12. A Lesson Long Overdue
“As closely as I can discern,” replied the Ranger. “Pippin did rather a good job in erasing his thoughts. Such gaps as exist, we can fill with a few words in the wagerers’ ears.”
The two were once again at their ease in the white-arched gazebo where they had discussed the lesson to be taught the two youngest hobbits the previous afternoon. Morning light now illuminated the autumn colors, filtering through the trees and casting the golds and greens, brown and oranges into a totally different landscape. Aragorn had risen before the sun and awaited its arrival, eager to read the scribbling in the earth left by the anxious youngster as he and his older cousin wracked their memories to recall the terms of The Wager.
Gandalf read through the list, and the Ranger watched as the bushy brows lifted, quirked, lifted again and continued to lift. When at last the wizard put down the paper, he rubbed his eyes in disbelief. Then he leaned back against the cool wood and laughed and laughed and laughed.
Unable to maintain his disapproving mien, the Ranger joined him. “My, my,” murmured Gandalf, “haven’t they been busy lads.”
“Aye,” growled the Ranger, his own deep eyes sparkling. “I am certain that Elrond does not know the full extent of their little enterprise.” He ran his eyes over the list again, astonished anew. “And they arranged all of this in just the last few days? Amazing.”
“And ill-considered … and disrespectful to their host, and immature, not to say inconsiderate of their cousin,” added the wizard. “I have known Frodo since he was a child. He’ll not take kindly to being treated like a pony at the races.” Gandalf’s deep eyes glinted as his sharp eyes swept along the extensive list again. “Yes,” he muttered, “a lesson long overdue.”
* * * * *
“Good job, Cousin!”
Frodo beamed in reply to Pippin’s exclamation, his morning glory eyes shining as he completed four turns around the small enclosed courtyard outside of his rooms. Though hanging tightly to Merry’s arm, his steps were steady. Still, Frodo was more than glad to ease down on one of the benches in the morning sun next to Bilbo and catch his breath. Pippin had trailed after the two (and before them, to the sides and sometimes in circles) and was still vibrating with eagerness.
“Tweenagers,” commented the old hobbit, removing the pipe from his mouth to give the bowl a sharp tap.
“Did we ever have that much energy?” asked Frodo wistfully, rubbing his shoulder. The wound ached and itched both and was driving him near to distraction. When Samwise, sitting on the other side of Bilbo, offered him a backrub Frodo accepted gratefully, knowing his friend’s careful hands would not aggravate the injury. As Sam’s strong, calloused hands moved over his shoulders and back, he sighed appreciatively and his dark head sagged into his chest.
“That’s enough walking for now, I think,” Merry remarked, seeing the tiredness on his cousin’s face. “Pip, why don’t you use some of that lauded energy and run to the kitchens for us? We could all use a pot of tea. And maybe there are some scones left from breakfast. And some strawberries? See if there’s any clotted cream, too.”
“And how am I supposed to carry all this?” inquired the youngster.
“I’m sure you can think of a way to work it out, Pip. Now off you go.” Pippin heaved a martyred sigh and went to fulfill the bidding of his elders. “Don’t forget the cream and sugar!” Merry called after him.
The four leaned back in the pale sunlight and allowed it to warm their clothes and faces. The quiet minutes passed peacefully, demanding nothing more of them than their admiration for the leaf-dance performed from branch to ground. Frodo yawned expansively then jerked himself upright when he caught the others’ eyes on him. “I am not going to take a nap!” he declared before anyone could make the suggestion. “I am tired of lying in bed! I don’t need any more bed rest.” This avowal was rather spoiled by another yawn.
“All right, Frodo-lad,” reassured Bilbo with a chuckle. Sam met Merry’s glance and rolled his eyes. Merry stared determinedly at the leaf-strewn ground, a smile tugging at his lips. “Calm down. No one’s going to make you do anything you don’t want to.”
“Oi! Would someone help me with this, please?” Pippin struggled in through the side door, his arms barely supporting a huge, well-laden tray. Sam leaped up to assist him and the smaller hobbit gratefully surrendered the tray. Pippin picked up a delicate vial from the center, filled with a deep rose liquid, and held it out to his cousin. “Frodo, Lord Elrond says you have to drink this.”
