Many thanks to Llinos and Marigold for the beta!
Special thanks to Llinos for letting me use her phrase "promsis". Thank you for your generosity!
The challenge was to write about any kind of fight, from an argument to a full-out battle. I chose the combatants to be Merry and Eglantine Took.
Startled, Merry looked up from where he was playing. "Aunt Tina?"
"Just what do you think you're doing? You're supposed to be keeping an eye on your cousin, not letting him get covered in filth from head to toe!"
Abashed, Merry looked to where the 2-year old was happily playing in a pile of mud. He was indeed covered from curly head to hairy feet in brown gooeyness.
Pippin looked up and smiled at his cousin. He pointed at him and cooed, "Meh!"
Sighing, Merry trudged over to retrieve the recalcitrant lad. "I'm sorry, Aunt Tina. I just took my eyes off of him for a minute, I swear. I don't know how he could have got so dirty so quickly."
"Well, Merry, if I'm going to let you mind him more often, you'll have to learn to keep a sharper eye on him. He can almost toddle now, you know, so you'll have to be extra vigilant. I thought you understood what a responsibility, and a privilege, I've given you."
Merry hung his head. "Yes," he murmured softly. "I'll take him to be washed straight away. I'm sorry, Aunt Tina."
"Well, you're 10 years old now, Merry-lad. Time to act a little more grown up. Pippin will be looking to you as a role model, and you're going to have to make sure you're on your best behaviour around him. He idolizes you, and will imitate you just so he can be like his big cousin Merry. I hope you can remember that."
Merry nodded. He picked up the dirty lad and carried him into the smial, making his way to the back where the bathtubs and cleaning supplies were kept. "Well, Pippin, I hope you're happy," he grumbled at the little lad. "Now you've got MY clothes all dirty as well, you little brat." Pippin giggled happily and pulled on Merry's curls. "My Meh," he exclaimed happily. Merry grinned back. He could never stay angry very long with his little cousin.
"All right, you. We might as well take a bath together, since you're getting me just as filthy as you are. Now, stay right here while I fill the tub with water, all right?"
"A-right", Pippin agreed cheerily as he sat down on the floor, watching Merry's every move. There were two fireplaces, with fires continually banked to keep water warm in kettles that hung over them. One was water for laundry, the other for baths. As soon as the tub was filled with warm water, Merry stripped both Pippin and himself, and gently lowered the lad into the water, then got in after him. Pippin immediately started splashing merrily.
"All right Pip, settle down. I'm going to soap you, and lather your hair, all right? Just lean back and let me scrub you all clean."
The lads were done in a matter of minutes. Merry lifted Pippin from the tub, retrieved fresh clothes that were always waiting here for them both, and dressed his little cousin in pristinely clean garments. He dropped the muddy things, both his and Pippin's, into the laundry to be done by the maid later. "There," Merry proclaimed, rubbing Pippin's wet curls with a soft towel. "Doesn't that feel better?"
"Bett-ah," Pippin said, smiling at Merry as a thumb went into his mouth.
Merry brought Pippin into the dining area, where Eglantine spotted them. "Thank you, Merry," she said warmly, smiling at her nephew. "I'll take him now; it's time for his morning rest. Would you mind if I laid him in your bed, and would you lie beside him for a while, Merry?"
"Not at all, Aunt Tina, I'd be happy to."
"Good, I'll just go and tuck him in and you can come in soon after." Merry's bed was in the guestroom that he always used when he stayed at the farm. This time he was staying for a whole month. He had pestered his father endlessly to let him spend some time with his young, favourite cousin for weeks now, and Saradoc finally relented. He was surprised how closely the two had bonded. Merry didn't seem to pine for Frodo's presence as much anymore since Peregrin had been born.
There was an ulterior motive to Merry wanting to spend time here. His birthday was in two months, and instead of giving out mathoms, he wanted to buy something special for his parents. He needed to earn some money and, in order to keep it secret from his parents, he had asked his Aunt Eglantine and Uncle Paladin if he could act as Pippin's minder while staying at the farm. They had readily agreed, knowing that Pippin's mother and sisters needed some time off, as did the maid. It would be perfect; Merry could earn his money for his presents while doing something he absolutely loved doing anyway.
Merry tip-toed into the bedroom, and crawled under the covers to gather Pippin's little body into his embrace. Pippin was still awake, and he giggled and squirmed for a few minutes before settling down. Finally, Pippin was relaxed in slumber, and Merry held him, contentedly watching his little lad sleep.
