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Once Upon a Meadow
‘What do you suppose they’re doing?’ she whispered cocking her head to one side.
‘I don’t know. They don’t usually sleep out here. Well, the farmer’s lad did now and again when he was just a little lamb, but he doesn’t unless there’s cause for it now,’ the other female said.
A third leaned over and sniffed at the previously mentioned one’s curls. The lad reached up and brushed at his hair and then continued to snore softly.
‘You’ll wake him,’ the first objected.
‘I didn’t,’ the one who’d done the sniffing said.
‘Momma, why are they here?’ one of the little one asked in a sleepy voice.
‘Hush, darling,’ her mother said licking the little one behind the ear. ‘They aren’t disturbing you. You should be asleep.’
‘But this is *our* place,’ the little one pointed out sniffing the air.
‘We have room to share,’ her mother said.
‘I don’t like the one in the yellow wool,’ the little one muttered.
‘That isn’t wool. That is some other sort of covering and you don’t have to like him,’ her mother said. ‘He comes here now and again and he isn’t too bothersome. The farmer’s lad will keep him out of trouble.’
Another of those present snorted. ‘I’ve known the farmer’s lad for many of his shearing seasons and I don’t think I’d trust him to keep anyone out of trouble. He’s a good-hearted sort, as good as their kind can be, but he’s not one to keep others out of the brambles and safely in the meadow. Not that one!’
“He found my little lamb when she wondered off last spring,’ another piped up. ‘If not for him, my little one would have been lost to me for all of its seasons. He does well enough if given a chance.’
They were all gathered around the two sleeping hobbits looking down at them. Some among them had lost interest and had settled down to sleep along side the hobbits but several of them still stood about discussing the visitors.
‘Why doesn’t the shepherd come? He’s supposed to be watching things. Doesn’t he know that they’re here? It’s his job to keep us safe,’ a very old ewe whined.
‘It’s our job to stay safe,’ a young ram objected fiercely. ‘We can’t just expect the shepherd to be there no matter what. Remember that business with the wolves.’
‘Don’t mention them,’ one said. ‘There are little ones present.’
‘Would you have them to grow up not knowing about the wolves? It’s far better that they know now than to be caught out in the pasture near the edge when those foul creatures are hunting!’ the young ram said sternly. ‘They should be taught early. It’s us and the dogs when it comes to the wolves. The shepherd never has anything more than a stick and some stones. That long crooked stick won’t do much save make the wolves angry. It’s the dogs that know how to send the wolves on their way.’
“I heard tell from an old one that the wolves and the dogs come from the same line,’ the little one said. ‘How can we trust the dogs if they are from the same cloth as the wolves are?’
‘I’m afraid of the dogs. They’re loud,’ another tiny lamb whimpered.
‘The dogs are needed,’ a much older ram said firmly. ‘And while the dogs do come from the same blood as the wolves, the dogs are not like them. They are as different from the wolves as we are from goats.’
‘I don’t like the goats either,’ the little one said.
‘You hush, little lamb of mine,’ the mother said quickly. ‘I’ve told you that I’ll not allow any talk like that. The goats aren’t your concern and they’ve done nothing to you so don’t speak harshly of them.’
The lamb lowered her head and snorted but didn’t say anything more on the subject.
The hobbit in the yellow cloth turned over on his back and his eyes snapped open. He blinked as he stared up into the soft, brown eyes of a large ewe. “Pippin!” he shouted. “Pippin, wake up!” He reached over and shook the farmer’s lad roughly. “Pippin!”
The farmer’s lad moaned softly and said in a very sleepy voice, “Not now, it’s still dark.”
“I don’t care how dark it is,” the one in the yellow hissed. “Wake up now. I think we’re in trouble again.”
‘What is it saying?’ the little lamb asked looking curiously at the hobbit. ‘Why did it push the other one?’
‘I don’t know what it’s saying, child,’ the mother replied. ‘They don’t talk in the way that we do. I don’t know if they understand one another. They’re always yelling. It may just be noise. I doubt they have a language.’
‘That one is yelling now,’ another of the lambs pointed out. ‘He’s yelling at ours.’
‘Silly lass, none of them are ours,’ the young ram snorted.
‘This one is,’ the lamb insisted nudging the farmer‘s lad gently with her nose.
