Author name: Dreamflower
Recipient's name: Rhyselle
Title: But Seas Between Us Broad Have Roared…
Request: "I'd love a story about any Yuletide during Merry's lifetime, any age from faunt to his last Yule before he dies in Minas Tirith. Please include a mention of a really awful Yule gift (not necessarily one given to Merry. *grin* Thanks!"
Summary: During Merry's last Yule in the Shire, he finds himself often lost in memories of Yules past.
Word Count 4,154
But Seas Between Us Broad Have Roared…
We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.
(Fourth verse of "Auld Lang Syne")
Merry looked out through the frosted window of his study, watching the children squealing and laughing. There was heavy frost on the ground, and the younger ones were turning as they ran, to watch their footprints behind them. They were excited, waiting for the uncles and older cousins to bring the waggons so that they could gather the greenery needed.
He smiled a melancholy smile, and made a fist and placed the side of his hand against the windowpane. Then he used his finger to make five little marks above the handprint, leaving the image of a tiny footprint on the fogged glass.
"Hullo, Pip," he said without turning. He felt his cousin's gaze on his back, and knew he was standing in the door.
"Hullo, Merry," Pippin returned. "I remember when you showed me how to do that. I couldn't have been more than five or six at the time, and I thought it the most marvelous trick in the world."
"I was six when Frodo taught me how to do that. We were waiting on Bilbo to arrive for his Yule visit." He turned to see Pippin coming to his side, his limp more pronounced now, his once-chestnut curls as white as the frost outside. Of course his own curls were white now as well. He sighed and turned back to the window again. "Now I know how he felt that summer before our journey, storing up each memory to last against the days to come."
Pippin stood by his side now. "We teased him about it then, when we revealed our Conspiracy."
Merry's lips tugged up in an all too brief smile, but then he became solemn again. "Our last Yule in the Shire, Pippin. Next year we'll be in the South, and we won't be coming back."
"That's true," his cousin answered. "Are you regretting our decision?"
Merry shook his head. "No, we are doing the right thing. It's time."
"Well, we still have time ahead of us—we shan't be leaving until Gondorian New Year! A good three more months to say all our farewells properly."
"I wish we could have set out right after I got Éomer King's letter."
"It's best we wait for the King's progress when the Court at Annúminas goes back. You know how Strider would have fretted if we'd set out alone, at our age!"
Merry shrugged. "Since when did you become the practical one?"
"Since you became the impatient one," Pippin answered, the merriment in his eyes cheering his older cousin as it always had so long as he could remember. "All these years going about together, some of you was bound to rub off on me eventually, and the other way round as well!"
Merry laughed, and gestured out the window, where three large waggons had pulled up before Brandy Hall. "Shall we see the small fry off?"
Pippin nodded, and they made their way out, where mothers and aunts and older sisters were seeing the little ones into the waggons. Someone began singing "The Greening of the Hall".
Cedar, spruce and fir and pine,
All of these will do just fine!
Hollyberries and mistletoe,
Wrapped with ribbons, decked with bows.
From doors and windows and ceiling beams,
We place the ever-living greens!
The greening of the hall!
The greening of the hall!
Come ye laddies and lassies all
For the greening of the hall!
Out in the frost or snow we trek
To find the finest boughs to deck
Each modest cot or finest smial!
The cold may nip till we can't feel
Noses and toeses, but we don't mind
So long as the greenery we can find!
The greening of the hall!
The greening of the hall!
Come ye laddies and lassies all
For the greening of the hall!
Bundled from head to toe in so many layers of clothing that only eyes, noses and toes could be seen, the smallest children were handed into the waggons by older brothers, sisters, and cousins, who joined them gladly. Any lad or lass over the age of five was eager to join in the fun of the greening. Mums and aunties stood there with the hampers of provender, and admonitions not to lose scarves or hats or mittens in the cold.
Merry snuggled back into Frodo's embrace, where they would sit behind the drivers, their backs against the seat. Merry would have liked to sit near the rear of the waggon and dangle his feet over the tailgate, but that privilege was reserved for the tweens. He gave a little bounce compounded of excitement and impatience, and Frodo gave him a squeeze. "Settle down, Sprout! We'll be going soon—see! Here come Uncle Mac and Cousin Seredic now!"
