Here is a VERY late entry; it is late for the March 2012 challenge; it is late for the January 2013 potluck and it is late for the 2012 B2MeM Bingo Challenge. It was finished, mostly, for yesterday's B2MeM Wildcard challenge to finish something.
B2MeM Challenge: I-21: Crossover2, "Western Animation"; I-21, Shirish, "faunt"; N-38: Crossover1, "story from your country"
The two hobbits were prone atop a rock halfway up a hill, and gazing down at the scene below. "It's not a troll, Pip."
"I can see that, Merry. I know what a troll looks like, up close and personal, thank you very much! And this is notone."
"You said it was a troll."
"Well, that's what the Bounders' report said. I don't suppose they'd know the difference. It's at least as big as a troll, and just as ugly, in a different way." Pippin bit his lip. "Whatever it is, it has no business in the Shire."
"We have to drive it-- out?" Merry's voice grew uncertain as he felt something sharp poking him in the back of the neck.
He glanced towards Pippin, whose eyes were round as saucers. He'd not seen such an expression on his cousin's face since their first encounter with Treebeard. He was looking up in astonishment at whatever was poking Merry's neck.
But more astonishing than Pippin's expression was why he was not moving. Standing over Pippin, a hoof planted firmly in the other hobbit's back was a-- donkey? A donkey with buck teeth and an oversized head? Merry thought his own expression must be quite as gob-smacked as Pippin's was.
But there was little time for speculation, for just then the person holding whatever it was at Merry's neck, spoke in a soft voice: "Turn over veeerrrry slowly, my friend, and keep your hands where I can see them."
Merry could not place the accent. He had never heard such a one in his life. He felt the pricking at his neck withdraw, and slowly and awkwardly turned to face his assailant. He blinked, and then blinked again, and then shook his head. Perhaps this was all just a strange dream.
Standing over him, holding a long thin sword was a large ginger cat. It was at least as big as the average hobbit, and it stood on its back legs, which were encased in an enormous pair of boots. On its head was a large hat, adorned with an immense feather. Without taking its eyes off Merry, it said "Donkey?"
"All right, all right. No need to be bossy. You turn over, too. Well, why aren't you turning over? I said to turn over!"
"Perhaps, Donkey, if you moved your foot?" said the cat, with a tone of strained impatience.
"I knew that!" said the donkey, moving its foot away from Pippin quickly. "Of course I knew that; no need to get all sarcastic and everything..."
Pippin rolled over, and in a strained voice said, "You can talk!"
"Well, of course I can talk, fool! I'm a magic donkey, aren't I? 'I can talk'...hummph..."
"Donkey!" the cat said sharply.
"Yes, yes, shutting up now! Never let someone get a word in edgewise..." The donkey's expression turned sullen.
Pippin and Merry looked at one another. It was easier than looking at their captors.
"Now," said the cat in a menacing purr, "stand up slowly and keep your hands away from your swords."
The hobbits complied. Strangely enough, the cat's request was oddly reassuring. It was exactly how they would have handled a similar situation, and it helped them to think that the cat was behaving reasonably, even though his existence and that of the talking donkey was decidedly unreasonable. "Who are you? And why were you spying on our friend?"
Merry nodded at Pippin to answer. Pippin drew himself up. "I am Captain Peregrin Took, and this is my cousin, Sir Meriadoc Brandybuck," he said, using his best heir-to-the-Thain and Knight of Gondor voice. "and it is our job to protect the Shire. We had reports of a large and dangerous creature, possibly a troll, in these parts."
"He's not a troll." said the donkey. "Anyone should be able to tell he's not a ...ow! What'd you do that for, Puss?" The cat had poked the donkey with a sharp claw in the flank, and now he stood innocently inspecting the paw that had done the deed.
Merry interrupted. "It seems to me that it is the strangers who should be identifying themselves. Who are you and what are you and your friend doing in our Shire? For he may not be a troll, but he is certainly large, and we have no way of knowing that he is not dangerous to our people!
