Chapter one of this story was written for the Marigold Challenges in 2006. Beta by Marigold.
“In For a Penny, In For a Pound”
The waters of the Brandywine River flowed swiftly across the limestone as it followed its course down the steep incline that would send it on its way out of sight around the bend. Two young hobbits watched as the water foamed in the turbulent whirlpool created by just the right positioning of the rocks at the bottom of the hill. Above them ancient trees swayed and danced in the breeze, casting shadows on the water.
Pippin sighed happily, mellowed by the scene before him and lay back on the grassy riverbank. He settled his hands behind his head and gazed up at the flawless blue sky forming the backdrop for a perfect afternoon of idling. His companion cast a mischievous glance at him as he reached for a blade of grass and also lay back.
Sancho Proudfoot, the same age, and his distantly related cousin, pressed the blade of grass between his thumbs before bringing it to his mouth and blowing on it. He chuckled at the high-pitched tweet it made.
Pippin rolled his head to one side and gazed lazily at Sancho. “So what do you want to do? We’ve a whole afternoon to while away you realise.”
Sancho scrunched up his brow thinking hard. “Do you suppose they’re done yet?”
Pippin snorted. “They’ll be at it for the rest of the day most likely. Poor Merry! And poor Frodo too. How boring, being cooped up with all the adults for an entire afternoon. We’re really quite fortunate they left us out you know.”
“Aye.” Sancho nodded vigorously. “You’re right about that.” He sat up suddenly and smacked Pippin smartly on the thigh, causing him to yelp. Sancho grinned. “Well, come on then. We’ve all this time to kill and no one about to say we can’t do whatever we want!”
“Such as?” Pippin eyed him as he rubbed at his leg.
“I don’t know! Don’t you have any ideas? After all, I haven’t been to Brandy Hall in a long time. I don’t think any of my family has. Come on, Pip! You’ve got to know what kind of things there are to get into around here.”
Pippin rolled his eyes. Sitting up he shook his head. “We have to be a bit more careful Sancho. Uncle Saradoc won’t be taking kindly to any real mischief. Especially with the big celebration he and Auntie Esme are throwing for Great Aunt Pringle. There’ll be a lot of people here after all, and they won’t want to be inviting any trouble to her birthday party. They’re likely to get very upset with us if we cause any problems.” Pippin lay back down and draped his arm over his face. He moaned softly. “Especially after what happened last night.”
“What? Why, I just don’t believe what I’m hearing! My cousin, the master of pranks, afraid to have some fun? I’m ashamed of you! Utterly mortified!” Sancho fell back dramatically and covered his eyes with both hands. “I can’t even bear to show my face,” he moaned. “Oww!” Sancho shot to a sitting position, scowling as he kneaded the crook of his arm where Pippin had flicked him hard with his finger.
“Sancho, we got into a great deal of trouble yesterday and we’ve only been here for two days. We’re very lucky that Uncle Saradoc didn't thrash us for putting all those frogs into the bath and scaring the lasses half to death. As a matter of fact, I can't understand what held him back.”
“Probably it was the mournful look on my little face. There’s no way he would punish anyone with that expression.”
Pippin snorted again. “You must be jesting. One look at that face and I’d want to thrash you all the more!”
Pippin laughed hard until Sancho launched himself atop of him. They tumbled around on the riverbank, Sancho on top at first and then Pippin besting him and rolling him over to sit triumphantly on his chest.
Pippin managed to pin Sancho’s arms over his head for a moment but was unable to hold them there and soon found himself on the bottom again. Sancho had the advantage of being slightly bigger and a little heavier. He held Pippin’s arms above his head and leaned in close to his face.
“Say uncle,” he demanded.
Pippin shook his head and bucked, trying to throw Sancho off. He was quickly pinned back down even more securely and lay glaring up at his overly enthusiastic attacker.
“Come on, Pip!” Sancho laughed and pushed against his wrists harder. “Do it.”
Pippin squirmed and kicked.
“You’re beaten and you know it. Now I want to hear you say it!”
Pippin continued struggling. Sancho responded with glee to the inadequate attempts to spill him off his chest and started to bounce up and down, forcing the air from his victim’s lungs. Pippin’s cheeks began to take on a rosy hue as he fought to catch his breath while attempting to topple his cousin from his vantage point. Sancho simply pressed his knee hard into Pippin’s ribs. “I said, say uncle! Then I’ll let you up.” He laughed. “No, I want you to say Uncle Saradoc!”
