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In which Pippin goes adventuring,
and Merry and Frodo are sure to get into trouble for it(Note: Set in the autumn of the year 1398 SR, so Merry is 16, Frodo is 30, and Pippin is eight. Frodo would have been living with Bilbo for nine years, but it is still three years before Bilbo leaves the Shire.)
1398 SR, Green Hill Country, between the Tookland and Woody End
The small figure was struggling mightily to conquer the crest of the hill, doggedly putting one little foot in front of the other, back stooped under the weight of its pack. Frodo and I looked down the hill in silence, as yet unobserved by the object of our scrutiny.
Frodo threw his hands skyward in exasperation. "Well, what am I to do about this, I ask you? That, that LAD!" He turned his back to the slope and the resolute little lad clambering up it, and walked a little away, but then I heard him start laughing. When I turned around, he was bent over with his hands on his knees as he chortled.
"Really, Merry, he will be the death of us both someday," he said, but in spite of his harsh words his tone was amused, and he continued to laugh.
I didn't join him in his mirth, as I hadn't yet decided if I was amused, worried or angry. I turned away from Frodo to look down the slope again. The determined little figure was nearly to the top, but had reached the steepest incline and was slowed to a crawl. I had to admire his spirit, that much was certain. Well, however I ended up deciding to react to this little escapade, I couldn't let him harm himself trying to get to the top with his pack on.
"Pippin, wait!" I called to him, and started down the hillside. My younger cousin stopped, panting heavily, and squinted up at me.
"Merry!" he said, gasping from his exertions but smiling in triumph. "I have caught you at last!"
"So it would seem," I said, reaching him and kneeling beside him. I ran a practiced eye over the lad for any visible hurts or damage, and was relieved to see nothing but a scratch or two, undoubtedly received when trailing us through a bramble patch we had briefly become entangled in, courtesy of one of Frodo's infamous 'shortcuts.'
"Here, give it here," I ordered, and he flailed hands and arms around in an awkward attempt to unburden himself. I stilled his movements and began unbuckling the pack myself. No wonder he had been having so much trouble with it coming up the hill, for while he had fastened it on correctly, it wasn't properly tightened. I would have to teach him how to do it properly if he was going to start tramping about with us. Once I got the pack off, I pulled his shirt off his shoulders a little. Sure enough, there were red marks where the pack's weight had settled, but at least the skin wasn't raw. I rubbed gently at the sore spots. Pip wrinkled his nose in a way I knew meant it stung, but he did not complain.
Pippin's breath was still coming in great heaves, and he was watching me with cautious eyes, trying to determine if he was in trouble. Frodo ambled down the slope to us and roughly mussed Pippin's hair.
"Well, Merry, whatever have you captured?" he said playfully. "A little hobbit-lad for our supper? He looks like he'll be tender and juicy!"
"Frodo!" Pippin said, giggling. "You won't eat me!"
Frodo crossed his arms in front of his chest and bent over until he was nose-to-nose with the eight-year-old. "I wouldn't be so sure of that if I were you, Master Took. Naughty lads who go running about in the wild without supervision often get eaten for supper."
Pippin swatted at Frodo's upper arm. "Nah, you're teasing," he said confidently. I was relieved to see that his breathing was slowly but surely returning to normal. He looked sideways at me, even though his next words were addressed to Frodo.
"I told you I was big enough to come this far. You aren't slowed down or anything!"
Pippin was clearly seeking my approval, but I was still too concerned over all of the things that could have happened to such a little lad alone in such terrain as we had hiked to feel forgiving as yet. "Oh, yes," I said, "and we're just delaying our supper because this hill was too big for either of us to manage on our own." I stood up and picked Pippin's pack up in one hand. I reached my other hand out to Pip. "Come on," I said, "to the top, now."
Pippin scowled at me and did not take my hand. Instead, he reached out for Frodo, who raised his eyebrows at me but grasped Pippin's hand in his. I rolled my eyes at Frodo in a mixture of exasperation and amusement. The three of us trudged the rest of the way up to where Frodo and I had relieved ourselves of our own packs.
Well, this was a fine mess. I had been staying over at Bag End for most of the month of September, up until Frodo and Bilbo's birthday, and Frodo and I had decided a pleasant way to get me back to Buckland would be a leisurely hike through the Shire, interspersed with plenty of stops and visits. Our first such stop had been in the Tookland at the Smials, where we had spent two nights.
