9. Chapter 8 - January 1420
He picked up Ivy and cuddled her under his chin as he stumbled out to the kitchen. He inhaled her baby scent, that secret weapon of babies that ensured that you still loved them at three o’clock in the morning.
He sleepily went through the routine of pouring the milk into the pan, warming it up, filling the bottle, sit. How many times had he done this? Why did he tell his mother he wanted to do this on his own? That’s right, he was going to be a responsible hobbit now. Like he didn’t have enough responsibilities.
His father had given him a few more days before he was expected back to his tasks. Cleaning up the Shire was going to be a lot of work with long hours. He yawned. Maybe he should see if Éomer needed any more Riders. They probably got to sleep more.
Ivy finished her bottle and he burped her, remembering to put the towel on his shoulder first. She always spit up. Unless Pippin fed her. She never seemed to spit up on Pippin. Maybe she liked Pippin better. Maybe Pippin should get up and feed her at three in the morning.
But Pippin was sound asleep. Their second night home Pippin had offered to take her for the night, to give him some rest. Although Pippin had rarely woke up when Ivy cried on their trip back, they figured he would if she was in his room and Merry wasn’t there to get her. Wrong. Merry had let her cry for five minutes--five long, painful minutes of his fatherly instincts screaming at him to go to his daugher--before he went in to get her. Pippin never heard her.
He took his sleeping daughter back to their room, kissing her gently before putting her in the crib, and crawled back into bed. For three more hours.
“So it’s true!”
“Hello, Frodo! Hello, Sam!” Pippin said as Frodo burst into the parlor, Sam behind him. Merry looked up at them, from where he was rocking Ivy in the chair by the window. He smiled. Only four days since Brandy Hall had found out about Ivy. The gossip chain was going full-force.
Frodo leaned over to look at the baby. “Everyone is saying you went to Rivendell and brought back a baby girl.” He touched a finger to Ivy’s fist and she grabbed on, squinting up at the person standing over her.
Merry chuckled at his cousin. “It appears so.”
Frodo wrinkled his nose at him, then looked back at Ivy. “So where did she come from?”
Pippin stepped over patted Frodo’s shoulder. “Oh, Frodo, are we going to have to have a little talk?”
Sam tried unsucessfully to hide his laughter. Frodo pushed off Pippin’s hand and made a face at Sam. “You know what I mean.” He made a playful jab at Pippin, making Pippin laugh and skip out of the way of the fist headed for his arm, and for a moment Merry saw the same old Frodo they’d grown up with, the Frodo who had left The Shire with a ring in his pocket. He turned back to Merry. “So she is your daughter?”
“Yes, she’s my daughter,” Merry said, a bit of pride sneaking into his voice. “Mine and Éowyn’s.”
“Éowyn?” Sam exclaimed. He turned as red as one of his prized tomatoes when they all looked at him. He shrugged and lowered his eyes, shuffling his feet. “Sorry, Mister Merry.”
“It’s all right, Sam,” laughed Merry, “I know it’s not exactly expected.”
Frodo raised an eyebrow at him. “I didn’t realize you two were...” He gave Merry a crooked grin and shrugged.
“We’re not,” Merry said quickly. “It was... unexpected.” He shook his head. “I’m still not entirely sure how it happened.”
Pippin turned to Sam. “They just can’t figure out how that baby got in there.” They both cracked up, although Sam did try to fight it.
Merry frowned at Pippin. “Don’t you have somewhere to go today? Isn’t the Thain expecting you?” Pippin had been getting ready to leave for a trip to Tuckborough when Frodo and Sam had arrived. According to Merry’s mum, Pippin’s dad was none too pleased that Pippin had left The Shire again without any word. Pippin was bound to get an earful during his visit.
Pippin made a face at him. “I was hoping to forget! Thanks a bunch, Merry.” He sighed. “Well, I suppose I have to go now. Goodbye, Frodo. Goodbye, Sam. Hopefully we’ll see each other again, if I survive this trip.”
“Pippin!” Merry scolded.
Pippin bent over and kissed Ivy’s silky curls. “Goodbye, Ivy-lass. Don’t forget your Uncle Pippin.”
