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74
Comfort Unexpected

Written for the LOTR-Genfic Community Potpourri Challenge. For Lindelea and Garnet Took for their birthdays. Beta by RiverOtter.


~~~

Comfort Unexpected


It began raining as Frodo rode past the second turn-off to Tuckborough and the Great Smial, the rain turning to sleet as he finally reached the turn-off to Bywater and Hobbiton. He was feeling frozen as he reached the Green Dragon to return the pony he’d taken for the trip to Michel Delving, and he found himself wishing he were a pony himself and not having to walk that last mile to the Hill and Bag End on the west side of Hobbiton. Had he been paying attention, he would have gotten his first clue as to what to expect there and then, for one of the open stalls held a familiar, placid brown mare that ought to have been at the Great Smial this time of year, one belonging to Paladin Took. However, Frodo was more concerned about the need to make that last mile’s journey afoot through the increasingly bad weather, and barely registered Ginger’s presence.

“Greyhame did well for you, Mr. Baggins?” asked old Rarko Oatbarrow, who’d served as stablehobbit for the inn for the past thirty-six years.

“Well enough, although he does not appear to like the sleet.”

Rarko laughed. “Oh, he’s a comfort-lovin’ pony, he is. Bet he was doin’ his best to keep his hoofs dry these last few miles, wasn’t he?”

“Indeed,” Frodo sighed. “Prancing and dancing, all the way from the Green Hills. And this last bit from the Road--I wasn’t certain I’d keep my seat.”

“Well, here you are, and safe and sound in spite of him. Always said as you have a marvelous way with the ponies, sir. You sure as you won’t purchase one for yourself, now as you’re the Master of Bag End?”

“If I did, I assure you it would be far more intelligent than Greyhame. And I’m certain that if Gandalf knew you’d named that pony after him he’d probably turn all your hot mash cold on you!”

Again the old Hobbit laughed. “Your uncle--he’d say the same. But there’s no question as Greyhame’s the one pony we’ve got as knows the way to Michel Delving and back best.”

Frodo doubted that this reflected well on the rest of the stock kept by the Green Dragon, but held his tongue. He shook out his cloak as best he could, then stood by the crack in the rolling door to the stable and peered out with distaste at the sheets of ice that were being blown about by the wind.

“There’s nothin’ for it, Mr. Baggins, sir--you’re goin’ to have to go out in it sometime. Won’t let up all tonight, I’m willin’ to wager. In fact, I’d say as it’ll be snow by morning.”

“And it’s only the first week in November,” Frodo sighed, his heart plummeting at this news. He didn’t doubt Rarko, for the old Hobbit’s lumbago was known to be very accurate in predicting the weather. He looked at the cold-looking puddle that had been forming before the stable door. “It’s one time I wish I had a pair of Buckland boots,” he commented.

Rarko’s eyebrows rose. “You wear them outlandish things?” he asked.

“When I was on the flood watch along the Brandywine I did a few times,” Frodo admitted, watching the sleet continue to fall and the puddle continue to spread. At last he raised his chin. “Well, as you said, there’s nothing for it,” he said, shouldering his saddlebag and pulling the sodden hood of his cloak back over his dark curls. With a despondent nod, he signaled Rarko that he was ready, and the old Hobbit rolled the door open.

“Watch your step, sir,” Rarko advised as Frodo finally stepped out into the storm. “You don’t want to end up sittin’ in a puddle, now!” That said, he rolled the door closed again after the gentlehobbit, and went back to his comfortable chair where he watched over his charges, and the whittling he indulged in throughout much of the winter.

The bridge across the Water was almost as slick as the road leading to it, and more than once Frodo found himself clinging to the rail as his foot slid. When he stepped off of it he took a deep breath of relief--just before he lost his footing and fell to his knees, his hands stinging as he kept himself from ending up face down in the mud.

Sam Gamgee would have flushed royally had he heard his young Master’s exclamations of dismay. Fastidiously, Frodo managed to regain his feet, reaching down to retrieve his bag and finding it slick with mud. “Of all the...!” He wiped at it futilely with his cloak, and finally gave up, throwing it over his shoulder again and squelching his way along the Hobbiton Road to the Lane up the Hill.

