1. Playing Family
"Aunt Eglantine, can I take Pippin for a walk?"
Merry tried to look like he thought a most well-behaved lad should look, as he posed the question to a slightly confused Eglantine who was holding a buttered piece of bread in one hand that Pervinca had just given her and securing Peregrin about his waist with the other.
"Well, of course you can," she said, turning around to her daughter who was sitting in the grass behind her. "Vinca, I can't use this piece of bread now, eat it up, come on."
"No," she said, pouting. "It doesn't taste good."
"Nonsense," said her mother. "This is plain rye bread with—"
"Let me eat it, then," said Fatty Bolger, who stood beside Merry.
"Why, thank you, Fredegar," she said as she passed him the bite. Then she gave Peregrin to Merry. The lad was making baby noises, talking to himself, or maybe to everybody else as well, something he often had done recently. Merry set him up on his hip.
"You've become heavy!" he said.
"Take care, Merry," said Merry's mum. Then she continued her conversation with Eglantine, who now had both hands free to underline her complaints about the hens at the Whitwell Farm. Merry sometimes found it very amusing to watch her talk.
"Come on, Fatty," he said and walked away into a further part of the Brandy Hall Garden. He went for his favourite spot, which was where the plum trees grew. There he set Peregrin down on the ground. The baby immediately turned around onto his belly and started crawling towards the nearest tree. Merry knew what he would do.
"Look!" he said to Fatty and pointed a finger.
When Peregrin had reached the tree, he grabbed the stem with both hands and, with a strongly concentrated face, pulled himself up until he was standing. Then he looked at Merry and Fredegar and a proud smile spread all over his chubby face.
Merry laughed. "Well done, Pippin, there's a good lad." There was hardly anything that made him happier than seeing Pippin learn new things. He had spoken his first word not too long ago: "mama". Merry knew that it was the word that most babies learned first, so it wasn't really special in any way, but it made him glad still.
He went over to the tree, but as Peregrin leaned towards him he fell down head first. Merry picked him up and put him down on the grass again.
"Why do you call him Pippin?" asked Fatty. "That's a strange name for a baby." *
Merry shrugged. "Pervinca calls him that because she can't speak his real name."
"What's his real name again?" asked Fatty.
Merry looked at him with raised eyebrows. "Peregrin," he said. "Can't you remember a name?"
"Not that one," said Fatty without even looking embarrassed about his ignorance. "It's so complicated." He picked up a plum that had fallen into the grass and ate it. "Ooh, I think there was a worm in there. Let's play something."
"How about Family?" Merry suggested. "We could be the parents and Pippin will be the baby. We could build a house over there between the hedges."
Fatty looked at him skeptically. "Family? Only girls play Family."
"That's not true!" said Merry. "I always play family with Everard and Bryony."
"I suppose you are the baby then." Fatty giggled.
Merry looked at him angrily. Only because Fatty was two years older than him, that didn't give him the right to be so cocky. As a matter of fact, Merry did mostly play the baby with Everard and Bryony, but if Fatty thought that was something to laugh about, Merry surely wasn't going to tell him.
"Well, what else can we play?" he asked sourly.
"Hide and Seek," said Fatty.
"No, we can't," Merry objected, "we have to look after Pippin."
Fatty pouted. "I wish he could walk. Then he could play with us and walk around with us, and we wouldn't have to stay here with him all the time."
They both looked at Pippin. He was contentedly plucking grass from the ground and letting it rain down upon his knees, something that obviously gave him a lot of pleasure.
"Well," said Fatty, "let's play Family then."
"All right," said Merry. "I'll get some blankets from inside so we can build a house. Can you look after—"
"Can I play Family with you?" somebody asked right behind him.
Merry turned around and was looking at a girl of maybe five years in a knee-length green dress, with long, light brown hair that was remarkably un-curly, if not as straight as Pervinca's. It was Fatty's sister. Merry frowned. They didn't need a girl to play with them, especially not one who was almost a baby.
