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The Great Blotmath Walnut War In The Year 1423  by Grey Wonderer


"The Great Blotmath Walnut War In the Year of 1423"


"Is it actually three years already?" Pippin said looking stunned. "It doesnít seem that long. But when one thinks about it, it is almost as if theyíve been married for ages, donít you think?" He leaned against the doorframe, his long legs crossed at the ankles and his dressing gown loosely belted at the waist. "I really canít imagine exactly how it was before Tom and†Marigold were married, can you?" Pippin smiled. "Three years! Where does time go?"

"Who gave you leave to be up and about, Peregrin Took?" Pervinca demanded, not turning from her work at the kitchen table as she spoke. Her voice sounded sharp but Pippin knew that she was only putting on a show of being stern.

"I suppose that I gave myself leave. I was the only one about and so there was no one else to ask," Pippin said smiling. "Besides, itís much better today. The swelling has gone down considerably and if I didnít know it, Iíd think it was a perfectly normal knee." As if to illustrate his point he walked, a bit hesitantly, into the room and placed his hands on his older sisterís shoulders. "Walnuts!" he crowed looking over her shoulder. "Where did we get walnuts?"

"They come from trees," Pervinca said sounding annoyed.

"So, trees came to the door and just gave us all of those lovely walnuts?" Pippin asked.

"Trees do not come to the door," Pervinca said turning to face him and looking up into his bright green eyes.

"Some of the trees that I know could come up to the door and leave walnuts if they wanted to do so," Pippin said smiling. He tried to reach around her but she quickly caught his wrist and held fast.

"Your walking, talking trees did not bring these walnuts. Your older sister, Pearl gave them to me before I left the Tookland. In exchange for delivering some of them to our Aunt Esme during my visit to Brandy Hall Pearl gave me a bag of them. As you are well aware, our sister happens to grow the best walnuts in the Shire and gave them to me so that I might do a bit of baking for Tom and Marigoldís surprise anniversary celebration. So kindly keep your hands to yourself," Pervinca said. She released his wrist and demanded, "Sit down in the chair over there and let me look at your knee."

ďThere are walnuts in Buckland, Vince,Ē Pippin grinned. ďIíve seen them. In fact, Iíve eaten them before and they arenít at all bad.Ē

ďNo one in Buckland grows walnuts like Pearl,Ē Pervinca insisted. ďThose trees have been producing the finest walnuts in the Shire since before our father farmed that land and the crop only gets better with each successive harvest. Now, sit down and let me examine your knee.Ē

"It really is much better," Pippin said in the same hopeful tone he always used in regard to his own injuries and illnesses. "Iím able to stand on it at least."

"Sit," Pervinca commanded and she pointed to the chair. ďI have baking to do and I donít have time for your foolishness, Peregrin Took. I want to bake one of my walnut cakes as a sort of trial before I bake the actual cake for Marigold and Tom.Ē

ďCan I eat the trial cake and offer my expert opinion as to its quality?Ē Pippin asked, still not yet seated in the chair.

ďNot if you donít allow me time to bake it,Ē Pervinca frowned. ďThis cake has got to be perfect. Marigold is a very dear friend and I refuse to take anything to her celebration that isnít up to my usual standards. Now sit down!Ē

Pippin sighed and walked over towards the chair making every effort not to limp. Pervinca observed him, taking note of how gingerly he seemed to be stepping and shook her dark curls, holding her mouth in a tight line. Pippin sat down and stretched the leg in question out before him and then looked up at his sister. Since returning from the Quest a little over three years past he rarely had to look up at anyone but it still felt natural to be looking up at Pervinca. Even though she was the shortest of his three older sisters, she had been taller than he was for most of his life. He smiled at her and said; "I think I will be able to get about just fine today, Vince."

Pervinca knelt beside him and pushed up his trouser leg so that she could look at his knee. Even though Pippin was still wearing his nightshirt and dressing gown he had slipped on his trousers before coming into the kitchen. Growing up with three older sisters he had learned quickly to be modest. In a home filled with females, Pippin had grown up knowing that it was not at all proper to come to the table in the morning in nothing but your nightshirt. He leaned forward and watched her as she examined his knee, poking it gently with her fingers and looking intently at it.

"See how much improved it is?" Pippin said hopefully.

"Improved but still a long way from healed," Pervinca said not looking up at him yet. "There is still more than a bit of swelling and you flinched when I touched it."

"I did not!" Pippin objected. He had, but he was hoping that she had not noticed that.

Pervinca looked up at him now and pulled his trouser leg back down as she spoke. "You did. More than once you flinched. It still hurts doesnít it?" she said gently.

Pippin scowled at her. "It hurts most of the time after a fashion. I donít notice it really. Most of the time it is nothing more than a nuisance. I am accustomed to it. Itís no worse today than it is when it rains."

"It isnít raining," Pervinca pointed out as she stood. "Now, go back to bed and Iíll bring you some fresh scones with jam and some tea."

"Why canít I sit in here at the table and have scones?" Pippin frowned.

ďYou need to prop that leg up. I donít want any undue stress on it until it is fully healed,Ē Pervinca said. ďBesides, if I allow you to stay here, youíll have those sticky fingers of yours in my baking and Iíll not get anything done. It will be time for Marigold and Tomís celebration before you know it.Ē

Pippin had to smile. He was so pleased that his sister had formed such a strong friendship with Marigold while he had been away on the Quest. Sam was like family by the time they had all returned to the Shire and it was a very pleasant surprise indeed to see that his own sister and Samís had become close. At first the Tooks had been rather insistent that Hamfast Gamgee must know something about where Pippin and his cousins had gone. In fact, Pippin had been told, much to his embarrassment, that Paladin Took had come to Hobbiton and questioned the Gamgees to the point of badgering them. At some point the shared concern for their missing lads had formed a bond between the two families. Pervinca and Marigold had become very close.

ďPippin, are you listening to me?Ē Pervinca asked interrupting his thoughts.

ďI really donít see why I have to spend the day in bed,Ē Pippin objected.

"Because your older sister says that you need to go back to bed," Merry interrupted coming into the kitchen; his arms filled with a very large sack.

