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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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81
81: Shire Wedding

81: Shire Wedding


Sam rode out the next morning with Mr. Frodo, but when Frodo turned toward Michel Delving Sam went on to the Woody End. He’d written a note last night, and he hoped that as he planted a few more trees today he might see an Elf. For once he wasn’t disappointed. The sound of silver bells on rich harness caused him to smile and rise from where he’d been planting a rowan seedling, and he turned to see a white horse approaching from the West carrying a shining figure on its back. He bowed deeply, and the Elven steed stopped by him. Only the shifting of the Light told him that the rider had dismounted.

“Lord Glorfindel,” Sam said.

“Lord Samwise,” the Elf returned. “You wished to see one of my folk here today?”

“Yes, my lord,” the gardener answered, straightening and pulling out the letter from inside his vest. “I was wishing to beg some seeds and starts from Lord Elrond and the Lady, if they’d allow it--for the comfort of my Master.”

Glorfindel appeared both amused and touched. “Plant starts?” he asked.

Sam nodded. “Athelas and more elven lilies and flowers. I took some starts from kingsfoil as I found along the way, but it’s not enough yet. He’s hurtin’ often, sir. His hand don’t hurt him no more, but his shoulder does too often, and he’s still havin’ the nightmares and the memories plaguin’ him. Sometimes there’s just nothin’ as he can hold onto, until he’s barely able to hold on inside his skin. He feels guilty, then feels guilty for feelin’ guilty. One moment he feels fine--the next he’s hurtin’. Let anyone say the wrong thing and what happiness he showed will fade right away. He lost weight as we was comin’ home from Rivendell; then again last month. He can’t talk about what he done less’n he’s angry.

“He loves the stars. Will go up on the top of the Hill, and will sit there all night watchin’ the stars, or sleepin’ under ’em. I want him surrounded by love and healin’ and beauty as will help his heart when he goes up there.”

“I do not believe this request would be denied, Lord Samwise. I will be glad to deliver it as you’ve requested.”

“Thank you, Lord Glorfindel. Yesterday and today he’s been better, but it don’t last all that long, it seems.”

“And you ask nothing for yourself?”

Sam flushed. “Well, the flowers and all--I’ll admit as they’re as much for me as for him, for I delight in them, too. But I can reach for my happiness, I can. My Rosie--she said yes yesterday, and we’re marryin’ in two weeks. But he don’t feel as he has anythin’ left in him to offer a wife.”

Glorfindel smiled as he took the letter and remounted Asfaloth. “May the Valar bless your marriage, then, Lord Samwise; and I will speed your request.” With a deep bow of his head he turned his horse Eastward and went on his way. Sam watched after, feeling relieved.

While Frodo was busy in Michel Delving, the daughters of Hamfast Gamgee and the Cottons were preparing Bag End and the Party Field for Sam and Rosie’s wedding. No one knew where Samwise Gamgee had come up with the gold he had given his bride’s mother to buy all she did, and most assumed that this was being paid for by Mr. Baggins; but every time Frodo tried to pay for anything he was told that it had already been taken care of, and Frodo realized that Sam, as had Aragorn before him, was using some of the gathered funds from Gondor to pay for his wedding, having decided to save the gift from Mr. Bilbo to serve as the basis for the dowries of whatever daughters he and Rosie might in time produce. He’d sent the request to Aragorn to withdraw the needed funds from his account, and a small bag had been included in the kist with the gifts for his birthday that he now used.
Frodo meanwhile sent a second missive to Bree ordering another barrel of Butterbur’s ale, to be delivered to the Brandywine Bridge three days before the wedding and accepted by Merry and Pippin, who would bring it with them in the wagon.

Two times Frodo went to Michel Delving to serve in the Mayor’s office. The last of the documents from the time of Will’s imprisonment was filed; the last of the partnership agreements and loan and property acquisition contracts filed by Lotho, Timono Bracegirdle, Marco Smallburrow, and the other lawyers under investigation had been retrieved from the archives; the new room for the archives and the new filing system for property sales had been put into use so that as the investigation progressed it would be easier to find specific contracts as necessary; and three of the Tooks had happily returned to the full service of the Tooklands and its folk. Hillie continued with his evaluations of the complaints that had been made; Tolly was going through the remaining Sackville-Baggins and Smallburrow contracts while Eldred examined those specifically written by Timono for anyone else and other business dealings by the same individuals looking for patterns of acquisitive behaviors. With the addition of the reparations payments made by those who’d lost property or businesses and so on in the Time of Troubles there was a need for a committee to review each claim to see whether or not it was valid--already one family had tendered a claim for the cost to replace ponies it was known they had never possessed to begin with.

