PART 1: SAM'S SPECIAL DAY
“I, Samwise Gamgee of Hobbiton, do hereby swear to love and protect Rose Cotton of Bywater, to take her as my wife and never love another, until our final day is done.”
Merry, standing at Frodo’s side as his cousin performed the wedding ceremony, could see beads of sweat forming on Sam’s brow as he said the pledge that they had helped him memorise, days on end, with Pippin performing the role of the bride. How they had laughed at Pippin’s antics and teased Sam that he could not keep a straight face with Pippin giggling and winking at him all the time, and that he had better not think of that when standing before Rosie! But now Merry felt only pride as Sam kissed Rosie, HIS Rosie from now on, looking immensely relieved but extremely happy.
Frodo raised his hands and started clapping; Merry looked aside to see him smiling broadly and lovingly at these two people he had just joined. He and Pippin started at the exact same time and less than a heartbeat later, the whole party field was applauding the popular young gardener and his lovely wife.
Rosie threw the flowers she carried into the air; a group of eager young lasses all raised their hands to grope it out of midair… and missed. Instead, they fell right into the hands of an absent-minded Pippin, who had been too busy staring longingly at the food-table to notice all the commotion. He looked down at it, visibly surprised, and shrugged when everyone started laughing, then nodded at the nearest lass around, causing another eruption of laughter.
“So, you’re next then?”
Pippin made an incoherent splutering noise of indignation, spraying the table and his friends with crumbs of the food he had stuffed into his mouth. “Mawwage, Mewwy, I’b faw too yong fow that!”
“Didn’t your mother teach you not to talk with your mouth full, Peregrin?” said Frodo in a mock-stern tone. “What would your King say if he saw you now?”
“He’d probably laugh,” said Pippin earnestly, causing Frodo to laugh and ruffle his hair.
There was a special table made ready for the Travellers: the others were far too low for Merry and Pippin to sit comfortably. Frodo’s feet were dangling a few inches above the floor in his too high chair, and Sam had to help Rosie in and out of hers, which he didn’t really mind that much, Merry observed.
The table, because of its height, gave them a great oppurtunity to look over the entire party, but also to be looked at from all angles, a thing which Pippin seemed to enjoy but Frodo seemed to feel uncomfortable with. Merry noticed that his older cousin would watch Sam and Rosie dance and smile to himself, but much more often he could see him staring down into his mug or at his hands, avoiding the gazes of other Hobbits in his direction. Merry felt anger rise within him: if only they knew what Frodo had done for them; for the Shire. They should treat him with honour and respect, but instead all he got were stolen glances at his maimed hand, whisperings behind his back, and people hastily leaving wherever he went.
“Merry!” Fingers were snapped in front of his face, causing him to look up, startled, and unclench his fists on the table: he hadn’t even realised he had done so.
“Lost in other worlds, are we?” said Stell Bolger with a sunny smile. She stood beside his chair, one hand on his shoulder and the other now loosely on Frodo’s hand. His bad hand. Stell was one of the few who didn’t recoil at the sight of Frodo: in fact she adored him, even more than she had when she was a little orphaned lass under his loving protection.
“Ah, there you are!” she laughed when Merry looked at her, and planted a kiss on his cheek, then turned to Frodo and kissed him, too. “Hallo, Frodo. You look better. Thank goodness, I was in a right state when Rosie told me you’d been ill again.” She investigated his face as if to spy the cause of the disease in his eyes.
Frodo smiled and kissed her hand. “Hullo, Stell. I’m fine, thank you very much. And,” he added with a wink, “you look beautiful, if an old Hobbit may say so, Mistress Estella.”
Stell giggled. “Oh stop it, Frodo. I’ve seen the old folk look.” But she did seem flattered by the compliment.
And as a matter of fact, she did look beautiful, observed Merry. She was wearing a lovely dress of a soft purple colour, which made her brown eyes seem like deep golden pools. She was wearing a chain of flowers in her brown curls, which were barely longer than Frodo’s, and this was the reason why many Hobbits, especially the older ones, pursed their lips in disapproval.
When Sharkey and Lotho had taken over the Shire, some Hobbits had started a rebellion against them. Stell had been the only lass to take part in it, even though the only one who had known this was her brother, Fredegar. Her long curls she had sacrificed to join the rebellion in secrecy, wearing Frodo’s old clothes and keeping low. When their conspiracy was at last discovered and most of the group had been thrown into the Lockholes, fortune had smiled upon her and she had not been unmasked.
