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The Dare  by Dreamflower

Disclaimer: Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the Tolkien Estate. I own none of them. Some of them, however, seem to own me.



Merry Brandybuck was disgruntled; no, more than disgruntled, he was thoroughly irritated and out-of-sorts. For weeks he had been looking forward to his annual summer visit to his Took relations, and most especially his cousin Pippin. Pip had turned twenty on his last birthday, and was now officially a tweenager, which meant there were now so many more things they could do together. He had anticipated so much fun.

Instead, what had he found?


Clovis and Cado Banks, Pippin’s first cousins on his mother’s side were visiting at the same time. They were far closer to Pippin’s age than Merry--Clovis was twenty-three and Cado was twenty-one, and if they had been anyone else, Merry would have been delighted to see Pip with some friends of his own age. But those two were a pair of obnoxious, self-centered, half-witted louts. A low growl escaped him at the thought of them.

“Are you all right, Merry?” His aunt, who sat across from him on the other garden bench looked at him with concern.

“I’m fine, Aunt Tina.” He flushed. It wasn’t Eglantine’s fault her nephews were so--so--so despicable. He could tell she didn’t like them either. Nobody liked them. Not even Pip.

That was the problem.

Pippin thought he should like everyone, and usually did. But when he didn’t like people, he didn’t think it was because they were unlikable; oh no, he thought it was something wrong with *him*. He would feel guilty, and try extra hard to be extra nice to them. Merry had told him often enough that some people weren’t worth it, but it never seemed to sink in.

Merry scowled across to the lawn where the three of them were playing kick-the-ball, rather too roughly. Twice they had “accidentally” caught Pip in the stomach with the ball, and once narrowly missed his head. There was no excuse for that; the ball was supposed to stay on the ground, not in the air. Eglantine gasped, and Merry stifled a curse as Clovis kicked the ball particularly hard and it caught Pip behind the knees, knocking him down face first.

“That’s enough of that!” he said through clenched teeth as he got up from the bench.

“Merry?” There was a slightly embarrassed appeal in his aunt’s voice. She wanted him to intervene, but she didn’t want to upset things with Pip and her nephews.

“Don’t worry, Aunt Tina. All I have to do to put a stop to it is to walk down there.”

She sighed and nodded.

Poor Aunt Tina, he thought, as he trudged down the slope to the lawn. She’s another who feels guilty for not liking those two fat-heads.

“Hullo, fellows,” he said blandly, “how about a little bit of two against two? Me and Pip against you brothers?” Merry was rewarded by the way Pippin’s mournful face lit up at his suggestion. He noted Pip’s scraped knees and some bruises. There was a small scrape on his forehead as well. If they took him up on his idea, he was determined that Clovis would soon have his own set of scrapes and bruises. But he knew these two were cowards. He could just about bet on what Clovis’s next words would be.

“Oh, I don’t know. I think we’re about finished playing ball. Why don’t we do something else now?”

Right on target. And Merry knew that any suggestion *he* made would be shot down, especially if Pip looked as though he wanted to do it. Well, he wasn’t going to give in so easily this time.

“Why don’t we go to the pond and have a swim?” he suggested, and this time was rewarded not only by Pip’s hopeful smile, but by the two brothers going pale.

“We don’t know how to swim!” said Cado.

“Nasty un-hobbitlike thing to do,” added Clovis.

“Ah, yes, I remember,” said Merry. That implied he had forgot, but it wasn’t an outright lie. “We could fish.”

“Too hot,” countered Clovis.

Now Merry brought up what he’d had in mind to begin with. “Why don’t we walk into Tuckborough, and I’ll stand you lads a half?”

This put the brothers in a bind. There were no hard and fast rules in the Shire as a whole as to when a lad could start drinking in an inn; most places, if he was a tween and brought in by a responsible adult, he’d be served a half. But a few towns had their own rules. In Underhill where the Bankses were from, a tweenager could not drink in the inn unless he was accompanied by a parent or family member who was of age; in Tuckborough a tweenager of twenty-five or older could drink and buy drinks unaccompanied--and Merry was twenty-eight. More to the point, if they were with him, he could buy them one half a drink. The brothers’ father Clodio was a stuffed shirt; different rules or no, he’d not be pleased at his sons drinking in an inn without him there, and they knew it. So they could flout him, and go with Merry, or they could refuse to go, and he *might* be able to get Pip to go with him. He held his breath.

Cado looked as though he wanted to, but Clovis shook his head. “No, our father wouldn’t want us to do that.”

Merry let out his breath. “Well, I’m thirsty, and I’m going. Coming, Pip?”

To Pippin the idea of sharing an ale with his almost grown favorite cousin was delightful, and he nodded.

They started off, but after only a few steps heard Cado whine, “Well, that’s nice, I must say, go off and leave us standing.”

And then Clovis-- “What do you expect? He likes that Brandybuck better than he likes us.”

Pippin stopped dead in his tracks, his face a study in misery, caught between love and guilt. Merry watched the play of emotion on Pippin’s face as he wavered between what he wanted to do and what he thought he ought to do.

It wasn’t playing fair. Merry decided to add his own bit of guilt. “Pip, I’ve been looking forward to this for months.” He turned his own pleading look on his younger cousin. His was not as practiced or as devastating as Pip‘s, but he only used it when he was really sincere, so it almost always worked.

Pippin looked into the grey eyes turned on him, full of expectation and affection. It didn’t take him long to give in to his Merry.

“Right,” said Pippin. “We’ll see you later,” he added to the Bankses, who were left fuming.

And inside Merry exulted. He had won.


Safely ensconced at The Leaping Hare ( or The Bouncing Bunny, as the locals affectionately called it ) Merry and Pippin carefully nursed their halves to make them last.

Pippin blew out a deep breath. “Thanks, Mer, I feel ever so much better now, more relaxed. I didn’t know I was so tense.”

“It’s no wonder. Trying to please those two would make anyone tense. Face it, Pip, there is no pleasing them.”

“But they’re my cousins, and they’re company--”

Merry laughed, “And what am I?”

Pippin laughed, too. “Well, really, I suppose you are. But you’re different, you’re special.”

“Of course, you goose, and so are you. Let’s change the subject. I’ve had enough of Bankses.” Merry took another small sip. “Frodo should be here this evening.”

Pippin’s face lit up. “It will be great to see good old Frodo!” Frodo was Pippin’s second favorite cousin, but in some ways even more special. Pip and Merry were so close that one almost always knew what the other was thinking, and they sometimes even finished one another’s sentences. Merry was an open book to Pippin. In spite of the eight years difference, they were still close enough in age to enjoy most of the same things.

Frodo, though, was quite grown-up. At forty-one he was more than twice Pippin’s age, for all that he looked several years younger, and there was an air of mystery and of secrets about him. He was a scholar, and a font of wisdom, full of marvelous tales from his old Uncle Bilbo and from reading about Elves. Even though he was grown-up, he was never too busy for his younger cousins, but he never made them feel he was being condescending when he spent time with them. Pippin adored him to distraction.

“He’s said the three of us can go for a good long tramp round the Shire before I have to go back to Buckland,” said Merry.

“That would be lovely. Where do you suppose we will go?”

Soon the two of them were deep in a discussion, planning what they would do with Frodo at the end of the summer, the Bankses all but forgot.


Clovis and Cado had watched Merry and Pippin walk out of sight in disgust. Though they never would have put it in so many words, their chief entertainment on visiting the Great Smials was tormenting their younger cousin; now thanks to Merry, Pippin was at least temporarily out of reach.

“What are we going to do now?” asked Cado.

Clovis shook his head without answering. “That Merry Brandybuck thinks he’s so great. He’s so full of himself it makes me sick. Just because he’s old enough to buy ale in Tuckborough.”

“There is not much we can do about him,” said Cado astutely. “He doesn’t seem to care one way or the other what we say.”

“Yes, but Pippin does.” Clovis’s eyes narrowed, and Cado wondered what idea his brother was hatching up now. “Pip thinks Merry’s so great because he can stand him half an ale. I think maybe we can stand him something a good deal better than that! Come with me!”

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll see!”

Clovis led Cado around to the back of the Smials and into the main kitchen. In all the bustle, no one paid any attention to them. Clovis pulled his brother over to a door leading to a short passageway. There were doors on either side. One led to the larder, but Clovis opened the other, which led down to the wine cellar. There was a shelf by the door that held a candle and a striker. Clovis lit the candle.

“Clovis,” hissed Cado. But it was useless. Once his brother got an idea there was no stopping him. He followed him down the slope into the wine cellar.

“I tagged along the day Uncle Paladin was showing off some new wine to Father.” He held the candle up. “Over here--” he looked away from the wine racks to some shelves. “I noticed--yes--there they are!”

He had found the shelves with the stronger spirits: liquors, brandy, fortified wines.

He snatched a couple of bottles of fortified wine and handed them to his brother. Cado looked at him resignedly, and stashed the bottles inside his jacket.

