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The Dare  by Dreamflower


Poppy sprang to the bedside in two quick strides, a small mirror in one hand and a vial in the other.

She looked at her patient; his lips had begun to take on a bluish tinge. She held the mirror up to his mouth, and gave a gasp of relief as it faintly misted over. “He is still breathing, though just barely.” She pulled the stopper from the vial and waved it in front of his nose. The pungent scent of the aromatic salts brought tears to her eyes, but Pippin gave an almost inaudible gasp, and his breathing grew just a bit easier. She placed the stopper back in the vial.

Eglantine was shaking her head. “Oh my Pippin! Please hold on!” she murmured.

Just then the door came open, and Pearl entered, bearing a tray. She had a steaming kettle of hot water, a pitcher of cold, some cups and a plate piled with slices of blackened, charred toast.

“Mistress Poppy? Here are the things you asked for.” Pearl had obviously been crying. Her eyes and nose were red, and the tearstains were yet visible.

“Thank you, my dear. Have all the lollygaggers gone from the hallway? Is it just the close family now?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Very well, tell them they may come in and wait as long as they stay out of my way, and do as I tell them.” For while Poppy had no intention of losing this young patient, she was not about to take the chance that he might leave this world without his dearest ones about him. And while she had confidence in her ability, she also knew she was not infallible.

Paladin, Pimpernel, Pervinca, Merry and Frodo filed silently in, and stood against the far wall. Pervinca was crying, and it was clear Pimpernel had been. Paladin put an arm around each of his younger daughters, as Frodo did the same with Merry, holding him close.

Poppy handed the vial to Eglantine. “Watch him closely. If his breathing slows and his lips turn blue again, unstop the vial and hold it beneath his nose.” She turned to Pearl. “Miss Pearl, I want you to take one of those cups and some of the hot water, and crumble the burnt toast to make a slurry. Also pour a cup of hot water for me to use. I am going to prepare some medicine.”

Poppy knew she needed to begin to dose him. She hoped he was finished with the vomiting; she did not want his stomach to reject what she was going to put in it. Perhaps she should try to get him to vomit one more time just to make sure all the alcohol was out of his stomach.

She felt the pulse at his neck again. His heartbeat was slow as well as his breathing. She was going to need to stimulate it. She had begun to get an idea of what she needed to do and she missed having an apprentice. She was going to need help, and his family would have to do. She glanced at Pearl, who knelt by the hearth of the small fireplace, crumbling the burnt bread into a cup, heedless of the soot on her hands, which she wiped absentmindedly on her skirt. Then she looked at Eglantine, who had begun to flag. To Poppy’s trained eye, the Mistress looked near the breaking point.

She studied the family briefly. Pearl was already assisting. The two younger daughters were too distraught to help. If she relieved Eglantine, Paladin would need to comfort his wife. That left the cousins.

Merry was a known quantity. She had spent much time with young Meriadoc. The lad had been devoted to his little Took cousin since Pippin was an infant. Whenever Merry was in Tookland and Pippin happened to fall ill, he was to be found at his youngest cousin’s side. He could be trusted to pay the closest of attention. And not to let him help would be cruel.

Frodo Baggins she did not know nearly so well. He did not visit as frequently as Merry, preferring to have his younger cousins stay with him at Bag End most of the time. Physically, he seemed quite healthy, looking remarkably fit and young for his age, though a bit on the slender side.

But her healer’s eye had often detected the presence of a dark melancholy, probably the result of having been orphaned so young. Still, his devotion to Pippin could not be doubted, and he had proven his competence and ability to think well in a crisis tonight.

It took only an instant to think all this, and her decision was made. “Meriadoc, Mr. Baggins--” Their close kinship was clear as two cleft chins shot up, and grey eyes and blue regarded her with instant attention. “Come here please.” she looked at Eglantine. “Mistress, you are nearing exhaustion. Please allow Meriadoc to take your place.”

Eglantine started to protest, but Poppy shook her head. “You are too tired. Do you wish to endanger him if your attention should waver?”

