Note to Readers: This story was originally written in February 2003 and published elsewhere in slightly different form. Enjoy!

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All's Well That Ends Well!

***

All's...


'All's we wanted was a little fresh air, like, to clear our heads!'

Three hobbits. Clinging together. She thought at first two were supporting the one, but closer inspection showed that the three had not a steady leg among them.

'Where in the world have you been? The King has half the guardsmen of the City out looking for you! You were supposed to be at a banquet in your honour hours ago!' She huffed in exasperation, brushed away the stray lock of hair that insisted on dangling before her eyes, and shifted her weight from one aching foot to the other.

Blinking, the three tried to focus on her and only succeeded in looking in every direction but hers.

Gilwyn stared sternly at the hobbits. She wondered, not for the first time, whatever had possessed her to volunteer to look after these guests from a faraway land.

'You... gentlehobbits appear to be three sheets to the wind.'

Pippin hiccupped.

'Sheets?' Frodo said, confused. 'Do we have to bring our own bedding with us?'

Gilwyn started to explain, 'No, it's an old sailing term. Sailors...'

Sam interrupted, clutching his head. 'No-o-o-o,' he moaned.

'What is wrong with him?' she asked with concern.

'Don' mention boats to him,' Frodo said.

'Tell it to Merry!' Sam interjected suddenly. 'Brandybucks are crazy enough to go out on boats!'

Pippin hiccupped.

Gilwyn turned to the boys, Bergil and Fargil, who were watching, wide eyed. They were usually inside, asleep in bed, by the time the soldiers began to carouse, but the search for the missing hobbits had roused all the sober guardsmen and anyone else who could be roped in to help. Now she said urgently to her son, ''Fargil, go tell the captain of the Guard that we have found three of them.' With a quick nod he was off at a run.

***

...Well...


'Well speaking of Merry...' Frodo said.

'Merry? Where is he, anyhow?' Pippin asked. He hiccupped again.

Frodo regarded him solemnly. 'I was about to ask you the same question.'

Pippin looked all about as if he expected to find his missing cousin in one of his pockets. Finally he shook his head. 'No. He doesn' seem to be anywhere about.' He looked up brightly as Beregond came jogging in Fargil's wake. 'O hullo, Beregond!' He blinked at the guardsman's frown. 'Were you looking for us? We've been out and about!'

'I don't want to talk about no boats!' Sam interjected suddenly.

Frodo looked at him fondly. 'Don't worry, Sam. I can't even seem to find any water.'

Sam clapped a hand to his head, nearly upsetting the balance of all three. 'Water!' he exclaimed. 'That's what we were lookin' for. Water for Mister Frodo!'

Pippin hiccupped. 'A drink sounds good about now,' he added helpfully.

Beregond tried to take charge of the situation. 'A drink is about the last thing you need,' he said firmly. 'Now, where were you trying to go?' Evidently not to the banquet, they were nearly as far from the banqueting hall as they could get, and headed in the wrong direction.

All three scratched their heads at that.

Pippin was the first to brighten. 'We were looking for Merry!' he shouted.

Sam contradicted, 'No, we were looking for a drink of water for Mister Frodo!'

Frodo added again, 'Just where is Merry, anyhow?'

***

...That...


'That is one of the things we are trying to discover,' Gilwyn said patiently, but she didn't feel patient at all. 'How in the name of all that is good did you come to this state?' No use asking. She had a good idea. Guardsmen all over the City were celebrating Beregond's reprieve.

'Well, Mister Frodo was thirsty, so we went trying to find a place to get a drink of water, and we met these nice guardsmen, very merry...'

'Where is Merry, anyhow?' asked Pippin, but Sam wasn't finished telling his tale.

'When they heard Frodo needed a drink they were more than obliging. Of course, first they wished us to join them in drinking King Elessar's health...'

'And then of course we had to drink to the King of Rohan,' Frodo added.

'Which one?' Bergil asked irrelevantly.

'Both,' Pippin belched, then cleared his throat with much dignity. 'Pardon me,' he said solemnly to Gilwyn.

'And they did not want to leave out Faramir's good fortune at being named Prince of Ithilien,' said Sam a little unsteadily.

Pippin turned on Sam truculently. 'Who says it was good fortune? It was well earned!'

Beregond interceded. 'So. Four tankards. I begin to understand.'

'Oh, no!' Pippin contradicted brightly. 'Then there was Mithrandir!...'

Beregond turned to Gilwyn. 'We will probably find the missing hobbit off in a corner with a big head in the morning.'

'Oh, and they taught us a lot of new songs!' Pippin enthused.' 'My father was a guard for the Citadel, And oh! the stories he could tell...' ' he sang in his clear voice.

Beregond broke in, 'Pippin!'

Pippin tried to focus on him. 'Eh?'

Beregond said gently but firmly, 'Not that one. There's a lady present.'

'Oh, aye,' Pippin nodded wisely.

'It wasn't four tankards,' Frodo said.

Gilwyn bent to look him in the face as he was having trouble finding hers. 'No, I think we have determined that it was five.'

'Oh, no, it wasn't five!' Frodo exclaimed. 'Of course we had to join in celebrating your promotion, Beregond, to Captain of the White Company of Ithilien.'

'You gonna start wearing white?' Sam interjected abruptly. 'Terrible inconvenient color. Dunno how Gandalf manages.'

Gilwyn shook her head helplessly. 'How is it they are on their feet?'

