West of the Moon

A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive

 

 

Earth
Pre-quest - In which the Hobbiton Lithe Festival brings about several unexpected challenges.
Author: Jeodo Brandybuck
Rating: G
Category: Canon-General

 

Chapter Two - Tending

The sun was already getting higher as Sam pulled out his worn purse, prudently put the farthing inside it, and pulled the strings firmly shut. Looking around for Mr. Frodo, he spotted Rupert Sandbank arranging the inside of a booth. He hurried over.

"Master Sandbank," he called. "I'm glad I found your stall so early." He helped pick up a barrel that Rupert was struggling with and together they moved it to the edge of the booth.

"Thank'ee kindly, Sam," he said, mopping his forehead. Rupert was stout, with curly brown hair just starting to show streaks of silver. "And how are all of the Gamgees? You tell your father I'm looking forward to spending some time in the ale tent with him. What about you, young hobbit? Enjoying the festival yet?"

"Well, it's only started, but I'm looking forward to it," said Sam. His eyes fell on a cider press and he drew himself up straighter. That was just the size of their old one, but new. "Actually though, I'm in the market for a cider press for my family," he said proudly. "That's a well-built one you've got there."

"Aye, it is," said Rupert. "You'll not find a finer one in Hobbiton. All new with good hammered metal, a solid oak frame and a well-made bucket. We've not had that with us long, and I'll be betting it'll not be coming back to my shop at the end of the festival. You're in the market for one, you say? That one will be fifty-five copper pennies."

"Fifty-five?" asked Sam in disappointment. He only had thirty-five to spend, and he knew that Rupert couldn't allow it to go for so little. "Ah. Well, it is a fine looking press, but that's more than I have."

"Oh, now you're not trying to be a sharp bargainer with an old friend, are you, Samwise?" asked Rupert. His brown eyes were merry, and he threw a sturdy arm around Sam's shoulder.

Sam shook his head. "I wouldn't do that, sir. I - " He stopped as he noticed the back of Rupert's waggon, which was backed up to the stall. "Is that another in your waggon?"

Rupert looked behind him. "Oh, aye. But I've already promised that one to my brother-in-law, Bill. It's a good one, but used. It used to belong to Tully Brownlock, but Tully bought a better one and traded his old one in." Sam peered at it, disappointed that it was already claimed. It was in fine shape and Rupert had obviously refurbished it, cleaning up the workings and putting a shiny finish on the metal encircling the outside of the bucket. "I'll tell you what I'll do, young Samwise. My brother-in-law might be talked into taking the new one instead, if I give him a little bit of a discount on it - seeing how I owe him some money anyway. If he takes the new one, I'll sell you this one for... say, thirty-two copper pennies. I could probably get thirty-five on it, but I like your family. Your gaffer is a good hobbit." Sam beamed. "I'll assume that's a bargain, young sir, if my brother-in-law will take the new press. No, don't give me your money yet," he said, waving away the purse which Sam brought from his pocket. "You hold on to that and pay me when you pick it up. But mind, I need to try and sell the new one to Brother Bill first."

"Oh, thank you," said Sam in delight. "I'll be back to see you this evening, then." He shook Rupert's hand enthusiastically and strode out of the tent. Rupert watched him with a wide, gap-toothed smile, and then returned to his work.

The sun was delightfully warm on Sam's back as he searched the grounds, looking for Mr. Frodo. His gaffer hadn't expected that Sam could find a press for thirty-five copper pennies, and would be wonderfully pleased with Mr. Brownlock's old press, if he could get it. And for only thirty-two copper! They could certainly use those three extra pennies for other things. His sisters and mother wanted new clothing, but had put it off when other expenses, such as needing a new well dug, came up. But with a further three coppers, they might be able to buy cloth enough for each to make a new winter frock, and could possibly have some left over to put toward some wool, for a better coat for his gaffer. His own jacket was growing a little tight about the chest, but it could do for another season or two, he mused, even if the sleeves were growing short. His mother could extend the sleeves again, adding some more flannel to them. That didn't look so bad. And he had done a neat job carving a replacement for the button he had lost last year. It wasn't as if his coat needed to look fancy for working in the garden anyway, he thought.

"Rosie, it looks beautiful on you," said a clear voice. Sam looked around. Rosie Cotton stood with her back to him (he would recognize that back anywhere!) speaking with Iris Reed. Rosie was trying on an intricately woven straw hat trimmed with a band of pale green ribbons and three dark green feathers held in place by a bright pin. Sam immediately began inspecting a stand of apples with an interest that suggested his vocation, all the while listening intently.

"Oh, I couldn't," demurred Rosie. "It would take all of the money I've saved up, and then some." She preened before the small polished metal mirror that the dealer held up, trying to see all of her face at once.

"Why don't you ask your father?" suggested Iris. "Maybe he would let you have the rest of the money. You really must have that hat. It looks so pretty with your curls."

"No, I shouldn't want to ask father. It is a pretty hat, of course, but it isn't at all practical, and I suppose there are other things I need more." She took the hat off with reluctance and placed it lovingly back on the table.

"You need a sweetheart," decided Iris. "Someone who will shower you with lovely hats and shawls. My second cousin, Annie, from Bree, got some of the loveliest things from her sweethearts. One of them gave her a wool shawl that had a silver button to clasp it at her throat. And another one gave her a hat trimmed with fur."

"Another one!" exclaimed Rose. "How many sweethearts does this cousin of yours have?"

"Too many, I suppose," said Iris. "Her father was awfully put out with her, and in the end demanded that she marry one of them. And - " Iris's voice dropped to a dramatic whisper, but Sam managed to hear her anyway - "she was only twenty-nine!"

"That's dreadful," said Rose, taking Iris's arm. "Of course she shouldn't have..." Sam lost the rest of the conversation as Rose and Iris moved on to another stand.

Sam cautiously moved forward and examined the hat. Iris's words echoed in his ears: "a sweetheart... someone who will shower you with lovely bonnets and shawls..." Oh, wouldn't that be a wonderful feeling, he thought. Rosie Cotton - always so pretty and fresh - her eyes, filled with gratitude and excitement as he presented her with - "

"... and it's only a silver penny," continued the seller, as though Sam had been hearing what he had been saying. "A very fine price for such a well-constructed and attractive hat."

"A silver - " Sam hastily put the hat down. "I'm sorry. Maybe another time," he said.

