Denra was leaning over a large packing case when Alvric and Holby returned from the Prancing Pony with a keg of ale. The Man had seen Carnation going to the shed behind the house carrying what appeared to be a sheet of wood with her, and now she reentered the house behind him, closing the door firmly against the chill. “There,” the Hobbitess said with satisfaction, “that’s out of the way, although, Master Alvric, I suspect as ye’ll have to carry out the case, for it’s too large for me to deal well with it.”
“Where is it from?” he asked over his shoulder as he headed for the place in the stillroom where they’d agreed it would be best to store the drink for the wedding.
“From the Shire!” Denra called after him. “A Hobbit from Hardbottle brought it.”
In moments he was back in the front parlor and kneeling down the other side of the case. Denra had been lifting out layers of thick, pliant reeds that had been used to fill the case and protect whatever it held. At last she uncovered a small packet wrapped in heavy paper and pulled it out. She unwrapped it carefully, then paused, her eyes delighted. “Oh, Alvric--Carnation--look!”
It was a cup of the finest porcelain Alvric thought he’d ever seen, so fine that when she held it to the window he could see the light shine through it--and then he noticed something.
“May I hold it?” he asked, his attention fully caught. He accepted it and held it to the window. “Look--there’s a shadow image caught in it--a flower--more violets, I think!” He was enchanted, for he’d never seen anything like this before.
“Oh--picture pottery!” breathed Carnation. She took the next cup unwrapped and looked through it, then turned it over to trace the careful shaping of the bottom. “Me mum had four such cups, and I inherited one of 'em. The Hobbits of the Shire make such wonderful pottery!”
Alvric had to agree as he handed her the cup he held for the Hobbitess to set on the table, and he began helping to remove more packing, eventually unwrapping a total of eighteen of the cups and a beautifully crafted ladle before pulling out the great bowl at the bottom. It was a thicker porcelain than the cups, but still, when holding the bottom toward the window it could be seen that there was a wreath of flowers impressed into the base of it.
“How clever--and beautiful,” he said. “This must have been terribly expensive. From Hardbottle, you say? Do you think it was sent by Master Bartolo’s family?”
Denra was nodding as she carefully took the great bowl and set it with the ladle in the midst of the circle Carnation had made of the cups. “There’s a letter as come with it,” she noted. “It’s on the low table there. Just think! A Shire punch bowl set! Is there a tray as well?”
Alvric emptied out the last of the reeds, but had to admit the bowl, ladle, and cups were all he could find. She smiled.
“That’s well and good enough,” she said. “It’s a fine gift indeed. I’d of never dreamed to have so fine a set. As for a tray--we can have our choice of fine trays to use with it, I’d think.” She stood admiring it rather dreamily. “It shall go so well with Master Frodo’s table shawl, don’t you agree, dearling?”
Alvric did agree as he nudged Holby and the cat out of the reeds, where they’d bedded down together to watch, and carefully returned the packing to the case, gathering the reed stems from the rug where he and Denra had laid them. At last satisfied he’d got the lot of them, he and Carnation between them carried the case out the door and set it to one side, agreeing it could be put in the shed later, and returned into the house where the warmth of the fire greeted them. At last the lawyer took up the letter Denra had mentioned and began reading it.
February 2, 1421 S.R.
Dear Master Alvric and Mistress Denra,
We hope you’ll like this. Ordinarily we’d not send something quite this elaborate as a wedding gift, but I was able to get it at quite a bargain, and I so hope it pleases the both of you. It’s been in a shop here in Hardbottle for ever so long, and I’ve known that one day I should find just the right folks to send it to--and now I have! I don’t know if they do pane pottery in Gondor. They don’t do a lot of it here in the Shire, either; but the Grubbs pottery near Threadneedle makes some of the best in the Southfarthing. My distant cousin Leticia probably painted the flowers upon it, for she decorates most of their pottery.
We shall be there I hope in good time for the wedding. Shall the two of you attend the dance at the Guild Hall on the Highday? It appears Agatha has written of it to Begonia, and it’s all she seems able to think on at the moment.
Well, Vito’s cousin is to carry this with him when he comes to Bree on business, so I need to finish this letter that it might reach you. May the stars shine on the happiness of the both of you.
