Note to Readers: This is the final chapter of "Striking Sparks", can you believe it? However, you can find much more of these characters in "At the End of His Rope". Plus, the Muse has rapped me sharply upon the head with her knuckles this morning, saying irritably, "Pay attention! Ferdi's story wants telling! And we're getting low on pina coladas!" She has me well trained... so look soon for chapters of Ferdi's story to start appearing, under the working title of "Flames". And no, that is not a suggestion for review topics. Have fun at the wedding, and remember the Thain's caveat about dancing atop the tables...

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Chapter 16. Where Two Become One

Reginard Took thought he'd never seen anything so beautiful as the face of his bride when she greeted him at the wedding breakfast. Pippin seated them side by side with grave ceremony, even as Ferdi was escorting Everard and Mentha Brandybuck to their seats. Beaming servers set the festal fare before them, but Regi never noticed what he ate, or even if he ate at all, and if there was conversation, it flowed over and around him as a stream flows past a rock in its midst. All that he saw was Rosamunda's shining eyes, all he knew was the touch of her hand beneath his.

When the breakfast was finished, there was a scraping of chairs as Pippin proposed the first toast, to Regi and Rosa, and then Ferdi proposed the second, to Everard and Mentha. Then suddenly, Rosa was being lifted away from Regi, carried laughing out the door by smiling, singing hobbits, and Regi looked up to see Pippin grinning at him. 'Are we ready?' the Thain said.

'I don't know about you, but I certainly am!' Regi answered, his own grin stretching his face. He rose, and together they walked to meet the waiting Mayor, the brides already standing beside their parents.

At Samwise's nod, Pippin took Rosa's hand from her father's, placing it in Reg's waiting palm, then moved to stand beside the Mayor, to witness their vows, Ferdi on the Mayor's other side as Everard's witness. Regi saw that part of the time the Thain was not looking at them, but beyond, and he guessed that Diamond stood behind them, watching.

As he and Rosa repeated together the traditional vows, the words took on new meaning and new depth to him, and he squeezed her hand gently, feeling a return pressure from her.

'...to seize each moment, to live to the fullest the love that's between us...'

'...to refuse no joy set before us...'

'...that each day might be a golden coin to add to the treasure trove of our love...'

Diamond watched her husband, standing straight and proud, elegant in his black and silver against the bright festal colours the other hobbits wore. His eyes met hers, and the corners crinkled in a smile; she knew he was remembering their own wedding day, and for a moment she had difficulty fighting down giggles. But she sobered as the vows reached their end, and he began to mouth the words along with the marrying couples...

...until I've drunk the last drop in the cup, and no more days remain to me...

...as long as life shall last, until I take my last breath of the sweet air.

Her eyes filled with tears, but she lifted her chin defiantly and smiled at her husband.

***

As the guests filed into the largest pavilion for the wedding supper, the Thain stood up and clapped his hands for attention. The crowd quieted, and he cupped his hands to his mouth, the better to be heard.

'Tooks and guests! We must observe proper etiquette, in respect for the newly married couples. Therefore, there will be no dancing atop tables...' there was a chorus of groans throughout, but Pippin waved his arms and continued, '...until Ferdibrand, here...' he gestured to Ferdi, standing by Everard and his new bride, '...demonstrates the proper technique.' There was a general cheer, and the musicians struck up the first tune.

Mardibold smiled at Rosamunda, holding out his arm. 'I believe the first dance is mine,' he said.

'I believe you are right,' she returned, and the two brides led off the dance with their fathers. At the end of the dance, Mardi delivered Rosa to Pippin.

'You're next, I believe,' he said. The Thain bowed low and took her arm, leading her expertly through the figures, smiling ironically into her eyes, fully aware that her healer's self was watching him for the first sign of short breath.

'I arranged with the musicians to play the piece slowly for us,' he said. 'It makes the dance last longer. I can hardly bear to relinquish you to your husband as it is.' At the end of the dance, he bowed over her hand, then placed it in Regi's. 'Never let her go,' he warned.

Regi smiled, looking into Rosa's eyes. 'That's one order I shall have no trouble carrying out,' he said. Pippin bowed again, and went off to sit by Diamond.

'Did you want to dance?' he asked solicitously, but she shook her head, taking his hand.

'I could sit here with you forever,' she said.

After several more dances, a number of hobbits began to call for a song. Merry and Estella Brandybuck made their way to where the Thain and his wife were seated. 'How about it, Pip?' Merry asked. They had often sung together in the past.

'You go ahead without me this time,' Pippin said. Merry had not been told of his near-brush with death, though he'd heard of the fire, of course, and had been interested in the use of Buckland's black powder to put it out. It was just as well. Pippin's position as Thain was shaky enough without Merry playing "older cousin" and rushing to his bedside. Merry might suspect that he was not well; it was not that easy to conceal, but he knew enough about Tookish politics to play along with Pippin in the game of "All's Well".

'Will you be playing your flute later?' Estella asked.

'No, I gave it the night off, 'twas looking peaked,' the Thain answered easily.

Merry nodded, and then he and Estella were grabbed and pulled forward by Pervinca Took. 'Come along, cousin!' she cried gaily. 'It's time for you to pay your way!' Merry laughed, and began to sing a rollicking tune, many hands began to clap, and voices joined in on the choruses.

Mardibold watched the smiling Thain tapping his fingers in time with the music, then went to his brother, who was keeping time with a drum. 'Tolly,' he said quietly.

'What is it, brother?' Tolibold laughed. 'I can hardly hear you amongst the din!'

'It takes breath to play a flute or sing,' Mardi said obliquely. Tolly followed his gaze. He met his brother's eyes, nodded, rose, and walked over to Pippin and Diamond.

