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This was first posted on Silk Screen Views.
PART FIFTEEN – ALDERICK’S PARTY
There was nothing more Tamsyn could say to Faramir, so she followed Perry, trailing a few yards behind him. He stopped by the rain butt, took one look at her, then dipped a bucket into it and upended it over himself. He shuddered and shook himself, took a deep breath, then walked into the kitchen without looking back.
“Peregrin!” Esme sounded exasperated. “Don’t walk through the house when you’re dripping wet! Come and mop it up, you impossible boy!”
“I’ll do it, Esme,” Tamsyn said as she walked inside.
“But he… Are you sure?”
“Positive,” Tamsyn assured her, still looking at Perry as he walked towards the bathroom. “He deserves it, he’s been an absolute pleasure to look at.”
She knew he had heard her when he stopped and clenched his fists. He seemed about to look over his shoulder, but then he took another deep breath and walked on. Tamsyn knew she was affecting him, and felt a little cruel for encouraging it, but she wanted him to know that she found him desirable, and she could not help but want him to desire her back.
With Esme’s help she located a mop and took her time drying the floor, lingering outside the bathroom door until Perry came out. He was fully dressed in dry clothes and looked calmer, but one look at her and the intensity was back in his eyes.
“Would you like to see the family mathoms?” was the first thing he asked, his voice hoarse. Tamsyn nodded, and he grabbed her hand and dragged her with him, deeper into the house. The mop clattered to the floor, unheeded.
The corridors of Great Smials were all dimly lit, either by distant windows or by small oil lamps on the walls, but when Perry finally stopped and led Tamsyn into a room, it turned out to be windowless and pitch black. For a second they just stood, then Perry said, “Crap, I forgot to bring a candle.”
Tamsyn could feel him turn back to the door, but before he could open it again she caught him in her arms and ran her hands upwards along his body until she held his face in her hands. She tugged him down and met his mouth with her own, and Perry immediately pulled her close and deepened the kiss.
“I’m sorry, but I needed that first,” Tamsyn whispered when they came up for air, and Perry sighed.
“Tam, you’re driving me crazy,” he said, almost in a whimper.
“Perry, dearest, don’t you realise you do the same to me?” she replied. She didn’t wait for a response, but gently pushed him away instead. “Go on, get a candle.”
He left, leaving the door open this time, and in the gloom of the room a few shadows took shape, some with a gleam of metal or glass to them. When Perry returned with a candle he placed it on a small table beside the door. Tamsyn was peering intently at something dark in a glass cabinet which dominated the room, and her breath caught when it became clear what it was in the brightening light.
“Pippin’s Gondorian chain mail and livery,” Perry finished for her, stopping behind her and resting his hands on her shoulders.
“It’s beautiful,” she breathed.
“It’s old,” Perry amended. “Look at the mail, it’s nothing but rust. That cabinet hasn’t been opened in over a thousand years. If you touched anything in it, it’d crumble to dust.”
“It’s still beautiful,” Tamsyn insisted. “I wish I could see it more closely.”
“I can show you mine if you want,” Perry said, turning to a chest and opening it. He took out a pale, silvery shirt and a black tabard and put them on, belting them with a strip of black leather with a beautifully wrought buckle. The tabard was velvet, and Tamsyn couldn’t resist the luxuriously soft fabric, running her fingers across Perry’s chest and the embroidered white tree on the garment.
“This is yours?” she asked, her eyes wide.
He smiled. “The eldest son of Pippin’s direct descendant is still officially a soldier of Gondor, so we receive our own personal livery.”
“The king.” His smile widened at her surprise and he said, “You’ve got to give it to the Gondorians: their administration is impeccable. When the Thain’s eldest son is born, we send a message to the king in Gondor. Thirty years later a tailor comes to Bree and sends for us, and when we get there the livery is sewn, made to measure.” He stroked the tabard, then added, “I’m sure it’s not necessary for them to send someone all that way just to make a loose-fitting shirt and tabard, but I suppose it gives them an opportunity to check on us, gauge us. From our side, it’s like a rite of passage.”
His eyes turned distant, and he didn’t even seem to notice when he slipped his arms around Tamsyn’s waist and pulled her against him. “I’ve never felt so small as when I went to Bree,” he murmured. “Father went with me, and he’d warned me what to expect, but the reality was so much worse than I’d imagined… There are still hobbits in Bree, but not many, and there were just so many big folk that I was scared out of my wits. I barely saw anything.”
