17. Tears of Joy
It was a wet spring, and plowing and sowing came late. The River ran higher than the Master had seen it in many a year, and he and the lads were so busy seeing to flood control that there had been no trips to Long Cleeve for the cousins since Yule.
In mid-March Merry again failed to appear at the Hall. This time Saradoc himself rode out to Crickhollow. Pippin did not want to let him in, but he insisted, gently putting his nephew aside to enter the house. Many candles lit the sitting room, there was a bright fire on the hearth, and Merry sat before it wrapped in blankets. He did not greet his father, nor raise his eyes.
Saradoc crouched before him. 'Meriadoc?' he said softly. 'Son?'
'He doesn't hear you,' Pippin whispered. 'At least I think he doesn't.' He poured a mug of hot tea and held it to Merry's lips. After a moment, his cousin sipped.
'He didn't want you to see him like this,' Pippin said at length.
'It is nothing to be ashamed of!' Saradoc protested.
'No, you misunderstand me. He is not ashamed. He just didn't want to distress you.'
'Yes, I can see that,' Saradoc concurred. 'His mother would be very distressed. Here, let me take that.' Pippin gave him the cup and he coaxed his son to take nearly half the tea. He looked up at Pippin. 'How long?'
'He will be better by tomorrow, not so cold, and by the next day he will be himself completely. He probably won't even remember this day.' Saradoc grieved to see his son so, but carefully schooled his expression so as not to worry Pippin.
He sat and talked encouragingly to Merry for the rest of the day, helping Pippin get more hot tea and rich broth down him, renewing the flannel wrapped heated bricks tucked into the blanket. As the Sun was seeking her bed, he took his leave. He laid his hand upon his nephew's shoulder and looked into his eyes for a long time, then gathered the lad into a great hug. Pippin nodded, no words were needed, and Saradoc got his pony from the little stable and returned to the Hall.
'How's Meriadoc?' his wife greeted him.
'He's fine,' Saradoc answered. 'Nought but a chill. He'll be better tomorrow or the next day.' She gazed searchingly into his eyes, but asked no more questions.
The first day of April dawned fine. Meriadoc entered the study after breakfast without his cousin, for a change.
'Is somewhat wrong with Peregrin?' his mother asked with concern.
Merry smiled and shook his head, 'No, he's in fine fettle. I just needed to talk to you and Father.'
'Very well, Meriadoc, take a seat,' Saradoc said. Esmeralda, who had been just about to leave, went back to stand by her husband's chair.
Merry looked down at his hands, then up again. He took a deep breath. 'It is not easy to find a place to start,' he admitted.
'Then just start and get it over with,' his father said. He had a feeling he knew what was coming.
'What do you think of the family at Long Cleeve?' Merry asked.
'I think they are fine folk, Meriadoc. I was very impressed with them at Yule, and Farmer Took and I have been corresponding since.'
Merry sighed in relief and nodded. 'I had hoped...' Esmeralda exchanged glances with her husband.
'Their eldest daughter will be coming of age this year, is that not right?'
'Yes, just before Mid-year's Day,' Merry nodded. 'Father...'
'Yes, my Son?'
'I would like your blessing... to seek her hand... to seek Ruby's hand... to ask her father's permission...'
Saradoc put the poor lad out of his misery. 'Why, of course, Meriadoc. We have been waiting for you to come to a decision.'
Esmeralda laughed. 'Oh, yes, that scamp of a nephew of mine has been hinting about this since before Yule!'
Merry looked surprised, then broke into relieved laughter. 'I will have to thank him!' he exclaimed, and they all shared a good laugh.
'When do you want to ride to Long Cleeve?'
'Can you spare me today?'
Saradoc smiled to see his son's joy. 'Oh, aye. Take a whole week if you need it.'
Merry jumped up from his chair, pressed his father's hands, kissed his mother, and strode out of the study. A few minutes later they heard Peregrin's whoop from the courtyard in front of the Hall. Esmeralda glanced out the window and laughed. 'The scamp! He already has their ponies saddled.' She entwined her hand with her husband's and sighed. 'It will be so nice to have a daughter!'
'Now, do not put the boat before the River, my dear, you might find yourself stranded on dry land,' Saradoc warned. 'Her father has not given his blessing, yet.'
'Ah, but how can he refuse, with such a fine suitor?' Esmeralda smiled.
Saradoc wanted to agree... but he never counted on a crop until he saw it harvested. He merely smiled and pulled his wife to him for a kiss, then turned back to the business of the Hall.
The cousins arrived at Long Cleeve just after teatime, heralded by wild shouts from the younger hobbits. Ruby and her mother came out the door wiping their hands. 'Good to see you!' called Mistress Took. 'Are you on your way to Hobbiton?'
'No,' Pippin called back, 'We came to see the north-Tooks this trip. Can you tell us where to find them?'
'You rascal, get down from that pony! You've just missed tea but I think we can find some leavings for you!'
Laughing, he and Merry dismounted and gave their reins to young Thom, who led the ponies to the barn.
'We were just washing up,' Ruby said shyly. Merry bowed gallantly to Pearl, saying, 'Allow me, Mistress!' and extending his hand for her towel. Smiling, she surrendered it and Ruby and Merry moved to continue the washing up, singing together one of the old songs that sounded so well in harmony.
Pippin leaned against the doorpost and gave an exaggerated sigh. 'Lovely,' he breathed. 'Just lovely!'
Mistress Took gave him a push. 'Go on with you, young master. Taddy's in the barn and he has been asking about you every day since Yule. Go and put me out of his misery!' As he straightened up from the doorway she grabbed his ear and pulled his head down. 'Be sure to ask about the new calf!' she whispered.
'Oh, aye,' Pippin laughed, and headed towards the barn.
Mistress Took sat down at the table and let the twins finish clearing. They moved in a cloud of giggles between table and washstand. Soon the table was cleared and scrubbed and the cloth put on, just as Tad and Pippin walked in from the barn. 'Ah, good timing!' Pippin said. They each clutched a fistful of pretty weeds. 'Tad and I just finished picking a bouquet for the table!' Pearl made a great show of finding just the right container for her smallest son and his towering friend, and they arranged the weeds together until Tad pronounced it "just right".
'Is your father out in the barn?' Pearl asked.
'Oh, aye,' the lad said in perfect imitation of Pippin. 'He's doctoring Snip's hoof, seems she stepped on somewhat sharp in the field a little bit ago.'
Ruby and Merry exchanged a glance and a few whispered words, then Merry put down his towel and said, 'I'll just go out to greet him, then.' He ignored Pippin's wide grin and strode out to the barn. Pippin turned back to little Tad. 'Now, Taddy, you told me when next we met you would give me a rematch at Kings!'
'Oh, yes!' the boy shouted and jumped up to get the board and stones. Pearl smiled to see the two, heads together, setting out the game so carefully, then she picked up the towel Merry had put down and went to finish drying the dishes Ruby had washed.
'I think I'll just go out and get a breath of fresh air,' Ruby said to her mother.
'You do that, lass, you're looking a bit pale,' Pearl answered gently.
Ruby went out and knelt to pull some weeds from the front flowerbed. When Merry came from the barn, she stood and waited for him to come up to her. He had a wide grin on his face. He took her hands, she asked a question, he gave a nod, her own face bloomed with joy.
'Why are you crying, Mama?' Tad asked curiously.
'Oh, I've just got a bit of a speck in my eye, Taddy lad,' she said, wiping at her eyes with the towel she still held. She exchanged a great grin with Pippin.
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.