31. Chapter 31
Eomer sat down at the table with Fari, Bori and Ari, finally able to get something to eat after a what seemed like hours greeting guests for his birthday party. “I’m surprised there’s anything left for me,” he said through a mouthful of ham, “seeing as how you three got to the food before me.”
“Don’t blame me,” Fari said, shaking his head. He nodded across the table at his brothers. “It’s these two that eat like horses.”
“We’re growing boys!” Bori retorted. “And it’s just Ari who eats like a horse, seeing as he practically is one. I eat more like...”
“An oliphaunt?” suggested Fari.
“I was thinking more like a troll,” Ari laughed. He playfully slugged Bori in the arm.
Bori raised his fist to punch back, but a cough and a shake of the head from Fari stopped him. Eomer grinned. It was funny, how Fari had such control over two lads who were now much bigger than him. Bori was going through another growth spurt that had started just before he turned nineteen. He was taller than his parents now. And to everyone’s surprise he was growing a beard. Not the thin, wispy beard that sometimes appeared among hobbits of Stoor ancestry, but a full beard like their Big Folk kin. Bori was starting to look more and more like a man of Rohan.
“Is Uncle Freddy here yet?” asked Fari, giving his brothers one last stern look.
“No.” Eomer shook his head. “He said he was going to be a bit late. Something he had to do before they came.” Since when was Fari interested in where Uncle Freddy was? “Why?”
Fari shrugged. “Just wondering.” He smirked and turned back to his plate.
Eomer frowned, wondering what Fari was up to and what it had to do with Uncle Freddy. He didn’t have long to wait.
Fari looked over Eomer’s shoulder and grinned. “There he is,” he said. “And he’s brought you a present.”
Eomer turned around. Uncle Freddy and Aunt Celly were talking to his dad. And behind them... Eomer swallowed and turned back around, his heart pounding. The Underhills were with them. Eomer gaped at Fari. “They... She...” He swallowed and stared back at his plate.
“We--well, Uncle Freddy--invited them!” Fari laughed.
“Who?” Ari asked. He turned to look at the newly arrived guests.
“That’s the lass that Eomer likes,” Fari said gleefully.
“Fari! I don’t...I mean I...I...” Eomer just sighed and gave up. His stomach suddenly twisted with nerves. Moira was here. And he’d have to talk to her, because it was his birthday. And he had no idea what to say.
“Why don’t you go say hello?” Fari suggested, giving him a nudge with his foot.
Eomer glared at him. “Why don’t you go and...” He stopped, glancing over at his nephews. He remembered that he probably shouldn’t say what he thought Fari should go do. His sister still hadn’t completely forgiven him for accidently teaching his nephews those Dwarvish profanities he’d learned from Gimli. “Well, you figure it out,” he grumbled at Fari.
“She is very pretty,” Bori said. “And Fari said she likes you back.”
“You told them?” Eomer exclaimed.
Fari snorted. “Yes. And Theo, since you didn’t tell him yourself.” Eomer slumped down, his head on the table. Fari leaned towards him. “It could be worse. I could have told Ivy.”
Eomer lifted his head and nodded. He had to agree with that. If his sister found out, he’d never hear the end of it--she’d be set on ‘helping’ him. Then a thought struck him. “But who did Uncle Freddy tell?”
“Your dad, of course,” said Fari. “And my dad, I suppose.”
Eomer stomach twisted again. “Oh, no...” He slumped over, head on his arms. “If he told your dad, then that means--”
“Eomer!” Ivy plopped down next to him on the bench. “I see the very lovely Moira Underhill has arrived. You should go say hello to her.”
Eomer sighed and pushed himself up from his seat. Ivy was right. It was his party, so he should go greet his new guests. And he did want to see Moira again. But he was afraid he’d mess things up.
He walked with his sister towards the Underhills and Ivy took his arm. “Why didn’t you tell me you liked a lass?”
Eomer shrugged. “There’s not much to tell. I do like her, but I don’t think she likes me very much.”
Ivy pulled him to a halt. “Why would you say that?”
He stared at his toes. “I couldn’t manage to talk to her. Fari did all the talking. And if I did say anything, it came out as a stutter.” He sighed. “I was a complete idiot. Why would she like me?”