During the last few days before the wedding Frodo chaired the meeting arranged for all the lawyers of the Shire, the Mayor, the Thain and the Master and their heirs, and the family heads for the most prominent families--including the Bracegirdles--in which the specific strategies crafted by Timono, Lotho, and Marco were discussed, the legalities discussed at length, and how anyone who tried such tricks in the future or allowed contracts with such questionable clauses included in them to be presented would be treated once they were caught. “And you can be certain,” Frodo added, “that you will be caught. Perhaps not immediately--but you will be caught and investigated. I wouldn’t suggest anyone try such tactics in the future.”

Also the process by which claims for reparations would be made, investigated, and paid was laid out, discussed, and amended, with promises that this information would be passed to family heads and village heads throughout the Shire within three weeks. It was with relief that Frodo announced afterwards to Isumbard, Tolly, Hillie, and Everard that he was now going to take ten days off to do a walking trip to Buckland to see his relatives in the Hall as soon as Sam’s wedding was finished, and that they were in charge while he was gone. They went together to the inn that night for dinner, and all wished him well in his holiday. Frodo finally returned to the Whitfoot house to reclaim his saddlebags, thanked Mina and Will for their hospitality for the past few days, made certain they’d be attending Sam’s wedding, and went to the stable at last to begin his return to Bag End.

As he went up the lane to the Hill he felt a feeling of simple pleasure to be returning to his own home, and not to some place where he lived by the courtesy and hospitality of others. And when he opened the door to know that after he returned from Buckland it would be to once again be a part of a family of his own choosing, he smiled with relief.

The next morning was the last day before the wedding, and Frodo found himself facing a Samwise Gamgee who was utterly flustered. The boxes of flowering bushes promised by the nurseryhobbit from Overhill had to be sent back, for he found they were infested with mealyworms and leafcutter caterpillars, and he didn’t want them anywhere near the new gardens of the Row or the new trees along the Water, or especially near the gardens of Bag End. The ribbons purchased for the flowered platform on which the band was to play were the wrong color; a cat had been drawn into Bag End by the smell of the fowl being cooked for the wedding feast and had eaten choice bits off of four birds; the brewer for the Green Dragon wasn’t certain he’d have enough ale and wine for the party afterwards; and the layers for the wedding cake Sam was certain were lopsided and wouldn’t work.

Frodo listened to the ongoing litany of fears, worries, and apparent disappointments and at last called in Young Tom and instructed him to take Sam to the Green Dragon and have three ales with him, then get him home to Number Three and force him to eat a meal and take a rest. Once Sam was dragged off over his protests, Frodo stepped in and told a frustrated Marigold to finish with the cake and not mind her brother, got Merry and Pippin, who’d just arrived with the barrel from the Prancing Pony, to take over dealing with the folk from the Green Dragon; decided the ribbon would work anyway, and watched the arrival of Hal’s family with more boxed flowering bushes than he’d planned to bring originally and helped decide how to arrange them to best effect. He himself hurried into the village to purchase more poultry, which the Widow Rumble took from him as he headed back up the Hill, volunteering to see them done. He helped Lily and Nibs wrap countless bundles of sweets in squares of muslin and tie them with ribbon, then helped set out the fresh candles, letting down the ceiling fixtures on their chains so the candles could all be changed, then pulling them back up into place and refastening the chains to the cleats on the walls. He helped sweep floors, then went to the kitchen were he helped knead the bowls of bread dough that would be allowed to rise slowly over night and baked fresh in the morning. He fetched and carried as was needed by those working in the kitchens, watching as Lily and Estella Bolger boiled countless eggs collected from all over the Shire, then shelled them, cut them in half, deviled the yolks, and refilled them, Frodo finally setting trays of them in the cool room covered with fine cloth to keep them clean until they were served. Geli Proudfoot and Daffy Chubbs helped Marigold put fresh flowers and greens into all the rooms, and then to prepare the flowered bower in the garden where the marriage would take place. Hal’s wife saw to the placing of tables in the party field for the wedding feast while her husband and Ham erected the ale tent and the serving tent.

Near evening Merimac, Berilac, and Brendilac arrived with Saradoc and Esmeralda Brandybuck from Brandy Hall, bearing with them fine cured hams and smoked roasts, and a number of blankets sent as a gift from the Lord Steward Halladan, blankets that had been brought to the gates at the Brandywine Bridge about an hour after Merry and Pippin set off from Buckland, blankets Frodo carried into the smial and saw placed in the cupboard in the master bedroom.