Sure enough, there they were. Merry looked jealously at Berilac atop his da's shoulders. He'd get to ride up front with Uncle Mac! "No fair!" he muttered.
Frodo pinched him slightly on the elbow. It didn't really hurt—not through the cloak and the jacket and the jumper and the shirt—but it was enough to remind him that he was not being nice. He ducked his head, "Sorry, Frodo!"
"That's all right, Merry! But if you got to sit up on the front seat, then who would sit with me?"
"You could sit up there, too!"
Frodo laughed. "If all of us sat up there, there would be no room for the drivers!"
Just then, Uncle Mac shook the reins, and as they set off, Cousin Marroc began singing "The Greening of the Hall"…
"Come ye laddies and lassies all, for the greening of the hall…" Merry joined in softly, then his voice trailed off.
Pippin put his hand on Merry's shoulder. "Are you all right, Merry?"
Merry smiled. "Just remembering the last Yule before Frodo went off to live with Bilbo. He always came back for Yule after that, but it was never quite the same. That was the last time we went greening when he was a child of the Hall, and not a guest…"
Pippin chuckled. "I sometimes think you wish the world had stopped when you were only six."
Merry looked startled at that, and then chuckled. "Ah, but then we would never have had you around, would we now?"
"Quite true! You would never have known how deprived you were not to know my splendid self!"
"Fathers!" A feminine voice scolded, "You will catch your deaths of cold out here!" They turned to see Primrose, Pippin's oldest daughter and Merry's daughter-in-law. Her voice was sharp, but she smiled and there was a twinkle in her eyes. "Come along! Perry and Fam are mulling some wine in the front room!"
The two elderly hobbits allowed themselves to be chivvied indoors, as Primrose fussed over them, walking between the two, her arms locked in theirs.
"Tell me truly," she asked as she led them in, "what did you think of little Callie's Yule gift?"
Primrose's granddaughter was not even out of faunthood yet, but she had insisted on making Yule gifts for "Granper" and "Gaffa Mer". Her offerings had been a pair of very lopsided ginger-hobbits. The head on Merry's had been the same size as the body, while Pippin's had sported arms nearly as long as its legs. Both had been liberally dotted with currants-- some of which were meant to represent eyes, noses and mouths, while others apparently were meant to be buttons. The randomness of their placing made identifying which was which problematic.
"Delicious!" proclaimed Pippin. After all, Primrose herself had made and rolled out the dough.
"I have made and given worse gifts in my day!” said Merry. “Do you recall the horrible blob of mud I gave Bilbo? I was quite proud of the vases that Cousin Marmadoc allowed me to perpetrate in his kiln the year I was eight. But even my own parents never exhibited theirs openly. Mum kept hers in a drawer, and I think Da actually managed to break his. I know Frodo kept his in his room for a while, before it disappeared into a chest somewhere, about the time I began to get old enough to know how dreadful it was. Bilbo not only showed his off, he took it to Rivendell with him! I nearly fell over dead from embarrassment when I recognised that thing upon his shelf in his sitting room there!"
Pippin cackled. "No worse than the so-called vase I made by painting a chamberpot, which he also took to show the Elves. I can only hope he never told them who gave those monstrosities to him!"
"At least Calendula's presents had the advantage of being eaten!" Merry exclaimed. "She will never know the humiliation of having a fond relative show them off to her suitor when she becomes a tween!"
After the children returned that afternoon, the mothers, aunts, and sisters all went to help them turn the branches into garlands and wreaths for hanging, and the fathers and uncles and adult brothers made themselves scarce. Several gathered in the Master's study where they sat back with snifters of Buckland's finest apple brandy and pipes filled with Old Toby. Merry had leaned back and crossed his feet atop his desk. Facing him in another large and comfortable chair, Pippin had his bad knee propped up on a cushion placed on a footstool. Joining them were their sons Peridoc and Faramir, Frodo Gardener, Merry Gamgee, Berilac Brandybuck, Moro Burrows, and Folco Bolger. He took a draw on his pipe and blew an impressive smoke-ring. He merely smiled when Pippin said, "Not a patch on one of Gandalf's!"
