Merry was fifteen the first time he married Estella Bolger. It was late spring, and the whole family had come to the Hall for the combination of his grandmother’s birthday and Dodiroc’s wedding. Dodiroc had married Violet Brownloam from the Marish, a turn of events that no one had anticipated. No one had realized that Dodiroc and Violet had been courting, for they’d been forced to hide it as Violet’s father Polo had threatened to take a hoe to any lad who came within a league of his place, as certain as he was all gentlehobbits had decidedly impure thoughts about his lasses.
Not that Dodiroc was precisely a lad, for he was almost forty, while Violet was thirty-five now, and definitely of age.
All said and done, everyone agreed that somehow the marriage between the plain Brandybuck and the even plainer Brownloam was nevertheless one of the most romantic weddings they’d ever seen. Dodi had fashioned an arched trellis in the garden outside his own section of the Hall for them to be married under, and had been training honeysuckle and clematis and sweet, yellow roses to climb over it for the past four years; and secretly Violet had been making her wedding dress late at night for almost as long. Dodi and Violet had combined to write the invitations, him doing pictures of the flowers he loved around the edges and her writing the actual invitations in a surprisingly beautiful script. When Polo was gone to Scary for his annual visit to his mother the happy couple had come to Saradoc and let him know they’d already sent out the invitations and intended to be married the Highday before Menegilda’s birthday, and showed him all the preparations and all, and asked if Violet could come into the Hall’s kitchens on Mersday and bake the wedding cake.
Dodi had even tried his hand at writing the marriage contract, although that had been one detail that had ended up needing to be done over.
“This will never do, Dodi,” Sara had told him. “The wording isn’t right, you know; and as you aren’t recognized as a Shire lawyer it’s doubtful Will would accept it from you anyway. I can have Dino do it for you, if you don’t want a practicing lawyer to write it up for you. He did study under Berni, after all, and has been qualified for years, although he decided he prefers breeding ponies to writing agreements.”
And so Merry, who’d been copying out a notice for his dad, had been sent off to find Uncle Dinodas and bring him to the office of the Master’s Heir.
Dinodas was talking with Cousin Brendilac, who’d been granted a couple weeks leave from his apprenticeship to old Cousin Bernigard at the Great Smials to attend the birthday celebration for the Mistress of the Hall when Merry arrived. “Well, the best way to learn how to write the various contracts is just to practice writing them, Brendi-lad. Study your model, then put it in a drawer and try to reproduce it from memory. Then compare it to the model contract and see if you left anything out or used any incorrect phrases. That’s what Berni had us do when I was one of his apprentices, you see. Write practice ones until you can do it automatically. Try writing in different folks’ names and see how it works.”
The two conversations had their effects on Meriadoc Brandybuck, and the lovely wedding had its effect on most of the youngsters in the Hall, both the regular residents and the guests. “Why don’t we have our own wedding?” Pimpernel Took had argued. “We could make it a nice one, as nice as Dodi’s and Violet’s, I’m certain.”
“But who should be the bride?” Melilot asked. “Merilinde, maybe?”
“She’s not been feeling well lately,” Absinthe objected. “Besides, she’s too old to want to do a pretend wedding.”
In the end Estella Bolger had been chosen to be the bride, and Pimpernel and Pervinca had insisted Merry would be the perfect groom. Somehow, though he ought to have found the idea horrid, Merry found himself not minding, not as long as it was Estella. He really rather liked her, a fact he’d only just recently begun trying to share with her by leaving a flower by her place at the teens’ table in the dining hall or making certain she got the largest sweet bun in the morning.
Nor did Estella’s protests seem to have the force to them he’d expected, and in the end the wedding was planned for the day after the birthday party. But, even if it was just a pretend wedding, Merry decided to do it right.
Brendi had been the first he’d approached. “You want a proper marriage contract written out for a pretend wedding, Meriadoc Brandybuck?” he demanded. “Whatever for?”
“Because you’re preparing to be a Shire lawyer and need to practice writing the contracts anyway. It would let you practice, and let us feel how it would be if it were for real.”
The wheedling went on for a good half an hour, but at last Brendi had given in, and promised to see the desired contract was ready before second breakfast on the day.
Pimpernel and Absinthe had been the ones to approach Willow in the kitchens about allowing them to bake a cake, and while most of those resident in the Hall were out in the gardens celebrating Menegilda’s birthday and making speeches about what a grand lady she was and how well she’d done in the years she’d served as Mistress of the Hall, the two lasses were mixing up their cake in a corner of the cavernous main kitchen and slipping the pans into the great oven with the sweet crossed buns to be served with the afters that evening. And while everyone else was dancing through the late afternoon, they were icing their cake and arguing as to what colors they wanted for the flowers and whether or not to use candied violet petals in the decorations.
