17. Chapter 16 - December 1420
Merry watched his mother fuss over the ribbons in Ivy’s hair, then turned to his father. “Almost as much as her granddad spoils her?”
“I won’t argue with you on that,” his father chuckled, shaking his head. “And I think it’s my turn to spoil my granddaughter.” He winked and handed Merry his cup, then made his way across the room to his wife and granddaughter.
Merry laughed, watching his parents playfully argue over who got to hold the baby. They had insisted on giving their granddaughter a grand party for her first birthday, with a feast that could have fed most of the Shire. Merry didn’t even bother to try to protest. Ivy herself didn’t seem to notice the big party that had been arranged for her. She was more interested in glittering Yule decorations and doting grandparents.
Merry spotted Frodo across the room, seated by the fire and chatting with some of his Brandybuck uncles. Merry was glad that Frodo had been able to make the trip. Frodo seemed to be back to his old self, and had settled right in to visiting with friends and relatives that he didn’t see much since moving to Hobbiton so long ago.
The Gamgees had made the trip with Frodo. Merry thought Rosie had never looked lovelier. She was six months along now and had a glow of happiness and contentment about her. Unlike her husband. Poor Sam clucked over her like a worried hen.
“She’ll be fine, Sam,” Merry had said, when Estella had taken Rosie’s hand and led her off into the crowd.
“I know, Mister Merry, it’s just--”
“Sam. I know.” He put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I’ve been through it.” He shrugged. “Sort of.”
Merry stood off at the edge of the party, watching the dancing. Pippin had Ivy in his arms, “dancing” with her. Ivy was shrieking with laughter as he twirled her around the floor.
Next to him, Estella sighed. “Rosie looks so lovely, doesn’t she?” she said.
Merry looked away from his daughter to Sam and Rosie, dancing next to Pippin. They were watching Pippin and Ivy and smiling. Sam had one hand resting on the side of Rosie’s belly. “Yes, she is,” he said. He looked down at Estella, who was intent on the dancers, and possibilities went through his mind again. She’d make a lovely mum and he could easily imagine having babies with her. But he already had a baby. And how could he try to replace Ivy’s mum?
The song ended and Pippin brought Ivy over to them, followed by Sam and Rosie. Pippin was a little out of breath. “The birthday girl is wearing me out!” he said, handing her over to Merry. “I’m going to get an ale.” He leaned in and tweaked Ivy’s nose. “Would you like an ale, too, Ivy-lass?” he asked with a wink.
“Pippin!” Merry scolded.
“Pippin!” Ivy said, in a perfect imitation of her father’s exasperated tone.
For a split second they all stared at her in amazement. Then they all burst out laughing. Ivy did, too, clapping her hands and looking quite pleased with herself.
“She finally says your name, and she yells at you!” Merry laughed, poking Pippin in the shoulder.
“Yes, yes, very funny,” Pippin said. He wrinkled his nose at Ivy. “I thought we were friends, Ivy-lass,” he said, trying to sound hurt. Ivy just giggled and buried her face in her father’s neck. Pippin chuckled and patted her back. “Well, I’m going to get my ale,” he said.
“I can’t believe she said that,” Rosie said, grinning as they watched Pippin make his way across the room.
“Well, she hears her father use it often enough,” Estella said, giggling. She patted Merry’s arm. “Now he’s got two of you to scold him.”
It was nearly bright as daylight walking under a full moon in the snow. Merry had invited Estella for a walk in the garden now that the party was winding down. Ivy had been taken off to bed by her grandmother hours ago. Sam and Rosie had gone off to bed as well, and Pippin and Frodo were busy helping Saradoc and a few others empty the ale casks. Which finally left Merry with some time alone with Estella.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been a year already,” Merry said, more to himself than to Estella. A year ago today, he’d been sitting in a room in Rivendell watching Éowyn push their daughter into the world.
“They grow up fast,” Estella said. “It’s a strange thing to see babies I’ve helped deliver toddling after their mothers at the market.” She smiled and squeezed the arm he had linked with hers. “But it’s nice, too, seeing them grow up.”
Merry nodded. “I am glad she’s not a helpless infant anymore. I don’t have to worry so much. And she’s fun to play with now. I mean, not that she wasn’t fun before--”
“I know what you mean,” Estella said, chuckling.
“It’s amazing, though,” Merry said excitedly, “how she pays attention to us now, and she tries to imitate things that Pip and I do, and she wants to explore everything. And she’s changing. She’s got her own personality. And it’s amazing how much she’s starting to look like her mum.”
Estella stiffened, the slightest hesitation in her step. “Well, that’s to be expected,” she said, keeping her voice neutral.
They walked a little farther in silence. Merry had never noticed Estella feeling...jealous?...over Éowyn before. Of course, they hadn’t talked about Éowyn since that evening after Sam and Rosie’s wedding. Did she have something to be jealous about? He wasn’t sure. But it did seem like he should do something to reassure her. Merry tugged her to a stop and stepped around to look at her. “I had a wonderful time tonight,” he said and he bent down and kissed her.
It was a wonderful kiss, sweet and soft, and Merry sighed. He could get used to having this kiss every day, whenever he wanted it. He tugged her closer, pressing their bodies together, and deepened the kiss.
When he pulled away, Estella was smiling at him, looking at him a bit expectantly. He knew what she wanted. This was where he was supposed to bring up a betrothal, here in a romantic snowy garden under the moonlight. And he nearly did. He opened his mouth to say the words, but images of Ivy, of her birth just a year ago, of Éowyn’s face as she looked at their daughter that first time, invaded his thoughts and made him close his mouth.
He stepped back and took Estella’s hand. “We should probably go in,” he said. “It’s a little cold out here.”
He saw the slight fall of her shoulders and the light go out of her eyes. “Yes,” she said with a forced cheerfulness. “What would your mum say if I let you catch cold.”
They found the great hall mostly empty of guests. Frodo and Pippin were on a couch against the wall near the ale casks, fast asleep. They were leaning against each other and snoring slightly. Merry was happy to see that Frodo had a smile on his face. It was almost hard to believe that the happy hobbit passed out on the couch with Pippin was the same Frodo who had survived their quest, who had been so ill that spring.
“Do you want to wake them?” Estella asked.
“No, let them sleep it off here,” Merry said. “I don’t want to disturb them.”
He walked Estella down to her guest room. He thought he should say something, that he should apologize, but he wasn’t exactly sure what he should be apologizing for.
They reached her door and Estella turned to him. “Good night, Merry,” she said. She stood on tiptoe to give him a peck on the cheek, then slipped into her room and shut the door before he could say anything. He sighed. This wasn’t going well and he wasn’t sure what to do about it.
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.