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"Do you mean to tell me, Frodo, that you've never been to the Tuckborough Moveable Feast?" asked Merry in astonishment.
"No," Frodo said. "You know how Bilbo avoided the Tooklands while Lalia was in charge. And I have never happened to be in Tuckborough at the right time since then." He held up a shirt and looked it over before folding it and tucking it into his pack. "Of course I have heard all about it," he laughed. "Next to Yule, I think it must be Pippin's favorite occasion."
Merry rolled his eyes. "I know it is!" He chuckled and added, "He's got good reason, after all! I've only been to one a couple of times; I'm not often in Tuckborough in the early autumn either, but they are certainly occasions that I remember fondly." He took a deep breath and sighed happily. He glanced over at Frodo who was picking up a well-thumbed book, ”A Journey Through the Breelands by Calimac Brandybuck". Frodo flicked through the pages with a smile, and then dropped it on top of the neatly filled pack. He pushed it closed, and fastened the straps.
Merry shook his head. "Are you reading that again?"
"Yes. It's always been one of my favorites, ever since Uncle Dinny first allowed me to take it from his top shelf."
Merry grinned. "I know. Remember how you and I used to play at journeying to Bree as Calimac did?"
Frodo laughed. "I do indeed. Of course, our journeys never took us so far that we couldn't return home for the next meal."
"Of course not!" Merry answered with a chuckle. "We had our priorities straight when we were small fry!"
"I trust we still do," said Frodo, hoisting up his pack. "Shall we be off? It's a long trek to Tuckborough, and we do want to arrive before all the food is gone!"
Merry darted across the passage to snatch his own pack, and followed Frodo out. They stopped long enough for Frodo to turn the key in the front door. "Sam!" he called. Although the Sun was barely showing her face, Sam was already hard at work.
"Yes, Mr. Frodo?" came the answer from the other side of the lilac bushes, and soon followed by Sam himself, holding a pair of clippers. "So you're off now, sir?"
"Yes, Sam. Here are the spare keys. Let yourself into the kitchen if you need anything, or if there is an emergency."
"Thank you, sir." Sam carefully tucked the keys into his pocket. "You and Mr. Merry have a nice tramp, then. I hope you enjoy the Feast. It's a right treat!"
"You've been to the Moveable Feast, Sam?" Frodo was surprised. The Gamgees rarely ventured forth from Hobbiton.
"Yes, Mr. Frodo. They was having it one year when we were over there a-visiting with Aunt May."
"Ah yes! I had forgotten you had kinfolk in Tuckborough. Well, we should be back on Sterday, but do not worry if we stay over another day or so past that."
"Yes, sir. Take care, sir!" Sam went back around the side of the smial with his clippers, whistling a jaunty tune.
Merry and Frodo passed down the walk to the road, but they'd soon be cutting cross-country. The journey was far too long by road, but that way they should arrive just in time.
Frodo began to sing the tune Sam had been whistling, and soon Merry joined in:
"Upon the hearth the fire is red
Pippin felt as though he had been waiting forever! Not only was it the day of the Tuckborough Moveable Feast, but this year Frodo and Merry were coming to visit, and would stay a while until it was time for them all to go back to Bag End for The Birthday. And Frodo had never been to the Moveable Feast before.
This was the first time he'd get to see his father open the Feast, as well. Last year had been the first year his father was Thain, since the old Thain Ferumbras III had been ill and given the title to his father. Pippin and his sisters had been sent away for a while until Paladin and Eglantine had settled into the Great Smials and their new duties. Pippin had spent nearly a year in Buckland with Merry's family. But he'd come back to the Tooklands at Lithe, and was trying his best to adjust to life in the Great Smials.
But if Merry and Frodo did not come soon, they'd miss the opening of the Feast! He fidgeted and gazed back down the road, trying to see past the throng of hobbits still coming in his direction.
"Boo!" said a voice behind him, making him jump. He turned with a grin.
"Merry! And Frodo!" He embraced each cousin enthusiastically in turn. "Where did you come from? I was watching for you!"
Frodo laughed and ruffled Pippin's hair. "We didn't come by road, Pip."
