THE DWARF DAGGER
"Winkie, my love, do we really need to go?" Adalgrim turned the full force of his considerable Tookish charm on his wife. "After all, dear, travelling can't be that pleasant for you, in your condition."
"That's very thoughtful of you, Adalgrim," she responded dryly. She was not immune to his charm-she had married him after all-but she had learned to look past it. "But they are your relatives after all. And they are expecting us. I will not have it said that we do not know what's proper and owed to family." She folded another of little Paladin's nightshirts and placed it in the travelling case. "At any rate, the Great Smials are large enough. We do not need to spend that much time with Fortinbras and Lalia." She sniffed. There was no love lost between Periwinkle Took and the future Thain's Lady. "Besides, I know that you look forward to seeing your other cousins. And you know that your parents look forward to seeing the children."
He sighed. It was not as though he thought he'd be able to persuade her to stay away. And he did look forward to seeing his mother again, and even his father-though he always dreaded the initial disapproval of his father. Hildigrim had never approved of the wild behaviour that had caused Gerontius to send his son off to live at Whitwell. But now that Adalgrim had settled down with Periwinkle, he wished for them to return and live at Great Smials, and a visit there never began or ended without his father's urging that they do so. Adalgrim shook his head; they were happy here on the farm, and he knew Uncle Isumbras wasn't going to last forever. He had no intention of living at Great Smials once Lalia was lady. Poor Fortinbras!
"Pearl!" called Periwinkle, startling Adalgrim out of his thoughts. "Have you finished your packing yet?"
"Then help your sisters with theirs. I want us to be able to leave right after luncheon!"
Sixteen year old Primrose stuck her face in her parent's room indignantly. "I don't need Pearl's help, Mother! I'm nearly finished with my own packing!"
"Very well, dear," said her mother, examining one of Paladin's little shirts for any overlooked stains or tears, before folding it up as well. "I will come in and check on it in a few minutes, and make sure that you did not forget anything important."
Primrose rolled her eyes. Her father caught her eye, and raised an eyebrow at her reprovingly, and she ducked her face, abashed, before darting away once more. Adalgrim's lips twitched. Primmie was a handful, and he was amused at her assertions of independence, but he was not going to let any disrespect for her mother pass.
"Mama!" a little form raced into the room and barrelled into Periwinkle's legs. "I'm hungry!"
Adalgrim scooped his son up. "Mama's busy packing your things for our trip." He plopped Paladin atop his shoulders. "Let's go see what we can find in the kitchen, shall we?"
Ferumbras twitched uncomfortably.
"Now, lambie, stand still and let Mr. Banks check the fit of your jacket," Lalia crooned.
Ferumbras was not fooled by her sweet tone. There was steel behind it, and he'd have this new suit whether he wanted it or not. And he didn't want this one. For one thing it was black, and he hated black-it was far too hot. But black was supposed to be fashionable now, and his mother was determined that he would uphold his "position". Not for the first time he wished his Uncle Isengrim had sired children-six years ago the Thainship had descended on his grandfather and now his fate was sealed.
"Stand up straight, Ferumbras, darling," she said absently, fingering the back of his collar. "Mr. Banks, you did use the top quality velvet we had agreed on for collar and cuffs, did you not?"
"Yes, Lady Lalia." Strictly speaking, Lalia was not "Lady" yet, but Mr. Banks was nothing if not cautious. She would be the Thain's Lady sooner or later, and it was quite clear she was not the sort to forget any slight-real or imagined.
"I think you need to take in another quarter inch on the cuffs, Mr. Banks. And add another half an inch at the trousers. Also, I'm not very fond of those buttons; I think brass would be far better than bone."
The tailor nodded, hiding his disgruntlement. He knew from experience that he'd not see so much as a farthing until she was completely satisfied, and knowing her, she'd not be satisfied until time had run out and the lad needed the suit for Lithe. Then she would grumble and pout about it, and threaten to use someone else, but she'd pay, because the only other tailor in Tuckborough now refused to do any work for her.
Ferumbras looked out the window longingly. It was a gorgeous summer's day, and his Brandybuck cousins Dody, Dinny and Primula were out by the paddock watching the ponies. Uncle Gorbadoc and Aunt Mirabella had arrived last night, with all their brood.
