Periwinkle hadn't ever met her cousin Celandine before, or even heard her name mentioned very often, though Folco liked to tell tales from Brandy Hall often enough. Cellie and her brothers weren't close cousins like Folco, and they weren't the kind of cousins to do the outrageous things that merited stories being told about them like Merry and Frodo and Pippin, who of course had pulled their most outrageous trick of all just less than a year ago, had vanished into thin air and left the Shire to fall into the hands of Sackville-Bagginses and worse.
Periwinkle hadn't seen her cousin Buttercup since she was seven, that time they all went up to Needlehole and Buttercup had not wanted to talk to Periwinkle and her sister Poppy at all, even though they were almost the same age.
So it wasn't very difficult to call the one by the other's name, as Folco and Mother and Father said they must do, since the Men were looking for a Celandine Brandybuck who'd escaped from the party they were leading to the Lockholes, but a Buttercup Brownlock was of no use to anybody. Periwinkle made a decision not to think on what would happen if she said the wrong name, and Gorthol found out that the escaped prisoner was hiding out right under his nose on the Brownlock farm. Instead she made the whole thing a game in her mind, and told herself she mustn't misspeak, or they'd have to stop playing.
And Celandine helped her out by not telling her a thing about what it was to be Celandine Brandybuck. She looked different, first of all. Folco brought them a hobbit who was collapsing from exhaustion, who was dirty and bloodied and terrified. But that first night Mother sewed up the gash and got her cleaned up. Then they darkened her hair with walnut dye, and they gave her a warm bed to rest in and a new name to hide under.
The next day, as the two of them walked out together to draw water from the well, Periwinkle tried asking her about life at Brandy Hall (with all the cousins and all the servants running about, and with the cousins including such celebrities as Merry and sometimes Frodo), and all she got for an answer was "Louder." So Periwinkle prattled on about life on the farm, as if she didn't mind, as if she weren't starved for news from anywhere that wasn't here.
But that night her mother told her, "You're not to ask after Brandybucks or Burrowses, not even in a whisper."
"There was no one else around," she said, but her face was burning, and she understood that she'd been careless.
"Even when you think you're alone, even when you're thinking to yourself, you need to be thinking of how to keep her safe."
And Periwinkle nodded, hid her face and went off to bed in the room she shared with her sister, because she was too ashamed now to speak.
The day after that she asked her cousin Buttercup, "What's it like? At Needlehole, that is. I've only been there the one time."
And Celandine, who until then hadn't seemed to put much thought at all into being someone else, thought for a little while and then said. "It's colder, but not so different from here, all in all. It's quiet and it's lonely, and I wish you had come to visit more than the once."
That made Periwinkle feel good, if still a little bit scared (she didn't mind so much being scared – thought it better than being bored), to know she made good company, and to know Buttercup was thinking up a part for herself in the game. For she'd need that in order to fool the Men.
Her mother had told Periwinkle and Poppy even before Buttercup came that when the Men were around they needed to play that they were their friends. Happy to have them visit, happy to share their food, happy that the Shire was overrun. "You're two very pretty girls and you have beautiful smiles," she said, "and you're clever enough I know you can make them believe you really like them. But don't you start believing too much in your own act: you are never to speak to those ruffians if your father or I is not around. They are not our friends, and it's not safe for you to be alone with them. Do you understand?"
The girls had nodded and said of course, mother, and then too Periwinkle had chosen to concentrate on the part of it that was a play and how they were all very clever, and not the part where they were weak and helpless and had no other choice. They were not allowed to go to town by themselves either, for the road wasn't safe, and if Periwinkle had thought life on their farm was rather plain before, by now it was almost a prison – or would have been, if she hadn't had her games to play, and if she hadn't had cousin Buttercup's company.
She noticed that Buttercup was not as good at playing her part, even with the practice that Periwinkle gave her. Weeks passed and they spent all their days together, and Buttercup came up with some lovely stories about the villagers of Needlehole and the beasts of Bindbale Wood, but only when she was entertaining Peri and her family. She had trouble looking Gorthol in the eye the one time she had to lie to him. To Periwinkle that was the best part of all, knowing you were smarter than them, knowing they were only fools, for all they thought themselves so powerful.
Buttercup trembled under Gorthol's gaze, and she looked fit to scream when he gripped her wounded hand like he'd never let her go. But somehow she served him tea and cakes, and if she was uneasy he probably thought she was just shy, and he'd have his own ideas for how to cure her of it.
The sun was going down by the time the Men left that day, and Periwinkle saw Buttercup walking alone by the edge of the trees. She knew it was to walk off the nerves before she went back in the house, but she also knew what mother would say if she saw: she wasn't safe.
Not that Periwinkle could do much to stand up to a band of ruffians, but at least she wouldn't leave her Buttercup alone. "You don't need to say anything," she said quietly, "but let's just walk together, and walk back a little closer to the house."
