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Many Happy Returns  by Grey Wonderer

The characters in this story are not mine, sadly.  I am just using them for this story.  They belong to J.R.R. Tolkien and I am grateful for the loan.  Somewhere, I suspect, that Tolkien is wishing that I enjoyed writing fan fiction about some  other author's characters.  It seems that his hobbits are just too entertaining and I can't seem to stop.  Sorry. 

Here is another story that started out as a short, one chapter tale and then grew.  The original story was written as a birthday surprise for a friend and posted on my Live Journal. Later, I wrote another short birthday story and posted it on my journal.  Now, I have written a frame work for them and turned it into a much larger story.  I seem to be in the mood for a birthday party and so here are several of them. Sadly, I don't have gifts for all of you or even any cake, but  I do hope you  will all enjoy this and thanks for reading.

G.W.

"The Patient"

"More tea?" Saradoc asked, taking the empty cup from his son’s hands.

"No," Merry sighed, and leaned back against his pillows. "I think I’ve had quite enough tea, thank you." He sighed again and glanced around the large room, taking in the nice warm blankets on the bed, the small fire, the big over-stuffed chairs that were placed on either side of the rather large bed and then his father who was returning the tea cup to the tray.

The tea tray was very ornate with an amazing amount of gold filigree and delicate flowers covering its surface. The tea cups were also delicate and fragile looking and the entire set matched perfectly with the tea pot which stood steaming in the middle of it all. Merry’s father looked even larger than he normally did holding one of the cups and sipping from it. Merry smiled.

"Well, then that’s better, though I have no idea why," Saradoc said, returning the smile. "Are you sure you don’t want another cup of tea, Merry?" He sat in the large chair next to Merry’s bed now.

"No, Doc," Merry grinned. "I am enjoying watching you drink from the Took’s fine china."

"Yes, well, too many lasses about a place and no cups of proper size," Saradoc agreed. "It would seem that everything in this Smail is designed to please the eye of a lass."

"I don’t know how Pippin stands it all," Merry said, shaking his head. He gave the room a look again. It was Pippin’s room. His younger cousin had insisted that he use it while he was recovering. There were signs of Pippin everywhere he looked. On the mantle above the fireplace there was a large tin of Old Toby and Pippin’s favorite pipe, several large, carved, wooden boxes that Pippin stored things in, junk mostly, a clock, a painting that someone had done of Pippin’s three sisters and Pippin together, and a stack of books that leaned slightly as if they might fall at any moment.

Pippin’s coat was hanging on a hook on the back of the door along with his scarf and on a second hook there hung several of Pippin’s shirts which he’d never gotten around to putting in his closet. In the corner by the door leaned Pippin’s fishing pole and sitting beside of it was his pack which was probably still full from their last fishing trip. Pippin rarely remembered to unload things. More books covered the top of Pippin’s desk along with scraps of paper covered with notes that Pippin had written and half-finished letters. Pippin was not much for corresponding and often started letters only to forget about them completely.

"I hope the party is going well," Merry said, frowning again.

"I am sorry that you are having to miss it, son," Saradoc said, sitting the small tea cup on the table beside of his chair. "I am sure you’ll be up and around in another day or two."

"I know," Merry said, glumly. "I just never miss Pippin’s birthday parties. He counts on me being there, you know. He really hates all of the formalities."

"Well, he’s older now and I am sure that he is doing just fine," Saradoc assured his son. "How is your leg feeling?"

"It isn’t hurting right now," Merry said. His left leg was propped up on some extra pillows and resting comfortably. There certainly were a great many pillows in Pippin’s room. "I think that the stitches are beginning to itch a little. Mum always says that means that they are healing."

"Yes," Saradoc said. "The healer said that your wound was much better this morning when she re-dressed it. I think you’ll be about in no time."

"I hope so," Merry sighed. "I am very tired of just laying here all day." Merry looked over at his father. "I don’t suppose you would go and steal me some of the party food, would you?"

"I most certainly will, if you promise me that you won’t try to get up while I’m gone," Saradoc said. He had been very worried about Merry for the first few days after the accident. His son had lost a great deal of blood and the healers feared that an infection might set up in the wound. Merry had been very lucky. The wound was not infected and he was regaining his strength quickly. The color had come back into his cheeks during the last couple of days and his appetite was good.

"I promise, Doc," Merry said. He was very tired of Pippin’s bed, but he knew that his father would not suffer any nonsense at this point. Merry was aware of just how worried everyone had been. In fact, though he’d never admit it, he’d been a bit alarmed himself when he’d first come to. Having one’s leg sliced open by a shard of glass was a very frightening event indeed. Merry still shuddered inwardly when he thought of it.

"I’ll be back shortly, then," Saradoc said.

"Say happy birthday to Pip for me, will you?" Merry added, as his father started to leave.

"I will, but I am sure that Pippin will be in to see you as soon as he can get away," Saradoc smiled.

Sometime later, Merry woke and found that he was looking over at Sam Gamgee. Sam was now sitting in the chair that his father had occupied earlier. Merry had been sleeping quite a bit lately, but the healer said that was good for him and to be expected. Any time a hobbit lost as much blood as Merry had, rest was the best thing for them. "Hullo, Sam," Merry said. "Why aren’t you at the party?"

"Oh, it’s all a bit too grand for me, Mister Merry," Sam smiled. "I feel like a fish out o’ water in there. I thought your father might like to spend some time at the party and so I volunteered to come up and sit with you. He sent some food, but you were asleep when I got here."

"I don’t really need a nurse-maid," Merry growled. "I wish all of you would go and help Pippin celebrate."

"Oh, there’s plenty o’ folks doin’ that, Mister Merry. I won’t be missed," Sam said. "And I won’t miss it." He arranged a tray with party foods stacked high on it in front of Merry as he spoke.

Merry smiled. "I suspect that Frodo will be looking for you at some point, Sam."

"Well, I’m sure your father will tell him what I’m doin’," Sam grinned. He was very glad of an excuse to miss the party. He didn’t really know many of the guests and he felt self-conscious here in the great Smails at a party for the Thain’s son. He liked Mister Pippin, but he did feel uncomfortable around the youngster’s family. Mister Frodo had insisted that he come along when he found out that Mister Pippin had sent Sam an invitation. He didn’t like refusing Mister Frodo because Mister Frodo did so many nice things for him and so he had agreed to come. They had arrived two days ago and Sam had been very nervous the entire time that they had been here.

"Is Pippin having any fun at all?" Merry asked, as he began to eat.

"Well, it’s hard to tell," Sam said. "I think they were getting ready to start the party games when I left."

Merry groaned. "What sort of games? I mean, Pippin is a bit old for party games."

"Oh, not children’s games or anything, Mister Merry," Sam said. "I think they were going to bob for apples and play mimes."

Merry chuckled. "Pippin is terrible at games. If he isn’t careful, he’ll drown himself while trying to get an apple."

Sam smiled. "Oh, I’m sure he’ll win at something. It is his birthday and so someone will see to it."

"You don’t know Pip like I do," Merry grinned. "He excels at losing. The lad has made an art of it over the years. I’ll never forget the first birthday part that Pippin attended."

"Sounds like a story," Sam said.

"All right," Merry said. "I’ll tell you about it while I eat. I don’t think Pippin would mind too much as it was a while ago. He was just five at the time and his mum had brought him to Buckland to the Hall to attend a party for one of my young cousins who was turning seven."

Sam smiled and settled into his chair to hear the story. Merry was good with a story, as most hobbits were. He wasn't as skilled as Mister Bilbo had been, but still, Mister Merry’s stories were nearly always amusing.

Merry finished chewing  and then began his tale. 

Chapter 2                        "Birthday Games"

The large group of small hobbit lads and lasses clustered around the chairs that had been arranged in a row in the center of the yard. There was pushing and shoving going on as everyone tried to get close to the tall lass behind the chairs who was holding up her hands and trying to get their attention. She'd been trying for some time now, but they had her out-numbered.

Another lass holding a small flute blew into it producing a sharp blast and everyone covered their small, pointed, ears and became silent.

"Now, if you are going to play then you have to be quiet and listen to the rules," the lass with the flute said, loudly. Clover could be very loud when the need arose and so she was much in demand for children's parties.

Daffodil Bolger was not so loud, but she was good with children, or so she’d been told and that is why she now found herself surrounded by this small sea of tiny hobbits. She smiled gratefully at Clover and then began, "Do any of you know how to play musical chairs?"

Many small voices assaulted her ears and she realized, too late, that this was no time to be asking questions.

"Me! Me! Me! Oh I do!"

"I know how. My momma taught me."

"I never played this before. Looks like a lasses game."

"I know how!"

Again Clover was forced to sound the sour note on her flute to regain control. "Quiet, now all of you or there’ll be no game and that means that there won’t be any prizes," Clover said, loudly. Small faces fell at the thought of no game and no prize, but it became quiet again.

"Do you believe that?" Merry groaned. "You would think that none of them had ever been to a party before." The young Brandybuck scowled as he watched the younger children from his seat on the grass. He and his cousins were far enough away to be out of the children’s field of play, but close enough to watch the little party which was in progress.

Frodo chuckled and ruffled Merry’s hair. Frodo was seated in a chair behind Merry’s spot on the grass. "I remember you at that age, cousin, so don’t look so smug," Frodo said. "Some of them probably haven’t been to a party before, Merry."

Thirteen-year-old Merry wrinkled his nose at Frodo and sighed. "I was never that bad."

"Yes, you were," Frodo laughed. The young Baggins lad was smiling fondly down at his cousin. "You were the loudest lad and the pushiest lad at every party you attended. You were always in the front and you won most of the games."

Merry grinned back at him. "I was good at games. Still am."

"Yes, well, don’t look so smug, Merry," Frodo laughed. "Mind your manners and watch the games."

Off in the distance the flute was playing and the little ones were walking and skipping around the chairs on the grass. Merry laughed. "I was always good at that game."

Frodo groaned. "Oh ever-more, Meriadoc. You are behaving more like a child than the children." He pointed to the group of children circling the chairs and said, "Look, there’s Pippin."

Merry squinted against the sunlight and spotted his little cousin among the circling children. Pippin’s head bobbed up and down as he hopped behind the chairs between two lasses. Merry groaned. "He doesn’t have a chance. He’s behind the chairs and he’s not fast enough to get one when the music stops."

As if to prove Merry right, Pippin had now spotted his older cousins and was grinning and waving as the music stopped. Frodo and Merry groaned as the chairs quickly filled up with little hobbit backsides and Pippin was left standing. One of the two lasses directing the party smiled at him and sat him down off to the side to wait out the game.

"First one out," Merry said. "He should have been paying attention. You have to be quick if you want to win."

"Well, now Merry, it really is the first birthday party that Pippin has been to that wasn’t for one of his sisters or you," Frodo smiled. "He’s only five. He’ll learn."

All afternoon from the shady spot underneath the large oak, Merry and Frodo watched Pippin loose at party games. The little Took was always the first one out of each game. "Pippin must be having a terrible time," Merry said. "The little squirt hasn’t won a single game."

"Yes, it is a shame that he didn’t win something," Frodo agreed. "I hope he isn’t too discouraged by this."

"His first party and he’s been humiliated," Merry said. "Little lads don’t get over that sort of stuff very easily." Merry said this so solemnly and as if he were very old and experienced. Frodo had to fight the urge to laugh. Lads of thirteen embarrassed very easily. Frodo didn’t want to offend Merry. He suspected that he and Merry would have to spend the rest of the day, once the party was over, cheering up Pippin.

"Here he comes, Frodo," Merry said, worriedly. "What do we do?"

"Well, Merry, let’s just wait and see how bad it is," Frodo said as he and Merry watched Pippin run toward them as fast as his little legs would go. The lad’s curly head was down and Frodo suspected that the child was crying. He did wonder how the small child had managed to stick it out the entire afternoon.

"If I’d lost that many games in one day, I’d be crying too," Merry said, softly, voicing what Frodo was thinking.

Peregrin Took, or Pippin as everyone called him, chose that moment to reach his older, very concerned cousins. He leaned forward with his hands on his knees and attempted to catch his breath. Then he looked up at his cousins and crowed, "Did you see me out there?" His bright green eyes were gleaming with excitement and he was smiling broadly. "Did you see me?"

Merry swallowed his surprise first and answered. "Yes, Pip we saw you."

The little hobbit threw back his shoulders and grinned, sticking out his chest as he did so. "Did you see me, Frodo?" He looked hopefully up at his other cousin.

Frodo leaned forward in his chair and smiled, "Oh, yes, Pippin I saw you."

"Everything?" Pippin squeaked.

Frodo and Merry were becoming more confused by the minute. It was hard to know what to say. Pippin was either being a terribly good sport, or they had missed something important. Merry was trying hard to think if he had looked away at any point during Pippin’s humiliation. He didn’t think so. He was very sure that he had watched the entire, dreadful performance.

"Everything," Frodo said, still grinning like an idiot. He had no idea why the child was so happy.

Pippin fairly swaggered over to where Merry sat and plopped himself down on his older cousin’s lap, still glowing with pride. "Are you proud of me, Merry?"

"Well, of course, Pip. I’m always proud of you," Merry managed, looking at his little cousin in wonder.

"Do you think the others are angry at me?" Pippin asked.

"I don’t think so, Pip," Merry frowned. "Why would they be?"

"Well, because I was first every time," Pippin said, proudly. "I was the first one out of the chair game, I was the first one out of hide and seek, I was first one out of the tag game! I won everything!" The small lad threw his arms around Merry who was now laughing so hard he could hardly stand it. Behind him, Frodo was also choking on his laughter.

"You are something else, you know that, Pip?" Merry laughed, hugging the little hobbit tightly.

"I won everything just like you always do," Pippin said, returning the hug. "I was first every time!"

_________________________________________________________________

Sam was laughing when Merry finished his story.  "Well, it's like you said, Mister Merry, he was only five,' Sam grinned.

"Yes, well, I can honestly say that he hasn't improved much since then when it comes to games," Merry said.  "I suspect that he is losing some party game right now.  I just wish I were there to see it and to tease him about it afterward." 

"Another Visitor" 

"I am sure you’ll get the chance to tease him," Sam smiled, trying to cheer Merry up a bit. He knew how rough this past week had been for his friend. Merry was hardly ever ill and so he wasn’t used to staying in bed, inactive. The healers had insisted that he do so in order to allow his leg to fully heal. They refused to take a chance on the wound reopening and bleeding again. Merry could not afford to lose any more blood. It was very unfortunate that Merry was missing Pippin’s party, but it couldn’t be helped.

"I suppose so," Merry said, still looking a bit depressed. "Was the lovely Estella Bolger having a grand time at Pippin’s party?"

"I saw her with one of Mister Pippin’s sisters early on," Sam said. "She looked a bit lonely if you want my take on things."

Merry laughed. "Just the perfect thing to say, Sam," Merry said. "If she’s with the other lasses while I’m laid up then I can rest a bit easier. I don’t mind the idea that she might be missing her favorite dance partner either." He took another bite of his dwindling supply of party food and winked at Sam.

"Are you planning on marrying that lass?" Sam asked.

"Who, me?" Merry said, feigning surprise. "I don’t know that I’m ready to settle down just yet, Sam. Do you suppose she’d simply agree not to look anyone else or dance with anyone else until I am?"

"I suspect from the way the two o’ you look at each other when you’re together that she might wait on you for a while," Sam grinned. "O’ course she is a lass, and so I don’t think she’d wait for over-long if you get my meaning."

"I do, Sam," Merry said. "Speaking of marriage, just how did you manage to get a night or two away this close to your own marriage? Why didn’t you bring the lovely Rose Cotton to Pippin’s birthday celebration?"

"She’s a bit like me," Sam confessed. "Thought it a bit grand and was nervous about it all. I don’t think nothing’s too grand for my Rosie, but she was uncomfortable with it all. Mister Pippin invited her, but she was just too nervous to come."

"So, Frodo didn’t insist on her coming the way that he did you?" Merry teased.

Sam blushed but said seriously, "I worried a bit about Mister Frodo coming on his own. I thought he might get in one o’ his moods and need some help. I knew Mister Pippin would be busy with his party and I figured you might be with Miss Estella. I just felt better about coming along."

Merry looked thoughtfully at his friend. "Not much better then?"

"It comes and goes," Sam sighed. Both of them had been worried about Frodo since they had returned to the Shire after the quest. Sam still hoped that Frodo would recover completely, but Merry was beginning to doubt this was possible.

Just then, the door to the room burst open and Pippin, dripping wet, rushed in and closed the door behind himself with a huge sigh. Merry and Sam looked over at their young friend and Merry smiled, "Did you win?"

"Oh, shut up, Meriadoc," Pippin hissed, pulling a dry shirt and some trousers off of the back of the door and disappearing into a small dressing area off of his room.

Merry and Sam laughed. "How bad was it?" Merry asked, raising his voice so that his cousin could hear him.

For an answer, Pippin tossed his shirt and trousers out into the room, but said nothing.

"Did you manage to get an apple out of this adventure or did you just sort of fall into the water?" Merry asked, with a grin at Sam who was trying hard not to laugh.

"Oh, you know me," Pippin sighed, as he came back into the room, blushing, and drying his hair on a towel. "What do you suspect?"

"I suspect that it isn’t as bad as you think it is," Merry said, hopefully.

"You would be wrong, then," Pippin sighed, tossing the towel over onto his other wet things and taking several biscuits from Merry’s tray. He then proceeded to bend down and climb underneath the bed. "If anyone comes looking, I’m not here."

Sam looked at Merry and then down toward the floor. "Mister Pippin, you can’t spend your party up here underneath the bed. What’ll your guests think?"

"They shall think that they are safe from any further embarrassment," Pippin said, from underneath the bed.

"Your mum won’t allow this," Merry said, still smiling. "Also, I believe when one turns thirty, that they are considered too old to hide underneath their bed."

"My mum is busy trying to dry off my guest just now, Merry," Pippin said, flatly. "I don’t think she has time to look for me at present."

Merry snorted. "She’s drying off the guests?  Pippin, what did you manage to do?"

"I don’t want to talk about it," Pippin said, sharply.

"Well, I do and so does Sam," Merry said. "We’re bored. Come on Pip, tell us a story," Merry teased and grinned over at Sam.

"Just continue what you were doing, Merry and pretend that I’m not here," Pippin said, grumpily.

