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Happy belated birthday wishes to Dreamflower who requested this tale.
“Strike While the Iron is Hot”
“See you later, Merry,” Fredegar heard Pippin say with a rather forced smile on his face. As Fredegar looked up from his plate, Merry returned Pippin’s smile with a genuine one and patted his younger cousin on the head as he left the dining hall with Berilac. Pippin watched them go as if studying them so that he might report their actions later. From his seat at the far end of the table Fredegar watched the young Took and wondered what was going on now.
This summer something had been going on nearly every minute. There had been an uncommon amount of pranks and everyone had looked foolish at some point. Pippin was just recovering from the prank that Merry had pulled on him two weeks earlier. Fredegar had been surprised to see that Pippin had yet to try and even the score. After all, Pippin had been stung by a great many bees as a result of Merry‘s last prank. If Fredegar had been the victim of that sort of trick he would have wasted no time. He would have got revenge long before now. He watched as Pippin sat back down at the table and nervously folded and unfolded his serviette.
Perhaps there was a chance to get a bit of information with everyone else gone for the moment. Fredegar got up from his seat and walked over to Pippin. The lad’s plate was rather full for a young hobbit nearing the end of his dinner. Fredegar almost felt guilty about what he was planning to do. Well, almost, but not quite. It was a wise course of action to stay one step ahead of everyone involved in these pranks and the best way to stay ahead of the game was to have plenty of information.
Pippin was the youngest one involved in the pranks and that made him a good source of information. The fifteen-year-old loved to chatter and he was also quite trusting. Fredegar lowered himself into the seat next to Pippin and put a hand on the younger hobbit’s shoulder. “You look worried about something, Pippin,” he said.
Pippin turned around looking surprised to see Fredegar. “Oh, no, not really,” Pippin managed, still twisting the serviette in his hands.
“Are you sure you aren’t upset about something?” Fredegar asked.
“Well, maybe just a wee bit,” Pippin sighed. “It’ll be fine though.” Pippin looked back toward direction in which Merry had gone and sighed deeply.
“Has Merry done something?” Fredegar asked, hoping for a bit of gossip.
“No,” Pippin said too quickly. He twisted the serviette into a ball and squeezed it tightly in his fist.
“Are you sure?” Fredegar prodded trying to sound as supportive as possible.
“Well, I can’t be sure,” Pippin frowned. “It is Merry after all and he is very clever about this sort of thing so there is a chance that he might have done something.”
“What is it that you think he might have done?” Fredegar asked, leaning toward Pippin as if trying to keep everything between the two of them. He did realize that there was little need for this as no one else was in the dinning hall except himself and Pippin. Still it gave the proper look of conspiracy between them and that would help things along. Pippin had to believe that he wanted to help or he would get no information.
“Well,” Pippin frowned. “Can I trust you, Freddy?” His green eyes looked up into Fredegar’s face. Fredegar was nearly tempted to forget the entire thing now because the little hobbit looked so worried but Fredegar knew that any weakness on his part would make him the next victim. He didn’t want to be the one left holding the bag when the next prank was played and so everything, even taking advantage of a naive younger cousin, was fair.
Fredegar shifted a bit in his seat so that he was facing Pippin rather than the table and said in what he hoped was an earnest tone, “Of course you can trust me, Pippin. Frankly, I thought that last prank of Merry’s was a bit out of line. If I can help you in any way, all you have to do is ask.”
“Really?” Pippin asked looking relieved.
“You can depend upon me,” Fredegar smiled. “Now, why don’t you begin by telling me what has you so worried.”
“I think Merry is planning something,” Pippin said. “I don’t know what but I think it must be something big because he is ever so close just lately. He keeps things from me and he and Berilac keep going off together. I caught them whispering together last night in the main parlor but when I came into the room they got very quiet and Berilac made up an excuse and left the room.” Pippin sighed. “I think Merry is planning to prank me again before I have even managed to get revenge on him for that business with the molasses.” Pippin blushed a bit as he mentioned the molasses and Fredegar understood completely. If he had been caught out of doors in his short clothes coated in molasses he most definitely would have blushed also.
“The lasses still giggle at me when they walk past,” Pippin mumbled lowering his eyes. “I may never live it all down. Now, I think Merry is going to do something else to me but I don’t know what it is.”
“Are you sure that he and Berilac aren’t plotting against someone else, like me, perhaps?” Fredegar asked. It was a nice touch to make it seem as if he was also worried about reprisals. It gave him more in common with Pippin. “Did you overhear anything at all that makes you certain that it is you?
“No,” Pippin said. “But Merry has some sort of secret and I’m worried. I keep looking behind me when there isn’t anyone there at all and jumping at loud noises. I’m afraid to go to sleep at night, Freddy. What if Merry puts me outside again in my short clothes or less.” Pippin shivered at the thought. He looked down at his plate and sighed. “I can’t even eat.”
“Why don’t you let me ask Merry a question or two for you?” Fredegar offered. As a sort of a go between he could keep an eye on things without letting on that he was doing so for his own safety. Fredegar often did this sort of thing. So far, no one had caught him and it had worked quite nicely. Everyone trusted him and very few of the others even tried to prank him. They all thought that he was on their side. Pippin’s paranoia was the answer to all of his problems. It gave him a reason to ask Merry a few questions without making it seem as if he were worried. His questions would be on Pippin’s behalf. “I could ask a few innocent questions without arousing Merry’s suspicions and let you know what I find out.”
“You’d be willing to do that for me?” Pippin asked.
“I don’t see why not,” Fredegar said, patting Pippin’s shoulder.
“Well, I did sort of trick you out of three shire pennies on that one prank with the box,” Pippin said.
“You did but it was worth it to see how well you fooled Merry,” Fredegar chuckled. He had actually put Pippin up to that and the price of three pennies was well worth it. Merry seldom got tricked properly because Merry always seemed to know what was coming. Fredegar had taken full advantage of Merry’s trust where Pippin was concerned. It had been quite brilliant. Pippin actually thought that the entire thing was his own idea and Merry believed that Pippin had pulled the prank without any help. The fact that Pippin had taken three of Fredegar’s pennies in the bargain only helped Fredegar to keep up appearances. Fredegar had looked like a victim also.
