The Black Ribbon by Rhapsody

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Story Notes:

A story written for Marigold’s challenge #13. Story starter: Has the Brandywine ever flooded in Merry’s lifetime?

Special thanks to my ever patient beta's Kitt of Lindon and Isil Elensar. A very special and warm thank you for Marigold. Thank you for everything!


17 Blothmath, 1392 SR

“Something is not right.” This thought crossed through a little Hobbit's mind when he awoke in the middle of the night. He did not know why, it was just… something was not right. He glanced towards the window and heard a strange and very eerie sound.

“Now come on. I am not really a young hobbit anymore,” he spoke softly to himself. Only a few days ago he had learned how to hold a lot of cards in one hand. That was something he had exercised for such a long time, but finally at Da’s lap he had figured it out. All of Da’s friends had complimented him for mastering such a thing. And not only that, they had called him a fine lad. Not a faunt, but a lad!! So whatever was out there, he was not afraid of it. “Right? Right!” Merry thought and gingerly threw his short hobbit legs over the side of the bed.

“Maybe, maybe it is one of those big folks that was hiding under his window or .. or.” Such thoughts crossed through his mind while he actually wanted to be brave, but yet he was very scared of what he heard outside. Merry cautiously shuffled towards the window and fumbled for the stool that had to be around somewhere. Once he found it he shoved it towards the window, making sure Da and Mum did not hear him. Before he climbed on it he took some deep breaths. “Maybe it will be wise just to go back to my bed and just pull the covers over my head,” the small halfling thought. For a moment he just stood there, glancing back and forth to his bed and decided that he was brave enough to have a look outside. He climbed up the stool and peeped outside.

For a moment little Merry was silent and did not know what to think. Normally where there would be bushes, some sheds, there was this black thing. Not only that! It was moving and glittering and it made a very scary noise. It seemed very calm and actually not. Where were the cows that normally hid under the shed near the river? Who removed all the bushes and even more! Who put that black, treacly thing there? It was not there this morning. Da had told him to stay inside yesterday and even if he wanted to nip some fresh air, not to go near the river. Da had looked so serious that he had not asked why. And now there was this dark… ribbon. Uneasiness settled in and he lowered himself on the stool. He sat there for a moment and wondered what he should do. He was very sleepy, but he was also very scared.

“Da! I need to see Da! He can have a look at it and he probably knows what to do about it. This was not right and it was surely not supposed to be there!” Merry resolved to action and ran towards the door. Once he opened it he heard familiar voices coming down the hall. He recognised his mom, and auntie Gilly. For a moment Merry was confused. Auntie Gilly? Where did she come from? Mum had not talked about her visiting Brandy Hall. Merry’s curiosity was piqued and he slipped into the hallway.

~*~

Saradoc watched how more families found the way to Brandy Hall. By tomorrow morning the Brandywine River will have risen to such a height that a safe passage over the bridge would be impossible. From the crowd he picked up the face of his brother Merimac, his wife Gillian and their son Berilac. “Good, now Merry has someone to play with during these difficult times.”

“It is good to see all three of you,” he greeted them warmly, “ ;How bad is it up North?”

“We managed to evacuate all the cattle in time,” his brother started to speak and they both completely forgot Merimac’s wife and son. After a few steps Saradoc realised he was quite impolite and faced Gillian, who seemed a bit lost in the gathering of the hobbit families who had sought refuge there. The little lad was very tired from the looks of it and could barely hold on to his mother’s skirts. “Gillian, I think Esmeralda would love some help from you, I will make sure Berilac will get a proper place to sleep.” Gillian flashed a grateful smile towards her brother in law and hurried off, glad to make herself useful in this chaos. Berilac looked confused and yelped softly when his father picked him up from the floor. But once the little faunt saw whom it was he snuggled close and drifted off in a nap.

“I think we need to find a comfortable bed for this little lad, brother. We have been up since this morning and he did not have his usual nap. Do you think Merry would mind some company?” Merimac cuddled his son. “It surely has been quite a ride for him.”

Saradoc glanced down on the small face. “I am sure Merry would love the company. He sleeps on the second floor. Follow me.”

~*~

“I am not sure I can do this,” Esmeralda spoke to herself while she opened another hallway closet. “I am not sure where mistress Menegilda stored her extra blankets, but somehow they just don’t want to be found. What am I to do?” She sat down on the stairs that led her to the third floor. The Brandy Hall was a large house with many rooms and hallway closets. The blankets must have found their home somewhere. For a moment Esmeralda felt tempted to have a look at her little one, but such a thing would most certainly awake him. She and her husband had been able to keep little Merry inside all day and she was grateful he hadn’t picked up on the distress this flooding was causing.

