Chapter 7. Fastening Off

The day before mid-September, Esmeralda found her scamp of a nephew in the stables, saddling the grey pony. Her eyebrow raised at sight of the saddlebags.

'And where are you going, this fine day? Not just a ride, I see,' she said.

'The sale of the pony takes effect tomorrow,' Pippin answered. 'I have to get him back to Tuckborough today. I was just coming in to take my leave...'

He felt his aunt's hand on his arm. 'I didn't want to say anything sooner,' she said softly. 'I wanted to wait until the bill of sale arrived safely; you never know when the Thain's going to change his mind...'

He looked at her, puzzled. 'I have no idea what you are talking about, Aunt,' he said slowly, 'Meaning no disrespect, of course.'

She laughed. 'Of course not!' There was a twinkle in the eyes that met Pippin's. 'It's safe to tell you, now that the bill of sale has arrived from the Great Smials this morning.' He waited. 'I am the one who's bought this pony off my brother, and for a fair profit, too, not a silver penny more.'

Pippin's eyes widened, and his aunt nodded. 'Yes, lad, and he'll be mine until you come of age. He'll never be sold out from under you again.' She half expected him to throw his arms about her as he had when younger, but he caught himself, stood tall as he could, and nodded properly. Ah, lads do grow up, indeed they do.

'What shall we call this fine pony? Don't you think he ought to have a name?'

Pippin turned back to survey the grey pony as if seeing him for the first time. After a long pause for thought, he said, 'You ought to name him "Socks".'

'Socks?' his aunt said in astonishment. She turned to make her own survey. The pony was dapple grey from head to tail, with no distinguishing markings at all, certainly no white socks. She could see him being named "Smoke" or "Cloud"... but Socks?

Pippin met her gaze, mischief dancing in his eye, but a dare lurked there as well. 'Yes,' he answered slowly. 'Don't you think the name fits him well? You ought to call him "Socks"...'

'Because he doesn't have any!' aunt and nephew finished together, and burst out laughing. She gave him a quick hug, holding his arms a little longer as she put him away again, to take in his smile. It was good to see him smiling again.

The lilt of Tookland was strong in her voice as she said, 'So where are you going on *our* pony on this fine day, I'm asking?'

He smiled at his aunt. 'I'm going for a ride,' he said. 'Would you like to come along?'

'I thought you'd never ask!' she replied.

***

While Pippin was grooming the grey pony after his ride with Esmeralda, he heard lowered voices in the next stall, and something made him stop to listen.

'...I can't explain,' Merry was saying. 'I just want your word that if anything happens to me, you'll take care of Bright Nose until I get back.'

'You're going to Hobbiton to help cousin Frodo move! What could happen?' Berilac said.

Merry laughed. 'Anything could happen,' he said. 'You know how old cousin Bilbo was always going on and on...'

Berilac broke in, '...you mean the road goes on and on...'

'No, I meant cousin Bilbo!'

Berilac laughed. 'He never stopped talking.' Then he sobered. 'Are you trying to tell me, you're planning an adventure, to go see Bilbo or something like that?'

'It might be something like that,' Merry said, dropping his voice still lower.

'I want to come, too!'

'Now, cousin, what would the elves do if half the Hall descended upon them at once? They might start shooting arrows or something, thinking themselves invaded.' Berilac protested, and Merry continued, 'Besides, I need you to stay and take care of my parents for me, and Bright Nose, until I return.' Berilac said something else Pippin didn't catch, but Merry was insistent. 'Your word, Berilac? I know once you give it I can rest easy.'

'All right,' Berilac said. 'But you've got to promise to take me with you next time.'

'That's a promise,' Merry said.

***The End***