Notes of appreciation notes for my astounding team: Kat – thanks for your incredible "waffly" reviews, for your enthusiasm and encouragement, and for being such a constant light. Bella – thanks for making me smile with the lovely nagging and the ever-Tookish excitement. And a hearty welcome to my newest team member, Derby – thanks for offering your expertise, your time and your energy and for always being so supportive.
No copyright infringement is intended. I don't own
these characters. This story is not meant to violate the rights held
by New Line, Tolkien Enterprises, nor any other licensee, nor is any
Special dedication – To my Gentle Reader, Jenna, who has waited with extraordinary patience for a story about her beloved Took.
Ere The Final March
Chapter VI – part II
A Simple Request
“Oh, nooo!” I cried.
“Oh, yes. A broken leg, young Took,” Old Rory Brandybuck repeated in an impatient tone.
“But what?” he asked. His bushy white eyebrows knit together to form that great eagle-eyed glare for which he was deservedly famous. He stood next to Merry at the end of my bed, watching me with that look, no doubt knowing he was unnerving me. “Just what did you think had happened?” Merry’s granda went on. “You fell out of a tree you shouldn’t have been climbing, one of the forbidden trees, and you broke your fool leg.”
“But, but --”
Granda crossed his thick arms over his wide chest. “That’s why we set down rules, Sprout. You know you can’t go climbing a tree perched that close to the Old Forest without chancing a bad ending.”
“And a bad ending you came to. Your family likely heard your screams down in the Great Smials. The Green Hills of Took-land are likely echoing your cries.”
If Granda was trying to cheer me up a bit he was failing miserably. I could feel tears threatening, pressing behind my eyes and tightening in my throat. And I couldn’t hold back a shudder at the memory of that blinding wrench of pain when I’d hit the ground like a sack of meal.
Merry’s face had been a mask of horror as he ran to me, my bellows filling the air, sending the birds scattering and shrieking from the trees. Uncles and da’s and male hobbit relations had come streaming from Brandy Hall, out into the cold, racing across the long distance of the Great Lawn now crusty with frost. Mums and aunts and sisters and even the little nippers crowded out round doors, craning their necks, trying to see the goings on.
And there I lay, sprawled out ‘neath Grandfather Oak, the oldest and hugest tree on the grounds. No attack by wandering brigands or horrible orcs. Just Peregrin Took shaking hands with disaster again.
I’d known climbing that tree was forbidden. But some of the older cousins had been saying that if you went high enough up into the branches of Grandfather Oak you could see right over the High Hay, the wide tall hedge separating Buckland from the Old Forest. They said that from such a height wondrous strange things could be seen off in the east where few sensible hobbits ventured.
“Wondrous strange things?” I’d said to Merry as he’d dragged me away from where we’d halted to listen.
“Stop right there,” he said. “Don’t even think of it, Pip. Grandfather Oak is likely to shake you right out of his branches. You’d fall and bust open your foolish head. I won’t hear of it, understand?”
I scowled at him. Merry had been getting more and more dictatorial of late. I’d been humoring him, but it did rankle me. After all, Merry was only eight years older than I was and still a tween like me. He was at the height of his tweendom! So his occasional far-too-sensible attitude astonished me.
Depending on my mood and how important something was to me, I’d stand up and demand my rights. Merry’s response to my eagerness to climb Grandfather Oak was akin to what he usually did – he crossed his arms over his chest and listened with a stern frown, then displayed his famous stubbornness: “Finished?” At my nod, he added: “I said no. And I mean it, Pippin. En. Oh. NO.”
It made me furious when he did that! But, oddly, his bossiness also stirred my tummy in that delicious way that only Merry could. And any time he’d taken to ordering me about a sharp inner voice always warned me against asking him what I felt was a perfectly valid question – ‘Or you’ll do what exactly?’
No. No, no, nope; I wasn’t comfortable asking him that. And, again, I couldn’t quite say why.
This matter, however, was easily gotten ‘round. I’d just trundle out here by myself some time and clamber up Grandfather Oak. How I’d love to share a tale of the wonders I’d seen from the tree’s high branches! I had to look. I just had to look! Merry would understand. He would.
My opportunity came when Merry headed into the Hall for more pipeweed. And when I wasn’t sitting under our favorite tree where he had left me waiting for him, Merry knew just where to run to when he heard my screams.
“Oh, Pip!” Merry had gasped under his breath, collapsing to his knees beside me.
“I’m sorry, Merry!” I’d gasped. “I-I had to look! I just had to look!” And then I’d burst into tears, and Merry put his arms around me and gathered me to him, saying, “Shh, shhh, there now, steady, Pip, steady. I’ve got you. Put your arms ‘round my shoulders, sweetheart.” And he’d started to lift me when his da had thundered up, the first adult to reach us.
Uncle Saradoc was built bigger than my Merry and he could move me without jarring me. Merry shot him a look of relief when his father knelt next to us. “Oh, da!” he’d breathed.
“There now, son,” he’d said to Merry in a voice full of quiet calm. “Give him to your ol’ da, now. Up we go, Pip my lad. Hold on.”
Saradoc hoisted me up in his arms, and I’d grabbed my uncle’s shoulders and cried out for Merry and then everything went black. The next thing I knew I was in a little bed in the scarcely used Sick Room, my poor leg set within cloth-padded wooden braces lashed together with strong strips of leather. Aunt Rosamunda had been at me with her healer’s arts.
Now more fussing aunts appeared, taking the savage edge off the pain by pouring a healthy dose of Old Winyard mixed with some nasty potion called Achy Joint Remedy down my throat. Refusal was not an option. I’d felt that tonic hit me like a smithy’s hammer, every tense muscle in my body melting, a warm rush blanketing me with a heavy ‘whoosh!’ The room had spun for a while, but when I was able to focus, there were usually gawking family members peering in the door.
After a while, when they’d all had a good look and left with plenty to gossip about, I lay there with only Old Rory and Merry in attendance. My leg still ruddy hurt, but it was more a dull ache now that they’d settled on a proper dosage of remedy to help ease the pain without knocking me silly.
I gazed at my wounded limb, horrified by what I’d done to myself. A broken leg. I’d never known anyone who’d broken anything. Hobbits don’t break easily, so this was noteworthy. No doubt in the future my momentous achievement would become an event by which to mark time: “This happened in the weeks before the Yuledays season when young Peregrin Took, being a freshly turned and fulla nonsense tween, and you know what they’re like, climbed up Grandfather Oak and promptly fell and broke his leg.”
Making history at the tender age of twenty. I was well on my way to an infamous reputation.
“Well, Pippin, I’m sorry you came to this.” Rory glanced at Merry and said, “You see, lad? There’s a reason for the old saying, ‘Ware the tween!’”
“Yes, Granda,” Merry sadly muttered.
“I know – you’re a tween, too, and just as full of trouble.”
“But you’ve got a good head on your shoulders when it comes to avoiding real danger, Merry. You’re careful and you plan your mischief well. And there’s no use giving me that surprised look. I know more’un you think I do. You’re my grandson and a Brandybuck and that means plenty of mischief, but carefully planned.” Rory turned to me with a nod. “But this wee Took has no such natural caution. Never did, doesn’t now. He’s likely to give all of us fits ‘fore he comes of age – that’s assuming he even reaches thirty-three.”
“Granda!” Merry frowned at Old Rory.
“Good thing you’re eight years older and ages wiser than Sprout here. Lucky for Pip you’ve spoken for him, lad.”
“I’m the lucky one,” Merry muttered, turning back to me.
Merry’s comment was sweet, but I’d never had much tolerance for being talked over like that. My temper was not at its best, and that nickname, slapped upon me when I was all of three years old and much smaller than the others my age, was now flat out annoying. “I can hear you, you know!” I snapped.
“Just so!” Old Rory rumbled back, fixing his sharp gaze upon me. “But there’s hearing and there’s listening, Peregrin. Let’s see you practice the right one.”
I had no idea what to make of that. No matter. Granda liked to spout platitudes and I liked to ignore them. I fumed, shifting my gaze to the window.
“A broken limb doesn’t answer to a pout, lad, so pull in that sullen lip. The deed is done and there’s an end to it.”
I sighed and closed my eyes. Good thing Granda was so testily lovable, otherwise we Took and Brandybuck cousins would have taken real exception to him.
“Mmmm.” I heard him hum. “Well, you’ll have plenty of time to mull things over. Until you mend you’ll be stuck here in the Sick Room.”
My eyes popped open. “Oh, no!” I wailed. “I dunna want to be stuck in here! Not with Yuledays three weeks off!”
“No help for it,” Granda replied with a shrug. “Oh, you’ll no doubt be allowed as far as the Hall, but that’s about it.”
“But, but Frodo’s coming soon! And Merry and I were going to go out for pine boughs and holly with the cousins! And this year I was going to get to go into the Old Forest for mistletoe, too! They invited Merry and me to go!”
I glanced at Merry, knowing he was remembering yesterday when we’d been sitting in the Hall with the older lads, smoking and talking about their annual trip into the Buckland woods for pine and holly and the glossy Yuletide Ivy to decorate the Hall. Merry and I had gone with them last year and had a grand time. They’d also started planning their more risky trip into the Old Forest where the mistletoe thrived.
One never knew what to expect in the ancient Old Forest. Strange goings-on had often been reported, and none were fool enough to venture in alone. The cousins always had at least eight to ten in their party for their yearly forage.
Suddenly they surprised both Merry and me by turning to him and inviting him along. I saw Merry’s eyes light up, but then he’d glanced at me. I’d quickly grinned my finest, ‘I’m happy for you’ grin, but Merry knows me too well.
He’d tilted his head a bit to one side and studied me with a knowing half-smile and said to the lads, “Think I’ll pass.”
The cousins quickly saw what was going on between Merry and me. “Oh, bring him along,” they’d said. I’d gasped and jumped up and whooped with delight. “But you’re responsible for the nipper,” they’d told Merry, and he had nodded and winked at me and said, “He’ll be good.”
“Granda, I-I was going to go, too!” I now repeated, feeling the sting of fresh tears. “They’d invited me, too! I canna miss it!”
“’Fraid you’ll have to,” Granda rumbled. “You heard your Aunt Rosie. If you behave you’ll likely be able to get ‘round with a crutch in a few days. You won’t be kicking up your heels this Yuletide, but you can be in the Hall for some of the merriment.”
Merry came around and sat on the edge of my bed and took my hand in both his. “I’m sorry, Pip.”
I just looked down at our hands, so sad I couldn’t speak.
“I could say something about foolish tweens who have no business climbing forbidden trees,” Granda said. “And I could promise you a tanning you’d ne’er forget from my son once you’re healed, but I doubt that’ll be your fate. Knowing what your naughtiness has deprived you of will teach that lesson better than any thrashing your uncle could dish out. And I vow Saradoc’s temper will have cooled by the time you’re able to be hobbling about.”
Then Old Rory cast Merry a roguish look and said, “I cannot speak for the ire of other Brandybucks, though.”
I ruffled instantly. “Granda! What do you mean? Merry? Spa-span – he would never! Many’s the time we’ve been walloped at the same time for the same mischief, but Merry would never sp --”
And then I glanced at Merry, and my words clogged in my throat. He was gazing at me with a smoldering, strangely masterful look I’d never seen before. Something lurched in my chest and in my stomach and tingles shot along my skin and my whole body became one big quiver. I couldn’t tear my eyes from him. My Merry, my partner in impishness ever since I could remember, and now also my beloved bed mate, sat looking at me with a quietly stern sparkle in his eyes.
