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Disclaimer: The Lord of the Rings and all its characters and settings are the property of the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien, New Line Cinemas, and their licensees. These works were produced with admiration and respect, as fan fiction for entertainment purposes only, not for sale or profit. This story and all my others may be found on my website, http://budgielover.com. My thanks to my dear Marigold for the beta.
Just A Bit of Fun
“Master Baggins,” said Elrond sternly. “I am forced to complain to you of your cousins’ actions.”
Frodo resisted the urge to hide behind the book he was reading. It was large enough. If he tilted it forward to hide his actions, perhaps he could burrow under the covers like a mole, slide down the far side of his bed, and make for the door… The hobbit sighed, knowing he wouldn’t get far. Even walking the short distance to the privy tired him. With no escape possible, he laid the book down next to him, straightened his shoulders, and tried to dredge up a smile.
Lord Elrond regarded him narrowly and not for the first time, Frodo wondered if the Elf-lord could somehow read his mind. Bilbo had always said that the great ones could speak mind to mind, though possibly not with folk of other races. Frodo hoped that Bilbo was correct. They would never believe his protestations of innocence when they discovered Merry and Pippin’s murdered bodies.
“What have they done now, my lord?” he asked contritely. If it were a minor infraction, perhaps he would merely have them tortured. Hot irons. Surely Rivendell’s smithy would be able to supply such. Or a thorough beating with some very stout sticks. Aragorn would probably volunteer gladly, given the incident in the kitchens a few days ago. He should ask the head cook if he would like to have a go-
“Master Baggins?” Frodo realized that Lord Elrond was looking at him, concern now overlaying the annoyance on the elegant face. He had the vague feeling that his name had been repeated at least twice before he took notice. Before he could assure the Elf-lord of his attention, a long, slender hand was laid across his brow. “You are rather warm,” Elrond said judiciously. “Are you feeling unwell?”
“I am quite well, thank you, my lord,” replied Frodo hurriedly. Visions of one of the Elf-lord’s noxious tonics darted through his mind and he swallowed and tried to look alert and attentive. “I have merely been reading, and did not notice the sun had moved across the bed. I assure you –“
Elrond seated himself gracefully on the high bed, sweeping aside his heavy robes with one hand while the other lifted Frodo’s chin and felt his throat. The hobbit felt his head turned, gently but firmly, and the cool hand pressed the skin under his ears. “Truly, my lord,” Frodo tried again, “I am fine. I –“
“A moment of silence, please, Master Baggins,” said the Elf-lord, his face preoccupied.
“Wouldn’t you like a cup of tea?” asked Frodo desperately. “Sam, would you –“
“That will not be necessary, Master Gamgee, thank you,” interrupted Elrond. Sam, hovering near the door through which he had admitted the Master of Rivendell, cast his master a commiserating glance but did not dare to intervene. Frodo’s unvoiced plea for rescue went unanswered. The long-fingered hand moved to rest carefully on his left shoulder, and Frodo stiffened, his breath catching in his throat. Elrond did not apply pressure against the wound, merely laying his hand above the thick bandages. In truth, the wound had been aching, and the strain of holding the large book before him had probably not helped it. The healer’s cool hands sent comfort into the aching wound, and slowly Frodo relaxed, emitting a soft sigh of relief.
“There is some inflammation of the tissues around the wound,” said the Elf-lord quietly, “resulting in a slight fever. Most likely the result of the activity required of you in having to attend my Council. I would that you had had several more days of bed rest before being required to attend, but further delay was not possible.”
“I understand, my lord,” Frodo responded softly. “I did try not to move overmuch during the Council. But I had to be there.”
“Yes, you did.” There was an indefinable sorrow in Elrond’s voice that Frodo did not grasp. Before he could ask what was the matter, the Elf-lord straightened and then stood, rising to his feet with grace that no mortal being could hope to match. He frowned and Frodo’s heart sank. “I will return shortly with a vial of medicine for you. See that he takes it, Master Gamgee.”
“Aye, sir, I will.” Sam hurried to open the door for the tall lord, and bowed as he passed.