"No, I suppose not." The seller, a fat hobbit with sharp eyes glanced at his shabby coat with its frayed sleeves and Sam was suddenly acutely aware that more of his wrist showed than anyone might consider fashionable. His face flushed and he turned and quickly strode away from the seller. He had better find Mr. Frodo and not spend his time woolgathering over things he had no business thinking about. He sighed. Who was he to be even looking at such a lavish thing - him with his flannel-extended sleeves and hand-carved replacement button at his belly? Better to simply stay in his place, and not think about such things.

The thought, however, followed him as he wove his way through the crowds. Rosie Cotton with her bright curls and dainty hands. She had always been nice to him, and her family liked him for all that Farmer Cotton was reasonably prosperous and that Sam worked for Mr. Frodo. It would have been wonderful to surprise her with such a gift on his birthday. But then - he shook himself. He had no business even thinking of spending that much on a birthday present, even for a good friend, when his mother needed a new frock. He caught sight of Merry and Frodo dragging Pippin into the luncheon tent. Pippin was hastily cramming a wedge of pie into his mouth and Sam hurried to catch up to them.

 

The luncheon tent was crowded and noisy, with hobbits filling their plates from several long tables laden with food. Frodo paid for the four meals and they wove their way through the crowd, settling at the first clear table they could find. Frodo took his place, and sat stirring the gravy in his pie listlessly. Beside him, Pippin ate happily, making plans for the afternoon. Merry stared thoughtfully into his ale and Sam shook his head over his bread and butter.

"Well, don't you all look happy," said Jolly Cotton, sliding onto the bench beside Merry. Tom Cotton took a place next to Sam. "It's the festival, don't you know? Master Pippin is the only one with a smile on his face. Ready for the tug o' rope, young sir?"
"I am," said Pippin, "although I want to hear more about this scrim-thing."

"Scrimmage," supplied Merry, with a pucker in his forehead. "Pip, are you sure - " Pippin frowned and Merry subsided.

"Actually, Tom," said Frodo, "I don't think that I'll be able to be on the team. I've been... uh... invited - "

"More like pressed into service," inserted Merry.

"... to help judge the wine making contest," finished Frodo.

"But you have to play now," said Jolly in dismay. "Tom and I told the judges to post all of you down for our team. We're not allowed to make substitutions. If you don't play, we can't."

"But that's ridiculous," said Frodo. "I didn't know about the wine judging. You see, Bilbo - "

"Those are the rules, Mr. Frodo," said Sam quietly. "If the team what's signed up isn't together for the game, you're not allowed to play. It stops teams from substituting players with bigger hobbits at the last moment, you see."

"Oh." Frodo sat back in his chair, and managed a weak smile. "Well then, of course I'll play."

"If you're worried about the judging, don't be, Mr. Frodo," said Tom, taking a drink of ale. "The judging stops right before the tug o' rope starts. They always have important hobbits judging the wine, and I figure they plan it so they have a better time at the tug o' rope contest that way." He grinned broadly. "Now what's important is for us to be planning the scrimmage so as we can get young Master Pippin to the front of the rope and Sam to the back of the rope afore the other team gets to their side." He started arranging forks and cups on the table in the formation of the field. "Now me and Jolly have been talking..."

 

Merry walked Frodo to the wine tasting as Sam took Pippin to see the chickens. The cousins entered the tent and Merry stood, smiling sympathetically as Winslow pounded on Frodo's back as he described the process of judging. Frodo looked in dismay at the number of bottles for the day's judging.

"Merry, what am I going to do?" he whispered. "I can't sample all of these wines. "Even if I just take a sip of each, there's got to be at least six glasses worth here. Two glasses and I'll be giggling like a tweenager."

Merry raised his eyebrows at the array. "Oh, Frodo - you're going to have such a tremendous headache tomorrow..."

"Never mind tomorrow," hissed Frodo. "How am I supposed to help in the tug o' rope scrimmage today? I won't even be able to walk!"

"Can't you just explain to them that you can't drink this much?" whispered Merry.

"After the fuss that Otho kicked up? I'll look even more ridiculous," sighed Frodo.

"It might not be so bad," said Merry hopefully. "After all, William Banks and Winslow Grubb will be sampling with you."

"William and Winslow both outweigh me by a hobbit and a half," murmured Frodo, "and the Grubbs have been making wine for generations." He cast his eyes at Merry doubtfully. "This is going to be a disaster."

"Well, perhaps the samples will be small." From the corner of his eye he looked at the other judges - portly by any standards. "Unfortunately, I don't think there's any hope for getting out of it. But it's possible that we'll be the last team to play today, and you'll have some time to sober up." He regretfully turned Frodo over to the hands of Winslow and William and left to find Pippin and Sam so that they could inspect the ponies for sale.

 

"Ooh, Merry. Look at the biscuits!" Pippin clutched Merry's hand and pulled him toward another stand.

"Now Pip, that's enough," said Merry. "You've had breakfast, a second breakfast, a toffee apple, a slice of pie, two slices of cake, luncheon, and now you're heading toward a biscuit stand. And no more sweets - you're going to be sick!" he added, taking the bag Pippin had just purchased and handing it to Sam. "If you don't stop, we're going to have to roll you down the field to get you in place. Sam, would you hold those until after the match?" he asked.

"Of course, Mr. Merry," said Sam, tucking the bag in his coat pocket.

"Just a few," argued Pippin.

"Absolutely not," said Merry sharply. "At least, not now. You can wait until after the match." He was disappointed that none of the ponies appealed to him, but had wanted to stay and talk about hoof care with one of the breeders. After Pippin's third appearance with a new treat, however, Merry decided that it would be safer to keep an eye on his cousin than to be exchanging remedies for hoof problems.

"The match isn't that far off, Master Pippin," volunteered Sam. "And you won't be wanting to be too full during the tug." Pippin eyed the gardener doubtfully. "I won't eat any of them," Sam promised. "Anyway, you'll want to have some room for tea after the tug. They put on a fine tea at the festival," he continued persuasively. "They'll have just about anything you could want and you'll have quite an appetite after all of that running about." Reluctantly, Pippin complied, the knowledge of the coming plentiful tea restoring his cheerful disposition, although his head twisted this way and that at all of the bakery stands they passed.

The three walked down the midway peering into stalls and trying their hands at the games until a raindrop spattered on Merry's cheek. "Come along, lads. Let's go into that tent and see what's happening." There was a large audience on a number of rough benches built from boards and bricks, sitting before a stage constructed from two waggons pushed together. A curtain of quilts was drawn back as a portly hobbit took the center. "Sam, what is this?" asked Pippin.

