4. Apples and Promises
“Yes, you would, Meriadoc Brandybuck.” The staff was driven into the soft earth a few inches from his toes as he tried to edge around the wizard, dragging Pippin after him. “You two haven’t been here a fortnight and you’ve already started turning Rivendell upside down.” Pippin crowded closer to Merry, trying to hide behind his cousin. “Not satisfied with disrupting Elrond’s Council, I hear you are evidently trying to eat everything in his kitchens. Now Samwise is upset and Frodo, when he finds out about this -”
Merry thought it best that Gandalf not start listing their apparent misdemeanors. Squeezing Pip’s shoulder warningly, Merry gasped, his blue eyes widening, “Stars! What is that?”
The wizard whirled, his staff automatically coming up into a defensive position. The path behind him was empty. He completed the turn in less than a heartbeat, but he was too late. He stood alone upon the walk.
* * * * *
“Don’t worry, Pip. I haven’t met one of the Big People yet who could trail a hobbit, even a wizard. Except for Aragorn … and maybe Legolas.” Merry dug one of the apples out of his pocket and bit into it, indicating to his cousin that he was not as cool as he appeared. “Still, it might be wise to steer clear of old Gandalf for a while.”
Pippin was all for that. And for steering clear of everyone else they had talked to that day. And he definitely wanted to stay away from Frodo … which was exactly where his cousin was dragging him.
“Come on, Pip! These apples are delicious. Crisp and juicy. Want one?” When Pippin shook his head without speaking, Merry looked over at him. “Pip,” he said more gently, “think of it as just livening the place up a little. Surely the Elves find all this peace and serenity boring. They should thank us.”
“I don’t think Frodo’s going to thank us,” Pippin replied worriedly, his stomach tightening. “Even dangling our surprise in front of him isn’t going to make up for this. Merry, you know it takes a lot to get him angry, but when he does -”
“Um.” Merry examined his apple as if he found the fruit suddenly fascinating.
Further discussion was postponed as they arrived at Frodo’s door. Sam opened it at their knock, looking none too pleased when he saw who it was. “He’s resting,” the stocky hobbit said, before Merry had even opened his mouth. “And he don’t need no one getting him all riled up.”
“Calm down, Sam,” Merry soothed. “We aren’t going to upset him. Pip and I just brought him some apples. See?” Several of the apples were displayed as evidence.
Sam stood in the door, blocking them uncertainly. Matters were decided for him when they heard a soft voice drift from the sleeping chamber. “Sam? Is that Merry?” Sam grimaced; he had left the room’s door open in case his master needed anything while he worked in the adjoining room. Frodo’s body might be damaged and exhausted, but his hearing was fine.
“Yes, sir, it is,” Sam called back over his shoulder. “An’ Master Pippin, too.” Giving way, he glared at them as they sidled in.
With Sam following them mistrustfully, the two entered their cousin’s bedchamber. Frodo was again propped up on a multitude of pillows, some huge elvish book in his hands. With a visible effort to lift it, he set it aside gladly to welcome his visitors. Both of them leaned over to kiss his brow before settling on the bed, careful not to jostle it.
“Hullo, Cousin. If we’re interrupting your reading, Pip and I can come back later.”
“No, no. I’m glad of the break. Lord Elrond thought this history might interest me, but it is written entirely in elvish and I find it difficult. I wish I could find something more to my taste.” He stopped and looked at Pippin, who was grinning, his green-gold eyes dancing. “And what are you so happy about, Cousin?”
“Who, me? Nothing. Nothing at all.”
When Frodo looked like he meant to pursue it, Merry distracted him by pouring apples into his lap. Merry smiled. “They’re small but very sweet. Try one, Frodo. It’s like biting into autumn.”
Frodo did, pleasure on his wan face. “They are good. Thank you, Merry. Come on, Sam, have one.” Pippin took one and then Merry had to also. Merry had meant for Frodo to eat them all, or as many as he would, but he was satisfied with getting at least a few down his cousin.
Seeing that the two weren’t upsetting his master, Sam finally relaxed and the atmosphere grew noticeably more amicable. That is, until Merry said, “Frodo, Pip and I have a surprise for you -”
He got no farther. Sam bounced off the bed, drawing a gasp from Frodo, his features going white. Whatever Sam had been going to say was lost in concern for his master. “I’m sorry, sir! I didn’t mean ‘ta hurt you! Are you all right?” Sam captured Frodo’s right hand in both of his brown ones, his round face radiating anxiousness.
“I - I’m all right, Sam.” Perspiration gleamed on Frodo’s forehead. “I just wasn’t ready for you to move quite so quickly. It’s better now, truly.”
Merry tugged on Pippin’s arm, drawing the youngster’s gaze away from the pain etched on their cousin’s face. “I think we’d better let you rest, Cousin.” When Frodo would have protested, he continued, “We’ll be back after supper, and tell you one of the stories we hear in the Hall of Fire.”
