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Knave of Hearts  by Grey Wonderer

The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts,

All on a summer’s day.

The Knave of Hearts, he stole the tarts,

And took them clean away.

The King of Hearts called for the tarts,

And beat the Knave full sore,

The Knave of Hearts brought back the tarts,

And vowed he’s steal no more.

-Anonymous nursery rhyme


“The Knave of Hearts”

Frodo shifted the small, squirming child in his arms again and glared down at the angry eleven-year-old standing before him. “Tell me how in all of the Shire waiting just another hour will spoil things, Meriadoc?” Frodo demanded as the child in his arms went limp and leaned his full weight toward the table. “Peregrin, stop that!” Frodo insisted and shifted the child again.

“Just drop him,” Merry suggested. “It isn’t that far to the floor and he deserves it. He is spoiling my plans.” Merry frowned at the little child and then returned his full attention to Frodo. “What if Mr. Grubb gets busy with something else while you’re messing about with that baby?”

Frodo sighed. “I will not be dropping your cousin no matter how much he squirms because it is too far to the floor and I am not messing about with this baby. I am watching him for your mum. I promised to keep an eye on Pippin while she was busy with her sewing circle meeting and I intend to keep my promise.”

“You shouldn’t have,” Merry said icily.

“I shouldn’t have what?” Frodo frowned.

“Promised to watch that baby,” Merry said wrinkling his nose as if something in the room smelled awful.

“Your mum needed some help,” Frodo said. The child in his arms smacked Frodo in the jaw with one small hand and then tugged at his curls with the other. “Ouch!”

Merry snickered. “See? You shouldn’t have.”

“Peregrin, stop squirming,” Frodo instructed holding the child out at arm’s length and trying to look stern.

“Bla!” Peregrin shouted and kicked his tiny feet in defiance. “Ogg gah!”

“Splendid,” Frodo sighed. “I’ve no idea what you said but I am certain that it wasn’t anything agreeable.”

“He probably called you stupid or something,” Merry reasoned.

“I doubt that he knows that particular word,” Frodo said pulling the child back against his side and trying to sit him on his hip like he’d seen his cousin, Esmeralda do. It was less than successful because the child was not cooperating and Frodo didn’t have enough hip for the job. The baby kicked his tiny feet and the little bells that had been sewn into his trousers to help the adults in his life keep track of him jingled. “You did not call me stupid, did you little jingle bells?” Frodo asked the squirming child in a sweet, rather sappy tone of voice.

“Gah, beeeee-blah blah,” Pippin announced kicking his feet some more and grinning shyly at Frodo revealing six tiny, white teeth and the tip of his tongue.

“You’re a good lad, aren’t you, my little Jingle Bells?” Frodo simpered and cooed at the baby while Merry rolled his eyes and frowned.

“Why do you always talk to him as if he doesn’t know what you’re saying? What if he gets older and he talks like that? The other lads will tease him and it will be all your fault,” Merry declared, his grey eyes dark with annoyance. “He knows what you’re saying. He just can’t talk proper himself yet.”

Frodo laughed softly. “You have no idea what I’m saying, do you, Jingle Bells?” Frodo eyed the baby who was now sucking on two tiny fingers and slobbering.

“He knows,” Merry said darkly.

“Aaaaaaaaa!” Pippin said, kicking his foot and leaning over in Frodo’s arms. The child was small but when he allowed himself to go limp he felt much heavier.

“Hold still and don’t do that,” Frodo said sternly but the child continued to lean.

“He wants the jam tarts on the table,” Merry said looking longingly at the golden brown tarts bursting with raspberry jam and frosted with a sugary glaze that sat in neat rows on the cooling racks that covered the Brandybuck’s kitchen table. “Give him one of those and he’ll be still. We could all have one. It would be better than just standing here missing out on seeing a brand new pony.” Merry looked upward and sighed deeply as if the weight of the entire smial was pressing down on his shoulders.

Frodo smiled. “The brand new pony will still be there in an hour, Merry and I promise that you and I will go and see it.”

“But we aren’t taking that baby,” Merry said firmly pointing to Pippin who was going limp in the direction of the table again and causing Frodo to shift his weight in order to keep the child from falling face first into the jam tarts.

