It was a fine day and the shops and stalls of Bucklebury were doing a brisk trade. Merry stepped between two rather over-enthusiastic hawkers and sighed slightly as he noticed that they angled their bodies to follow his movements, whilst continuing to extol the virtues of their goods at high volume. Of course, Merry thought, they might do that for any customer. They might. But as the newly elevated Master of Buckland, he found he was getting sensitive to such changes in people's attitudes. He noticed things now, like a certain degree of deference in former friends and colleagues. Like his words being hung on at dinner as though pearls of wisdom were going to drop from his lips, not platitudes about the excellence of the gravy. Like this… The over-eagerness of tradeshobbits. It made him tired.
Unconsciously, Merry found he was fingering the thin gold chain that he wore around his neck, and had done since the day after Papa's funeral. As symbols went, it was, at least, light. Perhaps he should be grateful for small mercies. Merry remembered Aragorn letting him hold the ancient crown of his house once, in the happy days in Minas Tirith after his and Arwen's wedding. Merry remembered finding that the silver and pearl that looked as light as air had, in fact, weighed heavily in his hand. He remembered being glad that his own heirloom would be easy to bear, when the time came.
It occurred to Merry that if he were of a dramatic bent this would be his cue to laugh hollowly, and that thought made him smile. He was a hobbit, not a king, whatever his own troubles, and he wouldn't be caught turning this into a great tragic tale. No, thought Merry, this was a small thing really, not something for poetical epics. Just your ordinary everyday story, and if it wasn't quite the fairytale that he might have been expecting, well, that didn't make it bad, now did it?
He straightened his shoulders and smiled at the stall owners and passed on, for none of them sold what he wanted. He needed something in particular, and he had come to the market here in Bucklebury on the busiest day, when as many hobbits as possible were about, so he could be seen very clearly buying it. That was the entire point, after all. Merry wondered if such small diplomacies were going to be the sum of his life from now on, and then decided that it was very likely. He wasn't sure if the knowledge that he appeared to be rather good at this sort of thing, made him feel better or worse.
He thought of Aragorn once more, as he pushed through the crowds, trying to ignore the touched caps, and the murmured pleasantries. A king made sacrifices to keep his people safe, didn't he? This was better than sending young lads out to die in battle, wasn't it? Much better, in fact. Not that it would come to that, not here in the Shire they had all made sure of that. His hobbits wouldn't be facing hordes of ravening orcs or ruffians, but they would be facing the loss of their homes, and the uncertainty of winter without proper jobs or the knowledge of where their next meal was coming from. Merry looked round at the laughing chattering crowds and ran a hand through his curls. They were his hobbits, after all. All of them here in Buckland. They were his to protect. His to serve.
He stepped to one side as a tiny hobbit lass and her brother ran past screaming with laughter. He found his mouth curving in a smile as he saw the toffee apple clutched stickily in her hand, and his heart thumped wildly as he pictured her tear-stained face perched uneasily on the handcart that towed all her family's worldly goods away. It couldn't be borne, it really couldn't.
Merry fingered his chain again, the links warm under his fingers, and wondered why he never remembered Papa doing the same thing. In the few weeks since his death, Merry had found himself touching the gold more and more, running his fingers over the metal again and again, as though he could learn something from its simple construction, or seek comfort in its solidity, its symbolism. He felt his thumb pass once more over each link in the chain and thought of ancestry, thought about what Old Gorhendad would have done. He wouldn't have shrunk from a challenge or two, would he? He would have done whatever he had to do, to protect his people. When he'd led his hobbits over the Brandywine there would have been hardship at first. It would have been an uncomfortable life to start with, but in time the problems had been overcome, in time the Oldbucks had grown to love their new lands, and changed their name to Brandybuck…
Merry found his fingers had tightened on the chain, that he was almost tugging it away from his neck, as though it were choking him, until he very deliberately let it go. Symbolism. Ancestry. Appropriate thoughts really, for all his hopeful comparisons to Gorhendad, for it was someone much closer to home that had landed him in this fix. The memory of his father, round and jolly, his hair glinting red-gold in the firelight, a glass of wine in his hand, came to Merry then, and it made him smile, despite the pang it gave him. For Saradoc had been a good father, a fond and generous father, and Merry loved him deeply, even now.
But he'd heard the rumours, especially since the funeral. Hobbits loved to gossip, it was as necessary to them as breathing, and he'd watched the Messengers go about their business carrying letters around the Shire, and he knew what some of them contained. He'd heard the whispers, and the nickname that no-one had ever dared call Papa in his lifetime – but it was Saradoc 'Scattergold' they were naming him now. And Merry found his heart was grieved by that more than anything else, that his fine and generous father should be the butt of such jokes and disapproval. That his hobbits here in Buckland were in danger from every pinchpenny landlord, and lickspittle clerk who could add up a ledger and find it wanting. That… That Papa had let things get to such a pass.
And then Merry stopped as he caught sight of his destination through the crowd. He stopped and took a deep breath. For after all, it wasn't Papa's fault. It was his own. He should have seen there was a problem. He should have seen Papa's prevarications and assurances for what they were. He had come of age a long time ago, and he hadn't been a child for years before that, and he could have checked the accounts more thoroughly himself. In fact, he should have done so, for he knew exactly what Papa was like… But no. He had been too busy with the day-to-day running of the estates, too caught up in his botanical notes, too busy with the breeding of his beloved ponies, to work out what half the gossipmongers of the Shire had noticed long before.
That Buckland was slowly going bankrupt.
Merry shook his head slightly, and then bounced a little on the balls of his feet and rubbed his sweaty palms on his trousers, for all the world as though he was at the beginning of some running race, instead of at market. For it was done now. The distasteful negotiations had all been concluded. He, or rather his title and position, had been bought and sold, stamped and paid for, and it was getting rather late in the day to be complaining about it now.
And as he trod down the three steps and pushed open the wooden door to the most expensive jewellers in Bucklebury, it occurred to Merry that he too offered a sacrifice of sorts for his people. And that this too could be considered a burden willingly shouldered. He wondered if Frodo had felt the same degree of reluctance, when he had picked up his own legacy. And the irony of that thought stayed with him, as he turned with a smile to the shopkeeper and announced loudly, making sure as many hobbits as possible could hear him,
"I have come to buy a ring…"
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.