ďMerry!Ē Pippin crowed jumping to his feet and feeling a twinge in his injured knee as he did so. He winced and placed one hand on Merryís shoulder to steady himself. ďYouíre finally back.Ē

ďEasy, Pip,Ē Merry grinned as he struggled to maintain his hold on the large sack. ďIíve only been gone a week.Ē

ďA very long week,Ē Pippin said with a look at Pervinca.

Pervinca was staring at the sack in Merryís arms. "Not more walnuts!" she objected, ignoring Pippin for the moment. "Merry, I have far too many already. I canít be expected to hull them all. What in the wide-eyed world is Pearl thinking?"

Merry leaned forward and sat the sack on the floor, being careful not to move too quickly so that Pippin would not fall since his younger cousin still had his hand on Merryís shoulder for balance. "She didnít say, Pervinca," Merry smiled.

"Turn yourself around and deliver those back to Miss Pearl-everyone-jumps-when-I-say-frog!" Pervinca said. "I said I would help her with the walnuts in exchange for enough of them to do some baking but I most assuredly did not tell her that I would hull all of the walnuts in the Shire!"

Pippin grinned as Merry wiped his hands on his trousers and frowned at Pervinca. "I am not about to lift that sack of walnuts and carry it out to the waggon and ride all the way back to Whitwell with it. If you want to return it then you will be the one doing so. While youíre about it, you can return the other two sacks that are still in the waggon. It will keep me from having to unload them."

"Two other sacks!" Pervinca shouted. "Meriadoc Brandybuck, how could you agree to bring all of those walnuts here?"

Merryís mouth fell open and he looked over at a very amused Pippin seeking support and not getting any. "Pearl said thatÖ"

"I donít care one thin penny what Pearl said!" Pervinca objected. "I do not have time for this! I have Pippin to look after."

Pippin frowned now. "I can see to myself, thank you," he objected.

"You most certainly cannot!" Pervinca said and this time she was very stern. "Now, help Pippin back into bed, Merry. I have some sorting out to do. Someone, and it will not be me, is going to have a great deal of walnuts to hull!"

Merry turned and wrapped an arm about Pippinís waist. He wasnít about to argue with Pervinca if he didnít have to do so. Pippin on the other hand, was not above making a fuss. "But what about the scones?" Pippin asked putting an arm around Merryís shoulders.

"Thanks to your eldest sister the scones will be delayed!" Pervinca shouted with anger clearly visible in her dark eyes.

Sensing that Pippin was about to say too much, Merry quickly but gently hauled his younger cousin out of the kitchen. "For once in your life, keep your big mouth shut," Merry whispered.

*****

Merry surveyed Pippinís bed and chuckled, his eyes crinkling at the corners as they did when he was amused.

"Go ahead and laugh, but it isnít at all funny," Pippin said as he cracked open another walnut hull with his hammer to reveal the shell beneath it. Pippin was sitting with his sore knee propped up on several pillows, still wearing his trousers beneath his nightshirt. He had a wooden cutting board across his lap and his fingertips were stained dark brown from the walnut hulls. A pair of gloves lay next to him unused. Two large buckets sat beside the bed. One was half filled with walnuts that had already been removed from their hulls. The other bucket was partially filled with broken walnut hulls. Lying on the bed within Pippinís reach was a large pile of walnuts that still needed to be hulled.

Merry sat on the foot of the bed, which was one of the few locations that was not covered with walnuts, and grinned. "You just had to open your mouth, didnít you? I warned you, but you just couldnít keep still, could you?"

"All I said was that I was exceedingly tired of lying about in bed with nothing to do," Pippin sighed. "I most assuredly did not offer to hull walnuts!"

"Well, you werenít doing anything else," Merry chuckled. "At least this way you are doing something useful and you are also resting your knee."

"My fingers hurt," Pippin complained. "I never liked it when we had to do this on the farm and I donít like it now. I donít know why walnuts have to come with two shells. How much protection do they need? What is it that stalks and kills walnuts in such great numbers that they require this sort of protection?"

"Hungry hobbits of course," Merry said. "At least, it looks as if youíre half finished with them. You should be out of walnuts byÖ"

"ÖSummer," Pervinca said walking in and pouring out another large bucket of them onto Pippinís bed.

"This isnít fair!" Pippin objected over the sound of the walnuts rattling about.

"You are in no position to argue the point," Pervinca responded. "I have things to see to in order to get ready for Tom and Marigoldís anniversary and you are conveniently available for the job."

"You mean Iím being held captive in this walnut-shelling prison that youíre running," Pippin said, glaring at her. "Whose idea was it for you to look after me while my knee healed?"

"Merryís," Pervinca said sweetly and she favoured Merry with a wide smile. "He knew that he would be busy at the Hall helping his father and so he suggest that I come to Crickhollow and take care of you while your knee healed. I was, after all, at the Hall visiting when you put your foot into that rabbit hole and so it made perfect sense. It is hardly my fault that some of the work that he has done for his father included running to Whitwell to retrieve Bucklandís supply of Pearlís walnut crop."

Pippin glared at Merry now. "What were you thinking?" He looked back at Pervinca. "This is no way to treat someone who is injured, Vince."

"I am seeing to your knee, Pippin," Pervinca said. "I am not about to coddle you like Pearl does. There is nothing wrong with your fingers and you did say that you were bored."

"There was nothing wrong with my fingers until you started forcing me to hull all of these walnuts," Pippin said holding up his hands so that Pervinca could see the tips of his fingers. "Iíll have blisters."

"Tell me again exactly how you managed to travel all the way to Gondor, fight in a battle, and become a knight in your very delicate condition," Pervinca said sarcastically while Merry laughed. "Honestly, Pippin. If a few walnuts are too much for you to handle then I have no idea how you managed to slay a troll." She then turned and left the room.

"Trolls donít have hulls!" Pippin called after her waving the small hammer that he was using on the walnuts. "Theyíre big and ugly and theyíre rather heavy but they do not have hulls!"