“Are you all right, Freddy?” Pippin asked shaking Fredegar out of his mental back patting session and back to the task at hand.
“I was just thinking is all,” Fredegar said. “That trick with the box was quite good but also no one was hurt. Merry’s trick didn’t exactly keep everyone from getting hurt did it?”
Pippin flinched a bit. “Merry didn’t mean to hurt me. That part was an accident,” Pippin said. The little hobbit was always quick to defend Merry. Fredegar knew at once that he had best change his tactics a bit or he would lose Pippin’s trust.
“Of course he didn’t,” Fredegar said. “All the same, no one would blame you for getting even.”
“I do have a plan but I haven’t worked it all out just yet,” Pippin said.
“I could help you with that too if you want,” Fredegar said. His luck was simply too good today. He might actually wind up knowing Pippin’s plans as well as Merry’s before the day was out.
“I might tell you when I have it a bit more sorted out,” Pippin said dashing Fredegar’s hopes a bit. “It would help me to know what Merry is planning. If he is planning on pranking someone else then he won’t be thinking about me and it will make my plan easier but if Merry is planning a trick on me then I might need to come up with something different. Everything depends on what Merry does.”
That made sense. That was the only thing that made Fredegar a tiny bit nervous. Pippin Took almost never made that much sense about anything. The lad’s mind just didn’t work in logical ways. Pippin’s thoughts usually shot out in all directions and it was like being caught in the middle of a hale storm when the Took got started but just now, Pippin was thinking like a Brandybuck. Fredegar wondered if this child was setting him up. Could Merry be behind this.
“See if Merry does something to me before I do something to him then the something that I am planning to do will be spoiled,” Pippin said rapidly. “If I do my something first then Merry might think again before he does his something and if Merry is doing something to someone else then what I am doing to Merry might spoil Merry’s plan and I don’t want to do that. Do you see?”
Fredegar sighed with relief. Now that was the sort of thought process that he was used to from Pippin. ‘Fredegar old fellow, you are getting entirely too nervous in your old age,’ he said to himself.
“What?” Pippin frowned.
“I said, don’t worry,” Fredegar smiled. “I will find out a thing or two for you. It will be our secret.”
Pippin stood and fished three Shire pennies out of his pocket. He laid them on the table in front of Fredegar. “Here is the money that I won from you,” Pippin said.
“You won that fairly,” Fredegar objected.
“I still want you to have it,” Pippin said. “I feel better all ready knowing that you are going to help me find out what Merry is up to.” Pippin took a roll off of his plate and left the room.
Fredegar watched him go and then stood up. Now would be an excellent time to have a chat with Merry Brandybuck.
Fredegar had gone slow with it all. He had bided his time. He and Merry and Berilac had all had a pipe together out under the shade trees near the stables and talked about ponies and lasses and the usual sorts of things that lads talk about when they are together. In fact, they had been talking for nearly two hours when Berilac got up to leave. “I have to be getting in now,” Berilac said. “I promised my father a game of chess and I plan to beat him this time.”
“Bold talk for a loser,” Merry snorted.
“Just you wait,” Berilac said with a rather wicked grin. “I’ll beat him and then you and I shall have a little game. I plan to teach you some manners before the summer is over, little cousin.”
“That isn’t going to happen,” Merry laughed as Berilac walked back toward the Hall
Now Merry was frowning. He turned to Fredegar and said, “Sounds to me as if Berilac is up to something.”
Fredegar squinted and watched Berilac turn the corner and go out of sight. “Sounds to me as if he plans to beat you at chess,” Fredegar said.
“No, it’s more than that,” Merry said firmly. “I can tell when he is up to something. He has a plan and that little jest about beating me at chess is his way of dropping a hint.”
“Do you think so?” Fredegar asked. It seemed as if Pippin wasn’t the only hobbit that was worried about the plans of others just now.
“I know it!” Merry said hitting his palm with his fist. “I’ve been watching him and keeping close to him. I know that he means to catch me off my guard but that is not going to happen, Freddy.”
Fredegar smiled. “So what are you planning to do?”
“You’ll see if when everyone else does and it will be splendid,” Merry gloated. “I have it all figured out. Berilac won’t know what hit him.”
“Then you aren’t planning to do anything to Pippin?” Fredegar asked.
“Pippin?” Merry frowned. “Why would you think that I was planning to do something to Pip?”
“I didn’t really think you were but Pippin does,” Fredegar smiled.
“He does?” Merry looked amazed. “How did he come by that idea?”
“He thinks that you and Berilac are plotting against him,” Fredegar said. “He told me so himself.”
“I wasn’t planning anything at all with Berilac,” Merry said. “I can’t trust him. There are very few hobbits that I can trust in all of this. I’ve been too successful with my pranks this summer and so naturally most of them are jealous and want a chance to get even with me. Berilac wants to get even in the worst sort of way. To tell you the truth, I haven’t given a thought to Pip. He’s just imagining things.”
“All the same,” Fredegar sighed. “His imagine has put the idea into that little head of his and now he might be up to something.”
Fredegar watched him closely and then said, “Aren’t you worried?”“About Pippin?”
Merry scoffed. “Of course not. Berilac is dangerous but Pippin is just under foot in all of this.”
“He did get you once,” Fredegar reminded Merry. He had the feeling that it might keep Merry from thinking too much about him if he kept him busy with suspicions about Pippin. Merry was already working on pranking Berilac but it wouldn’t hurt to have him busy with Pippin also. There were only three weeks left of Fredegar’s visit to Brandy Hall and if he was clever then he could keep from falling victim to an embarrassing prank. It was all in misdirecting Merry’s thoughts slightly. “He made you look a bit silly with that box trick.”
Merry frowned. “That was just luck. He’d never manage to pull anything proper off. I can always see right through him. He can’t fool me.”
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” Fredegar said.
“Are you trying to say that I can’t outwit my baby cousin?” Merry frowned, eyes narrowed. Fredegar would have to go carefully now. It was never wise to give Merry the impression that you doubted his abilities in any area. Merry was very prideful at times.