"Come on, Pip," Merry said. "I’d tell you a story if you were sick. I have before. I think you owe me." Merry bounced the bed a bit, though not much as he didn’t want to get his leg started hurting. It had been behaving fairly well this evening.

"Ouch," Pippin groaned. "Don’t do that, you great, huge Brandybuck. You’ll crush me."

"Then tell me a story, Pippin," Merry whined. "I’m sick."

Sam snickered a bit but said nothing.

"Fine, if you’re going to take on so, then I’ll tell it," Pippin said, chewing one of the biscuits that he’d taken under the bed with him. "Everyone else in the Shire shall know it. Why not you and Sam?"

"My point exactly, Pip," Merry said. "Now, come out of there and give us a tale, Master Took."

"I’ll tell you the tale, but I’m not coming out," Pippin answered.

Merry rolled his eyes and grinned at Sam.

"Don’t roll your eyes at me, Merry," Pippin warned. "And try not to laugh too much. You’ll open your stitches and bleed again."

"Oh, this will be good," Merry said, settling back against his pillows as Sam removed the mostly empty tray and settled into his chair again. Only Mister Pippin would tell a story from under a bed. To think, this was the future Thain of the Shire!

                              "Water, Water, Everywhere!"

Pippin frowned at his older sister. "What do you mean, I should be dancing more? Why aren’t you dancing instead of annoying me?"

Nell laughed and led her younger brother out onto the dance floor. "I was waiting for you to ask me, but as you have no manners, I’ll take matters into my own hands."

Pippin smiled down at her, something he wasn’t used to just yet, and put his arm around her waist. "I would be honored to dance with you, Nell."

"I ‘m glad because now you are nice and tall and you make me look petite and feminine," Nell grinned. She was a tall lass and towered over many of the lads at the party.

Pippin’s recent experiences had caused him to go from three-foot-four and a half, to three-foot-eight and for the first time in his life, he was taller than all three of his older sisters. Before he had drank the Ent Draught, he had only been slightly taller than his sister, Pervinca. He had begun to fear that he would always have to look up to Nell and Pearl.

"I like being taller, but it is taking some getting used to," Pippin admitted, as he and Nell moved across the dance floor. "I keep bumping my head on things and tripping over my own feet."

Nell giggled. "Now you know how it was for me when I suddenly shot up at fifteen.

You’ll get used to it, Pipsqueak."

"Oiy, I don’t think you can call me that now," Pippin frowned. "I’m taller than you by two full inches and I’m thirty."

"Ouch, easy, you are also stepping on my foot," Nell giggled as Pippin blushed.

"Besides, I am still eleven years older than you and so I shall call you anything that I like."

"I was afraid of that," Pippin moaned. He turned and glanced over toward a group of lasses standing near one of the tables. 

 Nell noticed this. "Which one of those lasses has caught your eye?" she asked.

"I don’t know what you’re talking about," Pippin objected, looking back at his sister.

"The dark-haired one in the lavender gown," Pervinca said as she came up behind them and pinched Pippin on the arm.

Pippin let go of Nell and turned to his other sister and frowned. "How would you know?"

"I just know is all," Pervinca smiled, smugly. "She seems to be your type and you have been mooning over her all evening. Why don’t you just ask her to dance?"

"I don’t have a type, Vince," Pippin objected. "And I can’t just go over there and ask her to dance. What if she says no?"

"What if she says yes?’ Nell asked from behind him and Pippin turned to face her.

"She doesn’t even know me, Nell. Why would she agree to dance with me?" Pippin sighed.

"Because you’re tall and you’re the son of the Thain and it’s your birthday," Nell said. "Once she dances with you she might even like you."

"You have to ask her first, though," Pervinca said, firmly. "Now go over there and ask that lass to dance."

"I don’t even know her name, Vince," Pippin said. "And she’s with all of those other lasses. What do I do if she says no?"

"Ask one of the others?" Pearl suggested, as she joined them. The four of them were now standing in the middle of the dance floor while others dodged them.

"Oh, lovely," Pippin sighed. "More help from yet another sister."

"Oh, go on and ask her, Pippin," Pearl teased, pinching her brother’s cheek.

"Don’t, Pearl. I’m trying to turn thirty here," Pippin growled.

"Her name is Diamond Took. She’s your cousin from Long Cleeve, a North Took, and she’s not promised to anyone," Pervinca said.

The other three looked at her wonderingly. "How do you know all of that?" Nell asked.

Just then, Pippin’s Aunt Esmeralda’s voice filled the hall as she announced that they were all going to bob for apples which made asking the lass from  Long Cleeve for a dance, out of the question for the present.

Esmeralda Took Brandybuck was standing in front of a rather enormous wooden tub filled with apples and water and giving instructions. Merry’s mum had the sort of voice that could carry throughout a large room well. If she chose to make herself heard, then there was no ignoring her. Merry and Pippin knew that only too well. Both had been caught at mischief by her and both had listened to that voice reprimand them many times.

Esmeralda’s Tookish accent was very apparent tonight since she was in a Smial full of Tooks. After years of living in Buckland with Merry’s father, she often sounded like a Brandybuck, but put her in a room full of Tooks and it all came back to her.

Pippin hated party games and had hoped that he would be spared this now that he was thirty, but sadly, it seemed that someone thought that dancing and eating was not enough entertainment and so now they would be bobbing for apples. Pippin stared at the large tub of water and apples that was sitting on a very sturdy, rather low table and wondered how awful this was going to be. He was never very lucky with party games.

"Pippin, since it’s your birthday, why don’t you go first?" Esmeralda suggested, breaking into his thoughts and several hands pushed him forward toward the tub.

"Well, someone else could go if they want," Pippin objected, reaching his Aunt who stood next to the tub, smiling at him.

"It’s your birthday, Pippin. You should be first," Esmeralda said. "Now put your hands behind your back and no cheating." The other hobbits that were gathered around laughed at this and Pippin obeyed his aunt’s instructions and placed his hands behind his back.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

At this point in the story, the door to the room opened and Merry’s father stuck his head in the room. "Have either of you seen Pippin?"

Sam and Merry both looked at each other and Merry said, "He changed clothes in here a while ago."

Pippin was no longer speaking from his hiding place beneath the bed. He hoped that Merry and Sam wouldn’t give him away. He couldn’t go back to the party now. It would be only slightly less painful then having a troll fall on him had been. Please, Merry.

Saradoc looked down at the wet things on the floor and then looked over at Merry. "And then?"

"I haven’t seen him since," Merry said. He hadn’t after all. He couldn’t see Pippin while his cousin was under the bed.

"Well, if he comes back in here, tell him that he is to get himself back to his birthday party," Saradoc advised.

Merry smiled, "I’ll tell him."

"You need anything, Merry?" Saradoc asked.

"No, Doc," Merry said. "I have Sam for company and I’m full of party food."

"Right, then," Saradoc said, and left, closing the door behind him.

"He’s gone, Pip," Merry said. "Get to the good part."

"There is no good part," Pippin growled, but he continued the tale anyway.

