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This was first posted on Silk Screen Views.
PART TEN – THE WHITE TREE
Perry took her to the top of a hill, where they sat down in the lee of the great copper beech that crowned its summit. He produced a knife which he flipped open and used to deftly cut the melon in half. He cut off a generous slice for Tamsyn, and as he handed it to her she cast a curious glance at the knife.
“That’s looking a bit battered,” she commented.
“Family heirloom,” Perry said. “It’s been handed down from father to son for generations. It is said that it belonged to Pippin the Great.”
“Really?” Tamsyn said, looking at him with wide eyes. “But he must have been dead–”
“Nearly two thousand years,” Perry finished for her. He looked down at the knife and said, “Of course, there’s no way that this is the exact same knife. The blade and handle have been replaced many times by now. I think it was my grandfa who last replaced the handle. But still, in essence it is the same knife.”
Tamsyn ran her finger across the blade. “Do you think he took it with him, to the south? Did he cut his apples with it in Minas Tirith?”
Perry shrugged. “Maybe, I don’t know.” Then he raised his head and gave her a pensive look. “You’re such a mystery, Tam. You’re surprised at certain things, have no knowledge of other things that every hobbit knows, yet you’ve heard of Pippin and you know of the War of the Ring. How?”
She sighed. “Some of this you’ll still need to hear from Radagast, but… You know the Red Book of Westmarch?”
He snorted. “Of course. Every hobbit family has a copy, even if it’s the only book they own. We may prefer our way of life here, and keep our dealings with the big folk to a minimum, but every hobbit in the Shire has heard of Frodo and Samwise, and Merry and Pippin, and everyone is proud of the important role hobbits played in that war.”
Tamsyn nodded. “Well, that book… I’ve read it.”
He stared at her in disbelief. “How?”
“Someone… A man from my world published it as a book, a work of fiction. I don’t know how he obtained it – maybe Radagast does – but it became world-famous. I have read it many times. Does your copy have a foreword called ‘Concerning Hobbits’?” Perry shook his head and she shrugged. “Our version has. It explains what hobbits are, what they’re like. Everything I know about hobbits and the Shire I know from that book.”
Perry remained silent, and she nibbled at her melon, staring into the distance. “When I was a child, I lived that book,” she reminisced. “I wanted to be Arwen, and marry Aragorn. I cried for Frodo, when he had to go to the Undying Lands.” Then she focused on Perry again and added, “To meet Pippin’s descendants… It’s almost too much to take in.”
“I know how you feel,” Perry said with a wry grin, handing her another slice of melon.
“What of Merry’s family?” Tamsyn asked, taking another bite. “There was a genealogy in the book… Pippin married Diamond of Long Cleeve, didn’t he? But I’m sure it mentioned no wife for Merry.”
“He married Estella Bolger,” Perry said. “His descendants have been Masters of Buckland, just as my ancestors have been the Thains. The friendship between the Tooks and the Brandybucks is as strong now as it was then. Sarry is my best friend, for all that he lives in Buckland.”
Something clicked in Tamsyn’s head. “Sarry… Saradoc? Your sister’s husband?”
Perry smiled and nodded. “Diamond’s the only woman worthy of him,” he said with pride in his voice.
Tamsyn glanced at him. “Does he… Could you not have married his sister, like he married yours?” She plucked at her skirt, unsure of whether she actually wanted to hear the answer, but then Perry gently took her shoulders and pulled her to him until her head was in his lap.
She looked up at him, but his gaze was fixed in the distance, even if his hand was stroking her stomach. “Sarry has three brothers,” he said eventually. “No sisters.”
“Oh,” she said, feeling relieved and sorry for him at the same time.
“What about you?” he asked. “How many brothers and sisters do you have?”
She smiled sadly. “None.”
“What?” he said, genuinely shocked. “No siblings at all?”
“No, none. My mother died when I was four, and my father never remarried.”
“So your mother is dead, your father is dead, you have no siblings… It sounds very lonely to me.” He transferred his hand to her cheek and caressed it softly. “Is there anyone at all?”
“Well, there’s Andy,” she admitted. “He’s the best, maybe even the only friend I have.”
Perry’s hand twitched. “Friend?” he asked, his tone just a tad too casual.
Tamsyn bit back a grin and nodded. “Yes, a friend, never more than that. He’s more like a brother, and besides, he’s gay.”
Perry gave her a puzzled look. “What, he’s happy?”
It took a moment for Tamsyn to realise that the term was unfamiliar to him, then she clarified, “He loves men, not women.”
“Oh!” he said, understanding dawning on his face.
“What do you call it here?”
“We don’t call it anything. Most hobbits pretend it doesn’t happen. I don’t think it’s right – it’s not like they choose to be that way – but…” he shrugged and made a helpless gesture. Then he looked ahead again and added quietly, “Some say that Merry and Pippin were like that. That they loved each other more than they loved their wives. I don’t know whether that’s true. They did only have one child each, and in the end they went to Gondor together, leaving everyone behind. They’re buried there, with King Elessar.”
