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Consequences of a Fall  by Dreamflower

AUTHOR’S NOTES: [1] The flashback part of this story takes place the summer following Bilbo’s departure. Frodo will be 34 on his birthday, Sam is 22, Merry is 20, Pippin is 12 (21, 14, 13 and 7 ½ in Man-years). Pippin’s sisters: Pearl is 27, Pimpernel is 21, and Pervinca is 17 (17, 13 ½, and 11 in Man-years). And Hyacinth’s daughters: Amethyst is 18, Garnet is 16 and Opal is 12 (12, 10 and 7 ½ in Man-years.)

[2] Hyacinth Took is Reggie Took’s estranged wife. She previously made an appearance in "A New Reckoning". The "present" part of the story takes place in SR 1420, several months after the events in that story. (In my Shire universe, Reggie is a good deal older than he is on the family tree in Appendix C.)



"Hyacinth Took! Have you finished ironing those linens yet?" The cross voice of Hyacinth’s sister-in-law Euphorbia Brockhouse grated on Hyacinth’s nerves. She wanted nothing so much as to tell that supercilious social climber to iron them herself, but of course that would not do. Her brother had made it crystal clear that she was only under his roof on sufferance, and as a favor to the Thain.

Once she'd had a fine set of apartments at the Great Smials, a respectable marriage, and marriageable daughters. Once she would have sworn she would never have to do such menial tasks again. Now she was worse off than a maidservant. At least a maidservant received pay for doing all these distasteful things.

It was all Peregrin Took’s fault, of course. If he had never been born, she’d still have a chance of one day being the Thain’s Lady.

But of course, she’d had her own chances. If she had acted swiftly and decisively that one summer, all those years ago, she might still be in her former position, in fact she might even have gained what she had always hoped for…

It was the year Pippin had turned twelve. His summer visit to Buckland had been curtailed, when old Lalia, mother of Thain Ferumbras, had suffered an unfortunate demise. Accompanied by Merry, Uncle Sara and Aunt Esme, they went straight to the Great Smials, for the rest of the family was already there, to comfort poor Pearl, who'd had the misfortune to witness the whole tragedy.

Pippin was glum, in spite of Merry’s presence with him. He disliked visits to the Great Smials just as much as he liked visits to Brandy Hall. Old Mistress Lalia always smelled of herbs and sweat, and she was always disagreeable to his parents. For some reason, she did not like the idea that unless the Thain got married and had a son, Paladin Took would inherit the Thainship. Pippin hoped with all his heart that the Thain would wed soon, for if his father became Thain, then *he’d* have to be Thain after him, and that was a fate Pippin dreaded above all others.

And not only was she unkind to his parents, but she always talked to him as though he were half-witted, just because he was frightened silly to say anything in front of her.

But now he felt terrible, because he had not liked her, and she was dead. And it was so horrible, too--falling out of her chair and down the stairs And poor Pearl standing there to see it all.

And there were always servants underfoot at the Great Smials. Servants who did not seem to like children. They had servants at Whitwell--a cook, and a maidservant, and a hobbit-of-all-work, but these were more like family, familiar and pleasant. There were servants at Brandy Hall, too, but Aunt Esme never let them put on airs, and there were probably only about half as many as at the Great Smials, even though there were at least as many cousins and uncles and aunts there.

And there were Took cousins. The lads were pleasant enough, and he didn’t mind spending time with them if Merry were not along, but there were too many lass cousins, and they always giggled at him and teased him, most especially his cousin Reggie’s daughters. He felt bad about them, too. He liked Cousin Reggie, but he just couldn’t make himself like the lasses, though he tried very hard.

The only good thing about staying at the Great Smials was that he would get to spend time with Auntie Primrose and Auntie Peridot.

But that couldn’t make up for the fact that he was going to have to go to a funeral. He was too little to go the last time a relative died, but he couldn’t get out of this one.

Merry looked over at him. "Cheer up, Pip! I’ll be there, and Frodo will have to come, too! Once the funeral is over, we’ll have a good time together; maybe go to Pincup or something…"

"I suppose." But Merry’s words didn’t cheer him much. "It’s just…I didn’t like her, Merry, and now she’s dead."

Merry shook his head. "Pippin, nobody *liked* her. Don’t feel bad about that. She’s not dead because you didn’t like her, she’s dead because the servant didn’t set the brake properly on that old chair of hers."

"I know." He looked up. "We’re nearly there."

Esmeralda sat up; she had been dozing. "Make yourselves presentable, lads."

Merry just grinned. He’d never cared for old Lalia either, and it didn’t make him feel one bit guilty. And there was the prospect of seeing Frodo again--something that normally wouldn’t happen until after Frodo’s birthday in the fall.

The coach pulled to a stop. The Great Smials stretched before them, and Paladin, Pimpernel and Pervinca stood waiting to meet the coach. Paladin embraced his sister. She drew back and looked at his worried face. But she had little time to question him, for Pippin barreled into his father, hugging him tightly.

"Hello, son! It’s good to see you, lad." Paladin picked him up and returned the embrace, and then put him back down. "You are getting almost too heavy for me to be doing that!" He turned to Pimpernel. "Pimmie, you and Vinca take Pippin and Merry to the apartments; I want to talk to your aunt and uncle for a few minutes."

The children raced off, Vinca chatting a mile to the minute about everyone else who had arrived.

Saradoc and Esmeralda looked at Paladin with concern. "Brother, what is wrong? Your message said something about Pearl witnessing the accident?"

He nodded. "It’s a bit more complicated than that." They began to walk slowly towards the Smials as he talked. "You know that Pearl was to have her turn at being Lalia’s attendant this summer?" Of course, a few months’ waiting on the old matriarch hand and foot was a fate that befell most of the young female Took cousins and nieces during their tweens. Living at Whitwell, Paladin and Eglantine had hoped that Pearl would be overlooked, but a few weeks ago the summons had come, and apparently, Lalia'd had her mind set on Pearl. Paladin could not for the life of him understand why, as she heartily disliked him and his family, but there it was, and not to be denied without causing a severe rift in the ranks of the Took family.

"I don’t know why old Lalia was so set on Pearl. But Pearl received the news with good grace. She was not, of course, happy about it, but she felt that it had been bound to happen sooner or later, and she might as well get it over with."

His sister and brother-in-law nodded, and he continued. "Things were apparently going forth much as expected. Lalia was demanding and cross, but Pearl was coping fairly well. Naturally, she did not see to Lalia by herself. She’s only a tween, and has no skill in nursing, and Lalia’s weight would have made it impossible for her at any rate. But of course there was Lalia’s chambermaid, Begonia Diggle, to take care of the more difficult tasks." Begonia had been a fixture at the Great Smials as long as her mistress, having been a maid for the Clayhangers before Lalia’s marriage to Fortinbras II. She was an imposing sight; even as a lass, Begonia had been as tall and strong as most lads. In spite of Begonia’s loyalty, she was never spared the sharp edge of her mistress’ tongue any more than anyone else.

"At any rate," Paladin continued, "it always took the both of them to wrestle that old wheeled chair over the threshold at the Great Doors, so that Lalia could take the air."

He stopped walking. They were almost to the Smials, and he wanted to finish the tale before they went inside. "Apparently, just as they were getting ready to take her over the threshold and down the steps, she took it into her head that she needed her shawl. She insisted that Pearl was to go and fetch it. Poor Pearl was indecisive, for she knew that Begonia could not handle the chair alone. The maid promised her to set the brake and not try to move her mistress until Pearl returned. Pearl still hesitated however. This agitated Lalia, and she began to shout at Pearl to hurry up. She became excited, and her movements seem to have caused the brake to slip, or perhaps it was not properly set in the first place. At any rate, the chair began to move. Both Begonia and Pearl reached for it, but it continued to move and as they were at the top of the steps, she was tipped out, to go rolling down the steps and the hill. Pearl, I am afraid, became hysterical and began screaming; Begonia tried to run down after her mistress, but it was too late."

"Oh, dear!" breathed Esmeralda. "Poor Pearl, indeed!"

"That’s not the worst of it," said Paladin grimly. "Since we arrived, I’ve become aware of the gossip. There are those who are trying to say that Pearl was responsible for tipping the chair and causing the accident."

"That’s dreadful! Who on earth would try to harm a young tween’s reputation like that?"



Hyacinth folded the bedsheet she had just ironed carefully. Euphorbia was perfectly capable of making her do it over if it got wrinkled again.

She had thought herself so clever, when she had planted the idea of Pearl Took in Lalia’s mind. Knowing the old hobbit's impossible temperament, she had hoped to get Pearl disgraced, enough perhaps that Ferumbras could be brought to disown Paladin in favor of Reginard. But she’d scarcely had a chance to find out what would work with young Pearl when this accident had happened.

At first she’d been furious. Lalia had been her strongest ally in her efforts to supplant Paladin Took, and now she was lost.

On the other hand, perhaps she’d been provided with just the right circumstances to disgrace Pearl…


Merry and Pippin followed Pimpernel and Pervinca towards the apartments that the Whitwell Tooks always used during their visits to the Great Smials. There were similar apartments set aside for the Brandybucks as well, located nearby. The Brandybuck apartments were actually larger and nicer, for they were also meant to accommodate the Master of Buckland, but Merry’s grandfather Old Rory and his grandmother Menegilda had not come. The Master of Buckland had not got on well with old Lalia, though he probably would have attended her funeral out of duty anyway--however, he had the excuse of his wife Menegilda’s poor health to keep him home.

"Frodo’s already here?" asked Merry, delighted.

"Yes," said Pimmie. "He arrived last evening. But he’s stuck with the Thain, along with the other family heads."

Merry was suddenly much less delighted. Since Bilbo was gone, Frodo was now the head of the Baggins clan, and that meant he’d have very little time while he was here to spend with his younger cousins, much as he might have preferred it.

Pippin caught his cousin’s dismay. "What’s wrong, Merry?"

"Frodo will have to be doing all the tedious grown-up stuff before the funeral," he said mournfully.

"Oh," said Pippin. "But we won’t, will we?"

Pimpernel turned to him. "You had better behave yourself, Peregrin Took! And that goes for you, too, Meriadoc Brandybuck! You'd better not be getting Pippin into mischief. Mother and Father have more than enough to worry about right now, with Pearl and everything!"

"What do you mean, Pimmie?" Pippin grabbed his sister by the sleeve.

"Never you mind!" she snapped, snatching free, but Pervinca answered for her.

"People are saying she’s the one who caused Cousin Lalia to fall!" Vinca's hand flew to her mouth as Pimpernel turned to scold her.

"Vinca!" Pimpernel turned on her younger sister, and said in a fierce hiss, "Don’t you ever think? If Mother and Father wanted Pippin to know they would tell him!" Suddenly she paled, and gulped. Now it was she who'd said too much, and she wished she could take it back the instant the words were out of her mouth.

Pippin and Merry both stared in consternation and shock, stopping short of the apartment door. Pimmie gave a great frustrated sigh, opened the door, and shoved them both gently. Vinca followed behind, chastened.

As she shut the door behind them, Pippin asked in a small frightened voice. "Are Mother and Pearl here?"

"No, they’re with the Aunties." Now, the Took children had a number of "aunties", including those who bore the title merely out of courtesy, but "*the* Aunties" meant Paladin’s two older sisters, Primrose and Peridot.


Merry glared at her. "The cat is out of the bag now, Pimmie. You might as well tell us what’s going on."

She sighed, as they went to flop down on one of the settees in the sitting room. "There is not that much to tell. It’s all just gossip, and no one seems to know who started it, but every time poor Pearl makes an appearance, suddenly everyone is staring at her, and whispering behind their hands…"


"It’s really quite horrid for my poor lass," Paladin continued, as his sister and brother-in-law followed him to the Thain’s reception room. There, Ferumbras was receiving the condolences of the various family heads who had come.

"I suppose," said Esme, "that it’s only natural given the circumstances, that folk would speculate on who caused the accident--" Her voice trailed off as she saw the look on her brother’s face. "But you mean something quite different, don’t you?"

Her brother nodded. "Some of the gossip seems to insinuate that it was more than an accident."

"Who would dare such slander?" Saradoc exclaimed angrily, though he remembered to keep his voice low.

Paladin shrugged, and his pinched expression said more than words his own frustration and anger. "Cousin Ferumbras seems inclined to dismiss it, which is the important thing. The truth be told, I think he is as relieved as not that his mother is gone at last.

Saradoc and Esmeralda did not display the shock that they normally would have on hearing such a statement. No one had really liked Lalia, and in truth, most of the Tooks in the Smials would feel that way about her passing. Old Bilbo had once remarked sourly that he thought that Lalia and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins were in a competition to see which of them could be the most hated matriarch in the Shire. He had given the odds to Lobelia, he said, only because she afflicted him the most.


"What do *we* have to do?" asked Merry.

"We have to wait here for our parents," Pimpernel answered.

Merry flicked a look at Pippin, who was beginning to get restless, fidgeting and jiggling his feet. Pimpernel knew what Merry meant by the look and caught his eye with her own. She needed a distraction for the younger ones.

"Pip, sit still!" ordered Pervinca.

"I’m not doing anything!" he protested.

"You’re jumping around like a grasshopper!"

"Am not!"

"Are so!" Pervinca sprang up angrily, her hands on her hips.

Pimpernel reached out and snagged Pervinca’s arm, jerking it to make her sit down.

Merry put an arm around Pippin’s thin shoulders. "Pip, why don’t you sing us a song?"


Paladin, Esmeralda and Saradoc entered the Thain’s reception room. Ferumbras was comfortably seated by the fireplace, as folk came by, to speak to him and offer condolences.

Paladin noticed at once that his cousin Reggie’s wife had stationed herself behind the Thain. He did not care much for Hyacinth; she was a rather silly snob, who spoiled their three daughters shamelessly. She also hen-pecked poor Reggie dreadfully as well. He knew other hen-pecked husbands in the Shire, but most of them seemed more or less fond of their wives. Poor Reggie did not even seem to like Hyacinth any better than other folk did. Still, he remembered their wedding: Reggie had seemed to be as besotted as any groom. Paladin guessed that living with her shrewish ways day in and day out had worn the bloom off the rose.

"Cousin Paladin!"

He turned and smiled at the familiar youthful voice. "Frodo! It *is* good to see you!" He bit his tongue to keep from saying "my lad." Frodo Baggins had come of age less than ten months ago, and trying to maintain his dignity as the head of the family in spite of his youth was difficult enough.

"Aunt Esme! Uncle Sara!"

Esmeralda and Saradoc did not stand on any ceremony with their cousin. He had been their foster-son for years before old Bilbo adopted him, and they quickly enfolded him between them in a warm embrace.

"My goodness, Frodo, you do look handsome!"

Frodo blushed. He did look remarkably well, in his dark blue jacket, and the light- blue brocaded weskit. "You are as beautiful as ever, Aunt Esme!"

And now it was her turn to blush. "Flatterer!" she said with a laugh.

"Did Merry come?" he asked hopefully.

"Of course he did," replied Saradoc. "It took him only a second to realize you’d be here. Otherwise, I am sure he would have tried to find some reason to beg off."

Frodo shook his head ruefully. "I hope I’ll have some time to spend with him and with Pippin. But I am afraid it will not be as much as I would like."

"No, this business is likely to be remarkably dreary," said Paladin. He lowered his voice, though none were likely to hear in this murmuring crowd. "What makes it worse, is that no one is actually mourning her."

"No," said Frodo sadly, "I don’t think anyone feels anything but relief. That seems so sad, to be so unloved."

"She brought it on herself," snapped Esmeralda tartly. "If she had not been so greedy and grasping and unkind--"

"Esme!" Saradoc said softly.

She subsided.

"Where in all this crowd is Reggie?" asked Paladin, to change the subject.

"Over there," Frodo gestured to a group of hobbits in the far corner of the room., "as far from his wife as he can get." He shook his head. He was still young enough to appreciate his bachelorhood.


Pippin had sung two or three songs when the door to the apartment opened and his mother entered. His face lit up, and he ran over to leap into her arms.


"My Pippin!" She smiled and put him down, but not before giving him an affectionate squeeze.

"Hello, Children. Merry, where are your parents?"

"Uncle took them to pay their respects, Aunt Tina."

She nodded. "As well to get that out of the way as soon as possible."

Pippin looked up at his mother with a troubled face. "Mother, where is Pearl?"

"She’s staying with the Aunties right now, dearest." She studied his distressed expression. "What have you been told?"

His green eyes filled. "Mother, it *wasn’t* her fault, was it?"

Eglantine sat down in one of the chairs and took Pippin on her lap. "No, my dear, it was not her fault. Either the brake was not properly set, or it gave way; we are not certain which. But your sister had nothing to do with it."

Pippin looked somewhat relieved, but he was still troubled. "Then why would someone say it was her fault?"

His mother sighed and stroked the curls away from his brow. "It is a sad thing to say, Pippin, but sometimes people just want someone to blame when things go wrong. If there is no one to blame, or if they aren't sure who ought to bear the blame, then they will make guesses. And then when enough people repeat the guesses, then some people think them true."

"Oh." The young hobbit looked thoughtful. "Like last year, when some people said that Gandalf and Frodo made Cousin Bilbo go away? Because I *know* that wasn’t true!"

"Very much like that, my poppet," his mother said, injecting a bit of forced cheer into her tone, "And for very many of the same reasons."

"Well, it’s not very nice. I suppose I shall have to tell people they’re wrong if they say such things about our Pearl to me."

She gave him a hug. "Let us hope that they will have better sense than to repeat such things to her brother. But Pippin, dear, I don’t want you quarreling about this. Just pretend that you don’t hear. If you should quarrel for Pearl’s sake, it would make her very embarrassed." She glanced up and over at Merry, who had been listening very intently. "And Meriadoc, that goes for you as well. I know that you will want to protect Pearl from such gossip, but anger will not serve here."

"I understand, Aunt Tina." But from the look on his face, Eglantine knew at once he had made no promise. She sighed. Merry would have to be Saradoc’s and Esmeralda’s problem.

She put Pippin down. "Children, you need to wash and get ready to go down to supper in the main dining hall. They will be serving you young ones early, for there are a good many adult guests and they will be needing the tables and the extra room."

"Yes, Mother," said Pimpernel. She and Pervinca got up to go and change.

"Merry, is Pippin’s travelling case here?" asked Eglantine.

"No, Aunt Tina. I think it was placed in our quarters with the rest of our luggage."

"Please do me a favor, then, lad, and take Pippin to get cleaned up and changed."

"Yes, Aunt Tina" Merry turned to his younger cousin and forced a bit of enthusiasm into his tone. "Come on, Pip! Let’s go. The sooner we get ready, the sooner we eat."

The mention of food cheered Pippin immensely, and he leapt up to follow Merry.



Hyacinth folded the last of the linens and gathered them up in her arms. She spared a hateful glance for the flat iron. She wished she had never laid eyes on it. She’d never have thought one was that heavy.

What, exactly, had gone wrong that summer? Her daughters had provided her with the perfect opportunity to settle things once and for all. Yet somehow, it had not worked out.

"Hyacinth! I do think you might hurry yourself a bit. We are having a guest, you know!"

"I am coming, Euphorbia!" She tried to keep her irritation out of her voice. If she let her contempt show, her sister-in-law was bound to complain.


Pippin’s eyes grew wide in dismay. "Where are we going to sit?" he asked. For the tables were very nearly full with children and tweens sent down by their parents to the early seating. Pippin’s sisters looked things over, and then Pimpernel went to sit near Milo Goodbody, where one chair was available. Pervinca spotted a chair between her cousin Ferdibrand Took and Angelica Baggins, and headed right for it. Merry and Pippin were looking for seats close together, and at last saw one. Fatty Bolger and Folco Boffin were at one side, and then on the other side of the two empty chairs was Amethyst Took. Her sisters Garnet and Opal sat on the opposite side of the table. As that was the only space with two chairs together, Merry and Pippin headed straight for it.

"Hullo, Fatty," said Merry, "Do you mind if we sit here?"

"Of course not!" he responded.

Merry sat down next to the Bolger lad, and Pippin sat next to him.

"I notice you did not ask if *I* minded!" said Amethyst arrogantly.

Pippin looked abashed. He never knew what to say to something like that.

"Well," said Merry in a deceptively pleasant tone, "I’m quite sure you would not be so ill-mannered as to object."

He managed to sound quite haughty and grown-up, Pippin thought admiringly.

Amethyst gave a somewhat rude and unladylike snort, and then applied herself to her plate for a few moments. The lamb chops were good enough, but she pickily pushed her sprouts to one side, and wrinkled her nose at the way those *lads* ate theirs all up, just as though they were something good like cake. Lads, she supposed, would eat anything. She was glad she didn't have any brothers.

Across the table, Garnet and Opal whispered to one another, and giggled behind their hands as they stared at Pippin. He blushed all the way to the tips of his ears, and began to feel very uncomfortable. It was hard to eat with them staring at him that way. They looked at him as though he were some kind of strange and unusual creature.

Merry caught a glimpse of the misery on Pippin’s face, and turned a glare on the two lasses. "Why don’t you paint a picture? It will last longer."

Garnet and Opal flushed and looked away.

Fatty snickered, and Folco looked puzzled. He leaned over to Fatty, and whispered "Why were they staring? He doesn't have gravy on his chin, or anything?"

Fatty rolled his eyes, and shook his head at Folco. "I'll explain later," he whispered back. He cast a glance at Merry's tight lips. He didn't want Folco to draw Merry's ire.

Amethyst took a sip of her milk and said in a nasty tone, "I don’t wonder folk are staring. I’m quite sure they must wonder what it’s like to have a sister who’s killed some one."

Pippin went white, and then his green eyes filled. His mother had told him to pretend he did not hear, but he was not sure that he could do it. He turned to Merry in mute distress.

Merry’s face might have been made of stone. "You had better take that back, Amethyst Took. It’s not true."

Amethyst opened her eyes wide, and pretended to be astonished. "But *everyone* says so! I can't believe they are *all* wrong!"

Pippin clenched his little fists, his knuckles turning as white as his face, and he bit his lip.

"That’s enough of that!" blazed Merry. His hand snaked out behind Pippin’s back quick as lightning, and he grabbed Amethyst’s braided hair and yanked hard.

She let out a yowl that turned every head in the hall in their direction.

Merry did not let go, but tightened his hold. "I said take it back!"

"Meriadoc Brandybuck! Let go of her this instant."

It was his father’s voice, and Merry responded instantly, loosing his hold so fast that Amethyst nearly toppled from her chair. She stood up, sobbing loudly. "He nearly pulled all my hair out!"

Saradoc stood there with Paladin next to him, and Frodo just behind them.

They had come to the hall to find the lads, to see if they wished to spend some time with Frodo before the adults went in to dine. "I saw what happened, lass, and I will deal with it." He turned to Merry. "Come with me, young hobbit!"

Merry followed his father, his chin defiantly held high. Frodo gave a sad shake of his head as Merry passed.

Pippin looked up at Paladin. "Father," he said in a small voice, "I’m not hungry anymore."

Paladin picked his son up and carried him from the room, Frodo following behind.


In the Brandybuck guest quarters, Saradoc stood before his son, as angry with Merry as he had ever been.

"Merry, I cannot believe you laid hands on a lass that way! You have been taught better manners than that."

Merry held his chin up. "I did not hit her."

Saradoc just stared.

Merry knew that his strategy was not going to work. The silence stretched between them, Merry feeling miserable under his father’s unblinking regard, until he finally blurted, "Did you hear what she said about Pearl? She was hurting Pippin--on purpose!"

Saradoc shook his head. "Meriadoc, you know better. What she was saying was ugly and hurtful, true, but they were only words. You do not lay your hands on a lass in violence. That you pulled her hair instead of striking her is no excuse."

"She deserved it."

"I’ve no doubt she did. But it was not your place to chastise her. If she was causing Pippin such distress, you should have taken him away from there and spoken to her parents afterwards." Really, he thought, not that it would have done much good to speak to them, but it would have been the appropriate way to handle things. Merry was old enough now to realize this. Defending Pippin was all well and good, but it did not need to involve physical violence.

Merry took a deep breath, but his chin did not go down one bit.

"I do not suppose there will be any use in telling you to apologize to her."

"No, sir." He was not about to apologize for stopping Amethyst’s hurtful words.

"Very well." Saradoc stopped a moment to reflect, his face grave as he considered carefully the consequences of the sentence he was about to pronounce. "Tomorrow is the funeral. You will attend with your mother and myself. You will not speak to Pippin or to Frodo. You will return here afterwards, and remain in these quarters, and take your meals here for the next two days."

Merry’s eyes widened. Then they would be returning to Buckland. He’d have no chance to be with Pippin or Frodo. He knew if he would apologize his father would let him off for at least one day.

But--still, the look on her face when she’d said those ugly things to Pippin…

"Very well, Da. Will you please explain to Pippin and Frodo for me? I do not wish them to think I am angry with them."

Saradoc sighed. "Yes, Merry, I will tell them." Such stubborn pride. He must have that from the Took side of the family. "Go to your room."

Merry nodded, tight-lipped.


When Saradoc went next door, he found Paladin and Frodo trying to console Pippin. Paladin was furious when he found out all that had been said.

"I ought to go to Reggie right now! That little chit had no right repeating such things to my little lad."

Frodo shook his head. "It would not do any good, Cousin Paladin. You know where Amethyst heard such things--it had to come from her mother, and it’s never done any good to ask Reggie to deal with Hyacinth."

They both turned when Saradoc entered.

"I hope you were not too hard on Merry, Uncle Sara," said Frodo.

"Frodo, you know that Merry could not be allowed to behave that way. I have told him he is not to speak to you and Pippin tomorrow, and he will spend the next two days in his room. He may say farewell when we leave in three days."

Pippin stared up at his uncle in shock, and then he burst into tears.