Pippin’s mother pursed her lips angrily, but gave a sharp nod. She gently lifted her son’s head and stood up. Merry sat on the bed and took her place. Poppy placed a pillow on Merry’s lap and drew Pippin up to a half-lying position.

“Mr. Baggins, take the basin from the washstand. I want you to sit next to the bed and watch for signs of nausea, as you did earlier. Meriadoc, take the vial, and watch his breathing. Both of you, it is your job to see that he does not choke.”

She picked up a brown bottle from among the medicines she had laid out, and a glass pipette. Placing her forefinger on the end, she drew it about half-full of the oily, foul-smelling draught. Going to the bed, she had Merry tilt his cousin’s head back, and she carefully emptied the pipette a few drops at a time.

“Watch him very closely now. If there is anything at all left in his stomach, he should bring it up soon.”

Merry and Frodo nodded solemnly. Sure enough, Frodo noticed the signs, and turning the lad to his side, held the basin up as Pippin hurled the remaining contents of his stomach into the basin.

Pearl looked up at Poppy. “Mistress Poppy, is this ground up fine enough?”

Poppy glanced at the cup she held. “Very good, Miss Pearl.”

The healer took the cup and a small spoon. She went over to the bed, and tilted Pippin’s head a bit. “I’m going to feed him some of this burnt toast slurry. It should help to purify his system. Meriadoc, I want you to touch his chin to his chest after each spoonful to encourage him to swallow."

Mr. Baggins, if you would, light a small fire in his hearth. We are going to need to heat the kettle, as the water is beginning to cool.”

Frodo nodded and silently went over to the fireplace, where Pearl still knelt wearily. He reached a hand down and helped her up. She went over to where her parents and sisters were, as Frodo bent to lay kindling in the hearth.


In Paladin’s study, Clovis paced restlessly, while Cado sat slumped in a chair.

Clovis was muttering curses, and Cado was listening half-heartedly. This had been one of his older brother’s more disastrous ideas, and Cado was frankly frightened. Clovis did not seem to grasp just how ill Pippin was, and Cado could only imagine the reaction of Pippin’s family if the lad did not pull through. He shuddered as he recalled the fury in Merry Brandybuck’s eyes and the cold contempt in Frodo Baggins’s. They had well and truly mucked things up this time.

“This is ridiculous,” said Clovis finally. “We have been waiting here for hours. I’ve had enough!”

Cado looked up at him. “Uncle Paladin said to wait, no matter how long it took.”

“Well, I’m not going to stay in here all night long! Come on!” Clovis headed for the door, and Cado considered defying him and remaining where he was. It was usually easier to just go along with him, he was so bull-headed. Life was simpler most of the time to just do whatever Clovis wanted. But every now and then his ideas backfired, like tonight.

Clovis opened the door, and backed up a step.

“Are you going somewhere, Clovis?” asked Reginard Took. “I do believe the Thain said for you to stay in here until he comes.”

“We’ve been in here forever,” said Clovis sullenly. “I don’t think he’s coming.”

“Oh, he’ll come,” answered Reggie, “when he is certain whether his son is going to live or die. In the meantime, you will do as he says and stay here.”

“Come now!” snorted Clovis. “Pippin just got drunk and passed out. It happens all the time. He’ll be no worse for the wear once the hangover wears off!”

“Clovis don’t be any more of an idiot than you have to be.” Cado was amazed at his own words. He almost never used that tone with his older brother. “You saw how the healer reacted. He could very well die. And they could *hold us responsible*! Do you understand now?” he shouted.

Clovis stared at Cado in shock. His brother had never spoken to him like that before. Could they be right? Could it be that serious? Going pale, he plunked himself down in the nearest chair, as what they had done finally sank in.

Reggie came in and sat down at Paladin’s desk. Looked like someone needed to keep an eye on these two.


Some time had passed in the sick room. Pearl and Eglantine sat upon a blanket chest against the wall, leaning wearily on one another. Pimpernel and Pervinca were huddled together on the floor next to them. Paladin had taken Merry’s place at Pippin’s head. Frodo sat on the hearth with Merry’s head in his lap.

