Chapter Nine: Spring After Winter
<strong>March 21, 1433</strong>
Merry lay across the aged stump and watched the clouds drifting by over his head. The large branches of the great silver tree shielded his eyes from the sun and the wind whistled as it blew through its many leaves. The tree had grown and flourished beautifully over the past 12 years, as had Merry and Estella’s marriage, and all products resulting from it. Merry closed his eyes and smiled as the warm sun shown on his chest and the fragrant air ruffled his curly hair.
“Da?” Merry opened his eyes and sat up to smile at the little owner of the little voice that woke him from his daydreaming. His son stood before him, two months short of 11 and already almost 2 and three-quarters feet tall. His unruly hair blew around his face and into his bright, blue-green eyes. “Mummy said you wanted to talk to me.”
Merry reached out to the small boy. “C’mere, little Pip. Let me tell you a story.” Young Peregrin Brandybuck ran into his father’s arms and allowed himself to be picked up and set on the older hobbit’s knee. Pip pushed the hair away from his eyes and forehead and looked up at the gigantic tree that hovered over them.
Merry smiled and also looked up. “You like this tree, don’t you, Pip?” he asked.
The lad nodded.
“Have I ever told you the story about this tree?”
Curls bounced as the lad shook his head.
“What do you know about this tree, Pip?”
Little Pippin looked back down at his hands. He drew a breath and responded, “Mummy says it’s a special tree.”
Merry smiled and ruffled his son’s hair. “Mummy’s absolutely right; it is a special tree. Do you know why it’s special?”
Pip looked at his father with curiosity shining in his eyes and shook his head. “Is that what you want to tell me?”
“It’s one of the things, yes. This tree,” Merry pointed up to the tall canopy of branches above him, “sprouted the day your mother and I were married.”
Pip nodded his head and looked at the bark of the tree more closely. He scrunched his nose and asked, “Why’s it that color?”
Merry flicked the lad’s nose lightly. “Good question, Pip. It’s that color because some of the trees in Gondor are that color: a beautiful silver.”
The boy cocked his head and thought for a moment. “But this isn’t Gondor…?” he said slowly, not completely sure if he was right.
“You’re right, Pip, it’s not. But it grew out of the spirit and memory of a dear friend of mine who served Gondor.”
“Strider?” Pippin perked up; he was quite fond of his father’s stories about kings, elves, and dwarves and liked to hear them often.
Merry shook his head. “Good guess, but no. This friend was dearer to me, and I can no longer visit him like I can with Strider, not even if I were to walk all the way to the country of Gondor.”
Merry sighed. “He’s no longer in Middle Earth.”
“Oh, did he leave like Uncle Frodo did?” Pip asked.
“Well, not exactly, Pippin; he passed away.” Merry saw the confused expression on his son’s face and sighed. “He’s dead.” Merry grimaced; he still hated to use that word when he talked about his cousin.
“Oh…” Pip nodded slowly in comprehension and frowned at his Da’s change of expression. He wondered whether or not it would be proper (as his mother would put it) to ask more, but he couldn’t hold back. “Who was he?”
Merry paused and turned to little Pip. “Do you remember who I said you were named after?”
Pip thought for a moment and recited, “Your favorite cousin and best friend.” He smiled widely and eager filled his eyes. “Was he a hero? What was he like? How did he die?”
Merry smiled at the lad’s familiar eagerness; his namesake shared the same energy. “Be patient, Pip! You’ll get your answers in due time. My favorite cousin and best friend’s name was, obviously, Peregrin Took—”
“Like me! Except… I’m not a Took.” Pip cut in.
Merry nodded. “Right, like you. Well, when I was much, much, much, much younger and more foolish than I am today, I set out on a quest with Mayor Samwise, Uncle Frodo, and Pippin. You have plenty of time to hear all about the details of the quest, and I’ve already told you some of it, but I want to tell you another part of the tale.”
“The part about Pippin, right?” Little Pip chimed in.
Merry smiled warmly. “Can’t fool you, can I, son?” He laughed as Pip shook his head vigorously, which greatly disturbed the butterfly that was peacefully resting on top of his curls.
“Well, lad, Pippin and I stuck together for the majority of the quest. We went through fears and dangers that I won’t tell you now on account of how very beautiful it is outside today and how very dark the tales would be, but I’ll instead save them for a rainy day when you’re much older than you are now.” Pip let out a small pout at this and Merry continued. “Once or twice we were separated, and once or twice we found each other again later on, until the time for battle came.”
Pip’s jaw dropped. “You were in a battle, Da? A real one, with Men and Elves and Dwarves and Eagles and Wizards?”
