Of Birds and Bees by Cathleen

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Written for Marigold's Challenge Tales in 2006 for the "nekkid hobbit" challenge!


“Of Birds and Bees”


“It was a very hot summer that year, as I recall.” Pippin was warming quickly to his tale, the look of smug delight almost more than his cousins and Sam could bear.

“Listen to him,” Merry muttered in disgust.

“Sounds just like one of the old folks, he does,” agreed Sam.

“Well, you brought it on yourself Merry.”

“Me? You’re the one who brought up the bells, Frodo!”

“Ahem! I’m trying to tell a story here!”

“Cheeky little--”

“Merry! Do be quiet lad, I don’t want to miss any of this.” Boromir chuckled and bade Pippin continue.

The youngest member of the Fellowship sat back and gazed at his kin with mild dismay. He summoned all his dignity before scolding them soundly. “I had to listen to all of the last embarrassing story about me so the least you might do is hold your tongues and take this with good grace!”

Merry made gagging noises until Frodo cuffed him playfully on the side of his head.

“Hush now,” Aragorn admonished them. “Pippin is right, after all. Please allow him to tell his tale.”

“Aye, let him talk! The more you try to hush him the more I find I want to hear it myself. Don’t we, lad?” Gimli winked at Legolas. The elf smiled and tilted his head in agreement.

“Thank you.” Boromir nodded at the Ranger. “This promises to be a lively story!”

“Oh, it is! It is indeed,” chuckled Gandalf. He gazed fondly at Pippin. “And my lad, why you seem to be giving the impression that this particular tale presents you as an innocent party is beyond me. The way I recall it, you each endured a fairly equal share of the embarrassment, although for different reasons of course.”

“It’s all about perspective, Gandalf.” Pippin sounded as if that should be obvious.

“If you say so.” The wizard smiled knowingly and gestured for Pippin to resume his story.

“It was hot for a great many days and Merry and I were visiting at Bag End for an extended period.”

“Which of course delighted Bilbo no end!”

“It was only the heat making him grumpy, Frodo,” sniffed Pippin.

“Are you sure about that, Pip?”

Pippin chose to ignore his cousin’s baiting and continued.

“We spent a great deal of time playing in and around the water, you know, to cool off. Even Sam got extra time off to join us because it was so hot.”

“How old were you, Pippin?” Boromir wanted to know.

“Hmm, let’s see…”

“You were exactly fourteen years old, Pip. And Merry was only twenty two.” Frodo grinned at Boromir and Aragorn. “Which in your terms would be…” Frodo did a quick calculation, “Oh, Pip would have been the equivalent of about eight and a half and Merry was fourteen in man years.”

Boromir slung a big arm around Pippin’s shoulders and chuckled. “Ah, still wet behind the ears, were you?”

“Whatever does that mean?”

“Never mind, Pip. Just tell your story.”

“You see that was part of the problem. I wanted information and my dear cousins and Sam did not want to give me any because they thought I was too young.”

“And you quite readily proved us right, Pippin.” Frodo looked at him sternly.

“Well, if you had tried then maybe things would have turned out differently!”

“We did try Pip! And look where it got us!” Merry was incredulous.

“Ahem!” Boromir cleared his throat and frowned at the continued interruptions.

Pippin tossed another smug glance at his kin as he continued.

*****

“Oh, bother! ‘Tis going to be another boiling hot day! Will this spell never end?” Bilbo Baggins continued muttering as he prepared a cold first breakfast for everyone. He didn’t hear the youngest of his charges sneaking up behind him as he set the bowls on the table and returned to the pantry for other items.

Pippin took advantage of this opportunity to hide behind the pantry door. He stifled a giggle as he prepared to leap out and surprise the older hobbit on his way back to the table. One, two…Pippin bent over and wriggled his whole body in anticipation, like a feral cat about to leap on its unsuspecting prey.

“Three!” he cried gleefully, launching his lithe form from behind the round door and landing on… “Gandalf!”

The gray wizard caught the surprised hobbit in mid flight and plunked him firmly upon his feet, completely unruffled by the sudden appearance of the airborne lad. He stood gazing down at Pippin, a hand on his shoulder as he summoned his best stern expression. The little hobbit peered up, up, and up at the towering wizard and gulped loudly.

“Well? What do you have to say for yourself Peregrin? Hmm?”

Bilbo returned to the kitchen his arms loaded with food, and stopped short. Peering over the top of his burden his eyes went from one of them to the other and he raised an eyebrow in concern. “What’s the problem, Gandalf? What happened?” Bilbo hurried to set the load on the table.

“Oh, it seems this little one was about to fling himself at you from behind the door, my friend.” Gandalf tapped a finger on the tip of Pippin’s sharp nose. “Your uncle would have spilled your breakfast all over the kitchen, young hobbit, and you would have spent the next half hour cleaning it all up!”

Pippin hung his head chagrined his little prank had befallen the wizard instead of Bilbo. Gandalf placed a finger beneath his chin and tilted the frowning face up to meet his eyes. He smiled and Pippin sighed with relief.

“Now, why don’t you run along and get dressed and wake your cousins while you’re at it.” Bilbo was already bustling around the small kitchen again, his back to them. He waved a hand in dismissal as he worked.

