Sweets and Secret Ingredients 2 – The Morning After
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Sam advised quietly. The stocky gardener's round face was apprehensive and his grey eyes were tight with worry. Merry paused with his hand on the door of Frodo's bedroom. He had already begun to turn the beautifully carved knob, but at Sam's warning, he quietly eased the great wooden door shut and removed his hand. Behind him, Pippin gave them both a half-curious, half-worried look.
"Aye," Sam continued in a whisper with a jerk of his head towards the closed door, "he's in a fine state this morning. Says he feels sick and his head's pounding fit to burst, has been ever since you two left yesterday. He don't know why. I've half a mind to tell him."
Merry covered the surge of fear that coursed through him with an easy, teasing smile. "Now, Sam, you can't do that. You'd have to confess your little contribution to the taffy we made. Then you'd be in the stew, too."
"And don't I know it," Sam growled back almost inaudibly, mindful of his master's excellent hearing. "If Master Elrond makes him take another one o' those tonics he hates so much, I will tell him why he feels so bad. At least he'll know it's not his fault." Pippin blanched. "He hardly ate any tea after you two left yesterday, and he slept right through dinner and supper," Sam continued, glowering at them both.
"So he got a good rest, then?" Merry asked weakly with an ingratiating smile. Sam glared at him.
"If you call falling-down drunk 'a good rest'," Sam growled. "You know Mr. Frodo don't hardly ever drink anything stronger than an ale or two, or a glass of wine. There was enough hard liquor in those sweets to flatten a pony."
"It's not my fault," Pippin protested from the safety of Merry's far side. "I didn't know all of you were going to pour in all those spirits. I already put in more than Mum's recipe called for." Pippin tried to look indignant instead of guilty. "Between what you and Merry and Bilbo added, I'm not surprised Frodo's sick." Sam's jaw firmed and those bright grey eyes narrowed dangerously. Pippin made certain he was out of reach. "It's Frodo's own fault, really. He went ahead and ate all that taffy. We didn't force him to be so greedy."
Sam's face flushed red and he inhaled, chest swelling perilously.
Pippin ducked behind his cousin, his fingers tight in the pocket of Merry's waistcoat. Merry backed up a pace. "Just you listen here, young masters -"
"Sam?" The voice that threaded through their hissed conversation was tight with suppressed pain.
Sam bit off his tirade and still glaring, edged up to the closed door. "Yes, sir?" he called back as quietly as possible.
"Is that Merry and Pippin I hear?" There was an almost inaudible groan, followed by a stifled whimper.
"Yes, sir," Sam replied resignedly.
"Send them in, please. I would like to speak to them." Sam stepped back from the door and motioned for Merry to continue through. Merry tried to smile jauntily as he passed, but it came out as rather a sickly grin. Pippin almost trod on his heels, feeling Sam's hot gaze burning on his back as the door closed after them.
The room was subdued, the drapes still drawn against the cheerful morning light. Outside, birds contested with the music of Rivendell's ever-present waterfalls, their piping voices blending with the chuckling song of water. Their cousin was discernable only as an irregular lump on the near edge of the bed. The lump did not greet them or make any movement. Suddenly worried, Merry and Pippin exchanged a glance and crept closer to the high bed. "Frodo?" whispered Merry.
A hand whipped out from under the covers and with the suddenness of a striking snake, fastened on the tip of Merry's ear. The covers erupted up like a fountain and a second, weaker hand fastened on Pippin's.
"Ow! Ow! Ow!" the young hobbits shrieked in unison. "Let go, Frodo!"
Frodo's pale face emerged from the blankets, creased in pain. "Will you two be quiet?" he demanded. "My head feels like it is splitting in two." He closed his eyes for a moment, inhaling deeply. "Perhaps you can tell me why?" Pippin twisted and Frodo's weaker hand gave. The tweenager shot to the far side of the room and proceeded to rub his ear, readily abandoning Merry to their elder cousin's wrath. With a growl, Frodo laid his left arm across his middle and tightened his hold on his remaining captive.
