35. Chapter 34 - April 1426
Ivy dropped her fork. "Really?" She had heard all about Rohan from her father. He was a Rider for their King. The King had even sent her gifts.
He nodded. "The King invited us to visit for the summer."
"Are Estella and Theo going to come too?" she asked.
She saw her father and Estella share a look. Estella didn't look very happy. She hadn't seemed happy for a while. Ivy had heard them arguing last night, in their room, but wasn't able to hear what it was about.
"No. Estella can't leave right now and Theo's too young to make the trip."
Ivy wasn't too disappointed. Theo was kind of a pest now.
"Is Uncle Pippin going to come?"
"No, it's just going to be you and me," said her dad.
"Oh." Ivy frowned. She hadn't seen Uncle Pippin in a very long time. Not since they had gone to Tuckborough in February and met that girl. Diamond. Ivy didn't like Diamond. Diamond had been rude to her. Everyone said Diamond was going to marry Uncle Pippin. Which wasn't right, because she didn't think Diamond liked Uncle Pippin. Diamond was always scowling at him. Uncle Pippin didn't look too happy, either. She didn't think he loved Diamond at all, which confused her. He'd said he'd only marry someone he loved.
"We're going to leave tomorrow morning, so you have to get all packed."
Ivy left her plate half-full and raced off to her room. She pulled out the pack that Uncle Pippin had given her for his birthday two years ago. He had sent for it from Rohan and it had horses and a knot pattern worked in the leather. It matched the saddle he had gotten her last year. She had wondered what she would do with the saddle--it wouldn't fit any Shire ponies--until she got her own pony from her father on his birthday a month later. Star had come from Rohan. Like Stybba, she was taller and sleeker than the ponies in the Shire. Her dad told her she was part mearas.
She stuffed some clothes into the pack and raced back out to the table.
"I'm ready!" she said. She held up the pack, lumpy from the clothes she'd stuffed into it.
"Well, let me check your pack," her father said.
"I'll help her," Estella said suddenly, standing up from the table. She took Ivy's hand and led her back to her room. Estella showed her how to fold the clothes properly so they fit better. She also picked out a better assortment. Five blouses and a skirt would not get her through the summer. Estella didn't say much as they packed. She still didn't look happy.
"Are you mad that we're going?" Ivy finally asked.
Estella sighed. "No. I'm...I'm going to miss you, that's all," she said. She hugged Ivy tightly. "I love you, Ivy," she said.
"I love you," Ivy replied. She wished Estella could come too. But then they'd have to figure out what to do with Theo.
Early the next morning, Estella kissed them both goodbye. She hugged Ivy so tight, Ivy couldn't breathe for a moment. Then her father gathered Estella into a tight embrace. Estella was trying not to cry and Ivy heard her father murmur something into her ear. They kissed, then Estella rushed back into the house. Ivy looked up at her father. He gave her a weak smile and patted her head.
"Let's go, Ivy-lass," he said and they got on their ponies. Her father took the lead of the pony carrying their luggage and they rode away from Crickhollow. Ivy had butterflies in her stomach. She had never been out of the Shire before.
Their first night, they camped just off the road after passing through the Old Forest. "I wonder if Old Tom is still around," her dad said, looking off into the forest. And then he started to mumble a song, something like 'Ho! Tom Bobadil, Tom Bombadillo!' but Ivy wasn't really paying any attention. To the southeast she saw the rolling hills of the Barrow Downs. She shivered and stepped closer to her father. She knew all about those, from stories Uncle Pippin had told her. "Will the Barrow-wights find us here?" she whispered.
Her father stopped his song and knelt down next to her. "Barrow-wights? Who told you...?" He stopped and frowned and mumbled something about Uncle Pippin that included a Very Rude Word. "No, Ivy-lass. They won't. You're safe here with me."
Ivy nodded. She did feel safer with her dad here.
She lay cuddled in his arms that night, but she still couldn't help but listen for ghostly footsteps. All she heard were the normal sounds of a forest at night--crickets and tree frogs and mice burrowing through the leaves--and her dad's snoring. The next thing she heard was the banging of a skillet on rocks as her dad made their breakfast. Ivy sat up. She didn't remember falling asleep.
They arrived in Bree in the second evening of their journey. Ivy gaped at the people they passed. These were the biggest people she had ever seen! She had known that Big Folk were tall, but she hadn't imagined this! She wondered how tall her mother was.
They went into an inn that had a pony on the sign. The building was enormous, bigger even than Uncle Freddy's barn.
They stepped inside and it looked like any of the inns and pubs she'd seen in the Shire. Except everyone was so tall.
"Hello, Master Brandybuck! We haven't seen you in a good while. What can I do for you this evening." A huge man was leaning over the bar, looking at them. Ivy hid behind her dad.
"Hello, Master Butterbur. I'll be needing a room for the night and some supper."
"And who's this young lady?" he asked. Ivy peeked out from behind her dad. The man was smiling at her.
Her father put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her forward. "This is my daughter, Ivy."