She could hear it in his voice, and cupped a hand around his face. “Strange to hear you talk about yourself as small,” she said. When he gave her a questioning look she clarified, “Look at it from my perspective: you’re at least half a head taller than me. As far as I know I’m five foot five, so that must make you nearly six feet tall.”
His eyes widened for a moment, then he smiled and kissed her forehead. “Leave it to you to give me a completely new look on things. Me? Six feet tall?”
She chuckled and rested her head against his shoulder. “It’s true though. I don’t feel small at all here. Everything is the right size, the right proportion, so in my head I’m the same height as I’ve always been. I have absolutely no idea how tall I am at the moment. How tall are you?”
“Three foot nine.”
“So that would make me… I don’t know, three foot four?”
“Sounds about right.”
She shrugged and put her head back against his chest. “Six feet, four feet, two feet, what’s the difference? You’re perfectly built, that’s all that matters.”
“Perfect?” he asked, lifting her chin.
“Yes, perfect. Wide shoulders, strong arms, narrow hips, long legs… Perfect.”
“And this coming from someone who doesn’t want to hear that she’s beautiful.”
“It depends on who I hear it from.” She looked at him and grinned, and he grinned back.
“You’re beautiful,” he obliged, then kissed her until she went dizzy. He seemed more relaxed now though, and when they broke apart he gave her a long, fond look before taking off his livery and carefully putting it away.
“Come,” he said, picking up the candle, “let’s have a bite to eat before we go.”
“Won’t there be food at the party?” Tamsyn asked.
He turned around and raised an eyebrow. “Don’t be daft, of course there will be.”
“So why eat here?”
That earned her an exuberant laugh. “I thought you understood hobbits?” His eyes sparkled, and Tamsyn gave him a grudging nod.
“Right, point taken. Let’s eat then.”
* * * * *
After lunch Tamsyn had to wait for everyone else to change, but it was worth it when Perry reappeared in a pale blue shirt, dark blue trousers and jacket, and with a deep violet embroidered waistcoat. He looked delectable, and beamed when Tamsyn expressed her approval.
Alderick Bolger lived on the other side of the village, right by a field, which was already heaving with partygoers when the Tooks and Tamsyn arrived. They paid their respects to the centenarian, and then Perry dragged Tamsyn into a confused whirl of introductions to too many hobbits for her to remember. He presented her to everyone as his girlfriend, and every time he did so it gave her a little flutter in her stomach that made her feel like she was fifteen again and in love for the first time.
There were three great roasting pits – which also served to keep the assembly warm in the late September evening – which held two whole spitted pigs and a large haunch of beef. There was a table with salads, cold meats, pies, a breathtaking assortment of cakes, and ale flowed like water. For several hours everyone simply grazed on the food and talked, then music started to drift across the field, at which point Faramir and Esme made their excuses and returned home.
Three hobbits had taken up station on a small platform near an open area. They played drum, flute and fiddle, and were cheerfully churning out dancing tunes with both enthusiasm and skill, which got everyone up and dancing.
Perry taught Tamsyn the basic steps to the dances, and she soon picked them up. Most of them involved little more than kicking your legs and twirling around, and Perry held on to her tight enough to keep her on her feet if she went wrong. She danced with him, then with Dongo, then Boar, then with Perry again, and after that she sagged down onto a bench next to him to catch her breath. Perry slung his arm around her shoulder and she snuggled close as he fed her a few slices of apple.
“Tommy doesn’t look very cheerful,” she remarked, nodding at Perry’s tall friend, who slumped morosely on a bench on the other side of the dancing area.
“That’s because he fancies Donna, but she’s going all moon-eyed over Freddy. See?” He indicated his sister, who was sat with three of her friends and kept looking off to the side.
“Right, and Fred?”
Perry snorted. “Look at him, in love with his food, he is.” And indeed, Freddy faced a mountain of food, and appeared oblivious to the world around him.
“So why doesn’t Tommy just ask her to dance? It doesn’t look like Freddy will complain.”
“He’s too shy. He keeps coming over for dinner, but every time Donna says something to him he just clamps shut and doesn’t say a word.”
Tamsyn rolled her eyes. “How do hobbits ever manage to breed?” she asked, exasperated. “Half of them run away when they’re kissed and the other half is too scared to talk to someone.”
Perry gave a wry chuckle. “Welcome to my world.”
Tamsyn absently picked at a sliver of apple skin between her teeth, looking at Donna with her head cocked, then resolutely stood up. “Let me see if I can do something,” she said. She gave Perry a lingering kiss, then walked over to Donna and plunked herself down on the bench next to the girl.
“Hey,” she said. “Enjoying yourself?”