In the end Absinthe was the one to take the cake and secrete it in her brother’s room in her family’s quarters, Lesto being apprenticed to a saddler up near Tighfield in the North Farthing and not having been able to take off for the Mistress’s birthday. No one would bother it there—had Pimmie tried to take it to the guest quarters there was no question her little brother would have been into it, as large an appetite as young Pippin had.
Melilot had taken Estella to Merilinde’s family’s home to see if her older cousin would help with the wedding dress. Merilinde had laughed, and it was wonderful to find the idea of helping plan a pretend wedding took her thoughts off her delicate stomach. Her mother had in the back of the wardrobe the perfect dress, the one she’d worn for her own wedding so many years ago, although she couldn’t wear it now, of course. It took some pinning and basting, but in the end it looked beautiful on Estella.
Fatty and Folco helped prepare the portion of the garden where they’d planned to do the wedding, an almost forgotten grotto that had been Aunt Primula’s favorite place in the Hall’s grounds. There was a portion of an ancient wall and window here from the almost forgotten days when Men had dwelt in what was now Buckland. This window was tall and arched and seemed exotic, somehow; and the barely discernible stars that decorated the stone frame had always intrigued Estella on her visits here. Many of the children of the Hall didn’t like coming here as it seemed far too tall and straight to be comfortable for those brought up to cozy rooms and round doorways and windows; but when Estella suggested this was where she’d like to have the wedding the rest had agreed.
The hardest part had been convincing Frodo to take part in the ceremony. “You want me to hear your vows for a pretend wedding?” he asked, as amazed and disbelieving as Brendi had been.
“Of course, Frodo. I’d really wanted you to stand up with me, but I can have Fatty do that; but you’re the only one I know who’ll do it right, for I know you know all the words.”
Frodo’s cheeks had become fully flushed. “But Merry, I’m not a child any more. I’ll be of age in a few years, you know. I’m much too old to play at weddings.”
“But please, Frodo—we’ve been working so hard at it, after all. I mean, Pimmie and Absinthe have been making the cake all day, and we’re going to have Pippin carry the flowers for us. And Uncle Mac’s letting me borrow his best vest and jacket, and I’m going to carry the Sword, even.”
The Sword was an heirloom of the Hall. It was said it had been given to Bucca of the Marish by Arvedui Last-king’s son as a sign of deepest respect and honor for the service he and those Hobbits who’d accompanied him to fight in the Great War had shown the Kingdom of Arnor.
Frodo was shocked. “Uncle Sara would let you carry the Sword in a play wedding?”
“Oh, I didn’t ask Dad,” Merry said with a careless wave of his hand. “I asked my gaffer instead. He doesn’t mind. He’s not as stiff as Dad is, you know.”
Frodo did know. As he’d aged, Rorimac Brandybuck had decided that it was time to stop being stodgy, and to take a page out of old Bilbo’s book and just enjoy life while he could. Menegilda had been upset at first as she watched her husband bit by bit throw protocol out the window, yet she’d also found her life with her husband had regained some of the freshness and excitement she’d known when she first married him, all those long years ago.
Well, Uncle Rory was the Master, after all, and if he’d really told Merry he could carry the Sword…. But just to be certain Frodo had cornered his mother’s older brother and asked quietly.
“Well, of course I said yes, Frodo my lad,” Rory had assured him. “Why not? Merry’s a responsible lad, and it’s not like he was playing at war with it or anything. And I think it’s fine he’s thinking ahead to the day he’ll marry himself—good practice for him, you see. And he tells me you’re to say the words. Good for you—good practice for when we see you elected Mayor.”
“Uncle Rory—what in Middle Earth would convince you I’ll ever be Mayor? I’m not an adult quite yet, after all. But I’m far too old to play at weddings.”
“Frodo Baggins, if there was ever a Hobbit who ought to be Mayor, I think it’s you.” Then his uncle’s face had gone solemn. “Listen lad, don’t rush the day you must be an adult. You’re not of age yet, and you shouldn’t give over all play so soon. Why, even we adults play at times, you realize—we have to, or we’d die of solemnity. And Merry’s being a good sport about this for the other lads and lasses and has agreed to be the groom—you can unbend a bit. Remember, you may be a Baggins, but you have your fair share of Brandybuck and Took to you. Humor Merry and be glad you’re both still lads whilst you can. You never know—life can be so unpredictable. You might never be able to stand up for him when he marries for real, so this may be the one chance you have to see it done.”
Merry wasn’t certain what it was his grandfather had said, but at dinner Frodo had leaned over and whispered that he’d agree to say the words, and that was all he’d say of the matter. But there was something in Frodo’s eyes that told his younger cousin he was thinking about what he’d discussed with the Master.
