Young Took--Part 1 - Cloudy With a Chance of Strawberries
Rays of light shone through the shades that had been drawn across the windows of Peregrin Took's nursery. The youngun was a bundle of energy and happiness, and at four, kept everyone on their toes with his questions. And this morning was no exception.
Eglantine, Peregrin's rosy and round mother, opened the door a crack, to see her toddling son standing in his crib, gazing peacefully out the window. Smiling to herself at the serene sight, she stepped into the room, but was bombarded with the day's first wild Peregrin inquiry.
"Mum, is today tomorrow?"
Eglantine blinked wildly for a moment, wondering what on earth made him think such a thing.
"No, darling, today is today," Eglantine said, sweetly, lifting him from his bed. Peregrin's face went aghast in confusion.
"You said that yesterday!" he cried.
Eglantine sighed, lifting the child from his pen. He had always been that way. Occasionally she felt the need to blame it on his cousin, young Meriadoc Brandybuck, who had been the one to dub him "Pippin," but there were some quirks that were all the toddler's own. The questions were one of them. Meriadoc, or Merry, was one to answer questions himself with the strangest responses his immature mind could think up. But Eglantine couldn't be sore at the child. It had been he who saved the life of her only son, Pippin. During the delivery of Peregrin, Eglantine experienced such pains she had never felt with her girls. The pains came as fire shooting up her spine, making her wail in agony. There was suspicion that this was caused because the child inside was dying. Merry was sent to find Master Gamgee, who was an expert with herbs. Master Gamgee arrived soon after Peregrin was delivered, and a good thing too, for the baby boy wasn't crying as an infant should.
Peregrin Took was tiny and weak, but with a few good medicines mixed by Master Gamgee and his son, Samwise, Pippin gained weight within weeks and soon became a rosy-cheeked, energy-filled baby. Sometimes Eglantine wondered if he was not happy to a fault, but then how could that be possible? Pippin rarely showed tears, and if he did, it broke the hearts of all around him, and he was immediately swept away and tended to. He was, to put it into the words of the hobbits at the Great Smials, a "darling child."
"Guess who is coming to see you today, Pippin!" Eglantine said.
"I don't know!" Pippin exclaimed. He exclaimed a lot as a little child. Nearly everything excited him.
"Your cousin is," said Eglantine. Never losing the happy smile across his face, Pippin merely nodded.
"You don't know which cousin I'm talking about, do you?" Eglantine asked, smiling too. Still all grins, Pippin shook his head slowly.
"Meriadoc," came the reply that brightened up Pippin's face so that it nearly had its own glow.
"Yay! Merry's coming! Merry's coming!" Pippin sung loudly, and Eglantine had to wrestle him down so she could dress him. When she had completed the task, Pippin was let down to run, though he was more apt to skip and sing jots of made-up songs of his own concoction, though they rarely made much sense. Eglantine smoothed back a few stray curls from her forehead, sighing as she watched him trot off. What had they found for entertainment before he came along?
To the four year old Took, Merry Brandybuck was a beam of heroic golden sunshine in a dull, grown-up world. He had the energy and brains to match any Thain, and the means and the capability to thrash any ruffian. Though in reality, Merry was but twelve years of age and quite gangly for a hobbit (as gangly as hobbits go, which isn't very gangly, considering the pudginess of hobbits).
It was midmorning when a cart rumbled over the hill into the view of the Great Smials. Aside from several morning meals and a race around the house with one of his cousins, Pippin had spent all morning awaiting the arrival of Merry with bated breath.
The entire household knew when Merry had arrived. Pippin didn't let a soul get by unaware. Bounding for the door, he danced in little circles, sometimes flapping his little arms as if it would help him reach the knob.
"Open the door, please! Open the door, please!" he chanted, still running in circles. His father, Paladin, came to rescue his son before he made himself sick and dizzy as Eglantine opened the door. Wiggling away from his father's grasp, Pippin bounced out the door, following up his chant with a delighted shriek.
"Frodo's here, too! They're both here! Both of them!"
For a hobbit in his tweens, Frodo was considered golden in Pippin's eyes, nearly rivaling with Merry, but not quite as clever. Frodo was kind and thoughtful, but Merry could out-wit him any day. At least, Pippin thought so.
The cart pulled 'round in front of the smial and Frodo pulled it to a stop. Leaning back, he prodded a bundle in the back, and out from the blankets popped the dirty curls of Meriadoc himself. He rubbed his eyes and picked some hay out of his hair, then jumped off the back, brushing off his brown waistcoat.
