West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
Peregrins and Pendulums
A young Frodo and a younger Merry bravely undertake the care of their little cousin Pippin for a visit at Bag End, not long after Bilbo leaves the Shire.
"It's awfully quiet in here," observed Meriadoc Brandybuck thoughtfully, watching the dust dance in the sunbeams streaming in through the study window of Bag End.
Frodo looked up from the book he was reading, keeping his place with an ink-stained forefinger. A look of apprehension crossed his fine-boned face and the big blue eyes, made even larger by the contraction of his pupils in the bright afternoon sun, darted about the peaceful corners of his study. Bees buzzed lazily outside the open window, weighted down with pollen, and a gentle breeze drifted in and stirred the dust on Bilbo's desk.
Sitting at the desk and writing a letter to Tuckborough, Merry sneezed. He sniffed and flicked off a small family of dust bunnies that were breeding on the blotter and watched them drift down a sunbeam to the floor. In the month since Frodo and Cousin Bilbo's Birthday Party and the old hobbit's departure, Frodo's housekeeping had deteriorated noticeably. Merry wasn't one to criticize another's tidiness, usually, but he had noticed the increasing clutter of books and accumulation of dust and it had struck him as the first warning sign.
Frodo jumped at the sneeze. "Hush, Merry!" he hissed. Frodo glanced over his shoulder worriedly and both of them froze into immobility, their eyes wide, listening. When the silence continued uninterrupted the hobbits relaxed, heaving stifled sighs of relief.
Ever since he had assisted Frodo in the disposition of Bilbo's little gifts and jokes, Merry had worried about his sensitive cousin. Frodo possessed a melancholy streak and Merry knew that were he left alone, Frodo would sink into depression, thinking himself deserted by the most important person in his life. Frodo had known how the Road called to his uncle, knew how much Bilbo had desired to travel one last time, but all the reasons in the world did not lessen the pain of being left behind.
Therefore Merry had a quiet word with his parents, and with Saradoc and Esmeralda's permission, had arrived at the round door of Bag End one afternoon a fortnight after the party and moved in on his cousin with the intention of camping there indefinitely. Or at least until he was certain that Frodo would be all right. Frodo had been surprised but accepting, gladder than he realized at the company. Aided and abetted by Samwise Gamgee, Merry had kept a steady parade of Frodo's friends tromping through Bag End, keeping Frodo too busy to mourn Bilbo's absence.
Merry wouldn't have worried quite so much if Gandalf had stayed longer. But the old wizard had departed the same night as the Party, off on some inexplicable errand of his own, abandoning Frodo just as Bilbo had. That night when Merry had come up the Hill, intent on tracking down both of his elder cousins, he had seen Frodo standing in the doorway of Bag End, staring out into the night. He had looked so lost and forlorn that Merry's loving heart almost broke.
Even at nineteen, not yet a tweenager, Merry had decided that taking care of Frodo was his responsibility. He loved and respected his elder cousin but privately, he thought that Frodo had received too much of the Baggins dreaminess and not enough Brandybuck practicality. So Merry made sure that Frodo slept, ate, and dragged him out of Bag End for a sniff of fresh air at intervals.
But it hadn't been enough. Even with all the love and care he and Sam could lavish on Frodo, over the past two weeks his cousin had been growing quieter and thinner. Desperate measures were called for. So Merry had sent off a letter and yesterday afternoon, Frodo had innocently opened the door to greet the elder Chubb lass with the laundry and instead been knocked down by a small hurtling missile that sat on his chest, hugging him and crowing excitedly all the while. Merry had pried Peregrin off Frodo and been subjected to a hug that had almost strangled him and a constant stream of questions, including, "Am I really to stay with you and Cousin Frodo, Merry? May I stay up late at night? Will you take me on walking parties? When is supper? May I have some biscuits now, please? I didn't have any tea, you know. Da wouldn't stop at an inn. Frodo, I'm starving!" The last was delivered in a rising wail, with all the sincerity that a deprived eleven-year old hobbit-child could put into it.