Clovis grabbed two bottles of brandy, and after hiding them on his person, took another bottle of the fortified wine for good measure.

The two slipped back up, blew out and replaced the candle, and sidled out with their booty.


Paladin had come back to the family’s private sitting room to fetch his favorite pipe; Eglantine was there alone, needlework in her lap untouched, and a troubled look on her face.

“Is something the matter, my dear?” he asked.

She sighed. “It’s those dreadful nephews of mine. They torment Pippin to death, and they are so unpleasant to be around. I wish I had never agreed to have them here. I don’t know why I didn’t tell Clodio ‘no’.”

“Yes you do, Tina.” Eglantine’s mother was in frail health, and she lived with her son. Any rift with her brother might make it very difficult for their mother. “And Pippin is going to have to learn how to deal with unpleasant people. He’s going to be Thain one day, after all.”

This did not cheer Eglantine. To the contrary, it gave her something more to worry about. Ever since Ferumbras stepped down five years ago and turned the Thainship over to Paladin, he had been increasingly strict with his son, and less patient. And now Pippin had entered his tweens, which were hard enough without the constant reminder of future responsibilities. Her son was getting heartily tired of the phrase “He’s going to be Thain one day,” and truth be told, so was she.

Paladin found his pipe, kissed the top of her head, and returned to his study.


Their time at the inn had been a pleasant interlude, and Merry and Pippin had started back to the Smials to be in time for afternoon tea. They were not talking much, but simply enjoying one another’s company without the presence of annoying outsiders.

Just then they heard a familiar voice. “Well, look what I have found upon the road!”

They turned with matching grins. “Frodo!” The tweenagers nearly knocked him over with the exuberance of their embraces.

“Easy, lads, have pity on a poor tired old hobbit! After all, I’ve just walked all the way from Hobbiton.”

Merry relieved Frodo of his pack. “Maybe that will help, cousin. And you are not old. You don’t look a day over thirty-three.”

Frodo grinned. “After such a trudge, I feel ninety-three!” He returned Pippin’s hug, and ruffled his curls. “How are you doing Pip?”

“Oh, I’m fine, Frodo. Merry bought me half an ale!”

Frodo looked at Merry with a raised eyebrow.

“You know that in Tuckborough that is perfectly all right, Frodo.”

“So it is. I had almost forgot. Well, shall we see if we can get to the Smials in time to freshen up for tea?”


Frodo had been welcomed warmly by his older Took relations, and they had all shared a nice tea. He had been a bit dismayed to find the Banks lads there. He really could not warm up to them. They tended to snigger behind his back, and talk about “Mad Baggins”, but they were only lads after all.

After tea, the older hobbits, including Frodo, sat about and talked for a while. Frodo had some bits of news from Hobbiton, and he was curious to hear of all the doings in the Smials. Merry was content to stay by his side and just listen and bask in his presence, but Pippin, as much as he loved his cousins, soon grew bored. When the Bankses suggested that he come with them to their room, he forgot all about his problems with them, and eagerly followed.

“We’ve got something to show you,” said Clovis. “Just wait until you see what it is!”



“What is it?” asked Pippin as Clovis hustled him into the guest room the brothers were sharing. It was across the hall from Pippin’s room.

“We’ve a little something we thought you might like to share with us,” said Clovis as he shut the door. “Cado, show him.”

Cado threw up the coverlet on the bed and reached under the pillows to pull out the five bottles they had purloined.

Pippin stared, wide-eyed and not altogether approving. “*Where* did you get those?”

Clovis sniggered. “Where do you think?”

“You raided my father’s wine cellar?” he asked incredulously.

“Don’t be that way,” Clovis smirked. “I daresay you’ve raided the larders often enough.”

“That’s different!”

“How is that different? Aside from one’s food and the other’s drink?” Clovis thought this a pretty clever response.

“Well--” Only Pippin couldn’t think of a really good answer, other than nobody much minded a raid on the larder, and he was fairly certain his father would *very* much mind a raid on the wine cellar. He was about to say as much, when Cado piped up.

“For goodness’ sake, Pippin, aren’t you even curious?”

Now that was a different question altogether. Of course he was curious. Who wouldn’t be? The adults seemed to enjoy this stuff, and tweenagers were usually restricted to nothing more than half an ale or maybe a small glass of wine on a special occasion.

Clovis picked up one of the bottles of brandy and handed it to his brother. Cado took a good-sized swallow. His eyes bugged out and began to water, and he opened his mouth and panted. “Whoa!” he said breathlessly. He looked at the bottle in surprise. This stuff had quite a kick to it!

Pippin looked at him skeptically. “Come now, it can’t be that bad. The grown-ups sip it like tea!” He took the bottle, tilted it back and took a large swig.

He gasped, his own eyes popping and his face going bright red. “*Thunder!*” he wheezed, “that tastes like *cough medicine*!” He too looked at the bottle in surprise--his father *liked* this stuff?

Clovis took it and sniffed it suspiciously, and then took a small sip. It was a bit on the warm side, with a little kick to it, but not all that bad. Maybe you weren’t meant to take large swallows. He’d never seen any of the adults gulping it. In fact, when his father had some, he seemed to spend as much time smelling it as he did drinking it.

“Here, let’s try some of the other stuff.” He picked up one of the bottles of fortified wine and opened it. He cautiously took a taste. “Not bad.” He handed it to Cado.

Cado took a sip. “Oh my!” He took another sip. “That’s pretty good!” He handed the bottle to Pippin.

Pippin had a swallow, and then another swallow. “You’re right,” he giggled. “This is kind of nice.” He took one more swallow.

Clovis looked at Pippin out of the corner of his eye. “I’ll bet you couldn’t drink the whole bottle in one go.”

Pippin pursed his lips, as he considered the idea. “I might--I might could do it.” He stopped for a second. “Could do what?” for some reason he could not remember.

Clovis grinned. Looked like Pippin was already getting a little drunk. “Drink it all down at one go. I dare you!”

“I--(hiccup)--I double dare you,” giggled Cado. He was definitely a bit tipsy.

“Oh.” Pippin looked at the bottle in his hand, as if wondering how it got there. Once he had finished a whole bottle of Aunt Esme’s ginger beer in one go and it had made him burp all afternoon. Would this stuff make him burp? “In that case--” he upended the bottle into his mouth and began to gulp, draining the bottle, and making a satisfying “glug” with each swallow. Just as he thought he’d have to breathe or burst, the bottle was empty. He dropped it on the bed. He felt a bit dizzy.

He looked at Clovis fuzzily. “I did so too could do it.” He blinked. Did that make sense?

Clovis handed him the bottle of brandy they had opened. “Yes, but could you do it with this stuff?”

“Why?” Pippin thought he remembered something about that stuff tasting pretty foul. Did he really want to drink it all? “Tastes nasty.” He pushed the bottle away.

Cado nodded and giggled again. “Nasty!” he repeated. Clovis glared at his brother. Looked like he was drunk, too.

“I bet you’d do it fast enough if Merry Brandybuck asked you to,” Clovis said sullenly.

“Merry?” Pippin looked around the room owlishly. He didn’t think he remembered Merry being there. “Where’s Merry?”

“Come on, Pippin” said Clovis, “give it a go.” This time Pippin took the bottle and put it to his lips.


After tea, Merry and Frodo had gone for a short stroll in the south garden, to enjoy a late afternoon pipe.

“How are you enjoying your visit this year?” asked Frodo, knowing how much Merry had been looking forward to it.

“Don’t ask,” he groaned. “Those Banks brothers are spoiling everything.”

“They are pretty dismal, I must admit,” said Frodo. “I’m afraid I can’t like them much. I hate to say it, but that Clovis reminds me of no one so much as Lotho at that age.”

“Exactly.” Merry sighed, and sat down on a nearby bench, Frodo sitting down next to him. “I just wish Pip would give it up and stop trying to be nice to them. They don’t deserve it.”

“You know he won’t do that.”

Merry told Frodo of what had happened that afternoon when the lads were playing ball. “And I had to go down to put a stop to it. I must say I was surprised at Aunt Tina. She’s not one to let that kind of thing go by.”

“Think about it, Merry,” said Frodo, shaking his head. “You know how ill her mother is. And you know what Clodio can be like.”

“You don’t mean to say he would keep her from seeing her own mother if she displeased him, do you?” Merry looked shocked.

“I am very much afraid that is what *Tina* thinks might happen. And she should know her own brother.” Frodo sighed.

“I still wish Pip would stand up to them. Or at the very least give up on trying to like them. I don’t know why he does that.”

“Yes you do, Merry. No one knows him better than you.” Frodo blew a smoke ring, and watched it float away.

“I know,” Merry sighed. “but sometimes I wish he didn’t have such a large heart. He’s got room in there for everybody, but not everybody deserves to be in there.”

“But if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be our Pip, would he, dear?” He gave Merry an encouraging hug. It wasn’t often he found himself offering comfort to the usually cheerful Merry. It was more likely to be the other way round.