Merry jerked awake. He hadn't meant to fall asleep and, by the look of the sunlight, a good hour must have passed. He noticed that Pippin was no longer in bed with him. Yawning, he swung his feet over the edge of the bed. Somebody, probably Aunt Eglantine, must have come in to fetch Pippin and let Merry sleep. Rubbing his eyes, he walked down the hallway into the kitchen. "Where's Pippin?" he asked Pearl, who was standing at the table making a batch of mushroom pies.
Pearl eyed Merry suspiciously. "What do you mean? I thought he was sleeping with you?"
Sudden panic twisted Merry's gut. "He's not there. I thought somebody must have come to get him."
"Did you fall asleep, Merry Brandybuck?" Pearl asked sternly, hands on hips. "You were SUPPOSED to be keeping him company, not taking a snooze with him!"
Merry didn't know what to say. At that instant Eglantine walked into the kitchen. "Hello, Merry. Is Pippin still sleeping?" The sinking feeling in his gut just got worse.
"No, Aunt, I fell asleep, and when I woke up, he was no longer there. Did one of his other sisters, or Uncle Paladin, perhaps get him up?"
Eglantine froze. Her gaze locked onto her nephew's face, anger quickly overcoming her anxiety. "Merry, how COULD you? I trusted him with you, and now you've let him wander off to who knows where! We'll have to start searching immediately! Oh, my poor lad...he could have gone anywhere, and he wouldn't know where he was. He must be very frightened!"
"He can't have gone far, Aunt Tina. I'll search my bedroom more thoroughly, and you two can start searching the rest of the smial."
"Yes, you just do that, Merry," Eglantine said coldly, and stalked off with Pearl to find Pimpernel and Pervinca to help too.
Merry immediately ran back into his bedroom, and started looking in every conceivable hiding place: under the bed, in the cupboards, in the wardrobe, behind the curtains, under the roll-top desk. Nothing. No Pippin. Where could he have possibly gone? He still just crawled, and when he did manage to pull himself onto his feet, he could not reach the doorknob. Then Merry realized something with a sinking horror. He turned around and looked at the window that was above the bed. It was wide open.
Merry vaulted out of the window, into the freshly pruned flowerbed. Giving a small sob of relief, he saw a small form curled up under a lilac bush, fast asleep. He gathered the small body into his arms, and ran back into the smial. "Aunt Eglantine! I found him!" he shouted, effectively waking up the sleeping lad. Pippin started whimpering and snuggling closer into Merry's arms. Merry just gave him a big hug, and a kiss on the forehead. "Mehhy?" asked the sleepy lad, looking drowsily up at Merry.
Eglantine came racing from the front of the smial, and grabbed Pippin from Merry's arms. "Oh, Pippin, baby, how's my little one?"
"Seepy," replied Pippin with a huge yawn.
"Yes, I'm sure you are. Where was he, Merry?"
He was outside my window, asleep under the lilac bush."
"Was he now?" she gave Merry a look like thunder. "I'm going to tuck my little darling into his own cot, and then I'm going to have a talk with you, Meriadoc."
"Yes, Aunt," Merry said resignedly.
Sighing, Merry trudged back to his bedroom, thinking that it was there that the confrontation would ensue. He couldn't believe how careless he'd been. He adored Pippin, and he hoped that Aunt Tina wouldn't forbid him to spend any more time with him. That would kill him. Pippin was the little brother that he never had, as Frodo had been his big "brother".
When Frodo had left Brandy Hall to go and live with Bilbo, Merry had been heartbroken. He had cried every night for a week, and then his heart started the slow healing process. When Pippin was born, his affections transferred to that little bundle of joy that seemed to brighten up the days of any one who came into contact with him. With his chestnut coloured hair, bright green eyes, and a smile that lit up a room, Pippin had stolen Merry's heart. If Eglantine forbade him to see Pippin anymore, he would just die.
His back was to the door when Eglantine opened it and slammed it shut. He gave a little 'eep!' as he jumped several inches into the air. Then he turned around to face his wrathful aunt.
"Sit down, Meriadoc," she ordered. Sheepishly, he sat down on his bed, facing her. Her face was red and sweaty, and a frown creased her forehead. She was not at all happy.
"Merry, do you realize what could have happened here today?"
Finally, Merry could control himself no longer. His guilt had roiled inside his stomach since he had let Pippin get dirty. He knew very well what could have happened; they could have lost Pippin for good. All of the guilt transformed itself into anger and Merry exploded.
"I'd never hurt Pippin!" he shouted, panic edging his voice towards hysteria. "Why don't you trust me, Aunt Tina? I didn't mean to fall asleep; it was an accident! I must have been more tired than I thought. Haven't I been totally trustworthy up until today? Totally and completely? I'm only 10 years old, what do you really expect from me?" Finally his anger gave way to anxiety. "Please, Aunt Tina, it will never happen again, I promise."