The cat simply arched an eyebrow at them, but the donkey could not seem to keep quiet for more than a few seconds. "Who are we? Who are we? Why, I'm Donkey and this is Puss-in-Boots and that's our friend, Shrek, and we are all famous from Duloc to the ends of Far Far Away!"
The cat rolled its eyes, but did not deny anything the donkey had said. "And yet, I think, we are not famous here in this Shire? did you call it? Yes? For we have never heard of this land before, so it seems only reasonable that your land would not have heard of us!"
Merry was beginning to be amused, and he could tell that Pippin was too. But it still did not solve the question of that large creature at the foot of the hill, who appeared to be pleasantly occupied in setting up a campfire.
It was at least as large as a troll, and had a large hairless head with two long horn-like protuberances for ears. It wore what appeared to be a homespun shirt with a (relatively) small brown weskit and breeches. Its skin was an unhealthy looking frog green-- and it was covered with midnight green spots.
Pippin looked at the cat. "Your friend is named Shrek? Why don't we go and meet him?"
Merry looked at Pippin, knowing that if the cat and the donkey took them to meet the creature there was not much to be done about it. But it was like Pippin to be audacious enough to make it seem their own idea.
As they walked down, the Donkey began to prattle again; unfortunately whatever he was saying was so laced with the names of people and places the hobbits had never heard of that it was of no use trying to make out what he was talking about. About halfway there, it sped up and ran ahead.
The cat shook its head, and gave a sigh. "He is a good and loyal friend. Unfortunately whatever magic has made him able to speak makes him also impossible to shut up."
Donkey had reached the creature, and apparently explained that the others were coming. He turned to gaze upon their arrival, and Merry observed him carefully. This creature could be dangerous, he thought, but not in the way of creatures of the dark. This creature could be dangerous in the way hobbits are dangerous: protective and wary-- but not, for the most part, evil. He caught Pippin's eye, and his cousin's nod led him to know they were thinking along the same lines.
So rather than allow the cat, Puss-- Merry reminded himself-- to present them as prisoners, the two walked right up to him without showing any trepidation, and presented him with polite bows: "Peregrin Took, at your service and your family's. My friends call me Pippin."
"And I am Meriadoc Brandybuck of Buckland, at your service. My friends call me Merry."
The creature looked past them at Puss, who was discreetly sheathing his sword, and then with a slightly confused smile, gave an awkward dip of the head that might pass as a bow and said, "I'm Shrek, and that's what everyone calls me, except for people who run and go 'ooh, ogre!'"
"I am afraid," said Pippin, "that our people have been saying 'ooh, troll'! since none of our people have ever heard of an ogre. But you are clearly not a troll. I have seen those and you look nothing like any troll-- except perhaps for size."
Shrek gave a snort of a laugh, and said "You're right; I'm not a troll."
Something was puzzling Merry and he could stand it no longer. "Why do you have a Tookish accent?"
Pippin glared at Merry. "He does not."
At the same time, Shrek said "What's a Tookish accent?"
"Never mind," said Merry. But to his relief, he could tell by their expressions that the Donkey and Puss had noticed as well.
Pippin ignored them. "What are you doing here? And, if I might make so bold as to ask? Do all your people have spots? I've never seen anyone with midnight green spots like that in my life."
To their astonishment, Shrek heaved a huge sigh and looked quite downcast. "Spots," he said bitterly. "The spots are why I am here." He slumped down and seated himself by the newly built campfire and stared down at the ground.
Donkey walked over and hung his head over Shrek's arm like an oversized dog. "It'll be all right, Shrek, you'll see! We'll get back to our families somehow." And then Donkey also heaved a sigh.
Merry and Pippin looked at Puss, who gave an exaggerated shrug. "Don't look at me," he said with a sniff." I am no family man, worrying over a wife and children."
Pippin immediately looked sympathetic, and went over to put a hand on Shrek's arm. "Oh dear! You miss your family! Of course you do-- we miss ours as well, don't we, Merry?"
"We do," said Merry emphatically. "In fact, I wish we were heading home now-- I want to be back at Crickhollow before my little Wyn's birthday next week. She'll be five, and no longer a faunt."
