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Ho, Ho! My Lads  by Dreamflower


“--with the Tookish monogram on the handle,” said Bilbo.

“Oh, Cousin Paladin will love that!” exclaimed Frodo.

Merry grinned and looked at Pippin, silently gesturing with his chin. Pippin looked at him, at first in confusion, and then with a look of dawning comprehension. He gave a little bounce, and mouthed the word “Presents?” Merry nodded wildly and then they turned their attention back to the conversation in the other room.

Frodo turned to Bilbo. “So, now what were you thinking of for Uncle Sara?”

Bilbo chuckled. “Sara loves his pipeweed, so I was thinking of a special humidor, one that will keep the leaf fresh for long periods of time.”

“Ah,” said Dori, “we’ve done something of the sort in the past. Do you know what shape you would like for it to be--perhaps round, or maybe a small coffer? Would you prefer a dark or a light wood?”

“Why don’t we leave that decision up to your best artisans in the craft?”

Pippin was very eager, and began to bounce again. Merry put his hand on the younger lad’s shoulder, and was distracted for a moment.

“So long,” said Bilbo, “as we are speaking of the Brandybucks, I know just the thing for Esmeralda. Since her fiddle cracked, and she was so upset that she could not play at Merry’s birthday party, I thought it might be nice to get her a new one. I know from personal experience what Dwarven instrument makers are capable of,” he smiled reminiscently, recalling the impromptu concert held by thirteen Dwarves in this very hole nearly sixty years ago.

“What did you have in mind, Bilbo?”

“I’d like it to be of the finest.”

“I think,” said Nori, “a dark wood for the body of the instrument, and perhaps ivory for the chin rest and tuning keys--”

“Lovely,” said Bilbo, “and don’t forget a nice case for it, just as fine!”

Frodo grinned, pleased. “Aunt Esme will be thrilled.”

Pip was hopping up and down silently, holding his little hand over his mouth to stifle his glee, and Merry smiled to think of his mother’s pleasure. He knew how upset she had been when she had discovered her old secondhand fiddle was no longer playable.

“And now--” Bilbo rubbed his hands together gleefully “--for Meriadoc’s gift--”

Pippin nudged Merry, green eyes wide, and Merry nudged him back with a wink.

Frodo leaned forward, ears twitching. Had he heard something? “Uncle, why don’t I go to the cellar for more ale? All this talking is thirsty work. Don’t say anything until I get back, I don’t want to miss anything.”

Merry looked at Pippin in alarm. Frodo would pass right by them. If they were lucky he wouldn’t see them on his way out of the room, but when he came back they would be in plain view. Clutching one another, they pressed against the wall, held their breath, and made themselves as small as possible. As soon as Frodo had vanished into the kitchen with the empty pitcher, they darted across the hall into Bilbo’s study, pulling the door behind them almost closed, but leaving enough of a crack so that they could see when it was safe to come back out.

Bilbo took advantage of Frodo’s absence to describe the gift he had in mind for him, and Dori added it to the list. “Your commissions for your birthday next year are quite magnificent. It is a good thing we stopped by here to drop off some of the items ordered for this year’s party, as some of these things will take much thought and time.” He seemed pleased at the work ahead.

“Next year will be a very special birthday,” said Bilbo, “my eleventy-first, and Frodo’s coming of age. Perhaps you four might be able to deliver these personally, and be my guests at the party? Gandalf has already agreed to come, and there will be fireworks!”

Just then, Frodo came back into the room, with the pitcher filled and foaming. “Do you want me to close the door, Uncle Bilbo?” In spite of the fact that he had not seen anything, he still suspected they had small eavesdroppers.

“No, I don’t think so, my lad. We need to be able to hear, in case Merry or Pippin call out or need something.”

Frodo rolled his eyes and sighed. It wasn’t hearing the lads he worried about--it was the lads hearing them.

In Bilbo’s study, Merry and Pippin huddled together, breathing hard, relieved that they had escaped detection. “Merry,” whispered Pippin, “do you think it’s safe to go back yet?”

“I think that we had best wait a moment. I think that Frodo suspects something.”

“But Merry,” Pippin said desperately, “we’re going to miss hearing about *your* present.” His eyes were wide and worried.

