50. Master of Buckland
Merry looked out the study window at the bright spring morning. 'A fine day,' he agreed absently.
Saradoc entered the room. 'Are we ready?'
Merry looked at his father wryly. 'Do I have any choice?'
'Might as well make the best of it, love! Think of it this way, it's not often we have a whole day to spend together,' Estella said lightly, but she could not keep all her anxiety from her eyes.
Merry looked at her with concern. 'I wish you would take care of yourself instead of worrying about me.'
Estella laughed. 'You won't get rid of me that easily! I'm fine! And so is our son, fine and strong, you've felt the kicks he's giving me lately...'
'How are you so sure it's a son?' Merry asked, a grin lighting his face. They had this argument often.
'Oh, now, don't you be contradicting, with me in this delicate condition!'
'Oh, yes, I'm a delicate flower. The least little chill in the wind will make me wilt.'
'We'll have to keep you out of the wind, then. Come here, my flower,' Merry said, and she nestled in his arms, only to feel the first shudder hit.
She looked up. 'Come, beloved, let's get you settled by the fire.'
Berilac entered with an armful of blankets and proceeded to tuck them around Merry.
Estella laughed. 'Aren't we organized? Even without your cousin Pippin here to direct us!'
Merimas and Pansy entered, the last carrying a tray.
Merry stared in bemusement. 'Is it to be a party, then?'
'No, cousin,' Merimas laughed. 'It just takes three people to replace cousin Pippin, you know!'
Saradoc took a steaming mug from the tray while Merimas built up the fire and his wife Pansy placed a teakettle to boil. 'Come, Son, let's get something warming into you right off.'
'Right,' Merry said. His right hand was already cold and difficult to lift, but he brought his left hand up to steady the mug and took several warming swallows. He could feel the Shadow gathering strength, clenching its claws deeper into him, trying to drag him down, and he took a deep breath and gazed into Estella's eyes as she knelt before him.
'That's right, beloved. Fight it,' she encouraged.
As bright sunset light flooded the room, Merry heard Berilac say, 'He's getting warmer, I think.'
'Yes, the fit seems to be passing,' Saradoc answered. 'Merry, are you still with us?'
'Still here,' he whispered.
Estella squeezed his hands, her eyes bright with hope. 'It didn't pull you down!' she said. 'You didn't go away from us at all this time!'
'Is it getting easier, cousin?' Merimas asked.
Merry grimaced. 'No, not easier,' he said, and his voice in his own ears was stronger. 'But I was able to hold it off, somehow.' He looked at Estella, worried, for her eyes were filling with tears. 'What is it, love?'
'Oh, Merry!' She buried her face in his lap.
'Tell me,' he said gently, stroking her hair. His right hand was already working, a little.
She raised her head to meet his eyes. 'Every time you go away from us,' she whispered, 'Every time, I'm terrified that you won't find your way back.' He wiped a tear away from her cheek.
'But I didn't go away this time.'
She nodded, her face glowing with joy. 'I know! Maybe you won't ever be pulled down again, if we keep fighting it this way, all together.'
Merry smiled. 'Perhaps we have the hang of it now.' He closed his eyes.
'Meriadoc?' his father questioned gently.
He opened them again. 'I'm just tired. I think I could sleep now.'
Merimas took hold of him on one side. 'Berilac, you take his other side, let's get him to his bed.'
'I'm coming right with you, love. You won't get rid of me that easily!'
When he awakened, the grey drizzle outside the window gave no clue as to the time. He took a deep breath, raised his right hand to his face, found it working remarkably well already.
'What time is it?' he asked.
'It's tomorrow, beloved. Just think, you won't have to go through this for another whole year.'
'That's what Pippin always says.'
'I know. He told me to say it, since he couldn't be here. Do you suppose they had to tie him down to keep him at Long Cleeve?'
'No, I think he'd find it hard to ride with a broken leg. Socks is probably too smart to let him try.' Merry stretched.
'How about breakfast? she asked brightly.'
'That sounds like a wonderful idea to me. I love you.'
'I love you, too. Oooo!'
'What is it?'
'Put your hand there! Feel that little rascal kick!'
Merry and Merimas were down by the ferry dock, noting repairs to be made. Even though spring planting had not yet started, it was still a busy season, recovering from the damage done by winter storms. Roofs, roads, fences, Ferry, Bridge, all demanded attention.
A lad came running from the Hall down to the River. Merry and his cousin straightened up to meet him. 'If you please, young master,' the lad panted, 'the Mistress calls you urgently to the Master's study.'
'What is it?' Merry asked.
'It's the Master, he's took ill...' Merry waited to hear no more, but sprinted for the Hall.
The healer gently put Saradoc's wrist down and rose from the chair beside the bed, indicating to his wife and son that he wished to speak with them in the hallway.
Looking at their anxious faces, he wished he had better news. 'I'm sorry.'
Merry nodded soberly. 'How long?'
'It could be any time now.' Ossilan put a hand on Merry's shoulder. 'I know it's small consolation, but I never expected him to last twelve years after his heart nearly failed by the fishing stream.'
'We have had a blessedly long time together,' Esmeralda murmured. 'Each day has been another coin of gold added to our treasure.' Ossilan nodded, then motioned the Mistress and her son to return to the bedside. Esmeralda sank into one of the chairs beside the bed, taking Saradoc's hand; the healer stood at the other side and took up the wrist again. Merry stationed himself by his mother's side.
His father stirred. 'Meriadoc?' he asked weakly.
Merry crouched on his heels by the bed. 'I am here, Father,' he answered.
Saradoc's head moved restlessly on the pillow. 'It's dark,' he said. 'Must be past middle night.' Merry glanced out the window at the bright afternoon sunshine, then back to his father, who was smiling. 'Dawn will be here soon,' his father continued.
Saradoc sighed contentedly. 'I love the dawn,' he murmured. 'My favourite time of day, when the Sun throws her promise up before She shows her face, and the birds begin to praise...'
He turned his face towards them again. 'Meriadoc?' he whispered again.
'I am here,' Meriadoc answered, putting his hand on the arm nearest him.
'I'm tired, lad. Would you sing me a song to help me sleep?'
Merry took a deep breath to steady himself, met his mother's eyes. She nodded, smiling, though the tears sparkled in her eyes. He turned back to his father and began to hum softly, then sing low.
'The water runs free, laddie, laddie,
'Comes now Mistress Spring...'
His father closed his eyes, smiling. The covers rose and fell a few more times, then lay quiet. Merry kept singing as the healer held his father's wrist, head bowed.
'The water stands still, laddie, sparkling
'Jewels for Mistress Winter...'
Ossilan raised his head and gently put the hand down upon Saradoc's breast. Nodding to the widow and son, he quietly left the room.
'...bright skirts of snowy white,
'Sweeping over the hill...
'Laddie, come sing now, come sing...'
Slowly he ended the song. 'Laddie, come sing now, come sing...'
Esmeralda pulled the covers up over her husband's chest, smoothing them gently below his chin. She bent down to kiss her husband a last time, murmuring, 'Good night, my love. May your dreams be full of peace.' Straightening, she took Merry's hand and led him from the room.
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.