He was relieved that his Uncle hadn’t found him. Merry had done a great job of covering for him and so he would reward him with the rest of the story even if it did make him feel like an idiot.

~~~~~

Just as he began to lean forward toward the huge tub of water, he noticed the dark-haired lass standing just on the other side of the tub and smiling at him. At least, she seemed to be smiling at him. She was looking right at him and she was smiling about something. She certainly had a lovely smile, and that hair!

"Come on, Pippin, you aren’t getting any younger," Fredegar Bolger called out, pulling Pippin back to the party. "Take your turn and then give someone else a chance."

Pippin gave another glance at the lass and then started to lean forward. It was a bit further down than he’d thought it would be. Probably his extra height was making it seem so. He bent a bit further and then suddenly he lost his balance and began to fall forward toward the water. The apples seemed to be rushing up to meet him as he went. All of the party guests that were planning on playing this silly game had moved forward to watch Pippin have his turn. The last thing Pippin noticed before he fell face first, hands locked behind his back, into the cold water, was Diamond of Long Cleeve who was moving forward for a better look.

There was a splash as Pippin’s face made contact with the water and the apples and then his feet slid out from under him and he did a sort of somersault over the tub turning it and all of it’s contents out toward Diamond and those standing nearest her. Water went everywhere. There were apples rolling across the floor in all directions and Pippin could hear shrieks and yells from his guests as his landed on his backside amid the apples in a huge puddle of water. The tub was on its side behind him and there was complete confusion. He could hear his Aunt Esmeralda’s voice rising above the din and saying, "Everyone calm down. I’m sure it was just an accident."

Pippin shook the wet curls from his eyes and looked up at her, meekly. She was wet also. "I don’t know what happened. It was an accident, honestly."

He then caught sight of Diamond who was also dripping wet and she was not smiling at him anymore. If looks could kill then he could quit worrying about facing the rest of his family and friends after this. Her icy stare left little doubt what she now thought of him.

He tried to gain his feet and slipped on the water, sitting down on several rolling apples and crushing them into the floor and the seat of his trousers. From above him a hand with only four fingers on it appeared and he reached up and allowed his older cousin, Frodo to help him to his feet.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A word from the author!

I do need to say that I used the height that Pippin grows to in the movie version again on this one.  So, I do realize that he was a bit taller than 3"8".  I just like that version. 

G.W.     6/20/04

 

Chapter 5                    "Out of Hiding"

When Merry was able to stop laughing, he looked over at Sam and asked, "So, have I broken my stitches open, Sam? I must have because I haven’t laughed this hard since I got myself into this fix."

Sam was wiping his eyes and grinning. "I don’t think you’re bleeding, Mister Merry, but I may have cracked a rib."

"That’s right, go ahead and laugh, everyone else will," Pippin sighed from his hiding place. "I shall be hearing about this until my next birthday and now that lass will never dance with me."

Merry and Sam exchanged sympathetic glances and Sam said, "Now, Mister Pippin, you don’t know that she won’t dance with you. You still haven’t asked her."

"You really should give the lass a chance to turn you down before you assume that she will," Merry suggested.

"Thank you both, but I’ve had enough humiliation for one evening. I suppose someone else will have to dance with her and tell me what I’m missing," Pippin said, dejectedly.

"I’d love to help you out, Pip, but I’m not allowed to walk at present, much less dance," Merry said.

"Is it hurting Merry?" Pippin asked, concerned. Merry’s accident had frightened him and everyone else. In fact, Pippin had wanted to cancel the birthday party until Merry was recovered, but it just wasn’t possible. Too many arrangements had been made and too many folks had been invited. Pippin missed the small parties that he used to have on their farm in Whitwell. Now that his father was the Thain, everything that they did had to be so grand and so big. A good deal of it was more for other folks than for them. It would have been nice to have turned over all of that water in front of a smaller group of friends, Merry among them. If Frodo hadn’t rescued him, he might still be sitting there in all of that water.

"No, strangely, it isn’t hurting just now, Pip," Merry said. "I think I might be on my way to getting out of this bed and back on my feet."

There was a knock for politeness and then the door to the room opened and Frodo came in. Smiling, he walked over and sat down in the empty chair. "Hullo, Sam. Hullo, Merry. Hullo, Pippin," Frodo said, smiling.

"Hullo, Frodo," Merry said. "How are things going down at the big party?"

"Has Pippin told you about the apple bobbing incident or has he just been hiding quietly under the bed?" Frodo asked.

"Wait a minute," Pippin objected. "How did you know I was here?"

Frodo laughed. "Because, Pippin, I have known you all of your life and I know where you go to hide. I am supposed to be looking for you right now in fact."

"This may also explain why you always lose at hide-n-seek, Pip," Merry said. "Everyone knows where you hide."

"Thanks, Merry," Pippin grumbled. "I need to hear about other games that I don’t play well just now."

"You have to excuse Pippin, Frodo," Merry said. "He’s feeling sorry for himself at present."

"Come out from under that bed, you silly Took," Frodo said.

Pippin crawled out and stood up, brushing the dust off of his clothing.

"Nice to see you again, Pip," Merry grinned. "Have a seat." He gestured to the foot of the bed.

"I better not sit there, Merry," Pippin said. "I night get your leg started hurting again. I’ll just stand." He looked down at his feet.

Frodo sighed and stood. "Lets get you put together a bit better so that you are presentable." He slipped an arm around Pippin’s waist and began to steer him toward his wardrobe.

"I’m not going back in there, Frodo," Pippin said, stubbornly but he continued to let Frodo lead him to the wardrobe, where Frodo opened the doors and began rummaging about in search of something for Pippin to wear.

"What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?" Pippin asked.

"Well, it looks like something you’ve worn several times already this week and it’s a bit dusty now," Merry offered.

Frodo handed Pippin his selections, and gave him a nudge in the direction of the dressing area. "I’m going to change, but I’m not going back to that party," Pippin growled.

"Just change," Frodo suggested. Sam and Merry were grinning at one another and Frodo winked at them.

There was another knock on the door and Fredegar Bolger came in. "Gentlemen," he said. "So, did you get Pippin out from under the bed, Frodo?"

"Does everyone know?" Pippin asked, still in the dressing area.

"Yes," Merry, Fredegar, and Sam answered.

"You really do need a new hiding place, Pip," Merry suggested.

Fredegar Bolger came over and sat in the chair that Frodo had vacated. "Your mother wanted me to see how you were holding up, Merry. She thought that you might be lonely," Fredegar chuckled.

"Not so far," Merry grinned. "In fact, I am beginning to think that the party is being held in this room."

Pippin came out of the changing room at that point straightening his collar.  Just as he was glancing into the mirror to straighten his hair his mother, Eglantine Took, came into the room without knocking and surprised them all. "You are needed at the party, Peregrin," she said, firmly.

"But," it was all Pippin got to say.

"No, nonsense, Pippin," she said. "There isn’t time. You have gifts to give out and you need to do that now. You also need to apologize to several of your guests for that interesting accident."

Pippin looked over in Merry’s direction in search of help but Eglantine clutched his arm and began leading him from the room.

Frodo grinned over at Merry as the door closed behind Pippin. "I think I’ll go down and lend some support as you seem well looked after, Merry. I hate to leave Pippin alone with all of those slightly damp females. Besides, I might just get an interesting gift."

Merry grinned. "Yes, go cousin. Sam, Fredegar, and I shall expect a full report."

"You shall have it," Frodo assured him and turned to leave. "I only hope no one has been going through the gifts."

Merry laughed. "I think it makes it more interesting if someone has gone through the gifts."

"What does he mean?" Fredegar asked. "Who would go through the gifts?"

"I think Frodo is referring to one of his and Bilbo’s parties," Merry said.

"Was I there?" Sam asked.

"Oh, yes Sam and you were there too, Fredegar, though I doubt that you know the entire story." Merry said.

"Well, I could use a story about now, Merry lad," Fredegar said. "Why don’t you tell it? It will pass the time until Frodo gets back."

"Alright," Merry agreed. "I am sure both of you will remember it once I start."

Chapter 6 "To and From"

"Now, you sit right there and don’t you move. Do you understand me?" Pimpernel Took asked, firmly as she sat her younger brother down on the large sofa in their cousin Bilbo’s parlor.

"Yes, Nell," Pippin Took responded nodding his head and smiling up at his sister. "I’ll be good and later we get presents." This was the most important thing that would happen all day and it was the main thing on Pippin’s mind just now. His dear, much older cousin, Bilbo Baggins was celebrating his one hundred and fifth birthday today. The two Tooks, along with the rest of their family, were here at Bag End for that very reason. "It’s two birthdays and so it’s two presents, Nell." Pippin said, fairly trembling with excitement.

"That’s right, love," Pimpernel said. "Now be a very good lad for me and soon it will be time for presents." She smiled at him and ran her fingers through his curls. Today was also their cousin Frodo Baggin’s birthday and so Pippin was correct. There would be two presents. Young Master Frodo Baggins would be celebrating his twenty-seventh birthday today. He and Bilbo had celebrated their shared birthday with one huge party for a few years now. As hobbits gave others presents on their birthdays, both Frodo and Bilbo would be giving gifts to their guests at some point during the party.

Pimpernel smiled and walked over to chat with her two friends leaving her very excited five-year-old brother on cousin Bilbo’s sofa. Pimpernel had been given charge of the youngster by her older sister, Pearl only a few minutes before. Pearl had her eye on a certain party guest and he seemed to fancy her as well. Pearl had given Pippin to Pimpernel to mind so that she could spend some time with this young lad that was her current interest. Pimpernel sighed, wearily. Pearl always had her eye on someone these days and it was hardly fair. Now that Pearl was so interested in the lads, Nell often found herself in charge of Pippin at these gatherings. He was a dear, but he was a handful and at sixteen, Nell wanted to spend time with her friends, not look after Pippin.

The small lad sat still on the sofa for as long as he could manage it which was all of about thirty seconds or so and then he climbed down and began to look around for something entertaining to do. He wished that his cousin Merry were here. Merry, like everyone else that Pippin knew just now, was older, but he was ever so much fun. If Merry was in a good mood and there weren’t any older lad things that he had to go do, he would play with Pippin. Pippin eased around the edge of the couch so as not to disturb his sister and her friends and started to go in search of Merry.

Nell continued talking to her friends and didn’t notice that he was leaving the room. Pippin decided that this was for the best. Nell was busy with her friends and he would go and find his friend, Merry.

One of Pimpernel’s friends saw him go, but he knew that Lilac Chubb wouldn’t tell Nell that he was leaving. Lilac didn’t like Pippin much since he’d told her that she looked like she’d lost a tooth that one time. Lilac had a great big space in between her front teeth. It was most assuredly big enough to put another tooth in and so Pippin had just assumed that she had lost a tooth and would be getting a new one soon. He thought she would be proud of this and want to share the news so he had announced it. Maybe she’d been too shy to say it herself and so he had thought he was helping her out a bit. He didn’t understand what he’d done wrong or why she had started crying until his sister Pearl had explained to him that Lilac hadn’t lost a tooth at all. She just had a very big space in between her teeth and was a bit embarrassed by it.

She cautioned Pippin not to mention it again, but it would have been nice if someone had told him not to say anything before he already had. Still, even though Lilac didn’t like him much now, he did admire the space in her teeth. He thought it was very convenient. She could stick her tongue out without opening her mouth and in an effort to make amends for his earlier mistake, he had said so after Pearl had brought him back into the room to apologize. For some reason, this seemed to make things worse. Now, Lilac glared at him as he left the room, but she would not be telling Nell. Lilac liked it if Pippin left.

He smiled broadly at her, revealing that his two front teeth were currently missing, and quickly left the room. At the moment, he could stick out his tongue without opening his mouth, though he was sure that this wouldn’t last. His cousin Merry had told him that new, bigger teeth would soon come in to replace the old ones. Pippin only hoped that he had room for them when they decided to show up. Pervinca, his other older sister, had told him that the new teeth would probably be nearly as big as rabbit’s teeth and might even be green. He didn’t know if this was true because sometimes Pervinca lied to him but if it was true, he might be able to eat carrots faster.

"Nell, can I have a penny?" Pervinca asked, tugging on Nell’s skirt and interrupting her visit with her friends.

"Pervinca, can’t you see I’m busy at the moment?" Pimpernel frowned, and sighed. She rolled her eyes at her friends. "Little sisters are such a trial."

"I just want one penny, Nell," Pervinca objected. "I’m not staying."

"What do you need with it?" Pimpernel asked, reaching into her dress pocket to get the lass a penny. "Don’t tell me that Bilbo is charging the guests for food and drink." The other two lasses laughed and Pervinca sighed now and rolled her eyes in a fair impression of her sister.

"No, I want it so that I can play toss across with my friends," Pervinca said. "I can’t find Pearl and I don’t have any pennies because papa took them all." She hung her head as she spoke this last.

"Yes, well, if you hadn’t tied Pippin to that rocking chair, then papa wouldn’t have punished you," Pimpernel said.

"I know," Pervinca said. "I don’t think papa would have been so angry if Pippin hadn’t turned the chair over trying to get away. I still don’t see why he wasn’t in trouble. He’s the one that broke momma’s flower pot, not me." She folded her arms across her chest and looked defiantly at her sister.

"Look, Pervinca, here’s the penny," Pimpernel said. "You just take it and go play with the others."

Pervinca smiled and accepted the penny and a pat on her head from Lilac Chubb. "Darling little lass," Lilac smiled. "Here’s another penny in case you need a spare."

Pervinca smiled back at her benefactor. "Thank you, Lilac."

Pimpernel watched her sister leave and then frowned at Lilac. "I don’t suppose that you were rewarding her for tormenting Pippin were you?"

"Why ever would you think such a thing, Nelly?" Lilac asked, trying to look innocent. Then Pimpernel looked over toward the sofa and smiled. She couldn’t see Pippin’s curly little head above the back of the sofa and so she suspected that he had laid down and gone to sleep. Now that was luck if ever she’d had any.

________________________________

"Do you think I’ve made a mistake?" Bilbo frowned looking over at Frodo. The two of them were sitting together smoking and talking while their party guests milled about the lawn outside of Bag End enjoying the warm evening and sampling the vast array of food.

"I hope not," Frodo sighed. "I just don’t know if Uncle Doc will think that Merry is old enough for a sling shot. I am very sure that Merry will love the gift. I am just worried about what his father might say."

Bilbo frowned deeper. "Yes, I am sure that Esmeralda won’t mind at all, but Saradoc might not be too happy with my choice." Bilbo had always tried to select gifts for his young cousins that he thought that they might enjoy. The trouble was he gave very little thought as to whether or not the gifts would be deemed appropriate by the children’s parents. Last year, Bilbo had given a delighted Estella Bolger a tin whistle and her mother, after an hour of listening to the child blowing it, had given Bilbo her opinion on the subject of proper gifts for little hobbits. Bilbo shuddered at that memory and hoped that Merry’s father wouldn’t be too angry over the sling shot.

"Why are you sure that Esmeralda won’t mind the gift?" Frodo asked.

"Because she taught Paladin how to use one properly when they were small," Bilbo explained. "She was a very good shot and had quite an eye. Paladin was far less skilled and so she worked with him all one summer until he managed it."

Frodo grinned. "Uncle Paladin was a poor shot?" He enjoyed the image of Paladin Took getting sling shot lessons from his little sister.

"I was dreadful," Paladin laughed, coming up behind them and startling Frodo. "Esme was the sharp-shooter in the family. Don’t tell me you’ve gotten Merry a sling shot this year, Bilbo." Paladin frowned.

"Well, I may have," Bilbo said reluctantly.

Paladin laughed. "That should liven things up in Buckland."

___________________________________________

"What are you doing?" Pervinca demanded. "I’m telling right now!"

Pippin looked up from the pile of gifts that were now laying beside of him on the floor of Frodo’s bedroom and gulped. "Vince, no, please don’t tell. I was only listening to them." He got to his feet and ran over to his older sister.

"Who is suppose to be minding you?" Pervinca asked, frowning down at the five-year-old, her hands on her hips and her mouth held in a line like their father so often held his when scolding them.

Pippin shrugged his shoulders. "I’m not sure. I lost count of who it was supposed to be."

Pervinca rolled her eyes and then looked over at the gifts. "What is that little pile of paper over there?"

"Over where?" Pippin asked, following her gaze.

Pervinca walked over to a small pile of paper and pointed down at it. "What’s that?"

Pippin walked over to join her and then squatted down next to the little pile and said. "Those were on the packages, Vince and I don’t think they should have been because they are different from the wrappings. They were stuck to the sides and the tops and there was one on each of the presents. It messed them up something fierce so I thought I could help Bilbo and Frodo by taking them off while I was listening to the packages." He handed a few of the little slips of paper up to his older sister proudly. "See, they don’t go with anything."

"Estella, Pearl, Dora, Esmeralda, Merry," Pervinca read as she sorted through the slips of paper and then she sucked in a deep breath and dropped them all. "Peregrin Took, these are the tags!"

"The what?" Pippin frowned, looking up at her as the little slips of paper rained down on top of him.

"These are the name tags that tell who gets what present," Pervinca moaned and she sat down on the floor beside of her little brother amid the packages and the papers. "You have taken off the tags and so now there is no way to know which present is which."

"Is that bad?" Pippin asked, suddenly worried.

"Of course it is," Pervinca said, and she pulled his ear.

"Ouch!"

"Now, when it’s time to give out the gifts, there won’t be any tags and so Frodo and Bilbo won’t know who is suppose to get which gift," Pervinca announced and was rewarded with a very wide-eyed look of terror from her little brother. "You’ve spoiled it!"

Pippin began to whimper and from the doorway a voice announced. "I think it will make things more interesting."

Pervinca and Pippin looked over to see that Merry Brandybuck had entered the room and closed the door behind himself. He was grinning at the two younger children. "This could be very interesting."

Pippin sniffled. "I ruined Bilbo and Frodo’s gifts, Merry."

"No, you didn’t, Pip," Merry chuckled. "You just made it so they will all be surprises even for Bilbo and Frodo." He walked over and lifted the little hobbit into his arms.

"I was looking for you Merry," Pippin said, smiling now.

"Where were you looking, Pip? In those packages?" Merry teased and Pippin began to giggle.

"No, silly," Pippin said. "I was just listening to them while I waited to find you."

"Listening to them, were you?" Merry grinned. He was very familiar with Pippin’s habit of shaking the presents to try and see what was inside. Pippin would pick up a gift and then shake it next to his ear and listen. The lad referred to this as listening to the presents.

"Merry, it’s not very funny," Pervinca frowned. "One of these has your name on it. That means you won’t get the right gift."

Merry sat Pippin down and walked over to join Pervinca. "All we have to do is put these tags on the presents quickly and then get out of here before someone comes looking for us."

"But Pippin won’t remember which ones he took the tags off of," Pervinca objected.

"I know," Merry said. "That will be the fun part. Later, we can watch Frodo and Bilbo’s faces as they give out the presents. Everyone will be getting something completely different this year."

Pervinca stared at him open-mouthed. Sometimes she just didn’t understand Merry at all. Pimpernel said that this was because Merry was thirteen now and becoming a teen made lads harder to understand, but Pervinca just thought that Merry was a bit crazy at times. "Now, Pip, you and Pervinca and I are going to put the tags back on the packages and then we aren’t going to say a word to anyone."

Pippin nodded and began collecting the tags. If Merry said this was what they should do, then it would be alright. Merry knew everything. "But, Merry, Pippin can’t read," Pervinca objected.

"Pervinca, it won’t matter," Merry smiled at her and patted her on the head. "We don’t know who’s gift is who’s anyway so he has as much chance of putting the tags back correctly as you and I do."

_________________________________________

"Peregrin Took, aren’t you supposed to be with Nell?" Pearl demanded as Pippin came into the kitchen followed by Merry and Pervinca.

"I don’t know, Pearl," Pippin said. "Am I?"

