Blithe the Days of Summer – Part 2
There was a strange fluidity between the pair of them–the mare and the elf. Brassica had noticed that Celebarad seemed to have a soft spot where the horses were concerned, especially his own Miriel. If Brassica hadn’t been clinging quite as tightly as she was, she might not have glimpsed the pure, unbridled joy that they both seemed to get from simply running free.
Brassica, tragically, didn’t quite manage any emotion other than stark terror until Miriel was urged to the crest of a hill and then slowed to a stop with a word from the elf. From this vantage point, Brassica could see the Festival Grounds, and see that they were indeed a place of great merriment, and there were certain to be more fireworks to come. “There!” she cried, and pried her fingers free long enough to point, and thump the elf on the shoulder. “Go slowly!” she scolded. “I feel about to fly off the back of your silly horse, for whatever the two of you think you’re flying on the ground.”
“We meant no harm,” Celebarad answered contritely, and their pace became a more reasonable trot as they rode down the grassy slope to the Festival Ground.
What once must have been a grand pavilion in the old days of the Western Kingdoms was now the heart of the festival ground. Tents had been pitched around it, and lanterns strung between poles. Banners and bunting decorated the place in a flair of colour, and a host of smells and sounds assailed the senses. Brassica had eaten not two hours since, but her stomach grumbled as though she’d starved it all day, when the aromas of pie and roast pig and the yeasty scent of ale wafted past her nose. And there were people!
Real people–by which Brassica meant hobbits, and not only big folk. They danced on the pale golden flagstones of the pavilion, or feasted around tables beneath the colourful canvas tents, or sat talking and laughing on the grassy ground. As she was noticed at the edge the grounds with Celebarad, friendly greetings and hallos were called from every corner. Mugs were raised and toasts were called by tipsy hobbits and townsfolk alike, and as another flight of fireworks rocketed into the air, Brassica felt a wave of dizzy, delirious happiness surge through her.
Celebarad halted the sorrel again, and she pranced restlessly as her riders dismounted at the edge of the grounds. “Le hannon, muin mellon,” he murmured to the horse, and Brassica managed to grasp that it had been a simple little thank you, and thought it quite sweet.
Stretching on tiptoe, she patted the horse’s shoulder, as high as she could reach. “Thank you, Miri! I’ll fetch you an apple if I can find one!” As an aside, she added. “Even if you run like a crazy horse.”
“She runs for love of freedom, and the grass and the sky and the night,” Celebarad declared, and then uttered a soft instruction in Elvish. Miriel turned and trotted up the hillside, and then a canter, and then a full gallop as she vanished over the hilltop.
Brassica managed a full gallop herself, as she bounded into the festival ground, her bare feet pounding on the flagstones. Here it was Celebarad who was shy, faced with Breelanders who stared at him without a trace of subtlety, and hobbits who he’d been warned could be wary of big folk. He hung back and took an intense interest in one of the tent poles, but Brassica was in her element as she approached a likely looking table of carousing hobbits. “Hallo, hallo! Are any of you Shirefolk, or are you all from Bree? I’m from up in Oatbarton, I’m Brassica, I’m Musty Colewort’s oldest girl! Only girl, really. Do any of you know the Barley Water? That’s our inn. What’s all this big to-do about, then? Will there be any more fireworks? I don’t suppose there’d be any apples about, would there?”
Where big folk tended to try and take Brassica’s introductory bombardment of questions one at a time, the gathering of five hobbits attempted to answer them all at once.
“Colewert, you say? There’s Colewerts on my mother’s side…well, unless you mean Colewort, in which case I think there’s a stray cousin or two on me da’s side married off to some Coleworts…do you know a Laburnum Colewort? Or…hmm, let’s think now. How about Old Hammy Burdock-Colewort? I’m Bungo Took, it’s a pleasure to meet you!”
“We’re all Breelanders! Do go home to visit in the spring though, and that’s a fact–well, actually Primrose, here, is visiting for Summerdays’, all the way from Stock, isn’t that right, Primmy?”
