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Starlight at Eventide  by Ariel

Starlight at Eventide

Chapter 3


"That dress will never fit you again, Stella.  Please, let me make you a new one."

As she stood before Diamond's drawing room mirror, eyeing the drape of the fabric, Estella knew her friend was right.  The doctor had warned that she might never regain her former figure.  It had taken nearly eight months of work to put the colour back in her cheek and brightness in her eye, but her once lush, fruitful form seemed to have dried up for good, the soft curves that once filled her bodice and swayed enticingly under her skirt replaced by a lean hardness that reminded her of one of her husband's hunting hounds. 

"What use is a new dress?" she sighed, dropping onto the divan.  "It's the body inside it that he doesn't want."

Diamond looked up from her patterns and frowned.  "Is Merry still being difficult?"

Estella picked idly at the curtain lace.  "He's a wonderful hobbit.  The best father any child could ever ask for.  He makes time for the boys every single day, no matter what else he is doing."  She met Diamond's eyes.  "And he does love me.  He has devoted everything to seeing me well again; he even had Esmeralda take over the keeping of the Hall again.  He'd turn Buckland on its head if I asked…"

"But?" prompted Diamond, pouring Estella a tea and dosing it with honey. 

Estella looked at the mirror again and sighed.  "But he no longer seems to want me as wife."  She brushed the hair away from her face.  What had grown back was no match for the luxuriant ringlets she had lost.  Still too short to tie back, the strands that weren't prematurely grey were finer and straighter than the locks that had once cascaded down her back.  Falling in dark waves against her head, her new hair only served to make her gaunt face seem even thinner.  She hated it.  "Though I can't say as I blame him," she finished.

"Now I'll have none of that!" scolded Diamond, handing her the tea.  "He just needs time, Stella.  You don't realize how very near you came to dying.  He's just got to come 'round and trust that you're not sick anymore and that you will be all right."

Estella stared at her reflection contemplatively.  "I won't be all right, you know," she whispered.  "I heard the doctor.  My fever was too high for too long.  That's why I was out of my head for so long afterwards.  And I'll never have another child."

"And four lads isn't plenty?"  Diamond shook her head.  "I've only the one and he is headache enough!"

The bright, vivacious Diamond could always coax a smile out of her.  "Well, I was trying for a daughter," Estella answered, sheepishly, "though I suppose you are right.  Four strapping lads are more than many may boast.  I should consider my blessings." 

Diamond sat beside her on the seat and opened her arms, and Estella settled into their comfort like a child crawling into its mother's lap.  Diamond stroked her hair gently.  "You frightened him, love," she whispered.  "You frightened all of us, quite frankly.  I know Pip was terrified.  He loves you, but he was more worried for Merry.  If you had died, I don't think your husband would have been long behind you."

Estella closed her eyes, knowing her friend spoke from the heart.  It was very soothing to lie in the arms of one who did not ask anything of her; she had done little else all winter, but despite the tenderness of Merry's loving embrace, she had lost a part of her marriage in it. 

"Maybe that would have been better," she sighed.

Diamond stiffened and tightened her arms around her.  "No, it wouldn't." 

Estella could feel the shiver run down her friend's spine.  As she was Merry's heart, so Merry was Pippin's right arm.  There was no one the Thain trusted, or loved, more than the Master of Buckland except, perhaps, Diamond herself.  Losing Merry would destroy him and without Pippin…  Estella was one of the few who knew how tightly Diamond's wild spirit was bound to the Thain's. 

"But what can I do?" she cried.  "He handles his ponies with more passion than he touches me!  Of course, he loves me, but he doesn't want me the way he used to…"  She buried her face in Diamond's bosom.  "And I am sorry but I need him to, Di.  I can't go on for the rest of our lives without him ever…"  She sighed.  "I just can't!"

Diamond hugged her friend close and placed a kiss on her brow.  "No, you can't.  And I wish I knew the words to bring him back to you, but I don't.  I only know that he loves you and someday, he will come back to your bed.  Your illness has wounded him terribly - perhaps as deeply as that Black Rider once did.  He needs time to heal too.  He'd just lost Saradoc, and then very nearly you.  Why, I don't think he's over the loss of his cousin Frodo yet!"

"That was nearly fifteen years ago.  I can't wait that long for him to love me again."  Estella wiped her eyes.  "I don't know what I am to do."

"Why don't you just ask him for it?"

She blushed and hid her face against Diamond's bosom again.  Diamond laughed. 

"I am not so bold as you, Mrs. Took!" Estella retorted, scarlet to the ears.  "I've never had to ask for anything from Merry."  She frowned.  "That's probably why I hesitate to do so now.  What if his desire for me really is gone?  What if my appearance now is so repulsive to him that he can't feel what he once did?"  She looked up into her friend's troubled face.  "I love him too much to leave him bound for the rest of his days to someone he can find no pleasure in."

Now it was Diamond's turn to flush red.  She pushed the startled Estella out of her lap and waved a scolding finger at her.  "Now that will be quite enough of that!  Not desire you?  Poppycock!  Maybe you should get his opinion before you speak his mind on the matter?  Then he'd tell you that he lives and breathes by your slightest whim and if you didn't know that already, then your brain is still fever-addled!" 

Estella gaped, astonished at her friend's outburst, but Diamond was not finished.  She looked Estella very seriously in the eye.

"You must find the courage to talk to him.  You have too much to lose and everything to gain.  He needs to see that he can love you again, that he can trust you not to die as Saradoc did or slip away like Frodo Baggins.  He needs to know that he can give you his heart again without having you rip away another piece of it."

Estella trembled, feeling trapped and yet exhilarated by Diamond's fury.  Her friend was right, of course, but Estella had never spoken to Merry that way.  There had never been any need.  He had always done exactly what was necessary; exactly the way she should have wished him to.  She could not have imagined a hobbit she could admire more or who was a better husband or lover.  But that very compatibility had meant that she had never had to confront him or approach him for anything he was unwilling to give her. 

Diamond, seeing her fear, reached for her hand.  "I'll help you as best I can, Stella, but this is something only you can do.  Do you love him enough to fight to keep him?"

That did strike a nerve.  "Yes," she whispered, "I do."

Diamond smiled.  "I know you do."  She patted her hand.  "Now, what about this dress?  I have some gorgeous material Pip got from the South - it shimmers like moonlight on the river and the blue would match your eyes.  Let me make a dress for the King's reception ball that will take everyone's breath away!"  She popped up from the divan and returned to a careful scrutiny of her patterns. 

Estella let out the breath she didn't realize she'd been holding and clenched her fists determinedly.  "He's to arrive just after the harvest.  I don't doubt your stitching, but do you think you'll have time enough to make something so spectacular that they will overlook the waif wearing it?"

Diamond tossed the seat cushion at her but grinned.  "You just take care of your husband.  I'll take care of the dress."  She cocked an eye.  "I think I'll also put in a word with Pippin, if you don't mind.  He has a way with Merry.  I don't think the poor fellow can refuse him."

At that Estella laughed.  "No one can refuse Peregrin Took, my dear."  She threw the pillow back.  "Not even you." 



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