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The Dare  by Dreamflower

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



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

Instead, what had he found?


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

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

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

That was the problem.

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

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

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

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

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

She sighed and nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Too hot,” countered Clovis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And inside Merry exulted. He had won.


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

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

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

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

Merry laughed, “And what am I?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll see!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frodo looked at Merry with a raised eyebrow.

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

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


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

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

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



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