Merry remembered very clearly how Frodo had emerged from the Lockholes right after he and Pippin dragged out Fredegar, and the frail, limp form he carried in his arms, that they first thought to be a strange boy, far too young to be involved in this kind of thing. But then the boy had opened his eyes and Frodo had recognised his little protegee immidiately.
They had taken Stell to Crickhollow, as she had no family save for her brother, who was in a worse state than she was, and both of them were nursed back to health by Merry and Pippin.
Folk now disapproved of that strange girl with her inappropriate behaviour, and many muttered that she should’ve covered her head in shame instead of displaying it for all to see what she had done. But Merry only admired her more for it.
“Don’t I get a kiss, Stell?” asked Pippin teasingly, waving goodbye to the lass he had just danced with and standing beside his friend’s chair.
Stell crossed her arms. “With all the dancing you’ve been involved in, Master Peregrin, I’d say that you’ve had enough female attention for the day.” She reached up to tweak Pippin’s nose playfully.
“Ah, but I’ve yet to dance with the most beautiful one of this party,” Pippin replied, grinning.
“I bet you say that to all the lasses,” teased Stell, but she took the arm Pippin offered her with a smile. “I’ll be back to dance with you though, Frodo, you haven’t left your chair all day.”
She waved goodbye as Pippin pulled her into the dancing group and whirled her around. Her musical laughter could be heard over the noise of the party.
Merry looked at the group for a while, only to have fingers being snapped in front of his face yet again. This time it was Frodo who grinned at him as he looked up.
“It isn’t very polite for the future Master of Buckland to stare, Meriadoc. And here I was, thinking that young Peregrin was the only one who needed a bit of cousinly authority to keep him in line.” Frodo laughed.
“I wasn’t staring,” Merry protested. “I was just… watching.”
“If so, you were watching one thing very intently,” said Frodo with a wicked smile. “But I can see why, my dear Merry. She is a sight, indeed.”
“Yes… I mean, who is?” stammered Merry, and this time Frodo did laugh out loud, a sound rarely heard but always treasured by the Travellers in the Afterdays. Sam and Pippin both froze on the dance floor to stare at their companion, and both smiled widely. Frodo smiled back at them, and Merry suddenly had the suspicion that there was a communication between the three of them unknown to him, like a silent understanding.
Frodo turned back to him. “Who, indeed. Merry, you are a daft young Hobbit at times. I can assure you, my dear, dear cousin, that it is plain for everyone to see that, while you wink and smile at every lass who gazes at you, there is only one who holds your heart. Didn’t I see how devoted you were when you cared for her in the afterdays of the Battle? And how she would look up at you with that light in her eyes that makes them glow like the sun?”
“Did she?” The question was out of Merry before he realised it.
“My dear Merry, I am certain. I know you both so well, and it makes me glad to know that two of my most beloved Hobbits care for each other so.”
Merry smiled at Frodo, and blushed deeply. He had not realised it himself until Frodo said it so plainly, but it was true. He could make that vow, the one he had heard Sam say just a few hours before, to no other lass than Stell Bolger. He loved her.
“So… where do I go from here?” he asked sheepishly. Frodo’s eyes twinkled.
“And you ask this to a bachelor of over fifty years? Merry, Merry… don’t ask anyone what to do. You know what to do. Listen to your heart.”
Merry wanted to comment that his heart was somewhere halfway up his throat right now, but instead he heard himself saying: “I should just… give it a try.”
“Give what a try?”
Stell stood beside him, her cheeks red with the exitement of the dance, and her eyes still seemed to be dancing. She looked more beautiful than ever.
When Merry failed to reply, Frodo said: “to dance with you, my dearest Stell. I was just saying to Merry that you are such a great dancer. You two would be a fair match.”
“But I promised you the next one,” said Stell, though she didn’t sound very persuasive.
“My dear, the night is still young! And I imagine Merry to be a far better partner than a dull old Hobbit like myself.” Frodo gave Merry a little nudge with his elbow. “Now, go and enjoy yourselves, young Hobbits! I’ll stay here and watch for a bit.”
“Well… all right,” said Stell, taking Merry’s hand in hers. Why oh why was it so warm all of a sudden?
“But I’ll be back right after that to keep you company, my dear Frodo.”