Mistress Menegilda had said that this would be a bad flooding, but what did she know about it? It was her first one since her time and Esmeralda only nodded and said that she agreed with her. Of course Saradoc had told her that this would happen once in a while and he most certainly understood that in Tookland such a thing never had happened before. She was completely new to this, her first big test as the Mistress of Brandy Halls and she surely could not let Saradoc down. “So I just have to think hard.” Unwillingly she fiddled a bit with her braid. Hers was still decorated with the black ribbon she had woven into her hair the day old Rory died.

“There you are!”

Esmeralda’s heart jumped when she noted that Gilly had made it safely to their home. “I am so glad to see you!” Both ladies embraced each other with warmth and beheld each other for a moment. “You look too worried for my taste Esmé,” Gilly spoke softly.

“I cannot seem to hide it from you can I?”

“Since the day Saradoc introduced you to me I have been able to read you well. Tell me, what is distressing you so much?” Gilly comforted her friend.

‘I know Mistress Menegilda has blankets stored somewhere for occasions like this,” Esmeralda started, “but they're play hide and seek with me.”

“Oh silly you, why do you not ask the Mistress that?”

“With all these folks in my house? This is the first time an emergency has taken place and I will not ask Mistress Menegilda for some assistance.
‘She's only got pretty brown curls and shiny blue eyes, but nothing more is to be expected from such a young lass, ’ ” Esmeralda mimicked the former lady of that home.

Gilly caressed her friend’s hair for a moment and noted that her friend still mourned over the passing of old Rory. “You still miss your silent support?”

“Well, she hasn’t made my life that easy since he passed away. But you know. I would not be sure how I would react if Saradoc would die. Maybe..” Esmeralda shrugged, “maybe she just misses him as much as we do.”

“Alright. Once we find those blankets and have everybody settled for the night with dry feet, you and that old Dragon are goin’ to talk. For her sake and yours,” Gilly decided and started to open up the closet door.

Esmeralda sighed and spoke wearily. “I already tried that once.”

“Aunt Gilly!!!!!!” A rush and a bump followed. Gillian looked down and met two shiny brown eyes that were accompanied by the adorable face of little Merry.

“Well, what little rascal do we have here?” Gilly swept the little lad into her arms and received a warm smile. She could not help herself and stroked the little lad through his brown curls.

“Momma didn’t tell me you were coming and Da has been busy all day talking to people and there is something out there and I was looking for Da and I heard your voice..” A spitfire of words was fired at Gilly and she tried to interrupt her little nephew, “and maybe Berilac has come as well so that I can play with someone and I think Miss Violet is missing because there is something in her meadow.”

“Now, that is a lot you have told me, little faunt. Yes, Berilac has come as well. He is downstairs with your father and uncle.” Then like that, an idea came to Gilly. “Merry, I have seen you build a house of blankets before. Can you tell us where you found those?”

“Oh they are practically all over the house, aunt Gilly, but I need to see Da first,” Merry wrestled to get free.

“You would help your mommy a lot if you helped her finding those blankets,” she shared a look with her best friend, “and I promise you that if you help us, I will make Stick 'em Up Apples for you tomorrow.”

“Oh!!” Merry was completely unaware that his aunt had bribed into helping them by promising his favourite dessert. “Well, then you must set me down first before I can show you.” Gilly exchanged a smile with Esmé and wrapped her arms around her dear friend. “Thank you so much Gilly, where would I be without you?”

“Where you would always be, here at home with your loving family,” Gilly returned the endearment and both followed the young hobbit that had ran up the stairs to the third floor.

~*~

“We are almost there, little Berli. Soon you will be in Merry’s warm bed,” Merimac whispered in his son’s ear, who once in a while awoke from his slumbering. But he did not see his brother who suddenly stopped short in his tracks.

“Saradoc. Would you please mind!” He stepped aside his elder brother and realized why he had stopped so suddenly. The door of Merry’s room stood wide open and from where they stood both could see that the little faunt had opened the curtains as well.

“Where did he go?” Saradoc stepped into his son’s room and noticed that he was really gone. “But where to?” He spun around and thoughts of doom crossed his mind.


“Let us put Berilac to sleep, then we can see where your son has run off to,” Merimac had seen the fear in his brother’s eyes. “I am sure he has not gone far. At least not downstairs that fast. ” But Saradoc was not listening. “The others would have stopped him from going outside.”

Saradoc came back to his senses and pulled back the blankets. He watched how his brother kissed his nephew on his head and walked towards the window. “The water is rising fast.” For a moment Saradoc could imagine that this sight would have frightened his little boy. Somehow the water called to him, beckoning him to come close. ‘It has taken the shed of Violet, that surely must have worried him,’ he remembered how fond his Merry was of their cow.

“Come, let us find your son and we can all go back to organizing the gathering downstairs.” Saradoc nodded and followed his brother out the room. While he closed the door he heard the two ladies talking, then, as a great relief, he heard Merry’s voice mingling with them. Both exchanged a glance, and before Merimac realized it, his brother had run up the stairs.

