4. Moving House
The farmer would accept no pay for his kindness, so Frodo persuaded him to rent them a wagon and two-pony team to remove his furniture from Crickhollow. 'Seein' as how we left our wagon t'home, and here we are halfway to Crickhollow already,' Sam added helpfully.
The next day the whole farmstead gathered in the front yard to see them off with many cheers and waves. Pippin was to drive the wagon, Merry beside him. Socks would remain at the farm until Pippin brought the wagon back. The farmer's sons had saddled Frodo's and Sam's ponies, and now all was in readiness. Goodbyes were being said all around.
Before hopping into the wagon, Pippin stopped before Diamond and Ruby. Diamond was relieved to see the bright smile and mischievous look in his eye after all those days of strain. 'Thank you for your grand cooking!' he said, rubbing his stomach. 'It is good for Socks that I am driving the wagon; I am not sure he could manage my weight!'
The girls laughed and blushed and Ruby answered, 'Go on with ye, Master Peregrin!'
He sobered, and took a hand of each. 'And thank you for your faithfulness in tending the fire. Your whole family has been... like family...' The girls impulsively flew at him to hug him. Pippin looked up to see the watchful eye of their mother and stepped back hastily, the twinkle back in his eye. 'I cannot marry either of them yet, Mother dear!' he called. 'They will have to go back and bake a bit longer! I will be back in a few years when they are of age!'
'You will be back sooner than that, I hope, you rascal!' the farmer's wife answered, laughing. Pippin grinned and jumped up to the seat of the wagon.
'He has to bring the wagon back!' one of the smaller hobbits shouted. Everyone laughed. The air was filled with waves and shouts and well wishes as the wagon drove out of the yard.
The drive to Crickhollow was a merry one, with much laughter and song. When they got to the house, Sam quickly dispelled the air of dusty disuse with a bright fire on the sitting room and kitchen hearths. He and Pippin removed all the covers from the furniture in the sitting room, taking them out to the lane for a good shake while Merry and Frodo set out a supper from one of the generous baskets packed by Ruby and Diamond. After supper, the two older cousins tidied up and enjoyed a pipe by the sitting room fire while Pippin and Sam took the dusty covers off the bedroom furniture and started a cheerful fire to warm each room.
'There!' Pippin exclaimed, emerging from the last room. 'All ready for the weary travellers to take their rest.'
'Well this traveller is not yet ready to go to bed!' Merry answered. 'The Sun has not yet hid her face, though She is painting a bright picture in the sky!'
Sam looked appreciatively at the sunset colors. 'It'll be good weather on the morrow. No need to worry about rain.'
Pippin laughed. 'I still remember being sent off to bed on a summer's eve and thinking it terribly wrong when the Sun was high in the sky!' The others chuckled, and he added, 'At least this time we need not be up before she is out of bed herself!'
Sam agreed, 'Aye, and it is nice to know we will be turning our backs on that Old Forest in the morning.'
A chill took Merry and he felt Frodo's hand cover his. Frodo called gaily, 'More light! The Sun is seeking her bed!'
'More light!' Pippin shouted and sprang to comply.
'Seek out every candle! The more we burn now, the less there is to pack on the morrow!' Frodo grinned. His hand tightened on Merry's. Merry forced himself to take deep breaths and as light filled the sitting room he found himself relaxing. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Frodo nod. His cousin gave his hand a last squeeze and then rose to throw more wood on the fire.
'That's more like!' Frodo sang. 'Now the place looks truly homey. How about some music?' Pippin broke out his flute and the others clapped and sang. The candles drove the shadows back into the corners, and the music drove the Dark from Merry's thoughts.
After a good night's sleep, they breakfasted off the other basket of food, and found plenty left for a picnic lunch along the way back to Bag End. Sam must have been up very early, or stayed up late the night before, for things were already well organized and packing went quickly.
'At this rate we will be back at Bag End in time for tea!' Frodo commented.
'Then Pippin can get the wagon back to Long Cleeve in time for late supper,' Merry added with a sly grin.
'Oh, coming that late he will have to stay over and have breakfast before heading back,' Frodo nodded solemnly.