And they were off: Stell pulling Merry along over the dancefloor. Thankfully Merry was a good dancer, or otherwise he’d have made a complete fool of himself. He had to remind himself that this was Stell, the little girl he had played with back when everything was still simple; the lass he could laugh with and care for, with whom he could exchange fond glances over Pippin’s antics and Frodo’s gentle manner. The one he could say anything to.
“Stell,” he said softly and clearly, “may I kiss you?”
Only a small hint of surprise was in those golden-brown eyes as her face tilted upwards to look at him.
“You may,” she said, smiling sweetly.
THE HAPPIEST DAY PART 2: PIPPIN'S SPECIAL DAY
“I, Peregrin Took of Tuckborough, do hereby swear to love and protect Diamond of Long Cleeves, to take her as my wife and never love another, until our final day is done.”
“I, Paladin Took, Thain of the Shire, hear this pledge and place my blessing upon the bond between my son and heir and his chosen wife, and welcome his Diamond into my home and family.”
“I, Saradoc Brandybuck, Master of Buckland, hear this pledge and place my blessing upon the bond between my nephew and his chosen wife. Buckland accepts and welcomes her.”
“I, Samwise Gamgee, Mayor of Michel Delving, hear this pledge and place my blessing upon the bond between my friend and future Thain and his chosen wife. The honour is also given to me to hereby bestow upon this bond the blessing of the King and Peregrin’s liege-lord, Elessar Telcontar. And this.” Sam leaned over to the groom and ruffled his hair, to the great amusement of the crowd, who were growing tired of all this ceremony.
“I won’t be able to do it ever again, now that you’re a husband, but that was from Mr. Frodo,” Sam whispered, causing Pippin to swallow the tears that came, unbidden.
“And I, Meriadoc Brandybuck, hear this pledge and will personally see to it that Peregrin holds to it, because Diamond deserves no less.”
Merry had a hard time to keep his voice even when he looked at Pippin, who stood at Diamond’s side and beamed down at him from where he stood on the small slope before the Great Smials, which was always used for this kind of ceremony. Pippin winked at him and kissed his bride, with a gentleness and devotion that brought tears to the eyes of many.
Merry swallowed and then shouted: “Now, let’s go and have us something to eat!” which was met with a roar of laughter and approval. Pippin jumped down from the slope and helped Diamond down, then ran to Merry and embraced him fiercely.
“Oh, Pip,” Merry sighed through his tears. “How empty Crickhollow will seem without you!”
“As if you’d miss the noise,” laughed Pippin, but he, too, had tears in his eyes.
“And anyway, it won’t be empty for long, I daresay.” He winked meaningfully and nodded at something behind Merry, then dashed off with Diamond on his arm to be endlessly congratulated.
A small, warm hand suddenly slid into Merry’s, and he looked around to see Stell standing behind him, studying him with earnest eyes.
“You’ll miss him.” It was not a question, but a statement.
“Yes. I vowed once never to be parted from him again, but now it feels like I’ve lost him.”
“Oh Merry. You can be such a daft Hobbit at times. Of course you’ll not lose him. He’s always right here.” Stell placed her hand on the upper left side of Merry’s armour. “Just behind all this iron and leather somewhere.”
Merry smiled and took Stell’s face in his hands. “Do I hear my cousin speaking from in there? Since when have you become so wise, Mistress Estella?”
Stell laughed. “With Frodo gone, someone has to keep you lads in line, Meriadoc. I take my task very seriously, don’t you know. It’s hard.”
“I’m sure it is.” Merry laughed, but his heart wasn’t in it. He still missed Frodo, especially on days like these. On the days that were supposed to be the happiest, he could feel the empty space that his cousin had left even more.
Stell studied him once again, and not for the first time Merry had the feeling that she could see exactly what was going on in his mind, but she said nothing. Kissing him on the cheek, she said: “I have to go and find Fred and Vinca. I’ll be back soon,” and disappeared into the crowd.
Merry sat at his table for a while, and watched the party with unseeing eyes. As usual when he was alone, his thought strayed to far-off lands, and to the people who could not be here for Pippin and Diamond’s special day. Aragorn, and Faramir. Legolas and Gimli. Beregond and Bergil. Boromir. Gandalf. But mostly Frodo. Merry found himself thinking that Frodo should be beside him right now, as he had been on Sam’s wedding, sitting quietly, and enjoying watching the joy of others.