"It is good to see you again, Mr. Baggins," Paladin was saying, shaking hands with the average-sized hobbit.
"Hallo, Merry!" Pippin said, waving frantically to his cousin, who appeared rather bedraggled and tired.
"I'm afraid we're both a bit out of sorts, Mr. Took," Frodo was saying, "We left early last evening and only stopped for an hour or two for rest."
"Good gracious, Mr. Baggins, what was the hurry?" Paladin asked.
"No hurry. Only a bit of adventure, right, Merry?" Frodo said, turning to the smaller hobbit. Merry nodded in agreement.
"It was my idea to stop and sleep in the back of the cart," he said, proudly.
"You would think of something like that, wouldn't you?" Paladin's face reflected a certain disdain towards the young Brandybuck, but he brushed it aside for the moment, letting them in the door. Pippin made his way to stand beside Merry, though he just barely came to his cousin's waist.
"I'm sure we can arrange a spot of tea for you two, if you'd like," said Paladin, as he ushered them towards the kitchen.
"If it wouldn't be too much trouble, and if it is, we can wait," Frodo replied, cordially.
"Don't let him be polite. He complained all this morning, and I know I'm half-starved," Merry interjected. Pippin caught sight of Frodo rolling his eyes, a typical tween response, and Pippin laughed, nudging Merry, who grinned. Sometimes good manners were shoved aside to make room for poking fun.
"How come you've come, Frodo?" asked Pippin, when the sport of aggravation had passed momentarily.
"I've brought Merry; he was staying at Bag End for the weekend," Frodo replied.
"What for?" was Pippin's next question. It was hardly fair that Merry got to stay at the glorious Bag End and Pippin couldn't. Afterall, anything Merry could do, Pippin ought to be entitled to try as well!
"Well, I used to live at Brandy Hall when he was younger, and he comes every so often just to visit," responded Frodo.
"Can't I come? Aren't I ready?" Pippin asked, eagerly, his eyes lighting up. Frodo laughed, sharing an uneasy glance with Pippin's father.
"Well, Pippin, I'm sure you are ready, but I'm not so sure Bag End is ready!" said Frodo. Paladin nodded his approval with a look that clearly said, Good answer.
"When will Bag End be ready?" Pippin asked.
"Oh, I suppose in a year or two," replied Frodo. Pippin planted his hands on his hips.
"Is it that bad?" he questioned. Frodo nodded, trying to keep a grave manner.
"Well...then why does Merry go?" was the next question. Frodo paused, looking to Paladin and Merry as if to say they could offer a hand any time. Paladin covered a smile and Merry only shrugged.
"How about you show us to the kitchen for some tea, Pippin?" Frodo suggested.
"It's this way," Pippin answered, appearing to forget the notion concerning Bag End for the moment. But both Frodo and Merry knew that they wouldn't be able to keep him away from the green-doored smial for long. He'd want to come sooner or later. And knowing Pippin, it'd most likely be sooner.
The hues of vivid yellows and red streamed in through the open calico curtains as Pippin watched Frodo and Merry take their seats on the small, wooden, high-backed chairs in the far corner of the vast dining hall. The room was well-lit and, though its size was enormous, its manner was quite charming. Pippin took his perch next to Merry, of course, trying to put on grown-up manners while the adults gossiped. He let his legs swing and his toes wiggle, for he desperately wanted to retreat outside to play. As for Merry, he sat and ate his food without another care in the world, hardly giving the grown-ups two seconds worth of a thought. Paladin had given Pippin a small cup of milk, but other than that, Pippin had nothing to occupy his mind.
"...and things are quite lovely in Hobbiton, save for the letters Bilbo keeps getting from the Sackville-Bagginses--" Frodo was cut off by Pearl, Pippin's oldest sister.
"Aren't they just positively horrid?! Why, it was only just last week when my uncle, Ferumbras the Third, although he really isn't my uncle--his grandfather was Isumbras the Fourth, who was the brother of my grandfather, Hildigrim Took, and Isumbras the Fourth was the Thain at the time, as you know--"
"Lawks, Pearl, does this got anything to do with the Sackville-Bagginses Mr. Baggins was speaking of?" Pervinca, the sister closest to Pippin in age, exclaimed.
