7. Chapter 6 - December 1419
It was she who had decided on a week. Merry was willing to stay longer, to give her more time, but Éowyn knew it would only get harder the longer they put it off. She had to let her daughter go. She leaned forward to run her fingers over a tiny foot covered in a light down of hair. Her daughter would definitely take after her father. She was so small, Faramir could just about hold her in one hand.
Merry had named her Ivy. “Ivy flourishes wherever it puts down roots,” he had said. An old Shire saying. She hoped it would prove true for her daughter as well.
Éowyn leaned back, wrapping her arms around herself. At first, she hadn’t wanted to see Ivy outside of nursing her. But Aerlyn had convinced her to spend time with her daughter. The elf had scolded her, telling her she would regret it if she didn’t. Éowyn didn’t know. It would have been painful either way.
She looked at the baby again and without even thinking about it, she reached down and scooped Ivy up. She closed her eyes, trying to memorize the weight of her daughter in her arms, the warmth of Ivy’s skin, her scent...she fought the sudden tears. She didn’t know how she was going to do this. She wished Aerlyn hadn’t talked her into this. She wished she had never seen Ivy, that Merry had just taken her away at birth. She wished that she had never agreed to this, that she would be taking her daughter home with her.
Thinking of Merry calmed her. She thought of the pure joy in his eyes when he looked at Ivy. Éowyn ran a finger along Ivy’s slightly pointed ear. For all that Merry had done for her, for giving her hope and her life, she would do this for him. She would give him Ivy and there would be no regrets. He deserved nothing less than the joy their daughter brought to him.
She was startled by a knock at the door. Éowyn lay Ivy back in her cradle and stood, wondering who it could be. Faramir, Merry and Pippin were visiting Bilbo and Elrond, and Aerlyn was with her family.
She opened the door and gasped at the sight of her brother. “Éomer?”
“Hello, sister,” he said, embracing her.
She pulled back, her heart racing in shock. “What are you doing here?”
Éomer looked at her, confused. “I received a letter from Faramir. He didn’t say much, only that it was urgent that I come see you, that you needed to see me.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “What is so urgent that you would interrupt your honeymoon?”
She scowled, angry at Faramir. She thought they had agreed on this, that she wouldn’t tell her brother yet.
Éomer frowned at her. “What’s wrong?”
It was at that moment that Ivy decided to awaken. Éomer looked up at the baby’s cry. Éowyn rushed to the cradle and picked up her daughter, rocking and shushing her. But Ivy needed to nurse. Éowyn cursed hobbit appetites. There was no way to hide this from her brother now.
She turned to Éomer. “This is my daughter, Ivy,” she said. She sat in the chair, loosening her gown, and brought Ivy to her breast.
Éomer gaped at her. “How can this be? You’ve only been gone three months and you didn’t show when you left.” He walked over and looked down at the baby. “She’s so small. I didn’t think babies born so early could survive.”
Éowyn looked down at her daughter. “She was not born early, Éomer. I was six months along at my wedding.”
“Six months? How...”
“She is not Faramir’s child, although he would accept her as his own. Ivy was conceived before I ever met him, on the eve of battle when I sought comfort from a friend.”
Éomer squatted down in front of her, studying the nursing baby. He ran a finger along Ivy’s pointed ear, then his eyes rested on a tiny foot. He touched the downy covering gently. “Does Master Holbytla know what he has done?” he asked coldly.
“He is here, Éomer. He came as soon as I wrote him.” She scowled at her brother. “Although I never intended to get with child, he has done nothing that I did not want him to do.” She got the satisfaction of making Éomer blush.
“Where is Faramir? Have you sent your husband away so you could be with your lover.”
She slapped him. “My husband is with Merry right now, visiting Lord Elrond. Faramir understands what happened and blames no one. Apparently he thought you would understand as well, but I see he was wrong.”
Éomer shook his head and stood up. “How will you explain this? It’s obvious that the child is a hobbit. Do you think people will not notice that she is not your husband’s child?”
“No one will know, Éomer. Merry is taking her back to the Shire. She will be raised among hobbits.” She glared at him. “I do not want her raised where people will so quickly judge her by her size or parentage.”
They heard voices in the hallway and the door opened, admitting Faramir and the hobbits.
“Éomer King!” Merry said, going down on one knee. Faramir and Pippin both bowed.
Éomer got up and went to Merry, roughly pulling him up. “Théoden King trusted you, and you repay him by using my sister? I am no longer your king. You are released from my service!”
“Éomer!” Éowyn said sharply. Ivy startled from her nursing and began to cry.
Faramir clasped Éomer’s arm. “I think we need to talk, brother,” he said calmly.
Éomer released Merry with a scowl and he followed Faramir into the courtyard.
Faramir crossed the courtyard until he was on the opposite side from the house. He turned to his brother-in-law. “I think you should reconsider your decision to release Merry from your service.”
