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Just to be With You
A/N: I thought I should up the rating to PG due to the suggestion of inappropriate behaviour.
6: A Grand Event
Estella was awed by the grandness of Brandy Hall’s ballroom. She smiled at Merry with an accusing look on her face. “You did not show me this on our tour.”
“It would have ruined the surprise for you,” Merry replied.
The roof was high, by hobbit standards (though a man may have been able to touch it if he stood on his toes and reached), and in the very centre of the room beautiful crystal chandelier dangled.
Fredegar whistled. “I’d hate to be the hobbit that had to clean that. Far too high.”
When empty, the ballroom was a strangely eerie place, with frightening echoes and a sombre mood. But on this day, it was far from empty. Hobbits crowded the room from every corner, drinking, eating, dancing, or just standing and talking.
Pippin spotted one such group and grinned. It consisted of three lads and one lass, all with the same walnut-brown curls. “There’s Myrtle and her brothers. She doesn’t seem to have anyone else with her, so I think I shall take my leave from you fine people.”
Frodo rolled his eyes as Pippin ran off in the direction of the Burrowses. “I think I should keep an eye on him.” And he left too.
Soon all of their companions had left, and Merry and Estella were left alone. They did not speak to one another, merely walked in a shroud of discomfort. Finally, Merry cleared his throat. “That’s a lovely dress, Estella.”
“Thank you,” she whispered. “But you have your Aunt to thank. It belonged to your cousin…”
“Of course! I thought it looked familiar.” Merry grinned to himself, as he remembered that on the occasion she had worn that dress, Pearl had met Orlando Burrows, the hobbit whom she married. “And now, m’lady, what would it please you to do first?”
Estella giggled. It amazed her how much she had transformed in the past few days, from the influence of Merry and of Pervinca and Pimpernel. She was no longer the type of girl that mothers scorned. She had developed an interest in dresses, and parties, and, most importantly, lads like Merry. “I’m rather thirsty. Could we get a drink?”
Merry took Estella’s had and led her to a long table, covered with glasses of wine. He picked up two and handed one to Estella.
“To Master Meriadoc Brandybuck,” said Estella, raising her glass. Merry smiled and raised his own.
“There you are, Merry!” Berilac called. With Pimpernel in tow, he ran up to his cousin and shoved a mug of ale into his free hand. “For the birthday-boy.”
“Thank you, Berry, but I already have a drink.” Merry showed Berry the glass in his other hand.
“Well, you have two drinks now. Finish one, then drink the other.”
Merry shrugged and quickly drained the glass of wine. Then he clinked his ale mug against Berry’s and they drained their mugs together. Estella smiled. She wondered how many more drinks would be handed to the “birthday-boy”.
“Peregrin Took, I hate you!” the voice of Celandine Brandybuck screeched.
Merry, Estella, Pimpernel and Berry all looked to where Celandine was fuming in front of Pippin. She had discovered him getting rather close to Myrtle Burrows, and was certainly not impressed.
“Celandine’s been in her room all morning getting ready,” Berry commented. “Must be an awful blow to see Pippin with another lass.”
“Yes, and that is a very pretty dress,” Pimpernel added.
“Well, you had best let Pervinca know if there’s matchmaking to do,” sighed Pimpernel. “You know how she loves that sort of thing.”
“There’s no need,” Estella said, with a laugh. “She seems to be flaunting herself all over Frodo Baggins already.”
Berilac screwed up his nose. “I know he doesn’t look it, but Frodo’s a bit old for her. Oh well, it isn’t our problem.” He held out his hand to Pimpernel. “May I have this dance?”
Pimpernel accepted his extended hand and the two of them made their way to the dance floor. Estella suddenly became very nervous. She hoped Merry would not want to dance so soon! Pervinca and Pimpernel had tried to teach her some simple dance steps in previous evenings, but the lessons had not progressed very far. All of the couples currently on the floor seemed to be natural dancers, and Estella knew she would feel out of place.
“I suppose you’d like to dance,” Merry said, as if reading her thoughts.
“Well, actually, I’d prefer not to,” Estella stammered. “I’m afraid I’m not very good. I was hoping we could wait until a little later…”
“I see. Perhaps, then, you’d like to join me in the less exciting activity of thanking the guests.”
“It would be an honour.”
Merry took Estella’s hand and led her to various guests, many of them relatives of Estella herself, that she had hardly known existed. Almost every guest they spoke to insisted that Merry share a drink with them, and Estella was beginning to notice the effects. His speech had become slightly less coherent and he was swaying as he walked.
Eventually, Esmeralda called all to the tables for dinner. All other meals had just been eaten standing, and this was the first formal meal. To Estella’s amazement, she was shuffled into a seat at the head of the chief table. Her own family was seated on a completely different table, but fortunately, Paladin and his family were seated close by, and Pervinca smiled warmly at Estella, easing her discomfort a little.
Saradoc, who sat directly opposite Estella, stood and raised his glass. “Firstly, I would like to thank you all for joining us in celebrated the birthday of my son, Meriadoc. Merry himself compiled the list of guests, and it warms me to know that he considers so many as his good friends.”
The guests applauded. Estella glanced over at the Tooks again, and caught Pippin’s eye. He grinned at her and pretended to yawn. Estella stifled a giggle, and hoped that no one had noticed.
“Secondly, I ask you to raise your glasses in a toast for Meriadoc and his coming of age. I am proud to call him my son, and glad to know that he will one day succeed me as Master of Buckland. To Meriadoc Brandybuck!”