“It must have been hard on their wives if that’s true,” Tamsyn mused. “What was Merry’s child called?”
“Figures. Both named their son after the man they admired most.”
They were quiet after that, both lost in thought as Perry fed small pieces of melon to Tamsyn until it was all gone. Eventually he peered up at the sky.
“About mid-afternoon, I’d say. Want to see Tuckborough for real? We can go to the White Tree.”
“You have a sapling of the white tree here?” Tamsyn asked, surprised.
He chuckled. “No, it’s the inn. Almost as famous as the Green Dragon in Hobbiton.”
“Sure, why not?”
“Great!” he exclaimed, yanking her upright with him. “I can show you off to my friends!”
* * * * *
Tamsyn’s impression of Tuckborough was favourable. Most houses were built of mud and thatch rather than being built into a hill like Great Smials, but they all had the basic hobbit architecture of round doors and windows, and the streets were wide and well-swept. She stopped by one of the houses, judging it with her architect’s eye, and wasn’t surprised to see that it was solid as a rock.
When they reached the White Tree, Perry took her hand. “Are you ready for this? You’ll probably get another cross-examination like yesterday at dinner.”
She shrugged. “I survived that one, didn’t I?”
He beamed, then led her inside. He was immediately greeted by a group of three boisterous hobbits in a corner, hugging mugs of ale. “Bill, a pint for Perry here!” one of them shouted, and Perry sent a questioning look at Tamsyn.
“Uh, pint of whatever you’re having?” she suggested.
“Make that two, Bill,” he called, then turned to his friends, who had noticed the exchange and were now watching them with interest.
Perry plonked himself down on the bench opposite them and gestured to Tamsyn. “Guys, this is Tamsyn Moriarty, from the Westmarch. She’s passing through on her way to Buckland. Tam, this tall fellow is Tommy Bracegirdle. The one in the middle is Dongo Baggins, and the fat one on the right is Boar Proudfoot.”
Tamsyn raised an eyebrow as she sat down next to him. “Boar?”
“He grunts like a boar when he eats. Come on guys, lost your tongue?”
“Ashgtfgl,” Tommy said, staring at Tamsyn, and Perry reached over and shut his mouth for him.
“It’s rude to stare, Tom, and that counts for the two of you as well. Cut it out, you’re making her uncomfortable.”
All three of them blushed and looked at their mugs, mumbling apologies. At that moment, Bill placed a mug on the table in front of Tamsyn, and she swallowed when she saw it. She’d forgotten that a pint would be twice as big, since she was now only half the size she was used to. When she took a tentative sip, however, she found that it was the tastiest ale she’d ever had. “Mmm, good stuff!” she said to Perry.
“Told you. Want something to eat as well?”
“Please, I’m starving. That melon was nice, but hardly enough.”
“Shh, keep your voice down,” Perry hushed her. “See that guy over there?” He indicated with his head, and Tamsyn nodded. “That’s Colman Chubb, Tolman’s son.”
“Ah, I see,” she said, and met Dongo’s astonished stare when she turned her head back.
He looked from Perry to her and back, then narrowed his eyes. “You’ve been stealing melons and you’ve taken her?”
“Not just that,” Tamsyn said before Perry could reply, “It was me who actually got one. Perry only managed to set off the alarm.”
“She’s a natural,” Perry added with a smug grin.
“Are all the girls in the Westmarch like you?” Boar asked. “Because if so, I’m moving there.”
Tamsyn laughed. “I’m afraid not, they’re the same as over here. You’ll have to do with the Tuckborough lasses, Bo…” She sighed. “Perry, I can’t possibly call him Boar. What’s your real name?”
Boar blushed. “Bandogerontius. I think my parents got carried away a little.”
Tamsyn blinked. “Right. Okay. Nice to meet you, Boar.”
Boar blushed deeper, then grinned when his friends roared with laughter, and Perry wrapped his arm around Tamsyn’s shoulders, squeezing her fondly. The gesture wasn’t lost on his friends, and throughout the afternoon they kept giving him winks and knowing smiles when they thought Tamsyn wasn’t watching.
When it started turning dark Tamsyn nudged Perry, and he nodded. “Right, time to go. Mother will probably have dinner ready soon,” he said. “See you lot at the party?”
His friends nodded, and both Perry and Tamsyn stood up. “Nice meeting you,” Tamsyn said with a smile and a wave. Then, in an impulse, she wrapped her arm around Perry’s waist, and he grinned and draped his arm around her shoulders. In the periphery of her vision she saw heads bending together, and surreptitiously pointing fingers, and she bit her lip to stop from laughing.
“That’ll give them something to talk about,” she muttered once they were outside, and Perry chuckled.
“Shall we give them even more to talk about?” he asked, a mischievous smile on his face.
“Sure, why not?”
He turned to face her, placed a hand in her neck and kissed her. She slid her arms around his waist and pulled him close, and heard gasps coming from the doorway of the inn.
Neither of them cared, and when they finally turned their heads, whoever it had been had scarpered.
What will happen next? Find out in part eleven!