“Pippin, we are surrounded by sheep!” the one in the yellow said shaking the other one again.
‘He’ll hurt ours,’ the little one said. ‘Momma?’
‘Hush, child,’ the mother said licking the little one to calm it.
“What is it, Merry?” Pippin sighed raising up on his elbows and blinking the sleep from his eyes.
“We are surrounded by sheep,” Merry hissed. “And they’re staring at me!”
Pippin sat up and rubbed at his eyes. “They won’t hurt you, Merry. Sheep are gentle animals. Keep your voice down or you’ll frighten them and they’ll run off. I don’t fancy chasing them about the meadow in the dark if they should get lost.”
“I’d just like them to back away from us a bit,” Merry frowned. “We’re surrounded.”
An older ewe waded through the crowd of on-lookers making her way to the farmer’s lad. When she reached him, she nudged him with her nose and licked his cheek.
“That sheep! That’s the one that sat on me that time, Pippin! Keep it away from me.” He began to scoot back slightly but didn’t stand.
‘You shouldn’t do that,’ one of the other ewes objected. ‘He’s not yours.’
‘This one *is* mine,’ the ewe insisted and as if to prove her point she licked him again and nuzzled his curls.
“Hullo, Dumpling. How’s my favourite lass?” Pippin said grinning. “Honestly, Merry, she won’t hurt you. This is my Dumpling. We bottle fed her as a wee lamb. She’s family.”
“I don’t have any family that looks like a walking ball of yarn,” Merry said. Another of the old ewes sniffed at his curls and he moved away from her with a jerk.
‘That one is very skittish,’ a ewe observed.
‘He’s not used to being around sheep,’ the old ram said. ‘You can tell. Look at his eyes. They’re all wild-looking.’
“Why are we here, Merry?”
“That’s what I was going to ask you, Pippin.”
Pippin rubbed Dumpling’s woolly head and smiled. “I don’t remember coming out here. The last I recall we were in Tuckborough. How did we get home?”
“This is not my home. And we aren’t exactly in your home either unless your family has started making you sleep in the meadow!’
“They’ve threatened to at times, but I’m still allowed in the smial. How did we get here?”
“If I knew that, then I wouldn’t have asked you, would I, Pip?”
‘Are they fighting? Will they butt heads and test one another like the rams do? They don’t have any horns.’ one of the little lambs asked. ‘Why don’t they have horns? Are these the females?’
An old Ram snorted. ‘No, those poor specimens there are the males. None of their lot have proper horns. How they manage to attract mates is beyond me.’
‘They all look alike to me,’ a young ewe confessed. ‘I can’t tell the rams from the ewes.’
They watched as one in the yellow cloth stood up. He weaved a bit as he did so and the sheep backed up in case he should fall. A dog wandered into the mix and began to tug at the one in the yellow’s trouser leg.
“Pippin, do something with this dog!”
“Here, Fetchit,” Pippin called and the dog released the one in the yellow and looked intently at the farmer’s lad.
‘Oh, it’s you!’ he barked happily. ‘I haven’t seen you in ages!’ He hurried over and jumped onto the lad, licking his face and barking joyfully.
‘Why is our dog so happy to see that one?’ one of the little lambs asked.
‘Dogs like those creatures,’ one of the rams said. ‘They’re smart enough not to like the wolves but they like these two-legs.’
‘What did you call them?’ a ewe asked.
‘Two legs. What do you call them?’ the ram asked.
“Easy, Fetchit. I’m glad to see you too,” Pippin laughed rubbing the dog while it licked his face.
“Pippin, will you please quit playing with the animals and get us out of here?” Merry hissed. “We could be trampled to death if these walking fluff-balls get upset.”
Pippin grinned and patted the over-excited dog. “They’re sheep, Merry. They don’t usually trample folks. You’ve been around ponies too much.”
‘Got any food!*pant*pant*You always have food in your pockets.’ The dog was circling the farmer’s lad and sniffing at his trousers.
‘Such embarrassing behavior,’ the ram sighed looking disapprovingly at the dog.
“Here, Fetchit,” Pippin said and he pulled a biscuit from one pocket and gave half to the dog and the other half to Dumpling.
‘I knew he had something! That’s my lad!’ the dog barked happily wagging his tail.
