Written for the GFIC group's January 2010 Potluck Challenge!
Author's Chapter Notes:
Prompt from the June 2009 Challenge: "Wedding of your nightmares"!
Element: "Something New"
Beta by Dreamflower!
“For Better or For Worse…”
Eglantine rocked her chair slowly, observing the scene with her usual aplomb. The bundle in her arms stirred and her heart swelled with a passion familiar to all mothers. She gazed down into his face, stroked the small fingers tenderly, and sighed. Sipping her tea and looking back on it now, Eglantine wasn’t quite ready to laugh, but at least she was making progress. In the corner next to the fireplace, Paladin rocked slowly back and forth, a bemused expression on his tired face. He noticed her watching and gave her a wink, nodding at the baby she held. Eglantine smiled and resumed her own rocking as she replayed more of the day’s events in her mind’s eye.
Eglantine had known the day was going to be a long one, but she simply had not been prepared, not by any stretch of her imagination, for what actually took place. When the guests all started getting tipsy, she’d had the idea, just for a moment, mind, to call it a day. Of course, that wouldn’t have been possible, but the thought had been nice. It no longer bothered her that those ants spoiled the plum tarts she’d spent hours making, or that the hot sun had curdled the cream in the pitcher and melted butter all over the fine linen tablecloth that belonged to her grandmother. . .well. . .perhaps that part still bothered her a little. Eglantine frowned and rocked briskly considering just how she was going to get the stain out. “That’s the last time I take a family heirloom to a picnic supper,” she whispered to the baby, who was now sucking vigorously on his fist.
“Oh, but that was only the beginning, wasn’t it? That Petunia Took!” Eglantine chuckled, recalling how the youngster had loudly called attention to the enormous tear in the seat of her Great-Uncle Paladin’s breeches. “Her antics remind me of some of your father’s mischief-making at its best. Such a rascal Petunia is! Your poor grandfather, I thought he was going to die from the embarrassment. Imagine, walking around with a tear as wide as the Brandywine River in the back of your breeches for the entire world to see! I suppose she did him a favour, though, in the long and short of things, by letting him know. But really, she didn’t have to bring it up in front of her young friends. But that had hardly been the end of the day’s exploits had it, my little one?”
“It might well have been the last of it for me,” Paladin interjected, “If you hadn’t stopped me I think I’d have been on my way home.”
Eglantine laughed. “The one question I have about that, Pad, was how come you didn’t feel the breeze on your bum?”
Paladin rolled his eyes and reached for his pipe. “Very amusing, my dear.” The pair settled into a comfortable silence, each of them lost in thought.
Just how had the groom wound up head first in the wedding cake? Eglantine pondered. Wasn’t it something about Sancho trying to get a better look at the colourful sugar paste rosebuds decorating the bottom layer? But hadn’t his older brother Orfeo suggested Sancho look much closer? Eglantine wrinkled her brow in thought, recalling a shriek from the bride and then some laughter before an unfortunate Sancho had popped up with his face covered in frosting. Why, it must have been that scoundrel Orfeo! Eglantine’s eyes widened with the sudden realisation. “No wonder Sapphire Proudfoot was wearing such a frown and had her lad’s ear in a firm pinch. Now it all makes sense to me. What do you think of that, hmm?” A tiny snore from her grandson and a grunt from her husband were the only replies.
Mercy, and then there had been that bit of untidiness with the bride’s dress. Eglantine winced at the picture in her mind’s eye and stopped rocking. It was a good thing that Sapphire had been so quick in producing needle and thread. Poor Sancho! Even though his mother had come immediately to the rescue, the poor lad was going to have a hard time living that one down! Eglantine couldn’t help giggling at her memory of the look of horror on Sancho’s face and the sound of ripping cloth when his foot got tangled in the hem of his beloved’s gown, or the bride’s alarm at the notion her backside had been exposed to all. Oh, poor little Pansy! The lass had been frozen to the spot looking at her equally panicked new husband like a fearful rabbit staring down a catapult. The couple had appeared so young and vulnerable at that moment; she had yearned to wrap them in her arms and reassure them.
But Great Auntie Pringle and Uncle Teobald Took had nearly won the honour in topping off the long parade of disasters when they’d danced the Springle Ring atop one of the picnic tables and ended up nearly taking a swim when the table tipped, tossing the huge punch bowl into the air, spraying its contents all over them and their audience.
