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Time to Make a Change
“Théoden King, Théoden King! Farewell! As a father you were to me, for a little while.”
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, “Many Partings”
“Meriadoc, called the Magnificent, becomes Master of Buckland. Great gifts are sent to him by King Éomer and the Lady Éowyn of Ithilien.”
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, “Appendix B – The Tale of Years”
4: Master of Buckland (Saradoc Brandybuck)
Meriadoc Brandybuck often wondered if turning fifty would have any profound effect on his life. After all, fifty had been the age that both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins had embarked on their adventures. Peregrin Took was always quick to point out that Merry’s life had become quite more exciting a long time before he turned fifty.
But the age of fifty would bring change to Meriadoc’s life, just not in the way he expected (or, perhaps, hoped for). On the day of his actual birthday, Merry was given his title. It had been tradition in the Brandybuck family for the Master (or future Master) of Buckland to be given a title. Merry’s father, Saradoc had been named “Scattergold”, for his grand generosity. Rorimac “Goldfather” had been named for almost the opposite, for his shrewd business manner, and before him, Gorbadoc “Broadbelt” had been famous for his feasts, and his love for his own food.
Meriadoc was given the title of “the Magnificent”, for a great many reasons. Firstly, his family recognised the great things he had done on his “adventure”. He was the Knight of a distant land, something only his cousin Pippin alone had equalled. Then, of course, there was his involvement in the Battle of Bywater and the freeing of the Shire from Sharkey’s rule. Merry (along with Pippin, once more) had beaten Bullroarer Took in height, an incredible feat (though rumour had it, he had acquired assistance in this. Some form of outlandish potion was the general belief). It seemed only fitting for a hobbit of such grand stature to wear lordly clothes, and Merry’s mail-shirt was certainly that.
A lesser reason for his title came from Merry’s younger friends. Both he and Pippin had become quite famous for the parties they held at Crickhollow. Even after they had both married (and now, Peregrin had a son), the parties continued, and they were no less wonderful. One such party was held after the Title ceremony. Neither Merry nor Pippin remembered much of that party.
Sam and Rose Gamgee had been unable to attend the birthday party at Crickhollow, due to the imminent birth of their seventh child. Rose was due any day, and they thought it unwise to travel, even to Buckland. Merry was, however, not going to leave one of his closest friends out of the celebrations, so a week after the actual birthday, Merry and Pippin, along with Estella, Diamond and Faramir, travelled to Hobbiton and had another party for Merry’s birthday (though this one was far less grand).
Their stay at Bag-End was extended when the newest Gamgee child decided that he wanted to join in whatever fun his family was involved in. Little Hamfast Gamgee was born on the twenty-ninth of April, 1432.
Merry, Pippin and their families finally made their way back to Buckland. They took it fairly slow, but Merry could not help but feel anxious. There was something in his heart telling him to return home.
Night was beginning to fall as their carriage drew up to the West-Gate of Buckland. The hobbit on duty looked up at them and started.
“Oh, Master Merry!” he cried. “You’re back.”
“Yes,” Merry replied, somewhat confused.
“Begging your pardon, sir, but I think you should head to Brandy Hall.”
“I did plan to, but…”
“Sorry, sir, it’s not my place to explain.”
Merry looked upon the hobbit in complete confusion. He glanced at Estella and Pippin, both of whom, simply shrugged. Merry muttered his thanks and urged the pony onwards. His feeling of anxiety had now very much increased.
A message must have been sent from the Gates to the Hall, though Merry and his companions saw no one take it, for Merry’s cousin Berilac was waiting for them at the entrance. With him stood his wife, Pippin’s sister, Pimpernel. Both had grave looks on their faces. Merry assisted his wife from their carriage, before making his way to the door of Brandy Hall.
“Hullo, Berry,” he greeted, almost hesitantly.
“Welcome home, Master of Buckland,” Berilac returned, in an almost emotionless voice.
