Pippin the Protector by Dreamflower

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Story Notes:

AUTHOR: Dreamflower

RATING: G

CATEGORY: General

SUMMARY: During a moment on the Quest, Pippin remembers another time long before…

AUTHOR’S NOTES: In the flashback sequence, Frodo is not yet 37, Merry is 23, and Pippin is 15. (About 23, 14 ½ and 9 in Man years.) Nibs and Rufus are one year older than Pippin, and Rusty is about the same age.

(The challenge was to incorporate two elements: Merry's thoughts as he crossed the rope-bridge in Lorien, and the fair game "Hook-a-Duck".)


PIPPIN THE PROTECTOR

Pippin stood on the far side of the Celebrant. Legolas had crossed first, swiftly and lightly, then Gimli, slowly and grim faced. Boromir had followed. Pippin was the first of the hobbits to cross, lightly and confidently; Frodo, Sam and Merry stood on the other side with Aragorn and Gandalf.

Pippin stared across the chasm of the river dividing them, and hoped he could send feelings of confidence to Merry. He could see Merry staring back at him, Frodo with his hand on his Brandybuck cousin’s shoulder. Frodo knew as well as he did, what Merry must feel at the moment.

Merry had done very well so far on the journey in keeping his fear of heights in check. Of course the other hazards they were facing rather helped. It was hard to think about fear of heights when blizzards were raging, or Wargs or Orcs were attacking.

He thought back to their conversation earlier in the morning.

“Thanks, Pip,” Merry had said to him, when the two had found a quiet moment together after breakfast.

Pippin was genuinely surprised. “For what, Merry?”

“Last night; making it seem that you were the one who was frightened up in the flet.”

“Well, I was.”

Merry looked at him askance. “I know. You were frightened for me.”

Pippin blushed. “I know it was hard for you. I just thought it might be easier if you didn’t have to say much. Besides, you’ve covered for me often enough.”

“That’s true.” He waggled his eyebrows, and Pippin laughed. “Thanks anyway. I don’t know why I care what these Elves think, but…”

Pippin was spared having to reply to this unaccustomed humility by the call from Strider to come along. It was disconcerting to have Merry treating him more like an equal, instead of the baby of the family. He liked it, but it took some getting used to. And he knew better than to expect that state of affairs to last forever, anyway. Even if they all lived as long as Bilbo, he’d *still* be the younger cousin.

Merry was approaching the ropes now, a determined set to his shoulders. Although his face was tiny from this distance, Pippin could easily imagine the fierce expression of stubbornness which it would now have, just as easily as if he were only a couple of feet from his cousin.

He took a deep breath, and willed Merry to look at *him*. Just focus on me, Merry, he thought, and his mind suddenly flashed back to a long ago time in the Shire, when he had first come to realize that he could protect his older cousins, as well as the other way round…

_____________________________

It was the year Pippin was fifteen; his family had gone, as usual to the Great Smials for the Lithedays. But they had scarcely arrived when Thain Ferumbras had summoned Paladin to his study for a long talk, leaving Eglantine and the children to settle into their guest apartments on their own. Pippin was soon bored. Frodo would not arrive until the next day, and Merry would not be there for another day or two, depending on how quickly they got away from Buckland.

His father had returned to them just before teatime, and whisked his mother away to their room for a private conversation. Pippin’s sisters were alarmed, he could tell; most especially Pearl, who did not participate in Vinca’s and Pimmie’s wild speculations, but kept casting troubled looks in the direction of her parents’ bedroom door. This in turn alarmed Pippin, who could not by any stretch imagine what the old Thain could have said to make his father look so grim.

They came back out after a few moments, smiling, but the smiles clearly did not reach their eyes.

“We have some things to tell you, children,” said Eglantine, giving her husband a sympathetic glance, “but there is no time for it now. We have to be at tea with the Thain in just a few moments.”

It was unfortunate, but the whole business of a formal tea made Pippin more fidgety than he usually was. And his parents were too preoccupied to keep track of just how many sweet biscuits and cakes Pippin managed to eat. The result was tea spilt all over himself, and Pearl crossly took him away. Although he was embarrassed at having such an accident in front of all those snooty Smials Tooks, for the most part he felt relieved that he had an excuse to leave. He was angry, too, at the way Cousin Reggie’s daughters had all snickered behind their hands at him, and the way their mother had looked down her nose at him like he was something nasty on the bottom of her foot. He felt bad about this, because he liked Cousin Reggie a good deal, and wished for his sake that he could like his family a bit better.

But Frodo would be here tomorrow. Maybe the two of them could go for a ramble together and get away from this place.

And then his parents and Pimmie and Vinca had returned, and Paladin had sat them all down to tell them--

______________________________

“Frodo!” Pippin leaped into his older cousin’s arms the second he saw him, and clung to him tightly.

“Whatever is the matter, Pip?” Frodo asked.

“Father is to be Thain! Now! Not years and years from now, but in only a few weeks!”

“What?” Frodo’s voice was sharp with surprise.

“It’s true! The Thain says his health is bad and he’s giving it over to Father and we have to move *here* and leave Whitwell! And I don’t think Father wants to! And he says I had better start getting used to the idea that *I’ll* be Thain, too!”

Frodo gave him a squeeze, and put him down. “Let me go talk to your father for a bit, Pip, and then maybe we’ll go for a walk, and perhaps find someplace for a swim?”

This cheered Pippin immensely, as did the news when Frodo returned.

“Pip, when Merry gets here, tomorrow or the next day, we’ll check with Aunt Esme and Uncle Sara, but I think the three of us will skip the festivities here at the Smials. Cousin Paladin has given me permission to take you to Michel Delving, for the fair there, instead of biding here. How does that sound?”

This was enough to make Pippin whoop with joy, and forget all about his father’s dire news.

__________________________________________________

The Fair at Michel Delving was one of the largest in the Shire, far larger than the one held in the fall at Bucklebury. Merry and Pippin had never been to it, for Tooks and their family connections were expected to be at the Great Smials for the Lithedays ever since the days of the *first* Ferumbras, and most especially since the days of the Old Took when they were a grand occasion, and were lit up by fireworks from Gandalf. But Bilbo and Frodo had often skipped the Lithedays at the Smials in the days when Lalia held sway, and gone to the Fair instead. Bilbo could afford to thumb his nose at her, and enjoyed doing so--he disliked her very nearly as much as he did Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. But after Bilbo left, for Merry’s and Pippin’s sake, Frodo had made it his habit to attend, even though he liked the Fair better.