The door was ajar, he realized as he finally made the security of his front stoop. “Why isn’t the door closed?” he asked himself as he pushed it open. The entranceway was cold as a result, and there was a muddy puddle just inside the door, on which he again slipped, stopping himself from falling only by grabbing hold of the bench under the coat pegs. “What in the Shire!” he cried, thoroughly furious at this point as he reached down to lift his saddlebag from the tiles onto the bench. “And since when has Sam Gamgee begun coming into Bag End through the front door?” he continued as he closed the door firmly and shot home the bolt. The soaked state of his cloak made it difficult to undo it, and once he finally had it free he didn’t even bother to hang it up, as it would need a thorough cleaning before he could wear it again. Instead he merely let it fall over the equally sodden bag. “Where’s the mat that belongs here?” he asked as he peered about. He finally found it, also soaking wet and bunched into the far corner of the hall. Muttering a particularly potent curse in Khuzdûl that Balin had taught Bilbo, he stamped into the parlor, noting that the fire was blazing, one of the logs dangling dangerously over the edge of the hearth, dropping hot ashes down onto the hearth rug.

“This isn’t Sam’s work,” he told himself as he found the poker behind the cushions on the sofa and put things right, his anger giving way to concern. “But who?” He placed the poker back in the stand where it belonged and looked about. It was then he noted the damp cloak lying on his chair. “Oh, sweet Valar!” he exploded. “Pippin!”

He found his young cousin in the kitchen, nursing a cup of cambric tea. He saw that Pippin had found the honey pot, and that the wooden server was lying on the floor under the table, having left a drizzle of stickiness across the table, on the cushion of the bench, and in a small puddle on the floor. At least he had used the milk rather than the cream this time--during his last proper visit he’d been told off for leaving no cream for anyone else. But there was a wide circle of white drying on the surface of the table, and a plate filled with partially charred toast dripping with butter. Sure enough, the butter tub lay there, filled with crumbs. Pippin sat huddled over his cup, looking up at him through his still-damp auburn curls. “Hello, Frodo,” he said. “I didn’t think you’d mind if I borrowed your dressing gown without asking--my clothes were soaked!”

Frodo closed his eyes, thinking of every means Bilbo had ever advised him could work to keep from yelling at his unexpected--and unwanted, truth be told--guest. He pinched himself; he counted to ten and back again to one; he took deep breaths. Pippin, meanwhile, was looking at him with that pathetic expression that he tended to give when he knew he’d earned the ire of his elders.

Finally, having managed through prodigious effort to calm himself, he asked, “What are you doing here, Peregrin Took?”

“I came to see you.”

“You came to see me.”

“Yes.”

Frodo knew the young Hobbit realized he was in trouble, for rarely did he answer with a mere monosyllable. “Why did you come to see me? Why tonight?”

“Lalia said I was a disgrace who didn’t deserve to stay in the Great Smial, so I decided to go where I was wanted.”

“And why did you decide you should come here?”

“Well, I wanted to go to see Merry, but when it began raining I realized I’d not make it in time, and I remembered I’d not brought any money to stay at the Floating Log anyway, so I came here instead. I mean, it’s much closer to Hobbiton than to Buckland.”

“And how did you come here?”

“I rode Ginger, and left her at the Green Dragon, So you’ll have to go down with me to pay so I can get her back again.”

I’ll have to pay? And why do I have to pay?”

“Someone will have to pay, for as I said I forgot to come away with any money.”

The logic of children!

Pippin had been riding since he was five, having been raised on the farm at Whitwell that his father managed. He had been riding Ginger alongside his parents and older sisters for two years, and there was no question that the pony knew the way well to Hobbiton and Buckland.

“Does your father know where you are?”

“I suppose he can figure it out.”

“Did you leave a note?”

“Should I have left a note?”

Realizing Pippin really wanted an answer to that one, Frodo said shortly, “Yes!”

“Oh.” The child shrank down further into himself.

Frodo gave a deep sigh. “Well, I’m not taking you home tonight, and there’s no way to send a message this late. Although since you’ve used my dressing gown, I’m not certain what I’ll wrap myself in.”

“You could use Bilbo’s dressing gown.”

“He took it with him.”

Pippin straightened with interest. “He did? Really for true?”

“Yes, he did.”

“You look muddy.”

“I am.”

“Did you fall?”

“Yes, this side of the bridge over the Water--and almost a second time in the entrance. You left the door open and there was a puddle on the tile.”

“Oh.” Then, after a moment, rather tentatively, “I’m sorry.”

“I’m certain you are.”

“I was wet and muddy, too.” Pippin had straightened some. “I fell down at the turn in the Lane.”

“I see. And why is your cloak on my chair?”

“I had to put it somewhere.”

“You could have hung it in the hallway.”

“But I can’t reach the pegs!”

“Well, I need to get dry.” So saying, Frodo started toward the bathing room. This door also was ajar, and all the lower candles had been lit, several of them beginning to gutter. The Baggins looked down at the pile of muddied towels lying on the floor and felt another sigh breaking loose. He looked over his shoulder. “You used them all?”