"And I miss Primmie! She'll be giving Diamond fits with her teething, and no papa to sing her to sleep."
Shrek turned and looked at them shyly. "Do you want to see my family?" He reached into his weskit and drew out a stiff piece of paper and handed it to them. Merry and Pippin's eyes grew wide at the bright colors and perfect clarity of the miniature painting. "Fiona-- that's my wife, she got a Brownie to come make pictures for our anniversary."
The two hobbits stared at the picture: Shrek and what was obviously a female ogre, who had an abundance of chestnut hair, and between them three chubby ogre babies, two of them quite as hairless as their father, and the one in the center had a little tuft of hair held up by a large pink bow. Shrek stabbed a finger at the babies: "That's Fergus, and that's Farkle, and in the middle, that's my little lass Felicia." He gave another sigh.
"But," said Pippin, "you have no spots in that picture!"
"Like I said, the spots are why I'm here." He shook his head. "I should have known better than to trust that crazy wizard, Merlin!"
"He put spots on you?" asked Merry, trying to imagine Gandalf-- or to be honest-- even Saruman-- doing something so silly as that.
"No, the spots are why I'm here. See, my friend Artie-- He's King Arthur of Far Far Away-- was asked to come back to his old school at Westminster and make a speech there in honour of the graduating class. He wasn't too keen on the idea-- not after the way some of those kids treated him while he was there-- but he figured it was part of his king duties, so he asked us to come along, lend him a little moral support. Fiona and the kids were going to join us later on, and Donkey's wife Dragon doesn't usually go to things like that: five little dronkeys take a lot of watching out for, and they've been flaming a lot lately..."
Pippin interrupted, while Merry was trying to make sense of what Shrek had just said. "Wait a minute--" he looked at Donkey, who had a rather foolish grin on his oversized face, "your wife's name is Dragon? Why is she named Dragon?"
Donkey rolled his eyes. "Why do you think? Because she's a Dragon! Sheesh! What a fool question...anyhow, I don't have no pictures, but my little dronkeys are just as cute as can be! Pretty as their mama, they are and smart as their old man! There's Donkey Jr., and there's my girls, Parfait, Peanut, Bananas, Coco and Éclair! You should see'em flyin' around. But like I said, no pictures; you'd think a friend had a Brownie, he'd share it..."
"Anyway," Shrek interrupted emphatically, "we picked Artie up and headed off, planning to pick up his old teacher Merlin, who'd been invited to the graduation as well. The evening before we sailed, I took my friends to an ogre bar for a few friendly drinks and a little celebration. Bad mistake. By the time we were halfway to Merlin's Island, I'd broken out in ergo spots."
"Ergo spots?" asked Merry.
"Yep. When adult ogres get them, we just break out in the spots for a few days, and we itch and have funny dreams, and then the spots go away. But it can be real bad for little ogres-- really, really, bad-- I mean, well, you know, bad" his face grew very serious, and the hobbits were sure they spotted tears, though they were quickly blinked away, "and I panicked. I didn't want the kids exposed. So as soon as we landed, I asked Merlin to send us to Far Far Away. That way, Fiona and the kids would be at Westminster, and I'd be back in the old Kingdom, and I figured I could lay low until the spots vanished."
"But that is not what happened," Puss put in. "Somehow, Merlin sent us 'far far away' instead of 'to Far Far Away', and we ended up here. And I do believe that this is much farther away than he meant to send us."
"We've no way to get home until the spell wears off," said Shrek. "Which I hope will be when the spots go away." He sighed. "But I don't know. Maybe we'll never get back."
Merry and Pippin looked at one another seriously. Finally Merry spoke. "I don't know if we can help you. The only wizard we knew has gone away for good. Gandalf was a good friend, and a great deal more, er, competent than the one you know-- but he sailed over the sea. Perhaps if the spots wearing off do not do the trick, we can see if there is anyone left in Rivendell who can help. Lord Celeborn and Lord Glorfindel are still there, and they are both really wise."