"Pervinca, dear, don't interrupt your sister. It is well that she knows her family tree," said Eglantine gently. Pippin sighed, rolling his eyes and turning his attention to the nearby window. Grown-ups were so boring. All they ever wanted to talk about was family trees and who's doing what to whom. That, and the weather was always a fascinating topic to them, too....
"...I hear that you have been getting a good deal of rain in Hobbiton, Frodo," said Paladin, interrupting the impending feud among his daughters. Pippin decided to shut himself off from their conversation. There was nothing to listen to, anyway.
A clumsy fly bumped up against the glass of the window, as though it longed to be free, too. Pippin took a long drink of his milk and shifted his attention to the fly, letting out a long, audible sigh. Prodding a pudgy finger at the fly, Pippin giggled as the fly's fuzzy body bumped up against his fingertip. It tickled.
"Mum, can I open the window?" he asked, wanting to let the fly out so he could be free.
"No, Pippin, you'll let in a draft," answered Eglantine, and turned back to the grown-up conversation. What are windows for, then? wondered Pippin, geniunely confused. He looked back at the pitiful fly. Perhaps he could catch it and stick it in his pocket, and then later, when they went outside, he'd set it free. There was a nice idea! Raising both hands, Pippin followed the fly carefully with his eyes, then when he thought he was ready, he clapped his hands, attempting to trap it in his palms. Instead, the fly dropped like a rock. Laughter suddenly echoed nearby.
"Pip, that's rather disgusting!" it was Merry, who had watched the whole scene. Pippin looked up at him, giggling hard, and showed him his hands.
"I could clean them off on you!" he laughed, wagging his soiled hands in front of Merry's face.
"You wouldn't dare!" Merry cried, scooting back.
"Do you mind, Meriadoc; we're talking!" Pearl scolded, "Nasty, Pippin, what have you got on your hands?"
"Fly," replied Pippin, grinning from ear to ear. Rolling her eyes in utter distaste, Pearl groaned, turning her head away.
"Mother..." she complained, whining.
"I'll go fetch a damp rag," said Eglantine. A few moments later, the situation had passed and Pippin once again had clean hands. After inspecting the dead fly from where he sat at a distance and watching a blue bird bring sticks back to its nest, Pippin's attention span had reduced to practically nothing. Downing the last of his milk and leaning his head in his clean hands, he began to feel the overwhelming power of boredom. A moment later, that was that. He couldn't sit still a moment longer.
"That's nice, everyone; may I go outside, Mum?" he said, loudly, standing up on his chair so he could be seen.
"Pippin, you sit down this instant and if you interrupt again, I'll send you to your room. I want a few moments of peace," Eglantine said.
"But you have," whined Pippin.
"I've only sat for five minutes, Pippin, now that is enough from you. Sit down," his mother commanded.
"Actually," Frodo spoke up, pushing back his plate, "Merry told me of a place that Pippin knew of to pick strawberries, and I promised Merry that we could go today. For his and Pippin's sake, I wouldn't mind taking them now. We will all have the chance to talk once they are in bed tonight."
"True. I suppose, since you two are visiting, we'll allow it. But just this time," agreed Eglantine.
"Hurrah, Frodo and Merry and me! Out for strawberries!! I love strawberries!" Pippin lept from his seat, beginning to make up a little tune, "They're big and red and juicy, and can be rather squishy If... If what?"
"If they get between your toes?" supplied Merry. Pippin burst out laughing, and infectious sort of laugh that even the die-hard pessimists couldn't keep a straight face on hearing, and grabbed Merry's hand.
"Let's go get the baskets; they're in the pantry! Come on!" Pippin coaxed.
"I'll wager I can beat you there!" challanged Merry. Merry was always wagering things, though he rarely ever meant it truly.
"You cannot!" Pippin exclaimed, and they dashed down the hall, side by side, racing for the pantry.
"Now you've gone and riled him up, Mr. Baggins," said Paladin, shaking his head, "Best of luck out there. If they don't half-kill you by the time you get back, I'll wager that you can accomplish anything." Frodo only smiled in return.
It was high noon when the three of them ventured out in search of strawberries. Pippin was insistent on composing a song about strawberries, so a good deal of the way was spent trying to come up with a little ditty for their day out. Pippin had the tune in his head, and Frodo and Merry supplied words when he got stuck. It was a rather small, trivial thing that they ended up singing, but Pippin loved it, and both Frodo and Merry were happy when Pippin was happy.
"They're big and red and juicy,
And can be rather squishy,
If they get between your toes!
