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Just to be With You
4: Exploring Brandy Hall
Merry continued to be a perfect gentle-hobbit to Estella. He pulled her seat out for her: the seat next to his. There seemed to be some sort of silently understood seating arrangement in the dining room. Since she was not a part of a very large and important family, Estella was not used to such formality. The two ends of the table were reserved for Saradoc and Paladin (as the Master and the Thain). On either side of them sat their respective wife and son. Once everyone else had been seated, there was only seat available was the seat next to Merry. Estella looked around the dining room in awe and wondered what it would be like to be the Mistress of Brandy Hall.
The current Mistress was sitting across from her son, speaking to Frodo Baggins, who was directly across from Estella. As their meal was served, she involved Estella into her conversation.
“It is lovely to have you here, Miss Estella,” she said. “Saradoc may have already mentioned that our Merry has spoken much about you of late.”
Rosa heard this, as she was seated next to Frodo. She smiled once again to herself and squashed her previous thought of pairing Estella with Frodo. Merry was a much better match, the future Master of Brandy Hall. He was a Brandybuck, but on that note, so was Frodo. She continued to smile, but said nothing.
Merry seemed completely horrified again. Did parents think that it was their duty to completely humiliate their children at every given chance? But when he looked at Estella, she did not seem like she was going to tease him about it. Instead, he cheeks were rosy, and she often looked down as she spoke.
Conversations continued throughout the meal and even after it had all been eaten. Estella sat back in her chair, thoroughly satisfied. She wondered if the Brandybucks had such splendid meals all of the time, and decided that she was going to move to Brandy Hall whether it was by marrying Meriadoc or not. Though her own family was by no means poor (in fact, the Bolgers were one of the richer families in the Shire, after the Tooks, Brandybucks and Bagginses), they never dined in such a way, with such exquisite food.
The table was cleared, and the older hobbits moved to a sitting area and took out their pipes. The wives and daughters sat nearby chatting happily. They were organising Pimpernel’s wedding, despite the fact that no betrothal had been made yet. Pippin seemed to have disappeared somewhere as soon as dinner was over.
Merry glanced from one group to the other. He knew he should join the males, but he wanted to spend more time with Estella, who was sitting on the edge of the group of lasses. Esmeralda saw her son and worked out his dilemma.
“Meriadoc,” she called to him, and he came over. “Since this is Estella’s first visit to Brandy Hall, why don’t you show her around a little? We won’t want her getting lost at your party, will we?”
“What?” he stammered, startled. “Why, yes, of course, Mother.” He held out his hand to Estella. “Would you allow me to show you the sights of Brandy Hall, Mistress Estella?”
If Estella had been less nervous, she probably would have giggled. Merry seemed a completely different hobbit while in the company of his parents. It was not a bad change. Estella assumed that he had been taught the proper manners from a young age, and was expected to use them on such formal occasions.
“It would be a pleasure, Master Meriadoc,” she answered, taking his hand. They left the dining hall, shutting the large wooden door behind them. However, this did not drown out Eglantine congratulating Esmeralda on how clever she was, and Esmeralda commenting on how shy her son could be.
Merry was red to the tips of his ears and could not think what to say to his companion. She broke the silence that they walked in for him. “Did you really talk about me to your parents?”
“Of course I did,” he replied. “I talk about all of my friends to my parents.”
“Oh,” was all she said.
Merry led Estella through the grandness that was Brandy Hall. He showed her the kitchen, though they were quickly bustled out, for the cooks were very busy. Next was the larger dining room, where the rest of the Brandybuck dined (Merry said that he and his family usually dined there too, but tonight had been a more special occasion). They passed Doderic Brandybuck on the way out, who was searching for his younger sister.
“I cannot find Celandine anywhere,” he sighed. “Have you seen her?”
Merry shook his head and neglected to mention that Peregrin was visiting Brandy Hall that night. Being caught by Berilac was one thing, but being caught by Celandine’s overprotective older brother was completely different.
The next stop of Merry and Estella’s tour was the library. Estella was stunned into silence. She loved to read, and the library of Brandy Hall was an amazing sight for her.
