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Dragon-Slayer for Hire  by Baylor

(It is 1396 SR, so Pippin is 6, Pearl is 21, Pimmie is 17, Pervinca is 11, and Frodo is 28. Frodo has lived with Bilbo for seven years, but it is still five years before Bilbo will leave the Shire. Reg is Reginard Took from the family trees; he is 27.)

For his birthday last month, Cousin Bilbo had given Pippin a sword. Not a real sword, of course, but a hobbit lad-sized wooden sword, with beautiful carvings on the handle and a little belt of its own. It had come all the way from Dale, and Pippin had worn it every day since. None of the other lads at the Great Smials had a wooden sword, and it had raised Pippin to new heights of popularity, even among the older children.

For his own birthday several weeks later, Pippin had given Cousin Bilbo his very best skipping stone. It was not quite the same thing as a wooden sword, but Pippin still thought it a very nice gift, and Cousin Bilbo had been most impressed.

Today was Tuesday, so Bluebell dressed him, because Tuesday was Briony’s day out when she went into Tuckborough to see her sister. Pippin did not like Bluebell, because she had tendency to talk about him as though he were not in the room.

“I need my belt,” Pippin had said that morning to Bluebell, and she had stared blankly at him.

“You have braces on,” she answered, and Pippin sighed at her ignorance.

“It’s for my sword,” he said patiently, and then Bluebell had said over his head to Pearl, “Does he wear that silly toy every day? I wouldn’t think Briony would allow it.”

“Pippin, does Briony let you wear your sword every day?” asked Pearl, who always talked right to Pippin, even though she was 21 and quite a grown-up hobbit-lass.

“Yes,” he insisted. “I need it. It’s from Cousin Bilbo.”

Bluebell relented, so he had his sword. The day had not improved, though. It was raining, and most of the children his age were out in the barns playing, but Mamma had said no going outside because he’d had the sniffles last week. It was useless to try and do anything with Bluebell, who would just say she had work to do and shoo him away. Merry had been visiting, and he would have stayed inside and played with Pippin, but he and his parents had gone back to Brandy Hall last week. By the time luncheon was over, Pippin was lonely and bored, which is not a good combination for a hobbit lad. He went in search of companionship.

Pimpernel was in their playroom with her nose buried in a book, a bowl of apples within easy reach on the floor. She was already munching on one as she read.

“What are you reading, Pimmie?” Pippin asked, leaning on his elbows into the chair to peek.

“I’m reading about herbs and roots,” was the uninteresting answer.

“And spiders and creepy-crawlies?” Pippin asked hopefully (for you can find them in gardens with herbs and roots).

“No, silly, not about them.” Pimmie finally looked up and smiled at him. “Do you want an apple?”

Pippin shook his head. “Do you want to play sword fight with me, Pimmie?”

“Not now, Pippin. This is important reading,” his sister said. “But maybe tonight, all right?”

“All right,” Pippin said glumly, and wandered out of the playroom.

His mother was in her dressing room, seated at the vanity putting ribbons in her hair. Pippin wandered in and leaned against the edge of the vanity.

“How is my best love?” Mamma asked, like she always did.

“Good,” Pippin answered. “How is my best mamma?”

“I’m splendid,” Mamma said. “You don’t sound good, though. Don’t you have anyone to play with?” Pippin shook his head. “Go find Pervinca and tell her Mamma said to play with you, then,” she instructed, and perfectly placed another ribbon in her bright curls.

“You look pretty, Mamma,” Pippin said. He did not say that playing with Pervinca was a dangerous endeavor at all times, but even more so when she had been ordered to play with him by a parent.

“I am having tea with Mrs. Tunnelly and Mrs. Brockhouse,” Mamma said. “Do I look pretty enough for such an important tea?” Pippin knew both Mrs. Tunnelly and Mrs. Brockhouse, whose husbands were prominent solicitors in Tuckborough, and Mamma was much prettier than either one of them could ever hope to be. He nodded solemnly at her.

“Give me a kiss, then, and go find Vinca,” Mamma ordered, and Pippin obediently placed a kiss on her cheek. She smelled of lavender and roses.