“Don’t call me Primmy, Aubergine Took, you know how I hate it–I’m Rose Proudfoot, by the way, lovey. I’m sure you know of the Proudfoot family of Stock? What in the world is that getup you’re wearing? You simply must let me lend you a dress if you plan on coming to the festival tomorrow. Though I daresay, everything I own will clash with that hair of yours…”
“The Barley Water, you don’t say! Please tell me you’ve got the recipe for your ma’s apple crumble! It’s been keeping me up nights since I had a bowlful, and that’s nigh on five year ago! Saaaay, I remember you! Red-headed lass, I should’ve realized! You dropped a whole basket of crockery in the middle of the meal and ran to hide in the hayloft you were so embarassed! Hah!”
“Lass, you ought to know that these were just a handful of test fireworks–they’re sussing out the positioning and the trajeckeries and all that hullabaloo–the real show’s tomorrow, an hour past sundown, sharpish!”
Apparently Brassica hadn’t the least difficulty in processing the deluge of information, laughing and jabbering answers back at her kinfolk, and a mug of ale had made its way to her hand and an apple into her pocket, before she realized that Celebarad hadn’t joined her at the table.
“Dear folk, please excuse me!” she announced politely, and hopped down from her chair to go and seek her friend. He wasn’t difficult to find–the only elf in the region, he had retreated back to the edge of the grounds, and perched himself on a low wooden fence to watch the goings on. Carefully carrying her mug of ale, she approached and tilted her head to the side questioningly. “What’s wrong? Don’t you want to come and meet everyone? There’s ‘Bergine and Primmy–I’ll call her Primmy, whatever she says, Proudfoots are too stuck up by half–and Bungo, ‘Bergine’s brother, and Hal and Aldish Brandybuck–they might be my third or fourth cousins on my Ma’s side, we haven’t quite figured it out just yet…I was going to tell them all about our travels, you should come help me!”
Celebarad shrugged shyly. “Oh…I do not have very much of the Westron, still. There are no elves here? In the bridge town…the men were not glad of the sight of us, do the countryfolk of Bree take the same offense at the sight of the Fair Folk?”
Brassica bristled at the mention of Trestlebridge–Celebarad wasn’t wrong, elves were an uncommon sight in the town, and there had been a fair deal of pointing and whispering and muttered commentary on Beldrieth and Celebarad’s presence–she hadn’t known that the elf had taken it quite so hard to heart, but after the Sindarin-speaking, Elf-accustomed Dunedain, she supposed it had been a rather harsh change. But she had always heard good things said about the men of Breeland, and hoped they’d have the decency to be well-mannered, even for all that Elves were a queer sight in these parts. “Bother Trestlebridge and its narrow-minded folk!” she denounced the town firmly, and quaffing a mouthful of ale to mitigate her displeasure. “I’ve said in the past about hobbits, we’re a friendly lot, allowing we get to know who our friends are–and you’re a very dear friend of mine, and I’ll brook no bad manners on anyone’s part!” She drained her mug and tossed it over her shoulder to shake her small fist threateningly in the air. “And just let anyone try and be rude, I’ll hide ‘em all!”
This solicited a laugh from Celebarad, and then Brassica knew she’d won him back from the brink of this uncharacteristic shyness. “I would be glad to meet your friends.”
Coaxing accomplished, she led the elf back to the table where she’d left the hobbits, all of whom were clearly dying of curiosity about Brassica and her utterly singular companion, but had the decency and the delicacy not to say one word about him until Brassica made a formal introduction, which she proceeded with in an appropriately formal fashion, “Friends, this is Celebarad. He’s from a very long way away in some place called Lorien, and he’s my very good friend. He’s an elf, and he’s got a sword–I’ve got a sword too, in actual fact, since he’s the one who gave it to me, but we left them both at our camp over the hill–we’re traveling together!”
This was met with a chorus of “Hullos!” and “how-do’s!” and a “A great and honorable pleasure to be making your acquaintance” from Primmy.
