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(For Danachan’s birthday.)
Merry looked at the two new weskits, trying to decide which one to wear. One was a butter yellow, woven so that the faintest of stripes in the same color would appear when the light hit it just right, the other one, a honey-gold yellow with bright brass buttons. It seemed such a luxury now to once more have a variety of clothing to choose from. From Amon Hen to Edoras, he’d had no change of clothing at all. He had been mostly wearing his livery for months, with only the one suit of hobbit clothing made for them in Gondor after the coronation, and some of the hand-me-down children‘s clothing that had been found for them in the City. None of the clothing he had left at Brandy Hall had fit when he returned, and the first thing his mother had done was call in the tailor and the seamstress. But he had ordered these two weskits himself--
“What is it, Pip?” he asked without turning. He knew Pippin was standing in his open doorway, watching him.
“Merry? Do we have to go up to the Hall tonight?” There was a wistful note in his voice.
Merry turned, surprised. “Well, I suppose not, if you don’t wish it.” But he was puzzled. They had been taking tea and supper with his parents since moving into Crickhollow a week and a half before. It was only a couple of miles after all, a brief enough distance on foot or by pony.
“It’s just, well, this is our home now, and it doesn’t feel properly like home if we are going to Brandy Hall to eat every evening. No offense, Merry, Uncle Sara sets a fine table, but--”
“But you are quite right, Pippin. It’s about time we started to fend for ourselves. Only--how’s the state of our larder?” He knew that it was fairly well-stocked earlier in the week, but was uncertain as to its current status.
“Oh, we’ve plenty. Bluebell baked this morning, and you remember there was half a joint left after lunch. We’ve eggs and cheese and butter and apples and pears and pickles and--”
Merry laughed. “No need for an inventory, Pip, I believe you. But if we are going to start having tea and supper at home, I shall have to keep better track myself.” Bluebell was the matron Esmeralda had engaged to go to Crickhollow to do for the “young masters” for half-days twice a week. Most of the rest of the two hobbits’ meals had consisted of whatever they felt like cobbling together, or they had gone to the Inn at Newbury or up to the Hall.
Pippin grinned. “I’ll make tea if you’ll do the washing up!”
“You’re on,” said Merry, feeling rather relieved that they were not going back to Brandy Hall once more. With a smile, he hung the two weskits back in his wardrobe.
While Pippin made tea, Merry put on his cloak and went out to their small stable, to see to the ponies. They had become used to the routine of being ridden each afternoon.
Pippin’s pretty little mare, Butter, was a good natured and placid little pony for the most part, and was quite content to stay in the nice warm stable, but Stybba was a bit restive, and Merry patted him soothingly. “It’s all right, lad. You get to stay in here nice and warm this evening, and I’ll take you for a lovely gallop down by the River tomorrow.”
He took care of a few things in the stable that needed attention, and stooped to stroke Dumpling, one of the two cats who lived in the stable. She purred and sandpapered his hand with her rough warm tongue.
Merry looked about to see if he could spot the tom. The white cat was very nearly feral, and had a mean streak. He never liked to be petted. Pippin had named both cats, and Merry had not been surprised that he named the little female Dumpling, as Pip had almost always named his animals after food, but for some reason he had dubbed the white tom Haldir. For the life of him, Merry could not think of what it was about the cat that reminded Pippin of Haldir of Ló rien, and when he asked, Pippin had just shrugged, and said “Isn’t it obvious?”
He spotted the animal on a beam overhead, glaring down at him balefully, and shook his head, amused.
He was chilled as he came into the warmth of the kitchen, where Pippin poured out the tea, and they ate boiled eggs and sandwiches made with slices off the joint, and a few apples.
“Now,” said Merry, when they had eaten their fill, “off with you and I’ll keep my end of the bargain and do the washing up. And then we shall make supper together.”
“That sounds wonderful, cousin.” Pippin left the kitchen, and a few moments later, from the window, Merry could see him, cloak flapping along with the ends of his scarf, and his shepherd’s pipes in hand, as he took himself up the bare oak in the front garden and began to play. Legolas had made those pipes for him, and Pippin often played them when he was missing their friends of the Fellowship. He didn’t think that Pippin would be up there long. It was rather cold.
