8. Chapter 7 - January 1420
They turned south just before the bridge, taking the Buckland Road that led to home. Merry sighed. He was glad to be home. Travelling with a baby was hard. He’d had very little sleep and being on the pony all day didn’t help either. He had worried about travelling in winter, but the elven blankets kept Ivy warm and happy. Where there were no inns along the East Road, she slept in his arms between himself and Pippin. At least this heavy snow had held off until they reached the Shire.
He glanced over at Pippin, scowling. Pippin was wide awake and cheerful. His cousin had slept through all but Ivy’s loudest cries, but Merry would wake at the slightest noise from his daughter. The barmaid at Bree, concerned about his haggard appearance, had told him it was his ‘fatherly instinct’. Merry hoped that Pippin would have lots and lots of babies someday to keep him up all night.
They reached the lane that led to Crickhollow and Pippin nudged his pony into a trot, to ride ahead to to get the house warmed up. By the time Merry arrived at their cottage, smoke was rising from the chimney. He quickly took care of his pony, keeping Ivy cuddled in her sling. She didn’t wake at all. She’d become used to constant movement on her journey and seemed to be able to sleep through anything.
Pippin was waiting for them in the parlor when he came in, Ivy’s bottle already prepared.
“Give her to me while you change,” he said.
Merry passed him the sleeping baby. This time, Ivy woke and fussed a little. It was about time for her to eat, after all. Pippin settled himself in the chair next to the fire, Ivy in his arms. She latched on to her bottle, her small fist grabbing Pippin’s shirt. Merry smiled at them, then went to change out of his traveling clothes.
When he returned, the bottle was empty and Pippin had Ivy held to his shoulder, murmuring to her.
“What is Uncle Pippin telling you?” Merry asked as he bent over his daughter.
Pippin patted her back. “That she’s the most beautiful lass to ever grace the Shire and she’s going to break a lot of hearts someday.”
“She’s not even a month old yet!” Merry said. He slumped down in the chair next to Pippin, exhausted from his journey. “Don’t even start with that. It’s not something a father wants to hear until she’s at least...forty.”
Pippin grinned at him. “But she’s half Big Folk and they come of age at, what, eighteen? You may have to worry about it sooner than you think.”
Merry frowned. “You’re not helping me feel any better, Pippin.”
Pippin moved Ivy down to the crook of his arm. “But we don’t have to worry, right Ivy-lass? Your dad and Uncle Pippin have you to themselves for a while yet.” Pippin kissed her curly head and she waved her arms and gurgled at him.
Merry sat on the couch in his father’s study, tapping his foot nervously, Ivy wrapped in her blanket and asleep on his lap. The maid had gone to get his parents. He’d kept Ivy under his cloak until she’d left. He wanted his parents to learn about their new granddaughter before the Brandy Hall rumor mill did. He glanced up at the clock on the mantle. What was taking them so long? He wanted to get this over with. He’d spent the whole trip going over what to say to them. Not that it mattered, because he suddenly couldn’t remember a word of it...
“Well, at least you’ve come back quicker this time,” his father said behind him. The tone of his voice told Merry that Saradoc Brandybuck wasn’t pleased with his son’s sudden travels. “You left a lot of responsibilities hanging for other hobbits to take on.”
“I had another responsibility come up,” said Merry, turning to look at his parents as they came into the study.
“Why did you have to leave, Merry?” his mother asked. “Folco said you went to Rivendell.”
Merry looked over at Pippin, who just shrugged at him, and he decided to just get it over with.
He stood up, and pulled back the edge of the blanket to reveal its contents. “This is my daughter, Ivy.”
His parents gaped at him in shock, his mother’s hand going to her mouth. Then she rushed towards him. “A daughter, Merry?” she whispered, pulling the blanket back further to see the baby. Merry passed Ivy to her and she just stared at her granddaughter for a moment.
“She’s lovely,” Esmeralda said. She looked up at him. “But... where is her mother?”
Merry dropped his eyes, avoiding his mother’s questioning look. He felt like a tween getting caught at something--wasn’t this every tween lad’s worst fear, having to tell your parents you got a lass in trouble. “Rivendell, now,” he said. “But soon she’ll be traveling back to Gondor.”