"Now, Frodo," Merry gasped, "no need to be hasty. I can explain about the sweets. Everyone was just trying to help, you see, and -"
Merry's breathless explanation was interrupted by a knock at the door. Sam stuck his head in and surveyed the scene, then swung the door wider to admit Lord Elrond. The Elf-lord paused in the entryway, his dark eyes sweeping the room at the sight of Pippin cowering behind the washbasin while the Ring-bearer held tightly to a squirming Merry's ear. The hobbits froze, eyes wide. Elrond's impassive gaze swept the motionless tableau for a moment, then he bowed.
Frodo hurriedly released Merry's ear and the younger hobbit straightened with commendable speed, brushing off his waistcoat and adjusting his shirtcuffs. Frodo sat up in bed and tried to look as if he had not just been holding onto his young cousin's ear with a death grip. In the mortified silence that followed, the Ring-bearer bowed stiffly from the waist. The courtesy was rather spoiled by his putting a hand to his forehead and moaning.
"Good morning, little masters," Elrond said neutrally. Neither of the two young ones would meet his gaze, and the lord's thin eyebrows rose. Deciding not to ask questions that he would probably prefer not to know the answers to, he swept majestically to Frodo's bedside, his great copper-colored mantle falling in graceful folds about him. Merry swiftly made room for him, seizing the opportunity to edge back out of his elder cousin's reach.
"Good morning, Lord Elrond," Frodo gritted out as graciously as he could with dwarf-drums pounding inside his head. His greeting was almost inaudibly repeated by the other two, who were keeping their distance.
"I hope I have not … interrupted you," Elrond said graciously. "But Bilbo informs me that you might be feeling unwell, Master Frodo."
Frodo shook his head, then paled, his complexion taking on a decidedly greenish hue. Pippin shifted nervously and the Elf-lord's eyes turned to him consideringly. Behind the Master, Frodo waved his hands in the air, pointing at Elrond's back, and swinging his finger towards the door. When Merry stared at him, Frodo rolled his eyes and made a pushing motion at Elrond's back. Pippin giggled, then presented an innocent face when Elrond's dark brows rose.
"I trust you two are not suffering from the mysterious ailment that troubles your cousin," the Elf-lord commented after a moment. Merry and Pippin shook their heads mutely, eyes on their furry toes. The healer half-turned back towards Frodo and the hobbit froze, then jerkily changed the pushing motion to scratching his head. Elrond frowned, and Frodo looked innocent, remarkably resembling his youngest cousin. Merry and Pippin took advantage of the distraction to edge towards the door.
The healer leaned forward and placed the back of his hand against the hobbit's forehead. "I find no fever, Master Frodo," Elrond continued after a slight pause. "Nor any reason for your headache and sensitivity to light."
"Thank you, my lord," Frodo replied, "but Bilbo is being overcautious. I am quite well this morning and wish to speak with my cousins." The last was added in a raised voice, causing Frodo to clench his teeth, his hands tightening on the blankets. Merry, trying the knob, heard a growl from the other side and discovered that Sam was blocking the door with his body.
Elrond glanced between the cousins curiously, well aware of the undercurrents in the room, if not their cause. "Yes-s," the Elf-lord said slowly. "I was concerned that your walk in the rain yesterday might have resulted in a cold." An "Ummph!" and a thud behind him caused to pivot on the bed and stare at the two younger hobbits. Merry was rubbing his shoulder. Seeing their host's gaze upon them, Merry straightened and smiled widely, hastily shoving his hands in his pockets. Pippin began intently examining the carved beams of the ceiling. Elrond frowned at them and turned his attention back to his patient.
