A Merry Meeting

by Orangeblossom Took

A Merry Meeting
The Shire, the deep of winter, 1393 (Shire reckoning)

It was winter and the atmosphere at the little farm in Whitwell had been laboring under a heavy pall of grief since the death of Eglantine. The smial, despite eighteen-year-old Pearl’s best efforts, looked unkempt and uncared for. She was a hard-working girl but was typically and Tookishly prone to dreaming. She was also laboring under a heavy weight of sadness for the early and unexpected passing of her mother in childbed, along with the fourth Took sister she would have brought into the world.

She got little assistance from her family and it was not surprising that they were grieving, sulking, or reading in their respective rooms while Pearl labored in the kitchen. Fourteen-year-old Pimpernel was helpful when Pearl could get her nose out of a book but that was seldom. Pervinca, who was eight, was used to being indulged and having her older sisters do the chores and, therefore, no help at all. Pippin, who was three, picked up his toys and, with help, put up his clothes. However, the boy had not spoken a word since his mother’s death and the moon had waxed and waned twice since then. The command of her younger siblings as well as the care of their home was up to her because their father was almost as immobilized by the loss as Pippin.

Pearl felt these worries nip at her mind as she stared out of the kitchen window at the snowy winter landscape. Her woolgathering was interrupted by the smell of burning and black smoke coming from a pot on the stove.

“Oh, no,” she thought despairingly, “the stew is burned!”

She removed it from the fire and observed that it was blackened beyond edibility and sunk down into a chair at the kitchen table, her head in her hands. She wondered what they would do for dinner now. She did not have the energy to start another pot.

She was absurdly grateful when there was a knock at the door. It was Esmeralda Brandybuck and her son Merry, who was eleven. It was not the first time Esme came to call on them with covered dishes since their mother’s death but it was the first time she brought her son with her. Pearl was glad for both. The boy was sturdy, tall for a hobbit his age, and had a head of bright blond hair and clear blue eyes. He was like a ray of sunlight in the darkened, smoky kitchen.

Pearl embraced Esme and then, to his blushing embarrassment, Merry. She saw that Merry carried a basket of brightly-painted wooden toys which had taken time and care to make.

With a catch in her voice, she said, “Are these for Pippin? That is very sweet of you.”

Merry blushed a deeper crimson color but smiled as he replied, “Yes, Miss Pearl. It is nothing. I am too old for them anyway.”

At that moment, little Pippin entered the kitchen to see what the commotion was. Even in his silence, he was a curious lad. His thumb was firmly planted in his mouth and he looked at Merry with huge hazel eyes, partially obscured by brown curls which had not been cut for some time.

Pearl said, “Merry, would you like to show Pippin the toys while your mother and I heat dinner and talk?”

Merry looked at the younger boy with eyes full of sympathy and said, “I think that is a good idea, Miss Pearl.”

The boys went to the room next to the large kitchen. Pearl could hear the sound of Merry telling Pippin what each toy was.

“This is a cow,” he said, “and this is a pony. This one is a dog…” Merry made the corresponding noise from each animal and told Pippin about minor adventures he had around Brandy Hall. The older lad also went on at length about his new pony, which was a real pony and not a toy.

She heard nothing from Pippin but, when she looked in on the lads, he was playing with the toy animals. When they came back into the kitchen for dinner, Pippin was clinging to Merry’s hand.

It was a quiet meal and Pearl had some problem getting the others out of their rooms to greet their guests and eat.

When Merry and Esmeralda were making their goodbyes, something wonderful happened. Pippin spoke.

He looked the Brandybucks with tear-filled eyes and said, “I want to go with Merry.”

Esmeralda looked at Pearl and Paladin, who looked at each other and nodded their mutual assent.

Pearl nodded and said, “If you do not mind, ‘Aunt’ Esme, I think it would be good for him to leave here for awhile.”

Esmeralda said, “It is no difficulty for me, Pearl. All I have is Merry and he is old enough and capable enough to help with the little one.”

Pearl said, “Oh, thank you! It will be good for Pippin to be around another lad in new surroundings.”

Paladin, who had been almost as mute as his son, simply said, “Thank you, Esme.”

That was how the two cousins spent the remainder of the winter and into the spring in each other’s company. Pearl and Pippin would always remember this Merry meeting that brightened a cold winter’s day.