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Once Upon a Midsummer's Morn
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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[Index]

1
Once Upon a Midsummer's Morn

Bittersweet and Butternut had no real business going to the haunted cabin that night, but that never stopped them. And this time, it turned out to be a good thing they did it.

It so happened that a moonflower vine was growing over the cabin and it had bloomed for the first time ever, and they were anxious to sample the nectar. They were young Fairies yet, and always up for something new, and so there they were. But no sooner had they come close enough to try out the new flowers, that was when they saw something queer.

The cabin had once belonged to a woodcutter near the village of Tuckborough. He had long since died, and no one else had ever lived there. It was rumored that he had been found by some hunters with his own axe stuck right into his skull, and that his ghost roamed about the place, moaning and wringing its hands, and so few folks ever even came out this way.

So when Bittersweet and Butternut spied a Big Person coming up the path that led to the cabin, carrying something over his shoulder, they were duly alarmed, so much so that they forgot about the flowers (which goes to show how very much alarmed they truly were) and debated with each other for a full five seconds whether or not to tell their queen.

Note: "Big Folk" is fairytalk for Hobbits. "Big Big Folk" is what they call the people Hobbits refer to as Big Folk. Then there are "Big Big BIG Folk" which means trolls, which no Fairies in this neck of the woods had ever actually seen...although there were some who claimed otherwise. Fairies, like Humans, are not above telling a few stretchers now and then.

"We should tell our Queen," Bittersweet said. "He is going into the cabin now."

"Why should we tell her?" Butternut said. He was her twin brother, and had a bad habit of questioning everything she said, since he didn't dare do so with his mother.

"Because we should," Bittersweet replied.

"But why?" Butternut persisted.

"Because it's queer," Bittersweet said. "Likely he is up to some mischief."

"We should stay and watch," Butternut reasoned. "It may prove interesting."

Bittersweet would have thought so, had her brother not been so tiresome about it, questioning everything she said.

Then again, if she said she would go and tell and he could stay here and watch, he would get to see and she would not. And she would not put it past him to take all the nectar also. Perhaps this Big Person was someone he had conjured up, just to get her out of the way.

So finally she said she would stay and watch.

You are now wondering, "Didn't all this take a good bit more than five seconds?" But the thing is, the Fairy language is the complete opposite of Old Entish. It goes by so fast, humans are unable to hear more than squeaks and chirps which those of the duller sort usually assume to be bird or insect noises. If a Fairy takes more than two seconds to tell of the doings of the previous day, other Fairies are apt to think he or she is being frightfully long-winded.

And so the twins watched until they saw the Big Person go into the cabin, whose door made an awful shrill and scratchy noise as he opened it, so much so that he stopped and eased it open little by little, so that it would not hurt his ears more than it had to. (At least, this was the assumption the twins made as to his carefulness.) Then he disappeared inside, and soon came out again lacking his burden. Then he took something from beneath his outermost garment, and since his back was turned to the Fairies, they were unable to see what he was doing with it. They heard some clanking and clicking noises, then a soft chuckling sound, and the Big Person turned and began sprinting down the path it had come up.

Very queer indeed.

"We must tell our Queen," Bittersweet said.

"I want to go inside and look," Butternut protested.

"And I wish to tell our Queen," Bittersweet insisted. "What is that thing on the door?"

Butternut edged up closer, then made himself big. Fairies can be any size they wish, but they do not like to stay big for longer than necessary, since in order to stay so they must concentrate, and concentration can get tiresome very quickly. Moving up on the steps, he peered closely at the object in question, which appeared to be several oblong metal rings all linked. And a big clunky metal thing holding the ends together.

"He put a necklace on the door," Butternut concluded.

"A very ugly one," said his sister, who had also made herself big. "He would have done better to make a wreath of daisies, if he wished the cabin to look prettier."

"Or clover blossoms," Butternut said.

"Or columbines, or coneflowers," Bittersweet said. They used up fully another three seconds discussing what flowers would look best on the cabin door, before they remembered what they were about, and the queerness of the situation.

