105. Chapter 104 - July 1441
Ivy rested in the shade next to Crickhollow, her feet propped up on a bucket, enjoying the respite they’d been given today from the summer heat. Pippin had moved a chair outside for her so she could get some fresh air. After being cooped up in the Smials most of the summer, she needed it.
She was glad she had been allowed to make the trip Buckland. Pippin and Estella had both agreed the peace and quiet of Crickhollow would do her good. Between the oppressive summer heat and the smial full of relatives, Ivy’s temper had been close to completely snapping. So they’d brought their family out to Crickhollow, for the cooler breezes and the quiet. She rubbed her round belly. Estella was closer, too, in case anything happened early with the baby. But Estella was certain she still had at least two weeks before she would deliver.
Ivy sighed happily and watched her children play. Fari was showing Bori and Willow how to make mud pies in the path. Fari was such a big help to her, keeping his young siblings amused while she rested. He’d wanted to stay at Brandy Hall at first, with Theo and Eomer, but she suspected Pippin had talked him out of it, so that he could help with his siblings. She’d ask Pippin to let Fari stay at Brandy Hall for a week or two after the baby came. An eleven-year-old didn’t need to always be saddled with younger siblings.
Pippin had ridden to Brandy Hall this afternoon to get some more supplies for the pantry. They planned to stay a few days more at Crickhollow, then go home to Tuckborough.
The quiet was interrupted by the sound of pounding hooves on the road. Pippin came racing up to the house and leapt off the pony to run to her. Her heart clenched when she saw the look on his face, a look of utter despair.
He dropped to his knees in front of her, burying his face in her lap. “Oh, Ivy!” he breathed, his voice shaking. She looked up. The children were watching them. Bori and Willow looked confused by what was happening, but Fari looked scared.
“Fari, take them inside,” she said softly. He nodded and picked up Willow and took Bori’s hand, leading them into the house. Ivy leaned over Pippin as much as her belly would allow. “What is it, Pippin?” she asked softly, trying hard to keep calm. Something was wrong. Something was horribly wrong for him to be like this.
He looked up at her. “There’s a sickness, Ivy. The whole Shire has it. It spread in just a few days. It’s bad.”
Ivy clapped a hand over her mouth in shock. He had just gone to Brandy Hall, which meant... “My family?” she whispered. She choked back a sob. From the look in his eyes, she knew to expect the worst.
When Pippin had set out that afternoon to Brandy Hall, he could never have suspected what horror such a calm summer day could hold. His first sign that something was wrong was that the roads were empty. There were usually one or two hobbits traveling the road that ran next to Brandy Hall, but he didn’t see one person.
As he rode nearer to the Hall, he noticed more things. No one worked in the fields. No children played in gardens. When he reached Brandy Hall, there were no stableboys to take his pony. He rode around to the front of the hill. He saw a hobbit sitting by the main door get up and hurry inside. Pippin rode up to the front steps and started to dismount.
“Pippin! Stop!” Merry was standing in the doorway, holding onto the frame with a pale hand. He looked terrible. “Stay on the pony,” he said, his voice weak. Pippin sat back in the saddle. Merry was grey-faced and looked as if he’d been crying. Fear gripped Pippin’s heart.
“What’s going on, Merry?”
Merry coughed, a wet, hacking cough. “There’s sickness, Pip. All over the Shire. It started a few days ago. Hobbits are dying, Pippin” He took a gasping breath. “You need to go back to Crickhollow. Don’t leave until someone comes for you.” He wiped a hand over his grey face. “You haven’t been anywhere else have you?”
Pippin shook his head, too stunned to speak at first. “N-No. No, Merry. I just came from Crickhollow.”
“Go back, then, and don’t stop anywhere else. You need to care of Ivy and the children.”
“What about Tuckborough? I need to be--”
“No!” The force of the word made Merry gasp. “No, Pip. You need to stay away. You need to stay healthy. They’re going to need you when this is over, Pip. The whole Shire is going to need you.”
Pippin shook his head. His breath was gasping now as panic took him, the reins biting into his hands as they clenched in fear. This couldn’t be happening. “What about you, Merry? Estella?”
“Estella’s sick,” Merry said. “So are the boys. I’m getting it, too.” He paused for a moment, wiping at his eyes. He looked so scared, and it made Pippin’s own eyes wet with tears. “You have to go. Take care of them. Take care of Bori. He’s my heir, too, Pip. If something happens...” Merry took a deep breath, stopping the sob. “If something happens to me and the boys, he’s Master of Buckland.”
“No, Merry,” Pippin sobbed, tears flowing freely now. “I can’t go. I have to help you.”
“Do you want to risk taking this back to Ivy and your children?” Merry asked. It would have been a yell if he hadn’t been so weak. “Get out of here, Pippin!”
Pippin and Merry stared at each other a moment. Pippin didn’t want to think about what Merry was suggesting. How could he survive without Merry? “Merry?” he whimpered.
“Go, Pip. Tell Ivy and my grandkids I love them,” Merry said tearfully. “I love you, too, Pippin. You’re my dearest friend.” He took a heaving breath. “Good-bye, Pip,” he sobbed. He stepped back inside and shut the door.
Pippin sat, staring at the door in shock. Then he sobbed, his shoulders shaking with the force of it. What if he never saw Merry again? What if he lost all those he loved? He turned his pony and galloped away.
Pippin sat in Crickhollow’s parlor with Ivy on his lap. She was asleep, finally having cried herself out. His hand caressed her belly, and under it he could feel the occasional movement of the baby. A little spark of happiness in these horrible days.
He’d worried all the way back to Crickhollow, trying to remember if anyone had been sick before they’d left. They’d only just visited Brandy Hall... what was it? Five? Six days ago? He wouldn’t know what to do if Ivy or the children got sick. He knew he wouldn’t survive if he lost them. But, he realized that if they were sick, it would have shown already. His family was still perfectly healthy.
He tried not to think of what was happening in the Shire. He tried not to feel guilty for being here, safe with his family, while the hobbits under his protection were sick and dying. He tried not to think about his family: Merry’s family at Brandy Hall, his sisters and cousins and their families at Great Smials, Sam--and he did consider Sam family--at Bag End. Were they all sick? Would he lose them all?
He looked up when Fari came into the room. His son’s eyes were red from crying. “Bori and Willow are sleeping now,” Fari mumbled. He sat on the floor next to his father’s chair and rested his cheek on Pippin’s knee.
“Thank you, Fari,” Pippin whispered, running a hand through his son’s hair. Fari started to cry again, burying his face on Pippin’s leg. “I’m sorry, Fari,” Pippin said. It’s all he could say. He wouldn’t tell his son everything would be all right, because he knew it would be a lie.
He thought about Merry again, pale and sick, standing in the doorway of Brandy Hall and telling him to leave, saying good-bye to him for what he thought was forever. What would he do if he lost Merry? He closed his eyes, fighting the tears, and rested his cheek on Ivy’s head. His perfect life had ended.
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