"Therefore, Master Frodo…" ("Push harder, Merry!"), "I have taken…" ("I can't, Pip! He's holding it shut!") "…the precaution of …" ("Sam, you let us out!") "…preparing a…" ("He wants 'ta talk to you, Mr. Merry.") "…restorative tonic…" ("That's why I want out, Sam!") "…to ensure that… to ensure…"
Elrond trailed off, overcome by the muffled thumps and increasingly loud whispers emanating from the direction of the door. Becoming aware that the healer had ceased to speak, Merry and Pippin turned around. Elrond and Frodo were both staring at them. The Elf-lord's high brows were arched and their cousin's were drawn down over infuriated blue eyes.
"Er…" Merry temporized.
"…You do not become ill," Elrond belatedly finished his sentence. The Elf-lord gave the young hobbits a mystified stare then swiveled gracefully back to his patient. He withdrew from his robes a small vial, which he presented to the Ring-bearer. "Drink it, Master Frodo."
"No no no, my lord," the hobbit gulped. "Truly, it is not necessary. I am fine. I -"
Elrond smiled for the first time since entering the room. "I am well aware you do not care for the taste of my elixirs, little master, but they do you nothing but good." One slim hand gently unstoppered the vial, then guided it to the hobbit's mouth. "Drink it."
"Lord Elrond -"
His hand trembling, Frodo reached out and took the delicate glass vial. Beseeching eyes raised to the healer's – uselessly. The Elf-lord's gaze was implacable. Seeing no recourse, Frodo closed his eyes and opened his mouth. Elrond gently supported the trembling hand and tilted the liquid into the hobbit's mouth.
The hobbit did, then his face distorted in a horrible grimace. His lips thinned over bared teeth as his entire face flushed, and both hands flew to his mouth, pressing tightly. "Gaaaccckkk!"
Elrond watched dispassionately. "Good," the Elf-lord intoned, despite every evidence to the contrary. He rose majestically to his feet, ignoring his patient's strangled coughs. "I will check on you later in the day. For now, I suggest you rest."
Elrond swept to the door. It opened for him without resistance, indicating that Sam had been listening with his ear up against the wood. Elrond stepped forward when two small forms burst past him. The Elf looked down quizzically.
"Little masters," he began, "I believe your cousin said he wishes to speak with you -"
"He needs to rest," Merry piped, ignoring the choked gurgle behind him, which was all Frodo was capable of producing at the moment. Pippin was nodding so violently that his curly hair bobbed into his eyes. "Excuse us, sir," Merry continued quickly. "Things to do, you know -"
"Mr. Merry," began Sam ominously, but Merry pushed past him, sheltered by the proximity of their host and his surety that Sam's respect for the Master of Rivendell would prevent Sam from tackling them and physically dragging them back inside.
"You heard Master Elrond, Sam," Merry replied hurriedly. "Frodo needs to rest. Mustn't excite him. No stimulating discussions." Another choke issued from within the room, followed by a series of throttled coughs.
"Mer," could possibly be made out amidst the hacking, followed by "back here!" the words indistinct and distorted by more coughs. Merry decided on selective deafness and snatched Pippin's jacket, hauling his younger cousin after him. "Good day, Lord Elrond. See you at luncheon, Sam. Maybe tea. Certainly dinner, or supper…" Still talking, Merry rounded the corner and a moment later, two sets of hobbit-feet took to their heels down the hallway.
- - - - -
"Just how many did we give away, Pip?" Merry asked, trying to estimate the number of wrapped sweets remaining in their improvised sack. There didn't seem to be very many left, and he knew that he and Pip had eaten hardly any. Merry resisted the urge to sample one – he had a feeling he would need all of his wits about him today.
"Two handfuls to Gimli," Pippin recited, his sharp face screwed up with thought, "three handfuls to Aragorn, one handful each to Elladan and Elrohir, one for Bilbo, one each to Legolas and Boromir, one to Glorfindel, four to Lady Arwen…"
Pippin flushed. "I gave her some more. She said they were very good."
Merry bit his tongue against pointing out that Pippin's infatuation with Elrond's daughter had got them into this mess. That would solve nothing and only start an argument. "Well, what happened to the rest of them?"