"I'm going inside," Butternut said.

"But the woodcutter's ghost might be about," Bittersweet protested. "Maybe he would think we put that ugly necklace on his door for spite. Things could get very nasty. We should ask our Queen what we should do."

Finally, after wasting a full six seconds more arguing about what they should do, they went to the Queen. However, they did wait until almost daylight, lest she be cross at being interrupted at her nightdoings.

Petal was one of the oldest and wisest Fairies in the Tookland, and she was unique in that she had married a Mortal. Of course, that was about three hundred years ago, and her mate was long since dead, but he had a great many descendants, and she stayed around and sort of looked after them. Few, if any, were ever aware of her presence, but she did not mind, and sometimes fixed things for them when they could not do so themselves.

How she came to marry a Mortal is a whole different story, for another time. Suffice it to say, it was meant to be, and so it came about. And it was how she got to be Queen. That, and the fact that she could change her eye color. She could make them go from green to blue to gold to lavender to silver and back again. It was a skill very few Fairies had, and so it gave her all the more distinction and put others in awe of her. She enjoyed being Queen. It gave her the chance to fix even more things.

So it was that Bittersweet and Butternut came running up breathlessly--or say rather, they would have done so had they been mortal; as it was, they simply popped into Petal's sight. It did not startle her, since Fairies are not very startleable. She merely raised her eyebrows, such as they were.

"So he carried something into the cabin, and then put an ugly necklace on it," she said. "You used up five seconds to tell me that?"

"A very ugly necklace," Bittersweet reassured her.

"A big metal clanky-do," Butternut said, at the same time.

"This sounds most odd," the Queen said, her eyes going gold, "but why did you see fit to tell me of this? Is it aught that needs fixing?"

"I do not know," Bittersweet said, "but it is very queer. I thought we should ask you what we should do about it. The air was bad when we came away."

"Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad," Butternut agreed. The Queen frowned. Having lived among mortals, she could tolerate a bit of redundancy now and then, but this was a bit much.

"I will go and have a peek," she said.

When they reached the cabin, the twins were disappointed to see the blossoms had closed up. Then Petal made herself big, the better to examine the "necklace."

"'Tis a lock and chain," she said, then leaned in closer, hearing a muffled whimpering sound coming from within. Concentrating hard--when she was married to the Mortal, being big had gotten to be a habit with her so she didn't have to concentrate so hard, but now she was out of practice. She had not only to concentrate on staying big, but also on breaking the chain--rather like walking on a tightrope and juggling at the same time. No easy matter.

But break the chain she did, and as she opened the door, she saw a Big Person--a female--sitting on the edge of a broken-down bed, with a cloth tied about her face, and ropes binding her wrists and ankles!

This was a bit much for Bittersweet and Butternut, who lost their concentration and became tiny once more, and since Petal seemed to have forgotten their presence, after a few seconds of debate as to whether they would go or stay, they went, deciding it was time for their rest after such a harrowing night.

Petal broke the ropes, then carefully untied the cloth about the female's mouth. Drops were coming from her eyes, and rather than wiping them away as Petal had seen mortal mothers do, she started to do as she used to when her own children were small, and turn the tears into tiny glittering insects of the sort known as salt-flies. But then she thought better of it and turned them into pearls instead. She caught them in her hand and showed them to the girl, who looked uncomprehendingly at them, so Petal turned them into diamonds, closing her fingers over them and opening them again to show, but the girl gave them the same look, so finally Petal turned them into salt-flies and let them spin sparkling away into the dim early morning air.

"Are you a Fairy?" the girl asked sniffling. She was uncommonly pretty, despite the redness and puffiness about her eyes and nose, and Petal concluded from that she must be a Took, although she could not recall ever seeing her before.

Petal was not much given to sarcasm, so she did not come out with "Whatever gave you THAT idea??" or any such caustic retort. She merely said, "I am. Pray, what is your name? Besides Took."

