11. Evil Dreams and Evil Plans
Pippin clung to his older cousin’s waistcoat and allowed himself to be towed along. “I think this is an excellent time! Can’t think of a better time! Merry, what are we going to do?”
The two were in route to the kitchens in search of ‘something bracing’, eating being the acceptable hobbit-way of dealing with difficulties. Pippin’s voice had been rising steadily ever since they had left their shelter behind the corner and now was reaching a level of shrillness painful to his cousin’s sensitive ears. Abruptly pulling the smaller hobbit into an alcove, Merry checked that no one was within hearing distance and gave the youngster a light shake.
“First,” said the older hobbit, “we are not going to panic. Second … it’s simple, Pip. We will just speak with each of the wagers and turn the conversation towards The Wager. It shouldn’t be hard to get them to discuss the terms. Then we’ll just write them down. See – simple!”
The smaller hobbit was silent, turning this over in his mind warily. It certainly seemed simple. At last he nodded, willing to concede that it might work. Then Pippin’s normally optimistic viewpoint of life exerted itself. After all, what could possibly go wrong? As luck would have it, the first wagerer the two encountered happened to be Elrond. The Master of Rivendell was striding gracefully towards the guest rooms, his long copper-colored mantle billowing elegantly about him. Seeing the two struggling to fall into step with him, the Elf-lord obligingly slowed and bestowed them an arched eyebrow. One slender hand held a delicate glass bottle and seeing their eyes drawn to it, the healer smiled. “Yes, yet another tonic for your cousin, little masters,” he greeted them. “Hopefully, this one will be more agreeable to his stomach. Would you care to accompany me to see him?”
The lordly Elf did not understand the apprehensive look that passed between the two. The younger one glanced regretfully back towards the kitchens. Pippin bit his lip when his cousin replied, “Thank you, my lord. We started to visit Frodo a short while ago but he was sleeping.” Merry left out a few details, his cousin noted.
The Elf’s dark ageless eyes moved from one small face to the other, trying to divine the sub-context between them. Deciding he did not wish to know, he sailed majestically on, leaving the two to follow in his wake. “Do you think Sam’s forgiven us by now?” asked Pippin softly behind the Elf.
“Sam isn’t one to hold grudges, Pip. It’s not like we meant to, anyway. It was just bad timing. An accident.”
Pippin nodded, though he still looked worried. Eying the lord’s elegant back, the younger hobbit dropped his voice even further and breathed, “Are you going to ask him?”
Merry squeezed his cousin’s arm and pulled even with the Elf-lord. Elrond graciously stopped and waited, his face serene.
“My lord,” began the hobbit, “we know that Frodo isn’t strong enough to take his walk yet, but we just wanted to reconfirm the terms of The Wager with you.”
Elrond arched a dark eyebrow at them, wondering why the younger one seemed so nervous. He certainly had not been so unsettled at tea. Seeing the Elf-lord’s gaze upon him, Pippin blushed a fascinating shade of red and tried to edge behind Merry.
That one raised blue eyes to his immortal gaze. Puzzled, Elrond answered Merry’s query. “Of course, Master Meriadoc. If your cousin completes a turn around my garden, I award you a copy of my maps from Imladris to Mount Doom, on tanned hide. Does he not, then you and Master Peregrin scrub the base of the fountains in my garden. Is this not what we agreed?”
Merry nodded vigorously, his curls bouncing in the westering sunlight. “Of course! Of course! That’s it exactly!”
The Elf nodded rather blankly and continued on. He was not too far away to hear the elder whisper to the younger, “Get that, Pip? Write it down!”
“Merry, you’re brilliant!”
If the hobbits thought that the Elf-lord could not overhear their whispered conversation, they were sorely mistaken. ‘They have forgotten!’ realized Elrond. ‘All of those machinations and maneuverings, and they have forgotten.’ He would have laughed if he could have done so without betraying his knowledge. ‘That young one needs a lesson,’ mused Elrond. ‘He must learn greater restraint if he is to endure this Quest. As his elder cousin is incapacitated … I think I shall speak to Mithrandir.’ He glanced back to see the two whispering animatedly to each other. Seeing his dark eyes upon them, they broke off simultaneously and beamed at him, twin smiles of pure wide-eyed innocence. ‘Yes,’ thought the Elf-lord decisively. ‘I shall speak to Gandalf.’
Elrond knocked at the door of the Ring-bearer’s room and waited, the two little ones crowding his sides. And waited. At last Merry raised his eyes to the lord’s and suggested they let themselves in.
Entering, they found that Sam was not taking advantage of his master’s nap to run errands or wash or snatch a bite; he was sitting in the darkened room by Frodo’s bedside, gently stroking his master’s hand and singing softly as Frodo slept. He waggled his eyebrow at them, letting them know that he had heard the knock, but did not cease his ministrations.
Frodo lay on his back, thick eyelashes pillowed on his cheeks, one hand reaching out from the covers to hold Sam’s. The coverlet was pulled almost up to his chin but he still shivered occasionally. Though he slept, he was restless and there was a small worry-line drawn between his quirked brows.