Frodo had hired a pony-trap for the brief journey, and made arrangements for the three of them to stay at The Laughing Dog, one of Michel Delvings’ smaller and quieter inns. It was run by a widow, Mistress Photinia Tunnelly, and was often sought out by older hobbits, who liked peace and quiet, and by families with children, who wanted a place to stay that would not expose the little ones to a lot of rowdiness. Not that she did not serve a very nice dark ale, but hobbits were not encouraged to linger over it, or drink to excess.

“Master Frodo-- or Mr. Baggins, as I should say!” she exclaimed, “Why I’ve not had your custom since the summer before your Uncle Bilbo up and left!”

Frodo gave her a buss on the cheek. “Mistress Photinia! It’s long overdue then, that I come to stay now. Here, let me present my cousins, who have come with me to the fair: this is Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took.”

Both of them gave polite bows and placed themselves at her service. She simpered. “Now, such polite and well-spoken young hobbits! But that’s no wonder as you are Mr. Baggins’ kin!” She turned to Frodo. “There’s a room down the corridor, second door to the right, that’s not been taken. I’d had a hobbit who’d booked the room, but he changed his mind about staying when one of his kinfolk hereabouts invited him to come in with them.”

She led them in to the room, chattering as they went. “Now, you just put your things in the room and come back down to the common room, and I’ll see that you have some luncheon, for all that it’s a bit late. I’ve some new loaves, and some chicken and mushroom stew, some ham, and I do believe I’ve some strawberry fool for afters…”

In just a few moments they were seated, with a veritable feast before them, and Pippin was bouncing with excitement. “Frmmdl, wndb duha phfrtt shtrt?”

At the exact same second, Frodo said “Don’t talk with your mouth full, Pip, dear,” and Merry said “For goodness’ sake, swallow before you talk.”

Pippin took up his mug and took a deep swallow of milk. “Frodo, when does the Fair start?”
“Not officially until tomorrow. But there’s much we can do this afternoon if you wish. It’ll be good to get out and about and see the town.”

Merry nodded and Pippin grinned.

“Mistress Photinia?” Frodo called their hostess and she bustled over.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Baggins?”

Frodo took out the silver penny Eglantine had given him for Pippin’s use. “Can you change this for me, please?”

“Coppers or farthings?”

“Farthings, I think, thank you.”

She hurried away, and Frodo glanced at Merry. “How are you fixed for money, Merry?”

“Oh I’m fine, Frodo.”

Pippin sighed enviously. Uncle Saradoc gave Merry pocket money every Highday, two coppers a week, until he had become a tween, and now it was three. But Merry usually saved his money, and was generally sensible when he did spend it. The one time Paladin and Eglantine had tried giving Pippin his own pocket money, he had spent the lot of it at one go, at the sweet shop. Then he had come home and run everyone at the farm ragged for three days, trying to keep up with him and calm him down. After that, his parents would give Pippin’s money to his sisters or Merry when they took him somewhere. It was embarrassing having to ask permission to spend his own money.

Mistress Photinia came back with the change, and Frodo looked at Pippin with a twinkle in his eyes. “And how many farthings should there be, now, Pip?”

Pippin rolled his eyes and caught Merry grinning at him. Frodo was almost as bad as Cousin Bilbo sometimes about turning things into lessons.

In a sing-song voice, he recited “One silver penny equals six coppers, and there are four farthings in a copper, so there should be twenty-four farthings.”

Ignoring Pippin’s sarcastic tone, Frodo said, “Here is what I propose: I shall give you four farthings today and ten each tomorrow and the next day--” Pippin started to whoop with joy, but Frodo silenced him with an upraised finger. “*But* if you spend too much of it on sweets, I shall hold it back, and you shall have to ask me before you spend. Understand?”

“Of course!” Pippin was eager, and would have promised anything. He held out his hand and Frodo counted out the farthings.

Just then an elderly hobbit entered the inn, and Frodo, spotting an acquaintance, got up to go speak with him.

Pippin fingered the coins in his hand, before carefully tying them in a knot in the corner of his handkerchief and stowing it in his pocket. He was actually going to be allowed to spend his money himself, and as he chose, within reason, of course. He was grinning gleefully.

“Pip--” Merry started, with a mild warning in his voice.

Pippin looked up and shook his head. “It’s Frodo, Merry.” and Merry nodded, understanding.

At home Pippin was a handful. He frequently disobeyed his sisters, and sometimes his parents as well. But he had deliberately disobeyed Merry only once in his life so far, and the idea of incurring Merry’s wrath once more, or losing his trust again was not to be borne.* As for Frodo--Frodo never got angry. He simply turned on his cousins a look compounded of disappointment, reproach and hurt, and firmly and quietly imposed consequences. The consequences were mild compared to being on the receiving end of one of those looks, knowing one had disappointed Frodo.

After a moment, Frodo returned. “How about a look around town, cousins?”

Michel Delving was a larger town than Tuckborough, and there was a lot to see. Pippin had been much too young to remember his only visit; Merry had been there several times, but not for a couple of years. Frodo’s younger cousins followed in his wake, Pippin wide-eyed and curious; Merry looking about appraisingly, remembering some of the things he had seen, and others that his father had told him about the town.

Pippin tore his gaze away from a tempting sweet shop with regret, and said “Look! There’s a Brownlock’s store! It’s just like the one in Tuckborough!” Brownlock’s was a dry goods store, and sold a wide assortment of goods.

“Say rather the one in Tuckborough is just like this one, for it was first,” said Frodo. “I hear that old Carlo Brownlock wants to open another one in Hobbiton, and eventually a fourth one in Budgeford.”

Merry nodded sagely. “That makes sense. He has five sons.”

Frodo grinned. “Very good, Merry.”

“I don’t understand,” said Pippin.

Merry laughed. “Pip, only one can be head of the family. But he can put each of his other sons in charge of a shop. The only bad thing is that they will be so far apart.”