Then he wasn’t seen for a time, not until Merry and Pippin began seeking for him, finding him at the last sitting on the floor in the room which on the morrow would be Sam’s and Rosie’s, his face pale, clutching at his shoulder. Merry knelt in front of him. “Have you been working all the day, Frodo Baggins?”

“I was needed,” Frodo informed him, looking at him defiantly.

“Well, you aren’t needed now, you know. Let’s get you into bed so that you’ll be in shape to perform the wedding tomorrow, after all.” Between them Merry and Pippin lifted him to his feet and saw him into his own room, helping him out of his clothing and into his nightshirt, and placing him in his bed. Then Pippin hurried off to the kitchens to fetch him some tea and toast spread with May’s currant jam. Frodo sipped at the tea, but didn’t appear interested in the toast. He lay back, holding Lady Arwen’s gem with his left hand while rubbing at his left shoulder with his right one.

Sam returned not long after, having been kept away purposely by Young Tom most of the day, and found all well in hand, Bag End shining and filled with flowers, the cake iced, the pavilion ready down in the Party Field, the barrels of ale carefully stacked with the great one from Bree set apart from the rest in a place of honor, the boxes of flowers set up beautifully, the ribbons not looking nearly as awful as he’d thought they would that morning, the cool room filled with food ready to be served on the morrow.

“But where’s Mr. Frodo?” he asked.

Merry and his parents had gone down to the Ivy Bush, and Pippin sat in the parlor with Beri, Brendi, Freddy Bolger and Estella, each drinking from a goblet of wine. Pippin looked up at him. “From what I can tell he was busy all day making certain all would be well for you tomorrow, and Merry and I insisted he go to bed a time ago, a while before sunset. I’ve not heard a peep from him since. I suspect he’s deep asleep by now.”

Sam went down the hall to Frodo’s room and peered in, finding Frodo was lying in his bed, apparently asleep. He slipped into the room and took the mug he found there, half empty. Sniffing at it, he recognized this was plain tea, and shook his head. He went into the kitchen now empty of all save good smells, the table already set for breakfast, and went into the cool room to fetch some of his special tea for Frodo, looking about at the bounty there. He felt such a wave of thanksgiving in his heart for all who had worked so hard this day as he searched through all else for his covered pitcher, finding it finally right where he’d left it in the corner nearest the door. He refilled Frodo’s mug, and took it back to his Master’s room.

“Hello, Sam,” Frodo said quietly as he reentered the chamber.

“Hello, Master,” Sam answered as he set the mug down on the table by Frodo’s bed. “You didn’t eat the toast?”

“I wasn’t really hungry,” Frodo answered, looking pale as he sat up carefully.

“Thank you for insisting Tom take me off. I was so busy tryin’ to see to everything I was gettin’ half mad, I think. I hope as you didn’t push yourself too much today, tryin’ to make up for it, though.”

“Oh, I helped, but made certain the rest did the most of the work, Sam.” But as he took the mug his hand was shaking somewhat, and Sam helped steady it. Frodo drank from it thankfully, finally emptied it down. “I didn’t realize till now how much I missed having that by me earlier, I think,” Frodo said. “I’ll sleep well enough now, Sam.”

Sam smiled down at him. “Thank you for all, Frodo,” he said quietly,

Frodo smiled. “It’s been little enough I could do for you, Sam. We all owe you so much, you know.”

When Sam returned shortly after with the mug refilled to set it back by the bed, Frodo seemed to be asleep once more.

Early in the morning Frodo awoke, and drank from the mug Sam had left for him. Feeling much better, he finally rose rather shakily and went to the privy and then the bathing room where the fire under the boiler was neatly laid. It still took three tries before he could get it alight, which disturbed him. He went back to the kitchen, and went into the cool room where he stole a couple of the deviled eggs off the nearest tray and downed them. Finding Sam’s pitcher in the corner he filled a clean mug and drank it slowly, then cut a slice of bread. He saw the fire built up under the ovens, and finally went back to his room where he smoothed his bed, then got out the special suit Arwen had made for him and set it out to put on. Wrapping himself more tightly in his striped dressing gown, he returned to the bathing room, filled the tub from the boiler, and finally shed his nightshirt and got into the bath, glad of the warmth with which it surrounded him. He didn’t remain long, however, and returned to his room where he donned his pants and braces, and the quilted silk shirt he’d been given to wear under his mithril corslet.

Merry, Pippin, and Estella Bolger were fixing a light breakfast when he returned to the kitchen, and he could tell the first few of the loaves of bread for the wedding feast were already baking in the oven. “Sam’s left orders you aren’t to exert yourself today,” Pippin informed him. “Did you sleep well?”