"Huh - Hullo - Hullo, Pal," Frodo managed, struggling to sit up. "Hullo, Pippin." He rubbed his midsection and stifled a cough. "Coming for a visit, are you?"
Paladin II, the Thain of the Shire, extended a hand and pulled Frodo to his feet and into his embrace while his son and heir danced around them and chattered with exuberance. Frodo tried to brush off his clothes while Merry went out to the road and unlashed Pippin's pack from Paladin's pony. Paladin thanked him with a squeeze on the arm then turned back to their kin. "Frodo, are you sure you want to do this? My lad's a handful, as you well know. And ever since Merry's letter arrived saying you'd like him to come for a visit, he's driven us near to distraction."
Merry had to admire his cousin; Frodo recovered beautifully. "I'd like -? I'd - um," there was a brief silence. "Not at all, Pal. I'm sure - Pippin, don't pull on my waistcoat, please - that we shall - if you're that hungry, lad, you know where the larder is - get along beautifully." Pippin's eyes lit up and he was gone in a flurry of furry little feet. Merry bit his lip and stared after him anxiously - an unsupervised Pippin was a worrisome thing but he was unwilling to chase after Pip until his father left.
Paladin laughed, those green-gold eyes that he had bequeathed to his son sparkling. "I must say your invitation was perfectly timed, Frodo. My lady and I have been wanting some time to ourselves. We've shipped the lasses off to visit Merry's parents at Brandy Hall, but after the ... er... little incident the last time Pippin visited ... well ... I think Esmie would prefer that Pippin amuse himself elsewhere for a few months. As Merry is here with you, it's the perfect solution."
Seeing Frodo's dark brows rise, Merry hastened to contribute to the conversation. "Oh, it was nothing really, Uncle. After Mum got the mess cleaned up and the repairs made, she hardly thought about it."
"Won't you stay the night, or at least come in and have a bite, Pal?" Frodo asked. "Sam can run your pony down to the stable." As if on cue, Sam appeared and greeted the Thain with a short bow.
Paladin shook his bronze head. "Thank you, Cousin, but I've plans to enjoy an ale at The Ivy Bush and ride toward home - as far as old Toby Bunce's place. He'll put me up tonight, and I'll be that much closer to home in the morning. Home without a child in sight... peace and quiet." The Thain smiled and his gaze went wistful. "I mean to take advantage of every minute of it." He turned back to the patiently waiting pony and swung himself up in a smooth, practiced motion. "Merry, my regards to your parents when you see them. Tell Esmie I'll reimburse her for the damages. Frodo ... good luck to you, lad." The Thain shook his head at them. "You're going to need it."
Crash!! came from the direction of Bag End's kitchen.
"Well, must be off," said Paladin hastily. "Sun sets early in October. Frodo, one word of caution ... keep him away from sweets, if you can. They tend to make him a bit too energetic." Without pausing for breath, the Thain rushed on. "Merry, you're used to caring for the lad. Frodo is going to need your help, yes? Good lad!" With that the Thain waved hurriedly and put his heels to the pony, urging it into a trot down the Hill.
After a moment of contemplative silence, Frodo turned to face Merry. Sam stiffened and looked between the cousins anxiously. "I'd best see what that noise was, sir," he said to Frodo. "The little lad might've hurt himself."
His eyes still on Merry, Frodo nodded absently. "That's all right, Sam. Leave planting the rest of the bulbs for tomorrow, please. Would you be kind enough to run down to the market and pick up a few things? We need some fresh bread, eggs ... um ... milk, porridge, mushrooms..."
"Sausage rolls, bacon, cheese, pickled onions, tomatoes, crumpets and a bottle of port," added Merry, never one to miss an opportunity. "The port is for us, Frodo. Thank you, Sam. That should get us through tomorrow morning, until I can do some real stocking up."
"No trouble at all, sirs," Sam assured them. "I'll just get me cloak and be back in a shake. But don't you want me 'ta check on Master Pippin first?"
