Note to fanfictionnet moderators: This song is in the public domain.
It's a web like a spider's web,
Made of silk, or light, or shadow,
Spun by the moon in my room last night.
It's a web made to catch a dream,
Hold it tight 'til I awaken,
As if to tell me that dream is all right.
--Traditional Folksong, author unknown
It's a web like a spider's web,
Note to fanfictionnet moderators: This song is in the public domain.
Little Celandine Brandybuck sat stiffly in the chair facing the corner, listening to the clinking of spoons against dishes and the laughter and talk that accompanied teatime in the nursery. She stiffened as a soft voice spoke behind her.
'Cellie, dear, are you ready to apologise?' Cellie did not move, nor speak, and heard a small sigh as a result. 'O all right, dearie, but you are missing a lovely tea.'
'Apple tart, your favourite!' Meriadoc sang out helpfully from the table.
Your favourite, you mean. Celandine said to herself resentfully. She couldn't help a flounce of her curls, and Merry's laughter only made her more angry. Pippin broke into the apple tart song, but the effect was rather spoiled by the mouthful that muffled his voice.
One of the tweens minding the children this day cheerily corrected him. 'Close your mouth, now, young master Took. Your tummy wants to see the food more than we do.' A chorus of giggles answered this statement, and tea continued, without Celandine.
She stared stubbornly at the wall, chewing on her anger, which in her present state tasted to her just about as fine as the flakiest apple tart. A movement caught her eye, and she looked more closely at a tiny creature hanging from a gossamer thread. She watched, fascinated, as the little creature dangled, then began to climb, its thread doubling behind it, up to where a web was taking shape where the rounded ceiling met the walls.
Watching the steady progress of the web was calming, and she heard no more of the goings-on at the tea table, not even when Pippin spilt his entire cup of cambric tea upon Mayblossom, and Berilac threw a teacake at Ilberic and blamed it on Merimas. As a matter of fact, she started when a hand was laid upon her shoulder. 'Tea's over and done,' Violet Brandybuck said quietly. 'You may leave the corner.'
'Do I have to apologise?' she said, glancing up over her shoulder at the tween.
Violet sighed. 'It would be best if you did, but no. You've had punishment enough, missing tea. It's a long time until supper.'
Cellie's tummy growled, reinforcing Violet's words. 'I'm not hungry,' she said bravely.
Violet and another tween cleared the dishes from the table and took the trays down to the kitchen, while the older lads hurriedly readied themselves for a riding lesson, and the younger ones were gathered together for clapping and singing games. Suddenly a little voice spoke behind Celandine.
She didn't turn.
'Cellie, I'm sorry I cut all the hair off your doll. I thought it would grow back, honest. I'm awful sorry. It was my fault you missed your tea,' Pippin said behind her. She felt something crumbly pressed into her hand.
Pippin's voice dropped to a whisper. 'I saved you some of my favourite,' he said. Quite a sacrifice on his part; he loved seedcake with a passion. Celandine, on the other hand, detested the stuff, but Pippin's humble apology and great sacrifice had brought her round. She took her handkerchief out, tenderly wrapped the piece of cake, stuck it in her pocket for later disposal, and turned to talk to Pippin.
'Thanks, Pip. I'm sorry, too. I shouldn't have slapped you.'
'It was my fault,' Pippin said. Really, Celandine thought to herself. Whatever were they thinking, to give him such enormous eyes? It's not fair! She smiled and hugged him anyhow. They were almost the same height, though he was four years older. Girls got their growth sooner, as boys were too busy running and climbing and fighting to grow. She thought wistfully that it must be fun to be a boy, and not have to sit prim and proper and stitch stupid pictures.
'Well now, I call that nice,' Violet's smiling voice came to them, and Cellie turned away, blushing. 'Very nice, indeed, Cellie, you know he didn't mean to make mischief.'
'He never does, but he does anyway,' she answered, and Pippin hung his head.
'Come, young master Took,' Violet smiled, holding out her hand. 'Your mum's feeling sad, and needs you to come climb up on her lap and tell her a story.' Pip didn't need to ask why she was feeling sad. Auntie Esmeralda's new babe had never drawn breath, and all the mums and aunts were sad, lately. He didn't protest that, at twelve, he was much too big to be climbing into laps, and Celandine felt a sudden need to seek out her own mother's ample cushioning comfort.
The next day, Celandine painted a beautiful picture of a meadow dotted with flowers and a bright sun shining above. She left it on the nursery table to dry while they ate a picnic of elevenses on the grassy field in front of the Hall, and when she returned to the nursery, someone had added to her picture, a nasty fox with a bloody bird in its mouth, grinning from the grass.
Tears came to her eyes as she heard laughter from the lads. 'It's quite the improvement,' Pippin said, 'Don't you think, Cellie?'
