Estella and Diamond were still chatting away at the front counter of the library when Pippin and Merry entered the place once again.
As expected, it was Estella who reacted first while Diamond merely looked on with surprise at what they were doing back in the library after the embarrassment of their rather memorable departure. Pippin’s bluster had faded somewhat at the sight of Diamond and he made his return somewhat contritely. Unfortunately, it appeared that Estella was not about to let him come away unscathed for his earlier outburst.
“What are you doing back here?” Estella demanded, unable to hold her tongue or her temper, “How dare you come crawling back here after talking to Diamond that way Peregrin Took!”
“I know,” Pippin struggled to explain himself in the face of Estella’s sharp rebuke. “I am sorry Diamond…”
“Oh will you shut up and let him have a word edgewise, Estella Bolger?” Merry immediately came to his friend’s rescue as he floundered under Estella’s sharp tongue. Merry was certain that if Estella wielded her tongue like a sword, not even Aragorn would stand a chance of coming out of their duel alive.
“I think he’s had quite enough words Meriadoc!” Estella returned without being thrown off slightly by her indignation at Merry’s interruption.
As Pippin and Diamond watched Merry and Estella confront each other like two great storms meeting in the sky, Pippin inched his way around the two combatants and spoke to Diamond over the sound of their furious voices.
“Can I have a word?” he asked once again, this time to the lady herself.
Diamond answered by slipping out from behind the counter and gesturing to a door on the other side of the room. Pippin followed her immediately, unsurprised that neither Merry nor Estella noticed that they were leaving the room. He looked over his shoulder to see if Merry needed any help but when he heard his best friend telling Estella that her voice was worse then the Crebain of Dunland, Pippin decided that Merry was more then capable of taking care of himself. Besides, Pippin wanted to be well clear of the duo when blood was finally spilled.
The door led to an alcove where there was a little stove and a comfortable wing chair and a window that allowed the sunlight into the room. Pippin guessed that this had been Willow’s little refuge when she needed a break and surmised that it was now Diamond’s since she had taken over the library for her aunt. It was a pleasant little room, with a nice wing chair that looked terribly comfortable and enough sunlight pouring through the window to ensure that it was always was warm as it always got the sun.
“This is nice,” Pippin commented looking around with approval.
“Its for when I feel like a spot of tea or a little moment to myself during the day,” Diamond explained. “The stove warms the room quickly in winter and the tea is nice on cold mornings.”
He did not doubt that and felt very privileged at being invited into this secret place of hers. Pippin was also very encouraged by the fact that she did not appear angry with him although he was not about to take advantage of her kind disposition when he still owed her an apology.
“Diamond, I am sorry I went off at you like a fool earlier. I let my temper get away from me and took it out on you. That was very wrong of me.”
“No its alright,” she said easing into the chair and motioned for him to sit as well. There was a cushioned footstool that served the purpose of a second seat for an unexpected guest and Pippin was not about to decline the lady’s offer to join her.
“You were not wrong,” she replied when he had sat down. “It is true, the library does seem lacking when all it has is just the lore of the Shire.”
“That’s still no reason to take it out on you,. It isn’t your fault because you’re right too. That is how it is with hobbits, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” she agreed, “it is.”
“It’s just that I’ve seen so much in my life Diamond,” Pippin felt compelled to explain truthfully why he felt so passionately about this, so she would understand. “I’ve seen things that no hobbit ought to and I know I haven’t even seen all of it. When we first left the Shire, we were like children who had no idea what was out the door. We used to hear Bilbo speak of his adventures but we never really understood. A lot of it was like a fairy tale, a part of us didn’t even believe half the things he said were true until we left ourselves and learn different. There are terrible things out there Diamond, some so evil that words cannot fully describe them, they hide in secret places or they ride horses in the dark. Sometimes it is easier to stay hidden and be forgotten the way we are, to be safe from such terrors but then we miss so much.”
Diamond listened to him speak and said nothing for she could feel each word against her skin like a soft breath. He spoke with such earnest sincerity that it was difficult not to be swept away by the intensity of his sentiments.