There was a rap at the door to the apartment, and Lalia barked out "Get the door, Begonia!"
His mother's chambermaid was already at the door, and she turned to say, "It's Mr. Adalgrim and Mrs. Periwinkle, Mistress."
Lalia gave a long-suffering sigh. Of course, they'd just arrived, and courtesy required them to pay their respects and for her to bid them welcome, but there was no love lost; just as well to get it over with. Naturally they'd dragged all their brats along with them. And she noted with displeasure the swelling beneath Periwinkle's bosom (another one on the way, for goodness' sake)! All those lasses! She sniffed at the sight of the lone little lad. What had they named him? Something ridiculous starting with a "P" like all the other children.
Adalgrim and Periwinkle came in and gave her a rather insincere greeting, while the children made their courtesies very properly. Lalia turned to Ferumbras.
"Ferumbras, dearheart, why don't you take your cousins along to greet your other cousins! I'm quite sure the lasses would be very glad to see Primula…" That was a safe enough guess. Primula Brandybuck accounted Adalgrim's daughters as her very dearest friends. "Mr. Banks, you may go. Be certain to make all the changes which we have agreed upon."
Each in his own way relieved to be dismissed, Lalia's son and the tailor both made their exits with alacrity, Ferumbras with Pearl, Primrose, Peridot and little Paladin at his heels. As they left the sitting room, Ferumbras was startled when Mr. Banks cleared his throat, and said, "Master Ferumbras?"
Ferumbras turned in surprise. Mr. Banks had never actually spoken to him before, except to say "turn around" or "lift your arms" when he was being fitted.
"Master Ferumbras," he repeated, "the suit? I need to finish it according to your mother's specifications."
Ferumbras blushed to the tips of his ears. Of course he could not go anywhere in this horrible suit-it wasn't even hemmed yet. He looked at Pearl. "Can you wait here for me?" They stood in the apartment's entrance hall.
She was clearly suppressing a snigger, but she said "Certainly, cousin. We'll wait for you."
The lad darted to his room, and quickly donned his more everyday clothing-still more expensive and fancier than anything the others would be wearing, but it was what he had. He carefully folded the suit, and rushed back out, handing it over to the tailor, who bowed and took his leave.
Rory Brandybuck leaned on the top rail of the paddock, with one eye on his younger siblings, and another eye for the fine pony-flesh trotting about. But his attention was on the conversation of his companions, his older cousins Siggy Took and Bilbo Baggins. Siggy had recently become betrothed to one of the Brownlock sisters from Tuckborough, but Bilbo was still firmly a bachelor, and was twitting Siggy on his upcoming loss of freedom.
Although Rory had only just come of age a year ago, and the other two were now in their mid-forties, they had been good friends and his favourite cousins on the Took side of the family for as long as he could recall. Of course, there was Chop-no, he had to remember to call him Adalgrim now-who was a good deal older than all three of them, and had been the ringleader for many an escapade of mischief until a farm and marriage and four children had settled him down.
Bilbo and Siggy had settled down a good deal as well; the Fell Winter had done much to impress itself on lads who were in their tweens at the time, and Bilbo now reflected the Baggins opinion on such things as Adventures. Only fitting, thought Rory, since he's the Head of the Bagginses, now. But both of them had retained their rather irreverent sense of humour, at any rate.
Siggy was regaling Bilbo with Lalia's latest manoeuvre. "As you know, her birthday is right after Midsummer. Since any gifts given to her must be given before her birthday, she has been dropping hints right and left about the generous gifts she'll be giving."
Bilbo looked shocked. "But then people might feel obliged to give more expensive gifts to her!"
Siggy nodded. "Of course that's what she hopes will happen. But I think the only truly impressive gift she's planning is the one for the Thain. She's never given up trying to win over her father-in-law. Isumbras has never been impressed with her. He thinks, quite rightly, that she is unnaturally ambitious."
"So, has she let slip what she's giving him?"
"From what I've been told, it's a rather expensive dagger: pearl-handled and chased with silver, with a matching sheath. I believe one of her Clayhanger brothers had it off a Dwarf as part-payment for a leaf shipment."
Bilbo gave a shudder. "Sounds a rather ill-omened sort of gift to me. And nothing good ever comes of trying to meddle with the courtesies."
