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Starlight at Eventide  by Ariel

Starlight at Eventide

Chapter 7


September of 1436 was a glorious month with just the right touch of chill at night and golden afternoons that could still put warmth into the bones.  The harvest was shaping up splendidly too, with the last of the summer vegetables picked and those that would be left till the first frost burgeoning on the stalk. 

With all the demands on his time during that busy season, Merry had little left to devote to reacquaint himself to his lady.  Though he had had every intention of seeing to it straight away, there always seemed to be something else that needed doing first.  In the end, he knew he would have to get away from Brandy Hall entirely if he was to have any hope of it.

Though it had long since been cleared of his cousin's things and he and Pippin's residence there had erased nearly all memory of him, Merry had kept Crickhollow as a place he could go when he most particularly missed Frodo's quiet wisdom and sharp wit.  It was also his refuge when he needed the kind of solitude he couldn't find in Brandy Hall.  After the harvest was in and Aragorn had gone back to Lake Evendim, he would clean up the place; fill the larder, stock the firewood shed and bring in new beds and linens to replace ones that would surely have grown musty.  And then he would bring Estella.  He planned to stay there with her for the winter and perhaps then they would learn to love again. 

At least he hoped that it would be so easy.  He still worried about her health and her ability to bear him.  And there was a stubborn streak in him that still yearned for the riches that had once been his, but the greatest obstacle, he was beginning to realize, was going to be rekindling his desire.  Perhaps he had stoically accepted that life would continue without pleasures of the flesh, but, as he'd found with the pipe-weed, it was almost easier to give up the thing than to begin it again.  But he did not want to deprive Estella.  His desire might have diminished, but he had not stopped loving her.  He would learn to appreciate her body again, perhaps even to want it.  They had made magic once and even if she could no longer endure the full measure of his passion, they would do so again.

For her part, Estella kept much to herself during that month.  Her attempts to encourage her son to nurse had not gone well.  The baby began to resent being tricked and stubbornly refused to suckle on his mother no matter how sweetly Celandine cajoled or how patiently Estella waited.  After a week, the meagre supply Estella had managed to encourage dried up for good and she had to admit defeat.  Merry, who had not been keen on the project to begin with, was not sorry to see it end.  He still feared it would tax her body unduly and could not understand her determination to feed the baby herself when there were other, safer alternatives.

In the end, they hired the cook's daughter, whose baby was just weaning, as Eadoc's wetnurse for the next year.  That way, Celandine could continue her plans for her family and the young maid, Buttercup, could make a handsome wage.  Merry thought the issue resolved quite satisfactorily for all concerned, until he woke one night to the sounds of stifled sobs from the parlour.  He rose to see what the matter was, but stopped at the door.  Through the tiny crack that remained open, he could see Estella curled up in the rocking chair by the fire, the one she had always used to rock her little ones, and weeping so quietly that if he had slept any sounder, he would not have heard her at all.  Deep and bitter was her pain, but something stopped him from opening the door and going to comfort her. 

He'd lamented what Estella's illness had deprived him of, but from the raw ache that eked out between her clenched lips he began to wonder he'd understood all it had taken from her.  His experience as father to his newest son had been little different from what it had been with his other children; he had loved and protected him, and seen the child was well provided for.  Estella clutched the pillow she had laid her infants on.  But this child's first year had been very different for his wife.  He stepped back from the door, feeling suddenly hesitant.  What was she grieving so bitterly?  Missing the first few months of his life?  Or was there something else in the bond between mother and infant child?  Merry shook his head.  Naturally, he had spent less of their babyhood with their sons than his wife had, but he was a devoted, loving father and his bond to them was as strong as hers.  He frowned at the fleeting feeling of irritation.  Perhaps there was something more to motherhood, something mysterious and fleeting and, if not stronger, fundamentally different than fatherhood?  He thought suddenly of that part of her being he had had but a glimpse of and wondered if its roots lay in that place.  The idea intrigued him.  There had been a time when he'd thought he understood his lady's heart, that they were bound uniquely and inextricably, but he was beginning to see that there were depths in her, and perhaps in all of womankind, that he'd never imagined existed.


