6. Pick Up Stitches
'I'm glad you made it in time for my birthday,' Esmeralda said at a break in the storytelling. 'When it got so late, I feared you might have been held up at the Smials.'
The lads' eyes met and they broke out into a loud guffaw. Saradoc, eyes twinkling, said, 'I thought as much... just how long is it going to be, this time, until they allow you back in Tuckborough, Meriadoc?'
Merry turned innocent eyes on his father. 'Me?'
'Yes, you,' the Master said. 'You're supposed to influence this scalawag of a nephew, not the other way around!'
'Ah, well,' broke in the Mistress. 'At least with you coming so late, the cousins won't need to check their beds for frogs. At least, not this night.'
Pippin stared back at her, innocence writ large over his features, then as Merry turned away to pick up another cake from the tray, Pippin took something from his pocket to slip it down the back of his cousin's shirt.
'Just a grasshopper,' he grinned at his aunt while Merry danced and swatted at his back. 'There were some lovely ones in the field where we stopped to eat our bread and cheese.'
'No wrestling, Meriadoc,' the Mistress called sternly as Merry turned to Pippin. 'Not in the parlour, you know the rules.' She rose, and both lads came to attention.
'Good night, my darlings,' she said, kissing each on the cheek in turn. 'I will see you at the birthday breakfast. Don't be late.'
'We're going to celebrate the whole day through,' The Master added, his arm stealing around his wife's waist. 'After all, it's not every day the Mistress of Brandy Hall has a birthday!'
'Thank goodness for that!' his wife answered, and with a general laugh, all sought their beds.
Esmeralda found her nephew feeding the grey pony pieces of apple in the quiet of the stables. At her step she saw him quickly wipe at his face with his shirt, but not before she'd seen the sheen of tears on his cheeks.
He did not turn, but cut another piece from the apple to offer it to the pony. 'Good evening, Aunt.'
'Why aren't you at the celebration?' she asked gently.
'O, I was coming, in a minute,' he said. 'Just had a little private matter to discuss.'
She stepped up to the pony, stroking the soft neck. 'Ponies can be good listeners,' she said. She turned to her nephew. 'Old Aunts can be good at listening, too,' she added softly.
Pippin nodded, but kept his eyes on the task at hand. He'd built his walls up so thick and high, Esmeralda reflected. She remembered seeing the same hurt in her brother, at Peregrin's age. Her resolve strengthened. She would not see this curse passed on to yet another generation in her family.
'Peregrin,' she began, 'Your father...'
He turned to her suddenly, saying fiercely, 'Why does my father hate me so? What did I ever do to him? I try and I try and nothing I do is ever good enough...' tears threatened and he had to turn back to the pony to hide them, cleaning his knife and putting it away, then burying his fingers in the long, silky mane.
'Your father doesn't hate you, Peregrin,' she said softly. 'He loves you very much.'
'Sure wish he'd let me know about it, then,' came the muffled reply.
'Do you want to know what you did to make him so angry for all these years?' she asked. He nodded, fingers busy working out imaginary tangles from the pony's mane, eyes busy on the task. 'You were born.'
His shoulders stiffened, and she went on. 'Your mother was the first love he found in a long, bleak life of trying to please his own father.' Pippin didn't turn, but she could tell he was listening tensely. 'You made two mistakes, being born,' she continued. He gave a soft snort at the irony in her words. 'First off, you nearly killed your mother, and he's never forgiven you for that...'
'No, I can see that could be a problem,' he muttered.
'And second, your mother loves you.' He didn't understand, she saw, and Esmeralda chose her words carefully. 'My brother doesn't realize that when you have a child, the love is not divided, but multiplied. He sees any love your mother gives you, as love taken away from him. And he's too stubborn and mule-headed to let anyone explain to him otherwise.'
Her nephew nodded, his fingers moving more slowly. Esmeralda said softly, 'Do not hate your father, Peregrin.'
He met her eyes again, in shock. She read some guilt there as well, and shook her head with a sad smile. 'No, I know it is not easy, but he deserves more of your pity. Hate will only turn you cold and hard, like him, and I would not see you become like Paladin.'
'Never...' he breathed.
'He was a lot like you, when we were younger,' she mused. 'Until bitterness took him and he became cold and proud, like our own father.' She met his eye again. 'We have tried to be the parents you needed, your uncle and I,' she said urgently. 'Saradoc has loved you as his own son.'
'I know,' he whispered.
'We both love you, very much,' she said. 'There's a place for you here at Brandy Hall, whenever you choose to turn your face towards Buckland.'
He nodded without speaking.
'Peregrin,' she said, commanding his attention. He looked up at her, and she held his eyes with her own. 'Should you ever decide not to remain in Tuckborough, you have a home here.' It was important that he know that there was another option to leaving. She thought of Eglantine's brother, gone away to sea, lost forever to the ones who loved him, and spoke again. 'You will be as a son to us. Peregrin, promise me you'll remember this.'
He turned back to the pony, saying in a low voice, 'I'll remember. I promise. I just have something I have to do, first,' and he raised his eyes again to hers, briefly, 'but I'll come home again.'
She embraced him, and he returned the hug. 'You do that,' she whispered against his ear. 'Home will be waiting here for you.' Releasing him, she said, 'Now let's get back to the party, shall we?' With a sharp glance, she added '...or have you done something to the cake...?'
He laughed, and shook his head. 'Would I do something to your birthday cake?' he demanded.
'Scamp,' she said softly, 'Such things have been known to happen...' Laughing, they joined arms and walked back to the Hall.
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.