*****

Early the next morning, Pippin awoke to the sounds of an argument. He remembered falling asleep at some point after dinner having spent most of the day removing the hulls from those blasted walnuts that Pearl had sent. He decided that it might be best to pretend to be asleep for as long as possible because he knew full well that Pervinca had plenty more walnuts to be relieved from their shells. The longer he could appear to be asleep the longer he could avoid his older sister and the walnuts. He flexed his stiff hands and listened to the argument that sounded as if it were going on directly outside his door. He recognized Pervincaís voice instantly.

"What do you mean when you say that I volunteered?"

A much quieter, calmer voice that Pippin knew at once to be Pimpernelís replied, "Pearl said that you were hulling her walnut harvest this season in exchange for a supply of walnuts for baking. She told me that I was to bring the remaining walnuts here. She said you and she had an agreement."

Pippin groaned softly. More walnuts?

"She is wrong! You can take that cart right back to her and tell her that I said that she can stick those walnuts right up herÖ"

"Pervinca Took!" Pimpernel interrupted as Pippin fought back a snicker.

"I never agreed to this, Nell! I told Pearl that if she would give me enough walnuts to make my special recipe for walnut cake for Tom and Marigoldís third anniversary that I would be happy to hull what she gave me! Merry brought far too many more walnuts just yesterday. Pearl must have sent you with these just after he left. Well, you can tell our conniving older sister that I never agreed to this."

"But you did agree," Nell said in a reasonable tone and Pippin sat up on the bed and frowned, scratching his head. 'How did Nelly figure that?'

"I did not!" Pervinca said outraged. Pippin had the urge to come to his Pervincaís defense on this one but this time he thought that he would follow Merryís advice and keep his big mouth shut. Heíd wait and see where this was leading. After all, it was like that old saying went, ĎWhen buried in walnuts up to your eyes, it is best to keep your mouth shut.í

"Pervinca," Pimpernel sighed in that calm tone of hers. "You said that if Pearl would give you the walnuts for the cake you would be happy to Ďhull what she gave you.í" Pimpernel stressed this last part. "Now is that what you said?"

"Of course it is! I know what Iím saying when I say it!" There was a pause and then Pervinca groaned. "Iím starting to sound like Pippin."

Pippin scowled. Why was it that any time a member of his family misspoke they compared it to him?

"That comes from spending so much time with him," Pimpernel said pleasantly. "How is he?"

"Up to my eyes in walnuts," Pippin muttered in a very low whisper.

"Heís fine but Pippin is not the subject here," Pervinca said. "You tell me exactly how you concluded that I volunteered to hull all of those walnuts!"

"You said that youíd be happy to hull what she gave you," Pimpernel said sounding a bit smug. "So, any walnuts that Pearl gives you, you are obligated to hull."

"I meant I would hull what she gave me for the cake!" Pervinca shouted.

"I think sheís got you, Vince." This last was Merryís voice and Pippin smirked a bit when he heard it. It seemed that Merry was about to learn how dangerous it was to get in the middle of a quarrel between Pervinca and Pearl. ĎYou should have kept your mouth shut, Meriadoc,í Pippin whispered.

"Oh, you do, do you?" Pervinca shot back. "You think that it is fair to expect me to hull all of those walnuts in exchange for several cups full of them to bake a couple of cakes? Is that what you think, Meriadoc?"

"O-Of course not, Vince," Merry stammered. "I only meant that the way you worded your offer to Pearl makes it sound as if you will be willing to hull all of her walnuts."

"You did say that youíd be happy to hull anyÖ"

"Well I am not happy at all!" Pervinca shouted interrupting Pimpernel. "I am up to my ears in Pearlís walnut harvest! How am I suppose to hull all of those walnuts and still watch after Pippin and bake?"

"Maybe Pippin would be willing to help you," Pimpernel suggested.

Pippin had not been asked if he was willing to help. The way that Pippin recalled it, he was placed into servitude while in his sickbed! Pippin scowled as he thought about it. What was Pervinca complaining about? Wasnít he the one who was hulling the sodding walnuts?

"Pippin is helÖ"

"Pippin is injured, Nell!" Pervinca broke in keeping Merry from divulging any details regarding Pippinís suffering. "Does Pearl actually think that poor Pippin will be of any help at all?"

"Now wait a minute!" Pippin started to speak but quickly closed his mouth. There were, after all, two sisters out there in the parlour. He was outnumbered when it was only Pervinca but if Pimpernel was there also then heíd have no hope of getting out unscathed. He covered his mouth with both hands and listened to hear what might come next.

"But isnítÖ"

"Merry, why donít you make yourself useful and unload MY WALNUTS!" Pervinca fairly screamed cutting off Merryís next sentence.

ĎRun Merry,í Pippin whispered. ĎTake the chance that sheís given you and get out while you can.í

"Your walnuts?" Pimpernel asked.

"If I understand everything correctly then Pearl is giving me all of these walnuts," Pervinca said smugly.

Pippin climbed carefully out of bed and limped over to place an ear next to the door. He didnít want to miss a word of this next part. Pervinca was on to something. He didnít know what, but she was on to something. It would be very unwise for anyone to cross her now.

"How do you think that Pearlís walnut harvest is yours?" Pimpernel asked.

"As you pointed out, I agreed that I would be happy to hull any walnuts that Pearl gave me," Pervinca purred. "She has given me a great many walnuts and I am hulling them. Therefore, all of the walnuts that she has sent here that I have hulled are mine!"

"Pervinca, you cannot keep all of Pearlís walnut harvest!" Pimpernel objected. ďShe thinks that you are hulling them for her, not taking them. She is counting on you to have them ready for sale. She has buyers in Hobbiton and Buckland for most of these and those buyers expect to take delivery. Part of the reason they are buying from Pearl to begin with is because most growers wonít agree to hull them.Ē

"I can keep all of them that she has given to me as long as I hull them," Pervinca said firmly. "If Pearl wants to mince words and play games then we will play games! You tell Pearl that I am very pleased with all of the walnuts that she has seen fit to give to me. Thank her for me and tell her to send as many as she likes and I will make use of all of them. I will hull walnuts day and night if I have to. I might just decided to fill some of those orders and keep the profits from the sales."