But we had neglected to include a certain hobbit-lad in our calculations, a fact we had only realized the previous night when Pippin had matter-of-factly asked what he should pack for our trip through Green Hill Country and on to Buckland. Tears, wheedles, promises, threats and earnest logic followed our gentle explanations that this wasn't a trip for such a young cousin, and the evening ended with Pippin refusing to kiss either of us goodnight.
We should have been more alert when morning dawned to a very cheery Pippin at breakfast, and to a tearless farewell later in the day. We didn't leave until after tea time, as Frodo likes to walk in the evening, and it wasn't until we stopped for supper, a good two hours into the hike, that we had spotted the small figure trailing behind us.
The three of us crested the hill, Pippin finding it much more easily vanquished without the burden of his pack. We flopped down on the grassy spot Frodo and I had already picked for our evening meal and Pippin gave us both his most engaging smile. I carefully kept my defenses up, but Frodo chuckled.
"Well, Meriadoc, what shall we do with this scamp?" he asked.
"See what he brought us for supper," I said. "That will do for a start." I set Pippin's pack between my legs. It was quite lumpy and heavy, and I could see an apple and some cloth material poking out of the top. I opened it up. "Let's see what we have."
"Hoy!" Pippin said. "That is my pack, Merry! I got it ready myself and everything."
"Did you now?" I shot back. "Did you do this before or after you told us goodbye and pretended you weren't scheming to follow at our heels?"
Pippin crossed his arms in front of his chest and gave me his fiercest scowl, but I ignored him and turned my attention to the little pack. I began pulling items out and setting them neatly and deliberately on the ground about me.
Apples. Sweet biscuits. Toy wooden animals. Change of clothing. Bar of soap. Slingshot. Nightshirt. Pippin's favorite wooden carved milk mug, given to him by Bilbo and featuring a funny dwarf face. A two-foot length of string. A broken pocket-watch that my father had once given Pippin to keep him amused and had never been able to retrieve. A hairbrush. A large wooden spoon. An entire jar of blackberry jam.
The last item undid me and I struggled to contain my laughter, finding that I was amused, after all. I risked a glance at Frodo, who had been watching my exploration of the little pack, and found his shoulders twitching. He carefully schooled his expression.
"Did you pack this all by yourself, Pippin?" he asked, and Pippin nodded eagerly.
"Yup!" he said proudly. "There's food and clothes and stuff to eat with and even soap!" I wondered if the last item was to impress us with his maturity and readiness for a serious adventure, as soap is not something that Pippin would usually give thought to.
"Yes, everything seems in order," I said as solemnly as I could. Pippin, who had sat down closer to Frodo than to me, crept a little bit nearer, sensing that my ire was evaporating. "But tell me, Peregrin," I held up the blackberry jam, "on what should we eat this? The biscuits?"
Pippin's face drooped for a moment as he realized there was no corresponding bread, but then it brightened. "We can always just eat the jam, Merry," he pointed out. "I brought a spoon."
I fought it for a moment, but then a giggle escaped, and as soon as I was lost, so was Frodo. We held our sides and had a good belly-laugh while Pippin, perceiving that the danger of scolding had passed, shrieked with giggles.
"We are laughing at you, you silly goose!" I gasped, reaching out to grab his nose between two fingers.
"Nunh-ah, Merry!" he squealed. "Leggo!"
"Hold him tight now, Merry," Frodo ordered, and reached out to snatch Pippin around the waist.
"No, no, no, no TICKLING!" Pippin shrieked with delight, small body squirming as I joined Frodo and we unerringly, unmercifully hit each ticklish spot. When we finally decided he had had enough, all three of us flopped onto our backs to catch our breath, little snippets of giggles still burbling out sporadically.
When we had calmed, I rolled to my side and grabbed hold of Pip, hauling him across the grass to me. He grinned up at me, all flushed cheeks and tousled hair and shining eyes. I gave him a little raspberry on his cheek and shook him gently.
"Pippin," I said, "we are going to be in so much trouble! Do you know that?"
"Nooo," he said, sweetly reaching up to pat my face. "Why would we be in trouble, Merry?"
