Young Brandybuck-Part 6 - Coming Of Age
Merry spent a good deal of his time during the spring, summer, and autumn helping Farmer Maggot harvest his crop. In the wintertime, he looked after the infant hobbits in Brandy Hall. He watched Pippin grow and change right before his eyes, and the younger hobbits that had always been smaller than him, literally, sprout and grow taller than him. Frodo remained a constant comrade through it all, as did Fatty, and especially Estella. She never changed, and if she did, it was always for the better.
In his spare time, Merry went down to Hobbiton with Pippin to visit Frodo. They spent a good deal of their time talking and hiking the woods. People began to talk about them being queer but Merry knew better. It was a matter of camaraderie. Frodo needed them, for being alone in the immense smial of Bag End left him rather lonely. Merry and Pippin looked after him like brothers would, full of love and support for him. And Merry found that he needed both Frodo and Pippin. Living in the great dorms of Brandy Hall often fashioned him into feeling like he was part of a mob, but Frodo and Pippin cared for him as a person rather than another Brandybuck.
With a routine set in place, the years began to fly. Merry soon found that his thirty-third birthday was a month off and he now only had twenty-eight days to be a young hobbit. This was a slightly depressing thought, for he had loved his childhood and leaving it behind was saddening in a way.
Up near Rocshock Bog and the little forest where Pippin had nearly killed himself, Merry, Frodo, Pippin, and Sam hiked along one day, reminiscing over the past. Sam had brought a bit of lunch for the four of them, for they intended on spending a good half of the day up there, just the four of them.
Merry sat down, a few yards from the stream, skipping stones with Pippin, keeping silent in thought. What were adults expected to do with their lives? Would he have to begin to farm a bit of land on his own? That was more like Sam's job; Merry hated gardening.
"Lads, I think we've lost Merry," Pippin spoke up.
"He hasn't been with us all day," Sam said, "Look at him: he's all glazed over. Mr. Merry?"
"I hear you just fine," Merry laughed to himself, "There's just been a lot to think over." Sam and Frodo glanced at each other, knowingly. They both had already come of age, and understood what he felt.
"Merry, there's no one in this world that says you've got to leave your home the moment you come of age," Sam said, "I came of age two years ago and I still live with my Gaffer."
"That's because you're needed," Merry said, "They already have hobbits everywhere in Brandy Hall. I feel almost like, well, just another mouth to feed. They'd be a lot better off without so many hobbits."
"Merry, the Brandybucks have been feeding hundreds of mouths every day for years," Frodo told him, "One more isn't going to hurt them any."
"All the same," Merry said, "I've been thinking it over and I really would benefit from getting my own place. I'd only have to worry about myself, and no one would have to worry about me."
"Well, if you think it's really necessary," Frodo said, "but I'm sure that no one would object to you staying at Brandy Hall. Are you sure this isn't some coming-of-age phase you're going through?"
"Frodo, I've felt like this for years," Merry said, "I'm only content when I'm outside that place."
"Now, when I left Brandy Hall, you were begging me to stay," Frodo countered. Merry frowned.
"I was young and ignorant then," he said. Frodo laughed.
"You still are young and ignorant!" he snorted.
"I am not!" Merry shot back, "I come of age in a month!"
"Is that supposed to change something?" Frodo asked, "Is it a magical number that suddenly doesn't make you young and ignorant?"
"Yes," Merry said, wondering why Frodo questioned such a thing. It had been a tradition among hobbits for years to think of change at the age of thirty-three. Maybe Frodo was cracking...
"Merry, it doesn't matter what age you are," Frodo said, shaking his head, "you're still Merry Brandybuck, and it's going to take Merry Brandybuck more than a month to overcome youth and ignorance." He looked a little more solemn and locked eyes with Merry, "You'll be learning your whole life, Merry. There's no age or time where you can step back and realize you've learned everything. This is a big world and we're a little people; there'll always be something new and interesting to find, even when you're two-hundred years old. Learning is endless, and it certainly doesn't stop when you're thirty-three. So, in a sense, you'll always be young and ignorant, because there'll always be new things to know." He turned to Sam, "How's about lunch, Samwise? I'm starved." Sam was digging out lunch while Merry was still in thought. He hated thinking, for it confused him. But what else could he do? He looked over at Pippin for something to take his mind of growing up, but that didn't help any. Pippin had grown a lot and looked farther than ever from the young hobbit who he used to throw over his shoulder and knock around. Merry still remembered the day Pippin had been born, and he only felt older looking at him. Aging was stupid, but, then, what was the alternative to growing older? Merry sighed. Stop thinking, fool, before you really back yourself into a corner...