‘What did he give you?’ a little lamb asked Dumpling.
‘It’s a treat that they fancy. It’s quite good. It’s not a good as new grass or salt balls but it’s nice,’ Dumpling explained.
One of the larger sheep began to nudge Merry with its wet nose and he jumped to his feet. “That’s it! I’m getting out of here wherever here is,’ he said nervously. ‘You can come if you want but if not then you’re on your own, Pippin.”
‘Is he leaving?’ a little lamb asked walking over and sniffing Merry’s hand.
‘I hope so,’ the young ram said. ‘He looks like he’s about to charge. I’d get the little ones away from him. They don’t have horns but they can be dangerous at times.’
Merry stroked the small lamb’s nose absently as he watched Pippin get to his feet.
“Have we been drinking again?” Pippin asked weaving slightly.
“I think so,” Merry sighed patting the lamb. “Weren’t we with someone?”
“Freddy,” Pippin grinned. “He was buying us drinks to celebrate something or other. What do you suppose it was?” Pippin started to move forward and tripped over his own feet falling flat on his face in the grass.
‘He’s injured!’ a little one cried out.
‘No, he isn’t,’ Dumpling sighed bending over and licking the lad on the ear. ‘He just falls down now and then. You have to remember. They only have two legs and so they aren’t very steady at the best of times.’
Merry sighed and bent down to help Pippin to his feet but his own head was spinning now and he sat down on the grass. “Pip, I think we’d better stay here a while longer. Neither of us seems to be very steady. What do you suppose we were drinking?”
“I don’t know but whatever it was, I think we had too much of it,” Pippin said rolling over onto his back and smiling up at Merry and Dumpling.
“We must have been in better shape earlier because we had to have walked here from Tuckborough and that is a long walk even sober,” Merry reflected.
“Maybe we rode,” Pippin suggested. “Did we have the cart?”
Merry frowned trying to recall. “My head hurts when I think,” Merry said.
“Merry, was Freddy with us when we left?” Pippin asked reaching up and petting Dumpling’s nose but making no effort to get up.
“I think so,” Merry said as the small lamb lay down beside him. He stroked its back and tried to recall what had happened to Fredegar Bolger but couldn‘t quite remember.
‘They smell funny,’ the little lamb said sniffing Merry’s trouser leg.
“Pippin these sheep don’t smell very good,” Merry said sniffing.
‘The two-legs go in the water too often,’ the ram explained. ‘They wash all of the natural earth smells away. It makes them stink.’
“I think they smell like they always do,” Pippin said. “They’re sheep. They smell like, well, like sheep are supposed to smell, Merry.”
“I think you should bathe them more often,” Merry suggested.
‘Maybe we could roll them in the grass,’ the lamb suggested.
‘They’d just go wash it off,’ the ram sighed. ‘They don’t have much sense.’
“I am not bathing all of these sheep, Merry,” Pippin said yawning.
“Do not go to sleep and leave me here amid this wool gathering,” Merry said shaking Pippin’s shoulder.
“Wool gathering,” Pippin giggled. “That’s very clever, Merry. Because they’re sheep and they have wool and they are gathered around us. That’s funny.”
“Don’t laugh, Pip,” Merry moaned, my head is starting to hurt.
‘Is ours going to sleep again?’ one of the sheep asked Dumpling.
‘He will if the other one stops making so much noise,” Dumpling said looking annoyed with Merry.
“Where do you suppose Freddy is?” Merry frowned.
“No idea,” Pippin said not bothering to open his eyes. “I can’t believe we lost Freddy. He’s not easy to lose. You can see him coming for a mile.”
“What were we celebrating?” Merry asked.
“Something that happened to Freddy I think,” Pippin said and then proceeded to belch.
The sheep all backed up slightly and looked at Pippin curiously. ’What was that noise for?’ one of them asked.
‘Is it dead?’ a lamb asked worriedly.
Dumpling put her nose down on Pippin’s face and then raised up and said, ’No, he’s still breathing.’
Suddenly there was a loud yell and then the sheep began to scatter as Fredegar Bolger came lumbering toward them waving his arms over his head. “Help! Help!”
Merry squinted. “Freddy, what’s the matter?” he called out but Fredegar just kept on running.
