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Disclaimer: The Lord of the Rings and all its characters and settings are the property of the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien, New Line Cinemas, and their licensees. These works were produced with admiration and respect, as fan fiction for entertainment purposes only, not for sale or profit. This story and all my others may be found on my website, http://budgielover.com.
Home Cooking Hobbit-Style
Pippin leaned against the door and fought back tears. He had done his best, he truly had. He had been comforting, sympathetic, encouraging, engaging, then when that didn’t work, demanding. But when he exited the sickroom and sagged against the closed door, it had all been for naught. Frodo had looked tiredly at the meticulously prepared tray that the kitchens had delivered and refused to even taste it.
A warm arm stole around the tweenaged hobbit and hugged him gently, and Pippin turned suddenly and buried his face in his cousin’s chest. Merry rubbed his back soothingly but the look he directed at the closed door over Pippin’s head was grim. Pippin at his most endearing had been his weapon of last resort. Frodo had never been able to deny their youngest cousin anything; from the last piece of blackberry pie to whatever else Pippin’s little heart had desired. Merry had teased Frodo about it more than once, how easily the tweenager twisted him about his little finger. Frodo had only smiled wryly and shrugged, and asked Merry if he were any different.
It was not Lord Elrond’s command that motivated the two to urge their recalcitrant cousin to eat the nourishing food he so desperately needed after his near-fatal wounding. That the Elf-lord had ordered such as their penance for the unfortunate recent mishap with the Gaffer’s home brew was only secondary – Merry would have done the same even without their host’s orders. His incentive was fear for his cousin’s health, and love, and no small measure of guilt.
As he rubbed the sobbing tweenager’s back, he thought how horrified Frodo would be if he knew that Merry blamed himself for failing Frodo, for not somehow stopping the Nazgûl that awful night a nearly a month ago on Weathertop. That there was nothing that Merry could have done he knew intellectually - it was his heart that would not forgive him for somehow not preventing the downward arc of that cursed blade.
“Merry?” Belatedly, he realized that Pippin had pulled back and was gazing up into his face anxiously, tears still glittering in his green-gold eyes.
“It’s all right, Pip-lad – you did your best.” Merry tried to smile at him – Pippin must not guess that his older cousin carried such a burden of guilt. “It’s not your fault our elder cousin is the most stubborn, pig-headed, obstinate, mulish, willful –“
“Merry!” laughed Pippin through his tears. He sniffed hugely and ran a sleeve over his eyes. Merry almost reprimanded him but desisted; after all their clothes had been through, they would survive a little wetting. He would not upset Pippin further, not when Pippin had just seen his blandishments fail for the first time in his life.
“I take it that it did not go well?” Both hobbits jumped; Aragorn had appeared beside them so quietly that they had not heard him. Sam peered at them anxiously from behind the Ranger, a pile of fresh nightshirts in his arms.
Pippin sniffed again and shook his head. “It didn’t. Frodo wouldn’t eat anything. Not even the mushrooms sautéed in butter. He said he didn’t want them – they weren’t like home.” He paused and incredulous disbelief spread over his sharp face. “Our Cousin Frodo turned up his nose at mushrooms!”
“Unnatural,” Sam muttered. When they looked at him, he flushed but continued doggedly, “It’s plain unnatural for a hobbit not ‘ta want to eat. Though Mr. Frodo’s always been a picky eater. He wants things just so, or he won’t even try.”
Merry’s mouth firmed into a thin line. “That’s it, then. He’s going to eat if I have to stuff it down his throat.”
Pippin looked up, eyes widening in alarm. “Merry, you can’t –“
“I have another idea,” Aragorn interposed smoothly. “If Frodo wants ‘home-cooking,’ then why don’t you two make what he likes?”
Merry and Pippin looked at each other in startlement. “You know your way about the kitchens,” Aragorn continued, not letting the hobbits see his amusement. “You’ve been there often enough and the head cook has already said you may have anything you like.” The Ranger smiled to see realization dawn on the cousins’ faces.
“We’ll cook him hobbit-food,” breathed Merry.
“Apple cobbler,” murmured Pippin blissfully. “Fried ‘taters. Sausages and chopped onions… Fish n’ chips! Fried egg sandwiches. Sam, will you make your special mushroom omelets?”
“That I will, Master Pippin,” Sam promised, a proud grin on his round face. He sat down the laundry and dusted his hands. “I’ve never seen the master turn down my omelets. Mr. Bilbo, neither.”
“It’s settled, then,” Aragorn said, relieved that his suggestion had averted another crisis.
