No copyright infringement is intended. I don't own
these characters. This story is not meant to violate the rights held
by New Line, Tolkien Enterprises, nor any other licensee, nor is any
NOTES: * * * indicates a pause or short break in the conversation
Problems with Pipe-weed
"We should do it."
"Really, we should do it."
"Weíd never get away with it."
"But we would get away with it."
"Iím not listening to more."
"Think about it. Really. It would be funny."
"I doubt the dwarf would think so."
"Oh, come now. I think he would laugh along with the joke."
"Are you feeling alright?"
"Iím telling you, Gimli has a sense of humor."
"No, Merry, some things simply are not funny."
"I wonít do it, I tell you."
* * *
"Iím not Ďpouting.í"
"You are. Thatís as fine a Brandybuck pout as Iíve ever seen."
"Youíre imagining things."
"You always get this way when I refuse to go along with your latest mischief."
"Oh, like you refuse so often."
"Well, no, I donít, but when I do refuse, you get sulky like this until I give in. Well, not this time."
"Just leave me alone for a while, Pip. Go talk to Sam and Frodo. Go be all responsible like they are."
* * *
"Merry I donít want to go sit with Sam and Frodo. Look at them. Theyíre beiní all cuddly and kissy again. I canít go over there."
"Suit yourself. But Iím done talking for now."
* * *
* * *
"Merry, youíre beiní a bit unfair here."
"Am I? Iím always willing to go along with your little ideas, Pip."
"No, youíre not!"
"Well, thatís still not saying much. I hardly ever come up with silly ideas."
"So my ideas are silly now are they?"
"No! You know what I mean. Youíre usually the one who comes up with, well, brilliant little plans."
"And this one is brilliant as well."
"I dunno . . . ."
"It would be easy for you, Pip, and weíd save his pipe-weed and give it back once the prank was pulled and everyone had a good laugh."
"I dunno . . . ."
"Iíd distract him properly, believe me. I have plenty more questions to ask him about fighting with an axe. Heíd never know what you were doing. He always keeps his pouch in the same pocket, and youíre so good at lifting things with those tiny little hands of yours."
"My hands are tiny?"
"Oh yes, and very clever, and think about it! It would be funny, Pip, so funny when he takes that first puff! You could dump out his pipe-weed all safe into that empty pouch of mine--"
"Iím sorry you ran out of pipe-weed, Merry."
"Shh, no matter. Iíll share yours."
"Or Frodoís. He doesnít smoke much. But, enough of that! Listen. Weíd smash up lots of leafy stuff and mix in just enough of his regular dwarfish weed to make it smell real, and in the dark Gimliís unlikely to be able to tell just by the feel of it anyway."
"Youíve explained all this." sigh
"But listen again, Pip, because itís brilliant like you said."
"I said it was brilliant?"
* * *
"Alright, stop glaring. Itís brilliant."
"I knew youíd see it my way!"
"We could do it tomorrow night."
"Oh, Merry . . . I still donít know if everyone would find it quite as funny as you do."
"What do you mean? You think itís funny, too, donít you?"
"Well, yes, in a way . . . but, yíknow, a bodyís smoke is a dear thing to him."
* * *
"You really think everyone would laugh?"
"You did when I first told you about it."
"Aye, but I hadnít really considered it seriously. And there could be some very ugly consequences if others donít find it quite as funny."
"Stop looking over at the big folk. Youíre suddenly quite twitchy about a bit of harmless fun, my fine Took."
"Well, excuse me for considering what those big folk are capable of doing to my backside, Master Brandybuck!"
"Keep your voice down."
"You can talk! You havenít been over that big Gondorian lap!"
"Pippin! Pipe down!"
"And I can tell you right now, Iíve no desire to test what that elf can do to a hobbit bottom!"
"Iíll show you what I can do to your hobbit bottom right now if you donít lower your voice."
* * *
"I said I was sorry, alright?"
"Calm down. Theyíve stopped looking this way."
"Stop shaking your head at me."
"Well, really, Pip. You are the limit."
* * *
"Come here, little one. Stop looking so forlorn."
"Mmm. You feel warm."
"Are you cold?"
"No. You just feel warm."