Merry’s eyes widened. He searched Berry’s face for any trace of fallacy, despite knowing that there was no way Berilac could lie about this. Not finding what he searched for, Merry pushed his way passed Berry and Pimpernel and into the Hall. He ran straight to his father’s room. Merry’s mother, Esmeralda, had passed away a few years back. Merry had been distraught – his mother had always been one of his closest friends. Fortunately, his father had been there to share the pain. But Berry’s words had brought a new wave of grief. Master of Buckland…
The room was empty. Fighting back tears, Merry continued through Brandy Hall, vaguely aware of the sounds of his cousins and family following him. Someone called him name, but he could not figure out who the voice belonged to. Pimpernel, or Diamond? Merry was making his way to his most hated room of Brandy Hall. Being so large and with so many inhabitants, Brandy Hall had its own mortuary. It had always been a favourite pastime of young Brandybucks to dare one other to go inside. Merry had been unfortunate enough to have entered the room and see his grandmother’s body waiting for burial. Since then, he had always avoided the mortuary, but now he knew it was where he needed to go.
The door creaked open, and Merry stared inside. A coffin sat in the centre of the room. He slowly edged towards it and peered into it. There lay Saradoc Brandybuck, as if in a peaceful sleep.
From behind him, Merry could just hear a hushed argument between his cousins.
“You could have thought of a better way to tell him!” Pippin’s voice hissed.
“What do you suggest I should have said, Peregrin?” Berilac returned. “‘Welcome home, Merry. And by the way, your dad’s dead’?”
But the voices soon faded away as other noises filled Merry’s ears. He heard horns blowing, and the desperate cries of the dying. In the distance, he could hear the strange calls of the mûmakil. The stench of death wafted into his nostrils and seemed to surround him. Looking upon Saradoc, he no longer saw the coffin of oak. Instead, he saw Saradoc dressed in the livery of Rohan. A white horse lay on top of him, but it then rolled away. Merry cried in pain as his right arm chilled and went numb. He stumbled towards his father.
"Farewell, Master Holbytla!"
Merry started sobbing. No, not again! He did not want to face this again. Saradoc no longer looked like Merry’s father. He had completely changed into Théoden, former King of Rohan. His elderly face was twisted in pain, but his eyes shone brightly.
“Never shall I sit with you in Meduseld, as I promised, or listen to your herb-lore.”
Amidst his tears, Merry finally found his voice. “No, not again! I don’t want to lose him again!”
Behind him, Merry’s family looked upon him in concern. They saw none of what Merry had. Only one of them understood what Merry was going through. Pippin shook his head, pitifully, knowing that his beloved cousin was reliving the events of the Pelennor Fields. Estella must have seen the look of understanding on Pippin’s face, because she turned to him.
“Peregrin! What’s wrong with him?” she cried.
Pippin did not know where to begin. They had told their wives of the adventure, but for the most part, the painful and difficult parts had been omitted. The cruelty of the Uruk-hai, the battle on the Fields of the Pelennor, the Pyre of Denethor – these were the memories that Merry and Pippin kept to themselves, and the memories that haunted their dreams.
“This isn’t the first time Merry has lost his father,” Pippin said at length, and he said no more.
Estella looked away from Pippin and ran to her husband. She cried out. Merry had fallen to the floor, holding his right arm against him. When she touched it, it was icy cold.
“Gandalf? Where is Gandalf? Pippin!” Merry cried, then he fainted.
* * * * * *
When Merry woke, he half expected to be in the Houses of Healing. But he was not. He was in a room in Brandy Hall. His own childhood room, he realised, as he saw the portrait on the wall of himself and his Took cousins. Someone was holding his right arm. Merry was thankful to realise that the feeling had returned to it, and it was no longer cold.
“Merry? Are you awake?” asked Estella.
“Stella?” he murmured.
“Yes, my love, I am here. You gave us quite a scare, Meriadoc.”
Estella smiled. Both she and Diamond had known, when they wed their respective husbands, there were somethings that they could not comfort them for. There were some times when Merry or Pippin needed one another. Merry had just given them all another example of the more painful moments of their journey.
“Yes, Pippin is here too.”
“Decided to join us, again, have you Meriadoc?” Pippin said, trying to be light-hearted.
“Oh, Pippin. I…I was…” Merry stammered, new tears spilling from his eyes.
“You were back on the Pelennor Fields. I know. It’s happened to me too. You know I can’t stand to have a blanket over my face, and the site of a house burning makes me retch.” Pippin managed a smile. “But you are back with us now.”
