108. Chapter 107 - December 1441
Nobody felt like celebrating much this Yule--even the children were unusually subdued. There were far too many missing faces at the feast table this afternoon. Ivy even mourned for Aunt Flora. Their relationship had actually improved after Ivy had stood up to her, but now she’d never have a chance to get to know her. Flora had been one of the first victims of the plague at Great Smials.
The table conversation settled on those who had gone: “Aunt Posy always loved this pudding” and “It’s just not the same without Uncle Hugo’s jokes”. And though Ivy knew that it was a good thing to remember those who had died, to share happy memories with family and friends, she also had a feeling her father wasn’t ready for it. He kept his eyes on his plate and shifted uncomfortably whenever anyone brought up Estella.
“Well,” she finally said, and picked up her infant son. “It’s time for Ari’s dinner, and he gets awfully distracted by the noise. I think we’ll go to the parlor.” She gave her husband a look.
Pippin’s brow furrowed a moment. Of course it was a silly thing for her to say--not even a raging horde of orcs would distract Ari from his meal. But Pippin caught on and smiled. “Yes, love.”
“It’s also nearly naptime. Would you like to help me with Bori and Willow, Dad? “
Her father gave an audible sigh of relief and his first real smile of the evening. “Of course, Ivy-lass.”
“Don’t worry about a thing, Ivy,” Pearl said with a wink. “I’ll take care of the rest of dinner.”
Ivy smiled gratefully at her sister-in-law--did she ever tell Pearl how much she appreciated her?--and then she and her father gathered up children and left the great hall.
“When was the last time Bori and Willow took a nap?” her father asked quietly as they walked down the hall to the parlor.
Ivy chuckled. “I have to admit I don’t remember. Sometime before Wills learned to walk, at least.”
While the older two climbed onto their granddad’s lap, begging for a story, Ivy settled on the couch across from them to nurse Ari. He was growing up fast--nearly ready to start solid food. Ivy sighed. Her son’s milestones often reminded her of how long Estella had been gone.
They’d received letters from the south. The sickness had only affected the northern regions, stretching from the Shire to the Men of Erebor in the east. Rohan and Gondor were untouched. It seemed to have originated with the Men on the eastern borders of Gondor, brought west by a flourishing trade route. It had only made it to the northern edges of Dunland, carried south from Bree.
Éowyn had been devastated to hear of Estella’s death. She was a dear friend, a wonderful person, and I am grateful Merry chose her to raise you for me, Éowyn had written. But Éowyn also had some happy news to lighten their sadness--Elboron’s wife was expecting their first child next spring, and Ivy would be an aunt. It meant her mother and Faramir’s trip north would be delayed a year, but Ivy understood. Éowyn had not yet been able to attend the birth of a grandchild.
Ivy looked over at her father, cuddling grandchildren while he told a story about the great eagles. Her father and brothers had come to Tuckborough again this year. ‘To spoil grandchildren’ her father had claimed, but Ivy suspected there was another reason--to escape the first Yule at Brandy Hall without Estella.
Her father seemed better now, healthy again after months of recovery, but he still had a deep sadness in his eyes. Only his grandchildren seemed able to drive it away. The smiles and laughter he shared with them were real.
It wasn’t long before Pippin and the boys came in. The boys plopped down in front of the fire to finish a chess game they had started that morning. Ivy’s brothers had recovered faster their father from the sickness, but they, too, still carried a sadness about them. It was strange seeing Theo so quiet, not much interested in jokes or pranks. Eomer had retreated into himself, and scarcely said a word.
Pippin sat next to Ivy. “We escaped, too,” he whispered in her ear. “Nel sent us off to get washed up after dinner. And she said if we got lost on the way, she definitely wasn’t going to come look for us.” He winked at her.
Ivy smiled back. “Did you know you have very wonderful sisters?”
“So they tell me,” he chuckled. Then he shrugged. “Many were starting to leave anyway. It’s just...” He sighed.
Ivy sighed, too, and pressed closer to her husband. Ari wriggled in her arms and Pippin reached over to pick up his son. “Hello, Ari-lad,” he said and made a face at him. Ari giggled his lovely baby giggle and kicked his feet.
“At least one of us is happy,” Pippin said, as he nestled Ari in the crook of his arm. “Everyone’s so sad today.” He huffed and muttered to himself, then patted Ivy’s knee and stood up. “All right. Everyone go get coats and mittens. We’re going sledding.”
They all just stared at him a moment, then Bori jumped off his granddad’s lap. “Hooray!” he shouted. That broke the spell.
“Yes, Merry. Sledding.” Pippin passed Ari back to Ivy. “I can just hear Estella scolding us all for moping around on a lovely winter day.” Pippin picked up Willow. “We are going to get the kids dressed and go outside and sled down the north hill until our toes are frozen. And we’re going to laugh and have fun while we’re doing it.”
Ivy bit her lip. Her father didn’t look too happy about this.
“I can’t Pippin,” he said. “I--”
“Granddad has to go sledding, too, right Bori?”
“Granddad go sledding!” Bori said, his little face beaming with happiness. He grabbed his grandfather’s hand to tug him up off the couch.
“That’s not fair, Pippin,” Merry scolded, frowning. But he stood up.
Pippin just grinned at him, then turned back to the others. “Let’s go!” he said. He picked up Willow. “You too, Ivy,” he said, smiling at her. “It’s not too cold today, so Ari can come outside for a while.”