Delphinium Baggins Bracegirdle for all of us
Garden Place, Hardbottle, the Southfarthing, the Shire
“I’ll wager as Mr. Bracegirdle is thinkin’ as his missus is a bit extravagant,” Carnation sniffed once the letter had been read to her. “But I’ll agree as it’s about the prettiest of its kind as I’ve ever seen. May ye always use it in gladness! Should ye like your luncheon now?”
Two days before the wedding Nob came from the Prancing Pony with a handcart loaded with a wine barrel and a flat case. “These just arrived,” he explained to Alvric when he answered the door. “The wine’s from the Shire, from the Master’s cellar, I’m told, sent by Merimac Brandybuck in thanks for the trainin’ as you’ve give the Buckland lawyers; and the case was brought with a wagon headed north toward the new King’s city as is bein’ built. And there’s another larger case as come with it, but it was too big for me to bring.”
The case was from Prince Faramir and his bride Princess Éowyn. To realize that an actual prince was sending them a present seemed to overwhelm Denra; when it was opened, carefully wrapped in folds of pale rose velvet they found a great silver tray, delicately etched with interlocking circles of flowers, with the White Tree of Gondor in the center. Denra’s eyes shone with the delight of it. “Oh, Alvric--it can be used with the punch set, don’t you see? And a prince--a real prince--sent it to us? But why us?”
“I’ve known and worked with Prince Faramir and his father before him for some years, my beloved. It was so thoughtful of them.” He examined the handles carefully. “Ivory—I’ll wager the ivory was taken from the tusks of the mumakil that were killed in the battle before the city gates.”
But it was the other case, once it was fetched, that managed to leave Denra totally speechless, for it was sent by the King and Queen themselves--in it, padded with golden straw and layers of purple velvet of the finest quality, were a pair of great pitchers of blue glass that shone with different colors as one turned them, and a set of nested, fluted bowls also of the same glass.
“Volcano glass,” Alvric said reverently as he held the smallest one up and turned it. “They are all made with the ash from Orodruin. Master Celebrion from the Fourth Circle blows some of the finest glass in all of Gondor. Oh, Denra--this helps us remember the victory over Mordor!”
At that moment there was another knock at the door, and Alvric went to find Persivo Bracegirdle there. “We’ve just now come,” the young Hobbit told him, “and Mum sent me over to tell you and to ask if you’d all wish to join us at dinner tonight at the Prancing Pony. Oh, I say,” he said, his eyes caught by the bowl Alvric was holding, “if that isn’t beautiful!”
Alvric drew him in and showed him the dining room with its carefully dressed table covered with the great shawl sent by Frodo Baggins and their own punchbowl set upon it. “Oh, yes, from Vito’s shop!” he said. “So, that’s what Mum sent you from us, is it? It’s so wonderful she managed to find a home for it with those as will love it. And you say as--you say that the table shawl is from Cousin Frodo Baggins? I wonder if it was made by Marigold Cotton? I’ve seen some of her work displayed at the Free Fair, and it is beautiful. Yes, she was Marigold Gamgee, but she’s married young Tom Cotton of Bywater now. It was? Oh, but she’s won so many prizes for her work.”
Denra’s eyes were shining with tears of pride as she arranged the punch bowl set upon the great silver tray with its ivory handles and set a pitcher on each side of it, and circled them with the nested bowls.
On the Highday all attended the dance at the Guild Hall, and even Enrico managed to enjoy himself far more than he’d expected, particularly when he led out his mother. Soon an Underhill lass caught his eye, and he realized that perhaps lasses weren’t all simpering fools—lasses other than his sisters, that was.
Late in the party the door opened to admit a party of Rangers and a group of ladies none within Bree had seen before. For a moment all went quiet with surprise and, on the part of some, a degree of dismay.
The one they thought of as the Scribe looked about the room. “Would you truly be uncomfortable if we were to join you? As we’ve come for the wedding tomorrow….”
Many of the company already there blushed, and Barliman Butterbur gestured them further into the room. “Beg pardon, masters and mistresses,” he said. “It’s just you’ve taken us by surprise is all. No, don’t stand on ceremony. We was setting to dance a reel.”
