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Until the End of Their Days
But there was no Gandalf here, and this was not a case of heroes who had dared to take on the Enemy and his darkest servants—just a sweet, sensible healer’s apprentice that he knew Pippin had made his mind up to marry. Diamond had survived the spotted fever itself, but the infection had gotten into her lungs and her fight was long from over. Merry simply didn’t know if good luck spread like that.
Aunt Tina looked up when he stepped in—first with relief, that he had come back with something to take Pippin’s mind off things, and then with curiosity. He was carrying the large slate from the schoolroom under his arm. Merry nodded at her.
Aunt Tina stood up, caught Pippin’s hand mid-fingerstep, and squeezed it. “I’ll let you know how she’s doing when I come back.” Pippin nodded absently. His eyes lit up only a little when he saw Merry.
Merry sat on the edge of the bed and patted the spot next to him. Pippin sighed and carefully swung his legs over the edge. “What is it, Merry?”
Merry laid the slate over both their laps. “I was hoping you’d help me with some planning.”
Pippin made a little noise of vexation. “Oh, that is so incredibly like you, Merry. ‘I’m bored. Oh! I know! Let’s plansomething.’” Merry flicked his eyes up from the slate to see Pippin, a crease upon his brow, biting his lips together. “I’m sorry, Merry; I didn’t mean for it to come out like that, only—”
“I know,” said Merry. “You’re worried about her. So am I.”
“And that’s why you’re trying to distract me. But I’m not much in the mood for being distracted right now.” When Pippin had sat with Diamond that morning, things had not looked very hopeful, and he’d had two whole hours to dwell on that fact.
“I’m not just distracting you, Pippin.”
“No, of course not. You’re planning.”
“Give me a little credit, cousin! You don’t even know what I’m planning yet!” Merry sighed. “Listen: do you remember what you used to do with storybooks, when everything got all dark and scary and you didn’t think it was possible for the heroes to get out alive?”
Pippin nodded. “Skip to the last page. And you would always go, ‘No, Pippin, stories don’t work that way,’ and you’d try to turn back…”
“Well, we’re skipping to the last page today.” Merry got a bit of chalk from his pocket and began to sketch on the slate. “This is supposed to be Crickhollow. Let me know if I’m getting any of the rooms wrong.”
Pippin raised his eyebrows and followed the contours of the chalk as Merry set them on the slate. “I don’t think I’ll be much help. You’ve probably got the dimensions figured down to the toe.” He paused. “You could probably make the whole thing a bit bigger, though.”
“No,” said Merry. “There’s no way to plan, that way. See—I’d like to add on a wing, so Estella and I can have a bit of privacy. I thought maybe you’d want to work on what would be in your wing, for when you and Diamond get married.”
“Oh,” said Pippin.
Merry took out another piece of chalk and handed it to Pippin.
“But… that’s such an awfully long time from now, and she might not even…”
“Pip. We are skipping to the last page of the story. What was that ending that Bilbo always liked?”
“‘And they all lived happily ever after until the end of their days,’” said Pippin, “or something like that.”
“Right. So—if you’re going to live happily ever after until the end of your days, she’ll have to get better and she’ll have to marry you.”
“Unless she doesn’t want to.”
“Well, of course, but as your native charm has gotten you this far in so short a time, I don’t think you’ll have to worry at all on that account.”
Pippin lifted his bit of chalk over the slate, poised to draw, and then set it down. “But Diamond’s not here to help. What if she doesn’t like what I draw?”
“That’s why we’re using a slate. And besides, we can hardly march in and ask her opinion now. Not if we don’t want to send Mistress Lavender into conniptions at the thought of stealing her prize apprentice away into matrimonial bliss.”
Pippin snorted at that. While he knew that the healer did not approve of his affection for Diamond, she was hardly the sort to go into conniptions. He returned to the slate, then set down his chalk again. “Merry?”
“Isn’t this something lasses normally do?”
Merry looked up from his drawing, already receiving detailed notation in one corner of the slate. “Pippin, just be quiet and draw.”
“Humph,” said Pippin. But two minutes later he had still not drawn anything and in fact had his head directly above Merry’s wing.
“What are you doing now?”
“Well,” said Pippin, “they’d better look about the same from the outside, so the house doesn’t look all lopsided. And I wanted to see how you had the interior set up so I wouldn’t copy you.”
Merry sighed and firmly pushed Pippin back to an upright position. “I think you are putting entirely too much thought into this.”
“No,” said Pippin, “I’m afraid that honour is reserved solely for you.” He drew the outline of the wing, and smudged away a bit of the old Crickhollow wall for a doorway. “We’ll want a bedroom, and a parlour… Say, this is actually a very good idea, Merry! If we have wings, we should be able to free up the main space for more guest rooms. That way Frodo, and Sam and Rosie, can visit whenever they like!”
“Yes,” said Merry, “and whatever little ones they have, too. What were your thoughts about a nursery?”
“Should we put one in the main house, or not worry about having one at all?”
“Don’t you think we should put some of this planning off?”
Merry looked over at Pippin. “Don’t give me that look,” he said. “I’ve thought about starting a family and I know you have too.”
He was right, of course. It had only been a couple of times, before the long years’ wait and all the obstacles that still lay between them cut off all room for thought, but he had thought about little green-eyed lads and lasses with his hair and her sweet dimpled smile…
Pippin shook his head. Diamond was still gravely ill, and there would be time enough for daydreams later. “No nursery,” he said. “Not yet. We don’t know, after all, how large our families will be.”