Ah, but the real prize of the day was nestled snuggly in her arms. Nothing that had occurred at the wedding could be topped by its ending, the birth of her grandson in a most unusual place and with her son in attendance, just as he had declared he would be all along. All of it happening because of Pippin’s taste for strawberry jam on biscuits. It was a good thing that she had finally noticed the pair had gone missing. From the way Pippin had recounted it. . .
“Hurry up! What’s taking so long?” Diamond Took frowned impatiently as Pippin rushed over and plopped a soft pillow into a chair, then fluffed it before helping his wife ease down onto it.
“Is that better, my love?” He kissed the top of her head. “I’m sorry it took me so long to find you a pillow.”
Diamond sighed and patted his hand. “No, I’m the one who should be sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. It’s only that I’m so dreadfully uncomfortable.” As if in agreement, her swollen belly chose that moment to ripple with the impatient kicking of her soon-to-be firstborn child.
“Oh, mercy!” Diamond winced, stroking her midsection. “Calm down, little one. It won’t be much longer until you’re in my arms.”
Alarmed, Pippin fell to one knee, searching her face with the worry common to all first time fathers.
“This lad is certainly anxious to see the world.” Diamond eased back into her chair as the kicking subsided. She managed a little smile. “He wants to make his presence known! He’s going to be just like his father.”
Pippin chuckled. “’He’ might be a ‘she’, you know.”
Diamond shook her head. “No, this baby is a boy. I’ve never been surer of anything in my life. And he’s not going to wait much longer to meet his da.” She rocked to and fro, watching the busy scene. All around them, their friends and family scurried back and forth, putting the finishing touches on the gathering for the ceremony that was about to take place.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have come,” Pippin fretted. “It’s nearly your time.”
Diamond shook her head. “And have you complaining for the rest of your days that you missed seeing one of your best friends married? I’d never hear the end of it.”
Pippin grinned. “I admit, I never thought I’d see the day when Sancho decided to settle down. You’re right. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this for the world.”
The garden of the Proudfoot smial was filled with bustling and excitement as the time for the ceremony approached. It seemed as if chaos reigned, although a happy sort of confusion. Here and there, children scampered about in play, chasing one another in a game of hide and seek. On the far end of the garden a group of the lads had gathered to share a smoke and some good-natured jesting directed at the anxious groom. Sancho stood to the side, speaking quietly with his father and brother, darting an anxious look about the garden now and then and surreptitiously fidgeting with an imaginary loose thread on his weskit. Eglantine watched Sancho with fondness, recalling him as a youngster running across the fields of their farm with Pippin at his heels.
“How are you feeling, my dear?” Eglantine slipped an arm around her son, and placed a hand on Diamond’s shoulder. “Is Pippin taking good care of you?”
“I couldn’t ask for any better attention, Tina. He hardly lets me out of his sight.”
“That’s because our wee lass might arrive at any moment and I wouldn’t want to miss being at your side.”
“Peregrin Took, you know very well when my time is at hand your mother and Miss Poppy will be attending to me. Fathers must do the waiting while mothers tend to the birthing.”
Pippin rolled his eyes at Diamond’s scolding. “Since when have you preferred to go along with tradition? I told you, I want to be there when our daughter is born.”
“You mean our son.”
Pippin appealed to his mother. “Will you tell my wife that Took’s on our side of the family always have the lasses first? And I intend to be close at hand in case she needs me--”
“You’d likely swoon,” Diamond retorted. “And then you’d be even more in the way, lying about in the middle of the floor and all. You’d best leave the birthing and everything that goes along with it up to the lasses, like I said.”
“Mum, would you please tell Diamond that I’m perfectly capable of--”
Eglantine held up her hands. “I’ll not get involved in this argument for all the mushrooms in Farmer Maggot’s fields, children. And, by the way, Pippin,” Eglantine squeezed his shoulder, “a mother tends to know if she’s having a lass or a lad.”
Diamond smiled knowingly and Pippin conceded, hands rising in a gesture similar to his mother’s. “All right, all right! But you needn’t look so smug, my dear, just because my mother is taking your side in this.”
Diamond did not bother replying; she simply rocked serenely and caressed her belly, a little smile playing about the corners of her mouth.
“Pippin, dear, why don’t you get your wife a glass of punch?”
“That is an excellent idea, Mum. And while I’m at it I’m going to find Da and Uncle Saradoc and tell them about my plans. I’m certain they’ll be on my side.” Pippin whistled a tune as he strolled away, hands in his pockets.
“Oh, my! That lad.” Eglantine sank into a chair beside her daughter-in-law.