It soon was apparent that these could dance with the best, and all watched with admiration as Lord Halladan and his lady wife proved particularly skilled at dancing reels.
“I didn’t never think as those Rangers even had wives,” Missus Blackroot murmured to Denra Gorse.
All were clapping in rhythm as the pair before them stamped and turned, their faces alight with the joy of the dance.
Bartolo Bracegirdle was sitting at second breakfast in the common room with his family when Master Alvric came down from the room he’d taken for the night, smoothing his curly hair with one hand while rubbing his eyes with another. “Oh, what a night!” he said as he came to join them and plopped into one of the low chairs intended for Hobbits. “I’ve not danced that much for years! And I suspect I drank rather too much as well. Will I truly be ready to marry Denra today?”
Delphie examined him with an experienced eye. “Oh, I think you’ll do, Master Alvric. You’re nowhere as bad off as many a Hobbit I’ve seen on his wedding day, after all. Some of my cousins....” She shook her head with a rueful smile.
“I see. Yesterday I was trying to help set up the house for the wedding, but was finally sent off with Holby to get us out of the way, or so they told me. Apparently I, as the bridegroom, cannot be expected to properly place anything.” He sighed as he accepted a cup of tea from Jape. “Thank you, sir,” he said with a nod. “I only hope that when I turn up in my formal clothing I don’t upset everyone--or make them laugh. Our formal clothing is, after all, quite different from what is worn here.”
“Can’t be all that different from what I’ve seen the Travelers wear,” Barti said. “That fancy cloak of Frodo’s----”
“That was the only truly different article of clothing he has worn that I’ve seen or heard tell of,” Delphie interrupted, "other than the grey-green cloaks they all four wear. Even the clothing he wore back from down south-aways was, according to all, Shire fashion, even if it wasn’t made in the Shire.” She turned rather pointedly to Alvric. “Is it true that in Gondor only those who are of the highest rank are allowed to wear certain garments?”
Alvric found himself looking from the face of the wife to that of her husband and back, realizing that this was actually an undeclared quarrel between the two of them, and somehow he’d been caught in the middle. He wasn’t certain what this talk of certain garments was about, but had an idea it somehow had to do with Frodo having been named a lord of the realm. “Well,” he began warily, “only the King may wear the crown, of course; and only the highest of lords wear circlets of honor, and then usually only at the most solemn or formal of occasions. Then there are certain garments that are made only for the purposes of the rulers of the realm, to be bestowed on those who have made great sacrifices for the good of the nation, who have saved the lives of the ruling lords or their close kindred, or who have given other great services to the good of all. Usually these are cloaks, I’ll grant, with the White Tree on the back and stars running down each edge. Did our Lord King give one of these to Master Frodo? If so, it was well deserved.”
He saw the swiftly hidden smile of satisfaction on Mistress Delphinium’s face and the darkening of Bartolo’s, and knew that he’d hit the point squarely. Well, in for a brass, in for a silver, he thought. He decided to hazard, “And did you consult with Master Frodo before sending your wedding gift to us? I must say it complements his most admirably.”
Barti’s expression grew more wooden, while Delphie’s was now intrigued. “Consult with Cousin Frodo? Oh, no--we’ve not seen nor heard from him since the banquet there in December, not long before Yule, in fact. Unless you have, dearling?” she asked sweetly, turning to her husband.
“No.” The Hobbit lawyer’s tone indicated he had no interest in discussing Frodo Baggins further.
Alvric had to suppress his amusement. Yes, a most prickly of souls, Bartolo Bracegirdle; and he’d love to know precisely what had caused his companion to detest Frodo Baggins as he did. But now it was time to eat as good a breakfast as he could get down himself, for he’d not yet become so nervous he’d lost his appetite.
As he ate, Persivo described to him his experiences as apprentice to Master Bernigard, and somewhat of his life in the Great Smial. “It’s always interesting, having others about--one doesn’t have time to become bored. On the other hand, it’s often hard to find a time and place to have a quiet think, if you understand. The food is very good, but not all the apartments have facilities for cooking, and we have none in the rooms as where we stay as apprentices. I share the room with a Bolger lad--he’s quite nice, and is a second cousin twice removed from Captain Fredegar. He joined the rebels at the last, and just managed to escape when the Big Men found out where they were hiding in the caves and boreholes there near Scary.”