"Diamond," the girl replied sniffling again. Petal gave her the piece of cloth and she blew her nose into it. "Diamond Nor...how did you know my name was Took?"

"Because you are so pretty," Petal replied with a disarming smile, and blue eyes. "Not many of the Big Folk are. But good looks run in the Took family."

"Big Folk?" Diamond looked puzzled. "I am not of them. I am a Hobbit."

"Big Folk are what we call the Hobbits," Petal replied. "Oh, and my name is Petal. Petal Took. I am a Took also."

"But...wait," Diamond looked at her in wonder. "How can you be a Took if you are a Fairy, or a Fairy if you are a Took?"

"Because I married a Took," Petal replied, green-eyed--she had kept her eyes green when her husband lived, and they always became so now when she spoke of him. "It was a great long time ago, and he is long dead now. Tell me, Diamond, how came you here?"

"We moved here about a year ago," the girl said rubbing her nose on the back of her hand. "We come from Long Cle--"

"I mean, here," Petal said with a wave of her graceful small hand, which made a musical swishing sound. "In this cabin."

"I don't knoooow!" the girl wailed, and more tears came from her eyes. "I do not remember coming here at all! And I can remember naught from last night. All I remember was that I was at a Midsummer's Eve party with my beloved, Drake Hollyhew, and we were dancing, and then I slipped away, and then...I can remember naught after that. And now I'm here! I can't remember how!"

She began to sob with abandon, and Petal stood by looking at her thoughtfully.

"Two friends of mine say they saw someone carrying something into this cabin last night," she said after a moment. "Then he came out and chained the door and locked it, and went away with a branch."

Diamond paused her crying and looked up at the Fairy. "Someone brought me here?" she said, then hiccuped. Once more Petal passed up an opportunity for sarcasm.

"Obviously you did not bring yourself," she said with a little gentle silver-eyed smile. Well, she almost passed it up.

"I think I know who it was," Diamond said, and she stood up and walked toward one end of the cabin, then the other. "Ugh! spiderwebs! I HATE spiderwebs!!"

She brushed one of the offending cobwebs out of her brown curls and then tried to fling it away from herself. Petal quietly suggested going outdoors.

"It was that horrid cousin of mine, Peregrin Took," Diamond said as they exited the ramshackle structure into the fresh and dewy morning light. "He's always playing hideous practical jokes. On me especially. I'm his favorite target. And would you believe it--my father wants me to marry him!"

And she laughed bitterly, and then looked ready to burst into tears again.

"Oh, what will I DO?" she cried. "How can I possibly marry that dreadful Hobbit? And I've a lover already. I could never accept another, even if he were less horrid than Pippin."

"Drake Hollyhew?" the Fairy said.

"Aye," Diamond said sniffling once more. "He is my darling, my own true love, my one and only, my sweetheart, my beloved, my--"

Petal held up her hands palm outward, gold-eyed. This was just a bit much redundancy.

"Does he own a dark-brown cloak?" she asked.

"Why, yes," Diamond said. "But he does not wear it this time of year. It is much too warm."

"My friends Bittersweet and Butternut say they saw someone in a dark-brown cloak coming here last night," Petal said.

Diamond looked aghast.

"It could not have been Drake!" she cried. "Why...there must be plenty of lads who have dark-brown cloaks! Likely that Pippin owns one!"

"Are you so sure it was he?" Petal asked.

"Of course! He used to play the horridest tricks on me--I'll never forget how we were turning somersaults at a picnic long ago, and he put eggs down the back of my blouse! And...and once he painted my face while I was asleep, all different colors and when I awoke, everyone was giggling at me and I couldn't hold my head up again for weeks on end...and then..."

She went off on a detailed description of all the other pranks this Pippin had played on her.

