7. Chapter Six
“Just what were you thinking of, Merry? Were you trying to insure that Lalia woke up downstairs and that Pearl and I would be in the soup? Or are you bound and determined that Pippin will grow up to be as much of a rake as you seem destined to be?” Frodo kept his voice down, but rage dripped from his words.
Merry, stung, snapped, “And what is that suppose to mean? I’m not the one who was busy trying to deflower Pearl on the library carpet!”
“You know exactly what I mean! Your mother does talk to me, in case you’ve forgotten! She’s told me all about how precocious you’ve become over the past year, what with peering in keyholes when the girl cousins are in the bathing room, and making sure you’re the one helping the maids wash the laundry in the Brandywine! I suppose you decided this was your opportunity for a really detailed lesson on the art of lovemaking, didn’t you?” Frodo took a deep breath, fighting to leash in his temper, but there was still a dark, wild glitter in the depths of his eyes that gave Merry pause. The young Brandybuck heir stayed silent for a few seconds, marshalling his thoughts.
“Well,” Merry said carefully, “yes, I guess I was rather curious about what you two were planning on doing, after I saw that brief exchange at the parlour door. You do have to admit that cousin Pearl is very pretty, and the chance to see more of her made me more reckless than usual.” He swallowed, his nerves beginning to get the better of him. “If I say I’m sorry, and that I promise something like this will never, ever happen again, d’you think you can forgive me?” Merry gave Frodo a look of real appeal, fearful of losing his older cousin’s regard.
The look fell on stony ground, as Frodo continued to pin Merry down with a cold glare. “Even if I do decide to forgive you, Master Brandybuck, you still have other problems to address—namely, making amends to Pearl as well, and talking to little Master Peregrin so he doesn’t market the tale from one wing of Great Smials to the other. Are you even remotely capable of doing either, do you think?”
Merry gulped again; he couldn’t remember the last time Frodo had been this angry with him. He realized he would have no choice but to eat the full measure of humble pie. “Yes, I will apologize to Pearl tomorrow, on my knees if I have to, and I will keep Pip quiet. Now are we friends again?” Merry was barely audible.
Frodo stared into Merry’s hazel eyes, wide as saucers, and felt a sudden sharp stab of guilt. He thought, Yes, he did wrong, but so did I. I swore to myself I wouldn’t give in to Pearl, and then I very nearly did. Why should I take out all my anger on Merry? He would’ve had nothing to spy on if I hadn’t been a lusty fool one more time. Frodo flung himself onto his side of the bed and covered his face with both hands, absolute weariness replacing the temper in an instant.
“Yes, we’re friends again,” he said in a muffled voice. “I’m sorry to act so demented, I was in the wrong too, but I loathe having my private affairs made the stuff of fun, or worse yet, grist for the gossip mills that always grind away in the Shire.” Frodo lifted his hands and discovered Merry looking down at him with a puzzled expression.
“Sorry to be a bit stupid, Frodo, but what worries you about any gossip where you and Pearl are concerned? Everybody knows you’re going to marry her—at least as soon as Aunt Lalia departs this world—and you two wouldn’t be either the first or the last couple to anticipate their wedding night. What makes you so sure people will throw mud?”
“Because Pearl isn’t some buxom serving wench at the Green Dragon or the Golden Perch, Merry, she’s a gently-born hobbit lass—the eldest daughter of the heir presumptive to the titles of the Took and Thain, to be precise. You really think there’d not be talk if we slipped up? And I won’t mention Lalia’s possible reaction.” Frodo stared at the ceiling, lost in memories. “And maybe, just maybe, I’m sick to death of clattering tongues because I’ve been drowning in a whirlpool of gossip since I was twelve. It all gets to be very, very old.”
“You mean your parents?” Merry asked softly.
“Of course I do,” Frodo said in a tired voice. “Aunt Esmie’s done her best to shield me from the instant they died, but I’m not deaf and I’m all too aware of what the nasty-minded still say about the accident after all these years. And then there’s Bilbo—he adopts me, gives me a good home, treats me like a son, but people keep calling him Mad Baggins and claiming he’s somehow corrupting me, that he and Gandalf will send me off on some wild adventure without a by-your-leave. Finally, for your information, there’s already a fair amount of talk regarding Pearl and I, thanks to both Lalia disliking our inclination and my reputation for Baggins-style eccentricity. Do you have any inkling of how wearying it all is?” He rubbed his eyelids distractedly, as if the action would wipe away his inner hurts.
“No, I didn’t. If I had, I’d not have done what I did tonight, truly. I daresay the gossips don’t sound off in front of me because they’re afraid of a black eye,” said a completely chastised and sober Merry.
“You’re quite right about that,” Frodo said. He sat up and stretched. “But now I’m tired to the bone and want to go to bed.”
The two cousins wordlessly changed into nightshirts, and Frodo blew out the candles next to the bed. He curled up under the counterpane and willed sleep to come quickly. Merry’s hesitant voice floated out of the darkness after a few minutes.
“Frodo, do you think about your mother and father a lot? Do you miss them?”
“Yes to both, but not as much as you might suspect.”
“Because I’m not alone, not some poor lonely orphan with nobody. I’ve got Bilbo, Aunt Esmie and Uncle Sarry, you, Pippin, everybody.”
“And Pearl—you’ve got Pearl. You really love her, don’t you?”
“Yes, I love her. What made you think I didn’t?”
“You’re rather quiet about it and hard to read, that’s all.”
“Well, now you know why. Go to sleep, Merry-lad.”
“All right. G’night, Frodo.”
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.