Instead of going to find Pervinca, Pippin wandered off toward his father’s study. He could hear deep, grown-up hobbit voices from within, talking seriously. Mat, Father’s manservant, stood in the hall outside the door. He bent over to look Pippin in the eyes.

“And what are you wanting, Master Pippin?” Mat asked.

“Is Father busy?” Pippin asked, though he knew it must be true.

“Oh, yes, he has the Magistrate and the auctioneer from Tuckborough in there, and they are talking about important things,” Mat answered. “What do you need him for?”

Pippin shrugged. He didn’t need Father for anything, of course, but sometimes when he was going over documents, Father would let Pippin sit on his lap at his desk.

“Is it Briony’s day out?” Mat asked kindly, and Pippin nodded. “It must be lonely around here without her, and without your Cousin Merry about, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Pippin admitted.

Mat winked at him. “Chin up, Master Pippin,” he said. “Briony will be back tomorrow, and perhaps the sun will be shining and you will be running about outside with your cousins and having a splendid day.”

Pippin nodded and sighed. It might be true, but tomorrow seemed very far away. “Good-bye, Mat,” he said.

“Good-bye, Master Pippin,” Mat answered, and straightened back up. Pippin made certain his sword was secure, and continued on his way.

He found Pearl in the sewing room with a half dozen other lasses, working on Cousin Dora’s wedding dress. Pearl could sew details very well for someone her age (or so Pippin had heard Mamma saying), and was doing embroidery along the bottom of the dress. The room was loud with chatter, and he stood inside for several minutes before someone said, “Pearl, your little brother is in here.”

“Are your hands clean?” several voices called at once, and Pippin held up his clean hands as proof before sidling up next to Pearl.

“Are you very busy, Pearl?” he asked.

“Are you very bored, Pippin?” she teased. “Yes, I am busy. Dora’s wedding is less than two weeks away, and we still have lots of important work to do. Look, though, at how pretty this will be,” and she held up the piece she was working on. It did look pretty, but not very interesting.

“It’s nice,” he said politely, then hung onto the back of Pearl’s chair.

“Ah-ah-ah!” snapped Myrtle, the seamstress. “You’ll pull on that chair and ruin your sister’s stitch, Master Pippin. Where is Bluebell? She should be watching you.”

“I don’t need Bluebell,” Pippin said. “I have a sword.” And he pulled it with a flourish.

Myrtle gave a little screech, but Pearl started laughing. “Out!” Myrtle said. “Out! Out at once, before you ruin something with that silly toy. And tell Bluebell to watch what she’s about! Briony will have her head for not minding you proper!”

Pippin did not put his sword back into his belt, but held it upright in front of him as he marched with dignity out the door. “That Mr. Bilbo, giving a child a gift like that,” he heard Myrtle say as he departed.

He lowered his sword but kept it in his hand as he finally sought out Pervinca. He half-hoped she was outside, but instead he found her in the Great Room with May and Donnamira. They had Donnamira’s porcelain doll with them (which Pippin knew Pervinca was greatly jealous of) and were changing her dress.

“Hullo, Vinca,” Pippin said, gripping his sword bravely.

“Pippin, you put that sword away around the doll,” Vinca said, not looking up at him. Pippin waited for a moment (just to show Vinca that he didn’t have to do as she said, unless he chose to) and then put the sword in his belt.

“Do you want to play, Pippin?” asked May, who was one of the nicest cousins at the Smials, in Pippin’s opinion.

“He doesn’t want to play dolls,” Vinca answered. “Pippin, what do you want? Can’t you see I’m busy?”

“Are you going to play dolls all day?” Pippin asked, and Vinca answered firmly, “Yes. All day.”

Pippin shuffled his feet. He wouldn’t mind playing with Donnamira’s doll so much, but now Vinca had made it sound like he would be silly to do so. Donnamira settled the matter when she said, “You can’t hold the doll, Pippin, but you can hand us her dresses if you want to play.”

Well, that sounded not at all interesting or adventurous, and Pippin soon abandoned the Great Room. He made his way to the library. Cousin Bilbo and Frodo were here somewhere, and perhaps they would play with him.

Cousin Bilbo was not to be found, but Frodo was seated at one of the tables with Reg, looking over a map. “Hullo, Pip!” Frodo said, giving Pippin the friendliest greeting of the afternoon. “Staying out of trouble?”