For most certainly, one thing drilled into young hobbits from their youngest age was that when it came to gifts, it was better to give than to receive. Anyone who tried to make of gift-giving a reciprocal occasion was thought of as excessively greedy and downright ill-mannered. Any occasion involving gift-giving was hedged about with an elaborate structure of etiquette designed to avoid any such vulgarity. Rory vividly remembered when his little cousin Gorbulas had left faunthood behind, how he had shocked the guests and mortified his parents by trying to keep the gifts he was meant to give. It was amusing now to recall, for Gorby had turned out to have a very generous nature in later years, but at the time it had nearly caused a scandal.
Siggy shrugged. "Some of those hobbits from the Southfarthing have more money than sense. Bracegirdles, Sackvilles, Clayhangers, they all seem to go in for the sort of ostentation that the rest of the Shire would find vulgar. Comes of the pipe-weed trade, and dealing with Men and Dwarves."
"You don't have to tell me about the Sackvilles, at any rate," said Bilbo with feeling. "Uncle Longo has been thoroughly corrupted by them." His expression was sour. Longo Baggins and his Sackville wife Camellia had not even the decency to attend his mother Belladonna's funeral two years before. He broke off suddenly, for they saw the approach of young Ferumbras, with his Whitwell Took cousins in tow.
Pearl grinned at the sight of her Brandybuck cousins perched upon the paddock rail; only Amaranth and Asphodel were not there. They were probably inside with their mother, or perhaps visiting with some of the other lasses who lived at Great Smials. They'd rather outgrown going about with their brothers, and probably thought themselves too old for it. But Primula leaped down with a shout, and ran to give the Took sisters an enthusiastic embrace. Paladin tried to run to her as well, with a squeal of "La-la!" which was his way of saying her name; to him "Primmie" was his middle sister, and he could not comprehend them having the same name. But Pearl gripped him quickly by his little collar and caught him up.
The four lasses were soon engaged in the happy chatter of their reunion; they'd not seen one another since the Buckland Spring Festival in Astron. Pearl teased Primula for wearing a frock, for at home in Buckland, Aunt Mirabella often allowed her youngest to run about in lad's breeches. Primula was a bit of a hoyden, fond of climbing trees, playing kick-the-ball and swimming in the river, and her mother said it was far easier to patch Dinny's old breeches than to be always mending new frocks.
Having been allowed to give "La-la" a smacky kiss, Paladin began to wriggle in his sister's arms. He wanted to go and greet his big lad cousins Dody and Dinny, so Pearl handed him over. He was soon squealing as they tossed him about, and then Dody settled him on his shoulders, where the faunt gripped his cousin's sandy hair, and chattered happily. Ferumbras meanwhile, stood about with the lads looking a bit wistful and awkward.
It seemed the reunion had only lasted a few minutes when Pearl glanced up to see her father, accompanied by Cousin Fortinbras and Uncle Isumbras, approaching.
They greeted the other adults amiably, and then Adalgrim turned to Pearl. "Pearl, your mother wants you to bring Paladin in for his nap."
"Yes, sir," she answered, going over to retrieve him from Dody, who had begun to look a bit harassed at the child's bouncing up and down on his shoulders. She was surprised to realize that Ferumbras was watching her, and even more surprised to hear him say...
"I'll walk back with them, then." He was blushing furiously.
"That's very hospitable of you, Rumble," said his grandfather in an amused tone. The Thain was the only person who used this nickname. His mother detested it, but could not protest to the Thain.
"Thank you, Grandfather," he replied, blushing even more.
"When you return," added Isumbras, "perhaps all you young people would like to go for a ride?"
There was a whoop of joy from all the teens and tweens, and grinning, Pearl put Paladin down and took his hand, and followed Ferumbras back into the smial.
Ferumbras glanced over at Pearl, and felt himself blushing again. He'd never noticed before how pretty she was. They were the same age, too, at least, almost. He'd had his birthday nearly a month ago, and she would be having hers in another two weeks.