Chapter 4

Hyacinth remembered the day of the funeral. She'd been wearing a very becoming black dress, and while she did not weep or wail, she’d made sure that the other Tooks saw that, at any rate, one person was distressed by Lalia's death. After all, poor Ferumbras would be glad to know that she, at least, sympathized with his sorrow.

She'd glanced over at a few of the others. Rosamunda Bolger looked a bit bored and was distracted by Estella, who was fidgeting. Frodo Baggins looked like a marble statue, and had just as much expression. The Brandybucks all looked angry. What on earth had *they* to be angry about? It was their son Meriadoc who'd sent Amethyst home in hysterics, and if Reggie had not been there during that little display, Hyacinth would have slapped some sense into the child. But she wasn't about to forget what the Brandybuck brat had done. Pull her daughter's hair, indeed!

As for the Whitwell Tooks, they all were huddled about Pearl, looking worried.

Hyacinth had allowed herself to feel a little victorious. It was very clear that the lass' disgrace was beginning to take its toll.

Pippin tried not to fidget. The jacket and weskit he was wearing, and the breeches with buttons at the knees, and the scratchy high collar of his shirt were all very uncomfortable. He held tightly to his mother’s hand, as the Thain stood by old Mistress Lalia’s graveside. The summer day was hot, the Sun rode high in a clear sky; it was far too warm for these clothes.

Pippin looked curiously at old Cousin Ferumbras. He was a rather a large hobbit in every way, and he had a booming voice. Yet the things he was saying about his mother did not seem right. He talked about her hard work for the Tooks, and how she had tried all her life to maintain the dignity and respectability of Tookland and the Great Smials. But he did not say anything about what kind of mother she was or how much he would miss her. The way the Thain spoke, it did not even sound as though he was talking of his own mother.

He glanced up at his own mother, who was listening politely, her hand resting gently on his curls, and softly playing a bit with them in a way that was soothing, and he thought that it would be altogether horrible if she should die, and that if he had to talk about her then, he would disgrace himself dreadfully with crying, for he could not imagine how terrible it would be.

He cast a glance at Frodo, who stood a little apart and alone. He had often heard the story of how Frodo’s parents had died when he was about the same age as Pippin was now. Looking at his cousin’s pale face, he fought back the urge to run to him and hug him, for that would not be proper right now. By all that was right, Merry should be standing by Frodo right now, and keeping the sadness away from him. Once, Pippin remembered, Merry’d said it was his job to drive Frodo's sadness away. But Merry couldn’t do anything about Frodo’s sadness right now.

Merry stood as still as a statue, next to his father, his face white, his eyes on Frodo. Pippin knew Merry was thinking what he had just been thinking, and he could tell Merry was feeling very sorry that he could not go to Frodo right now. Uncle Saradoc looked miserable too.

He’d overheard Merry’s parents talking with his own. He knew that if Merry would just say "sorry", Uncle Sara would probably let him off. But he also knew that Merry never would. And it’s all my fault, he thought. If I had just pretended what Amethyst said didn’t matter, maybe Merry would not be in trouble now. But that was impossible. Merry could always tell when he was unhappy, even if he pretended he wasn’t. He sighed. It was all such a grown-up tangle. Why did grown-ups have to make everything so complicated? Even if she was a lass, Amethyst had deserved to have her hair yanked. Why couldn’t Uncle Saradoc see that?

It was dreadfully hot. He put his finger up, and ran it about his collar.

The Thain seemed to be just about finished talking now. Maybe this would be over soon.

Cousin Ferumbras came forward and cast a handful of dirt over the coffin, where it lay in the hole. He stepped back, and hobbits with shovels came, and began to fill the hole, and all the other hobbits began to move back towards the Great Smials.

Pippin shuddered. He wondered what it would be like to be in a box and be covered up with dirt, and suddenly he could bear it no longer, and he grabbed his mother fiercely about the waist as tight as he could.

Eglantine put her arm around him and drew him close. "It is all right, my Pippin. Soon all will be over."

Paladin was walking on his wife’s other side, and he had his own arm around Pearl. Pippin glanced at his oldest sister. She was very white also, and he could tell from her eyes and nose that she’d been crying. He felt awful that he’d not had a chance even to speak to her since he’d arrived.

Behind them, the Aunties walked, with Pimmie and Vinca in between.

Pippin had never thought it could take so long to walk such a short distance, from the hill where all the ancient Tooks were laid to rest, through the south garden, and into the main hall of the Smials, where a luncheon awaited.

Now that he was freed from the constraints of the funeral, he began to fidget in earnest. "Mother, please may I take off my jacket?" he begged.

"Not yet, Pippin. Have some food, and after you eat, you may go outside and play, and you may take your jacket off then. But do be careful of those breeches and that shirt. No climbing trees in them."

Pippin frowned. Tree climbing was about the only thing he could imagine, at the moment, that might possibly be fun without Merry. Merry didn’t like to climb trees.

He supposed he could play with some of the other cousins, but most of them were older and wouldn’t want him around without Merry along. He spotted Reggie’s daughters, over by their parents, being all prim. He *certainly* wasn’t going to play with them after they had made Merry get in trouble yesterday.

Still, he didn’t say anything, for if he did, his mother might tell him to go to their guest quarters, and he didn’t want to be cooped up inside, either.

He helped himself to a plate from the sideboard, and loaded it down with his favorite things--mostly mushrooms fixed in a variety of ways, and then, as his mother was distracted by Cousin Rosamunda Bolger, he managed to get several sweets as well. At least that was something he could not have done if Merry had been watching.

He found a corner, and ate standing, keeping an eye open for any of his sisters or his father to come along and tell him he could not have all those sweets.

Poor Pearl. She was still clinging to their father, and looking altogether frightened. It upset Pippin to see it, for Pearl was usually such a confident lass, who never seemed to get upset. Pimmie and Vinca would often be furious at him over some of his pranks, but Pearl would just shake her head, and sometimes even laugh. That wasn’t a lot of fun, though, so he seldom played pranks on her. Now, however, she looked sad and scared. And he could see some of the other hobbits staring her way, and some of them whispering about her.

Suddenly, Pippin lost his appetite. He found a place to put his plate, and quite unheard of for him, he left a half a piece of cake on it. He slipped away to go outside.

Once outside, he thought of a place he could go to be alone. When he was a very small lad, Frodo had shown him a special place. On the south side of the Great Smials, where the hill sloped down to the garden on the far side of the terrace next to the ballroom, there was an opening in the shrubbery where one could climb up, up and up to the grassy roof. Hardly anyone ever went up there except the occasional gardener. A few sheep kept the grass clipped short, and it was a lovely spot, all open to the sun. Unlike Bag End and Brandy Hall, there were no trees, just the chimney pots, of which there were many. The reason other hobbits didn’t go up there was the view, Frodo had told him, for it was quite high up, and other hobbits were not terribly fond of high places. Tooks didn’t mind being high up as much as most other hobbits, but even the majority of them were not as fond of heights as Frodo and Pippin.

Pippin took off his jacket, folded it neatly, and placed it next to one of the chimneys where he could find it again easily. After a moment’s thought, he shed his shirt as well, for the collar *was* bothering him dreadfully. He folded it too, and laid it on top of the jacket. He slipped his braces back up over his now bare shoulders, and spun around until he was dizzy.

This was lovely. The sunshine and clear cloudless sky were pleasant. He began to run and tumble and sing to himself. He’d never been up here alone before, only with Frodo, and he reveled in all the open grassy space.

He took a good run, and turned five cartwheels in a row, before flopping down. He was thirsty, and he wished he’d thought to bring something to drink with him. He lay breathless for a while, and then, basking in the sun, he fell asleep.


Chapter 5.

“Hyacinth! *Hyacinth!*”

That guilty hobbit gave a start, caught red-handed as it were, just standing there with her armful of bedsheets, the bare mattress spread before her like a cat—or a hobbit—basking in the sun.


“Where’s Pippin, dear?” Paladin asked Eglantine as the luncheon began to wind down.

“He was getting a bit restless.  I told him that he could go outside and play after he finished eating.”

“Ah.”  If he was out playing they probably would not see him until teatime.  Paladin wondered what young hobbits Pippin might be playing with, since Merry was unavailable.  “I think that we should go back to our rooms; the lasses don’t need to be around any more of this talk.”

“Pearl already left with Primrose and Peridot,” Eglantine replied.  “I wish we could spend more time with her right now.”  They had placed her with Paladin’s sisters in order to shield her from the worst of the talk.  It would take a brave hobbit indeed to say anything untoward to Primrose Took’s niece in her presence.  She had even outfaced Lalia herself from time to time and lived to tell about it. 

“Why don’t we go to my sisters’ apartment, instead, dear?  Pimmie and Vinca would enjoy a chance to visit with them, and we can ask poor Frodo to join us.  He’s fond of my sisters, and with Merry not able to spend time with him, he’s a bit at loose ends. And then you and I will have some time with Pearl.” 

“So long as we are back in our own quarters by teatime.  I do not wish for Pippin to have to search for us.”

Frodo was quite glad to accompany them.   Merry was across the room with his parents, casting looks of pure misery in his direction, about which he could do nothing.  Saradoc hoped Merry would apologize, but Frodo knew that his younger cousin would never apologize for protecting Pippin.  He vividly remembered giving Lotho a bloody nose for shoving Merry once; Bilbo had been very understanding, but even had he not been so, Frodo would never have apologized for it. 

Still, it made a difference that Amethyst was a lass, and Frodo knew it.  Perhaps if he took himself out of Merry’s sight, it would be better.

As they made their way through the maze of passages to Primrose and Peridot’s apartment, he asked, “Where’s Pippin?”  Eglantine repeated what she had told Paladin. 

Frodo raised a brow at that.  As Paladin had before him, he wondered what playmates Pippin might have found.  He was one of the youngest children here, the youngest of the lads, in fact.  And the older lads were not likely to welcome his company without Merry along.  Probably he’d gone out and found a tree to climb.  Pippin enjoyed climbing trees even more than Frodo himself did.  He smiled to remember teaching the little one to clamber up after him.  The child had been totally fearless.

Primrose and Peridot shared a spacious set of apartments on the northwest side of the Great Smials, as far from the Thain--and thus Lalia--as possible.  They showed their brother’s family in, and Primrose went to open the sitting room curtains that overlooked the west garden.   Every time Frodo spent time in their company, he could recall the stories he'd often heard about their friendship with his mother.  Primrose had never wed, and Peridot was long widowed from another Took cousin, so they had been sharing these quarters for many years now.

“Please make yourselves comfortable,” said Peridot, looking at Frodo, for the others were already being seated.  It was Frodo’s first time visiting the elderly hobbitesses in their home.  He took a seat on one end of the settee, near the fireplace.  Pimpernel and Pervinca were sitting at the other end, being unusually quiet for them.  

Pearl did not sit down, but went instead to look out the window.

“Pearl,” said her mother, “are you all right, dear?”

She turned and looked at her family.  Her eyes filled, and her lower lip trembled. “You don’t think it was my fault, do you?”

“Of course not!” exclaimed Paladin, shocked that she thought she should have to ask.

“But, you see, if I had just hurried up to get her shawl, perhaps she would not have become angry and upset the chair.  Or if I had moved more quickly when she started to topple, perhaps I could have stopped it…”

She stopped abruptly, and put her fist to her mouth.

Eglantine went over and put her arms around her oldest daughter.  “It was an accident, Pearl, an accident and only an accident, and no one was to blame, least of all you.”

“It was dreadful, Mother.” 

Suddenly she began to sob.  “I didn’t like her; I hated her telling me what to do all the time, and she always was making sly remarks about Father.  And she said Pippin was slow-witted!  She would always pretend to get his name wrong, and she called him ’Poppet’.  She was cruel, Mother, and I didn’t like her, and now she’s dead!”

Eglantine held her tightly and rocked her back and forth, murmuring “Now, there, my chick.  It will be well, you’ll see.  You did *not* do anything wrong.”  

Frodo felt terribly embarrassed to stand witness to such an intimate moment between the mother and daughter.  It made him feel keenly his own lack of a mother.

After a few moments the storm passed, and Pearl blew her nose and looked over at the rest of them.  “I’m dreadfully sorry for making such a display of myself,” she said in a falsely bright voice.

“Think nothing of it, my dear,” said Primrose.  “You are overwrought, and under the circumstances, it is perfectly understandable if you give way now and then.  We are all family here, in any event.”  

Eglantine gave her eldest a pat on the back, rubbing it just a bit.   “Go and wash your face and comb your hair, dear, and come back and have a chat with us for a bit.”  

She nodded, and went off to the room she was staying in.

Eglantine sighed deeply and returned to her seat next to her husband. 

He reached over and took her hand.  Their fingers entwined, and Paladin squeezed her hand slightly.  Eglantine sighed and leaned into her husband’s side, grateful for his support.

She looked at Primrose.  “I have to thank you for keeping her here.” She drew a deep breath in through her nose, and let it out.  When she spoke again, her voice had hardened.   "I would like to find out who started these horrid rumors.”

Primrose shook her head.  “I am not certain exactly who *started* the talk.  Questions will always arise when the circumstances are so strange.”

Frodo felt a chill run up his spine as he recalled some of the things said about his own parents’ deaths.

“But,” the old hobbitess went on, “I daresay you can easily guess who is spreading some of the most poisonous talk.”

“Reggie needs to put a curb on the tongue of that wife of his,” said Paladin.  “Hyacinth hasn’t the sense of a goose, and the stupid--”  Paladin bit his tongue and looked at his younger daughters, who had been watching and listening in horrified fascination, “--*creature*will repeat anything.  And of course the more lurid the version, the better, so far as she’s concerned.”  

“Paladin!” Eglantine said sharply.

“Why don’t we talk of more pleasant things?” said Peridot, firmly changing the subject.  “How are young Pippin’s fiddle lessons coming?  Did he bring it with him?  I should not mind hearing him play.”  

The conversation turned general, and by the time Pearl returned to the room, they were discussing the upcoming Litheday celebrations.

“Frodo?” asked Primrose hopefully, “Do you think that Gandalf will be in the Shire this year...with fireworks?  It’s been years since we had any here at the Great Smials.” 

“I don’t know, I’m sorry to say,” he responded.  “Gandalf’s comings and goings are always unlooked for.  But I somehow doubt he will be returning to the Shire anytime soon.  Folk in Hobbiton were very cross with him for the way Uncle Bilbo’s Birthday Party turned out last year.”

Primrose laughed.  “It was quite a wonder.  Your Uncle played such a joke on everyone!  But he was a rascal in his youth as well.  Have you ever heard about the time he helped our father and your Uncle Rory steal some of Gandalf’s fireworks?”  

The conversation began to grow cheery, and even the young lasses were giggling at the thought of their Grandfather Adalgrim, Cousin Bilbo and Cousin Sigismond having to wash piles of dishes as a penance.*

Frodo contributed some anecdotes of a few things that Merry and Pippin had done on their recent visit to him in the spring, causing Paladin and Tina to raise their eyebrows.

“Speaking of Pippin,” said Eglantine, “it is nearly teatime, and we should get back to our own chambers, for Pippin will surely be coming there soon, ready to fill that insatiable tummy of his.”  

The Whitwell Tooks said farewell to their hostesses and to Pearl, and, with Frodo in tow, headed back.

“Do join us for tea, Frodo.”

Frodo nodded.  “Thank you, Cousin Tina, I believe that I will.”  Tea with Saradoc and Esmeralda would not be pleasant with Merry still in disgrace.  And he had no desire to join the many mourners that would be taking tea with the Thain.



* From my story "The Knight Has Been Unruly", written for Lindelea's group story, "To Tell a Tale"



Euphorbia bustled into the room, her face flushed from the heat of the kitchen, for of course she was baking with her own hands the special marmalade cake for which she was known in these parts. She could relegate any number of unpleasant kitchen tasks, including the washing up, to Hyacinth, of course, but her famous cake required “a delicate touch, quite beyond you, my dear.” In any event, the cake was evidently safely out of the oven, and Euphorbia could turn her full attention on hounding Hyacinth about her tasks.*

Hyacinth watched her with loathing.  How she wished their positions were reversed.  If she were the Thain’s lady, her sister-in-law would never dare speak to her that way…

Eglantine had rung for tea, and the servant had brought it to their sitting room, and Pippin had still not returned.

“I cannot believe he is not here for tea,” she said.  “Pippin never misses a meal.”

“Shall I see if he went next door?” asked Frodo.  “Perhaps he is trying to persuade Uncle Sara to let Merry off his punishment.”

“If you would not mind, Frodo.  That sounds like something he might think of.  I know he was quite miserable not to be able to speak with Merry this morning.”


“No, Frodo,” answered Saradoc.  “I am afraid I’ve seen no sign of Pippin since luncheon.”  He sighed.  “And Merry is staying in his room.  He’s not very happy with me today.”

“I do wish you’d reconsider his punishment, Uncle.  He did act out of extreme provocation, and it’s not likely he’d ever repeat such a thing.”

Saradoc sighed again. “Esme thinks so, too.  But I can’t overlook the seriousness of his laying hands on a lass like that.”

“Well, I know that you are doing what you think is best for him,” Frodo said diplomatically.  “I suppose that Pippin is probably up a tree somewhere, pining for Merry.”

This made Saradoc flush.  He had known Merry’s punishment would be hard on both Pippin and Frodo.  Really, sometimes there was something to be said for a thrashing.  At least such a consequence was soon over.  But that was a method of punishment that most hobbit parents shied away from.

Frodo noticed his uncle’s expression, and refrained from making any further remarks.  Obviously, Saradoc knew what the result of Merry’s punishment was.  How could he not?  But the truth was, if Merry were not separated from Pippin, they’d know *exactly* where the child was.

Frodo furrowed his brow in thought.  “I’ll go and let Cousin Tina know you haven’t seen Pippin, then.”


“It’s really unlike Peregrin to miss a meal,” said Paladin.  They had continued with tea, expecting all the while for Pippin to rush in breathlessly with some explanation of his lateness.

“Father,” said Pimpernel, “yesterday he and Merry were sitting near Fatty Bolger.  Shall we go see if maybe he is with the Bolgers?”

“I know which rooms they have,” put in Pervinca, “Estella told me at luncheon.  She thought maybe I could come and play with her after tea?

“Yes, that’s a good idea,” said their mother.  “Fatty might have seen him when he went out to play.  Thank you, my dears.”

Frodo stood up.  “My best guess is that he is up a tree somewhere.  He has been known to climb too high to get down.  He may be stuck.”

Eglantine shuddered.  She had long ago lost the battle to keep Pippin out of trees.  “I did ask him not to climb in his good clothes, but if he was distracted, he might not have remembered.”

Paladin stood up.  “I’ll go and look as well.  My own climbing days are long past, though.  I shall have to get you to fetch him down if I should find him, Frodo. I do still remember the good ‘climbing trees’ around here.”

“I’ll wait here,” said Eglantine.  “He may come in after all.  It’s possible he just lost track of time.”  But she looked doubtful.   She’d never known the child’s stomach to be wrong about the time.  Clocks went wrong  more often than Peregrin Took’s stomach. 


Frodo and Paladin had made the circuit of the west and south gardens, looking up trees, and speaking to the gardeners, but had so far found no sign of the little lad.  Now they stood on the south terrace.

“I don’t understand, Frodo,” said Paladin, who had gone from annoyed at the absence of his youngest child, to alarm.

“I’ve looked up most of our favorites, Cousin Paladin.  I can’t think where else--”  Frodo’s voice trailed away.  Of course.

“You’ve thought of something!”

“Yes, I think he may have gone up to the roof.  I know a way up there.  I’ll go and check.”

Paladin watched as Frodo darted behind a shrub, and a moment later, saw him scaling the steep incline that led to the grassy roof of the Smials.

He certainly hoped Frodo was right.  But why had Pippin not come down to tea, if that were the case?

Frodo reached the roof and glanced about.  The first thing he saw was the jacket and shirt, laid neatly near one of the chimney pots.  He smiled to think that he was right, and called out “Pippin!” 

There was no answer, and he cast his eyes around.  Ah, the lad had fallen asleep!  He could see him lying on his stomach in a small dip of grass, head pillowed on one arm, the other arm flung out over his head.  Frodo picked up the shirt and jacket and began to make his way over.

As he approached more closely, he thought something did not look right.  Perhaps it was just a trick of the light.

But as he came up on the child he realized that it was no trick of light and shadow.  Pippin’s back, the arm that was stretched out and the portion of his face unprotected by his other arm, were bright red.  The child had a serious sunburn.

Frodo shook his head sadly, and bent down.  “Pippin?” he said gently.

Pippin stirred slightly.  “Frodo?” he rasped.  “Thirsty.”  But he didn’t raise his head.

“Pip, you’ve missed tea.”  The mention of a meal usually got Pippin’s instant attention.

“Thirsty,” the child whispered again.

“I don’t have anything with me for you to drink, Pip.  Come on, now, dearest, you have to wake up.  Your parents are waiting for you.”

There was no answer this time.  Hesitantly, Frodo reached out and cautiously touched the red shoulder.

That got a reaction.  There was a gasp, and a whimper of pain.  Pippin drew a shuddering breath, and his eyes looked up, full of agony.

“Pippin, please, can you sit up?”

Pippin began to draw himself in, and gave out a painful cry when he moved his arm.  Slowly he sat up.  “Frodo” he whimpered, “I hurt.”

Frodo reached over as gently as he could, and slightly moved one of the braces on Pippin’s shoulder.  Pippin cried out again, and Frodo’s own eyes filled in sympathy as he saw the pale white stripe running between the blazing rawness. 

“Frodo,” Pippin whispered, “I don’t feel good.”

“I know, dearest.  You have a bad sunburn.  I’m going to have to carry you down, all right?”

Pippin nodded weakly, which worried Frodo.  How long had the child lain up here, shirtless in the blazing summer Sun, with nothing to drink?  Had he been up here ever since luncheon?

Frodo draped the little jacket over his own shoulder, and very gently draped the shirt over Pippin’s scarlet back.  Pippin cried out, and then bit his lip. 

“I know, I know,” Frodo crooned, “but it will protect your back while I carry you.” 

As gently as he could, he picked the little lad up, but even so, Pippin gave a cry of agony as the wiry arms lifted him up.  As careful as Frodo tried to be, every movement wrung forth a sharp cry of pain from his little cousin.  It was going to be a difficult climb down. Even through the soft linen of the shirt, Frodo could feel the furnace heat of the child’s skin radiating into his own hand.  

Paladin had watched anxiously as Frodo had climbed to the roof.  It was a far distance up.  He’d climbed a few trees in his youth, but he had never climbed as high as Pippin and Frodo seemed to like.

After a few moments, he saw Frodo reappear at the edge of the steep incline, and he was carrying Pippin!  Had his son been hurt?  Thoroughly alarmed now, he watched Frodo’s careful descent--he was leaning against the hill, and scooting down on his back, both of his arms being encumbered.  As they drew closer, Paladin could hear his lad whimpering and crying pitifully every time Frodo jostled him a bit.  Pippin *was* hurt!  What could have happened to him up there?

When Frodo drew close enough that he could call up without having to shout, he exclaimed, “What’s wrong with my son, Frodo?”

Frodo was only about ten feet up now.  “He has a serious sunburn, Paladin. He fell asleep up there with no shirt on, and he’s been up there all afternoon with nothing to drink.”

Paladin’s eyes grew wide, as Frodo now drew close enough for him to reach up and take Pippin from him.  He could see that Pippin’s shirt was only draped over his back, and as Frodo carefully lowered him, the linen fell away.  Paladin gave an involuntary gasp at the sight of his son’s back.  It was the reddest sunburn he’d ever had the misfortune to see. One side of Pippin’s face was also burned, as was his left arm.  His right arm was red from the elbow to the shoulder, while the lower part seemed unscathed.  One of the lad’s braces had slipped aside, and the pale white stripe where it had been only made the swollen redness on either side seem worse.

His eyes filled with sympathetic tears.  Pippin was crying softly, and his father took him from Frodo by the hips and waist, trying to avoid touching the sensitive back.   Even so, he had to place his hand there to steady him, and Pippin cried out in pain.

“My poor lad, my poor lad,” he crooned, and glanced over as Frodo nimbly dropped to the ground, now that he was unencumbered.

“Thank you, Frodo! I don’t know what I’d have done without you.  I should never have thought to look up there.”

“That’s quite all right, Cousin Paladin.”

Pippin was whimpering in pain and clutching at his father. 

Frodo gulped and added, “Will you take him to the apartment?  I’ll fetch the healer.”

“Do you know where the healer’s cottage is?”

Frodo nodded.  “Yes.  Who is the healer now?” For old Mistress Lalia had been notoriously hard on healers, and had dismissed many of them as incompetent.  By which she meant that they had the temerity to mention that she should limit her food and perhaps get a bit of exercise.  This one was the latest in a long string of healers.

“It’s a Mistress Hollyhock Longhole.  I know naught of her.”

“Well, I will find her.” He leaned over and dropped a kiss on top of Pippin’s curls.  “Be brave, dearest.  Your father has you now.”

“Uh-huh,” Pippin sniffed.


In a small cottage on the other side of the west garden, Mistress Hollyhock was sorting through her herbs.  The funeral had been depressing; it was always distressing to lose a patient, but to lose one to such an absurd accident was almost offensive.

The truth was, she’d scarce been at the Great Smials a month, and was already planning a letter of resignation, for she could not in good conscience continue to coddle the old Mistress. And then the accident had happened.

Now there would be no need to resign, but she was still uncertain if she meant to remain.  Her home was in Frogmorton, and she missed her kin and friends.

Just then there came an urgent rap at the door.  What could be the emergency now? she wondered.

She opened the door to see a young gentlehobbit.  He appeared to be just out of his tweens, with dark hair, fair skin and expressive blue eyes.  He looked somewhat familiar, but she could not quite place him.