* * *
"You know, Merry, even though you donít see a person smile, you can hear it."
"So. We should do this tomorrow night, yíthink?"
"Really, Pip? Are you with me, then?"
"Oh, Merry, Iím always with you."
"You think itís a good idea then?"
"I dunno. I just know Iím with you. And I like it when you curl your fingers in my hair like that."
"Everyone could use a good laugh, and the dwarf wonít mind, and it will be funny, trust me."
"I do trust you. Even though you end up getting me in trouble all the time, I trust you."
"Pippin. We both know that youíve gotten us into some real hornetís nests, too."
"When have I ever--?"
"Oh. Yes. Well, one time."
"One time? Pippin--"
"And every time we lifted something from Farmer Maggot it was your idea."
"No. Not every time."
"Last time, when we were almost caught, and ended up running from Black Riders instead. And the time before that. And the time before that--"
"Now hold on--"
"Give me a minute to add up the others."
"Never mind, Pip."
"Give me several minutes in fact."
"I said never mind. And stop giggling."
"Iím joking, of course. There havenít been that many times. But for being the older one, and for being considered the more responsible one of the two of us, you do have your moments, cousin. And I certainly hope youíre right about what everyone else finds funny around here."
"Oh, Iím right."
Merry and Pippin had been quiet for a while now, so I raised an eyebrow at the elf and said, "Well?"
"Oh, they are planning something impish all right."
Boromirís eyes lit up. "What?"
Legolas gave his head a small shake. "They did not go back to discussing their exact plans after Pippin settled down, and I was paying no attention before he got so excited. But whatever it is, they are planning to do it tomorrow night. And, apparently, the dwarf is their intended target."
I lowered my head and grinned and then all three of us were chuckling as covertly as possible, imagining just what Merry and Pippin could be cooking up. I glanced over at them. Merry had wrapped his cousin up in their cloaks and blankets and only two heads of curls could now be seen, very close together. Frodo and Sam had been buried together under their blankets for some time now, although they looked like one large body instead of two small ones. Ah, hobbits. Such affectionate little creatures.
Boromir winced and tilted his head to one side, saying, "It sounds like they are still giggling under there." He glanced at the elf.
Legolas shot him a quick look. "They are. But I shall not listen in on what they are discussing now." The elf actually blushed. Legolas flustered was too delightful. "I stopped listening some time ago."
I grinned quietly to see the great Captain of the White Tower now blushing in the fireís light as well. "Oh. Oh, yes. I see." He coughed into his fist and looked off with poorly disguised indifference
Legolas and I exchanged glances of amusement, then he said, "You were right, Aragorn. Merry appears to be the instigator again."
I nodded slightly. "Little scamp."
"Aye," Legolas said, "and from the way Pippin was talking, Merry has been behind quite a few of their pranks in the past. Although it seems Pippin was behind something involving fireworks."
"Fireworks?" Boromir frowned. "Those two with their hands on fireworks? Where would they come across such dangerous stuff?"
"Bilbo told me a story about his last birthday party in the Shire," I said, "and about Gandalf bringing fireworks. Apparently the Shire-folk are fascinated by fireworks, and the night of Bilboís party, two certain young rascally hobbits . . . ." I proceeded to entertain Legolas and my fledgling with the story Bilbo had told me. They laughed warmly and glanced at the drowsing wizard. "I asked Gandalf about it later and he said he heated both their backsides, then made them do up mountains of dishes."
When they had finished chuckling we shared a conspiratorial glance. Boromir said, "Well, what shall we do about this?"
Legolas shot me sly grin. "Why lay a trap of course, little brother, to catch two hobbits in."
"Hullo, Gimli," Merry said. "How goes the evening with you?"
"Master Meriadoc!" Gimli exclaimed. "Have you come to sit and share a pipe with me, young sir?"
"Well, actually, I thought you might be willing to tell me a little more about your axe and how dwarves train. That was all so fascinating before."
Ah, Gimli was off and running. Well, done, Merry! I sat crouched in the bushes a little ways back, watching my amiable cousin settle himself down beside the dwarf, careful to sit on the side opposite where Gimli always kept his pouch of pipe-weed. Fine going, again, Merry. And youíd better be right about this or we arenít going to be sitting for several days.
