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For Starlight and KayleeLupin for their birthdays. And thanks to RiverOtter for the beta.
Frodo arrived at the farm at Whitwell to be greeted by an obviously distracted Eglantine Took. “Ah, here you are, my lad! I am so grateful you have arrived—all is at sixes and sevens the past few weeks, and perhaps you can help the other children to sort it all out. Bilbo’s gone on to the Great Smial?”
“Yes. He rather thought that after last year’s meeting of the Family Heads there it might be better that I not go with him this time.”
“I should say so—Lalia is still certain that you must have had a hand in seeing her glued to her own chair.”
“I promise, Aunt Lanti, that it was not I who did that.”
She shook her head. “At this point, even if the one who truly did it were to confess before the entire assembly of Family Heads and produce witnesses, still no one would begin to believe it was anyone but you.”
At that point Pimpernel came up behind her mother and pulled on her skirts to get her attention. “Mummy, Pearl wants to know if she can come out of her room now, now that Frodo’s come.”
Lanti’s eyes closed in frustration. “You can tell your sister she can simply stay put for now. And is Pippin staying in his room?”
“Yes, although he’s in a right dither, wanting to be out here to tell his side of the story to Frodo!”
The young Baggins gave his nominal aunt an inquiring look. “And what sort of story does he wish to tell me his side of?” he asked.
Eglantine threw up her hands. “He’s got to the stage when he is tattling on everyone, and he’s managed to anger even his Cousin Merry, who usually will stand by him no matter what.”
“I see. So, he’s the self-appointed conscience for all, is he?”
“You have it right there, Frodo. And today he managed to tell about Pearl hiding out in the barn when she was supposed to be helping me with carding wool—she hates carding wool, as you know, Frodo. So then we caught her trying to get her own back, having enlisted her cousin Linden to help her catch Pippin unawares so as to paint his hair red.”
Frodo laughed merrily.
“It’s not so funny,” Lanti said darkly, “when you have to deal with this, day in and day out.”
Frodo controlled his laughter with difficulty, but his eyes were still sparkling as he asked, “So, Linden is here. How about Bard?”
“He’s here, too. Not too happily, mind you.”
Frodo sighed. “Not knowing I was coming, I suppose.” He smiled wryly. “I promise to be good, Aunt Lanti.”
“He’s promised the same. But their parents had to head off for the Southfarthing for a wedding, and they would not leave Linden at the Great Smial to the untender mercies of Lalia.”
The cheer left Frodo’s face. “Almost anything is better for her than being left in the keeping of Lalia the Fat,” he muttered sternly.
“Frodo Baggins! Being unkind is not like you!”
Frodo merely sniffed. “I suppose I should go see Merry. Is he with Pippin, then?”
“Actually, he’s in the parlor with Linden, Pervinca, and Isumbard, as Pippin has actually managed to tattle on him, too.”
Frodo gave a single bright laugh, and said, “Then I shall go there.” He leaned forward to kiss her cheek, and swinging his pack off his shoulders he headed for the room where the other younger Hobbits were gathered.
“You brighten wherever you go, Frodo Baggins,” she said softly as she watched him leave her. He did not hear her, for he was singing cheerfully to himself as he headed out of the kitchen, closely followed by Pimpernel.
“Pippin just can’t seem to stop tattling on everybody,” Pimpernel explained as Frodo settled himself before the hearth beside Merry and accepted a biscuit handed him by Linden. “He told Isumbard that Merry had shortsheeted his bed, and Linden that Pervinca planned to sneak into her room to sleep with her as a surprise. He told Da that Merry had ridden Ginger even though he was told not to as she is in foal, so Merry was in disgrace for two days last week.”
“And the reason Cousin Lanti didn’t go to the meeting of the Family Heads was because at Yule Pippin told Aunt Lalia that his mother had deliberately poured grape juice on the dress Lalia gave her so she wouldn’t have to wear it,” added Linden. “At least we could come here and wouldn’t have to stay there at the Great Smial as her guests while our parents are gone!”
Isumbard said, rather reluctantly, “I doubt Cousin Paladin would have gone either, were he not the Heir to Ferumbras.”
The other children all indicated their agreement. Pervinca was wrinkling her nose. “He tells on me, too, all of the time,” she said.
Linden nodded. “That he does. And all the lads near his age at the Great Smials are all angry with him. They had gotten together to steal sweets from the great larder, and of course it was Pippin who got caught. And when he was asked who else was part of the plan he told all their names, so they were all punished.”
Frodo’s eyebrows rose as he exchanged looks with Merry. It was a point of honor at Brandy Hall that no one told on anyone else who was in on a prank or bout of scrumping, and it would be expected a similar code should be practiced at the Great Smial as well. Isumbard confirmed this: “They shan’t be including him again anytime soon, I’d think.”
“Mummy’s not certain what to do,” Pimmie sighed. “She’s glad he tells the truth, no matter what; but to keep telling on others all the time—even she hates to have that happen.”
