Many thanks to elanor winterflowers for her remarks and suggestions for this chapter!
Warning: character death
Merry stood outside the Master's private entrance to Brandy Hall, pipe in hand, gazing at the surrounding landscape. Two large elm trees flanked this entrance into his family's home, and beyond was a stone walkway that led out to the dirt road that ran from the ferry to Bucklebury. Beyond that, fields of crops almost ready to be harvested spread out as far as the eye could see. And to his right, there would be the Brandywine making its way along the borders of Buckland. Buckland...the land that Merry had become master of just five days previously, when Saradoc had passed from a lingering illness. Two days had passed since the funeral, and Merry could still not comprehend the thought of never hearing his father's booming laughter again, or his gentle voice giving loving advice to the young Master in training. Master in training; no longer that, but the Master for real and true.
Merry struggled with his feelings of sadness and loss. Saradoc had meant everything to him; the two had been become very close ever since Merry and Estella had moved into the family residence at the Hall. This was in order for Merry to be able to take on more and more of the responsibilities he would bear when he took up the title of Master of himself. Merry's education had been very important to Saradoc; after all, this was his only son and heir, and he had to be thoroughly prepared for the realities of leadership.
Under Saradoc's leadership, Buckland and its people had thrived. Every year there were enough extra crops to help out the less fortunate hobbits across the River. Finances were kept in meticulous order, the Hall was kept very well maintained, its inhabitants' comforts and needs seen to without fail. Everyone who worked for the Master was very loyal, and worked very hard to please him for the benefit of all. During his training, Merry often suffered from feelings of doubt and unworthiness; he wanted to make his Father proud. The confidence he had gained during the Quest seemed to slip away from him as he gradually assumed the mantle of authority that one day he would inherit. How could he ever compare to Saradoc "Scattergold" Brandybuck?
Merry sighed sadly. His mother had passed on two years previously and Estella had taken on many of the duties of the Mistress of the Hall, good training for the role that she would eventually take on when Merry became Master. Merry was very proud of his lovely wife; she was organized, efficient, fair, and the staff adored her. She would make a very capable Mistress of Brandy Hall. But now that the initial shock of his father's passing had worn off, he was not so sure of himself.
He could never fill his father's capable shoes! There was so much to be responsible for! So many people and families depended on the Master to provide them with their livelihoods and their homes. What if he wasn't up to the job? What if he failed? Merry started to feel panicky, and actually started to tremble. His thoughts started to race and he felt himself falling into the grips of extreme anxiety. He wasn't ready for this; not yet. He hadn't even started his own family yet; he didn't even know if he could be a good father, let alone the caretaker for hundreds of hobbits!
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a feeling of anger swept over him. It just wasn't right. He wasn't at all prepared, and now he had no one to turn to for help. His father was gone, and had left him alone....alone and scared. Merry started to pace. 'Father!' he mentally cried out. 'Why did you leave me? What am I supposed to do now?'
Immediately, remorse and guilt flooded in for having these thoughts about the recently departed. Merry staggered under the rapid cycling of his emotions. He numbly reached out for the nearby bench and sat down. He sat with his head bowed and his pipe clenched tightly within both hands.
Footsteps padded up from beside him; Merry looked up, and wasn't at all surprised to see his cousin with his own pipe in hand.
"Pippin! I thought you'd be asleep by now. How are Diamond and the little one?" Pippin and Diamond had been staying at the Hall for the past week, along with an energetic young two-year old who reminded Merry very much of a young Pippin.
"They're both asleep. I sensed that perhaps you might want to talk."
Merry smiled. Pip always seemed to know when Merry was feeling less than his best, and he always seemed to know where to find Merry at these times.
Pippin sat down on the bench next to his cousin. He didn't say anything for a long while. He just sat and smoked, staring off into the distance, allowing Merry to get his roiling thoughts and feelings under control. Finally, he said softly, "I miss him too, Merry," and he gently placed a hand on Merry's arm. "And I know that all of this," he waved his pipe out in front of him, "must be overwhelming for you right now. But, Merry, you're going to be fine! You won't be Scattergold Brandybuck, but you'll earn your own title, and I've no doubt that it will be a magnificent one." He sighed. "My father is no longer young either, and someday soon I will have to take on the responsibility of the Thainship. I'll have to face my own insecurities one of these days. I know how you're feeling."
Merry gave a weak smile. "Thanks, Pip. I know you'll have your own duties and worries as Thain, no less than me. I'm just .. still trying to come to terms with Father's death, let alone the fact that I'm now Master. I can't seem to sort it all out, Pippin." Tears threatened to spill down the young Master's cheeks. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do. I don't have Father to turn to for support if things go wrong. It will all be on my shoulders, Pip; mine and mine alone." Merry bowed his head as he finally let the tears flow. "I couldn't stand to fail him. I only ever wanted to make him proud."
Pippin put an arm around Merry's broad shoulders. "Merry, he WAS proud of you.....so very proud. Do you know what he said to me after we returned from the Quest?" Merry shook his head mutely. "He told me that he couldn't think of a better destiny for his son; to be a Knight and a hero of the War. He said that if you could accomplish all that, then you could do anything else that you set your mind to. And that, dear cousin, includes the stewardship of Buckland." Pippin brought his other arm up to encircle his cousin in an embrace, and leaned his head against Merry's. "It IS a lot to deal with at one time, Merry. But you CAN deal with ONE thing at a time. Right now, you're still grieving. You've lost your father. That's enough to deal with for at least a week, Merry. Let me stick around for a while and offer my help to your personal assistant. We'll take care of any essential day -to-day business that needs addressing, and if anything unexpected happens, then we'll seek you out and you can deal with it then. Give yourself a week to adjust to Uncle Sara's passing, Merry. Then you can deal with the issue of taking up the reins of the Hall. I'm sure that Estella will be more than happy to take care of certain arrangements as well. We're all here for you, Merry," Pippin said softly. "You'll never be abandoned."
Tears of gratitude shone in Merry's eyes. He leaned into his cousin's embrace, closing his eyes and inhaling the scent that was uniquely Pippin. Pippin's curly hair had always smelled like pine cones and freshly cut hay. To that was added a mingled scent of pipeweed and baby powder that almost made Merry chuckle; Faramir had added his own special blend to his father's!
It meant much to Merry to have his best friend here with him, right now, at this time. Pippin always had the right words for the right situation....always. Merry's thoughts went back to the Quest, when Pippin was there at the Houses of Healing while Merry recovered from the Black Breath. He remembered when Pippin helped pull him through his sadness over the loss of Frodo. And now he was here, precisely when he was needed.
Merry knew that he could always depend on his cousin for his support and his love. For as long as it took for Merry to recover from this loss, Pippin would be there. And he would never be abandoned.