44. Rising Waters
The Master nodded from the desk and the Steward rose to greet him.
'How bad is it out there?' Saradoc asked.
'It's blowing fit for a hurricane,' Pippin answered soberly. 'Many trees are down, we'll lose more before the storm is out, I venture, and the River is on the rise.'
'He came in with me, he just wanted to check on Estella.'
Cardoc asked, 'How far did you ride?'
'We turned around at Brandywine Bridge. Merry wants to ride the other side of the River tomorrow, all the way down to Deephallow if the road hasn't washed out. The western bank down there is lower than our side; if this rain keeps up we'll need to get more hobbits out with sandbags.'
'How about our side?' Saradoc questioned.
'Our bank is a little higher, but it wouldn't hurt to have sandbags in place, and a plentiful stock in reserve.'
Merry entered, looking tired. Saradoc rose to pour him a glass of brandy, which he took with thanks as he sat down.
'Are you all right, Son?'
'Oh, I'm fine, just glad to be out of that wind and rain.'
Pippin laughed. 'It seems a pity to put on dry clothes only to wet them!'
'You're going out again?' Cardoc questioned.
'Yes, I thought we ought to check the banks all the way down to Standelf, and let the hobbits there know the situation upriver.'
'How's the Bridge holding up?'
Merry shook his head. 'There are some big trees and other flotsam coming down the River, fetching up against the Bridge. If too much piles up there, it could form a natural dam, and if the Bridge gives way...'
'There could be a flash flood that would make all floods of the past seem mere trickles by comparison.' Pippin finished. 'We set some crews to work, trying to chop up the wood pressing against the Bridge, pull the dam apart as fast as it forms.'
'Yes,' Merry agreed, 'It is difficult, dangerous work. But hopefully it will save some danger down the road.' He drained his glass and stood. 'I want to get going, Pippin. I've been dry all of twenty minutes and I don't want to get too used to it.'
'What about--?' his father started to ask.
'We'll get a bite to eat as we pass the kitchen. I don't want to wait; I think the hobbits down at Standelf need to know what's happening upriver and pull out of the lower lying homes. If they're wise they're already laying sandbags.'
'I'll meet you by the stables; I just want to check with Merimac to see how we're doing making up sandbags of our own.' Merry and Pippin nodded to the Master and Steward and took their leave.
Saradoc heavily sat back down at his desk. 'I'm glad we have those two.'
Cardoc nodded. 'Peregrin will turn out to be a fine steward for your son, I'm thinking.'
The Master shook his head. 'It is such a waste.' He looked up at his steward's protest. 'I'm not denying that that Hall and Buckland have gained a great asset. It's Tookland's loss; the Thain was a fool to throw his son away.' He pushed at a letter on his desk. 'It's starting to look as if the Thain is realizing the fact.'
'Yes, asking Peregrin for a visit. Though he's famous for his saving ways, in this case I think he's wasting the ink.'
Diamond set her tray down on the table by the bed and turned to help Estella sit up. 'There,' she said, 'all comfortable, I hope? I've brought you some nice custard.'
Estella said miserably, 'I don't want any nice custard.'
'You've got to try to keep something on your stomach, now, for the little one's sake if not your own. Your husband's worried about you.'
'Ah, so he's the one who put you up to this! Torturing a poor sick lass with smelly food!' Her face twisted and she put her hand to her mouth.
'Come, now, the healer says you'll feel better if you'll just eat something.'
'Mayhap, if I could keep it down. It feels better when I don't eat.'
'Pansy says she always feels better if she keeps nibbling on cheese or hard-cooked eggs or meat. Does any of that sound appealing?'
'*Nothing* sounds appealing! ...oh, all right, I will try to nibble on some cheese. Me and the other mice...'
The situation at Standelf was not as bad as Merry and Pippin had feared. Though the River was high, nearly to the top of the bank, the hobbits there had been laying sandbags since the previous day and had put up a wall head-high and three sandbags deep.
'We're trying to make it five deep, but the lads are tired and I'm afraid we'll be running short of sand before we're through,' the local Shirriff shouted over the wind.
'What about the houses on that lower ground, there?' Pippin shouted back.
'We've already cleared them out, moved as many possessions as we could to buildings above the highwater mark for the last hundred year flood.'
'Good,' Merry shouted. 'You look to be ahead of the game.'
The Shirriff pressed them to rest a bit, but they paused only long enough for a hot drink before turning back to the Hall.
Merry rose early, trying to slip quietly from the bed so as not to disturb Estella. The slight movement jarred her, and she began to retch. He tendered a bowl, rubbing her back miserably, helpless to do more. When the fit had eased, he hugged her gently.
She smiled wanly up at him. 'Are you off again so soon?'
'I wish I could stay.'
'No, you go do your duty. Hobbits have been having wee hobbits for more years than you can count, even if you used all your fingers and toes!'
He smiled and stroked her hair. 'Try to eat something.'
