(The year is 1451, so Faramir is 21, Merry is 24, Pippin is 22, Hamfast is 19 and Periadoc is 16. Merry, Pippin, Goldilocks and Hamfast are the children of Sam and Rose Gamgee. Faramir is the son of Pippin and Diamond Took. Periadoc is not accounted for by the family trees and is my character; he is Merry and Estella Brandybuck’s oldest child. His name, however, is taken from Llinos and Marigold’s Hobbits Abroad.)
It was Faramir’s idea, as all the best ideas were. Had Goldilocks been there, she would have thought the details through with greater care, spotted the more obvious pitfalls and therefore avoided them. As things were, Goldilocks had been left (quite unhappily) behind in the Shire, and the five hobbit-lads had to fend for themselves. It is little wonder that things went awry.
The idea itself was splendid, they all quite agreed. They shared an enthusiasm for the stories of Bilbo Baggins’ adventure, and, as they were presently visiting Eryn Lasgalen, formerly Mirkwood itself, and staying in the very elven palace where the dwarves had been imprisoned, the story of the great barrel escape was naturally in the forefront of their minds. They had had some debate, however, on how this feat had actually been achieved. Could a dwarf really fit in a barrel? Could said dwarf then actually survive being tossed into the river, still within the barrel, until coming to safe ground?
While no one entertained the thought of actually traveling to Laketown in this most uncomfortable manner, Faramir hit upon the idea of one of them climbing into an empty barrel, the others closing the top, and then receiving a first-hand report on what it was like inside. The question of who would give this first-hand report immediately arose, and poor Hamfast (quite often the victim of Faramir’s splendid ideas) found himself elected. Merry and Pippin -- Gamgee, that is -- jointly appointed him the task “because we said so, that’s why,” but Faramir used a more diplomatic approach: they could not use Periadoc, who was merely 16 and whose well-being the older lads were responsible for, and nor would he or Hamfast be able to convince the older and larger Merry and Pippin to climb into the barrel. That left Faramir and Hamfast, and using the somewhat bewildering yet nonetheless persuasive argument of, “And I can’t do it, because this is my plan and I must make certain it is carried out correctly,” Faramir soon had Hamfast being willingly lowered into an empty wine barrel by his older brothers.
Once Hamfast was in the barrel, the three older lads firmly secured its lid. “So, what’s it like?” Faramir called into through the hole that had once held the tap.
“It smells like wine,” Hamfast answered unimaginatively.
Pippin thumped the barrel lid. “We know that, ninnyhammer. What else?”
There was some shifting and humming from within the barrel before Hamfast answered. “Well, it’s not that cramped, but I guess it would be worse for a dwarf. I’d get banged around a lot, though, if it were going down the river. It’s dark and musty. I think it’s more like being in a hole in the ground than it is like being in a closet or something.”
“Do you think the dwarves actually rolled around in there?” Merry asked. “See how much you can twist around.”
“I’m smaller than a dwarf, Merry,” Hamfast pointed out logically, but then began twisting himself about in the barrel when Merry kicked the side of it. “I -- umph -- don’t think -- ungh -- a dwarf would really -- drat -- roll about much,” he reported after a period of thumping and banging from the barrel.
“Can I get out now?” Hamfast concluded.
The three oldest lads conferred for a moment, then decided there wasn’t really anything else they really needed to know about being inside a barrel, and went to pull the lid off.
It would not come.
Merry and Pippin got on either side of the lid and tried tugging together. It still did not budge.
“Hoy!” Hamfast squeaked. “Let me out now!”
“Just another minute, Hammie,” Faramir hastily assured him, then directed Periadoc to put his smaller fingers under the rim of the lid and see if he could gain some purchase. But the lid was too close to the side of the barrel, and there was no room for even Periadoc’s small fingers.
The four lads stared at each other with wide eyes. Merry and Pippin -- Brandybuck and Took, that is -- would be most displeased by having to pry Hamfast out of a wine barrel, and the five lads had done quite a lot already on this trip to displease the Master and the Thain.
“There must be some kind of tool they use to get these lids off,” Faramir said sensibly. “We just need to find it.”