“You were saying?” Merry murmured.
“Uhhh . . . .”
Old Rory slapped his hands together, and let loose a chuckle poorly disguised as a cough. “Well, I hear my pipe and some good Longbottom Leaf calling me. Join me, Merry my lad?”
“That sounds good,” Merry said, flashing his ready smile at his granda.
“It sounds good to me, too!” I announced.
Granda scoffed, “Not likely, nipper. Smoke in bed? No, not likely a ‘tall.”
“What?” I tried to struggle up, hardly believing what he was implying. “No smoking? None? Get me out of this bed!”
“I’m afraid you’ve earned your place there,” the old hobbit said.
Merry looked sorrowful but firm. “It would be dangerous, Pippin,” he said gently. “Too dangerous. I can’t bring you your pipe.”
My mouth fell open.
“I also hear a flagon of good stout calling me. What say you to that?” Granda asked Merry.
First his pipe calling and now a flagon of stout. Mighty advanced hearing for an old doffer.
“I’d say ‘no thanks’ to stout, but an ale sounds good,” Merry replied.
“I’m sure Merry will hoist an ale for you, Sprout,” Rory said. “In fact, I’m sure he’ll bring you some, if Rosie approves, that is.”
“Would you like that, Pip?” Merry asked me.
I just stared at him, the bleakness of my next few weeks yawning before me, and all I wanted to do was cry. In fact, a sore lump of tears was making my throat ache.
“Come, lad,” Old Rory said, and he headed out the door, calling a farewell to me.
Merry gathered me close and held me. “Shhh. I know,” he murmured when a whimper escaped me. “I won’t be gone long. When I come back we’ll talk alone, sweetheart. And if you’re sleeping, I’ll be right here when you wake up.”
Merry kissed me then, one of his nice, deep, full kisses that hits me in my most heated places and makes my heart jolt, and then he was gone.
I was all alone, and the awfulness of what I’d done and what it meant, that sudden understanding of the consequences I’d made for myself slammed into me and I burst into tears, aching inside for what I instantly missed – being part of this place, enjoying the excitement of the upcoming weeks before Yuledays and reveling in Merry’s love and in belonging here at Brandy Hall.
I hated this horrid solitary room. It felt eerie. I turned my head and looked out the window. The Sick Room was on the ground floor, nearest the kitchen where things for sick folks could be gotten to quickly instead of trucked through the many winding passageways and interconnecting corridors of the castle-like Brandy Hall. The Sick Room. Aye, I hated it.
I wanted to be in our room! I loved sleeping in Merry’s lovely grand chamber. There was a cot placed there just for me. I’d never slept in it of course, but we were careful to muss it up properly each morning before venturing out. Did we fool anyone at the Hall? Unlikely. But it was only polite to at least pretend propriety. If Merry and I did that, it didn’t matter what we actually chose to do behind the closed door to his chamber and within the secluded sanctuary of the heavy curtains ‘round his big bed. We had the courtesy to respect the sensibilities of others and that was enough.
How I loved the way every Brandybuck and Took abiding in the Hall didn’t so much as blink an eye about Merry and me! Being sensible hobbits, they simply approved of affection wheresoever it blossomed, and they didn’t choose to question the wisdom of whom Love chose to bring together.
It had been a year now since that first Yuledays I’d spent at Brandy Hall without my family also attending, just a year since Merry had grabbed the mistletoe and raced to the musician’s stand where I had been playing a lute, grabbed me and kissed me soundly in front of the whole assembly. Without saying a word, Merry had said a mouthful.
“You know what I was thinking?” he’d asked later that night in our bed. After I shook my head he smiled and murmured, “The words in my head when I kissed you were, ‘This pretty wee Took is mine, all mine.’”
And thus Meriadoc Brandybuck had ‘spoken for me’ in front of all and sundry, and the Brandybucks, famous for their big hearts and romantic natures, had just smiled. Since that day none had questioned our devotion to each other. The Tooks hadn’t either, and I’d begun to spend even more and more time at Brandy Hall.
Now I glanced down at my poor leg, so angry with myself I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have anyone but myself to blame for this. And I was mighty furious with me.
“For all your sweet, kindly nature, m’love, you’ve also got wicked temper,” Merry had once told me. “When you were two years old you used to scare your poor mum to death when you threw a tantrum. You’d lie down on your back and hammer your feet and your little fists on the floor and toss your head from side to side and wail down the rafters. We cousins would gather ‘round and watch. You were fine entertainment.”
I’d failed to see his point. “Well, I was two! What did you expect?” I’d retorted. “I don’t do that anymore.”
Merry burst into a short laugh. “No. I keep waiting to see it, though.”
My Merry’s lovely dry wit. I gazed off, thinking of him, thinking of how Merry would stand up on our bed at night and draw all the curtains shut around us. I’d sit back and watch his nightshirt pull up when he raised his arms, and I’d smile. Merry knew what he was doing, of course, and he’d look down at me and smile, too. And thirty seconds later, when he’d shut out the rest of the world and we were enclosed in our sanctuary, we’d shuck off our nightshirts, and we’d turn the wick down low on the shelf high above the bed . . . .
My face was wet with crying by the time Merry returned, a mug of ale in each hand. He watched me sadly for a moment, then he put the mugs on the nightstand and climbed into the bed with me, carefully moving me just enough to give him room to sit and pull me into his arms.
“There now, sweetheart,” he said, one hand petting my curls. “Go on now and let it out.”
And I did. I cried and cried. I was just so mad!
“That’s your ‘angry crying.’ Mad at yourself, aren’t you, sweet Pip?” Merry said.
I nodded, and I went on for some time while he petted me and held me. Finally he said, “Would you like to lie back and kick your one good leg and hammer your little fists on the bed and toss your head back and forth and wail?”
I chuckled despite myself, then muttered, “That isn’t funny.”
“I’d love to see it.”
I fought to grab back my big mad feelings, even though they were so hurtful. “I don’t want to stay here in this lonely little bed in this lonely little room,” I muttered against his now-damp shirt.
“I want to be in our bed, sleeping beside you and doing everything else we do in there.”
I heard him grin. “Everything?”
“Aye. We could be careful.”
Merry chuckled. “Yes, well, we’d have to be.”
“I’m serious,” I said, looking up at him. “Alright, maybe we wouldn’t have to do everything.”
“Not that I’m opposed to the idea, you understand,” he said, smiling at me in that way that makes my stomach flutter, “but one of us has a broken leg, m’love, and that could prove cumbersome.”
“Thank you so much for reminding me,” I grumbled. “I’m the one feeling the blasted thing, you know, and it doesn’t exactly feel good!”
Merry just gazed at me. I hadn’t meant to snarl, but it had just come out, and there it was, and although I knew I should apologize, I just . . . didn’t. Merry kept watching me.
“Are you in pain?” he finally asked. “Should I get more remedy from Aunt Rosie?”
“No. That stuff makes me woozy,” I said, a little surprised to hear that same peeved tone coming from me. I wasn’t mad at Merry, but that tone in my voice wouldn’t seem to leave. “It’s not as if the pain ever goes away altogether, so hang that ruddy tonic!”
“Pippin,” Merry said in his low scolding voice.
He looked bewildered, as though wondering if he’d done something to set me off. I couldn’t help him with that. I was pretty bewildered myself. I didn’t want to be snapping at him, but I kept doing it, Merry offering anything he could to help me and me acting perfectly horrible, getting more and more horrible the more Merry tried to help. This ‘thing’ kept snarling inside me, looking for prey, forcing sharp words from my mouth.
Finally, Merry frowned and looked studious, the way he does when he’s mulling something over. Then he kissed my forehead and said, “Be right back.” He came back a little later with several of the Hall servants lugging my cot and its bedding.
“I asked Aunt Rosie if you could be moved up to my chamber,” he said when the servants had made up the cot and gone out. “She said you could in a week, if you were doing better that is --”
“A week! A full ruddy week!” My lower lip trembled.
“Yes,” he said, sitting down on my bed and taking my hands in his again. “But I can stay here with you, Pip. That’s my good news. You don’t have to be here alone at night. I wish we could share your bed, but it’s just too small. So I get your cot this time. Not that you’ve ever used it.” He winked at me.
I saw the hope in Merry’s eyes, the need to know that he had done something to make me feel better. I knew he was trying to help, and I was grateful, and normally I’d have given Merry the appreciation he deserved. I really was relieved to know that I wouldn’t be alone at night. I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like to be sleeping in this dismal room without Merry. So, indeed, he had managed to comfort me.
But that was just it. Merry was being too nice, too understanding and too forgiving. He should be yelling at me, not being so all-fired wonderful. That’s not what I deserved. I’d done something stupid and dangerous, something I’d been warned not to do. I didn’t deserve kindness from Merry. After all, my stunt affected him, too.
That huge anger inside was near beyond me now and I struggled with it in those few seconds that Merry waited. I felt torn in two between my yearning to allow Merry’s comfort in and my huge bitter remorse. So I just started crying again. I was sick of tears. But there was nothing I could do to change this situation! I didn’t know where to go with the rage roaring within me, and there was my sweet Merry, gazing at me, so clearly fretful. I actually did want to throw a tantrum as I had when I was two!
Again, Merry slid up and took me in his arms. “Shhh, sweetheart, I know,” he murmured. “Of course it’s too much to expect you to be happy about any of this. I’m so sorry, Pip.”
“Not your f-fault!” I stammered between weeping. “D-Don’t you be s-sorry! N-Not your do-doing!” And there was nothing he could say to that. It was true. So Merry just held me and rocked a bit.
I longed for him to stay there all night, holding me, but I knew it was impossible. Merry was right – this little bed was hardly bigger than a cot. And the cot, though shoved right up close to the bed, was at a lower level, so we couldn’t even push them together and pretend it was a big bed. It would be like this for a week! It had been a long time since Merry and I had slept apart. I wasn’t sure I could do it, lie there alone, without the feel of his warm body and his arms around me.
But I did do it. Actually, exhaustion won out. That, and what I suspected was an extra dose of Achy Joint Remedy mixed in with the Old Winyard that night.
Merry bore up over the next few days like the stubborn Brandybuck he was, granting me endless patience I didn’t deserve. As usual, though, he knew what I was about without me having to explain it. In fact, he explained it all back to me:
“This isn’t like you, Pip. Usually your attitude is there’s ‘no use crying over spilt ale,’ and you shrug and go on dealing with whatever is. You only give up when you’re forced to do so, and even then you keep looking for ways ‘round something.
“But, as granda said, there’s no arguing with a broken leg. And that’s done in my Pippin’s sweet nature for good and all, hasn’t it? ‘Course you’re frustrated. ‘Course you’re angry. Who wouldn’t be angry about something they can’t reason with?”
“You remember what I said yesterday, about when you were two years old and you used to pitch a fit that would draw a crowd? Well, once you did that when Frodo was here. He was twenty-four at the time. He and some of the other cousins had been watching a bunch of us younglings out in the garden while the mums and aunts were busying themselves preparing supper.
“Something set you off, I dunno what since I wasn’t watching you, but when we heard you fly into your tantrum we stopped playing and headed over to where Frodo was standing above you looking bemused.
“He just watched you for a minute, then he knelt down, flipped you over onto your tummy, and gave you five good swats on your behind. It couldn’t have hurt much. You were pretty well padded back there and Frodo didn’t bother with yanking all that down. But it didn’t matter. You stopped! He turned you over then and gathered you up onto his lap and you had the most surprised look on your face! Your eyes were huge and round and your little mouth fell open and you just stared and stared at him.
