Notes to Readers:

Thanks for the comments! They are so helpful. Please don't feel as if there's no point in leaving comments to this final chapter. Hey, if you want a response, I'd be happy to post another "chapter" with author's notes.

Bookworm, I'd say you are correct in your assumption about the wedding.

Runaround, I do believe your quote would fit right in with a hobbit wedding.

Hai, yes, Fatty is really becoming more "real" to me as I see more of him. Hope you find this wedding satisfactory, I kind of write around it... but then, you've attended several hobbit weddings in my stories, so you can imagine what happened, for sure.

Xena, yes, the last two chapters of this story are sheer joy. I am a sucker for a happy ending. Weddings are so much fun, and the reception afterwards is great, especially at a hobbit wedding!

Aemilia Rose, (mental note, put plexiglass windows in parlour) You have been waiting *that* long? Nearly 50 chapters? My, my, my. Glad you stayed with me. Ferdi is incredibly romantic, as you can see, a little bit, from the way he treats his wife in "Merlin", but he just hasn't had much opportunity until now to express it verbally. He actually gets very corny in this chapter--almost deleted it but let it stand. He has waited so long, after all, to tell Nell how he feels about her.

Frodo, good to hear from you. Yes, good for Pip, and Odo, too!

FantasyFan, it was a relief to read your reviews! Missed you, you know. So you got caught in the power outage, poor thing. To answer your question, as a matter of fact, the two heads of their respective families *were* in collusion. I am thinking of changing the chapter title (ch 57) from "Machinations" to "Collusion" as a matter of fact, came up with that last night while editing, so your question is very appropriate. Hope your power supply cooperates for this chapter, the wedding!

Ff.net permitting, expect to see the first chapter of the sequel to this story two days from this posting. The name of the story is "FirstBorn".

A new chapter to "Merlin" will be added on the morrow, if ffnet agrees, in case you are following that story.

***

59. The Beginning

Shortly before the tournament, Pippin came late into the Thain's study with a grave face.

'What is it?' Reginard said, rising in alarm.

'The Master of the Tournament,' Pippin said. 'He died in the night.' He sighed. 'Healer Woodruff said it was his time to go, he'd been having problems but didn't want anyone but the healer to know. What are we going to do?'

'The tournament is two days away,' Regi said, sitting back down.

'We need a Master,' Pippin said.

'What about Ferdi, here?' Regi asked.

'What about me?' Ferdi asked stupidly.

'You've only won the tournament the last few years running, is all,' Regi said in exasperation. 'You know all that you need to know, to act as Master.'

'That's a wonderful idea, Regi,' Pippin said enthusiastically. 'I wish I'd thought of it myself. No matter, I'm going to implement it anyway.' Taking his quill, he rose abruptly from his desk and walked lightly to where Ferdi sat, touching the quill to each of Ferdi's shoulders in turn for all the world like a king conferring knighthood. 'I dub thee... Master of the Tournament. Rise, Sir Ferdi.'

'Don't be daft,' Ferdibrand said, annoyed, but also pleased. 'If you think I can do this...'

'Don't be daft,' Pippin echoed. 'It's what you've been training for, all these years, and the archers will respect you and honour your judgment.'

'Very well,' Ferdi agreed. He grinned. With the honorarium due the Master of the Tournament, he could buy Pimpernel a very nice wedding gift, indeed.

***

The time before the wedding seemed to speed and crawl by turns. Pippin kept Ferdi very busy, once he was able to ride again, even after Tolly won the tournament and became head of escort. Pippin took Ferdi everywhere he went.

'Quite convenient, to be able to take my memory along with me,' he commented.

'My memory,' Ferdi corrected.

'Same thing,' Pippin said serenely. 'You don't know what a load you have taken off my mind, cousin. Sometimes I was so busy filing away facts to remember later, I forgot to listen to what was being said.' He sobered. 'Don't ever let anything happen to you,' he said. 'I'd have to step down as Thain if I lost my memory!'

'You'd muddle through somehow,' Ferdi said. 'You always do.'

They rode on in silence, before Pippin spoke again. 'Whom have you asked to stand with you at the wedding?'

Ferdi shook his head. 'I'm still giving it serious consideration,' he said. 'It would not be so hard if I could ask more than one, but...'

'Why not?' Pippin said whimsically.