Merry and Pippin and Faramir began searching the room (which they were not supposed to be in in the first place) while Periadoc poked a comforting finger through the taphole to Hamfast. “Don’t worry, Hammie,” he said. “They’ll have you out soon.”
“Is the lid STUCK?” Hamfast cried, nearly squealing on the last word as he realized the dreadful truth. He followed by banging on the lid from the inside, but this also proved futile.
Pippin uncovered a metal rod with a shorter, curved end that seemed intended to pry lids off of barrels, and easily hooked the curved end between the barrel and the lid. Nothing happened. Merry joined his brother and both of them put their weight onto the longer end of the rod, but to no avail. Either they had hooked the rod into the lid incorrectly, or they simply were not tall enough to provide enough leverage to pop the lid off.
The four lads looked glumly at each other, remembering the threats that had followed their illicit search for the cell Thorin had been held in. While they contemplated punishments, Hamfast pounded on the sides of the barrel and wailed, “Let me out now! It’s not fun anymore! I don’t like it in here!”
Merry thumped a fist on the barrel lid and Hamfast subsided, sniffling a little. “All right,” he said with a sigh, “I am the oldest, so I suppose it falls to me to go tell Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin. They aren’t going to be happy, though.”
Periadoc, who had never been in so much trouble in his life as he had been in on this trip, was wide-eyed. “But they will be able to get Hamfast out, won’t they?” he asked anxiously.
“I reckon,” Merry answered. “I don’t imagine the elves are going to leave him in there. Come on, Pippin, you’re coming with me. You two,” he pointed at Faramir and Periadoc, “stay here with Hamfast. We’ll be back soon.”
“Why I am coming with you?” Pippin protested. “Take Faramir -- it was his idea.”
Merry thumped his fist again, this time on the top of Pippin’s head. “Because I said so,” he growled, then turned and marched resolutely out. Pippin, scowling and rubbing his head, followed.
Faramir crouched next to the barrel. “Are you all right, Hammie?” he asked.
Hamfast sniffled. “Like you care,” was the sullen answer.
“Ah, don’t be like that,” Faramir soothed, and poked a finger into the barrel. “It was a good idea; you said so yourself. Father will bring Legolas down and you’ll be out in no time.” He wiggled his finger and Hamfast finally grabbed hold of it. A moment later, Faramir yanked his hand back with a yelp, and Hamfast giggled from within the barrel.
Faramir plopped down onto the floor next to Hamfast’s barrel, sucking his injured finger. Periadoc sat beside him. For a while, they discussed the Lonely Mountain and their upcoming visit there. Then they glumly debated how they would be punished. Then Faramir and Periadoc decided to try to count how many barrels were in the king’s storeroom, but they got confused about who was counting which barrels and lost count at 88. Then, at Hamfast’s insistence that they do something he could be included in, they began to play a word game.
After Faramir had neatly dispatched both of his opponents, it occurred to the three lads that they had been waiting quite a while for help to arrive. Then Periadoc said that he thought he had heard the dinner bell a while ago. Faramir stared very hard at the door, willing someone -- even his father in righteous anger -- to appear. When it became apparent that he could not wish rescuers into being, Faramir stood, dusted himself off, and resolutely put his hands on his hips.
“They’re not coming back, are they?” Hamfast asked woefully.
“But they said they would!” exclaimed Periadoc, who had yet in his young life to ever not do something he had said he was going to. “They know that Hamfast is stuck! How can they not come back?”
“Because,” Faramir said grimly, “they are Merry and Pippin.”
“Faramir!” Hamfast cried in a voice edged with desperation. “Don’t you leave me here!”
“Hammie,” Faramir said, a bit affronted, “I would never. I’ll go get help and Periadoc can stay here with you.” Periadoc looked a bit frightened at the thought, but nodded in agreement. Just as Faramir had reached the door, he paused, turning his head to hear better.
“Legolas!” he exclaimed. “I can hear him close by!” And he bolted out the door.
“Legolas!” Periadoc echoed, and ran after Faramir without a second thought.
“Faramir! Periadoc!” Hamfast squeaked. When he did not receive an answer, he began to silently cry, curled up in the barrel.