“Come! I will help you awaken them.” Gandalf extended his hand and Pippin eagerly grasped it, skipping along next to the wizard as they went in search of Merry and Frodo. Releasing the wizard’s hand Pippin ran in to Frodo’s room and jumped on the bed with wild abandon. He landed hard on his sleeping cousin knocking the breath from him.

“Ooof! Pippin! What the--” Frodo struggled to sit up and his eyes immediately fell on the wizard. “Gandalf!” Frodo flung Pippin off his chest and leaped from the bed. “Oh, I’m so happy to see you! We didn’t expect you, when did you get here?”

Pippin watched them with satisfaction, his bright green eyes sparkling. “I’m going to get Merry!” Pippin launched himself off the bed and shot out of the room.

“Last night while you were all asleep. I thought it was time for me to pay a visit to the Shire. I’ve missed you all.”

“And we have missed you!”

The wizard looked up in surprise as another hobbit flew his way. “Gandalf!” Merry crowed, throwing himself into his arms.

“Meriadoc, how are you my lad?” Gandalf laughed heartily as he hugged him and then set him down.

They all began talking at once and Gandalf raised his hand to quiet them. “Come, get dressed and join us. Your first meal of the day is nearly ready. We can talk then.”

Gandalf made his way back to the kitchen, chuckling. Bilbo looked up from his meal preparations.

“Are they up and about, then?”

“Oh, yes. Quite! I’m sure they will be joining us momentarily.”

The young hobbits swooped into the room like a small tornado. All opportunity for quiet conversation was abandoned as the enthusiastic group chattered away. Pippin clambered up onto the wizard’s lap and bounced in excitement.

“Peregrin! Do get down and allow Gandalf to catch his breath for pity’s sake.” Bilbo reached over and hauled the protesting hobbit off the wizard’s lap and directed him to his own chair with a sharp swat to the seat of his britches.

“Ow! You didn’t have to do that, Bilbo. I was going.”

Pippin’s pout didn’t last for long and soon they were all chattering away again. The mealtime passed in pleasant conversation that was peppered with a hundred questions from the curious lads, and the early morning heat was temporarily forgotten.

******

“All right now.” Bilbo looked around the tidy kitchen with a smile of satisfaction as he dried his hands on a tea towel. “And just what are you lads up to today?”

“We’re going down to the water. We might even take the little boat out later and go fishing.”

“Just be very careful, all right?”

“Of course, Uncle.”

“There’s a good lad. And keep a close eye on your cousins! Especially you-know-who!”

Frodo grinned. “Where is you-know-who anyway?”

Merry shrugged. “Pip ran on ahead. You know how impatient he gets.”

“Why don’t you go on and find him then, while I go after Sam? I don’t think he should be left to his own mischief for very long.”

“All right.”

Merry strolled casually down the lane not particularly eager to locate his mischievous cousin too quickly. He paused to scrutinize some colorful insects on a flower near the side of the road. Bending over for a closer look he became aware of quiet giggles. Straightening up he glanced about. Seeing no one he continued on his way a bit more cautiously and stopped when the laughter came again. Studying his surroundings more closely he finally spied the source of all the merriment. Perched on a fallen tree trunk just a few feet into the woods were two lasses, sitting side by side. They both laughed again when they caught sight of Merry’s startled expression.

“Hullo, Meriadoc Brandybuck! And where are you off to on such a fine day?” The lass who posed the question turned out to be Sam’s older sister, May. Merry didn’t know the other lass’s name, but he had seen her before. He just hadn’t *seen*her before. He stared at her now, a silly grin plastered on his face as his eyes moved in appreciation over the lovely chestnut curls. He looked deep into her brown eyes, captivated.

“What? Cat got your tongue, Merry?” Sam’s sister was enjoying his discomfiture.

Merry forced his gaze away. “Hmm? Oh! I forgot my manners. Good day to both of you.” He crept a bit closer. “I’m afraid I don’t know your name.”

“This is my cousin, Peony Burrows. She’s from Tighfield. You’ve seen her before.”

“Hullo, Merry.” Peony studied him with interest.

Merry was finding it difficult to find his voice and finally cleared his throat noisily. “Hullo, Peony. Nice to meet you.” He felt his stomach flipping crazily and he suddenly felt a bit lightheaded. “Uh, I’d better be on my way. I’m supposed to keep an eye on Pippin.”

“Yes, we saw the little scamp run by us only a few minutes ago. He was chasing a rabbit, I believe. And talking to himself,” May chuckled.

Merry was finding it difficult to take his eyes off the dark curls. He imagined what it would feel like to run both of his hands through that thick hair. The tiny flush of color that appeared on Peony’s cheeks only made it that much more difficult. Merry began backing up, his own cheeks taking on a rosy hue.

“Well, uh…as I said, I have to go--” Merry caught his foot on a tree root and sprawled on his back with a thump. Blushing furiously he hurried to pick himself up off the ground and self-consciously wiped the dirt from his knees.

A polite cough came from behind him. Merry whirled to find Frodo and Sam grinning at him openly.

“Umm, Pippin just ran this way,” he said needlessly. “Chasing a squirrel.”