“No, we are not,” Frodo said with effort as he tugged the child upright again and was rewarded with a tiny squawk from the child accompanied by another smack to the jaw. “We may not take this unruly child anywhere until he’s thirty or so.”

“Maybe not even then,” Merry said reaching for a tart.

“Don’t you dare, Meriadoc!” Frodo said quickly. “Your mum made those for her guests and part of her instructions were that we were not to eat any of them.”

“She won’t miss one or two,” Merry objected. “Look at all of those. Do you think she counted them?”

“I am not willing to take that chance,” Frodo said. “If your mum becomes angry then she might not allow me to take you to see the Grubb’s new pony. You know that we have to take the cart down to his farm and if we want to go then we need to stay in your mum’s good graces. Eating her jam tarts that she has worked all morning on and which she is serving at her sewing circle is not the way to stay on her good side.” Frodo shifted the baby again. “And that goes for you too, Peregrin Took!” Frodo said looking at the baby who now had both hands outstretched and was reaching for the tarts.

Merry snickered. “Put him down. He can’t reach the table. He’s too little.”

Frodo studied the little child in his arms for a moment and when another tiny hand managed to smack him in the face he promptly sat the child down on the floor. Peregrin looked up at him with wide green eyes, confusion showing on his small face, but did not offer to get up. He just sat there and looked around. Clearly he was startled by this new development. He leaned his head back and looked up at Frodo curiously as if waiting for an explanation.

“See, he knows he’s too little,” Merry grinned. “He isn’t even trying to get one of those lovely jam tarts now.” Merry looked over at the tarts and licked his lips. “Are you sure that just one-“

“Merry, we are not going to eat any of those tarts. If there are any left after the sewing circle leaves than I am certain that your mum will give us one or two of them,” Frodo said. The tarts were starting to look very appealing to him also.

“I don’t know how they can be sewing and eating tarts anyway,” Merry growled. “They’ll get jam all over the stuff that they’re sewing. Jam tarts aren’t the sort of food that a hobbit should serve to a sewing circle.”

Amused, Frodo asked, “What exactly should a hobbit serve to a sewing circle?”

“Something like crackers or maybe ginger snaps,” Merry said. “Those aren’t at all sticky and if you spill a plate of ginger snaps on your sewing it doesn’t leave jam all over it.”

Frodo smiled. “I suppose not.” Frodo sensed movement and heard the tiny bells ringing at his feet. He looked down to find that little Pippin was pushing himself up into a standing position. The three-year-old stood up and reached his arms over his head waving his fingers at the edge of the table and frowning. “Up! Up!” he demanded amid a storm of tinkling bells.

Merry giggled looking completely satisfied. “See, he can’t reach anything.”

As if understanding Merry’s words, Pippin turned and frowned at him. “Up!” he demanded of Merry.

“I’m not holding you,” Merry said and the child promptly sat down again.

“How do you do that?” Frodo asked looking amazed.

“Do what?” Merry asked.

“How do you make him mind like that?” Frodo asked. “He won’t listen to anything that I tell him.”

“He isn’t minding me,” Merry said. “He just knows that I won’t pick him up. He’s thinking it all over. He’s plotting.”

Frodo smirked. “Plotting, is he?”

“He is plotting. Look at his eyes,” Merry said. “No one believes it but that baby is wicked.”

“Honestly, Merry,” Frodo sighed. “Just because I am watching the child and you are having to wait to do something that you want to do, that doesn’t mean that the baby is wicked. He’s only a little child. He’s just three years old.”

“He’s wicked,” Merry said watching the baby walk underneath the table. “He’s up to something.”

“He’s standing underneath the table,” Frodo said, smiling. “He’s really very adorable. I remember when you could walk underneath the table. You were adorable then too.”

Merry wrinkled up his nose again. “Don’t compare me to that wicked baby.”

“Fine,” Frodo smiled. “Now, why don’t we take the baby into the parlor and-“

“Can’t,” Merry said shaking his head.

“Why not?” Frodo asked.

“Papa is asleep in there,” Merry said. “He was out late last night helping Mr. Grubb with the new pony because the mother pony had trouble getting it out. The new pony was turned wrong. Sometimes ponies get stuck or something.”