Bulging in my coat pocket was the fake pipe-weed, the strange concoction of various dried leaves that Merry and I had snatched up on the trek today and shoved in our pockets to crumble into pieces as we walked. When we stopped later, Merry and I had gathered our spoils and mixed them together and, mercy if the mess didnít look something like Old Toby! Just to tease Merry I suggested that we smoke a bit of it to test it out, which earned me a Brandybuck frown of such splendid proportions it made me laugh.
I squeezed Merryís empty pouch in my hands, twisting it. For some reason I felt a wee bit uneasy, so I hunkered down and watched and waited until my nerves settled. I was close enough to hear what they were saying, so I listened in and tried to calm my stomach. Merry had gotten the dwarf going on one of his warrior tales. Oh lovely! This could take some time. I crept forward on my hands and knees, making not a sound. Suddenly I froze. Frodo was approaching Merry and Gimli.
"Have either of you seen Aragorn or Legolas?" he asked them.
I could just glimpse Merry between the leafy fronds and shadows. His eyes got wide and he quick looked Ďround, clearly realizing in that moment what I realized, too. We didnít know where the Ranger and the elf were, and that probably would have been a good thing to know at this point.
"No, young one, I have not," Gimli said. "When Boromir took you halflings over to practice they went off, I suppose to scout around. They will no doubt be back soon."
"Hmm." Frodo looked off. "Yes, I imagine by the time Boromir goes to take first watch they will have returned."
"Aye," the dwarf said. "Is there anything I can help you with?"
"Oh, no, no, thank you, Gimli. I just wanted to talk to Aragorn. As you say, he should be back soon."
Frodo turned to head off, then he paused and stood gazing down at my co-conspirator. "Merry? Are you all right?"
Merry flinched. "Huh?"
"Are you all right?" Frodo studied Merry, concern in his wide blue eyes. "You seem fretful."
"Oh, Iím fine. Fine, thank you," Merry said with too much enthusiasm.
Frodo nodded, then watched him for another long moment before moving off. I breathed a sigh of relief, stuffed Merryís pouch into my pocket and crept forward again.
It really was almost too simple. Gimliís pouch of weed was even sticking out of his pocket some, a nice corner of it, and all I had to do was reach out my hand snag that corner of the pouch and lift it ever so gently . . . carefully, slowly, easing it out. I heard Merry engaging the dwarf in big, important nonsense talk . . . keeping his attention very nicely, Merry, very nicely indeed. I half-listened . . . concentrating on my mission . . . almost had the pouch now . . . got it!
I slithered backwards again, silently, and moved the little ways off to where I could sit and make the switch. I yanked opened my pilfered prize and poured the contents of it safely into my cousinís empty pouch, leaving just a bit of it for scent. Then I shoved Merryís pouch in my pocket. Reaching into my other pocket, I grabbed some of the leafy stuff weíd concocted and filled Gimliís pouch with it. Iíd taken note of about how much he had in there, and I was careful to match that amount, packing it in and shifting it around until it resembled the real thing right nicely.
Good. Done. And quickly, too. I re-tied Gimliís pouch, glanced up, smiled and nodded to Aragorn and Legolas and turned over on all fours to crawl back.
Then I froze. Then I sucked a huge gasp.
I flipped back over and squealed. Oh! They were there! Two interested faces gazing at me from the shadows!
And now both Legolas and Aragorn stepped forth and came after me! I scrabbled backwards, on my hands, and feet, crawling like a tipsy crab, gasping, squeaking bursts of horror, still clutching Gimliís pouch, and now Merry came barreling through the bushes yelling my name, followed by the dwarf, who looked so smug and triumphant that I knew at once my cousin and I were nothing more than a brace of skinned conies ready for the spit.
For a wild moment I had the urge to get up and just run, and Iíd actually managed to flip back onto my hands and knees and was half-way up before I felt an iron arm fasten around my waist and hoist me skyward. The pouch went flying and I squealed and kicked.
"There, there now, Peregrin," Legolas purred in my ear with frightening calm. "Accept the inevitable."