* * * * *
“What’s this, Merry?” Pippin sniffed the orange-red spice cautiously. The hobbits had been astonished and amazed by the variety of unfamiliar cooking utensils and ingredients which the head cook had presented them with. Some of the contents on the shelf after shelf of spices were old friends, but the contents of this little jar were new. It had the most peculiar aroma; sharp and enticing at the same time. It tickled Pippin’s nose and he turned his head aside and sneezed.
“What does the label say?” replied his cousin, involved in peeling an apple.
“I don’t know – it’s in Elvish.”
“Ask Sam. Maybe it’s a word he knows.” Merry held up another apple and regarded it critically. “No …has a bad spot.” He discarded that one and chose another, perfect one from the huge mound piled in front of him.
“He’s gone to get his fry pan for the omelets. The ones here are too large.”
“Well, taste it then.”
“All right.” Pippin carefully inserted a finger into the small earthenware pot and coated it liberally with the reddish dust. He examined the finger then shrugged and stuck it into his mouth.
(some time later)
“How was I supposed to know it was chili pepper? Pepper is black, Merry! What’s a chili?”
“Did I say to stick your whole finger into your mouth, Pippin? Well, did I? Take another drink of water.”
Pippin’s eyes had stopped tearing but his face remained blotched and red. Upon coming to ask the little ones if they needed anything and finding Merry frantically pouring water down a choking Pippin’s throat, the head cook had emitted such a horrified roar that his entire staff had come on the run, sure that their chief had fatally injured himself. Finding no blood, severed body parts or halflings enveloped in flames, the concerned Elves had ministered to the stricken hobbit to Pippin’s heart’s content. Unfortunately, the preparation of luncheon had been forgotten in all the uproar and instead of feasting on the finest fare of Rivendell, the inhabitants of Imladris were consuming a midday meal of cold pork sandwiches and whatever left-overs the staff could hurriedly pull from the cold room.
“Are you certain that I should not send for Lord Elrond?” asked the head cook, regarding the youngest hobbit with concern.
“No, no,” Pippin and Merry both assured him. “Please don’t do that,” added Merry. “We don’t want to cause any more trouble.” The head cook regarded them commiseratingly and left to pacify his dining hall of irate diners.
* * * * *
“It’s awfully big,” said Merry doubtfully. As the head cook had been called to Lord Elrond’s study to explain the lack of luncheon, one of the kitchen staff was showing the hobbits the mixing machine and explaining its usage.
“Do not worry, little master. As long as you turn this crank and keep free of the paddle, this device will stir great quantities of dough at once. It is the only way to produce enough bread – or, as you wish, cobbler – for so many.” The Elf turned the crank encouragingly, and the hobbits watched warily as the great wooden oar stirred the ingredients. “Would you like to try?”
Pippin stepped back a pace, shaking his head. The Elf offered the crank to Merry. “See it is not so difficult, as long as you are careful.” The Elf bowed and returned to his work.
The cousins stood and regarded the contraption. Hobbits are not a mechanical folk, though Merry thought he understood how the crank powered the gears that turned the paddle. “Right,” he said decisively. “I’ll turn the crank. Pip, you get up on that stool and push the batter away from the sides so everything gets well mixed.”
Pippin tugged the stool over and armed with a long-handled wooden spoon, climbed up on it and peered into the huge bowl that contained the flour and sugar and cinnamon and other ingredients. He reached in experimentally with the spoon. “I don’t like this, Merry. The bowl’s too big.”
“It has to be if there’s going to be enough for all of Rivendell, Pip,” Merry replied, hiding his own misgivings. “Making enough for everyone is the best way to thank the head cook for letting us use his kitchen. Just wait for the paddle to move away and push the mix off the sides of the bowl. Nothing to it.”
Merry hung on the crank and used his weight to push it into movement. Once he had completed a couple of rotations, it revolved more easily and Merry began to relax. Pippin too breathed a sigh of relief as they fell into a rhythm; Merry cranked, he pushed down the batter, pulled back and waited for the paddle to rotate away. It was almost hypnotizing to watch the huge paddle churn through the cobbler mix... Round it went, round and round… His eyes following the paddle blankly, Pippin was a moment late in recognizing that the paddle was coming too quickly. He tried to jerk the spoon away but the thick bowl of the spoon caught in the paddle’s spoke.
The screeching of strained wood resounded through the kitchen and Merry dangled for a moment on the crank. Then the spoon snapped and the paddle whirled out of control in a fury of accumulated motion. Merry jumped back with hobbit-quickness but the spinning crank caught him just under the chin. Gloriously glowing stars filled his vision for a moment then night descended with a thud.
* * * * *
“Merry, please wake up,” a familiar voice begged. “Oh, Sam, I’ve killed him.”