Merry studied the group, not contributing to the conversation about whether they would have an early Spring in the Shire. His cousins Berilac and Moro were the only ones here of his and Pippin's generation. Sam had sailed two years before, and good old Freddy had passed that same winter. Merry was convinced it was her brother's death on top of the broken hip and the lung fever she had suffered that had taken his Estella so soon after.
He glanced at Pippin, who also looked lost in thought. Pippin had to still be grieving Diamond. True to her calling as a healer, she had worked tirelessly when an epidemic of the ague had run through Tuckborough last spring—before succumbing to it herself. Merry had thought for a while he would lose Pippin as well; but the coming of the King's Court to Annúminas had helped them both to rally.
Merry gave a start. "I'm sorry, Folco. Did you ask me something?"
"I just wondered if you thought that you and Thain Peregrin will have fair weather for your journey South?"
"I don't see why not. It's not as though we were setting out in the dead of winter—as we once did." He looked at Pippin, and the two shared a reminiscent smile. "Remember Caradhras?" he asked.
Pippin grinned, and together the two of them said: "There's cold, and then there's Caradhras cold!"
The younger hobbits all groaned. They had heard that tale innumerable times before. But just then, there was a tap at the study door.
"Enter!" called Merry.
The door opened, and Merry's grandson Theodas stuck his head in the door. "Grandfather," he said, "Mum says that it's time for the Master to come and view the greening, and then we'll have tea in the main dining hall."
"And then time for the Yule log!" said Pippin as eagerly as though he were a young child again.
The Master and the Thain pronounced the greening to be the most beautiful and most splendid of greenings ever—just as it was every year—and the grand tea followed. It was already getting dark by the time tea was finished, and the signal was given to bring in the Yule log.
In it came, hauled by Theodas and his son Theodoric, and by Perry and Fam and Dilly and Merry's son Hamwise. All around voices were raised to welcome the Yule log:
"No shorter now will grow the days--
May the Yule log brightly blaze!
Fill the Hall with pine and holly--
Let us all be bright and jolly!
To the New Year let us raise
Songs of joy and songs of praise!
Though the nights be cold and drear
Within these walls, we’re full of cheer!
Hearts and hands, we’re all together,
Heedless of the winter weather!
Our children all are snug and warm,
Safe from want and safe from harm!
Let joy and laughter loudly ring
To the roof-beams as we sing!
Ever longer grow the days--
May the Yule log brightly blaze!"
Merry watched proudly as Frodo, along with Uncle Seredic, and Cousins Margulas and Marroc, hauled the log into the Hall. In a few years he would be old enough to help with that duty! He lifted up his voice to sing along with everyone else. Little Pippin at his side piped out clearly, even though he was only five, he knew all of the words already, and didn't miss a single note.
The log was carefully placed into the great hearth, and Old Rory went forward to light the kindling placed carefully to ensure a perfect blaze. Soon it was burning cheerily away as the hobbits sang more Yule carols. Frodo came over and picked Pippin up, and joined his own voice to the singing. Merry leaned against Frodo's side and Frodo placed his unencumbered arm around Merry's shoulders.
Merry glanced over to where his grandfather and Cousin Bilbo were have a quiet conversation in the corner, and frowned in puzzlement. He knew his family trees well enough, and he knew his grandfather was a dozen years younger than his Baggins cousin—yet Rory looked far older. How strange…
Soon enough the singing ended, and the signal was given for supper. As they turned to go back to the tables, Frodo swung Pippin up on his shoulders and looked down at Merry. "Dancing or stories after supper?"
Merry grinned. "How about a few dances and then we join Bilbo for stories?"
Frodo laughed, making Pippin giggle and clutch his hair. "So, you clever Brandybuck, you shall have both!"
The Yule log popped in the hearth, drawing Merry out of his reverie. He knew now why Bilbo had looked so much younger than Old Rory. He shook his head.
