21. Chapter 20 - March 1422
Elanor was walking now, toddling--still a bit unsteadily--on chubby legs. Today was her first birthday and she was decked out in a pretty dress, crisp and white, with ribbons in her hair. Ivy was chasing after her, determined to make sure Elanor didn’t fall down. She was a contrast to Elanor. Her dress was already stained from crawling under a bench in the garden to find a cat and her ribbons kept sliding out of her hair.
Now she had Elanor by the hand, leading her around the garden to look at the flowers. Ivy towered over her friend, though they were only a little over a year apart. Ivy was also losing her baby fat and it seemed she was going to be thin like a Big Folk child. Every day, she looked more and more like her mother.
Merry wondered how Éowyn was. He still hadn’t heard from her. Letters from Éomer King were always vague--she was doing a little better, but she still wasn’t ready to hear about Ivy. It hurt him to hear that, to hear that losing her daughter had affected Éowyn--strong, brave Éowyn--like this.
He wished things had been different. He wished...well, there was no use wishing that. Éowyn had Faramir. And it was silly of him to think she would have chosen differently. But... What if she had never met Faramir? Would she have married a hobbit? Would she have come to the Shire with him? Would he have stayed in Rohan? How would his life be different, if he was raising his daughter with her mother?
Estella came out the door with Rosie and waved to him and Merry berated himself for having those thoughts. How could he think about Éowyn like that when he had Estella. She loved him. She loved Ivy. But he couldn’t let go of Éowyn and it wasn’t fair to Estella. She deserved someone better than him. But he couldn’t let Estella go, either.
“Did you have fun at Elanor’s party, Ivy-lass?” Saradoc picked up his granddaughter and twirled her around, making her giggle.
“I got a bunny!” she exclaimed, shoving the little ragdoll rabbit that Rosie had made into her grandfather’s face.
“Did you now?” Saradoc exclaimed. “That’s a lovely rabbit, dearest. You should go show him to your Gran. I think she’s in the kitchen making cookies.”
Ivy’s eyes got wide at that and she wriggled out of her granddad’s arms to go racing off towards the Brandy Hall kitchen.
“She takes after you,” Saradoc said to his son with a wink. Pippin laughed. Saradoc turned to his nephew. “And you were just as bad!” It was Estella’s turn to giggle then.
“A letter came for you,” Saradoc said, going over to his desk. “Folco brought it here since you were in Hobbiton.” He pushed some papers around and found the small folded parchment. “It looks to be from your King,” he said.
Merry took the letter. It did indeed have the royal seal of Rohan. He smiled. “I haven’t heard from Éomer King in a while!” He sat down on a couch and opened the letter.
It surprised him, the affect the words had on him. He should have expected something like this to happen. So why did he feel like he’d been punched in the gut?
“What’s wrong, Merry?” Pippin asked.
“He says... he says that Éowyn is going to have a baby. She’s due soon...in May.”
“Oh!” Pippin said cheerfully. “That’s lovely for her and Faramir!”
“Yeah,” Merry said, still staring at the letter.
“Merry? Aren’t you happy for them?” Pippin asked.
He shrugged and looked up at Pippin. “I don’t know... I--”
“I should go,” Estella said suddenly, her voice tight. She turned and rushed out of Saradoc’s study.
“Estella!” Merry called after her, but she was already off and down the hall. He slumped back and ran a hand through his curls. “I’ve really messed this up,” he muttered. He’d forgotten Estella was there.
“Pippin, why don’t you go check on Estella,” Saradoc said.
“Right, Uncle Sar,” Pippin said. He hurried out of the study, closing the door behind him.
Saradoc sat next to Merry on the couch. “Do you still love her, Merry?”
“Of course I love Estella!”
His father sighed. “Not Estella. Éowyn.”
“Dad! I don’t--”
“Be honest with me, Merry.”