“Of course not,” Fredegar said. “Pippin might get in your way though. He might ruin your trick on Berilac without meaning to do so.” Fredegar watched as Merry thought this over. Fredegar could see a trace of worry in Merry’s eyes and he knew that he had hooked him so he continued. Strike while the iron is hot. “It’s like you said before, Merry-lad. Pippin is underfoot in all of this. He’s too young and trusting to be a real threat but he could get in the way; become a sort of spoiler if you will.”
“Well what am I supposed to do about that?” Merry asked looking frustrated. “I can’t watch Pippin and trick Berilac at the same time. I’m good but I am not that good.”
Fredegar watched Merry pacing up and down and waited. He waited because he knew what was coming. Fredegar had him right where he wanted him now. It was only a matter of time until the idea came to Merry. This was really almost too easy.
Merry turned and grinned at Fredegar. “How would you like to do me a favor, Freddy?” Merry wrapped an arm around Fredegar’s shoulders. “How would you like to keep an eye on Pippin for me for a few days?”
“I don’t know about that, Merry,” Fredegar frowned. “Pippin can be a handful.”
“Just watch him for me and see to it that he doesn’t get in my way,” Merry said.
“That won’t be easy,” Fredegar said. He hoped that he sounded reluctant enough. Merry was very hard to fool about anything. His hesitation had to seem genuine.
“Tell you what,” Merry said. “If you’ll look out for Pippin then when Frodo arrives, the three of us will spend a week fishing and forget all about these silly pranks. It will just be the three of us, the fish and the Brandywine.”
Fredegar liked the sound of that. He was tired of all of the stress and the deception. It would be lovely to spend a bit of time relaxing and know that he didn’t have to worry that something was about to happen. “Well, since you put it like that, I suppose that I can baby-mind for a few days,” Fredegar grinned. “What do you want me to do?”
“Just stay with Pippin,” Merry said. “Make him think that you are helping him with whatever his plans might be or that you are protecting him by acting as a lookout for me. Find out what the little imp is up to and let me know, but keep Pippin believing that you are helping him rather than me.”
“He might buy that,” Fredegar agreed knowing that Pippin already did buy that. He wasn’t about to let Merry in on it though. Now he would have Pippin’s gratitude and Merry’s and he would also have a nice, quiet week of fishing once Frodo arrived. All he had to do was continue to play Merry and Pippin off against each other and Merry would keep Berilac busy. The rest of the lads involved in this summer’s mischief were no threat to Fredegar. Merry and Berilac were the real dangerous ones. If those two were at one another’s throats then Fredegar had nothing to worry about. He would also have Pippin as an excuse for not involving himself in anything further. Fredegar smiled broadly. He was going to get through the summer after all.
Pippin was practically jumping up and down with excitement. “You mean it is Berilac and not me?” he said in a very high voice. “Merry is going to prank Berilac?”
“He is, but you can’t tell that around,” Fredegar said hoping that no one was within a mile of the path that he and Pippin were walking on now. Pippin’s voice tended to carry when he was excited and Fredegar couldn’t have it get back to Merry that he had told Pippin about any of this. “I am only telling you this so that you won’t worry. I am not telling you this so that you can warn Berilac.”
“Oh, I would never do that,” Pippin said still speaking far too loudly. “I owe Berilac for the bees as well. If Merry gets him then I will enjoy that.”
“Keep your voice down, Pippin or Berilac might find out about it all,” Fredegar hissed.
“Oiy,” Pippin whispered. “Sorry but it is just such a relief to know that Merry isn’t pranking me this time. Now maybe I can sleep properly.”
“I should say that you can,” Fredegar smiled. “You can also proceed with your own plan for pranking Merry.”
“I can?” Pippin asked not sounding too sure of this.
“Now is the perfect time,” Fredegar said. “Merry won’t be expecting it. He will be busy working on his own plan. You will have the advantage.”
“Still, I don’t want to spoil Merry’s prank,” Pippin said. “I should like to see Berilac embarrassed. He is still teasing me and Merry has stopped.”
“If I were you, I’d strike while the iron is hot,” Fredegar said using one of his favorite expressions. “Besides, Merry isn’t worried about you in the least. I’m afraid that he doesn’t consider you to be much of a threat.”
Pippin stopped on the path and stared at Fredegar for a minute. “How do you know that?”
“Merry told me that himself,” Fredegar said. “He under-estimates you, Pippin-lad. He thinks that he knows you far too well to be fooled by anything that you might come up with. Your age also works against you.” Fredegar knew that this was a sore spot for Pippin. The little Took didn’t like to be thought of as a child. He liked to consider himself on even ground with the older lads. Fredegar was sure that he was hitting all the nails on the head in this matter. Pippin was bound to react to this.
“Oh he does, does he?” Pippin seethed. “I’ll show him!”
Fredegar smiled. You just had to know the right thing to say and he had to admit that he, Fredegar Bolger, was a very clever hobbit. He had them both right where he wanted them and Merry had Berilac. Everything was tied up in a nice, neat, little package. There would be no chance of mischief now. Fredegar had managed to render himself prank-proof!
“You just wait! I’ll show him exactly who he’s dealing with when he is dealing with Peregrin Took!” Pippin announced. The little hobbit tugged on Fredegar’s sleeve and asked, “Do you know anything at all about goats, Freddy?”
“Merry, he is planning to fill your room with all of the goats that he can possibly fit into it,” Fredegar said as the two of them stood alone in the main parlor between first and second breakfast the next morning.
“Goats?” Merry asked wrinkling his nose slightly.
“Goats,” Fredegar said. “Pippin is planning to fill your room with goats and he is planning to do it tomorrow while you are in Buckland waiting for Frodo to arrive.”
Merry chuckled. “That’s fairly clever of him. I will be in town and so there is no chance that I will be able to surprise him and catch him in the act. I see that the Pip Squeak has learned a trick or two over the summer.” Merry chuckled again. “Goats!”
“Aren’t you upset?” Fredegar asked. He really couldn’t see why Merry was so amused by all of this. It was true that Merry did tend to be proud of Pippin’s mischievous streak but this mischief was aimed at Merry and so Fredegar didn’t understand why Merry was laughing it off.