“Oh,” Frodo said not enjoying the mental image that Merry was providing for him. “So we can’t go into the parlor?”

“No,” Merry said. “Papa is sleeping on the sofa. He’s sitting up but his head is back and his mouth is open and he’s snoring. Mum said not to wake him. I was going to give him that baby so we could go see the pony but Mum said not to.” Merry peered underneath the table and Frodo heard the small child giggle.

“What’s he doing?” Frodo asked not bothering to look.

“He’s just wandering around under there is all,” Merry said with a shrug. “He’s still planning. We can hear the bells if he starts to run off. That’s why those bells are there you know.”

Frodo smiled and nodded. “Sounds to me as if he is playing.”

“Think whatever you like,” Merry said with a shrug. He gave Frodo the sort of pitying look that one might give to a simpleton. “I wish we could just have one tart.” He looked at the table again.

“I think it would be best if we took the baby and went outside,” Frodo said. He knew full well that the tarts were becoming too much of a temptation for Merry. In fact, he himself was beginning to be tempted and he was supposed to be the one in charge. Frodo leaned over and peered underneath the table in search of Pippin. He would gather up the little child and take both of his younger cousins outside away from the tarts.

Suddenly he caught sight of Pippin’s tiny feet on top of a chair that was next to the table on the other side. Just as Frodo realized what was happening, Merry shouted, “He’s getting a tart!” Frodo rose up too quickly and banged his head on the table. Merry continued to shout, “Frodo! He’s got one! He’s got one of Mum’s tarts for the sewing circle! That wicked baby has one of the tarts! He climbed onto a chair! I told you he was plotting but you wouldn’t listen!”

Frodo pulled himself out from beneath the table rubbing his aching head and stood up in time to see Pippin climbing off of the chair with a large jam tart in one tiny hand. “Don’t just stand there, Merry! Help me catch him before he gets jam all over everything!” Frodo shouted. He and Merry each ran in opposite directions around the table and Pippin, with his ill-gotten tart firmly gripped in his hand, proceeded to run underneath the table and out of the kitchen.

“Still think it’s adorable that he can run underneath the table?” Merry asked as he and Frodo raced back around the table and after the child.

“Pippin!” Frodo shouted.

The tiny tart thief tottered ahead of them, little feet moving at top speed, tiny bells jingling, leaving a trail of jam behind him. Pippin was holding tightly to the tart and squeezing the jam out of it without meaning to. “Mi, mi, mi!” Pippin called out in his high voice as he ran toward the parlor.

“Not the parlor!” Merry groaned.

“Stop him, Merry!” Frodo ordered. “Pippin, you come here this instant!”

“NO! Nononononono,” Pippin shouted and continued to run taking a sloppy bite out of the tart as he went. Jam was now oozing down the front of the child’s face and onto his shirt.

Frodo stepped into a large drop of jam and slid into the wall with a loud thump banging his head yet again. Merry side-stepped the jam and hurried on down the hall after the little tart thief. “Bollocks,” Frodo muttered as Merry passed.

Merry reached the door to the parlor just in time to watch Pippin climb up onto the sofa and sit down next to Saradoc Brandybuck who was still snoring. Pippin looked over at Merry and grinned around a mouthful of tart and waved. Merry glared at him but didn’t move. Saradoc grunted in his sleep and Pippin looked up at him with interest while licking the jam off of one sticky hand.

Frodo charged into the parlor and stopped a few feet into the room and stared in horror as Pippin patted Saradoc’s leg with his hand and left a jam print on the Master of Buckland’s trouser leg. Frodo also noticed a large raspberry stain on the sofa where Pippin had climbed up next to his sleeping Uncle. Pippin extended the tart toward Saradoc and said quietly, “By?” as if offering Saradoc a bite of the tart, which was now flat and rather disgusting looking. “By?”

“Pippin, no,” Frodo hissed walking slowly toward the child. “Uncle Doc is sleeping.” He kept his voice low as he moved closer to the child. Pippin looked at Frodo and blinked and then crammed a large bite of the tart into his tiny mouth. “Come here, Pippin and we’ll go into the kitchen and get some more tarts,” Frodo offered gently.

“You said we couldn’t have any!” Merry objected, outraged.