"Well, you are here just in time! Father's almost ready to open the Feast!"
Fastened to stakes, one at each side of the road, were two long yellow ribbons. They met in the center of the road where they were tied in a huge bow. Thain Paladin made his way over to the bow to the cheers of the assembled hobbitry.
"Ladies and Gentlehobbits! Welcome to the Tuckborough Moveable Feast! In the Year of Shire Reckoning 1148 the Shire was just beginning to recover from the dreadful dearth of the Fell Winter of the year before. The Tooklands had a good harvest that year, yet still the stores were depleted and many hobbits were still in want. Some hobbits thought perhaps it was too soon to celebrate the harvest; that it would be wasteful and disrespectful of those who had been lost during the awful winter before. But Thain Isumbras III did not agree. He thought that our people deserved a chance to express their joy and gratitude for our deliverance.
To make sure that the food was not wasted, and that those less fortunate were not left out of the celebration, he devised the first Moveable Feast, so that all could share the bounty!
It was so well-received that the hobbits of the Tooklands have repeated the occasion every year since." The Thain paused, and then looked around at all the assembled hobbits. "I trust you came prepared!"
There arose a clatter of noise, as suddenly hundreds of hobbits lifted up plates and began to bang on them with spoons or forks. Frodo looked confused, and Merry looked dismayed.
Pippin grinned. "I came prepared for you both," he said, lifting up a sack. Plates, forks, spoons and mugs for all three of us!"
"Bless you, Pip!" said Merry. "I didn't remember that part!"
"Then since we are ready," shouted the Thain, "let the Feast begin!" He reached over and tugged on the bow, so that the ribbon came apart, and hobbits began to stream into town.
Frodo took the tin dishes Pippin proffered to him. "I knew that we were supposed to go from place to place to eat, but I did not realize that we carried our own dishes!"
Pippin shook his head. "With so many hobbits, no one has enough dishes to go around, and no one would have the time to wash them all. There are bins near every stop to scrape the plates if there are any leftovers. And you can rinse your plate at one of the town pumps every so often."
Frodo watched as hobbits streamed out over a wide area, and as he, Merry and Pippin followed the crowd he could smell all sorts of delightful aromas. As they entered the outskirts of the town he saw that clumps of hobbits were gathered in different areas, and he could see the smoke of cookfires.
The Feast started at one o'clock, just in time for luncheon, but it would continue the rest of the day and into the night, covering tea, supper and late supper as well. Truly it was more like one continuous meal!
Pippin led the way to a cluster of cottages on the Eastern side of the rode. There was a cookfire attended by several hobbits, and a large table where the food had been placed.
"Frodo," said Pippin in his cousin's ear, "remember we'll be eating our way all through the town! Don't take too much to begin with or you'll miss the treats at the end.
As the cousins approached the table, a hobbit came up with a large shovelful of barley ashcakes. He slid them onto the table, and hobbits were lined up to take them, hot out of the embers as they were. There were not a few burned fingers! At the other end of the table was a crock of freshly-churned butter, and a few spreaders. Frodo slathered a goodly sized lump of the butter on his barley cake, and began to eat it as he and Merry followed Pippin across the road to another cookfire and another similar table, this one serving ember-roasted eggs.
And so the crowds of hobbits progressed, in a zigzag fashion from one side of the road to another, enjoyed roasted vegetables at one stop and slices of smoked pork at another. One family was serving bits of sausages on sticks, which Frodo, Merry and Pippin took over to toast at the nearby fire. Another family had potatoes baked in their jackets, and yet another had bowls of cabbage slaw and crocks of cucumber pickles.
Frodo was quite relieved when the next stop brought them to a table watched over by three young lasses. There were several pitchers of water and juice and there were pots of tea as well. He gratefully filled his mug with water, and then after finishing the water, filled it again, this time with fragrant peppermint tea.
Frodo began to see the wisdom of Pippin's advice. They had scarcely passed the northern outskirts of Tuckborough and still had most of the town before them. He was already beginning to feel full.
He could tell there were still crowds ahead of them, but he did not see the smoke of cookfires, and they would soon be in the part of town where the shops began. "Do the shops serve food?"