“Besides, the Bankses will leave soon. And in a couple of weeks it will be just the three of us, on our walking trip.” He gave a bit of a squeeze to the sturdy shoulders, and stood up. “And I am tired. I think I am going to my room and have a bit of a nap before supper.”

“I’ll walk back with you, and then see if I can find Pip. He probably needs to be rescued from the clutches of those cousins of his.”

“Probably,” laughed Frodo.

Merry said good-bye to Frodo at his door, and went down two doors to Pippin’s room. He knocked and poked his head in. No one there, but he had really not expected it. He looked across the hall to the Bankses’ room. As he crossed the hall, he heard Cado’s inane giggle, and as he approached the room, he heard Clovis talking.

“I bet you’d do it fast enough if Merry Brandybuck asked you to do it.”

Then came Pippin’s voice, all but inaudible, but Merry thought he heard his name.

Clovis’s voice again. “Come on, Pippin, give it a go.”

Filled with a sudden sense of foreboding, Merry flung the door open without knocking. In one dreadful instant everything froze and he took in the picture: the three lads sitting on the bed, Clovis staring at him in shock, Cado in bewilderment, Pippin gulping from the half-empty bottle; the empty wine bottle next to him; the other three bottles on the nightstand.

“Pip!” he shouted. Time began to move again. Startled, Pippin dropped the bottle and it smashed upon the floor. He turned a drunkenly reproachful look on Merry. “Shee what’cha made me do, Mer? I coulda done it, too, all in one go.”

Furious, Merry strode into the room. “Stars above, Pip! Why?”

Pippin grinned at him in confusion. “Th’ dared me; th’ dubba dared me. I did thish’n,” he picked up the empty wine bottle and waved it about proudly. “Bu’ now gotta shtart over.” He reached for one of the bottles on the nightstand.

“No!” Merry darted over, grabbed Pippin by the shoulders and looked his cousin in the face. A wave of alcohol fumes nearly made him gag.

Pippin gazed at him with wide, unfocused eyes. “Mer--whish one of you is you?”

“Come on, Pip,” he sighed, “up you go; let’s get you to your room.”

Clovis sniggered and Cado grinned. Merry shot them a baleful glare, as he tried to get Pippin to his feet.

“Up you go, Pip,” he said, pulling from under Pippin’s arms. He got him to stand, and drew him forward a couple of steps. “Let’s go.”

Pippin looked at him with a baffled expression, and Merry could see his eyes glazing over. His knees began to buckle, and suddenly Merry was supporting a dead weight in his arms. Pippin had passed out cold.

Merry lowered him to the floor, and gently smacked him on both cheeks. “Come on, now Pip, come out of it.” No response. He studied Pippin’s slack face; he didn’t seem to be breathing so good. A lump of fear formed in his stomach, and he felt the panic begin to gibber around the edges of his mind. He sat back on his heels, and allowed that panic to give him the strength he for one loud yell: “FRODO! FRODO! I need you!”


Frodo had just begun to drift off in a light doze when suddenly the sound of Merry, screaming his name in terror, brought him bolt upright. He dashed into the hall.

From the open door across the way, he could hear Merry sobbing and crooning. “Pip, please, Pippin, wake up, please wake up--”

He stepped into the room. Merry was kneeling on the floor by his cousin, with Pippin’s head in his lap. The Banks lads still sat on the bed, wide-eyed.

Merry looked up. “Frodo, help me.”

“What’s wrong with him?” he asked as he swiftly moved to Pippin’s side.

“These two,” said Merry with loathing, and casting a murderous glare their way, “dared him to get drunk.”

Indeed, from the smell and the sight of the broken bottle, Frodo had suspected as much. He knelt to examine the unconscious tweenager. Pippin really did not look good. He was pale, clammy, not breathing well. Frodo looked at Merry’s terrified face.

“Merry, I need you to calm down. Go at once. Fetch his parents and the healer, right now, as quickly as you can.” Frodo kept his voice as even as he could, trying not to let it quaver.

Merry nodded and flew from the room. He raced up the corridor, but had not gone far when he nearly collided with Pippin’s oldest sister, Pearl. She grabbed him by the shoulders.

“Merry,” she started crossly, and then she saw his face. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“It’s Pip! He won’t wake up. Frodo said get the healer and your parents.”

She grew pale. “All right, I’ll get Mother and Father. Do you know where Mistress Poppy lives?”

He nodded.

“Where is Pippin?”

“Bankses’ room,” he called over his shoulder, as he ran off once more.

He dashed for the nearest exit. The healer, Poppy Burrows, did not live in the Great Smials, but in a cottage at the far edge of the west garden. Merry cut straight through the garden, jumping over low hedges and flower beds. He cut to the path leading to her door, and soon was hammering on it.


Frodo held Pippin’s head, softly smoothing his curls. Pippin’s face was pale, but it seemed to grow paler and acquire a greenish tinge. Frodo felt his young cousin’s body tense involuntarily. With an idea of what was about to happen, he rolled Pippin to his side, just in time. Pippin began to vomit. For a moment, Frodo was hopeful that the lad would regain consciousness, but he did not, which really was worrisome. He waited until the spasm had passed.

“Eeeww, that‘s awful,” said Clovis with a look of disgust. His expression was avid, and his eyes glittered. It was apparent that he was enjoying the drama he had created.

Frodo looked up at the brothers. A cold anger was building in him at the danger they had put Pippin in. “Get up. Get off the bed.” They just stared, not moving. “I said: ‘Get. Off. The. Bed’.”

They stood up.

In a low, firm voice, he said, “Go over to the other side of the room. Now!”

They moved as quickly as they could, stepping around Frodo, Pippin, and the mess on the floor.

Frodo gently picked Pippin up, as easily as if he were a faunt, and laid him on the bed, carefully arranging him on his side and placing pillows at his back. Then he sat down and took Pippin’s head in his lap again, and once more began gently smoothing the chestnut curls.

He spared a glance for the two miscreants leaning against the wall. Cado had the sense to at least look frightened. Clovis, on the other hand, looked sullen and there was hint of a smirk on his face. Frodo had no doubt whatsoever that he was looking at the ringleader of this whole disaster.

“Clovis,” he said, gesturing with his chin toward the washstand, where there were clean towels, a ewer of water, and a basin, “take those and come clean up this mess.”

“You can’t tell me what to do.” The tweenager raised his chin defiantly. Frodo Baggins was no kin of his; he had no authority to order him about.

Suddenly, Clovis found himself on the receiving end of the coldest, most contemptuous stare it had ever been his misfortune to encounter in his life.

He felt a chill run down his spine.

In a low voice with more than a hint of steel in it, Frodo said, “I just did. And bring me the basin while you’re at it. Now move.”

Clovis moved.


Pearl burst breathlessly into her parents’ sitting room, where Paladin and Eglantine were visiting with Paladin’s cousin Reginard, his wife Hyacinth, and Eglantine’s good friend Dianthus Goodbody.

“Mother, Father, you must come at once. Pippin is ill.” They looked up at her in alarm.

With barely an “excuse us” Pippin’s parents followed their daughter.

As they left, Reggie looked troubled, and Dianthus gave a sympathetic gasp.

“Oh dear me,” said Hyacinth with a gleam in her eyes, “I wonder, is it serious?”

As Eglantine and Paladin followed their daughter down the corridor, Pearl explained her encounter with Merry.

“He won’t wake up?” asked Eglantine.

“That does not sound good,” said Paladin. “Did Merry say what was wrong?”

“No time,” answered Pearl. “He’s gone after Mistress Poppy. But he did say they were in the Banks cousins’ room.”

At those words, Eglantine felt an ominous foreboding.


Poppy was just sitting down to a nice bit of supper when the banging on the door began. She was between apprentices right now, so she had to answer it herself. She opened to a pale and breathless Merry.

“Mistress Poppy, you must come at once. Pippin has passed out and we can’t rouse him.”

Poppy snatched her medical satchel from its hook by the front door. “Tell me as we walk.”

Merry started to cut back across the garden. “No, young hobbit, stay on the path. Trust me, it will be faster. I’m too old to be jumping hedges. Now tell me what happened.”

Merry swallowed. “Those Banks cousins of his, they dared him to get drunk.”

“How much did he have, do you know?” This was something she had to deal with from time to time with young tweenagers, and it never boded well.

“As far as I could tell, he drank almost an entire bottle of fortified wine without stopping to draw breath, and perhaps half a bottle of brandy the same way before I could stop him.” Merry choked a bit as he remembered the scene that had met his eyes earlier.

“Good heavens! That much strong spirits for a hobbit of Peregrin’s age and weight could be fatal!” She had gone several steps before she realized Merry was no longer beside her.

She turned. Merry’s face was stark white, and he swayed where he stood.

“Meriadoc Brandybuck! I do not have time for you to faint. Bend over and take a few deep breaths.”