Ivy laughed. “Eomer! All lads are complete idiots around lasses.” She nudged him and winked. “We expect it.” She took his arm again and they continued walking. “See,” she whispered as they approached the group. “She’s smiling at you.”
“She’s just being friendly,” Eomer countered. Of course she would smile at him. She was nice and very polite.
“Eomer!” Ivy muttered.
“Hello, Eomer,” Moira said.
Eomer swallowed and wiped his sweaty hands on his trousers. “H-hello, Moira.” He winced at his stutter. Stupid! He bit his lip and stared at his feet, not sure what to say next that wouldn’t make him sound like an idiot. Ivy coughed and nudged him with her elbow. Oh... He looked up at Moira. “Moira Underhill, this is my sister, Ivy Took.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Moira,” Ivy said.
“Eomer!” Hugh stepped over to shake his hand.
Then the hobbit next to them turned around. Moira smiled. “Eomer, this is my father.”
Mr. Underhill was large, but not in the usual way of hobbits. It wasn’t girth that made him big, but his shoulders and arms from a life spent hauling millstones. “Ardal Underhill,” the man said and stuck a beefy hand out to Eomer. Eomer took it, glad that he was used to Big Folk or else he might be even more intimidated by Moira’s dad. “Your uncle invited us to the Shire. He suggested I come meet some of the other farmers who might be willing to bring their grain to Bree rather than old Sandyman. And he said I should meet you, as you’ll be inheriting his farm. Your uncle is my biggest customer.” Then he gave Eomer an appraising look, which Eomer suspected had nothing to do with farming or milling, because Mr. Underhill’s eyes flicked between him and Moira. Had Uncle Freddy told Mr. Underhill he liked Moira? Eomer wished a hole would open up in the ground and swallow him at that very moment.
He was saved from Mr. Underhill’s scrutiny by his Aunt Hilda--Aunt Celly’s mum--coming up and taking his arm. “There you are, lad. You need to come say hello to your Aunt Peony Burrows. She hasn’t seen you in ages.”
“Mum,” Aunt Celly said. “He’s got guests.” She raised her eyebrows nodded towards Moira.
“Well, of course he has, it’s his birthday!” Aunt Hilda scoffed. “It won’t take him but a few minute, anyhow.” Eomer found himself being led away, and he wasn’t sure whether to feel disappointed or relieved.
The visit with Aunt Peony turned into far more than a ‘few minutes’. The old lady suffered from bad eyesight and a poor memory. She launched into a story about something mischievous he’d supposedly done as a child, only to have Aunt Hilda remind her that “No, dear. That was Merry. This is his son, Eomer.” Aunt Peony frowned then started a different story, also about his father. Eomer just sighed and stole a glance back at his party. He spotted Moira and her family, chatting with the Gamgees. He was starting to think he was better off being studied by Ardal Underhill.
When he finally made his escape, his aunts having found someone new to torture, he looked again for Moira. They were sitting down to eat now, and Moira was chatting with Rose and Goldi. He wanted to go see her. Just put one foot in front of the other and walk over there and say ‘hello’ and sit down and talk about something interesting and... His feet refused to move, his mouth dry and his stomach in knots. He’d mostly likely stumble over his own feet, then stammer about something stupid. He sighed and headed back to Fari.
“How did it go?” asked Fari.
Eomer glared at him. “You should have warned me they were coming, Fari,” he grumbled.
“But then you’d have been a nervous wreck all day and I’d have had to get Bori and Ari to drag you out of your room. And you really don’t want that to happen.” He grinned. “Although, it is pretty funny when Ivy has them drag the twins off to their baths.”
Fari laughed and Eomer threw him a glare. Then he glanced at the empty spot across from Fari. “Where’d they go?”
“Bilbo, Rob and Tom came and got them. I think they’re planning on playing a trick on Ruby, Willow and Éoleof.”
Eomer smiled, a momentary distraction from his awful afternoon. Despite their appearance, his nephews were still hobbit boys and weren’t growing up too fast. “I wouldn’t want to play a trick on your sisters. They inherited Ivy’s temper.”
“That’s what I told them,” Fari said. He shrugged and grinned. “It’s their funeral.”
“Ivy,” Eomer sighed.
“Eomer.” His sister glared at him, hands on hips. “I know it’s not easy, but you need to take some initiative.”