Pippin nodded. "I am sorry we can't allow you to stay here in the Shire. Even here in this more or less unpopulated part of the Northfarthing, there are too many people who will be afraid of you and your friends.
They will still think you are a troll, and I am not sure what they'd make of a talking donkey and cat-- but they would not approve, I am sure of that."
Merry nodded. "So am I. I wish Sam was here, but I am fairly sure he'd say the same. He looked up at Shrek.
"How are you three set for food?"
The three strangers looked at one another, clearly embarrassed. "We didn't come through with any provisions," said Shrek. "I thought I'd check yonder pond for some fish, maybe some frogs or something. We wouldn't starve..."
Donkey threw his head back. "I know I wouldn't starve no-how. Plenty of grass around here, puh-lenty! 'Course, I like other things better 'n grass, but I wouldn't starve..."
"Our ponies and pack ponies are around the other side of the hill," said Pippin diffidently. "We usually take provisions everywhere. Why don't I go fetch them? Merry can keep you company, and your friends can come with me."
Shrek, Puss and Donkey exchanged a look, and then Shrek nodded. Then Pippin and the others headed off to get the ponies. Merry could hear Donkey as they walked away, regaling Pippin with the story of how he had met Shrek for the first time.
"And he told me he was like an onion! An onion, if you can believe that. Huh! And so I told him..."
Merry chuckled and shook his head. Shrek gave him a quizzical look, and Merry said "It's highly unusual for my cousin to meet someone who can out talk him. I would be surprised if he even gets a word in edgewise. He'll burst from frustration."
Now it was Shrek's turn to chuckle. "Donkey can drive me mad sometimes with his chatter, but he always meanswell."
"That can be dangerous," Merry said archly.
Now Shrek laughed outright. "I like you, little fellow! You have a wicked sense of humour!" He gave Merry what passed for a light tap on the back, which still made the hobbit stagger.
"Thanks," he said dryly.
They built up the campfire together, and sat down on opposite sides of it to await the return of the others.
"So," said Shrek, "I told you about my family; what about yours? You said you had a daughter?"
Merry smiled up at the earnest green face. For some strange reason, he was reminded of Sam. He thrust away the ridiculous thought. "Yes, I have a little lass-- her name is Simbelmynë, but we call her Wyn for short-- and a son as well, a year younger-- he's named Periadoc, but we call him Perry."
Shrek put up a large green hand, palm out. "Wait a minute. How is 'Wyn' short for, er, Simbel-whatever?"
The hobbit laughed. "I wanted to name her 'Éowyn', after a good friend of mine. But family tradition is that Brandybuck daughters are given flower names. 'Simbelmynë' is the name of a flower that grows in the country my friend is from, and that's the name written in the Family Book-- but I called her 'Éowyn', which quickly got shortened to 'Wyn'. That's what everyone calls her now." Merry sighed. "I do hope I can get home in time for her birthday! A little lass does not become a faunt every year!"
"What is a faunt? the ogre asked, scratching absently at one of the dark green spots on his arm.
"A hobbit baby becomes a faunt on its third birthday. A three-year old can speak a little and walks instead of crawls. Wyn will leave her babyhood behind, but she's not quite old enough for childhood. So she will be a fauntuntil she turns five. It's a special birthday-- hobbits give gifts to others on their birthdays, and a three-year-old begins learning about that by giving a gift to its parents. Usually an older sibling or cousin or uncle takes the little one out to pick some flowers or find a pretty stone or something to give as a first gift. Pippin is going to take Wyn, and he's really looking forward to it...hoy!" Merry looked over to see Pippin, Donkey and Puss rounding the side of the hill leading the ponies. "Here they come!"
Pippin was leading Sable and Stybba, and Puss was leading the two pack ponies. Donkey was still talking.
"Hey, Shrek! They got all kinds of food on these here ponies!" Donkey exclaimed. "And stuff to cook with and everything!"
After a few moments to unload provisions and hobble the ponies (Sable and Stybba were not at all intimidated by the hobbits' odd companions, but the pack ponies had put their ears back and rolled their eyes skittishly at the sight of the ogre), they planned the meal.