“All right,” said Merry. “No nursery.”
Pippin set aside another room for a sort of study, then added in two desks: one for him and one for Diamond, for he couldn’t imagine being a healer and not having to do any sort of paperwork.
“Merry, would you mind if I set aside one of the main rooms for Diamond’s work? I know she’d mostly be taking house calls, but she’ll probably be a midwife, too…”
“Of course! In fact… this means I’ll have to put in a herb garden!”
“Oh, dear.” Merry had been harping on putting a herb garden in the back of the house for some weeks before Pippin had broken his leg.
“Well, she’ll need it as much as I.”
“And you can both putter around in it to your mutual content. But you’re not planting any willow trees!”
“Of course not,” said Merry, quite solemnly. “Crickhollow’s too far back from the river for any willows.”
Pippin swatted the back of Merry’s head. Merry ignored him and began to draw garden plots behind the house.
“We’ll need a stillroom, too.”
“All right,” said Merry, adding a room to the back. “One stillroom.”
“And another pantry.”
“And another—why do we need another pantry?”
“We don’t need one. I just want another pantry.”
“Then you can draw in your extra pantry yourself, Pippin.”
“And another oven.”
Merry sighed. “It’s a good thing we have stipends; otherwise I don’t think we’d be able to afford all this!”
Fifteen minutes later, Crickhollow had grown into a largish house as amply accommodated as Bag End. All the space that was not taken up by rooms was filled with notes about functions and furnishings.
“You know,” said Pippin, “maybe we should get this all on paper. I don’t think we’re going to remember enough of it when we want to make the real thing.”
“Hmm,” said Merry. “I don’t know if there’s paper large enough!”
“Well, we can’t leave the schoolroom’s slate like this until you find it.”
“I’ll take notes on some letter-paper.” Merry pushed the slate more fully onto Pippin’s lap, stood up, and found the stationery set atop the dresser. “I’ll write, and you wipe off whatever I’ve just written so I don’t get it down twice.
But Pippin spent far more time hovering over Merry’s notes, and correcting things when he saw fit. By the time they had finished another half hour had passed. Eglantine was still not back, nor anyone else who could give Pippin news of Diamond.
“Now what?” said Pippin.
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s plan the housewarming party!”
“Well, if we’re going to make Crickhollow such a splendid place, we’ll have to share it with everyone!”
“I suppose you’re right,” said Merry. He took out a fresh sheet of paper. “We will have to invite Frodo, of course; I’m sure he’ll love to see all the improvements we’ll have made on the place. And Sam, and Rose.”
“And children of unknown number.”
Merry made a note under the Gamgees’ names saying as much.
“And Mum, and Dad, and Aunt Esme and Uncle Sara, and my sisters and their families.”
“Oh, and Freddy, and—well, I suppose we’ll have to invite Rosamunda. And Diamond’s family, as well.”
Pippin raised his brows. Why, he did not even know their names yet!
“And I think that’s all we’ll have room for.”
“Or all we’ll feel like cooking for.”
“Yes. What shall the menu be? Are we thinking a full meal, or should we just fill up the corners?”
Pippin pursed his lips together. “What about an entire meal of corner-filling? We could make so many dishes with mushrooms, or little savoury tarts, or… Merry, I don’t think I know what Diamond likes to eat.”
“Well, then, silly, you ask her, when she’s woken up. And then you can ask the cooks to make all her favourite foods for her so that she starts feeling better sooner.”
“If Mistress Lavender lets me. These things take a long time to recover from.”
“In the meantime, I’ll just make a note for ‘more mushrooms’ since you really cannot go wrong with that.”
“And punch. We should have punch to drink.”
“We should get the name of the spice merchant from Frodo. If we could make some sort of spiced punch you know we’d create quite the first impression.”
“You just want to get in on his cooking secrets, don’t you?”
“Well, there is that, but now we have the occasion to squirrel them out of him.”
“All right. Write ‘steal receipts from Frodo’ on the list.”
“I was going to say ‘persuade.’”
“He’s too stubborn; you’ll have to steal them.”
“What about biscuits for the children?”
“Don’t you mean for you?”
“We’ll have tea for them, with plenty of milk and sugar. And shortbreads and jam…”
“And if anyone gets an upset stomach?”
“Oh, see, that’s the best part! I’ll be married to a healer!”
Pippin’s face grew serious. “Merry, if… if she doesn’t… You know I’ll be that much sadder now, don’t you?”
Merry squeezed his cousin’s shoulder. “I know. But you’re feeling happier right at the moment.”
“I suppose I am.”
There was a knock on the door. “Come in,” said Pippin.
It was Eglantine.
“How is she?”
“She’s sleeping as best as she can. Mistress Lavender says she’s hopeful, and that we should know if she’ll pull through by tomorrow.”
Pippin nodded, a little unsteadily.
“Now, Merry, thanks to some well-placed sources, I have it on good authority that Estella has managed to slip her mother’s leash for a few minutes; and Pippin, I should very much like to know what your cousin needed the schoolroom’s slate for.”
“Oh,” said Pippin, and his face broke into a smile. “We were skipping ahead to the last page.”
Merry smiled as well, and picked up the slate and left, notes in hand. He found Estella wandering the hall outside.
“Merry?” she said. “What are you doing with such a large slate?”
Merry’s smile only grew as he linked his arm through hers. “Tell me, my dear,” he said. “What are your opinions on the matter of nurseries?”
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