"Contests," said Sam. He painstakingly read a large painted sign. "They have singing - solos, duets, quartets, quintets and groups."

"How many people in Hobbiton fancy that they can sing?" asked Merry, rolling his eyes. "This should be funny. There's also a dancing contest for couples, a talent contest for children and - oh! A lads-for-lasses contest this evening. That's where the lads dress up like lasses for a prize. We do that at Buckland - at least," he corrected quickly, lest Sam or Pippin start laughing at him " - some of the hobbit lads do. I haven't, of course."

Pippin snickered. "I think you'd make a right lovely lass, Merry-mine," he giggled. "What with your long eyelashes and delicate little feet..." Merry grasped him in a headlock and stood, ignoring Pippin's wriggling, while the first contestant, a young hobbit lass, began to sing. Within a few off-key notes of the song, Merry's head started to throb and he unobtrusively released his cousin so they could make a hasty retreat, but as they reached the edge of the tent, the sky opened up and the drizzling raindrops turned into a summer shower. Torn between making an escape from second-rate singing and listening to a wet Took complain for the rest of the day, Merry sat down next to Sam with a sigh and tried to distract himself by watching the occupants of an anthill attack a bread crust that someone had dropped.

Four solos, two duets and three quartets later, the rain had subsided to a drizzle and Merry had a raging headache. "Begging your pardon, Mr. Merry," said Sam, "but the rain is almost done and I had better get down to the field and see if they need any help mopping up the benches for the tug matches. If you don't mind, I'll meet you down at the field. You enjoy the music."

Merry couldn't be sure, because he had never seen it before, but he could have sworn that there was a wicked smile on Sam's face.

 

Sam made his way through the festival, hopping over gleaming puddles while smiling at the world in general. Sunshine had a way of bringing out the best in everyone, he thought - hobbits as well as flowers. Vendors were shaking out their wares, poking the tops of their canvas coverings to empty them of the collected puddles, and showering waiting young hobbits who squealed with joy before running off to the next in line to get drenched again. He waved to several hobbits. Mrs. Moss had a stand of preserves and jams - he would have to tell Mr. Frodo, for he was fond of her strawberry preserves. Berry Grasshill waved, followed by his children and looking for all purposes like a duck, followed by six ducklings. The children were stomping in puddles, each trying to make the biggest splash.

The air was clean and brisk and the scent of rain lingered. A few clouds floated past, but the worst of the showers would be over for the tug. Maybe they had all been worried over nothing. The tug was a little rough, but nobody would try to hurt each other. If they could keep Master Pippin from going after the biggest hobbit - Sam chuckled to himself - he would come out of the match just fine and have something to impress the Tuckborough lads with when he returned home. He passed the wine tent and caught a glimpse of Mr. Frodo, laughing with the two other judges. It was nice, he thought, to have Mr. Frodo judging the contest instead of Mr. Otho. He shook his head. It wasn't proper to think it, perhaps, but Tom Cotton had pointed out that for the last five years, Mr. Otho's neighbors or family had won first place. Sam privately thought that with Mr. Frodo as a judge, other hobbits might have a more fair chance of winning some prize money.

Arriving at the field, he helped the Cotton lads and several other contestants mop up the benches. The newly mown field was a soggy mess, and several hobbits slipped their way through it, arranging the rope for the first tug of the day. The sun made the air muggy, and gnats were swarming in small grey patches that appeared intermittently throughout the seating area. Sam took his coat off and laid it down on a dried section of the benches, before helping Jolly rearrange several so that the spectators wouldn't have their feet in the mud. Both of the Cotton lads were in a comical mood, having reconciled themselves to the idea of losing the prize money, and both were giggling at the idea of three of the hobbit gentry sliding their way through the mud for the tug o' rope. Sam shook his head disapprovingly, although a smile hovered on his lips as the Cottons painted an image of the usually tidy Mr. Frodo, holding onto the rope and being dragged through the mud while Merry and Pippin clung to his back, howling. He set his mind to finishing the benches. The time for the tug was fast approaching and several families were coming early to get the best seats.

 

"Another taste, Master Baggins?" asked Winslow, holding the bottle out.

"Oh - no," said Frodo. "We really should move on, don' you think?"

"Well, in keeping with the fact that we've decided a clear winner for the cordials," said William, tugging at his waistcoat, "I agree with Master Baggins that we should keep moving forward. We're only about halfway through the reds. I thought that this one was strong, but tasty. It would be nice with a good beef dinner - particularly nice," he added, holding up his glass.

"Par-tic-u-lar-ry nice," agreed Frodo with an effort. He scrutinized the remaining bottles and bit back a sigh at the prospect of tasting them all.

"Ah! You must try this next," said Winslow, picking up another bottle. "I think you'll both rather enjoy it," he said, pouring a generous taste into Frodo's glass.

"But - no, Mr. Grubb. Not so mush, er - much, please." The wine slopped over on Frodo's fingers and he switched hands to wave them dry. "I'm afraid I don' have quite the head for wine tha' you and Master Banks do."

Both Winslow and William laughed and Winslow clapped Frodo on the back, as though Frodo had just made an excellent joke. "Ah, it's like old times," chuckled William. "Bilbo used to say that, and then hold his glass out for more." Frodo gazed out of the tent, enviously watching families and children wandering by in the sunshine. He looked down in surprise to find that Winslow had put more wine into his glass. "Clever like a Baggins," said William, "and much more pleasant to be with than Otho! Cheers," he added, downing his glass.

"Cheers," sighed Frodo.

 

"Sorry we're late," puffed Merry, as he and Pippin trotted to where Tom and Jolly Cotton stood. "I couldn't drag Master Took away from one of the biscuit vendors." Merry's foot slipped on the wet grass and he flailed for a moment before regaining his balance. "This field is soaked! There are puddles everywhere."

"What are you worried about? You like to swim," laughed Pippin. "I'm ready to start - where's Frodo and Sam?" He peeled off his coat and put it on a pile with Tom and Jolly's.

