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The Care and Feeding of Hobbits  by Baylor

Seven faces turn upward toward the boughs of the tree, watching the two figures clamber higher with assured deftness. The elf scowls in displeasure, and I hide a smile at seeing the normally serene elf disconcerted by so small a thing.

"I certainly could have retrieved the arrow myself, Aragorn," he says again for good measure.

"You certainly could have broken several bones when the tree limbs snapped beneath your weight," Aragorn replies levelly, his eyes not leaving the tree. I wonder if he is as nervous about the climbers as I am. The two figures are near the top now, level with the errant arrow, and one of them is inching forward precariously onto the limb the missile is affixed to, while the other one clings to the tree trunk with one hand and his companion's foot with the other. For all that they are so small, I wonder that the delicate branches hold their weight. I am also surprised at their fearless, easy grace in so precarious a place.

"I thought hobbits were afr-- ahem, disliked heights," Gimli comments.

"Well, they aren't something that we terribly relish," Merry replies, feet firmly on the ground, I note. "But Pippin is all Took, and that clan is less worried by heights than any hobbits you'll find. And Frodo's certainly got enough Took in him to fit that bill, as well. I'd rather stay on the ground, myself."

"Are you not cousins?" I query, somewhat puzzled. "Or do you not have Took blood?"

"Well," Merry is watching Pippin yank the arrow from the limb and scoot back to the relative safety of the tree trunk, "my mother is a Took, of course, sister to Pippin's father, Paladin, and my paternal great-grandmother was Mirabella Took, one of the Old Took's children, so I've certainly got enough Took blood in me, but in practical terms, and especially when it comes to climbing things, I'm a Brandybuck, through and through."

Everyone has stopped looking at the two hobbits in the tree, and now are looking at Merry. When our gazes turn inquiringly to Sam, he shakes his head and states unequivocally, "Sirs, there is not a drop of Took blood in me, and there isn't enough gold in a dragon's horde to persuade me to climb around like that."

I turn this over in my head. "So, Merry, you and Pippin are first cousins?"

He is still watching his kin's downward approach. "Well, yes, but we are also third cousins, descending down from the Old Took line, as Pippin's great-grandfather Hildigrim was brother to Great-Grandmother Mirabella."

This seems logical, so I proceed, my curiosity piqued. "Is Frodo then cousin to you both from his Took heritage?"

"Oh, certainly, Frodo has Took blood, but his mother was a Brandybuck, of course, so he and I are related several times over through both lines," Merry replies. "He is first cousin to my father, making him my first cousin once removed, coming down from Gorbadoc and Mirabella. But since Mirabella is also my maternal great-great-aunt, as well as my paternal great-grandmother, Frodo also is my second cousin once removed, and because Rosa Baggins, one of old Balbo's granddaughters, married Hildigrim Took, we are also third cousins once removed, again on the Took side."

I really could not come up with an adequate response to this recitation if my life depended on it. Beside me, Gandalf mutters in my ear, with unseeming delight at my bewilderment, "We will expect you to recount all of that later, Boromir, so I hope you have committed it to memory."

Now it seems I have stirred up everyone's interest. "So Frodo is more related to you than to Pippin?" Legolas inquires. "I had thought the two of them more closely related than you and Frodo, as they do favor each other."

"Oh, Frodo and Pippin are quite related," Merry reassures the elf. "They are third cousins once removed just as Frodo and I are, from the Took side, down from Rosa and Hildigrim, but they are also second cousins once removed, Pippin's father being Frodo's second cousin, also from the Old Took, but through Frodo's Brandybuck side, Mirabella also being one of Gerontius' children."

"So Frodo is a Baggins from Balbo?" Gimli asks, and Merry gives him a look that borders on exasperation.

"Frodo is a Baggins from his father, Drogo, one of Balbo's great-great-grandsons, but more importantly, he is a Brandybuck from his mother, Primula, one of Gorbadoc's daughters and sister to Old Rory, my paternal grandfather," he says in a rather affronted voice. "But heredity being as it is, you are right, Legolas, that Frodo ended up looking like a Took."