"Some of them do—we'll find treats at the cheesemonger's," answered Pippin, "and also at the baker's— the bakery always passes out miniature gingerhobbits. But most of the shops sponsor games or entertainment on Feast day. There's bobbing-for-apples at Brownlock's emporium, and there's usually an egg-and-spoon race at the mercer's. All sorts of games by the shops, and the prizes the winners get are tickets which they can use as discounts at the sponsoring shop.
Frodo cheered Merry and Pippin on in the egg-and-spoon race (which was won by a Brockhouse from Tookbank), and then went to the Bouncing Bunny (as the Leaping Hare was popularly known) for an ale. Beer, ale and spirits were the only things not free during the Feast, in order to lessen the possibility of scores of inebriated hobbits roaming the town. The taverns and inns were packed, nonetheless, and Frodo saw the Thain sitting with Odovacar Bolger and Ferdinand Took. He took his own beer over to them.
"Please join us, Frodo," said Paladin affably. "So you finally escaped the attentions of my son and my nephew?"
"They were busy with the games," said Frodo, "so I thought I'd ease my thirst! The Bunny has a fine brew." He lifted his mug, and took a deep draught.
"So young Baggins, what do you think of our Moveable Feast?" asked Ferdinand.
Frodo laughed. "I think that Isumbras III was a brilliant chap! However did he think of all this? And isn't it expensive?"
"Well," said Paladin, "it has changed over a few generations. In the original Feast, hobbits who had something to spare joined together to share with those who had less. But it was from the beginning open to all, so that no one would feel that they were getting charity. Over the years, it's become more and more elaborate and more of an occasion to attract outsiders into Tuckborough. But what you see at the north end of town was much as it was back then—a few families get together to serve as many as they can. Then when they run out of food, they will join the procession through the town. It is an expense of course, but like Yule, most families that participate save up for it over the year. And for the less prosperous families, the cost is cut by banding together with their neighbours."
"The feasts are more elaborate at the southern end of town," said Odovacar. "The families there often vie to throw more lavish spreads than their neighbours."
Paladin laughed. "But they can't out-do the Great Smials! That's where the Feast will end, with a marvelous Late Supper, followed by music and dancing."
"Speaking of music," said Ferdinand, "I had better move along, if I want to sample some more of the fare before the crowds begin to head to the Great Smials. I'll need some time to gather up the musicians for a little practice." Ferdinand was a fine piper, and much in demand.
Frodo sipped his beer and passed on some of the gossip from Hobbiton, and listened to Odovacar's fond complaints of his wife. He adored Rosamunda, but she was somewhat of a spendthrift when it came to gowns and fripperies.
"Another beer, Frodo, on me?" asked Paladin.
Frodo shook his head. "I'm watching out for your son and your nephew tonight, remember? I need to keep my wits about me!" He laughed, and so did Paladin, who pretended to be alarmed.
"What are you waiting for then!" He said, making a droll face. "You may need to go see if Tuckborough is still standing!"
"I think you are right," he said. He headed out to see if he could find Merry and Pippin. He did not expect they would have gone far without him. He knew how much they all had looked forward to enjoying this occasion together.
Frodo found Merry right away; he was in his shirtsleeves and cheering on two lads who were arm-wrestling in front of the butcher's shop.
He draped an arm over Merry's shoulders. "So, how did you do?" he asked.
Merry pursed his lips. "I beat that red-haired lad over there, and the apothecary's apprentice. But the blacksmith's apprentice beat me." He scowled slightly, but did not say more. Merry hated to lose, but he also did not want Frodo to think of him as a bad sport or a poor loser.
Frodo glanced at the two who were arm-wrestling now. "Is that tow-headed lad the blacksmith's apprentice? If so, it seems hardly fair to let him compete in your age group, Merry! He's bigger and stronger than some adults."
Merry looked gratified at Frodo's words, but said nothing. He shrugged into his weskit and jacket, and picked up the bag of dishes, which had been entrusted to him for the nonce. "We'd better go get Pip," he said. "After the two of us took part in the potato race, he went off to bob for apples over at Brownlock's."