"I don't know," said Tom. "Sam's gone to find Mr. Frodo, and if they're not here by the time the last judge sits down, we forfeit." Tom squinted up at the judges' stand and was dismayed to see Will Whitfoot about to sit down. "Now remember, Master Took; Mr. Meriadoc," he began. He put his hand on Pippin's shoulder and pointed toward the rope, which was stretched across the field. "Do you see that big hobbit in the blue shirt? That's Orso Broadbelt. That's their anchor. No matter what, we can't let him get to the other side of the rope before Sam does. Is that clear?" Pippin nodded. "I just hope we get a chance to play - "

"We're here!" called Sam softly. He and Mr. Frodo were approaching arm in arm - more familiarly than Tom had ever seen them. In fact, Frodo was positively leaning on his gardener. Sam carried Frodo's coat and his own over his arm, and he added them to the pile beside the field.

"Good to see you, Mr. Frodo," said Jolly. "We drew our lots waiting for you and we're one of the first two teams to play." Frodo managed a smile, but Sam caught Merry's eye and quickly put his finger to his lips. Noticing Jolly's puzzled look, he quickly covered the movement by scratching his nose.

"Give me a moment with my cousin," said Merry, "I need to ask him a quick question." He took Frodo's arm from Sam, who gave Merry a despairing look.

"He don't want Tom and Jolly to know," whispered Sam quickly, and then he joined the Cotton brothers.

"How are you?" whispered Merry to Frodo.

"I'm no'zo bad," slurred Frodo. He giggled, and then quickly put on a serious face and spoke with exaggerated clarity. "I thin' I can geddaway with this." He pulled Merry closer and spoke confidentially while grasping his shirt to maintain his feet. "But I may tag a nap affer the tig - no, tug."

"Wonderful," said Merry dryly.

"Mer, you're going to havta look affer Pip. Unnerstand? I don' thin' I'mgonna be much help - "

"Master Cotton! Is your team ready?" Mayor Whitfoot's voice echoed across the field.

"Yes sir," Tom and Jolly called together.

"Pip," called Merry. Pippin trotted over. "You're going to have to keep an eye out for Frodo," he whispered. "He's had a glass too many. Don't let Tom and Jolly know."

"What?" exclaimed Pippin in a loud whisper. He gawked at the other hobbits coming onto the field. They suddenly seemed much larger.

"Shhh..." said Frodo. He suppressed another giggle as his stomach growled.

"And you just make sure you stay out of the way of some of the bigger lads here," added Merry. Pippin scowled at his cousin, but before Merry could insist, he saw Will Whitfoot approach the edge of the stand waving a yellow handkerchief.

"Sirs?" asked Tom. "Mr. Frodo?" He looked at the ring of cousins suspiciously, but Merry and Pippin took their places on the field while Sam led Frodo to his place in the circle around the rope and then moved down to the far end.

Merry glanced around the circle, keeping his eyes on the mayor, who stood on a platform waiting to start the contest by dropping a handkerchief. He recognized some of the hobbits on the other team. The Burrow brothers were smirking as they scrutinized Merry's team - with good reason. They were both taller and broader than any of the other hobbits on the field. There was no hope of winning. Frodo was going to be no help at all - either in getting to the rope or helping Sam get to the far end of the field. Chances were he wasn't going to even be alert enough to help protect Pippin. Poor Tom and Jolly - he hoped that they weren't counting too much on the prize money.

With a whoop, the mayor dropped the handkerchief and the hobbits on the field darted everywhere, except Frodo who stood still, blinking owlishly. Then he caught sight of Sam's direction and started running toward him.

"Wrong way, Mr. Frodo," shouted Jolly. Sam caught his master's arm and turned him around as he ran, but quickly shoved his master aside as one of the opposing team jumped on the gardener's back.

"You can' do tha'!" shouted Frodo. He grabbed the player around the waist and pulled him to the ground, both of them tumbling in the mud several times before they rolled to a stop. Two more players hurled themselves at Sam. Jolly threw himself on one, while Tom leapt toward the other, missing and sliding through the wet grass, throwing up muddy water as he skidded.

Merry shoved one of the Burrow brothers as he struggled to the other side of the rope and they both slid through the grass, landing on their backs and rolling on the slick field. He scrambled to his feet, but the other hobbit grabbed his ankle and Merry fell flat, knocking the breath from his lungs. He rolled on his back as he slid through the miry field, gasped in some air and clutched at the bigger hobbit, pushing him aside as he scrambled for his side of the rope. He looked up. Orso Broadbelt was barreling past him on his way to the rope.

"Master Took - stop him! Stop their anchor!" Tom shouted. Without hesitating, Pippin wheeled around and leapt on the other team's anchor. For a few paces, Pippin's body swung crazily on the bigger hobbit, but as Merry watched in astonishment, Orso crumbled beneath Pippin. Staggering to his feet, Merry focused on what was happening. Pippin sat on the bigger hobbit's chest and Orso was twitching frantically. Merry had experienced that often enough to know exactly what was going on. Pippin was tickling him!

"Merry! Frodo! Get on the rope!" Sam picked up the rope and began dragging it toward their side. Tom and Jolly leapt on the rope and started hauling it, as the opposing players scrambled to take up their side. They could not, however, compensate for the loss of their anchor and as Pippin tickled Orso mercilessly, Sam, Tom, Jolly, Merry and Frodo dragged the other team across the line into the broad pit of mud in the center.

Will Whitfoot dropped a green handkerchief from the scaffold and the match was declared over.

"That's got to be the shortest match in the history of the tug," laughed Jolly. "Hoy! Master Pip! Let him up! We won!" Pippin looked up from where he sat astride Orso's chest and the big hobbit shoved him off roughly, gasping for air. "Orso! Mind your manners now," called Jolly. "There's no rule against a player holding the other team's anchor down!" He picked Pippin up under the arms and swung him around. "And that's the first tug! Master Took, you're a wonder!" He set Pippin down, but Merry quickly swept his cousin up in a second twirl while Jolly offered his hand to Orso to help him to his feet.

"Well done, little master," said Orso as he got up, holding out his hand to Pippin. Pippin shook hands, although he couldn't restrain himself from bouncing on his toes with delight.

"Where's Sam and Mr. Frodo?" asked Tom, looking around. "Oh! Is Mr. Frodo hurt?" he asked, as he saw Sam helping him off the field.

"He's fine," said Merry, holding Tom back from running after them. "He got the breath knocked out of him, but he'll be as right as a daisy in a little while. Best leave him alone. Pip and I will give Sam a hand. We'll see you later," he said quickly, taking Pippin's hand and following Sam as Ted Sandyman led his team onto the field, followed by another team, all wearing matching green shirts.

"Frodo?" Merry caught up first, followed by Pippin.