Buttercup nodded, and didn't speak. And Periwinkle took her hand to lead her back, and felt the faded scar on the palm. She remembered how frightened she'd looked when first Folco brought her, but also remembered how brave, how she hadn't cried out and barely even flinched when Mother had sewn it up with her needle and thread.
They walked a few circles round the house, until Buttercup's breathing had slowed and her trembling had ceased. They stopped in the back, close enough to shout if they needed help, but out of view of any windows.
They didn't speak of Gorthol or of anything else that they feared. Just as they'd never spoken of the other Men who'd touched Buttercup or looked at her that way. Just as she'd never told Periwinkle the real story of how she got away, or how she got that cut. Periwinkle figured she would ask someday, when it was safe to speak out loud again, for she had to believe that day would come, even if none of them could tell when. For now she said, "I'm glad you came to stay with us, Buttercup. I hope it isn't all too dull for you."
Buttercup's laugh was a little like a gasp. "It's certainly not that."
Then Periwinkle took her hand again, took it gently, so that Buttercup could pull away easily if she wanted to, but she didn't. "Still and all, I hope you're not very homesick. Did you have a sweetheart before you came here... up away in Needlehole?"
"No, Peri," said Buttercup. "I never thought the lads and lasses of Needlehole were much worth my bother, truth to tell." But the way she said it, the ways her eyes grew distant as she spoke, made Periwinkle think that if Buttercup Brownlock didn't have a sweetheart, perhaps Celandine Brandybuck did.
"There's no one would mind then," Periwinkle said slowly, her breath careful and shallow, so as not to put her heart in danger, "if you were to show me how to kiss."
And Buttercup smiled, and she was present again, looking right into Periwinkle's eyes. "I'm not so experienced myself," she said, "that I'd have anything much to show you. But no one would mind at all if I kissed you, or if you kissed me."
"Then you wouldn't mind either?"
Buttercup still kept her scarred hand in Periwinkle's as she moved the other up to touch her shoulder, and rather than speak an answer aloud she moved close and let her lips touch Periwinkle's. Soft, full, but hesitant, just as Buttercup was.
And Periwinkle, who'd lived on this farm all her life and hadn't been off it in far two long, Periwinkle who'd never kissed another hobbit on the mouth, decided that for the sake of this kiss she could be bolder than the most experienced lass in Buckland or Tuckborough. She took the lead then, wrapped her free hand around Buttercup's waist and opened her mouth to cover Buttercup's lips and pull them in. Then she licked between them and Buttercup let her in easily. It's easy, after all, Peri thought as her tongue tasted Buttercup's, just playing a part. She needn't have waited so long to give it a try.
Mother called them inside before they'd had time to do anything more that night, and of course there was only so much they'd be willing to get up to in the open air. Buttercup stayed on at their home for another month and more, and the two of them were always together, but between the Men and the worry and winter filling in, they were never really alone. Once in a while they had a chance to kiss, and Periwinkle liked to think that she helped keep Buttercup warm and happy though a hard time, and that ought to be enough for her.
Then in the first week of Blotmath the news came from Budgeford that it was all over. A group of Boffin and Bolger relations stopped at the farm along their journey, and the Brownlocks served them tea and cakes with real happiness, and the visitors shared some of the ale they'd recovered from the ruffians. So they all celebrated together, and Periwinkle hugged her dear cousin Buttercup who had tears in her eyes because, at last, she'd be able to go home.
"And you'll come to visit me, won't you, Peri? You'll come to Brandy Hall, and you can meet my brothers. And we'll have some time to ourselves as well."
"I'd like that," Periwinkle said. "I'll come and see you... Celandine."
"Cellie," she said, laughing. "My friends call me Cellie."
Periwinkle nodded, and smiled, and then, when she couldn't stand anymore to look at Celandine's smile, hugged her tight.
Celandine rode off with Rodivar Bolger the next day.
And she was a better correspondent than the real Buttercup had ever been, wrote to the Brownlocks as soon as the Post was established again, and thanked them for all they'd done, and hoped they would come to see her at the Hall whenever they could make the trip. She told them the news that Moro Burrows – Moro who'd risked his life to help her get away, Moro who'd spent these last months in the Lockholes, and who'd been hurt, oh, very badly hurt by the Men there – Moro was home, and they were together.
Periwinkle's mother wrote back on behalf of the family, but Celandine's next letter was addressed to Periwinkle. Peri, I know I'd not have survived those months if it hadn't been for you, if you hadn't been so clever and so kind. Peri, won't you come and see me, and meet my family?
But Periwinkle found she hadn't much desire to go. For she had never been friends with Celandine, after all. She'd fallen in love with a lass from Needlehole, with walnut dark curls and a sad quiet smile. The happy hobbit who wrote to her from Buckland might as well be a stranger.
Periwinkle made a new game for herself: she decided to play the part of someone who didn't care.