The Magnificent Speaks

by Avondster

Prologue I: A Memorable Bet

It is September in the year 1454 (by Shire Reckoning)

Meriadoc Brandybuck was sitting on a bench in the early morning sun, munching a few mushrooms he had been able to steal away when his wife was not paying attention. The Hobbit watched the sun raise higher above the hills, reflecting in the silver ribbon that was the Brandywine. His thoughts went back to a summer like this one, many, many years ago.

He had been a lad, and Frodo, his hero, had just moved to Bag End. Merry had only allowed his cousin to go when he promised the little Brandybuck he could come over once Frodo was settled there. Frodo's letter had hardly reached Brandy Hall's doormat, when Merry was already standing at the doorstep of Bag End.

Merry remembered a certain conversation very well. It was when he noticed a lass from the town winking at Frodo, and his cousin blushing. "Frodo, your face is red," he had pointed out.
"Is it?" Frodo said, startled. "Well, it is warm here, isn't it?" His voice sounded funny and Merry frowned, not buying it at all. Then he burst out in giggles."Is it because of that girl?"
Frodo's colour deepened. "You're too young to understand, Merry."
Merry laughed even harder. "You're silly, Frodo. Girls are yucky."
"Are they now?" Frodo turned to his young cousin with a teasing smile.
"Yes!" Now it was Merry's turn to blush. "They… giggle a lot and they are always fussing about with their hair and afraid to get dirty, and they're bossy and…"
"I bet your first child will be a lass, Merry."
Merry abruply ceased speaking, baffled. "What?"
"Your first child will be a daughter. Then we'll see if you still think they are yucky."
Merry shook his head so wildly his curls flew around his head. Frodo just smiled.

A little later, when the cousins were on the way home, Merry walked beside Frodo with a thoughtful frown. He looked up at him. "Wanna bet?"
Frodo, startled from thought, looked down. "What?"
"About the daughter-thing."
"Oh." Frodo was often amazed by his young cousin's ability to continue a conversation that had ended several hours ago. "Sure, what are we betting for?"
Merry thought for a while. "If I win, you have to take me fishing."
Frodo nodded. "Fair enough."
"And what do you want when you win, Frodo?"
Frodo smiled mysteriously. "Nothing, only that I want to name your daughter."
The young Brandybuck had chuckled and they had sealed the bet with a handshake.

Merry swallowed the last mushroom and put the basket under the bench, so his wife would not see it, and listened to the sounds of the Hall waking up. Meanwhile he wondered if Frodo had remembered the conversation. Merry had never forgotten it, although he had highly doubted that Frodo would be right. He had held on to his own beliefs. Well, not about girls being yucky, he had married Estella of course, but about having a daughter. He could never imagine himself and Estella having a little girl at home.
But, like everyone has to do sometimes in life, Merry had to adjust his visions after the birth of their first child, a beautiful lass. At that point, Merry didn't care about them anymore. He had a daughter. It was love at first sight.

This, however, had presented a problem. Before her birth, Merry had never considered a girl's name, he had been convinced it would be a lad. Besides, he had always remembered his promise to Frodo who, after all, had won the bet. But Frodo was not here to see it. And Merry felt that the least he could do was give the girl a name Frodo would have picked.
Merry thought and pondered, but could not think up any names his cousin would have liked to call the girl. She was a lass, so it had to be a flower name. What was Frodo's favorite flower? He could think of one… but that one was already taken.
Funny enough, it was Pippin who finally came up with a name, one that Frodo could have chosen if he had been here, and one that fitted Merry's daughter perfectly.

Merry was startled from his thoughts by the voice of his wife.
"Oh, where has that lass gone this time? Athelas!"
Estella came running out of the Hall just as Merry got up. "She's gone again?"
Estella nodded and sighed deeply. Merry shook his head. "What is the matter with that girl? Why can't she just behave?" he mumbled almost inaudibly.
Estella had heard him, though. She placed her hand on his arm. "She's only a child, Merry."
"That is no excuse, 'Stelle," said Merry as they started looking for their daughter.

