7. Coming Home
His mind went back over the past months, starting with the news that his son Meriadoc had disappeared into the Old Forest. He had not been worried, at first. Brandybucks had lived with the Forest at their backs ever since coming to Buckland. The lad knew as much about it as anyone, perhaps more. Saradoc had caught Merry more than once coming through the Forest Gate with pieces of plants in hand, to add to his notebooks on herblore. He had tolerated this eccentricity. After all, if the boy could apply himself so diligently in one area, it boded well for how he'd do with greater responsibility later.
The Black Riders who passed through Buckland and rode down the guards at the North Gate were worrisome, and as the days stretched out into weeks people began to connect the disappearance of the four from Crickhollow with the mysterious goings on. Saradoc refused to believe his son dead, Merry was too resourceful, and rumour had put the four in Bree before they disappeared again, but Esmeralda went about with red eyes grieving her nephews and son.
The Troubles started and he was too busy, figuring ways to confound the ruffians without his people getting hurt or hauled off to the Lockholes, to worry much about Merry. He supposed he would have to start grooming another to take his place as Master someday, but he kept putting it off. After all, the way things were going, there might not be a Master after him. There might not be a Buckland.
He must have given up hope for his son, for when news came that hobbits had come from a far country and were stirring up the Shire against the ruffians, he had not thought of his Meriadoc. When his son stood before him, at first he had not recognized him, clad in shining mail and green cloak, taller than he remembered, more grim. Esmeralda had known him at once, had flown to embrace him, and as he smiled to greet her, Saradoc saw, finally, his son Merry had come back.
Esmeralda stood in the study doorway with the tea tray, watching the thoughts play across her husband's face. He was fretting about Merry again, she knew. She crossed into the room, put the tray down on the desk, poured him a cup of tea and fixed it to his taste. As he took it up with thanks, she moved behind him to massage the broad shoulders.
'Don't worry so,' her voice soothed. 'Meriadoc is getting better. I hear he made up a song at that wedding over in Hobbiton last week.'
'Aye, and danced upon a table, too. That young Frodo is a bad influence.'
Her laugh rippled as gently as the river on a summer day. ' "Young" Frodo is all of fifty-two, and Mayor of Hobbiton!'
'Old enough not to be dancing atop any tables.'
'You still believe that scurrilous rumour from Bree? Well, at least they had the right of it, that the lads did not perish in the Old Forest.'
'No, they went on South to the War or somewhat, gained honour and glory and came back to shake the Shire free.' He could not disguise the bitterness in his voice.
'Who will free our son, Essie? Who will shake him free?' He had been so proud to hear how Merry had rallied the hobbits of the Shire with his silver horn, how Merry had planned the strategy to finally throw the ruffians out with as little bloodshed as might be.
Yet he had not come back, not the Merry who had left. Saradoc thought of the long solitary rides, the dark moods, the times he caught his son staring at nothing. He thought of the countless nights he found Meriadoc pacing the floor, unable to sleep. He missed his son's voice raised in song. And though Esmeralda tempted him with all his favorite foods, the lad was too thin.
He glanced down again at the letter on his desk. 'And now he wants to move out, to live in Crickhollow...'
'Here in Buckland,' his wife soothed. 'And with young Peregrin, who seems to be a good influence for a change.'
'That young scamp...'
'He's practically a hobbit-grown; he certainly looks it! Half the lasses in the Shire want to marry him.' Esmeralda's voice rippled with laughter, and he closed his eyes to hear it. There had been so many months without.
'He will make a good catch someday, but he's not Thain yet.'
'...and Merry is grown, you know; you cannot be worrying after him as if he were still a tween,' his wife continued her train of thought. ' "Kittens grow up, and so do lads..." and a good thing, too, or who would be Master after you?'
'Ah, Essie,' he pulled her to him. 'You always have just the right words...'
The sound of a silver horn interrupted them; shouts outside heralded the return of their son.
Esmeralda broke away, laughing, and said, 'I must make sure there is plenty of meat and mushroom pie!'
