107. Chapter 106 - July 1441
Pippin sat in his study, poring over an old book. He’d come back home to check on Great Smials, leaving Ivy and the children at Brandy Hall. Merry needed his daughter with him.
The haunted look on Merry’s face would stay with Pippin forever. Pippin didn’t want to imagine what Merry was going through. He didn’t want to imagine losing Ivy. But he’d had those “what ifs” spinning in his head since they’d first heard of the sickness. What if they hadn’t gone to Crickhollow? What if Ivy, exhausted from her pregnancy, had gotten the sickness? What if his children had gotten it? What if his family had died...?
No. They were safe. They were safe at Brandy Hall--no sickness, not even a sniffle. His children were being spoiled by Celly and Ivy was comforting her dad and brothers.
He’d return to Brandy Hall tomorrow. Reg could handle things here. Those who had survived were recovering, those who had not would be buried. He’d been torn about what to do, whether to stay at Great Smials or return to Buckland. He’d lost a brother-in-law as well. Vinca’s husband Griffo had gone to check on his family, the Brockhouses of Frogmorton, and had died along with his parents. But Vinca had scolded him--she had their sisters, but Merry needed him.
He felt so helpless. He was the Thain. He should be doing something to help his people. So he had come to his study, to look over the histories Celeborn had given him, to figure out what one should do in such times. He stared at the neat printing on the page, a copy of a book that had been written in Gondor over a thousand years ago. The last time a great sickness had come to the Shire was in Shire Reckoning 37, and it had affected the Big Folk as well. It had nearly destroyed Gondor.
Soon after a deadly plague came with dark winds out of the East. The King and his children died, and great numbers of the people of Gondor, especially those that lived in Osgiliath. Then for weariness and fewness of men the watch on the borders of Mordor ceased and the fortresses that guarded the passes were unmanned.
Later it was noted that these evil things happened even as the Shadow grew deep in Greenwood, and many evil things reappeared, signs of the arising of Sauron.
Pippin slammed the book shut, a shiver going up his spine. He wanted to believe it was just an ordinary sickness gone out of control. Merry’s cousin Berilac figured it had come from Bree, as that town had also been affected. There was no word yet on whether it had spread to other areas as well.
Pippin pushed the book away and leaned back in his chair. He would write to Éomer and Aragorn as soon as possible, to find out if they were affected. If Gondor and Rohan were unaffected, there would be nothing to worry about. Or so he wanted to believe.
Pippin looked at the faces of the hobbits around him, the family and friends who had come to say good-bye to Estella. Most would be attending other funerals that day and for some days to come. The sickness had been hardest on the old and the very young. There were far too many small graves being dug in the Shire, and Pippin kissed Ari’s brow, still grateful his children had been at Crickhollow. Everyone in the Shire had lost someone close. The burials had already been done, but the funerals had to wait until the mourners were well enough to attend.
Pippin stared down at the grave, the torn earth already starting to settle, and gave a weary sigh, thinking of dear Estella. She had, of course, rushed out to take care of the sick right away, not knowing how bad it was going to be. Merry had told him that she worried that she may have brought the sickness home, although given the number of hobbits in and out of Brandy Hall it could have been anyone. She still felt guilty about it, though. But she had known before she died that Merry and the boys were recovering. Merry was grateful for that.
Pippin rocked Ari in his arms and looked down at his other children. Fari sat on the ground with Willow and Bori in his lap. Fari had his face turned into Willow’s curls. Pippin knew this was hard for his son. Estella had been like a mother to him.
Pippin glanced over at Ivy. She was trying to be strong for Merry, but Pippin knew she was close to collapse. She had barely got her strength back from Ari’s birth, and now this. She seemed to be holding her father up. Merry was devastated. He leaned on Ivy’s shoulder, sobbing, as friends and relatives filed past, placing flowers on Estella’s grave. Theo and Eomer stood in front of their father and sister, their faces blank, still stunned that their mother was gone. On top of all of this, Merry and the boys were still recovering from their illness.
Pippin looked again at all the mourners, many still pale from being ill, and felt the weight of the Shire on him. He had taken on the duties of the Master of Buckland as well as his own as Thain, and was charged with getting aid to those in need in the East and South Farthings while Sam oversaw Hobbiton and everything West and North. Pippin was grateful Sam hadn’t been taken ill, that he had his dear friend to depend on. He was also grateful that Sam had sent Rosie and their children to Jolly Cotton’s farm in Whitwell as soon as word of the plague came. The isolated farm had escaped the sickness.
Movement around him indicated the funeral was done. Hobbits lay flowers on the fresh grave as they filed passed, a final gift to a dear woman. Some were moving on to other graves in Brandy Hall’s cemetery, where other families were gathering to say good-bye. Pippin sighed. Too many funerals.
Ivy set the plate on father’s desk. “You have to eat something, Dad.”
He shook his head, keeping his eyes on his desk. He was gaunt and tired from his illness and his grief. He’d also been hiding himself away in his study, barely eating and not wanting to see anyone. Ivy sighed. It had been almost a week since the funeral. It was time to get tough. “You’re not doing anyone any good by starving yourself. You still have Theo and Eomer to think of, as well as your duties. Pippin’s been running himself ragged with the duties of Thain and Master.” She steeled herself. “What would Estella say to that?”
He looked up at her, and the pain in his eyes made Ivy’s breath catch, made her want to sob with her own grief, but she had to be strong now. “What am I going to do without her, Ivy?” he said, his voice quavering.
Ivy hugged him tight and he sobbed onto her shoulder. “You’ll do what Estella would want you to do,” she whispered soothingly into his ear. “You’ll keep going.” She fought back her own tears, then pulled back to look at him.
“I’m sorry, Ivy,” he said. He wiped away his tears. “I’m sorry to do this to you. You should be enjoying your new baby, not here taking care of me.”