Maybe it was a revenge of some higher force because of his mocking words, but Athelas Brandybuck had never shown any sign of the girlishness Merry had hated so much about lasses at the time. She never giggled with other girls, and did not care at all if she got dirty and her hair was a mess. She did honour to her name. Like the Kingsfoil, she went where she pleased, and her naughtiness was as indestructable as any weed. And that was only before she befriended her partner in crime, Faramir Took.
'Never combine a Brandybuck and a Took', was already a saying in the Shire, mostly because of another legendary rascal duo, but also because the oddest family ever to have lived in the Shire, the Bagginses, had consisted mostly of Brandybuck and Took blood.
Merry looked upon the comings and goings of his only daughter with mixed feelings. Athelas was very much like him and he adored her, but he was constantly worried because of her and disapproved of the thought of her roaming the Shire with Faramir, pulling pranks and getting dirty. It wasn't fit for the daughter of the Master of Buckland to do so.
He was also appalled at the reactions of his best friend. Pippin seemed to think it was kind of funny that their children went the same ways as they had gone.
I wonder if you'd still laugh about it if she were yours, Pip, Merry thought while searching the Hall.

Prologue II: A Story For A Special Day

The morning had almost gone by when a waggon rode up to Brandy Hall, driven by an extremely tall Hobbit. Merry's son Rory, who had been sitting in the sun reading (or as he called it: 'keeping watch in case Ath comes back'), fetched his father.
Pippin jumped off and helped Diamond to climb out so she could greet Estella. He grinned at Merry after they had embraced. "I think I've found something of yours." He showed Merry to the back of the waggon, where two very dirty tweenagers sat next to the basket of apples, each tied with one wrist to a pole of the waggon. Faramir Took seemed to have accepted his fate, but Athelas Brandybuck glared at them.
"Farmer Maggot was kind enough to return both of them to our camping place this morning," Pip explained, barely hiding his grin. "Appeareantly he seemed to think they had been stealing mushrooms from his fields at night."
Merry looked angrily at Athelas, but she did not turn away.
"Why were you in Farmer Maggot's field, Athelas? Don't we give you enough to eat?"
The young girl stubbornly kept her silence.
"I am asking you a question, lass. Well?"
"We were gathering supplies, Uncle Merry," Faramir put in. His father was usually far more lenient with him and he was a bit scared by the stern tone in his uncle's voice.
Pippin frowned. "Supplies? For what?"
"We wanted to take some food on our journey," said Athelas defiantly, while not taking her eyes off her father's. "Our escape from this dull place. We are going on adventure."

The tall Brandybuck barely had the time to give his daughter the lecture he had been rehearsing in his mind. With all this commotion for the lass, they had forgotten to pack their bags. They hurried in to do so, and loaded the luggage on the Tooks' waggon before they took the road to Hobbiton for the celebration of Their Birthday.

One time every year, the week of September the twenty-second to be exact, the Tooks, Brandybucks and Gardners would come together in Bag End to spend some time together and to remember those they had lost to the war. Frodo and Bilbo were long gone, but the 'family' still called their special family party 'Their Birthday'.

It was almost scaringly quiet in the waggon. Merry had not spoken to his daughter all day. He sat silently next to Pippin, full of doubt. Athelas' words had hurt him.
His friend gently nudged him with his elbow. "Come on, Merry, they didn't really mean to go. They're only children! Don't you remember us when we were their age?"
"Yes, and we díd go on adventure." Merry sighed. "What did I do wrong, Pippin? Have I been too stern with her? Or too lenient? I just don't want her to do anything stupid."
Pippin chuckled inwardly. Look who's talking, he thought.

Athelas was too young to really understand what was going on. She could or maybe would not get why everyone was so upset. Her father and uncles had gone on a journey, too. It was to remember this that they would all get together. Why didn't he want her to go?
But by the time they reached Bag End, her thoughts were driven away by the exitement of the day. She and Faramir went to explore the hole as their parents had tea with the Gardners, and soon found out what the surprise was that Uncle Samwise had been teasing the children with all day. After thoroughly investigating the former wine cellar, they found in a tattered old box: fireworks. Not the legendary ones like Gandalf used to make, but just something Sam had gotten somewhere and hidden for a special occasion.

The Hobbits were quietly sitting in the garden of Bag End, the men enjoying a smoke, the women chatting and the children playing games, when a loud bang startled them all. Merry grabbed Estella tight and his eyes scanned the area for Athelas and Rory. He remembered the last time he had heard a bang and did not have happy memories of it.
A few minutes passed and then Sam appeared, holding in each hand the ear of a black smeared tween. "Athelas Brandybuck, and Faramir Took. I might have known."
Pippin chuckled relieved and even Merry had to hide his smile; Sam had given a pretty good impression of Gandalf just now.