Now it was Frodo’s turn to laugh. “Merry, not everyone is like the Brandybucks and the Tooks, living all together like bees in a hive.”

“That’s true, I suppose.” After all Cousin Bilbo had lived all alone in Bag End for years before he brought Frodo there, and now Frodo seemed content to be alone himself most of the time. But Brandy Hall with its dozens of cousins and uncles and aunts seemed normal to Merry.

The conversation made Pippin glum. He had managed to forget that all too soon, he’d be a bee in the hive at the Great Smials. Bad enough to visit--but to *live* there? And with the Thainship hanging over his head like a heavy weight? He was doomed. Merry was good at that sort of thing; he’d known right off why Mr. Brownlock wanted four shops. Why couldn’t *Merry* be Thain? *He’d* probably *like* it!

“Pip!” Merry’s voice came impatiently. Frodo had turned in at the shop in question. Lost in his gloomy thoughts, Pippin had nearly walked right past.

Frodo had some purchases to make, so Merry and Pippin looked around a bit. The shop was larger than the one in Tuckborough, with a wider selection of goods. Pippin noticed an array of ladies’ combs, some of tortoiseshell, some of bone. He picked up one made of the tortoiseshell.

“Look, Merry! Do you think Mother would like this? It’s two farthings.”

Merry cast a critical eye over it, and smiled. “I think Aunt Tina would like it very much. Do you think you will find something here for Uncle Paladin?”

After looking through a number of items, Pippin settled on a couple of pen-wipers at two for a farthing. “Father won’t mind,” Pippin confided,” for he likes it if Mother’s gifts are better than his.”

“I daresay,” laughed Merry. “Da is the same way about Mum.”

Pippin went to pay for his purchases. The clerk was attending to an older gentlehobbit, so Pippin stood politely to wait for his turn.

While waiting for Pippin, Merry looked at some of the goods, but could not really find anything he wished to spend his money on. Merry tended to be very choosy about his purchases. After a while, he began to wonder where Pippin was. Surely he’d paid for his purchases by now? No, there he stood, near the clerk, fidgeting, his items clutched in one hand and the handkerchief with his money in the other fist. His expression was one of hurt resignation. He was shifting from one foot to the other, as the clerk waited on two well-to-do matrons.

Merry began to do a slow burn.

Frodo had found what he needed: a bottle of ink, some shirt studs, as he had left his favorite pair at Bag End, and some rosemary-scented soap, as he was none too fond of the lilac-scented variety favored by Mistress Photinia. He spotted Merry, and noted with alarm the signs of an impending Brandybuck explosion. He laid a calming hand on his cousin’s arm, and looked in the direction of Merry’s glare.

The clerk had finished attending the matrons, and Pippin cleared his throat hopefully. The clerk affected not to hear, and cast his eye in Frodo’s direction. Merry’s face began to turn red. Frodo squeezed his cousin’s shoulder.

The clerk stepped towards them, leaving Pippin with a forlorn expression. “May I serve you, sir?”

“I believe the lad was ahead of me,” said Frodo with deceptive mildness.

The clerk glanced at Pippin disdainfully. “I’m sure the child can wait.”

Frodo stared back at the clerk every bit as disdainfully. “I think *not*; I believe my young cousin has waited long enough.” Frodo’s tone could have frozen the Brandywine.

The clerk blanched. He quickly turned to Pippin. “I beg your pardon, young Master--?”

Pippin smiled, relieved to have his attention at last. “Peregrin Took at your service,” he said. “I just wanted to get these gifts for my parents.”

Now the clerk turned positively green. He quickly finished Pippin’s transaction, and even did up his purchases in a neat paper parcel.

Pippin favored him with a charming smile, completely forgiving, now that he had what he wanted. He allowed Merry to draw him to his side.

“Now, sir,” said the clerk, turning to Frodo with trepidation.

“I find that I have changed my mind.” He placed the items in the clerk’s trembling hands. “What is your name?”

“O-otto S-sandheaver, sir,” was the hesitant reply.

“Well, Mr. Sandheaver, I am quite certain that my good friend, Mr. Carlo Brownlock will be interested to know that you feel the farthings of a child are worth less than those of an adult. Good day.”

As they exited the store, Merry exulted. “Frodo, that was magnificent! You showed him!” while Pippin gave Frodo a quick hug. “Thank you, Frodo.”

“You are welcome, Pippin.”

“You know, Pip, you really should have said something to him.” Merry still sounded a bit angry.

“I wondered about that,” was Pippin’s reply.

Frodo laughed. “Pip, dear, I know that your parents have taught you that it is good manners to let adults go first. But that should be your choice, and not because someone decides to ignore you.”

“Oh.” Pippin paused. “Frodo, you’re not really going to tell Mr. Brownlock, are you? He could lose his position.”

“Do you think Mr. Brownlock is well-served by a clerk who ignores his customers?”

“Well, no, I suppose not. But I don’t think he would do it again.”

Frodo chuckled, remembering the stricken look on the clerk’s face. “No, Pip, I don’t suppose that he will. I’m very proud of you. Not every lad would be so forgiving.” He tousled the chestnut curls, and said, “Now it seems to me that you still have a farthing to spend, and if my nose doesn’t deceive me, that is a bakery just across the street.”

With a grin, Pippin darted across and into the bakery, while Merry and Frodo followed at a more leisurely pace.

They entered to find Pippin, hands clasped behind his back, nose twitching, as he considered the vast array of cakes and biscuits and breads and pastries, his attention wholly taken with the difficult task of choosing.

Frodo and Merry glanced over to where the baker was engaged in conversation with a stout farmwife with three children.

“Mrs. Cotton!” Frodo exclaimed.

“Why bless me! It’s Mr. Frodo! And you’ve your cousins with you as well! Mr. Frodo, this baker is my cousin, Master Handfast Noakes. I worked with him here when I was but a tween and my Uncle Perry was the baker. Handy, this is Mr. Frodo Baggins of Bag End in Hobbiton.”

Courtesies and services exchanged, Frodo said, “Why, Mrs. Cotton, I know your lad Nibs here, but who are these other children?”