“Quiet, Meriadoc,” Frodo hissed turning and putting a finger to his lips. He motioned toward Merry’s father still asleep on the sofa.

“If that baby gets another tart then I get two tarts,” Merry reasoned in a much quieter voice.

“No one is getting any t-a-r-t-s,” Frodo whispered.

“Oh, you’re l-y-e-i-n-g to that baby,” Merry grinned. Frodo could tell that this pleased Merry immensely.

“Exactly,” Frodo hissed and then turned to look at Pippin. Pippin had made use of the time that Frodo had spent arguing with Merry and was now seated on Saradoc’s lap munching on the tart noisily. He swung a tiny food back and forth causing a soft jingle sound with each motion. “Bollocks,” Frodo muttered taking another step forward. “Pippin?” Frodo stopped and then looked back at Merry and whispered, “Merry go into the kitchen and get another tart and bring it in here quickly.”

“What for?” Merry objected.

“Bait,” Frodo hissed.

“Oh,” Merry grinned. “Can I eat it after?”

“Merry! Just get the tart quickly,” Frodo whispered.

“Tar!” Pippin chirped loudly.

“Shhhh, quiet Pippin,” Frodo pleaded. “Uncle Doc is sleeping.”

Pippin put one sticky finger to his lips and nodded while trying to make the shhh sound. He looked up at his Uncle and waved the last piece of the tart near Saradoc’s nose but didn’t actually touch him. Saradoc sniffed, grunted, and then snored on. Pippin blinked and lowered the tart again and proceeded to place it on his Uncle’s chest. Frodo groaned as Pippin watched the tart move slowly up and down with each breath that Saradoc took.

Merry then came hurtling into the room with two more tarts, one in each hand and stopped at Frodo’s side extending only one of the tarts to his older cousin. “Here’s the bait,” Merry offered.

Frodo glared at the second tart.

Merry moved slightly back and shrugged. “I figured that you’d want to reward me for helping so I went ahead and got myself a tart too.”

Frodo snatched the tart that Merry was offering him out of his cousin’s hand and returned his attention to Pippin who was still watching Saradoc breathe, fascinated with the motion of the tart on his Uncle’s chest. “Come here, Pippin,” Frodo smiled holding out the tart but being careful to keep it just out of the child’s reach. “If you come over here to me, I’ll give you this nice, big, tart.”

Pippin considered this and then reached out one hand for the tart. “Mi,” he said softly.

“If you come and get it,” Frodo encouraged while behind him Merry munched noisily on his own stolen tart. Frodo extended the tart a bit more and waited.

Pippin squirmed on Saradoc’s lap and kicked his tiny feet on the sofa. The sound of the little bells increased and Saradoc stirred ever so slightly. “Mi,” Pippin said more firmly.

“Pippin, you’ll wake Uncle Doc,” Frodo hissed. “Now, be a good little lad and come and get this nice tart that is just filled with lovely jam. Come on, Pippin.” Frodo waved the tart.

“Your bait isn’t working,” Merry said swallowing a mouthful of tart.

“I can see that,” Frodo whispered glaring at Merry.

“I told you he was a wicked baby,” Merry grinned, his lips painted with jam. “That baby is the most wickedest baby that there ever was.”

Pippin made a whimpering noise and his lower lip puckered. He looked at Merry and sniffled. “You’re going to make him cry,” Frodo hissed taking a step closer to the little one and then glaring at Merry again. “Now, stop calling him wicked before he bursts into tears and starts making that awful wailing noise that he makes.”

Merry frowned at the baby. “Fine,” Merry whispered. “You’re a nice little baby, aren’t you?” Merry said insincerely while making a face at the child. Merry stuck out his jam-stained tongue and crossed his eyes.

Pippin giggled and then reached over and patted his jam-coated hand on Saradoc’s shirt next to the spot where the rest of his original stolen tart still rose and fell with his Uncle’s breathing.

Frodo stepped closer to Pippin and smiled. “There’s a good lad, now come to your cousin Frodo.”

Pippin blinked again and then stuck two fingers into his mouth but he didn’t get up.

“You want me to get more tarts?” Merry offered. “Maybe we don’t have enough bait.”