Diamond watched Pippin’s retreating back thoughtfully chewing on her lip. “He always seems to know exactly what he wants and how to get it.”
“Well, dear, that’s nothing new, is it now?” Eglantine followed Diamond’s gaze. “But I dare say this will be one time when he shan’t be allowed to have his way. We’ll take good care of you while the father-to-be waits along with the grandfather-to-be.”
Diamond nodded. “And hopefully at a very respectable distance. Perhaps we should send them off to the Horse and Waggon when the time is at hand?”
Eglantine laughed merrily and patted Diamond’s hand. “That sounds perfect, my dear! Yes, it does. The lads can busy themselves with a pint whilst we work on the important things, like helping my new grandson into the world.”
Now, how had that happened? Pippin jiggled the latch again, harder this time. The door wouldn’t budge. He shifted the precious pot of preserves into his opposite hand and called over his shoulder to Diamond, “It’s stuck fast. I’ll see if I can find something to pry it open.”
Diamond snorted in disgust and sank onto an old footstool next to the shelves in the Proudfoot’s root cellar. “You do that, Pippin. Meanwhile, I’ll just take a seat here in the gloom and think about how you got us into this mess. You and your strawberry preserves!”
“My love, you sound upset.” Pippin didn’t look, but he knew she was rolling her eyes at him. He tried to lighten the mood as he pried at the door with the claw end of a hammer he’d found. “Why, you remind me of Pansy, my mum’s old goose. She used to sputter like that too, whenever she was displeased.” Pippin laughed as he worked. “Of course, it was usually me she was upset with so I’d be on the run with my catapult out, ready to pelt her in the bum with a pebble--”
Diamond crossed her arms over her stomach and made her displeasure known in a loud voice. “I am not laughing, Peregrin Took, and is this really the proper time for a trip down memory lane? You’re comparing me to a goose? Not just a goose, but one you pitched pebbles at whenever she was upset with you?”
“Ah, well, I suppose you had to see her in order to appreciate what I’m talking about,” Pippin said, concentrating on the latch.
“Well, you are reminding me of my grandfather’s foolish old goat at the moment! He was as stubborn as you and he never knew when to leave well enough alone, either.”
Pippin whirled, the door latch temporarily forgotten. His mouth dropped open. “You’re calling me an old goat?”
“A foolish old goat,” Diamond corrected him.
“You think I’m stubborn and foolish? And old?”
“Well, you may not be old in years, but you’ve certainly been acting like it. Fussing about and carrying on, not willing to take no for an answer, and not listening to a thing I’ve said today, and then dragging me off into a strange root cellar to look for a pot of strawberry jam, all because you and Sancho were reminiscing about old times.”
Pippin’s eyes widened. “But. . .you insisted on coming with me! You said I’d never find it on my own and you’d best accompany me or I’d be gone all day and miss out on the rest of the festivities.”
“Well, that was true enough, wasn’t it? You’re so easily distracted, after all.”
“But that’s not the point. I’d have preferred you stay resting in your chair in the shade and let me just dash off and get the jam. Sancho told me just where I’d find it, and after all, I’ve been in this cellar enough times as a lad. Sancho and I used to sneak in here and pinch pots of jam all the time when we were small. And anything else we could get out hands on to eat, I might add--”
“But I knew you’d get talking with the lads and drinking ale,” Diamond interrupted, “and forget all about me sitting there alone and uncomfortable, and with no one to talk to.”
“What? But Mum was with you, as well as Pervinca and Estella! And even Merry, for a while. Why, I’d never leave you all alone - you know that! How could you think such a thing? Besides, no one’s been into the ale yet. Well, at least not into it very much,” Pippin corrected himself. “Except for Uncle Teo, that is. My love, I believe your delicate state is getting the best of your sensibilities.”
“My delicate state?” Diamond fumed, looking like she had a great deal more to say when she abruptly doubled over, clutching her belly. “Oh!”
“What’s wrong?” Pippin dropped the hammer and rushed to his wife’s side, catching her as she wavered dizzily and easing her to the floor.
Diamond wailed, “My baby cannot be born in a cellar! Do something Pippin!”
Pippin looked about wildly then pounded on the door with both fists, yelling at the top of his lungs. As Diamond’s groans became louder, Pippin grew more frantic looking for a way out. As a last resort, he kicked the door. The only result was a wail that rivaled his wife’s cries and the realisation he had most likely broken a toe. Despite his efforts, the door would not budge.
