Disclaimer: These wonderful, dear hobbits don't belong to me; they are the brainchild of Professor Tolkien. I merely borrow them in my addiction to write about hobbits.

Summary: Pippin (Just turned seven) and Merry (still fourteen) take a business trip with Paladin to Michel Delving. Merry takes a hit on the noggin and has a surreal experience all his own!


Chapter One - Goodbyes

Eglantine walked out towards the barn where her husband was packing large wicker baskets full of food she had packed for their trip. She clutched at the cloak she wore in her haste to weather the early morning spring chill that swept through the yard. "Paladin!"

Paladin rested the basket on the floor of the cart he was loading, "What is it?"

Eglantine waited until she was closer to him before continuing. "She's awake," she said, "and she's in tears."

Paladin answered, "I checked on her this morning and she was still asleep."

"Well she's awake now, and she's not a happy little girl."

He sighed. "Tell the boys to wait in the kitchen; I don't want them getting sick as well."

Paladin sat on the bed of his youngest daughter, hand on her forehead. Pervinca lay there pale and very warm. "Sweet pea, you still have a fever…you cannot come with us."

"But it's only a little one, papa," she pleaded. "I promise to wear my winter coat and cloak--I'll even wear my hat!"

Paladin shook his head sadly, "I'm sorry, love, you're sick, and if you go about in the cool weather all day, however bundled up you are, you will get worse." He watched as tears sprang from her eyes, then wiped one away with his finger. "And that would make me even sadder than I am now." Paladin really did want Pervinca to come along on their trip; she rarely got to go on trips such as this one, and today they were headed for Michel Delving, the Shire's Chief Township, and it was a terrible disappointment for him. "I promise we will bring you back a nice gift."

Pervinca sniffed, "But it won't be the same as being there." She tugged and fidgeted with the handkerchief in her hands.

"I still have one more trip to make next week to Longbottom in the South Farthing. You may come along at that time, if you're hale." He kissed her rosy cheeks, "I must go now, Sweet pea. I have customers with whom I have appointments today."

Pervinca was old enough to know that their livelihood was somewhat dependent on these meetings her father set up, though not solely. Most, if not all, were already longtime friends and relatives of her father. He met with them every year during the growing season to agree upon prices and bartering of the crops that they would receive. Michel Delving had plenty of agriculture, however due to the number of hobbits that dwelled there, more simply had to be brought in.

"I know, papa," she answered, then forced a smile. As wretched as she felt about not going, she certainly didn't want to burden her father during the whole trip with her unhappiness. "If you please, I would like a new slingshot, if you can find one."

Paladin wasn't sure if he heard his daughter correctly. "A new....slingshot?" he asked. "Since when does an eleven-year-old girl play with slingshots?"

"I haven't yet...well, not much anyway. Merry lets me use his, but I'd like one of my own." Then she beckoned her father to lean in closer, whispering, "And I want it to be a new one so that Pippin will be jealous."

Children, said Paladin laughed inwardly. He grinned at his daughter, "Very well, then--a new slingshot it is! Now I want you to get your rest." He tucked the blankets around her and then kissed her head. "Go to sleep."

Paladin was now in haste; he was almost a half-hour behind schedule. Merry and Pippin were waiting for him in the kitchen just as he had asked. "Boys, get your coats and cloaks on." He grabbed his son's coat from off the peg and assisted him with putting it on and fastening all the buttons. Merry put his own coat on and then handed Pippin's cloak over to his uncle. "Merry, I want you to take Pippin and go out to the cart and wait for me there. I shall only be a moment." He watched as Merry took his younger cousin by the hand and led him outside into the waxing dawn.

Eglantine wrapped her arms about Paladin's waist and drew him close, "Hurry back."

"I never dawdle when I'm abroad and my heart is here in Whitwell," he said. Looking at her he smiled, then kissed her. Many heartbeats passed before he finally let go and sighed ever so slightly, "I'll see you tomorrow." Then as he put on his cloak he added, "Addie will look in on you and the girls tonight before he heads back to the Smials."

"You worry too much, Paladin. We'll be fine." She gave him another peck on the lips.

"But all the same, it would make me feel better knowing he did this--please?"

"All right," she relented, "if it will make you sleep easier." She waved to him as he headed for the door.

"Thank you! Goodbye now," he called over his shoulder, then grabbed a small, brimmed hat from the pegs before shutting the door behind him.

"But I don't like wearing hats, Papa!" Pippin whined as his father tried to tie the strings under the boy's chin.

"Hold still, Pippin." Paladin re-gathered the strings for yet another attempt.

"That isn't true," Merry piped in. "You wear hats all the time."

Young Pippin gave his cousin a stern, sidelong look, "I don't like this one!"

"I like it," Merry replied with a mischievous grin, "it makes you look like a darling little laddie."

"It makes me look like my sister!" Pippin reached out to swat his cousin, but Merry jumped out of his reach.

"Quit fussing," Paladin reprimanded his son. "Both of you!" He was getting anxious about how he was going to make up the time on the road. Finally getting the brief moment in time that Pippin held still, Paladin quickly tied the strings and then lifted the small lad into the cart. "This is the same hat your mother purchased just last autumn for the Harvest Fair. You had no qualms about wearing it then."

"I was a little boy then and didn't know any better," answered Pippin.

Merry lifted himself up into the cart and then laid blankets across his and Pippin's lap as Paladin walked around the cart to the other side of the seat. Merry whispered to Pippin, "It's too bad Pervinca got sick. We should bring her back a small trinket."

"Yes," agreed Pippin, "I shall buy her a new Shooter."

"Pervinca doesn't play with marbles, you goose egg!"

"Well, that's too bad as well," said Pippin. "I suppose when she tires of it she'll give it to me for her birthday."

Merry shook his head, "My birthday is far sooner than Pervinca's birthday; perhaps you'll get a new Shooter from me."

"No, I was hoping to get some new marbles from you," answered Pippin, "I need about three of them."

"Did you lose them in a game?"

"No, I just lost them, is all." Then he laughed, "I lost my marbles, Merry!"