It was most certainly Legolas’ voice, but not so near as Faramir had thought. Then he took a wrong corner and had to turn around, which is when he discovered that Periadoc had followed him. He groused a bit at the teen-ager for leaving Hamfast alone, but figured it could not hurt much, as rescue was close at hand.
It took three wrong turns, a quarrel, near-tears from Periadoc, and a stubbed foot for Faramir, but locate Legolas they did, very close to their starting point. Faramir sighed in relief as they came around a corner to find the elf, and Periadoc ran straight to him for a comforting embrace.
“Well, hello, Periadoc,” Legolas said, gathering the lad to him. “And where have you two been? You are missing dinner, and your fathers sent me off to find you as though I were your nurse. Where is Hamfast; we must be getting up there.”
Periadoc, drawing shaky breaths of relief and clutching the front of Legolas’ shirt fiercely in his hands, said in a great gust, “Hamfast is in the barrel and it was Faramir’s idea and Merry and Pippin said they would come back but they did not and we could not make the rod work and my fingers would not fit under the lid and we heard your voice so we ran out to get you but I think we should go back for Hammie now.”
“What’s this?” Legolas asked, puzzled and amused.
Faramir’s face wore a sheepish expression that the elf was intimately familiar with. “You see, we wanted to know, first-hand, what it is like in the barrels. Because of Bilbo and the dwarves, you know,” he explained. “So Hamfast got in and told us, but then the lid would not come off. So we heard you and came to see if you would help us, though Father is going to be quite angry.”
Legolas laughed and drew Faramir into his embrace as well. “You shut poor Hamfast in a barrel? Little one, perhaps that was not the best of ideas,” he said. “But here, show me where he is and we will have him out soon enough and then we can all get to dinner. And perhaps your father need not hear about this; I know you meant no harm.”
Faramir buried his face into Legolas’ shoulder in sincere gratitude. “Thank you, Legolas,” he said, echoed by Periadoc. They were back in the storeroom in no time, Legolas calling out as they entered, “I am here to rescue hobbit-lads from barrels, though I think they should not take part in Faramir’s plans any longer after this!”
The room was silent.
“Hamfast!” Faramir bellowed. “I’m back, just like I said.” When he did not receive an answer, he went over to Hamfast’s barrel and thumped the lid. “Wake up!” he ordered.
Legolas had retrieved the metal rod and was fitting it into the lid. Now the lads could see that there was a notch to fit the curved end into before the lid could be removed. Legolas easily popped the lid off, only to reveal an empty barrel.
They stared into it. “Hamfast?” Periadoc asked in a quavering voice.
“Faramir,” Legolas sounded serious, “what barrel was it?”
Faramir was looking about frantically. “I thought it was this one, truly!” he said, but now he could see that barrel after barrel were all nearly identical. “Hammie!” he shouted, somewhat frantic.
“Hamfast!” Legolas called. “Answer me right now!”
There was no reply. “How long was he in the barrel?” Legolas demanded.
Faramir shook his head. “I don’t know,” he answered, tears forming in his eyes. “But he was fine, really, he was. And we had not been gone long when we found you.”
Legolas used the rod to open another barrel, then another, working quickly. “Periadoc,” he ordered, “go up the main corridor to the guard room and tell whomever you find there to come down here immediately, on my orders. Faramir, start hitting the sides of barrels to see if they are empty or full. Now!” he barked when both lads stared helplessly at him. Periadoc ran at full speed out of the room and Faramir began banging the sides of barrels, still yelling, “Hammie! Hamfast Gamgee, you answer me now!”
He did not receive an answer.
Merry and Pippin really did mean to get help and return. It’s just that the dinner bell rang before they had found Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin. Then Thrangilion, the most intimidating of all of Legolas’ elder brothers, came across them considering their options in the corridor outside the dining hall and firmly escorted them in and to their seats. Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin were seated at the head table, on either side of Legolas and not far from King Thranduil himself, while their namesakes were at a side table. It would have draw a great deal of attention if they had gone to speak with them.
“Someone will come along and fish Hammie out,” Merry muttered to his brother. “No point in the two of us getting all of us into even more trouble by ruining dinner.”