'It's my birthday tomorrow, you know,' Tolly said.

'Yes, I know... I've been wondering what you're going to give me,' Pippin chuckled.

'O aye, what do you give the Thain who has everything?' Tolly said, rubbing his chin. 'I've been giving it some thought.'

'Have you now?' Pippin said easily.

'Yes, and I think I've found something you don't already have,' the other answered. He held out the drum. 'Made it myself. Here, an early birthday present, just the thing for the celebration.'

Pippin took the drum slowly, admiring the fine workmanship. 'O cousin...' he said. 'A fine gift, indeed.'

'Don't be expecting anything tomorrow, now,' Tolly warned, shaking a finger in Pippin's face. 'And I want to see that put to good use,' he added.

Pippin laughed, and began keeping time to the music; the drum had a deep, pleasant tone. Diamond picked up a pair of spoons from the table and began making her own music. Her husband cocked an eye at her and said, 'If this Thain business doesn't work out, we can always hire ourselves out as musicians.'

'Let's keep that in mind,' Diamond said. She smiled up at Tolly, and he nodded in return, before heading off to the beverage table for a cup of wine.

'Look at that!' Pippin said suddenly, and Diamond followed his gaze.

Pimpernel was dancing with Ferdibrand, laughing up into his face, the two perfectly matched in the dance.

'They make a nice couple,' Diamond murmured.

Pippin gave her a sharp look. 'She's older than he is,' he said.

'She'll steady him nicely, then,' Diamond said. 'She could be the making of him.'

'Ferdi? ...and my sister?' Pippin said.

'Why not?' Diamond answered, laying her head against his arm. 'Stranger things have happened. Look at how the son of the Thain married the daughter of a north-Took farmer, for instance.'

Eglantine came up to them, little Faramir in tow. 'I've given Farry's nurse the evening off,' she said imperiously, waving at the swirling dancers. 'My grandson and I are going back to my rooms to roast mushrooms on sticks over the fire and tell stories until the dawn, or until we drop off, whatever comes first.'

'Until the dawn!' Farry said adamantly, tugging at Eglantine's arm. 'Come, Gran,' he said. 'I'm starving!'

The grown hobbits laughed, and Diamond seized her son for a quick good- night kiss. 'You be good for your gran, now,' she admonished.

He gave her an insulted look. 'Always!' he said. 'Gran's my best friend!'

'There's my lad,' Eglantine laughed, reclaiming her prize. 'I imagine I might even have some sweetmeats tucked away...' They walked off together, Faramir chattering happily.

Pippin leaned over to whisper in Diamond's ear. 'D'you know what this means?' he said.

'What does it mean?' Diamond said indulgently.

'We could slip off, just the two of us, with no one the wiser,' he said, mischief dancing in his eyes. 'Look, Regi's busy...' he nodded at the dancers, 'he won't be thinking of anything the Thain needs to do, and Farry's busy...' he nodded towards their departing son, 'and he won't be thinking of anything his mother needs to do...'

'Just the two of us,' Diamond breathed. It seemed as if they hadn't been alone together in ever so long.

'We could start with a walk under the stars,' Pippin said, 'and see where that leads us.'

'Let's do!' Diamond exclaimed, and hands joined, they rose from the table and walked casually to the entrance of the pavilion, nodding to hobbits at their right and left.

At the entrance, a Took cousin stiffened to attention to address the Thain. 'Are you going out, Sir?' he said.

'Well, yes,' Pippin replied.

'Allow me just a moment, Sir, to arrange your escort,' the Took said.

Dismayed, Diamond met her husband's gaze. She'd forgotten for a moment the rigid insistence on protocol here at the Smials. He squeezed her hand reassuringly, turning back to the Took cousin. 'That's all right, we're just going back to the Smials.'

'I'll walk you there, Sir,' the cousin said helpfully, and proceeded to make good his word.

'Thank you very much, cousin,' the Thain said soberly as he opened the door for them and politely stood aside for them to enter.

The door closed with a final-sounding thump, and Diamond slumped against her husband. 'He'll guard that door like a watchdog,' she said in despair. 'What do we do now?'

'Well...' Pippin said consideringly. 'This is not all bad.' He grinned down at her. 'Do you realize, my love, that we have the entire Smials to ourselves? Think of the possibilities!'

She smiled. 'We could go to the kitchen and switch all the labels on the spice jars,' she teased.

'Yes, the thought had crossed my mind,' he answered. 'Or we could go back to the Thain's apartments, just the two of us, no small son asking for another drink of water, no servants knocking at just the wrong moment to ask if there's anything else we require...'

'Mmmmm, sounds very promising indeed,' Diamond smiled.

Hand in hand, giggling like mischievous tweens, they stole through the deserted corridors to the Thain's private quarters.

Slipping through the shadows behind them, a silent figure followed surreptitiously. When the couple reached the Thain's quarters and crept inside, softly closing the door behind them, the lurker waited a moment, then tiptoed up to the door and stationed himself beside it.

Sandy had been assigned to the Thain upon his arrival at the Smials, as his personal hobbitservant, and he prided himself on his dedication to his duty. His sole aim was to give his employer satisfaction. This was a golden opportunity for service. No knock would come on the Thain's door this night, no one seeking a decision, no one bringing a report, not even someone asking helpfully whether anything more that night would be required by the Thain or the Mistress...

...he would see to that.

*** The End ***

Author's Note: The story of Thain Peregrin I is continued in "Down and Out" and "At the End of His Rope", and in several more stories to come, I hope. See also "FireStorm", the companion to this story. In addition, Ferdi's story has begun to write itself. The working title is "Flames", as noted above. Sure hope that is not indicative of future reviews.