Pearl looked exasperated. "Does Nell know where you are?"

"I don’t know, Pearl," Pippin said. "I think she might if Lilac told her."

Just then Nell came frantically into the kitchen and Merry grabbed her by the arm. "Of course she knows, Pearl. I told Nell that I would look after Pippin, didn’t I Nell?"

Pervinca frowned. She was sure Merry was lying, but she had no way to prove that and neither would Pearl. Pippin grinned. "See Pearl, I were I’m suppose to be. I ‘m with Merry and Nell knows it cause Merry told her so." Pervinca frowned again. Pippin believed this was true. Five year olds weren’t terribly bright.

"Is something the matter, Pearl?" Nell asked, recovering herself and going along with Merry’s lie. It was far better than facing Pearl’s anger and besides Pippin seemed just fine so no harm done.

"I suppose not," Pearl said, reluctantly. Like Pervinca, she knew something was amiss, but like Nell, she preferred not to get into it. She was guilty of giving Pippin to Nell in the first place and so if she made too much of it, then she might also be in trouble. Her mother had warned her to watch Pippin and she hadn’t exactly done that.

Just then Frodo stuck his head into the kitchen door and announced. "You should all get outside because I am going to go and get the presents now." He winked at Pippin. "You might just be surprised by what you get this year."

"You might be surprised by it too, Frodo," Pippin said, and Merry picked the lad up under his arm and headed outside snickering.

Bilbo extended a present out to Saradoc Brandybuck and smiled, "There you are. A gift for one of my favorite cousins."

Saradoc accepted the gift and grinned. "You say that to all of your cousins, Bilbo."

"I am very diplomatic," Bilbo said.

Saradoc opened his gift while everyone looked on. Merry’s father held up the present in confusion and mumbled a rather confused thank you to his host while Merry tried to keep from laughing out loud. Pervinca moaned. Pippin just continued to smile brightly while Saradoc Brandybuck showed off a new set of tea towels with the letter ‘B’ sewed into them.

Frodo frowned over at Bilbo and his uncle shrugged. "Must have gotten a few of these mixed up." He whispered this and then smiled at Saradoc as if he’d meant to give him Mistress Bolger’s tea towels. "Hope you like them.’

"There quite remarkable," Saradoc said, trying not to seem rude.

"Well, here, Esmeralda, this one is for you," Bilbo said and handed Merry’s mum a package.

She smiled and opened it and then laughed. "Paladin, look!" she crowed and grinned at her older brother while holding aloft a new sling shot. "Want to practice later." Her eyes were twinkling and Merry had to laugh out loud.

"Now, don’t laugh, Meriadoc," Esmeralda grinned. "Your mum is quite a fair shot with one of these. Thank you Bilbo! No one else would have gotten me this." She gave him a quick hug as everyone laughed.

"Will you teach me to shoot?" Merry asked his mother as Bilbo blushed with pleasure.

"I might," Esmeralda said.

"At least you had the common sense to not to give the lad one of those," Saradoc said, shaking his head.

Frodo looked over at Bilbo and grinned. "Now that was very clever, Bilbo," he whispered. "Now, they can’t be angry and Merry will learn to shoot." He kept his voice low so that only Bilbo could hear.

Bilbo smiled broadly. He had no idea how that had come about but it had worked quite nicely at that. He handed the next present to Frodo’s young friend, Samwise Gamgee. Sam was the son Bilbo’s gardener and Frodo was very fond of him. The youngster took the gift with an embarrassed thank you and started to open it.

"I can’t wait to see what you have given Sam," Frodo said, quietly.

"Neither can I," Bilbo whispered back.

Sam held up his gift and grinned. "It’s a tea set!"

Now everyone was staring at Bilbo. Merry was nearly hysterical and Pervinca was in shock. Pippin clapped and laughed. "Now, Sam has his own for tea and stuff."

Sam smiled. "I don’t know what to say, exceptin’ thank you, Mister Bilbo."

"At his age if someone had given me a tea set, I’d have thought of a thing or two to say," Saradoc said and Esmeralda pinched him on the arm.

"We have a tea pot and some cups, but it’s not a real set like this one," Sam said, admiring the little flowered tea pot. "Now, we can have tea and have it match and all."

Relief flooded Frodo’s faced and he looked at Bilbo in amazement. "I should have gone first, because now I fear my gifts will seem very boring."

Gift after gift was passed out to startled guests. Eglantine Took received a book on the history of pipeweed in the shire that had been meant for Saradoc. Paladin Took got a vest that had been intended for Fredegar Bolger. Estella Bolger got a sewing basket meant for Eglantine Took. Pearl received a box of old Toby that was meant for the mayor. Bilbo quickly explained that it was for when Pearl set up house-keeping so she’d have the pipeweed on hand for guests. It was a very strange explanation as Pearl was, at nineteen, a long way from having a smail of her own. Before things got too awful, Saradoc offered to trade Pearl for the tea towels and things continued.

"Well, here, Merry," Bilbo said, handing his young Brandybuck relation a gift.

"What is it?" Merry asked, amused.

"He doesn’t know, Merry," Pippin reminded his older cousin.

This brought chuckles all around and Saradoc leaned over to Paladin and smiled, "Bright little lad you’ve got there."

"Open it, Merry," Pippin said, bouncing with excitement. Merry opened the gift to reveal a small, wooden box with some sort of carvings in the lid. Frodo’s gift! Bilbo sighed.

"You got a box, Merry," Pippin frowned. This didn’t seem like a very good gift to Pippin.

Frodo walked over and put an arm around Merry shoulder and said, "It’s a puzzle box, Merry. It was made by the dwarves in Dale. It has some sort of a picture on the lid and you move the tiles around to make the picture. Once you have the picture revealed, then the box will open."

"I love it!" Merry smiled. "It’s very grown up and it will be a good place to keep secret things in. Are the puzzles hard to work?" He looked up at Bilbo who was smiling a bit sadly.

"Oh, well, this one may be as it was a special one," Bilbo said, and he gave a quick glance in Frodo’s direction.

Frodo smiled back at him. "I am very sure that you will be able to master it."

"What am I getting?" Pippin demanded.

"Don’t know, but I suspect that you’ll like it," Bilbo said and handed Pippin a present.

Pippin held it to his little ear and shook it. "Sounds the same as it did before, but I still don’t know what it is."

Frodo frowned, "Before?"

Merry looked at Pippin and Pervinca made a face but the five-year-old plunged ahead. "When I was listening to them before in your room, Frodo. I remember this one because it is so big." The package was longer than Pippin was tall. "It was the biggest one there!"

Merry was biting his lower lip now and Pervinca’s mouth was open again, "Open it, Pippin."

He smiled at her, "I will, Vince." He dropped down onto the grass and began to unwrap the large gift as everyone watched.

"I think I know how Sam managed to get that lovely tea set," Paladin sighed, looking over at Saradoc.

"Yes, I might have an idea as well," Saradoc said, now looking at Merry. "I’d guess the two youngest of your lot and my one and only."

Pippin crowed in delight. "Merry! I got a walking stick! Now, I can go walking with you a Frodo cause I have my very own stick!" Pippin jumped to his feet and waved the stick about excitedly causing everyone to move out of his way.

"Oh, now that may be trouble," Esmeralda sighed.

"This from the proud owner of a new sling-shot?" Saradoc smirked.

Pervinca was more vocal, "He’ll kill someone with that!"

Pippin whirled about and just missed Merry’s head with the stick.. "I will not, Vince. It’s for walking with. Bilbo has one, don’t you Bilbo?" Pippin turned again and the stick just missed Frodo this time as Pippin looked up delightedly at Bilbo.

"Yes, I do," Bilbo smiled. "But, Pippin, you have to be very careful with those."

Pippin nodded and held the stick aloft, just missing Bilbo’s face with it. "I know."

Paladin reached over and took the walking stick from Pippin’s hands and then asked, "Do you suppose that your cousin Bilbo really meant for you to have this?"

"Well, he might have," Pippin said, frowning up at his father. "I don’t know for really on account of I can’t read. I can’t can I Vince?" He looked over at his sister.

"No, Pippin," Pervinca agreed. She was holding her own gift which had been a box of caramel candies which should have gone to Sam’s father.

"Meriadoc, would you like to explain?" Saradoc asked, but Frodo interrupted.

"However it came about, it was fun," Frodo said, smiling.

"That’s true," Bilbo laughed. "I never recall being so surprised by the gifts that I had given before. Really, there was no harm done."

"I was only trying to make the packages prettier, pappa, by taking off the tags that didn’t go with them in the beginning. I didn’t know they were names," Pippin said. "I thought that cousin Bilbo’s packages just got all messed up and I was fixing them."

Bilbo picked Pippin up and ruffled his hair. "Well, I am rather glad of the help this year, Pippin. Giving gifts can be a bit boring as you know what everyone will get, but this year I rather enjoyed myself."

"I think everyone did," Frodo smiled.

"See, Vince," Pippin grinned. "I didn’t mess up Bilbo and Frodo’s party. It was funny just like Merry said it would be!"

Merry winced as all eyes fell on him and then Frodo hugged him. "Next year, cousin, I think we should be more traditional, but this year it was kind of amusing."

"Well, I helped," Pervinca said, not wishing to be left out now that she knew they weren’t in trouble.

"I guess this wasn’t really for me and I should give it back," Merry said, extending the puzzle box in Bilbo’s direction, sadly.

"No, Merry," Frodo smiled. "I think that one really was yours wasn’t it Bilbo?"

"What? Oh, yes, yes, that was strange really how that worked out. That was really your gift, Merry," Bilbo smiled. Merry’s face lit up and he pulled the box back to his chest.

"It’s the most grown up thing I ever got."

Frodo smiled at Bilbo. Just then Pippin spoke up. "Was that truly my walking stick, Bilbo?"

"Well, it was either your walking stick or I may have meant you to have the three spinning tops that I somehow gave to Frodo," Bilbo said, trying to look thoughtful.

"Would you like to trade, Pippin?" Frodo asked, showing the child the colorful tops.

"Can I still go walking with you and Merry if I don’t have a stick?" Pippin asked.

"I think Merry and I would enjoy walking with you a great deal more if you didn’t have a stick," Frodo smiled. "That way you can still hold our hands as we walk."

Pippin grinned and reached for the tops. "I think I would like to trade."

"And the Shire was saved," Merry said, smiling.

"Have you got the picture fixed on that box yet, Merry?" Pippin asked.

"Not yet, Pippin," Merry sighed. "It’s a grown up toy and so it will take time to sort it out."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"So that puzzle box wasn't supposed to be yours then Mister Merry?" Sam said, as Merry finished his tale.

"No, but I didn't know that until much later," Merry smiled. "I was so taken with it, that Frodo wanted me to have it. It should have been his and was a special gift for him from Bilbo. For some reason, Frodo wanted me to have it."

"Knowin' Mister Frodo, I'd suspect that he could see how important it was to you," Sam said. "He always wants you and Mister Pippin to be happy."

"I know," Merry said. "I wish I had something that I could give Frodo now that would make him happy."

"I wish that too," Sam agreed.

"Don't either of you give up on him," Fredegar said, suddenly. "He has a lot to put behind him, but he's a strong spirit and I think he'll come out of it."

"I hope so, Freddy," Merry said. "We all mean to try and help him in any way that we can." They were all quiet for a minute.

"Tell me," Freddy said, changing the subject. "What did Bilbo think about Frodo giving you the puzzle box?'

"I wondered about that myself and so I asked Frodo," Merry said.

"What did he say?" Sam asked.

"He told me that he and Bilbo talked later on that evening and..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Later, after everyone was either asleep or gone home, Bilbo came into Frodo’s room and sat down on his bed. "I suspect that you realize that the puzzle box was a gift for you don’t you?"

Frodo, who was laying under his covers and propped against his pillows smiled. "I do, but I hope you didn’t mind that I let Merry keep it and that I let him think that it was his to begin with. It seemed so very important to him."

"No, lad, I don’t mind," Bilbo said. "I just wanted you to know that it was made with you in mind."

"I knew the moment that I saw it," Frodo smiled and he hugged Bilbo. "I love you very much."

"And I love you too, lad," Bilbo said. "Next year, I will give you your gift before the guests arrive to help us celebrate and to make our packages look prettier." They both laughed.

Chapter 7                          "Apples"   

Somehow, Pippin managed to endure the gift-giving portion of his party. Pearl and Frodo stood on either side of him and helped him distribute the gifts. Once the apples started showing up, it was all Pippin could do to keep from running back to the safety of his room. The first one took him by surprise, but as more followed, he began to realize that the joke was on him.

As Pippin leaned forward to hand his older cousin, Alford Took his gift, he noticed that there was an apple laying on the table with the gifts. He glanced at it, smiled at Alford and handed his cousin the gift. He continued on with the next gift and soon there were several apples on the table. Pippin tried to ignore them, but their number kept growing.

"Frodo," Pippin whispered, as he leaned down to get another gift. "Those apples, do you see them?"

"Ignore them, Pip," Frodo whispered back. "I think it’s someone’s idea of a joke."

Pippin swallowed, blushed, and retrieved Estella Bolger’s gift from the pile. He reached it out to her and tried to think of something to say. "Uhm, here."

"Why thank you, Pippin," Estella smirked. She noticed Pippin glancing nervously at the apples and continued. "How is Merry?"

This distracted Pippin a bit and he looked over at her. Since she and Merry had begun to see one another, Estella had found herself in contention for Merry’s time with Pippin. Neither she nor Pippin was sure how they felt about this. Estella knew that Pippin and Merry shared an unbreakable bond and that the two of them were devoted to one another. At times, she found herself wondering how she might fit into this relationship. Pippin liked Estella, but he sometimes felt that he was losing Merry to her. As silly as this seemed, even to him, Pippin worried that she might come between him and Merry. "He seems much better today," Pippin managed. "You should go and see him. I’m sure he’d like that."

Estella smiled. "I might just do that sometime tomorrow."

Pippin looked again at the apples and noticed that there were now more of them. They were beginning to pile up quite high on the table. As the gifts, dwindled, the apples increased. Pippin was becoming more flustered by the minute and while this did amuse Estella, she felt a bit sorry for Pippin. After all, what had happened earlier had been an accident and not one of the young Took’s pranks. Maybe this was going too far.

It had seemed only fitting when Alford had suggested it. Several of the lads had raided the Took’s pantry and had passed out apples to most of the party guests. Everyone was supposed to put an apple on Pippin’s gift table as they came forward to collect their gifts. Estella had thought it sounded like a good joke on Pippin until she’d seen his reaction. Pippin was embarrassed to death.

Pippin caught sight of several of his cousins eating apples and waving at him from across the room at this point and he moaned. "There’s only one way out you know," Frodo advised, softly as Estella stepped back from the table to open her gift.

"What’s that?" Pippin asked, pretending to hunt for the next guest’s gift as he conferred with Frodo.

"Pick one up and eat it," Frodo said.

Pippin looked horrified. "You’re joking, aren’t you?"

"No, they have to see that you don’t mind it, or you’ll be covered over in apples for weeks to come, Pip," Frodo said, handing Pippin a gift. "Pick one up, smile over at that lot in the far corner, and then take a bite of the apple."

"I-I don’t think I can," Pippin whispered. "I think I’ll just ignore them." He then raised up and saw that his next guest, Lilac Chubb, was actually eating an apple as she awaited her gift.

"These are quite good," Lilac smiled, sweetly. "It’s a shame you had such trouble with them before." Obviously she was still not in a forgiving mood over Pippin’s remark about her teeth. She took another bite, savored it, and gave Pippin another smile. "You should practice your apple bobbing before next year, Peregrin."

Anger was beginning to replace the embarrassment and Pippin was about to say something that he would regret, when all at once, Lilac started to look a bit red in the face. She had a peculiar sort of pinched look to her now and a panic filled her eyes. As Pippin swallowed the nasty words that were about to come out of his mouth, Lilac began to struggle for air. She was now waving her arms and trying to cough but having no success.

"She’s choking!" Pearl shouted and started toward her brother and Lilac, but Pippin moved faster.

He came around the table, and proceeded to lean Lilac over the edge of the table and began swatting her on the back. A crowd had gathered and Pippin could hear Nell calling for someone to fetch a healer. Lilac’s face was now a bright purple and her eyes were as wide as saucers, but still, no air was coming in. In desperation, Pippin put his arms around her ribs and squeezed tightly, trying to force her to cough. Lilac responded to this by opening her mouth and propelling a rather large chunk of apple from her throat directly into Diamond Took’s face. Pippin released Lilac as she inhaled and then began to cough. As she began to sink to the floor, Pearl caught her about the waist and began to pat her back gently. "There, there, it’s going to be alright now. You were very lucky. If I’d have been Pippin, I might have been tempted to allow you to choke on it," Pearl said, sweetly.

Frodo smirked at this and then noticed that Pippin was staring at Diamond who was, with the aid of some other lad’s handkerchief, removing the apple from her face. Before either of them could move, Merry’s mother wrapped an arm around Pippin’s waist and smiled. "That was quick thinking on your part, Pippin, dearest. That lass could have choked to death if you hadn’t acted when you did."

Several other hobbits came forward to commend Pippin at that point and succeeded in blocking his view of Diamond completely.

______________________________________

"What time is it?" Merry yawned. He must have fallen asleep again.

"Oh, it’s just after nine, Merry," Fredegar said, stretching a bit himself. "I think both of us took a little nap."

"Seems my story-telling put us to sleep," Merry said, trying to make himself comfortable against the pillows. He was always dozing off since his accident. The healers kept saying this was good for him, but he found it very annoying. "I don’t suppose that you noticed when Sam left did you?"

"Oh, he said he was going to see about getting us all a bit of a snack," Fredegar said. "I do remember that much. I must have fallen asleep just after he left us."

"Wonder how Pip’s doing?" Merry said, still trying to make himself comfortable and failing. Fredegar got up and began to adjust Merry’s pillows for him. He took hold of Merry and gently helped him to sit up a bit more.

"Is that better, Merry?" Fredegar asked.

"I suppose," Merry grumbled. "It would be even better if I could get up for a bit."

"Oh, no you don’t," Fredegar objected. "You know what the healers have said. Besides, I am not getting in trouble because I let you get up."

Merry sighed, wearily. "If only I had my sword about now."

Fredegar smiled. "I’d sooner let you try to run me through than to deal with your mum on this."

"I was hoping Frodo would come back soon and let us know how the gift-giving went," Merry said, ignoring Fredegar’s jest. He wasn’t feeling particularly amused just now.

"Well, there were a great many guests and so I suspect that it will take a while for Pip to give everything out," Fredegar reasoned. "I would guess that Frodo won’t leave until Pippin is through with that chore."

"I suppose you’re right," Merry said. He was feeling a bit left out of things just now in spite of Fredegar’s company.

"I wonder what Pippin got me," Fredegar said, thoughtfully as he returned to his chair.

Merry grinned. "You can never tell, Freddy. Could be anything."

"I hope it’s something to eat," Fredegar grinned. "Sam seems to have abandoned us."

"Maybe he is checking on Frodo and Pip," Merry said. He was remembering another of Pippin’s birthday’s just now. "When Pippin gives out his presents it tends to draw attention for one reason or another."

"What could possible keep us from getting a snack?" Fredegar asked. "This can’t be a repeat of the tale you told earlier about Pippin mixing up those name tags."

"No, Pip wouldn’t do that to his gifts," Merry said. "He puts a great deal of thought in the gifts that he gives. He always wants to get each friend or relation the perfect present."

Just then, Saradoc entered carrying a huge tray of food. "Sam handed me this and asked me to play delivery hobbit. He wanted to go and check on Frodo."

Merry smiled. "I am surprised that he waited this long. Thank you for bringing this, Doc. Freddy was beginning to grow faint."

"That I was," Fredegar admitted. "I’m most grateful that you’ve arrived it time."

"I was just on my way to see how the gifting was going when I ran into Sam," Saradoc said. "I suspect that I will enjoy a visit with my favorite son and my favorite Bolger more than I would the gifting anyway."

Merry laughed. "I’m your only son."

"That makes it no less true," Saradoc smiled, and he sat the tray on Merry’s bed within reach of all of them. He then made himself comfortable in the chair. The three of them began to eat happily.

Chapter 8                                           "The Wizard"

Saradoc was just filling up his corners with a bit of cheese and bread when he began to chuckle to himself.  Merry and Fredegar looked over at him curiously.  "What ever is so funny, Doc?" Merry asked. 

"Oh, I was just thinking about that cusion of yours and my set of tea towels.  Remember Bilbo and Frodo's party that year?" Saradoc asked.

"Funny you should mention that," Merry grinned.  "I just told that story to Sam and Fredegar earlier this evening."

"Yes," Fredegar said.  "We were passing the time with it.  Sam remembered the event the minute Merry got to his tea set."

"He really did enjoy that tea set," Merry said.  "He admitted to Fredegar and I that he still has it."