“But there are also beautiful things Diamond,” Pippin continued. “I’ve met elves who can make you see the stars just by looking into their eyes. I’ve seen trees that move and breathe like we do and life that is so old that what we say or do in our little world is a blink of an eye to them. It pains me to think that the rest of the Shire won’t know any of this. Do you know that Frodo Baggins has saved all of Middle earth? That everywhere but here, he is the Ringbearer that saved us all. He lost his finger destroying something that could have plunged us all into a Dark Age and yet no one really knows and I don’ really think they care. Sharkey’s being here was just the final act in a tale that has spanned centuries and we knew nothing of it here in the Shire until it was too late and almost destroyed us.”
When he finished speaking, he noted that she did not answer and he wondered if he should not have just apologized and spared her his long explanations.
“I think its sad that more people don’t think as you do,” Diamond replied finally and drew a breath of relief from Pippin by her answer. “I used to be like them, not wanting to know what happened beyond the Shire. I didn’t care to know until Sharkey came and everything changed. It cost me not knowing Pippin, it cost me a great deal.”
“You mean Drogo don’t you?” he made a guess.
She was rubbing her hands together as if she were cold and he fought the urge to rest his own upon them to provide her with some warmth. However, he sensed it was a different kind of coldness that gripped her and his touch would do little good but to confuse the issue.
“I loved him so much,” she raised her eyes to Pippin’s and he saw that they were glistening with emotion. “I haven’t spoken about him to anyone you know, not since I stood by and saw him buried into the earth. For so long, I couldn’t understand how it had happened, how the Shire where I had felt safe for so long could become such a dangerous place, where a battle could be fought. My life was never more than getting married and having children, I never thought about anything beyond it. When he died, the world became colder for me Pippin but it also became bigger. I do not want some other girl to find that out the way I did.”
Pippin felt his heart ache as he heard her speak, feeling privileged that she should chose him to make such revelations while at the same time saddened by her loss. He wondered if Drogo knew how lucky he had been to be loved so deeply and envious because he wished she cared for him in the same way. For the first time in his life, his infatuation for her was not some idealised version of what love ought to be. Instead it was something real and tangible that drew the emotion from him in all its purity and he was glad that he could appreciate her the way she deserved to be.
“I didn’t know him very well,” Pippin confessed after a time, when the atmosphere had soaked up her words and he was accustomed enough to it to answer. “I know he fought well because everyone who fell in that battle did. He died protecting the Shire, protecting it for you I’m sure.”
“I know,” she smiled faintly, drying her eyes even though the tears had yet to spill over her lashes. “Its nice to be able to talk to someone about it.”
“I’m glad you could,” he replied. “You can always do that around me. I don’t mind listening.”
“Thank you,” she met his eyes and this time when she smiled, Pippin knew that it was for him.
Away from the sight of Pippin and Diamond, though certainly not beyond their hearing, Merry and Estella were still screaming at each other, having thrown out the rule about being silent in the library not merely out the door, but down the steps and into the street. Merry had thought that he had encountered unpleasant things in his life capable of making his skin boil but Estella had brought him to new heights of fury. Not since their capture by the Uruk Hai, had Merry felt such unbelievable anger at this female whose mouth was more lethal than any creature Sauron might have created in the darkness of Mordor.
“I don’t know why I bother to help either of you! You have not changed one bit. You were silly before you went away and one would think you would have developed some sense travelling in the world but apparently not! I can never understand why Fredegar would surround himself by such lunatics!”
“Probably because he can’t stand his immediate family,” Merry retorted. “Which is perfectly understandable after meeting you!”
“Oh that’s a fine way to behave in front of lady!” she hissed.
“A lady?” he snorted in derision. “When I see a lady I will behave like a gentlemen. Honestly, the only kind of behaviour you seem to inspire in a man is the need to dash one’s brains against the walls.”
“Be my guest!” she growled. “Not that there you have brains to dash anyway!”
“If I had any,” he stared at her, eyes narrowed. “I certainly would not be wasting them on someone like you!”
“Someone like me?” She glared at him. “You mean someone better than a Brandybuck?”