“Rabbit,” Peony corrected him.

“Right!” Merry wore a lopsided grin as he looked back at Peony again.

“So we heard. It’s nice to see you again, Peony. Hullo, May.” Taking his smitten cousin by the elbow he turned to leave. “We really must be going. Come, Merry!”

“I’ll see you later!” Sam waved as he hurried after Frodo.

Further down the road Merry shook off Frodo’s hand. “What’d you have to do that for? You embarrassed me!”

“Hmm, and here I thought you were doing a grand job of that all on your own,” his cousin admonished him mildly. “You were gaping at that lass like a young lad caught with his hand in the biscuit jar! Really Merry, you need to learn how to be more discreet.”

Merry scowled at him and was about to retort when Pippin came bounding out of the trees laughing and motioning excitedly for them to follow.

“What’s going on, Pip?”

“I just saw something very curious!”

“What’d you see Pip?” Merry was eager to get the attention off himself and responded to his cousin’s glee with enthusiasm.

“I just saw Folco Boffin kissing a lass over by the great old oak tree! Or, she was kissing him.” Pippin scrunched up his face in thought. “I really couldn’t tell the difference. They seemed to be struggling a bit with something. And they were saying mushy things to each other and then Folco put his hands on her, well… on her front, if you know what I mean, down inside her bodice, no less! And, and then they laid down on the ground and they--” Pippin rambled on in his breathless excitement.

Merry groaned as Sam stifled a laugh.

“Pippin!” Frodo interrupted him sternly. “That will be quite enough! You aren’t supposed to run off by yourself, you know.”

Pippin gaped at his cousin as if he’d grown a third eye in the middle of his forehead. “But, Frodo! It was funny! I’ve never seen Folco kissing anyone before. Well, I haven’t really seen that many people kissing anyway, except my mum and da.” He paused, thinking carefully. “And maybe my sister, Pearl. But this was different! Folco’s one of the lad’s! And, they were getting all worked up about it and everything and I dinna understand why…” Pippin’s Tookish brogue was getting thicker as he talked faster. “I mean, for pity’s sake, she’s just a lass! What’s to get all excited about, anyway?”

Frodo groaned, burying his face in both hands while Sam looked around casually and whistled a bit while digging at the dirt with his toe. Merry felt his face grow warm and he knew it wasn’t from the heat of the late morning sun. His thoughts were drawn unbidden to the long chestnut curls and deep brown eyes.

“Frodo? What’s the matter? Is something wrong?” Pippin tugged anxiously on his cousin’s elbow. “Don’t you want to come and see?”

Frodo lifted his head from his hands. “No, Pippin. We don’t want to come and see. In fact, I believe it would be a very good idea if we traveled in the opposite direction.”