Saradoc was surprised.  "I just put it off to good manners at the time.  I thought the lad was just being polite."

"No, he really wanted that tea set," Merry said.  "I have often wondered what Gandalf did with that gift that Pippin got for him that time.  Surely he was only being polite."

"Gandalf?" Fredegar frowned.  "I must have drifted off and missed that portion of your story.  I don't recall anything about old Gandalf being at the party."

"Oh, no," Merry said.  "Gandalf wasn't at that party, Freddy.  Gandalf attended Pippin's seventh birthday party by accident."

"By accident?" Fredegar asked.  "This is sounding like another tale."

Merry laughed.  "It is, I suppose."

"Well, don't stop there, cousin," Fredegar said, settling back in his chair with the rest of a bacon sandwich and preparing to listen.

"Well, the year Pippin turned seven, he talked Frodo and Bilbo into letting him have his party at Bag End," Merry began.  "Gandalf, who knew nothing of the party, chose that time of the year to visit Bilbo and..."

____________________________________________

The wizard looked down at the small hobbit lad in front of him and frowned. This was something altogether new. How did one handle something like this? He’d been given gifts before in private by Bilbo. He had even received several presents from Frodo, but he had never received anything in front of a crowd of hobbits. Yet, now, standing in front of him and holding a rather large package, was seven-year-old Peregrin Took. The child was smiling as he offered the package to the wizard and he chirped, "I found it myself, but Merry helped me wrap it. I don’t wrap very well."

Sighing, resignedly, Gandalf bent down so that he could accept the birthday gift from the lad. He gave an inquiring look in Bilbo’s direction, but his friend simply shrugged his shoulders and smiled. No help there.

"Well, let us see what this is then, shall we?" Gandalf said, taking the gift from the delighted child. This was Paladin Took’s youngest and today was the child’s seventh birthday. For some reason not altogether clear to the wizard, Bilbo had agreed to host the party at Bag End. Gandalf had not known this event would be taking place. He had been visiting with Bilbo and Frodo this past week but neither of them had mentioned the party. The wizard had only met the small Took lad a couple of times, but obviously, he had made an impression on the child.

The hobbit custom was for the birthday lad or lass to give gifts to all of his or her guests. Gandalf was not sure how this small lad had known that he would even be present at this party and so he had never expected a gift. Peregrin shifted from foot to foot as he waited excitedly for the wizard to open the gift. "It isn’t very much," the child said, now becoming doubtful, as it was taking the wizard so long to unwrap the gift. "I only just saw it and as I knew you were here I thought you might still be here today and so I bought it. Merry helped me."

Merry was Meriadoc Brandybuck, the small Took’s older cousin. Merry was fifteen and was presently standing off to the side away from all of the small party guests and watching the wizard. The lad was in a good location if he needed to make a sudden exit, but he showed no signs of leaving. Meriadoc was known for his mischief-making and so the wizard was right to wonder at Merry’s involvement in all of this. "You really didn’t have to get me anything, Peregrin," Gandalf said, smiling at the child as he accepted the gift.

"Oh, but I wanted to," Peregrin said. "I am so glad that you could come to my party. I’ve never had a real wizard at my birthday before." The lad grinned happily and stole a glance at his party guests before turning his attention back to the wizard.

So, thought Gandalf, it would seem that my presence at this party will raise the young Took’s esteem in the eyes of his friends. The wizard surveyed the small crowd of young hobbit lads and lasses who had, only moments ago been running wildly around Bag End laughing and yelling with much confusion. They all stood very still now and watched the guest of honor as he presented his gift to the wizard. From behind them Bilbo’s young cousin, Frodo smiled at Gandalf, encouragingly. Both of the Baggins’s were very fond of this little lad.

"It isn’t very much," Peregrin said, again, still looking at the wizard and chewing his lower lip. The little Took’s bright green eyes showed traces of worry now. What if the gift was not well-received? "I don’t exactly know what you have already because I have never been to your smail, and I don’t know what wizards like."

"I am sure it will be fine, Peregrin," Gandalf said, softly and he began to unwrap the rather heavy package with one last glance at Meriadoc. The young son of the Master fo Buckland didn’t Flinch . He only grinned and so the wizard supposed that the package was safe enough.

As Gandalf removed the wrapping, Peregrin wrung his small hands and fidgeted. "I hope you don’t already have one."

As the wrapping came off, Gandalf was relieved to see that the gift was a book of some sort. It was an enormous book and it was very heavy. The wizard doubted that the small lad before him could even read and so he wondered at the selection. He looked down at the title gracing the cover in gold foil and struggled not to laugh. He glanced in Meriadoc’s direction and the lad shrugged his shoulders and smiled nervously. "So, you selected this on your own, Peregrin?" Gandalf inquired.

Peregrin nodded. "Merry read me the titles on the books in the shop and this one sounded the best. I don’t read much yet. I can read my name, but that’s mostly all," Peregrin chattered. ‘There weren’t any books with my name on them so Merry had to do the reading and when he got to this one, I knew it was the one. You don’t have it do you?"

Gandalf cleared his throat and felt Bilbo peering over his shoulder now to get a look at the book’s title. "Oh, my," Bilbo said, softly.

"No, surprisingly, I do not have this one, Peregrin," Gandalf said, smiling at the lad.

"You can call me Pippin if you like," Peregrin said, smiling. He then leaned forward and put his small hands on the wizard’s knees and frowned, "Do you like it? Is it proper?"

Gandalf could feel the hobbits holding their breaths collectively as they awaited his reply. He looked over at this charming little lad and smiled, "It is most proper and I like it very much. I believe that this will be a very interesting book to read. Thank you, Peregrin. It was most thoughtful of you."

Relief flooded the small lad’s face and he grinned. "See, Merry. I told you he’d like it."

Merry was grinning too. "Yes, you did Pip. I guess you were right."

He turned back to Gandalf and continued, "I bet there are a few of those that you don’t know about."

"There may well be at that, young Master Took. Now, I will let you rejoin your party guests while I look through my new book," Gandalf smiled.

Pippin wrapped his arms around the wizard and hugged him and said, "Thank you for coming to my birthday party, Gandalf."

Startled, the wizard returned the hug and said, "You are most welcome, Peregrin." With that, the youngster released the wizard and went back over to the other children and began handing out their gifts as they all looked at him with admiration.

Gandalf, book in hand, turned and looked over at his dear friend Bilbo who had been joined by Frodo and Meriadoc. "Bilbo Baggins, did you know about this?"

"Well, no, at least not until just a few moments ago," Bilbo admitted. "Pippin is an impulsive young lad. I should have seen it coming, but I just didn’t think of it."

Now everyone was looking at Merry. "When Pip arrived two days ago for his birthday, he saw that you were staying here and he thought that it wouldn’t be proper if he didn’t have a gift for you," Merry began. "I agreed to take him into Hobbiton to look for something. I thought he’d get something like pipeweed or sweets or something."

Frodo laughed as he glanced at the title. "Where did he find that?"

Merry smiled. "We were in the junk shop. You know how Pippin loves that old place," Merry sighed. "I tried to tell him that there wouldn’t be anything in there that he could give as a gift, but once he found the shelves of books, I couldn’t stop him."

"Really," Gandalf said, skeptically.

Merry snickered. "Well, it was kind of funny. He thought that he should get you a book because he figured that wizards must read a lot and so he asked me to read him the titles. When I got to that one, he had to have it."

"Naturally," Bilbo smiled.

"I couldn’t talk him out of it," Merry said, shrugging his shoulders.

"Did you try?" Frodo asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Well, I do remember asking him if he was sure that this was the one," Merry said. "I was rather tired of reading titles to him by the time that we got to this one. Also, Pippin liked that it was a large book. He said it would give Gandalf more to read."

Bilbo and Frodo were trying hard not to laugh and Merry was trying hard to look innocent. "Yes, I shall enjoy reading this. I am sure it will be most informative. Perhaps there are even instructions in here on how to turn hobbits into toads." Gandalf then walked away for a quiet smoke with his new book, "Spells and Magic Charms", clasped in his hands, leaving the three hobbits snickering behind him. 

Chapter 9                        "Party Conversation"

Pearl and Esmeralda took charge of Lilac. They led the rather embarrassed lass from the party and met Nell who had just returned with a healer. "Seems your younger brother took matters into his own hands, Nell," Esmeralda smiled. "I suspect that Lilac will be fine once she’s had a bit of rest."

"Lilac?" Nell said, softly. The two of them had been friends for a very long time but Lilac couldn’t face Nell at this minute. She hung her head and stared at the floor, embarrassed about how she had behaved. There was no reason to suspect that Nell wouldn’t hear of her actions. She was terribly worried that she might lose her best friend over this. Nell adored Pippin and would not take kindly to Lilac’s latest infraction.

"I think she needs to rest just now, Nelly," Pearl said, knowingly. She gave Lilac over to Esmeralda and put a hand on Nell’s shoulder. "We should return to the party. After all, papa had to leave after his brief appearance and go off to his study and now Aunt Esmeralda will be away for a time. We can’t leave Pippin to run his own party."

Nell frowned after Lilac who was allowing herself to be led away by Esmeralda and the healer. "Well, I suppose you’re right. I haven’t seen too much of Pippin since he nearly drown half of his guests." She smiled over at Pearl and the two started back into the party. "How is he?"

"Well enough to have saved Lilac’s life just now," Pearl said, watching as Nell’s eyes widened in surprise.

Over in a quiet corner of the room, Pippin stood with his hands in his pockets, leaning against the wall. Frodo was standing next to him. "That was very quick thinking, Pippin," Frodo said.

"I don’t suppose that I thought much at all, Frodo," Pippin admitted. "I was just trying to get her to cough. She was turning blue."

"All the same," Frodo said. "You managed to do what needed doing and it was a very fortunate thing for Lilac that you did. I’m very proud of you."

"You are?" Pippin asked, looking over at Frodo and smiling.

"Of course I am, you silly Took," Frodo said. "Merry will be too when he hears about this."

"I wish Merry were here," Pippin sighed. "I’ve been so worried about him."

"Now, you know that he’s going to be fine," Frodo said. "The healers have assured us all that he is recovering quite nicely. I’ll wager that it’s too slow a process to suit Merry, but he is recovering nicely."

"It was all just so very frightening," Pippin said. "I hadn’t seen that much blood since, well in a while." Pippin looked a bit pale just thinking about it. Frodo knew that the last time any of them had seen that sort of injury had been in battle during the quest but neither he nor Pippin would mention the quest tonight. Neither cousin wanted that shadow over the evening.

"I’m told that you managed to handle that situation as well," Frodo said, laying a gentle hand on Pippin’s shoulder. At present, Pippin and Frodo were eye level with one another. Pippin was slouching against the wall and Frodo was standing at his full height. It seemed more natural to both of them. Looking up at Pippin was still something that Frodo was not used to.

"I leave this party to visit with Mister Merry and all manner of things go on," Sam said, coming over to join them.

Frodo turned and smiled at his dear friend. "Welcome back, Sam. I’m very glad that you could join us."

"Well, I thought I should, er, well, I wanted," Sam fumbled a bit.

"You wanted to check on me and see how I was doing didn’t you, Sam?" Frodo said.

"Well, no sir, Mister Frodo, I," Sam tried as both Frodo and Pippin watched him in amusement.

"If there’s a worse liar in all of Middle Earth, then I haven’t met him," Pippin said, fondly.

"Yes, I was wanting to check to see how you are doing, Mister Frodo," Sam admitted, blushing.

"I am fine, Sam," Frodo said. "How is Merry?"

"Oh, he’s fine," Sam said. "I know he misses not being here for the party, but he is sitting up and telling tales and all. He’s had quite a few visitors tonight and when I left, he and Mister Fredegar were both napping."

"Freddy’s with him?" Pippin asked, brightening.

"Yes, he has been in with Mister Merry for some time now," Sam said. "I was takin’ a tray of food in, but I gave it to Mister Merry’s father and so I suspect that he’s still there."

Pippin and Frodo both smiled at this. No harm would come to Merry while Saradoc was with him. No one had a better relationship with their father than Merry did.

Suddenly Pippin’s attention was elsewhere and Frodo followed his cousin’s gaze. There she was, Diamond Took, standing with several other lasses and chatting. She had her back to them, but there was no question that she was the object of Pippin’s glances. "She’s got on one of Nell’s frocks because I ruined hers," Pippin said, still looking at Diamond.

"How do you know it’s Nell’s?" Frodo wondered.

"If you have three sisters, Frodo, you learn to notice frocks for your own safety," Pippin said. "If they ask you about a certain frock, you can’t not know if it’s new or whose it is. They don’t take well to that, especially Vince. She’s fussy about clothes."

"I’d never keep it straight," Frodo admitted. "I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you what Diamond was wearing before if my life depended upon it."

"It was lavender-colored, with a rather large bow in the back," Pippin said, absently. "That’s Nell white frock with the blue tea roses on it that Diamond is wearing now. They must be nearly the same height as the dress doesn’t seem too much too long on her."

"You have sisters, Sam," Frodo said, still amazed by Pippin’s fashion knowledge. "Do you know their dresses on sight?"

"Some o’ them," Sam said, glancing at Pippin and frowning. "Why don’t you go over and ask that lass to dance, Mister Pippin?"

"Well, Sam, I doubt she’d even speak to me, much less dance with me," Pippin sighed. "First I nearly soaked her and then the next time I get near her, I’m trying to help Lilac get a bite of apple out of her throat and it comes out and hits Diamond in the face. She probably thinks I did that on purpose." Pippin sighed and continued to stare at the back of Diamond Took.

"Pippin, she can’t possibly think you meant that to happen," Frodo said.

"Well, all the same, I’m sure she feels safer with me over here and her all the way over there," Pippin said.

"I heard about you saving Miss Chubb’s life, Mister Pippin," Sam said. "I should think that sort o’ thing might impress that lass."

"Maybe not," Pippin said, glumly as he watched his cousin Alford Took take Diamond out onto the dance floor.

"He asked her, Pippin," Frodo smiled. "You have not."

"He’s older and tall and-" Pippin stopped and looked at Frodo who was laughing now. "What’s funny?" Pippin scowled.

"He’s tall? He’s not taller than a certain Took of my acquaintance," Frodo reminded Pippin.

"Oh, I keep forgetting," Pippin said. "I’m not used to being tall yet." Pippin straightened up to his full height at that moment as if to remind himself how tall he was and Frodo found himself looking up at the lad.

"Sam, will you keep Pippin company for a moment?" Frodo asked. "I think that I should like to dance with Estella Bolger. She looks as if she is missing her usual partner."

"Go on and have fun, Mister Frodo," Sam grinned, pleased to see his friend was planning to do something at this party other than stand around. "Mister Pippin and I will be just fine."

Pippin scowled after Frodo.

"What’s that look for?" Sam asked.

"Just Estella is all," Pippin said. "I wonder what Merry sees in her?"

"Hard to say," Sam said. "Maybe what you see in that Miss Diamond?"

"Or what you see in Rosie Cotton?" Pippin smiled.

Sam just grinned in return. He doubted that there was a lass in all of the Shire that could hold a candle to his Rose, but he’d not argue that with Mister Pippin. Knowing it was so, was enough for him. If others didn’t see it, then they just weren’t paying attention. They watched as Frodo escorted Estella Bolger out onto the floor for a dance.

As he put an arm around her waist, Frodo leaned in and asked, "Estella, would you mind helping me with a project?"

"What are you up to, Frodo Baggins?" Estella sighed, as they danced easily together.

"Well, I have a plan that needs a lass’s touch," Frodo said, smiling.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After they had talked for a bit, Merry dozed off again and left Fredegar and Saradoc to talk quietly on their own. "He seems to be doing quite well," Fredegar said, softly. He had noticed Saradoc looking intently at Merry as the younger Brandybuck slept.

"Yes, he’s so much better now," Saradoc said. "I was afraid that we might lose him." It was a wonder how many times he’d watched his only son sleep after a close call had passed. Sometimes, he didn’t think he could endure another scare, but he always found the strength. For a healthy lad, his Merry had certainly given him quite a few scares over the years. Usually, it was some sort of an accident. Merry had been a very active child. He was always into something. Now, as an adult, Merry still had his share of accidents. In spite of it all, Merry had been very lucky.

"Merry is a fighter," Fredegar said, confirming what Saradoc had been thinking.

"Yes indeed," Saradoc said. "He has a will of iron." He smiled over at Fredegar. "He also has many dear friends and a large family to look out for him. If it weren’t for Pippin, we might have lost him this time."

"I haven’t heard much about the accident. I wasn’t here when it happened and so I’ve just heard bits and pieces of the story," Fredegar admitted.

"I wasn't here either, but Merry’s told me most of it, down-playing the seriousness of the injury," Saradoc said. "I got the rest of it from the healers and, of course, all I had to do was take one look in Pippin’s eyes and I knew it had been close. That one had to be forced out of this room finally."

"Why don’t you two go and have a smoke? I’ll sit with him while he sleeps," Esmeralda said.

They both looked up at her in surprise. Neither of them had heard her come in. "Go on, Sara," she said, gently. "You can't sit here and stare at him all evening. You’re worse than Pippin. Besides, it’s my turn." She had her hands on her hips and was trying to look stern, but failing. Both of Merry’s parents had been through so much. They had just begun to feel secure about their son again after his return from his journey with Frodo and then this accident had reminded them how quickly things can change.

Saradoc rose from his chair and gave it over to his wife, reluctantly. He and Fredegar quietly left. Esmeralda would watch Merry sleep. A pipe might be good or maybe just a breath of fresh air. It was a clear night and the weather was warm. Perhaps he and Fredegar could use a break.

Chapter 10                        "Battling the Bullroarer"

Saradoc and Fredegar had found a quiet place outside in the small garden below the Thain’s study to smoke their pipes. Neither had wanted to join the party just now. Fredegar liked parties well enough but he was enjoying Sarados’s company and he knew that the older hobbit was not in the mood for a party just now.

The two of them seated themselves on a little stone bench and smoked in companionable silence.

While they sat there, the old healer, Marcus Grubb and Samwise Gamgee made their way outside and stood a small distance from them leaning against some trees. "Why don’t you go and speak with Sam, Fredegar," Saradoc smiled, following the younger hobbit's gaze. "I could use a few minutes alone just now."

"Are you sure that you’re alright?" Fredegar asked.

"Oh, I’m fine Freddy. I just feel like a few minutes alone," Saradoc assured him. "It’s been a very long couple of weeks. I think I’ll just sit here and enjoy the garden and be grateful for Merry’s recovery."

Fredegar smiled and crossed the garden to join Sam and old Mister Grubb."Why aren’t you two inside?" Freddy greeted them. "Pippin hasn’t had another interesting mishap has he?"

"Funny you should ask," Marcus said. "That one seems determined to keep me in patients just lately. First his cousin and now that young Chubb lass, what’s her name?" He looked at Sam.

"Lilac, I believe, sir," Sam supplied.

"Yes that’s the one," Marcus nodded. "Seems that young Master Pippin’s gone into the life-saving business, Fredegar. Pulled another one away from the reaper this evening."

"What now?" Fredegar asked.

Sam and Marcus filled him in on Lilac’s near-choking and Pippin’s rescue. Then Marcus smiled. "It wasn’t anything compared to what happened with the Brandybuck lad. I don’t believe I’ve seen that much blood save for a few times in my life as a healer. That lad is lucky to still be among the living is what he is."

Fredegar looked over in Saradoc’s direction, hoping that he wasn’t able to hear them just now. He was relieved to see that Saradoc had gone inside. With that concern out of his way, Fredegar asked, "Just what did happen with Merry? I’d heard that he suffered a very deep cut and blood loss but no one has given me much more of the story than that."

Sam nodded. "Mister Frodo said that Mister Merry would have died if it weren’t for Mister Pippin, but I’m afraid I don’t know too much either."

Marcus sighed, "Of course you have to realize that I wasn’t there when it first happened, lads. They sent for me after. I got the main part of the story from Master Pippin who was in a right state, don’t you know. That lad was so covered in blood when I came on them that I wasn’t sure which was the injured hobbit. I even suspected at first that they might both be bleeding. Looked to be too much blood for one hobbit."

Sam shivered. "Mister Merry seems in such fine spirits now, but he doesn’t speak of it."

"I suspect not," Marcus sighed. "I would have lost that lad if his cousin didn’t know a thing or two about serious injuries. Must have been from their time away because few here would have known to do what Master Pippin did."