"And," she added for good measure, "he had the nerve to KISS me! In front of EVERYONE! You see, he bet me a silver penny he could kiss me without touching me. I said he couldn't. So then he grabbed me and kissed me with a HUGE kiss, then pulled a silver out of his pocket and gave it to me, and said, 'Drat, I lost another bet! When will I learn?' And ran away laughing his head off. And my father wants me to marry HIM?? Just because he's the Thain's son! My father said lads will be lads and he will soon grow out of it, and make me an excellent husband. Ha! That's very likely. Why, he lives in...in Crickhollow with that ridiculous cousin of his...and they both think they're such big stuff just because they went on that silly Quest to conquer the Dark Lord...oh, of COURSE they did! Do they really expect anyone to believe those stupid stories of--"

Petal held up her hands. "My child, he did go on the Quest," she said quietly. "And became a hero. Your father never told you?"

"Some hero," Diamond sniffed, impatiently brushing away a vine that swung forward to tickle her nose. "All he does in that house is give parties and drink ale and flirt with lasses all day long. Is that what heroes do? I'll tell you who's a hero--Drake Hollyhew. He's wonderful. He's strong and handsome and wonderful and sweet and charming and brave and valiant and irresistible and funny and delightful and loving and..." She paused for breath..."and smart and capable and good-looking and talented and remarkable and dashing and decent and jolly and...tender and fascinating and adorable and intelligent and clever and wise and, and handsome and fearless and admirable and heroic and, and wonderful and--"

The hands once more. "Has he spoken for you to your father?" Petal asked.

Diamond looked at her dumbstruck.

Much as Petal hated repetition, she had to repeat the question.

"Not...yet," Diamond hedged. "But he will. However, Dad is adamant. He insists that I marry Pippin. He's drawing out a marriage contract, of all things! Whatever will I do?? I cannot go home! I will...simply run off with Drake, that's what I'll do! He's probably looking for me right this very minute...but how will he know where to look? Will you help me...Petal? Please please please please?"

"I will, lass," Petal said. "But we must be sensible. This party...was Pippin there?"

"Aye, he was, and giving me those looks," the girl said petulantly, "as though he'd like to eat me up alive. You'd think his mum would have taught him some manners, at least."

They were now in a clearing, with a large tree-stump in it, and Diamond sat down upon it. Petal remained standing. Then, thinking she might appear less intimidating if she were sitting, she made a little seat of her hands and sat upon them, propping her pretty small feet on Diamond's stump.

"It seems he fancies you," she said as the girl looked askance at her. "What of this Drake? Does he live around these parts? Or did he follow you from your native village?"

"He followed me," Diamond said proudly. "That shows the extent of his devotion, would you not say? We lived millions of miles away."

"And yet he has not spoken for you," Petal noted.

"But he will," Diamond insisted. "He's waiting for just the right moment. The perfect moment. Goodness, but I'm hungry. Is there aught to eat here?"

"Look behind you," Petal said, blue-eyed once more. Diamond turned her head, and saw a steaming wooden bowl of porridge, with cream and fresh berries floating in it, sitting on the stump behind her.

"Am I dreaming?" she asked softly.

~O~O~

Oh where, oh where has my pretty lass gone
Oh where, oh where can she be
With her eyes so blue and her hair so blonde
Oh where oh where can she be?

So sang Drake Hollyhew as he ambled along with his friend Odie Marchbanks. A bow and quiver of arrows he had slung over his left shoulder, and he sang as cheerfully as if his sweetheart were right by his side, instead of off missing somewhere.

"Ain't her eyes and her hair brown?" Odie asked. He was shorter than Drake, but considerably fatter. He looked admiringly up at the older youth, who was rakishly good looking, fearless and reckless, and good at shooting and running and riding and such things also. Why, he could shoot the down off a duck, if he was a mind. But he was more often minded to shoot the whole duck, and let someone else cook it for him. Someone like Odie.

"Well, I dare say they be," Drake said carelessly. "In the dark all cats are grey, anyhow."

He winked at Odie, who looked much bumfuzzled.

"That was a joke," Drake said laughing at Odie's expression. The younger Hobbit chuckled uncertainly.

"I knowed it were," he said hitching up one shoulder. "So...where do you reckon Miss Diamond has got off to?"

