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Dreamflower's Mathoms I  by Dreamflower

AUTHOR’S NOTES: This story takes place when Frodo is 20, and Merry is 6 going on 7 ( 13 and 4 going on 4 ½ in Man years.)

The first three riddles are from Mother Goose, and the last of course is from The Hobbit


Merry rolled over; the sheets were cold. Where was Frodo? There were no windows in Frodo’s room, but Merry’s tummy told him that it was time for first breakfast. The little hobbit slid from his cousin’s bed, the floor cold to his feet, and padded to the door.

As he came out of the room, shivering a little, he could hear his mother’s and Frodo’s cheerful voices, and the clink of silverware, and he could smell sausages and eggs and fresh bread. He trotted into the family’s private dining room, where Esmeralda and Frodo were already eating.

Frodo grinned. “Well, there’s my little slug-a-bed!”

Merry went over to Frodo with a reproachful look. “I was *cold* Fro. You got up and left me!”

Esmeralda tutted at him. “Now, Merry, you should have risen when Frodo did. I know he tried to wake you.”

“I did, sprout, I really did.”

Merry’s attention was on Frodo’s plate. Frodo handed him one of his sausages.

“Frodo!” said Esmeralda. “He needs to sit down and have his own plate. You are spoiling him. Merry, go put on your dressing gown, while I fix your plate.”

“Yes, Mummy,” he said, pouting just a little, because he knew that would make Frodo feel sorry for him. He headed for his own room to find his dressing gown. It would be a lot easier if his da would just let him sleep with Frodo in the first place; then his dressing gown would be in Frodo’s room. But now that he was almost seven, his da had made a rule that he had to go to bed in his own room, even if he got up later to go to Frodo.

He hung his head and dragged his feet a bit, and sure enough, when he turned to look, Frodo was watching and looking sorry. That would teach him to go off and leave Merry in a cold room alone.

He returned his usual cheerful self, and gave Frodo a hug, before getting in his own chair. His mum placed his very own blue plate, with the running ponies painted around the rim, in front of him, loaded up with scrambled eggs and sausages and toast with lots of butter and brambleberry jam. And she gave him his very own special mug, of thick glass with two handles shaped like fish, full of cold milk. He looked at Frodo’s cup of hot tea with envy, but he knew that with his mum watching he could not coax Frodo into sharing it with him. His mum thought he was still too young for tea.

“Why did you get up so early, Frodo?” Merry asked as he finished his milk, and the last crumbs of his third piece of toast and jam.

Frodo grinned at him. “Did you forget, sprout? Uncle Bilbo is coming today!”

“Oh!” Merry was none too sure about this. Old Cousin Bilbo was all right; he told very good stories. But whenever he came to visit, Frodo did not have as much time for Merry. He would always go about with Cousin Bilbo, and they would look at boring books in the library, and talk about *lessons* like they were fun. But Cousin Bilbo always came to Brandy Hall for Yule, and it would be Yule in just a week.

Frodo looked at Esmeralda. “Aunt Esme, I thought that I would go down to the end of the lane and wait for Uncle Bilbo?”

She shook her head doubtfully. “It’s very cold Frodo, and we don’t know just exactly when he will be here.” He stared at her pleadingly, his blue eyes wide. “Very well, but you must bundle up warmly.”

Merry gave a little bounce in his seat. “Mummy! Me, too!”

She sighed. Merry turned his grey eyes on Frodo. He didn’t want to miss a chance to be with him now, before Cousin Bilbo got here.

“Aunt Esme, you know I’ll watch out for him, and not let him get too cold.”

“On one condition. If Bilbo has not arrived by elevenses, you are both to come back inside, do you hear me?”

The two lads hopped out of their chairs to give her hugs, and Merry planted a kiss on her cheek.

“Thank you, Aunt Esme,” said Frodo, before he hurried to help Merry get dressed.

Frodo helped him into his little shirt and breeches, his weskit and jacket, and then he pulled on the knitted legwarmers, that would cover his legs from ankles to knees. Next came a scarf, a thick coat with a hood, and mittens. Frodo fastened the little strings of the mittens to a button on each sleeve of the coat. But he told Merry he could wait to put them on until they got outside. When he was finished, all that could be seen of Merry were his bright grey eyes, the tip of his nose, and his furry feet. The rest of him was a round little bundle of clothes, and Frodo chuckled at the droll sight he made. Then he dashed into his own room to collect his own outerwear, including the lovely green cloak Uncle Bilbo had given him on their Birthday.

When they got ready to leave, Esme gave Frodo a covered metal pail with some food and drink for their second breakfast, and the two lads made their way out of the Hall.

When they finally got outside, Frodo headed towards the lane, but as they passed one of the outdoor privies, Merry tugged on his sleeve.

“Oh, Merry! Why didn’t you use the water closet while we were still inside?” he sighed.

“I’m sorry, Fro. I didn’t have to go then.”

So Frodo took him in and divested him of most of the clothes. It was so cold that Merry made it quick, and Frodo bundled him up again. It was at times like this that Frodo missed Merry’s nursemaid, Dahlia. But it was his own fault. When she had gone to be wed last summer, Frodo had persuaded Uncle Sara and Aunt Esme that they didn’t need another nursemaid, that he was old enough to help take care of Merry himself. And indeed, even when Dahlia had still been there, Frodo had taken on a good deal of Merry’s care. And mostly he didn’t mind at all. His little cousin was his delight and his comfort.