He looked back for a moment at the others. Primula was the centre of attention, as usual, with her dark hair and striking looks. He'd often heard his aunts and uncles say she was the image of Aunt Mirabella at that age, except her eyes were blue instead of green. Peridot seemed to take after Cousin Periwinkle; she had warm brown eyes, and light brown hair, and tended to be rather quiet. Primrose was very Tookish, with a pointed face and green eyes and chestnut hair. But Pearl seemed to be a blend of both her parents, and looked nothing like either of her sisters. Her hair was a glossy light brown, but her eyes were green, and she had her mother's chin and nose. It gave her a character all her own.
"Do you know which apartment we've been given?" she asked. Up until Isumbras' wife had died a couple of years ago, the Whitwell Tooks had been given the same quarters every time they came, but Lalia thought it was a waste to save perfectly good guest rooms for a family that only visited briefly once or twice a year.
Ferumbras nodded, and led Pearl and her small charge through the maze of passages, wishing he could think of something to say, and to make conversation with her. He suddenly realized they were near the Thain's mathom room-not one of the more common ones, with everyone's cast-offs, but the one where the Thain and his immediate family kept some of the more valuable items. "Would you like to see something? It would only take a moment." he asked hopefully.
Pearl was a bit surprised, but curious. "See what?" she asked cautiously.
"Here," he said, opening the door. It was not kept locked-Isumbras had said testily to Lalia's suggestion that it should be, "we are not in the wilds of Buckland", and that was that.
Intrigued, Pearl followed him in. This was not the sort of mathom room she was used to. Most of them were dim and dusty, and filled with jumbles of cast offs. This room was neatly kept; there were low cabinets and chests in the centre of the room, and shelves from floor to ceiling against each wall. Nothing had simply been tossed in and forgotten-all were in boxes or caskets or bags or baskets, neatly arranged on the tables and shelves. A skylight let in a shaft of sunlight, and the dusty motes illuminated the lower shelves, which were filled with several volumes of the Yellowskin. Pearl let go of Paladin's hand and followed Ferumbras. Paladin toddled after his sister.
On top of one of the cabinets was an item not in a box. It was apparently a sheathed dagger, decorated with pearl and silver on haft and sheath. Pearl's eyes grew wide at the sight of it. Ferumbras glanced at it and shrugged.
"It's a Dwarf dagger. Mother got it from Uncle Bardo. She's giving it to Grandfather for his birthday. But this is what I wanted to show you." He moved over to one of the shelves. "Magic."
"Magic?" Pearl asked, following him.
"You've heard of Great-Grandfather Gerontius' shirt-studs, haven't you?"
Pearl's eyes grew wide at the thought of seeing those legendary shirt-studs.
As Pearl and Ferumbras went over to some shelves at the far side of the room, little Paladin gripped the cabinet, to steady himself. He could just see over the edge of it. What was that shiny thing? He reached out a chubby hand, and soon had it tightly gripped in his little fist. Sitting down with a thump, he wondered if it tasted good. Quite fortunately, the dagger was well-fastened into the sheath by a cunning wire.
Meanwhile, Ferumbras had taken down a small casket. He opened it. "See, here they are!"
"How do they work?" asked Pearl.
"No one knows. When Great-Grandfather died, the magic word that worked them was lost. But they are still magic. No one can fasten them or unfasten them without the word." And he demonstrated. Though they appeared to fasten just like ordinary shirt-studs, as soon as Ferumbras released them, they fell away.
"Oh! Let me try!" And Pearl also tried to close them, with no more luck than her cousin.
Sitting on the floor by the cabinet, Paladin tried to take a bite of the shiny thing. But it was disappointing; it looked very pretty, but it tasted cold and nasty. He dropped it in disgust, and with a little kick from his furry foot, it disappeared beneath the cabinet. He was getting tired; he did not try to stand up again, but crawled around to where he could see Pearl and that other lad cousin, laughing over something. He watched them with drooping eyes, and then lay down upon the floor and was instantly asleep.
Ferumbras took the shirt-studs and put them back in the casket, and Pearl said with a start, "I had better get Paladin to Mother!" She looked around, almost panicking at the realization that her brother was not at her skirts. Her expression softened as she saw him asleep, and she bent down and picked him up, holding him over her shoulder. "Poor baby!" she said. "We really need to go! Besides, remember, we've been promised to go riding."
They passed out of the room, Ferumbras closing the door behind him, neither of them noticing that the Dwarf dagger was no longer on top of the cabinet.