“The little squirt will never manage it,” Merry grinned. “You do see that, don’t you?”
“Well, I’m not completely sure that I do, Merry,” Fredegar frowned. It was very possible that Pippin might manage to put a goat or two into Merry’s room. The lad did seem to have thought it all out. “He might not manage to put an entire herd into your room but he might still manage to put two or three goats in your room and even one goat might do quite a bit of damage.”
“My mum will catch him and that will be his reward for this plan,” Merry grinned.
“Your mum won’t be here either,” Fredegar sighed.
“What do you mean she won’t be here?” Merry asked.
“Tomorrow is the day that she is spending at the Maggot place,” Fredegar reminded Merry.
“That is tomorrow isn’t it,” Merry said. “I had forgotten all about that. Mum and Mrs. Maggot are going to start some sort of a sewing circle tomorrow and so she will be gone all day organizing it.”
Fredegar nodded. “And you and your father will both be in Buckleberry waiting on Frodo’s arrival. Pippin will have plenty of opportunity to attempt his trick with the goats.”
Merry scowled. Then his face brightened. “No, he won’t because he will be with me.”
“How are you going to manage that?” Fredegar asked.
“I’ll just invite him along,” Merry grinned. “Pippin can never refuse an invitation to come along with me. Besides he is looking forward to Frodo’s arrival almost as much as I am. He won’t pass up a chance to come with me to meet Frodo.” Merry grinned even wider. “I am devious, Freddy and I am also very well informed thanks to a certain Bolger.” Merry patted Fredegar’s shoulder and winked at him.
“I can’t,” Pippin said.
“What do you mean you can’t?” Merry frowned. “Of course you can. What else could you possibly have to do?”
“I do things,” Pippin said in an insulted tone. “I do lots of things and I am going to be doing something tomorrow so I can’t come with you.”
Fredegar watched the two cousins closely. He was very surprised to hear Pippin turn down Merry’s invitation. He was not as surprised as Merry was though. That was very plain. It was a bit amusing to see Merry’s ego get slightly bruised but it did still leave the problem of what to do about Pippin’s plan.
Merry snorted. “Look, you won’t be in the way. Frodo will be glad to see that you’ve come along. I am sure that he expects it anyway. You always come along.”
“Well, I am not coming along tomorrow,” Pippin said folding his arms over his chest.
“Then what are you doing tomorrow?” Merry said, leaning down and putting his face inches from Pippin’s. “What are you up to now?”
“I promised Tucker that I would look after the herds tomorrow so that he could visit with his sister,” Pippin said.
“Tucker?” Merry asked, moving even closer.
Pippin leaned forward toward Merry and said, “You can check for yourself. I told Tucker that I would watch the goats while he visited with his sister. He’ll tell you that’s so if you ask him and I am not going to break my word to Tucker.”
“What does Doc say about this?” Merry frowned, standing back up and using his height for effect. “I mean you are only fifteen and we do have quite a large herd of goats. Maybe Doc doesn’t think that you are up to watching them at your age.”
Pippin glared up at Merry. “Uncle Doc thought that it was a fine idea! I live on a farm remember? I have herded goats before and sheep as well. Uncle Doc said that it was very nice of me to offer to help Tucker because there won’t be anyone else here to do it.”
Why that little imp! Pippin had Merry in a spot now. Pippin not only had permission to stay at the Hall tomorrow but he also had leave from the Master of Buckland to watch over the goats; the very goats that Pippin planned to put into Merry’s room. Fredegar couldn’t help but be impressed. He watched as Merry sputtered and turned a rather nasty shade of red. “Fine! Herd goats all you like,” Merry said in a dismissive tone. “But don’t expect to spend any time with me or with Frodo once he arrives. We will be busy doing things that you simply aren’t old enough for.”
Now Pippin was red in the face. Merry patted his younger cousin on the head and walked out of the room. “Have a nice time with those smelly old goats Pip,” Merry said as he left.
Before Fredegar could think of anything Pippin whirled around and looked at him and whispered, “Merry is the one that is going to be having a good time with the smelly old goats. With your help, we’ll get loads of goats into Merry’s room and then we will see exactly who will be laughing!”
Fredegar had to endure several hours of Pippin’s planning. Pippin had a route through the Hall to Merry’s bedroom mapped out. He had some rope for leading the goats through the Hall and he had lots of instructions for Fredegar about distractions and about being a proper lookout.
“But Merry, I am supposed to be the lookout,” Fredegar had explained as he sat by the fire in Merry’s room very late that evening. It had taken him quite a while to get rid of Pippin and he had come straight to Merry’s room as soon as that had been accomplished.
Merry paced up and down in front of Fredegar’s chair. “You’ll just have to see to it that Pippin isn’t able to do what he plans to do,” Merry said briskly. “Trip him up.”
“How am I to do that?” Fredegar asked.
“You’re the lookout aren’t you?” Merry asked.
“Well, yes,” Fredegar said nervously. He most definitely did not want to be the lookout on this caper. Pippin was planning to lead goats through Brandy Hall. The job of lookout was likely to get Fredegar into trouble when Pippin was caught traipsing about with several goats in tow. Fredegar was counting on Merry for a far better solution than the one that seemed to be coming about. “I don’t see how that helps matters.”
“It’s simple really,” Merry grinned. “Pippin will lead the goats into my room and you will stand guard, right?”
“If I understand Pippin’s instructions then yes, I will be standing in the hallway outside of your room watching so that no one goes in and discovers the goats,” Fredegar said.
“All you have to do is wait until Pippin puts a goat into the room and then while he is out getting another goat you let the one that he has just put into the room out through the window in here,” Merry snickered. “Pippin will think that he is filling my room with goats and what he will actually be doing is wasting an afternoon.”
“You expect me to push goats out a window?” Fredegar asked wide-eyed at the very notion.
“You won’t have to push them,” Merry laughed. “The windows in here are very low to the ground. I have those two large ones over there that are practically doors. They are barely three inches from the floor and they go nearly to where the ceiling begins. All you will have to do is lead them out the window.”
