Disclaimer: I don't own them, and I'll put them back when I'm done!

Author's Note: This is just a short fic to keep my readers of "Masquerade" entertained while they wait for the next chapter. It recounts the prank war between Aragorn and the hobbits that is mentioned in Chapter Thirteen of that fic. I hope you all like it!

A Merry War

By Elendiari Chapter One: A Beginning

It was not to be said that Merry Brandybuck did not choose his battles wisely. When he had to fight, he fought with at least one hour of precise calculation and well-thought out plans behind him. That being said, the first thing Merry was inclined to do after looking at the map of Eriador in Elrond's library was to find Strider and push him in the nearest body of water.

Instead of acting on this urge, Merry bent closer to the map. Yes, there it was. A path, curving straight around the Midgewater Marshes, marked in Elvish and Westron 'Way known only to Elves and Rangers'. Oh, this was so, so wrong. Merry traced the path, then glanced back at the way they had all come, several weeks before. Straight through the marshes, a long, cold, wet journey filled with plaguing neekerbreekers and other obnoxious insects. He had no doubt that this other way was difficult, but it looked dry, at least.

"He was testing us," growled Merry under his breath, hand tightening to a fist on the table. "Oh, that…that…"

"Merry? What are you doing?" Pippin came to lean against the high table, a curious look on his sharp face.

Merry pointed at the map. "Look at this." Pippin followed his finger as it traced the path again. "Now this is the way we went."

Pippin's eyebrows flew up, his green eyes going wide. "Why would Strider take us through the Marshes if he hadn't needed to?"

"I think he was testing us. He thought we were soft," Merry hissed.

Pippin looked at him, surprised. From his tone, Merry sounded annoyed. One look at his cousin's face confirmed this, but there was also a look there that Pippin knew well. Merry had a plan.

"Pippin, I think we need to teach Strider a lesson."

Aragorn had not yet learned to be wary of hobbits sitting in a huddle, glancing in his direction and whispering. Such a thing was cause for worry among Rangers, yes, and among orcs, definitely, but hobbits, in his mind, were fairly harmless for all they were surprisingly tough. Therefore, Aragorn was not at all prepared for dinner that night.

Pippin was seated next to him that evening. Aragorn smiled at the lad; he liked the cheeky streak in Pippin. "Hullo, Pippin, how are you?"

"Just fine, Strider. I have a question for you," Pippin replied. He fixed his green eyes on the Ranger and smiled winsomely. "Are you afraid of anything?"

Aragorn gave a gust of laughter. "Truth be told, I have never liked frogs," he admitted. "They disturb me, for some reason that I have never understood. What about yourself?"

Pippin pulled a face. "My cousin, Diamond. She's bossy and has a way of getting everyone to side with her," he said. Aragorn laughed.

"Women can be like that," he admitted. "But don't tell Lady Arwen I said so."

Pippin grinned innocently. "Not a word, Strider, I promise. Not a word."

It cost them an evening away from the Hall of Fire, but by bedtime that night, Merry and Pippin had found the king of the bullfrogs in a sludgy old pond. Dripping with scummy water and green slime, the lads rushed back to their room, the frogs held firmly in Merry's hands. They deposited him in their washbasin and put a tray left over from elevenses on top to keep it from jumping out.

"Nice work," Merry said appreciatively. "Now we'll get cleaned up before we go. Can't have old Strider guessing it was us, no, can we?"

Pippin rather thought that Strider would know anyway, considering the conversation at dinner, but he nodded in agreement with Merry. Sometimes it was easier to let the older cousins do the thinking.

After scrubbing with water from the other basin, and changing into fresh clothes, the hobbits took their captured frog, who was making his disgust with them plan in loud, resounding croaks, and walked into the hallway.

As luck would have it, the first person they walked into was Sam. The gardener took one look at their too-innocent faces and the bowl in their hands and raised an eyebrow.

"What are you two up to at this time of night?" he asked, knowing from experience that these two could be troublesome.

Merry gave him a thoroughly innocent look. "We're going to the bathhouse, to fetch some new water, Sam. This stuff is brackish."

Sam's eyebrow climbed further up his forehead. "Is that so?" he asked drily. "I could have sworn I saw a servant come from cleaning your room not half an hour ago."

Merry frowned; he had not expected that. "Well, it's brackish now. We must be going, Sam, enjoy your evening."

With that, Merry firmly grabbed Pippin's sleeve and hauled him down the corridor. Sam stared after them, shaking his head.

"Up to no good, those two. I don't even want to know. I don't."

Pippin stood guard as Merry snuck into Aragorn's room. They were lucky that the Ranger was still in the Hall, talking Elf lore with Bilbo and Frodo. It gave them an easier time of things. Still, Pippin was antsy as he waited for his cousin to come out. He hated standing watch; it was thoroughly bothersome.

Luckily, Merry did not take long. He flew out of Aragorn's room, grinning madly, and Pippin followed him at a run back to their room.

"I put it right in his bed!" Merry cackled once they were safely behind closed doors. "And his balcony door was open, so we'll be able to hear when he finds it! Quick, put out the lights."

They doused the candles, climbed into their beds, and waited. Slowly, lights began to go out across Rivendell. The singing in the Hall of Fire faded as everyone retired to their beds. The lads huddled on Merry's bed, which had the best view of Aragorn's room. They watched as Strider walked into his room, shut the door, and stripped down to his tunic and trousers. They watched as he doused all but one candle and walked to his bed. They leaned forward in anticipation as he pulled back the covers.

The resulting bellow was most satisfying. It seemed that Rivendell was one place where Aragorn let his guard down, for he screamed like a girl upon seeing the frog. The hobbits gave twin howls of laughter and buried their faces in the pillows. This was too good to be true.

It was lucky for Aragorn that he had not yet locked his door, for it enabled Legolas to burst in and aid him in rousting the frog from his bed. The bullfrog was truly aggravated, and he sprang straight in Legolas' face. The Elf dived aside, howling, and fell into Aragorn. Both fell over and crashed onto the floor, and the frog jumped after them. Legolas did the only sensible thing he could think of. He grabbed the frog and flung it over the balcony in one easy movement.

Aragorn sat on the floor and attempted to get his breath back. He hated frogs. Now he had to remake the bed! Who would have done such a thing? Elves did not play pranks like this. Aragorn turned towards Legolas, but the Elf raised a hand to silence him.

"I hear laughter," he said. "Hobbit laughter. Whose balcony is that?"

Aragorn followed his friend's gaze and groaned. "Merry and Pippin. I even told Pippin that I didn't like frogs! I wonder why they did this?"

Legolas shrugged, helping the man stand up. "I can't imagine. Perhaps you angered them?"

Aragorn shook his head. "I don't know. I do know one thing, though."

"What is that?"

Aragorn's voice was grim. "Three can play this game."

TBC