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[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Frodo is 19 (12 ½ in Man-years) and Merry is 6 ( 3 ½ in Man-years) though Esmeralda is beginning to think he‘s getting younger instead of older…
“Mummy! Where’s Frodo?” Merry tugged anxiously at his mother’s skirts.
“He’s having his lessons with Uncle Dinny, Merry. You know that.”
Merry followed her closely. If she were to stop abruptly, she might tread on him. “When will Da get home?” he asked plaintively.
“Your Da’s gone to Haysend, to help your grandfather with some important things. He will not be back until very late tonight. You will probably be abed already.” She carefully did *not* remind him that she had told him this several times already.
“Can I stay awake until he gets home?”
For a moment, she was tempted. But the thought of how cranky he’d be on the morrow, and how distraught he would become if his father were unexpectedly delayed, made her steel her resolve. “No, Merry. But I will tell him to wake you up and tell you when he gets here.”
The lower lip quivered, and the grey eyes filled with tears. He put his little fists up and rubbed his eyes.
“Merry, why don’t you go and find Beri and some of the other lads? It’s a nice day--you should be outside playing in the sunshine.”
“No, Mummy. I want to stay with you until Frodo gets back.”
Esmeralda sighed, and sitting down in her armchair, she took Merry in her lap. He snuggled up, and--something he’d not done since he was four--stuck his thumb in his mouth. She pet him for a while, pondering. She knew what was causing this babyish behavior, though she was uncertain how to deal with it. Merry’s nursemaid Dahlia had left several days ago to get married.
At the time, he had seemed to deal with it well, and though he had issued an invitation to Dahlia’s betrothed to “come live with us”, he had seemed to understand when they had explained that Dahlia needed to go back to her family home at Whitfurrow, and to live with her new husband in *his* hole. And he had cheerfully bid them farewell, and even given them the gift of his beloved silver spoon, the one he’d had as a Naming Day gift from his Took grandparents, whom he could not remember. Adalgrim had died before Merry’s first Yule, and Periwinkle had followed only two years later.
But the next day, he could scarcely bear to let any of his family out of his sight. When he was with his mother, he constantly asked her about Frodo and his father. And Sara confided that when he had taken Merry in to Bucklebury one morning, the lad had been anxious to return home to his mother the whole time. He did seem to relax a bit with Frodo, but he still wanted reassurance that everyone was still home and had not left him.
Just then, the apartment door flew open, and Frodo came in excitedly. Merry leapt from his mother’s lap, and ran to Frodo, who scooped him up. Esmeralda looked at her ward inquiringly. “Frodo, you were to be at lessons until luncheon.”
“Uncle Dinny allowed me to leave early, as Marroc had not finished his essay, and he wished to work with him alone.” Frodo grinned, and let Merry down to the floor. “Guess what!”
“What is it, Frodo-lad?” She wondered what had him so excited.
Frodo pulled a letter from his pocket. “I got a letter from Cousin Calla! She will be back tomorrow or the next day! I can begin my art lessons again!” He handed the letter to Esmeralda with one hand, and curled his fingers around Merry’s questing hand with the other. “See, Aunt Esme?”
She opened the letter, which was decorated with delicately rendered ink sketches along the margins, and was written in an impeccable calligraphic hand:
I am glad to tell you that by the time you receive this, I will be well on my way home. In fact, I should be back about two weeks from my writing of this.
I’ve completed my commission for the North-tooks, and have had a nice little sketching tour here in Long Cleeve, but I am quite ready to be home in Buckland once more.
I look forward to starting your lessons up again. I hope that you have been busy with your sketchbook while I was gone.
“Why, Frodo, that’s wonderful! I know you’ve missed your lessons very much,” said Esmeralda.
“No!” said Merry, suddenly and petulantly. “You have *enough* lessons, Frodo!”
Frodo looked both shocked and stricken by this outburst. “Oh, Merry!” he said, distressed.
“Meriadoc Brandybuck! That is a very unkind thing to say! You know that Frodo loves his lessons!”
Merry pouted, and muttered.
“Say it so that we can hear, young hobbit!” said Esmeralda, appalled at this unexpected outburst.
“He loves his lessons more than me!”
Frodo went down on one knee. “Merry! That’s not true!” His blue eyes filled with tears, and Merry relented at once.
“I’m sorry, Frodo! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it!” He hugged Frodo tightly, and suddenly began to weep as though his heart would break. Frodo cast a look of appeal at Esmeralda.
“Come here, my lads,” she said gently, holding out her arms to embrace them both.
She took Merry upon her lap once more, and looked at Frodo’s own stricken face. “Frodo, dear, fetch me a wet flannel, please,” she said calmly. It would give Frodo time to calm down and wash his own face.
A moment later he returned, and Esmeralda attended to Merry’s tears.
“I’m sorry, Mummy! I am,” he said mournfully.
She shook her head. He was clearly puzzled by his own behavior.
“Merry, I think you are missing Dahlia, aren’t you?”
He gave a little hiccup, and then looked up at her, surprised. Then he nodded. “She went away.”
“Yes, she did.” Esmeralda had not realized how hard Merry would take his nursemaid’s leaving. Although he’d been very fond of her, he’d always preferred Frodo’s attentions or those of his own mother, as was proper. But of course he had loved Dahlia--she had been a presence in his life since he was born, and he had an affectionate nature.
“Sprout?” said Frodo, putting his hand on Merry’s, “I have an idea. Would you like me to help you write a letter to Dahlia? And I can make a picture for you to put in with it.”
Merry bit his lip. “You aren’t cross with me ‘cause I was bad?”
“No, sprout. How could I be cross when you are sorry?” Merry’s face lit up, and he gave Frodo a watery smile.
“I’d like to write a letter if you help.”
Frodo jumped up. “Well, I will go and fetch the parchment and pens, then!” and he scurried off to his room.
Merry hugged his mother. “I’m sorry I was bad, Mummy.”
“I know, my Merry. I love you.”
“I love you, too. You are the best Mummy ever.”
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