Frodo turned to look at Merry and before he could speak, Pippin stood up on the sofa and snatched the tart out of Frodo’s hand. Frodo whirled about and lunged for the baby and Pippin screamed and, placing the fresh tart between himself and Saradoc, Pippin leaned over and wrapped his tiny arms around his Uncle’s neck. The child pressed himself against his Uncle and Saradoc’s head snapped up. He came face to face with Pippin who was still screaming. Frodo was lying face down on the sofa and holding onto one of Pippin’s feet. “Ow!” Pippin squalled.

Merry stared in fascination and hurriedly crammed the rest of his own tart into his mouth. There was about to be trouble and he was not about to waste any of the tart just because things were going to get ugly.

“What in thunder is going on here?” Saradoc shouted as he tried to remove Pippin from his neck.

Frodo released Pippin’s foot and the child proceeded to attempt to climb Saradoc. Frodo rose up off of the sofa to find a large jam stain on his shirt. His hand was sticky from holding onto Pippin’s foot.

“Hullo, Papa,” Merry said innocently. “Did Frodo and that wicked baby wake you?”

Frodo turned and looked at Merry in shock as Pippin stopped screaming and buried his face in his Uncle’s shoulder. Saradoc patted Pippin’s back gently and frowned at Frodo. “Who is supposed to be watching this little noise-maker?”

“Frodo is,” Merry offered.

“I can hear you all the way down the hall,” Esmeralda said rushing into the room and glaring at them. “You are disrupting my sewing circle. I can hear Pippin screaming. What have you all done to him?”

“What have we done to him?” Frodo asked incredulous. “That little child is wicked!”

“What a dreadful thing to say, Frodo,” Esmeralda said sternly. “Now, what is wrong with him?” She looked at Saradoc who had managed to pull the child away from his neck and sit him back on his lap.

Seeing the smashed tart, Pippin squealed in delight, “Tar!” and he proceeded to pull a chunk of the sticky pastry off Saradoc’s shirt and stuff it into his tiny mouth.

Saradoc looked down at his ruined shirt and then he scowled at the child who was sitting on his lap. Seeing his Uncle’s angry face, Pippin quickly removed another piece of the tart and shoved it into Saradoc’s mouth. “By?” Pippin asked blinking innocently.

“Frodo Baggins!” Esmeralda shouted. “I distinctly remember telling you that those tarts were for my sewing circle. Where did that baby get that tart?”

Frodo looked over at Merry, who up until now, had been willing to offer up answers to everything but this time Merry was annoyingly silent. Frodo cleared his throat and said, “He took it from the table.”

Merry suddenly regained the power of speech and said, “No he ate that one already. This one there is the one you gave him, Frodo.”

Pippin patted his Uncle with a sticky hand and said, “Mo by?” while Frodo looked at Merry as if he might be considering killing him.

“You gave this child a jam tart?” Saradoc frowned after swallowing the tart that Pippin had forced into his mouth. He looked at Frodo and then looked at his shirt.

“Tar!” Pippin crowed and waved over at Frodo. “Mo tar?”

“I think he wants you to get him another one, Frodo,” Merry translated.

“I know what he wants!” Frodo shouted his face flushed with anger.

“Frodo Baggins, what has come over you?” Esmeralda demanded. “I leave you alone to watch one tiny child and all I ask is that you not give him any of my jam tarts and this is what happens? That wee babe has managed to get jam all over everything! Just look at your Uncle’s shirt! Why there is even jam on Merry’s shirt!”

Merry looked wide-eyed. “How’d he do that?” he asked looking over at Pippin in mock surprise and stuffing his hands into his pockets.

“I think you might have dripped some jam on your own shirt while you were enjoying the tart that you helped yourself to earlier, Merry,” Frodo said, with a slightly evil grin. “I don’t think Pippin did that. I think I remember a bit of jam oozing out of your mouth while you were chewing.”

Merry narrowed his eyes and glared at Frodo.

“Meriadoc Brandybuck!” Esmeralda shouted turning away from Frodo and looking at her only child. “Did you take one of those tarts?”

“I only got it on account of the fact that Frodo was giving Pippin one, Mum,” Merry sputtered. “It isn’t fair that the baby gets everything and I don’t get any tarts. Frodo has let that baby have two tarts!”

