The day Meriadoc Brandybuck was born was cold and snowy. From the moment he could take in air, Meriadoc made his voice heard. Through his infant years, he had occasional crying spells that would drive his mother, Esmeralda, to nearly tear out her hair. Those crying spells eventually changed into temper tantrums, though these were less frequent. Meriadoc, or Merry, as his relatives fondly dubbed him, was head-strong and independent. But overall his tantrums and spells, Merry displayed the need for mischief. And friends.
Merry was a born leader. At the early age of three, it became clear to the elders of Brandy Hall that Meriadoc Brandybuck had declared his thainship over the rest of his toddling cousins. No matter how many ways the mothers’ of these babies tried to keep the little ones in their playpen, Merry always found a way out, then would lead his cousins on great crawls through the corridors of Brandy Hall. These would cause a great disturbance among the grown-ups, for when the nurse returned and found all the youngsters missing, every hobbit turned out to find them. The hobbits in their tweens thought these great crawls were absolutely the funniest events at Brandy Hall and called them the “Patrols of the Romper Ruffians”. Eventually, the young Brandybuck culprit was caught and exiled from the community playpen.
Merry’s mother was a famous cook in Brandy Hall and was nearly always in the community’s kitchen, cooking for the great number of Brandybuck that lived there. Because of this, Merry’s father, Saradoc, did the greater deal of Merry’s raising. Saradoc loved his son and would carry him on his back in a little pack when Merry couldn’t walk.
When Merry was five, he and his best friend, Fredegar Bolger, would have wonderful larks trying to frighten Asphodel Brandybuck-Burrows out of her wits, for the woman made the craziest yelp when she was frightened. They did everything to make her yelp, from placing spiders on her pillow to sneaking frogs in her elevensies. Merry wasn’t afraid of pests.
One day, when hiding in the pantry cupboard, waiting to frighten Asphodel, Fredegar, often called Fatty for obvious reasons, spoke up:
“Hey, Merry,” he whispered, “what if we scare her so bad, she kills herself?”
“Kills herself?” Merry echoed, “That can’t happen, can it?”
“I don’t know,” Fatty said, “We’ve scared her an awful lot, and she did holler so when she found that toad in her apron.”
“I would have screamed too,” Merry confessed.
“This is spite then, isn’t it?” Fatty asked.
“What’s `spite’?” Merry returned, cocking his head.
“I dunno, me dad says it a lot.”
At that moment, light flooded in from the cupboard door, and Merry and Fatty turned to shriek at their victim. But it was not Asphodel.
“AUGH!” came a clean, tenor voice, and Merry and Fatty watched as nineteen-year-old Frodo Baggins lept back in surprise, tripping over his own feet, and fell, hitting his head on the counter behind him. He then lay still. Fatty and Merry sat, gaping.
“You killed him!” Fatty cried.
“Not me! I had nothing to do with it! It was your idea!” Merry defended himself, rapidly.
“I’m not killed,” Frodo said, groggily, sitting up. Relief washed over the two young hobbits. They both raced to help him to his feet.
“What were you doing in there?” Frodo asked, rubbing his head. Merry gave Fatty a long sideglace.
“Hiding,” Fatty answered.
“From what?” was Frodo’s next question.
“Oh, nothing!” Merry spoke up, “We were hungry and there are candied chestnuts in the back.” Fatty looked intrigued.
“There are?–OW!” Fatty was severely cut off by a stamp of Merry’s heel. Frodo looked suspiciously at Fatty, then at Merry.
“Why did you yell when I opened the door?” Frodo asked.
“You…frightened us,” Merry said, shrugging sheepishly. Frodo shook his head, obviously not buying a word of Merry’s story, then turned and left, forgetting whatever it was that he had come for.
Fatty turned to Merry, indignant.
“Why didn’t you tell him? We can trust him!” Fatty exclaimed.
“But Asphodel is his aunt! He’d tell her!” Merry said.
“He would not! Frodo’s jolly. Frodo’s on our side,” Fatty crossed his arms over his chest.
“Don’t get all preachy!” Merry exclaimed, digging out the candied chestnuts. But Fatty sat on the floor, propping himself up against the cupboards with his arms still folded.
