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The party was not Merry’s idea—oh, no. Well, maybe he had been somewhat involved in its planning last year. He’d vaguely had it in mind as a yearly sort of thing, then, but he had never expected this year. Most days he was able to go through being normal and actually quite happy (which felt at least a little wrong inside, until he reminded himself that Frodo would not want him to go moping about), but whenever anyone did anything commemorative he always had to think back to a year ago, and remember who had been with him then.
Pippin said the horn almost sounded mournful—no, he added, scratch that, elegiac. To which Merry had replied, “He’s not dead, you know,” and if he was a little snappish, well, he had not been looking forward to being lauded as a captain and a hero when the real savior of the Shire was off in Elvenhome, never to return again.
But the Master’s heir was not allowed to skulk, and if Merry was trying to, he was failing pretty horribly.
In fact, it went from ‘failure’ to ‘catastrophe’ when Fredegar Bolger had handed his sister off to him and he’d been too distracted to notice until it was too late.
“Dance with her,” Fatty said, with a look of or else, and Merry, stiff as a board, had to take her hand and lead her into the clearing. For the briefest of moments his eyes flicked over to hers. They were troubled.
As the music started, he faced her and bowed. He was better able to get a look at her when she got up from her curtsey—she looked almost as nervous as he felt.
The first few turns were passed in an awkward silence. Finally, when he could not bear it any longer, he blurted out—“Does he know?”
She laughed, a little—one of those small short laughs that left him unsure whether she was amused or not. “You’re still alive, aren’t you?”
“Point taken,” said Merry, with a rueful chuckle. “I hope he’s not trying to make a match!” he added, hastily.
“No,” said Estella, “although I’m sure he wishes you had a wife to bring you as much joy as his. He does know, however, that we’re not on the best of terms right now, and he’d like to see us reconciled, and—I wanted to speak with you.”
“What about?” said Merry, trying to keep his voice casual.
“I’m so sorry, Merry. I knew you’d been close to him, but—” Estella faltered, and it was not until they had circled around each other once that she spoke again.
“I read your letter. I wanted to offer my condolences in person.”
Merry said nothing in response for some time, although his jaw did tighten.
Finally, he said, “Well, it wasn’t just my loss.”
“I know. We were all so shocked—and sad—when we found out. But you took it very hard, didn’t you, Merry?”
“Well, I was hardly in the best of moods when I wrote that letter. If I’d known you’d actually read it—”
“You most likely would have written it quite differently. I’m glad you didn’t; I never could stand it when people are less than forthcoming about themselves or their intentions. I am slightly closer to understanding you now, Merry.”
“I told you my intentions when I said I’d write to you.”
“Yes, but I didn’t believe you—not until I realised the date of that last one. I confess it didn’t occur to me, until then, that you might have been writing for you as much as you were for me.”
“I was, that day. I just—”
They stepped apart to let another couple pass through.
“I wrote to him, every week, from the day that he left Brandy Hall up until we left the Shire. And it was very helpful, whenever there was anything that was too much for me, to write it down and know he’d be reading it, and in a few days there’d be the response, and I could think about it, and—I can’t write to him anymore.”
“The Post doesn’t reach the Elvish Havens?”
Merry paused. “He can’t write back.”
They passed the few minutes that remained to the dance in silence.
“You know,” said Estella, during the last few steps, “you can keep writing to me. I know it won’t be the same, but I will read them.”
“That’s considerable progress from a year ago.”
Estella fixed Merry with such a look that he stumbled over the final step and had to settle for an ungainly bow. He decided to press on. “Will you write back?”
“I’ll see if I can.”
This follows on from an earlier challenge fic, "Daughters of Jerusalem," which explains the incident that created so much bad blood between Merry and Estella. People who desire the context may read the original fic here.
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