But he was glad Frodo had agreed. If he hadn’t, they’d have had to allow Fatty to do it, and that would be just too ludicrous. Fredegar Bolger and Frodo got along well enough, maybe; but—well, there was a reason they all called him Fatty, and the idea of saying his vows to his exceptionally heavy cousin made Merry’s insides twist for some reason.
In the morning Frodo dressed with great care. He’d not told Bilbo what the children were doing or his role in it, for he felt he’d die of embarrassment should an adult come to see this pretend wedding he’d agreed to. But, as Merry was insistent on seeing to it everything was done right, he might as well make certain he looked as proper as he could.
Bilbo paused on his way back to his own room with a mug of tea in his hand, watching through the partially opened door as Frodo carefully donned his best jacket over his figured green vest, the one he’d argued over a few years back. This was the first time Frodo had agreed to wear the shirt underneath it, one of softest green, almost the color of a summer apple, but there was no question it became him marvelously. Frodo was an exceptionally good-looking Hobbit, and it was only right he should dress the part of the future Master of Bag End. Yes, a gem his Frodo was, a marvelous gem, and that gem needed be set off properly—of that Bilbo was certain.
Well, whatever it was the younger lads and lasses were up to, it was plain they’d managed to talk Frodo into going along with it. That whatever it should be would require him to dress up so when usually once he reached Buckland Frodo was shedding his formal clothes so as to enjoy himself in what had been his childhood home sparked the old Hobbit’s curiosity, and he decided he’d do a bit of poking about and see what it was all about. It ought to at least be entertaining. Then the idea struck him—could it be that Frodo’s attention had been at last caught again by a lass? It wouldn’t be Pearl, of course—she and Bard were now definitely promised; but perhaps someone else. No, not Melilot—she was still a child; and Merilinde wasn’t about the Hall right now with the illnesses she’d been going through; and besides, she and young Brendilac definitely had an Understanding, capital U, as dear Dora would write it. More determined than ever to keep an eye on his lad today, Bilbo returned to his own room and drank his tea, keeping an eye down the passage so he would know when Frodo set off at last.
Merry was feeling more uncertain as he dressed himself. The vest and jacket loaned him by Uncle Mac were old ones and extremely formal. He was surprised that they didn’t hang on him like sacking, actually, for Uncle Mac was considerably broader than he, of course; but apparently he’d been a good deal more slender when he was young. But the real surprise had been the hat that went with the jacket and vest, one of tall, green silk. As he finished with the buttons and at last set the hat on his curls he was shocked at the image he saw in his mirror. Was this what he’d look like as a grown Hobbit, then? He was surprised to realize just how regal and important he looked. He shivered a little, and at last satisfied he’d done his best to look a proper bridegroom, he opened his door and went out.
“Dad, I was just in your office, and noticed the Sword isn’t there. The children aren’t playing with it, are they?”
Rorimac looked at his older son and smiled. “Actually, Sara, they’re doing exactly that, and I told them they could.”
“But, Dad—that’s an heirloom!”
“Yes, I know, and it’s priceless and irreplaceable and all the rest of it. But Merry asked for the loan of it especially, and hearing what use he has for it, I agreed. He’ll not be misusing it or playing at war with it or anything like that—you can be assured of that.”
“But you can’t let bairns like Merry just play with the Sword—we use it only for accessions and marriages and so on.”
“Yes, I know.”
Saradoc looked frustrated, then made his decision. “Where are they going to be playing?”
“I’m not completely certain, but they’ve found some part of the gardens they’ve decided to do it in. Don’t worry, lad—I trust Merry with it, and am certain he’ll do it proud—between himself and Frodo, at least.”
“Frodo’s involved? Then it can’t be too awful….”
Rory snorted. “It’s not awful at all, and I don’t want you rushing out to break up their games, for this is something they’ve been working toward all week, I’ll have you know. When you find them, and I’m certain you shall, you being as responsible as you are yourself, you stay back and watch and see if they aren’t doing it right.”
A few minutes later Sara was scouting through the back gardens, and not finding any clear signs as to where they might be. But as he approached the garden where the bit of old wall lingered he could hear voices, so he quietly slipped into the shadows of the trees and went forward to see what it was about.
“I thought you said Frodo was going to hear them,” he heard Fatty say. “If he doesn’t come, I’ll do it.”
“He’ll be here—he promised, you know.” Merry’s voice had that slightly stubborn quality Sara recognized.
“I can’t believe you brought the Sword, Meriadoc Brandybuck,” Berilac said.
