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Many Happy Returns  by Grey Wonderer

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 sheíd 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 thereíll be no game and that means that there wonít 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 childrenís field of play, but close enough to watch the little party which was in progress.

Frodo chuckled and ruffled Merryís hair. Frodo was seated in a chair behind Merryís spot on the grass. "I remember you at that age, cousin, so donít look so smug," Frodo said. "Some of them probably havenít 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, donít 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, thereís Pippin."

Merry squinted against the sunlight and spotted his little cousin among the circling children. Pippinís head bobbed up and down as he hopped behind the chairs between two lasses. Merry groaned. "He doesnít have a chance. Heís behind the chairs and heís 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 wasnít for one of his sisters or you," Frodo smiled. "Heís only five. Heíll 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 hasnít won a single game."

"Yes, it is a shame that he didnít win something," Frodo agreed. "I hope he isnít too discouraged by this."

"His first party and heís been humiliated," Merry said. "Little lads donít 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 didnít 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, letís 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 ladís 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 Iíd lost that many†games in one day, Iíd 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 Pippinís humiliation. He didnít 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 cousinís lap, still glowing with pride. "Are you proud of me, Merry?"

"Well, of course, Pip. Iím 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 donít 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."†

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