Notes to Readers:

Have I told you lately how much I appreciate my reviewers, especially those of you who take the time to send me regular notes? I certainly do.

Xena, glad you found it sweet. It is really nice to write happy chapters after all the angst is worked out. I also hated coming to the end of this story, but there's no point in going on onec you've achieved the objective (Frodo's exoneration, Farry & Goldi getting the official go-ahead, and Fastred being appointed Warden of Westmarch). Hopefully there will be a sequel one of these days (Frodo's wedding). There's an outline, so there's hope, but at the moment I am wrapped up in Freddy Bolger, and Faramir and Goldi's wedding, and writing in two stories has me "maxed out". I have had to put "Shire" on hold for the nonce.

Bookworm, my little ones love to pick wildflowers on picnics, and are becoming quite skilled at dandelion chains and daisy chains. Hmmm. Perhaps we need to bring along straw hats to decorate. As far as the letters go, I do believe I will let them read the letters in decent privacy. You'll have to let your imagination do the work.

Aemilia Rose, they make a nice couple, don't they? I knew there was something there the day they got into the mud fight, back in "At the End of His Rope".

Madeleine, I do enjoy picnics, especially in fictional chapters. Real picnics have ants, and sunburn, and wind blowing things over or away, and nasty little stinging creatures we call "yellow jackets" who are as interested in the food and drink as we are! Still, picnics are fun, as a whole, and sometimes we even picnic in the dead of winter on a blanket on the living room floor. Don't have to worry about wind and wasps that way, either (although ants are always a problem).

Miriel, there is one more chapter, correct. I have enjoyed the story as well. It wrote itself nicely with very little effort on my part, as opposed to "Runaway" which made me feel as if I was pulling my hair out! At least we can hope for a sequel someday! Gracias! Hasta la vista!

I continue to post new chapters simultaneously to ffnet and So if ffnet has a bad day, hopefully you can still get your update of the continuing saga... StoriesofArda has author alerts, and can send author replies to reviewers, imagine that!

Comments are always welcome. Have some tea and a ginger biscuit fresh from the oven...(Frodo! Leave some for the guests!)

Look for an update in "Runaway" on the morrow, if all goes well (i.e., if I can find Jo's email in the glut of junk emails in my box!  I knew I should have saved it to disk the day she sent it to me, but procrastination is a hard habit to break), and the first chapter of the new story on the day after.


Chapter 24. To Celebrate Joy

A tap sounded on the study door and Hilly poked his head in even before invited to do so. 'The Mayor's family is arriving,' he said.

'Thank you, Hildibold,' the Thain said formally, then rose and inclined his head to his visitors. 'If you will excuse me,' he said. 'We will take this matter up on the morrow.' The visitors, merchants from Tucksborough, rose hastily and bowed in return, and the Thain strode from the study.

Pippin lengthened his strides, arriving at the entrance to the Smials just as the Mayor's waggon pulled up, full of singing Gamgees.

'Welcome!' Pippin cried. 'You're just in time for tea!'

'Of course we are,' Mayor Samwise replied, stepping down from the driver's seat. He turned to hand down his wife, then moved back along the waggon to lift out his daughters, while his sons jumped down themselves.

Diamond emerged from the Smials to envelop Rose Gamgee in a hug. 'The Thain has ordered high tea served in the great room, in your husband's honour,' she smiled.

'Yes, and I'm glad you arrived in time or we'd have had to eat it up without you,' Pippin said. 'Cannot let food go to waste; it makes the cooks surly and that might curdle the milk.'

'Or sour the broth,' Rose answered with a grin of her own. It seemed their troubles were well behind them.

'Where's Farry?' Merry-lad asked, and the Thain turned to him.

'Try the stables,' he said. 'I'd heard Spatter was about to foal.' Merry nodded, and with a jerk at his brother Pippin-lad's arm, the Gamgee lads were off at a run.

'They'll miss tea,' Rose said worriedly, but Sam laughed.

'Not those two,' he said. 'They'll look in on Faramir, let him know they've arrived, and be in their seats before the first drop is poured.'

'Come along, you lot,' Pippin said now, taking Diamond's arm. 'I do believe it is time to go in.' Servants were unpacking the baggage and carrying it into the Smials. 'How long can you stay?'