“Like you did?” he replied petulantly.
Ivy’s cheeks flushed and her eyes narrowed, and Eomer instantly regretted saying it. That time of his sister’s life, when she had returned from Gondor miserable from having been hurt by a lad and she’d taken ‘comfort’ from an equally miserable--and drunk--Pippin, had been relegated to ‘best left in the past’. But then Ivy rolled her eyes and gave him a crooked smile. “No, of course not! Have you seen the size of her father? He’d pound you into the ground in one blow if you did anything like that.” She winked and Eomer relaxed, relieved he hadn’t gotten his sister angry with him.
“I don’t know what to say to her,” he said, eyes on his feet.
Ivy bent down and kissed his cheek. “Don’t worry about it. Just ask her to dance. Something will come to you,” she whispered in his ear. She straightened, then gave him a little shove in the direction of the table where Moira still sat with Rose and Goldi.
Rose and Goldi looked up as he approached, giving him huge grins, and he suddenly realized he’d have to ask Moira to dance in front of them. Maybe he should just forget about this?
Moira turned around. “Oh, hello Eomer,” she said. She smiled at him and his stomach did flip-flops.
He did his best to appear presentable, straightening up and taking deep breath. “Hello, Moira,” he said. “Would you, um...?” He paused, suddenly forgetting what he was supposed to ask her. A song started across the garden, a lively jig. “Would you like to dance?” he blurted out.
“I’d love to,” she said.
He let out his breath in a rush, unaware that he’d been holding it. “All right,” he said. She stood up and they walked over to the dancing, finding a spot in the crowd near the twirling couples to wait for the next song.
“Your parents are very nice,” Moira said. “And your sister. I met your brother, too. And Rose and Goldi. Well, obviously,” she giggled. “I was sitting with them.” She smiled at him. “Rose invited my family to her wedding.”
Eomer’s hear fluttered. “That’s great!” he exclaimed and winced at his over-enthusiasm. She must really think he was an idiot. The song ended and the crowd around them burst into applause. Eomer fidgeted, wondering if he should take her hand or her arm or--
“Our turn,” Moira said. She slipped her hand around his elbow and they walked out to join the other couples for the next dance. Fortunately, it was a dance Eomer knew, so he didn’t have to think about it much--he was preoccupied with stealing glances at Moira. It was during one of those glances that he noticed something about her.
The song ended and she took his arm again. “How about a drink?” she asked, a bit out of breath.
Eomer nodded and they headed to the tables laid out with food and drink. He even remembered to be polite and get her ale--without spilling any of it. He handed her the mug and glanced at her again, and the words just came out. “You cut your hair.”
She looked at him and nodded, her hand going to the locks that just brushed her shoulders. “I nearly caught it in some gears this winter. Putting it up doesn’t help, because it just comes out of the braid when I’m working.” Her cheeks flushed pink. “Do you mind it?”
“Oh, no.” Eomer shook his head. He had thought she had been wearing it up. It was hard to tell with her dark hair. But he’d noticed the short curls bouncing as she danced.
Moira shrugged. “Dad had a fit. He yelled a lot. Said I’d never find a lad if I kept trying to look like a boy. He threatened to make me stop working at the mill. Hugh finally talked him out of it, though.” She shrugged. “The gossips in Bree all think it’s a scandal as well.”
“I think it looks all right,” said Eomer. “And it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to get it caught in the gears.”
Moira smiled at him. He smiled back and was just working up the courage to ask her for another dance when they were interrupted.
“Moira!” Hugh came up to them. “I’ve been looking for you. Time to go.” He shook Eomer’s hand. “Nice to see you again, Eomer.”
“Nice seeing you both,” said Eomer. He made himself smile. Inside he wanted to cry. He’d finally plucked up the courage to talk to her--without stumbling all over the words!--and she had to leave.
Moira gave him a peck on the cheek. “Happy birthday,” she said. Eomer touched his hand to the spot as Moira and Hugh walked away.
“She kissed you! That’s so sweet!” Ivy appeared suddenly and leaned over and kissed his other cheek. “Did she tell you Rose invited her family to the wedding?”
Eomer nodded, his stomach full of butterflies again. He hoped it would go better with Moira next month. Maybe he’d even manage to work up the courage to talk to her again.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.