“Rebels?” Alvric wasn’t certain what this was about.
“You hadn’t heard how some Hobbits during the Time of Troubles formed the rebels, and they were led by Fredegar Bolger? Captain Freddy is another cousin of Cousin Frodo Baggins, and went with them to Buckland when Frodo moved there. He’d told folks he’d spent all his money and that was why he sold Bag End and was leaving, but apparently that wasn’t all true. He really needed to leave the Shire....”
Alvric listened to the story with interest. When Persi described the coming of the Black Riders and the blasting of the doors, he shuddered visibly, pushing the last of his breakfast from him. “They came even here?” he asked. “No wonder Master Frodo felt moved to leave the Shire, with such as the Nazgul pursuing him! And this Fredegar Bolger saw them coming and fled? That was wise of him!” He shuddered again. “So he stayed behind, and later was one of the few to stand against the White Wizard’s forces?” he asked thoughtfully after a time. “And this one you share quarters with told you this?”
The young Hobbit shrugged and flushed slightly. “Well, he didn’t know all of it. But when you live in the Great Smial you can’t help learning more than you’d thought to, I’ve found. Master Berni questioned Pippin about the leaving and what happened to Captain Freddy the last time he came to visit. He doesn’t live with his family for now, for he and the Thain argue as to what happened out there. Apparently neither Thain Paladin nor Mistress Eglantine wish to believe what Captain Peregrin tries to tell them. So the two of them, him and Merry Brandybuck, they live alone together at Crickhollow in Buckland now. He says that it’s easier when the bad dreams come than to be around other folks. He was saying something about the door jamb and the lock having been blasted by the Black Riders, and Master Bernigard asked him about it, so he told what Captain Freddy had told them about what happened after they left.”
Alvric nodded. “Oh, I can understand about the evil dreams,” he said gently. “I’ve seen too many within Gondor who’ve known them since the war was over, and particularly those who were touched with the Black Breath or heard the cries of the Nazgul as they stooped on the city or over them as they fled back toward Minas Tirith from the outer posts.” He was quiet for a time. “I’m sorry that Captain Peregrin and Sir Meriadoc are not fully believed by their own. Both were very courageous, and almost gave their lives for those they sought to guard. They are honored so by our people.”
He sighed. “Well,” he said finally, “I had best repair to my room and see to my garb. Oh, and Master Bartolo, if I might have a quiet word with you?” So saying, he rose and led the Hobbit out into the passageway outside the common room. After a time Barti returned and sat again, his eyes thoughtful as he replaced his napkin in his lap.
“And what did he want?” asked Delphinium at last as her husband continued to stare at his plate as he sipped from his mug of tea.
He looked up, apparently surprised she was still there. “He simply had a request to ask of me.” When she continued to look at him questioningly, he at last flushed, and said in a tone of wonder, “He asked if I’d stand up for him for the marriage. Apparently Master Eregiel will stand for him, too; but he also wished me to stand for him as the first he worked with here in Bree.” He searched her eyes. “No one,” he said rather slowly, “has ever asked me to stand up for them at a wedding before--not even Rico.”
The Hedges arrived at midday, and took other rooms for the night at the inn. They joined the Bracegirdles in the Hobbits’ parlor, and after a time Nob came to ask if it would be all right with them for Holby to stay there while Master Alvric bathed and dressed. So he and Lister lay down together under the table with bones Nob found for the two of them, and Delphie saw first the lasses and then her husband and sons dressed and groomed, finally slipping into her room to don her own dress for the wedding.
Bartolo was holding her cloak for her when at last she came out, and the two families together headed out of the inn and down the lane to the Gorse house, leaving Holby behind to accompany his master. Barti remained rather formal, but the younger children were chattering away like old friends as they walked. “We’ve found a door into an old cellar,” Teoro was telling Persi, Ricki, and Pet. “It’s ever so dark, and it’s where they kept the wine and beer, what we can tell. There’s a few old barrel staves there, and some hoops. Most’ve been broke up a long time now. It’s terrible cold there right now, it is. But it might be comfortable in summer, cool as it is, I’m thinkin’.”