"I suppose we just gave them away," Pippin concluded miserably. "Quite a bit of last evening is rather foggy."
"And the people we gave them to may have given them to people," Merry continued. "And those people might have given some to more people, as well as eating them themselves." Merry raised haunted eyes to look out of the window. "So a lot of people in Rivendell are feeling rather odd today, or not feeling very well at all, depending on how many they ate." Merry remembered the weight of the sack. He could hardly lift it. They had made an enormous batch of taffy, and cut and wrapped perhaps hundreds of pieces. Almost all of them now dispersed about Rivendell. Merry sought a chair, feeling overwhelmed. "What say we just stay in our room for the rest of the day, Pip?"
Pippin had already gone to the window and after a careful glance in all directions, was drawing the drapes. "Good idea, Merry. And if anyone knocks on our door, we don't answer. Right?"
- - - - -
Lord Elrond finished wrapping the bandage around his master cook's hand and waved aside his servant's embarrassed thanks. Cuts were far from unknown among the kitchen staff, but rarely was it the head cook, and never twice in a single morning. Normally, one of his children would have attended to such simple tasks but Elladan, Elrohir and Arwen had all sent messages pleading indisposition this morning, a most rare thing for elven-kind. It was very disconcerting for all three of his children to be feeling unwell upon the same day, and he was more than a little concerned. He had been about to investigate the cause of this phenomenon when his bleeding cook had arrived for the second time.
There seemed to be a rash of little accidents and illnesses around Rivendell this morning. Nothing noteworthy, but odd, stumbling little miscalculations involving stubbed toes and burnt fingers and barked shins, and an odd tendency to giggle. Elves do not giggle. Elrond dismissed his discomfited cook with an admonition to take more care, and sat back in his chair to consider.
It must have to do with the halflings. As this thought passed through his mind, the Elf-lord felt exasperated with himself, and shamed by the unworthiness of the thought. He could not blame every little thing on the hobbits. Next he would be holding them responsible for cloudy days and the approach of winter. Nevertheless…
"Father?" Elrond identified Estel's footfalls, soft as they were, before his foster son spoke. Looking up, he beheld a sorry sight. Aragorn's eyes were red and half-closed in a pale, unshaven face, and his features tight with pain. Elrond rose with alacrity and guided the man into his own vacated seat, steadying him with a hand under Aragorn's elbow.
"Thank you." Aragorn learned forward, massaging his scalp with his fingertips. "I have a dreadful headache," the Ranger confessed, squinting as he looked up at the Elf-lord. He sighed in relief as cool fingertips were laid against his forehead. Comfort seemed to flow from Elrond's hands, soothing the fiery pounding. Aragorn leaned gratefully into his foster father's touch. "It started last night. I felt quite strange after eating several sweets that Merry and Pippin had given me."
"Merry and Pippin?" repeated Elrond, feeling his own headache start.
Aragorn caught the tension in his lord's voice. "The hobbits made taffy," the Ranger hastened to explain. "It was very good, actually." He made no mention of the reason for the youngest hobbit's gesture of apology, though he thought, a laugh might do Elrond good. Storm clouds were gathering on his lord's high brow, and those dark, far-seeing eyes were suspicious.
"Arwen gave me several pieces," Elrond said thoughtfully. He crossed to his desk and picked up one of the bright yellow sweets, wrapped in waxed paper with a jaunty twist on each end. He had thanked her and set them aside, his mind on another matter. Now the Elf-lord unwrapped the sweet and sniffed it carefully, eyes narrowed in concentration. They closed all the way when elven senses brought to his sensitive nose another barely discernable aroma.
"How many of these did you eat, my son?" the Elf-lord asked noncommittally.
Aragorn rubbed his forehead. "Quite a few," the Ranger admitted, "but I also gave many away," he added, misinterpreting Elrond's sudden, dark look. "Merry and Pippin were quite generous. I gave almost a full handful to Gandalf."
Elrond covered his eyes with his hands. "Mithrandir? You gave these to Mithrandir?"