Frodo took a step forward and looped his arm through Merry's with deceptive casualness. "No, that's all right, Sam. Merry and I will take care of it. We have a few things to discuss." Merry gulped and followed the gentle but inexorable grip on his arm.
* * * * *
That had been yesterday. After listening to a long discourse consisting of "Merry, as much as I truly appreciate your company, I am perfectly capable of caring for myself," and "May I remind you, I am of age," Merry had nodded and agreed and never wavered in his resolve to look after his older cousin. Believing his point made, Frodo had finally wound down. The two had then found and solemnly regarded the broken biscuit jar, the many pieces piled carefully into a little heap on the floor. Then they followed the trail of crumbs that started in the pantry, wove through the kitchen, into the second best parlor, the study, two of the cellars, several bedrooms, and finally returned them to the little miscreant's starting point.
Pippin looked up from his inventory of the pantry shelves, his mouth full and face and hands covered with an amalgamation of biscuit crumbs, jam, bread and butter and the last piece of blackberry pie. The small mouth split into a wide (and sticky) grin and the child launched himself into Merry's arms. Pippin then proceeded to kiss both his cousins soundly, which necessitated wash-ups for all of them.
The child's little snack did not seem to affect his appetite for supper. They relaxed in the parlor afterward, watching the fire snap and crackle while Frodo and Merry took turns spinning tales for the lad. Pippin curled contentedly in Frodo's lap, yawning, as they filled up the corners with nuts and savories, Merry and Frodo sipping their glasses of port. The next crisis had not arisen until bedtime. The two tucked Pippin in, gave him a song and a last story and a good-night kiss, and then discovered that Pippin's beloved stuffed bear was not in his pack. The bear had been a gift from Bilbo when Peregrin was just a baby, and Pippin declared he could not go to sleep without it.
"What are we going to do, Frodo?" hissed Merry from the foot of Pippin's bed. "You know how he is about that ridiculous toy."
"I'm working on it, Merry," Frodo had hissed back out of the corner of his mouth. He turned back to the hobbit-child regarding him anxiously from the too-large bed and pasted a bright smile on his face. "Pippin-lad, wouldn't you like to sleep with a nice, soft quilt? Sam's mother made it."
Pippin stroked the comfortable coverlet and considered it. "No," he said firmly. "I want my bear."
Merry tried reason. "Pippin dear, your bear is back at the Great Smials. We couldn't possibly send for it until tomorrow. You're a big, grown-up lad now, you know. Couldn't you go without it for just one night?"
Pippin's sharp face scrunched up and the big, grown-up lad's huge green eyes filled with tears. "Or," Frodo said hastily, "Merry or I could be your bear for tonight." Frodo ignored Merry grimacing at him over Pippin's head and kept a comforting smile on his face.
Some moments passed while the child thought about it. Then, "All right," he said in his clear, high voice. "I want Frodo."
Now it was Frodo's turn to grimace. "Wouldn't you rather have Merry, dear? You always sleep with him at Brandy Hall." He had obviously been banking on Pippin choosing his favorite cousin. Merry kicked Frodo's ankle shamelessly.
"That's at Brandy Hall," Pippin said reasonably. "We're at Bag End. I want you."
So Merry slept the sleep of the reprieved, Pippin slept like an innocent babe, and Frodo barely slept at all. Every time he started to drift off, a sharp little elbow or kicking little foot would jolt him awake again. He knew from previous visits that Pippin was as restless asleep as he was awake, tossing and turning, and as the moon rose and traveled across the star-washed sky, Frodo decided that he rather pitied the child's stuffed bear.
This morning had been slightly better. Gone was any hope of Merry and Frodo sleeping late, however, and gone too their first leisurely pot of tea, shared over the finest mushroom omelets in the Shire. Frodo disengaged himself from a soundly sleeping Pippin and dragged himself into the kitchen to make breakfast, dark circles under his drooping eyes. Some time later, Sam peered in from the hallway to see Merry sitting at the kitchen table, a cup of tea before him, hands cradling his chin with his elbows on the table. Sam looked cautiously about and edged in carefully, clearly expecting a small hobbit-child to attack him with a hug at any moment. "Mornin', Master," he said to Frodo. "Mr. Merry. Will you be wanting me 'ta make omelets?"