I should have. It was sound advice. Merry and I werenít going anyplace other than where Aragorn and Legolas were taking us. But thereís just something about a hopeless struggle thatís comforting, so I did thrash about as Legolas plunked my bottom on his hip and carried me, facing out, back through the bushes and into the main clearing of the camp. How perfectly silly to buck and writhe against this elf. Legolas paid absolutely no mind to my squirming, but he did calmly issue me one clear warning:
"Master Took, should you kick me again with those wicked halfling feet I promise you shall regret it."
I went limp. Poor Merry was wriggling in Aragornís grasp as well, although he was facedown and bottom-up, slung under the Rangerís arm like a sack of meal. We werenít saying much. But we did give in to the need to gasp and whimper with honest dismay.
They carried us to the center of camp then stood us up, side by side and left Merry and me there to face the rest of the Fellowship who sat around gazing at us. The only ones who seemed befuddled by all this were Sam and Frodo. Theyíd clearly opted for the safety of discretion and were simply sitting together with expressions of quiet astonishment. But all the others turned looks of complete awareness upon us. I shifted my clothes around and wondered how Merry and I had blundered with such extraordinary genius. Gandalf cleared his throat, drawing all eyes.
"I believe I shall take your watch at this time, Boromir," he said, that clever twinkle in his eye. "These matters seem well taken care of, and I desire a bit of peace this night."
Looking disturbingly pleased, Boromir nodded, and said, "By all means, sir."
Gandalf glanced at Merry and me, purely twinkling again, and sauntered away, calling back, "Remember, there is no salve left."
I groaned and turned a sad look to Merry and murmured, "No salve left."
"I heard him, Pippin," Merry grated back.
They looked about as pathetic as two wee hobbits ever looked. During the chaos of capture, I had recovered my pouch, full of fraudulent pipe-weed, that Peregrin had flung in his panic. I assumed my own blend was safe, stuffed in the pocket of his small green coat.
I had to admit, it was a fine plan these young rascals had hatched. I would not have relished actually taking a puff of whatever mess of weedery theyíd invented, nor did I particularly enjoy being the butt of the joke. I think Aragorn or Boromir would have been a much funnier target, or perhaps even the wizard, if the lads had worked up the courage. But I took it in stride. They wouldnít take such liberties if they didnít have a fondness for me, and that counts for something. It would, however, need answering.
All three warriors studied the fidgeting halflings. Aragorn stood with his arms crossed over his chest, his legs at a ready stance. The elf, his arms also crossed, leaned his shoulder against a tree and made a poor stab at looking grim, while Boromir stood at my side, a hand on my shoulder. The silence hung thick and heavy, and, no doubt, seemed endless to Meriadoc and Peregrin. Of course, Iím not at all certain they wanted to get on with whatever might befall them either.
It was just one word, uttered in a mild tone, but when Aragorn spoke it, four hobbits flinched, Sam and Frodo included, although clearly theyíd had no part in this. How the Ranger kept from grinning I donít know. He studied his boots for a moment, apparently found his resolve there, and lifted a stern face again.
"Gentlemen, what have you to say for yourselves?"
The hobbits simply stood and gazed at us, apparently having nothing to say for themselves. Aragorn waited for an answer. He looked prepared to wait until either the coming of the Fourth Age, or another fifteen seconds, before taking further steps. It was one of his gifts, the potential for unpredictable action.
Finally, young Pippin, clearly understanding their doom, looked at his older kin and said, "Have you anything to say, Merry?"
Stouthearted Meriadoc joined his cousin in an intrepid stance of pluck. "I canít think of a thing, Pip. How about you?"
"Nothingís cominí to mind." Pippin directed a look of naÔve confusion up at Aragorn and shrugged. "Nothingís cominí to mind."
It was not as foolish a move as it seemed. When facing a superior force, use the element of surprise. Take the offensive. Attack. It works wonders with hordes of thick-skulled orcs, however, it was a poorly applied strategy at the moment. Aragorn was unlikely to lose his poise when faced with an offensive of sass. These two halflings had good instincts, but absolutely no common sense. Indeed, it was clear they had abandoned all hope and decided to turn and charge their accusers headlong, armed with only an impressive arsenal of charm and silly hobbit impertinence.