Pippin scowled and continued to flail about. Sancho sank his knee even more sharply into his chest causing Pippin to cry out.
Pippin felt the air around him thicken and the edges of his vision become a bit fuzzy. He was certain he was about to pass out. A sound nearby caused his antagonist to look away in surprise. Taking full advantage of his opportunity, Pippin lunged upward for all he was worth and finally managed to spill Sancho onto the ground. He immediately took advantage of the opportunity and threw himself as hard as he could onto Sancho’s back.
“I win,” he wheezed in his ear, gasping to catch his own breath.
Sancho struggled and Pippin rolled to the side, freeing him. Sancho sat up quickly, attempting to draw a deep breath. He glared at Pippin, who laughed in spite of his own breathlessness.
They looked up in alarm. And up. . . and up. . .and up. Shading their eyes with their hands Pippin and Sancho gulped at the sight they beheld. A tall Elf seated upon a magnificent white horse regarded them curiously from the road that led from the Brandywine Bridge.
“Excuse me young ones, but can you direct me to Brandy Hall?”
They nodded slowly, still dumbfounded by the sight, and rose to face the tall being. Glancing uneasily at one another they both pointed in the direction of the Hall.
“It’s that way, sir. May we accompany you to make certain you find it?” Pippin was almost breathless with astonishment. Who was this majestic being?
“Nay, but thank you. I shall have no trouble in locating it.” The elf tilted his head in acknowledgement and led his horse in the direction the hobbit had indicated.
Pippin and Sancho watched in fascination as he made his way slowly out of their sight and then turned to each other.
“Pip, did you see that?”
“Who do you think he is?”
Sancho shrugged. “Why is he here, do you suppose?”
Pippin frowned. “I don’t know but it must be for some important reason. I mean, Elves don’t just wander into the Shire to visit Brandy Hall. Come on!” Pippin tugged on his arm. “Let’s follow him.”
Sancho could see no reason to argue and trotted after Pippin, who had already taken the lead. The pair followed at a discreet distance, ducking behind trees and peering between parted strands of grass, at one point even crawling on their bellies as they tracked the Elf’s approach to Brandy Hall. They crept closer and watched the stranger knock upon the heavy door. They did not realise the elf was aware of their presence the whole time but paid them no mind.
One of the servants answered the knock and bade the visitor wait at the door. They knew she had gone to summon the Master of Buckland. Pippin and Sancho strained their ears trying to hear what was being said when Saradoc appeared at the door. After a short conversation, they headed towards the stables with the horse.
“What do you think of that now? Nice as you please! No questions asked, just off they go!”
“Well, we couldn't hear what they were saying!” Pippin glanced around. “Let’s go!”
They hurried after them and halted just out of earshot as Saradoc stopped to speak with a stable hand. He gestured toward the Elf and then his animal. They could see the worker nodding his head and then they all rounded the stable together and disappeared. The youngsters crept up to the fence that surrounded the building and peeked cautiously around the corner. They were nowhere in sight. In silent agreement the two adventurers followed. They stopped short and pulled back when they spied the trio just inside the lean to where the Brandybuck’s horses were taken to be shod. The Elf was deep in discussion with Saradoc while the smithy scurried about. It looked as if he was preparing a shoe for the stranger’s mount.
Pippin and Sancho glanced at each other curiously and then winced when their names were called out. Reluctantly, the eavesdroppers shuffled into view, heads bobbing in guilt to stand before Saradoc and the mysterious traveller.
“And just why are the two of you sneaking about like thieves in the night," Saradoc asked.
“Umm…” Pippin glanced sidelong at Sancho.
“Well, you see sir, uh. . .”
“Yes? I’m waiting.”
Pippin was the first to raise his head. “We were just wondering. . .well then! One more guest for dinner, is it?” He grinned.
Saradoc shook his head as he rolled his eyes at the lads’ antics, his expression softening. He glanced at their visitor apologetically. “Lord Glorfindel, may I introduce two of my young relatives? This one here with so much to say is my nephew Peregrin Took and the quiet one is a cousin, Sancho Proudfoot. Lads, say hello to the esteemed Lord Glorfindel of Rivendell.”