“Aragorn is sleeping right now.” Ivy glanced over at the couch where her son slept. “So I’m sure he won’t mind if I take care of his grandfather for a while.” She kissed his cheek. “Now, if you want to make it up to me, you’ll eat something.”
“All right, Ivy,” he said. He picked up the fork and sighed. Ivy went back to sit on the couch next to Ari and watched her father sadly as he half-heartedly ate his lunch. She had never seen him like this before, so... lost.
Ari woke and started to fuss, and she picked him up. “Hello, dearest,” she murmured. She opened her blouse and settled him at her breast, brushing her fingers through his reddish-brown curls. She felt bad that he didn’t have the joy surrounding his birth that the other children had.
“So how did Pippin do as a midwife?”
Ivy looked up, a little surprised. She hadn’t expected her father to be talkative. “He did great.” She smiled. “Estella would have been proud of him.”
He actually cracked a smile. “She always had confidence in Pippin, even when I didn’t. She knew right from the start that you two were a good match, and she was right.”
Ivy smiled at him. “Thanks, Dad.”
He smiled and nodded to her. He took a few more bites of his lunch, then looked up at her again. “Have you written to Éowyn yet?”
“I wrote the letter, but it won’t go out for a while. There isn’t any travel between the Shire and Bree right now, to make sure everyone is recovered and the sickness doesn’t get passed back and forth. Pippin said They should get sent in a few days.” Ivy sighed. “She’s going to be heartbroken,” she said sadly. “She and Estella had become such good friends.”
“I know,” said Merry. “It’s strange, isn’t it? Considering...” He shrugged.
“That you love them both?” finished Ivy. Her father looked up at her. She smiled. “Don’t act so surprised, Dad. I’ve seen your face when you read Éowyn’s letters. You still love her.” She paused, wondering what to tell him, deciding he should know if only to ease any guilt. “Estella knew it, too,” she said.
He frowned. “She did?”
Ivy nodded. At least he didn’t try to deny his feelings for Éowyn. “Don’t worry. Estella understood what you shared with my mother and that it wasn’t something you could just let go of. It bothered her, at first, but after she met Éowyn she knew she had nothing to fear. And Estella knew how much you loved her, Dad. She never doubted that.”
Her father nodded. “I remember when I first really noticed Estella, besides being Freddy’s annoying little sister.” He smiled. “We were at Sam’s wedding and Frodo was holding you. She came over to see you and we stumbled into each other. I found myself flat on my back, looking into the most beautiful brown eyes...” Ivy watched her father fight the tears. “I once told Faramir I wouldn’t be able to find anyone to match Éowyn’s spirit,” he said, almost a whisper. “But I did.”
He wiped his eyes and turned back to his lunch. Ivy had to wipe her own tears away. She switched Ari to her other breast and softly sang him a Rohirric lullaby. She couldn’t imagine what her father was going through. She couldn’t imagine losing Pippin, having to wake up to an empty place in her bed every morning for the rest of her life. Her song faltered and she coughed away the lump in her throat. Then she smiled at her son, and continued, singing of brave horsemen driving away the evils of the world. When Ari finished, she cuddled him to her shoulder to pat his back, waiting for the little burp.
“Done,” said her father, pushing his empty plate away.
“Good for you,” Ivy said. She stood up and carried Ari to Merry. “As a reward, you get to amuse your grandson while I clear the dishes.”
Merry settled Ari into his arms. “Hello, Ari-lad,” he said, smiling a genuine smile at his grandson. “You’re a wee mite, aren’t you?” he said. “Don’t worry, though. Your dad was early, too, and a bit small. But it didn’t stop him from becoming the second-tallest hobbit in the Shire.”
Ivy smiled, relieved to see real happiness on her father’s face. She picked up the dishes and left him to get acquainted with his grandson.
Pippin came back to Brandy Hall late that night. He was spending time in both Tuckborough and Buckland, plus the occasional meeting at Bag End with Sam. He was able to turn more duties over to others as they recovered from their illness and grief, but he was still overseeing everything. With all the travel and meetings and checking up on hobbit families, he barely had time to sleep.
He collapsed on the bed and Ivy curled up next to him. She hoped after their talk today, her father would be ready to take over his duties again soon. She didn’t know if Pippin could take much more of this. He was exhausted.
“How’s Merry?” he asked sleepily.
“Better. I got him to eat more today and he talked about Estella a bit.”
“That’s good,” sighed Pippin, half asleep.
Ivy sat up and started unbuttoning his shirt. “I think he should be ready to take on his duties again in a couple of days.”
“I hope so,” Pippin mumbled, then he cracked open an eye. “If you’re trying to take advantage of me, I don’t think I’m going to be much use right now.”
“Very funny,” she said. She patted his stomach. “I’m trying to get you undressed because you’re not getting into bed covered in road dust.”
He pouted. “You don’t want to take advantage of me?”
“Considering I not only just had a baby, but that he’s also been getting me up every couple hours, I would have to say that’s a ‘no’.” She tried to crack a smile, but it just wouldn’t come.
Pippin sat up and hugged her. “How are you doing?”
Ivy sighed, fighting the tears. “I’m all right. Tired. I’ve been so worried about Dad, I just haven’t had time to really think about it yet. I’m sure it will hit me later that she’s gone.” She missed Estella so much that it hurt, but she couldn’t think about it now, she had to be strong for her father and her brothers. She sniffled and Pippin kissed her brow.
Ari started to fuss. Ivy got up to get him while Pippin finished undressing. She settled back against the pillows to nurse him. Pippin climbed in next to her, laying his head on her shoulder and putting his arm around her and Ari. “Love you,” he mumbled.
“Love you,” she said. She turned to look at him. He was already asleep.
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.