"And how did you do in the potato race?" Frodo asked. In the potato race, partners raced together, tossing a potato back and forth between them as they ran. If they dropped the potato, or failed to keep throwing, they were disqualified.
"We won our heat," Merry said. "Pip didn't miss once; even though we weren't the fastest, we kept our potato going the whole way! I was really proud of him!"
Frodo laughed. "Pip's got nimble fingers!" he said. They were approaching the Emporium. A large vat of water had been set up in front of the shop, and apples floated there, waiting for the young hobbits to snare one with their teeth. But instead of a crowd of hobbit fry bobbing their heads in the water, the children were all standing about looking solemn. An adult was kneeling down next to one of them. It was Pippin, and he seemed to be far wetter than merely dunking for apples could have made him.
"What happened, Carlo?" asked Frodo.
Mr. Brownlock looked up in relief. He was glad to see Frodo and Merry. "I am not quite certain myself," he said, "I was getting ready to call time on this round, when I heard some of the children shouting. I saw young Peregrin here, coughing and choking. He hasn't been able to tell me what happened yet."
Merry was bending down, taking a towel that one of the Brownlock's clerks brought out, toweling Pippin off, and rubbing his shoulders and patting his back.
"I saw it!" said a lass. She shrugged off the arm of an older lass who was trying to hold her back. "I saw 'em! There was two other lads, and they crowded up behind 'im, and the bigger one shoved his head down and held it there for a minute! Then when he" she gestured at Pippin, "started to struggle, they run off."
Frodo went over to her. "What is your name, child?"
"I'm Posy Rushlight; we come from Little Delving to have the Feast with our cousins."
"Did you know who the other lads were?"
She shook her head. "Don't know no one here 'cepting our cousins," she said.
"That's all right. Thank you, child, for speaking up." Frodo beamed at her with warm approval in his eyes, and her face lit up.
"Thank'ee, sir! 'Twasn't right what they did!"
"No, it wasn't. Mr. Brownlock, don't you think Miss Posy here deserves something for speaking out?"
Carlo Brownlock nodded, and took a slip of paper from his pocket. He bent down and gave it to the lass. "Here, my dear! When the Emporium is open tomorrow, you bring this ticket with you. It's worth a penny, and you may spend it as you like."
Her eyes grew huge as she inspected it. "Oh sir!" she said.
Frodo turned his attention to Pippin now. Merry had put his own jacket around Pippin's damp shoulders. Frodo picked Pippin up; the lad was still trembling, and the three of them walked away. "Pippin, your father is over at the Bunny. Do you want me to fetch him for you?"
"No!" was the sharp exclamation.
"Pippin, do you know who the lads were who did this to you?"
Pippin made no answer, but burrowed his face into Frodo's shoulder.
Merry looked at him sharply. "Pippin, you do know, don't you?"
Frodo and Merry exchanged a look, and then Frodo took them down a narrow side street, and sat down with Pippin on the steps of a stationer's shop. There were no crowds there, and the shop was closed. "Pippin, who was it?"
He sniffed. "I'm sure they were only joking. Their jokes just aren't very funny."
Merry stiffened. "Was it the Bankses?"
Pippin looked down at his toes. "Please, please don't do anything! It would make Mother feel so dreadful if she knew!"
Clovis and Cado were Pippin's first cousins on his mother's side of the family, and they had made a habit of bullying Pippin since all of them were very small.
Merry sighed, and looked at Frodo. "He's right. Aunt Tina would be really upset. And it's not like it would do any good to tell their father. He always says 'Lads will be lads'."
Frodo pursed his lips. "I'm not sure that it's a good idea to stay silent, Merry. That sort of prank is not only not funny, but is vicious and dangerous. Still, if you think that it will do no good, I'll be guided by you, and will say nothing to Paladin or Eglantine. You know them better than I do." But, he thought to himself, if the Bankses were at the Great Smials, he'd keep an eye on them while he was here, and if he saw them doing anything else, he'd have a word or two with them himself.
Merry had his own thoughts on the subject. Pippin didn't want him to tell Uncle Paladin or Aunt Tina, well, fine. But that did not mean he couldn't have a quiet word with Pearl, Pimmie and Vinca. They'd make sure the Bankses didn't have a chance to get anywhere near Pip. And if he got the chance to get the two of them alone, he'd make them sorry!