“Mostly,” Frodo allowed, and took his place at the table. “Good morning, Aunt, Uncle, Beri,” he said, as more of the Brandybucks came in.

“Good morning, Frodo,” Saradoc smiled. “Are you certain you won’t ride back with us this afternoon? You don’t have to walk, you know.”

“Uncle Sara,” Frodo answered, shaking his head, “I haven’t had a proper walking trip since I returned. I want a chance to see how Sam’s trees are growing, you know, and to rejoice for just being home and at peace once more.”

“You are looking terribly thin,” Esmeralda commented, her expression concerned.

“I’m well enough,” Frodo insisted, but privately Merry and Pippin sided with Merry’s mother.

Frodo ate sparingly, then went back to his room where he finished his dressing and carefully brushed his hair. When he bent over to brush his feet, however, he was hit with a wave of nausea, and sat down rather abruptly in the wooden chair from the table that had taken the place of his old desk, and was sitting there looking rather pale when Brendi peeked in. “Frodo,” he said, suddenly concerned, “are you all right?”

“I think so,” Frodo insisted again. “I just begin to wonder if I might not have overdone it more than I’d thought yesterday.” He looked down. “I was starting to brush the hair on my feet when I--I felt tired again.”

Brendi fetched the foot brush and carefully brushed Frodo’s feet for him. “You were at it all day, were you?”

“Yes. Sam was a mass of nerves, trying to see to everything and feeling totally overwhelmed. I had him dragged off and made certain that all was being done by those best suited to do each, and was just doing what I could to help.”

“You need to rest more, cousin,” Brendi commented, assured Frodo was properly groomed. “Now, stand up if you can, and let me see you.” He paused, taking in the beauty of Frodo’s clothes. “Now, that is the most glorious suit I’ve seen. Did you bring that back from Gondor?”

“The Lady Arwen made it for me, and sent it to me shortly after I returned.” Frodo sat back down on his chair again. “Brendi, will you take my mug for me to the kitchen, rinse it out, and bring me some tea Sam has ready in the cool room? It’s in a covered blue jug in the corner to the left.”

“You wouldn’t want fresh?”

“This--this is Sam’s special tea, and it helps me feel better as I’ve told you before. Doesn’t appear to matter if it’s cool.”

Brendi was soon back with the tea, and Frodo sipped at it, then drank more of it. Finally he stood upright, his color better. “Did you bring the will and the rest of the documents with you, Brendi?” he asked. Brendi went to fetch the papers from his bag, and they went together to the study to discuss them and see them stored away in the locked drawer of the desk.

Today Frodo stayed quietly in the study, writing some at the book he’d promised to Bilbo, finishing much of the next chapter while the rest saw to what needed done today; at last he set the chapter aside, and went to the store room and fetched the new pack that had been Sam’s gift to him at Yule. He took it to his room and packed it for his intended walking trip this evening. Once he had two outfits in it and a nightshirt and what else he might need, he returned to the study, and was there when Sam arrived with his brothers and Young Tom. Together they came in, and Frodo rose, smiling.

Sam paused in the doorway, his glance admiring. “That the suit the Lady Arwen made for you, then?”

Frodo smiled. “Yes. And those are the vest and waistcoat she made for you?”

Sam nodded. The vest was of a maroon brocade, and the jacket of a warm brown embroidered with leaves in golds, browns, and maroon to match the vest; the buttons were of clear glass with gold leaves inlaid in them. “She certainly knows the way to make clothes suit the person, doesn’t she, Master?”

“Indeed. Have the Tooks arrived as yet?”

“No, not yet.”

“Who’s going to stand up with you?” Frodo asked.

“Tom and Merry.”

Frodo’s eyes widened, for rarely did a groom have more than one friend stand up with him. Sam continued, “And both Marigold and Miss Estella are going to stand up with Rosie. And I found there was somethin’ in the pocket of the vest when I put it on.” He brought out a small bag of dark green silk and held it out to Frodo.

Curious, Frodo took and opened it; inside lay two rings of mithril, each carved with a wreath of roses about its center; and one of the braided marriage cords such as had been used to bind bride and groom at the weddings of Aragorn and Arwen, Faramir and Éowyn. Frodo lifted it out and laughed. “So, our King and Queen appear to intend you to be bound together indeed as is done by the Dúnedain. Would you like that, Sam?”

“I wouldn’t mind, but I hadn’t had time as yet to discuss it with Rosie.”

“Did you intend to exchange wedding tokens?”