"Those walnuts are a source of money for the farm!" Pimpernel objected.

"Those walnuts are mine!" Pervinca said.

Pippin gagged.

"Now go and unload my walnuts, Meriadoc!" Pervinca shouted in triumph.

"Donít you dare, Merry!" Pimpernel shouted.

"Now, Meriadoc! Unload that cart!"

"Donít move, Meriadoc Brandybuck!"

"Either you unload my walnuts now or so help me I will make you regret it!"

"If you touch a single sack of walnuts then I am going to be forced to do something drastic!"

Pippin opened the bedroom door and limped out into the parlour. "If one more walnut comes into this house I will run the hobbit through that brings it in here." That was when everyone noticed that Pippin was holding his sword at his side. "No more walnuts!"

"Put that down!" Pimpernel ordered and before Pippin could comply she reached over and took Trollsbane from him.

"Thatís my sword," Pippin objected sounding rather childish.

"No one threatens me with a sword," Pimpernel said.

Pippin looked over at Merry who shrugged. He looked vastly relieved not to be the focus of the sistersí anger any longer.

"Why are you out of bed?" Pervinca demanded. "You are supposed to be resting your knee."

"How am I supposed to rest with the two of you screeching like a bevy of fishwives?" Pippin demanded. He then looked over at Pimpernel. "Give me my sword."

She ignored him. "Your sister is stealing Pearlís walnut harvest." She pointed the tip of the sword at Pervinca and then frowned. "This is heavy." She looked at the sword wonderingly.

"Itís a weapon. Itís supposed to be heavy," Pippin said. "You canít do battle unless you have a big sword."

"Iíd limp too if I had to carry this about," Pimpernel said.

"Give it to me," Pippin sighed and he reached over and took it back.

"Run Merry through if you must but he will be bringing in the rest of my walnuts!" Pervinca said, stepping past Pippin and Pimpernel and stalking over to glare up at Merry. "Now go out to Nellís cart and unload my walnuts!"

"What if Pip runs me through?" Merry grinned. "Iím unarmed." Merry held his hands out as if to allow a search.

"Iíll lay odds that you can beat him to the door right now. He has an injured knee," Pervinca said, winking.

"That isnít fair!" Pippin objected.

"In battle you have to take every chance youíre given if you hope to win," Pervinca said. "Now, run Merry!"

Grinning, Merry headed for the door. "Right you are, Captain Pervinca!"

"Pearl is not going to let you keep her walnuts!" Pimpernel warned as Pippin placed his free hand on her shoulder for support. "She will come here and take them back."

"Over my dead body!" Pervinca said boldly.

"Nelly?" Pippin said.

"What?"

"Can I please come home with you?"

*****

A few hours later as Merry and Pippin sat in the parlour hulling walnuts, Merry looked over at his younger cousin and frowned. "Tell me again how you managed to live through your childhood with three sisters."

"Iíve been told that Iím too wicked to die," Pippin said with a shrug as he smacked a walnut with his hammer.

"Whose theory is that?" Merry asked.

"Thatís Pervincaís," Pippin said. "Every time Iíd yell, "Mum, help! Sheís killing me!" Pervinca would say, "Stop your whining. Youíre too wicked to die, you wee pest.""

Merry smirked. Then he asked more seriously, "Do you think Pervinca will actually keep all of Pearlís walnut harvest?"

"She means to," Pippin said. "Once when Pervinca was about fourteen she stole Pearlís favourite bonnet and hid it. Pearl looked everywhere for weeks and weeks and finally she gave up and bought another one. When Pervinca sets her mind to something, she usually does it or at least she puts in a grand effort. Sheíll go down fighting."

"The next time you step in a rabbit hole and wrench your bad knee, I promise that I will not ask any of your sisters to look after you," Merry said holding his walnut hammer aloft to strengthen the oath.

"Next time," Pippin sighed sarcastically and he smacked a walnut with his hammer.

"All of this for a cake recipe," Merry said, shaking his head.

"Not just any cake recipe," Pippin grinned. "Pervincaís walnut cake recipe. Sheís won several contests with this one. Dead proud of it, she is. She wonít give up the ingredients to a living soul."

"Well, we know for certain that it has walnuts in it," Merry said dryly.

"And we have enough walnuts to make enough of the cake for the entire Shire," Pippin said looking at the two large sacks that had yet to be hulled. "Pearl had a very good walnut crop this year, didnít she?"

"And she was probably counting on the money from the crop for something important," Merry said.

"Sheíll have a tough time getting that money now," Pippin said.

*****

"Oh no you donít!" Pervinca was shouting. Her voice was coming from the barn, which had been Pippinís intended destination when he had left the house.

Pippin stopped in his tracks. He had been allowed out finally and had decided to go to the barn and feed Arwen. He adored that cow and had raised her from a very scrawny calf. Not long after he and Merry had begun living at the little Crickhollow house, Pippin had brought home a very small, rather sickly-looking calf, which he had named Arwen because Pippin thought that the little animal had the most beautiful eyes. With tender care and more than a bit of spoiling, Arwen had grown into a fine, fat, healthy milk cow. Pippin still babied her and often came out to the barn to lavish her with attention and to bring her treats. Since he had been unable to walk any distance for the past fortnight he had also been unable to visit Arwen. Today, both Pervinca and Merry had deemed him fit to walk where he would with the aid of a crutch. Pippin had been overjoyed after having spent the last week of his recuperation hulling walnuts for Pervinca. He stood very still and listened now. The barn might not be the best place to be at the moment. Someone, it seemed, had got on Pervincaís bad side.

"You will not take a single one of these walnuts out of this barn!" Pervinca declared.

Pippin swallowed. Pearl must be here somewhere or perhaps Pearlís husband Lorry. Pippin seriously doubted that it was Lorry because Lorry was usually far too intelligent to allow himself to be caught between two sisters. Lorry was an easy-going hobbit that always avoided confrontations for as long as possible. Pippin didnít understand how Lorry managed this but he did admire it greatly. Taking a page from Lorryís book, Pippin decided that it would be wise to walk in the other direction and visit Arwen later in the day.

