Concealing of a Conspiracy - Chapter 2 - Stars

A/N - Many thank you's to those of you kind enough to review. If you have not read the first chapter of this story, copy and paste the following: to get to the chapter. Oh, and in reply to Lily_Took - an AU is an 'alternate universe' story, where some part of the story contradicts Tolkien's work. My story is AU in the fact that the conspiracy is formed earlier than is stated in FOTR, Chapter 5. Hope that helps. :-) If anyone can guess who Merry and Pippin are talking about at the end of the chapter, they shall win - BUM BUM BUM! - a Magic Ring! Give your answer in a review (hint, hint).

Disclaimer - Middle-earth and all it encompasses are not mine, sadly enough. I'm only taking the characters out to play and will put them back in mint condition.

Concealing of a Conspiracy

By - BookHobbit

Chapter 2 - Stars

"Isn't Merry done yet?" Pippin paced in front of Bag End, eyeing Frodo questioningly.

The older hobbit looked up from the book he had
been reading. "Well, if you want to help him with the dishes..."

"No, no," said Pippin hastily as he resumed his pacing. "It's his turn, after all. I wouldn't want to deny him his fair share of the chores."

Frodo grinned and closed his book as he stood and stretched. It had been a few days since the toad incident. Although Frodo heartily approved of getting rid of Lobelia by any means possible, he knew the duo's parents wouldn't share the sentiment. In light of this, he had sentenced both of his younger cousins to chores they had to split equally for their prank. It was only washing the dishes after both breakfasts and supper, but it seemed a lot more to the punished hobbits. Frodo looked at the setting sun as he asked, "Why do you need to wait for Merry? Don't want to play with your Baggins cousin anymore?"

Pippin put on his most innocent face as he glanced at Frodo out of the corner of his eye. "But Frodo, you're so old now. Thirty-three, you know, and I wouldn't want to wear you out--"

The rest of his words (if there were any) were stifled as Frodo grabbed him and started tickling unmercifully.

"Hahaha, oh Frodo, stop! Hahaha!"

"I'll show you too old, you imp. 'Wear me out' indeed!"

* * *

Merry put aside the last plate with a grateful sigh and looked out the window in the kitchen at Bag End to check the time. Fortunately, it faced west, and he could see the sun. It was setting in a beautiful swirl of yellow, orange, red, and pale lavender. He could vaguely hear yells and laughter coming from out of the range of the window's view. Cocking his head thoughtfully, Merry dropped the towel he had been using on the counter and trotted down the hall to the front door. As he saw his two cousins involved in a tickling war, he smirked and leaned against the frame of the door, waiting for the inevitable lull in their play-fight.

It was fairly uneven to the Brandybuck's experienced eye. Frodo had both the element of surprise and was on top. Pippin could hardly move from giggling and gasping out unheeded pleas for his older cousin to stop. Gradually, Frodo grew tired and rolled off, leaving both hobbits flat on their backs in the grass, panting. Merry shook his head as he came outside, glancing casually at the book Frodo had been reading. His eyes widened but he quickly tore them from the book to look at his cousins. "Oh yes, let's leave Merry out of all the fun, shall we?" he asked them mock severely.

Frodo and Pippin exchanged a look and nodded in unison before turning back to Merry. His brow furrowed as he began to back into Bag End. "I was just--" Too late. Frodo and Pippin jumped him and tickled him together. "Joking! Hahaha! Stop!"

Eventually the hobbits grew weary of their game and sat down on the grass to look at the newly visible stars. Frodo, the most learned of the three, pointed out different notable stars. "See, that's Eärendil, the most beloved star of the Elves."

"Why?" Naturally, it was Pippin who had asked the question.

"It's a long story, Pip," Frodo answered, turning his head slightly to see the young Took.

"Well, we're not really going anywhere, are we?"

Merry rolled over onto his stomach so the other two could not see him laughing at Pippin's statement. Frodo sighed and shook his head. "I suppose not." Then he told part of the long tale of Eärendil, and Elwing his wife, and of the Silmaril that was forever attached to his ship because of the Valar. "And so they - Eärendil, his ship, and the Silmaril - were placed in the sky forevermore, as a sign of hope to all good creatures, be they Elf, Man, Dwarf, or even Hobbit."

"Oh." Pippin summed up his thoughts on the account in one word, a very unusual occurrence. "Is that a true story, Frodo?"

Frodo answered, "Yes, because Lord Elrond Halfelven - you remember him from Bilbo's story, don't you?" Pippin nodded. "He is the son of Eärendil and Elwing, so the story must be true."

"Oh," Pippin said again. There was a short silence. "D'you think you'll ever meet Lord Elrond? If so, can you bring him to the Tookland so I can ask him about his father the star?"

Frodo smiled at the multitude of stars twinkling happily down at the three hobbit lads. "Maybe. Maybe I'll take a journey to Rivendell someday." At these unexpected words, both Merry and Pippin looked at their older cousin. His azure eyes appeared to be focusing on something far away that neither of the younger hobbits could see. "Maybe someday I'll take a journey like Bilbo's," he murmured. Suddenly his eyes lost their distant look and he chuckled and changed the subject. "It's high time you two were off to bed." So saying, he got up and brushed remnants of grass and leaves clinging determinedly to his breeches and made for the door.

Merry and Pippin paused a moment behind him. "What was that all about?" Pippin asked worriedly as a startling thought seized hold of him. "He's not - you don't think he'd - go away? Without us?"

Merry glanced toward the door, making sure their Baggins cousin was not likely to hear their conversation. "I don't know, Pip." He rose and walked to where Frodo had forgotten his book. The Brandybuck opened it to reveal many maps - none of them were of the Shire, both hobbits noticed with alarm, and even more shocking, it was labeled in the elf-tongue. Merry's voice had a grim edge to it. "But I think this might have something to do with it." He closed the book. "We need to talk to someone - someone who knows Frodo as good as we do, but sees him more often."

"Who?" asked Pippin curiously. Who knew Frodo better than them, except maybe - "Gandalf?"

Merry shook his head. "No. Someone who sees him everyday, and lives in Hobbiton also." Perplexed, Pippin followed Merry back inside Bag End as the older whispered, "I'll show you tomorrow."

To be continued...

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