Aragorn arrived on a Thursday, a most particular Thursday, since it was also the twenty-second of September, the Ringbearer's birthday.  Heralds announced the approach of his retinue to the Buckland gates and hobbits for miles around the Marish and the Southfarthing, hearing their trumpets, strained to catch a glimpse of the King.  The Master and the Thain, their mail gleaming in the sun, were there to greet him and stood in the open gate like a pair of tall princes before their people.  The Mayor and his wife, were also there and behind them a phalanx of bright hobbit children, Gamgees all.  While the rest of the hobbits gazed at the procession with awe, the three Travellers bore grins that nearly split their faces and Pippin was fidgeting even worse than his son Faramir, whom Diamond had had to keep both hands on.  When the standard of the White Tree came to a rest just outside the bounds of the Shire proper, the Thain could hold himself back no longer.  With Merry and Sam, he ran forward into the arms of a tall Man who suddenly stepped from the crowd and stooped to embrace them.  Diamond was even more astonished by the enthusiasm of their greeting, as they hugged and thumped each other so vigorously they nearly knocked each other to the ground.

She and Rosie looked at each other nervously, wondering if this constituted some breach of protocol, but then the man's rich, hearty laugher rang out along the street and it was clear he was not at all displeased.  They shrugged, gathered up the Travellers' children, and came forward to greet him.

Diamond spent most of that day trying to keep Faramir and Theoden out of the King's wagons and tents, but she did get to meet the King and Queen; an occasion she would not soon forget.  She'd been brought before their 'court' in a little glade east of the gate where hundreds of tents had been set up for them and their retainers.  The two of them sat on plain chairs before a large and richly decorated coach, and staff and courtiers fanned out beside them to encircle the glade.  Colors of every conceivable hue clothed the ladies and knights of Gondor and amid them, the hobbits stood out to Diamond as splashes of normalcy in a great sea of strangeness.  Merry and Pippin sat on the royal couple's left and Sam on their right, and all three were engaged in the excited talk of old friends long apart. 

To her eyes, the King was huge and though he had a stern and menacing face that looked as if it were chiselled from stone, his grey eyes were merry and he laughed as often as he spoke.  His garments were rich and well tailored and all but his worn and scuffed boots were new and bright.  He wore no ornamentation save a green stone set in a simple necklace and a large ring on his finger, but his beneficent and kingly manner would have marked him in any crowd.  She decided that she liked him then, though she was not the sort to grant her preference easily.

The Queen of Gondor was tall and slim and crowned with a fall of hair like black water.  She was possibly the loveliest creature Diamond had ever seen.  Her eyes were grey, like her husband's, but deeper and filled with subtly veiled sorrow, except when she smiled, and then her joy was so genuine it was as if the sun had come out and bathed the world in light.  She wore a dress of deep blue, as rich and striking as a summer night, girdled by a simple silver belt with links shaped like the flowers that grew under the Party Tree near the Gamgee home.

Diamond stood before them both and curtsied.  Faramir and Theoden, her charges for the day, looked up at the regal couple in awe, their mouths hanging open fish-like until she prodded them to bow.  The King laughed and beckoned the children to join them and the boys rushed forward into the laps of their respective fathers.  Samwise Gamgee had his son Frodo by his side already.  Diamond curtsied again, thinking herself dismissed, but the Queen stood and approached her. 

"You are the wife of Peregrin Took, Knight of Gondor?"  Her voice was resonant but merry as a girl's.  "You have introduced yourself and your son, but the other child was Merry Brandybuck's; I can see the stamp of his father writ clear on his face.  Is his lady unable to join us?" 

Diamond cleared her throat, finding speech an effort before the stately lady.  "As a matter of fact, my Queen, I wished to speak with you about her."  She blushed.  "I know you and your husband are dear friends of Merry's.  Estella Brandybuck is a dear friend of mine.  She is but lately recovered from a serious illness and has suffered much.  Though she would not ask for herself, I wish to beg you for your aid in her cause."

The Queen's clear gaze captured her and, for a second, Diamond felt as exposed as if she had walked naked into the clearing.  She could have kept nothing from this Elf-woman, even if she had tried.  The lady then smiled and Diamond blushed at the warm regard evident in her face and voice.

"Peregrin's chosen possesses in good measure the courage for which her people gained renown."  She curtsied to Diamond.  "If there is any way I can help, I will be happy to do it."



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