“Lock the door, Sam,” Frodo begged. “I don’t want to drink another of those foul, disgusting –“
“I’m not locking the door, Mr. Frodo,” Sam retorted implacably. “It’s his door, after all. And you should be grateful.”
Frodo looked at his friend in astonishment. “Grateful? Whatever for?”
Sam grinned at him. “He was so worried ‘bout you, sir, that he forgot to complain about your cousins.”
“Oh,” murmured Frodo, sinking back against the pillows. “Oh, yes. That’s one ray of sunshine, anyway.”
“Don’t you worry, sir,” comforted Sam, hiding a smile. “No doubt he’ll remember on the way back.”
* * * * *
“Do you think he’ll tell Frodo?” wheezed Pippin into his cousin’s pointed ear.
“I’m afraid we can count on it, Pip,” Merry whispered back despondently. Pippin sighed and nodded. He had not really thought that Merry’s answer would be any different, but there was always an element of hope…
“Would it help if we said we were sorry?” asked Pippin.
Merry stole another peek around the corner. “Don’t think so, Pip. It’s too late.” Both young hobbits were plastered against the wooden wall of one of the outer buildings, trying to make themselves as small as possible. They had a natural advantage in that being so much shorter than Elrond’s people, the Elves tended to look right over their heads. It was useful at some times and inconvenient at others. At the moment, Pippin was profoundly grateful for it.
“Well, they ought to put signs on things, if they don’t want them touched,” grumbled the tweenager after getting some of his breath back. “It’s not like we meant to, anyway.”
Merry spared a moment from canvassing the still-empty horizon to glance at his younger cousin curiously. “We didn’t mean to slide down the banister?”
“We didn’t mean to run into the dwarven delegation,” Pippin retorted with some heat. “And fall off and knock down poor Gimli. I wouldn’t have fallen off, anyway, if he hadn’t roared at me like that. It scared me and I lost my hold.”
“I would have roared at you too, Pip, if I had been peaceably following Lady Arwen on an early morning tour of Rivendell, when a shrieking hobbit appears out of nowhere at top speed and crashes into me. You could at least have got off him and not ridden him down the rest of the stairs like some sort of sledge.”
Pippin crossed his arms and huffed to himself. “I didn’t notice you offering to help, Merry. You could have come down the stairs and explained that we were just seeing if the banisters were as slick as they looked. You were planning on sliding down next, anyway. And, I might add, the whole thing was your idea.”
Merry crawled over Pippin and risked a peek around the opposite corner. “But it was you who knocked Gimli down and sat on him as he slid backwards down the stairs. You should have apologized then.”
“He didn’t look like he wanted me to apologize,” replied the tweenager slowly. “He looked very angry. And startled, of course. Angry and startled. What I could see of his expression above his beard, anyway.” The young hobbit shivered and rubbed his arms where contact with the dwarf’s heavy mail coat had scratched him. There were faint pinpricks of red, right through his shirtsleeves. He had fallen on the unfortunate dwarf and then compounded his gaffe by grabbing onto the full, carefully-braided beard to anchor himself. Gimli’s bellow had turned to an agonized howl of pain. “Do you think his oath of protection to the Ring-bearer extends to the Ring-bearer’s kin?”
“I’m hoping it might prevent him from killing us,” Merry replied gloomily. Still no signs of pursuit. He listened carefully but did not hear the hue and cry of an avenging dwarvish mob. It was likely that Gimli had had difficulty getting up off the floor, what with being stunned and all that heavy chain mail and helmet and all. Straddling the smooth railing at the top of the stairs, Merry had briefly considered explaining the whole incident and apologizing profusely to the dwarf and the rest of the embassy, which had witnessed the whole debacle in horrified disbelief. He had discarded that idea by the time Gimli slid to a sudden and painful stop on the landing. Worst of all had been the Lady Arwen’s expression. No look on that perfect face could be ever less than lovely, but to see her gentle efforts at charming the disgruntled dwarves so destroyed by two young hobbits must have been a blow.