“‘That was a great big mad you had going, Pip,’ he said. ‘I had to paddle it right out of you. You feel better now that it’s gone, don’t you?’
“You just stared at him, and then you nodded and said, ‘Uh-huh.’ And the rest of us just giggled and you started giggling, and then Frodo got going, and then that was that.”
Oddly enough, I actually remembered the incident. “I’d wanted to follow the rest of you down to wade in the crick,” I said. “And Frodo wouldn’t let me. He said I’d been all over mud the day before when they let me go to the crick with the others, so he’d been told to not let me go down there again.”
Merry laughed. “Denying my Pippin a chance to get all over muddy? No wonder you exploded!”
Then we’d both laughed. So we had some good moments amidst my general state of unhappiness, and the next few days dragged by, Merry spending lots of time with me. He’d leave me only when I became so grumpy that I couldn’t abide myself. Then I’d get even grumpier with myself for treating him so shamefully. I didn’t like doing that. Merry knew when it was time for him to clear out, that he was just making matters worse.
“I’m like a bouncing target,” he explained on our third night in the Sick Room while we lay looking at each other in the flickering firelight. “You aim your arrow at me, and it bounces from me right back to you, and it sinks deep into your gentle heart, Pip. So the arrow you fire at me hurts you far worse.”
Maybe so. But I didn’t know what to do about it. And all the time that ugliness kept growing in me, festering down there, telling me I didn’t deserve to be treated so kindly.
But a few days later – day four after my injury – relief arrived in the form of a crutch granda made for me. And Aunt Rosie said I could get up and move around! I could even sit by the fire in my little room and smoke! Merry brought me my pipe and a lovely packet full of Longbottom Leaf and I was simply dizzy with happiness!
I was awkward with the crutch, but Merry’s patience was unending, and he held me up and encouraged me until I could hobble around with it quite well. So we practiced off and on that day, as much as Merry would allow. He watched me closely and stopped the practicing when he thought I was tiring. I, of course, knew I could do more.
“I want to go down to the Hall!”
“No. That’s a fair hike. Too far for today. You’re not ready yet, Pippin.”
“Merry! You’re being a nuisance!”
“If you say so.”
“I know better than you how I feel! I get to decide when we stop and if I get to go down to the Hall.”
“Is that so?”
There truly is no more foolish way to waste time than in trying to argue with a Brandybuck. Merry had that stubborn set to his jaw I knew all too well.
“Pippin, you’ll do as I say and take this one step at a time, or I’ll take your crutch away,” he said in that stern tone of his. “I mean it. Best you don’t fight me on this. You won’t win. And listen – you’re never, ever to go off roaming all alone! Understand me, my lad?”
What the --! My lad?
No, no, no and no. This was one of those times when it was worth it to me to put up a fight. I opened my mouth to tell him what was what, then I paused. Merry had that masterful gleam in his eye again, stunning me to silence. And, like before, a warning alarm went off inside me. I flat out didn’t know what to make of this new Merry.
That same hot rush slammed into me, though, and I felt my face flushing from something other than just anger, something I’d never felt before with Merry. It bewildered me. But it wasn’t a scary feeling. It was kind of a lovely dangerous feeling.
At the moment, however, considering Merry’s stubborn Brandybuck stance and that look that made me quiver, discretion seemed the wiser choice. Oh, very well then! If it would get me out of the Sick Room, I’d cooperate. So I let Merry get away with this overbearing nonsense, though I saw no reason to be gracious about it.
“All right, all right! Fine!” I snapped with a huge sigh of annoyance. Merry was not moved.
“Good,” he said with a nod. “Maybe tomorrow, sweetheart.”
I pressed my lips together tight to keep from answering back.
But cooperation indeed had its rewards, and the next day – day five after my injury – Merry did allow me to go down into the Great Hall. The thrill of it went to my head, making me breathless just from the joy of being able to do something. And when I made my first entry into the Hall near second breakfast time, Merry at my side, a cheer went up amongst those gathered there. I was suddenly a Notable Personage. It was grand!
Merry escorted me to one of the benches near the Great Hearth, and he sat beside me while the nippers crowded ‘round and gaped at my leg and looked at me with awe. When they’d had their fill, the older lads wandered over, suitably impressed and whacking my back with approving whacks that made Merry frown. Even the adults, though ‘tsk-tsking’ on the outside, flashed me grins and tousled my hair and said how good I looked and how well I was doing. I felt like I was holding court. When the steaming dishes of second breakfast offerings started pouring out of the kitchen and into the dining hall, several female cousins brought Merry and I plates piled high. It was too lovely.
However, Aunt Rosie, whose kindly nature I’d sorely tested over the past few days, was tiresome. After several hours she came over to Merry and me, planted her fists on her hips and said, “He’s only five days past his accident. He still needs to rest.”
I looked at her and said, “To whom are you speaking?”
Merry displayed more tact. “Yes, I know. I was just about to take him back for a nap.”
“Not yet!” I wailed. “Merry! I’m not tired!”
“You’re going back to bed for a nap, Pippin. That’s it.”
I considered objecting further. I wasn’t ready to leave. By whose say so did I have to leave? Merry’s? Something didn’t seem right about that, but Merry’s stern frown deepened during the seconds I sat wondering whether or not this would be a good time to assert my independence.
Merry leaned over to look right at me and murmured, “Pippin, you’ll either get up now, or --”
“Merry!” Folco Boffin cried. He came running up to us. “We’re off after luncheon for the woodlands. Still coming? The holly and the ivy are waiting. And Fatty says he knows where there’s a stand of fir so fragrant it near knocks you down!”
When Folco called his name Merry had broken off his threat and straightened up to look at him. Now he glanced down at me with a dubious frown. Folco followed his gaze.
“Sorry, Pip,” he said. “Don’t think you can hike it.”
I bit back a sharp reply and merely muttered, “S’alright.”
Merry continued to study me. I knew he thought that he should stay behind and keep me company. But I wanted Merry to enjoy the outing. I really did. He’d been attending to me loyally for five days. He shouldn’t have to miss all the fun because of me. My own disappointment was mine to bear. I truly deserved it. Besides, I had plans of my own once Merry was gone.
So I grinned my sweetest grin and said in my most sincere voice, “Go. I want you to go, Merry. I really do.” And then I added what I knew would seal the matter in his mind: “You’re right. I’m a little tired. I’ll probably spend the afternoon sleeping after this busy morning.”
Not that I was the least bit tired, but I knew that if Merry thought I was, that would be all I needed to say. He immediately pulled me up and escorted me back to my bed; then he fussed endlessly. He retrieved luncheon for us and ate with me, and then, finally, he left me well tucked-in and went out for his afternoon with the cousins.
It was the beginning of Peregrin Took’s campaign to reclaim my independence! I was glad Merry hadn’t made me promise to stay put.
Fifteen minutes after Merry left I was hobbling down the corridor towards the Great Hall, my pipe and weed rescued from the mantle in my room and tucked into my pocket.
It was slow going. I had to be careful. Without Merry at my side I could possibly lose my balance and go down, and that would be bad – quite bad. Heading to the Hall earlier, Merry had braced me up on my side opposite the crutch. But I reckoned I could do it alone if I went very, very slowly. I’d be able to find someone in the Hall who was willing to help me back to my room.
There was only one tricky part along the way. Being built into a huge hill, Brandy Hall actually had several ground floors. The Great Hall was on the lower ground level and my Sick Room was also on the ground, but uphill from the Hall, so I had to negotiate my way down a flight of stairs with ten shallow, wide steps. But I managed it, even though the leg and hip on my good side ached by the time I reached the huge and warm and welcoming Great Hall.
When I entered I was once again greeted with hails and heart-warming cries of welcome from the uncles: “What ho, Pip! . . . Good ol’ Took! . . . There’s the lad! . . . Made it back, eh? . . . Well done, Pip, m’lad! . . . No keeping a good Took down, by thunder!”
And the little ones squealed and raced up to me again, “Pippin! Pippin! Hurrah for Pippin! Good ol’ Pip!” They bent over to gawk at my leg, and the ones who had not been in the Hall when I was there earlier now received all manner of expert knowledge regarding ‘broked’ legs – much of it incorrect – from the ones who had already seen me.
Aunt Rosie was nowhere in sight. She’d been my only concern. I’d prepared a little white fabrication in case she loomed up demanding to know what I was doing there sans Merry, but I didn’t have to use it, and when the ado over my appearance had died down, I hobbled over to the hearth where the uncles were talking and smoking and took a place of honor they gave me within their circle. It was lovely to just sit in that comfy wingback chair and puff away at my pipe and listen to the elders gab and feel a part of the excitement of the Hall.
And that’s where Merry found me three hours later. I’d meant to scoot back to my room long before he returned, and tell him later what I’d done. Then he’d see that I was fine, and that I’d navigated the treacherous corridors alone and that he needn’t worry about me.
But I’d dozed there by the fire, and later when I was nudged awake by Uncle Saradoc he’d done so because here came Merry, striding my way, stiff-limbed and frowning and looking decidedly . . . testy.
I braced for a fair show of temper from him, but Merry spared me. Sort of. He didn’t embarrass me in front of all and sundry . . . well, not much. He stood silently before me for a few seconds, then he snatched up my crutch and held it out to me saying, “Right. Let’s go.”
The uncles and cousins pretended disinterest, but they were twinkly-eyed and clearly entertained by Merry’s high-handedness.
“’Lo, Merry!” Uncle Saradoc said.
“Problem?” Uncle Milo asked.
“We’ve been keeping an eye on him,” Uncle Rufus said, making my face burn even more. “He’s been dozing off for the last hour.”
“‘Hullo, da.” Merry nodded to the uncles and pulled me from my seat, saying, “‘Lo, all. No problem, Uncle Milo. Thanks for keeping an eye on him.”
“He’s getting mighty good on that crutch,” Milo said, watching Merry and I head off, Merry supporting me, near carrying me.
“Doddered in here right fine,” said Rufus.
“All by himself, too!” added Saradoc. “Next thing we know he’ll be down here dancing the Springle-ring, broke leg and all!”
Merry muttered a response I could barely hear, something about ‘over his dead body.’
He’d scolded me all the way back to my room, then he’d scolded me off and on for the next hour. I took as much of it as I could, impressing myself with my own tolerance. After all, Merry had only my welfare in mind, as he kept reminding me, so I tried to keep from exploding back at him for his extraordinary mollycoddling.
To be honest, I was still astonished by his entire dictatorial attitude. It was fascinating in a way I couldn’t quite fathom. My partner in hijinks suddenly was joining the side of responsible behavior? What was this? I’m ashamed to admit that watching Merry fume at me was more than just fascinating, it was actually . . . well . . . charming. Not that I enjoyed worrying him, but I did feel he was laying it on rather thick, making far more of this than was necessary. It was probably bad form to suggest that to him, though, especially when he was at the height of his tongue-lashing. But I suggested it anyway, just to see what would happen, and it merely energized him enough to tack on more scold time.
I was polite. I practiced diplomacy. I held my tongue. I listened to Merry. Well, I heard him. I can’t say that I agreed with him. I found myself switching to my ‘judicious poise’ manner – nodding and feigning penitence on the outside while thinking that this was a load of prattle on the inside. And it was beyond odd, pretending respectful attention to Merry when before I’d always done it with Merry.
It was the beginning of Peregrin Took’s experimental testing.
The next day – day six after my injury – furnished yet another opportunity to assert my independence. Merry went off with his da to collect a fresh mushroom supply from Farmer Maggot and returned to find me once again in the Hall, this time reciting a poem that had approximately eighty stanzas. Knowing where I was in the verse, Merry paced like a caged wild dog at the back of the hall while I finished, an impressive show of courtesy on Merry’s part, given his obvious level of upset.