“Gondor? Why is she in Gondor?”
He made himself look up at his mother. He wasn’t a tween anymore. He was a grown hobbit who had to face his responsibilities. He opened his mouth to explain all that had happened, the circumstances that led to his daughter’s existence, but his father cut him off. “She’s one of the Big Folk. Isn’t she?”
“Yes,” said Merry, meeting his father’s stern gaze.
His father frowned. “So she was too embarrassed to have a hobbit child and abandoned her?”
“She did not abandon her!” Merry barely suppressed an angry shout, mindful of his sleeping daughter. “If you had seen her the days since Ivy was born, the sorrow and anguish she is going through...” He sighed. “A decision had to be made. It would be too hard for a hobbit child to grow up in Gondor. She wanted Ivy to be raised among hobbits.”
“Oh, the poor girl,” she said quietly, gently rocking Ivy. “What a horrible thing to go through. Is she all alone?”
“No. She is with her husband and her brother.”
“Husband?” Saradoc Brandybuck glared at his son. “I thought you were raised better than that!”
“She wasn’t married when Ivy was conceived. She hadn’t even met her husband yet.”
His father frowned. “So what does this husband think of all this.”
“He is a good and honorable man. He loves his wife and understands the circumstances of...how we got Ivy.”
His father raised an eyebrow at him. “What’s there to understand?”
Merry took a deep breath. He hadn’t yet told his parents the details of what had happened to him. They only knew he’d been in a battle in Gondor. “She was conceived on the eve of the battle. Her mother is one of the Rohirrim and rode to war disguised as a man. I was the only one who knew the truth. We took comfort from each other, because we didn’t know if we would live through the next day.”
“Oh, Merry,” his mother whispered. She reached out and touched his arm. He patted her hand.
His father processed this information for a moment, then gave a quick nod, the scowl disappearing from his face. He looked over at Pippin and furrowed his brows. “And what’s your part in all this?” he asked his nephew accusingly.
Pippin startled at the sudden attention. “Um...no part at all. I wasn’t even there,” he said. “I was in Gondor. With the future husband.” He shrugged and gave an innocent smile.
“Oh, it doesn’t matter where she came from,” Merry’s mother said. She smiled at her son. “You have a beautiful daughter, Merry, and she will be loved.” She walked over to her husband. “Would you like to hold your granddaughter?”
Saradoc tried to look gruff as he took the baby, but Ivy worked her magic and soon his face softened and he smiled at her.
Esmeralda turned to her son. “We’ll get your room ready for you, and get the nursery set up for Ivy...”
“No, mum,” Merry said. “I’m staying at Crickhollow. She’s my responsibility and I won’t be turning her over to others to raise.”
His mother frowned at him. “But how can you manage a baby on your own?”
“I’ve been managing just fine. And I’ve got Pip to help me.”
His parents both looked at Pippin, with faces that showed they weren’t comforted by that.
“You know,” said Pippin, standing up, “I can be responsible when I want to be!”
“Pip’s great with Ivy,” Merry said, “I don’t know what I’d have done without him.” He smiled at his cousin, then turned back to his mother. “I will need you to watch her for me, though, while I take care of my other responsibilities.” He glanced at his father, then looked back at his mother. “And I need to get some baby things. A crib and clothes...” He shrugged, not quite sure what all a baby needed.
His mother pursed her lips, and Merry was sure she was going to try to talk him out of it, but then she sighed. “I’ve still got your crib, but we’ll have to ask your cousins for clothes for a little girl.”
Ivy woke up then, her sleepy whine quickly escalating into wails. “What’s the matter, love?” her grandfather cooed at her while he gently rocked her.
“She’s hungry I expect,” Merry said. He retrieved Ivy from his father. “Are you hungry, love?” he asked her. He patted her bottom. The diaper felt clean, so that didn’t seem to be the problem. She was most likely hungry.
“However have you been feeding her?” his mother asked.
Pippin was already pulling out the bottle. “The elves gave us a bottle and a mixture to add to water when we can’t get milk.”
Esmeralda raised an eyebrow at him. She didn’t look very pleased with that idea. “Well, bring it down to the kitchen and we’ll get her some milk.”
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