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65
A Problem with Names

Written for Hobbit Month on LiveJournal. For Isabeau and Lady Branwyn for their birthdays. Beta by RiverOtter.


~~~

A Problem with Names


It was a day in late March, and the wind was blowing briskly as Pippin and Merry leaned together over the mare who was giving birth in the back pasture behind the Crickhollow house they shared. “There, there, lass,” Merry crooned. “It’s all right, Fala. It’s all right. Soon it will be over. Rest until the next push.”

The mare blew, apparently calmed by the voice of one well accustomed to soothing upset ponies. She looked over at Pippin, who scratched the place on her blaze that she that she especially liked having so caressed. “You’re a good lass, Fala,” Pippin said in his higher tones. “You’re doing well. And soon you shall have a foal--ah, what a foal it shall be, too! As fair as its sire and as steady as its dam....”

“And what are you going to name it?” Merry asked.

“Frodo, of course,” Pippin answered,

Merry looked at his cousin a bit askance, but Pippin refused to meet his eye, determinedly scratching Fala’s stop. The Brandybuck took a deep breath, and said, his voice sad but determined, “Peregrin Took, you cannot go on naming every beast that comes your way Frodo! You’ve named the pup Farmer Maggot sold you Frodo, and the kitten you got from Haysgate Farm Frodo, and then you bought the dingle there near Haysgate and have renamed it Frodo’s Dingle! I swear I heard you addressing the toad in the garden as Frodo, too!”

At last Pippin turned to face his cousin, his eyes suspiciously bright. “And if I want to name the whole world Frodo, who’s to blame me?” he snapped. “I want all of Middle Earth to remember him, and to know what he did, and how we’d all be slaves or worse were it not for him!”

A lop-eared red dog, half grown, came lolloping about the byre, grinning happily, its tongue hanging out of the side of its mouth, a bright red kerchief knotted about its neck. Fala started, pulling away from the approaching dog.

“Be calm, Fala,” Pippin said, turning his eyes back to her. “Be calm. There’s nothing to fear. That’s only Frodo, and you never have to be afraid of Frodo!”

But then the next spasm began, and the two Hobbits had their hands full of anxious mare and surprised pup. “It’s not time yet, sweetling,” Merry murmured. “Not yet, but soon enough.”

Pippin was having to haul the young hound away from the straining pony. “No, Frodo--you have to let her be. No! She’s upset enough as it is!”

Once this contraction was done, Merry began to walk the pony up and down the field. “Sa, sa, my dear one,” he said, then added in a phrase he’d heard in Rohan from one of the ostlers in the Royal Stable as he’d calmed the Lady Lothiriel’s palfrey. Fala turned her ears, and looked back at him.

“You’d best be careful what you repeat from languages you don’t know,” Pippin cautioned.

“It means, ‘You are the light of my eyes, daughter of the plains’,” Merry told him stiffly. “It’s not so different from many of the old phrases we’ve always used with our ponies, here in Buckland.”

“Do you really think that the ancestors of the Brandybucks and the ancestors of the Rohirrim came from the same place?” Pippin asked.

“You heard Gandalf, there in Rivendell, as he and Lord Elrond were discussing with Frodo and Bilbo how our ancestors came over the Misty Mountains from the valley of the upper Anduin, and how the same is true of the Éotheod, from among whom rode Éorl the Young,” Merry said. “And there are so many special words that are used by us Brandybucks, who surely have Stoor blood in us, that are so similar to words in Rohirric.”

Pippin nodded, at last letting the pup go. Frodo the dog came close to the mare and sniffed her muzzle, and this time she did not start away, but reached forward to sniff him back, then turned her head slightly to mouth at the scarf about his neck. “Stop that, you silly thing!” Merry said, amused for the moment. “It won’t fill an empty belly, not that kerchief.”

But once again the pony stopped and shuddered and began to strain. She planted her feet and whickered in distress, while Frodo whined in sympathy.

“It’s nearly time!” Merry noted.

“You don’t think there will be any problems, giving birth, I mean?” Pippin asked fearfully.

“And why should there be? She’s healthy, and has given birth before you bought her from Merimac. It’s not all new to her, after all. And I’m surprised you didn’t rename her Frodo, also.”

“Nonsense--she’s a lass! You don’t name a lass Frodo!”

“With you, my dear Took of a cousin, it’s not always so certain what you’ll do,” Merry muttered half under his breath as he checked to see if any part of the coming foal had yet made itself visible. “It should be within the next quarter hour,” he announced.

This latest spasm done, he resumed the walking up and down, Frodo the dog keeping pace alongside the mare. Fala gave a snort, and allowed the familiarity, and walked gamely by the Hobbit. “And I’m not certain why you named that dingle Frodo’s Dingle,” Merry continued.

“It was one of his favorite places in all of Buckland, and you know it,” Pippin pointed out. “Why not name it after him?”

