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(Written for the 2006 LiveJournal Shire_Kitchen Spring Challenge)
“I’ve a superb idea,” Merry announced.
Frodo considered his options. The rain drumming on the roof was possibly loud enough to say that he hadn’t heard Merry’s remark. Or he could claim involvement in his book. Perhaps he could invent a sudden, urgent errand to take him from the room. Pippin should be getting up from his nap any time now … perhaps he should go check on the lad before Pippin signalled his rising in his usual manner—with a loud crash of something breaking. Merry might believe that.
“Frodo,” Merry insisted.
It wasn’t going to work. Merry was now gazing at him with that look of narrow-eyed speculation that meant he knew full well Frodo was planning flight.
“Remember those lovely young serving lasses at The Green Dragon?” Merry began thoughtfully.
Frodo reflected he would not soon forget the beauteous and well-endowed sisters that had spent the entire night cooing over Pippin and ignoring him and Merry. “I remember we didn’t get any mushrooms with our dinner,” Frodo replied cautiously, trying to anticipate the direction of this conversation.
Merry nodded as if Frodo had at once delved to the heart of the matter. “Yes! But why didn’t we get any mushrooms?”
“Because the cook gave them all to Pippin?”
“But why?” Merry pushed, obviously feeling that Frodo was being obtuse.
“Because there weren’t enough for all of us?” Frodo tried hopefully.
“Such a dear little lad,” Merry mimicked in Peony’s high voice. “What a sweet little precious bit…”
“What is your point, Merry?”
“I suggest we take our dear little precious bit to the Dragon for tea, and see if the lovely young lasses will pay attention to us this time.”
“Merry,” Frodo said slowly, “I think you are a bit young to be thinking of lasses. You haven’t been reading those elvish translations of Bilbo’s I told you to leave alone, have you?”
“Don’t be stodgy, Frodo,” Merry replied cheerfully, not answering his cousin’s question. “That an eleven-year old should monopolize those lasses’ attention instead of two handsome, well-off and infinitely more charming hobbits-about-town bodes ill for your future courting status, my lad.” Frodo looked at him, frowning.
“You need some practice with the ladies,” Merry clarified bluntly.
Frodo snapped the book shut. “I hardly think my nineteen-year old cousin should be giving me advice in that area, Meriadoc.”
Merry rolled his eyes. “Frodo,” he said carefully, as if speaking to a somewhat slow child, “you are of age and Master of Bag End now. The lasses have held off out of respect for Bilbo’s departure, but I have no doubt the battle plans are being laid. All over the Shire, lasses and their mothers are meeting to discuss what ribbons or lace flipperies or plunging necklines might catch the young master’s eye.” Merry paused and regarded his cousin in fond disgust. “Not to mention the young master’s considerable fortune and considerably handsome self.”
Frodo’s expression began at indignity, veered into argumentative, progressed to embarrassment, and settled on terror. His face paling, he glanced out of the round window as if he already heard the belling of the hounds upon on his trail.
“Perhaps an extended visit to Buckland?” Frodo asked, smoothing the cover of the book nervously.
Merry nodded. “Excellent thinking. I know for a fact that Mum already has a list of eligible young ladies drawn up, and has ventured a few queries on dowries. She’s just been itching to start on finding you a wife. I believe I heard her mention how nice it would be to have a Spring wedding. I shouldn’t be surprised if that’s why she and my father made that unexpected trip to see you last week. Checking to see if Pippin was still alive in our care was just an excuse, of course.”
Frodo’s look of horror was comical.
Merry laced his fingers comfortably over his stomach and leaned back in his chair. “Frodo,” he began in a lecturing tone, “you had to know this was coming. Bilbo let you go your merry way, but you are an adult now. And unless you want Mum and Aunt Eggie and every one of our female relations to start planning your marriage, I suggest you hie yourself out of this hole and meet some lasses.”
“It’s raining,” Frodo protested weakly.
Merry smiled complacently. “It will stop before tea. What do you say?” Seeing his cousin’s indecision, Merry continued, “Look at it this way, my dear Frodo. If you don’t meet some lovely young ladies on your own … you won’t have a choice. You need some practice. Shall we venture forth?”
Frodo looked at his cousin suspiciously. “What do you mean, we—”
Crash! came from the direction of the pantry.
* * *
Freshly washed from his unfortunate encounter with the biscuit jar (unfortunate for the jar, that is; Pippin made out quite well) the young hobbit danced around his elder cousins excitedly. “Will we see Peony and Daffodil at the Dragon, Frodo?”
“I have every intention of it,” Frodo told him as they drew near to the inn. The Green Dragon during the day bore little resemblance to the crowded public house of later hours. They paused in the doorway, sniffing hopefully. The only aroma was the smell of rising bread, proclaiming that none was yet baked. Frodo looked around and eased himself onto a bench with a frown.
“I don’t think anyone is here,” he began, but just then Daffodil breezed through the kitchen door and stopped in surprise at the sight of them.
“Your pardon, masters!” she said, hurrying forward. “I didn’t know you were here.” She caught sight of Pippin, wedged between Frodo and Merry. “It’s the dear little lad! Hullo, Pippin sweetling!”
Pippin stood up on the bench and bowed, then held out his arms to be hugged. “Hullo, Miss Daffy. Your steak and mushrooms were so good, we’ve come back for more.”
Daffodil released Pippin and looked at Frodo and Merry. “I’m sorry, sirs, there’s no food! Not much happening till dusk, and the rain’s kept everyone’s away.”
“Oh,” Frodo said, crestfallen, regretfully reaching for his cloak.
“Oh, please sir, don’t go. I wouldn’t want this little darling to go hungry. I do have some bits me mum made. They’re quite good, really. If you’ll bide a moment, I’ll see if there’s any left.”