He did as she directed, and after a few breaths, stood upright, with a bit of color back in his face. “I’m sorry, it’s just--”

“No, young Meriadoc. It is I who should apologize. I should not have said that to you, especially since I have not even seen the patient yet. I did not mean to alarm you so.”


Frodo watched Clovis sternly as he picked up the glass shards, and used the towels to clean up the mess on the floor. Suddenly he felt Pippin’s body stiffen again. He propped his head up and placed the basin in front just as Pippin began to retch and heave. He was still vomiting when Paladin, Eglantine and Pearl appeared in the doorway. As he finally stopped, Frodo put the basin on the nightstand and wiped his cousin’s face with a handkerchief.

“Oh, my baby!” cried Eglantine, flying to her son’s side.

Paladin looked grim. “What has happened here?” Though from the evidence of the bottles and the smell in the room he had a very good idea of what had occurred.

Clovis looked sullen and refused to meet his eyes. He turned his attention to the glass shards he was carefully placing in a towel. Paladin looked at the younger brother.

Cado blurted out “We just thought we’d try--umm--some of the grown-up stuff.”

“Did Pippin help you steal from my wine cellar?” Although Paladin was fairly sure he knew the answer. Pippin had done more than his share of mischief from time to time, but this was not his usual kind of trouble.

Again it was Cado who answered. “No--no, sir. He was in Tuckborough.”

“Shut up!” shouted Clovis to his brother.

“I think not.” Paladin’s voice was grim. He fixed his eye on Cado. “How is it that you two seem unimpaired and my son is in such a state?”

This time, Cado’s answer was an inaudible mumble.

“Speak up, young hobbit!”

“We--we dared him, sir. To--to drink a whole bottle without stopping--” his voice faded away again.

“And then--” said Merry furiously, as he came up with Poppy, “they dared him to do it again!”

Poppy pushed her way into the room, where Frodo and Eglantine sat with Pippin. She cast a trained eye on her young patient. “Not good.”

She looked at Frodo. “Has he been just like this?”

“He vomited twice,” said Frodo, “and he seems a bit weaker than he was.” He indicated the basin and the mess that remained on the floor, and in the towels. Clovis met his eye, and began scrubbing again.

Eglantine was crying.

Poppy placed her hand on the pulse in Pippin’s neck. “Has he shown any signs of awareness?”

“Not since I’ve been here, Mistress Poppy,” answered Frodo.

“Well, you showed very good presence of mind, Mr. Baggins, in putting him on his side so that he did not choke. That is one of the worst dangers of this kind of drunken state.” She reached to her patient’s face and drew back one eyelid to examine the pupil. “Let’s get him out of this mess and into his own room.”

Paladin strode over, and lifted up his son gently. Pearl darted across the hallway and turned down Pippin’s bed, and his father followed to lay him in it, placing a kiss on his brow as he did so.

A crowd had gathered in the corridor, as word had gone out that the Thain’s son was ill. Pippin’s other two sisters, Pimpernel and Pervinca were there, looking alarmed. Mother, sisters, Merry and Frodo all followed Poppy into Pippin’s room.

The healer turned round. “Miss Pearl, bring me three slices of burned toast, some water--I need both hot and cold. Everyone else except his mother needs to leave. I need room to work.”

Paladin lingered a few moments to embrace and comfort Eglantine. As the others filed out, Merry saw Clovis and Cado standing by the door. In a few quick strides, he had shoved Clovis up against the wall by the shoulders so hard that the back of his head hit the wall.

“This is all your fault, you two and your stupid dare!” he said, grey eyes blazing, and his face only inches from Clovis’s. Merry jerked him and slammed him again, with a satisfying thud. “I’m telling you right now that Pip had better be all right!” He was aware of Frodo and Pearl speaking to him and trying to pull him away, but he paid no attention. “I don’t think anyone as stupid as you should be allowed to breed. If I have my way you will sing nothing but high notes for the rest of your life. I’ve a good mind to--” He pulled him forward and prepared to thrust him against the wall again.

“MERIADOC! That’s enough!” Paladin had come out of Pippin’s room. He was not surprised at Merry’s strong reaction, but he couldn’t allow it, though it was tempting.

Merry snatched his hands away and backed up a few steps, wiping his hands on his breeches as though they were soiled. But he did not break eye contact with Clovis. “I promise you right now that I will do what I said if you ever put a toe out of line again and it comes to my ears.” He allowed Frodo to draw him away finally.

Paladin looked at the two brothers. “Go to my study at once, and wait for me there, no matter how long it takes.” They looked at him, not moving. “I said go at once, or I will allow Meriadoc and Frodo to escort you there!”

They glanced at Merry, who gave them a mirthless grin. “Please, let us do that, Uncle Paladin.”

With a look of horror, the Banks lads fled down the corridor in the direction of Paladin’s study.


Frodo drew Merry to his own room. “Merry, you have got to get hold of yourself. You will not do Pippin any kind of good if you allow yourself to be in such a state.”

“It’s just--I’m so angry! They could have killed him! They might have killed him!” Suddenly he began to sob.

Frodo put his arms around his distraught cousin. “There now, Merry-lad, I’m right here.”

Merry sniffed. “You haven’t called me ‘Merry-lad’ in years. Frodo, we can’t--we can’t lose Pip this way! It’s not right!”

Frodo drew back and looked Merry sternly in the eye. “My dear young hobbit! We have not lost him! And you cannot think that we might! You have to have faith that he will pull through. He’s going to need his Merry.” He shook his head. “We have to be strong for him.”

Merry drew a deep breath. “I’m sorry. It’s just--” The expression on his face was still close to one of panic.

“I know, dearest, I know. It’s frightening. Now go over to the washstand and wash your face. Then we’ll go back out into the hall and wait for them to let us see him again.” Frodo also drew a deep breath. He could not possibly let Merry see just how close to panic he himself was. Just as he had told Merry to be strong for Pippin, he was going to have to be strong for Merry.

“Thank you, Frodo.” He did as his older cousin directed. As he scrubbed his face he said, “You know, I feel like it’s my fault. I should never have let him go off with those two.”


In Pippin’s room, Eglantine sat upon the bed with her son’s head in her lap, and tears running down her face. “My poor, poor baby. This is all my fault.”

Poppy looked up sharply from where she was setting out the contents of her medical satchel on the dresser. “Mistress Took! Why on earth would you say such a thing?”

“I should never have allowed those horrible nephews of mine anywhere near Pippin!”

“You could not possibly know a thing like this would happen. And keep in mind that your lad bears some of the responsibility for his condition himself.

He could have said ‘no’ to them, dare or not. He is not a stupid child. He knew that it was wrong.”

She shook her head. “Of course he did. But he never would have thought of this by himself.” Suddenly Eglantine stiffened. “Poppy! He doesn’t seem to be breathing!”



Poppy sprang to the bedside in two quick strides, a small mirror in one hand and a vial in the other.

She looked at her patient; his lips had begun to take on a bluish tinge. She held the mirror up to his mouth, and gave a gasp of relief as it faintly misted over. “He is still breathing, though just barely.” She pulled the stopper from the vial and waved it in front of his nose. The pungent scent of the aromatic salts brought tears to her eyes, but Pippin gave an almost inaudible gasp, and his breathing grew just a bit easier. She placed the stopper back in the vial.

Eglantine was shaking her head. “Oh my Pippin! Please hold on!” she murmured.

Just then the door came open, and Pearl entered, bearing a tray. She had a steaming kettle of hot water, a pitcher of cold, some cups and a plate piled with slices of blackened, charred toast.

“Mistress Poppy? Here are the things you asked for.” Pearl had obviously been crying. Her eyes and nose were red, and the tearstains were yet visible.

“Thank you, my dear. Have all the lollygaggers gone from the hallway? Is it just the close family now?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Very well, tell them they may come in and wait as long as they stay out of my way, and do as I tell them.” For while Poppy had no intention of losing this young patient, she was not about to take the chance that he might leave this world without his dearest ones about him. And while she had confidence in her ability, she also knew she was not infallible.

Paladin, Pimpernel, Pervinca, Merry and Frodo filed silently in, and stood against the far wall. Pervinca was crying, and it was clear Pimpernel had been. Paladin put an arm around each of his younger daughters, as Frodo did the same with Merry, holding him close.

Poppy handed the vial to Eglantine. “Watch him closely. If his breathing slows and his lips turn blue again, unstop the vial and hold it beneath his nose.” She turned to Pearl. “Miss Pearl, I want you to take one of those cups and some of the hot water, and crumble the burnt toast to make a slurry. Also pour a cup of hot water for me to use. I am going to prepare some medicine.”

Poppy knew she needed to begin to dose him. She hoped he was finished with the vomiting; she did not want his stomach to reject what she was going to put in it. Perhaps she should try to get him to vomit one more time just to make sure all the alcohol was out of his stomach.