Donna shrugged and mumbled something unintelligible.
Tamsyn bent closer. “No? Why not?”
Donna shrugged again. “Freddy’s not even looking at me,” she sulked.
“Which one is he? The handsome tall one over there?” Tamsyn pointed at Tommy.
“No, that’s Tommy Bracegirdle. Freddy’s over there.” Donna indicated Freddy, who was still intent on his food and did not appear to be even close to finishing. In the meantime, Tamsyn saw Perry saunter over to Tommy and sit down beside him.
“So dance with someone else then,” Tamsyn said.
Donna stared at her. “What?”
“Take it from me, if you want someone to take notice, you need to spend time with someone else,” Tamsyn said. “If they’re interested enough they’ll interfere. If they’re not… Well, then at least you’re still enjoying yourself.” She grinned at Donna, who smiled back shyly. However, her smile faltered again immediately.
“But no one is asking me to dance.”
“Why wait to be asked?”
Donna gave her an incredulous look, and Tamsyn wondered whether her suggestion was a breach of hobbit etiquette, or whether it was just something too bold for the girl to contemplate. She decided on the latter when Donna lowered her eyes, then peered around the benches through her lashes. “I’m not sure who I’d ask,” she muttered. “What if they say no?”
“Well, I reckon Tommy over there won’t. He’s been looking at you ever since I started talking to you.”
Donna’s head shot up and she stared at Tommy, who didn’t look away fast enough.
“I think he’s quite handsome,” Tamsyn said off-handedly. “Not nearly as handsome as your brother of course, but still. What do you think?”
“Tommy’s gorgeous,” Donna said with feeling, “but he never says a word to me, and he comes over for dinner at least once a week.”
Tamsyn resisted the urge to facepalm. “I think he’s shy, Donna.”
“Definitely. Go on, just take a deep breath, count to three and walk over. What’s the worst that could happen?” She gave the girl a gentle nudge, and all of a sudden Donna got the most resolute look Tamsyn had ever seen on the girl. She stood up and almost stomped over to Tommy, who had Perry whispering urgently into his ear. Tommy’s head shot up and he suddenly looked close to panic, but Perry muttered a few last words, then stuck his fingers in his friend’s side so he bolted upright just as Donna arrived.
What followed ranked amongst the most awkward scenes Tamsyn had ever witnessed. Donna twisted her hands into her skirt like a ten-year-old girl, and Tommy stood as rigid as a flagpole. They were talking, however, and then something amazing happened: Tommy moved and took Donna’s hand, and the girl’s smile in response was so radiant that Tamsyn could see him relax, even if his face still showed panic. She said something and dragged him with her, and his expression turned to wonder, then a shy smile as she turned a pirouette before him. Tamsyn was still watching them when two strong arms suddenly picked her up and twirled her around.
“You’re amazing!” Perry crowed, giving her the biggest grin ever, and she grinned back.
“So I’m told,” she said smugly.
“What did you tell her?” Perry asked as they both watched the couple waltz past them. Tamsyn told him, and he shook his head in wonder. “Didn’t think she had it in her.”
“And what did you tell Tommy?” Tamsyn asked.
Perry’s grin turned mischievous. “I told him that if he didn’t get up and dance with my sister right now, I’d steal all the poems he’s written about her and give them to her. He wasn’t convinced, but then I listed all his secret hiding places.”
“Ooh, you devious sod,” Tamsyn said admiringly, her eyes still following Tommy. “Poetry, eh? I think your sister’s the kind who would appreciate that stuff.”
“And you don’t?”
She shook her head. “Poetry is wasted on me. It’s all just so much pseudo-profound nursery rhyming to me.”
Perry’s mouth tickled her ear and his arms slid around her waist. “So what do you go for?”
She turned to him and smiled. “Coal-black hair and deep green eyes. Broad shoulders and narrow hips.” Then she twined her arms around his neck and pulled his forehead against hers. “Stealing melons. Bare-chested swordfighting. Roses on my pillow.”
She might have said more, but then Perry’s mouth covered hers, and for several long moments she lost herself in his kiss, forgetting where she was altogether. When she dropped her arms to his back and began to stroke it, however, Perry pulled back and gently pushed her hips away from him.
“Not this intense, not here,” he murmured, and Tamsyn gave a reluctant nod.
The band was still playing, the grass still packed with hobbits, and Tamsyn took Perry’s hand. “Dance?” she suggested.
Perry smiled, but shook his head. “You go, I’ll get us another drink.”
There’s trouble ahead! Find out what happens in part sixteen!