Merry winced himself as he considered the possible consequences. It had just been a bit of fun. He was not so far past his majority that he would turn down a bit of harmless fun. And Pip… Pip was just a lad. Oh, Frodo was going to accuse him of leading their younger cousin into trouble again. There had been no one in sight as he had helped Pippin up onto the time-smoothed wood and cautioned him to be careful. It had looked safe enough, or he would never have allowed Pip to attempt it. Who would have thought that the delegation would round the corner just at the moment when Pippin was hurtling, screaming with happy panic, down the rail?
Pip really was right, Merry decided firmly. If the Elves didn’t want young hobbits (or anyone else) not to slide down their banisters, they should post signs saying so. In the Common Speech. Large, easily-noticeable signs. Better yet, they shouldn’t put such temptations in their path. No banisters. If Lord Elrond didn’t have such enticing banisters, this wouldn’t have happened. He and Pippin were innocent. Completely innocent. He pictured himself standing in Elrond’s study, trying to explain that line of reasoning to the mighty Elf-lord. With a deep sigh, Merry collapsed into a heap, his hands dangling between his knees. Pippin dared one final glance past the edge of the building then followed his cousin’s example, echoing his sigh.
“Do you think they’ll have forgotten about it by tea?” Pippin asked, not sounding terribly optimistic.
* * * * *
Arwen Undómiel, the Evenstar of her people, summoned her sweetest smile and focused it on the dwarf. At her absolute insistence, Gimli had been carried to the infirmary and her father sent for. Gimli had grumbled and rumbled and growled, but even the taciturn dwarf could deny the Lady of Rivendell nothing. After the initial assault, she had uttered a soft cry of shock and dropped to her knees by the stunned dwarf, gentle hands already seeking to loosen the lacings at his throat so he might breathe. Gasping, Gimli’s bulging eyes followed the youngest halfling as Pippin had levitated to his feet and launched himself off Gimli’s chest at a run. Natural sprinters, those, Gimli thought fuzzily. Like dwarves. Before any of the scandalized delegation could gather their scattered wits, the two hobbits were gone from sight.
In the infirmary, Arwen had guided him into a carved chair that creaked alarmingly under his weight. The infirmary was very clean and the dwarf looked with interest at the rows and rows of jars and pouches and bundles of dried herbs tied overhead. The Master of Rivendell had arrived with gratifying haste and insisted on examining him despite Gimli’s mutters of protest. Satisfied that the incident had produced nothing more than few bruises, Elrond had apologized to the glowering dwarf. Dwarves were a hardy people, and in actuality, nothing more than Gimli’s dignity had been injured.
“You should have seen the look on young Peregrin’s face,” Gimli rumbled, attempting to lighten the grim expression the Master of Rivendell was wearing. As much as Gimli might privately enjoy the Elf-lord’s discomfiture, he would not overblow a few bruises to strain the already labored relations between his people and the Elves. The other, older members of the delegation had been more affronted than he, and under Arwen’s considerate attention, Gimli decided he was able to see the humor of the situation. Indeed, he had seen more than one look of envy cast his way (including several from his venerable father, Glóin) as the breathtakingly lovely elven princess fussed over him. Gimli chuckled then grimaced as the abused skin under his beard pulled.
“They will be punished, Master Dwarf,” Elrond assured him. “This sort of disrespectful behavior towards our honored guests will not be tolerated. I will speak to the Ring-bearer to best determine what is to be done with his miscreant kin.” The Elf-lord frowned. “As a matter of fact, when my daughter’s summons came, I was bringing Master Baggins a tonic.” The lord’s high brows drew down and those ageless eyes sparked with annoyance. “I recall now that I wished to speak with him on another subject, also concerning his cousins.”
“Lord Elrond,” Gimli replied carefully, “I am grateful for the trouble you and the Lady Arwen have gone to” (here Arwen smiled at him and a blush pinked the dwarf’s cheeks beneath the russet beard), “but I do not wish those young ones punished. Young dwarves are not so … so … um - energetic, but I remember getting into a few scrapes at that age. If one of these halflings is little more than a child among his kind and the other barely an adult, I would not have them punished for merely seeking out a bit of play.”