“Well, we’d wanted to, but hadn’t decided what as of day afore yesterday. But these--these would be special ones--if’n they fit, of course.” He looked at them critically, then smiled. “Course, considerin’ who sent them, I’d be surprised if they don’t.” He held up his right hand to show the ring that served as his token to access the account held by the bankers in the Fourth Circle of Minas Tirith. “After all, this one fit as soon as he give it to me. He sent it back to me with Gimli.”

Frodo nodded. “I can adjust the ceremony to include the cord, and there’s no problem with exchanging tokens, of course. Do you think Rosie will mind?”

“Will you ask her, Master?”

“If you wish. Now, then, Ham, would you mind fetching Merry for me?”

Merry arrived in a moment. “You are attending on Sam?” Frodo asked him.

“Yes, he’s asked me.”

“Which will hold the marriage token for you, Sam?”

Sam looked from Young Tom to Merry and back, and after a moment gave a small nod, turned back to Frodo and said, “Mr. Merry will.”

Frodo took the smaller of the two rings and handed it to Merry to hold. He looked at Tom, who was rather pale and shaking, and smiled. “You were probably wise to indicate Merry should do it. Aragorn had a bit more choice, as he had seven stand up with him.”

“Seven?” Tom looked shocked.

“Yes, seven, including Sam and me and his foster brothers and two of his cousins and the Lord Prince Steward Faramir. The older of his two cousins was so nervous....” He related the description of the morning of the King’s wedding, how Aragorn had had to fasten his mantle himself and the jibes about Halladan’s own wedding, the threats to drop the King into the fountain should he faint. Tom was soon laughing, as were Hal and Ham as well. “It was quite lovely and moving by the end of it, actually; but I think that had anyone even dared to suggest that they knew of a reason not to allow the marriage Lord Elrond, who was performing it, would have skewered them with a look!”

“Indeed,” Merry said. “He asked, glared at the entire company, which I think included half the population of Minas Tirith, which was more than the entire population of the Shire, and all took an involuntary step backwards!”

Briefly Frodo described what would happen and the order in which it would occur, then asked first Young Tom, then Merry, and finally Sam to tell it back to him. He rehearsed with Sam what he was to say, and at last indicated he was satisfied. “Out with you, then,” he said, rising again and shooing them out to the passageway. “It’s time for me to meet with the bride now.”

Sam led the others out to the kitchen as Frodo walked down to the parlor in time to greet the Cottons as they arrived from Bywater. Rosie had a huge blanket wrapped about her to keep her wedding dress both hidden and clean, and Frodo soon had her and her father in the study, having sent Jolly off to fetch Marigold and Estella. While Estella was going over her part in the marriage ceremony to come the Tooks arrived, and in a moment Isumbard was entering the already crowded study with the marriage contract, which Frodo automatically opened and examined. He took up a pen and made slight amendments in two places, then smiled his acceptance. “Well done, Isumbard. Bard, could you take a small table--perhaps the one by the window in my bedroom--out and set it just in front of the bower on the right, to my left, for me? And ask Sam to take out a candle to use as a Presence Light.”

Bard looked at him with surprise. “What’s that?”

“I was explaining that Aragorn had sent a marriage cord as is used in the weddings for the Dúnedain of Gondor and Arnor, and Sam has asked that it be used in the wedding here, out of respect for our Lord King and Lady Queen who sent it. A Presence Light indicates that the Valar and the Creator themselves also serve as witnesses to the joining.”

The Took looked a bit surprised at such an element, but could think of no objection to it. He nodded, turning to hurry out to discuss this with Sam, finding Sam had already anticipated this request and had the table and a candle in a glass holder already out there.

Once Bard was gone, Frodo again turned to Estella and had her begin anew, then turned to Rosie to examine her. At last he sent the three lasses off to the parlor, and turned to Old Tom, rehearsing what he was to say several times. When Frodo indicated he was certain the farmer knew his part, Tom asked what changes Frodo had made in the contract.

“I was just adding in Sam’s title, since this wedding is reflecting a bit of Dúnedain tradition as well as our Shire ceremony.” He indicated Tom was free to inspect the document. It didn’t take long for the farmer to spot the amendment the first time it occurred, where it was indicated this was the contract of marriage between Samwise Gamgee and Rosie Cotton. Sam was now identified as “Lord Samwise Gamgee of the Free Peoples of the West.”

“What’s that about?”

Frodo smiled gently. “We told you before that Sam is honored by the King himself and is famous in the outside world. Well, for his part in the fight against Sauron, he has been made a Lord, and this has been recognized by not only the people of Gondor and the Dúnedain of Arnor, but also by the people of Rohan, the Elves, the Dwarves, the Ents, by Hobbits as represented by Merry and Pippin, and, we are told, even the Great Eagles of the Misty Mountains.”