"No, Stella!" said Fatty in the exasperated tone that Merry had heard lots of big brothers use with their little sisters in such a situation. "We don't want you to play with us. You're too small."
"No, I'm big already," she said. Which was true, Merry had to admit; she was quite tall for her age. "I know how to play Family," she said.
Fatty rolled his eyes. "Leave us alone and play with your own friends."
"I don't want to play with them," she said. "They're boring. And I'm bigger than Pippin, and you play with him, so you can play with me, too."
What a sly brat, thought Merry. "Why don't you play with Pervinca?" he said. "She's not boring. She can do tricks with a rope." Maybe that would lure the little nuisance away.
She sighed theatrically. "Oh well. I'll go look for her." She turned around and ran back towards the tables where the grown-ups sat.
"Take care of Pippin," Merry said to Fatty. Then he ran after Fatty's sister and passed between the small garden tables.
"Where are you off to, Merry?"
He stopped and turned. It was Frodo.
"Hullo, Frodo," he said, while his older cousin pulled him into a quick hug. Frodo had cut his hair. It was much shorter than before now, somewhat like Uncle Mac's, and it looked a bit strange, Merry thought. Well, if Frodo didn't care about himself looking strange, why should Merry?
"You're late," he said, "where have you been?"
"We stopped at Bodo Sandbanks's in Frogmorton," said Frodo. "Bilbo needed new paper. We bought some really special paper, I can show it to you."
"Later," said Merry with some regret. "I've got to play with Fatty first."
"You've got to?" Frodo asked with a smile.
"Yes," said Merry, "we're playing Family, and we want to build a house. Pippin's the baby."
Just then Merry's dad walked up to them and ruffled Frodo's hair—something that Merry hated when his dad did it to him.
"Hello, little cousin," Dad said. "It's good to see you again. Where's that hair of yours gone?"
"Hello, Doc," said Frodo. "Happy fifty-first birthday!"
"Thank you. Let me give you your present. Where is Bilbo?"
"Over there talking to your father," said Frodo and nodded towards where Uncle Bilbo and Grandpa Rory were laughing together and slapping each other's shoulders the way only very old men seemed to do.
"See you later, Frodo," said Merry and continued his way.
"Merry!" his father called after him. "You and Fatty are taking good care of Pippin, aren't you?"
"Yes, Dad," said Merry. For some reason the question annoyed him. He ran up to the back entrance of the Hall and nearly bumped into the cook in the corridor.
"Not so fast, young hobbit," she called after him. Merry paid no heed to her. She was a fat, elderly lady and rather slow herself.
When Merry came back to Fatty with some old dusty blankets he had found in the basement, Pippin was again pulling himself up with the help of a plum-tree stem. Fatty was nowhere to be seen.
"Fatty?" Merry called. "Where are you?"
Fatty's round face appeared behind the tomato plants that grew adjoining the plum tree field to the right, opposite the elderberry hedges.
"I told you to take care of Pippin!" Merry scolded him.
Fatty wiped some tomato juice off his chin. "You're sounding like my mum," he said. "I was watching him from over here."
At that moment Pippin fell on his face again. This time it had obviously hurt because he started to cry.
"He should really learn to walk sometime soon," said Fatty and walked over to them as Merry scooped Pippin up into his arms and patted his back until he had quieted down.
"We might teach him," said Merry. "We're the parents, and we have to teach our child to walk."
"Let's build the house first," said Fatty, and together they threw the blankets over the branches of the elderberry and the nearest trees. The blankets let off a lot of dust that made Fatty sneeze. They smelled of cellar. But draped over the branches, they made a little shelter that looked quite much like a house, Merry thought. Pippin watched them from the grass while they set up an old barrel that they found behind the small garden hut as a table and threw some sticks on the ground to mark the fireplace. And Merry wished for a moment that he could move out of Brandy Hall and live in this house with Pippin and Fatty. They would plant their own tomatoes and carrots and strawberries and grow their own wheat. Then they could cook their own food on the fireplace. Nobody would be allowed to visit them, except Frodo and Grandpa Rory and Bilbo some time…
"Good," said Fatty when he had put one of the blankets on the ground for them to sit on. "I'm the father. I must go to the market and buy potatoes for lunch. You must stay at home with the baby and clean the—"
"Who said I was the mother?" Merry squinted at Fatty. "I want to be the father."