'I hope that Socks can manage all the weight I've added!' Pippin exclaimed, rubbing his stomach. All burst into guffaws as Pippin grinned.
The others insisted that Merry rest while they moved the furniture to the wagon. 'I will take on a managerial capacity, then!' he teased, 'for which I am eminently qualified!' Instead of ordering the others about ('every good foreman knows when to let his hobbits alone!'), he retired to the garden to chew on a blade of grass and watch the clouds.
Frodo found him there when the packing was nearly complete. Sam and Pippin were winding ropes over and through the furniture to make sure all would stay on even if the wagon hit a large bump. Frodo lay down beside Merry and watched clouds in companionable silence, which Merry finally broke. 'Why would it come back that way?'
Frodo looked over at his cousin. Merry still stared at the clouds, but a shadow had fallen over his face. 'I think...' he said, striving for the right words. His hand sought the jewel. 'I think,' he began again, 'that when one has been touched by Shadow, it leaves a...' he had been going to say 'stain' but thought better of it and said instead, '... a mark. Even though the Shadow has passed away, the mark remains.' He thought of Merry's fits of melancholy and understood them better now. After all, he had his own evidence of remaining stains that could not be scrubbed or sanded away. 'You will always have to choose to walk in the Light, to turn your back on the Dark, from now on, but at least you are aware now that the choice must be made. Better than being taken unawares.'
Merry turned his face to meet Frodo's eyes. 'Is that what it is like for you?' he whispered. 'Is it a constant struggle?'
Frodo smiled but his eyes remained sad. 'Not constant,' he said. 'Not quite, anyway.' He held the jewel unconsciously in his fist. Sam could have told Merry how often he had clasped the Ring in like manner.
Frodo looked back to the sky. 'It seems that anniversaries are the most dangerous times,' he said reflectively. 'You will have to be very careful, it seems, around the 15th of March. Stay close to home. Surround yourself with friendship and laughter.'
'You think...? Will it always be this bad?'
'I think that the accident weakened you, so that on the next day when the Dark returned for a time, you did not have the strength to fight.' Merry nodded. Frodo added, 'Pippin can be a great help to you, I think.'
Merry smiled, and agreed, 'He is a jewel among hobbits, indeed.' Just then Pippin bounded into the garden with a laugh.
'So there you are, Mister Foreman!' He sketched a mock salute. 'I wish to report the wagon loaded and ready, Sir!'
'Very well,' Merry answered. 'Carry on, soldier!' Frodo helped him to his feet. They looked once more around the empty house. 'It is a very nice house,' Merry mused. 'What a shame to let it go to waste.'
'It is all paid for,' Frodo answered. 'You may have it if you like. Consider it a wedding gift!'
Merry turned to him in astonishment. 'Wedding gift?'
Frodo laughed. 'I saw the way those girls were looking at you as you left. Just wait until they are of age...'
Merry laughed but Pippin came up to them with a grin. 'I think it is a grand idea! Let us move in here, Merry. I found a young Took playing with my sword the other day; it would be grand to be out on our own!'
The drive back to Bag End was full of laughter. Before they unloaded the furniture, Frodo settled Merry in the parlour with a spot of tea. After unloading was finished, Pippin jumped back onto the wagon, cheerily waved the whip in the air, and was off. The ponies, with an empty wagon behind them and somehow knowing they were headed homewards, trotted briskly back down the lane.
As Sam entered with the teapot to freshen Merry's cup, the latter said, 'So, Samwise, what is it to be?'
'Begging your pardon, Mr Merry?'
'Who is to marry Miss Rose? Will it be you? ...or are you going to wait until I ask her first and she casts me into the dust with a broken heart!'
Sam wished he could pour the contents of the teapot over Merry, but he contented himself with filling the cup nearly brimful. 'Will there be anything else, Mr Merry?'
Merry smiled, 'No, Sam, thank you very much. I think I will finish this cup and have a bit of a nap.'
'You do not have to "Sir" me, Samwise Gamgee. Not after all we have been through together.'
'Very good, Sir... I mean Mr Merry... I mean...'
Merry laughed. 'Right! Off with you then! And do not come back until you have spoken to Rosie Cotton!'
That was one order Samwise was only too happy to obey.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.