Once back in my room, having endured Merry’s silent anger the whole way back, I rebelled against a repeat of the scolding session from the previous day that I sensed was coming and said, “I know. I probably shouldn’t have done it.”
“Probably?” Merry bristled. “Probably?”
“But honestly, Merry, after two days of seeing how well I survived the arduous trip to the Hall, I’d think you’d have to agree that I can handle it just fine.”
I should’ve known better. This time as I watched Merry pace and fume and lecture I felt a sense of true rebelliousness surging. I became angry in return, stating with as much courtesy as I could muster that I felt he was being unreasonable to expect me to languish alone in the Sick Room whilst he was out and about:
“Merry, enough! Yer being ruddy unfair!” I shot back. “And yer acting like a bothersome grown-up! What’s gotten into you?”
It gave him pause. He looked like he had no idea how to answer me. In fact, Merry looked slightly confused. Then he said, “You’re right. But I . . . I just care about you.”
I knew that, of course. So we reached a satisfactory compromise. The next day - day seven after my injury – Merry and Fatty and a few others decided to go down to Bucklebury to await Frodo and Sam and accompany them back to Brandy Hall. But this time Merry helped me down to the Hall and left me well planted near the hearth before leaving. I could stay as long as I pleased, but if I got tired and wanted my bed, I had to promise to get someone to help me back.
No chance of me getting tired, though. I planned to be in the Hall to greet Frodo, a favorite relation of everyone, especially the females. Had gossip traveled about the intimate relationship between Frodo and his faithful Sam, the females would have grumbled and chocked up Mr. Baggins to another eligible bachelor no longer available, the way they had a year ago when Merry spoke for me.
But so far Frodo and Sam’s secret was safe with Merry and me, so the females were all a twitter, hungrily anticipating the arrival of ‘our pretty Frodo.’ Sam would be with him, of course, and word was that Mr. Bilbo might be coming, too, but you never really knew with Bilbo.
I purposely didn’t get tired. I stayed busy. I joined the tween cousins early in the afternoon and became swept up in their fun and nonsense. We quaffed spiked punch and smoked too much and told stories and raucous jokes and we sang and played our instruments and quaffed more punch. Frodo was taking longer than expected.
As evening neared Everard Took, a cousin with whom I shared a history of fond animosity, started teasingly naming all the things I couldn’t do with a broken leg. So of course I’d had to get up and show the lout that I could indeed dance the very vigorous Springle-ring despite a busted limb, bells on my wrists and everything. Melilot Brandybuck began playing the fast and furious tune on her flute and I started the first complicated steps and, of course, that’s when Merry and the others arrived.
The cousins, who had been clapping and cheering me on, shouted out welcoming cries to Frodo. The females squealed and ran primping fingers through their hair. Melilot dropped her flute.
“Frodo! Frodo! Hurrah for Frodo!” the little ones whooped, rushing my cousin at a dead run.
Frodo laughed softly, opening his arms. Behind him a ways, Sam grinned that gentle grin of his and paused to watch, making sure Frodo was alright under the barrage of wee nippers before he turned and plodded back the right wing corridor, their belongings in tow, heading for the top floor far end room next to Merry’s and mine that he and Frodo always shared. Meanwhile the nippers pulled Frodo into the Hall, digging into his frockcoat pockets, looking for the sweets he always had shoved in there for them to find. I grinned at the sight of him, my adorable cousin now the instant center of everyone’s attention – all save one.
Merry was frozen in place, staring at me. From the look on his face you’d think I was in the process of murdering someone. He marched over to me, stiff-armed and rigid again. Still slightly breathless from the dance, I took a step back and swallowed hard, part of me thinking how ridiculous it was to feel this fearful of my Merry, and part of me wishing I could high-tail it out of there right quick.
“‘Lo, Merry!” I said, smiling sweetly when he neared. “How was your trip?”
He gathered me to him and hugged me first. “Pippin,” he grated, drawing back to glare at me, “just what in the name of all that’s decent did you think you were you doing?” He began stripping the bells from my wrists.
“I thought I was showing Everard what was what,” I said. “Ruddy lout and his mouthiness.”
Merry’s frown deepened. “Your point being that you could dance the Springle-ring? That’s a hard dance to do with two good legs, Pip, let alone with a broken one.”
When he said it like that, it did sound like an absurd notion.
“Well?” he demanded.
Thankfully, Frodo had just made his way to us through the throng of Brandybuck greeters, Sam scooting back into the Hall to catch up to him. “Pip!” Frodo exclaimed, and we hugged and laughed. “Only you would try dancing the Springle-ring with a broken leg, you bratty imp,” he said.
“Aye,” I muttered back. “Wouldn’t you?” And we giggled more.
Needless to say, I was glad of all the uproar surrounding Frodo’s arrival. Merry merely nodded at Frodo’s insistence that I be allowed to remain longer instead of going back to my room. I thought it odd, though, the way Frodo asked Merry’s indulgence, as if seeking permission:
“He can stay, can’t he, Merry? He looks fine.”
Ruffling at the assumption that Merry decided the matter for me, even though it seemed he did, and voiced my preference:
“I am fine! And I’m staying! And that’s that!”
Merry frowned. Sam frowned. Frodo tried to frown but ended up struggling to hide his chuckle, without success.
So, we lingered in the Hall a few more hours, despite Merry’s obvious exasperation with me at first. After a fine dinner, after a few good pipes, after a few tasty mugs of ale and some rousing singing, he was much more good-humored, though he still called it an early evening for us.
We left Frodo and Sam enjoying themselves, Merry only lightly scolding me during our trip back to the little room. I’d certainly expected worse. I felt as though I’d been let off easy, a rather lovely feeling, though I also felt strangely and suddenly melancholy.
And so came this morning – day eight after my injury. Frodo and Sam joined Merry and me for first breakfast in my room. I didn’t have much appetite, though.
“Are you gloomy because you can’t go with us to today?” Sam asked me, he and Frodo having given us the news they’d heard the night before after Merry and I left the Hall – the cousins had decided that today they’d go into the Old Forest for the mistletoe.
I merely pouted in answer to Sam’s question and stared down at my boring-looking breakfast.
“No,” Merry said. “He just woke up on the wrong side of the bed.”
“Did not,” I growled.
“Did,” Merry said. “And there’s an end to it.” He looked away from my grumpiness and said to Frodo and Sam, “He was like this before you got here with your news about the forage.”
“Ah,” Frodo said, casting a gentle look my way. “Poor Pip. And you being granted special permission to go this year.”
“Look at this way,” Sam went on, “you get to stay snug in a soft bed in a warm room instead of out tramping the dampish, scary Old Forest in search of mistletoe. It’s shivering cold out there this morning. They say it might even snow. I’d prefer my nice warm bed to the freezing woods any day.”
I knew Sam was trying to comfort me, but I bit my lip, suddenly feeling much worse. Snow! In Buckland! How I’d love that! Snow was rare in these parts, and even more rare south of here in Tookland. Hang the accompanying cold! I loved seeing the sky filled with white, delicate flakes. I loved to go right out in the middle of a wide open space, and spread my arms out and twirl round and round until I got too dizzy to stand up, the snow falling like a thick downpour of fluttering white miracles all around me,
Bad enough I would be missing this chance to join the foraging party, even though I was considered too young to go. If it also snowed, with me stuck indoors, if it snowed in the Old Forest while the cousins walked through, all sound deadened by a muffling blanket of white, every branch and surface coated with a thick frosting, oh! I felt the sting of tears behind my eyes.
“Maybe we should stay behind,” Frodo said.
I glanced at him. His wide eyes saw everything, and they told even more.
“Right!” Merry chimed in. “We don’t mind staying here, do we?”
“Not a bit,” Frodo said.
“I should say not!” Sam exclaimed.
“Would you like that, Pip?” Merry asked
Of course I’d like it. And of course I wouldn’t. Letting them stay behind to keep me company would likely do little to soothe my disappointment. And it would make me feel guilty for depriving them of this special trip with the cousins. I’d need to be pleasant, and I felt anything but pleasant. I tried to decide which would hurt the most, because that’s what I deserved to feel for my stupidity in climbing that tree in the first place and causing all this.
Finally, I grumped, “Of course I don’t want you to stay. I’ll be fine here. I want you to go.”
They cast dubious looks at each other, needing a bit more convincing. And I gave them more convincing, lying with stunning mastery. Pity I couldn’t brag to anyone about my superb talents in this area. Honestly, sometimes I feel there should be awards given for finest outright fib telling. I’d be a champion. But I finally played my best hand, confessing once again to a tiredness I didn’t feel – and by mid-morning I won the day.
“Fatty will be in to check on you in a little while,” Merry said for about the tenth time before he left. “If you feel more rested and want to go down to the Hall, he’ll help you.”
I nodded, and after much hugging and further swearing that I was fine, I found myself alone at last in the Sick Room, and I was able to let loose with a good cry, exhausting myself so that I fell asleep.
The next thing I knew something was thudding against my window. I looked over and gasped. The sky outside was thick with falling snow! The whole world was thick with fallen snow! And a moment later I saw what had awakened me. A snowball hit my window with a soft boom and exploded.
I struggled from my bed and hopped to the window just as another snowball thudded against the pane. I squinted through the wet glass. Outside a crowd of tween lads were forming up snowballs and pelting them my way! I laughed and opened the window and quick backed up, just missing getting smacked by a snowball which sailed into my room and splatted into pile of mush against the chair Merry had been sitting in earlier.
“Stop, y’ruddy loons!” I laughed.
The lads laughed back and cried, “C’mon out, Pip! Come out! Come out!”
“The weather’s fine!” Ogden Brandybuck exclaimed.
“Come out or we’ll keep hammering your window and you won’t get any sleep!” Doderic Brandybuck yelled.
“Come out or we’ll come in with an armful of snowballs and dump them on you in bed!” Everard shouted.
Fatty let fly another snowball and I slammed the window shut just in time to keep it from splatting right in my face. The snowball shmushed against the glass and I laughed again and opened the window and cried, “All right! All right! I give! But, just how am I to get out of here?”
“Take the left-hand front door, the one closest to you that’s always locked from the inside,” Ogden said, the four of them trotting breathlessly up to my window. “That way you won’t have to go past the kitchen.”
“And nobody will see you,” Fatty said.
“We’d come in and sneak you out,” Doderic said. “And we could take you out the left-hand door ourselves --”
“But the lot of us would be noticed coming in the main entryway,” Everard added.
“Questions might be asked,” Fatty said.
“This way, if you can make it to the left-hand door and unlock it, we can be waiting there to haul you out here with us!” Ogden said. “That’s if you can reach the door alone.”
I was near dancing with excitement! “‘Course I can make it! I made it all the way to the Hall by myself! Just getting to the left-hand door is nothing!”
My cousins exchanged uneasy looks.
“Well, that’s just it, Pip,” Doderic said. “Bad news. Before we came out, we were headed for your room to form up a plan to get you out, and, well --”
“We saw Aunt Rosie sneaking out of your room,” Ogden added. “You must’ve been sleeping, because --”
“She had your crutch!” Everard finished.
I turned with a gasp to where my crutch should’ve been. It was gone! I snarled and pounded my fist down on the windowsill and muttered a string of filthy elvish words. The cousins were impressed.
“Brilliant!” Ogden said. “Sure you won’t teach us those, Pip?”
“Just one word apiece?” Doderic begged.