"No, I'm the father," said Fatty. "I'm older than you. The mother is always the younger."
"That's not true!" said Merry, quite taken aback by so much ignorance. "My own mum is four years older than my dad."
Fatty looked at him skeptically. "You've got a strange mum," he said. "Anyway, I won't be Pippin's mum."
"Then he will have two dads," said Merry.
Pippin started talking in his baby language again, smiling at Merry as though he appreciated what his big cousin had just said.
"There are no families with two dads, silly," snorted Fatty. "Two dads can't have children."
"I know," said Merry. He felt a little flinch inside his stomach. His mum had told him a few weeks ago how babies got into their mother's bellies. Merry didn't understand why people would do things like that. He found it rather disgusting, and he didn't like to imagine his own parents doing it, lying on top of each other… He firmly pushed the thought away.
"I know," he said. He decided to make fun of the situation and grinned, with a slight effort. "But sometimes two dads want to make a family, don't they?"
"Merry!" said Fatty. "Don't say that!"
"But it's true," said Merry stubbornly. "My mum told me." It had been in the course of the same conversation that his mother had told him that sometimes two men fell in love with each other, but that customs forbid them to marry or even kiss in public.
Fatty stared at him wide-eyed. "But we mustn't talk about it!"
Merry shrugged. He found this subject not half as ugly as the making of babies. Two men, he thought, couldn't do those strange things that a mum and dad did. He had to shudder. Lately he had been considering to just not have children as a grown-up.
"If you don't want to talk about it, then you'll have to be the mum," he said to Fatty.
"No, I won't," said Fatty, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
"Then we can't play," said Merry, crossing his arms likewise.
"See," said a voice from behind the blankets. "You can't play a mum, but I can. You need me."
It was Fatty's sister again. Merry and Fatty looked at each other and sighed. At the same time Merry suddenly got a bit worried as he considered what parts of their conversation she might have overheard. She was only five, but she was sharp enough to understand. She was such a small child, and even if she was a nuisance, he didn't want her to have to care about ugly things yet.
"What are you doing, sneaking around here like this?" he asked harshly and immediately felt a bit sorry.
But she didn't seem to mind his tone in the least. "I'm not sneaking," she said. "But I can play the mum. You don't know how to be a mum. You're lads."
Merry and Fatty looked at each other again. They weren't too keen on having a lass around just now, but seeing as neither of them wanted to be the mum, Merry thought she might as well join in, and he told Fatty so.
"All right," said Fatty. "Estella, Perragin is your baby. And one of us will be the big brother, then."
"I'll be the brother," said Merry quickly. The idea of having to be married to Fatty's little sister didn't particularly appeal to him.
So Fatty went out to do his dealings at the market and left the wife and children at home. Estella immediately started cleaning the house, using a twig of the elderberry to dust the carpet and sweep the leaves and ants out of the blanket shack.
Merry was glad that as the big brother it was probably his duty to look after the baby. That meant he could try something with Pippin he'd wanted to do ever since Uncle Pal had arrived with his family the evening before. He grabbed Pippin under his arms and pulled him up until he was standing on his own feet. Then he took his hands and started walking him over to the house. He had seen Aunt Eglantine do this with Pippin, and the lad was doing quite well at it.
"Say hello to Mummy," said Merry.
"Ma-ma-ma," said Pippin. "Nah Ma-ma."
Estella put her broom aside. She laughed a squeaky girlish laugh. "He's so funny, that Peregrin. He says funny things." She got down on her knees beside Pippin. "Well now, son," she said in the grave and caring tone that she probably thought mothers talked in. "Have you done your writing exercises? Have you cleaned up your room?"
