Chapter Eight: And Leaves of Gold There Grew
<strong>March 15, 1421</strong>
Merry examined himself in the mirror of his bedroom. He felt a knot form in the pit of his stomach and he swallowed to dampen his dry throat. A light knock on the door echoed through the silent room. Merry turned to the door to respond.
“Come in,” he said in a voice that shook slightly and betrayed his nerves.
The door steadily opened as Frodo stepped into the room. He smiled and closed the door softly behind him. “How do you feel, Merry?” He asked as he walked up to his cousin.
Merry gave a soft laugh and turned back to the mirror. “Frightfully nervous. And you?” A small smirk pulled at the corner of his mouth.
Frodo’s smile widened. “The nerves are there to remind you that you care.”
“If I cared any more, I’d be sick all over the floor.” Merry replied with a grunt.
Frodo laughed and reached out to straighten the leaf brooch that fastened the Elvish cloak around Merry’s neck. “You look great.” He gave Merry an encouraging pat on the shoulder. “And you’ll be just fine. No husband has died on his wedding day yet.”
Merry managed a small smile. “It would be just my luck to be the first.”
Frodo let out a light laugh and shook his head. “What are we going to do with you, Merry?” He gave his cousin one last encouraging smile and a light squeeze on the shoulder before he turned towards the exit. He paused at the doorway and looked back, suddenly noticing a strange, hauntingly familiar shadow across Merry’s face.
Merry was absentmindedly tracing the pattern of his leaf brooch with his index finger and staring blankly into the looking glass. Out of the corner of his eye and in the reflection of the mirror, Merry could see Frodo stop and turn to face him, now standing silently behind him at the door. Merry let out a sigh, dropped his arms, and lowered his head; he waited for his cousin to break the silence.
“Merry?” Frodo’s voice rang with concern; he took a step closer to Merry and held his eyes in the reflection of the mirror.
Merry paused before he looked away and out the window to a small mound he had made upon his return to Buckland after the Journey. It was his honorary grave for Pippin; he buried in the mound small trinkets from their childhood. The grave was dug beside their favorite apple tree and he visited it regularly.
The tree itself was burned and cut down during the scouring of the Shire, and all that remained was a torched stump. It mattered not; Merry would never forget that tree and the many hours he and Pippin spent its branches, eating the sweet apples, soaking in the sun, and avoiding house chores. The early afternoon sun broke through the thin layer of clouds and its light reflected off Merry’s glassy eyes.
“I wish Pippin was here to see this,” he finally said. He shook his head. “I just wish he could be here to help me celebrate the day. It would make it so much more special.”
Frodo sighed sadly; he was afraid this would happen. “I know it would, Merry.” He turned his own eyes to the modest little mound beside the despondent remains of the apple tree. “But you know…” A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, “Pippin wouldn’t miss your big day for the Shire, and all the ale in it.”
Merry stood silent for a moment before he turned to face Frodo. He wasn’t smiling, but the shadow had lifted off his face like the fleeing of fog from a meadow before the late morning sun. As he considered the thought, a faint smile appeared on his face.
“You know what, Frodo? I think you’re right.” His smile faltered slightly, “Part of me feels as though… he never really left.”
Frodo nodded. “I know the feeling,” he smiled warmly at his cousin and he reached once again for the door handle. “Do you need anything?” he asked.
Merry shook his head and turned back to his mirror. “No, thank you, Frodo.” He watched the reflection of the door shutting gently behind the Hobbit before he went back to looking himself over.
Frodo smiled in the warmth of the sun as he emerged from the large hobbit hole. He looked around the small yard and at Merry’s closest friends and many family members, all of whom were mingling with Estella’s relatives. The bride herself was in another room inside, most likely putting up her hair or getting into her dress or whatever it was a bride does before her wedding. A small band of Tooks had taken a liking to instruments earlier on in their lives, and now served as live music. Frodo spotted Sam and Rosie and walked over to join them.
“How’s he holdin’ up?” Sam asked with a knowing smile as Frodo approached. Memories of his own wedding filled his mind; he spent most of the night before reclined on the couch in Bag End by Frodo, trying not to be sick from the nerves in his stomach.
