14. Chapter 13 - May 1420
Pippin cocked his head at him, looking confused, then his face softened and he raised his eyebrows. “And who is coming to dinner tonight, then?”
Pippin grinned. “Oh. Then I should make myself scarce and--”
“No! I mean... It’s not like that. She... She wants to see Ivy.”
Pippin snorted. “Sure, Merry.” He turned back to his tea, snickering to himself.
“Really, Pippin. It’s nothing like that.”
Pippin looked up. “Then why did you wait until now to tell me she was coming?”
“Well, you were so drunk last night, you don’t even remember getting back to the Smials. How do you know I didn’t tell you then?”
Pippin just stared at him. “Right, Merry. So if I was too drunk to remember, then why didn’t you bring this up again on our ride home this morning?”
Merry shrugged. He wasn’t sure himself. It was just his friend Estella coming over to see the baby, right?
“Well, I’ll help you clean up and get the dinner going, but then I think I’ll go visit Freddy for the evening. I needed to ask him about...” Pippin hesitated slightly. “...their pigs. My father was wanting to get a new boar.”
Merry shook his head. Right. Pippin was suddenly interested in farming, after a lifetime of trying to avoid it? Most likely he was planning on asking Freddy about his sister. Not that he’d learn anything interesting. Right?
“Do you want me to take Ivy with me?” Pippin asked, trying to sound innocent and failing miserably.
“No, Pippin. I told you Estella was coming to see Ivy.”
“Oh, right, right. That makes sense, that she’d want to get to know Ivy better.” Pippin snickered again.
Merry just sighed and started feeding Ivy. There was no use arguing with Pippin when he was being stubborn.
Merry was pulling the ham out of the oven when Estella knocked, so Pippin got to the door first.
“Come in, Estella, come in!” he said and pulled her into the house. He kissed her hand gallantly. “It’s so wonderful that you could come to dinner,” he gushed, “but unfortunately I have other plans for the evening so it will just be you and Merry.”
Merry didn’t see the look Pippin gave her, but he saw Estella’s blush. He didn’t want Pippin to embarrass Estella. “Pippin..” he said, a warning in his voice.
“I’ll just go put your pony in the stable for you,” Pippin said to Estella, ignoring Merry, “since I’m leaving anyway.” He turned back to Merry and winked. “Have a lovely evening!” he said, grabbing his cloak and rushing out the door.
“Sorry,” Merry said with a shrug. He could feel the heat on his face. “Pippin’s a little...”
“Oh, I know Pippin very well,” said Estella. “Sometimes he’s brighter than he lets on.” She winked at him and turned away to go into the parlor to pick up Ivy.
Merry gaped at her. What was that about?
He followed her into the parlor. Estella was seated on the floor next to Ivy. “You’re such a lovely girl,” Estella said and kissed her hands. Ivy laughed and kicked her legs.
Merry smiled at them and possibilities started going through his head, that Ivy was going to need a mum someday, for all those girl things, and they both liked Estella... He frowned then, realizing he was already trying to give Ivy a new mother when she already had one.
He coughed. “Dinner’s ready,” he said.
Estella looked up at him and his stomach flipped as her brown eyes met his. He scooped up Ivy, swinging her around and making her laugh. He reached down to help Estella up and he thought that maybe her hand lingered a little long in his before they let go and went to the kitchen.
They had a quiet dinner, discussing Sam’s wedding, Merry’s work for his father, and Ivy. Merry learned that Estella was only a little over two years away from finishing her apprenticeship and then she would take over as midwife in this part of the Shire from Gammer Brook, who was getting ready to retire.
“I suppose Ivy was an easy birth?” Estella asked as she helped clear the dishes away. Then she looked up at Merry, a bit wide-eyed. “Oh! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to pry. It’s just I’m so used to asking and...” She turned her flushed face away. “Sorry.”
Merry touched her shoulder. “It’s fine, Estella. I know you’re not prying.” He shrugged. “I suppose it was easy, seeing as Ivy was so small for her mother.” He shrugged. “It certainly didn’t look easy, though!”
Estella raised her brows. “You were there?”
Merry nodded. “Rohirric custom. The father has to be there to help the mother and claim the child as his own. So me and Fa...and her husband were with her. I, at least, got to stay out of the way until Ivy was born and I claimed her.” He smiled at the memory of his first sight of his daughter.
“I suppose that was a little awkward, with...you know, with her mother being married?” Estella asked shyly.
“Her husband’s a good man. He understood. Ivy’s mum was already pregnant before they ever met and... well, except for...um...the one night when Ivy was conceived, we’re just friends.”