The man thought for a moment. "Oh, that's right!" he said. He came around the bar and kneeled down in front of her. "I remember when you came through when she was just a wee thing." He held out his hand. "How do you do, Miss Ivy Brandybuck?"
She looked up at her dad. He nodded at her and she put her small hand into the man's huge one. He shook it gently then stood up. "I'll have one of the girls get you settled into a parlor and have my best room made ready for you."
They followed a lady into a back parlor. "Can I get you anything to drink while you're waiting on your supper, sir?" she asked.
Without even thinking, completely out of habit, Ivy said, "A cup of cider and a half-pint of your best ale."
The lady giggled and Ivy's eyes widened as she realized what she had said. She clapped a hand over her mouth. Her father was looking at her with narrowed eyes.
"That will be fine," he said to the lady, not taking his eyes off Ivy. He waited until the lady had left before saying anything.
"I take it you've been to an inn before?"
She nodded, her hand still over her mouth. Uncle Pippin was going to be in so much trouble when they got home.
"More than once?"
She nodded and dropped her hand. "But we haven't gone since before he found out he was getting married," she said, smiling sweetly, hoping that any little bit would help.
"Thanks for clearing up who took you."
Ivy cringed, squeezing her eyes shut. Stupid, stupid!
"Not that there was any question about who it was." There was a pause. "So is there anything else you'd like to tell me about?"
She shook her head. There were lots of things, but nothing she should tell him about. She cracked an eye open. He was still scowling at her but he didn't say anything else. She was relieved when the lady came back with their drinks and she could hide behind her cup of cider.
It took them over a month to get to Rohan. Ivy enjoyed having her dad to herself. He was often away to Brandy Hall or somewhere in Buckland, and when he was home she'd have to share him with Estella and Theo, or he'd be writing at the desk in his bedroom. But now it was just the two of them, spending their days riding side-by-side and their nights camped out under the stars. She'd been camping a few times with her dad but it had been nothing like this. As they got farther south from the Shire, the forests started to thin out, giving her a view of the wide night sky that took her breath away.
They travelled south on The Greenway road from Bree, which turned into the Old South Road at the Greyflood River. Once across the river, the fields turned from rolling to flat. This was the edge of Dunland. Her father told her that it was much safer to travel through than it had been before King Elessar. They didn't see many people on the road, just a few tiny settlements and the occasional traveller. The people always stared as they passed. They must have been just as amazed by seeing hobbits as Ivy was of seeing them.
As they neared the mountains, her dad told her about Théoden King, who had made him a Rider of the Mark, and a little about Éomer King. He avoided talking about when he'd actually served the kings, during the war, and she didn't ask. She remembered what Uncle Pippin had told her, that her father may not like to talk about it.
Ivy couldn't help but think about how close they were to Gondor. Her mother had been on her mind since first seeing the Big Folk in Bree. She had toyed with asking her father whether they could skip Rohan and go to see her mother, but she held her tongue. Her father wasn't comfortable talking about her mother. She wouldn't bother him about it. And maybe her mother didn't want to see her anyway.
They made a stop at Isengard and Ivy gaped at the great tower of Orthanc. She would never in her life have imagined something this tall. It was taller than any tree she'd ever seen. They were welcomed to Orthanc by the Rohirrim soldiers now stationed there and they had a small feast in to welcome them. Her father wore his armor for the occassion. Ivy was so proud of him, being respected by such large Men.
Ivy had always heard stories about Isengard and the Ents and she was excited to meet Treebeard. She didn't know whether to laugh or hide at the sight of the tree-like creature lumbering towards them, rumbling to himself.
"Master Meriadoc!" he bellowed and scooped her father up into his branch-like fingers. Ivy backed up, stumbling over her feet and landing on her behind, when Treebeard turned his golden eyes on her. But her father was laughing and he told her to just stand still and then she found herself rising up into the air in the Ent's hand.
Treebeard lifted her up in front of his face and looked at her. "Hoom! You've got a lovely little sprout, Master Meriadoc," he said, followed by a wheezy sound that seemed to be a chuckle. Though she was a little afraid of being so far off the ground, Ivy couldn't help but smile at him.
Treebeard took her and her father on a tour around Isengard and the growing forest, showing them all the young trees being planted to fix what the bad wizard had done. It didn't take long for Ivy to relax against the "branch" she was perched on. She thought Treebeard was very nice.
After a day's rest, they started their ride again, leaving the Misty Mountains behind them and crossing the plain south towards the White Mountains.
Just when her butt was really getting tired of the saddle her father pointed to a hill in the distance. "Edoras," he said.
Ivy squinted. She could just make out black shapes dotting the hill and on the top was a shimmer of gold.
She looked at her Dad. He was smiling. "I've missed it," he said.
"I'll race you there," Ivy said. Those fields just begged to be galloped across.
"No, Ivy. I haven't taught you how to ride fast yet," he told her.
"Uncle Pippin taught me," she said. She ignored her father's frown and kicked her pony's sides. She bent low as Star bolted out onto the plains towards Edoras. She hoped Uncle Pippin would forgive her for getting him in trouble, but she needed to gallop across that field.
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