"Mer?" Frodo gaped at his cousin blearily. "Di' you hear - we won the mash." Pippin started to giggle.

"I heard," said Merry, smiling. "Nice work."

"Now," said Frodo elaborately, "I thin' I shall throw... throw..."

Sam stepped up the pace a little. "Just a little farther, Mr. Frodo. There's the tree line over there and no one will see you." He looked at Merry pleadingly. "Can you keep an eye out, Mr. Merry? Mr. Frodo don't want no one to know about all that wine making him sick."

"Mer?" asked Frodo.

"Yes, Frodo?"

"Did you know we wonna mash?"

"Did we really?" replied Merry. They reached the trees and Sam half-dragged Frodo to a secluded spot behind some bushes where Merry heard his cousin being sick. He winced. "Oh, Pip. Frodo's going to have such a headache. Stay here and make sure nobody comes near. I'm going to bring him some water."

Pippin stood under a tree, sympathetically flinching at the miserable sounds of retching until Merry returned with a bucket of water and a tin cup. He disappeared behind the bushes and hastily returned.

"I think we'd better see if we can find some kind of shirt for Frodo. There might be a weaver or a clothing maker here who might have something."

"Already made?" asked Pippin in surprise.

"Of course," said Merry. "There are other merchants here, besides people who make food, you know. It won't be as fine as he's used to, but it will be - er, cleaner. Give me your purse - I'm running short of money." Pippin handed over his money. "Stay here. I'll be back in a moment." Merry darted off and was quickly lost to sight.

Pippin waited, attempting to look casual as he leaned against the tree. The sound of retching lessened, to be replaced by weak mumbles and Sam's reassuring voice uttering soothing words.

"Mr. Merry?" Sam came out from behind the bushes and looked around.

"Merry went to find Frodo some clean clothes. Do you want some help?"

"Not yet - Mr. Frodo is uh - taking a rest."

"You mean he's sleeping?"
Sam looked uncomfortable. "No, I mean he's passed out."

"Is he all right?"

"He's seems comfortable," said Sam. "But can you stay here with him for a little while? Mr. Frodo lent my gaffer his pony cart so he wouldn't have to walk to the festival with his bad leg. I'll fetch it and move it to the edge of the grounds where we can get Mr. Frodo back to Bag End without nobody seeing him."

"Why can't anyone see him?" asked Pippin. "I've seen him tipsy once or twice - at the Smials, at Yule. He doesn't drink very well, you know."

"Mr. Frodo isn't exactly tipsy, right now," said Sam. "And it's one thing to be a little, er, high-flown at Yule, or maybe at a tavern, where everyone is drinking. But if Mr. Frodo were to be seen in this state at a public festival..." Sam shook his head. "He would be mightily embarrassed, and I won't be having that. We'll get him home so he can get some rest without nobody seeing him. Do you think that you might watch him for a little while so as I can get that cart?"

Pippin nodded and Sam led him to where Frodo lay. The gardener had cleaned him up with the water Merry had brought and replaced his master's shirt with his own rough coat. "I'll be as quick as I can, Master Pippin," he said. "If you'll just keep an eye on him - he may want to be sick again, and you'll have to give him some help. Do you understand?" Pippin bobbed his head again, although he appeared slightly green about his face, and he knelt down in the grass next to his cousin. Sam looked undecided for a moment, and then quickly left the glade, hurrying toward the noise of the festival.

All around the grounds, hobbits were laughing, calling to one another, drinking and eating with abandon. Sam wasn't certain where his gaffer might have left the cart and he hesitated, trying to decide which path to take. His gaze swung around at the sound of a particularly loud laugh, and saw Mr. Bolger, a friend of Mr. Frodo's, standing with several hobbit maids. His eyes widened as he saw that one of them was Rosie Cotton, and Mr. Fredegar was holding her hand. He quickly turned away and blindly started down the left path, his face and ears red. What was the likes of a Bolger - one of the wealthiest families of the Shire - doing holding the hand of his Rose? The words of Rosie's companion came back to him. You need a sweetheart - someone who will shower you with lovely hats and shawls. Was that the way of it then? Someone who could buy his Rose hats that cost a whole silver penny?

He frowned. Was Rosie Cotton going to let that Bolger lad hold her hand so as he might buy her some pretty trinket? No, of course she wouldn't. He turned his head and heard Iris' shrill laugh float overhead. But still, if that's what his Rose - no, if that's what Rosie Cotton wanted then she should have it. He had no time to think about it. "Right now your master needs your help. You've no business thinking about Rosie Cotton," he told himself. But his heart burned. "Where in the world is the Gaffer?" He paused, considering whether he might be in the ale tent.

"Master Gamgee." The greeting was not from a familiar voice and Sam turned around. His eyes widened.

"Mr. Lotho," he replied politely, with a nod.

"Nice to see you again," said Lotho, with a show of cordiality. "Enjoying the festival?"

"Yes sir, thank you." Sam started to leave, but Lotho continued speaking and Sam reluctantly waited.

"So, you must have something entered in one of the gardening contests - yes?"

"Oh... yes. I do, sir," said Sam warily. He was quite unused to seeing any of the Sackville-Bagginses in a pleasant temper, and it disconcerted him. "I entered some flowers under Bag End's name."

"Ah," said Lotho. He stood well in the shade, holding a leather mug of ale and lounging against the supporting pole of the ale tent. "I thought you might. You've a fine hand with gardens. Although you should have been allowed to enter them under your own name."

Sam's eyebrows rose. "Thank you, sir, but I grew them with cuttings from Bag End."

"Ah," said Lotho. "Well, that explains it then. It was good of you to help my family with the waggon," continued Lotho pleasantly. He took another drink. "My mother has several pots of flowers entered in the contests. She's quite fond of roses - " Sam frowned, thinking of Rose Cotton and the Bolger lad " - as well as several other entries. What's wrong, Master Gamgee? Not fond of roses?" asked Lotho.

"No sir, Mr. Lotho," said Sam, looking suspiciously at Lotho. "Bag End has a fine rose garden."

"I've seen it," said Lotho. "Frankly, it's nicer than my mother's. You'll be giving our gardener a hard race for the prize money. Unless of course, Master Baggins takes it."

"Mr. Frodo?" asked Sam, distracted.

"Of course," said Lotho. "We hardly need the money, so our gardener will have it. Mother just likes taking the prize to tweak the other hobbits. But as you entered your flowers under Bag End's name, perhaps your master won't allow you to keep the money."