*****

"Weíll shoot for them!" Pearl declared.

Pervinca, who was standing guard over the walnuts looked at her older sister and frowned. "Shoot for them? I think not! You have sent these walnuts to me and you tricked me into hulling all of them and now you come riding in here with the intent of taking them back?" Pervinca had her back to the walnuts, which were now hulled, and stored in several large barrels in the barn. Merry had personally filled and stored the barrels per Pervincaís instructions. "I have plans for these walnuts."

"You canít possibly make that many cakes," Pearl said with a dismissive wave of one hand.

"I donít like your tone," Pervinca said. "I can do whatever I please with these walnuts because you gave them to me." Pervinca folded her arms over her ample chest and glared up at Pearl. "You will take these walnuts over my cold, dead, body, Pearl Took!"

"Honestly, Pervinca," Pearl sighed. "Donít be so dramatic! You know perfectly well that those are my walnuts and that they are a source of income for the farm. If you keep them then you are taking food out of my little oneís mouths. Even you canít be that harsh." As the daughter of the Thain, Pearl had plenty of money if she needed it, but Pervinca wasnít the only Took with a flair for the dramatic.

"You should have thought of that before you tried to trick me into doing your labour," Pervinca shot back. "If anyone is to blame for taking food out of your little oneís mouths, then it is you."

Pimpernel sighed and said, "You are both being ridiculous about this entire business."

"Stay out of this, Nell," Pervinca warned. "You do not want to cross me now."

Pimpernel snorted. "Pervinca, give Pearl half of the walnuts."

"Half?" both Pearl and Pervinca shouted, glaring at their sister.

Pimpernel stepped back a pace. "Thatís the only fair thing. Pearl, you grew the walnuts on the farm and Pervinca hulled them. Youíve each done half of the work and so each of you should keep half of the walnuts."

"If you think that I am going to allow her to keep half of my crop then you are most assuredly mistaken," Pearl said in an even tone, her eyes flashing. "Why Iíll wager that Pervinca didnít even hull the walnuts. I suspect that Pippin or Merry did that job."

"How dare you!" Pervinca howled with all of the indignation that she could manage in spite of the fact that her older sisterís guess was correct. "I have worked my fingers to the bone on these walnuts!"

Pearl smiled wickedly. "If you have then Iím a spotted dog!"

"Look, this is not getting either of you anywhere," Pimpernel objected. "Pervinca, you cannot stand guard over those walnuts day and night. And Pearl, you cannot spend all of your time here in Crickhollow waiting for Pervinca to turn her back so that you can take the walnuts. One of you has to be reasonable."

"Let Pervinca be reasonable," Pearl said. "I have all the time in the world. Lorry has the lasses with him."

"I am keeping these walnuts and that is my final say on it," Pervinca said glaring at Pimpernel now.

"Coward," Pearl muttered.

"What did you call me?" Pervinca demanded dangerously.

"I said you were a coward, of course," Pearl smiled too sweetly. "Everyone knows it, Pervinca."

"I am not a coward! I am just standing my ground on this," Pervinca said. "How does that make me a coward?"

"Youíre afraid of a little wager," Pearl said with a deep sigh.

"Pearl, I donít think thatÖ"

"Stay out of this, Nell," Pearl ordered.

"Fine," Pimpernel said.

"You want to shoot for the walnuts," Pervinca said.

"I do," Pearl said. "I am willing to risk losing all of them even though I cannot afford to do so. I am willing to bet you all or nothing that I can hit a target with greater accuracy than you."

"You are one of the finest shots in the Tooklands," Pervinca scowled. "How is that fair? Why youíve won contests with the bow before. You can out-match all of fatherís archers. Why if Father has said it once, heís said it a thousand times, ĎNo one can shoot like my Pearl.í"

Pearl shrugged. "What sort of a contest would you suggest then? If you are unwilling to match shots with me, then what would seem fair to you?"

"It would seem fair to me that you turn around and ride out of here and leave the walnuts with me," Pervinca said.

"Like I said, youíre a coward," Pearl sighed. "It comes from being the baby of the family for all of those years I suppose."

"Pippin is the baby of the family," Pervinca objected.

"He may be in years but you have always been the most childish of us all and I do think that if you are honest you will admit that, Pervinca dear," Pearl said in a very condescending tone.

"Darts!" Pervinca shouted. "We can throw darts for it." Arwen mooed in her stall and Pimpernel gave the cow a sympathetic look.

Pearl smiled. "You have darts in the barn?"

"Merry put up a board out here," Pervinca said smugly. "He and I have been playing in the evenings and I am getting quite good actually. Merry says that Iíve improved greatly over the past few weeks that Iíve been here."

"Who looks after Pippin while you and Merry play at darts?" Pimpernel frowned.

"Honestly, Nell," Pervinca sighed. "Pippin is old enough to spend an hour or so alone while Merry and I play darts. I do not hover over him like he was a faunt. He twisted his knee, he is not in danger of dying."

"All the same, Pippin does bear watching when he is injured," Pimpernel frowned.

"Then the next time our little brother steps into a hole and twists his knee you may come out here and sit with him and wait on him hand and foot," Pervinca growled.

"Where is Pippin?" Pearl frowned.

"He is out for a walk," Pervinca said. "His knee is much better and Merry and I both thought that a bit of exercise would do him good. Iím surprised that he isnít out here in the barn spoiling that cow of his."

"Darts will be fine," Pearl said.

"They will?" Pervinca looked surprised. "Have you ever played darts?"

"Shouldnít you have checked on that before you selected it as the game of choice?" Pearl grinned.

*****

"So tell me why youíve returned from your walk so quickly," Merry said setting a bowl of stew in front of Pippin. Merry had just finished warming up some of Pervincaís stew that had been left over from dinner the night before when Pippin had come in.

"At least two of my older sisters are in our barn, Merry," Pippin said ominously.

"Thatís a very good reason to be in here," Merry said nervously. "You donít suppose that they plan to come in here, do you?"

"If I thought that they might be coming in here then do you think Iíd be here?" Pippin asked, picking up his spoon and attacking his stew.