The two red-heads, standing next to Nibs stared up at him, the lad shyly and the lass boldly.

She glanced down at them, smiling. “This is my niece, Ruby, though everyone calls her Rusty, and nephew, Rufus; they are the children of my Tom’s brother Wil.”

“So your family has come for the fair?”

“Yes, Mr. Frodo. We’re camping just south of the fairgrounds, with the Gamgees.”

“Ah, yes! The Gaffer’s brought his prize cabbages and vegetable marrows, and I believe Sam will be showing some of Bag End’s roses. Sam told me before I left.”

Just then Pippin came up. Mindful of Frodo’s and Merry’s earlier admonitions, he said “Excuse me.”

The baker was instantly at his attention. “May I help you, little Master?”

“Yes, please. I decided. Three cream buns for a farthing.”

“Excellent choice, if I do say so myself!” Master Noakes took a small pair of silver tongs and a small white sack, and selected three of the plumpest, and took Pippin’s farthing with much ceremony and placed it in the till.

Frodo, Merry and Mrs. Cotton had continued their conversation about the Fair, and Pippin, his business concluded, noticed the three children. His face brightened. “Hullo, Nibs!”

“Hullo, Mr. Pippin!” The Cotton lad introduced his cousins, and Pippin studied them with interest. Both had bright red hair and hazel eyes. Rufus seemed to be about the same age as Nibs--who was one year older than Pippin--while Rusty seemed to be closer to Pippin's age. Rufus seemed a bit shy, looking down at his toes when introduced, but Rusty gave him a big grin. Her long red hair was divided into two unruly braids, and she was dressed in lad’s clothing rather than a frock. She had a mischievous twinkle in her hazel eyes that made Pippin think she might be fond of pranks.

Just then, Mrs. Cotton said “Come along, children--it’s getting on for tea time and we need to get back to the campsite.” She smiled at Frodo. “So we will see you in the morning?”

“Most certainly, Mrs. Cotton! The Fair is a good deal more fun in the company of friends. And Sam is going to be quite surprised to find me here.”

The Cottons left the bakery, as did Frodo and his cousins. As the three of them walked down the street, Pippin opened his bag and handed them each one of the cream buns.

Later that night in their room at the inn Pippin lay in the big bed half dozing. Merry sat at the foot of the bed, mending a button on his weskit, while Frodo sat in an armchair with a book and his pipe. He was just starting to drift off, when Merry spoke softly.

“Frodo, I’m still not very happy about the way that clerk acted.”

“Merry, let it go.” Frodo’s voice was also low, and Pippin realized they thought he was already asleep. “Pip’s forgiven him, why don’t you?”

“That’s just Pippin’s nature. But you know how he was looking forward to spending his money, and that hobbit almost spoiled it for him.”

Frodo’s voice was still low, but very firm. “Almost doesn’t count. And the baker made up for it. And he learned a valuable lesson. You can’t protect him from every unpleasant experience he might have, much as you might wish to.”

“I suppose.”

There was a brief silence, and a movement at the foot of the bed. Merry must have finished with his button. Then he said “Frodo, are you really going to give him ten farthings to spend tomorrow? That’s a lot for him.”

“Of course I am. I said I would. I sometimes think Paladin and Tina make a mistake in not trusting him more. He’ll never learn if they don’t. He knows I trust him. He won’t let me down.”

Pippin’s young heart filled with love and pride. He had the best cousins in all the Shire. And thinking thus, he slipped over the edge into sleep.

The next morning was bright and clear, a perfect day for a mid-summer Fair.

Frodo, Merry and Pippin had a lovely first breakfast of porridge, fruit, scones and tea. Then Frodo gave Pippin his farthings, and they went down to the campsite where the Cottons and Gamgees were staying. They found everyone all a-flutter with preparations.

Sam was busy at the cookfire when he looked up with a wide grin. “Mr. Frodo! Mr. Merry! And Master Pippin, too! You’re just in time for a bit of second breakfast!”

“Hullo Sam!” said Frodo.

“We won’t say no to whatever it is smells so good!” Merry exclaimed.

Pippin just shouted “Bacon!”

As the three helped Sam finish making the breakfast, Sam said “I was that surprised last evening when Missus Lily told me you were all here, Mr. Frodo. The last I heard, you was going to spend the Lithedays in Tookland.”

“I was. But I thought to take Merry and Pippin away from the Great Smials for a few days, and let them see the Fair here. It was just a spur of the moment decision.”

Sam could tell by his Master’s tone that there was a bit more to it than that, but it was obviously family business, and none of his, so he said no more. “Master Pippin, them griddlecakes is hot! Mind your fingers!”

Soon all of them were feasting on bacon, griddlecakes with honey, and eggs, scrambled to perfection. The children all pitched in to help clean up afterward, and it was not long before they were ready to see the Fair.

They made up a jolly party: the Gamgees--Sam, the Gaffer and Marigold; the Cottons--Old Tom and Lily, and their brood: young Tom, Rose, Jolly, Nick and Nibs, and Tolman‘s brother Wilcome and his two children, Rusty and Rufus--(Wilcome‘s wife had remained in Bywater, as their youngest was only a month old, and deemed too young for the Fair just yet); and Frodo and his cousins.

Their first stop was at the livestock pens, to see how the sow Old Tom and his brother Wil had entered was faring. She stood, fat and pink, in her pen, and snuffled happily as the farmer scratched behind her ears.

“I do think, Farmer Cotton, that she is as fat and sassy a pig as any here, and stands quite a good chance at winning a prize,” said Frodo.

“Thank you, Mr. Frodo. We’ve good hopes for her.”

They looked about at the other animals for a few minutes. Merry spent some time checking the ponies, for a few had made their way here from Buckland. Then the party went to the large tent where various domestic arts were on display--Mrs. Cotton had entered a splendid cake in the baked goods, as well as some cucumber pickles in the preserved foods. Marigold had entered a quilted coverlet on which she had spent many an hour and pricked fingers. She looked with dismay at some of the others, which seemed to put hers in the shade with their complex piecing and fancy quilting.

“Don’t fret, Mari, dear,” said Lily Cotton. “This is just your first time to enter something, and I must say that it stands out very well. It’s quite nice, and well made, even if it doesn’t get a ribbon.”