Pippin and Sancho stared at the elf lord in amazement. Glorfindel for his part was remarkably at ease whilst being ogled by the two rambunctious youths. He calmly inclined his head towards them in greeting.
“Our visitor’s horse threw a shoe while travelling the East Road today.” Saradoc nodded at the huge animal.
The lads stared up at the beast. He was much bigger than the ponies they were accustomed to. Sancho’s mouth hung open as he took in the sheer size of the animal. Pippin reached over and placed his finger under his cousin’s chin and pushed, snapping his mouth shut. Sancho started and threw a look of annoyance at Pippin.
“Well lads, off and about with you whilst we tend to the matter at hand.”
Neither moved. Saradoc frowned. “Well? If you’ve nothing better to do but stand here gawking then I’m sure I can find something to occupy your time.”
The youngsters shook themselves out of their reverie.
“No, Uncle! Don’t go to all that trouble for us. We were just leaving.” Pippin turned and grabbed Sancho by the elbow, pulling the still dumbfounded lad along with him. “Maybe Merry and Frodo are free by now. Let’s go find out!”
“Good idea!” Saradoc called after them. “Why don’t you go find them? And stay out of mischief!”
Pippin glanced back over his shoulder as they scurried away. “See what I mean? He hasn’t forgotten what we did yesterday.”
Sancho shook his arm loose. “Oh, don’t be so dramatic, Pip. That was all for the benefit of that Elf lord fellow! He’s trying to impress him by ordering us about.” Sancho scooted ahead.
Pippin followed shaking his head in disbelief. “Oh, aye! You must be right! Uncle Saradoc’s been waiting around all morning just to have the chance to scold us in front of an Elf.” He popped himself in the forehead with his open palm. “What was I thinking?”
“Oh, do be quiet.”
The pair walked in silence for a few minutes.
“Do you suppose he’ll be spending the night?”
Pippin glanced at Sancho as he accompanied him up the path toward the meadow. He tugged at his bottom lip thoughtfully before answering. “I wonder. It would be fascinating to talk to an Elf.”
“I was thinking ‘twould be even more fascinating to ride his horse,” Sancho snickered.
Pippin froze in his tracks, horrified. “What? You must be jesting!”
“Oh, settle down. Of course I didn't mean it.” Sancho stalked ahead. He paused as they reached the little pond where they’d caught the frogs. “Still. What an opportunity!” He inspected the murky water with feigned interest. Picking up a stick Sancho poked around the muddy edge a bit. He ignored the look of consternation on Pippin’s face and smiled to himself under the close scrutiny.
Pippin didn’t like the gleam that was growing in Sancho’s eyes. He recognised it only too well. It was the kind of look that always got him into trouble. Pippin shifted uneasily. He didn’t like the sound of this. Maybe the Elf wouldn’t be spending the night anyway.
“Sancho,” he cautioned.
“Oh, hush. Never mind then. Let’s go find Merry. I’ll race you!”
Pippin was taken by surprise as Sancho darted ahead of him back toward the Hall. Shaking his head he ran after him.
“What have you two been up to?” Merry was rummaging in his chest of drawers when his cousins flew into his room quite out of breath.
“Oh, nothing in particular.” Pippin smiled knowingly at him. “Did you have a pleasant time? With all that boring adult talk, I mean? Must have been very exciting!”
Merry cuffed him playfully on the back of the head. “Right.” He shrugged. "I’d rather be outside running about with everyone else and let Frodo help handle the task of planning the party.” He grinned. “There’re so many people visiting right now that I haven’t seen in ages.” He ruffled Sancho’s hair. “Right scamp?”
Sancho snorted rudely and ducked away from Merry’s condescending gesture.
Pippin looked around. “Where’s Frodo then?”
“In the kitchen with Mum and Aunt Eglantine and some others. Let’s go get him!”
“Aye, and let’s go get something to eat too!” Sancho raced off ahead.
Entering the big kitchen they located Frodo off to the side at a table making a snack of some fruit and cheese while he listened to the adult’s conversation. He raised a hand and beckoned to them. His eyes twinkled as they joined him. “I just heard we’re having a guest join us for dinner and the night. None other than Lord Glorfindel from Rivendell.”
“What?” Merry’s eyes grew huge.