Elrond stepped back dubiously, long hands automatically coiling the unneeded bandages he had seized upon his arrival. “I thank you for your generosity, Master Gimli, but this has not been the first incident. I have already warned Master Brandybuck and Master Took that such behavior is unacceptable. Though, I must admit, I did not include sliding down my banisters in my definition of ‘such behavior’.”
“Father,” said Arwen, “Merry and Pippin did not mean to hurt Master Gimli.” She laid a slender hand on his arm, adding her plea to Gimli’s. “Or anyone. Perhaps if we gave them something more … useful … to occupy their time, they would not present such a problem.”
Elrond looked at her consideringly. “You have something in mind, my daughter?”
Arwen smiled sweetly. Elrond looked into her eyes then arched one thin brow on his high forehead. Gimli glanced from one to the other, suddenly concerned for the young hobbits. “You are not about to … do them harm, are you, my lord, my lady?”
Elrond shook his elegant head, a narrow smile playing across his lips. “Do not fear for the little ones, Master Dwarf. We only mean to teach them that there is some justice in the world.”
* * * * *
“Weeding the kitchens’ vegetable garden?” Merry asked doubtfully. “That doesn’t sound like so terrible a punishment.”
“It is not meant to be a punishment, Merry,” Aragorn responded, “but a discipline.” Briefly the Ranger wondered if he would always be the one sent to address the young hobbits after a misdemeanor. Was it because he could track them down, wherever they might hide? Surely it was not because he had brought them to Imladris? That should not condemn him to being held responsible for their transgressions. At this rate, he would have time for nothing else.
“Master Gimli was most adamant that you not be punished for…” the Ranger’s brows drew down disapprovingly, “a childish prank. Pippin could have been hurt when he rounded the curve at such speed, or hurt Gimli. I,” Aragorn continued grimly, “would have had you cleaning his chain mail or polishing his boots every single day until we depart. However, the good dwarf is for some reason kindly disposed towards you and does not wish you punished. But for the embarrassment you caused him, and for offending the Dwarven Embassy, you will weed the garden. And you will not eat any of the produce while doing so.”
The hobbits had been staring at their hairy toes with downcast faces during this reprimand, but Merry looked up at the Man’s words, a calculating expression on his face. Aragorn’s heart lurched. “How did you know where Pip lost his hold on that rail?”
“I just assumed-“ Aragorn began.
Merry’s gaze sharpened. “You weren’t there. You wouldn’t know about that curve unless… Strider, did you slide down the banister when you were a lad?”
“That is not relevant to our discussion, Merry.” Aragorn looked stern, but now Pippin was gazing curiously up into his face. “You two will begin work immediately. The garden-“
“You did, didn’t you? Did you get punished?”
“Did you smash into anyone?” This from Pippin, who was now looking eagerly at the Man.
“The garden-“ Aragorn repeated loudly.
“I bet it was Lord Elrond,” Pippin whispered to his cousin, and Aragorn choked.
“It was not! It was –“ The Ranger stopped himself and struggled to regain control of the conversation. The two bright, attentive faces before him defeated him. He dismissed the pair with the feeling that he had definitely come out the worst in the exchange.
* * * * *
Pippin looked at the tiny green things in his hands blankly. The sun had cleared the steep mountainsides, and the mid-morning light was pale and cold. It did little to illuminate the two shoots dangling limply across his open palm. “I can’t tell, Merry. They all look like weeds to me.”
Merry scowled at the minuscule carrot he had accidentally pulled up. “I’d recognize them if they were grown a bit more. When the plants are this young, all their little green tops look the same.”
“Like weeds.” Pippin took the carrot from his cousin and rubbed it clean on his cloak, then ate it. “Sam would know what’s what.”
Merry transferred his scowl to his cousin. “You weren’t supposed to eat that.”
Pippin shrugged and cast the wilting shoots to the ground. “It was barely a carrot. If we didn’t know it was a carrot, it doesn’t count.”