"I'm thinking somebody has made off with her," Drake said in more serious accents. "And when I find him..." He touched his bow with a meaning look.

"You'll shoot him?" Odie said. He was most definitely not the sharpest arrow in the quiver, Drake was thinking.

"Nay, I'll smack him upside of the head with my bow," he retorted, being considerably more inclined to sarcasm than Petal. "But seriously, my good friend. You can keep a secret?"

"I should say as I could," Odie declared hitching up the other shoulder.

"I know where Miss Diamond is," Drake said in an undertone. "'Cos you see..." He gave Odie a wink. "I made off with her meself."

"You didn't!" Odie stopped dead in his tracks, looking up at Drake with wide open eyes and mouth.

"I did...just last night," he said. "I took her off for a little stroll, and offered her a bit of wine...well flavored with poppy juice. Soon she was out like a candle-flame in the breeze, and I took her off to the haunted cabin. I left her there tied up, and..."

"You didn't!" Odie repeated, still with the same expression.

"And I'm going to rescue her," Drake finished. "Then mayhap that stuck-up father of hers won't think that Took fellow is such big stuff. You see...I'm going to make it look like he's the one as done it...made off with her, that is."

"You ain't!" Odie said. He hated Pippin, as Drake well knew...otherwise he would never have let him in on his nefarious scheme.

"I am," Drake said, "and won't it be a fine joke on that young jackass. Then I'll have Miss Diamond as my bride...and she's a well set-up little piece, as you know right well. Her father being wealthy as he is. He'd never even consider me as a son-in-law, if I didn't use my head. But he'll come away with a different point of view, after this."

"You're a bad 'un, Drake Hollyhew," Odie said with intense admiration. "A most wicked downright scoundrel you are. A rap--rapscallion on two legs, without a doubt of a shadow."

"I'll be a rich rapscallion soon enough," Drake said with a wink. "As for you, my little fluffy duck of a friend...well, since you are going to help me, all the wenches will see you as a hero also, and they'll be on you like ugly all over a troll. How's about that, me bucko?"

"I kin see it all now," Odie said dreamily as they walked beneath a branch of a fine ilex tree, at which Drake made a sudden little leap and swatted it laughingly with his free hand. He supposed the bright little figure sitting directly above it, hearing every word he and Odie had spoken, to be merely a ray of stray sunlight that had found that particular limb by chance.

~O~O~

Petal decided against telling Diamond of the exchange she had heard. The girl would only become very upset, and rail against her accusing her of making up stories, of being in cahoots with her father, or make excuses for her swain as to how he was "misunderstood" and that she could "change him." Petal had lived a long time, and young girls remained ever much the same.

She would have to come up with another idea.

Bittersweet and Butternut were much relieved to see her, since all the time she was away, Diamond had been regaling them relentlessly with all the many virtues of her beloved. Bittersweet privately confided to Butternut that she was done with the idea of Love for all time, and that she wished she were mortal so that she could die a maid.

And Butternut intimated that he did not think he could ever live up to any lass's expectations.

Petal dismissed the twins, and told Diamond she should stay near the cabin so that Drake might come and rescue her, so that he would be a hero and her father would come away with a different view of him.

"I have let him know of your whereabouts," the Fairy told the lass. "He will be here directly. And--"

"I TOLD you he was a hero!" Diamond fairly screamed. "Oh, I don't know how I'll EVER repay you for this! You have made me the happiest maiden in the whole Shire!"

This is going to be harder than I supposed, thought Petal as the girl embraced her precipitously.

~O~O~

"So," Merry said taking out his pipe and looking sidewise at his cousin, "when is the wedding to be?"

"Well," Pippin hedged, "she hasn't said yes yet. In fact...this is all rather...sudden. I don't know if I'm up to it yet. I don't think she likes me so much."

They were lounging out back of the house in Crickhollow beneath a great oak, neither of them having heard of Diamond's disappearance yet.

"But you do fancy her?" Merry said.

