(NOTE: I wrote this because Marigold swears that her life-sized cardboard hobbit stand-ups are all looking right at her bosom! I am horribly ashamed, and will submit to whatever punishment Frodo deems appropriate. Rated PG for Merry's most un-gentlehobbit-like behavior.)
It’s not always such a bad thing, being half the height of the majority of the people around you. I had never realized this, having spent my life with people my own size, and being on the tall side for a hobbit anyway. I didn’t even realize it while we were traveling with Strider, or when we first came to Rivendell.
I realized the full implication and advantage of this situation the first time I met with Arwen Evenstar face-to-face. Or eye to . . . well, plunging neckline.
My fellow hobbits seemed oblivious to the benefit to be found in the height differential of elven women and hobbit males, and I spent a number of happy days in Rivendell conjuring up all sorts of things to ask of the fairer gender. And with certain dresses, when they would politely stoop over to better look into my face . . . Well, let us just say I was starting to think I would never be able to bear departing from the Last Homely House.
Pippin, typically, nearly ruined it all. He was bedazzled by Arwen, but in true Pippin fashion, looked little further than her face. Actually, it may have been her voice that bewitched him. She, fortunately, was charmed by his dazed admiration, and one day while taking leave of our company, bent to kiss him on the cheek.
Between having the Evenstar actually place her lips to his chubby cheek and then unexpectedly discovering the view down the front of her dress, Pippin nearly fainted. Luckily, he also was at a loss for words, and Arwen was gone by the time he began sputtering. I grabbed him by the elbow and began dragging him toward our room.
“But -- Arwen -- Merry, did you see -- I --” he stuttered.
“Quiet!” I hissed, and he obeyed. I got us safely inside and shut the door fast.
Pippin’s eyes were round and his face flushed. “I didn’t mean to look, Merry, honest!” he squeaked. “I was just looking at -- well, her, and it was, I mean, they were -- Merry, that was Arwen’s bosom!”
I sighed and covered my eyes with one hand as I sagged against the door. My headache had lasted for three days when I had been the one called upon to explain after Pippin had stumbled upon Fredegar and Poppy Bracegirdle in a state of half-undress in the pantry at Yule some years ago, and I could feel the same headache threatening to return now.
“Yes, I noticed,” I said wearily. “Pip, you meant no harm. She didn’t realize, so next time you will know to avert your eyes, and there will be no problem. She will be embarrassed, and you in trouble, if she finds out, so just forget it happened.”
Pippin’s eyes were narrowing. “You did notice, didn’t you, Merry?” he said. “But you weren’t right up close to her like I was -- where else could my eyes look? You noticed because you were -- Merry, you were already looking!”
“I was not!” I shot back thoughtlessly, and the tips of Pippin’s ears turned red.
“You were so!” he snapped. “And I’m telling! I’m telling Frodo that you looked at Lady Arwen’s bosom on purpose and then you lied about it! You are going to be in horrid trouble and you deserve it for looking down ladies’ dresses!”
Naturally, I couldn’t have that, and really had no other choice but to sit on poor Pippin. He screamed and kicked, prompting someone to knock softly on the door and inquire if we were quite all right.
“Oh, we’re fine!” I called merrily, clamping a hand over Pippin’s mouth. “Just playing!” Apparently, elves have little experience with hobbits, at least younger ones, for whoever it was left without entering the room. I snatched my hand back before Pippin could resort to biting.
“Stop making that racket!” I said crossly. “Pip, you are not thinking of the advantages here.”
“You are a terrible hobbit, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and I am telling your mother when we get home,” he squawked. “And I’m telling Frodo you sat on me. Frodo! Frodo!”
The door slammed open and a very irate Samwise Gamgee stomped in. “Mr. Merry,” he said, crossing his arms in front of his chest, “if you can’t do something about that lad --”
“Sam! Sam! Help!” Pippin cried, flailing underneath me. “Sam, you won’t believe what Merry did! He’s a bad hobbit! He --”
“I -- don’t -- care,” Sam said, carefully enunciating each word. “Mr. Frodo is sleeping, and if you wake him up, you’ll answer to me, Master Pippin.”
Pip immediately went limp and shut his mouth, but before we could blink, he had switched tactics and began to tear up. “Mr. Merry, really,” Sam said in exasperation.
I shrugged. “What do you want me to do with him, Sam? This whole thing started when I wouldn’t let him go bother Frodo about some nonsense he was burning to pester him with,” I said. Pippin made a choked noise beneath me.
“Sam, I just wanted to tell Frodo something,” he said, hiccuping a bit.
“If Mr. Merry says you’re not to bother Mr. Frodo about it, then you should do as your elder cousin says and you know it,” Sam answered, but he sounded kind now. “And it looks like you’re taking up all of Mr. Merry’s afternoon, as well. I’m sure he has better things to do than keep you out of mischief. Come on,” he held out a hand and I stood to let Pippin up, “let’s get you cleaned up and then you can nap with Mr. Frodo for a bit. You’re all upset and out of sorts.”