“I was awful wet.” Pippin’s voice was small and uncertain.

“And what am I supposed to use to get dry with?” Frodo demanded.

“Well, I didn’t know you’d be all wet and muddy, too!”

“When you realized I wasn’t home yet, and considering how much rain and sleet is out there, you should have been able to figure it out!”

“I’m sorry!”

He dug through the pile, looking for those that were least muddy, finally finding two that were at least somewhat dry and less soiled than the rest. He found a face flannel or two, and returned to the kitchen to refill the kettle (which, of course, was empty!) at the pump and put it over the fire to heat up.

Pippin was looking up at him from under his eyelashes. “You have a big smudge of mud on your cheek,” he noted.

“Considering how muddy I became when I fell, I’d be surprised not to have such a thing.”

Neither said anything while they waited for the water to boil. Once he heard the kettle begin to sing, Frodo quickly fetched it and the flannels and a bar of soap to his room, where he did the best he could to clean himself, finally pulling out one of the warm flannel nightshirts that Bilbo had left him and donning it, He carefully brushed all the mud from his feet, then cleaned them thoroughly, even between the toes, using the nail brush liberally.

Finally satisfied, he took the basin to the privy to empty it, and brought it to the kitchen to see all residual grit cleansed from it, finally refilling the ewer and putting both back in his room. He fetched one of Bilbo’s favorite shawls and wrapped it about himself, and having seen the kettle refilled and swung over the fire again and the teapot readied, settled himself opposite his young cousin.

“Your parents are going to be sick with worry.”

Pippin shrugged. At last he said, “I don’t like the Great Smial. Lalia’s mean.”

Frodo knew he ought to argue, but in this case he couldn’t. “I know. She used to get angry with me, too.”

“Why?”

“She thought I put glue on her chair.”

Pippin straightened, surprised. “Did you?”

“Well, if I did, I certainly wouldn’t admit it to you. But, actually, it wasn’t me. I’m not certain who did it, really.” He found himself actually smiling at the lad. “I wasn’t the only one there she got angry with, you see.”

“She didn’t get mad at you last winter when you and Bilbo came to the family meeting.”

“I know, but by then she’d become maybe a bit wary of me. I’ve learned how to give her as good as she gives me, you see. But don’t you try--you’re but a young lad as yet, and you will only get your da in trouble with her and Ferumbras. As I’m only related to the Tooks but am a Baggins, it doesn’t matter so much if she gets angry with me. I mean, there’s not much she can do to me, after all, and especially since I am now the Baggins.”

Pippin was plainly considering this information, and was slowly nodding. “I still don’t like her,” he said, finally.

Frodo smiled again, rather ruefully. “You don’t have to like her, but you do need to be polite to her, or at least as polite as you can manage. At least it’s only until February, and then you’ll be going back to Whitwell again.”

“I wish we could live in Whitwell all the time.”

“Well, if your da becomes the Thain you’ll need to live in the Great Smial all the time.”

Pippin shuddered. “I don’t want to,” he declared.

“And I didn’t want to lose my parents, but there you are.”

Again there was quiet for a time. Then, “Frodo....”

“What, Pip-squeak?”

The child glared at him. “I’m too big to call me that any more,” he said. His expression became more thoughtful. “Will Bilbo ever come back again, do you think?”

Frodo looked away from his young cousin’s earnest gaze, and shook his head. “No, I don’t think he will.” He looked back. “He left a will and everything, and named me the family head for the Bagginses and the Master of the Hill. I don’t think he’d want to come back and be just----” He swallowed. “I don’t think he’d want to come back and be just an old Hobbit. It’s not like him.”

“Where will he live?”

“I don’t know. Maybe with the Dwarves in the Lonely Mountain--he’d be with his friends again. Or perhaps with the Elves--he likes the Elves a good deal. Or perhaps in Dale. One time he spoke of going south to a country there, called Gondor, I believe. His Uncle Isengar, who used to serve aboard a ship, visited there more than once, and told him and your grandfather about it. He told me it sounded as if it were a marvelous place, and he might like to see it. Uncle Isengar also told him about other lands--one called Harad where there are monkeys and oliphaunts. That toy monkey I gave you when you were a faunt came from there. Uncle Isengar brought it home with him, and gave it to Bilbo, and he gave it to me and then I gave it to you.”

“There aren’t real oliphaunts--Da said so!”

“But your father hasn’t been anywhere else but in the Shire and a time or two to Bree--how would he ever expect to see one? Uncle Isengar assured Bilbo they were real.”

“And you believe him?”