Pippin took a hook and line from one of the packs, and found a long thin branch to use for a pole, and headed to the pond. Puss disdained any equipment, but joined him there. The two were soon in a friendly competition to see who had the better catch: Pippin with his pole or Puss with his claws. (It was declared a tie—Puss caught more fish, but Pippin's were larger…)
Merry brought out pans and pots and potatoes and bread and cheese and salt and pepper and flour and lard and a bottle of vinegar and a jar of honey and several apples, and tea. "I'm not as good a cook as my friend Sam Gamgee, but I think I can throw together a decent meal. And Sam taught me his trick with fish and chips."
Pretty soon they all sat down to a meal of fish and chips, with bread and cheese and an apple crumble. Donkey declined the fish, but enjoyed the apple crumble.
"So," asked Merry, as they leaned back after the meal picking their teeth and burping (the hobbits were immensely impressed with Shrek's burp) "how long do the ergo spots last? That should give you a good idea of when you might be able to go home."
Shrek sighed. "They can last anywhere from three days to two weeks," he said. "I've already had them the three days and they aren't showing any sign of going away yet."
"That's too bad. Are they uncomfortable?" asked Pippin.
The ogre shrugged, and scratched absently at his arm. "Itchy, but not too bad. I just hope that we will go home when they go away."
"I hope that you will be returned home when the spots are gone," Merry said, "but perhaps we should make plans, just in case that doesn't happen."
"What sort of plans?" Pippin asked.
"We should send a message to Sam, and one to Rivendell. I can't think of anyone besides Lord Celeborn or Lord Glorfindel who might be able to figure out an answer."
"What about Radagast?" said Pippin. "He's a wizard, and he's still on this side of the Sundering Sea."
Merry shook his head. "We don't know him, or how to find him," he answered. "But the two I mentioned might know, if the Brown Wizard does turn out to be our best hope."
"So, do you want me to go to Oatbarton tomorrow and send a message to Sam?"
"Whoa! Whoa! Wait a minute!" Shrek interrupted. "Who are these people? Can they be trusted? I don't need a bunch of villagers with pitchforks coming down on us!"
Pippin shook his head. "No, Sam's as trustworthy as they come! And he's the Mayor of the Shire now--he's got the authority to keep folks away if need be."
"We can wait to send to Rivendell until we know if you'll go home when the spots are gone," added Merry. "But Lord Glorfindel and Lord Celeborn are the wisest of the Elves left in Middle-earth, and if anyone at all will know a solution, they will. But we really do need to let Sam know what's going on."
To this Shrek reluctantly agreed, and after Puss agreed to stand watch, the rest of them made themselves as comfortable as they could around the fire and went to sleep.
The next morning, Merry wrote a short letter to Sam:
The reports were wrong. There is no troll in the Northfarthing. However, there are three strangers. They aren't ruffians, but they are really odd fellows--too odd to explain in a letter. However, they mean no harm. They are just stranded here in the Shire for a little while. Pip and I will stay with them until we can figure out how to get them home. Please send word to Estella and Diamond that we are all right, and that we will get home as soon as we can. I do hope we will make it in time for Wyn's birthday, but I can't count on it.
We will need to keep folks away from this area if possible to avoid unnecessary trouble. We are located about six leagues east of Oatbarton, not quite halfway to Dwaling.
Give our best to Rosie and the little ones!
Pippin took the letter. "I'll send it by Quick Post. And I'll tell the Shirriff in Oatbarton that there's no troll, but that there is a large dangerous animal, and that you and I are tracking it and will take care of it. He can discourage anyone from coming out here." He mounted up on Sable, and with a cheery wave to the others, trotted off.
"He's a clever one," said Puss with a tone of approval.
Merry beamed. "He is that. He ought to be--he's my cousin, and I taught him everything he needed to know about being clever."
Shrek chuckled and Donkey sniffed. "You're pretty modest, ain't you?" he muttered, before bending down to chomp a mouthful of daisies.
With a grin, Merry said "What have I got to be modest about?"
This made both Shrek and Puss burst out in laughter, and Shrek gave him a pat on the back that nearly knocked him over. Donkey nearly choked on the daisies.
