Written for the LOTR Community Yule Exchange challenge. For Cathleen.
When Merry found Pippin at the Golden Perch, the young Took was smiling broadly. “You came to meet me!” he exclaimed. Immediately he was signaling for the innkeeper to bring his cousin a beer. “Master Littlesmial—one for the Son of the Hall here, please!”
“Meet you?” demanded Merry. “You were supposed to arrive at Brandy Hall three hours ago! Your mother is fit to be tied! Aunt Lanti’s storming all over the place complaining about how irresponsible you’ve become in the past few years, and it’s all Mum can do to convince her not to send out your dad and mine to find you!”
“But you knew where I’d be,” Pippin responded, and he took a large sip from the mug in his hand.
“As does your da, Peregrin Took. And you know how he’d be once he came upon you in the common room here.”
Pippin’s face soured. “Oh, indeed I do. His mouth would go all twisted, as if my name had that sour taste to it. It’s about the only way he looks at me at all anymore.”
“If you’d only pay attention when he tries to involve you in Took family business—” Merry began, but Pippin didn’t allow him to finish.
“And why do I want to get involved in all of that?” he asked. “Da is hardly ready to kick the bucket any time soon, after all.”
“But you could help him.”
Pippin gave a bitter laugh. “How am I to help him, Merry? He doesn’t really want help, and any suggestion I do make he discounts with statements such as, ‘You will know better when you are older.’ He told me that I could organize the back store rooms, so I set to, intending to see them sorted out. But as soon as I started work he sent Ferdi in to help, only it appears that Ferdi was told to see to it that it’s all organized Da’s way. How am I to accomplish anything of worth when I’m not allowed to do anything without somebody standing over me telling me how to do it? He still treats me as if I were just twenty, and I’m twenty-seven now!” He drained his mug, and held it out to the server when he arrived with Merry’s drink in hand.
The server, however, did not take it. “I am sorry, Master Took,” he said. “but Mister Saradoc has forbade us to serve more than five mugs in an evening to those not yet of age.”
Pippin started to protest, but stopped as his cousin prodded him in the chest with an elbow. “Forget it, Pip,” Merry advised. “My dad’s had this limit for those who aren’t of age since before I became a tween, and he’s not going to be happy if you browbeat Elno there into giving you what you think you want.”
“What do you mean, what I think I want? I know I want another beer!”
“Why? So you can demonstrate to your father that you are truly as irresponsible and careless of your health and safety as he imagines you to be? Now, did you stop by Bag End as you said you would?” He nodded a dismissal that Elno responded to swiftly.
“Yes, and Frodo wasn’t there. Sam says he decided to drive up to the northern borders of the West-farthing for some reason he wouldn’t say before he headed east toward Buckland. He rented one of the traps from the Green Dragon, I believe. Probably Baggins family business, if I know our Frodo.”
“Is Frodo still studying Bilbo’s maps of the lands east of the Shire?”
“Yes—he’s had one that follows the Road east to the Misty Mountains on his desk all this month, although Sam says that he doesn’t see any indication on it of where Rivendell might be. You do think he’d go there first, searching for Bilbo, don’t you, Merry?”
“Yes, I do. I mean, if Bilbo were to insist on revisiting some of the places he’s been to before, the two places we know he wanted to see again most were Rivendell and the Lonely Mountain. And if there’s someone who probably could tell anyone where to find Bilbo, I suspect it is Master Elrond. Bilbo appears to have respected him a good deal.”
“Yes, and he liked it there. Bilbo always tended to favor the Elves from what I could see.”
“I wouldn’t be the least surprised to learn that Bilbo’s been staying there, really.”
Pippin nodded his agreement, and looked down morosely at his empty mug. “So, you won’t make them give me just one more half?”
Merry gave a sharp laugh. “And have Dad disappointed in me? No, I’m sorry, Pip, but I couldn’t. I’ll finish this, and we’ll go.”
Pippin sighed, and watched longingly as Merry downed his own mug of beer. Only as his older cousin began rebuttoning his jacket and drew on his cloak did the young Took finally stand up from his place, tying his scarf around his neck. “Is it cold out there?” he asked as he hefted his pack from the floor.
Merry shrugged. “It’s still and frosty out there now. It’s going to be cold crossing on the ferry.”
“I guess I don’t mind that much. I like looking at the winter stars.”
Merry smiled as he led the way to the door. “Frodo’s rubbed off on you that much, eh?”
Now it was Pippin’s turn to shrug. “Maybe. Or maybe I just happen to like stars myself, whether Frodo likes them or not. It’s mostly because the stars seem brighter somehow in the winter, though, I think. Like they were shining brighter to keep themselves warm.”