“What! Why?” Pippin scrambled along beside him, continuing to ask questions and chattering non-stop as he tugged on Frodo’s shirt sleeve.

~~~

The sun was getting very hot when they decided to bring the boat in and eat their lunch.  Frodo leaned his back against a tree as he gazed up into the beautiful blue sky.  He closed his eyes for a moment and listened as Merry, Pippin, and Sam spread out their little picnic on the ground.

“We sure have a nice catch to take home with us!  There’ll be fried fish for supper tonight.” Sam sounded content.

“I still don’t understand why everyone got so upset with me earlier,” grumbled Pippin, pulling at some tufts of grass in annoyance.

Frodo sighed.  Pippin seemed pained to just let it go without further explanation.  Well, maybe it was time to tell the innocent lad a bit about the birds and the bees.  Frodo opened his eyes and focused thoughtfully on Pippin who was busy tossing about a few acorns.  Perhaps just enough to satisfy some of his curiosity?  But how much was too much?  Maybe some sort of simple explanation would suffice.  He took a deep breath. “Pippin?”  Pippin looked up.

“Folco must really like that lass.  Wouldn’t you agree?”  He ignored Merry’s rude snort.  “I mean, people usually only kiss the ones they care about.  Your parents kiss you, don’t they?  And so do your sisters.  And your cousins.”

Pippin thought hard about it.  “Well, yes, but…” he hesitated.  “But this was different.  It wasn’t like kissing your sister.  And, well…I never saw a lad put his hands all over a lass’s, um. . .chest. . . before.  Kissing someone is nice enough, I suppose.  But, well, I just don’t understand what all the fuss is about.”  Pippin sat against the tree and frowned. Frodo looked helplessly at the others.  Sam lifted his shoulders in a shrug. 

Merry shook his head.  “He’s just too young to understand, Frodo.  Best you leave it alone. Bilbo will have your hide if you say too much.”

“Just what are you talking about?  I’m big enough for you to tell me!  You *always* say I’m too young.  How am I going to learn anything if you don’t tell me?”

Frodo grinned at Pippin’s indignation.  “He does have a point, Merry.”

“Whatever you think, Cousin.  It’s your hide, after all.”  Merry chuckled and stretched out his legs, leaning against a big rock.  He crossed his arms and waited.  “Well?  This should be good.” He winked at Sam.

Frodo tried again.  “Pippin, when a lad and a lass really care for each other they get married, don’t they?” Pippin nodded firmly.  That was something he already knew.


“And before they do that they have to get to know each other pretty well, right?”

Pippin eyed his cousin suspiciously.  “Just how well are we talking about?”

Frodo took a deep breath.  “Well enough to know they want to spend the rest of their lives together and raise a family.”

“Yes?  So?  What are you trying to say, Frodo?”

“Pippin, a lad and a lass have to get to know one another very well in order to do that.”

“Well, yes of course!  I know that my mum and da know each other pretty well.  And they have me and my sisters.  But I never saw them act like Folco and that lass.  I never saw Auntie Esme and Uncle Saradoc act like that either.  I don’t understand what you’re trying to say.  I wish you’d make it clearer.”

“Yes, do make it clearer, Frodo.”  Merry’s mouth twitched in amusement.

“Let me try.”  Sam took the long piece of grass he’d been chewing on out of his mouth and pointed it at Pippin.  “You live on a farm and you’ve seen calves and lambs being born.  And your cat had a litter of kittens last month, didn’t she now?”

“Yes?  But what do kittens and calves have to do with Folco Boffin feeling of that lass’s chest?”  Pippin shook his head.  “You’re confusing me, Sam.”

“Well, like your cousin said, when a lad and a lass like each other then they want to be real close like.  Kind of like Folco and that lass were.  And they like to touch each other because, it. . .ah. . .it makes them feel good.  And it brings them closer.”  Sam took a deep breath and continued.  “Well, because they get to know each other so well, and get so. . .so close, well, then they can have a family.  Just like your kitty did!”  Sam was beginning to stumble over his words.

Pippin stared at Sam in consternation.  “Folco wants to make a family?  But he and that lass haven’t even got married yet!  I thought you had to get married to make a family? Or else it just doesn't work. At least, that's what Nell told me one time when I asked her about it.”

Sam turned three shades of red and Merry snickered.

“I guess it’s my turn.”  Merry looked his little cousin square in the eye.  “Pip, do you think that perhaps Folco and the lass were just practicing?  I mean, before you get really good at anything it usually takes time to learn how, isn't that right?” 

"Perhaps," Pippin wrinkled up his forehead.

“So, if they’re just figuring out how to be close it doesn’t mean they’re trying to do any more than just that, practicing!  And they liked the practicing, didn’t they?” Merry chuckled and winked at the others.

Pippin thought this over.  “It did seem like they were having a nice time. Especially when they started all that moaning and moving about after they laid down under the tree.  Hmm, it’s too bad I left when I did.  I might have understood it better if I’d seen more of what they were practicing.”  Pippin rubbed his chin thoughtfully, trying to imagine what might have happened next.

“Aye, I’m certain you’d have understood, and probably more than you’re quite ready for,”  Sam mumbled. 

Pippin brightened.  “So come along then.  Let’s go see if they’re still there.  They might be doing it again.” Pippin jumped to his feet and was pulled back down by Frodo’s firm hand on his arm.

“No, Pip.  We have to respect their privacy.  Would you want someone watching if you were kissing a lass?”

Pippin scrunched up his face in dismay.  “Ick!  I’m not going to be kissing any lasses.  I still don’t understand what you see in it.”

“Then why are you so curious about it?”