“Well, *I* like it,” said Merry stoutly, admiring its vivid greens and yellows. “I think it’s the most colorful one of the lot.”

The next stop was the pavilion where the plants and vegetables were exhibited. They had to admire the Gaffer’s cabbage, of course. The younger members of the party were getting rather restive, looking at tables full of vegetables that they were not allowed to touch. As the party started over to the side where flowers were being shown, Pippin heard a strident voice in all its full tones.

“Oh bother!” he said. Ahead of him, Frodo and Merry were echoing his sentiments, for they could hear Lobelia Sackville-Baggins all the way to the other side of the tent.

“Well I must say” came her shrill voice, “that all these showy roses in such bright colors have their place. But of course, mine are far more subtle! I am quite sure the judges will appreciate them!” She was referring to the rather small and scrawny blooms she had brought in and placed right in the middle of the display.

Frodo stopped for a moment. He looked back at the younger members of the party. “Mr. Cotton, why don’t we let Pippin, Nibs, Rusty and Rufus go and see some of the other pleasures the Fair has to offer. I think all these plants might be a bit boring for them.” By which he meant, as all understood, that it might be better to have the younger children out of earshot when Lobelia caught sight of Frodo--never by any means a pleasant encounter.

Since Lobelia was one of the very few people in the world whom Pippin really disliked, he was not at all averse to avoiding her.

Farmer Cotton glanced at his brother, who nodded. He looked at the children. “All right, then, but you lot stick together, understand? And mind you, don’t get into any trouble.” His look at this last statement was not to his son Nibs, but to his niece Rusty.

“We’ll meet you back at the campsite this afternoon, by teatime at the latest,” said Frodo.

The four children raced away from the vegetables and flowers and out to the main part of the Fair.

“Mr. Pippin! Rusty! Slow down!” came Nibs’ voice.

Pippin stopped in surprise to see that he and Rusty had quite outdistanced the other two. They halted for Nibs and Rufus to catch up with them. Pippin had something he wished to nip in the bud anyway.

“Nibs?”

“Yes, Mr. Pippin?”

“Please don’t call me ‘mister’. We are nowhere near our tweens yet.”

“But you’re almost the same age as me. It wouldn’t seem right to call you ‘Master Pippin’.”

“Just call me ‘Pippin’. Or even ‘Pip’. Sam didn’t have to start saying ‘mister’ to Merry until he was almost twenty.” Actually Sam had been going on nineteen when the Gaffer began to insist on his using the honorifics with Merry and Pippin.

“But you’re a Took!”

Pippin sighed. He began to understand how Merry and Frodo felt about Sam ‘mistering’ them all the time.

Rusty interrupted. “Look, Nibs, it’s polite to call people what they want to be called, right, Pip?”

He grinned at the unexpected support. “That’s right, Rusty.”

She looked back at her cousin. “You can ‘mister’ him all you want in front of the grown-ups. But if he doesn’t want to be ‘mistered’ today, then don’t do it.”

Now Nibs sighed. Rusty had laid down the law; he was far too used to doing whatever she said to argue with her. And it did feel more friendly-like to just say “Pippin”. He looked at Rufus; but Rufus was even more used to being bossed by Rusty than he was. Rufus just nodded.

She turned to Pippin. “So, Pippin, what do you want to do first?”

Pippin returned her grin. “Well, it’s past time for elevenses.” He looked in the direction of where several food booths were set up.

Three other sets of eyes were drawn in that direction as though magnetized. But Rusty looked doubtful. “My dad gave me a farthing for us to share, but I don’t know how far it will go…”

“That’s all right,” said Pippin magnanimously. “It will be my treat.”

If the children had been a bit older, they might have been too proud to accept that, but at their age and with all the delights of a Fair laid out before them, pride was the last thing on their minds.

Pippin glanced longingly at the booths selling candied apples and taffy and spun sugar, and hurried past. He was very mindful of Frodo’s words of trust the night before. Instead they found a booth selling sausages in buns, two for a farthing. Pippin carefully unknotted his handkerchief and bought four, which the vendor slathered lavishly with spicy mustard. Another farthing bought two mugs of ginger beer, which they shared between them. They sat down on a nearby bench to enjoy their feast.

Pippin was quite pleased with himself. He still had seven farthings left, and he had not spent any of it on sweets.

When they had licked the last of the mustard from their fingers, and downed the last drop of their ginger beer, Rusty turned to Pippin. “Why don’t we go and look at the games?”

Pippin nodded eagerly, and Nibs and Rufus thought it sounded fun, so they wandered over to a booth where hobbits could win a prize by throwing rings over pegs. Mindful of the fact that most hobbits had uncannily accurate aim, it was a farthing a throw, and one had to get three throws out of four to win even a small prize. Pippin was quite sure that he’d have no difficulty with that, but it would have taken more than half the money he had left, and the other three would not be able to join in the fun. Regretfully, he turned away.

Nibs attention was caught by a nearby booth where a pile of prizes sat in a pile in a large pen. A mechanical contraption was operated by turning a crank, and a large claw would descend to snatch up a prize. But it was obviously a lot harder than it looked, and the hapless booth operator was finding few customers. The children heard him complaining to another Fair hobbit:

“The Dwarf who sold me this thing claimed it was very popular with Men.”

“Well,” replied the other hobbit smugly, “obviously Men have a lot less sense than hobbits.”

The first hobbit sighed. “I suspect you’re right. I suppose I’ll have to make a trip to Bree, and see if I can find some Man stupid enough to take it off my hands.”

The children giggled. Then Rusty said “Look! It’s Hook-a-Duck!”

“What’s that?” Pippin asked curiously. They went over to watch. The booth was very popular. They could hear the hobbit calling out: “Three tries for a farthing! Every try wins a prize!”

In a large metal tub, several small carved wooden ducks were floating. Customers would take a stick with a small loop on one end, and snag one up. The vendor would look on the bottom, where a number was carved, and the customer would win a prize to correspond with the number. The prizes were displayed on the back wall of the booth--some were nicer than others: hair ribbons, combs, marbles, slings, small stuffed dolls, colorful handkerchiefs and other small mathoms. It seemed that by far the prize most easily won was hair ribbons, and Pippin watched with interest as an older tween lad with his lass won two sets of hair ribbons and a small silk flower, which he bestowed with a grin on the simpering lass at his side.

