Change in the Weather by Lindelea

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Merry looked up at the sky anxiously. There was going to be a change in the weather, he had no doubt, and not for the better. Suddenly sleeping out under the stars didn’t seem such a good idea as it had in front of the fire at Bag End, sipping tea and nibbling at a biscuit, with the dark on the proper side of the round windows.

Dark lit by moon and stars was one thing, dark of cloud broken only by lightning’s flash and grumble of thunder was quite another. Worse, everything looked different in the dark. He wasn’t sure he could find his way back to the smial; he could not even see the watch-lamps in the windows through the thickening darkness.

Stupid! fall asleep after reaching the bottom of the picnic hamper. It had been a rich meal, and heavy, though he’d cheered himself with the thought that the empty hamper would be no burden at all to carry back to Bag End. Pip had eaten himself into a state of sleepiness, and when Merry settled back on the soft grass, the better to digest the meal, the littler cousin had rested his head in Merry’s lap. Both of them had made up stories about the fleecy clouds floating above them: this one a dragon, and that one a dwarf, and another a troll, and wolves, and eagles, and...

As the Sun sought her bed, she pulled out her paintbox and tinted the clouds in glorious shades: golden, crimson, purple-black. Pip had fallen asleep watching the display, and Merry had watched the stars come out, one by one, and jolly round Master Moon rise smiling gold above the eastern horizon. Soon it would be time to pick up the hamper and waken his little cousin, to walk back through the Old Orchard planted by Bilbo’s father, to the smial, where Mrs. Gamgee would have supper ready and waiting.

The pleasant visit had gone all wrong; it was one thing to keep company with Frodo, who was suffering from a head cold, while Bilbo was off wandering, meeting elves or dwarves or whatnot. Frodo had endured just as much cheering as he could before shooing Merry and Pippin out to the meadow for a picnic, “a breath of fresh air” for them, though he really meant a space of quiet and rest for himself... He’d never say so, of course, but Bell Gamgee was in complete agreement and had made up a hamper full of enough food to keep the exuberant young cousins occupied for quite awhile, before finishing her cleaning duties and taking herself back to Number Three to tend to her own brood.

It was another thing to be here, afraid to stir foot in any direction and thunder threatening. Merry didn’t know what to hope for... for Frodo to miss them, grow worried, and come in search, lantern in hand, or for Frodo to keep tight inside with his cold, not risking something worse. Perhaps he’d go to Number Three and fetch the Gaffer and Samwise; that would be the sensible thing to do. Frodo wasn’t always sensible, though. Sometimes he was more heroic than was good for him.

Merry wrapped his coat around shivering Pippin and considered. If he could just get his bearings, he could find their way back to the smial. He imagined his triumphant entrance. ‘Of course we’re safe, you silly Baggins! You weren’t worrying your stuffy head on our behalf, were you?’

He stood to his feet. ‘Come along, Pip, we’re going back to Bag End now.’

 ‘About time,’ Pip squeaked. He huddled closer, as a sharp gust of wind rattled them. ‘I’m hungry.’

 ‘That’s right, Pip,’ Merry said. ‘Nothing to fear.’

 ‘What’s to be frightened of?’ Pip demanded bravely. His Merry was worried, he could see, and needed bolstering. That’s what cousins were for, to bolster one another, after all.

Merry was feeling the slope of the ground. To one side of their picnic meadow was the Old Orchard, and Bag End beyond. To the other side was a sharp drop, steep and rocky. There was a twisty path of sorts where one could pick his way down amongst the rocks, but to step off at the wrong place was inviting injury, possibly serious.

Unfortunately, they were on top of a little hillock and the ground sloped down in all directions. Merry would just have to wait for a flash of brighter lightning to show him the silhouettes of the trees in the Orchard.

At that moment he felt his hair stand on end. Instinctively he threw himself to the ground, taking Pippin with him, rolling down the side of the little hill. There was a blinding flash accompanied by a deafening boom in his ears, as of a giant’s drum, a terrible tingling in all his limbs, a blast of fearful heat followed by dark, cold, silence... and then a hard pelting rain that he scarcely felt, numb all over as he was.

The young hobbits lay insensible where they’d ended.

They didn’t hear the exclamations, or see the lantern light, or feel the blankets wrapped about them or the warm, sheltering arms that lifted them and carried them to safety.

It was some time later that Merry opened his eyes and found himself, blanket wrapped, propped before the roaring hearth in Bag End, Frodo beside him and Pippin tucked in between.

 ‘Merry!’ Frodo rasped. ‘Bilbo, he’s wakening!’

A shadow moved and suddenly Bilbo was on his other side, kneeling down as swiftly as if he weren’t just short of an hundred-and-eight years old (or young, as it were). The old hobbit had returned to Bag End just ahead of the storm, congratulating himself on keeping dry... but had found himself shortly after his arrival fetching a lantern and Master Hamfast and going out to the meadow in search of the missing lads.

Ah, well. Wet clothes could be exchanged for dry ones, after all... Young cousins were not so easy to replace. He’d feared the worst when they’d come upon the burned and blackened hamper. His tears had mingled with the hard rain, before young Samwise had shouted, pointed, as the lightning flashed to light up the world around them and revealed the huddled bodies lying on the soaked grass some ways away.

 ‘Merry—lad,’ the old hobbit said. ‘Mistress Goodbody said you’d taken no lasting harm... do you hear me, lad?’

 ‘You don’t have to shout,’ Merry said, too groggy to be tactful.

Bilbo laughed and clapped him on his blanketed shoulder. ‘You weren’t struck deaf,’ he said joyfully. ‘She warned that you might not be able to hear when you wakened.’

 ‘I hear you just fine,’ Merry said, but sudden fear seized him. ‘What about Pippin?’ he said in alarm.

 ‘I hear you just fine,’ Pippin echoed. ‘A bit too fine, if you ask me. Do let a fellow sleep, will you?’ He sounded much older than his eight years, but of course he was quoting an oft-heard sentiment of Frodo’s...

Frodo laughed and hugged both his cousins, though he turned his face away to cough.

 ‘Very well,’ Bilbo said with a fond smile for the three of them. ‘Why don’t you just roll up and sleep in front of the hearthfire this evening, and pretend to be sleeping under the stars? I promised you I’d take you wandering, and I will, but not until Frodo’s cold is better.’

 ‘I can’t think of anything better at the moment,’ Merry said, and yawned. Really, he felt deliciously sleepy, and the patter of rain outside the windows added to the comfort of the blankets and fire. The distant rumble of thunder sounded more homey than threatening now.

 ‘There’s a change coming in the weather,’ Bilbo said. ‘It’ll rain all tomorrow, but the next day ought to be dry and warm.’

Merry murmured something inaudible and snuggled closer to Pippin. Within a breath or two he was asleep.



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