4. Chapter 4
“I hear horses! Listen, Grandad! Can you hear them!” Ten-year-old Aragorn Took was jumping up and down and tugging at his grandfather’s hand, dragging him across the Brandywine Bridge. The whole family was picnicking on the banks of the river, awaiting the return of Éowyn from the south.
Soon the banners of Rohan appeared over the hill, then the riders themselves came into view. Elfwine, son of Éomer King, led the éored escorting his aunt back to The Shire.
Fari rolled his eyes as Uncle Merry had to restrain Ari from running up to the horses. Ari may look like a hobbit, but he had the heart of an Éorling. His brother had always been drawn to ponies and had been obsessed with all things Rohirric since he was old enough to understand his ancestry. At age of six, he had decided he was going to be a Rider of Rohan when he grew up.
The horsemen came to a halt near the river and Elfwine dismounted. Fari was still amazed that the boy he had played with when his dad and Ivy got married was now a grown man with wife and children. Elfwine waved a greeting, then turned back to help a woman--Éowyn--from her horse.
Fari watched Ivy hurry forward to greet her mother and his jaw dropped in shock. Éowyn looked old. In only a year, her hair was turning from it’s normal gold to white, her face had more lines and she walked with the halting steps of a gammer. Ivy must have noticed, too, because Fari saw the worried look on her face as she took her mother’s hand and walked with her over to her father, Éowyn leaning on her daughter. Uncle Merry’s only reaction was happiness at seeing his wife. He handed a squirming Ari over to Theo and embraced Éowyn.
Éowyn pulled away from her husband to greet her grandchildren and Fari caught the worried look Uncle Merry shared with Ivy. Fifty-seven may not be old for a hobbit, but for the Big Folk... Fari sighed. It made him sad to think about Uncle Merry losing Éowyn, when it hadn’t been so long ago that Aunt Estella had died.
Fari went forward with Theo and Eomer to greet Éowyn. Theo let Ari go, letting him get a hug from his gran before he ran off towards his granddad and Elfwine, then hugged her himself. Then it was Eomer’s turn. When Éowyn reached for him, she stumbled.
“Oh!” She grabbed Eomer’s shoulder to steady herself. “I’m a bit stiff from the ride,” she said, hugging her stepson. “I’m getting too old for those long trips.” She stepped back and smiled at them, and Fari saw that though her body was being worn by age, her eyes were still bright and young.
“Well, that means you’ll just have to stay here, then,” Eomer said. “Dad was driving us insane with you gone!” he whispered.
She laughed and patted his cheek, then turned to give Fari a quick hug before she was pulled away by excited grandchildren wanting to tell their grandmother everything they had done while she was away.
The éored remained camped on the shore of the Brandywine while Elfwine would accompany them back to Brandy Hall. Not only was he family, but he had things to discuss with the Thain and Master on behalf of the Kings of Rohan and Gondor. Elfwine let Ari ride with him, perched in front of him on his horse, and patiently answered all the questions about horses and éoreds and swords his small cousin chattered at him.
Éowyn rode in the cart with Fari’s dad and Uncle Merry. She was happily settled in the back, her granddaughters all wanting to sit on their gran’s lap at once. From the look on Éowyn’s face, Fari didn’t think she minded so much.
Ivy had volunteered to ride her mother’s horse to the stable. Elfwine had to help her onto the tall horse, but she was more than capable of handling the mare. Fari, Theo and Eomer had all ridden their ponies to the bridge and they rode back with Ivy, following a short distance behind the cart.
Fari glanced over at his companions. Theo and Eomer were bantering back and forth. Eomer had found a letter to Rose in Theo’s room and was teasing his brother about it. Theo was coming up with ways to torture his brother if he ever set foot in his room again.
Ivy was unusually quiet. When it was just the four of them, she was more like his cousin again, and not so much his mother or the Mistress of Great Smials. Away from her responsibilities, she was just like any other older sister and liked to tease her brothers. Today, she didn’t seem to even notice the opportunity to tease Theo, a sure sign that something was wrong. Her eyes were fixed on the cart in front of them, her face set with worry.
Fari was a little worried, too. They had learned Éowyn had pneumonia in December. Éowyn had brushed off her family’s concern, insisting she was fine, but the illness had obviously affected her. Even after she’d worked the stiffness out of her legs and her steps weren’t quite so halting, she still seemed so much older than when she had left the Shire last year.
Fari fell back a little to guide his pony around his bickering cousins and rode up next to Ivy.
“You’re worried about your mother, aren’t you?” he asked.
Ivy looked down at him, hesitated a moment, then nodded.
“I know I was scared, when Dad was so sick,” said Fari. “But he got better, right?” He shivered at the memory. When he was little, his father had been drinking heavily, unable to cope with an unhappy marriage to... her. Diamond. Fari frowned. Diamond had made their lives miserable. She hated his dad and she’d never been any sort of mother. His dad had passed out in the snow once, after drinking too much and going for a walk after a very nasty argument with her. His father had nearly died of pneumonia--he would have died out in the snow, frozen to death, if Uncle Sam hadn’t found him. It was one of the worst times of Fari’s life. He had come so close to losing his Dad, and it still made him sick to think about it. But Diamond was gone and he’d never have to see her again, his Dad was happy with Ivy, and Ivy was like a real mum to him.
Ivy looked back at the cart. “Your Dad was young, Fari. My mother...” She sighed heavily. “My mother is getting old. It’s rare for the Big Folk, especially women, to live longer than seventy.”
“Oh.” Fari thought about that. Uncle Merry was turning seventy this year and he didn’t seem all that old. He was definitely the youngest grandfather in the Shire. Most hobbits didn’t even start to have grandchildren until their late sixties and Bori had just turned thirteen. Éowyn was even younger than his Dad, but she looked like a hobbit gammer in her eighties. He frowned. He felt sorry for the Big Folk, that they had such short times with their loved ones.
“Don’t worry, Fari,” Ivy said. She smiled, but it seemed force. “Elfwine said she’s doing much better.” But her eyes betrayed that Ivy was still worried.
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.