Tom looked confused. “By birds?” he asked.

Frodo’s smile widened. “You remember Bilbo’s stories of the Eagles saving him and the Dwarves, and the conversations they had? I assure you, those were not merely stories. According to both the Elves and the Dúnedain--and the King himself--the Great Eagles sometimes serve as the messengers of the Valar to those here in Middle Earth; and Aragorn told me in a letter a few months ago that he’d had occasion to speak with Gwaihir at least three times in recent months--when the Eagles aided Gandalf to rescue Sam and me from the destruction of the Mountain, and then twice in the King’s Hallow above the city of Minas Tirith. The Great Eagles are as much Children of Iluvatar as are Elves, Men, Dwarves, Hobbits, and Ents.”

“I’m still not completely certain just what Ents are, myself,” Tom Cotton commented.

“The shepherds of the trees of Fangorn Forest. Not a numerous people, but certainly an unusual one. Do you think you are ready now?”

Frodo came out to greet the newer guests, and went out to welcome Will and Mina when they arrived with Aster, Bucca, and the children.

Soon all were gathering at the beginning to the gardens for the wedding, and watched as Frodo set the marriage contract on the small table with the box of inks and a new quill, there in front of the flickering candle burning in a glass holder. Then when all was ready Sam came out wearing a green wreath on his head, accompanied by Merry and Tom, one on each side and a half step behind him. They took the positions Frodo indicated, and waited. May Gamgee and Lily Cotton raised the song of the bride as had been sung or played time out of mind in the Shire for weddings, and the bridal party emerged, Old Tom Cotton in his finest with his daughter’s arm on his elbow, Estella and Marigold dressed in soft golden dresses, each holding a single yellow rose tied in gold and green ribbons; Rosie herself in a gown made from the shimmering fabric brought her by Sam from Gondor, a flurry of lace from her petticoats showing beneath, lace with gold and green ribbon at her bodice and tied at the back of her wedding crown of golden and white flowers, a bouquet of flowers of white, gold, and rose in her hands also bound in gold and green ribbons.

Frodo smiled with pride and joy to see Sam standing so tall and straight that day, once again as proudly as had stood Aragorn by his bride. His heart was beating swiftly. Suddenly Frodo felt the pain he had known from time to time in his chest, surprisingly intense for a second, and then as swiftly dulling. Briefly it was difficult to breathe; he waited a minute, then was able to take a slow, deep breath. He closed his eyes briefly, willing himself to stand steady, for he was determined not to ruin Sam’s day. He opened his eyes as the song ended, smiled into Sam’s eyes, and finally felt ready to begin.

“And why this day do you come before this company, Samwise Gamgee, my Lord Samwise son of Hamfast?”

Sam flushed at the title, but straightened even more, if that was possible. “It is my deep desire to take this Hobbitess Rosie Cotton as my wife, to take her as mistress of my hole, to bring her into my family, to be the mother of those children who may be given to the two of us, and to share my life with her for the time given us together,” he responded.

Frodo’s mouth twitched at the last phrase, for that Sam had added on his own. He turned to Farmer Cotton. “Why this day do you come before this company, Tolman and Lily Cotton?”

Old Tom stood quite straight. “To see our beloved daughter Rosie married to Samwise Gamgee, if she will have him and if he will have her.”

“Why this day do you come before this company, Rose Cotton?”

“To take this gentlehobbit and Lord of the Free Peoples, Samwise Gamgee, as husband, to enter his family, to become mistress of his hole and mother to all children that might be given us.” At this Tom set Rosie’s hand in Sam’s and stepped back to join his wife. Many murmured at the strange title Rosie had given her bridegroom, but all fell swiftly silent.

Frodo looked about the company. “This day have Samwise Gamgee and Rose Cotton come before all to be wed. Is there any reason why she should consider not accepting him as her husband, or why he might do the same for her?”

Odo Proudfoot called out, “Because he left the Shire and he might take it into his head to do such a fool thing again?”

Unlike weddings among Men, it was common in the Shire for such reasons to be listed and considered. Rosie turned toward Odo. “I know as why he did as he did, and I’m proud of him for it. If’n he hadn’t, then perhaps I’d of had reason to think otherwise,” she announced.

Sam was flushing, but kept his head up proudly. “I had a job to do as needed doing, Mr. Proudfoot, and I did it fair and square. I’ve no reason to be shamed for what I did, and no other does, neither. I wouldn’t speak afore, for until I knew as I’d come back safe and able to take her as wife I felt as I had no right. Now all is set right, I’ve spoken, and she’s answered me.”