Now he was Master and time to call his clan in to supper. There would be dancing after, and stories. Now that Sam had left, he and Pippin were the ones who told the stories in the side parlour…
Changes, so many changes…
"And there I was, with no more sense than a goose, I go and chuck a stone down that well! Down, down, down it fell until I thought it would never stop—then PLUNK! And plunk! plunk! plunk! it echoed, sounding louder than anyone would ever have thought in the darkness! I thought my heart would stop! 'Fool of a Took!' Gandalf growled at me from beneath his bushy eyebrows, and I swear I had never seen him so angry! Fool, he said and fool I felt…"
Merry had told his share of stories earlier, mostly funny ones about Boromir falling in the thorn thicket, or of Gimli and Legolas and their endless bickering, even after they had become fast friends. But now the younger ones were gone, and Merry gladly let Pippin tell this grimmer tale of a journey in the dark to the older children and tweens who remained. Outside he could hear the sounds of the hobbits at the bonfire, and from the dining hall there was still music going on for dancing…
But he was weary, and to his dismay, growing even more melancholy. This night was also his wedding anniversary, and now Estella filled his thoughts. His wedding had been joyful, but still he couldn't help but wish that Frodo had been there to stand with him. It was still an ache after all these years. He remembered the night he and Estella had set the date for their wedding…
Merry and Estella fetched their cloaks, and headed out of the smial. As they went, they were passed by Merry’s Aunt Hilda, wearing a grim expression. Uh-oh, he thought. Celandine’s slipped her leash. Probably with poor Moro. He caught Estella’s eye, and she giggled. She had come to know Celandine’s ways pretty well when she had stayed at Brandy Hall during the Troubles.
They passed outside into the chill of the Yule night, and holding hands, wandered in the direction of the River. They did not at first speak, but just enjoyed being together and not under scrutiny. The wind picked up a bit, and they stopped beneath a large oak, with a bole wide enough to break the wind. As they leaned against it, Merry drew his Elven cloak out enough to bring it around Estella, and draw her close.
They leaned together, and looked up through the canopy of tree to the stars sparkling in the clear winter sky. Merry pointed. “There. That’s Eärendil. Did you know that star is actually Lord Elrond’s father?”
Estella looked at him incredulously. “Do you really expect me to believe that? I know you told me about Eärendil and Elwing, but surely that’s just a pretty story!”
“That was my reaction when Frodo told me. I never believed it, either, until it was confirmed for me from Lord Elrond’s own lips. And if you’d ever met him, you’d know that he’d never jest about such a thing.”
She looked at the stars with renewed interest.
Merry squeezed her shoulders a bit. “Have you enjoyed your Brandy Hall Yule?”
“I have. And you?”
His eyes briefly clouded. “Only one thing would have made it better.”
He could tell by the look on her face that she knew he was talking about Frodo. But she didn’t say anything.
“Estella, I was thinking--why don’t we have our wedding next Yule? We will have been betrothed for a decent interval by then. I don’t want to wait all the way until spring. And by then, surely Frodo will feel up to coming to Brandy Hall. He can’t say no if he’s standing for me at my wedding.”
Estella gave a little shiver. “Merry, it’s not very good luck to talk of the wedding before we’re officially betrothed.”
He looked down at her, distress in his grey eyes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you, I was just thinking aloud.”
She shook her head. “I’m being silly! Of course a Yule wedding sounds lovely!”
Of course, thought Merry, they'd no idea that by the next year Frodo would have gone across the Sea, the cold grey Sundering Sea. He took a deep breath and stood up. Pippin stopped his story and looked up at him, but he shook his head. "Go on with your story, Thain Peregrin. I bid you all a good night and a Happy First Yule!"
"Happy First Yule, Master Meriadoc!" chorused the children, and then turned their attention back to Pippin. Merry could feel Pippin's concerned eyes on his back, but there was nothing his cousin could do for him tonight.
He made his way to the Master's quarters. One of the servants had made up the fire and turned down the bed. He did not bother to light a candle. Between the firelight in the hearth and the moonlight through the window there was plenty of light to undress and get into his nightshirt. The sheets were cold and the bed felt very large. As he did every night, he gathered up the pillow that had once been Estella's and held it close to him as he tried to find sleep.
Their wedding had been beautiful. There had actually been a smattering of snow, and when it stopped the skies had been brilliant with stars. Merry had expected to miss Frodo fiercely, yet for some reason he had felt as though Frodo was there, his presence so close, even as Sam stood next to him as witness, in the place he'd always planned for Frodo to stand. He'd felt a peace, as if his beloved cousin was telling him all was well, and how proud he was.