Frodo sat up and began rummaging through his own pack and pulling out items for our now-overdue supper. "Why? Why do you think, Peregrin?" he said good-naturedly. "Don't you think your parents are going to wonder about you when you don't show up for supper? Or bedtime? You can't just go wandering all about the countryside by yourself with no one knowing where you are!"
"Frodo," Pippin said in the voice one uses to explain something to a small child, "I'm not by myself, I'm with you and Merry. And I said where I was going and no one said I couldn't, so why would we be in trouble?"
I started laughing. "Oh, you said where you were going, did you? And who exactly did you tell?"
"Everyone," Pippin said earnestly. "I went to the kitchen and told Florella and she gave me things to eat to pack. And Mamma saw me getting my pack ready and asked where I was going and I said I was going adventuring with you and she said, 'Don't forget to pack your hairbrush!' so I did. And then right before I left I went into the playroom and told Briony and Pearl and everyone, and Briony said, 'Watch out for trolls and giant spiders!'"
This was too rich, and Frodo and I both were soon howling again. I thought to myself that Pippin's nurse would be sorely regretting those words about the time she had to tell the Thain and his mistress that she had given Pippin permission to go off into the wild with us. Of course, Pippin often announces that he is going "adventuring," but usually he just adventures down at the stream or in one of the barns, or maybe all the way out to the south fields if he's feeling especially bold.
"What?" Pippin asked, swatting at my chest with his little hands. "Why are you laughing, Merry?"
"Pippin," Frodo said, laughter slowly subsiding, "did anyone actually see you leaving your father's lands?"
Pip nodded vigorously. "Vinca did," he said confidently. "She laughed and said, 'Tell Merry and Frodo that this is their reward for encouraging your wild ways.' So, now I've told you. See, we're not in trouble, and I knew you wouldn't be cross once you saw I could keep up and had all my own stuff and everything."
He was looking up at me with such an open, earnest expression, anxiously awaiting my approval and full restoration to my graces, that I could not resist and pulled him into my arms, kissing his curls. "Oh, Pippin, I do love you so," I said, and he threw his arms around me in delight.
"I love you, too, Merry," he said, then bounded out of my arms to throw his hands in the air in delight. "Hurray! We're going adventuring!"
Frodo was shaking his head, but smiling fondly at the lad. "Well, first we are eating," he said. "And then maybe we can find a little adventure, but, Pippin, we will have to take you back to your parents before bedtime."
"What?!" Pippin's shriek of dismay reached the treetops, where it disturbed a blue jay that took off, cawing. "But we're going to Buckland together and walking under the stars and sleeping outside by a fire!"
Frodo shook his head firmly at Pippin, putting on his "I'm serious" face. "No, dearest, we will have to take you back home, and Merry and I will just have to spend another night at the Smials and leave again for Buckland tomorrow. I know that you told everyone you were going adventuring with us, and that was very good of you, Pippin, but I am certain that they thought you meant make-believe adventuring, not for-real adventuring."
Pippin's little bow-shaped mouth was agape with his distress. "Oh, no, Frodo, I didn't say make-believe! No one said I couldn't come, not even Briony! You and Merry will take good care of me, you always do, and it will be such a splendid time."
Frodo stood up and went to stand in front of Pippin, stooping down and putting his hands on his knees so he could look Pip in the eye. "We are going back to the Smials tonight, but you can decide by how well you behave if we go straight back as soon as we finish supper or if we build a fire and stay out for a bit and you hear a few stories. Which will it be, Pippin?"
Pip grabbed Frodo's hand and mustered his most beseeching face. "Oh, please please please, Frodo, I want to sleep outside so very much!"
I was glad Frodo was in charge, not me, because that face gets me most every time. When Frodo raised an eyebrow, though, Pippin knew he was defeated and stuck his lower lip out in a pout. "All right," he said sullenly. "I will be good about going home. But I still don't see why we have to."
Frodo stood up and patted Pippin's head. "That's my good lad. Now, will you help Merry gather some wood for our fire?"
"Oh, yes!" Pippin went from pout to full-blown enthusiasm in the blink of an eye. I had been repacking Pippin's pack (and making sure everything was in a more orderly fashion than I had found it in) but now I stood and reached for Pip's hand. This time he took it eagerly. I hated to voice what I was thinking in front of our young cousin after Frodo had just diffused the impending storm, but I was worried about this little escapade.