Pippin looked thoughtfully at his pipe. "Well. I think so. Aye, I do. I just...well, there are so many other lasses...I've had a jolly good time with them. But...they don't do for me what she does."

"And what might that be?" Merry teased, giving one of Pippin's curls a tug. Then he sat up, wondering what that little gleam of light in the herb-garden could be.

"She makes me feel...like a hero," Pippin said with dreamy eyes. "The others...well, they make me feel like a little lad again. Which is nice, but a hero is better. Much better. Though not easier. And then...there's the way her pretty eyes close up when she laughs, and those dimples....I wonder what I could do to make her fancy me back. For I know right well she doesn't. Perhaps if I was to marry her, she would come to see how I feel, and then...but on the other hand, I wouldn't want to force her into it."

"Well, one thing you might consider is to stop acting like a little lad when you're about her," Merry suggested. "Here I thought you'd grown up, after the War and all. A new Pippin had come forth, like a butterfly from the cocoon. And yet, when you're around Diamond, well, you play stupid tricks, like you were no more than eighteen, and make a fool of yourself all over again. What's with you, Pip? If she makes you feel like such a hero, why do you act such a fool?"

"Well...it seems to be the only way to get her attention," Pippin said with a sigh. "So what would you suggest, Merry?"

"What about writing her a song?" Merry said. "I still remember that one you wrote about Gandalf and his new hat. Everyone loved that one."

"I don't think it would do for Diamond though," Pippin said thoughtfully.

Merry made a spewing noise, then fell down flat on his back, his eyes rolling up.

Pippin laughed, pointing at Merry, who sprang up and then wrestled his cousin around on the grass, both of them bellowing with laughter. Then, before one could best the other, Pippin pricked up his ears.

"Someone's here," he said. Merry, who was on top of him now, looked up, and Pippin gave him a sharp poke in the belly and promptly rolled him around so that he was on top and Merry was on bottom.

Then they heard a loud knock.

"There IS somebody here," Merry said.

Both Hobbits jumped to their feet, brushing off bits of grass from their clothing, forgetting their pipes, then ran through the back door and the front, laughing a little still, knocking over some articles of furniture. And both got to the door at the same time...only to see Constable Brownhill standing before them.

"Which of you is Peregrin Took?" he asked.

~O~O~

"Diamond missing!" Pippin could only repeat. "We must go and look for her. Who could have stolen her away?"

"That's what we were wondering," the constable said. "There's a couple as say that you have often been known to play pranks on her?"

"Are you saying that my cousin made off with Miss North-Took?" Merry demanded, getting right close to the constable's face. "Why would he do such a thing? When he is about to get betrothed to her, and would marry her? A trick like that would spoil his chances for all time."

They were in the sitting-room, Pippin upon a chair, Brownhill still standing with his arms folded. He reached out an extended forefinger and poked Merry in the chest. Even though the Hobbit stood a whole head taller than himself.

"Who is making the charge?" Merry demanded as he sat beside his cousin once more.

"A certain Drake Hollyhew, along with Odie Marchbanks," the constable said. "They--"

"Drake Hollyhew!" Merry and Pippin chorused.

"I've heard tell of him," Merry said. "Such as folks complaining about things missing from their homes after a visit from him. And he's been seen in Miss Diamond's company, also. In fact, I saw her dancing with him last night."

"Odie Marchbanks," Pippin sniffed. "I got in a fight with him once when we were lads, and thrashed him good. He's been going about telling tales on me ever since. But he never tells them to my face."

"Is it true you have played many pranks on Miss North-Took?" the constable asked.

"Well...a few," Pippin admitted blushing. "But I'd never do a thing like this to her! Why, I, I love her, and would do naught to spoil my chances with her! We must go and find her at once!"

And he realized as he spoke, that he had spoken truly.

After some deliberation, Constable Brownhill said there was too little evidence to put Pippin into lock-up, and would let him go if he would come and join the search-party that was being organized. Needless to say, he needed no persuading. Merry said he would come too.

And they didn't even notice it was time for second breakfast.