Pippin started to roll up his sleeves, glancing about the dim space. Spying several bags of flour lined up next to the door of the larder, he limped in that direction. Feeling around in his pocket for his knife he drew it out and severed the string holding one of the sacks closed. He quickly inspected it, deciding it would have to do. “Now if only I could get my hands on a kettle of hot water, but I suppose that will have to wait,” he mumbled under his breath.
“What are you doing? And what are you muttering about?” Diamond demanded before she doubled over again.
The pains were obviously coming harder and faster and Pippin thought he’d never seen her more frightened.
“Preparing to deliver my baby.”
Pippin sounded like he meant business, and in spite of her pain, Diamond was taken aback. She stared at the firm set of his jaw. Despite all their good-natured jesting, she knew he only had her best interest at heart. But – her husband attending the birth of their child instead of the midwife? She opened her mouth to protest but another wave of pain overwhelmed her and she whimpered.
Pippin forced himself to remain calm. “Everything will be all right, my love. I’m going to take care of you.” Pippin sank onto one knee and touched her shoulder tenderly.
“But this isn’t the way it’s supposed to happen! Get me out of here! Please, Pippin!” Her objections ended on a long sob.
Pippin winced. Could he do this? He really had little choice unless someone noticed they’d gone missing, and soon. “Shh, my love. I’ve helped with plenty of birthing on the farm. This certainly can’t be much different--”
“What? Peregrin Took! I am not giving birth to a, a, a. . .a calf! Or, or. . .or a goat! Or. . .even a wee lamb!” Diamond paused to pant heavily. “ When she caught her breath again she continued her rant, “This is a child! Our child! And, and I, I. . .” Her objections were interrupted by another labour pain and she twisted Pippin’s arm until both howled.
“What on earth was that?” Sapphire nearly dropped her tray load of teacups as she abruptly halted beside the kitchen door. Eglantine bumped into her back, saucers and plates crashing to the ground. Shards of glass sprayed in every direction, but both were oblivious as they strained their ears. The sound came again, a muffled cry.
Eglantine grasped her friend’s arm, eyes wide. “Why, it sounded like--”
“What’s the matter, Mum?” Sancho was close behind with more of the dirty dishes.
Sapphire plopped her tray on a table and dashed to the cellar door. She tugged frantically on the handle but nothing happened. Sancho intervened, grasping the latch and jiggling it with a long practiced hand. “You know it always sticks. Has for years.” He yanked the door open. Squinting into the dim light they gaped at the sight.
Diamond Took had her newborn infant gathered in her shawl, cradled to her breast, while Pippin tended to her quietly.
Sancho overcame his surprise swiftly and grinned openly at his friend. “Heavens, you just had to be the centre of attention, even on my wedding day, Pip? I see you found the strawberry jam, though.”
“Oh! Oh, mercy!” Eglantine elbowed Sancho out of the way and dashed in.
“Oh, hush, Sancho,” Sapphire admonished, hurrying down the steps to assist Eglantine with Diamond. “Whatever happened, my dear? Are you all right?”
Diamond smiled up into her husband’s face. Pippin’s eyes twinkled with pride and relief. “I’m fine. Thank goodness Pippin was with me. I don’t think I could have done this without him at my side.”
“What are you giggling about, my dear?”
Eglantine gave a start. “Why, I thought you were sound asleep, Pad.” Her husband smiled and gave a slight shake of his head.
“Almost, but not quite.” He rose and stood at her side, gazing down into the newborn’s face with a look that seemed to Eglantine to be one of awe. “I can’t take my eyes off him.”
Eglantine nodded and planted a gentle kiss on the tiny forehead. The infant stirred. “I’d better get young Faramir Took back to his mother. He’ll be getting hungry again soon.”
Paladin took his grandchild from her, cradling him close. “Who’d have thought, Tina? Our lad, all grown up with a lad of his own. I’m glad I’ve lived long enough to see this day.”
“I need to get used to that odd name. I never dreamed they would name him that.”
“It’s different, all right. This child’s namesake must be an extraordinary man indeed, for our son to make such a break with tradition.” Paladin smiled, using his thumb to stroke one soft cheek. A tiny fist shot into the air and waved about. Faramir opened his mouth and let loose a hearty wail. Paladin chuckled and winked at his wife. “He wants to be fed. I can absolutely see his likeness to our Pippin!”
Eglantine laughed until she needed to dab at her eyes with one corner of her apron. It felt good. The day had been outlandish; it’s ending, a new beginning.
Published 25 January, 2010