“I just want to know, that’s all.  Never mind, I’ll ask Nell about it when I go back home.”

“Yes, well, in the meantime keep this discussion to yourself.”

Merry rolled his eyes at Frodo in disbelief.  “Do you seriously think he’ll do that?  Frodo, you’ve opened a big can of worms.  And you know what a loose mouth he has.  He’ll spread it all over Hobbiton if you let him--”

“Merry, you take that back!  I can keep a secret as well as you.”  Pippin was rising again, his eyes flashing at his cousin.

“Leave off, Pip.  Settle down,” Frodo admonished, motioning for him to sit.

“Why?”  Pippin was indignant.  He glared at Merry who merely shook his head in disgust.  This seemed to infuriate Pippin all the more.

“Because I said so.  And if you don’t behave I’ll tell Bilbo and you’ll spend the rest of the day in your room.  Now sit.”

“That’s not fair,”  Pippin grumbled, but sat anyway .

Merry laughed.  He received an angry scowl in return as Pippin tried to struggle to his feet once more.  Frodo reached for him and pulled him onto his lap.  He wrapped both arms around his rambunctious cousin.  “Stop,” he scolded and glared at Merry over the top of Pippin’s curls. “The same goes for you.” Merry’s eyes widened in disbelief at the reprimand and Pippin grinned, sticking his tongue out at him.

Frodo sighed.  “It’s getting late.  We should get back.”  He released Pippin and they got to their feet.

Sam leaned over to retrieve his string of fish from the cool stream.

“Grab some of those Merry.  We’ll help Sam take his home first.” He grinned at his friend.  “You caught the most.”

“More mouths to feed.  Thank you kindly for the help.” Sam hoisted his pack.

They walked slowly toward home, Pippin trailing the others and mulling over their conversation.  He turned things over and over in his busy little head, trying to piece it together until it all made sense.  As they approached the Gamgee’s place he spied Sam’s sister and another lass sitting in the little garden sipping a cool drink.  He noted with some amusement that Merry got a silly grin on his face when he looked at the other lass.  Merry barely took his eyes off her the whole time they traded pleasantries.

Realization clicked and Pippin studied the scene with renewed interest.  He flicked his eyes at the two of them as he squatted to place the catch in a bucket of cold water.  He wondered if his cousin wanted to kiss her, or perhaps try any of the other things he’d seen Folco doing.  He was curious to find out just how much practicing Merry had done himself and made up his mind to find out.  Pippin finished his task and stood, wiping his slimy hands on his britches, as he continued to watch his cousin.  He grinned when May and Peony wrinkled their noses at him.

He waved. “Bye!  I’ve got to wash up now.”  Pippin trotted back down the road toward Bag End, chuckling as he went.

Frodo moved closer to Merry and took his arm.  “Merry,” he whispered,  “you’re staring again.  Come along.” 

Merry reluctantly obeyed.  His head was still in that same pleasant fog when they sat down to supper a short while later.  His imagination insisted on replaying the image of dark eyes and a shy smile, and Merry was unaware of the grin he was wearing still. Pippin eyed him with a knowing smirk. Frodo noticed Pippin’s close scrutiny of their cousin and watched him with growing dismay.  He knew that particular look only too well. 

Bilbo looked around the table.  “Did you have a nice time today?” he asked, and began passing the food around.

Pippin nodded with enthusiasm. “We caught a lot of fish!”

“Yes indeed, you did.  Gandalf and I were quite impressed.  We will be preparing them for tomorrow’s meal.”

“What did you do today?” Frodo asked the wizard, desperately trying to distract the adults as he kept one eye on his cousins. 

“Oh, a bit of this and that.  We were not bored, were we dear Bilbo?”

“No indeed. We always find enough to occupy ourselves, even if it’s no more than relaxing with our pipes outside.  It’s too bloody hot do much else this summer.”

“I quite agree.  I do wonder if this wave of heat will continue much longer?”

“Most likely it’s going to end with a big thunderstorm one night soon.  I hope so at least," Gandalf said.

“Merry?” Pippin’s voice interrupted the small talk.

Merry looked up, startled out of his reverie.  “What is it Pip?”

“You like Sam’s cousin."

“So what?”  Merry eyed him suspiciously.

“Do you want to kiss her?”

“What?  Pippin, mind your own business!” 

Pippin chortled.  “I knew it!  You really like her.”

“Pippin.” Frodo sounded exasperated.

Bilbo and Gandalf watched the exchange in confusion.

“You stared at her with a silly grin the whole time we were at Sam’s.”  Pippin chuckled, enjoying Merry’s discomfiture as only a child could.

“Hush up Pip,” Frodo hissed.

“I thought you were going to swoon,” he continued,  “your knees locked up and everything.”

“I wish your tongue would lock up.”

“Lads, that’s enough now.”  Bilbo scolded.

You *do* want to kiss her,” he teased, ignoring Bilbo's directive.  “Are you planning to?”

“Pippin," Merry growled, "one more word and I’m going to swat your Tookish head!” 

“Here now.  That will be quite enough of that kind of talk.  Why, whatever’s got into you?”  Bilbo stared at them in consternation.

Pippin gleefully threw all caution to the wind. “What else are you going to do?  Are you going to practice the family stuff too?  Can I watch?  Are you going to put your hands on her chest?”

“Peregrin Took!”  Gandalf exploded.  “That will be quite enough, young hobbit.  Wherever did you come up with such notions?”

Pippin’s head shot up in surprise.  “What?  I’m just teasing, you don’t have to shout at me.”  He looked to Bilbo for reinforcement, his eyes wide with feigned innocence.  His effort was wasted.

“Gandalf is quite right, Peregrin. You know very well you are up to mischief at your cousin’s expense and I won’t tolerate it.  Now you mind what you were told and also apologise to your cousin right this moment.” 