She nodded and her shoulders relaxed a little. “That must have been hard, for her to give Ivy to you.”
“Yes,” Merry said, “but--” Ivy threw her spoon and started to cry. Merry retrieved the spoon from the floor. “I think it’s someone’s bedtime,” he said. He picked up Ivy and patted her bottom. “And time for a change.” He smiled at Estella. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
“Good night, Ivy,” Estella said, touching her foot. Ivy just continued her crying and Estella smiled and shrugged.
Merry took his screeching daughter into his room and lay her on the bed. He was a little grateful for the interruption, because he’d been about to tell Estella everything about Éowyn. It surprised him, how easy she was to talk to. He hadn’t met another lass like that since....well, since Éowyn.
A new diaper improved Ivy’s mood a little. Merry put her in her nightdress and lay her in the crib. “Good night, love,” he whispered and stroked her silky blond hair. Ivy stuck her thumb in her mouth and her eyes drifted closed. Within minutes, she was fast asleep. It still amazed him that babies could do that.
He returned to the kitchen and found Estella filling the washbasin. “Oh, no,” he said, taking her arm and pulling her away. He handed her a towel to dry her hands. “You are a guest, which means you don’t do the washing up.” He gave her a cheeky grin. “We’ll leave it for Pippin.”
“Poor Pippin!” she laughed. “What would you do without him?”
Merry sighed, suddenly serious. “I don’t know what I would do without him.” He shrugged. “We were separated during the war and... for a while, I thought I’d never see him again. We’ve been through so much together. We owe each other our lives, really.”
Estella touched his arm. “What happened to you lads?” she asked, looking into his eyes. “Besides coming back a foot taller, I mean.” She smiled and he cracked a smile back.
“Well,” he said, “if you really want to know, I think we’d better go sit.”
Estella sank back onto the wooden bench on the front porch, her eyes wide. “I...I never realized. Nobody does, I think.” She rubbed her brow. “Oh, poor Frodo.” She turned and touched his arm. “Poor you! And Pippin and Sam...”
“We got through it. It’s been hard, especially for Frodo, but we have to keep living.” He smiled. “And I’ve got my beautiful daughter as the result.”
Estella nodded. “Yes.” She paused for a moment, chewing her lip, then turned to Merry. “The Lady Éowyn, who you rode with.... she’s Ivy’s mum, isn’t she?”
Merry nodded. He didn’t want to keep anything from her anymore. Because he was starting to suspect that he may just be a little bit in love with her. “But, you can’t say anything to anyone. I think it will be easier on Ivy if as few people as possible know who her mum is. At least until she’s older and--”
“I won’t tell anyone.” Estella patted his knee.
He smiled at her and here in the moonlight, with a half bottle of wine in him, he thought he’d really like to try kissing her. That would be highly inappropriate, though, so instead he lifted her hands and kissed her fingers. “I had a wonderful time with you,” he said.
She giggled. “Better than chasing me around and putting beetles in my hair?”
He laughed. “I didn’t really do that, did I?”
“All the time,” she said. “You and my brother and Folco seemed to love picking on me because I wanted to follow you around. Pippin was the only one who didn’t pick on me, but that’s because I could beat him up!” They both laughed.
“So why did you keep following us around if we kept picking on you?”
She looked at him, a slight smile on her face, then leaned forward and kissed him, pressing her mouth firmly to his. Before it even fully registered what she was doing, she had pulled away and stood up. “That might give you a clue,” she said. She picked her cloak up from the arm of the bench and swung it over her shoulders. “Well, I should be getting home. Mum will be wondering what I’m up to.” She winked at him.
Merry startled from his shock over the kiss. He hadn’t expected a kiss like that. “I’ll...I’ll help you with your pony.”
“Oh, that’s all right, Merry. You need to stay here with Ivy. I can saddle a pony just fine.”
“I should at least be taking you home. If you want to wait for Pip--”
“Merry, I’m fine. And if I wait for Pippin, I’ll be even later getting home, and what would my mum think then?” She raised an eyebrow at him.
Merry blushed. “Oh, yeah...um...good night, then,” he said. “We’ll...have to do this again. If you’d like, to. I mean--”
“I’d love to,” she said, smiling that lovely smile that he felt down to his toes. “Good night, Merry.” She turned to walk down the path to their stable.
Merry sighed and went in to check on Ivy. She was still sleeping soundly. He glanced out his window and saw Estella guide her pony out to the road. At that moment it finally hit him, what she meant by the kiss and the ‘clue’. She liked him? For a good long while, apparently?
He watched her pony disappear down the road and realized he couldn’t wait to see her again.
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