“Why shouldn’t I? They don’t live near here--they live far, far to the south where it’s hot all year long, he told Bilbo.”

The question gave the lad pause. Finally he said, with somewhat less certainty, “But it’s not like that, either.”

“Again, not near here, but it is in places far, far to the south.”

He could see the idea catching at young Peregrin’s imagination. “What do they look like--oliphaunts, I mean?” he asked.

“Like the riddle poem says. Big as a house,
Grey as a mouse.
Nose like a snake,
I make the ground shake.
Spears in my mouth,
I walk in the south.”


Pippin gave a shiver of excitement. “I’d like to see one,” he said in a low voice, as if afraid others would hear and disapprove.

Frodo leaned in close, and Pippin leaned over the table to listen as his cousin whispered, “So would Sam!”

The child giggled.

“And Bilbo told me he’d always wanted to see one, too, once he became Tookish enough to leave the Shire,” Frodo added, sitting back again. “So, sometimes I try to imagine him on a ship somewhere, like Isengar, sailing far to the south in search of monkeys and oliphaunts.”

“I wish he would, and then come back and tell us all about it!” Pippin said.

Frodo smiled indulgently at him. Then, as the kettle boiled he rose to scald the teapot and brew a fresh pot of tea and poured himself a mug full.

After the two of them had finished their drinks and Pippin was done with his toast, Frodo had him help clean up some, then saw him to bed in the old nursery. He then went back to the entrance passage to see the two cloaks properly hung to dry overnight, and after seeing the fire banked carried the saddlebag back to his room.

He’d not been abed long before his door opened and Pippin peered in. “Frodo!” he whispered.

“Oh, all right,” Frodo sighed, inviting the lad into the bed, too. If Merry had been at Bag End he knew that either Pippin would have ended up in Merry’s room, or both lads would have come here to crawl into bed with him. “And you are not to lie on my arm, do you hear?”

Pippin nodded his understanding, although he looked disappointed. Frodo didn’t expect for a moment that the moment he was asleep Pippin would refrain from immediately doing what he’d just been forbidden, but felt it was worth the attempt to save his arm from falling asleep again. He pulled the extra pillow over and tucked it under the lad’s head where he snuggled close to the adult Hobbit’s chest.

“Now, Peregrin, why couldn’t you stay in your own bed tonight?”

“I just hate the thought you have to be alone now.”

“I’m hardly alone in the world, dearling. Sam’s up about every day, either working in the gardens or seeing to what I hadn’t gotten to as yet about the house, or fussing at me to eat something or get proper rest. He seems to think he must take my parents’ place at times.”

“But nobody else is here most nights but you.” The child’s gaze was most intent and earnest. “I don’t like it that you must be alone, Cousin Frodo.”

Frodo felt touched, and somehow, with a glancing thought about the contents of his waistcoat pocket, guilty as well. He put his arm about the child. “I don’t feel alone--nowhere as alone as I’d looked to be, Pippin. And when I know you and the lasses and Merry and Freddy and Folco are here for me, too, not to mention how much Sam does to see to it I’m reminded there are other Hobbits about who care for me, how can I ever feel truly alone, no matter how far away Bilbo might be? He made certain to stay until everyone--including me--realized I am a grownup now, and capable of doing whatever needs doing. And he left me you--all of you, and the whole Shire besides, to care about and for, and to remind me ever that I’m never truly alone--not ever.”

“Well, I don’t want you ever to feel alone, so if you’re ever scared, here in this big old hole, you send for me, hear, Frodo?”

Frodo laughed, and the sleet storm outside the hole was forgotten in the warmth of this young Hobbit’s love and caring.

He woke to the brilliance of the reflection of the grey light off of snow, and smiled. He got up and dressed carefully and warmly, aware of the differences between this one and Merry. The moment he stirred usually Merry would waken, too; but not Pippin. The child slept in the same manner as he moved through the waking moments of his day, blithely concentrating all his attention on what he was doing. Frodo went to the kitchen and found the fire still warm and the remains of the contents of the kettle still somewhat warm as well. He filled it and set it to boil, and after grabbing an apple from the cold room went out to the garden where he indulged himself in his personal first snowfall rituals, then rolled his snowballs and waited.

He didn’t have to wait long--Sam came up the steps to the back gate all unsuspecting, and was greeted with the first snowball of the season; and when at last Pippin came out into the garden demanding to know when Frodo intended to fix first breakfast for him, he got several more from both sides.

And the three of them played in the snow joyfully for some time before Frodo drew the two younger ones into the kitchen and saw to the making of pancakes and scrambled eggs for them, before tending to the business of getting his young cousin back to the Tooklands.

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