But after dinner he pulled the still dirty girl into the living room. "Athelas! How many times do I have to tell you! Behave! You are twenty-four, it's time you'd start acting like it!"
Merry was very dismayed by his daughter's behaviour but the anger he showed was at least as much as his daughter's. She looked at him furiously. "If you won't allow me to go away, at least let me have some fun here! Why won't you let me enjoy myself?" She was practically screaming, and soon the entire family was gathered around them.
Merry hardly noticed. His eyes were solemnly fixed on his daughter and it took a while before he answered her furious question. When he did, his voice was softer and less angry. "Because I see you go the same path I have taken, and I don't want you to experience the same pain and fear I have been through."
All the family members stood in awe. Merry hardly ever spoke openly of his experiences in the outside world. The story in general, yes, but never his own feelings.
In the silence that followed, Merry looked aside to see both Rosie and Diamond standing with their hands pressed to their mouths. Sam just sighed deeply and shook his head; Estella sobbed once or twice and the children were unnaturally silent. Only Pippin truly understood the full meaning of Merry's words and what lay underneath them.
Athelas was taken by surprise and it took a while before she recollected herself. Seeing her father so obviously upset made her forget her haughty attitude. Instead, she crossed her arms and sat down on the table, looking at the floor. "I just think there's got to be more than this. I want to go where you went, Da. I want to see the world."
Merry sighed. "But you must ask yourself if the world would want to see you as eagerly, Ath. I have seen it destroy another person I loved as much as I love you. That's why I don't want you to go. Oh, there is more, I can tell you that, love. I have seen it. It is true I have seen many things, but some things you might not want to see."
"Tell me then, Da," said Athelas almost pleadingly. "You hardly ever say anything about your journey."
"And with good reason."
"What is that reason, then?" She was beginning to get exited again. "How can you tell me I can't go without giving me a reason?"
"Y'know, I think you have a point there, Athy-lass," said Sam. He had been silent all through the discussion, and his remark was rewarded with a smile from Athelas and a glare from Merry.
"I have to agree with Sam on that one, Merry," Pippin fell in quickly. "You want to shield your daughter from harm, but she'll only seek it herself if you won't tell her. I know you would have done so when you were her age."
Samwise nodded. "You're with family here, Merry. We're here. We'll help you."
The Gardner children, Faramir and Rory started to plead for the story as well. Merry looked at all the longing and expectant faces. What could he do but give in? There was hardly a way back now. And this might be good for me as well, he thought.
He had told the story before of course, many times, but always in a legendary way, as old folk would tell the 'great stories' as Sam called them. He had spoken of the greatness of the battle, the glorious victories, he had described himself and his friends as the heroes in a fairy tale. But Meriadoc Brandybuck had never spoken of all the pain, fear, despair and sorrow that they had encountered along the way. He had never told the story of the scared little Hobbit he had often felt like. His own story.
He looked at his daughter once again. His treasure, his Athelas, who had, at countless occasions, been able to drive away the pain in his soul like the weed she was named after. The young girl's eyes were now more then pleading. They were almost demanding.
Looking at the child that was so much like him, he was overcome by his love for her, and he knew he wanted her to be safe, more than anything. Even if that meant he had to live through the whole experience once again, a thing he had avoided for many years. She had to know. He had to tell. Yes, it was time.

"Very well, then," he said at last.
The 'family' relaxed again at those words, and then they all stirred at the same time.
"Here, let me get you a chair," said Sam as he already moved a large, old, leather armchair close to the fire his son Frodo had just lit.
"I'll go and make a large pot o' tea," said Rosie, and she disappeared into the kitchen, followed by Diamond, Estella and Elanor.
The children gathered around Merry's feet, sitting on the floor and on boxes, chairs and anything else nearby. Athelas seated herself in the middle of them, her eyes fixed on her father constantly, as if she were afraid he'd change his mind and escape.
Pippin sat down on the arm of Merry's chair. "You're in for a long night, friend," he snickered. Merry just looked up at his younger cousin's face and smiled. Pippin was jesting, but it was just his way of showing that he was there for him. Merry needed the comfort and security of his friend nearby with this, and Pip had sensed it. He was here. They were all here for him. Even Frodo, Merry thought, in a funny way. It was as if he could feel his beloved cousin's presence. Suddenly he realised why. Frodo's familiar smell was all around him. Sam had given him Frodo's favorite chair to sit in, and Merry knew he had not given it to him by coincidence.
He felt all his friends around him, whether they were actually present or not. It was warm and cosy in the room, lit by the fire, and he could just see the stars shining brightly in the night sky, through the window. He felt strangely moved inside. Yes, it was time…

And thus the Magnificent started speaking.