Merry didn’t have the conviction to argue. He straightened and rubbed his back. They hadn’t been at this long enough for an ache to set in – the gesture was more in response to the small pile of accidentally uprooted vegetables at his feet. He had tried re-planting some of his mistakes, but the ones he had set back into the earth were already drooping. Clearly, he and Pippin needed an experienced hand at this.
“Sam won’t help, Pip. He won’t leave Frodo that long. Not unless we give him a good reason to.”
Pippin inched further along the plot and dug careful fingers into the rich, brown earth to dislodge a dandelion. Unquestionably a dandelion. It had already gone to seed and the tweenager admired it for a moment. Then he inhaled and puffed expertly on the furry ball. Tiny feather-topped seedlings leaped into the air and drifted on the slight breeze. The two hobbits watched them whirl and dance away into the distance. Merry’s gaze returned to the shaggy bundle of leaves in his cousin’s hand.
“I just thought of a reason.”
* * * * *
“Stewed dandelions?” Sam regarded the handful of greens his master’s cousins displayed with interest. The cousins had intercepted their friend on his way back from returning Frodo’s barely-touched elevenses to the kitchens. “Always has been one o’ Mr. Frodo’s favorite dishes. Easy on the stomach and good for what ails you.”
Merry smiled easily. “Exactly, Sam. Packed full of ‘nutrients,’ as Lord Elrond would say. The goodwives in the Shire always cook up a batch of stewed dandelions when someone isn’t feeling well.”
Sam nodded in agreement to this time-honored wisdom. “Aye. Very well, I’ll help you. But it’s Mr. Bilbo you should be asking to cook them. He adds nice, crispy bacon and eggs and cheese and I don’t know what all.” The gardener looked wistful. “I’ve wanted ‘ta know how he makes them stewed dandelions for years. My old Gaffer says he never tasted any as good as Mr. Bilbo’s. But it’s Mr. Bilbo’s special recipe, and he don’t give it out.” Sam’s mournful expression deepened. “I reckon my old da would even forgive me for running off into the Blue if I brought him back Mr. Bilbo’s stewed dandelion recipe.”
Merry could well understand that – he had many happy memories of his elderly cousin’s culinary masterpiece. “If you’ll help with the weeding, Sam, I’ll get Bilbo’s recipe for you. I’ll write it down and everything.”
Sam hesitated a moment, then nodded. “All right, sir. You have a deal.”
* * * * *
Bilbo regarded the large basket of recently-cleaned greens his two young cousins had brought him with interest. “I would be delighted to make Frodo-lad my special stewed dandelions. The boy always was mad for them.” The old hobbit hummed to himself as his thin, age-spotted hands carefully examined the leaves and stalks. “But I haven’t cooked in years, lads. There are certain herbs that I will need. I’ll have to ask the head cook if I might take some from his stocks.”
“Doesn’t the Lady Arwen keep a herb garden?” interjected Merry hurriedly. “No need to bother the head cook – really, Bilbo. I imagine the Lady would be pleased to donate some herbs for your recipe.” Pippin nodded vigorously. At all costs, they intended to keep away from the head cook for a few more days.
“Very well, lads,” Bilbo replied. “You get me those herbs, and I’ll make Frodo my special dish.”
* * * * *
“What herbs, specifically?” asked Arwen. Merry looked down at the list clutched in Pip’s hands. Standing next to him, Pippin was staring up at her with that pole- axed expression he assumed whenever in the Lady’s presence. Or whenever he spied her at a distance. Or at the mention of her name. Merry surreptitiously kicked him in annoyance.
“Ow!” said Pippin. Then he blushed and focused on the paper. “Dill.” Trying to glare at his cousin out of the corner of one eye while reading the ingredients Bilbo had given them, he continued, “Sage, rosemary –“ He paused to squint at Bilbo’s crabby handwriting. “Chili pepper?” Glancing up in alarm, he said, “Merry, I don’t like chili pepper. Isn’t that what that dreadful reddish spice in the kitchens was?”
“I have all of those growing among my herbs,” the Lady interrupted gently. “You are most welcome to harvest as much as you like. But there is a price.”