“I was using the second one as bait!” Frodo shouted.

“You sat him down and he got away!” Merry shouted back.

“You told me to sit him down!” Frodo shouted.

“Do you do everything I tell you to?” Merry demanded. “I’m only eleven!”

“You may only be eleven but you are entirely too shrewd for eleven!” Frodo retorted.

“I am not shrewd!” Merry objected not entirely certain what the word meant and thinking that it must be an insult.

“Both of you stop shouting this instant!” Esmeralda shouted.

Pippin whimpered and buried his face into the sticky mess on Saradoc’s shirt. “Baaaaaa!” he howled.

Saradoc stood and began to pat the child on the back while walking up and down with him. “You are all frightening this little child. Now, kindly stop shouting at one another before you make a nervous wreck of this poor little one.”

Merry and Frodo exchanged annoyed looks and Merry rolled his eyes and muttered, “I told you he was wicked. He’s a thief.”

“I have an entire room full of guests just down the hall that are probably listening to every word of this,” Esmeralda hissed looking at Frodo and Merry. “And now I have a very sticky baby to bathe. How am I supposed to entertain my guests and bathe that child?”

“I’ll bathe him,” Frodo sighed.

“No, I’ll do it,” Saradoc said. “I need a bath myself at this point and so I might just as well let the little Took splash water on me. No need for all of us to wind up in need of a bath.”

“Tar,” Pippin whimpered still clinging to his Uncle’s shirt with his sticky little fists. “Mo tar.”

“Not on your life,” Saradoc said gently. “You’ve had all of the jam tarts that you need, Master Took. Right now, you are going to get a bath.”

Pippin looked up at his Uncle with wide eyes and frowned. “Ba?”

“No, don’t tell him,” Merry warned. “He likes it once you get him in the water, but he fights it if he knows it’s coming.”

Pippin pushed out suddenly and Saradoc, whose hands were rather sticky and slick from all of the jam, lost his grip on the child and Pippin managed to hit the sofa running. “Get him!” Saradoc shouted and Merry managed to dive forward, grab Pippin around the waist and pull the sticky child toward him.

“I’ve got him!” Merry crowed as Pippin howled in rage. “Yuck! He’s got jam all over him and now it’s on me!” Merry complained.

“I know how you feel, son,” Saradoc sighed looking at his own ruined shirt.

“Is he hurt?” Esmeralda asked. “Your father dropped him.” She glared at Saradoc and frowned.

Merry stood up holding the wiggling, jingling, child in his arms and said, “You want to check him. I can hand him to you if you want him, Mum.”

Esmeralda thought better of this and stepped back. “I have guests to see to. He looks fine. You lads bathe him and this time, see if you can keep up with him.”

As she turned to leave, Merry looked up at his father, “Do we have any rope?”

“Give me the child,” Saradoc instructed and Merry happily handed Pippin back to Saradoc. “Now, why don’t the two of you change clothes and go see Mr. Grubb’s new foal while I give Master Took, tart thief of the Tooklands, a b-a-t-h.”

Merry snickered and then grinned at Frodo. “Come on, Frodo! We get to go see the new pony!” He reached out and took hold of Frodo’s hand.

“Merry, you’re sticky,” Frodo said as Merry pulled him toward the door to the parlor.

“Who cares? We need to go now while no one is angry at us,” Merry hissed. “That little wicked baby will get us in more trouble if we stay here.”

Not able to think of any argument for that, Frodo followed Merry. After everyone had left, Saradoc looked at the small child that he held tightly in his arms and frowned. “You are not fooling me, Master Took. Somehow all of this was your doing. I don’t know how, but it was your doing, all the same.”

Pippin blinked and ran a finger through the jam on Saradoc’s shirt and stuck his finger into his bow-shaped mouth. He smacked his lips together and then said, “Mo tar?”

Saradoc sighed and said, “First you and I are going to go take care of a few matters. I am going to put you in some nice w-a-t-e-r and give you a good b-a-t-h and then I may take Merry’s suggestion and see if I can find some r-o-p-e.” He smiled at the sticky little child who grinned back at him and proceeded to lick more jam form his shirt.

The End

GW 10/16/2006

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