'You're as bad as Diamond, she's always nagging at your cousin to eat.' She gave him a push. 'Go on with you. The sooner you're gone, the sooner you'll be back, hopefully. Can't you cut some miles off the road by using the ferry?'
'We chained up the ferry, it's too dangerous for anyone to use right now. We won't be back until teatime, probably.'
She scrunched up her face. 'Don't mention food!'
He tenderly kissed her forehead and rose from the bed. 'Go back to sleep,' he said. 'It's early yet.'
On the way back from Deephallow, they reined up to gaze in dismay at the River lapping the road.
'What happened to the bank?' Pippin shouted.
'It's gone; don't know if it's washed away or just underwater!' Merry shouted back. 'Come on, we'd better press on before the road itself washes out.'
The ponies tossed their heads nervously as a gust of wind blew their riders' cloaks about. Merry patted Jewel and they began to move out. Suddenly the pony snorted, half rearing, and Pippin watched in horror as the road gave way beneath his cousin. The pony made a desperate leap in an attempt to gain safe footing but the road continued to crumble under his forefeet and he slid with his rider into the fast current.
Merry felt Jewel struggling beneath him and realized his weight was hampering the pony. He slipped from the saddle into the churning waters, managing to grab the long tail as it floated by.
Pippin's heart was in his throat as he saw Merry slide from the pony's back, until he realized what his cousin intended. He kneed Socks away from the collapsing road, onto safer ground, and followed the pair downriver until Jewel found a place where he could mount the bank. He shook himself and stood shivering as Pippin threw himself from Sock's back to give Merry a hand up the bank.
'That was close!' he said.
'Close only counts in horseshoes,' Merry gasped. Then with a grin, he slapped Pippin's back. 'Oh, well, I can't get any wetter!'
They were able to borrow dry clothes for Merry in Rushy, then pressed their ponies towards the Bridge. Hobbits there worked desperately to keep the snags from building up.
Merry consulted with the guards at the North Gate. 'I don't like the looks of things,' he said. 'If a snag upriver gives way, those hobbits on the Bridge won't stand a chance.'
'What do we do then?' Hob Hayward asked. 'I'm open to suggestions.'
'Send some hobbits upstream, tell them to plant themselves on high ground overlooking the River. If they see a flood come down they can sound the Horn-call of Buckland; at least the hobbits on the Bridge will have a little warning to jump free.'
'I'll get right on it,' Hob said, clapping his soaking hat with its bedraggled feather back onto his head and exiting the guard house.
As Pippin finished his hot drink, Merry touched his arm. 'We'd better get going.'
'Oh, aye, no rest for the weary.'
Merry stared out through the pouring rain. The Brandywine Bridge was barely visible through the deluge.
'What'll we do if it goes?'
Pippin smiled without humor. 'Have you ever considered running a toll ferry?'
Merry shook his head and they returned to their ponies for the wet ride back to the Hall.
They rode in a little late for teatime; the washout had set them back a bit. 'Get some fresh ponies saddled; I don't want to push Jewel and Socks any further today,' Merry was saying as they came through the door.
Diamond met them at the entrance, but she did not smile at Pippin's greeting and she caught at Merry's arm.
'You can't go out again!' Diamond protested.
What is it?' Merry asked.
Though Diamond spoke to Merry, her eyes locked with Pippin's. 'Merry, Estella needs you.' She turned then to Merry, and he saw the redness of her eyes.
'What is it?' he repeated, fear seizing his heart.
'Oh, Merry, I'm sorry...' she broke off with a sob. Pippin's arm tightened around her. 'I'm afraid she's losing the child. The healer says...' but Merry did not wait to hear more, he was off, his long strides carrying him to his waiting wife.
'Is it sure?' Pippin asked. She sobbed again in answer, and buried her face in his shoulder, mindless of sopping cloak and wet clothes. He held her a moment, then put her away from him.
'Can you find Merimas for me? Tell him to dress for riding and meet me at the stables.'
'You've got to go out?'
He nodded. 'The River is over the bank at Deephallow, the road's washed away a little north of there, and the water is still rising.'
'Won't the flooding on the western side give us some relief here?'
'Perhaps. But not enough, I fear. We've warned everyone from the Bridge to the Hall, we just need to ride down to Standelf and then I'll be back to join the sandbag crews here.'
Merry found Ossilan exiting their rooms. The healer greeted him with relief.
'How is she?'
'I'm sorry lad. I've done all I can do.' At his gasp, the healer placed a reassuring hand on his arm. 'Estella will be fine... I hope she will be fine. She's a good, strong lass. I gave her something to help her sleep. What she needs most right now is rest and comfort.'
Merry nodded and entered the room. Estella lay curled on her side in the big bed. He shed his dripping things, slipped on dry clothes, and sat down tentatively by her. She awakened with a whimper, and he gathered her into his arms, murmuring broken words of comfort as they wept together.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.