~O~O~

"This is a long way out," Odie said as Drake led him along the forest path. "Wait a minute. If you go out to the woodchopper's cabin...what are you going to tell folks if they ask how you knew she was out there?"

Drake spun around to look at his friend. Perhaps Odie was not as stupid as he had supposed.

That was something totally unexpected, and it might well work against him. A bit of blackmail was in order, perhaps. But what did he have on Odie? He would have to come up with something....

In the meantime, he stuck his hand into the pocket of his jacket.

"See here?" he said, holding up a hair comb, a bit of red ribbon, and a little carnelian bracelet. "I found these along this path. And we both saw someone going this way last night with a bundle over his shoulder. And he was uncommon tall for a Hobbit. Got that?"

"Gots it," Odie said uneasily. Although it was still mid-morning, it seemed awfully...dim...out here. Say...wasn't this the path to the haunted cabin?

"Say, ain't this the path to the haunted cabin?" he said, his teeth beginning to chatter a bit.

"Don't be a nancy-lass," Drake said. "Ghostes only come out in the night-time, y'know. And I was there last night, remember? No spooks showed theirselves to me. I'm guessing it's all a lot of tall tales."

Odie was silent...which made Drake nervous. Usually the fool rattled along until Drake was a mind to backhand him a good one...which he occasionally did.

Come to think of it, it WAS a mite dark out here. And kind of quiet. No birds singing. No squirrels chattering in the trees.

"Are we almost there?" Odie finally spoke up. Drake jumped, then spun about and glared at him.

"It's just a hop, skip and jump from here, you yeller-bellied hop-toad with wet britches," he snapped. "Now come along, or go runnin' back to your mumsy."

"I wisht I was as brave as you," Odie said sniveling a little.

"Shut your head," Drake snapped, "before I shut it for you with my fist."

There was an air of mournfulness about that almost sent him scurrying in the opposite direction, himself. But then he reminded himself of all he stood to gain, and if he were to show the white feather to Odie he'd never hear the end of it anyway.

So on he plodded. And breathed a thankful sigh when he saw the cabin just ahead.

"There 'tis!" he sang out, turning to look at his friend who was lagging considerably behind. "Come on, little granny! Think of all them fair wenches all over you calling you their hero an' all. Ah, I knew that'd put some spring in your step."

"Are you sure we should do this?" Odie said as he caught up to the older Hobbit. "I mean...well...I just don't have a good feelin' about it."

"Well, I do. And if you want to go through your miserable life being knowed as the one that turned tail and run away when he had the chance, well, go on with ye. I can rescue the fair damsel without your help. Then I'll have her in my bed and her money in my treasure-chest, and what'll YOU have, eh?"

And with that, he walked up boldly to the cabin, drew out the key from his pocket, and unlocked the door.

The sun peeked out from the clouds then, but he didn't notice. It imparted a little more courage to Odie, however, who slipped up cautiously behind him.

Drake threw open the door with a gallantly bold gesture, saying, "Diamond? My peerless gem, are you here, poor little one?"

And then the door slammed behind them, and they heard a click. Odie emitted a startled yelp, rather like a dog with its tail caught in a door.

There was but one window, and it was very tiny, admitting precious little light. But enough for Drake and Odie to see what lay before them.

A girl's head, right at their feet.

Legs and arms...but not attached to the torso, which lay beneath the sheet.

And what appeared to be fresh blood all over the floor.

Odie began to scream and howl. He tried to wrench open the door, but it was stuck fast.

Drake scarcely even noticed how his own breeches grew wet as he stared in horrified consternation at the dismembered parts strewn all about, the blood...and the head, whose eyes were open and looking right up at him.

And then suddenly, he was confronted with the sight of an axe lifted right above his head.

But no one appeared to be holding it.

He shrieked.

And then made for the door, at which Odie was desperately hurling himself over and over. The axe swung at Drake and he barely dodged it. Odie made an attempt to make another door on the opposite side.