“Stop begging,” Everard Took said with a shrewd glance ‘round. “You know he’s been sworn to secrecy.”
“Right. Well,” Fatty said on a sigh. “Crutch or no, we figured you’d find a way to get out here, even if you had to hold on to the wall and jump the whole way --”
“And slide down the flight of stairs on your backside,” Ogden added, laughing.
I fumed over the interference of aunts, but I wasn’t about to let anything keep me from joining the lads and playing in that wonderful snow, so I did exactly what my cousins suggested! I held on to wall and hopped my way through the corridor. It was slow going and I had to stop several times to catch my breath, my good leg absolutely throbbing. But I finally reached the ten shallow stairs. I sat, painful relief roaring through my good leg, and I worked myself down, bouncing gingerly on my backside. Then I hopped along the little side hallway, determined to reach that left-hand door, and I made it! Undetected! It was meant to be.
Turning the lock, I swung open the door and was hit with a shocking blast of freezing air and a swirl of white. My cousins were right there waiting and they greeted me with hushed cheers. Fatty and Everard, big fellas both of them, scooped me up, one on each side of me, being careful of my leg, and formed a kind of chair under me. I gratefully wrapped my arms ‘round their shoulders and Ogden closed the door and hurrah! I was outside! Out in the snow! Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!
Ahhhhh! It was too glorious! My cousins and I laughed and hooted the whole way out to the far field where they’d been pelting my window. Doderic, who had been absent from the rescue party, now ran up, several heavy branches in his arms.
“Pip! Look! A makeshift crutch! Well, something to lean on anyway. Pick one!” he said.
“Good job, Dod,” the lads exclaimed, and they propped me up while I chose the best size stick to lean upon.
And then, oh the fun! It was too grand! I was outside, feeling way too cold but ignoring that fact while the snow drifted down over me! We had a rousing snowball fight, me getting my cousins back for hammering my window and fending off attacks by using my ‘crutch’ to bat away their snowy missiles. Then we started a snowhobbit.
I was of little use in any capacity other than giving technical advice, so while the cousins built, I dropped my crutch, spread my arms, tilted my head back and began my joyous, albeit clumsy, snow-twirling. I managed a stumbling version of my twirls, and I carried on until I was quite dizzy, then I stopped and laughed and felt the freezing little flakes melt on my cheeks, then started again.
It was the worst possible moment for what happened next to happen next. With my head tipped back and my eyes closed, I suddenly heard . . . nothing. My cousins went from happy chattering and chuckling to dead silence. I froze and opened my eyes and gazed at them. They were standing stock-still, staring off at something behind me. My chest lurched. I felt my eyes widen. I didn’t dare look, fearing I’d see what I really didn’t want to see.
But Everard, blinking with obvious fear, raised his arm and pointed behind me, so I did turn, and I saw what I wish I hadn’t. Merry was stomping my way, advancing from the High Hay with terrible swiftness and a look of rage unlike any I’d ever had the misfortune to be on the receiving end of. Frodo and Sam followed with grim faces.
Behind me, I heard Ogden utter a very profound, “Uh-oh.”
“Run for it, mates!” Everard the cowardly Took exclaimed.
“No!” I squeaked, but I was too stupefied by Merry’s furious approach to turn ‘round and watch them scurry away leaving me to face this doom alone, the lily-livered sods.
My good leg went weak. I could do nothing but stand there and wait for catastrophe to overtake me, and overtake me it did. When they were nearly upon me I heard myself utter a ridiculous greeting: “‘Lo, Merry. ‘Lo, Frodo. ‘Lo, Sam. Back so soon?”
Merry just halted in front of me, his mouth pressed into a savage frown, his eyes fairly shooting sparks. He was either speechless or he didn’t trust himself to speak. Frodo and Sam pulled up on either side of him.
“Merry,” Frodo said quietly, watching our cousin with cool perception. “Not here. Let’s get him inside and into a hot tub first, then dressed in some dry clothes. Leave him to Sam and me for now.”
Merry continued to glare at me. “Where’s your crutch?” he asked in a tight voice.
“Uhhh . . . dunno,” I replied. “You’ll have to ask Aunt Rosie that.”
I wouldn’t have thought it possible for Merry to look even more livid. I was wrong.
Frodo placed a hand on Merry’s shoulder, demanding his attention: “Meriadoc.”
Merry’s full name was so rarely spoken it served to shock him from his furious stupor. He turned to Frodo and blinked, as though surprised to see that there were others present. Frodo smiled softly.
“You’re too angry right now, and you know it. Not now, Merry. Let Sam and me see to him first. Look at him. He’s soaked to the skin and likely freezing. And you need time to calm down.”
Frodo’s soothing voice was hard to resist. Merry took a deep breath, then nodded at Frodo, and our older cousin quickly took charge. He sent Merry to the Hall ahead of us to arrange a bath for me in my room, then he and Sam carried me in, making a chair with their arms the way my gutless tween cousins had when bringing me out here.
Of course, we returned through the front door, and of course the entire Hall was roused by this odd occurrence, especially as no one had seen me leave. I could simply hear the talk that would be going on for the rest of the day and into the night, probably for all time yet to come. Again, Peregrin Took shakes hands with disaster. Once more I was a constant source of entertainment.
By the time we made it to the Sick Room, the bath stood ready, the servants adding the last steaming pots of water. Merry was just leaving, his face still thundercloudish.
“Merry?” I said as he ducked past us and out the door.
“Leave him be for now, Pip,” Frodo murmured.
My stomach clenched again, a sore lump seizing my throat. Aunt Rosie charged in with a strong dose of her pain tonic and a face that would stop a clock. I obligingly swallowed my medicine, fearing an otherwise lingering and painful death at her hands.
Frodo and Sam didn’t say much while they peeled off my soaking clothes and helped me into the high-sided tub. It was awkward going, but we managed to get me situated, my bad leg sticking up out of the water. I guess I’d been too overworked to realize how cold I was until I sank into the hot water and shivered and groaned. My good leg, badly abused, ached horribly.
Frodo made me soak for a while. He and Sam lit up their pipes and sat quietly by the fire. I didn’t argue. I didn’t beg for my pipe, even though the lovely sweetish scent of pipeweed curled around the room, making my head swim. Soaking felt good, though I’d have enjoyed it more if my stomach would stop tensing and my heart stop galloping the Springle-ring every time I thought of Merry’s dark expression. Finally, I could bear the silence no longer.
“What happened? I mean, why are you back so soon? And where are the others?”
“Merry’s heart wasn’t really in trekking about the Forest,” Frodo said. “He kept worrying about you and talking about how you would have loved the snow, especially when it was falling so thick and fast and heavy.”
“Aye,” Sam said. “He kept saying things like, ‘Pip should be out enjoying this,’ and ‘I shouldn’t have left him.’”
“And, ‘He’s probably upset to be stuck inside and not out in this snow,’” Frodo added. “Finally he decided to head back. He said, ‘I’ll surprise him and bundle him up and get him outside somehow. He deserves a little fun.’”
I’d felt badly before. Now I felt like lowering my head beneath the water and drowning. I deserved it. It would feel better than the wave of guilt that crashed over me. But, no - drowning would be a mercy. I deserved the painful guilt more.
“We couldn’t let him tramp back here alone,” Sam went on. “And we didn’t mind missing the mistletoe gathering, did we, Mister Frodo?”
“No,” Frodo said. “So we three headed back, and when we were nearing the High Hay, we heard you lot talking and laughing. There’s no mistaking your giggling, Pippin. Merry broke into a run and Sam and I were right behind him.”
“And there you were,” Sam continued. “Stumbling ‘round and ‘round, your arms spread out and your face tipped back like a nipper playing in the snow for the first time.”
“You were frighteningly wobbly, spinning on one leg like that, looking the way you do when you’re tipsy,” Frodo said. “I don’t know how you kept from toppling over. I thought Merry was going to explode into a million furious pieces.”
I could think of no reply. I just stared down at the water, picturing my Merry in a million furious pieces.
Frodo got up and came over to feel the water temperature. It had started to cool so they got me out and dried me off and dropped a heavy nightshirt over me. I didn’t dare object or demand that I be given something other than a nightshirt, even though it was only late afternoon. But Frodo spoke to me as though I had made a fuss, saying, “I doubt you’ll be going to the Hall tonight, Pip. A nightshirt will serve fine.”
Sam went out and returned with several servants who hauled away the tub and my wet clothes. “Frodo,” I said after they’d left, “what . . . what do you think Merry plans to do?”
Frodo exchanged a look with Sam. “You’ll find out soon enough,” he said. “Sam, would you please go tell Merry we’re finished in here?” Sam nodded and headed for the door.
Bad as I felt about what I’d done, something began to tingle inside me, a nervy little flame that burned on despite my overwhelming sense of guilt, driven by that guilt, it seemed, and I heard myself press Frodo further: “B-But, surely Merry canna be too angry. After all, I-I dinna do anything so very dastardly.”
They both froze and stared at me. “What?” Sam asked, paused with his hand on the doorknob.
Another new explosion went off inside me, this one stronger. Really, this was enough! Such nonsense! I was tired of feeling anxious, tired of this guilty moping. So much fuss for so small a deed? Ridiculous! Merry and Frodo and Sam were acting like I’d committed some ghastly atrocity. I hadn’t burned down Brandy Hall or gone off on a mad rampage of devilry. I’d snuck out for a romp in the snow. That was all! No one was hurt. No one was even inconvenienced. Why in the name of wonder was I so all-fired fretful?
Clearly some balance was needed here for myself and for my companions. So I decided to take the offensive. Straighten up, Peregrin Took! I was no nipper! I was twenty years old, for goodness sake! Time I started acting it.
“I said, I dinna do anything so terrible!” I repeated more forcefully. I glanced at Frodo and swallowed hard, my resolve twitching slightly.
Frodo had spanked me many times since that first little whacking when I was two years old. Well, perhaps not many, but often enough for me to suffer a little mental hiccup under the frown he now turned my way. For all his beauty and his sweet ways, Frodo in an angry state was not to be taken lightly. He could fasten a gaze upon me that was positively shiver producing. And he fastened it upon me now. He looked tempted to drag me from where I sat on the side of my bed to a face down position over his knees.
Sam shook his head, a fresh frown clouding his good-natured features. “There’s naught I can think of to say to that.” He glanced at Frodo. “I’m off to fetch Merry then. I’ll wait for you in the Hall, Mister Frodo.”
Frodo nodded, still gazing at me. When Sam had left, my cousin said, “A bit of advice, Pippin – don’t tell Merry what you just told Sam and me.”
But I’d had enough of listening to that warning voice inside me and I sure wasn’t about to listen to Frodo’s. Really, if I was ever going to be treated with any respect by my older cousins I had to start acting like I deserved it. I straightened and lifted my chin and faced Frodo squarely.
“Thank you for your advice,” I said. “But I believe I shall say whatsoever I choose to say.”
Frodo watched me steadily. I remained unflinching and prouder of myself for each second that I hung on to my poise. Honestly, I vow it was Frodo’s disapproval that strengthened my resolve. Finally a smile pulled at the corners of his pretty mouth and his eyes softened with fond indulgence. “As you will then, Pip,” he said.
“I really dinna do such a horrible thing, Frodo.” I repeated.
“I did not.”
“I heard you, Pippin.”
He wandered over and tossed a few more pieces of wood on the fire, then turned and shoved his hands in his pockets and studied me, clearly finding this entire matter amusing. He wasn’t laughing at me or even grinning, but everything Frodo thinks is reflected in his eyes, and they were most definitely full of amusement. I was about to protest yet again when in strolled Merry, hands stuck in his pockets like Frodo.