Lily Cotton spoke also. “Tom and me, we’d been wonderin’ as why Sam hadn’t spoken; but once we realized he’d done so that he not bind her to him when there was a chance he might not return, and he’d not leave her a widow with barely the chance to know life as a bride and wife, we are right proud of his thoughtfulness and the level of responsibility as he’s shown.”

No one else could think of a reason to object, and when he was convinced the question had been addressed adequately by bride and groom and Rosie’s family, Frodo looked about the company, then nodded. “As bride, groom, and their families hold no further concerns on this, and as no other possible objections have been spoken, then it is in gladness I continue.”

He turned to bride and groom. “It is no light thing to marry, for marriage is not simple. From this day, the bride’s first commitment is to her husband and the children they may bring into this world; and the groom’s first commitment is to his bride and the children she may bear him. You must not let others come between you--not brothers or sisters or parents or friends. You must bear with one another’s weaknesses and rejoice in one another’s strengths. You must seek to keep your own tempers in hand, and discern between your frustrations at life and your feelings toward the one you take as spouse this day. You must support one another as you can, even when illness and want strike. In this way you are better able to offer the help you can to kindred, neighbors, and others in need. Do you understand all of this?”

As bride and groom indicated their understanding, Frodo smiled. “Then rejoice, for if you are willing to accept this and to turn first to one another, then you are indeed ready to marry.” He took the right hand of each and laid them together. “Samwise Gamgee, do you not only love this Hobbitess, but respect her?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Do you wish to have her ever by your side for the time granted you together?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Are you willing to keep your commitment to her even when others might seek to draw you away?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Will you do your best ever to see to it that she and those children born to you are well provided for, and that none want for shelter, food, clothing, or love?”

“Yes, I will.”

“Will you do your best not to diminish her dowry so that if you should be taken before her time, she and those dependent on the two of you will not be left in want?”

“I so promise.”

“Will you refrain from loosing your temper at her and your family?”

“Yes, to the best of my ability.”

“Will you do your best to respect her love for the family who raised and love her?”

“Yes, I will.”

He took their left hands and laid them together, crossing them over the clasped right hands. “Rosie Cotton, do you not only love this gentlehobbit, but also respect him?”

Her voice was steady and gentle. “Yes I do.”

“Do you wish to have him ever by your side for the time granted you together?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Are you willing to keep your commitment to him even when others might seek to draw you away?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Will you do your best ever to see to it that he and those children born to you are well cared for, and that none want for shelter, food, clothing, and love?”

“Yes, I will.”

“Will you do your best not to diminish his earnings or your dowry so that if you should be taken before his time, he and those dependent on the two of you will not be left in want?”

“I so promise.”

“Will you refrain from loosing your temper at him and your family?”

“Yes, to the best of my ability.”

“Will you do your best to respect his love for the family who raised and love him?”

“Yes, I will.”

“Are you willing to enter his family and accept the added family ties and responsibilities so granted to you, and not to abuse them?”

“Yes, I am.”

Again Frodo smiled. He took the braided cord out of his pocket, and holding it up he addressed the company. “As you have all heard, we who are now known as the Travelers have sojourned amongst the Dúnedain of Gondor and Arnor, the descendants of the people of the Kings of the greater realm of which our land is part. We have been companions of the Lord King Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, the King Returned, Lord of both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. While we were with the King we attended his own wedding, and that of the Lord Prince Steward Faramir of Gondor to his wife, the Lady Éowyn, sister of Éomer, King of Rohan. Our King and Queen have sent this cord to be used in the ceremony binding Sam to Rosie as husband and wife, in keeping with the customs by which they themselves were married. Both bride and groom have agreed to this change in our ceremony out of respect for the wishes of our Lord and Lady.”

He then turned to Rosie and Sam. “Samwise Gamgee, you have chosen to take Rosie Cotton to wife. Do you do this full willing, in joy and delight in her and your choosing?”

Sam answered, his voice fervent, “I most certainly and gladly do.”

“Rosie Cotton, you have chosen to take Samwise Gamgee as your husband. Do you do this full willing, in joy and delight in him and your choosing?”

She answered, “Oh, yes, I surely do.”

“So be it then. Let all bear witness these two take one another full willing, in delight, before all this company and the witness of the Maiar, Valar, and the Creator. Let all see them this day handfasted together.” So saying, he looped the cord around their joined hands. “In token of the promises you have made to one another before this company, we now bind your hands together.” Having drawn the loop tight and loosely knotted it, he indicated they should turn to the company. “See them bound now, one to the other, bound in body and spirit, to rejoice with one another, to grieve with one another, to serve alongside one another, to give and receive from one another, to survive both the harmony and the disagreements they will know, from this day forth until death alone breaks this bond. Do all see and agree?”