"Well," said Frodo briskly, "the day is getting no younger! What do you say we continue our Feast, and see if we can find some tea? I'm sure it's getting close to teatime!"
Pippin's stomach chose that moment to let out with a rumble. He looked down and giggled. "It is teatime!"
Merry laughed and slapped Pippin on the back. "That's our Pip! More accurate than a pocketwatch!"
The homes of more prosperous hobbits were on the southern end of Tuckborough, large smials with spacious gardens, some of them half-house and half-smial, lining the road that led to the Great Smials just beyond the southern outskirts of the town.
There instead of cookfires and neighbours banding together to supply a single item of food, tables were set up on lawns and spread with lavish teas, attended by servants and sometimes the tweenaged daughters of the homes, while the matrons greeted the guests graciously.
Pippin walked between Frodo and Merry now, Merry's jacket still draped over his shoulders, his curls beginning to dry. He had put the entire incident behind him and was smiling and waving at the people he knew as they went along.
"You are the expert on the Feast, Pip," said Frodo. "Where should we take tea, then?"
"I think the Lightfoot's!" he said decisively. "Mrs. Lightfoot makes wonderful seedcake! And her strawberry preserves are amazing! Besides, Pimmie and Vinca are good friends with Jasmine Lightfoot, and they are helping her and her mother serve the tea!"
Pippin led them past half-a-dozen homes with tables set up and delicious aromas enticing them. On the right side of the road was a long low white house with a wide veranda. It was a house and not a smial, but the roof had been laid with turves of grass instead of thatching, so that it more closely resembled a hole. A flagged path led through an open gate festooned with ribbons of many colors. Mrs. Lightfoot stood near the gate, and welcomed them warmly. Two long tables were on the lawn, one of them beneath a large spreading chestnut tree festooned with lanterns. It was set with snowy white linen, and chairs were all about it. Some hobbits were already seated and eating, others were carrying loaded plates to it.
The other table was set up near the veranda, and was spread with quite a bounty of food. There were dainty sandwiches of radishes or cucumber or cress; there were platters of young vegetables, and stuffed eggs, and biscuits of both the sweet and savory variety. There was a large plate of seedcakes that Pippin eyed with approval, and a towering display of fairy cakes, frosted in all the colors of the rainbow. Young Jasmine was pouring out the tea, and Pervinca was presiding over a punch bowl. Merry saw Pimpernel coming out with a platter of cheeses, and bounded over to help her.
"Thank you, Merry!" she said. "I am glad of the help, but you look as though you have something to say. Has Pippin been in trouble?"
"Not the way you think, Pimmie" he said, as he gallantly took the large tray. In a low voice, he quickly told her of what had transpired.
"Pippin won't let us tell your parents," he said. "He doesn't want to worry Aunt Tina."
Pimmie's eyes had flashed when she heard of what her Banks cousins had done. "He's right. She'd be angry, but also really distressed! It always makes her feel bad when those two pick on Pippin, as if it's her fault! But thanks for letting me know. I'll pass it on to Vinca and Pearl. We will make sure they don’t get another chance to bother Pip. They are only staying until the day after tomorrow."
Merry was relieved. "That's good. Frodo and I are not leaving until after that, so they shouldn't have any chance to do something else if we all keep an eye on them." He placed the platter on the table with a flourish.
"Thank you, Meriadoc!" Pimpernel said. She bestowed a cousinly kiss on his cheek, and he blushed bright red.
Frodo, Merry and Pippin filled their plates and found seats at the other table. Some of the hobbits that had been there when they arrived had already left by the time they made their way there, so they found that they had a corner all to themselves.
They set to with a will, and had soon emptied their plates and their mugs; they took their leave of Mrs. Lightfoot, and Pimpernel waved good-bye as they headed out the gate.
"We'll see you at home shortly!" Pervinca called.
There were still several dozen houses or holes to walk past, but the three cousins were sated, and were not even a little tempted by the lovely smells wafting out across the road.
But there were still plenty of hobbits coming along behind them—the food would not be wasted.