There was a small birthday party for Merry at Bag End with his mates, and then a larger one at his home with his family. It came rather suddenly for Merry, and he tried not to think about it too much. A week later, he bought himself a little hut on the other side of the Brandywine. He had decided to go live by himself, and work for Farmer Maggot during the day. His relatives were a little sorry to see him go, but Merry was anxious to be out on his own. Fatty came to visit him often, and Estella helped with his housework on Wednesdays. Pippin came by to see him on weekends, and sometimes Frodo stopped by. Merry got on quite well for about a month, till the real brunt of the attack of life hit him. Estella came down with a little cold and couldn't come and help him for two weeks. Fatty stayed with his sister both weeks, and Pippin and Frodo were busy. Alone for two straight weeks, and, adding salt to the injury, it rained for half of that time. His work with Farmer Maggot got dirtier and dirtier the more mud added up into the fields. Every morning, Merry woke with the sense that, though he suffered, no one really cared.
He lay in his bed one morning, trying to coax himself out of bed. There was a grey sunlight filtering in through the windows. The monotonous drone of the rain against the panes was enough to lull any hobbit back to sleep.
"Come on, Merry," he told himself, aloud, "you were the one to decide to live like this. Get up." He groaned, rolling over and out of bed. His head throbbed in his skull and his eyelids drooped. He knew he was not well, but Farmer Maggot wouldn't approve of him slacking off. He'd make it.
The day wore on slowly. Merry's legs ached and burned when he walked. His head felt about two hat sizes larger, and his throat burned. Finally, just after lunchtime, he felt he could take it no longer. He set down his pitch fork, sat down in the hay, intending to only rest his eyes, but found he fell fast asleep.
"Merry? Merry, lad, wake up!"
Merry forced his eyes open, feeling a pang of pain behind his eyes when he did. He groaned and looked up at the face of Farmer Maggot. If he had been feeling any better, he may have been frightened, but feeling as sick as he did, he didn't care. Farmer Maggot held out a hand to him.
"Come on, lad, let's get you home," he said. Merry accepted the outstretched hand, and stood to his feet. He leaned against Maggot, his legs feeling like iron weights, and yet, somehow, Maggot got him all the way back to Brandy Hall in the rain.
When Merry awoke for the second time, he felt the warmth of wool around his shivering body and a cool hand against his forehead. Utter relaxation took him, for he felt safe, wherever he was. He looked up, but could hardly see anything, because the room was dark.
"Just sleep, now, Merry," a matronly voice soothed, "Relax and sleep."
"Mum? Why are you here?" Merry asked, groggily. Esmeralda brushed away the curls from her grown son's forehead, affectionately.
"I've always looked after you when you had a fever, haven't I?" she asked, still using a soft, cool voice that made Merry want to fall asleep.
"Yes, but I thought I was on my own," Merry mumbled.
"Merry, even full-grown hobbits that came of age fifty years ago need mothers sometimes," Esmeralda said, "and, afterall, Farmer Maggot brought you back to Brandy Hall. I wasn't going to leave you alone."
Merry took a weak hold on his mother's soft hand, grateful, yet slightly confused. He may had gotten well if he had just slept in that morning, and then he wouldn't have needed his mother. But then, maybe he would have. Maybe hobbits did need their mothers sometimes, not matter how old they got. He hated to admit it, but perhaps he had been wrong about coming of age. Frodo had been more right; thirty-three wasn't a magical age. Merry sighed, feeling rather stupid, and buried his head in the coolness of his pillow. Esmeralda's fingers caressed his curls one last time before leaving him alone to sleep.
Merry was well again by the next day, and was able to return to work in two days. The experience didn't leave as quickly as the fever, however. Merry made up his mind, sold his home across the Brandywine, and returned to Brandy Hall to be with his family.
One evening, after supper was over and the clanking of washing dishes echoed out from the kitchen, Merry left to climb a tall oak tree outside the Hall. There was a lot to think about, and the tree seemed like a nice sanctuary. He leaned his head against the thick limb, breathing in the fragrance of burning firewood that loomed out from the open doors of Brandy Hall. A small breath of wind blew in his face, carrying the smoke in his face and wafting through his curls. And he was content.
There came a small crackling sound below him. He looked down at Estella Bolger, who had joined them for supper. She looked up, placidly smiling, and climbed up to sit with him.