Slowly, Sam changed his song to a soft murmur, then to a hum. Trailing off, he examined his master’s pale face anxiously then gently slid the thin hand under the coverlet. Frodo protested unconsciously then sighed and relaxed, though the worry-line remained.
Rising, Sam motioned them back into the outer room, leaving the bedchamber door partially open. “Sorry, sirs,” Sam whispered, with a quick bow, “that I couldn’t open the door. I heard you knock. But I’d just got him off ‘ta sleep an’ didn’t want to move.” The little gardener’s grey eyes stared at the two halflings at his side, and Elrond again wondered what had occurred between them.
Now those sorrowful grey eyes sought his. “My lord, he don’t want ‘ta sleep. He’s been having nightmares, sir, something awful.”
Elrond’s dark head inclined gracefully. “So Aragorn told me,” he replied gently. The Elf-lord raised the phial. Merry saw that it was a deep rose color, not at all unappealing like the nasty yellow tonic that had made Frodo so sick. “I have added an ingredient that will encourage sleep, though no medicine I know of can ward off frightening dreams.” He paused and regarded the small, forlorn form, and added softly, “Only the nearness of a loved one can do that, I fear.”
Sam nodded. “Aye,” he agreed softly. “I know.”
Pippin had drifted silently over to the half-opened door and stood silently watching his cousin sleep while his elders spoke. Now he returned and nudged Sam. “He’s dreaming,” the youngster whispered.
Immediately Sam turned and hurriedly reseated himself, beginning to hum that soft, slow song the moment he entered the chamber. Frodo had rolled over onto his right side and was rocking slightly, a thin sheen of perspiration of his face. Sam captured the trembling hand and began stroking it. The sleeper calmed, the tense expression easing.
The Elf-lord bent and began to explain the administering of the tonic in Sam’s ear, but the unfamiliar voice, faint as it was, disturbed Frodo. The pain-line deepened and the thick eyelashes fluttered. Pippin leaned forward to peer into his face, crooning softly, almost subvocally. Seeing his cousin calm again, Pippin turned himself around and dropped to the floor, leaning back against the bed. He placed his head near Frodo’s and took up Sam’s song, gently raising his shoulder under Frodo’s hand until it slipped from Sam’s grasp and was captured between both of Pippin’s.
Elrond smiled at the youngster. Merry tousled his bronze curls in praise, a proud smile on his features. “Thank you,” whispered Sam. Pip grinned up at them all, pleasure on his sharp face. Then he drew up his legs against his chest and made himself comfortable, never ceasing in his soft crooning of the lullaby.
Sam gestured towards the outer room and they reconvened out of the injured hobbit’s hearing, with the door safely shut.
* * * * *
“What sort of a lesson?” Gandalf’s bushy eyebrows lifted in surprise at Elrond’s suggestion. The Elf-lord had located the wizard in one of the gazebos, and had joined them there, admiring the autumn colors in the garden. The wizard was on his second pipe, and had propped up his legs on the white-painted wood, leaning back at his ease and forming fanciful creatures of smoke that dissolved and drifted into the distance.
“Master Brandybuck is very young and has yet to learn his limits.” Seeing the wizard fix him with a sharp eye, the Elf-lord continued, “Yes, Gandalf, I know, everyone is very young compared to me and thee.” The wizard chuckled. “Young Meriadoc is gifted with a very sharp mind but has not truly been challenged before, I think. He will certainly be challenged on this journey. I would see him develop the self-discipline that will surely be required of him.”
Gandalf nodded, seeing the logic of this. “Merry will someday be the Master of his little land. He has rarely had to exert that bright-edged intelligence of his. I, too, would see him gain some maturity before we set out. What do you propose, my friend?’
“You know of The Wager?”
“Of course. A most ill-advised exchange of … what do you mean, The Wager?”
The Master of Rivendell smiled, a glint in his ageless eyes. Slowly, he explained his idea. The wizard leaned back and laughed loudly, his sharp eyes sparkling with a malicious glee rarely seen on that stern countenance. “Oh Elrond, that is truly wicked.”
* * * * *
The halflings were absent from dinner that night, choosing to stay in their cousin’s room and encourage his appetite. Watching a truly astonishing amount of supper being loaded onto trays for them, Gandalf smiled, glad of the opportunity to begin execution of the Elf-lord’s plan.
He spoke first to Aragorn, and the Ranger promised to fulfill Gandalf’s request at first light. Aragorn put his hands on his knees and leaned over, laughing so hard that tears came to his eyes. “And my foster father thought of this?” he asked the wizard. “Forgive me, Gandalf, but for some reason I would attribute such pure evil to you.”
“Elrond thought of it without any help from me,” returned the wizard with great dignity. “Merry and Pippin are overdue for a lesson.”
“This wouldn’t have anything to do with them making you look the fool on the path two days ago, would it, my friend?”
The wizard drew himself up to his full height. Then all of a sudden he laughed and leaned on his staff. “I do not deny that a little payback would be sweet,” Gandalf replied, his eyes twinkling. “But truly, this is for their own good.”
As the two seated themselves at Elrond’s table, Aragorn met his lord’s eyes and smiled. Elrond’s ageless gaze met those of the wizard and the Ranger, and gracefully, he tipped his wineglass to them.
* TBC *
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.