I glanced at Frodo and Sam, grinning at their twin expressions of astonishment . They had to be bursting with curiosity over all this, but they sat at quiet attention and a safe distance.
"I see." Aragorn now turned to me. "Master dwarf, what have you there in your hand?"
Ah, yes. Good plan. Ignore the insolence. I held up my pouch and said, "Why, Ďtis only my packet of pipe-weed, sir, a fine dwarfish blend, rich and satisfying. Would you like to sample some? Iím willing to share."
Aragorn shook his head. "Nay, thank you, but--" He glanced at the engrossed Ringbearer and his gardener. "óperhaps Frodo and Sam would like to try some."
"NO!" Merry and Pippin cried with gusto.
All eyes turned to the two culprits. Merry and Pippin looked apprehensive, but not because they feared Aragorn would actually let Sam and Frodo sample the noxious weed. They simply understood the situation. No matter what audacious attitudes they struck, Aragorn was going to do them one better. They were not going to control this board, and that was enough to kindle lights of trepidation in their eyes and cause them to shift their weight from foot to foot. The Ranger played his part well, tossing a baited hook straight at the hapless hobbits.
"Excuse me, gentlemen, but it is generous to share, and it is not for either of you to say what Gimli chooses to do with his pipe-weed."
Pippin growled and stepped forward and grabbed that hook with both tiny fists. "But thatís not his pipe-weed!" He yanked another pouch from his pocket, held it up and exclaimed, "This is Gimliís pipe-weed!"
Aragorn appeared perplexed. He threw me a bewildered look. "Gimli, is that your pouch Pippin is holding?"
"Nayyyyyyy, this I mine," I said, holding it up and shaking it slightly.
Sam, poor innocent, exclaimed, "Pip, thatís Merryís pouch. I recognize it. Youíre just confused."
It was nearly too much for four staunch warriors. In our defense, I must say that valiant efforts were made all around to keep from laughing openly, but I felt my eyes tear up with the strain. The elf lowered his head and brought his fist to his mouth as if forcing the laugh to stay inside. Boromir crossed his arms, turned his back, and paced a few steps away, off to find his restraint, and judging by the way Aragorn held his mouth he had to be biting his cheek.
"Why, so it is," Aragorn finally said with an exaggerated frown. "Sam is right, Pippin. How can that be Gimliís pipe-weed when it is Merryís pouch?"
"Well, because we . . . I mean, we--"
"All right, all right, enough," Merry said, gruff but in control. Careful to avoid anyoneís eyes, he grumbled, "Pippin and I switched your pipe-weed, Gimli. While I distracted you, Pip lifted your packet and dumped your blend into my empty pouch." He grabbed the pouch from Pippin and held it up, growling, "This is mine, but the contents are yours, although--" He shot a reproachful glower our way. "óit seems everyone here already knows all this."
"What?" Frodo squeaked.
"Except you and Sam," Pippin quickly said to the astounded Ringbearer. He fired a quick look of concern at Aragorn. "Sam and Frodo had nothing to do with this. It was all Merry and me. In factóin-in fact, it was my idea!"
Merry shot him a glare. "Pippin--!"
"All my idea! It was!"
Merry pressed his lips together into a tight scowl. "Stop it, Pip. It wasnít." He turned a contrite look up at Aragorn and shook his head slightly. "It wasnít Pipís idea."
Aragorn nodded thoughtfully. "Hmmm." He glanced at Boromir, who had collected himself enough to rejoin the scene. "What do you make of all this?" He also turned to the elf. "And you, Legolas? What have you to say?"
The two warriors moved forward to stand on either side of Aragorn, making for a fine wall of amused disapproval.
"Hmm," said Legolas.
"Hmm," said Boromir.
"Indeed," Aragorn nodded seriously. "Master dwarf?"
I declined to join the Ďhmmí chorus. Turning a befuddled look at the wee reprobates, I puzzled, "Master Meriadoc, if that is my weed in your pouch, then what is this in mine?"
All gazes swung once again to Merry and Pippin. They looked ready to bolt, and would no doubt have done so if they had stood the slightest chance of getting further away than two steps.
"Uhh . . . uhh, well . . . ." Peregrin swallowed hard. "Whatís in your pouch, sir, is . . . well, itís . . .." He threw an anxious look to his equally anxious cousin beside him.