'No worse than orc draught!' Pippin hiccupped.

Frodo disagreed vehemently. 'O no, orc draught is much worse!'

As the two threatened to fall into argument Beregond broke in again. 'And then what happened?'

***

...Ends...

'Ends up,' Sam explained, 'that when the guardsmen realized Frodo here was the Ring-bearer of course they had to stand us all to drinks. And of course we had to drink 'em. Only polite you know.'

Frodo continued, ''Well, then they had to drink to the Ring-bearer's companion.'

'That's me,' Sam said complacently.

'And then they found that Pippin was the one killed that troll, you know? Did you know he killed a troll?' Frodo blinked at Beregond.

'I was aware of that, yes,' Beregond answered drily.

Pippin decided it was time for him to make a contribution. 'And then when they realized that Merry was the one... where is Merry, anyhow?'

'That is what we are trying to determine here,' Beregond said through his teeth.

***

...Well!

'Well, that tears it!' Beregond said.

'Oh, no,' Frodo moaned. They all looked at him.

'What is it, Frodo?' Pippin asked timidly.

'Now the sheet's got torn!' Frodo protested.

'You say Merry went off by himself? Looking for a drink of water?' Beregond persisted. He met Gilwyn's eyes. 'Was Merry wearing mail?' he continued urgently.

Gilwyn was puzzled for a moment, but as she followed his thought she could feel sickness hit the pit of her stomach. 'Oh, no!' she said, dread replacing the droll humor she'd been feeling at having to deal with a huddle of incapacitated halflings. 'You don't think...'

'Come on!' Beregond shouted, and was off running, leaving Gilwyn and Bergil to herd the hobbits after him. It was a bit like trying to herd a bunch of tangled puppies, each one trying to go in a different direction whilst all still clung to one another for balance.

Beregond had reached the well and was peering down through the darkness. 'Merry!' he shouted.

They arrived at the well. Pippin tried to look over but Beregond pushed him away. 'Keep the others back,' Beregond warned. 'We don't want any more of them over the edge.'

'You don't think...' Gilwyn repeated, but Beregond interrupted.

'The bucket's gone,' he said. Heart sinking, she saw it was true. The bucket was not standing in its usual place on the stony edge of the well. Beregond leaned over the well again. 'Merry!' he called down into the darkness.

Gilwyn's heart leapt as she heard a faint reply.

'Get some rope!' Beregond ordered desperately.

Sam broke in. 'Rope?' he asked mildly. 'D'you need rope?'

Trying to be patient, Gilwyn put both hands on his shoulders and resisted the urge to shake him. 'Yes, we need rope,' she answered.

'Got some right here in my pack,' Sam announced cheerily.

Beregond tore the pack from his back, dug in and brought out a slim silver coil.

Sam regarded him with an injured look. 'No need to be so hasty,' he reproached. 'I coulda gotten it out for you easy enough.'

Beregond looked over the edge again. 'Merry!' he shouted. 'I am sending down a loop of rope! Hook it under your arms, I will pull you up!' He muttered to himself, 'I hope he is not too far gone to follow directions.'

He lowered the rope, but brought it up again empty.

'Father,' Bergil said, 'lower me down. I can get him.'

Beregond regarded him soberly. 'You cannot swim.'

Sam interjected, 'He can too swim! He's a Brandybuck!'

'We're not talking about Merry,' Frodo said to him urgently. He seemed to have grasped the situation at last.

'He could be drowning now! That water is cold! Let me down to him, I'll be safe with the rope about me.'

There was no other choice, really. Beregond tied the rope about his son and lowered him slowly into the well. It seemed an eternity before they heard him call, 'I've got him!'

Beregond and Gilwyn hauled the rope up together. The slender silver line was amazingly strong. Bergil, knowing that Merry was too heavy for him, had looped the free end of the rope around the hobbit securely.

They could hear spluttering and coughing getting closer as they pulled. 'He's all right!' Bergil shouted. 'Just swallowed a little water!'

A few more pulls and rescued and rescuer appeared at the lip of the well.

'He had overturned the bucket and was clinging to it,' Bergil gasped as they pulled him over the lip of the well.

'Smart lad,' Beregond muttered. Gilwyn felt the reaction hit her knees and had to lean against him for a moment. He looked down at her with concern, but she forced a smile and straightened again.

Merry stood shivering and dripping on the cobbles.

'I found you your drink of water, Frodo,' he chattered. He looked around, puzzled. 'It was right around here somewhere.'

Sam suddenly noticed that Merry was all wet. 'Merry!' he said in an accusing tone. 'Have you been fooling about with boats again? Don't you know you can get drownded doing that?'

Merry nodded solemnly. 'The thought had crossed my mind,' he said.

Gilwyn saw him shiver again, and her motherly instincts were aroused, even though he wasn't all that much younger than she was. 'Come on!' she ordered, securing Beregond's help in herding the four hobbits together. 'The excitement's over for the night. Let's get you all off to bed!'

Frodo looked worried, 'But we don't have any sheets!' he protested.

'That's all right, then,' Gilwyn soothed. 'We've plenty of blankets to go round.' Frodo allowed himself to be herded, but then Sam stopped suddenly and the other three hobbits tripped over him, to end in a heap in the middle of the road.

'But what about Frodo's water?' he said plaintively. The Big People, resisting the urge to shake him, picked up the four hobbits and carried them off to their rest.