"No," Merry grinned. "Which two sisters?"

"Pervinca and one of the others," Pippin said between sups. "I could only hear Vince so I donít know who she was yelling at but it involved those infernal walnuts and so I hurried back here as fast as I was able before they spotted me and called me in to vote. I am not getting in the middle of this walnut business."

"All of this for a cake," Merry said taking a taste of his own stew. "Tell me again how you lived through your childhood?"

*****

"Are you quite certain this is necessary?" Pimpernel frowned at Pervinca.

"One throw in darts is hardly fair," Pervinca explained. "We shall throw until someone has lost everything and then whoever has lost will give up the walnuts."

"But what if one of the lads come out here and finds one or both of you partially unclad?" Nell objected.

"I am certain that Merry has seen a naked hobbit lass or two before and as for Pippin, the shock of seeing either of us undressed will probably kill the lad," Pearl laughed. "We owe Pippin anyway for all of the times that he has barged into our rooms over the years without so much as a knock."

Pimpernel laughed. "Youíll scar him for life! Not only will he refuse to marry but he will probably become a hermit."

"Wonít Father be thrilled with that?" Pearl said dryly. "No heir to the Thainship."

"Just close the barn door and it should be fine," Pervinca said calmly.

"The rules are simple then," Pimpernel instructed. "You each throw three darts, we total the score and the one of you with the lowest total removes a piece of clothing. Hair ribbons, hair pins, combs, and jewellery do not count."

"That sounds fine to me," Pearl said.

"Pervinca?" Pimpernel inquired. "Are you certain about this?"

"The winner gets to keep the walnuts and the loserís clothing," Pervinca said firmly.

Pearl smiled. "Letís not waste any more time, then." Arwen mooed her displeasure as Pearl picked up the darts and took aim.

*****

"I donít think Marigold or Tom will be surprised, do you?" Pippin asked.

"Probably not," Merry said. "Marigold will work out that something is being planned. Lasses always know about parties." Merry lit his pipe.

"We used to try and surprise Pervinca with birthday parties when she was younger but she always found us out," Pippin grinned.

"My mum always knows too," Merry smiled. "Then again, my mum always knows everything."

"We never could get anything by her, could we?" Pippin said propping his leg up on the sofa.

"Does it hurt?" Merry asked.

"Not really," Pippin said. "Iím just feeling lazy."

"I pity the lass who winds up married to you," Merry grinned.

"Any lass would be lucky to have me," Pippin objected. "Iím a prize catch. Iím very eligible and quite handsome."

Merry snorted. "Youíre eligible, Iíll agree with that at least. Now, Samís the one that got lucky, Pippin-lad. You and I will just have to settle for seconds on this front. Thereís no finer lass in all the Shire than Rose Cotton Gamgee."

"No better cook either except of course for Sam himself," Pippin said. He licked his lips. "Merry, is there any more of Pervincaís stew left?"

"Get up and see," Merry said leaning back in his chair. "Iíve pronounced you healed and so you should be able to find the kitchen."

ďI wonder if Marigold is as good a cook as Sam? If she is then she and Tom donít really need one of Vinceís walnut cakes, do they?" Pippin mused as he got up, making a show of limping in the hope that Merry would get up and help. Amused at Pippinís efforts, Merry closed his eyes and ignored his cousin.

*****

Pervinca grinned over at Pearl and reached out a hand to take her older sisterís petticoat. "I win again it seems," Pervinca gloated. Pearl was now standing before her in nothing but her undergarments while Pervinca was still wearing her dress having lost only her apron at this point in the game.

"I still have two more pieces of clothing and I am not giving up," Pearl declared as goose flesh rose on her bare skin. "You have to lose your touch at some point."

"According to Merry, I am an excellent darts player," Pervinca said smugly. "Oh, but I guess you are finding that out now, arenít you?"

"You are both behaving like a couple of children," Pimpernel sighed.

"Oh, just stay out of this, Nell," Pervinca snapped. "You are just upset because I am actually winning. You never could beat Pearl at anything and it galls you to think that I can."

"Pervinca Took, you had better watch what you say," Pimpernel frowned. "You may be in need of help in the future and you seem intent on insulting everyone around you."

"I will not be needing anything from you, Nell," Pervinca laughed. "Now our older sister Pearl may just try to steal some of your clothing for the long ride back to Whitwell but I will be fine. You just best work out how you plan to keep the frock that you have on once Pearl is out of other options."

"Bragging isnít at all becoming," Pimpernel said but she suddenly found herself trying to decide exactly how desperate Pearl might be for something to wear on the ride back to Whitwell. Pimpernel did not want to lose her own frock on the way home. If Pervinca did win, then she was going to have to be very careful or Pearl would divest her of her clothing. Pervinca ran a nervous hand down the front of her frock and pondered this.

"Stop blathering and throw," Pearl snapped at Pervinca.

"In a great rush to be naked, are you Pearl?" Pervinca smiled as she threw her first dart.

"No, and in no great hurry to see you naked either but I am afraid that I have finished being generous," Pearl smiled.

On her second throw, Pervincaís hand shook ever so slightly and she completely missed the board sticking her dart into the wall of the barn.

*****

Twenty minutes later Pervinca was backed up against the walnut barrels with her hands over her bare breasts. "I am not giving you my knickers. Take the walnuts but I am keeping the last of my underthings!" Pervinca wailed.

Pearl held out a hand and smiled. "You lost, now pay up or so help me I will tell this story to everyone I see."

"You are the most wicked, evil, older sister that anyone in the Shire could have," Pervinca said. "Do something, Nell!"

"You told me to stay out of this," Pimpernel smiled. "You said that you wouldnít be needing my help."

"Iíd help you," Pervinca said biting her lower lip and attempting to play upon Pimpernelís sympathy. She knew full well that Pearl had none. "I wouldnít leave you alone in a barn naked!"

"I would not be naked in a barn," Pimpernel said. "I do not wager."

"But NellÖ"

"Hand them over, Pervinca," Pearl grinned. "Nell, you can help me to load the cart."

"I am not touching anything, thank you," Pimpernel said.