“Meriadoc Brandybuck!” the guests cheered, raising their glasses.
Saradoc nudged Merry, urging him to stand and say something. Nervously, Merry stood and cleared his voice. “Thank you all for coming, and, er, let’s eat!”
This time Estella could not prevent herself from laughing. Fortunately, Merry’s family had laughed too, and Paladin Took was shaking his head in amusement. Merry’s command was quickly obeyed, and soon every guest was indulging in a delicious meal.
Estella found herself once more involved in a conversation with the Mistress of the Hall. Pervinca had certainly been truthful when she had said she took after her Aunt. If Esmeralda had been several years younger, one would have easily mistaken them for sisters.
“Has Merry been making sure you’re enjoying yourself?” she asked.
“Oh, yes, Mistress Esmeralda,” Estella replied. She was not completely sure if that was the correct way to address Merry’s mother, but it would have to do.
Esmeralda laughed. “You may just call me Esmeralda, or even Esmie if you’d like. I’ve never much liked grand titles.” She grinned mischievously, leaving no doubt about her maiden name. Estella had seen that grin worn by both Peregrin and Pervinca. “Who knows, perhaps you will one day be calling me Mother.”
Estella blushed furiously at this. Fortunately, Merry was talking to his father and had not heard his mother’s prediction. Esmeralda just laughed again.
Meanwhile, Merry was having difficulty listening to what his father had to say. He thought that it had something to do with him making a good choice for a potential bride. Both of Merry’s parents had made it obvious that they liked Estella and would approve of a future marriage. But currently, all of Merry’s senses had been dulled. How much ale have I had? Merry thought to himself. He paled as he realised he had lost count at around twelve mugs, and then of course, there was the wine. Merry looked at the now empty glass in his hand, and seemed to recall doing that at least five times earlier in the day.
“Are you okay there, son?” Saradoc asked.
“Yes, fine, Father,” Merry murmured, his eyes refusing to focus properly.
Once the meal was over, many couples returned to the dance floor, including Pervinca and Everard, Pimpernel and Berilac, Peregrin and Myrtle, and Freddie and Melilot. Celandine, true to Merry’s prediction, seemed to no longer care that Peregrin was dancing with another lass. In fact, she had accepted a dance offer from Estella and Fredegar’s cousin, Ferdibrand Took.
Estella finally felt that she was ready to dance. “Merry, would you like to dance?”
It took him a moment to respond to her question, and when he did, he was grinning quite stupidly. “Why, of course, Mistress Estella.”
Together, they joined their friends on the dance floor. Pervinca grinned at Estella, and called out to her, “We’re about to do the Springle-ring. We taught you that one!”
Estella nodded, and tried to remember the complicated steps. As the dance began, she found it easier to watch what those around her were doing. Pervinca and Everard seemed to be very good at the dance, as did Melilot Brandybuck, though Fredegar was making it difficult for her. Estella wondered if bad dancing was a Bolger family trait.
Turning back to her partner, Estella noticed that as well as the stupid grin that seemed permanently plastered to Merry’s face, his eyes were glazed over and his balance was terrible. I wonder what’s wrong with him, Estella thought. He hasn’t had that much to drink. It suddenly dawned on Estella that Merry had in fact had quite a lot to drink. Almost every guest they had spoken to had handed him a drink, and there were a lot of guests.
“Merry! How are you feeling?” she hissed.
“Perfectly wonderful, my dear, sweet Estella,” he replied. “How are you?”
“Merry you’ve had too much to drink. We have to get you out of here until you sober up.”
“Nonsense! No such thing as too much to drink. We Brandybucks can hold our own!”
Estella sighed. This was going to be more difficult than she thought. She tried to think up a way to get him out of the ballroom. “Merry, do you suppose you could show me the library again?”
“Are you tired of dancing?”
“Yes, and I did not get a really good look at the library last time.”
Merry giggled. “Of course, thanks to Pip and Celandine. Well, I don’t see why we couldn’t see it now. No one will miss us.”
As they made their way to the library, Estella tried to remember which door belonged to Merry’s room. She had no intention of going to the library. She just wanted to make Merry lay down until the effects of the alcohol had worn off.
Fortunately for her, the door to Merry’s room had been left open.
“Estella, this is my room, not the library,” Merry stated.
“I know, I just…”
Merry chuckled. “You know Estella, you could have just asked. There was not any need to use the library excuse.”
Estella did not know what Merry was talking about. She was about to tell him so, when he suddenly wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her. She had certainly not been expecting that! It seemed Merry believed she had come to his room for some inappropriate behaviour.
He also seemed completely oblivious to her struggling. They were moving closer to his bed, but Merry tripped over a shirt that had been tossed carelessly onto the floor. He fell, taking Estella with him. Fortunately, they landed on the bed.
Pinned beneath Merry, Estella looked up at him and struggled once more. As much as she liked Merry, she did not wish to engage in behaviour that should wait until they were married. But as she struggled, she heard the most unexpected of sounds. Merry was snoring! The ale had finally taken its toll, and Merry had fallen asleep.
Estella tried to roll him off her, but he was heavier than he looked. With a defeated sigh, she gave up. Someone was bound to notice that they were missing, and when they found the pair, it was going to be very difficult to explain.
* * * * * *
A/N: In another of my stories (Watch the Clouds Go Sailing By) Pippin points out to Merry that he could not remember his thirty-third birthday because he drank too much ale and passed out. That’s why I had to write this chapter!
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