Merry grinned at him as they exited into the inn yard. “Now, there’s a thought. Do you think one would agree to come down and sit in one of our pockets to keep us warmer, too?”
There was just the moment to see Pip’s answering grin before the door swung shut behind them. “As if a star would do that just for us, Meriadoc Brandybuck! Although one of them just might do such a thing for Frodo, I’ve always thought. Now, thinking of Frodo, what do you think he’ll bring for us for Yule?”
“Who knows? Books, probably.”
Pippin gave an exaggerated groan. “Not a book, surely? It’s not as if he hasn’t given both of us more than either of us ever truly wanted, after all.”
“A map of the empty lands between here and Rivendell, then.”
“At least that might be useful once we’re certain that he’s truly ready to leave.”
“He’ll be fifty next fall, Pippin, the same age Bilbo was when he left the Shire the first time. I don’t think he’ll wait long after that to follow him.”
“I’m sure you’re right there, Merry.” Then, after a moment of walking down the lane toward the ferry, he continued, “What have you got for Frodo?”
“A new pack. A larger one than the one he uses now. I figure he can break it in before we leave.”
“And what did you get for me?”
Pippin could just make out Merry widening his eyes. “And you think I’ll just tell you what you’re getting for Yule, do you, Peregrine Took? Oh, no, my dear cousin—you’ll have to wait another two days the same as everyone else.”
“I got Frodo a new water bottle. His old one has a leak in it.”
“And how do you know that?”
“He was complaining about it last time he came to the Great Smial.”
“And why was he complaining about it to you?”
Pippin shrugged defensively, fixing his gaze on the post where the ferry lantern hung. “It could be because I accidently jabbed a hole in it when I was visiting Bag End last spring, I suppose.”
Merry sighed. “So, really you’re repaying him a new water bottle and calling it a Yule gift, are you?”
“Well, I had to save my allowance for a few months to afford it.”
“You didn’t just lift one from the storerooms at the Great Smial, then?”
“And have one more thing for Da to be angry with me about? I may have a few faults, Merry, but I’m no thief to steal from my own.”
Merry’s voice gentled as he sought to assure his younger cousin, “I’m sorry, Pip. No, you’ve never been that. And I’m certain that Frodo will love a new water bottle from you.”
Pippin brightened. “You really think so? I got it at the Lithe Days festival in Tuckborough last summer. The North Tooks had several very nice ones, you know.” He squinted at the ferry. “Drat. We’ll have to pole ourselves across, apparently.”
“Tolo’s busy tonight—it’s his cousin’s birthday, so he’ll be staying at the farm. And you’ve never complained about us poling ourselves across before.”
“I forgot to bring my gloves, and it’s a lot colder now than it was when I went into the inn. Oh, but look, Merry—he’s decorated the ferry!” He pointed to the lantern pole, where Tolo had hung a wreath of greens decorated with red and white berries.
“Yes, he does it every year. Where did you lose your gloves? I can’t imagine your mother allowing you to leave the Great Smial without them.”
“They were mittens. I left them in Frodo’s study.” Pippin followed Merry onto the dock, dropped his pack onto the ferry, and at a gesture from his cousin began untying the mooring line. “Mum just made them for me. They are red, with deer embroidered on the backs. And white pom-poms.”
Merry had to swallow down a gasp of dismay. Eglantine Banks Took apparently had it in her head that if only she could keep her son dressed as a child he would remain one indefinitely. He could not understand it—when she was merely the wife of Paladin Took, farmer of Whitfield, she was as sensible as anyone he’d ever known. But now that she was the Thain’s Lady she’d gone almost as strange in her way as had Lalia before her. She encouraged Pippin to behave as a child one moment, and was bemoaning his lack of responsibility the next. No wonder Peregrin Took did everything he could to escape the Tooklands as often as possible! Was it something to do with the Thain’s quarters that caused their occupants to lose their common Hobbit sense? It was almost as bad as Aunt Rosamunda and the way she kept feeding Freddie until he had the proportions of a roopie ball!
He got the main pole in hand and gestured for Pippin to join him on the ferry’s platform. Pip rolled up the line and hung it over the post set to hold it while the ferry was under way. Within moments they were in the current, with only the guide line holding them from drifting southward. Pippin grasped the second pole and worked to assist Merry—the faster they were across the Brandywine, the sooner they’d be able to reach the warmth of Brandy Hall.
But in the middle of the river Pippin paused and looked upwards. “Oh, Merry!” he breathed. “Look at how beautiful they are!”
Merry also paused in his poling, and followed Pippin’s gaze. Yes, there was no question that the stars were spectacular tonight! “I do hope that Frodo’s enjoying them, too,” he said.