"I can't say as it's ever come up," said Sam. He frowned.

"As I said to my father, it hardly seems - well, no matter. You really should consider taking up my father's offer."

"Your father's offer?" asked Sam uncomfortably.

"Well yes," said Lotho. "Father has talked for quite a while about hiring you on for the gardens at our smial. Our master gardener is getting older. You would be first in line for taking his place in a year or two. I assumed that he had talked with Frodo about it and that Frodo had simply outbid us." Sam turned pink around the ears. "Didn't Frodo ever bother mentioning it to you?" asked Lotho. His brows quirked and Sam followed his gaze to the mended pocket on Sam's vest.

"If you'll excuse me, Mr. Lotho, sir," said Sam, his ears growing red, "I really should be seeing about a - " he hesitated, searching for a proper excuse, " - about a cider press my father wants. A very good afternoon to you, sir," he added, turning and hurrying through the crowd.

Lotho's lips twitched as he watched the gardener stumble away. Simple hobbits were so easy to play with. Actually, it was rather a shame that Baggins paid so well. Bag End really did have a rather nice rose garden, not that his father would have ever troubled to match the wages that Frodo paid the Gamgees. From the gossip that Lotho heard, Frodo paid a ridiculous salary to the dirt-grubbing Gamgees. Hobbits like the Gamgees shouldn't require that much coin for their services. Overpaying them simply encouraged presumption. He returned his attention to his ale, shrugging his shoulders and looking around for someone to join.

 

Sam strode through the crowd, his cheeks burning and his mind distracted for a moment from looking for his gaffer. Was it true? Had Otho Sackville-Baggins made an offer to hire Sam as the next master gardener for his smial? If he had, why hadn't Mr. Frodo mentioned it? Of course, Sam wouldn't have taken him up on any offer anyway, but Mr. Frodo should have said something. "Ah, like as not it was just more of Mr. Lotho's nonsense," he thought uncomfortably. He set his mouth and turned to back to looking for his father. He thought he heard Iris's laughter again in the distance and he increased his pace.

 

"Merry! Meriadoc Brandybuck!" Fredegar Bolger's voice carried across to where Merry was striding through the crowd carrying a shirt and breeches over his arm. Merry glanced over and saw Fatty standing with a small crowd of laughing hobbits. He hesitated, and then crossed toward them. "All the way from Buckland!" laughed Fatty. "What are you doing here?"

"Just seeing how Hobbiton's festival compares to Buckland's," replied Merry. "So far, we're evenly matched. Care to do some tricks for me to tip the balance?" Fatty laughed.

"Mr. Fredegar is reading our palms," giggled Iris, swatting Fatty's chest. "He says that Rosie is going to marry and have twenty-two children..."

"Oh, hush, Iris," shushed Rose. "I doubt that Mr. Brandybuck is interested in such nonsense." She blushed rather prettily, and Merry bowed in his most practiced and elegant manner.

"It's true, Merry," said Fatty, taking Merry's hand and glancing down quickly at it. "But I must confess, I only see twenty-one for you, so I suppose you won't be the lucky husband of Miss Rose. What are you doing with those clothes?" he asked, glancing down at Merry's bundle.

"It's just some clothes for Frodo," Merry said. He glanced down at the little pile of clothing and winced - it had taken all of his money and most of Pippin's. "He got really muddy during the tug, so I got him some replacements."

"I saw that," said Fatty. "Wonderful it was! I thought that the crowd was going to split their sides at that daft Took. Where is he? He's usually at your side like a cocklebur."

Merry shrugged, thinking of Pippin helping Sam with Frodo. Goodness knew that Frodo was pure Baggins at times and could be a handful when he had too much - not that it took very much alcohol to get him that way. Merry hid a smile. "Pip's off somewhere having fun. But I've got to get these clothes to Frodo - we'll see you a little later. Have a good time. And Miss Rose - don't you be putting up with too much of Fredegar's nonsense." Rosie laughed and Merry hurried away, hoping to get back to Frodo with no more delay.

 

Pippin sat with Frodo's head cradled in his lap. It was still damp in the woods and he was growing impatient waiting for the others to get back. Frodo looked terrible - Pippin had never seen his cousin so pale; his skin was positively white against the damp, dark curls framing his face. Pippin frowned, then took his handkerchief and wet it in what was left of the water, dabbing at Frodo's temples with it.

He heard someone coming and he jerked his chin up hastily. It sounded like Sam - thank goodness, he thought. Sam would know how to help Frodo. He started to call out, but his words died as the voice became clearer. It wasn't Sam's pleasant drawl. It sounded like him somehow, but this voice wasn't the same. He crouched over Frodo, holding very still and hoping that their hiding place wouldn't be discovered.

"... missing it none, but even if we don't get the prize, this'll keep me."

"Your day to be lucky, I guess. But what's luck for one can hold as luck for two, eh, Ted? Leastwise, you can stand me to a round of ale this time. Or better yet, two rounds."

Pippin eased Frodo from his lap and peered out from the thicket. The first voice was the miller's son, Ted Sandyman. He was striding through the woods, covered in mud from the tug-o'-rope and tossing something small up and down in his hand. Pippin didn't recognize the other hobbit, a fat, red-faced fellow, but he remembered Ted quite clearly from when he had visited Frodo last time. Ted had been at The Green Dragon, smoking and drinking and trying his best to provoke Sam, until Frodo made it obvious that Sam was with his party. Then Ted had slunk back into the shadows, contenting himself with low comments while looking at Sam, followed by too-loud guffaws of laughter. He had a sneaky look, like a weasel, and when Lotho Sackville-Baggins had made his appearance at the tavern, Ted fawned over Lotho like a squinty-eyed mongrel, capering about in the hopes of getting a bone from its master.

Pippin looked down at his cousin Frodo; drunk, wrapped in Sam's old jacket and lying sound asleep in the grass. His cousin's tunic lay several feet away bundled up in messy heap, and his breeches were stained with mud from the tug. Oh, if Ted Sandyman found Frodo like this, it would be all over Hobbiton before nightfall. He held his breath as Ted paused, waiting for the other hobbit to catch up with him. "Go away... go away... go away..." he thought. It reverberated in his head. "Go away... go away..."

"So where'd you find it? You might tell me, in case there's any more lying about."

"There's no more lying about, Bibbin Hollowfoot," said Ted, leaning against a tree and waiting for Bibbin to catch his breath. "You can count on that. If there had been, it'd be safe and warm in my pocket about now."