“Mistress Hollyhock?  My name is Frodo Baggins.  My Cousin Paladin Took would like you to step along to his quarters if you would.  It’s rather urgent--my young cousin Peregrin fell asleep in the sun with his shirt off, and he has a very serious sunburn.  I hope you might be able to hurry, for the poor little lad’s in a good deal of pain.”

She nodded, and snatched her medical satchel from its hook by the door.  She remembered him now.  Old “Mad” Baggins’ young heir.  She had not been at the famous Party last year, though her family had been invited--she’d been busy delivering a baby.

“Young Peregrin?  He’s the little lad they call ‘Pippin’, is he not?  What is he, about ten?”  She spoke briskly as they walked along.

“He’s twelve, but he’s a bit small for his age.”

“Ah, yes.  His healer at home is Mistress Poppy Burrows, I believe.”

Frodo shrugged distractedly, a worried furrow in his brow.  “I think so.  When he visited me in the spring and caught a cold, we called Mistress Salvia Chubb.  And when he is in Buckland, he sees our cousin, Master Dodinas Brandybuck.”

“How long was he in the sun, do you know?”

“He went up to the roof to play, right after luncheon.  I found him up there asleep.  I’ve never seen a sunburn so bad as this before.”  There was deep concern in his voice, and looking into his troubled eyes she could tell that he must be very attached to the lad.

“We’ll need to cool him off right away,” she said, mentally planning her treatment--a cool bath or cold wet cloths would be needed, and that just to start.

Frodo led her through one of the side entrances, and soon they were knocking at the apartment door.


* This Hyacinth interlude brought to you courtesy of my talented beta, Lindelea.



Euphorbia looked at her sister-in-law with an expression of disgust. "Haven't you yet begun to make that bed?" She gazed pointedly at the stack of sheets in Hyacinth's arms, and in an her worst patronizing and sarcastic tone of voice, said slowly, "Take the top set of bedsheets. Put one of them onto the mattress and carefully tuck in each corner. Take the other one. Spread it on top. Tuck it in at the bottom. Smooth it all out. Spread the blanket over it and tuck it in at the bottom. Spread the coverlet over that and smooth it out. Put the pillowslips over the pillows. That is called 'making up a bed'. Do. You. Understand?"

Hyacinth's eyes flashed, and her nostrils flared. To be spoken to as if one were a half-witted faunt was well-nigh unbearable. Then Euphorbia continued in a more normal, if no less irritating tone.

"Really, Hyacinth! After all the years you spent at the Great Smials, you know what a properly prepared guest room should look like. Make sure that there is fresh water in the ewer, and clean towels on the washstand. I know that it was swept and dusted yesterday, but give the tops of the furniture another light dusting. We certainly do not want any fault found with our hospitality."

Hyacinth drew in a deep breath to protest, but at her sister-in-law’s steely gaze, she let it out again. She lowered her eyes, so that Euphorbia could not see her glare. "Yes, Euphorbia," she said meekly.

No fool, Hyacinth knew that she was reaping the harvest of years of disdaining her brother and his wife. Euphorbia had been a mere Tunnelly before she married into the Brockhouses. Hyacinth had snubbed and scorned them for years, rarely accepting their invitations and treating them like mere twelve-mile-cousins when it came to birthdays and other gift-giving occasions. And she most certainly had never invited them to visit at the Great Smials. How could she ever have ever envisioned suddenly being thrown on their mercy?

And how she had wasted her opportunities…


"Cousin Ferumbras, I tell you that the talk is getting worse. I am sure that there must be some reason behind it. Poor dear Pearl was never happy attending your mother."

The Thain sighed. "Hyacinth, none of the lasses who had the duty of being my mother’s companion were happy about it. If mere unhappiness is enough to cause such a thing, it would have happened years ago." He sighed. "Still, I suppose that sooner or later I shall have to do something to put an end to the gossip."

Hyacinth looked away, to disguise the gleam of triumph. With a bit more effort, she could persuade him that the best way to end the talk was to banish Pearl from the Smials, and remove Paladin from the succession--after all, it was their presence that was causing all the talk, wasn’t it? Out of sight, out of mind, would be her argument.

She stood. "I must return to our apartments, Cousin Ferumbras. Reggie will be expecting me to dine with the family tonight." She patted the Thain’s arm sympathetically. "You know that you can count on me, and on Reggie, for anything you need in your time of trouble."

He sighed and nodded, but did not rise. Hyacinth saw herself out, drawing her handkerchief, and holding it up to hide her dry eyed state. Her condolence call, made after everyone else had left, was sure to leave more of an impression than when there were several people contending for his attention. Not that she really thought he was mourning his mother overmuch. He would miss her presence in one way or another, whether he found it to be a lack or a relief, for there was no doubt that Lalia’s presence had been a formidable one, but she did not think he grieved.

As she was leaving, she passed the room that had once belonged to Lalia, and heard a sniffle. A glance through the open door showed her the dejected form of Begonia Diggle, sniffing and wiping her eyes as she went through her mistresses’ garments and possessions for disposal. Now there was one who *did* mourn the old battleaxe. Of course, she was now without a position.

Perhaps, thought Hyacinth, dabbing at her dry eyes in case the maid should look up, once Reggie is named Heir, I could engage her for myself. It would only be appropriate for me to have a chambermaid, after all. And Begonia certainly has experience, and is well-trained in obeying orders.


By the time Paladin entered the family’s apartment, Pippin was sobbing against his father’s shoulder. His father desperately wanted to hug the lad close and assure him that he would be all right, but of course that would cause the child even more pain.

Eglantine stood up in alarm. "What is wrong with our son?"

For answer, Paladin shifted him, and letting the shirt fall away. Her eyes grew wide. "My poor baby!"

"Frodo has gone for the healer," said Paladin, "she’ll be here soon."

Pippin turned his face to his mother, his green eyes glassy and unfocussed. "M-mama?" he whispered.

Eglantine felt her heart turn over. He’d not called her "mama" since he was just out of faunthood. Took children were taught to say "mother" and "father"--it had been the custom since the days of the Old Took, Gerontius.

She heaved out a deep breath, and blinked away her tears. "Let’s take him to his bed," she said. "We’ll need to lay him on his stomach."

Just then Pimpernel and Pervinca returned, entering hurriedly. "Mother," Pimpernel started to say "Fatty says he hasn’t seen Pippin since---Oh! Poor Pippin!"

Pervinca reached a comforting hand up to her baby brother, but her mother’s sharp voice stopped her. "Don’t touch him, Vinca, it will hurt him too much. Run and turn his bed down, my dears."

Pippin’s sisters ran to do as they were bidden. Paladin carried his son into the little bedroom, and started to lay him down upon the cool sheets, when the child suddenly gave a little lurch in his arms, and was noisily sick all down his father’s back.

Pervinca went a bit green, and putting her hand over her own mouth, darted from the room. Pimpernel was pale, but gamely stayed where she was.

"Mother?" she asked.

Eglantine gave her a distracted smile of approval. "Get a flannel from the washbasin to wash his face." She reached over and gingerly took Pippin from his father, sitting down on the bed as gently as she could to avoid jarring her little son. As Pimmie wrung out a flannel and took it to her mother, Paladin carefully took off his coat and held it away from himself with a look of distaste. "Poor lad, I know he couldn’t help it, but I could have done without this. Tina, will this coat clean up?"

In a distracted tone, as she wiped her little lad’s face carefully, wincing as she dabbed as delicately as a butterfly’s caress at the sunburned portion of it, she said "Yes, dear. Go rinse it out, and have it sent to the laundresses immediately."

But Paladin wasn’t about to leave the room while Pippin still needed attention. Folding the soiled portion to the inside, He laid the coat in the corner of the room instead, and went over to help his wife as they began to take Pippin’s breeches off. Pimpernel went over, and picking up the coat, held it at arms length and took it from the room.

They were laying Pippin carefully on his stomach, on top of the cool sheets when Frodo entered with the healer.

Mistress Hollyhock went over to the bed. "Poor little mite," she said, "that’s just about the worst sunburn I’ve ever had the misfortune to see." She laid a hand on the unmarked portion of his brow, and frowned. The skin there was cool and clammy, while the burned portion radiated heat. It looked as though he had heat exhaustion as well as a sunburn. They needed to get some fluids into him. And they needed to cool him down.

"We need a tub," she said, "and cool water to fill it."

Just then Pippin looked up, briefly lucid, and met Frodo’s gaze. "F-fro? I want my Merry…" he whispered.

Frodo glanced at Paladin. "I’ll go and tell Uncle Sara. I can’t imagine he’ll hold Merry to his punishment in these circumstances."

Paladin nodded absently, his gaze focused on Pippin’s poor little half-burned face, and the big tears trickling down it.

Esmeralda answered Frodo’s knock, and at the look on his face, said, "Frodo! What’s wrong?"

He came in, trying to find a way to soften the news for his tender-hearted aunt’s sake. "Well, you know that we couldn’t find Pippin at teatime?"

"Is he still lost?" she asked, in alarm.

"No. I found him up on the roof. But he’d fallen asleep in the sun with his shirt off, and he's dreadfully sunburned. He’s ill and feverish, and he wants Merry."

Saradoc and Merry had reached them in time to hear.

"Da?" said Merry with an agonized look on his face.

"Go, son. Pippin needs you. We’ll be right behind you."

Merry darted out the door without even waiting for Frodo.

When he came into the room, his aunt and uncle looked up hopefully. "He’s crying for you, Merry," said Eglantine.

Merry took one look at his cousin’s red back, and the pain-filled eyes looking to him, and his heart gave a lurch. He quickly knelt beside the bed, and put a tentative hand out, but stopped short of touching Pippin. "Oh, Pip!"

At last he lightly touched his little cousin’s white cheek on the unburned side of his face. "How did you do this to yourself, Pip?" but his reproach was gentle.

Pippin sniffed. "Di’n’t *mean* to fall asleep, Merry."

"Oh dear, I know you didn’t." Merry longed to gather him up in a hug, but knew that he couldn’t. He looked up at the adults in confusion. He was used to being able to touch Pippin to console or comfort him.

Mistress Hollyhock had been across the hall, preparing a bath. She entered at that moment. "Miss Pimpernel could use some help with filling the tub."

Frodo, who had followed Merry, nodded and went to help. They had not sent for any of the servants, most of whom were busy with other duties anyway. As it was, the Whitwell Tooks were used to doing for themselves. They had only two servants at the farm, and when it came to caring for the sick, that was a job for family.

The healer looked at Merry, and saw that his very presence was helping the little one. "Why don’t you hold his right hand?" she suggested.

Merry nodded gratefully, and took the little white and surprisingly cold hand in both of his. Pippin was still weeping a bit in little hitching breaths, but he seemed to be calming in Merry’s presence.

The healer took from her medical satchel a jar containing a thick green liquid; it had a strong smell of both mint and vinegar when she opened it. She poured a bit of the stuff into a cup, and then stirred in water nearly to the top.

"Master Pippin, do you think you can sit up? I have something you need to drink. "

Pippin made a face, but with Merry’s assistance, he sat up carefully at the edge of the bed, and took the cup. He screwed up his face and took the first sip, and then his eyes went wide. "This tastes good."

She smiled. "I’m glad, as you need to drink at least three cups of this,--but slowly, mind. You were out in the heat for a long time, and had nothing to drink. This will help your thirst." She turned to Pippin's mother. Eglantine had hovered silently at her elbow the whole time. "We need to replace the fluids he lost to the heat." Eglantine nodded, realizing that in addition to being burned her child had been sweating in the heat, with nothing to drink. That was probably one reason he had been sick.

Pippin was sipping at the last of the third cup, when Frodo returned to let them know that one of the tubs had now been filled with cool water.

Paladin once again carefully carried Pippin, as he, Frodo and Merry accompanied Mistress Hollyhock to the bathing room. While Mistress Hollyhock busied herself stirring the powdery contents of a packet into the water, his father and Frodo divested him of his smallclothes and then carefully lowered him into the tub. He shivered, but his eyes grew wide.

"This feels *good*," he said.

The healer smiled. "There is finely ground oatmeal, with some soothing herbs mixed in. You need to soak in this for a while, Master Pippin, and it will help to take the sting from your burn."

Merry knelt next to the tub, and used a flannel to carefully trickle some of the water over his little cousin's upper shoulders and neck.

"Let him soak for about a quarter of an hour. When you take him out, take care not to rub him with towels. Cautiously pat him dry, just as gently as you may."

She handed Paladin a bottle. "This is a soothing lotion. Slather it generously on his sunburn, but do not get any in his eyes. You do not need to completely rub it in; in fact, be as gentle as you can, for we do not wish to irritate the already damaged skin."

She turned to Pippin. "I’m going to go and make you some willow-bark tea, and you are to drink it *all* down, for it will help the discomfort, and will keep you from having a fever, which is very unpleasant."

He looked up with sad resignation. "Can I have honey in it, please?"

"A little," she said, smiling. Willow-bark was very bitter, if not to say disagreeable, and most children raised a fuss about it.

Frodo and Merry exchanged a look, and Frodo said "Pippin’s a good lad about taking his medicine. He won’t give any problems."

Paladin raised a doubtful brow at this. It was the first he knew of it. Pippin had always done his best to avoid bad-tasting medicines before.

But Pippin just looked solemnly up solemnly at his cousins and nodded. He had been very ill at Bag End last spring, and had quite learned his lesson about taking his medicine.*

Mistress Hollyhock left the bathing room, and went to prepare the medicine and give instructions to his the lad’s mother.

"He will stay on his stomach of course. I do not wish to risk his taking a chill on top of everything else, but he’ll not be able to stand much covering, so just pull the bedsheet up over him. That should keep him comfortable enough. This room seems warm enough to prevent a chill, but it may grow cooler after sunset. If it does, it might be a good idea to have a small fire in the grate. I expect that his back will blister. It is burned the worst; but the blisters may not show up until later on, possibly tomorrow or the next day. Take care not to break the blisters or infection may possibly set in. I have given your husband a lotion. Be generous with it, and do not worry about staining the linens; it’s more important to relieve his discomfort. I’ve added a few herbs to the willow-bark tea that should help him to rest. I’ll return to check on him on the morrow, but if he should show signs of fever or if there is a return of the nausea, please do not hesitate to send for me at once."

Eglantine nodded, taking all the instructions firmly in her mind.

Just then, the others returned. Paladin was carrying Pippin, loosely wrapped in a soft towel. Merry walked closely beside him, his hand on Pippin’s knee. Frodo quickly turned the sheets down, and Pippin’s father carefully sat him down on the edge of the bed.

Mistress Hollyhock nodded her approval, and handed Pippin the cup. "Here you are Master Pippin, with a little honey, as promised."

Pippin nodded and took the cup. He gave a little grimace of distaste at the first swallow, but screwed himself up and drank it the bitter stuff down as quickly as he could.

Merry smiled proudly at him, and patted his head. "That’s my Pippin!" before exchanging another glance with Frodo. Paladin and Eglantine looked on with astonishment. Mistress Hollyhock just nodded in approval.

Merry helped Pippin to lie down on his stomach, and Eglantine pulled the soft cool linen sheet up to cover him to his shoulders.

Paladin went to walk the healer out, and Merry turned to Pippin’s mother. "I’ll stay with him, shall I, Aunt Tina?"

Was there ever any doubt? Eglantine thought. Aloud, she said, "Of course, Merry. I’ll have a supper tray sent in to you."


*A reference, of course, to the first Round Robin at the PippinHealers yahoo group, "Of Tonic and Tea".



Hyacinth flipped the sheet viciously, and then spread it out with hard swipes of her hand. Really, the problem had been Reggie. The problem had *always* been Reggie. He just had not had the ambition she wanted him to have. Yet no one else would have done. Paladin was already married to Eglantine Banks before the opportunity had arisen. Reggie was second in line after Paladin. It was very simple.

Of course, there was Ferumbras himself. But Hyacinth had never made the mistake of thinking she’d ever be a match for Lalia.

However, Reggie did not seem to be interested in pursuing the idea of the Thainship. It would not have been impossible to get Paladin set aside, if only Reggie had shown the proper interest…

"You wanted to see me, Cousin Ferumbras?" Reggie asked.

"Yes. Tomorrow I will take the name of ‘the Took’." Ferumbras punctuated this sentiment with a satisfied sigh.

Reggie nodded. In the Shire, a widow traditionally took her husband’s place as head of family; yet in practice, most widows with adult sons gave over that title to their eldest son as soon as they could, usually only holding it for a short while. Many made exception if they still had children under age, but these days it was rare for a widow to hold the title and place for her lifetime, though it had been more common a couple of generations ago. Lalia had naturally been one of those rarities. Ferumbras had been Thain for very nearly twenty-two years, but he had never been "the Took". Lalia had held on to that very jealously. Of course, she had given most of the *responsibilities* of the Took to her son, but she had carefully guarded the privileges for herself.

"It is not before time, sir," said Reggie judiciously, when it appeared that Ferumbras was waiting for more than a nod.

Satisfied, the Thain cleared his throat and shrugged his shoulders as if settling a mantle thereon."No, no it is not. There will be a feast in celebration of the occasion tomorrow, however, and that gives us a bit of a problem. Have you heard the unfortunate gossip about young Pearl?" 

Reggie’s mouth pinched. How could he have avoided it, the way Hyacinth harped on it so constantly? Out loud, he merely said, "I have, but I give it no heed. Pearl hasn’t a shred of malice in her, and the accident could not have been her fault."

"Nevertheless, we shall have to do something about it. I think that it may be for the best that she not attend the feast tomorrow evening. I will let Paladin know this myself. And I would like you to look into a way that we can let the rest of the family know--without doubt--, that she is not responsible, and not under suspicion. I want you to look into the matter very thoroughly indeed, so that any future talk may be quickly put to rest on this matter."

Reggie smiled. This was a task he would undertake with pleasure. And the less Hyacinth knew about it, the better. No one wanted Paladin to succeed Ferumbras more than Reggie Took.


Peridot answered the hesitant knock on her door.

"Why, Pimpernel, dear! What are you doing here this time of evening?"

"Please, Auntie, I’m to let you and Auntie Primrose and Pearl know that Pippin’s ill."

"Oh, dear! Come right in! Pearl! Prim!"

Her other aunt and Pearl came hurrying as Peridot led her young niece into the sitting room. "Please, dear, tell us about it."

She explained how they had missed Pippin at teatime, and how Cousin Frodo had found him upon the roof, all sunburned and sick from the heat.

"The healer’s been," she said, "and he’s all tucked up now. Merry’s sitting with him. But the healer said he’s likely to be very ill for a few days, so Mother sent me to let you know." Her eyes filled with tears. "He looks dreadful."

"Will Merry be staying with him tonight?" asked Aunt Primrose.

Pimmie nodded.

"Please let your mother know, then, that we shall be along before first breakfast, to help with sitting with him, or for anything else that’s needed."

"Do you think I should go back tonight?" asked Pearl.

"No, dear," said her oldest aunt, "for your parents wish you to stay with us for now. We shall talk to them in the morning, though, and see if they wish you to stay with them while Peregrin is ill."

Pimpernel sniffed, and Pearl went over and hugged her younger sister. "It will be all right, Pimmie."

"It just--it’s Pippin!" the younger sister sobbed.

"I know, Pimmie," Pearl replied, holding her tight, "I know."

For all the jokes Pippin played on his sisters and all the work it was sometimes keeping up with his boundless energy, Pippin was the cherished apple of his family’s eye.


Hyacinth looked up with a speculative glitter in her dark eyes. "Well, Reggie, what did the Thain want?" she demanded.

"Tomorrow he will hold the feast to celebrate his becoming the Took. We need to see to it."

"Is that all he wanted to say?"

"What else would there be to say?"

Hyacinth nodded. "I’ll go and speak to the head cook, then."

She left immediately, and Reggie breathed a sigh of relief.


Pippin had displayed a worrisome lack of appetite at supper, though he was induced to eat a few chilled sliced peaches, and to drink some more fruit juice. Merry just picked at the food on his own tray. It took his own appetite away when Pippin didn't eat.

Eglantine looked at her nephew's tray. He'd not finished all of his supper; she'd have to keep an eye out, or she'd have another lad falling ill. If he didn't eat his breakfast, she'd have a word with Esme, and they'd have to make sure that he had his meals elsewhere than in Pippin's room. She knew very well how Merry could be. For a lad who was ordinarily so cheerful, he could worry himself into quite a state sometimes.

She gave Pippin another dose of willow-bark, and watched in astonishment as he drank it down quickly, with only a grimace to indicate his dislike. She was certain there must be a story of some kind behind that, but so far neither Frodo nor Merry had offered any explanation. She supposed that she should simply be glad it was no longer a fight to get him to take his medicines.

Just then, there was a tap on the door, and Frodo stuck his head in. "Cousin Tina, might I spend a little time with the lads before Pippin goes to sleep?"

Eglantine stood up, smiling. "Of course, Frodo." She stood up, caught his eye, and then cast a significant glance at Merry's unfinished supper tray. He raised an eyebrow, and gave a little nod.

Frodo took the chair, and Merry sat carefully on the edge of the bed, so as not to jostle Pippin.

Pippin yawned. "Tell us a story, Frodo."

"Hmm...a story? One of Bilbo's Adventures?"

"Yes, please," said Pippin drowsily. "Tell about Bilbo and the Elves, and escaping in the barrels."

"Very well." Frodo surreptitiously pulled Merry's tray a bit closer, and began to tell them the well-known tale. "As you know, Bilbo was quite put off by the sight of the Elf-king's underground stronghold, and it was all he could do to screw up his courage and follow his Dwarf friends inside, as the Elves led them over the bridge and into the cavern...Merry, I'm a bit peckish, do you mind?"

Merry shook his head absently, and Frodo broke off a good- sized chunk of bread and meat. He continued with the story, absently breaking the food in half and handing one half to Merry, who did not even seem to realize that he had it at first, as Frodo took a small bite, Merry's hobbit manners took over, and he automatically took a bite of the piece Frodo had handed him. Frodo offered a tiny piece to Pippin who shook his head. Frodo swallowed, and then once more began the tale, every so often taking another little piece of food from the tray and offering a portion to Merry, who ate without even realizing it.

By the time Bilbo had made his plans for the Dwarves' escape, Pippin was fast asleep, and by the time he was riding the barrel down the river, Merry had finished just about everything on his tray that could be eaten with fingers.

Frodo stood up, and wiped his fingers off on the cloth that lay upon the tray.

Merry looked at the tray, and then blushed, as he realized what Frodo had done. Frodo met his sheepish look with a fond smile, and then reached over and ruffled his hair. "Did you enjoy your supper, sprout?"

Merry's eyes flashed, and he opened his mouth to indignantly protest this use of his baby-name, but Frodo grinned, put a finger to his lips and glanced at the sleeping Pippin. Merry subsided, as he realized he might wake the child. Unfair!

Frodo bent over and placed a little kiss on Pippin's brow. "Take care of him, Merry. I'll see you tomorrow."


After seeing Frodo out, Paladin and Eglantine looked at one another. Pimpernel and Pervinca were already tucked up.

"You get some sleep, Tina," Paladin said. "I'll sit up, in case Merry calls for anything."

"Thank you, dear." She moved toward him, however, rather than away, and they shared a warm embrace, before Eglantine broke away, and went to their room. Paladin settled himself in the armchair nearest Pippin's door.


Primrose sat up with a sigh. Between her right hip and her left knee, her old bones were leaving her very uncomfortable tonight. Perhaps a cup of warm milk with brandy; she could heat a brick and wrap it in flannel, to put against her hip. Stiffly she arose, and put on her dressing gown. As she opened the door to her bedroom, she heard soft weeping in the room across the hall. It seemed young Pearl was suffering a sleepless night as well.

She tapped lightly on the door, and then opened it. "Pearl?"

The bed rustled, as Pearl sat up. "Oh, Auntie Prim! Everything's so *beastly* right now!"

"I know, my dear. Put on your dressing gown, and come and join me for some warm milk, and we can talk."


Hyacinth looked about the room. It was the best room in the house. She sighed; her brother didn’t even live in a smial, it had to be a house. Was there anything here for Euphorbia to find fault with? She wished she dared do something disturbing to the room, that would escape her sister-in-law’s notice, and yet would inconvenience the guest. But it would not be wise. She had to remember that if her brother should cast her out, she had nowhere else to go.

Guest. Humph.

Merry was dozing lightly in the chair next to Pippin’s bed, holding Pippin’s hand lightly clasped in his.

It had been a difficult night. Pippin had been restless and in pain, and too warm, even with no cover but the light linen bedsheet. Yet when he had fitfully thrown it off in his sleep, he had shivered with a chill.

The willow-bark tea did seem to help a little with the pain, but it seemed to have little effect on the fiery heat emanating from his skin. Mistress Hollyhock had said it was not quite the same as a normal fever, as the un-burned portions of his body were cool and clammy.

She had also insisted that Pippin drink a good deal of the tangy mint tonic she had mixed up for him before. But when Pippin’s bladder was full, and Merry helped him use the chamber pot a few hours past midnight, Pippin had complained of pain.

This worried Merry, although the healer had said it might happen. He had settled his young cousin back in the bed, and ever so gently applied more of the soothing lotion she had left. Then both of them had dropped into uneasy sleep.

The door cracked open, and Merry sat up instantly.

"Hullo, Aunt Tina," he said. "I am very much afraid he had a rough night." Merry sighed, and brushed away some of Pippin’s curls from the pale forehead. The young hobbit’s hair was damp and sweaty.

Eglantine entered with a tray. "I brought a bit of first breakfast for you, Merry, and some juice for Pippin."

"He didn’t sleep much," Merry said apologetically. "And I’m not hungry-"

But just then he caught the smells emanating from the tray, and his stomach rumbled.

Eglantine smiled. "I think maybe you might be, lad. There’s tea, and currant scones and butter and honey and porridge with cinnamon."