Fredegar looked at the two windows in question. They were large enough for this idea and they were certainly low enough to the floor so that it would be no problem for a goat to step over the sill and out, but Fredegar had not counted on doing this much work just to stay out of trouble. “What if Pippin notices?” Fredegar frowned. “When he brings each new goat into the room the previous one will already be gone. How do I explain that?”
“You don’t,” Merry grinned.
“Merry, Pippin is certainly bright enough to know that one and one make two,” Fredegar sighed. “If he leaves one goat in here and brings in a second one then he is going to expect to have two goats in this room.” Why was Merry having trouble with this? It was simple logic and Merry had always excelled at logic.
“You don’t let him look into the room, cousin,” Merry said putting a hand on each chair arm and leaning over Fredegar. “You offer to put the goats into the room for him while he gets the next one. Tell him it will go faster that way. It looks as if you are helping him out by doing more than just guarding the door when really you will be helping me out.”
“What if he finds me out?” Fredegar asked.
“He will simply think that you were a bit dim and forgot to consider that the window was wide open,” Merry smiled. “He certainly can’t blame you if the goats all go out the window can he?”
Fredegar chuckled. “No, he can’t! It will look as if I was doing my best to help out but that I was simply careless!”
“Pippin will spend the entire day filling my room with goats, all of which will be going right back out the window,” Merry grinned. “Then Pippin will wait for me to come home and go into my room. When I do and no loud shout of anger meets his ears that will be his reward for trying to load my room with a bunch of Nannies and Billies.”
The day dawned and Pippin was already out in the meadow with the goat herd when Fredegar woke up. Pippin had gone out early to take charge of the herd from Tucker, the Brandybuck’s regular goat herder, so that Tucker could leave to visit his sister for the day. As Fredegar emerged from the Hall with a basket containing Pippin’s second breakfast which he had offered, per Pippin’s plan, to bring to the lad, Merry and Saradoc Brandybuck were just leaving for Buckleberry to meet Frodo. Merry waved at Fredegar and Fredegar was sure that he saw Merry wink at him.
Fredegar started his long walk down to where Pippin waited. This business of keeping out of trouble and avoiding getting pranked was far too much work. Fredegar was not looking forward to spending the entire day pushing goats through Merry’s open window. Pippin would be in very deep trouble over this entire business. Those goats would wind up in Esmeralda’s flower garden if Fredegar helped them all out of Merry’s window. He could just hear Merry’s mum’s thick Tookish accent now. “Peregrin Took! These goats that ye were in charge of have eaten my roses!” Fredegar sighed. Why did all of the pranks always lead to Esmeralda shouting at someone?
Fredegar sighed deeply. He may have been worried for no reason at all. As he stood near the rear entrance to the Hall and did his job as Pippin’s lookout he could see very little progress. Pippin had put a rope around one of the larger goat’s neck and was tugging with all of his might to try and get the stubborn goat to move. It was quite a test of wills; the stubborn goat against the stubborn Took. Fredegar chuckled. He might not have to shove a single goat out of Merry’s window if things didn’t improve for Pippin. The Took was not managing to make the goat budge from its spot in the meadow. Fredegar’s luck seemed to be holding.
It didn’t hold for long though. Pippin managed to get the goat motivated by waving a bite of bread in front of it and the goat was quickly at the rear entrance to the Hall. Before Fredegar could gather his wits, he was holding the door open for Pippin so that the child could lead the first of the goats into the Hall. “Walk in front of me and watch for anyone that might come down the hall,” Pippin instructed. “And Freddy?”
“What?” Fredegar whispered.
“Act natural,” Pippin said. “Just pretend that everything is fine.”
Yes, pretend that no one is leading a goat on a rope just behind you. If this worked properly then Merry was going to owe him a great deal. He even thought of turning around and telling Pippin that Merry was on to the entire business but he could think of no way to do that without revealing his part in it all. No, he would have to suffer through this one if he hoped to keep himself out of trouble with both cousins.
“You’d do that?” Pippin asked and Fredegar could recall the first time Pippin had been surprised by one of his offers. That had been when he had offered to speak to Merry to see if he could find out what Merry might be plotting. Fredegar wished, at this moment, that he had never made the original offer.
“Yes, Pippin,” Fredegar heard himself saying. “It will go quicker this way. I will put the goat into the room and then stand guard while you hurry out and get another one.”
Pippin sighed. “It is very nice of you, but I don’t want you to get into any trouble, Freddy,” Pippin said. “If you do this and Merry catches us then you will be in trouble too the same as me.”
“Merry is in town, Pippin,” Fredegar said. “I’ll be careful.”
“All the same, Freddy,” Pippin said. “This business of herding goats is difficult if you’ve not done it a ‘fore. I really do thank you for wanting to help me but you’ve helped enough already.” With that Pippin pushed past him and into Merry’s room with the goat. This was not going according to Merry’s plan. If Fredegar didn’t think of something then Merry’s room really would be filled with goats when Merry returned.
Pippin popped back out and looked down the hallway in each direction and then sighed. “We were nearly in trouble, Freddy,” Pippin whispered. “Merry left his window open. Can you imagine what might have happened if I hadn’t noticed it and shut the window? All of the goats might have got out again. I would have been herding goats in here all day for no reason at all.”
“Imagine that,” Freddy said weakly. “You closed the window I guess.”
“I did,” Pippin grinned. “I’m off to fetch another goat. Keep a watch.” With that, Pippin disappeared down the hall leaving Fredegar in front of Merry’s door with a very big problem.
Fredegar paced about the hallway in front of the door and then finally made up his mind about it all. He would run out of time if he didn’t do something quickly. Now that Pippin had started using bits of bread as a lure for the goats the youngster would probably return in half of the time with another goat. Fredegar had to get rid of the first one. He would convince Pippin to let him help out once the lad returned.
Fredegar went into Merry’s room quickly and found that Pippin had indeed shut the window. The little scoundrel had even locked the window and drawn the curtains. The goat was simply standing in the middle of Merry’s room doing nothing so at least there was no damage yet. Fredegar quickly pulled back the curtains and unlatched the window. He raised it up as high as it would go and then called to the goat. “Here, nice goat,” Fredegar tired. “Go on outside. Here’s your chance at freedom goat. Best take it before it’s gone.”
