From a Lacey-Dana challenge. Or maybe it was a Dana-Lacey challenge. Things get blurry after midnight. Take these items, and craft a story: hairpin, butterfly, floppy hat, wet kitten. How did I do? (Characters: Auntie Nasty and her favourite nephew, Merimas)

Babe

Nasturtium Brandybuck jammed the last of the wicked-looking hatpins into the floppy hat and surveyed the effect in the mirror. Yes, the hat sat at just the right angle, just a bit jaunty, to show off her dimples to best effect, but not too affected. After all, the main purpose of the hat was to keep the Sun from striking her down as she walked her favourite nephew by the River this day.

She turned from the glass with a smile. 'There,' she said. 'All ready, little Merry!'

Her sister protested. 'We oughtn't call him that, it doesn't seem right, somehow.'

'Nonsense,' Nasturtium said cheerfully. 'Just because Saradoc and Esmeralda were silly enough to name their son Meriadoc... they ought to have known folk would call him "Merry" for short. And *our* wee lad,' she smiled fondly down at little Merimas, 'was "Merry" first!' Her smile faded as she saw her sister raise a fretful hand to her forehead. 'But you need to rest, dearie,' she said softly. 'We are off to see what we may see! Come, laddie!'

Little Merimas skipped up to take the outstretched hand, chattering excitedly. Nasturtium smiled down at him, surely he was the cleverest lad in all of Brandy Hall, and the sweetest, too. She waved a hand to her sister with a last admonition, 'Go lie yourself down! We'll be back in time for tea,' and the two were gone, with a ringing, 'Bye-bye, Mama dearest!' from the tiny lad.

A lazy butterfly swirled above the Hall's flower garden, and Merimas clapped his hands in delight. 'How does it fly, Auntie?' he asked.

'It's made from leftover scraps of your dreams,' she said softly. 'They float on the breeze, you know.' He nodded wisely. Auntie Nasturtium knew the answer to every question.

They had walked a little ways from the Hall, where trees overhung the path and bank of the River, affording some shade, when an outburst of frightful noise caused small Merimas to turn and grasp his aunt's leg in terror, eyes wide. Immediately she picked him up, and holding him with one hand, pulled a wicked hatpin from her hat with the other. A dog was loose, attacking something, from the sound. She eyed the trees, picking out a climbable one, and set her little nephew amongst the branches. 'You hold tight!' she shouted. 'I'm going to see what's what!'

Just past a tangle of bushes she came upon a large nondescript dog, snarling in rage, face dripping red from slashes across the muzzle. A small, determined cat crouched before him, yowling, claws at the ready for another strike. Before Nasturtium could intervene, the dog pounced, got hold of the cat, and with a vicious shake the courageous little creature went limp.

'You... beast!' Nasturtium cried in outrage. 'You drop that cat right now!' The dog gave the cat a last shake, dropped it, growled low, stalking towards the hobbit.

'Don't you dare,' Nasturtium snarled back, hatpin grasped firmly in her hand. As the dog lunged forward, she was ready, jabbing the long, pointed thing into the dog's muzzle. Being a coward at heart, the beast yelped and turned tail, yelps receding in the distance as it fled.

Nasturtium could hear her little nephew crying in fear, and she called out reassuringly, 'It's all right, lad, the nasty beastie is gone away. Auntie will come get you in the time it takes to sing a song. You just hold tight!' A shaky little voice answered, and she began to sing, rather absently, a nursery tune whilst scraping a shallow grave and gently depositing the little body with a soft pat. Between two verses, she said, 'You put up a good fight, lass. You nearly had the brute,' and wiped away a tear before continuing the song and mounding dirt over the little creature.

As she stood, dusting her hands, she heard a tiny sound in the bushes. Calling to her nephew to wait just a heartbeat more, she bent to part the leafy branches, finding a tiny kitten, eyes not yet opened, mewling piteously. 'So this is what you were defending,' she breathed. 'You were carrying him, I suppose, moving house, when that ruffian attacked you.'

She picked up the kitten, tucking it into the warmth under her clothes, and went to fetch Merimas. 'I've something to show you,' she said, trying to distract him from his fear, and when he gulped back his tears, she brought out the tiny mite. He touched the soft fur with a wondering finger.

'Where's his Mama?' he asked.

'She had something she had to do,' Nasturtium answered, 'and asked if we might mind him for her. Come, lad, I know just the thing.' She tucked the kitten back where it would stay warm and took the lad's hand, leading him to the stables. In one of the stalls, she knew, the Master's best sheepdog was suckling a litter of new pups.

The dog looked up with a sweep of her tail on the straw, as Nasturtium knelt to greet her. 'Such a fine lass,' she said, caressing the silky head. 'Such fine pups, Fly, what a wonderful family you have there, dearie.' She picked up one of the pups, rubbing her hands all over it under the mother's anxious eye, then put it down again with a pat.

Fly licked the pup all over and nudged it into place to nurse as Merimas watched in delight. 'He has a bath before tea just like me!' he crowed.

'That's right, laddie,' Nasturtium said fondly, such a bright lad, what a joy Merimas was to her. She hoped she'd have ten little lads just like him someday, but for now she was content to borrow the joy of her sister's heart. She took the ball of kitten from where it curled, hidden under her clothes, and rubbed her hands all over it, hoping the scent from the pup would cling to its fur. Then she held out the wee scrap to the nursing Fly. The kitten made a tiny sound of hunger, and the dog nosed it, sniffing, then put her tongue out in a series of tiny licks.

Holding her breath, Nasturtium put the kitten down amongst the pups. Fly nudged the wee creature again, then washed it thoroughly and shoved it into place to nurse. Nasturtium and her nephew broke into broad grins. 'There's a fine lass!' Nasturtium said softly, then looked down at her wide-eyed nephew. 'Come, lad,' she smiled. 'It's time for a certain young hobbit I know to have his own bath and tea!' Hand in hand, they walked slowly back to the Hall, pausing in the flower garden to watch the butterflies floating in the summer sun.

The kitten thrived and grew and became the finest sheepherding cat in the Shire.