“I’m bored, Merry!” he complained, loudly, “I don’t want to play this game anymore. We’re going to hurt somebody.”
“Oh, don’t be so jolly clever,” Merry rebuked his friend, “I’ve got a better idea.”
Sidling down the hall, Merry and Fatty looked, to any unsuspecting eye, like two friends out on a stroll. Merry had shoved his hands in his pockets and Fatty hummed to himself.
“What are we looking for?” Fatty whispered, between bars of his little ditty.
“Anything nasty,” Merry answered. He peered around the corner into the kitchen and, seeing no one, motioned for Fatty to follow.
They slipped into the kitchen of Brandy Hall and instantly began opening cupboards, looking for their ingredients.
“Merry! Here!” Fatty exclaimed. He had found the spice cabinet.
The two young hobbits plunged their hands into the cupboard, pulling out every bag of spice they could find. Merry pulled out a little jar as Fatty poured in dashes of each spices. They then added a bit of water and, after mixing it into a muddy solution, screwed the lid on tight.
Fatty made sure to replace every spice in the cupboard and then, snickering to themselves, they slipped out of the kitchen.
Fatty’s parents came to collect him before supper, and the two friends exchanged only a few excited words of good-bye.
“Tell me what happens!” Fatty whispered. Merry nodded, grinning from ear to ear.
Time seemed to tick by at a snail’s pace as Merry waited in anxiety for supper time. Patience was rarely exercised by young hobbits, especially young hobbits waiting to carry out a devious plan.
When supper was finally served, the great bell rung, as if to allow the many hobbits to indulge in their evening meal.
Merry’s family sat next to Frodo and his guardians, and Merry made sure to sit next to Asphodel.
Merry sat, fidgeting his leg, nervously waiting for the right moment. At one point, Asphodel arose to help serve another round of ale to some hobbit-men in the far corner of the dining room, and Merry saw his chance. He pulled out the litttle jar from his pocket, and, when no one was looking, slipped a lump of the nasty muck into Asphodel’s mug.
Merry giggled to himself as he put the jar back in his pocket and ate more of his meal. Presently, Asphodel came back and instantly made ready to take a drink. Time seemed to slip into a slow motion as Merry watched her lift the cup to her lips and take a graceful sip. Sweat was about to break out on Merry’s little forehead, waiting for her reaction. But it was not the yelp he expected.
Above all the clattering of dishes and chattering of Brandybucks, a blood-curdling scream from Asphodel rose up to the rafters and echoed in the hall. Asphodel shot up from her chair, clutching her throat, wailing for cool water. Merry was absolutely terrified. His chair tipped over backwards as he tumbled out of it and raced out of the dining hall and into the utter humiliation and guilt of what he had done.
Saradoc came looking for his son after the incident was cleared up. He found him lying on his bed with his face in his pillow, sobbing as though his heart were broken.
Saradoc sat by the bedside as Merry cried deeply. Presently, Merry became aware of his father’s presence.
“Is she killed?” he whispered, “Did-did I kill her?”
“No, Merry,” Saradoc said, “she’s fine. Though I can’t imagine what you put in there. I’ve never seen her so shook up.”
“Fatty and I mixed it,” Merry said, “this afternoon with spices from the spice cabinet. Don’t be mad at Fatty, `cause it was my idea.” Saradoc nodded.
“I had a feeling you two were up to something,” he said, “You’ve been jittery all afternoon. I can understand the way you feel when you’ve run out of things to do, but what I don’t understand is why you’re so spiteful.”
“What’s `spite’, Dad?” Merry asked.
“Being spiteful is when you do something mean to someone else without any good reason,” Saradoc said, “I have not raised you to be spiteful and I have never been spiteful to you, so why did you act that way?”
“Fatty and I were bored,” Merry said, “but I didn’t mean to be mean or spiteful. We were just…bored.”
“I have no problem with harmless tricks, Merry, because I used to play them. Every hobbit has,” Saradoc continued, “but when you hurt people, that’s when it needs to stop.”
“I won’t do it again, Dad, I promise,” Merry said.
“Now, I think Asphodel’s reaction was enough punishment, but I do want you to tell her you’re sorry,” Saradoc said. Merry nodded, then choked a bit.
“So if I am not going to punish you, why are you still crying?” Saradoc asked.