I tensed, even though Merry looked like he’d mastered his anger. He just looked like Merry now. He nodded to Frodo. “‘Lo Frodo.”
Frodo nodded back. “Merry.”
Glancing my way, Merry said, “Well, Pip, you look a sight better than when I left. Nice and clean and dry.”
Again, I could think of no reply. My mind closed down and, to my horror, what shot out of my mouth was something I hadn’t expected in the least: “You’re not mad at me, are you, Merry?”
He frowned a little and said, “‘Course not, sweetheart.”
I heaved a sigh and said to Frodo, “There. Y’see? Merry isn’t mad at me. So I dinna do anything all that horrible.”
Frodo grinned at me, then headed for the door, saying, “Well, I’m off to find Sam. See you later. Maybe.”
Merry turned a solemn look my way and said, “Don’t you have something to thank Frodo for, little one?”
‘Little one?’ I blinked at the name. Merry had called me many pet names, but ‘little one’? I cringed, feeling much younger than I wanted to feel just now. Right. One battle at a time, Pippin. Frodo stood paused at the door, watching me with raised brows and that quiet sheen of amusement in his eyes.
“Thank you for helping me with the bath, Frodo, and for getting me inside, and . . . and for everything.”
“You’re welcome, Sprout.” He glanced at Merry and said, “A word, cousin. Out here.” He tugged his head towards the corridor and Merry followed him out. They were out there talking in low murmurs for centuries. Very rude in my opinion. But Merry finally returned and shut the door behind him. My stomach did that sickening flutter again.
Taking the offensive immediately, I straightened at Merry’s approach and said, “I really dinna do anything so awful, you know! I just wanted to go out in the snow! I dinna hurt anyone or bother anyone! But the lads were pelting my window with snowballs and yelling that I’d better come out or they’d keep it up, and so, well, what else could I do, Merry? And Aunt Rosie had snuck in and taken my crutch! And that wasn’t very sporting of her! And, and, and . . . well, that’s all.”
Not the finest finish, but it would do.
Merry had stopped a few feet from me to watch my small explosion. Now he said, “I’m just curious – if Aunt Rosie took your crutch, how did you get outside?”
I had the oddest feeling that Merry already knew the answer to that. My heart began yet another race. “I . . . I sort of, well, I kind of . . . hopped down the corridor. I braced myself against the wall, and I . . . hopped.”
“Hopped.” Merry gazed at me.
“It sounds worse than it was, Merry.”
“I imagine that made your good leg ache.”
“No,” I lied. “No, it-it wasn’t bad at all.”
“Mmm. And the stairs?”
There was truly no graceful out for this one. I winced, then said on one quick breath, “Isatonmybehindandscooteddown.”
Merry’s brows shot up. “Pardon?”
I sighed. “I sat on my behind and scooted down.”
Merry nodded. “Hmm. I see. Well, Pip, I have an idea how to discourage that behavior in the future.”
I was not idiotic enough to ask him what he meant by that. I didn’t want to think about what he meant by that. I just sat there anxiously wiggling my dangling feet, clenching fistfuls of my nightshirt and trying not to envision what he possibly meant by that.
Merry merely watched me, his eyes glittering. I tried to relax, then simply gave up on that. There was no summoning poise at this moment, not with Merry standing there befuddling me with some new and profound air of command that turned me into a trembling mess. Every second dragged. My skin prickled with alert, my breathing was shallow and my heart refused to stop thundering. I couldn’t meet Merry’s eyes, so I dropped my gaze and regrouped, seeking that indignation that had so obligingly rushed forth a few minutes earlier when Frodo had knocked me off kilter.
For goodness sake, Peregrin Took, pull yourself together! This was just Merry! MY Merry! My partner in mischief, my fun-loving accessory in roguishness who had led me wonderfully astray time after time. This was my beloved! My harmless little stunt today was the kind of naughtiness Merry used to join me in doing. In fact, it was the kind of naughtiness he used to think up for us to do together, the kind of playful misbehavior he’d have applauded and hooted over whilst slapping me on the back, and crying a hearty, “Well done, Pip!” If anyone would’ve appreciated my efforts today it would’ve been my Merry.
So why was he suddenly acting like a responsible grown-up with comeuppance on his mind? Just what was I about, getting so unnerved? And just what was he about, unnerving me so? Merry knew me inside out. He was trying to fluster me! He was trying to intimidate me! What had happened to my partner in roguery?
I tried to trace it back in my mind, hoping to discover just where and why my accomplice had joined the opposition. And I wasn’t imagining it. Oh, no, I was not. The Merry I knew would’ve howled with laughter if he’d found me out in the snow, twirling.
Well, there was no time to contemplate this tragic state of affairs at present. Merry was clearly intending something dire, and he was sadly mistaken if he thought I was going to stand for this!
I drew a deep breath and looked up at him, keeping in mind who this was – my rascally Merry, as fine a co-conspirator as a naughty young tween could ask for – and I said, “D’ya mind not staring at me like that? Really, Merry, you’ve been acting like an old fussbudget for a week now, ever since my accident, and I’m ruddy tired of it.”
Merry blinked and then, to my utter surprise, he laughed indulgently. “Tired of it, are you?”
All right, this was too much! I glared up at him. “Aye!” I shot back. “I’m tired of this authoritative manner you’ve taken on. It’s just not you, Merry. I canna think what’s gotten into you. I’ve tried to be agreeable and put up with it ‘till now, but enough is enough! As far as I know, you and I are on equal footing, just like we’ve always been, and – and stop looking at me as though I were some amusing nipper!”
“Sorry, little one,” Merry said, sobering his lazy smile. It didn’t help. His eyes were still smiling, infuriating me further.
“And don’t call me ‘little one!’”
“I think I will.”
I stood up quickly, right in front of him “There! Y’see? We’re the same size, you and me! Well, almost.”
“Almost, but not quite, eh, little one? Besides, the name has nothing to do with height or size. It has to do with who you are to me.”
I stared at him. “‘Little’ is who I am to you? ‘Little?’”
“Yes.” His eyes now positively glittered.
I was so hopping mad I thought I’d explode like that snowball my cousins had pitched into the room earlier. I don’t know what came over me, but whatever it was it surged up in me like a great roar, a hot rage born of a frustrating week. I was furious with myself for stupidly climbing that stupid tree, furious at the loss of everything I was trying to be stupidly brave about missing, like sleeping in Merry’s arms, lying atop him or beneath him, feeling him around me, that safe, warm, loving presence sealed body to body while I slept and thrilling me beyond all thought when we didn’t sleep. I’d been stuck alone in a stupid cold bed! I’d missed out on a bunch of pre-Yuletide fun! I’d been clumping around, clumsy and awkward! And I resented every stupid minute of it!
All of that rage charged out of me in one hot surge! I placed my hands on Merry’s chest and shoved him halfway across the room. He staggered backwards, lost his footing and fell right on his behind.
I don’t know which of us was more stunned. But the amused expression on Merry’s face vanished, and I instantly realized that there were worse things than being indulgently grinned at. Given the choice between that and the smoldering gaze Merry now fastened upon me from his position on the floor, I decided I preferred being indulged. My anger had flown, too, melting the moment I’d shoved Merry away. I now stood there totally unarmed before a clearly non-indulgent Merry.
He shot up and stalked to me so quickly I barely had time to blink and utter a trembling, “I-I . . . Merry, I dinna mean to – to I-I’m sorree-eeeeeeeeeek!”
He sat and yanked me smoothly over his knee, all of it done so swiftly I couldn’t respond in any way other than to yell, and I did that: “NOOOOOOO! Merry, nooo! Don’t – let go of – you canna do this!”
“I canna?” Merry muttered, jostling me into position. “We’ll see about that.”
I bellowed my protests loudly enough to be heard down in Tookland. I’m not sure Merry heard me, though. Now that he had me over his lap, he held me there with shocking firmness. No use in struggling, but I still tried to, grunting and gasping and making desperate noises in my throat. He carefully lifted my bad leg up onto the bed, leaving my other leg free, then he flipped up my nightshirt.
Merry had seen me without my nightshirt plenty of times, but this was the first time I’d felt an overwhelming wave of embarrassment beneath his gaze. I couldn’t believe he was doing this! My Merry, spank me? No! He wouldn’t!
And I suddenly felt a new stab of panic. You wouldn’t know it to look at him – Merry isn’t a great hulking sort – but Merry is a Brandybuck and the Brandybucks are all shockingly strong. The times when we’ve tussled just for fun I’ve fought Merry with every ounce of my strength and I’ve never even come close to besting him. He has a lovely time showing me that I can’t, though, and when he decides to end our playtime, that’s that. Merry will casually increase his strength a bit and end the match, politely refusing to stoop to vulgar boasting about the ease of his win. I do love losing to Merry. But now, well, that stab of panic was genuine.
“Merry, noooooooo! Don’t! Don’t spank me! Let me go! I’m sorry, all right? I’m sorry, sorry, sorry! But don’t spank me! You canna sp --!”
“I’m not spanking you. Not yet.”
He was right. He was just holding me over his lap. I didn’t like that ‘not yet’ of his, though. Right, Pip – take the offensive position! “Well, then, just what in blazes do you think you’re doing?” I demanded, proud of my indignant tone.
“Right now I’m calming down, not an easy task when you keep throwing sass at me with your typical enthusiasm. But I don’t want to begin when I’m angry.”
I heard him sniff a chuckle. “Oh, I think you know.”
“Aye, but --”
“You’d like me to describe it in plain terms?”
“I’m going to paddle your little bottom until it’s a pretty shade of red.”
“NOOO! Merry! No, please! You canna paddle me!”
“That’s about the fourth time you’ve told me that I can’t do this, sweetheart. Enough. Obviously I can do it. And I’m about to do it.”
“But, I don’t want you to spank me!”
“Is that so?”
“Of course it’s so, you ninny!”
“Because you’ve been asking for it loudly all week.”
I paused, speechless.
“And today, well, little one, today you fairly screamed for it.”
“I did not!”
“You’re still screaming for it.”
“I am not!”
“I’d save my voice if I were you, Pip. You’re going to need it.”
“But,but,but --” I gasped, desperate and unable to think. I spat out anything -- “You’ve never done this before!” I exclaimed, as if he didn’t know that.
Merry chucked. “Well, those days are over.” He patted my bottom a few times. “And I have to say, Pip, this feels pretty good.”
“Satisfying,” he said. “So far this feels quite satisfying.”
“I feel more relaxed now than I have all week. And it’s been a long week for us both, hasn’t it, sweetheart? I should have done this days ago.”
And with those words, Merry’s hand left my bottom and came down again with a searing ‘crack!’ I arched up and sucked a gasp, shocked by the intensity of the hot explosion on my bottom. Another hot explosion followed and another and another. Merry, my Merry who had taught me incredible pleasures was now spanking me with incredible skill, stinging determined spanks that so stunned me I could make no sound beyond a few horrified squeaks.
But I quickly found my voice. I yelled! And as the spanking went on and on I kept right on expressing myself at the top of my lungs. I wasn’t frightened of Merry. He wasn’t out of control or angry. But my helplessness seemed more absolute than it ever had before. Everything about this spanking seemed bigger and more profound than any spanking ever before.
I didn’t know what to do, not that I had much choice other than to lie there and take it and do the same useless things I always ended up doing during any spanking. I sobbed of course, and I kicked my good leg. I tried to wiggle away from Merry’s flawless aim. I fought to buck upwards, though he held me down too firmly. And, finally, the last hopeless measure – I flung my hand back to cover my bottom. Merry just moved down to that tender curve underneath my backside and started spanking me there.