Pippin has never been able to refuse a good babying, and Sam is excellent at it when he’s in the right mood. My younger cousin obediently took Sam’s hand and allowed himself to be led away.
“Thank you, Sam!” I said with more gratitude than he could imagine, but he waved away my thanks. As they left the room, I heard Sam saying, “Now, no bothering Mr. Frodo about your squabbles with Mr. Merry, or I’m sending you right out of the room.”
Sam caught me out next, but I dealt with him rather handily, if I do say so myself. This time it was listening to Isalinor and Enyathil discuss the finer points of herbal gardening -- a topic I really am interested in, and Sam as well -- and Isalinor bent over the herbs to illustrate a point. When my own wandering eyes returned to the plant in question, I caught Sam’s line of sight following mine.
Our eyes met over the chamomile, Sam’s irate and mine, I’m sure, smug. “Would you show me again how to properly trim this?” I sweetly asked Isalinor, and Sam looked fit to be tied.
“No!” he said. “I mean, I have it down and can go over it with Mr. Merry when we’re back in our own gardens once again someday. We have taken up enough of your time, at any rate.”
They protested graciously (they are elves, after all, and if they have anything to spare, it’s time), but Sam insisted and they soon were on their way. Sam glared at me with all the ferocity he could muster.
“Mr. Merry, really,” he said. “You ought to be ashamed.”
“And just where were you looking, Mr. Gamgee?” I answered confidently.
“I would never,” he said stoutly.
“You would so,” I answered. “As I don’t suppose either one of us wants Frodo hearing of this, we needn’t speak of it again.”
Sam turned several shades of red in rapid succession, but then clamped his mouth shut in a tight, angry line. He nodded jerkily, and then followed me up the path back to the house. If I heard him muttering something about me being more trouble than Master Pippin, I quickly decided to disregard it. Never let it be said that Meriadoc Brandybuck cannot take the high road.
Of all people, Gandalf would have to be next in discovering the true reason I was so greatly enjoying our stay in Rivendell. I suppose it was my own fault -- I had had my fair share of wine with dinner and was not so careful as I might have been when Talamenel served dessert. In fact, I did not even know that Gandalf had found me out until some time later, as we all were returning to our rooms for the evening. I could tell that Frodo was weary (he still tired too easily, and it worried me horribly), and Sam was hovering about my cousin like a mother over her newborn. Pippin was yawning and straggling down the hallway, and Gandalf put a gentle hand on his back and guided him into our room.
“Here, Peregrin, into bed with you,” he said as familiarly as he had when we were small. “Spare me Merry for a few moments, though; I thought we could have a smoke on the porch.”
I was pleased to be thus singled out, and quickly retrieved my pipe. I saw that Pippin was already half-asleep in that ridiculously huge bed, then ducked out the far door onto the porch. I could not see Gandalf in the dim light, nor pick out the glow of his pipe.
Gnarled fingers darted out from near the wall and latched onto my ear. I squeaked in surprise and pain, but the wizard’s voice ordered, “You shall wake Frodo with that noise, and then imagine the trouble you shall be in when he finds out what I wanted to have a little chat with you about, Meriadoc.”
“What?!” I said crossly as Gandalf dragged me back to sit beside him on the bench. “What have I done?”
“Really, Merry, I sometimes think you are more trouble that that tween-ager,” Gandalf said. “An overactive mouth and body, and poor utilization of the wits I know he has are his only faults. You, my lad, are an entirely different matter.”
I was truly getting tired of the continued inference that Pippin had some type of moral standing over me. For pity’s sake, if Gandalf had seen the poor Hornblower estate after Pippin and those Boffin brothers had finished with it . . .
“Perhaps I am handling this wrong, though,” Gandalf mused. “It occurs to me that Talamenel is surely not the only maiden at Rivendell you have found to be at a convenient height for your eyes. In fact, you have spoken on a number of occasions to the Lady Arwen, have you not? She is Aragorn’s betrothed, you know. I wonder how he would react to this news.”
I held very, very still. “Gandalf,” I said quietly, “please imagine how upset Frodo would be at my sudden death. Then please imagine how unwilling he would be to travel with my murderer into the wild.”
Gandalf was silent for a moment, then burst out laughing. “Good gracious, my dear Mr. Brandybuck!” he said. “I nearly forgot you are Esmeralda Took’s child. I will not forget again, rest assured.”
I dared to look into his face, which seemed amused enough, so I allowed a small smile to creep out. Gandalf leaned down conspiratorially.
“But the next time you are tempted to let your eyes wander, my dear lad, imagine being carried to Mount Doom in Pippin’s pocket, in the form of a frog.”
He was still laughing when he walked off, leaving me alone to contemplate the foolishness of squaring off with a wizard.
Not that it stopped me altogether, mind you. I truly did try to remember to keep my eyes where they belonged after that, but after all, I am a young hobbit, and it wasn’t likely I was going to get a few private moments with a hobbit lass again anytime soon, and elven women surely are beautiful.