“That may be, but there were violets growing there long before he ever came to Brandy Hall to live, and there will be violets growing there long after we are gone. Uncle Dino used to say it had been one of Frodo’s mum’s favorite places, too. Perhaps you ought to have named it Primula’s Dingle instead.”

“There wouldn’t have been violets growing there if the folk at Haysgate Farm had had their say,” Pippin said darkly. “You know what we found there when we chased away the half-orcs who’d been hiding there near the High Hay.”

A group of Sharkey’s more questionable ruffians had managed to get past the traps set on the road into Buckland after Pippin and Merry’s company of Hobbitry-at-arms had broken up the band that had terrorized Kingsbridge. The two Hobbit Captains had led their folk here deep into Buckland in pursuit of them, until the half-orcs had turned at bay near the Gate into the Old Forest. They’d had to slay most of them, although three had managed to flee to the great hedge, using swords to hack a way through the brush that separated Buckland from the wild lands beyond. At Merry’s word the others let them go. “They won’t come back to haunt us,” he’d said. “The trees will see to that. They tolerated us Hobbits--barely, but they won’t stand for such as those--wait and see.”

Certainly no one had seen them again. But at the bottom of the dingle they’d found a pony, disemboweled but still living, and a dog, its skull crushed by a great stone. The folk from Haysgate Farm had been terribly upset, losing the stallion of their herd and their favorite hound that way, and had threatened to fill in the hollow of the dingle to wipe out the memories of the horror. Pippin had been even more horrified at the idea of that, and had offered to purchase the dingle outright, paying much of the Guardsman’s pay he’d had pressed on him by Aragorn before they parted near the Gap of Rohan to see it preserved. He’d had Merimac and several of the Hobbits in their group help carry the pony up out of the dingle, and saw it and the dog decently buried side by side. Rain had helped wash away the gore, and time had cleansed away the horror. He knew the violets would soon begin to sprout and bloom, and looked forward to seeing it much the way it had been when Frodo had frequented the place as a young Hobbit.

“He showed it to me the first time I saw it,” Merry said softly. “The dingle, I mean.”

“And the two of you took me there the first time I saw it,” Pippin said. “I remember riding there behind Frodo, with you on your Mum’s old mare, Merry. Bilbo had stayed in the Hall with our parents, arguing with old Dodinas about whether it was better to use sage or rosemary when preparing a roast chicken!”

Merry laughed outright. “Oh, yes--the two of them argued about everything, it seemed!”

Pippin nodded. “I remember the dingle, how quiet it was, and how enchanted it seemed, particularly once Frodo was seated in the midst of it, looking as if a company of Elves had left him behind them, a small Elf--our size--to teach us to delight in the violets and the beauty. And he told us stories there....”

At that moment Fala stopped again, more urgently this time. Merry checked, and sighed. “Go get the sacking,” he directed.

“It’s time?” Pippin asked, alert and somewhat alarmed.

“I do believe so!”

He got back just in time with quite an armload. He’d managed to lay a fair amount out along the ground before Fala went down on her knees and then on her belly. Small hoofs could be seen now, and Merry was quickly busy making certain that the forelimbs and head led the way properly. Frodo-dog lay up against her side, and Pippin knelt at the pony’s head, singing the first thing that came into his mind to distract her.

“You are singing a Gondorian marching song?” Merry asked, when he had a chance to sit back for a moment and take a breath.

“Well, it seems to soothe her,” Pippin said defensively.

Merry smiled, and turned back to his work.

It seemed to take forever, but actually it was very quick before the foal was lying beside its dam, shaking a pale silver head as it took its first breath of air. Fala was leaning backwards to sniff and lick at it, and now the dog was rising to assist in the cleaning. Merry wasn’t certain if this should be allowed, but once assured Fala wasn’t taking it amiss, he allowed Frodo to continue as he was.

“Well,” Pippin began as Merry started rubbing at the tiny, leggy creature with some of the sacking.

Merry glared at his cousin. “You’d best be aware, you fool of a Took, that you will not be naming this foal Frodo.”

“And just why not?” Pippin’s voice was far chillier than it usually was, perhaps indicating how he’d deal with disagreements once he followed his father as Thain.

“Well, you said so yourself, Peregrin Took, that one does not name lasses Frodo.”

“You mean,” came the response, sounding much younger than Merry had heard his cousin sound in some time, “that this isn’t a lad?”

“As lovely a filly as was ever born in Buckland,” Merry assured him.

“Oh, but that does change things,” Pippin said.

“I suppose you could always name her after Frodo’s mum. Primula is a nice name.”

But Pippin was shaking his head. “No, I promised him, back when I was but a little lad, that I wouldn’t be naming any beasties after his parents. He said it would disturb him to find out he’d been eating a hen who’d been called Primula or found himself helping geld a Drogo.”

Merry couldn’t contain a snort of laughter.

“Hello, the house!” They could hear the halloo even where they were.