The day passed quietly, as they awaited Pippin's return. Merry told the others some stories of the Shire, of Bilbo, and a little of the Quest. That was a long story, and dark in some places; he'd rather wait until Pippin was back to share the telling with him. He listened in turn to Shrek's tale and that of his friends.
He had to confess it all sounded unlikely in the extreme--a princess enchanted in a tower who changed her form at night; a dragon who fell in love with a donkey; a kingdom where gingerbread could walk about and live; a villain who pranced about on a stage yet expected everyone to take him seriously...
Yet the proof was right in front of him, for none of it sounded as unlikely as the sight of a spotted ogre, a talking cat and a talking donkey.The next day dawned, and Pippin awakened early. Merry and Shrek were still stretched out by the fire, and Puss was curled up next to it, purring. Donkey slept standing up, and he was snoring.
The hobbit looked into their supplies, and fetched out the makings for porridge with dried fruit and honey.
The smell of it cooking soon wakened his cousin. "That's an awfully big batch, Pip" Merry said doubtfully. "I don't think Puss or Donkey will eat porridge, and I'm not sure that Shrek will like it, considering some of the things he said he liked to eat."
Pippin shrugged. "I didn't feel like catching frogs or snails this morning. If he doesn't eat any, there's more for us."
Merry grinned. "There is that."
They looked over at their large friend, and then Pippin peered more closely. "Merry!"
"Yes, I see it, too! His spots are fading!"
Indeed, all of the visible spots on his body were lighter than they had been the day before--instead of a deep midnight green, they were now more of a pine green, still darker than his hide, still there, but not so dark as they had been.
"What're ya staring at?" Shrek growled as he awakened to the sight of both hobbits leaning over him and inspecting his arms and face.
"Your spots," said Merry, "they're getting lighter! I think they are fading. Maybe they'll be gone soon!"
The ogre looked at his arms, and then walked over to inspect his reflection in the pond. "I think you're right!" he exclaimed. "Whoo-hoo!" He grabbed Pippin and whirled him around, and then putting the dizzy hobbit down, reached for Merry. "Maybe I will get to go home!"
Merry and Pippin leaned against each other, trying not to fall over.
After breakfast Merry persuaded all except for Puss to come for a swim in the pond. Shrek floated nicely, and Donkey mostly just waded around the edges, while Merry and Pippin swam and rough-housed like a couple of tweens. Puss sat upon the bank and made sarcastic remarks about people who got wet on purpose.
Two more days passed in a similar manner. Shrek's spots grew lighter each morning, but they remained visible.
Merry was growing worried that he would not make it back to Buckland in time for Wyn's birthday, and their supplies grew progressively shorter, even eked out with fishing and foraging and a few conies.
The afternoon of the third day, they realised they would need more supplies. This time Merry decided to ride into Oatbarton, and Pippin remained at the camp. They knew that one of them needed to stay with the others at all times, in case some hobbit happened to come upon them unexpectedly.
Merry saddled Stybba, and readied one of the pack ponies to lead. "I'll be back in a few hours," he said, "I also want to send a message to Estella. She may be worrying by now."
"Just a moment, and I'll scribble a note to Diamond," he said.
Merry supplied him with a bit of parchment and a quill and ink from his own pack.
We are delayed a little more than we planned, but I will meet you in Buckland as soon as I can. If her Uncle Pippin can't be there in time, will you shepherd little Wyn on her birthday? Give her a hug from Uncle Pip, and another to Perry. And a kiss for our wee Primmie.
I miss you,
He blew on the ink, and then folded the message and handed it to Merry, who chuckled. "That's an awful long letter."
Pippin snorted. "I had more to say than usual," he said wryly. Pippin was rather infamous for the shortness of his letters.
Merry leapt into the saddle and trotted off, the pack pony following behind.