“Makes sense,” Pippin agreed, and then set to his grilled duck with determination.
After a bit, Legolas came down from the head table and leaned in close to the lads. “Where are the others?” he asked. “Merry and Pippin said they should be here.”
The two Gamgee lads looked at each other for a moment, and then, as one, shrugged. “I think they were poking around the lower levels,” Pippin said.
“Maybe the storeroom -- Faramir’s been going on about it,” Merry added.
Legolas sighed. “All right, I will go find them. You should keep a closer eye on them, you know,” he scolded, and Merry and Pippin looked properly remorseful, and then went back to their dinner.
Upon realizing that Faramir and Periadoc had indeed left him all alone, stuck inside a wine barrel, in King Thranduil’s storeroom, Hamfast had maneuvered his feet up against the side of the barrel and kicked vigorously while howling in outrage for several minutes. When that failed to bring rescue and instead resulted in a sore tailbone, he shifted to a more comfortable position and had a little cry. Then, tired and bored and hungry and most put-upon, he went to sleep.
He woke up because the barrel was moving. At first, he thought help had finally come, but after a few bleary moments, he realized that someone had picked the barrel up. Someone was actually carrying the barrel somewhere with him in it.
Hamfast then had the most horrifying moment yet of his young life (and between being Faramir’s best friend and Goldilocks’ younger brother, he had had many a terrifying moment) when the frightful thought came to him that someone had picked up this barrel to throw it in the River and guide it to Laketown.
“Wait! I’m in here!” he cried, but his throat closed in fear and a small squeak was all that came out. It was lost in the flow of merry elvish voices and song. Hamfast curled in around himself, hugging his knees to his chest, and wished desperately that Goldilocks had been permitted to come on this trip, certain she never would have allowed things to come to this.
Valnrithil, chief servant of Thranduil, King of Eryn Lasgalen, noticed that the barrel of wine newly delivered to the dias handled oddly, and decided to open it and verify the contents, only to discover wedged inside a terrified hobbit teen-ager in wine-soiled garments. Uncertain how to react to such a turn of events (it certainly had never happened before, and Valnrithil had been serving Thranduil longer than mortal memory could tell), Valnrithil turned to his inferior, Tinarion. This may not have been advisable, as Tinarion was well-known to be a bit excitable. It resulted in Tinarion tripping backward in his surprise, and therefore spilling the jar of wine he carried onto Thrangilion’s lap. As Thrangilion stood sputtering and scolding, Hamfast’s throat finally opened, and he let out a shriek of terror such had not been heard in that part of the world since the Battle of Five Armies.
“Hamfast?” Merry and Pippin (Brandybuck and Took, that is) said to each other before going to investigate.
“Hamfast!” Merry and Pippin (Gamgee, that is) mouthed to each other before slumping down in their chairs.
In short order, someone had pulled the now-sobbing Hamfast out of the barrel and handed him to the elder Merry, who tried to soothe the incoherent lad and make some sense out of his garbled words at the same time. King Thranduil somehow managed to look regal and annoyed and concerned all at once, and after sending Valnrithil off to find Legolas and order him to straighten this mess out, decided to ignore the entire sequence of events and continue feasting. Thrangilion glowered at the hobbits and at Tinarion before striding off to change his clothes. Elladan and Elrohir, who had come over the mountains from Rivendell with the hobbits to visit their eastern relatives, hid smiles behind their goblets. The younger Merry wondered if he could fit himself into a barrel and somehow escape to the relative safety of Laketown, while the younger Pippin listed to himself the things he was going to do to Faramir Took for bungling things further.
The elder Pippin, once reassured that Hamfast had taken no serious harm, nabbed the Gamgee lads by their ears and shook them a bit while demanding to know just how this had happened. When confronted with wide eyes and innocent shrugs, it occurred to him that this all was an elaborate punishment of the Valar’s for the many misdeeds of his own youth that he and his Merry had denied in a similar fashion. He then recalled that he had a son of his own, presently unaccounted for and most certainly responsible for this uproar, at least in part.