Merry allowed himself to be persuaded and ate hungrily. His aunt put the juice to one side, and went over to look at her son. She started to pull the sheet up to cover Pippin.

"He can’t seem to bear it, Aunt Tina. He keeps throwing it off."

She sighed, and looked down helplessly at her little son, pausing to brush her hand lightly over his head. "Your parents want you to come back to them and get some rest, Merry. You can return after you’ve had a nap."

Merry nodded, resigned. He had long ago learned that if he insisted on staying with Pippin without a break when Pippin was ill, that the only result was to get himself banned from the sickroom altogether. "You’ll call me if he needs me?"

"Of course I will."


Hyacinth was returning from the main kitchen, where she had gone to consult with the head cook over tonight’s feast. She had often filled in when Lalia did not wish to be bothered with certain domestic matters, and there was no reason for her to stop now. She spotted Rosamunda Bolger bustling along.

"Rosamunda!" she called, "My dear, how are you?"

"I am doing tolerably well, thank you, Hyacinth," she said politely. "Have you heard the news?"

"Why, no!" Hyacinth exclaimed avidly, expecting to hear a repetition of the gossip about Pearl.

"It’s young Peregrin, Paladin’s youngest. The poor child is *dreadfully* ill." Her voice dropped slightly and she shuddered. Children were so susceptible, she thought, thinking of Freddy and Estella.

"Ill?" Hyacinth made sure her voice contained none of the glee she felt. "Whatever could be wrong? I saw the child at the funeral yesterday, and he seemed to be fine."

"Well, Pimpernel and Pervinca came to see us yesterday at teatime, to ask if Fredegar or Estella had seen the lad after luncheon. We later came to find out he’d been playing atop the roof, and had fallen asleep in the sun. He was horribly sunburned."

Hyacinth’s hopes fell. A mere sunburn would not be fatal.

She and Rosamunda chatted a bit longer, and the gossip about Pearl did come up. Hyacinth made sure of that.

"Did you hear," she said mildly, testing her listener, "that the Thain has banned Pearl from the feast tonight, as she is under suspicion?" Her tone affected slight concern.

Rosamunda shook her head. "What balderdash! Why Pearl would never do a thing like that on purpose! I suppose that Cousin Ferumbras wants to make sure that the accident was not her fault, either. I certainly hope for her sake it was not, for that would be a dreadful burden for a young lass to bear, the rest of her days."

"As you say," agreed Hyacinth, though she was a bit disappointed in Rosamunda’s reaction. Rosamunda Bolger was the closest thing she had to a friend, as they were in agreement about a good many things, such as the importance of appearances. If even Rosamunda couldn’t believe Pearl was guilty, Hyacinth had a lot of work to do.

Rosamunda went on her way, and Hyacinth stood looking thoughtful. Perhaps the information about Peregrin’s illness would be useful.


Ferumbras had hoped to speak to Paladin at second breakfast, a meal usually taken by guests in the main dining hall. But he did not see any of the Whitwell Tooks there, which was surprising.

When he had finished his second plateful of bacon, ham, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and mushrooms, toast and bilberry jam, he made his way to the guest wing, and to the chambers the family used when they came.

He was surprised when his knock on the door was answered by one of the younger girls--Pimpernel, he thought her name was.

"Oh." Her eyes went wide. She paused in surprise, and then gave a belated polite bob of her head, and hesitantly said "Cousin Ferumbras! Erm, come in." Turning to look back over her shoulder she called softly "Father! Father?"

Paladin came to the door. He looked tired and somber. Ferumbras wondered if it was the worry over Pearl. But he found his cousin’s first words confusing.

"I suppose you heard about Pippin? It’s painful, but not so serious as all that."

"Er, no. I hadn’t heard. Is there something wrong with the little lad?" Peregrin was a child he *did* remember. The little chap was hard to forget. When the lad was a mere faunt, he had literally run into the Thain in town one day with not a stitch of clothing on. Ferumbras remembered the young Brandybuck lad had been chasing after him. He shook his head. He hoped nothing was seriously wrong--the little one’s health had been precarious from time to time.

"He has a very painful sunburn that has made him ill, and will keep him abed for a few days."

"Ah." Ferumbras nodded sagely, although in truth he had never been sunburned and found it hard to imagine such a thing making one ill. "I came because I need to have a word with you regarding Pearl."

Paladin’s face immediately took on a hard and guarded look. "Come and have a seat. I shall call Eglantine."

They went into the sitting room. Young Baggins was there, talking earnestly to the youngest daughter.

"Frodo?" said Paladin.

He stood up immediately, and with a courtly nod, acknowledged Ferumbras.

"Frodo, would you very much mind taking Pimmie and Vinca and sitting with Pippin for a few minutes? Cousin Ferumbras wishes to discuss a matter of business."

Frodo raised an elegant brow, and gave a polite nod and murmur of farewell to the Thain. Then he extended one arm to little Pervinca, as though she were a young lady to be escorted in to dine. He reached the other hand out to Pimpernel, who took it and clung to it a bit. For some reason, Frodo found it sad that the children were intimidated by Ferumbras.

By the time the three exited the sitting room, both lasses were smiling at something Frodo had said. Ferumbras watched him leave with a touch of envy. The Baggins always seemed to have such an easy way with folk, young or old. He was going to be formidable as he got older.

The Thain took the large seat next to the fireplace. Paladin and Eglantine both sat on the very edge of the settee, as though they both might spring up at any moment in defense of their daughter. Ferumbras pursed his lips. Sometimes he found it difficult to understand the protectiveness of parents--he had not yet said or proposed anything to which they could object, indeed, he’d said nothing at all, at least, not yet.

Finally, Paladin spoke. "You said you wanted to discuss Pearl’s situation."

Ferumbras nodded. "I know that you have heard the talk. I do not want you to think for one moment that I believe a word of it, and if I’d been able to discover the original source, I would have put a stop to it immediately. But you know how hard it is to pin anything like that down."

Both of them nodded, cautiously.

"I have asked Reggie to find out in exhaustive detail *exactly* what happened, and how, and I expect that his report will absolve Pearl entirely. But in the meantime, she should be shielded from the talk."

"We agree," said Eglantine. "That is why she has been staying with Primrose and Peridot, and keeping out of sight for the most part."

"Very well, then. You will not object when I tell you that it is best that she not attend the feast of my accession as The Took tonight?"

Paladin raised a brow. "Will that not cause even more talk?" ...for every Took who possibly could be there would be expected to be there. If Pearl were not present it might cause speculation that she really was under suspicion.

Ferumbras shrugged. He was aware that Pearl’s absence could be construed as a result of disapproval, but it was better than putting the lass under the kind of scrutiny she would invite by her presence.

"Someone has to stay with Pippin," said Eglantine. "He’s not to be left alone, and he certainly cannot attend the feast. If Pearl is staying with him, that will be a reasonable enough explanation."

The Thain raised an appreciative brow. Very astute. When Paladin became Thain in his turn, Eglantine would be a very good asset to her husband. "Very well," he said, "that’s all settled then. May I give my regards to the poor little lad before I take my leave?"


In the servants’ quarters, Reggie knocked on the door of one of the maids' rooms.

The door cracked open cautiously, and then more widely. "Mr. Reggie," said the maidservant in surprise.

Reggie nodded. "Blossom, is Begonia here?" for these were the quarters shared by Mistress Lalia's former chambermaid.

"Yes, sir." She turned her head. "Begonia? Mr. Reggie is wanting a word wi’ ye."




“Hyacinth!” Euphorbia’s shrill voice jolted Hyacinth out of her memories. “Is that room ready yet?”

“Yes, Euphorbia.” Hyacinth wanted to say something cutting, but she didn’t dare.

“Well, if that’s the case, then I need you to go and cut some flowers for the dining room. Use the green vase on the sideboard, and cut some chrysanthemums.”

Hyacinth sighed. Another task. Was there to be no end to her humiliation?

After elevenses, Merry was allowed to stay with Pippin again, although most of the time, someone else was there as well. The sunburn was still painful to the touch, but not so sensitive now that Pippin could not stand to have the bedsheet pulled up. As a matter of fact, he was feeling much better. His fever had abated, and the listlessness was gone from his eyes. Merry was pleased to see it, even though he knew what it meant.

“No, Pip.” It was the seventh time he’d said it that morning. No. Pippin could not get out of bed for any reason other than to use the chamber pot.

Pippin scowled, and started to flounce over, before the movement was checked by pain. “It’s not *fair*!”

“I know.”

“*Please*, Merry? Really, I just want to go and look out of the window for a minute, I promise. *Please*?”

Merry hardened his heart to the big green eyes, brimming with tears and the bitten lower lip, trembling. “Peregrin Took!. I *can’t* let you. Your mum or mine or one of your sisters or aunties could come in. And if they saw I allowed you to get up, they wouldn’t let me stay with you *any more*, do you understand? I won’t risk it.”

Pippin prepared to weep and say “You’re mean, and you don’t love me,” but the look on Merry’s face told him that even that wouldn’t make his older cousin melt, and would just hurt Merry’s feelings. He subsided. “Oh, very well, I suppose.”

Merry gave him an approving smile. “That’s my Pip!” he said proudly.

And Pippin did feel proud of himself when he saw that smile. But his face fell as another thought struck home.

“What can we do, Merry? I can’t sing if I’m laying on my stomach,” he said mournfully.
Merry knew that this was one of the reasons Pippin was so very restless. Usually Merry could get him settled by asking him to sing for him.

“Well, I suppose I could tell you a story. What would you like to hear?”

“How about when you were little and Frodo lived at Brandy Hall with you?”

Merry grinned. Hmm…what could he tell?

Oh. Yes. He’d never told Pippin *that* one. And Frodo wasn’t here to quell him.

“Well, I was only three years old when this happened, and Frodo was seventeen, so I don’t really remember all of it very well myself, but I’ve heard Da and Uncle Dinodas talk about it often enough…

…It was a rainy fall day, and many of the children of Brandy Hall were bored. It was too chilly to play outdoors in the rain and have any fun while they were about it. And this particular rain had been going on for the better part of a week.

Frodo wasn’t as bored as most of the others; the various teens and a few of the tweens were trying to make the best of things in the great dining hall, but he’d found a corner, and was reading the book his Uncle Bilbo had given him on their shared Birthday. It was a tale of Westernesse, the great land of Men, that waslong-ago drowned by a giant wave. Frodo found the account both stirring and disturbing. He had never seen the Sea, and had a hard time imagining that much water.

But now it was hard to concentrate. Some of his cousins had begun chasing one another around the room, and suddenly he found himself grabbed by the shoulders.

“Frodo!” squealed his cousin Laburnum. “Hide me!” She laughed and ducked behind him, and he looked up to see another cousin, Marroc, trying to catch her. Much to his annoyance, they were ducking around him as if he were a tree or something, laughing and yelling at each other.

They shoved him a bit too hard, and his book went flying. “Hoy!” he yelled, finding himself quite angry. He would have shoved Marroc out of the way, to get to the book where it lay, and perhaps the incident would have ended in a fight, for he was rarely angry, but when his temper did get up, it could be fierce. And he truly treasured any gift from Cousin Bilbo.

But he was forestalled by Marroc’s older brother Margulas, who picked up the book, dusted it off and handed it to Frodo in a placating manner.

“I think it’s all right, Frodo,” he said.

Frodo nodded, inspecting the book, and allowed his temper to cool.

“I don’t think this is a good place to read right now,” his older cousin said.

“You may be right,” he agreed.

Margulas turned to his brother and Laburnum, who had suddenly frozen at Frodo’s initial yell and now watched him apprehensively.

At the tween’s look, Marroc said, “I’m sorry, Frodo! We didn’t mean to hurt anything--really, we were just playing.”

“Find something a little less noisy to do,” said Margulas.

The two younger children went off. Frodo took the book, and regretfully put it safely aside on a nearby table. His cousin was right--, there was just too much chaos in here for reading.

Marroc and Laburnum had joined in with a group of children who had decided to play at hide and go seek. Frodo sighed; if he couldn’t read, and as Merry was up in the nursery napping, he might as well join them. He found himself the seeker, as he was last to join the game, and so he dutifully hid his face and counted. And then he started looking.

He found everyone very quickly. Marroc was the last one to be found--he had ducked inside the hearth--but still Frodo found him quickly.

“That’s not much of a hiding place,” Frodo scoffed.

The other children shrugged. “There aren’t any *good* places in here,” complained Laburnum.

“Oh, I’ll bet *I* could find a good place--where you’d never think to look! I’ll bet I could hide so well you’d have to give up!”

“You can’t leave the room!” exclaimed Marroc.

“No,” said Frodo smugly. “I wouldn’t have to.”

“Well, I dare you to find a place in this room that I couldn’t find you.”

“Very well.”

Marroc dutifully hid his face, and with the others watching--”Don’t any of you give me away,” Frodo whispered--he walked over to the cold, swept-out hearth and ducked in.

The others looked puzzled. That was where Marroc had hidden, and he’d been found fairly quickly. But then Frodo began to wriggle--upward!

The children stifled giggles as they watched him vanish up the chimney. A few bits of soot sifted down, and all was silence. Marroc finished counting.

He opened his eyes and looked around. All the other children refused to meet his eyes, and looked steadfastly in other directions. He began to prowl the perimeter of the room, looking in all the likely places, of which there were very few. He stopped, puzzled.

“He must have left the room.”

“Oh, no he didn’t!” several of the children chorused. Some of them began to giggle.

Marroc spent a few more moments casting around the room. He looked at Margulas, who stood to one side, arms crossed and a look of amusement on his face. But Margulas just shook his head.

“Very well,” Marroc said finally. “I give up. Do you hear me, Frodo? I give up!” He called the last out very loudly.

Nothing happened.

“I give up!” he shouted.

A few bits of soot and cinders clattered down the fireplace. Marroc looked startled, as all the children laughed.

“He’s up the chimney!” giggled Laburnum.

“You can come out, Frodo!” Marroc called. “That was a really good hiding place!”

More bits of soot and cinders fell, but no Frodo emerged. Margullas walked over to the fireplace. “Frodo, it’s over! You’ve won the dare! Come on down!”

A shower of soot and cinders, accompanied by a good deal of muffled thumping, but still no Frodo.

The children began to look alarmed.

There were more thumps, some thuds, a good deal of soot and cinders, and a distant yell.

“What did you say?” called Margulas, ducking and looking up the shaft. He moved back quickly as more soot fell.

“I’m stuck! I’m stuck! Get me out of here!”

Now all the children and tweens were gathered around the fireplace, and Margulas was feeling quite alarmed. He was the oldest in the room. He knew who’d get the blame.

With an apprehensive gulp, he stepped into the hearth, and reached up for the barely discernable furry feet dangling above him. But he couldn’t quite reach.


Frodo yelled again, his voice muffled., “Please! Get me out!”

“I can’t reach you, Frodo!,” Margulas yelled up the shaft, and then ducked away from the panicked kicking that dislodged more debris.

“Marroc, go and find Cousin Saradoc!”

Marroc took off, returning a few moments later, with Esmeralda and little Merry.

“Saradoc has gone with the Master to check on how the Ferry is holding up to with all the rain,” she said. “He should be back soon.”

She shook her head, as she heard Frodo’s panicked yelling increase. She realized then that he could not hear her. She walked over to the hearth, and shouted up: "Frodo! We will get you out of there soon! Don't worry, dear!" Poor child, it wasn’t funny...but she had to put a hand to her mouth to stifle a grin. Just then she turned to see Menegilda, along with Uncle Dinodas and Uncle Dodinas, and Cousin Seredic, as well as a few other relations.

“Mother Menegilda, what shall we do?” she asked her mother-in-law.

“I suppose we shall have to pull the lad out somehow.” The Mistress of the Hall looked about her. “Dinny, Seri, you two are the thinnest. See if you can get in there and get hold of him. No, wait: Tie handkerchiefs over your faces first.”

The two hobbits did as she had said, pulling handkerchiefs out of their weskit pockets and tying them over the lower part of their faces. Then they ducked into the hearth. But only one of them could fit in the chimney with arms upraised. Dinodas went in first, and grabbed Frodo’s feet, and began to tug. There was movement--just a little, as soot rained down. He inched the child along, until he could no longer stand to hold his arms up; he ducked out, and Seredic took his place.

The two took turns, tugging on Frodo, who was for the most part silent, except for an occasional cry of pain.

The Master and Saradoc came into the room in the midst of the rescue operation, and soon learned what had happened.

Suddenly, there was a great shower of ash and cinders, and both the older hobbits moved back, as Frodo unexpectedly popped free and slid down into the fireplace.

He was a sight: black from head to toe, his clothing in shreds, and his arms, back and shoulders skinned and bloody. Merry worked his way free from his mother’s close-held grasp and his (thankfully!) restored beloved cousin…

“I got just as covered with soot as he was. I was so pleased to see him again. I had been afraid he would *never* come out, and that when we had a fire for the winter, he would get all burned up.”

Pippin was giggling. “Did he get in a lot of trouble?”

“Just the kind of trouble you are in now,” said an amused voice from the doorway.

Merry blushed to be caught by Frodo telling this story on him.

Grinning Frodo came into the room. “My back, shoulders and arms were all scratched up, and I had a dreadful cough from breathing in the soot. I was stuck in bed for days.”

“Just like me?” asked Pippin.

“Just like you,” answered Frodo.


Hyacinth took the pruning knife from the hook near the back door, and a basket that was kept beside the step, and walked around to the front garden. The chrysanthemums there were in full bloom, a lovely display.

Her lip curled. The cutting bed was around to the side of the little house. She pursed her lips. It was only a petty thing, and no doubt Euphorbia would have something to say about it when she discovered it, but that would be unlikely to happen before tomorrow. She would cut the flowers here, and if her sister-in-law complained, she would just pretend not to understand what difference it made…

"Da, do I have to go? Mayn’t I stay with Pearl and Pippin?" Merry looked crossly at his favorite yellow weskit, and picked at an imaginary spot on it.

"No, son. We need to be there. Not only are we representing your Grandfather Rory, but we have Took blood as well. We should honor Ferumbras."

Merry looked troubled. "Da, I don’t mean to be difficult. I really don’t. But I don’t much feel like honoring Cousin Ferumbras. It’s not fair that he banned Pearl from the feast. I--" he stopped for a moment, for it was a hard thing for any hobbit to admit to about any blood relation, and he didn’t wish to anger his father, but he wanted help to understand. "I don’t care much for the Thain. I don’t really respect him much. He always let his mother run everything. And she was cruel. I feel like all this is just putting on a show." Lalia at least, was *not* even remotely a blood relation.

Saradoc shook his head. Many fathers would simply have lectured their sons about the propriety of things, but Saradoc was glad that Merry wished to look beyond the appearances. He sighed.

"It’s true, Merry-lad, that we do have to put on a show of solidarity. For one thing, we don’t want to make things more difficult than they already are for your Uncle Paladin. But there is more to this than that. While the gossip is that Pearl was banned because she’s under suspicion--" and wouldn’t Saradoc give a good deal to know who had *started* that rumor "--it’s mainly to protect her from the stares and the speculation. And don’t judge the Thain too harshly for the way he let Lalia run things. He may have been Thain for the Shire, but she *was* the Took and head of the family. And hard as it may be to realize, but she *was* his mother."

Merry looked a bit abashed at that. "I suppose," he said "but I’d much rather sit with Pippin."

Saradoc chuckled. "You’d much rather sit with Pippin anyway, son."

Merry looked up at his father’s twinkling grey eyes, so like his own, and his lips twitched in a hint of a smile as well. "Maybe it won’t be too dire." A brighter thought struck him ). "May I sit with Frodo?" Since Pippin had been ill, he had been let off his punishment--for now. His father had told him that when they returned to Buckland, he would find another penalty.

Saradoc laughed. "Impudent rascal! If Frodo will have you!"

Merry grinned smugly as he slipped into his jacket and straightened the lapels. As if there were any question of that!.

His father looked him over. "Well, shall we see if we pass your mother’s inspection?"


Eglantine thought Pearl was looking a good deal better than the tween had, the last time she had seen her daughter. It was quite clear that Pearl, at least, did not much care why she wasn’t going to the feast, as long as she did not have to do so. Right now the lass did not feel like being anywhere she would have to worry about folk looking at her and talking about her.

"Pippin is getting restless. Also, blisters have formed on his back and shoulders where the worst of the burns are. Mistress Hollyhock left some lotion, and if he complains of itching, that should soothe him. But be very gentle in applying it. She said that the blisters should not be broken if it can be avoided. She’s hoping the lotion will dry them up somewhat."

"He’s not in so much pain as he was," she added, "but he’s still hurting some, and is still running a fever off and on. The healer left some willow-bark if he needs it."

"Yes, mother."

Eglantine gave her daughter a kiss, and shooed her into her brother’s room. "Peregrin!"

"Yes, Mother?" he asked.

"You will mind Pearl tonight, I hope."

He nodded, and Eglantine leaned over to kiss him as well. "One of the servants will bring you both a tray--and you are to have just what we are having at the feast, so you won’t be missing anything."

Giving her oldest and youngest children a fond look, she left them to themselves", and went to be sure that Pimpernel and Pervinca were ready to go.


Hyacinth looked at the three frocks she had taken from her wardrobe, trying to decide which one to wear to the feast tonight. She had been quite busy today--a word here and a word there with a number of hobbits--Bracegirdles and Boffins and Goldworthys and Chubbs--she’d avoided Tooks and Brandybucks of course, as well as the Bolgers and the Proudfoots--they were far too close to the Tooks. And of course, the only Baggins there was Frodo. She might have made an ally of Lobelia, but Otho did not like to go anywhere he was forced to watch Frodo acting as family head. That was a ridiculous farce anyway--the lad was barely out of his tweens himself.

Still, she flattered herself that she had made progress in her plan of disgracing young Pearl. It would be only a short step from there to the child’s father--surely he would not put up with much more of this. He was bound to lose his temper with the Thain soon, and then if the situation were properly managed Ferumbras could be led to disown Paladin, leaving the way free for Reggie. She sighed. It really looked as though her chance at finally becoming the Thain’s lady was nearly in her grasp.

She looked once more at the frocks. The grey. Definitely the grey. The yellow did not flatter her very well, and the green was far too cheerful. They had, after all, only buried Lalia yesterday.

Yes, the grey, with purple hair ribbons and her amethyst beads.


Begonia sighed. She had been Lalia’s chambermaid for a long time. And as her mistress had not been popular among the servants, neither had she. The chambermaid had only a few friends among her fellow servants, who had bothered to know her for herself, and not simply as the one who conveyed Lalia’s imperative and arbitrary orders.

She had lived a long time at the Great Smials. She had not been back to her home west of Little Delving since her father died fifteen years ago. She still had a sister and a couple of cousins living there, but not much family else. And she had heard that her nephew, apprenticed to a blacksmith in Pincup, had wed his master’s daughter, and settled there. What was she going to do now, without her mistress? It was true, Mistress Lalia had been hard, hard and cold. But Begonia had been used to her ways, and knew how to manage her. She was not sure that she would ever be suitable for another mistress.

And there was the cloud of Mistress Lalia’s death hanging over her as well. Although, she could not understand why, opinion seemed to be settled on blaming poor young Miss Pearl.


"Pippin, stop it, dear. Mother said you mustn’t try to scratch or rub--you’ll break the blisters."

"But Pearl! It *itches*! And it’s un*com*fortable." 

"Here, let me rub some of this lotion on you." She took up the bottle, and poured some of the creamy liquid into her hand.

"Oooh! That’s cold!"

"I’m sorry, Pippin."

"No, it feels *good*!" He gave a great sigh, and relaxed, as she gently rubbed the lotion on. His back still was pink and warm to the touch, but it had lost that angry red color.

She drew one finger down one of the little white stripes left by his braces down to the center of his back, where they crossed to make an "X", and he gave a little shudder. "Pearl, that tickles," he giggled.

She finished up by rubbing in the last of the lotion.

"Is that all?" he asked, disappointed.

"I’m afraid so, Pip. And I mustn’t rub any more, or it will make things worse."

He heaved a great sigh, and gave her a wide-eyed glance over his shoulder, tracing a wrinkle in the pillow with his own finger. "Pearl?" 

"Yes, Pip?"

"I’m sorry you have to miss the feast to stay with me."

"Oh, Pippin! I don’t mind, my dear! And really, you are not the only reason I’m missing the feast."

"What do you mean?" He nearly turned over in his surprise.

"Well, Mother told me that you know of some of the talk going around?"

He looked at her indignantly. "Amethyst said some *wicked* things about you! I knew they weren’t true! But Mother had said I was to pretend not to hear. But that’s all right--Merry got her for you!"

Pearl chuckled, and longed to give her staunch little defender a hug. "I heard about what Merry did." She leaned forward conspiratorially. "And you know what? I am glad he did, for she deserved it. I am only sorry he landed in trouble for it."

"Me, too!" He wriggled a bit, for he was itching again. "I’m hungry, Pearl."

She laughed. "It’s almost that time. They should be bringing us a tray soon, and you can sit up to eat."

And just then there was a knock on the outer door. "Ah," she said. "There’s our supper now!"

In just a few moments, she wheeled a tea trolley in, laden with all sorts of wonderful things.

Pippin’s face lit up. "I smell mushrooms!"

Pearl grinned at him. "So do I, little brother." Really it was pleasanter here, and the company was undeniably superior. "So do I."


The meal had finally ended, with Ferumbras giving a rather long and boring speech about the honor of the Tooks. Merry had indeed been able to sit by Frodo, and now that the meal was over, Frodo made sure the tween was staying by his side. Saradoc wanted to make sure that Merry was not once more tempted to defend his cousins, the way he had two days before.

"Frodo, if I have to pretend to smile one more time when someone asks me how ‘poor Pearl’ is doing, I shall scream."

"No, Merry, you will *not* scream. You will act and speak pleasantly, while you just *imagine* how the person would look with that bowl of trifle upended over her head--or his as the case may be. But you shan’t *do* anything about it."