Now Merry was properly incensed at the attack upon the Brandybuck name especially from someone called Bolger.
“If it was not for the fact that your brother rises a head above everyone else in your wretched family, I would say all the Bolgers can go throw themselves in the Brandywine!”
“Better a Bolger than a Brandybuck!” Estella hollered back angrily.”Its no wonder you’re not married yet,” Merry retorted with just as much venom. “You’re as sweet as vinegar!”
“And you’re a pompous, vainglorious halfwit!” Estella sputtered angrily.
“I am the halfwit who helped save the Shire!” Merry said smugly.
“Oh we knew that had to come out eventually,” she placed her hands on her hips and stared at him with something akin to satisfaction. “Its not enough that you throw all these parties and ride about the Shire in your finery, constantly reminding everyone that you and Pippin were the heroes at the Battle of Bywater, expecting everyone to fall at your feet swooning with gratitude that you came to save us. I’m sick of you lording it over us! You weren’t alone at Bywater you know!”
“If you were not a woman, I would knock you on your behind for that!” Merry declared, quite enraged that she had accused them of lording their accomplishments over the Shire. They did nothing of the kind. Well not entirely anyway. However, as the words sunk in, Merry could not deny that perhaps on some level she was right. Still, he would rather be dragged through the heart of Mount Doom before making that admission to her.
“My behind is none of your concern!” Estella snapped though he noted she took a cautionary step away from him.
The withdrawal was too much of an opening for him to resist and he took a step towards her, hoping to intimidate her further in this battle of wills that had spiralled so much out of control since it had ignited so spectacularly in the last few minutes. Neither was even aware that Pippin and Diamond were no longer in the room, they were too concerned at who would win their verbal fencing match.
“That is unfortunate,” he gave her a wicked look. “If you were a mare, I think you would benefit from a good whipping.”
“A mare?” Her mouth dropped open in outrage. “And what are you supposed to be my master?”
“If that were only true,” his lips curled in a little smile, “I would see to it that you were stabled and muzzled for the rest of your life!”
“Cur!” Estella cried out, her cheeks flushed red with ire.
“Nag!” He returned sharply and suddenly realised that she was very beautiful when she was angry.
For a second they stared at each other, breathing hard, trying to catch their breath as they considered what way was best to resume their attack. Merry found himself taking the momentary pause to really look at her. She had been such a familiar fixture in his life for as long as he remembered that it was easy to forget how much she had grown from Fatty’s annoying older sister to the harpy that was presently screaming at him. She had very strong features he noticed, with thick lashes and dark eyebrows that accentuated her eyes. Her lips reminded him a little of a baby’s, bow shaped and resembling the colour of pink roses.
When she was not wearing a scowl she was actually very pretty. No sooner than that observation had crossed his mind, Merry acted purely on impulse and did something very unexpected. He took her by the arms and pulled her to him. Before she had a chance to offer protest, Merry crushed his lips against hers and discovered that they did feel felt like rose petals against the skin. His tongue invaded the cavern of her mouth, slipping through her lips, partly open from surprise, and for a moment he was lost in the sweetest taste imaginable.
If only briefly.
“How dare you!” She shoved him away with indignation.
He was fairly gasping when she forced his lips away from hers, suddenly overcome by how she felt against him.
“How dare you kiss me?” She demanded. Her cheeks were tinged with red as she stared at him, clearly flustered at the contact. Merry was in the process of trying to think up a suitable response when suddenly, he felt her hands on his face, pulling him to her once again.
“They’re quiet,” Pippin suddenly stated, noting the sudden cessation of silence.
“They probably noticed we weren’t even in the room,” Diamond cracked a smile.
“It’s either that or they’ve gone and killed each other,” he answered and glanced at the doorway, wondering if he ought to go investigate.
“I’m glad we had this talk,” Diamond replied, leaving behind the topic of Merry and Estella for the moment. “I haven’t told anyone how I’ve felt about Drogo in so long. My friends and family have been very sympathetic but they seem to think that I should have got over it a long time ago.”