You can keep your potatoes,
your peas and gourds and seeds!
I haven't met a chap who didn't--
Over and over and over, until Frodo had gone hoarse and even Merry was getting a little tired. But their strength returned when they found their prize: an entire acre of wild strawberries. Even Frodo found the energy to laugh aloud when Pippin came to the patch and spread his arms out, singing at the top of his lungs: "I haven't met a chap who didn't--Like strawberries!!"
"You would think that the lad had never seen a strawberry in his life, wouldn't you?" laughed Merry, as Pippin set to picking ever big and red and juicy berry he saw.
"He's only four; he cannot have seen that many," replied Frodo, then called out to Pippin, "Remember: don't pick the yellow ones! And you know that they are ripe if they snap when you pick them!"
"Snapping red ones; that's all we're taking?" Pippin asked.
"You will get sick off the others!" Frodo answered.
The day was, truthfully, incredibly hot. Scattered clouds were dappled across the deep blue sky that hung above the thick leaves of the emerald green trees. A thick haze tremored around them, but that didn't seem to phase Pippin Took. His face got rosy and sweaty, but he never once panted for breath, though he ran everywhere he went. And while Frodo had to stop for awhile to cool off, Pippin kept plucking the berries as though there was no tomorrow.
"There's nothing quite like the energy of a toddler to make one smile, is there?" said Frodo, as he mopped the back of his neck where his shirt stuck to his back.
"I know it," said Merry, smiling at Pippin, "but you do know that he'll be laughing when we get old and grey first and can't walk by ourselves."
"I know that, too," laughed Frodo, standing as he rolled up his sleeves and looked to the sky.
"Does it look rather dark over there to you?" he asked. Merry looked at the sky to the east.
"It does look like a storm's coming," he said.
"What are you standing around for?" cried Pippin. Then he saw the angry clouds to the east, riding on the winds towards them and brewing as though they held revenge.
"We may want to start heading back, Pippin," Frodo said, "I wouldn't want to get caught in that."
"But we don't have enough strawberries to fill an entire side of the kitchen!" Pippin protested, stamping a little. He felt upset that the clouds had rolled in so fast; the weather had be so lovely before. Oh, no! He was thinking about the weather--like a boring adult!
"We can come back tomorrow, if you want," Frodo was saying," but that's coming in too quickly for my comfort. We ought to head back now." Pippin groaned, disappointed, but hugged his basket close to his chest, ready to head home.
After taking a moment to gather their things, the three hobbits began their venture back home. A spiteful wind had begun to blow, making it difficult for Pippin to keep his eyes open long before they dried out and then teared up. All of the energy he had spent picking all the berries began to wear on him, and he began to feel achy and tired. His feet were sore, and there were leaves stuck to the bottom of his hairy sole. Thunder rumbled in the distance, and then Pippin felt slightly frightened. He was so much smaller than his companions: what if they lost him? Being frightened only made Pippin feel more tired.
"Frodo!" he cried, feeling the tears pricking his eyes, "Frodo, carry me, please!"
"Can't you walk?" Frodo asked, twisting his head to look at Pippin over his shoulder just as Pippin began to feel raindrops.
"I'm so tired, Frodo," whined Pippin, pitifully, stumbling as if to add more effect, though it probably never even crossed his tired mind. Frodo sighed, aware he had would be carrying the extra weight all the way back, and shifted his basket so he could hoist the hobbit-tot into his other arm. But just as he was situated and prepared to carry Pippin the rest of the way home, he noticed something: Merry was nowhere in sight.
"Pip, wasn't Merry behind you?" he asked. Pippin nodded.
"Where is he now?" Frodo pressed further. Pippin's eyes widened.
"He's lost! We lost him! Turn back, Frodo, we have to find him!" he cried.
The wind and the rain had begun to come more swiftly, and as they begun to cry out their cousin's name, it faded quickly on the hurried gusts. Frodo took to jogging, though it jostled Pippin and upset their strawberry baskets. Pippin's eyes raced to and fro, seaching and probing to find his dear friend.
"Merry!" he yelled once again. Where was he? Where--
Then a thought dawned on Pippin. That dirty little trickster! He'd be hiding, no doubt, trying to make them come and find him for the sport of seeing their scared faces. He would, he would. That's what Merry did. I'll spit on him, Pippin thought, livid. Didn't Merry know the peril? There was thunder and lightning, for goodness's sake! They could die at any moment! For a four year old, there is nothing more frightening and dreadful than storms.