Merry looked at his cousin’s blue eyes, twinkling with mischief. "But it would be so satisfying to do just that."

"True. But as you can’t do it to *everyone* who deserves it, it would be unfair to favor only one person so." He suppressed a chuckle, and said, "Look sharp--here comes Petunia Bracegirdle."

Hyacinth glanced over at the Brandybuck party. She intended to have words sooner or later with their brat Meriadoc about his mistreatment of her daughter. But not while he was under the Baggins’ wing. She’d been the recipient of one of his icy glares in the past, over some off-hand remark about Peregrin. It was not an experience she cared to repeat.


Pippin finished the last bite of his custard, and swirled his finger in the bit of strawberry sauce. It was not so good as the custard their cook Buttercup made back at Whitwell, but it was very good nonetheless, and drank down the last of the milk in his mug, and gave a satisfied belch.

"Pippin!" Pearl reproved.

"Excuse me," he said, with a cheeky grin.

"Now it’s time for your medicine, Pip."

He made a face, but took the cup she stirred for him, and drank it down. Pearl watched amazed. *Something* had happened at Bag End last spring, she was sure, the way he took his medicine like a lamb now. She shook her head, and as he settled once more on his stomach, she tenderly drew the cool sheet up over him.

"G’night, Pearl," he said, as she blew out the lamp. "I love you."

"I love you, too, Pippin."



Hyacinth found the green vase, and arranged the flowers carefully. She did not want to give Euphorbia any reason to go out to the garden and cut more flowers. It would not do for her to notice the decimation in the front flowerbeds too soon…

It was quite late when Paladin slipped into Pippin’s room. Pearl was not dozing, as he had expected, but was sitting forward and watching her brother intently.

"Is something wrong, Pearl?" he asked softly.

"Not really, Father, but he is restless, and keeps trying to scratch in his sleep. I know the healer said he should not do that." She sighed and stood up stiffly. "He is waking up, as well, from time to time." She smiled at her father. "He will be glad for you to stay tonight. The last time he awakened, I had to go just outside the door and shut it while he used his chamber pot."

Paladin chuckled. He well remembered what it was like to be a young lad burdened with three older sisters, and trying to learn about privacy.

He took Pearl by the shoulders and dropped a kiss on her head. "Your Aunt Primrose is waiting for you. Get some rest, my dear."

"Yes, Father. How was the feast?"

"The *food* was excellent," he answered wryly.

She chuckled, and gave him a hug, before leaving the room.

Paladin sat down in the chair. He hoped he’d be able to stay awake, if Pippin were truly so restless. But it had been a very long day. And he was disturbed by hints Ferumbras kept dropping to him.

He sat back, and amused himself with a fantasy in which his cousin somehow found a wife, and was presented immediately with a bouncing little lad, thus sparing him the trouble of ever becoming Thain himself…


Ferumbras lay awake, thinking over the evening’s festivities. He really could take no satisfaction in being the Took, as well as the Thain. After years of being under his mother’s heavy thumb, he now was going to be under the collective thumbs of all the Tooks. More and more demands on his time and energy, less and less time for himself.

He had hopes. With his mother gone, he finally had hopes. But this business with Pearl could put a spike in his wheel. Until the gossip had been silenced, and the incident forgotten, there would be no way to go forward with his own long- cherished plans to be free. But there was no way he was going to spend the rest of his years at the beck and call of everyone else, when he could see his own freedom in sight at last.

He hoped Reggie could find out what had really happened, and that it would not be too dire. He wished he could get his hands on whoever had started all the ugly rumors to begin with. Just one more aggravation he had to deal with. So inconvenient and inconsiderate.

Why had his mother not had the decency to die in her bed like a proper hobbit?


Hyacinth put her jewels in her box, and began to undress. She put her dressing gown on and began to groom her foot hair. She admired her feet. For a matron, she had quite a nice foot of fur, if she did say so herself. At one time, Reggie had admired it very much.

All that had changed after she had Opal. She still could not quite understand why Reggie had suddenly turned against her. They had not shared a room since, and Reggie seemed to look at her with downright loathing at times. But it was his own fault if she had berated him for a lack of ambition. She was quite sure that if he had put things forward in just the right way, the Tooks would have come to agree with herself and Lalia that Adalgrim’s line had forfeited the right to the Thainship when he abandoned the Great Smials, even if Paladin had sired a son.

But instead, Reggie, the fool, had found the legal papers drawn up by Gerontius. The farm was the property of the Took family as a whole, just as the Great Smials were, and the Old Took had made it clear that his grandson was losing none of his rights in living at Whitwell. Those papers had been buried away in a dusty box and by rights should never have seen light of day. Annoyingly enough, they were properly signed, and not only by the principals, but the seven requisite witnesses that made for an "unbreakable" legal document by Shire standards. One of those had been Bungo Baggins. When old Bilbo had heard what Lalia was trying to do, he had come forth to attest that he had been there when his father signed the document.

And so Hyacinth had seen her hopes nearly dashed; completely dashed they would have been, had Lalia not been her ally. Lalia loathed the Whitwell Tooks, with a personal venom that Hyacinth often thought hid some offense.

But now... now she thought that Lalia might serve Regi’s cause—and Hyacinth’s--better in death than ever she had in life. As long as a cloud of suspicion hung over Pearl, Paladin was also tainted. Ferumbras *had* to see that. And she had done her best to point it out to him.


Paladin sat up with a jerk. He *had* dozed off--and what had wakened him? Pippin was writhing and whimpering in his sleep, but Paladin’s sleepy mind could not at first pinpoint the problem.

And then he realized--Pippin was lying upon his back, and was writhing against the sheets, probably in an unconscious attempt to relieve his itching. Paladin reached over.

"Pippin!" he hissed urgently, giving the lad a shake. "Peregrin! Wake up, son."

Pippin opened bleary eyes. "I’m sorry Father. I’ll put it back."

Paladin realized the child was confused and had been dreaming. "Pippin, son, you need to turn over on your stomach."

After looking at his father in sleepy bewilderment for a moment, he sighed and turned over.

"I’ll put some lotion on you," said his father. "That should help the itching."

"It’s very uncomfortable, Father." Pippin was on the verge of tears.

Paladin lit the lamp on the bedside table with his striker, and picked up the bottle of lotion. Then he drew up Pippin’s nightshirt. He gave a little gasp. Some of the blisters had ruptured, a thing the healer had hoped would not happen. With a sigh, he poured some lotion into his hand, and began carefully to rub it into the little back, trying to be as gentle as he could while avoiding the broken blisters. But he couldn’t, not completely, and Pippin whimpered. "It stings, Father."

Paladin put the lotion aside. "I think we will keep the nightshirt up out of the way and leave the bedsheet off, Pippin, if you are not cold."

"No, I’m not cold. The air feels good…" The little lad’s voice began to sound drowsy again, and he gradually drifted off.

Paladin found himself seated at the edge of the chair, as Pearl had been earlier.




Euphorbia’s voice raised in song, and her daughter, Juniper’s, joined in cheerful harmony. One of the stems was too short for the vase, no, two stems were – and suddenly Hyacinth realized that the stems were snapping in her grip, that she was twisting the defenseless stalks between her fingers with about as much force as she was gritting her teeth. This would never do!

She put down the third stem that she’d picked up and clasped her shaking hands together. She *would* master herself. She *would*. She had always prided herself on her perfect control, even in the midst of others’ incompetence.

The following morning, Eglantine and Paladin looked at Pippin’s back. Some of the blisters had properly dried out, but a few had broken, and the area around them looked a bit inflamed. They sent for Mistress Hollyhock.

"I'm afraid," said Eglantine apologetically, as she showed the healer in, "that Pippin has been rubbing and scratching in his sleep. We've done our best, but..." she sighed.

"Hmm…" The healer looked at his back, and examined the other areas of the sunburn. "I am afraid that the broken blisters may be in danger of infection. The rest of it is coming along nicely, and the skin will probably begin to peel tomorrow or the next day. But he does not need to be scratching in his sleep." She noticed that the child had seemed a bit listless as she examined him, as well, and looked a bit tired.

She had brought some more of the soothing lotion, which she slathered generously over the lad--Pippin giggled at the cold tickle of the stuff, and when he lay back down he began to drift off to sleep once more.

Mistress Hollyhock looked at Paladin and Eglantine sympathetically. "He’s clearly restless and not sleeping well. Itching can sometimes be even more disturbing, to one’s sleep, than pain. Let him nap now until he wakens again. Then allow him to get up for a little while--someone can entertain him and play with him here in the room--I still don’t wish him to wear a shirt. That should help tire him out. And I will come by this evening and administer a mild soporific, one that will allow him to sleep deeply enough that he will not attempt to scratch in his sleep."

Eglantine smiled. "He’ll be glad to be able to get up, and to play for a while, I’ve no doubt. I’m sure his cousin Merry will be more than happy to entertain him."


Reggie thought over his talk with Begonia Diggle. The poor old spinster was going to need something to do, and somewhere to go, and soon. Once all this nonsense over the accident had been sorted out, of course. But it was quite clear that she no longer felt at home in the Great Smials.

Really, he doubted that she had ever felt comfortable here. Her position as Lalia’s chambermaid would have kept her from ever being popular or befriended by the other servants, who would have feared the possibility of her bearing tales to her mistress. And she was rather plain in looks, and had not much personal charm to overcome their doubts of her character. Now that she had no mistress, no one was making room for her to take up any other position or task. Poor old lass. For all Begonia’s devotion to her mistress, Lalia had been no fonder of Begonia than she had been of any other servant. She had often given her the sharp edge of her tongue.

Anyone else would have quit years ago. All Reggie could suppose was that the old chambermaid was devoted to Lalia’s family.

He pondered some of what Begonia had told him about her circumstances. Perhaps a letter to her nephew in Pincup? It would not be wise to let her stay long. Last night, Hyacinth had been dropping hints about a chambermaid--as if she had any need of such!

Meanwhile, he was headed to the cloakroom located near the Great Door. The pieces of the wheeled chair had been stowed there after the accident. He wanted to get a good look at them.


Pippin awakened to a lovely smell. What was that? He sat up, but then, in unconscious reflex, he started to reach toward his back.

"Stop that, Pip! No scratching," said Merry, as he carried a tray over and placed it on the bedside table.

Pippin scrunched his face up crossly. He *did* itch *so*! But then his tummy rumbled, and there was that delicious smell-- "Is it breakfast?" he asked.

"No, it’s elevenses, silly! You slept right through both breakfasts!" Merry grinned at Pippin’s look of dismay. That child just hated to miss any meal, and to miss two in a row would really upset him. "We have toasted cheese and some cold sliced ham and..." he paused dramatically and watched Pippin's eyes grow wide in anticipation, "strawberry tarts! And cold milk to drink!"

This recital cheered Pippin immensely, and the two young hobbits set to on the food.

Merry described the Thain’s feast for Pippin, who was cheered to learn that he and Pearl had indeed partaken of the best dishes that were served. "The Thain’s speech was *so* boring," Merry scoffed, "it’s just as well you didn’t have to be there! Lucky Pearl, not to have to listen to all that blather! And *afterwards* it was dire! But then Frodo told me something that made it funny." He told Pippin of Frodo’s advice to imagine dumping the trifle over the heads of various relations. This set Pippin into a paroxysm of giggles.

"And Frodo told me something else I’m going to remember, the next time I am supposed to apologize for doing something I’m not sorry for!"

"What’s that?" asked Pippin.

"Once, when I was about two years old, Frodo got mad at Cousin Laburnum for saying things about Bilbo--you know the usual sort of thing people say, about him being ‘Mad Baggins’ and ‘cracked’. Well, he decided to get back at her by putting ink in her tea. Dyed her lips and teeth black, and took her *days* before it wore off." He started to chuckle, and Pippin to giggle, imagining it, which was even funnier now, for Cousin Laburnum had married a Chubb, and was now a most prim and proper matron, and, as Merry had heard his father say regretfully one day, one could hardly tell she’d a drop of Brandybuck in her now.

"Anyway, Grandda Rory found out what he’d done, and told Frodo he was going to apologize whether he wished or no. Well, Frodo wasn’t any more wanting to do it than I wanted to apologize to Amethyst, but Cousin Bilbo was in Brandy Hall visiting at the time, and he told Frodo he could put up with any number of insults--but what Frodo had done was worse, for an insult is gone as soon as spoken--" Pippin looked highly indignant at this, and Merry nodded, "--I know, but that *is* what he said--and that having her mouth blackened for nearly a week was, he said ‘over-kill’."

Pippin looked puzzled. "Over-kill?"

"I think it must be something he picked up on his Adventure. Frodo says it means that you can only kill something once, and to keep on doing things to it after it is dead is useless."

"Eew!" Pippin said, scrunching up his face in disgust.

"Yes. Well. I think in this case, he meant that Frodo gave her worse than she deserved. Anyway, you know if *Bilbo* said it, then of course Frodo would apologize, but he *still* didn’t mean it, so he waited in Grandda’s study, and they brought Labernum in, and he said he nearly ruined it by laughing, she looked so funny. But he thought of a way to say he was sorry and still be truthful about the matter. He said, ‘I’m sorry I put ink in your tea, Laburnum,’ and then, inside his head, he said, ’I wish it had been dye in your bath. Green dye.’ Which, he said, he *did* mean, for it would have been a much better trick if he could have managed it. Anyway, he *sounded* sorry, and Grandda and Laburnum probably thought he meant it. But he said he was sure that Bilbo knew he didn’t, because Bilbo just rolled his eyes and chuckled."

Pippin giggled again. "So, if you had to say ‘sorry’ to Amethyst?"

"I would say, ‘I’m sorry I pulled your hair, Cousin Amethyst--’," with a dramatic flair that would have suited Cousin Bilbo (in the midst of telling a tale) well, Merry put the back of his hand to his forehead and dropped his voice to a tone that was appropriately serious and sad. When Pippin looked suitably impressed, the older lad grinned and added, "‘I wish I had put ink in your tea instead!’" He howled with laughter, and Pippin joined him.


Reggie finished making his report to Ferumbras, who nodded, satisfied.

"So, it’s as we thought all along, a pure accident."

"Yes, sir," Reggie replied. "I’ve proof enough. If any blame is to be laid, perhaps it lies with your mother herself, and maybe a *bit* with Begonia. But young Pearl had naught to do with it."

"I never really thought so; still, it is going to take at least two or three years for people to forget these circumstances. And we need to make Pearl’s innocence clear." Ferumbas thought privately that if he could do that, well, it might mean a delay in his plans, but he would still be able to carry them out. He had no intention of bearing the Thainship to his grave. But he had to make sure that Paladin did not realize what he planned--he was not going to have things ruined or further delayed by Paladin perhaps deciding to renounce his heirship. And he knew that even though Reggie would make an excellent Thain, the Tooks would never stand for someone as silly and air-headed as Hyacinth to be his Lady. He thought for a moment.

"Reggie, I believe the best way to handle this would be to bring everything forward this evening. We will have a little meeting here tonight. The Whitwell Tooks--all of them save the lad, who’s still abed--the Brandybucks, Frodo Baggins, Odovacar Bolger, Gundo Boffin, Hugo Proudfoot…" he continued, naming the various family representatives who had attended Lalia’s funeral, and who had not yet departed, about a dozen in all.


After luncheon, Frodo came to see how his two younger cousins were faring, and brought with him a board game. A complicated game called "Miggle", it could be played by as few as two or as many as four hobbits. Each player had sixteen flat disks of colored glass, which, by a series of moves they had to get to the opposite side of the board. The idea was to be the first to do so, while also trying to block your opponents from doing the same thing. Frodo was a pretty good player. Merry was brilliant at the game, and nearly always won. Pippin had just learned to play Miggle, and as a result was given the beginner’s privilege of three extra moves at the start.

Frodo took the blue tokens, Merry yellow, and Pippin red. Since Pippin was allowed to get out of the bed, Frodo spread a blanket on the floor, and they sprawled there as they played.

With his three "free" moves, Pippin at first had an advantage. Frodo, who was often soft-hearted when it came to playing with his younger cousins, did not press his advantage with Pippin, but this put him in conflict with Merry.

Merry retaliated immediately. The young Brandybuck took games very seriously, and gave no quarter, nor expected any; and it was not long before Frodo good-naturedly had to quit the field. Merry and Pippin played on to the foregone conclusion, but even as Merry was winning, he was explaining his moves to Pippin, and telling him how to counter them the next time. Pippin took his loss with his usual cheerfulness, and they set to playing again. This time, both Frodo and Pippin gave Merry more of a challenge, and he was hard- pressed, though he still won in the end.


In the outer room, Paladin and Saradoc and their wives were having a pleasant visit; Pimpernel and Pervinca had gone to the Aunties’ apartment to have luncheon with Pearl, and probably would not be back until teatime.

Just then there was a knock on the door, and Paladin called out. "Come in!"

It was one of the servants, with a message for Paladin. There was one for Saradoc and for Frodo, as well.

Paladin opened his, and his eyebrows rose. "Well, well, well. We are summoned to the Thain’s apartment this evening. All of us, including Pearl. It seems Ferumbras wishes to put our minds at rest concerning the death of his mother."



Hyacinth turned from the flowers, most artfully and tastefully arranged, just as Euphorbia entered the dining room

"Hyacinth, our guest will be here at any minute. You should go get cleaned up and make yourself presentable before he gets here."

"Yes, Euphorbia." She kept her eyes downcast. It wouldn’t do to have her sister-in-law see the contempt in them.

"After all, it is quite an honor to have such a visit," said Euphorbia importantly.

"If you will excuse me then, Euphorbia, I’ll go wash and change my clothing."


Frodo had needed to leave, for he had to get ready for the evening, and he wished to have a couple of words with a few other relatives beforehand. Merry and Pippin had watched him leave with regret. It was so frustrating now that Frodo was "of age", and had all those boring duties.

Pippin had begun to fidget again. He was sitting on the floor next to his bed, and Merry had already found it necessary to rebuke him twice for trying to rub his back against the edge of his bed.

"Pippin, stop that, or I’m going to have to call Aunt Tina in here. I know that has to hurt."

Pippin scrunched his little face up. "Yes it hurts--but it feels good anyway, for it *itches* so, Merry!"

"I know it does, Pip, but you are going to make it worse. Lean forward."

Pippin sighed, but did as Merry said.

Merry looked at Pippin’s back in dismay. One of the areas where Pippin had broken the blisters had bled slightly, and the other places were inflamed. It looked as though they might be getting infected.

"Pippin, I’m going to *have* to tell your mother. This is really not looking as it should."

"Oh, Merry! Please don’t call Mother! I’ll be good,; I won’t rub it any more, I promise!"

Merry shook his head. "It’s too late, Pip. You’ve already done yourself damage. I’m sorry, but I can’t help it. It’s for your own good--and you know if I *don’t* tell, they won’t let me stay with you."

Tears sprang to the green eyes. "I know, Merry. But Mother will call the healer again, I just know it."

"That’s very likely, Pippin. But it’s like taking your tonic. We have to do what’s best, and not what you’d like."

The younger hobbit swallowed, sniffled just a bit, and then wiped his eyes. "I know," he said with resignation.

Merry patted his head sympathetically, stood up, and went over to the door.

Frodo was still there, speaking with Paladin and Saradoc, his hand on the doorknob, lingering as they talked. Eglantine and Esmeralda were on the settee, heads bent over a bit of needlework they were discussing.

"Aunt Tina?"

Eglantine’s head jerked up at Merry’s concerned tone.

"What is it, Merry?"

"I think that some of the places on Pippin’s back are infected. And he’s horribly fidgety. He’s itching like mad."

His aunt sighed, and both she and Esmeralda got up and, came into the room with Merry. Pippin was still sitting on the floor. He had both hands balled up into fists and tucked under his knees, and he was leaning away from the bed. He looked up as they entered.

"I’m not scratching or rubbing, Mother! I promise!"

Eglantine went to him, and bent over. He gave a shudder as her hands lightly touched his back. "Your hands are cold, Mother!"

She sighed and shook her head. "No, dearest, your back is warm, especially around the areas where the blisters have broken." She turned and looked at Merry who stood next to his own mother, the both of them looking worried. "Merry, would you mind fetching Mistress Hollyhock? She will need to see this."

Esmeralda looked at her sister-in-law, her green eyes anxious. "It’s very nearly teatime. And afterwards we shall have to go to the Thain’s apartment."

"I know," sighed Eglantine. "Primrose and Peridot should be bringing the lasses back for tea at any time. I shall ask them to stay with Pippin while the rest of us are gone to this ‘meeting’."


Mistress Hollyhock was busy in the herb bed in front of her cottage when Merry came pounding up.

"Mistress Hollyhock?" he puffed.

"Yes, Master Meriadoc?" She dropped her trowel in her basket and stood up, well aware that his haste meant something was wrong.

"My Aunt Eglantine would like you to come and look at Pippin’s back again. She thinks that some of the places have become infected. And he’s itching so dreadfully."

"Very well." She sighed with relief that it was nothing worse. "I need to wash my hands and fetch my satchel. Won’t you come in with me for a moment?. You seem a bit hot and out of breath yourself, young hobbit."

Merry was more than a little red in the face. "Well, I ran, didn’t I?"

She shook her head, and clucked a bit. Younglings had no idea sometimes how dangerous summer heat could be.

Merry followed her into the cottage, looking about curiously at the front room, where racks of herbs hung to dry, and at the work table, where small bottles and jars were scattered, along with a mortar and pestle. A couple of large leather-bound herbals were open on the table, and he glanced at them with interest as they passed into the kitchen.

He saw that part of the kitchen was outfitted as a stillroom, and he looked with fascination at the copper apparatus. Mistress Hollyhock went over to the small pump at the sink in front of the window, and washed her hands. Then she went into her larder, coming out with a metal pitcher, beads of condensation on it. She took down two small glass tumblers and poured them full of a liquid that was of a clear pale green color. It had a tart minty, vinegary smell, and Merry made a small face.

"I don’t need any tonic," he said.

She laughed. "It is not a tonic," she replied. "It is just something to drink. It’s very refreshing, and it is good for you. But the only herb in it is mint, and it is there for flavor only." She picked up one of the tumblers, and drank about half of it. Merry watched her for a moment, and then picked the other one up. His eyes widened in surprise as he took a sip, and then he quickly drank it down.

"It smells like what you gave Pippin the other night."

"It is. But that is because it is a very light and refreshing drink, and easy on the stomach, so someone who is dehydrated--" she paused, "Do you know what that means?"

He nodded. "It means they’ve not had enough to drink."

"Well, not precisely, but that is close enough to the meaning if one is not a healer. At any rate, it goes down well, and because it tastes good, the patient will be sure to drink plenty of it."

She finished what was in her own tumbler, and placed both of them in the empty dishpan. "Well, let us be off, and see to your young cousin, shall we?"

As they made their way through the passages to the apartment where the Whitwell Tooks stayed, Merry saw Cousin Hyacinth approaching, all three of her daughters in tow.

For a moment it looked as though she were going to stop and speak to Merry, but apparently changed her mind, and went by them with not so much as a nod. Amethyst on the other hand, stuck her tongue out as they passed, and the two younger girls giggled. Merry, however, remembered what Frodo had told him, and gave a sly smile. He could just *see* Amethyst with her mouth all black.

Eglantine took the healer straight into Pippin’s room, and Merry followed. His mum was there sitting with Pippin, who was back in the bed and lying on his stomach again.

The healer needed only one look. She sighed. It had been too much to hope that an active child like Pippin would manage not to break the blisters, and of course once broken they were very prone to infection, even when care was taken. Actually, she was surprised that things were not worse.

She took out another bottle of lotion.

"Master Pippin," she said gently, "because the blisters are broken, this is going to smart rather badly."

"It’s going to sting?" he asked in a plaintive voice, craning over his shoulder.

"I’m afraid so."

He nodded, and scrunched his face up.

She took from her satchel a small parchment wrapped packet, and removed from it a cloth of boiled linen. She put some of the lotion on that and began to apply it.

"Aahh, Merry!" Pippin cried out, and Merry flew to his side, and allowed Pippin to squeeze his hands. "It burns!"

Merry’s eyes teared up in sympathy, as the healer said, "There now, Master Pippin, the burning will soon ease off, and it will feel much better in just a minute or so."

The lad just gave a shuddering sigh, and gripped his cousin’s hands harder.

Merry didn’t notice his own tears, or even that his mother was stroking his curls.


Hyacinth had turned her head to watch as the young Brandybuck, healer in tow, disappeared around a corner. Another problem with young Peregrin? she wondered. Perhaps after tea, she’d pay a call, and find out what was going on, maybe under the pretext of insisting on an apology for the Brandybuck brat’s assault on Amethyst the other day.

But tea first. And she meant to grill Reggie about what he had been up to the last day or so. He was being even more tight-lipped than usual, for some reason.


In only a moment, the agony passed, and Pippin breathed a sigh of relief. The itching had stopped. It had been worth the pain to get the itching to stop.

Merry remained with Pippin, while Mistress Hollyhock and the mothers went back out into the other room, though they left the door open. Mistress Hollyhock was concerned about Pippin’s sleeping through the night without scratching, and she wished to talk to the lad’s parents about giving him a mild soporific. She did not usually give sleeping draughts to children, but she was worried that his entire back would become infected, and maybe even scar, if he rubbed or scratched it further.

"We have to attend on the Thain after tea," said Eglantine, "but his aunts will be here momentarily, and they will sit with him while we are gone. Will you not take tea with us?"

The healer nodded. "I would be pleased to, thank you, Mistress Took. If his aunts are to watch him in your absence, I should probably speak to them of my concerns as well."

Just then, the door opened. It was Pearl, accompanied by Pimpernel and Pervinca. There was no sign of the aunts.

Paladin looked at his eldest daughter. "Where are Primrose and Peridot?"