And he'd felt nothing but joy as he'd gazed into the face of his bride. His Estella, his heart. They'd slipped away between the feasting and the dancing, and had celebrated their love in Merry's bed, and lain sated afterwards, listening to the singers outside at the bonfire below the window...
As he could hear them now at the bonfire…
"When night is longest,
When dark is strongest
We set candles burning
To wait for Sun’s returning.
To hope and home and hearth we hold,
Shutting out the dreary cold.
At this time when year has turned,
We think of all we’ve done and learned,
And look unto the coming days.
A song of light and hope we raise:
No night is so long,
No dark is so strong,
To dim the light of Stars above,
Or overcome the might of love."
He heard another voice, a familiar and long-missed voice join the singing.
"Frodo?" He saw his cousin, his once dark curls as white as Merry's own, lines of laughter limning his face. But the blue eyes were as clear as ever they had been. He was dressed in a loose white shirt and breeches, and Merry realised they were standing on the shore of the Sea—but this Sea was not cold and grey, but warm and blue and green. He felt a stab of disappointment. "I suppose I am dreaming," he said.
"So we are, cousin." Frodo emphasized the we.
"Yule is difficult sometimes, isn't it?"
Merry nodded. "There are so many to miss. Estella, my heart! And Sam, and Freddy, Mum and Da—and-- you. I've missed you so long, so very long…"
"I know. I've missed you, too, and Pippin, and others in the Shire whom I never thought about missing before I left. It's been a long time."
"We're leaving the Shire, Frodo, Pip and I. We can't stay any longer. Rohan calls me, Gondor calls Pippin…do you think us dreadful to abandon our families?"
"As I abandoned mine when the Sea called me?" Frodo asked. But he was smiling. "I always knew this time would come for you both. You have another family waiting to spend time with you, Éomer wishes to farewell you, and then you will have time to spend with Aragorn and Arwen and Legolas and Gimli and Faramir and Éowyn. Buckland and the Shire will go on without you."
Frodo reached out his arms, and though Merry feared that the dream would dissolve, he could not resist a chance to embrace his cousin. But the embrace felt real, and Frodo felt warm and solid, and the tears Merry wept upon his shoulder felt wet upon the soft cloth of Frodo's shirt…
He must have drifted into other less vivid dreams, for that was the last he remembered until he was wakened by the sounds of giggles and a knocking on his door. He blinked at the light of the Sun coming in his window, and sat up on his elbow. "Come in!" he called.
The door opened and his three youngest grandaughters, Dilly's little lasses Aster, Emerald and Rosebud all stood there with a tea trolley almost too large for them to push. Rosebud could barely see above the top of it. But it bore a tray from which the most delightful smells were emanating. ""Happy Second Yule, Gaffer Merry! We brought you tea!" exclaimed Aster, the eldest, who was nearly sixteen.
"So you have, my dears! And did you bring enough for yourselves as well?"
And after they shared a splendid first breakfast, he dressed and marched down the passage with them as they sang:
Come now, good hobbits, be of much cheer,
And let's raise a toast to the coming New Year~
May each day dawn bright and fair,
Free from want and free from care!
May the year be short on sorrow,
And long on joy with each new morrow!
May the Shire know peace and plenty,
That no larder may go empty!
And blessed be the earth we till,
That each belly may have its fill!
May the ties of family, too,
Be strengthened by hearts warm and true!
May each hobbit have a hand to hold,
And love for all, both young and old!
Let the halls with laughter ring,
As to the New Year we gladly sing!
But Seas Between Us Broad Have Roared…
Chapter End Notes:
This story takes place just before Merry and Pippin leave for their retirement in Gondor, and event mentioned in the Tale of Years. In my version, the letter from Rohan arrived earlier in the year. King Elessar and his Court are at Annúminas, and the plan is for the two elderly hobbits to travel with them for safety's sake. There are some references to a couple of my other stories, and Merry's memory of him and Estella discussing their wedding comes from my story "It Takes a Took".
The "awful present" in this story was inspired by a bit in the children's classic Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, while the presents Merry and Pippin recall were featured in my story "Recycled".
The first song in the story, "The Greening of the Hall" was written especially for this story. All other songs have appeared in previous stories of mine.