There was absolute silence at the dinner table while they waited to see how he would respond.  Pippin chewed on his bottom lip nervously, feeling a little puzzled.  He knew he shouldn’t tease Merry, but he didn’t understand why he was getting quite this strong of a reaction to his comments.  “But Cousin Bilbo, Merry was so funny today.  You should have seen him making lamb's eyes at Sam’s cousin.  His mouth was hanging open and he was practically drooling,"  Pippin giggled.

He squeaked in surprise when Merry got to his feet rather abruptly, knocking his chair over, and circled the table heading straight for him.  Frodo reached out to snatch hold of him, but missed.

“Oh, for pity's sake...” Bilbo was also rising and Gandalf was already halfway around the table, reaching Pippin before Merry did and placing himself in front of the cringing youngster.

“Meriadoc, that will be quite enough.”  

Merry was fuming.  “Pippin, how dare you! How could you humiliate me like that?  Why--”

“Enough, Merry.”  Frodo pulled him back to his seat.  Reaching over he placed the chair back on its legs and pushed Merry into it.

“But I didn’t do anything!”  Pippin wailed, bouncing from his own chair and stamping his foot.  “I just wanted to know what you were going to do with Peony--”

“Peregrin, stop talking this instant!” Bilbo caught Pippin by the collar and plunked him solidly back into his seat. “Now, I don’t know what this is all about but it will stop, and I do mean right now.”

Pippin crossed his arms and jutted out his lower lip, sliding down in the chair.  He wrapped his foot around the rung and thumped at it.  Across the table, Merry took up a similar posture and cast an angry scowl at him.   Pippin stuck his tongue out.  Merry rolled his eyes at the childish gesture.

“All right.  Now, what is this all about, my lads?” Bilbo looked from one to the other. Neither of them spoke and Bilbo looked to Frodo for an answer.

“Pippin saw something today that has made him curious--”

“Frodoooo!”  Pippin wailed.

“And Merry is a bit upset with him for being so curious.” Frodo looked at his uncle.  “And I’d really rather just leave it at that, if it’s all right with you.”

Bilbo frowned.  “Yes, well I suppose all that’s important is that you two apologise for your behavior.  So please do so now so and we’ll finish our meal in peace.” 

Neither boy spoke.

“I’m waiting. Apologise to one another.”

More stubborn silence greeted his ears.

“All right,” Bilbo sighed,  “this is the last time I’m going to say it.  Apologise. Now.  Or there will be two most unhappy lads with sore bottoms going to bed early, and without the rest of their supper.”

Pippin winced at the threat.  Flushing with embarrassment he said,  “I’m sorry, Merry.”  He stared down at his plate, feeling the tears welling up in his eyes.

Merry’s anger boiled over like a teakettle left too long on a hot stove.  “You should be.”

Pippin’s head shot up immediately.  Angrily brushing the tears away he glowered at his cousin.  “Hmph.  I tried, Bilbo!  Merry’s quite obviously not willing to be reasonable--”

“Pippin!  Hush up!”  Frodo growled.  “Merry…” Frodo poked him with his elbow,  “Accept his apology.”

“Why should I?”  

Pippin scowled.  “That’s all right.  He doesn’t have to because I take it back!”

“All right, then I take mine back too!”

“You didn’t even make an apology!”

They were both shouting now and Bilbo held his hands over his ears.  “Merry,” he admonished sternly, “as the older lad I would hope you could stop being so childish.  Your attitude is only adding to your cousin’s foolishness.”

“My what?”  Pippin cried.

“But Bilbo, he’s the one who’s being childish.  And he’s the one having a tantrum!”

“Who’s having a tantrum?”  Pippin sprang from his chair, outraged.

The old hobbit scooped him up, tucking him neatly underneath one arm.  “I think I’ve heard more than enough.”  Bilbo whisked the wailing child away, calling over his shoulder,  "I think it’s time we all settled in for the night.  You lads go on to bed yourselves while Gandalf and I share a quiet cup of tea.”

Merry and Frodo allowed themselves quiet groans of dismay at this.  Frodo sensed the rising protest in his cousin and hurried him out of the room.  “Come, Merry!  Let’s not make things worse,” he whispered in his ear as he urged him along.

******

“It sounds like you had your poor Uncle Bilbo at his wit’s end.”  Boromir was still chuckling when Pippin paused for a moment.

Tookish eyes twinkled and he nodded.  “He wasn’t happy with us at all.”

“Yes, they certainly did.  As for myself, I wasn’t entirely sure where all the trouble had begun, but I did know that Bilbo had reached the limit of his tolerance for their disagreement.”

“Well Gandalf, I think you had also reached your limit, particularly when Pip started asking Merry if he wanted to put his hands on that lass’s chest,” Frodo teased.
Everyone laughed.

“Ahem, yes, well I knew the lad didn’t understand what he was saying was quite inappropriate…” Pippin chuckled.
“However,” the wizard continued, casting a stern look at him, “I did know that Peregrin realized it was something that he could tease his cousin with and get quite a strong response from Merry.”

“Oh, he certainly did!  And I was about to swat you Pip, if Bilbo hadn’t put a stop to the whole thing.” 

“Reminds me of how it was having a little brother who didn’t understand the facts of life.”  Boromir laughed.  “Faramir used to embarrass me to no end in front of girls at the same age, Merry!  As a matter of fact, when he realized how much it bothered me he did it all the more.  Don’t feel bad.”

Aragorn was listening to the story with wry amusement as he packed his pipe. “Here, pass me that pouch of pipeweed, will you?”  Gimli gestured at the Ranger as he produced his own pipe. Aragorn handed it to the wizard who helped himself to some of it before passing it along to the dwarf.

“Thank you kindly.”

“Bilbo wouldn’t have allowed you to swat me anyway, Merry!  You’d have been in bigger trouble than you already were.”