Pippin turned to the others with a grin. “Let’s try this! My sisters like hair ribbons, and I’ve not bought them a present yet. I’ll go first, and try for three sets of hair ribbons. But if I get something else, I’ll trade with one of you so I end up with a set of hair ribbons for each of my sisters!” Pippin’s tried and true gifts to his sisters on almost every occasion was hair ribbons, which they always seemed to appreciate, rewarding him with hugs and mushy kisses.

The others agreed to this with enthusiasm. Pippin unknotted his handkerchief, and passed out a farthing to each of the others, and kept one for himself. His first try did, in fact, win him a set of blue hair ribbons, which he thought quite lucky, as blue was Vinca’s favorite color. He was a bit disappointed with his second try, for that gained him a small leather ball, which he would have liked to keep, but knew he had already struck a bargain. His last try gained him a set of scarlet ribbons, which he thought would do nicely for Pimmie.

Next Nibs tried. He came up with a set of pink hair ribbons, a set of white ones, and a marble.

Rufus managed to get a comb, a stuffed doll and a bright yellow handkerchief.

Rusty took the stick with its loop, and with a determined look of concentration, came up with a sling, another leather ball, and to her disgust, a set of lavender hair ribbons. She was one lass who was not terribly fond of hair ribbons.

True to his bargain, Pippin traded the leather ball to Nibs for the white hair ribbons. “Pearl will really like those!”

“Thanks, Pippin! That’s a splendid ball. And Rosie will like the pink ribbons.”

Rufus was pleased as well. “I can give the comb to Ma when I get home and the dolly to the baby.” He said nothing about the handkerchief, but unfolded it, looked at it with pride, and then folded it back up and stowed it carefully in his pocket.

Rusty smiled. “There’s an idea! I’ll give Ma the hair ribbons!” She held the sling experimentally. “This is a right proper sling. I’ll bet I could send stones clear from here to Buckland with this!” she exaggerated with a grin.

With only three farthings left, Pippin knew he would need to be more careful with his coin. They turned away now, and looked about some more. They wandered past a tent where a hobbitess was supposed to tell fortunes, and another that promised all sorts of hidden delights. That show, however, was restricted to male hobbits who were of age, and the response of all four children to the barker’s spiel was a resounding “Eewww!”

They watched some hobbits coming out of that tent, many with red faces and embarrassed expressions. Suddenly Pippin darted back behind Rusty and Nibs. He was shorter than both of them, and he thought it might effectively hide him.

“What are you doing?” hissed Rusty.

“Don’t move!” said Pippin. “That’s Lotho Sackville-Baggins and Ted Sandyman! I don’t want them to see me!”

The two passed by, laughing coarsely, and making crude remarks about the show they had just seen, and Pippin breathed a sigh of relief.

“Why were you hiding from them?” asked Rufus.

Nibs snorted. “Anyone would hide from those two. But there’s bad blood between them and Mr. Frodo, and they’d have it in for any of Mr. Frodo’s kin, as well.”

Pippin shuddered. “You have *no* idea how loathsome Loathsome Lotho is!” This was a nickname bestowed on the Sackville-Baggins by Merry, and Pippin felt it only appropriate.

Rusty giggled, and Rufus looked scandalized. Kinfolk who did not get along was something entirely out of his youthful experience.

They saw a hobbit sitting at a table, with three walnut shells and a pea, getting hobbits to wager as to which shell the pea might be found.

Rusty sniffed disdainfully. “Uncle Tom showed me how that’s done! It’s just a cheat. You can’t win unless he wants you to.”

Pippin watched closely, and his sharp eyes quickly caught on to what Rusty had told him. If he had not known beforehand, he would never have spotted it.

A couple of burly Bracegirdles in their late tweens began to get a bit belligerent over the amount of coin they had lost. As their grumbles grew abusive, an even more burly hobbit who had been standing behind the game’s operator looked at them and told them to move along. They hesitated, obviously wanting to make trouble, and then wilted at the steely look on his face.

They saw an animal trainer’s tent. The children looked at it longingly, listening to the barker tell of the marvels within. But admittance was a farthing apiece. Pippin was sorely tempted, but with only three farthings, they could not all four attend, unless Rusty wanted to use up her only farthing.

But she had other ideas. “Follow me!” she said with a mischievous grin. She led them around to the back of the tent, and flopping down on the ground, began to wriggle under. Pippin hesitated only briefly before following. Nibs and Rufus looked at one another ruefully, and did likewise.

The four children lay on the ground, only halfway in, “So we can back out in a hurry if we’re spotted,” whispered Rusty. Part of their view was obscured by the legs of paying customers, but they could see most of the center area.

The two animal trainers came out. First they opened a cage filled with colorful finches. The birds flew up and around the tent, and then came back to settle on the heads and outstretched arms of the two hobbits. Then one of the trainers raised his arms, and all of the birds flew over to him. The first trainer took a long narrow pole, which had a small leather hold jutting out on one end, and a long crosspiece on the other. He put the leather end in his mouth and held the pole up, while all the birds came and perched on the crosspiece. Then the birds flew one by one back into their cage.

Next they showed a talking magpie, which knew a number of droll insults, and soon had the crowd laughing.

After that, there were six little dogs, who knew all manner of cunning tricks, rolling over, playing dead, jumping through hoops, catching things thrown in the air, and turning in circles.

Then came a small pony, and as it trotted about, three of the little dogs jumped up to ride on its back. The pony bowed showily and prettily when it stopped, and the dogs jumped off one by one.

Finally, a large cage was rolled out, and the crowd gasped in amazement. From their vantage point the children could not see at first what was in it. And then they did.

It was a bear. It seemed quite immense to them. The animal trainer was less than half her height. She had a little ruffle of a skirt around her middle and a muzzle on her snout. One of the hobbits took a fiddle, and the bear with an odd sort of clumsy grace, began to dance with the first hobbit.

Pippin was amazed at the dancing, but he felt a bit sorry for the bear. “I can play the fiddle better than that,” he whispered disdainfully.