“We thought he’d probably be staying.”
Sancho smiled knowingly and winked at Pippin who shivered when he saw that same gleam perking up in his eyes again.
“What’s the matter?” Sancho waggled his eyebrows at Pippin's fretting.
“How did you know about it?” Merry asked.
Pippin ignored Sancho and turned to Merry and Frodo. “We met him as he was coming down the road from the Bridge. He wanted to know how to get to Brandy Hall.”
“And we followed him,” crowed Sancho in delight.
Frodo eyed Sancho with suspicion. He knew his penchant for trouble only too well. “And why did you follow him?”
“We were just curious, that’s all.” Pippin nudged Sancho in the ribs. “Right?”
“Huh? Oh, of course! Just wanted to find out what he was about, that’s all.”
Frodo studied them for a few moments before speaking. “Just remember that Lord Glorfindel is a very dignified and important person in his realm. It wouldn’t do at all for you to embarrass him or any of our family during his visit. It’s actually quite an honour for us to receive him here.”
“Oh, certainly Cousin. What makes you think we’d be setting about to embarrass anyone?”
Frodo frowned. “Because I know you too well, Sancho. You too, Pippin! My warning is meant for both of you.”
“I wouldn't do anything,” said Pippin.
Sancho chuckled. “I’ll keep an eye on him Frodo, never fear.”
“You’ll have to excuse me Sancho, but that’s exactly what I’m afraid of.” Frodo lowered his voice and spoke frankly to them. “I mean it lads. Uncle Saradoc won’t be the only one after your tails if you don’t heed my words. There’ll most likely be a long line forming and I just may be at the head of it myself!”
Merry watched the exchange thoughtfully and glanced over at Pippin when Frodo finished speaking. His cousin was looking exceedingly uncomfortable while his other young cousin appeared increasingly smug. He decided he'd help Frodo keep a close eye on them both. Merry knew Sancho had a bit of an ornery streak and sometimes went out of his way to get Pippin into hot water with him. And Pippin would tag right along. Merry hadn’t quite decided if the problem was naivety on Pippin’s part or manipulation on Sancho’s. Most likely it was a little of both. And Pippin certainly didn’t need any help finding trouble. It always found him.
“It’s a game, Pippin. Only a game. Come on, it’ll be fun!”
Pippin watched with more than a little trepidation as Sancho climbed up into the lofty rafters of the blacksmith’s shed and then turned and beckoned to him. Despite the little voice in the back of his head telling him not to he went ahead and joined Sancho on his perch above the stalls. The horse pranced a bit nervously, unsure of the young intruders’ intentions.
“What are you doing then?”
“Just looking. Relax Pip! I only want to see something.”
“What? I don’t see anything. Well, except a horse. And an Elvish horse at that! And some ponies of course. And--”
“Oh, do shut up, will you?” Sancho leaned over and studied the sight before him. Perfect. His plan was in place. He turned to Pippin. “All right. I’m ready, let’s go!”
Pippin looked at him in confusion. “Go? Go where?”
“Why back to the Hall of course! It must be almost time for dinner.”
“What? Well, why did we come out here? I thought we were going to play this game of yours?”
“We are,” Sancho reassured him. “Later tonight. You’ll see. It’s a surprise. We’re coming back out here after everyone’s in bed.”
“Why, we’re going to play a game with Lord Glorfy’s horse!”
Pippin paled. “I don't think I’m going to like this game.” He looked at the horse in the stall below them. “Actually, I’m certain I don't want to play anymore.”
“Of course you do.”
Pippin shook his head vigorously from side to side while Sancho nodded his up and down.
“Pippin, don’t worry. We won’t get caught.”
“That’s what you said the last time!”
“And we wouldn’t have either if you hadn’t made so much noise climbing down from the roof!”
“That wasn’t my fault! The rung of the ladder gave way.”
“Well, we’re not using a ladder this time, are we?”
“How am I supposed to know what we’re using when you won’t tell me anything?”
“I’ve told you all you need to know. It’ll ruin the surprise if I say any more.”
“I don’t think I want to be surprised.”
“Sure you do! Now let’s get back before they start looking for us.”
Pippin climbed down from the loft, heart pounding and his palms sweaty. Oh, what am I letting him get me into this time? The problem was, he couldn't wait to find out.