The goat looked at Fredegar for a minute but didn’t move. Apparently goats have little interest in freedom. With a sigh, Fredegar walked over and began to try and push the goat toward the window. The goat had no interest in this activity either. Fredegar was sweating profusely when he heard Pippin returning with a second goat and so he quickly left the room. He had just closed the door behind himself when Pippin arrived with the next goat. “Where were you?” Pippin frowned.
“I thought I heard something in Merry’s room and so I went in to check,” Fredegar lied.
“You heard the goat stirring about,” Pippin sighed.
Fredegar was tempted to tell Pippin that the goat was definitely not stirring about. It wasn’t budging. He held his tongue on this and tried something else. “Pippin this is simply going to take too long if you are to get a proper amount of goats before everyone returns,” Fredegar said. “Why don’t you let me help you?”
“All we need are four or five goats,” Pippin grinned. “It only takes a few goats to make a mess of things.”
“Yes, but it would be so much more amusing if Merry opened the door and the entire room was loaded down with them.”
“Well,” Pippin frowned.
“Can’t you just see it?” Fredegar asked growing desperate. He couldn’t let Pippin find that window open in Merry’s room or his goose was cooked. “Merry opens the door, probably to invite Cousin Frodo in for a visit, and here are all of these goats. Goats everywhere! In fact so many of them that Merry can’t even get into the room. Pippin it will be glorious! The other lads will be so envious of your prank and everyone will realize that you aren’t a baby at all.”
“Of course I’m not a baby!” Pippin objected as if he’d not heard any of the rest of Fredegar’s speech.
“But Pippin, you’re missing the point,” Fredegar said.
“While we are standing here yammering, someone could come by and spoil it all,” Pippin said. “Do you have any idea what might happen if I’m caught out here with a goat on a rope?”
“Then let me help you,” Fredegar said. “I really want in on this.”
“Well, it is a very excellent prank if I do say so myself,” Pippin grinned. “All right. You can help.”
Fredegar heaved a sigh of relieve as Pippin left him with the goat. “You can just push it inside the room while I get another one,” Pippin said leaving quickly.
“Just push it inside he says,” Fredegar muttered. “Just shove them out the window, Freddy old fellow.” Fredegar pushed and this goat went into the room much easier. Fredegar was surprised to discover that while he had been arguing with Pippin the other goat had gone out the window on its own. That was the first piece of luck that he had had all morning. He continued to shove this one until it went out of the window. He then raced back to the hallway to wait for Pippin. Sweat was trickling down his face and he had to mop his brow with his handkerchief. As he raised the handkerchief to his face he could smell goat on his hands. Wonderful!
An hour or so later, Fredegar was looking a fright. He caught sight of himself in Merry’s mirror and gasped. His hair was sweat-soaked and plastered to his forehead. He had removed his jacket and the sweat stains underneath his arms had spread out and taken over his shirt. One of the goats had chewed on the hem of his trousers and had torn it a bit just at the bottom. His face was red and blotchy from trying to wrestle the goats out of the window. He had done too good a job of motivating Pippin. The lad was excitedly bring goat after goat into the Hall and no one was the wiser it seemed.
This last one had been very hard to get out of the window and there had been the extra work caused by one of the goats finding its way back inside of Merry’s room. Fredegar had been forced to remove that one a second time. He was tired. He was smelly. He was ready for this to end. Sadly, Pippin was just getting warmed up. Where did that lad get all of his energy? Would it never be time for Merry to return home?
“I trust you,” Pippin said. “I just want to see how it all looks.” The younger hobbit was trying to reach around Fredegar and pull the door to the room open.
“No, don’t you see?” Fredegar said in a rather breathless voice. “It will be ever so much better if you wait until Merry opens the door himself to see it.”
“What if I’m not here then?” Pippin frowned. “What if I miss it all and I don’t even get to see what all of my hard work has done?”
All of his hard work? Fredegar looked at the lad now and felt his anger rising a bit. Pippin looked as fresh as when they had begun this entire thing. His hair was a bit wind blown from his trips to the meadow and his face was slightly flushed but other than that, Pippin looked like he had done nothing more than take a brisk stroll. “Pippin it will spoil the surprise,” Fredegar tried.
“But I’m not the one who is supposed to be surprised, Merry is,” Pippin objected. “How can I be surprised about a thing that I did? I know that the room is full of goats. I led them in here. Of course the room is full of goats. It has to be unless you’ve been leading them back out again.”
Fredegar swallowed hard and tried to laugh. “That would be silly of me,” he managed.
Pippin laughed too. “Wouldn’t it? Now let me see the goats and see what all they’ve done to poor Merry’s room.”
Fredegar blocked the door and said, “I think you should get one more before you look.”
“One more?” Pippin frowned. “Aren’t you at all tired? I’m beginning to be a wee bit hungry and my feet are aching from all of the trips to the meadow. It’s a long walk down there. All you’ve had to do is stand here in front of the door, Freddy.”
Fredegar hoped that his face didn’t show what he was thinking at this moment. He had the urge to wrap his hands around Pippin’s neck and shake him. Just standing here? Pushing goats out of the room was hard work! He’d had several that had come back inside now and so he had shoved a couple of the evil, foul-smelling beasts out more than once. That had been the great drawback to the entire thing. He had to leave the window open and so some of the stupid animals were coming back in. Just standing here? “Pippin, you want this to be perfect don’t you?” Fredegar asked.
“Well, I’ll settle for close,” Pippin grinned.
“I really think that you need at least one and maybe two more goats to do this thing properly,” Fredegar said still puffing hard from all of his exertion.
“They’re awful quiet in there,” Pippin frowned. “I should think that they’d be tramping about and chewing up things. I don’t hear them do you?”
“I hear them,” Fredegar lied. “They were making quite a noise just before you came and brought this one. I was afraid that someone else might hear them and come to investigate they were so loud.”
“Well, I don’t hear them at all now,” Pippin frowned. “Maybe I should just check up on them.”
Fredegar blocked the door again. “You just rile them up if you do and then we’ll be caught for sure.”