“Now Master Pippin, he wouldn’t be moaning like that if he were dead. Hoy! He’s opening his eyes! Come on, Mr. Merry, wake up now.”
Merry groaned. Why was he lying on his back in a pile of wet, sticky … wet sticky … what was he lying on? Curiosity forced his eyes open. Then he groaned again in genuine pain.
Every surface in his floor-level view of the kitchen was covered with batter. Floor, cabinets, walls, everything. His eyes traveled upwards, taking in the encrusting matter that coated every surface in mortified disbelief. He was lying on a bed of it that spilled from the overturned bowl. Batter squished under him, oozed past him, and covered him and Pippin both from the hair on their heads to the hair on their feet. Sam seemed relatively clean, only his breeches soiled where he knelt by Merry’s side, and Merry hazily decided he must have returned shortly after the accident.
Sam’s gaze followed Merry’s. “How did you get batter on the ceiling?” he asked in horror.
“It just went everywhere! Help us, Sam!” Merry rolled over and struggled to his hands and knees, then rocked back on his heels, trying to scrub off the clinging stuff. My poor waistcoat, he mourned. The batter was drying quickly, and once dry, clung with the consistency of glue. He felt his chin gingerly and yelped –a magnificent bruise was developing where the crank had caught him. But that was not what concerned him. “Look at this place! It’s all over! The head cook is going to murder us!”
“Are you all right, Merry?” Belatedly Merry swung back to his cousin. Pippin was still frightened and watching him worriedly. A great glob of batter had been thrown into his hair and was dripping down his neck.
“I’m fine, Pip. Thank you. It was an accident... But we’ve got to get this cleaned up before the Big People find out! Pippin – go get us some scrub brushes. Look in the cellar over there – they wouldn’t be kept around the food. Sam, find me a mop and a bucket and some soap.” Merry closed his eyes for a moment against his aching head. When he opened them, they were still gaping about them in bewilderment. Pippin’s eyes were as big as saucers as he stared in disbelief at the chaos. “Well – what you waiting for?”
Pippin darted for the cellar door whileSam rummaged in the broom closet behind him. Merry sat on the floor for a few moments, nursing his head and trying to formulate a systematic plan of attack on the mess. “Soap,” read Sam carefully, holding up a large square box. “Mr. Merry, this says ‘soap’! There’s another word here … I don’t know it…”
“Who cares what kind of soap it is! Just pour it in the bucket, Sam, and start mopping!”
Against his better judgment, Sam obeyed. The soap was powdery, crystalline, like snowflakes frozen into solid form. How much of it would equal a bar? It was awfully light, for all the room it took up in the box. Sam debated a moment then upended the entire box into the water. He dipped in the mop and stirred the water energetically. “Oh. Oh, my. Um … um, Mr. Merry?”
“I don’t hear mopping, Sam!”
“Mr. Merry, sir –“
“What?” Feeling this day could not possible grow any worse, Merry whirled around on his knees. Sam was edging back towards him, the mop held before him in defense. Something white and bubbly and frothing was advancing on him, seething and clinging to the floor as it crawled towards them. Waist-high to a hobbit, it heaved mightily and surged forward as if pushed from behind. Already the creeping wave had devoured the space between the broom cabinet and the hobbits. Sam stuck the mop into it and tried to drive it back. The white stuff swallowed the mop and proceeded to climb up the handle. Sam dropped it and stumbled back against Merry.
“It ate me mop!”
“What is it, Sam?” Merry gawked at the monstrous growth in horror.
“It’s the soap, Mr. Merry! It just started coming out o’ the bucket, and it’s growing like mushrooms after a spring rain! I can’t get it to stop!”
“I’ve found the brushes, Merry!” Before the others could stop him, Pippin barreled through the cellar door and skidded into the first crawling tendrils of soap. His feet flew out from under him and he went down with a shriek and a bone-rattling thump. Sam and Merry had the briefest glance of his terrified face before it disappeared under the avalanche of white foam, a great white spray of it thrown up on each side of him.
“Pippin! Pippin!” Merry piled into the seething mound, Sam right behind him, flinging handfuls of suds everywhere as they searched. “Pippin! Answer me, lad!”
What Merry had taken for a buried barrel or perhaps a sack of flour heaved itself upright. “Meeerrrrryy,” wailed the soap-covered figure, rising up on trembling legs. Merry caught up his cousin and hugged him close and sat down in the middle of the mess, pulling Sam down with them. So they were as Lord Elrond found them, coming back with his head cook to speak to them.
* * * * *
Aragorn sighed and rubbed his temples. His lord had tasked him with dealing with the hobbits and Aragorn wondered if Elrond did not trust himself to maintain his dignity so soon after the unfortunate brewing incident.