Twice more they had needed to use the vial to stimulate his breathing. Poppy had prepared an herbal mixture that would also quicken his heart and improve his respiration, but they were chancy and dangerous in his weakened state. She was letting the burnt toast do its work first.

Paladin looked at his son’s face, so pale and drawn. Mingled with love, grief and fear, was an underlying anger. How could the lad have behaved so recklessly? To endanger himself so heedlessly, over something so useless as a dare? His son had to learn better judgment. Paladin forced down a sob of fear, and hoped with all his might that his son would live to learn better. Suddenly, he felt himself begin to nod, and jerked himself awake.

Poppy noticed. She cast her eyes over the weary family. All of them were exhausted, but one seemed to be flagging less.

“Mr. Baggins, would you please relieve the Thain?”

Frodo nodded. He shook Merry’s shoulder to rouse him, and as Merry sat up blearily, Frodo got up stiffly and went over to the bed. He gave Paladin a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder as he took his place. He sat down and took Pippin’s head in his lap, gazing down fondly at the young face. Perhaps it was imagination, but he thought the lad was looking a touch better.

Poppy came over and once more checked Pippin’s eyes. She gave a grunt of satisfaction, and drew a silk cord from around her neck, from which was suspended a bone disk. Holding it over her patient, she studied the patterns it made as it dangled. Pleased at what she saw, she brought over the herbal mixture she had prepared, and began to administer it drop by drop with the glass pipette.

Frodo watched over Pippin as his breathing eased, and a faint flush of color appeared on his face. “Mistress Poppy,” he whispered, “I think he’s doing better.”

She smiled at Frodo. “I think you may be right.” Very, very softly she brushed across his face and nose with the tip of one finger. Her patient twitched and squinted his face at the tickle. It was the first movement he had made since he had passed out some hours before.

Merry had been watching intently. At this sign of activity, he got up and went over to the bed; he reached down and brushed back the curls on his younger cousin’s brow. Without opening his eyes, Pippin murmured, “Mer--” and sighed.

The cousins and the healer all grinned at one another, and then Poppy turned to face the rest of the family. “I do believe,” she said, “that he has turned the corner.”

There was subdued jubilation from Pippin’s parents and sisters. Eglantine burst into tears. Paladin looked at the stout little healer. “What happens next, Mistress Poppy?”

She went over and took up a bottle of a thick greenish syrup. It had a tart, minty smell when opened. She poured a small amount into one of the cups and poured in cold water to fill it. “We are going to get at least three cups of this beverage down him, four if we can, to help replace the fluids he has lost. After that, I suggest one person be prepared to sleep with him tonight--” she looked at Merry, and there was no doubt that it would be he-- “in case he needs anything. Just to be safe, Thain Paladin, if you’ve a nearby spare room, I will remain in the Smials tonight. I recommend that everyone else go to bed. I will also leave powder for willow-bark tea for in the morning. He will have a *very* sore head and a terrible hangover tomorrow, but unless there are unusual complications, he should be all right now, although he may remain weak for a few days.” She turned to Merry. “I do not believe you will need to remain awake, but if he should waken you by being sick again, come fetch me.”

Merry nodded. She gave him the cup and a spoon, and this time, as he dribbled the liquid in, Pippin swallowed on his own.

Eglantine was reluctant to leave, but Paladin and Poppy insisted.

“Pearl, see that you get your mother to bed. I have one thing I need to do before I join her.” Paladin looked grim, and for the first time in hours, the rest of the family remembered the Banks cousins waiting in his study for him. “Poppy, there is an empty guest room just two doors up across the hall.”

Frodo relinquished his place to Merry. “I’ll go to your room and fetch you your nightshirt, Merry.”

“Thanks, Frodo,” he answered without looking up from his task of spooning the liquid into Pippin’s mouth. Pip was going to be all right. The world looked a great deal brighter.

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