"Well, all I can say is that it's a rare bit of luck," grumbled Bibbin, "and I hope you'll remember a round or two that I've bought you."

Frodo stirred and Pippin quickly put a hand down on his cousin's chest to quiet him. "Go away... go away... go away..." he breathed, eyeing the other hobbits warily. The leaves above stirred, causing droplets of water to splatter on Pippin's head, and a tiny rivulet ran down his neck and across his collarbone. "Go away," he whispered. "Go away... go away..."

"I always take care of my mates." Ted tucked the thing in his pocket.

"Speaking of rare, I've got a rare thirst on me, and the ale tent is halfway across the festival. Let's put a step under us."

"You've got your ideas right about that, Ted," said Bibbin. He was red-faced with trying to keep up, but with the promise of free ale, he was quite willing to follow Ted halfway across Hobbiton. The voices died down as the two hobbits passed and Pippin slowly released his breath, returning his attention to Frodo.

 

"Sam?" Merry's voice came through the leaves and Pippin rose to his knees, waving his cousin over. "Pip, where's Sam?"

"He told me that he's bringing a cart around to help Frodo back to Bag End. He's been gone quite some time though. Merry, Frodo looks terrible."

Merry put the clothes down on the grass and examined his older cousin, then sighed. "You're right, but he'll be fine, Pip. Frodo simply can't drink." He brightened up and smiled gleefully at Pippin. "He gets that from the Baggins side, you know. Here," he continued, pulling Sam's jacket from Frodo's shoulders and laying it next to the new clothes. "They charged me a fortune for these silly things - but they were the only clothes I could find that were near to Frodo's size." Pippin helped his cousin pull Frodo to a sitting position and Frodo groaned. "Shhh," comforted Merry. "Frodo?" He sat back on his heels and examined Frodo's face. "Do you need to throw up again?" Slowly Frodo opened his eyes, squinting against the sunlight filtering in through the trees. He groaned again.

"Merr... oh, my head hurts."

"It will likely get worse, before it gets better. Pip, get him a little more water." Pippin carefully poured the remainder of the water into the tin cup and handed it to Merry, who put it to Frodo's lips. Frodo obediently swallowed, then gagged as the cool water reached his aching stomach. Merry held his cousin's head as he retched, bringing up nothing but the sip of water he had just taken. "I don't think you have any more to throw up," soothed Merry, rubbing his cousin's back. "Relax and let Pip and me give you a hand getting some cleaner clothes on you." He pulled the clean tunic over Frodo's head and guided his arms into the sleeves.

Frodo turned to Merry miserably. "Oh, Merr, I feelawful. They kep' makin' me drink. I must've fished eight tum'lers'worth of sips. And mos' of it was terr'ble."

"Couldn't you just taste it and spit it out or something?" asked Pippin. He shook out the breeches Merry had purchased as Merry helped Frodo to his feet.

"Oh, now that's wonderfully polite," said Merry. "Besides, what hobbit of sense would spit out wine?"

"A sober one," muttered Frodo. "Ugh, one of 'em was made fr'm peashes - peach-es, I think. And they must've been almos' rotten. It'uz di'gusting. It tastzed like surrpy vin'ger with shuggar."

"Syruppy vinegar with sugar? I'm surprised that Winslow Grubb made you all taste that one," observed Merry, helping Frodo guide his feet into the legs of the new breeches.

"He haddta'. It wuzz'is fam'ly label," muttered Frodo.

 

Sam found his father and quietly explained why he needed the cart. The Gaffer nodded, remembering the days when it had been Mr. Bilbo's duty to help judge the winemaking. There were one or two festivals when he had been pressed to see Mr. Bilbo home through circuitous routes. Mr. Frodo was at least two stone lighter than Mr. Bilbo and would likely be feeling the grape much harder. The Gaffer chuckled and returned to his ale.

Hitching up the cart as quickly as possible, Sam clicked his tongue against his teeth and urged the pony forward, guiding the rig around the main grounds. If he could get Mr. Frodo back to Bag End, maybe Mr. Merry might stay and watch him while Sam returned to the grounds and saw Rupert Sandhill about that cider press. It was in good condition and a bargain - he could see that. Buying a used one would allow his family to use the leftover money for any number of necessities. It was a blessing that Mr. Brownlock had traded his old cider press in and bought a new one. Sam patted the pocket of his breeches to feel the reassuring bulk of the purse and stopped. Frantically he patted his pockets again, then yanked them inside out to check them. Where was the money? He pulled the pony to a halt and hastily searched the cart, even examining the harness in case it had got caught as he was hitching the pony. Nothing. Again he checked his breeches pockets, vest pockets - nothing. He was certain he had put the money in the pocket of his breeches - or maybe his coat. Where was his coat?

Oh, he breathed softly. His coat was around Mr. Frodo. He must have put his purse in his coat pocket. He took a deep breath and quickly guided the pony toward his master's place of concealment. He was certain that he had put his purse into his breeches, but maybe in all the fuss of helping Mr. Frodo, he had moved it without thinking. He clicked his tongue to urge the pony forward faster, hoping that Mr. Frodo would be feeling better by the time he got back. When he had last seen his master, Frodo had looked awfully green.

 

Merry and Pippin had managed to get Frodo changed into more respectable clothing and bundled his stained clothing into the bucket. Frodo slipped in and out of wakefulness, hiding his eyes from the late afternoon sunlight as the cousins quietly helped him toward the road. The brisk trot of a pony reached their ears and Sam appeared from around a bend, driving Frodo's small cart.

"How is he?" asked Sam, drawing in the pony's reins. His master was swaying, supported between his two cousins. Mr. Merry had obviously found some clean clothes for him, but he was still wrapped in Sam's coat.

"Fine," said Merry, "but we should get him home so he can sleep. Come along, Cousin," he said, guiding Frodo to the back of the cart. "Let's get you to a nice, comfortable bed. Come on, Pip. Give me a hand." He pushed Frodo onto Pippin's shoulder and climbed into the back of the cart, reaching down and helping Frodo as he climbed up unsteadily, hoisted by Pippin. "Hoy, Pip - get the bucket with the clothes, would you?" Pippin trotted back to the bushes and rustled around.

"Oh, Mr. Merry," asked Sam, picking up the reins. "Would you mind checking to see that there's a bag in the pocket of my coat?" he asked.

Merry patted the coat. "There is. Do you want it?" he asked.