Still slightly timid, Celebarad bowed gracefully to the small assemblage of hobbits. “I am very great in fortune to have met Brassica,” he said sincerely, and smiled. “I am even greater in fortune that she should wish for me to know her kindred, for you are kind folk.”
Whether it was some instinct or just his good fortune, the elf had done precisely the right thing in complimenting the hobbits, as it proved him immediately worthy of the coveted title “All Right as Big Folk Go” and had the hobbits striving to live up to the notion that they were indeed “kind folk” and in fact the kindest of folks that could possibly be found. Each of the hobbit lads hopped from his chair to offer it to the elf, in spite of two or three being free at the table already, and Primmy produced a bottle of Brandywine, pouring a generous flagon for their guest. ‘Bergine was not even remotely shy around Celebarad, and when he sat next to her, she made herself a talkative and friendly seatmate, quizzing him about words in Elvish and where he’d come from and what their travels had been like.
Brassica was prodded–without much resistance–into telling the tale of their adventures, and she told them brilliantly, with a great deal of expression and occasional moments of audience participation. At one point she hopped on the table and did a stalking, ravaging impression of Percy Alroyd, which set Primmy to feeling quite off-colour, and she hastily made her excuses and retired for the evening. Everyone else thought it a splendid interpretation of a brigand villain, and imitations were performed all around the table. Brassica gleefully recounted what she had reappropriated into a great and tragic love story between Llythne and Torogethir, which set ‘Bergine clasping her hands and sighing. Then she hushed her voice down into a spooky whisper, and related their ride across the Fields of Fornost. Bungo got white as a ghost himself, and declared that he didn’t think he’d ever sleep again. As a cap to the tales she’d told, she related the finer points of her day-long rant about the Inn at Trestlebridge, and was answered with hearty agreements all around.
The fireworks had ceased, but Brassica knew there were to be more, and she knew she’d be back tomorrow bright and early. So she wasn’t especially bothered, when Celebarad tugged on her sleeve and regretfully informed her that they had best head back to camp, for the next watch was his and he had promised to return. It was fortunate that he had realized this early, for there was a necessary amount of fussing around getting goodbyes said and bundling up a satchel for Brassica to carry back to camp for her other friends, which was stuffed with cold pies and tarts from an earlier feast, and flasks of cider and jars of jam and a loaf of bread. “For breakfast!” ‘Bergine declared, once this package was neatly assembled and entrusted to Celebarad. “And for you!” She presented Brassica with a yellow cotton dress, with a bright red bustier and an over-skirt of gathered burgundy linen, which she had retrieved specially for her new friend.
The hobbits parted company with a great deal of hugging and cheerful farewells, and they were all much impressed by the way the elf handled the great golden mare who appeared at the edge of the festival ground. They were even more impressed when Brassica clambered up behind him, and managed not to shriek as the horse went galloping away.
Celebarad seemed to remember about midway through the trip back to camp that Brassica was not a great fan of galloping, and slowed Miriel to a trot. Fuzzily brained as she was from the ale and the wine, Brassica hadn’t even been particularly distressed by the speed–she could almost have considered herself to enjoy it, but she was glad to be slowed down so she could hear herself think over the thunder of Miriel’s hoofbeats. “What a lovely night! What a simply splendid evening, wouldn’t you say?”
“Splendid,” the elf agreed, though Brassica wasn’t certain he really knew the meaning of the word, as he patted Miriel’s neck absently. “Your folk are greatly taken with talking,” he observed.
Brassica laughed. “They liked you! Quite a lot, really! Oh, you won’t even believe how unbearable they’ll be tomorrow, just you watch–they’ll drop your name to everyone they talk to, you the only elf at the Festival. Unless Beldrieth comes. Oh, I hope Beldrieth comes, I’d love to see her laugh and smile and dance! Do you think she would? I know Llythne will. And all the food! And the games and the music and the fireworks! I can’t wait ‘til tomorrow!”