Frodo and Sam stood watching as Merry and Pippin arrived on the fifth with another wagonload of furniture and items, some brought back from Crickhollow, some items from the mathom rooms and holes from Brandy Hall, part of it furniture and items from Frodo’s parents’ home. Berilac came after them driving still another wagon filled with mattresses and bedding. Isumbard arrived a short time later with Ferdi bringing extra bedsteads from the Great Smial, Pimpernel and her son Piper in the trap behind them bringing new curtains for the extra bedrooms. Marigold had come to help for the day, and had a luncheon ready when they arrived. Frodo helped as he could, but was soon relegated to sitting in his chair in the parlor, a mug of Sam’s tea on the chest that had been placed beside it, entertaining Piper with stories while the rest worked at unloading the carts and setting up bedrooms.
Lobelia’s furniture was removed from the room opposite that which had been Bilbo’s to the furthest bedroom, and her personal items carefully boxed for shipment to her niece Hyacinth. Meanwhile the room she’d taken was restored again as a nursery as it had always been, for in it Bilbo had slept until he entered his teens, after which it was generally slept in by the youngest cousins to visit. Frodo had never slept in it, though, for Bilbo had always insisted he have the room next to the master bedroom, the one which in Bilbo’s youth had been his from the time he turned ten until the deaths of his parents left him Master of Bag End. Now the youth bed that Lotho and Lobelia hadn’t wanted went back into the room, and the cradle, and the small table and chairs and box of toys that had been moved to Frodo’s room when he visited as a small child and then returned to the nursery after his mother refused to allow her son anywhere near Lobelia. Merry had slept here when he was small, and later Pippin had as well, until both were considered big enough to merit their own rooms.
Into the room that had eventually become Merry’s was placed a longer bed from the Great Smial, which it was said had been made for Bandobras; a second that had been made for the Old Took, who had insisted his bed be the equal of that of the Bullroarer, went into the room that had become Pippin’s room, although it had always seemed that no matter where he started the night in the hole he’d usually end up joining Merry until he was into his late teens, much as Merry had been accustomed to slipping into Frodo’s room to sleep cuddled by his brother-cousin when he was a little one.
Frodo, Piper, and Pando Proudfoot, who’d joined them, looked into the two rooms once they were announced finished, and Frodo had laughed at the longer beds. “They ought to have kept that at the Great Smial for you to use there,” he commented to Pippin.
Pippin grinned ruefully. “Well, Da appears to have finally come to terms with me being taller than normal, and has had a new bed made for me--one that is not only longer than usual but wider, too. Said the way I take up room in a bed there will be no room for a bride--supposing I ever take one--in one of normal width. I saw it the last time I had dinner with him and Mum, and immediately sent off to Strider to order linens and blankets from Gondor. I’ll swear it nears the size of his own bed in the King’s room in the Citadel.”
Frodo, Pippin, and Merry all laughed at that. Pando asked, “Why is the King’s bed so big?”
Frodo smiled. “Aragorn is quite the tallest individual among Men we’ve seen, and we’ve now seen quite a lot. The Kings of Gondor have mostly been quite tall, so the King’s bedstead was made to accommodate their extra height and the width of their shoulders. When the Lady Arwen sleeps there alone she must feel quite lost in it, for all she is Elven tall. The four of us could have slept in it comfortably with room for at least two more sideways across the bottom, with none touching the others.”
Pippin nodded. “Actually, Strider’s bed couldn’t fit in any of the rooms in Bag End--they’re just not big enough.”
“Then where will he stay if he comes to visit you?” Piper asked.
Frodo’s expression became more solemn. “He won’t visit us here, for he’d be the last to break his own edict. We’d have to go outside the Shire to see him. He might come to the Brandywine Bridge, but that would be the closest he’d come. Most likely he’d have us come to meet him in Bree.”
Folco Boffin and Fredegar and Estella Bolger arrived then, and soon Estella and Pimpernel were seeing the beds made while Frodo and Freddy retreated to the kitchen to help with tea while work began on unloading and placing the furniture for the dining room.
By bedtime all was in place, and the wagons had been taken with the ponies down to the Green Dragon in Bywater for the night.
Frodo woke from his nightmares some hours later, heard the sounds about him indicating he wasn’t alone in the hole, and sighed. He was relieved somehow to know so many others were there, too, at the same time he was feeling a bit overwhelmed. He tried to sleep again, but failed, and finally gave it up, rose and put on some of his oldest clothes, wrapped his Elven cloak about him and walked down the passage to the door, opened it and walked out.