Merry sighed. “I know Pip, but maybe we’ll hear some of it. And I don’t want us to get caught.” He shook his head sorrowfully.

After a brief moment, Merry stuck his head out, to survey the lie of the land. “I think it’s safe now, Pip.”

Once more they dashed across the hall to their hiding place, just in time to hear Frodo exclaim in amazement “ What a magnificent gift! Merry will be quite overwhelmed! Uncle Bilbo, how did you ever think of such a thing?”

“I saw one in the Elven-king’s hall, when I was hiding there. And it seems the sort of thing a lad of Merry’s intelligence would appreciate.”

Merry felt overcome by both frustration and anticipation. A hundred possibilities passed through his mind, and he stuffed a fist into his mouth to stifle a groan. Pippin looked at him with disappointment on his face, and rubbed Merry’s back sympathetically.

There was a brief silence, as Bilbo poured out another ale, and leaning back, said “And now for the Took children--”

Merry grabbed Pippin by the back of his nightshirt, and pulled him close. The young one was so excited that Merry was afraid he would give them away.

In the room, Frodo looked pointedly once more in the direction of the door, and raised an eyebrow to Bilbo. He was all but certain they had an unwanted audience.

Oblivious to the hints Frodo was trying to convey, Bilbo continued, “I think that Pearl would enjoy having her own chess set. I played a game with her the last time I was at the Great Smials, and she is quite the good player!”

Nori leaned forward. “Perhaps the pieces could be done in alabaster and onyx, with a board of light and dark woods, maybe trimmed in silver--” he paused and whipped out his sketchpad and his silver-tipped stylus and after a few rapid strokes, showed the result to Bilbo and Frodo.

“Oh, my stars!” said Bilbo. “That is truly wonderful! Now, I’m thinking that by next year, young Pimpernel will be a young miss ready for her first piece of grown-up jewelry.” He grinned at the Dwarves. “She’s a lovely young Took, with the Tookish green eyes. Do you have any suggestions?”

There was a very brief silence, and then, diffidently, Nuri cleared his throat. “Erm--if I might make a suggestion?”

Dori looked at the younger Dwarf encouragingly, and emboldened by his elder’s permission, Nuri continued, “I am thinking perhaps a beryl pendant--” he paused, and then brought out his own stylus and sketchbook “--perhaps something like this?”

Merry and Pippin looked at one another in frustration. This was hardly fair! How could they learn anything if all they were going to do was draw pictures?

“What have you got in mind for little Pervinca, Uncle?” asked Frodo.

Bilbo chuckled. “When I was at the Great Smials, I noticed one day Pervinca trying to persuade a reluctant Pippin to wear a baby bonnet while she played the little mother. Needless to say the lad wanted none of it, and neither of them seemed too satisfied by the procedure. I thought perhaps if she had a really nice baby doll to play with, she might give her little brother a miss. I think a very lifelike little faunt to keep her attention.”

Pippin was so excited he began to bounce about again. Merry afraid that Frodo’s attention might be drawn turned to grab hold of his younger cousin and calm him down. “Pip” he mouthed silently “be still!”

By the time Merry had Pippin’s cooperation and could return his attention to the conversation in the other room he heard one of the Dwarves saying “--winds up with a key, so that it could walk.”

“Splendid!” Bilbo was quite pleased with himself so far. “Now, for young Peregrin--”

Pippin drew a breath, as though he were going to say something. Merry put his hand over his little cousin’s mouth. Pip looked up at him reproachfully.

Frodo rolled his eyes, and leaned forward. He was *sure* he had just heard something in the hall. Before Bilbo could say another word, Frodo put his hand on the older hobbit’s sleeve. Bilbo gave Frodo a questioning look, and Frodo responded with a nod of his head toward the door and a wink of his eye. Ah, the light dawned at last!

Bilbo smiled.

Meanwhile, it was all Merry could do to restrain the increasingly excited Pippin, and he missed the bit of byplay between his older cousins.

Bilbo leaned back, and began pointedly to hum a tune. The Dwarves, who also had finally begun to catch on that they seemed to have small listeners, looked at the old hobbit inquisitively. The tune sounded familiar. Dori and Nori exchanged a glance and waggled their eyebrows. Borin looked suspiciously at the doorway, not quite sure what was going on. Nuri caught on more quickly and began to hum along with Bilbo.