“You know it’s never any good trying to cover your adorable backside, m’love,” Merry said with infuriating calm as I squealed and wriggled. “But, of course, you had to try. It’s all right, Pip. I understand. You go ahead and keep covering up your pretty bottom for as long as you like. When you move your hand away again I’ll stop spanking down here at this sweet little tender place.”
I instantly moved my hand away, even though Merry returning to my burning bottom wasn’t much of an option or much of a relief. Time crawled and Merry just kept spanking me and spanking me, and I wept and I wailed and I didn’t care who might be hearing my cries throughout Brandy Hall. Bother that! Bother decorum! Bother dignity! This was awful! It seemed unending! And, oh, how it hurt!
Finally I thought, maybe talking . . . maybe talking to Merry would make him stop. I don’t usually try this. In my experience it doesn’t work. But I tried now. I’d try anything.
“AHHH! M-Merry, why are you – you c-canna – Merryyyy, you canna --”
“I know you won’t try to tell me that I can’t spank you, Pippin,” he said, infuriatingly calm.
“No, I-I mean, y-you shouldn’t bee --”
“I’m going to stop you there, little one. You really don’t want to be sassing me right now. You certainly don’t want to tell me what I shouldn’t be doing. Trust me, Pip, you don’t.”
I would swear he was enjoying this! Absurdly, I yelled that: “Y-You’re enjoying th-this!”
“Well, I mean, I’m not enjoying watching you kick and cry and yell and thrash around. I mean, well, yes, I am enjoying that. I have to tell you, Pip, you’re adorable.”
“No, I’m n-not!”
Merry chuckled. “Yes, you are. I’ve always thought you were adorable when you were getting spanked. I just never told you. It seemed poor form.”
“But I must say, being on this side of it is even better than watching someone else spank you.”
“I’m not happy you’re hurting.” Merry said in his low throaty tone. “But I am enjoying spanking you, finally spanking you. In some ways I’m enjoying it way too much. I’ve wanted to do it all week, and for some reason I just didn’t. I let you down.”
He let me down? I meant to inquire as to his meaning, but somehow my request came out as, “AAAAAHHHHHHHHH!”
“My poor Pip.”
“Merry, pleeeeease! P-Please, please stop!”
“Oh, but we’re far from stopping.”
“WHYYY?” I screamed, appalled at the thought. “W-WHY are we?”
“Because I don’t think you have a clue why I’m spanking you.”
“I DO know w-why!”
“No. I don’t think so.”
Furious, I kicked my good leg and roared, “I D-DO! Merry, I DO know why! P-pleeease just let me-let m-me tell y-you!”
“Right then, sweetheart,” he said with a sigh, still spanking with far too much vigor. “Why am I spanking you?”
“Be-Because I-I-I – be-because, s-snow – I went ou-owwwwwwt!”
“Nope. Wrong,” Merry said with horrible finality, still whacking away. “See, I thought that’s what you’d say.”
“Merrryyyyyy!” I roared between choking sobs. “C-Can’t s-say it r-right! I-I can’t--”
“Oh, I understood you,” he said. “And I’m proud of you, Pip, because you’re doing really well to respond so clearly when your pretty bottom is getting so red. You’re just not correct. You think you’re here because you were naughty and went out in the snow without your crutch, even though you knew I wouldn’t like it. See? I understood you. But your answer is wrong. Think back. I’ve told you why I’m spanking you. Well, it slipped out earlier. Several times, actually. Think back.”
Think back? I panicked, doubting I could think at all when my backside was aflame and getting impossibly hotter and hotter. Try, Pip, try! Oh! Right!
“Be-Because I-I climbed the tr-tree?”
“Are you asking me or telling me?”
It seemed a terribly difficult question. “T-Telling?”
“Wrong. Sorry, Pip.”
He wasn’t playing fair! Infuriated, I buried my face in my bedding and sobbed and kicked my good leg and writhed. Wrong? I wasn’t being spanked because I’d been naughty and gone out in the snow, or because I’d climbed that ruddy cursed tree? There was some other reason?
Again this was unlike any spanking I’d ever had. I’d always known exactly what I’d done to deserve a spanking. I’d always had to admit what I’d done and say that I was sorry for it and perhaps promise to apologize to whomever I’d wronged, and that was that. But now I really panicked, because Merry was right – I didn’t know why I was being spanked!
And my mind was slipping into a place where I couldn’t find such a difficult answer. I didn’t know where to look for it! I was becoming frantic. He’d been spanking me for so long and I’d been crying so much that I couldn’t speak well anymore. But Merry seemed to know that.
“Let me help you, sweetheart,” he murmured, mercifully slowing and lightening his spanks. “I know it’s hard to think and hard to talk. Shhh. I know. Come now, little love; let me help.”
Oh, how I longed for his help! I was choked with sobs. But I was also so mad at Merry! Mad at him for doing this to me! Mad that he’d become all grown-up-ish! Mad because there wasn’t a simple answer to his difficult impossible ‘why are you being spanked’ question. I was so mad at him that I hurled out the only thing I could think of:
“You’re m-mad at meee! You’re doing this be-be cause you’re m-mad at me!”
“No, love. You don’t believe that.”
“Y-You ARRRE! You are t-too mad! M-Mad be-cause – stupid s-stupid t-tree! And today – stupid s-snow!”
“Pippin. Shhhhh,” Merry soothed. “You know I’m not mad at you. Yes, I was angry when I saw what you were doing and where you were. I wasn’t happy with the risks you must’ve taken to get there. But sweetheart, answer me – was I angry with you, or was I angry about what you were doing?”
Oh. Right. Merry was right . . . I did know that answer. “M-Mad about what I-I was d-doing,” I sputtered.
“Yes, Pip. Very good.” Merry slowed even more now, giving me lighter spanks that brought some blessed relief and helped me think a bit more clearly, and the first thing I thought was that I really did want Merry’s help. I desperately needed it if I was ever going to sit again. Every swat was now ripping through me like hot lightning.
Weeping, my breathing staggered, I buried my face in the crook of my left arm, and I reached around with my right one to the small of my back where Merry was holding me down. I covered his arm with mine, just needing to touch him somehow. Needing to feel him, hold on to him because it felt like something big was coming.
“Awww, Pip,” he purred.
“P-Pleeeease, help-help meee, Merr-r-ryyyyy!”
I heard him sigh, and he said, “That’s what I’m doing, my love. Finally. I’m finally helping you. I’m finally listening to you. You’d been telling me all week long, loudly, and I didn’t listen. You were doing everything you could to end up where you are, weren’t you? You know why I’m spanking you, Pippin. You just can’t admit it either, the way I couldn’t.
“Frodo knew something had changed between us from the first moment he saw us, though. That’s what he was talking to me about in the hallway. He helped me admit what I’d already known, and he told me that I needed to help you admit it, too. But I already knew that. I knew that before Sam came to fetch me. I’d felt it, just as you had.
“Because this started for us long before you climbed that tree, Pip. It’s been happening for a long time, getting bigger and bigger. I know you’ve felt it, same as I have. It finally grew so big that it sent you climbing up Grandfather Oak. You went too far falling out, though.” I heard the wee smile in Merry’s tone. “Just climbing up there would have been enough to set me off, especially when I’d told you not to do it. And I’d told you ‘no’ in such a way as to force you into it doing it anyway. Remember?”
“Uh-huh,” I croaked. “Y-You said, ‘En, Oh. NO.’”
“Right!” Merry chuckled. “And you gave me that stubborn little frown you’ve been giving me a lot lately.”
“Bec-cause you’ve been so-so bossy!”
“I sure have, sweetheart. So you see how we’ve both been reaching for this in our own ways. I’ve been bossing you about more and more and you’ve been doing all you could to push me into putting you over my knee. It’s time we both admit it to ourselves and to each other.” I heard Merry’s grin through his words again. “We’d better admit it before you end up breaking more bones.”
Merry sighed then, his spanks even slower now, lighter, and he said, “Like I said, you were doing everything you could think of to get the kind of attention you wanted from me, Pip, and I really am sorry I was so dim and let you down.”
He said it again! Let me down? I went still and stuttered in a hushed voice, “Let-Let me d-down?”
“Yes, sweetheart. I let you down at the beginning of the week when you were so grumpy and irritable. I was trying to be understanding, but you didn’t need understanding. You needed this. You needed forgiveness, yes, but you also needed to atone for your naughtiness. You had a great big mad going, didn’t you? Just like you did when Frodo spanked you as a little nipper. You were mad at yourself and you wanted someone to help you ease that great big mad. That was too much mad to carry around inside you, all by yourself, with no way to get rid of it.
“So you acted like a grouchy bratling, hoping I’d take action. I’m not saying that you knew what you were doing. You probably didn’t know why you were acting so miserable. But because you were acting miserable, you also got to suffer the guilt of it.
“I let you suffer that mad alone. And I let you down all week, every time you were naughty on purpose, all I did was lecture you. So you kept trying, pushing more and more, again and again, taking bigger and bigger risks. And, finally, today, you hopped all the way down the hall, slid down the stairs, and went out in that freezing cold and twirled around. Of all the --!” Merry ended his thought with a powerful spank.
“I know you didn’t expect to see us coming back so early, Pip,” he went on, calm again. “But deep inside I think you knew that those loudmouth cousins of ours would be bragging about the afternoon and you knew I’d hear of it. Lucky for you I came back when I did before you froze or ended up breaking your other leg. And lucky for me, too, because now I have the chance to do what I should’ve done all along. All week you had made a simple request, and I did let you down. But not anymore, Pippin. No more.”
“Things have changed for us. This new thing will always be here with us from this day forward. And it’s what we’ve both been wanting, deep inside, isn’t it, m’love? We’ve both felt this secret yearning for something we couldn’t admit even to ourselves. But it’s all right to admit it. Pip, you were longing to be right where you are, and I was longing to do this to you. Isn’t that right, sweetheart? So, now I’ll ask you once more, and now you’ll tell me, Pippin – why am I spanking you?”
I trembled all over, shattering from his words, from his wise words, and I did understand, and I knew the answer: “Be-Because I-I ask-asked for it . . . been as-asking for it, l-loud – loudly all w-week! Y-You’re spanking me because I . . . because I asked you toooooo!”
“Yes, sweetheart,” Merry said. “You asked for this by being very naughty, didn’t you?”
I nodded. “Uh-huh!”
“In fact, you did lots of naughty things all week, didn’t you?”
I nodded again, quickly.
“What do we say when we’ve been naughty, Pippin?”
Between repeated sobs I sputtered, “Sorry! I-I’m so, so s-sorry, Mer-ry! S-Sorry for the g-grumpy . . . an s-sorry I snuck out t-to the H-Hall, and s-sorry about . . . uh, sorry ‘bout S-Sprin-Springle Ring and s-snow, and so sorryyy!”
Merry scooped me up and held me, gathering me against him. “I know,” he murmured in my ear. “And it’s all right now, Pip. All’s forgiven.”
I sobbed against his shoulder, felt his arms enfolding me, pulling me tighter and tighter, Merry’s warm arms, strong and sure, holding me to him, keeping me from trembling into pieces, keeping me together. I squeezed fistfuls of his soft shirt over and over, pressing my tear-soaked face against his neck, into his thick golden curls. And all I could do was weep and quiver and whisper his name again and again.
“I’m here. I’m here. Shhhhh, it’s all right now, Pippin. Hold on to me, sweetheart. Hold on. I love you so, Pip; love you so.”