Suddenly Merry gave a shout. "Oy! Fatty! Folco! Estella!"
Two lads and a younger lass who were walking ahead of them stopped and turned around. Fatty Bolger, his sister Estella, and their friend Folco Boffin looked pleased to see them.
Fatty was munching on a candied apple on a stick. Folco had a bag of sugar biscuits he'd been sharing with Estella. He proffered some to the others, but only Pippin took one.
They walked together the rest of the way to the Great Smials, discussing all the things they had done that day, though Pippin kept quiet about the apple-bobbing incident. Finally they arrived at the immense hill in which the Tooks made their ancestral home.
In the huge field east of the road, directly across from the Smials, several huge pavilions had been set up, and cookfires bloomed. They could see many hobbits bustling about with the business of setting up the final Feast of the day. They spotted one hobbitess who seemed quite busy giving instructions to all and sundry, standing with one hand on her hip and the other busy pointing at what yet needed to be done.
Pippin took off. "Mother!" he called. Eglantine turned around in time to catch her son's exuberant embrace, and bent to return it.
She looked up with a welcoming smile as the others approached.
"Hullo, Frodo," she said. "Thank you for watching over my scapegrace son today!"
"He's been very well behaved today, and has been quite informative about this quaint Tookish custom," Frodo said with a twinkle in his eye. "Especially considering how many sweets he's consumed."
Eglantine rolled her eyes. "Don't remind me! He is going to be fairly flying about the Smials for days! But it is a special occasion, and thank goodness only happens once a year."
She frowned down at her son briefly, and said "Why are you wearing Merry's jacket?"
Pippin's eyes grew wide, but Merry answered smoothly, "He got a little too wet during the apple-bob, Aunt Tina."
She bestowed another smile on her nephew. "Well, thank you Merry, for making sure he didn't get a chill." She looked over the entire group, and chuckled. "I think all of you are in need of a wash-up and a brush-up before the supper begins! Pippin, love, show our guests to their rooms, would you?"
Although all of them knew quite well where their guest rooms were, they allowed Pippin to lead them off just as if they did not. Inside the Smials, Fatty and Estella headed for their Uncle Ferdinand's apartment, with Folco in tow, and Frodo and Merry followed Pippin as he led them to the rooms they always used when they were guests of the Tooks. Merry had a small guest room right across the hall from Pippin's own room, while Frodo, as an adult and Head of the Bagginses, rated a set of rooms located near Merry's room.
Frodo retreated to his rooms with a sigh of relief. He enjoyed his cousins' company immensely, but the day had been crowded and full of bustle. It was a relief to have a few moments alone. He passed through the small sitting room to his bedroom, where he found a fresh ewer of water on the washstand. He washed up and changed his shirt and combed his hair. He was just brushing up his toes when he heard the knock. "Come in, Merry and Pip!" he said.
Their appearance too, was much improved. Frodo reached over and tugged at Merry's collar, and then bent down to fasten one of Pippin's shirt buttons that he had missed. "Well, shall we go and see what the grand finish for this Feast is like?"
The largest of the pavilions was set up for the Tooks and their houseguests, numbering a couple of hundred this night. Frodo was shown to a place at the table with the Thain and his Lady, seated between Paladin's two older sisters Primrose and Peridot. Merry and Pippin found themselves a place at the children's and tween's table. Merry spotted Cado and Clovis at one end, and steered Pippin to the opposite end of the table. He bent to whisper in Clovis' ear as he passed, "I'm watching you." Pippin did not notice, as he was busy waving at another friend at that moment.
Merry could not help but smirk as he saw the older Banks lad turn pale. Then his smirk turned to a grin as he saw Pimmie sit on one side of Cado and Vinca on the other side of Clovis. Pimmie turned and said something too, and now both the brothers were pale and looked discomfited.
Once they were seated, however, Merry put the Bankses out of his mind. The servants began to bring the food, and it was delicious and varied. There was creamy carrot soup, and roast beef with mashed parsnips, and warm yeasty rolls of bread, and stuffed mushrooms and several other delights as well. Pudding was an apple crumble, and for filling up the corners there were plates of cheeses, pickles and savoury wafers.