He stood upon the stoop for a time, hearing the sounds which again were so familiar, yet lacked the creak of trees and the rustle of the hedges. He walked quietly down the steps and through the gate, then down the lane to the party field and walked into the center of it, drawn by the Light of the small sapling which was growing there now. He leaned down to touch the small crown of leaves, a bright golden green even in the dark of the night, and again closed his eyes as the scent of it brought the brilliance of Lothlorien into his memories; and much as he’d been aware of the life of the White Tree in Gondor he felt here a similar awareness, a similar throbbing of new life eager to rejoice in a world which surrounded it with love.
Suddenly he was aware of the Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn turning to him, having become aware he crouched by the mallorn tree of the Shire; he realized Lord Elrond was turning from his thoughts and study to recognize who else walked abroad in the night; was aware the Lady Arwen stood, singing quietly, in the gardens of Minas Tirith, her singing increasing in delight as she realized he’d become aware of her.
Ringbearer, we delight to greet you, he heard from several directions.
My Lords, my Ladies, he returned.
There he stood, none of them speaking further, just in quiet communion through the medium of the mallorn, finding the mutual awareness was enough. Overhead the clouds which had come and gone throughout the previous day finally cleared, and he straightened in relief at the beauty of the heavens and the stars which shone on him. He seemed to hear the voice of the Lady Undomiel speaking directly to his heart, Rejoice, Iorhael; we rejoice in thee, Cormacolindo.
For the moment he did rejoice. At last he pulled away, bowed to the tree, and went back up the lane, back through the gate, back through the gardens, which were once again awakening to delight and joy and blossom, the daffodils giving off their rich scent; the hyacinths adding their own perfume; the white Elven lilies giving back the beauty of the stars. He walked around to the back of the Hill to the path he’d taken so often up to the top, and stopped as he saw the thick stump where the great oak had been felled, and the hopeful shape of the young tree planted beside it. Tears fell for the tree lost, and thanks were expressed silently for the small sapling that showed its intent to follow its example for endurance and beauty. He knelt by the small tree, and caressed its stem gently, thanking it for coming here, wishing it a long and joyful life, hoping that Sam’s children would one day play in its shade, hang their birdhouses in its branches.
When Merry joined him he wasn’t surprised. “Restless?” Merry asked him.
“Yes, a bit.”
“Such a brave little tree, to seek to grow here where its predecessor stood for so long.”
After a time, Merry said softly, “I’m sorry I pressed you so hard the other day, Frodo. You know I did so only because I love you so, because I care so much for you.”
“I know, Merry. I’m sorry for closing you out.”
Together they sat leaning against the stump of the old tree, putting their arms about one another.
Then another came up the back of the hill, and after a moment Sam joined them, sitting on Frodo’s other side. And for the remainder of the night they sat together, watching the quiet movement of the stars, feeling the gentle breeze of their Shire ruffling their curls.
Pippin joined them, and the four of them together watched the sun rise on the new day.
Finally Sam said, “This was what we was fightin’ for, for all to know their homes.”
Merry sighed, “A year ago today, Frodo, Sam, you two came back awake for us in Ithilien. What a way to celebrate your birthday it was, Sam.”
“The best birthday present you ever gave us,” Pippin murmured, “both of you coming back to us.”
Frodo sat, surrounded by the others, his eyes downcast. Just how much he’d come back was still in doubt, he thought. Yet--yet there had been moments of fulfillment in the past year in spite of all else. He thought of the communion he’d felt there by the mallorn, and smiled softly in spite of himself, suddenly glad of the warmth surrounding him.
Rejoice, Iorhael, said the one who argued.
That is as it should be.
Frodo hugged the others to him.
Sam rode off to the Cottons’ not long afterwards as the other three went in to fix first breakfast. When he returned with Rosie it was time for elevenses, and they gladly joined the others. Frodo smiled to see the promise bracelet on Rosie’s wrist at last, and when he was chased off by the others when the meal was over he retreated to the study, where he was followed soon after by Sam--a Sam suddenly shy.
“Well, Sam,” Frodo asked, “when will you come to join me here in Bag End?”
“It’s like this, Mr. Frodo,” Sam began. “I hadn’t spoken afore, havin’ a job to see to, you know; but now I have, and Rosie’ll have me....”
Frodo found a delight in watching Sam flush and in getting him finally to admit to his desires. He gently teased him, and finally said, “Then get married as soon as you can and join me here, here in Bag End. There’s room here for as large a family as you’d ever wish to have, after all. And you’d never be far from the Gaffer, who’ll be just down on the Row, and you know the Widow Rumble will always see to him when you aren’t by him. Plus both Marigold and Daisy are close at hand, and May not that far away, either. There’s no need right now for you to feel torn in two, you know--never that. That is, of course, as long as Rosie is willing to put up with a decided old bachelor like me.”