“I don’t know!” Merry began to sob again. Saradoc remained silent as Merry cried into his pillow, then he placed a hand on Merry’s shoulder. Merry sat and put his arms around his father’s neck, clinging to him helplessly as he continued to cry. Saradoc soothed him, gently, and laid a hand on his head. After a few moments, he pulled Merry back and looked at him.
“I’m not angry with you,” Saradoc said, “so there’s no need to cry like this.” He wiped Merry’s tears and continued to say, “Won’t you come back to supper now?”
“In a bit,” Merry mumbled, going to sit on his bed again. Saradoc smiled at him and stood.
“All right,” he said. He turned and left Merry’s room.
Merry sat a moment and thought about what he’d done. It had been too close: what if he and Fatty mixed in something wrong and accidentally killed Asphodel. Merry thought about what a horror that would be, seeing papers with his face sketched on them, wanted for murder. He sniffed a bit, wondering if he could ever face anyone again. How terribly embaressing to not only make someone scream like that, but then to fall out of his chair and run away! Fall out of his chair! What hobbit falls out of his chair at supper?!
“Hey, Merry.” Merry looked up and saw Frodo in his doorway. He stepped inside Merry’s room with a kind smile on his face. Merry thought about what he had done to Frodo that morning, and he lowered his head in shame.
“Frodo, this morning when me and Fatty scared you,” he said, “we weren’t eating candied chestnuts. Fatty didn’t even know there were any. We were waiting to frighten your aunt Asphodel.”
“I figured as much,” Frodo said, “I’ve been watching you and Fatty, Merry. I saw you put that toad in Asphodel’s pocket.” He chuckled to himself, “Very clever, Merry, I’ve never seen anything so sneaky.”
Merry perked up a bit.
“Really?” he said, raising his eyebrows. Frodo nodded.
“And you know, after this last incident, when everyone knew Asphodel wasn’t poisoned, well,” he paused to laugh to himself again.
“What?” Merry asked, quite intrigued now.
“Well, I haven’t seen that many hobbits laughing about the same thing,” Frodo said, “Even Asphodel giggled a bit.” A smile broke across Merry’s face.
“REALLY?” he squeaked, “Was it funny?”
“Terribly funny,” Frodo said, “Almost as funny as the Patrols of the Romper Ruffians. And you were in on both! You’ve got the makings of a humorist.”
“A humorist?” Merry said, bewildered.
“Someone who makes people laugh,” Frodo described. Merry smiled to himself. He liked that idea.
“Will you come back to dinner now?” Frodo asked, holding out a hand to Merry, “I’ve never know you to miss a meal.”
“All right,” Merry said, taking Frodo’s hand. They walked into the hallway, and Frodo turned to him.
“You know, Merry,” he said, “you shouldn’t feel too bad about your incident. I had an incident myself once, too.” Merry looked at Frodo in disbelief. Frodo was so passive and such a respectable hobbit, how could he ever have an incident like this?
“I stole mushrooms from Farmer Maggot, and I got caught,” Frodo said. Merry giggled, thinking of the hot-tempered hobbit.
“You did! What’d he do to you?” Merry asked.
“He beat me with a stick and then his dogs chased me all the way to the Ferry!” Frodo said. Merry laughed harder, finding it rather hard to believe.
“I want to hear that story! Tell me, Frodo!” he cried, “Please!”
“Now?” Frodo asked, though he was quite pleased by the little hobbit’s enthusiasm.
“Please?” Merry pleaded. Frodo grinned.
“I suppose we could take the long way to the dining hall,” he said, and Merry cheered.
“Well, let’s see,” Frodo began, “I was twelve, and it all began one day with my cousin, Melilot Moss, when we went looking for mushrooms down by the little creek that spills into the Brandywine…”
And the two cousins, though seperated by 14 years of age, walked down the hall, hand in hand.
To Be Continued…
Author’s Note:Some of you readers may find this mischieviousness of Merry and Fatty a little hard to believe, but I assure you it’s drawn from fact from a kindergarten experience. Not to me, to my teacher! And if you would like the full detail on what happened to Frodo and his cousin Melilot, see “Young Baggins-Part 2–The Maggot Mushroom Scheme”.