Merry had not been expecting this. “A price, my lady?” he repeated warily. At his side, Pippin jerked and stopped staring blissfully at her face, attending instead to her words.
“I wish to supplement my stock of athelas,” Arwen replied. “Much of our supply was used in saving the Ring-bearer’s life. It cannot be cultivated – one must chance upon it in the Wild. You may have whatever herbs you wish from my garden in return for athelas.”
Merry bowed. “You shall have it, my lady.”
* * * * *
“Athelas is very precious, Merry,” Aragorn told him. “And I do not have much to spare. What do you need it for?”
“It’s a long story, Aragorn,” Merry responded, suddenly feeling very tired. It had taken several hours to locate the Ranger. They had seemed always a step behind him, even missing their luncheon to search. Was he hiding from us?Merry thought, then dismissed the idea as ridiculous. When they had finally tracked him down in the stables, Pippin sat down on a bale of hay, too worn out to stand.
Aragorn knelt beside them and drew forth a pouch at his belt. Opening it, he lay out a wad of slender, dried leaves. Pippin edged closer and sniffed appreciatively – even desiccated, the leaves held their virtue. Merry breathed deeply too, and felt a little of his weariness fall away in the faint perfume of the healing plant.
Aragorn drew forth his belt-knife to separate the leaves. As he slid the blade between the leaves, it turned slightly in the hilt. The metal sliced his finger as cleanly as a razor. With a muttered exclamation, Aragorn lifted the injured digit to his mouth, sucking on the welling cut in irritation. “I would give you as many as you like if only my knife could be repaired,” he growled, shaking a droplet of bright blood from his finger.
Merry’s eyes lingered on the precious leaves. “Do you mean that, Aragorn? That we may have the leaves in exchange for mending your knife?”
The Ranger stopped shaking his finger and regarded the hobbits. “And how would you do that, Merry?”
Merry grinned tiredly. “I’ll find a way. For the leaves. Do you agree?”
“All right.” A little reluctantly, the Ranger handed the wobbling blade to the hobbit, hilt pointing downwards, along with many warnings to take care.
* * * * *
“I’m tired, Merry. And we missed second breakfast. And elevenses. And luncheon! If I don’t eat something right now, I am going to die of starvation right here.” Pippin rubbed his stomach, his sharp face drawn with discomfort.
Merry scrubbed at his eyes. His own stomach was cramping warningly. “I sincerely doubt that, Pippin. Besides, it’s good that we look sad and pathetic right now.”
Pippin stared at his cousin in astonishment. “Whatever for?”
“Because we are going to go to Gimli and beg him to fix Aragorn’s knife. And apologize copiously for what we did. And if we look sad and pathetic enough, perhaps he’ll forgive us and do it.”
“Oh.” Pippin remembered the expression on the Dwarf’s face as the back of the helmeted head hit the floor at the bottom of the stairs. “Can’t I just starve instead?”
* * * * *
Locating Gimli involved marching down the long corridor of the wing assigned to the Dwarven Embassy, under the disapproving eyes of what seemed to be every one of the delegates who had witnessed the whole unfortunate incident. Merry kept his back straight and his head held high, Pippin a silent shadow at his side. Though he tried to emulate his elder cousin, the tweenager’s face was pale, and Merry could feel his tenseness in every shudder of his slight frame.
“Relax, Pip,” he hissed out of the corner of his mouth. “Bilbo and Glóin are old friends. Bilbo would take exception if Glóin’s son killed us.”
“How about if he just maims us a little?” Pippin hissed back, not at all reassured.
Further discourse was interrupted by Gimli opening the great wooden door of his suite. Merry and Pippin bowed. The dwarf looked at them keenly for a moment, dark eyes ambiguous, then motioned them inside.
* * * * *
“Bilbo’s special stewed dandelions!” Frodo cried, his wan face lighting up with enthusiasm. “I love these! Bilbo, thank you so much!” The late afternoon sun slanted in through the balcony windows, the last breath of the day’s warmth before the early evening began to fall. A pile of books and maps lay on the small bedside table beside the bed, silent evidence of the recovering Ring-bearer’s activities. Frodo had hoped to spend the day reading and studying, but despite the unusual absence of his friends and kin, his day had been anything but peaceful.