Fimbriel and her dratted basket of fresh linens were my downfall. We hobbits were having a post-luncheon rest in Frodo’s chambers. Pip had fallen asleep at the foot of Frodo’s bed, while Frodo was propped up against the headboard looking over some of Bilbo’s papers. Our dear old cousin was sound asleep in a chair before the fire, head thrown back and snoring contentedly. Sam likewise was dozing in a chair close to the bed. I had been seated on the floor in front of the fire looking over some maps, but I jumped up to help Fimbriel.
Really, I had just meant to help her put things away, but she set the basket on the floor, and then there was all the bending to retrieve items . . .
“Fimbriel,” Frodo suddenly called, “Merry will finish that. Would it be too much trouble to ask for some tea?”
“Oh, of course not, Frodo,” Fimbriel answered. “Is there anything else you’d like?”
“No, just the tea, thank you,” Frodo said gratefully. Once Fimbriel left, I continued with my task.
“Do you feel ill, Frodo?” I called over my shoulder, a little concerned about him asking for tea so early in the afternoon. I jumped when I turned and discovered him right behind me.
“No, Merry, I am quite well,” he answered, and then I was suddenly on my stomach, Frodo’s knees pinning my arms to the floor. I admit, I had forgotten just how quick Frodo can be.
“Merry,” Frodo said sweetly, “please tell me that you did not just look down Fimbriel’s dress.”
“I -- that is -- well, it is just that --” I sputtered.
“Yes?” Frodo said patiently. Too patiently.
“Frodo!” said an excited little voice from the bed. “Frodo, Merry has been so bad ever since we came to Rivendell. He --”
“Peregrin, are you tattling?” Frodo asked sharply.
Pippin, undeterred, continued, “But, Frodo, he’s been awful and he sat on me and --”
“Sam!” Frodo called. Sam, apparently awakened by our small family disagreement, barked, “Master Pippin, come over here and sit by me right now and don’t pay your cousins no mind!” Even Pippin knows to obey Sam when he uses that tone of voice, and we heard not a peep more from him.
“Please, continue, Merry,” Frodo said, sounding for all the world like he was asking me to pass the jam.
“Well, it’s like this,” I said, but then could not think of how to put it that didn’t cast me in dreadful light.
“It’s like what?” Frodo prompted when I did not continue. I took a deep breath.
“I’ve been so bad ever since we came to Rivendell,” I said glumly. “I’ve looked down the dress of nearly every maiden here. I’ve purposefully had them bend over so I could have a better view. I sat on Pippin and lied about what I’d been doing, and I threatened Sam, and I was cheeky to Gandalf. And I did everything I could to keep you from finding out, not to spare you aggravation but because I knew I would be in trouble. I am sorry, Frodo.”
I felt truly ashamed at my behavior now, especially as I was thinking of Frodo’s burden and the gravest of responsibilities that had been placed on him. I was here to help Frodo, not to cause him grief or embarrassment. I could feel my face and ears flushing red, and hot tears pricked at my eyes.
Frodo was quiet for a long time, long enough that my arms began to smart mightily where his bony knees were digging in. Finally, he said, “All right, Merry,” and stood up. I took his offered hand gratefully, and dared a look into his eyes.
“I am disappointed in you,” he said, “but as I think you are sincerely sorry, I will accept your apology. Furthermore, I will not make you apologize to Fimbriel or anyone else you have thus taken advantage of, as I do not want them to feel any embarrassment. But this will stop right now, and beginning tomorrow morning, you are to get up and make yourself useful to the household. I will ask Elrond to find you some appropriate task -- preferably in the stables or with the livestock. Cleaning some stalls would be good for you.”
I must have paled, because Frodo suddenly looked amused. “Do not worry so, I will not tell our most gracious host why you are being punished,” he said. “That is family business, and I’m certain he will respect that. But be forewarned,” now he did not look amused, but deeply serious, “if I catch you at this again, I will tell Elrond and you will be on your own in facing up to him.”
“Yes, cousin,” I said, more relieved than anything. “I am sorry. It was childish and disrespectful.”
“It was,” Frodo said, “but that’s the end of it, now. You are a good lad at heart, Merry, even if your eyes are sometimes out of line.”
As he pulled me into his embrace, I remembered why it was that I had left all behind to help this one cousin in need.
“Merry-lad,” Bilbo said that evening before I took my leave of him, “were you and Frodo fighting today? You lads musn’t do that -- you are cousins and should look out for one another.”
“Yes, sir,” I said obediently. “I always will -- look out for Frodo, that is.”
“That’s a good lad,” Bilbo said, patting my shoulder. He leaned in close. “I didn’t quite hear all of it, but something about a lass, wasn’t it? Take my advice and don’t bother with hobbit lasses, Meriadoc. A lot of trouble, they are. Now, elven women are a whole different matter.” His voice dropped down low. “And I will trust you to keep this between us -- while you are here, you should take advantage of the differences in our heights, if you know what I mean. Get the Lady Arwen to bend over while she is talking to you -- it is a vision like none other in this world.”
There really isn’t anything better for curing a wandering eye than being struck with the image of your extraordinarily elderly relative delightedly partaking in the same illicit activity. It was a very long time before I saw any hobbit lasses again, but I could not have been happier to greet them, and to look them in the eyes.