"Oh, Father," said Pearl, "Aunt Peri got one of her sick headaches, and Auntie Prim said she would have to stay and take care of her."

Chapter 15

Euphorbia gave her sister-in-law a suspicious look. Hyacinth stood there briefly, her eyes cast down to hide her sullenness. Finally, Euphorbia said, "Well, get on with it. We do not believe in being ‘fashionably late’ here, not when there is such an important guest."

Important? Hyacinth wanted to laugh. But it would have been bitter laughter, and she knew it.

Eglantine and Paladin looked at one another in dismay. Who would stay with Pippin?

"Excuse me, Mistress Took?" Mistress Hollyhock spoke up.

"Yes?" asked Eglantine, a bit distractedly – and no wonder, thought the healer privately, what with all that was on her plate. She resolved, once again, to do all she could in aid of the family.

"Perhaps I could stay with the lad this evening. I plan to give him that sleeping draught we discussed, that he should sleep altogether soundly the night through. And I have no other demands on my time at the moment."

Eglantine and Paladin exchanged glances, a look of relief passing between them, and then their gratitude tumbled out, words jumbled together, "Oh, Mistress Hollyhock..." "We would be *so* very grateful..."

The healer nodded and smiled. It would be no different than many evenings spent by a patient’s bedside--it was a quiet and peaceful way to spend an evening, and she kept a small book in her medical satchel just for such occasions.


Hyacinth was fit to be tied. Reggie had not returned to their apartment for tea, and she had hoped to question him as to what Ferumbras had been saying about his mother’s death. Instead, he had sent a note saying that he would be busy all evening with the Thain’s business.

Well, at any rate that left her free to go and demand an apology from the Brandybucks, without his interfering. And, to stir up two cakes in a single bowl, in a manner of speaking, quite possibly she could pay a call on the Whitwell Tooks afterward, and find out what was wrong with Peregrin. Surely a mere sunburn would not have required the healer again.

Of course, she’d have to find something to do with her daughters. Reggie seldom interfered with what she did with them, but she knew from bitter experience that he’d show his disapproval for them being left to themselves, alone. It was one of the few things that would goad him to action, so far as Hyacinth knew.

"Amethyst," she called sharply.

"Yes, Mother?" Amethyst came out of her room, wearing a different frock than the one she had worn earlier. She had been trying on her good frocks and posing in the mirror.  She had tossed the one in her hand down with the others on the floor when her mother called.

"After tea, why don’t you and your sisters go see little Estella Bolger?" The Bolgers were staying in the apartment of Rosamunda’s older brother Ferdinand, just a few doors down.

"Mother! The Bolgers are boring! And I don’t like Cousin Ferdinand. He’s always cross."

"Amethyst, do as you are told. I have things to do after tea."

Amethyst sighed. "Very well."


Begonia was taking her tea with the other servants, in a manner of speaking--that is to say, she had some tea and some scones, and she was in the same room as the others, but she was isolated at one end of the table, excluded from the busy conversation around her.  She sighed. After all these years, she was accustomed to such treatment, but since her mistress had died, she had begun to notice again. It was her not having a place, that was the problem. When she knew her place, it didn’t matter what the others thought. She tried to tune out the conversation taking place around her.

"--and I heard that Clover Tunnelly was stepping out with that new stablehand, Til Brockhouse--"

"You don't say! Clover don't seem his type!"

"Well, I shouldn't have said so, but you know there's no accounting for it--"

"--so then you add the eggs one at a time. You have to make sure to whisk each one in right well before you add the next--"

"I'm that tired! Who would have thought a babe could keep up a noise like that all night long--"

"So--have you heard anything more about that Miss Pearl and the old Mistress?"

"Hsst. No talk of *that*!" said Cook firmly.

Suddenly the conversation stopped completely. She looked up, and saw Mr. Reggie standing at the door.


"Yes, sir?"

"If you have quite finished your tea, I should like you to come with me, please."

She nodded and stood up, and followed Mr. Reggie. As they left, the buzz of conversation started up once more, and this time Begonia knew that she was the subject of it.


Saradoc and Esmeralda were ready to go.

"Come along, Merry," said his mother. "You need to be there as well."

"I don’t see why," he said crossly. He really much preferred to stay with Pippin. He was fretting about him--but Aunt Tina had told him that Pippin would be getting a sleeping draught tonight, and that their aunts Primrose and Peridot would be watching him.

"Because we need to show our support for Pearl, son," said his father. "Let us go now. The others are waiting for us."


Frodo arranged his cravat, and dusted off his weskit as he put on his jacket. He would meet the Brandybucks in the passageway in just a few moments.

He took a deep breath. This had been a difficult visit to the Great Smials; his first as Master of Bag End and head of the Bagginses. He wished it could have been under better circumstances.

Oh well, he thought, we will find out tonight what Ferumbras means to do about Pearl. If he does not treat her fairly, I shall have to find a way to show Paladin’s family my support. He was quite sure that Bilbo would have found some clever sort of way to already do so. He still felt very inadequate to taking Bilbo's place sometimes.


Rosamunda was surprised when Hyacinth’s daughters Amethyst, Garnet and Opal appeared after tea, wanting to play with Estella. She was already entertaining Odovocar’s cousin Wilibard and his wife Aster, who was expecting.

However, she called Estella and Fatty and her nephew Ferdibrand, and told them to take the lasses to the back room to play. Odovocar and her brother Ferdinand had left right after tea, in response to a summons from the Thain. She hoped that it meant this whole nonsense about poor young Pearl was going to be laid to rest at last.


Hyacinth was surprised to receive no answer in response to her knock on the Brandybucks’ door. She had worked herself up into a fine little speech about Merry’s deplorable behavior, and had been looking forward to delivering it.

Still, it probably meant they were next door at the Whitwell Tooks’ chambers. The two families were practically in one anothers’ pockets. Well, she *had* been curious about the healer’s errand earlier. Perhaps she could kill two birds with one stone. 

She knocked on the other door.


Rosamunda, Wilibard and Aster were talking of names for the expected child, when Aster gave a sudden gasp. "Oh dear!" she said breathlessly.

"What’s wrong?" Wilibard’s tone bordered on panic. This was their first child.

"I think--" gasped Aster, "that the baby’s coming!"

"But I thought you said it was nearly a month to go!" objected her distraught husband.

Rosamunda stood up. "Fredegar!" she called. The children all came to the door. "Would you go to the cottage and fetch the healer?"

"Excuse me, Cousin Rosamunda," said Amethyst smugly, "but the healer is not at her cottage."


Hyacinth was startled when the door to the guest apartment was opened, not by any of the family, but by the healer.

"Oh!" she said blankly. "I was calling upon Paladin and Eglantine!"

"I am afraid they had to go and attend upon the Thain this evening," said Mistress Hyacinth. "I have stayed to watch over young Peregrin."

"Oh dear!" Hyacinth said, feigning surprise. "Is the dear little lad ill?"

Mistress Hollyhock sighed. "Do come in. No, he is not really ill, but he *did* suffer a rather painful sunburn a couple of days ago…"


Frodo put a calming hand on Merry’s shoulder as the little group arrived at the Thain’s spacious quarters. The reception room had been filled with chairs, and several of the relatives and family heads summoned had already arrived. Pearl shrank into her father’s side, and Paladin put an arm around her. Pimpernel stood close to her mother, and Pervinca clutched her mother’s hand, even though a few days ago she had said she was too old for such things. Saradoc reached up and patted Paladin on the shoulder, and then he took Esmeralda’s other hand and gave it a squeeze.

Paladin noted a row of chairs near the front of the room, that appeared to be waiting for them.

Reggie, who had been standing at the Thain’s side, looked up, and then came over to greet them. "Good evening," he said blandly. "I think that this evening will put an end to the speculation."

Paladin looked at his cousin sharply. What did he mean? But Reggie was speaking politely to Frodo now, and there was no hint of what he himself thought.

With a smile that was unsettling in its very politeness, Reggie nodded towards the Thain and proceeded to usher them to their seats.


Mistress Hollyhock found herself resenting the necessity of making small talk with this interloper. She did not particularly like Hyacinth, though she never let it show by so much as a twitch of her eyebrow, but she could hardly be rude. She had left the door to Pippin’s room open, but she much preferred to be at her little patient’s side.

"So the Thain wished to see all the immediate family, and the lad’s aunts were unable to attend him tonight as had been planned--"

"The Thain?" Hyacinth’s mind raced. Reggie! How dare he not tell her that the Thain had called a meeting--she should have been there! But perhaps this was good--if he had called all of Pearl’s family--perhaps he was going to disown them! That would be too good to be true!

Just then there was another flurry of knocks upon the door, urgent enough to waken the dead, though not, perhaps, someone dosed with the healer’s best potion for sleeping.

Mistress Hollyhock barely avoided giving a sigh of annoyance. Was every wretched hobbit in the Smials going to come calling here tonight? It was a good thing she’d already dosed the little lad and settled him to sleep, a good, healing sleep induced by the draught, or he’d have no rest at all!

It was the little Bolger lad--what did they call him? Fatty? She looked at him crossly, but his words jolted her.

"Mistress, aren’t you the healer? Mother says you should come at once; my cousin’s wife is having her baby, and it’s too soon."




Hyacinth made her way down the passage to her own tiny room.

After a wash that was quicker than her usual meticulous ablutions, but stretched out only as long as she dared, in the face of Euphorbia’s nervousness over the important guest’s imminent arrival, she opened her wardrobe. It was crammed full with dresses, for she had come away from the Great Smials with as much as she possibly could. She sorted through them, and finally decided on a dark grey one that was fairly plain, though well cut and of expensive fabric. She held it beneath her chin, and glanced in the small mirror that hung behind her door. It made her look wan and pale. Good. Perhaps *he* would feel sorry for her.

“Oh dear!” said Mistress Hollyhock. “I am needed--but who’s to mind the lad? Perhaps we ought to summon a servant?”

Hyacinth drew up a haughtly breath, ready to remonstrate with this healer for her insufferable presumption, but Mistress Hollyhock was paying her no mind at all. The healer's attention was riveted on the young messenger.

Fredegar dithered anxiously in the doorway, eager to collect the healer and return to his mother.

Hyacinth’s mind raced. She certainly did not wish to be left minding the brat. But...on second thought, he was asleep. And if she were here, then she would be among the first to know what happened when the family returned.

She summoned up a sympathetic expression. “Well, of course you are needed for something more important! I shall stay with the child--you *must* go and see to the delivery of the baby.” She hoped that she sounded eager enough.

Mistress Hollyhock looked at Hyacinth, her face bland though her thoughts were busy. She did not feel especially comfortable leaving the youngster to the dubious tender mercies of this one--Reggie’s wife struck her as shallow and superficial, and not very bright. But Pippin was sure to remain asleep. What harm could there be in it?

She turned to the tween, who was impatiently shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “Please go ahead and tell your mother that I will be there in a few moments.”

He nodded and raced off.

“Very well,” Mistress Hollyhock said to Hyacinth, and led the way into the room where Pippin lay, sleeping peacefully. Bending down to adjust the coverlet, she said, “He is not likely to wake. But if he should show signs of restlessness, here is a lotion you can apply to his back to soothe the itching. I do not want him scratching in his sleep.”

A sudden thought struck the healer. It really might be prudent to be absolutely clear with Hyacinth, and so she added, “Do not touch the other bottle. That is a sleeping draught, and even if he should waken, he should not have more of the draught before midnight at the earliest. I am sure his family will be back long before that time.”

Hyacinth stiffened, though the healer didn’t see. Mistress Hollyhock had poured out a little of the soothing lotion in her palm and was demonstrating how to apply the lotion without doing further damage. Surely she didn’t expect Hyacinth to stoop to menial healer’s tasks? She forced a pleasant expression, however, as the healer straightened, corked the bottle, and turned around.

“I understand,” she said.

Hollyhock was rather sceptical of this, but really, Pippin was so very deeply asleep, and in her demonstration she’d applied enough lotion to keep him peaceful for quite some time. She collected her medical satchel, and pointed to the bedside chair, before turning to go to Ferdinand Took’s apartment, where the Bolgers were staying.

Hyacinth stood there looking down resentfully at the sleeping lad before, at last, she sighed in impatience and took her seat next to him. That child was the biggest obstacle to all she hoped for, and she was not at all pleased at having to tend him.

Ferumbras looked out at the small gathering: all the family heads who had not yet departed after Lalia’s funeral, and all of Pearl’s immediate family save the little brother.

He looked at Paladin’s set face, the determined expression echoed on the faces of Paladin’s brother-in-law Saradoc, his young nephew Meriadoc, and on the face of Frodo Baggins. The Thain had at one time felt relief that he no longer had to deal with the stubborn and eccentric Bilbo, but a look into the clear gaze of the Baggins made him wonder if this hobbit might eventually be more formidable than his adventuring cousin ever had been. Still, if all went well, he’d never know for certain. He hoped to be shed of the Thainship before he could have occasion to clash with either the Baggins or the future Master of Buckland. Two years, three at the most…he suppressed a smile at the thought.

He glanced at Reggie, who nodded. Anyone who had reason to be here, was. He stood up, and cleared his throat.

“My friends,” he said pompously, “we are gathered here for one reason: to lay to rest for once and all the cloud that has gathered over the unfortunate and regrettable circumstances surrounding the demise of my beloved mother, Lalia Clayhanger Took.

“It is a sad and difficult thing that she should have met her end in such an unconventional and irregular manner, a manner which has led to speculation, rumor, gossip, hearsay, innuendo and--dare I say-- scandal."

Merry rolled his eyes, and drew a deep breath in through his nose, probably in preparation for a heartfelt sigh, but Frodo caught his eye, and Merry let the breath out far more softly than he had intended. The Thain was such an old bore, and he ought just to get to the point and put all of them out of their misery. He cast a furtive glance at Pearl, who was white, and biting her lip, and felt contrite. This was far harder on her. Frodo put a hand on his arm, and he willed himself to relax.

In the meanwhile, Ferumbras had continued his speech: "...I have asked my cousin, Reginard Took, to investigate and scrutinize the matter, and he has done so in a thorough and conscientious manner. I find that his conclusions are acceptable and satisfactory. I have gathered you here that you may hear his findings for yourselves, and will thus be able to lay to rest the talk which has been going around.”

Ferumbras huffed and cleared his throat once more, and then indicated to Reggie that it was his turn to speak.

Reggie had been standing behind the Thain’s waiting chair. As Ferumbras sat himself down with ponderous dignity, Reggie now stepped forward. There was little sign of his nervousness except that he wiped his hands upon his breeches, and then clasped his fingers tightly together behind his back. He looked his cousin Paladin straight in the eye.

Clearing his throat, he said, "After much investigation, I have found that there is absolutely no reason to believe that Mistress Lalia’s accident was anything more than a regrettable accident.”

He watched with satisfaction as relief washed over the faces of Pearl and her family, though they did not entirely relax. His next words would accomplish this.

“Furthermore, I have learned that no blame whatsoever should be attached to her young companion, Pearl Took. Miss Pearl is in every way completely blameless.”

He saw the pleasure on all the faces in the front row now, and suppressed a smile, as he saw Frodo Baggins pinch the thigh of young Meriadoc, who had seemingly been on the point of cheering. The lad’s eyes widened, and he spared a reproachful glance for his cousin, who smiled and shook his head. Then the Thain glanced over the other hobbits. Most of them looked relieved as well, but he also saw suspicion lingering on a few faces.

“In order that you may take away with you complete reassurance as to my words, I will now present the evidence that led to my conclusion…”

Hyacinth sat for a few moments, fuming. She wished she had some way of knowing what the Thain was up to at the moment. What if he didn’t disown Paladin? What if things did not work out as she had hoped? Reggie was obviously the best choice to follow Ferumbras as Thain, whether he thought so himself or not, but as long as Paladin remained the heir, that meant that this child was also an heir, and thus in Reggie’s way.

If only this inconvenient child had died in his cradle, as she had so devoutly hoped all those years ago. A child born so early and so sickly--it was a wonder he had survived. And then several times since, he had been seriously ill--yet each time, her hopes had been dashed.

In the dim light that trickled through the crack between door and jamb that the healer had left --the door was ajar, as if to offer assurance that a cry for help would not go unnoticed--, she looked at the young face, relaxed in sleep. Crossly she wondered what right he had to sleep so peacefully...

Of course, he had been dosed.

Dosed. He was very unlikely to waken, whatever she did.

What*ever* she did? Where did that thought come from? She shuddered fearfully, and her eyes lit on the bottle.

If something happened, if the lad did not waken…

But how? And how could she *not* be blamed if she were with him?

She studied the bottle again. How could she know how much would be enough? And how would she get it down him without rousing him?

No. That was unthinkable. The trouble there would be if she were ever found out--

But perhaps the blame would lie elsewhere?

“The first thing I would like would be for you to hear the testimony of the eyewitnesses to the accident itself.” Reggie bent a kindly eye on the first row. “Miss Pearl, would you please come up here, and tell the group what it was that happened that day.”

Pearl swallowed and turned a look to her mother, who gave her hand a squeeze, and nodded to the front of the room. Gamely, she stood up, and went the few steps to where Reggie stood.

“Take your time, my child, and just tell us what happened that morning?”

The tween sighed, and took a deep breath, and fixing her eyes on her family in front of her, began to speak. “The morning started much like any other, really. Her chambermaid had wakened her with breakfast. She was unhappy with it, for she said the toast was cold, and not browned enough to her liking, and the eggs were not done to her satisfaction. Still, she cleared her plate. While she was eating, I selected her clothes from the wardrobe, and when she was finished with her breakfast, Begonia and I helped her to dress.”

Pearl made the tiniest of grimaces. This had been one of her least favorite things to do while attending to Lalia. The old hobbitess’ bulk was difficult even for two attendants to handle, and her constant complaining the whole time did not make the task any easier. “We finally finished, and I went to my own breakfast while Begonia dressed the Mistress’ hair. Then when I returned, she said she was ready for her daily outing in her chair.” Pearl’s voice faltered for a moment.

“Begonia mentioned that the chair needed seeing to, that--that the wheelwright had said it was unsafe. Cousin Lalia was very sharp with her.”

She stopped. It seemed very disrespectful to repeat what Lalia said. But Reggie nodded at her and said, “Go on.”

“She--she said, ‘Mind your own place, you stupid cow!’ and then she said she’d no mind to wait a week to put her nose out of the Smials, and that--that the wheelwright probably was just trying to get more money out of the Tooks--and--and she said a good many more unkind things to Begonia…” Pearl’s voice faltered once more, and tears glistened in her eyes; Eglantine and Paladin looked at one another in distress.

“I’m sorry,” Pearl said, and sniffed. Reggie patted her on the shoulder, and drawing from his pocket his own handkerchief, he pressed it into her hand. She gave him a look of gratitude, wiped her eyes and took a deep breath.

A small shudder, and then Pearl slowly let out her breath, as she looked in her parents' faces. They were concerned, she could tell, but she saw nothing behind their eyes save confidence and pride in her. Her Aunt Esmeralda gave her a nod, and Frodo a very tiny smile, as if to say "I know you can do it." And Merry looked positively fierce on her behalf. She nearly wanted to laugh at his protective scowl. Encouraged, she took up her story once more.

“Then, after she upbraided Begonia, I asked her if she wished to take her shawl--she had taken it the day before. But she--she told me not to be any more dim-witted than I could help, and that she was not some thin-blooded old gammer, to be cold in the middle of summer. So I put the shawl away, and Begonia and I helped her into the chair, and we pushed her to the Great Doors.

“We threw open the doors, and she looked out. It was a bit windy, so she said she had changed her mind after all, and she wished to have her shawl anyway. She told me--she told me to run and fetch it, and be quick about it. Begonia told me to wait just a moment to help her set the brake first, for it was giving her trouble, and it was hard for even two of us together to control the chair, and there at the door, with the steps leading down... well, more than the usual care was wanted. But--but Cousin Lalia became very cross, and tried to turn around in her chair to see us as we stood there behind her. She was shouting. She said ‘Who--who’s in charge here--servant, or Mistress?’ I hesitated, and then suddenly the chair gave--gave a lurch, and I... I couldn’t move. Begonia tried to grab it, but--but” Pearl could say no more and burst into tears.

Eglantine got up from her seat.

“That is enough, Reggie!” she said sharply.

Reggie nodded decisively. “Take her to her seat, Tina. I think that we have heard all that she can tell us.”

Eglantine nodded, and moved to guide her daughter to the seat between herself and Paladin.

There was a brief silence, and then Reggie said, “Begonia Diggle, would you please come up here now.”

There was a stir at the back of the room, and the ungainly form of Lalia’s former chambermaid lumbered to the front of the room, her eyes downcast.

Hyacinth reached over and picked up the bottle of sleeping draught. The healer had said it was very mild. But sleeping draughts were chancy things. Surely if he did not wake, the healer would be blamed for dosing so young a child--Hyacinth might not know much about healers’ ways, but she knew that not everyone reacted in the way expected of medicines.

But that was also the problem. If she tried to give the lad more, and it did not do its proper work, then not only would she lose her chance, but he might remember.

There had to be some other way, some way that would leave no traces, and yet the sleeping draught could still be blamed.

She looked at the way he lay, his little face nestled against the pillow.

The pillow--


Hyacinth dressed carefully, and then arranged her hair rather severely.

Her hair had always been her best feature, that and her eyes. There’d been a time when Reggie had delighted to take the hairpins out, one by one, slowly and languorously, dropping each of them on the floor as he gazed hungrily into her eyes. It had been difficult, rather unlike herself, to simper and giggle like a simple-minded fool, but that was what hobbits wanted, wasn’t it? Someone simple and trusting; when what they really *needed* was someone clear-headed, with a thought to the future. Hobbits were simpletons, really. Hyacinth, though it was not in her nature, had made herself sticky jam, a metaphor her mother had used more than once, when expounding on the topic of catching a husband. Oh yes, she’d stuck close to Reggie, and she’d caught him, too, and he’d actually loved her, the poor fool, licked her from his fingers...

She started at such thoughts, most improper they were, and tears came to her eyes as she viciously jabbed one of the hairpins home. Tears of anger, tears of frustration, most likely. It had all been within her grasp!*

Begonia looked miserable as she stood in front of all the assembled hobbits.

Reggie patted her on the shoulder. "Now, Begonia, you heard Miss Pearl’s story. Is that the way it happened?"

"Yes, sir." Her voice was little more than a whisper, so she repeated herself, this time too loudly. "Yes, sir!" She turned bright red, and ducked her head, abashed.

"Now, we heard that you told Mistress Lalia that the chair was unsafe?"

She nodded. "I did that, sir. Only a few days before, it set to rolling off by itself down the passage from the apartments to the dining hall, even though the brake had been set. Thain Ferumbras himself asked me to summon the wheelwright in from Tuckborough, to take a look at it."

"Did the wheelwright come?"

"Yes, sir." She blushed again.

"And what happened?"

"Well--he said the brake was worn, and weren’t connecting properly to," here she stumbled a little, not being familiar with the mysteries of machines, "er, the wheel when it was set sometimes and that he’d need to collect it up and take it back into town to work on it."

"But he did not do so?"

"No, sir. The Mistress wouldn’t allow it, as he said it might take up to a week to do the work. She didn’t want to be without it for that long. She was very cross with the wheelwright--she didn‘t seem to believe what he said."

Ferumbras looked up, startled. If he had known the chair had not been repaired--but no, he would no more have been able to persuade his mother than anyone else. Once she made her mind up, she only ever changed it for her own reasons. And not being able to get out of her room for a week would not sit well with her, no, not at all.

"So Mistress Lalia herself refused to have her chair repaired?"

"Yes, sir."

Reggie paused a moment, to let the fact sink in to the listener’s minds. When he saw young Merry’s mouth open in sudden shocked understanding, he nodded to himself and went on.

"What happened at the door?"

"Well, as Miss Pearl said, the Mistress got very upset. I did reach down to set the brake, but the way it was, it took a firm pull to get it to take at all. I was trying to do it proper, I really was, but with the way she kept moving about..." Begonia’s breath hitched a bit, but she continued bravely. "I think that was why Miss Pearl hesitated, knowing I needed to set it better. But there wasn‘t no time, sir." The old and faithful servant reached up to dash tears away from her eyes.

"Very well, Begonia, I think that we have heard all that we need. You may return to your seat."

She hesitated for a moment. "Mr. Reggie, sir?"

He looked at her in surprise.

"I just--well, I know as it’s not my place, but I just wanted to say as I think it’s not been right, what folks’ve been saying about Miss Pearl. Of all the lasses what come to stay with the Mistress, Miss Pearl was the kindest and most patient of them all, even when the Mistress was, well, not so kind and patient herself. She did all she could for the Mistress, in spite of everything. And she was ever so kind to me, sir, she was."

"Thank you very much, Begonia. That is indeed, good to know."

She bobbed her head, and with awkward dignity, made her way back to her chair at the back of the room.


Mistress Hollyhock and Rosamunda led the frightened mother-to-be into the room where Rosamunda and Odovocar had been staying.

"Let’s see if we can’t slow things down a bit, my dear. Mistress Bolger, if you could, bring some wine or brandy. Now, my child, we’ll have you lie down and put the pillows beneath your feet…" The healer was hopeful that they could perhaps get the contractions to stop. But if not, then they would prepare to help a new life into the world.

She spared a thought for her other young patient. There was no reason that he should wake, but she hoped if he did that he would not be startled to find someone else watching over him.


Hyacinth studied the sleeping child. There were things to think about. If she did anything, then she’d have to sit here and pretend she didn’t notice that he wasn’t merely sleeping. And what if he struggled? She shuddered again. What a disgusting thing that would be--and maybe it might take too much effort--and *that* might leave traces.

Yet here he was, under her hand, as though fate had given her a gift.

How could she not take advantage of it?

He stirred slightly, and she gave a start, but he soon relaxed again with a sigh.