'How does a month sound?' Sam said. 'We can do a fair amount of planning in that time. Frodo, of course, will travel back to Bag End tomorrow; he's got his work, and he will look after our animals and our garden whilst we're here at the Smials.'

'Excellent!' the Thain answered.

Tea was a festive meal, celebrating the Mayor's re-election. Many of the Tooks had travelled to Michel Delving in order to cast their votes, and had a proprietary feeling towards Mayor Gamgee as a result, not that they expected anything of him but the good, honest job he'd done in his previous terms as Mayor.

After tea, the Gamgee children scattered to find various friends. Merry-lad said to Goldilocks, 'Would you like to come to the stables with us? Farry said the foal ought to be born sometime this afternoon; the mare's getting close.'

'May I?' Goldi asked her parents.

'Go along with you,' Rose said with a smile.

'Give Faramir our regards,' Sam added, and Goldi smiled and nodded before being pulled away by her eager brothers.

'You ladies probably want to catch up on your gossip,' Pippin said. 'Sadly, Elanor and Fastred are away on a visit to Greenholm, so there is no grandbabe to pass from arm to arm.'

'Yes, we have much to gossip about,' Diamond said with a meaningful look at her husband.

He laughed. 'If I feel my ears burning, I'll know who's the topic of conversation!' Turning to the Mayor, he added, 'Come along, Sam, I do believe there's a glass of ale in my study with your name on it.'

'Handy, that,' Sam commented, as the two bowed to their wives and walked away.

Reginard was already in the study, pouring out ale, and Ferdibrand was sitting at his desk, sipping at the first glass poured.

'I thought the Thain was to be served first,' Sam observed.

Ferdi smiled. 'The early bird gets the worm,' he said placidly. 'Though for myself, I'd stay in bed. Never cared much for worms, they've got little enough flavour. Give me a glass of ale over worms, any time.'

Regi showed Sam to a comfortable chair and supplied him with a glass of his own. 'I'd have to agree with you,' the Mayor said. 'Worms belong in the garden.' He sipped. 'Ah, this ale was worth the wait.'

'Tookland's finest,' Pippin said, settling behind his desk. He raised his glass. 'To the newly-elected Mayor!'

'To the Mayor!' Regi and Ferdi echoed, raising their own glasses.

'To the people of the Shire!' Sam said in reply, raising his own glass. 'They're the ones who made the choice. May I live up to their trust in me.'

'Hear, hear,' Pippin said, and drank.

'When do you expect Fastred back from Greenholm?' Samwise said.

'Didn't he tell you?' Pippin asked, but the Mayor shook his head.

'In all the bustle of the election, I hardly got to say two words to him and Ellie,' he answered. 'He was just telling me about them visiting Rosie-lass, when I got pulled away to give my acceptance speech, and then after the banquet they were already gone. They wanted to reach the Far Downs before sunset.'

'It did make good sense for them to go on to Greenholm,' Pippin said. 'Michel Delving is halfway there.'

'Fas told me he expected to be back by the end of the week,' Ferdi put in. 'He was going to drop Ellie in Greenholm for a good, long chat with Rosie-lass, ride across to Undertowers, meet with Everard to go over a few matters of business, and then ride back to the Smials after collecting his wife and son again.'

'You keep him busy,' Samwise said.

'Keeps him from getting too restless,' Pippin responded. 'And he's the best hobbit for the job. His memory is nearly as phenomenal as Ferdi's there.'

'Just so long as you don't put me out to pasture and put him in to replace me,' Ferdibrand said.

'Never!' Pippin said fervently. 'The day you go is the day I go.' The chancellor laughed and lifted his glass, then took another sip.

Mayor Samwise sat back in his chair, with a sip of his own. 'You have given me good reports on Fastred over the years,' he said.

'Indeed,' the Thain answered. 'He is one of my most trusted hobbits.' He shook his head. 'He is wasted in the Smials, really. I wish I could give him something he could really sink his teeth into.'

'The Westmarch?' Sam asked quietly, after a moment of consideration.