Merry’s shoulders slumped and he bowed his head. He nodded. “When I read she and Faramir are going to have a baby... for a moment, I knew how Faramir must have felt when he found out about Ivy.”
“Estella’s apprenticeship is just an excuse for not setting a date, isn’t it? Because of Éowyn? Because you’re still in love with her?”
“I don’t know, Dad. I love Estella. But...I can’t stop thinking about Éowyn. And I can’t stop thinking that by marrying Estella, I’ll be replacing Éowyn for Ivy.”
“Ivy needs a mother, Merry. And I know it’s harsh to say, but I know you haven’t heard from her mother. I know she hasn’t asked about Ivy. Is that what Ivy deserves? How can you replace someone she doesn’t even know, who doesn’t seem to want to know her?”
“Éowyn just... It’s hard for her... And--”
“Éowyn made the choice to give Ivy to you! You can’t worry about what’s best for Éowyn! You have to do what’s best for your daughter! And you have to do what’s best for you!” His father put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “You have to make the choice, Merry. You can’t string Estella along like this. If you can’t let your feelings for Éowyn go, if you can’t let this guilt go, then you have to break it off with Estella.”
Merry leaned back and stared at the ceiling. Estella. The thought of hurting her, the thought of losing her, made him sick to his stomach. She was a wonderful lass. She made him happy. And she would be a good mum to Ivy.
“Tell me, Merry. If you had to make the choice--right now, without thinking too much about it--who would you want to spend the rest of your life with?”
Merry’s mind raced. Hadn’t he just thought of that yesterday at Bag End? He tried to imagine who he’d want to raise his daugher with. What would a life with Éowyn be like? But all he could think of was Estella carrying Ivy to bed last night at Great Smials, and the warmth and happiness he’d felt at the sight of them.
“I’d choose Estella.” The words were out of his mouth before he’d even thought to say them. And after saying them, he had an immense feeling of relief, that he’d made his choice. And he knew it was the right one.
His father patted his shoulder. “Now, there’s a lass with a broken heart who deserves an explanation,” Saradoc said. “So I suggest you go find her before Pippin steals her away.” He nudged Merry and winked at him.
Merry nodded. He’d go find Estella and do the right thing.
He knocked on the door to her guest room and waited, hoping that Pippin had caught her before she left. He was relieved when Pippin answered the door. Behind him, he saw Estella sitting on her bed and sniffling into her handkerchief.
“I need to talk to Estella,” Merry said. Pippin just nodded and slipped out the door. Merry shut the door and turned to Estella. “I’m sorry.”
She shrugged and dabbed at her eyes. “You don’t have to be sorry, Merry,” she said. “You can’t help how you feel.” She took a deep breath. “But I think we need to end our courtship. I can’t do this anymore.”
He walked over to her and took her hands. “I’m so sorry, Estella, for what I’ve put you through. And you’re right. We need to end our courtship . But only because I think it’s time we were betrothed instead.”
She gasped and looked up at him. He knelt in front of her. “I’ve been an idiot, Estella. I admit that I have feelings for Éowyn. I mean...we went through a lot together and she’s my daughter’s mother. And I was afraid of trying to replace her as Ivy’s mum. But...” He squeezed her hands and looked into her teary brown eyes. “I love you. And the thought of losing you because of some infatuation... I couldn’t bear that, Estella. I love being with you. You make me happy. You love my daughter...” He pressed her hands to his cheek. “If you can forgive me for being an idiot, will you marry me?”
She met his gaze, frowning a little, studying him. Her brown eyes bore into him, but he held her gaze. He knew that if she saw any doubt in his eyes, she would be through with him. Estella Bolger would not let herself be a second choice to anyone. Her face softened and she smiled slightly.
“Of course I will, you idiot!” she said, her tears turning to laugher. Merry rested his head in her lap, relieved. He’d been so afraid that he had ruined things with her. She leaned down and kissed his ear. “I love you, too.”
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.