She felt the cushion at her back, and took it into her lap, fondling it hesitantly. It was just a matter of nerve after all, she told herself. And no one would ever think her capable of having that much nerve. No one had any idea how much she hated this little... *brat*.


Primrose sat next to her sister’s bed, smoothing the grey curls away from the brow, so that they would not get damp from the cloth wrung with lavender water which she had just refreshed and laid across Peridot’s eyes.


"Yes, dear?"

"Do you suppose that Paladin and Tina found someone to watch little Pippin?"

"I am sure that they did, Peri. After all, even if all the family answered the Thain’s summons, they could always call a servant if necessary."

Peridot sighed. "I just find myself worried about the lad. We should have been there for him."

"Now, now!" reproached her sister, "I am sure that he is sleeping soundly, and does not care who is sitting by him. You must put such worries out of your mind, dearest, and let that tea do its work and send you off to sleep."

"Oh, I suppose you are right, Primmie, but still, I can’t get the poor child off my mind


Reggie turned to the Thain. "Thain Ferumbras, do you think that we have heard all that we need to hear?"

Ferumbras nodded. He was very pleased by Begonia’s spontaneous defense of young Pearl. It should go a very long way to dispelling the cloud hanging over the Whitwell Tooks.

His freedom was still within his grasp. He stood up.

"I believe that we now know beyond any doubt that not only was my mother’s death an unfortunate and ill-fated accident, but also one that those who cared for her had no hope of preventing. It has been a most distressing thing for Miss Pearl and her family, to have been subjected to such vile calumny and slander as has been spread about her in the last few days. Therefore, I wish to show that my confidence in her is fully restored."  He reached into an inside pocket of his jacket and brought forth a small box. "Miss Pearl, if you would please come up here for a moment."

Pearl had been leaning into her mother’s side, dry-eyed and weary. She gave a start at the sound of her name, and then looked at her mother. Eglantine nodded encouragingly, and so Pearl stepped up to where the Thain stood.

He handed her the box with a nervous smile. Of course this ought to make it up to her, he thought.

Curious, Pearl opened the box and lifted out the contents: a string of beautiful matched pearls, which had belonged to old Lalia. Suddenly, the numb hurt and despair which had hung over her the last few days was replaced by a sudden hot anger. How dare he think that *this* could make up for all she’d suffered? She felt a strong temptation to fling them back in his face.


Hyacinth felt her heart pounding with a fear she had never known before. How long would it take?

Her mouth was dry; she licked her lips and swallowed hard. If she dithered much longer she might lose her chance. She took a deep breath and raised the cushion.

Suddenly there was a knock at the outer door.


*Most all of this particular lovely "flash-forward" (as in all but the first sentence) was from my talented beta, Lindelea.


Hyacinth shook her head. If she had only acted quickly that long ago evening, she’d not be in this position. Why, she’d be the Thain’s Lady, and able to wield authority over all the Tooks…or would she? That knock on the door had been most untimely...

Ferumbras stood there, fatuous smile on his face, waiting for Pearl’s reaction – likely enough he expected her to gasp in pleasure, Paladin thought sourly. As it was, Eglantine was watching Pearl closely, and caught the flash in her daughter’s eyes. Much as the gesture would be deserved, it would not help anything. She gave the slightest shake of her head. Pearl hesitated briefly, reading her mother’s unspoken warning, and then lifted the necklace from the box, so that the assembled witnesses would see.

In a voice as pleasant as she was able to muster, she said "Thank you, Cousin Ferumbras."

"You are welcome, Cousin Pearl." He smiled at her patronizingly, pleased that finally everything was settled. A bit of time to let the talk die off, and he could shuffle the Thainship onto Paladin while he still had a chance to enjoy life.

Pearl swallowed, nodded, and returned to her seat with her parents.

The Thain looked over the assembled hobbits. "I hope that this will put the gossip and slander to rest. I ask that should you hear anyone repeating any unpleasant calumnies for you to set them straight at once, and let them know that young Pearl and her family have my full confidence."

Behind Ferumbras, Reggie smiled to himself. He was going to be in for several days of ill-tempered scolding from his wife, for not taking advantage of the "opportunity" to supplant Paladin. She had never seemed to understand that this was a job he not only did not want, but, so long as he was married to her, would not take. As long as he was able to draw breath, he would never give her the satisfaction of being the Thain’s Lady.

The crowd began to break up, and several hobbits moved to surround the Whitwell Tooks, to reassure Pearl that of course, they had *never* believed the gossip anyway, and to congratulate her on being exonerated.

Merry had been one of the first to give his cousin an embrace; Frodo had followed with a hug of his own, and then he turned to Paladin.

"Cousin Paladin, it looks as though all of you will be occupied with well-wishers for some time to come. Perhaps Merry and I can go back to your quarters and relieve Mistress Hollyhock from watching Pippin?"

"Why, thank you Frodo! Very kind of you to offer."

Merry glanced at his parents, who nodded their permission, and the two of them gradually made their way out of the room, stopped every few feet by hobbits who wished to talk.


At the repetition of the first soft knock, Hyacinth gave a start, and dropped the cushion. It landed on the floor at her feet, and she jumped up.

Who could it be? The family would have entered without knocking--she gave a shudder as she contemplated the thought--what if they had come in while she was--occupied? Perhaps she was not cut out for such actions after all. She cast a glance at the sleeping child, and felt a brief twinge of regret. So close, so very close, to having her problems solved.

The knock on the door was repeated once more, and so she bustled into the outer room, opening it more abruptly than she meant to.

Primrose Took stood there, and her look of startled surprise was followed by one of suspicion. *What* on earth was Hyacinth Took of all people doing here?

Hyacinth swallowed. She was not sure she was equal to facing Paladin’s formidable eldest sister right now.

For her part, Primrose stared: Reggie’s wife was the *last* person she could imagine watching over an ailing Pippin. She was not even so very motherly with her own daughters. Why would she mind someone *else’s* child?

"Cousin Hyacinth! I am surprised to see *you* here!" Primrose peered past, wondering if someone else might be here as well.

"Oh-er-come in, come in! I was watching over young Peregrin," Hyacinth managed to stammer. "The healer was watching him, but she got called away to attend a birthing, and I just happened to have stopped by to speak to Paladin and Eglantine and…" her voice trailed off as she realized she was babbling.

Primrose fixed her cousin’s wife with a gimlet eye. Had she been up to something? She certainly was acting flustered. Perhaps she had been snooping among Paladin and Tina’s things? That *would* be the sort of sly thing to be expected of the silly hobbitess. She swept into the room imperiously, leaving Hyacinth hemming and hawing after her. 

Hyacinth dithered at her side, as Primrose came to rest in the middle of the sitting room, peering about her for signs of disturbance: drawers not completely closed, doors ajar. The old hobbitess spoke stiffly. "I am afraid that Peridot was unaccountably worried about Pippin this evening. She had a terrible headache, but I could not get her to settle down and rest until I promised to come and check on the little lad."

"Well--er--he’s, he’s just fine, ... as you might like to see?" Hyacinth bustled back towards Pippin’s room, followed by Primrose.

"See, he is just sleeping. The healer gave him a draught."

Primrose bent over Pippin’s sleeping form, and with a butterfly touch she brushed one of the curls away from his forehead. He was softly snoring, and had drooled a bit onto his pillow. She smiled, and dropped a little kiss on top of his head.

"I’m glad to see him sleeping soundly. He has been most uncomfortable the last night or two."

"Yes, yes, he’s sleeping soundly," Hyacinth repeated, inwardly feeling relieved that she had avoided trouble. She tried not to wince as Primrose looked up again with a speculative glint in her eye, and then there was the sound of the outer door opening once more.

Primrose turned and went into the outer room. Hyacinth stood there for a moment trying to collect herself. She took a deep breath. She had not, after all, *done* anything. Really, she had not. Not a thing. Feeling a bit calmer she went into the other room.

Primrose was explaining to Frodo why she was there, and why the healer was not.

Merry simply went into Pippin’s room, giving Hyacinth a brief glare as he did so. It was her daughter’s fault Pippin got sunburned anyway. If he had been with Pippin it never would have happened. 

Hyacinth quailed at the stormy look of those grey eyes. You’d think the insolent child *suspected* something. Then the conversation between Primrose and the Baggins caught her ear, and she stiffened like a cook sniffing the air for suspected burning food. 

"And how did things go for Pearl?"

Frodo grinned. "Very well indeed. I was impressed with Cousin Reggie. He had managed to find all the proof needed to show that Pearl had nothing to do with old Lalia’s accident. The Thain was very gracious to her," he quirked a brow at this, and Primrose chuckled, "and he made her a gift of a magnificent string of pearls, to ‘make it up to her’."

Hyacinth could not help herself. Drawing closer, she said in her most imperious tone of voice, "What’s this you said about Reginard?"

Frodo glanced at her coolly. "Why, the Thain had asked him to investigate and find out what really happened. Of course it proved that Pearl had nothing to do with it. Actually, it appears that the fault probably lay with Cousin Lalia herself. Did he not tell you what he was doing?"

Hyacinth swallowed her retort, and managed to choke out, "I am afraid that Reggie and I have had little time for talk, the last couple of days. If you will excuse me, I believe I need to get back to my children." How dare he! Behind her back, Reggie had undone everything she had been working toward, ever since the accident. He would certainly get an earful when she finally got him alone.

She left with an alacrity that had both Frodo and Primrose staring after the closed door in confusion.

Finally, Primrose said "I am very glad Peridot insisted I come check on Pippin. I am not at all comfortable that she was watching him. I know she is simply stupid, but she is also altogether selfish."

Frodo nodded thoughtfully. "I know what you mean. Poor Reggie."

"Yes, poor Reggie."



Hyacinth looked about her in disdain at the dismal room she had been given upon her arrival--so unexpected--last spring. How humiliating that had been, having to throw herself on her brother’s mercy in such a way, under the imperious and haughty gaze of Paladin’s sister Primrose, who had escorted her there. Primrose, whose untimely arrival all those years ago had foiled her greatest opportunity.

Merry had not waited while Frodo and Cousin Primrose were speaking to Cousin Hyacinth. He was not fond of the latter, anyway, and did not want to talk to her, lest she bring up what he had done to Amethyst.

He went on in to Pippin’s room; the shaft of light from the open door showed that his little cousin was sleeping peacefully. As he went over to the chair, he stepped on something soft. Reaching down he realized it was the cushion that was usually *in* the chair. He gave a snort of disgust. Hyacinth had probably been sleeping, herself, and had jumped up quickly when the knock at the door had disturbed her, causing her to dump the cushion on the floor. He picked it up and placed it back on the chair before he sat down next to Pippin.

It was such a relief to have all that nonsense about Pearl behind them. And if Pippin could rest through the night, then soon he’d be better, too. He wondered if his little cousin would be allowed to return to Brandy Hall to finish their interrupted visit. He hoped so--they had made so many plans for fishing and boating and swimming and pranking. He wondered what his chances were of coaxing Frodo for a visit as well. Probably not good, since Frodo had all the responsibility of Bag End now, and being Head of the Bagginses, and the Sackville-Bagginses to deal with on top of it all. And of course, it wasn't Frodo's usual time of year to visit anyway. But Merry worried--last year, after Bilbo had vanished--and wouldn't Merry have liked to catch him out with that clever ring of his--Frodo had not come for his autumn visit at all. What if he didn't come this year either? He wouldn't see Frodo again until Yule.

Merry relaxed, and let his mind drift; he was at the edge of drowsing himself, but he did not actually fall asleep. After a time he heard more voices in the outer room--the rest of the family had returned. He sat forward, and checked Pippin, who had not moved at all. That alone would have been enough for Merry to know the lad had been given a sleeping draught, for normally Pippin was a restless sleeper, tossing and turning. When Pippin crawled into Merry’s bed--which he did often enough--it was all sharp little knees and elbows in Merry’s back, and more than once a little hand flung out had rapped him in the nose.

The door opened a crack.

"Merry?" It was Esmeralda’s voice. "Son, your Aunt Tina says if you wish to stay with Pippin tonight, you may sleep in the bed with him. Since he’s been dosed, there’s no need for you to sit in the chair all night."

"Thanks, Mum. I think I will."

"Do you want me to bring you your nightshirt?"

"No, I’ll just sleep in my smallclothes tonight."

She came into the room. "Very well, son." She dropped a kiss on top of his head. "I shall see you in the morning, then."

In the sitting room, the others were talking over the events of the evening. Paladin and Eglantine were most pleased with the way things had turned out, although they wished, of course, that Pearl had never been exposed to the malicious gossip in the first place.

Pearl sat quietly as they talked, running the necklace back and forth between her hands, a troubled look upon her face. Finally she said, "But Mother, what am I to do with *these*?" She held the offending jewelry out with a look of distaste. "I know that they are costly and they are pretty enough. If I had come by them in any other way, I suppose that I would have been delighted. But now--" She stopped abruptly.

Eglantine leaned forward and placed a hand on her daughter’s arm. "Yet, you know, it is a gift and not to be refused. And if you never wear it, I am afraid that some will see that as the sign of a guilty conscience."

Primrose chuckled. "Pearl, my dear, my advice is that however much you may mislike it, you should wear them openly and obviously for a few weeks, so that all know you‘ve nothing to hide. After that put them away, and wear them only when you come here and will have to see Cousin Ferumbras--there’s no need to offend him. And in a year or two, there should be no reason that you cannot pass them on to someone else as a  mathom. If you can find no use for them, I am quite certain that you’ve a number of other cousins who would be thrilled."

Pearl smiled at her aunt’s wise advice, and then looked at her mother, who also smiled and gave a tiny nod. "Well, thank you, Auntie Prim! That’s very good advice--you are the wisest of aunts!"

Esmeralda laughed. "And what does that make me, my dear?"

Pearl blushed. "Oh, you know what I meant, Aunt Esme!"

"Indeed I do. And I happen to agree with your assessment of my oldest sister!"

Near the hearth, Paladin stood with Saradoc and Frodo, comfortably smoking their pipes as they talked quietly among themselves.

"I think," said Saradoc, "that tomorrow I must return to Buckland."

"Uncle Sara!" protested Frodo, "surely you won’t take Merry away now?"

Saradoc shook his head. "No, Esme and Merry will stay here until Pippin’s feeling better. Won’t you allow Pippin to come and finish his visit to Buckland, Paladin?"

Paladin drew on his pipe, and blew a small smoke ring. "I think that can be arranged. I know how disappointed he would be not to go back to Brandy Hall and finish his visit. We’ll meet here again at Lithe, the way we usually do."

Frodo raised a brow. "Paladin, I am surprised that you would consider coming back here so soon, after all that has occurred."

"Well, I’d rather not, to tell the truth. But I feel the need to keep an eye on Ferumbras. I’ve had the feeling more than once since I have been here that he has something planned which I might not approve of. And it would not do to give any further occasion for talk so far as Pearl is concerned. If we don‘t return for the holiday, it will seem as though we‘ve something to hide after all."

Saradoc nodded agreement at this sentiment, and then suppressed a yawn. "I am rather tired. If I am to leave tomorrow, I need to get some rest." He looked over at his wife. "Esme, dear, do you not think we should retire, and leave our kin to their own rest?"

"Very well," she said, rising to take her leave.



Reggie jumped at Hyacinth’s shrill tone. He had hoped to slip in and retire before Hyacinth even knew he was back. No such luck.

"What is it?" he asked wearily.

"What’s this I hear about some kind of investigation you did?"

She confronted him as she was still tying on her dressing gown, her fingers pulling the ties more tightly than was her custom. She did not look him in the face.

"You said nothing of it to me!"

He made his voice as expressionless as he could. "Cousin Ferumbras asked me to look into the circumstances of his mother’s death. I did so." He allowed himself the tiniest of smiles. "I had no idea that such a thing would be of interest to you," he lied.

"Why, of course I would be interested in such a thing, when it could possibly affect the succession of the Thainship!" Her eyes bulged out, and her face was quite red, and her voice rose an octave or two on the last word.

"I cannot imagine why you would think that this would have anything to do with the succession at all. There is no reason it should." He gave her a bland and puzzled look, daring her to say what he had suspected. He had no way to prove it, but he was sure that all the talk against Pearl had originated right here with his wife.

"Well, at any rate, I should think you would have told me!" She knew she could not say much more without giving herself away, and she was still a bit shaken by the events of the evening. If she had actually started to do--what she’d thought about doing--and been interrupted by Primrose--such a close call was more than a bit frightening. She shoved the thought out of her mind. If *anyone* should ever find out that she had even considered such a thing... She would just put it out of her thoughts and never ever run such a risk again.

"I am quite tired now, Hyacinth. Good night!" Reggie headed for his own room, surprised that Hyacinth seemed to be letting him off easily. Perhaps she had reason to feel guilty, he thought. If she’d been the one to slander Pearl, she ought to, though he thought her reaction was more likely to arise from chagrin at the failure of her scheme.

He smiled to himself as he got into his nightshirt, blew out the candle, and slipped into his bed.

He did not often have the satisfaction of putting one over on his overbearing wife. It made it all the sweeter when he did.


Even now, Hyacinth thought, she hated to be reminded of that night--over the years she had mostly managed to make herself forget it ever happened. But once in a while, something would bring it to her mind with painful clarity. She still had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it might have solved everything--rid her once and for all of the major obstacle between her and her ambition. One the other hand, it could easily have been a disaster--if she had, well, done it, and been caught...Marked. Banished from the Shire, not just the Great Smials. And then there was her own inexplicable reluctance, that had kept her from acting more quickly. But she would never know if she would have had the nerve to go through with it or not, thanks to the interruption from Primrose Took. She shuddered. If Primrose had known what was in her mind that night...  

The following morning, Pippin awakened refreshed by his long night’s sleep, and was delighted to find Merry in the bed next to him. If only he did not *itch* so confoundedly much! He sat up carefully, so as not to wake Merry, and looked at his arm. He gave it a careful rub with his fingertips, careful not to scratch with his nails.

That felt good. He looked with interest at the little white flakes appearing beneath his fingers. He rubbed a tiny bit harder and the little flakes began to fall like snow.

Now *that* was fun! he thought. But they didn’t show up very nicely against the white bedsheet. He turned and held his arm over Merry’s golden-pink back and rubbed a bit more. Oh, look at that! It really was like a little snowstorm!

Suddenly Merry sat up and gave a little wriggle. It had felt like something was crawling along his back. He looked suspiciously over at Pippin. "Pip--were you tickling me?"

Pippin made his eyes as big as he could. "No, Merry!" he said honestly. "I wasn’t tickling you! I promise."

Merry looked dubious, but... Pippin wouldn’t lie to him, he was certain of that. Still, that innocent look meant he probably *had* been doing *something*, if not tickling. Well, what *ever* it was, he had stopped now.

Just then there was a tap at the door. He pulled the sheets up, remembering one of the main disadvantages to just sleeping in one’s smallclothes.

The door cracked open, and Eglantine came in, Merry’s dressing gown hanging over her arm. "Merry, your mother brought this. You might want to put it on while I bring you lads a breakfast tray." Her eyes brightened still more as she looked to Pippin. "Good morning, my chick! Did you sleep well?"

"Yes, Mother," said Pippin turning his little face up for a maternal kiss.

Eglantine obliged with a peck on his brow, and then placed a forefinger against his nose, on the side of his face that had sunburned. She rubbed a bit, and brought away a good-sized flake of skin. She smiled at him. "I think, Pippin, that you have begun to peel!"

He looked at her, alarmed. "Is that bad?"

"No, I think it is probably good. But Mistress Hollyhock will be here right after breakfast, and she’ll let us know!" She went out long enough to allow Merry time to put on his dressing gown, and then returned with the heavily laden breakfast tray.

Breakfast consisted of scones and honey and coddled eggs and ham and sausages, with large cups of cold milk. The lads ate until there was not so much as a crumb left on the tray.

When Eglantine came in to take the tray away, the healer, Mistress Hollyhock was with her. Merry jumped out of the bed, so that she could examine her little patient more carefully.

Mistress Hollyhock looked at Pippin’s arm, peeled another flake off his nose, and then turned her attention to his back. She smiled, and with a gentle finger took a very large flake off the back of his neck.

"It looks like he’s doing just fine," she grinned, and craning around Pippin’s shoulder to catch his eye she added,. "I’ve no doubt, Master Pippin, that you are itching again this morning. I’ve another, different lotion that will help this itching." She looked at Eglantine. "The first lotion helped to dry out the blisters. This will help the skin to be less dry, and to keep it supple."

"What about the peeling?" asked Eglantine.

"No harm in it. But he can hardly reach his back. If someone else would do that, it will also help the itch. But see--the skin is pale pink and freckled beneath. He must be *very* careful not to burn again this summer." Pippin and Merry both sighed at this restriction, but then Merry put on a brave face for Pippin’s sake, and Pippin, seeing this, did the same for Merry.

Absently plucking at another piece of loose skin and then smoothing it down, Mistress Hollyhock said, "I think that he may get dressed and get up and go about today, though he should stay in, out of the Sun for another day."

The healer stood up and looked at Merry. She handed him the lotion with a knowing grin. "I think you can put this on. Apply it lightly, and rub it in well. You might also want to help your cousin with all that unsightly dead skin." She yawned. "I am quite wearied. Mistress Bolger was delivered of a fine healthy lass, and from what I can determine, the child was not early at all. I can only think her healer at home had miscalculated."

She went out with Eglantine, and left Merry standing there with the lotion. He turned a look on Pippin, who flopped over on his stomach without a word. "Well, Pip," Merry said, and then sat down, and poured a bit of the creamy stuff into one hand. As he rubbed at Pippin’s back, a bit of skin came free. He took it in his fingers and peeled it away. He looked in fascination at the translucent piece of pale skin, almost three inches long! He held it out to the side where Pippin could see it.

Pippin looked at it. "Merry! That felt so good." He reached up and took it in his own little fingers. "Ooh! That’s disgusting!" he said with a grin. "I bet you couldn’t pull off a bigger piece than that!"

For answer, Merry took his thumb and forefinger, and began to work away at a place just below Pippin’s left shoulder. Pippin’s eyes closed in bliss as he felt the long strip of skin peeling away.


Reggie looked with interest at the letter addressed to him. It was clearly penned by one who was unused to writing. He slit the envelope open, unfolded the single page therein, scanned the large and carefully formed letters, and smiled as he read:

"Dear Mr. Reginard Took,

I thanks you in regards to your letter about my Aunt Begonia. I am very sorry to hear about the old Mistresses passing, as I know she was your kin. I am also sorry to hear about my Aunt losing her position, as she had it for so long, and I know in spite of everything she was fond of her Mistress.

I have not spoke to my Aunt in many years, owing to the fact that her Mistress did not hold with her having company come to call. But I remember Aunt Begonia with fondness.

We’ve not much kin left in our old home, and that would be a fair ways for her to have to travel at her time of life. I have spoke to my Missus, and she has said as it is all right with her. So if Aunt Begonia would like to come and make her home here in Pincup with us, we would both be right pleased to have her. We have two little lasses, and they would do well to get to know her. My wife has her Da still, but no Mum, as she passed on two years back. So it would be good to have some female kin about the place.

If it is agreeable to my Aunt, then I will come in my waggon to the Great Smials on Highday next, and bring her away with me.

I thank you for your kindness.

Your obedient Servant,

Tolman Diggle, blacksmith"

Well, thought Reggie, that *was* good news. Poor Begonia deserved a chance to have something of a life of her own again, and it would be good for her to be able to be with her nephew and his family. Clearly, young Tolman was an intelligent hobbit--Reggie noted with amusement how tactful the letter had been in regards to Lalia--and it did sound as though he was truly fond of his aunt. It was a clear relief, especially as Hyacinth had been dropping heavy-handed hints that she would not mind having a chambermaid of her own--and Reggie believed that Begonia certainly did not deserve going from one selfish and over-bearing mistress to another!

He would go at once, and give Begonia the good news.


Euphorbia’s voice, calling her from the front of the cottage, was for once not unwelcome--distracting her as it did, from the unwanted memories.

After second breakfast, Merry returned to his parents’ guest quarters to get dressed. He wanted a chance to say farewell to his father, in any event. Pippin was going to get dressed also, and would finally be able to be up and about the Smials, though he’d not be allowed to go outside quite yet.

Esmeralda said farewell to her husband there at the apartment, and then Merry walked with Saradoc to the stables, where the Master had the loan of a riding pony for his return to Buckland. Merry, his mother and Pippin would take the carriage and follow along as soon as the healer had given permission for Pippin to travel--a day or two at most, Saradoc hoped.

While they waited for the groom to saddle the pony, Saradoc took the opportunity to have a quiet word with his son.

"Merry, because of what happened with Pippin and Pearl, most of your punishment was delayed.’ He held up a restraining hand as Merry opened his mouth to speak, and continued. ‘I do not wish you to answer me, but rather for you to think on this, between now and the time you leave here. You have a choice: You may yet make that apology to young Amethyst, in which case your punishment will be considered done, or when you arrive home you may spend a week in the kitchen, scrubbing pots. The decision is entirely yours, and if you decide to apologize, I will take your word for it that you have done so."

Merry bit his lip, and looked away, not meeting his father's eyes, before looking up with an uncertain smile. A couple of years ago, his father had realized that the common punishment for lads at Brandy Hall--mucking out the stables--was not particularly onerous to Merry. Merry loved spending time in the stables with the grooms and the ponies, and considered a bit of mucking out to be a fair exchange for the opportunity. So his father began to assign him to kitchen duty--the punishment usually allotted to lasses. The change was fairly effective, and Merry cut back drastically on pranks and other misbehaviors.

Still, he made no further objection, but nodded and said simply, "Thank you, Da."

Saradoc gave him a brief embrace; Merry hugged his father back tightly, taking in the smell of pipe-weed and wool. Then he stepped back and watched his father mount and ride off.