He trotted along in the sunshine, mentally going over the list he had written in his mind, wondering if he had forgotten anything. "Post Office for the messages; the baker for some bread; the grocer for some more oats for porridge and for tea and more potatoes; the butcher for some sausages; maybe I can get some eggs and butter at the dairy; and the dry goods store for pipe-weed and soap...should I get another bottle of ink, I wonder? Perhaps I'll take lunch at The Headless Goblin before I ride back..." There were a number of inns in the North Farthing that commemorated the Battle of the Greenfields.
The nearer he got to the village the more often did he see other hobbits out and about their business. He waved at farmers plowing and shepherds with their flocks and hobbit matrons hanging out the wash on the lines.
He entered the village and went first to the Post Office located right in the middle of the village, where he was surprised to see a couple of other ponies tied up; one of them was quite familiar to him: Bill!
He dismounted with alacrity and tied up Stybba and the other pony and rushed into the Post Office, where he saw Sam and Robin Smallburrow talking to the Oatbarton Shirriff, Rook Button.
"Sam!" Merry exclaimed, grinning. "What are you doing here?"
"Well, I thought I might should check things out up here, Merry, see if you needed my help."
"Did you find aught of that wild animal, Captain Merry?" asked Rook.
Merry blinked, and then recalled what Pippin had told the Shirriff. "We are still tracking it, Shirriff Button. It doesn't show any signs of heading this way, but it seems to be staying in the same area. We hope to deal with it soon; but Pippin and I need a few more supplies."
"Do you need us to come along?" asked Sam. "I know you'll be a-wanting to get back to Buckland soon!"
Merry looked shrewdly at Sam. "I'd welcome your eyes and your company, Sam, but I don't think we need anymore folks than that--it might scare the creature off."
Sam nodded, as though that were the answer he expected. "Robin, you stay here and have a nice visit with Mr. Button. I'll go along with the Captain here, and we'll be just fine."
"Just let me post these letters quickly," said Merry. He turned to the Postmaster, who'd been standing by silently, his eyes wide, somewhat intimidated by the presence of both the Mayor and the Heir of Buckland in his little post office. "Here you are!" Merry pushed both letters over the counter, and added a silver ha'pence. "That's for the Quick Post; you may divide the change with the rider," he said.
The Postmaster nodded vigourously at the size of the tip which more than covered the Quick Post to Buckland five times over, and he and the two Shirriffs watched Merry and Sam as they left the Post Office with astonishment on their faces.
"Well," said Robin Smallburrows, as he looked down at the coin, now you know why the Bucklanders call him 'Meriadoc the Magnificent'."
Sam followed Merry, and by an unspoken agreement, kept their conversation to the doings of Sam's family at Bag End, as Merry gathered the supplies he had been sent for and the two took lunch at the inn. It was not until they had finished Merry's business and were riding past the outskirts of town, that Sam broached the topic that was truly on his mind.
"Mr.--I mean, Merry..." Sam blushed. He rarely slipped up with that anymore, but it still sometimes happened,
"I think you bought a mort of supplies for just you and Pippin. I'm almighty curious about those 'odd fellas' you wrote to me about. Are the both of you all right? I notice Pippin's not with you?"
"Pippin's not a hostage for my return, if that's what is worrying you, Sam. But we really thought it best for one of us to stay with them in the unlikely case that some wandering hobbit came near."
Sam pursed his lips, and nodded. "Just how odd are these fellas?"
Merry laughed. "Sam, I will tell you all about it, but you have to promise not to call me mad until you have seen for yourself..." He proceeded to recount their adventure so far, watching with amusement as Sam's eyes narrowed in suspicion, and then grew wider and wider as the tale continued. When he finished Sam spoke.
"Well, I'll not call you 'mad', Merry, as I promised not to. But if this don't beat all. It sounds queerer than them Ents!" Privately Sam wondered briefly if the two cousins were not pulling some elaborate joke. Only the knowledge that they'd never jeopardize little Wyn's birthday made him dismiss that idea.
Then they approached the hill Merry had told him of; the knoll from which they had first spotted the stranger, and there at the foot of it a donkey stood, grazing. At the sound of the hoofbeats of their ponies, it looked up, then turned tail and ran around the base of the hill yelling "They're coming! They're coming!"