Resigned, Frodo nodded. “But what of this surprise you mentioned? What surprise?” Looking at them, he didn’t see Sam’s face go apoplectic. Merry and Pippin did. Rising, they hurriedly excused themselves and let themselves out, just ahead of Samwise’s wrath.
* * * * *
To the two’s relief, Gandalf was not present at dinner. Everyone else was, though. The hobbits sat at table on a pile of cushions, shifting carefully so that they did not fall off. It was difficult to balance and give the food the absolute hobbit-concentration it deserved. Perhaps that was why they were not aware of the small delegation until the Big Folk were standing behind them.
Throughout dinner, Merry and Pippin had been aware that they were the object of discussion among several parties. Pippin kept his head down, his cheeks burning, and applied himself to his food. Merry cheerfully met every amused glance (while also applying himself to his food), winking and grinning widely whenever his eyes met any of the wagerers’. Sitting at the head of the high table, Elrond mused to himself on these halflings’ personalities, so unalike and yet alike. The Master of Rivendell inclined his head elegantly to hear his daughter’s comment, and his eyes lingered on the little ones. When all had finished except the hobbits, who were still “filling up the corners” as they put it, Elrond rose and with a wave of his hand, gathered to him all who had placed bets on the Ring-bearer’s strength.
Pippin choked as he became aware of the Elves, one elderly hobbit and a single man waiting politely behind him. Merry whacked him on the back, then startled himself as the half-turn brought the patiently waiting delegation into his view. Both hobbits slid off the cushions, scattering them widely. Stifling a laugh, Elrond bent gracefully and handed several of the closer ones to Pippin, who clutched them to his small chest, his wide eyes apprehensive.
“I hope we did not startle you, little masters,” said the Elf-lord gently. Behind him, Arwen smiled and any reply Pippin might have had went clear out of his curly head. Beside him, Merry returned the smile and bowed. Pippin hoped that he would someday be as self-possessed in the presence of these lordly folk. Trying to kick one of the escaped cushions unobtrusively under the tablecloth, he ruefully suspected it wouldn’t be soon.
“We merely seek to confirm with you the terms of our dealings. Would tomorrow be acceptable to you for the trial?” Both hobbits nodded. “Ah, good. I will accompany you back to your cousin as I have another tonic for him, and assure myself that he is strong enough to venture out tomorrow. I will not risk a relapse.” The hobbits nodded again. “Is the hour after midday acceptable to you? The sun is at its warmest then and I do not want Master Baggins to be chilled.”
“One hour after midday, my lord,” affirmed Merry. A collective murmur circulated among the Elves and they started to drift away to their own conversations and concerns.
“Lads?” Bilbo joined them, a worried expression on his lined face. He rarely ate at table anymore, but had come at the end to be present when Lord Elrond spoke. By the door, Aragorn waited to escort his friend to the Hall of Fire for the evening’s singing and tale-spinning. He did not intrude upon the halflings, but leaned at his ease against the doorjamb and waited patiently. “Lads,” Bilbo continued, “you have told Frodo about this, haven’t you?”
“Don’t worry, Bilbo.” Merry assisted his younger cousin in replacing the cushions while speaking to the old hobbit. “I assure you that –“ He broke off as the Elf-lord joined them, another phial of green liquid in his hand. Bilbo watched as the three took their leave and moved off, wondering what young Pippin’s eye-rolling grimace had been supposed to convey to him.
* * * * *
Sam opened the door with a startled “whuff!” when he saw the Elf-lord. His grey eyes were tight and Pippin and Merry knew immediately that something was wrong. “My lord, I’m glad you’re here. I was jus’ about to ask someone ‘ta go for you.” Samwise stepped back from the door and motioned them in with rather more alacrity than grace.
“What is it, Master Gamgee? Is your master unwell?”
“Yes, sir, he is.” Sam was practically vibrating in place, stopping himself from pulling the Elf-lord into Frodo’s room. “His fever started ‘ta go up this afternoon, after he had some excitement,” (Sam carefully did not look at the other two guests, yet somehow managed to convey clearly he thought Merry and Pippin were the cause), “and now he’s in a bad state. He’s sweating and tossing an’ I don’t think he’s in ‘is right mind. And his arm and shoulder’s gone all cold again.”
Elrond swept past them while Sam was still speaking. He paused for only a moment in the doorway, taking in the sight of a fevered and flushed Frodo struggling with the bed covers. A basin of cool water and a cloth lay abandoned where Sam had dropped them to attend the door. Frodo was pulling at the blankets, alternately pushing them away and pulling them back as he shifted between chills and fever-heat. Sweat beaded his face and ran down into his soaked nightshirt, and his eyes were unfocused and frighteningly unaware of his surroundings.
* 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.