Pippin shrugged. “So you really think that I will need one or two more?”
“Yes!” Fredegar shouted.
“Keep your voice down, Freddy,” Pippin hissed looking disapprovingly at him. “You aren’t very good at this, are you?” He patted Fredegar’s arm in sympathy and then said. “I’ll get one more but then I am having a look and we are quitting.”
“Fine,” Fredegar said between gritted teeth. He stood there and held the rope for the goat that Pippin had just brought and glared after the lad who was humming softly as he ambled back down the hallway toward the rear exit. After Pippin had gone out of the door Fredegar glared down at the latest goat. “Come on your worthless beast, in you go with the rest.” He was ready to open the door when he heard voices approaching. It was Merry.
He stood frozen as Merry came in the rear entrance. Fortunately Merry was alone at the moment. Merry hurried over to Fredegar and said, “Did you get all of the goats out of my room?”
“Yes,” Fredegar sighed. “Pippin is driving me crazy with all of this, Merry. You have to do some-“
“There isn’t any time, Freddy,” Merry interupted in a rush. “You have to get that goat out of here now. My father and Frodo are just a bit behind me. They stopped to talk to Berilac just a ways before the entrance but they will be here any minute.”
“Fine, I’ll go only there is the matter of this goat,” Fredegar said.
“Take it out that way and be quick,” Merry advised. He pointed down the hall away from the exit and Fredegar stared at him.
“You want me to take this one out the front way?” Fredegar asked wanting to be sure he’d heard correctly.
“Yes and you had better be quick and quiet if you don’t want to get caught,” Merry said in that same rushed, rather urgent tone. “Mum will be home soon and Doc and Frodo will be coming in that rear door at any moment.”
“I could take it through your window and you could stall them,” Freddy said feeling as if his knees were made of jelly. His stomach was doing flips. He couldn’t lead a goat out through the front of the Hall! Any number of folks might catch him. One of the serving maids or one of the many Brandybucks that lived here might see him. Merry was out of his mind!
“You can’t go through my room!” Merry shouted. “Frodo is coming straight into my room as soon as he gets inside. If you are in there shoving a goat out of the window how will that look?”
Fredegar had a wild look of fear in his eyes. He looked at the rear door. He looked at Merry. Finally he looked up the hallway to the front entrance and that was when he heard someone rattling the doorknob at the end of the hallway. Panic seized him and he pulled hard on the rope about the goat’s neck and pulled the animal down the hallway toward the main entrance. He didn’t dare look back. The only thought in his head was escaping. Well there was a fleeting desire to have Merry strung between two goats and pulled in half as each goat ran in a different direction, but he didn’t have time for pleasant thoughts right now. He had to get out of here before he was discovered with this goat!
It was Pippin’s high, nervous voice that Fredegar heard as he rounded the corner of the hallway and froze in front of the Master’s study. Pippin was walking fast to try and keep up with Saradoc Brandybuck. The two of them were approaching from the other end of the hallway. Fredegar frowned. Merry had said that Saradoc would be coming in the back entrance with Frodo. If that was so, then the Master was coming from the wrong direction. Saradoc would have had to of come in the front way. Pippin’s voice interrupted Fredegar’s reasoning. “I don’t know why he would do such a thing, Uncle Doc but Freddy has been thieving my goats all day long!”
Fredegar felt the blood drain out of his flushed, hot cheeks as he looked up to see the Master of Buckland, Saradoc Brandybuck glaring at him. Pippin’s voice assaulted his ears again at that moment. “See! He has my goat!” Pippin shouted and he pointed as accusing finger at Fredegar.
“So I see,” Saradoc said frowning at Fredegar. “You have some explaining to do, Fredegar.”
“I have some explaining to do?” Fredegar objected, looking wildly at Pippin. The little twerp was actually smiling at him from behind Saradoc’s back and saying, “How am I supposed to watch them if Fredegar keeps carting them off? I’ve spent the whole morning trying to find my goats!”
Merry, Berilac, and Frodo came up behind him at that moment and Merry’s voice asked, “What you got there, Freddy? Taking your pet for a stroll?”
“He has one of my goats!” Pippin raged, still out of sight and smiling.
“Why on earth would Freddy want one of your goats?” Berilac asked.
“You’d have to ask him about it,” Pippin huffed. “I’ve been chasing about all over the place looking for them and that isn’t the only one that's missing!”
“His goats?” Frodo asked Merry. He was looking very confused. Fredegar might have sympathized with him but he had his own problems just now. The Master of Buckland was staring at him so hard that he felt as if there might be a hole forming in his head from the power of the gaze.
“What about it, Fredegar?” Saradoc asked hands on his hips and eyes narrowed. “Do you know anything about Pippin’s other goats?”
“Well, I-“ Fredegar stopped as a rather loud bang sounded from just inside of the Master’s study.
“What do you suppose that was?” Merry asked raising an eyebrow.
“It sounded as if something fell in the study,” Frodo said. He was still looking a bit confused but he seemed to be reasoning it all out if his expression was any indication. Frodo was sharp. Frodo also knew Merry extremely well.
“I wonder what it could have been?” Berilac asked. “There isn’t anyone in the study, is there?”
Fredegar was very sure that he knew exactly what it was. He watched as Saradoc pulled open the door to his study and was met by the sight of a small herd of goats wandering around the room nibbling on the furniture and doing such business as goats do right in the floor. For a second no one moved and then the Master of the Hall let out a very loud, very long, string of profanities. When Saradoc finally stopped to draw a breath, Berilac whistled and sighed, “That certainly is a lot of goats!”
“How ever did you manage that, Freddy?” Merry asked seemly impressed. Fredegar was spared from answering this one by Pippin who decided to milk the situation a bit.
“I tired my best, Uncle Doc,” Pippin said in a quavering voice that might have even convinced Fredegar if he hadn’t endured the worst day of his life with this little imp as his guide. “You aren’t angry at me for losing the goats are you?”
Saradoc was incapable of answering any questions at the moment and so Merry stepped in. “Of course he isn’t, Pip. This is very clearly not your fault. Anyone can see who the guilty party is this time. I’m afraid that poor Freddy is just covered with the scent of goats and leading one on a rope as well,” Merry said. “It really doesn’t look good for you, Freddy.” Merry winked.