Frodo shook his dark head absently, a disturbing number of bowls and whisks and ingredients before him. "Thank you, Sam, but I'm making sweetcakes this morning. Do we have any more berries?" Sam rummaged in the cold room and handed the fruit to him. "Oh, thank you. You'll join us for breakfast, won't you?"
Sam shook his head, his eyes on the growing pile of dirty dishes. The mess trailed over the kitchen table, counters, and spilled onto the stove. "Begging your pardon, sir, I've had breakfast and I want to get those flower bulbs in the ground." Merry followed his gaze pensively, wondering who was going to clean all that up. Sam was evidently thinking along the same lines, for he said briskly, "Very good, sir. As you have everything in hand, I'll just get started in the garden, then." Frodo nodded and absentmindedly waved a whisk in reply, splattering batter on the cabinets.
Merry took another sip of his tea. Their youngest cousin would be out looking for his first meal of the day any minute now. As near as Merry could tell from the shrieks and giggles emanating from the room next to his, his little cousin was wide awake and bouncing on the fine feather bed, which Pippin knew very well he was not supposed to do. Oh, thought Merry, I'm going to owe Frodo for this...
After breakfast, Pippin followed Sam about the garden while Frodo washed the dishes and Merry dried them. The gardener joined them for second breakfast, bringing in a filthy little hobbit who looked as if he had tried to help by using his small self as a shovel. Pippin had been most indignant about having to take a bath but Frodo was adamant. The child maintained his sulk all the way to luncheon, when Frodo could bear it no longer. Caving like a popped puffball, Frodo prepared Pippin's favorite dishes in apology. And then showered the lad with sugared biscuits and sweets. Munching on a biscuit, Merry watched his younger cousin expertly and effortlessly manipulate his elder cousin and just shook his head.
Which returned Merry's thoughts back to the present. He laid down his quill and waved the paper to complete the drying process. Pippin would be waking up soon. He had been tremendously insulted when Frodo suggested he take a nap; naps were for babies. Only Frodo's promise that Pippin could stay up late had convinced the child to comply.
Frodo carefully marked his place in the book and set it aside. "I've been thinking of ways to keep Pippin amused," he said meditatively. "Shall we build him a swing?"
"A swing?" Merry echoed blankly.
"Hang it off the roof tree," Frodo replied, enthusiasm warming his voice. He sat up straighter and glanced out the window. "Wouldn't he love that! It might keep him occupied for hours. And relatively clean. It will be a couple of days before his parents receive your letter ... perhaps a swing might tire him out enough that he'll go to sleep without either of us having to fill in for his bear tonight."
* * * * *
"Frodo, be careful!" Merry called, alarmed. High above him, Frodo mumbled something under his breath that he probably assumed his cousin couldn't hear, then resumed inching along the chosen branch of the enormous old tree. "And I heard that!" Merry shouted up to him. He closed his eyes for a moment, wishing that branch were closer to the ground. It must be almost five feet up the old tree's massive trunk.
Merry had asserted that he was the wiser choice to climb the tree, as he was the lighter of the two and Frodo was 'getting on in years.' But they both knew he had no head for heights, and as Frodo had climbed the tree (and fallen out of it, to Bilbo's horror) more than once, it was he who made the ascent. Merry watched as Frodo tightened his one-handed grip on the branch and heaved himself forward another few inches. Burdened with a plank with a rope through it for a seat, Frodo was stretched flat out on his belly, legs locked around the branch. To Merry's worried eyes, he looked none too steady up there.
The rope and the plank with a handy knothole came from Sam, who stockpiled all sorts of oddments in the gardening shed. The stocky hobbit had greeted his master's idea of a swing with a dubious expression. "No offense, sir," Sam had said carefully, "but I'd feel better if'n you let me tie that knot." Frodo had spent a moment comparing his knot-tying skills to Sam's, then agreed.