Merry smiled sadly and shook his head. “No, Pip my lad, I was injured several days before for other reasons I’ll also save for another day and was in no shape to go into battle.” Merry let out a small sigh. “But Pippin was.”
“What happened?” Pippin’s eyes shone with worry and eagerness. Though he had always been told his father’s favorite cousin had died long before he was born, he hoped Merry would tell him the Took made it back home safely and can still be seen walking into the Green Dragon from time to time.
Merry looked into his son’s eyes and hoped his own didn’t hold the shadow that usually engulfed them when he thought about the loss of his cousin. “He died.” He gave little Pip a sad smile and leaned forward to kiss him lightly on his forehead.
Pippin looked down at the ground sadly. He thought for a moment and had a sudden idea. “When did he die?”
“The 25th of March in the year 1419.” Merry recited without needing a pause for thought. He knew that day as well as he knew his own birthday.
“Is that why you’re always sad that day and Mummy says I shouldn’t bother you in your study b’cause you want to be left alone? Is it because that was the day Pippin died?”
“It is.” Merry gave his son a small smile. “And it was very clever of you to put that together.”
Pip smiled widely and stuck his chest out proudly. He paused for a moment before asking, “Could you tell me more about Pippin?”
Merry returned the smile. “Of course I can, Pip; I’d absolutely love to.”
And for the remainder of the day (pausing shortly for meals, of course), Merry shared story after story of foolish pranks on family members, trips to Farmer Maggot’s crops, lazy afternoons in the old apple tree (“the same apple tree that once stood right where we sit now and whose stump we’re using as a chair”), and wild nights at the Green Dragon that he had spent with his cousin before the Journey began. As the sun began its decent into the Western sky, Estella called the two in for dinner. She stood at the door and waited for her husband to enter the house. She gently passed their baby daughter, Éowyn, into her father’s arms. Merry smiled down at the bundle and rubbed his thumb softly against her rosy cheek. The babe reached up and wrapped her tiny hand around his finger.
Estella smiled sweetly. “So, how did it go?” She looked over at their son, who had busied himself in setting the table.
Merry gave a soft sigh of relief. “Wonderfully. That’s one remarkable son we’ve got; he gets his impeccable shrewdness from his mother, of course.” He smiled playfully.
Estella returned the gesture, “And his foolish, yet strangely charming, personality could come from none other than his father.” She kissed her husband softly and began walking towards the kitchen. “Dinner will be out in a minute,” she called over the clanging of pots and pans.
“Thank you, love.” Merry answered back. He turned to the small ball of flesh that was now sucking on his thumb and laughed. “You’re supposed to suck your own thumb, you silly thing, not mine!” Éowyn let out a small burp and Merry laughed and smiled warmly at his daughter. “Pippin would’ve loved you to pieces, just as I do.” He walked over to the couch and sat down slowly, feeling his muscles gratefully sink into the softness of the cushions.
Merry looked down at the fidgeting babe in his arms. Éowyn had removed his finger from her mouth and now her eyes sluggishly examined the room around her. Merry chuckled and stood up slowly. He walked to the opposite wall and pointed to a framed map that hung above the side table that held the brilliant Horn of Rohan.
“Your Uncle Frodo gave us that,” he explained to the girl with a smile. “One of old Bilbo’s finest maps, he said.”
Éowyn looked up to where her father was pointing and sucked her fingers thoughtfully.
Merry leaned forward and touched his finger to a small area in the Western half of the map. “This is where we are.” He smiled at Éowyn. “In the Shire.”
The child took her hand out of her mouth and reached it toward the place where her father’s finger was. Merry laughed softly, gently took his daughter’s hand, and with it touched the area labeled ‘SHIRE’.
“And over here,” he slowly guided her hand further east, “is Rivendell and the House of Elrond.” After a short pause at Rivendell, Éowyn’s hand continued her steady travel to the southeast. “Followed by Rohan.” He smiled down at the yawning baby. “This where the first Éowyn is from; this is where my pretty horn is from.”
Éowyn slowly brought her other hand into her mouth and blinked at the map.
The hand continued south and east. “And finally, at the end of the journey,” Merry gently slowed the hand to a stop, “Gondor.” He looked down at Éowyn and let her hand rest back on her chest. “That’s where your Uncle Pippin is.” He looked back up at the spot marked ‘GONDOR’ in bold lettering and added softly, “And that’s where I’m headed.”
“Merry, dinner.” Estella’s soft voice drifted from the kitchen.
“Coming!” Merry kissed Éowyn’s pink forehead and carried her into the dining room for the 5th meal of the day.