The early dusk was settling in, rimming the valley with the reds and golds of the setting sun, casting great swathes of color through the windows of Merry and Pippin’s room. Even with the help of the kitchen staff, it had taken hours to clean up the mess. The soap was the worst part – it simply would not be used up. Aragorn was certain that enough water had been used in mopping to feed one of Imladris’ great waterfalls. At last it was done, past tea, past supper, and those not too weary to eat were consuming a frugal, soap-flavored dinner. “The head cook does not wish to see you in his kitchens again until he gives you leave. No more second-breakfasts.” The three hobbits stood before him, heads hanging and wet, soap-smelling clothes sticking to them. “This dictate does not apply to Sam, who is innocent of this mischief.” Sam jerked upon hearing his name, and shot Merry and Pippin an apologetic glance from under his lowered eyes. They grimaced at him to show there were no bad feelings.
“He is a kind Elf, at heart,” Aragorn continued, “and will eventually forgive you. But it would be best if you asked for trays for a few days, instead of going to the dining hall. And if you see him outside of the kitchens, I would make use of that hobbit-gift of disappearing around Big Folk.”
“I am so sorry –“ Merry began.
“I am not finished, Merry.” Merry fell silent and resumed staring at the floor, his face burning. Pippin was scratching at the drying soap in his hair and Sam pulling surreptitiously at his clothes; Aragorn thought the drying soap must be itching dreadfully. “My lord Elrond has instructed me to tell you that you are released from his order of seeing that the Ring-bearer eats. He recognizes that this whole … inopportune episode … came about because you were attempting to follow his orders, as well as for love of your cousin.”
“Yes, we were -”
“Home-cooking. I know, Merry. You meant well.” Aragorn paused to regard the bruise blossoming on Merry’s face. “If you will write out the recipes for apple cobbler and other favorite dishes of Frodo’s, I will give them to the head cook. He will prepare them, and send them to your cousin with both his and your compliments.”
The Ranger sighed, and heard three small echoes. “Luckily, Frodo has slept most of the day and is unaware of this little … disaster. But Elrond tells me he was asking for you earlier. I leave it to you to explain to him why his dinner tastes of soap.”
“But first, go you to the bathhouses and clean up. It will take some time to soak that off you.” Aragorn was careful to keep his expression stern as the hobbits shuffled out, dried and drying soap drifting from their small selves, leaving a trail of glittering flakes behind them. He waited quietly for a few moments.
Aragorn turned to face his foster father. “They are most abjectly sorry, my lord.”
The Master of Rivendell stepped into the room, Gandalf behind him. Elrond passed a long, slender hand before his face. “Will my home survive until the Ring-bearer is recovered and the Fellowship ready to depart, I wonder?”
Gandalf laughed softly. “There was no great harm done, Elrond. And I’ll warrant the kitchens have never been so clean.”
Elrond did not reply directly. Then, “Long millennia have passed in Imladris in peace and serenity. Now with the temporary addition of these four small persons, my household is turned upside down. There are fires, explosions, flying batter…” Aragorn ducked his head, choking back a laugh. Elrond frowned at him but despite himself, the Elf-lord’s mouth began to turn up.
“As Mithrandir said,” he admitted slowly, “there was no great harm done.” Humor glinted in the ageless eyes. “Let the little ones stew in their own apprehension for the evening. Tomorrow, Estel, you may tell them they will not be punished.”
“Thank you, Father,” Aragorn replied with relief. “Had I known that my simple suggestion would have caused such an outcome, I would have kept it to myself.”
“Your suggestion, my son?”
“Not that they destroy the kitchens,” the Ranger backpedaled hurriedly. “Just an idea to get Frodo to eat. That hobbit is the most stubborn –“
“I rescinded my order for the halflings to ensure Master Baggins eats my son, but as the hobbit is still reluctant, the problem remains. Therefore, you are charged with encouraging his appetite.”
With the slightest shake of his dark head, Elrond moved gracefully towards the door, gathering up the wizard as he went. “Come, Mithrandir. The singing should be excellent in the Hall of Fire this eve.”
Ushering Gandalf before him, Elrond turned in the doorway. “Estel, you may someday rule the race of Men and govern all of the West in a new Age. Surely you can manage one little hobbit?”
It wasn’t until the Elf-lord and the wizard had left that Aragorn looked up his intense study of the tips of his boots. “I don’t think so,” he told his boots. “I truly don’t. And how shall I ever manage four of them?” Receiving no enlightenment from his footwear, the Ranger took himself off to pacify the head cook.
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