He tried to keep up with him and when he peeked around the corner he watched how his brother swung the little faunt around. Merry squealed from happiness and tried to hold on while he was lifted so high.

“Da, someone has taken Violet!” Merry started his avalanche of impressions again. But unlike what happened with Aunt Gilly, he immediately shut up when his father asked him why he thought so.

“Well, her shed is gone. Da, there is something very angry outside the house and it has taken Violet!” Tears stood in Merry’s eyes. The ladies exchanged an amused glance and started to gather all the blankets the little halfling had pointed them to. On her way downstairs, Esmeralda kissed her son on his cheek and spoke softly to her husband. “We have matters downstairs to attend to.” Saradoc smiled back and started to think how he best could explain the flooding of the Brandywine River to his son. So instead of holding him he opened a door to a small room and sat down on the small bed. Merimac wondered what he should do and decided that he should leave the two alone. “I will see if the ladies can use an extra hand.”

“Thank you brother,” he heard when he left the room.

“Well, Merry. For starters, Violet is safe. We put her in a nice and warm stable up the hill together with the other cows of uncle Burrows.” Saradoc saw how that worry left the face of his son. “But I know that you have seen the flood outside.”

“Flood?” The inevitable question came.

“Yes. Remember that time when Mommy gave you so much to drink?”

“Yes?”

“And that Frodo said you could drink as much as he could?” Saradoc could not have though in a million years that he would use this little accident as an example.

“Yes. That hurt because my tummy could take no more and I spit it all out over the table and..” Merry was stopped.

“The Brandywine River has had the same experience. The clouds have fed him with so much water that he cannot hold it in his tummy and has spit it out over the lands. That is what is happening today. The river can’t handle what it is given,” he concluded.

“So that black ribbon outside is our river spitting out… water?” Merry tried to comprehend it.

“Yes, my son.” Saradoc felt so proud that he surely would burst.

“So it will go away?”

He cuddled his little boy that was remarkably smart for his age. “In a couple of days it will. But you know, Aunt Gilly and Uncle Meri have brought Berilac with them, so you will have somebody to play with. Actually,” he paused, “There will be more friends to play with the coming days. Most of your friends will be here. But you have to promise me to stay inside.”

“Oh!” Merry remembered something. “Aunt Gilly has promised to make Stick 'em Up Apples for me. Does that mean I have to share them?”

Saradoc wondered for a moment why his sister in law would make such a treat for this hobbit lad. “Would that be so bad?”

“Maybe, I helped them with finding all the blankets we have.”

~*~

Esmeralda and Gillian worked hard side by side to escort every family that had come to Brandy Hall to the rooms the house had. Both were aware that Mistress Menegilda watched everything they did, but did not interfere in how they handled it. Gilly had just escorted the last family to their rooms and Esmeralda wondered what to do. She glanced into the direction of her husband who once in a while stole a look, but seemingly was occupied with discussing further evacuation plans. From what she had gathered, the river would rise a bit more in 24 hours.

“You did alright, lass.” Esmeralda awoke from her thoughts by that sentence; she turned her head into the direction of her mother in law. “Yes, I know. These days remind me when Rory and I tried to calm down everybody when that river got high again. I’d say you did alright.”

Esmeralda blushed and crossed the distance. “Shall I help you up the stairs, mother?”

“If you would. And another thing.” Menegilda touched the braid of her daughter in law, “Every day when I see you wearing that
black ribbon in your hair reminds me how much you loved my Rory. I’d just wanted to say that.” Esmeralda offered the old lady her arm and helped her slowly get to her feet. And then, just like that, she received a kiss. “You are a fine lass indeed, this house hasn’t had such a good mistress for ages.”

And with that, an eventful evening came to an end. The next morning Gillian made enough chocolate apples for all and Esmeralda started to look at her mother in law through a different set of eyes. Saradoc took Berilac and Meriadoc for a visit to the stables and their hearts were glad to see Violet so warm and happy there. And the river? The Brandywine River never reached such record height again.

~Finis~


Chapter End Notes:

Notes:

I am well aware that Rorimac Brandybuck passed away in 1408 SR. For the sake of the story I have moved that date. I realized it after I finished the tale, which makes it AU. I invented Violet the cow and Gillian as a mom and wife.

Brandy Hall is the ancestral home of the Brandybuck family. It was a many-tunnelled mansion dug into the slopes of Buck Hill in Buckland on the east side the Brandywine River near the Old Forest. It had three large front doors, several smaller doors, and hundreds of windows. It occupied all of Buck Hill and the village of Bucklebury sprawled behind it.

Source: The entry on dwellings from Tuckborough.net 
I took the liberty of describing the Brandy Hall as a building with several floors.



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