'You... you... I hate you, Peregrin Took!' she shouted, and started forward, only to be arrested by one of the watching tweens.
'Come now, Cellie, you know such words are not allowed. You apologise to Pippin right now.'
Again, she was being told to apologise for something he'd done! It wasn't fair. 'No!' she shouted. 'It's his fault and I hate him! He should apologise first!'
'Cellie,' Meriadoc chided her, and she turned on him, furious.
'You always take his side,' she raged, and burst into tears.
'Cellie,' Merry said again, voice gentle, but she flounced away, taking herself off to the chair in the corner before anyone should order her there. She looked up to see her little friend, only to dissolve in fresh tears of grief. Someone had cleared away the cobwebs during the cleaning of the nursery this morning, and she was quite alone in her sorrow and anger this day.
Cellie and Pippin exchanged apologies about an hour later, but Cellie went to the next meal with little appetite, and a sorrowful countenance. She felt a little better after Doderic slipped her half of his sweet at the end of the meal.
During the free play time after the late noontide meal, Celandine followed the lads to the stables. There were half a dozen, five Brandybucks and a Took, and all similar enough in age to think of interesting games that did not include girls. Ilberic looked behind them and saw his little sister.
'Tag-along, gag-along!' he sang, and made a choking sound. Soon all the lads were lying on the ground in various attitudes of distress, choking and gagging. Celandine stepped past them with dignity.
'I'm going to see the new kittens,' she said, chin high in the air. 'You may roll about in the dirt like pigs, if you like.' Reaching the stables, she found the little kittens sweet, but unsatisfying, and soon emerged, only to see the lads halfway across the field to the woods south of Brandy Hall that lined the bank of the great River. She had heard their voices in the stables as she was cuddling a soft kitten, and now she saw several with coils of rope over their shoulders. She was sure they had not asked permission to take the rope. They were going to get in trouble... but it looked as if it would be fun while it lasted.
She moved into the field behind them, bending down to gather wildflowers when one turned to see her, pointedly ignoring them as she began to braid her flowers into a garland. She got up to wander to the next patch of flowers, conveniently closer to the woods, and as she began to pick them, the lad turned back, satisfied, and hurried after the others. When they reached the woods, she picked up her skirts and scampered after them.
Scooting from tree to tree, she followed her cousins until they came to a little clearing.
'Here, now,' Doderic, eldest at the ripe age of thirteen-and-a-half, said importantly. Rorilac and Dodimas, just turned thirteen, and thirteen-and-a-quarter respectively, deferred to his wisdom.
'Looks like a good place for spiders,' Pippin agreed. He let his coil of rope fall, then began stringing rope between two trees, attempting to weave it into a web, Cellie noticed. She sniffed. He made hard work of something the little spider in the nursery had done so skillfully.
'All right, so the spiders had tied up the dwarves,' Pippin said, 'and Bilbo had to lead the spiders away, and then cut them free.'
'Who's Bilbo?' Ilberic asked.
'Gorbilac, he's littlest,' Doderic answered.
'We don't have enough!' Gorbilac protested. 'There were thirteen dwarves, and Bilbo, and I don't know how many spiders.'
'Well we need a Bilbo,' Pippin said, 'and the rest can be dwarves, and we'll just pretend the spiders.'
'All right, then, that's what we'll do,' Doderic decided. 'Now it is time to tie up the dwarves, and then Bilbo can chase away the spiders and come back and free us.' He tried to wind the rope around Pippin, but the coils fell off.
'This will never do,' Pippin said in frustration. 'The dwarves couldn't simply walk away when the spiders were gone, Bilbo had to free them.'
Celandine giggled, and Doderic spotted her behind her concealing tree. 'Cellie, go home! This is a boys' game,' he said sternly, but Ilberic interrupted him.
'No wait, Cellie!' he called. At his brother's protest, he added, 'Cellie ties the best knots of anyone I know! We can let her be a spider, at least until the dwarves are tied up.'
'Would you do that, Cellie?' Doderic asked, and unexpectedly Celandine nodded. 'Good lass!' he said approvingly. 'Have at it.'
Pippin said, 'Now remember, the spiders stung the dwarves, and they were lying still when they were tied up.' All the lads save "Bilbo" fell to the ground, limp. Celandine went around, winding the ropes around the quiescent bodies, tying hard knots, until all were tied and the rope was used up.
'They should properly be hung up in the trees,' "Bilbo" said critically.
'Well, I did the best I could,' Celandine said. 'I'm not a real spider, and there is no way I could lift them up. I don't think they'd care to hang head-down, anyhow.'
'Very well,' Doderic said from the ground, 'now it is time for Bilbo to chase the spiders away.'
'He led them away, rather, by calling them names,' Celandine corrected, but "Bilbo" liked Doderic's version better, and picking up a nasty handful of dirty moss, he started after the girl with an evil sneer on his face.