"Itís a special blend!" Merry blurted out.
We all paused, then shifted in surprise, throwing glances back and forth to each other, the four of us plainly wondering just where this wee rogue thought such a route of deception might take him.
"What special blend?" Sam guilelessly demanded. He was becoming the best part of this absurdity. I dared not glance over at my brother warriors again.
"Sam," Frodo murmured, obviously understanding the pretense of these doings.
Sam looked at him, wide-eyed. "Well, this is the first Iíve heard of any special blend."
"Sam." Poor Frodo looked pained, clearly fighting to keep from giggling.
"Do you know something about a special blend, Mister Frodo?"
Biting his bottom lip, Frodo threw an arm around his servantís shoulders, leaned in close to his ear and said, "Dear, dear Sam. Shh."
Young Gamgee frowned at him, but nodded, and the companyís attention shifted back to the main stage where, when last we left Master Brandybuck, he was busily digging himself a nice deep grave. Boromir now spoke up.
"Aragorn, if I may impart a bit of advice to our young friends here?"
"By all means. Please do," Aragorn replied.
Boromir cleared his throat, crossed his arms over his broad chest, and looked as if he were about to address the troops. "My younger brother was given to playing small pranks, but he was often caught in the act."
"He must not have been very good at it," the elf offered.
"Legolas." Aragorn frowned. "Do not interrupt."
"I was merely making an observation."
"And Boromir is trying to impart wisdom."
"No," Legolas returned. "He is trying to offer advice."
"Which he cannot do so if you continue to interrupt him."
"I only made one small remark."
Merry and Pippin squirmed.
"An interruption," Aragorn stated. "And Boromir is standing here waiting to impart wisdom--"
"Offer advice," the elf corrected.
Aragorn grimaced and paused as if to summon patience. "Offer advice, and getting nowhere. Meanwhile these two halflings are having to wait while you make your observations and remarks."
"I repeat, I only made one remark."
"My point is--"
"A remark that was an observation."
Aragorn affected a wonderfully contrived glare.
"Oh, very well," Legolas said with a shrug. He turned to Boromir. "Please forgive my interruption, little brother."
"Think nothing of it," the warrior replied. He looked off vaguely. "Where was I?"
"Advice!" Pippin exploded.
"Your brother," Merry added hotly. "Your brother and his pranks and getting caught."
"Oh, yes! Thank you. To continue, when he was caught and called to answer for his intent, he only got into the deepest kind of trouble for one thing." Boromir paused and fired the hobbits an expectant look. "Can you guess what it was?"
"When his prank was directed at you?" Legolas ventured.
"At your horse?"
"Legolas," Aragorn growled. "You are doing it again."
"I am not interrupting. He asked if we could guess--"
"He asked Merry and Pippin if they could guess."
"Perhaps you would like to go keep Gandalf company on the watch."
The elf looked indignant. "Excuse me?"
"I will excuse you, if you can allow this matter to continue without more of these tedious obstacles," Aragorn said.
Legolas fumed. His play-acting impressed me. I thought the elf far too reserved for such antics. He might have some good points after all.
"Estel, I was not asking to be excused for my behavior."
"Because," the elf said slowly, as if addressing an idiot, "it is not warranted."
Iíd have wagered a barrel of the finest malt beer that it would be Peregrin whose tether snapped first, but it was young Brandybuck who drew every startled eye with his snarl of frustration and his bellowed cry: "LYING!" His blood was up and he stood there huffing, and frowning and ripe with temper. "Your brother got in the worst trouble when he tried to lie about what heíd done!"
Boromir paused, as if letting the dust from Meriadocís volcanic blast settle, then he nodded and said, "Aye. Lying was never acceptable, especially when lying to escape retribution. It always brought swift and more severe retribution."
Pippin, who had been watching Merry seethe, now said, "Merry wasnít lying. It is a special blend. We made it ourselves. We gathered leaves on the journey today and we made a nice little counterfeit pipe-weed."
"You didnít!" Frodo cried.
"Well, Frodo, we had to," Pip said earnestly. "That was the point of the whole thing. Gimli would dip into his pouch, think he was packing his pipe with his own weed, then smoke it."