“She remembered his name,” Merry grumbled to Frodo as they enjoyed watching the lass sway back through the kitchen door.
The lady that entered the room was the very picture of well-fed, affluent hobbitry. Greying, curly hair pulled back from her face, her lined features broadcast good humour and appreciation of the comforts of life. Her generously rounded figure forecast what her daughters would look like in forty years’ time, given good cooking and prosperous living. She sat a tray down before them and curtsied gracefully before retreating to the bar to straighten a row of mugs.
The three hobbits looked at the tray. Arranged across it were several rows of very odd-looking … tidbits? Frodo wondered. Appetizers? Hors d’oeuvres? There seemed to be a vaguely meatish mixture nestled in a star-shaped basket of thin dough, brown and steaming from the oven. Though they smelled enticing, they did not look like something he was very eager to put into his mouth.
Pippin’s quick little hand reached out and fastened on one of the things. They watched apprehensively as he bit down. That Pippin would eat something without hesitation did not recommend it—some of the things the child had readily devoured had nearly poisoned him more than once. Then Pippin’s eyes lit up and he snatched up two more, one in each hand.
Frodo bit into one of the odd-looking things and an expression of ecstasy spread across his face. Merry reached out to catch up one of the things himself. It was still hot from the oven and he bit down carefully.
“I think I love her,” Merry muttered blissfully.
“I saw her first,” Frodo replied, piling one atop another and biting into both.
“Mum will be delighted,” Merry continued. “She and Father won’t let me marry yet, but perhaps the good Mistress will wait?”
“I’m of age now,” Frodo reminded him firmly. “And I’m asking her to marry me.”
“Hoy! Where’s Pippin?”
The lady looked down at a tug on her apron. Pippin stood before her, crumbs smeared across his face. He took her large hand in both of his small ones and knelt carefully on one knee. “I think you’re awfully pretty,” he told the lady sincerely. “And you cook so very well. Would you marry me, when I’m older?”
The lady’s surprised face split into a beaming smile and suspicious moisture welled in her eyes. “What a dear little lad,” she murmured. Bending over, she cupped Pippin’s chubby cheek. “I’d be right honoured, young master, were I not already wed.”
“I’m to be Thain someday,” Pippin told her seriously.
The matron smiled at him. “Will you, now? What a grand thing!”
Pippin nodded. “I know Mamma would like you,” he said. “And Peony and Daffodil could come live with us. They could teach my sisters how to work in a tavern. Mamma would be ever so pleased.”
The lady laughed and patted the solemn little head. “But I couldn’t leave my husband, dear. He’d take on so. He’d probably starve ‘ta death and the inn would go downhill.”
Pippin’s little face screwed up. “I shouldn’t want that,” he said slowly. He looked downcast, then said sadly, “All right, then. But I’m sorry you can’t marry me.”
She tickled his chin and Pippin giggled. Frodo and Merry were startled to hear the matron echo him, a delightful duet joined by her daughters as the lasses returned from the kitchen. The matron smiled down at Pippin. “If you like my sausage stars enough to marry me for them, young sir, I’ll fix you up a basket ‘ta take home. And you come straight to me when you want more— I’ll make them special for you, no matter how busy we are in the kitchen.”
“That is very kind of you,” Merry interjected, standing up. She glanced at him. “We’re staying with our cousin Frodo. Frodo Baggins. The Master of Bag End. Bag End. On The Hill.” The lasses smiled at him absently, not really listening.
“Go on,” Frodo whispered at him as Merry sank back on the bench. “Tell them your grandda is the Master of Buckland. See if that makes more impression than it did last time.” Merry scowled at him.
“Off you go, girls,” their mother told the lasses. Frodo and Merry’s faces fell as the beauteous young lasses were shooed back to work so that their mother could sit down and gather Pippin into her lap.
“Thank you,” Pippin said happily as she fed him the star Merry had been reaching for.
* * *
The clouds had cleared enough for the moon to illuminate the lane up The Hill, allowing two heavily burdened hobbits to pause for a moment’s breather outside the gate of Bag End. The taller one tucked his cloak around the small face snoring against his shoulder. The other seized the moment to sit a huge basket down on the still-damp ground and stretch ruefully.
“He did it again,” Merry said in disbelief. “How did he do it again? I was right there and he did it again anyway.”
“At least we got a basket this time,” Frodo reminded him, shifting the sleeping child on his shoulder. Pippin burped slightly as he was resettled, a small smile on his face. “And there’s enough for breakfast and second breakfast.”
“There is that,” Merry agreed, brightening slightly. “But I swear I don’t know how that ‘precious little bit’ does it. We’re leaving him with Sam the next time we try to make the acquaintance of a lass.”
“I think we do better with him along, actually,” Frodo replied, swinging open the gate.
1 lb Hot Jimmy Dean Sausage 1 cup Ranch dressing
1 green pepper 1 can chopped pitted black olives
2 cups shredded cheddar or Monterey cheese
¼ onion 1 package Won Ton wraps
Brown sausage. Dice pepper and onion. Combine with sausage, add cheese and dressing. Spray muffin pans with non-stick cooking spray. Gently fold one won-ton wrapper into muffin tin and lay a second won-ton wrapper across it so that the two wrappers form an eight-pointed star in the muffin tin. Press carefully down so the wrappers form a nest. Spray lightly with non-stick spray. Bake in a 350 degree oven until lightly brown. Remove from oven and spoon in generous amounts of sausage and vegetable mixture. Return to oven to bake until cheese melts, around five minutes. Remove from oven and let sit one minute, then remove from muffin pan while still warm. Makes 30 sausage stars.
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