With a face like a stormcloud, he turned on his heel and descended to the wine barrel storeroom.
Periadoc had found three additional elves in the guardroom, and they had joined Legolas in tearing the lids off of barrels, fearful that the hobbit-lad had suffocated inside one of them. Periadoc had slumped to the floor and pressed his back up against a wall, silently crying, but Faramir was still running from barrel to barrel and pounding on the sides, yelling, “Hammie! Hammie!” His face was stricken and white with fear. The previously neat storeroom was in chaos, discarded barrel lids strewn everywhere, and barrels pushed about at random as the searching elves moved them out of the way.
No one noticed the arrival of the Thain, who stood in the doorway and watched his only child and heir scramble from barrel to barrel. He was not so good a bellower as Merry (or Estella, for that matter), but he could hold his own, so when he let loose with “Faramir!” it caught everyone’s attention.
Faramir turned so quickly he nearly fell over. “Father!” he gasped. “Father, I’ve lost Hammie!”
Pippin softened a bit at the earnest and unprompted confession, but he was still quite put out, and his voice was sharp when he answered, “Really? Perhaps you should check the king’s dining hall, where they just tried to serve him with the main course!”
The four searching elves sighed in relief and abandoned their task. “He is all right?” Legolas asked, and Pippin nodded.
“Frightened, but unharmed,” he answered, crossing the room and getting a firm hold on his son’s elbow. “Legolas, will you see that Periadoc gets returned to his father? I need to have a conversation with Faramir.”
Faramir gulped, suddenly realizing that he was most certainly in dreadful trouble. He then moved as quickly as he could to keep pace with Pippin’s longer legs, sending Periadoc a look of rue and pleading as they left the room.
Periadoc scrubbed his face with his coat sleeve, then looked up to kind, amused blue eyes.
“Come, little one, it is all right then,” Legolas said, and held open his arms. Periadoc went to him willingly, and allowed the elven prince to carry him upstairs where they could both face their fathers.
Faramir cried horrifically, but Pippin had had enough and used his belt. When he was done, he guided Faramir onto the bed and sat beside him, softly stroking his curls. Faramir would have none of it, though, and jerked away, so Pippin sighed and left his son to his misery.
At some point, Faramir fell asleep, and when he woke it was dark, save the light from one small lantern. Someone had covered him with a blanket, and a plate of cold meat, bread and fruit sat on the table. He washed his face and ate a bit, then wondered where his companions were, as he shared this room with the other four lads.
He found Hamfast and Periadoc tucked into Cousin Merry’s bed, the senior Merry in a nearby chair, reading by candlelight. “Hullo, Faramir,” he said quietly when Faramir poked his head into the room.
“Hullo,” Faramir answered, and shuffled over to the side of the bed to look at Hamfast. The younger lad’s face was peaceful in sleep, and he looked to be the same old Hammie.
“Is he really all right?” Faramir asked in a whisper when he felt Cousin Merry’s hand on his shoulder.
“He’s really all right,” came the answer. “He was just terribly frightened, so we finally gave him something to put him to sleep. He should wake up perfectly well in the morning.”
Faramir nodded, and blinked suddenly watery eyes. “Periadoc too?” he asked. “He was awful scared. I didn’t take very good care of him today, Cousin Merry.”
Merry patted his back. “He was scared, and then he was spanked, but he is fine. He wasn’t quite ready to leave Hamfast, though, and we did not want to wake you, so we put him to bed here.” As an afterthought, Merry added, “You can sleep in here with them as well if you’d like, Faramir.”
Faramir nodded and scrubbed at his eyes. “Where is Father?” he asked.
“Apologizing to the king,” Merry answered. “Which you and Periadoc will do tomorrow, as well. And to Legolas and the guards you pulled from their duty to search for Hamfast.”
“Yes, sir,” Faramir answered. He laid his cheek against the blankets and studied Hamfast’s round, familiar face with relief, his posterior not seeming to smart so much anymore. “He could have died and it would have been my fault,” he whispered, half to himself.
“But he is fine, and you will make amends,” Merry said, stroking Faramir’s hair.