“And we found a doll--a doll made of porcelain,” Anemone added. “Her hair’s all gone, but her face is right pretty.”
“Her arm was broke, but Nuncle Eboli fixed it,” Lilia said.
At last they arrived at the Gorse home and were welcomed in. “And did Master Alvric talk t’ye as he’d said he would?” asked Carnation of Bartolo.
“Yes, he did. Although I’m not certain what all I’m to do,” he answered. “He said as he would be comin’ with the Rangers from the Prancing Pony.”
She nodded. “Well, the weddin’s to be made in front of the house, and afterwards we’ll have the food here inside, and dancin’ in Master Alvric’s parlor. It’s nowhere as cold as it was two days back--even feels warm out, it does.”
Lord Halladan was already there in the second parlor, examining the marriage contract, which was written apparently in both the Common Tongue and an Elvish language. When pressed he explained, “The records of Gondor are written in Sindarin for the most part, so these are written in both that language and Westron. I have the marriage cord ready, and will need a candle to set upon the table where the marriage contract will lie.”
“Were you there when the King married our Queen?” asked Petunia curiously as she carried out the candle provided by Carnation, following Persi, who was carrying out a table on which to set the document. Barti was bringing the inkstand and a fine quill with which to sign the contract.
Halladan nodded. “Oh, yes, I did, and a beautiful wedding it was.”
Ricki, who was following after with a bowl of greenery, asked, “Did you marry the two of them?”
The Man shook his head. “No, for Lord Elrond of Rivendell married them. He is our Lady Arwen’s father, and served as foster father also to Aragorn when he was a child. I believe both wished to have him perform the marriage, actually. My younger brother Hardorn and I both attended him at the wedding, though, as did both Master Frodo and Master Samwise. Poor Master Sam--it was both a delight for him and a matter of embarrassment. He’d never been one to think of himself as being particularly important, after all, and now he was one of the King’s Companions and closest friends, and sitting at the top of the table for feasts and all. By the time we left Gondor and Rohan, however, he’d become comfortable with the situation. At the wedding he was rather quiet and dignified, and all were so honored to know he was one of the King’s attendants. And that night Master Frodo danced what I am told is a dance of the Shire for the King--although I understand he hasn’t danced since then. He didn’t even dance for the handfasting of Prince Faramir to the Lady Éowyn in Edoras, for he said he found at the King’s wedding he’d lost his stamina for dancing. It’s too bad, really, for he showed himself a flame on the dancing floor.” They were setting the objects brought out of the house in readiness at the site where the wedding was to take place.
Soon all was in order, and they went back into the house. There was a sound of much chatter of womenfolk from the area where the bedrooms lay, apparently from where Denra Gorse was being made ready. Freesia Sandybanks, Begonia, and Freesia’s cousin Agatha were working together in the kitchen to see dishes prepared to be served at the wedding feast, and Alyssa and Lilia were setting out carefully fanned piles of napkins and plates on the table.
Carefully Lord Halladan went over Bartolo’s place in the ceremony until a rising tide of voices approaching the house indicated the arrival of the groom and others coming from the Prancing Pony, and Lister was suddenly scratching at the door to alert them he wished to go out and greet the approaching party, particularly Holby and Eregiel’s hound. Halladan looked up. “I must assume it is time for us to go out, then. The ladies will follow soon enough....”
Lady Mirieth and Carnation were to attend Denra Gorse, and Eregiel son of Miringlor and Bartolo to attend Alvric. Many of those who’d been crowded into Denra’s bedroom were now coming out to join their menfolk, and all were beginning to form up around the site where the wedding was to take place. A circular stone set over the marriage contract kept it from being swept away by the light breeze, and now Teregion was leaning over the candle lighting it, then setting around it a lamp chimney to keep it from being blown out.
At last all went quiet as the last of the women came out of the house, all being chivvied by Mistress Blackroot. At her nod, Lord Halladan indicated to Ronica and Freesia they should start the wedding song. There was a shifting of those nearest the corner of the house as the bridal party approached from around the place, and all watched as Denra Gorse, glowing with happiness, approached the place where Alvric, dressed in Gondorian tunic and surcoat embroidered with Scales of Justice, stood waiting with Eregiel and Bartolo beside him.