“I’m certain he is. He told Sam that he planned to drive straight through so as to be across the Bridge and into Buckland within an hour after sunset. He just might beat us to the Hall!”
“We can’t let that happen!” Merry exclaimed. “Come on, lad—let’s put some muscle into it!” Reluctantly Pippin obeyed, and they were soon across the river and tying up to the dock on the eastern shore. While Merry handled the mooring, Pippin dropped a few coins into the designated basket to reimburse Tolo for having to row across the river in the morning so that he could ply his trade during the day, and grabbing up his pack once more, he scurried off after Merry toward the ridge into which Brandy Hall was excavated.
As they reached the main doors to the Hall, a trap arrived, its driver muffled in a thick, warm brown cloak, and with a wooly hat on his head and a soft rug across his lap. “Oh, so you have come out to meet me!” Frodo called.
“Meet you? Hardly, Frodo Baggins! We just arrived from the Golden Perch, is all,” Merry answered. “Had you come down the Stock Road you could have come across on the ferry with us.”
“Ah, but then I might have missed watching the Swordsman as I drove,” Frodo responded before turning to Horto, who usually served as door warden. “Hello, Horto! Are you ready for Yule yet?”
“And how am I to have time to wrap packages with all of the grand folk arriving at all hours?” Horto demanded. “Welcome, Frodo! Did you stop in Frogmorton or Whitfurrow for the night?”
“I had some family business in the far West-farthing to see to, so on the way back I stayed one night in Michel Delving, the second in Whitfurrow, and drove from there to here arriving tonight. I’d have preferred to sleep out, but it’s been cold enough that I thought better of that idea in the end.”
“As well you might. Oh, but here comes Gomez to take the pony and trap. Shall I help you with your parcels?”
“Better you than these two rascals.” Frodo gave Merry and Pippin a significant glance. “Even Merry isn’t too old to shake his package in the attempt to figure out what he’s receiving, I’ve found.”
Merry gave a mock-indignant squawk. “What?! I’ll have you know I’m far too old to do such things!”
“Too old, perhaps. Mature enough to refrain from doing so? Not hardly, Meriadoc Brandybuck! Here, take my trunk for me. And you, Pippin, can carry my food hamper.”
“And what delicacies has Sam sent that you haven’t eaten yet?” Pippin was already rifling through the hamper until Frodo slapped his hand.
“That’s enough of that, Peregrin Took! Behave, or I shall tell your mother that you deliberately left your new mittens in my study! Yes, I stopped at home briefly yesterday and found them there. Although I can’t blame you for choosing to ‘lose’ them. Really, your mother should know better than red mittens with white pom-poms! The deer were actually a nice touch, but those pom-poms are far too much. Shall we go in, my beloved lads?”
With one hand on the shoulder of each of them, Frodo walked Merry and Pippin into the Hall, will they, nill they. Although they didn’t truly mind, even seeing that Eglantine was all ready to sweep down upon her errant youngest child to berate him for lingering so long on the road. They knew that Frodo would see to it that she was placated and properly distracted so that Pippin wouldn’t long suffer under her attentions.
Two hours later, watching Frodo standing with the Thain, the Master, and their Ladies, enjoying a glass of the finest wine in the Hall’s cellars, Pippin suddenly shook his head. “Look at him, talking with them as if they were all of an age,” he murmured. “And in an hour he’ll be with us and the others in their thirties as if he were still in his thirties himself instead of almost fifty!”
He paused to sip at the goblet of wine he’d managed to slip from a server’s tray. “This is good,” he commented, briefly examining the color of the liquor in his glass. “Perhaps I should order it the next time I’m in Stock. Although the beer at the Golden Perch is excellent. Oh, but how am I to decide?”
“Why not wait until you are there next before you make such momentous decisions?” Merry responded.
“I wonder—do the Elves of Rivendell drink ale?” Pippin took another sip. “I never heard Bilbo mention the ale there, although I remember him commenting on how good the mead was in Beorn’s house.”
Merry shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t remember him mentioning beer or ale in Rivendell, either. I do recall he said he recommended their wine, though.”
Pippin smiled with satisfaction. “Then I shall make a habit of drinking more wine this coming year. After all, if Frodo does what we suspect he’ll do in September, then we’ll most likely be finding out just how fine the wine in Rivendell is for ourselves, don’t you think?”
Merry shook his head and gave a laugh as he removed his own glass from his lips. “Next Yule in Rivendell, then!” he pledged, and the two clinked their goblets together.
“May it be so!” Pippin agreed, and took still another sip from his goblet before going forward to claim Frodo’s attention away from the grownups.