“This must be the last thing,” whispered Rusty. “Let’s get out of here before the crowd starts to move.” The children scooted out, and rather roughly brushed the grass and dirt off.

Rufus studied his sister critically. “One of your braids is coming loose.”

“Oh bother!” she exclaimed. She roughly pulled off the small leather thong that tied one--no hair ribbons for her-- and shook it out. Then she took the other one loose, and pulled all her hair to the back and tied it up once more, rather sloppily.

“You’re lucky Ma didn’t come,” said Rufus. “Aunt Lily won’t be happy, either. Ow!” He rubbed the back of his head, where she swatted him.

Pippin and Nibs politely ignored this bit of family byplay.

It was getting later, and by common consent, the children wandered in the direction of a large refreshment pavilion. Pippin’s last three farthings bought them a large meat pastry, a small bottle of ginger beer, and a fried sweet cake, which they shared between them. They sat at the table, listening to the small band playing at one end of the pavilion: a fiddler, a flute, and a tambour. Pippin was soon humming along. Now *this* fiddler was *good*!

“Hist! Pippin! Look!” Nibs elbowed him softly, and pointed to four hobbits sitting with their backs to them just at the next table. It was Lotho, Sandyman, and the two Bracegirdles.

Pippin was dismayed, and at first his only thought was how to get away without being seen. But then he heard a snippet of the conversation, and was riveted to the spot.

“…yes, that *Frodo* is here, lording it up. Came to gloat over his gardener’s winning the prize for the roses, I suppose. But it’s about time I got some of my own back on him. He assaulted me a few years ago, and it was only because of old Mad Baggins that I didn’t get back at him then! But Mad Baggins is gone now.”

“So what do you want to do, Mr. Lotho?” That was Ted Sandyman’s toadying voice.

“He’s here with that Brandybuck brat. If we can catch them on the way back to the inn, away from the gardener and his peasant friends, we may have a chance.” He turned to the Bracegirdles who sat on the other side of him. “Six coppers apiece. Get the Brandybuck away from him, and deal him a lesson he won’t forget. Maybe then he’ll stay on his own side of the Brandywine.”

Pippin felt as though ice water were suddenly running in his veins. They were planning to *hurt* Merry! And Frodo as well!

“Ted and I will deal with dear Cousin Frodo. He’ll have a bloody nose himself this time.”

“Pippin! Did you *hear* that?” whispered Nibs.

“I did. We have to stop them somehow.”

Rufus nodded. “We should warn them. Or maybe find a shirriff..

For a moment, Pippin thought that might be the best thing to do. And then he thought of how their pleasant time at the Fair would be ruined with all the to-do and hue-and-cry. Frodo would probably insist on taking them back to the Smials.

“No. We have to think of a way to stop them ourselves.”

Lotho spoke again to the Bracegirdles. “You two go on ahead. You know the Baggins by sight, and the Brandybuck will be with him. He’s a tween with sandy hair, and you’ll know him by the flashy way he dresses. Think up some way to get him alone; follow him to the privy if you have to.”

Pippin watched them leave with worried eyes. He had not counted on them splitting up. What were they going to do?

“I have an idea,” whispered Rusty. She cocked her finger at Pippin to follow, and slipped underneath the table.

The two of them crawled up behind Lotho and Sandyman. Rusty put one finger in front of her lips, and with the other, pointed at Sandyman’s braces. Pippin grinned. Silently, as only young hobbits can, nimble fingers moved. Rusty unfastened the miller’s braces in the back, and Pippin did the same for Lotho. With a smirk, she handed the ends of Sandyman’s braces to Pippin, while she took Lotho’s. Very carefully they fastened each one’s braces to the other one’s breeches. The two hobbits were so intent on their ales and their malicious conversation that they never noticed a thing.

They slipped back into their seats as quietly as they had left them. Nibs’ expression was gleeful, Rufus’ was resigned--he wondered what his sister would think of next.

Pippin silenced a snicker behind his hand, and shook his head. “I wish we could stay to see the fun, when those two finally decide to move, but we have to find those Bracegirdles before they hurt Merry.”

The others nodded, and the children carefully filed out of the pavilion.

At first, they didn’t think they’d have any luck finding them in the crowds.

Then Nibs spotted them.

On impulse, Pippin picked up a small pebble from the ground, and threw it with perfect accuracy, hitting one of them in the back of the neck.

He stopped, and looked around vainly for what had stung him. Rusty took out her sling, and sent another small pebble in the direction of the other Bracegirdle.

“What the?” he exclaimed. “The must be some mighty big horseflies around here! Something just bit me!”

“Me, too!” exclaimed the other.

The children giggled, and followed, every few minutes sending another tiny pebble in their direction, never once missing.

“This is fun,” said Pippin, “but it’s only slowing them down. I have an idea how we *can* stop them, though. Listen.”

The four of them huddled together, to hear Pippin’s whispers. Rufus looked horrified, Rusty was grinning like the cat that found the cream, and Nibs was just shaking his head, amazed at the Took’s ingenuity.

The children moved in the direction of their prey, circling gradually until they were ahead of the two hobbits, and then they turned and walked back in their direction.

When they were about ten feet away, Pippin whispered “Now!”

Rusty suddenly darted directly into the path of the two, and delivered a vicious kick to the shins of one of them.

“Hey!” he yelled. And grabbed her. That was a big mistake.

Chaos broke loose. Rusty shrieked “Help!”

Rufus and Nibs ran over, Rufus yelling “Help! They’ve got my sister!”

Pippin began to yell. “Somebody help! Those two grabbed my friend!”

Suddenly the two hobbits found themselves surrounded by a crowd of angry adults. Rusty was shrieking and struggling for all she was worth.

The Bracegirdles realized they were in trouble. They snatched their hands away, and tried to explain.

“She kicked me! For no reason!”

Rusty was weeping dramatically. “Why would I do that? I’ve never seen them before in my life! I don’t know who they are.” She gave a loud sob, and rubbed her eyes with her fists.

Pippin came up, and put his arm around her shoulders. “Yes, why would she? They are such liars! They just grabbed her, just like that!”