She felt the pulse at his neck again. His heartbeat was slow as well as his breathing. She was going to need to stimulate it. She had begun to get an idea of what she needed to do and she missed having an apprentice. She was going to need help, and his family would have to do. She glanced at Pearl, who knelt by the hearth of the small fireplace, crumbling the burnt bread into a cup, heedless of the soot on her hands, which she wiped absentmindedly on her skirt. Then she looked at Eglantine, who had begun to flag. To Poppy’s trained eye, the Mistress looked near the breaking point.

She studied the family briefly. Pearl was already assisting. The two younger daughters were too distraught to help. If she relieved Eglantine, Paladin would need to comfort his wife. That left the cousins.

Merry was a known quantity. She had spent much time with young Meriadoc. The lad had been devoted to his little Took cousin since Pippin was an infant. Whenever Merry was in Tookland and Pippin happened to fall ill, he was to be found at his youngest cousin’s side. He could be trusted to pay the closest of attention. And not to let him help would be cruel.

Frodo Baggins she did not know nearly so well. He did not visit as frequently as Merry, preferring to have his younger cousins stay with him at Bag End most of the time. Physically, he seemed quite healthy, looking remarkably fit and young for his age, though a bit on the slender side.

But her healer’s eye had often detected the presence of a dark melancholy, probably the result of having been orphaned so young. Still, his devotion to Pippin could not be doubted, and he had proven his competence and ability to think well in a crisis tonight.

It took only an instant to think all this, and her decision was made. “Meriadoc, Mr. Baggins--” Their close kinship was clear as two cleft chins shot up, and grey eyes and blue regarded her with instant attention. “Come here please.” she looked at Eglantine. “Mistress, you are nearing exhaustion. Please allow Meriadoc to take your place.”

Eglantine started to protest, but Poppy shook her head. “You are too tired. Do you wish to endanger him if your attention should waver?”

Pippin’s mother pursed her lips angrily, but gave a sharp nod. She gently lifted her son’s head and stood up. Merry sat on the bed and took her place. Poppy placed a pillow on Merry’s lap and drew Pippin up to a half-lying position.

“Mr. Baggins, take the basin from the washstand. I want you to sit next to the bed and watch for signs of nausea, as you did earlier. Meriadoc, take the vial, and watch his breathing. Both of you, it is your job to see that he does not choke.”

She picked up a brown bottle from among the medicines she had laid out, and a glass pipette. Placing her forefinger on the end, she drew it about half-full of the oily, foul-smelling draught. Going to the bed, she had Merry tilt his cousin’s head back, and she carefully emptied the pipette a few drops at a time.

“Watch him very closely now. If there is anything at all left in his stomach, he should bring it up soon.”

Merry and Frodo nodded solemnly. Sure enough, Frodo noticed the signs, and turning the lad to his side, held the basin up as Pippin hurled the remaining contents of his stomach into the basin.

Pearl looked up at Poppy. “Mistress Poppy, is this ground up fine enough?”

Poppy glanced at the cup she held. “Very good, Miss Pearl.”

The healer took the cup and a small spoon. She went over to the bed, and tilted Pippin’s head a bit. “I’m going to feed him some of this burnt toast slurry. It should help to purify his system. Meriadoc, I want you to touch his chin to his chest after each spoonful to encourage him to swallow."

Mr. Baggins, if you would, light a small fire in his hearth. We are going to need to heat the kettle, as the water is beginning to cool.”

Frodo nodded and silently went over to the fireplace, where Pearl still knelt wearily. He reached a hand down and helped her up. She went over to where her parents and sisters were, as Frodo bent to lay kindling in the hearth.


In Paladin’s study, Clovis paced restlessly, while Cado sat slumped in a chair.

Clovis was muttering curses, and Cado was listening half-heartedly. This had been one of his older brother’s more disastrous ideas, and Cado was frankly frightened. Clovis did not seem to grasp just how ill Pippin was, and Cado could only imagine the reaction of Pippin’s family if the lad did not pull through. He shuddered as he recalled the fury in Merry Brandybuck’s eyes and the cold contempt in Frodo Baggins’s. They had well and truly mucked things up this time.

“This is ridiculous,” said Clovis finally. “We have been waiting here for hours. I’ve had enough!”

Cado looked up at him. “Uncle Paladin said to wait, no matter how long it took.”

“Well, I’m not going to stay in here all night long! Come on!” Clovis headed for the door, and Cado considered defying him and remaining where he was. It was usually easier to just go along with him, he was so bull-headed. Life was simpler most of the time to just do whatever Clovis wanted. But every now and then his ideas backfired, like tonight.

Clovis opened the door, and backed up a step.

“Are you going somewhere, Clovis?” asked Reginard Took. “I do believe the Thain said for you to stay in here until he comes.”

“We’ve been in here forever,” said Clovis sullenly. “I don’t think he’s coming.”

“Oh, he’ll come,” answered Reggie, “when he is certain whether his son is going to live or die. In the meantime, you will do as he says and stay here.”

“Come now!” snorted Clovis. “Pippin just got drunk and passed out. It happens all the time. He’ll be no worse for the wear once the hangover wears off!”

“Clovis don’t be any more of an idiot than you have to be.” Cado was amazed at his own words. He almost never used that tone with his older brother. “You saw how the healer reacted. He could very well die. And they could *hold us responsible*! Do you understand now?” he shouted.

Clovis stared at Cado in shock. His brother had never spoken to him like that before. Could they be right? Could it be that serious? Going pale, he plunked himself down in the nearest chair, as what they had done finally sank in.

Reggie came in and sat down at Paladin’s desk. Looked like someone needed to keep an eye on these two.


Some time had passed in the sick room. Pearl and Eglantine sat upon a blanket chest against the wall, leaning wearily on one another. Pimpernel and Pervinca were huddled together on the floor next to them. Paladin had taken Merry’s place at Pippin’s head. Frodo sat on the hearth with Merry’s head in his lap.

Twice more they had needed to use the vial to stimulate his breathing. Poppy had prepared an herbal mixture that would also quicken his heart and improve his respiration, but they were chancy and dangerous in his weakened state. She was letting the burnt toast do its work first.

Paladin looked at his son’s face, so pale and drawn. Mingled with love, grief and fear, was an underlying anger. How could the lad have behaved so recklessly? To endanger himself so heedlessly, over something so useless as a dare? His son had to learn better judgment. Paladin forced down a sob of fear, and hoped with all his might that his son would live to learn better. Suddenly, he felt himself begin to nod, and jerked himself awake.

Poppy noticed. She cast her eyes over the weary family. All of them were exhausted, but one seemed to be flagging less.

“Mr. Baggins, would you please relieve the Thain?”

Frodo nodded. He shook Merry’s shoulder to rouse him, and as Merry sat up blearily, Frodo got up stiffly and went over to the bed. He gave Paladin a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder as he took his place. He sat down and took Pippin’s head in his lap, gazing down fondly at the young face. Perhaps it was imagination, but he thought the lad was looking a touch better.

Poppy came over and once more checked Pippin’s eyes. She gave a grunt of satisfaction, and drew a silk cord from around her neck, from which was suspended a bone disk. Holding it over her patient, she studied the patterns it made as it dangled. Pleased at what she saw, she brought over the herbal mixture she had prepared, and began to administer it drop by drop with the glass pipette.

Frodo watched over Pippin as his breathing eased, and a faint flush of color appeared on his face. “Mistress Poppy,” he whispered, “I think he’s doing better.”

She smiled at Frodo. “I think you may be right.” Very, very softly she brushed across his face and nose with the tip of one finger. Her patient twitched and squinted his face at the tickle. It was the first movement he had made since he had passed out some hours before.

Merry had been watching intently. At this sign of activity, he got up and went over to the bed; he reached down and brushed back the curls on his younger cousin’s brow. Without opening his eyes, Pippin murmured, “Mer--” and sighed.

The cousins and the healer all grinned at one another, and then Poppy turned to face the rest of the family. “I do believe,” she said, “that he has turned the corner.”

There was subdued jubilation from Pippin’s parents and sisters. Eglantine burst into tears. Paladin looked at the stout little healer. “What happens next, Mistress Poppy?”

She went over and took up a bottle of a thick greenish syrup. It had a tart, minty smell when opened. She poured a small amount into one of the cups and poured in cold water to fill it. “We are going to get at least three cups of this beverage down him, four if we can, to help replace the fluids he has lost. After that, I suggest one person be prepared to sleep with him tonight--” she looked at Merry, and there was no doubt that it would be he-- “in case he needs anything. Just to be safe, Thain Paladin, if you’ve a nearby spare room, I will remain in the Smials tonight. I recommend that everyone else go to bed. I will also leave powder for willow-bark tea for in the morning. He will have a *very* sore head and a terrible hangover tomorrow, but unless there are unusual complications, he should be all right now, although he may remain weak for a few days.” She turned to Merry. “I do not believe you will need to remain awake, but if he should waken you by being sick again, come fetch me.”

Merry nodded. She gave him the cup and a spoon, and this time, as he dribbled the liquid in, Pippin swallowed on his own.