“No, because he was about to do that himself.” 

“All right, that’s enough of that, lads.  Let’s hear the rest of the story.”  Boromir urged them on.  “What happened next?”  He grinned conspiratorially at Merry. “Did you get to see the girl?” Merry groaned and buried his face in his hands. Boromir scanned the group of hobbits with a puzzled frown.

“Well Boromir, Merry didn’t actually get the lass, but…” Frodo coughed.

“But the lass did get to see a great deal more of Merry!”  Pippin laughed uproariously and fell back on the ground, earning himself the promised smack to the side of his head from Merry, which only caused him to laugh harder.

“Not to mention the rest of us,” Sam chuckled and his cheeks blushed.

“What?  What happened?  Tell me!”

Pippin wiped the tears from his eyes as he looked at his cousin and then burst into laughter once more.  Merry shook his head in disgust. “Well, we were enjoying a bit of swimming.  You know, playing about in the water and, well, we were naked of course. . .”

“Yes, and for some unknown reason Pippin decided it was the perfect time to get out of the water and get dressed before he went chasing through the woods again.  That was really quite incredible timing, wasn’t it Pip?”

“Merry.  Are you implying that I knew anything about those lasses coming down to the water?”

“Why, yes I am.  How did you guess?”

“I was just lucky, that’s all.  Anyway, let me finish telling this story--”

“Yes, do finish humiliating us, Pip.  We can hardly wait,” Merry frowned.

“Then I’ll tell it as fast as I can because I know you’re anxious to hear it…”

******

The morning sun was already scorching.  Samwise looked up at the sky hoping for a rain cloud or two and was disappointed.  He trudged up the path toward Bag End.  Reaching the door he was surprised to find it quiet inside.  When Frodo’s cousins were visiting Bag End was usually a very noisy place indeed.  He wondered briefly about the silence before raising his hand to knock.

Frodo opened the door just as Sam was about to rap on it.  He came outside and shut the door.  “I just thought I’d warn you.  Merry and Pippin are upset with one another this morning.”

“Why?”  Sam slung his pack on the ground and seated himself next to Frodo on the garden bench.

“Oh, Pip took it upon himself to tease Merry about liking your cousin.  Things went from bad to worse and of course Pippin had to bring up some of the things he saw yesterday--”

“Oh, glory!”  Sam pressed a hand to his mouth, his eyes wide.

“It’s all right, Sam.  All they managed to do was infuriate Bilbo and Gandalf.  Bilbo threatened to paddle them both if they didn’t stop their nonsense and that essentially put an end to it.  For now, at least.”  He sighed.  “Pippin got sent to bed before supper was finished--” 

“Oh, I bet he hated that.”

Frodo nodded.  “It didn’t get any better for Merry or me for that matter because Bilbo was so fed up he made us go too.  I wish I hadn’t said anything to Pippin yesterday.  I do hope he won’t say any more about it.”

“Well, you were only trying to help.  That lad never will just let things go, you know.”

“I know Sam.”  Frodo brightened.  “Shall we leave now?”

Sam nodded.  “What about them?”  Sam tilted his head toward the door.  “Are they coming too?”

“Oh, of course.  They’ll probably take turns pouting and sulking but I’m sure they’ll get over it soon enough.”

Just as he finished speaking the door flew open and Merry stalked out without looking back.  “I’m going swimming,” he called over his shoulder.

Frodo rolled his eyes at the sky.  “Come Sam, let’s collect Pippin and be on our way.”

Pippin was seated at the table carefully placing things in his pack.  “Hullo Sam,” he said without looking up.

“Good morning!”

“Are you ready?”  Frodo put his hand on his shoulder.

“Almost.”

“Going down to the water are you?”  Bilbo exclaimed and shooed them on their way.  “Be careful then, and behave yourselves.”

The trio sauntered down the path together.  Merry was already swimming, his clothes on the bank.  Frodo grinned.  “Are you game?”

“I am!”  Pippin crowed and started stripping off his clothing with wild abandon.  When he got down to his bare skin he ran and leaped into the water making a huge splash.  It wasn’t long before he joined Merry and the two of them began playing together.  They were laughing and splashing as if no argument had taken place between them.

Sam smiled.  “That’s what I like about your cousins.  They always seem to shake off whatever’s bothering them before long.”

“Yes, they don’t seem to hold grudges for any length of time, thank goodness.  Well, would you like to join them, Sam?”

Sam flushed.  “You mean, take off all my clothes?”

“That *is* why it’s called skinny-dipping!  Come, it’ll be fun and it will cool us off.”  Frodo was stripping as he talked and was finally able to talk the reluctant hobbit into joining him.

“Oh, I just hope no one happens along, I do.  I’d surely die from the embarrassment.”

“Oh, for pity’s sake Sam.  No one’s going to see you in the water.” 

“All right.” Sam glumly inched into the water. He had to admit there was something very freeing about wading around completely naked and the cool water felt good on such a hot day.  He began to wonder just how many others might be feeling the same way and come down here to join them?  “Umm, Mr Frodo, what if…” But his friend had traveled a distance away and didn’t hear him.  Sam kicked at the water and forced himself to look like he was having fun. 

Sam saw Pippin headed toward the water’s edge a short while later.  He watched him, puzzled by his hurry as the youngster quickly dressed and sped off into the woods without saying anything.  Sam splashed about for a bit longer.  He happened to glance over by the tree where they’d undressed.  When he didn’t immediately spy their clothing he began to look a bit closer, thinking he’d just overlooked the right place.  Curious, he began wading ashore and his eyes widened in horror when he saw their clothing was gone.