Leaning her head against his chest, she whispered:
"I thought I'd find you here."
Merry smiled to himself, and ran his fingers through the ends of her hair.
"Estella Bolger," he said, "do you love me?" Estella sat up, smiling at him.
"What kind of a question is that?" she asked., "Of course I do."
"Say it, Estella."
"I love you, Merry."
Merry smiled, contently, and leaned his head back against the tree limb.
"Well, and what about you, Mr. Brandybuck," Estella said, leaning against Merry, "do you love me?"
"Estella, I love you more than life itself."
"That much? Don't exaggerate, Merry."
Merry laughed, and made no reply. A breeze blew and Merry looked down at Estella, who looked up at him, expectantly.
"What?" he asked her.
"Were you exaggerating?" Estella asked.
"Do you think I was? Would I exaggerate about something like that?" Merry inquired.
"Yes. You exaggerate about a lot of things," Estella said. Merry rolled his eyes.
"Well, I'm not exaggerating now, I promise," Merry assured her. She smiled and wrapped her arms around him. There was a peaceful moment where neither hobbit said anything, then Merry spoke up again.
"You know, I've noticed something, Estella," he said, "The older I get, the more I realize just how stupid I really am."
"Now what kind of talk is that?" Estella asked, wondering why her Merry would think of such a thing.
"It's true, Stella!" Merry exclaimed, "If you were to ask me anything ten years ago, I could have probably given you some kind of reasonable sounding answer. I knew everything when I was twenty-three, but now, at thirty-three, the more I look at it, I never really knew anything at all. I just thought I did, and now that I see that, I realize how half-witted I am."
"I think a lot of hobbits can say the same thing," Estella said, "You don't really know that something's missing until you can look back and realize it was never there to begin with. Not that you're taking it for granted, mind you, you've just gotten wise enough to realize that certain things that you thought you had were never really ever there. So, even though you say to yourself that you're stupid, in reality, you've wisened up enough to see that, in truth, now you're clever, for you can see what isn't there and you can strive to attain it. It's learning, Merry, and we'll be doing it till the day we die."
"Frodo said something like that," Merry answered, "only I was too stupid then to see the reason."
"Now, what's got you thinking about all this, Merry? Why are you suddenly so contemplative?" Estella asked. Merry sighed, thoughtfully, and stroked her hand.
"I thought I could take care of myself, Stella," he said, "and I could, when times were good. But when it came down to the bad times, I was taken home and my mother watched after me, just like when I was younger. It's like I haven't changed at all, Stella. I felt changed, but nobody saw it. Really, I think it was all in my head. I thought that I could change in a month's time, but nobody can. That kind of change takes years, but I wouldn't believe it when someone told me so. I guess I've been shown a lot of humility over the past few days. I've been shown my place again, and I think I like it better this way."
"I was proud of you for setting out on your own, Merry, don't get me wrong," Estella said, "but it takes a lot of character and courage to admit to defeat, and realize you liked things better before the change, and then to actually change back to the way things were before. I admire that, Merry. It shows you're capable of thinking on your own, and I'm glad of that."
"I hope I don't ever have to look back on my life and realize I've lost you, Stella," Merry said, tenderly.
"I don't think that will ever be a problem," Estella replied, "for I would have to do the same, and that will never happen, Merry. Not ever."
Merry leaned in and gently kissed her. He knew that he would never leave her, either, but he was bursting with joy to hear her say the same. Then, right in the middle of their kiss, there came to their ears, a crackling sound, like something straining under weight. They pulled away, listening intently, but then, without another warning, the branch beneath them groaned and broke. Both Merry and Estella landed in a heap on the ground below.
"Are you all right?" Merry asked, concerned for Estella. Estella only laid back in the leaves, laughing uncontrollably. His backside was a little sore, but all the same, Merry found that he was unable to stop his laughter either. Both hobbits sat, laughing till they cried and their sides ached.
The sun set in the west in an array of colors, and chimney smoke lingered in the air. Merry continued to laugh to himself as he walked back to the Hall with Estella at his side. He looked back at the sun, the red rays shooting across the horizon, realizing that it would come back the next day, just like his life continued on day in and day out. And just like the sun, the young Brandybuck would always come back.
Author's Sticky Note: So, what did you think? Would you like more hobbit stories? I will write about Sam next, but only if you want to hear about him. If you do, what would you like to know? I'm taking suggestions, just like I did with Merry. Your comments on Merry have been great to read, so I thank you all for reading my little tales. I hope you enjoyed them!