Eglantine was reluctant to leave, but Paladin and Poppy insisted.

“Pearl, see that you get your mother to bed. I have one thing I need to do before I join her.” Paladin looked grim, and for the first time in hours, the rest of the family remembered the Banks cousins waiting in his study for him. “Poppy, there is an empty guest room just two doors up across the hall.”

Frodo relinquished his place to Merry. “I’ll go to your room and fetch you your nightshirt, Merry.”

“Thanks, Frodo,” he answered without looking up from his task of spooning the liquid into Pippin’s mouth. Pip was going to be all right. The world looked a great deal brighter.


Paladin left Pippin’s room in a somewhat hopeful frame of mind, but as he headed for his study it became grimmer. It was nearly two hours after midnight. Those two rogues would have been waiting for nearly eight hours now. He wondered if the young fools had waited for him as he had told them to. He half-expected them to be gone. What in the world had they been thinking, to raid his wine cellar? And Pippin? How could he have gone along with them? By the time he hit his study door, he had worked himself into a fury.

He burst into the room, crashing the door open, startling Reggie into dropping the book he was reading. This roused the two lads, who had fallen asleep in their chairs.

He looked askance at Reginard, who quirked a brow and said, “I thought someone should keep an eye them and make sure they didn’t slip away. How is Pippin?”

“He is doing much better, else I would not be here. Thank you for taking this on. I’m afraid I have one more task for you. Please rouse a messenger to leave immediately for Underhill. He is to tell their father to come *at once* and fetch them away. They are being sent home in disgrace.”

“Certainly.” Reggie got up and left the room with alacrity.

As soon as the door closed behind his cousin, Paladin turned his glare on his nephews. He sat down at his desk. “Stand up,” he said, “over here.” He pointed to a spot in front of it.

Nervously, they complied. “Uncle Paladin--” started Clovis.

“Don’t ‘Uncle Paladin’ me! Do you even begin to understand what serious consequences your behavior nearly had? If it were not for the quick thinking of Merry and Frodo, and for the skill of the healer, my son could be lying dead right now!” He looked at them closely; Clovis looked shocked. It was clear the young idiot had not believed such a thing possible. “If that had happened, there is *nothing*--and I mean *nothing* that would have kept you from being flogged, marked and banished for causing a wrongful death! It is only the fact that you are my wife‘s nephews that keeps me from thrashing the both of you now!”

Both brothers went stark white.

“You will go at once and stay in your room. You will have only bread and water until your father comes to fetch you away! Do not try to slip out of your room! If Pippin’s cousin Merry catches sight of you again, I will not be inclined to intervene a second time. Have I made myself perfectly clear?”

Clovis nodded, wide-eyed, and Cado stammered out “Yes-yes, sir.”


Frodo had brought Merry his nightshirt with a soft “Call me if you need me, cousin,” and then he was gone.

Merry undressed and drew on his nightshirt, and climbing into the bed to lie alongside his younger cousin. He raised up on one elbow and studied Pippin’s face. He noted the faint flush of color and the now steady rise and fall of his breathing. Satisfied, he turned over, blew out the candle, and settled himself for sleep, one hand clasped protectively on Pippin’s thin shoulder. If Pip so much as stirred, he would know it.


Exhausted, Frodo threw himself into his own bed. This had been one of the longest days of his life, very nearly as long as the day he lost his parents.

But this day looked to have a more hopeful ending. Pippin would live, and his Merry would not have to know the kind of grief and loneliness that had blighted his own life.

And Pippin’s bright spirit and great heart had been spared to them. In his fear for Merry’s sake, he had kept his own fear for Pippin at bay. But he knew what it would have meant to him to lose that precious little Took.

He drifted finally into sleep, chasing after the funny and sweet memories of the two cousins he loved like little brothers.


Pearl had tucked her mother up, and sat by her until her father came to their room. Then she wearily made her way to her own room.

When she entered, she saw Pimmie and Vinca in their nightgowns, sitting on her bed.

“Pearl,” said Pimmie shakily, “can we stay with you tonight?”


Clodio Banks and his wife Beryl had just sat down to elevenses when there came a knock on the door. The maidservant went to answer it, and came back instantly.

“Mr. Clodio, sir, there is a messenger for you, come from the Thain. He says it is urgent.”

With a sigh of exasperation, Clodio threw down his napkin and got up.

He did not invite the messenger inside, nor offer him a cup of tea, but stood in the doorway at the threshold. “You have a message for me?”

The messenger nodded, but did not look at him directly. Instead he fixed his gaze on the rug in the front hall. “Begging your pardon, Mr. Banks, sir, but I was told to give you this exact message: ‘The Thain says you are to come at once to fetch your sons away. They are being sent home in disgrace’.”

Clodio was livid. “What? Why?” he shouted.

The messenger spoke to the shrubbery at the side of the front step. “I can’t say, sir, I’m sure.” Which meant he had not been given leave to say, not that he didn’t know. Everyone in the Great Smials knew by now, he was sure. He stood there briefly, just long enough to make Clodio know that he was aware of the lapse of courtesy for not asking him in for tea, not to mention failing to offer the customary tip. Not that he expected one. The Mistress’s brother was known to pinch his coppers till they squeaked.

“Well, sir,” he said to the doorpost, “I’d best be getting on.”

Clodio yelled “Beryl!” and slammed the door in his face.

The messenger grinned. Mr. Reggie had given him plenty of money to break his journey before he returned to the Great Smials. He’d ridden hard to get here so quickly, and the pony needed rest. The Man in the Moon was the best inn in Underhill. He’d take himself there for a good meal and a bit of a nap. He’d be surprised if his bit of gossip about the Banks’s sons did not get him a few free ales.


Merry woke to the sound of a loud groan from Pippin.

“Good morning,” he said cheerily.

His answer was another moan.

Merry slid out of the bed and padded over to the window to open the curtains.

“Gahh!” exclaimed Pippin. “It’s too bright! And why are you stomping around in my room!” He pulled the pillow over his face.

His older cousin chuckled. Having Pip alive and able to experience his first hangover was lovely.

“And why does my head hurt so? I think my brain is exploding!” Pippin moaned.

Merry went over to the hearth and began to light a fire, to heat the kettle and make the willow-bark tea that Poppy had left.

“Because, Pip-my-lad, you have one very nasty hangover!”


The silence lasted so long that Merry thought maybe Pippin had gone back to sleep.

“Pip?” He carried the tea over to the bedside.

Pippin cautiously poked his head and hand out of the covers to take the tea.

“Uh, Merry? How could I have a hangover? We only had half an ale?”

“My word, Pip! Don’t you remember last night at all?”

Pippin was silent again, as he concentrated, and sipped the tea. His brow was furrowed in the effort of recalling what he could of the night before.

“Clovis and Cado,” he said finally, “they had raided Father’s wine cellar!”

“That’s right,” said Merry grimly.

“And--and then,” he thought for a moment, “then they dared me!” He gave another moan as his head throbbed.

“Yes, that’s right.”

Pippin laid his head back on the pillow. “Well, that’s all right then, I guess I showed them, didn’t I, that I could do it.”

“Peregrin Took!” Merry shouted.

Pippin opened his eyes to the astonishing sight of Merry in a fury.

“You nearly *killed* yourself last night! Frodo and I and your family and the healer were in here for *hours* last night trying to keep the breath in your body! All because you had to do such a stupid, stupid thing as to take a dare from those two wretched idiots! And you lie there and say ‘that’s all right then’?”

Each of Merry’s words penetrated Pippin’s aching head like a sharp knife. The tears came. “Merry, why are you being so mean to me? My head hurts.”

“Good! I hope it does!”

Shocked at his Merry being so angry with him, Pippin was stung. “I’ve taken dares from *you* before!” he said sulkily.

“Are you really so thick you can’t tell the difference?” Merry shouted. “Have I ever dared you to do something that would hurt you, or that I would not have done myself?”

Just then the door opened. It was Frodo. “Merry! What on earth are you doing? You can be heard all the way down the hall.”

Merry glared at him. “I’m glad you’re here. Maybe you can talk sense into this impossible Took! I’ve no patience left!” He pushed past Frodo and left the room. Frodo stared after him, wondering what on earth could have caused Merry to be so angry with Pippin.

He looked at Pippin who was crying quietly. “Pip, what did you say to him?”

When Pippin told him, Frodo shook his head sadly. “Oh, dear! No wonder he grew angry, love. You scared us all out of our wits last night. But of course you don’t remember any of it.”

Pippin looked up at him, a scared expression on his face. “Frodo?” he whispered, “just what did happen last night?”


Across the hall in their own room, the Bankses had heard Merry’s little tirade.

“Sounds like the Brandybuck has turned his temper on Pippin for a change,” chuckled Clovis. “Maybe now he’ll forget about us.”

Cado rolled his eyes. “Maybe when the king comes back.” Personally Cado thought he might make an effort to avoid Merry for the rest of his life. The Brandybuck did not seem like the type to forgive and forget.