"Oh, scamp!" Frodo exclaimed.
"It wouldíve been funny," Merry said defensively. Frodo shot him a frown. "Well, it seemed so at the time."
Boromir turned to me, and reached for my pouch saying, "May I?" I handed it to him and he opened it. "How did you know you werenít putting something in here that would have hurt him?" He looked up at the halflings, suddenly quite serious.
"Oh, we would never have done such a thing!" Pippin cried.
"All hobbits are raised to know about growing things," Merry said. "Even two genteel types like Pip and me."
Sam snorted, then burst into giggles, with Frodo not far behind, despite his upset with his kinfolk. Legolas now asked to see the pouch. He peered in for a few minutes, stirring things about with his finger, then said, "There is nothing here that would have caused Gimli harm." He shot Merry and Pippin a reproachful look, and added, "Judging from the plants they chose, however, it most certainly would have tasted foul, you can be sure."
I know the elf hadnít intended his words to be so, but they were most definitely my cue. "Ah, but how can we be sure of that, master elf?" All eyes turned to me. "Perhaps it is a fair blending and these two young Shirelings did me a good turn. How would we know for certain unless the weed was tried?"
We all began to grin. I turned to study the condemned halflings. Their eyes had grown huge and poor Pippin was starting to shake his head slightly. Glancing at Aragorn, I said, "My lord, do you have a suitable chastisement in mind for these two naughty little ones?"
"A sincere bottom-warming would have been my first choice," Aragorn replied. "However, they did not succeed in their naughtiness, so perhaps a spanking would be too severe.
"Nay, I disagree," Legolas said. "Their intent was plain, and they would have succeeded had we not stepped in."
"Legolas, are you not being overly harsh?" Aragorn said. "It was, after all, a thoughtless, but small indiscretion."
"A small indiscretion?" Boromir seemed appalled. "Gimli would have suffered mightily, perhaps even carried that foul taste with him into tomorrow."
"Aye, considering what could have happened to poor Gimli," Legolas said, "I should think a spanking for each naughty halfling is just."
I wasnít at all sure I liked being referred to as Ďpoor Gimlií by the elf, but all this was most entertaining, especially the free use of that particular word beginning with Ďní some found distasteful. Even Boromir girded his loins and joined in.
"I agree," Boromir said. "Such naughtiness needs answering."
"In fact," Legolas added with a wicked grin, "I volunteer to assist."
Boromir nodded. "As do I."
Pippin went pale. His hands flew back to cover his bottom. "Boromir! No!" he squeaked with such zeal that the four of us again had to fight our grins.
Aragorn said, "Since the transgression was planned against you, master dwarf, I feel you should be granted the choice of how to deal with these two. What say you?"
Iíd felt this would be Aragornís decision all along, so I was ready with my answer. "Well, there are two good choices before us for these two mischief makers. They can receive sound spankings for their behavior, and they have no say in who performs the duty, or they can try out their special blend. Either solution would satisfy me, and, as all dwarves are fair-minded, I shall allow the young offenders to choose their penalty."
Merry and Pippin looked too horrified by either choice to make up their minds. They turned woefully to each other. "No salve," Pippin murmured.
Merry answered with a groan. "And I could end up with Boromir."
"Or the elf."
"And Aragorn is bad enough, Pip."
"And Merry, what about the dwarf? Look at his arms and his hands." They both glanced at me and blinked, clearly frightened by the prospect of ending up face down over my knee, as well they should be.
With one last, long-suffering look at each other, Merry and Pippin reached into their inner coat pockets and slowly drew forth their pipes.
We seldom slept like this, back to back, but getting our mouths close wasnít something Pippin nor I wished to do to one another, or to ourselves.
"Yeech! That was horrible!"
I couldnít listen to this for the hundredth time. "Iíll ask you again, Pip: stop saying that. My mouth is full of that horrible taste, too."
"Two puffs." He groaned. "Two puffs and itís still in my throat hours later!"
"Itís in my whole head! Every time I take a breath."
"I said I know!"
I thought back on Aragornís firm look as Pip and I had sputtered and coughed and spit after the first dreadful puff. "One more," heíd ordered. And when Pippin bellowed back that Gimli would have only taken one puff before stopping, Aragorn raised a brow and asked if we would prefer to take four.