"He's too small for that!" said Merry. And you're too small to know what children of one year can do and can't do, he added in thought. "He can't even walk yet."
Estella gave Pippin a pitying look. "Poor thing! Teach him to walk, Merry!"
"That's what I was about to do," Merry explained to her.
"Oh." She nodded. "It won't take you long to learn it, Peregrin, walking is really easy."
"Come on, Pippin," said Merry and led him towards the tomato plants. Pippin was walking quite steadily already, a bit wobbly about the hip, but he seldom stumbled.
"Well done," said Merry and seated him beside the tomatoes. He picked a small tomato from the nearest plant and bit into it. It was not quite ripe. He passed a small bite to Pippin. "Here, that's your reward. Have you ever eaten a tomato? No, you haven't, of course. They only grow in summer, and last summer you were born. Your birthday is only a week from now, do you know that, Peregrin?" He probably didn't know, Merry thought as he watched Pippin sucking on the piece of tomato and shuddering from its sourness. Merry wondered if he ought not to have given him something solid like a tomato. He himself thought tomatoes were more squelchy than solid, but Pippin still mostly ate mushy baby food or drank from his mother's breast.
"Let's go on practicing," Merry said. "You want to walk as soon as possible, don't you?"
Peregrin made some noises that Merry thought sounded quite agreeing.
This time, after they had done a few steps the old way, Merry let go of one of Pippin's hands and led him only by the left. After a first few unsteady yards, Pippin adapted readily to this new way of walking and soon was so quick that Merry found it hard to follow.
"Hey, Peregrin!" Estella called. "You're quite fast now!"
Pippin laughed as if he'd understood what she said. Merry then steered him in slalom between the trees. They walked all the way down the row of trees, which went on quite a distance into the garden. Pippin got faster and faster, until he was practically running. Merry found himself laughing like Pippin, Pippin made him laugh, the smell of the plums made him laugh, the sun that was slowly advancing westward, the touch of the grass on his feet.
When they had reached the end of the row of trees, Pippin suddenly threw himself down in the grass, laughing the way he only did when Bilbo was making one of his funny faces at him. Merry almost stumbled over him and dropped on the ground beside him, panting and feeling good.
"Well done, Peregrin," he said. "You're advancing quickly." That was what the teacher said to Merry when he had done some good work.
"Look at the clouds, Pippin," said Merry. "There's lots of water inside them, and when they get too heavy, they burst, and it rains." Pippin crawled over to him and lay on his back beside him. A bird flew across the sky. "That's a swallow," said Merry. "Say swallow, Pippin. Swallow."
"Saow," said Pippin. "Wa-wa-wa."
Merry laughed. "Nearly! You will be able to say swallow before they fly southward, won't you? I'll practice with you." Two more swallows crossed the sky over their heads. "Look at their tails," said Merry. "They're forked. That's how you know they're swallows."
"Swow," said Pippin.
"Very good!" said Merry. "Let's go back now. Fatty's sister—Mummy, I mean, will be waiting for us." He sat up.
"Mummy!" said Pippin. Merry grabbed him under his armpits and lifted him up, but before he placed him on his feet, he pulled him to his chest and hugged him tightly.
"Oh! Ow!" Pippin protested.
Merry let go of him. "Sorry," he mumbled confusedly. He hadn't meant to grab him quite so tightly. And before he noticed it, Pippin had slipped away under his arm and was walking towards the trees. Alone.
Merry's mouth opened, though he did not know what to say, and then Pippin fell down. Merry jumped to his side and pulled him up. But Pippin wasn't crying, he was laughing, as if he was making fun of his older cousin.
And Merry laughed and kissed his cheek and put him on his feet and said the only words that would come to his mind: "Let's go!"
* The original Westron equivalent of "Pippin" is "Razar", which means "a kind of small, red apple" (The History of Middle-earth, Vol. 12 – The Peoples of Middle-earth)
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.