Frodo talked to Pippin for a while, making sure that the lad understood the gravity of what had happened.

It was a very subdued tweenager who greeted his mother when Eglantine entered bearing a tray with toast, broth, and a cup of fruit juice.

Frodo got up, ruffled Pippin’s curls, gave Tina a peck on the cheek, and left in search of Merry.

Pippin looked up at his mother, saw the haggard face, from her worry and sleeplessness over him, and the gentle rebuke in her eyes, and burst into tears.


Frodo finally found Merry in the south garden, sitting on the same bench where he had watched Pippin and his Banks cousins playing ball.

“So there you are. Feeling any better?”

Merry looked up. “No. I can’t believe I yelled at him like that. I haven’t been that angry with him since he got himself lost for two days at Brandy Hall, after I had told him to stay away from those old tunnels.”

“I remember that. He was about eleven then, wasn’t he?”

Merry nodded. “I shouldn’t have yelled at him. Not after--not after last night. I was so scared, Frodo.”

Frodo put his arm around Merry. “I know, Merry, so was I. And that’s *why* you were angry, because you love him and he scared you.”

“I know, but I still shouldn’t have yelled at him. He’s feeling so wretched.”

“Actually,” said Frodo, “yelling at him might have been the best thing for him. He doesn’t really remember what happened to him, and if he’s to learn a lesson from this, so that it never happens again, he needs to see some consequences. Otherwise, he might take it far too lightly.”

Merry looked at his older cousin. “That was what made me angry. He seemed to think that doing what he had been dared to do was something to be proud of. I couldn’t stand that.”

“Well, seeing how he has hurt and frightened and disappointed his loved ones will do the trick. Pip’s a clever lad. He’ll realize soon that a dare is not worth doing that to people who love him.”

“You’re so wise, Frodo.”

Frodo laughed. “I don’t feel wise. I just feel tired.”


Paladin steeled himself as he approached Pippin’s room. This was going to be hard, so hard. But he had to do it. His son had to learn this lesson. He didn’t think he could take another night like last night.

He entered the room quietly. Pippin was lightly dozing and looked about half his age. Paladin felt his heart melt. Stop it, he told himself, be firm. It’s for his own good, after all. He sat down in the chair next to the bed.

Pippin’s eyes opened cautiously. “Hullo, Father.”


“I don’t mean to be rude, Father, but do you mind if I keep my eyes closed? The light hurts rather.”

“Yes, I would think that it does,” Paladin said wryly, remembering hangovers of his own. Under other circumstances he’d let the hangover *be* Pippin’s punishment, but there was far too much at stake here for that.

“Peregrin, I have to tell you that I am sorely disappointed in your behavior. You may not realize it, but you very nearly died last night.”

Pippin sniffed a bit. “I know. Merry told me. Frodo told me. Mum told me. I *am* sorry. I did not know that could happen.”

“There are reasons we do not allow tweenagers to drink anything stronger than ale and wine, and why we put limits on that. Now you know one of them. But even if you did not know what would happen, you knew it was wrong.”

“Yes, sir.” Pippin sighed.

“You allowed yourself to be swayed by others, and to be led into taking a foolish risk simply because you were dared to do so. This is not something you can afford to do. You will be Thain one day, and you must accustom yourself to being the leader, not being led.”

Pippin’s eyes *did* open at this statement. He looked at his father resentfully. He *hated* being reminded he would be Thain. He didn’t want to be Thain--after all, that would mean his father had died, which didn’t bear thinking about. And he didn’t want to be ordering people around. Paladin was looking away from his son for an instant, gathering his will to deliver his verdict, and did not notice the glare.

“You will have to be punished for this transgression. I’ve given the matter careful thought. I will be curtailing Merry’s visit, and you will not be allowed to go with Frodo and Merry this summer on the walking trip. Instead, you will be confined to your room for a week, and to the Great Smials for the rest of the summer. If you do not get into any further trouble, you will be allowed to go to Bag End for Frodo‘s birthday, and you will be able to see Merry again then.”

Pippin gave a wordless cry of anguish, and then burst into tears. Merry was still angry at him. If they sent Merry away, how could he make it right?

Paladin stood, and clamped his lips together to keep from rescinding his pronouncement. He could not change his mind now. The lad would think that all it took to get his way would be a few tears. He didn’t even dare to say he was sorry, lest he give in. With a heavy heart, he left his son’s room.


As he left the room he saw Merry on his way there.

“Meriadoc, a word with you please.”

“Yes, Uncle Paladin?”

“I am very sorry to do this, but I must ask that you not go in to see Pippin right now. I have given him his punishment, and it is to be separated from you for a while. I know that it will be hard for you as well, but it is for his own good. There is no other punishment I could give him that would mean as much, or get the point across as well.”

Merry gave a cry of pain that sounded very much like the one Pippin had made a few moments earlier. “Uncle Paladin! Please! No!” His grey eyes filled, and his face contorted with the effort not to cry. Paladin was surprised. He had expected Merry to object, and maybe even to be angry with him, but it cut him to the quick to see the lad so distressed.

Paladin reached out to touch his shoulder, but Merry shrugged him away miserably. “Merry, please understand--it really is for the best right now. Pippin *must* feel this punishment. I don’t want something like this to ever happen again.”

Merry just drooped. “I do understand, Uncle Paladin. I just don’t think you do,” he said desolately, as he turned and walked off.



Paladin went back to the family quarters feeling very unsettled. He had known that Merry would not be happy with his decision, but he had not realized the lad would take it quite so hard. He disliked the feeling that he was punishing Merry as well, especially since they might have lost Pippin altogether if Merry had not come so quickly to his rescue.

Eglantine was waiting for him in their sitting room. “Well?” she asked.

“Pippin took it a bit better than I expected.”

She nodded. “He knows he deserves it.”

“Merry, on the other hand, was very distressed.”

“Of course, dear. He didn’t do anything wrong, after all.”

Paladin winced.

He decided it was time to broach another unpleasant subject. “Your brother will very likely be here this evening. Do you wish to see him?”

“I’ll see Clodio when he comes. I will *not* see those odious nephews of mine. I do not care to have them under my roof one second longer than need be!” She looked at him, eyes glittering. “You could have thrashed them. No one would have blamed you.”

“Tina!” he exclaimed. “I can’t say I wasn’t sorely tempted to do so, and I did threaten them with it. But we don’t thrash our own children, much less someone else’s.”

“I know.” She sat back. “Of course, we could always let Merry have them.” She was serious.

“Eglantine?” This was not like her. She saw him looking intently at her, and burst into tears. He moved to hold her while the storm lasted, suddenly realizing that her vindictive attitude was because she blamed herself. Curse her brother and his whelps for doing this to her!


Just as Pippin’s first thought when he was troubled was to find Merry, Merry’s first thought was to find Frodo.

He found him in the first place he thought to look--the library. In spite of how upset he was, he could not help but stop and admire the picture his older cousin made, sitting in the lamplight with a book on his knee.

Frodo felt his regard, and looked up. “Merry?” he asked hopefully, until he caught sight of the expression on his younger cousin’s face. “I take it that you didn’t make up with Pip?”

“I didn’t even get to see him. Uncle wouldn’t let me.” He came into the room and flopped down in a chair opposite Frodo.

“What?” Frodo said sharply, leaning forward to look at the bleak expression that sat ill on Merry’s usually cheerful face.

“It’s to be Pip’s punishment. For us to be separated.” Merry sighed. “I just wish I could have talked to him first. I’m afraid he’ll think I’m still angry with him.”

“That’s hardly fair to you, Merry!” said Frodo indignantly. Sometimes he wondered about Paladin. He could be just as thoughtless as his tweenaged son at times. Imagine coming up with a punishment for Pippin that would be just as hard on someone else!

Merry shrugged. “I guess it is for Pippin’s own good. He can’t go around thinking it’s safe to take just anyone’s dare. But I hate not having a chance to make it right first.” He tried to look indifferent, but only succeeded in looking even more miserable.

Frodo sat back and pursed his lips. If Merry’s parents were here, they’d see that he was at least allowed to say farewell, or Esme would give her brother an earful. Since they were not-- “Merry, I’ll have a word with Paladin myself. This is not right.”

Merry looked up at him, his heart in his eyes. “Oh Frodo! Do you think it will do any good?”

“I don’t see how it could hurt. But I think that I will wait until he gets it settled with the Bankses. He’ll be in a better mood then.”

The mention of the Bankses distracted Merry, as Frodo had hoped. His expression went from sorrow to anger. “I’d like a chance to settle it with them myself. I plan to get one someday.”


Afternoon tea was rather dismal. Pippin was still in his room nursing his hangover, and since he was being punished, would not have been able to come to tea anyway.

His sisters were tired and cross, Eglantine distracted, and Paladin taciturn. Merry was not speaking to his uncle, afraid that if he did, he would either break down and start begging or get angry and yell. Frodo was attempting valiantly to maintain a pretense of normality, but it was an uphill climb.