"No, it will wait," said Sam in relief. Pippin emerged, holding the bucket and wrinkling his nose. "You can hang it off the hook on the end of the cart, Master Pippin," said Sam. "It won't fall off of there." Pippin complied and then clambered onto the seat next to Sam. "Let's get Mr. Frodo home."

The ride back to Bag End was quiet, except for Pippin's insistent whispered queries about Frodo's state, until Frodo finally opened a bleary eye and silenced him with a bloodshot glare. They passed several hobbit families entering the grounds - latecomers, all headed toward the festival for the night's dancing and feasting. Frodo dozed, waking only once to attempt unsuccessfully to expel anything more from his stomach. Arriving at Bag End, Sam and Merry helped Frodo climb down from the cart while Pippin went ahead to turn down Frodo's bed.

"I'm glad that we got him home with no one seeing him," said Merry. "Frodo would have been so humiliated." He shook his head. "It's not his fault that he got sick - it's that Baggins blood - no stamina whatsoever..."

 

Sam put the clothes into a washtub to soak while Merry and Pippin helped Frodo undress and climb into bed. Pippin pulled the curtains shut, pausing to look through the round window at the pink clouds shimmering in the sky.

"Do you want me to get you some broth?" asked Merry, pulling a sheet up to Frodo's chin. Frodo pushed it down weakly and shook his head. "How about a little toast and tea? Do you think you could keep it down?" Frodo moaned and pulled the sheet up over his head.

"P'rhaps you 'n Pip could jus' lemme sleep for'while?" he murmured. Hearing his name, Pippin approached and dropped down on the edge of the bed. Frodo moaned again.

"Pip," said Merry, "would you please let Frodo have a little peace? Go into the kitchen and see if there's any custard in the pantry. Or better yet, put the kettle on for tea - and pull out some bread for toast - he might be able to keep that down."

"Ooh - What about some stew?" asked Pippin. "There's a little bit leftover from last night! Would you like some of that, Frodo?" Frodo pulled the cover down and weakly motioned for Pippin to go away. "He's looking awfully green again, Merry," commented Pippin.

"You'd best get a basin or a bucket," said Merry to Pippin.

"How is he?" asked Sam, entering the chamber with a tumbler in hand.

"Green," said Pippin, brightly.

"Merr," slurred Frodo in a faint voice. "Would you kin'ly get a basin 'n take Pip withyou?" he asked.

"Oh, Pip can get it - " began Merry, but at the sight of Frodo's baleful eye, Merry rose without another word and took Pippin from the room.

"Sam," whispered Frodo, "for the love o'the Shire, getthem outta here. I don' care if you havva lock 'em up inna chicken coop." Sam's eyebrows rose. "Merr will fuss all nigh' and Pip tryinna be quiet will make more noise 'n a trooppa dwarves. I just wanna lay here and sleep forra week."

"But Mr. Frodo," said Sam, "what if you need help, or - "

"Wha' I need izza silen' room," said Frodo, "'mmediately. Or sooner." Sam hesitated. Frodo pulled the sheet up over his head.

"All right, Mr. Frodo," said Sam. "Let me get you some water and a basin, should you need it. But first, drink this." He held out the tumbler. "I got it from the Gaffer - it's the Gaffer's own cure. It will make you feel better, I promise, sir." Sam tugged at the sheet as Frodo batted at his hand. Ignoring Frodo's resistance, he helped his master sit up, putting the cup to Frodo's lips until he unwillingly drank the clear tea concoction. Then, Sam gently eased him back onto the pillow.

"I'm going to leave some water right on the bed stand," said Sam. "And a basin in case you're sick again. But if I leave you, don't you go trying to take care of anything," he said with unaccustomed firmness. "I'll see that Mr. Merry and Master Pippin don't disturb you."

"Tagg'em back t' th' fezval," said Frodo, keeping his eyes closed. "Pleez, I'llbefine." Sam sighed. "Pleez," repeated Frodo.

"I'll do that," Sam reluctantly agreed. He got up heavily and left the room, quietly pulling the door shut.

Merry and Pippin were in the kitchen, arguing about what to make for tea when Sam entered. "Mr. Merry, Master Pippin," he said, "Mr. Frodo would like us to give him a little quiet. There ain't no use in making tea for him right now - he wouldn't be able to get it down - or keep it down, anyway."

"So what shall we do?" asked Pippin.

"He said that we should go back to the festival," said Sam, taking a pitcher of water from the table. "I'll get him comfortable, then we'll leave and let him sleep for a while."

"We can't just leave him," said Merry. "What if he needs help?"

"He needs sleep," said Sam. "Trust me, Mr. Merry. I would never leave Mr. Frodo if I thought he might need help. We'll head back to the festival grounds and I'll take care of a few things, and we'll be back before Mr. Frodo awakens." He found a tray and placed a pitcher of water on it, along with some crackers. "I'll leave him a few things so he doesn't have to get up, should he wake. But he wants us all out of here so he can have some privacy, and besides, I need to get the cart back for my family and buy that cider press."

 

"Merry, can't we have tea, first?" asked Pippin plaintively. He stood with his pointed nose as high in the air as he could get it, sniffing the wafting scent of the bakery stands with longing anticipation. They had arrived back at the fair in the late afternoon, and the noises of the festival were enticing. Outside of where the cousins stood, hobbits danced to music played by wandering street musicians and clapped enthusiastically for the entertainers cavorting throughout the square.

"Hush, Pip," said Merry. "This won't take long. Sam wants to buy a cider press." He glanced around the stall. "Just enjoy looking at the things," he said, examining a plough with apparent interest.

"But I'm hungry," whispered Pippin. "I'm a growing hobbit and I didn't get any tea."

"We'll have an early dinner and you can have as many puddings as you like," said Merry patiently. "Just hush until Sam finishes with the proprietor." Pippin moved closer to listen to Sam talk with the hobbit running the tent.

"... so he agreed to take the new one, once I took a little off," said Rupert, wiping his hands on his breeches. "You can have the old one as we've agreed, and I'm happy to be selling it you and your family, Master Gamgee." Rupert grinned back at Sam's beaming face. "We agreed on thirty-one copper pennies, was it?"

"Thirty-two copper pennies," said Sam joyfully. "I've got the money right here." Sam pulled the coat from where it lay over his arm and reached into his pocket, pulling out a bag. He stared at it in astonishment. It wasn't his purse - it was Pippin's bag of sweets.

"Oh, good," said Pippin eagerly, reaching forward and taking it. "I'm starving."

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