Pippin nodded and edged close to Frodo’s side. Frodo took the hint and picked Pippin up to sit on his lap. Pippin leaned forward to look at the map. “Where is this?” he asked.

“This is the West Farthing and the land beyond, to the Towers,” Frodo answered. “See, here is where the Smials are,” and he placed a finger on the map.

Pippin studied it intently. He knew some words, but not lots. He could see “SMIALS” written where Frodo was pointing. “What’s this?” he asked, pointing to a cluster of houses.

“That’s Michel Delving,” Reg said. “You remember, we went there this summer for the Fair.”

Pippin nodded. The Fair had been fun. “What’s this?” and he pointed to some funny-looking buildings.

“Those are the Towers. Big Folk built them long ago. I believe Elves still go there sometimes,” Frodo said. Pippin nodded, for if Frodo said it, it must be so.

“What’s over here?” Pippin asked, pointing to where the map ended beyond the Towers.

“The Sea,” Frodo said, and he sounded sad. “That’s where the Elves go to leave Middle-Earth forever.”

“The Sea,” Pippin breathed. “What’s it like, Frodo?”

“It is a very, very big water. It’s so big you can’t see to the other side,” Frodo answered.

Pippin stared at the blank space beneath his finger, as if he could will a picture of the sea onto the map. “Is it bigger than Long Lake?” he asked, and Frodo laughed.

“Ever so much bigger,” he reassured Pippin. Pippin thought that the Brandywine River was very big; he could not imagine the Sea. It was too big for his head. He leaned back against Frodo’s chest and put his head on his shoulder.

“Is this what you’re doing today?” he asked hopefully, for it was not beyond reason that Frodo might come and play with him instead of look at maps.

“Oh, for right now, dearest,” was the disappointing reply. “I am leaving tomorrow, remember, and I cannot take these maps with me. It is important to me that I look them over. What are you doing today?”

“Nothing,” Pippin said mournfully. “Everyone is busy.”

“Poor Pip!” Frodo laughed. “I will play with you tonight, I promise, and you can have any story you want at bedtime.”

“And I’ll make sure he does, Pippin,” Reg promised, which was nice, because Reg was a big, grown-up tween-ager, and most of them did not bother with Pippin.

“All right,” Pippin agreed, and slid off Frodo’s lap. “But you promised.”

“I did,” Frodo agreed, and ruffled Pippin’s hair. “Try not to cause any mischief until then. And watch out for giant spiders and dragons.”

“I’m not afraid,” Pippin answered stoutly. “I have my sword,” and he drew it, brandishing it before him.

“Pippin, I do believe you are as menacing as the Bullroarer with that thing,” Reg said. Frodo snorted, so Pippin jabbed him gently in the thigh with the blunt end of the sword.

“Tonight, Pippin,” Frodo said gently, with a hint of reprimand in his voice. He and Reg were already bent back over the map.

All of these activities had made Pippin a bit hungry, and he was still rather sad at having no one to play with. A good remedy for both would be a bit of jam, he decided.

On the lowest shelf in the secondary pantry were jars of jams and honey and preserves. Pippin knew that the jar of blackberry jam in the very front had already been open, because he and Vinca had sneaked some last week. Just a swiped finger-full, he decided as he crept into the pantry, would be enough to soothe his stomach and his wounded feelings.

He had reached out for the jar, anticipating the sticky sweetness, when: “Good gracious, can a hobbit not find peace anywhere in this burrow?” said a voice behind him.

Pippin jumped and turned around swiftly. It was Cousin Bilbo! It was Cousin Bilbo, in the secondary pantry, with his hands full of cheese and bread and salted pork!

Pippin had no idea what to think of such a development. Cousin Bilbo was a very important hobbit. He was master of Bag End, which certainly meant he was the most important hobbit in Hobbiton. Also, his mother had been a Took, so that too made him important. He was not so important as Pippin’s father, but nevertheless, he was an important, grown-up hobbit. And moreover, Cousin Bilbo was important outside the Shire, and he knew wizards and Elves and Dwarves and kings. Pippin felt certain that Cousin Bilbo was much too important to be pilfering a snack from the secondary pantry.