'What will your mother say when she sees your pretty yellow frock stained with green moss and black dirt?' he snickered.
Celandine shrieked and fled, "Bilbo" in hot pursuit. The rest of the boys laughed until tears ran down their cheeks, but found this rather awkward, since they couldn't wipe their faces.
"Bilbo" returned, dusting his hands. 'That's taken care of,' he said. 'Now to free the dwarves...' He started to tug at the ropes around Doderic.
'Well,' Doderic said impatiently. 'What's taking you so long?'
'These knots,' Gorbilac answered. 'They're so tight I cannot get them loose.'
'Looks as if you're making them tighter,' Ilberic observed from where he lay nearby.
'Let me try your knots,' Gorbilac said, but Ilberic's were just as stubborn.
'Well this is a fine kettle of fish,' Rorilac said. 'Try mine.' Gorbilac tried each "dwarf's" bindings in turn, only to settle back on his heels in frustration.
'It's getting late,' Doderic said worriedly. 'We'll be late for tea, at this rate.' He asked, not very hopefully, 'Does anybody have a knife on him?'
'You know we're not old enough to carry a pocketknife,' Pippin said in irritation. 'Gorby, you're going to have to go back to the Hall for help.'
'Back to the Hall!' Doderic protested. 'Think of the teasing!'
'Think of the tea!' Pippin retorted. Reluctantly, the others agreed that Gorbilac ought to go for help. 'Get Merry,' Pippin said. 'He won't laugh at us.'
'Which one?' Gorbilac asked. 'Merimas or Meriadoc?'
'Both,' Doderic said grimly. 'That'll get us cut free sooner, and mayhap we won't be late to tea. You know how Master Rorimac is about tardiness...' The other lads nodded. The Master of Buckland was a stickler for punctuality. 'Run!' Doderic urged his cousin, and Gorbilac broke into a run; he'd run all the way back to the Hall, if need be. It would have been a heroic effort, had he been running in the proper direction...
It was high tea in the great room, not tea in the nursery, this day being Merimac Brandybuck's birthday, and all the children, Brandybucks and visiting Tooks, were dressed in their finest and minding their manners. All the chairs were full when Master Rorimac entered the great room, beaming, arm about his son Merimac's shoulders. 'A nice little birthday gathering, indeed,' he said jovially. 'A nice little...' his eyes narrowed as he noticed the empty chairs next to Merimac's son Berilac. Looking further, he saw more empty chairs, scattered through the room, including one amongst Paladin Took's family. Six, altogether. On further thought, all lads about the same age. He turned to his son.
'Is there illness in the Hall?' he asked.
'Illness?' Merimac said, puzzled. His father nodded pointedly towards the empty chairs between his son's wife and older children. Merimac's daughters sat primly, though they seemed a bit worried about their missing brothers, and Berilac, meeting Merimac's gaze, shrugged, heedless tween that he was.
Rorimac turned to Saradoc, and Meriadoc. 'Where's Pippin?' he asked his grandson.
Merry shrugged. 'It wasn't my day to watch him,' he said. 'You had assigned me to other tasks this day.' He wasn't too worried; Pippin was in good company, if half a dozen lads were missing. What could happen?
'Celandine,' Hilda Bracegirdle said to her daughter. 'Do you know where your brothers are?'
Cellie smiled and daintily picked up her napkin, spreading it upon her lap. 'O I don't know,' she said carelessly. 'Out playing somewhere about, I guess.'
'Merry!' Rorimac snapped in Meriadoc's direction. 'Merry!' he said, indicating Merimas. 'Berilac! Off you go now, find the lads. Take them to the nursery for their tea, if they are not grown enough to be on time to the great room!'
'Yes, Sir,' the two Merrys chorused. Berilac cast a regretful look at the heaped up serving plates, but he added his affirmative and the three tweens left the great room. They came back sometime after tea was over and done, to announce that the lads were nowhere to be found.
Darkness was falling and half the Hall was in an uproar, many grown hobbits walking the fields and woods with lanterns, calling, some even having ventured into the Old Forest, before young Gorbilac stumbled into the yard, exhausted, bramble-scratched, and bruised from falling over tree roots. He gasped out his message, and soon rescuers were trotting towards the woods south of the Hall. The lads were released from their bindings and escorted back to the Hall by scolding adults, who were secretly relieved to find them in one piece, unmolested by fox or other predator while they lay helpless.
Celandine went early to bed without supper and spent a good part of the next day in the corner. Shortly after elevenses, her eye was caught by a tiny movement, and catching her breath, she looked up. Her tiny friend was back, moving lower on an ever-extending line of silk, climbing up, launching itself through the air, dancing and weaving its gossamer creation once again.
Celandine nodded to herself. She would be like that spider. No matter what happened, she would always begin again.