51. Chapter 50 - March 1432
Her whole life felt as empty as her room. Her grandfather was gone, struck down just days ago by a massive apoplexy, and she would never go for a walk along the High Hay with him or hear stories about the Brandybucks from him or get a peppermint kiss from him ever again.
Her sorrow was only compounded by the fact that she wouldn’t be able to see her mother again this year. Her father was Master of Buckland now, and he had too many responsibilities to take care of before he could take Ivy to Rohan again.
Thinking about her grandfather and her mother and leaving her home just made that empty feeling worse and no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t stop the tears. She heard steps in the doorway and rolled over to hide her distress, but then arms were around her and her father’s voice was in her ear. “Oh, Ivy-lass, it will be all right,” he whispered and kissed her cheek.
She looked up at him, into his teary eyes, and tried to smile. She had to be strong for him, because he had lost his dad and now he had to be Master of Buckland.
“I love you, Dad,” she said.
He smiled and pulled her close. “I love you, too, my beautiful girl.” Then he let her go and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “Are you ready to go?”
She nodded. They stood up and Ivy looked around the sad, empty room once more. Then she took her father’s hand and he led her out of Crickhollow and to the waiting cart.
Ivy flopped down onto her bed and stared at her new room. Well, not really new. It was the room she’d always stayed in at Brandy Hall. But now it was her real room, with all her things in it. She’d always liked staying in this room before. Now it only reminded her that Granddad was gone. She reached over to the table next to her bed and picked up the little wooden horse. Uncle Éomer had sent it to her when she was a baby. She set it back down and turned over to face the wall. The little horse reminded her how much she missed her mother, too.
She sniffled. It was hard being here at Brandy Hall, knowing that she couldn’t just get up and go down to the Master’s study and find Granddad looking over his ledgers. It was her dad’s study now. He’d been very busy in these first few days at the Hall, always having to meet with someone or go over the ledgers with Gran.
She rolled off the bed and left her room. She couldn’t stand being alone right now. She had to find something to take her mind off her granddad and her mother and everything. She walked out to the entrance hall and stopped. The doors were open to the garden and she could hear her cousins playing outside. She sighed. Estella had told her moving to Brandy Hall would be a good chance to get to know all her cousins better. Ivy wasn’t too sure about that. She knew they still thought her odd, especially now that she was taller than most adult hobbits. It was even more obvious now that she didn’t fit in.
And that wasn’t all. She just wasn’t interested in her cousins. A few of the girls had been polite and asked her to join them one day, but it hadn’t been much fun. Sure, she had played some of those same games last summer with the Gamgees, but it had been different then because they’d always played those games together. Though they were the same age, with her cousins it just seemed... childish.
She glanced at the closed door to the study. If the door was closed, that meant her dad wasn’t there or was busy. She knew better than to disturb him. He had so much to worry about with becoming Master. Estella had told her and her brothers that they had to be very good and not cause any trouble for her dad right now.
She thought about maybe finding Estella, but Estella might find her a chore to do if she was bored. She would never be bored enough to go looking for a chore. Maybe she’d go to the kitchen. It was still a while to supper and she was feeling a little hungry. Perhaps Viola, Brandy Hall’s head cook, would be making tarts. She made the best tarts in the world.
Viola wasn’t in the kitchen. It was empty except for three of the young kitchen maids. They sat at the table, peeling apples and giggling. They looked up when Ivy came in. “Good afternoon, Miss,” they all said, nodding their heads a little. Then they went back to peeling and continued their whispering and giggling.
Ivy picked an apple from the basket on the floor. It was still cold from a winter spent in the cellar, but it was only a little soft. Still good enough for baking. Or eating, if you were really hungry.
“I got a long one!” one of the girls exclaimed, holding up a length of apple peel. She beamed at her giggling friends and tossed the peel over her shoulder.
Ivy watched in amazement as the girls got up to examine the fallen peel. “Looks like an ‘S’,” one of them said.
They all looked at each other for a moment, then another said. “Seldred Brownlock?”
The girl who had thrown the peel wrinkled her nose. “Do you think?” she asked. “Not him, surely. I think I’d rather be an old maid.”
“Sandy Longbottom?” suggested the first girl.
The girl who had thrown the peel brightened considerably. “Oh, that would be fine!” She said. They all giggled and went back to the table to resume their work.
“What was that for?” Ivy asked.
“You don’t know?” asked the girl who had thrown the peel. “If you get a long apple peel, you throw it over your shoulder. If it lands in the shape of a letter, it’s the initial of your future husband.”
Ivy gaped at her. How could an apple peel tell you who you would marry?
“It’s a custom from Willowbottom,” said the third girl. “That’s where Dahlia’s from. She’s my cousin and she just moved here.” The girl trailed off, blushing, and bowed her head.
“Want to try?” asked Dahlia. She held out her paring knife to Ivy.
The first girl nudged Dahlia. “Dahlia, she can’t do it. She’s--”
“She can try if she wants,” said Dahlia.
“I’ll try,” said Ivy, stepping forward to take the knife. She didn’t like that girl saying she couldn’t try it. It was just a silly game, anyway. She began peeling her apple. The girls watched her silently as she shaved off a long length of peel until the knife slipped a little and cut it from the apple. She couldn’t help but feel a little thrill of excitement as she picked up the peel from the table and tossed it over her shoulder.
The girls rushed over to look at the peel. “Looks like a ‘D’,” Dahlia said.
“It could be a ‘P’,” her cousin said. “See there--”
“No, it’s definitely a ‘D’,” Dahlia said. She turned to Ivy and looked at her thoughtfully. “Dodimas Brandybuck, perhaps? I met him this morning.” She winked at Ivy.
Ivy giggled. Dodimas was a distant cousin. He was also twenty-six. “I don’t think so,” she said.
“Why not?” Dahlia asked, grinning at her. “He’s very handsome--”
“Because she’s only twelve!” the first girl exclaimed. “Like I tried to tell you!”
Dahlia gaped at Ivy. “She’s not!”
“That’s the Master’s daughter,” her cousin whispered harshly, still loud enough for Ivy to hear.
“Oh!” Dahlia’s eye’s widened and her face flushed bright red. She bowed her head. “I”m sorry, Miss. I didn’t know. I’m new to Buckland, I just started here today, and--”
“It’s fine,” Ivy said.
“I’d never... If I’d known...” Dahlia looked like she might cry. “I was out of place to talk to you like that, Miss. I’m sorry.”
“I agreed to play, didn’t I? You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Dahlia nodded, looking a little relieved. “Thank you, Miss.”
Ivy sighed. She’d been enjoying herself until Dahlia found out who she was.
The girls sat back down to their task, eyes on their apples. They weren’t whispering and giggling anymore. Probably because she was there. Ivy picked up her partially peeled apple and left.
Outside the door, she heard Dahlia ask, “Her mum is really one of the Big Folk?”
Ivy bit her lip and kept walking. For a while, Dahlia had treated her like any other girl. Perhaps she’d hoped a little that Dahlia could be a friend. But not anymore. She was too young, one of the Big Folk and the Master’s daughter. Where could she fit in here?
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