“Oh, Frodo----” Sam embraced him. Then he pulled away, flushing somewhat. “There’s one other matter, about the marriage itself--if’n you wouldn’t mind, for that--for that we’d wished--we’d wanted for it to be performed by----” His face grew even redder. Finally he said, half to himself, “There’s nothin’ for it.” Then, all in a rush, “Would you do it for us--here, at Bag End?”
Frodo laughed with delight. “Of course, Sam--of course! And you and Rosie will have Bilbo’s old room as your own.”
Again Sam flushed. “We’re not needin’ so grand a place as that.”
But Frodo was shaking his head, his face growing solemn with pride. “Lord Samwise the Brave, Courageous, and Faithful is worthy of far more than the master bedroom of Bag End. It is the least I can give you, you know, that and the gardens for your very own.” He felt tears of joy filling his eyes. “After all, Sam, a year ago in Ithilien I mourned I couldn’t give you that--and now I can.”
“A year ago, Mr. Merry, Mr. Pippin and me--we was goin’ to come back and bring the Master and the Thain and the Mayor all three down on Lotho and make ’im sell Bag End back, to us if’n you wouldn’t buy it back yourself. Mr. Merry--he was already aware of how Lotho Pimple was out cheatin’ folks, and how he was openin’ hisself to serious trouble.”
Frodo reached out again and drew his friend to him. “Oh, Sam, my own Sam, how I rejoice in you--you, Merry, and Pippin. A joyful birthday gift you’ve given me--the best birthday gift ever.”
Isumbard, once he’d been advised of the impending nuptials, offered to write up the marriage contract for the two of them, then for Marigold and Young Tom as well, once the rest of the Cottons arrived to join the celebration and he realized there was a second wedding already being planned. Ham and Hal arrived soon after with their families, and May brought the Gaffer up the Hill just before Moro and Daisy showed up with the birthday cake, followed closely by Daddy Twofoot and his family and the Widow Rumble.
One of the kists Gimli had brought for Sam had been filled with items he’d purchased in Gondor for this day, including fine shirt studs he’d had made for his brothers, brothers-in-law, Rosie’s father and brothers, Merry, and Pippin. For Frodo he produced the blown glass bird, which as he’d anticipated was received with delight. He’d brought bolts of cloth for his sisters and sisters-in-law and Begonia Rumble and Lily Cotton, and a special bolt of cloth for Rosie herself of a shimmering silk that looked different colors depending on which way she turned it.
For his father he’d had a waistcoat and vest made of fine Gondorian materials, and now promised him a shirt and trousers to go with them to be made by Moro and Daisy. For the rest attending, he had a variety of bracelets and ribbons he’d purchased for the ladies and lasses, and cloak brooches and neck scarves he’d brought for whatever gentlehobbits who might be there. Piper was thrilled with a cloak brooch in the shape of a flying bird, and for the Chubbs and Proudfoots who lived on the Row he’d brought strings of silver bells to hang on their doors.
After all else was done they went down to the Party Field to see the mallorn tree, and to rejoice in the golden blossoms that had opened that morning. Frodo smiled, tears again threatening to fall. He couldn’t have wished a more perfect birthday for Sam. And, as he watched Merry walking hand in hand with Estella he felt relieved. He might not see their wedding, but he knew they’d be happy.
“All right, you lot, let’s stand a bit orderly, there. Elanor, Frodo-lad, Rosie-lass, Merry-lad, Goldilocks, Pippin-lad. It’s your Uncle Frodo’s birthday and old Mr. Bilbo’s birthday as well today, and as you’re all too young to join in the toast, we’re goin’ to sing for them now. Yes, I know as Mr. Bilbo ain’t likely to be there to hear, but I’m certain as Mr. Frodo wishes to hear you now.”
And sweet voices of Hobbit children were lifted in the hymn to Elbereth they’d heard first from the Elves they’d met in the Woody End following Gildor Inglorien, and Frodo smiled to hear them joining Sam’s voice.
Beneath the White Tree of Gondor Aragorn and Arwen stood with their daughter and son, and they sang the same hymn, joined by Legolas and Gimli and the King’s brothers.
As he slept Frodo smiled, and Merry and Pippin, peeping in from the door, smiled in relief to see that smile and the faint glow of Frodo’s form reflecting the starlight shining in through the window.