"Let me down! Let me down!" Pippin cried, wiggling fiercely in Frodo's arms. The poor Baggins did what he was told, though he couldn't understand why one moment Pippin was tired, then the next moment he was fierce and wanting to run. But then again, Frodo had been warned once that that was Pippin: erratic to a fault. How can anyone understand the mind of a toddler?
Pippin's mind began to spin. Now he was getting somewhere, if only he could find a place that would be ideal for hiding. Where would Merry hide? He had to think fast: the rain was coming in painful torrents and Pippin didn't want to stay any longer. Then he spotted a dead log, lying on the side of the trail and covered in moss and surrounded by thick grass. A perfect Brandybuck hide-out.
"I think he's over here!" Pippin hollered to Frodo, and ran to the log.
Poking his head over the side of the log, Pippin spotted Merry, lying pathetically on his back and looking like a dead fish.
"Bury me, Pip," he groaned, "I've been struck by lightning." Pippin, though only four years old, saw straight through the bluff and didn't buy it for a second. He knew Merry well.
"You have not, you big, ugly fake!" he cried, but by this time, Frodo was at the log, looking concerned.
"Great Arda, don't speak to him that way!" exclaimed Frodo, then held up two fingers in front of Merry's nose, "Merry, lad, how many do you count?"
Merry's eyes fluttered beneath their lids as though they were trying to focus on Frodo's fingers.
"Brandywine Bridge, twenty miles," he mumbled, then let his head flop back onto the wet sod.
"You make me sick," Pippin spat, "Stop it and get up!"
"Pippin, behave! He's hurt!" Frodo shouted, then to Merry, said, "Here, lad, do you think you can lean on my arm and walk?" Merry opened his eyes and nodded. Sliding an arm beneath his back, Frodo helped the hobbit-lad to his feet.
However, when all was said and done, the hobbit in his tweens had to support Merry, and carry all the strawberries and an armful of Pippin all the way back to the Great Smials. And Frodo thought then that he really could accomplish anything. Anything at all.
Hours later, Pippin sat across from Frodo at the small table in the kitchen. Frodo leaned his elbows on the table and held his warm teacup with both hands. Pearl had brought him a warm blanket to throw over his shivering shoulders. Pippin felt well and was sipping another cup of milk. All awaited in silence for the final verdict on how Merry fared.
The three of them had given all the Tooks quite a scare when they stumbled in the door, and Frodo collapsed with fatigue on the doormat. Of all of them, Frodo was probably the worse for wear, but nobody would know it. Merry wasn't letting up on his stunt, and Pippin began to see why he hadn't. In order to make him feel better, Eglantine had served him hot tea, soup, and a bowl full of the best strawberries. His genius made Pippin almost sick to his stomach. How a lad could think up a trick so clever was beyond him! To say that Pippin was jealous would be an understatement.
As Pippin took another gulp of his milk while immitating Frodo by propping himself up by the elbows and holding his mug with both hands, Eglantine entered the room. Everyone looked to her for the word on Merry.
"He doesn't have a fever," she said, "and there aren't any burns to show he's been struck by lightning--"
"Maybe it was a little bit of a lightning," suggested Pervinca, which was rewarded with a scolding glare for interrupting.
"He still complains of feeling sick to his stomach and being rather confused. He appears to look well, but I told him that if he still felt bad in the morning, I would send for a doctor. Right now, he just needs rest and good food," Eglantine concluded.
"Can I take him his soup?" asked Pippin. This was agreed to, and Pippin trotted down to the spare bedroom where Merry lay.
The candle was lit in the window, flickering and reflecting shadows that danced together on the wall. Pippin set the bowl down on Merry's end table and sat by his bed, frowning in silence. Slowly, Merry opened one eye, and, seeing Pippin, threw him a smile and a wink. Pippin did nothing.
"Oh, lor!" Merry exclaimed, propping himself up with pillows, "You're not angry at me, are you?"
"No," said Pippin, "But it isn't fair! How do you do it?"
Merry laughed, whole-heartedly, handing Pippin a big and red and juicy strawberry from a little bowl on the end table.
"I'll tell you all my secrets, Pip," he said, throwing his arms over his head, luxuriously.
"Promise?" asked Pippin, nibbling into the strawberry.
******To Be Continued...
Note of Recognition: The character of young Pippin in this one is based on my kid brother, who acted A LOT like a Took as a tyke. Just thought you should know! ~Ainariel