“Well, thank goodness it is just you, Pippin,” Cousin Bilbo said with a sigh of relief. “You would not believe the things I have been plagued with today. Did you know that right now I am supposed to be greeting the Tunnellys and the Brockhouses? Can you think of a more dreadful way to spend the afternoon?”

Pippin shook his head, his mouth an “O” of surprise. Cousin Bilbo was hiding from the Tunnellys and the Brockhouses, and stealing from the second pantry! Grown-up hobbits did not usually get into so much trouble, in Pippin’s experience.

“Here, lad,” Cousin Bilbo leaned over conspiratorially, “we shall get caught if we stay in here much longer. We need an out-of-the-way room to hide in, where we can have our little something to eat in peace. Can you help me out?”

“Oh, yes,” Pippin breathed, a thrill of delight running down his spine. “I know all the best hiding places.”

“Then get what you came in here for -- what did you want? this jam? -- and lead the way. I have my hands full, so you must be my look-out,” Cousin Bilbo said. Pippin nodded vigorously, impressed with the importance of his assignment. He grabbed the jam and opened the door. After poking his head out and making certain no one would witness their flight, he said, “It’s safe -- come quick!” and scurried down the hallway, Cousin Bilbo in his wake.

Pippin knew every nook and cranny of the Great Smials, and he confidently led Cousin Bilbo down little-used passages until they came to a great storeroom. Took children often used this room as a hide-out, and Pippin quickly found the candles and matches stowed inside and gave them a light. Cousin Bilbo set his ill-gained foods down and looked about the room in wonder.

“Well, isn’t this something?” he said to Pippin. “Did you know that I used to hide in this room when I was a lad, and we would come here to visit my grandparents? I had forgotten all about it until now.”

“Grown-ups never come in here,” Pippin said, and carefully put the candle into a holder on a nearby dusty table. The room was packed with old furniture and rugs and drapes and trunks, and it was a delightful place to explore.

“Then I am perfectly safe,” Cousin Bilbo said, “thanks to you. Come along, Pippin-lad, let’s have our bite to eat.” Pippin beamed with pride to have been so useful to Cousin Bilbo. The two of them sat on the floor and had an early tea of bread and jam and cheese and pork, and as they ate, Cousin Bilbo talked about visiting the Great Smials as a child, and the grand fireworks displays Gandalf used to give on Midsummer’s Eve.

When they were finished, Pippin felt sticky and full and happy, and he curled up on the floor and rested his head against Cousin Bilbo’s leg. “Merry says you’re writing a book,” he said.

“Oh, I am,” Cousin Bilbo said. “All about my adventure and the fall of Smaug.”

Pippin, hearing a small noise, sat up abruptly. “Did someone come in here?” he asked.

“Oh, no, I would have seen them,” Cousin Bilbo said.

“There is another door down there,” Pippin said, pointing and peering into the far, dark end of the room.

“I think we are quite safe,” Cousin Bilbo said, speaking rather loudly. “After all, it’s not as though there are dragons or anything to be found down here!”

Pippin giggled, and then said, “What was your favorite part of your adventure?”

“My favorite part?” Cousin Bilbo seemed surprised by the question. “Well, most of it was quite unpleasant when it was happening. It is different than just hearing someone tell it to you, you know. What is your favorite part, Pippin?”

“When the Eagles saved you from the wargs and the goblins, and they were singing under the trees: Roast ‘em alive, or stew them in a pot; fry them, boil them, and eat them hot,” Pippin said promptly. “Then Gandalf stood up to set them all on fire, but the Eagle swooped him up, and all the dwarves, and you had to hold onto Dori’s ankles!”

“Oh, that was exciting,” Cousin Bilbo said. “Poor Dori! There was not so much of me then as there is now, but I still was too big a hobbit to be hanging from a dwarf’s ankles!”

Pippin opened his mouth to ask Cousin Bilbo to recite the tale in full, but Cousin Bilbo suddenly swiveled his head and said, “Shh!” His ears twitched. “You were right! Something is coming near! Quickly, Pippin-lad! Hide!”

Pippin leaped to his feet and he and Cousin Bilbo slipped behind (well, Cousin Bilbo more squeezed behind) an old sofa and then peered cautiously around it. “What is it?” Pippin asked, scarcely able to believe how exciting his afternoon had turned.