'Aye, and apple tart as well' Saradoc called after her. In truth, he liked apple tart quite as well as Meriadoc did.
He was at the entrance when they came from seeing to their ponies, "they" because young Peregrin had come too. That was a relief, for Merry seldom fell into one of his silences with young Took along. The scamp had a gift for pulling Merry out of himself. So tall and fair they were, in their shining mail. He could not get used to gazing upon a knight and seeing his son's eyes looking back at him.
'Father!' Merry called, with a lightness in his voice that Saradoc had not heard since his return to the Shire. He stepped forward to embrace his son, then held him back for a better look. His son had more colour, more life.
'Don't I get a greeting, too?' Peregrin demanded.
'Get along with you, you young scamp!' Saradoc growled, and then they all burst into laughter. Oh, but it was good to hear his son's laughter. Peregrin got his hug. It seemed odd to be looking up at him. 'Come, lads,' he said. 'Tea's just been laid. Come let us hear all the news from Hobbiton.'
It was a cheerful meal, and afterward there was time for a long walk down to the River and back, while Saradoc recounted what leavings of the ruffians had been torn down and the plans for restoring Buckland. His son listened with a serious, but not somber expression, and Peregrin had more than a few good suggestions to contribute. Esmeralda had the right of it: the brash lad was growing up indeed.
After supper -- and the servants had put together quite a feast considering the short notice -- Esmeralda laughingly claimed Meriadoc. 'It is my turn to have some time with our son,' she said. 'You and my nephew go off somewhere and smoke your pipes!'
He peeked his head into her chamber later to behold a cozy domestic scene. Meriadoc held his arms up, yarn wrapped about his hands, while his mother wound the yarn into a ball. A bright fire burned on the hearth, and two glasses of brandy stood upon the table. He started to close the door again but Essie saw him and called him in, and his son turned to greet him with a smile. He poured himself some of the brandy and sat down.
'Merry was just telling me of his adventures a few weeks back.'
'Oh? Rescued a damsel in distress, did you?'
His son actually chuckled. 'Not quite. It was a lad, he climbed up a tree but forgot how to climb down.'
'Did you have to go up after him?'
'Oh, aye. Just like old times.'
'That scamp Peregrin gave you plenty of practice.'
'Did someone call me?' Pippin poked his head in at the door.
'Yes, as a matter of fact, we had some brandy going wanting and we wondered if we'd have to pour it out.'
Pippin laughed and entered, poured himself a glass and stretched out his long legs in a chair by the fire. 'There,' he said. 'I've saved you the trouble by pouring it out myself.' He drained half the glass and stifled a yawn.
Esmeralda immediately became all motherly concern. 'You lads have had a long ride from Hobbiton. You ought to seek your beds.' Merry protested but she took the yarn from his hands and shooed him off. 'Go on with you! I am not going anywhere. You will see me early enough when I roust you out of bed for breakfast!' She turned on Pippin. 'And you, too, you young scamp!'
'I'm not tired,' Pippin protested.
'You are not too old to turn over my knee, rascal! Off to bed with you!' she scolded. Laughing, her son kissed her forehead, Pippin gave her a hug, and they left the room.
'There,' she said, brushing her hands together. 'I thought I'd never get them off! They were in great danger of drinking up all the brandy!'
'We cannot have that!' he agreed, raising his glass in a toast. She came over to lean against his chair, taking his face in her hands and depositing a great kiss upon his forehead.
'No, indeed,' she said firmly. Her face grew thoughtful. 'Didn't I tell you he is getting better?'
He wanted to believe her. For her sake. No, for his own sake as well.
It was some time between middle night and dawn when he roused. He lay blinking, wondering if he had heard a step in the hallway. He thought back to all the nights he had found his son wandering sleepless. He rose as quietly as he could, pulled on a dressing gown, eased the door to the hall open. The light from the turned-down lamps showed no one there. He crept along to his son's room and listened at the door. No sound. He eased the door open, but the room was nearly dark save the watch-lamp burning at the window. He stood a long time gazing into the face of his sleeping son.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.