Of others. Even as Merry thought it, he knew it was better this way. Frodo had to find that joy within himself again, and could not achieve that by wistfully watching others. He shook his head. “I am selfish for missing him.”
“Now whoever put that in your head?” asked a voice right beside him, and Merry looked up to see Sam sitting opposite him. He hadn’t even realised he’d talked aloud.
He looked down to see Elanor tugging at his arm, and lifted her up to settle her on his lap, while Sam pulled Frodo-lad onto his.
“Now Merry, what’re you doin’, losin’ yourself in all those gloomy thoughts? And don’t you say you weren’t!” Sam added as Merry opened his mouth to protest. “Now, I can hardly imagine Mr. Frodo approvin’ of you sittin’ here missin’ him, while there’s food to be had and music to be danced to. Right unnatural for you, he’d say.”
Merry sighed, thoughtlessly playing with Elanor’s curls. “I know, Sam. It’s just that… I wish…”
“That Mr. Frodo were here with us,” finished Sam. “I know, we all miss him today. Pippin not the least, I’d say. But he’s thinkin’ of us, I know, so he’s never far away. I said that to Pippin just this morning. He loves you far too much not to be here, I says to him. Cheered him right up, that did.”
“I suppose that’s right,” said Merry with a smile, a genuine one this time. “Thank you, Sam.”
Sam smiled at him. “Anytime, Merry, anytime. Speaking of which,” he added, his smile turning into a grin, “when’s it your turn?”
Merry grinned back. “Well, I think I’ll wait until Ellie here is a bit older till we start making our wedding plans, right, Mylady?” He tickled Elanor, who giggled.
Sam, however, did not laugh.“Be serious, Merry, we’ve been waiting for it since that first kiss on that Midsummer’s Day. Personally I never thought Pippin would beat you to it, but so he has. You should ask Stell one of these days. I doubt she’d say no.”
Merry blushed a bit at this direct Sam, he still had to get used to him. “Yes, well…”
“Ah, he was right fond of that lass, Mr. Frodo was,” said Sam, leaning back and smiling. “After our wedding Rosie says to him, she says: ‘now Mr. Frodo, what do you say of Merry and Stell at the party? A fair pair they make, wouldn’t you say?’ And Mr. Frodo was beamin’ up at her. ‘They were meant to be together, I’ve always known that,’ he says. ‘But I hope Merry won’t wait too long before asking her. He needs her, and she deserves him,’ says Mr. Frodo. And he still thinks that, Merry, I know. Why, if he were here, he’d wonder what you’re doin’, sittin’ here without her.”
“Do you really think so, Sam?” asked Merry.
“That I do. He’d be so happy to know the two of you were together.”
“We are together, Sam… but just not like that.”
“And why not?” asked Sam, holding his head to one side and looking intently at Merry. “Not because neither of you wants to. All you have to do is ask, Merry, and she’d be yours. You know that.”
Merry swallowed. It was funny: he had faced terror and death, hordes of Orcs and the general of Mordor himself, but he could not gather up the courage to ask Stell Bolger to marry him.
At that moment, Pippin and Diamond came strolling back. Pippin collapsed dramatically next to Merry. “Goodness, I find marriage exhausting already,” he said, winking at his wife. “All this ceremony… I haven’t even had a bite to eat yet!”
“Will do you some good,” said Diamond, poking her husband playfully.
Pippin laughed and looked at Merry and Sam. “Well, aren’t you two a cheerful pair! What are you brooding on, I wonder?” He looked questioningly at Sam and Merry gasped in sudden understanding.
“You scoundrels! Are you conspiring against me?”
“Why, of course we are!” said Pippin matter-of-factly, turning back. “Something has to be done about it. It’s plain ridiculous, Merry, that you haven’t asked her yet. For six years she’s waiting for you, and I for one love Stell too much to let her wait any longer. I know you, and I know you want to. What you need is a good kick in the right direction. So consider yourself kicked and go to her!”
“What, do you mean… right now?”
Pippin raised his eyebrows in a way that made Merry think of Frodo so much he abruptly obeyed. Sam just smiled and mouthed ‘go!’. Merry made his way to where Stell was laughing and chatting with her brother and sister-in-law. It was now or never.
“Stell? Could I speak to you for a moment?”