"How am I supposed to load all of those walnuts into that cart on my own?" Pearl objected.

"I donít know," Pimpernel said. "But no one around here was willing to listen to anything I had to say and so I am not involved in this madness."

*****

"Itís late," Merry frowned, waking up.

"You fell asleep in the chair," Pippin yawned, rubbing his eyes.

"And you didnít?" Merry laughed looking over at his younger cousin who was stretched out on the sofa.

"I may have taken a wee nap," Pippin said sitting up. "Wonder whatís the time and where Vince is? She wouldnít just let us sleep in peace all this time. It isnít like her."

"No, sheíd have something for us to do," Merry laughed. "Honestly, Pippin. I donít know why I ever thought that Pervinca would be the one to help you while you recovered from that knee injury. Iíll be honest with you, sheís worked me to death. Weíre bachelors and this house is not supposed to be spotless."

Pippin laughed, getting up from the sofa and propping himself up with his crutch. "Well, weíve managed to make a mess of this room today." He looked around at his empty stew bowl, Merryís jacket which was flung over the back of the sofa, a pile of books that Merry had been going through, both of their pipes and several tea cups. "Vince isnít going to be at all happy about this."

"Itís dark out!" Merry frowned. "I wonder where she is?"

"You donít suppose Pearlís killed her do you?" Pippin asked grinning.

"I donít know but since sheís been staying with us, she has been in here cooking long before dark," Merry said. "No one is in that kitchen and I donít smell anything cooking."

"Maybe sheís taking a nap," Pippin said and he limped off in the direction of Pervincaís room to check on her.

"Iíll go out to the barn and see if sheís still out there," Merry offered.

"She isnít in her room so she might well be out there guarding those blasted walnuts," Pippin grumbled as he limped back into the parlour. "Iíll get a lantern and go with you."

*****

Pervinca shivered as she knelt down behind Arwen. "Stop moving so much you blasted cow," Pervinca hissed. "I donít like this any more than you do but I have to stay here until it gets late enough so that Merry and Pippin are asleep. I canít go inside like this."

Pervinca was huddled down as far as she could get, trying to keep herself warm in the straw. The sun had gone down and Pearl and Pimpernel had at least been good enough to leave the barn door closed but it was still drafty. She shivered and cursed Pearl again. Why was it that her older sister was good at everything? Who knew that Pearl could actually play darts? At least sheíd had the satisfaction of watching Pearl load the walnuts onto the cart by herself. It had been a struggle but Pearl had managed it. Pervinca had enjoyed watching Pearl push the heavy barrels across the barn floor and then unload half of the walnuts in each into sacks so that she could lift the barrels onto the cart. Pimpernel, true to her promise, had not lifted or moved so much as a single walnut. Pearl had been staring daggers at Pimpernel when the two of them had left.

Pervinca had begged and pleaded with both of her older sisters but neither of them would agree to leave her so much as a slip. She knew that she had insulted Pimpernel but she did think that in the end she might take pity on her and toss her a blanket from the cart or something. It was winter by thunder! Werenít either of them worried about her catching her death? On the other hand, if Pearl had lost, Pervinca knew full well that she would have not only left her older sister in the barn naked, she would have left the barn door wide open so that the wind could have whistled in on her.

Suddenly she heard the door creak open and saw light. Someone must have a lantern. Now things were going to get really embarrassing!

"I donít see her, Pip," Merry said moving the lantern about. "I also donít see the walnuts! Pip, someoneís taken all of the barrels."

"Vince wouldnít have allowed that," Pippin frowned. "She would have fought a pack of wolves over those sodding walnuts."

Pervinca heard footsteps and then Pippinís voice again. "Hullo, my lovely lass. Have you missed me?"

"Pippin, stop talking to the cow and help me find where your sister is," Merry said rolling his eyes.

"Relax, Meriadoc," Pippin said. "Nothing in its right mind would attack Vince. Sheís about here somewhere. Maybe she took the walnuts somewhere to hide them so that Pearl couldnít slip in here in the middle of the night and walnut-nap them."

"Maybe," Merry said. He continued to search the area where the barrels had been. "I put all of those blasted walnuts right here myself under your sister the slave-driverís orders."

"Iím going to give Arwen a brushing while weíre out here," Pippin said. "It would be a shame to waste the trip. Iíve missed my darling lass."

"Come one step closer to this cow and so help me Pippin I will make you sorry!" Pervinca said standing up and leaning against the cow so that she was hidden by it except for her head and hands and her lower legs and feet below it.

Pippin jumped back, startled. "Well, whenever were you going to speak up and let us know that you were out here?" Pippin said.

"Just go back to the house and leave me alone," Pervinca said sternly.

"Where are the walnuts?" Merry asked.

"Never mind the walnuts," Pervinca hissed.

"What are you doing with my cow?" Pippin said, his eyes narrowing.

"Iím not doing anything to her, sheÖ" at that moment Arwen decided to move forward and come out of her stall to greet Pippin. Arwen knew that Pippin always brought her treats and the cow would actually nudge at Pippinís hand like a puppy. Merry, who was still studying the location where he had placed the barrels of walnuts heard Pervinca scream and then he heard Pippin scream in that high-pitched way that his younger cousin sometimes did when taken by surprise.

Arwen reacted to the combined screams by moving further into the barn in Merryís direction just as Pippin shouted. "Iím blind! Iíve been punished by whatever it is that punishes folk for doing evil things!"

Merry turned and saw Pippin standing with his eyes squeezed shut and a look of total embarrassment on his face. Merry held the lantern aloft and shone it over in the direction that Pippin was facing and saw a very naked Pervinca crouching down trying to cover herself with the hay from the barn floor and both hands. "Put that lantern down, Meriadoc!" Pervinca shouted. "Stupid, wicked, cow! Why did she move?"

Merry snickered and lowered the lantern but continued to look at Pervinca with interest. "The walnuts arenít the only items missing around here."

"Donít just stand there laughing, give me your jacket," Pervinca demanded.

"Let Pippin give you his jacket," Merry grinned. "Heís your darling brother. Iím just the slave labour, the carrier of walnut barrels."