Sam nodded. He knew more than he wanted to know about injuries and blood from their time away as old Marcus put it. Mister Pippin had spent time in the healing tents and so Sam suspected that Mister Pippin had picked up a thing or two there. At any rate, everyone seemed to agree that Mister Pippin had saved Mister Merry’s life.

"From what I got from the young Took and from Merry Brandybuck once he came around and what I saw once I got to them, this is what I know," Marcus Grubb said.

_______________________________________

"What is it?" Merry asked, Looking at the rather large sheet of glass that was leaning against the wall in the barn.

"Well, it’s pretentious according to mum," Pippin said, grinning.

"Oh?" Merry knelt down in front of the glass for a closer look. "I will attempt a guess and say that this belongs to your father then."

"You’d be right," Pippin sighed. "Dreadful isn’t it?"

"Well, it certainly is large," Merry said, not sure he should commit to dreadful just yet. Without further examination, it might be unwise to label this object as dreadful. He studied the large multi-colored pane of glass intently. The glass was made up of small sections in various shapes that formed a picture of a rather imposing looking hobbit on an impressive pony or horse or something from that group of equines. The hobbit held a bow in one hand and the pony’s reins in his other hand. He had a fierce scowl on his face and the pony looked nearly as wicked as the mounts of the Nazgul had looked before they were washed away by the combined magic of Lord Elrond and Gandlaf.

"Who is this supposed to be?" Merry asked, hoping that it wasn’t supposed to be Pippin’s father.

"Why, Meriadoc Brandybuck, don’t you recognize Bandobras Took? That’s the Bullroarer himself," Pippin said, pretending to be shocked that Merry hadn’t known this.

"Oh, my," Merry said. "The Bullroarer looks a bit too full of himself doesn’t he?"

"The Bullroarer looks like a very evil hobbit in that painting on the glass and his horse looks like the sort to trample small hobbits under it’s hooves," Pippin said, shaking his head. "It goes without saying that my father loves this painting."

Merry laughed. "What does he plan to do with it? Is he going to leave it out here in the barn? I hope not because I think it will frighten the ponies."

"Oh, no, he plans to have it installed in place of the window that is in his study now," Pippin sighed. "This dreadful thing will cover the lovely window that looks out of his study into that nice little garden. You won’t be able to see the little garden anymore, just the Bullroarer and his evil steed."

"Why would anyone want a window that you can't see through?" Merry asked, scratching his head.

"I don’t know," Pippin said. "Seems like such a shame to block the view of the garden. The window will be right behind father’s desk and so when anyone comes to see him on business, they will have to face the Bullroarer as well as my father."

"That should decrease the amount of visitors that your father receives," Merry said. "Oh, and just think, Pip. Some day this lovely piece of glass will be yours!’

"Oh, no it won’t," Pippin said. "No, I plan to pay some lad with a good arm to throw a rock through the Bullroarer as soon as I become the Thain. I’m not having that looking over my shoulder all day."

"Good thinking, cousin," Merry grinned and started to get up. He was tired of being eye to eye with this unflattering image of Pippin’s ancestor.

Suddenly, there was a commotion just behind him and as Merry stood and turned he noticed that a pony was coming straight for him. "Merry, look out!" Pippin yelled. Pippin was standing across from him and Merry reached out and shoved his cousin out of the way as the pony charged into the barn. Two hobbits were chasing after it with ropes in hand. It must be a new pony that the stable hands were trying to break to a saddle. Merry saw, with relief, that Pippin was on his feet and out of the pony’s way. The animal bolted into the barn and reared up next to Merry who dodged out of it’s way.

The two hobbits who had been in pursuit of the animal now caught up and began trying to gain control of it as it snorted and tossed it’s head in anger. Merry was very close to the pony but there wasn’t anywhere to go at the moment. He was caught between the pony and the Bullroarer. He had a second to reflect that he wasn’t sure which looked angrier and then he was forced into the multi-colored glass panel as the flank of the pony hit him hard in the shoulder.

The pony raced head-long into the barn with the two hobbits waving and yelling and running after it heedless of Merry who was now laying on the barn floor amid the shattered remains of the Bullroarer’s image. Pippin, still on his feet in spite of everything, came over to Merry’s side and knelt carefully next to his cousin."I think this might have worked out better than your rock idea, Pip," Merry said, trying to raise up a bit. "It’s cost you less at any rate."

Pippin snickered. "This is not going to go over very well with father." He then frowned and looked over at Merry who was becoming just a bit too pale. "Merry, what’s wrong? Are you hurt?" He laid his hand on Merry’s shoulder and began to look him over critically. Something wasn’t right and he was beginning to get a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. There was glass everywhere and, and blood! Merry’s blood. "Merry, you’re bleeding."

"I don’t feel too well, Pippin," Merry admitted. "You might want to help me into the smail. There is a rather sharp pain running down my right leg and-" Merry stopped speaking. He had raised his hand away from where it had been against his right thigh and was holding it at eye-level. His hand was covered in blood. He and Pippin now looked down at Merry’s leg and saw that it was covered in blood also. Blood seemed to be pouring out of Merry at an alarming rate. Merry could feel himself becoming light-headed and sick. "Pippin, I think I’m going to pass out," he murmured, faintly. His own voice sounded strange to his ears and he leaned his weight against Pippin’s shoulder.

"Oh, no you don’t, Meriadoc," Pippin objected in a voice that was far too loud and far too high to disguise the worry in it. Pippin supported Merry while removing his own jacket and attempting to wrap it around Merry’s thigh. He had to stop this bleeding quickly. "Someone get a healer now!" Pippin yelled at full volume.

It kept Merry from passing out because Pip was so close to his ear but it did nothing to calm Merry’s fears. He was dying! He was truly dying in the Took’s barn! He was bleeding to death from wounds inflicted on him by the glass image of the Bullroarer! A small bark of a laugh escaped him and he mumbled to Pippin. "Looks like the Bullroarer has slain another."

"The Bullroarer looks far worse at present than you do, Merry," Pippin said, softly, puling his scarf from around his neck and wrapping it around the upper part of Merry’s thigh. He’d seen this done once in Minas Tirith. He only hoped it didn’t have the same end results as it had that time. It had stopped the blood, but the lad on which the healers had used this method, had lost his leg. "Please let this be the right thing to do. Please let me stay calm enough to save Merry. Please." Pippin was talking softly to himself and he had no idea that he was saying anything out loud. He twisted his scarf tightly around Merry’s leg until he heard Merry groan.

"Easy, Pip," Merry managed through the fog that seemed to be filling his eyes. "Don’t panic, you’re doing just fine."

Pippin laughed, weakly. It was so like Merry to encourage him and to help him, even now. "Sit still, Merry. You and I will best the Bullroarer yet. He’s not winning this battle." Pippin watched as the blood flow began to slow. "It’s working, Merry. You’re going to be fine," Pippin said, as relief flooded through him. Merry didn’t hear him just now, he’d passed out against Pippin’s shoulder thinking of the two of them beating the Bullroarer.

"Help! Someone get help!" Pippin was fairly screaming now and from behind him he could hear footsteps approaching. He continued to scream for help until one of the hobbits that had been chasing the pony arrived, looked down at the two cousins seated on the barn floor surrounded by all of the colored shards of glass and blood, and nearly emptied his stomach. "Get a healer now!" Pippin’s voice was strained, but commanding and the other hobbit ran off in search of help.

Pippin sat there, cradling Merry’s head against his shoulder and keeping the scarf twisted tightly against Merry’s thigh. It seemed that they sat that way for ages and waited. Pippin listened to his own heat pounding in his ears and Merry’s faint breathing. There was so much blood. Pippin’s coat was soaked with it as was Merry’s trouser-leg. When the healer and several others arrived, they couldn’t tell which hobbit was bleeding. Both were covered in blood and very pale.

Before anyone could ask, Pippin spoke, "Do something. Merry’s right thigh is cut deeply and he's lost a great deal of blood. I think he’s stopped bleeding, but if I let go of this scarf, I suspect that it will likely start again. I don’t know what to do."

The healer, Marcus Grubb, knelt beside of Pippin and began taking stock of the situation. "Hold fast to that scarf of yours, Master Pippin. You’re doing a fine job. Now, just let me have a look see." Marcus checked Merry’s breathing and then moved on to examin the wound. As he examined the young Brandybuck, he gave orders to others around them while Pippin concentrated all of his efforts on keeping pressure on the scarf. At some point, Alford Took and Pearl pulled Pippin to his feet and moved him back from Merry. Pippin was still holding the blood-soaked scarf in his hands. The healers had managed to clean and stitch Merry’s wounds and Pippin and his scarf had been relieved of their task. Now Merry was in the hands of the healers and Pippin could only watch and hope.

_____________________________________

"Pippin?" Merry sat up as far as he was able. He looked confused and a bit panicky.

Esmeralda ran a hand through her son’s hair and whispered, "It’s alright, Merry-lad. I’m here and Pippin is still celebrating his birthday. You rest."

"I guess I was dreaming again," Merry said, softly and lay back down. "Pippin and I were in the barn again fighting the Bullroarer."

"Go back to sleep, dearest," Esmeralda smiled. "You and Pippin won that one."

     Chapter 11                        "Birthday Cake"

Pippin slowly opened the door to his room, hoping not to wake Merry and yet wanting Merry to be awake. Frodo stood behind him, also hoping that Merry would be awake. The room was mostly dark save for the light from the fireplace. As Pippin slipped into the room followed by Frodo, his aunt spoke in a soft voice. "How did the party go, lads?"

Pippin grinned, walked over and knelt beside of her chair. "I suppose that it might have been worse," Pippin whispered. "I guess Merry is asleep, isn’t he?"

Esmeralda smiled at her nephew. She could hear the disappointment in his voice. Frodo slid into the empty chair and looked over at Esmeralda.

"Not now that you’re here," Merry said, trying to sound annoyed. "You never could whisper."

"Sorry, Merry," Pippin said, though he wasn’t really. He had wanted nothing more than to talk to his older cousin just now.

"He’s slept enough for the present," Esmeralda said, reaching over and ruffling Pippin’s hair. "I suspect he’s been looking forward to hearing all about the party anyway."

"Yes, Pippin, tell me, how was the cake?" Merry asked. "How many pieces did you eat this year?"

"That’s not funny, Merry," Pippin sighed. "I only did that the one time you know."

Esmeralda chuckled. "From what I can remember of it, once was enough."

"Have I heard this story?" Frodo asked.

Pippin groaned. "If you haven’t, then I suppose that someone here will be willing to tell it to you. My evening won’t be complete until I’m totally humiliated."

"Well, in that case, we had better get this one told," Merry said. "Climb up here and sit on the bed, Pip. I hate to humiliate you when you have no place to sit."

"I’m fine," Pippin assured him. "I don’t want to risk hurting your leg."

"You won’t hurt me, Pippin," Merry said. "Come on up here and get comfortable. I may want to tell more than one humiliating story."

"If you’re sure," Pippin said, a bit worriedly.

"I’m sure," Merry said.

Pippin eased himself onto the bed next to Merry and leaned against an extra pillow while Merry raised himself up a bit. "Get comfortable, Frodo," Merry instructed. "It seems that I’m about to tell another story."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"There you are," Merry grinned as he entered his bedroom to find his younger cousin curled up on the bed. "I’ve been looking of you."

"Why?" Pippin asked, weakly, drawing his knees up closer to his chest.

"Pip, are you all right?" Merry frowned, moving closer to the bed. He looked at his cousin who was practically curled into a knot. Both of Pippin’s arms were wrapped around his stomach and then his knees were pulled up tight against them. He could see that Pippin was trying hard not to move.

"I’m fine, Merry," Pippin mumbled. "Just go away and let me sleep."

Merry frowned and sat down on the edge of the bed. This caused Pippin to moan. "I can’t go away, Pip. You’re in my bed, remember?"

"Oh, well, you aren’t sleepy yet are you?" Pippin asked, weakly.

"I wasn’t really thinking about going to bed just yet," Merry admitted. "I was just looking for you. I missed you at the party and so I thought I’d come and find you."

"You were busy with that lass when I left," Pippin mumbled. "I don’t know how you had time to miss me." He tried to pull his knees in closer and turned his face away from his older cousin.

"Oh, now I get it," Merry sighed. "You’re angry with me because I didn’t spend as much time with you at the party as I normally do."

"Any," Pippin muttered.

"What?" Merry frowned, not sure he’d heard correctly.

"You didn’t spend any time with me," Pippin said, and then he groaned.

"Well, I may have gotten a bit busy, Pip," Merry admitted. "I didn’t mean to neglect you. It’s just that I’m older now and I do have to spend some time with my other party guests don’t I?"

Merry had just turned twenty-two and there had been quite a few very pretty young hobbit lasses that seemed to want to wish him a happy birthday this evening. Merry hadn’t minded this at all.

"I was a party guest," Pippin said, still not uncurling.

Merry sighed. When he and his mum had made the guest list, his mum had asked if maybe this year he shouldn’t invite a few younger lads to the party so that Pippin would have someone to play with, but Merry had assured her that Pippin would be fine among the older crowd. "I’ll look out for him, Mum. He doesn’t spend much time with the lads his age and so he’d only be bored with them. There’s no sense in turning my twenty-second birthday party into a children’s party." Maybe his mum had been right. Maybe Pippin had been lonely at the party. With the exception of Pippin, most of Merry’s close friends were a bit older than he was. Merry had simply been busy and hadn’t realized that Pippin was bored.

"You are right, Pip," Merry said. "You are a party guest too and I guess that I haven’t been very nice, have I?"

Pippin burrowed his face into the blankets on the bed and mumbled something that Merry could quite hear. "What, Pip?"

"I said, that’s all right, Merry," Pippin said. "I’ll just sleep a while and you can go back to your party."

"Why don’t you come with me, Pip?" Merry suggested. "I promise not to ignore you any more tonight. You can spend time with me and Frodo."

"That’s all right, Merry," Pippin said. "I think I’ll just stay here and rest." He pulled his knees up again and moaned.

Merry frowned. "Pippin, are you feeling alright?"

"I’m fine." Pippin shifted slightly as if trying to get comfortable and then moaned.

"No you aren’t," Merry objected. "Now, you tell me what’s wrong." He put his hand on Pippin’s forehead to check for a fever, but the child didn’t feel warm. Pippin continued to squirm uncomfortably. "Peregrin Took, don’t make me get my mum in here."

"You can get her if you want to," Pippin moaned. "I think I’m going to be sick, Merry."

Merry popped up off of the bed and turned to the door of his room. He would go and get his mother. "Lay still, Pip. I’ll be right back."

When Merry returned with Esmeralda Brandybuck, Pippin was still in the same position on the bed. "I think he’s feeling pretty awful, mum," Merry said, worriedly.

"You go back and see to your other guests, Merry," Esmeralda advised. "I will look after Pippin."

"But don’t you think-"

"Go on, Merry," Esmeralda said, pushing her only child toward the door. "I will take care of Pippin."

"Merry? Don’t tell, please?" Pippin begged, but he still didn’t move. He didn’t want the older lads and lasses to know that he was sick. He was embarrassed enough as it was that Merry knew.

"I won’t, Pip, I promise," Merry said and with one last look at his mum, he left, reluctantly.

"Peregrin Took, what have you done?" Esmeralda asked, sitting on the bed next her fourteen-year-old nephew.

"I don’t think the cake agreed with me. My stomach hurts," Pippin admitted.

"I see, well, I’ll go and get you something for the pain," Esmeralda said, reassuringly.

"Hurry, please," Pippin whined. "It really hurts."

"I will," Esmeralda smiled. "How much of the cake didn’t agree with you?"

"I lost count," Pippin admitted.

Esmeralda got up to go and get the child some medicine for his stomach. She personally, could remember giving Pippin two slices of cake during the evening. She wondered just how much he’d had altogether.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pippin laughed, embarrassed.  "You see, Frodo, I had spent most of Merry's party conducting an experiment."

"Some experiment," Merry laughed.  "What you'd done was stuff yourself."

"Now, that is not altogether true, Merry.  I didn't stuff myself.  Others kept doing it for me," Pippin objected. 

"I doubt that you minded terribly," Esmeralda said.  "That is, until later, when you got the full affect of it all."  She smiled at her nephew.  "Why don't you continue telling it from here, Pippin?  I'm sure that Frodo would love to hear how the experiment went."

"Yes, Pip," Frodo said.  "What happened next?"

"Well," Pippin smiled and continued the tale.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pippin was sulking. Merry wasn’t paying any attention to him at all. His favorite cousin had spent most of the night surrounded by lasses. Then, when he wasn’t with the lasses, he was with Frodo or some of the other older lads. Pippin was completely left out of things. Frodo had spoken to him a couple of times and had even given him the rest of his piece of cake to finish, but Merry had been too busy for him.

Well, then Pippin would just see who else was about and find someone else to spend time with. He’d show Merry. Later, when Merry wanted to spend time with him, he’d be too busy. He scanned the room and saw Fredegar Bolger over by the food table. Fatty liked him alright. He’d go see him.

"Hullo, Fatty," Pippin grinned. "What are you doing?"

"Well, hullo there Pip," Fredegar had grinned. "I was just going to go out and have a smoke."

"Oh,’ Pippin frowned. If his aunt or uncle caught him outside with the pipe-smokers, he’d be in trouble even if he wasn’t smoking.

Fredegar frowned. The poor lad looked upset about something. "Here, Pip, why don’t you have some of this wonderful cake?" He cut a generous slice of the cake off and put it on a plate. He handed it to Pippin and smiled. "Now, that should make things better, shouldn’t it? I know cake always makes me happy."

Pippin watched Freddy go and then looked at the cake. Oh, well, at least I got some cake out of that. Just as he was finishing his cake, his older sister Pervinca came over. Well, spending time with Pervinca might be alright. "Hullo, Vince," Pippin said, sitting down his empty cake plate. "What are you doing?"

"Shhhhh, Pippin," Pervinca hissed. "I’m trying to see who that lass is over there talking to Tobias Grubb."

Pippin raised up on his toes and tried to see where Tobias was. "Why do you care?"

"Because I, well, I just do, so there," Pervinca said, frowning at him. "Where’s Merry?"

"I dunno," Pippin admitted. "Last I saw of him, he was with some lass." He looked at his toes and then looked up at his older sister. "Want me to go over and see who the lass is with Tobias?" Maybe if he could help Pervinca out a bit, she’d spend some time with him until Merry wasn’t so busy.

Pervinca coughed. "No, not so loud, Pip," Pervinca said. "I don’t want him to know that I’m checking, understand?"

Pippin considered this. "No, not really."

"Here," Pervinca said, reaching over to the table and beginning to slice a large piece of cake. "You take this and then promise me that you won’t say a word to anyone about what I just told you." She handed her brother the dish with the large piece of cake on it.

"Well, alright, Vince, "Pippin said. "Only I’m not really sure what it is that you told me."

"Even better, little brother, now enjoy your cake," Pervinca said, and then she turned and left.

That was strange to say the least, but then it was very hard to figure out what lasses were about, especially older sisters. Pippin wondered around eating the cake and trying to puzzle it out but getting nowhere. He was running out of things to do. Merry’s parties weren’t usually this dull. He sighed as he put his plate down on an empty chair.

"Pippin darling, are you having a good time at Merry’s party?" Esmeralda Brandybuck asked as she came over with an arm full of clean plates for the table.

Pippin wasn’t having a very good time except, of course, for the cake being very good, but he didn’t want to hurt his aunt’s feelings or get Merry into trouble and so he smiled. "Oh, yes, it’s a very nice party."

"Would you mind to be a dear and help me with these plates? If you do, then I’ll cut you an extra piece of cake," she winked and she handed him the plates.

All night long, Pippin found that it was remarkably easy to get all of the cake that he wanted. He couldn’t seem to get anything else, well, except his Uncle Saradoc had given him a couple of hard rolls and some cheese, but mostly all he’d been able to get from anyone was cake. No one had time to spend with him but everyone had extra cake to give away. Funny, it was never this easy to get cake at home.

To keep from becoming too bored, Pippin tried out different methods of getting cake and found that only one of them didn’t work. Pippin approached the serving table and smiled sweetly at Daffy Bolger and said, "May I have a piece of cake please?"

Daffy looked at him, frowning. "How much cake have you had already because I know I’ve seen you with at least three pieces this evening Peregrin Took."

"Well, a few, I guess," Pippin admitted.

"Then don’t you suspect that you’ve had enough?" Daffy demanded, her hands on her hips.

"I suppose I have," Pippin agreed and walked off. So far the only way that he couldn’t seem to get cake was if he asked for it.