“Oh!  Oh no!  Mr Frodo!” Sam called frantically to his friend as he bent and started searching the bushes in desparation, his chubby bare bum wiggling in the air.

“What Sam?  What’s wrong?”  Frodo climbed out of the water.

“Our clothes!  Who took our clothes?”  Sam howled.

“Where’s Pippin?”  Frodo looked around, missing him for the first time.

“I’m going to kill him!”  Merry’s face was as red as a ripe strawberry.

“No, I get to kill him first, then you can kill him.”  Frodo scowled.  “How are we going to get all the way home without being seen?”  He studied their surroundings trying to come up with an idea.  “Perhaps we’ll have to wait for nightfall.”

“Frodo, that’s hours away!  I have to be home before then or I’ll be in trouble,” Sam moaned.

“Not nearly as much trouble as you’re in right now, Sam,”  Frodo reminded him dryly.

“There has to be something we can do!  I know, let’s get lots of leafy branches and--”

“Wait, I've an idea.”  Merry looked at the little boat and then at the others and grinned.  “We’ll hold the boat in front of us as we walk.”

“Oh, that’ll be just fine until someone comes along behind us.”  Frodo was not impressed.

“Well, do you have any better ideas?”

Frodo glanced around again and finally sighed in defeat.  “No.”

“Let’s go then.”

They hoisted the little boat and began to carry it up the path.  Three nervous and very exposed hobbits kept their eyes wide open for travelers as they made their way carefully toward home.  Sam was moaning quietly under his breath while Merry and Frodo muttered about all the creative ways they planned to get back at Pippin for humiliating them.

They had walked nearly all the way to Bag End, ducking behind trees when they heard voices, and dodging around bushes when they only thought they heard voices.  They swung the boat this way and that, each of them tugging for more cover.  As they finally neared the road leading home, amused laughter drifted from above.  Pippin leaped down gracefully from the low tree branch on which he’d been perching as he tracked their progress, and landed a few feet ahead of them. 

“Oh my, why are you carrying the boat all the way up here?” 

At the same moment quiet giggling floated towards them from the opposite direction.  It was unmistakably female.  None of them possessed the courage to turn around, painfully aware of their bare bottoms on display for all to see. They stopped in mid-flight, unsure of which way to turn.

Pippin egged them on.  Reaching into his pack he pulled out some of the missing clothing and taunted them.  “Did you lads misplace your britches?  Because I found a whole pile of clothes,” he pointed the way they had come, “just over there!”

“Get him!”  Merry roared, forgetting his delicate situation in a mad desire for revenge.  He dropped his end of the boat causing Sam and Frodo to lose their own grip.  It proved to be their undoing.  A mighty shriek echoed up the lane as the boat crashed to the ground.   Merry stared in absolute mortification at the sight before him.  There in the middle of the road stood the object of his affection along with May Gamgee, both lasses with hands pressed to their mouths, eyes gaping at the sight of the three naked hobbits who were momentarily frozen in place.

The sound of Pippin’s laughter brought them careening back to reality and they added their own shrieks to the din as they ran into the woods.  More laughter rang in their ears as they scurried behind some bushes and huddled together.

Pippin grinned at May and Peony.  “I suppose I’d better go get Cousin Bilbo to help these poor naked lads get home. They lost track of their britches somewhere in the woods whilst they were swimming." Pippin sauntered off with a smug grin and a wave over his shoulder.

“Did you hear that?”  Merry fumed, “I’m going to kill him!”

“Not before I do,” Frodo glared at his retreating little cousin's back.

Sam whimpered.  “Oh, we’re never going to live this down, never!”

******

Laughter rang out loud and long and several of them wiped tears from their eyes. 

“Pippin, you took their clothes?  Shame on you!”  Boromir could not contain his merriment.

Pippin grinned wickedly at the big man before looking at his kin.  “But the best part was that I really didn’t know the lasses were headed down that way.”

Sam winced at the memory.  “Aye, you couldn’t have planned it any better had you tried.”

“Oh, but poor Merry.  The lass you’d made eyes at!  I can only imagine the embarrassment you suffered.”  Boromir was shaking his head in sympathy.

“Hmmph, but we saw to it Pippin got his comeuppance, didn’t we?”  Merry winked at Frodo and Sam as he nodded at Pippin.

“I’m certain I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Pippin sniffed.

“Yes, in a way Pippin was doubly embarrassed in the end.” Frodo told them. “Not only did Bilbo paddle his backside soundly, and in front of us…”

“To help make up for the pain and suffering inflicted by our extremely inconsiderate imp of a cousin,” Merry added.

“The next morning we tackled him before Bilbo was up,” Frodo continued.

“We stripped off his nightshirt, dumped him out of his bedroom window and then locked the front door!”  Merry roared. 

“The lasses all thought it was very funny, especially May and Peony.”

“Oh no!  Did they see him?”  Boromir gasped.

“Oh, aye!” Sam said.  “They heard all the shouting and banging on the door up at Bag End and came running to see what was wrong.  Actually, I was already on my way to the garden when I heard yelling and saw someone being tossed out of a window.”

“Not only was Pippin caught out naked, just like we were, but the lasses got to see what a nicely toasted bottom he’d been given for his trouble,” Merry crowed.

Boromir regarded the blushing hobbit thoughtfully.  “This was supposed to be a story where you came out unscathed?  Peregrin, I can’t imagine what it would be like if you were actually the guilty party!”

Pippin sniffed.  “It’s all about perspective, Boromir.”

 




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