Frodo grinned. He knew that song and what was likely about to happen, from personal experience.

Merry and Pippin had stopped their brief struggle, and returned their attention to the fascinating conversation, only to be puzzled by the fact that suddenly no one was saying anything. Uh-oh, thought Merry. Why was everyone getting up?

The two lads looked at one another in panic, and started to dart away. But they had been crouching for so long that one of Merry’s legs had fallen asleep. He tried to rise in spite of the pins and needles that seemed to be running down his leg from knee to ankle, and Pippin tried to help him. Pip lost his grip and fell back, and looking up over Merry’s shoulder, saw four huge hairy figures, arms upraised and humming ominously, bearing down on them. He shrieked, and Merry turned and froze,

“Clap! Snap! the black crack!

Grip, grab! Pinch, nab!

And down, down to Goblin-town

You go my lad!”

Merry’s leg finally came back to life, and snatching Pippin by the collar of his nightshirt, he pulled him to his feet. Clutching one another, they began to back down the passage.

“Clash, crash! Crush, smash!

Hammer and tongs! Knocker and gongs!

Pound, pound, far underground!

Ho, ho! my lad!”

Bilbo followed the Dwarves, singing along, and Frodo followed laughing. Pippin was shrieking in terror, but Merry had begun to realize that it was only a game. Still, he couldn’t refrain from squealing as those long arms reached for them. They turned and ran for their room. They weren’t quite fast enough. Before they knew what had happened, they had each been scooped up by a pair of Dwarvish arms, and lifted high in the air.

“Swish, smack! Whip, crack!

Batter and beat! Yammer and bleat!

Work, work! Nor dare to shirk,

While Goblins quaff and Goblins laugh,

Round and round far underground

Below, my lad!”*

They went into the darkened bedroom, and dumped the two cousins on top of their bed. By this time, Pippin, too, had begun to realize it was a game and began to change the tenor of his squeals from fear to delight. This lasted until suddenly Frodo came to the fore, and pounced upon them, tickling.

“So, my dears, now you see what can happen to little hobbits who try to listen to conversations not meant for their ears!”

“Enough! Frodo! Enough!” laughed Merry. Pippin had escaped the wiggling fingers, and rolled over breathless. Frodo finally relented.

Bilbo, who was leaning against the doorjamb, smiled and shook his head.

“I think, Frodo, my lad, that you had better stay with these two little rascals until they have quite settled down.”

“I think so, too, Uncle.”

Laughing, the Dwarves accompanied Bilbo from the room.

“You know, Bilbo, every time I have heard that song I have wondered *how* you came up with actual words from all the incomprehensible squeals and grunts that the Goblins were spouting when they carried us off?”

The old hobbit laughed. “Well, I was at the back if you will recall, and quite able to hear what they were saying, and I have to say that is what it *sounded* like to me!”

Back in the children’s room, Frodo was attempting to settle them down. Pippin was still occasionally squirming and giggling, and Merry was chuckling. “How did you know we were out there, Frodo?”

Frodo grinned at him, his teeth gleaming in the moonlight that bathed the room. “Because I know you, goose!” he said fondly. Then he grew more serious. “How much did you hear, Merry?”

Merry knew better than to try and lie when Frodo used that tone. “Not everything, and nothing really about mine, but a lot about what Bilbo is planning for gifts.”

“I thought so. I need you both to promise that you won’t be spoiling anyone’s surprise!”

Pippin sat up. “*I* promise, Frodo!” he piped. It was going to be hard, really hard.

Merry nodded “I promise, too, Frodo. You know I won’t want to spoil anything.” He looked at Pippin. “Are you going to be able to keep your promise?”

“Can I talk about it to *you* sometimes?”

Frodo laughed. “You can talk about it to Merry or me, if it will help to keep you from telling anyone else, love.”

The three cousins made themselves comfortable, Frodo in the center, with a young cousin held in each arm, and they gradually began to float off to sleep.

Merry’s last thought as he drifted away was “I wonder where they hid what they brought with them this time…”


*From The Hobbit, Chapter IV, “Over Hill and Under Hill”






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