'Pip!' Ferdi remonstrated, shocked. 'You know that tradition says...'

'You and your tradition,' Pippin retorted. 'Were we to stand on tradition there wouldn't even be a wedding, in this case!'

Ferdi rode on in silence. Finally, he said, 'You have the right of it, cousin.' He sighed. 'There's a load off my mind.'

'And a good thing, too,' Pippin said stoutly. 'I count on that mind of yours, you know.'

That evening after teatime was over, and before the children were put to bed, Pimpernel said, 'Gather round, chicks! There's something Ferdi has to say to you.'

Ferdi cleared his throat as all eyes turned to him. He crouched to be on their level, and spoke. 'You know that Rudivacar will always be your father,' he began. Five little heads nodded; the sixth and littlest waved his fist and crowed. 'I hope that--someday--you might be able to call me your da,' he said.

'Ferdi-da?' little Mignonette said.

Ferdi smiled. 'That'll do,' he said softly. Looking at each in turn, he went on. 'I have to choose someone to stand with me at the wedding, you know.' They nodded again. 'Do you know what that means?'

'It's your best friend, someone you know and trust,' Rudivar volunteered.

'Someone to fetch the bride, and sit her down at the wedding breakfast, and then come to get you and sit you down beside her,' Odovar added.

'And make the toast!' Fredevar said.

'Someone to walk with you to the wedding ceremony, and take the bride's hand from her father's, and put it in yours,' Mignonette said.

'...and dance the bride from her father to her new husband!' Cori chimed in.

Ferdi nodded. 'You have the right of it,' he said. 'I take it you have been paying attention at weddings.' There was a chorus of assent, and he smiled, glancing up at Pimpernel and back to the children. 'I want to ask you all a great favour...' he said.

'What is it?' Rudivar asked, while the rest nodded.

'I would like you all to stand up with me at the wedding. D'you think you might do that for me?'

There was a breathless silence, and then five little ones launched themselves at him, nearly knocking him over in their enthusiasm, whilst the sixth and littlest pushed against his mother to get down.

'I take it that is a "yes",' Pimpernel smiled.

'Yes!' the little Bolgers chorused, and Ferdibrand laughed in sheer delight.

And that is what the little Bolgers did.

***

In the midst of the celebration, at the height of the dancing, the newly-wedded couple slipped from the pavilion through a loose flap. Reginard started after them, but Pippin caught at his arm. 'Let them go,' he said quietly.

'But...' Regi protested.

Pippin's nod was firm. 'Ferdi has a strong sense of duty, they'll be back,' he said. 'It must be important or he wouldn't have slipped away.'

'Well...' Regi vacillated.

'No one is going to notice their absence, any road,' the Thain said, indicating the dancers, the music, the feasting, the laughter. 'So let them go.'

'You're the Thain,' Regi said dubiously.

Pippin smiled. 'I knew it would be good for something, sometime,' he said.

Ferdi led Pimpernel away from the pavilion, into the relative silence beneath the stars.

'I have your wedding present,' he said, with a sweeping gesture that encompassed the breadth of the sky.

'The moon? The stars?' she laughed.

'Nothing less for my Nell, my own,' he said, kissing the upturned face.

'A grand gift, indeed,' she said softly, when the kiss ended.

'Ah, but I had a little something else, come to think of it,' Ferdi said, digging in a pocket.

'Yes?' Pimpernel said, then gasped as something sparkled in the moonlight.

'The Thain helped me to get this; he has friends in far places. An elf-jewel set in dwarf-silver, for the loveliest hobbit-lady in the Shire...' he clasped the necklace around her throat and stepped back to make a sweeping bow. 'My lady,' he said.

'Funny, I'd heard Estella Brandybuck was the loveliest in the Shire,' Pimpernel said lightly, to hide the tears that threatened.

'She doesn't hold a candle to you,' Ferdi said softly. 'My love for you is the flame of a star, burning constantly in the heavens, never to go out.'

'The hunter has the heart of a poet,' Pimpernel whispered.

'The hunter has no heart at all, he lost it to his lady-love years ago,' Ferdi answered.

'O but he does,' Pimpernel whispered, a crystal tear upon her cheek. 'Mine. My own.'

There seemed to be nothing more to say, and so they kissed once more, and entwining their fingers together, walked slowly back to the feast.