“Oh… of course, Merry. But I was just…”
“We’ll talk later,” said Fatty, hastily making a retreat with his wife at his side, winking at Merry as he went. Was everybody in on it?
Stell took his hand. “Now, what did you want to say?” She looked up at him, eyes gleaming golden, and Merry found himself overwhelmed with his feelings for this lass.
“Stell… I love you.”
She beamed at him. “I know that, Merry, and I love you. Did you call me away from the party just to tell me that?”
“No, I…” Merry was at a loss for words, and he looked down at his feet as if his courage was there somewhere. Just then he heard a familiar voice whisper in his ear, softly but clearly.
“You know what to do. Listen to your heart.” And the words came.
“Stell… I’ve had so many names. Holdwine, esquire of Rohan, the Magnificent, Master Perian, friend of Kings… names of honour and nobility. I will be Master of Buckland one day. But there is really only one thing that I want to be… your Merry. Just your Merry, Stell, that’s all I want to be for the rest of my life. Estella Bolger…” – and here he got down clumsily on one knee – “my lovely Stell, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?”
Stell looked down at him, into his questioning eyes, laughed, and kissed him.
“My Merry. I like that.”
THE HAPPIEST DAY PART 3: MERRY'S SPECIAL DAY
“I, Meriadoc Brandybuck of Buckland and Holdwine of the Mark, do hereby swear to love and protect Estella Bolger of Newbury, to take her as my wife and never love another, until our final day is done.”
“I, Saradoc Brandybuck, Master of Buckland, hear this pledge and place my blessing upon the bond between my son and heir and his chosen wife, and welcome his Estella into my home and family.”
“I, Paladin Took, Thain of the Shire, hear this pledge and place my blessing upon the bond between my nephew and his chosen wife. The Tookland accepts her.”
“I, Samwise Gamgee, Mayor of Michel Delving, hear this pledge and place my blessing upon the bond between my friend and the future Master, and his chosen wife.”
“Finally!” added Pippin with a broad grin, causing the crowd to laugh and cheer. “And I, Peregrin Took of Tuckborough, hear this pledge and know Meriadoc will keep true to it, as he keeps true to all he promises.” He smiled at his friend.
Merry smiled back and squeezed Stell’s hand. He looked at her: the most beautiful lass in the Shire, she was. He kissed her: his wife.
“Yes, yes, enough of that already!” laughed Pippin. “You have your whole lives for that and the food’s getting cold!” Diamond playfully slapped his arm.
Merry laughed and stepped down, still holding Stell’s hand. “May I keep you away from your precious food-table a little while longer, Master Peregrin?” He held out his arms.
“Hmph, well all right,” said Pippin, and embraced Merry, then Stell.
Sam was next, and he grinned at Merry. “Well, it certainly took you long enough,” he said after giving him a fierce hug. “But here you are, Merry. If only Mr. Frodo could see you!”
“Oh, but I’m sure he can,” said another voice as Esmeralda Brandybuck came walking up to them to embrace her son. “And what a sight you two will be!” She held Merry and Stell at arm’s length.
“It does a mother’s heart some good to know that her lads are happy. Both of them,” she added.
Merry sighed and rested his chin on Stell’s head. “I miss him still. Especially today.”
“Me too,” whispered Stell.
“That’s just silly, children, because today of all days he’s as close as he can be,” said Esmeralda. “He loved you both so much. He’s proud of you, I know.”
“That he sure is, ma’am, that he sure is,” said Sam.
But for all the kind words, both Merry and Stell felt the empty space that Frodo had left very keenly on their wedding day. They had both loved Frodo as a brother, and even after all those years they still had to remember themselves that he had gone from them.
Merry realised, for one, that he had put one chair too many at their table, but he would not have it removed, saying that it belonged there. Sometimes he caught himself or Stell, or one of his friends looking at it, as if at any time Frodo could be sitting there again.
Finally, at the end of the evening, when most of the guests had left and the children gone to bed, the Travellers and their wives still sat there, glass in hand, drinking to Frodo’s health. When they, eventually, decided to go to their beds as well, the mess of the party left as something to worry about in the morning, Merry looked back one more time to see a lone figure sitting at their table.
Frodo smiled gently, and raised his glass high to him before draining it.
But when Merry blinked his tears away, the chair was empty.
“My Merry,” said Stell behind him. “It’s all as it should be.”
“It is,” said Merry, and kissed her.