Notes to Readers:

Here begins a sequel to "Flames", but if you are unfamiliar with that story, do not lose hope. You ought to be able to jump right in. Comments, as always, are very welcome.

Ff.net permitting, expect to see the next chapter of this story two days from this posting.

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

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1. Spring Festival

'I now declare this festival open!' Mayor Samwise shouted with a flourish of the arms, and the crowd of Tooks and Tooklanders cheered. Plowing and planting was safely behind them, and with the rainy spring, and more rain promising, it looked to be a good start to the growing year. The sheep had been incredibly prolific; many twin lambs had been born. Kids, calves and foals were to be seen in many fields around Tookland as well. The hobbits of Tookland congratulated themselves for having been so fortunate in their relatively new Thain. Surely the land was prospering under Peregrin I.

It had been four years since Pippin's stormy arrival, four years of hard work, gradual change, grudging acceptance which was slowly turning into respect. The prodigal Took had made good on his return home, and his Mistress had won the love of the people as well.

Now Pippin and Diamond stood beside the Mayor, smiling and waving to the crowd, eight-year-old Faramir in front of them. Farry was bored, actually, bored with long speeches and having to stand with a smile on his face. He'd much rather be off playing with his cousins, but duty came before pleasure, and so he stood here, waiting for the opening ceremonies to end and the games to begin.

When his father looked down with a murmured, 'All right, Farry, you may go,' he was off like an arrow released from the bow. Pippin smiled to see him go. 'I'm glad he gets on so well with his cousins,' he said to Diamond. 'My father's older sisters were fairly snobbish, and it is good that their grandchildren are not so pretentious.'

Diamond refrained from pointing out that these particular cousins were playing with the son of the Thain and could hardly act snobbish around Faramir. He was about as high in the social structure of the Smials as a hobbit could get... only the Thain and the Mistress had a higher position. But then, she had not grown up in the Smials, and the put-on manners of the Smials Tooks did not impress her so much as they seemed to impress each other.

All she said was, 'Esmeralda is not snobbish at all.'

Pippin laughed. 'No, but she was the youngest of the family and terribly spoiled, you know. Though I do not know whether Grandfather was pleased or chagrined when she married into the family of the Master of Buckland.'

'Well Saradoc did become Master, so it worked out well, I suppose,' Diamond said.

'Indeed it did! Had Auntie Essie not married Uncle Sarry, there'd have been no Merry!'

'I can hardly imagine a Pippin without a Merry,' Diamond said dryly.

'Nor can I,' Pippin said, his face growing more sober. Diamond thought of all that the two had been through and held his arm a little more tightly; looking down into her face, he smiled, the past once more put away.

Mayor Samwise turned to them, then, saying, 'I think we're finished here. Didn't you promise me some of that fine ale the Smials is so famous for?'

'I did indeed,' Pippin said, taking Diamond's arm whilst Samwise took Rose's. 'Right over there, they will be pouring out as soon as they see us approaching.'

'You have your folk well trained,' Sam chuckled.

Diamond turned down the ale, electing to have a glass of juice instead. She patted her protruding middle. 'Wouldn't want to turn the babe into a Brandybuck, now, would we, giving him drink at this tender age.' The party laughed.

Pavilions had been set up for eating and dancing, and the Thain and Mistress went to the largest pavilion to sit and watch and listen to the music. They acknowledged the greetings of their guests with smiles and cheerful talk while watching the dancers romp. This was not a formal ball, like so many at the Smials, but more of a farmer's dance with flying skirts and heels kicked high and much laughter.

Adriatus Brockhouse had quaffed a bit too much of the Thain's fine ale, as he stood with a group of Tookish farmers, talking about the planting and the fine prospects for the crops, so far as things looked. His eye was caught by the Thain, helping the Mistress to her feet, to lead her back to the Smials for a rest, and he laughed. 'Looks as if the Thain has done a bit of plowing and planting, himself!' he said raucously, and laughed again at the shocked expressions around him.

One of the farmers excused himself, walking away to whisper in the ear of the steward, who gestured to the Thain's special assistant, Ferdibrand Took, who spoke to several servants, who scattered in various directions. Some time thereafter, Adriatus found his arm seized in a firm grip by Ferdibrand, who said loudly enough for the group to hear, 'It is a real pity, that you've been called away so suddenly.'

'Called away?' blustered Adriatus. 'What do you mean? I don't understand.' All the while, Ferdi was leading him from the pavilion to where his pony waited, saddled and loaded with his possessions. Some servants had been very busy packing up Adriatus' guest room whilst his pony was tacked.

'What is the meaning of this?' Adriatus demanded.

Ferdi loosed his arm roughly enough to cast him down on the damp, muddy ground under his pony's nose.

'Get out!' he said grimly. 'And do not bother to return until you have better governance of your tongue, or things will not go so well with you next time.'

Adriatus climbed to his feet, fists clenched, but several grim-faced Tooks stepped up behind Ferdibrand, and so he backed down, brushed at the mud on his clothing, mounted his pony, and rode out of the yard, muttering to himself. Somehow he'd have to explain his sudden departure to his relatives... Tooks! No sense of humour whatsoever...

'Good riddance to bad rubbish,' Ferdi said, and turned back to the party.

'What was that all about?' Pippin asked his special assistant. He had returned from tucking up Diamond in time to see Ferdi escort the late guest out of the pavilion.

'He was suddenly called away,' Ferdi said calmly. 'Expressed his regrets, very sorry and all that.'

'Ah,' Pippin said. 'A problem in the family? Anything I might do to help?'

'It's all taken care of, Sir,' Ferdi said. Pippin nodded. Ferdi was nothing if not efficient.