A stout matron pushed her way to the front of the crowd, and gathered the children up. “Now, now, little ones. Let’s come away from here. I think that these other gentlehobbits can handle the situation.” She aimed a dirty look at the two Bracegirdles. “We folk in Michel Delving don’t need people at our Fair who put their hands on little lasses!”

She led them away from the circling crowd, and the loud murmurs growing into an outcry: “Throw them out of the Fair!” “No! Let’s run them out of town altogether!”

Pippin and his friends were escorted to her booth where she gave them each a toffee, to help them get over their fright, and advised them to find their parents.

The children thanked her politely, and left, waiting until they found a relatively secluded spot to celebrate.

Rusty whooped. “That was fun! I haven’t had that much fun in ages!”

“Did you see their faces?” chortled Nibs.

Pippin was laughing, but after a moment sobered. “I ought to feel bad about us doing that, but I don’t. They were going to hurt my Merry! And we need to make sure that Lotho and the miller don’t try anything else!”

They turned back in the direction of the refreshment pavilion. Pippin was certain the pair would have extricated themselves from their predicament by now, but it was the last place they had seen them. The sound of laughter alerted them, as they overheard the conversations.

“I don’t think I’ve seen anything so funny in years,” one hobbit was saying to another, as he snorted and wiped his eyes. “You should have seen them trying to get apart without losing their breeches altogether!”

The four of them heard several variations of that theme, and they congratulated themselves on a very successful prank. After a few more moments, they spotted a bedraggled pair of hobbits, their clothing in much disarray.

“Just leave me alone right now,” shouted Lotho. “I’m going to pull myself together, and then we’ll finish our business.” He flounced into one of the outdoor privies found at the perimeter of the Fair, far enough away that they would not offend fairgoers, but close enough to be useful.

“Now’s our chance!” said Pippin. He looked about on the ground, until he saw a stick that would serve his purpose. He snuck up, and carefully and firmly wedged it up under the privy door. It would come out easily enough from the outside, but any efforts to open the door from the inside would only wedge it even more tightly

That only left Sandyman to deal with. “He knows Nibs,” said Pippin, “and he knows me. It had better not be Rusty, in case he hears about what else happened--there aren’t too many red-haired lasses who wear lad’s clothing about.”

“That means it has to be you, Rufus. You know you can do it,” his sister said.

Pippin looked at him. “Please. It’s to help my cousin.”

Rufus nodded, and Rusty handed him their lone farthing. “To make it seem more likely.”

Sandyman was waiting some distance away, and beginning to get impatient. Just then a young lad tugged at his shirt sleeve.

“Beg pardon, sir,” said the lad, “but another hobbit, he gave me this farthing to give you a message.” He showed the miller the coin.

“What message?” said the miller crossly.

“Well, sir, he said he was fed up with the Fair and he didn’t think anything was going to turn out right, and that he was going home, and not to wait for him any more.”

“Of all the nerve!” fumed Sandyman. “I’ve had it with his big ideas. I guess I will just make my own way home as well!” He stomped off,

Rufus stood there a moment, and then went back to the others. “It worked.” He sounded surprised.

“Of course it worked, silly lad,” said his sister, giving him a completely unexpected hug and kiss. He blushed.

Pippin brushed his hands together. “Well, that takes care of that. Even if old Loathsome gets out of there anytime soon, he won’t try to hurt Frodo and Merry by himself. He’s too much of a scaredy-cat.”

“It’s almost teatime!” exclaimed Nibs. “We’d better hurry!”

They arrived at the campsite breathless, and found the adults all eagerly discussing the day’s victories: the Cotton’s sow had taken second place; Sam’s roses and the Gaffer’s cabbage took first places, and the Gaffer’s marrows had taken a second. Mrs. Cotton’s cake had taken first place among the cakes, and grand prize among all the baked goods, and even Marigold’s coverlet had received a judge’s note as being an excellent first effort.

The children told of their day, somehow leaving out their manner of watching the animal show, and never even bothering to mention the presence of such beings as Lotho Sackville-Baggins and his cronies, or any of their other more interesting activities.

“I was that worried about you,” said Mrs. Cotton. “Why I heard a gang of kidnappers actually tried to grab a little lass today, if you can believe it!”

“Oh, Aunt Lily!” Rusty exclaimed, her eyes wide and innocent.

“I hardly think such a thing is likely in the Shire, Mrs. Cotton,” said Frodo. “Nevertheless, I think tomorrow we’ll keep our young ones closer at hand.”

Rusty turned to Pippin and gave him a broad wink.

The next day, Pippin returned to the Fair, this time in company with Frodo and Merry. It had been good fun the day before, with the other children, but nothing was quite the same as spending time with his own special cousins.

They went back to the Hook-a-Duck, and this time Pippin won another leather ball, and to his delight, two of the bright handkerchiefs. He gave the blue one to Frodo, who smiled and thanked him politely. But Merry was really rather happy with his bright yellow one, which he sincerely pronounced “quite splendid”.

And though Pippin had planned to eventually tell at least Merry of the rest of his adventures that day, somehow he never quite got around to it.

Too many other things happened. But he hugged the memory to himself, as he realized that for the first time in his life *he* had looked out for Merry and Frodo, instead of the other way round…

___________________

Merry was nearly halfway over the rope. He could hear Frodo’s voice behind him, calling soft encouragement, but in front of him, he could make out Pippin. Although his face was tiny from this distance, Merry could easily imagine the fierce expression of concern which it would now have, just as easily as if he were only a couple of feet from his cousin.

He recognized the posture, as Pippin stood there, slightly tensed, arms held out as if he could catch him. He suddenly realized that this was the exact same posture he himself had often held when watching over his younger cousin. He concentrated on Pippin, on getting across to him. The distance was growing shorter now, and he began to feel a bit more confident as Pippin’s face grew closer.

He could hear his murmurs now: “Come on, Merry, you’re doing fine!” and suddenly he felt the earth beneath his right foot and then his left, and he was clasped in Pippin’s embrace.

“Good old Merry! I knew you could do it!”

Merry pulled back with a start, and looked into the earnest green eyes. He knew Pippin had gained a good deal of maturity during this journey, but when had he decided that *he* was *Merry’s* protector?

For the second time that day, he said “Thanks, Pip.”




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