"Well, you're right about one thing, young hobbit," Eglantine said coolly. "It will never happen again. I'm going to have to have a talk with your Uncle Paladin about this, to come up with an appropriate punishment for you. When you're in charge of Pippin, Merry, you can't just relax your attention. My goodness, even my daughters at your age understood that when they minded their own cousins. As I said, I will have a talk with Paladin to see what should be done. I would suggest that you refrain from being alone with Pippin until then." Eglantine turned to walk out of the door.
"Wait!" Merry shouted. "You can't make me stay away from Pippin! I'm here to take care of him, and that's what I mean to do." Merry's chin stuck up in the air, and his fists balled up with anger. "I love Pippin, and he loves me. You'd be punishing him as well as me."
"Well, you should have thought of that earlier, Merry! And you will not talk back to me, is that understood? If you can't respect me, then you will no longer be welcome here, and I'll send for Saradoc. Is that understood?"
Merry gulped. "Yes, Aunt. I'm sorry."
"Apology accepted. Now I am going to have that talk with your uncle and see what is to be done." With that, Eglantine swept from the room and slammed the door.
Merry threw himself on his bed, tears streaming down his cheeks. What had he done?
"Really, Eglantine, you are making far too much fuss of this," admonished Paladin. He had listened to his wife's tale, and thought that she was over-reacting badly. "First of all, Tina, lasses mature more quickly than lads. At 10 our lasses were able to handle a lot more of this sort of thing than Merry is able to. Secondly, did anything bad come out of the situation? Not at all. Everything turned out just fine."
"But what if it hadn't?" Eglantine asked. "What if Pippin had crawled his way to the pond? What then? It could have ended a lot worse, Pal."
"Tina, really. The pond is hundreds of yards away, Pippin never would have crawled that far before we would have found him. I agree, there should be some small punishment, but nothing extraordinary. Perhaps he should help with some of the extra farm work for his remaining time here; that will ensure he gets to spend less time with his cousin, and yet he will still be working for his money. He can still do for Pippin, but on a smaller scale. Would that be agreeable to you?"
Eglantine opened her mouth to retort, then closed it. She realized her husband was right. She was being very overprotective of her youngest. He was her only son, and probably would remain so. She would never be able to bear it if anything were to happen to him. She nodded. "Yes, Pal, that sounds fair. We'll let the lad know at dinner tonight. It will be good for him to let him stew over his fate for a while."
She knew that Merry always helped with the harvesting at Buckland. Even the Master's son didn't get out of that duty. Everybody from the age of 8 up helped in some way; some of the younger ones just wandered the fields, offering water to anyone who thirsted. She felt sure that Merry wouldn't mind spending some harvest time at Whitwell.
A teary Merry lay on his stomach, on his bed, sunlight streaming through his window. He was thoroughly miserable. He was worrying himself sick over his punishment. What if he were sent home? What would his father say? Worse, what would his father DO? His stomach hurt from all of his fretting. If only he could shut down his brain.
Sighing, he wiped his eyes and sat up. His mind had decided it was enough sulking for one day. He grabbed his fishing rod, opened his window and climbed out into the flowerbed. He didn't want to risk running into any members of his family; he just wasn't in the mood. There was a small pond a few hundred yards away, with a nice big willow tree where he could sit, pretend to fish, and just think.
Propped against the tree, fishing rod in hand with the line stretching out to the float, Merry sighed deeply. It was amazing how quickly Pippin had wormed himself into his heart. If only Aunt Eglantine hadn't been so unreasonable. He knew that his anger hadn't done him any favours. He had yelled at his aunt, setting himself up for punishment. It just wasn't fair! Couldn't his aunt see how much he adored his young cousin; how he would never intentionally let any harm come to him?
Suddenly, he heard his name being shouted from the entrance to the smial. It was Pearl. "Merry! Merry, come quickly; Pippin is about to take his first steps! You don't want to miss this."
Excited, Merry dropped the rod and ran as fast as he could into the smial. He stopped short as he watched Uncle Paladin kneeling behind Pippin and holding his little hands as Pippin tentatively took some aided steps. As soon as he saw Merry, he started bouncing up and down excitedly. "Meh! Meh!", he exclaimed delightedly, and started heading in Merry's direction. Paladin cautiously released Pippin, and Pippin toddled five steps unaided right into Merry's arms. Merry's eyes filled with tears of joy. "Oh, Pip, that's wonderful!" he exclaimed, and scooped his cousin up into his arms giving him a gentle hug. Pippin clung to Merry, face buried in his shoulder, suddenly shy of all the attention. "You're a big lad now, Pip! Pretty soon we'll be doing all sorts of things together! I'll teach you how to swim, and how to fish, and ... " his voice died away as he caught sight of his aunt standing off to the side.