Sara slipped further forward where he could see, and realized all the older lads currently in the Hall appeared to be present, along with a fair number of lasses as well. What was more, all appeared to have chosen to wear adult clothes. Was that Mac’s old formal jacket and hat? Sun and stars, it was years since he’d seen them!
There was an archway set up, twined about with flowers. What was this? Playing at weddings, were they? As he saw how Merry straightened, he realized this was precisely what they were doing, and Merry had the tip of the Sword gently grounded the way his grandfather did when giving a eulogy at a funeral.
Then it seemed as if the grotto had somehow brightened, and all turned to see Frodo entering carrying an inkstand, looking particularly formal, although not as solemn as Sara would have expected.
He craned his head and saw that there was a table, and on it a slightly lopsided cake on which flowers had been sculpted of sugar icing and candied violet petals. Nearby was the slightly mismatched set of plates commonly used by the children of the Hall when they played at parties and all, and the old punch bowl and the mismatched set of cups that commonly kept company with the plates. He could see they indeed were seeking to do it right.
Pervinca Took was hurrying in with a bowl of flowers—he hoped she’d not taken any Dodi would complain about when he returned, and set it on the table while Merry pulled out a scroll tied with a pale yellow ribbon and handed it to Frodo. Frodo opened it and examined it carefully, for a brief moment appearing surprised at it. Then he was nodding formally and setting it on the end of the table with the box of inks, and from an inside pocket he produced his finest steel pen. Sara nodded, feeling somewhat pleased. Yes, they were taking care of all the details.
He was a bit startled but not quite surprised when he realized Bilbo was standing beside him. “So,” the old Hobbit breathed quietly, “this is what they’re about, is it?” Sara nodded, and both turned their attention to the “wedding.”
Fatty was standing for the groom, just behind Merry and a bit to his left. Now it was just about time….
He heard a bit of a whistle, and Pervinca and Pimpernel began to sing the wedding song, Pimmie’s voice sweet and clear, Pervinca’s a bit off-key as usual. And after a moment there was a movement from the further garden, and Estella Bolger came in dressed in a lovely gown, one obviously quickly altered to fit her. She was carrying a bouquet of variegated roses and had a wedding crown on her head. Fatty was lifting off the green silk hat and handing it to Berilac, then taking a circlet of green leaves and settling it on Merry’s head.
He heard a soft chuckle from Bilbo, and at a nudge he looked downward. Oh, moon and starlight—even little Pippin was part of this, all dressed in his white suit and carrying a basket of flowers to stand before the bride and groom. And the look in Merry’s eyes as he saw Estella approaching followed by Melilot—it was marvelous as they widened, surprised at how very lovely Estella was.
And then both stood before Frodo, and Frodo was saying, very gently, “And why this day do you come before this company, Meriadoc Brandybuck?”
The two gentlehobbits who watched from the screening shadows smiled gently as the wedding went forward. Frodo said it all properly, and bride and groom said it all properly as well, although Melilot managed to fumble her own part. But it was the remarkable grace they seemed to see in the three, the small bride, groom, and much taller officiant, that moved them most. Frodo spoke with a quiet, gentle authority that made the ceremony feel extraordinarily intimate. And when at last he said, “Behold the new husband and the new wife!” after Merry and Estella gave one another a most chaste kiss, Sara unconsciously found himself clapping with the rest of the guests, and heard a soft snort of laughter from Bilbo, who was trying to hide the fact he was wiping his eyes.
“Now that,” the Baggins murmured, “was a wedding indeed. Oh, my dear, dear lad.”
The children were turned about, alarmed to realize they’d been spied upon by the Master’s Heir and old Bilbo, but Saradoc walked forward with dignity. “A most, most marvelous ceremony, Frodo. Now, Merry, Estella, now that you are well and truly married, shall we decide whether you will remain here until you are of age, or will you live in Budge Hall?”
Frodo’s cheeks were flaming and the rest of his face a bit pale, but he held himself straight and tall as he watched Bilbo’s approach behind that of Saradoc. But there was no reproach in the faces of either, only an unexpected degree of pride. Bilbo approached his ward, looking up into his eyes with respect and love. “That was so well done, my lad, so well done. Anyone married by you will know what it means, you realize.”
Frodo dropped his face in surprise and confusion, but raised it to look again into Bilbo’s as the older Hobbit gently caressed his cheek. “You really think so, Bilbo?”
“Oh, yes, my lad—you have the gift for it, you see.”
And now, so many years later, Saradoc Brandybuck watched as Pippin gently lifted the high, green silk hat from Merry’s head and accepted the wreath handed him by Sam Gamgee and settled it firmly on Merry’s curls, and as Sara’s eyes met those of his son he realized that both of them were remembering that other wedding ceremony, back when Merry was only fifteen.