“Can you fix it, Frodo?” Merry asked.
Frodo gave his beloved younger cousin a sad look. “One doesn’t fix a tattling child quite the same way one does a broken stick,” he advised the lad. “It will take more than smaller sticks and glue and paper, you understand.”
“But he might listen to you where he won’t to the rest of us,” Merry said, his expression pleading.
Frodo appeared thoughtful. “I shall think on it,” he said. “But I can’t promise anything, you understand.”
Merry smiled, apparently convinced that Frodo’s prodigious brain should be able to figure out the answer to any problem, even one such as this.
Pippin and Pearl’s punishments were over at dinnertime, when they were let out of their rooms to join with the other children. Pippin appeared to have spent much of his time peering through the crack at the bottom of his door, if the smudges on his cheek and the elbow of his shirt and the way his hair was flattened on that side had anything to tell.
Pearl had taken advantage of her enforced confinement to her room to experiment with her hair, putting it up to make herself look older and wiser. She pointedly avoided looking at her little brother all through the meal, mostly casting what she obviously hoped were knowing glances at Frodo, who sat down at the far end of the table, and sharing whispered exchanges with Linden beside her. Even Pimpernel was growing obviously embarrassed with her by the end of the meal, and Eglantine made certain that Pearl was the one who did the washing up all by herself. “Time to rid yourself of airs, young lady,” Lanti advised her.
Pearl glared, but obediently stayed in the kitchen as the others were shooed off to the parlor, and most especially Frodo. Only Isumbard, who fancied Pearl himself, seemed happy at this.
Lanti brought in some warm spiced cider and a platter of decorated biscuits for the youngsters to share, and sat down with a basket of mending. The lasses each had her own sewing or knitting bag by her seat, and Merry had some harness he was to punch new holes for to work on. Isumbard, who was now old enough to smoke, fiddled with his pipe while Frodo settled himself on the floor with some strips of dyed leather he was braiding together to make a lanyard. Pippin, a slate pencil and scrap of old cloth to hand, had been advised to practice his letters, and sat leaning against Frodo, diligently drawing each letter on his small slate and then wiping it off as Bard described how his father had gifted him with this pipe on his last birthday.
“I was so pleased,” he concluded. “After all, this was once my grandda’s pipe.”
Merry was looking at it with obvious envy in his eyes as Frodo looked up from his braiding with a nod of understanding. “I understand my Grandfather Folco never took up smoking,” he commented. “I suppose one day Bilbo will give me my dad’s pipes. You are lucky to have that to remember your grandda by.”
Bard gave an abbreviated nod, not liking to admit that his rival had given him a compliment. But his frown returned when Pearl hurried in from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron, checking first to see where it was that Frodo was sitting. Finding that Frodo was seated in a place where she couldn’t easily sit by him she grimaced, then sat in her usual place at the end of the small sofa to take out the bodice she was working upon, self-righteously shaking her head when Pimmie offered her the plate of biscuits.
The room fell silent for a time as each concentrated on what was being worked upon, until at last Pippin looked up at Frodo and asked, “Will you tell us a story, Frodo?”
Frodo looked down at his smallest cousin present thoughtfully, then finally smiled. “Oh, but I think I shall, if your mother allows it. It appears that you haven’t exactly been in favor today.”
“But Mum has always told us we must tell the truth—“ Pippin began, before Frodo held up a hand to forestall him.
“Telling the truth is one thing; but sometimes even the truth can be dangerous to share.” So saying, he set down his lanyard and lifted the smaller lad onto his lap, and took a deep breath to prepare himself to tell his tale.
Once, long ago, when your dad’s dad’s dad’s dad was a lad, or perhaps before, a small Hobbit named Toto lived with his family in a snug smial in the Eastfarthing, not far from the Road, or so I was told by Uncle Rory when I myself was small. He was a nice enough child, but had taken to heart a bit too strongly the idea that one must always tell the truth, no matter what.
One day he and the other lads slipped onto a nearby farm to do some scrumping, and only he was caught, his hands filled with carrots.
“Who was with you?” demanded the farmer.
Toto told him the names of the other lads, and the farmer went to all their homes, and all of them were forbidden to go on his land ever again. Now none of Toto’s friends would speak to him, and he didn’t feel that was right. He’d only told the truth, right?
His oldest sister was being courted by a neighbor lad a bit older than she, and Toto’s parents weren’t certain that she was quite old enough to court at all. Toto told them that he’d seen his sister kissing the lad, both of them behind the corn crib, and now the lad was told off not to come again and the lass was forbidden to see him any more. His sister cried and cried and cried. When it was learned that the lad had begun to court another lass, she cried some more. She never married, for her heart was of the sort to be stirred but once, and her parents were sad that they had thought it only a childish fascination and not realized it was true love, and knew they’d done wrong by her. But it was too late by then, and Toto couldn’t understand why he was blamed. After all, he’d but told the truth!