Pippin rose to his feet. “Oy! Sam! We’re back here, behind the byre!”

Shortly Sam Gamgee came around the byre, his faithful Bill ambling along behind him. He nodded self-consciously to them, then spotted the mare and her foal and forgot himself, his eyes alight with pleasure. “So, this is what you two’ve been up to today, is it?”

“Yes,” Pippin said. “I bought Fala here from Merimac not long after Merry and I moved here, and bred her to Merry’s Stybba. This little one has just been born, and we’re debating what to name her.”

Watching the licking dog with surprise, Sam continued, “And your Fala here’s allowin’ a dog to help in cleanin’ the baby up? That’s surprisin’.”

“She’s decided that Frodo there’s as trustworthy as his name-father, so she’s allowing it.”

Sam gave a slight wince at the dog’s name, and took a deep breath, purposely turning his attention back to the tiny foal, which was just trying to scramble to its feet. “A filly, then?” He smiled again. “And as pretty a little thing as was ever borned, I’m thinkin’.”

“He was planning on naming it Frodo also, as he’s been doing rather profligately lately,” Merry commented with a trace of acerbity in his voice, “but has rather wisely decided that it wouldn’t be appropriate for a lass, you know.”

Again there was a slight wince to Sam’s expression. All knew that he’d been planning to name his firstborn after his beloved Master, and intended to name the first son Rosie might bear him Frodo. He looked back at the foal and started to make a suggestion, only to have Pippin interrupt:

“And I promised not to name any animal after his parents.”

Sam appeared surprised at that, then murmured, “Well, there’s a poser for you, and that’s a fact. Although I can certainly see him makin’ you promise that.”

“I’d like to name her after someone who truly loved him, then, since I can’t name her after him, you see.”

Merry suggested, “Well, Pearl was the first he fell in love with.”

“But she married Isumbard in the end, so it wouldn’t be the same. She admits that she was more in love with the idea of being in love with Frodo than she truly was with him, you see.”

“Well,” Sam said slowly, “Miss Narcissa Boffin’s loved him since the same time as your sister thought as she did, Pippin.”

“But she never spoke up about it--or at least not to anyone other than her mother. Oh, I know we all know she loved him, and we all know she’s been heartbroken since he left. But although he was starting to look back way back then, he never did so again later on.”

“That was ’cause of the Ring,” Sam pointed out, his expression stern. “How I hate that Ring!”

“We all do,” agreed Merry. They all thought for a moment, and at last Merry suggested, “You could name it after Sam’s mother, Pippin. Mistress Bell was almost as good as a mother to him after he went to live on the Hill, after all. And I’m certain she loved him almost as much as she did her own six children.”

But Sam had begun to smile, and was shaking his head. “No, not my mum, although there’s no doubt but what she did love him true. No, not Mum. But there was one other as saw him the first day as him was born, who was there all the while him was growin’ up, lovin’ him most as much as his own mum, and steppin’ in when his mum died, doin’ her best to love him as he needed it, even when it meant she had to give him up to see him set right.” He looked from Pippin to Merry, a proud expression on his face.

Merry’s smile grew to match that of the gardener.

*******


That evening Merry’s parents came to Crickhollow to have dinner with their son and nephew and their guest, and Pippin immediately drew them off to the paddock where Fala and her gamboling foal were sequestered after the excitement of the earlier afternoon, Frodo-dog following behind and Frodo-cat leaping up on a fencepost and licking his paw.

As they approached the rail fence to the paddock, Saradoc was addressing Sam. “And what made you come here now?”

Sam snorted. “Rosie said that as this was an important time for me, memberin’ as how it was all over three years ago today, and as I ought t’be here with these on the twenty-fifth. Plus, her and Marigold wanted t’go up north to the rope walk; see our Gamwidge kin, and meanin’ no disrespect to Uncle Andy, I just couldn’t feel up to visitin’ with him and the rest. She was right--I needed t’be with Mr. Pippin and Mr. Merry today.”

“And you arrived just in time to see the new foal?” asked Merry’s mother.

“That I did--and she’s a right beauty, too, same as my Elanor. Look--look there and tell me I’m not sayin’ true!”

The two older Brandybucks took a look, and there was a deep sigh of pleasure from both of them.

“I decided to name her after one who’s always been full of honor and love and caring, and who’s always been among the most beautiful people I’ve ever known,” Pippin said, with a sideways look at his aunt. “I know we perhaps shouldn’t name animals after people, but I hope you don’t mind, and that you take it as the compliment it’s meant to show. Aunt Esme, I’d like you to meet little Esmeralda.”

Esmeralda Took Brandybuck’s face shone with surprise as she extended her hands through the rails of the paddock fence. When the tiny silver filly carefully made her way over to sniff at her hand and lick at her fingertips, she was visibly filled with delight.

And through it all the half-grown red pup’s tail wagged vigorously.

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