* * * * *
From one of the gracefully carven balconies overlooking the small courtyard, Elrond, Gandalf and Aragorn stood watching the hobbits enjoy their snack. “Frodo is much stronger,” remarked the Master of Rivendell. “He is more willing to eat and is recovering faster than I would have thought possible from so deadly a wound.”
“He doesn’t seem to like your tonics very much, Elrond,” observed the wizard, his sharp eyes sparkling, leaning over the balcony with his hands on the filigree stone railing.
“I did not concoct the medicine to appeal to his taste but to aid his recovery,” returned the Elf-lord, refusing to be baited. “I believe it is time to suggest to those young hobbits that their cousin is almost ready to take a walk in my gardens.” Elrond’s dark eyes roved over the list which Gandalf and his foster son had presented him. “Astonishing. I have known mighty Councils of Men and Elves who could not accomplish so much, so quickly.”
“Aye,” the wizard agreed. “The last time I heard of so complex a plan, I believe it started the war that ended the Second Age.”
Elrond choked back a laugh, turning it into a stifled cough most uncharacteristic of him. “Let us hope that The Wager ends in less carnage.”
* * * * *
“Master Meriadoc? Master Peregrin? May I have a moment of your time?” The tall Elf-lord stood before the hobbits, resplendent in his copper mantel, the light breeze pushing his dark hair back from the high forehead.
Both hobbits bowed hurriedly and rather awkwardly, their arms laden with the depleted tea service. Not a speck of food remained, Elrond was pleased to note. He had watched as Frodo ate his share, washing down the last scone with the tonic and many complaints and grimaces of distaste.
“I am glad to see that you are encouraging your cousin to eat,” the Elf-lord began neutrally, gesturing towards the kitchens and falling into step with the little ones. “He still has much strength to regain. But his progress has been truly remarkable. Perhaps he will feel up to completing the terms of The Wager in two days?”
Pippin stumbled, rattling the teapot and cups dangerously. Merry caught the edge of the tray, the dishes in his own arms clinking loudly. The look of panic on his younger cousin’s face was ignored by Merry, who tilted his curly head back to meet the Elf-lord’s deep eyes. “Two days will be perfect, my lord. Shall we hold to the hour after mid-day when the sun is at its warmest, as we agreed?”
Elrond nodded shortly, noting the youngster had freed a hand to yank at his cousin’s waistcoat and that the tea service was sliding to the edge of the tray. Reaching down, he caught it deftly, just before the china toppled over the edge. Pippin flushed and ducked his head, and struggled to right the tray without tipping the china off the other edge. The glance of desperation given the lord by the little one could have been for the unruly china or the unruly cousin.
Hiding a smile, the Elf-lord waited until Pippin’s arms were steady under the tray again and then he straightened. “Agreed, Master Meriadoc. I trust you have spoken with your cousin and all is in readiness?”
Merry’s beaming smile faltered somewhat. “Ahhh,” he grimaced, then rallied. “Don’t worry about that, my lord. Frodo will be ready, I promise.”
“Excellent. I assure you that I am looking forward to it.” This was delivered with a deep stare into the halfling’s bright blue eyes. The Elf-lord awarded them a half-bow and continued on to his study, satisfied that his plan of retribution was in motion.
“Pip, quit pulling on me! I’m going to drop these dishes if you don’t!”
At that moment, Pippin did not care about the dishes, tea service or Merry’s favorite bright gold waistcoat. “Merry, we aren’t sure who said what! And Frodo doesn’t know!” The tugging stopped as Pippin contemplated the enormity of telling their cousin what they had promised in his name without his knowledge or consent. His recent snack roiled in his stomach and he suddenly felt sick.
“That just means that we need to get to work. First, Cousin, we are taking these dishes back. All right? And we’ll pick up something more for Frodo and get it down him. Some chicken soup, maybe…” Merry pushed Pippin ahead of him while thinking out loud. “Then we’ll speak with everyone and make sure we have the terms right. Will you relax, Pippin? We have two days yet – that’s lots of time.”