“People can be misguided with their good intentions,” Pippin agreed, understanding far better than she could possibly imagine. Once upon a time, a young hobbit not knowing any better had followed his friend beyond the Shire with no idea of what was awaiting him there. He had done so out of friendship but had thought little of the consequences really, until he was waist deep in trouble and swept away on a title wave of world changing events.
“Thank you Pippin,” she said warmly, “thank you for listening.”
“Thank you for not throwing me out the door after my stupid behavior,” he reminded. “I didn’t think it was stupid,” she countered immediately. “I thought it was very true what you said about building a library that keeps record of all kinds of thing, not just of the Shire.”
“I’m glad,” he met her gaze. “Because I really do intend to something about it and I’ll need your help with it, you being a proper librarian and all.”
“It will be my pleasure,” Diamond said graciously.Pippin was about to answer when suddenly they heard a sharp and abrupt scream. He raised his eyes to Diamond’s a split second before they ran out of the alcove into the main library floor one again. Upon doing so, they were brought to a complete and utter halt as they discovered that the scream had not originated from Estella as they feared but rather a portly old matron who was staring at the counter with extreme shock and for good reason.
Merry and Estella were in the process of disengaging themselves from each other’s embrace, their arms and legs appearing an unruly tangle as it became quite clear what they had been doing on top of the counter when they were stumbled upon by the latest visitor to the library. The top three buttons of Merry’s waistcoat was undone and a corner of shirt tale was hanging loose from his trousers. Estella was in no better condition, the sleeve of her dress had been pulled down enough to expose one creamy shoulder and her pinned hair was dishevelled, with loose strands dangling about her neck. Her lips were red and swollen and she looked decidedly flustered.
“Merry!” Pippin exclaimed in stunned disbelief.
“Estella, really! Oh Mrs Hornblower,” Diamond immediately went to the startled old woman to calm her down. “I am so sorry!
For once, Estella had no words to answer, her only response being the deepening flush of red on her cheeks.
“I should hope so!” The woman’s pursed white lips unclenched enough to declare. “Its disgraceful! Cavorting like that in public!”
It was difficult to say who was more astonished by the scene but those present were equally mute on the subject. Fortunately, Diamond had ushered Mrs. Hornblower into her little alcove, intending to ply her with tea and possibly ensure that Estella’s and Merry’s ‘display’ in the library did not become a matter of public knowledge, though that was going to be a difficult task indeed. The Shire thrived on gossip and Mrs. Hornblower, as her name implied, was usually not one to keep secrets.
“Cavorting?” Pippin finally managed to say, firing the word at Merry.
” I shall never live this down!” Estella cried out, unable to hide her mortification any further.
“I’m sure it won’t be that bad,” Merry tried feebly to say something to make her feel better, but making her feel something was what had landed them in this situation in the first place.
“Oh what would you know!” She snapped out at him and hurried past Merry and Pippin, unable to face either of them.
“Estella….” Merry started to say but she was out the door before he had a chance to speak further. As he heard her footsteps grow distant, Merry suddenly had the feeling that his life had become a great deal more complicated.
“So you and Estella huh?” Pippin asked, wearing a smirk on his face as the two of them left the library behind.
“Shut up,” Merry said darkly, his eyes fixed firmly on the ground before him.
“Of course,” Pippin nodded, forcing the grin across his face into a smile that would not hold for very long. “Not a word.”
“Good,” Merry retorted with an edge of warning in his voice that told Pippin it was probably not wise to provoke him at this moment. His heart was a jumble of uncertain feelings towards Estella Bolger and he had no idea how it was all going to turn out. However, he did know ridicule was the last thing he needed right now.
Unfortunately, Pippin was not about to spare him anything.
“Still if I was going to say anything,” Pippin added, “it would probably be to say….”
Merry stopped in his tracks and glared at Pippin with a look that would have frozen Aragorn his tracks.
“Not…a….word,” he growled.
“Alright, I won’t make comment at all,” Pippin declared holding his hands up in mock resignation before adding with a wide grin because it was too good to resist, “except to say that you make a cute couple.”
“Right that’s it!” Merry swore and lunged at him.
Pippin got halfway across Hobbiton before Merry finally caught him.