Frodo found himself sated long before the filling up of corners stage was reached. He sipped lightly of the excellent elderberry wine that was being served to the adults, and listened politely to the reminiscences of the two elderly hobbitesses. They had been good friends of his mother, and it was a bittersweet pleasure to hear their stories of her youth. For a moment his mind wandered to Pippin, and he swept his eye over that table. His gaze briefly landed on the Banks brothers; he still was half-convinced that Paladin and Eglantine should have been informed of the incident, but he would honour Pippin's wishes in spite of his misgivings.
The meal ended, and the hobbits began to leave the pavilion and head out into the now-starlit evening to the sounds of the musicians warming up their instruments for the dancing. Frodo spotted Cado and Clovis. They seemed to be lurking behind one of the poles holding up the pavilion, and he wondered what mischief they might be plotting now. He went over to them, and the guilty expressions they turned to him steeled his resolve to speak to them.
"I know what you did to Pippin in town this afternoon. It was not a joke and it was not funny; do not try to tell me that it was. I will be keeping my eyes open while I am here, and I expect the two of you to give Pippin a wide berth. Do you understand me?"
Clovis gave a sullen nod, and Cado squeaked out a barely audible "Yes, sir."
Frodo treated them to another moment of his silent gaze, and then giving a satisfied nod, he walked away.
An instant later, the two brothers, who were trying to avoid being seen by anyone, saw Pearl coming in their direction. They bolted.
The music had started now, and sets of dancers had begun to form in the wide space between the pavilions. The first dance was "The Happy Hob", and it was a vigorous and breathless dance. Merry danced with Pimpernel and Pippin with Pervinca. This was followed by "Circle of Joy". This was one of Frodo's favorites, and he found himself in the circle between Pearl and another hobbitess he did not know. He partnered Aunt Primrose in "Exchanges" and then dropped out of the dancing to just watch.
He soon found himself at the mercy of several young hobbits clamoring for a story, so he sat down upon the gnarled root of an old oak tree and began to tell the exciting tale of the Great Eagle Thorondor, and how he had helped the Elf Fingon to rescue his cousin Maedhros from the evil Lord of Angband. He glanced up to notice that Merry and Pippin had joined the crowd of hobbits at his feet.
He was getting tired. "One more story," he said. "Just one!"
"Tell us one about Gandalf!" cried Pippin.
Frodo thought for a moment, and then grinned, and told the story of Gandalf's first meeting with the Old Took, who was not so very old at the time, and was engaged in a bit of tweenaged mischief for good measure!
He left the group of youngsters laughing, and began to make his way to the Smials. He was unsurprised to find Merry and Pippin rushing to catch him up. Merry was probably just as tired as he was—they had both set off early, after all. Pippin seemed to be full of energy, hopping about and running ahead only to stop and watch impatiently. But Frodo was sure that he had to be exhausted as well after such a busy day.
They followed Frodo to his room, and Pippin asked "Can we stay with you tonight, Frodo?"
Frodo was mildly surprised. They had mostly outgrown asking to sleep with him; Merry especially thought he was too old for that now. But he truly did not mind, as it reminded him of when they were younger. Still, they did not have as much time together as they once had now that Frodo was Master of Bag End. He nodded.
Merry went to fetch his and Pippin's nightshirts and dressing gowns, and Pippin went into the room with Frodo.
"Thank you for not telling on Cado and Clovis, Frodo. I really think they were just joking. And it would have made Mother so upset!"
"It was not a funny joke, then, Pippin. They could have hurt you badly."
"I was a little bit scared," he admitted.
Frodo knew that if his little cousin was admitting to that much, that he had been far more than a "little bit" scared, but he didn't say anything, and Pippin, looking to change the subject, picked up the book that Frodo had unpacked. He looked at it curiously. "This looks interesting. Would you read some of it to us?"
Merry returned with the nightshirts, and soon all three were tucked up in Frodo's bed, the lamp lit and the Moon glowing through the window.
"It was the first day of Halimath in the year 928 when I drove my cart East on the Great Road, heading for Bree with a cartload of Buckland's finest apple brandy and produce from the Marish…"
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