Despite his discomfort, Aragorn chuckled. "That wizard is as fond of sweets as a child. Or a hobbit. He actually ate all of them before he took leave of me."
"Oh, no," murmured Elrond.
- - - - -
"Frodo! Save us!" The great wooden door rebounded violently on its hinges as two blurred forms shot past a surprised Sam and into Frodo's bedroom before Sam could connect the shrieked words to the fleeing forms. A peacefully sleeping Frodo let out a yelp and shot up in the bed, unfortunately making himself a target for the trembling figures that flung themselves upon him and then fought to conceal themselves behind him.
"Pippin! What -?!" The smaller of the two forms was trying to hide under Frodo's pillows, pushing his elder cousin forward in the bed as the tweenager burrowed behind him. Frodo's startled cry was cut off as the other trembling form, now identified as Merry, jerked the blankets up and crawled beneath them, locking his arms around his cousin's legs and hiding his face against Frodo's knees. Belatedly, Sam appeared in the door, his mouth a perfect 'o' as he stared unabashedly.
Frodo looked at him and shrugged. An attempt to twist around earned him a sharp stab in his bad shoulder, wringing a gasp from him. Sam stepped forward in concern but Frodo shook his head at his friend, then reached out and tentatively lifted the covers to expose Merry's white face. Merry stared up at him from beneath his shelter, blue eyes wide. "All right," Frodo said resignedly. "What have you done now?"
Neither answered him, other than to tighten their holds on his person. Merry laid his head against Frodo's knees and clutched for all he was worth. Behind Frodo, the pillow quivered as Pippin trembled. The Ring-bearer sighed and reached down to stroke the top of Merry's quivering head. "There, there, my lads. Sam, would you please make some tea? And perhaps some scones -"
"Where are they?" Gandalf stormed through the door, beard bristling and hand clenched tight around his staff, his long, bony fingers white against the gnarled wood. "Where are those two? They'll rue the day they did this to me!"
Pippin shrieked and Merry echoed him, shivering violently. Frodo reared back in the bed, unintentionally squishing Pippin, and stared at the wizard. "Gandalf," he said sharply. "Calm down! You're frightening them."
"I mean to!" The wizard strode towards Frodo's bed, fury on his face. Pippin peeked out and squeaked, then Frodo's trembling backrest was suddenly removed as his little cousin flung himself down the far side of the bed and under it. From this refuge came a series of gasping whimpers.
"I will not have you frightening my kin," snapped Frodo, sitting up straight, blue eyes blazing.
"Frogdom, lads," Gandalf hissed. "Come out of there so I can transform you. You'll hardly feel a thing." He raised his staff threateningly and both young hobbits wailed.
Gandalf spun around to confront a slightly disheveled Master of Rivendell, Aragorn panting beside him. "No one is turning anyone into amphibians in my House," stated Elrond resolutely. Wizard and Elf-lord stared at each other. Silent beside his foster father, Aragorn gaped at the scene, astonishment warring with pain in his blue-grey eyes. Sam stood rooted just inside the bedroom door, unsure of what to do.
"Think of how much less trouble they'll be, Elrond," Gandalf wheedled. "They won't eat nearly as much. Just flies. And they won't be spiking innocent sweets!"
"It was an accident!" yipped Pippin from the darkness under the bed. "I was just trying to do something nice to apologize to Strider and Lady Arwen!"
Elrond inclined his long length forward to look closely under the bed. A pair of green-gold eyes, wide with terror, peered back at him. "Master Peregrin?"
"Peregrin, come out of there," Frodo ordered flatly. "Meriadoc." Rustlings preceded the younger hobbits' reluctant reappearance. "Now," continued their elder cousin sternly, "what is going on here?"