“You should see the library at the Great Smials!” Merry whispered modestly. Estella nodded mutely. The large room had a commanding atmosphere, and to talk in anything louder than a whisper would have felt wrong.
Merry allowed Estella to walk around a little. He was about to call to her softly, when he heard a giggle. Estella looked back at him in shock. It hadn’t been from either of them. They listened and soon the giggle was repeated.
“Honestly, Peregrin,” a female voice hastily whispered, “should we really be doing this? Don’t you remember that Berry caught us last time?”
“Last time was out in the open,” a second voice, distinctly male and Tookish, replied. “We should have been more careful. Besides, Berry is in the dining room right this moment having his wedding to my sister organised. We are completely alone.”
The female giggled again. “If you say so, but I still feel so naughty.”
“That’s because you are…”
Estella looked at Merry in horror and saw that his face was bright red, both from embarrassment and from trying to withhold laughter. She knew that she probably looked the same, so she quickly grabbed his hand and pulled him out of the library.
A young Took thought he heard the sound of scuffling feet, followed by a door being quietly shut and some muffled laughs. But his Brandybuck companion assured him he had imagined it, and he was inclined to believe her.
Merry and Estella ran down the hallway from the library laughing hysterically. Merry pulled Estella into a room where they could hide in case Pippin or Celandine had heard them. It was his own bedroom and he collapsed on his bed in a fit of giggles.
“Is he always like that?” Estella asked, once she had reasonable control of her laughter.
“I suppose so,” Merry replied. “Though to be honest, I’ve never caught him out like that. He’s usually very sly.”
“He still was sly. He would not have known that you would be taking me on a tour of the Hall, and if you had not, I doubt anyone would have found them.” Estella looked around the room Merry had dashed into. “This is your room?” Merry nodded. “It’s so big!”
“Yes, but that means that I can make an even bigger mess of it!”
Estella laughed a little. She noticed two large portraits on one of the walls. One was of Merry with his parents, and the other of Merry, Pippin, Pervinca, Pimpernel and Pearl. It had obviously been painted when Pippin was still only young. Estella wandered over to it and lightly touched the smiling face of Merry in the cousin portrait. “You are very close to your cousins.”
Merry nodded. “Since I have no siblings of my own, that is what they have become for me. I think Pippin always loved the idea of having an older brother, especially when Pearl and Pimpernel teamed up against him.”
“Freddie and Ferdi are always looking out for me,” Estella said. “Though, on more than one occasion, I have fought their battles.”
“That does not surprise me.” Merry stood and joined her in front of the painting. Much to Estella’s surprise, he took one of her hands on his and brought it to his lips. “Miss Estella Bolger, would you do me the honour of being my escort for my party?”
Estella was speechless. She certainly had not expected this. For a moment, she thought that perhaps there was more to her decision to come to Buckland than she realised. Perhaps fate had something very special in store for her.
“Of course, Master Meriadoc Brandybuck. The honour will be completely mine.”
* * * * * *
Estella was reluctant to leave Brandy Hall that night, and she could see the mournful look in Merry’s eyes as he farewelled his guests. He would have little time to spend with them now, since the party was so close. Berilac and Pimpernel were equally saddened. Peregrin had reappeared just as the group were about to leave, with no sign of Celandine.
“Where did you disappear to, Master Peregrin?” Fredegar hissed as the walked back to Crickhollow.
“Yes, Pippin,” Frodo chimed. “Your shirt seems somewhat ruffled.”
Estella smiled, but said nothing. Pimpernel and Pervinca were walking next to her.
“I see you may know something about our brother’s whereabouts tonight,” said Pervinca. “But the joy was apparent on your face much earlier. Can we take it you enjoyed your time with out dear cousin?”
“He asked me to be his escort for the party,” Estella admitted, trying to keep her voice down. But Everard had also been standing close by.
“What’s this? Meriadoc Brandybuck had finally found an interest in a lass?” he cried.
The attention of every hobbit in the party was instantly shifted from Pippin to Estella. Estella groaned inwardly. She had a feeling she would not get much rest that night.
* * * * * *
A/N: Sorry, short chapter. Will try to make the next one longer.
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