“Pippin smells like goats too!” Fredegar objected. Frodo sighed and looked at Freddy in sympathy. At least someone knew that he’d been set up but it wouldn’t do him any good at all just now.
“He should,” Merry said in that logical way of his. “He has been herding them for Tucker all day.”
Saradoc drew a deep ragged breath and said, “Fredegar, I want these beasts out of my study! I don’t care how long it takes or what you have to do. I want every single goat out of my Hall!”
Fredegar wanted to protest this order but he didn’t dare. He knew that the others had him. There was no way out. Merry had been in Buckleberry with Saradoc all day so he had to assume that it had been Berilac who had put all of these goats into the Master’s study after Fredegar had herded them out of the window. Pippin might have actually had time to help Berilac with this when he was supposed to be running back down to the meadow to get another goat. This meant that the goats that had come back into Merry’s room a second time had been put into the room by Berilac. Fredegar looked around at his tormentors and then back into the study filled with goats. “I’ll just give this one to Pippin and start on the rest,” he sighed.
Pippin took the rope and then said, “You’re doing the right thing. You should strike while the iron is hot, Freddy. You taught me that.”
Fredegar was certain that he saw a gleam of mischief in the little Took’s eyes. He had to respect the effort that had gone into this. He realized that he had misjudged all of his opponents on this one but most especially Pippin Took. “Goats,” Fredegar muttered as he made his way into the study. Why would anyone decide to herd goats for a living?
It was nearly a week later when the Master of the Hall assembled some twelve or so tweens and one teen in his freshly cleaned study. He stood before them and took the time to look at each one of them until they were very uncomfortable under his scrutiny. He paced up and down slowly before them and finally came to a halt in front of his large, oak desk. He cleaned his throat to make sure that he had their undivided attention. Fredegar waited along with the others.
“Lads, during this one impossibly long summer a great many things have happened,” Saradoc began. “I have been stung by bees, pelted with water, and had my study filled with goats just to name a few. Some of you have been tied to trees, had salt poured in your tea, found live things crawling around under your bed sheets, lost your spending money in poorly thought out wagers, and even been left outside in your short clothes and coated with molasses.” Here he took a moment to breathe while Pippin blushed and the others tried not to snicker.
“I don’t know how this began or what the point of it all has been, but I do know how and where it is going to end,” he said sternly. “It is going to end right now and right here in this room. This room in which upwards of thirty goats stood looking at me as I opened the door only a week ago. This room, which is my private office. This very room in which I conduct the business of Buckland. I hereby declare an end to pranks, jokes, tricks, wagers, and dares for the rest of the summer and I mean to have my declaration upheld. I am serving a warning on each and every one of you. If anyone is caught pulling any pranks then the guilty party will be forced to work in the kitchen for the remainder of the summer as the official dish-washer for the entire Hall.”
He watched them fidget for a minute and then he continued. “Not only will I uphold this punishment but I will encourage our cooks to make the messiest dishes that they know how to prepare and I will use a plate for every course served. I will bury the offender in cutlery and dishes and pots,” he said. “Any among you who doubt this are welcome to try me on it.” He walked behind the desk and unrolled a piece of parchment onto its surface. Fredegar wondered what might be about to happen now.
“Each of you will come up here and sign your names on this document. I suggest that you read it before you sign it. I know that none of you are old enough to be signing a legal document and so this is simply a formality. This document makes it known to all present that each of you attended this meeting and that each of you understand the consequences of further mayhem,” he looked at them and held out a quill. “Meriadoc, why don’t you go first?”
Merry swallowed and made his way to the desk. He read over the document, which basically stated what his father had already told them. He hesitated for a second and Saradoc leaned over and said, “I know that you had something to do with those goats. Don’t make me ask for an explanation.” Merry reluctantly signed his name. Berilac and Fredegar were next. Fredegar was more than happy to sign. He didn’t want revenge; he just wanted to be able to sleep at night without worrying about what might be done to him as he slept. The others all filed past and signed their names until Pippin, who was last in line, approached the desk.
Pippin looked down at the document and then up at his uncle. “Well?” Saradoc asked.
“Are you sure that this is legal? I’m not entirely sure that you can do this,” Pippin frowned.
“I can do it, Peregrin,” Saradoc said tapping Pippin on the end of his sharp nose. “I can also enforce it because I am the Master of Buckland and in Buckland the Master’s decision is law.”
“Doesn’t the Thain have the final word on all laws?” Pippin asked.
“Not in Buckland unless we are at war,” Saradoc said firmly. “So unless you’d be happier under the rule of the Thain then you had better sign your name and follow the law of the land as set forth this day by the Master or I will personally deliver you to the Thain himself in your short clothes.”
Pippin quickly signed his full and proper name to the parchment and all present were dismissed.
Frodo was waiting outside of the study with several fishing poles in hand. “Well, would anyone care to join me for a day on the river bank?” he asked.
“That is my idea of a lovely day,” Fredegar said. He was more than happy about the Master’s decision regarding the pranks. A day of fishing sounded splendid to him.
Merry took a pole from Frodo and locked eyes with Fredegar. “No hard feelings?” Merry asked.
“None,” Fredegar smiled. “I suspect that I might have had it coming to me.”
“Can I come too?” Pippin asked.
Fredegar smiled. “You can as long as it’s all right with the Thain.”
Pippin blushed. “Well someone had to try,” he grinned. “Uncle Doc would have been disappointed if no one tried to talk him out of it.”
Fredegar did admire the lad’s spunk. He put an arm around Pippin’s shoulders and said, “Tell me, just how did all of those goats get into the Master’s study?” The two of them walked a bit in front of the rest and Fredegar listened as Pippin recounted the entire prank in glorious detail.
Dreamflower wanted a tale in which Merry and Pippin get even with Fredegar for past pranks. The other two stories that involve the summer pranks are :
"Inside Out" and "A Sticky Situation"
Thanks to dreamflower for the plot bunny and to "Pooka" for insisting that it be written.
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