Strangely, Pippin’s upset stomach did not settle at his cousin’s easy reassurances. And it was right, for it all started to go wrong as soon as Merry tried to urge Frodo into joining them for elevenses. “No thank you, Merry,” Frodo repeated politely, puzzled at the younger hobbit’s insistence. “Maybe later.”
Merry waved the bowl of soup enticingly under his cousin’s nose. The aromas drifting up from it were truly delicious … but Frodo wasn’t hungry. The soup had gone cold when Frodo finally lost patience and firmly asked Sam to escort his cousins out. Sam looked more than willing to do so, growling under his breath as he trailed them to the door.
“I know wot you’re up ‘ta,” he hissed at them when they were safely beyond Frodo’s hearing. “Shame on you! Mr. Frodo’s going ‘ta be real angry when he finds out, and it’ll be your fault. He’s not strong enough ‘ta get riled, yet. I hope you lose every wager you made!” With that, the door was resolutely closed upon them.
“That didn’t go so well,” observed Pippin.
Merry cast him an annoyed look. “Never mind,” he returned with forced cheerfulness. “We’ll come back this afternoon for another few turns around the courtyard and we’ll take our meals with him. We can always get him to eat more than he would otherwise. Hummm… I’ll ask the cooks for lots of mushrooms for the Ring-bearer; they’ll be happy to help get him to eat. Right, then.” Merry squared his shoulders and with a visible effort, regained his equilibrium. “Let’s go find our gamblers and make sure we’ve got the terms right.”
* * * * *
“You must be mistaken, Merry,” said Aragorn. “I agreed that if your cousin is able to complete a turn around my lord’s garden, then you will make arrangements with Elrond to grant me a reprieve from having to scout the northern tree harbors. If he isn’t strong enough – or stubborn enough – then I ask my lord if you two can help in the kitchens.”
“Not help,” began Merry, “eat. We wanted you to ask Lord Elrond if we could have second breakfast, as much as we can eat, for a week.”
The Ranger eyed them, his expression completely deadpan. “No, you wanted to help in the kitchens, in preparing second breakfast, for a week. I suppose you could eat some after you are finished working. I thought you wanted to learn Elvish cooking.”
“No, no. I mean, I would like to learn Elvish cooking, of course, but –
“Well, that’s settled then,” said the Ranger decisively. “I’m looking forward to this. It should be immensely entertaining.” With that, the tall Man turned on his heel and strode away at a pace the hobbits could not possibly hope to match.
Pippin stared at his cousin, perplexed. “What happened?”
* * * * *
“No, that’s not it at all.” Merry was certain there was a gleam in the old hobbit’s eyes as he refuted what Merry remembered they had agreed upon.
“But Bilbo,” Pippin began, confused, “I’m sure you bet that Arwen sings for you if Frodo makes the walk, and you supply Merry a copy of Elrond’s maps if he doesn’t. I’m sure that’s right! Isn’t it, Merry?”
“Half-right, Pippin-lad,” Bilbo continued. Merry thought the gleam was becoming a sparkle and he tried to fix the old hobbit with a suspicious glare, which Bilbo totally ignored. “Arwen sings for me if my boy does make it, and if he doesn’t, then Merry copies down all of Arwen’s songs for me.”
“I copy –“
“Yes, of course. Isn’t that right, Pippin, my boy?”
“Copying certainly came into it somewhere,” replied Pippin miserably. “And Arwen singing … yes…”
“Right! Off you go then, lads. I have work to do. See you at luncheon.”
“But Bilbo –“
“Now don’t dawdle, you two. Can’t stand how young people stand around all day. Out!”
* * * * *
The two finally ended up in the courtyard as the sun was climbing towards its zenith. Merry and Pippin sat on one of the benches in the sunlight, feet pulled up to their chests and covered with their cloaks. After a rather vigorous argument concerning who remembered what, they were silently turning over the morning’s events in their minds.
At last Merry sighed and dropped his short legs off the bench. “Pippin, my lad,” he said softly, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
* 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.