“But, it was as clear as day. Everything! The smell, the sounds, Théoden…”
“I know, Merry. It always is. Here, drink this.”
Merry allowed Pippin to place a mug to his lips. The cool water felt good as it slid down his throat. At last, he felt himself one more. He looked over to where Berilac and Pimpernel were hovering at the end of the bed.
“Why didn’t you send word to me?” he asked, in a quiet voice.
“If you had not returned today, we probably would have,” Berry replied. “He passed away only three days ago.”
“But I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye!”
“Nobody did,” said Pimpernel. “He must have died in his sleep. Berry noticed that he hadn’t arrived for breakfast. When we checked his room, he looked to be asleep, but he did not wake.”
Merry just nodded. So that was the end for Saradoc Brandybuck. No glory in battle, just a peaceful never-ending sleep. Merry shook his head. Perhaps he had not left his dream completely yet. He had been thinking of his father like he was a great captain of the West.
“We waited for you to return before holding the funeral,” Berilac continued. “If you are not well, we can postpone it for longer.”
“No, no, I am fine,” Merry said, sitting up as if to prove his point. “I just need some rest. Can we stay at Crickhollow for tonight.”
Once they were convinced that Merry was well enough to travel (even such a short distance), Merry, Pippin and their families returned to Crickhollow. Merry ate little for dinner, and even less for supper. He excused himself from the table and headed to bed. On the way, he noticed a bundle of letters that must have arrived while they had been in Hobbiton.
“Mail’s here!” he called. He flicked through the letters, taking those addressed to him. The last letter he found bore the seal of the Mark. Forgetting the rest of the letters, Merry went to his study.
He tore the letter open, though he knew exactly who it was from. The firm, but messy script on the envelope could only belong to one person.
It has been far too long since we last wrote to each other! I have often found myself anxious to hear word of the Shire, even if it is only to tell me that all is peaceful and perfect.
As I write, I sit in my room at Edoras, having taken Meriwyn, Éohir and Peregond to visit their uncle. Peregond has recently started speaking. Your cousin may be pleased to know that one of little Peregond’s first words was “Pippin”, so he has also inherited that nickname! My nephew, Elfwine, is trying his best to corrupt Éohir. I don’t have the heart to tell that all of my children have already been corrupted by you and Peregrin!
And what of you? Is your home yet filled with the laughter of children? By that, I mean your own. How goes Peregrin’s young lad? Faramir is still honoured that the future Thain of the Shire has been named after him!
Alas, I am afraid I must leave now. I hear the distant sound of my son’s cries. I dread to think what his cousin and brother have done to him. I hope this letter finds you well.
Your loving friend,
Lady Éowyn of Ithilien
(Éomer also asked me to extend his best wishes)
A sad smile graced Merry’s lips. Completely forgetting that he needed rest, he took out pen and paper, and started writing.
* * * * * *
Merry settled into the seat of his desk. His desk. He was still having difficulty accepting that he was really the Master of Buckland. It had been almost a month since Saradoc had died, and it had taken that long for Merry to be officially named the Master. He and Estella had moved back into Brandy Hall, and Peregrin was in the process of moving back to Tookland.
He heard a soft knock at the door. “Yes?”
Berilac and Pimpernel’s daughter, Garnet, peeped inside. She was carrying a very large box, and seemed to be having some difficulty. “Uncle Merry, this came for you.”
Merry walked over and took the box from the lass. “Thank you, Garnet.”
Garnet curtsied and left. Merry looked at the box, finding a letter on the top. He tore the letter off. The seal of Rohan was once again on it.
Our deepest sympathy for your loss. We both understand the pain of losing a father. And having to experience that pain twice. Your father’s memory will live on as long as you do not forget it.
We also wish to congratulate you on becoming the Master of Buckland. Both Éomer and Faramir certainly know the bittersweet feeling of inheriting such a title. We hope that you shall accept the gifts we have sent with this letter.
Once again, congratulations, Meriadoc the Magnificent, Master of Buckland.
Your loving friends,
Éomer, King of the Mark, and Éowyn, Lady of Ithilien
Merry looked inside the box and smiled.
* * * * * *
A/N: This was probably the longest so far, but I knew I had to involve Merry’s experience with Théoden. Pippin comes next.
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