Éomer stopped in his tracks. “What?”
“Merry is one of the most honorable people I know. It is Rohan’s loss if you release him.”
Éomer shook his head at his brother-in-law. “Do you hear yourself? He bedded your wife, got her with child, yet you defend him?”
“She was not my wife at the time. And if he had not been there for her, she would likely not be here today.”
Éomer scowled. “What are you talking about?”
“She was looking for death, Éomer. She rode to war not caring if she lived or died. We have both been in battle enough to have seen it before. A soldier looking for death will find it. Merry gave her hope. He brought her back. If it wasn’t for him, your sister would have been dead long before they met the Witch-king. I have my wife because of him and if the unintended result is Ivy, then I would have them follow the same path if they could do it over again.”
Éomer bowed his head. He’d been so busy those days before the war, he hadn’t paid much attention to his sister. He vaguely remembered her being upset about something, but he couldn’t remember what it was. He hadn’t cared at the time. And the next time he saw her, she’d been lying on that field... “I did not know my sister was in such despair.”
“No one did, Éomer. No one but Merry.”
Merry folded the clothes and diapers Aerlyn had given him into a pack, preparing for their journey, while Pippin rocked a sleeping Ivy. Éowyn had sent Ivy with them after Faramir and Éomer left and they’d finished her meal with a bottle. Éowyn hadn’t wanted her daughter around for the coming confrontation. Merry felt ashamed, that Éomer King no longer wanted him in his service. He wondered how Théoden King would have felt about this. Would he have dismissed him as well?
A knock sounded on the door, heavy and quick. Not an elf. Merry stared at the door for a moment. It had to be either Faramir or Éomer. He really hoped it was Faramir. He opened the door and looked up into Éomer’s face, serious but no longer angry. Merry backed away from the door and went down on one knee. He would still consider Éomer his King, even if the King no longer desired his service.
“Where is your sword, Master Meriadoc?” Éomer asked, his voice calm.
Merry ignored Pippin’s worried look and retrieved his sword. He supposed there was some sort of formal ritual for releasing him from service. He just hoped it didn’t involve the sword meeting his body. He took a deep breath, knelt again, and handed Éomer the sword.
“Rise Meriadoc, Rider of Rohan of the household of Meduseld. Take your sword and bear it unto good fortune.”
Merry looked up at him. “My lord?”
“I talked with Faramir. And with Éowyn. I was told what you have done for my sister.” He paused for a moment. “I apologize for my outburst. I realize now that I owe you for my sister’s life. Will you return to my service?”
Merry took the sword. “On my part, I have never left your service.”
Éomer motioned for Merry to rise. The king gripped Merry’s shoulder and gave him a nod. Then he walked over to where Pippin sat with the baby. He leaned over to look at her.
“She is a beautiful girl.”
“Would you like to hold her?” Pippin asked.
Éomer nodded and Pippin passed Ivy to him. She was tiny in her uncle’s large hands, and it truly hit Merry for the first time that his daughter was from a line of Kings of Men. Her blood went back to Eorl himself.
“She is so small,” Éomer said.
“She’s actually large for a hobbit baby,” said Pippin.
“Amazing,” said Éomer. He smoothed Ivy’s blond curls. “I will stay here with Éowyn until after you leave. I think she will need the support.” He smiled at his tiny niece. “Faramir is right--you cannot help but fall in love with her.”
Merry waited on his pony in the courtyard, watching the door to the house. He could not imagine what Éowyn was going through right now. He felt guilty for the pain and grief he was causing her. At this moment, she was saying goodbye to her daughter.
Beside him, Aerlyn was going over the baby’s pack with Pippin, making sure they had everything. Even Pippin was unusually subdued this morning, with none of his usual laughter or joking.
Soon the door opened and Éomer emerged carrying Ivy. He walked up to Merry and handed him the baby. Merry settled her into a sling. Her blanket and the sling were both made of the same fabric as their elven cloaks and would protect Ivy from the cold.
He looked back at Éomer. “How is she?”
Éomer sighed. “It will be difficult. They will leave Rivendell in a week or two, once she is able to ride. Éowyn will stay at Edoras for a while while Faramir returns to his duties. She will return to Ithilien when she is ready to face her responsibilites.”
Merry nodded sadly.
Éomer lay his hand on Merry’s arm. “Take care of my sister-daughter, Master Meriadoc. Do not hesitate to ask if you need anything.” He looked past Merry, “Farewell, Pippin.” He touched Ivy’s brow then turned and went back into the house.
Merry and Pippin said goodbye to Aerlyn, thanking her for her help. Aerlyn kissed the baby and wished them well. They rode out of the gate and Merry gave a last look back at the shuttered window of Éowyn’s room. They had not said goodbye. She had secluded herself away since last night and Merry figured it was easier for both of them this way.
They rode out of the city and across the river and caught the road to the Shire.
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