The words were not those familiar from weddings in the Shire, but the ceremony was similar enough to allow for a level of comfort for Barti; and when the hands of bride and groom were bound together with a multi-colored cord he found himself intrigued. “See them bound now,” Lord Halladan intoned, “one to the other, bound in body and spirit, to rejoice with one another, to grieve with one another, to come and go with one another, to comfort and hearten one another--from this day forth until death alone breaks this bond. Do all see and agree?”
The Shire lawyer found himself answering “Yes!” automatically with the rest. Then the cord was being unbound and laid again over the Steward’s forearm. “Then let you exchange your marriage tokens.” Alvric brought out a bangle of gold to slip over Denra’s wrist. “Denra Gorse, I take you to wife gladly, and will cling to you faithfully, and may the Valar turn their faces from me should I ever play you false.”
She gave him a ring set with a great blue sapphire to wear, saying as she slipped it on his finger, “Alvric, I take you this day as my husband, and accept you as my family, and believe that my parents and brother would be as happy to see this as I am. I promise to remain true to you always, and am looking forward to our future in joy.”
Then they were leaning forward to kiss one another. Alvric had earlier held his crystal to his eye to watch her coming, as if to assure himself it would not be another who came in her stead, and he’d kept it clutched in his left hand throughout. Now as he set his hand to her back to draw her near it slipped, forgotten, from his fingers, and Ricki leaned down to rescue it for him. At last the kiss was broken, and Alvric stepped back somewhat, a wondrous look on his face, somewhat winded and with delight in his eyes. “That’s what it feels like to embrace my own wife?” he murmured, then reached forward to kiss her again. All laughed and applauded, Lord Halladan joining in with gusto.
Then they were signing the marriage contract, and Barti was the first of the witnesses to sign it, followed by Eregiel, who signed it in both Westron and Sindarin, then Lady Mirieth and finally Carnation. Faradir signed it also, as did Ora Watercress and Barliman Butterbur as the head of the Bree Council. At last Lord Halladan signed it, again in both the Common Tongue and Elvish, to indicate he’d presided at the ceremony, and all trooped into the house to share in the feast prepared.
Barti held Delphinium’s hand as together they followed the rest into the dining room, and way was made for them and the other Hobbits to go to the front to examine the wedding feast as it had been laid out upon the main table. “Oh, my,” Delphie breathed, “the table shawl--it is lovely. Why, that’s the work of Sam Gamgee’s sister Marigold, isn’t it, Pet?”
Petunia, who’d been thinking it looked familiar, suddenly brightened. “Oh, yes,” she said, her eyes smiling. “Yes--I thought it appeared familiar. And it matches the flowers on the punch set--do you see, Mum?”
“Did you purchase the tray of a purpose?” asked Lady Mirieth. “For it, too, looks as if it was made to go with the others.”
Alvric was smiling and shaking his head. “It was our gift from Prince Faramir, and our beloved Lord King himself sent the bowls and pitchers.”
Faradir was nodding. “Ah, yes, from the glassblower in the Fourth Circle in Minas Tirith--the one whose work Lord Iorhael gave the King and Queen as a wedding gift. He does fine pieces!” Snowdrops and early crocuses filled the smallest of the nested bowls, and glasshouse flowers filled vases set about the table and on the sideboard and near the cake set upon a lower table nearby.
There was not room for all to sit and eat at the table, so most settled where they could to eat the smoked goose and great roast prepared, and the potatoes and turnips and early greens and buttered carrots. And if not all were able to drink from one of the eighteen porcelain cups, none went thirsty.
As they returned to the dining room for thirds, Barti and Delphie together examined the cloth and the punch bowl. “How wonderful that these should have gone together so well,” Delphie commented. “No wonder we were asked if we’d consulted with Frodo. The table shawl is so detailed.”
Barti nodded. He was surprised to find himself pleased with the effect. “May they bring Master Alvric and Mistress Denra joy for many years,” he said. And when they returned to the Shire two days later, it was with a feeling of satisfaction he’d also not thought to know.
As for Petunia and Persivo--they carried with them the volume of the Baggers history given them by Lindor Greenwillow. Its mate had stood upon the mantel in the front parlor in Denra--and Alvric’s--house. Both were looking forward to going through the great tome.