Unfortunately, the Ring-bearer did not specify to whom that question was addressed, with the result that Merry, Pippin, Gandalf and Aragorn all began to speak at once. Elrond was silent, but something like humor was beginning to glimmer in his dark eyes. Frodo was looking from one shouting, gesticulating speaker to another, totally lost and increasingly aggravated. Now that the imminent danger of transformation had passed, Sam was watching with a grin. Elrond shook his head. At least Master Baggins has forgotten his illness, he thought. Now may the rest of my House do the same.
"Peace. Be still – all of you." The Elf-lord's voice easily overrode the "We didn't mean any harm!" and "Just how much of this candy did you give out, my friends?" and "Enough to give me a raging headache!"
"Peace," repeated Elrond more gently. "No permanent harm has been done." He set aside the thoughts of the minor injuries that had plagued his morning. "I will make available a remedy to all those who partook of the young ones' … apology." Gandalf growled and rubbed his eyes. "I suggest, however," Elrond added in a tone of voice that was not a suggestion at all, "that the remaining sweets be destroyed. I recommend burying them. Quite deeply."
"There isn't much left, sir," Merry confessed, one nervous eye still on the disgruntled wizard.
"Then it should not take you long," Elrond rejoined smoothly. "After which, I suggest you provide an explanation and an apology to all of the people affected." The young hobbits had recovered enough to look rebellious. "My folk are unused to strong spirits," Elrond said firmly, affixing them with a forbidding eye. "We are accustomed to fine wines, to liqueurs and cordials. Not to the Gaffer's 'home brew' and whatever other foul concoctions went into this."
"Lord Elrond," pleaded Merry. "We didn't think we needed to warn people. There was so much of the taffy mixture, and relatively, not that much alcohol. Maybe some of it burned off in the cooking?" Pippin nodded frantically. Grateful for his cousin's support, Merry continued, "We -"
"Would be delighted to apologize," interjected Frodo decisively. The Ring-bearer's arms were crossed firmly across his chest and his back straight and stiff. "They will make an apology to each and every person in Rivendell, if they must." Frodo turned icy blue eyes to them. "Won't you, my lads?"
"But," struggled Merry. Frodo stared at him.
"Yes, Cousin Frodo," whispered Pippin. A moment later, Merry repeated his words.
Frodo settled back into the bed and allowed himself to relax, satisfied. "Good. You may start with Gandalf and Aragorn. Then the Lady Arwen, I fear. And after you have apologized to everyone in Rivendell, you may come back and apologize to me."
"Yes, Cousin Frodo."
"Yes, Cousin Frodo."
While the two young hobbits shuffled hesitantly up to the wizard and the Ranger, Elrond glided to the Ring-bearer's side and began to straighten the disordered bedding. The hobbit looked up at him resignedly. "Lord Elrond, I am most sincerely sorry."
"Master Frodo," Elrond replied gently, "do not be. There truly was no harm done. Perhaps it is good for my folk to be reminded of youth and silliness, and the consequences of overindulgence."
Frodo nodded and eased himself back against the pillows, suddenly weary. "Thank you, my lord." He watched his young cousins speaking to Aragorn and Gandalf, their expressions contrite. Aragorn had knelt, his eyes at a level with theirs, while Gandalf leaned on his staff, his angry expression softening. "They can charm the birds out of the trees, those two," Frodo whispered half to himself.
Elrond's lips quirked as Gandalf reached out and ruffled the youngest hobbit's hair. "I go to prepare the headache medicine. Do you require a dose, Master Frodo?"
Frodo shook his head with a smile. "The tonic you gave me seems to have taken care of the problem, my lord." Then he sighed and the Elf-lord was pleased to see a spark of mischief lurking in the hobbit's eyes. "I am slightly disappointed, though…"
Elrond paused and looked down at his small guest. "In what, may I ask?"
Frodo grinned up at him, eyes sparkling. "I should dearly have loved to seen Merry and Pippin as frogs. Just for a moment or two."
Elrond laughed softly and looked over to where the young hobbits were taking their leave, bowing to Gandalf and his foster son. "Do not despair, Master Frodo. You have a long journey ahead of you, and somehow … somehow I think you may well have the opportunity."