"What is this?" Frodo demands, swinging down from one of the tree's lower branches. "Are you slandering my family tree again, Merry?"

"I am doing nothing but raising you in the esteem of our companions by pointing out to them your Brandybuck line," Merry answers, "and it is not my fault you came out looking and behaving like a Took instead of a proper Brandybuck, who would never be caught running along tree branches like a squirrel. And at your age, too."

"I thought that was the Baggins in me," Frodo says, dusting off his hands and returning the ill-shot arrow (originally meant as a demonstration to the hobbits) to its chagrined owner. "I seem to recall Bilbo scaling a few trees, more daunting than this, in his day. And at my age."

"That was someone else's doing, and no fault of his bloodlines, I am certain," Merry states with a sideways glance at Gandalf.

"Meriadoc Brandybuck, I know enough of your family history, Took and Brandybuck and whatever else may please you, that I would advise you not go down that path lest I get the itch to begin telling stories after dinner," the wizard answers in an ominous voice, but I can see his eyes twinkling.

"Are you going to tell stories, Gandalf, really?" Peregrin asks, dropping from the tree and landing on all fours like a cat. "I have always wanted to know what happened to Hildifons and Isengar. Our family records don't say much of anything. Did you know them? Do you know what happened to them? Will you really tell us when we stop for dinner?"

Merry is grinning in a way that clearly shows he believes he has got the upper hand over Gandalf in the end, and Frodo is practically bouncing on the balls of his feet with pleasure at the wizard's plight.

"Yes, will you, Gandalf? We would love to hear all about your past adventures with other hobbits," the Ringbearer says, most certainly aware that he is just egging Pippin on. "You've always had a particular fondness for Tooks, though, haven't you?"

"Yes, Gandalf, you did used to come to the Tooks first for everything," Pippin states. "I don't know when the Bagginses became so high in your book. I would have thought a Took would have served you just fine as a burglar. Why ever did you take up with the Bagginses anyway?"

"Yes, Gandalf," Frodo says, all big blue eyes and and deceptively innocent expression, "how could you ever tire of taking Tooks with you on adventures? I'd have thought you'd want to associate with hobbits more connected to the Thain than we lowly Bagginses."

Frodo and Merry are grinning broadly, and I wonder at their boldness in taunting the wizard in a manner I would never dream of. Even Sam is hiding a smile as he fusses with Bill's baggage. But Pippin is looking up at Gandalf with sincere green eyes and an earnest, open face.

"But you wouldn't ever tire of the Tooks, would you, Gandalf?" he asks anxiously. "I mean, really, you just chose Bilbo because you knew he was a Took deep down, right?"

"But of course, Peregrin," Gandalf says, seizing his chance for graceful extraction. He lays a gnarled hand on Pippin's head. "I knew that Bilbo could be the finest hobbit in the Shire if only I could wake up a little more Took in him. And my plan turned out quite well in the end, don't you think?"

Pippin nods, and then asks, "So will you tell us about Hildifons and Isengar at supper? You do know what happened to them, don't you? I mean, you know all those types of things, don't you?"

I am amused, and a little touched, by Peregrin's innocent assumption of Gandalf's omnipotence, but Gandalf seems a mite wearied by it -- perhaps he has more familiarity with the young hobbit's persistence than I do.

"We will see, we will see," Gandalf answers with a sigh. "Come now, we have squandered enough time on Master Greenleaf's archery lesson. Come along, all of you, we must continue."

As we ready ourselves to march, I hear Pippin saying to his second cousin once removed and his third cousin once removed, "Frodo, do get Gandalf to tell us about Hildifons and Isengar tonight. I know he must know what happened to them, and I have wanted to know for so very long."

Aragorn comes over to me and hands me some supplies to affix to my pack. "If you are having trouble keeping that all straight," he whispers, "just remember -- Sam is Frodo's gardener."

Not only are these hobbits the strangest beings I have ever traveled with, their oddities seem to rub off on their companions, I think as I follow after a grinning Aragorn.

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