Frodo laughed. “Better than you were, Sam,” Sam blushed and lowered his head, “but he’s still feeling the nerves. He’ll be fine.” Frodo closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. “You did a wonderful job with the flowers,” Frodo said when he opened his eyes on the gardener. “They’re beautiful.”
Sam blushed again. “Thank you, Mr. Frodo. I love what I do.”
“And it shows.” Frodo said before he smiled warmly at his friend’s wife. “Hullo, Rosie. How are you and Elanor?”
Rosie smiled lovingly at the small bundle in her arms and then at Frodo. “We’re both doing wonderfully, Frodo dear, and how was your night in Buckland?”
Frodo considered the question for a minute before responding. “Quite odd in a way, but well enjoyed.” He had spent the night in Buckland with the other groomsmen to help Merry celebrate his last night of being a bachelor. Sam would have joined them, but had a newborn baby in the family and thought it best for everyone’s well being if he just spent the night in the inn with Rose and Elanor instead. A sharp headache almost made Frodo wish he’d done the same.
The voices of the Hobbits gathered around the hole began to hush and Frodo turned to see a very pale, but very happy, Merry emerge from the hole. He slowly walked down the aisle and took his place at the rose-covered altar. Frodo smiled at Sam and motioned to the great arch. “We’d best head for the altar;” he said, “looks like Merry’s ready to begin.”
The wedding and reception carried on as one usually does in the Shire: many happy tears, many heartfelt toasts, and many a jolly laugh. Estella looked beautiful, and Merry’s color slowly returned to his cheeks as the ceremony and reception continued, but Frodo could still catch a small shimmer of sadness still hiding in his eyes whenever the sunlight hit them in just the right way.
Sam rocked a yawning Elanor in his arms and looked around him. “I think I’ll take Elanor ‘round to the altar, Rose.” He lifted the small babe gently and kissed his wife on the cheek. “I think she’d like all the flowers as is over there.”
Rosie smiled and nodded. “Alright, Sam. Just be careful and watch her head.”
Sam nodded and smiled at his daughter as he carried her over down the aisle and to the altar. “Someday we’ll be making this same walk, little one,” he said to her softly. “Though try not to make that day come too soon.” Elanor let out a little sigh and Sam laughed. He stopped at the vines that wrapped around the altar and lifted one of the roses so she could see it.
“This is called a rose, love. It’s almost as beautiful as another Rose we know.” Sam smiled as Elanor reached out with her tiny hand and took hold of one of the vibrant red petals. The flower bent towards the baby slightly, but the babe couldn’t muster enough force to separate the petal from its place on the flower. She let it go and gave another yawn.
Sam smiled at the yawning baby. He bounced her on his hip, looked down to the ground below them, and gasped. “Merry! Mr. Frodo!” He called out loudly. “Come quick!”
Within moments the entire wedding party and Rose were at Sam’s side, with the rest of the guests close in tow.
“What is it, Sam?” Frodo panted. “What’s happened?”
Sam motioned to the ground by the altar and handed the now sleeping Elanor to his wife. “It wasn’t here this morning, Merry, I’m sure of it. I don’t know how it could have got here.”
Merry gasped as his eyes met with a small, silver sapling that emerged from the dark soil. He knelt and cupped his hand gently around the fragile branches and leaves that glittered brilliantly in the sun. No such tree had ever grown in the Shire, or anywhere else for that matter; only in one place did the silver tree take root: Gondor.
Tears of joy filled Merry’s eyes and he felt a hand on his shoulder as Frodo bent beside him. “See, Merry?” Frodo smiled at the small tree. “I told you Pippin wouldn’t miss your wedding for anything.”
Merry wiped the tears from his eyes and smiled. “I suppose I have his blessing then.”
Frodo nodded and smiled. “But then again, you always had it.”
“I know, Frodo,” Merry responded. “I know.” He choked as more tears brimmed in his eyes. He wiped them quickly and rose to his feet and took Estella’s hand in his own. He smiled lovingly at her and brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes. “And may he forever watch over my new family.” He squeezed her hand and kissed her lovingly on the cheek. Everything was finally going to be alright.