She had seen everything. She did not wear a scowl, or an unpleasant expression of any sort. Her lips were quirked in a slight smile as she gazed at Merry and Pippin. The sight she had just witnessed was heart-warming, to say the least. Her son adored Merry, and Merry returned the sentiment tenfold. How could she really think that any harm would come to her youngest while in Merry's charge? She sighed. She really needed to apologize before letting Merry know what his 'punishment' was to be.
"Merry, can I see you for a moment in private?" she asked. Merry eyed her suspiciously as he sat Pippin down. Whimpering slightly, Pippin reached up for Merry . "I'll be just a moment Pip. I'll be right back, all right?"
"Wight back, Meh? " Pippin agreed amiably, then started crawling away to find some of his toys.
Merry stepped into Paladin's study with Eglantine, fearing the worst. After shutting the door, she turned to face Merry. "Have a seat, Merry, I have a proposition for you."
Merry sat down, confusion written all over his face. Eglantine smiled wryly. "Merry, I wish to apologize to you for my treatment of you. I over-reacted, and I beg your forgiveness."
Merry looked at her in shock, his jaw dropped. This was the last thing that he had expected. "Of course I accept your apology, Aunt," he said, suddenly shamed. "And I was very rude to you." Merry hung his head. "I'm very sorry for how I acted."
Eglantine smiled. "I know you are, Merry. I know how much you love Pippin, but that sort of behaviour towards me will not be tolerated. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, Aunt Tina. But what happens now?"
"Paladin has come up with a solution that I think you will be agreeable to."
"Yes, Aunt," Merry grinned, confident that what his uncle had in mind would be more than fair.
"I saw Pippin walk to you, Merry. You are the one he headed to first, even when all of us were there in the room. He loves and trusts you, nephew. I don't see any reason why I shouldn't as well. Mistakes are made, and lessons learned, and above all nothing bad came out of the situation. I know you are a responsible young lad, especially when it comes to Pippin. I don't mean to separate you anymore than I have to."
That evening at dinner, Merry listened to his aunt's and uncle's plan of having him help with the harvest around their farm. He would also have some free time to spend with Pippin as well. This solution sat very well with Merry. He didn't mind hard work; after all, it would be something he would be doing at home anyway.
All in all, things had worked out for the best. Merry spent hours with Pippin that evening before bedtime, and Pippin walked twice more ... to Merry, of course. Pimpernel was a little hurt, since she had been trying to coax him forever, but when she saw the look of joy on Merry's face when Pippin toddled to him, she squelched that feeling. Jealousy had no place in this circumstance. After all, Merry had no little brothers or sisters to dote on at home.
Over the next fortnight, Merry worked very hard to prove his trustworthiness to his aunt and uncle. He was up at the break of dawn, pausing only twice during the time he was in the fields, for lunch and tea. His hard work helped the harvest come in more quickly than it ever had before. Merry had less time to spend with Pippin, but, after all, that was why it was being called a punishment. He even earned twice as much money as had been agreed upon for just watching over Pippin.
Saradoc came on the day as scheduled, around noon. He was very surprised to see how sunburnt Merry was, and how muscular he had become. He wasn't told what had happened with Pippin, to save Merry from being punished a second time. He just assumed Merry had volunteered to help out while he was staying, and he heartily congratulated his son on his generosity. Merry stole a glance at Eglantine, blushing. She just smirked. Her anger had totally dissipated.
As Merry was getting his bags loaded onto the cart, Pippin crawled up Merry's legs and hung on to them for dear life. He was sobbing his little heart out, for he didn't want his older cousin to leave. Gently, Merry pried Pippin's arms from his legs, and knelt down. "Pippin, I will be seeing you again very soon, don't you fear. It'll be my birthday in a little over a month, and I'll have something for you then! We will see each other ... soon ... I promise!"
"Promsis?" Pippin asked.
Merry smiled. "Promsis!"
Merry got into the cart alongside his father. Saradoc gave him a gentle smile, and headed off home. Merry looked back, and saw Pippin waving at him from his mother's arms. Tears blurring his vision, Merry waved back. Sweet mercy, he loved that lad! Sometimes he was surprised at the depth of emotion he could feel towards someone so small. Merry had a feeling that he would always feel that way about Pippin, even though there were lads closer to his age back at Buckland. Merry somehow knew he would be looking after this one for a long time to come.