Saradoc looked back for a moment to call, "I’ll see you in a few days, son!"

Merry waved, watching until his father was out of sight, and then he headed back to the Great Smials. He wondered if he would apologize to Amethyst. In spite of what Frodo had said, the idea still did not sit well with him.


Hyacinth was extremely cross that morning. The memory of what she considered to be Reggie’s betrayal, in seeing that Pearl was exonerated of any wrongdoing in regards to Lalia, still rankled.

And she had missed a chance to berate the Brandybuck brat. She did not particularly wish to see him, or the Baggins right now. She wished a bit more distance between herself and the events of the last night, before she faced any of Peregrin’s family. Though she had gone a fair way towards convincing herself that *it* never would have happened, that moment of picking up the cushion still kept returning to her mind.

Now, in the cold light of day, she realized it would have been a disaster, and she never could have proved that she’d had nothing to do with it. Whoever came to relieve her of her watch over the child would have realized what was amiss, and she’d not have been free of suspicion for the rest of her life, whether anyone realized the exact truth or not. And unlike Pearl, she’d have no convenient witnesses to prove her guiltless.

Her daughters were getting on her nerves this morning as well. They had been quarrelsome since first breakfast, Garnet and Opal nearly coming to blows over a scarlet hair ribbon.

At least she would have them out of her hair after elevenses, for they were to go to their Aunt Miradonna for lessons, and on the days they had lessons they took luncheon with their aunt, so that Hyacinth could have a chance to recover her nerves. Perhaps she would have a gossip with Rosamunda Bolger, before the Bolgers took their leave to return to Budgeford.

She’d stop in after seeing her daughters to their lessons.


As Merry returned to the smial after seeing his father off, he occasionally passed a cousin or two, and gave a brief greeting. But suddenly he heard a shrill and unwelcome voice in the passageway. That was Cousin Hyacinth! Merry had not yet decided if he was going to apologize to her daughter, so he ducked around the corner to another corridor to avoid her.

She was escorting her three daughters, and was berating them loudly as they went. "I don’t know why I should have to put up with you!" she was saying. "This quarreling gives me a headache! Amethyst, I don’t know what use you are, when you cannot keep your younger sisters quiet!"

Merry caught a glimpse of the lasses’ miserable faces as they passed. He tried, and failed, to imagine his own mother or his Aunt Tina speaking to him that way. How dreadful! No wonder Amethyst was such a brat; she really could hardly help it with a mother like that.

As they disappeared down the hallway, Merry realized he had made up his mind. He’d give the dreaded apology. But he needed some support. He went to find Frodo.

Frodo was packing, as he intended to leave for Hobbiton after tea. Frodo liked walking at night under the stars, and unlike most of the guests at the Smials, he had arrived on foot.

"I wish you didn’t have to go yet, Frodo," said Merry wistfully. "We’re going to be here another two days at least. I was hoping we’d have some time together, now that all the unpleasantness is over with."

"I need to get back, Merry. I’ve responsibilities there now; you know that."

Merry sighed. "I know. I wish you weren’t the Master of Bag End. You never have much time for... for fun any more." Merry stopped. He had started to say "for me", but he knew, really that was not true. Frodo always found time for him.

Frodo smiled sadly. He sat down on the bed, and pulled Merry to sit next to him, giving him a hug. "I wish I weren’t Master of Bag End, either, Merry. It would mean Bilbo was still here."

"Oh, Frodo, I’m sorry!" Merry was stricken. He had not meant to remind Frodo of that loss.

They sat quietly for a moment, and then Merry said hesitantly, "Da said he would give me another chance to apologize to Amethyst." Merry paused briefly, and lowered his eyes. "Would you go with me?"

Frodo arched his brows in an expression of pleased surprise. He had hoped Merry would change his mind, but had not planned to push the issue. "Of course I will, Merry. But what made you change your mind?"

Merry sighed. "Cousin Hyacinth really is not a very kind mother, is she?"

"Ah," replied Frodo. "So you feel sorry for Amethyst, then?"

"Maybe a little."

"Do you want to go now and get it over with?"

"I don’t think they are at home right now." Merry explained the scene in the corridor.

"Well, I’m not leaving until sometime after tea, and as I’m walking, I don’t mind if we go right after tea to see them. Cousin Reggie will be at home by then as well, and it might be easier for you to face Amethyst when her father is there. In the meanwhile, why don’t you finish helping me pack, and then we’ll go see Pippin and have the afternoon together?"

The two of them, along with Merry’s mother, took luncheon with the Whitwell Tooks in their guest apartment. Pippin was in an especially silly mood, laughing wildly at Merry’s mildest jokes. Their mothers watched indulgently as the two lads chased about the front room a bit. Pippin had been confined to his bed long enough that he had energy to spare. Finally Frodo, with the help of Pimmie and Vinca, got both the younger lads down on the carpet, and began to tickle them mercilessly.

Thrashing about, Merry nearly upset the tea trolley that had held their luncheon, and Eglantine and Esmeralda called a halt to the horseplay. Pippin was breathless and flushed, and continued to break out in little bursts of giggles. Frodo, still sitting on the floor, took him on his lap, until he calmed a bit.

"Why don’t we go to the library?" the older cousin said. "Maybe I can find a new story to read to you."

So the three of them went to the library of the Great Smials. It was deserted this time of day. Frodo knew that he would not be finding any books of Elvish tales, such as he loved, there. But there were any number of volumes of Shire history to be found--there was one book, he recalled, that he’d not seen since a long ago midsummer visit with Bilbo, shortly after moving to Bag End. Pippin had been merely a faunt at the time, and Merry and his family had yet to arrive from Buckland, and Frodo had sought to while away the wait.

He glanced along the shelves--ah! there it was! He remembered that distinctive blue cover, which gleamed its invitation next to several bound volumes of the Yellowskin. He drew it down.

"Here," he said, opening the cover to show Merry and Pippin the first page. "The Journal of Ferumbold Took, 1147, Being an Account of the Great Battle of the Northfarthing, and the Deeds of Bandobras Took, Known as The Bullroarer. Ferumbold was a cousin of Bandobras, and accompanied him when he went to the Northfarthing."

The three of them sat down on one of the settees, Pippin comfortably snuggled up in Frodo’s lap, and Merry leaning into his older cousin’s side, and Frodo began to read.


(Author's Note: This is the last chapter of the story itself.  All that remains is the Epilogue, in which the identity of the guest will be revealed.)


"Hyacinth! Come along--we must get the meal ready--he will be here soon!"

She started up, quite as if the occasion were an important one, and flustered at her hair for a moment, looking wildly in the mirror, before taking hold of herself once more. Of course it wasn’t an important occasion. It was only a visit. That was all.

 After tea, Pippin was persuaded to play a few games of draughts with his father. He was quite engrossed when Frodo came to tell him farewell.

He turned at the familiar hand on his shoulder, and slipped out of his chair to give Frodo a quick hug. "I’m sorry you must leave, Frodo! I wish you could stay a bit longer!"

Frodo bent to give Pippin a kiss on the top of his head. "You know I must get home to Bag End, Pip, dearest."

"I know." Pippin reached out, and gave Frodo another squeeze, this one a bit longer and harder. He burrowed his face into his cousin's weskit, pleased that he now came almost all the way to the top button. ‘Thank you for finding me the other day. I suppose I would have been baked to a crisp if I had been up there much longer."

His cousin laughed and straightened up. "And then we should have had a sweet Pippin-biscuit to devour! But I do think I much prefer you *unbaked*!" He gave another chuckle, and ruffled Pippin’s curls, and then met Paladin’s eyes.

Paladin nodded gravely. "You have my thanks as well Frodo. Please do take care on your journey home. Are you sure you would not rather wait a day or two? I am sure that Esmeralda would not mind dropping you off at Bag End on her way home with the lads."

"No, Cousin Paladin, I do need to get back. And I like walking at night. I hope that they will stop over anyway, and at least take a meal with me, but I’m afraid I cannot linger longer now."

He said farewell to Eglantine and the lasses, including Pearl, who, now that all was over had come to stay with her parents in their guest apartment. He gave her a hug as well. "I am glad that things turned out well for you, Pearl."

"Thank you, Frodo. It meant a lot to know that I had your support." Her eyes glistened with unshed tears, but her voice was firm and full of affection.

He gave her a brief peck on the cheek. "Of course you did, cousin!" He turned and spoke to the entire family. "I shall at least see all of you here in a few weeks, at Lithe."

During Frodo’s farewells, Merry was waiting in the passage, and fidgeting a bit, for now it came to it, he was impatient and wanted to get the apology over and done with.

They walked in companionable silence to the wing of the Great Smials where the apartments of family members who lived there permanently were located. Reggie’s apartment was up the sloped passageway to the second level.

As they neared the round door, Frodo could feel Merry’s nervousness, and he gave his younger cousin a reassuring squeeze of the shoulder. Merry looked up at Frodo and bit his lip, even as he determinedly raised his hand and knocked on the door.

The door was opened by young Amethyst herself, and she gave a little squeak of dismay at the sight of Frodo and Merry standing there. She stood there holding the door open and not saying anything.

Merry was surprised as well, and was not quite sure what to say for his part.

Amused, Frodo caught the lass’s eye. "Amethyst, are your parents about?"

Recalled to herself suddenly, she turned and called out, "Father!"

A moment later, Reggie appeared before them in the entry hall. "Amethyst," he said reproachfully, "you should not keep guests standing in the doorway. Please, Frodo, Meriadoc, do come in."

"We have already had tea," he continued, "but they’ve not yet come to take the tea trolley away. May I offer you some refreshment?"

"No, thank you, Cousin Reggie," said Frodo, "we have just come from tea ourselves. Where is Cousin Hyacinth?"

But just then, Hyacinth came out, and glanced into the hall. She had been lying down in her room with a headache. "Reggie?" she asked querulously, "who in the world--?" She stopped, and looked in surprise at Frodo and Merry. She turned a glare on Merry, but it was short-lived, as she became aware of Frodo’s cool regard. She flushed. For some reason she thought he could see right through her.

Why were they here?

Reggie shook his head. For some reason Frodo flustered Hyacinth, but he wisely schooled his face. He had learned long ago not to show amusement when she was discomfited.

He invited them in. As they entered the sitting room, Reggie saw Garnet and Opal darting back to their seats on one of the settees. He glanced at the tea trolley. Apparently they had been at the biscuit tray. There was still a suspicious bulge in Opal’s cheek. However, he wasn’t going to reprimand them under present circumstances, and Hyacinth, who would not have allowed the presence of company to keep her from scolding them, had apparently not noticed.

Since Hyacinth seemed to be uncharacteristically tongue-tied, Reggie said "What can we do for you, Cousin Frodo?"

Frodo glanced at Merry. "Merry has something he would like to say." He gave an encouraging glance at his Brandybuck cousin.

Merry blushed to the tips of his ears, but spoke up firmly, fixing his gaze on Amethyst. "I would like to apologize to you, Cousin Amethyst, for pulling your hair. That was unbecoming of me." He stopped abruptly, and cut his eyes towards Frodo, as if asking approval. Frodo smiled and nodded.

Hyacinth narrowed her eyes. What was he up to, apologizing like that?

Reggie glared at Amethyst, who was gawking at Merry. "Amethyst?" he asked his daughter mildly.

She did not say anything, but kept staring.

"Amethyst," Reggie continued, "don’t you have something to say as well?"

She looked at her father in surprise. What was she expected to say? Oh. "I, um, I accept your apology, Cousin Merry."

"And--" said her father. When she clearly still did not know what to say, he sighed, and prompted her. "Don’t you have an apology to make as well, young lady?"

Now she gawked at her father. He was aware, without looking up, that Hyacinth was glaring at him now. But he wasn’t going to back down, and she could not berate him in front of their guests, though he would probably catch it from her as soon as the door closed behind them.

"Amethyst," he said in a low voice, "*why* did Merry feel that your hair *needed* pulling? Didn’t you say something you should not have?" Behind him Hyacinth gasped, and Amethyst looked back and forth between her parents. She could tell her mother did not want her to say she was sorry, but she was used to being scolded by her mother; her father hardly ever said any such things to her. She was not going to risk being reprimanded by him--she wasn’t sure what he would do.

She took a deep breath. "Um, I’m sorry, too, Cousin Merry, " she mumbled. "I should not have said those things."

Merry flushed again, "Well, really, you know, it’s Pippin you should apologize to, not me. You hurt his feelings." Merry didn’t care whether that was the polite thing to do or not. He was *not* going to tell her it was all right.

Reggie looked at Merry, gratified. "You are quite right, Meriadoc, and I shall see that she does so." And he turned another serious look on his oldest daughter, who looked very surprised.

Hyacinth made a little noise of disapproval. But it wouldn’t do to say anything in this moment. She supposed that it would have to be done now, since Reggie had said so in front of others. But she would take her erring husband to task. He should not presume to interfere with their daughters like this. Discipline was *her* prerogative, and he knew it. She would see that he did not overstep himself in that regard again.

Merry had nodded. He had done what he had to, and was eager to leave. Frodo glanced from Reggie to Hyacinth, and knew that a storm was brewing. He gave Reggie a warm smile, and turned another cold look on Hyacinth, who went pale, her face pinched.

"Well, we’ve done what we came for, so we shall take our leave now."

No sooner had the door closed behind them, than Frodo and Merry could hear Hyacinth’s strident voice raised in disapproval. They looked at one another, and shook their heads at the same time.

"Do you want to walk down to the road with me?" asked Frodo.

Merry nodded, and they stopped in Frodo’s chamber to collect his pack.


The next morning, the Whitwell Tooks were surprised at second breakfast by a tap on the door.

Pimpernel answered. It was Reggie, with Amethyst.

Paladin looked up. "Do come in, Reggie." He was feeling very warmly towards Reggie right now. His cousin had handled the situation with Pearl very well indeed. "Won’t you join us for a bite to eat?" he asked.

"No, but thank you very much, Paladin. We are on our way to take second breakfast in the main dining hall. But first Amethyst has something to say to you." He put both hands on her shoulders and pushed her forward a bit.

She gave a glance at Pippin, and then blushed deeply, looking down at her toes. "I’m sorry, Cousin Peregrin," she mumbled.

He father squeezed her shoulder a bit harder. She looked up, and said a bit more loudly. "I am sorry, Cousin Peregrin, that I said those things at lunch." She still didn’t sound sorry, she sounded cross.

The Tooks looked at one another in surprise, except for Pippin who was staring at Amethyst in a way that made her feel very strange. It was as though he could tell what she was really feeling. He didn’t say anything at all.

"Pippin," said Eglantine mildly, "aren’t you going to say anything?" She had taught her son the polite way to accept an apology.

But Pippin said "Not to me." He looked a bit stern, rather an odd expression for such a young face. "You shouldn’t say ‘sorry’ to me. You should say ‘sorry’ to Pearl. She is the one you said bad things about." He didn’t sound the least bit angry, but more determined and matter-of-fact. Paladin and Eglantine glanced at one another in surprise, Pearl looked at her little brother in amazement, while Pimpernel and Pervinca looked away to hide their smiles--neither of them much liked Amethyst, and they were glad to see that Pippin was not going to let her off the hook too easily.

Reggie grinned, and tapped his daughter on the back lightly.

She swallowed, and face flaming with embarrassment turned her eyes on Pearl. "I am sorry, Cousin Pearl. I should not have said those things."

"I accept your apology, Amethyst. I hope you understand now that it is wrong to repeat unkind gossip, and that you especially should not repeat it to the person’s close family." Pearl turned a sweet smile on her little brother. She was going to give him a big hug, once Reggie and his daughter had left. It gave her a warm feeling to think of her small defender, who had been so distressed on her behalf. Come to think of it, she needed to thank Merry as well--he had been in a good deal of trouble for taking up for her.

"Yes, Cousin Pearl." Amethyst was looking at her toes again, but she said it loudly enough that she would not have to repeat it.

"Very good, Amethyst," said her father. "Let us go and have our own second breakfast, shall we?"

After Reggie and his daughter had left with polite farewells, the family looked at one another smiling. Paladin began to chuckle, and the rest of the family also began to laugh. Suddenly all three of Pippin’s sisters descended on him with enthusiastic hugs and kisses.

"Oh, Pippin!" giggled Pearl, as she lifted him up, "I *do* love you so, dear."

Pippin looked into her eyes, grinning back at her. "So I did good, then?" he asked.

But it wasn’t his sister who answered, but his mother, who said affectionately "Oh, my darling Pippin! You did very well indeed!"


Mistress Hollyhock came by a short time after elevenses, in order to check on her young patient.

"Well, Master Pippin, I do believe that not only may you go about the Smials, but you may also go outdoors. But--" she looked him very sternly in the eye,-- "--mind you: You are to stay in during the hottest part of the day for at least a week longer, and you must be sure to stay well covered when you play out of doors. No more taking your shirt off and napping in the Sun!"

"Yes, ma’am." Pippin answered meekly; he had no desire to repeat his painful experience. "But--" he looked up expectantly, with pleading in his eyes, "when I get to Buckland, can I go swimming?"

The healer looked shocked, and turned her gaze to his waiting parents.

"Swimming?" she asked.

"Yes," Paladin reassured her. "He’s visited Buckland since he was only a babe. His cousins taught him to swim when he was only seven."

She shook her head in amazement, and then turned to the lad, who was biting his lip in anxiety, as he waited for an answer. "Yes, you may--but only if you cover up well as soon as you get out of the water! And you should not stay in the bright sunlight for more than an hour at a time."

He grinned. "Yes, ma’am!"


For the first time since the day that Merry had pulled Amethyst’s hair, the Whitwell Tooks and Esmeralda and Merry all went to have luncheon in the main dining hall. It was far less crowded. The majority of the guests had left.

Merry looked over at the children’s table apprehensively, but there was no sign of Amethyst, Garnet or Opal. In spite of apologies, the cousins had no desire to sit with any of them again. There were any number of empty seats.

When Pippin told Merry of their morning visit, Merry was amazed. Usually once an apology was given to his younger cousin, Pippin was instantly forgiving. "I’m proud of you, Pip! That was well done!"

"Well," said Pippin, "she said it about Pearl, and got you in trouble. I don’t mind it about me, you know."

"You shouldn’t be so quick to forgive people, Pippin," said Merry sternly. He often worried that Pippin did not seem to defend himself when people were unkind.

"Merry!" Pippin said gravely, "you know, Frodo would not agree with that!"

"Yes. Well," Merry flushed. "Frodo’s too forgiving, too, sometimes." He decided to change the subject--he was not used to Pippin disagreeing with him. "Are you packed yet?" For after luncheon, Merry, Esmeralda and Pippin would be returning to Brandy Hall.

They planned to take the post road north to Hobbiton, and spend the night with Frodo at Bag End, and leave early the next morning, staying at the Bridge Inn that night, and journeying to Brandy Hall the morning after. Esmeralda preferred that route to taking the Stock Road east, and then having to drive north to the Bridgefields.

Pippin looked down at his plate, avoiding Merry’s eye. "Almost," he said.

Merry chuckled. That meant he had probably stuffed one or two items into his travelling case. "Well, I’ll come and help you finish after we are through eating." He shoveled the last few bites in his mouth, and said, "Do you want any more ham and potatoes, or are you ready for afters? They have strawberry trifle?"

Pippin grinned. "Oh, strawberries, please, Merry!"


Hyacinth and her daughters took luncheon in their own apartment. Fortunately for Reggie, he was taking his meal with the Thain in his office. Otherwise, she had planned to have words with him over his high-handed decision to force their daughter to apologize to Peregrin Took. Poor little Amethyst had come home in tears, and shut herself in her room. Hyacinth was furious that her daughter had been humiliated like that. She would not forget this, not at all. If any reprimanding needed doing *she* was the one who would do it from now on!


The driver had stowed the travelling cases, and handed Mistress Esmeralda into the carriage. Merry clambered in after. Pippin endured another round of hugs and kisses from his mother and sisters, and then his father lifted him up into the carriage where he sat down by Merry.

"Remember to mind your aunt and uncle, and to be careful of the Sun! We shall see you here in a few weeks, at Lithe." He closed the door, and the carriage drove away. Pippin leaned out the window, and waved at his family until he could no longer see them. Then he sat back and leaned against Merry.

"You know what, Merry?" he asked.

"What, Pip?"

"I don’t much think I like funerals. And I don’t much think I like the Great Smials."

Esmeralda suppressed a smile and Merry chuckled. "No more do I, Pippin, no more do I."

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following chapter contains references to other stories of mine at Stories of Arda. For your convenience they are noted here: * refers to "A New Reckoning", and ** refers to "The Dare".


At least, as a member of the family, she did not have to serve at table, and was able to eat with the rest. Not that she expected to have much appetite.

She thought back to that horrid night at the Ball, when everything began to come unraveled. It had all been Opal’s fault, stupid child--stealing and then running away and then getting herself hurt--if it had not been for that, her animosity towards Peregrin would never have come out.*

She was only grateful that not *everything* had come out; she could have ended up banished from the Shire, rather than just from the Great Smials.

She sighed. She had never again been tempted to take things into her own hands, but she most certainly had been hopeful. There had been that time when the lad got drunk and nearly died**, and then when he had disappeared with his Brandybuck and Baggins cousins, and that gardener--she gave a disdainful sniff at the thought of consorting with hired help--into the Old Forest. She had felt quite triumphant when Paladin had declared him dead. But then, like a bad copper, he had turned up once more. She had never known of anyone who survived so many near brushes with death.

Well she wasn’t about to go and get a meal ready, with her hair flying every which way. She deliberately turned back to the mirror, after untruthfully assuring Euphorbia at the top of her voice that she was "Coming! I’ll be right there!" She closed the door to her room firmly, that she might not be distracted by any more pointless bustle.

She was adding the final touches to her hair, which she dressed rather severely, when she heard the knocking at her bedroom door.

"Hyacinth," said her brother’s voice just outside in the hallway, surprisingly calm, "it is time for dinner; our guest has arrived."

She squared her shoulders, firmly quashed the sinking feeling in her middle, and followed her brother into the dining room.*He* was there indeed, speaking to Euphorbia; then he turned.

"Hyacinth," he greeted her gravely.

She nodded, too nervous to actually speak and return his greeting.

Euphorbia had prepared a lavish meal, far better than their everyday fare, and listened to the visitor’s compliments on the food with every outward sign of pleasure. Their guest regaled them with news and with stories, but Hyacinth heard little of what was said, and her food felt like lead in her stomach. *Why* was he here, for goodness’ sake? What could he have to say to her?When the meal ended he turned to her brother. "Mr. Brockhouse, if you do not mind, I need to speak to your sister."

Her brother nodded. "You may use the back parlor," he said.

When they reached the room and were inside, Hyacinth turned to him, for the first time speaking directly to him. "Peregrin, why are you here?" She tried to make her voice sound haughty, but it came out rather timidly. She looked up at him, once more startled at how tall he had grown when he had been away on his journey.

He gestured to the armchair by the fire, and she sat down. He took the chair across from her. "Hyacinth, Reggie needed someone to bring you his terms."

"Terms?" Her voice squeaked alarmingly.

"Yes. Reggie has decided to disavow you. However, he will not seek to have the marriage dissolved, in spite of my father’s urging. He does not wish to bring further disgrace on Opal, Garnet or Amethyst."

She went white--disavowal meant that they would be legally separated. Yet it was not so serious as having the marriage dissolved, which meant it would be as though it never happened, and Reggie would have no further obligations to her.

Not trusting her voice, she nodded.

"He will grant you a yearly stipend of ten silver pennies, which will be paid at Lithe. Five of that will be paid directly to your brother for your upkeep. The remainder will be yours to use as you see fit."

She drew in a deep breath. That was not so generous as she had hoped for, but it was not an inconsiderable amount, either.

"If you should wish to see your daughters, he will pay for a room at The Leaping Hare for a period of one week every six months, and they may visit you there. Because of your banishment, of course, you would not be able to see them at the Great Smials. I am sorry to say that none of them wish to visit you here at your brother’s, however. And as Opal is still recovering from her injuries, you would not be able to see her on her first visit."

For the first time since his arrival, she showed some of her own haughtiness. "They chose their father over me. They may see me here or not at all. As for Opal, she brought her troubles on herself, and it is on her account that I find myself in this situation. I have no wish to see her at all."

He studied her gravely, to her surprise, his green eyes shining with tears. He blinked them away. She was unaccountably reminded of his Baggins cousin, and she felt the way she had sometimes felt at *his* regard--exposed and found wanting.

"That’s too bad," was all he said. "Opal is recovering well, and will be apprenticing as a healer to Mistress Poppy when the latter returns from Gondor, and Amethyst has a suitor. Garnet is doing well, also."

Doing well? she wondered if he realized how little that meant to her, since she had no part in it. What difference did it make if they were doing well when she could not share in their triumphs? Hyacinth turned her head away, and refused to look at him.

He sighed, but said nothing more, just sat there, and she could feel his regard as the silence stretched. Finally she could bear it no more, and turned to him. "Is that all?" she asked coldly.

He leaned forward. "You know, it was hardly my fault, being born."

She flushed, and felt once more exposed.

"Hating me, you know, got you nowhere. I was not about to die to oblige you." His voice was light, not angry at all. "I was in deadly peril for nearly a year, and yet I lived."

She felt a chill run down her spine. Did he have any idea? She thought back once more to that long-ago night. It would never have happened: *Something* would have prevented it, she realized. For the first time ever, she found herself believing in destiny. It was clear that he had one, and all her hopes had always been vain.

He stood up, and looked down on her, and there was pity in his gaze. "I’m going to my rest now--and I doubt that I will see you tomorrow, for I plan to leave before first breakfast."

As he left the room, she stared after him, feeling suddenly cold and bereft.

He had something, something special about him--how could she never have realized it all these years? He was *meant* to be Thain.

She had wasted her life. And--she felt suddenly sick--it was her own fault.

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