Pippin was silent, sipping at his glass, but he finally answered. 'The thought had crossed my mind. Everard is a competent administrator, but he's chafing to get back to engineering full-time. I'm afraid he'll dig out so many smials under the Tower Hills that the hills will collapse, unable to sustain the weight of the towers any longer.' He sighed. 'But I know how your Rose would feel about Ellie and that grand-babe living so far away.'

'Ah,' Sam said, putting down his glass. Reginard rose when he saw the Mayor's glass half empty and poured more, then moved to refill Ferdi's glass for good measure; the Thain's glass, as yet, was not appreciably depleted.

'Trying to ply me with spirits?' Sam said, lifting an eyebrow. 'Make me tractable to some suggestion?'

'Save us!' Pippin replied. 'If I did have a suggestion...' he let the thought go and sipped at his ale again.

'I was thinking that you might want to name Fastred to Warden of Westmarch,' Sam said calmly. He caught Pippin unawares, and the other choked on his ale, apologising profusely as soon as he got over the coughing fit, while Regi turned his attention from slapping the Thain's back to mopping up the spill.

Getting control of himself, Pippin said, 'I cannot believe you'd suggest it! One of the reasons I offered Fastred a position here at the Smials was so that Ellie would not be taken so very far away, especially with Rosie gone to Greenholm.'

'I know,' Sam said, 'but I've talked it over with Rose, and she agrees. You have to let young folk go, eventually, make their own way. 'Twill be hard to let that fine grandson go so far away, but the Mayor's job is a travelling one, and I'm sure to get out to Undertowers fairly often. Quite a few hobbits have moved out that way, and they always seem to be having festivals to open....'

'It is a rich land,' Pippin said quietly. 'They have much to celebrate.' He fixed the Mayor with a keen eye. 'Rose agrees with this?'

'She does,' Sam said firmly.

'Very well, then,' Pippin said. 'I'll take it up with the King next week when we go to the Lake.'

'Thank you,' Sam said. 'I owe you one.'

'You don't owe me a single thing; you're doing me the favour,' Pippin returned. 'Fastred's the best hobbit for the job; Ferdi's been saying so for months, now.'

'Is that so, Ferdi?' Sam asked.

Ferdibrand sipped from his glass and turned towards the Mayor's voice. 'Of course it's so,' he said.

'Fastred will make good in the job,' Pippin added.

'Of course he will!' Ferdi maintained. 'I'm always right about these things.'

'Yes,' Pippin said. 'I do believe you have the right of it.'

'Didn't you just say that, Ferdi?' Sam asked.

Ferdi laughed and raised his glass in a toast. 'To the future,' he said. They all drank and set down their glasses again.

In the ensuing silence, Ferdi said, 'When's the wedding?'

Pippin jerked upright. 'Wedding?' he asked. He met the Mayor's eyes.

'Mardi told me that Frodo was holding the hand of some lass, back there in Bywater, whilst we were celebrating his release from the Ban.'

'O that wedding!' Pippin said.

'What wedding did you think I meant?' Ferdi asked innocently.

'Never you mind,' the Thain answered severely. 'They're much too young, anyhow.' The chancellor settled back with a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. So that was where that matter stood.

'He hasn't even asked, yet,' Samwise said. 'I believe he was waiting until Yule.'

'Ah, a spring wedding, then,' Ferdi said. 'Lovely time of year for weddings.' He sipped at his ale again, then said suddenly, 'I suppose Frodo is too young, at that… he won't reach his majority until…?'

'March,' Samwise answered.

'Ah,' Ferdi said. 'Am I to be invited?'

'We cannot have a wedding without you,' Sam said. 'It just wouldn't be the same.'

'I cannot promise to dance upon a table top,' Ferdi warned.

'No, you might step off and break your neck,' Pippin said acidly.

'Very well, then, as long as that's settled,' Ferdi said. 'Reginard, I do believe my glass is empty.'

'And when did you get into the habit of taking a third glass?' Regi asked in astonishment.

'I'm celebrating,' Ferdi said airily, holding out his glass. 'I just love weddings.' He waited until the sound of pouring stopped, then lifted his glass. 'To the happy couple!' Faramir and Goldi, of course… drink to the hope of their future happiness… No need to drink to Frodo's. He's already filled with joy…

== The End ==