It was with distinct relief that they greeted the maidservant who came to tell them that the Mistress’s brother had arrived.

“Show him in, then, Appleblossom,” said Eglantine. She looked at the younger hobbits, but they were already preparing to make themselves scarce.

Merry gave her a peck on the cheek. “I’ll see you later, Aunt Tina.” Her daughters and Frodo also made their farewells, and left with alacrity. None of them wanted to be anywhere near when Clodio Banks found out what had happened.


Clodio breezed into the sitting room. “Hullo, Egg, Paladin! I take it my lads have been up to some mischief?” He had decided the best attitude was one of nonchalance.

Eglantine’s eyes sparked. “Mischief!”

Paladin put his hand out. “Easy, Tina. He doesn’t know yet what they did.”

What could they have done this time? He’d sent them here to get them away from the talk in Underhill about Clovis’s last escapade: getting a bit rough with a lass who had refused his attentions. He kept a puzzled look on his face though. He had not told his sister why he had insisted on their visit. “So, what *did* they do, that warrants me hurrying to Tuckborough?”

“First of all, they raided my wine cellar, and stole two bottles of brandy and three bottles of fortified wine. Then they lured Peregrin to their room and plied him with so much drink that we had to call in the healer.”

“They nearly killed Pippin!” Eglantine burst out.

Clodio was taken aback. The young idiots! Still, they *were* his sons. He plastered a disbelieving smile on his face. “Oh, I’m sure you must be exaggerating, Egg--”

“Don’t call me ‘Egg’!” She stood up. “Your sons nearly killed mine! I want them out of my hole now, and I want never to lay eyes on them again!”

Clodio’s eyes grew cold, and he smirked a bit. “That might make it a bit difficult when you wish to see Mother.”

Eglantine gasped, and flinched as though she had been slapped.

Paladin turned his gaze to his brother-in-law. “Eglantine,” he said softly, “I’d like to talk to your brother alone.” She looked at him, recognizing the danger in his tone.

“Good night, Clodio.” She did not look at her brother when she said it. “I will not see you again before you leave.”

As she closed the door, Paladin turned to his brother-in-law, eyes blazing. “You,” he said, “are a piece of work! Make no mistake, your sons very nearly *did* kill Peregrin. They are no longer welcome in the Great Smials until your sister says otherwise. Furthermore, if you make even the least of difficulties for my wife about seeing her mother, you will regret it to your dying day. Do I make myself perfectly clear?”

Taken aback by the Thain’s fury, Clodio backed off. “Paladin, please, there is no reason for threats. You misunderstood my meaning, that’s all.” There was nothing to be gained by pushing the issue now, but Clodio would not forget this.

“I understood you just fine. Now, you will take those two young villains you call your sons, and be gone within the hour. I expect to hear that they have been sufficiently punished for this outrage. If I do not, then I will lay my case against them before the Master and the Mayor.”

Clodio clenched his teeth. That could spell disaster for the Banks families. “Surely you do not mean me to leave with them tonight?”

“I said within the hour, and that is what I meant.”

“But it’s too late to be starting back to Underhill.”

“I don’t care. You can stay at the Inn in Tuckborough, or you can ride all night, or you can sleep under a haystack. I want them gone!”

He turned his back deliberately, and Clodio, fuming, was left no choice but to leave. He guessed he knew where the lads were staying--they usually had the same room whenever they came here.


A short while later, there was a commotion in the corridor outside Pippin’s room. Feeling slightly better now, after more willow-bark tea, and another light meal brought to him by a maidservant, Pippin risked getting out of bed and cracking the door to his room to peer out. He was greeted by the amusing sight of his Uncle Clodio, who with one hand had Clovis by the ear, and with the other had Cado. Both lads were dragging their traveling cases behind them as they were being pulled along.

“Ow! Father! Let me explain--ow--ow! We didn’t mean to! Ow--we didn’t know! Ow, Father! Please let go!”

He watched as they retreated, and until they had turned a corner and were out of sight, though the pained cries still reached his ears. Suppressing a snigger at seeing the two bullies so discomfited, he returned to his bed. Well, that was one blessing, at least. Now he would not have to put forth any more efforts into being nice to them.


It was after first breakfast the following morning, and Paladin had already gone to work in his study, hoping to catch up on paperwork he had missed the day before. When the knock came on the door, he thought it was the maidservant, bringing a tray with second breakfast.

“Come in,” he said without looking up.

“Good morning, Paladin.” It was Frodo.

“Frodo!” he said in surprise. “Did you come to say farewell?”

“Not quite.”

Paladin looked puzzled. “Of course, you are welcome to stay as long as you wish, but I assumed that with Pippin being punished you and Merry would go back to Bag End.”

“That’s what I wanted to talk about. I’d like you to reconsider letting Merry see Pip, at least long enough to say good-bye.”

“Frodo, this is not your concern. I have given Pippin his punishment. That is my right and you have no standing to interfere!” He was surprised. Frodo knew the proprieties. It was not like him to intrude into someone else’s business.

“No one questions your right to punish Pippin as you see fit. But Merry *is* my concern, especially as Aunt Esme and Uncle Sara are not here to take his part. And *Merry* needs to see Pippin. He needs to see him now, before we leave.” He looked at Paladin with firmness and determination. Paladin was reminded very much of Bilbo, who could look just so, when he thought he was right.

“What do you mean?” he asked uneasily.

“Like the rest of us, Merry was frightened out of his wits by what could have happened. And when Pippin woke up, he had some harsh words for the lad about it. He was on his way to apologize to Pip for yelling at him when you stopped him.”

“Oh dear.” Paladin had not realized this and was dismayed. No wonder Merry had taken it so hard.

“If you send Merry away now, without giving him a chance to mend things with Pip, he is going to fret himself sick. I mean this.” He turned his blue eyes full on his host with all the conviction he could muster. “You know Merry, almost as well as I do. You tell me if I am wrong.”

Paladin pursed his lips, and leaned back in his chair. He sighed. “Very well. Merry may see Pippin today to tell him good-bye. He may take as long as he needs to reassure himself that all is well. The rest of Pippin’s punishment stands. But remind them that I did not forbid them to keep in touch. Pippin is not a very diligent letter-writer; perhaps this will provide an incentive.”

“Thank you, Paladin.” Frodo’s smile was like sunshine after a storm.

“No, I thank you, Frodo. You are a good friend to Merry; and I will not forget your quick action the other night in getting Pippin the help he needed.”

“I love them both. I’d do anything I could for them.”

“I know that. Go. Tell Merry that mean old Uncle has relented.” He laughed. He felt much better, himself.

Frodo laughed too. “Farewell, Paladin, if I do not see you again before we leave.” He hurried to find Merry, imagining the lad’s joy at his news.


Merry knocked lightly at Pippin’s door, and then cracked it open to enter.

Pippin, who had been sitting gloomily by the window, looked up, and his face lit up. “Merry!” But then his expression fell. “Merry, you had better not come in. I’m not supposed to see you. I don’t want you to get in trouble.”

“It’s all right.” Merry grinned. “Frodo talked your father into at least letting me come say good-bye.”

“Did he? Good old Frodo!” Now Pippin really felt pleased.

Merry went over and sat by his cousin. “I’m sorry I yelled at you.”

“I know. But I guess I deserved it. It wasn’t a very smart thing to do.”

“Well, no, not really.” He smiled. “So now you’ve had your first taste of strong liquor. How did you find it?”

“Merry, that brandy tasted awful! It tasted like cough medicine!”

Merry laughed. “Of course it did. What do you think they use to *make* cough medicine?”

“Oh.” Pippin was silent and thoughtful for a moment. “I could promise you never to drink any more.”

“You could. And if you made that a promise, I know you would keep it. But I don’t think that you need to promise me that. Would you ever want to do such a thing again?”

Pippin shuddered. “Oh no!”

Merry smiled. “I have a better promise. Promise me that you will never get drunk without me.”

“Only if you will promise me the same.” Pippin looked at Merry seriously. “And that we’ll never get *that* drunk! I don‘t like not remembering what happened.”

“It’s a deal, you scamp!” He ruffled Pippin’s hair, and gave him a squeeze about the shoulders. He was going to miss being around Pip for the next few weeks.

“I’m sorry about the walking trip, Mer.”

“So am I. But we’ll do it another time.” Merry looked at Pippin closely. He seemed to be fully recovered from his ordeal. “Please take care of yourself, Pip.”

“I will.” He looked at Merry mischievously. “Did you see when the Bankses left last night?”

“No. I missed that.”

Pippin told him what he had seen. “I think by the time they get home they each will have one ear twice as long as the other,” he giggled.

“Good. It would serve them right. I hope their father soundly thrashes them, though knowing him, I doubt it. Someday I’ll make up for that.”

Pippin looked at Merry in surprise. “That sounds like a promise.”

“It is, Pip, it is.”


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