"How late are we going to stay out, Frodo?" I said. "I don't want Uncle Paladin and Aunt Eglantine to think anything bad has happened to Pippin."
Frodo was arranging cooking supplies and generally organizing our supper site with practiced ease. He waved a hand at my concerns. "They will work it out, and if they don't, they have Miss Pervinca to 'fess up to her part in Master Peregrin's escape. It's going to take a good two hours to get back to the Smials anyway; no, make that three, once it turns dark, so I don't see as how a little story by the fire is going to make much of a difference. At least we will all be warm and rested when we start back. Now go fetch me some wood!"
I looked down at Pippin, who was grinning up at me. "Merry, it will be dark soon," he said, impressed by the thought of being in the woods in the dark.
"Yes, it will," I answered. "Aren't you glad we noticed you? Were you planning to walk alone in the dark behind us if you hadn't caught up with us before nightfall?"
"I knew you'd stop to eat, Merry," he said, sounding somewhat disgusted by my lack of faith in his reasoning skills, and I hid my smile. We started foraging for firewood, hand-in-hand.
"I can't believe you walked all that way by yourself, Pip," I told him. "I bet it's the furthest you've ever walked."
"It was a long, long way, wasn't it, Merry?" he answered with a sigh. "I got tired, but I kept walking, just like Cousin Bilbo in Mirkwood Forest."
"Indeed," I said dryly. "Just like that."
After about an hour, though, he started to straggle, and his heretofore steady stream of excited chatter dwindled off. This would have been his bedtime at home, and he had had a lot more activity that day than he usually did. After another half hour of walking in silence, I noticed Pippin's chin drifting down into his chest, then snapping back up as he struggled to stay awake.
I yawned loudly. "Lawks, but I'm tired!" I exclaimed. "Aren't you, Frodo?"
Frodo was a little ahead of us and had turned to me in surprise when he heard me yawn. I nodded my chin at Pippin, who was swaying a little on his feet.
"Oh, yes, now that you mention it, I am quite tired, Merry," Frodo said. We all stopped, and Frodo continued, "Let's take a little break, lads. All right, Pippin?"
Pip's head had drifted back down and came up quickly when he heard his name. "Yes, if you're tired, Frodo," he said without a trace of irony.
We took off our packs, and Frodo unrolled his blanket and gestured to it. "Here, lads, the ground is cold. Let's sit on this." We obediently arranged ourselves, Frodo and I on either side of Pippin. Then we sat in silence and waited. One minute. Two minutes. Three -- whomp. Pippin had tumbled sideways into my lap, fast asleep. Frodo and I looked at each other in the dim light of the stars and the half-moon.
"This has been quite a hike for a little fellow," Frodo said fondly.
"It has indeed," I answered. "I can't believe he walked all this way and didn't lag further behind. Actually, I just can't believe he walked all this way." I smoothed Pip's rumpled curls fondly, feeling his chest rise and fall steadily against my leg.
Frodo leaned back on his hands and stretched out his legs in front of him. "Well, you're always trying to build up his strength, Merry. Today has proved you're doing a good job."
I am always trying to build up Pippin's strength. He was so little when he was born, and has been playing catch-up with the other lads ever since. On top of that, he has had more than his share of illnesses, including the dire Winter Sickness several times, most recently just the past winter, when he was in bed for more than a month. At some point in our childhood, I had gotten the idea that his trying to keep up with me would help make Pippin bigger and stronger, so I let him come everywhere with me and the other lads, something Pippin needed no encouragement with. After all, I was right there to help him if he started having trouble.
Frodo stirred in the darkness. "My dear cousin," he said solemnly, "we are going to catch it right good when we get him home."
"You're the one who said a fire and a story wouldn't make any difference," I pointed out.
Frodo sighed. "They wouldn't. At that point, we were going to catch it no matter what, so why not let the lad have a little fun? He had his little plan so well worked out, it seemed a shame to disappoint him completely." He put his pack on and stood. "Let's get to it, then," he said, pushing Pippin's pack toward me with a foot. I stood, and he scooped Pip up, wrapping him snug in the blanket as he did so.
"Come along, Meriadoc, doom awaits us, and her name is Briony," he said cheerily, getting Pippin positioned comfortably on his shoulder. I strapped on my pack and picked up Pippin's in my arms, then followed my cousins into the night. For love of them, I would even face the dreaded ire of Pippin's nurse.
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