"Pippin is in shock," Pervinca hissed. "Stop acting like an arse, Pippin. Youíve seen naked lasses before."

"I have not!" Pippin objected and this admission made him blush all the more. "And I most certainly didnít want my first one to be my sister! Iím blind, Merry. I know I am. The fates will not allow me to see again after this."

Merry laughed again. "Actually, sheís quite attractive, Pip."

Pippin whirled around and turned his back on Pervincaís location and glared at Merry. "Thatís my sister that youíre ogling!"

"I didnít have much choice," Merry grinned.

Pippin dropped his crutch to the ground and began to take off his jacket. "Well, youíve got a choice now. Close your eyes, Meriadoc or Iíll be forced to defend her honour."

Still grinning, Merry closed his eyes and listened as Pippin shouted. "Iím tossing this jacket to you. Put it on and cover up."

There was a moment when all Merry could hear was the sound of the hay rustling around and then Pervinca said, "I have it on, Pippin," her voice uncommonly meek.

"Now get to the house and put some clothes on!" Pippin ordered sounding dangerously like Paladin Took. Merry had to look twice to be certain that Paladin had not entered the barn. "No proper lass should be standing about in the barn without a stitch on!"

Merry watched as Pervinca shot out of the barn at a run with Pippinís jacket covering everything of importance. Pippin was as white as chalk and his eyes were closed again. He might have sounded like Paladin Took but he looked like an embarrassed teenager at the moment as he stood fidgeting and muttering to himself.

Chuckling, Merry picked up the lantern and said, "You can open your eyes now."

"Is she gone?" Pippin asked.

"She is," Merry smiled.

Pippin opened his eyes and then said, "Iíll never get that out of my mind, Merry. Iíve seen my older sister naked."

"Easy, Pip," Merry said trying not to laugh. "It isnít as if you did it on purpose."

"Why are lasses forever turning up naked?" Pippin winced.

"I wouldnít know," Merry said. "I never seem to have that sort of luck. Lasses donít just turn up naked for me."

"Oh, yes they do," Pippin said in an accusing tone. "There was that time that Estella Bolger mistook my bed for yours and she was, well, she, she wasnít wearing anything at all underneath that blanket!"

"You didnít see anything except her shoulders and the blanket," Merry said.

"I know, but I knew she was naked underneath it," Pippin said beginning to pace. "Then once when Estella was staying with Pervinca I accidentally walked in on her changing and I saw her chest. Now, Iíve seen Pervinca! All of Pervinca!"

"Look at it this way, Pip," Merry laughed. "At least youíve seen two of the most attractive lasses in the Shire naked, or almost so. It could have been worse."

"Merry, one of those lasses is my sister!" Pippin choked. "Thatís disgusting."

"Settle down, Pip," Merry said. "Youíre frightening the cow. Now, letís go up to the house before you catch a cold. Youíve given away your jacket to a naked lass, remember?"

"Sod off, Merry," Pippin growled and he began to limp towards the house. Grinning Merry picked up the crutch and hurried after Pippin.

"Pip," Merry called as he hurried to catch up to his cousin. "At least she wasnít naked in the holly bushes or anything ridiculous like that. She was only hiding behind a cow! Why is it that members of your family are always turning up naked?"

"Shut up, Meriadoc! Just shut up!"

Merry decided to do that very thing because Pippin was once again, sounding like Paladin Took.

*****

"This was such a lovely surprise," Marigold said as she looked at Merry.

"But you knew, didnít you?" Merry grinned. "Tell the truth."

"She did but Tom didnít," Sam said putting his arm around his younger sisterís waist. They were standing in the parlour at Bag End where the anniversary party was taking place. Everything was decorated and the room was filled to over-flowing with Tom and Marigoldís friends and family. Bag End had not seen such a party in quite some time.

"Well, at least we managed to surprise Tom on his third wedding anniversary," Merry said, taking a drink of his ale.

"Merry, whatís the matter with Pippin and those sisters of his?" Sam frowned, lowering his voice so as not to be overheard by passing party guests. Sam was not one for rumours.

"What do you mean, Sam?" Merry asked trying to look innocent.

"Well, Miss Pervinca came over to me and Rosie and said that she was awful sorry that she didnít bake nothing for the party," Sam said. "She apologized for a right long time as if sheíd done somethiní awful."

"Yes, and while she was talking to us Miss Pearl came over and Miss Pervinca gave Miss Pearl an awful look and then walked off," Rose said. She had come over with a tray of biscuits to pass around and stayed to join the conversation. Obviously Samís voice had not been low enough to avoid his dear wifeís notice.

"It was right scary, that look," Sam nodded. "Those two ainít been on the same side of the parlour all night long."

"And Pippin wonít even look at Pervinca," Marigold said. "He acts as if heís frightened of her."

"Heís afraid heíll go blind," Merry snickered.

"What?" Sam frowned looking confused.

"Itís a long, long, story Sam and if I were to repeat a word of it at least three of the Tooks present would attack me and beat me to a bloody pulp," Merry said. "Letís just say that Pippin has seen too much of his sisters lately." Merry smirked a bit at his own joke. "In a month or so everything should straighten itself out and everyone concerned should return to normal, or at least what passes as normal for them." Merry lowered his voice again and whispered. "Whatever you do, donít ask Pearl, Pervinca or Pippin anything about the walnut crop this year. Itís not a good subject."

Before Sam, Marigold, or Rose could question this, Fredegar Bolger raised his glass and called out, "May I have your attention everyone. Iíd like to propose a toast to the happy couple."

The End

GW 01/01-2007


Arwen, Pippinís pet cow, was first introduced in ďComing HomeĒ which is posted to Stories of Arda.

The reference to Pippin finding Estella Bolger naked in his bed is from ďStrange BedfellowsĒ posted to Stories of Arda under ďTrust a Brandybuck and a TookĒ.

And Merryís joking remark, "At least she wasnít naked in the holly bushes or anything ridiculous like that,Ē comes from another Challenge story that I wrote called ďPippinís Night OutĒ. It is also posted on Stories of Arda as well as to Challenge 23.





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