“I couldn’t bear it if anything bad happened to Hammie,” Faramir replied, and then lifted his head at a sigh from the doorway. His father stood there, regarding him thoughtfully. Cousin Merry took his hand from Faramir’s head and stood up straight.
“Are they squared away?” he asked, and Pippin nodded. Father and son regarded one another for a moment, and then Pippin crossed the room and sat at the edge of the bed. He was quiet for a moment, lips pressed tightly together, before he spoke.
“Faramir, did you know that I dropped a stone in a well while we were in Moria?” he asked.
Faramir, slightly bewildered at this question, shook his head. “No, sir,” he answered. “Why did you do that?”
“Because I wanted to see how long it would take for it to hit the bottom. I did not mean any harm by it,” Pippin said. “Gandalf, naturally, was furious with me, as we were trying to pass through the mines unnoticed, and soon after, we heard noises like hammers tapping out signals. I’ve never known if they had anything to do with the stone and my insatiable curiosity.”
“Oh.” Faramir was not certain what this had to do with Hamfast, but it was clear he was supposed to learn something from it.
“Oh,” Pippin repeated flatly. “And then as we tried to leave Moria, the balrog came, and Gandalf fell. And so I have never known, either, if my foolish stone had anything to do with that turn of events or not. But before Gandalf was returned to us, I had many an agonized night, wondering if that small stone had set into motion the loss of our guide, and our friend.” Merry moved closer to Pippin, and squeezed his shoulder.
“Oh,” Faramir said again, in a completely different tone of voice. “Oh, Father.”
“Did not mean any harm does not mean did not do any harm,” Pippin said gently. He reached out a hand to run through Faramir’s curls, and was pleased when his son did not pull away. “You were fortunate today, Faramir, but you should have a care. I do not want you to ever have such nights.”
Faramir nodded, suddenly and inexplicably unable to speak, and then he dived for his father’s welcoming arms. Their embrace ended a few moments later when Faramir yawned hugely.
“Here, bed for you,” Pippin ordered, and Faramir scrambled up, nudging Hamfast over to the middle. Hammie obligingly rolled in his sleep, muttering something about “taters.”
Faramir allowed his father to pull up the covers, despite being too old to be tucked in at night, and willingly turned his face up for a good-night kiss. “Father,” he asked just before Pippin turned away, “where are Merry and Pippin?”
Cousin Merry, Faramir noted, was smiling in amusement, and Pippin elbowed him in the ribs. “Sleeping, I hope,” Pippin said. “They have a big day tomorrow.”
“Why is that?” Faramir asked around a yawn.
“Our esteemed namesakes will be spending the rest of our visit at King Thranduil’s palace reordering the storeroom,” Merry said. “I understand Legolas and the guards made quite a mess looking for Hamfast. I expect it will take the lads some days to get things back as they were.”
Faramir could not help but smirk a bit. “Father,” he said, “I did not say anything about Merry and Pippin being with us today.”
Pippin smiled. “No, and I am glad you are loyal to your friends, Faramir, though it seems they have a thing or two to learn in that regard. Periadoc, unwittingly, and Hamfast, hysterically, blurted out just who was lowering whom into that wine barrel fairly quickly. Be grateful that your punishment is over and done with, for Sam and Rose will hear of this when we get back to the Shire.”
“Not to mention them trying to dip Hamfast in the Enchanted Stream,” Merry added.
“And getting into the beehives at the Beornings,” Faramir said.
“Trying to ride Elladan’s horse,” Pippin said.
“Singing Attercop! Attercop! through most of Eryn Lasgalen,” Merry said.
“On our next adventure,” Faramir mumbled, nearly asleep, “I think we should bring Goldilocks instead of Merry and Pippin.”
“By the time this adventure is over, Faramir,” Pippin answered, “there will not be a soul from Bree to the Lonely Mountain who will disagree with you.”
Some number of adventures later, upon their return to the Shire, Goldilocks would quite concur with Faramir’s recommendation. At any rate, Merry and Pippin (Brandybuck and Took, that is) would never invite Merry and Pippin (Gamgee, that is) adventuring again.
(NOTE: The title of this story is taken from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”; Chapter Nine is “Barrels Out of Bond.”)