Merry rolled his eyes as Pippin picked up the pack that had been set on the parlor couch, then dragged himself out the front door.
“Things still not going well with his father?” Frodo asked.
Merry shook his head. “Our sudden trip to Rivendell didn’t help any. And his decision to live here instead of Tuckborough is still a sore spot with his family.”
“Poor Pip,” Frodo sighed. “I think I’d rather face a troll than the Thain.” Merry exchanged looks with Frodo and they both snorted. The both of them had experienced plenty of run-ins with the Thain, usually having to do with being a bad influence on Pippin. Then Frodo shook his head and turned his attention back to Ivy. “Now what’s this about Éowyn?” He shot Merry a wicked grin.
Merry’s cheeks warmed. “Well, we’re just friends. But before the battle we, um, well... I mean, we thought we were going to die and...”
“All right, Merry, don’t worry, I understand!” Frodo laughed. He sat in the chair next to Merry’s and held out his arms. “Can I hold her?”
“Of course.” Merry passed the baby to him. He looked sadly at Frodo’s maimed hand, obvious against the white blanket.
Frodo smiled down at the baby in his arms. “So her name’s Ivy?”
“Oh! Yes. Sorry.” Merry smiled apologetically.
“Hello, Ivy,” Frodo cooed to her. He let her have a finger to grip again, and she pulled it to her mouth. Frodo smiled. “She’s beautiful.”
Merry nodded. He was inclined to agree. “That’s Éowyn’s doing,” he said. If Ivy looked anything like her mother, she would be the most beautiful lass in The Shire.
“Where is Éowyn now? Why is Ivy here with you?”
“They were going to stay in Rivendell until Éowyn was ready to travel. She’ll be going to Rohan after that, then back to Ithilien when she feels up to it. Faramir and Éomer are with her now.”
“Faramir? So he...” Frodo trailed off, blushing.
“They got married in September. He knows everything and doesn’t hold any blame.” Merry sighed. He still didn’t know if he would have been as understanding as Faramir in the same situation. Éowyn was very fortunate. “He’s been really wonderful for her.”
Frodo nodded. “If her husband is understanding, then why did she give up Ivy?”
“Éowyn wanted Ivy to be raised in the Shire. She figured hobbits would be more understanding, about Ivy being illegitimate and half hobbit. Because she’s royalty, in both Rohan and Gondor... well, they aren’t quite so understanding.”
Frodo nodded and smiled at Ivy. “That’s right. You’ve got yourself a real princess here.” He winked at Merry. “The gossips would have quite a field day with you, Merry.”
“You won’t tell anyone?” Merry looked at him and then to Sam. “I mean, I think it’s going to be obvious her mother isn’t a hobbit. I just don’t think everyone needs to know her mother is the wife of the Steward of Gondor.”
“You know you can count on us,” Frodo said. He leaned back in the chair, shifting Ivy up in the crook of his arm so he could make silly faces at her. Merry chuckled. He had distant memories of Frodo doing the same thing to baby Pippin.
Sam leaned over to look at her. “She is a beauty, Mister Merry,” he said.
“Would you like to hold her, Sam?” Frodo asked.
Sam took a step back, shaking his head. “Oh, I don’t know, I’m not really comfortable with babies and--”
Frodo stood up and put Ivy into Sam’s arms. Sam stared at her like she was going to break. “Then you can use the practice,” Frodo laughed. “I’m sure Miss Rosie will appreciate the help when the time comes.”
Sam blushed bright red. “Mister Frodo...”
“Have you asked her yet, Sam?” Merry asked. Sam had been smitten with Rosie Cotton for years. Her name had come up more than once during conversations on their trip home. And Rosie had seemed quite happy to see Sam alive and well on their return to The Shire.
Sam shook his head, still blushing. “We have an...understanding. But we haven’t discussed anything else yet.”
“You’d better do it soon, or I’ll ask her for you!” Frodo said. Sam looked at him in horror and Frodo laughed. “Poor Sam. I’m sorry to teasing you, but I’m just very happy for you. After all we’ve been through, it’s nice to see life going on, babies being born...” Frodo sighed and looked at his hand. “It makes it all worth it.”
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