Merry and Pippin led the rest in the response, “Yes.”

He touched their shoulders, and they turned back to him.

“So it will be, then,” Frodo said as he unbound the cord and draped it over his arm. “As you have chosen to exchange marriage tokens, let it be done now.”

Merry handed the ring he held to Sam, who took it and slipped it on the ring finger of Rosie’s left hand as had Aragorn with Arwen. “Rosie, I take you as my wife, now and for the rest of our lives; and I pledge myself to you alone.”

Rosie accepted the ring Marigold held. She took a deep breath. Frodo had advised her she might use whatever words she wished at this time, and he wondered what she would say. She looked into Sam’s eyes. “Sam, I take you as my husband. It’s been a long wait for this, but I’ve waited as patient as I could. And it’s been worth it. I’ll never love anyone else as I’ve loved you and as I’ll love you from now on.” She put the ring on his left hand.

Frodo felt the intense pride again, and again a pain in his chest, which seemed to spread to his shoulder. Sam was smiling at Rosie, holding her hand, and she was looking up into his eyes, her own expression tremulous. Again Frodo closed his eyes and took careful breaths, then opened them again to say quietly, “Then it is my honor--it is my honor to pronounce you husband and wife.” They looked at him briefly, then turned their eyes back to one another, and very gently they kissed, then kissed again, more deeply. Frodo felt the temptation to laugh gently, but knew he couldn’t through the pain, although it was again waning. When again they pulled apart, searching one another’s eyes, Frodo announced, “Behold the new husband and the new wife! And may the Powers and the Creator smile on them ever.”

Again Sam and Rosie looked at him, and then Sam, whose left arm was still about Rosie, reached out his right one to embrace Frodo, and immediately Rosie was putting her own arm about him as well. Frodo’s face paled further, although there were faint pink spots on his cheeks. Sam murmured gently, “Thank you, Frodo. Thank you, Master.”

Frodo said softly, “To see you so happy brings me joy, my Sam, Rosie.” He carefully pulled away. “Today is for the two of you.” He stepped back, offering a silent prayer that the two of them would find a lifetime of joy together. He moved to the table and signed the marriage contract, then opened the registry book he was required to keep for the weddings he performed. Others were moving toward bride and groom to embrace them and wish them well as he leaned on the table until the weakness again passed. Finally he was able to straighten, and as the others finally moved back Sam and Rosie came with their attendants to sign the document and the book, followed by Merry and Estella, Young Tom and Marigold as primary witnesses. Then the contract was signed by Fredegar, Ham, and Hal as the final three witnesses,

Frodo took it and held it until he judged the ink was dry, then rolled it as he’d seen Elrond do in Minas Tirith and bound the cord about it, tying the complex knot as Aragorn had insisted he learn to do during one evening in Edoras after the marriage of Faramir and Éowyn. As he did so he smiled, thinking of the wiliness of his friend who was now his King as well, making certain Frodo was ready to integrate Dúnedain custom into Shire ceremonies. Once the knot was tied he held the contract out and indicated Sam should place his right hand on one side of the cord, then that Rosie should do the same on the other side, withdrawing his own hand.

“Your lives will now be more complicated in many ways, and simpler in others,” Frodo counseled them. “I cannot foresee much of what you will know, but I do know that there will be the days of anger as well as the days of happiness; there will be quarrels as well as delight between you. You will often be tired, sometimes too tired to finish all you would prefer to see done. This is simply the way life is, after all. The Dúnedain say that the use of the many colors in the cord reflects all the moods you will know, the kinds of days you will know, the days of joy and the days of frustration, the days of peace and the days of grief. I know, however, that the love you are willing to continue to share with one another will aid you in getting through them all. And in the end you will find that even the days of greatest sorrow are still blessed, for nothing worthwhile lasts forever in this world, yet is still renewed beyond the bounds of Arda.” He looked deeply into Sam’s eyes, hoping to plant the seed of acceptance that his own love would never fail them in the gardener’s heart. “May Iluvatar bless you both,” he whispered to them alone. He took the contract from them and entrusted it to Merry to hold until the new husband and wife could see it properly placed, then turned away to the garden bench where he sat, leaning forward, his left forearm lying along his leg, his right hand rubbing at his shoulder.

Brendi saw the paleness and the hint of pain he couldn’t completely hide, and went inside to find a clean mug, then filled it with the last of the tea from the blue pitcher, setting the empty pitcher in the sink.

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