“Was that Freddy?” Pippin asked yawning.
“Yes,” Merry said rolling his eyes. “Why do you think I called him Freddy as he passed us if that wasn’t him? He just ran past here with two dogs chasing him.
“Must be Ruff and Ready because Fetchit is here with us,” Pippin said as if this were the most important thing about what Merry had just witnessed.
“Shouldn’t we go after him and maybe call the dogs off?” Merry asked.
“In a minute,” Pippin yawned. “I just want to rest a bit and then we’ll go.”
“He scared some of the sheep,” Merry said. Only Dumpling, a couple of rams, another ewe, Fetchit and the little lamb were still there. All of the others were following Freddy and the two dogs. “Freddy is running in a kind of circle waving his arms and shouting and the dogs are chasing him and the sheep seem to be chasing the dogs.”
“You should never run if dogs are chasing you. That just makes them all the more keen to catch you,” Pippin said in a sleepy voice.
“I don’t think Freddy knows that bit of wisdom,” Merry said his eyes glued to the scene in the meadow. “Why are the sheep chasing the dogs?”
“Usually it’s the other way around,” Pippin said. “Are you should you aren’t seeing it all backwards? Maybe Freddy is chasing the dogs and the dogs are chasing the sheep. That would make more sense.”
“I am not seeing it backwards,” Merry insisted. “The sheep are chasing the dogs and the dogs are chasing Freddy. I think one of the dogs just ripped off one of Freddy’s trouser-legs.”
“The dog tore off Freddy’s leg and he’s still running?” Pippin asked opening his eyes and showing some interest now.
“Not Freddy’s leg,” Merry objected.
“Whose leg got ripped off?” Pippin demanded attempting to sit up.
“It was Freddy’s trouser leg,” Merry said.
“Oh, thunder, Merry,” Pippin sighed leaning back against the grass. “You scared me. I thought someone had lost a leg. You can sew trousers back together but you can’t sew a leg back on.”
“No, you can’t,” Merry said rolling his eyes. Then his attention was back on the meadow again.
“I think someone is coming to help Freddy,” Merry said. “It must be one of the shepherds because he is waving a crook and running and he looks very annoyed, Pip. I think your dogs are in trouble.”
“That’s Bert,” Pippin said. “He always looks annoyed. He’s nice enough once you get to know him. He wouldn‘t hurt a fly.”
‘Our dogs are chasing an intruder,’ the young ram said excitedly. ‘I don’t know who he is but they have him on the run and the flock is helping!’
‘There goes our shepherd too,’ the other ram observed.
‘Why isn’t that dog helping?’ the lamb asked looking at Fetchit who was stretched out beside of the farmer’s lad.
‘I don’t think the other dogs need him,’ Dumpling said but she looked rather disgusted with Fetchit. ‘They seem to have things well in hand. This one is probably waiting for more treats. As long as my lad is here, the dog will probably stay with him.’
“Pip, I don’t think Bert is as nice as you say he is,” Merry frowned. “He seems to be whacking Freddy over the head with his shepherd’s crook. We might ought to go over and say something, you know, let Bert know that Freddy isn’t up to anything?”
‘Our shepherd is beating that other two-legs, momma!’ the little lamb said.
‘Don’t look,’ the ewe said standing to block the little lamb‘s view and almost bumping into Merry. ‘You shouldn’t see this.’
“Pip, I don’t see Freddy anymore,” Merry said. “He was holding his hands over his head for cover and Bert was beating him with the crook and now I only see Bert.”
“Maybe Freddy went back to the pub,” Pippin yawned.
“No, I think maybe nice old Bert the shepherd beat him to death and fed him to the dogs,” Merry said peering out across the meadow.
“What?” Pippin said sharply sitting up rather too fast and regretting it.
“I think Bert has killed Freddy,” Merry repeated.
Using Dumpling to pull himself to his feet Pippin stood and looked out toward the meadow. He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “Hulllllllooooooo! Hullllllooooo, Bert!”
There was a pause and then a very faint voice in the distance called back. “Don’t worry, Master Pippin. I got him! I got the poacher! He was a big one, but I brought him down! The sheep are fine!”
Pippin looked at Merry. “I think you’re right. I think Bert’s killed Freddy.”