He then turned and saw Merry leaning up against the wall on the far side of the room and talking to Estella Bolger, Daffy’s cousin. Maybe Merry could explain this cake thing to him. He was tired of waiting around to spend time with Merry at this birthday party. He’d just go over and ask. Just as he’d made up his mind on this, he felt someone take hold of the back of his shirt.

"Hold on there, Pip," Frodo said. "Where are you off to?"

"I was just going to go over and see Merry," Pippin said.

Frodo smiled at him. "Well, Merry’s a bit busy just now, but why don’t you come with me and I’ll-

Pippin hardly had to listen to the rest of this because he knew what was coming. He accepted the cake from Frodo and began to eat. Having given up on the idea of finding out how this worked, Pippin decided that it was just some sort of lucky set of circumstances. Maybe they had made too much cake this year and had to try and get rid of it. Maybe he looked unusually thin just now or very hungry though he didn’t think so. He wasn’t really hungry in the least. In fact, he was extremely full and a bit uncomfortable, but a hobbit just couldn’t turn down cake if it was offered.

Pippin smiled and paused in the telling of his cake story, "What would you have done in my place Frodo?"

"I suspect that at fourteen, I would have done exactly what you did, Pippin," Frodo laughed.

Merry smiled.  He was remembering coming back in to check on Pippin after the party and finding his mum sitting with his little cousin in much the same way as she was now sitting with him.  He remembered feeling very worried and a bit guilty because he'd neglecteed Pippin during the party.  Merry recalled the conversation that he'd had with his mum while a rather full, Pippin had slept.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"How is he, mum?" Merry asked, whispering as he entered his room a few hours later. All of his party guest were gone except the few that were staying over. He was very tired now, but also concerned about Pippin.

"He’ll be fine, Merry," Esmeralda smiled, pushing Pippin’s curls back from his forehead. The lad was sleeping finally. "He was fairly miserable there for a few hours, but he’s resting now."

"What was wrong?" Merry asked, still whispering.

"Oh, he just ate way too much cake," she said, smiling. "I don’t know why the child stuffed himself like that."

Merry shrugged. "Pippin always has loved cake."

"Yes, well, next year, we are limiting his cake to three slices," Esmeralda said, firmly. "I don’t know why little lads always think that they can charm everyone into extra cake."

"Apparently, he did a good job of it," Merry grinned. "I guess he had a better time than I thought he did. I thought he’d gotten bored, but it seems he was only sick from too much cake."

Merry grinned down at his sleeping cousin. "Seems no one can refuse you when you turn on the charm. When you get older, the lasses won’t stand a chance."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Merry was remembering this when Pippin nudged him gentle on the shoulder and said, "Merry, are you alright?"

"Oh, I'm fine, Pip," Merry smiled.  "I was just thinking is all."

"About what?' Pippin asked, hoping Merry wasn't feeling bad again.  He'd tried to sit still on the bed, but he wondered if he might have squirmed a bit too much and started Merry's leg to hurting.

"I was wondering about a certain lass," Merry said.

"Oh, you were thinking about Estella Bolger, I suppose," Pippin said, wrinkling his nose a bit and pretending to be annoyed.  "Don't worry about her because Frodo and I both danced with her."

"Did you?" Merry said.  "Well, I do want to hear about that, but she's not the lass I was thinking of at the moment."

"No?" Frodo said, curious now.  "What lass has taken your thoughts away from the lovely Estella, cousin?"

"I was wondering about Miss Diamond Took, Frodo," Merry said.  "I can't help but notice that Pip is in a much better mood and I was wondering if Miss Took had anything to do with this change of mood."

"What change of mood?" Pippin said, trying to hide his smile.  "Couldn't I just be relieved that I have gotten through another birthday?"

"I know you, Pip and that is not relief that I see in your eyes," Merry smirked. 

"I know all of you lads, and so I am leaving," Esmeralda smiled, getting up.  "If you need anything, Merry, you just send for me.  I shall leave you three lads to discuss this Diamond Took.  Oh, be warned, Peregrin, we Took lasses are not easily won." 

"I know," Pippin assured his aunt.  "I grew up in a house full Took lasses.  I suspect that I'm letting myself in for more trouble."

"So is she, I suspect," Esmeralda said, and turned to go, leaving the lads to their talk.


Chapter 12               "Dance With Me"

"Now," Merry said, as his mum closed the door behind herself. "Tell me about Diamond Took."

 "Wouldn’t you rather hear about my dance with Estella first?" Pippin asked.

 "I think you should hear that first, Merry," Frodo said, agreeing with Pippin and enjoying Merry’s impatience. "After all, we must begin at the beginning."

 "Fine then, one of you begin," Merry said. "But be warned, I do not plan to wait all evening for this story. I don’t care if you have gone and turned thirty, Pippin. I will still expect all the details of this evening and most especially anything involving you and a lass that you seem to fancy."

 Pippin blushed a bit. "I was hoping you’d be awake so that I could tell you, but your mum was here and we got off on the cake incident and this part with your poor Estella does come first."

 "Yes, it seems that Estella did a favor for me this evening and I am very sure that she is going to expect someone to compensate her for her efforts," Frodo laughed.

 "Now, this story is starting to sound interesting to me," Merry grinned. "What have you two done to my best lass?"

 "Well, I was trying to think of a way to help Pippin get acquainted with Diamond and I got the idea to enlist Estella’s help," Frodo said. "Pippin didn’t know what I was up to and so he made things a bit difficult for Estella."

 Merry frowned at his younger cousin who was still laying beside him propped up on some pillows on the bed. "What did you do?"

 Frodo laughed, "Well, I went over to see if I could convince Estella to help me and......."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam and Pippin watched as Frodo escorted Estella Bolger out onto the floor for a dance.

As he put an arm around her waist, Frodo leaned in and asked, "Estella, would you mind helping me with a project?"

 "What are you up to, Frodo Baggins?" Estella sighed, as they danced easily together.

 "Well, I have a plan that needs a lass’s touch," Frodo said, smiling.

 "Really?" Estella smiled. "You have my attention now. Is this something to do with Merry?"

 "No, this plan involves Pippin," Frodo said, as the music swelled and he turned his partner easily. Estella was a very good dancer and if Frodo hadn’t been seeking her assistance, he might have allowed himself a minute or two to enjoy her company. Merry was right about this lass.

She was frowning at him now. "Anything that involves Pippin is bound to be trouble," Estella said, slowing their dance a bit. "I think you might do well to look else-where for aide."

 "I think you might want to reconsider. At least hear me out, Estella. You may be surprised,"Frodo said, grinning at her. Merry had also been correct in his assumption that Estella and Pippin were not terribly fond of one another as of yet.

 "I will listen, but I’ve no intention of involving myself in anything that involves that crazy cousin of yours and Merry’s," Estella warned him. "Go ahead and explain yourself, Frodo Baggins."

 "Well, let us look at this from all sides, Estella," Frodo began. "You see, all I want you to do is to ask Pippin to dance."

 "You want me to dance with Pippin?" Estella asked. "I am quite sure that there is far more to this than you are telling me." She glanced over Frodo’s shoulder at Pippin now and saw that he was dancing with Bluebell Banks, a distant cousin of his on his mother’s side. "He seems to have a dancing partner."

 "Yes, well, I am sure that while he is enjoying the dance, that is not the partner that he is interested in dancing with," Frodo smiled.

 Estella stopped dancing and glared at Frodo. "You are not going to tell me that Pippin wants to dance with me are you?" She put her hands on her hips and sighed. "I won’t believe that’s so even if you swear to it. I am in no mood for practical jokes."

 Frodo took her by the arm gently and led her over to the table where the punch bowl was. "No, I am not going to tell you that you are Pippin’s heart’s desire as a dance partner," Frodo said,offering her a cup of punch. "I simply want you to dance with him while I engage the true object of his affection in a dance."

 "Are you trying to annoy Pippin at his own party, Frodo?" Estella sighed. "I don’t get along with Pippin, but I do believe that he has suffered enough for one evening. Besides, he did save Merry’s life and I am grateful to him for that." Before Frodo could speak, she continued. "It isn’t that I don’t like him, it’s only that I wish Merry liked him a bit less. Pippin is forever with Merry and where does that leave me?"

 "I am trying to tell you that I might have a way to remedy your problem," Frodo laughed. Estella continued to stare at him but said nothing so he continued, "If Pippin had a lass of his own, then you might see less of him and more of a certain Brandybuck. I should think you might be willing to help me, help Pippin, because if I am successful, then I will be helping you also."

 "What is this plan of yours and what must I do?" Estella asked.

 Frodo smiled at her. Now she was in the proper frame of mind to be of assistance. He only hoped that what he was about to do didn’t make things worse. He began to explain what was needed while Estella sipped her punch and listened.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Merry laughed. "So you wicked Baggins, you," Merry said. "You used her own desires against her? Poor darling Estella. I thought it was Pippin who gave her a hard time."

 "We’re coming to that," Frodo said. "But I do think that Pippin should tell you that part of the story."

 "I was there," Pippin said. "It was rather funny, really, Merry. You see..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The evening was not a total loss, Pippin thought. He was enjoying the dancing and every once in a while he managed to catch sight of Diamond Took as she danced by with one of the other lads at his party or chatted with some of the lasses. Once, he thought she might have looked in his direction but he wasn’t completely sure of this. Another time, he’d made up his mind to go over and ask her for a dance, but couldn’t think of how to begin.

 He wasn’t very at ease when it came to speaking with lasses. He would have thought that having so many sisters would have helped with that problem, but it didn’t. Real lasses, the pretty ones that he found himself longing to speak to or dance with, were very different from his sisters. Oh, he supposed that his sisters were very pretty, but they were his sisters. He’d grown up with them. Diamond Took was an entirely different matter. She did something to him for which he had no explanation. She made his palms sweat and his stomach ache but he was enjoying it. Was this what Merry felt for Estella Bolger?

 "Pippin, I think I owe you a dance." Pippin turned and there was Estella Bolger. How had that happened?

 "Did you just ask me to dance?" Pippin asked, looking confused.

 "Yes," Estella said, thinking that Frodo had better be right about this. "I think that I owe you a dance for saving Merry’s life."

 "Oh, that," Pippin smiled. "Merry has saved my life many times. No one owes me anything. I’m just very glad that Merry is going to be fine now."

 "All the same," Estella said, becoming somewhat exasperated. "I would like to dance with you."

 Pippin continued to smile. "Did Merry put you up to this, because if he did I won’t tell him that we didn’t dance. I know how Merry thinks we should get on together, but I know that you don’t want to dance with me, Estella."

 She wanted to scream. Now, she would appear to be begging Peregrin Took to dance with her. Why didn’t he just graciously accept her offer, be glad that someone was willing to dance with him, and allow her to get through this favor to Frodo with a small bit of dignity. "Pippin, Merry has no idea that I am asking you to dance, I-"

 "Frodo then," Pippin said. "This is Frodo’s idea isn’t it? He has decided to help Merry out a bit by making friends of us."

 He was too close to the truth now. Estella sighed, "Look, Pippin, does it truly matter that much who is responsible? Can’t we just dance and get it over with?"

"Don’t worry Estella," Pippin said. "I will tell Frodo that you asked and that I refused. Then you won’t have to dance with me."

 "You will tell Frodo that you refused to dance with me?" Estella’s eyes widened. This was too much. "You will do no such thing, Peregrin Took or I will tell Merry that you refused to dance with me. Now, you are going to dance with me and you are going to like it." She said this between clinched teeth. She felt terribly sorry for this Diamond Took lass. Frodo was about to make the poor lass miserable and sadly, she was going to help him. The things that I am willing to suffer through for you, Merry Brandybuck. She grabbed Pippin’s wrist and fairly drug him out onto the dance floor.

 Pippin put his arm around her waist, amused by her anger. "This is getting a bit desperate, don’t you think? I know you miss Merry but forcing me to dance with you is-ouch don’t bend my fingers back. It hurts," Pippin objected, as Estella began to lead in their dance.

 "Then close your mouth and dance you vile, annoying, pest or I will break several of your fingers,"Estella assured him.

 "Fine, but I’m leading. I’m the lad," Pippin said, and he began to move her expertly around the floor amid the other couples. "Poor, Merry. You are so pushy."

 "And you are not worth what Frodo is trying to do for you," Estella snapped.

 "What is Frodo trying to do?" Pippin asked, slowing down a bit, but still managing to keep his partner moving with the music. "What is going on?"

 Then the music stopped and from the band stand a voice announced. "All of you lads come to the center of the floor with your favorite lass because we are now going to dance the Springle-ring!"

 Pippin looked at Estella and wrinkled his nose a bit. "Just pretend, Pippin," Estella growled and they joined the others.

The Springle-ring is a hobbit dance that is mentioned at Bilbo’s birthday party in Fellowship Of the Ring. I have no idea how you really would go about doing this dance so forgive me for inventing a few steps for it. I am not a dancer and so you will have to use your imagination as you read this. Thanks for your patience and I hope you enjoy the dance!
G.W. 7-4-04

The Springle-ring was a very pretty hobbit dance and it could be quite complicated depending on how advanced the dancer and his partner were. It was an excellent mixer dance because almost every hobbit in the Shire, from the very young to the very old could do some form of it. It was also a good way for hobbits to met new dance partners, because at certain points in the dance, if the couple so chose, they could trade off partners. This was also a great way to learn new steps and variations because you were afforded the chance to dance with someone new.

Not all couples traded off during the dance. Some long-time partners or young hobbits who were hopelessly in love simple waved away offers to exchange partners. It was considered rude to force a trade on unwilling couples. As with most things, hobbits had very set rules of etiquette for their dances.

The Springle-ring could be done with little bells in your hand if you wanted to keep time to the music and couples using this method seldom made contact with one another but rather danced around each other. Children loved this variation as it allowed them to dance and make noise, but they didn’t have to hold hands with a lad or lass. Also by using the bells, two lads or two lasses could do the dance together. As this was a large gathering of hobbits of various ages, bells were passed around for the small children that wanted them. Once the dance was over the bells were supposed to be returned to a box on the band stand for future use, but many of the children would hang onto their bells and all of the rest of the evening tinkling noises would be heard as children ran and played with the bells still in their hands or pockets.

Estella and Pippin stood still amid the other couples on the dance floor and glared at one another while they waited for the bells to be distributed. Pippin wondered, and not for the first time, why Merry had chosen such a disagreeable lass to get serious about.

Estella Bolger was very pretty. She had lovely blue eyes that were somewhere between the color of Frodo’s deep blue ones and Merry’s blue-grey ones. Her hair was a soft brown color and fell in little waves to her shoulders. She had a nice smile which Pippin rarely received, but had seen given to others. She was always very stylishly turned out and she was quite graceful. The trouble with Estella was, well, the trouble with Estella was that she, well, what was the trouble with Estella?

“Now, Peregrin Took, don’t step on my feet once we begin this and don’t trade partners unless I indicate that I am willing to do so,” Estella instructed. That was one of the troubles right there. Estella was bossy. How did Merry tolerate this sort of thing, and from a lass?

“Anything else?” Pippin asked with a sigh.

“No, that should do,” Estella said. Pippin was such a trial! How could Frodo Baggins possible think that any lass might enjoy spending time with him? Oh, he was attractive enough. He had amazing green eyes with small flecks of gold running through them and his hair was a wonderful shade of auburn with lighter highlights trailing through it. The extra height, while Pippin didn’t yet seem to know what to do with it, made him look more mature and was, Estella thought, a definite improvement, The lad also had a wicked laugh that made others want to join in, though Estella seldom could coax so much as a smile out of him. The trouble with Peregrin Took was, well, the trouble was that he, he was just, well he was just Pippin.

“We aren’t going to make a habit of dancing together, are we? Because I’m not terrible good and bowing and scraping,” Pippin said, disgustedly. The trouble with Peregrin Took was he was a smart aleck and a wise acre. The sooner this was over the better. How could Merry stand him?

Before Estella could select an appropriate reply, the music began and Pippin slipped an arm around her waist and began leading her in small, rather rapid circles. Oh, so this was how it was going to be, was it? So you think you can wind me around and I’ll loose my footing do you? Well, think again! Determined to show her partner up, Estella increased their speed and added a few intricate steps designed to cause, the slightly awkward Took to trip up. This was starting to get interesting.
Pippin countered with twirling her in a circle and dipping her backward so that her hair nearly touched the floor. He then, while grinning at her wickedly, righted her, lifted her off of her feet, and spun her again. As soon as Estella’s feet hit the floor, she retaliated by enter-twining her arms in a fashion that put Pippin’s arms about her waist from behind and forced him to follow her lead.

Across the floor and working his partner over in their direction, Frodo was unaware that all-out war had broken out. Diamond Took was even lovelier up close than she had been when Pippin had begun to point her out across the room. She had several white ribbons running through her dark hair which was the same shade as Frodo’s was. This was not a very common color for hobbits and so, dancing together as they were, Frodo and Diamond looked a bit like brother and sister from a distance.

Diamond had the Took accent though it was not as strong as Pippin’s was. The North-Tooks had a softer brogue. She had eyes that were nearly as dark as her hair and a tiny up-turned nose. Frodo could see, instantly, why Pippin had been so smitten with merely a glance. This was a lovely lass.

He had been worried about whether or not she would accept his invitation to dance. He’d found that some lasses shied away from him since he’d returned to the Shire. He’d seen some glance nervously at his hand, focus on the missing finger, and then politely decline. Diamond Took was not of that timid sort apparently. She had smiled, taken the hand he’d offered to her and allowed him to lead her onto the dance floor. The plan was coming together quite well. Estella was dancing with Pippin and he was dancing with Diamond. Now, all that remained was the trade. He would lead his partner over in the direction of Pip and Estella and they would switch, then Pippin would have his dance with Diamond. After that, it would be up to Pippin to secure further dances and to charm this striking young Took.

As Frodo danced her across the floor, they talked a bit as they were un-un-accustom to dancing together and so were doing a very basic form of the Springle-ring. It made conversation easy. “So, are you visiting the Great Smails for a while or is this merely a short visit?” Frodo began.

“Oh, my family has been wanting to reacquaint ourselves with our cousins here and so we’ve planned a rather long visit,” Diamond said. “The Great Smails are so large and so full of Tooks that I fear we shall miss out on meeting some of them.”

“The smails can be a bit daunting,” Frodo agreed. “So, do you know the guest of honor this evening?” Frodo knew that she didn’t but thought to see what her reply might be. He wondered if she were angry about the incident with the water and apples earlier.

“Oh, you mean Peregrin Took?  No, I’ve not met him,” Diamond said, with no trace of a hint as to her feelings in her voice. “Oh, look. There seems to be some sort of a circle forming over there.”

Frodo followed her gaze and noticed that more than a few hobbits had stopped dancing and were ringing an area of the floor. “Someone must be putting on quite a show over there,” Frodo speculated.

“So it would seem,” Diamond said. “Should we have a look?”

This was not according to plan, but Estella and Pippin would be on the other side of whatever was happening and so Frodo had little choice at this point. It would be a bit to obvious if he were to dance her completely around this crowd and hand her off to Pippin. He hadn’t counted on this. Estella would be furious, but there was no help for it. He and Diamond made their way over to the circle of hobbits and found an opening. They stepped up and joined the other watchers who were clapping their hands and enjoying the show.

“There’s the guest of honor now,” Diamond said, when they could see the action. Frodo’s mouth fell open for a split second, but he quickly recovered. Estella couldn’t blame him for this. “He seems to be quite the dancer as is his partner,” Diamond observed. “Are they betrothed?”