The old hobbit grinned and passed the steaming pot to Sam, who placed it on the side table alongside the bread and cheese and hard-boiled eggs. “My pleasure, lad. Little change of pace for tea, isn’t it? But it isn’t me you should be thanking. Sam helped me cook it, but it was your cousins who arranged this little feast.”
Pippin whimpered, then put his hand over his mouth and became very busy handing out trays and plates and tableware and napkins.
“You see, we were right after all, Frodo,” Merry said hurriedly to cover Pippin’s little outburst. “You just needed some home-cooking. Hobbit food really is the best, isn’t it?”
Frodo regarded his cousins curiously as Sam proudly ladled the first helping onto his plate. The two had dragged themselves in just before tea, evidence of a hasty wash still visible. His attention apparently on the plate before him, Frodo commented casually, “Aragorn stopped by earlier to ask me to thank you for repairing his knife, Merry.” He gave no sign that he saw Merry stiffen, or the sudden, desperate glance that passed between his two younger cousins. “And Lady Arwen came by to ask me to thank you both for the athelas leaves. Very difficult to find, she said. Then Bilbo came in and said to thank you for the herbs. And why was Sam thanking you for that piece of paper you gave him?”
Frodo waited politely but no answer seemed forthcoming. In slightly louder tones, he continued, “And then the head cook came and thanked me for you weeding his garden. He seems to have quite forgiven you for the rampaging soap episode. “ Frodo paused and gave them the opportunity to speak. When neither did, he added, “He requested that I let you know that you are welcome in his kitchens again.”
No response, other than two quick nods. Pippin was applying himself to his food with single-minded determination. Merry had yet to take a bite, his eyes riveted to his tray. Sam was keeping his head down, trying to pretend he was invisible. Bilbo was grinning unabashedly, enjoying himself. Frodo shut his eyes briefly. So, then. He had actually got bits of the story from Bilbo and Aragorn, but his two young cousins didn’t need to know that yet. Taking a deep breath, he plowed on. “And then Lord Elrond visited and said that he is pleased that you two are ‘spending your time most usefully,’ as he put it. And he said to never mind a complaint he had about you earlier – it was a misunderstanding.” Frodo eyed them narrowly, giving up on subterfuge. His voice rising, he continued, “And not ten minutes ago, Master Gimli sent me a message complimenting me on my ‘most well-mannered young cousins.’ I can’t think of anyone saying that about you two – ever. It seems that you have quite knocked the wind out of Rivendell today, lads.”
Pippin giggled tiredly. “No, just Gimli.”
Merry set down his untouched tray and hauled himself up onto the high bed, crawling up aside his cousin to rest his back against the headboard. “Cousin,” he said wearily, “you don’t want to know.”
Frodo balanced his tray in his blanketed knees and crossed his arms, affixing his kin with an icy blue-eyed stare. Those dark brows quirked towards the center of his forehead. “Cousin,” he returned. “Yes, I do. Now talk.”
“Sam-lad,” murmured Bilbo, “why don’t you and I enjoy our tea in my room? I think things are about to get noisy in here, and I prefer to digest my meal in peace.”
Sam had already gathered up his tray and heaped a good portion of the eggs and cheese onto it. “Good idea, sir,” he responded in soft but heartfelt tones. He bent to help the old hobbit to his feet.
Bilbo took Sam’s arm and laughed quietly. “Don’t forget the stewed greens. After all the trouble the lads went to, someone should enjoy them.” Just before Sam pulled the door shut, Bilbo glanced back to the sight of the two young hobbits earnestly trying to explain to their older cousin how their bit of fun had got out of hand. Frodo’s eyebrows had climbed almost into his hair and a look of appalled incredulity was etched on his face. Bilbo smiled fondly and patted Sam’s arm. “And I don’t think Merry and Pippin will feel much like eating when Frodo gets done with them.”
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