“At least the sheep are fine,” Merry said sarcastically.
Pippin waved at Bert and yelled. “Don’t hit him anymore, Bert! That’s my cousin!”
“What?” was the far off reply to Pippin’s yell.
“I said that’s my cousin! Don’t hit him!” Pippin shouted louder. Then he looked at Merry. “It probably won’t matter since Freddy’s likely already dead but I think Bert’s stopped beating him.”
There was more silence and then Bert leaned over among the sheep.
“What’s he doing?” Merry asked.
“I think he’s trying to help Freddy up,” Pippin said. “There’s Freddy! He’s on his feet, Merry. I don’t think Bert killed him after all. I think he just stunned him a bit. He looks wobbly but I think he‘ll be fine.”
“I didn’t know shepherds were so violent,” Merry said. “I thought they were nice, quiet, folk who just stood about in meadows and counted sheep all day long. That Bert is a terror, Pippin. I‘m surprised your Father lets him near the sheep or near anything else.”
“He’s waving to me now,” Pippin smiled and he began to wave with one hand while steadying himself by holding onto Dumpling with the other hand.
“Freddy’s waving?” Merry asked squinting to get a better look but still making no effort to stand.
“No, Bert’s waving but Freddy is standing next to him,” Pippin said. “Well, he’s sort of leaning on Bert so it doesn’t really count as standing but he’s on his feet anyway.”
‘That was splendid!’ the ram said. ‘Our shepherd was very brave. I think he might be good against wolves. He took down that other two-legs and thrashed him soundly.’
‘It does make me feel much safer,’ one of the ewes said.
“What oops?” Merry frowned.
“I think Freddy fell down again,” Pippin said, “And I think maybe he’s fallen on top of Bert. I can‘t see either of them now. All I can see are the sheep.”
“That’ll teach Bert to beat folks with in an inch of their lives,” Merry said.
‘Our shepherd is in trouble!’ one of the rams said and suddenly the two rams, Fetchit, one of the ewes and Dumpling charged across the meadow. Pippin, fell on his face again as Dumpling ran out from under him.
“Where are they going?” Merry frowned. “I thought you said sheep didn’t stampede!”
Pippin raised up on his elbows. “I may have been wrong about that. Just look at them go!”
“We have to go sort this out,” Merry said getting to his feet. “We have to go out there and explain what is going on before someone gets hurt.”
“Just exactly what *is* going on?” Pippin asked sitting up.
Merry looked out toward the meadow again. “Your dogs seem to be dragging Freddy off Bert.”
“Is that Freddy that I hear screaming?” Pippin asked.
“No, I think that’s Bert,” Merry said. “I think Freddy is out cold otherwise he‘d be trying to get away from the dogs and he‘s just letting the three of them drag him across the grass like a plough through soft mud.”
“Why is Bert screaming?”
“You’d scream too if Freddy Bolger fell on you,” Merry pointed out.
“I would as soon as I could breathe again,” Pippin nodded.
“I think that’s what happened,” Merry said. “The dogs have pulled Freddy off Bert and now Bert can breathe again so he’s screaming in pain.”
“Do you think Freddy will blame us for this when he comes to?”
“If I were Freddy, I’d blame Bert,” Merry said. “Bert’s the one that chased him and then beat him with a stick. You and I didn’t have anything at all to do with that.”
“I remembered!” Pippin crowed happily.
“You remembered what?” Merry asked looking confused.
“What we were celebrating!” Pippin grinned. “We were having a few drinks to celebrate Freddy’s birthday.”
Merry looked out onto the meadow at the prone figure of Fredegar Bolger as the screams of Bert the shepherd died away on the wind and said, “I hope it wasn’t Freddy’s last birthday.”
“No one should die on their birthday. I hope Bert’s not dead either. It wasn‘t his birthday but I still hope he isn‘t dead,” Pippin said in a regretful tone. “ Even if I didn’t have anything at all to do with it, Father won’t understand. He’ll be very upset if Bert is dead. So will Bert’s wife come to think of it. Bert’s gone very quiet and he hasn’t got back up yet, Merry.”
“Bert the shepherd is married?” Merry seemed surprised by this.
“Of course he is,” Pippin said. “Shepherds have wives.”
