A Better Father There Never Was

S.R. 1456

Eowyn Brandybuck-Underhill held an ale in her hand, gazing out upon the scene of seeming chaos, then sighed contentedly. A dozen or so tousel-haired children ran hither and yon, engrossed in a game of tag. Two short lines of additional hobbit children held hands, calling one at a time from one side to the other, running at full tilt, trying to break through the grubby barrier.

"Do you feel older now, dear daughter?"

The voice was right behind her, and she started. She turned her head to take in her father's kind face, then relaxed. "Well…" she wavered, "Yes- and no." She returned her face so she could see the assembled company of hobbits. The parents of the children were happily occupied, imbibing the fine ale provided by the Master of Buckland from several kegs perched on tables on the downward slope of the green lawn. Other tables were spread with sweets, breads and cheeses. Several of the little cakes had bites taken out of them, as though a large mouse had been visiting the plates of iced goodies. Around the spit, away from anything that might catch fire unawares, there was a cluster of tween-aged hobbit boys tending to the roasting pig which now turned above the coals, the aromatic scent of well-cooked meat filling the already fragrant air.

"Yes and no, my Eowyn?" Meriadoc placed his hands on her shoulders, lightly massaging them with his strong fingers. She closed her eyes, breathing in the scents of grass and food and Old Toby, which seemed to hang in an ever present, reassuring ring about her father's head.

"Yes, and no." She leaned back into his wide chest, he being the tallest hobbit in all of the Shire save the Thain, the only other hobbit ever to drink the same ent-draught as Treebeard and his folk.

"Yes, I feel older. I am no longer a tween, yet I have not faced nearly all the trials that you did at my age." She took in a deep breath of the twilight air. "Thankfully," she went on, "these are different times. They will not always be easy, but all that you and Peregrin, Bilbo and Frodo and Mayor Gamgee went through will be told in tales for generations to come. We will not forget."

Her father leaned his head down, resting his forehead on the back of her curly strawberry-blonde hair.

"And yet," she said with a change of heart, "I do not feel any different, even though having brought another into this world should have been enough to change me! Bearing Rosemary was quite the challenge, since it seemed that she would rather stay in my womb than be a part of our fair village. But she does not regret it now, I think!"

Merry laughed, then whispered conspiratorially, "Is your mother about?"

Eowyn look around quickly, then answered, "No. She must be in an extended conversation with the Mayor."

She held her cup of ale in her left hand, then wrapped her right hand around her father's waist. "I didn't realize how swayed she was by folk with titles!" she exclaimed. "Thank goodness I did not inherit that." She rolled her eyes as they walked away from the partygoers to a more secluded spot. "But still." She twisted her head so that she could look into her father's clear green eyes. "Why do you ask? Though I can guess…" she laughed, then covered her mouth with her hand.

After a knowing glance, they walked down the hill for a few minutes to an enclave of birch trees where they sat down and nestled themselves at the silver trunks, their bare feet outstretched.

"You know that Estella does not approve of young women enjoying their pipeweed." Meriadoc glanced fondly at his daughter, the rising moon reflected in the increasing gray of his hair.

"Well do I!" she replied, and with a glint of mischief in her eye, produced her own pipe from a pocket in her dress.

Merry smiled, and raised his tankard. "To daughters," he began, then coughed, and started again, after running his hand through his curly hair. "To daughters, who confound, and trouble, and break our hearts- and yet bring more and more joy as the years go on, even though they do leave us to join with others."

They both took a long draught in the moment of relative quiet, which was soon interrupted by the sound of frogs conversing at the nearby stream. The croaking was then joined by the cheers of merriment of the party just up the hill.

Eowyn did not lower her cup. With a shine in her eyes, she looked at Merry and said, "To fathers. Who confound, and meddle, and just when you think you can't stand them any more…" She paused to wipe away a stray tear that had found its way down her cheek. "Just then, you realize that they are one of the best friends that you could ever have, and they really have been listening to what you had to say, all along."

As a tear journeyed down her other cheek, Eowyn Brandybuck-Underhill toasted her father, and a small clink sounded as their cups touched. Father and daughter sipped at their ale, the younger seeing a need to focus on her toes as she wiggled them, regaining her composure. "Papa," she said, after a few moments had passed, "how are your writings going?" She knew well that he saw himself as having inherited the role of archivist of The Tale of Years, as well as doing additional writings that had garnered his attentions since his return to the Shire several years ago.

He looked up at the shining face of the waxing moon, then returned his gaze to his ale. "They are going well," he replied, turning his face to his daughter. "To be honest, though I knew that I would eventually become the Master of Buckland, if you had told me that I would become a writer, I would have told you that you had become acquainted with too many pints at the Green Dragon." He paused, then said, "And yet, it seems to suit me, somehow. One of the learned folk." He looked keenly at Eowyn. "But not like Gandalf, if you get my meaning." She nodded vigorously in reply.

He sighed, and leaned back into the tree, lost in thought.

Eowyn lit her pipe, drew on it, then exhaled. "Why did you name me for her?" It was an honest question, one that she had never quite had the nerve to ask before, but this was her birthday, after all, and she was about to become an adult in the eyes of her society.