“I am not certain, lad, but I fear the worst,” Cousin Bilbo said solemnly. “I left Sting at Bag End, so we must rely on you. Do you have your sword?”

Pippin nodded, unable to speak in his excitement. He drew his sword and clutched it tightly. “Be ready now,” Cousin Bilbo said. “I did not want to frighten you before, but I fear it may be,” he paused dramatically, “a dragon!”

Here?!” Pippin squeaked, and Cousin Bilbo nodded sagely.

“Oh, yes, some smaller worms may still wander into the Shire from time to time. Perhaps this one has been sleeping down here in the heart of the Smials for many years, and only now we have awakened it,” he said. “Are you brave enough to face it?”

“I’m brave,” Pippin said eagerly.

“Good lad,” Cousin Bilbo said. “Now, quiet!”

They listened intently. Pippin could hear something, coming from the far end of the great room. And now he could see something moving toward them in the flickering light of the candle, something large and long.

“It is as I feared, Pippin-lad,” Cousin Bilbo said. “I am too old for dragon-slaying. You must save us, or no one. Wait for my signal!”

Pippin’s heart was pattering in his chest. He could hardly believe it -- he was going into battle with a dragon, and to save Cousin Bilbo!

The dragon slithered closer. Pippin was as quiet as he could be, clutching his sword and ready to jump out and defend his kin. Cousin Bilbo waited, and watched, and waited, and then suddenly said, “Now, Pippin!”

Pippin leaped forth into the dragon’s path. The dragon roared at him. He thrust with his sword and struck the worm! It staggered backward, and he stabbed it again. It roared once more, and rushed toward Pippin, who gave a loud screech before whacking the dragon with the flat part of his sword. The creature fell over sideways, kicking its legs in its death-throes.

Suddenly, Cousin Bilbo was beside him. “Quickly, Pippin!” he said. “I fear this foul worm has eaten some of our kin! Use your sword to free them.”

Pippin slashed at the dragon’s belly, and sure enough, three pairs of hobbit feet appeared. Cousin Bilbo kicked at the dragon’s underside, and suddenly, Frodo and Pearl and Reg appeared!

“Oh, Pippin,” Pearl cried, leaping out of the dragon’s belly, “you have saved us!” And she swooped him up in a hug.

“Pearl! Frodo! Reg!” Pippin yelled. “The dragon ate you up! Did you see me slay it? Did you?”

“You saved us all!” Frodo said, tousling Pippin’s hair. “You must be the bravest hobbit to ever live.”

Reg was caught up in a disgraceful laughing fit, but Pippin decided to forgive him, as he had been recently eaten by a dragon, and a little hysteria was not out of line. “Oh, my dear children, how happy I am to see you!” Cousin Bilbo said. “Thank the Valar that Pippin was here with his sword. Otherwise, the dragon would have eaten me as well!”

“What a brave lad,” Pearl said, kissing Pippin’s cheek. “I think he deserves tarts and custard for tea.”

“Yes!” Pippin said with enthusiasm.

“It’s what all the heroes eat,” Reg said, now helping Frodo roll the old velvet drape back up, as it wouldn’t do to leave the dragon’s carcass lying on the floor. Cousin Bilbo was gathering up the scant remains of his and Pippin’s snack.

“What a relief it is to have a real dragon-slayer in the countryside,” Cousin Bilbo said. “I shall sleep better at night, knowing we have someone with experience to turn to should another dragon appear.”

“I will save you from all the dragons,” Pippin declared, waving his sword about and narrowly missing hitting Pearl in the head with it.

“Come on, then!” Frodo said. “Now that the dragon is slain, we must have feasting and merriment. Let us bear the dragon-slayer in honor to the festivities!” And he took Pippin from Pearl’s arms and put him up on his shoulders.

Pippin waved graciously to the throngs of appreciative villagers as they left the storage room. He held his sword aloft, and sat up proudly. After all, he was Peregrin the Dragon-Slayer, the most important of hobbits.

THE ENDNOTE: The goblin-song that Pippin recites is from J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit,” from the chapter “Out of the Frying-Pan Into the Fire.”

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