“L-Luff y-you t-t-tooooo.”
Over and over Merry murmured to me, words of magic, and he rocked me back and forth, slowly. He held me against him and I melted, floating, drifting on his deep humming voice, my bottom throbbing, settled painfully on his lap. He held me like that for a long time, rocking, murmuring, letting me weep, and after a while I slowed, and I lay, lightheaded, finally quiet inside, so quiet and so safe.
A strange new warmth curled within me, and I drifted within it, my fingers playing around the ends of Merry’s soft curls as that warmth radiated up into my stomach as though the heat from my bottom was spreading throughout my body, as though Merry’s spanking softened every part of me.
I had to reach down and touch my backside. I didn’t know why, I just had to feel with my hand the evidence of what Merry had done to me. The burning skin down there was incredibly hot. Of course, I’d known it was without touching it, but I’d needed to touch it and to fully take into account that it was Merry who had done this to me. And the goodness of that, the rightness of it was almost too sweet to bear. I whimpered, shuddering under the power of what was racing through my body.
“I’ll bet that feels hot, doesn’t it, little one?” Merry said, his whispered words fluttering my curls.
He sniffed a little chuckle and leaned me back enough to look down at me. And I saw then that Merry had been silently crying as he held me, long trails of tears leaving wet traces on his cheeks.
“Ohhh!” I breathed, and I reached up and ran my finger along those wet trails. “Merry.”
“You know what Sam calls these, don’t you?” he said, and I nodded.
“Very good tears, sweetheart.”
I joined his small chuckle. “M-Mine are, t-too,” I said. “They’re g-good tears, Merry.”
He flashed me his ‘proud of you’ grin. “I know.”
And I couldn’t stand it, the pure bliss of it. I pulled his mouth down to mine and kissed him, and Merry kissed me back, fiercely, and we did that for a long while. Merry reached down to touch my hot backside, too, and I moaned into his open mouth, struggling to breathe around the pleasure.
Finally he put a stop to it by pulling back to look at me with that new and wonderfully commanding gaze. I couldn’t help staring. Fascinating how quickly he’d mastered that look. I loved it instantly, but some sudden and anxious sensations popped up, ready to explode inside me.
As he somehow always managed to do, though, Merry saw at once what was happening and how all those new fears were taking root. He smiled, splendidly at ease and full of cleverness and patience.
“It’s all right, Pip. Shhh, don’t fret now,” he said his deep voice warming me, gliding through my jangling veins. “No need to be afraid, little love. I’m still me, still your Merry, and you’re still my Pippin. We’re just also something more now, both of us, something . . . something bigger. And we’re something bigger together now, too.
“Sometimes what’s new and different can be scary,” he went on, smoothing my tangled locks from my face. “Things will never be the same between us, m’love. But that’s all right. We haven’t lost anything. We’ve gained something we both needed and wanted. This was the right time for it to begin, Pippin. Right now. And I think we’re both glad of it.”
Merry smiled softly again and brushed the backs of his curled fingers down my damp cheeks, saying, “Some things will stay just as they always were. I’m still likely to get us both in all kinds of trouble from time to time. Nothing’s going to keep us from thieving from our dear Miser Maggot. That’s way too much fun!”
We shared a quick chuckle, then Merry kissed me again and went on: “So you needn’t fear that what we are together and who I am with you is going to change all that much. But it has changed in one very big way. And, believe me, I’m more than ready for that change.”
He pulled back a bit and I saw it again, that extraordinary and compelling air of command. “Consider this fair warning, Peregrin --”
“—Took. If you purposefully endanger yourself, or if you disobey me, or don’t listen to me when I’ve told you something that’s for your own good, or if you’re just acting like an impossible bratling, you are going to be a very sorry, very sore-bottomed little hobbit.”
“Merry!” I gasped in delighted horror.
“I’m in deadly earnest,” he said, and I could see that he was. Merry’s best Brandybuck glower is shockingly ominous. A shiver coursed through me. “Best you take me seriously, Pip.”
He was making me quiver deliciously! Summoning fortitude, I cleared my throat. “Merry, you don’t think you’re taking this just a bit too seriouAHHHHHHHH! NOOO!”
He’d pulled me up flat against his chest before I could blink and he’d started swatting me, very hard and woefully on target. I screamed so loudly I barely heard his grumbled words:
“You were saying, Pip?”
“AHHHHHHHH! OWWW! OW OW OWWWW! Sorryyyyyyyy! Sorryyyyy Merryyyyyyy!”
He lowered me again and I hissed and arched and bit my bottom lip and squirmed. Merry sighed. “I fully expect that this will take some getting used to on your part, my sweet bratling. But rest assured, when you test me, and we both know that you will, I shall not fail to give you exactly what you’ve asked for, Peregrin.”
“P-P-Pereg-grin?” I squeaked, pouting at him.
“Yes.” Merry grinned, far too pleased with himself. It really was lovely to see, but I pouted down my temptation to grin back. “Take note, Pip,” he went on. “When you’ve earned some well-deserved discipline, I promise you, I’ll never again hesitate to spank you.”
“Y-You’ll never hesitate?”
“No. I never will.”
“Promise? You promise?”
“Indeed I do.” Merry’s eyes glittered, beautiful and dangerous. “Yes, I promise. You have my word on it. Understand?”
I could hold back my smile no longer. I nodded. “Aye, Merry.”
He kissed me, and said, “Ah, Pip, we’re going to settle into this with such ease that soon we won’t imagine how we did without it. You feel that, too, don’t you, little one?”
I nodded and squirmed on his lap, loving the hot shiver of pain shooting from my bottom and through my body. A seductive hum of embarrassment stung my cheeks, wild and sweet and naughty and I loved what that did to me, too, the way it stirred my innards.
Merry watched me, and he released his low throaty chuckle, seeing far too much, all too well. Yet I didn’t care. I wanted him to see me blush ferociously. I loved it! Merry had done this to me, made me squirm this deliciously with his stern promises and ominous vows. And my Merry had spanked me, kindling within me some new and intimate sensation I couldn’t begin to describe. I didn’t understand it entirely. Perhaps I never would. But somehow that didn’t matter in the least.
“Whatever you’re feeling is all right,” he murmured, reading my every thought again. “And what I’m feeling all right, too.”
I had to ask. “What are you feeling, Merry?”
He blushed now, making me grin. “Dunno really.” He shrugged. “Same as you, I expect, or something like it, just without the sore bottom.” We grinned. “Whatever it is,” he continued, “I love it. Whatever it is, it feels awfully grand.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Pippin had lost himself in his story again. He does that a lot. I watched him, feeling as captivated as Legolas and Faramir clearly were, even though I’d lived the tale with Pip. Of course, to my great relief, he had left out much, especially the more intimate parts. I was squirming with embarrassment enough, thank you.
But it doesn’t matter that Pip leaves some things out, for he’s a master storyteller. His musical Great Smials brogue and his murmuring voice weave an absolute spell around the listener. I’d seen him charm a much larger crowd than just a man and an elf. But it spoke to my Pippin’s skill that he had managed to dazzle these two, talented wordsmiths themselves. I smiled at Pip and he flashed me a clever grin and a wink that said, ‘See? Did it again!’ Cocky little Took.
Legolas recovered first, shaking off his glazed expression and jarring Faramir back to reality as well. Legolas had heard Pip tell a story before, so he knew he’d once again been mesmerized and that we were grinning to see it, so he graced Pip and I with a fond frown.
Faramir, however, seemed delighted. He sat right up on his sore backside and broke into a grin and cried out, “That was splendid! Another!”
We laughed, and from the doorway behind us there came the sound of more deep chuckling. We turned quickly. Aragorn and Boromir strolled into the room, apparently having been just outside for a few minutes.
“Captured another follower of your tales, have you Master Took?” Aragorn said.
Pippin grinned and said with blatant cheekiness, “I but told a simple tale to becalm the remainder of Faramir’s healing, sir.”
“Our newest Guardian of The Citadel tells a fine tale, my brother!” Faramir said to Boromir.
“Aye, he does indeed.” Looking mighty cheeky himself, Boromir crossed his arms over his chest and asked, “But have you more healing left to do, little brother? Perhaps some new healing?”
Faramir went bright pink, but his enthusiasm didn’t wane. He glanced between his brother and Aragorn and shyly grinned and murmured, “I fear I could use more healing, yes. So a bit more becalming would be welcome.”
Everyone glanced at each other, sharing Faramir’s grin, Boromir’s being the widest and the proudest. Legolas said, “I believe the Steward of Minas Tirith would be willing to request such a service of his newest Guardian of The Citadel.”
“Indeed.” Boromir turned to his brother. “I understand why you would ask for another tale. Pippin kept us entertained around many a campfire when we were on the Quest.”
“You haven’t heard the story he told today, though,” I told Boromir.
“It’s about the first time Merry . . . .” Pippin swallowed and went as pink as Faramir. “Well, the first time he . . . uhh --”
Aragorn said, “You just told the tale, sir. Why so shy to even mention it’s content now?”
“They made me tell it!” Pippin winced, grinning slightly.
Legolas said, “I but asked for a story about a naughty hobbit who needed to stay abed and heal, but would not do so. It seemed appropriate to the day.”
Faramir blushed yet again, carefully avoiding his older brother’s eye.
I said, “It just so happened that it was also a story about the first time I spanked Pippin.”
Pippin looked like he wanted to crawl under the bed. He was too funny and too adorable and he knew it.
“I want to hear that story, too!” Boromir exclaimed.
Pippin groaned good-naturedly while the rest of us chuckled yet again, and within a few moments all was decided. Boromir would lunch here with us and Pip would tell his story again.
“We have all afternoon,” Boromir said, smiling at his brother.
“You can stay?” Faramir’s eyes lit up, his grin growing wider at his brother’s nod.
“Halbarad requested a meeting with me,” Aragorn said. Glancing at Legolas, he said, “I believe he is hoping you will keep Gwin company while we meet alone, mellon nin.”
Legolas said, “I shall bring him here for Pippin’s tale. Gwin loves a story well told.”
“NO!” Pippin, Aragorn, Boromir, Faramir, and I all yelled.
We shared our biggest laugh yet, then Legolas admitted that he hadn’t really meant it. “I fear that if Gwin and Pippin had to spend an afternoon in each other’s company ‘twould go badly for one, and likely both of them,” he said. Turning to Aragorn, he asked, “What was it you used to say when we were on the March and running out of salve?”
Aragorn shared his grin. “‘There are entirely too many spankings going on around here?’”
“Aye, that is it,” Legolas said.
“Well,” Pippin exclaimed with a huff, “I don’t intend to be the one who tempts fate by spending much time around that elf. I’m not the one who causes trouble between us, you understand, but that Gwin does tend to go out of his way to provoke me.”
Pip’s statement was, of course, utter malarkey. Having been around Gwin and Pippin enough to know that they shared an equal burden of blame when sparks flew between them, we all gazed at Pippin with astonished stares. He glanced from face to face, then cleared his throat and said, “By the way, I agree with Aragorn.”
“Hmm,” Legolas said, clearly amused by my cousin. “I shall say this of Gwin – he does what he must in order to get where he wants to be, or to gain the attention he needs, as do many. He makes a simple request.” He glanced down at a freshly blushing Faramir, then he flashed a warm smile full of cleverness at Pippin, saying, “Perhaps you know something of that yourself, little one.”
Pippin turned to me with his irresistible grin. “Aye. Perhaps I do.”
End Chapter VI part II – A Simple Request