Frodo had the metal pail in his left hand, and Merry’s little mittened hand in his right. Frodo walked and Merry skipped, as they made their way to the fence that ran alongside the lane. Their noses and cheeks were red as berries, and their breath came out in white wisps. Merry turned around once, and giggled. “Look, Frodo!” Frodo turned and smiled at the sight of their footprints in the frost. There had been no snow yet this year, and the gaffers all said there wasn’t likely to be any before mid-Afteryule, but Frodo and Merry still hoped that they might have a white Yule. A white Yule was good luck for the coming year, it was said.

When they got to the lane, they perched on the top of the fence, and Frodo looked in the pail. There were some hot sweet rolls, all covered up with a clean towel to keep them warm, and a jar of warm milk, sweetened with honey and cinnamon.

After they had devoured their second breakfast, Frodo put the pail on the ground, and hopped off the fence. He wanted to show Merry something.

“Watch this, Merry!” He pulled off his gloves and knelt in the verge where the frost was still thick. He made a fist, and put the side of his hand on the ground, where it left a little imprint. Then he took his forefinger and made five little fingerprints along its top edge. When he finished it looked for all the world like a tiny footprint. He took the other hand and did the same. Merry laughed delightedly. “Oh,” he crowed. “It looks like a tiny person was there!” Frodo made a few more, so that it looked as though someone had walked there.

“Frodo! I want to try!” Merry slid off the fence, and would have fallen if Frodo had not quickly caught him.

Frodo laughed. “You can try just a few, but then you must put your mittens right back on. I won’t have you freezing your fingers off. Aunt Esme would freeze me if you did.”

Merry giggled, and tugged off the mittens. “This is just splendid, Frodo! You are so clever!”

But the Sun soon had her way with the frost, and the “footprints” faded away. Merry began to get bored.

“Fro! When will Cousin Bilbo get here?”

“I don’t know, Merry, but it’s not time for elevenses yet. Are you too cold?” he asked anxiously.

Merry looked up, and he knew that Frodo would go in early if he said he was, but that he would be very disappointed. And truly, he *wasn’t* too cold. He looked down at his toes, and felt bad that he almost fibbed, just because he was tired of waiting. So he shook his head. “Uh-uh. I’m not too cold.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure! Tell me a riddle, Frodo!”

Frodo laughed. Merry was going through a stage where he loved to “guess” riddles. Of course they were all ones he had heard before and already knew the answers to. He got upset if he heard a new one and couldn’t guess it. He started off with his little cousin’s favorite:

“Little Nanny Etticoat
In a white petticoat,
And a red nose;
The longer she stands
The shorter she grows.”

“A candle!” Merry shouted as triumphantly as though he had never heard it before.

Frodo shook his head solemnly. “You guessed it. I suppose I will have to find a harder one.” He pretended to think, and then declaimed

“As round as an apple, as deep as a cup,
And all the Thain’s ponies can't fill it up.”

Merry hopped up and down excitedly.

“A well! A well!” he shouted.

His older cousin suppressed a chuckle, and pretended to sigh. “Hmmm, let’s see--I know!

“Black within and red without;
Four corners round about.”

Merry hung his arms around the bottom fence rail and leaned back, grinning up at Frodo. “That’s easy! A chimney! And” he gave Frodo a sly look “you got stuck in one once.”

“You little rascal! Don’t remind me! And you were too young to remember that anyway.”

Merry giggled. “But I heard Mummy and Da laughing about it with Cousin Seredic one day!”

Frodo shook his head. He’d never live that down, he supposed, though it wasn’t as bad as getting caught raiding Farmer Maggot’s mushrooms last year. “Well, let’s see

“Alive without breath
As cold as death;
Never thirsty, ever drinking,
All in mail, never clinking.”

“Oooh! That’s one of the Gollum ones! It’s a fish! And Cousin Bilbo almost didn’t guess it! Do you think that the Gollum would have eaten him up if he didn’t?” Merry asked with the ghoulish delight of young lads everywhere.

“We’ll never know, will we?” said Frodo, not quite so thrilled with the story. He was old enough to realize that his cousin’s tales were mostly true, and that if Bilbo had not escaped from his perils, Frodo might never have known him. The thought made him shudder.

But then he perked up his ears. “Listen, Merry! I think it’s him!”

For they could hear the clop of pony’s hooves, and sure enough, here came a pony-trap, and Bilbo at the reins. The old hobbit pulled up in front of them.

“Well, bless me! What have we here? Can it be my favorite cousins here to greet me?”

“Uncle Bilbo!” Frodo cried, “it’s so good to see you!”

Bilbo laughed. “It’s good to see you, too, lad! And this sturdy lad surely can’t be Meriadoc! Why he’s so big!”

Merry puffed up with pride. It *was* good to see Cousin Bilbo, really it was. “Hullo, Cousin Bilbo!” he said politely.

“Well, come up here and ride with me on to the Hall, lads, and tell me everything that’s happened.”

Frodo lifted Merry up, and then clambered up after him. Merry crawled into Bilbo’s lap, and they trotted on to the Hall. This was going to be a great Yule!

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