He himself went to the small desk in the front room to answer letters. The latest one from Frodo troubled him a bit. Frodo’d had a good deal to say, and it seemed very chatty, but it was clearly all about the Cottons, where he was staying, and Sam, and Hobbiton, and full of questions as to how he and Pippin were doing--and precious little news of Frodo himself. He was somewhat reassured by Sam’s letter, which indicated that Frodo was doing fine. Still, he worried a bit anyway. He took up his quill to answer.
His attention was caught when he looked once more out the window, to see that someone was coming in the gate. It was his Cousin Ilberic.
Pippin dropped from the tree, and the two of them walked up to the little house.
Pippin opened the front door with a flourish. “Welcome to our humble abode, Ilbie. Come in and get warm!”
“Ilbie! What brings you here?” asked Merry.
“Your mum. She was worried when you didn’t show up for tea.”
Merry sighed. He should have expected that. “Well, you can let her know we are fine, and just decided to stay home tonight. I’d think she’d be tired of our cadging by now.”
Ilberic chuckled, and then turned to Pippin. “What’s that you were playing?”
Pippin showed him the shepherd’s pipes.
“They sounded nice. I wish I played an instrument,” he said longingly.
Pippin, who played several, was instantly sympathetic. “I’ll tell you what--you come by on Sterday morning, and bring about a dozen river reeds with you, and I’ll help you make one, and teach you how to play.”
The tweenager’s face lit up. “You’d do that, Cousin Pippin? Thank you!”
They exchanged a few more pleasantries, and then Ilbie left to return to Brandy Hall and let Esmeralda know that her son and her nephew would be frequenting her table less often from now on.
As the door closed behind their guest, Merry turned to Pippin. “What do you say to starting supper now?”
A check of the larder revealed some onions and carrots and potatoes, and jars of tomatoes and beans that had come from the Hall. Soon they had a pot of soup simmering, wafting forth its savory smell.
“Why don’t we bake some soda bread to go with it?” said Pippin, and so they did. It didn’t take long until they were covered in flour and breathless with laughter--baking together invariably ended in horseplay.
They cleaned themselves up in time to take the bread from the oven, and set to on the meal, eked out with apples and cheese.
They ate until they were sated, sopping up the last drops of the soup with the last crumbs of the bread, finishing several apples, pears, and half a round of cheese between them.
They lit their pipes, as they filled up the corners with the last of the cheese, Pippin, as was his habit at this stage of the meal, rolling it into little balls before putting it in his mouth. After they shared a companionable smoke, Merry looked the kitchen over.
“We should probably do the washing up.”
“Let’s leave it till morning, Merry. We can just put the plates in the dishpan. It’s not like there are any leftovers to put away.”
Merry blinked. Then, he thought, why not? It’s just the two of us, after all.
They went into the front room, and Merry built up the fire, and Pippin sat down on one end of the settee.
“You look tired, Merry. Are you all right?”
“I am a bit tired,” he admitted, “but I’m fine.”
Pippin patted the cushion next to him. “Come over here and let me be your pillow.”
So Merry stretched out with his head in Pippin’s lap, and began to relax as Pippin stroked his curls. The fingers stopped briefly, and a gentle finger outlined the scar on Merry’s brow, before resuming the restful rhythm. Merry was feeling very comfortable now, but he knew Pippin would soon get restless. He didn’t want to lose his “pillow”.
Unless--”Sing for me, Pippin, please.”
“One hundred apple pies cooling on the sill…” he began with the annoying childhood ditty that adult hobbits everywhere dreaded.
Merry opened one eye reproachfully.
Pippin’s fingers stopped, and he grinned down at him. “Just to let you know that *I* know when I’m being managed,” he chuckled. He resumed stroking Merry’s brow.
Then he closed his eyes, and began to sing.
“Evening has fallen, the Sun’s in the West.
And Merry drifted off to the sound of that silken voice.
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