A few heart-stopping slips and splinters later, Frodo sat up warily on the thick branch. "Back up now," he called down to them. "A little more. Pippin, you too, please. Are you sure you are out of the way? Right, then. Here it comes!" Dropping the plank, they watched as it spiraled down. Pippin caught it with a shriek of joy and tried to swarm up it, pipe-stem arms quivering with the strain.
Merry plucked him off and sat him on the ground. "Just you wait a moment while we make sure it's safe." Pippin wiggled but obeyed. Frodo remained in the tree watching his knot while Merry subjected the swing to rigorous testing, launching himself onto it from a running leap and kicking high into the air. Rather to his surprise, it held. He surrendered the swing to Pippin somewhat regretfully. "Be careful, Pippin," he cautioned the eager child, "I don't want you getting rope-burns on your hands. And don't swing so high up you slide off. And -"
"Merry," Frodo called down from his perch in the tree, "would you let the poor lad have a go?"
Pippin did indeed love the swing. Attached by a single rope, it did not swing so much as twirl, which delighted the child. While Frodo struggled down the tree (in the process collecting more splinters), Merry wound the rope tightly and held it for his little cousin. Pippin clambered abroad, grinning from ear to ear. "Now hold on tightly," Merry admonished him.
Pippin clamped his hands around the rope and squealed, "Let go! Let go, Merry!" As Merry released the rope, the accumulated tension spun the plank and its passenger rapidly. Pippin leaned back to increase the speed of the spin, shrieking incoherently and giggling.
Unfortunately, the single flaw in this plan had escaped both Frodo and Merry. Pippin's loud "Wheeee! Wheeeee!" gradually subsided but Frodo and Merry did not realize their error until the lad's face abruptly went green, he fell off the slowly twisting swing and was miserably sick.
Frodo fell on his knees beside the retching child. "Oh, Pippin! I'm so sorry, lad!" Merry rubbed the small back while Frodo apologized, both of them far more upset than Pippin. "No more twirling," declared Frodo contritely. "We'll make a regular swing. Just back and forth, Pippin-lad. Will that suit?"
Still coughing, Pippin nodded hesitantly. While Merry took Pippin inside to wash him off and swish out his mouth, Frodo kicked earth over the small mess then went back to Sam for more rope and a plank with two holes. This time, Sam put aside his work and trailed after him. They stood at the base of the tree and stared upwards at the branch.
"I'll carry the swing up," Frodo said resignedly, "and drop it down again."
"Begging your pardon, sir," Sam said, "but wouldn't it be easier just 'ta leave the plank here and me toss the rope up to you?"
Frodo looked at the heavy plank in his hands. "Oh." There was a moment of silence. "I suppose it would. I've never made a swing before, you know."
"You're doing fine, Mr. Frodo," said Sam comfortingly if not quite truthfully.
the plank and trailing ropes, Frodo had a much easier time
climbing the tree. Merry returned with Pippin just in time
to hold the plank while Sam tossed the two ropes up to Frodo.
"Beggin' your pardon, Mr. Frodo," Sam called up, exchanging a grin with Merry. "But the rope's got to go on the same side o' the tree. Won't swing, else."
"Oh, bother," muttered Frodo. Pippin giggled.
Merry again refused to let Pippin try the swing until Sam had examined the contraption and pronounced it safe. After it had passed their rigorous inspection, Pippin leaped on it and kicked his heels. "Look at me!" Pippin yowled, rapidly picking up speed and height. "Look at me! Look how high I can go!"
Frodo sat down on the ground and pulled a splinter out of his palm. Merry dropped next to him and after a moment, Sam joined them. The three of them settled into the warm grass and watched the ecstatic child, beaming at the pure joy Pippin radiated. Glancing over at his cousin, Merry saw that Frodo was laughing, his eyes sparkling with delight. Tension he didn't know he had been feeling drained out of him. His self-imposed task had been accomplished and he could relax, at least for the time being. Merry draped an arm around Frodo's shoulders and the other over Sam's, and pulled them in for a hug. "Lovely day today, isn't it?" he murmured happily.
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