that he rolled and bound with the marriage cord, having bride and groom grasp it in the approved manner, his hand on one side of the cord and hers on the other while he gave them his private words and benediction, and they still grasped it between them as Merry and Estella approached the White Tree in hopes of sharing their joy with one whom they had reason to believe might just be beneath his own White Tree on Tol Eressëa that day.
Author's notes: The trade conference at Rivendell and the wedding there of Brendilac Brandybuck to Narcissa Boffin appear in "The Ties of Family," while the play wedding of Merry and Estella is described in "Merry's Wedding" which may be found in the "Moments in Time" collection.