She looked over at her father, smiling now as he was pulled out the door by a very excited Bori. The boys were smiling now, too, challenging each other to races and who could go the farthest. She sighed. She hoped this would work.
Pippin had brushed snow off a garden bench so Ivy would have a place to sit, holding a wool-wrapped Ari on her lap so he could watch siblings, uncles, father and grandfather sled down the hill behind the Smials. Her dad was laughing now, holding Bori in his lap as they flew down the hill on the wooden sled. Pippin and Willow followed after them. Fari and her brothers were sledding a little further away, where the hill was steeper, and their laughter and yells filled the air. Ivy smiled. Pippin was right. Estella would have wanted them out here, rather than moping in that parlor.
She scooped up a little snow and held it up for Ari to see. “Look, Ari,” she said. “Snow. Next year you’ll be able to go play in it, too.” He wriggled an arm out of his blankets and touched it. Ivy giggled at the look of surprise on his face. “Cold?” she asked. He wrinkled his nose and touched the snow again, then laughed, too. He was an adventurous baby, always wanting to see and touch and taste everything. He was going to be a handful as a toddler.
She dropped the snow and tucked him back into his blanket, checking with her fingers on his skin to make sure he wasn’t getting too cold. He was still nice and toasty, so they could stay out a while longer.
Pippin came up to her, carrying the two sleds. “Done already?” she asked.
“Only with sledding,” he said and stuck the sleds in the snow next to the hedge. “We’re going to make snow hobbits!” He leaned down and gently tapped Ari’s nose. “Do you want to come help, Ari-lad?” Ari giggled at his father and pulled an arm out to reach for him. Pippin took the little hand and kissed it. “Maybe we’ll have Mum bring you over, if her feet aren’t too cold?” He raised an eyebrow at her.
“I’m fine,” Ivy said. She lifted the edge of her skirt to reveal she had put her shoes from Gondor on. Her feet may be furry, but they weren’t entirely hobbity. She stood up and followed Pippin over to the snow-covered lawn at the bottom of the hill. Her dad, Bori and Willow were already rolling balls of snow around to make their snow hobbit.
“Look, Mummy! Look!” Willow said, bouncing around in the snow and pointing at the ball they’d made.
Ivy handed Ari to Pippin and squatted down in front of her daughter. “That’s lovely, Wills,” she said. She pulled Willow over to sit on her knee and touched her feet. “Are you cold at all,” she asked. Willow’s feet still felt warm.
“Not cold,” Willow said. She squirmed away to go back to helping her grandfather and brother.
Ivy stood up. “Are you cold, Bori?” Ivy asked.
“Nope!” Bori said, not even looking up at her. He was too busy helping his granddad get the second ball going.
“We are watching them, Ivy,” Pippin chuckled.
“I know, but...” She huffed. She was a mum. Mums had to check these things themselves. “I had to check.” Pippin laughed and put his arm around her.
They watched the snow hobbit take shape. Her dad lifted the top pieces into place, then helped Bori and Willow put the sticks in for arms. Then he drew a face on it, and took off his scarf to wrap around the neck. “What do you think?” he asked.
“Yay!” Bori and Willow cheered together.
He laughed and patted their heads, then looked up, his eyes catching Ivy’s. He looked genuinely happy.
“Now I am getting cold,” Ivy said, smiling at her father. “So how about some tea?”
Pippin called for the boys and they all filed back into the hall, stomping snow from their feet and peeling off wet coats. “Go change into dry clothes,” Ivy told the boys, “and I’ll have tea ready for you in the kitchen. You as well,” she said to her dad and Pippin with a wink.
“Yes, Mum,” Pippin said with an exaggerated pout. He handed Ari back to her. “Come on, then,” he said to Bori and Willow. “Let’s go get changed.”
Ivy smiled, watching them go, then went to the kitchen to start the tea. “We’ll be having tea in here today, Camelia,” she said to the cook. “If it’s not a bother?” She didn’t want to go back to the parlor yet today.
“Oh, no, Missus Ivy. Not a bother at all. The feast has been cleared away, so we’re done in here until dinner.”
Ivy smiled and peeled off Ari’s blankets, then set him in the baby chair near the kitchen table, before turning to get the kettle going.
Camelia pulled a biscuit from a jar. “Can he?” she asked, gesturing towards Ari. Ivy nodded and Camelia smiled and went over to Ari. “Here you are, sweetie,” she said, handing the biscuit to Ari. He wriggled happily and grabbed the biscuit. The other kitchen maids left their work to go coo over her son. If Pippin were here, she was sure he’d make a comment about Took lads being irresistible to lasses. Ivy smiled to herself. He would probably be right.
Voices in the hallway alerted her to the arrival of her family. “I was faster than both of you,” Eomer boasted as the boys came in.
“You just had the best sled,” Fari grumbled. Theo laughed and gave Fari a playful shove. They dropped into chairs at the table, still arguing over who was best with smiles on their faces.
Her father and Pippin came in after them with Bori and Willow. They were all smiling, too, her father listening patiently as Bori recounted building the snow hobbit. Pippin got Willow settled and came over to her. “Need any help?”
“Just waiting on the water,” she said. She looked at the happy faces at the table, so different from the melancholy that had gripped them all earlier. She kissed her husband’s cheek. “Going outside was a brilliant idea,” she whispered.
Pippin gave her a smug smile. “I know.”
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.