Merry looked over, the lines around his eyes crinkling in a smile. "I have told you many times the story of that brave woman who took me under her cloak and who I saw slay the Lord of the Nazgûl."

It was almost a chastisement, but Eowyn probed further. "Yes, but you could have not known that I would be anything like her. I am a hobbit, after all." She took another thoughtful puff on her pipe, listening to the soothing night noises. "And nothing like her, from the tales you tell," she reinforced.

Meriadoc lit his own pipe, inhaled, then blew a smoke ring into the air.

"No. I did not have any inkling as to whether you would be like her or not. But without her, without Éowyn of the Rohirrim, I would have continued to feel like… well… unwanted baggage." He paused, and took a drink of his ale. "It was not easy, my fair daughter, to be one so small, as stout of heart as I thought I was, surrounded by those of such tall stature. I wanted only to live another day in the hope of seeing my dear friend Peregrin, and if that gift were allowed, then next to see Frodo and Sam." He gave her a keen look. "But even then, there were not many who truly saw our worth, and in my case, there was only one."

Eowyn began to feel increasingly insignificant, watching her father remember times of great peril and glory, none of which had to do with the life back in the Shire that he had chosen at the time to abandon. It was true that it was only with his mustering, and that of the Thain, that things were as comfortable as they were after the scouring of the Shire. And yet, was it fair to have been given such a name to live up to?

"Papa," she asked, feeling slightly more brave than usual, thanks to a couple of glasses of strong beer, "have I disappointed you?"

There was no answer. She puffed on her pipe, then looked up at the stars in the clear night sky. "I may never leave Buckland, but if you wished me to visit you anywhere, please know that I would. I may be a homebody, but you mean the world to me. If anything happened to you…" She transferred her pipe to her other hand and picked up her ale for a long draught. "I would travel to the fabled ices of Middle-earth to bring you back. Else how could I explain your absence to Rosemary?"

Meriadoc spread his comforting arm over her shoulder and enfolded her. "Eowyn, you don't ever need to worry about being anything but yourself. If you choose to run off and act like a princess of Rohan, I would be surprised, it's true, but I would support you all the same." Gratefully, she leaned into him. He looked up at the moon, and seemed to feel a reassuring caress. "All I want- all any father wants, I suppose, is for his daughter's happiness."

Crickets chirped as two more smoke rings were blown into the deepening dusk.

Somewhat wistfully, Eowyn asked, "Do you remember that song you used to sing to me at night, the one I wanted to hear again and again, just to keep from going to sleep?"

Merry nodded, a smile spreading across his face. Together, they sang, moving their fingers through familiar motions.

The itsy-bitsy spider went up the water-spout.
Down came the rain and washed the spider out!

They both laughed as their hands hit, representing the torrents of rain on the ground.

Out came the sun and dried up all the rain.
Then the itsy-bitsy spider went up the spout again.

The song faded with their voices into the increasing dark.

"Rosemary loves that song." Eowyn looked up to the skies, now spread with bright sparkling stars. "She won't go to sleep until we sing it together- at least once!"

Merry looked at his grown daughter, and saw in her a latent adventurous streak that he suspected she did not yet see herself. One, he mused, enjoying the balmy evening air, that I didn't believe I had either. Until push came to shove. And shove it did!

Increased sounds of laughter drifted down from the party, and Eowyn sighed.

"Papa," she said with a hint of regret, "I think we will soon be missed."

She looked up at him, and he smiled in return. " I'm sure that your mother is looking for us now, wondering what mischief we might have gotten up to. Or where we might be hiding; she is sure to be looking for telltale clouds of smoke!"

Eowyn tapped out her pipe, and put it back in her dress pocket. Anchoring herself with her hands, she pushed up from the ground, and turned to face her father. She stretched out her arms, and he took her hands. She pulled, and pulled, and slowly he rose from the roots of the tree. They both leaned down and retrieved their empty cups, and turned to go back to the birthday festivities.

"To fathers." Eowyn leaned her head on Meriadoc's shoulder. "You are truly a unique one among hobbits." They began walking back up the hill, drawn like moths to the lights that hung from the trees. "I will make you proud of me, and my namesake, too."

He squeezed her hand, then before she left to make another round of familiarities with those assembled for her birthday, she stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek.

"Thank you." She looked lovingly at him. "A better father no hobbit has ever had." She ran a finger under her eye, and wiped the tear on her skirt. "I had best find my dear Isengar, or he will think I've been whisked away by a barrow-wight!"

As she walked away and wove in and out of clusters of party goers, Merry followed her with his eyes until she was surrounded by other wavy-haired well wishers, basking in their affections on this important day. Meriadoc Brandybuck, he thought to himself, you have not done poorly after all. He glanced down at his tankard, saw that it was empty, and made his way toward the kegs on the nearby tables, a contented smile on his face.


Author's Note:
This was one of the first stories I wrote, and didn't know as much about hobbits and how unlikely it would be for a tween to have had a child. I know better now.

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