When his mum spent more money than intended on fabric for a new dress, Toto told his dad at once, and then was surprised to find them quarreling. When his dad bought a new pig at a time they needed more lamp oil, Toto told his mother, and again his parents quarreled. “If you’d only not interfered,” his mum explained afterwards, “your dad would have found his own way to explain, and it would have been better.” But Toto was certain that he’d but told the truth, so it couldn’t be his fault!
Then one night a ruffian of a Big Folk came along the Road, looking for someplace to hide. He’d done something bad between the Shire and Bree, it is said, and the Rangers were after him!
“What are the Rangers?” asked Pippin.
“They are Big Folk who live outside the Shire, although sometimes they ride along the Road; and it is said in Buckland that they keep an eye out for bad folk of any sort and drive them away, out into the Wild.”
Pippin nodded his understanding, and went quiet for Frodo to continue his tale.
The ruffian was apparently sufficiently desperate that when he saw the door to the smial, there on the hillside, he went to it and tried it. Finding it unlocked, he entered the hole, even though it was the middle of the night.
It was dark inside the smial, and he knocked over a table, awakening Toto, who came out of his room to see what was making the noise.
“Who’s there?” demanded the ruffian.
“It’s me, Toto Broadbelt,” Toto answered.
As his eyes became used to the darkness, the ruffian saw before him only a little tiny lad, and he grew more bold and self-assured. “Can you light a candle?” he demanded.
“Then do so.” So Toto did, and he saw the Man with all his ugliness, and was sorry he’d made it easier for both of them to see.
“And do you have any riches?” the ruffian asked.
Toto wasn’t precisely certain what riches might be, but he answered, “Mum and Dad have some coin put by, there in the sugar bowl.”
The ruffian looked into the sugar bowl and found the coins, and took them all, putting them into his pocket.
“Do you have any food?” he demanded next.
“In the larder.”
“And where’s that?”
So Toto showed the ruffian the larder, and the Man opened the door, and saw they had lots put by. Seeing a blanket over the back of the sofa, he took it and made a bag of it, and he took all of the food from the larder and put it into the bag he’d made, and twisted it to drag it out of the smial, beckoning for Toto to go with him.
“Have you a horse?”
“No,” Toto answered reluctantly, “we don’t. But we do have a pony.”
So the Man made him show him the stable, and he took their pony and put the bag made of the blanket over its back, and took it all away.
Toto was weeping when his parents awoke, and he told them all the ruffian had taken.
“But how did he know where the coin was hidden?” asked his mother. “It wasn’t obvious!”
“I told him,” admitted the little Hobbit. “He asked, so I told him the truth.”
“And how did he find out where the larder was?” asked his father.
“He asked, so I told him,” Toto explained.
“And that’s how he knew we had a pony to take, too?” asked his sister.
Toto had to admit she was right.
They were all outside, looking at the empty stable, when the Ranger came by, looking for the ruffian. Toto’s father told him that the Man had been there, and what he’d taken, and that he’d only known what to take because Toto had told him about it and where it was. The Ranger sighed, and asked which way the ruffian had gone. This time they were all glad of Toto’s penchant for telling the truth, for he was able to point out the path the ruffian had taken with the pony, and they described the pony so the Ranger would be able to recognize it.
Late in the day the Ranger returned. He was walking now, leading his horse, on which the ruffian was riding, his hands tied behind him and his feet lashed to the horse’s barrel. The ruffian looked most upset at this turn of affairs, and especially as the Ranger stopped to return to the family their coins retrieved from the Man’s pocket, the pony, and the bag made from their blanket filled with the food from their larder.
The Ranger knelt down to talk to Toto. “I am glad that your parents have raised a son who appreciates the value of honesty,” he said. “But I hope you have now learned that it is not good to answer every question asked of you, or to tell everything you know, and particularly when it may well lead to you losing what you care for most. Your family can ill afford the loss of so much coin, or all the food from your larder, much less your pony. You are fortunate that this ruffian was being sought by me, for you are not the only one to lose all of value to him. And had he had more time he would have possibly have stolen your life and the lives of your other family members as well as the pony and the food and the coin. Think well before you speak from now on.”
And the child took his words to heart, and from that day he knew when it was important to hold his tongue and did so. So it was that he no longer had everyone angry with him for speaking out of turn.
All were silent for a time once the tale was through. Pippin sat still for a moment or two before twisting to look up into Frodo’s face. “So,” he said in a small voice, “It’s not always a good thing to tell everything?”
“What do you think?” Frodo answered in a gentle voice.
“So I shouldn’t tell you that Pearl----” But something in Frodo’s suddenly stern countenance stopped him, and Pippin took a deep breath instead. “Oh, I see,” he said.
But what it was he’d been about to say about his sister he never told anyone, undoubtedly to Pearl’s great relief.
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