Merry had realised that he had ridden on several yards before noticing that Sam was no longer at his side.
Instead, he was sitting stock still and staring. Merry turned back and rode over to him. "Come along now, Sam, that's a good fellow!" Sam's brown eyes were big as saucers, and his mouth hung open in shock.
By the time that they approached the campsite, Sam had recovered his composure, though he nearly lost it again at the sight of the cat and the green creature. Pippin's excited and enthusiastic greeting dispelled the last of his worry.
But Shrek's friendly manner soon put him at ease, though he muttered quietly to Merry, "Why does he have a Tookish accent?" Merry just shrugged, looking amused.
Merry and Pippin were excited when Sam offered to do the cooking. Pippin had found a bounty of mushrooms, mostly Meadow Waxcaps and some Button Mushrooms. Fried up with potatoes, wild onions, wild garlic and butter, and served alongside sausages and oat bannocks baked in the embers, they made a delicious meal.
They chatted after eating, Sam telling of his own family, and listening to Shrek and Donkey speak of theirs. He felt quite sorry for them (though he still found it hard to imagine what the offspring of a donkey and a dragon would look like).
Before they got ready for sleep that night, Shrek handed Merry something: a little wooden figurine he had whittled, modeled after his little ogreling daughter Felicia. "My spots are fading more. I just thought that I'd give this to you now—it's for your own little girl, for her birthday."
Merry was very touched, and thanked Shrek with tears standing in his eyes. "We still don't know if the fading will send you back," he said.
"I know," Shrek sighed.
But Merry had a hard time sleeping. Even if they set off first thing in the morning, he was not sure he'd get back to Buckland in time. And he could not abandon Sam and Pippin with their "guests". He tossed for a while before finally falling asleep to the sounds of Puss's purr and Donkey and Sam's snoring…
But the next day he wakened to the smell of Sam's cooking, and looked around to see no one else save Pippin, still sound asleep at his back.
"Sam? Are they gone?" he asked quietly.
Sam nodded. "I woke about midnight, and they was gone then," he said. "I sure hope as they got back home."
Merry sighed. "I'm sure they did; but I'm going to miss them."
"Well, I can't say as I wouldn't have like to talk to them some more," said Sam. "They was quite a story in themselves! But at least you can get back to Buckland now."
"We'll have to ride hard to get there on time now. I don't suppose we'll get there before the day of," he said sadly, as he thought of missing her gifting the day before, and of seeing her present Estella with her gift on the day.
"Well, Merry, as to that, I have an idea…"
It was early twilight of the day before Wyn's birthday as Merry and Pippin walked wearily up to Brandy Hall from the landing at Bucklebury. They knew that Estella would have brought the children there from Crickhollow, so that Wyn could celebrate with her grandparents.
Pippin grinned. "Sam's quite the most clever fellow in the Shire," he said proudly. "I think he must have learned it from Frodo."
Merry nodded. "Sam's always been clever, it was only hidden by his modesty. I never would have thought of riding East to the River and taking the barge down from Girdley Island. Much faster than riding back to the Bridge. I just wish he had come with us; he'll miss the party."
"But he's no fonder of boats than he ever was. He'll bring the ponies down for us , cross at the Bridge, and we'll see him in a few days."
Merry was scarcely listening as they approached Brandy Hall. He could see several young hobbits playing on the lawn beneath the giant oak, watched over by their mums and grandmums and aunties.
One little lass in particular looked up and gave a squeal, and began to toddle towards him, her arms outstretched. "Da-da!" she called.
He caught Wyn up and held her tight, and wished with all his heart that his big green friend had received just such a welcome.
Shrek sat in front of the hearth, Fiona on the settee next to him, leaning against his shoulder, Fergus and Farkle were on her knees, and Felicia was snuggled in his lap.
"Now, kids, let me tell you a story about a place where these little people live called hobbits. There was one named Merry and one named Pippin and one named Sam, and even though they were very little, they were also very brave…”
The two hobbits were prone atop a rock halfway up a hill, and gazing down at the scene below. "It's not a troll, Pip."