"Youíd think that unyielding Ranger could have at least had enough compassion to allow us our own smoke afterwards to get rid of this nastiness."
"It was part of the lesson," I muttered.
"I know it was part of the lesson! I donít like that part of the lesson!"
"Just try to go to sleep,"
"How can I sleep? It tastes like Iíve just licked the bottom of a stable."
"Thank you so much for that thought, Pip."
"Sleep, he says. Sleep. We completely humiliate ourselves, spitting and coughing our lungs up all over camp, and he says sleep." Pippinís voice was in full-pout. From the way his words were formed, I could almost see his little bowed mouth tugging down.
"It could be worse. You could have a fiery backside right now."
"Iím not convinced that would have been worse."
"Oh no? I saw your red bottom after your last run-in with Boromir."
"Well, maybe he wouldíve spanked you this time."
"Aye, leaving you with the far better choice of a spanking from the elf, or the Ranger, or the dwarf."
That shut Pippin up for a few minutes. Ugh. This lingering taste really was awful. I guess my joke wasnít that funny after all.
"Iím mad at you, Merry."
I sighed. "Youíve a right to be."
Pippin sniffed. I knew he was on the verge of a cry. When he spoke again a little later his voice was laced with tears.
"Iím not mad at you, Merry."
"I know. And Iím sorry, little one."
"Youíve said that over and over. Itís all right. You didnít force me to go along with you."
I knew better. Pippin trusted me to take care of him. I always had and I always wanted to. So this didnít sit well with me. Because of my foolish prank he was lying here, feeling humiliated, his mouth full of licked stable. But it was over and done with now and there wasnít anything I could do to make him feel better.
I turned over and fit myself up behind him, gathering him close. "Iíll try not to breathe on you," I whispered into his curls, making him giggle through his sniffy teariness.
"How díyou suppose they found out?" he asked.
"Iíve no idea."
He was quiet a moment, then: "I tipped them off last night with all that carrying on. Thatís when they started watching us, remember? I did it!"
"Stop it. You did not." Although, in truth, he probably had something there. "We were just caught out, Pip, thatís all. Itís nobodyís fault."
"No. Itís my fault," he insisted.
I covered his mouth with my hand and gave his soft bottom a firm pinch, right on the tender undercurve. When heíd finished squealing into my palm, I removed it and whispered, "Enough of that, my lad. Weíve always known there was a chance of getting caught, a chance of having to pay for what weíd done. Risk is part of the fun, Pip. So relax." I leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Your bodyís all tensed up and I wonít have it. Any more fussing and Iíll enlist someone else to join me in my mischief from now on."
"Merry! You wouldnít!"
"Just watch yourself then, and settle down."
"You would not." He pondered this quietly, then muttered, "Just who? Who would you recruit? Sam? HA! Frodo? Not likely."
Pip froze, then burst into giggles as Iíd expected he would. He couldnít stop. He rolled over on his back, holding his tummy, clearly getting far too vivid a picture of my absurd proposal. I giggled quietly and fought to keep from joining him in an all-out belly-laugh.
"Merry. Pippin. Enough."
Three firmly spoken words from Aragorn and Pippin managed to bring his silliness under control. I rolled us up under our blankets and tucked him to me again.
"Honestly, Pip," I murmured against his hair. "You are the limit."
"Satisfied, Estel?" I asked. He nodded, a peaceful light in his tired gaze. "They always recover quickly, these little ones."
"That is fortunate. They are called upon to do it often enough."
We both smiled softly. "So now you can rest. All is quiet within your kindred."
He stretched out on his side, laying his head on his bundle of belongings. "Ah, so we are all now related, are we?"
"We have been for some time, have we not?"
"You elves. You all think yourselves so wise."
He yawned. "You should go now, join your little brother on his watch. He will be bored and restless without you."
"Tell him--" He yawned again. "--tell him they were giggling."
"Aye, Estel. I shall."
Within moments he was asleep, beautifully. I turned and studied the pile of blankets that was Merry and Pippin and heard only soft drowsing breathing. All was quiet. So I rose and headed out to the watch point to keep my little brother company.