“I’ve always heard that shepherds are overly fond of their flocks in a way that’s not discussed in polite conversation and that they-”
“Those are nasty rumours, Merry!” Pippin objected. “Our sheep would never do anything like what you’re thinking. I‘ve known those sheep all their lives and-”
“And exactly how much time do *you* spend with the sheep, Pippin?” Merry asked arching an eyebrow and grinning.
“Maybe I should have Bert whack you on the head with his crook, if he’s still alive,” Pippin said glaring at Merry.
Merry fell back onto the grass giggling and then he became rather quiet. “How *will* we explain this if they *are* dead?”
“We can just say that Freddy was making so much noise and was so drunk that Bert thought he was a sheep-poacher and so he beat him to death with his crook but then once I told Bert that Freddy was,” Pippin paused and after a minute or two he said, “I don’t think we saw any of it, Merry. We were both passed out over here and we didn’t see a thing.”
“Good idea,” Merry agreed. “We can’t explain what we didn’t see.”
“And, we can’t explain what we *did* see either,” Pippin said. Both of them lay back down and closed their eyes.
‘What are they doing now?’ the little lamb asked.
‘They’re sleeping, dear one,’ the ewe said gently. ‘Get some rest. I think our shepherd is going to be cranky in the morning and we will need to be on our best behaviour.’
‘Yes, momma,’ the lamb said and proceeded to snuggle up next to Merry and close its eyes.
Paladin Took looked down at the sleeping forms of his son and his nephew and frowned. “I think they’re just sleeping it off. It doesn’t look as if either of them is hurt. They must have been very drunk but I don‘t think they‘re injured.”
“Well, Bert is going to be fine. He’s a bit bruised up and I think he has some cracked ribs but that’s to be expected seeing as how that Bolger lad is nearly as big as a full-grown steer. Bert says the lad fell on him and if it hadn‘t been for the dogs, he‘d have crushed him to death.”
“Fredegar is a rather healthy lad, isn’t he?” Paladin said diplomatically.
“I can watch the sheep today like I normally do but I don’t know who will fill in for Bert tonight.”
Paladin smiled, looking down at his snoring son. “You let me worry about that, Ernie. I think I know exactly who will be filling in for Bert. I have to get Fredegar and Bert into Tuckborough to the healer. I think the lad’s going to be fine but he’ll need to have that knot on his head looked at.” He glanced toward his cart and Fredegar who was sitting in the back of it holding a damp cloth on his head and moaning softly. Bert was lying down in the bed of the waggon and couldn’t be seen from where they were standing. “Let these two finish sleeping off the ale and then send them home. Tell Peregrin that he and Meriadoc are to clean up and wait for me there.”
“Yes, sir,” Ernie nodded.
“Are the sheep all right?” Paladin asked. “Are all of them here?”
“Yes, sir,” Ernie said. “They’re all accounted for. Some of them seem a might skittish but they’re all just fine. That little one seems to have taken a shine to your nephew and old Fetchit is glad to see Pippin. The sheep seem right fond of these two. Pippin always has liked the sheep. I remember when he was a little lad and he‘d come up here to the meadow and feed them treats.”
Paladin smiled at the little lamb that was cradled against Merry’s side. The ewe was sleeping close and watching to make certain that Merry didn’t do anything to harm the lamb. Fetchit was stretched across Pippin’s stomach and Dumpling was lying next to him nosing his hair now and again. “By the time Bert is fully recovered, I suspect that Peregrin and Meriadoc will have seen about all of the sheep that they want to see, Ernie.”
Dumpling licked Pippin’s ear and Pippin mumbled, “Not now, Marigold, my head hurts. We can snog later.” He smiled, mumbled something else and then yawned. Beside him, Merry rolled over on his face and hugged the lamb closer.
“These lads may be a bit too fond of the sheep,” Paladin sighed shaking his head.
“Should I tell them that they’ll be watching the flock tonight?” Ernie asked grinning. “It doesn’t look as if they’ll mind much.”
“No, I’ll do that later. I want to see the looks on their faces. I suspect that once they are fully sober, they have a whole new opinion of these sheep. Delivering this sort of news is a responsibility that comes with being a parent. It’s one of the few joys of fatherhood, Ernie,” Paladin said and then he walked off toward cart whistling softly as he went.
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