And the head spoke to him, "Drake, how could you do this to me? You will pay...you will pay...I will haunt you forever...."

And suddenly the door swung open, and Odie scrambled out, and darted off into the woods...only to run right into a vine which twined itself around his ankles, and suddenly there he was, suspended upside down from a tree limb over a small pond.

Drake stumbled over the cabin steps, then fled down the path...just as Diamond's father and Peregrin Took, along with many others, were coming up.

~O~O~

"There, there," Petal said as Diamond forlornly watched her "hero" from behind the stand of bushes where they were hidden. She had never figured out just what "there, there" meant, but she had often heard it from Mortal mothers to soothe their children, and it just came to her before she knew it.

Yet Diamond did not shed the tears that stood in her eyes, nor did she make a sound, other than a few sniffles. And Petal did another mortal-mother thing by caressing Diamond's hair, but the girl did not seem to notice.

And they watched as Drake stumbled right into the path of the search-party.

"I didn't do it, I swear I didn't!" he cried as Diamond's father grabbed him by the hair of his head and demanded to know what he had done with his daughter. "It must 'a been...that woodcutter feller...they say his ghost...there was his axe...I swear I didn't do it!"

"Didn't do what?" Pippin gasped. He ran to the cabin, Merry following close, and flung open the door. Drake made as if to free himself and flee, but Mr. North-Took kept a good grip on him, and several others held him fast as well.

"There's blood on your clothes," he said, his face gone very pale. "If you've harmed my little lass, I'll take that axe and chop you up into pieces...very slowly, startin' with your feet, and..."

And leaving him to the others, he hastened up behind Pippin and Merry, trembling.

"There's no one here," Pippin said looking back at his cousin and Diamond's father.

Mr. North-Took ran back and grabbed Drake and began to shake him violently, saying, "What have you done with her, you villain? If you don't--"

"Here I am, Dad," Diamond said, stepping forth from the bushes. Drake could only stare at her, his mouth falling wide open. Then his eyes rolled back in his head, and he fell in a swoon.

"Diamond!" Her father ran to embrace her. "What's this all about, lass? Do you realize what a scare you gave me? What did that monster do to you?"

Petal turned to look at the two giggling beings behind her.

"Oi, that was wicked," Butternut said. "But fun! Did you see the look on their faces when I hove that axe?"

"I'm glad to be in one piece now," Bittersweet said. "I don't know how much longer I could have stood being all over the place like that. It takes far too much concentration. Still, it was an interesting idea. But the poor lassie! What will she do now?"

"She will get over him," Petal said as she watched the party moving slowly away, Merry and Constable Brownhill hauling the inert form of Drake along, Pippin and Mr. North-Took on either side of Diamond with their arms about her waist. "I think she was never truly in love with him, only with what she supposed he was. A hero. She had a foolish dream, and now she has awakened. Very soon she will find her true hero...right beside her even as we speak."

"Perhaps we should put a lovespell on her," Bittersweet suggested, "so she will fall madly in love with Pippin on the spot."

"Lovespells have been outlawed, remember?" Petal said. "Since Fairies so often either bungle them up, or use them to amuse themselves at the expense of others." She smiled, "And I think it will not be necessary this time."

"What of him?" Butternut said, pointing out the figure of Odie, who still hung forgotten from the vine, staring down at the pond below him in seeming fascination.

Petal waved her hand and the vine broke, dropping him right into the pond, making him fall with his backside first, so he would not break his neck. Yet although the water came barely to his shoulders, he merely continued to look down at the water, and soon he bent to kiss it, gazing adoringly at the murky reflection of his own face.

Petal looked at the twins with lifted eyebrows and a little frown. Bittersweet looked very innocent. Butternut glanced guiltily away.

"I forgot lovespells weren't allowed," he stammered. "Forgive me, my Queen? I'll take it off him right away..."

Petal watched Odie kissing the water once more and sighing. And then she smiled most radiantly.

"Let's not be hasty," she said with twinkling lavender eyes.

~*~Finis~*~


[Index]

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