A/N: Dedicated to Declan because he was such a git last Sunday (Declan is a horse by the way).

A Problematic Pony

Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin were returning to the Shire after a long year of pain and torment. They had, just that morning, left Bree and were halfway home. They were making quicker time than they had on the journey away from the Shire, as they need not make any shortcuts, to mushrooms or otherwise. They were glad to be staying clear of the Barrow Downs and were quite happy to keep out of the Old Forest, even though they knew Tom Bombadil was there. They were also trying to get back to the Shire as quick as possible as they had suspicions about its safety.

Frodo and Pippin were riding the same ponies that they were given at Gondor when Aragorn, Gandalf, Galadriel, Celeborn, Elrond and the Rohirrim were still riding with them. In Rohan Merry was given Stybba; the pony king Theoden had originally given him and that was who he was now riding. In Rivendell Sam had rejoiced to find Bill patiently waiting for him – thinking he had been lost to wolves – and he hadn't hesitated in taking him back into his care.

In Bree Gandalf had left them along with Shadowfax, something both the ponies and their riders had been unhappy about but so far nothing had come of it. Nothing of much importance anyway. Both Pippin and Frodo had noticed that it was harder to urge their ponies into a faster pace now Shadowfax wasn't there to keep them in line, but they were managing. Their ponies were neither as well trained as Stybba nor did they have the love for their riders that Bill had for Sam. Neither of them were really ponies for riding, just pack ponies, but they were all that could be found in Minas Tirith, it not being a very good city in which to keep horses.

It did, however, mean that Pippin and Frodo were able to name the ponies themselves. Frodo had jokingly called his Barrel, after the non-existent pony that Smaug the dragon had thought belonged to Bilbo over half a century earlier. Not wanting to be outdone by his cousin, Pippin had called his pony Ale, reasoning that the two horses went together like barrels and ale.

On this fine sunny afternoon, Barrel decided that he didn't want to be rushing around like the person sitting on his back was telling him to. There was plenty of grass here, what was the point? And so he decided to stop and get himself some of this lovely grass. Frodo now found himself struggling to get his pony's head up out of the grass and back pointing in the correct direction. The other three stopped and turned to watch.

"Come along!" said Merry with a smile on his face. Frodo merely looked at him and gave the reins one huge yank, succeeding in pulling Barrel's head up, but Barrel knew now that he was able to get away with being naughty and he wasn't going to let the opportunity slip.

No more than five minutes later and Barrel decided to stop, just stop. He wasn't eating, he wasn't going to the toilet, he'd just stopped for no reason other than to annoy Frodo. Frodo nudged, kicked and booted the pony, but he would just not move. It wasn't until he turned around and smacked the pony with the palm of his hand did Barrel see fit to move. He tried the same trick another three times until Frodo had become completely ready for any slowing of the pace, not to mention him having a sore hand.

It took another twenty minutes for Barrel to think of another plan to disrupt Frodo's riding and this time he thought to involve Ale as well. With a loud whinny, Barrel turned from the road and sped away. Ale being skittish at the best of times, bolted at Barrel's first noise. Sam and Merry managed to keep their steeds under control.

"That Barrel is certainly a trouble maker." observed Merry. Sam nodded in agreement and turned Bill, ready to chase after the two retreating ponies.

"Should we go after them Mister Merry?" asked Sam, not sure that adding another two ponies into the equation would do any good. In answer Merry spurred Stybba on into a canter and Sam followed suit.

"Pippin! Hold on!" yelled Frodo to Pippin, who had become dislodged from the saddle at the sudden and unexpected burst of speed from his mount. He had one leg hooked over the saddle while the other tried to get a steady foothold in the stirrup. The only thing really keeping him from falling was his grip on the reins and Ale's mane.

Barrel realised that going fast was what Frodo now wanted him to do, and so, with no warning, he stopped again. Frodo hadn't a chance of staying on and flew over Barrel's head to the awaiting ground. Sam and Merry saw this and praying that Frodo had come to no harm, they caught up with him. As they slowed down, they saw Frodo sit up holding the back of his head.

"Mister Frodo! Are you alright?" said Sam as he dismounted. Barrel was contentedly grazing a few yards away, Bill looked at him disdainfully.

"Yes, I'm quite fine, just a bang on the head." said Frodo through the subsiding pain.

"If you are sure that there is no damage then I shall go on after Pippin." declared Merry and he was off.

"Would you like to ride Bill Mister Frodo?" asked Sam.

"For a little while, yes, if you wouldn't mind." Frodo smiled as Sam helped him up and then gave him a leg-up onto Bill. Then Sam mounted Barrel, who was quite happy to have a different rider to disobey.

The turned and trotted back towards the road to await Merry and Pippin's return. When they finally arrived, Pippin was having a little trouble stopping Ale from breaking into a scared run, he was still a little nervy. Stybba and Merry were both pristine and none the worse for wear but Pippin's entire right side was ruffled and mucky. It was just as well he wasn't wearing his white shirt or he'd have very visible grass stains. He grinned at Frodo and Sam and patted Ale on the neck to try and calm him.

"Are you alright Frodo? I glanced behind me and couldn't see you and then fell off myself."

"No I'm quite fine thank you Pippin."

"That's quite the evil pony you have there. Well, I see Sam has him now. Well done for getting rid of him Frodo, that's not one pony I'd like to get stuck with." said Pippin and they set off again.

Barrel seemed to be behaving better with Sam and for a whole half an hour, nothing more happened. Barrel had found himself with, if not a better rider, then a stronger one and he found that he couldn't stop as readily as he could before. His wicked mind searched around for something he could do, and he found something.

Sam was pleased with the speed he was travelling at and relaxed a little, Barrel took his chance. One moment Sam was sitting upon a nicely walking pony and the next he found the front legs of this pony buckled and Sam had to jump off to avoid being rolled upon by Barrel. Barrel got up again from where he had rolled, shook himself, and went back to the grass.

Sam avoided the rear end when he went to collect Barrel. He did not trust this pony one bit.

"I think someone bigger would do better on this demon." said Sam giving Barrel a smack on the nose when he nibbled Sam's arm to get him to let go.

"I'm not getting on it! I've already fallen off once and have no desire to do so again!" exclaimed Pippin. All eyes turned to Merry, who sighed.

"Very well, just let me get something out of my pack," Merry dismounted and dug around in his pack and produced a whip. "Bring him over here."

"Get off my foot you evil beast!" shouted Sam at Barrel, who had quite purposefully placed his hoof upon Sam's foot. Merry decided that perhaps going to Sam would be a better idea. Pippin soothed Ale, who had jumped at Sam's loud words.

Having removed the pony from Sam's foot, where a nasty red mark was left, Merry mounted.

"Going to show us some fancy trick you learnt from the Rohirrim?" questioned Pippin. Merry didn't bother to answer and waited for Sam to mount Stybba.

Whoosh smack! Merry brought the whip down on Barrel's behind and he shot off. The other three looked at each other. That was certainly one way of getting him moving. They all shrugged and cantered off after Merry.