Frodo coughed, nearly breaking into a laugh at the idea of Pippin and Estella together for life. “No, they are just long-time acquaintances,” Frodo said, avoiding the word friends. He watched amazed, as Pippin lifted Estella nearly over his head and spun her about expertly. The minute Estella’s feet touched the floor, she pulled Pippin into a two-handed spin. Their eyes were locked on one-another. Frodo recognized that look on Pippin’s face. There was a challenge in progress and his plan with Estella was ‘fair flung out the window’ as Sam might say.

A battle was taking place though the spectators encircling the dancers had no idea what they were watching. Long-time dance partners often put on displays like this at parties or gatherings. Hobbits enjoyed good dancing and they loved to watch a couple out-do themselves. It was no surprise that everyone had stopped to watch. Estella and Pippin were very good and both were trying every dance move that they knew. Only Frodo and Nell Took who was across the way and had caught Frodo’s eye, knew that this was a challenge. Pippin and Estella were each trying mightily to trip the other up.

There were three possibilities now. The music would end with both of them standing. This was the most unlikely because since the band stand was raised, the musicians would see the dancing and continue to play as long as the couple danced. Estella would fall or Pippin would fall. Frodo’s money was on Pippin being the one to fall. All of that new height had turned Pippin a bit clumsy of late. That and the fact that this was not Pippin’s night to this point, tended to sway Frodo in that direction.

“They are wonderful,” Diamond said, impressed. “Look how fast they spinning.”

At least Pippin was impressing her with his talent as a dance partner. He should have known better than to meddle in this. Nothing where Pip was concerned, ever turned out as planned. Also, he should have known better than to put Pippin and Estella together. Merry had warned him. “They are remarkable,” Frodo agreed, not wishing to be rude. He could barely take his eyes from them. Across the way, Nell Took was grinning and shaking her head. She knew trouble was coming.

Frodo watched as Pippin, while holding Estella’s dress against her legs, flipped her completely over and then sat her on her feet, smiling wickedly at her. He’s trying to make her dizzy, Frodo thought. Estella smiled back at him tightly and proceeded to began dancing him backwards. This would most certainly go in her favor. Pippin was starting to look a bit off balance now. Suddenly, as if realizing his danger, Pippin very deftly, turned them about and now Estella was backing up. Everyone was clapping and laughing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Merry shifted on the bed and snickered. “Do I want to know how this came out?”

Frodo smiled. “How do you think it came out, cousin?”

“Well, I’m guessing here, as I wasn’t present at the time. I do regret that,” Merry said. “I suspect that she finally managed to trip you, didn’t she Pip?”

“Why Merry Brandybuck, have you no faith in your cousin?” Pippin asked, trying to look affronted. “Do ye not think that years of dancing with my sisters had any affect on me a’tall?” Pippin’s brogue was in over-kill at the moment and Merry and Frodo laughed. “What happened was...”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now, Pippin and Estella were spinning one-another in small, tight circles as they moved around the large circle that had formed around them. Their eyes were still locked on one-another and they continued to build speed as they went. Several of the wiser spectators, sensing disaster, had backed up a bit. Diamond was fascinated. She leaned in closer at Frodo’s side and continued to clap along with the music. Across the way, Nell Took rolled her eyes skyward and grinned over at Frodo. Every eye in the room was on Pippin and Estella Bolger.

“That sister of Fatty’s is quite the dancer,” Frodo heard someone say.

“And that Pippin Took is right good as well, “ another announced.


“They must have practiced this for ever so long,” Diamond said, admiringly.

It was the last thing that Frodo heard before he was hit by the twirling couple and knocked to the floor. He smacked his head enough to stun himself a bit, but was in no danger of passing out. Laying on top of him was Pippin and on top of Pippin, was Estella. The crowd was laughing and clapping. Frodo moaned and tried to free an arm to rub his head. Above him he heard Pippin’s voice. “Why Estella, I’d no idea that you liked me this much.” Frodo shut his eyes and moaned.

“Let me up, Peregrin Took or I’ll wring the life out of you with my bear hands,” Estella growled. Pippin’s arms were still encircling her waist and holding her to him. She pushed at his chest and attempted to stand.

Pippin was laughing that wicked laugh of his as a couple of hobbits, one of them, Nell, helped Estella to her feet. Now, only Pippin was smashing Frodo to the floor. It was a slight improvement, but Frodo still felt that he might faint from lack of air. “I hope you’re enjoying yourself,” Estella seethed as Nell righted her.

“I must admit, you’re a fair dancer Estella,” Pippin laughed.

“Are you all right?” Diamond asked, leaning over Pippin and looking down at the giggling Took.

Pippin’s laughter stopped cold as if cut by a knife and he stammered, “I-I-I-I think so.”

“Then will you please get off of me, Peregrin?” Frodo demanded. Enough was enough.

“What?” Pippin said, confused, his eyes still on Diamond. Was that Frodo’s voice? If so, where was he?

“Pippin,” Frodo growled, pushing at his cousin’s back with his hands.

Above Pippin, Diamond held out her hand and for the second time that evening, he was helped to his feet.  This time, the hand had all of it's fingers and was connected to the loveliest lass he'd ever set eyes on.

Chapter 14 "First Meetings"

Merry was laughing so hard his whole bed was shaking. “Oh, Pip!”

‘That’s fine, blame it all on me,” Pippin sighed, giving Merry a long-suffering look. “Never mind that your lass was trying to kill me.”

“From where I was standing, it looked as if both of you were trying to kill each other,” Frodo said, rubbing his head. “Later, I thought that your intentions might be to finish off your dear, older cousin.”

Merry laughed a bit harder and managed to ask, “Are you all right, Frodo?”

“Do you truly care?” Frodo sniffed. Now he was trying to look injured and both Pippin and Merry were laughing at him.

“For a sick room, sure is loud in here,” Sam said, as he came in. “I’d have knocked like a proper hobbit, but I didn’t figure you’d hear me over all of that laughin’.”

“Come in and have a seat, Sam,” Merry said. “Frodo and Pip are just filling me in on the party.”

“From all o’ this laughin’. I’d say that they’ve gotten to the good parts,” Sam smiled.

“Oh, it’s been very good,” Merry said. “Did you get to see the dancing?”

Sam grinned as he sat down in the remaining empty chair. “Your father and I came in on the last o’ that. Just a bit before Mister Pippin and Miss Estella fell on Mister Frodo.”

“Yes, and just why didn’t you or my dear uncle Saradoc come over and rescue me from all of that weight?” Frodo asked, teasingly.

“I suppose I should have, Mister Frodo,” Sam began. “But Miss Nell told us what you and Miss Estella were up to and I didn’t want to meddle in other folkses business if you get my meaning?”

“Indeed I do, Sam,” Frodo laughed. “I think that I am through meddling also.”

“A good sharp rap on the noggin’ and some sense has been knocked into you,” Merry said.

“How did Nell know what you and Estella where up to?” Pippin asked. “Did you tell the entire group of party guests?”

“No, Pippin,” Frodo smiled. “Nell was to wait until she saw that I had secured a dance with Diamond and then she was to have the band play the Springle-ring. Silly me, I thought it a perfect choice as it would be easy to switch partners during.” Frodo rolled his eyes and sighed.

Merry laughed again. “I believe I’m enjoying this party more than any of your others, Pip,” Merry said.

“You didn’t even come to this one,” Pippin objected.

“Exactly,” Merry teased. “I may make this an annual tradition. I may just lay up in the bed each year and have all of you bring me reports, and food, of course.”

“I may join you next year,” Frodo said, rubbing his head again and grinning at Pippin.

“Besides, I won’t have a lass to go with,” Merry said. “I doubt that I will be able to get Estella within a hundred miles of Pip’s birthday party next year. Poor lass.”

“All I did was dance with her, Merry,” Pippin said. “She led half the time which isn’t proper at all, you know.”

“Still, she is my lass and it’s my duty to protect her from everyone, even younger cousins,” Merry smiled. “You do have to get over this, you know.”

Pippin plopped against his pillow and sighed, folding his arms over his chest. “I can’t help it if she doesn’t like me, Merry.”

“You could try being nice to her. That might help some,” Merry suggested, poking Pippin in the ribs.

“I would, but she’s not nice to me,” Pippin said, sounding five.

Merry snorted. “I give up. Tell me what happened with Diamond. I don’t know if I shall like her, you know.”

“Why not?” Pippin asked, distressed. He sat up and waited for Merry’s reply.

“Well, she might not be nice to me,” Merry said, seriously. “I hate when a lass isn’t nice to me, don’t you, Frodo?”

“Yes, Merry, I do hate that,” Frodo agreed.

Pippin sighed and leaned back against the pillows. “Fine, tease if you want. Maybe I just won’t tell you what happened with Diamond.”

“Well, it is your business and if you don’t want to tell me then I suppose that’s up to you,” Merry said. “Tell me where Fredegar got off to, Frodo.”

“Honestly, Merry,” Pippin interrupted. “You know I can’t not tell you!”

Merry, Frodo, and Sam all laughed. “Well, then tell me.” Merry said, grinning. “Frodo can fill me in on Fredegar’s doings later, I suppose.”

Pippin groaned. “I came up here just to tell you, you know. It just seems that other things keep coming first and I never get to.”

“Pippin, tell me what happened with Diamond Took before I explode,” Merry said.

Pippin grinned, a bit shyly. “Well, if you insist, Merry.......”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pippin accepted the offered hand and got to his feet. He couldn’t stop looking at her. She was beautiful and he was holding her hand. Diamond returned his look and then glanced down at their hands, not sure what to do. Pippin wasn’t letting go.

Frodo stood behind them and sighed. Of all times for Pippin to be struck speechless! Nell had led a fuming Estella over to a group of lasses who were now complimenting her on her dancing skills. It seemed to be softening her mood somewhat from all Frodo could tell. In front of him Pippin continued to stare goofily at Diamond. Her hand was still in his grasp and he seemed unable to let go.

“I’m going to see about my head,” Frodo said, smiling at Diamond and unsure as to if Pippin had even heard him. “Why don’t you two have a dance?” No movement from Pippin and a small smile from Diamond. Frodo put his hand firmly on Pippin’s shoulder in an effort to bring the Took back to earth and said, “Peregrin Took, this is your cousin, Diamond Took of Long Cleeve..”

As if by years of training, Pippin said, “Peregrin Took at your service and that of your family’s.” He still had her hand.

“Good luck,” Frodo said, and shaking his head, he left them.

“I’m most pleased to make your acquaintance, Peregrin,” Diamond said.

“You are?” Pippin said, surprised.

Diamond giggled a bit. “Did you think I wouldn’t be?”

“W-w-well, I did, ah, well there was that bit earlier with all of that water,” Pippin said, looking down at his feet and away from her face for the first time since she’d helped him up.

“I see,” Diamond said. “That may explain why you’re still holding my hand then. You think I might run off.”

“Oh, I am so sorry, I forgot I, well, I just,” Pippin released her hand and backed up a step. “You must think I’m an idiot.” He was blushing a bit now as he looked back at her.

“I don’t know you well enough to determine that, Peregrin Took,” Diamond said. “So far, I don’t believe I’ve seen you at your best this evening.”

Pippin swallowed hard and sighed, “Yes, you have. I’m mostly just like this all the time, only I talk more.”

“Do you ever ask a lass to dance when you are talking more?” Diamond inquired, still smiling at him. He was rather cute in an awkward sort of way. He did seem to like her too, or he was afraid of her. It had to be one or the other.

“I have before,” Pippin said. “I’m not very good at that, but I have asked before.” Pippin looked over at her and smiled. “I’m sorry about the water. I never meant to do that. Some folks will say that I do things like that as pranks all of the time, but that wasn’t a prank at all. I didn’t mean to drench you at all. I just fell.” He rushed through this apology before he could lose his nerve. She was so very pretty and she was standing there looking at him as if it mattered what he might say.

“I didn’t think it intentional,” Diamond assured him. “I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to do a thing like that. It looked to me as if you lost your footing.”

She was nice too! She wasn't at all angry with him for what had happened. “I hope I didn’t ruin your frock. It was a lovely color. Oh, but you look very lovely in my sister Nell’s frock too,” Pippin said.

“How did you know this was your sister’s dress?” Diamond asked, smiling.

“I just notice that sort of thing, I guess,” Pippin said. “I’ve seen it before, on Nell and in her closet. Not that Nell was wearing it and standing in her closet, I mean it was just hanging there when she wasn’t wearing it and I-“ Pippin stopped. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to breathe. This was no way to talk to a lovely lass. Not if he ever expected her to speak to him again.

Diamond was trying hard not to laugh. She didn’t want to hurt the lad’s feelings. This was the strangest conversation she’d ever had. She wasn’t trying to make him nervous. It just seemed to be working out that way.

“I don’t suppose any of that is awfully important, is it?” Pippin said. “I really did want to say how sorry I am is all.”

“Apology accepted,” Diamond said, smiling at him. “Are all of your birthday parties this interesting? If they are, I shall have to make an effort to attend more often.”

“You’d come again? Even after all of this?” Pippin was frankly amazed.

“Yes, I believe that I would,” Diamond said. Then after a slight pause she said, “Your cousin, Frodo is a very good dancer.”

“Frodo is mostly good at everything and very nice as well,” Pippin agreed.


“I’m afraid I didn’t get to finish my dance with him earlier,” Diamond said. “We both got caught up in watching you and that lass that you were dancing with. You are both quite good.”

“Thank you,” Pippin said.

“Is she a close friend?” Diamond asked.

“Oh, not really,” Pippin said. It was hard to think of Estella as a friend, much less a close friend. “She is my cousin Meriadoc’s, well, they see one another is all. I just know her.”

“You must enjoy dancing a great deal to be that accomplished,” Diamond said. It was becoming a game for her now. How long would she have to hint around before this lad asked her to dance? Could she even get him to ask her? Did he want to ask her?

“My older sisters taught me to dance,” Pippin said. “I like it well enough.”

Diamond smiled. “Well, it’s been very nice meeting you and being a guest at your birthday party. I do have to say that I have enjoyed myself and have met quite a few very nice hobbits.” She extended her hand to him and he took it. At least he didn’t have any trouble doing that.

“I’m awfully glad that you’ve had a nice time,” Pippin said, looking at her as if he’d never seen a lass before in all of his thirty years of life. “I hope that you will come again next year.”

“I’d like that very much,” Diamond assured him and squeezed his hand lightly. “Now, I think I shall go in search of a dance partner. The music is lovely this evening.” With that, she turned and walked into the crowd, leaving Pippin staring after her.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Merry groaned and poked Pippin in the ribs. “You mean after all of this, you let her slip off? Why doesn’t anyone look out for you when I’m not around?”

“I did my best,” Frodo said.

“Someone does, Merry,” Pippin said, grinning over at his older cousin.

“Yes, well, they don’t do a very good job of it,” Merry said. “I would have come over there and talked some sense into that stubborn little brain of yours if I’d been there.”

“It was a bit like you were there, Merry,” Pippin smiled. “I hate to admit it, but that pushy Estella Bolger just may be the right lass for you.”

“What does Estella have to do with this?” Merry said. “Oh, and she’s not pushy.”

“She is too,” Pippin objected. “And I can prove it.....”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Across the room, Frodo and Nell had been watching the exchange. They couldn’t hear anything that was being said but they were both hopeful when the conversation lasted so long that Pippin might be doing well. When they saw Diamond making her exit, they were a bit confused.

“What do you suppose has happened?” Nell frowned.

“I don’t know,” Frodo admitted. “It seemed to be going well enough from over here at least.”

“Oh, the poor lad,” Nell sighed. “I wonder what he’s said to her?”

“When I left them, he was having trouble saying much of anything,” Frodo laughed. “Either that changed, or she ran out of things to say while waiting for him to get up his nerve.”

“Well, I suspect that we should go over and get him,” Nell sighed. “If not, he’ll stand there all night looking lost.”

“Wait a minute,” Frodo said. “It looks as if Estella is going to go and get him.”

“That can’t be good,” Nell objected, but Frodo took hold of her arm. “Let’s wait and see.”

Across the room Estella Bolger joined Pippin on the dance floor amid the couples who were dancing and tapped him on the shoulder. He jumped as if she’d slapped him and turned to look at her. “Oh, Estella. You’ve come to yell at me haven’t you?”

“I have, but not for what you think,” Estella said. “Did you ask that lass to dance?”

“No,” Pippin said, softly. “She was very nice about the water and accepted my apology and she said that she’d come to my party again next year, but no, I didn’t ask her to dance.”

“Why not?” Estella demanded, hands on her hips.

“She wouldn’t want to dance with me,” Pippin said.

“Then she’s a smart lass, but she didn’t look that clever from where I was standing,” Estella said. “In fact, she looked as if she might just like you a bit.”

Pippin sighed. He then brightened a bit and said, “Well, then I shall have to ask her when she comes to my party next year. Maybe you’re right and she will dance with me.”

“Honestly, Pippin!” Estella said. “I don’t know how Merry has managed to get you this far in life. If she likes you, then she might dance with you now, if you’ll ask her. If you wait an entire year, she might find someone else that she enjoys dancing with and not give you a second look you silly Took.”

“Why do you care?” Pippin asked, cocking his head to one side and eyeing her suspiciously.

“You know very well why I care,” Estella said. “I would like for you to do something beside follow Merry about so that I might get a chance to see just how much I like him. If you don’t dance with this lass, that may not happen.”

“Merry wouldn’t want you to give up on him,” Pippin said. “For some reason he seems to fancy you.”

“And I fancy him,” Estella said. “But we aren’t talking about Merry and me, we are talking about you and Diamond Took. You seem, in your own rather odd way, to fancy her. Am I wrong?”

“No, you aren’t wrong,” Pippin said.

“Then find her and ask her to dance,” Estella instructed.

“What if she was only being polite before and she doesn’t really want to dance with me?” Pippin asked, worriedly.

“Then she’ll say so and you’ll be no worse off then you are now,’ Estella advised. “I don’t think anyone will be able to stand it if you moon about over this lass until your next birthday. Now, ask her.”

Pippin sighed, “I suppose I could.” He turned and began to walk in the direction that he’d seen Diamond go while Estella, exasperated, watched. How did Merry do this all of the time? Why did he bother? This was just far to much work is what this was.

He found her standing alone near an open door with her back to him and nearly lost his nerve again. Her dark curls hung to the middle of her shoulder blades and white ribbons were hanging all through them. He cleared his throat and she turned to face him and smiled. “I wanted to aks you something,” Pippin began, gathering his nerve.

She walked over to meet him and smiled a bit more. “What was it that you wanted, Peregrin?”

“Would you do me the honor of allowing me to dance with you?” Pippin said, looking into her dark eyes.

She took his hand. “I would be delighted, though I thought you might never ask.”

Pippin smiled, “It was a bit difficult for me, but I’m very glad that I managed it.” He led her onto the dance floor and they began to dance.

Across the room, Nell put her hand on Estella’s shoulder and asked, “What did you say to him?”

“I think I used Merry against him,” Estella said.

Frodo laughed. “You’re learning.”

Nell smiled and watched her younger brother lead Diamond along the floor. “They look suited to one another.”

“Now, Nell,” Frodo cautioned. “It’s only one dance.”

“Yes, but still,” Nell smiled. Frodo followed her gaze and watched Pippin dancing with the object of his affections. He could she that Pippin was saying something to her and Diamond was laughing. They both seemed to be enjoying themself a great deal. Still, it was only a dance.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sometime later, Saradoc Brandybuck came into the room to check on Merry. All of Merry’s guests were gone except one. Pippin lay sound asleep next to Merry on the bed, still in his party clothes. Merry was also asleep. His son had draped a protective arm across his younger cousin and both were snoring lightly.

Saradoc smiled to himself. Here he’d been worried that both lads had grown up during the quest and had returned to the Shire completely changed. He had worried that his Merry would never be able to return to a normal life. He had watched Pippin jump at the slightest sound and reach for a sword that he wasn’t wearing. He had watched Merry leave a lantern lit in his room at night and wondered if his only son would ever sleep peacefully in the dark again. They were, both of them, changed. That was true enough, but there still remained a great deal of the two lads that he had watched grow up.

He laid a blanket over Pippin who was just resting on top of the covers and holding a white strand of ribbon in one hand. He pushed a stray lock of Merry’s hair out of his eyes. They were going to be just fine. It would take some time, but these two, at least, would be fine. "Good night, my dearest Merry and many happy returns of the day, Pippin," Saradoc whispered as he left them.






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